Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What will you do with your dance?

As the end of the year draws near and it's time for pondering on what happened over the last year and making New Year's resolutions, I invite you to ponder a few things about belly dance... or if you are an artist who does another form of art, you could easily substitute "belly dance" for "your art". ;)

Several years ago (about 4, to be precise), Sabrina Fox (then from Atash Maya) had posted on tribe some questions that left me pondering... and I'm asking them to you.

Where do I want dance to take me?
This one was interestingly hard to answer. I mean, to give an honest answer requires you to dig inside of you and see what you want... what you really really want. (And I'll stop there because I'm starting to sound like a Spice Girls song. :p) "Where" here is obviously not a physical location... although it could be.

Where will I let dance take me?
This one initially totally highlighted how much of a control freak I can be. "What do you mean, let dance take me somewhere? I'm in charge here!" It actually ended up being the start of me realizing that, oftentimes in art, you have to let go of your heavy grip on things and allow the art to take over. If you don't practice art daily, that can be real hard to do. I promise that it gets easier with time, though. ;) But the question is also more than this... explore it.

What will I do with dance?
This one, I'm adding to the mix. It wasn't part of the original set of questions... only the first two were. So you've been taking classes for a while and have been enjoying them thoroughly. You've watched a few shows and have been amazed at what you saw. Now... what will YOU do with dance? Will you join in the ranks of performers? Or keep it as a physical activity without the performing aspect? PLEASE note that neither answer is right or wrong... it's right or wrong for YOU... and the answer might be different depending on the moment.

Fun in dance... NOW!
Performing is loaded with so many heavy things... but, please have fun with this dance. That's really what it is about. And don't push out when you'll perform based on some silly notion that only exists in your head (if only I was 10 lbs lighter... if only I had these many years of experience... if only I had this piece of costume... if only...). There is nothing like RIGHT NOW to get you started. Don't wait!

Write down thoughts/feelings
Do feel free to grab a notebook and pen and write down thoughts on these questions and your feelings around dance and performing and whatever else you feel like writing about. Vent your heart out on paper. Or you could do it electronically. I find that, oftentimes, writing down my feelings, especially if they are heavy, helps me get rid of them and gain better clarity.

Remember to DO!
For all that I'm inviting you to ponder and write and all that, don't fall prey to what I do: I tend to overanalyze, overthink, over-whatever... It took SEVERAL times of being told by both Ariellah and my yoga mentor that it's time to do stuff instead of thinking before it finally sank in. Now, I know better how to keep a balance between all of it. Why, yes, you need to actually dance in order to dance. :p

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tips for preparing a performance - Other considerations

So this is essentially part 2 from the last blog. Again, I want this to be at a high level so I won't go into like choreography 101 or things like that... I'll cover those more detailed things in other blogs at some point.

All right... so you have figured out your music... what else do you need to think about?

You want to think of your costuming early. Sometimes it takes time for the ideas to fully develop and will morph as you're working with the piece. But thinking about this earlier rather than later is a good idea... b/c you don't want to be scrambling at the last minute to find costuming items or make them. As I've talked about in a previous blog, remember that the costume should ideally work synergistically with the performance to enhance the mood and the overall aesthetic of it all.

Remember practical considerations:
  • Will the venue allow for bare bellies? (Most do.)
  • Will you be using a prop? If so, does that mean that things are off limits because of it? (e.g., be careful with anything protruding like spikes if you're doing veils)
  • Will you be doing floorwork? If so, you need to make sure that your costuming is something that can allow you to go down and off the floor without hindering. Also consider whether you would wear kneepads and, therefore, whether the costume hides them well enough.

Those are just some ideas of things to keep in mind.

What accessories will you put with your costume? I'm putting this as a separate category because, sometimes, we forget about those. ;) Also think of the level and style of bling you want to wear. Do you want to go for mega sparkle? National Geographic look? Minimalistic? Just like everything else, it all should work in synergy. If your costume is already very sparkly, maybe your jewelry doesn't need to be... or you could go for the 'disco ball' effect (not necessarily bad... it depends on what you do).

Hair and Makeup
Again, in that blog on synergy and all that, I mention considerations. But, yes, think of those things early too... what if you need to learn a new technique for something specific that you had in mind? Or you need a certain product?

Shoes or barefoot
Sometimes it's a stylistic choice... sometimes it's a practical one... and sometimes people can only do one or the other. But think about it proactively. It may modify your costume and your moves if you do one versus the other. So keep that in mind. Also keep in mind that, for all that you were thinking of dancing barefoot, sometimes it just won't be possible. So have an idea of footwear that you could wear. For example, I did a performance a few years back where I had planned to be barefoot but the stage was really in a bad shape; I ended up dancing barefoot anyway and got a splinter... not fun...

Make decisions
There will be times when you will be faced with options and ideas that are of equal values... they will fit but it will give a different slant or just a smidgeon of a different flavor... or they could even be drastically different but just as good. Then you just need to make a decision. There's no right or wrong oftentimes so it's not uber easy to just pick (though it gets easier with time) but you just gotta do it. Listen to your gut feeling. It will rarely stir you wrong. And if that gut feeling is conflicted, just pick. ;)

Time and its pitfall
Say, you are preparing way in advance of a performance or you don't even know yet when you will be performing or whatnot so you have a loooooooot of time to get ready. That's both good and bad. It's good because you do have time. It's bad because you will have a harder time making decisions, fooling yourself that, since there's so much time, you can choose later. Then your progress may end up being slowed because you aren't making decisions that you should. So don't fall prey to that.

Another consideration is that (and that's my issue often), I end up not working on things that I should be working on because I have plenty of time... and then suddenly it's crunch time. One day, maybe, I'll learn. Though, I've come to realize that I work better under pressure so maybe a part of me is putting myself under pressure purposefully. The pitfall with that, though, is that life will interfere at precisely the wrong moment... thus putting even more pressure (and less time to work with).

Things that you want to do with this performance
I will talk about this in more details in a future blog but one thing that you may want to think about proactively is what you want to do/accomplish with this performance. Here, I'm not talking about the message that you want to convey but 1 or 2 simple things that you want to work on to make your performance skills progress. (This tip comes from Miss Tempest. I used to have too many things that I wanted to do with a performance and she wisely advised in the workshops in Indy to pick only 1 or 2... more than that is too much to process.) For example, it could be things like 'Not look down.' or 'Remember to smile.' Again, more on that in the future but it's something to keep in mind as you are developing your piece and, specifically, when you get close to performance time.

Past performance playlist
So I talked about the 'Performance ideas playlist' in the previous blog. The 'Past performance playlist' is a list of all the pieces that I've worked on in the past. The reason why I keep it is mostly for a convenient and quick way to find a past performance music piece (my music library is rather large). I keep it in chronological order. And it's fun to look back and see what you have worked on... you may eventually notice trends about your work and what inspires you. And that is information that can be very relevant for future performances. In addition, should you want to revisit a piece, it's right there! ;)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tips for preparing a performance - Music considerations

In the last blog where I talked about seeking out performance opportunities, I mentioned that you could start preparing ahead of getting an actual okay to perform... and I also mentioned that I would write a blog about tips... so this is it. I started writing this post at first, thinking that I would cover a bunch of different tips but then I had so many things to say about music that I felt like it will be better served by putting music as its own post (other tips to follow in a separate entry).

This post (and the following one) won't be delving into being artistic and all that but do keep that in mind anyway. It will be more "Performance 101" type.

Picking out the music is obviously an important step. And one that sounds so easy... yet, you'll find that it's not. Here are a few guidelines that may help.

Generally speaking, solo spots in shows nowadays have a 5-minute maximum duration allowed. It varies from shows to shows. And, heck, it's now often being shrunk even more. So you want a piece that will be maximum 5 minutes. If you will be doing a group piece, the max nowadays will vary between 7-10 minutes. If you are doing ATS/ITS, a good rule of thumb will be about 1 minute per the number of dancers. So, say, if there will be 6 dancers, a piece that is about 6-7 minutes will be a good one.

Keep it short
You don't have to fill in the maximum time allotted. It's actually a very good idea to leave people wanting more! What's more: you need to be able to sustain it! When you are a new dancer, you will be surprised at how quickly your energy will be sapped out in performance. So you want to keep it short enough that you'll be able to sustain the stage presence and energy level for the duration of the piece. For newly starting performers, 3-4 minutes is again a good rule of thumb.

