All I Really Need to Know I Learned as a Belly Dancer: Music and Video Editing Software Explained

Today’s belly dancer has to be pretty savvy. Not only are we expected to dance to new music, study other dance forms, and make some bad ass costumes — there are now technological expectations. Competitions ask for edited music. Videos are expected to appear on youtube. Dancers feel the need to make websites. Too bad there’s not a class we can take that could be labeled “Random Programs/Software/Necessary Skills You’ll Find Useful Later in Life 101.”

I know I have had to teach myself a LOT of things I didn’t expect to learn as a dancer, like how to edit music, how to get a performance off a DVD, how to convert videos/songs to different formats. Just today I spent an hour googling and trying out different programs to get a recent performance off an unprotected DVD. I thought to myself, “I wish there was a site that listed the best programs to use to do this,” and then it hit me: Maybe I could pass along the strategies I’ve been using and see what others have to say and what other dancers use.

Without further adieu, I present my list of (free!) programs that most belly dancers can benefit from. Bookmark this page, I think you may find it useful.

1) Audacity — Free Music Editing Software

WHAT DOES IT DO? Audacity is very easy-to-use, free music editing software that allows you to put two or more songs together, fade in/out, and several other basic functions.

WHERE CAN I GET IT? http://audacity.sourceforge.net

PROS: Fairly easy to use

CONS: Not a lot of fancy features

HELPFUL HINTS:

— Audacity will ONLY edit MP3 files. iTunes songs are AAC protected files, so if you try to import those files and press play, all you’ll get is a really awful sounding screech. There are several easy ways to get songs into an MP3 format, however: 1) Buy the song you want to edit from Amazon or payplay.com. I usually don’t have a problem finding the songs I want, and you can buy them already in MP3 format. 2) Let’s say you can only find the song on iTunes. Burn the song to a CD. Next, go to Edit > Preferences > “General” tab > Click the button “Import Settings” in the middle of the page > select “MP3 Encoder” on the drop-down menu labeled “Import Using…”. Reimport the CD and viola! You have a Mp3. I have a rewritable CD (a CD that can be used multiple times to burn things) by my desk so I don’t have to waste tons of CDs.

— Zoom in to make more precise edits. The menu is fairly intuitive — you can highlight sections and cut them out, there is a menu for effects, etc. I use the undo button a lot, and sometimes I slow down sections (an effect in the effects menu) so I can more precisely edit.

— To save the creations you have made, you’ll need to download the LAME encoder: http://www.lame.sourceforge.net

— I usually drag songs from iTunes to my desktop so I can find it easier, and I save the finished pieces to my desktop in a folder marked “My songs.” You can look up where songs are saved on your computer if you right click a song in iTunes and click “Get Info.”

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2) MPEG Streamclip — Video converter (from DVD to computer)

WHAT DOES IT DO? This program allows you to take clips from unprotected DVDs and export them in formats you can put on youtube, vimeo, or other video sites.

WHERE CAN I GET IT? http://www.squared5.com/

PROS: It doesn’t take too long to get clips off DVDs

CONS: Not super-user friendly, I had to download a special version of Quick Time as well. NOTE: I JUST downloaded this program so I’m not sure if it’s the best one out there.

HELPFUL HINTS:

— At first, I had no idea how to use this software. I had to use it and Windows Media Player together to get the right snippet of video. First, I put the DVD in my computer and opened Windows Media Player (or similar program). I noted the time my solo started and ended (you know, “Ok, I started dancing at 1:32 and ended at 3:56.”) Then I opened MPEG Streamclip and went to File > Open DVD. If the DVD has different “chapters” or a scene selection it might ask you which part of the DVD it’s in — 1 stands for first chapter, 2 for two, and so on). Then, what I do is go to Edit > Go to Time. From there, you can type in the time your portion of the video starts at (in my imaginary example I would type in 1:32,00). Once you type it in, it should take you to the point where you want your video to begin. Once you’re there, go to Edit > Select In. Go back to the Edit > Go to Time screen, and now type in where you want your video to end (Again, my imaginary example would be 3:56,00). Now go to Edit > Select Out. Last step: Edit> Trim. What you’ve done is selected where you want your video to start and begin, and trimmed the rest. Now you can go to File > Export as… and select the format you want.

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3) Any Video Converter — Converts video files to different formats

WHAT IS IT? This program I use occasionally when video sites require a particular format for their files — you can convert .mov to .mp4, .avi to .mov, etc.

WHERE CAN I GET IT? http://www.any-video-converter.com/products/for_video_free/

PROS: It’s a nice little program to have when your video is just NOT wanting to upload somewhere — I usually convert it (only takes a minute or two) and try again with a different format. Also, sometimes video editing software requires that you have the file in a particular format.

CONS: It would be great if I convert to .wmv files so I can add things in Windows Movie Maker, but alas, you must pay to get that feature.

HELPFUL HINTS:

— Look on the right hand side of the menu screen, and it will show you where your video is saving to. The first couple times I used it, I waited patiently and then all of the sudden the video just disappeared, and I was confused.

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I’m also looking for good software to learn how to add a credits screen to my movies, and when I find one, I’ll update this post.

I tried to use the same websites that I downloaded my software at in this post. I often start at sourceforge.net or tucows.com to look for software, since I know they’re reputable. I am confident that all the links I have provided are reputable and virus-free because I have either used them myself or have used downloads from these sites in the past.

What are your thoughts? What do YOU use? What programs do YOU feel are a must-have?

Bellydance Competitions: A Firsthand Account

This weekend was a first in my short career as a bellydancer — I entered my first belly dance competition, the 2009 MAQAM Challenge in the Pro Tribal Soloist category. I have talked about belly dance contests before (see my post “Contests and Certifications — What Are They Worth?”) where I discussed a Gilded Serpent article where Miles Copeland shares his thoughts about competitions.

