Web design...

by Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Had a few more contracts crop up for web design lately. I am trying to streamline my design process, but am finding it tough. I just like the visual design part so much better than the code part!

So today I "attended" my final online Web Design Bootcamp webinar, and it covered HTML5 and CSS3 in brief. In particular, "embedded" fonts in web page design. But it's so much more than that. Whew!  I feel overwhelmed with the possibilities and what new things I will need to learn to take advantage of it. With 98% of all browsers supporting the new font functionality, we can start using it RIGHT NOW. how exciting is that? Even IE is ahead of the game on this one. Looking forward to seeing what it allows us to create...

Bringing emotion to your dance

by Tuesday, September 28, 2010
From my background in theater and dance, to a life seeped in bellydance and dance in general full-time, I have learned that one of the most powerful methods of showing emotion in performance is having a story firmly in mind as you perform.  Just saying "I am going out there to have fun and smile," doesn't quite have the same impact as coming up with a more detailed motivation or imagined goal in mind when you take the stage. So You Think You Can Dance liberally uses themes, props, and elaborate stories to create their unique dances, which is inspiring. We, too, can be guided by a story through the entire creative process, which can inform not only our movement and emoting on stage, but also costume and musical choices as well to support the story further. Though I would caution that one must be careful at becoming too literal or trite.

The dance itself--the body, the face, the movement--not costume or music or props, should always communicate the story first and foremost.  

After all, a large cross-section of the recent vaudeville-inspired theatrical-circus-theme craze has been disappointingly unbalanced: Over-storied, over-costumed, over-propped, and under-danced. The dance is the central and most important part, and the story and any trappings built around it should support and supplement the emotional content and skilled execution of the dance itself. A really great dance can be performed with the dancer wearing a plain white tee shirt, or something similarly mundane, and can still clearly communicate emotion.

So how does one create a story? Soloists have an easier time at this because the stories need not have a universal and shared emotional meaning among a group, but instead can be something very personal to them alone. (For example, Sa'Elyssa's "For My Grandmother"--a dance to honor her grandmother who had passed away--reduced me to tears.) But with some thought and discussion groups can create a story and stage their piece with a collective image in mind to help channel their emotional energies. My last troupe did this on many occasions with great effect. Our "Home" piece was one that is lovingly remembered not only by the audiences that saw it, but we who danced it. The story we built into it was very very personal to our dance family and surrounded universal feelings of loss and fear, friendship, and of course as the song name and lyrics reveal, the feeling of being home. We didn't have any sort of intro at most performances of it, and we did not costume or set a backdrop or props of any kind, so there was not always an opportunity to lead the audience into our story with any kind of explanation. The only cues were our physical selves--the way we staged our movement among and with one another, the way we felt as we imagined our story when dancing it, and the way our faces and bodies communicated our thoughts and feelings as we performed came through for our audiences, who sometimes were brought to tears without knowing quite why it impacted them so profoundly.  Of course tears aren't the only way we would hope to have our audiences manifest their appreciation of what we do, but it sure is a powerful one!

Another method to add further depth to your audience interaction is to put characters of your story in the audience. Planting archetypes in your mind and then acting as if you are seeing them and playing to them when you dance can have great effect. Say you plan to find your new best friend to the left of the stage, your ex-boyfriend you are showing off for to the right of the stage, and your proud mother in the center. Find people in the audience and fix them with your eyes and intention and dance for those imagined characters and see if it doesn't change the way you move and emote!

What other ways do you build story and character into your performances?

ATS Old/New - Another take

by Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Nancy Young posted a really articulate and well-considered response to Carolena's message, and I wanted to share my favorite part of it:

"By giving this gift, you have, it seems to me, officially acknowledged ATS, your baby, as a mature art form with a life of its own and sent it off with your blessing. For me—and maybe this is just me—the gift also feels like your official acknowledgment of us, the ATS community, not just as acolytes practicing your dance but as artists inspired by your vision."

See the rest of her post on Monday, September 27th, HERE.

Music Monday - Feelin' The Love

by Monday, September 27, 2010
Alright, I have never been one for the "every day of the week has its own blog theme", but I have been wanting to give a little more space for music recommendations and discussions 'round these parts, so I am going to implement a "Music Monday" theme and see how it goes. Let me know what you think, eh?

Music Monday will have a little bit of whatever it is I am listening to right now. Some will be dance music, but some will just be my listenin' and enjoyin' music!  Most everything I listen to these days is available on iTunes and/or Amazon, so you can snag it for yourself. :)

I have been listening to a lot of love-themed upbeat music lately to keep me singin' along and feeling positive. So here are some of my favorite "Feelin' The Love" tunes right now, with links to iTunes:

Song - Artist - Album

Super Duper - Joss Stone - The Soul Sessions
Whenever I Say Your Name - Sting Feat. Mary J. Blige - Sacred Love
Home -  Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Up from Below
Throw Your Arms Around Me - Neil Finn - (live bootleg, sorry, but here is another version, and here)
Three Little Birds - Bob Marley - Legend
You Give Me Something - Jamiroquai - A Funk Odessey

I wanted to make an iMix to put all the songs in one place, but apparently some of my music wasn't "approved" for use in the iMix by iTunes (even though they sell these exact songs). I will look further into this in the future, to simplify browsing the music in one place, rather than with individual links. For now, enjoy the music!

Health and fitness made simple...

by Thursday, September 23, 2010
Another gem from Zen Habits, this time it's the very simple truth about increasing your fitness.

"Health and fitness are usually made to seem too complex.

If you read a lot of fitness magazines and blogs (as I often do), you’re told a confusing variety of complex advice. It makes your head spin.

You’re told that eggs, butter and meat are bad for you. Then another crowd will tell you those same things are actually good. Then you’ll hear running is good for you, and the bodybuilding and primal crowds will scoff at longer-distance running. You’ll hear that lifting weights is the best way to get into shape, and others will laugh at that. You’ll hear a million variations of the best workouts, of when to time your nutrition, of how to periodize your workouts, of how to measure fitness, of what supplements you need to take … ad naseum.

It’s enough to make you want to give up.

Fortunately, fitness doesn’t have to be that complex.

In fact, you can boil it down to two simple rules:

1. Get your body moving on a regular basis; and
2. Eat a moderate amount of real, whole foods (with occasional indulgences).

I believe if you stuck to those two rules, and stuck with them for awhile, you’d get fit. Doing one but not the other will result in an improvement in health for many people (not all), but it would be an incomplete health. Do both most days of the week and you’re on your way to health and fitness.

But what about specific macronutrient ratios (fancy way of saying the breakdown of protein, carbs and fats)? What about meal frequency and timing? What about workout frequency, splits, timing, reps, and more? You could add all these types of rules and many more, but the truth is, all the complexities are usually a way of masking some simple truths: if you want to lose fat or weight, you have to have a calorie deficit, and if you want to build muscle, you’ve got to use exercise to get stronger. The other stuff is mostly guesswork, and while these complicated programs probably work, they usually work because they promote one or more of the principles in this post, not because of their complexities.

The two rules above are all you need … however, most of us need a little more detail, so here’s a more complete set of simple fitness rules. As always, remember that 1) I’m not an expert — this is just stuff that’s worked for me; 2) this is for healthy adults — people with health problems should seek the advice of professionals.

