Monday, December 9, 2013

The Power of the Shimmy

I recently performed at a wonderful local event called Snowflakes & Shimmies put on by Naya's Trance. The event was part winter recital for local classes and part professional showcase.  My class performed (and they were awesome) and I also performed a solo during which I started with a shimmy that I maintained for the entire performance; a period of approximately 3.5 minutes.

To a non-dancer 3.5 minutes of shimmying might not seem like long but I offer you the following challenge. Stand up and put your arms straight out to the side from your shoulders - straight, with your palms down. Now hold them there for 3.5 minutes keeping you arms straight, hands at shoulder level - don't let them drop, don't bend your elbows.

At about a minute most of us will begin to feel a warmth or burn in our triceps, at about two minutes some of use might start to shake or notice our arms involuntarily dropping...by the time you hit three and a half minutes you are probably glad it's over.  You likely managed to maintain your arms the entire time (there's no way I'm gonna let these arms down before 3.5 minutes...no way! I'll show her!) but it probably wasn't easy. My point being that what appears as a simple task often isn't. It is much the same with maintaining a 3.5 minute shimmy.

I did the piece in large part because at the beginning of each of my theatrical belly dance classes this session my students and I did a shimmy drill as part of our warmup.  We began with four minutes in the first class and through the session worked our way up to ten minutes.  During the drills we layered, we traveled, we changed levels, we stood on one foot and we undulated all while maintaining a shimmy.  It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.  At the beginning of the session I am sure more than one doubted they'd be able to do it but they all persevered and in the end all succeeded.  My performance was greatly inspired by them.

After I was asked by more than one person how I managed do it (one even asked - is it Aziza's shimmy drill? And yes, more than a bit of inspiration came from there!).  I have used that drill to begin my practice when I had little focus and needed inspiration, I used it as a substitute for coffee (it works!) and I've done it just for fun. However like any practice you need to make it your own and you need to do it consistently so here are a few suggestions for building up your shimmy...making your shimmy last?  You too can super shimmy???:

Note:  Make sure you are comfortable with and strong in your belly dance posture.  Doing an extended shimmy with your butt sticking out and your shoulders slumped is a one way ticket to a sore lower back.  Make sure you have a neutral pelvis and that your chest is open and lifted.  At the same time, those parts of you that are not shimmying should be relaxed...and most of all, remember to breathe!

1.  Start small.  You are looking at repeating a rather intense movement for an extended period of time. When I began with my students we began with four minutes.  Start small also applies to the size of your shimmy.  Don't start doing choo choo shimmies right out of the gate...you'll find yourself shimmied out at the two minute mark.  Start easy and let your muscles warm up then go for the big, bad shake.

2. Increase slowly.  Start with three or four minutes and increase by one minute a week.  If you feel you can do more sooner that's fine but make sure you listen to your body.

3. Have fun.  The first class I did with my students we shimmied to KC and the Sunshine Band's "Shake, Shake, Shake..."  Waiting for the clock to tick off three, four or five minutes can be dull so pick some music that motivates you to move and that is approximately as long as you want to do the drill!  If you can work with drummer even better s/he can keep time so you don't have to watch the clock.  They can also vary the speed so you can change things up (plus then you have someone there who can say, "Woah, five minutes...you are awesome!")

4. Change it up.  Start with a simple shimmy in your traditional belly dance posture.  Once you have settled into it try adding layers like a horizontal figure eight or a hip circle.  Changing levels is great too so go up on your toes or lower to the ground.  Try traveling in releve or flat footed with a grapevine step.  Undulate, add arms, shimmy fast or slow, small or big!  This is your chance to experiment and you have to fill those eventual ten minutes with something!

My habit is to do this approximately every other day (as a full time student I sometimes don't practice as much as I'd like but can usually squeeze in five minutes of shimmy).  I've also been known to do it at bus stops and while waiting for the walk light at an intersection.  So go on and shimmy - even if you never do a shimmy that long on stage it is a great exercise for building up endurance and it's a whole lot of fun.

Shimmy on!

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