August 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
Hello Friends! I apologize for my recent silence on this blog. I have relocated in the last few months to beautiful Albuquerque, NM. It’s close to my hometown of Santa Fe. I am happy to be back in the desert where I grew up! I have been out of New Mexico for years and eventually came to miss it. New Mexico is a special and magical place and I think sometimes it takes awhile away to fully appreciate all it has to offer. This is also the state where I began belly dancing, so it is a nice homecoming for me! I am working on settling in and finding my place here. I miss my old troupe, Lumani, dearly and miss my students tremendously, but I am looking forward to rediscovering my belly dance self in a new dance community again!
April 4, 2011 § 1 Comment
I have been thinking about how my transition into soloing has been gradual, but quite graceful.
I used to get bad stage fright when I first began dancing. I had a hard time smiling, my chin and bottom lip used to shake, I would even feel a little dizzy. Over time, I have come to love performing and enjoy being on stage. After I adjusted to being on stage in a group setting, I would still get nervous about performing solos. I didn’t do it very often. I had some American Tribal Style solos here and there, which are not like traditional solos as there is usually a chorus of dancers on stage with the soloist put in a position of focus. Even with a chorus behind me, it was a little nerve-racking.
I have very much enjoyed being a troupe dancer. I like the bonding that goes on between dancers on stage together. I like being able to feel supported by my troupe mates and supporting them in return. I like the dynamics that can happen in group dances. I like that there is a safety in numbers kind of feeling.
For a long time, I was not very interested in doing true solos. When I started performing them it was only when it was necessary to fill a time slot in a show. Back then, I did other people’s choreography, never my own, and certainly never improvisation. I wanted to feel confident that my solo was going to be “good.”
It was a bit of an adjustment to go from group dances to performing solos. My two biggest challenges were learning to use the stage differently and getting used to having Every. Eye. On. Me. Sure, I know people are watching me in group dances, but they are also looking at the other dancers. It is much more intense when they all focus on me at once. I have found myself on stage thinking, “oh my god, why are they looking at me like that????….oh yeah, because I’m doing a solo…” Haha. I think I have finally gotten used to it. It only took doing a few solos over a few months.
As far as using the stage goes, with group dances, it’s easy to use the space. The stage is filled just because there are multiple people on it. Groups can create dynamics with static formations, moving formations such as lines of dancers moving through each other, shapes such as circles, entire group level changes, scaled level changes, some dancers facing different directions…there are many possibilities. With a solo, there are similar options, but they are executed differently. A soloist cannot create a formation, but can be static or in motion. They can only create shapes across the floor by drawing them with their dance path. When a soloist changes levels, it can only be interesting because of the contrast between the level they are on and the level they were on. They can make directional changes, but can only face one direction at a time. They are solely responsible for taking center stage, covering the whole stage, creating interesting lines, and creating variety in their movement, all while still dancing to the music. It’s a bit a more pressure.
Another thing that is different between solos and group dances is the energy dynamic. With group dances, you can play off the energy of your fellow dancers and project to them as well as the audience. There is a collective energy on stage that infects you while you are contributing to it. In a solo, it’s all you, baby! You must commit, you must project. I feel like I am exploding with energy when I am doing a solo. I am also more aware of the music. I am the only one expressing the music, so it is my dance partner when I am on stage alone. I internalize the music and externalize the movement and energy.
When I first started performing solos, it was to fill show needs. Then, I started doing them because I felt like I had reached a point in my dance journey where it was necessary for my continued growth as a dancer. Now, finally, I perform them because I like to.
I did an improvisational veil solo at a performance over the weekend. I also performed a couple solos at a birthday party gig last weekend. I discovered I am not scared of all the eyes on me anymore. I am no longer terrified by the pressure of keeping the audience’s attention all by myself. I finally feel like I am using the stage properly and creating some variation in my movement that reflects the music and creates dynamic.
There is actually a wonderful sense of freedom in performing solos because I can just go with what the music is telling me to do. I don’t have to worry about whether or not I am doing the “correct” thing. I am not necessarily limited by the confines of a strict choreography. I can just dance.
January 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
I feel like the past year has been a productive one for me on the dance front. I attended some great workshops and events. I moved forward in technique and experience. I had a few breakthroughs that were quite amazing to me.
I had some major breakthroughs in the area of flexibility and usability of my muscles. Throughout the year, I identified several problem areas in my body where the muscles were locked up and permanently engaged. I was able to concentrate on and learn how to stretch and release my trapezius muscle (at the top of the shoulder), my hip flexors (at the top, front of the thighs), and my psoas muscles (in the hips). These muscle groups were causing me some pain and minimizing movement. After releasing them, I have less back pain, less neck pain and less hip pain. My undulations have become bigger, my shoulder shimmies have become less tense, and my hip movements have gained depth and range of motion.
