Dancing with Others
In Belly Dance, the dancers do not partner off, whisking around the room Fred & Ginger style, clasped to each other, waist, hand and shoulder. There are however, opportunities to dance with and for someone else. If you wish to dance with someone you must be aware of several things. First of all remember to give others plenty of personal space. Your own partner, as well as the rest of the participants. Some people can't bare to be crowded. (I'm one of them. Too many bullies in my past.) So be careful not to "get in someone's face". Try to keep aware of any subtle signals your partner may be broadcasting, especially when facing each other, as they can see possible hazards over your shoulder and may be trying to warn you. (The looming edge of a stage, the edge of the crowd, flaming tikki torches...etc.)
Also remember that not all dancers are comfortable with partnering, so use your body language and ask them if they would care to dance with you, then LISTEN to their body language in response and respect their answer with good grace and a light-hearted attitude. If they decline your offer (which may be as subtle as a nervous look in their eyes) accept it immediately and move on. They may change their minds and seek you out later.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Dancing with another dancer can be like the childhood game of Follow the Leader. Someone sets the pace and the rest follow as best as they can. You either choose to be the leader or decide to be the follower, or sometimes your partner(s) decides for you. Who leads when can vary, trading back and forth between you exactly like the call and response of Middle Eastern music. You will have to judge based on careful observation of the situation. If you're dancing with someone who is a better dancer than you are, I recommend you begin by following. You will be allowed an opportunity to lead.
As with most situations, don't hog the limelight! If another couple is catching everyone's attention and setting the night on fire, you and your partner should give them plenty of room. You might stop dancing yourselves and simply enjoy watching them. It's as much fun to watch good dancing and cheer it on (Yalla, ya Habibi!) as it is to dance yourself. The secret to dancing with others is simply being ultra aware of their signals and needs. It's not unlike making love. A good lover gives as much as they take, and a good dancer knows when to support her partner and when to indulge herself.
Here are a few possible positions and moves. Feel free to add, subtract, mix & match. Experiment to discover what you enjoy, what you do well, and what looks good, for you and your partners.
FACE TO FACE
Mirroring - Just like dancing in a mirror, you want to reflect your partner's every move (within reason, you don't want to look like an automaton). If they raise their right arm, you raise your left at the same time. If they travel stage left, so do you. However, if they do a move more advanced then your own abilities, don't try to copy them exactly, instead do a lesser version of their advanced move. Say your partner's doing a hip shimmy, layered on top of hip figure 8's and accented with hip drops and lifts underscoring the more subtle rhythms of the doumbec. All of this may be a little over your head. Try to focus on expressing the largest, movement (visually) underlying your partner's multiple layering. In this case I feel it would be the hip figure 8's. You should try to execute your hip figure 8's mimicking your partner's tempo, level of extension and attitude. You don't have to be carbon copies but you should endeavor to express a basic similarity.
Mirroring in Opposition - This is expressed by mirroring your partner's moves, except you execute the moves on the same side of the body as your partner, instead of the opposite as above. If they're thrusting the right hip, so do you. Because you are facing each other, from the audience's perspective you will be moving in opposition to your partner. If your partner travels stage left, you travel stage right. This works well with a bit of choreography, which you both learn facing in the same direction, then simply face each other and run through the choreography again.
Challenging - The call and response style of Middle Eastern music can be an expression of mutual inspiration, comfortable repetitive familiarity or a musical "challenge" between one musician and another. Like a childhood game of dare, each musician tries to show the other up, the old "I can do anything better then you" trick. Between good musicians, this is a fun and entertaining style of improvisational phrasing which dancers can utilize as well. You and your partner take turns executing a move with each of you adding your own personal style and virtuosity. Or you can respond with unique individual moves that still match the rhythm or attitude of your partner's. If they execute incredible hip shimmies, perhaps you'll execute incredible shoulder shimmies, or if they do a pelvic Lift, Drop, Lift, you might respond with a thoracic (or Ribcage) Lift, Drop, Lift. Challenging is simply "one-ups-manship", you try to "one up" each other. Have fun with it and remember to keep it friendly and lighthearted! It's a game not a competition.
Showcasing - Showcasing makes good use of level changing and framing. Like Leading and Challenging, showcasing can be traded off between you. One of you should stop dancing, or at least idle your motor, and give your attention, as well as encouragement to your partner. This can be achieved by simply stepping back a few steps (if you were on stage you would be stepping back to the shadowy edge of the spotlight) or descending to your knees (one or both) below your partner and off to one side so as not to obscure them. This is your partner's opportunity to show off, either to the audience or to you, while you execute simple rhythmic moves, clap or finger snap (in the Middle Eastern fashion) while cheering them on. Be careful and don't let your motion detract attention away from your partner. Switch places so that you each get a chance to shine.
There are times when you want to use showcasing to position yourselves, however this time the supporting dancer might actually execute moves which complement, mirror, or mirror in opposition the showcased dancer. For example, say one of you is standing and expressing the archetype of a Goddess (Mother, Crone, Beloved, Survivor) while the other executes floorwork as a Worshipping Priestess (Devoted or Conflicted Daughter, Respectful/Inspired Student, Devoted or Conflicted Lover, Terminal Case). This is using Showcase Positioning to showcase both dancers at once.
Ghawazii Stick Trick - The Ghawazii of Egypt often dance a style of Tah'tib (movements descended from military exercises and using a thin bamboo like pole). They use a long thin straight stick and place the tips of it on their stomachs (I use my belly button). Two dancers stand facing each other, close enough to keep the stick suspended but not so closely that someone has a new piercing. They then utilize hip shimmies and hip circles, occasionally travel in a circle together. Experiment with someone, try level changes together as well as hip lifts and drops. Then they break apart and one of them dances with the stick in the same manner you dance with a cane (except for baton style twirling, which the stick will probably be too long to do.)
