Posts Tagged group improv

tribal – now with fan veils!

Tribal Fan Veils are EASY! Who knew?

It’s funny that it took over a year for me to try it – maybe two years – after Pixie Fae’s original suggestion. I thought it would be difficult to create group improv for fan veils, so kept putting it off when she’d periodically bring it up.

Well, one day this past September I invited her over, and came up with about 8 combinations right off the bat! I shared them at our performance group rehearsals, and also in class – the students all love seeing all the beautiful fan veils in the mirror – it’s such a treat.

So after a couple of months now of using them in class and rehearsals, it’s all coming together. I’ve got about ten short combinations of 8 counts each, and when we dance them together it helps get all the details sorted out for turns, traveling, changing leaders, different formations, etc. It’s really fun!

My performing group PRISM Dancers felt so confident that we performed them in October, at an outside festival in Fredericksburg. In fact, Fairy Fest may have been part of my inspiration for finally tackling these combos. Fan Veils just seemed perfect for a Fairy Festival! But there was no lead-changing that day, it was too soon, and in the wind we could only face one direction. Yes, it was a challenge, but we kept the wind at our backs, and it worked!

festival in fredericksburg

tribal improv with fan veils

Dancingly yours,

Anthea Kawakib

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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, plus one!

During a recent show at an assisted-living community here in Fredericksburg, my performing group broke out another new TOBD feature. Well, it’s not really “new”… we just haven’t gotten around to doing it much even though it’s been listed for years on the syllabus as planned for Level Four: Solos! Yes, Soloists as Center Dancers – not duets, trios, but just one lone dancer. And because I love irony, I, of course, encouraged my dancers to approach their solo in the “tribal fusion” style. I’ll explain in a moment.

Now, my students all learn “regular” bellydancing of the Raks Sharki variety, which includes solos, either choreographed or improvisational. However, the music we dance to ALWAYS dictates how we will dance – at least, it does in my book. So in other words, if we are doing TOBD to Arabic Pop songs we can dance as Center Dancer Soloists in our standard Egyptian beledi home-style – we’ve done this before.

What made this time different was our music. This particular number just sounds more like Tribal Fusion to me: “Through the Rings of Saturn” by Tribal Soup (it’s on Amazon here). So I saw it as a great opportunity for my “beledi babes” to get tribalicious for a change!

Since we don’t do this style, here’s how I approached this: I picked a couple of good tribal fusion dancers so we could study their performances on YouTube, and I helped my soloists analyze and break down what made their “Tribal Fusion” style look different than ours.

Compared to our usual style, we saw that these differences

  • they use a lot MORE, as well as BIGGER isolations than we usually do (isolations of the hands, arms, shoulders, ribs, hips);
  • their dance “sentences” seem discrete and even disjointed, instead of flowing together smoothly as ours do; that is, their dance looks like it’s in “bits and pieces”;
  • their staging changes (i.e. which direction they are facing) are more abrupt than ours;
  • their torso positions are not always “upright” like in Egyptian dancing, but often go sideways and even forward and back;
  • the dancers use more drastic level changes, and they often do them very quickly.

I felt these key elements were plenty to work with in a short 30 – 45 second solo, since four of us were sharing the one song.

So in approaching this other style of Tribal Solo, I wanted to give my dancers IDEAS – not steps and combinations – and let them explore this style on their own. And of course get their feet wet immediately in a show – because there’s nothing like a deadline to get things moving, is there?

Here’s a shot of Pixie exploring Tribal Fusion style in her solo:

tribal group dancing

Pixie gets her tribal on in front of the group

What’s the ironic part I mentioned? It’s no secret that I’m no fan of Tribal Fusion! I especially dislike the T-Rex arms I see in almost every Tribal Fusion dancer as well as the ubiquitous hip-lift-and-arm-waving combo from a well known tribal troupe. Bless their hearts, but if I never see that move again it will be too soon! Of course there are some beautiful dancers I DO enjoy watching; but to tell you the truth, I have to grit my teeth to get through most run-of-the-mill Tribal Fusion performances. So that’s why this endeavor kind of tickled me – the fact that we were channeling tribal fusion dancers for even one song.

Just for the record, have I studied “tribal fusion”? Outside of a workshop with Sharon Kihara, and one of Sera Solstice’s DVDs, no.

But just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I exclude it – as a matter of fact, as I wrote in the TOBD backstory, I originally didn’t like Group Improv style either. But I took Kajira’s workshop anyway, and the rest is history!

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not like we planned it, but just as good!

Mixed levels! Always a challenge, and only more so in a performance, when “stuff happens” and everyone’s excitement level is already high. We had the unexpected happen onstage recently, but my students rocked it anyway!

For our annual Recital, I planned to have all the students onstage dancing during our four-song Tribal Odyssey set (all music from Tribal Soup); this included levels 1 – 4, because there were only about a dozen dancers performing in the show.