And I speak from experience on this... My very first solo was like 5 minutes long. I'm pretty sure that my energy level wasn't constant throughout the whole thing. And, man, was I tired after it. My 2nd solo was like 2:45-3 minutes. I forget how long exactly. The energy was much more constant. Since then, I've been hovering in that range from 3:30-5 minutes, generally, going on the lower end (so between 3:30-4). And it's not like I don't have the stamina to do more: I dance 12-20-minute sets at Greek Islands without any issues. Anyway, I'd rather do 2 shorter pieces than 1 long one. More from a 'not boring the audience' point of view than anything. ;)

If you will modify the music... do it well!
If your piece is too long and needs to be cut or you want to put a few pieces of music together or tweak the music however you feel, use a good software to do it and spend the time to do a good job. I've heard countless times bad mixes that make me cringe. It sounds so amateurish. I don't care what your actual level is, you don't want bad editing in your music to detract from the performance. There are a number of people in any area who will be good at it or you may have a DJ friend (or someone who knows someone): don't hesitate to ask for help instead of doing a bad job yourself. I took the workshop with DJ Amar at TF 10 that was about editing music in Audacity. It gave me lots of tips and tricks on how to do it... and made me realize how time intense it can be if you want to do a good job at editing the music.

Oh and while we're on the topic: if you will use more than 1 piece, consider using a software to put them together especially if the show asks for an mp3 version. The main reason for that is that you are much better off sending 1 file than multiple files that risk not being put in the correct order (even though you will have told the person in charge what order to put them in) or being cut short because the person in charge of the music at the show ends your music before the 2nd one pops or there's too much time (or more than you wanted) between the pieces b/c of the equipment used to play the music. Or other reasons... anyway, it's safer that way. Come to think of it, even if you will be providing the music on a CD, it's safer that way too... for some of the same reasons.

The "Performance Ideas" Playlist
You may end up having a ton of ideas of music that you would love to perform to... yet when comes time to pick some music, your mind goes blank. That's why a 'performance ideas' playlist on your iTunes (or whatever else you use) is a good idea (and if you don't have music in mp3, you can make a list on paper or in Word). That way, you can go in, review the pieces, and pick one from the list... or not. ;) But it's at least a starting point!

The music needs to move you or at least make you move
So, when choosing music, it obviously needs to move you. That's obvious, right? What we mean exactly by 'moves you' is stir something inside of you. It needs to create a response. It will usually be a feeling that you'll sense when you hear it (e.g., joy, happiness, contentment, torment/sadness/despair [for the dark inclined]) or it could be something like 'beauty'. Whatever response you have is what is going to make you connect to the music. And that's very important.

Now, when in a group setting, not everyone will react exactly the same way to the music so keep that in mind. We're generally striving in ATS/ITS for something that will make you want to move. Your hips won't stay still when you hear that music. And that's another way to connect with the music. It will also generally make you feel something... it just may not be at the same depth... or it may.

You need to REALLY like that music
In the course of practicing, getting ready, and knowing your music inside out, you will have to listen to the piece over and over... ad nauseam... so you need to really like it enough to listen to it enough. It may happen after a performance that a music is 'burnt'... i.e., you don't want to EVER listen to it again. In the early days of Black Rose Caravan when we were still choreography-based, there were a few pieces that ended up creating this response in us. And, even with the best intentions, it can happen. But do make sure that you can listen to the music back to back to be able to go through the whole process. ;)

Sometimes, you just have to pick!
At times, you will have 20million pieces that you feel like doing because they all sound amazing to you. That's both awesome and overwhelming. Then you just have to pick one. Just like, in the morning, you end up picking one outfit out of your wardrobe, you may need to just pick one. Now, if you know the venue and the theme (if there is one), this may help dictate your choice. But if you don't or there's no theme, then you just have to choose. And, believe me, you don't want to delay the choice for too long. I've been guilty of that many times and then ended up in a time crunch. So just pick one... you can always do the other ones later (make sure to put them on your 'performance ideas playlist').

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

So... you want to perform...

You've been taking belly dance classes and want to do *something* with it... how do you go about that?

Ask around!
Most shows will have a 'call for performers' but sometimes there won't be. Back when I started doing solo work, actually, calls for performers were relatively rare. So I would ask the hostess if I could participate into the show. Yes, I was inviting myself. It feels odd at first but it gets easier the more you do it. Most importantly, just remember: what's the worst that they will say? They'll say no... that's it. No harm done. No worries.

Performance attached to workshops
Just know that there will be performances that are attached to workshops... so they will require you to take the workshops (either all of the workshops or a predetermined amount) for you to participate in the show. Apparently, it's not like that everywhere but it definitely is in the Midwest. So don't be surprised if you get a reply that states that.

Don't forget Haflas and World Music Nights!
Let your hair down haflas where people just show up and there's like a DJ or an iPod on random playing or you can bring your own music and dance are few and far between. But ISAMETD hosts them every now and then. And maybe Carenza will again once she's back in town (hint! hint!). ;) But those are excellent low pressure moments when you can perform.

Also, remember that we are very lucky to have il Troubadore who do the World Music Nights once a month. It's not a performance like being on a stage... it's actually better! You get the experience of dancing to a live band, in front of an audience that's right there. Most people around here seem to not realize it but, seriously, a lot of people I know would kill to have this opportunity. Anyway, it's another moment when you can hone your performance skills. Even though it's a different setting, it still very much counts.

Prepare for it... NOW!
If you've been contemplating performing, don't wait until you have an okay to start working on a piece. Chances are, you may get an okay closer to the date than you anticipated and then you will feel like you don't have enough time. Also, there are a number of events now that happen on an annual basis so it's getting increasingly easier to prepare ahead of time. (Note: I will write a separate post on tips and tricks that make preparation easier.) The more you do it, the easier it gets, though. ;)

Am I really ready?
If you are contemplating performing, generally, it means that you were ready to perform some time ago. Our sense of preservation and that negative voice are real good at putting doubt in our minds. My stance is that you hardly can start performing too early. As Tempest often points out, the key is doing the best that you can with what you've got. And I always bring up this example but there was one gal that I saw perform many years ago and she was obviously a beginner student and had a limited number of moves that she knew... but, damn, she did them well and had good stage presence. It was a great start.

Also remember that very few people are natural performers. So this will take time. So you may as well start now. ;)

Record performances
You will want to consider recording your actual performances for 2 main reasons: 1) to see how it actually went and analyze the performance to improve your performance skills; and 2) some shows will require you to submit a video of you performing in lieu of an audition. Since I have this quirk where people forget to take pictures or videos of my performances, I didn't have a video to show for the longest time. So for those performances that require a video, I was hosed.

That being said, one thing that you could do if you really want to put in a bid for such a performance is have someone record you dancing in full costume and all that as if it was a performance but it's in the dance studio or your living room or whatever. I mean, it's not the best, obviously, but it's better than not showing anything.

The dreaded bio/blurb
Once you're accepted in the show, they will often ask you for a bio/blurb that the MC will say or that will be in the program. I nearly guarantee that you will draw a blank. What should I write? Well, you don't have to write a whole lot. I've found over the years that short and sweet will do just fine. I typically write a simple sentence about me (it generally will be "Celeste is a dark belly dance and improvisational tribal style performer and instructor in Indianapolis.") and then add a sentence or two about the piece. That can contain like the name of the song, the artist, etc. or just be about the piece per se. If you need to put something in to bring context to the piece, you can. My stance is that I want the dance to do the talking. ;)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Performance preparation

As I was getting ready for the Ooky Spooky Hafla, I thought that it might be important to blog about performance preparation. I’m talking here about the last minute things that you need to do; I won’t talk about how your piece should have been prepared or anything like that.

THE #1 advice regarding preparation for performing is that you need to be as relaxed as can be! The thing is that performing is very much a mental thing. There is a whole lot of prep that goes before to get the piece ready and don’t forget to do it, of course… but in the last day or so before performing, it should all be about being as relaxed as can be.

