Monday, August 15, 2011

Be a good belly dance citizen

As I’ve travelled extensively over the last few years, I’ve seen all kinds of behaviors from dancers. I’ve even seen or heard of dancers behaving so badly that they ended up being banned from participating in certain events. I was trying to think of what makes the difference between a pleasant dancer that you love having at your event vs. the not so pleasant one that you hope won’t ask to be part of your event ever again. What it boils down to is ethics and common courtesies! Here are a few things that help (in random order):

Be there on time! Oftentimes, an arrival time or check in time will be requested out of performers. Please try to respect that as much as possible. This helps considerably lower the blood pressure of whoever is hosting. Plus, that ensures that you’ll indeed be there for your performance. I’ve seen countless dancers arrive late and then the line up needs to be re-shuffled. Most hosts/hostesses are nice enough that they will accommodate you but try not to abuse their good grace. There was one event that I went to years ago when the MC was going down the list: “Next up we have XX.”… crickets and no dancer… “Is XX here? Not yet? Okay… is YY here?”… crickets… “Okay… Is ZZ here?” Seriously, I think that it took like 5 times of the MC saying that before she got to “Is Celeste here?” and I got to reply with a sultry “I am.” that got me a cheap pop of applause if only for actually being there.

It’s okay to say no. Women often have a hard time saying no but, believe me, you’re better off saying no than cancelling at the last minute. It is okay to look at your schedule and reply to an offer with a polite decline. Seriously, the person on the receiving end will appreciate this reply much more than you cancelling at the last minute because of whatever reason. It’s a tricky thing, though, of course. First off, when you get the offers, it seems like it’s all doable. So it does take a few times of overdoing it to realize what is your maximum amount of dancing that you can do (in a day, a week, a month…) and accept that that’s what it is. Secondly, it inevitably feels like you’re prioritizing someone’s event over someone else’s… and it feels wrong on so many levels. But, at some point, you have to do just that. Thing is: you can’t do it all! And giving a subpar performance or having to cancel on someone will look much much worse than having said no at the start.

Honor your commitments. If you’ve agreed to an event, please do show up! I’ve seen many flaky people who just don’t show up. Even in the situation above, if you can muster it, even while being exhausted, try to show up to the event. It will say volumes about you. Not showing up on a regular basis will definitely give you the reputation for being flaky… and then you either will be banned or a last-minute addition to a show (which sounds cool on paper but is far from cool) or just plainly people won’t believe that you’ll be there. It’s really hurting your reputation.

Don’t take too much space. When you’re getting ready, try to minimize the space that you are using backstage. If you look around, you’ll notice that, frequently, the level and fame of the dancer is inversely proportionate to the amount of space that a dancer is using backstage. It’s almost like some dancers believe that there’s status or something in having their stuff all over the backstage area. I’ve had to fight for my tiny spot countless times. Thanks to working in a restaurant where I have a tiny office room to get changed in, I’m now very much used to only needing a small amount of space to get ready in. Essentially, you want to try to use about the size of your bag and not too much more. And try not to monopolize the mirror(s)! Seriously, there are steps that you can do without being in front of the mirror, you know… ;)

Try not to (unknowingly) sabotage another dancer. This is tricky because it can happen without you realizing what you are doing and different people will react differently to things being said around them. However, I’ve seen countless shows where dancers get so frantic backstage that they will say things that are really baffling… off hand remarks that really originate from nerves but, given that the other person is nervous too, it may ruffle their feathers. And I’ve been to shows where the backstage area feels like a slaughterhouse. I know that I’m goth and all but, lemme tell you, it ain’t a fun feeling… and it ain’t the “good” spooky kind. If you do feel like the atmosphere backstage is very bad/poisonous, you may need to remove yourself from it… but then again sometimes you need to get ready in that darn room. Sometimes even putting on the iPod is not enough so you gotta learn to make do. Now, what you can do to help is try to keep a positive state of mind. It’s sometimes easier said than done but, seriously, try to be as positive as you can and it should help.

Assume that others have good intentions. Until proven wrong, I try to assume that others have good intentions or rather don’t have bad intentions. Even in the event of someone who is casting off bad vibes backstage that feel like sabotage, I will typically assume that it’s just her nerves getting the better of her. I think that a lot of drama and hurt could be avoided by this mindset. I won’t add too much about this as Tempest had two great blogs about it that you should go read ( and )

Sometimes, you should just shut up. As we get nervous, we sometimes will say the darndest things (see above). So sometimes, you should just refrain from saying what you want to say. And just in general, try to keep your filter VERY tight. You never know who is listening.

In line with the title here, if you are in someone’s workshop or class, don’t make it all about you. You can (and should) ask questions about moves and all. But it shouldn’t detract from the progression of the workshop or class. Unless you have a private or semi-private class with someone, don’t behave like you’re having a private moment with the teacher. We’ve all been in workshops where it seems like this one dancer is having a private lesson with the instructor because she wants to converse as if that was the case… but there’s really 50 other dancers who are trying to move forward with what the workshop is teaching. So, again, do ask questions but be careful not to monopolize the teacher’s attention.

Remember who you are representing. This is taking it a step further but, really, when you behave badly or weirdly, you gotta remember who you are representing…

  • You are representing your teacher, from whom you’ve taken regular classes. Chances are that you will divulge who said teacher is so what you do will potentially reflect on her as well.
  • You are representing your town/area where you are from. Taken to the extreme, some could say “oh, the girl from XX town is like (insert negative remark).” Next time they see someone from your same town/area, they may think that she is like you… until she proves them wrong maybe but you’ve set the stage for a rough start for someone else.
  • You are representing YOU! Above all else, though, you are representing yourself. So if you behave like a bitch, chances are you’ll be seen as a bitch… and bad reputation travels FAST! You don’t want people saying “Oh, you don’t want XX at your event because she’s a total bitch (or insert other negative comment).”

