Showing posts with label fcbd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fcbd. Show all posts

Thursday, April 04, 2013

some things happened

There have been times when I felt I was the luckiest boy on Earth. As socially awkward as I am, I know a thing or two about American Tribal Style® belly dance, and that's about it.

Lucky for me, I have the opportunity to stay in the East Bay and take classes at the FatChanceBellyDance® studio. I get to dance with the student troupe, Blue Diamonds Belly Dance, and last February, I had the honor to perform with some members of Blue Diamonds along with two of my teachers, Wendy Allen and Kae Montgomery, at Tannourine. 

Photo by Yuka Sakata

Then of course there was the Devotion Kickstarter Party at Bissap Baobab Village last month. I just had to dance at this event because I won't be able to make it to this year's Devotion Show. Dancewave Center collaborates with Gedung Kesenian Jakarta for Jakarta's Anniversary Festival on June 15, 2013. More on this later. 

In orange choli is Larissa Archer, yes, she's the daughter of The Masha Archer

But the real treat was this year's Cues & Tattoos

You see, some of the Blue Diamonds girls thought that it would be sweet to dance at Cues & Tattoos as some sort of a farewell for me (I thought I was going to leave the USA for good somewhere in mid 2013, but that won't happen because I'm staying at least for another year to get a dual degree in nonfiction. Yes). 

So there you have it: Taksu Tribal. "Taksu" is a Balinese word which means "good energy" or "spirit". I'm going to leave the video right here so you can see for yourself if we have Taksu.

Addendum: Just to rub it in, here's what Ms. Nericcio wrote about Taksu Tribal

Proud, happy faces post dancing, posing with Ms. Carolena Nericcio!

But wait, there's more. 

So I told Rob / Valizan that I was going to go to Cues & Tattoos. He rounded up two other boys who were based in Seattle (Russ Martin & Rich Williams). I've met and danced with Russ at the FCBD® studio when he was taking General Skills & Teacher Trainings. He has killer Layback. I'm friends with Valizan and Rich on the Internet but never actually danced with them before. But you know, it's ATS®. It only took about two hours of getting used to dancing with each other and BAM! Sons of Trimurti was on the stage. 

Katherine Erickson (owner of the fabulous Silk Road Tribal) said that when Sons of Trimurti danced on stage, the shopping stopped. The only time she'd seen that was during Suhaila Salimpour's troupe performance. 

I'm still waiting for a video, but for now, here are some of the photos of Sons of Trimurti. (Purple: Rich Williams; Gold: Rob Galbraith / Valizan; Turquoise: Russ Martin)

Photos by LJ Brackenbury

Photo by David of CheekyMonkeyCaravan

Addendum: The video cometh! Courtesy of Laurie LA Tribal.

Seattle was uncharacteristically sunny and warm. So here's a photo of Kitty, my faithful companion for more than two decades, in front of the Space Needle. 

There will be a review of the festival as well as some pictures from the Instructor's Showcase very soon!

I'm going to end this entry by quoting a line from Bridget Jones's Diary: 
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.
And of course vice versa.

Yes, I know: I'm a very, very lucky boy indeed.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

notes on performing ATS® solo

So, obviously I have tons of homework to be done (and I haven't updated my Pink in California blog for a long time now), but I just can't find the motivation to do so.

Although I like to multitask, I feel that I can do better if I work on one thing first (the one on the top of the priority list and work myself down - well, most of the time) and dedicate my time to it. And this blog entry has been waiting quite a while.

The thing is, whenever I'm back in Jakarta for end of semester vacation, I don't really have anyone to perform ATS® with, so I have to do a solo. At the end of every solo performance, though, I've always become sad because well, American Tribal Style® is never meant as a solo piece. No one told me this, but I used to believe the only person allowed to do ATS® solo is Ms. Carolena Nericcio. But then from time to time, I saw videos of FatChanceBellyDance® troupe members soloing when there're just two or three of them dancing together for a set.

Still, as much as I love performing, for me, ATS® solo was not something I looked forward to. It just didn't feel right.

