Art Vs. Entertainment

January 19, 2013 § 4 Comments

  • Art: the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
  • Entertainment: the act of entertaining;  agreeable occupation for the mind; diversion; amusement.

A question I hear often among belly dancers, especially in the Tribal community, is whether we consider ourselves artists or entertainers.  People who ask this question seem to have a strong opinion about which is better (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not entertainment). There seems to be a strong “I do it for me, not them” mentality. There’s not anything wrong with that.  In fact, I think the most important person to dance for is yourself.  But when you perform, you have to do it for you and for the audience.

Art is an expression of the artist.  If we identify with this expression, we will be inspired by this art.  When art is created, it is best if it evokes some sort of reaction from a viewer.  The most memorable art is interesting to the eye, evokes an emotion, or inspires introspection.  Art makes statements that are meant to be communicated.  It touches something in us and is a form of entertainment.  Entertainment satisfies an audience.  It takes the audience to another state of mind.  It helps them forget themselves for awhile.  If they identify with or are touched by your artistic expression, they will be entertained.

I don’t usually worry too much about art vs. entertainment when I perform. I think the two go hand in hand.  I find art entertaining, and entertainment can be done artistically.  As a dancer, art may be enough to fulfill the dancer’s desire to create and express. As a performer, entertainment is a definite goal. No one wants to get on stage and deeply and meaningfully bore their audience. I don’t believe it is necessary to choose sides.

I am an artist and an entertainer. An entertainment artist. An artistic entertainer. I am a belly dancer.

Dancing Out Loud

February 17, 2012 § 4 Comments

I dance constantly. My hips have a mind of their own. There are times I have found myself thinking about a song or a performance and come to a sudden realization (sometimes prompted by people giving me strange looks) that my hips are moving. Dancing out loud, if you will.

This happened to me once when I was working at a mall kiosk. I was casually pacing while thinking about a performance I had done and how it could be revamped when I noticed that some guys who worked at a nearby store were staring at me. I then realized that my hips were reacting to my thoughts of dancing.  I proceeded to casually pace my way over to my cash wrap and start doing some paperwork. “Who me? Dancing? I don’t know what you’re talking about…”

A more recent incident occurred last month while I was visiting my family in Portland, OR.  We decided to go to Jam, a popular brunch spot. There was a bit of a wait–45 minutes or so–and no sitting room in the waiting area. So we hung out on the rain drenched street, huddled under the awning, engaging in conversation in front of Jam’s window along with other waiting, rain-soaked people. I was standing with my back against the window, and my hips started doing an alternating hip lift with a double lift every third one.  (My hips often start creating patterns when I am waiting for something, especially if I’m cold.)  I did this for a few minutes without paying it much attention.  I glanced back into the restaurant to realize there was a table right behind me, about eye level with my behind.  There I was, shaking my butt in these people’s faces while they were trying to enjoy their blueberry pancakes! Oops.

Similarly, I often break into dance while I am brushing my teeth, cooking , trying to get ready for work… Sometimes, I just can’t hold it in any longer!

Sometimes, like the urge to dance, inspiration comes at inconvenient times.  Ideas for blog posts often come to me in the middle of a hectic work deadline and I have to quickly find a pen and paper and frantically try to get it down on paper while it’s fresh.  Or sometimes when I’m driving, I’ll suddenly have amazing visions of choreographies and have to frantically jot them down as soon as I stop somewhere.  If I wait and try to recall it later when it’s stale and I’m tired, it just never blossoms the same as when the inspiration is fresh.

Belly dance, it’s an addiction.

*This post was inspired in part by Leyla Najma’s post, A Choreography State of Mind.  If you’ve never been to her blog, you should check it out.  Her posts are insightful, honest and thought-provoking.

