Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gearing up for the MassRaqs Festival

MassRaqs is the very newest festival on the East Coast, organized and produced by Meiver, an amazing dance artist.

Getting ready:

One of the most important things for me to when I’m thinking about a stage show (and dancing for dancers, which is arguably the scariest kind of dancing, more on that later) is picking music.

There are songs that speak to you, and the language is Universal. Yes, most of the music that I listen to is Arabic. No I don’t actually speak  Arabic, BUT after 10 odd years of listening to it, you’d kind of have to be deaf to not at least learn the basics of musical Arabic.

Habibi? = sweetheart

Ouyun = eyes (of) as in Ouyun Bahaia = eyes of Bahaia

Wahashtini = I miss you

And let’s not forget the ever popular buliz (as in Mohammed Shahin’s description of the lyric of a song that says buliiiiiiiiz!!!!!! (please w/ a heavy Egyptian accent)

Ok, it’s not that popular, but it’s awesome so I had to throw it in there.

So, Daret Al Ayam by Oum Kalthoum. (The days have gone by).

This song haunts me, and has haunted me for the past 2 years. I love it, it brings me to my knees.

Through the generosity of my friends, I’ve been able to hear the full song which is about 45 minutes long. It does make a difference when you what instrument is substituting for the singer’s voice when you are dancing to the music. If you know that the ney is simulating the voice, and you know what the lyrics are it can make a huge difference in your dance, as well as adding texture and dimension.

And isn’t it about making the music come alive for your audience? Aren’t you trying to  “be” the music? Full apologies to Aziza, whose catchphrase that is. But it’s apt.

So I listened to the music since July, over and over again. Since I love the song, I have about 15 versions of different portions of it. I finally settled on section III the song on Nesma Al Andalus' album, Memories of Cairo 
(Album is also available on emusic)

And I submitted my choice to the organizer, at absolutely the very last minute (so sorry!). Who promptly responded “noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!” and said that there were already 2 others (her included) who had chosen this song.

I thought feverishly.

Aha! What if the other dancer was dancing to another VERSION of the song? Meiver (the organizer) was dancing 2 whole days away! With all due respect to the audience, it’s a 45 minute song, and we’re radically different dancers! It’s improv anyway! (for me at any rate) Meiver replies that it’s from the same album.

Are you kidding? Who else spends endless hours trolling the internet for new and interesting variations of music? Why a whole bunch of other dancers, you (me) idiot!

Meiver graciously decided to scrap her plans to dance to it.

I asked the question of the other dancer. I waited for TWO whole days for her to get back to her computer, since she apparently has a life outside of it (who new?).

She planned on dancing to section I, which saved my butt and graciously agreed that I could dance to section III.

I had purchased a costume during the summer, that had been on hold for me forever. A mango yellow eman, that was luscious and sparkly. Not sparkly enough so I bought a bunch of crystals in yellow orange and red and stuck them on to the bra cup and to the top of the skirt to give some dimension to the color.

I also bought my very first Shibori Borealis veil http://www.etsy.com/transaction/33367660 , which if you are a silk veil aficionado is like buying a Mercedes. The car that is, not the dancer (I crack myself up sometimes). In glowing fire colors.

Usually I do nothing with my hair, but I decided to buy these lovely, lovely silk flowers, also in fire colors from theesfield’s calico garden designs. http://www.etsy.com/transaction/33367719

Being me, with my complete inability to imagine dimensions, I thought 5 inches would be too small, so I bought 2. Cause you know, my head can support 10 whole inches of flower.

Yeah, I wound up wearing just one, which covered about half the side of my head.

Maybe my head is freakishly small?


I can say that it’s not.

So can my mom.

And I have enough hair for 2 (very small headed) people. Ok, maybe just one. But that’s not the point, is it!

Stop arguing with me!


I had also reserved a room at a dance studio which is awesome and had been practicing.

There is something about undirected practice that totally sucks. For me, anyway. I can’t seem to focus.

I would pick one combination that I wanted for the music and drill it.

When dancing to the music, I’d forget to put it in.

Frustrating? A tad.

I am blessed, as I’ve said, in my friends. And she knows who she is who gave me an hour of her time to watch, critique and immeasurably improve my performance.

Eventually get everything together, have an attack of nerves decide I never want to dance again, lose my cool and temper all over the place and then the day comes.

I’m in the audience, witnessing an amazing recitation of Boston in it’s heyday of Middle Eastern dance, with this wonderful woman describing her life. It was amazing.

I was of course, too nervous to really forget that I was shortly going to perform, but it was close. Very close.

