Thursday, October 17, 2013

street fairs

One thing that I like about dancing in the US is that we get to do street fairs. In Indonesia (well, I don't know about Bali), bellydancers are typically not that well-regarded. And people who go to street fairs here are generally laid back. Blue Diamonds Belly Dance, student troupe of FatChanceBellyDance® has been doing lots of street fair gigs lately, and I danced in two of them in my 'hood (Rockridge and Berkeley).

Here are some tips.

Sometimes you'll be dancing on asphalt. So wear appropriate footwear. I was tempted to wear my Asics running shoes, but the soles are too grabby, and since I don't wear skirts, my footwear shows (especially when I'm spinning), so in my opinion, sneakers kind of ruin the aesthetics.  I used to have a pair of gold gladiator sandals, but they were so cheap and not made for dancing that they broke apart after six performances. Then I bought another pair of gladiator sandals, but they made my ankles bleed. And one time, one of them came off mid-performance, and it was really stupid.

Then I found these awesome knee-high boots on eBay. These are vegan boots by Breckelles. At first I thought they were so slippery, and I don't like the way they clack clack clack when I'm walking, but turns out, the soles are not grabby, and they're perfect for dancing on pavements and asphalts.


Then there's also the issue of dancing in sunlight. Our performance time for both fairs was at 1 PM. So yeah: the sun is relatively right above you, which is kind of good since you don't have to turn and spin and bam! the sun is right in front and blinding. But that also means that you'll get tired more easily (what with the headwraps / turban / head gear, and squinting is really exhausting), so don't wear too much jewelry like I did at Berkeley Sunday Streets. Seriously, I almost could not keep my elbows up in the final song of the first set (we danced to two sets). I got home and out of curiosity, I weighed my bracelets that I wore to the Berkeley gig, and I realized I was wearing 2.7 pounds of jewelry on my arms. Yikes. But it's a good work-out for your shoulders, back, and delts. 


Now about squinting, and this is probably just the shape of my eyes, I really don't like the way my eyes sort of disappear in action shots. So you may want to consider eye make-up that makes your eyes look big even as you squint (is that even possible?). And no, I'm not talking about this: 


Finally, cover-ups. With a shining sun and a typical Bay Area breeze, I'd recommend wearing assuit / tulle-bi-telli. The cool metal keeps your body temperature low. But if it's too cold, then use something else. 


Oh, ignore her. That's just Kate Moss.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

lilith's bali debut

Years ago, when I first met Lilith, I had big dreams.

And so, here it is. Sorry for the quality of the video, though. Haha.


In case you're wondering, the first song is by contemporary Balinese musician, Ayu Laksmi. The title of the song is Maha Asa (Big Dream). I've been using it for ATS® Puja.


Monday, July 29, 2013

just like a woman

It is a well-known fact that movies that at least try to portray belly dance in a fair way are not that many. In fact, I can only name one that I know of. Then there's Just Like a Woman (SPOILER AHEAD)

This movie came out in 2013, directed by Rachid Bouchareb. It's about two acquaintances, Marilyn (Sienna Miller) and Mona (Golsfhiteh Farahani) who are forced by circumstances to get on a road trip from Chicago to Santa Fe in Marilyn's car. Marilyn goes to Santa Fe to audition for a belly dance company (as recommended by her belly dance instructor, Peter). She's hesitant at first, but then she's fired from her job and comes home to catch her deadbeat husband cheating on her with a pizza delivery girl.

Mona, on the other hand, is an immigrant, and a wife of a very loving husband (Mourad, played by the ruggedly handsome Roschdy Zem) and an overbearing mother-in-law (Chafia Boudraa) who demands to have a grandchild and accuses Mona of being infertile. One night, Mona spills her mother-in-law's pills and yet serves them to her anyway. The mother-in-law dies in the morning, and Mona, overcome with guilt, runs away. She has no idea where to go, but kismet brings her bus exactly where Marilyn is parking her car. The two meet, and Marilyn decides to take Mona with her.

