Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No less than full love

When it comes down to choosing your music for your next performance, accept no less than full love for the music. What I mean by that is that you need to be rather madly in love with the piece. We'll explore below the advantages of that.

Madly in love
Before we do, though, I want to explain the concept of "madly in love." The manifestations will vary from person to person. I once met someone who said that she never loved a piece of music yet I'd often hear her say when a piece was starting "Oh, I like that piece!" with a sigh. She didn't realize it but that was love for the piece right there. Some people are more exuberant (I most certainly am) so it's easier to notice that attraction to the music. So anything that makes you go "Oh, I like this!" could potentially be a contender for you to dance on.

Narrowing it down
That being said, not every piece of music that you love will be danced to. You'll need to narrow it down. There are some pieces that you will love but they won't be fitting for the style of dancing that you do or with your normal aesthetic. I'm not saying that you can't do a departure from your regular style but rather that you want to choose when you do. Also, there may be some pieces that will fit better for some events/venues/audiences than others so that's another thing to keep in mind when choosing your piece.

Be careful of the academic love
Sometimes, you'll love a piece of music but it's because it gives your brain a spin and not because it's inspiring you artistically. I've had that happen to me once where I loved the piece of music but it was really academic love. And the end result was not up to par to what I wanted to deliver. So strive for something that will inspire you artistically.  You'll know that it's the case when you're starting to have images pop in your head or movements are just coming to mind.

Holiday theme
In line with this, be careful also when selecting a piece of music for a specific time of year. I think that the biggest culprits that I see is around the themed events or Holiday (any) where folks feel an urge to go for the staples of said Holiday. If you really really really love it, sure, go ahead. But this is generally where I see performers not put in their full effort. I dare you to do better. I dare you to find something that is in the spirit of the Holiday (whichever one) or theme and still do art in it.

You'll know it in your gut
It sounds corny to say but it's very true: you'll know it's the right piece to dance to when you feel it in your gut. Your belly (some would say your liver... see this post by Tempest) will react to the song and you'll feel a tug. You'll just know. Trust me.

Do not back down or pass up a song you're afraid of
This took me a long time to realize and I still have to fight with myself over it: there have been a number of pieces over the years (especially early on) that I passed up because I was afraid of them. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to do them justice and it saddened me so much that it paralyzed me out of action. Once I started doing pieces that I was absolutely madly in love with, I realized the power that they held... most importantly, those are pieces that made me grow exponentially.  You're afraid because maybe it will be hard to pull off... but you know what? Working on it hard and pulling it off will make you grow and make you into a better dancer and performer... even into a better human being, depending on the work and findings that you've done/had. ;)  The pieces that I was most afraid of turned out to be my biggest successes.

Here's a quote from The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield (it's a great book... super short... I highly recommend to read it! I think that it was originally Ariellah who recommended this book in a workshop):
“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.

Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That's why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there'd be no Resistance.”

So the benefits when you absolutely love a piece of music are two-fold:

1. Easier to work with
It's counter-intuitive because it most certainly won't feel that way at first. But if you are really inspired by a piece of music, it will be much easier to come up with creative combos, movements, etc., than it would if you only kind of like a piece.  You'll just need to break through the ice first.

2. Easier to connect with
If you already have a relationship with the piece of music, it will be much easier to keep the connection going. If you've ever had to work with someone else's piece of music that you were just okay with, you know how hard it is to work your way through connecting with the music.

Hold on to the feeling
Now, if you are so in love with the piece, you may have some extra stage fright over delivering the piece. I tell my students to hold on to what the piece makes you feel like. It's your one thing that you can be sure of. Hold on to that and all the work that you've put in and deliver what the piece makes YOU feel. The rest is fluff.  Sincerely, using that love for the piece and harnessing it to project out that feeling will help you deliver your best performance to date. 

[And, yes, it can be dark! ;)]

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Newsletter/What is coming up

I figured that it would be simpler to have it on my blog space than typing a long post on Facebook and post everywhere I can think of (and then forget to copy-paste important stuff).  Anyway...  Here we go:

The next session of classes will start the week of August 27.  The schedule will be the usual, which is as follows:

7-8 pm: Improvisational Tribal Style (ITS) Technique

6-7 pm: Advanced Beginners
7-8 pm: Intermediate Fusion Technique
8-9 pm: Performance Preparation

6-7 pm: Beginners

Please visit my website for more information and feel free to ask me any questions!

Greek Islands Night
Next date when I'll dance at Greek Islands will be Friday, August 24. I will have more dates for the fall but don't know what they will be much ahead of the start of the next month. If you want to keep apprised of these, make sure that you follow me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/celestebd

Workshops by Celeste
I will be teaching several workshops this fall and I'll have more to come. Here is what I know for sure right now.

September 16: Indianapolis IN
Makeup workshop at my dance studio in downtown Indianapolis

September 29-30: Midwest Tribal Mafia in Chicago, IL
I will be teaching a workshop titled Dark and Sassy Belly Dance. Some fun combos that can fit whichever mood you're in. I happen to do it dark and sassy.

October 6-7: Ooky Spooky in Kalamazoo MI
I will be teaching a workshop titled Hold That Pose! Adding Drama Through Stillness.  This is a "Seinfeld" workshop.... a workshop about nothing. (kidding) Actually, you'll learn what you need to do to hold the audience's breath away as you're holding still, which is one of the hardest things to do.

