Saturday, May 30, 2015

Bellydance Classes in SouthEastern PA (plus a couple in nearby NJ)

I'm acquainted with a number of lovely folks in my general area who are either actively teaching bellydance classes or who are starting up new sessions in June. Unfortunately I do not have the time and financial resources to support them all directly myself, but I want to boost knowledge of them in some way. Hopefully some free advertising will be appreciated. Bellydance is awesome and if you've been curious about learning, you are lucky to have a very vibrant local community to start your journey (or experiment with a new style).

These listings are limited to classes within about an hour's drive from upper Bucks County and to teachers I either know personally, or who I have seen perform and have positive reputations. I also had to limit this list to teachers whose web presence regarding classes was fairly up-to-date. There's lots of ITS and Tribal-style classes to consider but unfortunately I could not locate many active Oriental/Cabaret style classes this time around (Amala Gameela is now in Hawaii, and I could not find current information to confirm if Suffiyah or Bridgette are teaching).

The information listed was gleaned from the dancer's/studio's respective websites but I still recommend confirming the information and registration process with them directly if you are interested.

If you are from the area and happen to know of other new or on-going classes, please let me know!

Alexia/Kim Leary – American Cabaret, fusion, props: multi-level
Drum & Dance Learning Center | 4054 Quakerbridge Road, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648 | 609-324-7383
• Various days

Brigid LaGuardia – Hipnosis format ITS: multi-level
Tasha – American Cabaret, Egyptian (?)
Dance Phillipsburg | 474 South Main Street, Phillipsburg, NJ 08865 | 908-387-0116
• Various days

Brigid LaGuardia – Hipnosis format ITS: multi-level
Shanti Yoga Center | 112 Delaware Road, Riegelsville, PA 18077 |
• Tuesdays 6:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:30pm (session begins June 2nd)

Gabrielle Joella – Tribal Fusion: beginner
Pulse Dance Center | 1610 Bethlehem Pike (Flourtown Plaza), Flourtown, PA 19031 | 215-233-1465
• Saturdays 4:30pm

Mirjana – American Cabaret: beginner, mixed-level
• Warminster WREC (now under the Central Bucks YMCA umbrella) | 1100 Veterans Way, Warminster, PA 18974 | 267-317-1355
• Mondays 8:00pm

SharQui - Oriental-based bellydance workout: all levels
Piper Hill Dance | 7078 Easton Road, Pipersville, PA 18947 | 484-366-2320
• Thursdays 6:30pm

Vikki, Jenna, Denise – Hipnosis format ITS, Tribal fusion, props: multi-level
Tribal Bellies Studio | 1810 County Line Rd (inside Body Dynamics), Hungtingdon Valley, PA 19006 | 215-504-9732
• Various days

Yael Nehama Lopez – Hipnosis format ITS: beginner
• Space 2033 | 2033 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125
• Wednesday 8:15pm (10 week beginner session starts June 3rd)

For more general PA resources, I also recommend checking out Philly Raqs, PA listing on, and this iBellydance page.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

DVD Review: Silk Waist - Belly Dance Abdominal Isolations with Shahrzad

3 out of 5 stars
Available via: World Dance New York

I pre-ordered Silk Waist shortly after seeing the video preview. In it Shahrzad specifically mentions the “rolls, pops, and flutters” that make bellydance so unique and how important they are to learn. She has that soft, languid quality which generally characterizes the Egyptian style of Raqs Sharki and I was excited at the prospect of learning about abdominal isolations specifically within that context. I’ve been struggling with learning how to flutter for years now, so any additional perspective or insight that might help make the isolation truly “click” for me is greatly appreciated, and although I can do belly rolls, I’m always looking to improve them.

Other than Ranya Renee’s amazing DVDs, I cannot bring to mind any other offerings from WDNY which focus on more traditional Middle Eastern styles. Their catalog recently has tended to skew towards Tribal Fusion (Rachel Brice, Sera Solstice, Irina Akulenko), American Cabaret (Tanna Valentine, Autumn Ward), and Contemporary Fusion (Neon, Sarah Skinner). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that trend, and perhaps it’s even a deliberate business decision in response to companies like Cheeky Girls Productions which has until recently focused almost exclusively on traditional styles, but I appreciate WDNY’s typical production quality and meticulous formatting and would like to see them utilized to also produce great DVDs on traditional styles. Unfortunately, I don’t feel this DVD really met my expectations.

The Warmup section begins quickly and without any sort of voiceover or verbal instruction on Shahrzad’s part. The pace is moderate for a warm up and mostly consists of body sways, snake arms, and slides, so it should be fairly easy for someone with basic bellydance experience under her belt to follow. At about 1 minute into the warm up she finally begins to describe what she is doing as she transitions to a series of stretches. The warmup lasts a little over 4 minutes.

The next section is Foundations. She first covers basic posture and emphasizes working to isolate the upper ab muscles from the lower ab muscles as a stepping stone towards “advanced technique like belly rolls and flutters.” Oblique Crunches are the second topic. This is a great exercise to gain more mobility and control for hip lifts, drops, and shimmies since it decreases dependence upon the legs to power these movements. The Pelvic Tilt & Slide section includes some good reminders on how to keep the move properly contained by demonstrating what not to do. Chest Lift & Drop instruction follows and Shahrzad discusses this move as muscle-driven and in the vertical plane without the assistance of back and shoulders. She advises to learn it by placing the hands on the upper abs to actually see and feel the muscles and rib cage expand and contract. Although some people like to contrast Oriental style as being primarily “skeletal” and Tribal as primarily “muscular” in movement origin, the Foundation section really demonstrates how false the former statement often is. Shahrzad’s explanations really hinge on muscular control.