Musical Visions

October 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s funny how hobbies work their way into your thoughts.  The more hobbies I pick up, the more it affects my artistic visions.  I’ve been belly dancing for quite some time, casually spinning poi, and am a rather baby beginner at hoop dancing.  When I listen to music now, I often “see” the music in the form of one of these dance styles. Which I see changes from song to song depending on what the song is saying to me.  In the matter of my poi and especially hoop, I am not really good enough to make these visions into reality yet, but I just  need to work on that.  At this point, I really need all three in order to fulfill my dancing daydreams and mental  musical interpretations. This dancing stuff is an addiction!

My next creative project I am planning is a choreographed poi dance.  I am getting to a point where I am having smoother transitions between movements and am adding in variations like lockouts and extensions and what not and need to start actually dancing with the poi instead of just drilling and trying new things.   I think a choreography will lead to some good practicing.  As soon as I pick a song, I will start making a poi vision or two come to life.

 

Getting Down and Dancey with Mira Betz

October 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Some time ago, I participated in the most amazing, 3-day Ethics and Technique of Belly Dance Intensive with Mira Betz.  I’d describe it as a movement, dance theory, life, history, culture, performance, self-examination and trust-building workshop. This woman has inspired me not only in dance, but in life.  She is very honest and straight forward, and I really admire that. She works really hard and encourages her students to do the same.

In the dance section of the workshop, we learned some combos that Mira emphasized were not so much about the order of movements, but about the concepts we were learning. We explored stretching rhythms and altering the typical timing of combinations to create tension and variation of movement.  We also explored how to present ourselves on stage in a way that makes our audience comfortable and relaxed.

There were many talking circles. We discussed our views and the way others view belly dance, things we’ve struggled with, and how our journey within the dance has been. We talked about East vs. West and Orientalism.  We discussed pre-performance and post performance etiquette and how to elevate the dance form. We also ventured into how belly dance compares to other dance forms.  This was one of my favorite areas of discussion.  We compared it to Ballet and Burlesque and how they came to be respected and considered art and how belly dance could become an equally accepted art form.

I was surprised to learn that not everyone enjoyed the discussions as much as I did. A few subjects were addressed that some people took very personally such as performance etiquette, skill, religion, public presentation and other areas of ethics.  I suppose that can be expected when such things come up.

One of my favorite parts of the weekend was a homework assignment called a wish wall. We made “wish walls” that represented things we wished for or that represented our hopes and dreams or inspirations in some way.  Mira said we could make it whatever we wanted, but most people did some sort of collage.  I used to collage a lot in high school but hadn’t in years.  I really enjoyed this assignment and wish I had more excuses to do arts and crafts projects.

My cat, Almond, helping me collage.

When we brought them to class the next day, they were presented anonymously and were analyzed and discussed by the group before revealing who’s wish wall each was. This was interesting because we got to see how other people perceived what we had done and even gained some insight into what our art was saying about us.

My finished wish wall

I definitely recommend taking this workshop or any workshop with Mira Betz. She is authentic and inspiring. It was a weekend of exploration, learning and self discovery.

TribalCon VII, 2011

August 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

This year at TribalCon, I took workshops from Zoe Jakes, Al Confrin, John Compton, and Myra Krien. There was an interesting sounding lecture given by August Hoerr, but I really needed a break for lunch, so I did not attend. This year, there was a Friday night, live music only performance before the hafla. My troupe performed in that one. Saturday night was an all-recorded music show which I had the pleasure of relaxing in the audience during and just getting to enjoy.

The Friday night show was a lot of fun.  the small stage was crowded with very talented musicians.  The energy of a show that  uses live music is infectious.  It is very entertaining to watch the dancers and musicians play off each other.  Live music is so much more dynamic than canned music.  The show went very smoothly.  My troupe closed the show, following John Compton, which was quite a lot of pressure, let me tell you!  John Compton is amazingly mesmerizing on stage.  His playfulness and stage presence is captivating.  It was a lot of fun to get to hang out with him and bond backstage.  He informed me that if you fart before a performance it’s good luck!  That’s right, real life tips from a pro!

