This post is from a recent Undulate Update, if you want more sign up here for weekly belly dance inspiration!
This Undulate Update is a supercharged guide to layering for belly dance.
We love our shimmies, oumis, undulations and all the gorgeous movements that make up our belly dance box of treasures. We love them so much that sometimes we want to squish them all together to create fabulous layers.
Here are some tips to help you layer it up:
1. What’s in this sandwich?
Be clear on what two movements you’re sandwiching together. Whether it’s a shimmy with a rib circle, an oumi with a step-together-step, or a shoulder shimmy with an undulation, know what layer combination you’re working towards.
2. Drill them apart, then put them together
Before you start combining movements, make sure to practice each movement separately first until you’re comfortable with it. And if it’s a lower body movement like a hip circle, keep the upper body completely still whilst doing it- and vice versa this will make your layering cleaner. If one layer is not strong enough then it’ll make it harder to achieve the seamless effect of two or more layers combined effortlessly, which takes a lot of effort to make happen!
3. Get to know Mr Muscle
If it helps you to think of movements in terms of what is happening on an anatomical level, use this to help you know exactly what muscles should be working and in what way, and in what timing. For example: for an undulation layered over a glute shimmy- the glutes are contracting and releasing alternately whilst the upper back, upper abs and then lower abs contract and release for the undulation.
4. Be Strong
Strengthening the relevant muscles will makes it easier to isolate the movements, making them easier to execute and sustain. So for pelvic tucks strengthen the lower abs with targeted crunches and for shimmies work on your glutes and thighs.
5. Get the engine going, then fly
When practicing get the base layer of your combination ‘on autopilot’ before adding the second layer. So if it’s a travelling step get comfortable with the foot pattern first. If it’s a shimmy with an oumi get the shimmy going first, then add on the oumi. This helps you work up to spreading the next layer on rather than getting in a muddle trying to do everything at once.
6. See it to believe it
Visualise the layer combination before you practice. Visualise the next layer whilst drilling the bottom layer. If you can ‘see’ the layer in your mind first before physically adding it on you’re one step closer to making it happen. If your brain knows what it’s doing, your body will follow.
7. Start slow
Practice to a slow song to really feel the mechanics of the layer combination and get it into your muscle memory. Then when the layer feels comfortable at a slower pace, try speeding it up!
8. 1 and 2 and 3 and 4..
Count out the movement in your head so you know exactly what is happening on each beat.
Count it out so you know exactly what’s happening on each count for each layer.
Counting out the movement mentally or out loud really helps to break down and understand the combination.
9. Stand tall
When trying to get our heads around an new movement we often totally forget about posture, but floppy arms and a sunken chest will only make the movements look wrong and your body will remember it that way. Poor posture when drilling can also lead to injury.
Lifting the ribcage and lengthening the spine creates space in which to execute the movement. So grow taller, keep the pelvis tucked and carry the whole body with energy.
10. Make it look easy
Check in with your breath.
Make sure you’re breathing and sending oxygen to all those muscles working so hard. Stand tall, feel good about the work you’re putting into your practice and make it look as if you’re loving every second!
Layering is challenging. So even including a little in your practice is a sign of how much progress you’re making.
When layering movements like undulations or hip/rib circles over a shimmy for the first time, it can be easier to:
-Get the shimmy on autopilot
-Layer the second move with locks or sharp contractions first before smoothing it out.
Review these tips before your next practice session and make note of what works for you. Remember every dancer learns at her own pace. It takes consistent effort over time for us to become the dancers we want to be, and we should enjoy ourselves and learn as much as possible on the journey!
Good luck !!!