I also decided that this would be the year I would really solidify my continuous shimmies. Due in part to an old knee injury, continuous hip shimmies (that move alternately and repetitively between right and left hips) have been very challenging for me. My left leg has been weaker and less consistent. This year, I was putting that behind me. For several months at the beginning of the year, I woke up early every morning to do shimmy drills. It felt great. And practicing every day made a world of difference. I focused on my weaker side and built up the stamina. After just a few weeks, I had a consistent, even shimmy. After a few more weeks, I could vary size and intensity. I eventually got to a point where the muscle memory was so ingrained in me, I would start my shimmying and I felt like my legs had a mind of their own. The shimmy was automatic, almost like there was no stopping it. I sometimes felt like the shimmy was in control and I was along for the ride. It was amazing and I’m pretty sure it’s what everyone is talking about when they say “if you have to think about your shimmy, you haven’t done it enough.”
The most recent thing I discovered that made a huge difference for my body is a yoga technique called inner thigh spiraling. One of my belly dance teachers brought it to her dance class after it was really helping her with her posture. Essentially it’s where you stand in good posture and good alignment (keep those knees facing forward!), and engage your inner thighs and gently rotate them backward. We did an exercise where you hold the yoga block with your thigh spiral and layered some belly dance drills on top of it (shoulder shimmies, chest circles, hip lifts, etc.) I could feel my lower back and hips opening up. I have been including this technique in my regular dance practice and it has greatly improved my alignment, posture, strength and is even keeping pressure off my injured knee.
I broke into performing solos. I have always been more of a troupe dancer than a soloist. I’m to a point where I actually want to do solos and feel like I need to in order to take my dancing to the next level. This year, I did solos without props and with veil and sword, some to live music, some to recorded music. It was great, actually. I get more nervous before solos and the adrenaline rush is a bit more intense, but it is very rewarding and freeing. Me and improv have started to get buddy, buddy as well and it has set my dancing free in so many ways. I have learned to really trust my instincts and go with what the music tells me to do. I mean, what’s so complicated about it really? It’s just dancing.
I began playing clarinet again. I was classically trained for 8 years, but had given it up for several years to focus more on dancing. I am a little rusty, but the music reading, the embouchure, the technique all came back to me pretty quickly. I have actually joined the Lumani band, so I will be playing a lot more.
I attended TribalCon and Spirit of the Tribes which were both a ton of fun. I took workshops with Mira Betz, Artemis Mourat, Myra Krien, Devyani, Asharah, Ariellah, Jahara Phoenix, Dalia Carella, Unmata, Kaya, Shadhavar, GypsyVille and even took a few hooping workshops.
As a teacher, I feel like my ATS students progressed so much this year. I have a group of consistent students who have gotten the basics down quite well and are starting to move on to more challenging and more fun ATS moves and concepts. I love that the class is picking up momentum!
Last year was a very good year, indeed!
Looking forward, joining the Lumani band is very exciting! I’m enjoying exploring clarinet with Middle Eastern music and love being part of a musical ensemble again! I have begun taking a Middle Eastern drumming classes, mostly to learn more about Middle Eastern rhythms to enhance my dancing, but wouldn’t mind becoming a proficient drummer. I am also taking a zill class and hope to become decent at more complex zilling. I want to continue exploring solos and perhaps create some choreographies. I’m going to TribalCon again and am trying to decided on another major event I’d like to attend. I’ve never been to a convention for Oriental Style Belly Dance. That might be fun.
January 24, 2011 § 1 Comment
I didn’t really know Viktoriya. I had the pleasure of taking a workshop and participating in a performance with her in 2007. I only spent several hours with her, but it was an incredibly inspiring few hours. It was actually a pivotal moment in my dance direction.
I came into belly dancing with American Tribal Style and began taking some Oriental classes within a couple years. While I had always been interested in Oriental Belly Dance, most of my performance opportunities and main focus had been on the Tribal side of things. I had taken many technique classes in Oriental style and learned a couple of choreographies, but it was never really developed in my repertoire. After being blown away by Viktoriya’s magical stage presence and delightful dancing style, I decided to put more focus into Oriental Belly Dance.
The workshop I took from Viktoriya was on Classical Egyptian Belly Dance. I loved the flowing, feminine movements. She told us in her exotic Russian accent that when she performed free style Classical Egyptian she felt like she was melting. She talked to us about being expressive. She said a permanent smile on a dancer was American Belly Dance; when you do Egyptian dance, you have to also be an actress.
