Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011

I would be remissed if I didn't write any review of the year 2011. However, I've done it on my other blog, the Pink in California. So you might want to head there if you're really, really, REEEEALLLY curious to know more about my life (you're such a stalker! But I like being stalked. So, HA.)

2011 marked the first time I've been away from my home (and my country) for a long period. True, I had a blast with EF at San Francisco and finally doing what I had been dreaming of doing since 2008: learning American Tribal Style® at FatChanceBellyDance®, and not only that, but I also had the opportunity to perform live with BlueDiamondsBellyDance, student troupe of FatChanceBellyDance®. Twice, actually. The second one with live music by none other than Helm (gasp!).

In the other blog, I wrote that I wanted to focus more on dancing and writing for 2012. I guess I need to be more specific.

What I really want is to further improve my American Tribal Style® skills and really making myself ready to teach it on my own, of course using the FatChanceBellyDance® format. As much as I love being in California (Californians are so friendly! NOT. Well, some are), I miss being at home, being in Jakarta, speaking Indonesian, and dancing with my troupe mates.

Well, here's to the good things and the bad things that occurred in 2011. And here's to hoping for a stronger, more beautiful self in 2012.

Monday, December 12, 2011

real time performances (this is improv, man!)

During the two times I had the privilege to dance at Tannourine, I witnessed the FCBD ladies discussing their set right in the backstage. Clearly they knew the songs well, they'd been dancing with each other for a long time, and they didn't rehearse. The BlueDiamonds, on the other hand, had planned the sets earlier (like two weeks earlier) and had at least rehearsed the set once.

Being in Level 4 means either the present teacher or us gets to decide the songs for a set, then do a run through once to orient ourselves with the set. The second run through is the rehearsal, and the third (and last) is the show. After the first run through and before the rehearsal, we decide who dances with whom in what song to what (Floorworks? Levels? Spins?). We do this in the comfort of the studio, with great sound system, good lighting, and relatively reliable flooring.

Then came Friday, 9 December 2011.

Kelsey, one of our dance sisters was going to be proposed by his fiance. His fiance asked Laura's (another dance sister) husband if she could ask the members of BlueDiamonds to perform. It was a surprise proposal. He was going to propose at Palace of Fine Arts and they'd go to a restaurant in downtown San Francisco for an afterparty. She didn't know that we would go there and surprise her with a dance.

Then we'd ask her to join us dance. This meant we couldn't plan the set ahead of time.

None of us had seen the place. This meant we had to decide the formation and how many people would be the featured dancers and where the chorus would stand, on the very spot right before we danced.

One of the more experienced dancer, Shelly, advised to do it Cafe Style (diagonal, closer proximity among the dancers, and no spins). When I was putting on my make-up at Jennifer's place, there were three of us and she put herself in Cafe Style, as if knowing that it would be in close quarters.

In the end, we managed to pull it off and everyone agreed that it was so fun.

Me, I still can't believe we did it like that, without rehearsal, without practice. I still can't believe we did it on the spot and it turned out fine.

Moral of the story #1: ATS is about improvising and adapting to the situation and the condition of the stage (or lack, thereof).

Moral of the story #2: Having a responsible point person with attention to details is important (we were so glad that Laura took this job)

Moral of the story #3: Zills can really improve the presence and excitement.

Moral of the story #4: Bust your energy out. When I danced to Anathema, I did an Egyptian Half Turn and saw Shelly's hips moving with energy. I wasn't feeling like being totally out, but when I saw her and her hips, I told myself, "F*ck, I need to get my act together." and tapped into her energy.

Such a lovely night. Such a lovely couple. Such lovely energy. Such lovely dancers.

And such a lovely dance.


***

Photo by Maya Vella
(L-R) Jennifer, Shelly, Yours Truly, Laura

Sunday, December 04, 2011

breaking the brick wall

Yes, this is still about the brick wall.

Princess Farhana wrote an excellent article about choosing the music to dance to. I only have a few things to say about it.

The first one is: I agree with everything she wrote.

Whenever I see people who work hard to do what they do and do it so beautifully, I can't help but feel envious. I can never sing as good as Sarah Brightman or do melisma as precise as (the recorded) Beyonce. I was feeling nostalgic and watched Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (RIP Mary Wickes) and I realized that, just like in the first movie, those people could sing well, and it broke my heart that when I tried to sing along, I marred the song.

The same thing also happened in writing. I'm not talking about the big, published names. I'm talking about my classmates. There were times when I just closed my eyes when they read their piece and then heard great lines and thought, "Crap! That was an awesome line! Why didn't I think of that?"

Then there's the dance.

There are dancers with clear and precise pops and locks (Kami Liddle, Ela Rogers, April Rose, Samantha Emanuel). There are the dancers with spins and turns to die for (Zoe Jakes, Petite Jamila). There are dancers with incredible gymnastic skills and flexibility (Rachel Brice, Frank Farinaro). There are dancers with killer shimmies (Amar Gamal, Alexey Paraschuk, Bozenka, Dondi Dahlin). There are dancers who are amazing choreographers (Jillina, Sabah Saeed). There are dancers with effortless grace (Colleena Shakti, Devi Mamak, Sonia Ochoa, Mihrimah Ghaziya, Maria Aya). There are dancers with such posture that command the room (FatChanceBellyDance, Tamalyn Dallal).


But most all, these dancers (and more whom I didn't mention) can move the way I want to move. Every time I see the pops and locks and every time I listen to songs that move me and inspire me to do the pops and locks and ticks, I get frustrated and hit the brick wall. Why? Because I can't do them.

Every time I listen to Bollywood songs and then get to my feet and want to move, I get frustrated and hit the brick wall. Why? Because I know nothing of Hindi moves and mudras and what have you.

There's a little Tribal get-together that Tribal Babes Indonesia hosts right the next day after The Dance Within 3D: One World. Cinzia di Cioccio of Les Soeurs Tribales is going to have a workshop and then she's going to dance in the get-together. I was asked to dance two numbers and there are already a million songs to choose from.

Finally, I chose two songs and just sent them to Desi, the organizer from Tribal Babes Indonesia. I told her that I was sending the songs to her so I could stop making it harder for me to choose the songs I wanted to dance to. By sending the songs, I could concentrate on practicing with the two songs. I'll be dancing an ATS solo for the first one and Tribal Fusion for the second one.

I'm taking Princess Farhana's advice. No matter how hard I want to do pops and locks and ticks, I'm going to do what I can do with my body, at least for now.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

hitting the brick wall

Earlier this week I was thinking how time had gone so fast. How I had landed in San Francisco this year on that cold January night and then had struggled to get into a university in the USA. Now my first semester as an MFA student is almost done and I'm a quarter closer to earning my degree.

Then just this morning, a friend told me how she felt time had gone so fast - as if she had blinked herself into the end of the year. And it's true.

Let me tell you my deepest, darkest secret. It won't be my deepest, darkest secret anymore after I've told you, so at least that's one out and millions more to share. What can I say, my life is an open book and the secrets are there, waiting to be revealed to anyone who cares to read it.

Now, about that deepest, darkest secret: I sincerely wish I could stop time. I sincerely wish that I could take the happiest moment of my life with the people I care about and just freeze it and live it forever and a second. Maybe that's what Heaven is. Possibly.

The point is, as I'm getting closer to earning an MFA, that means my days of taking classes at the FatChanceBellyDance studio are also numbered. I had already complained about not being able to go to Thursday classes next semester (February until May) because of the new school schedule. This means I'm only limited to the Saturday classes and Dance Conditioning sessions. This means I'll be missing my friends who usually come only on Thursdays.

