Archive for drills

drills for zills

On your own?

you can still drill your way to zill skills

My regular students get to pull out their finger cymbals every week, and that’s one of the reasons they all learn to play. Playing cymbals isn’t something you can do just now and then and expect to get any better. You need regular practice to really get it!

To make it even easier for them, since we only get a few minutes in class, I filmed the dance combinations that include finger cymbals, for both slow and fast combos.

Several years ago my original partner Miramar created a choreography called “Zill Drill to Fulfill” using our tribal combinations to engage her own students and develop their skill at playing cymbals. More recently, the fantastic Nina Amaya’s troupe Aubergine also created a drill using these combinations to increase their own “zill skills” as well.

It’s true that these TOBD combinations featuring cymbals are the easiest way to help students learn to play. If you want to learn to dance with cymbals try the Slow Combos drill:

if you’re familiar with playing cymbals and just want to hone your strokes or increase your speed, follow the Fast Combo drill:

Try it yourself and see – follow-me drills are the easiest way to get better at playing finger cymbals!

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investing time in dance drills

Small drills pay off big later

but how do you find the time?

In a recent show my advanced dancers and I were in the middle of a Tribal Odyssey set when somebody cued the Flare-Kick combo while we were in a circle. My be-here-now focus must’ve been off by a beat or two because I missed the cue and never did catch up. Naturally this particular combination is an extra-long 16 counts, and involves turns and eye-catching arm moves – plenty of time for the audience to notice any irregularities! Oh well.

Wouldn’t you think that several years after creating the combination and plenty of time spent teaching and dancing it, I’d be bullet-proof in terms of boo-boos? Not so much.

So I featured this long but simple combo in drills of the smallest bite-size chunks in class this week, and will continue to do so. My dancers actually love drills, and they’re quick to point out we have so many combos now that getting them all into drills on a consistent basis is hard with such limited class and rehearsal time.

How do you handle drills for a large repertoire of “group choreography” combinations? Do you have any pointers? Is is just that we need another hour or two a week? That solution seems unlikely.

I previously wrote about our Skirt Moves here: we got skirts and we know how to use them a title that seems ironic now! I think we’ll know how to use them better if we continue our Skill Drills!

two dancers

that’s me behind Galiyah, trying to keep up!

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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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easiest way to learn finger cymbals in tribal improv

I’m a very linear thinker in some ways, but in others, totally holistic. Every now and then these two tendencies cross, and one takes precedence… I’m a pisces, so that’s my excuse!

Recently I was thinking about this as it pertains to playing cymbals in Tribal Odyssey Bellydance versus Oriental style, also known as Raks Sharki, nightclub, or cabaret bellydance.

The videos I put online a couple of years ago (the ones in the free playlist on “how to play finger cymbals”) follow the linear method, starting at the baseline and working up little by little. BUT, in TOBD we learn by doing – a very different method. I think it’s more fun, and actually much easier!

Whenever my newer dancers put on finger cymbals for the first time, they can just dance along as usual, without playing. Since they’ve already been dancing our format for at least 6 months by this point, they have developed muscle memory. Another plus is that they may have been hearing cymbals playing while they danced if other more advanced dancers are with us (or even just me).

When they’re comfortable with how the cymbals feel on their hands, they can start adding the “Muted Beledi Accents” on the two slow combos, Small Hip Circle and Reverse Flat-8. That is plenty to do right there. And of course, whenever they lead the group they don’t have to play their cymbals. It’s much more important for them to do the movements correctly so we can follow them easily. So the rest of us (or just me) can keep playing cymbals while they lead.

It’s a FABULOUS way to learn finger cymbals! As their playing skills grow, and they’re able to play and dance at the same time, we add other cymbal patterns, usually the Singles on the Large Hip Circle; and the 2-2-5 on the Back Undulation and Rolling Hips. It really works well!

screenshot of video

follow-me drills

Another plus is that the cymbal patterns help anchor the movements in time, hooking the combinations onto the beat. Especially the patterns that actually start on count one, with the combo – kind of hard to explain unless you do group improv. But what this does, is make it easier for people who have trouble hearing the beat in music, or don’t understand counting time, to grasp what this means, and what it feels like. I think it makes a big, big difference!

