Dance Homework #1

I’ve been talking to a lot of dancers recently that have hit a plateau: They know all the bellydance movements, have been drilling them for awhile, but don’t know how to take all that technique and translate it into a dance piece that represents them and their style.

Choreographing dance pieces and even improvising to a song and making your art your own are subjects that are often neglected in dance classes. It’s hard — everyone has a slightly different process for how they create. Even books designed to help figure OUT your process — The Artist’s Way, for example — are not a panacea for all artists. Moreover, I’ve noticed books like the Artist’s Way usually are geared toward those whose art involves written word.

Finding a particular style and practicing it is an issue that I have been working on myself. I’ve been spending the past few months training a lot on my own, which is new to me. Through taking workshops with people like Amy Sigil, who incorporated “dance games” to get people thinking outside the choreography dance box, I’ve noticed that I respond well to small challenges that I can surmount on a daily basis. Giving myself structure and small tasks to complete keeps me focused more than dragging my lazy but to the studio to drill.

There are some general guidelines that have helped me structure my practice, at least:

1) Get good music. Get a playlist started of songs that make you want to move, whether that be Middle Eastern Music, Ace of Base, Elvis, Snoop Dogg, whatever. Think outside the box — I recently have been dancing to a lot of banjo music, and it’s been quite interesting. Something as simple as putting on a playlist of four or five songs you love and dancing 15 minutes a day could turn into “oh my god, that combo was awesome…” And viola! You’re starting a choreography. It has for me, at least.

2) Use video to your advantage. A really useful tool I use in my training is a practice video log. I try to record one video a practice and study it when I go home to see what works and what doesn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with a combination I love only to forget it hours later — please, just save yourself some grief and video tape it.

3) Listen to a song you’re interested in dancing to a billion times. Your body is telling a story. You are physically interpreting the drum beats, the melody, the bass — sometimes even a banjo. Make sure that you are well educated on the story your body’s going to tell — I have to listen to my songs on repeat at least 50 times before I dance to them.

With these ideas in mind, I give you: DANCE HOMEWORK!

Oh yes, ladies and gents… I’m that nerdy.

I thought I would post “assignments” that I have been working on in my own practice. If you would like to participate, film yourself and post a comment linking us to your own videos. Or if you’d like to keep your work private, just post your insights.

Or say, “Screw this!” and don’t post anything. Your choice 🙂

This assignment originated from a Strawfoot song. I love the song “Independence Day,” but the whole song has an underlying hella-fast banjo part. I was thinking about how I could move to the song, and I thought, “Man, I wonder if I could do an entire piece over a shimmy.” Now, this isn’t the most original concept in belly dance, but I’ve never tried to actually shimmy for an entire song and it not just be for drilling. I wanted the dance to highlight that two different parts of my body were translating two different sounds in the song.

I tried it, and here’s what I came up with:

Self-critiques:

— The arms still need work, as usual. One of my hands moves a lot more than the other. Straight arms seem to look more powerful on video.

— Shimmy got smaller the more I was focusing, and I could tell where I straightened my knees since they got smaller then, too.

— My face looks really, really bored. Way too bored.

ASSIGNMENT 1: Make a video in which you continue one movement throughout the entire video. Shimmies are easiest, but you can pick any movement. Journal about what you liked/didn’t like/observe. If you feel zealous, record a SECOND video that uses the same continuous move but with a different feel/emotion to it.

After recording this videos, I felt inspired to make another, with no theme or rules whatsoever.

I’m Engaged.

Everyone, I have a very important announcement to make. I’ve been in a relationship for four years now, and something really special has happened to me that I want to share with you. After a long courtship, I finally have decided to make the most important commitment one can make.

I’M ENGAGED!!!

…What? Oh, no, my boyfriend didn’t pop the question yet. I realized the other day that I am engaged to belly dancing. Sound ridiculous? Probably. The other night I found myself thinking, “All right, belly dance, you win. You make me want to work hard and be a better person. I am completely and utterly addicted to how I feel when I’m with you, and I can’t live without you. I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you and build a future with you.”