Be as gracious and as flexible as you can be. Performances and events are seldom easy and smooth sailing. There will be shifts in timing, schedule, the stage may not be what you were expecting, the crowd may not be what you were expecting, all kinds of things can go wrong. I’ve seen dancers throw near temper tantrums over shifts whereas the big name of an event is just rolling with the punches. The more you do this, the easier it gets to do, of course. But you can still be gracious about it. Now, I don’t mean to be a “welcome mat” and let people abuse you. Of course not!

Do cite your source. I’ve seen it too many times when a dancer is inspired by someone or blatantly stole something from someone else (be it a costuming element, dance move, whatever) and try to pass it as their own (i.e., as if they have created it themselves). There is no shame in saying “I was inspired by XX for this” or “I learned XX from YY.” It actually makes you appear savvy! And it gives back to whoever you drew inspiration from or who you learned something from. And it’s just plain good karma! :p

Treat others as you would like to be treated. This is an old adage that we all know, right? It totally applies in all things in life, including belly dance, of course. It requires somewhat of a taking a step back and assessing whether the behavior we are about to do or did would be something that would be okay if we are on the receiving end. Also, if you’ve seen behavior that annoys the hell out of you, try not to repeat it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

It's all cheesecake!

This weekend, in the Museum Quality Intensive with Tempest (great time... will write a review on it soon), we were talking a few times about "it's cheesecake." Here's where that originates from.

This actually came from a conversation between Jeff (my hubby) and I about how, when you're seeing a lot of good performances in a show (and it's true just in general), what you end up preferring is like which cheesecake you prefer. Most people love cheesecake but there are a few who don't. If you fall in the latter category, you could replace cheesecake with another dessert but cheesecake works specifically well because there are a ton of different kinds of cheesecake.

Note also that your cheesecake preference can vary from day to day. So some days, you feel like having just regular New York style cheesecake with nothing on top; another day, you may want to add fruit toppings; next week, maybe you want something with chocolate; and then maybe something that sounds far out like "key lime pie cheesecake". That goes for you as the audience member as well as you as the dancer. ;)

Now, a good, solid, show will have like bite size (hopefully bite size) samplers of a bunch of cheesecakes. And, well, you'll probably go "Oh my god! This was awesome! Oh my god! This one's awesome too!" You may get points where you go "you know, this wasn't working for me" and that's fine. At the end of the evening, thinking back upon the samplers you tried, you may find a few that really hit a spot for you, some that didn't, and some that were really good still.

Bottom line: it's okay to have an opinion about what you are sampling (i.e., have an opinion about a performance... whoever the artist is). If you are the dancer, realize that there will be people who will like your cheesecake better than others but it doesn't mean that it wasn't a good cheesecake: it's a matter of preference.

Keeping with the analogy: it's important as a dancer to create the best cheesecake that you can with the ingredients that you have... and put your personal touch on it!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Museum Quality Intensive with Tempest

Just a reminder that we are hosting Tempest ( ) for an intensive in Indianapolis IN on July 29-31 titled Museum Quality: Art School for Bellydancers. Note that the early bird price will go up tomorrow! You don't want to miss this event!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Growing up

Interestingly, I was thinking of writing a blog about enjoying the process (and it's going to be the next blog) when I read one of Tempest's last blog posts ( ), which reminded me of a feeling that I've had lately when thinking back on when I started doing solo work... and it fits as a good preamble to enjoying the process. See, the "process" is different when you're in different phases of your journey.

So, yes, belly dance is a journey, especially if you are putting in art in your belly dance. And it feels a lot like growing up. Yes, again! Note that the length of each of the phases may differ from one person to the other but the ball park figure should be about right. I got the time estimates cited below from Tempest in a workshop and it kind of made sense at the time but not nearly as much as it does now that I can look back upon my growth as a dancer. Since the times and accompanying attitudes line up so well with different phases of our life, it made sense to dub them that.

Baby (0-1 years of dance)
The "baby" stage is when you've just learned your first few moves. A little bit like the babies in the picture, you'll have a mix of uber joy and dread. Like, "Oooh! This is fun!" and "You want me to do what?" At that stage, you are actually just trying to wrap your brain around the technique of the moves and everything seems so wonderful and whimsical. You're bombarded with information and probably don't know what to make of it... yet... so that part may seem overwhelming. But, generally, it's a happy place. ;)

Toddler (1-3 years of dance)
This is a time when you love absolutely everything that you do. It's so cool! You just love it all! It's a pleasure to dance, to perform, just going up there and doing your thing, whatever it is, is really blissful and enough of a reward.

Looking back upon it now that I'm further along my growth, to me, that time feels like I was a toddler doing finger painting, paint all over myself (as the picture depicts), flicking paint everywhere, hoping that it makes nice shapes. Also looking back at videographic evidence of those performances, I now shudder. Understanding that I was still a new dancer helps but it is still a bit of a reality check now... and, in a way, a cool reminder of how far I've progressed.

But progress you will or rather should. This stage is fine for a while but you have to move on and work on delivering more refined performances. I've seen dancers stuck on this stage... it ain't pretty... :s

Teenager (4-6 years of dance)
Teenage years are different from one person to the other. In the case of dance, it will be the self-loathing, "I hate everything!" version. This is a period where you will hate what you're putting out. Now, whether what you are putting out is bad or not is totally debatable... or, actually, more often than not, it's actually not bad at all. There's just something missing... it's not quite what you want to present... it's not quite as spiffy as you'd like, not quite as technical, not quite as intense, not quite as < insert whatever thing you desire in your
dance >. In reality, this is the moment when you are finding your voice in dance, your artistic side, your personal style, etc. It's probably THE moment when you are going through that belly dance ADD that I mentioned in a previous blog post the most (see )

These years will feel like they take forever to get through. Believe me! It's really disheartening at times! You'll be disappointed in performances, sometimes right after you're done, sometimes days later... You'll feel like hanging your tassels a thousand times over. A lot of people actually will quit during that time. I danced for about 5 years while in Quebec before taking a 4-year break. Now, it's a long story but I think that I was mostly in that "toddler" stage the whole time or maybe had just entered the "teenage" period but I still did quit (and started the process all over again ;)).

