Monday, March 18, 2013

Workshop Review: Riskallah Ryad

Riskallah Ryad One Day Workshop, Waltham, MA. March 17, 2013, Sponsored by Phaedra.
WARNING music plays when you open this website.

1. Location: Moody Street Circus, 397 Moody Street, 2nd Floor, Waltham, MA 02453
Telephone: (781) 893-2491, contact email:
Melina’s studio is a lovely, welcoming space. I’m not sure how to get there on public transportation, but it’s quite easy in a car. There are public parking lots so it’s relatively easy to park. The studio itself is large and sunny, with some spaces where it’s easy to toss your gear and keep it out of the way. Melina also has some offerings for sale, awesome vintage finds that are pretty difficult to find elsewhere. She is a lovely hostess, ensuring that things run in a timely manner and working the sound system. In this space, you know that it’s for hard work, but also many laughs and smiles.

2. Studio: A Proper Dance Studio. Good hard wood floors at the front, excellent mirrors to “love yourself” as a workshop participant put it yesterday. The back part of the room has carpeting, so wear dance shoes if you’ll be coming here for a popularly attended workshop. I’m not really sure how many people it would hold. The times I’ve been, I’ve either been gabbing with friends, or paying attention so didn’t really get the opportunity to do a count. All of the workshops that I’ve taken there have been full, so didn’t get a headcount. Melina IS the staff, so you are treated graciously from start to finish
3. Timing: as in starting and ending, perfect. While not a harsh taskmaster (but a very consistent, firm one) Riskallah started on time and kept on track, even when tempted by an interesting question (always the sign of a good teacher) to segue into something else. No complaints, whatsoever. I have a pet peeve about timing, my own habitual tardiness notwithstanding. It's a lot easier to be the person who shows up late, than it is to be the organizer who causes people to feel like they're losing money because you charge for the hour and some of that is eaten up by the set up. The warm up was excellent. She did a full body warm up thoroughly ensuring that every part was warm and ready to work. After our lunch break, she repeated the warm up, although not as full as initially. I really appreciated this as the body does get cold and stiffer when you’ve sat around a bit.
4. Communication: Phaedra kept the community informed through the New England Belly Dance Calendar yahoo group run by Erzulie, and through the website Belly Dance New England managed by the inimitable Amy Smith. If you’re connected to these things in this area, you’ll get a pretty good idea of what’s happening through out. Most of the organizers here use these 2 resources to good effect.

5. The Teaching! Finally!: Riskallah’s style is an excellent demonstration of a more than competent teacher who is confident in both her material and her presentation of it.  

I very much enjoyed Riskallah’s style. In the first workshop, we worked on combinations and adding the unexpected into your performance to keep it interesting. There were a few exercises designed to spark some creative thought from the participants. I have to admit, I didn’t do very well there. Riskallah instructed us to “add something you’ve never done before” and I went *totally* blank. I couldn’t think of a single thing I hadn’t done in performance or practice.*
This is something, however, I will try to incorporate into my own dance and use this (subversively) when I attend shows and similar to try to *steal* glean inspiration for my own work.
I unfortunately had to leave before the end of the workshop, and chose to do so as she was starting to teach a choreography to Shik Shak Shok (which I love) and it was ADORABLE. At least the first combo’s I saw.
I carefully and unobtrusively made my way to the back of the room where my gear was and was putting on my socks in preparation to leave. Riskallah noticed that I wasn’t there (how did she do this? It’s a mystery. In a room full of women, she picked out just one who wasn’t there.) and came over to see if I was leaving. She had done this earlier as well, with a woman who had sat out a portion, to ensure that she was ok.
I see this as a sign of a teacher who cares about her students and wants to make sure they’re all ok.

6. What has it done for my dancing?: As noted above, I will be incorporating some of the techniques she talked about into my practice to make my performances more interesting, so obviously, the workshop delivered what it promised.

I loved the seemingly obvious in this workshop. An example was a combination as part of a larger choreography that she taught which incorporated a step she called a “karsilama”. Karsilama is a typically Turkish rhythm (9/8) which has some unique footwork associated with it. Riskallah incorporated a step from this typical Turkish rhythm into an Arabic styled choreography. It looked good, it worked with the music and was all around completely inspiring.
Why is it “seemingly obvious?” Well, although I’ve trained extensively in Turkish and American Cabaret, I would not have thought to put this step into an Arabic combination. Seriously, the rhythm and the sound are so different that it would never have occurred to me. 

