Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Quick Updates and Upcoming Events!

Due to computer issues the last several months, I am finally able to do some updating with a new laptop! Woohoo! The other one decided to stop running properly and I couldn't even get into the log on screen once the computer ran the start up process. So here I am with updates!

I don't recall if this was talked about in any previous posts, but this year I had the opportunity to be an assistant guild mistress for our dancing troupe Banat Tanjora that performs at renaissance faires. It's been an experience in helping the guild mistress in matters of faire and the policies in place as the troupe has been converting from strictly performers to a performance guild that interacts with everyone from visitors to other guilds. It's been fun watching the shift this year as well as helping add 2-3 additional faires to the year's list. For those who wish to catch us in 2014, we'll be at Visalia Renaissance Faire and Fresno's Pirate Faire in May, Hanford Renaissance Faire in October and Kearney Renaissance Faire in November.

I have also had quite the experience this last year and a half under the new teaching of Lydia Fortner-Walker. I went to her in June of 2012 to learn Tribal Fusion and I have learned quite a bit. I had a very pleasant surprise recently in finding out that she had made the recommendation that I be moved from her Level 2 class to her Level 3. This is a significant step for me as the Level 3 class is comprised of advanced students who make up the group Tanjora. So I will begin this next journey at the end of January and I am looking forward to the growth and learning experience.

Currently, I am preparing for 2 performances coming up in the next 3 weeks. This weekend I have a performance at an event called 12th Night which is mostly renaissance faire people. It's a festivity that invites people to dress up from renaissance to steampunk. So Banat Tanjora will be performing at this fun event. The next one I am preparing for is our student recital through California Arts Academy. I have a nice number of dances I am having to practice and refresh myself on, so I am definitely kept busy right now.

I am also preparing for the 2014 Shimmy Mob event that will be taking place on May 10th. For those who don't know, this is an international event to raise awareness to domestic violence. If you are interested in donating or wanting to participate, head over to Shimmy Mob. Early bird registration is $25 until January 15th and will then raise to the regular price of $35. The fees cover access to the choreography and video tutorials as well as the shirts you are to wear for the event. I strongly recommend getting involved if possible as domestic violence hurts everyone, not just the victims. 2013 was the first year I participated and it was such a wonderful experience with the local bellydancers who got involved. This year, myself and another will be leading our city and we are very much looking forward to recruiting people to get involved, learn a new choreography and bonding with those in our community. Should be a lot of fun!

I know I am leaving this blog a little shorter than I had wanted, but I wanted to give a few quick updates since I have been MIA for a while.

I hope you all have an amazing New Year and keep checking back for more content and shared info!


Friday, May 24, 2013

Fears and Anxieties of the Plus Size Dancer Addressed

Hello out there in Bellydance Land! So I have a special topic to cover that is brought up a lot regarding bellydancing. It is ranked up there among the top questions of would-be and beginning bellydancers, and I felt that I should talk about this to help ease concerns, hesitations, fears, and any anxieties. Not to mention that this topic is close to my heart as well.

Plus size bellydancers!

That’s right! This is for all those who are of the plus size category because many of us tend to feel very overshadowed or isolated in some aspect because a lot of people have this idea of what a bellydancer should look like and not what a bellydancer is. I have touched on this topic briefly in one of my earlier posts and thought it would be a good idea to go more into depth about it. This is not only to help educate, but to empower as well.

For plus sized dancers, it is very easy for us to get discouraged in learning this dance form. It is not just because most, if not all, of the students we may be learning with have the “ideal” body type of a bellydancer, which does tend to play one’s psyche. It also has to do with how difficult it is to even find the proper clothing for our size for performances or, in some cases, practice wear. It is almost like pouring lemon juice over a wound. Those of us in the plus size category are looking to feel empowered when we get involved in bellydancing because this dance does help you feel more in tuned with yourself and enjoy an art form that has been around for quite a long time (longer than most dances such as ballet). Many plus sized dancers end up discouraged at one point (or many) and this shouldn’t be the case. Quite honestly, it shouldn’t happen at all. Each dancer is unique and has a lot to gain from this dance. Regardless of what insecurities you may have about yourself, this dance is meant to teach you more about yourself that you may have not have known before. Especially when it comes to your own outlook on your attitude and how you perceive yourself.

