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!
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.
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.
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.
April 16, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’ve had an interesting journey with the way dancing feels versus the way it looks.
When I first began dancing away from a mirror (in performance, for example), belly dance was still very new to me. When I didn’t have a mirror to look at, I could still tell I was doing a move because I had to put a fair amount of effort and concentration into it.
Later, around my third or fourth year of dancing, I went through a strange transition. Many moves had started feeling more natural, and I could no longer tell how much I was doing with my hips. When looking in a mirror, I could see the moves were bold and defined, but they didn’t feel big any more.
This went on for the next couple years. When I took workshops without a mirror, sometimes I was told I was trying to make a move too big. Sometimes I put my hands on my hip bones to make sure they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Perhaps I had developed some sort of mirror dependency, but mostly I think I had reached a point in my dancing where some moves felt effortless, and that was new to me.
There is one instance that the opposite thing occurred: learning continuous hip shimmies (vibrational shimmies, piston hip shimmies, freeze shimmies, etc.). These are very challenging and I had greater success if I focused only on feeling each hip moving up and down alternately and not on how the shimmy looked. When I would look at myself, my shimmies would freeze up or stutter. The mirrors were working against me. Looking back, it may have been a self-conscious, mental block. Because these shimmies are so challenging, seeing myself try to execute the move probably just pulled my focus to my not being that good at them and away from concentrating on getting the move to happen.
It’s only in the last couple years all this has resolved itself. Now, unless I’m doing something that’s really new to me, I can usually tell what my hips are doing and how big, with or without a mirror.
I think a major aspect of learning to dance is a shifting of focus between how a move looks and how it feels, until eventually the two become aligned. Perhaps that’s one way to define mastering a move.
April 1, 2010 § Leave a comment
Once again, I had a great TribalCon experience. This year, I only came to the Friday night hafla and Saturday workshops and show.
The hafla was fun. I saw more ATS this year than I did last year. There was less poi spinning and a bit of hooping. Something new was African dancing, which I hadn’t seen at a hafla before. That was really awesome. Also, there were a few more male belly dancers participating in the convention. Notably, the ATS troupe Shades of Araby was there. They have a male troupe member and came all the way from Toronto. They are a very fun troupe to watch.
My favorite workshops were Ariellah’s and Asharah’s.
Ariellah’s “The Artist’s Workshop: A primer for the well-rounded dancer”, was very interesting and thought-provoking. We addressed many conceptual ideas about dancing, music interpretation, execution and expression. We explored what moves us to dance, why we dance, how we envision ourselves sharing those things with an audience, and what qualities we want to possess when we dance. During one really cool exercise, we listened to various songs and wrote down the temperature of each, the color and whether or not it evoked a memory. Then, Ariellah taught us some combos, but insisted that we didn’t just go through the movements, that we actually danced the combos. My favorite TribalCon quote was from after Ariellah had us do an arm movement as if we were touching velvet drapes with our finger tips. A student in the class shared how much she was able to imagine that she could actually feel the drapes. Ariellah told her, “That mental memory is going to become muscle memory, and it’s going to be beautiful.”
Asharah’s “Salimpour Legacy in Tribal” workshop was incredibly interesting. She discussed the history of Tribal Belly Dance and how the dance morphed a little with each student becoming teacher. Jamila Salimpour is credited with establishing a common language in the dance. Many of the names for movements we use today were coined by Jamila. Jamila directed the first Tribal-like troupe, Bal Anat. She was Masha Archer’s teacher, who was Carolena Nericcio’s teacher. When Carolena began teaching, American Tribal Style was developed, somewhat unintentionally, to meet the needs of her and her dancers. On the other side of Tribal, Rachel Brice was a member of Ultra Gypsy at the time she developed and named Tribal Fusion. She was the first Tribal dancer to take the dance solo. Ziah of Awalim was in the class and shared that she was at the Tribal Fest where Rachel Brice debuted her solo Tribal Fusion style. Ziah said at the time they thought it was kind of funny and the general reaction was, “Hey, look! That Ultra Gypsy girl is dancing all by herself!” We can thank Jamila’s daughter, Suhaila Salimpour, for refining the muscle technique to be more in line with other dance forms. My favorite part of the workshop was when we danced through the moves as they were originally executed by Jamila and compared them to how they are executed today in American Tribal Style. The moves are very similar, but the ATS versions have been modernized and altered to fit the music style and format of ATS. One of the common changes occurs in the timing and where the downbeat and upbeat fall. For example, Jamila’s Basic Egyptian was “step, twist, step, twist”, and the American Tribal Style version is “twist, step, twist, step.”
The Saturday show was beautiful. It was a whopping 3 hours! There was a lot of lyrical, modern-inspired pieces. Unfortunately, there were sound problems much of the night. It turns out a whole amp was turned off for the entire show. The music didn’t fill the auditorium the way you’d expect during a dance show, and the mic levels for the live musicians were imbalanced, but it was still a pretty show.
My troupe is still waiting on our performance video, but here are two of my favorite performances of the evening. The first is Jahara Phoenix and the second is their student troupe, Sherar.
February 16, 2010 § Leave a comment
I was suddenly able to do poi isolations recently. Normally when you spin poi, your hand is the center point of the rotation, while the poi ball moves in a circle at the end of the poi cord. When doing an isolation, your hand makes a circle as well, so there are two circular rotations, with the center point of the rotations halfway down the cord. This is something I’ve tried to do occasionally in the past, but was unable to make it happen.
I’ve been spinning a little more often the last couple weeks, polishing up some things I already know and adding in some variations. One night I was spinning around the poi in a forward rotation when I was suddenly very aware of the weight of the ball at the very end of the cord. It was in this sudden awareness and familiarity that I felt that I might be able to change it. I started to follow the poi circle with a circle with my hand, and an isolation was born. It wasn’t pretty, but it was there. It was amazing how it just showed up. I wasn’t even planning to work on it.
My challenge now is getting the timing down so the poi doesn’t fall out of rotation. The cord must still be pulled taught with momentum, so it will take some practice. I am so excited to finally be able to work on this. I guess as you get used to the nature of a prop, things start coming more naturally.
February 11, 2010 § Leave a comment
I am really looking forward to attending TribalCon again this year. This will be my third year. The classes are diverse and educational, and my troupe has some really fun things planned for our performance.
I am especially looking forward to Asharah’s class on the legacy of Salimpour technique in Tribal Belly Dance. She will talk about how Tribal came to be and about the roots of the American Tribal Style dance moves. This should be very interesting. I enjoyed Asharah’s ticking class last year and am looking forward to seeing what else she has in her arsenal.
I am also looking forward to taking Megha’s dynamic fades workshop. I wonder if there will be new fade moves or just reviews and clarifications of the current ones. The class description specifically said we would be reviewing the ASWAT (Arabic Shimmy with Arms and Turn) which I learned in a TribalCon workshop two years ago. Whether there is new material or not, it is always interesting and valuable to take classes from other ATS instructors and see how they break things down.
I am sad I will not be attending the entire weekend because I will be missing the workshops taught by Donna Mejia. I loved her classes last year and think she is an absolutely amazing woman and beautiful dancer. Oh well, hopefully I will have an opportunity to take classes with her again one day.
As always, I am really looking forward to the Friday night hafla, which is such a blast!, and the never-disappointing Saturday night show!
This is the host troupe, Awalim, performing at the Saturday show in 2008:
Only two more weeks!
January 20, 2010 § Leave a comment
I tried hooping a couple weeks ago. One of the other dancers in my troupe brought her new hoops to our Christmas party and taught us a couple tricks. It was really fun. I can see why people get into hoop dancing.
I was surprised to learn that the circular movement we all made with our hips when we hula hooped as kids is unnecessary. You actually just have to shift your weight back and forth with the rotation, which is also what makes the dancing part of hoop dancing easier to work in.
Hooping was a little more violent than I expected. It looks like it would be so gentle, but sometimes you can actually hear the hoop smacking against the hooper if you’re close enough to them. I guess it’s not uncommon for people to get bruises when they’re first learning. I hooped for about 45 minutes and walked away with just a tender spot right above my belly button and a hoop-width bruise on my thigh. I could tell it was really working my core muscles and it was very fun, so I’d say it’s worth the occasional bump or bruise. And as my poi teacher used to say, every time you hit yourself, you learn something.
In a way, hooping is like spinning poi. You have to watch the rotation and initiate other moves/tricks at certain points. I found turning with the hoop to be very easy. I was able to turn within one rotation or within multiple rotations. That was my favorite trick I learned because it really felt like dancing. We learned the lasso which is where you pull the hoop from your waist to overhead, rotating it on your hand. This was pretty challenging. We also learned to change the plane of the waist rotation, leaning forward or back (I can’t remember the names of these). That was fun and not as challenging as the lasso.
I can absolutely see the appeal of the hoop. It’s great exercise, challenging and fun, and of course there’s a high “cool” factor. I don’t plan on pursuing hoop right now, mostly because I lack the free time, but I can see myself getting into it one day.