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. ;)