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!