shanmonster: (Default)
Floorwork is not for beginners, or so I keep hearing over and over again. However, I disagree. I believe that saying beginners should avoid floorwork is akin to saying beginners shouldn't lift weights or take Pilates classes. Admittedly, some moves are not appropriate for all people. If you have profound knee problems, you will likely be much better off choosing some other type of dance to do. But even if you are fresh off the couch and have never danced or exercised regularly in your life, you can begin some basic floorwork movements, and prepare yourself for more challenging ones. And even if you choose not to do floorwork in performance, it is is still an excellent medium for building core strength and powerful legs. I teach floorwork moves in my non-dance fitness classes for just that reason.

As with any dance, you need to develop the skills before you can use them on stage. With floorwork, these skills begin with strength and flexibility. These are developed not through floorwork alone, but through cross-training. I believe very strongly that cross-training is necessary to would-be floorwork performers. Without cross-training, a floorwork artist runs a much greater risk of incurring injury. Here's why.

Regular floorwork builds a lot of strength in particular muscles, especially the glutes, hips, abdominals, and quadriceps. However, it does not necessarily build a lot of strength through the back or the hamstring muscles. Without developing strength in those areas, you greatly increase your chances for overbalanced muscles, and run the risk of experiencing chronic pain because of that imbalance.

Please learn from my experience, and save yourself the unnecessary pain. When I first started studying dance about fifteen years ago, I did a lot of floorwork. I stopped working out in any other sort of way, and practiced dance every day. As a result, I had very strong quadriceps and glutes, but weak hamstrings. Every floorwork performance I did resulted in significant pain for about a week afterward, and a marked difficulty in walking, particularly on stairs, which were impossible to traverse with any sort of elegance or grace. I had to take Advil or Tylenol just to do regular, day-to-day things, like get groceries or do laundry.

When I began studying martial arts, which greatly strengthens the entire leg, the agony vanished. Then I began weight lifting in earnest, and now, even after a very strength-intensive floorwork performance, I feel just fine, and have not even a hint of residual muscle soreness.

Full body exercises should be practiced, for the stronger you are all over, the more fluid and effortless your floorwork will appear.

My favoured types of cross-training for floorwork are the following:

  • Calisthenics. In particular, jumping jacks, dragons, jumping squats, and Hindu squats (I also do jumping Hindu squats). Each of these develop explosive strength in the legs and glutes, which will make level changes and the kneeling segments of your floorwork much easier. Calisthenics also develop coordination, balance, stamina, and agility, all of which will help your dancing, whether it is on the floor or not. Crunches are also an important exercise, excellent for strengthening your abdominals.
  • Weight lifting. I do full-body weight training two or three times a week. For the most part, I do not use weight machines, as they are not particularly useful in building stability (which is vital for floorwork). If you are a weight-lifting novice, start off with light weights until you have mastered the technique, and then don't be afraid of racking on bigger weights. The heavier you can lift (with proper technique), the stronger you will be for your floorwork. My particular routine includes the following:
    • Squats. I prefer front squats, because they also incorporate my abdominal muscles, but standard squats are good, too. If you do not have a training partner to spot for you, I recommend lifting in a squat cage. Squats strengthen your thighs, hips, butt, and hamstrings.
    • Deadlifts: This is another full-body exercise with excellent benefits. It strengthens your abs, obliques, just about every muscle in your back, your quads and hamstrings, your hips, and your forearms.
    • Dumbbell Bench Press. This is excellent for your chest, and will also help strengthen your biceps.
    • Bentover Row: The bentover row is one of my favourite all-over exercises. While it focuses on your back, it also strengthens your arms and your core, and is fantastic for your stabilizing muscles. It is especially good for strengthening your lats, which are instrumental to keeping your shoulders nice and level during chest circles, and to a really strong and precise snake arm movement.
    • Barbell Shoulder Press: This is excellent for your shoulders, and will also work your upper back and triceps. This exercise will make your side wedge dance moves a piece of cake.
    • Reverse grip bicep curl. This works not only your biceps, but also the forearms, which will help you in your side plank positions.
    • Bench Dip: In this exercise, you lift your own body weight. It strengthens your triceps, and makes your reverse plank position much easier to get into.
    • Calf raise: There are many ways of doing this exercise. Strong and stable calves are necessary for doing fluid level changes from standing to the floor, and vice versa.
    • Back extension: This works your glutes and back erector muscles, which are vital for doing kneeling leanbacks in floorwork.