Pack your bag
If the performance is out of town, you will want to pack your costume, makeup, etc. Sometimes, even when it’s in town, it’s easier to pack things up. Here are things to include in your performance bag… some are optional:
  • Costume – unless you already are wearing it; there usually will still be items from the costume that you will pack like your belt, for example
  • Makeup – unless your whole makeup is applied… and even then you probably want some elements of your makeup “just in case” (for example, mascara, eyeliner, eyelash glue)
  • Cover up – you can use a veil but, at one point, you want to invest in a cover up that actually covers you up (for example, a kimono, kaftan)
  • Hair brush, hair spray, and hair accessories – remember that, even if you did your hair up before the performance, you may want to remove the whole thing before heading home or want to tweak your hairdo
  • A personal mirror – you never know what the room in which you’ll be able to change will look like… and even when there are full length mirrors available, there might be a strong competition for a portion of the mirror
  • Tampon or pad – you never know…
  • Makeup remover towelettes – I have found those especially useful in toning down makeup, especially if I did a crazy-ish makeup first and don’t want to travel with it on my face; and some people can’t stand makeup for long periods of time
  • Dance shoes – This is optional and will totally depend on the flooring of where you’ll be performing. I have my infamous Fluevogs that I often wear to get to shows… it’s not just to be stylish… I can dance in them if I need to. ;) So if you don’t know the flooring, make sure to have something to dance in and/or ask.
  • Bindi – I often end up putting those on at the venue
  • Change of clothes – unless you’re going home straight afterwards but even then we can’t wait to get out of our costumes sometimes after having performed

Another tip for packing your bag: if you will be wearing multiple costumes or if you are packing your whole costume to be put on at the venue, pack the items in reverse order of how will put them on. What I mean is that you want to put at the bottom of your luggage your topmost layers (example, overskirt, coin bra) and put at the top of your luggage your first layers (example, pantaloons, choli). If you have to put your costume on while being in a tight space like a small bathroom stall, you’ll be happy you did that as opposed to having to move stuff around in your luggage.

Oh and consider investing in a small rolling luggage to transport your costumes and other items (you can get some dirt cheap ones at Walmart or Target). The advantage of a rolling luggage (besides the whole rolling part) is that it will generally offer an amount of protection from crushing for your items… I’m thinking specifically here of accessories.

Drink plenty! Plenty of water!
You’ll want to drink plenty of water. Sounds corny but, seriously, it’s true. Drinking enough water will hydrate you enough and invigorate you. That being said, you want to monitor your drinking intake (of any fluid) when you get close to show start time… because, well, what goes in must come out. ;)

Bathroom time
I generally do one last bathroom run right before putting on my costume (or right before putting on my belt if I’m mostly dressed up already). And I do this whether I feel that I need to or not… think of it like when you were a kid and mom told you to go before you were heading on a car trip. :p And if you do feel the need to go while you’re all dressed up, just know that it could be the nerves… ;)

Sleep well!
Another corny and self-evident one but the better you sleep, the less nervous you’ll be. Now, of course, first reaction you’re thinking is that you’re too nervous to sleep the night before. What about those other nights that same week? Try to get enough sleep during that whole week. It will be beneficial.

Don’t finish your costume at the last minute!
We’ve all done that every now and then but try to minimize how often that happens. Strive to have all your pieces ready 1 week before the performance. That way, you’ll be able to practice with the full costume at least once but, mostly, you won’t be sewing your fingers off when you should be relaxing.

Hair and makeup practice
Along the lines of practicing with your whole costume, you may want to try your hand at your hair and makeup for the performance, especially if it’s a technique that you have never used before or seldom used. Of course, if you don’t do that, the day of the event, you’ll be scrambling trying to make it do what you want when you are pressed for time.

For this, I will typically pick a weekend day when I have all the time in the world and practice doing all of that. That way, even if I mess up and need to redo or it takes forever, it’s no big deal. You will also get a sense for how intensive and how long it will potentially take you to do that the day of.

To eat or not to eat?
Some performers absolutely cannot dance with something in their stomach so they won’t eat. Others need sustenance to be able to do anything. Generally speaking, you want to ensure that you have eaten enough the day of the performance. Consider bringing snacks for before and/or after if you are in the category who absolutely cannot eat. Just know, too, that it could be your nerves telling you not to eat: you want to have eaten during the day because no one wants to see you faint on stage. Just know your personal limits and don’t let anyone sway you on that: we each have our own metabolism.

To practice one last time or not?
That is another one that is totally a personal thing. I’m one of those who gets more nervous if I practice one last time before hitting the stage. I can listen to the music but I can’t do the moves because that makes me extra nervous. I dare say that the answer to this one is probably the same as what was your answer in school as to whether you should review the material the day of the exam or no. In my case, it was the same thing: if I reviewed the material ‘one last time’, it messed me up more.

Also, if it’s a matter of practicing one last time and getting ready/packing in a crazy fashion because you are running out of time vs. calmly getting ready but not practicing, go for the calm. ;)

Your performance mindset
It will be important for you to figure out what your performance mindset is. What I mean by that is what conditions give you optimal performance potential. And, again, I’m talking mostly mental here... the physical aspects (food, water/fluids, and sleep intake) should have been take care of upfront. From a mental point of view, what gets you ready to perform? Is it peace and quiet? Is it a certain attitude?

You may want to develop some sort of ritual that works in helping you out with this. One caveat to that, though: you don’t want said ritual to be dependent on too many things. Like if you absolutely need green M&Ms with Diet Coke with 3 ice cubes and Nag Champa incense burning, you may be out of luck if you didn’t have time to grab some M&Ms and Diet Coke, there’s no ice machine, and someone is allergic to incense… I’m exaggerating here but you get the point.

In my case, I need to be in a ‘goth club/party’ mindset. As I’m applying my makeup and doing my hair, I put my iPod on random on some specific playlists or artists that get me in that mindset and make me want to burst out and dance. I also need to withdraw myself from the group a few minutes before I actually go on stage. And I will do some breathing techniques as I’m waiting backstage (whatever that may be) for my turn. And then it’s showtime.

I found out what works (and what doesn’t) for me over the years. I encourage you to find your own way doing things. And don’t worry about being ‘antisocial.’ Most other performers will understand the need for you to do your own thing to get into the proper mindset.

What if the conditions are not optimal?
So you didn’t sleep enough, you’re running on caffeine, haven’t eaten since breakfast, and your hair decided to have a mind of its own… or some version of that. Well, you still gotta make do and, in good Tim Gunn fashion, “Make it work!” You can still put yourself into that performance mindset although it will be a tad harder. Mostly, what it means is relaxing as much as you can. When you feel these things happening and a surge of panic, take deep breaths, maybe walk a few steps while just relaxing (maybe grab a glass of water). You can also call and/or text a husband, friend, moral support and vent your frustration for a bit. Works wonders! Again, you want to seek a calm state of mind.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's Belly DANCE!

I think that there are 2 items that are sometimes forgotten when it comes to belly dance performances: it’s DANCE and but let’s not forget also that it’s BELLY DANCE.

It’s Dance!
I’ve seen a number of performances where the dance is out the door. What I mean by that is that the performance ends up being a mechanical and automaton-like stringing of moves one after the other… it’s almost like exercise on stage.

There is indeed a place and time for the mechanical aspect: that’s in practice and/or in class when you are drilling moves. You do them over and over again mechanically to get the hang of doing the moves. But there comes a time when you need to depart from the straight up metronome version and flow from one move to the other. Definitely, you should follow what the music is dictating and flow with it… not fight against it! And you should be able to do that even without music! I mean, there should still be a nice flow even without the help of music.

For the heck of it, I was looking at the Merriam-Webster definition of ‘dance’ (which is not really helpful, by the way) and it said ‘generally done to music.’ That is, dance can happen without music! You can look at Onca’s 3rd Coast performance from this year to see that. You can also give it a try in your practice. I found that enlightening personally.

In a way, having such defined moves as we have in belly dance is both good and bad. It’s good because it gives you a strong framework to work with. It’s bad because the framework can end up confining you if you let it. Last weekend, I was watching Step Up 2 The Streets and it dawned on me that, in hip-hop, modern dance and all that, while they do have some framework now, if you go back to how it started (or even if you analyze the dance), it’s a flow of moves... of limbs and body parts doing something. (Actually, a strong parallel could be drawn to the early days of belly dance over here before we catalogued it all.)

The point here is to remember that it’s dance and not be too attached to the metronome numbers.

And, yes, it’s applicable to ATS/ITS
While ATS/ITS has a framework that needs to be abided by (more so than other genres of belly dance), you can still flow with the music… or at least you should attempt. We most certainly have slightly modified some combos before for them to fit with the music that we were going to dance to. In general, if you do your homework and do your home practice to the piece you will be performing ATS/ITS to, you will find that some moves/combos will fit better to some music and others you will naturally censor because it just doesn’t work well.

You can also ensure that you start something at the start of a phrase. That will go a long way in respecting the music. You can even slightly customize the tempo of the move to fit with the music. And, believe me, dancers WILL follow you. There are still some rules to follow, of course (like starting the move/combo on 1 and not on 2) but you still have some wiggle room… and that makes the performance so much more interesting.

