Steampunk Bellydance - an article and some thoughts

by Monday, February 28, 2011
 On a discussion over in the comments section on this article on Gilded Serpent, there is some debate about whether Steampunk Bellydance is a legitimate genre of dance or not--the article asserts it is not, and some commenters argue the contrary.

One very articulate poster, going only by the name "T.", is clearly a Steampunk practitioner/enthusiast/community member, and had some very articulate thoughts to share on her frustrations with the overuse of Steampunk in everyday parlance.  A portion of her post read:

"It’s never a good feeling, having your meticulous, time-honored craft dismissed or eclipsed by a trend you have no immediate connection to. It’s difficult not to feel uneasy, watching your art form be oversimplified, lumped in, or lazily dismissed by an all-too-easy and reductive definition. It’s not fun, being shoved in a box that you have no desire to be in, even if that box is comfortable, or even inspiring, for plenty of others who’ve willingly placed themselves inside of it."

My reply, which I share as a founding member of the Seattle Steamrats in addition to my over a decade of teaching and performing bellydance, are as follows follows:

A. Not to be flip, but I imagine this sums up the feelings of a large cross-section of the bellydance "culture" who feel that lots of different things have been tossed into a giant pile and called bellydance, for no other reason than someone likes bellydance AND something else, and they think that gives them the inalienable right to jam them together and call it bellydance.  These sentiments ring true to artists of any and all ilk--there are always those who are trying to maintain a set of recognizable criteria and standards, and there are those who feel to do so is a constraint of their creativity. The former feels they are being undermined in their efforts to uphold their ideals, and the latter feels they are "taking it to the next level."

I always argue that a dancer should be able to remove their costume and even the music (gasp), and those knowledgable of the style being presented should be able to recognize the dance they are doing.  I have yet to see a performance called "Steampunk bellydance" able to communicate that fusion through purely movement. Tempest and I disagree on gothic bellydance as well--I have not yet experienced something under that moniker that didn't look simply as either simply bellydance or generally modern/interpretive dance.

Think of it. Can you recognize tap without any of the trappings? How about ballet? Flamenco? Hip Hop? Irish Step Dance?  Contact improv? Salsa? Jitterbug? Stomp?
And within these styles, experts can even discern sub-styles fairly easily.  Yet with bellydance, often we throw on a different piece of music and a different costume, and we think we can call it something else. We need to look deeper, as a community of artists, to understand what really differentiates one style from another and whether it truly is a new style, or an existing style in a new frock.

Shay and Chris at a Seattle Steamrats gathering

How many hours for a bellydance gig?

by Sunday, February 20, 2011
In a previous post, we looked at The True Cost of a Performance. In this installment, we look at the incomparable Delilah Flynn's question of:

Q. "How many hours does it take you to do a belly dance gig?"

Delilah's Answer:
"8PM show. 

I have to eat my last meal by 3:00 PM or I feel sluggish and bloated. So I have to plan my day accordingly. Open suitcase and gather costume pieces. Iron veil if necessary. Make sure I have costume, make up, zills, evening dress, shoes and stockings in the early day so incase I have to run an errand I have time. This takes about 30 minutes somewhere in my day. 

I shower at 5:30 and begin putting on makeup and doing hair at 6:00-6:45 and get dressed and load the car with costumes, sound system, props. 

Arrive at the gig to get acclimated at least 30-40 minutes in advance so I leave the house at 7:00 if local. The show is at 8:00 give or take a few . Usually shows go on a little late if the audience is still arriving . 

By 9 :00 I should be finished and need 30 minutes to cool down before stepping out in the Seattle rain. How ever the audience usually wants to meet the dancers so going out and saying hello is a professional curtesy.  So I probably am in my car at 10:00 realistically.

I estimate it takes me 30 minutes pre-plan during the day then 5pm-10:15 pm is my time investment for 1 nightly gig. So around 5 1/2 hours including driving and parking. If I have to set up sound lights or rehearse and do a sound and light check, then it could be all day long! If the show has 2 sets or is a theater show it could be all night too! 

The time it took to procure costumes, music, equipment, design and print business cards is another time investment and is why we don't work by the hour but by the gig. When dancers get $60-$100 for a gig it's not star wages or anything near! 

