Monday, August 30, 2010

In a nutshell...

"Dancing is for everyone, performing is not."  (quoteth me)

Meaning that everyone can dance (and should), regardless of age, gender, size, ability.  When we say the dance is accessible to all, that's really what it is - dance is an amazing part of the human experience.  But taking it to a performance level, particularly in a professional capacity,  is not for everyone and we shouldn't expect it to be.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  You don't have to professionally perform dance in order to enjoy it and share it.

Dance to love to live.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Masking a Master vs. Making One

My "Elvis Impersonator" metaphor sparked much discussion on facebook, as well as off, and sparked several good questions/comments from friends and students.

One good point that was brought up is that we learn by copying.  This is very true.  We start out mimicking our teachers, often trying to get the look of the moves down, their expression, their costuming. We learn by doing what they're doing. We see great bellydancers and we wish to also capture that essence of them, to look and be like them.  This is not an uncommon desire in the least. But we'll come back to this.

It is not unusual in the visual and performing arts for students to copy the works of masters.  Several times throughout my training as a visual artist there were assignments we had to try and copy the work of a master.   Some of them involved copying the work as closely as possible, in the same medium.  Some involved making a copy and then an interpretation.  One of my favorites was for Freshman Foundation at RISD where we copied only a section of a master (mine was Van Gogh's "Cafe Terrace at Night"), but we had to do it entirely in gouache (a type of opaque watercolor paint that is designed for the masochistic), and crop the section in such a way that it was still interesting and meaningful.  What these exercises teach us is not to paint or draw exactly like the masters, but to teach us about the technique used, how color was applied and balance, how texture was created, how a focal point was achieved.  Essentially, it teaches us the skills involved in how to put together a viable work of art.  But once the skills are established, the artist is expected to use them to develop their own work, their own voice - not to use those skills to turn out more copies of another artist's work. And it's important to note, the copied "practice" artwork is NOT exhibited at a professional level.*

So what does that have to do with bellydance? Simply put, if you wish to put yourself out there as an artist and specifically a professional**, you need to have your own voice.  Yes, you are going to learn styles and moves from your teachers, but you are NOT your teacher. You do not have her (or his) experiences, life, inspirations. You are YOU. You have your own experiences and life to live, and inspirations to find. Those moves and those songs need to be told in your voice. This is the only way to really develop your own style.  And if you wish to teach workshops and get out there, it's best to do it with your own material. Likewise, if you're going to dance in big shows and put yourself out there, why not be known for your own dancing?  You're not going to find the answers all at once, but if you set your sights beyond that dancer you idolize, you'll find a much more satisfying experience. You'll find you. 

And it's not going to happen overnight either, it's an ongoing journey.  Who I was as a dancer and a person 10 years, 5 years, or even 2 years ago is not the same person and dancer writing this blog at this moment, and I expect to continue to grow and change in 2, 5, 10, 30 years.

*there are artists out there using the methods of masters or copies of masters paintings to make a name for themselves, but these works are often created with a twist on the original, or some sort of modern commentary - again, the artist is adding their own voice to the piece.

**now if someone has no plans whatsoever to become a professional dancer, but rather just want to learn dance, do it as a hobby for fun, etc - then they would be on a different path.  Not everyone needs (or should be) to be a professional dancer or an artist.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Essence of Bellydance - so I remember... (reposted from 2/10/09)

(another entry originally posted on, February 10th, 2009)

Ah, that nearly decade-old question of is GBD bellydance? Wrote this up as a response, and I think some parts are especially worth keeping around for later, so I save it here:

Before I ever took my first lessons in bellydance, I spent months studying it online and in books. Reading about the do's and don'ts, about the folkloric dances, reading interviews with Morocco, Carolena, Artemis, and more. And I distinctly remembering at some point coming across Dalia Carella and her "Dunyavi Gypsy" and thinking - wow, she has her OWN style of bellydance, how cool is that? I would love to do that!

That all went out the window once I started taking lessons, I couldn't even imagine how it would be possible, not for years and years and even then! So I never created my performances with that in mind, rather I just had ideas I wanted to express in my dancing, through my costuming, music, and presentation. I didn't consider it a specific type of bellydance - just bellydance, as that was the only dance form I had ever studied. Rather, it was after doing bellydance for a couple of years that other people remarked about how my dancing had a different feel. It seemed somewhat more "dark", more theatrical, perhaps Gothic? ( All this without the aid of fangs, fake blood, giant rosaries, and graveyards! This was even before boots and fishnets were applied!) So ironically, it was the bellydance community itself, its veteran crew, that dubbed what I was doing as "gothic bellydance", long before it became a common name.

What was so "dark" about those early performances? The costuming could be best described as tribaret, the movements were bellydance, the music was mostly bellydance. The stories in my head to remember the moves and to express something through my moves were about avenging angels, silent film stars, lost love, folkloric/ethnic myths and fairytales, metamorphosis, tongue-in-cheek wickedness, hidden beauty, and the merging of cultures. If you consider all of that "dark", then there you have it.

To me, "darkness" is about revelation, uncovering and exploring mysteries, weaving stories that are often hidden, enchantment, and particles of memory. It's about the ability to express your soul fully, even if that leaves you exposed. I believe that bellydance, in it's myriad forms, celebrates life, and that a celebration of life takes hold of all of its aspects - that includes joy, passion, love, pain, and sadness. Love can be light and it can be dark. You really can't have one without the other. So perhaps Goth can be defined as the obsession to find balance between the light and the dark, and appreciate the differences between them. There is beauty to be found in all things, if you know how to look for it. And frankly, I'm a hopeless optimist in most things.

No, I'm not a "stereotypical" Goth, but frankly, none of the people I know who have identified themselves as Goth for years fit the stereotype either. The folks who focus only on the fashion don't have a clue. Same goes for the folks who think if they latch on to a cliche (heh, wanna start a thread on the cliches of GBD?), that means they're doing it right. There's doing something because it would be terribly cliche and a lot of fun and silliness, and then there's doing a cliche seriously because you don't understand what's behind it. There's a wealth of art, literature, and music produced by this subculture, which within itself is quite diverse, full of different minds. That's why I love it.

Now that years have gone by, I think I have been able to develop my own style, because I let go of the idea of trying to do it. I just focused on expressing what inspires me. And I'm excited to go back and re-do some of those early pieces, because I've also realized I traveled far as a dancer (and continue so). One of the greatest frustrations of being an artist is having an idea and not being fully capable of expressing that idea - whether it's because of your skill level, money or depth of exploration. But that doesn't mean you cease to try, or that those early attempts were wrong. Rather, it's the process of trying again and again, building better technique, stronger awareness, getting all of those skills together...and while I feel I'm much better now than I was 6 years or even 6 months ago, I'll still continue to strive to improve. I continue to study the older forms of this dance and find inspiration. I feel what I do is bellydance, and I believe the essence of what is bellydance is still there, depending on the project. Whether others consider a piece bellydance or not, I suppose that all depends on their own journey to it.

