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!