September 2010

MassRaqs was an awesome event. My commitment to MassRaqs took more time than I had anticipated, but it was genuinely rewarding to see how much people enjoyed the weekend. I still feel good about whatever part I played in bringing something like this to New England.

Friday night was a history review. It turns out that the Boston-area is ripe with Middle Eastern dance history. From Shadia, a local teacher, discussing her history to the ladies who are creating the Aziza! documentary about Boston’s role in the dance community, we are surrounded by history. The Friday night event ended with a dance show. It was good to see a variety of styles. I was asked to film, so I didn’t exactly see the entire show. I mean, I did, it was just through a small LCD. Filming dance is difficult. I wasn’t sure how everyone was going to dance and use the space, so I hope I did an adequate job. All I remembered about filming dance, from what I heard from others, is that I should have the face in the shot as much as humanly possible and not do some crazy zoom in on the midsection stuff.

Saturday was Meiver and Bozenka teaching; Cassandra unfortunately was injured pretty bad and was unable to teach. Meiver taught “Oriental Combinations.” Some of the combinations or at least parts of them were from the dance we learned; it was cool how things did stick with you. However, it made it challenging to learn the variation of the combo; sometimes my body wanted to autopilot what it thought was next. Bozenka taught Hands and Arms, as well as what would’ve been Cassandra’s beledi workshop. The Hands and Arms was tiring. A lot of the exercises reminded me of the ones my teacher, Danielle of Chicago, had me do. It was a good reminder, because I’ve been negligent with them. The beledi workshop was a good intro to beledi; I was impressed that Bozenka could figure out what to teach so quickly.

I’m going to cut in here and just mention that Bozenka is a great instructor. She is warm, always looks like she is having fun, and is able to communicate what she means clearly. I really like that she attended the Friday panel and appeared to have a great time; it’s nice to see people, especially top caliber people, who are interested in participating as a community member (even temporarily) and not just there to promote themselves, if that makes any sense.

Sunday was Shadia and Bozenka. Shadia is a real hidden gem in this area. I don’t hear much about her, which is a shame. She taught double cane and Bedouin dancing. She is a very encouraging instructor. Double cane is difficult. I think I will, once my life settles down again (schoolwork was put aside for MassRaqs this weekend), practice twirling and doing cane with my left hand. The line dancing was fun. Shadia ended the workshop with her performing; she is so charming and talented as an instructor, dancer, and costumer. I’m really glad that Meiver has made an effort to include and celebrate our local instructors.

Bozenka on the second day taught Oriental technique and drum solo stuff. The Oriental technique was interesting, because I typically have not had the opportunity to practice things across the floor. My favorite part, though, were facial exercises. Bozenka had us practice various emotions expressed on our face while we walked across the floor. I liked her philosophy that it’s good to know the range of expressions you can have, even if you don’t use them all. The drum solo workshop was a highlight of the weekend, because a live drummer was present and we were able to see what it was like to communicate non-verbally with a drummer. There was also a circle dance that was fun at the end.

The show was a good mix of styles. Mirza, Shadia’s troupe; Chantal; and Bozenka all did folkloric pieces. Bozenka’s was particularly interesting to me, because I didn’t know she did meleya leff. I always think of her as this beautiful, refined, classic looking dancing. Hers was excellent and to the live band. Yes, there was a live band with singer. Act 2 was an Oriental act, entirely to the live band. All the dancers were stunning. I like how Nina came through the audience, rather than starting on stage. I didn’t get to see her dance at Meiver’s recital, so this was a particular treat. Meiver looked gorgeous and danced beautifully; Phaedra was impressive with her dancing and zill playing. The standout for me was how Najmat and Hanan really interacted with the band; Najmat’s interaction in particular made it feel like she was a part of the band. It was really an amazing performance from her, and I usually enjoy her performances. Bozenka came out and performed another great piece to top off the evening.

I could go into a lot of detail of how things went logistically with the event, but I don’t feel like that’s the most important thing right now. Of course, there were things that should’ve, could’ve, and will be different; I wrote my list up last night, so I remember when we start planning MassRaqs 2011 next month. We’ll work on improving them for next year. Right now, it’s nice to bask in what went well. The community came together and celebrated dance. With who knows how many things that could’ve gone wrong, we didn’t do too poorly for our first year.

We have one day left for MassRaqs. If you haven’t shown up, I’d recommend it. It has been a lot of fun and educational. I’m quite tired and have schoolwork I must get accomplished tonight, but I wanted to put it out there for the interwebs. On a personal note, it feels good to have been a part of making MassRaqs happen. The experience this past week has been tiring and time consuming, but it feels good to see the event in motion, with people appearing to enjoy themselves and learning more about dance.

We watched a documentary called “2 Million Minutes” in one of my classes. It is about cream of the crop high school seniors in India, China, and US. I’m still digesting what I thought about it; while it was somewhat interesting, I don’t feel like I learned much that wasn’t already expressed stereotypically to me (5 out of 6 of the kids were very stereotypical) but there were some small points in the documentary that were interesting, like admitting US students work hard as well but distribute their time differently.

