A Belly Dancer's Journal
There's much more to dance (or any other art form) than simply moving your body in a series of arbitrary step combinations or technique drills. In order to truly dance, you need to connect your spirit to the actions of your body. A dancer without spirit or intention is nothing more than a robot moving in the way it was told.
One tool for connecting your spirit to your dance movement is that of keeping a journal. As you use the journal to explore your dance experience, you'll begin to find ways to imbue your movement with feeling and expression.
There are so many aspects of dance that you could explore in a journal. Here are a few ideas that will help you get started. Once you have explored all of these, you will probably have no difficulty thinking of additional topics on your own!
Table of Contents
Here are some suggestions on how to get started. You may either keep a blog on the Internet, or a written journal at home, whichever feels more comfortable to you. It's not important where you record your ideas, what matters is that you take the time to explore them.
On any one day, pick just two or three of the questions below to trigger your journal writing. Take the time to explore those questions fully. The next day, try two or three more questions. On some days, you may find that just one question is enough to keep you busy. Don't hurry through the list.
Your Experience as a Student
After Coming Home from Class
- Did it start on time?
- Who was there?
- What did you learn? Did you enjoy learning it? Why or why not?
- What did you find easy about class?
- What did you enjoy most about class?
- What did you find frustrating?
- What made you laugh?
- What bored you?
- What annoyed you?
- When you encountered something you found difficult to do, what did you learn about your personal behaviors for handling something you found difficult to do? Did you giggle nervously, start fidgeting with your clothes, stop trying to do it, or start talking to your neighbor? Did that behavior help you overcome the difficult move, or did it just make you fall farther behind? How can you change your classroom behavior in the future to help you cope with difficult moves as they arise?
- How did you feel when the teacher looked at you? Why did you feel that way?
- How did you relate to your classmates? Were you comparing yourself to them? If so, why did you do that, and what did you learn? How did the behavior of your classmates influence your own ability to learn?
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.
After Practicing at Home
- What did you practice today?
- Why did you choose that in particular as your topic to practice? What tools did you use to help give form to your practice session?
- What music did you use and why? How did that choice of music help you (or hurt you) in your ability to understand belly dance?
- What skills do you feel you need to practice more? Why? What methodology can you create to help you practice that skill?
- How did you balance your practice time between improvisation and choreogrpahy that someone else gave you top do? Why did you choose that balance?
- Did anybody watch you practice? If so, how did that make you feel? How did being observed change your decisions about what to practice and how to practice it?
- How much of your practice time did you spend doing things you find easy? How much of your practice time did you spend doing things you find difficult? Why did you balance between the two the way you did? How will you change things the next time you practice?
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.
On the Skills You Are Learning
Sometimes, we get so caught up in the fun (or drama) of going to class, that we don't notice what we are really learning. These questions will help you determine whether the time you're spending in class is helping you learn the things you feel are important:
- How do you feel about the pace at which your teacher introduces new material in class? Does it feel comfortable for your learning pace? Why or why not? Why do you think your teacher paces things the way she does? How well do you feel it meets the needs of the class as a whole? What can you do outside of class to make yourself feel more comfortable with the teacher's class pacing?
- What did you learn in your most recent class about musical interpretation? What classroom activities did your teacher offer to help you learn that skill? Do you feel you are learning how your teacher responds to music, or do you feel you are learning how to interpret music for yourself? Can you tell the difference? Which do you need at your current level of dance skill and why? Which do you find more satisfying at this stage in your development as a dancer?
- What exercises did your teacher use for warmup and cooldown? Why do you think your teacher chose those exercises in particular? How did those exercises help you with your own strength, flexibility, or muscle control? Which muscles do you now feel better able to use in creating dance moves?
- What are the top two things that your teacher keeps telling you to improve? Why do you think you're stuck on those points? How is the teacher's class structure helping you overcome those barriers? Or, why isn't the class structure helping you fix them? If your class structure won't address those points, what can you do outside of class to fill those gaps?
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.
On Your Progression As a Dancer
- Where do you think you are in your development as a dancer? Beginner? Intermediate? Advanced?
- Why do you feel you are currently at that level?
- What level do you think your teacher would say you are? How does that differ from your own assessment? If they are different, why do you think that is?
- When assessing yourself as a dancer, whom do you compare yourself against? Why did you choose that person?
- How would your assessment of yourself change if you compared yourself against the students of other teachers in your town?
- How do you think the students of the other teacher in town would rank your current level of achievement? Why?
- How do you think a local ballet teacher would rank your current level of dance achievement? Why?
- How do you think a local dancer who dislikes you would rank your current level of dance achievement? What would she say are the areas you need to improve? If you're being totally honest with yourself, to what extent does she have a valid point? How will you go about fixing those gaps so she can't criticize them any more?
