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!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dreadlocks and a Spider, OH MY!

In my last entry I had mentioned that there were some dancers in my group who wanted me to do a tutorial on how to do dread falls. These are mainly used for bellydancing, Halloween and cosplay. For people who may not have heard of what a dread fall is, it is natural hair, synthetic hair, or yarn styled to look like dreadlocks that are placed in the hair to create a unique look. I have been asked by my dance instructor to do a workshop and I will be doing one at some point in the near future. We both decided it would be best to do one at a local Hafla event that would feature mini workshops. So if you are in the Central Valley area of California, keep an ear out for when this Hafla event will take place. It may not be until some time next year, but I will be posting about it as soon as it’s planned and finalized.

When you go looking through pictures of bellydancers online, most photos you find of dancers with dreadlocks are actually dancers who have dread falls placed in their hair to give them the look of having real dreadlocks. You will rarely find a dancer with real dreadlocks as there is a process one has to follow in using their real hair, not to mention the maintenance involved. Secondly, bellydancing does allow the option of doing something different with your hair and look for each performance. Which if you have dreadlocks, this does narrow down the options of hair styles you can achieve. A lot of the time, dancers will use different colors of these falls to create an unusual look and cover their natural hair color with decorative flowers, headbands and scarves. These decorations add an exotic look and create a more alluring image aside from hiding any natural hair that is exposed. It would be odd to have your natural hair color exposed when using a color of natural/synthetic hair that is different from your own. If you do not wish to go through the trouble of covering all of your natural hair with all these decorations, you also have the option of matching the color of your fall to the color of your hair so you can only wear a few decorated pieces to hide where the hair is attached.

In making these falls, it’s best to do research and understand what materials would work best to achieve the look and texture you want, not to mention what materials will be easier to work with. For me, it is best if natural hair or synthetic hair is used as opposed to yarn, especially if you want the fall to look real. I will not be covering how to do yarn falls in this tutorial as there are plenty of instructions out there. Not so much for hair. I had to pretty much do a nonstop search for natural or synthetic hair falls for about 3 weeks before I came across one video on one way these falls can be made. So after seeing how difficult it was to find simple instructions on making the falls, I decided to share one way in how to make them.

Once you understand the basics of making these dread falls, you can begin to style them in creative ways to make each piece unique. You may even come up with a more easier way to create these that you may want to share with others who are looking to make their own hair pieces without paying so much for them. Currently, the price range of these dread falls is anywhere from $50- $180 on average. Making your own will only cost you $10-15 dollars at the most and a few hours of work.

The time invested in making one piece will vary depending on how much hair you will use and if you are adding beads or ribbons. As you become more practiced and fall into a rhythm, the process speeds up. For now, when you first start it would be a good idea to expect this to take a few hours without adding any decorations to the dreadlocks.

Items needed:

1 Hair rubberband (A ribbon or elastic band can be used instead)
1 package of natural or synthetic hair
Spray bottle
Rat tail comb
Flat iron
Hand/Dish Towel (Optional)
Clear Nail Polish (Optional)


1) Take the package of hair and feed half of it through the rubberband. When you do this, be sure to have the rubberband centered in the middle of the hair.

2) Take a chunk of hair and braid the hair about an inch so that the rubberband is secured in this chunk that will be come your first dreadlock strand.

3) Once you have made a braid about an inch long, take the rat tail comb and start teasing the hair just below the braid. You will be teasing the hair in an upward motion towards the braid on all sides of the chunk of hair for the full length of hair. You will want to get this knotted so you can keep the braid in place.

4) When you are done teasing, start twisting the hair from top to bottom. While you are doing this, tuck some of the “rough” areas into the twist so you have as even of a twist as possible.

5) At this time, you can go about this next step in 2 ways:

You can spray the hair with water until it is damp, cover the hair with the towel and apply the flat iron along the towel where it is covering the hair. This helps protect some flat iron surfaces depending on the model you have and/or it helps protect the natural/synthetic hair if you want to prevent burning/melting the hair.

The other way is to spray the hair with water and directly apply the flat iron without the towel. Only do step if you don’t care about the flat iron you are using or the model you are using has a wet to dry feature. I apply the flat iron directly to the hair as my flat iron has a wet to dry feature.

You will hold the flat iron in place for about 10-30 seconds depending on if you covered the hair with a towel or not. You will do this the entire way down the length of hair. If you accidentally melt some places of the dread (if you are using synthetic hair), don’t worry about it as you can’t tell from far away and it will help hold the hair so it won’t come undone.

6) When you come to the end, you can do 2 things to make sure the ends of the hair do not unravel. If you are using synthetic hair, you can melt the ends with the flat iron. If you have issues melting the ends, you can use the clear nail polish on the tips. You can also use the nail polish on the ends of the natural hair as well if the heat from the flat iron doesn’t keep the hair styled.

** Please note that you will have to do occasional touch ups on the ends, but for
the most part, the hair stays very well.

You will repeat the above steps for each dreadlock strand you work on until all of the hair is secured and styled on the rubberband. If you choose to use a ribbon or an elastic band instead of a rubberband, these will allow you to tie the dread falls to your hair. The only down side is that it makes it a little more difficult to work with the hair and making sure it stays on either the ribbon or elastic band. You’ll have open ends and if the falls slip off, you’ll have to work to get them back on, not to mention, you will also have the ends to hide once the fall is tied on. But you’ll need to go with what will work best for you.

Later on, after you get the hang of making dread falls, you can add beads to a few dread strands to dress up the piece or you can use ribbons to wrap and braid around a few strands as well (great look for renaissance faires, especially if you use leather straps/thongs).

I do plan on making a video tutorial at some point to post on this blog so you can see each step of the process and to show some of the dread falls that I had already made as examples. I just need to make sure I have enough space and a good setup so you can see what I am doing without obstruction of view.

And now for a Halloween treat. I've had the pleasure of seeing this awesome dancer at festival in Bakersfield CA for a bellydance festival. This dance has been requested by many and I wish to share it with you. Please enjoy Marjahni's Itsy Bitsy Spider!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Projects, Poor Judgements and Inner Determination

I honestly haven't forgotten this blog. Things have been a little busy with both dancing and life that have my full attention right now. Tribal classes have been going very well and I began learning my first choreography under the new instructor. It's a fun piece and one that I have seen performed by the group I'm with in the past. It's a very slow and graceful piece. It's something I look forward to performing come the formal and nonformal student recitals. Looks like the nonformal recital may be sometime at the beginning of the year where the formal will be some time in the spring. Regardless, I am excited to present my first learned choreography when the time comes.

I've been working on costuming ideas and a new solo choreography that times out to about 6 minutes. It's a fun piece that I hope to perform sometime next year or the year after depending on the venue. The hair falls that I have been working on have been coming along nicely as well. I already have a few people asking me to do a tutorial and/or a mini workshop at a future hafla event, including my instructor. I can't tell you how much that made my day.

This last Sunday some of the local dancers met in Hanford to do a drum circle where the renaissance faire was to be held this last weekend. It was cancelled due to a vendor issue along with financial reasons. So about 12 of us showed to drum while a few danced. It was a lot of fun and we had a few groups of people hang out near us to enjoy the circle while other groups came and went. Overall it was a fun day and I was thanked for orchestrating the event. I never really thought of myself being in charge. I mainly thought it was a cool idea to get together and drum. So to have people thank me afterward for organizing the event caught me off guard and touched me. It was a wonderful feeling and a great experience.

