Melodia Designs is having a red pants sale. All the red pants are on sale for $60, instead of the normal $80. Get ’em while they’re hot! Because of the Dina workshop cancellation, I was able to afford a pair for myself.

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After reading Valeria’s top 10 popular clothes items for Middle Eastern dance, I felt inspired to write my own, using a different slant. My list is my top 10 must have items. Slightly different but hopefully informative and fun. I chose to make a slightly different list, because Valeria already covered popular items and I think it’s easy to get swept up in clothes side. This list particularly aimed at people who are just beginning or those who don’t have so much money. I don’t own all of these (yet), but the combination of my own experience and observing troupes has made me think these are the essentials.

  1. Hip scarf. A hipscarf is not only a good way to feel like you’re a dancer but is also practical. They can really help you (and your teacher) see the movement. If they’re of the noisy variety (coins, for instance), they can let you know quickly you’re moving your hips. This can be particularly useful if you’re not supposed to be moving them, ie. you hear the coins jingling when you’re doing a chest movement.
  2. Fitted workout pants. I’m a fan of yoga pants, but whatever pants you wear, they should be fitted enough that your teacher can see your movements. I have several pair from places like Target that have lasted about 5 years for me with constant wearing.
  3. Well-fitting top. If you’re moving, particularly if you’re a female, you want to stay covered and comfy. Some classes may involve small hops or jumps where your chest area may need more support than your average bra.
  4. Tie crop top. These are good classes as a quick way to show your midriff, but I’ve had these used for a few class performances. They come in many styles, from sleeves to long flowy sleeves and prints or plain. They can be found numerous places for different prices. Sharifwear is a place many people look. Melodia Designs also carries them, and a quick search on Ebay will also yield other suppliers.
  5. Costume cover. When you perform, covering yourself is important, even for a recital-style performance. You don’t want the audience to see your costume before you perform. Some ideas for costume covers are saris and caftans.
  6. One great bra and belt set. Owning what’s referred to as a “workhorse” is one of the smartest investments a new performer can make. Costuming can be very expensive, but a solid bra and belt set can help defray the cost. Mixing and matching with skirts, pants, tops, etc. allows for the bra and belt to look like a different costume. If you are of the tribal inclination, a good coin bra and some kind of belt will work well. I made a coin bra once, and it was relatively easy.  If you’re more Oriental style, a gold or silver bra and belt set can be transformed with cheaper accessories to look like a completely new costume; I’ve seen people accessories so cleverly that I had trouble telling that they were using the same set. The most popular recommendation is a Great Loop bra.
  7. Black jazz pants. I have had these called upon from time to time for recitals when we had to quickly come up with costume pieces and no one had much money to spend. I don’t think they’re a bad item to use, especially if you are more tribal.
  8. Skirt and matching accessory. To really work your one great bra and belt set, a good skirt in a flattering cut is the way to go. Matching it with an accessory, like gloves or a vest, creates a complete outfit. L.Rose Designs is the most popular place to go for a skirt and accessory set.
  9. Good underwear. Good underwear is supportive and doesn’t show through your costume (lines) or show too much of you. One of the biggest performance tips I had drilled into me was to make sure the audience does not see more of you than you want.
  10. Jewelry. Jewelry really completes a look, even if it isn’t a lot. It can be used for many costumes.

What would your 10 must have items be?

I finally got around to completing my big tattoo. It wraps from the right side of my body, around the waist, and up under the left breast. It was a painful tattoo today, to say the least. The ribs are not a happy area to get tattooed!

My tattoo artist, Dawn Grace, works at the Tattoo Factory. She came recommended to me by Sonya, my dance teacher who is an ex-piercer and tattoo artist. Dawn is also a Middle Eastern dance student, which is cool. What’s neat is she, like Sonya and I, are tattooed non-tribal dancers. I do, of course, do tribal, but I also enjoy a lot of non-tribal dancers (I go back and forth on it). If you are not familiar with tribal, tattoos are quite the norm. With Oriental or non-tribal, you are less likely to see it. One of the reasons is because of Muslim faith not allowing tattoos; from what I understand, the Qur’an forbids it.

If I ever go professional, I imagine I will not be the most competitive for some jobs in dance, simply because of my tattoos. However, I enjoy seeing tattooed non-tribal dancers; it’s a neat juxtaposition of what’s perceived to be very feminine with what’s perceived to be more edgy and rough. Even though tattoos have become more mainstream, I think the juxtaposition stands when you see someone heavily tattooed all glammed up in satin and sparkles. To me, it means they’re not afraid to show both sides of themselves or they don’t choose to box themselves into stereotypes.

There is something very beautiful about someone who is able to be themselves, even if it is a slightly odd combination. Besides, life is too short not to be yourself and it’s too much work to be someone else.

Because I miss the class camaraderie and seeing people, I’ve been trying to attend workshops more. Arabesque runs small workshops by local instructors. For people who are mass transit reliant, like me, this is a good way to get exposed to other instructors while not having to worry about travel.

I signed up for the Graceful Arms workshop, despite Danielle being my instructor. I thought I could learn something, it’s fairly cheap ($30 for two hours), and I get to see other people in class. Since arms are something I don’t feel I’ve had a great emphasis on, I thought it would be a good thing to try.

The workshop was a good size (7 people), so you could ask questions if you had any and get plenty of mirror space. Danielle is very particular about technique, so there was no music. At all. Her belief is that it is easy to get into the music and not pay attention to technique, so she doesn’t play music during technique things.

