Youtube Video of the Week: Yasmina Ramzy

My troupemate Stephanie posted this video on facebook, and immediately I knew I had to post this for y’all’s viewing pleasure. The past two videos I reviewed were solo performances. But hey, I think all of us at one point have danced in a group or troupe. Therefore, it makes sense to study videos where the group dynamic is powerful and effective in order to glean insights on how to be a better choreographer or troupe member. Without further ado, Yasmina Ramzy and Arabesque Dance Company:

— Costuming. In the “real world,” I work at a college theater department, sewing costumes. One of the golden rules I have heard in theater: Don’t put black costumes on dancers if you are performing in front of a black backdrop. However, as my boyfriend pointed out while watching the video, every time the dancers move, the light reflects off the sheen of the material. The result is a clean line that doesn’t blend in to the background. I feel the simplicity of the costuming helped accentuate the crisp choreography. Way to break the black on black rule and have an effective result!

— Staging. The staging of this piece almost reminded me of modern dance or some of Urban Tribal’s pieces. I think Yasmina Ramzy, the choreographer, used the space well and also used some really innovative formations and staging — level changes, dueling groups, circle formations, a weaving pattern. I also thought having one or two dancers represent different facets of the music was really visually interesting (I’m referencing the first minute or so). Yes, dancing perfectly in unison is impressive and powerful, but I also think highlighting each dancers’ strengths and personal stylization added a lot to this piece. The ONLY critique I had is that a few times, I was unclear what the formation was supposed to me — very few times it seemed like one dancer was standing in front of another, or someone wasn’t QUITE in the right window.

–Strong, graceful technique. The dancers poise and grace complimented their tight technique really well. It was like watching a troupe of Sonias from the Bellydance Superstars dancing. The arms were particularly lovely.

So what can we learn?

1) Be conscious costuming your dancers. Imagine not only what costumes would look like on dancers, but also in the venue you will be performing. After touring with the Bellydance Superstars, another tip I would give is that sheen, glitter, sparkle, etc. works exceptionally well onstage. You’d be amazed how much shimmery/glittery/sparkly elements go into their costuming — even the tribal dancers get glittery! I remember looking at one of Moria’s tribal outfits up close and being astounded by the amount of rhinestones and glittery bits on it. I remember having a revelation — tribal dancers can and do wear rhinestones!

2) Staging. Change up your formations! I get into the two-line formation rut ALL the time. If you watch these dancers, they’re not ALWAYS doing super-complicated belly dance technique. However, it stays visually interesting because they’re changing levels or formation frequently. Our eyes like to watch discernible patterns and big, visible movement — let your audience take a break occasionally from trying to analyze super-internal, complicated hip and torso work.

3) What pushed this piece into the “awesome” category was not the costumes or the staging. What I truly appreciate is that this troupe and choreographer did NOT sacrifice their technique and grace to take risks. We’re belly dancers, ladies and gentlemen. I feel like the most important part of our art is making sure we never sacrifice grace, good form, or solid technique (unless that’s the point of your piece — I once choreographed a dance for my senior project in college that was designed to be un-aesthetically pleasing).

Click here to learn more about Yasmina Ramzy and Arabesque Dance Company.

Certifications and Contests: What Are They Worth?

Came across a little article on tribe where Miles Copeland, owner of the Bellydance Superstars, discusses his views on belly dance contests and certifications.

Miles has a lot of interesting opinions. It’s intriguing reading, especially coming from a business standpoint. And after working closely with him, I can you one thing with a certainty: Miles Copeland is a brilliant, intelligent businessman that has been doing this for a looong, long time. I certainly put stock in what he has to say about the business aspect. I learned a lot from him just setting up the merchandise table with him and talking to him about products. I found what he had to say was definite food for thought.

Miles wrote:

“There appears to be more and more people getting into the Bellydance act, advertising events, contests or whatever who promise to film the entrant/student/winner/participant, then to release them on the market via DVD/video, imagining this is a great enticement to get dancers to become involved.  What the unwitting participants who fall for this “ come-on” are failing to realize is that by adding themselves to such a DVD, they have no quality control and they may become less interesting to some entity like the BDSS or other professional organizations that can, in reality, help advance a career. Simply put, it takes a lot of investment to build a star, and it takes a lot of investment to do a proper job filming one.  To take on that challenge, naturally, a producer would want a dancer who is not already readily available on the market in another product so that her rarity value has become diminished already… From my pure business standpoint (and I am certainly not the only one), a fresh dancer is 100 times more interesting than a dancer who has already had film clips out on DVDs from other companies.”

