Saturday, October 24, 2009

Golden Age, Silver Screen - ACEO

Inspired by footage in vintage films from the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema, this little piece of art will be sure to delight appreciators of classic Raqs Sharqi. I was drawn to create a small homage to the elegant ladies of the silver screen after viewing some clips of such notable bellydancers as Tahiya Karioka, Samia Gamal, and Naima Akef. The particular dancer depicted here has just made her entrance accompanied by a swirling veil. Her smile is contagious.

This image is nearly monochromatic in shades of soft, warm greys, sparkles of antique white, and black linework overlaid on toned paper, evoking the look of an aged black & white movie.

Available at my Etsy shop!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ren Faire Saturday Performance

Today was the first day of the Wrightstown Renaissance Faire which was my first real performance. One of the ladies from the studio already has sections of it up on YouTube. I hope to write a little more about the experience when I'm not so tired (we have another performance tomorrow, so it might have to wait for Monday at least), but it wasn't as nerve wracking as I thought.

Our Level II group performance starts at 0:46 and lasts until about 1:45. I'm all the way on the right in the yellow-orange fringe :)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Report from the NE BD Competition Gala

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Northeast Belly Dance Competition Gala to see a lovely array of performances and a decent selection of vendors. The entire event lasted approximately two hours including a brief intermission. The Grand Ballroom of the Best Western Lehigh Valley was the perfect space for the size of the event: the stage was set up on the far side of the room with ample seating and the vendors were set up at the rear. The event itself was on the smaller side, perhaps since it is the first time it was held, but that suited me just fine. Both the performances and vendors were almost exclusively Cabaret oriented, however I did actually manage to find a nice Kuchi metal belt at the table belonging to Salome's Tent that fit me well (it will serve as my "back up belt" in case I'm unable to finish the belt I'm working on making for the Faire).

It seemed to me as if the event organizers arranged the order of the performances to have the less-experienced dancers perform first, followed by the more seasoned performers after the intermission. I was pleased to find that virtually all of the dancers had a healthy sense of humor and were even willing to have a laugh at their own expense (it's good not to take yourself too seriously all the time).

Amartia danced first in a bedlah spangled with dozens of compact-sized round mirrors, sending spots of reflected light whirling around the room as she moved. At one point in her performance during a long section of shimmying, she withdrew a stick of lipstick from her costume and proceeded to apply it by looking in one of the large mirrors on her arm band. Afterwords she tossed the lipstick into the audience and continued dancing.

Tasha was not only very talented but also quite comical. The event program featured an advertisement for her classes, touting that she had been dancing professionally for more than thirty years which I found surprising since the photo was of a very youthful, dark-haired dancer. When she emerged from behind the stage curtain, she was still just as elegant but had long silver locks. She did an interesting technique with her zills which was akin to a roll on the drum that I want to figure out for myself (I think it involved slightly shaking or rapidly moving the thumb to achieve a quick, staccato sound). As she was dancing, she caught sight of an older man in the front row and sauntered toward him, planting a big kiss on his bare head and leaving her vivid red lipstick behind. My boyfriend and I thought it might be her husband and that it had been arranged beforehand, but a little later, she spotted another bald gentleman and approached him with same intent. When he hesitated she declared, "It will make your hair grow" and he allowed her to kiss him on the top of his head. During a veil segment, she found another male victim, only this time she wrapped the veil around his neck and while doing so questioned his wife if it was tight enough. She twisted it up and around his head to form a makeshift turban and headed back to the stage. The man with the new turban apparently loved the attention and stood up and started dancing too. When she caught sight of him wiggling around she quickly ran back, brought him foreword and danced with him on the stage.

Two dancers from Hipnosis were the only Tribal style representatives in the gala and as always I look foreword to their pieces. Unfortunately, there was a serious technical difficulty and for some reason the CD they brought with their music would not play on that particular sound system. There were evidently no drummers in the audience to accompany them, but determined to perform and with the help of some guests who had purchased some CDs from a vendor that very evening, they did a great dance to a song neither of them had probably heard before. The song wasn't even Middle Eastern in origin with familiar rhythms to rely on — it was an upbeat techno/R&B tune with several false endings. This my friends is the glory of improvisation.