The pace of the workshop was a little slow. I think it’s predominantly because I’m familiar with Danielle’s posturing and beliefs; however, it’s great that she went over it for those not familiar with it. Despite the speed, now that I’m thinking about it, Danielle went over a lot. The moves covered were a variety of standard Oriental, tribal (ATS), tribal fusion, Flamenco, Bharatanatyam, Javanese, and Balinese arms. A very nice sampling of arm ideas.

Danielle’s strength (which also attributed to the pace) is thoughtfulness in dance. She discussed a lot of the motivations for the posture, the reasons why arms are important, and what’s good about each arm fusion. She also films workshop DVDs prior to the workshop and prepares handouts. Although I have not bought any of her DVDs, she says they always include extra “bonus” moves, because she prepares more material than she’ll ever go over, just so she can guarantee she doesn’t run out of material.

Since I’m so familiar with Danielle’s style of dance, this wasn’t full of any surprises or “aha!” momements for me. However, I do think it’s great for people who really want to add a world fusion aspect to their dance or be exposed to some different technique.

photo-371Take 2 with Melodia tops. This time, in tie top form. To the right is me in one of the batik-dyed leaf green ones.

These definitely fit better. I like the versatility of them; you can tie them as I have in the photo or make them more of a wrap top. The wrap top gives a little more coverage than the front tying. Unlike the twist tops, the tag is discreetly sewn in.

Of course, you do have the slightly cumbersome task of having to tie this on. Luckily, the ties are very sturdy and the fabric is not slippery, so you can rest assured that it is not going to untie itself.

The biggest problem I can see with these tops is again they may be a little small. I may prefer to costume more modestly, but I don’t know about fitting larger sizes. The other problem is that there is a difference in the fabric. The other top I ordered is in the “denim” fabric. This top is much flimsier and feels like it has more give than the green top.

One of the best ways to get info on Middle Eastern dance is through internet discussion. There isn’t a lot of quality academic work out there, and depending on the info you seek, sometimes your best bet is someone online. With so many options, which one is right for you? Here are my takes on the three forums I use: Bhuz, tribe.net, and Bellydance Livejournal Community.

  • Bhuz is my favorite. The forum’s members are eclectic from stars like Aradia and Michelle Joyce to local heroes to people like me. The information varies from technique advice to becoming pro to music to history. Bhuz has a reputation for being more Oriental vs. tribal. There are some tribally-inclined, but it is overwhelmingly Oriental. People tend to be blunter, so if you want to be handled more delicately, I can’t say I’d recommend Bhuz. These are very serious dancers. However, I do think their bluntness is good for those who wish to be professional; even though it can be abraisive, people in the proverbial real world are abraisive. Bhuz is also excellent to find out information of workshops.
  • tribe is good if you’re looking for a very concentrated group of info. This forum is frequented by many tribal and fusion types, so they’re the ones giving most of the info. Big celebrities like Rachel Brice or Suhaila Salimpour have their own tribes (groups) and frequently appear. Tribe tends to have a more relaxed atmosphere than Bhuz. People still have serious conversations, but they also are a little more mild on a whole. I find I get a lot of good dance costuming info on tribe. The worst thing I can honestly say about tribe is that it has tendency to go down. A lot and for long periods of time (a few days). Tribe is also good if you have other interests; it isn’t strictly dance oriented.
  • Livejournal’s Bellydance community is much softer than the other two. The people who participate in this community tend to be extraordinarily supportive. A lot of newer dancers tend to be in the LJ community, and the more experieneced dancers are more than happy to help them out. They do have serious conversations for time to time, but it is predominantly like a group of people getting together for  fun. People like to show off their latest creations or choreographies. There isn’t so much of the serious feedback you can get from Bhuz or the kind of conversation and info that I usually get out of Bhuz. If you’re looking for a more gentler approach to the online world, this community may be it.

I haven’t experienced other communities, but I feel like these three will give you all that you need to know.

Despite being involved with Middle Eastern and fusion dance on and off for a few years, I don’t have really any cool practice gear. I own about 4 hip scarves and some boring yoga pants. Among my many things to do this year is to invest in nice practice gear.

Enter the Melodia top. I wanted something that was cute, primarily cotton, and well reputed. Melodia Designs has been famous for awhile among tribal dancers; Melodia herself used to dance for the Bellydance Superstars, and Rachel Brice of The Indigo has often sported Melodia pants.f3f7_1 I figured if Melodia can make $80 pants popular, she must have some good stuff.

I purchased a Melodia twist top in organic bamboo/cotton fabric. I liked the design, and the color and material intrigued me. Melodia shipped it off pretty fast, and within a week or so of ordering, my top arrived from San Diego.

I like the top. I don’t love it. The first thing about the Melodia twist top that struck me as odd is that it’s a one-size fits all. I’m about a size 0-2 with a decent sized bust, and it is tight on me. I don’t know how it fits the alleged 36DD. I checked many forums online; I don’t appear to be the only small person who struggles with the size of it. Additionally, people claim that the fit varies among the fabrics used. Certain colors tend to run tighter or looser.

When you put on the twist top, you have to play with it a little to get it to a flattering look. I went with the twist top, because I though I could just throw it on, unlike a tie top. No such luck.

The top is very well constructed and looks adorable on and adjusted. I’m not sure if I personally would want to perform in it (Melodia’s logo is embroidered on the back, which I think would be distracting for performance), but it is a cute practice top.

Because I’m ambivalent about the top, I’m going try the tie tops next. If you get a chance to try one on, I would. Perhaps actually wearing it will help you determine whether it’s the top for you. With the fit issues, I don’t think it’s something you want to buy blindly online.