Next week will be my last lesson with Najmat for about 4 months, save maybe spring break. My school schedule does not permit me to continue on with her classes; a required course is held basically at the same time, and there is no way to get around that. Believe me, I’ve looked and talked to people. School is ultimately my priority and my “job”, so that will have to take priority.

At first, I was sad by not continuing one with Najmat’s class, at least for the time being. I’ve gotten to know some of the ladies in that class pretty well, and I will miss the community. However, I decided to use this time to try new teachers, explore new topics through private lessons. I picked private lessons again because of the time factor; I have class Monday through Thursday during the hours where people teach and the few who don’t, well, a girl’s gotta eat sometime in the day.

Private lessons are not only ideal because of the time flexibility but also because they’re really tailored to the student. The Boston-area is rich with quality dance instructors; I plan on taking classes from Shadia and maybe some others to learn some specialized skills. I already have enough ideas of what needs improvement and plan on working through those topics, so the focus will be more on specialized skills over technique although I’m sure technique will come into play.

To defray costs and to keep up with the community feeling, I’ve asked some friends if they’re interested in making the private lessons semi-private. The topics that I’ve brought up are zills, Lebanese-style cane, tray, melaya leff, and shamadan/zeffa. I’ve also asked for their suggestions, because I may have forgotten something. However, I’m looking for even more topics to learn; I figure it would be better to have too many than too few, since I’ll be in the area for at least another 1-3 years. If you were taking private lessons in Middle Eastern dance, what topics would you chose to learn?

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.

Since summer 2010, I’ve been sporadically dancing in ballet slippers. Although barefoot is my favorite, I like them sometimes, for when I don’t want my feet to get dirty or when it’s cold or just when we’re doing a bunch of turns. Once broken in, they are remarkably comfortable and I love how my particular pair (a split-sole with a lycra middle) conforms to my foot. However, I don’t think they’re attractive. My efforts to dye them close to my skin tone has been fruitless, and they just plain aren’t cute as is. I’ve coming around to seeing that shoes are sometimes necessary, but I want to dance in shoes that match whatever I’m wearing. One of my goals is to learn how to do Middle Eastern dance in heels. They’re much more elegant looking than any other dance shoe option I’ve seen (half-soles, Hermes sandals, etc.), and even though some of the shoe options would probably be pretty invisible, I’d rather know my footwear is attractive.

One small caveat is that I really don’t wear heels anymore. For about 8-9 years or so of my life, I wore heels, high heels. I don’t think you would’ve seen me in anything shorter than 3 inch heels, unless it was raining and galoshes were needed. However, when I was 23, I noticed my toes were having issues. They were becoming crooked and stiffer; my shoe choices were what I decided needed to change in order to avoid exacerbating the problem and possibly needing surgery. I converted to flats and have basically worn flats or wedges with very small angles since. My toes have improved, so I think the footwear was the culprit.

Last night, I put on a pair of character shoes I own from when I tried Flamenco. Not the most attractive shoes, and I don’t think I’d wear them for performance, unless it was folkloric, but they certainly have their benefits. The heel is about 2 inches, so not sky-high but certainly nothing trivial. They have a thicker heel, which is easier for balance. And most importantly, they’re here so I don’t have to spend extra money on something I’m not sure if I like.

After adjusting to wearing the shoes by just walking around my apartment in them, I tried some drills and light dancing. The verdict is mixed. Turns, which are not my forte, were much harder. The bottoms of the character shoes are much slicker than my ballet slippers or my bare feet, so it is easier to get around but harder to know how much force is needed to make the turn. Other moves were not bad. My weight placement felt weird, but it wasn’t as dramatic of change as turns were.

Heels still seem like the best option for me if/when I perform in a place where the floor isn’t good, but it’ll be a long time before I feel really comfortable dancing in them and probably even longer time before I really feel comfortable doing any kind of spins or fast turns in them.

I’ve been tossing this question around in my mind since it was brought up maybe 2 weeks ago. By big names, I’m not talking just famous dancers but dancers who have huge cult followings. The kind of dancers people gush over incessantly in forums and will make the extra effort to learn from. The heroes people try to emulate.

When this question was brought up, I couldn’t think of anyone I feel has that kind of pull. When I began dancing, the Bellydance Superstars were just really beginning. I feel like they, particularly members of The Indigo, had that kind of draw I’m talking about. Maybe it’s my memory or that I’m not so green anymore, but even though there are plenty of great dancers and instructors around who are popular, including the original members of the Bellydance Superstars, I honestly cannot think of someone I feel has that draw, that star power.

