Amy Sigil Workshop/Lola van Ella’s Showcase

The past two weekends, I have had a rare opportunity to really indulge in two great, amazing, dance-filled intense weekends. I learned a lot, and I am hugely inspired by the two women who made these events possible: Amy Sigil and Lola van Ella.

AMY SIGIL REVIEW:

I got to take this workshop with three amazing girls that dance at Moon Belly: Emily, Nicole, and Michele. We all agreed that this workshop was one of our favorites of all time. It is true that I have never had a negative review on my website, and I know I can be very complimentary. But I am genuine in my compliments, and I speak the truth when I say that if you have not had the opportunity to study with Unmata or Amy and they are coming to a town nearby, I would highly recommend making a point to go study with her, regardless of whether you are a tribal fusion dancer or not. The workshop was a combination of completely original, innovative choreography; intense, high-energy cardio dance drills designed to help you learn the combinations; dance games to help you think outside the box… but best of all, you are working every second you’re there. There is no time for people to ask long, involved questions and delay the workshop — but that being said, she explains things and breaks things down in such a way that if you are participating, you don’t NEED to ask questions. The Saturday night show was very fun, low-key, and relaxed, which I appreciated since my weekend was absolutely insane (lots of traveling, roaches in the hotel, a lot of sleep-deprived/slap-happy girls all together in one room). Amy and Kari’s performance was so high-energy that I genuinely felt fatigued watching them. Their performance had it all: good choreography, high energy, onstage chemistry, and lots of connection with the audience. I left this weekend with a completely new outlook on how I choreograph, how I teach, and the elements I want to present to my audience as a performer. This workshop is by far one of the best I have ever taken. Much gratitude goes to Lois “Salwa” Marshall and her husband Ken, who made this event happen. Every event I go to of Lois’ is always worth the trip to STL.

LOLA VAN ELLA REVIEW:

I took my good friend Sierra with me to see Lola van Ella and her burlesque showcase. This was my first time seeing a complete burlesque show, and I was beyond impressed by how well Lola had trained her dancers and how diverse the acts were. Lola’s girls each had their own character onstage, and I honestly did not see a girl look embarrassed, uncomfortable, scared, nervous, etc. at ANY point during the show — and some of these girls were performing their first burlesque piece EVER. I was the first set closer, and I had an absolutely wonderful time. The audience was extremely receptive and the venue (Off Broadway in St. Louis) had a great vibe to it (part bar, part speakeasy). Lola graciously let me crash at her place and introduced me to a great diner downtown. We had a great talk about business, marketing, and how to make money doing what you love (the woman revolutionized the burlesque scene in St. Louis and was second runner-up for Queen of Burlesque in New Orleans this year — to say I was thrilled to pick her brain is a bit of an understatement!). I would work again with Lola anytime — she sure knows how to put together a hell of a good show!

Already I am craving more dance opportunities and dance intensive weekends. I have a few things lined up that I hope will work out… more traveling on the horizon, perhaps?

Youtube Clip of the Week: Sera Solstice at Tribal Fest ’09

I got a ton out of my workshop with Asharah — she talked to me about business, artistic development, good books to read, etc. One of the little gems she dropped that weekend was that I should check out a dancer by the name of Sera Solstice. Lord, am I glad I did. Here’s why:

Seriously. SERA IS AWESOME. This video is just incredible. Here’s my thoughts:

— The story. I’m not going to share what I got from this piece, because I think it’s important to watch the video and see what story is spun for you, but honestly, I was tearing up by the end. This piece is an incredibly powerful and emotive piece, and Sera just did a fabulous job morphing her body into images that conveyed strong messages. The intensity and emotional connection resonated with me. I think we can all learn a lesson here: I think all artists should remember that our ultimate goal is share something and connect with our audience. I would much rather have someone HATE my dancing with a passion than feel indifferent, since I know then I conveyed SOMETHING to the audience. I connected with Sera Solstice in this piece. I feel like I know this woman better after seeing this piece. It’s a feeling I hope someday I am talented enough to pass on to someone watching MY dancing. Brava, Sera — I feel like you’ve accomplished the dancer’s and the artist’s ultimate goal.