The Technique section begins with learning Camels, which build on the Pelvic Tilt concept discussed in the Foundations portion. Different instructors have slightly different definitions of what constitutes a Camel, but in this case it is a lower body undulation on the vertical plane which is isolated from the upper body. The Chest Undulations follow as the corresponding upper body isolation to the Camel. Belly Rolls are touched upon next. Shahrzad introduces the movement by starting with a chest lift and then focuses on expanding and contracting first the upper, then lower abs in a downward roll. She gradually minimizes the initial chest lift for a slightly more isolated belly roll, however the aesthetics are different than how Tribal Fusion dancers like Rachel Brice or Zoe Jakes execute the movement. The result in context is much more subtle as it rarely seems to be presented as a complete isolation. Shahrzad does not cover the upward roll at all. After this, both directions of vertical hip figure eights are discussed, again building upon concepts presented in the Foundations sections. I thought it was interesting that she labelled the downward figure eight as a Taksim as I’ve only ever heard that term used by Tribal style teachers to describe this move. The upward vertical eight is unsurprisingly referred to as a Maya. Although both versions are taught as basically oblique-driven, she does lift the heels.

The Movement section builds on the previous portions; however I think this section really could have been incorporated under the Technique heading. The moves covered here are really just faster, snappier versions of those covered in Foundation and Technique: pelvic locks, chest lift/drops, oblique locks, and belly pops. The Technique section featured some quiet Middle Eastern background music, but Movement is the first part of the program to feature drummer Marshall Bodiker. Typically a live percussionist is a welcome addition to a DVD: it presents great opportunity to see a dynamic interaction between musician and dancer and to learn about rhythms. Unfortunately neither of those opportunities was well explored. Marshall appears disinterested and perhaps even a bit despondent during Shahrzad’s instruction, and his expression remains the same when he actually plays for her. He rarely glances in her direction and I was surprised that he actually came in relatively on cue as he seemed so disconnected from her. To be fair though, Shahrzad does not actually introduce him to the viewers nor directly address him. She signals the start of the beat with a count down and indicates when the speed should increase to double-time. She only tends to turn and look at him when she’s ready to stop the demonstration. I’d probably be feeling a little discouraged too in his position. I understand the practical reasons why she primarily faced forward to address the viewers, but the overall lack of engagement between the two was actually distracting to me.

Combinations is the last instructional section. Four combinations are presented; with each combination consisting of two moves (I am counting the Maya & Taksim in the first combination as one type of move). Marshall accompanies this section also and the dancer/drummer disconnect continues from the previous section. She breaks down the combinations, then briefly indicates the name of the rhythm that will be paired with it. This is where I believe another great opportunity was lost. It would have been nice to have had even a sentence or two explaining why those movements were chosen to accompany said rhythm, but no rationale was given. I also would have appreciated the name of the rhythm to have been written out on screen as two of the four names were not immediately familiar to me (one of them is an Indian rhythm and I have no real exposure to those, especially in a bellydance context). This would at least make it a bit easier to do more research on my own. The combinations are done at two speeds.

Practice Flow is a follow-along section where the four combinations are strung together into a mini-drum solo choreography. Unlike in the Combinations section, she varies her angles when performing them and includes more arm variations. There are no verbal cues or options for on screen prompts as many WDNY DVDs offer, although occasionally she will mouth the name of the move she is about to do. The main indication to change combinations is the change in rhythm on the drum. This section starts abruptly and the pace is a bit fast if you aren’t prepared, however since there are only four simple combinations covered it shouldn’t be too difficult to work out. The full series of combinations are repeated four times.

There is a bonus Abs Workout section which covers four separate exercises to strengthen the core muscles and improve isolation. This part was delightfully free of intimidating traditional crunches and planks, and it’s something I can actually see myself using in the future.

A costumed drum solo Performance rounds out the DVD. The connection between dancer and drummer I’d hoped to see throughout the program finally materializes! Both parties genuinely seemed to enjoy this part of filming and it was a pleasure to watch. Sadly though, this is the only time that the flutters mentioned in the DVD introduction actually make an appearance.

Although I really enjoyed Shahrzad as an instructor, Silk Waist did not fulfill the goals it presented for itself. Belly flutters are mentioned at least twice in the DVD and in the text description on the back of the case, but there is zero instruction on them, and the information on belly rolls is somewhat incomplete. Belly pops were the only part of the "rolls, pops, and flutters" that were adequately covered. The DVD also promised to show how to incorporate stomach articulations "into the texture of the dance" to help the viewer "learn how to use abdominal isolations seamlessly within the flow" of the dance itself. As all of the combinations were done in place (traveling with the moves was not explored) and only consisted of the specific techniques previously covered, I don't feel this aspect of the program was truly addressed. In order to do so, I think the combinations presented would have had to involve some additional movements. Even basic moves like hip circles, simple turns, walks, and poses could have been used to link the abdominal isolations to other parts of the dance without going beyond the beginner level. I've already touched upon issues involving the percussion. WDNY usually delivers a lot of 'bang for the buck' in terms of content, but in this case I was a little disappointed with the volume of instruction provided.

I do think this would be a good DVD for beginners who are looking for some basic drum solo techniques, however it would need to be used in conjunction with other DVDs and/or classes that provide education on Middle Eastern rhythms. The belly roll is the most advanced move included and although it is used in one of the combinations, someone could substitute a camel or chest undulation in the practice flow section until he or she was able to perform a belly roll.

As alternatives or additions to this DVD on the topic of stomach articulations, I would recommend Abs-olutely Fabulous: Abdominal Technique with Princess Farhana and Put the Belly back in Bellydance with Hannan Sultan. The first DVD in the From A to Zoe - 4 Disc Set includes a segment where belly flutters are discussed in some depth.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Just Keep Traveling

With its recent popularity and proliferation, it seems that many people now are introduced to Tribal fusion directly through DVDs and classes specific to that genre rather than through traditional or even ITS bellydance. Tribal fusion is (or in my humble opinion should be to qualify as "Tribal") based on some background in a group Improvisational Tribal format whether that is ATS, Gypsy Caravan, BlackSheep, Unmata, etc. However, even though many people now begin their bellydance studies in Tribal fusion without a more formal ITS background, one can still find the Tribal signature in much of what is currently labeled as Tribal fusion bellyance from carriage to costuming.