Are there any dancers you feel are starting to have the huge cult following? Or still do?

 

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.

Last year, I made a list of what I thought would be good gifts for the adjunct, Middle Eastern dancer, or grad student in your life. Although last year’s list is still full of good ideas in my biased opinion, this year’s list reflects where I am and what I’m looking for. What can I say, I was inspired by Oprah’s Favorite Things (one of my holiday guilty pleasures).

For the grad student

  • Coffee gift certificates/maker/coffee itself. I’ve begun drinking coffee again, and I attribute it to being back in school.
  • Printer ink and paper. I’ve used one cartridge of ink this semester, and I’ve been fairly conservative with printing. Printer ink is expensive, and I’d be elated to have that as a gift. My paper supply is being depleted, as well.
  • Massage. I’ve been pretty good about taking care of myself, but I know some people experience all sorts of back issues and other aches from poor computer posture.
  • Restaurant certificates. I’ve eaten out a bit more than I care to admit. I get back from class rather late, and sometimes, I’m just too tired to cook. Food is always welcome in my house.

For the Middle Eastern dancer

  • Props. About a week or two ago, I splurged on some beautiful Isis wings from Ayshe. While I believe that they are worth every dollar I spent (and unfortunately, I kind of want another pair), they were about $200. I’ve also been shopping around for a shamadan and a tray (not sure how much it’ll be). Other props dancers often love are veils (particularly silk) and zills. Even if you cannot afford the full cost, you could make a clever gift certificate good for x amount of dollars towards the item.
  • Costumes. As of this year, I’ve gotten into very light costume buying. Again, costumes are expensive, even if they are worth it. If you are unsure of what to buy someone or the size, you can again make your own gift certificate, though some vendors may offer gift certificates.
  • Jewelry. Along with costumes comes jewelry. It’s the icing on the cake, per se. I like my jewelry very sparkly and big.
  • Traincase for makeup. Another item I’m hunting for. Toting one’s makeup in a cosmetic bag isn’t cutting it for me any more; everything becomes jumbled up and harder to find. Caboodles, Sephora, and Yazmo all sell recommended traincases.
  • Suitcase and other prop cases. The suitcase is something I discovered works well to transport multiple costumes and accessories. Mine is ugly and not in great condition. With the Isis Wings, I now realized I need a good way to transport them places. I think a garment bag will work well, but on Friday, I saw how a dancer creatively made her own case out of cardboard boxes and duct tape.
  • Ranya Renee’s Taqasim DVD and misc. DVDs from Cheeky Girls Productions. Both have produced brilliant DVDs in the past full of good information, clear video, etc. Everything you could want in a good instructional dance DVD. Ranya Renee’s latest is very unique and is definitely on my list of things to buy. From Cheeky Girls Productions, there are many to pick from. I currently have a copy of the Icing on the Drum Solo to review, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. On my list is Turn it Up! and Totally Turkish.

This past weekend was filled with one things: Raks Nativity (well, that and a paper due Wednesday). Raks Nativity is Nepenthe’s interesting idea to tell the story of Jesus’ birth through Middle Eastern dance. The experience was interesting, because most of the people acting and dancing are not religious people, and I don’t think any of us ever did a Christmas play.

My role was the “village girl/kind innkeeper.” I enjoyed my bit role, even though I would’ve liked some extra practice with the people I’d share the stage with. Mainly because it is difficult to figure out how to navigate showing off a small marketplace by oneself, but also because I really liked everyone who was in the play. Perhaps this is a me thing, but I don’t feel like we often come together to work on something as community. People will throw haflas or invite others to perform in their shows, but I cannot think of a time a group of dancers who are not in the same class come together to work on a project together. There is something nice about that. I imagine that it is logistically difficult, but it something I’d like to see continue.

The audience was nice collection of non-dancers and dancers; I must say that it was touching to see how many people came out to support the show, because it was quite far from Boston (about an hour or so drive). The play I believe went well; I hope I did well. I didn’t see most of it that night, but at rehearsal, it looked good. The concept seems odd, but when you see it, it really was a solidly good show. I like that the show had a mix of comedy, acting, and dancing; even for someone who loves watching dance, a show can seem long if there is no variety. The show felt like it went by quickly to me; it was inherently a short show, but also I think the pacing was good that left you satisfied but wanting more.

It was a lot of fun, and even though I’m sure Nepenthe and co. are tired, it would be awesome if we could do this again during the summer or spring.