Under the Eyeliner (originally posted 1/20/09)

 (originally posted on January 20th 2009, in my blog)

Some dancers want to create a romantic aura about themselves, veiled in mystery and illusions of grandeur. Only ever to be seen in full make-up, dressed to the nines to their adoring fans. Everything is a performance, and rarely do you see what’s underneath the mask. I’ve seen people create the most amazing opinions of people without ever knowing what’s actually going on.

Me? I want you to know that I am a dork. And a geek. And a class-A klutz. I just like to think I clean up well. And I’m totally cool with people knowing that. Because that’s who I am, miss-wiring and all, why try to hide it? Of course, not everything is on the surface for all to see, and I often forget that not everyone lives in my head.

Some people think I have some sort of complex, trying to create rules for Gothic Bellydance. (Technically, they’re more like guidelines). Other people don’t think I stand up enough for what I’ve done. (I’m really a bit shy.)

Essentially, the reason for my writings comes down to this: I’m a Gemini. I’m ruled by Mercury, planet/god of communication, with my moon in Virgo (lists! details!) and Sagittarius rising (enthusiasm!). Which essentially means: I’m obsessed with learning, sharing, and exchanging knowledge and information. Bonus points if it comes with shiny bits. I don’t do it to be a know-it-all, to claim to be an authority of everything, or to make it seem I think I’m perfect. Far from it. I do it because I’ve done stupid things. A lot of them. And I’d like to think I know better now, but I’m pretty sure there are more stupid things to come. I’m actually at peace with that. It truly is inevitable. But I want to do what I can to help out my students and anyone else who wants to read/listen. To share my experiences, and help forge a better path with less pitfalls, better habits, and hopefully make things easier for other dancers, while bettering our art in the long run.

I think in discussing etiquette for Gothic Bellydancers, there’s something everyone can take away. Professionals, hobbyists, students, artists, everyone. Meaning, whether you do this with the intention of presenting yourself as a professional, or whether you’re just jamming in class or your bedroom – there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have the best experience possible. Some people will be oblivious, regardless of their intent, but I have to believe that whether someone considers themselves a pro or a hobbyist, they want to contribute to the art in the best way they can – not only for the art, but for themselves.

The secret to being a good dancer is not an illusive mystery, wrapped up and hidden. It’s about being direct, forward, and honest with yourself and others. It’s about being truthful to ourselves, mindful of our mistakes, and still willing to challenge ourselves and make changes as needed. Dance isn’t just about movement and music, it takes thought, it takes the whole body and mind to create art. Don’t be afraid to make a mess, but also don’t be afraid to lay down a tarp and have some paper towels handy before you start.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Roots & Shoots: The Almighty Tree of Style

I see a lot of people - students as well as pro's, struggling with their identity and classification as dancers regarding style. They feel that they must choose one specific path, that they can only be this or that. And if they're this now, then they must revoke all associations with that. Almost like becoming a new religion - finding Jesus, Buddha, or Bob, and all other paths are wrong.

But I'm here to say, it doesn't have to be that way.  Today I bring you the good news from the Gospel of the Almighty Tree of Style!

What is the Almighty Tree of Style? Well, it's the concept (theory, belief, idea) that a tree starts as a seed.  And when that seed lands in a spot that's right for it, it puts down roots, and sends up shoots - because it needs both to live.  The roots provide stability, strength, they collect sustenance from the earth, and support the shoots above.  The shoots expand to help collect water, sunlight, and create power for the tree.  They create fertile spots where the essence of this tree can merge with the essence of another tree, and create seeds for more trees.  And both the roots and the shoots grow in tandem, in balance with each other, sometimes paralleling growth patterns, sometimes counter-balancing them.  If one exceeds the other, the tree is in jeopardy of failing - too many shoots vs. roots and it will fall and too many roots vs. shoots, it can't grow and thrive and produce.

So what does it mean and especially what the heck does it have to do with bellydance?  Bellydance has roots - the traditions that originated "over there" - folkloric traditions, performance traditions - Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Persia, Morocco, etc.  And both "over there" and elsewhere around the world, it has sent up shoots: American Cabaret/Vintage Oriental, Modern Egyptian, American Tribal Style, and other "Fusion" styles, as well as shoots working in earnest to pattern the roots.  The roots are the traditions, the shoots are the innovations, growing from the traditions and creating new life, yet also bringing energy back to the traditions.  And in some cases a shoot merges with the fruit of another tree, and they make a new seed that may grow into a new tree, but the fact is, it still comes from the original trees.   They all exist in the same forest, and tradition and innovation need each other to thrive.

You still following me?

 Now, let's consider YOU as a tree.  Your roots are where you come from, your shoots are where you are going.  You can pay homage to your roots at any time, and you can expand your shoots in new directions if you wish.  Your experiences will sculpt how you grow and change over time, which is what really identifies you as a dancer - as a whole.

So if you dearly love a traditional style and you love a fusion style, there's no reason why you can't perform both. You want to do Classic Egyptian and you want to do Gothic too? Go for it!  Tunisian this week, and Tribal Fusion next week? Sure! Just as long as you take the time to honor both (or several) directions (i.e, study them, practice them, and understand them - aka watering, feeding, and processing in our tree metaphor), then you can do it! And to be perfectly clear, I'm not saying you have to go and fuse them, I'm saying there's no reason why, if you have done your work, why you can't perform several styles individually. What's that? People expect you to only do X or Y? Why are you wasting time worrying about other people's expectations of what you should or shouldn't be.  This is YOUR dance journey! You're allowed to grow and change, and you're allowed to be out of the box if you want to, and being as close to tradition as you can possibly get.  (Just as long as you don't belt out something unexpected like if you were HIRED to perform X, and then you bring out Y instead - that's a whole other issue...)

Just take the time to grow properly and nurture yourself, keeping balance with your roots and shoots. Enjoy the journey.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Spring Caravan 2010: Metropolis & Live Music

Had tried to upload this shortly after the event, but it was just a little over the youtube time limit, and I never got around to editing it into two pieces, but now they changed their limits!

It's such a pleasure to dance to live music, and I especially enjoyed doing live improv with Nathaniel again.  Nathaniel is an extremely talented musician and a really great guy, and if you're familiar with Abney Park, you've heard him!  The first time we performed together was at Gothla US, and that was a very magical evening as well:

Both videos were shot by Rob of Candlelight Productions - you can also find the first part of that performance under my meddevi account.  Music for the "Metropolis" piece is by Kozai Resonance, mixed a bit by my husband Keith.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Elvis Has Left The Building. So Get Your Own Dance.

Today's thought: "Being a clone dancer is like being an Elvis impersonator. Yeap, they're popular by association/familiarity, but they're not going to be known for performing their own work."



Sunday, August 8, 2010

"What is Community?"

(This article originally appeared in the September/October 2009 issue of Belly Dance New England.)

I talk a lot about the “bellydance community” to my students, in workshops, online, etc, and depending on the situation, the community may refer to the global one, a regional one, or a stylistically based one. But what does it mean to be a part of a bellydance community? What is its purpose?

