Sunday, 19 February 2012

Give Us A Cue!

The other day I was browsing - as you do - through some recent threads on a Facebook discussion group and I came across one where a dancer was concerned about another teacher in her area. Rightly or wrongly (and that's a whole other discussion!) she outlined her concerns about a recent (tribal) performance by this other dancer and her group - poor posture and so on - but THEN she added another criticism. As an audience member she couldn't identify any cues! WHAT?!

As you can imagine, I did a double take at this. Be warned, it's 'Bee In The Bonnet' time again. It just throws out so many issues I don't know where to begin. But begin I will .....

As any committed Tribalista knows, there are a fair few different Tribal formats (N.B. I'm using 'Tribal' in its original sense of group improvisation, as opposed to Tribal Fusion or Tribal Choreo which, to me, are different  beasts entirely) out there. And again, as any committed Tribalista knows, each format has developed its own set of cues .... sme physical, some verbal, some overt, some that are invisible to all but the most discerning eye. Sometimes cues for different moves may scream out at you like an express train hurtling down a track ..... and sometimes they're a mere whisper. Sometimes the moves ARE the cues. If you're on nodding terms with a few different formats you may spot them, but otherwise, try as you might they may well pass you by.

Two of our Dance Idols - Dulcinea and Paulette - dancing
closely together
Sakura. as many of you know, dance a style of improv based strongly on Gypsy Caravan ... with some twists and moves of our own. Now, it's quite hard to evaluate for ourselves, but judging by the numbers of folks who say to us after a performance 'I couldn't see your cues' or 'I didn't realise you were improvising' I guess we must fall into the whispering cues category. Having said that, I'm sure that if Paulette were to watch us she'd be able to tell at a glance where we were coming from, and would be able to join in beautifully too - including with our own little quirks! Quite simply, we don't need big overt cues. We dance closely together (we're working on not drifting apart!) and we try to focus strongly upon really looking at and SEEING one another .... both consciously and sub consciously. The slight shift of weight, angling of a hip, turn of the head, movement of the arm all give subliminal cues not only that a change is about to happen, but also a heads up as to what that change might be.  Being balanced and poised to flow into a new move helps immeasurably! The change when it comes needs to be made with true intention - clarity in communication can't be over-emphasised. There may well then of course be more visual cues within the move itself - arm position for example - that build upon all those subliminal cues - but essentially they are a part of the move itself, NOT an add on. And yes, if you're not familiar with the moves you may not spot them as being cues at all!

We certainly are NOT saying that we are total whizzes at all of this. We are very much on a steep learning curve (and loving every minute!), but this is what we aspire to, and is what's working for us. It's a very organic process which has a flow and a life all of it's own. Does it always go smoothly? Of course not; we have many blllllerghhh moments which thankfully have always been in practices, but the connection we have means that even if someone goes wrong we can still make a jolly good attempt at following them because we're using all those extra little cues. It's this that, for us, builds that Tribal Connection - it's total synergy!

Cues come in many shapes and sizes!
Now, what am I trying to say with all of this? You may well ask; that's the problem with 'Bee in the Bonnet' posts!This brought up a fair few issues for me, but some are going on the back burner for another time! However, going back to the original prompt for this post, I suppose what I'm really getting at here is that you can't judge a Tribal performance by whether or not you can spot the cues. Unless you're super-experienced you also can't always reliably tell whether it's improv or not by whether or not you can spot the cues (although of course if you were super-experienced you'd also appreciate that there are all those other little signs happening, wouldn't you?). Cues come in all shapes and sizes, and I haven't even touched here on verbal cues. But at the end of the day, those cues are there for the dancers, not for the audience. So don't waste time playing 'Spot The Cue' - sit back and let yourself be drawn into the magic that is Tribal Bellydance!

Until next time - happy dancing!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Guest Blog : Close Encounters of the Tribal Kind!

Jo solos at Haxby
Some of you may recall that last November Cayte and Sarah were lucky enough to go to the Close Encounters of the Tribal Kind Sleepover and had a fantastic time - if you missed it you can read all about it here and here. So good they blogged it twice, eh?! Anyway, a couple of weeks ago the Close Encounters team put on another great event - a day of dancing and drumming workshops followed by a hafla in Haxby, near York (in the good old UK). Sadly Sakura couldn't make it to this one but our lovely friend Jo headed on over there. She had a wonderful time and has captured it all here for you in words and pictures :

Jo's Recipe For Happiness

Take four top teachers :

Asif Qu ; drummer and teacher extraordinaire!
Chill out with friends ...

Brian, Ged and Michelle take a break

and a massive drum circle....

More drumming with Asif

and waft your skirt.

Angela Noble leads a skirt dance

Throw in oodles of oojiness ....

Pauline Qu gets slinky

loads of passion ....

Samantha MacLaren's Renegades

Angela Noble's TribeZuza

live music from the Nomads ...

The fabulous musicians of The Nomads

and dance till you drop!!

Jo, Carol and Tania give it some welly on the dance floor!
Wow - looks like an amazing time was had by all. So sorry we had to miss it, but we're already booked onto the next Tribal Sleepover!

