Bellydance combos and choreographies are like recipies. You combine the ingredients in different ways, use different cooking techniques and add your personal flair, and voila! You have a delicious dish. But just like in cooking, the most delicious dishes always start with top quality ingredients.
That’s how I view the role of drills in bellydance. When we up the quality of our individual movements, we elevate the overall quality of our performances. Look at ballet as an example – at every level from kiddie class to the NYC Ballet’s company rehearsals, every class begins at the barre with plies, tendus and the like. Maintaining and improving quality in the foundation movements is key.
There are many ways we can approach bellydance drill practice and use some creativity to keep it fresh and varied so stay engaged. Whether it’s for your personal practice at home or planning class for students, the more ways we approach our foundation movements, the deeper we integrate them into our bodies. This also helps us develop our skill in variations so we can better use our moves to express musicality in our improvisation and choreography.
So let’s look at a few ways to drill creatively! Some will be more useful for some movements than others. I hope these spark some of your own unique ideas…
!. Use different weight placements. This is particularly useful for hip directions or isolations such as ups downs, twists, etc. It’s so important to be able to execute these well on both a weighted or unweighted side – or to transfer weight.
2. Play with size. Just about any movement can be done in a small and subtle way, or be made big and languid. Think of snake arms or hip circles, both have huge size variation possibilities! Remember that big doesn’t mean a lack of control!
3. Play with speed. This is an excellent technique for cleaning up shapes. Pick a move, for example a rib circle or a hip figure 8. Do the move in 2 counts, then 4, 8, 16… how slow can you go? What do you discover when you slow it down that much? If you are practicing shimmy layers, this can be particularly revealing about what part of a movement needs more work!
4. Use timing patterns. Patterns like “slow (1-2), slow (3-4), quick (5), quick (6), quick (7)” are super common in bellydance because they work well with the music. They are useful for drills too.. Try “quick (1), quick (2), slow (3-4)” or “slow (1-4), medium (5-6), quick (7), quick (&) quick (8)” What other ones can you think of? Let your favorite music inspire you. See what it “asks for”.
5. Add another body part. Lots of opportunity here! Add arms to a hip drill. Add a hip drop or foot pattern to an arm drill. Add a rib lift/drop to a hip shimmy drill… the options are endless. Take it a step further and put a timing pattern on that addition!
6. Make it travel. Most bellydance movements can be made to travel. Walking hip circles. Moving sideways with a vertical hip figure 8 up (I’ve heard this called a “serpentine” step). Walk with your undulations and camels or do them with a “front and back and” foot pattern.
7. Make it turn. Use a movement to turn in a smooth and continuous pattern, like doing 8 counts of undulations in a circle around yourself. Or try doing 3 repetitions of a move in place and using the 4th to turn a quarter or half or full turn. Try this with a basic Egyptian or a drop kick. I bet you can think of others!
8. Add some zills! Of course, you didn’t think I would leave this out, did you? If so, you must be new around here! Adding a finger cymbal pattern will up the complexity of any drill. Use a composite pattern (here’s an example) for more challenge. Combine a playing pattern with any of the other ideas like a movement timing pattern and you’ve got some creative drilling right there!
I hope you enjoy these ideas and they help you to create lots of new drills for yourself or for your students!