One of the biggest issues that plus size bellydancers have is finding proper performance or practice wear. At this point in time, many vendors who sell costuming and practice wear don’t carry anything for the plus size women. Of if they do, they only go up to the lower end of the plus size category. Even those vendors out there that may sell something labeled as an extra-large turns out to be something that runs on the smaller size. Meaning that most of the time it’s a misses extra-large, not a woman’s extra-large. So it leaves a lot of us scrambling to find something that works. Most of the time though, learning how to sew becomes a valuable skill.

The quantity and quality of the costuming also depends on what style of bellydance you are learning. The cabaret style dancing has fewer options for plus size dancers compared to costuming that can be found for tribal style dancing. Because of the limited option for plus size dancers, this is why learning how to sew is encouraged. Simplicity has a number of patterns for plus sizes available for renaissance fair use to tribal. They also have patterns that are close to the cabaret and bollywood look. These patterns you can tweak to make it work for the styles of cabaret and bollywood you are wanting. There are other patterns you can purchase from vendors that are not commercially sold (like the Simplicity Brand) which can be found on some of the bellydance vendors websites, but be advised that these can be a hit and miss in being the correct advertised sizes. Some do claim to be for a woman’s size and end up running close to a misses size. It is advisable to make a mock costume piece with the pattern using cheap material, try it on and then make notes when you go to make the final piece. Last thing you want to do is spend a few hours making a full costume with your desired material only to find that it won’t fit and you don’t have time to fix it before a performance.

Another issue that many dancers, not just those who are plus sized, are scared about is regarding the showing of their midriff. You are not required to have your stomach showing for any style of bellydance. If you are insecure about your body or feel it is inappropriate to show off that much skin, there are plenty of costuming/clothing options to keep your midriff out of sight. Wearing a leotard under your costuming, creating temporary covers tacked in place, making a one piece dress, full length blouses, etc., are all options that are acceptable. The issue of the midriff is something that most people use as one of the reason why they are not comfortable learning this dance and this is effects most plus sized people. Even for practice, you are not expected to show skin. Only those who are comfortable or are instructing will do so to better see their movement when working on bodywaves or how chest lifts affect the abs and ribcage.

So how do we come to terms with ourselves in order to enjoy this dance?

Well the first step is always the most difficult one for some who already suffer from some sort of negative self-image or fear. You need to love yourself. By understanding that being a different size is not a negative thing will help you overcome some of your apprehensions. Size honestly doesn’t play a factor once you begin dancing because if you are enjoying what you are doing, it shows more than what you look like. Most of the time, plus size bellydancers are more enjoyable to watch than those who fit the ideal look. Why is that? Because invoking the mood of the dance is what people connect to, not the shape of the dancer. Besides, it is usually the shallow and judgmental people who choose to focus on one’s body rather than one’s personality or expression of the dance. So why waste time worrying about those people when their opinions are of little consequence or don’t matter? It’s those who have a love of the dance and who support you that count as well as how good you feel when you dance.

Next step is to understand that there are just some moves that you can’t do as well as others. Everyone’s body has some dance step or movement it is unable to perform because of how your body is built. This shouldn’t be used as an excuse or as a reason for discouragement. Even those who are thin can’t do a movement because their bone structure doesn’t allow it. I know a dancer who is in shape and she has problems doing a simple maya because her bone structure doesn’t allow the hip to move away from the ribcage properly. She has to slide out her hip first before moving it up for the movement. Altering the move a little is acceptable to be able to perform it based on what your body can do. For me, certain shimmies are hard to do because I do have extra meat on my thighs. I can’t bring my legs together to execute certain shimmies others are able to do. So I compromise by bringing in my legs as close as comfortably possible and do what I can. As long as the instructor knows you are doing your best and doing what your body allows, there is nothing to worry about. Even those with disabilities who enjoy bellydancing do make compromises so the dance works for their body type. You make the dance work for you. It should never be the other way around where you are hurting yourself to fit the dance.