Other Events
October 20-21: Kajira workshops in Indianapolis IN
ISAMETD will be hosting Kajira for a weekend of workshops.  You can find all the information here: http://www.isametd.com/kajiraregistration.htm

February 2:  The Grand Victorian Masquerade Ball in Indianapolis IN
I will be teaching steampunk dancing (non-belly dance) and perform (now this will be steampunk belly dance) at this event.

Workshop Hosting
We have two things planned (thus far) for 2013 where we will host fabulously awesome instructors. You don't want to miss these opportunities!

January 11-13: Museum Quality Intensive with Tempest
We will be hosting Tempest for a 3-day intensive that will totally change your dance and bring it to the next level. We hosted her a first time in 2011 and the knowledge that I gained has made my dance grow by leaps and bounds and I can't wait to do it all over again!  Please note that space is limited so don't miss out on this!

February 9-10: Workshops with Belladonna
The amazing Belladonna will be in town to impart her awesome knowledge of dance.  We'll learn fun combinations that you can use in ITS or in your fusion style.  The weekend will end with a great workshop on finding strategies to reach your goals in dance while having a busy life.  Space is again limited so you don't want to miss this either!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Minimum Items to Perform

On Saturday, the hafla ended up running a little early so I had to scramble to get myself ready.  I was teaching the last workshop of the day and ended up being pressed for time. That was my fault as I could have done things differently and not be so pressed for time but, hey, live and learn.

That prompted me, though, to think about writing something in case you are ever confronted with this situation. When you are pressed for time, you'll need to make some decisions as to what you will perform without.

Now this post will assume that you are a soloist. If you are in a troupe, then you'll need to either have everything on like everyone else or they will need to do the same as you. If you're the lone one who doesn't look like the other ones, you'll definitely stand out and probably not for the best.

Note that this is obviously not AT ALL an ideal situation but, let me tell you, you're better off shaking an item or two than be late to perform.

Costume elements
Wear underwear. Whatever happens, wear underwear. That's a must. But that'd be the topic for its own entry and how not to leave the audience guessing.

Bottom.  You'll need to wear something on the bottom, obviously. Depending on your costume, this can be one layer or multiple layers. If it's one layer, then it's very simple: you need to wear it. If you have multiple layers, though, like pants/pantaloons, skirt(s), scarves/shawls, you may ditch one or more layers. Now which one to keep will be dependent on the fabric of the items and which movements you'll be doing in the piece. But, again, if pressed for time, consider if you need all the layers or if just one would work.

Top.  Again, you'll need to wear some top. Generally speaking, we only wear one layer so then it's very self evident that you need to wear it. If, however, you're wearing something like a choli with a coin bra over it, you could wear just one of the two.

Belt. Depending on who you ask, the belt falls under costume elements or jewelry. It might depend on the belt too. :p The belt on a costume will really showcase your hip movements well so you don't want to skip it. Worst case with a belt: you could put it on as you're walking up to the stage. Try to make it look like you're really re-adjusting it as opposed to putting it on for the first time. ;)

Bare minimum. So if you're absolutely, crucially, pressed for time and can't do the whole makeup thing, at a very minimum, you need to put on some eyeliner, mascara, blush, and lipstick.  That being said, this bare minimum will make you look bare indeed and utterly undone.

Medium minimum. So a step above that would be wearing foundation or at least some powder to even your skin tone. You'll want to also wear at least one eyeshadow on your eyelid.  And consider doing your eyebrows as they are a very expressive feature in your face.

False lashes. Essentially, what I typically will do without makeup-wise will be the false lashes when I'm pressed for time. These take a lot of time to apply correctly (and if you're trying to rush, it will take even longer) so, if I see that time is of the essence, I just won't wear them. But I will do my full makeup as much as I can because I find that the face being fully done conveys more stage-readiness than a half done face.

Bindi. I don't typically wear bindis for my solo projects so that's not an issue for me. But if you do, consider skipping this step, although it's one that really can be fast to do, especially if you're using those bindis that are self-adhesive.

Well, can you skip something for your hair? It depends. It thoroughly depends on what you had intended for your hair but, really, you can always perform with your hair down. Make sure that it's not looking like a hot mess, though, so contemplate brushing it a little or at least taming it with your hands.

This is probably THE place where I will skimp the most on when pressed for time.  You could go on stage without any jewelry but that'd be really bare.

Bare minimum. At a bare minimum, I will wear a necklace and at least one bracelet.  You can skip the earrings (if you're not already wearing some) and the rings and the extra bracelets.

Time Management
So, what it boils down to is having good time management skills. That involves knowing how much time you have to get ready and how long it takes you to do certain steps.  You can get creative with your time and assess if there are ways that you can make things more efficient for you. For example, if you have everything within arm's reach and items were laid out so that you can easily access them (in your luggage), it will make it faster.  I've also had an instance when I've done my makeup before taking the last workshop of a day because I knew that I would have little time in-between the workshop and the performance. (I have good makeup skills so it was fine. ;)) So look at your schedule for the whole day and assess if there is time for you to help yourself out.

One of the key things too is keeping your stress level down when pressed for time: the calmer you are, the faster you'll be able to do your things. Now is not the time to try on a new technique for your makeup or hair. And if you have an order in which you normally get ready in, use it! The familiarity will help you keep calmer.  For example, I personally do my makeup first, then I'll put on my costume, do my hair, put on jewelry. I leave the false lashes for the very very end just in case I run out of time.

