June 3, 2012 § 3 Comments
Isis Wings! They are fun, flowing and flashy!
It is difficult to find information on the origin of Isis Wings. The Dancers of the Desert write on their website “in doing research on Wings of Isis I found that there is no specific history on Isis wings. They started in Las Vegas [as] a prop used by show girls, and I am assuming, because of their similarity to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of love, fertility (She is depicted usually as a kneeling lady with wings), got their name…It is an American prop and does not fall into traditional Middle Eastern dance, but was developed with so many other props, into the middle Eastern art of belly dancing.”
There is this video on YouTube circa 1895 which was the first hand-painted movie. The props used are not Isis Wings, the description says they are veils (obviously attached to sticks), but the effect is rather Isis Wings-esque.
No matter where Isis Wings came from, they certainly awe audiences and capture the imagination. Sometimes they remind people of other, often-whimsical things.
One person told me this prop reminds them of the artificial swallowtail butterfly developed by researches to study how these beautiful and oddly proportioned insects stay in flight:
A spectator at one of Lumani‘s shows saw these…
…and thought them reminiscent of this popular caped crusader:
Personally, Isis Wings make me think of this:
Less whimsical, but this deadly Jurassic Park dino comes to mind every time.
Like everything, Isis Wings get reinvented with new technology. Behold! Some really cool LED Isis Wings!
After seeing this video, Princess Farhana said on twitter “WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! that was better than being a kid at Disneyland’s Electric parade!!!!”
Do Isis Wings remind you of anything?
April 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
I don’t usually choreograph my solos. I “tried” many times over the years, but was unsuccessful. I tried choreographing by dancing through a song, but couldn’t remember what I’d done. Or I came up with a set of moves for one phrase, but couldn’t come up with anything for the rest. Or I listened to a song and imagined how I would dance, but these images didn’t translate easily to reality.
Honestly, I think I lacked patience and confidence in my choices. I wasn’t ready to choreograph. Creating something definite was too much pressure. If I improvised, I didn’t have to worry about forgetting my choreography. Sometimes I worried about not knowing what was next, but I had no choice but to commit and keep dancing. It seemed less stressful. I love the freedom of improvisation. It’s so honest and genuine. However, both improvisation and choreography are important skills and lend themselves well to different circumstances.
A couple months ago, I signed up for a 3-5 minute solo at Amaya’s Oriental Potpourri. I wanted to challenge myself with an Oriental belly dance choreography. I picked a piece of music that seemed like it would be challenging to improvise to. After working on it obsessively, I am pleased with how it turned out.
Here is the process I went through:
1) I listened to the song over and over and over again. I wrote notes about the sections. How are they different? What is their feel? Should that section be fast? Staccato? Melodic? Traveling? In place?
2) I broke down the song by section and count. I wrote things like “Intro-32 counts” and “Call and Answer-16 counts.” Then I wrote general notes about what I saw for each section, such as “traveling,” “undulations,” “layering,” “shimmies.”
3) I listened to one section at a time, and then one phrase at a time. I visualized dancing. I kept listening until I had an idea I really liked, then I wrote it down. If I couldn’t get an idea for something, I skipped it and came back to it later with the question, “what does the dance still need?” As the dance developed, I made sure there was enough variation in floor patterns, traveling, staying still, leveling, etc. I didn’t want my dance to look stagnant and I wanted it to reflect the changes in the music. I also made sure there was some repetition so the dance was cohesive.
4) Once I had a combo written down, I tried it. I sang each part to myself as I slowly went through the moves. Some things worked and some didn’t. Some phrases needed a little refinement while some had to be entirely reworked. It was a process. Once I had something solid, I tried it with the music.
5) When I finished choreographing, it was time for memorization. I kept my notes nearby and practiced transitioning from one section to the next. This took awhile. It was the same process as learning someone else’s choreography.
6) Once it was memorized, I focused on musical expression. I listened to the music very closely and adjusted moves to reflect the sound. I tried to really dance it.
7) Practice, practice, practice.