Then it hit me: “…wait. Did I just propose to belly dancing?”

Nothing makes you question your sanity more than realizing that you just mentally proposed to something intangible. Believe me, I understand if you think I’m crazy. Belly dance can’t snuggle with you, give you a foot rub after work, help you raise a family. But for me, belly dance makes me feel good and special every day, it keeps me sane, it helps me create goals, it gives my life passion and purpose… if that’s not a relationship I could make a serious commitment to, than I don’t know what is.

So I’m going with this, as crazy as it seems. Starting now, I am committing to this dance and I am committing to making my dreams a reality, 100%. I will dedicate as much time as I can to my training. I am relishing the thought of working my ass off to get what I want. I am so excited to continue developing my voice and style as an artist, and I am craving opportunities so I can really start working on getting my career started.

Now I just need a wedding planner.

There aren’t a whole lot of books dedicated to the subject of breaking into the world of belly dance. A lot of famous dancers I have talked to have readily admitted to me that a whole lotta luck and serendipity factored into their success. My friend Nichelle Lawrence once told me, “I never dreamed of being who I am. I just… kinda fumbled into myself and my identity.”

But I do think certain things can help you create opportunities, build connections, and help you do what you love to do. I am reminded again of some of the best advice I have ever received, courtesy of Petite Jamilla: “Be your own business.” And because of my new commitment to this dance, I am putting a lot of faith and work into the business side of my art. But I’m slowly learning there is more to it than just the business side of things — along with being a shrewd businesswoman, I need to work on the product — me. Think about this if you are married, engaged, or in a relationship with someone who you could see marrying — how much has that person changed you for the better? I feel that belly dance has changed me for the better, and now I need to work on being the best person and artist I can be as I take this huge next step.

Recently, I have been fortunate enough to talk to several amazing, incredible, hard-working artist who have been where I am now and have figured it out — they are doing what they love and they are successful at it. The more I talk to these women — Nichelle Lawrence, a freelance photographer; Kandice Grossman, a belly dance instructor, choreographer, director and producer; Suzanne Vansickle, a costume designer and manufacturer, the more I observe several key things that these women are doing to further their success.

Ladies and gents, I give you… a work in progress. It’s not a foolproof plan to “make it,” but it’s what I’ve gleaned in my short time trying to navigate this crazy, sparkly, world of belly dance.

1) Figure out what you want to say. Nichelle (who I am considering paying to be my life coach; the woman is just so wise) asked me this one day: “What makes a great belly dancer? What is it about their dancing that intrigues you the most and is what YOU want to watch?” I thought about it, and I tried to explain to her what I connect to the most while watching a dance. Nichelle looked at me and said calmly, “You want to know how to find your voice? Start there.” That element is where I’m starting from in my discovery to add something unique and special to this art form that is ME.

2) Start believing in what you can offer people. I had a lot of hesitation putting myself out there because I harbored insecurities that people would not like what I had to offer. Then I realized something: There is going to be someone (maybe many people) who absolutely do not like what I want to create. And that’s ok, as long as I’m happy with what I am offering. Have confidence in the product you are selling — you.

3) Put yourself out there, again and again and again and again. Asharah stressed to me the importance of an internet presence, and she’s right. Get a website. Get quality videos of yourself on Youtube. Get visible. Get people interested in learning more about YOU. Perform as much as you can at as many events as you can. Study as much as you can with as many dancers as you can (although I personally think having a primary instructor helps tremendously, someone whose skill far exceeds your own and who inspires you at least weekly). You’re marketing yourself — show people that you have something to offer.

4) Collaborate with others. Talk to other artists. I can’t even begin to stress how much I have learned simply by asking people about their artistic journey. Not all of these people were belly dancers. The most important thing is simply to listen. Open yourself to ideas. Never stop learning, processing, or analyzing.