And that's the order that I did on Saturday.  I was already wearing a necklace and it was going to take me too long to change it so I didn't. I also didn't put on false lashes. But, outside of that, I had everything else on.  At the end, I was piling on jewelry until I felt like I really had to get out there and be ready to hop on stage. If I had had more time, I would have worked on my hair a little bit more but I was wearing a very nifty headband. Those are VERY convenient to pretty up your head quickly.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Purchase vs. Make it

(Just a quick post as I'm coming back from an amazing event and am still in the catch-up mode of it all and I'm putting finishing touches on my own event.)

It's no secret that I buy the majority of my costumes or now I've actually started to have them made custom for me. Here's my rationale for purchasing: they know what they are doing so it takes them less time and will yield better results.

See, I'm good at sewing but I'm good enough to get me into trouble and have a general idea of how to do things but not enough to fully pull it off for it to look professional enough.  Truth is, if I didn't have a day job, I could probably do a better job at costuming than I do. But I happen to have a day job.  And we can really say that belly dance is a second job for me. I do spend a minimum of 7 hours in the studio each week teaching. And then I need to spend a bit of time on my own personal practice. And I have gigs or events. And I have to sleep. And spend time with the husband. Heck, there are some friends who I barely see because I'm so busy! So if we add costuming to the list of things that I have to do, I quite frankly don't have time to do as good a job as I'd like to.

So instead of having a subpar costume, I purchase my pieces. There are a number of very talented ladies  who will do a better job and do it faster than I could.  So, sure, on the surface, it would cost less if I made it myself... but that's when you count the cost of materials only. Add in the amount of time that it would take you to do it and consider giving yourself minimum wage for those hours. It doesn't take long for you to figure out that item X that seems pricey is actually reasonably priced.

AND the amount of time that I'd be spending on costuming is actually time that I wouldn't spend on my own dance. I fully take to heart Asharah's advice about it's better to be a well rounded dancer than having a ton of costumes. That goes in the knowledge vs. trinket mindset for choosing how to spend your money as well as how to spend your time.  If a costume would take me even a meager 10 hours to do (in costume time, that's not a lot), then that's 10 hours that I can't spend dancing and honing my skills... or resting. Because you do need rest.  Also, chances are, what would take me 10 hours, might take 5 hours (or less) to someone who is more skilled at costuming than I am.

See the math?

Now, obviously, purchased costumes are not free... but there are ways to maximize the investments. Sets are great but if it's something that can only be worn together, then you have one costume. If you have a bra and a belt that can be worn with other items, then you have more than one costume options in your stash.  It's really kind of like most advice on work wardrobe: buy separates that can be worn with other stuff.

Also, beware of the "OMG! This is awesome!" effect. So you're madly in love with a piece but it's pricey. Think about it for a minute and analyze whether it would work with what you have or where your dancing is going.  If the items are nice but you'd need a whole new everything with it, it may not be worth investing (unless you are looking into investing).  If your style is fusion but the item is screaming cabaret, it may not be what you want (unless, of course, you're going cabaret).  And think about whether it's too similar to something that you already have. I've been guilty of essentially buying very similar items in the past because, well, I liked them... which is a duh! moment.  Think of the color schemes that you have and those that you do not have but maybe want to branch out towards.

So, before embarking on a costume making endeavor, ask yourself where your time will be better spent: making the costume or dancing?  And be honest about the amount of time it would take you to make the item(s).  Some items are worth your time like a simple skirt or simple pantaloons. But, for other items, it may not be so. If you do decide to do the costume, start it early enough so that you don't have to be sewing the day of the performance. So, yes, this would require planning ahead of time.

And remember: you can always resell the items that you purchase. Of course you won't get the full price but the items can be resold to a portion of the price and be enjoyed by someone else... thus giving you money to re-invest in more costuming.

I think that it's only fair that I tell you where I get my more unique stuff.

Tombo Studio, featuring Anaar's amazing skills: http://www.tombostudio.com/
Note that she has an Etsy store. She made an overskirt for me as well as my (now) infamous bra with feathers and metal wings. And she's making me something new that will make its debut very soon.

Geisha Moth: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Geisha-Moth/101129349421
She makes all kinds of lovely items in limited quantity per fabric.  She definitely caters to all shapes and sizes.  Purchasing can be done through Etsy, flashes, and wherever she vends.  And I gotta say that a lot of her stuff (pants, skirts, cake capris), I end up wearing outside of dance a lot.

Yasemin Yildiz: http://www.tribalbazaar.com/yayicubraand.html
She makes awesome bras, belts, skirts, arm thingies, head thingies, and all kinds of shiny thingies. Her items are always attention-grabbers and properly shiny for stage.

Red Camel: http://www.redcamel.net/
Not costuming per se but where I buy most of my jewelry. You can find DIY items there and on the Tribal Bazaar site as well.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Just listening is not enough

When you're preparing for a performance, be it improv only or choreographed, you will obviously need to listen your piece... A LOT! I know that I've mentioned this before but, when I have selected my music for an upcoming performance, I listen to it back to back for like 1 hour each day for a while, typically at work or at home while doing something else.

Whether you've listened to your piece a few times only or back to back for 1 hour each day for a while, you may be surprised when you start playing with the piece in the studio/practice space that the dancing is not flowing as fast as you thought it would. What gives? Why isn't it just flowing out? You love that piece so what's wrong?

First thought that may come to mind is reconsidering whether this is the piece that you should be doing. While, sure, you can reconsider it, I would challenge you actually to keep working on it. You love the piece and you should follow your instincts. Also, quite honestly, it has been my experience that my best pieces have started very very awkward in the studio and have required a whole lot of work to make it happen... and those are the pieces from which I learned the most. So keep at it.