I've also begun prepping for the Kearney Renaissance Faire that will be taking place November 10-11th. Currently, renaissance faires are the only performances that I can participate in until my knowledge of the tribal style is firmly under by belt. I'm actually happy with that arrangement as it will allow me time to learn the style thoroughly before being expected to perform at the yearly Rogue show in town as well as other events throughout the year that will get my drumming and zill skills honed. The only few events I would be expected to perform at would be for renaissance faires for the improv dancing and drumming, not to mention the formal and nonformal student recitals that were brought up earlier.

I've been spending the last few weeks reflecting how I got to where I am. Some of it was help from unknown forces, some of it was strength to do what needed to be done from past experiences, and some was inspired by someone who urged me to go above and beyond. I'm hearing every now and then that I am being brought up in conversation, and most of the time it is in a negative way. Am I hurt by this? Not at all, just a little disappointed that people are being childish in their ways, but it's actually flattering as it shows that people have no life and they feel they have to talk about someone who is no longer in the picture. Rumors are starting to go around about the situation that happened 4 months ago and the more they spread the more they become further from the truth. I've had people come up to me who don't know about this blog to ask me what happened. They ask because they don't believe the rumors and because they have gotten to know who I am. They know that I am not the kind of person to take attention away from others or be out for myself. I do what is best for me just like everyone else does when situations arise that make things difficult. I told these people the truth without dropping names or going into detail because they really don't need to know all my reasons or thoughts on matters. I was unhappy with things and I had hit a point where I wanted to learn something new under the advice I was given by a friend who meant a lot to me prior to their passing. I left under my own decision. It's true that I have been banned from ever returning to the previous group I was with, but that ban came a month after I decided to leave. The only thing that had changed after I made the decision was that someone just came to lock the door after I had left. But I am not sad about that. It's not something I wanted to see happen, but I'm not sad.

I now have new opportunities opening up to me that were not really available before. I found several people who wish to promote a healthy bellydance community and they encourage students to attend workshops and additional classes without anyone taking offense or allowing hate to be generated because someone wanted to be more involved in things. I've had a few of my ideas tossed around on some creative possibilities by others and asked to post tutorials on some costuming and hair falls. My ideas on things matter with the people I am now with and it's a great feeling to feel wanted and welcomed. I partially regret that things happened the way that they did because no one did the adult thing and approached me once my blog was found, but that is on those people, not me. I don't regret it because this blog is about me and my decisions on how to handle this part of my life, including my experience that someone may learn something from for their own reference guide. Students will always come and go, but it's no ones place to judge someone for wanting to expand their skills and get away from something that doesn't feel right anymore or stay around the negativity that was brewing under the surface. Bottom line is, I am much happier where I am now because I feel like I belong.

One thing that some people will never accept, based on their own assumptions, is that I am not out to undermine anyone. People undermine themselves without any help from others and I only step back and allow them to do so without being brought down with them. Only the insecure will attack those who are confident in themselves. I don't care what plans are being made for shows in a group that I am no longer a part of. It doesn't concern me nor do I care to know. If something slips, I don't pass it along. I never shared info when things did pop out into the open when I was with the previous group if I overheard or saw something, so why would that change now?

For those who are from that group that are spreading lies and reading this, you should know that your ugly side is showing and people are noticing. I have never shoved anyone out of the way during a performance or rehearsal to be front and center on stage. I thought this would be clear by the fact that I was never quick to take the front stage. I was placed there most of the time by the instructor, not because I felt I deserved to be there. I have never pressured anyone to do anything against their will. I have advised people to bring up their concerns to the person it involved because of the continued complaints, but I never pushed anyone to do so. I do not seek to undermine a student or instructor (past or present), never have and never will. I don't think I am better than anyone else and I do not claim to be other than stating that I do take responsibility for my short comings and do what I can to improve those mistakes without blaming others for something that I was fully responsible of, especially when it's something that is brought to my attention that I was at fault for. There are very few people in that dance group who really know me and I can guarantee that no one in the class that I was in is considered part of the few. I kept to myself most of the time so no one really knows me in that class.

So a warning to those who are spreading rumors or lies about me, people who have gotten to know me already know you are lying as your lies conflict with what people already understand about me. You are only shooting yourself in the foot because when the time comes for you to try another group, those people would be less likely to trust you because you have placed yourself in the middle of something that you never belonged in regarding my decision.

My advice to you is mind your own business and pull your nose out of what I had decided or what I am currently doing. It's not your place to judge nor does my decision to leave affect/concern you in any way save for having one less person in your group. Focus on yourself for once and work on your flaws instead of focusing on someone who is no longer around. If you honestly have a problem with me, then approach me to discuss whatever problem you have. But understand that you are being a coward by not coming up to me to deal with your issue and choose to try to make matters worse by trying to turn people against me by fabricating something that never happened or a matter that doesn't concern them. I don't need to explain myself to anyone and the only person I answer to is me. So get off your high horse and leave me out of your conversations because you don't have anything better to do.

With that being said, I hope those who are in a similar situation that I am in understands that you have a right to do what is best for you regardless of what others my think or feel. You only answer to yourself and you don't need to be brought down by people who feel threatened by you or want to bring you down to make themselves feel like they are worth more than they are. You are the only person who is pushing yourself to continue learning a beautiful art. You are the one who makes the decision on where you want to go and when it's time to try something knew. If you are in an atmosphere that isn't agreeing with your personal growth, go someplace else that you feel you will flourish without feeling guilty about it. You are learning bellydancing for you and you alone. You are not there to impress anyone. You are there to encourage something you have inside of you that shouldn't be dampened by anything or anyone. Embrace your strength and pity those who only know how to stir up drama because they are the ones who are missing out on something that inspires someone to be more than what they are. You are there to learn for your benefit, not someone else's.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bellydancing with Swords: Beginner's Tips n Tricks

A week and a half ago I had the pleasure of playing with a sword for the first time since I started bellydancing 3 years ago. It was a nice little surprise that my instructor sprung on us for our last day in the summer workshop classes. As I did not own my own sword, my instructor brought 2 to loan out and I was lucky enough to get one. I was surprised to find that balancing a sword was not all that difficult as far as keeping it on your head once you found the balance point. What I did find difficult was trying to adjust to the weight of the sword as well as feeling the indentation take place on my head where the sword was sitting as I began to move with it. Both of these factors will develop and improve over time with practice. The weight of the sword you will adjust to while the indentation in your head will also become more permanent as you balance and play with the sword more.

One little trick I had noticed with my instructor's sword was that she had roughed up the area that rests on the head in order for her to know she has the sword placed where it's balance point is. I had never stopped to think that this would be a trick used. I knew that as time goes on, dancers become very aware and familiar with their swords to automatically know where on the sword the head needs to be touching to make sure the balance is as solid as it can be. For first starting out, this is a good trick to use for practices (not performances) until you become more familiar with the sword.

Since this last week has been a break between the summer workshops and the beginning of the fall semester of classes, I decided to look into sword play a little more. I recognize that being a Level 2B student I will not play with swords until I become a Level 3 student, but it would not hurt to know some things about the sword so that I am better prepared next time when I have the chance to play with one or I am able to purchase my own to play with until I graduate into the next level. So here are some little tidbits I would like to share, along with the sources listed so that if you would like to look more into what the author has to say about different aspects of bellydancing, you are able to access those.

