A Film Project: A Dancer from New Mexico

December 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is a project I worked on with my roommate, a film student, a couple months ago.  He was assigned to create short films in the styles of some of the first filmmakers. This project, he did in honor of Turkish Dance by Thomas Edison, shot in 1898.  I tried to keep my free-style dancing on the folkloric side and create a similar feel as the dancer in the original video.

Here is my roommate’s completed project:

Here is the original short:

If you’ve never checked it out before, there is a lot of vintage, belly dance footage on youtube.  It’s pretty interesting.

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Fire Poi: My First Burn!

September 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Earlier this summer I had my first fire poi burn.  It. Was.  AMAZING!

I was at a 4th of July party at a friend’s ranch in the beautiful, Middle of Nowhere, NM.  It was a bunch of friends, old and new, getting together in the mountainous desert to sing, talk, camp and be merry around a fire under the beautiful open sky.

A friend of mine spins fire poi and brought hers to the party.  After she spun a little, and another friend at the party did as well, she asked if I wanted to try.  Although I had been trying to psych myself up for it all day, I was nervous.  The first time I had ever tried spinning fire poi, they were unlit at a fire jam in Portland, and I hit myself in the back of the head leaving a huge knot.  That was when I had only been taking poi classes for a few weeks, but it made me nervous ever since.  There were a lot of people at this party and I didn’t want them all watching me if I a)freaked out, b)caught on fire, c)sucked and got stuck in a forward spin for minutes on end, or d)a combination of any or all of the above.

I was around a lot of fire poi spinners in Portland, but I moved to Huntsville just as I was starting to get decent at it myself.  I knew only one or two other poi spinners in Alabama and none that spun fire, so I hadn’t had an opportunity to try in a long time.  After convincing myself a bit, I decided I had been spinning poi casually for five years, it was time to try the fire poi.  I put my long hair up in a bun, wet it a little just to be sure it wasn’t too flammable and mentally prepared myself.  I was at least going to try forward and backward spins and some basic turns.  No big deal.  I was in the company of friends.

I practiced with her poi unlit for a few minutes to get used to the weight and feel.  She assured me that I was doing great with them.  She told me she would only soak the ends with a little bit of fuel so they wouldn’t burn too long.  Another friend assured me that if I caught on fire, he was ready with the hose.  They told me I couldn’t ask for a more supportive crowd to try it in front of.

When I was ready, one of my very best friends lit one of the poi for me, I touched it to the other and watched them brighten into a big, orange glowing ball in the night.  I backed up, started moving them in a horizontal, circular motion above the ground in front of me (I believe this is called “stir the pot” in some poi-move vocabularies).  I brought the poi overhead for some “corkscrew” action (poi moving in same direction alternately between horizontal circles in front and overhead, one making the lower circle while the other is making the upper). I turned a bit with this and felt pretty good.  I transitioned my corkscrew into some chasing the sun (poi traveling parallel in vertical circles, alternating in front and behind the body) and brought it into a windmill (essentially the same move, but with the poi spinning in split-time so there’s one making a circle behind while one is making a circle in front). I felt incredibly…comfortable!

It was ON!  I listened to the music and I went through all my regularly practiced movements.  I flowed into turns, butterflies and weaves…I was threading the needle and extending into some basic flowers…I stalled, reversed, split-timed and moved around with the poi.  It was meditative and relaxing.  I love the hypnotic flowing of the poi.  Being within the spiraling ring of fire, I didn’t feel as if a bunch of people were watching me.  The flames were loud enough, I could hardly here them; the flames were bright enough, I couldn’t see anyone too clearly.  The way I often feel safe in stage lights, I found safety in the poi flames.

When one poi flame went out and the other began to dwindle, and it was time to spin hard and fast to extinguish it, I wished my time wasn’t up.  I could have gone longer.  I could have flowed more with the fire and the music.  I felt exhilarated!

My friend who owns the poi said it was awesome and that she thought I was going to do a few really simple things, but that I surprised her by going balls out.  It was such an amazing experience!  I am now completely re-energized about poi.  I am so glad that I have friends here to explore this art form with!  I have to start practicing more regularly again, and I absolutely MUST invest in some fire poi of my very own.

Belly Dance Solo: My Experience with Solo Dance Versus Group Dance

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.

Veil Solo

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.

Improvements in Improv

December 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

I used to be so incredibly afraid of performing improvisational belly dance that I would all but refuse to do it. If there was a way to get out of it, I would.

In the past couple years, with much pushing from my dance troupe director, I’ve started doing it much more. At first, I was nervous and self-conscious and wondered if I was doing the correct thing to the music. Was I being impressive enough? Did I look like a good dancer?

My comfort level started to improve with open dances after hafla performances. Dancing improvisationally with a bunch of other dancers in an informal setting mixed with post-performance adrenaline helped me feel less self-conscious and be able to just have fun and dance.

At a benefit show we did a couple months ago, one of our musicians was unexpectedly unable to make it. This meant we couldn’t do each choreographed dance we had planned since she played a major role in the melody of certain pieces. To fill in the space, we, with members from our student troupe, took turns improvising to some music that we all knew well. It was in a Mexican restaurant, Banditos, at a benefit show for the local no-kill animal shelter. It was a laid back atmosphere with an energetic audience. As I danced, I really felt like I was able to get into the music. I felt confident. I lost myself in the music and the dance moves just developed in my body according to what I heard. I was a slave to the moment.

Since, I’ve realized the incredible joy that exists in improvisational belly dance and the abandon of letting the music take you. Now I can really appreciate the differences between improv and choreography.

When performing choreography, my mind is clear and focused (hopefully) and all that’s in my head is the move that’s coming next, listening for the music that coincides, and what I want to be projecting. When I dance improvisationally, all that’s in my head is the music, and the moves become the melody and the drum beat. They are no longer two things that exist next to each other. They are the same.

In the past, I have had a hard time producing solos because I always tried to choreograph them. Creating my own choreography is not the easiest thing. I can pick a piece of music, listen and visualize, but once I try to actually put a solidified order of moves together, I get stuck. It’s like I feel too much pressure to “make it good.” I have finally concluded that it would be less stressful to just pick a piece of music, get comfortable with it and then dance to it on stage, sans strict planning. I think this would relieve some of the pressure.

Recently, we had another benefit show, this time for Toys for Tots. We had special guests, Onca and August of the Mezmer Society, and some other incredible southeastern dancers, come into town for the show. At the end of the show, August played some lovely Balkan music with our in-house musicians and we had some open dancing. This was the most lost I have become in the music in front of an audience. Ever. I was an expression of the music. I felt free and euphoric. That was the moment I knew my love affair with improvisational belly dance had begun.

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