Monday, December 17, 2007

I wanna be a rockstar....

I've performed at a lot of parties throughout my professional dance career. I've met a lot of people and experienced many different situations. Over the years, I've experience two huge extremes in the types of parties I perform at, and I've labeled them appropriately....the "plague parties" and the "rockstar parties."

A "plague party" is one in which the guests treat me like I have the plague - I spend half of my time trying to pull people up to dance with me, and rather than being willing participants in the show, the guests shriek and recoil in horror and will not budge. That would be bad enough on its own, but another common characteristic of a plague party is the "point at your friend" game that the guests inevitably play. As I make my way around the room, every table will have at least one person pointing at someone else at their table and mouthing "pick him, pick him." So, I will go over to the unsuspecting guest and attempt to dance with them, which will always end with yet another shriek and recoil, at which point I move to the next table and start the process all over.

Plague parties really stink, because I can never get into the groove of the performance. I spend most of the set just traveling around to the guests trying to get them involved, and by the time I realize that absolutely no one wants to get up and dance (despite the fact that half of the guests are still furiously pointing at their friends and trying to get my attention so that I will dance with their friends, and their friends are now hiding under the table to avoid me), it's almost time for me to make my exit. Plague parties can be very trying and boring, and it's so hard to keep your energy up during your performance when the audience gives nothing back.

A "rockstar party", on the other hand, is the complete opposite of a plague party. Rockstar parties are just like they sound - I am a rockstar. Everyone wants to get up and dance with me because, well, who wouldn't want to dance with the rockstar? The audience is so into the show, cheering and clapping and encouraging. No one points at their friend in an attempt to embarrass them because (1) no one thinks it's embarrassing to dance with the bellydancer and (2) everyone wants to dance with me themselves!

Although it may not be noticeable to the guests at either of these parties, I feel like my performance is so much better at a rockstar party, because I feed off the energy of the audience and I am truly enjoying myself while I'm out there. I love rockstar parties - I wish they were all like that!

Monday, December 3, 2007

BDSS - the review!

The Bellydance Superstars returned to NY and performed for a half-empty theater at Westbury Music Fair (now known as Northfork Theater) on Nov. 11. Yes, you heard that right. The place was AT LEAST half empty. And, as the theater is normally a theather in the round, it was already cut in half for this performance, to give the dancers a "backstage." So, technically, they were performing for a theater only 1/4 full....

Why was there such a small crowd there? Surely there are enough bellydancers in the NY area to at least make a decent showing when such a big event comes to town, right? (to their defense, there was a show two days prior in Manhattan, which I did not attend and therefore I don't know how many people were there).

Here's what I think.....

If you've seen the show once, you've seen it enough times to last a lifetime. That is, as long as they keep doing the same old thing. What do I mean by this? I've been to BDSS three times (the only time they came to NY and I didn't go, they were here performing a repeat of Raqs Carnivale) and each time it's the same exact format. Aside from last year's "girls on stilts" fiasco, and other little "tricks" thrown in here and there, the show is always the same. You know when you go to see a BDSS show, you are going to see:

  • Sonia and Isaam performing a drum solo;
  • Isaam doing his "clap to the beat while I spice it up and try to trick you" schtick (it was cute the first time around, but come on now! He even does it in the Folies Bergere dvd, so even if you haven't seen the show live, you know what I mean);
  • Jillina performing a drum solo while Isaam and Rachel Brice drum for her, and the Desert Roses will always come out at the end wearing galabeyas, they will all do some crazy zar movements and Jillina will always end on the floor;
  • Petite Jemila performing a double or quadruple veil routine which consists mainly of a lot of spinning (you know you have seen something too many times when spinning that much with four veils no longer impresses you) and (for the past two years) two of the Desert Roses will come out and do a whirling dervish thing behind her;
  • A not-quite-Polynesian number with Sonia in the lead (at least now they've taken to calling it "bellynesian".....??);
  • A dance that just leaves you going "Huh?" (ie: Adore's gymnastics, Dondi's "Marilyn", a new blonde dancer this year doing ballet, etc);
  • The group drum solo when one dancer attempts to "battle" Isaam with her finger cymbals (sorry, but no one can hold a candle to Ansuya and really shouldn't even try) and then she and three other dancers each take turns performing solo;
  • for the past two years, a reggaeton choreography, obviously choreographed by Jillina, who obviously knows very few "hip hop" steps because it was basically the same dance two years in a row.

It's just, well....boring. It's not that the dancers aren't great dancers - for the most part, they are. And it's not that I don't appreciate the lack of stilts and other in-your-face gimmicks, because I do. I guess I'm just over it?

Everyone I talk to about the show says their first time seeing the BDSS was their favorite. Whether it was last year, two years ago, or this time around. Maybe that's because after the first time, it's all the same?

What do you all think?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ready to see some stars....

The Bellydance Superstars are coming to town. They'll be performing at the Northfork Theater (formerly Westbury Music Fair) this Sunday at 8:00pm.

It's been a few years since BDSS came to NY with a new show. They were here last year, but were back performing Raqs Carnivale, which they had done (and I had seen) the year before. So, this is their first new show in the area in a while.

