Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let us dance, Weather!

Oh December, how fickle you are!
Some days have been warm, even almost 70 degrees; but this past week we're getting Virginia's winter worst: sleet, freezing rain, and ice. I had to reschedule my Improvisation workshop to this coming weekend, and my fingers are crossed. Let us dance, weather!

I've got a new Improv Handout ready to go; I'm all about one-page handouts lately so I distilled a bunch of different tactics down to just 6 ideas... after the workshop it may turn up here in a new post.

Meanwhile I'm updating my website, streamlining and reformatting the pages; and getting that done will keep me busy during the holidays when we don't have many classes. Since I started my site in 1999 it's really grown, I think there's over 125 pages - lots of articles of course, a couple of sewing tutorials, history pages, and a handful of photo pages from "before Facebook"!
I used to make one Photo page each year and include it on my site, but that was getting out of hand. Now most of our belly dance event photos are going right online to Instagram, FB, Google+ and Twitter... I don't really like having them all spread out like that, but there it is. Belly dancers end up with so many photos! Is there a better way to organize and save them now?

 Anthea / Kawakib
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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

planning an improv workshop

This morning it's supposed to snow, or as they put it, a 'wintry mix'! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn't so my outdoor plans for today stay on track. But whatever it's doing outside, at least I can start planning the workshop I'm offering at my home studio next month, on "SIMPLE SECRETS TO BELLY DANCE IMPROV".

Dancers want to know how to do solo improvisation, and seem almost afraid of it - especially with live music; yet it's so easy once you SEE the music patterns, and FEEL the music pulsing through your body. 

Our dancing is another manifestation of the sacred shapes, geometric patterns, and universal vibrations all around us.
indian designs
Indian Line Art
Those are the two keys that really unlock improv for me. I've written so much about this, not only in my Dance Tips booklet but in several of my Zaghareet magazine articles (and even The Belly Dance Reader) that I'm always a little surprised when people still want me to explain or teach it. But I'm happy to do so!
As I wrote in my previous post, last month all my local classes focused on solo improvisation so the students would feel comfortable dancing at the Hafla we had just before Halloween. Each week we looked at a different strategy or trick to do improv. What I heard was that even though they all "knew" the concepts and had my booklets, and read about it, they liked being led through the concepts in class. I like it myself because then I can just dance, as me, and how I feel the music. 

This is probably the way the workshop will go, taking the concepts apart a bit at a time and doing a little "follow me"; and experimenting (as a group) with each other's ideas. We won't have time for much else, the workshop is only two hours, barely time to sample all the delicious improv flavors; just enough time to give everyone a little taste and help them discover these simple secrets! 

 Anthea / Kawakib
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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Food Drive Hafla

Last week we had our second annual Food Drive Hafla (called the "Hungry Halloween Hafla"), to collect food for the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank, and it went great. The fact that it was on the night before Halloween was extra fun, a perfect time for people to dress up.
I had my students vote on where they wanted to have the event, and they overwhelmingly chose a local restaurant/hookah lounge, Kabab City. This is a great place: attractive inside, attentive staff, the management likes us, and of course, they have hookahs! They welcomed us and helped us have a successful event - the staff was wonderful again; the floor space was cleared out for us to dance; the DJ handled our music really well; and I was happy all around, as you can see here:
Anthea Kawakib at halloween hafla
For Halloween I was "Inappropriate Grandma"

Next time we have an event I really hope to connect with more dancers outside of our school. This happened to fall on a Wednesday evening so that might explain why we didn't see anyone but us; I didn't get any feedback on why people couldn't make it so I'm just guessing. I really expected more of a community turnout after an intense month-long promotional campaign; but I have high hopes for next time.

We did have an excellent turnout of my students, plus family and friends. And all levels danced together, both "regular belly dance" and Tribal Style. Now is a perfect time for me to brag on my students and their dancing!

All month long we focused on Solo Improvisation techniques (one of my specialties), using music we'd be dancing to at the Hafla (a mix of Arabic pop, and world fusion lounge). Each week in class we would use a different strategy for improv, particularly the use of Foot Patterns, Motif and Development, and Theme and Variation. We practiced this "home style" dancing in all my classes last month, even my new beginners (just at a less intense level). By the end of the month, wow, they were looking fabulous! What a treat for me!