1. Get moving. Try to do some kind of physical activity most days of the week (4 or more days if possible). If you have an aversion to exercise, don’t think of it as exercise. Just think of it as a way to get your body moving in some fun way. It can be dance, yardwork, hiking, a nature walk, a swim, basketball, rugby, cycling, even housework if you do it vigorously enough. And it doesn’t have to be the same thing each day. I recommend, just for the sake of simplicity, that you do find a regular time slot you could do your daily activity, most days of the week. I prefer mornings but others enjoy lunchtime or after work.

2. Enjoy yourself. Whatever activity you choose, it has to be fun. If you don’t like it, move on to something else. Focus on the fun part, not the hard part. Or learn, as I have, to enjoy the hard stuff! Again, make it fun, or you won’t keep it up for very long. To make sure it’s not too hard, start easy. Focus on just getting moving and enjoying the activity. Start small, and build up with baby steps.

3. Slowly add intensity. Once you’ve been doing an activity for a little while, and you’re in decent shape, it’s good to add some intensity. But slowly — if you add intensity too quickly you’ll risk injury or burnout. So let’s say you’ve been doing some walking for a couple months — you should be ready to add a little jogging or fast-paced walking, in small little intervals. If you’ve been running, try some faster-paced intervals (take it easy at first) or hill workouts. If you’ve been strength training, be sure to add weights (safely) or decrease rest time or add more reps or sets. If you’re playing a sport, really speed things up, or focus on explosive movements. Intensity is a great way to get yourself in shape and have an effective workout in only 20-30 minutes. Here’s a great way to do bodyweight exercises with intensity: do a circuit of bodyweight exercises (such as pushups, pullups, squats, burpees, Hindu pushups, lunges or others) and do as many circuits as you can in 10 or 15 minutes. Next workout, see if you can do more circuits. It’s great!

4. Minimal equipment. There are a million different exercise gadgets out there, from ab machines to elliptical trainers to a whole slew of weight machines at the gym. My rule is: keep it simple. You can do amazing things with bodyweight exercises — in fact, if you are a relative beginner, you should start with bodyweight exercises for at least 6 months before progressing to weights. You don’t need cardio machines — just go outside and walk, run, bike, do hills, climb stairs, sprint. Even if you do weights, a barbell or dumbbells are all you need — stay away from the machines that work your body at angles it’s not meant to use (although cable machines aren’t bad). Even better, get outside and do sprints, pushups, jump over things, pick up big rocks and throw them, do pullups from a tree, climb up rocks, swim, do a crabwalk or monkeywalk, take a sledgehammer or pick and slam it into the ground, flip tractor tires, and generally get a great workout with very little equipment.

5. Just a few exercises. Bodybuilding routines will have you doing 3-4 different exercises per body part. That’s too complicated for most people. Keep it simple in the weight room: squats, deadlifts, presses, chinups or pullups, rows. You can do a lot with just those lifts. Of course, you’ll want to mix it up eventually with some variations, but no need for 10 different ab exercises or things that focus on your rear deltoids or use swiss balls. If you’re doing bodyweight exercises, I love things like pushups, burpees, squats, lunges, pullups, dips, planks. Pick a few and do some circuits with little rest.

6. Eat real foods. One of the most important rules on this list, because if you don’t eat right (most of the time), it doesn’t matter how much exercise you do — you’ll get fat and unhealthy. Aim for real, whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. That means stay away from processed, refined, fatty, sugary foods. Veggies, fruits, lean meats, dairy, nuts, beans, whole grains, eggs, seeds. Prepare them yourself if possible — convenience foods often have added ingredients, as well as extra salt, fat, sugar and preservatives. If you follow this diet — with the plant foods making the bulk of the diet — it’s hard to go wrong.

7. Eat less. Most people eat too much, and eventually it shows up as fat. To lose that fat, we need to eat less — it’s really that simple. Of course, if you eat the real foods mentioned above, you’ll probably consume fewer calories, but even so, it’s smart to reduce how much you eat overall, at least until you reach a healthy level of body fat (and even then, you shouldn’t let it all go). One way to do that is by eating slowly and mindfully until you’re just satiated (not stuffed). Another way is to eat smaller meals and watch the portions. A third way, which I’ve been experimenting with lately, is intermittent fasting (see Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat ebook for a great explanation of the science behind fasting). However you do it, be sure to consume the real food in moderate amounts, and reduce your calorie intake if you’re looking to lose fat.

8. Give it time. This is what gets many people — they expect to see results immediately, within the first month or so, because the magazines they read make it seem so instantaneous. But real fitness rarely happens this way — it’s a process and a lifestyle change. I started out in really bad shape, really overweight, and all I did in the beginning was to quit smoking and start running. A year later, I ran a marathon and was a vegetarian — but I was still kinda fat. A year after that, I was still exercising regularly, and had made a lot of progress, but I still had a ways to go. Now, 3.5 years later, I’m in great shape — slimmer and more muscular and much healthier — but I still have a little stubborn belly fat I’m working on. I’ll get there, but I have accepted the fact that it takes time. You didn’t gain the fat overnight, and you won’t lose it that way either. Learn to enjoy the process, enjoy the activities, enjoy the healthy, real food, and you’ll get healthy and fit almost as an afterthought to this new, amazing lifestyle."

If you enjoyed this post, please visit the ORIGINAL WRITER'S PAGE and comment, or share on your Twitter, Facebook, etc. Support the writers at this wonderful site with your enthusiasm! And in case you are fearful with my direct copying of the content to my blog for your reading, ZenHabits has a strict Uncopyright Policy that is so refreshing in this day and age! Not only a great thinker and writer, but a very Buddhist spirit. So please make a point to send your good juju, real or imagined, over to those authors.

ATS Old/New - My Take

by Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I have been engaged in many discussions about the New/Old ATS announcement, on Tribe and on Facebook and in mails with friends, and even had a chat with Carolena today. I haven't said too much about my thoughts on this publicly, as I have wanted to let them percolate a little while. I didn't want anyone to feel shut down or otherwise distracted from feeling what they felt, or add to their mental burdens as they try and figure out quite *what* they feel.  And of course, I wanted to figure out what I felt, and try to speak from my heart and mind in tandem, rather than purely from one or the other alone. Sorry it's so long, but it's been a week of deep discussion with a lot of awesome women, and a lot of meditation on what this all means to me personally.  Let me start with a leetle story...

My last troupe, inFusion Tribal, performed in collaborations at several high-profile events with another ATS-based troupe from Bend, OR, Gypsy Fire directed by Quinn Fradet (hi Quinn!). Both of our groups were not strictly ATS troupes, though we were each well versed in ATS terminology (Quinn started many years ago in FC classes in SF, and she and I  have completed not only General Skills, but two levels of Teacher Training, and teach ATS-based repertoire in our classes and in our troupes), but we each had robust languages of our own, as well as some minor variations on the ATS vocabulary we had made to suit our tastes.  Since we lived so far apart, we directors would discuss music and staging through e-mail, but we only had one rehearsal all-together, 2-3 hours in length, the day before or the day of the performance itself, to prepare a half an hour set using both our troupes separately and together.