Then there's the physical limitations. There's so much that my brain has to process. There's so much that my muscle memory has to take in. There's so much that my reflexes has to train themselves to remember. I've been away from the weekly velvetRAQS practices for less than a year and now whenever I try to do the Turkish Shimmy or the Arabic Shimmy with my left foot as the dominant one, my shimmies will get stuck. Shimmies have never been my best friend. Layering movements on regular Oriental shimmies has been so hard. Doing the sharp pop, lock, and hit with my body has been almost impossible.

The fears and paranoia are the cherry on top of the cake. What if when I go back home to Indonesia, I can't find anyone to dance ATS with? This is not about the invested money and energy and time and what have you, this is about not being able to do the dance that you love so much. This thought scares the bejeebus out of me. The fact that this dance demands so much and the fact that I, as a teacher, also demand so much because I want to keep the purity of FCBD ATS, posture and all, they may not be appealing to many people.

Then I realized, heck, if I can get only one or two people to dance with and they give their best like I do, I will be happy. Then I realized, I am a human, there's just so much that my body can do. But I will work with my strengths and my flaws and I will learn to love myself and accept that probably I can never shimmy while doing a full split. And these realizations came after watching this video:



That is Oskar, the blind cat. I wrote earlier about Ms. Wendy Allen's three-legged dog, the sweet Abby Noodle Bumskooter. And I have to repeat myself: it's amazing how animals (some, like Oskar and Abby, aided by kind humans) can constantly amaze and inspire me to do more and never give up, even when I'm hitting a brick wall.

Friday, November 25, 2011

the dance within 3d: one world

Well, I'm excited.

I'm half way across the galaxy, inundated with school work and classes at the FatChanceBellyDance Studio, trying hard to keep the insects from occupying my apartment, and making the most of the Thanksgiving break. All this while my fellow dancers back home at our dance institution Dancewave Center are plotting and toiling our third annual recital, The Dance Within 3D: One World.

The Internet is really making our lives easier. I'm not just talking about posting events over at Facebook or tweeting the latest updates, or uploading pages of information to DancewaveCenter.com, it's also the convenience of reviewing drafts of designs for the posters, fliers, tickets, and other promotional materials, the Messenger chats with Ms. Miftahul Jannah, velvetRAQS director and general manager of Dancewave Center, as well as conversations with Monique Chai, co-general manager of Dancewave Center and director of the Hip Hop and Burlesque troupes of Dancewave Center.

The result is this:


The Dance Within 3D: One World is Dancewave Center's third annual recital. It's going to be held at the prestigious Gedung Kesenian Jakarta, on Saturday, 7 January 2012. It features signature dance-theatrical performances with dances from around the globe: Hip Hop, Oriental (Folkloric and Modern), Tribal (American Tribal Style and Fusion), Burlesque, Bollywood, and Contemporary.

This year, after reminding our beloved audience of the importance of Dance (2009), and the Dream (2010), it's time to remember the Duty. Hence the 3D: the Dance, the Dream, the Duty.

And this Duty is to our beloved blue planet, to the great Mother of all: Earth.

Tickets are on sale now. For more information, go to the website.

Monday, November 21, 2011

areas that need improvement

Hokay. Where in the world should I begin?

I know where my stance is in the belly dance world, or any world for that matter: I am to never stop learning. This is not just for humility sake, but for refining the techniques, skills, and presence needed in order to really grace the stage.

At times I feel the need to constantly realign myself with the dance and its rules, and by dance I mean American Tribal Style (ATS). Sure, there are also rules within Oriental, such as: chest lifted, arms never in chicken wings position, feet close together; but as someone who've been studying Oriental for three years, I feel that these rules are made for aesthetic purposes. I am probably wrong, since I'm only a baby dancer, but the point I'm trying to make is that with ATS, every body angle, every arm sweep, every floreo, every head tilt, is a cue. That's why it is essential to make sure we execute the Moves or Steps correctly.

Laura, one of the fellow dancers who also danced that night at Tannourine last Friday (November 18, 2011) convinced her husband, Luke, to take videos of the sets. She then sent the links to us. I had felt good about the dance, so I watched it. Then I cringed. Here's why:
  1. Limp wrists. My God my wrists are so limp. I have dainty, limp wrists. I overdid the playfulness of the wrists in some of the Steps. In my daily life, I love my limp wrists. They are somewhat a statement of my masculinity (HA!), but in dance, I want to project strength, although not necessarily masculine strength. I had the same problem with my bouncy neck and head. After dancing with my sword and doing ATS, I think I may have succeeded in overcoming it. I will do the same to my wrists.
  2. Forearms too close to the chest. Holly hallelujah. I was so sure that my forearm and my chest had enough distance when I was doing Pivot Bumps. My right forearm carriage was okay, but my left forearm was definitely too close to my chest, and that is wrong. Whenever our arms are in Table Top position, or when we're doing Split Arms in ATS, the arm(s) that is/are in Table Top should be extended with the elbows making a soft curve as if there is a big Swiss Ball in your arms.
  3. Slow Song Face. With my thick lips, if I try to project a thin, mysterious smile, it will end up looking like a frown. During Maleh U Filfil (a slow, mysterious, instrumental, haunting song), I gave my usual thin, mysterious, sly smile. That wasn't captured nicely. It made me look smug. Maryann was giving a genuine smile and that translated so well.
Sensei Kae told us about having the Precision in the dance. I totally understand that. I've seen non-FatChanceBellyDance ATS troupes doing FCBD moves (on YouTube) but they lack the precision, the arm carriage, the lift of the chest and chin that the moves looked so sloppy.

No.

I know this might sound zealous and overbearing and probably a bit scary (like Single White Female scary), but if I want to bring FCBD ATS back to my home country, I have to make sure I have what it takes to present it FCBD style, posture and all.

At least I remembered to engage my abs that night.

***

Still photo from the video by Luke Terheyden, showing (from left to right: Miriam, Julia, Maryann, and yours truly).

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

class notes (new steps, laybacks, more floorworks)

The past two (or three?) weeks have been some kind of a whirlwind, what with Sensei Kae taught us a new way to spin (I'll write it up in another blog entry, I promise. Oh, and that blog entry will also include the Extended Prayer. I just need to doodle and scan it to better illustrate the full gorgeousness of the whole Puja), me recovering (I'm 98% healthy! Yay!), and another Tannourine show coming up (Friday, November 18), this time with live music by Helm. I know, right? This is going to be my first performance with live music and it's the great Helm of all bands. Oy, the pressure.