I look around the audience to the enraptured dancers and their friends who had come and think to myself, what a wonderful testament to the work and the dreams of the organizer that these people have come and given of themselves to this endeavor of hers.

I see Bozenka. My heart stops.

I’m going to dance in front of BOZENKA!!!

She’s been one of my dance crushes since way back when, waaaaayyyyyyy before she was a ever a part of the BDSS. When there were just a few clips of her on the web, which I linked to and treasured.

I cheered when I heard that she joined the BDSS.

I promptly paid for 2 hours of private instruction when she was last in town, despite some compelling reasons for not leaving home.

I was terrified.

During intermission, she left the room.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

I get changed, wait my turn while these amazing women were getting ready to perform, sadly missing most of the show.

It’s my turn.

The music starts.

Dude. There was a hellalotta space to try to cover to get close to where the audience could see me.

I steptogetherstepped in giant leaps to get there (it felt like)

I start.

I see my friends.

I smile.

I dance.

I think about the love in the room, and there was lots.

For me. For my friends. For the audience.

I turn.

There’s Bozenka.

I grin, because what the hell else am I gonna do?

I finish my performance.

I (gracefully, I hope) pick up my veil and leave the stage.

I cry.

Because if you’re me, you put 2 months of rehearsals, 2 months of work, 2 months of emotion into those few minutes of performance, allowing it to build to a crescendo that you have just released.

And sometimes you feel empty. You feel that space, that empty space that should be filled, but isn’t. You know that there will be no one to help you pick apart your show. No one to tell you how the audience reacted to that bit that you worked so hard on. No one who will know that you spent 2 months working on that transition, 2 months agonizing over whether you are doing the song justice, whether you adequately conveyed what you meant to.

But your friends are there; who love you and make sure you know it. So nothing else to do but wipe up the tears and get changed back to civvies, and go back out there.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Update: Back to Basics

Soooooo, despite the objections of one person in particular (and you know who you are, Najmat!) who shall remain nameless, I went to the beginner's class last night.

I was delighted to see that I was not the only dancer there who also was not a beginner.

I. Loved. It.

It's exactly what I need right now. A place to focus on working those areas where I learned bad habits and trying to rid myself of them. (are you listening, right hand? I'm coming for you!)

It's hard to describe. It's almost like a feeling of homecoming. You know you love the place, you're happy there and you have plan for the future... But that wall wants painting, that room would look better with a little molding, maybe re-do the bathroom...

So, REHAB!!!!


I'm rehabbing myself as a dancer. Hopefully, by the end of it, I'll come out a stronger dancer with at least a better sense of my own personal space and having bested that damn right hand!!!!

*while also wanting to focus on those shoulders, that tendency to tuck my chin into my neck, to close my eyes, to to to... 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Back to Basics

Back to Basics

So, a dear friend and mentor has finally (hallelujah!) secured a space to teach regular, on-going beginner dance classes.

On a night that I am available!

Kind of. With school and stuff, it’s a sacrifice of homework time. But who cares about homework when you can dance!!!

So. I’ve been dancing in this particular form for about 10 years now.

During that time, I’ve taken classes throughout, with one year off.

After M passed, I literally spent the first year going to work 5 days a week, bikram yoga 3 days a week and the rest of the time in bed.

I’m not kidding.

I did spend probably about 6 hours up on the weekend. That’s about it

But this is not a blog post about that, it’s a blog post about dance.

I’m blessed in my family and friends. While my family struggled to find ways to help me (and they did, more than I can probably tell them) my friends, separately and together looked for lifelines.

One of them, Najmat, threw me one, and insisted that I take it. If you’ve ever experienced being one of Najmat’s targets, you’ll understand what this means.

You grab that lifeline, and you don’t let go, because she’ll swim back to you, tie it around you, start dragging you, then it’ll leave a mark and where will you be?

Gasping for breath, laying on a dock, with a great big mark on your tummy, that’s where. With her yelling at you.

No, better to just meekly grab your line and go where you’re told.




This, is the power of Najmat.

So I started taking her beginner classes again. It got me out of bed, up and dancing. Until her series ended, it made me move, I felt better, life improved.


Very, very slowly.

But it did.

So now, this powerhouse is teaching a beginner series again, in the same place. On a night that I’m free. In a place I can get to.

So, guess where I’m going to be?


Now, why would I do another beginner series?

Because taking a beginner class when you have already, presumably, mastered the basics does nothing but improve those basics.

