Monday, July 19, 2010

Everyday practices

If you have a day job or even if you don’t, you will probably find yourself bemoaning frequently how you don’t have time to practice belly dance nearly as much as you’d like to or should. It’s really hard to sneak in some time to do a full practice, especially in this modern day and age when so many shiny things can distract us (smart phones, TV, computer, etc.).

Any practice time counts
With that in mind, I want to emphasize how any practice time counts! It truly does. Ideally, you’d do long periods of practice… but that ain’t practical. But you can sneak in moments. If you’ve been in my classes, you’ve often heard me talk about my practices while making coffee. (For those who don’t come to my classes, I have this espresso machine [superbly good coffee] and, when I make a latte, ideally, I have to stay close to the machine [as was painfully evidenced this weekend when the milk went overflowing and I had to wipe it from everywhere! :(]. The machine makes a ticking sound while warming up the milk and I use that as a type of metronome to work on some moves or combos.)

Think of all the times when you’re idle somewhere. Like how about doing some shimmy or hip work while brushing your teeth? That will showcase whether your isolations are good. :p Or you’re watching TV and there’s a commercial break… use that time to do something. Like you could do some drills… you could have your iPod handy and you plug it in when it’s commercial time… or you can just do it without any music either. Or you’re getting up to get a glass of water… how about you walk over to get it with, say, a 3/4 shimmy? Or some other traveling step? My tribe sister Stacy used to do the dishes while balancing her sword… and lemme tell you if you’ve never seen her with a sword that she’s extremely good at balancing that damn thing.

Shoulders work
One area that you can definitely work on very routinely is your shoulders. Very few people are naturally good at keeping their shoulders down. If that’s your case, bravo! For the rest of us, you can work on keeping your shoulders down on a daily basis in your everyday life. There are 2 things that I do:

  1. Periodically throughout the day, I assess where my shoulders are. Are they down enough? Do I feel a mild pressure down? If not, I correct it. At first, I thought about my shoulders only a few times a day. Now, I don’t need to think about it so much (though I still do periodic checks) but my shoulders are very often in the proper down position.
  2. Every hour or so, I do shoulder rolls. You don’t have to do them for long… just a few will help.
Seriously, doing these things is very helpful even at work. Most of us have desk jobs where we’re facing a computer screen all day. When you get tired or stressed out, your shoulders will automatically creep up and you’ll feel tons of tension. So working on your shoulders is good for belly dance AND for general stress relief at work. Two birds with one stone. Gotta love it!

While not exactly like actually moving, visualization techniques are used by athletes and dancers. And sometimes it helps you understand the mechanics of what is going on when you’re doing certain moves. At any rate, it’s another way to keep belly dance in the forefront of your mind. You can review your choreography or think of a combo or move that you’ve been having a hard time pulling off and envision doing those perfectly. Since this doesn’t actually require any movement, you can do visualization in places where you couldn’t do the other stuff like while at the waiting room somewhere.

Other mini practices
  • Again, if you have a desk job, doing some wrists circles every now and then is very helpful too! Relieves the stress and will help you get better hand movements.
  • You can also do some of the fingers exercises to stretch your fingers. Always a good thing too.
  • Assess how you reach out to grab at items. This could be done in a cute dancer way with shoulders down and a gentle reach out. I’m not saying to make a show of grabbing items… that’s just for your own benefit.
  • Also assess how you’re sitting normally. Is your back straight? If not, what would it take for it to be straight? When we were at Tribal Revolution, interestingly, I could tell who had been dancing for a while by the way that they sat in their chairs. Experienced/seasoned dancers generally had a straight back (held on by a strong core) versus more novice dancers who were slouching. Yes, it exerts more efforts to have a straight back. But it’s so much better for you. AND that’s what we want in dance too!
  • You can work on level changes as you’re waiting for stuff… like, say, your toasts to be toasted… or whatever… The key to improving level changes is getting those ankles and calves stronger (though a strong core is uber important too). So while you’re waiting, you can practice going up on the balls of your feet and coming back down in a level change position.

Stay safe!
When you’re doing those mini practices, especially when you’re sneaking in some time at random moments (e.g., coffee machine gazing), it is NOT the appropriate moment to work on the crazy combo that kicks your butt. That crazy combo requires you to be warmed up thoroughly to ensure that you’re not taxing your body too much. Or like the level changes can be hard on your ankles and calves, especially if you are still struggling with those so go up very carefully. Bottom line: choose your moves carefully for those moments.

Not an excuse not to practice
While these techniques will allow you to sneak in some extra practice time that could add quite a bit time at the end of a week, those mini practices shouldn’t replace the formal practices entirely. So do keep some time for those. And one thing that you can do to help your formal practices is sneaking in a few minutes to plan what your formal practices will be. If you don’t plan ahead of time, you’ll start with your warmup and then won’t know what to do next… having a plan of attack is very useful… and that takes time to prepare it. ;)


Gnomebody said...

Great idea about the shoulder and wrist rolls. I'm gonna start doing that. I do bun squeezes while sitting at my desk, and sometimes even chest circles while sitting. Very helpful for muscle isolation...

Mojo said...

Awesome. I think you've helped me finally solve the mystery as to why my back is so weak to stay straight. Cuz it's just naturally more effort to keep it that way. Gonna practice these tips. Great post.