7. Would I take another workshop from Riskallah?

Yeeeeeeessssssss! Also, she’s theoretically not too far from me.** In my list of teachers who I’d like to take private lessons from, she is certainly one of them.
And in my mythical free time, who knows? Maybe I can make it out to her a few times…

8. Additional thoughts about Riskallah as a teacher:

  1. Very warm and engaging

  1. She must be amazing to watch in performance. Her flair for drama and intensity comes across even in a short choreography

  1. She is down to earth and a fun teacher to take a class from.

More thoughts: I usually take notes during a workshop, often haphazardly. I used for the first time “A Belly Dance Journal” created byLauren “Zehara Hass. There is a section specifically for workshops where you can record “lightbulb moments” “to practice” “notes” and “people I met”. I really enjoyed using this to write my notes into AND the confidence of knowing that they wouldn’t get lost in my notebook since I take notes of EVERYTHING (including school and meetings at work) and don’t always have the right notebook on me. That’s when everything gets jumbled. It’s also when hoarding begins as then I’m afraid to get rid of anything that might have my precious workshop notes.

* except maybe incorporate the feeling of dalla that of being coy and flirtatious, something I feel highly stupid doing (to the despair of my primary teacher, Najmat, who pulls it out in every class and which I successfully ignore, maybe because she uses her hair for this, which if I allow it would take over my whole arm if I tried to pull a full strands forward. Can you imagine? The entire routine would devolve into a comedy skit of my trying to escape from my hair)

** In my perfect life, I’d hit the megabucks and would do nothing but take dance classes from amazing teachers. Sigh. Also, this tells you just how highly I rate this particular teacher.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Well, better late than never!

Back in August, I talked about doing a dvd companion project. I thought maybe a month or two would be enough time to really get into the meat of the dvd's, which it was.

What I neglected to take into account was the difficulty in finding sufficient time to write.

Also, y'all had ONE task. ONE. You were to nag me. Did you?


I'm quite pleased about that, so I'm not gonna bitch.

Too hard, anyway.

So today, Dear Reader, I'm neglecting my other stuff in order to at least START this damn project.

So the dvd's I selected were Karen Barbee's "Belly Dance Drillz and Intermediate Variations", and Jillina's Bellydance with Jillina, Vol. I, Entrance Choreography.

The thought was that I would use one DVD for training and see how that impacted my performance of the choreography.

I found this interesting to do, because I enjoy drilling for one thing, but also, I really wanted to see how they worked together.


So, let's try this and see how it goes, shall we?

Karen Barbee's intermediate drills and variations:

Format, it's a low budget* dvd, which features Karen talking into a mirror with her back to you (so you see both sides of her). She's dressed in work out clothes (tank top, sports bra and yoga pants) in a gym, it seems.

Karen is holding in her hand the remote control for the stereo which she uses to at will.

The dvd is roughly about 45 minutes long. A brief warm up and then it's down to business.

Karen uses the 8X8X8 method. 8 basic completions of a movement, say a hip circle, just like in class, front side back side, then smooths it out for 8 then full speed for 8.

In one section, she drills hip downs. Hip downs with 1 foot flat, the other on the ball. Then in a modified passe (both hips level, however and knee pointing front, arms raised), finally double hip downs on the working hip in a rock step


While you won't get a good cardio workout with this dvd, you WILL sweat, it's intense muscle work, so you will warm your core.

I like the variations with layering. In one section, you are... well, it's not a full shimmy, but very metered, oblique intense hip lifts on each side, while also raising and lowering your arms to a different count.

You can do this dvd without leaving a 3 square foot section.

I *like* this dvd. It's exactly what I reach for when I want to work on perfecting certain moves. 

Karen has amazing posture and range of motion, she is no nonsense, there is no messing about, you WILL drill.

I did this AFTER doing the drills above. I think I might have been better served to reverse the order. While Karen is all about precision and muscle isolation, Jillina is all about curves and fluidity. The two didn't really mix well together and I will refrain from reviewing this excellent dvd based on trying to do it after drilling.

I think this may actually serve as a HELLA warm up, and THEN drill. 

I'll try that this weekend and report back.

YOU should try it to and tell me if you agree with me! If you don't want to comment here, email me at

*low budget does NOT = cheap, low budget means that production costs were low and are in now way a comment on the content of the dvd

Sunday, August 5, 2012

In my ongoing attempts to avoid my chores

I've decided that I might, possibly, could be talked into the following:

Preface (cause I talk too much, so I need structure) I have eleventy billion, six hundred fifty thousand squintillion dvd's.* Mostly belly dance related, although I have a bunch of work out ones as well.

