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Karavan Blog


August 2015: My Philosophy Topic


This Project Band Thing - How Does it Work?

Step 1:  Improvise for me!

I select a piece of music for you and ask you to dance to it.  It’s that simple!  I’ll make sure it is music that you have heard before – although likely not STUDIED before (i.e. choreographed to before).  It may be a western music selection – e.g. Lady Gaga, Guns and Roses, Aerosmith, Bruno Mars, etc.  I just need to see how you move, how you hear the structure of the music, the tracks in the music, see your range of movement dynamics, if you have any current “go to” moves for killing time, etc.

Step 2: From watching this, I can design a plan for the following:

The Movement Path
All of us have a range/style of moving with which we are most comfortable.   If we do anything outside of this range, it is usually because it is DELIBERATELY placed there.   Deliberately placed, expansive movements don’t usually occur to us when we are improvising.  So our “improvisational range” tends to narrow unless we use exercises to retain deliberately placed, expansive movement.  
We need our "vocabulary” (i.e. the movements that “occur” to us based on the music we hear) to be diverse and extensive.  Only then can we feel confident that we can access relevant, interesting movement for an extended period of time for “performance improvisation.”

The Musicality Path
THIS is where many dancers have not explored enough before dancing to live music!  
It truly is not enough to index through the “rolodex of combinations” in your head as a piece of music is playing.  For a powerful, engaging, meaningful presentation, a dancer’s movement choices should be musically inspired.  They should have a relationship to the structure of the song (e.g. instrumental introduction, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus, bridge, verse, etc.), the phrasing within the structure (not every phrase is 8 counts!), the instruments used (a melody played on violin and repeated on oud would seem to evoke different movement textures), etc.

Distinct characteristics of Arabic Music include repetition and improvisation.  As musicians play and as an audience responds positively to a phrase or section of a piece of music, musicians will tend to repeat that phrase or section.  Often times, each repetition will be slightly different – by choice of lead instrument, by degree of embellishment, etc.  This is why a dancer needs to have a firm grip on the song and the possibilities of where it can go.

Step 3:  Attend BOTH Private Lessons AND Project Band Drills Classes

The differences from one dancer to the next with regards to where they are on the spectrum of movement vocabulary and attention to musical structure and detail are VAST – to say the least! 

Private Lessons are designed for each individual.  Some will begin with mapping music, creating choreographies using movements WAY outside of their range.  Others will begin with improvising and working on “owning the errors” which is what happens when a dancer anticipates wrongly – usually based on a previous version of a piece of music lingering in her head.  Still others may need to begin with focusing on certain body parts that are overused or unused or paying strict attention to posture, traveling steps, etc.  And you can even take Skype private lessons from me anywhere in the world.

And there are some things that EVERYONE can work on…..eternally!!!  Project Band Drills is meant to increase overall strength, endurance, coordination, and allow dancers to see other body types and movement styles (other than me) execute these ideas.  In these classes, we – at some point – work on it all… just in a more general way and for shorter periods of time.  Often, a given dancer and I can tell what “next steps” need to happen for her based on the experience she has in a Project Band Drills class. 

The growing library of Karavan Online classes provides a tremendous amount of material already for Project Band Drills.  If fact, I even send local Karavan dancers back to previously filmed classes on Karavan Online to redo, analyze, etc.

Step 4:  Practice With The Band

OK… this all sounds good.  But, what if I live far away and can’t go practice with the band?

Nothing beats practicing to music created IN THE MOMENT.  THAT is the main reason for going to Houston. 

By the time we get to this point, a dancer has been working with a given piece of music for a while (the newer the dancer to this experience, the longer she has been working with the same piece), has listened to several versions of that music, has an idea of what variations are possible, has an idea of movement characteristics she wishes to employ in general, etc.  Dancing with the Byblos Band in Houston is a sort of “pop quiz” to see how it is all going.  There is NO WAY to know how they will choose to play the piece.

There ARE other benefits to dancing with the band in a Houston rehearsal – such as learning some of their cues for each other so that you can benefit from them also, getting a sense of their style, or (for more advanced dancers in this process) testing your ability to musically match the band in a strong enough manner to let them allow YOU to create accent points, etc.  But the primary benefit is getting a unique, IN THE MOMENT version of your song.  Those who are too far away to make the trip can still have this!!!