This was one of the enjoyable performances from the show.  I like it because, not only do I think Jaylee is a lovely dancer, I think this one also showcases the musical talent nicely as well.

My troupe did an American Tribal Style piece under my direction.  We honored both classical ATS and modern ATS styles. I think it went really well and we got enthusiastic feedback from the crowd afterward.  One woman told me that she was excited because she had never seen American Tribal Style performed before, but loved it.  She said she thought it was beautiful and is now interested in learning it.  I think that is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received after a show!

The hafla was fun.  There were a lot more hoopers this year.  The only downside of having a show on Friday before the hafla was the hafla started later, so you got in less free dancing if you like to go to bed on the earlier side.  I don’t however think this bothered much of the TribalCon crowd, as they will party into the wee hours.

In the morning, my first class was with Zoe Jakes.  It was a good class, a bit intense.  She had us do a lot of strengthening yoga exercises.  My abs were tired before the bulk of the class began.  The funniest thing that happened in that class was that she had us doing stretches where we lengthened our arms up and back slightly, elongating the torso and then folding from the hips stretching into a flat back, and then back into the original standing pose.  When we were first alternating between the two positions, we would hold for 4 counts each.  Then she had us double it to two counts and it was almost like standing sit ups with out stretched arms.  After a couple repetitions, I realized, it seemed oddly similar to bowing.  I began looking around.  It was an auditorium filled with women surrounding Zoe Jakes on 3 sides, bowing in unison.  I’m sure that probably wasn’t actually her goal, but it was quite hilarious.

For my next class, I got out my clarinet and switched to the music side with a class on Middle Eastern musical improvisation with Al Confrin.  It was an incredibly challenging, informative and fun class.  It was an intimate class, with only about a dozen people in the room.  We had the stringed instruments drone while we took turns individually improvising little melodies using the notes on specific middle eastern scales and attempting to incorporate rules and tips Al had given us.  By the end of the class, we were trying to match each others’ melodies and have musical conversations.  It was fun and a bit nerve racking since we played by ourselves.  I think I got an excellent compliment from Al.  After I played one of my improvised melodies he commented, “I just love the sound of the clarinet.”  !!!!  I was flattered!  Middle eastern musical improvisation is a huge subject as far as I can tell with many rules and subtleties to remember. I’m sure a person could work on new things in this area their entire career and still have more to learn.  Being a classically trained musician, I have had very little experience with musical improvisation.  I tried improvisation a little when I had a brief intro to jazz years ago, but that was it.  Classical musicians don’t really improvise.  Orchestral music is read from sheet music, and that’s most of what I’ve done.  I feel like Al’s class was a great starting point and I have really been able to use some of the instructions he gave to have more structured and more musically appealing improvisations.

I switched back to the dance side to take a workshop on traditional Tribal steps and combos with John Compton.  He is a delight to learn from!  He is incredibly fun and funny and informative to.  He taught us many combos that were challenging and some of them very different than what I have learned in the past.  By the end of the class we had a mini choreography of John Compton combos.

The last class of the day was with my first teacher, Myra Krien.  She taught flamenco fusion moves in the ATS format.  I felt a little like I was cheating in the class because I had previously known all but two of the moves.  I had them down perfectly while everyone else was struggling to remember them.  It was a great refresher and I enjoyed learning the two new flamenco adaptions that I had not seen before.

The Saturday night show was great;  very inspiring.  It was nice to get to sit down and watch a whole belly dance show without having to worry about performing.  The Friday night show kept the Saturday night show from not being overly long, so it easily held the audience’s attention.  The only downside is that I was starving after a day full of activity and you could smell the buffet waiting for us in the next room for after the show! That was a bit distracting, but not too bad and the buffet was worth the wait.  It was quite delicious.

All in all I would say I had another great TribalCon experience!

My Year in Belly Dance: Reflecting and Looking Forward

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.

In Remembrance of Viktoriya

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.

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