The “plan” – and we know how antithetical “planning” is for group improv: it always proves true that the more a set is “planned”, the harder it is to dance in the moment. But anyway, the plan was that we’d have two Tribal Veil trios begin our set, with the rest of the crew coming out into a Chorus Line, ready for the next song. However, the best laid plans…!

I first noticed something awry from my post at the sound system when only a couple of Veil dancers came out – and no one else. I went backstage since I was joining them anyway, and found out what was happening: one of the first Trio dancers couldn’t get changed quickly enough, and was still in the dressing room.

So now we had a Tribal Veil duet dancing onstage all by their lonesome. This unexpected glitch (what other kind is there?) was casting some students into a frazzle, since it upset “the plan”. Oh well, what is it they say about the best-laid plans? Oh yeah – they don’t work so well with Tribal Improv!!

I quickly shooed everyone else out onstage to quiet them and continue the set; our struggling dancer came out of the dressing room and joined the next Veil trio. We resumed our Tribal set after this little hiccup and from the audience side I’m sure it looked fine – even if the entrance of the rest us was a bit out of place in the middle of the song. Whatever! Let’s just get onstage and get it on!

So it turns out we had a lovely Veil Duet, then an awesome Veil Quartet – it was great! I had a good time because I always enjoy dancing with the others, and it’ll be interesting to see the video! But meanwhile, the photos are looking gorgeous so far! Here are a couple:

tribal veil dancer

Galiyah leads the duet onstage

tribal dancers

…and the Veil quartet dances too

Have you had Tribal Improv plans go awry? Tell me in the Comments!

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planning tribal classes at Pennsic 2013

I’m looking forward to later this summer when I’ll be camping again for a short week at Orluk Oasis in Pennsic; and I’m scheduled to teach ONE Tribal Odyssey Bellydance class on the second Wednesday. I’ll be sharing some of the fast (advanced) lead-and-follow combinations, including several combos with finger cymbals (of course, cymbals are optional for new students). I hope to have a live drummer again this year.

Rajni, also of Orluk, is teaching the slow combos, and her classes repeat over several days. We both scheduled our classes for early in the morning (in the Middle Eastern teaching tent) so get up early and beat the heat!

Rajni in red

Rajni of Orluk Oasis

Rajni’s classes run in the second week, at 9am on:
7/28, 7/29, 7/31, and 8/1 (Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday). Contact Rajni through her website, Qamar Tribal Odyssey Bellydance

My classtime is 10:30am on Wednesday July 31, just after Rajni’s earlier class. Here’s the event on Facebook: Tribal O combos at Pennsic

Students taking any of our classes can get a DISCOUNT Access Pass to the TOBD Playlists on my YouTube channel (for example, the Slow Combos and Staging series). Be sure to ask about the Discount in class!

I can’t wait to see my Orluk family and the wonderful community of Pennsic bellydancers! It’s always the highlight of my year.

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and a new Sword Dancer is born!

We’re really enjoying the new Tribal Sword Combos! One of the newer PRISM Dancers, “Akila” joined us at our Hafla performance this past weekend; it was her first sword performance ever… and it was a success!

tribal sword dancers

l-r: Pixie, Kawakib, Akila, Galiyah

Sword handling and balancing skills take time to develop. Although sword dancing was never my “specialty” as a soloist, I’ve taught sword dancing before, and many of my students began using a sword in a choreography to a Desert Wind song, “ISIS”.  But – I think that the relatively quick changes of GROUP IMPROV dancing necessitates that the dancer develop her sword skills more quickly than when dancing a choreography. It may be too early to tell about that, but it’s what I suspect… Have you taught or learned by both methods? If so, what do you think?

Anyway, the dozen combos we’ve been using this spring are called the “Beginning Blade” combos. And now that we’ve used them in several performances and everything seems to be working well, I now feel free to play around with some variations… so here comes more sword fun!

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how NOT to be boring with your finger cymbals (zills)

One of my pet peeves when watching ATS or ITS groups perform is listening to boring finger cymbals. 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, please STOP! It doesn’t have to be this way!

I understand that playing cymbals is a difficult skill and that every tribal bellydance teacher can’t be expected to play well, let alone teach their students to play well.

So let me step in to help!

don't fear the Cymbals!

Playing cymbals has come easily to me and of course I want my students to be able to play well too, so I have always taught this skill in my belly dance classes. But, with one major difference from most teachers: I wait for a year or so before starting student with cymbals.

I taught students to play finger cymbals long before I began tribal improv bellydancing… it’s only been for the last ten years that I’ve used the medium of Tribal Odyssey bellydance as a tool for teaching cymbals. And in my opinion, it is much easier for students to learn this way – one more reason that I love ITS!

Here’s an article I wrote for Zaghareet! Magazine about how we’ve added finger cymbals to tribal improv:  article

We use only six finger cymbal patterns in our Tribal Odyssey format, yet this gives our performances a musical diversity that won’t bore our audience.

How many patterns does your group play? Would you like to learn to play better? I have many short how-to videos on youtube just for beginning finger cymbals: playlist

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