I have also said on several occasions that I don’t believe in a “sisterhood of the dance.” Actually, I still don’t, but that doesn’t mean at one time I did. And I firmly believe that the “bellydance community” and (the fabled) “sisterhood of the dance” are two very different entities, and I think it is very important that we all understand this difference.

What do I mean? Read on…

Part I: The Myth of the Sisterhood

I came to this dance (and through most of my life) as a tomboy. I grew up with two older brothers and no sisters. For most of my life, I was hanging out with the guys more than the girls, partly out of familiarity, also most of my female friends threw me for a loop (and under the bus, in the closet, and down the stairs) – I couldn’t understand why they were so mean, cruel, and backstabbing. I idolized my brothers’ girlfriends – they were so pretty, so smart and sophisticated, so above all the nonsense I experienced with girls my own age. Truly, I thought, there must be some magical change that happens, some possible sisterhood in my future. (naïve much?)

So in coming to bellydance, hearing these undertones about the sisterhood of the dance, female fellowship, the beauty of “tribal”, etc – YES! Here it is! Here we are, we can celebrate the beauty of our diverse female bodies – all size, all ages, and enjoy the dance together! Finally! I can have sisters! We all love the dance, we love and support each other, we share the joy! Um…wait, why are they so mean, cruel, and backstabbing? “Clearly, you have never had sisters…” was the reply. The truth is, people are human no matter what, and sometimes age doesn’t improve on the lesser traits. And the only way a “sisterhood” is going to exist is in a family-like structure, and with that comes all of the good, and all of the bad. Luckily, you can choose your troupe-mates more than you choose your family, but that doesn’t stop it from being dysfunctional and chaotic at times, as well as fabulous and supportive. So, the “sisterhood” exists more in a microcosm, a contained group working together, and takes a great deal amount of personal work and energy. But putting together 2 or more of these units does not mean that a grander sisterhood will instantly happen. Just like in real tribal communities (meaning non-dance, anthropologically), one tribe does not automatically trust another tribe. Regardless of style or background.

Part II: Community: Making It Work

Now just because the “sisterhood” is an illusive entity does not mean that community has to be as well. Community is about looking past the individual for the greater good and needs of the many who are a part of it. Community does NOT mean we all have to be the “bestest” of friends, but rather, it’s about working together even if we’re not. So let’s look at what purposes a bellydance community serves, how it works, and how we can all build it.

What is the purpose of the bellydance community, what is it all about? I believe there are 5 key elements:
1. Networking & Fellowship (to share the dance!)
2. Education of students, other dancers, and the general public (classes, workshops, events)
3. Support structure for professionalism (upholding wages & standards/fighting undercutting, creating excellent guidelines for students to follow)
4. Providing performance opportunities (haflas, shows, events)
5. Marketplace (to sell/swap goods and services)

Things that a bellydance community should NOT be about:
  1. Bolstering egos
  2. Exclusion & cloistering
  3. Supporting unsavory practices/unprofessional behavior
  4. Cutthroat competition & playing mind games
  5. Spreading misinformation for any purpose

So what does this mean?

As a Teacher:
As teachers, we need to realize that we must be positive examples for our students and are responsible for their exposure to the bellydance community outside of our classrooms, and how they behave once they’re out there. It is our job to not only guide their class experience, but help them interact positively with other dancers and teachers, and bring them to the larger community as informed students. We all have our opinions of what we like and dislike in the dance, but it’s important to be tactful and respectful in expressing those opinions. You can’t make yourself look better by being rude about other area dancers and calling them names – rather, this drags you down as well, is a negative experience for the students, and can definitely come back to bite you in the bedlah. As the saying goes, you get more flies with honey than vinegar, and it’s far better to teach by positive example then a tear-down. It also our responsibility to be as educated as we can about what we teach and discuss so that we can share this knowledge with our students which brings us to the next category…

As a Student:
Aren’t we all students? (we should be!) As students, we must be respectful of not only our teachers, but others as well. It is up to the individual student to listen, to practice, and to learn as much about the dance as possible – and never stop doing this, no matter how many years you’ve been dancing – there is ALWAYS something new to learn, and there are always basics to review. Even if we can’t do regular classes, taking workshops whenever possible will always present you with new ways to explore the dance. Don’t be afraid to attend cultural events, haflas and shows, even if you’re not scheduled to perform. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Is there a style you don’t understand? Ask your teacher about it, read up on it, take a class on it. It is far better to be educated than ignorant. You can always learn something from each experience, even if it’s not your “thing.”

As a Performer:
If you’re a professional performer, then maintain industry standards. Stick to the going rates, and work to improve them whenever possible. Don’t undercut for “exposure”, “experience” or any reason! Yes, we all love the dance, but dancing for free/less in venues where a rate has been established doesn’t benefit the dance. There are plenty of opportunities to share your love of the dance – benefits, haflas, etc – without damaging what others have worked hard for and making their living from. Take care of your costuming, dress appropriately for your gigs, have a cover-up, and keep your behavior professional when you are in costume! You never know who is watching, and yes, your naughty behavior can reflect badly on other dancers! Also, respect your fellow performers and event coordinators at events by arriving promptly and prepared, have your music labeled and ready, don’t hog the dressing room, be aware of what’s happening on stage, and be a good audience member – which means if you’re in the audience, smile, interact, and be supportive for ALL dancers. Again, you never know who’s watching and hearing YOU.

As a Vendor:
Vendors are the source of shiny goodness in our community, and are often the backbone of events. The fees vendors pay to be at an event help pay for the venue, the instructor costs, sound gear, etc. By supporting vendors, we support our whole dance community. But it is also important for vendors to speak positively, plan accordingly, be responsible for their wares, and be respectful of the space and other vendors. Remember that you are the gateway for students, and it’s important to educate them about what they’re buying and its value.

As an Event Coordinator:
Event coordinators provide many things for the dance community: ways to showcase the dance, offer workshops and classes, vending opportunities, networking occasions. There are so many things to consider when putting on an event – venue ability, dates, draw, economy, etc. Sometimes, a date can’t be helped – an out of town instructor just happens to be visiting friends/family or a tour has a specific schedule, and when he/she is here, well, that’s when they’re there. But when we have options in when and where, we need to really look hard at the calendar. New England is a relatively small area (seriously folks!), and it’s a good idea to consider what’s happening anywhere from 1-3 hours away from you, and who the target audience is. It is also important to network with other event coordinators and discuss plans with them for the coming year. Having 3 events within 2 hours of each other, on the same weekend that all have to do with Cabaret or Tribal Fusion is a bad idea for everyone, especially in this economy. When you can plan otherwise, space accordingly, that way all of the events can be successful and be supported, rather than making customers chose between one or the other. One idea is to have local/area studios/teachers who host events regular to get together and choose a weekend of the month (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc) to hold their events, so that everyone has the best chance to support each event. If a weekend has a possible conflict because an unexpected visiting instructor, then talk to who has that weekend and see about switching. Again, it makes it a win-win situation, and spreads good will in the community!

