Goodbye, Japan… Hello, Canada!

The last show came and went and was less stress than I anticipated, largely because we had already sold 80 percent of what we brought to Japan. That night was uneventful , besides me seeing a building that said “Fucking Garage” (some signs have the most interesting English translations). I came home and crashed.

In the morning, Moria, Cecilia, Nathalie and I dashed to the market to buy some last minute clothes. Moria, power-shopper extraordinaire, ended the morning with armfuls of bags. I came home with only souvenirs and a pair of socks. Oh well, I guess I have to come back to Japan someday. We said goodbye to our Japanese sponsors and began the arduous process of getting 20 people and close to 60 pieces of luggage checked in and ready to fly. Everyone ran around in the airport buying last-minute goodies before boarding two planes – an hour flight from Osaka to Tokyo and the longer flight from Tokyo to LA. It’s amazing to think we’re actual time traveling – we will be arriving in LA an hour or so before we left for the airport in Japan. Crazy stuff. My TV didn’t work on the flight, so I got a voucher for Japan Airlines – another reason to return.

Once we arrived in LA at 11, we went to a hotel near LAX. I got to room with Sabah, which we were really excited about — that is, until the jet lag set in and we both become zombies. I got my Japan pictures developed, and Sabah fell asleep 3 times in a row at the same point in the same House episode (I’m not sure she ever finished it).

This morning, we flew to Vancouver. We’re staying at a casino, and I’m spending the rest of the day trying to get caught up and choreographing. The shows begin tomorrow!

Bullet Train to Osaka

Yesterday was the first day that I really, really enjoyed. I woke up early for breakfast and afterward explored the Japanese garden at the hotel. It was absolutely stunning. There were beautiful flowers, a koi pond, a meditation room, a temple… I felt like I was taken to the heart of Japanese culture. I love that the focus here is on the present. Everywhere I look there are indicators of what’s culturally important: even at this huge hotel they take the time and energy to maintain this huge, beautiful oasis. It is a living, thriving reminder to drink in and cherish the beauty of the present and thank the universe for life.

Since I used up my disposable camera at the gardens, I walked with Sabah to a store and bought another. We each got a free sample of some sort of “energy drink for businessmen” (according to the English on the label, which usually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense). Sabah and I got a good laugh about that. Every girl on this tour is a little different and has a different story of how they got here. The thing they all share is a certain energy and dedication that is really inspiring to a younger dancer like myself. Sabah is no different. I felt so fortunate to be surrounded by women who continually encourage me and inspire me. I’m planning to go to Chicago in June to study with Sabah, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Afterwards it was off to the Bullet Train to take us to Osaka. The train can travel up to 120 miles an hour (it’s the second fastest train in the world) and reminded me of really, really comfortable airplane – tons of leg room, reclining seats, and attendants pushing around carts of food. I settled in my seat between Petite Jamilla and Brian, our sound guy, and just looked around, grinning like an idiot. There is nothing like new life experiences to make me unreasonably happy.

Brian had visited fish market in the morning before we left, and he had brought a whole container of sashimi and fresh crab. It was my first sushi in Japan, and it was incredible – there is really no comparison to fish that is only a few hours old. I really wish I had gone with him – Brian compared it to a flea market with fish. He said there were fish larger than a grown man, and men with swords were butchering the fish right out in the open.

After a two-and-a-half hour train ride, we finally arrived in Osaka. The difference between Tokyo and Osaka is like the difference between downtown Chicago and downtown University City in St. Louis – the buildings seem to be less on top of each other here. After Moria, Nathalie, Cecilia and I ate a small lunch in the hotel, Petite Jamilla and I embarked on a quest for authentic sushi — an idea that was hatched (and ,on my end, obsessed over) whilst on the train.