It really was a perfect night; we collected a bunch of food, and even a couple of checks. Here's SOME of the food donations:
I'm happy that even some late donations have come in, so I'll be making another trip to the donation center this week. Words can't express my gratitude! Thank you to my students (the PRISM Dancers), and everyone who donated, and Kabab City.

 Anthea / Kawakib
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Saturday, September 28, 2013

love the Chakra Isolations - a gift

I'm so happy to have finally uploaded a short tutorial on the Chakra Isolations I learned from Shakti! As she told me, it's meant for people who can really appreciate it for the spiritual practise it is; Janeeda of Virginia Beach told me the same thing, and I understand totally. So it's offered online for those who are interested, in exchange for a small donation of any amount. If you are into chakras, or just interested in learning this wonderful holistic practise I urge you to try it. As I said about 4 times in the Intro video, "it's amazing!"
If you'd like to read about how I got started on this subject (because of what was happening with my students), here are my articles about Chakra Energy in Bellydance; and see my other posts on this blog on chakras.
Shakti in Hawaii - photos
Shakti's page

Shakti's website: Cinnamon Phoenix - she's currently living in Hawaii (there's another Shakti of Hawaii; and another Shakti on the mainland who teaches chakra bellydancing, but the website I listed will get you to the right one).
Here is the Intro video: Chakra Isolations Introduction.

 Anthea / Kawakib
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Sunday, September 15, 2013

one show, one costume

Dancing for senior citizens is fun, and they do enjoy the sights and sounds of a bellydance show even though they sometimes don't express it as much as a younger audience. I think that they enjoy seeing dancers so much because of the colorful costumes and happy faces we wear; so for the latest show this past weekend I decided to keep all the dancers onstage throughout the entire show. That is, no costume changes - we just wore one costume through the 30 to 40 minute show (about 8 numbers). Usually we change two or three times, for the different styles of bellydance we do.

So the best choice for an "all-purpose" costume seemed to be beledi or costume dresses, and some of us added Skirt Panels* so we could do the Skirt Combos during the TOBD (Tribal Odyssey) section of the show. Here's a nice shot of our group (PRISM Dancers), several of us dancing together in front while the others are upstage (behind us): 

performance for senior community
PRISM Dancers wearing beledi dresses and skirt panels

The dresses were a great all-purpose choice that let us stay in view throughout the show, even when not dancing. Usually I would not recommend dancers to upstage performers, and to stay out of sight, but somehow I felt that in this case the seniors would enjoy seeing as many dancers as possible. And having all the dancers present and experiencing everything together gave us a stronger communal bonding moment too, so it benefited as well.
It's times like this I really feel blessed having this dance in my life! And I'm so happy to share it with others.

*the Skirt Panels DIY tutorial is here on my TOBD blog.

 Anthea / Kawakib
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Monday, September 9, 2013

stop being so modest!

 I recently read an article (via @PAMGRIER on twitter) about taking credit when it's due instead of giving it away:  Why You Need To Brag More (and How To Do It) by Dr. Peggy Drexler.

This really resonates with me because I've erred that way too many times, sometimes with unexpected and unfortunate results.

Of course I still believe strongly in giving credit where it's deserved, even trying to remember to put photographer's names on my own dance photos in my extensive archive (it's not easy after all these years!). Other ways dancers give due credit is by mentioning who they have learned from; and often when teaching, we will even include the specific teacher or dancer who taught a certain move - who hasn't heard of "Soheir Zaki hips" or the "Dina hip circle"? I also credit my former troupe with helping in the creation of the group improv format "Tribal Odyssey Bellydance", because working out the details DID require having real bodies dancing in real time. And of course in class I also mention which moves were developed by Miramar, who helped create the format. Maybe it's because I'm a visual learner, but often I can even remember not only the teacher, but also the surroundings when I first learned a move - for instance, whether it was my teacher's studio, or at a particular workshop.
Do you find yourself remembering learning moves like this too? It's funny how much I remember about dance considering my memory isn't that great in other areas! At least it makes it easy to pass on the creative "dance credits" to my students and helps teach respect for our bellydance lineage. But I wonder if I need to toot my own horn a bit more?

