Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Orpheus & Eurydice

It's the last week of the year, and I'm a bit under the weather, so instead of a weekly exploratory post, I'm posting the video from my performance with Nathaniel Johnstone at Tribal Fusion Faire, which took place in San Luis Obispo, California December 10th-11th.   This was the first time out for a piece we have been discussing and working on for about 6 months now, based off the myth of Orpheus & Eurydice.  It will continual to evolve over the next year as it develops, but I'm pretty pleased with our first run.  It starts off with "The Heart Unwound", and then goes into new music that Nathaniel has composed for this piece especially.  And it was all pretty much improvised.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Light In The Dark

So I have been a bit remiss in updating the blog this month, and I apologize for that.  I'm not exactly sure what happened to most of December. I mean, I kinda know - I held an open house at my home studio, I was in California for nearly a week, visiting the Bay Area and performing/teaching at Tribal Fusion Faire, I worked on the Waking Persephone website.  I designed jewelry and dealt with corporate America. So obviously I was doing stuff.  I think. I have no holiday decorations up at my house, and it's a little late to start, as I'm leaving tomorrow to see my family in NJ. But I didn't want to let the month run away without marking down some thoughts.

Last night was the longest night of the whole year - marking the Winter Solstice (in my hemisphere).  For me, the equinoxes and the solstices are the most important days out of the year, alongside May 1st and October 31st.  I am fascinated by the balance of light and dark, day and night, the pattern of things.  And being an optimist (generally), I am very much inspired by the Winter Solstice - the promise that there will be a little more light, each day, from now until the Summer Solstice. (For the inverse reasons, I am somewhat depressed by the Summer Solstice, cause it's all downhill from there...so I guess I am a Winter Optimist and a Summer Pessimist). 

When I think of the dark though, I don't think of it as cold and desolate.  Instead, I think about hibernation, incubation, things waiting, holding, slumbering, preparing.  There are whispers in dark warm corners about the promise of Spring - what can take root, what can bloom, what can inspire and grow.  In one hand, we are remembering the harvests of the past year - what worked, what didn't work, what we reaped and sowed.  In the other, we are consider the changes for the next year - what will we bring into our lives for the coming year.  What will be new? What will be different?  How can we take that inspiration to the next level? What experiences will we have?

The Winter Solstice is like sitting in a movie theater, waiting for the show to start.  Anything could happen.  The thing is, we're in control about what show is about to start.  If we expect someone else to start the show for us, it'll never happen.  You're the star of your own show, whether you think you're ready for it or not.  And there's nothing like that moment - on the stage, in the dark, before the lights come up and the curtains open.  Embrace this moment in the dark, hold it close, and see what sparks emerge.  Take a deep warm breath and give life to that light.

Blessed Be.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yes you can, but SHOULD you? : Music

The title of this week's post is a question I often (and infamously) ask of my students in the fusion workshops I teach.  It can refer to costuming, moves, props, group interaction, general presentation, audience participation, make-up, or music.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about music.  Partly brought on by some of my students trying to choose music for their first solos, partly by the fact that I'm enamored with my car's sound system.  And that I seem to have developed an obsession for Florence + The Machine (which if you're my friend on facebook, this is not news to you whatsoever.)

In particular, I was thinking how much I am IN LOVE with specific songs, but there's no way I can see myself actually bellydancing to them. (I do however, sing along with them, but only in my car...alone.) This was a bit of a surprise to me on several levels, so it made me stop and think about why.

The songs definitely made me feel something - I could definitely move with them and translate the energy and feel of the song through my body, but the movement language it required was definitely not bellydance.  Now, I don't believe that a song must be Arabic/Middle Eastern in order for it to work with bellydance - rather, I often apply that musical interpretation/approach to what I'm dancing to for fusion - but it doesn't work for every song, and I think that's one of the things you really only learn with time, especially the deeper you explore the roots of the dance. 

In the last couple of years, I have enjoyed the challenge of going back to sets I performed to when I first started dancing.  Some pieces, I have been extremely excited about all over again, in a whole new way - I hear them differently, can apply far more control and quality then I was able to the first go-round. Other pieces, I am just dumbfounded at how I thought I could bellydance to it in the first place - danceable, yes, bellydanceable, not so much, or at all.  Yes, it's quite common that once you learn bellydance, it certainly infiltrates everything you do, including when you go to the club and want to social dance. But when you take it to performance, it becomes a different territory.

The revelation is: just because you love a song, doesn't mean it's going to work for a bellydance performance.  Ask yourself, why do you love it?  What about it grabs you? What kind of movement does it inspire you to do?  Is that movement bellydance-oriented? And by bellydance-oriented, I'm not talking fusion elements (popping, locking, whacking, strobing, glitching, and various other -ing's), I'm talking BELLYDANCE here. If you're suddenly confused about what that means then, time to do some research.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Challenge to the Community

Like clockwork, every few months, there's a discussion on any bellydance forum about how fusion is the root of all evil, the end of the world is coming to traditional bellydance, etc, etc.  There's usually some good debate, mixed in with some really bad generalizations and pot shots.  Personally, there's a lot of things happening in the name of "fusion bellydance" that makes me have kittens (which if you have read this blog for any amount of time, it's probably pretty apparent), but there's a whole lot of bad "traditional" bellydance being done too...really, we have a mess on our hands, but I believe it's better to do something about it, then to constantly bitch and do nothing.  And while I internally debated whether I wanted to partake in the latest thread to pop up, I learned of the untimely passing of Jeniviva, dear friend, beautiful woman, and fellow Gothic Bellydancer - one of the few other prominent cabaret-based ones.  And suddenly, all of the nit-picking and ranting seemed pretty pointless.  So this is what I wrote, and I wanted to share it here as well:

In the light of being made even more very much aware of how fleeting life is with the loss of a fellow contemporary pioneer in my genre, I just want to say this:

You want to see more bellydance? BRING IT. Stop bemoaning and whining about the potential loss and who is to blame for it. Go out there, show your love for the dance with every performance and every student you teach, be a POSITIVE voice in your community. There is plenty of room for all styles, but if you want folks to get more interested in the traditional forms, the folklore, the music, the culture, you gotta have that joy, you have to show that love, and not waste time and energy on what others may or may not be doing.

My roots are oriental. I wanted to do Tribal when I first came across BD over a dozen years ago, and when I finally did take it, I found my heart was back in my roots - but what made it easy for me to embrace it (the roots) and go forth were teachers who shared with me their inspiration and their support. It definitely was NOT because of the people hoisting themselves on digital thrones of authenticity, crowning themselves the queens of preservation wagging their fingers/mouths at me and others, whose own dancing was less than inspired on stage and instruction full of venom. Nope, rather it was the ones who shared their joy and love of the dance with everything they do - on stage and in the classroom. Their enthusiasm fueled (and fuels) my enthusiasm, and I bring that to my students in my classroom and on stage. My classes cover both tradition and innovation - they learn about Arabic culture and music, and they learn fusion with focus. It's not an easy place to be in, because I've always been "too cab for the tribal folk, and too tribal/weird for the cab folk", but that hasn't stopped me and won't. My workshops focusing on how to make fusion more bellydance-rooted may not sell-out as quickly as the popular TF classes flavor of the year, but that's what I believe in, and slowly, change is happening. It's what *I* believe in, teach, preach, and dance. Its what I LOVE. My students are all ages, sizes, colors, genders. There are no borders.

So ask yourself, what do you believe in? Are you bringing that joy? How are you going to feed that passion to others? What are you going to do TODAY about it? Because we may not be around to dance tomorrow.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Bellydance Artistry DVD Trailer!

While the DVD was officially released back in late May of this year, we've been a tad bit busy to sit down and get the trailer done until now...and here it is!

And while it's out of stock temporarily on amazon.com, you can buy it direct from me at http://www.darklydramatic.com/artistrydvd.html - and in honor of it being the 13th, all DVD orders will get a discount code for the music download! (still good through Monday the 14th).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Waking Persephone - April 13th-15th, 2012 - New England

You know those events I produce that you keep hearing about and wish you were going to be at?  Here's another one, so start planning now.  It's really not that hard to get to Rhode Island, and OMFG so worth it: 

"Waking Persephone"  is an event specializing in exploring the dark and the unusual within the realm of bellydance. This event will take place for the first time April 13th-15th, 2012 in Providence, Rhode Island - the heart of New England.  Nothing like it has ever taken place on this scale in New England for the darker side of the dance, and we are thrilled to bring it to you!

