Coordination is our ability to integrate our movements into sequence, into what we call dance. It is actually a synthesis of the other components of fitness such as strength and balance.
What a coordinated belly dancer looks like: She is able to effectively layer. She can perform hip and torso movements in tandem, shimmy over circles and eights, or add level changes. Her movements are in sync to the music and form natural patterns to the rhythm. Her footwork is varied and she has an assortment of traveling steps, turns, and transitions to choose from when improvising or choreographing. She can gracefully integrate props such as a sword, veil, cane, or zills into her routine.
You should work on your coordination if you:
- Feel like you ‘lose touch’ with your arms when you’re concentrating on other movements
- Feel like you can’t connect to the muscles your instructor describes using for a particular movement
- Would like to learn to travel with the circles, waves, and eights you already know
- Would like to add a shimmy to the circles, waves, and eights you already know
- Want to add more complex traveling steps and footwork to your practice
- Would like to dance with props such as a sword, veil, cane, and especially zills
A quick note: What’s the deal with isolations? Isolations, as I refer to them, are small, highly focused movements. These include the circles, waves, and eights of the hips, belly, torso, chest, and shoulders. Isolations are a product of coordination (your brain knowing and connecting to the right muscles at the right time), strength (those very small muscles having the power to move large sections of your body), and flexibility (those same muscles being able to stretch long enough to produce a wide range of motion). You need all three to have clean, precise isolation work.
Recognizing the Signs
1.) You’re working on a new isolation but the body part you’re trying to move just doesn’t go where it’s supposed to. Your instructor has described what muscles to use and has maybe even shown you where they are located. You just can’t feel them though, and aren’t sure how to connect to them.
Why: Your brain and the muscle haven’t coordinated yet. You might use the muscle in your day to day without thinking, but haven’t discovered yet how to actively move it where you want it to go.
The Fix: First, try your best to identify the right muscle group. You might be able to see the muscle movement in your instructor, or even feel it with your hand. Ask your instructor to steer you through the movement with her hands, if you feel comfortable. Then try to incorporate a mind body connection into your practice. Imagine the muscle working, performing the movement correctly.
2.) You’re learning to layer, essentially trying to perform two movements at once. It might be as simple as circling your arms while moving your hips from side-to-side, or more complicated like layering a hip shimmy over a figure eight. In any case, you have that sensation of brain overload. When you concentrate on one movement the other loses its form or shape, starts and stops, or gets dropped altogether.
Why: It’s the typical pat your tummy while scratching your head thing.
The Fix: There are a few things you can try in your practice. Always start with one movement first (I like to start with the harder one), and then slowly add in the other. I also recommend varying the speed of one or both movements. The circle can be really large and super slow when you’re first trying to layer a shimmy.
3.) Fancy footwork is not your favorite thing. Your instructor occasionally throws in a few turns, crossovers, rock steps, cha cha chas… and it’s like showing a dog a card trick.
Why: We don’t always identify as strongly right and left with our feet as we do our hands. It’s difficult sometimes (especially when a mirror is involved) to tease apart footwork.
The Fix: Unfortunately, the only thing to do is practice! It’s good to slow things down occasionally, but a lot of times it can be easier to get things at speed. Don’t think, just try to move. Look for ‘anchors’ in the combination… one two three turn five six rock step… and try to hit these first, the filler steps will fall into place.
Extra-curricular study: I like to think that the footwork I use in my combinations is entirely a product of step aerobics and ballroom dance. From these I learned how to take ‘X’ number of beats and distance A to B and travel it gracefully. I highly recommend both as a supplement to your study, I think you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll learn about belly dance!