What I think is happening actually is a disconnect between how your ears are taking in the piece, how your brain is interpreting the sound waves, what emotions the piece evokes in you, and how your body responds to all that. First off, that's a whole lot of input that your body has to react to so it may get confused as to what it should be obeying to.

Secondly, when you're listening to the piece and not moving at the same time, your brain will generally be free to wander in whichever direction it wants to... but when you decide that it's time to dance on it, your left side of the brain may kick in too hard and is forcing your body to obey it and its very strict appreciation of the piece... or if it's your right side of the brain that kicks in too hard, you'll find yourself twirling and going "wheee!" and you'll be left wondering where the dancing went. :p Bottom line: you need both sides of the brain to work together... but it's very likely that they will fight at first. They'll eventually come to an agreement of who keeps track of what and it will get better from there.

Also, quite honestly, sometimes your body doesn't quite know what to do... and your brain may not even know what to tell the body to do. It happens. Again, it doesn't mean that you need to ditch the piece.

One striking example that I have about this phenomenon is whenever our troupe practices for an upcoming performance. We agree on a piece and everyone listens the hell out of it. Cool beans. The first time that we do our group improv to it in rehearsal, it's choppy, it's messy, and it never goes as planned. It comes as a surprise to a good number of the members. Well, the thing is that they had listened to the piece but had not tried to move to it. So now the body was going "Huh... what do you want me to do here?" and the left side of the brain is going "Where's the beat again? This is the first time that I'm hearing this!" and the right side of the brain is going "What do you mean I can't play now? I know that piece!" ;) Then we do it again and it gets better and better.

There are two take away messages that I want you to get from this blog post:
  1. If the first attempt at working on a piece isn't perfect: do not despair! It will get better!
  2. For all that I'd love to tell you that you can just pick a song and dance to it right away flawlessly, that'd be a lie. Just listening to a piece is not enough. You need to actually move to it too to get ready.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Go all out!

This is a post that I meant to do right after 3rd Coast Tribal but then I forgot and time passed and all that. ;) It was particularly evident at 3rd Coast, where the crowd is always oh so supportive but I'm sure that you've seen this phenomenon before.

Nearly inevitably, in a belly dance show, there will be a dancer whose technique is just all right or not that great but, damn, she's having fun on stage, she doesn't care what the hell people think, she's just giving it her all... and the crowd reacts to her and give her some lovin'. Meanwhile, another dancer's technique is uber polished and she's hitting all the accents of the piece spot on but it's a little cold because she's holding back or something and the crowd is not reacting nearly as much.

As a fellow dancer, this may leave you scratching your head... but there is one important lesson here: whatever you do, GO ALL OUT!

First off, going all out means also exaggerating things. See, with distance between you being on stage and the audience, your normal smile won't cut it. I joke with my students and tribe sisters to do the "crazy cheerleader on crack smile" to get a smile that will be noticed in the crowd. Many have tried it and, you know what? This is generally just about the right amount of smile that will be noticed.

Secondly, the crowd will react oh so much more if you just give it your all vs. being reserved about it. So, yes, looking like a damn fool will give you more kudos than restraint. The stage ain't a Victorian salon. ;) That being said, that's not to say that you should strive for looking like a fool at all costs. But you know what I mean right?

It's oh so much easier said than done, I know. It took me quite a while to get the hang of it... it's getting much much better.

I know you've most likely heard this one before but it's oh so very true: no one on their death beds (or late in life) will lament "I so wish that I had held back for that performance!" It's rather the opposite.

So go all out! Much better than holding back!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Group Number = Trust!

After we hit a little glitch or two during our performance this past Saturday, it made me ponder on how a group piece is all about trust... ESPECIALLY if we're talking about ATS/ITS. But it's actually true also in choreographed pieces.

That trust is not built overnight but takes time to develop. Depending on your personality, you'll either start with trusting others until proven wrong or mistrusting of others until proven wrong. It's okay. It's normal.

Whichever way you start out, though, the trust is built in the studio in rehearsal time. How can you make people trust you? Well, you need to show up to rehearsals, participate in them, learn what you need to learn, you probably will need to practice on your own too, and just simply be there when you need to be there.

So, for a choreographed piece, if you're the choreographer, you trust that your fellow dancers will learn the choreography and practice it so that the group looks polished and delivers on the choreography's promise. If you're a participant, you trust your choreographer that he/she will do a good job interpreting the music and putting together a cohesive piece that will make the group look good. If it's a choreography built by the group, then you need to trust each other to do all that: learn what needs to be learned, practice, interpret the music correctly, etc. You will also need to trust each other in a group-built choreography that each member can speak his/her mind freely and a healthy discussion can be had about ideas.

When it comes to ATS/ITS, again, there's a whole lotta trust there! As the leader, you trust that the followers will understand your cues. As the followers, you need to trust that your leader will cue the movements correctly. And that's why we drill, right? To get those cues in your body memory.

Note also that whatever I said that you trust the other person to do is what that person needs to deliver. For the trust to be built, you need to deliver on what people trust you to do. ;) And there's nothing like glitches to prove how it's actually going to work.

So, Saturday, one member of our group ended up having a brain fart... but we followed. The ending of the piece didn't go exactly as planned (natural pitfall of dancing to live music) but I made them shimmy the hell out of their bodies and they followed. I didn't even have to turn around to know that they were following. I felt it. Granted, us three who were performing that day have been dancing together for 7 years now so we're VERY familiar with each other. But the point is that, even though we were totally off ITS script, we still were able to deliver a cool performance... because we trusted each other.