Marilyn (foreground) and Mona (background) dancing at their first gig. 

Peter (Marilyn's instructor) gives several recommendations for restaurants Marilyn can dance at. Her first gig actually needs two women (how lucky!). Mona, being a Middle-Easterner, is (supposedly) a natural belly dancer, so Marilyn asks Mona to accompany her dancing at restaurants (one of them looks like a really seedy bar).

Mona belly dancing to flirt with her husband in their convenience store as Marilyn watches in the back.

The first song they danced to is Hisham Abbas' Nari Narayn and they seem to be just wiggling around. They get paid and the tip money is good, and they think everything is fine and dandy until the Arab patron comes to their rooms (apparently they stay at his place) and demands to sleep with Mona. Marilyn answers for Mona and says she's not interested, then the patron asks to sleep with Marilyn, who, of course, refuses. The patron gets angry and Marilyn decides that Mona and she has to leave. One thing, though, the patron says his clients do not like blonde dancing girls, so from then on, Marilyn wears a wig (this wig later becomes important because near the end of the movie when Marilyn gets physically abused by two rednecks and unable to audition, Mona takes her place and disguises as Mona, wears her wig, and is accepted into the dance company).

Marilyn dancing at a bar for their second gig. 

In the mean time, Marilyn's deadbeat husband wants her back (I don't think he knows that she doesn't have a job anymore) and Mona's loving husband wants her back too (with two police officers who start off sounding important and adding tension to the movie but somehow just fade in the background).

In the middle of their journey, Marilyn learns that Mona is on the wanted list and she confronts Mona. Mona tells her what happened and Marilyn abandons her at a gas station in the middle of nowhere America, and Mona, not knowing where she is (she's not American, she's never been outside of Chicago, the only path she knows is to get from her house to the store that her husband runs) just stays put in desperation. Marilyn then changes her mind and comes back to get Mona.

I don't know where to start. Some of the costumes just look cheap (but then again, Marilyn is trying to be a professional dancer, so that explains the cheap-looking costumes). Then the very typical music choices... But let's begin.

Mona auditioning as Marilyn.

There's no sense of progress in the story. The music and the dancing skills don't progress. Mona shows Samia Gamal to Marilyn, but I don't think that inspires Marilyn. At one point, Mona tells Marilyn to use another song (thank God) and to dance with abandon (YES!) but nothing comes of it. I was hoping that Mona shows Marilyn a thing or two about dancing, about music, about being in touch with the dance itself (so many Middle-Easterners pride themselves for being able to dance to Middle-Eastern songs because those are their songs and so they can be really in touch with their dance because everything flows naturally while non-Middle-Easterners struggle to achieve this kind of flow, this kind of tarab that is discussed in Whatever Lola Wants). Mona doesn't even smile when she auditions and yet she gets the part.

There's no tension when there should be lots of tensions. You have an immigrant (and not just an immigrant, but from the Middle-East, forpetessake, in the USA!), you have the stereotypical Arab people who always blame and degrade women, you have a loving husband desperately searching for his missing wife (who later says she doesn't want him back because she thinks he's failed to stand up for her), you have two cops (one of them is perhaps a racist bastard) whose roles just disappear.

Angles and editing. You know, I have no idea why this movie is rated R. You can hardly even see the dance. The story itself begins way too slow.

The ending. Which is so anticlimactic.

The dance. The dance itself is just meh, most likely because we don't really see what's happening. Then there's also no progression. Actually it gets worse (from an Arab restaurant to a seedy bar? Or is the movie trying to show what the belly dance scene in the USA is really like? Which, if it's true, then it's another missed opportunity).