As a dancer, you have to constantly evaluate yourself. You must review what you do well, and more importantly, review what you do… not so well.

I want to work on my posture (a never ending battle, drove Amira Jamal batty, but she fixed me!).

I need to work on my arms, both strength and grace.

I need to work on my traveling steps.

Can I do this in intermediate or advanced classes? Yes. But I get sidetracked by that awesome new combination and in my quest to achieve that, I forget to keep an eye on my posture, arms, etc.

So, it’s a discipline thing.

When I’m practicing on my own, I try. But it’s not the same as having someone re-directing you.

I’m struggling to find the words here…

A good dancer will always take classes. The day that you stop taking classes is the day that you stop progressing as a dancer.

Going to basics does nothing to diminish you as a dancer, and does everything to improve you.

Take a moment, go watch a dvd or youtube of a dancer that you admire.

I’ll wait.

What did you notice? Did you watch her amazing combinations? How about her fabulous shimmies?

Did you see her slouch? Did the lines of her arms break at the wrist? Did she watch the floor? How about her feet? Was she planted into the ground, or did she seem to glide?

The marks of a good dancer are not found in advanced classes.

They’re in the basics.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How will you play?

"Your playing small does not save the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others." Marianne Wilson
I'm working on it.  
 Many people know that my partner passed away 2 years ago (exactly 2 years ago yesterday. Some people know how that has affected me. 
Well, apparently one of the added extra benefits of grieving is that you (generic) lose self confidence. While I loved performing, I always suffered from stage fright, sometimes awful.
 Now, I'm just afraid, all the time. 

Coming out of hiatus, I'm working on that. I'm working on not "playing small" I'm working on making a wonderful show for those who have believed in me and have supported me over the past several years. 

It's an abyss, really, grief. It sucks you in, and there is very little to hang on to that will help you pull yourself out.
 M loved my dancing and worked on helping me to become a better dancer. He (an amazing individual in his own right) would work with me on learning from my performances. He taught me to be more open, to let go, to show the audience what I was feeling and to allow myself to be vulnerable to people.
There was no mistake that shortly after the start of our relationship, my dancing changed in ways that I liked and worked on promoting.
I know he is always with, and I remind myself:
"Misery is a poor memorial for a great love. " 
I'd give credit for the quote, but I can't remember where I got it from.
So now I'm changing, or have changed, not really sure. I think my dancing has changed as well. We'll see how well it goes playing it LARGE.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

You should read this



Do it.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who're you dancing for?

Two years ago, this would have been an easy question to answer.

Obviously, you dance for your audience, you are there as an entertainer. Therefor your job is to entertain your audience.



Over the past couple of years during my hiatus, I've had the opportunity to think about this. well, Frankly, during my hiatus when I haven't been actively banging my head against anything and everything, I've thought about it.

Yes, a performer is an entertainer, when you have your audience there who is there to be entertained. As a belly dancer, we tend to be in situations where, despite our best efforts, we are a complement to the hummus, and adjunct to the atmosphere, in some cases, THE atmosphere.

In those situations, were you to bust out in High Art, your audience is befuddled, confused, wondering, really, WTF?

That's not what they came for.

In a concept show, for example, Raks Spooki, which is presented annually by Badrya Al Badia, a Gothic Belly Dance performance show, the audience is more specialized. It's comprised, for the most part, of folks who enjoy both aesthetics.

Therefor, one's artistic license as a performer is greater. As a performer, you can explore your art, twist and turn and see if it works in this context.

Art, by it's nature, isn't always pretty. It can be dark, painful, gut wrenching and difficult to perform, difficult to watch.

As a performer, are you entitled to put your audience through that when you present a show?

I dunno, frankly.

Two years ago, I danced for joy. I danced through family issues, personal issues, anger, rage, pain, happiness, caring, affection, etc.

In Spring, by long standing invitation, I danced at Shimmies for the Cure, Quattro.

I performed to a song by Omar Faruk Tekbelik.

Below is a recounting:

The worst that can happen? I disgrace myself publicly tonight and never appear in public again.So Saturday...

Had completely neglected to practice despite my best intentions. I *had* been listening to the song exhaustively, so I knew as much of it as a person should if they are going to perform to one... you know, listening to the song for so long you think that one more rendition of it is going to make you throw up? no matter how beautiful, lovely, rhythmic, melodic, it become puke inducing?


Still, it's a beautiful, beautiful song.

Had bought a costume to go with that lovely, lovely purple ombre veil from Audra Evans. It's very lightweight, more so than I'm used to. My veil tends to.... well, when I dance veil I...