  • Isometrics. Isometric exercises are static, or stationary exercises. There are three exercises which I do every other day which are directly relevant to floorwork. I hold each of these positions for 90 seconds:
    • Plank: The plank develops strength and stamina in your abdominal muscles, and is fantastic for working those stabilizing muscles so important in floorwork.
    • Side plank: The side plank is a standard position in floorwork. Undulations, figure-8s of hips, shimmies, etc. are done while in this position. This exercise strengthens your obliques and hips. For training purposes, I do mine with straight arms.
    • Reverse Plank: The reverse plank is another standard floorwork position. In profile, it shows off undulations well, and is very commonly used in sword dance routines, with the sword balanced across the belly. It strengthens through the lower back and glutes. I do mine with straight arms, fingers pointed toward my feet (this hand position takes the weight off your elbow joint, and makes it a more muscular move).

Other styles of movement which lend themselves well to cross-training purposes are martial arts and yoga. Both incorporate the entire body, and will develop strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance.

If you have any questions about these exercises, or other cross-training for floorwork, please let me know!
shanmonster: (Dance Monkey Dance!)
(I am still struggling with learning how to use my video editing software. Not sure why the top half of my face got cut off here, but it doesn't detract from the information, at least. I will figure this software out, yet!)

This is less of a tutorial than it is a plea to pay closer attention to your kneeling leanback descents to the floor. That landing should be smooth and not jerky. You can accomplish this through practice, and ensuring that you do not relax until your head and shoulderblades have touched the floor.

shanmonster: (Tiger claw)
This is quite possibly the most physically demanding movement I do in my floorwork. It requires a lot of strength through the abdominals, back muscles, glutes, and quads.

Not for the weak of heart!

Make sure you have mastered both the kneeling leanback and the pelvic lift to kneeling before attempting this one.

I know I vacillate between calling it a leanback and a layback, but it's all semantics, really. :P

shanmonster: (Dance Monkey Dance!)
The pelvic lift to kneeling is an advanced exercise which requires a certain level of flexibility before you try it. If you do not have this level of flexibility, please do not attempt the exercise, as you will likely injure yourself.

This is a basic movement for my own dance floorwork, and requires more leg and glute strength than the basic kneeling leanback (I have a tutorial for this movement, as well).

shanmonster: (Dance Monkey Dance!)
YouTube is being a dildo and after three separate attempts, still chops off half the audio and speeds up the video two times. So here's the FaceBook video, instead.

shanmonster: (Dance Monkey Dance!)
I spaced the planks in between the rope jumping sections. I did a lot better than I thought. The bicep exercises made my arms bulge. I'm going to be sore for a couple of days, I think.

I'm not pleased by my kneeling laybacks. I need to get those back up to snuff to perform and teach floorwork. No staggered ascending laybacks for a while, I guess. I have a goal to work towards.

I met a dancer at the gym. I asked her what style she danced, and she said, "Tribal."

"Oh, ATS?"

She shook her head. "No, tribal fusion."

"What styles do you fuse?"

She looked baffled. "All styles."

This was my turn to be baffled. I was picturing tap/ballet/butoh/yoga/modern/square/swing/ATS fusion, and it made my brain hurt. I finally figured out it was primarily Egyptian raqs with elements of hiphop. Phew!

I think a lot of tribal fusion artists perhaps don't know what styles they have fused together.

I think a lot of people would call me a tribal fusion belly dancer, but my background isn't primarily in American Tribal Style. It's in AmCab, floorwork, Martha Graham modern, martial arts, yoga, poi, pole, butoh, burlesque, and Egyptian raqs. I've studied a lot of different dance and martial art styles, and once I've gained a familiarity with some of the movements or movement philosophies, those elements will begin to creep into my performance pieces. I think of myself as fusing a wide variety of movement styles (though not all at once. That would make a mess).
shanmonster: (On the stairs)
My lungs finally relaxed a bit around 3 pm, and off I went to the gym. I am now doing 90-second straight-armed side planks. They hurt like hell. I blame [ profile] knightky for my pain, because he was the one who asked me if I did my side planks with straight arms. So I had to step it up, of course. I need to be able to hold a side plank with ease to do my style of floorwork, anyhow, so it's about time I started working on those.

Speaking of floorwork, I need to get back onto doing these. I used to be able to do those with a 10-lb weight held over my head, so it's time to get back into that shape. Booyeah.

I am getting my first tattoo on Monday. I've been contemplating a tattoo for well over a decade, and I'm finally going with it. I'll post pictures when it's done, of course. It's pretty substantial, and will cover my left deltoid and shoulder blade. Cam from Faith and Glory is doing the honours.

8 Digital

Next month, I believe I'll once again taking the stage with 8 Digital. We'll be opening for Android Lust on August 18th in Toronto. More details forthcoming.

Bargain Bargain Bargain had a sale on their sun dresses, so I got this little number for ten bucks. I think it'll get a lot of wear with the hot weather we've been having here.