There are good moments in Just Like a Woman, though. When Mona is left in that gas station and she takes off her coat and stands there while still in a belly dance costume, now that's desperation. The wide shots really inform the audience that she is in the middle of nowhere. Then there's tender moment between Mona and her husband as she flirts with him in the store. Then Samia Gamal. Then Natacha Atlas' Adam's Lullaby (although really, Natacha Atlas? It's been used). The male belly dance instructor (yes!). The fact that there are women of all shapes and sizes and some are even tattooed in his class (YEAH!). Although, both the male belly dance instructor and the other-sized women don't really have a role in this movie.


Well, I'll just leave you with this image. Here's Mona's husband doing something I don't know what, unfortunately not from Just Like a Woman (ya think?). 


Sunday, June 16, 2013

hot and bothered

Let me say this up front: I am a very sexual person. The only fetishes I'm not interested in are scat and permanent scarring. Oh, and leather, since I'm vegan. And I cannot stand the smell.

For decades, belly dancers have been trying to fight the stigma of belly dance being a sexy dance, and by that I mean dance of seduction, this is especially true in a muslim-dominated country like Indonesia. Three years ago, my troupe mates from the velvetRAQS were set to perform a belly dance show for an outdoor festival in the Monas area. Then the Jakarta governor at that time, that asshole jerk corrupt Fauzi Bowo (who went to the same all-male Catholic high school that I did which made me think he was different but turned out he wasn't) came and specifically ordered the belly dance show be removed or else he would not want to attend the event (he was the guest of honor). My troupe got paid in full anyway, but still.

I don't do Salsa, but from what I know, Salsa nights are more common than belly dance nights, and people here are very enthusiastic about the dance. I've seen how touchy-feely Salsa is and the ladies usually wear really short skirts (with great respect to Salsa dancers, I love what you're doing, but I don't understand how Salsa can get more respect than belly dance. Maybe it's the name?). This also goes to Tango.

One of my teachers at FatChanceBellyDance®, Ms. Sandi Ball, also does Polynesian dance. One time, she posted a photo of her teacher and his troupe dancing on stage. And all I could see were his body. I mean, I've seen videos of male Hula performers and I have to stay, they got me hot and bothered, awkay? Here, have a looksee.


Seriously, if you're a straight woman or a gay man, how can you not? Unless of course they're not your type. But bloody hell. Picture taken from this page.

Here's the thing: I am guilty of making lewd comments about those hunks, and for that, I am sorry. Okay, so maybe "lewd" is not the correct word to describe what I wrote (it was more along the lines of exclamations like "yummy" or "hot" and I kept the nasty thoughts to my own nasty self), but it is not the dancer's fault if the audience member's member gives him a standing ovation (I can't believe I just wrote that).

Last year, when I performed in Bali, I had an audience member (an Arab male) asking me for a photo. I obliged. Then for the second photo, he asked me to sit on his lap. I declined. I told him that he could look but he couldn't touch. He backed off.

I danced Oriental and from time to time I dance Tribal Fusion, and I know that there are songs that require our faces to be flirty and playful, and they are translated by the audience as seductive (and our costumes are also less covered than ATS®). It is up to us as dancers to let the audience know that they can look (and take photos) and talk to us, but nothing more than that. I had a long discussion with my male American friend  about that incident with Beyonce, and I said that she was an entertainer and although she wore a body-hugging suit and danced the way she did, it didn't mean that the guy could touch her in any way at all.


Male belly dancers have been present throughout the ages. We hear names like the late John Compton to Tito Seif to Mohamed Shahin, then there are Zadiel and Eliran Amar. Here's one of Eliran's very popular videos.


It is his right to wear those skimpy panels. It is his right to show off his yummy bod. However, to be honest, it could've been covered just a teensy bit more. I was hoping to be flashed. When that didn't happen, I was both relieved and disappointed. Relieved because no wardrobe malfunction occurred. Disappointed because, well, I'm a perv. This is where costume choice comes into the equation. In the video, his facial expression is far from seductive, but yours truly here still fans himself whenever he sees this clip.