My favorite dancers were actually the ones I wasn't familiar with before the show including Kalaa, Azhia, Tasha, Lotus Niraja, etc. although it was great seeing Neon of WDNY perform just a few yards away. I cannot wait for next year's competition as I would like to see the actual competition pieces too. I hope it will be held at the same venue.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Some Upcoming Events

The following event is actually tomorrow and Sunday (sorry for the late notice!):

Northeast Belly Dance Competition: Gala Show
Date & Time: Saturday August 29, 2009, starting at 8:00pm
Location: Best Western Lehigh Valley Hotel & Conference Center
Grand Ballroom
300 Gateway Dr
Bethlehem, PA 18017
Price: $15.00 (I'm checking to see if tickets can still be purchased at the door. They don't seem to be sold out, but I'm unable to select the tickets to still purchase them online at this point.)
For more information, visit their website: Northeast Belly Dance Competition

There are thirteen performers lined up for this event including the girls of Hipnosis Tribal, Neon and Tanna Valentine of World Dance New York, Lotus Niraja, and Embers & Emeralds. There will also be some vendors present both before and after the show as well as during intermission.

I also wanted to highlight a series of workshops in November featuring Washington DC area dancers Asharah and Belladonna (I believe Mavi was originally slated to participate too but that doesn't seem to be the case any longer):

Workshops with Asharah & Belladonna
Date & Time: Saturday November 14 and Sunday November 15, 2009, workshops begin at noon
Location: to be announced
Price: Single Class: $40.00, Full Day (Saturday or Sunday): $70.00, Entire Weekend: $120
For more detailed information on the workshops and registration, please visit the Events Calender.

I'm really looking foreword to these workshops. I've met Belladonna before and she seemed like a very warm, outgoing person and a great dancer, not to mention her amazing sword-wielding skills. I've been wanting to take classes from Asharah too as I've been admiring her dancing and writing for some time, although I will admit that I do find the prospect of meeting her more than a little intimidating.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Experimenting with Tribal Makeup

I finally added a profile photo, a larger version is shown above. After a productive trip to Target (pronounced Tar·zhay for the uninitiated) I played around with some makeup ideas to use for the performance. I still need to work on what to do with my hair. I'm not skilled in that department at all.

I picked up some brown kohl in the HIP line made by L'Oreal which came in a lovely little bottle reminiscent of a perfume vial. I've used kohl before, but I just recently learned to apply it in the Middle Eastern fashion and although it was awkward, the first time it worked perfectly and got the look I've been striving for with liquid and pencil eyeliners for some time. It rims the inner eye, including the waterlines, perfectly and stays there. The only issue I've had so far — and I've been wearing it for hours while sweating in a hot apartment — is that some of it tends to gather near the tearduct and when I tried to wipe the excess off the lining tended to come off with it. It was expensive for such a little bottle (even the cashier commented on the price), but I'm tempted to buy more in different colors because I adore how it looks. I also picked up some ColorStay Overtime lipstick by Revlon in Relentless Raisin which really lives up to its title. It consists of a color stain and a clear, moisturizing topcoat that can re re-applied as desired to make it look more like a lip gloss. The topcoat wears off fairly quickly but the stain won't budge. You obviously cannot tell in the photo but in addition to the kohl I used some earthy, shimmery colors from my Shimmer Cube palette made by The Body Shop applied with Ecotools brushes on the lid and out from the edges of my eye. I really had to compensate with my brows with an eyebrow pencil so they weren't visually washed out by my eyes. I added some small faux facial tattoos near my eyes with liquid eyeliner and wore my Big Ass Bindi for the first time too. I think this was more makeup than I ever worn in my lifetime, except perhaps for Halloween.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Adventures in Belt-Making

The costume components for our upcoming performance include: banjara choli halter top (aka the Hipno-Halter), black 10 yard skirt, long fringe, pantaloons, "bits belt," and of course various accessories. What has been termed the "bits belt" is essentially a basic, long rectangle embellished with shisha mirrorwork, some traditional Tribal jewelry, and/or other odds and ends. All but one of the components I either own or have arranged to borrow. The piece I lack is an appropriate belt which of course is one of the most fundamental items in a good tribal costume.

I looked at buying or borrowing a suitable one from the studio, but most of the belt bases available are much too short and yet two of them linked together end up being too long. I've always wanted a two panel belt so I figure now would be a good time to try to make one. The vision in my head was of a dual piece belt which secures on either side by long ties looped through metal rings — something like this awesome belt worn by Molly Mitchell or Sara Beaman's belt although I'm sure mine won't be quite the degree of awesome as either of those examples.

The first thing I obtained was some mirror trim to serve as the central focal point, and I was lucky enough to scavenge some scraps of nicely coordinating fabric from the "free stuff" bin at the studio. Then it was off to the fabric store to find a sturdy base fabric and some large O rings. I found some fabric that works well and picks up on the peculiar golden color of the fringe belt I'll be wearing beneath it, but I had no luck finding O rings with a large enough diameter (there were plenty of D rings though, but even they were on the smaller side). I had to venture to the Tandy Leather Factory in Allentown to find the O rings I wanted, and find them I did: hefty, solid, 3" diameter rings that are practically bangles.