These notes are from Sensei Kae's class:

Egyptian Sevillana
  1. Start with Basic Egyptian (first until fourth counts), then angle the body on the fifth count so your chest faces the left wall of your phone booth and you almost show your back to the audience in front of you.
  2. When angling the body, drop the two arms, just like in the first part of Sahra Turn (actually, the body angle at this moment should also match the first part of Sahra Turn).
  3. On the sixth count, move your right arm just like when you do the first turn of the Sahra Turn (like holding a tray above your head). Also like a Sahra Turn, to your right on the sixth count.
  4. Keep your left hand near your left hip and bring it up only on the seventh count (while you're turning), but slowly so it floats up and ends its float on the eighth count.
  5. The eighth count (or half of the eighth count) of Egyptian Sevillana is spent by doing the pose with arms raised and waiting for another down beat to start a new count.
  6. You have to pay attention to your leader when he/she is doing Basic Egyptian and cuing to Egyptian Sevillana. You might not be able to execute the first move (arms sweeping down like Sahra Turn) properly if you don't concentrate and therefore have to rush the sweeping down and the turn.
Triangle Step
  1. This is a very beautiful eight-count step indeed. I will ask the assistance from the big-ass footprints once again.
  2. Imagine there's an inverted triangle (dotted orange) inside your pizza box (red). On the first count, place your right foot on the upper left point of the triangle. Make sure that your toes point to the front, therefore stopping the lower body from twisting too much but still get the upper body to twist just enough so that you feel like showing the audience your back (but not much). Your arms should be framing your body as if you're doing a Wrap Around Turn, however, your right arm should be lower (the right arm in Wrap Around Turn is table-top height, the right arm in the first section of Triangle Step is about 45 degrees). There is one soft floreo on each wrist when bringing the arms to frame the body. Chest lifted at all times. The corresponding number in the diagram is number 1. On the first count, the weight of your body goes to your right foot.
  3. Stay until the second count.On the second count, the weight of your body switches to the left foot.
  4. On the third count, move your right foot back near your left foot, but keeping the arm frame and body angle the same. Body weight distributed evenly on both feet.
  5. On the fourth count (not the fifth!), move your left foot to the upper right point of the triangle. This is the mirror image of what you just did on pointer #2, including the floreo. The corresponding number in the diagram is number 2. Body weight is on left foot.
  6. On the fifth count, switch the body weight to the right foot. Arms stay.
  7. On the sixth count, move your left foot near the to the right, but as you step in, the toes of the left foot should point to 10 o'clock (or somewhere like this). This will give you the momentum to do a T-step turn on seventh and eighth counts. Starting on the sixth count, move the arms up with a soft floreo, just like when doing the turn in Arabic Twist with Turn.

These notes are from Ms. Kristine Adam's class (featuring a photography also by Ms. Kristine Adams. This photo is a series of a very fun project involving Ms. Nericcio and Rachel Brice switching their costumes and make-up!). Also, when I realized that it was going to be Ms. Adams teaching for that Saturday, I really wanted to work on laybacks and floorworks, knowing that she's one of FCBD troupe members who did that Layback Song (as featured in Volume 7). So it was really nice that Theresa, one of my classmates, requested to do a layback.
  1. Laybacks, like Diagonal Trio, Dueling Duets, and Floorworks, have to be discussed prior to dancing.
  2. Do not initiate (that means cue) a Layback if you don't feel comfortable doing it, or if you haven't done enough warm-up for your back.
  3. The cue for a Layback is what makes it different than a Deep Bodywave. When doing a Deep Bodywave, your head stays level while your upper body (below the neck) undulates. Imagine having a sword or a basket or something balanced on your head. You want to keep the head level and stable. On the other hand, when doing a Layback, you sort of fuse your head to your neck, and they should be one line. Think of this as having an apple wedged under your chin. You don't want to squeeze the apple, but you also don't want to drop it.
  4. The initial arm placement is Split Arm #2 (right arm up, left arm table top).
  5. To do a Layback, lift your ribcage up, so you have the slight tilt on your upper back, and when you can't lift your ribcage up anymore, start to bend your upper body backwards. DO NOT FORGET TO BREATHE. DO NOT BEND YOUR KNEES TOO DEEP. DO NOT THRUST YOUR HIPS FORWARD.
  6. When you have achieved the degree of bending that's comfortable to you, sweep the left arm down your body and to your left to go all the way up above your head (not above your forehead!) while sweeping the right arm to your right and ending with your right hand next to your right hip. Then (without stopping, actually), sweep the left arm down along the left side of your body and the right arm up along the right side of your body, the left hand should end next to your left hip. Then as you go up, with your left hand, trace an imaginary half circle on your left, so both arms will end above your head. I hope this makes sens.
  7. Remember to always breathe. Not breathing will make you see stars when you come up.
  8. Bending the knees too deep will make the hips thrust forward and will put more strain on the lower back.
  9. To keep the hips from bending forward, you may want to create the sense that your lower body (hip downward) is anchoring itself to the ground by squeezing your thighs together and or engaging your core muscles. This also helps with Torso Twist. I actually tried squeezing my hips together and engaging my abs and my hips stopped swinging when doing Torso Twist!

On a somewhat related note, on Dance Conditioning last week, Ms. Lalwani showed us a really cool trick for a Backbend when doing Floorwork.

If you don't have anyone to spot you and you happen to have one of those exercise bands, use it like a rower. Secure the band, grab each end of the band, and get on your Floorwork position and try the Backbend. As you come up, if you feel tired, the exercise band will help pull you up. The goal is to rely on the band less and less as you work on the Backbend. Work on your Quads, Glutes, and Abs for the effortless look of a Floorworks.

Well, that's it! Quite a long post, eh? If nothing of this makes sense, I'm really sorry, but I hope these notes will help you. And remember, always do a proper warm-up before doing Layback and Floorworks.

Friday, October 28, 2011

kali and medusa

My fascination with sword dancing began when I was traveling in Greece. I took a private class with Ms. Maria Aya of Oriental Expression and she introduced me to the art of sword balancing. Ever since then, I was hooked.

My first scimitar, Lilith, has been dancing with me since April 2009. I don't get to dance with her much, only during special gigs and Dancewave Center's annual recital (the third annual recital is on Saturday, January 7, 2011 in Gedung Kesenian Jakarta! More details will be posted!). One reason why I don't dance with my scimitar a lot and at every chance I get, is because I'm worried it's going to be a schtick, a gimmick, and it'll lose its sense of exclusiveness.

I left Lilith in Jakarta. I can't afford to bring her to the USA and have her confiscated. That justified my getting another sword, one that looks similar to her. Lilith's kind is called the Balady Scimitar. I contacted several vendors about this type of scimitar and only one responded kindly (I have no idea why) and had it available in stock. So I got Kali from BellyDanceProps.com.

While browsing for another Balady Scimitar, I also fell in love with a unique sword called Sultan Scimitar. This particular sword seems to be available only through Atlanta Belly Dance. The experience was unnerving. I admit I was late in paying (through PayPal) the purchase (four days), but after I did, I contacted them and never received a response. I didn't know if they had accepted my payment or if they were sending me the sword. It was so unnerving that I had to "Like" their Facebook page and posted a comment concerning the status of my purchase. I paid on Sunday, October 9, and Medusa finally arrived on Tuesday, October 25. Medusa has a brown stain, but she balances really well and looks fierce and huge.

I'm planning to leave them in my Berkeley apartment when I'm returning to Indonesia for semester breaks, but I will have to bring them to me to Jakarta, and I think I know of a way.

Flight regulation from USA to anywhere in the world doesn't prohibit sword from being carried, but not in the cabin compartment. Ms. Wendy Allen suggested I buy a gun case, but I think I will buy golf stick carrier instead. Either way, I'm so excited.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

from pink coin belt to pink turban

Well, on Friday, October 21, 2011, I just had my first experience of dancing in the USA and as a member of BlueDiamondBellyDance, student troupe of FatChanceBellyDance. There is a little story behind this.

I was supposed to be in the Chorus only (first performance), but on Wednesday night two days before the show, at 11 PM, I got a message from Miriam, the dancer in charge for the evening's performance, that one girl got a nasty fever. Miriam asked if I felt like replacing her (which meant dancing not only in chorus). I wasn't sure about this until Miriam forwarded me her e-mail exchange with one of FCBD teachers about my being more than a Chorus and the teacher responded positively.

So that was how my first experience came to be.

Of course, I just had to have my mozuna and scarf that I used as my turban accessories fell off. Well, not really fell off, but the dangling parts of the mozuna and the scarf wrapped around my neck. Thankfully it was on the last song that we danced to, although I did have to be careful during the Calibrated Spin for the tip song.