My point is, there are things we can do to control how we want the audience (and the world) to perceive what belly dance is, and those things include pre and post performance attitude, costume choice, and make-up, and to some extent our facial expression (which is essentially related to the song we dance to). Yet it is alright (and expected) to be angry whenever an audience member "cracks" a slut "joke" and becomes touchy-feely.

There's a huge difference between thinking lewd thoughts and actually doing them. There's also a huge difference between doing those lewd things with consent and doing them without consent.

Fact of the matter is, there are still people who don't know the difference. I guess I'm a polite perv, or I have good self-restraint.

There are belly dancers who try their best to fight this slutty dance label and at the same time there are those who get bashed on this hilarious Tumblr. These people have helped perpetuate said label. Perhaps unknown to them. Hopefully unknown to them. (Addendum: okay, so perhaps that Tumblr isn't hilarious and the writer gets defensive from time to time, and thinks s/he knows what belly dance is or not, but who am I to say what is or isn't belly dance?).



Back to Salsa and Tango. Maybe they get more recognition (and by recognition I mean serious dance movies like Take the Lead and Scent of a Woman, the former has this really seductive dance scene). See how the female dancer has that "look but don't touch" attitude and that air of aloofness? That's what I mean.

I don't know. I'm blabbering all over the place. I guess I'm just jealous of the recognition that other dance forms have received and enjoyed in the mainstream media while belly dance is still stuck in being hoochie-koochie and cheap. I mean, come on. Even Twerking gets more respect.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

an artist's attitude

My admiration for Zoe Jakes is apparent. I adore her spins, her pops and locks, her make-up, her jewelry, her energy. She is a skilled dancer and theatrical performer.

In my previous post, I've written about how I felt elated when she said that a piece of jewelry she wore was Javanese. That particular blog post is about cultural appropriation and what I think about it. Then yesterday, I saw this video.


I am not an authority on Balinese dance (or any traditional Indonesian dance), but I've seen enough Balinese dance performances to notice there's something that doesn't sit well with me.

Let me tell you, I am not offended by this performance, and to be honest, I think this is one of the ways to promote Indonesian dance. I mean, Colleena Shakti has consistently done this with traditional Indian dance and I know that Odissi is gaining popularity what with Sonia Ochoa, Moria Chappell, and one of my dear friends Allison Mulroy going to Ms. Shakti's school in Pushkar, India to learn Odissi. Traditional Indonesian dance is a dying art form. As an Indonesian, I can't help but feel somewhat guilty about this, because I am not interested in learning any traditional Indonesian dance (largely because most of these dances require discipline and hard work and they have really intricate footwork and arm work, and I'm just too stupid. I quit Kathak after only four sessions).

I know there are Balinese dancers or those who are well-versed in this dance form who will probably be offended, so I think it's only fair to mention that Zoe Jakes and Marci Ann have been studying with Gamelan Sekar Jaya (I don't know for how long). (Addendum: click here for further explanation from the person who helped Zoe choreographed this piece.)

Now back to my gut feeling: I don't mind the headdress and the costume (I don't know if there's a religious significance attached to them), but some movements don't gel with the gamelan music. For example, the "Floorwork Body Dive" at 1:14 to 1:26; The pop, lock, and little drops that Zoe does at 1:44 to 1:49 and the chest shimmies at 1:42. I don't know whether or not these movements are in the Balinese dance vocabulary, but they somehow don't look right.

I am not trying to be diplomatic nor kiss ass, and maybe I'm just insensitive and have the tendency to sell-out, but I don't feel that my culture is being appropriated by this performance. It intrigues me and makes me feel uncomfortable, but not offended.

One of my closest ATS® dance friends and I had a discussion about this video performance, and we both agreed on one thing: the artist attitude. When I was an undergrad working on my degree in advertising, I had a professor in Copywriting class who kept telling us that we were not artists, that we still had to keep in mind how the audience (or the client) would perceive our work. I think that keeps me in check with my own approach in trying to create a choreography. For some people, this may mean less freedom, but it also may also mean giving value to (and therefore respecting) the audience. The thing is, I don't know if people (who have authority on an art form or a religion or a culture) will criticize an artist's performance simply because of the artist (diva worship). Not criticizing the artist, not presenting the artist with an opposing view point (not necessarily negative), is actually bad for the artist's growth.

