Review

A really real review: The Theatrical Oriental Dance Festival Cape Town 2016

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I am very delayed with this review, but as the new dates for the TODF have recently been announced, I feel like it’s spurred me into action to finally write this post.

Around 2008, I attended my first dance festival – it was the International Oriental Dance Festival (IODF) which was held at the V&A Waterfront every year in October – usually the last weekend. Initially, the festival was 4 or 5 days long, with workshops and performances all day with a gala evening on the Thursday. I never managed to attend workshops or the gala evening in those early years as I was around 16 years old and it was impossible to get around on my own. Gradually, the workshops fell away around 2011 and it became a performance festival.

The IODF went on for many years and I believe the last festival was in 2015. (We went to watch, but performed last in 2014)

Last year, Beverli from Al-Masrah Academy announced that she would be reviving her festival, the Theatrical Oriental Dance Festival (TODF), which would also take place in October. This served as HUGE excitement for us, because honestly, performance opportunities are few and far between so any chance to get ourselves and our students up on stage is totally relished. This also served (in a way) to replace the IODF which had ceased the previous year.

Beverli had organised workshops to continue the entire weekend as well as a gala evening, a hafla and a photo shoot to be done in the CBD (with buses to transport us from Seapoint to the CBD) on the Saturday afternoon.

I signed up for 2 workshops –an ATS™ workshop with Nix from SOMA Dance Company on the Saturday and a floor work workshop from Elisabeth Wilhelm, who was then teaching in Zambia (now in Atlanta, I believe), on the Sunday.

We performed on the Saturday and I got a chance to watch performances on the Sunday afternoon.

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THE WORKSHOPS

There were an incredible amount of workshops going on over the TODF weekend, in fact Beverli had organised 5 different locations to make it possible for so many workshops to be held. In total, there were 31 workshops over the two festival days! Totally spoiled for choice, I chose one workshop on each day so that I would also have some time for getting dressed and performing on the Saturday. The workshops were very reasonably priced, which meant that taking more than one workshop became possible.

The ATS™ workshop with Nix was titled “Turns, Spins & Formations” and started early in the morning from 9:00 – 12:00. It was a really fantastic workshop and there were some wonderful dancers in the class which made it quite easy to follow along and learn in a comfortable environment. We had a slight hiccup with our workshop venue, as we arrived and found it locked. It was not opened for us by the start of the workshop and we travelled around to find appropriate spots. We eventually managed to find an empty room to finish the workshop.

Nix was fantastic the entire time, and really took the hiccups in her stride. I think it is quite commendable – I am not sure I would’ve been so calm if it were my workshop.

The content of the workshop included formations, spins and turns – as advertised! 😉 I would definitely have classified this more as a fusion workshop than purely ATS™. Although we did discuss and use ATS™ principles in the workshop, it included combos and other fusion techniques and formations more than ATS™. I found this workshop especially interesting as a teacher, because it opened up another level of thinking when creating choreographies and using formations in a way that keeps the combinations fresh and interesting. Even though the physical steps may not be super complicated, the change in formation makes it look that way. Hah! Interesting little tricks…

This workshop was listed as ALL LEVELS and I can definitely say it was accommodating for all level dancers. The more novice students in the class could keep up, while the more experienced could also benefit. I felt like it was a great balance.

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The floor work workshop was held on the Sunday, and was a 2 hour workshop. I chose this workshop because I have always loved the idea of floor work, but only recently feel like I have the physical strength to keep any of it up! This workshop covered the basics of floor work, how to get up and down safely and in a classy manner, as well as 2 short floor work combos, done to very different music to be adapted for any choreography or improv piece. I especially appreciated all the tips and tricks Elisabeth gave to us throughout the workshop, as I feel these are the polished pieces you can’t always get from a DVD or instructional video.

This workshop was listed as BEGINNER/INTERMEDIATE and I definitely agree that that was the level in the class. There were only 3 of us taking the workshop (the space was very small and I’m not sure it could’ve accommodated more students) and we ranged in 1 – 10 years of dance experience.

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THE PERFORMANCES

The open stage performances ran very smoothly and on time. We had enough time to change costumes between pieces and do a thorough warm up before heading back on stage. The change rooms were clean and not far from the stage and it was an easy transition from one to the other. We really enjoyed performing both our choreographies.
I feel that the level of performances varied greatly on the stage on both the Saturday and the Sunday. It was a good mix of novice and experienced dancers, but I think it would’ve been a good idea to have more of a distinction between the levels of dancers. (I believe this is changing for the TODF this year)

The attendance of the crowd at the TODF was not amazing. The hall stayed about half full, and I’d say about half of those watching the performances were other dancers. I think the location – at a high school – was a bit out of the way and seemed closed off to the public, and the chance of random people walking by and enjoying the show was very low.

