Review


Firstly, happy New Year! 2011 has already had a great start for me, in the form of watching Project Belly Dance.

Project Belly Dance is a small reality TV show/competition for the many flavors of Middle Eastern dancers; the winner gets to star in her own Cheeky Girls DVD. The reaction of the Middle Eastern dance world was mixed. I personally have been excited. Partially because I don’t have cable and welcome any kind of free TV entertain, partially because the people (Michelle Joyce and Lotus Niraja) behind the show have time and again shown a commitment to producing high quality, respectable resources for the Middle Eastern dance community.

The first episode was released today at the Project Belly Dance website. Although competitions are not my thing and I’m not a reality TV show follower, I immensely enjoyed the first episode. The show had a bit of cheesiness, but it is a reality show, after all. The competition was serious, and the contestants behaved professionally; these women competing are actual professionals in the Middle Eastern dance world. The drama wasn’t over-the-top (or really present, for the most part), and I felt like the judges were fair and weren’t excessive in their criticism or adulation. I look forward to seeing the rest of the episodes.

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Disclaimer: I received this DVD as part of a give-away on Bhuz from Michelle Joyce, the producer.

I was excited to receive Icing on the Drum Solo for free and early, because I am a huge fan of Lotus Niraja (and we’re both from the same area). This DVD offers much more than drum solo information. Lotus Niraja is very charming and fun throughout the DVD’s narration. She is also very clear on her explanations, even including a section of the DVD devoted to some of her terminology. This dance form has no universal codification, so this section was helpful to learn what she meant

The DVD is aimed at intermediate dancers, I believe. Some of its strengths are:

  • The gestures section was well-done. It included explanations of how the gestures can communicate to others. I think that they apply not only to drum solos but really performance in general.
  • The choreography is fun and challenging. I had to rewind a part or two, but that is the beauty of a DVD.
  • Lotus showed several ways that choreography could be performed. It was shown as a solo, duet, and troupe performance.
  • There was an emphasis on really making the choreography your own. Although I don’t plan on performing this choreography, I think that it’s a good reminder that you are not obligated to do everything exactly how she does that. It is a subtle point, but I feel like that gives more value to this choreography, because some people are not comfortable performing a DVD choreography in public.
  • As always, Cheeky Girls Productions hits it out of the park with its high quality production. The audio is clear, the video is shot in a way that is easy to use.

Some of the weakness of the DVD are:

  • Not all topics on the DVD fit within the concept of a drum solo DVD. There were special sections about dancing in heels, Lebanese cane, and performance information. The latter two could have easily been on separate DVDs. I think even the gestures sections, though relevant to the DVD, could have been its own topic. Perhaps they were testing the waters with those sections?
  • Inclusion of other drum solo information. This is really a part b to the first point in this section. Stuff like working with a live drummer would’ve been interesting and relevant.

This DVD will be revisted by me this winter. I definitely recommend this one.

I went to see Black Swan yesterday. Although it is a ballet movie, I thought a lot of it was applicable to art in general and life; I recommend that you see it, unless you cannot stomach some very vivid depiction of blood and violence (I had to turn my head a few times). The movie brought up how technique can only take one so far, because you eventually need to go beyond that, to feel the movement and dance. I questioned whether it is possible or reasonable for one person to really be able to do a variety of roles well; Nina, played by Natalie Portman, could only play the role of the innocent White Swan convincingly and worked herself so hard to play the seductive Black Swan convincingly, even though she kept failing. In another blog, we were discussing how we can see how some dancers are perceived as sexy and others are more innocent. I haven’t experienced anything so extreme as Nina’s struggle with this other side of herself (trying to tap into the Black Swan role), but I have struggled as a dancer to tap into other aspects of my personality and display for the world.

The final point I got out of the movie (well, of the ones pertinent to this blog- there were plenty of psychological issues happening) was how far does one have to go for perfection and is it worth it? Without revealing too much of the movie and just thinking about how much full-time dancers, particularly ballet dancers, put into their craft- is it asking to much of them? They have physically demanding schedules, I’ve read that they have to practice even while on vacation, they’re in a highly competitive field where the littlest thing can make you lose, and it isn’t a long-term career or one that you can get into later in life. That isn’t even looking at the eating disorder aspect that can happen to dancers.