From that moment on, I shall now be remembered as the boy whose bits of the turban fell off.

Oh, and this entry will not be complete without mentioning the awesomeness of one Tasha Hudick and her Mini Cooper (and her co-pilot for that evening, Ms. Kristine Adams) who got me on time and safely to 16th Street & Mission BART Station to catch the last train home.

Another funny thing was that the FCBD members who performed that evening: Ms. Anita Lalwani, Ms. Kae Montgomery, and Ms. Adams, were the ones with whom I had my initial contacts with FCBD (aside from Ms. Nericcio, obviously). Ms. Nericcio referred me to Ms. Adams about taking private lessons, then Ms. Lalwani became my first private instructor, then Ms. Montgomery became my second private instructor. I don't know. I just felt that that night at Tannourine was when everything became sort of a full circle.

I'm officially ill now. I was sneezing at Tannourine, and then last night after the classes at FCBD. Finally, I simply couldn't get up for this morning's Dance Conditioning session with Ms. Lalwani. I felt really bad because they're doing chest opening work-out and I had suggested that and they endured the torture without me.

Whee. I'm off to make dinner and chow down some drugs. I still owe you the Extended Prayer sequence and some more Class Notes.

CREDITS:

Group shot by Ms. Kristine Adams (courtesy of Miriam Fiorenza Landini). Action shots by Yuka Sakata.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

class notes (attitude, levels, floorworks)

What started as a mere procrastination has eventually become a justification: I'm going to post class notes every two weeks. I'm really sorry, but I'm inundated with so much work from school that I sometimes woke up not having a clean bowl to eat my breakfast cereal.

Two Thursdays ago, I had my first BlueDiamondBellyDance rehearsal at the FCBD studio. BDBD is FCBD's student troupe, so it was a really humbling experience and also a huge booster for my ego (what can I say, I'm just so honest).

The rehearsals start at 6 PM, and that is also another excellent point because I don't have to waste my time going back to my apartment from school. I can just go directly to the studio. Although that means I'll have to pack my pantaloons and zils and scarves as well as some food so I won't get too hungry.

However, there was a power outage at several BART stations in downtown SF, so I arrived late and hungry (I couldn't eat at the bus, I couldn't eat at the BART station nor on BART). So I just plopped myself on the chair near the books, ate my sandwich, and changed. By the time I entered the studio, the ladies had been dancing half the first song of our chosen set. I decided to just get into the chorus and wear my hip scarves after the set ended.

It was a big thing also because Ms. Sandi Ball, who was responsible for BDBD, was accompanied by none other than Ms. Nericcio. Ha. I just ran into that. I was tired, hungry, unprepared, and I just had to be observed by the Big Mama during my first ever student troupe rehearsal.

Many moons ago, I had the chance to interview Ms. Nericcio for this blog and in one of the series, I asked her what made someone a good FCBD student, and she said: Show up on time, leave your baggage at the door, be open minded, be in a good mood, allow your mood to be transformed, follow directions, and be polite to the teacher and be helpful to other students, but don't micromanage others.

I was late, my mood was almost down there, so my dancing that night was off. Here are a few pointers from Ms. Nericcio:
  1. Remember the body and performange angle
  2. Work on the formation placement and blocking
  3. Communicate with your fellow dancers (this also means giving clear cues)
  4. Be much better than what we are now. Push our own envelope. Work harder at just dancing (without thinking what moves comes next, because that should come naturally).
  5. If you want to lead, grab the moment and move forward to the lead position with conviction and attitude.
  6. Show your personality while dancing.
  7. Match the music with the movement. Articulate with the arms, hit the beat on the right time, know the song, familiarize yourself with the music, improve your musicality. Find which moves or steps go well with the music.
  8. A Turn is a big and powerful thing, never forget to end it beautifully with a powerful follow-through so you can seamlessly blend the Turn into another move.
  9. Think of the audience! The audience have obviously come to see you dance and have sacrificed other things, so entertain them!
Ms. Ball added these comments:
  1. Do what you know! Don't pull out a fancy Step or Move without really knowing how to execute them.
  2. Simplify your movements and never forget the follow through for completion.
  3. Drill, drill, drill! Go back to Levels 1 & 2 if you have to.
  4. Less can be more.
Then Ms. Anita Lalwani took over and we worked on truly milking the moves using Samai rhythm. Man, that was so grueling, just like yoga, but it's really true that you can never be slow enough for Slow Moves. We also worked on the Extended Prayer / Puja that was created by Ms. Megha Gavin of Devyani Dance Company. Ms. Lalwani let me take photos of the Extended Prayer notes and I'll share them with you on the next entry (I'm so, so tired, and I still haven't write my assignment for school, so I hope a picture of the lovely Ganesh will make you forgive me).

On Saturday, it was with Ms. Wendy Allen. We did Level 1 Floorwork. Here are a few pointers:
  1. Always talk about this with your fellow dancers before doing it. Floorwork is not for everyone.
  2. The Propeller Turn is used for Level 1 Floorwork because the turning section makes the skirt (if you wear it) blossom and out of the way so it won't mess with your legs and knees.
  3. When doing Level 1 Floorwork, there's no need to go extremely sideways like in Level 3 or Level 4 when you're doing the Zipper (because you don't want to show your crotch to the audience, plus it just looks more dramatic and nicer if the audience can see your descent from sideways). Just be in your dance angle.
  4. You can do a Floorwork Fake-Out. Here's how: Do Propeller Turn and just as you descend, just barely touch the left knee on the floor and then go up again. Do some few Moves, and then lift both arms, drop the right arm (this is the last section of the Propeller Turn before the actual turn), then turn, and descend on the floor for the actual floor work. So the second time before the actual floorwork, you don't have to do the whole Propeller Turn. Again, you have to discuss this with your fellow dancers prior to dancing.
  5. When doing Levels, place your right foot in front of the left, slowly raise yourself up onto the balls of your feet, then descend down gracefully and slowly. Or, you can pick up the right boom in the music, and instead of descending slowly, place your arms on table top just for an instant, and then drop all the way down on the boom. Squeeze your thighs together and engage your core for more stability. Keep the back straight the whole time (unless you're doing Torso Twist).
  6. Neither Levels nor Drops can be used to go to Floorworks position.

Friday, October 07, 2011

dress like an egyptian

I forgot the time I first fell in love with an elusive piece of fabric called Assuit / Assiut / Asyut / Tulle-bi-Telli. However, like so many things Egyptian (their reverence of cats, the jewelry, the pharaonic scale drama, the eyeliner, the dark and handsome men), I've come to fall in love with this fabric.

This is going to be weird, but I just bought fortune-worth loads of books that I'm using as references for my (hopefully) up and coming novel. In one of the books, The Cat in Ancient Egypt by Jaromir Malek, it is said that:

"The earliest known remains of a cat in Egypt come from Mostagedda, south of Asyut in Middle Egypt, and are dated to sometime before c.4000 BC. One of the graves in this cemetery contained the burial of a man who, judging by the tools and other material accompanying him to the next world, probably was a primitive craftsman. The bones of a gazelle and a cat, the former probably intended for his funerary repast, the latter perhaps his pet, were found at the dead man's feet. (p. 45)"
I know there's something sinister with the Egyptians, or rather humans, in that when they're dead, they expect their loved ones to follow suit, hence the killing of the cats, the entombing of lovers, etc. In Classical Cats by Donald Engels, the Celts also killed cats by roasting them slowly in a basket to ensure fertility, a horrifying tradition that was later adopted by the English and the French (pp. 128-129). Perhaps the inhumanity of humans is so innate that at times I wonder what makes us think we can be called humans indeed.