So even the lowest dancer on the totem pole should get paid I think. If the club or gig is resistant then perhaps you are deluding yourself as to your worth as a performer. This is where the stuff gets so sticky. "But I want to dance!" Yup...I know. Find a hafla, festival or recital show. So if the club is at least paying 1 dancer is it different? Maybe. How much are they paying her I suppose would be the next consideration. How many tables are in the room. Has business increased because of the show? Is the club owner advertising the show or is he just figuring your friends will come in. Ugh! Are the other dancers announced as students with a professional representation of belly dance getting paid. Maybe thats fine. have you spent all this time getting ready for your gig and there is still no audience. If the club owner has no investment in the show he won't advertise or get the word out (believe me restraunt owners are exhausted). He will rely on YOU. So then it's even more of your time! "

Valentine's Day - Why all the hatin'?

by Monday, February 14, 2011
A re-blog from my Livejournal, circa 2007

Valentine's Day...

I have never understood the amount of negativity people have toward a holiday that is devoted to love. This is not directed at anyone particular, but instead feelings that have long germinated in me over this topic.

"But it's so COMMERCIALIZED..."
You don't have to buy a THING from Hallmark or anyone else to give a gift to someone you love. Draw or paint something for your Mom. Sew up something fun for your best girlfriend. Make a "coupon book" for your boyfriend. Wash your car and go for a day road-trip with your honey, pack a picnic many little things you can do for fun.

"I hate feeling like I am OBLIGATED to do something..."
Obligated? How about OPPORTUNITY?! A chance to celebrate the idea of love, in all its forms, with the rest of the country (or world, depending on other countries that celebrate it :). A chance to smile, look someone in the eye, and say "Happy Valentine's Day!" and better yet, follow it up with "I love you!" And from there, it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. No obligation. Just a chance to do something a little special and different from last Tuesday...

"Why just ONE day? I mean, we should be loving to each other EVERY day."
Right, and every day should be your birthday, because you are valuable and special every day? And it should be Christmas every day because we should celebrate good will toward men every day. And it should be Independence Day every day because we should be grateful for all the freedoms our country allows us, and the honor the men and women who fight for those rights and priviledges. And am I only required to not be racist during black history month?

Setting aside one day to especially recognize something important doesn't mean it isn't something that should be valued and practiced the rest of the year. But having one day to really focus on it and share that moment with many other people who are also celebrating and honoring's magical. Give yourself permission to share in it, too!

If you don't want to celebrate it, fine. But the excuses make no sense to me. This holiday, in whatever different form, was around long before commercialism took hold of it. We don't have to be bound by what they say it is. It is what WE make it--a chance to give friends an extra-special gift or write them a note to acknowledgment their value in our lives; a chance to pat ourselves on the back and focus on the love we have for ourselves and maybe treat ourselves to a little indulgence we might not ordinarily; a chance to go out of your way to tell your family how much they mean to you and add a smile to their day; and for some it is just plain permission to say "I love you" to people who on any other day might feel it was overly emotional or out of context--not everyone has open, loving relationships in their lives where they get to say it and hear it every other day of the year. If you are one who does, then you are blessed. If you are not, then don't disparage a holiday and businesses which support the practice so at least one day a year, a woman (or man) gets flowers, candy, and a back rub. :)

A question of musicality...

by Friday, February 11, 2011
On Tribe, a fellow dancer shared a wonderful link to spark a discussion about how you learn and/or teach musicality in bellydance.   It ties into yet another Tribe discussion on the Tribal Bellydance tribe where a fellow member asked about whether you "count" or "feel" the music, which this article also addresses.  The article is about salsa, but the concepts apply, and offers good food for thought, so I thought I would share!

