Saturday, June 30, 2012

Faces + Bodies = Expression

Came across a post on Shira's bellydance page, All About Belly Dancing, by Shira. I thought I would share this as I feel this should be a standard that all teachers of all dance styles should be open to. Not just because it allows the student to grow more, but because as a teacher you are promoting members of your dance community which results in positive experiences for everyone and as a teacher you want to see your students come to their full potential. So here is the article:

To All Students,
Regarding "Loyalty" to Your Teacher
By Amanda Niehaus

Dear students of this beautiful art form,

I am a teacher. I teach because I am passionate about this dance and I want others to share my passion.

I am not teaching because I require a fan club.
I am not teaching because I require devotees or because I need hero worship.

As your teacher, my job is to teach you; to inspire you to be your best. If I am a really good teacher, then I also will not be your only teacher. I will encourage you to study with other teachers who have skills and experience I lack. Because I am not the end-all, be-all of belly dance knowledge.

You as a student owe me nothing. You may thank me after class, you may credit me on your first performance dvd, you may remember me when you are touring with Jillina, but you do not owe me anything. (You paid for your class. I taught you. We are even.)

I am an emotionally-mature adult (for the most part). I do not require your "loyalty" or allegiance. You do not have to take my classes just because I offer them, or just because I was your first teacher. You will not be "cheating on" me by taking classes with another instructor.

You should be taking my class because you enjoy it and are learning something. If you are no longer enjoying it or learning from it, then I would be the first to encourage you to find another, or a different, teacher. I want you to love this dance as much as I do.

Your job is to learn and practice, not to worry about my ego. I will not be "mad" at you for moving to a new level with your dance. You need to worry about YOU, and making yourself a better dancer. I will never resent you and I will only respect you for moving onward and upward.

Do what's right for you. I'll be fine, whether I'm dancing beside you or watching you from the audience. I promise.

Yours truly,
Your dance teacher

On to other things, I came across this video of Zoe Jakes and Kami Liddle performing in Las Vegas, Nevada last year and I was so mesmerized by their performance that I really wanted to share.

Now I have to admit, I've always been attracted to tribal fusion bellydancing. There is just something so fluid with the movements and the skill of solid isolations that makes it so much fun to watch. My problem is that I just don't have the body size to really do this type of bellydance style nor the skill level. Although I am a firm believer that a dancer should not be cast out because of their size, there are just some movements that us plus-size dancers cannot do where the emphasis of movements gets lost. It's a sad thing that we have to accept this about our body size, but we do still excel in many forms of bellydancing and there are indeed moves that we do tend to execute better than dancers who fit the general ideal of what a bellydancer should look like. But one thing people should understand is that even though a dancer has the body, they don't always have the skill. I have seen plenty of dancers, through live performances and video, where they have the "perfect" body but lack the finess and skill. It's like taking someone who would fit the part because they are the right size to fit the costume being provided, but not the skill to make the look work. One thing I have noticed is that there are dancers out there that have been dancing for a while who neglect to be aware of their own body. Whether you are tall, medium, short, thin, large, oddly shaped, perfectly shaped, disabled in some way or in excellent health, we all need to be fully aware of what attributes we want to emphasis the most and use our disadvantages in ways that make us unique and appealing when we dance. Obviously you don't want to flaunt your weaknesses, but if you choose movements that are easier on your body for whatever limitation you have it actually makes it so much easier to enjoy dancing without the stress of enduring pain when doing movements that are hard to endure. Never be afraid to modify a move to accommodate what your body just simply can't do. You should never feel like you have to do a move the exact way it's being taught if you are limited due to injuries, disabilities or lack of flexibility. As long as you can do the move in a way that works for you, you should be just fine and people watching will enjoy your performance without knowing you had modified anything. Especially other dancers.

One thing I would really like to emphasize is your face when you perform. If you don't look like you are enjoying yourself, then no one will. I have danced with a few people who rarely smile. It's a serious face all the time and, in all honesty, it turns off the audience. You want the audience to be engaged in what you do, not watch you and wonder when you will be done because you look like you are doing a chore rather than showing how much you enjoy dancing. If you need to, start smiling when you practice. Whether you are at home or in class drilling, just smile. There are instances where smiling is not a requirement and it is all based on the mood of your dance. If it's dramatic and/or dark in nature, you don't want to be smiling, but you can still be expressive with your face. Below are examples of dancers who have the proper faces for the style/mood that they are dancing.

