A few posts on Bhuz recently have been about people who live in communities that don’t fulfill their ME dance education needs. They’ve grown beyond what’s offered, don’t care for the community’s issues, etc. As a result, some people feel like they aren’t progressing.

Besides workshops, driving to the nearest city, using DVDs, etc., there are other options. Thanks to the internet age, we’re lucky enough to have access to teachers in locations far from us. Suhaila offers online classes. Ansuya has private lesson via Skype (free/low cost internet video chat). Nadira Jamal, who is a local to the Boston-area as well as DVD instructor (Improvisational Toolkit, which is lauded by many), will critique your video. These are three that come to mind immediately, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others and perhaps people who are willing to work out things.

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I decided, after having a lesson on connecting with music and working with that a little, that I need to restructure what I want to get out of my private lessons. I’ve identified things I’d to work on, different things I hadn’t thought about before or maybe did but thought I should tackle other things. My private lessons have been very beneficial, despite me identifying new challenges. They have given me a lot to think about, practice, and fully digest. I want to have time to fully get it before revisiting those topics with a teacher, if that makes sense. I don’t think I’ve gotten everything out of them yet, and there’s no point in re-evaluating myself at something when I haven’t fully explored it.

I think I want to get schooled in rhythms. In Middle Eastern dance, there are some rhythms that frequently show up. If you’re improvving, finding the rhythm can give a starting point to the dancer. Even if I weren’t improvving, I imagine that it would be helpful for choreography.

I also want to learn how to fuse dance things together (moves, moods, music, etc.) and look good when doing that. One of the chief complaints about fusion is that it looks sloppy and/or the dancer needed to pull some tricks to look interesting. I want to be able to do fusion that looks cohesive and beautiful.

I’d like to think of some other topics to visit over the course of spring and summer. What would you like to improve on? What do you think is vital for any dancer to work on?

Over the past few weeks, I had two good conversations on what being a professional dancer entails. Both conversations helped me learn even more about what it takes, and I also ended up admiring the dancers more.

My regular teacher, Danielle, said that being a professional dancer involves doing the behind the scenes work religiously, even if you’re too tired or don’t want to. She was talking in terms of attending lessons, practicing, etc. I think it’s a good point to keep in mind; I sometimes think that professionals are just born that good, and I forget that there is a lot of hard work and discipline behind what they do. I think the amount of discipline and hard work is almost more impressive at times. I know from experience it’s very easy to let other interests or lethargy get in the way of your practices.

In a similar vein, Aradia mentioned that she continually trains in Middle Eastern dance, even now as an established professional. I found that particularly inspiring, since she has been dancing so long and is so talented already. She probably does not train in the same way I try to (regular classes), but I really respect the fact that she still does. Perhaps her humble attitude and dedication to her dance education is why she is a master teacher.

Aradia and I also talked about the importance of having an arsenal of skills and knowledge. She said back when she started out, the categorization didn’t exist the way it does today (Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese, etc.) and that everyone learned all styles and how she is glad that she did. Because she is hired for parties and major events, Aradia, like other professionals, needs to be able to cater to and understand the client. For instance, the infamous “don’t show the soles of your feet to the audience” rule, which can be very offensive to Arabs. In a less severe instance, though, she said that audience want to see a certain flavor sometimes and that one should be prepared for that. Some audiences are tough to please and don’t want to see Egyptian if they’re expecting Turkish. She said that you don’t have to completely change your style, but you do need to give them that taste.

I seek to learn different aspects of Middle Eastern dance, because I’m interested. I never really thought about the importance of tailoring your act to an audience like that.  Ironically, I train myself in physics similarly because I want to be prepared for whatever research I have. Hearing these two teachers’ takes on professional dance has inspired me to be even more disciplined in practice and learning and train in as many styles and techniques as possible, even if I’m not as interested.

Not being a gambler or much of a drinker/party person, Vegas was perhaps not the most fitting place to go. However, I was curious and figure I should see it once. I wanted to see the bright lights and an Elvis impersonator. I also had left the city of Chicago in about 6 months, so I thought I should leave for a bit.

img_09762My vacation was actually really good for my dancing. Despite being quite sick the bulk of the trip, I had a 2 hour private lesson with Aradia of Las Vegas. I only heard of her from Bhuz, which is a shame. I think she’s one of those kind of hidden jewels in the dance world. I felt really comfortable with her, even though I just met her. She’s incredibly sweet, friendly, and humble. She seemed to really enjoy herself teaching.

My lesson was on Hagallah, Persian dance, and a brief intro to Turkish Oriental. I love the “folkloric” dances, so this really exciting for me. Aradia is very knowledgeable on what she teaches; I learned as much historically as I did about combos and style of dancing. Until I had emailed her, I had no idea that she could teach these things. My familiarity with her was that she was a cabaret dancer, not someone who was also a folkloric dancer. It just goes to show that it never hurts to ask someone.

