Poi-fu

December 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

I am slowly working my way through playpoi.com‘s poi lessons. In the past, I have just randomly clicked through user-uploaded, how-to videos on homeofpoi.com (which are also awesome), but playpoi’s videos have continuity and progression. I have decided to start working my way through their series as I have time and poi urges. I am at the very beginning, just a few videos into Poi-fu, which covers poi fundamentals. It has already given me a lot to think about and some good exercises to work on. Some videos could even apply to other dance forms, or life in general. For example, one I watched recently not only teaches great arm pathways to add poi to later, it is great for general coordination. Give it a try!  It’s fun!

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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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

Merry Christmas to Me!

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.

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