The shimmy! Or, in Arabic, “hezz”…is one of the defining movements in the bellydance repertoire. Universal yet personal, the belly dance shimmy is unique to each individual and is the ultimate expression of joy and life.
This practice came about after watching this YouTube video of the incomparable Aziza of Cairo. I also had been working with my troupe, Raqs Ayana, and decided that if our shimmies could all be the same, it would be really powerful! Since we come from different dance backgrounds, we each have our own unique movement vocabulary and technique. I realized that the only way for our shimmies to really be “on time” is to make sure that they ARE actually in time with the music. This, I discovered, was very difficult.
The way I learned to shimmy was really by just doing “it” for a long time. My teacher would put on a 20 minute long song and we could pump our knees, hips, whatever could generate any kind of shimmy, for that long. This is one way into shimmy technique, yes. What you establish is stamina, and over time your hips do relax into it. UNLESS, that is, you are nervous for the entire 20 minutes, or just trying very hard. “Relax!” you hear teachers say. Um yeah, easier said than done! For me, my shimmy manifested as mostly a knee-driven shimmy but my knees would go so fast and actually tense up so that it became more of a vibration shimmy. As I fell more and more in love with Egyptian bellydance, or raqs sharki, I noticed that their shimmies were fast yes, but also relaxed, juicy even.
In my classes, I take a different approach than the way I was taught. We start very slowly, looking at two primary shimmies: the hip shimmy and the knee shimmy. I feel that having these two shimmies gives you a lot of variety and by practicing both you are able to discover your natural shimmy. Every BODY is different, has different strengths, abilities, hell the weight of the pelvis and flesh around it are different from person to person. The way the head of the femur fits into the hip joint is unique to each individual. So, finding what I call t”The Shimmy You Like” is key in the beginning. And then being able to do it on time with the music gets you closer to that juice.
In my own practice and with my students, I noticed that jumping from half time, to full time, to double time, to quadruple time was often too big of a leap (especially that last one). I went back to that Aziza of Cairo clip and figured out just how fast her knees and hips were going, matched it to a drum track and put it in the Amazing Slower Downer. My problem was that I couldn’t go SLOW enough, yet when I slowed down my shimmy, I couldn’t go any faster without it turning into a vibration. Using the same rhythm the drummers are playing in Aziza’s band, I matched the pace of the rhythm to theirs. Luckily for me, my partner David Reihs recorded a maqsoum sareea drum track for another project, and it was perfect for this exercise. I then set the Slower Downer to 70%. Going this slow for three minutes was agonizing but also enlightening. After one round, I increased it just a touch. And then again. I found my Growth Zone. The Growth Zone is what I call that place where you can do the thing you’re trying to do, but it is kind of uncomfortable. This is the place you want to discover and then just live in it until it’s second nature and you can move on. This is much like the ZPD, if you’re familiar with pedagogical terms, the “Zone of Proximal Development”.
So! This belly dance shimmy practice track is that very practice. Starting at 70% and increasing up to Aziza’s amazing 100%. The track is set to increase in speed by 7% every 3 minutes. I use this in my own practice, in my classes, and in my latest Shimmy Bliss workshop. Here’s the entire 30 minute track. I suggest warming up before starting your practice and stretching throughout the 30 minutes.
Click here to get the 30 minute track, “Henna’s Progressive Shimmy Practice”.
Enjoy! Please post a comment if you wish. I am always interested in how dancers use tools for practice and what discoveries you have a long the way.