At these rehearsals, we would hammer out what vocab was universal, which was off-limits, and in many cases would share variations or new moves with each other and decide whether or not to add these "signature" concepts to the mix. For instance, I had a duet with Lexi, one of the members of the Gypsy Fire, and we had a planning discussion during our single rehearsal as a group. She showed me a couple of her favorite moves she often likes to pull out. This included some common vocab, but also some moves that were their own creation. At this time I had the opportunity to veto any I didn't think I could follow without more practice, but in all cases they were moves which were created thoughtfully in the ATS style and structure, and thus was easy to adapt to as a follower if you were aware it might come up. And I did the same for her in return. When we got up there, we improvised completely, not knowing who was going to take the lead when or how, and we even had a little "battle" in a few places where we were switching leads back and forth every few measures as we mischievously played leader tug-o-war, and it was awesome!  It looked seamless and playful, and we had a lot of fun. The audience could sense that tribal magic, that connection and communication, but had no idea we were from two different "dialects" of tribal.

This is essentially what I see this "Old School/New Style" ATS announcement fostering.  Allowing (and encouraging!) people like Quinn and I as directors and teachers, and our troupes as well, to follow our creative bliss, while still staying true to ATS aesthetics and philosophies.  This empowers everyone to create moves and ideas which are reflections of our troupe's individual creative visions, but still be part of a larger ATS "family" with whom we can collaborate and support. We don't want to be mini-Fat Chances, but that doesn't mean we don't love the format and use it as our foundation. When creating new moves and ideas, we use an ATS "filter", to ensure that the move follows basic guidelines in presentation and execution that allows it to "flow" within the format. And it sounds like Carolena is quite savvy to Quinn's and my demographic--as creative, thoughtful, respectful ATS-based-yet-not-ATS-strict who seek to stay true to the core in our work--by developing the "Anatomy of a Step" video, breaking down the elusive components of a successful ATS presentation when creating new concepts. It's brilliant, really, and I can't wait to add it to my library to strengthen my efforts to be inspired and guided by the art form she has honed over decades.

I see this announcement as really just an acknowledgment of, and frankly a welcome validation of, what has already been happening in the tribal world. We focus so much on those tribal branches of the tree who innovate so relentlessly that they barely even do bellydance anymore, that we forget about the dancers and troupes who have respectfully maintained standards of ATS while innovating thoughtfully and enthusiastically (the Middle Child of Tribal, if you will). And, to be honest, all the while feeling somewhat relegated to "outsider" status when it comes to that which they feel so passionate about and advocate for in their classrooms and beyond: an understanding of and preserving of ATS format, aesthetics, and philosophies. Whether you aspire to be a Sister Studio or plan to forge your own path, this goal is something we agree on. Just because these dancers didn't choose to stay strict-ATS in their artistic expression doesn't mean they weren't working just as hard to preserve and protect ATS as an ideal of bellydance 'standards and practices', if you will.

Those who choose to closely follow in FatChance's footsteps will still have that joy and freedom to do so. The body of work endorsed by FatChance, through their workshops and videos, will continue to be a yard stick for technique and presentation. Sister Studios will continue to be part of that standard by which ATS will be measured. Acknowledging and empowering this not-at-all-new branch of the ATS tree isn't taking anything away from anyone. I know that it feels like that to many, but I hope that they will see that you have been surrounded by these dancers all along--you have supported them, admired them, connected with them, shared with them, inspired them and been inspired in return. They're strong and respectful dancers who are valuable contributors to the ATS community already. Carolena is now putting her arm around those dancers and saying, "Welcome to the family, we're glad you're here." And I think that is a benefit to everyone, don't you? I hope so...

Thanks to everyone who has been actively participating in the process of evolution that Carolena has challenged us with. And thanks to Carolena for continuing to push her boundaries, and by proxy our boundaries, so that we never become stagnant or complacent in our art. I think it may feel uncertain on the face of it for some time as the community finds its balance with this shift in "definition"; and I completely understand that change is difficult no matter what form it takes.  But I feel it's a very exciting time to be part of the ATS community, and I look forward to seeing what we all create together.

And for evidence of one of our collaborations:

Improve your 'About' page

by Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I recently undertook the challenge of re-writing my About page (or bio page, or whatever you want to call it). It's so hard! You want to be able to talk yourself up, and you want to sound professional, but you don't want to sound cold, egotistical, or bland. You want your page to sound as vibrant and interesting as you are, without being overly flowery! You want to get lots of information across, but you don't want to get so long you lose your readers. A tall order!

I wish I had seen this link back when I was writing it:

Not only is the article itself helpful in giving you things to think about, it has many links to examples and further reading to inspire your copywriting.

Consider this a reminder to anyone reading that updating your bio page is important every year or so, to make sure that the content and language is fresh and representative of who you are and what you currently do/have done recently. Don't hesitate to take on something as simple as changing a few lines of your current copy, all the way up to scrapping it and writing it all from the ground up. The latter is what I did, and it felt good to revisit my experiences and qualifications, and really write it again in a language and tone that is very "me" today.

On the importance of communication

by Monday, September 20, 2010
The last six months has really given me a lot of time to reflect on the importance of communication, and it has been reiterated in the last month with various important discussions I have been a part of.  What we say, how we say it, when we say it, why we say it, and even who we say it to...there is a delicate combination of each of these considerations that makes for successful communication.

My preferred mode of communication is the written word. It has always been the case for me that I feel I can best consider each of these variables when trying to express my thoughts and feelings to others through writing. Even before the internet and e-mail, I preferred writing notes and letters to friends and family to express important thoughts, because it was easier and more natural for me.  I find that when I talk on the phone or in person, any number of these variables cannot be fully honored--the way things are said and the "when" of what is said is dependent on the timing of the opportunity to connect in real-time with someone.  Some days I just don't feel that eloquent. Most days I feel like, when it comes to really important communications, I can't think it all the way through, and say everything I want to say, and I leave the conversation with words roiling in my mind for hours or even days following, dredging all the things I wish I had thought to say at the time.  With writing, I can pick the time and I can carefully pick my words. I have time to consider why I am saying what I am trying to say, and how I want to express it.

The only lingering problem is the Other End--their interpretation of the message and tone (the "what"), and what headspace they are in when they read it (the "when" of receiving the message determining how open or able they are to hearing and processing what is being said).  The most carefully and thoughtfully crafted missive can jag off in the most unexpected and dismaying directions based on how and when it is read by the receiver.  We have no control over that. It's the gamble we take when we use mail or blogs or other forms of written online communication to try and express something significant to others.

I have had a lot of opportunity to think about words, spoken and written, in the last six months. And the thought I keep coming back to is: we are imperfect. As a human, I am imperfect.  I can't say everything right, and even if I did, it wouldn't always be heard the way it was meant. Those we speak to are human and imperfect, and they may not intentionally misconstrue or misunderstand what you say--they have their own experiences which filter what they hear.  And if in the end there still lingers hurt or fear or doubt surrounding what was said, and those involved aren't willing or interested in asking questions--talking it through no matter how hard it seems to do so--and getting to the root of what you really mean (not just what they think they heard), you may forever be misunderstood. And as hard as it is, you have to let that go, knowing you did your best

I can see both sides of this. I can see how hard it is to sincerely try and make yourself understood, and feeling like you have failed no matter how much you poured into it. And I can see those who hear the message through their own personal filters, and feel hurt or confused, but are fearful of digging any deeper and risk feeling more wounded.  I can feel both sides of that equation, and how heartbreaking it can be--you feel trapped by your own words (or inability to find the right ones).  I have been there, and still have lingering wounds...

A Not So Radical Idea (ATS Old School vs. New School)

by Saturday, September 18, 2010
I am definitely seeing and hearing a lot of confusion and frustration and fear surrounding the old vs. new announcement made this week. And I completely understand the mix of emotions this is stirring up. BUT...