Please keep in mind that I work closely with the band leader to tell him – for each dancer – what I would like for them to have in their “pop quiz”.  For example,  Suzie Q is working to Lessa Faker.  She keeps running out of things to do in a particular section of the song that is almost ALWAYS repeated.  I would ask Ahmad (the bandleader) to repeat that section many, many times!!  Change instruments!  Embellish!  Drop it back to the most simple version, then do it all again!!  Did Suzie think about this while practicing?  Probably.  But having a piece of music that actually calls for it will drive the point home, serve as an excellent benchmark for how she deals with this LIVE, and allow us both to have a piece of music to use as a tool as we move forward.

Another benefit to dancing with the band in a Houston rehearsal is the reality that your Project Band comrades are all there watching.  We all enjoy watching each other grow in this experience (and believe me, we all have!!) and enjoy guessing what games I have been putting the dancers through based on what each one does with the band.  If this is something that a remote participant does not want to miss, we can certainly arrange for her to do her Project Band rehearsal with the band via Skype with several of her Project Band comrades sitting with me to observe!  That actually is not as scary as it sounds… as almost ALL online students start feeling like they know the San Antonio Karavan Dancers as they participate in class after class with them.  : D

So what actually happens is that I tell Ahmad “we have a couple of remote students and I need you to play their music.”  I will then tell him what special touches I might need based on what we have been working on.  I will likely dance to the music myself just so that the band will feel the energy of a performer in front of them and push out some extra power.  Gylon (that’s our camera man) will film the band playing the music.  I’ll have the link to this video.  We set a time for your “pop quiz” via Skype and after I get you online for that visit, I send you the link.  Depending on where you are in the process, we might play the video once together (I won’t be concerned about you memorizing EVERY nuance) and then you go!  I’ll capture your performance as another video as you do it and we will play it back together to see how it went… and move forward from there.

Step 5:  “Moving forward from there” is a repeat of Step 1: Improvise for me!  

Basically, THIS performance with the band becomes your new “Improvise for me” that I talked about at the beginning of all of this…. and the process starts its next iteration.  

We’ll see where we need to go – from a movement path and a musicality path.  We’ll see how much the work that we DID do stuck.  We’ll discuss next steps.  

Believe me, after that first “pop quiz”, the path begins to unfold quite clearly!!!  The Project Band experience is one year long – with the end being our annual show.  (And might I add… As a Project Band participant, you are ALWAYS welcome to come join us for that show and perform with the band!   And we always add extra musicians for this show!  And who knows?  We might even have another contest to fly a lucky participant in and pick up her expenses!  : D  : D )

Step 6: Reap the benefits of your experience!

Whether you are all in or asking "But I’ll probably never dance to live music.  Why would I do this?" -- think about the benefits:
  • Every good dancer is in a constant state of evolving her dance vocabulary and her listening skills.   Working toward TRUE IMPROVISATION is the absolute, hands down, bet my life on it, #menfromtheboys way to do this.  The lessons learned in this Project Band experience will permeate every aspect of your dance life – if not every aspect of your ENTIRE life.  Not kidding!   You will learn more about Arabic music, rhythms, music composition as well as your own body, mind, and soul!
  • I am super fortunate and honored to have been working with some of the best musicians in the business for over 20 years.  They are dear friends who are appreciative of dancers who want to learn.  They are excited to help me help other dancers.  It really is rare to have this kind of access to this kind of talent.  And then rarer for that talent to be so open in the sharing of their knowledge and experience.   We get to tap into all of that.  
  • Precious few dancers have the chance to dance to live music.  Even fewer have a chance to dance to live music on an ongoing basis.  But this I know:  My decades of working with musicians was the single largest growth spurt in my 40+ year career!   This project reflects my education during that time.  It was never laid out for me like this – but it happened like this.  I am forever changed -- not by that experience – but by my thoughtful, deliberate assimilation of that experience into my teaching and performance.  
I’m here to guide you with that assimilation.  You will be changed too.  : D

Karen Barbee Adkisson, Karavan Studio owner and professional belly dancer, has been teaching students in the art of belly dance techniques for more than 25 years.  Her expertise at the national and international level is technique and professional progression.  Karen's systematic approaches are found throughout Karavan's online video lessons, live classes, workshops, and events including the annual July GBDAC Recital weekend held in San Antonio, Texas.

Posted by Karen Barbee Adkisson, Karavan Studio on 26th August, 2015 | Comments | Trackbacks
Categories: Karen Barbee, Karavan Studio, Project Band
Tags: Karen Barbee, learn belly dancing, learn how to belly dance, belly dancing San Antonio, choreography, performance, improvisation, improv, performer, Middle Eastern dance, audience, band, Project Band, Byblos Band, Skype, movement, musicality, private lessons, drills classes, Karavan Online, rehearsal, GBDAC, remote students

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