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  1. #1
    Member Suhad's Avatar
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    Default Choreography vs. Improv

    I've been dancing for about four years now, and performing semi-regularly for the last six months or so. I had always felt that my ability to perform was based on having a choreography because I have TERRIBLE stage fright, and that it would give me a security blanket of sorts. But, as I have performed more, pretty much completely in small crowded venues, I notice that I really can't interact with the audience much because I'm so focused on the next step in the series, or counting, or you name it.

    So...I performed Sunday night for the first time to a song I know intimately -- line by line, word by word, nearly every little nuance familiar -- and lo and behold! While my performance wasn't stellar by any means, it was a LOT more fun to do, and I was actually able to move around the floor as I chose rather than as the choreography directed.

    I have discovered there is a freedom to this, but I have a couple of questions for those of you with a lot more experience.

    Is this something that can only come when one knows the music that well?

    Do you feel like you miss some of the 'pow' that you might have had if you had choreographed the song?

  2. #2
    Junior Member Marisha25's Avatar
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    Hi Suhad, I'm not a profesional performer but I have been studying oriental dance for almost 5 years now and I have danced at student showcases and for close friends and family. What I really like to do is have a loose choreography to a song I know well, so this way I can still interact with the audience but I don't have to worry that my dance looks unprepared. I'll practice several variations to a song but when I'm performing I'll do whatever the music tells me to.
    Marisha

  3. #3
    V.I.P. Aisha Azar's Avatar
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    Default Choreography, etc.

    Dear Suhad,
    I sounds like you are making real progress toward discovering the joys of really responsding to the music as opposed to having a map of how you are supposed to respond, that is written in stone. Many dancers in the Middle East do not choreograph, but work constantly with the same bands and the same music. Others, like Nagwa Fouad put on huge stage productions that are fairly choreographed, but this does not mean every move. The word "choreography" seems to have a different meaning here than it does there, and it seems alot to do with knowing the music intimately, as you describe in your post. I am thrilled to read your post because it means you are developing some skills that I believe are vital to the dance, and that is the visceral response as opposed to the very carefully planned one.Best wishes in the exploration of your newly discovered skills!
    Regards,
    A'isha

  4. #4
    Member Hadassah's Avatar
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    I think a great deal of growing in the dance comes from learning to improvise. I still feel comfy with a set choreo for stage shows and such, but I'm finding it doesn't lend itself as well to more intimate situations, like restaurants or parties, when you want to work the room. As my teacher, Yasmine shared - it's good to know your music very well, and then choreograph the accents and improvise around them - that way you keep the dramatic parts well thought out, and the rest can be so fun! I like to use a 3/4 shimmy to travel around with, or a simple 123 step with some turns thrown in.

    Also, I think that with time, you find your comfort zone of moves and combos that you tend to gravitate to - I tend to do the same sequences when I hear a certain progression in the music, especially drum solos. That's fine, but I want to keep it interesting for people who see me dance alot, so I'm trying to break out of that form a bit.

    as A'isha mentioned, I don't think Egyptian dancers usually use a set choreography - the ones that I have seen keep it really loose, casual and fun. Their moves are refined, but the style is more comfortable and easy to watch. Also, they have their mannerisms, like head tilts, little shrugs of the shoulder, hair flips and and a less stylized way of getting rid of their veil - ie, instead of throwing it over their head like American dancers, they just will casually lay it down, maybe make an adjustment to their costume, smooth their hair, and go on. We American dancers put so much drama into our dance, and that's what Americans like,so it's fine, but Arabs prefer a more relaxed style, from what I've seen.

  5. #5
    Junior Member paola's Avatar
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    Default choreography yes or no

    Hi,

    personally I never use choreographies. I can't remember them, I don't even want to. If you know how musical sentences are built, you develop a feeling for translating what you ear in movements. At the end, it becomes a sort of "natural"choreography, on the automatic pilot.

    That goes naturally, and looks natural and less tense. Audience appreciate that. And if you do not have to think aboujt the steps to do and to count them, you are much more relaxed and you can communicate much better with your audience.

    BUT the secret is to dance on a music that you relly like, or a kind of music that goes through your heart. If you dance on live music, the best advice is to ask the musicians to play something THEY really love passionately. And not something theu can play automatically.

    If they play what they love, you will give yourself over to the music and dance wonderfully. Nobody will miss a choreography. Or maybe it will look like one, without being it.

    Musicans, music, dancer, it all becomes one thing: the feeling goes from the musicians to the music, from the music to you, you translate it in movements and the audience feels it too.

    That is, for me, the ideal situation.

    bye
    paola

  6. #6
    Moderator Yshka's Avatar
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    Wow, this is interesting. As I'm learning more and more to improvise in a good way I would like to try this sometimes. I still feel (I have about 3 years of dance experience now) I am more comfortable on stage with a choreography, but when I'm choreographing my own solos, I try to leave at least a bit of room for improv, so I will have at least some freedom within choreography.
    For now I perform with my troupe most of the time so most of it is choreographed, though my solo's (also the ones in our troupe-shows) I try to keep somewhat looser.

    I think my main problem is stage fright that comes up BEFORE the performance. When performing I start feeling better but the worst part is when getting on stage. Choreography helps me feeling safer on stage as I tend to know it so well I just dance it and have time to pay attention to things around me (like audience.etc).