5) Put out the vibes you want for yourself. Try to do one selfless thing a day, or once a week. If someone helps you out, do something for them. Don’t it because you feel obligated, or because there is some score to balance out. Do it because it’s making you a better person and because if we all can help out one another, we can go farther than we would fighting to break into this world on our own. Help out other artists that you admire. Barter. That energy, that good vibe, what you put out there is what people are going to want to give back to you. Work hard, stay humble, never forget those that helped you along the way. Without them, you would be less of the person and artist that you are today.

6) Write. I am someone who ordinarily is not inclined to keep a journal. But once I started dancing, I found out it was essential. If you’re reading this right now and you’re thinking about skipping this idea, I urge you to reconsider — just try it for a little while. Write down your ideas, journal when can’t get that little voice out of your head that’s telling you can’t do it, journal not only about dance but about you as a person — your hopes, dreams, insecurities, frustrations. I feel like if we want to be artists, we need to figure out what we want to say. But if you don’t even know who you are, how can possibly hope to find the means to express it? That’s the true beauty of art — an artist finds a depiction of herself or of her reality and expresses that in a way that resonates with people.

7) If you really want it, commit to it. I am working part-time right now. I have minimal health insurance that my parents are graciously helping out with. There have been more times than I care to admit where I’ve had less than $10 to my name. Awhile back, all I could think was, “I need to focus on making money right now. I need to figure out what to do. I don’t have time to devote to dance, that just has to go on the back burner right now.” My heart wasn’t buying it, though. I was miserable, even though I was trying to make these sacrifices in order to be happy. Now, I realize, I need to adapt to what I have. I need to find loopholes. I need to budget my money and live frugally. I can’t lose sight of what I want for myself just because times are tough, now is just a time where I need to work harder. I’m committing to dance, even though now it’s more difficult than ever. And you know what? Every since making that commitment a few days ago, I have felt better than I have in six months.

8) Fight for your happiness. A week or so ago was one of those $10-in-my -bank-account days. I was sitting at home, wondering why I felt so hopeless and depressed. I was feeling like no matter what I did, no matter how much good I was doing for others and despite my hard work, the universe was just not throwing me a bone. It’s so easy to give in to that despair and give up. But then I got mad. I thought to myself,  “Goddamn it, I am working hard. I am living a good life. I’m a good person. I deserve to be happy, and I am going to fight for my happiness. I refuse to let the circumstances and the sadness overwhelm me.” It’s proving to be a really important life motto for me. I think this is really important as an artist to maintain. As artists, we’re vulnerable. We’re exposing our innermost selves for the world to see and judge. The losses, let-downs and frustrations, as a result, can be incredibly crippling. But fight for it, because you deserve it.

I’m committed. It’s going to be difficult at times, I know that. But I’m a romantic — I’m willing to sacrifice for something that I truly love with all my heart.

Youtube Video of the Week: Yasmina Ramzy

My troupemate Stephanie posted this video on facebook, and immediately I knew I had to post this for y’all’s viewing pleasure. The past two videos I reviewed were solo performances. But hey, I think all of us at one point have danced in a group or troupe. Therefore, it makes sense to study videos where the group dynamic is powerful and effective in order to glean insights on how to be a better choreographer or troupe member. Without further ado, Yasmina Ramzy and Arabesque Dance Company:

— Costuming. In the “real world,” I work at a college theater department, sewing costumes. One of the golden rules I have heard in theater: Don’t put black costumes on dancers if you are performing in front of a black backdrop. However, as my boyfriend pointed out while watching the video, every time the dancers move, the light reflects off the sheen of the material. The result is a clean line that doesn’t blend in to the background. I feel the simplicity of the costuming helped accentuate the crisp choreography. Way to break the black on black rule and have an effective result!