I'm excited about going to see BDSS. I'm really hoping for a great show this year. I have to say that, although I love (most of) the dancers of BDSS and I think they are amazing performers, I was very disappointed in Raqs Carnivale. I felt that the focus was more on the razzle dazzle of a big stage show that keeps the general public interested, and less on the actual bellydance. There was much discussion about this show on at the time, and the general consensus was that BDSS was trying to appeal to a broader audience with the content of their show, but was not reaching a larger audience with their advertising and marketing. Thus, the seats were consistently filled with bellydancers, who were less-than-thrilled with the show that was obviously geared towards the general, non-dancing public.
My feeling was, if I wanted to see samba dancers, I would not go see a bellydance show. If I wanted to see a girl on stilts, I'd go to the circus. I go to BDSS to see some of the best bellydancers in the western world on one stage, and I'd like to see them actually bellydance, please. I don't ask much, do I?

So, I have high hopes for this year's production - that they keep it to what they know how to do, and what they know the audience will enjoy. I'll be sure to post some reviews when it's done!

Friday, October 26, 2007

What are your goals?

Now that my wedding is over (yay! I'm Mrs. Daniela now!), I have a lot more free time on my hands. Well, maybe not a LOT, but definitely more. Anyway, I put many of my dance goals on the back burner as the wedding got closer and closer, and now I'd like to re-focus my energy on dance 100%. I have a few goals I'd like to accomplish over the next few months. Here's what I'm thinking:

  • Go to more workshops. I was on my honeymoon during Rakkasah East, so I missed out on some great opportunities there (not that I'm complaining, because I was on my honeymoon...). I'd like to aim for one workshop a month, but I know budget and time restraints will be an issue, so I'd be happy with one every two months.
  • Put together a sword workshop. This is something that many of my students have expressed interest in - I'd like to do a two-day sword workshop, spread over two weeks' time. I think that this will be great for all students who have a good handle on the basic isolations, and want to add a prop to their performance repertoire
  • Buy a new costume!! Ok, this might not seem like a legitimate goal to some, but I have not bought a new costume in months - I didn't want to spend the money so close to the wedding! But now I'm due!! So, I'm on the hunt for a new sparkly.....
  • Choreograph show dances. It's that time of year again. Time to start getting ready for the annual student showcase. Planning on my end begins way before the actual show - before anyone can start learning their dances, I need to choreograph them!
  • Blog more. I know, I know. I always say I'm going to do this. But now that the wedding is over, I really mean it this time!

So...what are your bellydance goals?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tips for Workshop Organizers

The Adriana Lira Workshop was the first big workshop I had ever hosted (and by big, I mean bringing in a foreign instructor). I kind of went into it a little blind and not knowing what to expect, but I did learn a lot a long the way. Here are some helpful tips I think other first-time workshop organizers could benefit from:

  • Don't plan a workshop for the end of August. People go away during August. Especially the end of it. No matter how many people want to come to your workshop, most of them won't even be around.
  • Make sure you have at least 10 people (or some reasonable minimum you deem reasonable) who swear on their lives that they will be at the workshop. Before agreeing to host Adriana, I asked around amongst my students and dance friends to find out who would come to the workshop if I decided to host it. Lots and lots of people said yes - some were, I'm sure, just saying yes because that's what they thought I wanted to hear. Some said yes without thinking about the logistics of the workshop - could they afford it, would they be able to get there, would they be available? Whatever their reasons, almost everyone who said they were interested did not sign up, and we were left scrambling at the last minute to find enough students to make the workshop worth it. So, get signatures in blood if you have to, but don't agree to host a workshop unless you are absolutely positive you will get a minimum number of students attending.
  • Have video clips of your instructor performing and teaching. This is especially important if you instructor is not a "big name." People want to see what you are asking them to fork over cash for.
  • Ask your instructor to bring his or her music with them as a carry-on on the plane. Or at least a few "emergency cd's". Adriana had a horrible flight experience - a diversion, a weather delay and a missed plane in Atlanta - and one of her bags was missing for the entire weekend. Unfortunately, it was the bag with her cd's for the workshop. (and all her clothes!! But she had her costumes, and really, that's all that matters, isn't it??). We had to do some creative song substitutions to make the classes work. They worked, but Adriana had plans for each class that she wasn't able to execute because of the missing music.
  • Advertise heavily. Everywhere. On the internet. In your classes. In dance studios. Everywhere. People may really want to come to your workshop, but due to the procrastinating nature of human society, they will not sign up when they hear about it, and then forget to do so until it's too late. If someone told me they wanted to come to the workshop, I emailed them and emailed them until I got a registration. Yes, I was probably annoying. But they registered.
  • Don't park your car in a bus stop in Manhattan. Um, well, that piece of advice is not really limited to workshop organzers - it's good advice for everyone. Don't park your car in a bus stop, or you will have to spend hours in the NYC Tow Pound and pay $185 to get your car back. Yeah, it happened to us after Day 1 of the workshop....

So, those are the little bits of wisdom I learned from hosting this workshop. Anyone out there have some experience in this field? Please share what you've learned!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Adriana Lira workshop was a success!!

Whew! What a weekend!! Adriana Lira has just left NYC after an intense weekend of workshops. The workshops were great!! Everyone really had a great time and we learned so much.