The final step is to confront your fears, hesitations and excuses. Once you have done so, you will find that learning bellydancing is a lot easier because your mind will not be so quick to throw up roadblocks and hinder you from learning something new. Going with the flow, doing your best, being patient and keeping an open mind on how to learn a move is what keeps you moving forward and getting the most out of this art form. Don’t be so quick to judge yourself as being incompetent or a disgrace if you are not getting something. Remember that it does take time to learn the movement and that you always have your instructor to go to when you are unsure if you are learning something correctly. Your instructor is there to give you pointers on what would work best for you and give you a positive critique on your movement. If you are embarrassed to say something in class, you can always ask the instructor to look at the movement you are concerned about before or after class so you have that one-on-one time without others overhearing or watching. Also remember that even asking in class may help someone else who is possibly having the same doubt or issue you may be having. There have been times where I was embarrassed about asking how a movement works in class to only find out that there were at least 2 other people who were having the same issues. So never feel ashamed in not understanding how a move works as there is always someone else who is not understanding the mechanics of the move or had been learning it wrong based on their observation instead of asking.

There is one thing I would like to note on something I had mentioned earlier in regards to making the dance work for your body. As I had stated, you are allowed to alter some of the movements so that you can do them easier, but you cannot ignore or gloss over the required dance form, meaning that you still need to keep everything open, shapely and free. Don’t let your arms sag if you had to alter a chest movement, they should still be out away from the body in order to frame the move. If you have to alter a hip movement, keep your tailbone tucked. You are still adhering to the body basics and structure that allows you to move in this dance while creating a variation of a move in order to work better for you.

If you have friends who are looking into learning bellydancing but are afraid to jump right into a class, have them come to events with you that has open floor dancing (such as haflas), renaissance faires that have dancers who offer free mini classes, or any free/discounted classes that your instructor might be offering as a promotion for her teaching. I would also suggest going with your friends to help ease their anxiety. This opportunity should not be used to show off your abilities. Your friends are already aware of what you can do and rubbing it in can turn your friends away from learning. You need to use this opportunity to explain that you are always happy to go as support for friends who are interested and that you also use these chances to recheck your basics (which is not a bad thing for you to go over every now and then to make sure your dancing isn’t becoming sloppy). The last thing your friend wants to experience during their first time attending a lesson is the feeling of neglect or being overshadowed by a more experienced dancer as they are the ones who are learning something you already know. They should have the special attention from the instructor during the class and your role is to give your friend encouraging statements and positive feedback.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Performance Video and Pictures of the Student Recital and Winter Hafla

For your viewing pleasure, here is some video of my student recital and the Belly Dance Coalition of the San Joaquin Valley Winter Hafla.

In this video, you are watching the Level 2 class with a few of the Level 3 students dancing to the first dance and then strictly the Level 2 students and my instructor dancing to the second dance. The last half of the video features the Level 3 students who are members of the performing group Tanjora. Not all the Level 3 students were present as many of them are involved in other groups as well who may have had other engagements to be at that were scheduled for the same date.

As future video becomes available on performances, I'll be sure to share with everyone for you all to enjoy.

Here are some pictures of the Winter Hafla for you to enjoy as well. These pictures feature many dancers from Fresno, Madera, Visalia and Hanford who came together to enjoy students of varying levels in a relaxed atmosphere. Pictures are courtesy of the very talented Andalee, who you can see dancing during an intermission with her daughter Betty and her other daughter who is grooving along in her mother's tummy.

As soon as I am able to, I will add 1 more video from the student recital and 3 more from the winter hafla.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Recital, Winter Hafla, and Other Events

This last week has been very busy. Last weekend I performed for my first recital under my instructor at California Arts Academy. It went very well and had the opportunity to share stage time in one choreography piece with members of the Level 3 performing group, Tanjora. It was a lot of fun and I had a friend come down from Davis, CA to finally see me perform after 3 years of trying to get them down for a performance. So last weekend was a lot of fun in watching the kids level, Level 1 and Level 3 perform along with solos from my instructor and students from the Level 3 class.

Earlier today our local bellydance community, the Bellydance Coalition of San Joaquin Valley, had our first Hafla. It went very well with several dancers visiting and dancing. We had several solos from many dancers, a few troupe performances as well as the debut of Brazen Tassel, the new local ATS group certified by Carol herself of Fat Chance Bellydance. It was a great opportunity to see all the styles available in our community and even enjoyed a song by one of our dancers that has been learning Middle Eastern songs in the native tongue. It was quite a treat!