Some things to remember:
  1. You don’t have to love everyone to work with them. Part of being the bellydance community is being a good business person, and being community-minded. That means working together, despite differences for the greater good of the community
  2. There is a lot of room in bellydance for both tradition and innovation. Be respectful of both!
  3. It’s not all about you. You weren’t asked to be in a show? Then instead of bitching, don’t be afraid to ask about it and put yourself out there!
  4. Not in a show cause it filled up? Go and support your fellow dancers anyway! (see #3 again)
  5. You won’t lose students just by exposing them to other teachers and dancers. If they were meant to follow another path, they’ll find it, and sometimes they follow two or four.
  6. If you want people to support you, you have to support them, it’s part of the cycle.
  7. A good bellydance community is something EVERYONE benefits from, and it’s true that what you put into it, you will get out of it. Be positive, be supportive, be respectful, and remember that we’re all in this because we ALL LOVE THE DANCE!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

GBD & Etiquette Part III: Plague-rism (originally posted 1/12/09)

We’ve covered a bit about intellectual property with choreography and presentations in the first GBD Etiquette article. Now we’re going to examine some other areas concerning intellectual property.

At dinner with friends the other week, one made the comment along the lines of “I don’t know how you put up with people copying your designs.” At that moment (and into my second glass of wine), I said, “There gets to be a point where it doesn’t bother you so much, but every once and while, it builds up 3-4 instances colliding at once, and I have to confess, it makes me want to fly off the handle, then I get over it and move on. You can copy me, but you can never BE me.”

And then a few days later, I alerted to a piece of writing that was so much taken directly from the Gothic Bellydance Resource, that if you highlighted the text originating from the Resource, there would have been very little text left. The kicker was, nowhere was the website credited, AND the author had the nerve to tell others to make sure to credit HER if they use it.

At first, I was just blown away by the blatant audacity and disrespect. And then I got to thinking about what to do about it.

I realized that the one big thing my RISD training did not impart upon me was dealing with theft of work. While there were business classes for artists and discussion of copyright (how much you can change an idea legally), nowhere was it discussed what to do if someone copies your work, your intellectual property. And I won’t even go into the lack of action regarding stolen supplies and damage to work. Perhaps they assumed that since many RISD students come from well-off families, we’d just hire the family lawyer to take care of it? Real practical thinking there, especially for folks attending on scholarship and loans up the wazoo. I’ll add a lawyer to my list of things to have when I’m independently wealthy.

So I could blame RISD, but that’s not exactly responsible behavior either. It’s really a twofold personal issue. One, my natural default is “nice, easy-going, relaxed individual who earnestly believe that all people want to be good to others.” Yeah, a bit naive, but at 30 years, it doesn’t look like I’m about to outgrow this anytime soon, even if it means I’ve got more abuse coming one way or another. And two, I really don’t have the time and energy to waste tracking down every infraction of copyright and plagiarism.

Then I realized, something in the depths of my education did give me tools dealing with plagiarism. No, it wasn’t at RISD. It was my exceptional AP English teachers in high school who taught us the correct way to write essays and article while quoting sources. And these teachers really were phenomenal, and I wish everyone could have had them in high school.

So rather than write this particular plagiarist personally, I thought I would help the greater situation by educating. I’m just not the kind of person to out the individual and post the offending work either, but I also have no doubt that they are also a member of this tribe, and perhaps this will get through to you, while helping out other people. Because the issue doesn’t just reside in the lifting website content by one person, because others have also done it, plus issues of swiping workshop titles and descriptions, workshop content, and other similar behaviors that in the long run don’t do anyone any good. And I believe a lot of it comes because people just don’t know any better.

First, there’s a wonderful website that everyone should take a few moments to investigate:

And I shall quote here, directly from their website: What is Plagiarism, located at…rism.html

“Many people think of plagiarism as copying another’s work, or borrowing someone else’s original ideas. But terms like “copying” and “borrowing” can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to “plagiarize” means

1. to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own

2. to use (another’s production) without crediting the source

3. to commit literary theft

4. to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.

But can words and ideas really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property, and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

* turning in someone else’s work as your own

* copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit

* failing to put a quotation in quotation marks

* giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation

* changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit

* copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism. See our section on citation for more information on how to cite sources properly.”

* * *

From their section of types of plagiarism ( ) I think most offenders in the dance community fall into the following:

“The Potluck Paper”

The writer tries to disguise plagiarism by copying from several different sources, tweaking the sentences to make them fit together while retaining most of the original phrasing.


“The Poor Disguise”

Although the writer has retained the essential content of the source, he or she has altered the paper’s appearance slightly by changing key words and phrases.

Meaning, if I can clearly identify MY work in yours, even if you’ve added a few phrases and switched the adjectives around, it’s still plagiarism if you don’t credit the source.

So what does this have to do with bellydance, and specifically Gothic Bellydance? Well, I’ve seen plenty of infractions in both communities, and I feel it’s my job to help us (that wish to be) be as professional as possible.

That means,

- if you use material from a website that is not your own, whether it’s on your own site, in a class, in a flyer, in an article, in a workshop, etc – you need to use quotation marks and cite your site. CITE YOUR SITE! (that’s easy to remember) It’s always a good idea to ask the source if you can get ahold of them, but don’t use that as an excuse not to cite the source!

- if you’re not ready to write your own unique description and title for your workshop, then you might not be ready to teach it. Because if the material within the workshop is all of your own, then you should have no problem writing a description for it. Yes, at some point, the basics of a description sound the same, but it should have your own voice and concept.

- if you use a move or exercise in a class or workshop from someone else, you owe it not only to that person, but to your students as well to tell them where it came from. You may think that showing your source makes you appear weak, but it actually makes you stronger, because eventually, they (students or the individual the material came from) will find out. Why not be upfront about it? You should be! Even if it’s a little thing, students enjoy hearing where things come from, and it makes them more well-rounded. In fact, they’ll learn from your behavior and credit YOU when they go on to teach.

I could go on, but this is already pretty long. Essentially, if you want to make a name for yourself in the dance community, if you want to earn respect and kudos, then you need to be honest to yourself, honest to your students, and honest to the people who have inspired you. Respect them, and you in turn will earn respect.

GBD & Etiquette II: Looking In from the Outside (originally posted on 12/22/08)

Time for another one of those discussions to get our brains unfrozen and thinking. Folks have been proposing some more topics to fit under this category (keep ‘em coming too!), and several were related, so I figured I would lump ‘em together in one related area: Gothic Bellydancers and Their Behavior.

If you’ve been around the bellydance community long enough (maybe 4-6 years?), you would most likely know about the inner battles about decorum and behavior of bellydancers – what to do/not to do at a gig, how to behave appropriately, and all of the wagging of tongues over behavior that gives bellydancers a bad name in public venues (like lap dances, cheap slutty costumes, accepting tips in certain areas, etc). Nobody wants to be a “belly bunny”. No matter what country or area you’re in, it comes down to one bottom line: proper behavior earns respect.