But, I digress.

Let's get back to the subject.

After a long, dwindling fascination I had with Assuit, not unlike the fascination I had with Banjara skirts, and after a few unsuccessful eBay bids, I found this site: Nilemarket.com. It was selling quite a few Assuit shawls, including one cream with gold metals and one black with silver metals, each for the mere price of... drum rolls please... USD 35. So, I ordered those two shawls and a golden Ankh necklace. Sounds like a perfect bargain? Wait, here's the catch: Nilemarket ships from Egypt.

I cleared the payment for my package on September 12, and the next day, I received a notification that my purchase was shipped. I contacted the seller about the tracking number straight away (because there was no mention of the tracking number on the notification), but my e-mail wasn't answered. I used the website's inquiry form, and still no answer. I was worried and half-pissed, but then Haitham (the seller) replied my e-mail and provided me with the tracking number. He also wrote that the number would become visible once my parcel landed in the USA. So, I waited.

I waited, waited, waited for about ten days, each day opening the USPS website to track my package, and then one fine day, the USPS website said something else other than its usual: No record of this shipment, check back soon. It said: Origin post is preparing shipment. That sounded strange. That sounded like it was still in Egypt. I asked the omniscient Google and it confirmed. Still, I decided to wait.

Then ten more days passed, and me being the paranoid that I am, checked the USPS website every single damn day. And it stilled showed the same message: Origin post is preparing shipment. So I shot Haitham another e-mail, concerning the fate of my package. I also grew worried because I learned that some mails from the USA to Egypt had been experiencing difficulties due to the uprising in Egypt (but this issue was later resolved, thank goodness), so I thought that the same thing might have occurred the other way around. Haitham was at first unresponsive (like the first e-mail), and I also used the form to ask him the whereabouts of my parcel. Then he finally responded and told me not to worry because the package would arrive within the week.

There is one thread on Tribe.net about Nileart / Craveegypt, which I think is / are the same with Nilemarket for two reasons: the eBay page of Nileart / Craveegypt sell the same things with, or at least using the same photos of Nilemarket and if you look at Nilemarket's contact page, the e-mail that says @nilemarket.com will link to @craveegypt.com if you hover on it. In the Tribe.net thread, one purchaser wrote that she was happy with the purchase, although she had to endure a long wait (19 days). Here's the link. So, I took solace in it.

Then two days after Haitham responded my e-mail with warm consolation, the package arrived. It appeared out of nowhere on the desk in the building's lobby. I touched it and the inside felt soft, like layers of cloths. I was also expecting another shipment of clothing, so I didn't think it was my Egyptian parcel. However, I was in a rush to go to school and my bag was packed as it was so I put it back on the table (I also didn't have time to run upstairs to my apartment and place it inside). It was during a very boring lecture at school when I was approached by an epiphany: it had got to be my parcel from Egypt because my other package would have been a lot thinner! So the day went by so slow because all I could think about was to rush home to open it.

When I finally arrived home (it takes me a good one hour of commute with bus and BART and bus where it takes only ten minutes by car), I grabbed the parcel that was still waiting on the lobby desk and examined it as I climbed the stairs briskly: It had Arabic markings. My heart raced. Then once I'm in the safe confinement of my room, I opened it, and here they are, my first Assuits, 21 days after the payment:




Oh, and the weird thing is, up until this very day, the USPS website still displayed the same message when I tracked my package: Origin post is preparing shipment. I stumbled across another, more detailed tracking website called Track-Trace.com and up until now, it displayed the information that it had been sitting in the Cairo customs office since September 22, 2011. Don't believe me? Type in RS002330044EG (the tracking number of the parcel) and see for yourself.

Monday, September 26, 2011

skirts

A few months ago, I got connected to a male ATS dancer, the first male to ever receive the Teacher Training 2 certification for the FCBD format. His name is Valizan. I shot him an e-mail, asking him about the costuming guidelines for male ATS dancers. He told me about two more dancers, one of them is Michael McElhaney (formerly of Azure Bellydance, the first male ATS dancer, and part of FCBD student troupe in the nineties). Michael's name came through quite a few times during Teacher Training 2 where we discussed male ATS dancers, and both Ms. Nericcio and Ms. Sandi Ball agreed that he was very handsome. Valizan sent me Michael's photo and I had to concur.

In our e-mail exchange, I told Valizan that I was envious of the fact that our dance sisters could wear skirts that accentuated their movements (have you ever seen ATS dancers spinning while wearing the full, 25 yard skirts? It's a gorgeous sight to behold!) and he told me to try one of those Banjara Skirts.


So, thanks to Valizan (he's the male dancer in the video above that showcases how awesome Shades of Araby is), I caught the Banjara Skirt bug. After many months of the fever, I finally relented and began my quest for the perfect skirt. Tribal Fest 11 came and went and still the skirts were too Goldilocks-and-the-Three-Bears for my taste (too blue, too red, too orange, too many colors, too little colors, too wide, too short, too expensive, too new, too old, and other toos). Then I scoured for many nights and days (mostly nights, therefore sacrificing my precious sleep time) for the perfect one. If I had to be broken in, it must be perfect.

My trusted Amazon.com didn't have anything, and so, with a heavy heart, I opened an eBay account. Then I found Sirik's store. It's like a candy shop for kids, a sex shop for lonely adults, a sequin shop for Cabaret Oriental dancers. It has so many things to offer for ATS dancers, and then some. And I saw it. The Skirt.

Alas, it was still quite expensive (USD 89, plus USD 10 for shipping and handling), so I retreated. From time to time, I stalked Sirik's page, looking at the beautiful thing (and some others), and then it happened.

A 30% discount. So I bought it without thinking more.

After a few hassles (Erec, Sirik's owner, didn't respond to my initial messages asking for the tracking number, and then during my search on the Interwebz, I realized that the USPS Priority Mail didn't offer tracking number unless requested - and there's a fee for that; I ended up not knowing when the package would arrive, and finally received a notification in my mail slot that the package was waiting for me in a nearby USPS office), at long last, I received it.

And yes, it is beautiful. Despite the initial mixed-up, I highly recommend Sirik. He replied to my other messages with genuine concern, so yes, there is a good chance that I will buy from him again.



Monday, September 19, 2011

class notes (spins, shimmies, smiles)

Yes, I know. I didn't post anything for more than two weeks and I know I have my notes with me, beginning from a Thursday night class two weeks ago until the Saturday two days ago.

I'm really glad to be able to generate hits from help people who are looking for specific moves and steps, like the Chico Four Corners pass, for example. I hope I did help you, whoever you are! Probably next time you can leave some comments?

