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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What's in a number?

So, today I read a blog that was commented about in a blog (rather meta, innit?).

The blog is about a dancer who is considered to be overweight and despite this is happy, healthy and seems to be living her dreams. The hard part about something like this is that people nowadays are wedded to the notion that the number on the scale is the end and all and be all of their health.

It's not.

Allow me to explain just WHY it's not.

1. Body Mass Index is not helpful in that the numbers are generalized and only go by weight and height, taking nothing else into account.

Because this is so, even if you are heavy from muscle (muscle weighs more than fat, REQUIRING you to eat more to maintain weight, isn't that useful information now? Pick up heavy things and put them down and you can eat more!) your BMI will be high.

This is why you should ignore it as a measure of health.

2. While we're at it, ignore that number on the scale since it's tied into the myth that the less you weigh, the healthier you are.

3. The more you exercise, consistently, incorporate strength training AND maintain a healthy diet the healthier you will be overall.

your mood improves

your clothes fit better

your not cranky from hunger

your sex life improves

What's not to like?

So forget about dieting, eat sensibly, a variety of foods that appeal to you, some that don't, cause you'll get more vitamins that way, and pick up some heavy things and put them down again, and then stretch those muscles out (because too tight is as bad as too loose).

Do it with a trainer, do it with a friend, LEARN how to do it well and safely and your life will probably improve.

This is an excellent web site to get started, she's smart and knows what she's talking about.

Do. It.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Workshop Review

OK, I know I haven't updated in a while, but felt the urge to write this up while it was fresh in my mind.

I'm hoping to make it a regular part of the blog, considering that I take workshops regularly, it will give me stuff to write about, at least!

Why workshops? Because it improves your dancing, duh!

Why with different teachers? Because no 2 dance alike. Because you never know what you're going to take away from the workshop, be it a new movement, a new way to listen to music, a new combination, improvement in technique and in the very worst instances... what not to do.

When should you take a workshop? Not as easy to answer, it's different for different people. If you have the income and the means, take as many as you can. Always take the ones that focus on how to interpret the music, because those are the most valuable in my opinion, especially if you're not a native speaker of the language.

Take the technique ones, because even if you think you know everything, you don't. I don't care how long you've been dancing, there is ALWAYS something to learn. Beware the dancer who is overcome by ennui and the sense that she knows everything.

Ok, on the workshop

Yousry Sharif Weekend, Sponsored by Katia of Boston, Lakeville, MA. March 25 and 26, 2011.

1. Location: The Burbs. It's about an hour drive roughly south of Boston, not difficult to actually get to and a pleasant ride. Plenty of places along the road to stop and do a little shopping, if you're into that (I'm not, despite my costume lust, an actual "shopper"). The traffic wasn't bad, since you're headed away from Boston, but in the summer could be difficult since that's when most people actually leave Boston and head out to the Cape and other summery locations. No commuter rail access on the weekends, which sucks if you don't have a car.

2. Studio: almost a proper dance studio, with the exception of the floor, which was linoleum. Hated the floor. luckily I had my little capezio dance slippers (these) *which I LOVE. I also brought my dance sneakers**  which turned out to be a good idea for the saidi portion.  My only comment , other than the floor, was that it would have been nice to have mirrors on at least 2 sides so that you can check your posture. There was ample parking. The workshop was filled to capacity, there would have been space for maybe one more person, but not 2. I really didn't like the floor, which felt cold and hurt my feet.  But coming prepared with shoes and socks and leg warmers made an enormous difference.

3. Timing: as in starting and ending, exquisite. The warm up was a yoga based one conducted by Maisa, which was excellent, even though I arrived both days a bit late and missed the start up.

4. Communication: Excellent as well. Katia made sure that she sent information about every step of the workshop, location, directions, where to eat, etc. There was nothing left to chance and no ambiguity.

5: The Teaching! Finally!: this was NOT a workshop for beginner's. If you did not know how to properly execute a hip drop, there was no stopping and explaining. You either got it, or you didn't. I can't repeat enough, there was no breakdown. You should keep this in mind in the event that you want to attend one of these workshops, you will work hard. There will be no stopping for breaking movements down. You should study the basics and have them firmly under your hip belt in order to get the choreography, because THAT is the focus. Yousry did stop and explain when he wanted a certain look to a movement. For example, there was one portion of the song that is very slow and dramatic and the choreography calls for head and chest movements together. Obviously, you can do this in multiple ways, but he explained when the group was doing more just head movements that the feel of the movement wasn't static and required more emotion and emphasis, not just percussive head flinging (fun as that often is).