Maybe (it's worth trying at least...) if we concentrate on the spirit of the announcement--the idea that dancing should be fun and creative and empowering, not super-strict and limited and single-pathed (hey I made up a word!)--we can manifest it in ourselves and in the community. 

I know that sounds really Pollyanna, and it will not make all of our mixed and confused feelings go away, but think of it as a meditative practice to help come to a place of balance as everyone is hammering out their feelings.

I humbly suggest that we attempt to push our energies to the positive and exciting possibilities this creates within the artform. Think of it in a bigger picture than our own personal understanding and desires, and more about what this will enable and empower the community at large to build upon... Rather than think of the worst case scenarios of abuse and misrepresentation of the name and art we are so quick to envision; instead think of the BEST case scenario, where incredible fresh ideas flow and beautiful art is made over and over again on this base we all love so much! Where both those who choose to uphold the common standards of the classic form and those who respectfully build upon it can be equally embraced and encouraged.

Rather than picture it as another divide, think of the ways in which it will bring people in closer and encourage them to be a part of the "family", with all our individual beauty and flaws we bring to our dance vision.

There will always be people who don't "get it", and will, intentionally or unintentionally, misrepresent ATS in name and in spirit. But let's not allow ourselves to dwell on that small group. Let's look at the larger community of intensely passionate, incredibly creative, and humbly grateful dancers who can do so much to keep the spirit of ATS alive, whether it be old school or new.

I think we should still feel free to talk about the ways in which people feel upset, and explore the ramifications of this decision from all angles. But I offer this suggestion to help us move gracefully through personal emotions and maybe help us be more zen about things as we endeavor to understand the bigger picture.

I can only imagine this positive, encouraging slant is just what Carolena had in mind when she made this decision. And I hope we can find a way to support her in that, even as we try to come to terms with other more challenging thoughts.

Teacher Loyalty Redux

by Saturday, September 18, 2010
Because I think it bears repeating, and with a little caveat added to the end:

"To All Students,
Regarding "Loyalty" to Your Teacher
By Amanda Niehaus

with a few edits by me personally
(originally posted at Shira.net which is a fantastic resource for all things bellydance. Check it out!)

Dear students of this beautiful art form,

I am a teacher. I teach because I am passionate about this dance and I want others to share my passion.

I am not teaching because I require a fan club.
I am not teaching because I require devotees or because I need hero worship.

As your teacher, my job is to teach you; to inspire you to be your best. If I am a really good teacher, then I also will not be your only teacher.

I will encourage you to study with other teachers who have skills and experience I lack. Because I am not the end-all, be-all of bellydance knowledge.

You as a student owe me nothing. You may thank me after class, you may credit me on your first performance DVD, you may remember me when you are touring with Jillina, but you do not owe me anything. (You paid for your class. I taught you. We are even.)

I am an emotionally-mature adult. I do not require your "loyalty" or allegiance. You do not have to take my classes just because I offer them, or just because I was your first teacher. You will not be "cheating on me" by taking classes with another instructor.

You should be taking my class because you enjoy it and are learning something. If you are no longer enjoying it or learning from it, then I would be the first to encourage you to find another, or a different, teacher. I want you to love this dance as much as I do.

Your job is to learn and practice, not to worry about my ego. I will not be "mad" at you for moving to a new (style or place in your dance). You need to worry about YOU, and making yourself a better dancer. I will never resent you and I will only respect you for moving on...(if that is your desire)

Do what's right for you. I'll be fine, whether I'm dancing beside you or watching you from the audience. I promise.

Yours truly,
Your dance teacher"

In a dance which is so much about community, as ours is, it is respectful and thoughtful to check in with your teacher from time-to-time--not to seek approval, but simply as a show of gratitude for what she has shared with you. It is not required, and her love for you is not contingent on whether you do or not, but it is a kind gesture for someone who cared for you as much as your teacher has (and yes, she still does, whether you have been around five years or six months). If your teacher has moved you, nurtured you, encouraged you, even friended you, consider a little 'thank you' in the form of simple friendly communication now and then. Tell her what you're up to. Ask how she's been. Nothing earth-shaking is necessary. Very little goes a long way.

More reading on teacher loyalty:
Yoga Teacher Loyalty

What makes a good/bad teacher?

by Friday, September 17, 2010

I had never heard of a Dolly Dinkle before, but it sounds all so familiar when compared to complaints and opinions voiced in the bellydance community. All artists have the same concerns...

One commenter wrote:

"Dolly Dinkle schools offer no technique or curriculum. Their schedule often reflects whatever is hot at the moment- lyrical, contemporary instead of ballet; all hip-hop; etc. 

Dolly doesn’t teach vocabulary or history of the dance forms. Ballet is not the only genre with this! So many students don’t realize hip-hop and breakin’ have a vocab and history! 

A well-rounded education: technique, history and vocab PLUS improv, choreographic, and performance opportunities makes a great studio."

Another poster commented:

We have a responsibility as teachers to keep advancing the field and ourselves through continuing education.  Since there is no standard in dance education, teachers have such varying levels of training, education, and certification. But as we all know, there are fantastic teachers with no performance experience, no degree, and no certification, and there are others who danced with ABT, have college degrees and five page resumes and are horrible teachers. It’s the teachers who continually seek knowledge and collaboration in the greater dance community who avoid pigeon holing themselves into a “Dolly Dinkle” atmosphere. 
For me personally, I think it comes down to motivation. When you sink into a routine and just “teach what you were taught”, that’s a tell-tale sign of my definition of a Dolly Dinkle. You have to continually analyze and assess: What are the needs of my students? What can I do to meet those needs? Is this a safe environment for my students? Is this a supportive environment for my families? Would I sign up my kids for my classes? It’s one thing to open up a studio with a concrete floor. Everyone has to start somewhere. But to ignore it for 10 years is quite another thing.This is fantastic! I think Maria made an interesting point about “teaching what they were taught.” We have a responsibility as teachers to keep advancing the field and ourselves through continuing education. The conference Nichelle is attending this week is a perfect example! Since there is no standard in dance education, teachers have such varying levels of training, education, and certification. But as we all know, there are fantastic teachers with no performance experience, no degree, and no certification, and there are others who danced with ABT, have college degrees and five page resumes and are horrible teachers. It’s the teachers who continually seek knowledge and collaboration in the greater dance community who avoid pigeon holing themselves into a “Dolly Dinkle” atmosphere.

And there are a couple other great comments in there as well.

What would you say is the mark of a good teacher? What were some traits of bad teachers you have encountered? And do you think there should be some kind of regulation? Why or why not?

ATS - The new definition from Carolena

by Thursday, September 16, 2010
At about 5pm this evening, Carolena has officially expanded her definition of ATS. Here is the latter portion of her announcement this evening. I would love to hear what you think.

"There is still some confusion about what is ATS and what is any variety of Tribal, but that's OK. We have Sister Studios, teachers that adhere to the philosophy of FatChanceBellyDance in their ATS classes, 98 at the time of this writing. We have TribalStar Galactica, my attempt in getting all the "tribes" together in one place, no matter of the genre, 247 at the time of this letter.

It's finally time for me to give the gift that I had intended at the filming of Dance Fundamentals-be creative and have fun.