And:

“Another unfortunate development is the idea that winning a contest is a short cut to developing status in the business that can be used to hype a dancer’s credits as a teacher. It’s as if the contest win were a diploma, her ticket to teach! Yet, from experience, I can tell you that the worst judges of musicians are other musicians, just as the worst judges of dancers are other dancers (especially ones that cannot ever give you a job and have to pay the price of the choice they make).”

And more:

“More often lately, the BDSS organization is asked to give out certificates to students who have attended a series of BDSS workshops… If I were to fall into this practice, I would, in short order, have thousands of students of talent, as well as students with no talent, armed with a “BDSS Certificate”, inferring that they were Bellydance experts. This might make me more money in the short term, but it would not help Bellydance overall. It would, in the long run, undermine the reputation of the BDSS.  If we ever do give out any sort of certificate, it will be to dancers who deserve a credit and “have the goods”. I have hundreds of Bellydance resumes on my desk.  I never read them because 99% of their credits are meaningless and tell me nothing unless they are a credit from a reputable school where study happened over an extensive period of time.   What good is a certificate, saying you took 10 lessons with so and so?  What does that tell me?”

My thoughts on the matter:

1) IMPATIENCE. I think, in general, one of the largest problems plaguing the bellydance community is our impatience. I feel like dancers nowadays (I include myself in this category) are SO IMPATIENT to progress. There’s this desire to learn as quickly as possible so they can go out and teach. I heard a story of a girl that took less than a full semester of belly dance classes and is now hoping to teach others. Belly dance’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness — anyone can do it. With ballet, there’s no faking pointe — you can either dance en pointe or not. With bellydance, it is really easy to “fake it until you make it.” And this furthers the cycle — what is a young belly dancer supposed to think when they take a few classes and realize their skill matches their teacher’s? Would it not seem natural to go out and teach yourself? “Hey,” the dancer thinks, “I know as much as her. I can teach!”

We need to stress to our fellow dancers and in our communities the idea that you have to train and learn for years before you are ready to teach (think back to those martial art movie montages of them training for a billion years). I believe it is essential to always have a teacher, and especially one who inspires you with their attitude and skill. For this reason, I have ALWAYS sought out teachers who’s skill wildly surpasses my own (Kandice Grossman, Suhaila). It’s easier for me to be patient with myself and check my ego when I see my teacher performing something that will take me years to perfect, and I am reminded of the years of training and preparation that they have undergone. But hey, I know for a fact that I began performing and teaching to early. I know how tempting it is, and the more I learn, the more I realize I have yet to learn.

2) DVDs. How does this impatience rant fit into this article? I’ll tell you. I have heard from many dancers that being on a DVD is the way to start a career. Look at Asharah — her (extremely excellent) DVD launched her career. Younger dancers see this and I think the “it doesn’t matter what a DVD is like, I NEED to be on one.” Therefore, the artistry and years of experience that have gone into DVDs like Asharah’s, for example, are NOT present in the DVDs that are impatiently been churned out. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again — the best advice I ever got was from Petite Jamilla. She said, “Think of yourself and your art as a business. How would you market YOURSELF?” I think once a dancer has learned to respect dedication and the years of training that have to go into this art, this skill comes. What would you, as a business, want your name on? Would you want some of your early performances forever immortalized on a DVD? I think Miles brings up a good point — if you’re going to do a project like a DVD, do it well, do it right — don’t hurt your business by having your name forever associated with inferior product.

3) CONTESTS. This was interesting for me to read, because I have been considering entering a contest as a tool for furthering my career. But Miles’ comments got me thinking — your contest win is really only as significant as the dancers you compete against, the same way Lance Armstrong kicking my ass in a bicycle race isn’t really a significant win for him. “Yet, from experience, I can tell you that the worst judges of musicians are other musicians, just as the worst judges of dancers are other dancers (especially ones that cannot ever give you a job and have to pay the price of the choice they make).” This comment made me think. I agree and disagree with it. I think people see different things when they watch a dancer — I do think that artists see art, and businessmen see business prospects. In that sense, what I see as beautiful and stirring may not be marketable for the masses. It is true that if a dancer in a show I’m organizing sucks, it’s not really something that negatively affects me unless it keeps occuring or if it significantly detracts from the quality of the show. However, my rebuttal to Miles’ point is this: a lot of BDSS’ audience is… dancers. When I watch a dancer, I can see so much more than just the movements. You can see a dancer’s influences, their training, their confidence, how open they are to the audience… these finer points can be lost if the analysis comes from a pure business standpoint.