The choreography itself was incredibly thoughtful. There are accents and combinations that until you have listened to the music eleventy billion times you will not understand. As a person who knows that choreography is not my friend, I had to stop listening with my head, and only listen with my body. I couldn't intellectualize the choreo because then it didn't make sense to me. I had to do it, and AFTER (waaaayyyyy after) did it make sense to my mind.

There was a trick that Yousry used on the second day that I thought was BRILLIANT! Sooooo goooooooooddd that I'm hesitant to share it, I will, and hope I haven't stepped on any toes.

Throughout the weekend, there had been breaks for one side of the room to do the combinations, then the other side, then all together. At one time, he asked us to tag team, in other words, one side the choreo up until the music changed and then the other side did the next section. It forced you to think about what they were doing while listening to the music and anticipate the change so that you were there to catch it as it changed. For me, it created a dynamic thinking process which bypassed all my issues with choreography and made me think about the music and accents in a way that worked for me so I could participate and get it right.

6. What has it done for my dancing?: Well, I've made some breakthroughs with choreography. Given the different ways that I was forced to listen to the music in the workshop and experience the dancing (that of myself and others) it's made me a more thoughtful dancer. Of course, it's been just about 2 weeks, and I have the attention span of a gnat, so we'll see if it holds.

Has it improved my technique? Not really. My technique is pretty solid, and it wasn't a technique workshop anyway. It *did* work on my emoting during dance. When I perform, I'm an entertainer and have stuck to happy sunshiny performances (for the most part) this made me incorporate the mood changes in one single dance which was reminiscent of a mood disorder. This is not necessarily a bad thing when you are entertaining. I can see using this piece in several ways.

Would I take another workshop from Yousry? Absolutely. And you should too.

* These I bought as an intermediary between dance sneakers and ballet slippers for class. I started out with the ballet slippers, but since they didn't have as much arch support, they didn't keep my feet from pronating, which aggravates my knees. These give me enough support, are flexible enough so that I can still get a good point and arch that are visible when practicing, have suede soles so good for turning and are very light, so easy to carry around. The are not any good for high impact, but anything with low impact, this is an excellent shoe. I like these so much I bought them in "caramel" which is a much better match for my yellowish skin tone than "nude", cause seriously, who is clamshell pink anyway?

** My dance sneakers are MUCH better at higher impact (like Saiidi) and if you're going to spend a substantial amount of time on releve. Mine also have a "turn spot" which makes, obviously, turns a bit easier, less torque on the knees, more turning from core power. You can easily just almost think turn and you've done a pirouette.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How to Shop for a Costume on the Web

Or: how NOT to go broke and/or crazy in the pursuit of the perfect costume

First, before ANYTHING else, WHY do you want a costume?

Is there a special event? What is the event? Who is your audience? What type of venue?

Are you performing at a hafli?
If you’re performing at a hafli, and don’t already have a costume, chances are you are a new performer of Middle Eastern Dance. On the other hand, chances are also that your audience will be other dancers, of mixed levels and abilities.

Arguably, the most difficult audience to dance for. There will be dancers who know Middle Eastern dance AND music. There may be members of the general public scattered here and there in the audience.

What is your intention? Mainly, of course, to provide a good show, to learn something but above all to DANCE and to have fun. Do you need a high end blinged out costume for this?


Does that mean that you shouldn’t have one?

Also, no.

What it does  mean is that you really shouldn’t spend the money on one as the high end blinged out costumes are a business expense. Seriously. You buy them as a business expense, the depreciate over time and one should reasonably expect to gain a return on the expense. Which you will not do in a hafli.

Can you perform at a hafli, dance and have fun without one? Of course you can.

However, costuming is half the fun of this dance form. So what does it mean?

Well, let’s take a look at haflis, shall we?

Most of the time, haflis are put on by teachers who are looking to promote the dance, provide a place for their students to perform and a place to entertain themselves and others.

A teacher could arguable use a hafli as a vehicle to showcase a professional costume and make a return off of it, thus validating the purchase.

A student, or non pro could use this opportunity to showcase newly learned skills and to practice performing for others. Costumes for this should be above all, well fitting.

However, that means having a modicum of ability to alter anything that you buy.

What are good hafli costumes?

Well, again, it depends. Above all, the costumes should showcase YOU as the dancer.

Most often, your dance style will dictate what your costume is based on. Tribal dancer? Caberet? Oriental?

Doesn’t really matter, if your style says you wear a minimalist costume, well, that’s what you go for: if it’s an ornamented accented style, well that’s what you go for.

Since this is taking much longer than I expected, there is a part II. Probably III… and yes, probably IV…

What? Costuming is important!!!

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