Friday, November 2, 2012

Crazy Pie

I decided to enjoy a slice of crazy pie called "NaNoWriMo," aka National Novel Writing Month.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this type of insanity, it basically means that I have committed myself to writing a 50,000 word minimum novel in 30 days.  Mathematically that breaks down into 1,666+ words a day. 

My story is tentatively titled "My Tribe," and yes, it is about belly dance, and so much more.  Incidentally, that's why I'm posting about my novelistic endeavors here on my belly dance journey blog.  I'm thinking that writing about dance is another part of the journey.

Yesterday was the big start day and I woke up around 4:00 am with a migraine, immediately started crying and thinking to myself, "How in the hell am I suppose to take Indigo to school and dance class, clean the house, grocery shop, do my 30 minute daily dance practice and write at least 1,666 words when it feels like someone is trying to drive a red hot ice pick into my right eye?" 

Not exactly the beginning I was hoping for. 

The house cleaning didn't happen and dance practice was turned into some migraine taming yoga that at least took some of the edge off so that by the end of the day I did manage to come up with 1,433 words. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

It Ain't Much About Belly Dancing

Back in September I bought a Nook and started loading it up with all sorts of books and apps, including content of the belly dance variety.  Of the 13 books and one app currently available one is a biography called "The Life Story of Etta Jamison:  The First Instructor to Bring Belly Dancing to the Tri-Cities."
See that cover?  I think you can understand why this grabbed my attention in such a big way.

In comparison to other forms of dance there just aren't that many belly dancing books available; and a belly dancing biography?  Well, that's the rarest of the rare. 

And, it's still rare.  I was hoping this book would have some insights into the early days of the belly dance craze of the 60's and 70's, but it doesn't.  It's a short book, only 85 pages, and of those only about 4, two of which are photos, are devoted to Etta Jamison's experiences with belly dancing.

When her friend Elly asked if she knew anything about belly dancing Etta said "No," but that she was interested in learning about it.  After doing some research and hearing about a belly dancing showgirl performing in Portland, Oregon she and Elly decided to make the drive down there to see this mystery lady dance and ask if she would be interested in teaching them how to belly dance.  After some hesitation she agreed, and with a notebook and tape recorder in hand Etta and Elly began taking belly dance classes.  I could be wrong on this, but I get the idea that these lessons only lasted for a few days before Etta went back to Washington to teach classes at the Richland Community Center.

She had a few highlights to her belly dancing career;  40 students in her first class,  forming a troupe, teaching at least twice for the Professional Dance Teachers Association, and an impromptu performance in the Kasbah in Tangiers.

After reading this all too brief chapter I have so many questions:  How long did she actually study and with who before she started teaching?  Did she start teaching after only a few lessons?  There's only the briefest mention of her attending workshops in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.  Why did she start teaching classes at a community center instead of at her own studio?  Were all her classes so large and for how long did she sustain those numbers?  How were her classes at the PDTA received and did she teach more than twice?  Where did she perform and for how long?  The way the story is written it seems like it was about 10 years.  And of course, the big question:  What were those early days of belly dance like?

To be fair, this is an entertaining and well written book about a little girl who started dancing because of weak joints and spent a life time exploring and teaching many different styles of dance that included jazz, tap, ballet, Polynesian, Irish, ballroom, and more.  Life jumped up and bit Etta on the ass more than once and each time she picked herself up and didn't let some of those horrible experiences;  an abusive, cheating husband, the estrangement of her children, or the death of a son destroy her enthusiasm for life or dancing.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Brass Butterflies

Even though this is an advanced finger cymbals DVD beginning and intermediate dancers should not let that stop them from adding this to their library.  You can always concentrate on just learning the rhythms before including the dance steps.

In this DVD from IAMED, Ansuya covers 6/8, 9/8, and Masmoudi.  She gives a through break down of each pattern and allows for plenty of time to familiarize yourself with each one before adding music and a simple dance step like Figure 8's with a step ball change.  Have your brains and fingers at the ready because the one thing she doesn't do in this DVD is stop, turn to the camera and say "Now, let's speed it up,"  before increasing the tempo.

When it's time to put the playing and the dancing together she demonstrates each step completely, walking it out and talking through the rhythm, before adding zills and music.  Beginners can focus solely on playing the rhythm or follow along, while you intermediate students can trying adding a little of your own flavor to the mix.   

The drill at the end that combines all 3 rhythms is done without music and she just jumps straight into them with no walking through it.  I'm not sure of how I feel about this section.  Maybe the lack of music was meant to make this part less intimidating, but it just felt awkward to me. 