You will greatly miss the blissful ignorance that you had in your toddler years and yearn for a similar feeling of being happy with your dance again. Teachers, mentors, fellow dancers will keep reminding you that it will get better and that what you are doing is good... it will be hard to see that there is an end to that period... but, yes, it WILL get better. Trust me! I just got out of that period!

Adulthood (6-?? years of dance)
Once you're through 'the dark years', you'll find a freedom to have fun and do whatever you want. It's quite blissful. As I mentioned already, I'm in this phase now. And I can tell you that there's a whole lotta fun to be had!

You will put out performances that you do like. Are they perfect? Of course not! But you won't be flustered/frustrated with the little hiccups as much. You'll keep refining your pieces, your general style, your eye, etc. But you'll generally be happy with your dance and where you're going. Will there still be pieces that you'll hate? It's possible. But, by this point, you'll have had enough training and experience to work out kinks in the studio and be prepared for the actual performance so that there should be few disappointments. In trying new things, also, you may hit a snag. But, again, you'll generally be happy with your dance and will find great freedom. (It's pretty exciting too, lemme tell ya!)

What's next?
When I started writing this blog post, I asked myself "What is there after the 'adulthood' stage? Is there anything? Is there another step or just retirement for dancing?" And then I remembered Artemis (who I've met many years ago and see at least yearly), Lee Ali (who I met at Tribal Fest this year), and Amel Tafsout (who I met at Tribal Revolution this year)... and I realized that that was the answer! These ladies just have fun. They don't have anything to prove to anyone anymore (not that it should be the basis of your dancing but there is some element of that whether you admit it or not) so they just do whatever the hell they want to. I picked this lovely picture of Amel because it shows a serene bliss that I sure hope to attain one day! ;)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Noir's process

Today, I feel like sharing what was my process that I did for my piece I did at Tribal Fest, Noir. I did the piece a few other times but, ultimately, I knew that it was going to be my Tribal Fest performance piece. ;) You can see the footage here: And go look it up before I divulge what the story is... so that you're not biased. ;)

I stumbled upon that piece by Vernian Process and fell madly in love with it, especially since it had some sampling from Sin City and I LOVE that movie. I also very much liked the film noir feel... which is obviously what he was going for. He said he wrote the piece after having seen Sin City. A man after my own heart!

I have to say that, while I was in the beginning stage of working on Noir, I found out that he had re-edited the piece. I don't like it as much. It's not as raw. Kind of too polished. That's my opinion. ;) You can hear the newer version here:

First Impressions
So I started out by wondering who I would really be: the femme fatale or the city? Sin City has this thread of the city as a femme fatale. So there was the option of actually doing both right there. However, the piece contains more sampling than just from Sin City and you can see them in the original video of the piece (you can see it here: ). So I decided to do some more digging.

I was actually not very familiar with film noir movies. I mean, I knew the term and had seen some neo-noir movies (discovered that it's actually my favorite type of movie!) but I had not seen the vintage ones. I started by looking at the list of movies cited on the video to see what I could find from Netflix. I actually requested the DVD for Sin City and have not even looked at it! Bad Celeste! It's still in our house. *headdesk* I ended up watching a few vintage film noir movies. Laura was definitely my favorite out of the bunch and a big inspiration for Noir.

I also did some internet searches to find out what aficionados say about films noirs and the stereotypical characters. That was also extremely helpful in pinpointing characteristics of the personae.

The Plot Thickens
I shared my discoveries with Jeff and Tempest. At one point, Jeff told me "If you want to go a less obvious route, try being the PI (private investigator) instead of the femme fatale." So that opened up a new possibility that I hadn't thought about. Interestingly, I was reluctant to play a male character. But I still explored the possibility.

One thing that was trumping me (yet was a very attractive portion of the piece) was the gun shots. I wasn't sure how to address those. And I most certainly didn't want to be too obvious/cheesy about it. At first, I was contemplating portraying having been shot but it couldn't be too deadly as there's still a good minute left after the gun shots. :p So I eventually decided that it was me/my character (male or female) would be shooting someone. (Btw, this reminds me that I need to write a blog about not separating you and the character... coming soon to this blog near you.)

One other thing was that I really enjoyed was the sassiness/sensuality of the music. I was really yearning to portray that in my piece so I knew that I needed to portray the femme fatale... but I also liked the idea of the PI. I believe that it was Tempest who told me about this dilemma "Why not do both?" And there we had it!

(For the record: if you watch my video and hear 'dark and sassy belly dancer' in my intro, that was NOT something just for that piece. That's a tag line that I've been given by Tempest regarding my dance and I use it routinely. ;))

The Full Plot
So the piece eventually gelled in to the following:
  • It starts out with a PI doing some investigating. I was trying to portray a more male energy there.
  • When I remove the hat, turns out that I am a femme fatale who was portraying a PI. Mwahahaha!
  • The part after that is the femme fatale remembering what she used to be. A sort of flash back. When she was carefree and drew men in. (Flash backs are a staple in film noir movies, btw.)
  • Right before the shots, she comes back to the present time and remembers how hurt she was by her lover... and shoots him.
  • The rest is more of a 'haha! I win!'
  • When I pick the hat back up, it's a tie back to the start of, yes, she was the PI in the beginning and indeed won! Oops! :p