Let's just say that it's been called "power veil" and that is an apt description.

I treat my veil as a dance partner and really can't be bothered to do tricks with it. I like to make pictures in the air and I often use it percussively.

So the veil I bought is probably 5 mm, when I'm used to 7 or 8. All this meant that I had to move slower with it, as moving too fast would have just made it become a strip, instead of the full expanse.

So I'm home, in my living room which has not seen any practice from me since I moved in here (November, 09).

I have on the bra of the costume which I'd adjusted the night before to make sure I could move in it. Exercise pants, black of course. the veil is 4 yards longs. small living room. new song.


Cue manic miniature schnauzer who is completely in LOVE with the new toy mami brought out for her to play with!!!!

Yeah. I wound up hitting the side of the molding on the entry to the dining room so hard that I'm still not convinced I didn't break anything.

Manic Mini schnauzer got trapped in her carrier which was then suspended off a chair so that I could finish. You should have seen her when I started practicing with the skirt on (to make sure it didn't fall off).

Run late, because I have to adjust the skirt.

Get there, still late, work on getting make up on, (poor organizer had to manage her ENTIRE first act who are all busy putting on make up and the dressing room is across the street instead of in the same building and up 8 floors, making it much harder to tell who was ready and who wasn't).

(reminder, coordinating dancers is something akin to herding cats.)

forgot my cover up, had to buy one last minute to sit with bff and not melt into a puddle of goo.

am 4th dancer in, get out there, do my thing....

When I perform, I make eye contact. Especially with friends in the audience, and try to make everyone feel comfortable and like to try to make sure people are having a good time.

My song was pretty repetitive, and chairs were set into a round, with the dancing space in the center, so I tried to acknowledge all areas, with similar movements.

Got into the meat of the song, and there were moments when I was no longer aware of where the music began and I ended... I kept going, doing what I do... and I swear that there were moments that I connected with M. That he could see me and that he was there. That he loved what I was doing, and I could almost feel him reaching to me.

N uncannily took a picture in a moment that I swear that we were reaching towards each other...

I tried looking into the audience... bff was sobbing. friends were tearful, people I don't know were wiping their eyes... I wound up doing what I haven't in a long time and start looking over people heads because there was just so much emotion that it was overwhelming.

And I *know* there were several portions of the song that I did with my eyes completely shut.

I don't really remember what I did while I was dancing, but I DO remember hitting the ending Exactly where it should have been.

I stood for a moment, in the ending pose. took a bow, grabbed my veil (probably less than gracefully) and ran.

I ran straight into the ladies room, not acknowledging anyone, just needed to get somewhere quiet, and private where I could... fall apart.

ALL stalls occupied.

Collapsed there, with someone's arms around me, and started keening. These horrible sounds that I didn't know could come from my throat, and I thought I'd heard all the sounds I could make while crying.

I was lost.

To what was around me, who was around me, and all I could feel was that hole, where he had been.

Eventually get ahold of myself, realize that it was Baseema that was holding me, hug her back, am the recipient of random hugs from women in the bathroom.

N comes in with tissues, but I can't hug her because between her blinged out Eman and my costume, we'd have gotten stuck and there would have been no prying us apart...

Get ahold of myself, get out there and socialize and spend some time with BFF and the boy, who came to see me dance. BFF was sobbing throughout my performance and it took awhile for her to get ahold of herself.

During intermission, go get  changed and come back and mc'd the second half.


well. it wasn't a pleasant experience for me. Bff, who doesn't dance, but has been coming to performances of mine since my first recital (see why she's bff?) first words to me were "couldn't you have warned me?".

I have gotten a number of very nice comments and personal messages both thanking me for the performance and inquiries about my teaching.

Couldn't have been too bad, right?

Still, pretty raw performance, both for myself and the audience.

Pretty costume and veil, though, hunh?

So, in summary (hello!!!! are you still there?) I broke one of my own rules. When you dance to entertain, entertain, don't use your performance to massage your ego, manage your emotions, or to work things through. That's what studio time is for.

High concept Art, etc, should be kept to a forum where it belongs. And it will be appreciated for what it is making both artist and viewers/participants happy.

I hereby apologize to those who I inflicted with this performance (let along those who suffered through this (and other) blog posts.

Dance happy, people.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Soooooo, for those of you who don't know me well...


have a problem.

I like costumes.

That may be an understatement.

I love costumes. I love the hunt for the perfect costume. I love looking at it, seeing what accessories might work with it, envisioning the performance for it, matching it to the perfect veil...