She talked to me specifically about my shimmies. I have shared here in the past that I had a difficult time with continuous hip shimmies. Viktoryia noticed some of the problems I was having and shared some pointers with me. She discussed technique. She pointed out the two things I was doing wrong (basically, I was not allowing enough movement and my right leg was dominating so I was not alternating my hips evenly). She told me how she shimmied constantly when she was learning. She shimmied during every day activities such as doing dishes or brushing her teeth. I worked a lot with her suggestions, and it took time, but my shimmies are a million times better now because of that discussion.
Rest in peace, Viktoriya. You will be missed by the dance community, but will certainly live on in the memories of those you inspired.
December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment
I just ordered these DVDs with a Christmas gift card and I’m so excited about it, I can’t stop watching the trailers! USPS, please deliver faster!
I already have Michelle Joyce’s “Pops, Locks, and Shimmies” and “The Heartbeat of Bellydance” with Jenna, both for drum solo technique, and love them! So I figured these would be great choices.
You have to be incredibly picky with DVD selection these days. The first time I ordered belly dance DVDs, I ordered them based on whether or not I liked the performer featured in the video, and did not do enough research about content. I was very disappointed. I don’t really use any of those DVDs from that first batch. I think it can be hard to find quality DVDs geared toward a more advanced level of dancing. There is a ton of fluffy DVDs out there geared toward beginners and/or DVDs that don’t have great content, but are banking on a well-known dancer’s name to sell. Now when I buy instructional DVDs, I look at subject matter and decide if it’s something I really want to work on, read reviews, and watch previews. No preview, no sale. So far, I have been very satisfied with my DVDs from both Cheeky Girls Productions and World Dance New York.
December 1, 2010 § Leave a comment
I feel like my dance class is really flourishing. I have enough regular students now, they can practice full formations in class, and I can watch, observe and offer help. When we perform, I’m not the only one leading. In fact, I can lead less and less, and let my students gain the experience and grow stronger.
As a teacher, there are moments that are so fulfilling: The “aha” moments in my students. The first time they really get a move. Watching one of my students lead for the first time. The first time one of them wants to lead in a performance. The first time someone unexpectedly takes the lead (no really, you have no idea how exciting that is!).
I am glad I have been able to participate in this movement. I am grateful that I have gotten to continue being involved in ATS even as I have moved a couple times. I am extremely happy that I have been given the opportunity to teach this powerful and beautiful dance style to others, and through teaching, have fallen in love with American Tribal Style all over again. Yallah, Habibis!
November 21, 2010 § Leave a comment
One of the roughest times for me in my belly dance journey was leaving my first teacher. I danced with her for about 3 1/2 years. Her dancing style, her teaching style, and my time in her student troupe was my entire gateway to belly dance. I stopped dancing at her studio because I moved with my family to Portland, OR. My sister (who was in the troupe with me) and I looked up dance studios as soon as we got to Portland. We attended open houses, we tried various classes, and what I found was Belly Dance Culture Shock.
I wanted to keep dancing, but I wanted to keep dancing how I had been dancing. I liked my first teacher’s American Tribal Style (quite consistent with the Fat Chance Style). I liked my teacher’s West Coast Cabaret Oriental Style. Everything in Oregon was…different.
The Tribal Styles in Portland were strange, grunge fusion-hybrids. The first cabaret dancers I saw seemed akin to drill teams–peppy smiling princesses. Or they were too Modern. Or too Egyptian. Or too–NOT WHAT I WAS USED TO! There were new techniques, new explanations, new step-combos, new tribal combos, new costuming styles!, new people, new payment systems!
Okay, okay. Maybe I was unprepared. A lovely dancer who came from the same studio in Santa Fe also moved to Portland (and would later become our roommate and troupe mate). She told me she came to the new belly dance scene with the idea that she would just forget everything she knew. (Not literally, but you know, she was ready to embrace the new). I was horrified! I didn’t want to forget anything! I was going to remember it all and dance like that forever! Ofcourse, I did eventually warm up to the new styles and found many that I liked.
It was strange going from a small belly dance scene to a massive one. There are definite benefits with large scenes…more workshops, more classes, more styles, more shows, more performance venues, more costume shops…but a small dance scene is intimate and comfortable and can feel close and supportive because everyone knows everyone else. Now that I’ve experienced both, I don’t have a particular preference. Huntsville has a small dance scene. At the same time, there is a sense of connection and participation within the larger south east belly dance scene, so we get to really embrace the small scene within a bigger scene.