There are so many new steps and concepts being presented to me that I feel the need to broaden our definition of ATS. I propose that the steps from Tribal Basics Vol. 1 Dance Fundamentals and Tribal Basics Vol. 4 Embellishments and Variations be considered ATS Old School, as they are the foundation of what we do. Everything else, including our Tribal Basics Vol. 7 Creative Steps and Combinations, are to be considered ATS New Style.

There will be new steps added to the ATS vocabulary, but they will not be mandatory. As well, you are free to create new steps and variations of your own. You can show them to me, or not. I am always happy to give a common sense creative critique on what makes a good ATS step, but you will not get in trouble if you are moved to create something on your own.

As one dancer recently brought to my attention, we all have our own dialectics. By the nature of either distance, ala FatChance and Devyani, or simply a student group that dances together on a regular basis, we develop our own creative steps and variations (more on how to do that at the end of this letter.) The dance is the same but experimenting and mistakes lead us to create, and that's a good thing.

But here's the deal; if you choose to create your own thing you will not be able to flow with another ATS dancer that you have never danced with before. What do I mean by flow? Flow is when both dancers have the same muscle memory for steps, interpret the music in the same way, have a similar skill level and use the ATS formations of duet, trio and quartet. Flow is dancing in the divine subconscious. But if you have one version of a step and another dancer has a different version, you will have to discuss it ahead of time and you will have to think, or stay in the conscious while you dance. This is not a bad thing, but just be aware of it.

So that's it.

I'm still on the scene. I will still be teaching ATS all over the world. We will continue to produce instructional DVDs. I'm not going anywhere. In fact I'm just sitting here on the porch and I invite my dance family to come and play in the front yard. Show me what you are doing, tell me how it has changed your life, share a new piece of music with me. Just come home for a spell and let me enjoy your happiness. Then you can run off to the next house and create yet again.

Anatomy of a Step.
In June of 2011 we will shoot the next instructional DVD, to be released in the Fall. It will be titled Anatomy of a Step. We'll introduce you to the new work that we are doing as well as that of guest artists. The theme of this DVD will be to introduce you to the process of creating steps and variations. But for now, use this formula: the posture does not change. The ATS Old School steps remain the core. The result of a new step reinforces the aesthetic of uplifted arms and joyful display of the body. The step conveys happiness. Any cues should be brief and logical, the more "rules" you have to add, the less successful the step will be. The principals of non-verbal communication govern all cues and formations.

I think that if you follow these suggestions you will have success, and I hope find more depth in the dance.

My friends, enjoy the dance. And phone home every now and then.
Best wishes,

Rachel Brice on Tribal Fusion

by Thursday, September 16, 2010
Gotta love it:

"There are very few rules in Tribal Fusion, but in my humble opinion the one constant is that the dancer or group is versed in American Tribal Style as taught by Carolena Nericcio. Her stylistic approach to existing vocabulary, her theatrical approach to costuming, and the incredible invention of group improvisation, has allowed infinite variations that all have one thing in common: powerful presentation. The strength that American Tribal Style communicates through its posture, arm placement, and costuming was a revelation for me as a feminist. Without Fat Chance, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be dancing today."

-Rachel Brice
Full article after the jump

--- "Tribal Fusion Bellydance" -- on www.rachelbrice.com --

Tribal Fusion Belly Dance (or Bitter Oriental as I’ve become fond of calling it), is an ecclectic dance form that includes a multitude of influences. Belly Dance, Flamenco, Hip Hop, Jazz, Classical and other forms can be included into it’s stylistic vocabulary. Each group and even each dancer is a unique expression of the style. At this point in its life there is no real common base vocabulary , but I think it’s safe to say that every TFBD dancer is influenced by the combined vocabularies of Carolena Nericcio and Fat Chance Belly Dance, the creators of American Tribal Style, and Jamila Salmipour (Carolena’s teacher’s teacher), whether they know it or not.

The form is erroneously credited to yours truly, Rachel Brice, who merely popularized a version of it through years of intense touring with the Bellydance Superstars and the collective, The Indigo Belly Dance. The real dance heroes that created and fed my personal dance lineage: Jamila Salimpour taught John Compton and Masha Archer, who taught Carolena Nericcio, who who taught Jill Parker, who taught Heather Stants, who taught Mardi Love, who all taught me. Also hugely instrumental to the style is Suhaila Salimpour, Jamila’s daughter, whose ground-breaking approach to Belly Dance is largely responsible for the technique of most Tribal Fusion Belly Dancers.

There are very few rules in Tribal Fusion, but in my humble opinion the one constant is that the dancer or group is versed in American Tribal Style as taught by Carolena Nericcio. Her stylistic approach to existing vocabulary, her theatrical approach to costuming, and the incredible invention of group improvisation, has allowed infinite variations that all have one thing in common: powerful presentation. The strength that American Tribal Style communicates through its posture, arm placement, and costuming was a revelation for me as a feminist. Without Fat Chance, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be dancing today.

There is a huge list of other artists: costumers, musicians, actors, photographers, etc. that have influenced the style, and I’ll try to cover most of them here. If I can take credit for anything, it would be a love of teaching and learning, and an obsession with collages. Heather Stants credits me as the “adoptive mother” of the form, which, now adopted by thousands, continues to grow and change, and each year brings a new level of creativity, excitement, physicality, and beauty to our community.

Einstein jokingly said: “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Well, Einey, for me, the secret to creativity and a happy heart can be found in discovering new work, supporting other artists by sharing their work with others, cultivating curiosity, and infectious enthusiasm.


Have you lost that "spark" lately?

by Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Local dance legend, Delilah, posted this thought-provoking question to a local discussion group not too long ago, which I thought I would share with you, along with my lengthy answer. I am curious if you are experiencing similar "issues" in your dance world, and if so, what your thoughts on it is.


I have been getting a lot of calls e mails, comments in conversation about the spark being lost in belly dance these days. Here is a quote from one dancer I got 2 days ago.

"I have been a bit out of touch with belly dance. Belly dance had served its initial purpose, and yet I was beginning to lose interest in it entirely. I guess I feel that what I see today in its representation is a lack of substance - it's not spiritually fulfilling for me. I have nearly lost the desire to even watch others perform. "

I get constant calls from all over the country about dancers being let down by the Belly Dance Super Stars. These comments come from new dancers, long time hobbyists, professional performers and instructors, and our moms. With a name like that I guess come expectations. Not that they aren't beautiful and graceful But these women describe a flat presentation of something that means so much to women's lives. It's being reduced to a Las Vegas female objectification and what color will she wear next.

The women I've been talking to are saying , they want more! I am frankly very inspired that women are aware enough to articulate this (when commercial machinery is so powerful against the consumer). Personally the belly dance Super Stars do not embarrass me in any way. The show is PC and well rehearsed. However if I was the director with that budget I would do it much differently.

I ask you all. What would YOU do differently?
How can we bring back the qualities that deeply inspire us?


My response after the jump...
Excellent question and topic for discussion, Delilah. Thanks for bringing it up.

I think it's not just the presentation of bellydance that has changed (a la BDSS), but also the teaching of it has changed so much. Does anyone else feel like so much of bellydance marketing today, in workshops and videos, boils down to "I am gonna KICK YOUR ASS in this workshop!"? It feels like a lot of the focus of bellydancing, at least in the circles I travel in, is on a boot camp workout and uber-complex-layering-technique-as-highest-priority. It has become "the more layers and tricks I can add the better", while somewhat ignoring personal expression, connection with our audiences, and if dancing with fellow dancers, connection and communication with each other.

