Naughti Gras/Workshop Weekend!

Oh my, oh my… another crazy weekend has come and gone.

I have been really, really fortunate lately. Just this year alone I’ve already hit Sacramento, New York, and now attended a really badass event in St. Louis. I’m extremely grateful, don’t get me wrong… but I’m a little tired 🙂 Traveling nonstop is exhausting, and I’m more than ready to take a few weeks just to get my affairs in order back home.

But I am SO glad I went this weekend to Naughti Gras. And as usual, I learned so much from this experience.

Lesson 1: I absolutely cannot use last-minute panic to get stuff done anymore, period.

This weekend started off a little hectic. Taking the lessons from EPL Month 2, I have been trying all week to develop good training habits that force me to work — I’e been figuring out what dance classes I can take, applying for a gym pass, working in the dance studio every single day for at least an hour, eating right, trying to plan ahead. But it was odd — every single time I tried to sit down and choreograph the piece I would be teaching this weekend, I had dancer’s block (a close relative of writer’s block). So come Friday, the choreography is still not 100% where I want it. I’m a bit stressed.

15 minutes before we leave, I sit down and crank out the whole choreography. And while I’m definitely happy I came up with something,  it really drove home the point that I have literally conditioned myself to only be productve when I’m being motivated by last-minute panic. I’m making improvements — ordinarily I would have found ANYTHING else to do than even go into the dance studio (“I should go to the dance studio… but first I need to alphabetize my magazines…”). I’m feeling optimistic that this time around I have made some positive strides toward not procrastinating, but I’ve been a procrastinator so long that I feel like a junkie kicking the habit.

(I also became convinced 15 minutes before I left that I HAD to make business cards. Thank God for Sharpie markers, pretty paper, and Kinkos).

Lesson 2: Always add MUCH more time than I think I’ll need when planning long trips.

I planned on getting to Naughti Gras an hour before I had to perform. Between the snow, bad traffic, and trying to find the place, I ended up running in on Friday 10 minutes before I was due onstage. I figured I would be ok because I thought Naughti Gras would be one of those events where everything was running a bit late, but no, Murphy’s Law: the Naughti Gras coordinator was one of those great coordinators that strives to keep everyone on schedule. As a performer who’s had to wait several hours to get onstage because of delays, I can’t begin to say how much I admire someone who wants to keep things running on track.

Lesson 3: Stretch. Always.

I run in, throw on my costume, and am headed downstairs 10 minutes later. I paid the price for running late — about 2 minutes into my 25 minute set, I go into the splits and pull my hamstring. It’s definitely the worst pulled muscle I have had, and I am hoping it will heal quickly. Dancers: ALWAYS STRETCH. Especially when it’s cold, you’ve been driving for two hours, and you’re going to dancing for a longer set.

Lesson 4: Shit happens onstage. Roll with it.

My iPod had conveniently froze in the car about ten minutes away from Naughti Gras. No worries, I had brought a backup CD just in case. When my music starts, I realize a few things: 1) Something is a little off with the sound — it sounded mono. As a result, you could not hear a lot of the beats in the songs I was dancing too — my drum solo was just dums, no teks or kas. A few of my songs don’t play at all. Just roll with it, just roll with it, I keep reminding myself.

Shortly after I pulled my hamstring but was riding on pure adrenaline to dance through it, the things I’m hearing finally start registering in my brain: “Why do they keep saying, ‘take it off?'” I look down, and there it is: my skirt is falling off my hips, and you can clearly see the red thong I am wearing under the fabulous sheer harem pants that Suzanne VanSickle whipped up for me (In a perfect world, I was going to wear black boy shorts under the pants JUST IN CASE something like this happened… see Lesson 2).

Great.

However, if your skirt is going to fall off in the middle of a performance, the best place you can do it is at an erotic arts festival. I readjust my skirt, pantomime acting scandalized, and continue dancing.

Lesson 5: I think I’m finally figuring out my style and what I want to say.

The workshop was so much fun. We did two hours of stregnthing drills, stretching, and then breaking down and drilling all of the main muscles used in bellydance, sometimes put into some more interesting combinations. I went to lunch with Tricia and Sierra, two of the participants, at an amazing Vietnamese resteraunt for lunch, and then I taught two hours of choreography. As usual, there are definitely things I would have done differently, but overall I had a great time and I hope the students enjoyed it.

But after teaching this workshop, I really got some more insight into what I might be able to offer students that is different from other teachers. I’m really looking forward to getting into the dance studio and start really investigating my dancing and teaching style.

Lesson 6: The Universe rewards you if you learn from your mistakes.