Here is a snippet:

"To the many who try to downplay the use of counting music, consider for a moment our beloved salsa music that we yearn to dance to. Those musicians count their music. In the words of “The Unlikely Salsero” Don Baarns, “Music ain’t random.” It has structure. No matter how dynamic or unconventional a song is, it has structure. The count is the structure of this music. A band has to count its music the same so that each member can be on the same page, or else musical chaos ensues. When each band member is playing his or her role and instrument, doing something different from one another that still somehow gels together into the beautiful sounds we hear, the count is the common ground that they all return to. I dare anyone to try to convince a legitimate musician or band not to count because it’s not important. The members of the band cannot simply “feel” the music. Each band member thinks differently and has a different personality, and therefore will not feel or interpret the music the same as the next. If each member only relied on his or her “feeling”, the song would be an un-danceable mess. This is no different for us in this partner dance we call salsa. If you are dancing with another person, you are dealing with another mind, another personality that will not feel the music the same way that you do, not to mention the fact that person is of the opposite gender (but that’s another story). The count is there so that you both will be able to be on the same page, the same way that the members of a band would. If the musicians that produce the music we dance to feel that counting is important, why shouldn't we?"

DanceNerdsUnite also has a post about musicality that I really enjoyed reading.

"Musical dancers, on the other hand, never disregard the music to fit in more tricks. “You can see the effort in a nonmusical dancer—they are often step-driven,” says NYC ballet teacher Deborah Wingert. “Musical dancers don’t just turn until they stop. They turn until they have to move on to the next point in the music. Musical dancers never get so caught up in steps that they ignore the music.”"

The True Cost of a Performance

by Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Over on Bhuz, they have some regularly featured blog posts that are fun to poke around at from time to time. This particular post I saw today made me want to cheer for all the articulate and thoughtful consideration that went into the topic: a breakdown of what it really costs to be a dancer, and why our rates are set as they are.  Many thanks to Jennifer for her post! A snippet appears below, and a link to the full article is HERE.

"Here is the whole breakdown of why I and other belly dancers in my area, charge what we do. After examining this list it should become very apparent why this is a specialty type of service and the key differentiators between a professional such as myself and non-professionals. The dancing you see in a performance is the fun part, but the behind the scenes work that is put into producing a show is quite a different story:
  • Gas- It just keeps going higher doesn’t it?
  • Car Maintenance- My car is one of my most important assets, if it is not up to shape I cannot drive anywhere! As a belly dancer I put in about 24,000 miles a year driving to all my venues and events.
  • Tolls- Those get higher every year as well.
  •  “Renting” Costumes- All my costumes are high end Turkish designer duds or from my self-made line. All in all, that leads to big $$$$ being spent to make a big impression. Every wear of a costume depreciates its resale value (like a car). In fact we are  "renting” a costume every time we use it.
  • “Renting” Props- the same basic idea goes for props as it does costumes.
  • Custom Music Edits- Hello software! Music editing software costs money and so does every single song we must buy that is not easily available on popular music sites such as I-tunes. Many of the most amazing songs I use have taken months of research to find, and are in languages not familiar to me, so that is a part-time job in and of itself....(continued)"
Read the rest of the list at

How to Get Gigs by Cera Byer

by Saturday, February 05, 2011
Cera Byer (director of Damage Control Dance Theater) wrote a note recently over on Facebook about what it takes to get gigs. With her permission, I re-post her pragmatic advice here for your enjoyment. (punctuation and grammar were copied as written)

"a lot of people have been asking me recently how i get dance jobs/how i get hired at festivals, so i thought i'd just make a public post about it.

here's the answer: I ASK.

yep, that's it, no magic. i just ask.

i have a browser window that's always open that has the following tabs open at all times:
craigslist, danceplug audition board, theater bay area audition listings, and one empty one that cycles through google searches and dance magazines.

every single day, after i check my email, i look through each of these, and i apply to everything that looks interesting. EVERYTHING. even things i may not be able to do because of the date or how much it pays, just so people have my resume on file.

if there are no listings that look good, i will google dance festivals, theater companies, anything that i know pays dancers in my area, and i send in an unsolicited application - this means, even tho i dont see a listing saying they're hiring, i write to them and tell them who i am and say i'd love it if they had my resume on file for future projects. some companies dont like this, but i've had people write back and say 'OMG a choreographer just quit, can you come in today!?'