Issue 1: Many of them are still in their shrink wrapping, cause that's a lot of dvds.**

Issue 2: I'm a little lazy and need structure***

Idea: I'm thinking about doing an instructional(s) dvd monthly. One on drilling, and another choreography. At the end of the month, if it doesn't violate copyright, I like it, I'm not feeling fat and can tolerate the look of it on video, time allowing, the stars align AND I have chocolate, uploading a clip of the choreography with a review of both dvd's and whether the drilling / training or impeded the execution of the choreography.****

Need: people nagging me. that's pretty much all YOU'D have to do. *****

What do you think? Interesting? or a flop? How about bets on whether I can do it or not?

IF you think it's a go, this August's will be Karen Barbee's "Belly Dance Drillz and Intermediate Variations", for drills obviously (slightly cheating since I've done this already, but then again, it's the 5th) and Jillina's Bellydance with Jillina, Vol. I, Entrance Choreography.

I probably have enough dvd's do this for a few years, so think carefully :-D

*this may be an exaggeration. I'm not gonna count them, however
** that's NOT an exaggeration.
*** see preface
***** Oh, and read the posts AND ask questions.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Reviews: Streaming Video Title: Insider Secrets, Marketing Yourself

 I'd like to make this a regular part of my blog, since there is a never ending source of inspiration!

Artist/Instructor: Michelle Joyce
Producer: Cheeky Girls Productions, exclusively for www.
Length: Approximately 2 hours

What you’re supposed to be learning, from “Description: In this exclusive online seminar Michelle talks about how to push your dance career to the next level. So if you can already bellydance and want out "bust out of your local bubble" and be seen on the international stage, this is the workshop for you. This workshop covers…”


This workshop covers a lot of ground. An amazing amount of ground. So much ground, you might want to consider transportation to get to the other side.

The topics covered range from webpage design and content, tips for modeling, including an interview with the fabulous Michael Baxter, my brother from another mother., networking, how to use social media, dvd production and how to’s, and rounds it all out with a demo of a professional makeup application.

In other words, it should have been titled “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Doing Everything As a Professional BellyDancer, Including Some Mild Swearing”

But that would be too long.

I watched this on This is an amazing website where you can pay a small fee and watch bellydance instructional dvd’s (and presumably you would actually do the “class” so to speak).

I watched this in one sitting. There is so much content in this production that you really must take it in chunks. Two hours is a long time to watch, but a short time to try to absorb the tips and tricks that Michelle presents.

What I liked:

The content is fabulous. Michelle initially talks about a concept, for example, professional photographs. In her characteristic attention to detail, Michelle starts out by discussing HOW to hire a dance photographer, including what to look for when you are purchasing your images. There are tips for how to use lighting, what is flattering, what is not, and even a photoshop demonstration on how to improve a fairly good photograph to a great one.

Who doesn’t like that?

The topics covered go on from there to webpage, youtube tutorials, what to pay attention to in video tapes, tips on getting the best view, what a reviewer or a potential workshop sponsor might be looking for, to how to conduct your workshop so you get asked back…

There is a TON of content, well worth the rental fee for all the information that you get from it.

It’s not so much like watching a dvd, more as if you were in a deep conversation with your mentor who is teaching you how to get ahead in this  very specialized niche market.

Michelle as an instructor is funny, expressive, honest, down to earth and blunt. One of the things that I really appreciated about the many of the tips for using social media (and I can think of a few people who could use this info) is on not only how to use the various opportunities you have for marketing effectively, but also how to give back to the community.

Michelle demonstrates her desire to give back to the community by concretely providing not only the tips and tricks designed to help you to effectively market yourself, but also providing real resources to support your endeavors by way of web sites, youtube video and even some free stuff you can download.

I’m not going to give away all of her giveaways, I want you to go watch this so that she can make more :-)

Tips to maximizing your rental, watch in full screen. If you’re like me, you may take the time when you’re watching something like this to bead, draw, something to keep your hands busy. You’ll miss out if you do this with this title. Michelle demonstrates, on screen, things you’ll want to watch.

The rental is broken up into chunks. You may benefit more from watching each section at a time, rather than watching them all together. Unless you have a photographic memory, if so, have at it.

Why you should watch this: you will come away with a better understanding of this market. You may be able to maximize your experiences in workshops and seminars to create more opportunities for yourself. You get to hear Michelle swear. What’s not to like?

Friday, March 2, 2012

On Energy

“Please take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.”
~Jill Bolte Taylor

I just read that quote on a friends status update.

It inspired a thought (brace yourselves!)

When you’re an introvert, as I am. And shy, as I am (shut up! I know! Doesn’t mean I’m not shy!)

This can be a difficult concept to grasp. As an introvert, often we are unaware of the impact that our presence has on the world around us.