Bottom Line
You may or may not get the whole story when you see the performance. It's really irrelevant whether you get it or not. The point is that this is how I got the attitude for the performance. The story also helped fashion the moves for this piece. It helped determine the costume as well! I went for a PI/femme fatale costuming as such:
  • the hat is slightly oversized as it's Jeff's hat and it represents the femme fatale having borrowed the guy's hat (okay, really, I didn't want to purchase a new hat but it fits... Tempest was the one who figured that one out when I was waffling about purchasing a new hat :p)
  • pinstripe pants b/c, well, it works for the era and helps represent the PI
  • the black skirt was both to flatter my legs and add a touch of feminity
  • the sweetheart neckline choli was to mimic the neckline of the era
  • the corset vest was to represent the PI's trench coat
  • the curly hair was to represent the hair of the era (and we discovered after one performance when I couldn't do the curly hair that it was really a must).
The rest of the costume was to bling it up.

Now, this was probably the most researched piece that I've ever done so far. But it did pay off for me. I'm not saying that everyone should research everything and think details that much... and I don't do that for all pieces either. But it's one example of how you can go about things.

In a way, I think that I needed to go to that level of detailed research b/c, while the music is awesome, it's also a little bare... it's not one piece that can carry me... I had to carry it. I couldn't have an off night and do that piece.

I strongly encourage (as I often do in this blog) to think through a number of details. It does make the piece more cohesive. It also gives you focus as you will know what you're doing and it's less stressful that way.

Also consider sharing your ideas with a friend or a significant other or whoever. They may throw a new idea at you (like Jeff suggesting the PI idea). Listen to the idea and play with it, even if your reaction is a knee-jerk. ;) You can always dismiss it if it doesn't work... but you don't know until you try.

And, again, find your own process. And realize that the process can change from piece to piece. And, believe me, this whole research was fun. So when we say 'enjoy the process', I very much enjoyed that process, for sure!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Workshops tips and tricks

I thought for sure that I had posted that at some point. I may have and it's either through Tribe or through my students mailing list. Anyway, see the previous blog post about pacing yourself. This here will be other tidbits to think about when taking a workshop.

Things to bring
Scarf/belt for your hips. Make sure that it's a noiseless item. When there's a lot of people in the same room, it could get noisy real fast.

Pen and notebook. Whether you are a habitual note taker or not, it's a good idea to have one. I bet that if there's a combo that you're falling madly in love with, you'll want to note it down or tidbits of something.

Yoga mat. That will depend somewhat on the topic, obviously. But a lot of tribal fusion workshops do a portion of yoga or some stretches on the floor. Let me put it this way: you're better off having it with you and not needing it vs. not having it and needing it. ;)

Zills/Finger cymbals. Again, depending on the topic, you may not need. However, a lot of that ATS workshops will have zilling in it even if the description doesn't precisely tell you that. While you can air zill, it's better that you have the real thing. And they don't take much space in a bag.

Shoes/socks. I love to dance barefoot but it's not always possible in which case I dance in socks but even that is not always possible. Inquire about the surface if you are unsure of what to wear on your feet for the workshop.

Water/water bottle. Some workshops provide water but you can never be certain so having some water with you already is a good idea.

Snacks. Again, sometimes those are provided but not always. You may want to have some snacks on hand for when you need a 'pick me up' in-between workshops. Trail mixes or just nuts are a good option.

Tylenol/ibuprofen/naproxen. Yanno, in case you overdo it and something hurts. Or you develop a headache. You'll probably find someone who will have some on hand but I bet that you'll be happy to not have to ask anyone.

Cash/checks/credit cards. For purchasing lovely things at the vending. I know of some folks who will bring in the amount of cash that they can spend and not go beyond that. Whatever works for you. But just know that temptation will generally be at hand so be prepared to have what you need to pay for it. ;)

Watch out for the workshop description details
This should go without saying but read the description fully. They will generally say at some point what you need to bring (if they want specific things) but it can sometimes be embedded in the description somewhere. So do pay attention. Also, there are sometimes unknown things like zills and ATS as mentioned above. ;) When in doubt, ask the hosts or your instructor.

What to wear
Wear comfortable clothes that you can easily move in and have no fear of sweating in. A workshop is not the time to take out your pretty things for a spin. You want practice wear. And it's not the time either to break out those Melodia Pants or other bell bottom pants that you've never worn before and will trip on the ends of... or any other such clothing that you've never worked with. Also consider wearing a shirt over your top that you don't mind getting sweat on. Once the workshop is done, you want to make sure that you won't mind putting that shirt over that sweaty top. ;)

The morning of a workshop, you want to ensure that you eat a good breakfast that will help sustain you for the day. If you can muster it, go with high protein and low carbs. If you're in a hotel, that can be real hard to do. But definitely don't skip breakfast! So if you need to do high carbs because that's what is available to you, it's better than running on an empty stomach.

Lunch will generally be at your leisure and there will generally be places around the workshop. If not, it will generally be catered. If you're doing lunch on your own, make sure that you don't eat too much (if you have workshops after eating) and that it's high on protein and low on fat. For example, a burger with fries may not be a good idea. As you get experienced with workshops, you'll figure out what your belly can and can't ingest. Respect what it wants. ;) If you're not sure, picture that you're doing belly rolls... That should help you figure out what you can ingest. ;) I sometimes skip going out for lunch and will eat nuts and fruits. Or I've done the meal replacement bars before.

If you're not performing, eat your heart out! You need to replenish your body's energy. But dinner is tricky if you're performing. Ideally, you'll know your order in the show by that point and will know whether you can eat. I won't talk too much about strategy around that as it's really personal and is something that each person learns how to handle with time. And, sometimes, there's just no time to eat a full meal. But even if you wait before eating dinner, consider eating a snack (again, high in protein) to make you go through the evening and your performance.