It will be a different kind of dark dance event experience, with a core focus on education and exploration, creating community while breaking borders. While there will indeed be performing opportunities, the main goal is an intensive series of classes, lectures, and activities featuring both new and established faces in the genres of dark, gothic, steampunk, experimental, theatrical, and ritual dances. Over the course of 3 days, there will be two shows, live music performances, workshops, master classes, panel discussions, vending, and more!

Our fabulous teaching staff includes Tempest, Anaar, Asharah, Ami Amore, & Celeste, with more being announced.  There is also the opportunity for you to throw your own hat into the ring to teach -  We are accepting applications for those interested in teaching at Waking Persephone through November 13th. Info at http://wakingpersephone.com/teach.html

We are lining up some amazing live music from all over the US for WP including Nathaniel Johnstone (of the Nathaniel Johnstone Band and Abney Park), French & the Punk, Servitor Sanctum 7, and more special guests to be announced! http://wakingpersephone.com/music.html

Vending is also officially open for WP - with just 13 spots total - 8 regular vending spots, 3 artist spots, and 2 services spots.  http://wakingpersephone.com/vendors.html

Complete details available at http://www.wakingpersephone.com

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tribal Fest 12! Bring IT.

photo - Dina Lydia, w/ Nathaniel Johnstone Band, Seattle 10/22/11
So the Tribal Fest 12 website launched on Tuesday. Tribal Fest doesn't take place until May 16th-20th, 2012, but workshop spaces are already selling fast (and selling out), so here's your head's up about what I am teaching this year. 

I am offering a BRAND NEW workshop entitled "
Essence of the Dance: From the Inside Out".  It takes place on the Thursday (17th) from 2:30-4:30pm.  I created this workshop because so many people have asked me in the last year, how do I put so much energy and intensity into my performances?  Whether you're doing traditional or fusion dance, dark or perky, this will show you how to get that something else in your dance, while still being true to YOU as a dancer. 

So, yeah, this class isn't for those who want to be clones.  You wanna develop your own style? This is for you. Two hours that will revolutionize your dance, I promise. I'm not here to kick your butt, I'm here to kickstart your mind and body.

Here's the description: Truly making the dance your own, creating your own voice and personal style, comes not just from the movements you do, but how you translate them through your body and the energy you use to engage the audience with. If you're looking to find your own voice in the dance and strive to be uniquely YOU, this workshop will actively engage your body and mind, and give you the tools in order to make it possible, within the framework of bellydance. We will explore daily exercises to enhance your dance connectivity, personalize your core movements, and add intensity and power to your armwork, footwork, and core while deepening control of your entire being. From exploring "simple" elegance to adding more complexity and contrast, get more satisfaction out of both your practice time and your performances! Suitable for all styles of bellydance. Warning: May involve live music.
Spots going fast.  Sign up here!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

End of the Wheel, Beginning Anew

We have once again returned to what in my spiritual tradition, is considered the End of the Year. It's known by many names: Halloween, Samhain, Dia de Los Muertos, Feast of All Saints/Souls, and others. Throughout this planet, this is the time of year where we acknowledge those who have passed on - not only in the past year, but our family, friends, ancestors who have crossed over in years past.  Many traditions believe that this is when the veils between this side and the other side are the thinnest - or lifted up all together.  This is why images of Death, spirits, ghosts, and other beings of the Underworld are prevalent in so many places - it's partly about acknowledging the cycle and the closeness of the deceased, about the dead mingling with the living. 

But it also a time of letting go, in preparation for our new year, our new selves...to make room for the new good things we will bring into our lives, the new experiences.

A lot of dancers tend to focus on negative things like what they didn't do right, what didn't happen for them, who is to the blame for that, comparing themselves to everyone else. Others focus on goals so far ahead of themselves, they only set themselves up for failure.  These modes of thinking only serve to entangle our minds and our feet, preventing us from being true to ourselves and our own journeys.  They make us chase ghosts and lose sight of what's directly in front of us. We get caught up with all of the trappings and goings-on, that we can forget about what is the essence of the dance - what it really means to us.

So, as we cross into the new year, past the parting of the veils, I challenge you to let go of what haunts you in your dance.  Acknowledge the past and what has made you, you, but be prepared to move forward. Let go of the negativity.  Release the drama, forgive, forget, let go. Be considerate to yourself and others. Challenge yourself to be responsible for your own actions in the dance. Don't be afraid to be yourself and show who you are as a dancer, where you are at at this very moment, in this very body.  Face each day, each week as it comes to you, and how you can make the most of it. What new things, ideas, concepts are you going to explore?  What change will you bring into your dance that will help it (and you) to continually evolve?

And lastly, dance your dance as if nothing else matters.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Seattle this weekend!

I am very excited to be returning to Seattle this weekend to teach two great workshops at Skin Deep Dance and be a part of a terrific show at Tin Can Studio this Saturday. I haven't been to the Pacific Northwest since the Durga Tour in 2009, and that was really too short of a time!

Nathaniel Johnstone and I are teaming up to teach a dynamic workshop on musicality called "Anatomy of a Song & Dance."  We will be dissecting two of his amazing songs, instrument by instrument, and addressing how to best embody those sounds through your body via dance - and then we will put it all together.  The techniques and approaches we will share with you will enable you to take ANY song and really break it down and get the most out of it.  Ever wonder how to put together a choreography that really works with the music? Want to be a better improv artist?  After this two hour workshop, you WILL have the tools to do it, and feel a lot more confident in your performances.  The second workshop is "Between the Veils", where I share my secrets to excellent and dramatic veil workshop that really takes fusion bellydance to the next level. Workshop info: http://www.skindeepdance.com/workshops.html - and I do believe space will be available at the door. Don't miss it!

Then that evening, we will be joined by the rest of Nathaniel's band and a wonderful variety of performers for a show at Tin Can Studio - http://www.wherevent.com/detail/tin-can-studio-tempest-nathaniel-johnstone

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Understanding & Embracing The Sacred

I don't think our community (or society) understands the concept of sacred.  I think it's something that even those of us who talk about it a lot, can lose touch with what it means - to ourselves, to others.  Sacred dance is a topic that makes a lot of people squirm in their seats, recalling poorly-done "goddess" performances, or brushes with cult-like activity. Something of "the other", not related to our modern-day society, our daily lives.

When I put togeth
er the concept of Tapestry, I subtitled it "Weaving Together Dance Traditions and the Living Sacred." Thinking back, I did a lot of the organizing and descriptive parts of creating the event practically on autopilot.  When I just went back to look at the website, wondering what I had said that included "sacred", I was rather surprised to see it leaping off the page in that particular way. I don't even remember writing this part from the about section "Our goal is give students an opportunity to expand not only their knowledge and practice of dance traditions, but to explore the sacred and spiritual concepts related to these traditions, and what they mean to us as modern, global citizens. The entire program is designed to give students a full-bodied experience with comparative instruction in dance movement, music, song, history, and ritual - as well as providing an enriching communal environment for the length of the program."
But write it, I did.  And in retrospect, I believe we more than accomplished our goal, we hit it out of the park.  But I digress....back to the sacred.

We worked with a multitude of cultures at Tapestry - all sorts of religious paths, pantheons and belief systems that these dances, practices, rituals emerged from  - but what made it truly sacred is not a connection or dedication to some distant divine being, but the connection we made with ourselves and each other.

Sacred dance is not about being holier-than-thou, or being ungrounded - in fact, it's about getting to the roots of yourself - letting go of ego, and tapping into what makes you, you.  Forget about being a "great" priestess, artist, dancer, shaman, performer, teacher - that all has to go out the window.  In order to accomplish any sort of "great", you have to start from the ground up.  Break down your own misconceptions about yourself, about others, and just let go of it all.

Our ancestors have been doing these dances and rituals for hundreds, if not thousands of years - every culture has them in some form.  The reason they have been done for so long is not just tradition, but because THEY WORK, regardless of who or what you believe in.  We get hung up in all of the trappings of modern society, all of our manufactured cures and medication - we think that just a pill will cure anything, without ever examining the underlying causes of our physical, emotional, and mental maladies.  But humankind has been surviving through these things for thousands of years through the power of dance, music, ritual. 

After this weekend, I am left wondering what impact sacred dance would have on the modern bellydance community, if  more dancers actually tried it - oriental and tribal.   I wonder how many egos would be left in the dance, how many more individuals vs. clones would emerge, how many would dance even better?  How many would abandon the dance all together? How would how dancers treat each other change? 

