Thursday, July 24, 2008

How NOT to choreograph a bellydance solo.

Hello, everyone!

My troupe, Alchemy, wrote a new policy into our troupe contract about a year ago stating that each member had to have at least one solo prepared, preferably one traditional and one non-traditional.

Well, I'm not a big fan of solos, and I've never made a secret of that. Why, you ask? Well, I enjoy the challenge and dynamics of a group of dancers working together to make a complete show. I respect soloists and I realize it takes something special to hold an entire stage by yourself. However, if you are a soloist, and an experienced performer, short of falling on your butt or out of your top, no one ever has to know if you mess up because it's just you out there. You're independent, a free agent, no one depends on you and you don't depend on anyone! You have no one else on stage to support you, and because of that, you get all the glory or all the infamy when the music stops.

When you dance in a troupe, it's a completely different story. You are all dependant on each other, sort of like the Three Musketeers: all for one and one for all. It takes something special to choreograph a number for multiple people, and then there are the weeks of practice to get the blocking just right, make transitions to new formations smooth, make sure each member knows their part and their part within the whole, then practice practice practice to cement timing. Angles have to be perfect, every arm or hand in place, the group must move as a single entity, even when everyone is doing something unique, everyone has to share the vision and believe in it so that when the music stops, the audience suddenly snaps back to reality and starts to breathe again. You share the applause with everyone on that stage, and you are proud to do so because you know how challenging it can be to wrangle all that talent, creativity and ego into a cohesive unit and you know everyone put themselves aside to support the group and create something greater than the sum of its parts. You really have to put your ego in check when dancing in a group, and it is both incredibly humbling and amazingly uplifting.

When I first started dancing with Alchemy, I was completely unknown. And, due partly to the transformation that takes place when going from ordinary, everyday person to fabulous, larger-than-life stage persona, I remained unknown for years. I would greet dancers before a show, before I was made up and in costume, and even though I'd met them on several previous occasions and I'm co-director of my troupe, they would have no idea who I was or they wouldn't know my name. This lead to a bit of an identity crisis for me for a little while, but in the end, I simply couldn't give up dancing. I love to perform, but even more, I love to choreograph, my favorite part of being in Alchemy is hatching a new vision and presenting it fully-formed to my group, from the song to the costuming, from the choreography to the emotion and backstory that we are trying to present. I simply love it.

Now, back to the solo. The reason Mari and I wanted to write the solo into the contract was to give people the incentive to learn to choreograph a bit, the experience of bringing their vision to the stage, from beginning to end. As of July 12th, everyone else in Alchemy has gone through the trial-by-fire that is a solo. I was the sole holdout, and I was one of the people who made this a requirement for everyone else. How could I be so hypocritical? I knew I just had to get it over with. It wasn't the the performance that I was struggling with, it was the choreographing for just one person. Suddenly, I felt like I was an artist with just one color in my palette. BOOOR-ring!!!

So, like I do whenever faced with a task I'm truly dreading, I procrastinated. I had picked out a song for my traditional solo way back in September of last year: Redemption by Solace. I've been wanting to choreo this song for YEARS! and I thought this might be a good song to use for my solo. The more I worked with it, though, the more repetitious it seemed and the more I couldn't get ideas for a group number out of my head. I simply avoided the whole subject for months when newer members of the group had already performed their solos. Mari has done a solo or two before Alchemy formed, so she wasn't pressed to perform another one in any certain time frame. But when even she choreographed a new solo and performed it at a recent library show, I really felt the pressure. I committed myself to perform my solo at the next library show, which occurred this past Monday on July 21st. I could no longer procrastinate.

Well, I managed to hem-haw around until the very day of the performance. We were set to go on at 7PM, and around 1PM I picked out a new song. From there, I listened to the song over and over until the moment the show started, even while showering, dressing and doing makeup and hair, and driving over. I wrote out the music, breaking it down into groups of eight-counts to start the choreo process. I choose a short song for the same reason you tear off a band-aid: it's just easier than a long, drawn-out ordeal! The song I decided to go with is Mounira by El Almaas Band from The World of Bellydance Volume 3, disc 1. I managed to choreograph and memorize the whole number, and I performed it without a hitch. Right now, it's a blur, and I can't remember much of it other than the fact that I managed to not mess it all up! lol Mari taped it for me, but I haven't gotten the courage up to watch it yet. If it's any good and I put it up on YouTube, I'll let ya know. I'm going to be performing it again next Tuesday, July 29th at our last performance in our Summer Library Tour, so no one can say I didn't fulfill my obligation! LOL

On one hand, I'm proud of myself for a couple of reasons: I managed to create a solo, from beginning to end, within a matter of hours. I also managed to perform it without incident that same day. I even wrote out the music and choreography, which I NEVER do! (Mari is always the responsible one when it comes to our group numbers. Thanks, Mar!) This way, I can reproduce it as necessary, or we can flesh it out for a duet or group number. And, finally, I just plain got it done and over with.

On the other hand, I'm not so proud of the fact that I had to be under the gun to get it finished. I let my dislike of solo choreo beat my usual sticktoitiveness and creativity. I didn't stand up as a good example for my troupe and I'm embarrassed about that.

So, that is how NOT to create a bellydance solo: do not start it the day of the show. Do yourself a favor, get prepared and be ready in advance. You'll be glad you did! Then again, there's not alot of time to be nervous about performing when you are frantically trying to remember the choreo! lol


Donna said...

In most things I'm an independent worker, but I think that with dance, I'm with you on treasuring the group. :) Of course that could be because I'm so absolutely brand new to dance and still struggling so much to just get my body to do what my mind is trying to tell it.

Can't wait to see you girls dance tonight!!

Sharon said...

I can't believe I found you while I was googling for crochet patterns! I dance with Devyani and met you at the augusta georgia performance recently. This is so cool to meet not only a fellow bellydancer but someone who crochets too! ~ Sharon

Jeannie said...

Sharon, we are just a couple of Renaissance women, huh? :)

Sharon said...

I have been crocheting the sisha mirrors for a while now, you know the deal, can't find what you want so you have to make it! I have some great yarn to make a tassle belt with. So much yarn, so little time. I really have SABLE ( stash Acquisition Life Expectancy) My hubby says it goes beyond anyone' life expectancy!