Choreography In The Box And Out Of The Box

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belly-dancer-leyla-najma-peacock-headress-headshotMany dancers will write me and ask very valid questions regarding music and structure in choreography. The first time any dancers choreographs her dance can be a very scary thing. And it can be daunting because how does a dancer put in creativity into her performance? Years ago when I went to workshops and learned choreography the one thing that always happened to me was that I just didn’t hear the music like the instructor and secondly there were times when I felt the moves didn’t fit with the music. But what do you do when you are learning from a master dancer and choreographer and you don’t agree with their combinations to the music? You learn as much as you can and change what you don’t like. And that’s what I did. Most instructors expect a few changes here and there anyways. But one important thing is always give credit where credit is due. Tell people who choreographed the dance you are performing if you did not choreograph it yourself.

If you look at in the box choreography you will find that there are venues when this works to your advantage, especially if you are in a troupe. Also in the box choreography works well if you are performing at a venue where you get called last minute but than spontaneous choreography works well here too. The best thing to do is be efficient in both.

Restaurant dancing for me has always been a venue where I creatively did whatever I wanted within the space given. Since I performed for over 15 years in restaurants, I feel that restaurant dancing helped me to improve my stage and nightclub performing.
It is amazing what can happen to you when you work with a live band especially if you can’t always rehearse with them before you perform. I can remember working with a band in Houston and some of the musicians were arguing…..in the middle of my show. This was one instance that I was grateful for spontaneous choreography! Another time I worked with a wonderful band in Dallas and the drummer was really grumpy the night they were playing for me. We ended up doing a 20 minute drum solo because he wasn’t ready for me to be finished and he was mad at his girlfriend. As I lay on the floor of my dressing room seeing stars (literally) it occurred to me that not only did I live through the drum solo but again spontaneous choreography saved me.
Just so you all know I had a discussion with the drummer afterwards and told him to either get another girlfriend or go make up!

Choreography is very important when it comes to the interpretation of the music. Pauses, accents, posing, traveling steps and layering all make choreography come alive. Combinations can become robotic if you don’t put life into them. A good choreographer understands that she is the visual
interpreter of the music to the audience. Remember to be yourself and to speak with your body the way that you would speak words. An audience can tell if a dancer doesn’t believe in herself or her dance and this can be very disappointing for them. Believing in yourself really is half the battle and once you gain your confidence you will find that grace on stage comes from a comfort level a dancer has with herself. This means that whether your dance is spontaneous or in the box the audience wants to see a confident dancer.

In the box choreography is based on learning how to count to each phrase in the music. It’s easier to work within your 4 to 8 counts on any given combination. Bringing in your opposition hips can really help out with in the box choreography because even though you may work a 4 count combo on each hip you can still have variation and create different movements for each side. Make sure you master both hips so that you can easily go from one side to the other with ease. I look at my hips as twins but they are not identical twins. This is because each movement will look slightly different on each hip.

Spontaneous choreography is my favorite and I tend to have more fun allowing the audience to add to my dance. The way I look at spontaneous choreography or in the box for that matter is that 90% of my dance is done before I go on stage but I allow the audience to finish the last 10% of the dance by telling me what kind of energy they want and by what kind of audience they are. Either way the audience must feel they are a part of your dance at least with your eye contact and facial gestures.
Spontaneous choreography can include off counting and opposition hip combinations that aren’t the same count. For example I may do a 3 count move on my right hip and than a 5 count move on my left hip. It adds up to 8 but I can guarantee you that the audience won’t know the count because once you understand how to work in your opposition hips, your speed will make it hard for anyone to count out what you are doing.
Spontaneous choreography allows for you to change up anything you need to especially if you dance for a crowd that is more conservative or one that is more lively. And let’s not forget your stage factor. If the stage is smaller than your were told, spontaneous choreography comes in handy but if you are within a 5 year range in dancing, in the box choreography will help here and you can adjust to the size of the stage by making your traveling steps smaller.

Bottom line is that as you accomplish the combinations and the moves you love, your enthusiasm will shine through to the audience. Feel comfortable in your own body and work on moves that feel good to you. Choreography really is all about your life story. Your life story is up on stage for the audience to see. So make sure you show them how incredible you are and leave them wanting more!

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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"

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