I know that the venue is changing for 2017, and I’m interested to see how this works.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I think the photo shoot session in the CBD was a bit unorganised and it seemed as though nobody was really sure if there was something specific we had to do or not.

The only other negative from the festival is that we weren’t allowed to take videos or photos, as we could pay somebody to record us and we would be sent the footage. We received the photos, but never the video. Initially, the problem was that the booked videographer had dropped the organiser the day before the festival. She scrambled to get somebody else, and we haven’t really heard much since then. In February, I heard that the footage was being collected, and beginning July we were told the footage is on the way.

I understand that it’s been a bit busy for Beverli since the festival last year (she opened a restaurant in Claremont) but it does leave a bit of a bitter taste in our mouths since it was paid for and never received. I am trying to be patient with it, because creating a festival as well as managing so many people as well as your own life can be very hectic, and having somebody drop you last minute is very scary and difficult to manage.

I think there is great promise with the TODF, but there are definitely kinks that need to be worked out. Overall, a fantastic idea and I really look forward to more of these. I find that these days, I am more prone to wanting workshops than performance opportunities, so this is a good blend for dancers like myself and those wanting to perform.

With the overall drop of dance festivals all over the world, I am interested to see how this plays out in the longer term. I would love for this to be a continuing festival that attracts bigger names from all over the country.

I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop template and the chance to perform! I am looking forward to what Beverli has to offer us in 2017!

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Datura Online: A review!

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Today’s blog post is going to be something a bit different to what I usually do, instead of talking about myself and what I’ve been up to, I just want to share with you a review I wrote about Datura Online.

If you are an avid Internet user, and browse sites like YouTube, Facebook or Twitter, you’ll have heard of Datura Online. If not, I’ll tell you a bit about it. Datura Online is a website that offers online belly dance classes, yoga and pilates conditioning and covers anything from drills to choreographies. The site and studio is run by Rachel Brice and Sol Crawford. You can see the short promotional video for it below:

I do want to be completely honest with you and tell you that I was approached to write this review, and was given a month’s subscription and full access to the site in order to write a comprehensive review. I was told that if I decided not to write the review, I was welcome to just enjoy the month’s subscription and I was under no obligation to write anything. Of course, I’m incredibly keen to write a review, because I think more people should know about Datura Online and they should be aware of what options they have available to them.

In this review I will discuss my first impressions, the site usability, payment options, content, site features and my overall star rating.

First Impressions:

The very first thing I thought when I logged onto the site was; “wow! What a lot of content!” There are so many things to choose from, and I didn’t know where to begin. My advice would be to go onto the site with an idea of a class or subject you would like to learn about and take it from there.

I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to websites. If I can’t find a website easily, and can’t find what I’m looking for easily, I don’t want to be a client or create traffic for that website. It’s the 21st century and websites have now taken the place of that all important first meeting. Websites ARE your first impression.  I also studied graphic design and if a website has bad design, I run far away. I am pleased to tell you that Datura Online didn’t bother me at all. The site was user-friendly, designed beautifully with ease of access in mind and you won’t spend ages on it trying to figure out where to click.

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 Site Usability:

I did mention under “first impressions” that the site was beautifully designed and easy to use. I asked my mom to access the site and see what she thought about the layout and how easy it was to use. She was happy to see lots of information in the “about” tab, because she’s the kind of woman who loves to read the manual before operating the machine. 🙂 She said that it was easy to use and it had an intuitive layout that even she could use.

There are 6 different tabs at the top of the site that allow you to choose what kind of class you would like to take. You have teachers, style, level, topics, duration and class type. This helps narrow down your search for the perfect video MUCH easier. Only have 15minutes? No problem, just hover over duration and choose the 11-15min option. I find this especially helpful because we all know that a lot of dancers work 9-5, have kids and a husband/wife, attend classes, make costumes, etc. The list just goes on. It’s a really helpful feature to have when you’re pressed for time but still want to get a little something in.

Something that I quite liked was that when you hover your mouse over a video of a class, it came up with a description for that class. This means that you actually don’t waste time when searching for a class, it’s all right there.

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The site was well thought out and beautifully made to make it easy to use.

Payment Options:

My subscription was activated for me, so I didn’t actually purchase anything, but I can tell you how it works. You can either pay $35 per month for unlimited access to the site for 30 days, which means if you wanted to watch the same drill video every day for those 30 days, you could. You could even watch a new video every day for 30 days for $35. $35 translates into ±R300. Class fees in South Africa are around R250 – R350 a month (from what I’ve seen) and R300 a month for classes when you want them is a really reasonable amount to ask. If you aren’t interested in paying R300 a month, but would rather pay for the classes you take, there is of course an option to do that. You can rent one video at a time, and it is available for a subscription period. (Click here to subscribe)

Payment can be done through PayPal, and between you and me, I think Rachel Brice is trustworthy, so don’t hesitate to do classes, even if you’re scared of paying for stuff online. 😉

I was also told that in 2013, Datura Online would be introducing new ways to pay and enjoy classes. They will be offering limited subscriptions for a lower price. (Seriously, this is sounding like a bargain!)