I’ve added a Drill Video on my channel for new finger cymbal players here. It’s taken from behind us as we dance so you can follow along; and just listen to the cymbal patterns, or add them in a little at a time. You can follow this Drill Video  playing finger cymbals with the Slow Combos (the easiest to start); and next I’ll add a Drill Video on the Fast Combos with cymbals. Stay tuned!

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how I use DRILLS to teach tribal improv

After teaching belly dance for over 20 years, I’ve found that DRILLS are a priceless tool for teaching. They’re not only a fast way for students to create muscle memory during movements, but students also seem to feel more comfortable asking for clarification during this part of class time.

I actually use two types of class activities when teaching Tribal Odyssey:

1. Drills: a focused exercise emphasizing a particular movement combination, transition between combinations, or a concept such as lead-throwing or changing formations.

2. Dancing a Complete Song or Set: this activity emphasizes the performance aspect of dancing together. The class can “enter” the performance space, and dance through the ending of a song or several songs without stopping.

For both activities I try to use music that emphasizes the relevant beats, like chifti-telli (when they hear “5, 6, 7″ they know it’s time for a cue); or beledi (they will be on the RIGHT foot when they hear the two heavy beats [except for the Slow Hip Circle]). And especially for new students, or Level One in general, I help them hear these beats by listening to the music before starting. That REALLY helps!

My book “Guide to Teaching Middle Eastern Dance” has more on developing your own teaching method – it’s written for belly dance teachers in general but applies to group improv teachers too. If you’re interested in learning more about teaching methods and planning classes, here’s the link to the Guide to Teaching on my website. (However, for TOBD group improv format in particular, there’s a separate book available on the site.)

Teaching Tribal Improv opens up many new topics for Drills in class. Sometimes we do “Cue Drills”, for instance we’ll alternate between two specific combinations, focusing on the transition in between – specifically, the cue from one to the other combination. Or we’ll only focus on Circle Travel combinations, or Lead-throwing combinations, the combinations that include optional turns, etc.

Or sometimes we do “Staging Drills”, using only one or at most, two combinations, while we flow through all the group formations. This is great for having the students develop awareness of the group as a unit; dancing as part of a larger entity in unison; keeping their individual spacing nice, adjusting their own positions in the line, etc.

Or we’ll do “Ending Drills” – while the class is dancing I’ll fade out the music unexpectedly to see the students initiate and complete one of our Endings.

During drills, teachers should just watch – instead of participating; that way they can offer corrections and suggestions, and take notes on what needs further review.

Drills really do help to clear up a lot of misunderstandings students have, and I believe that helps them enjoy the process of learning – and dancing – even more.

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looooove chiftitelli!

Doesn’t everyone love the chiftitelli rhythm? It’s so mysterious and sensual…

I dropped “Chiftitelli” – a four and a half minute percussion piece – right in the middle of the short Solace music set I put together recently. So that’s a 12-minute set of Solace music for tribal.

This drum piece gives us more “slow time” for tribal veil, slow arms, etc. Also, we’ve played with taking turns doing very short SOLO improv moments just for the lower level students to get more experience with that. It’s a little challenging but not too much since I timed them for only 30 seconds each. I don’t think we’ll follow that necessarily in a performance, but it’s a good drill for class. I really love how they always step up to challenges. They’re a great bunch!

But typically I only add solo improv sections into the higher level performances, just for a different feel inside a long group improv set.

Also, recently I combined the Level 2 and Level 3 classes together into one big class, as the Level 2’s are really doing well learning all the combinations, turn options, lead throwing and even finger cymbals in their syllabus. Large groups are more fun! I’m really looking forward to seeing them work with this new music.

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