Okay, now on to the notes from Thursday night class with Ms. Stefanie Kelly:
  1. Spins: When doing them, always make sure that you open your feet as wide as your shoulders. This might not be automatic at first, but it comes with practice. Ms. Kelly gave a cool analogy: the Nutcracker doll! Feet planted firmly shoulder-width apart, arms and elbows are gracefully up, not droopy. Hmm... So I took one minute to look for a picture of the doll and wasted ten minutes to drool over ballet guys in tights. Here. You're welcome. Here's uh... Some more... If you're into that sort of thing.
  2. Spins: Remember the Phone Booth / Pizza Box (PB) concept? Well, Spins is one of those things that will greatly improve with the help of PB. The head faces the right corner of the PB to spot. This way, the whole body opens up and not closes up, therefore providing an excellent Kodak moment.
  3. Spins: Another thing to remember (and to help angling the body) is to make sure the outer side of your right foot faces the right corner (see the picture I made. Haha, sorry for the quirky-looking toes and footprints, but you get the idea. The red square is the PB outline).
  4. Spins: in addition to not setting your feet too wide apart, watching the body alignment will also help balancing your spins. Make sure you have a straight angle from the top of your head to your feet.
  5. Performance Drills: Ms. Kelly reminded us about checking in by turning whenever we assume the lead position (this works for both one-side and multiside gigs, although assuming the leadership can be trickier during multisided performances). However, if you happen to screw-up, keep smiling! Don't change your facial expression, don't mouth or drop the F-bomb, keep your cool and do a smooth transition. It happens, and if it does, then let it slide off. There's no disappointment with yourself or other dance members.
  6. Shimmies: make sure to bend your knees to create larger shimmies and more upper-body stability (therefore, your upper body won't jiggle along with the hip shimmy). Ms. Kelly showed us a really neat thing: she did the Turkish Shimmy with Arms and Turns WITH the Turkish Shimmy, meaning she didn't lose the shimmy even while turning. That's my goal. I mean, seriously? Sometimes I just get too caught up in the turn itself that I lose my shimmy.
The following Thursday, we had a class with Ms. Elliott and I was late. Of course. I missed the bus and I ended up missing the BART ride, and so I came to the studio about ten minutes later. The disadvantages about coming late to a dance class are not getting a good spot (I can be very nit-picky about positioning myself on the back right of the teacher, because it's the follower position) and not being able to mingle and chat with the other dancers before class.

In the class, she also taught us the regular Oriental Shimmy (not the Tribal Shimmy where it's actually the Three Quarter Oriental Shimmy). She likened it to the unhinging of the hips, so the hips go up and down and up and down in a rhythmical way. I find that by bending the knees lower, I can get bigger up and down range of motion.

She also drilled us on milking the movements. She said that it was impossible for a Slow Move to be too slow, but it was possible for a Slow Move to be too fast. Then she reminded us about the Arm Undulation while circling. Sometimes we get too carried away with trying to get from Point A to Point B that our feet star to move fast and our Arm Undulation automatically follows. We need to remember to isolate our arm movements from our feet.

Last Saturday's classes were taught by Ms. Wendy Allen and we did a very mind-blowing exercise for multigig performances!

We grouped up in trios and here was the plan:
  1. Shimmy to expand and move into position (leader, followers)
  2. Arabic and Turn
  3. Arabic and shrink (the dancers bunch up together, sort of like a modified Arabic Orbit)
  4. Arabic and do a quarter turn
  5. Back to Shimmy to expand and another dancer take the lead
It sounded pretty simple. It was level 1. Then we moved on to level 2: use corners, instead of the walls, for the audience. Then we moved on to level 3: use whatever object in the studio as the audience.

Honestly, I found that the level 2 was the hardest. I believe this has to do with my needing more PB exercise. I also found that this exercise helped me in three things: be aware of my body alignment / performance angle, give a clear-cut cue, and take the lead with conviction.

Friday, August 26, 2011

the birds at tannourine

Last week (yes, last week. I did one heck of a procrastinating job), I finally went to Tannourine, the Middle-Eastern eatery at San Mateo. The restaurant is small, intimate, and quaintly located on a rather ordinary street, in that you wouldn't know Oriental and Tribal decadence regularly takes place inside it.

It was a special night, since not only FCBD performed, but also many of my friends from L3 and L4 - known as the BlueDiamondBellyDance (BDBD) - including three special ladies with whom I was particularly close to (we had a couple of private sessions with Sensei Kae and all of us seem to have a rather unhealthy fondness of cats). Needless to say, I simply had to watch them perform. Julia, one of the three girls, picked me up, her mother (an engaging conversationalist and excellent backseat driver), and Theresa (another friend who was performing).

The show opened with FCBD troupe. As usual, I chose not to take pictures and just see the performances. The numbers were energetic, although at times, due to Tannourine's seating arrangement, I couldn't see when the dancers were doing floorworks.

Up next were the BDBD gals: Michiyo, Theresa, Jennifer, Shelley, Kelsey, Yuka, Laura, and Julia. I'm telling you, when they performed, you wouldn't know that they were students. Even Sensei Kae said, when watching the performance video, that the smiles and the hip works were really the kind of smiles and hip works that she would like to see every single time we were practicing in class.

Another highlight of the show was Colleena Shakti. I just... I have so many mixed emotions whenever I see her dance, and that night was no exception. She was so amazing, so graceful, so effortless, her hand gestures and fingers were so beautiful, I mean, Colleena Shakti is definitely one of those people who couldn't do anything wrong. After being stricken by such grace and beauty, I became envious, and then motivated... and then I went home, saw the bed, and forgot everything. Ha!

The last picture shows the three girls (Yuka-Julia-Laura) I talked about, and we just christened our "troupe" name (there's another girl - Maya). The idea of the name is not that we are going to accept gigs or dance in public on our own anytime soon, but so we know how to call ourselves. I told the girls that I could only stay in the USA for two years and I really hoped to be able to dance with them before leaving. It is truly an honor to perform with people you grow up with, in ATS that is.

I'm getting so melancholic thinking about this.

I proposed "Four Gals and a Dude", but Julia came up with a better one: "Rara Avis". The literal meaning is "rare birds", but the expression really means a miraculous being that exceeds all expectations.

DEEP. And it's Latin! You can't beat that.

Well, my expectation is to dance with Rara Avis before I leave this country for good. I hope I can exceed it. For now, here's to the birth of the Rare Birds.


CREDITS:

Second photo by Mr. CheekyMonkey. Third photo by Luke Terheyden.

Monday, August 22, 2011

class notes (fades, dueling duets, passes)

The Thursday class was so nice and it felt a lot like a reunion - a good kind of reunion. On Saturday, after classes with Ms. Sandi Ball, we did a little session with Sensei Kae. I forgot to bring my notebook yet again, so I could only recall some few notes from the class with Ms. Ball:
  1. There is such a thing as a Wet Dog Fade, but the leader needs to angle his/her body instead of being flat like the original Wet Dog (that travels backwards). The angling of the body serves not only as a cue for a fade, but also to give room for the followers in the back to move forward.
  2. Always communicate with your group if you're going to do floorworks and what level of floorwork you will be doing.
  3. Chico Four Corners Passing (duets) can be done in two ways: the first one is while already facing each other, turning flat to face one another, then doing the first eight counts of Chico Four Corners as usual. On the second first count (of eights), step closer to your partner (this signifies that you are going to do the Passing), and then the second set of the Chico Four Corners is done with back-to-back passing on each one-two and five-six (etc.) and stop in front of each other during three-four and seven-eight (etc.). Remember that Chico Four Corners set consists of sixteen counts.
  4. The second way of doing Chico Four Corners is from the usual Leader-Follower position, but the Leader stays in place in fifteen-sixteen counts after doing the thirteen-fourteen counts, this will make the leader and the follower face each other. Then you can do another set of Chico Four Corners Passing just like the above recipe. I hope this makes sense.
  5. Egyptian with Spins Fade: Egyptian, cue Spin, then Fade with another Egyptian. If the Fade leader still continues the Egyptian for eight counts (that means two sets of Egyptian), then spin happens automatically.
Then here are the notes from Sensei Kae:
  1. Dueling Duets can begin in two ways: from a circle and then two dancers fall in to the place to become the leaders for the each of the duet; or with a fade, with the fade leader pivoting and then stopping when in the position for the Dueling Duets, then the others will fall in to their places.
  2. Dueling Duets can be neutralized by going into a circle and circling each other.
  3. Picking Up is done while circling and opening the circle for the next dancer(s).
  4. Dropping Off is done also while circling and then the dropped-off dancer(s) can slide back into the chorus.
Oh, and before I sign off, I just have to share this: Ms. Kristine Adams decided to travel around the world to document American Tribal Style from all corners of the Earth. Amazing, huh? You can follow her blog here: From the Belly of a Traveler. Below is the hilarious and inspirational "press conference".