With the increase in the claim of unique "formats" and "certifications", it gives one the impression that bellydance is a formulaic, scientific study where if one just follows the recipe, they can dance.
Don't get me wrong, I think the increase in attention to technique, and the proliferation of mentorships where teachers are taking very public responsibility for the students they are producing is a good step for the overall growth and improvement of bellydance as a respected performance art (though in my opinion not all certifications carry equal substance to back up the paper--a discussion for another time). But it's not all there is...

I feel this boom of "technique-centric" was in response to a really important need in the community to increase our awareness of what comprises strong and safe technique, and to help us understand what we are seeing in ourselves and in other performances--why did we think she was a good dancer, or conversely why do we think that performance was weak? Being able to identify strong technique, and employ it in our dance and performance is important. But it's not all there is! Technique is a tool to reach something a little more difficult to describe, and yet natural to attain if we really focus on it: grace, beauty, connection, energy, emotion, personal expression...THE ART of it!

We always parrot on about comparing where bellydance is in the world compared to Western forms of dance, such as ballet or jazz. We talk about all the technique they learn, how difficult it is, what a commitment it is. And that's true. But two key points seem to be ignored:

1) They also learn expression--what story their faces and bodies tell is trained into them as well. They often also take acting classes alongside their dance to be better at that aspect of performing. Yes, it is so much dance technique, but it is not purely technical execution. And

2) Do we really want bellydance to become just like those dance forms? Isn't part of what we love about bellydance, and what it brings to our lives, is what was lacking in other dance forms at our disposal? I know it was for me! I studied jazz, ballet, and modern, and nothing weaved its fingers into my heart quite so much as bellydance. There is a reason for that--there are aspects to bellydance which nurture us in ways other dance forms don't. And that is what is somewhat being lost today, in my opinion.

I feel like we have lost sight of the yin to our yang. The pendulum has swung so hard in the direction of methodical, mathematical, technical, manufactured, competitive, individual approach; and away from the artistic, nurturing, connecting, heart-felt, sincere, spirit-centered approach. Of course this is a vast generalization, and is also my personal opinion from my experiences in recent years. Your mileage may vary.

Locally, I feel like we have lost a lot of the "community" in our community. We keep holding events, but they seem primarily designed around a) for-pay workshops or b) performances; and everyone seems to largely draw their own students and friends. Neither of these kinds of gatherings fully creates a chance to connect and interact with one another. As a result, there isn't so much cross-pollination as there used to be. Something changes when we interact with one another face-to-face. We respect one another more when we more often look one another in the eye, and interact in person. We feel more connected and responsible for one another.

Within my own hands, I feel guilty at how little I have been able to facilitate community in the past couple of years. Ever since my back injury several years back which had me not able to dance for months, and pain with which I am still affected, my energy has shifted so internally to self-preserve, and I have neglected the needs of my students, my dance family, and the community at large for opportunities to connect around the dance in unique ways. This was a very high priority for me, and anyone who knows me can attest, bringing people together is something I love dearly to do. My video nights and The Gathering open dance circles fell to the wayside. Drum circles on the beach used to be a favorite opportunity to hang out, dance, laugh, chat that we looked forward to every summer--Delilah remember you and Erik coming to play with us back then? I loved seeing you guys there and getting to jam and connect. And our troupe putting on haflas also faded away. Man, those are some great memories for me!

And now with a combination of national apathy and financial difficulty, what attempts to connect us which remain are often not well attended. Which further discourages those of our community left who are rallying to keep us coming together. Delilah, you are one of those who is so great at creating opportunities for dancers of all styles and focuses to come together around unique and interesting topics and events. I feel like you are one who is continuing to do the work so many of us have not been doing, or failing in our attempts to do. I know you, too, have been suffering with lower attendance; and financially being a studio owner must also be a struggle. But you keep plugging away, and for that I personally am grateful to you for all your energy you pour into it.

Ultimately it boils down to that I would like to see the pendulum swing a little more back toward center--a balance between the technical, "feel the burn", "do it faster, harder, more complicated", trick-after-trick approach to the dance, and the heart-centered, personal, connecting, sincere expression through our bodies we know this dance can be.

Thanks Delilah, for asking this very thought-provoking question."

I am looking forward to getting back to a heart-centered dance this week. 

I am reminding myself that I don't need to leap  back in to every detail from day one. I remember when I first began teaching, and when I told Paulette that what was most important to me was building a community around the dance. That was what I admired so much in her, and what I wanted in Seattle. So that will be my mantra, my focus as we return to class this week. I want to teach strong technique and nurture confident and skilled dancers, but most of all, I want them to enjoy one another in the process, and share in each other's growth over the days, months, and years they are with me ..and beyond.

Not alone...

by Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Seems I am not alone in my feeling the need to hibernate my dance a little bit. Paulette's latest newsletter came out today, and here is a snippet:

"Now I need to take a little more private time for myself.  I have decided to take a year’s sabbatical from performing, and some teaching. I, too, need time to feed my soul, to process, and to find out where I am in the dance now. I do know that I love to teach, and therefore I have a few select teaching engagements in the next year, which I am excited about... 
But I cannot go on full force like I have been, and continue my life on the farm with my husband and my adorable menagerie, and also run my fabulous new shop, Cultivator General Store. I need to take time to find out what my next dance steps are...

My amazing troupe, the Gypsy Caravan Dance Company, will be on hiatus as well, with the other dancers off to their own adventures for now. My dancer/student/friends, the Caravan Dance Collective, will continue on without me in some shape of a troupe, to their choosing, while I take my time on my private journey. I am thankful for their support with my decision. And who know where I will end up?"

Read the full newsletter HERE.  Scroll near the bottom to see this portion.

Paulette, I wish you well on your road through these questions, and hope you find answers that fulfill your heart and soul. (And I know I still owe you a visit, Momma. *mwah*) The journey continues...

Who I am vs. What I do

by Monday, September 13, 2010
I am coming back off my dance hiatus this week, and in addition to lots and lots of dreams in the weeks leading up to the day--some anxiety, some hope-filled--one theme keeps running around in my head: the idea of your profession being something you do versus something which defines who you are.

When people ask what I do for a living I have long said "I am a bellydance teacher and performer." When I think about it, I can see that I am answering a question that wasn't asked. Isn't this a response we all give equally casually?

"What do you DO?" they ask. And we answer "I AM a..."  There's a subtle but important distinction between the question and the answer. 

The former is an action or a behavior, and the latter is a statement of self-definition. (As an aside,  I wonder if the language changes if you are doing something you don't enjoy... like do you say "I am a burger flipper" or do you say "I flip burgers", or whatever stereotypically hated job you want to insert in there? )  What I keep wondering these past few weeks is am I a bellydancer, or am I many many other things as well, complex and simple, and bellydance is simply something I do? Do I sincerely feel that "I am a bellydancer" is the most accurate way to respond to the question?

 When  my mind wanders in this direction, I remember a moment I have kept close to my heart for years. At Tribal Fest 2004, I believe it was, I was taking time away from my booth to get a glass of wine. Running the drink table was a small grey haired woman with a sweet smile and easy manner, and we struck up a conversation. She revealed that at 70-something, she was going back to college to get her AA. I remarked how incredible that was, and she agreed, but that she was really hating having to do math again, which we laughed about in agreement. I asked her if she was a bellydancer, and she said no, she just lived nearby and heard they needed help and she thought it would be fun to see the show and meet people and lend a hand.  She then went on to share that she has never liked being just one thing at a time. That all her life she has done whatever felt good or right at the time, and had moved through many different professions as it suited. She liked that she was never just one thing, but always had opportunities to explore so many different jobs, people, and avenues of expression. And that she planned to do just that until the day she died.