Saturday night dancing at Naughti Gras went SO much better. I got there an hour early, got dressed, put on my makeup and did my hair, and mentally and physically prepared to perform. I made sure my iPod was charged and all my songs were on a playlist.

It went SO much better than Friday.

My skirt stayed on, and even though I had one music glitch (my iPod was still set to “Repeat song” from the workshop), I felt like my dancing was stronger, I connected better with the audience, and I got some good pictures and video (THANK you, Jessica Barnett and Hannah Radcliffe!) I had my business cards ready to hand out and I had a really fabulous time. My hamstring didn’t bother me, and I just HAD FUN.

I am constantly amazed by the burlesque community in St. Louis. Lola van Ella, as always, was an amazing hostess and did a FABULOUS job organizing all the entertainment for Naughti Gras. I hope to work with them again soon… (stay tuned, I’m hoping to have more to report soon on that end 😉 )

All right, I am going back to bed to sleep for another billion hours 🙂

Bellyesque Workshop/Naughti Gras III!

St. Louis, watch out — two great events this weekend!

Bellyesque Workshop: Lola van Ella is hosting me for a burlesque/bellydance fusion workshop!

Naughti Gras III: Two chances to see me perform at the St. Louis erotic art festival!

  • WHERE: Downstairs stage, Koken Art Factory, 2500 Ohio Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63104
  • WHEN: Friday and Saturday night, 8:15 PM.
  • COST: $5 to get into the WHOLE festival!
  • MORE INFO: Koken Art Factory website

I <3 New York!

I cannot believe a week has gone by so fast.

One week ago around this time, I was staring at the lights of the New York City as my plane slowly began its descent. As we got lower, the city looked like it was sparkling as the lights flickered through the buildings and trees. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

Fast forward to today, where I am sitting with Marisa and Jesse, college friends who graciously offered to let me stay with them in Brooklyn, the night before the show after a solid 7 days (47 HOURS, to be exact, not including tomorrow!) of rehearsals.

Being a part of this show has been nothing short of spectacular. The choreography is brilliant and challenging, the girls (and 2 guys!) are all exceptionally hard workers, the costumes are beautiful, the story is great… and dancing onstage alongside artists like Jillina, Sharon Kihara, Elizabeth Strong, Kaeshi Chai and Bellyqueen (among others) makes me want to pinch myself every rehearsal and ask myself, “Is this really happening?”

I think the best thing so far has just been seeing firsthand how much WORK goes into putting a show like this up. I’ve been in a few small shows before where there were several months to prepare, but working on a professional production is a completely different animal. We get there around 11 and we are on our feet until 6 with maybe 20 minutes or so to eat. Not only is there a lot of choreography to learn, but Jillina’s choreography also has tons of formation changes. On top of that there are costumes changes, tons of props, and completely different makeup than I am used to (we all look like drag queens).

I’ve learned a lot while I’ve been here. I never really studied a lot of cabaret – I kinda jumped right into tribal fusion. In this show, I dance with feather fans, candles, and canes, none of which I’ve really danced with before. I’ve really gained a new appreciation for cabaret, and it’s helped me with posture, lines, and extension. I’ve also learned a ton about dancing with other people. This contest took girls from all over the world (Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine) with all different styles and somehow after a week together, we’re all starting to look like we’ve danced together for years.

While I was here in New York, I’ve also got to do some things other than the show. On Wednesday, I danced at Djam Under Je’Bon, a local experimental belly dance every Wednesday in Manhattan. I got to meet the Beatbox Guitar guys, whose music I’ve been following for awhile, which was pretty exciting. It was really great to let off some steam, dance, drink sake, and eat some pretty awesome pineapple-cashew fried rice.

On Thursday, I went out with my roommate for the week, Marisa, to volunteer at the Coalition for the Homeless food drive. We took a van and stopped to hand out soup, milk, oranges, and bagels at ten stops all around uptown Manhattan. Afterward, Marisa and I walked to Times Square and Grand Central Station, ending at Sardi’s for hot chocolate. It was a great night.

I’ve been really appreciating the subway system in New York. I bought a week-long pass for $27 bucks, and it allows me to take any subway or bus in New York. I’ve also appreciated that New York streets are based off a grid – it makes it a lot easier to get around.

Well, off to bed – I’ll be posting soon with an update on how the show went!

EPL: Surrounding Yourself With Inspiration

My Christmas last year was spent circling over Chicago in a plane, unable to land because of fog, and ultimately flying back directly where I came from — Memphis (Columbia Regional Airport flies to the Memphis hub).

While I was grumpily eating Burger King in the Memphis airport, I missed a very cool family moment — my sister (who managed to make it home) and my mom ended up making vision boards. Vision boards are essentially collages with visual representations — pictures of yourself where you’re healthy and happy, magazine cut-outs of places you want to visit, a snapshot of a person who  possesses attributes you admire — of goals you want to accomplish and things you want to be reminded of year-round.

