Lessons from my past life.

Today I was looking through Facebook and finding old friends from my figure skating days, which led me to the website of the rink in Redwood City, California, that I called home for more than 10 years.  I realized that so much of my figure skating experience helps me today as a belly dancer.  I grew up as a performer and as an athlete, and there are things I’ve learned through skating that I sometimes take for granted.  But the skills that I learned as a skater are invaluable.

Here’s a laundry list of things that I learned as a skater that I still use as a dancer.

  • Always practice the basics.  You can’t land a double Axel without being able to land a clean single Axel.  (Just as you won’t be able to layer chest locks over alternating glute squeezes if your glute squeezes aren’t clean.)
  • Your costume should reflect your music and the mood of your performance.
  • Know where the judges and the audience are sitting.  Play to them.
  • Respect your coaches’ knowledge, wisdom, and experience.
  • You will have good practice sessions and terrible ones.  Both are par for the course.
  • SMILE!  (We would yell this out to whoever was taking the ice at a competition, and inevitably, doing so would make them smile.)
  • Wear more make-up for a performance/competition than you think is necessary.
  • Make sure your hair is secured before taking the ice (or the stage).
  • Always warm-up and stretch.  In that order.
  • Quality equipment is expensive and worth the money.
  • Don’t be afraid to fall (literally and metaphorically).
  • Be an example for new and younger skaters.
  • Choreography and improvisation are equally valuable.
  • Be patient with your progress.  You won’t be able to accomplish every move right away; some things will take longer to achieve than others.
  • Be aware of your personal space lest you run down a fellow skater (or dancer in the studio).
  • Never become complacent with your progress.
  • Buy and watch the videos of your performances.  The camera doesn’t lie.
  • Gimmicks may get you a medal, but technique and skill are far more valuable.
  • Be nice to your fellow skaters.  Cattiness and backstabbing will only bring you a bad reputation.
  • Bend your knees and tuck your pelvis.
  • Remember to have fun.

Do any of you have “past lives” that help you as a belly dancer?  What about those experiences do you use today?

 

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You know, I have been thinking about this a lot lately because I’m now dedicating more time to studying dance after a year of mainly studying yoga. My asana practice is essential to keeping my body strong, flexible, and balanced- the foundation and body awareness is there so it’s just a matter of making my dance brain learn new things. The philosophical and spiritual aspects of yoga have been very important to my growth as a dancer, as well. That could be an essay of its own!

Also, my husband and I started ballroom dancing long before I started bellydancing. To me, there is a natural connection between tribal improv and ballroom (although in ballroom I’m always the follower, heehee). Similar principles apply- musical interpretation, spontaneous creativity, and subtle collaboration with a partner. I still count Fred Astaire as a huge inspiration even in my bellydance because I see in his dance is a perfect balance of dedication and joy.

 

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I trained in theatre (particularly visual/experimental theatre, which included a lot of contemporary dance, martial & Asian movement training) since I was a kid. There’s very little in my dancing that isn’t heavily influenced by my background, but the biggest things…

Shaping a stage space with bodies – one or a lot – where you are and how you are in space changes your story.
That everything you put on stage will be interpreted as a story by an audience (there’s a wonderful Eugenio Barba story about having an actor warm up on stage, and the audience responding with a ton of different interpretations of stories they saw). Also, that the point of art isn’t just to communicate your vision precisely, but to be in dialogue with your audience.
That silence and stillness are needed.
Same for repetition.
And breaking repetition.
That interacting with an audience isn’t always direct – bellydancers who come from other performing arts seem to get this intuitively, but it isn’t obvious without that prior practice.

 

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I spent many years training and competing in taekwondo. Those years taught me a lot, and I use much of that today still, both in dancing and everyday life:

1. You can always find an excuse for losing (or doing badly), but winning is more fun.
2. Keeping mind and body in shape is not optional if you want to win.
3. To be in shape requires hours and hours of hard training every week, and mostly you need to train those moves and things (like running… :/) you like the least.
4. Training your mind is as important as training your body. Believing you can do those things you want to achieve gets you a long way.
5. Not believing it can stop you from getting there, no matter of the physical condition you’re in.
6. You can only control your own shape, actions and reactions. Prepare well for your competition so you can feel good when doing your thing no matter what.
7. Stuff around you can and will always go wrong, and it’s up to you to feel secure enough to ignore all shit and still do your best.

 

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