4) CERTIFICATIONS. Here’s where Miles and I differ. I am level II certified in the Suhaila Salimpour School of Dance, and I believe every penny I have spent on my certification has helped me become a better dancer. I learned proper form, I have drilled millions of glute singles and undulations, I have an introduction to formal dance training.  When I say I am level II, I believe it says that there is a certain standard of excellence that my technique MUST adhere to. I earned that right through my sweat, tears, sore muscles, and bruises. If you take ONE workshop with Suhaila, regardless of how you feel about the testing process, you will see that this training and format liberates you body to present and combination of movements you desire safely and effectively. Now, I’m not an elitist. I know tons of incredible dancers that aren’t certified. And I don’t look down on their choices — the format is NOT for everyone. But I find it incredibly offensive when people tell me I’ve wasted my money and time. I would never say that to a fellow dancer, and I don’t deserve it either.

All and all, I thought the article was interesting to see from a business standpoint. What are your thoughts?

Updates

I wish that I was a bit like my friend Sierra, who HAS to write every single day. She doesn’t go anywhere without a notebook and a pen. Alas, I am a dancer first and a writer second, so I have to kick myself in the ass a bit to get myself to write regularly.

Here’s what’s new in my neck of the woods:

1) ASHARAH WORKSHOP!

Hands down one of my favorite workshops that I’ve ever attended. Consider this: Asharah was never in the Bellydance Superstars or some famous troupe (certainly not because lack of talent!) to project her career — she is now a full-time dancer because she absolutely worked her butt off to get there, and it shows. Her workshops managed to combine the Suhaila format with new and innovative twists that really broadened my view about how the format can be applied. I loved her “Dancing your Demons” workshop and it really opened up some new challenges for myself in expressing a message through dance. The show was great, Ve did a wonderful job running everything without completely losing it (which I definitely would have, between running three workshops, organizing the vendors, corraling us workshop folk and sorting out who owed what, running a full show and managing private lessons schedule with Asharah. I strongly believe that Ve should work in a Wonder Woman cape into her next costume). I was fortunate enough to take a private lesson with Asharah, and she had a lot of great ideas for me. Moreover she actually listened and you can tell she is one of those rare dancers who genuinely selfless. I was very impressed — 5 stars! The show was great as well, it was great to see Amy and Exotic Rhythms Belly Dance and Frank Farinaro. Definitely check Asharah out at bdpaladin.com or at asharah.com.

2) I GOT A JOB!

I am a paid fundraiser for primarily Democratic committees and groups. What does that mean? … well, I guess that means I’m a telemarketer. ONLY TEMPORARILY, mind you… but yeah, calling people and nagging them for money is calling people and nagging them for money, no matter what cute euphemism you give it. I’m hoping to get a part-time position sewing costumes for the Stephen’s theater department in August.

3) I’M BACK WITH THE DRAGONFLIES!

Not that I ever really “quit” or “left,” but after a long talk with Kandi and a rather creepy medicine card reading in which I pulled the “Dragonfly” card out of a deck of 70 or some cards, I’m excited to say that I will be dancing with them again now that I’m here in Columbia.

4) REFOCUSING MY PRACTICE

I am trying to restructure how I train since I feel like I’m a huge artistic and skill rut when it comes to bellydance. I started reading “The Artist’s Way” and focus on the mental and emotional aspects of dance. I also took a modern dance class this summer and loved it, so I’m hoping to cross-train a bit more. I’ve also been in contact with a wonderful Odissi Indian dance teacher about taking lessons in the fall.

5) SOME EXCITING PROJECTS

— I’ve been working and dancing with a wonderful latin/blues/rock band called Los Desterrados, and we’re hoping to organize a larger bellydance show together.

— I’m hoping to start a Improvisation/Following class at Moon Belly in the spring. My goal is to start a new ITS format and also teach dancers to be stronger at improvising on their own and following their fellow dancers.

— I’m hoping to start teaching some workshops in the St. Louis area soon.

— I’ve been in talks with the Artisan and Kayotea about more shows in the CoMo area.