It’s Belly Dance!
I don’t know if, in an attempt to do something different, to try something more creative or artistic, or for whatever else reason, but there have been performances I’ve seen where, really, it was entertaining, it was dance, but it wasn’t belly dance. If you will label your piece as something that is belly dance, there needs to be more than just 1 chest circle. There is a misconception that the lack of belly dance is only seen in fusion pieces. I’ve seen it in all subgenres lately.

So, although I encourage everyone to be more dance-y, please remember to keep your belly dance movements in… and in control too. You should be able to name more (or show if you don’t know the name) more than one move for your piece. I strongly recommend everyone to assess their piece for this. I do that all the time. I love to mix in more dance-y and flowy items but I always ensure that it’s still belly dance.

Over the years, I’ve seen this debate of what constitutes belly dance on like tribe and other message boards. Well, belly dance, if you notice, will use your core a lot. A lot of the moves originate from somewhere between the top of your chest to below your hips. If these portions of your body aren’t moving much in your piece, you’re probably not doing enough belly dance.

This art form is beautiful… don’t be afraid to showcase it in a dancer’s manner, using musicality and, yes, your core belly dance moves!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I posted already in a previous blog about Synergy of elements in your dance (see http://celestesmusings.blogspot.com/2010/08/synergy.html ). This time, I’m tackling cohesion, which should really have been a first step. Whereas synergy is all the elements working together to enhance the performance, cohesion is all the elements fitting together… i.e., cohesion is the first step and then, if you’re lucky and/or have planned well, synergy will be the next level.

Head scratching
I’ve seen a lot of performances over the years that have left me scratching my head… some of them are downright bad… but, you know, it’s not that often that it’s just plain bad. What happens often instead is that it leaves you scratching your head because the elements individually aren’t bad but putting them together didn’t have a good result. If you’ve ever watched Top Chef, you’ve heard the judges say something like “These ingredients together weren’t working… there was no relationship between them.” So we’re talking about the same principle here.

For example (and not that I’ve seen that specific example…), let’s say you’re using some classical music from the 18th century, wearing a post-apocalyptic type of costume, hair is totally 80s, facial expression is uber upbeat cabaret, and you’re doing some folkloric moves. Okay, this example is really farfetched but I’ve seen some that approach that level of schizophrenia.

Common thread
So you want a common thread throughout the elements. That’s how you can make cohesion work. Again, if you watch Top Chef and/or Project Runway, the critiques will often touch on that. It’s the same thing for dancing. It needs to make sense why those elements are brought in together.

Stand alone piece
And I’m not talking about explaining away why you chose all those elements and how they make sense to you… if it’s truly a good idea, it will need to come out in your dance so that it will be obvious in the piece that you are presenting. It’s getting increasingly rarer that you will get an intro before your piece… and even if you do, they may mess up what you wrote… there are some pieces that maybe would benefit from having a program so you could read about the piece (and programs are nearly a thing of the past... even rarer than the intros)… but if the idea is too intellectual and not enough represented in dance, then it’s not fully developed for the dance medium. Your performance needs to be self-explanatory as much as possible.

Back to cohesion
So back to the original point… and that farfetched example… if you love all those elements, it’s cool… but maybe you shouldn’t pair them together. It would be better to do individual pieces centered on one of the items and run with that thread… explore it in more depth. You’ll be surprised (agreeably so) with what you’ll find!

Discordance can be way cool… but the way that this is done the most effectively is when only ONE item is opposite to the rest. It’s a statement when you do that.

Not all concepts are usable
Just a note that not all concepts are usable… there are things that are much better in your head and they should stay there. And it’s a matter also of some concepts, while interesting, may not be usable for your medium and maybe another medium would be better. So it may not be a danceable thing but would make for a great thing to write about… then why don’t you write about it? I’d like to read it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Just do it!

Part of ATS/ITS is obviously the whole leading and following thing. Following is generally not too nerve-racking (although you still want to make a good effort at understanding the cues and executing the appropriate movement). What trips up most people is leading. I’m not going to talk about exactly how you go about leading (i.e., the technical aspect) but more the mental preparation. And although the frame of mind that I had for writing this blog was about ATS/ITS, a lot of it is applicable to other styles of dance.

That’s why we drill
So you’re nervous about leading and whether you will do the moves correctly. Well, you know what? That’s why we drill those moves over and over again. The idea is that the moves will become so ingrained in your body that they will just flow. What will happen eventually is that you’ll do cue XX and the move that goes with it will just come out. That’s how much you want to know your moves. It makes your life much much easier.

Overthinking is a killer
I’m a big overthinker for most things… but definitely NOT for leading. If you start overthinking, that’s when you’ll second-guess yourself as to whether you should trust your body that you had the correct follow-up to a cue or whether you are doing it correctly on the beat and it all goes downhill from there. Just trust your instincts. Trust that your body knows what it is doing.

Don’t edit
Unless you’re about to replicate the exact same pattern as the leader before you (and even then…), don’t edit what you’re about to do. The main reason for that is that it’s then putting you into the left side of your brain, so in the analytical side, as opposed to keeping you flowing… and the overthinking will ensue… as well as the negative talk that we (too often) give ourselves. In addition, that will generally make you hesitate and, thus, will break the moment.

That’s why we practice together
You know, those rehearsals when we just do improvisation together? They’re as crucial if not more than drilling moves. You can drill moves on your own, at home. While you can do exercises on your own that will practice your leading abilities, it’s never the same as having some folks in the back relying on you to cue a move. So it is really important that you do those group practices. But please relax in them. You can totally mess up in those and it’s all in good fun. We’re all learning together when we do those practices.

Let go of perfection
In practice and in performance, you will mess up… you will cue something that you didn’t mean to or cue something wrongly. No biggie. As long as you don’t have a face of “OMG, I messed up!”, few will know. And your dance partners won’t flog you at the end. Seriously. We’ve all messed up. It’s perfectly fine.

Just do it!
To borrow the Nike slogan (it’s a damn good one), what it boils down to is that you need to Just do it! It’s that simple! Sounds complex and all but, really, all that you have to do is take a deep breath and take a proverbial plunge… you need to just do it! And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Trust me!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Soliciting feedback

Finally, the long-awaited follow-up blog on soliciting feedback. Or maybe it wasn’t long-awaited! :p Ahem…

Note: This post will be about the person soliciting the feedback and not about how to give feedback/critique. Also, the post is really about soliciting feedback about improving your performance quality as opposed to how to do a move better.

Soliciting feedback is a hard thing to do at times as we often don’t really want to know. However, that’s one of the ways that we get valuable information of what to work on to improve our dance.

Who should you ask?
First off, you need to figure out who you should ask for feedback. Here are some of the characteristics of an ideal person to request feedback from:
  • Honest: You want to find someone who will be honest with you. That is, someone who will really tell you the positive, negative and anything in-between. As such, close friends make bad persons to ask… they will be afraid of hurting your feelings and may not tell you the whole truth.
  • Similar style: You want to ask someone who does the same style as you do or similar enough. The issue is that the person can only talk about what she/he knows and the comments and advice that you will get will come from that knowledge… and it will most likely not be appropriate. For example, if you were to ask me to critique a Turkish piece and give you feedback on what to improve on, I would be a baaaaad choice… while I could indeed give you my opinion and my feedback on what I saw, I most certainly don’t know enough to point you in the right direction. Also, I could potentially say that I liked something that is a big no no for the style… you never know.
  • Someone you look up to in dance: You know, someone who makes you say/think “I want to be like her when I grow up in dance.” (And, hopefully, you don’t want to be ‘just’ like her but you with some of her skills… but that was already a topic for a portion of a blog.) If you can find someone who you are looking up to, someone who has performance qualities that you want to emulate, you will find a lot of valuable information from said person. The person could tell you how she/he went about working on whatever item you like from her style and that could be useful for you. Also, you will get that person’s perspective on your dance.
  • Ideally, an instructor: Not all instructors are created alike, of course, but a lot have the knowledge and skills to give you pertinent feedback and critique and will be more apt to tell you how to work on whatever. Again, make sure that the instructor is one who will tell you the truth, though… I mean, some will be hesitant to tell you things because they want you to come back to their classes and/or workshops. Hopefully, this is not the norm.