IN FORMATION (standing behind someone)
The Staircase - Stand one behind the other, with the forward dancer at a slightly lower level. Use natural height variation or a squat. The point is to have one pair of arms below the other as well as heads or at least eyes. Utilize snake arms, gestures and Pharonic style arm posturing, in opposition as well as synchronized together. Remember to maintain your different levels. This is a lot of fun with a troupe of dancers descending like the steps of a pyramid
Kali Ma - Kali Ma is a Goddess with multiple arms and you can create a similar impression by reversing the above configuration, with the one in back squatting at a slightly lower level then the forward dancer, with her arms extending out just beneath the forward dancer's. Utilize snake arms, gestures and Pharonic style arm posturing, in opposition as well as mirroring. Remember to maintain your different levels. The dancer in back will have to really reach in her movements so she must take care to maintain grace and technique, (nice, long arms are a plus here).
BACK TO BACK
Mirroring in Opposition - Since you can't see each other this is tricky. If you are close enough to feel your partner's back against yours, you can try to mimic what it feels like they're doing. Or you can travel in a straight line away from each other, like two dueling dancers pacing off, then walk backwards until you're back to back again. Repeat as needed, just make sure you utilize the same traveling moves, which you might want to workout a little ahead of time or sneak a peek at each other. You can do this easily enough with someone with whom you often dance or you can simply give each other direction, as discretely as possible of course.
Lean on Me - The Ghawazii of Egypt often dance slanting their upper torso far back while continuing their amazing hip work. They may lean all in a line together, while presenting a side view to the audience. Occasionally they lean on a drummer playing a tabla baladi. One dancer in front of him leaning back on his drum and one behind him leaning on his back, a Ghawazii sandwich. The dancers execute hip work while the three-some march around together or simply circle. They also lean on each other's shoulders in pairs. Make it really hard and try it with level changes and zils.
The caduceus is the symbol associated with the medical field. It's a staff with a pair of serpents entwined around it. You can create the impression of a pair of serpents entwined around a pole by standing in formation. Utilize snake arms in opposition for a few moments and then both dancers turn to present a side view to the audience. The dancer in the back turns stage right and the forward dancer turns stage left. The dancers would now be facing each other if they were toe to toe, however they maintain their previous positioning. Now utilize snake arms while bending back, away from each other. Assume the classic Sharqi pose of one foot in front of the other with the forward foot on toe and the weight on the bent back leg. Keep your pelvis aligned with each other and the bent forward knees will give the impression of more of the serpents' bodies. Gracefully transition back into formation and continue reversing the side views. This is very dramatic if you're backlit and in shadow.
ORBITING THE SOLAR SYSTEM (circling the room or another dancer)
Circumnavigating the room or another dancer is a lot of fun. First let's discuss moving around the room. I'm sure you remember from science class the way electrons move around an atom. You and your partner should consider the center of the dance space as the atom and your selves as the electrons. You might begin by both of you moving back away from each other (in opposition) and the center of the atom. Then at the same time (eye contact is imperative here), travel back towards each other quickly and just before you meet pass sideways to each other (in a teasing, flirty manner), while reversing yourselves so you're moving backwards and away from each other again. This game started for me when my first teacher Carla and I would put swords on our heads and try to run at each other, then pull back with out dropping our swords. It's a fun game whether you're balancing something or not. Moving in this manner you should be able to travel back and forth across the center of the atom covering almost every angle of approach. Shake it up a bit and at the point where you twist away from each other instead circle around the center of the atom together of a moment then pull back away from each other again. You should always be moving with high energy, quick and sure, but always graceful and with good posture.
Orbiting the solar system or a single planet is also fun. One dancer stays stationary while the other circles around them. The moving dancer can travel with spins or grapevines or running side steps but remember to make a lot of eye contact with the stationary dancer. It's a game, like a child running rings around its Mother. Or you can both travel around the room separating from each other, but maintaining eye contact. This is a chance to interact with others, however keep your partner in sight and return to each other before too long. You can always circle the group again.
DANCING IN A GROUP
Line Dancing - Two steps that are great for line dancing are debke hips (the hips trace a circle and a half riding over two small side steps, then reverse) and the grapevine and it's many variations. There are many different line dances, too many to even mention. Start with the two above and research from there based on what music you're utilizing. Line dances can be formed by a line facing forward, the dancers hold hands or with arms clasped around each other's waists or shoulders. Or they might not touch at all. Two lines can face each other. In many cultures the lines may be segregated by sexes, men in one, women in the other.
Line Dancing - The Stroll - This is a very old style of line dance where two lines of dancers face each other with the end dancers pairing off and dancing down the center of the aisle formed, to take their places at the other end. The couples peel off continuously or the dancers may dance down the aisle single file staggering one side after the other. I call this the Stroll because in the United States this style of group dance has always been popular and could regularly be seen on public television on shows like Soul Train and American Bandstand.
Dancing in the Center of a Circle - The dancers form a circle and take turns dancing for each other, either singularly or in couples. The ring of dancers may clap and cheer and they may dance a simple side step that keeps them slowly revolving around the central dancer. This is a fun way to dance with and for a group. There's generally lots of yelling and laughter. Just remember not to stay in the center any longer then anyone else, even if you're the best dancer there. The point here is sharing and enjoying each other, so keep your ego in check.
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This page last modified: December 22, 2005