My favorite class was the drum solo. I will definitely be using that choreography in my classes! It was so unique and very appropriate - there was a samba section in the music, which is awesome, being that Adriana is from Brazil!

I loved Adriana's style of dance. With her ballet background, her dance is infused with much ballet influence, which I love. Her style is also unique to her in that she draws from her Brazilian background, and you can definitely see the samba in her dance as well!

There were some minor snags in the weekend (ie: Adriana's luggage with ALL her CD's got lost and the airline didn't find it until AFTER the workshops were over!) and I definitely learned a lot, not only from a dancer's standpoint, but from an organizer's standpoint as well. I'll post some of my tips for organizers later.

All in all, though, it was a great weekend. We were truly luck to have Adriana here in NYC and can't wait for her to come back!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Adriana Lira of Brazil is coming to New York

Well, the workshop I've been talking about this whole time is quickly approaching, so I thought I should start telling you all some more's the little blurb I listed on

Daniela presents a weekend of workshops with Adriana Lira of Brazil at Stepping Out Studios, 37 W. 26th St., August 25 and 26 (Saturday and Sunday).

Classes include drum solo, pop choreography, choreography and improvization for performance workshop, and Lebanese cane. $75 for one day, $140 for both.

See (now with VIDEO clips!) for information including registration form contact. Email for more info an a registration form.

So, that's the info. Please visit the website to learn more about Adriana. I urge you all to sign up, even if just for one of the two days. The best way to grow as a dancer is by experiencing other teachers, other styles, and by just getting yourself out there and learning MORE. So, sign up ASAP, because you don't want to wait till it's sold out!

See you at the workshop!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

I'm too sexy for my bedlah.....

No, I don't really think that....I'm just playing with that ever popular song from the early 90's (come on, you know you all just started singing "I'm Too Sexy" in your heads....).

Anyway, back to the blog topic that triggered visions of bald men doing their little turn on the catwalk - what do you think about the relationship of being sexy and being a bellydancer? There was a thread on Bhuz the other day talking about how the general public (let's just call them the gp to make things easier, yes?) correlates bellydance directly with sex, when it really has nothing to do with sex. Well, my response to that is....oh really?

I do agree that folkloric style middle eastern dance is NOT about sex. Definitely not. But, is that really what we do? Or is our dance so far removed from it's "roots" that it really bears no resemblence to its folkloric beginnings, and as become an American invention all its own?

We all can agree that ATS (American Tribal Style) is an American invention. But we still classify what cabaret bellydancers do in terms of Middle Eastern style - Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese, etc. Is it really?

I wanted to be a "bellydancer" since I was little. I saw the dancers in the Morocco pavilion at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World and thought they were the coolest thing since My Little Pony. I never once thought of it as an "authentic" anything - never thought about it's origination and the fact that it might mean something more than just being a sexy dancer. Like the gp, I've always correlated bellydance and sexy in my head - I mean, lets face it - we dance with our bellies exposed and create hipnotic shimmies and undulations with our bodies. What's not sexy about that???

As a beginner bellydancer, I continued on with this train of thought. At first, I was not exposed to the history and the culture of Middle Eastern Dance. I did not see myself as a conduit of Middle Eastern Culture in America. I saw my self as a sexy, sensual creature who all of a sudden had this superpower over men that I could excerise just by saying "I'm a bellydancer."

To me, that is what the American Cabaret bellydancer is all about - sensuality, sexuality, mystery, power, and grace. I don't think our sexuality as dancers is something we should be ashamed about, or be mad at someone over pointing it out. I think it's a great thing. But I am also to careful to draw the line between sexuality and trashiness - the key to the power we posses is in the "less is more" attitude we must have. We must keep up our mystique, and be careful not to cross the line.

Also, I am not saying that as bellydancers we do not have a duty to learn as much as we can about the "roots" of our dance. I am just saying that I think our dance has evolved so much from these roots that it is ok for us now to say that maybe, just maybe, it has become more of a way to celebrate a woman's sexuality and sensuality, than to accurately portray the cultural dances of the Middle East.

Ever since Little Egypt did her hoochie koochie dance at the Chicago World's Fair, since Barbara Eden crossed her arms and blinked her eyes and lived in a magic lamp, America has been enthralled with the exotic mystery of the bellydancer. And through this obsession with the "exotic", the American Cabaret bellydancer was born.

So...what do you think?

Monday, July 2, 2007

Long time, no blog

Hi everyone,

Well, when I thought it would be easy to hold down a full time job as an attorney, teach bellydance classes 5 days a week, dance at multiples parties every weekend (and sometimes during the week), plan my upcoming October wedding AND keep up my blog, I must not have been thinking clearly....

Anyway, I'm back! I have lots of interesting topics that I'd like to blog about, but I don't have the time right this minute. I will save those ideas for when I have time to do them justice.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear from you. What have you been up to lately? Take any good workshops? See any good dancers at your favorite restaurant? Find a new favorite dancer on youtube? Start a new class with a new teacher? Master that dance move that's been bugging you for years? Tell me about it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Over the summer I will be hosting Adriana Lira of Brazil, for a weekend of workshops in New York (more about that in the weeks to come!). All this thinking of workshops has got me reflecting on my own workshop experiences and what I liked and disliked about them.