I’m typically a quiet person who hangs out in the back, I don’t draw a lot of attention to myself and try to stay our of people’s way. So I usually think people are unaware of me.

In a classroom setting, a studio setting, or anywhere that I am NOT the center of attention, you know, being Jemileh, I think I’m pretty much invisible.

I was very profoundly touched by the friends who have come around, who did indeed notice me and who cared about me in my darkest days.

In any case, one day about a year ago or so, when I was more in control of my emotions and able to interact more or less in what had become my new normal, I went to a day long training.

On my way to that training, I accidentally erased the very last message that my partner had left on my cell phone. I had faithfully kept this message and listened to it whenever I needed to hear his voice.

I had a major meltdown. I was sobbing hysterically as I called T-mobile and begged them to restore the message (they couldn’t) until the operator who tried to help me was also in tears.

I continued into my training, an interactive one where the trainees were people who worked with those with brain injuries as well as people who were hired to present them with services.

I tried to stay in the back. I had to share a table with a gentleman who had previously had a normal lifem until an electrical accident at work had caused him to lose consciousness and hit his head, leaving him with a significant brain injury from which he would never regain his normal level of functioning.

So I’m sitting around, struggling with how to manage my renewed feelings of loss and how to continue my day, let alone my life and this man, who had lost his wife, his child, his home, his job and everything that he felt had made him who he was, spent several hours trying to cheer me up.

Imagine that.

I’d like to say that I looked at myself and was adult enough and unselfish enough to reward this person’s kindness.

No. I’m still me, even staring in the face of my own limitations.

I was not cheered. His ability to be cheerful in the face of his own loss was not inspiring to me. I was too sunk in the morass of my own pain and loss.

I finished my training, of which I learned not a thing, and went back to work.

I walked into an office, where there was laughter and people were cheerfully doing their work and it was like a lead bomb.

I headed into my corner, and started my day.

Where before there was lightness and joy, darkness now reigned.

Boy, I can be melodramatic.

Anyway, people went back to work, but there was no lightness, there was dragging to the day. My supervisor pulled me aside and asked me what was wrong.

I told her, and her response was why did I come into work? Why hadn’t I taken the rest of the day off?

My response was that just because I was miserable didn’t mean that I couldn’t work, after all, I had been doing that since M had passed away.

She asked me why hadn’t I thought about what I was doing to the rest of the team? That it had been a difficult couple of months for the group and had taken a great deal of effort for people to come to some sort of equilibrium.

I was stunned, why didn’t people understand my pain? Why didn’t they take that into account? And for an introvert, dude, I was stunned that *my* pain would be enough to bring the whole office down and that they wouldn’t be able to ignore me.

I try not to be selfish and to consider how my actions impact others, but being told, and reprimanded no less, about my *energy* was stunning to me.

So. No real deepness to this post, just as light occasionally dawns on Marblehead, this quote, randomly seen on Facebook, has helped me to *get* this concept.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the Sisterhood of Dance

I wrote the following post in February 2007.

I re-read it this morning and it still seems relevant. Mind you, this particular post was not inspired by anyone in particular, but was the build up of a "slow burn" so to speak, of things I had observed and thoughts I had in general. I've edited and dusted and brushed it off for public consumption. You're welcome.

This may annoy some of you, this may make you nod in agreement. What I *hope* it does, if anything, is make you (the generic you, obviously) think about your community and how you contribute to it.

I'm blessed that my community is filled with supportive and loving people.

Oh, I've always been opinionated. Shocking. I know.


On the "Sisterhood"

I've been ruminating on this. Being a professional dancer is a business. As a business, you have competition. How does this fit in with the "sisterhood"? It doesn't. Emotions have no place in making solid business decisions. You cannot judge people by their intentions, intentions are useless. You must judge people by their behavior. If their behavior is shady, so might their business practices. If I have a gig, that I have researched, worked on, juggled, scheduled, come to terms with, in other words, developed, and someone comes in and offers to dance for less? That's shady, unethical and even worse,   poor business practice that will ultimately sabotage the market for EVERYONE.

Consider this, in the Boston area, the going rate for a restaurant gig has been the same since what, 2005? In every other industry, prices have increased.
If nothing else, consider that even your mascara is more expensive, are you working for the same wage? or are you in effect working for, what, 25% less than you did 5 years ago?

If you have approached someone else's gig, and offered to dance for less than the dancer who regularly perfoms there, you are unprofessional. And you know what? That sort of stuff comes back to you.

If you teach without having learned anything about HOW to teach, about anatomy and how to protect your students until they are able to move themselves safely and are in to make yourself feel good, you are unprofessional and unethical, because you can HURT people.