I love being a "team player" and sharing creative projects with others, but giving away too much undeserved credit and then expecting to be treated fairly in return doesn't seem to work. The recipients of the "free credit" can actually come to believe they deserve it; and a real and factual accounting of the situation can even lead to a fight over rights. I imagine this sometimes happens in troupes, and helps bring on their demise. Certainly, bringing financial considerations into the picture is a sure-fire way to test whether everyone has a clear mental accounting of the facts - or not.

In examining why I've tended to over-credit sometimes, I think my concern for people's feelings - that they feel included, appreciated, and important - is behind it. As I look back on these situations, I see that I've shortchanged myself; perhaps hoping that my gesture would be accepted gratefully and create "warm fuzzies". Could it even be seen as patronizing on my part to do this? Maybe so, but it really comes from a desire to be kind. However, the old adage that people don't value things that are free seems to hold true in this case too - as my husband would say in his rustic way, being "too kind" can come back and bite you in the ass!

Experience can be a hard, unpleasant teacher, but it does teach well. Now I'm learning to honor myself by NOT "giving away" credit when it's unfounded. Like the article says, if we own up to our mistakes, why wouldn't we do the the same for our victories?

Stealing choreography is anathema in the dance world, and it does happen; but outright theft is not the same as delusional thinking, which is what undue credit seems to engender in the recipient. When you look at it like that, it's really not a good gift at all, is it? So stop being so modest and feeding someone else's ego - you're just creating a monster!

I'm sure taking due credit is something many of you struggle with too; according to the article, it's more prevalent in women. It's a trap I can fall into if I'm not careful - maybe I'm afraid I won't find a balance, and will become one of those empty braggarts (brag-arts!). I'd almost rather stay unnoticed. How do you feel about taking credit and giving credit - is it easy to find a balance?

Anthea / Kawakib
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Monday, September 2, 2013

"upspeak" be damned! my latest video promo

Lately I saw someone posting about how too many women do "upspeak" which evidently is ending your sentences as questions? And how we're not supposed to do that? Because it means we don't think we're important or something?

Forget for a moment regional differences, as a teacher (and sometime public speaker) I've learned that my sentences cannot ALL be didactic declaritive statements or I'll not only sound like a pompous ass, but bore my students (or any other audience) to death as well. Framing statements in a quasi-question-ish way (haha! break THAT one down!) invites listeners to engage and keeps their interest. In my opinion, of course; I'm not a scientist and haven't done any clinical studies.
But I can look things up on the internet like everyone else? And evidently, the debate over "High Rising Terminals"  - which I thought at first was some kind of architectural term - conveys anything but "insecurities" about what someone is saying. See what the Free Online Dictionary says:

"...more recent evidence (McLemore, 1991; Cheng et al., 2005; Warren, 2005) shows that assertive speakers, leaders of the peer group are more likely to use HRT in their declaratives than the junior members of the particular peer group."

Well, la-di-da!

So there's my apologia for my "manner of speaking", and with that I give you this, my latest spoken Intro for one of my dance offerings:

 I invite your comments?!

Anthea / Kawakib
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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

what's a bellydance show without a few surprises?

On the last Saturday of July my Fredericksburg students came together for our annual show, a combination of student recital and regular bellydance show featuring guest performers.
Everything went so well, from setting up the chairs and tables, to arranging props and equipment onstage, taking care of the guest dancers as they arrived, helping the new performers backstage, to the performing itself!
What really made a difference (from my point of view anyway) was that each one of my students stepped up and helped in some way - often unasked - and I was just amazed at what a team effort it turned out to be. And not only that, but the mood was relaxed (well, I thought so!), happy, joyous, and fun. We only had one little snag when one of the students didn't get changed in time for her entrance in Tribal Veil (which I wrote about in this TOBD blog post), but from the audience's point of view nothing was wrong. The students were a bit flustered but recovered well and carried on!