My mom was kind enough to assist me with the basic machine sewing as I have no machine currently, and even if I did, sewing a straight line is something of a challenge for me (actually drawing a straight line without a ruler or triangle is a challenge for me which is why you'll notice I really don't do much drawing involving architecture!). We discussed the pattern and the first step in actually making the belt involved me hemming the edges of the mirror trim by hand, and that certainly won't be the end of the handiwork on this belt despite having access to a machine. We were able to get the basic skeleton sewn together on the machine and now I'm working on sewing some Turkman buttons near the upper and lower borders. The use of a curved needle helps but they are still a pain in the ass to securely sew to the base, but I think it will be worth it in the end. The Faire is less than a month away, so I hope I can finish it by then!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tribal Fusionista - ACEO

This ACEO features a feisty tribal fusion bellydancer. She's adorned her arms with fishnet gauntlets and kuchi cuffs and her hair with a peacock feather and a vibrant poppy. Her burgundy hair and costume forms a striking combination with the teal background, and her figure is accented with a bright shade of lime green. I do not encounter too many fusion dancers who play zills in their performances, but I love zills and have a habit of incorporating them into my work.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dancing the Tides

Poet Joshua Gage has written pieces inspired by my artwork before, this time he took my little drawing Drum Solo in Blue as a muse (and was kind enough to mention it). You can find his poem published in the Summer 2009 issue of Goblin Fruit: Raqs Sharqi. Enjoy some bellydance-themed verse :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Preparing for the Faire

After approximately three years of taking classes, a handful of workshops, and a slew of bellydance DVD purchases later, I'm actually going to perform*.

Before the official start of last week's class there was a flurry of activity involving the experimental whirling of tiered black skirts, and the pairing of colorful fringe with bits of banjara textiles that glinted like disco balls in the light. It was a little dizzying to observe, but the giddy atmosphere aroused by the splay of costumery was infectious. I was almost immediately addressed as the only person who didn't provide an official response regarding the upcoming performance opportunity (that would explain the unusually intense fuss over tribal gear before class). I vaguely remembered receiving an e-mail about it but sheepishly declined, partially because I assumed that it was intended for students in higher class levels, but also because I instinctively feel that Desirée and performance do not belong in the same sentence.

The bulk of the class was essentially a rehearsal where we danced to the actual piece being used in the show, which is blessedly brief, practicing changing designated leaders at the appropriate spot in the music. It was so much fun that I was beginning to regret my knee-jerk initial denial. My teacher and a few of my classmates were trying to persuade me to reconsider. They had some good points: I don't have to lead, and the song is only about 2 and a half minutes long. It would also be a really good excuse to wear some of the nifty things I've accrued since my bellydance addiction began. By the end of class, I had succumbed to the peer pressure (it's not just for kids anymore!) and was added to the list for the Level II performance piece.

The performance will be at the Wrightstown Renaissance Faire as part of a line-up featuring other levels of dancers from Hipnosis' studio on the two days before my birthday, thankfully giving us some time to rehearse and pull together a costume.

I've been fitted for my banjara choli halter, and my fringe is in the mail. I'm going to attempt to make a belt from some of the supplies of coins, Turkman buttons, guls, and other goodies I've been hoarding. My hair and makeup are still up in the air, but I did get an awesome bindi and I would love to make and wear a nath, which is apparently the word for the chain that drapes from a nose ring around the side of the face and attaches to an earring, since I think this might be the only type of occasion where I could actually get away with wearing one!

* Technically, I did perform a short veil choreography with classmates at Casablanca, a Middle Eastern Restaurant in Warrington, when I first started taking classes, but it didn't feel like a real performance to me. Instead I felt more like a tutu-bedecked toddler at a dance recital being patronized by my parents and other onlookers for my endearing awkwardness and incoordination.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Spring 2009 Bellyjam & Zafira Workshops

It's been a few weeks since I attended Hipnosis' Spring 2009 Bellyjam and the Zafira workshops, and I need to get some thoughts down before I lose all recollection of them completely. Both the hafla and the workshops were held at the Elkins Estate, a sprawling property dotted with grandiose mansions in Elkins Park, PA. Entering through a tall wrought-iron gate and down an impressive driveway accented with statuary, you knew that this event was going to be special. The property was formerly owned and maintained by a convent of nuns, and the Bellyjam was held in a large room they had converted into a chapel complete with confessional booths at the rear. The stage was set on a slightly elevated portion of the room and was swathed in a lovely array of draped fabric, floor pillows, and lanterns.

