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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

How to Improvise in Floor Work

By Saqra





Floor work is a little daunting for many dancers. It can be extremely athletic, and it requires a large amount of strength. It can be performed very badly, leaving the viewer with the impression that the dancer is simply squirming around, or is getting personal in public with the invisible man.

For purposes of this dance tip, I am going to skip over the huge topics of etiquette advisories, safety issues, history, "propwork and," and appropriateness to the venue, and go straight for a single technical issue: improvisation.

If you are unfamiliar with the term "floor work" in the context of belly dance, it is a segment of the dance in which the dancer actually literally sits or lies on the floor and dances around. [cough] If you are wearing an $800 designer costume in a dirty restaurant you may omit this segment.

There has been an upswing in interest in floor work in recent years, though, so here goes.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Saqra dances with her partner, Kyra.




The Five Positions

Improvisation is incredibly easy for floor dancing. Whatever steps you use, there is an organizing principle that removes confusion immediately: there are Five Positions for floor dancing and you can only go up or down one number from each position:

1 One knee down
2 Both knees down
3 Seated
4 On side 
5 Prone or Supine

There are numerous steps that transition between positions, but they still go through the positions.

For example, the "Berber Walk" or "Desert Crawl" or "Painful Egyptian Knee Thumps" (what I call them) is a traveling step on the floor. It's not particularly good for your knees for several reasons. It presents the issue of potential knee/floor impact, and it puts too much weight/pressure on the knee joint when the knee is in an extreme position. However, it still looks good with a sword on your head, so dancers often choose to do it anyway.

This is how to do a Berber Walk:

  • On the floor, with one knee down and one leg bent in front of you with about a 90 degree angle to the knee and the sole down, shift your weight forward towards the front leg.
  • When you are almost ready to fall forward onto the knee, flip the forward foot top down and use the top of the back foot pressed against the floor as a braking mechanism so the front knee doesn't hit the floor too hard.
  • Slide the legs together so you are kneeling on both knees.
  • Bring the other leg forward until you are once more on one knee with the other leg bent in front of you.
  • You have taken one "step."

Wow. That was harder to describe than I would have thought. If you try this move, I suggest you wear knee pads until you can handle the controlling-the-drop-with-the-back-foot thing.

My point was that, when doing this move, you are going back and forth between different positions, as follows:

  1. Position one to
  2. Position two to
  3. Position one to
  4. Position two until you can't stand it and have to go to
  5. Position three

A lot of steps in floor work use this sort of transition between positions, or occur during the transition, such as vertical hip 8's while going from position 2 to position 3 or vice versa.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.




Putting It to Use

Even if you don't know much about floor work, you can improvise it using some general rules

  1. One knee down. You can do almost anything you can do standing up (including turning) except real travel.
  2. Both knees down. You can do almost anything you can do standing up minus travel and minus vertical hip things.
  3. Seated. You can do pretty much anything you can do standing up minus travel and minus hip things.
  4. On side. Here you usually have one arm holding you up off the ground, either at full arm reach or with the elbow on ground. Your lower leg can be bent at the knee for a better balance base, or not. With this you can do things such as torso undulations, shimmies, arm work, vertical or horizontal 8's in the hips.... whatever you can do. But not all that at the same time.
  5. Prone or Supine. You can inch worm along, do undulations, and do abdominal work. Just keep your ankles crossed or at very minimum keep your feet together or you look like you are giving birth (supine) or like a walrus on a rock (prone).

It is pretty much impossible to go from 5 to 2 without going through 4 and 3, so whatever you are doing you know where you have to go next. Identify where you are, and you know you can only go one up or down through the list of positions. The less choices you know you have, the easier it is to improvise. 

There are a large number of floor-work-specific steps and combinations, but that is enough for one tip.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.




Closing Thoughts

Here are a last few comments to people that may be dealing with body damage: I was a seriously aggressive skier as a kid and I do have body damage. My knees don't particularly like position 3 but you/I still have to go through there, so I just don't stay there long. Figure out where you are strong and stay there more than other positions.

And... if you are past your standing-up-easily-from-being-on-the-floor days, one trick is to actually scissor yourself up by remembering to press down with the top of the back foot when standing up. I've also found a bunch of interesting "momentum" ascents that let me just pop up by taking advantage of mechanics and momentum, so watch for those when watching street dance forms and gymnastics.

I do expect that eventually in another 20 years or so I'll just have to end with floor work and let them shut the curtain, or crawl up the leg of the nearest seated patron, though.

Did I say your mileage may vary?

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.




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