Off limits?
Do you think that someone is really off limits to ask feedback from? Probably not. As I mentioned in the previous section, most instructors will do it… you need but ask…

Paying for feedback
What? Some people pay for feedback? Why, yes. Yes they do. I’ve most certainly done that. Generally speaking, it’s considered as a private session since the instructor spends time reviewing a performance and helping you figure out how to improve aspects of your performance. It’s totally customized for you. Believe me: it’s money well spent.

You definitely do NOT want to ask for feedback right after you’re done performing… that’s when you are at your most vulnerable and will generally not be in the best frame of mind to listen anyway. So you want to at least wait one day. Any time after that is fine. Note, though, that if some time elapses, it might be beneficial for whoever you are asking the feedback from to have a video to go by to trigger the memory of the performance, if the person saw the performance live.

Frame of mind
So, when you’re going to ask someone for feedback on your dance, you want to make sure that you are in an ‘open’ frame of mind. You need to be able to listen. And when I say ‘listen’, I’m not just saying hearing the words that are being said but actually understanding what the person is saying. So doing active listening.

Don’t be defensive
You may feel attacked or end up going on the defensive. Try to resist the urge. Don’t try to explain what was going on unless it’s something that will help the person give you tips on how you could have done something better. Actually, during the Mira Betz intensive, we received two critiques (one at the very beginning and one at the very end) and, during the time that we were receiving the critique, we were instructed not to speak but just take it in. It was hard to do but it was indeed very helpful. The goal was mainly so that we wouldn’t go into the defensive mode and excuse away some things. So you may want to even resist the urge to speak at all, especially if it’s to say anything that starts with ‘but’.

Don’t twist the words
I’ve been guilty of that many times over when Jeff (my husband) gives me feedback/a critique. In that specific case, I wish that I was perfect and all that… and it’s the typically husband/wife misunderstanding. But I’ve gotten much better at not twisting his words. It may happen in the course of the discussion that you will misunderstand what the feedback really was… even if you’re doing active listening and even if you’re not defensive. Take words at face value unless otherwise specified. So if the person says that XX could be improved, it doesn’t mean that it’s crap… it means that it’s an area where you may want to work on.

Follow-up questions
Now “the” time when you can speak (and should speak) is if you have a follow-up question. It may be because the person wasn’t clear so you’re not quite sure what the point is. Or it may be because it’s bringing another idea that you have. Or what if it was in a different setting. This will engage you in a conversation with the other person and it’s generally all good and fun… but do remember to go back to the original conversation. I’m real good at digressing so that happens to me a lot.

But I feel like crap now!
Hopefully, the person giving you the critique did a good job of stressing out areas where you did well. That being said, it’s super easy to kind of dismiss those and focus on what else was said… so those areas for improvement and all that. While, yes, some dancers that you look up to are near flawless, it’s important to remember that no one is perfect… not even them! So there will always be room for improvement, just like you can always bend your knees more and lower those shoulders more. ;) It most certainly doesn’t mean that the performance was bad. But, yes, even your best performance so far can be made better… and that’s what you’re learning: where to go to next.

Whoa! What a list!
After some of those feedback sessions, you may end up with a relatively long list of items that you could tweak. While it can seem like a daunting task, don’t feel like you have to incorporate everything all at once! Some of the items on the list will be technical aspects: those can be handled in drills so the more you drill those items, they will ‘magically’ (i.e., through work and effort) get better. There are other items that have to do with performance quality so you want to pick maybe 1 or 2 of those items and work on them for your next performance; you want to pick those that are actually applicable for your next performance and/or those that could have the most impact. Since performing requires so much and thinking of so many details, you don’t want to overwhelm your brain with too many additional items to keep in mind. ;) Once you’ve successfully tackled some issues, tackle other ones.

Suggestions – not mandatory
Unless it’s something related to potential injuries (for example, if you keep doing this move this way, you’ll hurt yourself), it’s also important to realize that whatever you are hearing are suggestions. It’s up to you to decide whether you will incorporate the items that you were told in your critique. No one really is the end all be all belly dance authority; therefore, realize that you may have a different take and that it may be okay… you still want to assess whether the item could have some application but there comes a point where some things will be subjective … and you most certainly can agree to disagree.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Personal style

Well, I was going to answer Maria’s comment on my previous post but realized that it was going to be a long reply so it may as well be its own post. I’ve definitely felt that fear of ‘What if “my” style is lame/boring/uninteresting/yaddyaddya’. And I’ve definitely been on a quest for my own personal style for quite some time with a lot of question marks and wondering how to do it and generally a lot of overthinking.

Negative voice
Most of us have a negative voice inside of us… it’s the one that makes you think that your own thing may be <> (for example, lame, boring, uninteresting). Thou shalt not listen to that voice! It’s the thing that holds you back all the time. It’s why you haven’t done XX thing even though you’ve been itching to for like forever. You need to shut that voice down. I went with some creative and crazy ways of dealing with it: I wrote a poem to it and I did also a Q&A blog post about it (both are on tribe somewhere in my blog posts). Again, that’s my silly and crazy way of handling it. But it eventually worked. Whatever works for you, use it. You may want to write a letter about it and then burn it. Whatever. If all else fails, use the Stuart Smalley daily affirmations: I’m good enough! I’m smart enough! And doggone it! People like me! And believe it too!

Starting point
So, at first, you will follow in someone’s footsteps or imitate the way that they do moves. It’s normal. It’s akin to when we all started learning how to write and we would mimic the letters… nearly all letters from those first graders workbooks look the same. It’s because they’re copying those shapes that they were told make the letters. As comprehension of how to write those letters increases (and with regular practice), you start seeing some handwriting differences. It’s the same principle with dancing.

And then…
At last year’s Belly Boo Bash workshop, Leila Gamal was instructing us while dancing in diagonal lines across the floor to find our groove, find the way that a certain move fits on your body. After that workshop, I realized that that’s an important step: finding how a move really is on your body. To accommodate for your body proportions, strengths and weaknesses, moves will end up being slightly different on each bodies while the outlook will remain the same. It’s a subtle thing. But it’s an important one. And note that it doesn’t mean that technique goes out the window… it just means that you’re keeping your good isolations and your technique but with your body quirks in mind. ;)

Also, you will branch out from what your mommy (or daddy) in dance has taught you and may take some workshops and/or start being influenced by other dancers. And you’ll incorporate those items into your own dance and practice, therefore modifying (by default) the original style that you were taught. My whole blog post from yesterday around tweaking moves was getting at that too. ;)

The copycat pitfall
While learning from your teachers and from your mentors or whoever you admire is exactly what you should be doing, you should be wary of the copycat pitfall. It happens if you take something exactly as is and don’t modify anything. It also happens when you copy someone’s aesthetics down to the minute details… and, you know, not even to the minute details… If it’s too close to the original, it’s dance plagiarism (okay, I know that dance plagiarism doesn’t exactly exist… but you get the point). We’ve seen countless Rachel Brice clones and while it’s not a bad idea to learn things from Rachel Brice, you don’t want to be renown as a clone, do you? When you leave the stage, do you want folks to remember you as Rachel Brice copycat or as that dancer who had her own style? And, of course, you can insert any name instead of Rachel Brice… it’s just that it happens a lot with her.

While on the topic of copycat, even if a teacher taught you a choreography in class or in a workshop, you don’t really want to perform it on stage. Why? Because, again, you’re copying what the teacher has done… of course, it’s so much easier if the choreography has been made for you… you don’t have to come up with something and all that… you just have to execute the choreography. And therein lies a big problem. A choreography made by someone else is someone else’s point of view on that piece of music using belly dance as the tool for expression. And while you can learn the moves by heart, they will have been put in a logical order that is logical to the creator of the piece… not necessarily logical for you (hence why we sometimes struggle remembering the choreography). Moreover, as I already stated, it’s someone else’s point of view and not yours and, believe me, I’ve seen enough dancers doing someone else’s choreography to see how there is always something off. You can’t really replicate what the creator had in mind. Ever heard some bad cover songs? Usually, they’re bad because it’s just the song as is and not much extra. (And if you want to see a great example of a bad rendition of a song, look for this year’s America’s Got Talent where the father and son are singing All By Myself… yes… a duet singing All By Myself) A good cover song will be one where the artist who covers the song has made it his or her own. And that is usually done by tweaking the song to fit the cover artist’s aesthetics. One great case in point is Marilyn Manson’s version of Sweet Dreams. That song took on a whole different twist.