That's why I'll always remember one recent Saturday when she said in class that even when we were dancing solo, we weren't dancing alone. We have the chance to engage the audience, to dance with them, to invite them in, to include them in our dance. And this can be done through our face and body angle. Always smile and not only with the lips, but also the eyes. Don't squint but slightly open your eyes and let your eyes smile too.

This was a great light bulb moment for me. And I hope this makes sense to you too.

I mean, yeah, I've heard of the concept of engaging the audience when dancing in a group - always maintain eye contact and smile and such, but this kind of falls into the wayside whenever I'm soloing. I didn't think of "dancing" with the audience. I always thought about dancing for the audience.

Speaking about engaging the audience, Sensei Kae also stressed how important it was to always engage the audience whenever we're dancing, even in a Dueling Duet formation when it's easy to be too engrossed in whoever's leading. We can do this by making eye contact whenever we pivot or do a Move or Step that faces the audience.

There's another important note. I've always thought the Arm Undulation (whether layered with Taxeem or not) and Body Wave were beautiful movements, but away from the stage, they could be really subtle, too subtle for a dramatic impact. Ms. Nericcio pointed this out yesterday. Dramatic slow songs (Stamena, Aicha, Arawan) instantly beg for level drops, turns, and laybacks, but that doesn't mean we can't do many of these when dancing to other types of slow songs. Use Arm Undulation (with or without Taxeem) and Body Wave for fillers, for transitions, for moments for the audience to breathe and clean the audience's palate, so to speak. And when you're doing these subtle movements, our body needs to be really articulate, and this means two things: clean technique and the knowledge of all the mechanics of the movements.

Then I remembered that one time I saw a video of my performance and thought how boring my Arm Undulation was, no matter how much I enjoyed performing it and thinking how good it must've looked. Haha.

I'm just going to close this blog entry with this awesome video (I think I put it on the blog one time, but it's just so good).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

where i stand on this cultural appropriation thing

First of all, let's just make it clear of what I mean with "cultural appropriation".

noun /əˌprōprēˈāSHən/ 
appropriations, plural
  1. The action of taking something for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission; the appropriation of parish funds
  2. The artistic practice or technique of reworking images from well-known paintings, photographs, etc., in one's own work
  3. A sum of money or total of assets devoted to a special purpose
These definitions are from Google Dictionary. For this case, let's discard the third definition and add the word "cultural" in front of it, thus making the meanings of "cultural appropriation" something like this: 
  1. The action of taking someone's culture or subculture, typically without asking for permission from those who are culturally or subculturally related or understand said culture or subculture. 
  2. The artistic practice or technique of reworking art (including but not limited to: dance and movement composition, literary composition, musical composition, visual composition like painting - mixed media - jewelry design - graphic design - tattoo - pottery - sculpture) in one's own work. 
For the first definition, many have also added that those who culturally appropriate belong to the dominant cultures (typically the Caucasian), but sometimes, I don't think that's the case. 

The thing is, during my free time, I don't go out and take long walks or run or enjoy the great outdoors. I'm not an outdoors person. The sun ruins the skin. During my free time, I browse the internet. Sure, I get caught in the weird part of the Internet from time to time, but anything's wonderful as long as I don't come across pictures or stories of animal abuse. 

Time and again, I found posts that disrespect (that's a really pejorative term in many cases) belly dance, its culture and origin (which no one really knows), and those who perform the dance. 

Time and again, I found posts that disrespect (again, that's a pejorative term) American Tribal Style® and or Tribal Fusion belly dances. 

Let's focus on the Tribal bashers (the Trishers? Tribashers?). What's really disheartening is that if you go on forums like Bhuz or, you'll see Oriental style dancers bashing Tribal, saying that Tribal is not belly dance. And it's cute (okay, it's not) when you see that in some of their posts, these dancers refuse to call themselves bellydancers because they think the term "belly dance" and "belly dancers" are demeaning. They do Middle Eastern dance. They do Oriental dance. They go to Egypt or Turkey to study with the greats and try to keep the art form intact. They don't like the term "belly dance" yet they tell Tribal dancers to use whatever name but not belly dance. 

But wait, turns out, these Oriental dancers actually use "belly dance" to promote their work, albeit with a cringe, because it's easier to get their point across. 

I won't discuss that in detail and I don't really pay attention to those posts because, well, the posters have made themselves look and sound ignorant. 