One dancer who is a great resource for tips and tricks to sword play is Shira. Below here is what she has to offer in ways of the sword:

Tips & Tricks for Belly Dancing With a Sword by Shira

Here is another bellydancer who has some great information as well on sword play:

Choosing and Dancing with a Belly Dance Sword by Zarifa, edited by W. Snowman

Balancing a belly dance sword is a beautiful addition to your dancing routine, but more importantly it is an exercise in one of the most important skills in belly dancing, isolation. A skilled belly dancer can restrict dancing movements to one part of her body while keeping others perfectly motionless, or moving in a different direction. Dancing with a sword is an excellent exercise to perfect this skill.

How do I dance with a sword balanced on my head? Perfect isolation can take many hours of training and can be quite daunting with a heavy sword - and painful when dropped! You may want to practice with something lighter at first - a book, block of wood, or broom handle. Remember isolation is the key.

Begin with simple shimmies: shimmy the hips while keeping your upper body and your head perfectly still. Then practice shoulder shimmies while keeping your neck and head motionless. Once you can perform shimmies without dropping your "practice sword," move on to movements requiring more control to keep your head stationary, such as camel or body waves. The downward figure eight and elevations (lift up on your toes then flat foot) while doing shimmies are not only challenging but look great while keeping a sword balanced on your head.

Once you can perform a few moves without dropping your book or broom handle (most of the time!) you can try dancing with a real sword. Most belly dancing swords have a fairly heavy handle so that the balance point is a closer to the handle. Move it around until you find the spot where it can sway a little without sliding off your head. A good balanced sword should lay on the edge with the blade perpendicular and the handle up straight and ready, easy to reach when you need it.

Some dancers find it much easier to perform sword work while wearing a turban or other head wear. This is not really "cheating" unless you use a really thick head wear or alter it to hold the sword. Some dancers have thick hair, making it easier to pick up belly dance sword work, some need a little "help."

Once you feel comfortable with isolated movements, it's time to try spins with the sword on your head. The trick is to use a dance move that puts your arms over your head so that one arm rests against the sword while you begin the spin. As the sword begins to spin with you as one, you may be able to release the sword and hold it in a perfect spin with your head and drop your arms. (Or maybe not!) You will need to move your arms back up and brace the sword as you come out of the spin so that it doesn't keep spinning and fly off your head. Don't be discouraged if this doesn't come to you easily, very few dancers can perform this move gracefully and only after years of diligent practice. When you become comfortable with controlling the sword as you move, you can begin keeping your arms further and further from actually touching the sword as you turn. A dancer experienced in sword work can make several complex changes without ever touching the sword.

How do I choose my belly dancing sword? Choose a curved blade sword or scimitar with a smooth blade and without an edge; the edge should be flat. Avoid swords with large "handguards" on the handle, such as fencing-style swords with handguards off to the side, as these will throw the balance off. Many misunderstand "balanced" to mean that the sword should balance in the middle of the blade. The balance of a belly dance sword refers to how straight it stands on edge and can be seen by the angle of the blade to the floor when balanced on its center of gravity.

Because the handle is heavier than the blade, the center of lengthwise balance of a belly dance sword usually closer to the handle than the middle of the blade. When balanced on your head, a well balanced sword should lay on the inner curved edge with the blade perfectly perpendicular to the floor. The blade should not be leaning toward the front or back. Sometimes a sword that is out of balance and leans to the front or back can be re-balanced by twisting the handle.

Do not use a battle sword for belly dancing. They are not balanced correctly and having an edge will be extremely difficult to dance with. Some swords are heavier than others and it will take some conditioning to get used to the weight. Dance until your scalp goes numb, then practice other moves!

Can I dance with more than one sword? Believe it or not, an experienced dancer can balance two swords on her head, or one on the head and another on the hip. Another fun routine is to move into a back bend with the swords touching the floor, or one on the head with the other on the stomach while doing floor work. Some even wear a blindfold while dancing with the swords on a basket balanced on their head. All of these moves require practice with a teacher who can help you.

Safety first! There are several things that can go wrong while practicing belly dance sword work, so please be careful. Although belly dancing swords don't have a point or an edge, they are still heavy and can cause serious damage or injury. Make sure your handle is solidly attached and not coming loose; swinging the sword around fast can cause the blade to come loose and fly out. Be sure to give yourself plenty of room when practicing. Belly dancing with a sword in close quarters or areas with breakables can be costly.

There are several more resources out there to learn how to choose a sword best for you, how to conquer sword play and wardrobe issues, techniques to be used in order to become very familiar with your sword, and how to make your performance with a sword shine. I finally want to give you some videos to watch from people who give some excellent demonstrations on the sword. There are several videos out there on sword play, but I just wanted to give you a few to get started with. I hope you have enjoyed this blog entry and enjoy the following videos on sword play along with a mesmerizing sword performance by Irina Akulenko.

Sahira's Sword Instruction

Shoulder Exercises for Sword by Mahin

Turning with Sword by Mahin

Strengthening the Wrists for Sword Handling by Mahin

Irina Akulenko - "Justice" from "Tarot - Fantasy Bellydance" DVD

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hair Raising Challenges

Lately I have been feeling a little run down. A lot has to deal with some personal life issues going on and grief I am still dealing with, but all I can do is keep doing something to stay distracted right? At least that is what I am trying to do and I have found something new that has sparked a little bit of that creative streak in me that may help. I started doing some research on hair falls because I do not have the money at the present time to purchase any from well known vendors/makers as they tend to be on the expensive side depending on what you want. Part of this research has stemmed from the realization that my hair piece I have used the last 2-3 years needs a break. Despite being as careful as I can with brushing it to get knots out from performances, it is difficult to be as gentle as possible when you see several strands being pulled free with each brush stroke you make. Not to mention that the curl is becoming a little more difficult to keep in the hair itself as it continues to be used. Now granted, I do not perform on a consistent basis, but I have performed enough with the hair piece that it is now showing signs of use. It’s not balding! But just the fact that it’s losing its curl after several settings and the consistent loss of strands, I think it’s time it needs a break. So I had made the decision to find a few more alternatives for hair pieces to alternate between so one piece is not getting more use than another. It’s never a good idea to stick to just one piece as having a variety to play with makes dressing up for performances more fun. Plus, this allows each hair piece to have a longer life before I have to spend money on something shiny and new.

So back to the research on hair falls! After looking at several how-to sites, many of which were based more on yarn falls than hair, I have finally come across a small handful of sources that show the different techniques used to create these wonderful looks depending on what you are wanting to achieve with your costume. One source stated using synthetic hair achieved a natural look when styled properly and, in some cases, was better to use due to the difference in purchase price when compared to the natural hair. Taking this into consideration, I began looking at local beauty supply shops to see how much they were asking for packages of synthetic hair compared to natural hair. To my surprise, the price was cheap and staggering when comparing the prices! There was a $20-40 difference depending on length. At this point I couldn’t help myself and I really wanted to try my hand at creating something for myself to see if this would be a possible future investment with creating my own items. So I went to one beauty supply shop and purchased 2 packages of synthetic hair to play with this last weekend. After 2-3 hours of work and styling, I created dread falls that turned out marvelously! They are plain and have no beads or accessories attached to add some appeal, but they still turned out wonderful. Looking at them today, the dreads are still holding!

Now that I am excited that a first attempt turned out better than what I had expected, I have decided to start making a few looks for myself and, at a later date, start offering the sale of dread falls based on what people would like when I have had enough practice. For your curiosity, I have a few pictures below of what the fall looks like.