I like to equate this to a bad red carpet dress choice. Many celebrities have had their hits and misses. Many celebrities have had their phases of bad dresses. Some have survived and become fashion icons, some are still trapped in that phase. They might have survived because they listen to those who shook their head and said, "Honey, don't." They might have survived because they saw their pictures and shook their head and said, "I can't believe none of my friends told me, 'Honey, don't'!" But here's a counter argument: who's to say what's garish and what isn't? Who's to say what works and what doesn't? I don't like too skimpy and transparent clothes on the red carpet, but some people may call me prude.

Paige Lawrence, the director of the Uru Tribe, wrote a very poignant Note on his Facebook page. It's a reflection of the Uru Tribe's journey to Tribal Fest 13, and how he feels about his own performance. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, and sometimes it's a good thing, because it may mean we are constantly trying to evolve, to grow, to challenge ourselves, to come out of our comfort zone. I still cringe (A LOT) whenever I see videos of myself performing.

Here's hoping that people won't see Zoe Jakes and Marci Ann's performance at Tribal Fest 13 as a true and authentic representation of Balinese dance. I know the introduction says "inspired", but we all know things can get lost and murky in translation.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

so long, dear friend

I first saw you in Anita's Dance Conditioning class in early 2011. You had white pants with red and yellow fire and a black shirt with wings. You were always so cool and charming and you danced with a smile.

My first gig at Tannourine, in October 2011, and you danced with us. You were the one who gathered us to do Puja.

Blue Diamonds Belly Dance (Tannourine Restaurant, October 2011)


I will never forget the gig at Club OMG. It was Halloween 2012. We had fun, didn't we? The gig came from you and you said you thought about me when you talked to the owner about us for Halloween. Well, it is a gay club, so that made sense. That evening, someone committed suicide on the tracks at Embarcadero BART station and my train stopped at MacArthur for at least an hour. But it was one of the best gigs ever. Two Indian-flavored sets. You chose the songs. You sent me a text message asking if I got home safely that night. I still have the drink coupon that the club owner gave us.

Then Devotion Kickstarter party came. That morning, you had a performance at Rakkasah. It was a back-to-back thing, and you came late as we were discussing our set. I told a friend that I thought you were being unprofessional, but we were all high-strung. I didn't say it to your face, though. Yeah, I stab people from behind. 

You were late, I am not Mr. Goody Two-Shoes, and they can only mean one thing: we're humans. A life-form. And death is inevitable for all life-forms. Only yours was too quick. Unexpectedly so. 

Stasi, you were there at Tribal Fest 13. This was Saturday, May 18, 2013. I saw you in the left wing. I greeted you. We hugged. Then you moved to the center seats with Laura, Sandi, and me. You sat with us. You laughed with us. You applauded our dance sisters, the Blue Diamonds Belly Dance, as they performed on stage, their devotion and hard work shone through their smiles and confidence. You zaghareeted with us. 

And then you were gone.

The Blue Diamonds ladies said you were there in the green room, wishing everyone good luck. As e-mails after e-mails poured in, everyone agreed: you were charming, you were bitingly funny, you had that sarcasm that I greatly enjoyed, you could let things slide off your back with ease, but you were also human. 

Now you are more than that. Now you are boundless, limitless, and I shall carry your energy, your strength, your smile, your courage, and your presence in my Puja, in my posture, in my dance. 

Rest in peace, my dear friend. 

Anastasia Martin (8 October 19XX - 20 May 2013)


Second photo by Shelly Swanegan Hamalian. 

Addendum: Some of the FatChanceBellyDance® students built a little shrine for Stasi, with flowers that flank her photo. Until we meet again, Stasi.