Most recently, I attended a workshop by Fahtiem, and one by Suhaila. Although the workshops were held on the same day, that was about the only thing that was similar about them!

The Suhaila workshop was intense. Suhaila is amazing, and I do love her dance style. However, I think her style is one that is better learned over time, and not in a three hour workshop. The class I took was on drum solos, and Suhaila uses a lot of layering in her drum solo work. I consider myself good at layering, but I felt like an uncoordinated goofball during this class. The movements that Suhaila incorporated into this dance were outrageous - I felt that only the most seasoned Suhaila student would walk away from that class feeling like they knew what they were doing.

The Fahtiem workshop was definitely more my speed. Fahtiem is a like a butterfly - her moves are effortless and she floats, rather than dances. I also found her to use a lot of jazz and lyrical type moves (not a shimmy in sight, actually), which were very easy for me to pick up, considering my dance background.

I left Fahtiem's workshop feeling like I had accomplished something. I had a choreography I could remember, and use, and I was enjoying myself during the class. I think all of these things are key to making a workshop successful for the individual dancer. It was definitely worth it for me.

So, what workshops have you taken? Who was your favorite? Why? Are there some things that make or break a workshop for you?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Glam. Not Glam.

I had my monthly show at Parker Jewish Adult Day Care today. Forty five minutes. They have me dance for forty five minutes. I now know why football players throw up after long, hard practices.

As I hunched over the toilet at the Day Care center dry heaving, I laughed to myself. I thought of this post, by Lucy on Bhuz, and how appropriate it was especially at that moment. So, with Lucy's permission, I am posting her extremely on-point monologue here for you to read. Enjoy.

Not glam: An inch of black crust on your feet from dancing in dirty restaurants. Detangling your sweaty, hairsprayed hair when you get home. Ass sweat. Crotch sweat. Belly button sweat. Sweat in places you didn’t even know you COULD sweat. The hard, rough calluses you get on the balls of your feet. Deflecting patrons who want to tip you in inappropriate places. Trying to keep your spirits up when you’re dancing for people who aren’t even paying attention to you, or worse, giving you dirty looks. Arguing with a club owner over money. Trying to dance with your eyelids stuck together thanks to an overzealous application of eyelash glue. Standing in a filthy kitchen, waiting to dance, and trying to keep the hem of your $800 costume off the floor. Changing in a cockroach-ridden storage closet. Trying to dab the sweat dripping down off the tip of your nose without the patrons noticing. Attempting to pee while still in costume without letting any part of your designer duds touch the toilet seat. Restaurant owners who think you can do a show, no problem, in the 6″ between tables and without any open space at all. Taking your wig off in the car and throwing it in the back seat, and then realizing that the people in the next car over are watching you. The smell of your head after you’ve sweated in a wig for three shows. Getting your veil back after a show and realizing that someone accidentally dipped it in hummus. Waking up the morning after a show with weird dance-related injuries - a rhinestone-shaped bruise on your knee, pinch marks from your bangles, scratches on your underarms from where you brushed against a jutting prong on your costume bra. Keeping your stage face on while a drunk asshole shouts, “Hey, loooookammmmme - I’m a bellydancer TOO!” and starts pelvic-thrusting his way across the floor (although you get your revenge when you swat him harder than is really necessary during your “playful” cane song). Waking up the next morning and realizing that you forgot to unpack your costume bag after the show last night, opening it up and being hit with the smell of damp sweat, shisha and cigarette smoke. Running into the back room after a show and having to bend over, heaving, to get enough air into your lungs.

Glam, or just plain fun: Making a little girl’s face light up. Getting a little Persian grandmother up to dance and having her family stuff your costume with twenties in appreciation. Buying out CVS’s entire stock of false eyelashes. New costumes. New music. Hitting the beat JUST right and doing something amazing that you’d never done before, never dreamed of doing before. Dancing to your favorite song at an Arabic nightclub and hearing the crowd sing the lyrics for you. Navigating your way across a stage that is so covered in dollar bills that you are afraid of slipping. Seeing yourself make money, REAL money, not a paycheck - dollar bill after dollar bill, until afterward, you cannot even close your wallet for all the money. Having someone want to show their appreciation for you so much that they write you a check as a tip. Dancing for people who appreciate all the work and research and sweat time you’ve put into becoming a great dancer. Being on stage, being beautiful, creating art with your body and your spirit, becoming music embodied, watching your skin shimmer and shimmy under the lights.

Lucy's website is and her blog is

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

How did you get your start?

A recent thread on got me thinking. How did you get your start in bellydance? What made you take your first class, what made you decide "I want to do this?"

For me, it was almost an accident. A friend and I were going into major dance withdrawal after graduating from college and being finished with the dance team. We were taking various hip hop classes at Broadway Dance Center in Manhattan. One of our favorites was the class on Monday nights, which we never missed. The beginner bellydance class with Amira Mor was immediately after this hip hop class, and we decided to try it out for fun one day. I had always had "fantasies" about being a bellydancer, and had put learning how to bellydance on my "things to do before I die list," so I figured the opportunity was there, and I should take it.