Although Tribal fusion is primarily a soloist's genre, it has inherited some traits from its parentage that are more suited towards its communal stylistic roots. As a "tribal" or group dance done in formations, there is not much of a need for traveling around the stage or performance area except for leader rotations, entrances, and exits. Most of the dancing in this style is done in a stationary position. Even turns and spins are typically in place. I believe an unconscious result of this influence can be seen in the fact that many Tribal fusion performances take place primarily in one spot.1 If there is any traveling in the performance, it is often just walking forward or backward with a layered arm and/or upper body pathway.2

Contrast this with most styles of Cabaret bellydance where it is expected that the dancer make at least one full circle around the stage or performance area in a successful presentation. Typically the stationary dancing is reserved for a drum solo or balancing piece, but otherwise, Cabaret dancers are all over the place.

I noticed that I too tend to want to stay put when dancing, and not just due to space restrictions; I realized that I was largely at a loss when it came to traveling steps. I remember when preparing to participate in a Tribal show my teacher had choreographed a basic entrance for the entire group which consisted of traveling across the stage and in a large circle with the Egyptian step. Initially when learning this segment, I and others had difficulty because we just were not used to moving around so much with the hipwork layered on top. When taking a Zills and Drills class we had an exercise where we were to travel across the room while improvising to a song and the actual feat of making it across the room while dancing was quite challenging. I think most of us walked to the center, danced, and walked to the other side. Much later, in Cabaret style classes with Bridgette, I realized just how unpolished my three-point turns are and how awkward I was with arabesques, grapevines, etc. While footwork and traveling have always been difficult for me, I realized that I had not had a great deal of practice when I was taking Tribal classes and at that time I hadn't realized the large gap in my dance education because I was primarily exposing myself to Tribal and Tribal fusion performances.

I've been trying to rectify that now that I'm aware of the issue, both with my workshop and DVD selections and in my own practice. For me at least, this has meant returning primarily to Cabaret resources, and it's one of the many reasons I've felt drawn back to those styles of bellydance. I hope to do solo performances one day, and I'd love to be able to dynamically engage the entire space in the way that Cabaret dancers can and do.

For those of you who might feel the same lack of confidence and repertoire when it comes to traveling steps, I do have a few DVD recommendations:
  • Combin-ography with Bahaia: This DVD aims to help in "bridging the gap between choreography and improvisation" and there are a lot of great exercises included. Bahaia teaches you how to walk in the context of a performance and then adds several ways to spice up that walk. She also goes over how to do a basic bellydance arabesque.
  • Elegant Turns & Arabesques with Hannan Sultan: Atisheh has a wonderful, in depth review of this DVD on her blog, but in summary this is an extremely helpful program covering several traveling moves (even most of the turns covered involve traveling). There are also some great ideas included in the combinations section which are not specifically covered in the instructional breakdowns.
  • Belly Dance Travel Steps: A Choreographer's Movement Catalog of Layers, Accents & Step Combinations, by Autumn Ward: This is not advertised as an instructional DVD, however there are sections of this that could be used to teach yourself the traveling movements covered as a part of this movement catalog. Autumn has a very clear, technical approach which is well suited to instruction, but you will probably need to repeat the sections a few times to learn the moves themselves as they are covered very quickly, and you will have to drill the movements on your own. There are also a few combinations you can use to practice stringing together some of the movements.


1) This is, of course, a generalization and as such can never be 100% accurate. It has just been my overwhelming observation of Tribal fusion performances live and on the internet.

It is worth noting that the pioneers and vanguard of the genre often do not suffer from this primarily stationary trait, and I believe that is because people like Rachel Brice, Mardi Love, Kami Liddle, and Zoe Jakes initially learned and/or have cross-trained in traditional bellydance forms. They did not start out their dance journeys as "Tribal fusion" dancers, rather "Tribal fusion" became a name applied to their solo styles which were then emulated and even codified by others.

2) Asharah attributes this lack of traveling hip moves both to a stylistic preference and laziness:
It might be that people want to experiment with new movement vocabulary, or maybe it’s that more 'traditional' hip movements within steps (such as, say, 'Basic Egyptian' or '3/4 Shimmy') doesn’t fit their vision for a contemporary choreography.[...] Or it might be that they just don’t have the skill or the training to put hip work on their contemporary traveling movements. And why work to do so when you can present a choreography with a few hip drops and undulations and still receive a standing ovation? Because it’s hard. It’s damn hard.
I'm not quite as pessimistic, although I don't doubt those are factors also.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Beginning the Rose Gold Art Deco Costume

Here I go again, attempting to make myself another costume even though I still have a separate belt and bra in progress that I've abandoned for the time being, along with a peacock blue costume which needs some serious upgrades and modifications.I'm hoping this one will give me the confidence to complete my other, unfinished projects.

Shushanna's costume tutorials are a godsend, especially her videos on the process of making her own pieces. Watching these has really inspired me. One photo in particular of her gold filigree bedlah in progress really struck me as quite beautiful. In it, she shows her pinkish-peachish base fabric with gold rhinestone chain and crystals, and the color combination is just lovely. Shushanna ends up almost entirely concealing the base fabric, changing the look of the overall costume composition so the peach element is very minimal and gold predominates. She chose the base fabric to match her skin tone to help further the illusion of filigree, so at that stage of her progress, it was a nude and gold costume which really appealed to me.

My skin, although very pale, does lean toward the warm end of the spectrum so peaches and oranges are usually flattering on me. I spent some time doodling some design ideas and decided to go to the fabric store to find what I needed to get started.

Believe it or not, it was difficult to find a nice peachy fabric. The clearance remnants section was the only place I could find what I was looking for. I found a fabric with a nice sheen and iridescent effect where it appears gold from one angle and rosy peach from the other. Thankfully they had enough for a bra, belt, and some accessories. I also picked up an accent fabric in a contrasting texture. I wanted velvet but the closest I could find to the dark gold in my head was in a faux-suede. I later ordered some rayon velvet online that I'll be using instead. I also bought some lining fabric and the thickest Pellon interfacing they had.