There are some deep flaws in the measurements of this documentary, in my opinion; the idea is that education should help you economically. How do you test that? The students may receive a higher level of math and science and do well in exams, but how does that work with real world problems? I’m not saying that those students cannot handle a non-exam question, but the movie made no mention of that. In my experience in the US, there is a huge emphasis on practical experience. High schoolers not only work to earn top marks but also compete to become leaders in various clubs, typically multiple ones. College students feel the pressure to intern, do research, etc., as well as earn top marks and succeed on entrance exams. The documentary didn’t delve into the college experience or what one needs to do in order to gain admission to graduate school in math and science, but it didn’t show that the non-US students engaged in outside activities with their peers. The Chinese female student did study ballet and violin, but she did so through private lessons. It didn’t appear that she participated in an orchestra or a part of group for ballet.

I also think there are issues beyond the schools that contribute to students not excelling, like home life. The documentary was interesting to watch, and I’m glad we viewed it in class, although I’m not sure if it was particularly enlightening or well thought out.

I’ve been hard at work with MassRaqs (most done remotely), so I try to get away from the computer as much as possible.

However, I wanted to give a shout out to essa the name generator, an iPhone app my SO made. It makes a lot of different kind of names, based on some algorithm to help make the names realistic. It’s pretty cool, so please check it out.

In one of my classes yesterday, the professor talked to us about picking a good dissertation topic, advisor, and just in general how to handle the dissertation process. In my education, I don’t think that I had ever had anyone sit down to discuss this with me. Some of the advice would’ve been helpful prior to my thesis issues. There are many good articles out there on picking your advisor and all, so rather than repeat those ideas, I’m going to contribute what I wish I would’ve known that I haven’t seen offered as much or at all. Most of these things are for the absolute worse case scenario; hopefully, your thesis or dissertation has smoother sailing.

  • Save every single email and piece of correction you receive. This just helps keep track of what you’ve done; hopefully, you find the corrections decrease with time. Also, if things become grave, you have proof of who said what. For organization’s sake, I keep a separate folder in my inbox and have a drawer of my filing cabinet dedicated to paper corrections.
  • Find a support person outside your advisor. Very late in the game, I began talking to other professors to seek advice and support. My thesis process was particularly difficult, even for a process that has its difficulties, and these outside folks helped me in so many ways. Even if they hadn’t directly helped me, they were supportive emotionally. Make sure the person understands the idea of confidential conversation, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up early if things are awry. If your advisor is delaying your finish, treating you poorly, or anything else you think is unacceptable, talk to someone in authority. If you cannot talk to that authoritative person or are still unsure what to do, use your support person to advise you how to go ahead. If the first person you speak to isn’t effective, keep trying.
  • Make sure that all expectations are clearly discussed early on. If your committee wants derivations fully worked out, references aplenty, make sure that’s well known before you hand in what you hope is your final draft. Going back and adding things is painful, particularly if you don’t save all those documents.

I’ve completed 1 week of school. One week isn’t really that much, in terms of going to class. I go to class twice a week. Two 3-hour lectures one day, one 3-hour lecture another day. I was supposed to have a 4th class, but it was unfortunately canceled. The professor is very kind and said that I could do an independent study with him. I haven’t made a decision, because I haven’t read the papers I was sent home with and solidified a project. The topic is science and religion, by the way. I’ve mentioned these topics coming up in the past when I taught, and I’d like to know more about it.

In terms of schoolwork, I don’t feel overwhelmed, even when looking at the workload and punching it into my calendar. I have a lot on my plate in general, but it isn’t like school is overwhelming by itself. It’s more like having a bunch of small meals all together, which then becomes overwhelming as a result of so much together. The only thing that genuinely seems overwhelming is fighting this cold and allergies now; the cold is a result of rapid weather change, the allergies are (I think) from someone wearing perfume.

At my Bharatanatyam class yesterday, our teacher mentioned that some dancers from another class would join as at the beginning of our dance. The reason was that, although there are 11 of us, we simply cannot fill one gigantic stage.

What intrigued me on this is that I’ve heard the same thing about Middle Eastern dance, that a performance should include many dancers and that few dancers can do solos that are captivating enough to “fill” the stage. If you’re sitting in the back part of a huge auditorium, I imagine it would be difficult to see someone executing most moves. I never considered that the same idea could conceivably be applied to classical Indian dance. The facial expressions, eye movements, even the visual of the footwork could easily be lost in a huge performance venue.

I wonder how much has been adapted to make the dance more dynamic on stage, what really went into going from a temple dance to a stage performance. I remember watching a documentary about this, in regards to Odissi, but I think the documentary was more about secular vs. religious, rather than a close up setting vs. a large stage.

Does anyone have any books, documentaries, papers, etc. on this one?

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