    I also have this kind of 'stagefright' when performing in more personal venues when dancing alone. I still find it hard to really interact with the audience, but I feel it becoming slightly easier now. I still have a long way to go but eventually I think it might work out allright. I have been trying to leave at least some room for improvisation dancing to music I have already choreographed and know very well. In those situations I'm able to step away from parts of the older choreo and improvise, but still have a background choreo as a sort of security. That way I can improvise AND make it look nice
    Interaction with the audience is really something that needs a lot of work for me. I don't feel ready to improvise an entire performance yet, I just feel safer when at least some part is choreo.

  7. #7
    Junior Member Marisha25's Avatar
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    Speaking of relating to the audience, I have a question about eye contact. Whe I did some public speaking I would look at the audience but I would not focus on any specific faces, I felt like I was going into a separate world and I sometimes feel like that when dancing in front of someone. How do you maintain this relationship with the audience when dancing? Do you single out a few freindly faces or do you just let your eyes wonder all over the crowd (especially if you're working with a choreography)?

  8. #8
    Member Viv's Avatar
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    Is this something that can only come when one knows the music that well?
    Do you feel like you miss some of the 'pow' that you might have had if you had choreographed the song?
    For me, yes. I don't feel like I improvise as well if I haven't been able to listen to the music, or a version of it for those songs that have several different versions done by different people, before hand. I always feel like I'm playing catch up and wind up feeling very much like I'm stuck in my head instead of dancing to my best ability. Having seen video of myself dancing to unknown music before, I have to honestly say it doesn't look like I'm playing catch up or am thinking hard while I dance, but it certainly feels that way while I'm actually dancing. I also feel like I do miss some of the potential "pow" moments when I haven't been able to hear the music beforehand. I don't nessesarily need to choreograph, but for me to feel like I really did justice to the piece I need to hear the music beforehand at least a couple of times but perferably so often that I can sing it in my sleep.

    How do you maintain this relationship with the audience when dancing? Do you single out a few freindly faces or do you just let your eyes wonder all over the crowd (especially if you're working with a choreography)?
    I try to both do a general wandering of my attention over the crowd, as well as pick out a few people to really make a point of looking directly at, wink at, wave at, all those little fun things you can do to connect with the audience and make someone grin. Some days its easier to just let my focus wander rather than make direct contact with a few people, it just depends on the crowd and how receptive they are for me.
    It's actually easier for me to make contact and really interact with the audience if I'm doing a troupe choreography over doing a solo piece which is typically mainly improvisation. With the troupe choreographies I can let my body go on autopilot so to speak and really make eye contact, smile, little waves or winks at people and not miss a step.
    When I'm doing a solo, I tend to only choreograph it loosly if at all, mainly things that jump out and scream at me "This move/sequence of moves belongs here!!" and the rest is spur of the moment based on the crowd, how I feel physically as well as my frame of mind, what costume I'm wearing, what the dance surface and space is like, all those little things that effect a performance. The gals in the troupe wanted to see the number I performed at Ya Halla for example after I got back. I would have loved to show them, but there honestly was no way as what I would have danced that night would be very different than what I did at Ya Halla since it was totally improvised on the spot. I don't tend to make as much of a person to person contact when I'm doing a solo as I do a general audience contact because I have a very bad habit of being very much inside my head thinking about what I want to do next and what is coming up next in the music.

  9. #9
    Member Suhad's Avatar
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    Thanks to all of you for your replies! And thanks for the positive reinforcement, Aisha!

    I talked with my instructor at length about this after I had had a chance to debrief myself and think about every little thing I didn't do that I should have, and to really begin to focus on what I need to work on. She agrees that it is vitally important to have a repetoire (sp?) of songs that you know well and can improvise to. Choreographies don't work in every venue -- some of the local restaurants that have dancers on a regular basis don't even have a stage area, so trying a choreography would be just foolish.

    So: I really need to work on
    1. posture (when I get stressed out I tighten my diaphragm which pulls my chest down)
    2. arms!!!! I am beginning to think this is the last thing that comes together for a baby dancer!!!
    3. music repetoire
    4. smile!!

    Next scheduled performance Sept 24 so I'll really need to get to it! I DO want to shine at that one!

  10. #10
    Member Jamil's Avatar
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    i like this thread!
    on tribe i started a similar topic about this... i very rarely engage in choreographed dances unless it is at a staged event or a concert, and even then its a rough choreography, not overly memorised.
    many audiences that know a performance is choreographed dont react with the same zest as an improvised performance.
    i remember not long ago showing a huge group of arabs that had grown up around bellydance, a dvd of the BDSS concert live in Paris. and whilst many agreed that they were very talented, it was a wide spread opinion that it was over choreographed and lacked the passion and connection that a dancer should portray when Belly dancing.
    i myself also agree.
    I think both choreography and improvisation have a purpose in different contexts.

    -Jamil-

    oh and YES... i agree 'arms' is always the hardest part during improvisation. when your mind is travelling at 100000 km/h dealing with a hundred other things, the arms mentally become of secondary importance. This is not so however... one thing i have recently realised is that Audiences WILL pick it up! LOL

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