— Creative fusion. If you had told me someone was going to fuse mime, lyrical, belly dance and combative imagery together, I would’ve probably been skeptical. But look at all that she fused together and how effectively it conveyed a message. I believe that this is not only a testament to Sera’s creativity and unique dancing style, it’s a testament to the variety and seriousness of her training. It’s hard to fuse things together without a deep knowledge of all the elements you are fusing — believe me, I’ve tried. And wow, what an undertaking to try and seamlessly fuse such a wide variety of elements without doing one poorly or neglecting one. Hats off, Sera. I caution dancers, however: Be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. Not many dancers could pull this off. Sometimes fusing too much can have the opposite effect — none of the elements are performed well. At that point, the piece looks amateurish, and the piece stops being a dance and just becomes a series of tricks with background music.

— Strong belly dance technique. Sera does not sacrifice her belly dance technique to her emotionality or to the elements she is fusing. Sera definitely had less belly dance in her piece than, say, Aubre’s Fosse Fusion piece (check out my review), but I didn’t mind because the belly dancing in the piece did not seem forced and I feel that the music called for any more belly dancing.

— Arm work. Do yourself a favor — watch this piece again and just watch her arms. I feel that this video is a treasure trove for dancers looking for new and creative ways to use their arms in their pieces. The lines created by her arms alone made this piece very visually interesting. I saw again some combative imagery, some Indian influences, and some theatrical elements.

— Strong interpretation of the music. The drama in this piece is heightened by how Sera moved to the music. Again, I feel this is the sign of a true artist — she interpreted this song and made it come to life. At points I felt like her body was creating the music, not vice-versa. I posted about a competition recently in which I was finally able to “turn off my brain” for the first time, and at points the music was moving my body, I wasn’t moving my body to the music. Artists like Sera show us a higher level of musical interpretation, another element I plan on working on in my own development.

I’m hoping to publish a new review of a bellydance clip on youtube every Sunday, so keep checking back!

Click here to learn more about Sera Solstice and Solstice Dance Ensemble.

Youtube Clip of the Week: Aubre’s Fosse Fusion

Yeah, yeah… one or two posts before this I bemoan the over-use of youtube. But here, I am attempting to use youtube correctly — not as a way to waste three hours but as a chance to analyze talented dancers like I would analyze a beautiful painting, a great piece of literature, or any other art.

So here’s what I’m trying… every week or so I am going to post a video that I think is pretty rad that may not be as well known as say, a BDSS clip or a Tribal Fest clip. I am going to analyze it to hopefully glean insights and ideas that we can all take and try out in our own dance.

This week, check out the incredible Aubre (if you haven’t already) in her Fosse number to Beats Antique’s Break Me:

Highlights:

— First of all, this woman’s muscular control is jaw-dropping. What I like is that every movement, from her toes to her fingertips, has a muscular contraction behind it. For this piece, it works very well and brings a whole lot of energy. Since this music takes a minute or two to really hit its stride, the muscular control kept me interested even when the music was slow or when she wasn’t moving a whole lot or doing any super-complicated movements. It’s easy to forget that something as simple as a maya (or up-to-down figure 8 ) with a pretty framing arm can be just as powerful as a flurry of complicated movements. I know not everyone digs the super-muscular look, but there’s no denying it packs a whole lotta energy that can be read from an audience member in any seat in the theater.

— It’s belly dance first, fusion second. And fuse she does! I loved the mix of tribal-esque movements with cabaret patterns. I was happy that it was accurately labeled. Sometimes when you see a label like “Fosse,” all you get in the video is someone doing a normal tribal routine in a top hat. I think Aubre really did channel the Fosse element with her spins, fan kicks, leg placement, and general feel of the piece.

— The arms. Even though VERY few times the elbows/hands droop a bit, the arms throughout are active and flow organically from one position to the next. Often in dance (I see this in myself, too) the arms are either forgotten or jerk from one position to the next. One of my favorite things to do with youtube videos: try watching the video a second time, and just watch the arms.

— Variation. She listens to the music and allows for her movements to speed up and slow down with the music. I think it’s easy to get in a mode where you just stay in super-fast mode after you’ve gradually built up to it, but it’s nice to see that she builds it up and slows it down again where appropriate.

— The tricks. Obviously, this woman is capable of some pretty jaw-dropping tricks, and I have a feeling she only pulled out a fraction of her tricks in her tool bag. I feel that Aubre did an excellent job throwing in just the right amount of “spice,” so to speak. I, for one, feel this odd obligation (or maybe desperation) to squeeze a layback or Turkish Drop into every piece I dance. I worry that the audience is bored, so I feel this compulsion to throw in as many tricks as possible to get their attention. I’m trying to change this, and watching a master like Aubre helps me know how and when to use the tricks.

Click here to learn more about Aubre Hill.