[Sun dress]
shanmonster: (Dance Monkey Dance!)
I have reached a high point in my dance career.

I am currently teaching a floorwork class in my underwear. While drinking rum. To "Cuntry Boner" by Puscifer.
shanmonster: (Don't just sing it--bring it!)
I'm going to cancel my gym membership.

It's not because I plan on slowing down my exercise regimen. It's because I really haven't been using the gym's services more than once every two weeks or so, and that's a huge money suck. I'm getting lots of exercise from cycling and from my kung fu and dance classes. Today I learned that by using just my arms I can climb at least partway up the pole. I have every intention of being able to scale the whole pole with just my arms. My biceps are bulging out to the sides now, rather than just getting "tall" when I flex. This is a first. After umpteen years of working out, I am finally getting some serious upper body strength. It's about freaking time.

I've cut back on my caloric intake and improved on my food quality lately, and it's finally beginning to pay off again. My belly fat is melting off, and I've got the vaguest hint of a six-pack going on again. Booyeah.

My sifu made some sounds today about possibly teaching Jeet Kun Do, too. If that happens, I might be there. It would be on Wednesday nights, and that's when I teach my seniors' class. If JKD is after the class, well, that just might work out.

The Thursday floorwork class (taught after I do kung fu for a couple of hours and bike for an hour) continues to turn my students into wobbling heaps of jelly. Hell, even I feel the effects, albeit not nearly to the extent that they do. I plan on adding a new exercise to the regimen this week--something that will work leg and glute strength while also helping with cardio and flexibility. I might also do a few partner exercises for abdominal strength development. Mwahahaha!

My class is up a flight of stairs, and one of my students said she's very glad there's a handrail, because she's scared she'd tumble down the stairs without one after my class.

This week, I might be all weak, too, because after my floorwork class, I have to go on yet another bike ride to cash in a gift certificate I won as a door prize.
shanmonster: (On the stairs)
It's starting to look an awful lot like I will be dancing at the Eros/Thanatos Cabaret in Toronto on the 21st. I'm thinking of doing a candle dance. I'll be doing floorwork, in any case. It just seems appropriate.

Here are the details, if you're interested:
Hi there!

You are invited to the super-spectacular Eros, Thanatos & the Avant-Garde ~ The Cabaret Series at the Rivoli!

The Eros Cabaret series presents work in the disciplines of dance, film, music, theatre, spoken word and interdisciplinary media created and performed by both emerging and established artists. All works are connected by the epic themes of sex, love, death, passion and the avant-garde.

Once again, I am delighted to feature our amazing inter-galactic house band, The Calrizians!

The Cabaret will take place on Wednesday, February 21st in the back room of the Rivoli on Queen St. West. Doors open at 7:30 and the show will begin at approx. 8pm. Tickets are $10 at the door.


We hope to see you all there!

Giant poster image after the cut.... )

Oh yes, and here are your daily links.

US immigration cavity search ends in agony: The guy had an anal fistula, and the immigration official basically grabbed onto the suture and yanked. He insisted the suture be removed, or else the man wouldn't be allowed into the country. WTF (thanks, [ profile] gha5t)?

Some people take things wayyyy too seriously: On homophobia and chocolate bars. I think the commercial is funny and inoffensive. Apparently, some people don't agree.
shanmonster: (Dance Monkey Dance!)
Damn. I sure wish my asthma hadn't been bothering me that day....

ShanMonster Candle Dance:  "Love Song" by Ofra Haza
"ShanMonster Candle Dance: "Love Song" by Ofra Haza" on Google Video
The ShanMonster dances to Ofra Haza's "Love Song" on December 10, 2006 at the Gig Theatre in Kitchener, ON, Canada. Improvisational piece copyright to Shantell Powell.
shanmonster: (Dance Monkey Dance!)
[Purple and gold]I danced, and it was good. As usual, it didn't happen the way I planned. Once again, I had an asthma attack about fifteen-twenty minutes before I went on, so I had the puffer shakes by the time I took the stage. This meant that funky one-legged balance while holding candles and descending to the floor didn't happen. Instead, I did the much easier T-stance walk from kung fu until I was down on the floor.

This asthma thing is really pissing me off. I've had attacks before/during three of my last four performances.

Oh, and instead of using two candles as planned, I only used one because the other one Just. Wouldn't. Light. Argh!

I have a video of the performance, but it's so dark as to be pretty much useless. I heard someone else videotaped it, so I hope their copy came out brighter. I don't have high hopes, though, since the lights were lowered as I was dancing with flame.

But if you want to see my costume, click on the little picture to make a big one.

Someday, people around here will see I do more than just floorwork and poi. I'm just not sure when that day shall be.


