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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
in high-heeled shoes like the Lebanese Cabaret Dancers ruin my
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.
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.)
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
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!
in Yemen, by Jalilah
Book review of "Sacred Dance"
Dunia's response to review of Desert Dance Festival
Crone dance by