When you see a troupe that has great chemistry, the #1 ingredient is trust... even beyond friendship and just liking each other. We've all had friends that we love to pieces but, damn, they're always late, never do what they promised, etc. We still love them, but the trust is not fully there. So the same thing can happen in a group. I dare say that a good chunk of group drama is about this trust issue... and, well, crystal clear communication (but that would be a topic for a whole different blog entry). So, just like I mentioned in my Be A Good Belly Dance Citizen entry (see http://celestesmusings.blogspot.com/2011/08/be-good-belly-dance-citizen.html), you need to do what you said you would to build your trust with your group. And then you have fun moments like shimmying for ever while on stage and get to laugh about it. ;)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Belly Dancers Crowd

I want to go back and expand on some of what I talked about in last week's blog (http://celestesmusings.blogspot.com/2012/01/3-groups-in-crowd.html ). Namely, I want to address the fears around dancing in front of other belly dancers.

It is very common for belly dancers to be afraid of performing in front of other belly dancers. I used to feel like that too and I still do every now and then but that fear has eased substantially over the years.


One of the biggest fears is that other belly dancers will figure out where you went wrong in your choreography. Really, we don't know. There is no way for us to know where you went wrong in your choreography unless you give it away. So if you have a good poker face, we won't ever know. Heck, there have been a few times when one of my students added in her performance one of our ITS combos but the combo had been tweaked... or so I thought... so I would say something like "I really liked what you did in that combo, how you modified it." and nearly every time, the answer was "OMG! I messed up the combo! I had meant to do it as is." And that is when I teach them the lesson of just saying "Thank you!" :p So, again, I knew what the combo was supposed to be but they had changed it... and I had no way of knowing that it was an accident. ;) There actually is no magic guide that tells me where you went wrong unless you tell me either through your words afterwards or in your face during the performance.

Another fear is that dancers will see all your technical flaws. Well, yes, it's possible that we'll see them. Generally, though, that thought will quickly come and go, especially if you're really flowing with the piece.

You may also fear that another dancer would disagree with how you choreographed the piece. Well, you know, there are many ways to skin a cat. So while, yes, I may have had a different approach, yours is valid too.

Really, what it boils down to is the fear of being judged. Unless you're participating in a belly dance contest, you won't be. Seriously.

On the surface, dancing for the general public seems like it's so much easier. And it is easy. But, actually, there are a number of advantages to performing in front of a belly dance audience.

Educated audience
You'll have the benefit of an educated audience. They will know what belly dance is (and isn't) so you don't have to educate them as to that. For example, you won't get the "take it off!" cat calls. But more than the crude comments, they'll actually understand when you're doing a piece that is more folkloric or the intricacies of lead/follow in ATS/ITS or things like that.

Technically savvy
They'll also be technically savvy so your amazing combo won't be lost on them. The general public will have about the same reaction for a simple hip drop vs. an amazingly well layered combo... seriously, they won't see much difference. But the belly dance audience will see the difference. They will also realize when a simple isolation has been very well executed.

You can get valuable feedback if you ask the appropriate people (see this previous blog entry on that topic: http://celestesmusings.blogspot.com/2010/09/finally-long-awaited-follow-up-blog-on.html ). I know, you don't want to be judged and all but you can ask someone what they thought about your performance, what can be improved upon, etc. This is material that will help you grow and you simply won't get that from the general audience.

Understanding of your level
For the general public, they won't realize the difference between a belly dancer who has been doing it for 6 months vs. 6 years... so they will lump all performers in the same bucket and judge you equally. So, yes, of course, your performance may not stack up but they won't get that nor why. A belly dance audience will totally understand what your level is and will assess your performance at that level.

We're all in this together
Another thing is EVERYONE who performs gets nervous before going on stage. Seriously. Even Rachel Brice and Ariellah and Tempest and < insert any dancer's name >. So there's this element of "we're all in this together" that brings us closer and makes for a supportive feeling that you won't get from the general public. In the general public, just a few people are performing... in a belly dance crowd, lots of folks will step on that stage... so they understand what it feels like to step on that stage.

Bottom line
So while, yes, a general public audience is less nerve racking, a belly dance audience is not nearly as much of a monster as you make it out to be. I seriously can count on the hands of one hand the events when the belly dance audience wasn't extremely supportive. And I can't think of a time when it was downright hostile. It's really all in your head.

Having seen also a number of dancers who very rarely perform for a belly dance audience, I can also tell you that I've generally seen less improvement in their performance quality than those who routinely dance for belly dance audiences. Again, I strongly believe that you will learn a whole lot about performing by dancing in front of other belly dancers. And they won't judge you the way you think they will.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The 3 groups in the crowd

As most of you who read this regularly know (or if you know me), you know that I used to have stage fright. It's really an irrational fear of looking like a fool on stage. But who's taking notice, right? The audience is. That's who I was afraid of. As I mentioned in the past, really, the audience wants to be entertained and just wants you to do your best. They're really on your side. Logically, that sounds true but I had a hard time believe it...

Until I had a dream. The dream itself wasn't important but it revealed to me the 3 groups in the crowd who will always be there, pretty much wherever you go.