This movie gave me a lot to think about; I’m still processing it today.

 

I’ve been meaning to write this entry since the workshop, but alas, time and forgetfulness got in the way. Oh well.

Meiver taught a fan veil workshop in October. Although I had learned fan veil technique previously from Meiver over the summer and had a brief introduction in Chicago, I learned even more. The workshop was well-designed, with Meiver discussing where to buy fan veils and the difference in quality. It may seem like a minute detail, but the quality of your props makes a HUGE difference, as well as the size. With so many vendors out there and money not being as free flowing for most of us, these discussions are important to help make the best decisions.

Another important aspect in the workshop was Meiver discussing when and how she felt that using fan veils made sense and a brief history of fan veil use. I liked the history bit, because it was interesting. Hearing when and how fan veil use worked well was good, because it helped me envision what I could do with them.

The exercises Meiver had us do were a combination of new and old (well, to people who have experienced the fan veil stuff over the summer) things. One thing I liked that Meiver mentioned at the beginning was that we should try to remember and take away 5 things from the workshop. I’m currently assessing how I want to use workshops in my dance education; this five things method may be the answer I was looking for, because you cannot get everything out of a workshop.

A rather large part of the workshop was doing exercises across the floor or in a circle. This gave Meiver a chance to correct us individually. It also allowed us to travel in the space, something I admittedly don’t do that often (my home space is much too small).

We ended the workshop with a choreography of sorts, to see how the technique we learned fits into a song and becomes a dance.  Although I am not a fan of choreography workshops, I liked having that little bit to really understand how things work together; one of my area of improvement in my dance is to learn how to create really flowing dance and not feel like there are sudden, unintentional stops.

The workshop was packed full of information and remarkably, there is still more. Meiver is considering a Fan Veils Part 2 workshop to build upon what was done. Although I have been a little more reluctant to use fan veil and haven’t been much of a fan (no pun intended), I’m starting to be won over by them.

Brief background info on me: I grew up in an urban school district in PA. I never feared for my life while at school, but things there were not good. The state, while I was a student, threatened to take over the district, due to low test scores. People were and still are poor, family life isn’t what it should be, fights aplenty (though I don’t think, at least then, they were gang-related), etc. I also was identified via an IQ test that I am considered gifted; the term “gifted” is poorly defined and gifted programs don’t necessarily contain the brightest students, due to the testing methods, parental involvement (I’ve seen very pushy, influential parents badger schools into letting non-gifted students into the gifted classes), teacher bias, etc. However, I’m not going to debate the issues of gifted education or whether it is important (I think it is, for what it’s worth). This is just explaining where I’m coming from.

We were assigned a book called “And Still We Rise” by Miles Corwin for one of my classes. It is truly an amazing book that documents the senior year of twelve gifted students, the coordinator of the program, and two teachers. This non-fiction book is very honest, and it reminded me of a much worse version of my high school/school district.

The book presents the complexity of the issues that the students face; it isn’t enough just be intelligent when it comes to succeeding in school. A lot has to do with outside factors, such as family, home life, etc. Most of the students in this program have had horrific childhoods and continue to have horrific daily lives. They are not just trying to survive but are trying rise above their circumstances and learn. The book also delves into the issues of affirmative action, what the teachers and administrators deal with on a daily basis, the race issues, the gang issues. There’s really too much information in there to really summarize well.

What was interesting to me, which was not my experience, was how many of the students were intellectually engaged people. They were not simply there to earn grades to go college to get a better job; these students were highly intelligent people who actually cared about learning. They didn’t take their educations or intellect for granted.

I recommend this book to really anyone who is interested in education and the issues students are facing. While these students were in exceptionally bad situations, these issues arise in other parts of the country and in districts not quite as bad. When people talk about why US students are not as competitive against the rest of the world, books like these show how many issues there are.

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.

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