Sunday, April 12, 2009

two cups of starbucks in shibuya

"I always make it a habit to learn belly dance whenever I visit a country."

That is what I wrote in every e-mail I sent to a few bellydance teachers in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka - the three cities that I had planned to visit earlier. I found their names and e-mail address through Shira's website.

Two teachers responded: Ms. Henna and Ms. Filiz Eren. Ms. Henna teaches American Tribal Style (ATS) and Tribal Fusion style while Ms. Eren teaches Oriental Style. I was really interested in learning the belly dance with a Turkish teacher (Ms. Eren is Turkish) however I had to concede to learning ATS because it is what I am interested in most and I find it very intriguing (what with all the coded movements and stuff).

However, Ms. Henna is not in Tokyo - she's back in the US for a while after giving birth to a baby boy, congrats congrats - so she referred me to her dance partner, Ms. Joe. Of course with all the recommendation and the gorgeous website, I said yes.

I also want to learn ATS dance from those who've had direct ATS learning experiences. Ms. Joe's background in Flamenco is also one of the reasons why I was sure - ATS's posture and movements are heavily influenced by the Flamenco. Plus, from what I read, Japan has some really weird Tribal Fusion style going on, and I am not wasting my time and money learning from someone with whom I can't communicate, eg. Japanese who don't speak a word of English.

At the end of the lesson, I realised that the only thing I was going to miss from Tokyo is learning ATS and Tribal Fusion with Ms. Joe. I told my friend, Tokyo is a bad imitation of Paris at its best.

I requested a four hour lesson with her, two hours in two days. On the first day of the lesson, I came very late that she crammed two hours of lesson into a short 45 minutes.

Ms. Joe taught me the ATS posture, (ATS) Egyptian steps, Turkish steps, Arabic steps, and the basic codes and cues. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was like opening a Pandora box and knowing the secrets! Or reading the Bloodline of the Holy Grail! Or discovering that T-Rex mothers nursed their babies!

We then discussed the matter of belly dance and the next day's lesson over Starbucks which was only a minute walk from the studio El Salaam in Shibuya where I took the lesson.

I was planning to buy bellydance props in Tokyo and she informed that right on top of the very studio, there's this shop called El Hobb. However, when I got there on the first day (April 11th), it was already closed. Because I was late.

The lesson on the second day (April 12th) was not held in El Salaam, but in Shop Kwaies's studio - also in Shibuya. It was a small yet cozy studio, with all the goodies in El Hobb shop left unattended. The owner of the studio (and the shop) so trustingly gave Ms. Joe the key to that goldmine. Had I been a kleptomanic, I'd surely run off with all those cool zills, CDs, and DVDs. Heck, I'd even help myself to one of those made-in-Taiwan bongos!

Before heading to Shop Kwaies's studio, I went to El Hobb and purchased a few things: bigger brass zills for my (future) Tribal Fusion pieces, FatChance Bellydance's DVDs, and a pair of pink Isis Wings. The shopgirl was a very nice young lady with good English.

the goodies in el hobb's store in shibuya
Goodies hanging inside El Hobb's bellydance shop.
See the end of this blogentry for the complete address and phone number.

They had a shamadan on display, but thank goodness it wasn't on sale, otherwise I'd be fighting with Mom on how to bring the big thing all the way to Kyoto and Osaka by trains and Shinkansen. And then I'd regret buying the whole thing. But one day, I will definitely dance with a shamadan and maybe do the tea tray dance, and the candle dance... Yeah!

Anyway, the lesson on the second day was even more interesting. We got into layering, more ATS combos and movements, a deeper look into the ATS, and finally a crazy Tribal Fusion choreography with a jazzy feel.

It's jazzy, and let me tell you something about jazz. I hate it. I mean, I LOVE dancing, but not jazz. The intricate steps, the hands, the multitasking thing, the quick thinking thing... It's just too much!

However, I think I finally got the hang of it at around the umm... 10th time we redid the dance. Hah! What a record. I usually couldn't get it together even until the 30th, or whenever I started losing counts. I think it's because Ms. Joe did a very good job in explaning the movements with clarity. The fact that I'm adding more years in dancing also helped a bit (okay, so there! I'm giving myself a bit of a credit!)

And, there was also a Starbucks near the studio. How neat is that? And we chatted for almost an hour. I gave her a little present, a pendant made from aged silver and a shell of a clam. It's a traditional handcraft from Bali - I got it from Sarinah, a famous old-school handcraft and traditional souvenir shop in Jakarta.

We chatted, shared thoughts on ATS, Tribal Fusion, and the basic Tribal scene in Japan. I was so honoured to be able to learn from her, and learn new things (almost too many new things, even) and even more honoured when she said that she could see that I am very much into dancing, and belly dance, and that I can dance well.

ms. joe and yours truly!
Ms. Joe and me as The Starbucks bellydancers!

I was awestruck by her comments (can you believe that she even asked me to compete in the upcoming Japan National Bellydance Competition - or something like that - the first ever bellydance competition in Japan with Tamalyn Dallal and Bozenka as the judges??? I'm still not that good, but I may return to Japan for workshops. That means living frugally.) that my inferiority complex kicked in again. But I made up my mind that it won't stop me from learning and dancing.

Oh well, I still have three days until I reunite with Lilith (I miss her so much) and pursue my dreams that include going to San Francisco and learning ATS from the master, Carolena Nericcio.