The Fans
These are the audience members who love you whatever you do. Bless their hearts, they make you feel good about yourself. These can be your students if you're a teacher, your teacher if you're the student, people who have seen you progress and grow, your spouse, your family, etc. As you progress in this dance, this group will become larger.

You don't need to worry about these folks when you perform because they will love it, no matter what. You can actually use their positive energy to fuel your dance! I most certainly do that! Finding one of those friendly faces in a crowd is a blessing! Use them to your advantage.

The Haters
Those people will hate what you do, whatever it is. So, yes, the total opposite of The Fans. Now, why they hate what you do may be different depending on the source of their hate. It could be that your style is one that they abhor. It could be because they don't like belly dance in general (that'd be the case when I'm dancing at the restaurant, for example, and I find someone (or a group) who seems to give me dirty looks). It could be because they only like < insert narrow definition of belly dance > and that's not what you're doing.

You also don't need to worry about these folks! There is absolutely no point in spending time and energy worrying about them or trying to convince them that they're wrong. They have passed judgment on you already... oftentimes even before you're hitting the stage. Don't let their attitude bring you down. They will generally not tell you anything anyway so you won't even know much that they're there. But, again, no point in worrying about them.

Interestingly, as you progress in dance, this group can become smaller or bigger! It all depends on so many things.

The Rest aka The Jury
The rest of the folks have no idea who you are, what you do, what you are about, and they're just willing to go along for the ride. So, I called them "the jury" because, simply put, the jury is still out on you. Quite frankly, for all that you may try to bucket folks into each of the categories, the truth is that the bulk of your audience will be in this category. I don't quite like the term "jury" because it's not like they're really passing judgment on you... though they are certainly entitled to have an opinion about your piece, just like everyone else.

Now, should you worry about them? No, actually, you don't even need to worry about them whatsoever! With them, you are actually starting with a completely clean slate and, well, they are taking you in as you're dancing and all.

General Population versus Belly Dancers
So, whether you're doing a show for belly dancers or for the general population, the 3 groups will be there... the proportions may be different, though.

General population
Generally speaking, in a show for the general population, nearly everyone will be in "the jury" category: few people will really have seen belly dance before and, unless they have some misconception of what belly dance is, they will be quite open to the experience. Now, there's a possibility that you will have some "haters" because of said misconceptions. But it's actually a much smaller proportion of people than you'd think. And, quite frankly, I've had a number of folks who have told me that they started with a misconception and I dispelled it. (Happens a lot when I dance at the restaurant.) So they were not full on "haters" but more like "biased jury". :p

Belly dancers
We often feel sooooooooo self-conscious dancing in front of other dancers. You think that they'll figure out where you went wrong and all that. Truth is that, actually, the bulk of the audience will still be in "the jury" category, unless it's a toxic crowd, which happens every now and then... but I think that I can count on one hand the number of times that this happened to me. Really, we're not there to pass judgment on you. Just like the general population, we want you to do your thing. Now, you may find a bit more "haters" in a show for belly dancers but, again, they'll generally be silent so you won't even notice them too much. You will have a whole lot more fans there, though.

Bottom Line
Really, bottom line, for all that these 3 groups are in the audience, there's really no point in worrying about any of them. You can use the fans to your advantage, pulling their positive energy to keep you going. The rest is up to you. Simply put, you need to do the best that you can under the circumstances and the crowd will react whichever way it will react. Some audiences are very supportive; others are not. It's unfortunately part of the performance experience. Learning to deal with each type of support is an important part of learning how to perform. But it's also important to realize that what each group in the audience is thinking about you is totally out of your control.

The only thing that you have control over is what you are actually doing on stage. That's why you prepare these things ahead of time. The day of the performance is the time to execute to the best of your abilities. Be present, in the moment. And don't spend time worrying about what the audience thinks.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Music exploration

This has been a disturbing trend that I've noticed (at least I find it disturbing) where some new dancers wait to be spoon fed music instead of doing their own research.

Finding out new (to you) music is a big part of belly dance. I think that it's crucial that you dig around for all kinds of music. Beats Antique is awesome and totally danceable and has good roots in Middle Eastern tones but it's not the end all be all of belly dance music.

Digging around for music is going to help you pinpoint a bit better what you personally like in terms of style and music tone. There are so many options out there, don't stop at just what you see the big names do.

Speaking of big names, I think that there's a little known fact that most of them know classical Middle Eastern music and modern music from the Middle East as well. I was lucky that my first instructor, who was teaching Raqs Sharqi back in Quebec, was a big fan of the likes of Hossam Ramzi and George Abdo so she was using those classics in all classes.

I've seen tribal fusion dancers dismiss the good old classics and even generally Middle Eastern music altogether because they do fusion. While, yes, when I do my fusion work, I do use modern Western music, I think that going back to using more downright Middle Eastern music every once in a while (at least in your practice) is a great idea that will help you deepen your understanding of belly dance. Why? Quite simply, the moves fit the music... and, well, vice versa. If you're doing some of your even most basic moves to Middle Eastern music, you'll find that it's a natural fit and you'll feel the moves differently.

So, how do you find new music? It's really everywhere.

Using iTunes
You can definitely use your iTunes to help you. You can follow threads of "people who bought this album you're seeing also bought XX." And keep following those threads. You'll discover interesting things that way. Also, you'll be able to find podcasts and users' playlists as well as "essential" lists. It's quite useful. If you like a song excerpt and want to hear more, head over to Youtube and do a search for that song title. You'll be surprised at how many songs/pieces are in full on youtube. Sometimes, though, you gotta use a little faith and take a plunge. If it's just a song, then it's a risk of 1$ only.