The show opened with a performance by the band One combining doumbek, guitar and Indian tabla, and then the ladies of Hipnosis took the stage for two improvisational pieces. Following them were a series of soloists from the area. The ones I remember enjoying the most was a medley by a Cabaret-style dancer from New Jersey who took turns dancing with veil and zills, a tribal fusion solo to Amon Tobin's Easy Muffin by Laura Boyd, and an energetic Indian dance. Olivia and Maria from Zafira Dance Company performed twice, once immediately before the intermission and once at the very end of the show. After the intermission the student troupes performed and Vikki's Tribal Fusion class danced to the piece on which they had been working. As usual it was a great time. There were some vendors in the large foyer area and I purchased a hoop from one of them. I'm not doing very well with it, but the amount of time I can keep it turning (which isn't very long at all) is fun.

The Zafira workshops the following day (I was only able to attend the Sunday classes) were held in the same grand space as the Bellyjam. The first workshop focused on various types of shimmies (primarily 2/4, 3/4, and even 4/4 shimmies) and was taught by Maria Hamer. I wasn't sure I was going to survive Maria's pilates/yoga-inspired warm-up. It's not that she was a stern taskmaster (far from it actually! she was encouraging and comical throughout the entire process) but my abs and thighs were simply not prepared for that kind of work, and evidently there were many others in the workshop who weren't prepared for it either. After a break for lunch Olivia Kissel took over for a workshop focused on fluid movements and turns. I sensed a significant ballet influence in her teaching. Olivia also did a warm-up but it was of a completely different nature than Maria's: it consisted of a meditation technique called "bee's breath" which I thought was very unique and effective.

Unlike some other workshops I've attended, I really felt that Maria and Olivia were honestly welcoming of everyone who attended, despite the varying levels of skill and experience. They were also willing to be more spontaneous with the teaching material and respond to the desires and needs of the students rather than to stick staunchly to one specific plan. I would definitely say that although I was certainly in over my head with these workshops, I was left with a great deal to contemplate and I had a great time. I would not hesitate to take another set of workshops with them if given the opportunity.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Zafira Workshops

Hipnosis is hosting a series of workshops with Pittsburgh-based Zafira Dance Company the weekend of April 18th and 19th. Four workshops (two on Saturday and two on Sunday) will be held at the Elkins Estate in Elkins Park, PA.

I was not familiar with Zafira prior to seeing the flyer posted at the dance studio, but after seeing some of their clips on YouTube it seems like a great investment to learn from them. I like the fact that they achieve a vintage, circus feel without being Indigo clones. Their partner and troupe interactions are also interesting — not the typical ATS arrangements. Take a look: You can read descriptions of the workshops and register online at this location.

Zils & Lilies - ACEO

A sister drawing to the previously-posted Gold & Paisley image, this delightful little piece of original art depicts a tribal style bellydancer with lily-adorned hair zilling away to a Middle Eastern rhythm. A sweet shade of sunset pink highlights the dancer and some details in her costume, and a border of purple frames the image.

Both this ACEO and Gold & Paisley utilize the same techniques and are similar in style; they were created almost as a pair within days of each other. I'm not thrilled with this piece (the hands, although intended to be highly stylized turned out really wonky) but it was fun to make.

media • pen and ink; markers; watercolor; acrylic
size • 2.5 x 3.5 inches

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gold & Paisley - ACEO

Tribal bellydance is often described as being very earthy and grounded, and I feel this little piece of art expresses those aspects of the dance well. Warm colors and organic patterns inspired by paisley designs lend themselves to that theme.

The essential line work forming the dancer was drawn with a large bamboo pen dipped in dark blue ink which was then shaded with markers in hues of brown and terra cotta. The image was then accented with acrylic paint in a sunny shade of goldenrod.

This drawing is in a slightly different style than my previous bellydance-themed ACEOs. It is not as tight and precise. The bamboo pen lends a very loose, fluid quality to the drawing which I really enjoy.

media • pen and ink; markers; acrylic
size • 2.5 x 3.5 inches

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Step, Wiggle, Step, Wiggle, Step....

...that's one way to think of doing a three-quarter shimmy. Probably not the most eloquent or technical definition, but in a pinch it works.

