One Song, One Move

One of the things I love about belly dance is how easy it is to practice. It’s chock-full of named moves that I can drill over and over again until I get ’em right. Because I have a deep love of listening to music on repeat, I’ve got a certain way I like to practice: one song, one move.

This would probably drive some people nuts.

I warm up doing a variety of moves for one or two run-throughs of a song, just doing a few repetitions of every move I know. …This might be where I sneak in some of the combo ideas I come up with on my runs.

On subsequent plays of the song (same song!), I pick a trouble move or a move I haven’t done in a while, and I do it repeatedly for the whole song, in both directions if it’s a circular move, like omies (full move done slowly at about 2:26 in that video; we always do it much faster). Any move where I have an “afflicted side”, as Nayna puts it–where I can do it counterclockwise well, but maybe jacked-up clockwise–the afflicted side gets about twice the number of repetitions. From Wikipedia:

When first learning a motor task, movement is often slow, stiff and easily disrupted without attention. With practice, execution of motor task becomes smoother, there is a decrease in limb stiffness, and muscle activity necessary to the task is performed without conscious effort.

Muscle memory is key. When I practice omies over and over again, I can go into class a couple days later and be able to do them more spontaneously (although not easily yet). Before I started practicing (or when I let a week go by without practicing), I had to do 2-3 stiffly before I could get into the flow of them.

Since our current choreography only includes them in 3-round bursts, the latter is a problem.

That muscle memory lets me shimmy on automatic now. I can now do basic traveling and layering with shimmies.

I can’t always pull off doing a single move for three and a half minutes, of course. Because I’m using my legs/knees to omi (rather than, say, my abdominal muscles or glutes), I have to break them up with shimmies or hip hits to give my legs a rest. I get dizzy doing more than a couple of spins/turns back to back. Belly rolls make me nauseous after about 10 of them. Bleh.

The key advantage to doing all of this to a single song on repeat is that it lets you learn the song. No, I don’t really need to know every rhythm change for the Beyoncé song of the week (my hip-hop class’s current song is usually what I port over), but it gives me the freedom to practice snappy improv combos that play to the song’s quirks. Instead of being late to catch a rhythm change, I can switch from shimmies to hip hits for a quick three-beat heavy rhythm and layer chest lift/drops over it without missing a beat.

It’s really fun, and even without a teacher at hand to provide tips to ease the learning, I’m still getting better. It offers nice variation on the choreography in class, which, since recital is next month, is at least the 3rd month I’ve done our current song.

This month I’m only dancing on Mondays, so on days I’m not running, I try to get in some practice like this. An hour of these drills is one hell of a workout.