The thing that really gets me is the constant telling that Tribal style belly dance and especially ATS® are considered cultural appropriating. 

Okay, I get it. ATS® has indeed borrowed lots of elements from different cultures across the globe. The Puja for one is an adaptation of East Indian prayer, then Megha Gavin from Devyani Dance Company expanded it (I don't know Ms. Gavin that well, but I do know that she is knowledgeable in Indian culture and philosophy) and FatChanceBellyDance® adapted the extended Puja, which I have yet blogged about. I'M SO SORRY. IT'S COMING ALONG!

Then there's the jewelry (Afghani, Yemeni, Pakistani, Kohistani, Turkoman, Kuch), make-up (facial tattoos inspired by the Berber, the Ouled Nail; bindis from Indian culture), costume (India, Middle East), music selection (too many to mention, from folkloric Bedouin to contemporary Balkan to modern beatboxing, and we play finger cymbals too), and of course the dance itself.

Full disclosure: I'm an ATS® belly dancer. I don't have that much money, but when I do, I use it to take dance classes and buy dowry (which includes jewelry and costuming bits and pieces).

For the jewelry, again, since I don't have that much money but I need to get that chunky, more is more look, I sometimes have to opt for cheaper jewelry. I mix and match cheap and plain silver bangles with the monster ones that I've carefully tried to research. I own several pieces of Assuits, only one of them is more than fifty dollars including shipping. My prized possessions include a Tuareg spike and dome ring that I bought from my friend, the amazing dancer/photographer/hair-flower-creator Shelly Swanegan Hamalian, a gold-washed Turkoman ring from, a Carol Felley cat with Amethyst ring (my birth stone is Ruby, but I'm really drawn to Amethyst), and a silver hip chain from NakaRali (I bought this one at TribalFest 11 and I'm still broke now). I wear the cat ring because I'm crazy about cats. Plus, it's silver, it's huge, and it fits in the more is more aesthetics.

For facial tattoos, I use the chin line and the three dots near the outer corner of each eye. I stopped wearing the dots over my eyebrow because I learned that it's used for Indian brides. I'm not a bride, nor am I Indian, although you know, when (I'm not using "if") John Abraham proposes, I'll be one, and y'all are invited to the wedding. In this video, Ms. Nericcio clearly states that bindis and facial tattoos in ATS® are purely ornamental. Also, go here for more information on facial markings

I wear turban when I dance because my hair is short (and I've a small head) and I need something to stick the flowers on. Also, as androgynous as I want to be, men do wear turbans, and in a way, my turban can both conceal and show that I'm a dude. 

Does that make me, an ATS® belly dancer, a cultural appropriator? I guess for some people, yes. But I do know my limits, because I know which elements I need to use, which elements I can go without, and not only because of aesthetic reasons. Having knowledge and information on the things we wear and create (and for some, the things we eat) is one of the ways to adopt a culture and promote its beauty. If you go to FatChanceBellyDance® studio, you'll see stacks of books about tattoos and jewelry and textile. Those ladies, especially Ms. Nericcio, know their trade.

ATS® is not an authentic representation of Middle-Eastern dance. That fact was established a long time ago. Some people are ignorant of that, and that's also another fact. So let me write this again: ATS® is not an authentic representation of Middle-Eastern dance. 

But many ATS® dancers (I'm not saying all) are well aware of the origins of the jewelry they wear. Some of them can even point the places out on the world map. Some have even been there. These dancers help expose the world to a culture rich with tradition and exquisite jewelry (and then some), which means more production, more income, and eventually more revenue to the craftsmen and the overall tourism industry. 

At the Indian and Vedic Culture miniseminar several months ago, Ms. Colleena Shakti said that the NakaRali silver supplier and craftsmen had doubted that their products would sell well in the USA (and subsequently, the world), because they had low demands in India. More and more young people in India prefer the more modern (and sometimes cheaper) jewelry. This stroke a chord. Many Indonesians, I for one, don't wear traditional clothings or promote the traditional jewelry, which by no means is less exquisite than Indian jewelry. 