Prior to the workshops, you want to ensure that you get plenty of sleep. It will help you make it through the weekend or festival. Now, once there, there may be a ton of activities going on and you'll want to hang and all that so sleep may be lacking. Even so, make sure that you use some strategy around your sleep. If you lack too much sleep, besides not being able to absorb the material, you could actually injure yourself. I know that firsthand as this is somewhat how I broke my foot (was extremely tired due to heavy workload at work).

Keep hydrated
Throughout the days of workshops, make sure that you stay hydrated. I know that I said bring in a water bottle but I feel like this is worth repeating. Your body needs the water. Replenish it!

All right, I won't be all judgmental on you as I love alcohol as much as anyone and will drink during festivals. What I want to warn you about here is the pitfall of having too much fun and downright getting drunk... but especially having a hangover the next day. If you have time to recover from the hangover and all, no biggie, really. But I've seen a number of dancers over the years who end up having to miss workshops because they were too hungover to be able to do them. So when I drink at an event, I pay real close attention to my intake as to ensure that I'll still be able to do all that I want the next day. Plus, see the point above about keeping yourself hydrated. ;)

Note: I won't go over the issue of alcohol and performing as it's worthy of an entire blog post by itself (which I may do at some point). But it's about in the same lines of using good judgment and not performing drunk.

Footwear in general
This is a foreign concept for a lot of folks but I got that concept from coworkers who are runners. There is such a thing in the running world as 'recovery shoes.' They are shoes designed to make your feet recover from the run. I have a pair of sandals that actually does something similar to my feet after hours of belly dance. So I do bring them with me whenever I can (Winter time and sandals? Not so much.), You may have some shoes like that or find some at some point. It's very cool. Said sandals feel like a massage on my soles.

In general, also, make sure that you wear comfy shoes because there are few things worse than your feet being tired and cranky from all that dancing only to be put in constricting shoes that torture them even more. And, yes, before anyone asks, my Fluevog boots (the ones that everyone wants to steal off my feet) are extremely comfortable, hence why they are good candidates for wearing them at workshops.

Bath/Hot Tub
Most hotels will have a hot tub. That can be a real muscle saver for you. If no hot tub is available or you don't like them (I don't like them), then most hotel rooms have a bath. A hot shower will be helpful but, if you're very sore, consider putting some Epsom salt in your bath and soak for 10-15 minutes. It totally helps your muscles and feet.

Don't be shy!
For the newcomers and less experienced dancers, don't be shy in the workshop. Believe me, we're all really focused on our own understanding of what the instructor is asking us to do. So to put it bluntly, for all that you may feel that everyone will be looking at you, no one really is. ;) As such, just relax and enjoy the experience. And workshops are a great place to experiment with stuff. More and more workshops are on artistry and conveying emotions: do allow yourself to push your boundaries in the workshop.

Also, during breaks and all, don't be afraid to chat with folks and introduce yourself. We all love meeting new people!

Pace yourself!

After the EDNF event, I realized that I had never told my students about pacing yourself for workshops. Ahem... sorry... Before I selected my classes for 3rd Coast Tribal 2010, Ariellah wisely advised me to ensure that I was pacing myself enough because it can get overwhelming. And it's good advice for any festival. So here are some guidelines.

Ball park figure
  • Generally speaking, most people will be able to withstand 3-4 hours of workshop in one day.
  • If you are really new to belly dance, maybe 2 hours will be enough.
  • If you are an advanced dancer, 6 hours should be doable.

What it will really boil down to is your general stamina/physical shape. The better in shape you are, the more you'll be able to do (again, ball park figure). If you don't practice much outside of your classes and don't do much physical activity outside of that, stay within that 3-4 hours per day... or else you may have major muscle aches.

Festivals vs. 1-2 days workshops
Again, generally speaking, that 3-4 hours per day should be doable whether you do 1 or 2 days of workshops (so Saturday only vs. all weekend types). When we're talking multiple days festivals (e.g., Tribal Revolution, 3rd Coast Tribal, Tribal Fest), then you may want to consider your general physical shape again. You will hit a wall at some point and you ideally want for that wall to hit after you're done with workshops.

In the 3rd Coast Tribal 2011 edition, I overdid it: 5 hours on Thursday, 6 hours on Friday, 4 hours on Saturday, and 2 hours on Sunday. Well, I had a hard time walking right on Saturday after the workshop and I had to perform that night. I did manage to get my limbs to cooperate again and all was fine. But, yeah, hit that wall.

The first time that I did a lot of dancing was for the Golden Opportunity intensive with Ariellah and Rachel Brice in 2008. I had prepared myself ahead of time but it was still not exactly enough. We had 3 hours with Rachel in the morning and 3 hours with Ariellah in the afternoon. I was hurting A LOT on the Saturday as well. But once you go beyond that wall (in that case on Sunday), you can do stuff more normally (yes, like walk and lift arms :p).

Instructor and topic
Some instructors are hardcore drilling mavens and you know that 2 hours with them will be harder than, say, another instructor who will talk about concepts or go easy on the drilling. So keep that in mind too.

In terms of topic, well, there's a whole gamut, obviously. Something on artistry will generally have a lot of introspection and exercises won't be about flawless dancing so easier on the body (but harder for the brain; see below). Veil workshops will kill your shoulders. Sword workshops will kill your head (and may create a whole lot of tension in your body). Bhangra/Bollywood workshops will kill just about everything in your body. So do slow and slinky workshops. ;) But you catch my drift. Keep the topics in mind as well and see whether you would be overworking the same area on the same day.

Pace yourself DURING the workshop
In general, it's always a good idea of pacing yourself during the workshop as well. I wrote something about that a while back. Given that I was really bad in phys-ed when I was a child/teenager, I knew when to stop. It's easy for me to figure that spot. I'm not encouraging you to slack off but rather to know your limits and not go beyond them.

