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.

Suhaila-style classes in Jefferson City, MO

I am now teaching weekly classes in Jefferson City. If you’re in the area, stop on by!

WHERE: Dancenter, 2507 Industrial Dr., Jefferson City, MO 65109
WHEN: 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM, Saturday mornings
CONTACT: 573-636-4528
PRICE: $10 drop-in, first class free!

MeganHartmann.com

Obsessive Tribe Checking Disorder and Youtubefrenia Outbreaks!

Sharon “Shay” Moore: the co-director of Seattle’s Infusion Tribal. If you have been on tribe at all, chances are you have read this woman’s work. In case you don’t recall the name, Shay is that woman on tribe who responds to posts with such insight and accuracy that you’re left in front of your computer, your hands kinda awkwardly drifting over the keys, thinking, “Well darn it, why didn’t I think of that?”

Sadly, I have never gotten to meet this wonderful dancer in person, but we are friends on tribe. I have been following her tribe posts for quite some time, and I’ll tell you, this woman has a good head on her shoulders. I recently found this article on Gilded Serpent, titled, “Does Modern Media Kill the Organic Process?:

http://www.gildedserpent.com/cms/2009/07/16/sharonorganic/

Some of my favorite snippets:

“Our art as performers exists in a finite amount of time and is never the same twice – no matter how we might strive for consistency, we are not carved of stone or molded metal. As a moving, living, breathing conduit of our art, we are always changing so our art is always changing.”

“…In recent years, in Tribal Bellydance, the expectation to impress or entertain seems to fall squarely on the performers with the audience taking little to no responsibility for their part in the equation. Audiences expect us to deliver an emotional response to them like so much cheesy pizza, while they sit back and wait for it to fall in their laps. And if we don’t hand it to them as “promised”, they find fault with us as performers. Add to that, when we take our art from one venue to another, somehow the expectation is that it should have changed and evolved significantly in the time between, however short. If they see “the same thing”, instead of feeling a responsibility within themselves to try to see it in a new light/from a new perspective with a richer understanding with fresh eyes, they chalk it up to the performer failing them for not bringing them something ‘new and cutting edge.'”

“Basically, no wonder performers these days are so hungrily seeking the next new fad to lead the pack with. The message being sent by bellydance audiences is that if it isn’t the newest, nuttiest, oddest, strangest, sexiest, most different thing on that stage, then it won’t be worth trying to focus their narrow field of attention. But what will last? Being true to ourselves.”

Shay has written an article that, like so many of her tribe posts, threatens to make me stand up and clap in my own house. (My cats are used to these crazy outbursts… they give me that arch cat look that says, ‘Why is that lunatic jumping around again?’ before rolling back in their patch of sun.)

Youtube, tribe, blogs… good lord, I have such a love-hate relationship. I can’t think of another dance form in which the internet has played such a tremendous role. Since BDSS never holds auditions near the Midwest, I was happy when BDSS offered “The Future of Bellydance,” an online scouting site. I love that hours after the Indigo perform at Tribal Fest, chances are I can see their performance on Youtube. I like that teachers like Ansuya and Suhaila are embracing the technologic dance age by offering online classes.

But Shay is absolutely right — this internet age, with all the good it brings, also brings problems. Yes, I love being able to see what the Indigo has thought up this year for Tribal Fest — but I don’t enjoy watching the video and realizing for the next year all I will see in the tribal community is vaudeville and crinolines. (Can you imagine how the Indigo feels? Like Shay said, they must feel enormous pressure to raise the bar — and when they do, they know their great ideas will be copied and regurgitated for years after). I also get a sinking feeling when a dancer dances a beautiful piece and all the Youtube comments say is, “OOh, what’s that song?! I have to dance to it!” I also didn’t enjoy realizing early in my dance career that I was probably spending more time on tribe than I was training. Once that realization hit, I put down the mouse, backed away from the computer, and admitted that I had a problem: I was addicted to a website (Hundreds of bellydancers each year are diagnosed with Obsessive Tribe Checking Disorder… often, it is found in dancers also suffering from Youtubefrenia. Absolutely sobering statistics, no?)

Joking aside, I am grateful for the role the internet has played in my short career as a dancer — especially as an aspiring artist living in the Midwest. I mean, heck, I got into tribal because of Rachel Brice’s Tribal Fest 06 video. Living in Missouri, it is absolutely wonderful to get to see my favorite dancers without flying to Cali. And I do know that the internet will play a pivotal role in my future. I was talking to Asharah about how to do this art form full time, and her first piece of advice was, “Get as much internet exposure as you can.” Think about it: how many artists rely on blogs, frequent Youtube videos, tribe, and websites to get their name out there?

Shay said it best: “Keeping my mind and heart on my troupe sisters and what we want to say with our collective voice, is a surefire way to keep my own creative well overflowing for a long time. It ensures that what we create together will be authentic to us. Dancers could take more risks, and if it didn’t work out, live to dance another day.”

Internet is a great tool, but that’s all it is: a tool. At the end of the day, are you dancing to make people gasp or are you dancing for you? I would suggest to any dancer that finds themselves suffering from Youtubefrenia or OTCD to step back, go outside, journal, go for a walk, listen to your iPod on shuffle… figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Don’t try to be someone else, be you! Remember what Ben Folds said: “I do the best imitation of myself.”

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?