I did get a surprise though when our drummer Jasif came to me during the show and told me "I've got your 4 guest dancers backstage, they just arrived" and I had no idea who he was talking about! I hustled backstage and found the Richmond RaqStars in the dressing room, poring over the posted lineup. In the run up to the show I'd missed their confirmation email so thought they couldn't make it. But here they were, in costume and ready to go! I ran back to the sound system (the one area I had no helper) and checked the progress of the current number; looked at the lineup and saw a good spot in the show just a couple of numbers away, so ran back to the DR. These lovely ladies (several of whom teach in the Bellydance School of Richmond) are PRO all the way, and able to "bring it" onstage with only a few minutes notice. They'd been stuck in traffic on I-95, but thank goodness were in costume so they could come in, dance, change, and relax. I know that's how I'd want to do it myself so I was happy to accommodate!

Another pleasant surprise was meeting a photographer sent by the Free Lance Star newspaper; amazing me by getting some gorgeous photos published instantly (it seemed!) complete with captions and names! What inspiring work, to meet a deadline so quickly and so well. I was impressed! Many people mentioned seeing the photos in the paper too, so I loved that! Bob Martin's photos.

My helpful PRISM dancer Pixie arranged for the well-known Richmond photographer, Paul Murphy, to come shoot us, before and during the show. Well, chalk up another victim to I-95 traffic - we missed the chance for our individual photo sessions, but he did arrive in time to shoot the show, which I'm so grateful for because his photos are always a treat to see. Here's a taste of the wonderful memories he captured for me:
photo collage
A moment in bellydance time...

So we're done for another year, and my dancers and I have lots of stories to share and laugh about - that's one of the many blessings bellydancing brings into our lives. I guess that's why people say perfection is boring... then what would we talk about!?

Anthea / Kawakib
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Monday, July 22, 2013

We've planned the Annual Show!

bellydance show flyer
Calling all Dance Fans in the Fredericksburg, VA area!
I want to tell you about our exciting event this weekend -

We've planned an awesome show for this Saturday July 27, at the downtown Fxbg Library theatre:
"MidSummer Magic" 2013 - our annual bellydance recital plus special guests!
Also on display: goodies from two unique bellydance and import vendors: Artisan Imports, and Cleo's Closet.

As always my PRISM Dancers' specialty is VARIETY!
We've lined up gorgeously-costumed Raks Sharki Oriental dancing including Veils and Isis Wings; world Tribal inspired dances featuring Sword; and even our three guest dancers are performing different styles:
~ Al-'Anqa
(Woodbridge, Va) in Egyptian Oriental
~ Souris (Fredericksburg, Va) in Tribal Fusion
~ Anne-Renee (Richmond, Va) in Khaleegy from the Gulf Region
We'll have a bit of live drumming, and what PRISM Dancers show would be complete without our signature Finger Cymbals!
All this and the exciting Bellydance RAFFLE featuring unique gifts from our vendors!

Admission is Free - Enjoy an entertaining afternoon with your friends and family
Location: Central Rappahannock Regional Library
Date: Saturday, July 27 2013
Time: 3 - 5pm. Doors open at 2:30pm, come early for shopping and best seating.
See you there!

Anthea / Kawakib
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Exploring Chakra Energy with Shakti

On a beautiful June evening of intermittent showers and sunshine I drove to Nelson County, Virginia to visit with Shakti, who was back from Kaua'i, Hawaii for a short visit at her old family farm. She hosted a henna hafla at a quiet community space where I enjoyed her wonderful company, a little dancing, and a lot of food. I was absolutely thrilled to have a chance to talk with her again and soak in her exciting discoveries about chakra energies.

Shakti was one of my Charlottesville belly dance students a long time ago, and she pulled just what she needed from my classes to get started on her own journey of discovery in belly dance. In my classes she learned about belly dance fundamentals, the dance’s history, and how to perform; but in her own dancing she discovered a path of progress involving subtle energies and chakra isolations.

