Personal style is something I think about a lot. It is actually one of the main reasons I’m starting a dance trip around the world – to find my own style. From conversations I had recently with fellow dancers, I understood I’m not alone. so I approached some of my favorite professional dancers for advice.
I asked them the following question:
what are your tips for developing a unique personal style?”
I was blown away by the insights they had to share, so if you too wish to develop and enrich your own style, Read the tips and advice below, by (in alphabetical order): Ariellah, Belladona, Cera Byer, Deb Rubin, Ela Rogers, Elizabeth Strong, Henna, Jenna, Michelle Manx, Mira Betz, Natalie Nayun, Princess Farhana, Steven Eggers, Samantha Emanuel, Tempest.
Then, I’d love to hear your answer to the same question in the comments below.
It is my belief that before a unique personal style can be developed, it is essential we must all first be masters at the foundational technical skills of our particular genre of belly dance. We must know, understand and execute the movements intimately and with a deep and thorough understanding. It is for this; the technical authenticity, understanding and respect of the art form that creates the backbone of any dancers mastery, from which they can then progress to layer their unique style upon this base.
It is at this point, then, I would suggest the dancer decide what it is they want to express… Ideas you gather from books, fashion, theater, art, and observing people can support your movement. Experience life and you can offer this experience, this understanding, this perspective, through your dance, to your respective audiences…Find your story, what do you want to say?
Dance from your heart and with truth and…dance with real emotion. Discover what dance brings out of you and share it with the world. Take classes from many different instructors, but have one that is consistent, so as to constantly check in with your progression and get very specified and detailed feedback, yet discover all sorts of new ideas, methods, ways in which to move and think differently in your dance by taking many different belly dance classes. I would also encourage cross training in different classical dance forms to gain a variety of dance vocabulary to bring that much more dynamics to your dance and that much more understanding of dance in general. (a broader scope, if you will)
Breathe in life and your dance will reflect this. Allow yourself to be…allow your being to come through in your performance pieces…select music that moves you and moves you to no end…and then allow that love of that music to come through in your dance…allow yourself to move and express in ways that only YOU can do… uniquely. Be true to the emotions and ideas that you want to express and all will fall into place. Your authenticity and sincerity and original-being will shine through, no doubt.
My suggestion is to practice, practice, practice! To take from as many teachers and styles that inspire you and learn to see the differences in what they do so you do what you do on purpose.
Also to be sincere. Work in a way that works for and makes sense with your body and what you want your dance to say. Don’t just do something to be different do something because it is an extension of you and your unique experiences, thoughts, feelings,take on the world and how you can contribute to the world.
If what you’re looking for is to develop your own style, or enrich your style or technique, practice alone. I’m sorry there’s not a more glamorous answer, but that’s really the whole formula. Work work work, alone, in a studio, at your house, at parks, wherever, but work. Video tape yourself. Take notes on what you see & make those notes your guidebook. Know that inspiration is more likely to be found during work then before it, so just get alone on the floor and mine yourself for information.
Make stuff all the time – good stuff, awful stuff, mediocre stuff, but don’t stop. The way you get good at making stuff is by making stuff. The way you improve at dancing is by dancing. Treat everything as inspiration. Watch avidly. Read. Cultivate yourself and bring everything to your practice. Practice on your best days and your worst days and everything in between. Lather, rinse, repeat.
First and foremost, deeply study the dance form. Study the roots. Study ATS, Study bellydance. Study tribal fusion fundamentals. Get the fundamentals and technique of the dance form in your body, so that you can embody it naturally, and speak intelligently about what/how/why you are doing what you are doing, who your influences are and why. Study musicality—both Arabic as well as modern influences. Study theater. Study other styles outside of bellydance.
Then, after you have studied and trained for years and years…. put all of it aside. Let it all go. Trust that it is in your body. Go into a quiet studio, turn on the music, and just let yourself dance. Let yourself express the music as it feels natural for you. Videotape yourself improvizing. Watch the video and see what themes develop, what do you do that is ‘uniquely you?’, what movements do you repeat? What do you like, or not like about what you see?
I think a unique personal style develops over time. it is not something that you can cognitively choose, or decide upon in your brain. And it is not something that you can invent overnight. Try different things. See what resonates with you. Allow yourself permission to ‘mess up’. to ‘completely suck’. Take risks. Ask for critical feedback. And go in the direction by which you are most inspired. In my opinion, one’s musicality–how a dancer hears the music and interprets it through their body–is a big factor in defining one’s own personal style. The more you can refine your musicality, the more your own style with come through.
Personal style, to me, stems from being curious and passionate, and participating in many styles and genres of art. It’s like trying on shoes… You can try on many, ones that feel good, some that feel wobbly and difficult to master, and some that you’re just not sure of…and that’s okay – at least you’re trying them on!
It is also important to remember that it is YOU, trying these on, and no matter what particular style you are delving into, you are always the center of your endeavors. No one can be you, and you are a beautiful gift to this universe! I can go further with this analogy, by asking, how do you feel in these, here, particular shoes? How do you move in them? Do you feel empowered, excited, or pretty in these shoes? Or do you prefer another pair? That, to me, is what art is all about, especially, the art of movement and dance.
When you find styles of dance & art that you fully connect with, they become elements in your arsenal that you can always pull from, to create a fusion that comes from your own recipe. Stay unique, be yourself, and honor your mind, body, and spirit!