We HATED it! The group was working on a veil choreography, which we later learned was one of the more "advanced" choreographies in Amira's repertoire. We had neither a veil, nor the ability to move our bodies the way some of the students in the class could (don't get me wrong, we weren't the only clueless people in the bunch, but there were certainly girls in the front who appeared to really know what they were doing).

We decided we were done with bellydance. Been there, done that, hated it! That was in October of 2002. We avoided that class at all costs until January, when a friend of my friend decided she wanted to take bellydance. We reluctantly agreed to go with her, so we ended up once again back in Amira's class.

Well, this time we actually enjoyed it. The choreography was more our speed, and we felt a little more comfortable following along. We learned that the group was preparing for a student showcase, and Amira asked us to join. During rehearsals for the showcase, Amira asked us to be in her company, and the rest is history.

So, that's my story, that's how all this craziness began. What's yours?

(By the way, if you have yet to sign up for and participate in the message boards, I highly suggest that you do so. You will be amazed at the wealth of information available from dancers all over the country. Be sure to say hi when you sign up - my handle is (what else??) danielabellydance.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Gotta give 'em props.

Or do you?

Sometimes, I feel like my bellydance performance is more of a freak show than a dance show. I feel like, if I actually went out there and just DANCED for 20 minutes, the audience would get bored. So I have to distract them, with fun and exiciting props. Oooohh, look at the pretty wings! Ooooohh, watch me balance this sharp and dangerous sword on various body parts! (I haven't yet entered the realm of flaming candelabra on my head, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time...).

It's not that I don't enjoy using props. I do, really. They are fun, and sometimes challenging, and I do like working withthem. My current, standard show consists of wings, veil, sword and finger cymbals.

It's just that I sometimes wonder if I'd be able to hold the audiences attention without them? We live in a world where live action movies like Spiderman can show real, human actors swinging from building to building from spiderwebs coming out of their wrists. Are audiences jaded because of it? Does it take a lot more to "entertain" now that hollywood and technology have set the bar so high?

Can a simple dance awe the audience? Or do today's audiences need more?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Dancer killed in VA Tech shootings

One of the students who was killed during the Virginia Tech massacre was a freshman by the name of Reema Samaha. Reema was a bellydancer, and a member of the bellydance troupe Hill and Veil on the Virginia Tech campus. The bellydance community around the country has been extremely devastated over her death. I'm going to cut and paste a post from Kira on to fill everyone in on the situation, and inform you of the fund that has been set up in her name to benefit future members of Hill and Veil.

I urge you all to donate in Reema's name.


As some of you know, we lost a sister in dance at the Virginia Tech Massacre - Reema Samaha.

A memorial fund has been set up in her name.THE REEMA JOSEPH SAMAHA MIDDLE EASTERN DANCE MEMORIAL FUND will be used to assist the student-members of the Middle Eastern Dance Association of Virginia Tech. Depending on the amount donated, the fund may be used for a one time gift in Reema’s name or for an annual award, perhaps a small scholarship.

Her Bio from VT Hill and Veil MED Troupe Webpage - Reema has been dancing since she was 2 years old. She has been classically trained in ballet, jazz, modern, hip hop and has had experience in many other styles. Her love for belly dance came from her Lebanese heritage and she has been exposed to it from a young age. She has taken classes, attended workshops and has performed for her Church's Middle Eastern Food Festival and in front of her high school. She won best individual performance in her school's talent show her senior year. She is very excited to be part of Hill and Veil and looks forward to learning and choreographing with her fellow members.

Online donations for the Reema Memorial Fund can be made at:

In the "Gift Designation" area of the form go to the box "Other Designation" and type in Reema Joseph Samaha Middle Eastern Dance Memorial Fund. There is a general scholarship fund set up to honor Reema. However this particular Middle Eastern Dance Memorial Fund will go for a scholarship for a member of the university's student troupe.

Here is how to make a donation by check:

Make check payable (in any amount) to Virginia Tech Foundation, Inc. Mail to:
University Development
902 Prices Fork Road
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Be sure to either write on the check or in a cover note that the donation is for the REEMA JOSEPH SAMAHA MIDDLE EASTERN DANCE MEMORIAL FUND.

If you would like to send a hard copy of a card, you can send it to Hill and Veil's address and they will send them on to her family.

The address is:
Hill and Veil
703 Montgomery St Apt 1
Blacksburg, VA 24060

Here are the some clips of Reema on youtube. She was an incredible, wonderful, and passionate young woman who deeply loved dance. Reema is the one in green, dancing in the middle of the debke line. The debke performance is from the weekend prior to her passing.

Souzan, a member of Bhuz, has been instrumental in organizing the scholarship and working with Liz from VT Hill and Veil MED Troupe to make this happen. Many thanks to both women for their hardword in keeping the legacy and memory of Reema alive, along with all the other Bhuz members that supported them in their efforts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who's your favorite?

Who is your favorite bellydancer? She (or he!) doesn't have to be famous or very well known, and can be tribal, cabaret, or anything in between. She just has to be the person who you can't get enough of - whose dancing makes you happy and inspired and encouraged to be a better dancer yourself. Who speaks to you that way?