Being that we’re already out there and have to work twice as hard to be recognized and respected for what we’re doing, it’s of the utmost importance to keep in mind for ourselves and our students proper behavior that will earn the genre more respect versus the “well, what else would you expect from a bunch of ‘goth’ bellydancers?”

So, I’ve taken a few of the questions and made some points a la Miss Manners – please feel free to add more or ask more!

**Protocol for Goth Clubs**

One of the questions I got was, if you’re performing at a Goth Club, is it OK to go out in your costume afterward and join the party? Well, let’s think of it in another way – if you were paid to perform at a restaurant, after your set would you go out and eat in your full costume next to the customers? The correct answer is NO. Not only can you get food stains on your costume – but it ruins the illusion for the paying audience. Same thing goes for a club – do you really want to get your costume even more sweaty and covered in drinks? And more importantly, it takes away from the specialness of your performance. Go, change, then come back if you want to party. Personally for ease, I may plan something into my costume that’s easily converted with some other items for basic clubwear, like a skirt or pants – cause we all know how fun it tends to be to get changed at a club.

**Taking Goth to the Mundanes**

This is for those times when you may have been asked to do a Gothic piece in a venue that is more traditional or non-goth – whether it’s a showcase of styles in a staged show, or at a Middle Eastern restaurant. These are the times when it’s so important to be on your BEST behavior, whether you’re a local to the scene or a visitor. The traditional community is watching – especially if they invited you – and it’s so important to rein it in and be respectful of the host and the venue. Just because something is OK when it’s done at a Goth Club (whether on stage or on the floor), does NOT mean it’s proper behavior for a Middle Eastern restaurant. What’s the point? Shock value really has little value in the long run, and only comes off as disrespectful, NOT cutting-edge. Unless a certain piece has been specifically asked for by your host and will be properly introduced, don’t use this time to whip out your most hardcore piece. Bring a cover-up, have your music properly labeled, be a good audience member, arrive on time, be courteous to the other dancers. Otherwise, in the long (and short) run, you’re not only hurting yourself, but damaging the larger GBD community in general. It is important to show that GBD *IS* bellydance, that we’re respectful of our roots, and are professional through and through. Save the rabble-rousing for Denny’s at 3am.

GBD & Etiquette: Part I (originally posted on 11/21/08)

For quite a while now, I’ve been writing this ever-growing article in my head, about what NOT to do as a bellydancer. I keep coming across things that make me go “ok, make a note of that and add it to the list.” I could probably write a book on it, but I’ve already got a list of books to write, so I thought to myself (while in the shower of course), let’s start an ongoing thread, and add things to it weekly.

Now, none of us come to the realm of bellydance Apropos Athenas – that is born fully formed and armed with the knowledge of everything we should and should not do. It takes experience to (hopefully) learn what’s kosher and what’s just not cool – either by trial and error, or through teacher/peer guidance, and mostly a bit of both. Teachers don’t set guidelines for their students just to be bitches, it’s because they’ve been there, made the mistakes, and don’t want to see others go through the trauma. So many people have told me, “if I had only known then when I know now.” Well, nothing beats experiencing it for yourself, but having some guidance to help you avoid the major bumps and faux-paus doesn’t hurt either. I was very lucky to have extremely experienced teachers who shared their trials and tribulations AND did not hesitate to point out where or when I had erred and how to avoid it again. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of inexperienced teachers out there passing on bad habits, not correcting or guiding students, and dancers who just start out way too early out of the nest, despite what their teachers say. So hopefully this growing collection will help out everyone.

Because as I’ve said many times in the past, just because we’re doing a fusion art form, it doesn’t mean we can get away with murder. It doesn’t mean we can do anything we want anytime and ignore all of the rules. (It generally helps to KNOW the rules before you deviate from them or break them). If you want to be respected as a fusion artist both in the bellydance community, AND in the larger arts community, you have to behave and act with class and savvy – and it’s even MORE important because you are doing something different.

So here goes:

Technically, these will be in no particular order, so as I number them, it’s arbitrary. And if you have an issue or question about etiquette in your community, don’t hesitate to msg or email me about it, maybe we can address it here.

#1 – Understand the Pond & Respect It, Credit It.

There are essentially four ponds in our existence. There is your local bellydance community, there is the larger bellydance community in your country and abroad, there is the GBD community (which overlaps both), and then the general community. The first three are never as large as you may think it is, especially the local. If you take your teacher’s/another dancer’s choreography and perform it at a local show without permission or credit, people are going to know. It make take a little while, but sooner or later, everyone will know. And YOU will be the pariah, not the person you copied without credit, no matter how many excuses you can come up with. Step a little further outside of your community, and I guarantee, it doesn’t take long for word to spread in the GBD community (which is technically somewhat small and very connected) – and especially if gets posted on youtube, can be talked about on tribe or myspace, or anywhere else. So if you take a choreography from a workshop instructor, and don’t credit who created it in your youtube, you’re not doing yourself a service either. Other people will know. There’s no harm in truth in advertising, but there is a lot of harm in not giving credit. If you’re a copier, and not a creator, then it doesn’t help you grow as an artist/dancer, it doesn’t expand your capabilities, and it doesn’t help your client base, because eventually they will find out, especially if they see the original – which definitely can happen in the local community.

If you have a question about whether something can be used or not, ASK the dancer/teacher if it’s OK, or how they wish to be credited. If you’re NOT on good terms with them anymore, then DON’T use it. Communication is vital – it’s really not cool to do it first, then apologize later. The damage is done by then.

So: be true to yourself, be true to your teachers, and respect the flow of both the local and larger communities. It can only help you in the long run.

Addition: It’s pretty common knowledge that the Muses are sluts. They whisper in ears very far apart at the same time, and have for centuries upon centuries. But I think it’s the people who aren’t crediting work when they KNOWINGLY are taking it that are causing the Muse coincidences trust issues.

I think all artists who don’t live in closets will have the issue of the common muse – you either select another idea, or work hard to make your own twist on the concept so that it IS uniquely you (and yes, even I have a list of ideas and concepts that had to go either way). Actually, in all things, I stress that dancers work on finding their own voice – I promise it will show. There’s far too much “direct inspiration” out there – even if you deeply admire someone’s work, where’s the joy in working to dance exactly like them? What do YOU have to say with the dance – both visually and mentally.

“Divatude” (originally posted on 8/12/08)

One of my new writings…it goes for any style or area within bellydance, but just as appropriate for our developing style:

When I think back to all of the teachers I’ve studied with – for regular classes as well for workshops, the ones I’ve returned to again and again all have something in common, despite being different in style, age, gender, experience, or location. I found that I was drawn to them not only because I felt the teaching was strong and improved my understanding of the dance as a whole as well as what it meant for me, on my body – but I truly enjoyed who they were/are as people, and that enriched the experience all the more.

I like to think that I offer the same opportunity to my students – they are not only exposed to the history of bellydance, its styles, movements, and diversity, but get to see who I am as a human being. Which includes all of my little quirks – I can be serious, and I can be a (lot) tad silly. I can be very eloquent and deep, and I can call my ankle an elbow if it’s been one of those days. I talk with my hands…a lot. You pretty much get the picture.

