Tips and Tricks for Creating Choreography for Belly Dance

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Writing a choreography can sometimes be a laborious and frustrating experience. Getting ideas from conception to paper isn’t always intuitive and it's very easy to get lost or feel like you're running out of ideas. If you feel this way, you're not alone! Over the years I've gathered together some tips and tricks to help your choreography process. 

1. Turn up the music, turn on your camera and move. 

I have found that for the most part your body will naturally pick movements that it sees fit for the music. Doing no-pressure at-home improv can get the creative juices flowing. I recommend that you record yourself because lets face it, our short term memory sucks. Film yourself so you can re-watch what you did to get that fun combo down. This is also a tool for your practice, but we'll get to that at another time. 

2. Fill in the blank.

I learned this tip from the brilliant Mellilah of Seattle. Before you choreograph anything, get out some lined paper and a pencil. Play your music and while you do, count out the 8 counts. Each line general equals an 8 count. Leave space between versus and choruses. Add time stamps to keep track of where you are. Do this before writing your choreography and you'll have a full map of your music. Just fill in the blanks.

Let me show you how it works. Let's use the song El Helwa by Dr. Samy Farag. I've created a short choreography for this example. You can buy the song at the link if you'd like, it's a fun one!

8 walk in pose / side hip circle

8 walk center new pose / snake arms

8 turn to back / maya right and left

8 arms come up / pull down

0:12

8 hip hits RLRLRL / roll left shoulder back turning head

8 drop left hip 4 times / spin right 

8 sashay right

8 spin to center stage

0:25

Ok, so this isn't an award-winning choreography but you get the idea. The 8s represent the 8 count in the music. /s represent a break or division (usually 4 counts / 4 counts). Timestamps are clearly listed to make drilling a lot easier. Keep in mind this may not work for every song. Also be wary of becoming too robotic or focused on the count. Give yourself room to move.

3. Don't be afraid to repeat. 

When you first start choreographing there's a temptation to add every movement you've ever learned. It can feel like your audience will get bored with your routine if you don't constantly change it up. This is simply not true.  Generally, less is more. Repeating your combos for your chorus or verse is absolutely ok! If a movement works well, keep it and reuse it. Especially when you are starting out keeping it simple will not only let you focus on the technique of what you already have but it will also make it simpler to remember on the spot. 

4. Listen to the lyrics.

Every song is a story. Using the lyrics will guide you to the mood of the song and will direct you to what type of movements you'll choose. Let your movements tell the story as if you are the lead singer or the subject of the story. If they are singing about love, maybe pull your hands to your heart. If they are singing about a life tragedy maybe a slow maya. Your interpretation may vary and don't be afraid to show emotion! If the song is not in a language you know you should already be looking for a translation. Finding a translation prevents accidental faux pas. Dancing to songs that involve politics, religion, or an overly sexual nature might not be what you're wanting to represent. Doing your research and get a deeper understanding of the music your dancing to will only improve your performance. 

5. If something doesn't work, chuck it.

Ran through your choreography 20 times and still can't nail that combo? Get rid of it. If something just won't stick in your mind after practicing rigorously, you won't remember it come show time. Keep things simple and your muscle memory will have an easier time remembering your choreography. 

Kat teaches, dances, and produces shows in Tacoma, Washington. You can find out more about her belly dance classes, belly dance performances, and belly dance shows at www.tacomabellydance.com