My favorite is going to sound cliche, I'm sure, but it's Jillina. And no, it's not just because she's a Bellydance Superstar and I've fallen for the hype. It's because I think she is the dancer who I most relate to, style-wise, and who most embodies everything I think a good dancer should be, and everything I strive to be.

A lot of people (Middle Eastern dance purists?) give Jillina flak for being too "jazzy." Personally, I've studied jazz since I was two years old, and I don't see the correlation between Jillina's style and any style of jazz I know. But, I think I do see why they say that. Jillina, like myself, comes from a diverse dance background, and didn't begin bellydancing until later in life. The fact that she was classically trained in ballet is evident when you watch her graceful movements, particularly her arms. I don't think the actual moves she does are "jazzy", rather, her delivery is one of a dancer who has been trained to dance, and to carry herself as a dancer.

Ask any of my students and they will tell you that my ballet background makes me a stickler for things like graceful yet strong arms, good posture, and fluid movements. To me, Jillina embodies these characteristics in a bellydancer, and makes her a joy to watch. Another reason she is a joy to watch is that her facial expressions are priceless - you can truly see how much she loves this dance while she is dancing. To me, she is entertaining in every sense of the word. Not to mention, she has kick-#ss shimmies!!

So, who's your favorite bellydancer? Why?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What to wear....

I have a gig tonight, and I'm trying to decide what to wear. I'm leaning towards my red lycra number (see picture) because it only made it's debut at the show the other day, and it's super comfortable. I have a long drive to Brooklyn for this job, and I'd prefer to sit in the car in a strechy skirt than in a tight and uncomfortable bra and belt combo.

But, my costume conundrum has got me thinking - do we, as bellydancers, become so caught up in what is trendy and cool in "our world" that we forget that the general public doesn't know the latest fashions of bellydance? If I show up in a sexy and sleek lycra costume, is my audience going to wonder why I'm not wearing a flowing skirt and tons of beaded fringe?

When the general public hears the word "bellydancer", what comes to mind? I think it's the image of the dancer in a fringe laden bra and belt, layered over a flowy chiffon skirt. I think that's what they expect, because it's the typical "harem" costume from hollywood sultan fantasies. And those hollywood fantasies are probably the only exposure to a bellydancer most people have ever had.

Do you think audiences appreciate that bellydance fashion, like all fashion, changes over time? Or do you think they expect us to be stuck in a fashion rutt, wearing the same costumes for all of eternity, because that's what they wear in the movies?

Are fashionable lycra costumes better saved for haflas and other bellydancer-friendly events? Or is the general public ready for a change?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Not to be a party pooper, but.....

...I just want to remind everyone what the purpose of this blog is.

It is to foster a greater discussion about the dance that we all love, and to create a community that goes beyond the classroom.

I've received some comments which were not very constructive; in fact, they were downright hurtful to the person they were directed towards. That's not what this blog is about. Some of those comments contained criticisms (legitimate ones, too!) about the recent show, but I couldn't publish them because they contained hurtful statements about other dancers. I'm never going to publish a hurtful statement about someone else, so please stop trying.

Constructive criticism is good - it helps us become better dancers. Sometimes it can be hard to hear, because no one likes hearing criticism at all, but it's a necessary evil if we want to grow as performers. But there is a fine line between constructive criticism and nastiness, and we have to be very careful not to cross it.

As a matter of fact, here's some "constructive criticism" for readers of this blog - please try to keep your comments related to the post you are responding to. I understand that lots of you want to talk about the show, but the show discussion belongs in the show thread, not in the thread on hand flicking, etc.

See, that was a criticism, but it was constructive. You'll all be better bloggers because of it. ;-)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The show was a success!!

Whew, that was fun! After all the months of hard work and preparation, the show has finally come and gone, and it was GREAT!!

I can't even tell you how many compliments I've gotten from people in the audience. Everyone thought the dances were great, and those who were there last year say that the quality of dancing was even better this year! Audience members noticed the improvement in individual dancers from one year to the next, and thought the group numbers looked more polished and professional than ever before.

I was a nervous wreck for the week leading up to the show - not because I was worried about my students or the dances, but because of all the "behind the scenes" stuff that ultimately fell on my shoulders. I was worried that things wouldn't come together like I'd hoped, and that we wouldn't have a smooth and seamless show that the audience could sit back and enjoy. But, of course, the show could not have gone any more smoothly. Everyone who helped out behind the scenes did a great job with keeping the show moving along like the well-rehearsed production it was.

I am truly happy with the success of the show. I couldn't have asked for a better result, and all the hard work, late nights, and gray hairs (I swear, I've found some, and I blame the stress from this show!!) were worth it.

So, my wonderful students, how do you feel? For those of you who were new to the stage, was performing everything it was cracked up to be? For those of you who were in the show last year, how was this show different? Was it better or worse for you, and why?

And finally, the most important question - are you ready for next year????

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Can't stop the flick!!

Those of you who are my students will know that I am in constant battle with flicking wrists - I hate them, on me, on you, on ANYONE! Flicking wrists have no place in bellydance! They turn an otherwise graceful and elegant dance into what appears to be a fight with an imaginary mosquito. To me, a dancer with flicking wrists (myself included!) looks like she is trying to get something off of her hand, and I spend the entire performance watching the wrist and waiting for it to stop flicking!

