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.

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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!

American Belly Dance: Tribal Versus Cabaret

March 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Recently I was at a hafla at my dance studio and someone asked if she could start coming to my ATS classes. I said of course she could and told her what to bring and what to expect about the class structure and dance style. I explained how it would be different from other styles of belly dance.

This got me thinking about the notorious battle between Tribal and Cabaret. I personally love all styles of belly dance and know many other dancers that do as well, but it’s still there and talked about often enough in the belly dance community. It occurred to me that in ways American Tribal Style really is the antithesis of American Cabaret.

For example, I was talking about how she should bring zills with her to class, but explained that the zill patterns are coupled with particular dance moves, not specifically what rhythm the drum is playing. We learn the moves specific to ATS, a particular way to execute them, and the cue for each. We learn to dance in synchronization without a choreography.

With Cabaret, the zills usually reflect or play off of the drum rhythms and may be layered over any dance move. There are endless variations for each move and group pieces are usually choreographed.

Tribal dances are often beat driven; Cabaret tends to spend more time on the melody.

Tribal is earthy; Cabaret is airy.

Tribal is dark; Cabaret is light.

Tribal: coins and cotton, Cabaret: sequins and chiffon.

A Shimmy Progressive

September 19, 2008 § 2 Comments

Dance classes are going really well finally.  I feel like I’ve really improved as a teacher, just in the fact that I’m now comfortable teaching. I actually have several students who come to class regularly.  This is a major improvement. And we are set to have our next performance at the end of October.

The dilemma I’m still facing, however, is time management.  How do you fit everything into an hour long class?  I still haven’t figured it out.  I’ve finally just succumb to the fact that I have to sacrifice something every week and prioritize what is really necessary to ensure we are in the best position to progress.

This week, I had to sacrifice the entire slow section to give a major zill break down intensive.  I hate to do it.  I feel like the slow family of movements already gets neglected as it is, but I really felt like the zill thing had to be done now before we got too far without them and then have to re-learn everything with them.  I promised to pay extra attention to the slow family of moves next week to make up for it.

So my class plan from now on, warm-up (always with shimmy practice, because you always need shimmy practice), one fast move breakdown and drilling, fast move vocabulary practice (revisiting things we’ve already covered) now with zills, one slow move breakdown and drilling, slow move vocabulary practice, and cool-down and stretching.  As soon as the zills come together more, the vocabulary practice sections of the class will also become leading and following practice sections.

So I will keep sacrificing things when it’s necessary to break something down in more detail and then keep building a more complexly structured dance class. Which makes sense because American Tribal Style is a complex dance form.  Like my teacher used to say, it’s like learning to drive a standard while talking on the phone, drinking a soda, putting on mascara and changing the radio.

Only prettier.

Spontaneous Pictures

May 7, 2008 § Leave a comment

The nice thing about performing at spontaneous events like festivals is they’re fun! The bad thing, sometimes people have cameras and get pictures of you being, well, spontaneous.  But this can also be amusing. Take these belated Alabama Renaissance Fair photos of my dance troupe:

That’s me in the green skirt. What am I….looking…at?  I couldn’t tell you. No idea.

And what are we doing here?  That’s Liz in the red skirt and Danielle in the yellow.  At first glance you might think we’re dancing….but I don’t think so…Is Liz telling me to do something? And I’m trying to follow directions and am, um, unsure? amused? Am I just trying something? Danielle seems to think it’s funny.  So, uh, what were we doing? At least we look like we’re having fun.

And this is my favorite.  Clearly, Lisa is introducing us, but look at the face I’m making.  “Huh?  WTF?”  Even better, Joe, the drummer behind me in the red hat is…punching his fist in his hand? What the hell? Were we about to dance or kick some ass?

But sometimes the random photos can be good; the kind of photos you hope are taken when you’re performing.

We can just pretend I always look about like this when I’m on stage.  At all times.  I like that.

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