In addition to the creation of my own hair pieces, I have met some challenges in the new classes I have been attending for tribal dancing. As a quick reminder, my learning of tribal is not the ATS (American Tribal Style) Bellydancing nor is it the modern Tribal Fusion Bellydancing that you see from dancers such as Kami Liddle, Zoe Jakes, Ava Fleming, Sharon Kihara, Mardi Love, Maya , Tjarda, Urban Tribal, Sabrina, and Rachel Brice just to name a few. I’m learning a tribal style that is between the two. It’s still Tribal Fusion, but not as difficult regarding the isolations the listed dancers use or teach. One move that has proven challenging is the omi which is a lot of muscle contractions and releases in a specific order regarding the hips and lower abdomen. When I learned this move from a previous instructor, it was taught as a small hip circle so to speak, almost like a gyrating hip movement. I learned that the proper way in doing the move is making sure I release certain muscles while contracting a different muscle next in line to achieve the omi. If I was starting with my right hip, I would contract the oblique muscle to raise the hip followed by releasing that muscle while contracting the lower abdominal muscle. This muscle is then released as the left oblique muscle is contracted. Finally this muscle is released and you are back to where you started where everything is in a relaxed state again before starting the movement over. Another challenge I have is finding my center of balance for turns/spins and making eye contact on a focal point to help ease the severity of dizziness. I’m not accustomed to turns/spins when it is more than just one when compared to multiple turns for a specific number of counts. Turns/spins were never covered in my previous lessons. I think it was reserved for the advanced class, but even recalling those group performances by the advanced class I do not recall multiple turns unless it was for solos. The last 2 classes we have focused on making sure our eyes are on a specific point as we turned to help us travel in the correct direction aside from easing the equilibrium problem. For me, it was more of making sure I didn’t fall over by the second or third turn when I whip my head around to focus my eyes on the point I am suppose to. So I have some work to do to become accustomed to turns without feeling like I am on a Tilt-a-Whirl ride.

This week’s class was kind of a refresher on figure eight movements and mayan movements. There was a lot of emphasis on proper posture during these movements (which, again, I lacked proper education on). Just to touch on it real fast for those who may be uncertain, when bellydancing you always need to be sure that your back is straight, your hips are pulled in so that your tailbone is pointed down a little more than usual and that your knees are bent almost as if you are just starting to sit down in a chair. This is to ensure all of your core muscles have more room to move so that isolations are done easier and more fluid like. It feels awkward, but it makes a difference! Back to the figure eights and mayans, I found that because I never really had the proper posture for these movements that I was constantly wanting to raise my heels for each side of the hip I was lifting. When you are traveling, the lifting of the heel isn’t really important as compared to when you are stationary and doing these moves. My instructor took the time this week to walk around the class and see where students needed help. For me, it was pointed out that I should start practicing with a little wider foot stance because I was feeling resistance when I brought my hip out for the movements. It felt like I wasn’t able to reach far enough like I should. So after given some pointers I’m going to need to work on my oblique muscles so I have more stretch to work with in both sides.

As of today, there are only 2 more classes left before we are done with the summer session workshops. After that, there are a few weeks to relax and then it’s back to the regularly scheduled 3 month semesters starting in September. I’m definitely going to have to work on getting some practice time in when the break hits so I am a little more limber and closer to achieving new and reviewed movements before the new session of classes as these will focus on choreography. Maybe those videos I have yet to go over may need to be brought out. I’m guilty for having some awesome instructional videos at my figure tips but not sitting down and actually working with them. I have a bad habit of stopping what I’m doing and just marvel at the instructor’s fluid movements on the video. Shame on me!

Before I wrap up this entry, here is some good advice from Zabel, located in Maine, who sends out a monthly newsletter and gives some good advice to students who are new to bellydancing that are looking for an instructor to dance with or if you are a veteran looking to further your knowledge:

Studying With a New Belly Dance Instructor

If you are looking to join a new dance studio or add another belly dance class to your weekly schedule with a new teacher, the best thing to do is attend the perspective teachers beginner class. By going to her beginner class you have shown that teacher that you are humble enough to know that even in a beginner class you can learn something new. You also get the opportunity to study how that teacher instructs. You will get a good feel for how well you will fit into the new studio. If you are an advanced dancer or even an intermediate dancer, the beginner technique will be easy for you to pick up on, leaving you time and space to focus on the type of instruction, not just the subject matter.

It is always a good idea to let the teacher know you are dropping into her class so she is not caught off guard by a new face. It is wise to tell the teacher about:
- any previous dance experience you have
- any previous belly dance classes you have taken in the past
- how long you took classes
- how long ago you take the class
- who the instructor was (this is less important if you are transferring from a studio in a different state)

If you could not contact the teacher prior to you dropping in then it is best to quickly introduce yourself to the instructor prior to class starting. Make sure you arrive 15 minutes early to ensure you get a few minutes to talk to the teacher. Let her know you are looking to see what level you would best fit in at the studio, but keep it short and sweet. Wait until after class is over to talk to the teacher in depth about why you are in her beginner class. This way you can insure the teacher can give you her full attention. The beginning of class can be a bit hectic with the teacher taking attendance and checking in with all of her students, getting music set up, and getting the studio set for class. It is not fair to assume she can give you all of her attention before the start of class.

When you are studying the perspective teacher, be aware of
- how she answers questions
- is she a hands on teacher? Or does she stick to the front of the room?
- Are her students participating in class or do they just follow along?
- Does the teacher explain how movements are done in different ways?
- Does she allow questions throughout class or during specific times?
- Is her demeanor appropriate and professional?
- Does she respect students and their learning styles?

The list could go on and on... But these are some of the qualities I look for in my teachers, and I expect my students to be looking for in me.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Turban Tying

I'm in the process of preparing for a renaissance fair that will be taking place up in Shaver Lake, CA in a few weeks and I thought I would go as a "gypsy" for this fair. I tend to do renaissance fairs when I am able to, whether it's for bellydancing, playing a "gypsy" character or going as an English peasant to play in the dirt and have fun. As you can see, I use quotes for the word gypsy because it is a known fact that most who are labeled as such are the Romani who view this word as a slander or slur against them. They are offended by the word, but I use it so people can easily identify a person's character in these renaissance reenactments. So, back to the topic at hand.

I've been gathering my costume pieces together to figure out what I will be wearing and have decided on a brown/beige stripped ghawazee vest I made a few weeks ago (never been used), black harem pants, a chevron pattern tassel belt I made earlier this year and a white top with embroidery around the neck and edges of the sleeves. The costume looks great together, but looking in the mirror I had realized that I am missing an important key factor. The head. What was I going to do with my hair? What was I going to cover my head with? During the renaissance times, "gypsies" and most other cultures had their heads covered both for religious and culture reasons. This does include the English as well. I had to come up with an option to have my head covered and I didn't know where to start. Then it hit me. I could use a turban. Not only will this keep the hair back, but it will prevent the top of my head getting burned since I will be out in the sun all day. My next step was to find out how to make a turban.

Now when you see pictures, you often wonder how turbans are made for dancing. A lot of times you can use an existing scarf you may own or find a cheapy one at Walmart that may work. Other times people may use scrap material from their sewing to make these. Either way, you will need a long rectangular shaped fabric piece in order to make this work. It will need to be wide enough that the beginning point starts at your forehead and travels down to the nape of your neck. The length doesn't matter as long as it is long enough to wrap around your head a few times.