— Staging. The staging of this piece almost reminded me of modern dance or some of Urban Tribal’s pieces. I think Yasmina Ramzy, the choreographer, used the space well and also used some really innovative formations and staging — level changes, dueling groups, circle formations, a weaving pattern. I also thought having one or two dancers represent different facets of the music was really visually interesting (I’m referencing the first minute or so). Yes, dancing perfectly in unison is impressive and powerful, but I also think highlighting each dancers’ strengths and personal stylization added a lot to this piece. The ONLY critique I had is that a few times, I was unclear what the formation was supposed to me — very few times it seemed like one dancer was standing in front of another, or someone wasn’t QUITE in the right window.

–Strong, graceful technique. The dancers poise and grace complimented their tight technique really well. It was like watching a troupe of Sonias from the Bellydance Superstars dancing. The arms were particularly lovely.

So what can we learn?

1) Be conscious costuming your dancers. Imagine not only what costumes would look like on dancers, but also in the venue you will be performing. After touring with the Bellydance Superstars, another tip I would give is that sheen, glitter, sparkle, etc. works exceptionally well onstage. You’d be amazed how much shimmery/glittery/sparkly elements go into their costuming — even the tribal dancers get glittery! I remember looking at one of Moria’s tribal outfits up close and being astounded by the amount of rhinestones and glittery bits on it. I remember having a revelation — tribal dancers can and do wear rhinestones!

2) Staging. Change up your formations! I get into the two-line formation rut ALL the time. If you watch these dancers, they’re not ALWAYS doing super-complicated belly dance technique. However, it stays visually interesting because they’re changing levels or formation frequently. Our eyes like to watch discernible patterns and big, visible movement — let your audience take a break occasionally from trying to analyze super-internal, complicated hip and torso work.

3) What pushed this piece into the “awesome” category was not the costumes or the staging. What I truly appreciate is that this troupe and choreographer did NOT sacrifice their technique and grace to take risks. We’re belly dancers, ladies and gentlemen. I feel like the most important part of our art is making sure we never sacrifice grace, good form, or solid technique (unless that’s the point of your piece — I once choreographed a dance for my senior project in college that was designed to be un-aesthetically pleasing).

Click here to learn more about Yasmina Ramzy and Arabesque Dance Company.

Merry Christmas! An Easy Way to Save Youtube Videos

My new favorite internet discovery is the easiest way ever to save videos off youtube.

Before you to go this page, make sure your bookmark toolbar is visible. To do this, go to View>Toolbars>Bookmarks.

THE STEPS:

1) Read the page.

2) Drag the little box that says “Get Youtube Video” up onto your new spiffy bookmarks toolbar.

3) Open a youtube page with a video on it you want to save.

4) Press the “Get Youtube Video” button that is now on your bookmark toolbar.

Viola! You choose where to save it to and the video is now yours.

This is such a pretty little piece of programming! AND, to make it even simpler, you can download something farther down the page that automatically puts a “download this video as mp4” button on every youtube video you look at.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I posted this, and Sonya of Arabesque Studios in Chicago made the comment, “Not everyone really wants their vids lifted off youtube… this is why I no longer post to youtube.” I think that this is a really important point. I used this program to save a video of myself from youtube for my website that I didn’t have and was too big to be emailed. I think that caution should be exercised when using this program. I am posting this in the effort that this can be used for personal growth purposes — saving videos of yourself, downloading videos for personal study, etc.  Also, I think showing how easy it is to save a video off youtube should remind us all to be wary of what we post on youtube, since it could be floating around long after you delete your video. Closing points — be respectful (don’t use this program to redistribute another’s work) and use this as a tool for your personal development.

P.S. If you like my blog, you can go to Google Reader (if you have gmail) and sign up so that every time this blog is updated, you’ll get a notification. I’ve noticed some of my readers are already doing this, so I thought I would pass it along to those of you who don’t know about it!

P.P.S. If you liked the post, check out my other post with fun, free programs that can help out the DIY belly dancer.

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.

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.”

***

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.