Improvisation is extemporaneous choreography. That means that improvisation is accomplished with the same mechanics and principles as choreography. The only difference is that improvisation is in the moment and choreography is pre-designed movement.
I learned belly dance as an improvisational art; we had to improvise whatever we did. That meant we had to remember what we learned in class, practice a lot and know the music very well! When I finally had to choreography dances as a teacher/company choreographer, I was at a loss. I had to study choreography as a subject. I read everything I could, took classes and workshops and finally, became good at both. Years later, after having both improvised and choreographed dozens and dozens of dances, I realized I was using the same techniques and principals for both.
Here are some tips for improvisation – (but they are the same tips for choreography)!
1. Wait a few beats before entering. Play your zills for a few bars to create anticipation in the audience.
2. Do big movements – preferably spins – as your first moves, to grab the audience! You have the audiences attention and interest prior to your entrance. You have to keep it once you are on stage.
3. Change when the music changes. Listen to changes in rhythm, tempo as well as melodic changes. Music is composed in passages, phrase (sentences) and has bridges, flourishes, accents and pauses. Use them all!
4. Compartmentalize the passages. Especially in the drum solo. That is to say, end each sentence or passage with a different dramatic movement (flourish/accent move) that says, “end” to the eye. This is called compartmentalizing and it means closing with a completing movement.
5. Do everything on both sides- right and left. But, always come back to center.
6. Focus on what the audience sees - perform to the audience sections: right, left, center and in the round on all sides.
7. Floor Design: Use the diagonal lines as well as the straight lines upstage and downstage; stage right and stage left.
8. Use a mix of angles and levels.
9. Remember: The Drum solo and the Taksim are all about the isolations- minimize traveling - leave that to the Opening, the Veil and the Finale.
10. Don’t forget the flourishes in the music – give them life! They are an opportunity to show skill and panache in your dance, and to express "attitude" and flirt with the audience.
11. The Opening and Finale are the bread: The Veil, Taksim and Drum Solo are the meat and most important part of the dance: become very good at each one of these.~ develop your own style. For example, the super-star UNA is known for her smooth exactness and extraordinarily clean movement! Jilina is know for her technical prowess and flirtatiousness. Ansuya is known for her sultriness and her powerful technical skill. Find out what makes you, "YOU" on stage and use that strength and individuality to give the best performance you can every time you dance.
12. Use the bridges as transitions and rests.
13. Always pose at the end of a dance sequence.
14. Be predictable but not too predictable. Use symmetry and asymmetry. Add some random stuff in the movement- mix!
15. Know your music cold – and know Arabic and Turkish music very well, so, if a band asks you “Want to dance to Tamra-Henna or Baklem Beek? You can answer.
16. Save your best and biggest grandest movements for the last!
Most of all – have fun! The feelings you have dancing communicates to the audience and they will respond to your joy and passion as much or more than your technique!