Some upcoming events that will be taking place, Fresno's 2013 Rogue Show will begin in March. This will be the first time since I began dancing that I will not be participating, but I am quite alright with that. It gives me the opportunity to see local bellydance groups perform in support of their art as well as allowing me the chance to continue learning without the pressure of dancing a style I am not fully knowledgable in just yet. So sitting out of the Rogue until my instructor feels I'm ready to be brought up is alright with me! But for those who may be in the area that wish to check out some of the performances, I'll be posting the schedule soon for the bellydancing shows.

Currently members in the area are preparing to participate in this year's Shimmy Mob that will take place in May. This is a world wide event that helps promote awareness and raise funds for shelters that house women and children of abuse. So if you are interested in registering to participate in this event, go to www.shimmymob.com. Once registered, you will have access to choreography, videos that break down the choreography for all levels as well as additional information on the event as updates come out. For those who are in the Central Valley of California, Crystal Ravenwolf is our team leader. So when you register, be sure to do so as dancer and find her under the Fresno, CA listing of participating cities to partake in our group. Deadline to register is April 5th I believe.

This week is also the start of the new semester at California Arts Academy. Since Banat Tanjora received permission to partake in 2 extra renaissance fairs this year, we'll be taking time in class to work on more improvising to allow everyone the chance to dance when we go to the fairs. Our first fair is Visalia Renaissance Fair April 20th-21st. Then we'll have the Fresno Pirate Fair in May and close out the fair season at Kearney Park for the Kearney Renaissance Fair in November. So many of us are excited about the upcoming fair schedule and look forward to having a fun time. If you come to one of these fairs, come say hi and enjoy what we have to offer at our encampment! We'll be at these fairs all weekend along.

For your viewing pleasure, here are videos of the 2011 and 2012 Shimmy Mob!

Shimmy Mob 2011

Shimmy Mob 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

The San Joaquin Valley Bellydance Coalition: It Begins!

So I would have wrote about this last night, but I was too tired to really discuss the exciting changes that are going on in the Central Valley. An invite had been sent out by a few key people here in the Central Valley for a meeting to take place within the local bellydance community. Several members (from beginning to professional) came to the meeting. Now this is actually a good start as this meeting was of a special kind. It was the first meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Bellydance Coalition aka The Coalition. The board committee of this group was being led by nationally known dancer Andalee. Essentially this meeting was to gather as many of the local dancers as possible to discuss ways to bring our community closer together, to promote each others performances, workshops and seminars, as well as brain storm how to educate the public a little more about each style of dance our community has. At the meeting people had agreed that it was time to pull ourselves together and work to bring a better awareness of the bellydance art and it's culture to people as there is still a misunderstanding of what bellydance is. Many people still believe this art to be adult entertainment due to how movies and other media has played a role in demonizing, so to speak, the art. So as our first meeting got underway, it was pretty clear everyone was on the same page to educate the Central Valley on what bellydancing is and to help our local cities embrace the history of the art in their neck of the woods.

In order to discuss the ideas we all had at this meeting, we broke up into groups and discussed amongst ourselves what we wanted more of. It was surprising that the top 3 priorities listed from each group was community outreach programs, social gatherings and better opportunities to attend workshops that are not readily available. The outreach programs was always listed as number one in each group. So it was very nice to see how all of us were on the same page and it shows that many dancers in the area have discussed at one point or another how our community needs to be in a more positive and educational role in order for our art to survive.

So I am pleased to share that over the next few years, there will be a new change taking place in the Central Valley to offer the public opportunities to learn the culture, dance, and positive role bellydancing has to offer in hopes to keep the art going and break down the walls of any misconceptions people have about this dance. It will be very exciting to see!

As more information develops, I will be sharing it here so those who are local or those in other cities/towns/states who wish to participate in the change can do so to help promote the art and culture in their own communities.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wrist/Hand Exercises and Movements

I thought it would be a good idea to post some videos on some wrist and hand exercises you can work on at home, at work, waiting at an appointment or just about anywhere you can think on. Doing these exercises at work would not only help train yourself to have graceful wrists for bellydancing, but it would also help easing stress, especially carpal tunnel, in the wrists if you are doing a desk job that requires you to sit at a computer all day.