It's worth thinking about it I believe.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Upcoming Events with Tempest - RI, MA, WA, MI, TX, CA

October 8th - Fundraiser for Care For Animals - Warwick, RI - teaching a workshop, performing, vending - http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=265077656844502

October 16th: Raks Spooki, Cambridge, MA - Performance - http://www.badriyaboston.com/raksspooki.html

October 22nd: Seattle, WA - teaching and performing with Nathaniel Johnstone - workshops at Skin Deep Dance Studio, http://www.skindeepdance.com/workshops.html, performances at Tin Can Studio - http://www.wherevent.com/detail/tin-can-studio-tempest-nathaniel-johnstone

October 29th-30th: Kalamazoo, MI - Ooky Spooky workshops & show - http://www.bohemetribal.com/tempest

November 5th - Houston, TX - Steampunk Bellydance Workshops & Show - http://getsteamed.eventbrite.com/

December 10th-11th, Tribal Fusion Faire, San Luis Obispo, CA - workshops, performances, vending - http://www.meddevi.com/tribalfusionfaire/

Friday, September 23, 2011

Authentic-ness of Self

Photo by The Dancer's Eye (Carrie Meyer) at TGNESE
(More thoughts spawned from the MassRaqs panel...)

The question was asked, "So say you've been studying this dance for a long time, but you're not of the culture - how does one make it authentic and how much ourselves do we bring into it?"

One of the answers provided was "You need to study more."

. . .

. . .
. . .

Some mighty indignant crickets over here from my corner, I must say.  I'm rather tired of the false assumption that if someone is performing fusion, then they must be too lazy to actually learn anything "real."

I will be the first to say, YES, there are "fusion" dancers out there who have no idea WTF they are doing, and YES perhaps some of them are lazy.  Some of them don't know any better, and haven't spent enough time studying.  But there are just as many non-fusion dancers doing the same thing.  6-week wonders, belly bunnies, whatever you want to call them, every performance art has them. But these individuals are NOT in the majority, and most of them do go on to learn more and grow.  The majority of professional fusion dancers that I know, all have studied and continue to study the roots of the dance.

I think it needs to be spelled out for some people that dance is not black and white - that it's either "authentic" or "traditional" or it's not.  What is "authentic" and what isn't comes down to the viewer and their familiarity with the subject matter and what the dancer is presenting.  I think those who want to see the dance in black and white look at it as something that can be placed over an individually wholly and cover them like a giant paperbag.  You either wear the paper bag or you don't.

But I digress.  What I really wanted to address was authenticity of self, combined with expression and style.

I think some people look at traditional dance, get obsessed about replicating it, becoming a part of "over there", that they totally lose themselves in the process and discount their own addition/involvement.  I hear "it's THEIR culture and we need to honor it."  Yes, that's true to a certain degree.  One honors the dance by researching it, studying it, learning about the culture it comes from, and why it is the way it is.  But dance is an art-form, and art doesn't rest in stasis. It is constantly changing, evolving, shifting, growing, touching-base again, and taking off.  And really, when we're talking about dance, we're not discussing some inanimate, non-changing object - we are discussing something that is performed by individual living beings, with their own dreams, personalities, and biological make-up.  When we discuss legends of the dance, we're not really talking about how well they replicated the dance, but what they each brought to the dance.  It's who they are/were, their personality and how it was expressed by the dance that made them legendary. Not perfect replication of someone else or a static idea.  It is this essence of self that creates what we call style. 

Truly great dance must have essence - that something else that takes it beyond a combination of steps done to certain music, even when re-creating historic pieces.  It comes from inside the dancer. Studying the dance and its culture helps to unlock the deeper portions of the psyche, so that the moves become something else, the expression is more strongly channeled and brought forth, the music best interpreted.  But you don't study the dance to become a static being.  You study the dance to become a more complete, active being.  And you will continue to study it your whole life, if you so desire.  There is no set amount of hours spent in a classroom or in a foreign country that can determine that yes, now YOU can dance.

The goal is, no matter what, to bring YOU to the dance, as best you can.  It will be a balancing game of tradition and self.  I don't see the point of trying to be something you're not.  If you're not from "over there", then that is NEVER going to change.  You can do your best to respect and honor the roots, but you will still be you and of your culture no matter what.  I believe you can simultaneously honor both the roots of the dance AND yourself, by respecting your own contribution. 

So, that's part of why I do what I do when I dance.  I am of so many cultures, I cannot just be one thing, no matter how hard I could try.  I study the dance, I love the dance, and I dance the dance as the entity that is me in body and spirit.  It may not be to everyone's taste, but that's not my goal anyway.  You can't dance yourself AND satisfy everyone.  Start from the inside out though, and you will truly dance authentically as you. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

MassRaqs Panel Thoughts: Tradition vs. Innovation Part I: Flies, Liquid Offerings, and Dance

I was honored to be invited to be a panelist at MassRaqs this past weekend in Somerville, MA.  The focus of the panel was "globalization" and "cultural appropriation" in regards to dance.  The panel was made up of instructors from the weekend and invited guests such as myself and Donna Mejia, representing a mix of traditional and fusion-oriented perspectives (including Karim Nagi, Hadia, etc).  It was an intense and riveting experience, with a lot of interesting points brought up, but alas two hours was simply not enough time for everyone to be able to discuss their points and for the audience to ask more questions.  I gave my opening remarks with the intention/thought process that we'd all be able to return to our points in the discussion and question period, and it didn't end up that way. 

Consequently, my brain kicked into overdrive, and I have spent the last 24 hours spring-boarding off the ideas, questions, concerns, etc - that were brought up, but never got addressed.  The bad news is, I lost a bit of sleep in the process because my brain wouldn't shut up.  The awesome news is that I have enough material to post pretty much something every week through the end of the year, just from my panel discussion notes alone.

Looking at my list of topics, I have decided to start off here with one of the key points I did manage to bring up, and it's something that I believe is very vital to our dance community, right here, right now.

As a dancer, I find myself smack in the middle of two perceived camps: those who value tradition and those that value innovation.  I study traditional dance, emphatically, passionately, I can't get enough of it.  Yet my the majority of my performances are clearly fusion, a departure from the traditional. I teach both tradition and fusion, side by side. I support tradition, I support innovation.  Yet, I get flack from both sides for it. Not that that is ever going to change how I approach things (instead, it makes me even more staunchly focused on continuing doing what I'm doing), but it's a fact.

And the other day, I was contemplating the event I'm producing at the end of this month: Tapestry.  I have produced Gothic-only events (such as Gothla US, and smaller events), and I wanted to create something that focused more on the roots of the dance, as well as WHY we dance at all.  I want participants to foster a sense of self, spirituality, and community.  To partake in an event that's not just about performing, but really focused on learning, sharing, and growing.  This is my vision for Tapestry.  Traditional artists, fusion artists, all coming together, bringing to the table what they have to offer in a unique setting. 

So I was considering the demographic of attendees who have signed up for the event, and I think that the majority of them tend to be of a specific age and even style group, and I wondered about it.  They're not quite at either end of the spectrum when it comes to tradition vs. innovation.  They're mostly not newer fusion dancers and they're not hard-core preservationists. Which is fascinating (to me anyway).

And that got me thinking particularly about those at the farther out ends of the spectrum.  And myself.  When did I start really focusing on studying mainly folkloric dances? Did I miss out on earlier opportunities to study it, and why? I remember in 2004, I missed Aisha Ali teaching in San Jose, but not intentionally - I had the flu so bad I had to go to the hospital. But I remembering wanting to go.  I think there were other times that local dancers may have offered folkloric classes, but I remember not being interested for two reasons: 1. I hadn't been particularly moved by their performances and 2. Many of them had not been very pleasant at all to me.

You see, I have the following outlook on life:  Everyone starts on the same line, to be treated nicely and with respect unless actions/words prove otherwise.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I think those opinions should be formed by in-person experiences, and that we all need to be aware of our own baggage.  I prefer to study with individuals that I perceive as having a similar outlook.  If you put me in the negative bin just because you heard I do some crazy fusion, then I have a hard time offering back any mutual respect for what you do.  If I enter your classroom, I'm doing it out of interest and am already showing even-line respect with my intention and my money.  So the "what are YOU doing here?" isn't an appreciated response to someone who wants to learn from you.

Luckily, the bitches didn't get me down. I found other instructors who were not only inspiring on the stage, but in the classroom, and welcoming to me.  They understand I wanted to learn and honored that desire by treating me with mutual respect. But not everyone is as hard-headed as me.  Others get the feeling that they're not wanted, their opinions or experience not  respected, and they avoid anything else similar like the plague.  I can't blame them. Nobody wants to hear "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!" hurled at them, right off the bat. Nobody wants to be made to be felt unwelcome.