6) TIME FOR A CHANGE

On a more personal note, I have been quite negative and depressed about things recently, and I am making a vow to be more positive, work out more, and keep myself positive about the turn of events recently. Life’s too short to be sad or mad all the time.

The Times, They Are A’Changing…

A good friend of mine and brilliant photographer Nichelle Lawrence relayed a great analogy that she had read about to me the other day. Life, she told me, is like a swing — in order to swing super high, you need to work really hard — and on the same token, you have to be willing to swing back just as far. To extend the analogy, I feel like there are some times in my life where I have been swinging back and forth really high and other times I’m tracing circles in the dirt with my toes.

Currently, I am the kid on the playground that is pumping her legs so hard that I think I might finally go over the top bar of the swing (I’ll leave the swing set analogy now, I promise). Recently, I’ve been making some really difficult choices and have been making some important life decisions, and I’ve been vacillating back and forth between being really happy and really lost.

At my audition at Raqs LA in April, Miles mentioned that he thought I should pursue cabaret as opposed to tribal. I have to say, I was crushed. I have pursued tribal exclusively for four years, and I have never felt like I could express what I wanted to say with my body through cabaret. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m having a bit of an existential crisis. Part of me strongly believes that the universe sends you signs, and maybe this is a sign that I need to be more well-rounded and focus on the beauty and grace of cabaret. Another part of me feels like I’m artistically whoring myself out — am I really pursuing well-roundedness or am I catering to the expectations of others? Who am I REALLY as a dancer, and what am I really after?

All of this has been weighing on my mind for the past few months. A little over a week ago, I flew out to work at Raqs America in Washington, D.C., and I decided to only focus on cabaret at my audition. The first night was amazing — I went to an amazing art exhibit with Ebony, Bozenka, Ansuya, and Kami (check out Artomatic if you’re ever in D.C.). The next day, I got ready for two back-to back, 8am to 7pm days of selling merch. On Saturday, I danced cabaret on the open stage… and it was the worst I have ever performed in my life. I felt really weak (I didn’t get a chance to eat a lot and I was on my feet all day) and I almost fell over. Of course, I had invited Bozenka, Kami, PJ, Miles, and others to see my open stage time (serves me right, I jinxed myself). While I got some very nice feedback from Miles and Brandon Johnson, a local bellydance appreciator from the D.C. area, I felt terrible — you know the feeling when you know you haven’t performed your best. The audition went all right — I was told to take some ballet classes, but Miles and Sonia were very positive.

The main thing I realized throughout the weekend was that while I love touring, I love the people I work with, I love traveling, I love being immersed in everything bellydance… the merchandise job was no longer a good fit for me. The job was HARD physically and emotionally — lots of heavy lifting made me worry about injury and the long hours and complete exhaustion made it difficult to focus on my training. I am SO grateful for the opportunity and I don’t regret a thing — but it’s time for me to make time for my training so I can maybe someday realize my dream of joining BDSS. Miles was very supportive when I told him and was extremely considerate. I have learned a lot from Miles from a business aspect and I am grateful for how wonderful he and everyone I worked with treated me.

So here I am, back in Columbia. I quit a job that many people would kill for, I have no job prospects here, I have very little money, and I’m wondering what the hell to pursue dance-wise. But in spite of all of that, I feel like I made the right decision and I’m happy. I feel like I can now focus on becoming the best dancer I can be, and I am focusing on my art.

Stay tuned — Asharah workshop writeup from this weekend is on its way.

Finding Your Voice in a Sea of Schtick

Recently I stumbled across the lovely Asharah’s blog, where she discusses dancers using schtick in place of solid belly dance technique:

http://bdpaladin.com/             <– Read “Schtick it out”

She lays out some pretty solid ground rules, including:

  • “You don’t need to imitate Vaudeville routines.  Frankly, you shouldn’t unless you’ve had some serious acting training.
  • You don’t need a gimmick.  If you think your dance alone isn’t memorable, maybe you should work on finding your voice as a dancer.
  • You don’t need a costume that cost you more than you spent on training in one year.  In fact, I highly recommend you spend more on your training than your costuming.  Otherwise you’re just a pretty girl on stage.
  • You don’t need to dance with the latest prop, and if you do use a prop, be a master at the prop.  Don’t bring a sword, veil, water pot, snake, basket, fire, or anything else on stage with you unless you really know how to use it.  Frankly, I’m not impressed by the mere presence of the prop on stage with the dancer.  I want to see that dancer really integrate that prop into her performance so that she is one with that prop, whatever it might be.”