Also, knowing the workshops that you have coming up, you may want to do less in a certain workshop to keep your energies for the next one (or for performing). That will be highly dependent on your schedule, obviously, and where your priorities lie. But I've heard countless times people whine "I was really wanting to take XX workshop but, when I got it, I was so tired from YY workshop, that I don't remember any of XX." So you don't want to do that, obviously.

Recovery time
When booking your workshops, also consider the amount of recovery time that you may need. For some festivals, workshops are back to back because they expect folks to spread their time. If you can do all those hours in a row, go for it. If you need recovery time, do plan for it. I generally like 1-2 hours in-between workshops but it's not always doable.

Think about your mental fatigue as well
Right now, I've focused more on the physical aspect but, lemme tell you, your mental will take a toll too! There's only so much material that you can absorb in one day (or over a festival)! At the Golden Opportunity again, on the Saturday morning, while I could still physically dance, I couldn't absorb the choreo/combos that Rachel was teaching... but I was still dancing on the sideline. I just couldn't absorb new material. So take that into account as well when booking your workshops.

It's not a contest
It's important to remember that it's really not a contest: no price is awarded to the person who dances the most. Really. What is most important is that you come out of the workshops with material and a good experience. So if that means that only 2-3 hours per day is what you can do, there's absolutely no shame in it. It's actually more shameful to overbook yourself and not remember any of what you learned. So do pace yourself when booking yourself for workshops. And, heck, consider practicing more at home to build your stamina if you feel like you want to do more. ;)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't be a clone! Be yourself!

There was a thread on tribe (yes, it's still alive) asking if something was plagiarism. The gal fell in love with the music and costumes of a performer and wanted to use both elements but do her own choreography. I've written here and there plights to do your own thing, not be a copycat, etc. This is a more specific exploration on the phenomenon.

I've seen countless performances where it's like a copy of Rachel Brice or whoever from Indigo... or some other famous belly dancer(s). Unfortunately, what happens then is that your identity is let go of in favor of someone else's. I've even heard audience members dismiss performances on the grounds that it was the clone of something they've seen before (*insert sigh* "Oh... another Indigo clone.") While it's not a bad place to start (don't we start anyway by somewhat doing whatever our teacher does?), at some point, it's not enough anymore. Essentially, at first, the audience (including fellow belly dancers) will cut you some slack for doing what someone else did... but, at some point, we'll want to see YOU shine through.

But I loooooooooove this!
Okay. So you're madly in love with something. Instead of re-creating the same thing exactly, assess instead what you love about it.

So you like the music? What is it about the music that you love? Identifying that will help you maybe finding a different piece of music in the same style. By the way: if you use the exact same piece of music as someone else, your performance will automatically be compared to that other person's performance... hence why I'm recommending finding some other piece of music. However, sometimes, you may have a totally different take on the music and it's totally justified to use it.

So you like the costume? What is it about the costume that you love? You can work from there to tweak so that it will fit your body better or just be different enough that the audience's mind won't wander to that other dancer.

So you like the movements/choreography? What do you love about it? And how can you tweak that to make it your own. If we're talking about a specific movement, you can actually kind of replicate 'as is', just make sure that it looks good on you (e.g., leaning forward [or sideways] is a bit tricky on me as I have a belly; there's a sweet spot that works but anything beyond that creates too many ripples in the flesh). Now, for a choreography, I would recommend not re-doing the same thing exactly but rather parcel out moves here and there. And consider analyzing the choreography to gain insight as to how the artist had interpreted the music... and maybe that will help get YOUR creative juices going.

Put your thinking cap on
Even if you will recreate one element 'as is' (especially if we're talking about the music), it's really important that you assess what it is that you liked about the element. The reason for that is that it will give you important insight as to what your aesthetics leans towards. It's especially important, actually, if you are in the early stages of figuring out what you want to do with this dance. For all that dance is about visual interpretation and expression, putting some of it in words will be extremely beneficial. It will help focus your thoughts and your creative direction. What I'm getting at here is that you can't just say, when asked why you love something "just 'cause". ;) You need to have a more articulate than that.

Consider also not doing the exercise just for the items that you like but also for what you dislike. For example: So you didn't like costume XX. What was it about it that you didn't like? You can do that for any element of a dance. That will also give you another set of insight.

And, sincerely, go through the exercise. You'll find extremely important information that will help make you find that proverbial personal style!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Belly Dance ADD

When we start performing, it's quite frequent that you'll be going through pieces like you're going through tissue in the midst of a bad sinus infection-inducing cold... which is what I've dubbed Belly Dance ADD. I've been there too. Let's explore this phenomenon, which is rather common.

Shiny New Toy

Whenever you pick up some new music, start coming up with ideas for the moves, the costume, etc., it's like a shiny new toy. It creates excitement and inspiration in you, at least for a while. You could view it as well as a creativity high. And then you work on it for a while and it's losing some of its newness, of course. I often hear from new performers that they can't wait to have performed the piece and be done with it. And that is actually sad but it does happen. And you'll find this more common in new performers than experienced ones. If you're in the category that does that, when you'll be thinking of your next performance, you'll want that rush again so you may switch if only to get your (momentary) high again.

Music Choice

One thing to contemplate is that the music choice may not have been the best one. In previous blogs, I've mentioned how you need to ensure that you are madly in love with your music because you will listen to it A LOT! And I do mean A LOT! We've all been guilty of choosing music that we thought we loved a lot but, really, it wasn't enough for the listening requirements of a performance. I've also been guilty of choosing some music b/c it made sense... i.e., it was a choice from the head... not the heart. That's another mistake.