The Tribal Gathering
The next Close Encounters day will be held in Nottingham on March 24th - details are available on Facebook or on Pauline and Asif's BTS site here. The 'Dream Team' of Pauline & Asif (BTS), Michelle Pender Whirling Dervish) and Angela Noble Tribezuza) are then putting on a whole weekend of tribal in June - the Tribal Gathering! It's going to be jam-packed with teachers, workshops, haflas and shopping and is starting to fill up already. Check it out on Facebook here and on it's very own site here. It promises to be a fantastic weekend!

Thank you so much for sharing with us Jo - you're a star! Jo is going to be at Majma in March and has promised to take her camera and let us know all about it!

Victoria Hall, Saltaire - venue for JoY
Sakura will be dancing at a couple of haflas in March, then their next big event will be workshops at the Jewel of Yorkshire festival in April. We are doubly excited this time around because we're doing workshops with Les Soeurs Tribales! Actually we're TRIPLY excited because we're going to see some dancing friends - and fellow members of the Gypsy Caravan family - that we've not seen for ages! We can't wait to dance again with Deirdre from Scotland and Wendy from Wales!!!

Until next time - happy dancing!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Mixed Improv in the Snow!

Jan and I navigating the M65 last night! Card by Rozie Hadley
- for more of her fabulous bellydance artwork and cards go to
Well, yesterday Jan and I headed off over the Pennines for an improv workshop and tribal hafla with our teacher, Chris. Intrepid explorers that we are we had checked out the weather forecasts (snow, ice and freezing fog) and had packed multifarious layers of clothing (including Jan's PJs in case we had to stop over), food, a torch and a shovel. Not a lot gets between us and our dancing! Despite hopeful signs of non-sticky snow earlier in the afternoon it wasn't looking good by tea time and we made the disgruntled decision to head homewards (I did console myself with a nifty purchase from The Tribal Temptress!) and the hafla actually had to be cancelled anyway - hopefully it will be rescheduled! We didn't need our Antarctic gear after all, but the vegan choccy biccies livened up the journey back!

Improvising North Wind style at an Arcomnia gig last year
 Luckily our journey had not been in vain ... we had a fabulous workshop, drilling moves and improvising to a bit of Arcomnia. The class was very well attended and was also very mixed in terms of experience ... some who had done a lot of improv in Chris' North Wind format, some who were familiar with the format but hadn't improvised, some who had done other types of tribal and some who were dipping into tribal for the first time. That of course, lends itself to a whole different experience on lots of levels. It reminded me of a great blog of Shay Moore's from a few years back (I thoroughly recommend her blogs - you can read her current ones here) where she focused on the importance of dancing with beginners - although it could equally be applied to improvising with people who just have different dance experiences.

Sakura - dancing in harmony!
 You can read Shay's original blog post here. She makes some really valid points and I'm with her all the way! When we dance together as Sakura we are really familiar with one another's dance traits and foibles - the slight level change, angling of the body, arm movement - and so follow one another relatively seamlessly, to the extent  that other dancers sometimes struggle to see our cues and have to check whether we were improvising (Yes we are - we only perform improv! Not all of our moves have cues anyway, but that's a whole different story!). We challenge one another in different ways; new moves, different lead changes and so on. But on reflection, maybe familiarity DOES breed a bit of contempt. Not in a nasty way of course, but in the sense that maybe we sometimes become a little lazy as leaders and don't define moves with as much intention as we should, particularly when we're fisrt moving into them. We also have a lot of trust in one another and maybe this impacts upon us sometimes as followers - once someone has led us into a move we automatically presume it's going to go to plan. Of course it usually does, but every now and then the music may change or someone might have a bit of a mind-melt and something different could happen! It might be infrequent, but it's always as well to be aware and alert!

Sarah takes the lead with
oodles of intent!
Dancing with people with different experiences - whether beginners or not - is a great way of heightening such awareness. As a follower you have to watch really closely, and sometimes have to follow different interpretations of the same move. You experience what happens when cues aren't clearly given, or when somebody isn't quite with the rhythm of the music.  You see first hand the need for shared understanding of moves and the need to be really familiar with moves you're leading on. You become really aware of moves that could be confused with one another, and of the need to really define them. It's an invaluable experience, both in terms of forcing you to REALLY concentrate on your following but also in honing your skills as a leader. When you step up into that front spot (Yay! Love that feeling!) you really take the time to emphasise your cues and moves and to ensure that everyone behind you is also really drawn into the rhythm by your dance movements. You really move with intention!

Cayte and Jan, working it  together!
 Sometimes more experienced dancers think they're too good for more basic classes. They might think that dancing with less experienced dancers isn't challenging enough. I think that's really sad. Basic technique is vital whatever level you're dancing at. When you revisit familiar moves you so often find new aspects on which to concentrate ... once the move is ingrained into your body your mind is freed up to concentrate on the finer points. You might challenge yourself in your private practice or in higher level classes, but dancing - particularly improvising - with less experienced dancers (whether that be less experienced in general, less experienced in improv or less experienced in your format) brings a whole new set of challenges. If your mind and heart are open you have so much to learn and take back into your own dance.

Improv rocks!

Until next time - happy dancing!

Thanks to Rozie Hadley and Ian Woodward for images in this blog