Birds of a feather… are dancing together

separated by design

By their costume you shall know them

At our Tribal Hafla (Food Drive) in Fredericksburg VA this past weekend, all the dancers danced together in one large group.

Now sometimes, we’ll separate the levels by songs, and have one level dance at a time. At this event though, I just wanted to flow to go on and on, and not worry about which song was on.

The upper level dancers did “take over” a few songs for our specialty prop numbers though: the dancers using Veil, Sword, or Candles did use the entire song, leaving the others to stay in the Chorus Line, but overall, most of the set list was Mixed. Just the way I like it!

It just so happened that the upper level dancers all recently acquired a particular costume style, and we used that to help everyone remember “who to dance with”. Since the event was a “Hafla” – meaning Party – the basics level students were allowed to wear whatever costume they wished, because wearing what they want is part of their fun. So we all were able to tell right away, when anyone went out front to dance, whether to go out with them or not. This way the levels stayed separated, and no newbies were nonplussed.

I don’t know if we’ll have another chance to use this “separated by costume” criteria, but it worked just fine this time, so we’ll keep it in mind.

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I like this game!

Games that help students learn

Last night in Basics class we focused on Duets because we’ll be dancing at our Tribal Hafla Food Drive tomorrow, with other dancers who have a wide range of skill levels. So of course, Chorus Line and Center Dancers is the way to go. This way dancers can stick with others who have the same repertoire, and feel more comfortable when they’re out onstage.

And at this particular performance it’ll be even easier for dancers to know who to dance with because the Advanced dancers will be wearing a particular costume; the Basics students will be wearing whatever they like. That also provides better photo opportunities!

So anyway, last night I was staying in the Chorus Line to let the students keep rotating in and out as Center Dancers, and we used all the songs we’ll be playing at the Hafla. They all did really well: they kept switching leaders, changing the staging, using different moves, and were really fun to watch.

In class I often like to take a few minutes after each song, drill, or set to have the students talk about anything that happened during the dancing. These little discussions are really helpful to clear up issues they may have when following other dancer’s cues, fix timing mistakes, sight lines, or get clarification on timing, moves, etc.

There’s a pair of sisters in the class who get together to practice quite a bit. I heard one of them say to the other, “I knew you were going to play ‘Throw the Leader’” and my ears pricked up! It turns out they have a game they play to see how quickly they can throw or change the lead, which I think is hilarious. And I love it! So that’s why their Duets went so well – they were active, interesting, and engaging to watch. I think we’ll be playing this game a lot!

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Sepia Saturday, tribal style

I love my colors! But I like fooling around with images too. So, Sepia Saturday:

tribal dancer

tribal look in two-tone

Inspiration thanks to: Not my Circus Not My Monkeys

Ruckus the American Eskimo Dog Blog

- See more at:

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how do you rehearse group improv by yourself?

Missing too many classes?

winter weather woes

We’ve been happily preparing new costumes and rehearsing for our semi-annual Food Drive event later this month!

And this time our Hafla is all Tribal!

We’ll have a lot of our Tribal Odyssey dancing, and I’m putting a set list together featuring everyone’s favorite songs. We’ll also have a little “roots of tribal”, with live drumming as we dance our funky beledi combinations and play finger cymbals. We’re also looking forward to the lovely Tribal Fusion style performed by one of the local favorites, Souris.  And because we’ll be in a cozy, dimly-lit restaurant I thought it would be the perfect setting for our Pharonic Candle Dance – because of course Temples and Tribes go together like peas and carrots!

But there’s a fly in the ointment, and it’s this winter weather. Snow cancellations have already caused us to miss several classes and rehearsals; and now more weather is on the way this week. All I can do, with the Hafla only a week and a half away, is to count on my wonderful dancers to keep their skills sharp at home; which as you might guess, is hard to do for “group improv” format.
So my advice to my dancers is this:

  • watch some of our TOBD videos,
  • hone those favorite combinations they like to do when they lead,
  • and ALSO to drill the combos they don’t do so often.

Putting a favorite combo together with one of the ones they aren’t so likely to pull out when leading is not only a great way to get the transitions smooth, but become more self-confident about “those” combinations.
More Snow on the Way?

And – as long as we all have electricity and the internet – I’ll offer a Google Hangout class as an extra bonus for dancing at home. Even though group improv belly dance doesn’t really work for one dancer by herself! But it’s making the best of a bad situation.

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the mixed-level approach

Mixed levels again in class

but that’s a good thing

Lately it seems that every class of mine has students who know different levels of TOBD; from just learning the Slow Combos (and no lead-throwing), to full on “Anything Goes”. Well, the range of knowledge isn’t quite so diverse, but each class level is mixed to some extent.