When I say flicking wrists, I don't mean the occasional dainty flip that coincides with a coy look and cute shimmy. I mean the constant "I don't even realize my wrist is doing this" rolling that creeps up on even the most seasoned pro.

The problem with the subconsious flick is that, even though you don't want to do it, you can't stop yourself, because you weren't aware you were doing it in the first place.

I first realized I was a flicker after last year's student showcase. I was watching the DVD and could NOT stop looking at my hands. Where did this come from?? Did I always do this?? What the heck was wrong with me?? Make it stop!!

After that, I started noticing the flick in my students as well. This got me worried - did they learn this from watching me, or is it a subconsious habit they picked up all on their own? I've spent this past year trying to help them break the habit, and trying to break it myself - or so I thought.

Last night, I was practicing my solo for the show, and I asked my fiance, Joe, to watch it. After I was done, Joe said "That was really great. But - didn't you say last year that you wanted to stop flicking your wrists?" Of course, I said. "Well, I did notice that you were flicking your wrists a lot just now."

What???? I was??? That can't be!! I abhor wrist flicking! I teach my students not to do it, I point it out when they are and encourage them to fix it! I am the anti-flick! I can't possibly still be flicking!! But, according to Joe, I was....

I just finished practing my solo for tonight (wait, it's 12:50 in the morning...what the heck am I still doing up and dancing?!). I tried doing the solo once through while consciously paying attention to my wrists and not flicking them. It felt like I had sticks strapped to my hands. My arms felt so weird and restrained, but, looking in the mirror, they looked the way I wanted them to look. The non-flicking wrists I had tried so hard to ingrain into my dance felt so foreign to me. Which led me to only one conclusion - I am still a wrist flicker. My subconsious completely takes over when I dance, and I happily flick away.

So - do I continue to fight what is natural to me? Or do I give in to the dreaded wrist flick? I think I have no choice but to keep fighting.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

9 days till showtime!!

The show is almost here!! In a way, I can't wait for it to get here. I know it will be a success and it will be nice to get back to "normal" life (and to get back to bellydance class where I can actually DANCE, rather than just critique my students dancing to my choreographies). But in a way I feel like I need more time. I'm not ready!! I just finished my solo, surely one week is not enough time to perfect it, right? And my students, don't they need more time to practice?!

Of course, we don't need more time. We have been getting ready for this show for months. Some of the choreographies were even started last summer. We are as ready as we will ever be.

For some reason, no matter how much time I have to prepare for a show, there is always a little something inside me wishing I had more time. I guess that's a natural part of pre-performance jitters, right? The logical half of my brain tells me that we are so very prepared for this show, and we are all going to kick *ss. But sometimes my neurotic, not-so-logical side gets the best of me.

For those of you who are in the show, how are you feeling right now? How are you dealing with it? For those of you not in the show, have you ever had pre-performance jitters? For what? How did you deal?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Connecting with your audience

As our show nears closer and closer, my students are starting to perfect the steps of their dances. But there's more to a performance than just executing steps. Even a choreography that is done to perfection may be boring for an audience to watch if the dancer does not "connect with her audience."
What do I mean by "connecting with your audience?" Well, for one - you must look up! It seems so simple and obvious as you sit here and read this, but many dancers, once they are put in a situation where there is an audience watching them, find it difficult to unglue their gaze from the floor. So...look up! If you find it intimidating to catch the eye of an audience member, pick a spot right above the heads of the audience to focus you attention. The audience will not realize you are staring above them, and it keeps you from looking at the floor. And if you don't mind locking eyes with someone in the crowd, by all means, do it!!

Another tip for connecting with your audience is to enjoy what you are doing. In class, I always stress the importance of smiling, but I think true performing means more than just a smile. Don't get me wrong - if your options are "no smile" and "smile" - definitely smile! But why not try having a little more fun with it? Are you enjoying yourself? Let that show on your face. Expressions that are appropriate for the song and steps of your dance can go a long way in conveying to the audience that you love what you are doing, and they should love it too.

Finally, it's important to remember that, especially if you are performing on a stage, the audience will see everything much smaller than it actually is. For the same reason that stage makeup is so much heavier than real life makeup, so too your moves must be a bit bigger and more defined when you are on stage, versus when you are in class. I'm not advocating forgetting all your form and technique and going all-out crazy when you are on stage. What I'm saying is - make your hip drops sharper, your head snaps snappier, and your camels more undulate-y (what? You get what I mean...). You don't want to perform an entire drum solo of what you think are crazy shimmies, only to have your audience say "Why was that girl just standing still for most of her dance?" because your tiny shimmies got lost on their way to the audience.

So, those are my off-the-top-of-my-head suggestions for improving your "performance" skills. I know there are loads more out there, can you suggest any?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pledge your allegiance?

Do you have to? Choose a style, that is. Can you be a bellydancer and dance both tribal and cabaret styles? Some students of mine recently took a tribal workshop and expressed the fact that it seems difficult to learn both styles, since they are so similar yet have distinct ways of doing the same moves.