If you don't wear a proper costume*,  you are unprofessional.

If you can't be bothered to take classes, workshops (or practice) to improve your technique, you will not get better and are at risk of isolating yourself from the rest of the dance community.

Note how I did not mention the "sisterhood".

Let us explore the "sisterhood".

My complaint is not with the "sisterhood", my complaint is with disingenuous behavior that some dancers engage in, then cry foul when they are called to task for it. My complaint is with the "student" who debuts professionally under her teacher's wing, then goes in and offers to dance for less, especially when she is aware that the teacher had been struggling with the manager who wanted to cut rates.

Going to a dance class where the teacher does not correct you is akin to say, mmmmmm, going to a class on how to jump from an airplane and having your instructor tell you after you have landed that you had to pull the parachute out at 2500 feet -v- at 250, because that might make you "feel bad"**.

If you are unable to provide constructive criticism, (this may lay more in the realm of teaching, because learning how to give constructive criticism, as well as WHEN to give it is just as important) tell someone that their dancing is technically good (note, I'm keeping it out of the subjective) when it is dangerous or bad technique, you are perpetuating bad dancing and are not a 'sister'.  There is NOTHING wrong with saying IF ASKED "I enjoy your musicality, I'm concerned the your not keeping your pelvis in neutral and that you may hurt your lower back, which would shorten how long you can dance."

If you tell someone that a costume is becoming, when it is not*** you are not a sister.

If you allow someone to perform with obvious pinning issues, underwear over belt, poorly adjusted so vitals are exposed, you are not a sister, or a friend.

If you spend your time knocking other dancers, styles or performances, you ARE NOT A SISTER!!!!

*that doesn't mean expensive, it means not showing off your genitalia and or secondary sexual characteristics. You want blunt? No pubic hair, boobs or crack.

**Of course, to most people dance isn't a matter of life or death, but c'mon, I'm exagerating to make the point.

***Straps are too long and make it look as if her boobs are around her waist, belt is too low and shows crack, she looks like a stump, or it in other ways does NOTHING to flatter her, you are not helping her.

Proffessional venues:
Show up on time.
Wear a decent costume (as defined above)
Bring music, not 5 cd's asking for a cut off each, take the time and burn your own sets. you will garner the gratitude of the dj and will not piss anyone off. Bring back ups.
Pin your costumes
If you have an equipment malfunction, do NOT storm off, gracefully accept a change in music if necessary, switch out the cd's, do what you need to do to keep the audience entertained. That's your job.

Dancer venues:
If you cannot follow that, don't go.
Clap and cheer for EVERYONE. This is where you can be a "sister" and help people to work on self esteem issues.
Don't poach other teachers students.
Appreciate the curvy dancer, the thin dancer, the alternative dancer, everyone who shows a love of the artform. You may not like who they are, but in this, they are indeed, your "sister".
Don't knock other styles. All styles have flavor and substance. While you might not appreciate the aesthetic, appreciate that someone took time and effort to put something out there in the universe that isn't negative. If you don't "get it" consider that this is YOUR lack and not that of the dancers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cassandra Shore

Just a short note this time:

I was cleaning my room (I know, I know, glamorous. BUT, you can't practice if you can't find the floor!)

Back to the topic:

I was cleaning my room and as I like to do, I put on some videos or a dvd to keep me company.

I decided that since I was feeling nostalgic for the IAMED award series triggered by my last post, I would start them again, from the First Awards on.

I put on the video and proceeded to start cleaning.

While the First Awards does not have the production values of the subsequent series, there is much to recommend it, despite how dark and out of a focus that it is. (sorry IAMED, I love you, but this one is not well it AT ALL)

So, imagine a dark stage, there must have been only the couple or so spotlights, with a band set up in the back, I don't remember off the top of my head which one it was.

Out comes Cassandra Shore, in a very simple white caftan / galabayesque dress. She begins to dance (not to live music, a cd).

This is NOT your lovely elegant Egyptian stylings.

This is raw.

This is primal.



It starts with hand motions, an out of place look on her face.

It builds through some serious head and neck swings, her uber shiny hair (dude, this thing is DARK, her hair gleamed, nonetheless) swinging back, forward, covering her strong face at time. The perfect backdrop.

I can't imagine what it must have been like to have been in the audience that day.

As it was, about 10 years in the future (I think, have to check the dates to be sure) in a poorly lit video, in my bedroom, folding clothes, when the climax of the performance hit, Cassandra, collapsed, on the floor, her hair covering her face and the last notes faded away, I found myself standing in front of the tv, with no memory of having moved away from my bed and taking those steps, so enthralled was I by her amazing and powerful performance.

What a dancer.