We walked to a street that looked like the lovechild of Las Vegas and Tokyo – tons of casinos, bright flashing lights, and unidentifiable Japanese. One thing I love about Japan is there are vending machines everywhere, just on the side of the street. For a buck twenty you can get these really little cute iced coffees, teas, soda, or water. There aren’t as many signs in English as there were in Tokyo, so we wandered until we saw a giant fish on a sign. Luckily the menu had pictures of everything, so we pointed to what we wanted. We got a sushi roll with tuna, I think, some sashimi (salmon, tuna, and some unidentifiable “meat wad,” as Petite Jamilla and I christened it), some steak with onions, and miso soup. Two words – culinary orgasm. Afterwards, we voyaged to the oh-so-authentic-Japanese 7-Eleven for green tea ice cream (we passed a McDonald’s on the way that was serving a McPork – I laughed so hard).

On our adventure, I had my second really inspiring talk of the night. We had a long talk about dance, and Petite Jamilla offered some really good feedback on my last audition. I love that girl! One idea that she had that I thought I would pass on to any dancers reading this is to keep an idea journal – she showed me her journal, where she pasted inspiring pictures, makeup ideas, interesting costuming, and different fashion styles. I’m looking forward to starting one when I get home.

I got back to the hotel, took a long bath, and collapsed into bed. It’s a big day today – we’re supposed to have a crowd of 2,000. The largest show I have been here for has been 1,500, and it was insanity. Wish me luck – I just want to make it out alive.

Leaving Tokyo

So I did more exploring in Tokyo, close to the venue, the U-Port Theater. I went into a bookstore, Starbucks, and I went to a gas station place. I thought I was buying a change purse, but when I showed it to Manatsu, one of the girls helping me, she laughed and mimed smoking – I guess it’s a pocket ashtray. Oh well, it holds all my coin yen, too. I saw some sushi at the gas station and considered buying it to say I’ve eaten sushi in Japan, but I figured that eating gas station sushi is probably a bad idea anywhere you are – even in Japan.

I hope the next venue or my hotel at the next place we visit has plugs I can plug my computer into and wireless internet. I am really going to miss Yuni and Manatsu, my helpers. I hope the next place has as good of helpers, too!
I’m really excited for some things coming up at home. I have a couple of performances lined up, I’m dancing with Los Desterrados, and Bootee Camp is the weekend I get back. Mark and I are planning a mini-trip to St. Louis, too. Good stuff.

I just found out that in the fall I will be going to Taiwan, South America (Peru and Argentina, maybe), another U.S. tour, Paris, England, Morocco and Spain. There are a lot of places to hit in 2 and a half months.

Another highlight of my day was taking the Jillina workshop. It was my first workshop in a foreign language. Jillina is so sweet — I didn’t get to eat today so she bought me soup when I got back to the hotel, and Jillina, Lauren, Sabah and I hung out in her room for awhile watching youtube videos. It was a good night all around. Tomorrow we’re taking the bullet train to our next location – I’ll take lots of pictures!

Second Day in Japan

It was a good day all around – I finally got to talk to Mark on Skype, I explored a little bit of Tokyo on my own, I bought a disposable camera, and I’m starting to learn some Japanese that will never come in useful later in life (“That is 1000 yen/ 2000 yen/ 3000 yen” and I say “arregato” more than I probably should). There were two shows today, and we sold out of almost everything we brought. Miles packed 15-20 complete costumes (which range anywhere from $250 to $500) and we’ve sold all but five so far. I’m starting to worry we aren’t going to have anything to sell when we get to the next place in Japan.

I am so grateful for the two girls helping me sell – I am able to get around with hand gestures and knowing basic, basic Japanese, but it goes so much faster and easier with the girls here. They help me restock the table and help a lot with the money. They are adorable, too. We all took pictures together, and the Universal Records guys (who have a table next to us) were laughing at us.

At one point I thought I lost my wallet with all my yen and my ID, but luckily it was at the merch table. Now the only thing I can’t locate is my calendar, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t all that important, only mildly irritating that I can’t find it.

I’ve got to go, the show is about to end and we’re about to be flooded once more with people.

First show in Japan

The first show has come and gone, and it was a whirlwind. The girls had it rough – they ran through and filmed the entire old show, Babelesque, before  the actual show, which was also filmed. I had much more merchandise than I thought – Miles brought seven or eight suitcases, which I had to lug up two flights of stairs because there was no elevator.