i applied to teach at tribal fest every year for 6 years before they hired me.
i applied to teach at kosmos camp every year for 3 years before they hired me.
i applied to teach at bellyfusions, and paid out of pocket to bring my company with me when they didn't cover all our travel.
every year, even tho they didn't hire me, i showed up as a participant, i said hi to all the organizers, i shook their hands, and i attended happily, knowing that one day, i'd teach there too.

i ask to be introduced to people if i find out that people i know are friends with people i'd like to know/should know. i walk up and introduce myself to the owners of theaters and the organizers of events, and then i exchange business cards, and then i write to them and follow up. i friend them on facebook, i tell them happy birthday. i stay connected.
i seek out choreographers that i admire and i ask them for critique on my work. i seek out directors and actors i admire and i ask them for critique on my work. 
after a while, people start to ask for you by name, because they know who you are.
i try to connect people if i hear that someone i know is looking for something that someone else i know could help them with, so that if they hear about a project i could be good for, they do the same for me.

the arts business (like all business) is about RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. the first time you meet a new contact may not be when you start working together, sometimes it takes years of saying 'hi' at events before the right project comes along - but trust me, if you keep connected, eventually the right project always comes along.

once you have a gig, be cool with EVERYONE. exchange cards with the tech guys, the venue owners, the bartenders, the dancers, the directors - treat everyone like your peer, because you really dont know who's around. everyone you meet may be the person who hires you for your next job.
be friends with everybody. you dont have to be fake, but work to find a common thread (even as simple as 'we're all on the same gig') with everyone you meet. be punctual, manage time well, deliver a strong product, take criticism well, follow through on commitments as best you can and own mistakes where you cant - like every other relationship you'll ever have - and one job will easily turn into 20.

one of the most important things i ever learned is that you dont have to be the most talented candidate if you're the best to work with. there are lots of talented people out there who aren't cool to work with. if you're both, it puts you way ahead of the game. if you're talented and not cool to work with, you wont get repeat business and referrals, and in a small arts community, that's what it's all about.

if you'd like dance to be your job, treat it like a job. be professional, submit resumes, keep your pro-kit (resume, photos, cv, website, videos, etc) up to date and attractive, and put it into the hands of anyone and everyone who could help you get somewhere. 
most folks would never sit at home and wait for a job to fall into their laps without applying for anything, but people have told me they just figured eventually they'd be 'invited' to teach somewhere. DONT PUT YOUR FATE IN ANYONE ELSES HANDS! if you want it (fuck, if you want ANYTHING), just go ask. you may be surprised at the answer you get.

hope this is helpful =) 

FAQ Spotlight - taking "lower level" classes

by Wednesday, February 02, 2011
When I was a new student, I was absolutely rabid for any new information on bellydance. I was always digging around for new details about the styles I was studying, the classes I was taking, and the teachers I was studying with (or hoped to one day study with). I know a lot of you reading this blog are the same way--you just love reading about the dance, and learning all you can in your time both in and outside of class!

It was in this spirit that I started my FAQ section on my website. I knew other dancers are just like me, and are eager to read up on various topics having to do with the dance. There is a lot to cover, but I tried to focus my questions and answers on the same questions I had when I was first learning. It makes for a long FAQ, though, and it can be hard to find time to dig through it all. So I am going to occasionally post a blog entry featuring one of the FAQ topics I think you may enjoy reading. I welcome any thoughts or feedback on these topics--I am still that same eager student who loves to study and discuss all the angles of this incredible dance form!

Our first featured topic is:

Once I have progressed to the next level in class, why would I want to continue taking the previous level class?

You can read the full FAQ response by clicking the link (the question) above. Sandi of FCBD put it in excellent perspective:

"For me, its kind of like going to yoga classes for a long time. You do the same poses and hear the same words, but you're always able to get better at the poses each time through that verbal guidance. That's what happens with constant practice too. I find that I'm not always successful doing yoga at home on my own because I don't have the guidance and the energy of the other students around me to push me to do it correctly or motivate me to keep the pose for longer.

With ATS, I would always go into a class to not only understand what the teacher is saying, but to get into my body more and try to work on my problem areas."

Right on, Sandi! Have a gander at the FAQ, and please feel free to share any further thoughts you may have!


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:

I hope you will enjoy both my sites. Thanks for visiting!
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