I am seeing a lot of this as well as I round the tribal fusion circuit. Frankly, I think it’s rather fascinating that tribal fusion evolved as, in my opinion, a liberation from the labels of both American Tribal Style and also cabaret bellydance. When I first saw Rachel Brice dance tribal fusion, I saw it as a means to explore a more artistic side of belly dance without feeling confined to a set definition or culture. Now dancers (including myself, I have videos where I am just a little RB clone, when I first started dancing) are taking this incredibly liberating space… and reproducing the same three or four now tired schticks and gimmicks. Why?

You know what I see? I see a lot of dancers struggling to find their voice as an artist. So how do we find our voices without dwelling so long in what I see as a necessary stage — the “copying” stage? Asharah hit the nail on the head — I feel like a large portion of that is studying technique. Learn the history, learn the culture, learn the DANCE in as many ways as possible and from as many angles as possible — then branch out.

In the meantime, as I embark on this lifelong quest to “learn” the subtleties of this dance, here are some ways I am personally trying to learn and develop my voice:

  • Read books. If you take a look at Asharah’s blog, she has a very nice reading list of books on multiple subjects. I am trying to read books on Middle Eastern history and culture (I liked “Serpent of the Nile” by Wendy Buonaventura, a recommended reading book for Suhaila’s Level II class), books that focus on developing your voice as an artist like “The Artist’s Way”, and even books that are influences you could channel (I recently finished a biography on Mata Hari — fascinating). Read as much as you can that could even REMOTELY relate.
  • Train intensely and diversely. More and more (especially as I work with the lovely ladies of the Bellydance Superstars) I am seeing the importance of training. I think it is always important to have a teacher and a mentor whose skill surpasses your own. Not only will you be learning to your fullest, but constantly being around someone who has taken the time to develop and hone their art is inspiring and ego-balancing. I think too, especially with the whole fusion element, study as many different things that you can fuse with your dance. Try ballet, jazz, modern, acting classes, hip hop… I know personally I keep trying to fuse things, but I don’t have a clear sense of WHAT I’m fusing. Know the ins and outs of the two styles you’re learning before you fuse is a mantra I live by. This summer I’m studying yoga, pilates, Odissi dance, and modern dance while trying to train 4 hours a day of belly dance.
  • Don’t teach too early. Who here has made this mistake? *Raises hand* I started teaching tribal after only dancing a YEAR. I think it’s hard to focus on your journey and your artistic development if you’re trying to cater to others or worse, impress them. I feel like new teachers is where a lot of the recycling schtick makes its first appearance.
  • Use your internet time to search for new knowledge and information. As someone who has seen “Rachel Brice at Tribal Fest 6” more times than she cares to admit, I am now trying to focus on research NEW inspirations and new things. Tribe can be a great resource, but I kinda feel like it’s like a mini-high school — people are constantly talking, reviewing, asking for song names. Depending on the person, this can be a positive or negative resource. My word of advice is spend less time on tribe figuring out every song Zoe Jakes has danced to and instead google “Mata Hari” or “Odissi Dance” or “Martha Graham” and form your own inspirations as opposed to constantly watching another person’s interpretations of them.

Honestly and personally, a lot of this has led to my decision to break away from the tribal fusion label and try something new. I feel like this is really necessary in my quest to become an original artist, because I’ll be the first to tell you that I have not found my artistic voice completely yet. Building my website has kind of thrown that into perspective. Try writing a description for your dancing when you’re still figuring out what you like and how you move!

I hardly believe I have gotten this figured out — on the contrary. I’m right in the thick of this quest, figuring it out as I go along just like everyone else. So yeah, I might look at a badass Rachel Brice solo and be inclined to give in to that urge to imitate and pile on the schtick, but for now, I’m going to resist the urge to buy a crinoline and watch some more Martha Graham videos.

Blame Canada? I think not.

I’m not going to lie— after seeing Japan, I wasn’t too pumped about traveling to Canada. Why is it that we Americans always talk about Canada like it’s a weird relative that everyone avoids at family gatherings? The dislike is irrational – Canada is not going to get drunk at Christmas, crack lame jokes, nor tell inappropriate stories about your aunt.

