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Not Perfect, Deeper

Not Perfect, Deeper


How to make “back to basics” actually pay off.

“Go back and review the basics” is really common advice. But few people do it.
And most that try get bored or demoralized, and give up.

So how do you get “back to basics” to make a meaningful difference in your dance?

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This was professionally transcribed, but it probably still has some errors. If you catch any, drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you!

Now, the cold snap here in New England has finally broken but I still did not go out today, because I am not feeling 100%. I have some inner ear stuff going on and that’s given me some vertigo and walking a straight line is kind of tricky for me right now. I am still recording this one from home.

Today’s topic is how to make going back to basics actually work. Now, it’s the new year and everybody is thinking about starting from scratch and what’s going to be valuable to them. Hey, go back to the basics is really common advice that you’re going to hear. Going back to work on your basics every once in a while really is valuable, but not that many people do it, and the people who do do it, tend to get bored and give up.

That’s a shame because most of our dance is the basics. If you looked at a seasoned pro, especially looking back at the Golden Era stars, you’ll notice that most of what they do are things that you learn in your first year or two of belly dance classes. The difference is that they’re doing them with more embodiment, more nuance, more stage presence, and more musicality than a beginner is ready to do.

Now, sure they may sprinkle in some more difficult steps a well, but those are not really the bulk of their dance. While you might be impressed with those things, those more difficult things are generally not the things that captivate you.

Why do people get bored and give up? Well, I think a lot of it is that when people thinking of going back to the basics, what they really think of is picking a move and then repeating the same drills that they learned when they were first learning those moves. That is not an effective strategy. That’s partly true because what challenged you when the material was new, isn’t going to challenge you now. That’s boring. Also, what helped you improve when that material was new, probably isn’t going to help you make a noticeable improvement now. That’s demoralizing. You’re sinking all of this time and energy into something that’s not improving, so of course you’re going to want to quit.

Then, people think, okay, I’m going to choose some new, harder drills. That can help you work towards perfecting your technique but that’s not always an effective strategy either when your goal is to be a better dancer. The reason for that is that perfection is not a core value of belly dance. Now, in ballet, absolutely, but for us so much of this dance is not whether you have perfect execution, but whether you have something to say. Right? The feeling is the most important thing, the musicality.

You do need competent technique. There’s no question about that. You need that basic competence in your technique so that you can communicate your artistic vision. I talked about this a little bit more in a video I did several years ago called, Everything Else is Gravy. The reason that this is a problem in this back to basics context is that once you’re already competent, then working towards perfect really produces diminishing returns. You can work really, really hard with out seeing much of a difference in the overall quality of your dancing. Yeah, you might perfect your ami or get it a cleaner hip drop, but when you take a big step back and you look at your dancing, the difference between a competent one of those moves, and a perfect one really isn’t that big. That’s demoralizing. You work really hard but you don’t see a big overall improvement and so you get sad and bored, and then you quit working on it.

How can you go back to basics in a useful way? Well, I think the most important thing is to dig deeper. This falls into three categories. One is to focus on embodying your technique. Instead of trying to make your technique perfect, focus on making it more natural and more a part of your body, because once you’re competent, natural and graceful and effortless seeming execution makes a much bigger impact on your dancing than a perfect execution.

Another area that you can look at is expanding your technique. This means building your ability to use your move in new ways, like with level changes, layering it with shimmies, or more opulent arm movements. This is stretching your ability to do it bigger, smaller, faster, slower, and lots of different ways. This is different from trying to perfect the technique or doing something that’s hard for the sake of hard, because when you expand your ability to use that technique in other ways, then it gives you more artistic options.

Then, the third approach of digging deeper is to look beyond the technique. Yes, you may choose a particular movement to go back to basics on, but instead of thinking about how you execute that movement, you can work on exploring different artistic ideas with it. Try it with different stylizations or embellishments. Try mixing and matching it with other moves in different ways or applying it to different kinds of music. That’s another way of going back to basics to give you a much richer way of approaching those moves, but that isn’t simply trying to perfect the movement.

Alright. Now, one thing that can also help with this process of going back to basics is to try and get help from an outside source. A great way to do that is to take somebody else’s class, at a lower level than you would normally take. For example, I had several injuries over the last couple of years, and every time I would come off of physical therapy, I would go to somebody else’s beginner class. I approached that with the intention of just trying to figure out what my body was capable of doing safely. I knew that if I jumped back in to advanced classes again, I would be so worried about hurting myself again that I wouldn’t really be able to learn anything.

Even though I was going to these beginner level classes, where I already knew the technique, I was able to pick up on all of these little tiny nuances. With one teacher it would be how she held her arms. With another, it would be which movements she chose to reflect the music. If you don’t have good options in your local area, there are tons of online classes these days through Pow How and [inaudible 00:06:11] and all kinds of other resources.

Another option is that you can work with a beginner level video. In this situation, I really recommend picking one that has combinations or choreography in it. Now, I’m an improvisational dancer, and I don’t do choreography on performance, but learning someone else’s material is great for fulfilling the creative well. That’s the kind of practice where you’re going to start picking up on these nuances from other people, rather than just following along with their drills.

Alright. Let’s summarize what we’ve covered. Going back to basics every once in a while is incredibly useful because the basics are the core of our dance. If our goal is to grow into better dancers, repeating same drills we learned the first time around isn’t going to improve our technique because we’re not challenged. Our next instinct to choose harder drills to perfect our technique is a bad investment because once we pass the competent point, working on our technique further really has diminishing returns.

We’ll get better results by digging deeper into those concepts, by working to embody our technique, expand it, or look beyond it. A great way to get some good ideas is to fill your creative well with other people’s beginner level content, whether that’s a class, an online class, combos or choreographies.


Your Turn

How has this played out for you, in your dance (or your life)?

Do you have any tips to share with other listeners?

Got a question or topic that you’d like me to talk about on the show?

I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave me a short voice message. Maybe I’ll even play it on the air!


Want More?

If you’re excited to work on the basics, but have trouble showing up to practice consistently, check out my online course, How to Build a Sustainable Practice Habit.

Check It Out 

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