In Evolutions: The Exotic Art of Tribal Bellydance, Zoe Jakes talks about her costume and jewelry inspiration. One of the pieces she wears is a heart-shaped pendant from Java. Is it a religious symbol? I don't think so. What if it is? Should I care? I don't think so either. Is she culturally appropriating one culture from my country? Maybe. But here's what I do know: when I heard Zoe said "Javanese", my heart leapt with pride. She's an international performer and I don't care that I sometimes don't like her style, but she promotes something from my homeland. Also, every time I hear songs that incorporate musical instruments from Indonesia, I feel honored, I feel respected.

Heck, I was ELATED when I saw Kecak dance in The Fall (frigging awesome movie, by the way. Very beautiful, very strange, very surreal, very emotionally exhausting, with Husband #16 Lee Pace in it). 

Also, another thing. There's this Tumblr blog that bashes people wearing Native American headdress. I get it. The thing is, the same writer said that he celebrated Halloween, which is a Celtic tradition and is nowadays commercialized (like Christmas and Easter and the Eid). So, double standards? 

My friend Julia sent this link to a great article (the conclusion is, it's hard to draw the line as to what exactly is "cultural appropriation", but the rule of thumb is to not wear something that has a deep symbolic meaning like a war bonnet, nor something that has religious meaning like the Rosary, and always make sure that the craftsmen get respectable cut because, well, they need the money to keep producing those gorgeous items. By the way, in terms of turbans vs. war bonnets, you know, many turbans are worn because of the functional purposes). 

Well, I'm beat. I was supposed to do my homework, but I really felt that I needed to get this one out first. 

Man in orange and green turban photo is taken from Pink.City.Mag and check out its page on Turbans!

Photo of Carolena Nericcio by Kristine Adams

Photo of me taken by Shelly Swanegan Hamalian.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

folkloric look for ats®

All I knew (and this was said repeatedly whenever we had classes that focused on creating a folkloric look) was that generally, when one wants to dance ATS® to a folkloric music (with the mizmar, oud, doumbek, without any of the synthesized sounds), complete with the vintage head wrap and tassels, it is best to maximize the folkloric look by staying away from swirly, swishy moves. This categorization had eluded me for so long (a year, probably), but last Saturday, I finally received the answer. 

Ms. Sandi Ball gave me the permission to copy this list. I've added some that weren't on the original list (look for the asterisk). 

Folkloric Look:
  1. Egyptian (I assume this means all variations of Egyptians, including Triple Egyptian, but excluding Egyptian Sevillana since this has a more Flamenco feel to it)
  2. Arabic (but not Arabic Hip Twist nor Arabic Hip Twist Flourish and its later descendant: the Alabama Twister)
  3. Pivot Bump
  4. Choo Choo
  5. Shimmy (including the variation with a slight dip on the one in every four counts. Since the Shimmy is a two-count move, it goes like this: one - two - one - two - one - two - one - two - one - two etc. The underlined is when you slightly dip) 
  6. Turkish Shimmy (including Quarter Turn and Half Turn, but excluding Turkish Shimmy with Arms & Turn)
  7. Arabic Shimmy (excluding Arabic Shimmy with Arms & Turn)
  8. Reach & Sit (well, this one comes from the Tahtiyb / Stick dance, so it works well with songs with Saidi rhythm)
  9. Up 2 Down 3
  10. Double Bump & Single Bump
  11. Shoulder Shimmy
  12. Wet Dog
  13. Ghawazee Shimmy
  14. Reshamka
  15. Chico Four Corners
  16. Ribcage Rotation
  17. Head Slides
  18. Circle Step*
  19. Camel Walk*
  20. Corkscrew, Propeller, Reverse Turns*
  21. Torso Twist*
  22. Circle Step*
  23. Bodywave*
Modern Look: 
  1. Arabic Hip Twist and Arabic Hip Twist with Flourish and the Alabama Twister
  2. Turkish Shimmy with Arms and Turn
  3. Arabic Shimmy with Arms and Turn
  4. Double Back
  5. Sahra Turn
  6. Wrap Around Turn
  7. Barrel Turn
Now, obviously this list is ever evolving. For example, the Water Pot from Devyani or The Box Step and Push Forward Push Back from the Ghawazi Caravan vocabulary are not on the list. Granted, the Water Pot is swishy and swirly (meaning it has lots of turns and spins), but it does have that folkloric look. In my opinion anyway. And the Push Forward Push Back and Box Step have that folkloric hard edge. 

