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