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How to hip shimmy – technique and drills

Do you know the feeling when you are in a belly dance class, you get your hip shimmy going and it seems to be fine, you’re happy because you feel you can do it and then your teacher says, “And now let’s take a step forward?” Suddenly the shimmy is gone, you’re trying to shake your hips somehow with each step but it’s not working at all?

This is how I felt for a very long time. I wish I knew then what I know now. Let me share with you all my insights into hip shimmy technique so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes I made.

4/4 Hip shimmy technique

There are lots of different shimmies that involve your hips moving – basic hip shimmy (4/4 hip shimmy), knee shimmy (Egyptian shimmy), 3/4 shimmy up, 3/4 shimmy down, muscle shimmy, glut shimmy… We are going to focus on the basic 4/4 hip shimmy which is the most suitable version for beginners.

Here is how to do basic 4/4 hip shimmy:

  • Stand with your legs about a width of your foot apart.
  • Align your hips with your knees and ankles. Knees under hips, ankles under knees.
  • Press your feet into the floor and spread your toes. This way you will use the floor to help you shimmy.
  • Bend your knees a little more than usual. It will free your hips.
  • Make sure your pelvis is in neutral position, your chest is lifted and your core is strong.
  • Gently and evenly move your hips up and down. Do not contract your gluts (unless you are practicing Suhaila Salimpour glut shimmy).
  • Your knees will be moving forward and back as a result but the shimmy originates in your hips.

That’s all that’s to it. So, how come it’s so difficult to get the shimmy going and travel or add layering?

When I learnt shimmy in class, we started by moving hips up and down slowly and then gradually sped up till we shimmied fast. Then we tried to take a step. You may ask, “What’s wrong with that?”

The problem is the word gradually. We never learnt to listen to music and count the shimmy. We didn’t shimmy rhythmically. Our teacher was doing that naturally because she had a previous ballet training but we didn’t.

How to do the hip shimmy rhythmically

Hip shimmy is sometimes called 4/4 shimmy. The name gives you a clue. You count till four (one, two three, four). 🙂 For each count you perform four hip movements (right, left, right, left) which is a total of 16 hip movements in one bar (cycle). Not more, not less, exactly 16!

Most dancers count sixteenth notes “one – e – and – a”. It works fine for a slow music but there’s not way you could say that fast. There is an alternative way. You can use takadimi syllables instead.

How to count 4/4 rhythm

If you think about what we just said, you will realize that the speed of your shimmy depends on the music! Speeding up your hip shimmy gradually ignores the music!

The speed of your hip shimmy (4/4 shimmy) depends on the music.

How do I practice hip shimmy without speeding up?

The best way to keep a steady tempo is to use a metronome. To start with, set the metronome to 60 (meaning 60 beats per minute) for a very slow shimmy. Every practice session set the tempo a little faster than the previous one.

Don’t progress to a faster tempo till you master the previous one. What’s the point of teaching your muscles to shimmy fast but irregular? You won’t be able to layer movements if your shimmy isn’t rhythmical.

Take your time and be patient. Your muscles need to get stronger and your brain needs time to connect the two things together (music and movement) so that it can shimmy on an autopilot. Scientific studies say that it takes at least 8 minutes to develop a muscle memory.

It takes at least 8 minutes to develop a muscle memory.

That means that you should practice each exercise variation for at least 8 minutes to make a difference! Don’t judge your progres right after the practice session. Your subconscious ming will work on it overnight and you will feel results the day after.

4/4 hip shimmy basic drills

If you are new to belly dancing, stick to the following basic exercises for a while and practice them every day for about 10 minutes. Each practice session set your metronome to a faster tempo. You will be amazed at your progress.

4/4 hip shimmy drills downbeat right:

  • Drill 1:
    16 counts flat footed every count (ta)
    16 counts flat footed every half a count (ta – di)
    16 counts flat footed every quarter of a count (ta -ka – di -mi)
  • Drill 2:
    8 counts flat footed every count (ta)
    8 counts flat footed every half a count (ta – di)
    16 counts flat footed every quarter of a count (ta -ka – di -mi)
  • Drill 3:
    4 counts flat footed every count (ta)
    4 counts flat footed every half a count (ta – di)
    8 counts flat footed every quarter of a count (ta -ka – di -mi)
  • Drill 4:
    shimmy for 4 counts
    pause for 4 counts

Practice the same drills also downbeat left.


Keep track of your practice

You need to keep track of your practice otherwise you probably won’t remember at what tempo you practiced last time. It will also help you stay motivated.

Conclusion

Perfect shimmy doesn’t happen overnight but using the correct technique and regular practice can shorten the learning curve dramatically. Please, don’t discard basic shimmy exercises just because you’ve been dancing for a while. Many belly dancers I know somehow think that they outgrew the basics. I can’t imagine any ballet dancers or a violin players saying that they don’t need to practice anymore because they know all that stuff. 🙂

Each time you do the same exercise, focus on a differnt aspect of the dance. Here is a checklist for you.

4/4 hip shimmy basic drills reflection:

  • Do I shimmy with both hips with the same effort? (we tend to use one side of the body more)
  • Are my knees bent all the time, even on relevé?
  • Am I pressing my feet to the floor firmly? Am I grounded?
  • Is my alignment correct?
  • Do I breathe deeply?
  • Do I shimmy regularly, evenly and to the beat?
  • What is my facial expression? (putting lots of effort into your shimmy usually freezes your facial features)
  • What am I thinking about? Am I really focused just on the exercise?
  • Do I shimmy with enthusiasm? Do I feel happy?

Once you can keep a regular steady hip shimmy for 5 minutes, you can take it to the next level and learn how to shimmy and walk at the same time.

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Comments

  1. Lovely, helpful work! Thank you so much :-)!!
    Betty

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