10 Lessons Learned from Fusion Belly Dance Star Jill Parker
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Jill Parker is by far one of the clearest belly dance teachers I have ever met. When students ask questions, Jill leads with the answer rather than getting there eventually. It’s so refreshing. Everyone in her class is valued, her choreographies are brilliant, and somehow her hair always looks amazing. You might laugh, but I think even her hair style helps me learn!
Jill was one of the original members of Fat Chance Belly Dance and founded Ultra Gypsy. These troupes changed the way America thinks about belly dance and inspired a deluge of Western interpretations of Middle Eastern Dance. Jill founded the Tribal Fusion Belly Dance Movement in California in the 90s, and she has been performing alongside the pantheon of belly dance greats (including Rachel Brice and Lady Fred) all over the world for decades.
While I struggle to describe the magic that is Jill Parker in words, I think these 10 lessons can at least give you an idea of the immense gifts she has given to the world of dancers.
1. A solid, well-thought out choreography makes dance class and performances more fun
Jill knows her music and her choreography so well that it flows out of her and into her students. When choreographing a piece for others, it is worth taking the time to make sure the sequence of movements makes sense. Make weight shifts smooth. Be ready to break it down for every kind of learner (visual, detail-focused, auditory). We can always keep perfecting the piece and teach it again and again. Half-baked choreography may leave dancers feeling too confused to enjoy the movements.
2. Before you start learning new choreography to music, try dancing the choreo with just finger snaps and very concise spoken directions
It can be easier to focus on matching the heartbeat of the song to the movements before adding all of the musical layers. Jill often starts teaching choreography without the accompanying music. She demonstrates, snaps her fingers and counts out loud until her students get each combination, and then she adds music. Jill has mastered starting simple. I have also seen flamenco teachers introduce combos without recorded music, and I think it makes it easier to learn.
3. Start with the footwork
If you are doing choreography with others, the footwork needs to match. This is the foundation of sharing the stage. Learn the footwork for a piece first and build up from there.
4. Keep collecting music you like to dance to and share it with others
I leave Jill’s classes feeling like I learned a lot about dance, and I was given the gift of new songs that make me want to dance. Jill always has a striking playlist ready. And Jill always performs to great music as well.
I have added some of the songs Jill likes to the Belly Dance Body and Soul playlist on Spotify so you can hear them. Create a free account if you aren’t already on Spotify and discover a treasure trove of music you can dance to! I bet you’ll dance more often if you subscribe to this playlist and listen to it while dancing and cooking.
5. Belly dance music can come from many genres
It goes way beyond the Top 12 Classic Belly Dance Songs on your mama’s belly dance records. Those belly dance standards are certainly great to know if you are ever dancing with Middle Eastern musicians or a belly dance-friendly cover band, but there’s no need to be limited to these standards or songs that sound like them. Jill teaches class to all kinds of music including hip hop, electronica, folkloric, classic Arabic songs and Balkan music.
6. Keep both big and small movements clear
“Don’t confuse clear with big,” Jill said while teaching at Super Fun Dance Camp. Jill can make the smallest, most subtle movements unique and compelling. That is a skill to work toward.
7. Consider the angle of your movements and how it looks to the audience
A movement presented at an angle can look very different to your audience than a straight forward movement. Sometimes a simple adjustment makes a movement much more interesting, and that’s what your audience is hoping for. “You are building a connection with your audience. That is the key to performing,” Jill said. Choose your angle wisely!
8. Drilling makes beautiful performances come naturally even when you don’t feel awesome
Let’s be honest. We don’t always feel 100% when we are performing. If we train, our muscle memory will take over when everyone is watching regardless of how we feel. “I drill so that if I perform at 70% it still looks good.” That’s the magic of drilling moves, combos and choreography! This repeat preparation means your audience is more likely to love what you do every time you perform. That’s important.
9. “Zip up in the middle”
Jill’s movements are consistently clean and tight, and I believe this is one of many things that makes her one of the best dance teachers in the world. Respect your center line. Notice when your dance slips into a mix of untrained movement going out in multiple directions. If you zip up in the middle, the audience can comprehend what you are doing. And your mind will probably be less chaotic as well.
10. Dancers can be famous and also be very focused on their students
Even as a very accomplished performer, you can see that Jill cares deeply about the progress and experience of her students. Jill performs with her students often and cultivates some as teachers, including my friends the sensual Tessa Myers, and adorable Jo Boring. Jill has a way of teaching that challenges dancers, minimizes confusion and makes us excited to dance again. To me, that is the sign of a performer who is also a teacher to her core. And she invited us students to her birthday party with her family. Now that is sweet.
If you ever have the chance to learn from Jill Parker or see her perform, jump on it. Her impact on the growing world of dance will be long lasting, and watching her dance may change the way you think about dance forever.