The “Quest” aka overthinking
At some point, you may end up on a quest for your own personal style. While it sounds noble and something that you should do, it’s a pitfall. You can read a great number of my blog posts from tribe (and I’ve carried them over on blogger too under a different address) of me being on that quest… which was really overthinking. Don’t let yourself be bogged down by this… it will come.

A lot like love…
Turns out that finding your personal style is a lot like love. Ever heard the saying “If you’re looking for love, you won’t find it but if you stop looking, you will?” It’s exactly like that with the personal style. The less you’re looking for it, the more it will come. Yes, I can vouch for that from personal experience. Eventually, Ariellah and Tempest, my mentors, each told me to stop thinking and start doing. Well, they were obviously right. The day that I stopped fussing over what my style was and started just dancing, I was much happier with my dancing in general and it just blossomed from there. So don’t worry about your personal style and just dance!

Doing your own thing
So “doing your own thing” really means simply doing whatever your heart desires. It’s as simple as that… and it’s as complicated as that. You still want to keep in mind Tempest’s sound advice: “Sure you can. Should you?” But, generally speaking, we all have filters that take care of the funky stuff… and even if something funky comes out… is it the end of the world? Heck, no. Bottom line, go with what attracts you, what makes you smile (internally or externally ;) ), what you find aesthetically pleasing, etc. The rest are details. So when I encourage folks to do their own thing, what I mean is dance however YOU want to dance. Have fun with it. Discover new stuff.

The gem inside (aka being genuine)
If you dance from the heart and from something that is genuine, your dance style WILL be interesting enough. We all have beauty inside of us and we all have something to say. We’re all unique and different and that’s what makes the world interesting. So take it as your twist on dancing. Or, drawing a parallel to a different art form, it’s your way of telling a story. You know how if one person tells a story, it sounds a certain way but someone else tells the same story and it sounds different? It’s really like that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Make it your own

To add on to the good post by Tempest around learning (see http://darklydramatic.blogspot.com/2010/09/may-you-forever-thirstfor-knowledge.html ), here are some of my considerations I want to add.

Learning the basics – The Blaise Pascal story

Blaise Pascal was a monk in 17th century France who was a mathematician and physicist… very brilliant guy… While at the monastery, the monks loved watching him re-discover math theorems and prove them and all that. While he went on to make great discoveries, that story makes me mad. Thing is, for a portion of the time, he rediscovered old knowledge. I’m puzzled and flabbergasted that they didn’t bother teaching him all of that instead of marveling at his intelligence as he’s rediscovering stuff. Imagine how much more he would have discovered? He didn’t have the tools for it until he discovered them… and it’s not like he was out in the middle of nowhere (well, kinda) with no one to teach him… there were people there who could have taught him what was known.

What does this have to do with dance? Well, a parallel can be drawn: if you need to discover or rediscover how things are done, you will accomplish XX… but what if you had all the tools in your possession… what lengths could you achieve? And *that* is why we learn or at least should want to learn by going to classes and workshops and all that: it’s so that you can learn technique and artistry and any other tool that you need for your art. There’s no point in re-creating the wheel if it already exists. There’s no point in you trying to figure out how to do a shimmy if someone can show you how to do it. To some extent you will have to figure out how it feels on your body but you catch my drift. The mechanics behind it can be taught. Same for artistry and all that.

Make the moves your own

While you’ll learn great moves and combos during classes and workshops, you can totally take those home and tweak them. They don’t necessarily have to be done ‘as is’ unless we’re talking about some folkloric moves done in a folkloric setting. Examples of tweaking:

  • Sometimes a combo’s timing will seem off to you… it obviously works for the instructor who taught you the combo but it may not work for you. There’s nothing that says that you can’t modify the timing to something that fits better.
  • A portion of the combo leaves you blah or doesn’t look right on your body: you can remove that portion or replace it with something that works better. Sometimes, though, just a simple tweak like changing the arms may do the trick. (We have an infamous combo that was tweaked that way.)

ATS tweaks

You would think that ATS is sacred and that no tweaks should be made… well, not necessarily. Let me put one caveat, though: if you want to play with other groups that do the same format, you don’t want to make tweaks… or at least remember what the original move is so that you can synch back with those groups. And this should be a group decision as to what you want to do. Some groups will want to strictly follow one format (FCBD, Gypsy Caravan, BlackSheep BellyDance) while others will be more flexible. It’s all good. Black Rose Caravan falls into the flexible category (our little known tag line is “We make this sh!t up”). Black Rose Caravan loves to incorporate any move or combo that we feel fits our format and aesthetics. But, in order to do that, we’ve had to tweak some combos and moves so that cues can’t be confused or to add a cue, keeping in mind that the move/combo will be done by a group in synch (hopefully, lol). We do that in a collaborating manner but we still do it. And no move is sacred… we’ve even tweaked good old Egyptian Basics because one of our members at the time had shoulder and neck issues and it also gave us an opportunity to have a cue to stop the half turns back and forth while still doing Egyptian Basics. We love the fact that we can incorporate anything that we like.

But <> does it a certain way!

Don’t be fooled by that. It’s not because so and so does a move or combo a certain way that you have to do it. It happens a lot with big names in tribal fusion (of course, most noteworthy being Rachel Brice). While, yes, it’s a nice way to do the move or combo, it may not look good on you… maybe not at all. It’s important to recognize that and either edit or tweak said move/combo to flatter your figure… or ditch it entirely. For example, while I think that pops and locks can be cool, given my fleshy body, it looks all wrong on me as there are ripple effects that don’t make the moves crisp as they should be.


So, you learned a choreography in a workshop. Bravo! But what to do with it? Generally speaking, you don’t want to perform that choreography on stage (even if the instructor said that it was fine). And the whole rationale for that is a blog post in itself so I’ll shelve that for later. But now you have spent moolah learning a choreography and what can you do with it? Surely there are some elements that you like about it. It may be an arm movement or a set of moves. It’s totally possible (and even a great idea) to excerpt those items that you find interesting and incorporate them into your own vocabulary and/or practice. If it’s an arm movement, you can layer that over some moves. If it’s a set of moves, you can turn it into a combo.

Bottom line

So the point of the whole thing here is that knowledge is important and is your foundation for (in this case dance) growth and you should seek it out as much as you can. But once you have it, it doesn’t have to become stale… quite the contrary! Borrowing back to the Blaise Pascal story, you can discover new things and further Dance. Most importantly, it will be YOUR way. Make it ALL your own. THAT is what will differentiate you from the crowd.

Monday, August 30, 2010


(You’d think that my next blog post would logically be about solicited feedback… and, yes, that was originally my intention… but then the unsolicited feedback brought up an idea so here we are. ;))

The idea came when I wrote about the comments that we sometimes get about the costuming… (see previous blog post). Same could be said about makeup... oh and hair too!

Not a feature

Isn’t it something to strive for, to have great costuming and makeup and hair? Yes… to a certain point. At a minimum, you want those elements to not be extremely visible… meaning, that it shouldn’t detract from your performance… and it shouldn’t be a feature of your performance. I have seen a number of dancers over the years whose performance gets carried through because of costuming, hair, and makeup but the dance itself was meh. Some people hide behind those tricks. (And, seriously, we've all done this at least once.) It’s a smoke and mirror trick that you want to use sparingly... if at all!


You want to stir away from the cluster f***. That happens generally when you just shlap on something without having put any thought into whether it's appropriate for the performance. Because it's a gorgeous costume or one from renown designer XX that cost you XX$, it doesn't mean that it's appropriate for the performance!


Ideally, you want everything costuming, hair, and makeup (and beyond) to be in synergy. What does ‘synergy’ mean? Synergy, in general, may be defined as two or more agents working together to produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently (per Wikipedia).So, with that in mind, I mean that we ideally want the costuming, hair, and makeup to enhance the performance in a way that enriches the whole final product that you’re presenting on stage.It’s a balancing act and a bit tricky. Just putting on a costume will already oomph up a performance… but if the performance doesn’t have enough oomph to begin with, a nicer bow won’t make it better.


Really, that’s the thing: you can view costuming, hair, and makeup as a frame for your performance… i.e., for your moves, for the mood and tone you want to set, the character, etc. So if you use the wrong frame, something will be off… and everyone will know it. Sometimes it’s easier to imagine a different art. Take a painting that would be very Victorian but you stick it in a super modern frame… something will definitely be off. Likewise, a very modern painting in a Victorian-style frame would be off. So keep that in mind while choosing your costume elements, your hair design, and your makeup!

