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  1. #1
    V.I.P. adiemus's Avatar
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    Question Teaching improv - a contradiction in terms?

    I am definitely a baby beginner, but I would really like to start learning to improvise or choreograph. When should you start to learn/do improvisation, what are the 'rules' of improvising, can you learn to improvise?

    The reason I want to start earlier rather than later is that when learning to play the piano I learned classical and play using the music - now I find it really difficult if not impossible to relax enough to play without the music and just improvise.

    I'd like to learn to dance without a set choreography because it just seems so much freer - and I'm sure in the early days in a home environment there was no choreography. But I'm afraid to start now by myself because I don't know enough about the 'rules' of dance - which movements should be incorporated - and I don't want to get into bad habits.

    Thoughts anyone?
    cheers
    Bronnie

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    The only thing I've found helpful with improvisation is watching as many Egyptian performances as possible (preferably live) and attending workshops with Egyptian teachers who make it up as they go along (some students *hate* these workshops!) to see what the music makes them feel. I don't find watching heavily-choreographed performances helps at all.

    You need to listen to Arabic music all the time to get to know its structure and nuances.

  3. #3
    V.I.P. adiemus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Suheir View Post
    The only thing I've found helpful with improvisation is watching as many Egyptian performances as possible (preferably live) and attending workshops with Egyptian teachers who make it up as they go along (some students *hate* these workshops!) to see what the music makes them feel. I don't find watching heavily-choreographed performances helps at all.

    You need to listen to Arabic music all the time to get to know its structure and nuances.
    Do you know how few Egyptian dancers come to NZ?!! I agree it doesn't help to watch choreographed performances...they seem to always been symmetrical (dance in one direction, dance in the opposite, do one right hip lift, do one left, you know what I mean?). The performances that I've seen of Maria and Chryssanthi don't seem to do this at all, and they really *breathe* the music and are part of it, which I don't think choreography can really do.

    Do you need to have a wide range of movements under your belt (so to speak!) before dancing?
    And I've read Hossam Ramzy's statements about which parts of the body should move with which instrument, is this accurate or just his take on it?

    I've been listening to Arabic music a lot (and love it! well most of it), and studying rhythms and so on, and do get up and wiggle a bit (a few bits wiggle a lot!!), but like I said, don't want to get into bad habits.
    Thanks for the advice Suheir!!

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    Super Moderator gisela's Avatar
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    It's great that you are wary of bad habits and so, but you have to start somewhere, right? When I first started to learn improv, my teacher gave us three different fluid moves, like camel, figure 8 and hip circle. Then she put on some baladi takasim and had us change between those three moves whenever we felt like it. Then we just took it from there, became braver and more relaxed, put some accents in, moved more over the floor etc. I thought that was quite a good start since we were all incredibly shy about dancing in front of eachother.

    In the class I take now (with another teacher) we each pick a piece of music and then we listen to it many times, writing it down. Like, we write how many eight-counts there is and divide the song into intro, piece A,B,C, bridge, break etc. Then we find which rhythms are where and which instruments are playing which parts. Next step is to figure out what mood the different parts have and if there are folkloric references that should be considered. This teacher usually choreographs her dances but I think it could be a good way of really getting into the music and analyzing it step by step. She was also talking about hossam ramzy's plan over moves and instruments but I haven't read it myself, it sounded like a good start though.

    So there's my two different ways of approaching it. Hope it makes sense
    Last edited by gisela; 10-01-2007 at 09:43 PM.
    immer glimmer

  5. #5
    Senior Member Eshta's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adiemus View Post
    Do you need to have a wide range of movements under your belt (so to speak!) before dancing?
    And I've read Hossam Ramzy's statements about which parts of the body should move with which instrument, is this accurate or just his take on it?
    Just my take on things!

    improvising doesn't just boil down to 'moves', so you won't get better at it by learning 'new moves'. Probably more important is to be confident, fluent and versatile with the moves you already know. For example, you can do so much with a figure 8 just by changing the speed, size, level...

    Understanding the music is more than half of the battle I think.

    I'm a student of Hossam and Serena Ramzy's, so my answer to your latter question may appear biased, however I decided to become a student of theirs BECAUSE I think they have an accurate take on how to interpret music, which in turn helps to understand how to improvise. And I've been able to see my dancing transform.

    The trouble with the articles is that there is so so much depth to the theories that it would be impossible to capture everything with so few words! However, it's a great place to start.