It sort of reminded me of trying to learn Italian in college, after taking four years of Spanish in high school. I had always wanted to learn Italian, and I thought that my background of Spanish would help me, since the two languages are so similar. What I learned, however, was that the similarities actually made it sooooo much harder. The two languages actually merged into one, completely incorrect, language in my head. I lost the ability to put a sentence together in Spanish, without throwing some Italian in there, and I could never have a conversation in Italian without it being part Spanish.

Is this similar to the the tribal and cabaret conundrum? I have to admit I have no experience with tribal, so I'd like to hear your thoughts. Ladies who have crossed over to the "other" side - what do you think? Can you do both?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Choreography 101

With the show quickly approaching, many of my students are putting the finishing touches on their solo choreographies. I realize that choreographing a dance is not an easy task, so if you are attempting to put together your first choreography, kudos to you!!

I've choreographed many dances in my life (bellydance and other) and I've watched many students perform their own choreographies for the first time. Here are some observations I've made, that may guide you as you put your dance together:

1) Listen to the music! Too many times, I see a student choreography that does not interpret the music the student is dancing too. You should keep in mind that you are dancing TO the music, not just dancing with music in the background. Don't just string together eight counts of one step, eight counts of another, eight counts of another, and so on, regardless of what the music is doing. If the music is changing rhythm, or tempo, change your steps to match. If there are accents in the song, hit the accents with your body. The whole point of dance (any type of dance) is to interpret music. Let that come through in your own choreographies.

2) Take up the whole stage! (Or dance studio, or living room...). Don't just stand in one place and do your steps. Especially if you are choreographing a solo! One person on a stage, standing in one place, will get lost. Use traveling steps, take up the whole stage, and make your presence felt!

3) Choose a song that works for you! Don't try to force yourself to choreograph to a classical Egyptian song, if you normally go the pop music route. You need to be inspired to choreograph; chosing a song that doesn't speak to you will make the process even more difficult. An uninspired choreography is no fun to watch!

So, now what? You have your song, you are inspired, you are ready to cover ground and interpret to your music. What do you do now? Well, listen to the music. Put the song on and just dance around your house to it. See what the song makes you want to do. Do this a few times, and try to remember some of the steps you feel most natural doing to this song. Then, listen to the first few counts of 8 (or 6, or whatever your song is). Choreograph that section only, really listening to the music and using it to your advantage. Do the rest of the dance the same way - a small section at a time. If you get stuck, go back to step one - just let the music play and start dancing. You will be inspired again, and can draw from that inspiration to add to your choreography.

Good luck!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

For the love of dance...

I just got back from a day of snowboarding, and I'm sore, tired - no, make that exhausted - and just want to sleep. I'd love to have a nice relaxing Sunday, like normal people, where I could sleep in, run some errands, and just rest and prepare for the work week ahead. But I haven't had a normal Sunday in years! I teach bellydance class Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, making Sundays possibly the busiest day of the week for me (because I do still need to do those errands, too!)

So, why do I do it? That's a question I often ask myself, as my normal 9 to 5 friends come home from their jobs and actually get to relax (as opposed to running out to teach a bellydance class, or changing into costume and running out to a performance). And it's a question I've been asking myself about quite a bit lately, since our Second Annual Student Showcase is coming up in a few weeks, meaning that classes are stretching into their second hours and extra practices are scheduled daily (more about the show another day!).

I've come back to the same answer to this question time and again - without bellydance, I would not be complete. I've been dancing my whole life; since I put my first pair of tap shoes on at the age of two and a half, I've done everything from tap, jazz, lyrical, ballet, modern and hip hop. I've never felt the euphoria with any of those dance styles, that I do with bellydance. A friend asked me a while ago if there was anything in this world I was passionate about, and I told him bellydance. I told him that, when I'm performing bellydance, I don't need to fake a smile. I don't need to pretend I'm enjoying myself for the sake of putting on a good show, for the sake of entertaining the audience. I AM enjoying myself. I am smiling for ME, not for the crowd. Heck, I smile when I'm dancing in my kitchen with no one but my cats to see me. I can't help it - it just comes out. I'm happy when I dance.

So, why do I do it? Why do I put a normal life on hold, in exchange for one with late nights and early mornings, back aches and blisters? Because I LOVE this dance, and without it, my life wouldn't be normal.

What about you? Why do you do it?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Welcome to my world!

As I sat down to write my very first post of my brand new blog, devoted entirely (well, almost entirely) to my love of the art of bellydance, I racked my brain as to what to write about. In fact, I racked my brain as to what my blog would be about. I knew I wanted to write about bellydancing - I mean, why wouldn't I?? It's what I do, what I AM. But why would people want to read about what I had to say? What could I write that would actually interest people?

And that's when I decided - this blog would not be about me, it would be about you. You - my fellow bellydance enthusiasts (ok, ok, let's just say it - bellydance ADDICTS!). I want you all to tell me what to write. I think that my experiences in bellydance have given me much to offer to you, the readers. As an instructor (and a former student!), I have lots of insight as to what goes on in the mind of a student from her first attempt at a hip drop to her first on-stage performance. As a performer, I know what it's like to try and put on a show that will dazzle your audience every time. What do you want to know? Ask me, and I'll do my best to answer you.

So, thats what this blog will be about. Bellydance - my world, your world, and everything in between. I'll answer your questions, I'll make up my own, and together we can share all that we know about this beautiful art - Bellydance.