I had two girls helping me for the show, thank God, but neither of them spoke any English. There was a translator who spoke very little English before the show, and through him the girls and I worked out a rudimentary communication system. Out of the 1000 people that came to the show and the merch table, I spoke to three people that spoke English. I really gained some empathy for anyone that goes to a foreign country and is thrown in not knowing the language. It is really frightening and pretty lonely… it’s so funny, but I really took something as fundamental as communication for granted.

The show was insane. We started with three tables in a straight line, and by the end, the crowds had pushed the tables into a curve. As I was restocking hip scarves, people were grabbing them out the box. Between trying to communicate with hand signs, converting prices and remembering them in yen, and making change with currency I had never seen before, I was exhausted by the time I got home.

The only Japanese I have learned so far is “arregato” which is “thank you” and “Oh genki des ka” which is  “Nice to meet you” (I’m not even pretending I spelled those right, by the way).

I’m working really hard to communicate with my family and Mark over Skype but the time difference is so great and I only have internet at the venue, so it’s difficult. I haven’t spoken to anyone since I got here, and I’m feeling a little homesick and lonely.

I better get going, we have two shows today and both are sold out. It’s going to be a long day.

Flying with the Harlem Globetrotters

I’m currently laying on a bed that is about a foot and a half off the floor in the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa in Japan. It’s symbolic of EVERYTHING in Japan – everything is LOW to the ground. The sinks at the airport hit me around my thighs. But hey, they have the fanciest toilets I’ve ever seen. I admittedly did enjoy that the toilet seat was heated, but I wasn’t brave enough to explore any other functions on the toilet, like the “bidet” button (There was a button with just a crude drawing of water misting a pair of buttocks with the single word “spray” – is that not basically what a bidet is?).

The flight here was actually not too bad for it being 12 hours. The plane was the largest plane I had ever been on – I was in row 63. The Harlem Globetrotters were on our flight, and I sat next to one of the members. We had a really interesting talk about how both of our respective businesses functioned, and he was pretty inspiring. After talking to him, I realized that there seems to be a mold that successful, artistic people fit (he choreographed a lot of the stunts and “pieces” for the show). It sounded like he (and others I have observed) are excellent at marketing themselves, constantly creating their own opportunities, and last of all, really good at continually putting themselves out there. For example, this guy worked his way up from Chucky Cheese and explored theater and doing his own stunt work before auditioning for the Globetrotters. I think the lesson learned here is don’t be afraid to take any opportunity even if it’s not EXACTLY what you want to do at the time.

We were served two meals, and to be frank I’m not certain what I ate. What I did know was it was free, everything is expensive in Japan, and I had no yen. So, I ate everything on my plate, including a few raw pieces of what I assume was fish and some pasta dish that incorporated shrimp, pasta, and some sort of brown sauce. The fact that liquor is free on international flights didn’t go unnoticed by me and helped when it came to not caring what I ate. I didn’t sleep at all and instead watched some great movies (The Reader), some fair movies (Grand Torino, part of Quantum of Solace) and some I’m ashamed to say I watched in their entirety (Mall Cop, Bride Wars, and part of a Lilo and Stitch movie).

Once we landed, some interesting things happened. We had quarantine doctors come on our plane – dressed in surgical robes, masks, booties, hair coverings – to discern if we were ill with the swine flu. The flight attendants wore masks the entire flight. We had to fill out a questionnaire, and they came around and looked at everyone on the plane through a special camera. If I had to guess I would say it was a thermal imaging camera to see if any of us were feverish. After being detained for almost an hour, we were finally allowed to exit the plane. At one point there were six masked doctors in our section of the plane – people were taking pictures. It was like being in a horror movie about a killer virus.

I’m in the hotel now, and I’m going to try and get a decent nights’ sleep to offset jetlag. I do not have wireless in my room so it may be hard to reach me in Japan – best bet is to email, and hopefully there is wireless at the venue tomorrow. Tomorrow the work begins!