    If you can't watch or attend live shows/workshops, youtube can be a valuable teaching tool! If you start off by concentrating on the legends, ask yourself what it was in the music that made them move in a certain way - was it a rhythm change, was it the note the instrument played, was it a big orchestration? I personally learnt a lot from Naima Akef as it was the most obvious to me why she danced each move as she did.

    And also, practice! From experimenting, you can see what 'fits' with what sound/sentiment in a song. The nay gives long, whispy, sorrowful notes, so it's rare that a shimmy (which is earthy, staccato) can work, but the best way to find that out is to try it!

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    V.I.P. adiemus's Avatar
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    You guys are GREAT! Thanks so much for your thoughts, it's pretty much along the lines of what I thought, and from reflecting on some of the dancers I've seen that I've really liked, it wasn't the moves per se, more the feeling of the moves. As someone on here said, it's not 'Look at my shimmies, look at my figure eights', it's 'listen to the music, my dance will help you feel it'. That's what I really want to avoid doing by starting to improvise now rather than later, as I don't want to complicate the feeling of the music with 'what's my next step'!!

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    Senior Member Gia al Qamar's Avatar
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    I hope this is helpful...
    I explain to my students that improvisation in dance is much like it is for jazz musicians. We learn to improvise 'riffs' that we know and use comfortably. A small combination (let's say, right hip bump, small turn into a reverse undulation) can be combined with a wide variety of other moves to create a completely improvised piece.
    Find single moves that you enjoy doing and string them together...then put them in different orders...add shimmies in between...add hip circles in between etc...see how each feels. Improvisation doesn't mean that you cannot rehearse combinations! Enjoy!
    Gia

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    Administrator Salome's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adiemus View Post
    what are the 'rules' of improvising, can you learn to
    Absolutely! For most western dancers technique comes first and that's natural, you have to learn the 'language' before you can speak it...

    I'm a strong advocate of improv. There are 5 aspects of improvising to music that we work with in my class - beat, rhythm, instrument, melody and taqseem. I start in teaching how to dance to the beat, with some basic music theory so they can determine the beat on their own, find the 1 etc. Dancing to the beat is, I think, a good place to start for beginners. It's easy to identify and very elementary in applying movement. You are just moving at the same speed as the music and perhaps changing sides, levels, direction, movement per measure...

    Ultimately you want to be able to improvise all of the music, the nuance of an instrument, the melody, perhaps individual rhythms, the taqseem if there is one... the tone, texture, and feeling of it all but the beat is a good starting place.

  9. #9
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    Interesting thread! I think part of improvising is allowing yourself to relax and enjoy moving to and listening to the music. My first teacher had us improvise for each other very often (most every class). I hated it at the time and would always tensed up and dance in a very restrained way. I was very careful only to do moves she taught and would try to spot choreograph my "improv". I dreaded and hated improv! Eventually I realized my approach was not in the spirit of what she wanted us to do.

    I think for me, one big aha moment was being at a party where I saw people from root countries using "belly dance moves" while social dancing. If you don't have access to this experience, open dancing at haflas can help. Obviously, an improvised dance performance still needs to be polished, but exploring the social dance aspect may be a step towards getting a feel for improv.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by samsied View Post
    Interesting thread! I think part of improvising is allowing yourself to relax and enjoy moving to and listening to the music. My first teacher had us improvise for each other very often (most every class). I hated it at the time and would always tensed up and dance in a very restrained way. I was very careful only to do moves she taught and would try to spot choreograph my "improv". I dreaded and hated improv! Eventually I realized my approach was not in the spirit of what she wanted us to do.

    I think for me, one big aha moment was being at a party where I saw people from root countries using "belly dance moves" while social dancing. If you don't have access to this experience, open dancing at haflas can help. Obviously, an improvised dance performance still needs to be polished, but exploring the social dance aspect may be a step towards getting a feel for improv.
    for some reason... (like being up all night w/ a sick child & then having him here w/ me @ work?!?) this reminded me of good old (american) club dancing.... this of course is NOT choreographed.... if you watch the "good" dancers they are enjoying & following the music... & if you watch 'em long enough..., most, you will notice have some of those "combos" that (I think??) Gia was talking about......
    so then apply this to mid east dance music/moves... & why not.... you are improvising.. (at least in a social setting!!!! which is, is it not???? where most belly dancers began????)
    so why not get with your teacher & organize a hafla with LOTS of open floor dancing..as opposed to "performances" (was just speaking w/ an old teacher of mine the other day, & we were lamenting the absence of gold old "open floor" dancing lately!!!)
    so yeah... have a DANCE PARTY!~

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