This is the process that worked for me. I put together my 3-and-a -half minute solo in about a week and a half. I worked on it everywhere I could; every free second I got. At home, at school, at work, at the laundry mat…Once I started, it was hard to stop. It was a labor of love.
Here is the finished product:
What is your choreography process? Do you have any tips to share?
March 14, 2012 § 3 Comments
I have re-immersed myself in dancing. It was really easy. I love how it seems no matter where I go, there is a flourishing and welcoming belly dance community. I went to a Farfesha student show and started taking classes at their studio shortly after. I signed up for an eight-week course with some American Tribal Style dancers who got their start at the same Santa Fe studio I did. I introduced myself after the first class and we talked a bit. After the second class, they invited me to join their troupe, The Desert Darlings! So how about that; I thought I would be stepping back from the tribal community, something I have thought before, yet it always seems to find a place for me. I guess it’s meant to be. And the Desert Darlings are, well, darling! I am still pursuing Oriental belly dance in my self-practice and will soon be seeking a weekly class.
Last month, I attended Oriental Potpourri, an annual event put on by Amaya. It was wonderful! The guest teacher was Karim Nagi of Turbo Tabla who is amazing! I took a Drum Solo and a Raks Assaya (cane) workshop. It was educational and inspiring! If you ever have the chance to take workshops with Karim, do it! If I had the means, I might travel all over the world taking his workshops. I would learn so much! He has published some DVDs and sells them at a discount to his workshop students. I haven’t gotten to watch mine yet, but I will post about them when I do.
Karim’s workshops got me thinking about some things. First of all, I now realize how important it is to call the traditional dances by their proper names to credit the Egyptians. Going forward, when doing these styles I will do my best to honor them with their true names. I will still call tribal style “belly dance” because it is so Americanized, and I will use “belly dance” as a catchall phrase since I don’t strictly do classical styles.
Second, I now know that I love Raks Assaya! I had never danced with a cane before, and it was so much fun! I already knew that the women’s style of dance came from playfully teasing the men who do Tahtib (an ancient martial art form using a large stick, an assaya), but hearing Karim’s description made it so much more fun! I want to buy a cane, but I have to do some research first because I don’t yet know what I’m looking for in this prop. If anyone has any pointers, they would be much appreciated!
I also learned some very valuable tips for drum solos, like separating the location of accents in the body to reflect different sounds on the drum, and I performed in a show for friends and family of Oriental Potpourri participants. I did my first ever, completely choreographed, non-Tribal solo. It was really fun and a great experience. I will post a video soon.
February 2, 2012 § 2 Comments
I just watched my Combination Nation 3 DVD from Cheeky Girls. Like all the DVDs I’ve bought from them, I love it! Cheeky Girls always chooses very high quality instructors. Combination Nation 3 is the first of the Combination Nations I have purchased.
I read in Aleksie’s review of Combination Nation Volume 1 that the same music is repeated a lot, so while it is interesting to see how different people interpret the same music, it gets a little old by the end. Since I haven’t seen the first I can’t compare the two, but I think this volume uses a good variety of music with a great variety of dance styles to go with it. There is some Modern Egyptian, Turkish Oriental with zill option, Classical Egyptian, Jazz-inspired Modern Belly Dance, Flamenco, Indian, and Samba-flavored pieces. There’s every thing from fast to slow, lyrical to rhythmic, old school to modern. This DVD is very well-rounded. Several combinations are quite challenging (ahem, Ruby–whom I love!) and I will have to go back to them before I can really get them down, but to me that is a sign of money well spent. If I can already do everything on a DVD, it was a waste of money. I want to learn new things! I also really enjoy compilation DVDs like these that involve several dancers because you get introduced to people you may not have seen before (and their websites!) and if they have other instructional DVDs, it’s like a little preview. You can get an idea of their teaching style and whether or not it’s what you’re looking for before you commit to buying their DVD.
