Creating choreography can be a challenge for any dance style and belly dance is no different. It's even more of a challenge when you're a beginner. My first solo went down well, but looking back, it was overly stuffed with moves and I didn't manage my spatial use and placement very well. If you're starting with your own solo or group choreographies, here are my top tips and things to think about!
Start with the music, not the moves! As a beginner, it can be difficult to know where to start when you only know a few 'moves', but you can get away with half a dozen moves in a simple choreography. Although 'belly dance' is an umbrella term covering many styles, in general the dance form is intensely music-driven. It's about interpreting the music and rhythms, more a way of moving than a set of steps. If you're working in a more contemporary or fusion way, you might want to start with a concept or theme, or even a prop. But music is still right up at the start of the process.
Choose music you like, which moves you, stirs something in you, makes you want to dance. You are going to be listening to the same piece over and over again. What is the mood of the music, what emotion does it stir in you?
What style of music is it? It's a good idea to match the style of your dance to the style and rhythms of the music. Try to get a translation of any lyrics (but resist the temptation to mime them!).
Really listen to the music, the rhythm(s), the form (intro, verse, chorus, outro, repeats, call and response - labelling the different sections, e.g. Intro A Verse B, Chorus C, Bridge D, Outro E, you may find you have something which looks like ABCBCDBCE), the length of notes and phrases, changes in rhythm, tempo and other dynamics (loud/soft, stops/starts, flowing or percussive).
Improvise. Seriously, just dance without stopping or judging yourself and see what comes up. You might find that after dancing to the music a few times, the same moves come up in the same places, or you feel compelled to do a certain move at a particular point.
'Map out' the piece. From your notes on the form and dynamics, and observations of moves or phrases which you liked or found yourself repeating during your improvisation, you can start to do a rough choreography. It can be useful to set down the parts which seem obvious, such as an intro, big finish, and any repeats or chorus. Some people prefer to work from start to finish, but working in a non-linear way can help to prevent you getting 'stuck'.
Keep it simple. Restriction can be great for creativity. Use your favourite 'go to' moves and the moves you can do technically well and suit your body to try to make the music, its rhythms and melody, visible; meet silence with stillness, reflect the length of notes in the duration of movements, solo instruments danced on the spot, using the noisy, joyful music to travel. But remember that less is more - you don't need to pack in lots of different moves.
Use repeats (wisely!). The usual thing is to repeat a dance combination when the music repeats. It can provide an 'anchor' for the audience and dancers alike, but it can get a bit tedious to do and to watch. Tricks to change it up include:
- Doing things 'on the other side', i.e. right and left sides.
- Passing the move up or down the body (e.g. hip circles, chest circles or shoulder shimmy, hip shimmy.
- Limiting or alternating repeated phrases.
- Repeating whole phrases instead of individual moves.
- Recognising call and response, reflecting them in different movement phrases.
- Working different directions, both in terms of facing different ways (it's surprising how different a move can look when you turn it side on, but be aware of how it looks from the audience point of view!) and of using different pathways in the space.
- The power of three; when you have a similar musical phrase repeated four times, you do the same thing three times and something else the fourth time.
Use your space. Don't forget that you can manage space by taking longer or shorter steps. If your choreography is for a duet, trio or group rather than solo, look at your spacing and pathways; even if you plan to do everything in unison, think about mirroring movements, changing formations, the details of movement which allow you all to look the same (such as how high an arm is raised, which way a hand turns), and the potential for not working completely in unison!
Work on your transitions, linking moves to make them flow smoothly.
Dance with your whole self. Put your heart into it, dance with expression, both through the dynamics of the moves, the use of gestures, and through your face.
And finally, ENJOY IT!