I followed Shushanna's detailed instructions and laid out the design for the front and back of a two-piece belt. The back ended up requiring three small darts. She doesn't specifically mention using fusible interfacing, but I chose interfacing where one side was fusible so the outside fabric stays put when I start beading.

In this photo you can see the front and back sections of the belt after I've fused the fabric to the interfacing with an iron and damp cloth (the still wet sections of the back are darker which is why the back panel looks mottled in color). I wasn't anticipating the texture of the interfacing to show through, but it does as the fabric is rather thin. It actually gives it a pebbled look which you can see in the photo below.

I then pinned the seam allowances around the belt bases and sewed them down using a straight stitch. Then it was time to sew the darts in the back segment so it would cup my booty in a visually pleasing way. I was worried that part would be difficult, but my Sharpie marks were great guides. The back panel ended up looking a little pointy once I sewed he darts in, but I think once I bead over it they will soften up some. I tried on the belt at this point and everything fit just as it was supposed to.

Now comes the fun part. Unlike my previous attempts where I basically decided to just wing the design, this time I had the general composition and patterns laid out beforehand. I decided to do an Art Deco theme after being inspired by a lot of antique jewelry I've seen recently, and that involves a lot of strong geometry and symmetry, so a preconceived design is a must in this case. Still, making the overall designs using the crystals, brass stampings, pearls, and beads I acquired does require some extra groundwork. I'm starting with the front of the belt.

The Art Deco period coincided with the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, sparking the Egyptian Revival style. In homage to that and to the huge influence of Egyptian bellydance, I'm incorporating some ancient Egyptian-inspired elements like scarab beetles and ushabti figures.

The first time I laid out the design using an ushabti stamping in the center, but it wasn't quite what I wanted.

I know a large scarab will be the centerpiece for the back panel, so I decided to try one on the front also, and I like it much better. The elements below include some small tribal metal pieces, rhinestone chain, Swarovski crystals, and glass pearls. There will also be seed beads and sequins involved for extra sparkle.

At that point, I was still waiting to receive another shipment of beads I had ordered so I didn't want to actually get started securing things to the fabric. I'm going to use some slivers of soap to measure and mark out the general layout and then get to beading! Tomorrow is Spring Caravan so that will hopefully be a real motivator to get to work. Stay tuned for more progress and my design sketches.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Workshops & An Unintentional Air of Tribal

I finally had the opportunity to take a workshop with Amala Gameela of the Lehigh Valley, PA on December 15th. As far as I'm aware, she's one of the few teachers in the area who specifically teaches Egyptian style (most others I know of teach either American Cabaret or some form of Improvisational Tribal, hence my own dance background). Although I've tried my best to expose myself to the quintessential raks sharqi aesthetic, a live teacher is always preferable to video instruction.

This particular workshop was focused on the music of Egyptian singer extraordinaire Oum Kalthoum (alternatively spelled Umm Kulthum, Oum Kalsoum, etc.) and featured two musicians who would be providing live musical accompaniment. How could I pass that up? I already had exposure to the wonderful legacy of Ms. Kalthoum, so although I didn't leave with a lot of new academic knowledge about her life and work, the kinetic and experiential knowledge more than lived up to my expectations. I did learn that may of the classic, longer pieces that I had heard and assumed were written for bellydancers to have deliberate changes in tempo and mood to keep the dance lively and interesting were in fact originally Oum Kalthoum songs. Although it is generally considered disrespectful to dance to her vocal performances, the introductions, which are typically several minutes long in and of themselves, are considered cabaret bellydance standards. Songs that fall into this category include “Lailet Hob (Love Night),” “Enta Omri (You are My Life)," “Alf Layla Wa Layla (1001 Nights),” "Ana Fi Intizarak (I'm Waiting for You)," and “Lessa Fakir (Do You Still Remember?).”. You can hear these songs at 20 Songs Every Bellydancer Should Know.

The workshop started off with a brief biography and a more in depth discussion of the cultural influence of her music throughout the Arab world. We were provided with a handout listing a rough outline of topics and were encouraged to take notes during the discussion. I appreciated that the informational cultural aspect of the workshop took up about as much time as the dancing. Joseph Mamari, keyboardist, and Teo Alhaddad, drummer, who are both of Syrian descent, related their own experiences of her music and what it has meant to their families both here and in the Middle East. They described how she and her orchestra practiced so often they almost engaged in a type of group mind, each time they performed a piece it was different and still raw and emotive, and all without the aid of sheet music. It was really wonderful to see their faces light up as they described instances of their relatives enjoying her music. As a result they touched on the Arabic concept of tarab, which is a trance-like state caused by total immersion in the music, and how listening to her works often evokes this for Middle Eastern people.

It's been unfortunately rare that I've had the opportunity to learn about this dance and its music directly from Arabic people, especially in person, so this was a special treat for me. I cannot recall which specific Egyptian dancer and teacher (Souhair Zaki possibly?) bemoaned the fact that all of her foreign students were disappointed when she took time to elaborate on the cultural 'why's of the dance and instead begged to learn new steps and combinations, but I do not wish to be one of those types of students.

The second part of the class was, of course, dancing. We warmed up to "Alf Layla Wa Layla" and it was so wonderful to hear the strains of that song being played by a live presence in the room rather than a recorded track. I am lucky enough to know this song very well, and I think perhaps in this class I got a small sense of tarab myself. Amala introduced a few basic travel steps and built impromptu combinations with them to certain loops of the song. The moves were fairly basic so most of it was instruction of the "follow the bouncing butt" variety, but I found that a few traveling steps that had eluded me before when technically breaking them down and practicing them came much more easily when trying not to analyze them too much and just following along. After learning a few steps and combinations for both slower and faster tempos, Amala encouraged us to improvise with the music. We also experimented with "Enta Omri." The end of the workshop we had a drum circle where Teo improvised on his tabla and we took turns soloing. It was the most fun I've had in a long time, and after my own solo, Amala told me with a wry smile, "you have groove, girl!" (I'm assuming that is good!) I felt like I did better at improvising than I have in class before. I didn't do what Nadira Jamal describes as "scribbling" and was much more content to slow myself down and simplify.