I love looking at something like this.  and thinking about what music would work for it (yearning, off one of the BDSS volumes, for example) this costume is a poem. It's black lace overlaying a red base, then heavily encrusted in red, silver, black and hematite beads, which is what the fringing is made of as well.

Doing that song, with my silk fans (not the uber long ones that are the rage right now, but shorter ones, with just a silk ruffle) to dramatically accent the music...

With large silver or black hoops, hair pulled back, not tightly, since that doesn't really suit me, but in a loose, enormouse bun sitting just above my neck, accented with red roses...

silver bangles, dozens of them, to jingle and add their own accent to the music.


I see a picture like this, and that's what runs through. It's not just a costume, it's a total image, evoking the entire performance, brooding, dramatic and dark.

How am I supposed to resist them when I can see the amazing performance they will inspire?

So I wind up buying them. And hunting down those accessories. Hopefully, I'll put them together in a performance at some point.

So a  friend calls me up. She's going to be in a performance, and she needs a costume. She's gotten comfortable with the knowledge that if she calls me up, and tells me what she needs, I'll rummage through the Costume Files and come up with something for her.

So I did. :-)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Journey is the Destination

Excerpt from the book I'm currently reading on Creativity:  The Widening Stream, the Seven Stages of Creativity by David Ulrich. (reading because Badrya al Badia recommended it)

-If we remain mindful of the dictum "the journey is the destination", then we embark on this path primarily to learn and explore life's many truths, not merely to accomplish something and produce objects. As the poet Rilke advises: "try to love the questions themselves." The answers are never as important as the questions. What are the questions that grow out of the core of our lives?-

As I am returning from my long hiatus, this has been a passage that provides some light and some help in managing the complex emotions that the journey is engendering in me as a dancer.

I went into the studio last week to practice my performance piece, and I was very humbled by my body screaming at me "are you kidding? you haven't moved me this way outside of class in forever! you really think that I'm just going to do that move? HA! watch this!"

my body is very articulate.

also, annoying.

it also said "how ya like me now, biznitch!?" the following day while reminding me that yes, indeed, I can haz delayed onset muscle soreness! Oh, yes I can!"

and sounds an awful lot like Dane Cook.


But I digress...

Put on the music to my performance piece and tried to dance to that amazingly lovely music by Oum Kalthoum...

Not a bit of it. No inspiration, nothing.


The nice part of rental space is that really, there is nothing else for you to do actually DO there other than what you went there to do. At home, I have 2 cats, they always need something done to them, a puppy, books, as if I were planning on opening my own library, tv, computer, dvd's galore, literally dozens of things I could do.

Not in a rental space.

So I decided that I would just go right back to beginner's class.

I worked on getting into good dance posture. I've gotten so lazy. Before, I would work on it constantly, not just in practice but in absolutely every day life. Standing at the copy machine once, a co worker walked by and remarked that my posture was perfect. Of course, he had no idea that I was actively working on it in the moment that he went by.

I worked on lifting my rib cage decently to give me that nice line.

I went back to my very first class (that I taught) "this is your hip" and working on range of motion.

Did this for a good 45 minutes, hip slides, side, forward, back. over and over again. then adding a shimmy when they looked ok.

Worked on rib cage slides as well.

Texted my dance teacher (Najmat) in a moment of complete and utter frustration (before doing this stuff) and asked her what I should work on. She immediately texts me back the bane of my existence "hand and arms!"

So I work on this as well, and added some interesting arm paths, interesting only because I've managed to thoroughly pull and injure an obscure rotator cuff muscle (sub scapularis) and I have little range of motion on the left.

After about an hour, I pull out my song again, and, it's too hard. I look awful, I can't capture the subtlety of the movement that I'm going for.

Pull out my ipod, pull up my playlist of all the different versions of this song that I have, tuck it into my sports bra, and start listening to it...

The last 20 minutes of my practice, while I didn't dance well, at least I danced to it.

And in the morning, on the train, as I was listening to the song again on my playlist, I had some ACTUAL IDEAS! I could see where an arabesque should go, how this section should be danced to, and, and how one's hip should flick UP to mark that musical accent....

It was all I could do keep it to a gentle sway on the train to match the rhythms of the car...

And at home, as the music was running through my head, I was walking down my short hallway towards my living room and playing the music in my head and as I envisioned the arabesque in the train, I did in the hallway... ran into the Boy, who looked very startled and asked if I was trying to fly away?

So at least the arabesque looked the way I wanted it to look, although I do want it to look a tad more grounded, as there is a hip accent at the end of it...