Since she moved to Hawaii several years ago I’ve only been able to learn from her in person at a couple of short sessions; once when she camped with me at Pennsic, and during her most recent visit here. I’ve gathered only a few drops of her wisdom about engaging subtle cosmic energies with belly dance-like isolations, but even that is a wonderful gift. Ever since I learned the "chakra isolations" from her I’ve enjoyed using them, although I have only the most rudimentary idea of what I’m doing! That’s why I’d love to study more with Shakti, and I hope she finds a way to share her knowledge with more people when the time is right.
Right now she’s only able to accept select private students who really want to study with her. My hope is to do some video calls with her to learn more of what she’s discovered, and maybe even do an interview with her! She’s wonderfully open about sharing her knowledge with me, and when we’re together I soak it up, but I have to admit it goes over my head pretty quickly.

A couple of years ago, after she first showed me some slow and simple chakra isolations, I began including them in my intermediate/advanced classes as part of our warmup, but after a few months I could tell it was time to let them go and return to my standard belly dance warmup. Shakti told me that sharing them is okay, but only those who are ready should really use them as they can open up too much energy. However, I still do want to share the simple “chakra isolation ritual" I do, which is probably just “Step One” I suppose, because I couldn’t even keep up with her when we were moving through the movements together during our visit. But that’s something I’ll leave up to the Spirit. A few years ago I had been led into my own discoveries about chakra energy in belly dance, which is why I find her applications so intriguing.
I know bellydancing increases chakra energy; I wrote about this in a series of articles called “Transformative Bellydance” (the articles are on my website). When it happens, dancers often don’t realize what’s happening or why, and because the energy flow is unbalanced it can be rough. I believe incorporating Shakti’s specific movement method can help dancers to balance the energy flow they experience from bellydancing and that’s why I want to share my simple version of this ritual via video, with belly dancers only. That way those who can use this knowledge can share its benefits, and help to smooth out the flow of energy.

Ideally we could study with Shakti, or follow her on an instructional video. She wants to make a DVD within the next several years; but until then we’re on our own. I sincerely hope she finds a way to share her unique insights soon. If this topic interests you, discover more about Shakti on her Cinnamon Phoenix website. The class information is out of date, but there is a lot of useful information on what she’s learned about bellydancing and the chakras.

Anthea / Kawakib
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Friday, May 31, 2013

A Belly Dancer Doesn’t Have a Spine, Right?

Anthea's note: Here's a wonderful cautionary story from Amartia, a beautiful Greek bellydancer from Maryland.You can find her here: Amartia and on Google+
Hi, my name is Bellydance by Amartia and Anthea offered to have me guest blog this week. She asked me to write about anything that I have had to overcome in my dance career. Thinking about it, I would have to say that my day job is what I have had to overcome.
Neck photo (not mine, from http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_pmbnAyCsi20/S64peasK5RI/AAAAAAAAC6E/nO72g3BZbYE/s1600/xray.gif)

I am a biochemist by day and a dancer by night. My job involves long hours of sitting and looking down through a microscope or over a plate holding a pipette. This, over the years, has caused my neck to have no bend in it. At first, you would think, so? What’s the problem? Well, the problem is that your neck is supposed to have a bend in it.
This condition hasn’t caused me any issues until recently. I had pain in my neck and shoulder and couldn’t figure out why. I went to the chiropractor, got X-rays and it turns out, there is no bend. My doctor told me that my neck, through my work, has straightened out, and isn’t able to support my head the way it would normally. This caused the weight of my head to be supported by my shoulders, which then gave up and said, back, it’s your problem. My back said nope! This caused the pain and pinching that I felt. He told me that the only thing that has kept me from having even MORE issues is dance. Dance has given my back the strength and flexibility necessary to hold up for this long.
I see the chiropractor regularly and there are exercises that I do to help get the bend back. I have been told it will take quite some time for it to happen. This discovery has also led me to realize a few things about my dance. This is why my shoulders come up all of the time and tend not to look relaxed or sit back. The strain of holding up my head/neck has made them tight so they move up. I have tried to correct this as I have continued to train and dance but it’s hard. Hopefully I will be able to nip that problem in the bud once my neck issues are fixed.
So this is a warning to all dancers. Don’t ignore any pain you might feel in your back; AND your day job can affect your dance and vice versa. Dance helped prolong this effect but it by no means is going to put the curve back into my neck. Bellydance by Amartia says- Go to the chiro!