And then we wonder why more young dancers aren't learning more about the roots of this dance? Is it really that surprising?

Of course, I also know it's not just a lack of a welcome mat that is a culprit, but inexperience/ignorance.  In a time where a lot of dancers are STARTING in Tribal Fusion without even ATS/ITS to start with, some dancers don't realize there are far deeper roots to be explored, and that their dance can benefit from it - from learning Arabic music, folkloric steps, that it can actually be a lot of fun too.  In their desire to becoming the next Amazing Superstar Clone, they're not looking for self-exploration, or considering anything else not within their immediate goal.  But it's also entirely possible that one day, maybe something will happen and they will desire to learn more.

So will we be waiting with open arms, willing to give them the roots they desire? Or will we take away the welcome mat?

Also, are we doing tradition justice when we perform it? What essence do we bring to it that makes it appealing for new generations of dancers? People yell and scream that fusion is the downfall of the dance, but I fear there is much more damage being done in the name of poorly done "traditional" dance, be it folkloric, Raqs Sharqi, etc.  Who are we to consider ourselves ambassadors of the dance (especially if one hails from a different culture), when we don't seek to truly embrace the essence of the dance, and offer it to educate and enthrall? If we refuse to acknowledge that the dance is a living breathing extension of culture that cannot live under a microscope in stasis?  What are we doing that makes other dancers go "wow, I want to learn that!"  How?

When we will acknowledge that there are far more of us in the middle than at the spectrum as well? Yes, there is the "ethnic police" and yes, there are those doing crazy stuff with barely a thread's attachment to bellydance, but I believe that most serious dancers are interested in both tradition and innovation.  We need to both preserve tradition and build NEW traditions through innovation.  That is how art and culture survives - foundation and building.

We do not do this dance any service by polarizing the preservation of tradition and the spirit of innovation.

We do not do this dance any service by polarizing the preservation of tradition and the spirit of innovation.

We do not do this dance any service by polarizing the preservation of tradition and the spirit of innovation.

(sunk in yet?)

As I said yesterday in the panel, if we want dancers to be more educated about the roots of the dance, then we need to realize that we catch more flies with honey, than we do with vinegar.  It starts with a welcome mat.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Captive Audience: Understanding the "Performing" part of Performing Arts

I'm back from China!  And there was no access to blogger whatsoever while I was there, so I finally now get to post this, which I started on two weeks ago before I left!  Unfortunately, we've also been without power at home, due to Hurricane Irene, so thanks to work for having electricity and the interwebs...

Essentially, there are two kinds of dancing: social dancing - which essentially is dancing with other people and performance - dancing for other people. (And while you can argue while dancing at a club, some folks may be doing both, it's not what we're about to talk about here.)  Bellydance, it's folkloric predecessors/companions/roots and such, are most often done as social dance "over there" - but also has a long history of being a performing art - from the modern day performers in Cairo, leading wedding processions and dancing late nights at hotels and clubs to the historical Ouled Nail in Algeria and Shikhat in Morocco, to cite just a few examples.

Here in the US, we most often are using and considering the dance as a performing art - but it is often passed along to students in a quasi-social dance context.  Meaning, the art and performance aspect of the dance aren't as strongly emphasized as they should be, all the while, students are pushed/encouraged/rush to perform without the proper constructs to benefit both themselves and their potential future audiences.  Or perhaps the constructs are given, but are ignored. 

What am I getting at? It all relates to my frequently-asked-questions to my students worldwide "Why are you performing? What are you saying with your dance?"  It's the next step after you figure out the why and what of YOU and your dance - "What are you saying to your audience? What about THEM?"

Yes, this dance can be amazing vehicle for self-expression and exploration.  It can help you grow in ways you could have never imagined. It can help you figure out things about yourself, your life, your relationships, your health, your family. It can connect you to people and cultures across the world, new and old traditions, beliefs and customs.  It is truly awesome - a gift, and a blessing.

However, this does not mean that an audience must be made to witness every portion of that personal journey in explicit detail. 

Meaning? It's great that the dance can be a vehicle for change, but that doesn't mean that every concept your brain/heart comes up with, is appropriate to share with an audience - or more specifically, just ANY audience.  It doesn't give you the right to hit everyone over the head with your sexuality, relationships, triumphs, and sorrows - especially if they didn't sign up for it.  Don't hold others captive (in the worst way) because you see performing the dance solely as a means to work out your issues. I'm not saying you can't explore these topics in dance, but it's important to consider two things:

"Depth of Detail"
A lot of new performers make the mistake of thinking, in order to get an idea across, they need to be as blatant as possible.  Actually, great pieces are often made up of exactly the opposite - concrete concepts expressed abstractly.  The human mind is greatly capable of taking a few sections of a line or idea, and making the connections without aid.  For example - a dotted line.  It's not a continuous line, it's something made of dots, that is translated into a linear concept by our brain, making it easy to write upon and guide our hands. (And while we're at it, what you're reading right now is made up of dots, but you're not seeing those individual dots are you?  No, your brain is connecting them and making them into recognizable letters.) In my "Dancing on the Right Side of the Brain" workshop, one of the exercises the students do is to perform a story without any props or costuming, all to a set piece of lyric-less music, and they are given very specific concepts they need to get across. It never fails that every time, a lot (if not all) of them panic at the thought, but they ALL manage to pull it off.  So, you don't need everything and the kitchen sink to get a point across - and that props, costuming, and even the music are tools to help expand that concept, but it's the root of your dance movements and personal expression that truly relate what you need to say.  That should be the starting point for all of your performances - at the bare bones, what can you say? What gets the point across most simply and effectively? Everything else is ornamentation. Make the dots, let your audience draw their own lines.

"Venue Appropriateness"
This one is a real biggie. There are many levels of performance options nowadays for bellydance.  Haflas, theatrical shows, restaurants, cafes, clubs, themed events, etc. Nearly all of these things have different audiences. There's the dancers-for-dancers audience (meaning your audience is mainly other dancers), there's the general public audience (made up of non-dancers, who may not have had much exposure to the dance), there's target audiences (audiences who go for a specific theme, culture, or subculture - an art crowd, a mainly Middle Eastern crowd, a Gothic crowd, a Steampunk crowd, a Tribal crowd, an Oriental/Cabaret crowd, etc), and there's the mixed audiences (mixture of dancers, general, family perhaps, etc). 

Your potential audience is a pretty important thing to consider, because they're the ones you're dancing for. If you make the mistake of considering them in a more social context - a sort of strange "I'm dancing with me, and they're along for the ride" - you're disconnecting from your audience and disrespecting the communication that can happen between you and them.  I'm not saying the audience is the master of your performance creation and what you should do entirely, but you do need to consider them, and how you can best relate to each other. Who is your potential audience? What are they expecting? What do they know about dance? If the show is a Gothic-themed show, then the audience is going to be expecting something along those lines, making it a good venue for darker material, but not so good a venue for a typical restaurant set. A hafla that has both dancers and a lot of family members of all ages allows for variety, but should be considerate of all-ages and family-friendly in attire and subject matter. If it's a general public-exposure and they don't know a lot about bellydance, then pulling out your weirdest fusion concept is not a great idea - it not only confuses the audience, but makes a bad/incorrect connection with bellydance in their minds. If you ask yourself these questions, and sense an issue, then a course-correction is generally an excellent idea to allow for the most successful presentation and reception.

When you decide to start performing for audiences, you are taking on multiple responsibilities.  You're representing not only yourself, but your dance genre, community, style, etc.  Any time you dance for others, you're starting off a chain reaction.  You may not think what you do in your town on your local stage may effect dancers outside of it, but it's entirely possible and often does - for better AND for worse.  BELIEVE in this responsibility, because it does affect you, and others. 

Lastly, you're not just dancing with you, you're dancing for them; you're responsible for reaching out and trying to connect with your audience in the best way possible.  Respect them, communicate with them, acknowledge their part in your performance. Otherwise, you would really only be dancing with yourself.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tribal Revolution Performance

Update: blogger and facebook accessible at least at Beijing Hilton...so with that, here's my performance from Chicago's Tribal Revolution this past June, music by Nathaniel Johnstone (created for my DVD).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Yiwu Market, where I'm heading....
When you hear/see about "design emergencies" on Project Runway, most people don't really consider that it applies to the "real world."  I always liked PR in concept because it reminded me of my time at RISD, which pretty much meant going from one design emergency/challenge to another - but college as we know, rarely is the "real world" either.