In doing some research on the turban tying and the different ways to tie a turban, I found a wonderful woman on YouTube who does an excellent job of breaking down the steps to tying a turban in not only one style, but three. Below you can watch all three videos she produced.

Any one of these will make the turban secure and give you a look you can play with for performing or as a character you may play for renaissance fairs or parties. You can even go as far as using a couple of scarves to accent colors and textures reflected in your costume. These would need to be varying lengths so you don't have so much fabric to wrap around. The last thing you would want is to have a giant turban on and have your head look tiny. For the base scarf, you will want to be able to wrap it around your head once before tucking the ends and going on to the next scarf which may be longer if you wish to wrap this one around your head 2 times.

Once the turban is on, you can now start playing with looks. You can have feathers, tribal belt/jewelry pieces or pins stuck to the turban to add some flare. I have seen some women who have taken simple tribal belts and tied those around their heads (while tucking the strings away in the turban) to give a nice middle eastern exotic look. The possibilities are endless, it just depends on what you can come up with to make it work for what you are wearing.

Try it out and have fun!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Faces + Bodies = Expression

Came across a post on Shira's bellydance page, All About Belly Dancing, by Shira. I thought I would share this as I feel this should be a standard that all teachers of all dance styles should be open to. Not just because it allows the student to grow more, but because as a teacher you are promoting members of your dance community which results in positive experiences for everyone and as a teacher you want to see your students come to their full potential. So here is the article:

To All Students,
Regarding "Loyalty" to Your Teacher
By Amanda Niehaus

Dear students of this beautiful art form,

I am a teacher. I teach because I am passionate about this dance and I want others to share my passion.

I am not teaching because I require a fan club.
I am not teaching because I require devotees or because I need hero worship.

As your teacher, my job is to teach you; to inspire you to be your best. If I am a really good teacher, then I also will not be your only teacher. I will encourage you to study with other teachers who have skills and experience I lack. Because I am not the end-all, be-all of belly dance knowledge.

You as a student owe me nothing. You may thank me after class, you may credit me on your first performance dvd, you may remember me when you are touring with Jillina, but you do not owe me anything. (You paid for your class. I taught you. We are even.)

I am an emotionally-mature adult (for the most part). I do not require your "loyalty" or allegiance. You do not have to take my classes just because I offer them, or just because I was your first teacher. You will not be "cheating on" me by taking classes with another instructor.

You should be taking my class because you enjoy it and are learning something. If you are no longer enjoying it or learning from it, then I would be the first to encourage you to find another, or a different, teacher. I want you to love this dance as much as I do.

Your job is to learn and practice, not to worry about my ego. I will not be "mad" at you for moving to a new level with your dance. You need to worry about YOU, and making yourself a better dancer. I will never resent you and I will only respect you for moving onward and upward.

Do what's right for you. I'll be fine, whether I'm dancing beside you or watching you from the audience. I promise.

Yours truly,
Your dance teacher

On to other things, I came across this video of Zoe Jakes and Kami Liddle performing in Las Vegas, Nevada last year and I was so mesmerized by their performance that I really wanted to share.

Now I have to admit, I've always been attracted to tribal fusion bellydancing. There is just something so fluid with the movements and the skill of solid isolations that makes it so much fun to watch. My problem is that I just don't have the body size to really do this type of bellydance style nor the skill level. Although I am a firm believer that a dancer should not be cast out because of their size, there are just some movements that us plus-size dancers cannot do where the emphasis of movements gets lost. It's a sad thing that we have to accept this about our body size, but we do still excel in many forms of bellydancing and there are indeed moves that we do tend to execute better than dancers who fit the general ideal of what a bellydancer should look like. But one thing people should understand is that even though a dancer has the body, they don't always have the skill. I have seen plenty of dancers, through live performances and video, where they have the "perfect" body but lack the finess and skill. It's like taking someone who would fit the part because they are the right size to fit the costume being provided, but not the skill to make the look work. One thing I have noticed is that there are dancers out there that have been dancing for a while who neglect to be aware of their own body. Whether you are tall, medium, short, thin, large, oddly shaped, perfectly shaped, disabled in some way or in excellent health, we all need to be fully aware of what attributes we want to emphasis the most and use our disadvantages in ways that make us unique and appealing when we dance. Obviously you don't want to flaunt your weaknesses, but if you choose movements that are easier on your body for whatever limitation you have it actually makes it so much easier to enjoy dancing without the stress of enduring pain when doing movements that are hard to endure. Never be afraid to modify a move to accommodate what your body just simply can't do. You should never feel like you have to do a move the exact way it's being taught if you are limited due to injuries, disabilities or lack of flexibility. As long as you can do the move in a way that works for you, you should be just fine and people watching will enjoy your performance without knowing you had modified anything. Especially other dancers.

One thing I would really like to emphasize is your face when you perform. If you don't look like you are enjoying yourself, then no one will. I have danced with a few people who rarely smile. It's a serious face all the time and, in all honesty, it turns off the audience. You want the audience to be engaged in what you do, not watch you and wonder when you will be done because you look like you are doing a chore rather than showing how much you enjoy dancing. If you need to, start smiling when you practice. Whether you are at home or in class drilling, just smile. There are instances where smiling is not a requirement and it is all based on the mood of your dance. If it's dramatic and/or dark in nature, you don't want to be smiling, but you can still be expressive with your face. Below are examples of dancers who have the proper faces for the style/mood that they are dancing.

As you can see, not all of these dancers are showing a bright smile like the dancer in the first picture. But variations of smiles, smirks or even an intense look is bringing some sort of expression to your face that will help add to the mood your dancing. Here is an article from Ruri-Amari Dance: The Blog that discusses facial expressions that will help you improve your face from showing no emotion/pursed lips to a very emotional/expressive face:

Belly Dance – Head Orientation and Facial Expression Control
Posted on November 20, 2010 by AnnaBeth

We are dancers. We can control our hips, torsos, and arms like nobody else… but what about our most expressive body part? The body part which portrays our mood and intent in every day situations? I’m talking about your face! You can do the most joyous, bouncy dance in the world, but if your face is upset, angry, or sad… your audience will hone in on that feeling. Try it out: Get a friend. Perform for her a serious dance with a serious face. Then do the same exact dance with a goofy face, or a sarcastic smirk, or a huge smile. Ask her how each dance made her feel. Which did she like better?

How important is your face? You can do the most spectacular dance ever, but if your face shows boredom or lack of intent, your audience will pick up on it and get bored. Conversely, you can use your face to work in your favor. If balancing a sword, basket, or candle on your head is no big deal (you could do it in your sleep with one hand behind your back), you can express such concentration with your face that your audience will be on the edge of their seats! Some things to remember:

- Your facial expression shows the intent of your dance more than any other body part (sad, thoughtful, joyous, contemplative, dark, lighthearted).

- Your face can show the audience where to look. Raise one arm and do a hip shimmy. If you are looking at your arm, so is your audience. If you are looking at your hip, so is your audience.

- Your face will betray you… not your moves! If you ‘mess up’, chances are nobody will know unless you make that “oh crap!” face.

People subconsciously know the difference between a fake smile and a real one. “When a person genuinely smiles, the orbicularis oculi and the pars orbitalis contract in addition to zygomaticus major, causing the cheeks to raise and the skin around the eyes to crease.”( A large smile with eyes which are fearful or confused will make your audience uneasy.

So what can we do? What we always do… Practice! First of all, you will need a friend. Trust me. You can’t watch your face accurately while dancing. If you have no friends (wah!), you can use a video camera.