The last chapter covers different ways of playing zils in order to elicit different sounds, ie. a bell like ringing vs. a flatter clacking sound; a quick review of the Ayub and Beledi patterns that were taught in the "Finger Cymbals" DVD; a section on embellishing the three rhythms learned in this DVD with singles; and ends with a brief explanation on how to safely build up strength and stamina in the wrists and fore arms.  

At the end Ansuya, gives an electrifying and inspiring performance; beautiful brass butterflies fluttering at her finger tips. She's wearing a bedlah and skirt of fresh chartreuse with accented with sky blue turquoise and shimmering silver, and most fabulous necklace that I'm totally in love with.  The bead artist/jewelry designer in me is just itching to make something like that for myself.

My only complaint with the DVD is that the audio is somewhat fuzzy and muffled. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Let's Review and Play 19 Questions Plus 1

Dilara Sultana posted a list of Year in Review questions on her blog.  I'm really not the type to look back on the things I've done;  I'm more of a forward momentum kind of gal, but just this once I thought "Why not?"

1.  What did you do in 2011 that you've never done before?  I made a commitment, inspired by another belly dancer, Lisa Zahiya, to devote a minimum of 30 minutes a day to dance practice.

2.  Did you keep your belly dance New Year's resolution and will you have any for this year?  Yes, I did!!  You can read about it here.

3.  Did you introduce a newbie to belly dance.  No, I didn't.  Most of the people that I met in 2011 were already belly dancers.

4.  What travels did you take and did you involve belly dance in them?  Nope.  No traveling last year.  

5.  What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?  More free time and my very own yoga/dance room.  

6.  What dates from 2011 remained etched upon your memory and why?  As relates to belly dance the decision to leave my troupe has left me feeling incredibly sad.  In my personal life the day my daughter started pre-school is burned into my soul.  I felt completely lost, disorientated, and nauseous for about a week. 

7.  What was your biggest achievement of the year?  LOL!  Well, that would have to be dancing & practicing at least 30 minutes a day for 379 days.

8.  What was your biggest failure?  Allowing my view of myself to become distorted.  

9.  Did you suffer illness or injury?  And how!  I devoted most of February to hurting myself.  First, I pulled some muscles in my back not once, but twice.  The same muscles!  I followed that up with tripping over the vacuum cleaner cord and breaking a bone in my left foot.    

10.  What was the best thing you bought?  A new TV! 

11.  What did you get really excited about?  Meeting and taking workshops from Rachel Brice, Silvia Salamance, and Elizabeth Strong.

12.  What do you wish you had done more of?  Dancing with props like cane and sword.  

13.  What do you wish you had done less of?  Shimmy drills.  Just kidding!  I really do wish I had been less hard on myself in all areas of my life, not just belly dance.

14.  What seemed to get in the way of your belly dancing?  Lack of time and a really good dance space. 

15.  What was your favorite music from this year?  Adele!  I know she has nothing whatsoever to do with belly dancing, but man, oh man!  That chick is amazing!

16.  What did you do on your birthday?  Nothing.

17.  What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?  Winning the lottery and being able to afford a live-in nanny.

18.  How would you describe your belly dance style in 2011?  Same as every other year, cabaret, with a little bit of tribal exploration thrown in for added flavor.  

19.  What were the major influences on your belly dance journey in 2011?  Carrie Konyha's Goddess Grove workshop; dancing without fear, judgement, or scrutiny was sheer heaven!  

Dilara's blog ended with 19 questions because she likes prime numbers, but I like playing "20 Questions:"

What's in store for 2012?  I don't know.  As a belly dancer I would like to be able to find a new troupe to perform with;  as a bead artist I would like to see myself in a few more publications;  as for my personal life.....let's just say that there are a few new irons in the fire.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

365 Days of Belly Dance-The Recap

The 365 Days of Belly Dance challenge that I started on December 14th, 2010 has officially come to an end, but I'm unofficially carrying it out until the end of this year with gentle and restorative yoga while recovering from the longest and most tenacious cold I've ever had in my entire life.

So exactly what did this commitment mean?  It meant I devoted a minimum of 30 minutes a day to improving my belly dance skills by way of well....belly dancing.  But I also included yoga, other dance forms, and exercise into the mix. 