My "other" job though as a fashion jewelry designer for a major company is as "real world" as you can get, and while sometimes we have a normal schedule, it really is about extreme problem solving with no lead time and limited supplies.  Things happen fast without little notice and miracles must happen. Hence, I'll be on a plane to China on Friday and gone for at least 1 week, if not longer.  China blocks facebook, among other websites (and possible google/gmail, which means this site as well, since it's run by google), so I will be more or less MIA until the end of this month.  And since I will be half-way around the world from my normal position, 12 hours+ ahead, please refrain from trying to call OR text me, under penalty of disembowelment.  If you need to get a hold of me, please e-mail me at "tempest(at)meddevi.com" (fix appropriately to send), and I will do my best to get back to you when I can.

I have several blog posts I want to get up, but time is really short, so if I can access this site, I will post them weekly - if not, then when I come back. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Art School for Bellydancers

At the end of July, I taught the first "Museum Quality: Art School for Bellydancers" intensive in Indianapolis.  It was 3 days-long with approximately 24 hours of instruction total, and I am extremely happy with the very clear results that I saw - they literally transformed in front of my eyes over those 3 days. 

Despite repeated praise from students and peers alike that I seem to exude confidence on the stage and in the classroom, I must confess that every time before I teach, there's a sense of anxiety involved.  Even after leading hundreds of workshops and classes, over half a decade of teaching dance (and much longer for art and metaphysics) - there's still a little trepidation of "will I give them what they need/want/expect?"  Museum Quality was no exception, not only considering the length of the intensive and the intimacy of group, but also presenting visual arts-based concepts to dancers. 

A lot of people nowadays seem to be talking about art and artistry in dance (new bandwagon?), but few of them come from a fine arts background.  I'm seeing a lot of concept being thrown around without much connection to real and helpful execution that makes for truly better dance, and especially bellydance.  Quotes are nice, but the ideas need to be able to truly flow down and exist in the body in order to take hold. You can't dance just in your head.  Not in my studio.  My regular workshops often incorporate artistry on different levels (especially "Dancing on the Right Side of the Brain", "Journey to the Underworld," and "Strange Presence"), but I wanted to go deeper, farther, more comprehensive - really making the concrete connection with fine art, so I created Museum Quality.

So I incorporated visual arts exercises (from critique technique to hands-on drawing), drawn from my 30+ years of fine art experience/education, and used them as tools to get the students to not only be more creative in their dancing, but to be more present in their dance and look not only at the details, but the whole picture, and bring their musicality to the next level. I carefully balanced the visual arts exercises with dance time application, lecture, and discussion, striving for the right mix. I know the processes worked for me personally, but the question was - would they work for other people?  Especially those from a variety of styles, levels of experience, and not necessarily familiar with the visual arts?

The resounding answer across the board was YES.  One of the things I pride myself on as a teacher is being able to adapt to what the students present need, versus trying to cram a static syllabus down their throats.  I believe you can maintain structure while being versatile without losing focus and form.  I also believe you can implement change without ripping apart everything a dancer is.  That's not how you nurture style or self-worth. So as we moved along through my intended points, we were able to work on what they needed most, while building on their inherent skills, and it really paid off.  Everyone was on board for the challenges I presented and even when they were uncomfortable, they were still willing to try what I threw at them, and it showed amazingly well in the results.

I am so proud of these women and what they accomplished, and look forward to watching them to continue to grow as dancers.

Learn more about what Museum Quality is here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mouth Closed, Ears Open.

There's often a point in most dancers' training where they have to try and justify everything - sometimes why they're doing something right, but most especially when they're caught doing something wrong.  Whether it's about a performance, or something being done in class - the automatic reaction is the mouth opens and words come. The hardest part is not about doing something right or wrong, but learning about when to shut the mouth.

This revelation came in two-part process for me, more or less.  And I believe it involved a grilled cheese sandwich, as most things do.

It was a weekend, about 6 or 7 years ago, when I had traveled down to Southern California for some events - I think it was a few strung together to make the trip extra worthwhile - a performance at a benefit, teach a workshop, and a theater show.  Back in those days especially, a trip to LA really threw me off energy-wise, almost like coming down with the flu - without the vomiting - but I hadn't really figured this out yet, and let's just say that first performance I'd probably file under "craptastic." And I knew it, and I just couldn't keep my mouth shut about it, even at the event.  The next day, after the workshop, I was having lunch with Princess Farhana (like you do), and I was telling her about how badly it went the night before - at least according to me and my brain -  in between nomming my grilled cheese sandwich.  And that's pretty much when she told me I needed to (learn how to) shut up.  That even if it goes badly, zip the lips, put your chin up, smile, and keep it yourself.  Took a while for that to sink in, but she was very much right (as usual).  If it goes really bad, it doesn't help anyone, especially yourself, to be apologetic to everyone and wallow in it.  Nobody wants to hear it - and if people did enjoy your performance anyway, it doesn't make them feel good to hear you think you sucked, and most often we're our own worst critics anyway. Move on, make notes, do better next time.  I would extend the same theory to when it goes really great - be happy, enjoy it, take notes, and move on. Either way, acknowledge people's feedback positively and graciously, and be congenial, yet concise. 

So, that's part one of keeping your trap shut.  The other part is in the classroom.  I don't remember the exact point of when I learned to do it myself (and whether it involved grilled cheese or not), but I do remember the time I became aware of it as a phenomenon via a class I was teaching.  It was a performance-level class, and part of the class involved me critiquing the students so they could be better performers.  And for every item I commented on, there was a response for why or why they didn't do something from the students.  In a nutshell, there was an excuse for everything, and it was starting to irk me - until I remembered doing it with one of my own teachers back in the day.  As a student, you desperately want to be right, to show your teacher that you do know better, and you want to voice that.  But in the larger scheme of things, this is really unnecessary, and is a waste of breath and time.  Your teacher (most likely) knows you are not a moron, and knows and believes you can do better - he or she is trying to help you be the best you can be.  And the only way to do that is to listen and acknowledge what is being said, and start to think about how to make those changes - instead of making an excuse or trying to prove you know better.  Don't talk about doing or knowing better, DO it, SHOW it, BE it.  The only way you can prove yourself is by demonstrating that ability in the classroom and on the stage, not debating it with your instructor. 

Lastly, this is not to say you shouldn't discuss problems and concerns with your teacher.  There is a time and place for that - usually outside the classroom or perhaps during a private lesson. What I'm talking about here is learning to accept critique from your teacher by realizing you're not on trial, you don't need to cite evidence to prove your case - just open your ears to listen to what your teacher is saying, and look realistically at what you're doing and see what needs to change.  Saves more meaningful mouth-time for that grilled cheese sandwich. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

How Does Your Dance Grow?

I think one of the most important things I have learned on my journey, and that I try to impress upon my students, is the different avenues that are available to us to grow our dance, and the best way to use each.  I believe there are 3 main ways that are crucial to a dancer's development, and it's very important to understand how to use each wisely.  These are: performance, regular classes, and workshops.  Each of these things are vital learning opportunities - the crucial point though is to understand how to use them properly to get the most of yourself and your dancing.

Regular Classes:
Regular classes should be the command center for technique: foundation, movement development and exploration.  This is the best opportunity to not only learn new core movements and dance structure, but to also perfect your understanding of them, review them, and to master them.  The familiar classroom is the best place to get proper critique and correction, to insure that what you're practicing at home is the best way for your health and body.  If your teacher doesn't give you feedback in class (often due to class-size, or sometimes because a teacher fears that critique will lead to student loss), then make sure you let him/her know that you are looking for it, and perhaps schedule a private lesson with them to work on certain points.  Don't assume because you're not getting any personal critique, doesn't mean you're doing it right/you are made of awesomesauce. Often when I draw my class's attention to a specific detail or insight, it's because it's something nearly (if not all) everyone needs to pay attention to.

Sometimes there just aren't regular classes in your area, or your schedule or budget makes it very difficult to attend them.  Then you need to supplement them with some sort of other regular program.  One option is DVDs - which can be great sources of information - the only drawback is you can't get corrections or critique from them.  So if there is at least a teacher in your area, or someone you can make a monthly trip to go see, then schedule a private lesson with them.  Often just one hour of private lessons with a good teacher can give you a month of key points to work on - and they can compare your progress with the last time.  There are also now a variety of online classes, video-review options, skype lessons, etc. 