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Friday, May 10, 2013

a performer's awareness: tribal versus oriental

I noticed something unusual while performing lately, about my real-time perceptions onstage and how they differ depending on whether I'm performing "regular" bellydance (choreography or solo improv), or TOBD (Tribal Odyssey Bellydance) group improv. It’s interesting to me because given how many times I’ve performed, it’s surprising to have a new experience. Not that I think I can't learn anything new about performing, I'm not saying that! It’s just that it doesn't happen very often.

I actually only realized this difference in awareness after I saw the ton of photos people posted on facebook and from watching the videos I took. After I saw the photos and videos I realized that while I was performing, I didn’t even notice the people around us - because I don’t remember them - even when they were really close to us! I didn’t even “see” the photographers right in front of us taking photos. I mean, I know I was aware that there were bodies out there around us or in front of the stage, but I didn’t notice what they were doing (or not doing). This is in STARK contrast to how my perceptions are during “oriental” style belly dance, when I’m aware of EVERYTHING.

From my expressions in the photos, of course I look like I’m “performing”, with my usual stage persona in place, smiling and looking at people, but now I realize my focus was really on our group. My eyes are looking and smiling at people, but my mind is on the other dancers!
tribal sword dancers
"What photographer? I only have eyes for Akila!"
Maybe it’s because when you’re doing tribal improvisation you’re so inter-connected with your group and focused on what’s happening between everybody... plus, we were doing our newest feature, Tribal Sword, which none of us are really used to yet. This is reminding me of long, long ago at one of my first performances - actually my first performance for dancers - at a hafla for WAMEDA (Washington Area MidEast Dance Association). I did a short oriental solo I’d created; it went great, was well received, and the video shows me performing just fine, even my face; but afterwards I couldn’t even remember it! So I think something similar is happening, at least right now while we're still new at sword improv; I guess there’s just too much going on to process it all at once. Maybe it's always been like this and I just didn't notice until I saw the photos.
Does this happen to you too?

Anthea / Kawakib
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Monday, April 1, 2013

and THAT's why choreography sucks!

No, I'm kidding of course! I absolutely LOVE a well-made choreography! But sometimes you're left scrambling to adjust the show when one of your performers can't make it - am I right?

That's what just happened to me and my PRISM Dancers. Two days prior to our show at Alhamraa in Charlottesville - half of which was choreographed dances, and the rest group improv bellydance - one of my dancers had to pull out because of health issues. AND, as luck would have it, since I'd planned the show around four dancers, both of our choreographed dances were duets - and now my duet partner would be missing.

So with NO time left for rehearsals, we had to figure out how to adapt the two choreographies. There were two options: take one dancer out and have ONE duet onstage; or make the remaining duet into a trio... somehow.
Now, if it hadn't been for the fact that we were going to a show out of town where people were actually coming to see ME perform, I'd have gone with the first option, and pulled myself out of the two choreographed numbers. But I didn't want to let my wonderful fans down; they're precious supporters whom I hold dear to my heart. So instead, I hung in on those two numbers and probably made them look like what my husband would call a "soup sandwhich" - a mess!
I know I could've replaced one of the dancers and she would've understood, but I wanted my performers to experience all the dancing fun possible, and not miss half the show waiting backstage.

My dancers and I have the attitude that:
  1. the show WILL go on,
  2. we SHALL do a good performance,
  3. AND, we WILL enjoy ourselves onstage.
So, our two choreographed numbers became "trios" - of a sort! I'm sure the staging looked a wee bit messy at times, but that's how it goes. Yes, I know it was really alright - everyone enjoyed it, including us!

PRISM in Charlottesville VA
Yay, we had fun!
  Anthea / Kawakib
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Monday, February 25, 2013

Spring-ing into action!

Well, here in Fredericksburg we had a relatively quiet interlude after our New Year's Eve show, quiet enough to work up about a dozen Sword Combinations for Tribal Odyssey (I'll write about that soon on my TOBD blog). Now it looks like things are revving up again.