All in all, it was probably the most enjoyable workshop I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. When Amala offered a drum solo workshop with Teo Alhaddad on February 23rd, I was quick to sign up.

The workshop description made it seem like the topic would be about how to dance to a drum solo segment, however in reality it was more about which rhythms were typically used in different sections of the traditional Egyptian-style bellydance set and some appropriate moves to accompany them. This class was also highly enjoyable and followed a similar format as the first one. We received handouts with the names of a few common rhythms which we covered. We discussed the more technical aspects of them including the their time signatures but also touched on the cultural/geographical aspects. For instance, khaleegi is more common in the Gulf regions and isn't typically used in Egyptian or Turkish music, saidi is a rhythm from upper Egypt and is the one typically used for raks al assaya (cane/stick performances), fallahi is named after the farming class in Egypt where the drumming pattern originated. The conversation side-tracked a little bit and Amala discussed that depending upon where she danced in Pennsylvania, she tailored her shows to the ethnic communities in that locale. Apparently Bethlehem has a concentration of Syrians, Lebanese, etc. while in Philadelphia one tends to find more Persians and Arabs from the Gulf region. She also mentioned that in Islamic culture, it is rude to show people the soles of your feet (especially if they are in any way, shape, or form dirty) so one should always dance in some kind of shoe if performing for ethnic audiences. Apparently this custom is related to the fact that Muslims carefully wash their hands and feet before prayer. Although I knew some about the regional associations of the rhythms, the information about the differing concentrations of Middle Eastern people in my home state and information about appropriate customs while dancing was all brand new to me and was quite fascinating. There were a lot of interesting things brought up that one doesn't usually get in a typical class setting.

Again the second portion of the class we worked on a few (generally) basic steps and short combinations. We started with a basic chassé step circling the room. Amala commented that my carriage was so Tribal it was funny and I replied that it was completely unintentional. I had taken a saidi cane choreography class a few weeks before with Bridgitte so in that portion the footwork was a bit familiar, however it went rather fast and my grip on the Saidi Step is not wonderful. The khaleegi section featured a more folkloric Persian combination, which was rather challenging. We even did a little floorwork to the chiftitelli. We ended again with a drum solo.

My boyfriend was waiting to pick me up in the parking lot, so sadly I wasn't able to stay a bit longer to more fully express my appreciation (I hope this blog entry will do). I waited with another woman, who also had a Tribal background, to say thank you and goodbye for the evening. This time Amala stated that she really appreciated how soft and fluid my moves were (in contrast to how some Tribal and fusion dancers can be very hard and harsh in their movements) and that it reminded her of how Egyptian dancers move. That was incredibly flattering as I really try to study and appreciate all types of bellydance. She also said we would be welcome to perform at her shows and haflas and that she welcomes various styles. If I can ever work up the nerve, perhaps I might take her up on that!

The entire experience got me thinking though how when I describe my background to Cabaret-style teachers, they seem to immediately focus on the Tribal portion of my education, even though in reality my own training has had at least an equal representation of Cabaret and my first classes with a live teacher were in Cabaret style. I become pegged as the "Tribal girl" in class and I'm not quite sure how I feel about this, especially as my gears have shifted to really focus on more traditional Middle Eastern styles. To clarify, it has happened with several teachers, not just Amala Gameela, and I'm certainly not blaming or chastising them for this trend - I'm merely contemplating its implications for me and my dance.

My hip scarves and belts do tend to have a more Tribal flare (i.e. they're not the typical jingly coin/beaded belts or spangled, netted ones) and my carriage and dance personality is less cheeky and flirty than most other students in those classes, but I wonder if that is really a reflection of the Tribal classes and workshops I've also taken or just a more general reflection of my overall character. I am of a quieter, darker bent in general and my social anxieties make it very difficult to be extremely sassy in class or performance opportunities (which is primarily why I have yet to do a solo after all these years). I'm also perhaps not the same type of person who typically is attracted to Cabaret style dance. Usually people with my tendencies do lean towards Tribal, at least if the resources are available to them to choose which genre in which to learn.

I don't have that bubbly, cutesy angle going on which so many Cabaret dancers possess, but neither am I the stiff-lipped, oh-so-serious Tribal fusion dancer I see so often on YouTube. In the comfort of my own home I have a sly sort of sensuality which lies somewhere in between the two extremes. I look like I enjoy myself, I smile, but I'm not winking or blowing kisses or looking over my shoulder with a surprised, open-mouthed expression like a vintage pin-up (not that there's anything wrong with that). I'm not a hair-tosser or prone to much hopping and prancing, yet I also don't lunge, do deep plié, nor exaggerated full-body waves, etc. I'm not sure where I fit exactly.

I admire dancers like Mira Betz who is her own sort of fusion, if you can call really it that. She said in an interview with Color Me Kelli regarding categorizing her dance that the Cabaret dancers don't think she's Cabaret and the ATS and Tribal fusion dancers don't find her to be Tribal, and yet:
"Everything else that is not those two things goes into 'Tribal fusion', for lack of having any other thing to call it. [Describing her many past interests and phases] This is who I am outside, as a teenager and growing up, but then this is what I do as a hobby and I love it. And then I realized, 'oh these don't have to be separate [i.e. her other interests and bellydance], I can be me in this dance.' So that was that fusion that happened and I went 'oh, who am I as a young, American artist, and how can I express that though this language of dance that I have?'"
My own dancing isn't a deliberate fusion of bellydance and some other form of dance like hip-hop or bhangra, or even a melange of multiple dance styles as I've only deeply studied bellydance (although I may have subconsciously adopted a hand gesture or something from watching other fusions). I'm not necessarily sure it technically is a strict fusion of Cabaret and Tribal. It inherits my own quirks and idiosyncrasies. Of course, pigeon-holing is not healthy, but it would be helpful to know how to best describe myself for when I do perform. What do I put in the program?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Blue Costume Blues

I was finally able to attend a Rakkasah East this past October. It's been some time since I've attended a bellydance festival. I was fairly proud of myself for not spending too much money while I was there, until on our way out when I returned to one stand to admire an iridescent peacock blueish-greenish 25 yard skirt that had caught my eye earlier. It was expensive and I couldn't really justify the purchase to myself. The shop owner was assisting another client and I waited to ask about something else I saw in the shop.

