Time for a shimmy blog update. Read on below!
Note: This post was inspired by a question by Laura of UK/Ireland in my KDanceOnline FB group after working with my Shimmy Sessions online class series (now available on the Dance4Children charity channel!), as well as by an amazingly thorough 3/4 shimmy technique practice breakdown shared by Boženka during her Workshop Weekend in Würselen, DE in 2017.
1. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast
- It depends a bit on the specific kind of shimmy you are practising, but in general doing the movements at a much slower speed and focusing on evenness in tempo and range of movement (ie left and right leg) as well as relaxing your body and mind (see bonus tip below!) helps to get more comfortable with the movement.
- Practising faster every now and then, as well as gradually increasing/decreasing speed, is definitely helpful to challenge shimmy dexterity, and to be able to match your shimmy to different music styles, but if you notice that the shimmy goes ‘rogue’, then slowing the pace down to a workable pace makes the practice session much more efficient.
- While doing a movement slowly you can go for maximum range of motion, but when speeding up a shimmy it will automatically become smaller. For faster practice try to focus on precision, evenness, relaxation and tempo first, just as with slow shimmies, and allow yourself to go slightly smaller, rather than compromising movement quality and tempo.
- Try your shimmies – without music – from super slow to gradually faster and faster, then slower again, doing your best to keep your shimmy ‘even’ at every speed. You might find that some frequencies (fast or slow!) might feel easier than others, which is excellent input for effective and targeted practice.
- It’s great to remember that medium speed shimmies are usually fast enough to match most types of music, so having an ‘even’ shimmy that is quite relaxed will give you more to work with than a focus on achieving ‘warp speed’
2. Find your ‘groove’
- If the pace of a DVD/Online class/practice session is a bit too much for now, you can always go for half of that speed, while still following the musics. This way you can follow along with me/the instructor/yourself, but at a more comfortable pace until the shimmy becomes easier (which it will, eventually!) All it takes is time, patience and relaxedly focus practice.
- Prioritize finding your own groove first, then adapt and expand your ‘shimmy comfort zone’ to different circumstances as you go.
3. Break it to Make it
- When I train and/or teach 3/4 shimmies (up or down) myself, I practise very slowly first, then medium speed, then faster movements with breaks in between sets/steps, and then I remove the breaks gradually at greater intervals.
- For regular shimmies, I for instance focus on 2 seconds of smooth shimmy first, then 4, then 8, then 16 and so on. After a while, when the shimmy techniques/sequences start to feel easier and more relaxedly controlled, I gradually go for faster/stronger/bigger movements without breaks, and/or adding simple to complex layers, as demonstrated in my shimmy techniques DVD and Online Class
4. Focus and Position
- Focusing on engaging your glutes ever so slightly and lifting the back(!) of your ribcage to free up movement in the front. It also helps to consciously relax the hips and legs, which makes the shimmy feel less like ‘work’, which is the ultimate goal. If you have trouble doing this, it might be a sign that your feet/body are in deep need of some self-care, and/or even better, it might be time to try out the effects of deep, yet gentle stretching work.
- Watch the position of your feet, and use the power of ‘internal turnout’. This may seem trivial, but just a small tweak here and there (ie bringing the weight to the outside of your feet, lifting the arch slightly, turning out the legs ‘virtually’ from the pelvis while keeping the feet in place) can make a huge difference in how relaxed a movement feels.
5. The Power of Relaxation
- When I practice regular shimmies (eg egyptian shimmies and basic hip shimmies) I usually combine these with other tasks around the house like folding laundry, ironing, making breakfast, brushing teeth.. things that are not too mentally demanding and can be done ‘upright’. This way I get some bonus practice in, which is always beneficial, and I am not too focused on powering the shimmy with force. (Note: if you want to combine this with upper body posture practice, I recommend giving Stacey Nemour’s posture support strap a try!)
- Relax your jaw, your tongue, and your ears(!) – Total game changer. Try it!
- Keeping your core engaged deeply (pelvic floor, glutes, lower belly) while shimmying helps to concentrate the movement a bit, and it helps you conserve ‘shimmy energy’.
- Deep breathing, focusing extra on the exhalation (see bonus tip below!) and playing with where you place the weight in your feet also helps to keep the shimmy relaxed, even at higher speeds.
- Making sure to warmup well, and to stretch and relax your muscles (and mind) before and(!) after the training session helps so much towards having a high quality shimmy practice session. I personally had a lot of benefit from working with Stacey Nemour’s online stretching classes in the past few years. You can check them out for free (and use discount code ‘khalidadance’ for 10% off all paid courses and course packs!) over here.
In very short, to the original question, my answer would be: Yes, definitely keep practicing at slower speed, but also try to go even slower, AND speed it up to beyond your comfortable speed every now and then to challenge yourself – this will help to see if the shimmy is becoming easier/more comfortable over time.
Bonus tip: Exhalation shimmies
- Use your breath to naturally slow down your movements: If you feel your body tenses up during shimmies, try exhaling while you move, then stopping the shimmy for a moment as you inhale. By practising movement on your exhalation only for a while, your body and mind will connect a shimmy to the ‘chillaxing’ feeling of an exhalation. As a bonus, you will feel more calm in general, and your lungs will get a gentle workout. Once this happens, the effects will transfer to an ‘inhalation shimmy’ as well.
Conclusion: Keep the Faith!
Sometimes, when a practice session feels especially uncomfortable, it can be a sign that you are learning/improving/changing your movement patterns, even though you don’t have the benefits of it yet right away.
Every repetition helps.
I’ve noticed at times that about 2 days after a quite challenging practice session my movement ease and quality suddenly makes a leap.
This is something to keep in mind and experiment with as well.
Good luck and happy shimmying!
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