Be in love with your dance. These days it is difficult not to get swept up in the fads and superstars, and the desire to be a professional performer/teacher. It can be tough to stay true to yourself, neither imitating nor rejecting other dancer’s styles and movements. I find it is easy to feel invisible in the belly dance world with so much going on and fads changing so quickly.
Find places to dance and people to dance with that feel good to you. Take in art that feels good to you whenever possible – beauty in, beauty out. Dance as much as you can so you can broaden your dancer’s palette and find movements and music that feel fun and good to you and your body. Let it always be a mystery, and try not to worry about the destination so much.
Henna, Datura Online
Watch a lot of bellydance and take classes from lots of different teachers. The more exposure you have to different styles, the more you will figure out what you are drawn to. These things are already there in you waiting to be expressed! I always say that you need equal amounts of input and output. So you also should improvise a lot! This can be to music that you like or music that you are trying to understand better. There will be a period of time where you are imitating other dancers and that is ok. So long as your goal is not to dance like “so-and-so amazingly famous dancer” and you keep your inspiration varied, you will not look like one other dancer. Finally, make your video camera your best friend. You’ll find things you love about your own dancing that you can enhance, and things that are not working quite yet. Watch dancers, dance a lot, and take video. Repeat steps one through three for the rest of your dancing career!
To make your dance unique, study with different teachers within the genre, and then train outside the genre, as well. Take only what speaks to you from each source — it’s ok to leave behind what doesn’t suit you. Dance it until you own it, be confident in adding your personal touch – a different arm, a head angle…anything. But you must believe that what you bring to the table is worthwhile, or when you perform it, it will not ring true.
When considering a new/personal stylization of bellydance, it is extremely helpful for the dancer to be well-versued in various techniques and stylizations of the dance, over the course of many years. In addition, it’s beneficial to check out other forms of dance. Cross-training with classes, such as yoga and Pilates is also extremely helpful, in terms of strength and flexibility.
If you are considering the idea of fusing concepts into bellydance, I highly recommend that it’s something that is well-researched and studied. Of course, it helps if you are 100% comfortable with the concept and context of the subject you plan to fuse with the dance.
I highly recommend slowly fusing elements of your concept into your current style to see how they work. Use performance and practice videos for self-assessment. Seek advice and feedback from honest, trusted dance friends, teachers, and mentors. Please only seek advise from people that truly want you to succeed. Always be true to yourself and your personal aesthetics, interests, and tastes. Have fun!
I have hours of tips on this subject, as anyone who has studied with me can attest to. I believe any dancer looking for a unique “voice” should first be sure they are fluent/proficient in bellydance dance technique. A strong foundation is what great houses, I mean, castles are built on! From there it helps to have a strong, safe mentor to guide you through a process of awakening your vision and realizing your dream.
I ask my dancers: Who are you? What do you have to say to the world? and most importantly, WHY? I say develop the inner artistic voice, know yourself so you can successfully express it. Sounds simple, but it takes a lifetime.
A more simplistic but effective tip is to study with more than one teacher. Everyone has something great to offer and being influenced by many great teachers can help develop a “look” that is more varied.
Natalie Nayun, the Bhoomi Project
Take as many different classes as you can. Learn how to move your body in a million different ways. Then listen to your heart and dance what you feel and what you love. If it comes directly from you it is uniquely yours and no one else’s. And by taking many classes and styles of dance you are giving your body the tools and techniques to express whatever it is you want to express.
As you continue to dance and grow as an artist your art will continue to change and grow too. Let your dance change and evolve, don’t try to force it to be something because you like the look of this or that style, just keep learning and practicing and dance from your heart.
Keep learning dance- don’t ever stop! Watch as many dancers as you can, but don’t copy them.
Try to take what you have learned through study and observation and then put your own twist on it… expand the movements, play with them, see what feels right on your body… let your imagination run away with itself.
Put on music and “just” dance… see where it leads you!”
Be patient, it takes time. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what my personal style is. Honestly, I think it is an ever evolving process.
Stay true to yourself. Do what you like to do. Don’t follow the trends. It’s great to get inspiration from others but at the end of the day, just do what you do. If you are always trying to do the popular thing or trend you’ll never develop or enrich your own style, you’ll be developing or enriching someone else’s.
Continue your education. It’s important to continue to take classes. I think it’s important to cross-train too. Take many different styles of dance. It is easy to get stuck in a rut. When that happens I go and take a ballet class or a circus class or just something that is way different from what I normally do.
Don’t be afraid. As artists, the things we fear most are the things we have to do. Sometimes In life you just have to go for it. You have to decide when it is one of those “now or never moments” and just go for it!
Take as many classes/workshops as you can in as many different styles of movement you can find! Your own style will develop as you find material that speaks to you.
You can find inspiration in any class of any level, get out of your comfort zone, it’s good for you!
My advice is to study with a variety of different instructors, particularly those of different styles/backgrounds – and don’t be afraid to try something new or different.
If you only ever study one style with a similarly-rooted group of people, it makes it very difficult to truly find your own personality and style. Challenge yourself with unfamiliar things, and consider what looks best on your frame and look, and suits your personality – vs. copying an idol’s.
Lastly, be open to change – you may start off with one idea of how you think you want to be, and find that that may change along the way – and there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s part of the journey.
Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your answer in the comments.