Recently on my journeys, a friend told me the story of someone in her community and that person’s experience upon meeting a famous bellydancer. This person had been actually upset and disappointed that the famous dancer was friendly and interacted with everyone, not just a select few community elite. That surely, such a great dancer would have been far more reserved and selective about the company she keeps. This story left me speechless. Why would someone *expect* that sort of behavior from anyone?

Shortly afterward, I saw another somewhat prominent teacher/dancer bash the quality and aptitude of the students attending her workshop at a foreign event, in a public forum, probably assuming that none of those students would read the forum if it’s in another land? Again, I was struck speechless. I have taught easily well over a hundred workshops all over the US and in Europe, and never would have I dismissed an entire group of students as not being proficient enough dancers, especially when you know they’re coming from different levels of experience and backgrounds. (In retrospect, I would more likely believe that the issue lay in the teacher and her material, rather than the ability of the students.)

And then there’s those dancers who offer a lot of lip service to the student’s face (and backside), and then switch their tune once their listening ears have left the building – especially if they find out the student has other heroes as well (thou shalt not have any other god before she!). It hurts me to see a student beaming with the praise she was given by a favorite dancer, when as soon as she was out of ear shot, eyes were rolled and/or comments contradicting the faux compliment are made. Is it better to leave the student believing what she’s been told, and basking in the nuclear glow of her idol, or break her heart with the truth?

As I mentioned, these were all recently observed experiences, and they’ve culminated into this piece exploring the state of “Divatude.” What does it mean to be a Diva? What are a Diva’s obligations to herself and her public? What does it mean to idolize a Diva? And most of all, what IS a Diva?

The Online Etymology Dictionary defines “diva” as “distinguished woman singer,” 1883, from It. diva “goddess, fine lady,” from L. diva “goddess,” fem. of divus “divine (one).”

The American Heritage Dictionary defines diva as

1. An operatic prima donna.

2. A very successful singer of nonoperatic music: a jazz diva.

[Italian, from Latin dīva, goddess, feminine of dīvus, god; see dyeu- in Indo-European roots.]

A little outdated nowadays since the term is applied to many performers outside of the opera or song realm, but it’s interesting to note the divine roots of the word, as well as the fact that you don’t see “a temperamental, high-strung bitch” among the definitions. But that’s really the most common image the term tends to bring to mind. Definitely not a good thing to a word that had such glorious roots.

As someone who has been trained as a visual arts since the age of 3, and have been exposed to all aspects of the performing arts since then, I do understand the truth behind “artists can be temperamental” – anyone who makes their living directly from their bodies in such a subjective manner (for in sports, it’s either win or lose, the same is not true with the arts), the experience can more or less make you batty. But being shallow, petty, self-centered, and self-absorbed are uncommon traits among artists, nor are they qualities to be celebrated or imitated. No matter how great the artist is.

What makes someone act like the negative Diva? Is it concern about reputation or perception? A(n overdeveloped) sense of entitlement? Some bizarre belief that by stepping on the little people, you make yourself seem greater? Just someone with a bad personality to begin with? Or maybe just a very shy person who doesn’t know how to deal with the public? And most importantly, can such behavior be fixed? Honestly, I don’t know – I’m sure every person is different, but I can think of some ways to deal with and perhaps prevent such negativity.

The truth is, our dance community is relatively small – VERY small. The internet has brought together dancers from far ends of the globe and made them next door neighbors. And while there’s plenty of room to celebrate great dance, there’s not a lot of room for monstrous egos – it damages not only the artist, but all levels of the community, from the event sponsor to the student.

From the ground up:

For the students: draw your inspiration from as many dancers as your eyes will let you take in. Very early on my dance journey, I was told, “you can learn something from every dancer – that means both the good and not-so-good ones” and that’s true both dancers as they’re performing and who they are in the classroom and backstage. The best teacher will not only help you grow as a dancer, but their spirit and integrity should inspire you as well. Just like your parents, your dance idols aren’t perfect. They make mistakes, they don’t live in a perfect glass bubble, and they put their flared pants on the same way you do, one sore leg at a time. They’re just at a different part in their journey than you. That doesn’t make them a better person than you, it just makes them different. Remember that, and know it’s wonderful to be the student, no matter where you’re at. The best teachers keep on learning well after they’re established.

For the sponsors: how much is stress and hassle worth? If that one name diva costs you twice the cost of two good dance instructors, and four times the mental drama, does that really balance out in the end? Communities grow through exposure, and prosperity can come just as much as from diversity, as the standard. Eventually, a negative diva will wear herself out, though not before she wears out a string of sponsors and disenchants students from compromising behavior. The economy is tough, but a good sponsor can get the best of both worlds and educate their community in the process.

For the dancer/teacher/performer – professional behavior doesn’t equate to being a bitch. It means being reliable, considerate, comprehensive in thought, and gracious under stress and respectful of your students, colleagues, and sponsors. In the end, you’ll get more respect in the community and career longevity through cultivating these traits, in addition to the skillful practice of your art – than being a negative diva. If you treat yourself and others honorable at all points in your dance journey, it shall be returned to you. That is what makes a true Diva – a distinguished lady with a dash of divineness.

“Honor Thyself” (originally posted 3/31/08)

This discourse isn’t so much directly related to Gothic Bellydance has it has to do with body image and respect, and particularly young women.

I’d like to think of myself as a somewhat balanced person when it comes to sex, sexuality, and the human body. My parents weren’t exactly hippies, but they have always been far from being tight-laced/conservative in general. Our house was full of art books depicting the greatest collections of art from museums all over the world (i.e. lots of global nudes). The Playboy magazines weren’t hidden (quite easily accessible in my parents’ bathroom), and my mom was never weird about getting changed in front of me at any age. I never got in trouble for drawing nudes (at least from my parents, at school, it was another matter…somewhere around 5th or 6th grade, I draw the backsides of a boy and girl in transparent gowns to show purity for some religious exercise we were doing, and that caused a small ruckus…). I do remember when I was about 7 or 8, popping in “Flashdance” in the VCR one morning, and my parents deciding that wasn’t appropriate for me to be watching by myself, but it’s not like I understood what was going on, I just wanted to see the dancing! Basically, I emerged from my upbringing with a healthy respect for the human body, both male and female, and no bias towards sexual preference/orientation. I have no issues with strippers, I love GOOD burlesque, and think the female body is just magnificent in all shapes and sizes.

So with that stated, I recently witnessed something that made me question the state of our society, and feel somewhat ashamed to be a woman, for lack of a better description. Now, there have been plenty of times while listening to NPR, reading the paper, seeing the news on TV that I’ve felt ashamed of being HUMAN, for what we do this planet and other people, but to feel distress as a woman is not a familiar situation for me. Ok, maybe that’s a tad melodramatic, but I AM a Goth, I’m allowed that.