Marketing Yourself as a Belly Dancer

So what has worked for you in terms of marketing yourself and getting a name for yourself? Some things I’m trying:

  • I went to website that has a listing of bands in the area, and I posted a classified ad that said I was looking for a band to dance with. I made sure to add my dancing was “family friendly” as a subtle indicator that by “dancing” I do not mean “bumping and grinding onstage in a skanky outfit.”
  • I’m working on creating a really professional website using Dreamweaver. What hosting do you all use?
  • Making a business card and media kit and distributing it to wedding planners and event organizers in the area.

The Journey Begins…

Well, folks, I am riding on MO-X, a bus that runs from Columbia to the St. Louis airport, where I will be boarding a flight to LA and to my job. I can’t believe it is back already to life on the road. It seems like the minute I got re-accustomed to living in a house and not out of a suitcase, I am being thrown back into the fray.

For those of you who don’t know, I am the merchandise girl for the Bellydance Superstars. In January 2009, I took a huge risk – I quit my job and ran away to the circus. I mean, um, I joined BDSS for their Spring 2009 U.S. tour. It turned out to be… one of the most incredible, confusing, mind-blowing, and life-altering experiences of my life thus far. I grew so much as a person, and the growing experiences keep reverberating off of it even off the road. Two months is a lifetime when you’re packing up your life every night in a different state in the same tired, dilapidated green American Tourister.

I didn’t get a chance to journal while I was on the road last tour (I had a computer that would only function if I jerry-rigged the power cord with a bra strap, a jar, and a carefully wedged wad of paper), but for many reasons I really want to document this part of my life and my journey. It was largely inspired by my future grandkids, actually – keep reading, I’m not completely insane.

It’s January 2009, and life couldn’t get better. I was living in a little yellow rental house with a green front door in Columbia with my boyfriend of 2.5 years. I had two cute little kittens. I was ridiculously overpaid at a great job at a local newspaper for the chillest boss I have ever had. I had health insurance. I was dancing with a really innovative dance company.

I was empty.

I would think about it sometimes. Here was my life – the Columbia, Missouri version of every crappy sitcom you see on TV with allegedly twenty-somethings working at jobs they couldn’t possibly have and living in loft apartments they couldn’t possibly afford – and all I could see was myself in 40 years as a surly, crotchety grandma sitting on a rocking chair, telling my grandkids about my ordinary life in Missouri while their eyes glazed over and they telepathically sent messages to their mother to let them leave.

I got scared, and the quarter-life crisis struck.

I told myself that 2009 was going to bring something huge, and I told myself things were going to change forever. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know when. But I knew, I KNEW that something was on the horizon. I refuse to look back and feel regret.  Let’s face it: I can’t knit or crochet, and with a B.A. in English I’m destined to be too poor to leave anyone anything of value. Having amazing life stories is my only option for being a cool grandma.

Oh a whim, I emailed Miles Copeland, the owner of the Bellydance Superstars, after reading they were looking for a merch girl. Following great advice from Petite Jamilla, I became a squeaky wheel (I hear they get the oil) and marketed the heck out of myself – and I was beyond floored when I got a message back that simply read, “You sound like the person we need. Where do you live?” I got the job.

My cool newspaper job? Put in my two weeks. My relationship? Put on hold. My dance company back home? Put aside. My life? Paused. My sanity? In question. 3 months, several states and many miles later, here I am. I toured for two months, and I loved it. And I realized I have found it, that elusive “it,” that drive that we’re told as kids we’ll someday find: I found my passion. I want to belly dance. I want it to be my career. I want to make this work. I have felt passionate about precious few things in my life, and I know that there is nothing else I would sacrifice this much for.

And there has been a LOT of sacrifice for this job. Many important things and people in my life have suffered because of my pursuit of my dream. But I’m ready to live, and not just play a role in the Columbia version of “Friends.” I’m ready to make my own luck and make this dream a reality.

So the true function of this blog is this: I am a 22-year-old living in Columbia, Missouri, that’s trying to make it as a belly dancer in a world that undervalues art in general. I don’t know how, but I’m going to make this work. I’m going to work like hell to someday dance with the Bellydance Superstars, and I’m going to work to build a name near my home. I hope this blog can help others like me as I share stories, experiences, and what works and what doesn’t. I hope that anyone reading this can contribute the same.