I was talking to my sister recently about her vision board, and she told me that most of the things she had put on her vision board had actually had come to pass. And it got me thinking:

The longer I live, the more I see that we have the power to manifest what we want in life. If we work hard, put positive energy out into the universe and trust that our lives are unfolding exactly as they should, there is no way we can be defeated, even if seemingly bad things happen to us. I don’t spend enough time appreciating the present. I have spent too much of my life brooding about the past or worrying about the future, and I refuse to do it anymore. I’ll be the first to admit it — I have played the victim card before. And it really doesn’t change anything or make me feel better. So new strategy: Anytime I want to feel sorry for myself or play victim to what is happening to me, I am now trying to see the positive in it, roll with it, and keep my eyes focused on enjoying life NOW. As a good friend said to me recently, “You could die TOMORRROW. Do you really want to spend your last days on Earth worrying?”

I can’t tell you how much happier I have been lately, just living in the present. It was incredibly hard for me to do at first — bad habits are hard to kick — but the more I try to practice this every day, the better I feel and the more natural it becomes.

I feel like a vision board might really help me not distract myself with the past or future — it will manifest positive energy while still forcing me to live in the present. Think about it– what if I created a visual representation of all that I want to accomplish, place it somewhere where I see it constantly, and every time I see it, I visualize it happening and put good energy in the universe? I see it as a very powerful tool.

So, in the next few days, I am going to create a vision board, and I am going to make sure to include elements that relate to the project I am working on. Every day I am going to remind myself what my goals are and where I want to end up… and I am going to live every day in the present, focusing on making those goals happen.

The other goal that I am starting this week and continuing through my month of creativity expands off of the idea of the vision board. This month, I am surrounding myself with inspiration. I plan on seeing as many plays, exhibits, and concerts as possible. I am going to read as many books as I can. I am finally going to put something on the walls of my house that have been empty for a year.

I’m off to a good start — I saw a Japanese dance exhibition today, and right now I’m off to see “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which is the musical that we have been designing costumes for for the past few weeks at work (I work in a costume shop at a performing arts college).

I think one of the best ways to tackle a new goal is (as others on the message board have mentioned) to set small, managable goals that you can slowly turn into positive habits. So my mini-goal is this: surround yourself with inspiration. Anyone taking part in the experiment can do the same — invest in a fruit bowl and some new cookbooks, check out some books on meditation, or buy a new piece for your altar. I challenge you to think of a way to surround yourself with positive inspiration for whatever goal you’re tackling.

EPL: Day 1 and 2

The very first day of the Eat, Pray, Love experiment, I drank barely no water, I didn’t eat breakfast, and I capped off my evening with a gas station muffin and a ton of Pepsi.

… whoops.

Yeah, I basically displayed flagrant disregard for what I put in my body, which directly contradicts what I have been promoting this entire time. But, in keeping with the experiment’s code, I am not beating myself up or calling myself a failure.

I wondered why the first day was so rocky, and I remembered the rules I set for myself about modifying your experiment is things seem to be heading south. After some thought, I came to these conclusions:

1) I am still very much excited to work on my goals, and I like to eat healthy. But I realized that right now, I am not excited about food. I want to tackle it, but not first. I need to focus on another of my goals first.

2) I have been given some extra time off from my job, so I have lots of time. I want to use this time pursuing creative endeavors.

So two days in, I am switching up the order of my goals. I believe that this is the month that I have to finally get this big project I’ve been contemplating off the ground. I am a huge procrastinator, and it’s gotten to the point where I’ll create distractions for myself instead of actually tackling what I need to be tackling. So this is the month — no more excuses, no more distractions. I am creating this month.

I also created a tribe for all of us experimenters. A link to the tribe can also be found under the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ Experimenters” menu to the right on my blog. This is a message board where we can share as a community our goals and progress. It is free — all you have to do is create an account (I have never had a problem with spam or anything — the site is legit). Posting on the message board is completely optional but strongly encouraged. Occasionally there are problems with the site being down, but I prefer this type of message board to google groups or yahoo groups.

If you are keeping track of your journey on a personal blog, I’d love to link to you! Comment on this post and respond with your blog’s url.

The EPL Experiment: Getting Started

I’m flying high — literally and figuratively.

In the literal sense — my flight is coming back from Fort Meyers, where my grandpa lives, and it has internet access. It is the first time I have ever connected to the internet whilst 32,000 feet in the air!

Figuratively, I have been in a great mood the past few days. These last few weeks of November, I have been doing a lot of reflection on what I want to get out of my Eat, Pray, Love experiment, and what I feel are some good ideas for those participating to operate under.