Within Black Rose Caravan, there's one piece that we have dubbed the "unmentionable piece." It was the one for our very first performance and we have practiced a lot to it and have performed it a few times. There came a point at which at least one member said "I can't bear to hear it one... more... time..." Granted, in this case, the music was chosen for us. Still, it can happen that the music starts annoying you.

So make very good and conscious music choices!

Disappointment Factor

Another thing that could have happened is if the performance didn't go exactly as you wanted or didn't convey the mood/feeling that you wanted exactly. So you may assume that the music choice was wrong and you should move on to the next one. One thing to consider here is that the music choice may have been perfect but maybe the dancer and/or the dance wasn't perfect (i.e., the age-old "it's not you, it's me"). It may have been a disconnect with the piece. Generally speaking, though, it will be fear that held you back and you probably didn't obey some instinct. Nevertheless, you'll totally feel like not rehashing that piece. Understandable.

Exploration of Style

Very few people have a clear idea of what flavor of a style they want to perform from the get-go. Whichever style is your preferred style for performances, there are micro-differences within these and, for a while, you'll be trying to pinpoint what, exactly, floats your (creative) boat. As you're doing that, you'll need to explore those micro-differences and I think that it's one of the, if not THE main reason why people jump from one piece to the next. I think that it's an exercise that needs to be done and it's usually best done through actual performances, though you can get a feel for which flavor of a style you are more inclined for through your practice.

Redoing the Same Piece

At first, this will seem very boring to you. Why the hell would I redo the same piece? (Especially when I could move on to the shinier pasture over there!) There are many reasons, really, why this is a good idea.

Time efficiency
In 2009, I started having a number of performances in a short amount of time (happened a few times throughout the year). I absolutely did not have time to work, on, say, 5 different pieces. So that's when I started redoing the same piece. So having a piece/set ready to go will make your life so much easier than trying to come up with something in, like, a week.

Last year, I didn't heed Tempest's warning about Tribal Fest: she had said that she prefers to do pieces that she had done before for Tribal Fest. I so should have done that! I felt like my performance fell flat. Well, I didn't repeat this mistake for 3rd Coast: I ended up doing a piece that I had done a number of times before and it went super well.

There's definitely something to be said for the familiarity of a piece... it has a soothing factor. Also as another example, my latest piece is named Noir and I did it for Sans Sheriff. I did a different piece two performances in a row and will be doing Noir again for a few performances (yes, including Tribal Fest ;)). I'm actually very excited about working on Noir again!

Stress Relief
In line with the concept of familiarity, there is an element of stress relief attached to it. So if you know the piece really well, it will lessen your stress considerably. Again, totally speaking from experience! I was extremely nervous for 3rd Coast Tribal (given that it's a bigger festival) but the fact that I knew my piece inside out was totally helping! I knew what I had to do. I just had to deliver. Much less pressure than trying to remember what to do AND trying to deliver. ;)

Digging Deeper
So you do the piece once, have some satisfaction from it, see pictures and video, and can assess the tweaks that you need to do. And you get the option to dig deeper into the piece. You get to ask yourself what else is missing, what could you do more of or less of, etc. It's a great learning opportunity. Also, most of us have had a moment or two of remembering after the fact that we forgot to do XX for the piece. Well, if you redo it, now's your chance to add it back in! ;)

Strategy Around Redoing Pieces

So there is somewhat of a strategy around redoing pieces. Like you ideally won't redo the same piece in the exact same city... ideally, not even in the same state. But the key is really figuring out who will be at the event. If you know that it's the exact same crowd as the other event, then you may want to do two different pieces. If you know that it's in the same state, let's say, but people attending the event are totally a different crowd, then go for it: do the same piece.

I generally juggle two pieces at a time to help with that strategy. Usually, one will be a piece that I've done before and just needs to be dusted/brushed on and one is a new one that I'm working on. I also generally know which events I will be going to way ahead of time so I will create pieces according to that schedule. For example, I knew that I was going to Tribal Fest and was going to need a piece for it... so that was Noir. Next up is Tribal Revolution. I will want something different for that. I have this other piece that I started working on and will perform at the Festribal in Quebec City (and maybe other venues in-between).

Favorite Song by Artist

One other way that you could view re-doing the same piece is like your favorite song by a certain artist. You know, you go see the artist live and the show isn't complete for you until the artist has played your favorite song. So it's a bit the same way with pieces. I distinctly remember seeing Tempest and Ariellah several years ago and they each did certain pieces that I had seen on video but never live. I got so excited each time that happened! And, for Sans Sheriff, the lovely Carrie Meyer was hesitant to perform a solo because she didn't have any new material but the piece that she had done at The Belly Dance Show With No Name. I insisted that she do it again... because we all loved it and would love seeing it again! So don't be afraid of doing the same material!

Bottom line

So do consider giving yourself a break and re-doing the same pieces, recognizing that the urge to do new material will be there... but it's a good exercise to really dig fully into a piece... and, heck, you'll be ready to perform at the drop of a hat. ;)

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's < You > Belly Dance!

It took me years to shake off all the labeling and angst over which style of belly dance I'm doing. It's a very normal process... but don't let it bug you. The earlier you can shake all of this off, the greater freedom you'll feel!

Personal Style/Artistic Voice
This is a loaded term: your own personal style. Every single time I mention this in a blog or to my students, there's an immediate recoil from some folks. Again, it's very loaded. I think that we have made it more than what it really is. I actually now prefer the term 'artistic voice' instead of 'personal style.' It seems less loaded. ;)

With the term 'artistic voice', it seems a bit clearer that all that it is really is your take on this dance using a given piece of music. It's your viewpoint on a topic. In a Zen fashion, there's no right or wrong... it just is. And it can change through time.