The owner brought out a blue bra to show the other woman. She didn't take a particular shine to it but for some reason I did. It was a fairly simple, royal blue bra in a cabaret style. It was too big for the other woman, but it seemed about my size. I'm not sure exactly how it happened but I ended up taking into the restroom to try it on. It didn't quite have the coverage I was looking for and the band was much too tight, but when I held it up it was lovely against my skin tone. There was also a matching belt. I don't even particularly like the color blue but for some reason it worked. On a whim, I brought the peacock skirt over to compare with the bra and it coordinated nicely.
At that point I was basically doomed because the merchant had a payment plan and I found myself ordering a matching bra and belt set like the one on display. Since I wanted a bit more coverage, we looked at some of the other bras that were offered to find a more appropriate size and the merchant wrote down the specific brand and size bra base that would be used. Although the halter ties look pretty, I'm a bit busty and need more support so I also requested a cross-tie back option like the maker's Tribal style bras and that was noted also.

When some people feel down, they drink, smoke, eat junk food, or gamble; I buy things, especially bellydance things. As a result I have all sorts of interesting costume pieces: a striped bustle here, a Tribal belt there, a top there, lots of bits and bobbles and Kuchi coins, but very little would actually go together to form a cohesive costume. I reasoned with myself that at least this is a set and all I would really need to do is accessorize. The price for the set wasn't excessive for the quality (you do get what you pay for and bellydance costumes can get very pricey) and I understood upon inspecting the craftsmanship that I would need to make reinforcements and improvements, for example I wanted to eventually replace some of the plastic beads with crystal and reinforce the stitching and fringe, but it was still the most I've spent on a costume in one shot.

Payments were made and the costume came in the mail. I was so excited to try it on. Sadly, the band of the actual bra is 4 inches less than the size written on the form, the cups have a good amount of padding at the bottom which makes them a lot smaller than they initially seem, and it has halter straps and not the cross-ties I requested. I can fit into it, but it has less coverage and more lift than I would have preferred and is a lot tighter. I can probably use a bra extender (since the original bra back with the hooks is still present hidden under the ties) to help with the tightness but I'm probably just going to have to live with the cups. A piece of trim on one half of the belt is off-center but I don't think that will be too difficult to realign since it is only loosely sewed on. Still, the bra and belt, along with the peacock skirt, which is simply amazing especially tucked and bustled, comprise a real costume set I can actually use once I get the balls to perform solo.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


It's been over a year since my last post. I've lost several followers since the last time I checked up on this blog, and it makes me a little sad, but I cannot really blame them, especially since my last post was such a sour note.

Thankfully things have gotten better for me in general, although I still struggle some days, but I've been returning to the things I love. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm actually bipolar as I consistently alternate through these phases of not being interested in or motivated to do anything and then being intensely involved in all sorts of subjects simultaneously.

Some of my new ventures have taken up a lot of my time and energy, so I haven't been able to be very engaged in local bellydance events or classes and in keeping up to date on blogs in virtual bellydanceland, and it's resulted in some serious bellydance withdrawal. Next week I shall have my fix! :D

I start a Zills and Drills class at the Tribal Bellies Studio on the 5th. The Tribal Bellies Studio is the center of the most tight-knit bellydance community I've encountered in my area and I really look forward to going back and partaking of that egregore. I also really adore fumbling my way around with zills and so far I have not found any other teachers who place such an emphasis on playing them. I had teachers who took maybe 20 minutes of one class in the entire session to discuss zills and walk in a circle while playing, but even in non-zill oriented classes we worked with zills every single class at Tribal Bellies.

Although I've been anxiously awaiting it since I registered, another part of me is shaking her head, convinced that I must be a crazy person after all to try to stuff my Wednesday schedule even more densely. That is the day where I already have a private harp lesson, errands/cleaning, about a 2 hour (round-trip) commute to a hospital where I then play the harp for a couple hours, and an Ancestor ritual in the evening along with some crafting/art-making if I can fit it in. I'm also hoping to take part in a weekly Harp Circle held at said hospital (also on Wednesdays) which start on the 13th, so that will be another thing to add to the list.

But back to bellydance... I'm really thrilled about Rachel Brice's new venture in online classes: Datura Online. Although I would love to take multiple classes a week like I was doing for a while, it's just not feasible. Datura Online presents a really nice option to get an extra dose of bellydance basically wherever you have access to WiFi. The classes offered are also not solely in Ms.Brice's own particular tribal fusion style; she has brought a few other teachers on board the project to diversify somewhat. I imagine as Datura Online evolves, more teachers may be participating to provide special workshops.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Baby Steps

I've been in a serious rut for the past several months, hence the lack of blog posts. Depression is something I've had to deal with for most of my life, but lately it's been worse than usual. Over the years I've become slightly better at allowing myself to be thrown headlong into projects so that I simply don't have the extra time to dwell on it (this is actually one instance where having so many hobbies and interests turns out to be useful), but there are times when this strategy doesn't work and the gravity of the depression is just too strong. Like an unavoidable undertow it drags me under and threatens to drown me. I end up consumed by guilt and anxiety, in a state of mental/emotional paralysis, mired down by a lack of motivation. Outside of my necessary interactions with people at work and grocery store, etc. I try to be entirely cut off from others and wished to remain that way.