Also keep in mind some technical/practical aspects too. You will be doing floorwork? A skirt may not be the best idea. You will be using veil? Maybe an elaborate do with lots of metal tidbits in your hair will most likely get the veil caught.

Another tip

I’ve most certainly been guilty of not having synergy in my costume. I think that it’s something that needs to be experienced with… and I don’t always succeed even when I’m trying to achieve it. For the record, while having a specific costume for a specific piece and only for that piece would be amazing, it’s near impossible to do for many reasons.

One thing that has helped me when I think of my costuming for an upcoming piece, though, is asking myself “Out of my stuff I already have, what would the person who is dancing this piece choose and does it fit with the music, mood, etc.?” (Note that I include jewelry and overall accessories in this self-assessment). It helps foster that synergy because you are getting in touch with the character and the piece in choosing your costuming elements. Same goes for hair and makeup. I ask myself “What would this character do for hair and makeup?”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Unsolicited Feedback

What I mean by “unsolicited feedback” is whenever you tell someone after a performance your thoughts on it. Most people just say something like “I really liked your performance!” It’s great that you did… but, believe me, we all get that a lot (or a version of that). It’s helpful to know more, hence the reason for this blog.

Not a full blown critique of the performance

If you’re giving unsolicited feedback, don’t do a full blown critique of the performance… that really should be kept for solicited feedback (i.e., someone pointedly asks you to critique the performance). The critique/solicited feedback topic will be covered in a separate blog. So, instead of giving a critique, what we want to focus on is what you can cover in your unsolicited feedback.

Keep it positive

The things that need to be improved on should be covered in a full blown critique. Few people will dare mentioning to the performer what he/she could have done better, thankfully, but I still thought that I should put this disclaimer here… just in case…

Overall impressions

Knowing your overall impressions is good. So knowing that you liked the performance is great. If you can add more details as to why you liked the performance, all the better! For example, “I really liked your performance because I could feel the emotions pouring forth.” Adding that tidbit of extra info helps the performer tremendously. That’s how the performer knows what overall elements came through for you.

Specific moves/moments

If there are specific moves or moments in the piece that really captured you, please say so! One of the best unsolicited feedback I’ve ever received was from Matthew Hellrung and Laura Smith: after one of my performances, they told me specific moves that they really liked in my performance. Again, knowing that tidbit of extra info tells the performer which moves really captured you. That generally means that it’s a move that we should keep on rotation. ;) For example and interestingly, one of the moves that Matthew commented on was one that I had originally dismissed but ended up doing on stage since I do improv and, well, it just came out. Had I not known that it had worked, I would have dismissed it again from future performances.

Costume comments

Costume is cool... and if there are elements that you liked about it and that worked for you, it's fine to say. But if you comment only on the costume or you say "I really liked your performance AND I especially liked your costume", it may make the performer a little neurotic. As in, "Okay... my costume was super cool. But my dance wasn't? Drat!" (or variations with more or less angst).

Oh and if you will comment on the costume, as with everything else I mentioned so far, if you can add specifics, it totally helps. For example, I really liked your costume because it enhanced the moves, specifically the arm movements. Or, I really liked your costume because it helped create/further the mood of the piece. Or whatever else.

Keep it short

A few sentences with important and pointed info will go a long way! After a performance, it often happens that a lot of folks want to talk to the performer or the performer may be doing another piece in another portion of the show and needs to go change so keeping the chat short will be helpful. Of course, if the person wants to chat for longer, it’s totally fine.

Pros and featured artists

There is this misconception that it’s almost like bad form to go tell a pro or the featured artist in a show specific details of what you liked about their performance. So they often end up hearing “I really loved your performance” over and over again. The truth is that they want the feedback too! And they seldom get some! They also want to know what worked for you and what you liked. Again, unless it’s a solicited feedback, keep it short, positive, and specific.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dancing in a restaurant

As a follow-on to the blog on dancing to live music and also due to the upcoming hafla at Greek Islands, I thought that I would write something about dancing in a restaurant setting. This isn’t my “tricks of the trade” kind of blog post but just some considerations for dancing in a restaurant setting 101. ;)

Remember my #1 rule, though: Have fun! That’s what it’s all supposed to be about. ;)

Respect the patrons’ space

I saw this repeatedly at Greek Islands haflas during the first wave a couple of years ago and also at Pat’s Pub: dancers dancing too close to tables and patrons. While I do understand that everything is cramped and while I will get close to patrons, you need to pay attention to their space. Specifically, you want to watch out for skirts flying and brushing on the patrons’ arms, veils hovering over the table (and, thus, the food), and backing on patrons’ chairs/tables. There are other transgressions but those are the most common ones.

You may want to stir away from the 25-yard tribal style skirts for that very reason… especially if it’s tucked up on the sides. You won’t feel it flying off nor notice the tucked ruffles brushing on arms and all that. If you want to do veil, find a big enough spot to do it in (at Greek Islands, that confines you to the entrance) or wait until the venue is almost empty. If you need to back up for whatever reason, do look where you’re going… both for the patrons’ sake and for your own… objects are sometimes closer than they appear! :s


I’m sword challenged so it’s not an issue for me but I think that swords deserve their own subsection. ;) Swords are beautiful and cool. But, beware of patrons! They have no idea that that thing is not just a cheap prop and will walk right by you… like much closer than you’d expect them to. So do be careful if you will do sword. And if you are still a swordee-in-training (i.e., if you’re getting good at it but still have balancing issues from time to time), you may want to wait until you are more in control of the sword before doing it out in public, especially when people will freely walk around you. For more advice on sword dancing in the restaurant, ask Gabi for her ideas and advice. Personally, I wouldn’t do it. But if you want to do it, use extreme caution.

Let the wait staff do their jobs

That is another big thing that I noticed: waiters sometimes have issues walking around to wait on their tables. If you notice a waiter coming your way, try to get out of the way (without falling onto someone else’s table, of course). There are many areas between tables where you can duck. ;) Try to pay attention to the movement around you. If we were to take pictures of me non-stop while I dance at Greek Islands, you would barely see me with my eyes closed or my head lowered; one of the reason for this is indeed to keep track of the wait staff movement so that I can get the hell out of their way. I realized as I was getting ready to write this blog that one thing that I tend to do if I am on the lower level of the restaurant is do a quick-ish twirl every now and then and check the kitchen area to see if anyone is coming out. Don’t go all twirling dervish on us… but consider glancing over there every now and then.

Acknowledge the patrons

I know that it’s a little hard at times, especially if you are an introvert but do give patrons a little smile every now and then. Try also to refrain from dancing constantly with your back to the patrons. I mean, turn to them for a little. The more you do those things, the easier it will become over time. And, you know, for all that your back side can be cute, they want to see you from the front too (that’s usually the nicer side of our costumes [and moves for that matter] anyway).

Dancing in a group (added after edit)

It kind of goes along with acknowledging the patrons. I've seen this numerous times and have been guilty of doing it myself. Sometimes, you will start dancing with a group of women and will be facing each other... totally turning your backs to the patrons... and it sooooooo looks like way back when women would go out and dance in a club with the purses in the middle of their dancing circle. Do feel free to disengage from the group a little and face the patrons. And this has a tendency to happen more with tribal dancing... we somehow start by facing each other and we stay that way. Well, if you do pair up with me, just know that I may turn the whole group so that we end up facing the patrons. Unless you are specifically doing a duet or doing something where all dancers are facing each other, in tribal style, really, you should still face 'the audience' often enough. ;)

Children first, women next, men last

This is something that I learned in the SCA and is uber useful. When dancing, if you do acknowledge the patrons, start with children first, women next, and men last. Children will provide a lot of entertainment: the baby in the high chair who is bouncing to the music; the smitten little boy who blows you kisses from across the room; the little girls who call you Princess Jasmine; the little boys who are clapping when you’re away but shy when you get close; the little girls dancing with you and following you around… It’s real funny and everyone likes it. Women will really appreciate being acknowledged before men. They’re generally digging belly dance more than men anyway so you may as well give them first smiles. ;) It also proactively pre-empts the conundrum for men of “Should I look at her or not?” Since you’re not making eye contact with them (yet), they can glance at their lady and see her reaction and take their cues from there.


Since there will be regular patrons, some of them are regulars or have been at Greek Islands before when there are belly dancers… heck, some did tip while at Pat’s Pub… so you need to think before you start dancing whether you want people to tuck bills in your belt or not. Really, it’s not that bad. You’ll be lucky if they tuck enough that the bill won’t fall off. But if you’re not comfortable with it, there are other ways. Amirah wears arm bands and point that the site of tucking should be there. So if you have arm bands, you can totally do that. Another method is to get the money in your hand and tuck it yourself. You want to do this politely and nicely… what you can do is like a little curtsy with your nicest smile so that they know that you appreciate the gesture.