We flew from LAX to Vancouver on Thursday and took a bus to the River Rock Casino and hotel. Everything in Vancouver seems to be under construction or planning construction in preparation for the Olympics coming, and the River Rock was no different. Construction or not, it was nice for the first show to be staying in the same building as the theater. Our first two shows were in Richmond and Coquitlam, and both were in casinos. The shows went well – it took me a few tries to get used to Canadian currency instead of yen, but Canadian money is color coded – fives are blue, tens are purple, twenties are green, fifties red – so it’s really intuitive. I found myself thinking, “Why don’t they do this everywhere?” They have two-dollar coins, too, which I like.

We were given quite a bit of money in meal vouchers for our stay at the casinos, and they were not redeemable for cash, so for the first time ever I had room service send me a steak. When in Canada, eh? I felt like a celebrity – all of the room service guys were like, “We really enjoyed the show, Miss Hartmann. Are you enjoying your stay?” like I was a celebrity. I felt guilty and had to sheepishly tell them I wasn’t a star in the show – just the merch girl.

Yesterday I got to do another workshop, this time with Samantha Hasthorpe. I highly, highly recommend taking her workshop if you get the opportunity – her combinations are so original and there is a lot of material that can help if you’re in a choreography rut. I got to meet Martina of Bellyfringe Bellydance, which was really neat since we’ve been friends on tribe for a really long time. So far I have met tribe friends Gabby from the D.C. area and Ashley Bennett and Natalie Brown from Columbia, S.C. whilst touring.

Currently I am on the ferry to Nanaimo with Brian, our sound engineer. It’s a one-and-a-half hour ferry ride to get there, and Brian and I were sent ahead of the girls with the merch and the luggage. The ferry is pretty incredible – it’s huge, and the view is so beautiful. There are restaurants, bathrooms, work stations… it’s like a mini mall on a boat. I am really enjoying Canda – the air feels so clean, and everywhere you look there are tall evergreens and beautiful flowers. We definitely picked a good time to see the Vancouver area.

Even though I have been excited to get to see new places, I am definitely ready to go home and get to work on marketing my dancing and working on some pretty exciting projects back in Columbia. One more show, two more flights, and I’ll be back in Columbia on Wednesday.

Goodbye, Japan… Hello, Canada!

The last show came and went and was less stress than I anticipated, largely because we had already sold 80 percent of what we brought to Japan. That night was uneventful , besides me seeing a building that said “Fucking Garage” (some signs have the most interesting English translations). I came home and crashed.

In the morning, Moria, Cecilia, Nathalie and I dashed to the market to buy some last minute clothes. Moria, power-shopper extraordinaire, ended the morning with armfuls of bags. I came home with only souvenirs and a pair of socks. Oh well, I guess I have to come back to Japan someday. We said goodbye to our Japanese sponsors and began the arduous process of getting 20 people and close to 60 pieces of luggage checked in and ready to fly. Everyone ran around in the airport buying last-minute goodies before boarding two planes – an hour flight from Osaka to Tokyo and the longer flight from Tokyo to LA. It’s amazing to think we’re actual time traveling – we will be arriving in LA an hour or so before we left for the airport in Japan. Crazy stuff. My TV didn’t work on the flight, so I got a voucher for Japan Airlines – another reason to return.

Once we arrived in LA at 11, we went to a hotel near LAX. I got to room with Sabah, which we were really excited about — that is, until the jet lag set in and we both become zombies. I got my Japan pictures developed, and Sabah fell asleep 3 times in a row at the same point in the same House episode (I’m not sure she ever finished it).

This morning, we flew to Vancouver. We’re staying at a casino, and I’m spending the rest of the day trying to get caught up and choreographing. The shows begin tomorrow!

Bullet Train to Osaka

Yesterday was the first day that I really, really enjoyed. I woke up early for breakfast and afterward explored the Japanese garden at the hotel. It was absolutely stunning. There were beautiful flowers, a koi pond, a meditation room, a temple… I felt like I was taken to the heart of Japanese culture. I love that the focus here is on the present. Everywhere I look there are indicators of what’s culturally important: even at this huge hotel they take the time and energy to maintain this huge, beautiful oasis. It is a living, thriving reminder to drink in and cherish the beauty of the present and thank the universe for life.