Exercise 1: Facial Twitches
If you have a dance partner, or someone who has seen you dance a lot, you can just ask them “What strange things do I do with my face while dancing?” If you don’t, then dance some dances for them and then ask. You may be surprised at what they say. Maybe you bite your lip or purse your lips, maybe you make really obvious fake smiles, maybe you blink a lot, or maybe you whisper to yourself (it does happen!). Your first reaction will be “I don’t do that!” Believe me, you do. Whatever they say, they wouldn’t lie to you. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle! =)

Exercise 2: Gaining Control of your Face
This exercise sounds easy, but it isn’t! Do a dance (choreographed or improvised) and don’t use your head or face. Look straight forward the entire time and don’t make any facial expressions. A friend comes in really handy here. They can tell you when you look to the side or make a face. You can’t trust yourself to catch it… you really need someone to tell you when you get off track.

Exercise 3: Intent
Before you do a dance, decide on your intent. What are you trying to say with this dance? If your inner goal is to ‘just make it through this dance’, then that is what will show on your face. Practice! While you practice your dances, pay attention to what you are saying with your face. Where are you looking? Is that where you want to be looking? Where should your audience look? Is your head orientation reflecting that? What should your audience be feeling? Are your facial expressions showing that? Remember, what you do in practice will come out in a performance.

Exercise 3: Choreograph a Look
In your next choreographed piece, add a head orientation to your dance. This can be especially powerful in group dances. There is something that produces chills when everyone, as a unit, moves their head in a precise look.

Like every other body part and every muscle, we need to condition our heads and faces. Don’t overlook this important aspect of your dance!

Always practice what face you are wanting to express based on what mood you are expressing. You may be surprised to find that you are more appealing to watch when you execute a look that captivates your audience. Remember, human beings base our emotions on what we see. If someone is showing an emotion, we are able to identify with that expression and know how they are feeling. As an example, I will display a picture of myself performing where it is obvious to tell I am not sure of what I am performing. Keep in mind that because I didn't know this choreography, I was basing all my moves on the queues being given by those in front of me and that this does show on my face:

This is proof that even though you may not know the choreography, you got to learn how to watch for queues without giving it away on your face.

So here is an assignment for you. Go look in the mirror and start practicing your faces for when you perform. Practice these faces while you practice your dance at home or in class. If it helps, play the music you are dancing to while looking in the mirror as you work on your facial work. The music will help you feel the emotion you want to show. You may be surprised when you look at the next set of pictures or videos taken of you at your next performance!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Feel the Burn!

Another workout in class! Whew! I'm definitely feeling it in my back tonight. We worked on twist moves, shoulder locks and shimmies, Egyptian step combos, another hip lift move, and a few pivot turns with layered arm/hand movements. I got a good lesson in balance when it came to some of the turns. These were moves that I had never done before, so having a chance to play with them and figure out where arm placement helps execute the turn was fun to experience....despite getting off balance a few times. I'm sad though that next week's class has been cancelled due to the 4th of July landing on a Wednesday. This means that I will need to do 2 classes back to back at some point in time in the next couple of weeks to make-up for the 4th of July class being cancelled. Shouldn't be too bad though as one of the classes offered before mine is more on the fundamental basics for Level 1 and 2a students.

I've been looking around online for a few lessons I could look at to help with some of my moves and found some by Seba on YouTube. Seba is one of the tribal dancers who is part of WildCard Bellydance. Here are a few of her videos:

Wild Lotus - Level 2 Move

Basic Egyptian Part 1 - Level 1 Move

Basic Egyptian Part 2 - Level 1 Move With Addition of Zills

There are a few more by Seba on YouTube. Although there are not many, these are still helpful in breaking down the most used movements in tribal dancing.

One thing that you may have noticed is that I have changed the layout a little. I felt I needed to do something a little different. Give my page a little more of a fresher look. One item I have added that may be useful to readers is the list of links to the left side. These are links to vendors where you can find a lot of items for dancing. From accessories, to props, to instructional videos, to costumes, to practice wear, and all other fun items to help you along as you dance.

Another item I have added is an Upcoming Events calender that is posted at the top. For now there is just a blank bar going across the page, but in the future this area will show upcoming performances to come check out if you are perhaps in the area.

Over time I will continue adding things here and there that may benefit anyone who may deem these links useful for their needs, especially to the vendors list.

My new goal for this week will be to attend a drumming circle taking place this Sunday. As this is an informal event of people getting together and just playing drums, this is something that I know will become a valuable learning experience. It is unknown if I can make it for sure as I have other plans taking place in the earlier part of the day, but I know something like this is a good experience. As of right now, it seems like there will be quite a number of people in attendance.

To wrap up this post, I would just like to say one thing. Never be afraid to take a risk when you know that the outcome will benefit you in the long run. Whether that outcome results in a stronger dancer, a better attitude, better connections with other dancers in the community or being a better person overall, it's always something that will impact your life for the better that would never be regretted. You will be a healthier person at the end.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Motivation and Inspiration

So this week's class was amazing and definitely had me hurting the next day. This is a good thing mind you! The classes I'm taking at California Art Academy are tribal bellydance classes and this 2 month session focuses on strictly techniques. So the instructor has setup each class as a workshop. In the first class to kick things off, we worked on hip lifts, chest lifts and arm raises. I will admit, I struggled with some of the moves because this is different form of bellydance than what I had been learning. When we had begun layering the arm raises with the hip lifts in a ghawazee dance, I kept throwing myself off. Needless to was frustrating on my end lol. I got the general move down, but I needed more hip action going, which you would think wouldn't be difficult for a full figured woman with some extra curvature. Wrong! So I have a few things to work on from this class so I may better understand the movements. One in particular that I had problems with was a hip lift done on the leg you have your weight on. I couldn't understand why I wasn't getting it...until I realized I wasn't over my knee far enough to have the room to move >_< But once I was shown by the instructor, it became easier to do. I wasn't nailing it, but I was closer in doing the move correctly. I also had a nice surprise when I attended the class. I was excited to see that the "Project Bellydance: Next Top Bellydancer" winner from last year was taking classes as well. That's right! Andalee was learning a new style to add to her amazing repertoire of dance. Talk about being nervous learning next to her lol. For those who may not have seen the first season debut last year, you can see some of the episodes here: Next Top Bellydancer

I have also begun boosting my motivation for learning this new style by watching some tutorials and performances on tribal bellydance on YouTube. I have found watching some of the troupes really get me going in wanting to learn. Watching WildCard Bellydance, Black Diamond Bellydance (student troupe for WildCard Bellydance), Fat Chance Bellydance, and others inspires me as some of these groups do feature members of the same body type that I have. Nothing says inspiration like seeing someone who is very similar in body size do what you do and see how graceful they are. I've included few video links below of some of these girls putting on a wonderful show.

Fat Chance Bellydance

WildCard Bellydance

I have also been watching a video that was a gift from my father about 3 months ago called Shimmy Shimmy Drop Drop. It goes over a lot of tribal movements and very valuable as a learning tool. The instructor on the DVD does an excellent job of breaking down each movement covered and then slowly speeding the movement up so you, as the student, can see how that move evolves into a fluid action. You even see the instructor's troupe demonstrate each section of the DVD in a short performance, stringing all the moves you have learned in one section together in a seamless demonstration. I highly recommend this video if you are wanting to learn a few moves for your dance.