Recently I attended an alternative modeling contest. It was the first time I attended this particular event, and was picturing something more akin to the model competitions we see on TV, but for Goths. I have witnessed several Gothic fashion shows, and often marveled at the beautiful diversity of the models, and when I walked into the venue to set-up for vending, I was met with a sea of beautiful freaks – all sorts of different colored hair, tattoos, piercings, all different and wonderful. It was a lovely sight to behold. It made me super excited for the evening’s events – I’m a huge people-watcher – I LOVE studying people, how they dress and carry themselves and interact with each other. Gothic-anthropology perhaps?

The competition was set up boys and girls – meaning each gender had it’s own category. The contestants were given a top from one of the sponsors to alter as they wish, as long as the logo was intact. There was somewhat of a slut factor involved in the presentation of some of the girls, but I didn’t think much of it. Short micro-mini’s are rampant (or were, they seem to be going out from the latest batch of Gothic trends), but it was mainly a lot of boob gesturing, but hey, if you got ‘em, flaunt ‘em right? The boys were more tame in general. Both groups seem rather inexperienced with the concept of modeling, especially with walking, but hey, competitions can be nerve-wracking right?

The second round for the ladies (I’m not sure what the guys were doing in the second round) was to model corsets provided by the sponsors. A few of the girls came out with not much more than the corset on, but I chalked this up to not being prepared (as some girls knew about it, some were wild cards and didn’t know if they were going to be in the next round), and being cheeky and spontaneous to make up for the lack of more clothing. I made an emergency bustle out of 3 yards of glittery bat fabric and safety pins for one of these gals, and she looked elegant and lovely.

The third round was freestyle – the model’s own choosing and to really show off their stuff. It was here that my brain had nothing short of a minor meltdown. Out of perhaps 20 girls, no more than 3 didn’t do something akin to stripper routine, and even then, they were borderline. Again, I don’t have anything against strippers, and I love burlesque, but this wasn’t burlesque, and I’m sure better strip shows could be had at the Foxy Lady’s “Legs & Eggs” morning strip events. (New Englanders everywhere just cringed massively.) Apparently “crowd reaction” was a judging category for this round, and the great majority figured that the best way to do this was to strip. After the first few, it was “oh look, another set of boobs and pasties” again and again. I was surrounded by male colleagues and they weren’t impressed in the least (and yes, they were mostly straight). I wondered what the boys would do…

The boy’s third round was a much different story. Yeap, there were a few strip routines in there, but the majority of them danced and really showed off their moves, their agility, and their PERSONALITY…mainly, it was a reversal of the girls’ round.

In the realm of my brain, it struck me that something was terribly wrong. Why did these girls think that the best way to show themselves was to strip? Someone said that a lot of them WERE strippers, but I highly doubted that, unless maybe I just expect there to be a lot more talent involved, or at least better stage presence. Maybe I’m just getting old, but it worries me greatly that girls who are 10-15 years my junior (and come on, I ain’t THAT old) automatically reduce themselves to objects. I know modeling often involves nudity, but this didn’t have anything to do with the artful display of the human body and it’s wondrous nature. It lacked introspection and depth, it lacked a sense of personal identity. It wasn’t sensual or even really sexy. It was very painful to witness. It was a prime example of “Less isn’t More, it’s Less.”

In the end, the winners were the ones who showed personality and really showed off the clothes in how they presented themselves (and for the most part, kept their clothes on.)

I know there’s tons of debate about bellydance and stripping, and the infuriation of the two being confused, then add Burlesque to the mix, and you’ve got a whole other can of worms. Really, that’s the least of my worries. I find that the majority of people who confuse the two REALLY are essentially ignorant in general about the human body and sexuality. No matter what we’re up there doing and how we present ourselves, there will always be a moron who thinks otherwise.

My concern is for our next generation of girls and what they think of themselves and their bodies. It’s like society went from being prudes to teaching absolute violation of the body (while simultaneously punishing both extremes). I don’t think it’s about being open and forthright about sex, I think it’s about a lack of self-respect and true understanding about the beauty, power, and mystery of our bodies.

I really wanted to go backstage and talk to these girls and see what was in their heads. And share secrets with them: that if you show less, you say more about who you are as a person, and create a story. We really don’t want to see it all, we’re happier to allow our imaginations ponder what’s hiding. That true beauty doesn’t come from the exposure of skin, but the careful exposure of the self. And for others to really see that, you need to begin with honoring yourself, body and soul.

We All “Pay To Play” (originally posted on 3/18/08)

It doesn’t matter where you are in this community, we all “pay to play” and I’m sick of the phrase being used as a means to be a snide ass and downgrade events for any number of excuses.

From the student to the teacher, the vendor to the event producer, we all invest money for our art, there’s nothing free about what we do, whether we do it as professionals or hobbyists, for enjoyment, for profit.

A growing number of events *across the world* stipulate that in order to perform at an event, those who actively participate in the event, whether by taking workshops, vending, or volunteering, get first dibs at the performance slots. Why? Because those people are *actively* investing in the event – and not just monetarily. Why is this an issue? Because a LARGE amount of people see the event solely as a opportunity for them to dance. Not to learn something new, or network with others, but as a possible “free” means to showcase their asses on stage. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hafla or major festival, there are always those people who show up just in time to dance and then leave as soon as they’re done. For a very small percentage, there’s a good reason – family commitment, another gig that just showed up, etc….but besides that VERY small percentage, there’s no good excuse.

If you’re going to spend X amount of dollars to drive to someplace to dance for free, and claim you have lots of other paying gigs you have to attend, so you can’t take a workshop or watch anyone else, then perhaps you shouldn’t be dancing at the event in the first place. You really want to make a name for yourself in the community? Take an ACTIVE part. Watch other dancers performing. Take a workshop—the best dancers, those who have been dancing for decades, they STILL take workshops…if you think you’re too good to take a workshop, especially when you have 10-50 to chose from, then there’s no loss in your absence on the stage. If you don’t have $30 to spend on a workshop, then you certainly don’t have $30 in gas to get there, or $100 to spend on jewelry or pants. Yet, I’m amazed when I see people who harp incessantly about how broke they are, they can’t take a workshop, and then I see them uploading big bucks on costuming at the event.

I love the shinies myself, but no amount of shinies can replace knowledge. A single move or a new twist or thought process that can be added to your vocabulary, that improves and enhances your performance will last you much longer than a pair of pants or a pair of earrings.

Last year, I heard from several mouths that they didn’t even bother taking the workshop they had signed up for, they just wanted to dance. (In one or two of those instances, the individuals bought a workshop they knew they couldn’t attend, in support of that instructor, which is a nice sentiment, and I understand it, but the rest…) I don’t even have words for that. Just cringing.

Money is not an excuse if you’re an active dancer who wants to perform. Regardless of your budget. There’s always something to be done at a festival.

And if you have some sort of concept that event producers are just making money hand over first at events at your expense, that tells me you’ve never held a real event ever.