March is looking to be quite busy!
First up is our usual Spring Hafla, this time just for students:
hafla flyer
flyer for our student class hafla in March

Then PRISM is joining me at my bellydance demo for the local group that hosts a "Women's Forum" (open to everyone), featuring classes on diverse subjects all day long. Lunch is included!

At the end of March PRISM and I are road-tripping down to Charlottesville, where I began my teaching career 25 years ago! Wow. How I wish the Al Hamraa Restaurant had been around then, that would've been SO much fun! There's more info on that gig posted on Tumblr.

Do you think I have enough blogs? LOL!

  Anthea / Kawakib
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Friday, February 1, 2013

tuning in... to improv

red bellydance costume
dancing to Lissa Fakir (about 2:25 in video)
Photo by "Mr. Latifa", David Wilkinson
Ever wanted a peek into the mind of a bellydancer while she improvises? Read on.

A lot of my writing (especially the articles for Zaghareet! Magazine) focus on ways to develop easy solo bellydance improvisation, so I'm deconstructing this video of me improvising to live music to explain what's happening in relation to some of those concepts. When you see something with an asterisk* that means there's a link at the end of the post that takes you to an another article.

First, it's formal* (onstage in costume); and the venue and context* can be summed up as: live Arabic music for an audience of belly dancers. Now that's fun! That means I can dance "right" (authentically) instead of working an audience who doesn't know what's going on. I can rest assured that this audience knows both the music and the Raks Sharki style and will appreciate the performance for what it is.

The musicians playing in this video (gotta love them, they're pretty awesome) are mostly the house band(1), with a guest instrumentalist sitting in (actually a Greek musician on... bazouki? sure, why not!), so they're feeling out the music together as they go, following the keyboardist who leads the changes. Have some fun watching that. And YAY for having a leader! Sure beats dancing to a band going through a power struggle.

In a situation like this (unrehearsed) I always ask the band what songs they like to play best, and from their top picks, choose well-known favorites - hence "Lissa Fakir" - perfect! I love that song, and when I hear it I always think of one of my dance idols, Soheir Zaki. Yummy.
So we all know the song, but without rehearsing together you (the dancer) won't know which instrument will play the next taqasim, or how the band as a whole will handle the bridges and breaks, etc. So you have to keep your ears totally focused on the band at all times. Luckily I'm pretty good at hearing music cues - I could probably win big on a "Guess That Tune" musical game show!

During the song's intro there's already a Pattern/Change* going on as the melody winds through several rhythmic sections, but an intro is just the appetizer for the main meal of a song (see storyline of a solo*), so the changes are small and subtle.
When the actual song begins about 50 seconds in, I release that built-up energy into travel steps (a "Step-touch" - a 2-step foot pattern* with a sway and hip lift) going backwards to keep the energy low. The keyboardist Hisham interprets the beautiful melody so well, conveying such emotion, that even a minute and a half into the song you can see it coming through my shoulders (raising the shoulders raises the emotional content of your body language).

When the music's energy builds again and starts "driving" (about 2.40) it's time to circuit the stage, with a 4-step* variation - I want to get to another part of the stage because the audience is on three sides, including deep into the corners. During the many taqasim of this lovely piece I try to use different body poses as well as facing various directions to give the audience wide range of visuals. I find it's often boring to watch a dancer who faces front a lot.

Hisham is wonderful with a synthesizer (what a wonderful invention!) and can provide a wide range of instrumental sounds which means we'll be exploring different movement quality even in this short number, from the shimmery kanun effect to violin and accordion sounds. Along about 3.10 we're getting into it, it's feeling good - who wouldn't want to dance to this band? We know more taqasim are coming up - I check the band and they're busy figuring out who's going to solo next or something, so continue...
In that funky Saidi rhythm section around 4.15 I begin to travel towards those people in the back corner (the ones you can hear are having a great time) so that we can enjoy a moment together. Always make sure you give some focused energy back to the people who are giving it to you onstage, including the musicians. Just don't overdo it - everything you do onstage is magnified*.

