Wednesday, May 27, 2009
GET ON DOWN AND PARTY...EXPLORING FLOOR WORK
For decades, floor work was an integral part of most belly dance shows in America. Usually performed in the middle of a dance set, the floor work segment of a dancer’s show was typically performed to a slow, moody taxim. The dancer’s hypnotically sensuous and fluid movements appeared almost effortless, belying the strength and flexibility needed to perform them. Whether done in a cabaret, fusion or fantasy context, or during folkloric dance while using a balanced prop - such as a tray - well-executed floor work is always a showstopper.
In modern cabaret and stage shows in Turkey and Lebanon, most shows feature floor work. Many North African folkloric dances include floor work , often combined with balancing trays, jugs, swords, and baskets on the head of the dancer. The Moroccan Guedra, (a trance dance) typically includes a portion performed on the knees. Here in the USA floor work was always a highlight in shows performed by American cabaret style belly dancers .
Sadly, floor work began to wane in popularity in the late 80’s and early ‘90’s as the Egyptian style of Oriental dance gained favor in America. This is because in Egypt, floor was and is considered “dirty” and “suggestive” and is actually against the law, unless it is performed in a folkloric context, say, as part of raks shamadan, where the performer balances a huge candelabrum on her head while dancing, frequently sinking to her knees or performing various other movements on the floor. Word has it that years ago, in one fun exception to the law, the legendary world-famous Egyptian star Nagwa Fouad figured out an ingenious- and legal – way to include floor work in her Cairo shows. She did an “historical tableaux“ number where she performed as a Turkish harem dancer from the Ottoman Empire. Done as a staged a folkloric dance, in this context, she actually passed muster in the eyes of the Egyptian Vice Police while she gleefully worked the entire the floor!
More recently, though, with the rise in popularity of newer belly dance styles like Tribal and Fusion, as well as with performers experimenting with ritualistic or sacred dance, floor work has once again gained popularity. Dancers perform with and without balanced props, and many mix in extreme level changes, interesting descents and ascents ( Turkish Drop, anyone?) ,and even some gymnastic or circus-style tumbling.
There are many well-known dancers performing today who have always incorporated floor work into their routines. To name just a few: Suhaila Salimpour, Ansuya, Atlantis, Lee Ali, Cheri/Cherchez La Femme, Tempest, and the troupes Fatchancebellydance and Urban Tribal , as well as fabulous male dancers John Compton and Jim Boz, both of whom balance huge brass trays loaded down with full tea-sets on their heads. John Compton even does tongue-in-cheek athletic push-ups onstage with his tray on his head!
If you are interested in learning some great floor work technique, there is a definitive DVD on the subject released by IAMED, called “Classic Cabaret Floor Work With Anaheed”.
Anaheed, a veteran Los Angeles based teacher and performer, not only demonstrates a number of excercises for flexibility, but thoroughly breaks down a number of popular “old school” moves. Responsible for training and inspiring practically an entire “generation” of dancers in Los Angeles ( including me!) Anaheed is a jewel and has a wealth of knowledge to share. The DVD ends with a spectacular live performance and is a must if you want to learn to work the floor like pro.
If you are considering adding floor work to your repetoire, here are a few things to consider:
Floor work really could be performed anywhere, but ideally, it should be done on a raised stage. Performing floor work in restaurants (among the tables, without a stage) is iffy at best. The dancer runs the risk of both safety and aesthetic issues: who wants to see a dancer writhing around with waiters and customers stepping over her? Plus, a stage is a far cleaner (and safer) than a restaurant floor which may have spilled food, dirt from foot-traffic and even broken glass on it’s surface.
Always remember to think of your costuming: fuller skirts are better as far as freedom of movement goes, and also a more modest wardrobe choice; many dancers wear pantaloons beneath them. Decorated jazz pants or Melodia pants or even stretchy bell-bottoms are another good choice. Some dancers even wear knee pads beneath their trousers or voluminous skirts- your knee-caps can really take a beating during floor work, and you may even get friction burns on the tops of your feet.
The style of belt you wear also figures in- long fringe will probably get tangled, the beads can break, and it actually hurts to kneel or roll onto long fringe. Rayon fringe, coined or tasseled belts and/or hip scarves are a much better costuming option.
It’s a good idea to take a few moments to adjust your skirts periodically to keep them from bunching up under you, or between your legs. Try to perform as gracefully and tastefully as possible- never face the audience with your knees spread open, it just looks vulgar. Presenting your body to the audience at diagonal angle is more flattering to you, anyway.
Don’t forget your pedicure, and do remember to keep those toes gracefully pointed at all times! Your feet are even more visible than when you are standing on them, so if you are working barefoot, make it a habit to swab your soles clean with a baby-wipe or towel before presenting them to your audience. There’s nothing less glamorous and illusion- wrecking than dirty feet!
And of course, always remember to warm-up thoroughly before you dance- it’s the law!