- What are the primary gaps in your skill level that are holding your back? What is your plan for eliminating those gaps? How much of your focus goes to improving your skills rather than just repeating the things you already do well?
- How much time have you spent this week working to improve your personal skills as a dancer? How much time should you have spent this week working to improve your personal skills as a dancer?
- How are other factors in your life affecting your growth as a dancer? How is your job affecting you? What's going on with your family? What are you feeling stressed about? How is your health? Where does dancing fit in for you?
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.
Your Response to Performances on Video
Choose a video that features a variety of performers, preferably in a variety of dance styles. Try to choose a video that features people who are strangers to you, so that your responses to the performances won't be influenced by your pre-existing relationships with them.
Each day for a week, choose a different dancer from this video and analyze her performance.
First try this exercise analyzing a dancer you thoroughly enjoyed watching, then choose one you didn't like at all. Then back to one you enjoyed, and so on. Ideally, try to explore different dance styles each day, rather than staying with only your favorite style.
For each dancer, explore these questions:
- What did you think about her physical appearance? Did you think she was too fat, too thin, too old, too young, too short-haired, too gray-haired, too long-haired? Was she stunningly beautiful? Would you want your own hair, grooming, tattoos, or body shape to be like hers? Or were you repelled by something about her appearance? Why did you react the way you did to that physical characteristic? What can you learn about yourself from that reaction? Now, can you ignore that visceral first reaction to her and watch the performance again, this time looking beyond her physical traits and focusing on how she moves as a dancer? How does your impression of her dancing change the second time you watch it, once you force yourself to look beyond the superficial physical traits?
- Describe what her stage personality was like. Describe what emotions she expressed, and why those emotions resonated with you (or not) as you watched. Comment on what you learned about using emotional expression in dance and how you'll try to apply it in your own dancing. What was her audience interaction like, how did it make you feel, and why did you feel that way? What was her interaction with the video camera like?
- Analyze how her costume moved with her performance, and how it enhanced (or not) the overall aesthetic of her dance. Comment on what you learned about costume design from seeing hers move with her, and how that will affect your own costuming decisions.
- Examine her musical interpretation. Does she align her movement to the beat, to the drum rhythm, or to the melody line? Does she use her hips to interpret one instrument while her arms interpret a different one? If you took away the music she is using and replaced it with a different song that was played at the same speed, how would that change the effect of her dance? Would the change be undetectable, or would it be obvious the new music doesn't fit? Does her energy build and become quiet as the song's energy level builds and becomes quiet, or is it constant throughout?
- Try to notice how she breathes with her dance. How does her breath technique integrate into her emotional expression and her musical interpretation?
- As a result of analyzing this performance, what change will you make to your own dancing?
- How would you rate your skills as a performer?
- How do your skills as a performer compare to those of other dancers in your area? In which ways are they better than you? What can you do to improve yourself and close the gap?
- What is unique and special about you as a performer?
- Why do you perform? Why did you start? Why do you continue to do it? Is it still fun? Why or why not?
- What types of events does your dance style fit best? What types of events is your dance style a poor fit with? What types of questions do you ask yourself before deciding whether your personal dance style is appropriate to a certain situation?
- What types of tasks did you do to get ready for your last performance? How much in advance did you select your music and decide how to dance to it? How much in advance did you inspect your costume and determine whether repairs or alterations might be needed? How well planned did your resulting performance look? How well prepared did you feel? If you could do that performance over, what would you change about it?
- What were you thinking about the last time you performed? Were you focused on the dance, or were you thinking about something else? How did your thoughts affect the way you danced? How did they affect the quality of your performance?
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.
There are many, many other dance-related topics you could explore in a journal. The ideas on this page are merely starting points.
One idea could be to return to the top of this page and explore all the questions a second time, comparing your new answers with those you originally gave. Seeing how your responses have changed over time may give you new insights into your growth as a dancer.
From here, you should be able to identify many new questions of your own to continue your introspection into your growth as a dancer. Enjoy the journey!
This entire web site is copyrighted. All rights reserved.
All articles, images, forms, scripts, directories, and product reviews on this web site are the property of Shira unless a different author/artist is identified. Material from this web site may not be posted on any other web site unless permission is first obtained from Shira.
Academic papers for school purposes may use information from this site only if the paper properly identifies the original article on Shira.net using appropriate citations (footnotes, end notes, etc.) and bibliography. Consult your instructor for instructions on how to do this.
If you wish to translate articles from Shira.net into a language other than English, Shira will be happy to post your translation here on Shira.net along with a note identifying you as the translator. This could include your photo and biography if you want it to. Contact Shira for more information. You may not post translations of Shira's articles on anybody else's web site, not even your own.
If you are a teacher, performer, or student of Middle Eastern dance, you may link directly to any page on this web site from either your blog or your own web site without first obtaining Shira's permission. Click here for link buttons and other information on how to link.