I felt it would be a good idea to present some videos for you to try out as wrist and hand exercises are not fully covered a lot of the time by several bellydance instructors. There may be some instruction on hand movement, but sometimes you may come across instructors that would expect it to come naturally or would expect you to learn on your own. I have an instructor who demonstrates wrist and hand movements as we work on combos, so I am lucky in that aspect. So for those who may have an instructor who doesn't cover exercises for your wrists and hands, please enjoy the videos below.

*NOTE: One of the videos found were disabled for embedding so please follow the link*

Hand Exercises for Belly Dancers <--- Click here to see video!

I hope these videos help you with your hand movements and remember to be patient! Like all movements it may take time to build the flexibility and grace, so do not be discouraged as you work on each of the exercises and movements presented above. Be sure that as you practice some of these movements that you do keep proper arm positions. Some of these do not require you to have your arms out away from the body, such as the hand undulations, but others may require you to have your arms out at certain positions to achieve the effect each video covers. Always be sure to keep your arms out in a bent and relaxed position, whether your arms are out at about the shoulder level for American Tribal Style and Cabaret/Oriental (which arms will be a little lower than shoulder level), or more down around your ribcage level if you are in the tribal fusion style in order to keep your body framed properly. If you allow your arms to drop where your wrists are down at your waist or hips while you are dancing, your dance presence drops and it looks like you have weak arms. That is not something that you want as bellydancing is about having a strong presence to capture your audience's attention.

Until next time!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Sewing, ITS Dancing, and that Irish Feeling

What a busy week this has been for dancing. Purchased navy blue linen last weekend to make a ghawazee blouse to dance in for this weekend's renaissance faire. I couldn't find a pattern to use for the blouse and I didn't have enough time to order one online since the blouse needed to be completed within the week. So I took one of the ghawazee coat patterns and altered it slightly to make a blouse. I was able to succeed and now have a blouse to wear that is renaissance period appropriate. As I continue to make my costumes, the better I get with altering things to my needs.

My dance class also spent this week's lesson in learning how to improv dance (ITS - Improv Tribal Style) in a group for this weekend. We learned how to watch for queues off each other as we took turns leading the group before transitioning to the next person. It was pretty fun and it has me a little more prepared for what is in store this weekend. The last time I joined this group was for a weekend during another renaissance faire but only participated in providing live drums and improv solo dancing. This time around, since I am now a member of the group, I was given a quick run down on what we would be doing to entertain ourselves and those who came to be entertained. Considering that we are expecting intermittent showers tomorrow and it will be cold, my instructor has come up with a plan to keep us busy so we stay warm. Taking shifts to dance improve-style, teaching anyone interested how to dance, drum, games, etc. Should be a fun weekend!

In other news, in about 2 months an informal student recital will be taking place to showcase the Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 students with solos from the Level 3 students and instructor. I'm getting excited for this as well as nervous because it's not just showcasing dances, but there are other smaller activities planned as well that is also....dun dun dun.....improv dancing. If I'm alone and in front of several people, I choke a little. My mind goes blank with improv dancing alone in front of several people and a lot of it is due to not being use to being in a situation like that. I've done it only twice before in the previous group I was with but it was in a different style. So I will set aside time between now and January to do some improv dancing in the privacy of my home to kind of prepare myself a little.

Lastly, about 4 weeks ago I went to pick up a yoga DVD to help with flexibility and strength. I am a little frustrated though because I still have yet to break out the DVD and start learning from it. The only reason I am not guilty with myself just yet for not starting a routine is due to getting sick the day after I purchased the DVD and then I exhausted myself with a temporary job that left me voiceless and tired. So I'm still recovering from the job and being sick. Once I am close to 100%, I'll start learning yoga, but until then I gotta work on getting over being ill and recover from the stress injuries of the temporary job I had.

Now off to get some rest. Gotta get up early and start the whole dressing process and be on faire site by 9am. Here is a video for your enjoyment!