I hope one day she'll stop by in Indonesia!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

back to the mothership (which is currently on sale)

I couldn't have planned it better: I arrived in San Francisco on Wednesday and planned to go to FCBD on Thursday. I jetlagged myself to Friday. So, I missed the class and had to wait all the way until Saturday to go to the mothership. When I finally did, I realized that I had been so out of shape! I was limping and practically dragging my ass during the second set.

Ms. Suzanne Elliott was in charge and here are the few notes during drills that my brain managed to recall (I didn't bring my notebook):
  1. The Rainbow: it begins with the arms in table-top position; even if your arms are above the head, put them down into table-top and do the Rainbow. It's four floreos on each side, during the first two floreos, the head looks at the direction of the fingers; during the third and fourth floreos, the head looks to the front. Dance angle is important so we won't flat-out on the second section where our right foot crosses behind the left. Wrap Around Turn looks good after the Rainbow, but not necessary (I remember Devi Mamak also said this when I took her workshop a few months ago at FCBD studio).
  2. Wrap Around Turn: Gathering (right arm floats and the right hand floreos in front of the body but not directly in front of the chest, left arm floats down and the left hand floreos on the back side of the left hip); Tension (right arm stays there, left arm floats so both arms are in table-top, while doing the half turn, both hands do reverse floreo, weight on right foot); Release (both arms float up, and while doing the one and half turn, both arms float down in front of the body and follow it through with the arms floating up again to the sides of the body, but with power, as if swimming in honey).
  3. Push Forward Push Back: On the eighth count as the foot switches from one to another, there will be a slight bump, this is acceptable.
  4. Shimmies: unhinge the hips so the shimmies will look better.
Then there are some notes from performance drills:
  1. When there are multiple sides where the audience sits, face the side with the most audience, then switch to the side with the second most audience, and so on.
  2. Come in with a bang, stay in with power and skills, take a bow with attitude, go out with a bang.
  3. You don't have to throw in all the different moves, it's good to have a sort of continuity using the same moves, especially if you're dancing in a quartet or doing pick-ups.
  4. Know the phrasing of the song so you'll have perfect timing to milk it (superslow Taxeems, Bodywaves) and to wow it (rapid Pulse Turns, Reverse Turns, etc), so the number doesn't come out monotonously.
Oh, and FCBD is having a summer sale, 25% off store-wide, except for some items. The sale is until 31 August 2011!

Now excuse me while I tighten the elastic band on my zils.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

lilith's new scabbard

The one thing I missed when I went to San Francisco was my scimitar, Lilith. I was (still am) clueless about taking a weapon, albeit a dull one, on an international flight, into a country as paranoid as the USA. I'm still shuddering every time I remember getting into a full-body X-Ray machine, and if Lilith got confiscated, it'd be even worse.

Being back in Jakarta has been quite surreal, and just like the old adage, as cliche as it sounds, time does go by so fast when you're having fun, and it's been a lot of fun, indeed. Still, it's time to go back to face another reality, and although it is exciting, I'm heartbroken to once again leave my loved ones. I know it's just for a few months (if everything is in order, I'll be coming back for Christmas) and hopefully with all the school work and dance, it will be over before I know it (I have to admit, I'm feeling very intimidated).

As a parting gift to my gorgeous scimitar, I made her a new sheath. Originally, Lilith came in with a leather scabbard and, well, leather and animal products just don't mix with my lifestyle. So, last year when I went to Bali in August, I bought luxurious purple velvet. Being a procrastinating lazy-ass that I am, the fabric sat in multiple places for approximately a year. I was feeling sewy (is there such a word?), so after mutilating and modifying some shirts and turning them into cholis, I decided to finally make a new dress for Lilith.

It was not a tedious experience, I finished it in under an hour. Mom's Singer has been broken for a long time so I'm used to hand-sewing; it gives me calluses, I know, but I don't mind.

Apart from Kenji, my cat, who was just being a cat by lounging on top of the fabric exactly after I set it on the floor, I didn't meet any significant challenge. Then again, the design was also not difficult and I'm quite happy with the result.

I was thinking of putting sponge-like material inside the velvet sheath, but after some thoughts, I remembered why I also decided against leather scabbard: leather makes the sword rust easily, especially when the sword is stored inside the leather scabbard for a long period of time. I'll be leaving Lilith for at least four months, and at least I know now she has a new cover to protect her in dry and breathable environment.

I guess my next project is to sew (or make) handles so I can easily carry Lilith. Maybe attach it to the sword handle and the hilt... Now that would take some ingenious design skills.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

improv tribal style workshop

"So there's this dancer who said to me, 'Hey, why are you still learning belly dance? You already know how to move! Why not focus on working as a bellydancer?' and all I could do was give a friendly smile and a nod," my friend told me the other day.

I looked at her with disbelief. "Wh... What?" I stuttered. "I mean, the money I get, either from performing or teaching, goes to costumes and taking classes and workshops!"

"My husband said the same thing! He said that all my money went to more costumes and more workshops!" she replied.

I know I've dedicated the last six months of my life learning ATS the FCBD way straight from the source, but when my friend told me about a dancer called Mihrimah Ghaziya and that she was doing ITS (Improv Tribal Style), I was intrigued. So, I signed up for Mihrimah's workshop and my belief is reconfirmed: you never stop learning new things.

Mihrimah's format of teaching is well-crafted and nicely laid-out - this has to be related to her vast teaching experience. She explained the dance and the movements very eloquently and even took the opportunity to tell the students briefly about the history of Tribal and Ms. Nericcio. Her structure and method made it easy even for those who had never tried bellydancing, let alone Tribal Style bellydancing.

I learned the different dialects for Egyptian Half Turn, Arabic, Arm Undulation and also the format and shape of the chorus. She also taught about "gathering the chorus" to circle together. A really cute thing was when we (as a chorus) all knelt on one knee when the song was about to end while the featured (solo) dancer was doing her thing. She said that her troupe did it once to a very shy student who finally took the lead; it was a way to encourage the shy dancer or give props to a dancer who just did a neat thing.

It is just amazing that even when her tribe is very far apart from the Mothership (Mihrimah's tribe is in Germany), she still regards the ATS rules with much respect: have solidarity, have trust, and always follow what your leader does, even though you know he/she is screwing up.

I admire her, for she is not only a generous teacher, but she is one of those people who dedicate their lives for the dance. She has become a world citizen, travelling around the globe, staying with the Kalbeliya Gypsies in India to learn their dance. Now that's dedication.


Mihrimah Ghaziya dancing a modern version of "The Peacock"

* Photo by Kusuma Dewi. L-R: Veronika, Desi (the organizer), Lia, Mihrimah, Yours Truly

Monday, July 18, 2011

is this mainstream enough for you?

Now that velvetRAQS & Dancewave Center's 3rd annual hafla - Arabesque: a journey into the world of belly dance - is a wrap (a nice, delicious wrap, thanks to everybody who performed and came to the show), I can take a breather and concentrate on keeping my promises (writing ATS articles in Indonesian, teaching, and focusing on upcoming gig with the troupe).

However, there's something I've been meaning to write (like three months ago), regarding belly dance as a mainstream form of art.

