Editing by Jennifer
Layout, graphics by Lynette

ad 4 Najia
Put Your Dance on a Pedestal
by Najia Marlyz
March 4, 2001

Place your sweetheart on the proverbial pedestal if you wish, but by for maximum impact as an artistic practitioner of dance, you must place yourself on a "pedestal" for the sake of your safety and your personal dance technique. The pedestal about which I speak is not the classical Greek architectural structure but instead, is a part of your proper dance technique and posture. Part of your very first dance lesson should be spent learning how to use your feet effectively in dance to enhance balance and line without boring your audience with an intricate show of "foot steps".

Belly Dance is not merely one more form of world folk dance! Folk dance or folkloric styling may be related to what a Raqs Sharqui/Beledi specialist does, but unlike line dances and the traditional dances of various countries, Belly Dance is unique in its original stationary form. How many other folk dance forms can boast that they can still dance while remaining "in place"? Old time Sharqui and Beledi dancers used to demonstrate and emphasize their technique by sitting in a chair to dance "without steps"! The first dancer I ever saw in person do this was Bussi in Cairo about the year 1991 in a nightclub. Before that time, I had seen a movie with Nesla Al Adal dancing while she was seated on a banquette as a show-off feature of her dance.

Bert Balladine used to mention in his classes that the proper way a dancer should move was "with a narrow base and wide hips". By saying so, he was not encouraging his students to go out and eat more cheesecake to broaden our hips, but rather to keep our feet together and well under our center of gravity. Because of the instruction that I had taken previously, in other dance forms, I related to Bert's statement in a strong way. When I began to teach my own students, I found it absolutely necessary to teach dancers how to walk and stand, as I often state, "rather unlike a natural human".

How are Dancers different from natural humans?
Human beings walk from heel to toe, placing the heel down first and then, and the front part of the foot (ball), while swinging their arms in opposition "cross-body". Belly dancers, being special and unique, should do what we call "Dancer's Walk". Dancers walk "toe to heel" extending the leg forward from the hip, placing the ball on the floor first and then lightly landing on the heel. In this method, a lightness of step is created which gives the dancer the appearance of gliding. This also gives one the occasional option of purposefully placing the entire length of the foot down in a firm stomp or a slightly lowered level for accent. I instruct new dancers and the professional dancers and instructors who come for coaching also that this foot placement is an absolute "must" to learn to dance well. "But", some dancers protest, "How can I do that, when you also tell me that I should be dancing about 80 to 90 % of the time half-toe (demi-toe) in order to have proper Arabic dance technique? The answer to this apparent discrepancy is that both you and Robert Frost's "Fog" have to creep in on tiny "cat feet"! In this way, the dancer may think of her foot as consisting of the tip of the toe, which strikes the floor initially, and then the ball of the big toe becomes her apparent little "cat's foot". So now the dancer walks, "toe-ball" instead of "toe-heel".

How can I dance on demi-toe "Cat Feet" when the position makes my ankles feel wobbly?
Many dancers make the mistake of using the entire width of the front part of their feet when they dance, because they have never been taught dancer's footwork. "Ankle wobble" indicates that your weight has not been placed on the ball of the big toe where it would be stable. Mistakenly, the weight has been distributed to the area behind all your toes where the ankle is no longer in line with the bones of the leg and the arch structure.

Flat Feet and Oddly Angled Ankles:
Since we are discussing arch structure, please note that there is another aspect of foot placement that can offer the dancer stability of balance, and therefore, safety from arch injury. I am referring to the "Dancer's Platform", which may be described in the following way: the dancer is on her demi-toes with her heels raised high enough so that the small bones of her arch are vertical rather than cantilevered over the floor, with no support structure. This type of error in foot technique will enhance her chances of an early retirement due to flat feet, injured arch bones, and pulled ligaments. Couple the cantilevered or low held heel position with the wobbly ankle syndrome, and we now have a pathetically funny looking image of an amateurish dancer inviting an injury to eliminate her physically before critics even have a fair chance at her artistically. At the very least, she will be forced to alight from her "dance pedestal" and carry on in an amateur manner akin to folksy styled, whole-footed placement rather than dancing on an elegant, classical "tripod" or even a "half-toe" position.