I liked the Persian and Turkish Oriental the best. The Persian dancing she taught me had more theatrical elements to it; for instance, she taught me how Persian dancers will act out doing their makeup during slow parts of songs. As much as I love dancing to the music and just feeling the drums or the violin, I prefer somewhat of a story or a mood for dancing. The Turkish Oriental is different from what I’m used to with Egyptian Oriental. Turkish is bigger and more energetic. Having done Egyptian-based technique for so long, I found doing the Turkish really difficult, even though they were moves I was familiar with. Hagallah was fun, but going into it, I didn’t know that it was a coming of age dance. Since Aradia studied this dance under three different people, she has solid knowledge. The hagallah felt much like the Aida Nour workshop dances; very simple but intriguing.

I saw a Cirque du Soleil show, Mystere, while there. I wasn’t expecting to be inspired by it in terms of my dancing. The attention to detail was breathtaking in the costumes. The performers were always in character, even if they were rather difficult to see (balcony singers off to the side). The physical movement was gorgeous; they weren’t just performing stunts but doing artistic work. I haven’t read much about the show, but there was some kind of story or theme in it. Adding that really blended everything well and made a cohesive show that could amuse a child or an adult. I know I can’t do a show of that magnitude, but I’d like to do a show that’s powerful and can reach so many people on different levels.

Now I’m back to the daily grind, with about 2 weeks left of vacation. Time has really flown.

One of the best things about living in Chicago is there is a plethora of dance events. One of the worst things about being a grad student is there isn’t enough time or money for it all. I’m not 100% busy or completely broke, but neither item flows as freely as I’d sometimes like.

For the remainder of the summer (it’s hard to believe it’s going by so fast!), I am continuing a weekly class with Sonya and my private lessons with Danielle. I love both of their styles of dance and teaching. The weekly with Sonya has recently been a bit difficult to balance, since Thursday seems to be a popular day for events. My partner’s sister was in town, and he wanted me to go his sister’s picnic, which was great fun. This Thursday happens to be the thesis presentation of my acquaintance and advisor’s student.

I have decided to go to the Aida Nour workshop on the second day. The reason? I have decided to retake the physics GRE and taking it in October makes more sense than taking it towards the end of classes. The physics GRE happens to fall on the first day of the workshop. I was planning on doing both days, but it simply isn’t feasible. I do plan on going to the show that night. If you are not familiar with Aida Nour, I would YouTube her. I think she is an amazing dancer and simply stunning to watch.

I intend on going to the Mardi Love workshop. I haven’t decided whether I will do both days; I am waiting for the workshop topics to be announced, as well as the cost. I have been carefully budgeting for everything this year.

Finally, around Christmas, a treat to myself (and break from working on my thesis), I plan on going to Las Vegas with of my friends. I plan on doing a 1-2 hr private lesson with Aradia; I have yet to plan out what I want to study, but I’m looking forward to it. Aradia seems very nice from what I’ve seen on Bhuz and is very talented.

I also plan on continuing my studies with Sonya and Danielle. Because of having night classes, I have decided to switch over to strictly private lessons during the school year. They are indeed going to be more, but I know that I will get more out of it in the long wrong. They allow for much more flexibility in terms of schedule, as well as customizing everything to my skills. Having had so many different teachers and not staying with one for longer than a year has exposed me to different technique but occasionally has me miss out other technique. The beauty of a private lesson allows me to focus on what I need and not stay on something I already know.

And finally, I plan on working on my goals and hopefully doing some kind of performance.

Needless to say, I’m quite excited about all of this learning.

The school year (September through mid-June) was such a rush of academic stuff (adjusting to my move, classes, picking a research advisor, TAing, misc. personal things, etc.) that summer has been a nice welcome. I do take classes and try to practice once a day during the school year, but my first priority is school right now. Right now, I only TA and do research. So far, it’s been very relaxing and enjoyable, which leaves me time to think about dance. I’ve been steadily building up the strength in my legs for Bharatanatyam and continuing to refine technique in my belly dancing classes. I love being able to go to class regularly and rely on it.

A few days ago, I reviewed my dance goals for the year. I’m completing most of them, but there are a few I’m determined to complete before the end of summer. Because of my moves, I’ve unfortunately lost most of my costume pieces. It’s a bit difficult, since some of them are sentimental to me, ie. my first cabaret bra and belt set that I handmade during my semester abroad in NZ and my first tribal bra which I wore for my first solo piece. I don’t wish to dwell in the past and about things that I cannot change, so I’ve been moving forward with costumes. I found beautiful fabric on Devon, which is where Chicago’s “Little India” is located. I’ve been slowly working with it. Next weekend, I plan on going to a fabric shop to buy the necessary fabrics to complete it. I can’t wait, because then I can bead it.

The other main goal to complete this summer is choreograph something. By choreograph, I actually mean to become comfortable enough with a piece of music that I will be able to perform to. I strongly prefer improv, but I always like to practice the piece a lot beforehand. I’ve been building my repertoire for performances. I have several pieces in mind right now. Maybe I’ll end up with a few “choreographies”