As you can see, not all of these dancers are showing a bright smile like the dancer in the first picture. But variations of smiles, smirks or even an intense look is bringing some sort of expression to your face that will help add to the mood your dancing. Here is an article from Ruri-Amari Dance: The Blog that discusses facial expressions that will help you improve your face from showing no emotion/pursed lips to a very emotional/expressive face:

Belly Dance – Head Orientation and Facial Expression Control
Posted on November 20, 2010 by AnnaBeth

We are dancers. We can control our hips, torsos, and arms like nobody else… but what about our most expressive body part? The body part which portrays our mood and intent in every day situations? I’m talking about your face! You can do the most joyous, bouncy dance in the world, but if your face is upset, angry, or sad… your audience will hone in on that feeling. Try it out: Get a friend. Perform for her a serious dance with a serious face. Then do the same exact dance with a goofy face, or a sarcastic smirk, or a huge smile. Ask her how each dance made her feel. Which did she like better?

How important is your face? You can do the most spectacular dance ever, but if your face shows boredom or lack of intent, your audience will pick up on it and get bored. Conversely, you can use your face to work in your favor. If balancing a sword, basket, or candle on your head is no big deal (you could do it in your sleep with one hand behind your back), you can express such concentration with your face that your audience will be on the edge of their seats! Some things to remember:

- Your facial expression shows the intent of your dance more than any other body part (sad, thoughtful, joyous, contemplative, dark, lighthearted).

- Your face can show the audience where to look. Raise one arm and do a hip shimmy. If you are looking at your arm, so is your audience. If you are looking at your hip, so is your audience.

- Your face will betray you… not your moves! If you ‘mess up’, chances are nobody will know unless you make that “oh crap!” face.

People subconsciously know the difference between a fake smile and a real one. “When a person genuinely smiles, the orbicularis oculi and the pars orbitalis contract in addition to zygomaticus major, causing the cheeks to raise and the skin around the eyes to crease.”( A large smile with eyes which are fearful or confused will make your audience uneasy.

So what can we do? What we always do… Practice! First of all, you will need a friend. Trust me. You can’t watch your face accurately while dancing. If you have no friends (wah!), you can use a video camera.

Exercise 1: Facial Twitches
If you have a dance partner, or someone who has seen you dance a lot, you can just ask them “What strange things do I do with my face while dancing?” If you don’t, then dance some dances for them and then ask. You may be surprised at what they say. Maybe you bite your lip or purse your lips, maybe you make really obvious fake smiles, maybe you blink a lot, or maybe you whisper to yourself (it does happen!). Your first reaction will be “I don’t do that!” Believe me, you do. Whatever they say, they wouldn’t lie to you. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle! =)

Exercise 2: Gaining Control of your Face
This exercise sounds easy, but it isn’t! Do a dance (choreographed or improvised) and don’t use your head or face. Look straight forward the entire time and don’t make any facial expressions. A friend comes in really handy here. They can tell you when you look to the side or make a face. You can’t trust yourself to catch it… you really need someone to tell you when you get off track.

Exercise 3: Intent
Before you do a dance, decide on your intent. What are you trying to say with this dance? If your inner goal is to ‘just make it through this dance’, then that is what will show on your face. Practice! While you practice your dances, pay attention to what you are saying with your face. Where are you looking? Is that where you want to be looking? Where should your audience look? Is your head orientation reflecting that? What should your audience be feeling? Are your facial expressions showing that? Remember, what you do in practice will come out in a performance.

Exercise 3: Choreograph a Look
In your next choreographed piece, add a head orientation to your dance. This can be especially powerful in group dances. There is something that produces chills when everyone, as a unit, moves their head in a precise look.

Like every other body part and every muscle, we need to condition our heads and faces. Don’t overlook this important aspect of your dance!

Always practice what face you are wanting to express based on what mood you are expressing. You may be surprised to find that you are more appealing to watch when you execute a look that captivates your audience. Remember, human beings base our emotions on what we see. If someone is showing an emotion, we are able to identify with that expression and know how they are feeling. As an example, I will display a picture of myself performing where it is obvious to tell I am not sure of what I am performing. Keep in mind that because I didn't know this choreography, I was basing all my moves on the queues being given by those in front of me and that this does show on my face:

This is proof that even though you may not know the choreography, you got to learn how to watch for queues without giving it away on your face.

So here is an assignment for you. Go look in the mirror and start practicing your faces for when you perform. Practice these faces while you practice your dance at home or in class. If it helps, play the music you are dancing to while looking in the mirror as you work on your facial work. The music will help you feel the emotion you want to show. You may be surprised when you look at the next set of pictures or videos taken of you at your next performance!

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