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

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.


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: 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 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 will link to if you hover on it. In the 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 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.
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