Using Youtube
As weird as it sounds, you can follow "threads" on youtube as well. So you do a search for a song/artist. On the right, you'll have a list of other videos probably by said artist or other artists who have done other versions of the same song... or just something entirely different. That's actually how I discovered Infected Mushroom, an Israeli electronica band and I fell madly in love with their piece Becoming Insane, which I danced at Tribal Revolution a few years ago. And I have other examples of finding amazing music that way.

Using Pandora
Pretty much everyone knows about Pandora but, in case you don't, it's a very interesting thing where they have categorized music based on characteristics instead of just styles. So if you like an artist, you can type in the name and it will create a radio station for you based on other music that has similar characteristics. I've discovered a lot of good music that way too. Their link is www.pandora.com

Using internet searches/Wikipedia
This should be obvious but people forget about it. You can simply do a search for an artist or a song or a genre and should find other artists/songs in the same style. Why? People will often list their inspiration or what they sound like so searches will pick up on that. Wikipedia has a lot of information on there and, especially if you look up a style, you'll find other artists in the same style. Don't know the style of the artist that you like? Search for said artist on Wikipedia and they'll tell you... and then you can click that link... and follow links after links after links.

Take the time
We all have busy lives and, in this electronic age, it seems like everything is going super fast... but you can actually use this era to your advantage: finding music is easier than ever! I remember the days pre-internet when you had to take a chance on a cassette (yes, cassettes back then) that was a compilation with Arabic writings and (most likely) a camel on the cover. And those were expensive... and so hard to find! Now, we can find music from the Middle East without even leaving your house! And you'll even find reviews, translation of lyrics, etc. That being said, it does take time to follow threads and search for music and listen to it and all. But that is an extension of your belly dance practice. That is part of what being a belly dancer is. You can dance without music (Onca proved it magnificently) but, you know, generally speaking, you'll need to dance to music... do your homework and figure out music on your own.

Note: You'll notice that I didn't mention very many music artists. The reason for it is that it would be the equivalent of spoon feeding you the music. ;)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Performance objectives

So, as an expansion of a point that I made in yesterday's post, I wanted to address some things from the first performance and subsequent ones too. In the blog, I mentioned "Will it be the best performance that anyone has ever seen? Of course not."

This is where there is a natural dichotomy that will happen:
On the one hand, you'll totally realize that it's your first performance so you'll keep your expectations reasonable.
On the other hand, you are aspiring to do something good and have seen many shiny dancers that you wish you could emulate.

Obviously, in your first performance, you'll want to keep your expectations reasonable. What would those expectations be? Nearly all the dancers that I know or have seen do their first performance will say "One of my goals is not to fall on my ass." As weird as it sounds, it's a fear that happens a lot when we start. Believe me: you won't. So that's an easy objective to attain.

Beyond that, though, you should simply strive to do the best that you can. Sounds corny but, seriously, that's really key here. And that is actually an objective that will follow you through all your dance years. Whatever level you are at, you will strive for that.

For the first performance (and first few performances at that), that should suffice in terms of objective: not fall on your ass and do the best you can.

As you are progressing, though, you'll start to have more specific objectives. You'll want to pick 1 or 2 things that you want to focus on for that specific performance. For example: Don't look down/keep the gaze level. Make eye contact with one person. Make sure that the moves are completed before doing the next move. You know... things like that.

The key for any performance is being ready ahead of time. Whether you do improv or choreography, you'll want to have worked with the piece enough to be ready to perform it. For all that you may believe that top names just whip up something, hell no, they don't. They do spend the time in the studio working the piece. And, again, that's whether they do choreography or improv.

So prepare yourself for the performance as much as you can, set up some reasonable objectives, and set forth and conquer this skill, one performance at a time!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Work in progress

Just got back from 3rd Coast Tribal, which was awesome, as usual. I studied a lot with Donna Mejia and Deb Rubin this time. There were interesting revelations/discoveries that I won't go into except to say that, for the first time in a long time, I have specific things that I want to work on. That is always awesome when that happens but, I have to say, it's also humbling. Because it's an acute reminder that you are still a student in dance and, whatever you have accomplished thus far, there is more to learn. Again, which is awesome and one of the reasons why I love dance so much.

On Saturday, as my brain was absorbing all the info from the weekend and I was watching the show, a part of me was wondering why I perform when, really, I still have so much to learn. I quickly quieted that part (the stupid Censor/negative voice) but I figured that it was actually a great topic for a blog.

I have a bunch of students who are interested in performing and the #1 comment that they retort when I tell them to just start doing it is that they feel that they are not ready. But I know these ladies. They are ready to perform. Will it be the best performance that anyone has ever seen? Of course, not. It would be their first performance. But are they ready to take that first step? Absolutely.

The truth is that you will ALWAYS have something to learn. You could ALWAYS do something better.

Nothing you do will EVER be perfect. It can get close to perfection. But I believe that perfection is never fully achieved. I have seen countless big names in belly dance backstage and, while their performances can achieve something that we perceive as perfection, I can tell you that all of them always have a little something that they wish that they had done better/differently.

So, with that said, if you wait for being perfect before hopping on the stage, you will never hop on that stage.

Moreover, performing is a skill just like technique. And there is absolutely no substitute for actually doing it. So while you may get ready as much as you want in your living room or dance studio, it's not the same as performing in front of an audience. It takes multiple times of doing it to get the hang of it, to understand what works well, what doesn't, what you need to do (or not do) to get in that performance mode, etc. Again, you can read about it, you can think about it but it will never be the same as doing it. And, just like it takes time drilling moves so that they become ingrained in your body, it takes time performing to become a good performer.