For the past 379 days I didn't like silly little things like colds, migraines, or eye surgery keep me from my 30 minutes a day.  Right now you may be thinking,  "Wait. What?  You belly danced on the same day as eye surgery?!"  By golly, I did!  I woke up a little earlier on surgery day and did a half hours worth of drills; and with a little bit of advanced planning I was able to do some simple yoga poses and zil practice the day after, too.

Notice how I didn't say anything about boredom?  I wasn't, not once.  In addition to my regular classes and troupe practice I used yoga, Zumba, DVD's, on-line classes, workshops, and horizon expanding classes like Tribal Fusion and Tribal Skirt to keep it interesting.  On days when I was super busy, or just didn't want to practice, I broke it down into easily digestible 10 minute segments.  And there were oh so many days when I didn't want to practice.

I had some days, usually several in a row, when I would think "I just don't want to do this.  I must have been totally insane to commit to doing this every single day for one year."  For the most part I had those days in summer when doing any sort of vigorous activity in 110+ heat seemed completely stupid and pointless.  Once the temperature started dropping back down to a more reasonable 90 degrees it was easier for me to find the necessary enthusiasm to practice. 

All in all I had major fun and I'm thinking of continuing on into 2012 with this challenge.  If I do, and seeing as how I am currently troupeless, I will focus more on yoga, fitness, and more horizon expanding classes like Isis Wings and East Indian Dance, and a one-day Lebanese Belly Dance workshop. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gluing Your Fingers To Your Hips

....or your arms, legs, and any other moveable body parts is what dancing with finger cymbals, also known as zills, is all about, and it's probably the most difficult and elusive skill for belly dancers to acquire.

My first belly dance teacher, Nancy Ireland, handed me a pair of finger cymbals and started teaching me to play and dance with them on the very first day of class!  Of course I was beyond lousy, but after a few weeks of practice I began to see steady improvement.  It's something I'll always be grateful for because teaching finger cymbal playing skills from day one is no longer the norm for belly dance classes.  Most students can study for several years before they ever learn how to play them, let alone dance with them, and I find that extremely sad.  Once people do decide to start using zills in their dance it can be extremely difficult to successfully blend the two arts together.

In my mind it would be like learning how to surf before learning how to swim.  There is a vital link missing.

I recently spent a week reviewing and enhancing my zills skills with Ansuya's "Finger Cymbals" DVD by IAMED

This is a great DVD for beginner or intermediate dancers who want to start playing finger cymbals and work on a bit of their dance technique at the same time.  Advanced dancers with limited zill skills can add some interest to the drills by adding arms paths, or layering shimmies over some of the easier steps.  

After a brief introduction to finger cymbals Ansuya moves on to the heart of the matter; playing a simple percussion instrument while dancing.  The four rhythms taught are; 4/4, Beledi, Bolero, and Chiftitelli.  Each one has it's own chapter which makes it easy to pick and choose the rhythm du jour.  

Each section starts with an introduction and a detailed break down of each zill pattern followed by a variety of easy drills using basic belly dance steps that will help build the foundation for "gluing your fingers to your hips."  

The final chapter is a simple routine using all four rhythms followed by a dynamic performance by Ansuya.  

On a personal note, I'm recovering from a sore throat that turned into walking pneumonia so my dance practice has become a healing yoga practice until next Monday then I'll spend a week with Ansuya's "Advanced Finger Cymbals" DVD. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

I had every intention of splitting my belly dancing bead blog into two separate entities at the beginning of October, but that was before my daughter got sick, followed by my husband, then me.  The Snot Monster seems to be trying his best to make my house his permanent residence.  

I had originally intended to start this blog off with a few DVD reviews but I think I'll save those for the weeks to come and start off with a question that MECDA, The Middle Eastern Culture and Dance Association originally posted on their Face Book page a few days ago.
"When you think of summer school for belly dancers, what would it be like?"

Here is my answer:

If it were local I would say one month of technique, yoga, a basic introduction to any of the following: ballet, modern, jazz, Flamenco, Bollywood, Afro-Cuban, etc. for people with little to no other dance training, zills, props, music theory, costuming, make-up and hair lessons applicable to a wide range of styles, ages, and body types, dance history, cultural etiquette, at least one or two spa days, on-site masseuse, performance opportunities on the weekends, and field trips for mingling with other dancers in the community. 

If I had to travel then I probably could only afford one week of technique, yoga, zills, props, performances, and field trips for mingling with other dancers in the community.

After thinking about it for a while I think I would also like to include floor work, fitness for dancers, dance etiquette, choreography, and stage craft.  

That's all for now.  The DVD reviews will be starting shortly.  Don't forget to check out my bead blog every now and again!