Once I got over my initial culture shock, I was able to really grow as a dancer, and I haven’t experienced the same kind of shock since. It was tough at first, but it has been beneficial in many ways to step outside of my comfort zone and explore. I have been able to play different roles in different groups and try a lot of new things.
I love that there are so many belly dancers in the world! It seems that no matter where you go, there will be belly dancing there. That’s comforting.
November 2, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’m sure there will be some disappointed people who find this post in their search results, but I’m not talking about that kind of cross-dressing. I’m talking about Tribal ladies gone Cabaret! And back again! And vice versa! While many people lean toward one belly dance genre or another, I am an equal-opportunity shimmyer. An ATS girl with Cabaret in my heart.
And truth be told, I could use a little more Cabaret in my life. I long for sparkly, sequined, hair-swinging, even sometimes down right cute, Oriental style. That’s right! Cute! I said it. (Just so you know, there’s no cute allowed in ATS!) Sometimes I just want some big, lyrical freedom; to let my hair down, my arms relax and let out a big, sweeping, ooey-gooey, horizontal hip circle. Maybe even complete with an adorable, feminine arm position; one hand to the head, one on the hip, accented with a hip-wiggling, psoas-engaging jewel.
I subbed for a couple of basic belly dance classes a couple weeks ago and I made the students do incredibly adorable things. And I enjoyed it! Some of my ATS students were in these classes and joked that the other teachers would come back from vacation and say, “what happened to Jade?!”
Well now everyone knows. Your ATS teacher is a Cabaret lover. This is also a huge motivator for me to do more solos. I need an opportunity for feminine. I need an avenue for cute.
October 18, 2010 § 1 Comment
I did my very first completely improvised veil solo the other day. I performed it at a diversity convention for realtors. It was in a large conference room with tables set up with food and goods from various cultures, free henna hand painting, and diverse door prizes that were donated from shops around town.
A few of us dancers were going to perform. We were doing American Tribal Style, a couple drum solos, a sword piece and a skirt dance. My troupe director asked if I wanted to do a solo, and I said sure! I looked at the set list and thought a veil dance would round out the lineup nicely.
I have had some veil experience. I have performed veil a few times with a choreographed group of dancers. I have taken multiple veil workshops and classes and I have played around with veils a bit. This was my first time performing a veil solo. More importantly, it was my first time performing an improvised veil solo to live music. I watched some youtube videos the night before to get some ideas and get a refresher on veil options. I didn’t know what song I would be dancing to until I showed up to the run-through, so I couldn’t do a lot of practicing.
I knew I wanted to dance with the veil wrapped around the arms some to add variety and keep the veil out of the way for part of the dance. I decided to start the dance that way so I wouldn’t forget to do it. I also planned to use the veil from the end for some long veil work. But that was as much planning as I did. I danced through the song once during our run-through. Before I started, my troupe director said, “you don’t have to do all classic veil.” I said, “I don’t know what I’ll do, I have no idea what my veil style is.”
I think the piece turned out well. I love the song the musician played on the accordion, Imate Li Vino. The version he played is slow, pretty and expressive. It’s one of my favorites, even though I’ve only heard it a few times before, but that really helped. I was “in the zone.”
My entrance felt a little rough. I wasn’t flowing with the music yet, but after the first half a minute or so, I was only really aware of the veil and the music. Total flow. Especially after I completely unraveled the veil and went into full veil work. I twirled and spun and tossed and moved the veil with the rises and falls in the melody. I was just feeling the music and danced until I felt done. I’m not sure what all I did, I just danced.
After, I asked my fellow dancers how long I had danced for and they said about 3 minutes which is, in my opinion, a perfect length for a solo. I was lucky that the song is very cyclical so the musician could add however many verses I needed him to. I entered after the song started and left before it finished. I had pictured myself as a figment of the imagination, as if the musician dreamed me. An apparition. A consequence of the melody.
October 3, 2010 § Leave a comment
(My belated Spirit of the Tribes post…)
I went to Spirit of the Tribes in Ft Lauderdale, FL for Memorial Day weekend. It’s quite a drive from North Alabama. 14-16 hours. The drive was good, though. I drove with some troupe mates so there was a lot of bonding time. And I saw a couple of amusing things such as this
It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Florida. It is very hot and humid, but very green and pretty. One thing I forgot though, Florida kind of smells. Not intolerably, but it has a very distinct smell. I think it’s all the swamps.
Anyway, we arrived at Spirit Monday morning after driving the whole previous day and only stopping for about 4 or 5 hours sleep the previous night at a friend’s farm. We arrived just in time for classes to start.
