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.



  1. Sweetheart, that was a gorgeous written piece! I wish I could have seen the performance, was it recorded??

  2. I *think* there was a video, but I'm afraid to look at it. I've learned that my curve is about 6 months away from something THEN I can look at pictures or maybe video :-) but the yellow costume pics on my facebook page are from that day

  3. Oh I LOVE that costume! Well, just because you don't want to see the video doesn't mean I can't right? ;)

  4. I know what you mean, about putting so much work into something and then it just ends. I know it makes for a better performance to put that kind of work into it, but it both makes me want to tear my hair while I'm working on it at times (alternating with progress and thinking "I got it!") - and then the aftermath where you're like "Ok...that was it?"

    I kinda need video to validate that it actually happened. In fact, I hope she releases the video at some point.