My interest in bellydance, along with my interest in essentially everything else, suffered and came to a virtual standstill. I had paid for a whole 12 week session of Tribal classes and couldn't bring myself to attend even half of them, I wasn't seeking out more Cabaret classes or workshops, I didn't want to attend any events (if I hadn't paid for my BDSS tickets months in advance I probably wouldn't have gone to the show), and obviously my blogs were not updated.

I'm just starting to return to the surface, although there are still the occasional days when depression's grip is unusually strong, and I've been missing my involvement in dance. A few weeks ago I began my second set of American Cabaret classes with Mirjana and have been doing okay. I'm not yet ready to return to Tribal classes though due to the high level of interaction required. Depression leaves me especially sensitive and rather agoraphobic, and while I can currently cope with being in a class with others, I could not handle the lead-and-follow and mirroring/silhouetting exercises which are a huge part of learning ITS. Right now it's just baby steps (with hip drops perhaps?) for me.

On a more positive note, as the depression-related apathy wears off I'm also gaining more of an interest in art-making, which has been even more chronically neglected than my bellydance activities, so I'll probably be taking a break from classes to work on art. I have a whole slew of bellydance DVDs I should be working with anyways I suppose.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tribal Superstars: Performance DVD Review

not as described | 2 out of 5 stars
Available via: Bellydance Superstars Shop, Amazon

The BDSS website describes this as a "best of" collection, however what isn't made clear is that the content of this DVD consists only of what Copeland and Co. might consider to be the "best of" what they have previously included on their own releases. There is no new performance material included here, instead this DVD is a compilation of various Tribal style pieces spanning from the very first Bellydance Superstars to the latest Bellydance Superstars: 3D Volume 2. If you have seen or happen to own a number of BDSS DVDs, chances are you will already be familiar with all of the performances on Tribal Superstars:
  1. Rachel Brice, "Saraab" from Bellydance Superstars
  2. This is classic Rachel in all her dark, snakey glory. Unfortunately the camera work is classic to the original Bellydance Superstars DVD meaning that the angles may include prop items from the set partially obscuring the dancer, and shots are often cropped to exclude a significant part of her body.
  3. Zoe Jakes & Issam Houshan drum solo, Bellydance Superstars: 3D Volume 2
  4. Sharon Kihara, "Bear Hides and Buffalo/Proper Hoodidge" from Tribal Fusions
  5. Kami Liddle & Sabrina, "Inars" from Tribal Fusions
  6. Fat Chance Bellydance, "Tin Tin" from Tribal LA: Live in Los Angeles
  7. Elizabeth Strong, "Romski Cocek" from Tribal LA: Live in Los Angeles
  8. Mardi Love, "Whiskey Sunrise" from Tribal Fusions
  9. Tribal Superstars, "The Dude" from The Art of Bellydance: Live from Shanghai
  10. Samantha, "Wayward Farewell" from The Art of Bellydance: Live from Shanghai
  11. Tribal Superstars, "Saiidi" from Bellydance Superstars: Live in Paris at the Folies Bergere
  12. This was when the Tribal Superstars included Rachel Brice, Mardi Love, and Sharon Kihara. The other group piece included on this DVD is the newer incarnation of the troupe with Kami Liddle, Samantha, Sabrina, and Moria Chappell.
  13. Zoe Jakes & Elizabeth Strong, "Dope Crunk" from Tribal LA: Live in Los Angeles
  14. Kami Liddle, "A Necessary End" from Tribal Fusions: Volume 2
  15. Note: The music is cited as "Saltillo" by A Necessary End but in fact the song title and artist are reversed. I discovered this when I went to search for the song on iTunes.
  16. Moria Chappell, "Engrish Bwudd" from Tribal Fusions: Volume 2
  17. Note: The credits claim the music as "Ping Heng/Sleeping Somber" by Solace but this is definitely not the case.
  18. Urban Tribal, "Derivations" from Tribal Fusions: Volume 2
  19. Although this is from a newer release in the BDSS catalog, this particular recording also seems to suffer from a lot of periodic cropping which is especially egregious in this case since Urban Tribal rely so much on the overall composition and interaction of their troupe. You cannot appreciate this when forcibly focused on just the upper body of one dancer.
If you have not previously been exposed to these particular pieces, or if you enjoyed some of them but do not already own the original DVDs on which they appeared, this might be a worthwhile investment, but otherwise I don't think it is really worth the purchase price. I felt mislead both by the descriptions on the BDSS online shop and the Amazon website into buying it, believing it to have at least some never-before-professionally-released performance footage from the impressive roster of dancers listed on the cover. Although this is a very subjective assessment, I cannot help but feel this DVD really does not represent the best work of these dancers as captured in the pre-existing BDSS collection. I also get the impression that there may have been a rush to release this DVD, considering all the typos and incorrect information in the credits.

The only worthwhile, new material included on this release are several interviews with various Tribal dancers and Miles Copeland. These are substantial interviews too, not just a few stolen, hectic moments before a show in the dressing room — this section rivals (or exceeds) the length of the performance portion of the DVD. The dancers describe their influences, the challenges of being in an internationally touring bellydance troupe, and some of their experiences from the road among other things. I particularly enjoyed hearing Carolena Nericcio talk about how she came up with the cue system for ATS dance. Almost all of the Tribal Superstars discuss the fact that unlike their Cabaret comrades who have a plethora of bellydance fashion designers from whom to commission costumes for each show, the Tribal Superstars craft their own costumes and are responsible for their own extensive hair and makeup. Moria actually displays the belt and bra is is working on to coordinate with the color scheme of the other Superstars and tells the story behind some of the components. It was also interesting to see most of the dancers without stage makeup (Zoe, Kami, and Sabrina seemed to be only wearing very light makeup. Moria was interviewed still in her stage makeup and elaborately-done hair). The contrast is striking and it allows for a better realization of all the time that must go into preparing for a show.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Behold, we have video!

One of my fellow Daughters of the Hip members uploaded a high-definition video of our performance to You Tube:
(Tribal Spirit's aforementioned performance can be seen here.)