Last item I wish to promote, before bringing a close to this entry, is to ask you to go check out the Cheeky Girls Productions website. It has a large selection of instructional DVDs of all styles of bellydance, including DVDs covering stage presence, solos, props, choreography, body motion, and combinations. This site also has clothing and dance accessories available for purchase as well. So check them out and see what treasures you may find! Click here!

As a final note, I will begin setting challenges for myself. Each time I complete a challenge, I set a new one. I figure that if I treat this as a game of some sort, it will help me focus a little better in learning something new and keep it fun! My first challenge I will be putting in place will be the weight changing hip lifts I just went over this week. Once I get these a little smoother, I will add some of the chest lift movements so I may begin to strengthen my that is pretty weak right now. Maybe this would be something that may help you in your dancing. Pick a move each week or every other week and work on building that move up to be as fluid as you can make it in that time period. Never be afraid to ask other dancers how they would break down the move you are working on or looking online for a tutorial. Each person has a different way of learning a move from using comparisons to better understand the flow of the movement to emphasizing where your body/muscle should be at different stages of the move.

Until next time, enjoy your dancing and look to what inspires you to move what you were born with!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's MY Life, MY Decision, MY Journey

I am very disheartened by the act of some members from the previous group I was with. Someone had found this blog and decided to print my last entry and present it to my former instructor, who in turn presented a portion of it to the rest of the group in order to make me seem like the bad guy for leaving. First of all, this is very unprofessional and childish on both my former instructor’s part and the student who found this blog. Yes this is public, but this is my journey and recordings of what I am going through. A lot of what is posted here are topics that were brought up by other members who have felt the same or have confirmed things going on in a verbal environment instead of writing it like I am. None of what I have posted here is new to anyone because they had shared the same issues at some point. Some of the issues that had been discussed had been brought to the instructor’s attention and nothing had been done and we had to learn to deal with what was happening. I can’t help feeling the way I do on things, but it was not my intention to stop being friends with those who I learned from and danced with. So what has happened is that instead of approaching me and discussing what I had wrote to better understand where I was coming from, I was banned from ever returning to my former group if I decided I wanted to come back.

There is a reason why there are so many underlying problems in this group and the main issue is that these problems are not properly being addressed. So since people have decided to take the childish route in handling this in an adult manner, I will be completely honest here. No, I will not be dropping names, but I’m going to share what is going on so that people may learn that this is not how a group should function or act so that people who may come across this understands that these problems should not exist. When you have a group that has underlying problems, you need to address them directly and not sit there and hope they go away. These problems, if left unattended, will corrode the group. That is exactly what has happened in my former group. I was approached by two members to help out with an event because no one else who had been asked in the group wanted to do it. The three of us came up with the idea, JenCee, to continue doing performances that other members were not interested in doing as Ananka. We had opened up to the other members to invite them to join us. No one took the opportunity and soon after we closed the invitation foul rumors started up. I don’t know the reason why, nor do I understand why this was done. We had one person decide the next year that they wanted in and we allowed them to join, but they didn’t speak up on any ideas they had, nor did they contribute. They had expected us to have every thing already lined up to be practiced on which is not always the case. Each year JenCee tries to work on something new and therefore we start from scratch with throwing ideas around concerning choreography, music, and a possible story to be portrayed. So the person left and decided to tell people incorrect information as to what was happening and how they were treated. This has since caused problems with misunderstandings from the instructor and other students as to what we were doing despite the fact that we were being upfront and honest about our actions with the instructor and anyone who asked what was going on. Nothing was withheld when we were asked about our activities and the handling of situations.

There were also people who were complaining that some students were throwing them off because they may have been having a hard time with choreography. Instead of addressing the issue head on and even trying to work with that person, there was talk going on behind others backs about who upset so-n-so because such-n-such keeps happening. I stepped in and told them they needed to talk to the person or bring it up to the instructor so that the instructor may work with them. I was getting to the point of telling the person myself who was having problems so they were aware of the issue, but I said nothing to the person it involved because it did not affect me and it was not my responsibility to say anything as it was not my issue, but someone else's. This was not done and this issue continued until feelings got hurt. The only people to blame for this outcome are those who were complaining who did not take the time to step up as an adult and take care of the issue. Allowing it to fester causes problems and ignoring it will not make it go away.

You need to communicate if you have an issue. End of story. This game of talking behind one’s back and not being honest with each other is what kills a group. You can’t work with someone if you are not addressing issues and finding solutions to make it better. For me, it kept surrounding around my involvement at opportunities to do something extra that people kept turning down when they had the invitation to join or take the next step forward in the larger group. People refused to come talk to me personally and made the decision to talk to others with their complaints and misunderstandings who were not fully informed of what may have been going on. I withdrew from people because I was tired of what I was hearing. The less I shared or told people, I felt the better I was going to be with keeping the drama out of my life. Issues still happened, but without my involvement. I made the decision to pull back because people were not willing to fix whatever problems they had and they let it bleed into the group.

I made the decision recently to start taking classes at the California Arts Academy because I felt that my time with my previous group was over because I couldn’t handle the negativity anymore, but I was not fully ending that relationship with people in case this new path was not where I was suppose to be. I had brought up some comparisons in my last entry that I noticed were not acceptable to me for how classes were run, but that was my personal opinion like those that had been shared by other members in the group outside of class. Now I have an issue where someone made the decision to print out my blog entry and share it with the instructor instead of coming to me directly to get clarification or more information regarding why I had wrote what I did, which caused me to be banned from returning because not all the information was presented. Mostly this was due to the fact that I don’t need to share every detail on this blog and there were key points I was trying to point out that were more important than back story.

My main reason for leaving had nothing to do with the instructor, despite some of the measures I disagreed with I had continued learning from her for 3 years without much complaint. My true reason for leaving was based on the behavior of specific students. The failure in being honest with each other and undermining everyone, including the instructor, was unacceptable. Not all the students did this, but those that did were making an experience that was suppose to be positive become very negative. I did not like the negativity I was feeling especially while I am having a hard time in my life outside of dance with the death of someone very dear to me and fulfilling discussions I had with them to make me a better person and have a better outlook on things. I may have been too honest in my last post about what I didn’t like going on, but when you fail to take responsibility for your actions you let the group you are involved with fail. I do not wish any ill will on my former instructor nor the students who are causing problems, but I do hope that the one who is the cause of this upheaval gets a very hard lesson in understanding that there are just some things you don’t butt into because it is not your life, not your issue, not your decision and not your place to take matters into your own hands that do not concern you, especially when you may be the person who is being the hypocrite. I try to be honest with people and I admit to slip ups. But I take responsibility for my mistakes and grow from them. So in this latest blow of losing my first place where I had my love for bellydance be nurtured, I now will focus on the next step of who I am to become and to further my love for bellydancing without the negativity that had been festering.

To the person who now watches this and wishes to continue sharing what I post here for their own purposes of destruction, please do. It shows that you are the weakest link in the group and you refuse to see that your toxic ways are what hinder you from becoming a beautiful dancer with a great outlook on life. You may have forced a door closed on me, but I share my experiences publicly for those who are interested to see me grow or to somehow make a connection with me in terms of similar experiences or just wanting to catch little tidbits here and there that may interest someone in a way that they can use my ideas/knowledge for their own use to impact their life in a positive way. I am sorry that some people have taken one entry and didn’t take into account that these things have been shared by others for a long time or the suggestions given to people were ignored. I am sorry that people made the decision to believe whatever they were being told without getting to the bottom of things first in order to educate themselves before giving an incomplete story. But I am not sorry for speaking my mind and being true to myself. I am not here to please others or bend to their will through any manipulating they have planned. If I feel something is wrong then I do something about it. Maybe the people who are causing problems should try to do the same and be concerned about themselves only instead of making a wonderful experience for others be turned into something horrible and toxic. Stick to your own business and don't worry about others.

