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  • Lisa Lumina

Practice Plans for Intro and Beginner Students

We've all been there: you made time to practice, got your hip scarf on, and then are standing in front of a mirror wondering what to do. This is by no means the be all, end all of practice methods. Some of the most skilled dancers I know practice by just putting music on, dancing for a song or two, and then spending some time on whatever didn't feel right for them. You don't NEED to have a set structure, but if you find yourself spending more time trying to pick what to practice than actually dancing, this should help.

*First, some general practice tips.

*Then 3 options for structuring practice based for different time frames.

*Followed by lots of options for organizing at home skill building over different topics.

*Finally, some tips on using DVDs at home

Tip # 1: consider how much time you can realistically and sustainably put in on a regular basis. You might wish you could spend all day dancing (it sure beats doing your taxes!) but that's not realistic when you have a job, a family, and other interests too! Don't think about how much time you imagine you "should" practice, look for the balance of length and frequency that will leave you feeling like you've made time to do something you enjoy, without feeling like you are burning the candle at all ends.

Tip # 2: organize your music! The idea here is that when it's time to practice, you can put on a play list and not spend time searching for the right song. When you're first starting out, you should have 3 playlists: one of all your raqs music, one that has just slower songs from that first playlist, and one that has just faster songs again from the first playlist. As you progress, make playlists for each type of thing you'll want to spend time practicing. This might mean a playlist for each part of a set, for example. I'd also suggest one playlist of just your warm up music, which brings us to:

Tip # 3: have a warm-up "ritual", a specific, short song and loosely choreographed warm up that gets you in the headspace to dance and starts your blood flowing. I recommend keeping this short, so that when you're in a hurry you can still squeeze in your practice habit without losing the entire time to warming up.

Tip # 4: make practice a habit. You'll see more progress in your dancing if you practice for 5 minutes every day than if you practice for 2 hours once a week. Pick a cue, such as finishing the dishes, or having your morning coffee, that will serve as your reminder to go dance. On days when you don't have time for 15, 30, or 60 minute practice, try to just show up, do your warm up, and maybe review your smooth and percussive moves for a total of 5 minutes. Some days, my dance practice is dancing to the Star Trek Next Generation theme song in my kitchen, and it counts!

Tip # 5: end your practice with something fun, and with a soothing stretch. For me, that means I leave some time for improvisation and have a timer that tells me it's time to start stretching, so I don't get carried away and dance for hours ^_^

Finally, the routine ideas!

The first 3 are more based on what you've recently learned than long-term review.

You could use any of the options below, or structure a 15 minute practice as:

  • warm up for 2 min

  • work on a move or skill that isn't easy to do yet for 3 minutes

  • review a combo from class for 3 minutes

  • improvise around music you enjoy for 3 minutes

  • stretch for 4 minutes

For a more general 30 minute practice:

  • warm up for 5 minutes

  • practice 1 move or skill that isn't easy to do yet for 3 minutes

  • practice a different move or skill that isn't easy yet for 3 minutes

  • practice a shimmy of your choice for 4 minutes

  • review a combo from class for 5 minutes

  • improvise around music you enjoy for 5 minutes

  • stretch for 5 minutes

For a quickie, 5 minute practice, try:

  • Put on a 4 minute song that starts slow and builds to a faster tempo

  • start by reviewing your smooth moves, just a few reps each direction

  • then review percussive moves

  • shimmy until the end of the song!

  • stretch whatever feels tight for the last minute

  • give yourself a gold star for squeezing practice in!

Intro Students: If you are primarily working on building your movement vocabulary and ability to control your body, try these.

They are also set up to help you mentally categorize your moves, which will help with movement recall down the line.

When you feel comfortable with the basic movement, try moving your feet around, layering it or traveling with it, and exploring other variations. Remember, practicing one move at a time is a tool for getting a movement into your muscle memory, they're just drills, so always include combo reviews and/or free-dancing in your practice.

If you want to practice basic moves, and plan to practice 30 - 60 minutes a day, 4 times a week:

Warm up with "safety moves". Set a timer for between 1 to 2.5 minutes. Practice a move one one side/direction until the timer runs out, then reset the timer and do the other side, then reset and repeat with to the next move.

Mondays: Class

Tuesdays: Circles and Shimmies

Wednesdays: flat and vertical infinities and traveling steps

Thursdays: undulations and "lines" (ie, tucks, slides, lifts drops)

Fridays: pick a couple tricky things to spend more time on

If you want to practice basic moves, and plan to practice 15 minutes a day, 4 times a week:

The same as above, but take a whole week to work through each category.

Week 1: circles and horizontal infinities

Week 2: undulations and vertical infinities

Week 3: shimmies and "lines"

Week 4: traveling steps and turns

If you want to practice basic moves and do a little bit each day, or want to keep the practice time more flexible:

  • Write each root move you know on an index card. Add variations that you want to add to your regular movement vocab to the card as you find them. Color code with colorful cards, washi tape, or marker borders for movement categories. You could alternately write a numbered list and roll a dice to pick a move.