I can still see her face so clearly in my mind as she told me this--how happy she looked, and how unapologetic she was that she had never "settled down" into one way of life. She stated her fluid nature as a strength and a pride. She was so vibrant, and her philosophy so inspirational to me in that moment, that it has stuck with me and percolated inside my soul ever since. 

When I stepped away from the dance to take my hiatus, and all the issues that swirled around that choice and change, I asked myself if I was ever going to come back to the dance. And even entertaining that thought in passing felt like a punch in the gut and a tearing at my heart. I love teaching dance, I believe in what I do, and I am good at it. How could I possibly consider not teaching or performing bellydance any more? That is who I AM.  And the unintended pressure came from well-meaning friends and loved ones as well, who reeled at the mere suggestion I may not dance or teach again. After all, they said, that is WHO everyone knows me to BE.  Can you imagine the weight of that attitude as it pressed down on me, from within and without? The feeling that I was somehow trapped insinuated itself into my mind--that I was locked onto one path, that I had to bellydance, or else who was I?  That I would be confusing people who knew me as a dancer, and worse yet that I would be letting people down. What a burden it felt like. And I began to resent the idea of coming back to dance at all.

That thing I loved had become an evil "other" that encompassed an ocean of expectations and requirements in order to simply be myself, without which I was nothing.

So I railed against going back. I brushed up my resume and started casually job hunting, looking for anything that sparked my interest, irrespective of the details of time or finances.  I tried to explain to my loved ones that I wanted to take time to see who I was, rather than be defined by what I do. That there were so many interests I had which were placed on a permanent back-burner over the years because I had so much of my energy--my being, if you will--channeled in one direction. For all I know, I could be a fantastic photographer, or my graphic design work may grow by leaps and bounds if I gave it more dedicated attention, or what about going back to the theater I loved so much, or any number of other "side interests" I have not been able to nurture because I couldn't take my eyes off the road in front of me.  But this idea of being more malleable in our definition of self and profession, and less single-focused, is not a popular one in our culture. The prevailing attitude is that certainly at 35 you are supposed to know "who you are", which we define almost entirely by our careers (or children). To tell people you don't want to be just one thing any more, especially when they are familiar and comfortable with that definition of you, really sends them into a tailspin. They were trying to be supportive by encouraging me to not "give up" on the dance, but it only made me despair even more that I would never get out of these handcuffs of "bellydancer".

My Mom was one helpful voice among the many. She encouraged me to take the time away to explore other opportunities, and let the dance come back to me, so to speak, rather than rushing back to it for the wrong reasons.  She didn't seem the least bit alarmed or concerned at my confession that I wasn't sure if I would return to teaching.

And I realize it is because she is my Mom (duh), and she doesn't see me as only one thing or another. She sees me as her daughter, first and foremost, and she simply wants me to be happy.  

Not that my other friends and family didn't want me to be happy, but that in their minds, I had been so completely fulfilled as a dancer, it worried them to imagine me trying to find that someplace else, and risk losing that joy they saw in me in the bargain.

I was just getting used to the idea of maybe taking a more extended hiatus (after all, my foot is still an issue, and I need to get that surgery--can't go into releve at all right now), and possibly never coming back at all, when hubby piped up with another pearl of wisdom.  In a nutshell, he pointed out that a lot of shit came down the pike around when I took time off from dancing, and if I took time off from dance now, and perhaps never returned, I may always wonder later in life if I left because it was truly time to move in new directions, or because I was trying to escape all the difficulty and sadness that happened to overlap with my time off. He said that when and if I decide I want to explore other avenues of expression and leave bellydance behind, he completely supports me, but that I should try to do it cleanly and without all the baggage that is tied to it right now in my heart, so that I am not left with potential "what ifs" and regrets.

He is so wise.

So I started to get my new website together, contacted the community center to set up my schedule for the fall, and sent out my class newsletter. Getting back into the swing feels strange...feels so different than before. It seems like I have been away longer than I actually have. I feel a little less steady. Honestly, while there are many things about going back to teach this week that I am looking forward to, I still feel a little trepidatious, like I am coming back to the dance before the dance has come back to me. But maybe, just maybe, it is waiting for me to meet it halfway. And once I show up at our designated meeting spot (not the top of the Empire State Building, too cliche), the dance will leap from its hiding spot with a big bouquet of flowers and colorful balloons and throw its arms around me and welcome me back. And I will fall into those arms and feel like I have come home. Maybe.

But one thing I feel very confident of. That for now, I want to be clear that I do this, and not completely am this. I don't want to put all my eggs in this one basket, or limit myself to one path for my energies. I want to be invested, but also able to let go, and not feel like I am losing my fundamental self.

Last spring I read this quote on Zen Habits, and it is so perfectly perfect, it sums up everything I have been thinking so neatly:

Define yourself in fluid terms. We are all constantly evolving and growing. Define yourself in terms that can withstand change. Defining yourself by possessions, roles, and relationships breeds attachment because loss entails losing not just what you have, but also who you are.

Yeah, what she said.

7 Secrets of Super Performers

by Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Benefit of Letting Go

by Friday, September 10, 2010
A great post from Lateral Action:

"Whenever you set out to do something extraordinary, there comes a point where... you have to choose between trying to control everything – or letting go and getting carried away by something bigger and more powerful than yourself."

It reminds me of a similar message from Elisabeth Gilbert in her TEDTalk, which I adore so. Head over to see a man about a horse, and possibly enjoy the same "hell yeah" I experienced when reading it. ;)

More on music: Traditional music opens you up...

by Wednesday, September 08, 2010
A fellow dancer and student, Meissa, posted this on the Shira.net tribe earlier this year:

"I have been told "you can bellydance to anything you want" more times than I can count True, but, I also crashed and burned so very hard on my last solo of 2009 (which was a total trainwreck and a huge pain to watch-I can't believe I subjected people to THAT kind of self-indulgence), and preparing my first solo of 2010, cause I didn't learn from my 2009 mistake. I was so hellbent on dancing to that obscure music no one had danced to before, and putting on that pretty costume that no one else had, that I forgot what I really wanted to do: BELLYDANCE.

I was so very proud of myself when I danced solo to a traditional piece for the first time. I forgot about all the trinketry and the jewelry and just allowed myself to open up and feel the music."

I simply adored these sentiments from Meissa!

My thoughts after the jump:

"It is interesting what Meissa said about when she dances to Middle Eastern music she experiences an "opening up" to the music. It's true that "authentic" bellydance music really does drive your dancing. I find that the movements that come into my mind and body when listening to Middle Eastern music is just different than when I dance to a driving techno beat. As it should be! The music *informs* our movement, and as A'isha is fond of saying, the "essence" of the dance.

So what happens when we feed our dance a steady diet of non-ME music? Our movement becomes less and less a reflection of that music, and it stands to reason it becomes less and less "bellydance" in nature. It doesn't mean the dancing is bad, and it doesn't mean the dancer is weak, it's just that the movement which naturally pairs with, and is supported by, Western music is very different than that which is supported by Middle Eastern music.

