What Questions Do You Have About Transitions? (Plus a Give-Away)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Volume 2 just shipped last week, but I'm already starting work on the next part of the series.

Volume 3 will cover transitions, with an emphasis on using them in improvised dance. My goal is to get it out by the end of October of this year.

I have a pretty detailed outline for what I plan to cover, but before I get too deep into my own plan, I'd like to make sure that I address YOUR questions about transitions.

Tell me about your transitions questions in this survey

The Giveaway

And because I can't resist a give-away, one survey respondent will win a free copy of the Improv Toolkit video of their choice. (Or a coupon for a free copy of volume 3, if you've already got 1 & 2.)

The Fine Print:

I'll choose one winner at random from among the eligible survey respondents at 5pm EST next Tuesday, March 16th, 2010.

No purchase is necessary in order to be eligible to win, but you must answer all the questions and include your name and email address, so I can notify you.

The winner will be notified by email. If the winner does not respond to the notification within 14 days, they forfeit their prize, and I'll choose another winner.

This is NOT limited to the US, and I can give you your prize in either NTSC or PAL format.

How to Learn Choreography More Easily and Efficiently - By Doing it Backwards!

Friday, March 05, 2010

When you fly in an airplane, you hope for a smooth flight. But sometimes take-offs are shaky and flights are bumpy. In the end, all that really matters is a safe landing.

Flying instructors know this, and so their earliest lesson is not how to fly the plane, but how to land it. Flying students practice landings over and over again, because not only do they need to be able to land the plane safely, but they need to feel completely confident doing it. Worrying about the landing could cause them to make a mistake.

Give Your Show a Safe Landing

This is equally true for belly dance. No matter how good or bad your show was, what the audience remembers best is a strong finish. And even if your show is going well, worrying about what comes later can sabotage your performance.

Even so, most of us start from the beginning of the piece when we learn choreography. But you'll learn more quickly and remember it more reliably if you start from the end and work your way backwards towards the beginning.

Why Shouldn't I Start From the Beginning?

When we learn choreography from the beginning, we practice the first combination, then the second combination, and then we practice both of them. Then we learn the third combination, and practice combos 1, 2, and 3. And so on.

Combo 1

Combo 2

Combo 1 ---- Combo 2

Combo 3

Combo 1 ---- Combo 2 ----- Combo 3

Combo 4

Combo 1 ----- Combo 2 ----- Combo 3 ----- Combo 4

Can you see what’s happening here? The early combinations get much more practice than the later ones:

Combo 1

Combo 2

Combo 1 ---- Combo 2

Combo 3

Combo 1 ---- Combo 2 ----- Combo 3

Combo 4

Combo 1 ----- Combo 2 ----- Combo 3 ----- Combo 4

By this point, you've practiced Combo #1 four times, but #4 has only been practiced twice!

And it only gets worse as you continue; if your choreography has 12 combos, #1 will get 600% more practice than #12.

This Directly Impacts Your Performance

This means that when you go to perform your choreography, you’re going to get less and less confident as you approach the end. The sections you're most familiar with are in the past. That sets you up for a stressful show, and that stress can ruin your performance.

However, if you start from the end, you know the later combinations inside and out. This means that when you perform it, you get more confident as the piece progresses. This confidence boost brightens your stage presence and helps you be your best. And even if you fall on your face early in the show, you can still count on a strong finish.

How Do I Learn a Piece Backwards?

In order to learn a piece backwards, we use the standard procedure; we just start at the end. Here’s how:

1) break the choreography up into a logical “chunks” or combinations. For this example, let's assume that your choreography yields 12 combinations.

2) learn the very last combination (combo #12)

3) learn the previous combination (#11)

4) practice combos 11 & 12 together

5) learn combination 10

6) practice combos 10-12 together

Continue in this fashion until you have added in all the combinations. Then practice the whole choreography until you're confident about the early combinations. By this time, you should be extraordinarily confident about the later ones.

But If I Learn It Backwards, How Will I Understand How the Dance Unfolds?

The downside of this method is that it doesn’t let you observe the structure of the dance as you learn it. So before you begin to learn a choreography backwards, watch the whole piece once or twice to get the lay of the land. If you’re learning it from written notes rather than video, walk through the choreography once without music to mark it out.

Make a note of any repeated elements and other patterns. This helps you understand the choreography, and gives context to the combinations as you learn them individually.


  • If the choreography repeats a particular section several times, learning that segment first may give you a sense of accomplishment and some anchor points. Then proceed to the final combination, and work your way backwards as usual.

  • When you learn a new combination, practice the transitions into and out of it as well.
  • So when you learn Combo #10, the “chunk” you’d practice would include the transition from Combo #9, Combo #10 itself, and the transition into Combo #11. This will help you integrate each new section into the whole piece.


When you learn a choreography from the beginning, the early parts get more practice than the later ones. As you perform it, you’ll always be less confident about what’s to come.

If you start from the end and work your way forwards, the later parts get the most practice. So even if you have some trouble at first, you can count on a good ending.

The process of learning a choreography backwards is the same as learning it forwards. Start with the final combination, add on the previous combo, practice them together. Then add on another combination, practice the whole thing together, and so on.

Before you begin, you may want to watch the choreography a few times to get familiar with its structure.

With this method, you can expect many happy landings.

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