Bellydance Drum Solo – Tips to Look Your Best

January 23, 2011 , , Tina Kapp
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After performing last night for a big group of college students, agreeably a more difficult crowd to impress, I found the thing that they reacted to most was the drum solo. I love having fun with them getting the audience to watch  intently to see what you’ll do next. Being relaxed, creative, funny and using a big variety of clean, sharp isolations makes it a joy to watch and gets them all cheering. I’ve seen many dancers who simply don’t have enough fun with it and that translates over to your audience causing them to lose interest. I loved what Thelma did in her drum solo where, at an extended shimmy part of the song, two other dancers rushed out on stage with fans to ‘cool her down’. Very cute and gave the song some attitude and personality. Blanca wrote a great article with tips on executing a good drum solo which I’m pasting here for your interest. Enjoy!

Sadie my favorite at drum solos

Back in the days when I first started bellydancing I was fascinated by live drum solos. To me, they are the ultimate bellydance improvisation. I loved the moment when the dancer turned from a floating cloud into a sharp, articulate instrument… and a fun one at that! Even then I sensed that there was a method, an underlying structure that fused dancer and drummer. I realized that the moment I mastered the drum solo, my dance skills would officially be at the next level.

There is a very special satisfaction that comes from improvising a bellydance drum solo: the challenge of executing clean articulations, the sense of empowerment that comes from remaining poised while doing fast movements, the fun of communicating with the drummer and the audience, the artistry of drawing with your body what the ear hears.

It’s only you and the crisp sounds of the drum, and your job is to turn those sounds into something that the eye can see. A drum solo has no melody—it’s clear, sharp and concise. Leave the lyrical stuff for the violin. Still, you don’t want to be a robot! The idea is to put soul into a percussive instrument and dance, while avoiding to turn into mush.

Here are my favorite tips for improvising to a drum solo. Most of of them also apply to improvisations done to other types of music.

■Begin your drum solo by centering yourself. Simply clap, engage your audience… greet them.
■If you’re doing a live music show, talk to the drummer before the show, even if it’s just to say hi.
■Pace yourself. Speed is a relative concept. You need to do some things slow so other things can look fast by comparison. If you just shimmy the whole time, after a while no one will notice your shimmy anymore.
■Build… grow things. Separate elements into sections.
■Alternate: lower/upper body; fast/slow moves; short/long moves.
■If you feel overwhelmed, go to one of your “thinking steps”. It could be a baladi walk, a big hip circle… something that grounds you and lets you dance on automatic while you come up with your next move. When in doubt: smile, listen, calm down.
■When feeling that the music is rushing, slow down.
■Go for the main accent or accents. You don’t want to try to catch every single nuance for your entire drum solo… this usually ends up looking rushed and frantic.
■RIFFS: riffs are those fun phrases the drummer plays over one of the rhythms. You will probably miss the first riff, don’t try to chase after it. Instead, prepare for the next one by listening while your body is doing a “thinking step” to the underlying rhythm.
■Great charm is added when you interact with the drummer during your performance.
■By looking at the drummer you also make your audience look at him. This is a great thing to do during transitions because you get to focus on what he will be playing next and the audience will be looking at his hands perfectly matching the sounds. HOWEVER, don’t just stop and look helpless and DON’T drop your hands. Truly get in the groove of whatever he is doing.
■If you are dancing to more than one drummer, focus on the lead drum to create your accents. If the lead drummer is playing things that seem too complicated for you, listen to the backup drummer and dance to the underlying rhythm. If it’s too wild even for that… just shimmy and smile.
■In general, keep your arms slower and more fixed than you think you need to. Look to create definite poses and hold each pose for a while. Changing poses too often looks frantic.
■Constantly work on improving your arm movements and lines.
■Aim to be controlled but playful. Be earthy and grounded (as opposed to hyper and jumpy). A Drum Solo is hard work. It is done with lots of energy but looks effortless. Beautiful arms & hands, poise and a genuine smile make a drum solo look effortless.
■Always share the spotlight. Whether it’s with the drummer, other musicians, or other dancers.

Common things to avoid:

■Claws, droopy hands, moving arms aimlessly or too much.
■Sunken chest.
■Fixed head / permanently facing forward.
■Being hyper and trying to catch every accent.
■Endless shimmy.


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