Friday, April 19, 2013

new(ish) notes on teaching

Last December, Tribal Babes Indonesia hosted the second annual Tribal Bellydance & Fusion Festival where I gave a three hour workshop called ATS® Sampler Platter.



To be honest, creating a workshop is so much like editing: it's really, really hard. Workshop is about picking and choosing things, what will work, what won't, what will bore the shimmies out of the participants, what will match the overall level of the dancers, but most definitely, what you want your participants to take away from your workshop.

Teaching ATS® is something new to me. During my time in the US, I've only been a student, and I enjoy doing that. I enjoy having that somewhat carefree attitude: I'm here to learn, and not to teach. I mean, I do have the responsibility to improve my skills (which include not only my posture and techniques, but also musicality and how I interact with other dancers on and off the stage - to some degree).

Here's the thing, ATS® is also something new, if not foreign, in Indonesia. The Indonesian belly dance scene is still heavily saturated with Cabaret / Oriental, which I also love, but perhaps will no longer be performing, except perhaps for Fusion. Tribal Fusion is also trending right now, but some dancers are not exposed to what "Tribal" really is. The whole concept, and that is the leading and following concept, is something unheard of. However, leading and following is the very essence of ATS® and I want to get that point across.

I talked over the phone with Ms. Nericcio during the week when she was teaching in Michigan. I told her the dilemma I was facing: I would like to keep it interesting and challenging (because somehow I'd thought that the mentality of the Indonesian dancers was to gain the most in terms of quantity and repeating and drilling the same moves over and over again would bore them to death) while teaching them what "Tribal" stands for in American Tribal Style® (and its offshoot - Tribal Fusion).

Here's the gist of what she said: keep things simple.

I told her that the Sampler Platter class was designed to have three sessions. The first one focuses on Slow Moves (first and foremost the Puja, then posture, arm placement, Floreos, Arm Undulation, Taxeem, Bodywave, and probably throw in some fancier stuff like Reverse Turn or Corkscrew Turn depending on how fast the participants could absorb the more basic moves). The second one is all about Fast Steps (Egyptian, Arabic, Pivot Bump, Shimmy, and Turkish Shimmy). The third one can either be a review of all the Fast Steps and Slow moves or a Shimmy drill (which I love).

At Mihrimah's workshop two years ago, she did a very cool thing where we would form a chorus, and one by one, we would come in from the left, move to the center, lead the whole chorus for a couple of eight counts, then fade to the right so the next person could take over. That was really fun and inspiring and I tweaked it a bit to match the ATS® concept.

At the end of each session, I would pair two dancers in a duet and have them dance together for one song, to review the moves on their own (they wouldn't need to worry if they made mistakes - I told them to be confident and that they was to always follow the leader), then the participants would form a chorus, and each duet would dance as featured dancers for a while.

This seemed to work at my last workshop. I mean, obviously I couldn't get the participants to have the perfect posture and techniques (heck, even I am still learning), but I managed to get the Tribal point across.

Ms. Nericcio's advice was this: get people excited. This was particularly true. I remembered how the lifted elbow posture was especially excruciating but the participants seemed to enjoy it, part of it was because they felt challenged. Once people are hooked, they will become curious and want to learn more.

However, there are also those who just want to get introduced to ATS® and see if it's really for them or not. This is fair game. I had a lady who asked me in my workshop, why we only did Pivot Bump on the right hip. She said that it would not train the muscles on the left hip. Carolena's advice for this one was to let them know that using the left hip does not complement the ATS® aesthetics and concept (leader on the front left). Also, bumping with the right hip doesn't mean that we're not exercising the left hip. Both right and left obliques are being used. Based in my experience, my Pivot Bump gets bigger if I also engage my left oblique muscles every time I release my right hip. I hope this makes sense.

One thing for sure, though: Puja is an essential aspect of ATS®. It helps ground the dancers and remind us of our roots. This is why I always start each session and end the third and final one with a Puja.

I can't wait to go back again to Jakarta and share the beauty of American Tribal Style®.


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