Sometimes a dancer will think because they have been dancing for a couple years, they've outgrown all of their local classes - rarely is this true.  Taking a basics class can be a great refresher on moves you may have forgotten or have gotten lazy about - and different teachers have different ways of approaching and explaining things.  The best dancers never say "I'm above all this basic stuff."

Workshops are ideal for expanding upon the foundation you create and grow in regular classes. They're also a great way to be exposed to new/different ideas and styles.  The best way to get the most out of any workshop is to have your foundation elements in place, so that you can worry more about getting the concepts down. 

A single workshop in a topic should be seen as a sampling of a concept, which means a single workshop taken does not make you an expert on the subject or now qualified to teach it yourself.  I have heard people say "I want to learn a choreography in X style of dance, so I can add it to my repertoire." That's not really the point of taking a workshop - you can't add a new style of dance to your offerings after a couple of hours.  Rather, a choreography or group of combinations in a given style is presented for you to start understanding how it's put together, why it's done that way, etc - and generally just be better educated about that dance form. 

Workshops are also a great way to study with dancers you may not get to see often, and deepen your understanding of their style and skills.  They can also be really key in unlocking new doors for your own personal style, figuring out what works and what doesn't.  They should challenge your mind and your body in healthy, creative ways, and you should come home with at least 2-3 new points of consideration - whether it's an idea, a movement, etc.  Don't be disgruntled if you can't remember a whole choreography - again, that's not the purpose.  You're going to most likely have a lot of new information thrown at you, and chances are, you're not going to remember all of it.  And that's totally OK!  Just take the time to explore those several concepts you do remember, and add them to your journey.

The last way we grow our dance is through performing.  No matter how much you practice a piece, something else happens when you go on stage and perform it live for an audience.  Through performing, we learn a lot about ourselves, the best and the worst.  We can learn what works and what doesn't work, AND we have the freedom to change it for next time.  I think it's crucial to have a goal that you set for yourself for each and every performance - anywhere from "pretty hands" to "connecting with the audience" - and these goals really do add up and help you process your dance better.

The Power of Three
Lastly, what's really essential with these three things, is that they are used TOGETHER. If you only ever do regular classes - and only with one teacher, you won't expand your dance horizons without workshops and experimenting with different styles.  If you only ever do workshops, you're cutting out the foundation upkeep and critique you need from regular classes.  If you only ever perform, your dance won't grow anywhere as much as it would with classes and workshops. If you really wish to truly grow your dance, and grow it strong, consider how you can make room in your life and your budget for all 3, because it will make the difference.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gathering Muses

I am often asked where my inspiration comes from, what inspires me?

The short answer: anywhere, anything, and everything.

You see, first of all, I don't separate my inspirations out per genre.  There is no "this is for visual art" and "this is for dance" and "this is for writing."  Rather, what I work on in my art often influences my dancing, and vice versa (as evidenced by the Baladi series, which I started to make when I first started bellydancing.)

What I don't do though, is look for inspiration in the same genre or media I'm looking for.  Meaning I don't specifically seek out the work of printmakers or bellydancers to use as a starting point for my work.  I often get invigorated to make new work after going to a festival or gallery, but the drive to make work does not correlate with what inspires me to make it.  I DO look into the work of parallel categories - such as sculpture or weaving, or historical dance to find inklings of an ideas - from a color palette to a sense of movement. But more often than not, my inspiration starts on a whole other plane of existence.  It can be from a piece of jewelry, a song, a movie, an old photo, a design on a rug, a myth, a situation in my life, a pattern on the ceiling, a random comment - seriously anywhere.  I collect images online and physically and keep them in folders that I can look at.  If something catches my eye, I save it, no matter what.  It may not be what I'm looking for RIGHT THIS MOMENT, but 6 months later or 3 years, it may be - and I'd rather not drive myself nuts trying to find it wherever I saw it first. The walls of my office and my studio are covered in images of things that have caught my eye, and I regularly take things down and put new things up (and archive the old images).

So don't be afraid to accept inspiration wherever it comes, even if it doesn't seem "normal." Collect it, gather it where you can, and save it.  Create an image or sound archive that you can immerse yourself in when you need a new direction. Don't be afraid to explore a concept until you've really exhausted it or confidently feel you can put it aside.  Don't dismiss anything before you've tried it, pushing the society/them voice aside and really LOOK at the idea and consider it without judgment.  Don't be afraid that you may be repeating yourself - most often the greatest work starts off with a familiar pattern that changes much more deeply in the process, unlocking doors. Don't be afraid to collaborate, get feedback, and challenge yourself - trying to save or protect an idea is a futile concept.  The muses, they are slutty, and trust me, they will get the idea out there somewhere, somehow, if you don't do it yourself.  And if you tackle it in your own way, in your own voice, it will always be yours in that regard.  Yes, perhaps "everything has been done before", but not by YOU.

And here's some of my favorite online places to go looking (all very different from each other in what they offer):

Twisted Lamb
My Marrakesh
Trial By Steam
Wearable Art Blog
Jewelry Whore

Happy Gathering!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Inspiration, the Artist & the Audience

You can pretty much separate an artist's mind into two states: "inspired and working through it" and "waiting to be inspired."  The latter is usually accompanied by nail-biting, melancholy, and thoughts of "OMG, what if I never have another good idea again?!"  Which is rather silly if you actually do function actively as an artist, because you KNOW something always comes along, but yet, we go through this negative process time and time again. 

Perhaps it's because we're always measuring our current projects up to our past successes - which is also rather silly, because everything looks better in hindsight, and you can never go back to exactly that one moment in time.  Actually, I think most artists do understand this, but the issue perhaps lays more in the audience, who rarely know/understand the process behind art-making (be it music, painting, poetry, dance, etc), and pretty much all they have to look at is whatever is laying before them and what THEY remember about it and THEIR experience with it.  Worrying about how the audience will respond is what causes that valley of doubt in artists.  Which in turn can corrupt the creative process, and set the artist off on the wrong path.

Which is not to be interpreted as me saying, "the audience doesn't matter" - because especially for performance, what really brings the art to life is that interaction between the audience and the work*.  Art is meant to be experienced - first by the artist through the process of art-making and then by the world.  But if you seek to create a piece with strictly audience response in mind, you're truncating the process and gliding across the surface of an idea rather than delving into it.  What makes art honest - and most successful in my opinion, is work that you can tell was fully explored by the artist, through the artist, and then offered to the audience.

Let me put this is in terms that are more concrete:
-If you're a painter, you use the color red heavily because it means something to you, it has a purpose and an integrity to the work, and you simply MUST use red.  Rather than using red because you heard it's the hot new interior designer color and it means you could sell more work. 
-If you're a musician, you use a certain instrument because it rocks your soul and moves you to create, versus playing something because it's convenient or attracts the opposite sex.
-If you're a writer, you write about what really inspires you and what you know, versus concocting another vapid teen vampire romance, because those are so hot and selling at the moment.
-If you're a dancer, you choose movements that make you feel amazing, work with the music, and compliment your body, versus using whatever Big Name Dancer is currently doing or did last week. Or choosing music that really moves your soul versus what everyone else is using. 

I guess what I'm really talking about here is "selling out."  (And I swear I really started this post with the idea to talk about inspiration and where it comes from...oops...)  While in the short term, it may seem a good idea to either try and mimic a past success, or copy whatever everyone else is doing to get noticed (Look! I'm standing out by doing something crazy! Just like everyone else!) - it may get you temporary satisfaction, but it won't last long, because the cycle will continue onward, and the process will get farther and farther away from being in the realm of art-making - the audience WILL lose interest, and that valley is going to be even more deeper when you hit it.

Here's the dirty truth about Art: It ain't easy.  It's not supposed to be easy, and it's going to be messy at times.  It doesn't follow recipes consistently, especially if you're substituting in gimmick for substance.  It's got to be honest for it to truly be successful.  And rather than trying so hard to find inspiration for that next great idea, let it come to you, don't force it, and don't worry.  It will come, and probably smack you down and take your wallet while it's at it. (Gotta watch out for those Muses...) Lastly, not every idea is going to be successful - even going through the process entirely, doesn't mean it will be a hit.  Art is a bit like Russian roulette in that way - but if you don't take the risk, you'll never find out.  You just have to keep trying.