This DVD starts out, for the most part, with faster, more upbeat combinations and winds down to slower, simpler ones. This makes sense to me because if you choose to go through the whole thing in one practice session, you will probably be exhausted by the end. It’s also conveniently organized into chapters by instructor, breakdown and practice session, so if you choose to do it in bits and pieces, or integrate just parts into your regular practice, it’s easy to do. There are three performances at the end, which I enjoy watching while I cool down and stretch.
I highly recommend this DVD, especially for intermediate to advanced dancers. I think anyone can take away something from every combination, whether you dance in the instructor’s particular style or not. It is full of great ideas that can be adapted and personalized for your own dance.
As always, great job Cheeky Girls!
January 27, 2012 § 10 Comments
My life has become a bit hectic as of late, as I have recently moved and am taking a new direction. I have returned to college to study biology (with a dance minor), with my eye on a career in physical therapy. I am still working a day job and trying to figure out how I would like to enter my new dance community, all while maintaining a home life–the kinds of things we all must figure out how to balance. When faced with less time and money to do all the things I want to do, I have had to figure out what it is I really want. I would love to take multiple belly dance classes every week, a hoop class, join the local college juggling club to meet and practice with poi spinners, and maybe even play clarinet in some sort of band again. I even considered joining the college marching band, because, hey, it was fun the first time around! But alas, I have realized that accomplishing all those things in my daily life would simply be impossible. I have been faced with the decision of picking an artistic direction, which will really make a person realize what they love. I am most passionate about belly dance so, belly dance it is! I will continue indulging in my other hobbies here and there for fun, but I won’t be investing in classes at this time.
While figuring out what dance classes I can afford and fit in my schedule, I have also had to decide what direction to take within belly dance, being the large genre it is. I think I have settled on taking Oriental classes a couple times a week and focusing on daily self-practice. This means I will be stepping back from the Tribal Community for the time being. This was a tough decision, but there aren’t many, American Tribal Style classes in Albuquerque. There are some that are just Tribal, which I think are more along the lines of Improvised Tribal Style. ITS is like ATS, using the same improvisational structure, but with mostly different foundational moves. I can’t be sure if that’s true until I take some of their classes, but this semester, my school schedule conflicts with the classes I’ve found. For now, I will continue staying sharp in my ATS with self-practice, and make a return to Tribal in a community setting in the (hopefully not too far off) future.
I need to develop my Oriental side of belly dance more anyway. I long for it, the refined feminine movements, it’s grace and beauty, it’s expressiveness and freedom of movement. I should focus more on developing my skills as a soloist as well, and Oriental style is great for that.
One day I will return to teaching. It is definitely on my agenda, but I don’t have the time or energy to start up a new program. It takes a lot of self-promotion and a lot of patience to get steady student enrollment, and that is just not something I can invest in right now. I need to focus on my day job career goals first. Long-term, I hope to be a great physical therapist, dance teacher, solo performer and troupe dancer.
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.
November 2, 2010 § Leave a comment
I’m sure there will be some disappointed people who find this post in their search results, but I’m not talking about that kind of cross-dressing. I’m talking about Tribal ladies gone Cabaret! And back again! And vice versa! While many people lean toward one belly dance genre or another, I am an equal-opportunity shimmyer. An ATS girl with Cabaret in my heart.
And truth be told, I could use a little more Cabaret in my life. I long for sparkly, sequined, hair-swinging, even sometimes down right cute, Oriental style. That’s right! Cute! I said it. (Just so you know, there’s no cute allowed in ATS!) Sometimes I just want some big, lyrical freedom; to let my hair down, my arms relax and let out a big, sweeping, ooey-gooey, horizontal hip circle. Maybe even complete with an adorable, feminine arm position; one hand to the head, one on the hip, accented with a hip-wiggling, psoas-engaging jewel.
I subbed for a couple of basic belly dance classes a couple weeks ago and I made the students do incredibly adorable things. And I enjoyed it! Some of my ATS students were in these classes and joked that the other teachers would come back from vacation and say, “what happened to Jade?!”
Well now everyone knows. Your ATS teacher is a Cabaret lover. This is also a huge motivator for me to do more solos. I need an opportunity for feminine. I need an avenue for cute.
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.