Since I used up my disposable camera at the gardens, I walked with Sabah to a store and bought another. We each got a free sample of some sort of “energy drink for businessmen” (according to the English on the label, which usually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense). Sabah and I got a good laugh about that. Every girl on this tour is a little different and has a different story of how they got here. The thing they all share is a certain energy and dedication that is really inspiring to a younger dancer like myself. Sabah is no different. I felt so fortunate to be surrounded by women who continually encourage me and inspire me. I’m planning to go to Chicago in June to study with Sabah, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Afterwards it was off to the Bullet Train to take us to Osaka. The train can travel up to 120 miles an hour (it’s the second fastest train in the world) and reminded me of really, really comfortable airplane – tons of leg room, reclining seats, and attendants pushing around carts of food. I settled in my seat between Petite Jamilla and Brian, our sound guy, and just looked around, grinning like an idiot. There is nothing like new life experiences to make me unreasonably happy.

Brian had visited fish market in the morning before we left, and he had brought a whole container of sashimi and fresh crab. It was my first sushi in Japan, and it was incredible – there is really no comparison to fish that is only a few hours old. I really wish I had gone with him – Brian compared it to a flea market with fish. He said there were fish larger than a grown man, and men with swords were butchering the fish right out in the open.

After a two-and-a-half hour train ride, we finally arrived in Osaka. The difference between Tokyo and Osaka is like the difference between downtown Chicago and downtown University City in St. Louis – the buildings seem to be less on top of each other here. After Moria, Nathalie, Cecilia and I ate a small lunch in the hotel, Petite Jamilla and I embarked on a quest for authentic sushi — an idea that was hatched (and ,on my end, obsessed over) whilst on the train.

We walked to a street that looked like the lovechild of Las Vegas and Tokyo – tons of casinos, bright flashing lights, and unidentifiable Japanese. One thing I love about Japan is there are vending machines everywhere, just on the side of the street. For a buck twenty you can get these really little cute iced coffees, teas, soda, or water. There aren’t as many signs in English as there were in Tokyo, so we wandered until we saw a giant fish on a sign. Luckily the menu had pictures of everything, so we pointed to what we wanted. We got a sushi roll with tuna, I think, some sashimi (salmon, tuna, and some unidentifiable “meat wad,” as Petite Jamilla and I christened it), some steak with onions, and miso soup. Two words – culinary orgasm. Afterwards, we voyaged to the oh-so-authentic-Japanese 7-Eleven for green tea ice cream (we passed a McDonald’s on the way that was serving a McPork – I laughed so hard).

On our adventure, I had my second really inspiring talk of the night. We had a long talk about dance, and Petite Jamilla offered some really good feedback on my last audition. I love that girl! One idea that she had that I thought I would pass on to any dancers reading this is to keep an idea journal – she showed me her journal, where she pasted inspiring pictures, makeup ideas, interesting costuming, and different fashion styles. I’m looking forward to starting one when I get home.

I got back to the hotel, took a long bath, and collapsed into bed. It’s a big day today – we’re supposed to have a crowd of 2,000. The largest show I have been here for has been 1,500, and it was insanity. Wish me luck – I just want to make it out alive.

Leaving Tokyo

So I did more exploring in Tokyo, close to the venue, the U-Port Theater. I went into a bookstore, Starbucks, and I went to a gas station place. I thought I was buying a change purse, but when I showed it to Manatsu, one of the girls helping me, she laughed and mimed smoking – I guess it’s a pocket ashtray. Oh well, it holds all my coin yen, too. I saw some sushi at the gas station and considered buying it to say I’ve eaten sushi in Japan, but I figured that eating gas station sushi is probably a bad idea anywhere you are – even in Japan.

I hope the next venue or my hotel at the next place we visit has plugs I can plug my computer into and wireless internet. I am really going to miss Yuni and Manatsu, my helpers. I hope the next place has as good of helpers, too!
I’m really excited for some things coming up at home. I have a couple of performances lined up, I’m dancing with Los Desterrados, and Bootee Camp is the weekend I get back. Mark and I are planning a mini-trip to St. Louis, too. Good stuff.

I just found out that in the fall I will be going to Taiwan, South America (Peru and Argentina, maybe), another U.S. tour, Paris, England, Morocco and Spain. There are a lot of places to hit in 2 and a half months.

Another highlight of my day was taking the Jillina workshop. It was my first workshop in a foreign language. Jillina is so sweet — I didn’t get to eat today so she bought me soup when I got back to the hotel, and Jillina, Lauren, Sabah and I hung out in her room for awhile watching youtube videos. It was a good night all around. Tomorrow we’re taking the bullet train to our next location – I’ll take lots of pictures!