I began my Tribal level II class last Wednesday and one of our drills for this level is a series of exercises featuring three-quarter shimmies at progressively greater speeds. I'm glad that I've been trying to work on this move on my own for a while, otherwise it might have just looked like I was doing part of the chicken dance while walking. The introduction my teacher gave was surprisingly brief but almost everyone seemed to get it right off the bat, at least at a slower pace. I can do a passable three-quarter shimmy at moderate speed on flat feet, but to my great chagrin, once I'm on my toes it dribbles off into nothingness. Likewise I have difficulty incorporating it into other steps like Turkish (thankfully I've been told that's level III material) and even doing a complete 360 degree turn is difficult while maintaining that desirable wiggle. I love the three-quarter shimmy, it just hasn't fully "clicked" for me yet.

What proved to be most challenging for me in that first session was a fairly basic variation of a move already in our repertoire: the Ghawazee Box. I'm not sure what the Ghawazee is called in other forms of Tribal bellydance but essentially it is two hip bumps on one side, followed by two hip bumps on the other side. It can be done in place or while traveling foreword or backward. The hip performing the bumps is twisted slightly toward the front (it's almost like the training wheels you use before progressing to the three-quarter shimmy).

In the Ghawazee Box, the move is performed in a tight turn and the feet alternate in touching the four corners of the imaginary "dance box" which surrounds you. In this case, the turn is not on one static, central pivot point, and the pattern of the footwork for some reason just befuddles me. It was embarrassing being as I seemed the only one who didn't consistently get it. There were times when I did do it correctly a few times in a row, but it never lasted. Drawing up a little diagram and practicing the footwork using the grid work of the linoleum in my kitchen hasn't even fully solved the issue for me. My main puzzlement now is if the move should be bringing me back to my original starting position (a full 360 degrees) and if so how does that fit into the 8-counts the move is (I believe) supposed to take? I feel like I'm missing something obvious and essential, and I'm sure that I am.

Perhaps I need to watch others perform it and see it from an outside perspective. It was only demonstrated to me that way once or twice before we actually began attempting it ourselves, and it's a lot harder for me to watch what the instructor is doing if both she and I are constantly turning. We'll see!

Update: Evidently the Ghawazee Box does not bring you back to your initial starting position on the 8th beat; on the next 1 count you either shift slightly to return to regular Ghawazee position (facing front) or you angle once again towards the upper right corner of your dance box to continue turning for the next 8 counts.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Promising Instructional DVD

I was recently at the World Dance New York website looking at their newer releases and came across Bellydance: Beautiful Technique from Step One with Autumn Ward. All of the reviews from Amazon so far have been extremely positive, and from viewing the sample it seems like Autumn's instruction is really in-depth and well-structured. It claims to be geared towards beginners, but the really thorough treatment of the techniques would be of benefit to any bellydance student — it's always good to brush up on the basics. I also like how Autumn's focus is on bellydance as personalized artistic expression rather than strict adherence to one regional or ethnic style.

It looks really promising, and I think that the structure will benefit my learning style, so I've ordered a copy and hope to offer a review soon!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Back in the Coin-Bedecked Saddle

As you can probably surmise by the lack of entries, I look a break from blogging and my bellydance classes as well. Mostly this hiatus was due to financial reasons, but also simply because I've been wearing myself too thin (mentally, emotionally) over the past year or so and something(s) had to give. Bellydance wasn't the only thing which I chose to put on hold, but it was one of the things I've missed the most. I've been keeping an eye on the class schedules over at Hipnosis Studio, anticipating the posting of the Spring 2009 session, and last night the new classes were listed. I did not hesitate to register for Tribal Bellydance Level II and I'm very excited to start classes again.

However, I'm going to try my best to ensure that this time around won't be precisely like the last; I don't want to get caught in the same rut in which I found myself a few months ago. Many things fascinate me, and I'm voracious and determined in learning about those things, spending time and money which should be used more judiciously (I really should keep something in my savings account). Unfortunately, being pulled simultameously in so many directions takes its toll. There are certainly worse things to be afflicted by than an intense interest in so many subjects and activities — I wish I had the funds and opportunity to explore every one of them fully — but I need to strike a balance. As much as I'd love to try to throw myself back into bellydance with the same fervor I once had, I know I have to rein it in.

So, I suppose my New Year's bellydance resolution is to simply focus on being a better amateur. By amateur I'm not just referring to someone who does not do something on a professional level or as his/her career, but to someone who does something for its own sake out of the joy it provides. My profound level of interest in things causes me to want to become an expert in a very short amount of time, and I need to learn to be comfortable with learning at a less frantic pace. It's going to be difficult, but ultimately I think I'll be a better dancer for it.

I have two sessions of Level 1.5 behind me, and I truly think the concept of cueing, leading, and following has actually stuck, but I know after a roughly three-month hiatus I'm going to be rusty. Really rusty. Here comes the humility again....