Also, I believe Floorwork falls into the Folkloric Look category. 

One of the main reasons I post this is to remind myself that there are moves that are considered Folkloric Look. When I dance, especially when there's mizmar or any kind of wind instrument that's not droning, I like doing the swishy steps like the Arabic Hip Twist. So, the list gives me a kind of boundary in a good way. 

I was going to include a YouTube snippet of The Tattooed One, but instead, I'm just going to post this.

When I stumbled upon it, it was like opening a treasure chest. Seeing Ms. Nericcio's fast solo is a rare treat too. 

Sunday, September 02, 2012

le moroccan six

I rarely get the opportunity to take a class with Ms. Marsha Poulin. Come to think of it, I think I've only taken one class with her once way back last year or earlier this year. Yesterday was my second ever. She taught us the Moroccan Six zil pattern. 

Before I begin, let me give you a full disclaimer: I took piano lessons from when I was five years old to when I was fifteen. Ten years. And I still didn't know how to play anything if it's not on the C Major scale. I have a really bad musicality and my eyes and fingers just can't coordinate that well and I just couldn't (can't?) commit the songs into my muscle memory. Learning to play finger cymbals is and always has been a challenge. I was first taught how to play the zils by Ms. Maria Aya when I was in Greece back in 2008. She taught me several patterns including the Triplet and the Baladi. It wasn't hard, but that was because we were sitting down. At that time, even moving the arms and walking while playing the zils was hard. 

In ATS®, however, only two patterns are used regularly: the RLR and the Military. The Military is only used for Up2Down3 and Double Back while a slight variation is used for Push Forward Push Back. Sometimes Ms. Kristine Adams or Ms. Sandi Ball would drill us on Baladi pattern and Moroccan Six, but yesterday, we really focused on the Moroccan Six.

You can listen to Moroccan Six pattern in Moroccan Six (duh) by Helm in Tribal Dance - Tribal Drums album or Ishwini Fik, also by Helm in their Spice Box album. As you might have guessed, there are six beats in a measure, instead of the regular eight, so although Moroccan Six and Ishwini Fik can be considered as up-tempo, two things won't fit: RLR pattern and Fast Steps. That means, only Slow Moves can be performed to these songs. However, not just any Slow Moves. Ms. Poulin advised us to do Dramatic Slow (fancy turns, Floorwork, Layback, Dueling Duets) to songs with a Moroccan Six pattern.

While the featured dancers do their things, the Chorus backs them up with a special zil pattern called, you guessed it, the Moroccan Six. All six beats must be acknowledged by playing the zils on each beat but only the first and fourth beats are accented (played louder). Then play another six beats on the zils evenly (without accent).

This is the written pattern: R - L - R - L - R - L - R - L - R - L - R - L

The bold and underlined letters are the accents.

Now, as opposed to the RLR or Military zil patterns, the Moroccan Six should be played a bit muffled. The Chorus is already in a Slow Move mode, so arms are down (with the elbows lifted as always), and the hands  are in the position where the thumbs are above the rest of the other four fingers. You know, like when you're gathering water to wash your face. Let gravity bring down the zils on your thumbs to the ones below, which are resting above the middle finger and (as in my case, because my zils are quite big) the index and ring fingers. This will make the the ziling sound more muffled.

One more thing: featured dancers don't need to play the zils when dancing to a Moroccan Six song. And if the dancers in the Chorus aren't confident enough to play the Moroccan Six, then don't. A little tip: start slow, then build the speed.

Here's FCBD® and Devyani dancing to Ishwini Fik.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

shimmies and shimmies

Ya know, it's a bit ironic that I call myself (on this blog anyway) "the boy who shimmies", and yet I find myself unable to shimmy properly, well, the Oriental shimmy anyway. However, when it comes to ATS® Shimmy, I feel very confident and at home.