The truth is that all that isn't necessarily pre-planned. I mean that, for all that you may be on a quest for personal style/artistic voice, what will emerge as such is dependent on what you put out as a performer and what sticks with you. What I mean by that is that you will do different pieces and then common themes, ideas, moves, etc. will start to emerge. And then you're edging towards that Holy Grail of artistry. But you can't know it until you have done enough performances and experimentations with your art. And even then, it doesn't have to be set in stone.

(I'll most likely expand on this whole personal style and artistic voice concept in a future blog... I can't write everything here... but you have enough to get my gist.)

So I'm saying to not even bother with that at this point (unless you are an experienced performer/artist). It will come all on its own. Don't fret.

A big pet peeve of mine is when dances are misrepresented. For example, you say that it's belly dance but there's only a chest circle in it. Or you say that it's tribal but all that's tribal about you is the costuming... or vice versa if we're talking cabaret/raqs sharki. I think that that's what prompted some of my pondering on which style of belly dance do I normally do.

If you look back at some blogs that I posted on, you'll find a good chunk that have to do with me wondering which style I'm doing. Am I more fusion? Or downright tribal? Or cabaret? I think that it's a normal process also because we are all somewhat seeking some sort of appartenance. If you don't fit neatly in a bucket, it can feel a tad lonely... or so you think! Mwahahahaha!

All kidding aside, this was what plagued me the most for a while. And, with Tempest reminding me on a regular basis of how pointless this was, I finally let go of it. So I do whatever sub-style of belly dance... so what? THE most important thing is that it's belly dance and that it's MY take on belly dance!

And, yes, people will try to bucket you. Whatever. Let them try! A prime example is Tempest who is dubbed (by different folks) tribal, tribal fusion, gothic, steampunk, oriental, North African, raqs sharki, etc. belly dance. (Oh and never mind that she's not tribal at all... although she's very tribal friendly.) People feel safe putting others in neat buckets but, truth be told, very few people really fit neatly into just one. ;)

And the answer is...
Well, if you don't have reading comprehension, you may still remember the title of this blog: it's "you" belly dance. So that means that the true style of belly dance that I do is simply "Celeste Belly Dance". This is really the most important thing: to be true to your art and your heart. And, as such, everything else will fall into place.

So don't fret over the style of what you are doing. Don't fret about whether it's like anything that anyone else has ever done. Don't fret about being as good as so-and-so. For all that so-and-so is good at their style (so "so-and-so" belly dance), they can't be good at "you" belly dance the way that YOU can be.

What makes a belly dance performance interesting and entertaining is seeing someone's take on the whole thing. Again, be the best that you can with what you got! And everything will be A-Okay!

Workshop offerings

I now interrup this usually introspective blog to do some self promotion.

Please see the link for my current workshop offerings:

Contact me to get me to teach workshops in your town! And feel free to spread the word! :D

Much love!

Monday, January 10, 2011

There's enough to go around for everyone!

I know that I must not be the only person who has ever felt like that. I am a woman (no revelation here, I hope). As such, I can be competitive as often unfortunately happens to our gender. And I can be real hard on myself. So there have been a number of times when, if I go in a show after someone who has had tremendous applause that I feel like I will fail, be boring, blah blah blah... insert negative comment from my stupid inside negative voice. There have been a series of experiences that have made me realize that, really, it's not because someone had success that I won't.

There's room for all of us!
Well, one night, a couple of years ago, I was watching two local dancers whom I really love (Amirah and Gabriela) and I mused that it was so neat that there was enough room/space for all of us. I meant there that we all had something very different to say with our dance and it was great to see all 3 different perspectives and aesthetics.

The audience wants to be entertained!
Truth be told, the audience wants you to succeed! Mira Betz mentioned that in her intensive I took with her a few years ago and it was a revelation... as silly as it sounds. Seriously, the audience wants to be entertained from start to finish! They don't want to be bored! (And don't let that statement make you nervous!) They want to see what YOU can do with the dance. That is really what they want. And for those who do funky stuff (I most certainly am funky), the audience may have some preconceived notion of what they want but, hey, you can shake that up. Sometimes, we don't know what we want until we see it.

And, again, it's not like they're looking at the program, pinpointing at a (random) name and say "I want to be entertained by THIS person." Well, they are bound to say that of the main act in a belly dance show... that person at least better be entertaining. But they also want the rest of the acts to be entertaining as well.

It takes many different acts to make a circus!
I was talking to my student Adriane and my tribe sister Kat (while at the airport on the way back from 3rd Coast) about this concept and I found a good analogy. It's less intuitive because you may not perceive the competition as much because they are technically different disciplines but, say, for a circus, there are magicians, trapeze artists, contortionists, jugglers, etc., and they all have their place! We need to have them all! Adriane is the one who came up with this: THEY make the circus. So, yes, they might be competing each for a place in the show to begin with but we need all of them to get a circus show. And it's the same thing for belly dance: we need all acts to make a belly dance show!

Focus on what you have to bring!
I started to come up with that whole concept right around Tribal Revolution and I pulled from it also at 3rd Coast. At Tribal Revolution, I was going after Sarabi who had brought down the house. At 3rd Coast, Raphaella did a splendid job (for as much as I could tell from backstage). So I focused on what I had to say with my dance. Those ladies did their thing and presented what they had to say. Next was my turn. I was presenting what I had to say. It was most certainly different than what they had done. But it's a case of neither is 'right' nor 'wrong'... they're just different... period. It's kind of like having a differing viewpoint. Or, actually, one has nothing to do with the other (except for being in the same show).

Do the best that you can with what you have!
Tempest often mentions in her workshops and in her blog posts that you should do the best that you can with what you have RIGHT NOW and under the set of circumstances of the day. So do the best that you can with your skill at the level that it is right now, with the body that you have right now and under the day's circumstances (e.g., if you're tired, do the best that you can given that you are tired). You don't have to be the next best thing since sliced bread to be in the belly dance show, you know! Just do your best!