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.

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.

My professional and dance life have been quite hectic lately. My professional life- well, soon I’ll reveal some news that has been good (it changes my plans for next semester), but it has been a little stressful. The waiting game. I have also been busy with getting things squared away from midterms. The midterm grades are due next week, right before spring break.

This weekend is shot, because I’m going away to the Ranya workshop in RI and performing at the Hafli for Haiti. I’ve been practicing my dancing. I forgot how  much fun it is just to dance. Technique has been easy to practice. It requires a very black and white (at least to me) set of thinking. Your hands, posture, etc. need to be positioned in a certain way. In my opinion, it is more rigid than dancing. Listening to the music, feeling the music, choosing what moves best work is harder. There are so many possibilities! While Middle Eastern music does dictate what you do, at the same time, you have choices. There’s a vibration in the music. Some may shimmy the hips, some may shimmy the shoulders. What part of the music do you wish to highlight? Do you dance to the rhythm or the melody? When do you switch it?

I feel like I’m not a great dancer yet, but at the same time, I’m noticing signs of progress. For starters, my hands and arms aren’t as busy. I’m happy to use them as framing right now. I feel like I’m taking advantage of space more, using all directions. Maybe it isn’t perfect, but I’m still making an effort to use diagonals, sides, etc. I’m also thinking about facial expression and where my eyes and head are. Again, not perfect, but at least it’s becoming a part of my dance. Hopefully all this comes through in my dance on Sunday.

Bringing back weekly (or semi-weekly) reviews. During one of my bouts with cold/flu, I watched Combination Nation Vol 1: Belly Dance Instruction with America’s Hottest Performers. What is it? A DVD of combinations from dancers that are on the By Dancers, For Dancers series that Michelle Joyce puts out through Cheeky Girl Productions. The series doesn’t necessarily have the “big” names, but the quality is there.

The DVD featured several instructors teaching combinations. I liked the sampling of instructors picked a lot. Each person really did have a unique style, but they were able to all articulate what they meant well. The only little picking point I can think of is that it’s clear that Middle Eastern dancers have no standard verbal vocab. There were a few I believe I hadn’t heard myself or had to think about. Not a big deal, but I’m also proponent of a standard verbal vocab.

What was both good and bad about the DVD is that the same clip of the music was used often. The good about the same clip of music is that you can see how differently people interpret the music (the music is pretty, also). I love that you can gather several dancers in a room, and each will likely have a unique take on the music. The bad? You are listening to the same clip over and over again. That can be obnoxious.

While you are given time to practice the combos, you definitely need to push repeat. Michelle Joyce appears to have chosen putting more people on the DVD rather than giving long, guided practices. I favor that, since it is a DVD and very easy to repeat.

My primary use to this DVD will be to push myself out of my comfort zone and gather new ideas. I use DVDs for ideas vs. tangible material; although I did love many of the combinations (Lotus Niraja, Aradia, and Princess Farhana stick out at the moment), I prefer my work to original and don’t want someone in an audience to recall that I used a certain combo. I definitely see myself coming back to this one often. 5 of 5 stars.

Carrara Nour decided yesterday that we (or at least she)  begins her 90-day practice challenge. She started it off with a doozy- 4 hour practice. Not to be expected to be completed at once. I decided to see if I could fit in two 2-hour practices today.

First practice, consisting of drills and zills, is finished. Tiring but finished (and left me with a huge appetite). Probably the hardest thing was to think of how to fill 2 hours of practice.

Tonight’s should be easier: Combination Nation. I’ve watched it once while I was sick but now I’ll attempt it.

Anyone else partaking in this challenge?

I returned to Najmat’s dance class tonight. First time back in about 2 years. Some things never change, like a few of the same students are still there. Returning is strange, because there were definitely familiar faces but also new ones. It’s like a weird memory.

The class was enjoyable. I was pleasantly surprised that my technique is still fairly decent, that I didn’t entirely lose it while not doing much. I think I may feel the dance a little tomorrow.

Getting myself motivated to return was difficult (my money fears, procrastination, etc.). I find it easy to keep something up, for better or worse, if that thing is habitual. Unfortunately, not attending dance class had become habitual. I’m hoping now that attending and practicing will be my new habit.

I spent yesterday sick. Coincidentally, right as I began administering the exam for my students, my nose began dripping like crazy. I came home yesterday and slept like crazy. Dance class (I was going to try drop in ballet tonight) is not in my best interest right now.

However, I do plan on starting back with practice. I know how drill, even if my notes and DVDs are still in Chicago. I can with that and should I get exhausted, break. I do plan on looking at new DVDs. I don’t want to do a drill DVD necessarily; I think I’ve more or less have a good background on drilling practice from class or other DVDs. I’m looking more at technique right now. Something to sharpen mine and create new ideas for me when I start choreographing again. Any amazing DVDs people have come across, either in the past or very recently?