Sensei Kae, Ms. Sandi Ball, and Ms. Wendy Allen all did shimmy drills on the course of two weeks. Beginning with Sensei Kae (another shimmy & spin class) on Thursday night (we also learned the tricky art of Over Shimmy), Ms. Ball on Saturday afternoon (have you ever seen how she flawlessly executes ASWAT? I have her tips below), Ms. Allen on Wednesday (I felt a bit adventurous and took the 51A bus to cross Oakland and Emeryville to Alameda where she teaches, then Sensei Kae again just a few hours ago (more shimmy drills).

So, okay... Here are the tips from Ms. Sandi Ball:

  1. To make your ATS® Shimmy even, if you're like me (my left shimmy is weaker than my right when I'm doing Turkish and Arabic Shimmy), then switch your focus from your right hip to your left hip. Concentrate on the left hip only. Your right hip is already shimmying big and nice and juicy, now it's the left hip's turn to get some lovin'. This was a lightbulb moment. It works for me. 
  2. When doing Arabic, there's this contrast going with your upper body (chest and torso) and arms. When the right foot steps down on one, think of stepping down but your upper body goes upward, like floating up, this is to get your chest to lift and your torso to undulate). Then as the left foot steps down on two, it's like your upper body (down to your hip, actually) sits down. On one, as the upper body goes upward, the arms plunge down in front of the body, then floats up on the side to over head from second to eighth counts. Add shimmies and you have Arabic Shimmy. 
  3. For ASWAT, this is how you achieve Ms. Sandi Ball's ASWAT flawlessness: as you're turning on fifth to eighth counts, keep your left hand near your left hip on five and six and left it float on seven and finish on eight. Letting the left hand sit there for five and six gives more aerodynamism, plus you won't hit your dance partners as you turn. 
This is one of my favorite videos, despite its lighting quality. Although I think the dark lighting adds the mood. 

Well, I'm blogging at San Francisco International Airport now, waiting for a grueling economy class flight back to Jakarta. I'm so sad to miss classes at the mothership for three months, but I'm glad that I closed it rather well: I got to dance with a guy! His name is Russ, he's from Seattle. He's at the studio for General Skills and Teacher Trainings. So that means... Another male joining the clan!

Sensei Kae just had to do the Shimmy drills. Then I had to drag two suitcases, each one weighing 23 kg (50 pounds), from my apartment on the third floor, all the way down, and walked five blocks to the bus stop. Then one block to the BART station. One of the suitcases contains Kali, Lilith's twin. I was a bit worried because I thought the suitcase containing Kali was oversized and Singapore Airlines has restrictions over the combined linear dimension of the suitcases. I even phoned their rep in SF, and I thought I had to pay USD 109, but it turned out fine. They checked in well. 

I'm so tired. I just want to find my seat (I get window seat this time, YAY!), get comfy, see the in-flight movies, and cocoon myself. 

I'll see you soon. I need to blog an addendum about ASWAT and Sunanda. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

foot, elbow, face

Some Saturdays ago, Ms. Nericcio was there to teach the class. I was away in December and January and those were actually the months when she wasn't travelling and dedicated her time to teach (and observe). So of course came rain or high water, I went to the studio.

I know I'm still struggling with so many aspects of many of the moves and steps. I realized that I've been very, very bouncy. I mean, with the flailing arms and the bobbling head and everything, so I'm working on it. But Ms. Nericcio pointed out something else (well, not only to me, but to the whole class). She said she wanted to see a beautiful entrance when we're coming out of the Chorus to be the featured dancers.

Here's the checklist:

  1. Feet: Glide, don't walk. Long, supermodel steps. 
  2. Elbows: Lifted to convey a feeling of emphatic entrance. When you slide back in to the chorus, make yourself small so you can fit right back in, without dropping the elbows, of course. 
  3. Faces: Smile! Toothy smile when doing Fast Steps. You can also show your teeth when doing Slow Moves, but it's okay if you don't, as long as you smile. 

Here's a little video to emphasize on the three aspects above. 

I was late for two consecutive Saturdays and so I didn't have the time to tell the teachers (Ms. Allen on one Saturday and Ms. Lalwani on the next) that I was working on my bounciness. But after class, I asked Ms. Lalwani about this and she said that she didn't see me bouncing too much. 

So, yeah. I guess I can work towards a goal after all. Haha. Yay!

Saturday, December 31, 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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

Monday, September 26, 2011


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 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.


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