Learning How to Follow Circle Dances - 051129

You paid your money, dance ~ Nissim Ben Ami
The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become ~ Charles Du Bos

For those of you at Tony Arroyo's workshop, you may remember the teacher, Nissim Ben Ami, encouraging people to get up and do dances they did not know.

Nissim said, "You paid your money, dance. You don't need to know the steps. Enjoy the music and do what you can."

You have heard me express these same sentiments.

There are 4,000+ Israeli dances. It is impossible to memorize every step to every dance. If you go to workshops, or other groups, or other kinds of folk dancing, you will see many dances for the first, and possibly only time. It is nice if you can enjoy these dances, even if you only do them once in a lifetime.

The trick is to get good at following dances you do not know. Here are some tips.

  1. Have fun.

  2. Listen to the music.

  3. Have an accepting attitude and be good to yourself. Dancing is about enjoying the atmosphere and expressing yourself with the group. Think of the choreography as a suggestion and pat yourself on the back for doing anything right.

  4. Pay attention to the big picture first. Try to understand how many parts there are to the dance and in what direction to go.

  5. Watch people's upper body, not their feet. This will tell you where to go. Your feet will follow. Start by moving in the correct direction.

  6. Do less and add pieces as you go along. Do not try to do every step and every move. Take less steps. Do a single step, instead of a 1-2-3. Leave out the turns. When people change direction with confusing turns, take your time, and turn less rather than more. Keep your eyes on where people go so you can learn the direction. Pay attention to which shoulder points out or in, for example "right shoulder in".

  7. Be aware that dances and music make sense. Music is set to certain musical rythms most commonly of 8 counts. Dances are choreographed in time with the music. Dances are made up of a series of patterns typically associated with a style of music. The patterns are usually related to one another, are often symetrical, and maintain a kind of theme throughout the dance. Patterns frequently repeat themselves in dances of the same style.

  8. Try to understand the basic patterns, so you can use them as a unit in the dances. Some of the most common patterns are: walk, grapevine, yemenite, balance, tcherkuzia (rock forward and back), cha cha (1-2-3), step together step, behind side cross, and what we call a 1 2 1-2-3.

  9. If you can keep up with the circle and move in the correct direction, dance in the circle. Some people say you should dance outside the circle until you learn the dance, but I disagree. If there are two circles, you should dance in the outer one, but if there is only one circle, and you are not interfering significantly with other people, dance in the circle. The momentum of the circle will help you and you will be more a part of the group, which is not only good for you, but also makes everyone else feel good. If you can hold someone's hand, even better, because this will give you physical feed back too.

  10. If you want to help someone who does not know the dance, I think it is best, not to call out steps. Leave the calling of steps to the group leader. You can best help other people by telegraphing your moves, so the people can see where you are going way ahead of time. You can also take the other person by the hand and let them feel where you are going. Be careful though. Don't shove, push or yank them around. Just gently let them feel where you are going, rather than dragging them around.

By Andrew Weitzen 11/29/2005

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