So with that to consider, I would like to leave you with one of my favorite art-related quotes of all time:
“Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further” - Rainer Maria Rilke

*I think I've talked about enough in the past about how performances shouldn't be "private moments on stage" where you're holding the audience hostage to whatever "art" you want to explore, in order to be in the spotlight.  Art is communication - and it's particularly a dialogue between the artist and the audience - not a lecture or display of self-indulgence (unless you're doing a piece about the 7 Deadly Sins perhaps..and even then..)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Birthday/Release Special & News

Contrary to popular belief, I'm not particularly great or proactive about marketing and promotion.  Case in point, I haven't drastically updated the look of my website in several years (just the content and about once a year or more, I update the gallery), and while I started promoting this special offer on the 4th of June, I have yet to post it here, and that would probably be a smart thing to do.

So yes, the DVD is officially available!  All of the pre-orders/fundraiser copies have been sent out (some last Friday, the rest today, had to split it up because we have over a 100 to send!) and as a special offer in honor of the release and my birthday on the 13th, when you order the DVD by Monday, you will receive a code to download the amazing music created especially for the DVD (6 songs!) by Nathaniel Johnstone (of Abney Park & The Nathaniel Johnstone Band) for FREE(FYI - if you live in Canada, please use the DOMESTIC button vs. the International one for your shipping.) Go here to buy! http://darklydramatic.com/artistrydvd.html

Hopefully over the weekend I will have time to update the website with all of the amazing reviews and feedback I've already received for the DVD - thank you so much to everyone who has supported this project. 

And if you want even more of what the DVD offers (because you can only squeeze so much in a 2.5 hour-long DVD), there are just a few spaces left in the first US-based "Museum Quality" Intensive taking place in Indianapolis in July, and Celeste has announced that the early-bird rate will hold for just a few more days - so don't miss out on this amazing experience to fully explore artistry in your dance with me! Concept, technique, and creativity all compounded into 3 solid days that will blow your mind!  http://www.celestebellydance.com/museumquality.html

Monday, June 6, 2011

Entertaining Dance Vs. Evolving Bellydance

Variety is the spice of life, or so they say.  A show is often more interesting and entertaining for the audience when there is a variety of styles and kinds of presentations, versus all of the same exact style and artist - comparison and contrast between performances allows for palette cleansing, critical thinking, and general overall enjoyment.

When I first started dancing, fusion performances were among the minority, which often made them stand-out in a line-up.  Usually the "fusion" was a blending of dances (say Indian and Bellydance, or Flamenco and Bellydance) or using something un-traditional - like a rock song instead of Arabic music.  These rarely pushed the envelope, but still provided a sense of variety and contrast to a more traditional line-up.  Which generally made them a bit easier to remember to the average audience member, who may not know the amazing differences between a Turkish Romani piece, a Melaya Leff, and an American Cabaret piece.

(It should be stated that even within a given style or genre, there can be a lot of variation - a show on Egyptian dance can feature pieces that are modern as well as classic/Golden age - folkloric, and fantasy - and that will generally be far more entertaining than 20 dancers all showcasing modern in similar lycra costuming and pop music. Same with Gothic - performances can span from industrial and cyber to romantic and steampunk, from dark and mysterious to light and comedic - a lot more exciting than 20 dancers all in black tribal fusion attire popping and locking with angry faces to techno.)

It doesn't take a genius to figure out though, that if a piece really stands out, is in extreme contrast to everything else, it will be recognized for that and get talked about.  And every performer wants to be recognized and talked about (preferably in a positive light). So there has been a distinct trend in recent years to try and out-contrast everyone else in an effort to stand out.  The problem with this is that instead of offering a variety of pieces that compliment each other, a show can become a cacophony of "LOOK AT ME" - which means often that performers then try even harder to be louder and more different.  This can be very problematic on several levels.

On one hand, it is an excellent idea to challenge and push oneself.  In fact, this is at the root of artistry - not being satisfied and continuing to push forward.  But it shouldn't happen solely for the sake of comparison to others - because you can only truly compete with yourself.  When you seek to compete with others, you may stop evolving within the true nature of yourself. Because in order to "compete", it often means making yourself similar to someone else, rather than following your own inclinations.

Another problem is how far do you go before it stops being coherent with the overall thread of things? More specifically, when does it stop being bellydance?  Or does that matter? I suppose it depends on the show and the venue, but I also think a lot of people aren't asking themselves this question.  Recently I saw a piece I enjoyed - it was fun, it was well-choreographed, good costuming, and musicality - and so on those terms, it was very successful.  But then I asked myself, what does this have to to do with bellydance? Besides a few isolations - nothing.  So yes, it was entertaining and done well as dance piece, but it really didn't have anything to do with bellydance - not in the music, or the costuming, subject matter, or the movements - but it was presented at a bellydance show by someone known for being a bellydancer - and that was the fine string that connected it all.  And I asked myself, is that enough?  Especially when less-discriminating audience members are most likely thinking "that was cool! I need to do something like that to stand out and get recognized!"

Likewise, I saw rave reviews afterwards about a performance I had seen live at another event, commenting on excellent technique, musicality, etc.  I watched the video to remind myself of the piece, and I agreed there were some beautiful lines and lovely dancing, but three minutes in, I had yet to see anything bellydance about it.  Modern dance, yes, contemporary yes, ballet, yes....bellydance no.  Was it good dancing? Yes.  Was it bellydance? No.  What someone held up as their best favorite representation of bellydance at an event, wasn't even bellydance.  My mind boggled, and the irony is not lost on me that the main complaint coming out of my mouth, is the same complaint I heard rallied against fusion over the last 10+ years - so if MY eyes can't find the bellydance, then there's something serious going on.

I think it's extremely vital for us as a community right now to consider these questions when watching performances, and to ask this of ourselves, if we wish to continue to be known as bellydancers and perform in bellydance arenas.  We need to be able to recognize the difference between a good dance performance and a good bellydance performance.  It doesn't have be traditional bellydance in order to be good bellydance, but it also shouldn't be so far outside the spectrum that it ceases to retain any of the qualities and characteristics you should find under the bellydance umbrella.  And if these things aren't clear to YOU as a dancer, then it's time to get more educated about traditional bellydance.  In order for us to move forward and evolve, we have to know our roots.

And just because it's being presented on a stage at a bellydance festival by your favorite dancer isn't enough to make it bellydance, or mean it's a good idea either.  Do your research, expand your roots, and get those brains moving people!  Trust me, it's a good thing!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What does it for me?

Staple me down please.  I've just got back from Spring Caravan in NJ, on the heels of just getting back from Tribal Fest in California, and I need to override my tendency to be a workaholic and take a bit of a break (though I'm already looking forward to Tribal Revolution in Chicago at the end of this month).

During the course of both of these events, it was asked/discussed "What style of bellydance do you like to watch the most?" and "What were your favorite performances?"  A lot of people assume that for me, it must be Gothic, or some sort of fusion, etc - but in the same way, most people never know what I'm going to do next, what I like is also not predictable.  Or is it?

When I was younger and newer to the dance, I had my favorite styles to watch.  I looked for the dancers my instructors and friends recommended, listened for music that would catch my ears, and the rest seemed a blur.  Thousands of dancers/performances and a dizzying multitude of events, festivals, shows, and haflas later, things have changed - not only personally for me, but the community as well.  I still have my favorites to watch, but they are a very diverse group of dancers if you were to put them all in the same room. If I were to list my favorite performances from either event, while you would find a couple "big names" in there (and there's a certainly bit of bias because not only are they great dancers, but they also happen to be my friends/mentors), but you'd find that a lot of them aren't the most popular names out there or even dancers you've ever heard of at all.  What pulls them all together?  What catches my eye and interest? Why?

I have managed to narrow it down to a singular quality: brave sincerity.  The ability for the dancer to be true to herself in her dance, regardless of what style of dance she's performing and how long she's been dancing.  It can be Gothic or Steampunk Fusion, or it could be straight Egyptian or Turkish Oriental, or Khaleegy.  It could be a student troupe or a someone who has been dancing for 30 years.  What brings them together is the desire to dance to the best of their ability, that they have taken the time to consider their dance as a whole - from the costuming, to the movements, to the music - and how they all relate, and that who they are in that moment shines through.  And it's clear they're not afraid to be who they are. There's a sense of artistry founded in good technique, married with stage presence.  That's my sweet spot and what I look for.