The middle of a song is always fun in a different way, sort of like a sandwich - the bread is good, but in between there's SO MUCH to experience - it's one taqsim after another - and so we go on for a minute or two. I can see I'm feeling the diverse energies happening* at this show; I have dance friends and a student or two in the audience; I'm excited and there won't be much of a slow part in my dance tonight.

The song starts nearing the end with a funky maqsun rhythm toward 5 minutes in; which is probably my favorite part so far; but there are dancers waiting their turn in the lineup - so I know we'll be wrapping it up soon.
What are we NOT seeing? A lot of floor patterns: I'm going with the flow and just getting where I felt I should be, without thinking of using the floor very creatively. "...disconnect from all intellect and let the rhythm affect. To lose your inhibition, follow your intuition. Free your inner soul and break away from tradition"(2)

I'm paying such close attention to Hisham's playing that you can see at about 5.27 I hear the ending immediately... watch the drummer pick up on it next. Maybe Hisham checked the time and decided to wrap it up!
I bring myself back to the center - but near the band - to finish. Without the musicians, I wouldn't be dancing; so rather than ending in the middle of the stage like "The Star of the Show" I go upstage to finish more like part of the band. Performing is egotistical enough without overdoing it, and personally I loathe watching dancers who seem extremely ego-driven onstage. Isn't body language interesting?

And by the way, do any of us (me or the musicians) pay any attention to the waiters walking through? Absolutely not, because they're not part of the show! Of course we're aware of them, but to give them any focus while we're performing would be inappropriate. So though the audience may sometimes be distracted - and probably even amused - the performers carry on as though the waiters aren't even there.

Last but not least: before I came onstage, did I remember my pre-performance devotions*? Of course! I always ask for a blessing before dancing, and ask that my mind makes the right choices. And was I channeling the Creative Spirit during those few minutes? Obviously! For me, that's what makes for a good show.

*Interested in these concepts? Here are links for more info on:
formal improv; venue and context
storyline of a solo
2-step foot pattern 
4-step foot pattern
powerful performance space
connecting with your audience onstage
pre-performance devotions

(1) Casablanca Band: Hisham on keyboards, Moisin on tabla, Ibrahim? on drumset, Jamil on flute. (George? on bazouki). My memory with names isn't so good, so I may be wrong.
(2) Black Eyed Peas

If you have any questions or comments please let me know, I'd love to hear from you.

  Anthea / Kawakib
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

rust never sleeps...

   Performing brings a dancer so many challenges to overcome: bad bosses, crappy performance spaces, listless audiences, costume malfunctions, the list goes on and on. Aging brings even more challenges to dancers who find themselves using equipment that's disintegrating. That sounds horrible but that's the reality of our material bodies.
   Adrenaline usually takes care of most aches and pains during a performance, but the same can't be said about rehearsing - that's where you usually feel it. Winter weather really brings out the aches and pains too, especially if you have arthritis as I do, so I find myself skimming through my own dance practise at times, or else I'll be too sore for teaching. I know my moves aren't the same when I'm trying to "not hurt", for instance I give my performance on New Year's Eve a rating of 7 on a scale of 1 - 10. The moves could've been bigger, but I was trying not to hurt. At least I'm out there dancing at age 57. I'm happy that I feel able to not only disclose my age now (something I wouldn't do while dancing in restaurants), but celebrate it. You don't get 20+ years of experience by magic, you get it by aging - so let's hear it for growing older!
bellydance performance photo
"I'm 50 and I like to KICK!"* (Actually I'm almost 58)
This is where bellydance is certainly different from most other dance forms. You won't see any older ballerinas performing - but in bellydancing, we keep going.
And I know that if I DIDN'T keep bellydancing, it would be even worse for my body. When I feel the accumulated aches and pains of my dance career, that thought keeps me going. As the saying goes, "rust never sleeps". Besides, there's a certain powerful feeling you get from just "being real", isn't there? Instead of inwardly knowing you're being a fake - after all, so much of performing is "acting". I find it rather refreshing to represent the reality of aging instead of pretending nothing's changed. Let's dance!

*Sally O'Malley (thanks Molly Shannon! See Sally Kick!)

  Anthea / Kawakib
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