Further Unnatural Acts for Dancers:
You, as a human have two legs sprouted from two sides of your torso--right and left. When, as a human, one walks naturally, one throws weight from side to side, wobbling left and right slightly. If we were to photograph and speed up your motion, we would see you wobble comically like Charlie Chaplain as he walks away from the camera twirling his walking stick. Therefore, you, as the inhuman dancer you wish to be, will resist this side to side motion with all that your body will allow, aware of the after image, or contrails, that your motion leaves in the eyes of your audience. You, as a gliding dancer in complete control of your body as a dancing instrument, will place one foot directly in front of the other so that you could, if you chose, dance on a gymnastic balance beam.

Much ado has been made about the form we reluctantly call Belly Dance possessing "natural movement", but it is this "unnatural" method of walking that gives it its uncanny grace! "Straight ahead" foot placement does not happen easily, however. As previously mentioned, one must swing the entire leg from the hip joint rather than placing torque on the knee to make it happen. To swing the leg forward from the hip joint, one has to be willing to swivel the derrière from side to side, not unlike a be-feathered showgirl in Las Vegas. Ah, what problems arise when I point out the rigidity with which most women have been taught to walk from early childhood, denying the sensual (or alluring) movement of the walking females' posterior regions! One sometimes has to disobey the early teachings of her "Mama"! Add to this the ridiculous edict from many dance teachers during the decades of the '60s and '70s that Belly Dancers arms and legs should work in unison rather than cross-body, and we start to create the hideous image of a giant parakeet styled motion.

Why do some famous dancers dance with a wide legged stance?
Some famous dancers became famous for reasons other than their exquisite dance techniques. Some of them, as a direct result of dancing "a la folk" as it were, have huge, gnarly, flat feet with aching arches, bunions, and Plantar Fasciitis. If this is O.K. with you, then continue to dance any way you please! However, if you are one of those few dancers aiming for a professional career in dance, you must place your feet on the floor lightly, correctly, and dance with the torso from the dance center to reach the heart of the Belly Dance.

Will dancing in high-heeled shoes like the Lebanese Cabaret Dancers ruin my feet?
No! If you are dancing, 80 to 90% of your dance on demi-toe and the dancer's platform, then your heel of your shoe will rarely hit the floor except when you are dancing the Hawanim, or stationary part of your dance, to the taxim music. For many years, I danced wearing silver or gold ballroom shoes, each pair of which had to be discarded with worn-out toes and pristine heels. Since I was dancing in the style of Lebanese cabaret rather than the Egyptian style at that time, I also did "floor-work" and deep back-bends while wearing the ballroom shoes. If you are dancing Egyptian style then you will not be doing these movements anyway, so there would be no conflict if you choose to wear high-heeled shoes.

Your "Dance Center" should rule your feet!
Dancing from your center (solar plexus) eliminates so many errors in dance technique! Every time a foot is lifted from the floor, it must be pulled inward under the dance center with the foot un-flexed so that the toe drops down pointing at the floor in a soft Pointe. This will automatically give you a narrow pedestal and allow you to work with wide sensual hip and other torso movements. Your audience's eyes must be drawn into your energy and message rather than your fancy terpsichorean footwork! (That is why the classic bedlah was thought to need a long, floor-length skirt; to hide or mask the mechanics of one's dance.)

Pigeon Toes are passe!
Many years ago, for whatever mysterious reason, dancers were taught that the Belly Dance was done in a pigeon toe stance. Again, I caution you, this is incorrect and awkward. It invites turned ankles and an ugly leg-line. It is the mark of a true unprofessional dancer to dance and pose pigeon toed. If one were standing upon the face of a clock, the left foot should be turned out slightly to about 11 o'clock and the right to approximately 1 o'clock. This will allow stability of balance and help you avoid foot and ankle stress. A wide angled "turn out" like a ballerina is not what we are looking for, just avoidance of the Giant Parakeet Waddle!

A final comment about footwork:
Every Middle Eastern dance teacher working with beginners, who may or may not become eventual professionals, should start the first dance lesson with basic walking facts, strutting, and shifting body weight. Dance is, after all, a fancy way of walking if it is boiled down to its physical weight changes and spacial motions. Once students have learned to control what seems so elemental yet so difficult, then they will be able to deal more effectively with weight shifting and energy motivation through the torso as well. Carriage needs to be learned first before demanding "hip directions" and "body isolations". Your "Dance Pedestal" must be narrow, evenly balanced, of clean lines, and reliable!

Ready for more?

Coming soon!
Living in Yemen, by Jalilah
Book review of "Sacred Dance"
Dunia's response to review of Desert Dance Festival 2000

Crone dance by Mimi Albert

The Gilded Serpent

 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines