On December 4, 2013. I was working away on my computer at home, and I received a call from a number I did not recognize.
“Hi, it’s Sabeya. How are you doing?”
Right. Sabeya did ask for my phone number by email. She had had problems with the video files I sent to her. She had told me that my videos would stop about a minute in, and I had re-sent my videos to her. Maybe the videos didn’t work again. Why do technical problems happen at the worst times? How can I fix technical problems remotely?
“Oh, hi Sabeya. I’m good! How are you?”
“Good good… I’m calling you to let you know that you are the winner.”
*big gasp* “ No….”
*bigger gasp* “OH MY GOD, it’s SHIMMY MOB!!!”
By then I was so excited I began to well up with tears.
My involvement with Shimmy Mob
It may seem overly dramatic, especially for those who don’t know me. Shimmy Mob has been a very special event to me, and I have participated as a dancer since it started. It’s so fun, as it brings many belly dancers and non-belly dancers from all over the world with the same purposes in mind. We dance to raise funds and awareness for women’s and children’s shelters. We also dance to let the world know about belly dance as an art form and our passion for it. So we dance the same choreography to the same piece of music on the same day in May.
Here is a mash-up video created by my super-talented friend and beautiful belly dancer, Anne:
The most challenging part of Shimmy Mob has been learning choreography from videos. Every year, instructional videos and notes for the choreography are posted on the Shimmy Mob website, and participants are responsible for learning it before attending local rehearsals. This is a very different experience than attending regular lessons where an instructor teaches you the choreography in person. You have to be somewhat disciplined to set aside enough time and teach yourself the routine.
So every year, I would leave it until a few weeks before the event (hoping the choreography is not too hard to learn), watch the videos a few times (often feeling a bit nervous at a thought of cramming the routine in a short amount of time), and try to learn most of it a week before rehearsals started (panting).
The rehearsals are such fun times, as I get to see so many dancers from different parts of the area. In the Lower Mainland, performance times are scheduled in such a way that allows us to join different cities and dance throughout the day in several different places. So at the final rehearsal in the Lower Mainland, you see dancers from Vancouver, Burnaby/New Westminster, and Coquitlam. It is like a whole event in itself, and being able to connect with dancers that I haven’t seen for a while, is just so nice.
And of course, performing on the day is a blast. All dancers put on pretty make-up, colourful hip scarves and the same t-shirts dance in places where we would not dance in normal circumstances – in a store, shopping mall, park. Friends and families come and watch. Shoppers and passersby stop and take photos. They all cheer and smile. It’s such a feel-good event.
I always admire and appreciate the hardworking team leaders and Shimmy Mob organizers who make this happen every year. It must take a lot of hours to find suitable locations, book these locations with their owners who may or may not be willing to host a flash mob, answer questions from dancers, host rehearsals, distribute t-shirts, arrange pick-ups for t-shirts, answer more questions…. I really respect these women who put this event together every year.
So this year, I wanted to contribute to this event a bit more, because I had some time to plan ahead and think about it. Normally, the choreography contest opens and closes without even me finding time to consider it. So I learned my lesson, and this year I kept an eye on Shimmy Mob announcements, and started planning a couple of months before the deadline.
How I created the choreography
Well, I really did not think I would win the contest at the beginning… or during the choreographing process…or after submission. There were a few sparkling moments where I thought, “Ooo, I love this, and this might make the cut? Maybe?” then a second later I thought, “Aw, but past winners were all very established professional belly dancers, and last year’s choreography was donated by Bozenka, and then me… I’m just a duckling of a professional dancer…,” then those sparks were gone.
But I just had to do this. It would feel worse if I gave up before trying. So to make my choreography as best as I can possibly make, I first listed what I thought would be a good Shimmy Mob choreography. First, it is different from a solo choreography. It is a group choreography, and a group can have 3 people or 50 people. So it had to be clean and simple, so no one is hurting their neighbours or audience. Second, I like repetitive routines. I just love when instructors say, “okay, then we repeat the combo.” Yes! Relief. Third, this simple and repetitive routine has to still look entertaining.
With these 3 key points in mind, I then went on to YouTube and watched a whole bunch of flash mob videos. Not just past Shimmy Mob videos, but all kinds from all over the world. And I made notes on what I like about each piece. (And throughout the researching process, I got really excited and emotional by watching all these marriage proposal flash mobs, and my eyes kept on tearing, and I had to take breaks every several videos.)
In the end, I had these things on my list:
- Catchy song, upbeat, with rhythm or mood changes
- Simple & repetitive choreo (combos over 8-16 counts, repeated in different directions)
- Nice, sharp ending
- Room between dancers for moving around
- Clapping hands is nice.
- Arms up & side show very well
- Optional: free style (up to 32 counts), holding hands between dancers
Also, from past Shimmy Mob videos, I noticed a few things:
- Shimmy shows and looks good in general.
- Maya shows well.
- Omi doesn’t show well.
- Small undulations don’t show much.
- Hip drops are good.
- Chest circles look good.
- Hip twists are good too.
- Hair movements are good.