El Hobb Select Bellydance Shop
4th Floor Inter Building (above the Studio El Salaam)
1-9-11 Jin Nan
Shibuya-Ku Tokyo-To
Phone: 03-3868-2083

Saturday, April 04, 2009

dancing with lilith

I met Lilith at She was the last of the owner's stock for that period. The owner, Merilyn, was so helpful that even when I had problems with PayPal due to some technical difficulties and absurd stupidity (you don't think it was possible, do you? Well, think again), she promised to keep Lilith for me.

On 21 January 2009, I finally got her in my arms. Some tips for those living in Indonesia and expecting a really important package that you simply have to track by the minue, apart from tracking the item using the website of the delivery handler (DHL, FedEx - Merilyn used the Australian Post), you can simply go to Pos Indonesia's website and use their tracking system. It actually worked.

Actually, it was Pos Indonesia's tracking system that informed me that my package was sitting at the post office because Mom refused to pay a helluva amount of money (about USD 100) for the custom. I went to the post office that day and the next day during lunchtime to settle the bill. When I got there, it was not USD 100, it was only USD 10. Well, still a lot of money, but better than USD 100. I had no idea how it could get mixed up.

Also, when you're picking up a package at Pos Indonesia, always, ALWAYS ask for a valid receipt, with a stamp and a signature and all the works. Thanks to Anisa for this advice.

As soon as I got the then unnamed sword, I balanced it on my head, all the way while driving back to the office.

Michel Emile "Wael" Kfoury. My, my...

I have two songs in my head that I feel are perfect for sword dancing. The first one is by Wael Kfoury (such a hot, hot Lebanese hunk) entitled "Aahat". If I'm not mistaken, "Aahat" actually means "heard" in sanskrit (as opposed to "Anaahat" meaning "unheard). Ansuya uses the song for her floorwork piece in the Bellydance Superstars Live in Paris performance.

The song is only 2:55 minutes. Short yet dramatic.

The other one is a haunting number by Massive Attack, "Inertia Creeps". Now this is a very long song. I might do this one when I have enough vocabulary of movements in sword dancing and enough agility to balance the sword for about five minutes.

There are several reasons why I chose this type of sword. To be correct, it is actually a scimitar because of its shape. And based on my research, it might be the Turkish kilij. The dance community will know it as the Balady Sword, a smaller replica of the legendary Cas Hanwei sword.

I chose the kilij because it is actually affordable (unlike the Saroyan), it looks gorgeous and fierce at the same time, it gets terrific reviews, and it is available at TribalLine. TribalLine is based in Australia, a lot closer to Indonesia than the USA and it promises to send to everywhere in the world, and it has kept its promise.

"Lilith" by John Collier (1892)

Not so while ago, I christened the scimitar "Lilith". In Judaism, Lilith was Adam's first consort. However, she refused to lie underneath Adam during copulation because she believed that she is equal, not inferior to him. A fight erupted and Lilith abandoned Adam and Eden to the edge of the sea where she was said to become a demon and gave birth to baby demons. Even the two angels sent by God after Adam's whinings couldn't bring her back because her mind was set. But they finally made an agreement about demons and human babies.

Now, scholars and feminists have placed Lilith as an archetype of strong-willed women. She was the victim of patriarchy and served as a scary bedtime story for intelligent women who just couldn't keep their mouths shut. I am sure lots of women - even today - share Lilith's burden: to be called a demonness, to be cursed, to have to run away.

Remember Sarah McLachlan's "Lilith Fair"? The music and arts event was designed to celebrate women in music. Strong, intelligent women. Lilith is now a name that is synonymous to emancipation and fierceness.

And so I named my scimitar "Lilith". In the story, you'll also find that Lilith slays human babies, except when the human babies wear the amulets bearing the names of those two angels that tried to get Lilith back to Eden.

I hate babies and children, so it just seemed like it fell into place. Ha!

Want to know more about Lilith? Go here.

My first time dancing in public with Lilith happened on April 1st, 2009. It was during a surprise party for one of the general managers. His wife takes classes at the Interlude Dance Academy under the tutelage of Ms. Venyci Yefriadi. The GM's wife invited me to dance and I said yes and I would try to dance with my scimitar.

It was in Samarra, one of the most popular middle-eastern eateries in Jakarta and there, I met my other general manager and the financial controller. Thank goodness Friday, April 3rd, 2009 was my last day at work (I'll tell you about it later). So I danced my heart out.

I so hate my belly here. That's what no gym in three weeks can do to you!
Photo by Mrs. Suci Shipman.

It was almost perfect, but when I did my turns and rolls on the floor almost at the end of the song, my Lilith fell! Of course it was my mistake since I kind of tilted my head and hadn't isolated properly. But something unbelieavable happened: the guests, most of whom are complete strangers, wanted more!

The CD only contained that one song, "Aahat", so it got played again, and this time I improvised. And on that second time, Lilith stayed still on my head (and my thigh). I still can't believe the amount of praise I got. It just felt so underserved, especially because I flunked on the first try.

We all danced again with Ms. Ve at the end, and thank goodness I knew the songs, so I could improvise good enough.

Well, Lilith is now officially out and about. I hope in the next hafla (sometime in June or July), I'll get to dance with her once again.
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