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

New York Show and EPL Month II

Well, folks, it’s come and gone: This Saturday I performed in the sold-out New York premiere of Bellydance Evolution — over 600 people came out to support Jillina and the entire cast.

What an amazing, amazing experience.

I arrived at the theater at 1:30 PM after an hour ride on the subway– just enough time to snag a makeup mirror in the dressing room and get our costumes, makeup, and props out and ready to go. Around 2, we all meet onstage for a group warm-up and pep talk from Jillina. Almost right away we throw our costumes on and begin tech rehearsal on the stage. That’s right, before the show even starts, we were onstage running the entire show in costume! We have one chance to get it marked right onstage — every minute there’s a yell of, “Our line needs to start on the 2!” “This line is supposed to be on the center marley!” or “Flat line in the back!” I have four costume changes in the show, including several quick changes and a change where in less than three minutes, I get completely out of all my tribal gear and into a cabaret costume. Not to mention all my props…

If I can just make it through the show with my sanity intact…

After the show runthrough, we practice the preshow and then book it to grab some dinner. Thankfully, Jillina had some really healthy, light food catered to the theater — salad, bread, pasta, fish, and fruit. Completely ravenous, I inhale a plate in less than five minutes and immediately start on hair and makeup. Luckily we had practiced stage makeup earlier in the week, so I manage to paint myself up in a reasonable amount of time. Before I know it, I hear the stage manager announcing over the intercom, “15 minutes till preshow.”

And before I really even realized that I was in the middle of the thing that I had trained over 50 hours for, it was over! My props were ready for each piece, I didn’t go onstage naked, and pieces that I was stressing about went surprisingly well. I am really happy with how the performance went, and I think all the girls felt like it was overall a success. After the show, I crowd into a van with Sharon, Louchia, Vilia, Liz, and Faith and head to the afterparty in Chinatown.

The next day I was dead the world. I overslept and missed my first workshop, and then get so turned around on the subway that I miss my second one, too. Oh well. I head back to Brooklyn and end the trip with a huge piece of cheesecake from Junior’s — apparently some of the most famous cheesecake in New York. I think I deserve it 🙂

The show also ushered in the end of month II of the “Eat, Pray, Love” Experiment. This month’s goal was training. I wanted to work hard and see results. I have to say, I feel really successful in this month. Not only did I get some really valuable advice and training on creating art from Amy Sigil, but this show taught me a lot about how much putting your nose to grindstone can bring you. Every single day this month I feel like I was actively focusing on setting training goals and meeting them. I’m excited to say I’m in better shape than I have ever been in, and I lost some weight in New York. After this month, I am excited to try and maintain my health and my weight and continue my training regime — I hope that I can continue to practice the skills I have learned in month 2 throughout the rest of this year.

Month 3… I need a few days to synthesize what exactly I want out of month 3. I’ll be posting more on that later 🙂

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.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes.

I was with some friends a few weeks back, and we all decided to read our tarot cards. Believe what you want about tarot — you can believe that the cards truly feed off your energy, or you can believe someone just wrote some universally applicable statements on some cardboard. No matter how you feel, some level of self-reflection is almost unavoidable when reading tarot cards, which I feel is never a bad thing. All I know is I enjoy taking a few minutes to appraise and analyze where I’m at in life.

When it came to my turn, I drew the Death card.

The Death card has a bit of an undeserved bad rap. It seems pretty scary and ominous, but read this description from a tarot site I like:

“In the Tarot, as in reality, Death is nothing more than a transition to the next level of life… Nothing is destroyed, because nothing can be destroyed – there can be only transformation…When the Death card appears, big changes are heading your way. Usually this change refers to something in your lifestyle; an old attitude or perspective is no longer useful and you have to let go of it. Death is not simply destruction; it is destruction followed by renewal. Even though one door may have closed, another is opening. Will you have the courage to step through?”

And wouldn’t you know it… here I am, a few weeks later, and I am appreciating how accurate this card was.