I link bravery with sincerity because it's not an easy thing to be yourself, especially in this community.  It's much easier to be a clone, to pander to what's popular, to present the consistently familiar and crowd-pleasing.  Because the reality is, rarely does what's truly new/different/innovative/unusual equal crowd-pleasing, when you're dealing with the masses.  Most people prefer to be presented with something formulaic and familiar, it's more comfortable on the brain.  They're not looking to be challenged in any way, unless it's pre-approved and expected. What they tend to think of as new/different, has already been around and kicking for quite some time, and has become acceptable over time.  And it is extremely hard as a performer to not cater to that sense of instant approval because all performers want to be acknowledged as successful, to be praised for what they do.  So it's extremely exciting for me to watch dancers who fight that tendency, and dare to be themselves, whether they're presenting fusion or folklore, tradition or trend-setting.  For me, everything else is boring.  Show pony big name/clone in overpriced costuming doing the same thing to a slightly different song? Big whoop. Seen it. Give me a student troupe who have clearly worked their hearts out presenting their piece, and you'll see my heart move.  That dancer you've never heard of, doing her own take on a trend? I want it. Really well-done passionate oriental? Bring it.  Tribal style that's fun with an awesome group dynamic with dancers of all shapes and ages? Yes please!

Be you, and I'll be there for you. I promise.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

all the news that is...

No rest for the wicked, as I write this way too early from bed in California, having arrived last night and am still on EST. As some may noticed, I'm a little off-schedule this month for weekly posts - as I've been up to my ears in getting the DVD ready, getting ready for Tribal Fest, have a huge project at work, International Steampunk City the other weekend, etc - so it's been nuts.  So I'm just going to touch base here:

-I'm a Tribal Fest 11 in Sebastopol, California this week and weekend!  I'm teaching TWO workshops on Thursday (of which I believe there is still some room in each) - "Musicality & 'Motion" at 10:15am and then "Shimmies - Sassy to Sizzling" at 12:15 (and yeap, those are back to back, so eat a big breakfast and bring a snack!) - then I'll be at the Meet & Greet that night.  I'm performing on FRIDAY at 6:51pm, debuting music from my DVD!  And I'm vending Friday-Sunday in my usual spot in the main room, by the entrance.

-"Bellydance Artistry" DVD Project! We had hoped for a TF11 release, but alas, nope.  BUT I do have a demo on hand for preview, and we should have the DVDs in hand for Spring Caravan next week! I am SO excited about how it came together and looks! I am still accepting pre-orders for the DVD (at TF and via the website), and if you purchase a pre-order by the end of this weekend, you'll also get a special coupon for downloading the music!

-Steampunk Bellydance Shirts! I have a new design on tanks and tee's and it's STEAMY!  Will have them for sale at Tribal Fest - and you can still pre-order these as well for Spring Caravan or ship to anywhere!

-Spring Caravan! Is next weekend!  I'm teaching a special 3 hour workshop on Thursday afternoon (Gothic Trilogy) and Nouveau Noir Dance on Saturday morning.  I'm performing solo at 8:40pm on Friday night, and performing with my lovely students at 7:24pm on Saturday night - featuring our "Reverse Djinn" piece!  And of course, I'm vending all weekend.

So there's a LOT going on! See you there!

Monday, May 2, 2011

No Fear Bellydance!

You probably don't know this about me, but I grew up surfing at the (real) Jersey shore.  My older brothers were surfers, and so by the age of 6, I was up and standing on a real full-size fiberglass surfboard (single fin, with a beautiful star with a rainbow tail, Rainbow Brite - eat your heart out), riding waves.  I actively surfed and also had a small collection of Morey Boogie boards that I saved up for well through my late teens.  The older I got though, the more my widening hip bones did not care for the bruising contact of the board as the surf banged it against them, and the more I was aware that this was a very dangerous activity.  So you could say fear and self-preservation entered the equation, but the connection I really wanted to make here is the surfer-brand of "No Fear" because that's the first thing I think of when I hear that phrase.

But I still like to connect it with bellydance when I can, because it's also a phrase I like to tell my students.  "No fear!" when it comes to performing!  "No fear!" when it comes to trying something new!  "No fear!" when it comes to trying something again.  "No fear!" that there WILL be another time.

And so I got to thinking, when IS fear appropriate with dance, and when does it really show up when we least expect it?  When is fear the root of our issues and what can we do about it?  When is it controlling us more than we are controlling it?

There are two kinds of fear and how they affect us.  I mentioned in my blog post about bullying that fear of losing control, popularity, etc, is a big factor behind why most people bully.  In fact, I think fear has a lot to do with most negative behavior that can be found within our community.  There's our fears that can harm ourselves internally/personally (and not directly affect anyone else) - we'll call this Interior Fear, and then there's our fears that can cause other people harm - Exterior Fear

Some examples of Interior Fears:
-Stage Fright (any of the fears related to performing in front of other people)
-Class/Workshop Fear (fear of looking like you don't know what you're doing in a classroom setting)
-Poser Fear (fear of being shown you don't know what you're doing/talking about)
-Live Music Fear (fear that the musicians will unleash something random and horrible upon you, making you look like a moron)
-Improv Fear (fear of doing anything improvised)
-Choreography Fear (fear of failing to remember choreography)
-Fangirl Fear (fear of being rejected/sneered at by your idol)

How to overcome Interior Fears: 
Well, every situation is different, but really the best antidote is doing.  You'll never know unless you try, and the more you do something, the more comfortable you will become with it.  Often, we make a situation far worse in our head than it can ever be in real life, and life is all about experiences.  Some will be good, some will be bad, but they're all worth it, because we can learn from them.  No one has it all together right off the bat, it takes time to develop skill and nurture talent.  The irony is, the more accepting that you are of that you may indeed look like a moron, the less likely the chances you will actually become one.

Some examples of Exterior Fears:
-Losing students to other teachers
-Losing fans to other performers
-Losing status/popularity

How to overcome Exterior Fears:  A lot of things I see in the community make me scratch my head - especially when actions extremely defy logic and sense, and I've come to the conclusion that logical reasoning is clearly absent and has been pushed out by fear, especially when the excuses that coming pouring out don't make any sense.  I'm going to tackle each of these fears separately:

-Losing students to other teachers.  I've heard all sorts of interesting reasons why people don't host workshops with other teachers or tell their students about them.  There's the logical ones: no budget, too busy, honestly didn't know about an event, or they want to check out a teacher first before they expose their students to them so they can make a solid recommendation.  The ones that generate the more "interesting" reasons usually have the same thing though at heart - the teacher is afraid that she may lose students to other teachers - which not only shows a great amount of personal insecurity, but also may prevent the students from becoming better, more rounded dancers.  We become better dancers through being exposed to more instructors and performers - sometimes it's a lesson of what to do, or how to do it differently, and sometimes it's a lesson of what NOT to do.  If a student is meant to move on, then let her/him move on.  If they want to try something different, let them have their own experience.  If you're doing a good job, they will still be there for you.  There will always be more students for good teachers.  If it comes down to doubting oneself and your own ability, then it's time to brush up on your own skills and expand your education.

-Losing fans to other performers.  I don't understand snubbing other performers when they're offering to dance at/partake of your event.  I think the most common fear some producers have is having someone do better than themselves or that people will like those other performers more.  But variety is the spice of life!  And a little healthy competition makes us all more on our game. Everyone has their strengths and weakness. There's also the concept of creating a show and letting everyone know the terms, limits, and expectations, and then there's bullshitting (for lack of a more elegant term.) Make terms clear and standard for everyone, or don't make it sound like you're open to all and then not be.  Treat everyone with respect and be direct.  Also, consider good business sense.  If a well-known or high quality dancer wants to participate in my show, I will make the room for them - because they will help increase the draw and the level of the show, plus it's damn good karma - and chances are, even if the schedule appears tight, something always happens, so it's not a bad thing to budget for another 5-7 more minutes.  Also, I'm always up for giving a new performer a new opportunity - you just never know!  I'm also aware of supporting other local teachers/performers when possible to help strengthen the community and show mutual respect. It really is a win-win. And lastly, so what if someone is a better performer than you?  This is just how things are, and you can only truly compete against yourself. 

-Losing status/popularity.  I also don't get the popularity game. I don't understand stunts, rumors, and other perceptions involved with this game. You never know what will make people happy or turn them off, because you can't please all of the people all of the time. Some people will go fangirl over anything, and other people are finicky.  You can't let it get to you. The key thing is to do the best job YOU can, do what YOU believe in, and act with respect with others.  That's the best way to not only be yourself (and a true original), but also build momentum the most positive way.  Everything ebbs and flows. Today you're riding the wave, tomorrow you're getting wiped out.  But there will always be more waves and other day.  But if you're true to yourself, you'll be in for the long ride no matter what.

No Fear!