I just want to be clear that I totally get it that maybe M.E. music doesn't resonate with everyone. But I would argue that if you aren't at all inspired to move by M.E. music, then maybe bellydance isn't the dance you are seeking in your heart and soul. I would NEVER make that determination FOR someone else, and so am not at all saying "you're not a bellydancer!' That would be pretty presumptuous of me or anyone to try and say. But I think the question is an important one for a dance where the music is so intrinsic to the development of its aesthetics. And I would encourage anyone who fits that bill to try and develop greater appreciation for M.E. music--work with it more, and see how it informs your dancing. Think of it as adding a vitamin supplement to your dance diet to increase the 'energy and health' of your dance self!"

Does the music make the dancer?

by Sunday, September 05, 2010
When I first got together with a troupe, we were a democratic group, with no director. Everyone contributed music and costuming and choreographies to their best ability. There was one member who always brought really diverse music that was fun to move to, but it was never anything event remotely Middle Eastern or North African. Some of it we used for variety, sure. But when she kept bringing less and less appropriate music (by our opinion of course), I had to ask her about it. Her response was "I don't really like Middle Eastern music." And I had to ask her, "They WHY are you into bellydance?" And yet today, this is a very common sentiment...bellydancers who don't care for bellydance music. How does that compute?

While I am a big proponent of being able to play with lots of different music to add variety to your dance, particularly when we perform for mostly bellydance audiences (and who wants to hear Miserlou again), I would think one of the base requirements of being a bellydancer is listening to, appreciating, and dancing to Middle Eastern music. Otherwise, I would think any number of other styles of personal expression would make more sense: modern dancer, interpretive dancer, or world fusion dance is my favorite.

So before I make this sound like I am just judging other people and don't know of what I speak, I myself have also struggled with this topic.

When my first pro troupe was younger and trying hard to establish our own voice, we began venturing in a lot of different directions to seek unique inspiration. Some were closer to bellydance, and some were much further afield. Not just with movement, but the music, too, was getting further and further from bellydance. We were having fun, and we were getting lots of workshops and performance opportunities, and it was a real peak in our troupe history. But the more we became known for our fusions, and our non-bellydance stylizations, the less time and energy we spent on bellydancing. Pretty soon, our music, choreography, movement vocabulary, and costuming had collectively grown so far from bellydance, I had the realization that we weren't really bellydancers any more--at least not primarily.

That is when I had to decide: did I want to be a bellydancer or not? So I told my troupe that I wanted to be known for being good bellydancers, and I didn't want to spend my time with the other fusions so much any more. And to do that, we needed to be spending our time working on our bellydance technique, developing an ear for bellydance music, improving our finger cymbal skills, and drawing primarily from inspirations within the genre and not so much from without. So we made a significant shift in our repertoire, and hopped back on the bellydance path and never looked back. We still did fusion choreographies, danced to a good chunk of world beat music, and as ATS based dancers, our foundations were already a bellydance fusion. But we were rooted firmly in bellydance in all we did: we anchored our performances with Middle Eastern and North African music, and carefully considered new movements and concepts that could take root in our vocabulary to make sure it suited the aesthetics of a bellydance presentation.

I still get requests for the workshop and performance material we were doing all those years ago. People really enjoyed it, we had a great time, and as a teacher my workshop income was about twice as good then. It's hard to take that kind of loss as a businesswoman, and so I have a unique understanding of and empathy for other teachers and performers who aren't really bellydancing any more, but continue to get a lot of work and notoriety from the community. But for me, I wanted to bellydance, so I made it my personal focus to study, teach, and perform the music, movement, costuming, and culture which supports that goal.

Just my personal experience, for what it's worth.

Q&A: Intellectual Property and Students Teaching

by Thursday, September 02, 2010
Q. "I was hoping for input from someone who's developed their own [tribal improv] method and the "proprietary" nature of the material.

I have students with their own performing group here in town, but up to now, the group improv format we do in class is off limits unless you're performing with [us], so they don't use it or teach it in their group.

They do, however like to use my choreographies & adapt my choreographies for their performances, & that's OK -

But I know that when we release the [troupe] format on DVD they'll be all over it. I know they'll ask me about using it when it comes out. I'm too close to tell how I feel about it. I don't want to make any blanket statements on it one way or the other (Yes, use it; No, don't use it) based on *nothing*.

Do I try for some kind of 'non-compete clause' within a certain territory? or just let it be a free-for-all? I just want some input from someone who's been there or seen it, an objective perspective."

A. "In general, my opinion is that once you put out a video, you're putting it out there for the world to do with as they please. Yes, you can hope they will do it justice if they perform it, you hope they will give credit as appropriate; but ultimately, you are letting the djinn out of the bottle and you can't truly control it once it is out. If you don't want your material used, then don't make a video. In fact, don't perform at all if you don't want your material scooped, because it WILL be used in some capacity! As artists, we can hope for people to be more creative and respectful, but sometimes people will outright take your work (not be "inspired by it" or "moved to try something similar, but take it wholesale) and we have to learn to breathe deeply and be zen about it. It does and will happen. From within our own student circles and without. It can be frustrating, it can even hurt our egos, but it is a reality. I have run into it many times, and I lived to teach another day. :)

As for your students, we have a non-compete clause that says that you cannot teach our material without express permission from the director, and you are not to use any unique troupe combos or concepts or costuming elements outside of the troupe. This is to keep us from shooting ourselves in the foot--we don't want to be a competition to ourselves for gigs and workshops. So we agree for the good of the collective that we won't set up any competition of any kind. That is of course only "binding" so long as they are in the troupe. Once they leave us and strike out on their own and if they continue to dance and/or teach, we ask, and can *hope*, that they won't try to bank on the troupe's work explicitly, and our contract states that they should not take troupe-specific concepts, choreographies, etc and use them once they leave, but again...we can't truly force them one way or another. So you have to breathe deeply and be zen about it...you know the routine. :)

For students, I don't feel I have any right to tell them they can use this or can't use that. After all, why are they coming to me to learn? To get information they can USE of course! I encourage them to use what I share with them, and I also encourage them to create their own ideas and run with them, allowing my ideas and knowledge to be a springboard, not a crutch. I am proud when I see students of mine in their own troupes using concepts I know they learned from me or creating concepts based on what I have shared with them. It means I did my job!

In my opinion, in a troupe it is like an employee-employer relationship, where we have intellectual property that belongs to the troupe and is not for general consumption. For students, it is a customer-vendor relationship. And what I teach them in class is for them to use freely as they see fit.

To compare:

Employee/Employer Relationship: when a clothing designer develops a pattern/design in-house, and a design employee leaves, they are not allowed to go out and start selling that exact same clothing under their own label. (There are knock-offs that come from just such a relationship though, yes? And legally, there is little to be done about that, unfortunately.)

Customer/Vendor Relationship: when a clothing company sells me a shirt and pants, I can wear it any way I want, cut it up and make it into new garments, gift it to a friend, stuff it and make a scarecrow out of it, and generally use it for my own purposes.

Now don't get too caught up in the minutiae of that argument. Yes yes, there are copyright laws and safeguards in place which address these issues and blah blah blah. But on the surface, hopefully this comparison makes sense. And ultimately, we are talking about a living breathing art, not a shirt on a hanger, right?


On this blog I share my personal posts about cooking and knitting, travel and other musings; while I will blog about dance-specific topics over on the Deep Roots Dance blog:

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