Here's to define it: Rihanna and Beyonce are mainstream. Tori Amos is not (it took me around 10 minutes to find another name for non-mainstream celebrity who is famous enough [is that an oxymoron?]). Bjork is mainstream.

Hip Hop is mainstream. There's nothing wrong with Hip Hop, although I'm really bored of seeing dance movies with Hip Hop / Ballet / Modern / Latin dances. I mean, there are many other dance styles out there, you know?

When a dance becomes mainstream, it becomes popular and more people want to try it. More people trying it means bigger chance of getting students, that's the whole salesman expression of "getting one's foot in the door" means. It means business: workshops, competitions, merchandise. Then there's the bigger thing than any of those: a new, respectable level. This leads to performance opportunities at prestigious venues and most importantly, a positive image.

There's a Youtube video of Sharon Kihara being interviewed and she said that when she told people she was a bellydancer, people would look at her in that "Aw, you don't have to do that" way.

On the second thought, and I'm not trying to be supercilious, I feel that if belly dance becomes mainstream, it will lose its mysterious and otherworldly charms. If everyone can do that, then it won't be that special anymore.

Still, there are many bellydancers who first tried out doing this dance because of Shakira. I know I did. I've grown out of my Shakira shell, but I still have to give her credit. Britney Spears jumped on the band wagon, so did Aaliyah (RIP) and Beyonce. I read news that Rihanna was taking up bellydancing to stay fit and that Sienna Miller (of all people) was going to play a bellydancing housewife fleeing to Vegas with her bellydance teacher to join a competition.

Oh, well.

ADDENDUM:

Belly dance is not for the faint-hearted. It is not easy. I've had people telling me that it looked easy, but when they tried it out themselves, they found out the truth. Some of our students stayed for one session and realized that it took a lot to do half of what Shakira could do, and she's not even a professional bellydancer. Some of those students left and never looked back. Some of them dropped in for a few lessons. Only a little number actually stayed and trained.

That's Darwin survival theory for you. When bellydance becomes a trend, or dare I say, a fad, then it won't stay long.

Friday, July 15, 2011

speak no evil

There are competitors in this world. You'd think you baked the best pie because your children said so, but then you entered the county fair pie competition and realized you had nothing. You have two options: you can either give up making pies and start working on your hummus recipe or you can connect with other pie makers, learn their tricks, take pie-making workshops and seminars, buy instructional DVDs on making pies, and experiment by pushing your own envelope.

I'm not exactly here to talk about winning or losing in a competition. I've blogged about my objection to belly dance competitions. I'm here about the less direct form of it: the rivalry.

It's not only about rivalry. You can watch a dancer's video across the globe and wonder why he or she gets praises because you don't see that kind of magnetism found in dancers you adore. Do you push on the "Like" button and or type in positive comments anyway? Well, it's up to you, but I won't do that. Do you press the "Dislike" button and or write discouraging remarks? Again, it's up to you, but I won't do that either. So what do I do? Easy: I just keep silent. If it's someone I know, I just congratulate him or her on the performance, but I don't praise. It'd be dishonest to both the dancer and myself.

Now the big question is: what if the dancer asks, "In which areas can I improve my dance skills?"

I seriously don't know how to answer that, except from an audience point of view with a wee bit of belly dance background.

Then again, dancers don't really ask that question to rival dancers now, do they?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

my first american tribal style teaching experience

"Mba (that's an informal Indonesian way to say "big sister"), there's already another workshop on the 23rd and 24th," I said on the phone to Ms. Miftahul Jannah, my boss and artistic director of our troupe. For us, it is impolite to conduct a workshop while another seminar is happening in the same city on the same day.

"How long is your workshop?" she asked.

"Three sessions, each one is two hours. Six hours total."

"How about Saturday, 16 July?"

"But Arabesque (our hafla) is on the 17. Won't we be busy doing rehearsals?" I asked.

"Okay... Well... That leaves either the 30 or 31 July. That's the beginning of Ramadhan, though," she replied.

"Hmm... How about 10 July?" I suggested.

"That sounds great! Okay, 10 July. I'll get the ball rolling," she said. And in the next hours, text messages came in from her saying she received confirmations from many people.

The conversation was on Saturday, 2 July 2011. I came back to Jakarta from my trip to Bali at 1 AM a week after and found out that already eleven people paid for the workshop. The next day, the total participants reached 21 people, dancers from all backgrounds and experience.

Here is what I noticed: ATS is not for everyone (out of 21 participants, only 4 showed their interest in learning more). I'm not talking about physical limitations, not even the inability to keep the elbows lifted with the shoulders back and chest lifted. I'm talking about the constant need for choreography and the ability to just "wing it".

That being said, I found my experience exciting (to say the least - the four enthusiastic participants demanded an intensive before I went back to the US on 10 August) and humbling (many of the participants were newbies and never touched finger cymbals in their lives, and they played better than I did when I first started out).

Also, it reminded me to always, always be patient, because not everyone is on the same level as the others. Nobody was a bully in my class. I'm a victim of bullying and I will not tolerate that behavior while I'm teaching. No matter how long you've been in the advanced level, when a new person (who had just got promoted to the same level as you are) entered your class, you are obliged not only to welcome him or her, but to be forgiving. It is really, really intimidating to dance with people who are more experienced and it helps to see smiles and receive friendliness.

I'm in this for the dance, not for the drama. I'd go take acting classes if I needed drama.

The second picture in this entry showed me bowing to Ms. Miftah, our troupe director, thanking her for successfully organizing the workshop on such a short notice.

So, there you have it. I'm sprinkling a little of FatChanceBellyDance dust that I received during my training to the dancers in Jakarta. I hope this will be the beginning of a lovely path filled with flowers, old coins, fluffy skirts and pantaloons, cholis, old silver jewelry, zils, swords, and a whole lot of American Tribal Style.

Friday, July 08, 2011

arabesque: a journey into the world of belly dance

Okay, Boys and Girls, I am proud to present: Arabesque: a journey into the world of belly dance... Also known as: Yuska's only 2011 performance in Jakarta, Indonesia. Also known as: FINALLY, after SIX MONTHS, I get to put on PROPER STAGE MAKE-UP!

I know, I'm sad too. There's a darn good possibility that I won't be joining this year's The Dance Within by Dancewave Center, what with school and all.


So, here's the plug: this event features performances from Dancewave Center's Oriental classes (managed by velvetRAQS), the velvetRAQS (showcasing Oriental, Tribal Fusion, and Bollywood dances), and special guest dance performance!

Best of all: IT'S FREE! Come one, come all! Oh, and this is a family-oriented show, in that the entertainment is for all ages.

If you manage to come, don't forget to say hi to me!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

10,000 hits!

Hello and thank you my loyal readers and those who get to see my little blog for reasons that I shall list below.

You have made the number of viewers of this blog reach 10,000! That's umm... rather a slow and self-deprecating feat, considering I began writing THREE YEARS AGO! It's really fun to notice that the porn blogs I bookmark occasionally visit can get 10,000 hits in 3 weeks!

Here are some interesting search leading to this blog that are memorable enough to be featured in this entry.

VERY POPULAR:

Whatever Lola Wants movie (sometimes with "Ismahan")
Aaron eckhart nude (thank you, you gorgeous hunk, you)
Cross-dresser belly dance (I can't really find an entry where I wrote about this, though...)

There are those who visited the blog to see the pictures, who stay awhile (like 5 seconds), and who even like the blog so much that they follow it and even bookmark it.

Regardless whatever your intention of visiting, I sincerely thank you.

Now that the GuidetoArtSchool's best bellydance award has gone offline, I also need this to pat my back with.

I promise I'll blog more! I have so much to blog about!
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