Money shower

You may get a money shower. If you do, just stay there and be showered with money. I always have a big broad smile on my face when that happens because it cracks me up. And then I leave the money on the floor. I try not to bend down to grab money whenever possible. Don’t worry… someone will bring the money back to you… or put it on a free table nearby. You won’t lose your tip. ;)

Plates breaking

If Papa is there, he may break a stack of plates. That’s the way that he shows his appreciation and joy. It’s a Greek thing. Some people freak out when that happens: just know that it’s normal… and it’s fun. Again, that gives me the giggles. They will quickly clean the area where the plates were broken.


Do wear shoes when dancing in a restaurant. You probably don’t want to be barefoot on the carpet that may have had some food on it. They vacuum each night but, still, a few hours have passed. Plus, I think that, per the code, you need shoes to be in a restaurant. ;) I personally prefer closed toe shoes but you can wear sandals or other footwear. If the shoes/sandals are not dance shoes per se, you want to assess whether you can go up on the ball of your feet; that’s crucial for some movements. If you do have time to practice in said shoes, it’s even better. If you’re used to dancing barefoot, it’s a different experience, dancing in shoes. ;)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dancing to live music

As we approach the time for the next Hafla with il Troubadore at Greek Islands, I thought that it might be a good idea to broach the topic of dancing with live music. It’s not a whole lot different than dancing with recorded music but there are some elements that you should note.

Don’t over-prepare
I’ve seen some dancers who prepare choreographies to go with live music. While it’s definitely a good idea to have the music in mind and have ideas of what you want to do at different points, if you over-prepare, you will be shooting yourself in the foot. With live music, you never know if they will speed it up (making some of your ideas impossible to execute), slow it down (now the ideas might not be interesting slow), or skip a part (in which case, your choreography is suddenly out of whack).

Work on your improv
If you can’t choreograph too much, what’s a dancer to do? Improvisation will generally work better with live music because it is so much easier to recover with anything that would be thrown at you. How to do improv is a big topic by itself so I won’t devote time to it here. What you can do, though, is practice with the music that the musicians will be playing. If you can get a hold of their rendition of the piece by said musicians, all the better. Again, it’s possible that they won’t play the music exactly as is. However, you can still use that music as a framework to practice your improvisational skills to that music. If you’re practicing for a hafla where you don’t know what the hell the musicians will be playing, just practice to some music. Improvisation is a skill that easily translates from piece to piece. :p

Flow with the music
Flowing with the music is obviously something that you can do (and should do) with recorded music too but it’s far easier with live music because you can synch with the actual musicians… right there! You’ll be more able to flow because you will have visual and audio cues from the musicians. This happens when you are relaxed and are really listening to the music as opposed to anticipating the music. It’s very helpful to notice changes in the music. ;)

If you would like the musicians to do something specific for you (for example, keep a certain tempo for a certain song), it’s perfectly fine to ask them. Making requests for specific songs is often fine… especially if we’re talking about il Troubadore. They are most accommodating. Anyway, the point is that, in general, you can ask what you want out of musicians and they are happy to help you out.

Acknowledge the musicians
It’s a nice touch to thank them for playing for you. It’s kind of a polite thing to do. They are happy to provide you with music and see you dance but let’s not forget that, without them, you’d be doing mime dancing. Not exactly the same end result. :p

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Passing up performance opportunities

I thought (after a nudge from a certain little Mouse) that it was a good idea to expand on passing up gigs and performance opportunities. It’s real hard to do… but it’s something that needs to be learned.

Don’t attempt something that’s not your style
I think that it is crucial that you know what is within your range and what isn’t. And, with that in my mind, to assess whether you can take on a certain gig or not. Most people would have the common sense not to take on a fire dancing gig if they’ve never done fire dancing. There are many risks associated with it that makes it really obvious that it shouldn’t be attempted if untrained… though I’m sure that some have attempted it. *sigh*

Anyway, what is less obvious is when we’re asked to do something that we’re somewhat familiar with and is generally without health-related risks. If you’re a tribal lady and are being asked to do a cabaret performance, as I mentioned in the previous blog post, don’t just shlap on a glitzy cabaret costume and expect to deliver a cabaret performance. Likewise, if you are a cabaret lady, don’t just shlap on a tribal costume and expect to deliver a tribal performance. Even if you think that you know what the other style is about, unless you’ve been trained in that style, it will not come out correctly per the style.

When I got the gig to dance at Greek Islands, it was clear that they wanted cabaret dancing. While I had 5 years of training under my belt in cabaret, that was back when I was in Quebec and I hadn’t really done it in like 6 years or more. Although there is such a thing as ‘generic belly dance moves’, to get the cabaret aesthetics, I really worked on remembering those moves, accompanying arms movements, attitude, etc. So, when you see me dance at Greek Islands, it is decidedly the cabaret style that you see.

Disservice to the style
While you may think that it doesn’t matter if you really know the style or not, it’s really a disservice to the style to perform it. Why? Well, those folks who are seeing you perform will assume that this is XX. So if you’re performing cabaret, they will assume that what you are doing is representative of cabaret. And, you know, you can replace ‘cabaret’ with any other genre or subgenre and it’s the same old story. Another reason why it matters is that there are people who spend painstaking amounts of time working on the style and showcasing it in a certain light and you may crush all of that work in 5 minutes flat (okay, I’m exaggerating here but you catch my drift).

Professionalism and courtesy
What it boils down to, essentially, is that you want to behave in a professional manner. So if something is not your style, it would be more professional to pass the opportunity… and it would be courteous to pass the opportunity on to another dancer in the area who actually does perform that style. It’s totally fine to say that you can’t take on the gig but you can refer the person to another person who could. And, you know what? You’ll receive that favor back eventually. For example, there is a cabaret instructor in the area with whom we exchange students: if they want to do tribal, she sends them my way and if they want to do cabaret, I send them her way.

Agreement with the terms/Paying to perform
What I wrote up until now was really more about gigs with a general public audience (and it’s even more true for paid gigs, obviously). Agreeing with the terms for the performance is really universal for paid or non-paid gigs and for the general public or belly dance shows. I’m really going to pull this from a thread that was on tribe a while back about whether performers should have to pay to perform in a show.

I get this question a lot. Do dancers have to pay to perform? Generally speaking, we are providing free entertainment (except for the headliner(s) who will be paid) so we generally don't have to pay the admission fee. So you can view it if you want as receiving a compensation of free admittance to the show in exchange for your performance. However, there are exceptions like fundraisers where performers will sometimes be asked to pay a certain amount anyway, even though they are donating a performance.

I still stand by exactly what I said on tribe so I’m copying and pasting here. ;)

“In my opinion, the organizer should be free to handle the financial matters as he or she sees fit so as not to get in debt over a belly dance show. I've not seen any abuse by any promoters here in the Midwest. I've had to pay to cover the room rental fee b/c the event was a benefit and I was totally on board with that. I had to pay a discounted ticket for performing and I was also on board with that.

Surely the dancers knew ahead of time the fee... I mean, surely it didn't suddenly spring up after they performed! If, as a performer, you don't agree with the terms for you to perform (whether it's fees or anything else, really), then just don't perform. I know that we all want to perform as much as we can but, hey, if the terms don't suit you, then you'll have to make a decision...”

That is the key: if the performance requires you to do XX and you're not fine with it (and it can be any element, really), then just don't perform. They say that you have to dance to the live musicians but you don't want to do it? Don't do it. They want you to pay 15$ to perform just like anyone else who will be watching the show and it irks you greatly? Maybe you shouldn't do it. They ask you to dance with a boa (feather or live) and it just ain't your thing? Don't do it. :p

Belly dance shows/Hafla
If the belly dance show/hafla has a theme that doesn't jive with you, your style, your personal values, or whatever else, you might want to consider passing up the opportunity too. However, that will generally not be the case. I think that it's very rare that this will happen but, if it does, do take time to consider whether it's a good idea to perform or not.

Most often, though, by all means, do feel free to explore different styles and genres in a belly dance show/hafla. That’s exactly what they’re for… among other things. You can experiment, try out different things, see what works out and what doesn’t. It’s fine. I do invite you, though, to still consider whether you are really doing a fair attempt at the style or just shlapped on the costume.