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, 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.


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.
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