- Hip circles and figure eights look nice.
- Poses are good.
The above list is no criticism towards each choreography. I mean, I loved and enjoyed dancing every piece. This list is more about what looked good or what showed well in the costume (in this case, a t-shirt with no midriff showing, hip scarf and black pants) in a group setting. Also, I tried to see it from a perspective of someone who doesn’t know belly dance well, and asked myself, “What would catch their attention best?”
So I had a good list of movements to work off of. Now the music. In my mind, it had to be fun and upbeat, simple and repetitive. Also, the Shimmy Mob contest page says they prefer no lyrics. Okay, no lyrics it is.
After researching on Amazon and iTunes for a couple of nights, I had these songs on my list (you can have a listen on Amazon although download is only available in the US):
1. “Yann el fann (Art has gone crazy)” by Emad Sayyah
2. “Tamiil” by Mario Kirlis
3. The song I picked in the end
I cannot share the song I picked in this article, because it is only revealed to Shimmy Mob participants 😉 These are all such beautiful songs! “Yann El Fann” is very catchy, smooth and sticky at the same time. “Tamiil” is exciting, and I can easily picture strong dancers coming on stage. And the one I picked is fun, beautiful and exciting too.
After thinking about it and sleeping on it for a few days, I decided on the last song, because I found this song the catchiest and funnest of these three (I caught Navid singing it too), and I liked the English title very much. It is very suitable to what we are doing and what we are trying to achieve.
So I started choreographing. Because the song had a few melodic patterns that were repeated over and over, so I first dissected the song into sections: entrance, melody 1, melody 2, melody 3, melody 4, and finish. Then I just tackled from melodic patterns that resonated with me the most, and worked through other parts.
The list of movements I created earlier helped me a lot, as I just started moving and dancing around, and when I was stuck, I looked at the list and tried incorporating a few movements.
I think my favourite part is Combo 2 and a section of Combo 4 where I took a bit of a risk. I really wasn’t sure if the Shimmy Mob team would like it, but I throught it would be fun, and great photos would come out of it too. Anyway, again, only registered participants can find out what it is at the moment.
Now that I choreographed for a group of dancers for the first time, I had to film instructional videos for the first time as well. Lisa of Ammara Dance Company let me use her studio space for free for filming, which was so generous of her. But I don’t like talking in front of a camera, and I’ve never really taught dance to others. I have usually been a student, not an instructor… So for a week or so before filming, I ran various versions of my instruction over and over in my head and rehearsed a few times in front of a mirror.
Luckily, we had a bit of experience with filming videos ourselves. Last summer, Navid and I created Oud for Guitarists, an instructional material on the Middle Eastern instrument, the Oud. A part of the material is video lessons, and while Navid did the teaching, I did the filming and editing. We had some stressful moments filming the videos, as talking to the camera and teaching at the same time were challenging at times for Navid, and I had to push him once in a while so that we were on schedule.
For the Shimmy Mob choreography contest, our roles reversed. I was teaching, and Navid helped me film my instruction. I think it was a bit stressful for Navid, because it was difficult to set up our cameras, and our low budget production allowed us to use either our old digital camera or smartphone camera and no tripod. They both had their challenges such as background noises, low quality image, small memory etc etc. And I would pause, and want to re-do, and pause again. It was a good experience for me to understand how hard it must have been for Navid when we were filming Oud for Guitarists lessons, and I’m sure he understood my experience as well.
Anyway, we had the studio for 2 hours, so we had to finish it in 2 hours no matter what. Deadlines do wonders sometimes. We managed to film my instruction.
So after that, I edited the videos. I used Movie Maker. This is free software from Windows. It is really easy to use, and you can do basic editing with this software, no problem. I personally like learning choreography section by section, and trying it with music after each section, so that is how I structured my videos. I had step-by-step footage and dancing with music for each section, and all I had to do was just lay them in the right order and add some captions here and there for ease of understanding. This was the easiest part of this whole choreography submission.
After Sabeya’s call
As I mentioned earlier, I really did not expect to win this contest. I remember even telling Navid that I probably wouldn’t make the cut, but I was proud of myself for actually submitting my piece. For the first couple of weeks after Sabeya’s call, I was in disbelief. I received so many congratulations from friends and family and positive comments from kind dancers on Facebook who don’t even know me. I even got scared to think that all these people are going to see my choreography and instructional videos. I also felt so grateful to be part of such a supportive community.
Speaking of a supportive community, a beautiful dancer and talented photographer, Laura Scotten of Two Peas Photography donated a photo of me from the Twilight at the Oasis show backstage so I can use it as part of my bio on the Shimmy Mob website.
For someone like me who is starting her career as a dancer, this is huge. I think I still am a bit scared. But now I feel more excited and honoured that I have contributed to Shimmy Mob in such a way that I will remember for a long time, and I cannot wait to help out more when the rehearsal time comes. (Oh I’d better practice the choreography once in a while so I won’t forget!) If you have signed up to dance this year, I look forward to dancing with you on May 10, 2014! If you haven’t and you are interested, you can register here.
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