A few weeks ago, I contacted Kimahri about entering the competition at the last possible second. I got signed up and I had only a few weeks to seriously start working on preparing. Luckily I had enough time to prepare and I could choreograph something really great I could be proud of, right?

…Um, wrong.

Between starting two jobs and life just getting in the way (a continuing problem emerging in my dance career 😀 ), I completely ran out of time to prepare something. On the way down, I gave myself a pep talk — “You’ll be ok… sometimes you don’t do too badly just improv-ing,” “Well… it might be a learning experience. Maybe.” You know. Deeply encouraging self-talk.

Competition morning arrived. Mark and I left my parents house at 8:30 AM to arrive at the competition in Lombard, IL. My category was second. I got to compete against (and I speak completely honestly and genuinely) probably the best 5 tribal dancers I have ever seen in the Midwest — Susan Warner of Illinois, Ayperi of Madison, Jezminda of Illinois (my first tribal teacher!) Eliza of Illinois, and Mae the Bellydancer of Illinois. Not only were they all extraordinarily talented, but every single one of these women were just true professionals — everyone was so supportive of one another and it was a pleasure sharing the stage with these women. What I thought of the competition:

— Susan Warner was obviously an exceptionally well-trained ATS dancer who incorporated flawless cymbal work over perfect hipwork. She did an excellent job of conveying emotion, and I was impressed how she fused a solo performance with ATS technique. Beautiful posture, and overall Susan was just an incredibly genuine person. I praise her for using more patterns that just gallop, and at the one time I took a few eight counts to just focus on her hips, the girl was doing perfect zillwork over perfectly articulated three-quarter shimmies. The girl has SERIOUS skill.

— Ayperi danced with a sword, and I unfortunately did not get to see any of her piece because I was backstage behind a wing, but my family raved about her performance. This girl came all the way from Wisconsin and ended up carrying the first place trophy back home. I’m looking forward to getting my DVD to see her piece!

— Jezminda was THE girl who launched me into the tribal fusion world. I remember going to my first class with her and saying, “I’m a cabaret dancer… I’m not sure about this whole tribal thing.” After watching this girl dance, I was hooked (she also showed me my first Rachel Brice video!). What I really admire about Jezminda is 1) her incredible hip work and 2) her originality. Jezminda did a beautiful double fan dance that had Spanish elements and a ton of characterization — completely unique and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This girl oozes stage presence!

— Eliza dances with the Chicago ATS troupe Jezebelly, who I became a fan of a few years ago after seeing them perform when Rachel Brice came to Chicago. What really sets Eliza part is her beautiful lines of her arms and posture paired with her spot-on technique. Her piece had some really well-played little sassy moments and characterizations. I felt like it was a very thoughtful and well-choreographed wor, truly impressive and just a lot of fun to watch. The audience agreed, and she walked away with the People’s Choice award and tied for second place.

— Mae the Bellydancer took gothic bellydance to a whole new level with her piece. Mae was hands-down the best facial and bodily storyteller I have ever seen. She did a beautiful piece that told a clear story, which I realy appreciated. I feel like belly dance technique is sometimes sacrificed in gothic bellydance while the dancer was focusing on telling the story — absolutely NOT the case with Mae. Not only was her piece technically impressive, but she incorporated a unique prop — she crafted a poi out a wooden ball and a thick rope, a very gothic take on poi. I was quite impressed.

So imagine how nuts I was going backstage — each performance was incredible, I don’t have anything prepared, and I didn’t know my music that well. Right before I went on, however, I had a huge moment of clarity. I looked into myself and I asked what I wanted to present, what I wanted to say, and how I wanted the audience to feel when I danced. I completely got in the most zen state I’ve ever been. When I walked onstage, any half-hearted efforts I had made at choreography left my head. I danced from my soul and shut off my mind competely, something I’ve never been able to do before. 30 seconds before the end of the piece, I remember turning to face the back, and I felt something I had never felt before in a piece: complete and utter exhaustion. I had given all of my energy and stregnth to that performance. I realized I didn’t care how I placed because I had given it everything I had. I was proud of how I did.

After some confusion, I discovered that I had gotten second place. I was really happy with how everyone did, and I feel like first place could really have gone to everyone. It was a tough, tough competition and I just feel honored to have had my first competition have been against such worthy competitors. Ladies, if you’re reading this, thank you for your inspiration and sharing your art and beauty onstage.

Thoughts to leave on:

— Hats off to Kimahri for organzing a professional, classy, good-paced competition. The awards were awarded after each category, and dancers got to take their scorecards and DVD of their performance that DAY. Talk about a smooth and high-class event!

— I think competitions can be a really positive experience or a really negative experience depending on how you approach it. If you go into it focused on ranking or awards you’re bound to either be disappointed or not get a lot of personal growth out of the event. To be honest, for awhile I was stuck in the mindset that I had to get first. But after I watched the other dancers, and I saw how all different we were, I realized… ranks aren’t the most important thing. All of those girls were talented, original artists — what matters is focusing on giving the best performance possible. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the competion of it all. I was glad that what I took away from the event was pride in my work and inspiration from the girls I got to compete with.

Overall, I gained a lot from the experience and I’m glad everything happened exactly the way it did.

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.

Open Forum!

Let’s get some discussions going, folks. I realized while writing my last blog post, “Obsessive Tribe Checking Disorder and Youtubefrenia Outbreaks!” that there are probably tons of great articles, blogs, resources that I’m not blogging about. What do YOU want to discuss? What articles moved you lately? What are you confused about?

C’mon, I wanna know!

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?

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.