Nov. 20th, 2006 06:19 pm
shanmonster: (Dance Monkey Dance!)
Tonight's floorwork class was a successful experiment. I received an email from one of my students saying she had injured her leg, so if there was anything we could do which wouldn't stress her quads, could we do that?

Since almost everything I do in floorwork relies heavily upon quad strength, this set me to thinking.

And yes, I did an entire floorwork class without doing any quad stuff, and yea, it was good.

We started off with my usual warm-up: four sun salutations, a bunch of Wu-style t'ai chi chu'an circular "bowing" movements, and leg/foot joint rotations to lube everything up. Then we went on to some strengthening exercises: lower abdominal squeezes, holding our backs flat to the floor while we held our straight legs a few inches off the floor, lying on our stomachs and holding our straight legs a few inches off the floor, and the Superman exercise, too.

And then it was time for dance.

I reviewed the caterpillar crawl (an undulating, travelling movement done on your back in the direction of your feet), and had them do the crawl across the floor a few times, correcting details, coaching for smoothness, etc. And then I had them roll over onto their stomachs.

First of all, I showed them a simple, very cute little movement. While lying on your stomach with your legs out straight, ankles crossed, push yourself up a little and rest your chin on the palms of your hands. Then do a series of quick, simultaneous glute squeezes. If you have a belt with lots of beaded fringe, or a coined hip scarf, this movement will send everything flying, and looks cute as heck.

Next, we did the belly crawl. It's a very powerful looking movement, with none of the subservient appearance of "crawling to the Sultan" (gawd, but I hate that one!). This one is done on your stomach with ankles crossed and straight legs held up off the floor while you drag yourself along by the arms. I typically only do a couple of these before I transition to something else, but I had them go at it for a while.

The room was filled with crawling soldiers whose legs had been shot. Heh....

I quite like this move, although I've yet to use it in performance. It requires lots of strength to pull off smoothly, and looks good in moderation.

And then I showed how to transition from the caterpillar crawl to the belly crawl. Then the class looked like a breakdance class, as the students practiced spinning around from pelvis to butt and vice versa.

I covered other transitions, too. You know how when you sit with your bum on the floor between your knees (I'll call it an M-sit), then lie back? I showed them how to "kick off" into lying into a straight position from that, with legs out straight on the floor with ankles crossed primly.

And the easiest transition of all is how to get from an M-sit to a side wedge position. You just pick your butt up and place it to one side of one of your feet. Simple.

We also worked on the wedge. I do this movement with the fingers pointed in the same direction as the feet, because it relies upon muscle strength and not upon locked joints as it does with fingers pointing away. But one of my students has a prosthetic elbow which wouldn't allow her to do it this way, so with a bit of tinkering we found an angle which worked for her without locking her joints.

And then, by way of request, I showed them the safe way to do head spins and hair tosses.

We ended the class by stretching and watching Ansuya do a floorwork routine off Bellydance Superstars Live in Paris at the Folies Bergere. My students were amazed to see they already know the basic movements of almost everything she did in that performance.

I could see calculating looks as they realized what they could do with more practice.

And that's one of my favourite things about teaching!

Next week, we'll be back to leg stuff, because I think I pretty much exhausted what I know that can be done without quads.
shanmonster: (Don't just sing it--bring it!)
[ profile] sageincave inspired me to write up this post.

I plan on listing a few exercises/drills calculated to improve your strength and fluidity for floorwork. Here's the first:

Caveat: If this move hurts your knees, do not do it. Not all exercises are for everyone, so listen to your body.

Warm up thoroughly, making sure your knees, ankles, and hips are well-lubricated. Run, skip, shimmy, whatever. Just don't do this "cold."

Begin in a kneeling position--not sitting on your legs, but completely upright, like you're standing on your knees. Don't have your weight on the kneecap itself, so adjust to find your comfort spot.

Engage your abs, keeping them "on" (this will protect your back). Keep your torso in line with your legs, and incline backwards (keeping aligned, the whole time). Once you go back a few inches, hold your position for a couple of counts, then go back to upright.

Each time you go back, go a little further, and hold.

This'll burn like the dickens! That's the lactic acid and your muscles screaming, dear God in heaven, why are you making me do this? The answer is this: to make them stronger.

Stretch out every time you need to, and go right back into it. The further back you go, the more muscles you'll feel working. When you're very far back, you'll need to engage your glutes, especially on the push back to upright.

Here are your levels of difficulty:

1. Easiest. Fold your arms across your chest.
2. Harder. Support the back of your head with your arms (sit-up style hands)
3. Very Hard. Extend your arms over your head.
4. Insanely HARD. Extend your arms over your head and hold weights.

If you practice this every other day for ten minutes or so, it won't take very long at all before your legs are strong....

More exercises coming up as I get time to write 'em down....

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