1) This experiment is not a chore. If it becomes a chore, modify it. I feel like I could approach this experiment two ways. My first month goal could be, “I’m not going to eat any crappy food, I’m only going to eat raw vegetables, and I am going to lose 10 pounds.” But… that sounds really boring and not fun at all. And they practically know me by name at the Taco Bell down the street from my house, so I have a feeling it might be difficult — it’s hard to stick with something you’re not super excited about it. So my goal is not going to fight my nature. If I am craving chocolate, I am going to eat chocolate. But I am going to buy the best dark chocolate I can find, cut a reasonable portion, and then sit down with no distractions and enjoy that piece of chocolate — as opposed to, say, eating half of a chocolate cake with my eyes glued to an episode of 30 Rock (… don’t judge me, but I’ve actually done that before in a chocolate craving gone desperately wrong). My first goal is that I am going to spend a month exploring new foods and experimenting with what will make my body feel optimal. And let me tell you — I absolutely cannot wait to start.

2) There is no failure, there is only learning. Who knows, three days into my food experiment I could find myself laughing through a chocolate-frosting-encrusted mouth at Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin — old habits die hard. I’m not going to call the experiment off just because I had one crappy day. I WILL, however, take note of how that decision affected how I felt, I will try to learn something from the experience, and I will try harder the next day.

3) Keep track  of your experiment. Believe it or not, I only recently got into journaling and keeping a written account of what’s happening in my life. Looking back and reading the few things I have written has reminded me what an important tool it can be, especially when embarking on a quest of self-exploration. I am currently looking into getting a message board or online group started, so anyone that wants to take part can stay connected with others. Stay tuned!

4) Build a supportive community. I am asking anyone and everyone who might be interested if they would like to take part in the project, and I hope you all do, too.  It’s always nice to have buddies when tackling a large undertaking.

5) Read the book! “Eat, Pray, Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert is the book that inspired this whole project. I am in the middle of reading it now, and it is inspiring me and getting me psyched to tackle this project.

The “Eat, Pray, Love” Experiment

I’m not sure if anyone else feels this way, but every time change comes in to my life, I try to read a really life-changing book (I know, I know… I take nerd-dom to a new level). I have had a few people recommend the book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert to me, so I picked it up the other day from the library. In this autiobiographical account, Elizabeth details her year-long quest for true spiritual enlightment. — 4 months in Italy, eating good food, learning the language, and seeking pleasure in life; 4 months in India, studying yoga and spirituality at a yoga Ashram with a guru; and 4 months learning life lessons from a Balinese medicine man in Indonesia.

Well, I definitely picked a life-changing book to read.  It’s honest, really well-written, and dripping with wisdom.

It got me thinking… I think people do not take nearly enough time in our culture to work on their own happiness and spirit. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if I went on my own journey pursuing three things I wanted to develop or experience to make me a better, more enlightened person? And what if I could work on my passion, dancing, like Elizabeth pursued a relationship with God? I think it’s safe to say that I am a preacher of the dance gospel — maybe that makes it my religion (“Please open your Bibles to the gospel of Martha Graham, please…” ).

So I’m doing it! Starting in December, I am going to spend one month focusing on eating, nutrition, and keeping my body at optimum health. I am going to try to make meals for myself more, try new food, and learning as much as I can about taking care of my body. I will be traveling to Chicago during this time for Christmas — resisting my mom’s fudge will be an interesting challenge. I’m hoping to explore the city with this new mindset.

Come January, my focus turns to training. I’m hoping for bootcamp-style, constant dancing and studying as many dance styles with as many dance teachers as possible (even as a kid I always loved the montage where the dancer is training feverishly). I will be in Sacramento to study with Amy Sigil and other belly dance teachers in the area for the first half of January, and I’m planning to continue studying Indian dance, modern, ballet, and explore some new dance styles.

February is going to be the month where I am going to focus on creating. I am surrounding myself with as much inspiration as possible, collaborating with other artists to achieve my goals, and work on some pieces. I am hopefully going to be traveling to Atlanta for Tribal Con during this period, which I am really looking forward to for a lot of inspiration.

And I think you should do it to!

I’m calling it the “Eat, Pray, Love” experiment. Who would be interested in focusing on three passions, three things-you-always-wanted-to-do, three do-your-soul-some-good things; spending some time pursuing each one (it could be a day, a week, several months — however long you want your experiment to last); and sharing our experiences as a community? When going through huge changes, sometimes it can really be great to have a community of people supporting you doing something good for yourself. It’s also great to hear about one another, and it will keep us all motivated to keep with the experiment. If you’re interested, post a response to this blog.