I am someone who has a very hard time dealing with changes and transitioning. I think one of the most important lessons I need to take from this card is that I need to have courage, strength and energy to step through new doors. I have been finding myself asking the universe a lot, “What should I be doing now? What should I be focusing on?” I keep putting off decisions because I’m terrified I’m going to move in the wrong direction. But I am trying to turn that fear into excitement. I am at a point where there are a multitude of paths lying in front of me — I just need to have faith in my instincts that whatever path I choose is the one I’m meant to be on. I need to roll with whatever happens. I’m starting to come to the realization that I waste a lot of time wondering what I should be doing, as opposed to just DOING something. I read in a book once the line, “Understanding is a delaying tactic.” I feel like in my life sometimes I spend too much time and energy analyzing what has happened and trying to understand it, when I could be putting that energy toward dance. Nike got it right — Just do it, Megan.

So I’m just doing it. I finally committed to pursuing a really amazing opportunity that was presented to me. Yesterday, I bought my plane tickets to travel to Sacramento for two weeks in January to study with Amy Sigil of Unmata. I recently posted a review of Amy’s workshop, and to recap, this woman’s approach to choreography and teaching has truly inspired me on a deep level. My mindset going into this trip is that I will be going on an artistic pilgramage (I’m a fusion dancer, so of course California is my mecca!). I want to study with as many teachers in the area as possible while there (Suhaila, Mira Betz, Ariellah, Fat Chance). I feel that right now I’m in a huge transitional phase, and two weeks to focus on what I love, to journal/blog, to contemplate, to plan, to receive inspiration and good energy, and to start to look ahead is exactly what I need.

Back at home, I’m pursuing as many forms of training as possible. I still am taking 6 hours of free ballet and modern dance classes every week through my job at Stephens College, which has been a huge gift from the universe. I have also been studying Odissi (a Indian dance style), which if I had to describe it, I would call it “danced sign language.” Studying the different mudras (hand gestures), what they represent, and how they can be connected together to tell a story has been absolutely fascinating. I just took my first hula hooping workshop this weekend, and I am definitely going to try and attend more regular classes for that, as well. I am always looking for more training and new dance groups to work with.

There are some other really exciting opportunities on the horizon. I performed my latest piece, “Love and Loss in One Act,” at a fundraiser last weekend for Artica, and art festival in St. Louis (visit Artica’s website for more information on the event!). The night was absolutely wonderful — I love meeting new people, and it’s so inspiring to talk with people who are creating really powerful art. I will be performing this 17-minute dance piece again alongside Nichelle Lawrence’s photography show, “Unrequited Love,” at Artica, which will take place on December 19 on the St. Louis riverfront. My piece includes music by Etta James, The Flaming Lips, Cat Power, Keren Ann, Damien Rice, and Janis Joplin (covered by Melissa Etheridge). This piece is one of my tentative forays into what I have been labeling “contemporary belly dance fusion” — a combination of belly dance, modernized interpretations of classic belly dance props like finger cymbals and veils, modern dance, theater, and other contemporary dance styles.

While there has been a lot of excitement, some recent events have unfortunately left me contemplating the more literal interpretation of this card, as well. My grandfather was diagnosed recently with a very rare form of hip cancer — so rare, in fact, that he doesn’t even qualify for any experimental trials. He has undergone chemotherapy, I will be flying with my family to visit him this weekend. I can’t even really say how I feel about it… it’s an odd feeling. I am usually pretty good at understanding and expressing what I’m feeling, but on this issue… I just feel jumbled. I’m trying to focus on the fact that I am very fortunate to have three days to spend with my grandfather, who I do not get to see often since he lives far away.

I am gearing up for more changes in my life, and I am getting ready to put my energy into working toward new goals and exploring new opportunities. On that end, I am no longer dancing with the Dragonflies Dance Company. I, however, will cherish my Moon Belly memories dearly, for through this amazing community I have learned a lot about myself and the strength and power of women — I sincerely thank each and every woman I had the opportunity to train with. If you are in the area, do make a point to see their upcoming show on December 12, 8PM at the Blue Note: “100,000 Feet Deep: Mary Magdalene,” a theatrical/modern/belly dance interpretation of the life of Mary Magdalene. These women have been working exceptionally hard, and it’s amazing to see what this community is creating together. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at http://www.thebluenote.com.

I’d like to end with another excerpt from the tarot website:

“Take a look at the Rider-Waite version of the Death card, and note the bishop on the right side of the image. He is actually welcoming Death, because he knows of the great spiritual transformation it brings. Almost all versions of the Death card show a symbol of resurrection or re-birth.”

Bring it, Death. I’m ready for change.