So, I'm imploring you to quiet that part of you that is making you think that you are not ready to perform: you most likely are. And, importantly, you will always be a work in progress, whichever level you're at, so you may as well improve your performing skills as you're improving other aspects of your dance. Just go out there and do your thing!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Advice received

I actually meant to post this before the Holidays but, hey, right at the start of the new year is not a bad idea. ;) This post will contain some of the very valuable advice that I have received over the years. I have received many more pieces of advice but I'll just focus on a few pieces.

Fake it until you feel it! - Lala Hakim
This takes me back to my early days in belly dancing... all the way back to Quebec City. My first workshop was with Lala Hakim, an Egyptian dancer who lived in Montreal. Anyway. I know that this is an old saying but that was the first time that I heard it. And, well, it's so true! It will hide a world of issues/insecurities.

The only failed performance is one from which you haven't learned anything - Mira Betz
We all have times when you are afraid of performing. If you have stage fright as I used to, it's even more acute of a feeling. But we all go through times when we're afraid. Mira's point here is that, even if the performance failed (and that definition is up to you), as long as you can learn something from it, it was worth it. Learning what didn't go so well is about as important as learning what went well.

Knowledge over trinkets - Asharah
Okay, that's not exactly how she had phrased it. I don't remember the exact words but that's me paraphrasing. Asharah had posted a blog many years ago about her not having the latest fashion in costuming or spending a ton of money on costuming but, instead, choosing to spend her money on workshops. I have spent money on both myself but, now that I have a dance studio, money is tighter... so I've cut back a lot on my costume spending... but I didn't cut much on my workshop spending. For all that I spent a lot of money on costuming items in the past, I spent way more on workshops. Knowledge sticks. Fashion comes and goes. While, yes, you do need to look polished enough in your costuming for a performance, if you don't have the skills and knowledge, you'll just be wearing a pretty costume. You need to keep honing your skills. Branch out and explore new styles, new things. You may decide that it's not for you. Or you may find something of interest. But you won't know until you do it.

Just Dance! - Ariellah
I am an habitual overthinker. So, after a lot of e-mails back and forth in which I was asking Ariellah a ton of philosophical questions, she told me to stop thinking and just dance! Sometimes we spend too much time in our heads, contemplating, pondering, imagining... but, at some point, you have to actually dance if you want to dance and be a dancer. Alternately, I had a student who read the blog post entry where I had written about that advice originally and, to her, that meant forgetting about other stuff that weren't dance-related... and just focusing on dance. There are many ways that this could be interpreted. Whatever works for you.

A performance isn't complete until it is performed. - Tempest
This was in a private session where I was lamenting about how I have great ideas for what to do on stage and practice and I even used to choreograph... but then sometimes it just wouldn't come out as planned. Tempest was encouraging to relinquish control when that happens and let whatever will flow out of my body happen. In taking that advice to heart, I ended up looking less hesitant on stage because what would happen is that something else would start flowing out of my body but my brain suddenly remembered what I was supposed to do and stop the motion... so the moment was gone and I ended up looking indeed like I had started the "wrong" thing. She also explained it that it's like telling a story: even if you tell the same story over and over again, every single time, there will be slightly different nuances, different words used, etc. It's near impossible to replicate the same story identically each time. No worries. It's still a good story. Her point also was that you can rehear in your living room (or dance studio) as much as you want but it's not a performance until it's performed.

Focus on yourself. - Belladonna
This was in answer to me complaining that I should be further in my dance and Bella told me "Really, the only thing that you can do is focus on yourself, hone your skills, work on your technique and your artistry. Forget about everyone else." It is SO easy to get caught up/wrapped up in comparing yourself with others. The tricky part with belly dance (and it may be true with other art as well but can't vouch for it firsthand) is that there really isn't anything that says that you have been dancing for XX time so you should be at XX level. No two people develop in the same fashion. So you may have been dancing for 10 years and see this youngling who has been dancing for 2 years and is quite successful... and maybe even more talented than you! Art and dance aren't fair. It doesn't work that way. I unfortunately spent some time myself comparing myself to others... that time that you spend doing that is totally pointless. And, worst of all, it brings you down. Instead, if you re-focus your attention on yourself, what you've accomplished, the progress you have made, where you want to go with your dance, etc., it's a much more sane way of spending your time and energy. And, well, obviously, THAT is what will bring you the results that you are striving for.

It will happen whether you're ready or not... so you may as well be ready.
This one's from me. This was my lesson of 2011. There have been a number of events in 2011 for which I've dug my heels. I didn't want to go. So many reasons and excuses for why not. Timing wasn't right. Money was tight. Performance piece wasn't as ready as I'd like it to be. I don't want to leave work. I don't want to leave the house. If only I had more time... If only... Well, you know what? The events happened. They were fun. It all worked out. I'm damn glad that I went to them all. The truth is that time will not stand still. It keeps moving. So the time that you spend worrying or, worse still, being in denial that an event is going to happen on XX day, time will move on and the event will still happen. So, instead, spend the time getting ready. You need a performance? Prepare it, work at it. Money is tight? Assess options to do the event on a budget. Work is crazy? Try to get as much done as you can and, well, you know what?, they CAN live without you. Of course, you can also choose not to go to an event. But, believe me, you'll regret it afterwards.