A large event venue, depending on where it is costs several thousand dollars to rent for a single whole day. Then there’s the lighting…because we know as dancers, we like to be seen on stage, and we want GOOD lighting, not crappy lighting that makes us look sallow and ill. That’s several hundred dollars easily. And then there’s the sound…you want your music to sound good? So that means at least 2 monitor main speakers and a subwoofer. Oh, you want to hear the music yourself on stage? Add two more monitors for the stage. You really want to hear the bass? Add another subwoofer. Plus the amps, mixer, and cd-players. Easily a 10,000 investment, and most places rent equipment out at 10-20% of the total retail cost, per day. And the guy to run it *who knows what he’s doing*.

As a vendor, I have never said, “you should let me in for free, because I’m the reason you make money.” So when I hear dancers say that for festivals line-ups, I’d like to enlighten them. As a vendor, I’m there to make money, and I understand that my investment helps pay for the space which provides the venue for the event to take place. No event, no place to vend, no money to make. It’s a communal system. We ALL contribute, from the paying attendee to the performer, vendor, teacher, and producer.

Everyone bitches about the Rakkasah call-in. But you want to dance for free and get in for free? That’s the system they use to decide who dances. And everyone bitches about the quality of dancing, etc. Did you know that people who sign up for the workshop series get a performance slot and first dibs (besides the teachers)? Most people seem to ignore that fact. Those that invest the time and money get rewarded. Sounds fair to me.

You want a better show? Then the performers are hand-picked by the producer. OR you can increase the chances of better performances by rewarding those who make the investment in the event. There’s nothing crooked about it. People who plan on performing months in advance are far more likely to put a lot more effort into their performance.

People who play an active part in an event show that they care, and these are the people who are known in the community. The majority of successful workshop leaders out there, who have been out there, and continue to be successful at it, they understand community. They foster it at home and abroad. Money isn’t the bottom line for them. We all appreciate money, and so does the electric and gas companies, and our landlords..but if we were doing it for the money alone, we wouldn’t be doing this very long. It’s our love of the dance and our commitment to it. It’s what drives us to be insane enough to hold events and try to foster community. Cause it ain’t the money.

So if you think investing in your dance career is “pay to play”, you’re right. No matter what the event is, we’re all paying in some way to be there – we pay for lessons, costuming, music, etc. All the money we invest, we get something for it – knowledge, adornment, the opportunity to perform and to grow.

If you don’t see that in any respect, then I don’t think I want to see you dance.

GBD Timeline (originally posted on 7/10/07)

In somewhat relation to the “respect” thread, regarding basis in tradition and the emergence/development GBD as it’s own entity, I reflected upon the timeline of GBD *as I know it*. A lot has happened in a relatively short amount of time, which one doesn’t realize until you take a look at the dates.

I started performing in 2001 (in Rhode Island), generally creating pieces that had a dark ritual feel to them and my pieces were being promoted/associated by others as Gothic by 2003 (in California).

The Gothic Belly Dance Resource came online in 2003.

I started teaching workshops specializing in GBD in Spring 2005 (starting at Convergence 11, and shortly followed by Tribal Fest 5).

The first Gothla was held in NYC by Zan in December 2005, during the shooting of WDNY’s “GBD: The Darker Side of Fusion”, which featured my intro-to-GBD workshop, and performances by area performers, Ariellah, and myself.

“Gothic Bellydance: The Darker Side of Fusion” is released in March 2006 by World Dance New York. (performance DVD)

“Bellydance for Beautiful Freaks” is filmed in July 2006, released September 2006 by World Dance New York. (instructional DVD

“The Durga Tour” – featuring Sashi, myself, and Ariellah, brings GBD instruction and performances to 25 states over 40 days, September-October 2006.

“Bellydance Underworld” is filmed October 2006, released March 2007. (performance DVD)

“Mischief Tour” – May 2007.

“Gothla UK” occurs June 2007.

“Gothic Bellydance: Revelations” from WDNY to be released September 2007.

There’s a lot more that could be added to the list, like articles, groups, product releases, and other events. I think that the biggest surge of activity happened in 2006 in conjunction with release of the first GBD DVD…with a definite build-up of action happening toward the end of the 2005, and a continuation and build-up through this year as the artform is discovered, expanded, and built upon. There are more classes and workshops being offered all over, and I’m definitely seeing codifying development – meaning specific movements/combinations specific to GBD with their own names. And I don’t think we’re anywhere near done and finished.

We’re at a structural and conceptual crossroads of developing a recognized system, while simultaneously embracing individuality and creativeness. And there’s so much within the realm of Gothdom itself, that even that feeds into diversity and different strains. And while we’ve gained some acceptance/tolerance in the larger BD community (which was no easy task), there’s still a lot of disdain and resistance.

So, we’re at a very interesting time in our artform. We need to continue to develop structure and guidelines, but also not stifle the flame of creativity. We need to foster our own community while keeping in balance with the larger BD world, in a relationship of mutual respect. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely exciting.

There’s much more I’d like to say, but I think I’ll leave it at this for now…

“GOTHinking” (originally posted on 1/11/07)

Despite the stereotypes with their focus on look, I have to say that overall Goths are a very introspective, intellectual group of individuals. Besides the numerous various subgenres of music, there is a great deal of art, literature, and design that is all intrinsic to the Gothic culture. It’s pretty amazing (and I’m sure a bit daunting to someone just on the outside, looking in) and I think what I love most about it—the grave goes deep, and there’s a lot to uncover.

Which is why there’s really so much to say, explore, and discuss about Gothic Belly Dance. We’re truly looking at a multi-faceted concept that involves an experience beyond the physical body. There’s a lot to consider that can only be processed in a combination of body and mind, because it’s not just about getting the look down. In order to grasp *the feel*, you need to understand *why*, and get the to the root of it, inside. Without that search, the rest is an empty shell.

To someone who collects styles like they collect costumes, the concept can be lost—or even worse, disregarded as unimportant details in favor of the physical. This is probably the biggest danger to the artform, because it breeds insincerity, and puts out false examples.

I came to bellydance because it visually appealed to me, and I wanted to learn a new way to move (besides hauling art and supplies up and down the hills and stairs of RISD—which I guarantee you is quite a workout in itself—RISD pretty much defies the “freshman 15″ because of it’s location alone–and if you gain anything, it’s muscle tone). While understanding the movements awakened my body to new ways of motion, my brain was focused on “so what do we do with this? What can it express?” And I began to perform with my imagination in high gear, creating situations and ideas to express, rather than a show of movement execution–rather, the moves in turn expressed the ideas.

Years later, when I began to teach, that element of imagination became a crucial point in expanding the concept of belly dance and merging it with Goth. And it’s still my main focus, perhaps even more so today in my workshops. I expect that my students take/teach regular classes in some form of bellydance, which is the best place for basics, movement growth, drilling, and structure—the same things I would focus on in a weekly class, so my focus is not to “feel the burn” in your body—I’m certainly not Jane Fonda nor do I wish to be. Rather, my intention is to ignite your mind and your heart, and allow that to take your body in a new direction. A group of movements won’t capture the essence of Gothic Bellydance if your soul isn’t engaged. It may be an unusual approach, but if you’re willing—it’s quite effective.