Crafting a Set 3: Dancing

Ana performing at Gothla 2019; dark costume, holding an open white fan

In the last few posts I’ve written about how I put together a set, what I think about before I start, how I select my music. I mentioned that the next step was creating the dance, or at least the outline.

I will not write a lot about this part of my process because it will be very different for everybody, and will depend a lot on your style of dancing and how you connect with the music. ATS® may be improvisational, but that doesn’t mean it is haphazard! And it should be the same for any other style.

However, there are still things you can do, if you are working with a recorded track:

  • listen to the track, lots: figure out the structure, you can draw a line on a piece of paper to see where you feel the track ebbs or surges, where there is a particular piece where you feel there needs to be more emphasis, or even if there are repeated sections
  • map it somehow: can be by music phrasing, by “feel”, by vocals, by main instrument or by counts. We are supposed to be another instrument working in conjunction with the music, and we can’t do that if we’re not familiar with it. This will help stop you from something like starting a 32 count combo if you only have a 16 count phrase.
  • moves/combos: for ATS-ers, this can mean using Indian inspired combos if dancing a track with heavy Indian influence (see Bounce in the previous post), classic for old school like Helm, Hossam Ramzy or Upper Egyptian Ensemble. For other types of belly dancing, you can have a similar approach: golden age style for Om Kolthoum, etc. Reminding yourself of what you can do and practicing those is not cheating, nor it is “limiting your self expression”; it’s just giving yourself a framework
  • moves/combos 2: see if there are any parts of your music that you feel “calls” for a certain move, or a certain family or type of moves: percussive, continuous, or vibrating.
  • decide on improvisation or choreography: if you are doing an improvisational style, there is no debate; but otherwise, there is no shame in choreographing; one is not inherently superior than the other. You can also do a hybrid; have some set points choreographed, and improvise the rest.
  • intensity: if you drafted the dynamics of the track while listening, you can now decide how to represent them with your body and expressions. If you’re doing gestures, make sure you understand where these come from

Dancing is where most your efforts should go. You can compensate for a weak track or a dull costume with brilliant dancing, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Putting in the work dancing is where you’ll get beter, costuming is just the sprinkles on top. But ultimately, when you are creating your own dances, nobody can tell you what to do, and can only tell you whether it works or not after the fact.

Being prepared should not stiffle your artistic sensiblity, but overthinking might. Understanding the tracks and your reactions to it will ultimately allow you to flow in the moment.

Next time, I’ll write about my costume selection process.
What is your favourite way of creating a dance?

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