  • warm up with "safety moves" if you have time, or just some wiggles if you're in a hurry, then

  • pull out a smooth/slow move from the cards and practice it

  • pull out a percussive isolation, practice

  • pull out a traveling step, practice

  • pull out a shimmy, practice.

  • finish practice with some time just grooving with some music you like, or with one of the combos from class, to put the moves into context with the music.

  • Remember to stretch!

  • Keep a pile of cards you've already done and when you get all the way through the deck shuffle and start again. You can go through the deck each week, each month, or at whatever pace works for your schedule and goals.

Level 2 Students: If you're comfortable with basic movement vocabulary and can generally group moves by category for easier recall, try these practice plans to focus on musical understanding. You'll be using the moves you know, and building associations between them and the rhythms and melodic textures.

If you want to practice dancing to melodic instruments, and plan to practice 30 - 60 minutes, 4 times a week:

pick one song that is a taxeem featuring just that instrument, one song where you follow the selected instrument and only dance to it through the song, and one song where you incorporate the focus instrument with dancing to the rest of the song, too.

Mondays: class

Tuesdays: guitar, bouzuki, oud, kanoun

Wednesdays: nai, mizmar, mijwiz, clarinet

Thursdays: violin, accordion, rhebaba

Fridays: percussion instruments (tabla/doumbek, cymbals, riq, tabl beledi....)

If you want to practice dancing to melodic instruments, and plan to practice 15 minutes, 4 times a week:

Same set up as the categories above, but just one instrument per day.

Week 1: guitar, bouzuki, oud, kanoun

Week 2: nai, mizmar, mijwiz, clarinet

Week 3: violin, accordion, rhebaba

Week 4: tabla/doumbek, cymbals, riq, tabl beledi

If you want to practice dancing to rhythms, and plan to practice 30 - 60 minutes, 4 times a week:

Practice with a song that is just a rhythm track, then find the rhythm in a section of a song it's used in (try Jalilah's Raqs Sharki vol 4 for samples of this!) and practice it in context, then try it out in a drum solo context.

Mondays: class

Tuesdays: 2/4 rhythms (ex: malfoof, ayoub, fellahi)

Wednesdays: 4/4 rhythms (ex: beledi/masmoudi saghir, maqsom, saidi, wahida)

Thursdays: 8/4 rhythms (ex: chiftitelli, masmoudi kabir)

Fridays: 10/8, 9/8, etc. (ex: "karshlimah", Romani 9/8, semai)

If you want to practice dancing to rhythms, and plan to practice 15 minutes, 4 times a week:

Same set up as the category above, but just one rhythm per day.

Week 1: 2/4 rhythms (ex: malfoof, ayoub, fellahi)

Week 2: 4/4 rhythms (ex: beledi/masmoudi saghir, maqsom, saidi, wahida)

Week 3: 8/4 rhythms (ex: chiftitelli, masmoudi kabir)

Week 4: 10/8, 9/8, etc. (ex: "karshlimah", Romani 9/8, semai)

Level 2+ Students: When you feel like you've got all these topics down, you can try organizing your practice by topics, either 1 topic per day for more frequent review, or 1 topic per week for more focused practice. Some examples are:

Parts of a set, for example:

Mondays: class

Tuesdays: entrances and tarab

Wednesdays: veil

Thursdays: floorwork

Fridays: drum solos and finales

Or styles you want to focus on, for example:

Mondays: class

Tuesdays: retro Egyptian

Wednesdays: Am cab or Turkish

Thursdays: floorwork and veil

Fridays: beledi

Or props you're learning, for example:

Mondays: class

Tuesdays: veil

Wednesdays: assaya

Thursdays: sword or tray

Fridays: wings

Or folklore, for example:

Mondays: class

Tuesdays: beledi

Wednesdays: saidi

Thursdays: dabke

Fridays: Romani

If you want more guidance while at home, try out some DVDs to expand your knowledge and skill base! Remember: teachers on DVDs cannot see you to give feedback, so periodically review things with a live teacher, and do frequent check ins with your body and posture.

It is tempting to put a DVD on and dance along with it as if it were a class, but most DVDs are not intended to be used this way. Generally, teachers are trying to fit the most instruction they can into the short recording time available. The instruction is typically made to demonstrate a movement, combo, skill, or concept, and for you to then pause the recording and practice what was taught for as long as you need to.

Knowing this, have some music that suits the topic you are working on ready, and the remote handy. It's good to stick with working on something, but it is also good to know when to set a topic down and come back to it later. Working on the same thing for too long can cause repetitive motion injuries, and lead to frustration. Practice is very important, but you also need to allow your nervous system time to incorporate the learning you've done.

Another tip is to keep a notebook or something similar nearby to help you keep track of where you leave off in a DVD you're working with, hopefully it is well chaptered so you can skip ahead to where you left off the next time you practice with it.

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