My very first class was with Unmata, who I love! Though I’ve seen them perform many times, this was the first time I actually got to take a workshop with them. It was fun and fast paced. We learned a high speed (of course!) combo that is very different from styles I have done previously. It was a good class, but it is very hard to keep up with Unmata when you’ve only had a few hours sleep! Somehow, I held on and made it through the whole workshop.
Next, I took a Belly Baile combos workshop with my first teacher, Myra Krien. It was really great to be back in her class and I still find it very easy to follow her. Her teaching style and body movements are still so familiar. Belly Baile is not what she taught when I took classes from her. This is her own unique fusion dance style that is a beautiful and artful combination of the various dance forms she has learned over many years. The combos have texture and are very beautiful. She sells a DVD on her website with the combos. I definitely recommend it.
The second day, I took a workshop from Devyani about favorite ATS combos. Their classes are always good. Megha is a very precise teacher. This is the third or fourth workshop I have taken from them. I got some cue subtleties cleared up. The difficult thing for me in ATS workshops at big events like these is there are always a lot of people who are not very familiar with ATS, and it’s a little hard for them to get the combos and ideas. Not that I would discourage beginners from taking the workshops. It’s just hard to work through the exercises when someone in the group doesn’t already know the basic concepts of ATS. I still always learn something, though.
After the Devyani workshop, I took a class in pops, locks, and layering with Kaya. I thought Sadie was supposed to be at the event as well, but for some reason it ended up just being Kaya. This was perhaps my favorite workshop of the event. It was challenging and a great workout. I have never gotten such a focused oblique workout. That night and the next day, my obliques were very sore. Just the obliques, not all my abs. Not any other part of my body. Just the sides of my torso. So, the drills really isolated the obliques. Kaya told me twice during the workshop that I was doing a good job. It was one of the highlights of my trip!
The last day of the event, I took a workshop on Romani Gypsy style with Artemis Mourat. This was my second workshop with her. I love the Romani Style. It is actually not really intended to be performed, but is just the dance of the people. It’s less flashy than some other styles. Artemis said on a scale of intensity, if Oriental belly dance is a 10, Romani Gypsy style is a 6. She said she thinks people should be careful when saying they are doing a “Gypsy” belly dance piece if they’ve never actually learned anything about real Gypsy dance. She said, just because you have a big skirt doesn’t make it authentic. You could call it your Gypsy-inspired piece, but learn about the real style before you call it a Gypsy dance. I love Artemis and her workshops, but I still feel oh so white when I try to dance like her.
Finally, my last class was with Dalia Carella, who is just delightful. The class was an El Mundo fusion dance class. It was a very fun style with a lot of Latin influence. Lots of sassy skirt work. The dancing was flirty and spicy. It brought me visions of life in the tropics and made me wish I lived in a culture that danced more. It was a perfect end to my Spirit workshop experience.
There was a great vending area of course. I didn’t buy anything. The one costume piece I was looking for was a skirt to wear with my bedlah for Oriental belly dance. A fusion festival is apparently not the place to find a bunch of those.
There was a show every night. It was a showcase of various levels of skill and styles from all over. Some of my favorite performances were by Anasma, Beat Box Guitar, Danyavaad, Nanda Najla, and Shakra Dance Company. The shows were full and entertaining. They were also expensive. $35 per show. If I hadn’t been working at my dance teacher’s vending booth in exchange for tickets to the shows, I wouldn’t have gone to every one. I would rather spend more money on workshops, which were actually cheaper than the shows.
My troupe performed Sunday night. We closed the show. The performance went well. The Sunday night audience was smaller than Friday and Saturday, but it was a good crowd. I didn’t like that there was no outside photography or video. So if you want pictures or video of your performance, you have to buy them from the professionals. I will not buy any, myself. I just disagree with the idea. I understand why you can’t just video tape the whole show, and requesting no flash photography, but no snapshots? Sure, if a professional photographer takes an absolutely beautiful picture and it’s a must have, I’d pay for it. But I disagree with being forced to buy them. Besides, I’m a performer. I have plenty of pictures of me performing, many of which have been for free or for trade.
On another note, when I read the description of the event and the hotel on the website, I was under the impression the hotel was within walking distance of the event hall. It was not. So, if you plan on attending Spirit, plan to carpool or rent a car.
The most fun I had at the event was hanging out with my troupe. There was a lot of bonding and a trip to the beach. It was great fun. And I was so happy to get to take a dip in an oil-free part of the ocean. I love beach frolicking!