Content:

So.Much.Content! And they just keep adding more. Datura Online offers several teachers, which I found great because even through a video, you have to connect to your teacher. I did one or two lessons with Ashley Lopez, and although I think her dancing is to die for, I didn’t like the way she taught – it just didn’t “speak” to me. I far preferred the classes from Rachel Brice, but I’m glad that she isn’t doing all the classes, because I know quite a few people who don’t like her style of dance or teaching. You get a chance to learn from some of the best teachers on offer and it’s great that you can pick and choose who you can do classes with.

Something I LOVED – and just want to stress so much – is that there are classes from several different teachers in DIFFERENT STYLES! You might be inclined to think that just because it is run by Rachel Brice, it’s all Tribal Fusion. But it’s definitely not. Datura Online boasts (and they’re allowed to boast!) classes in American Cabaret, Tribal Fusion, ITS, American Tribal Style®,Classical Egyptian and more.

They also have guest teachers, like Amy Sigil from Unmata and are slowly adding more teachers that we can learn from.

Overall opinion & my experience:

Reading this review, I know it seems like I’m just gushing about the website, and don’t have a single negative thing to say. There are reasons for this.  The first one is plain and simple: I am very impressed with this website. It’s something that I think the dance community has needed for a long time and I do want to encourage others to use it.

I haven’t taken as many classes as I would’ve liked, which really sucks, but we’ve hit summer very suddenly and it’s almost too hot to move, never mind do anything else. I did try and take classes that I wouldn’t normally take, as well as some classes that did interest me. A word of warning though: to those thinking that a 30min class can’t get THAT tough – you’re wrong. Very wrong! I specifically chose my first warm up to be a short one – only 11 minutes. I was definitely warmed up after that! These classes aren’t designed to be easy or to make you feel bored. They’re relatively easy to keep up with but a little bit challenging too.

I do have grievances with the site, the first one being that I do wish that during the warm ups, the teacher would do a demonstration first, then go into the move. Sometimes you’re lying on the ground, or have your head facing down or away from the computer/tv screen and it’s very difficult to see from that position. It would make it just a little bit easier to follow.

My big problem with the site was also the video player. It automatically selects a video quality that matches your internet speed and doesn’t seem to “load” like a YouTube video. So even if I paused the video and went away for an hour, it would still only load as it plays. This is a problem for me because I live in South Africa and my internet connection is a bit slow. I don’t have unlimited data or a super fast connection and I prefer a super high quality video, even if I have to wait for it. The fact that I couldn’t find an option to select the quality was a low point in my experience.

I also had an issue with the video player with one of my classes where it got stuck and had to load in the middle of the class about 10 times. It made it very frustrating and difficult to keep up with the class that kept being interrupted.

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What I would like to see from Datura Online:

Growth is the biggest thing I want to see from Datura, and they can only do that if we take classes. I would like to see even more content added to the ever-growing library of classes they currently have going.

Something I’d really like to see in the library are more lecture videos. Something I always enjoy when I purchase a DVD is the little bit of extra info they sometimes put in it, like a quick music theory lesson, a lesson in anatomy or something about the history of belly dance. I think that there are loads of people with so much information to share and it would be incredibly valuable to be able to learn a bit more from them.

I would personally love something along the lines of music theory, because I can dance to belly dance music and Arabic rhythms, but I can’t explain it to anybody else because I have no theory to explain it.

Another thing that might be useful to have would be costuming tips. There are lots of things out there on the web (as you saw from my costuming post a while back) but I’m sure there is so much more to learn. Some people might not want videos like that, but I think it’s valuable to have information out there online that we can potentially send students to look at and learn from.

FINAL WORD!

So, the (very long) review is at an end. I would just like to thank Sol for giving me the opportunity to write this and be honest in my review. I think that this is wonderful website and the entire world is very lucky to be given an opportunity to be able to learn from the very best in our industry.

To my readers: this will make an excellent study buddy. I DON’T think it should replace your actual classes (because nothing can replace learning from a teacher in real-time)  but this would be great for that week when you can’t get to class or during the long summer holidays when most dance studios are closed.

This would also make an amazing present, and Datura has made it possible for you to gift a subscription for somebody else. Presents are great for any time of the year – even if there isn’t a birthday, Christmas, Hanukah or any other gift-giving celebration.

I hope you found this review helpful, if you have any questions about it, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below.

Have a blessed and safe holiday season!