I got started a little late during one part of the choreography section since my compulsive shaking was making it difficult to get my scimitar properly in place, and as I previously surmised, I definitely looked too stiff during the sword balancing segment. My range of motion is normally not that limited. The improv section was a little better and I did loosen up some, but you can still tell I was not really at ease up on stage. I can in fact layer a 3/4 shimmy over my Turkish but my body just wasn't cooperating that day.

I wish there was some way to simulate the presence of an audience during practice so I could work at surmounting my fears, but to my knowledge there is no such way other than actually dancing in front of live people. While there are strategies and exercises for overcoming stage fright and developing a strong stage presence, I think you can only truly "practice" performance by actually performing. There is no substitute for the real experience.

This brings up the dilemma of a dancer's readiness to perform versus his or her desire and intent to do so. A few other bellydance bloggers have posted recently about this issue (Tempest and Miischelle for example) and I think it is a worthy one. I agree with the other bloggers in that I do not think baby beginner dancers should be performing for the general public, especially without the explicit caveat that they are beginning or student dancers. In other words, beginners or even intermediate level dancers shouldn't be masquerading as professional performers.

However, once a dancer has gotten a fair amount of learning under her belt* and has the go-ahead from her teacher, I think it is beneficial to perform as a student at haflas or events for fellow dancers, friends, and family. Practice, both on and off stage, makes perfect, and amateur dancers should have appropriate venues to practice their performance skills so they can improve.

Just to clarify (and so I don't sound like a giant hypocrite), our performance at the DE Hafla was as a student troupe. Our non-professional status was noted as such both in the printed program and by the announcement immediately prior to our performance.

I don't think there is a hard and fast universal rule as to what the proper time period of study might be prior to performance at the type of events I suggest would be appropriate for amateur dancers — it would vary from dancer to dancer depending upon how long the dancer has been taking classes, how many classes per week he or she takes, how much time outside of class the dancer devotes to practice, the innate ability of the dancer to learn the movements.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sweet Relief

Yesterday was quite a day. My boyfriend and I arrived about an hour early (we anticipated that the drive to Delaware would take longer than it did) so we decided to take a walk on Main Street. It was a pleasant walk, however it had to be one of the hottest days I recall in this already sweltering summer so by the time we got back to the restaurant I was already drenched in sweat and exhausted.

I was told our performance went well and that even during the choreographed section the four of us were in-sync with each other. None of us dropped our swords and we did not miss our cues from what I can tell. I'd still like to see the video footage to critique my own performance though.

Danielle, Colleen, Kristin & I in mid-"swashbuckler" move. I'm all the way on the left.

Personally, I was so nervous that I was physically shaking — so much so that I feared it might be perceptible by the audience, but apparently it wasn't from those I queried afterwords. The shaking did make sword balancing that much more difficult though, even with the added stickiness provided by the hairspray on my head and beeswax on the blade that I did not use during the rehearsals. As a result I wasn't able to articulate as much as I would have liked while the sword was on my head and probably looked a little stiff. In addition to that, the space had a row of skylights which shed direct sunlight into my face virtually the entire time. I found that mentally I wasn't afraid of the audience and having them so close while dancing despite my body's reaction, but with sun being so bright I could not see them anyways. In most of the photos from the event, at least one of us was completely obscured by the blinding light. If you happen to be on Facebook, you can view my full album here and observe the phenomenon yourself.

I'm in the lead position here for the Tribal improv section of our piece. I think I was just thankful to be able to see for a moment.

There were a number of other great performances that took place that evening. Tribal Spirit did a delicious improv piece which included a lot of cute moves I don't think I've ever seen them do before. They seem so at ease performing and they give the impression that they are dancing not mainly for the spectator's enjoyment but for their own. I am jealous :) I'm hoping a video gets posted of their performance also.

Fatima Bassmah was the headlining dancer this month. I think she would make a perfect Snow White with her raven hair, red lips, and flawless fair skin. She danced twice that evening with a number of props. During one piece she balanced a bejeweled sword on her head while standing on glass goblets. I've never seen wine glasses used as a dance prop in person and was duly impressed. She later did an encore dance with an expertly weilded cane and then a final, upbeat dance to what I believe was a Sha'abi song.

Black Dragon Bellydance did a lovely skirt dance with lots of flourishes and spins. Naja Haje took the part of a serpent emerging from the snake-charmer's vessel: complete with huge basket, a bearded, flute-bearing snake-charmer, and a veil with a design evoking the brown and white pattern on a cobra's head. The music fittingly featured the ney as the prominent instrument. I wish I could have better seen the work of the dancers who immediately preceded and followed ours but I think I was so distracted about our own performance that I didn't get a chance to properly appreciate theirs.

I hope I have the opportunity to perform again in the relatively near future, though my preference would either be without a prop or with one that wouldn't impale my foot if I accidentally dropped it. I'm grateful to Vikki of Hipnosis who wrote the choreography and guided us through the rehearsals and for the three other ladies who danced with me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Crossing my fingers

Tomorrow will be my second official performance. Needless to say I'm really nervous (just writing about it makes me anxious).

Three other ladies and I will be dancing a hybrid sword choreography/Tribal improvisation piece at the monthly Drum & Dance Hafla hosted by Lorelei in Newark, Delaware. We are dancing as Daughters of the Hip, the student troupe from the Tribal Bellies Studio. Later in the evening Tribal Spirit, who is sort of like the "big sister" troupe to Daughters of the Hip, will also be dancing.

Other than the workshop where we actually learned the choreographed portion, we've rehearsed four times. I think I have the choreography section down, but whether I can remember it when on stage will be another matter entirely. Being rather new to balancing and dancing with a sword, I've been trying to forge a friendship with my new dance partner, a Balady Scimitar, and hopefully we will get along well tomorrow. Almost everything about this performance is fairly new to me, which makes this one more nerve-wracking than the previous one. I should really be more positive!

From what I understand, two people will be videotaping the performance, so in the not too distant future there will likely be some YouTube footage to reference.