If you want to be a better dancer, than be a better dancer. That means encouragement and mentoring others. If you feel you would do better in another class, then try it. If there are workshops that you want to try because you feel that it will give you a better understanding of movement or music, then try it. If you have a better way about achieving a move that would benefit someone else too, share it. Leave the drama outside. There is no room for it in bellydancing. If you are jealous of someone, find out why you are jealous and insecure, don’t place the blame where it doesn’t belong because odds are it’s something you are unhappy with concerning you and only you. Become the beautiful person inside yourself instead of letting others dictate to you who you should be, how you should look and tell you that you are doing something wrong without giving legitimate reasons as to why. You should never be limited to one way of learning when there are people out there who are offering a chance for you to excel further without guilt. You should be going out of your way to be better and not expect it to be handed to you on a silver platter. I’m changing my world for the better. Yes, this whole situation has marred something that should have been kept positive and killed the relationships I was trying to keep with some people, but I can only look forward to what is now awaiting me.

So stick around. This is only one little smudge that doesn’t affect the bigger picture. I will keep growing while those who seek to destroy others will only falter and be left behind in a very small lonely world that they are creating for themselves.

“Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”
~Don Miguel Ruiz

“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
~Don Miguel Ruiz

Monday, May 14, 2012

New Chapter

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the last few months. I am currently in the middle of taking a break from belly dancing to figure some things out. It’s been rough having to readjust to life since a special person in my life is no longer around to sharing things with anymore. Death can be cruel. But once I was presented with an opportunity to take a break from dance 2 months ago, step back, and look at my life, I’ve realized there were a lot of things that I needed to do in order to completely transition what I had started last year.

Last summer I had been mulling over the possibility of leaving the current group I was with along with the instructor I had been learning from for 3 years. I was finding that I was having a hard time meshing with some of the personalities in the group as time went on and the instructor was overlooking things too as time progressed. I was even the target of anger and jealousy a few times as well due to misunderstandings or failures to talk things out with me to have a better understanding of where their unhappiness was coming from. I’ve mainly kept to myself in this group because I was the newbie who jumped lengths to catch up to those in the class who had been dancing 3-5 years longer than myself. There was jealousy that I had been brought up so soon and was learning faster than those in my class. It was very awkward. As time went on, some of that negative energy from the situation dissipated, but was renewed again as people became frustrated with their own shortcomings and rumors began to spread within the group. I found myself being forgotten about for practices outside of class and felt the isolation take place. I later found the source, but once the source was removed, the hint of unhappiness was still lingering under what was suppose to be full acceptance of who I was in the group. It became unfixable drama.

So during these 2 months I had to step back and really think on what I wanted for myself out of belly dancing. I mean, I had started learning for myself and only for me. I’ve always been a musical person and dancing took the place of playing music when what I wanted was not longer available to me. I had to stop and think why I was becoming unhappy with where I was, why I beginning to feel irritated about my involvement with things, and why I was hesitant about taking the front stage when it was open for the taking. The discord in the group was the answer and more specifically how it felt like I was the excuse people were using for the negative energy. People were unwilling to realize that they had weaknesses they were not willing or ready to fix, where I was taking the bull by the horns and just dealing with it to the best of my ability (with lack of instruction or encouragement by my instructor). This negative energy multiplied when I was placed at the front of the stage because of the resentment others had for their own short comings and lack to take the initiative. They push me to the front while in the back they fume under the surface of the water. They pushed me to the front because they didn’t want to be there, but complained because they were not given the opportunity. Originally I thought taking a 2 month break from classes would possibly help ease things, allow the other girls to do without me and let them find their footing. I was wrong. After being gone a month and rejoining the group for a performance at Fresno State University for their annual Vintage Days event, that under current of negative energy was still there. Many of the girls kept their distance from me like I carried the plague. Honestly, it was no surprise to me, but I had half hoped that the negativity would be lessened. So I performed and did fairly well for not being in class to practice everything with everyone for a month. I had to use my own personal time to be sure I still remembered what we were to perform for the event. I also found out that the group began learning a new choreography, but they are still not focusing on technique (which is really needed right now). From my understanding, they did 2 classes of technique before being thrown into a new dance.

A week later I attended the Visalia Renaissance Faire under my own gypsy guild I had created for not only dancing and drumming, but for those people involved with renaissance faires who wanted to play thieves, storytellers, palm readers and other roles for the Romani culture for the 1500s time period. Only the members of JenCee attended and the husband of one of those members. We had the surprise of seeing Tanjora participating in this faire under the name Banat Tanjora. Since my guild was listed as wandering, we had the opportunity to join Tanjora in their encampment at the end of the first day of faire to drum with them. After the faire was over for the day, my guild members left for the night and, as I was camping at the grounds, I had the opportunity to speak with the instructor for Tanjora along with the other members who were there. It was nice speaking with them and sharing stories, experiences, jokes, etc. Later that night, I was lying in my tent thinking about how well I had connected to the members of Tanjora and thought it wouldn’t hurt to drop-in on a few classes that were being offered by the instructor through California Arts Academy.

That Monday I went to the beginners class (Level 1) to see if I may want to start there if I were to join. The class was simple and more of a refresher for me, but it had been a long time since I had gotten that much of a workout in class. It was even refreshing to have time to stretch before and after we began going over movements. There is the surprise for people who didn’t know. My other instructor doesn’t take time to stretch before and after the intermediate class. She reserves that for the beginners and then hops right into things for the intermediate/advance classes. This is a big no-no for any dance class to skip any type of warm-up and cool-down periods. You increase your risk of injury without warming up to it and cooling down to avoid cramps/stiffness. After feeling good about my experience, I returned the following week to try one of the intermediate classes (Level 2B as Level 2A was cancelled due to not enough students). Again, it was another class where I was getting quite a workout that also had built in time for stretching before and after getting into the dance.

Now here I am, 2 weeks after attending those classes and facing the biggest decision I have had to make regarding dance. And you know what sucks about the Leo tendencies? You tend to be loyal to those who you respect and value. But there are times where you have to break that loyalty when you realize something is not working. I have had to come to that difficult decision. I have appreciated the 3 years of experience I had received from Ananka Dance Company. It was a great place to start and build my enthusiasm for learning more belly dancing, but as I hit a plateau and ran into issues that were hindering me from progressing further, I have realized that I can’t remain where I don’t feel right. I don’t like being used as a reason for people to be upset with themselves. I don’t like the fact that I was not being encouraged to further myself. I don’t like that I was limited to a small number of performances throughout each year with no opportunity for more. This was why JenCee was created so we could do those performances Ananka was not interested in doing (we’ve had to place that ambition on hold though due to a one of our members expecting a little dancer/drummer).

So after a lot of thinking I have decided to close a chapter with Ananka and begin a new chapter with Tanjora. I don’t know how soon I will be performing, but since I am just starting a new experience, I’m not looking to be on stage until next year at the earliest. I am quite fine with this as long as I am getting the learning experience that I deserve. I feel I will be happier here, especially since I have had the chance to interact with a portion of the members before I made any decision or commitment.

To close this entry, I would like to share pictures with you of JenCee and Tanjora from the Visalia Renaissance Faire April 28th-29th 2012: