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.

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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.

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.

Spirit of the Tribes 10!

October 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

(My belated Spirit of the Tribes post…)

I went to Spirit of the Tribes in Ft Lauderdale, FL for Memorial Day weekend. It’s quite a drive from North Alabama. 14-16 hours. The drive was good, though. I drove with some troupe mates so there was a lot of bonding time. And I saw a couple of amusing things such as this

These are so tacky they’re awesome!

and this

Someone has a thick accent…

It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Florida. It is very hot and humid, but very green and pretty. One thing I forgot though, Florida kind of smells. Not intolerably, but it has a very distinct smell. I think it’s all the swamps.

Anyway, we arrived at Spirit Monday morning after driving the whole previous day and only stopping for about 4 or 5 hours sleep the previous night at a friend’s farm. We arrived just in time for classes to start.

My very first class was with Unmata, who I love! Though I’ve seen them perform many times, this was the first time I actually got to take a workshop with them. It was fun and fast paced. We learned a high speed (of course!) combo that is very different from styles I have done previously. It was a good class, but it is very hard to keep up with Unmata when you’ve only had a few hours sleep! Somehow, I held on and made it through the whole workshop.

Next, I took a Belly Baile combos workshop with my first teacher, Myra Krien. It was really great to be back in her class and I still find it very easy to follow her. Her teaching style and body movements are still so familiar. Belly Baile is not what she taught when I took classes from her. This is her own unique fusion dance style that is a beautiful and artful combination of the various dance forms she has learned over many years. The combos have texture and are very beautiful. She sells a DVD on her website with the combos. I definitely recommend it.

The second day, I took a workshop from Devyani about favorite ATS combos. Their classes are always good. Megha is a very precise teacher. This is the third or fourth workshop I have taken from them. I got some cue subtleties cleared up. The difficult thing for me in ATS workshops at big events like these is there are always a lot of people who are not very familiar with ATS, and it’s a little hard for them to get the combos and ideas. Not that I would discourage beginners from taking the workshops. It’s just hard to work through the exercises when someone in the group doesn’t already know the basic concepts of ATS. I still always learn something, though.

After the Devyani workshop, I took a class in pops, locks, and layering with Kaya. I thought Sadie was supposed to be at the event as well, but for some reason it ended up just being Kaya. This was perhaps my favorite workshop of the event. It was challenging and a great workout. I have never gotten such a focused oblique workout. That night and the next day, my obliques were very sore.  Just the obliques, not all my abs. Not any other part of my body. Just the sides of my torso. So, the drills really isolated the obliques. Kaya told me twice during the workshop that I was doing a good job. It was one of the highlights of my trip!

The last day of the event, I took a workshop on Romani Gypsy style with Artemis Mourat. This was my second workshop with her. I love the Romani Style. It is actually not really intended to be performed, but is just the dance of the people. It’s less flashy than some other styles. Artemis said on a scale of intensity, if Oriental belly dance is a 10, Romani Gypsy style is a 6. She said she thinks people should be careful when saying they are doing a “Gypsy” belly dance piece if they’ve never actually learned anything about real Gypsy dance. She said, just because you have a big skirt doesn’t make it authentic. You could call it your Gypsy-inspired piece, but learn about the real style before you call it a Gypsy dance. I love Artemis and her workshops, but I still feel oh so white when I try to dance like her.

Finally, my last class was with Dalia Carella, who is just delightful. The class was an El Mundo fusion dance class. It was a very fun style with a lot of Latin influence. Lots of sassy skirt work. The dancing was flirty and spicy.  It brought me visions of life in the tropics and made me wish I lived in a culture that danced more.  It was a perfect end to my Spirit workshop experience.

There was a great vending area of course. I didn’t buy anything. The one costume piece I was looking for was a skirt to wear with my bedlah for Oriental belly dance. A fusion festival is apparently not the place to find a bunch of those.

There was a show every night. It was a showcase of various levels of skill and styles from all over. Some of my favorite performances were by Anasma, Beat Box Guitar, Danyavaad, Nanda Najla, and Shakra Dance Company. The shows were full and entertaining. They were also expensive. $35 per show. If I hadn’t been working at my dance teacher’s vending booth in exchange for tickets to the shows, I wouldn’t have gone to every one. I would rather spend more money on workshops, which were actually cheaper than the shows.

Lumani post-performance

My troupe performed Sunday night. We closed the show. The performance went well. The Sunday night audience was smaller than Friday and Saturday, but it was a good crowd. I didn’t like that there was no outside photography or video. So if you want pictures or video of your performance, you have to buy them from the professionals. I will not buy any, myself. I just disagree with the idea. I understand why you can’t just video tape the whole show, and requesting no flash photography, but no snapshots? Sure, if a professional photographer takes an absolutely beautiful picture and it’s a must have, I’d pay for it. But I disagree with being forced to buy them. Besides, I’m a performer. I have plenty of pictures of me performing, many of which have been for free or for trade.

On another note, when I read the description of the event and the hotel on the website, I was under the impression the hotel was within walking distance of the event hall. It was not. So, if you plan on attending Spirit, plan to carpool or rent a car.

The most fun I had at the event was hanging out with my troupe. There was a lot of bonding and a trip to the beach. It was great fun. And I was so happy to get to take a dip in an oil-free part of the ocean. I love beach frolicking!

Hoop Dancing, Belly Dancing and Public Perception

September 26, 2010 § 1 Comment

I have been getting a little more into hoop dancing lately. I have taken a workshop and now own a hula hoop. It is so much fun!

I was talking with a fellow belly dancer who is now also hooping about hooping vs. belly dancing the other day. We have both been belly dancing about the same amount of time (her ten years, me nine). We were discussing how one of the great things about hooping is that you don’t have to worry about having to explain it to people, having to educate people, or having people get the wrong idea.

With belly dance, you have to be careful about how it’s presented and in what venue. There are so many incorrect or negative preconceived notions about what belly dancing is about and what the intentions of the dancers are. It is often stereotyped as a dance of morally loose women or a dance of seduction and sexuality akin to stripping.  Belly dancers often struggle with the way the general public perceives them and the art form. Sadly, many belly dancers don’t share the fact that they belly dance with people in other parts of their lives because they fear the reaction.

With hula hooping, everyone knows what it is. No one will see a hula hooper and react with “what the heck are they doing? They are amazingly keeping this big, circular thing rotating around their body!  How crazy!”  Everyone knows what a hula hoop is, what it’s used for and there aren’t general negative ideas about it. It would be gladly accepted at any venue. Someone could even do a provocative dance with a hoop, and it won’t make anyone think all hoop dancers are loose, because the hula hoop image is already established in our culture.

It presents a very nice sense of freedom that is not always there with belly dance. I can feel more relaxed about it. And never worry about what someone might think.

ATS: If It’s Not Right, Is It Wrong?

May 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

American Tribal Style Belly Dance is a right side dominant dance form by design. The dancers are always turned slightly so their right side is more visible to the audience. Some moves, such as the Basic Egyptian, are very symmetrical so the two sides of the body are worked evenly. Other moves are not symmetrical such as the choo-choo, a hip bump that is always done with a weighted left leg and unweighted right leg and the right oblique working more than the left. Another is the Arabic Undulation, always done with the right foot in front. I am not sure that this is the healthiest thing for the body. I don’t know of any other dance form that works one side of the body more than the other. You wouldn’t go to the gym and lift weights with only your right arm, so why would we dance in a way that works out the right side more than the left?

I was lucky to begin my dancing with Myra Krien who is also an Oriental Style trained belly dancer and had thought it was not healthy to dance this way. She had designed a way to switch sides so we could also do ATS left side dominant. I still use this technique in my dancing today. Most students are right-handed so the right side is more comfortable for them, but it is important to get an even workout.

When I began ATS, my class would do what was easiest and dance on the right more. Later that year, I was injured while playing soccer in my high school P.E. class. I saw multiple doctors to help me through different stages of my healing. I saw an orthopedic doctor who said one of the problems was that my pelvis popped out of place and he sent me to physical therapy. Another doctor I saw was a cranial sacral specialist. He told me that the muscles in my sacrum were not equal in strength and it was causing my hips and pelvis to twist to one side. I told him about the style of belly dance I was studying and told him we end up dancing more on one side than the other. He told me I should work on building up the muscles on the other side, even if it was just during practice at home. After I told Myra about this, she was much more strict about making us practice both sides equally. Now that I am teaching ATS, I teach both the right and left side as it was taught to me and make my students practice evenly in class.

I believe the ATS community should adopt a more evenly strengthening approach to the dance. I have heard that Carolena Nerricio, who developed the dance form, is an avid gym visitor, so perhaps she builds her muscles evenly enough in other forms of exercise that it does not have adverse effects on her body like it did mine. A lot of people use dance as one of their main forms of exercise and do not have the time or motivation to get in as much gym time, so I think it is important that we workout evenly in dance class.

Adding left-sided ATS is actually quite easy and does not have to interrupt the improvisational choreography. What my teacher had come up with were a couple of moves based on the existing vocabulary that could cue a switch to the left. The transitions are really quite seamless. When dancing on the left, we use the same vocabulary and formations as on the right, only mirrored. This can be done when dancing to fast or slow music.

Here is a video of me and my students dancing at Panoply this year. The first song is performed by my ATS Basics students, with me leading them on the right (the traditional ATS way). The second, slower song is performed by two of my ATS Beyond Basics students on the right. I join them for the final, faster song and lead them into dancing on the left.  (The switch happens at 4:37.)

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