What’s really good about this is that the lower level students get to see where things are going in terms of the overall group improv format; and the upper level students become even more aware of group dynamics when they have to adjust how they lead a mixed group or a partner at a lower level.

Right now the Basics class includes brand new students just grasping the Slow Combos, and students who are learning the Fast Combo repertoire including various lead-changing moves and stage formations. Just last week one student was introduced to basic lead-changing – always an exciting development! Here’s a post that explains the simplest way to handle the new information:

In fact, it really makes my job as a teacher easier when upper level students, just by the fact of their dancing, demonstrate how it all goes together. Quite often after we dance a song together we’ll have a short feedback session when anyone can ask for clarification on something; or suggest a specific drill they’d like to do as a group; or even point out anything that didn’t work when they were dancing. These quick chats are very helpful for all of us.

One thing I’ve known for a while though, is how important it is to actually keep the group from moving too quickly through concepts. Each new variation in the format needs a lot of drilling, dancing, and experiencing for each and every dancer in the group.

“Steady as she goes” for the Tribal Ship to sail smoothly on the Sea of Group Improv!

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Setting Limits in Tribal Improv

Limit Yourself

We’ve had several instances lately where a mixed level group danced together. We haven’t been in that situation for a while, actually maybe close to a year. So it was a bit of a train wreck – well, that’s putting it too strong, but it didn’t go as well as I expected. And since I was dancing in the mix too, it felt like I was watching an accident happen in slow motion. My mistake was not seeing it coming.

Since it had been so long since we had danced in a mixed group with such an extreme range of “tribal know-how” I should’ve reminded my advanced level students about how we do it, which would’ve saved the poor newbies from being danced into a state of confusion! The reason I didn’t think about preparing the way ahead of time was that these performances were informal events, not shows. But it was a good “head’s up” for me!

The dancers ranged from only 2 months in class to over 10 years of dancing; so nobody should have cued the Staggered Line formation (in which the entire group dances as one). But it happened TWICE! It was the second time it happened that astonished me – hello, there are some newbies over here!

In another instance, during Center Dancers, the more advanced leader began moves that her lower-level partner didn’t know – awkward! “Throw the lead” I kept whispering from the Chorus Line. But it’s hard to be heard over music and finger cymbals!

What Strategy Works in a Mixed Level Group?

Obviously when you dance in a group, you have to be AWARE of who is dancing with you! I’m still not sure why this happened more than once, with experienced dancers who have been doing tribal improv for years. It just goes to show that reminders are never out of place, I guess. Lesson learned!

  1. No Staggered Lines. Theoretically, you COULD have a Staggered Line and then only cue combinations that everybody knows, but obviously that’s risky because it places so much responsibility on the Leader. It also limits the variety of combinations, which is boring for advanced dancers. So the group should stick to the Chorus Line formation, and allow Center Dancers to come out in front.
  2. Know Your Partner(s). Now that the group is featuring Center Dancers, each Leader must know with whom they are dancing! If you get out front and don’t know who came out with you, then either throw the lead right away or (even better) do a combination with an optional turn so you get a look at who’s out there with you. Both strategies have risks though; so the best way to handle mixed-level group improv is this:
  3. Pre-Arranged Center Dancers. This gives the newbies more confidence since they know they’ll be dancing with someone who’s aware of their limits. Also, the advanced dancers will be happy because they can all go out with each other; they can even go out in a large enough “Center Dancer” group to create their own Staggered Line. And in that instance, sometimes I’ll instruct the Chorus Line not to play cymbals so the advanced Center Dancer group could play them out in front.

Of course that is an exception to the rule, but it makes for a better show; and it’s more fulfilling for the dancers as well.

large tribal group belly dancing

Center Dancers out front in their own Staggered Line

So even if you have newbies and pros dancing together, there IS a way to do it – and next time that situation arises I’ll certainly remind everyone about it before we step out to dance!

How do you handle mixed-level tribal improv groups?

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tribal gives us music freedom!

One of the BEST things about Tribal Improv belly dancing is you can change the music whenever you want! Sometimes my students bring me songs to check out so we get a wide variety of styles that way. And I often ask my students what songs they want to use in a show. Not possible with choreography! If you perform a choreographed piece, you’re obviously “stuck” using that music.
So I’m enjoying picking the music for our upcoming show. We’re bringing back “Love Signs” by DJ Dimi, a really lovely song that’s going to be perfect for Tribal Veil and Arm Patterns because it’s a medium tempo:  Love Signs on (Ai-De-Xin-Hao), from the Zen Lounge cd.

This song has a good beat, and the melody flows like a river… so pretty! I’m looking forward to dancing to it again.

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