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OMG it’s 2017

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I haven’t written a blog post in such a long time! Partly from feeling uninspired, personal life got busy and maintaining a dance studio, as well as my photography full time does mean that there is little time for the things I used to do for enjoyment only. Now, most of my activities are twofold – for work as well as play.

Part of re-evaluating my dance goals for 2017 was to re-evaluate this blog. I started it in 2008/9 as a way to document my progress as a new dancer and put thoughts out onto the internet. It was a great source of learning not only about belly dancing, but also about myself. God, that sounds cheesy. But I learned a lot about how I think about things, how I evaluate topics and come to my own conclusions. It’s been a great learning curve.
I did briefly consider taking the blog down, but I get thousands of views a month (sorry for never posting loyal readers!) and I know it’s frustrating when a blog you’ve been following suddenly disappears, never to be referenced again! So I think, instead of totally tanking the blog, I’ll try revive it with new blog posts! At least one a month will be a good starting point. Oh look – I’m already late for January! (what’s new?!) I do think that some of my posts also contain some of my out dated ideas, so I might like to revisit some of that.

I thought I’d like to make this first blog post about what I’ve been up to dance-wise in the last… 2-3 years. Has it really been that long?

To start, our dance studio (Maya Belly Dance Troupe) flourished and then flailed badly. In 2011, we had a huge 3-night show – and it was a great success. It was held in a forest, surrounded by trees and dirt and it was wonderful. In 2015, we started out the year with over 20 regular students. (For our small studio, that’s quite a feat!) We put on another 3-night show at the same lovely venue and this was less successful. We lost money, attendance wasn’t great, and worst of all, I was tired. I loved the performing, but the organising, spending what seemed like endless amounts of money, managing people and students – it was all a bit much. When we put on our show in 2011, we were 3 teachers and could manage the stress a bit better. In 2015, there were only 2 of us. The tide has changed much since 2011.

The overall quality of the 2015 show was amazing, and I do look back on it fondly! But the aftermath of the show was tough. A lot of students left the studio – for various reasons, both good and bad – and that left us with essentially 6 regular students. We had gone from teaching  4 classes a week – all fully attended! – down to 2, barely having enough students for one class. We lost our best dancer directly after the show. It was a tough blow. The other teacher and I had to find inspiration from essentially nothing, and carry on teaching the students that were there.

I am forever grateful to the few dancers who did stick it out – they are the heart and soul of our studio now, and their commitment to the studio and their passion for dance is not unnoticed.

I am also comforted in the knowledge that we are not alone in our studio flourishing and then flailing. I have heard from dance friends all over the world that their studios went through a similar thing recently, and it’s been a difficult hole to get out of. I know that trends come and go, and when Shakira was at her most popular (Hips Don’t Lie got me into class 10 years ago!) the studios were full, busy and thriving. The trend has shifted a few times in the last 10 years, from  belly dance to burlesque to pole dancing, so I know it’s not just us.

The fact that our studio has been going for 10 years is a huge achievement all on its own. In our area alone, we’ve had 4 or 5 different studios start up and then stop in those 10 years.

Despite knowing that we are not totally at fault for students leaving us, I have found it difficult not to take their leave personally. On the rare occasion that you hear why a student has left your studio, you can’t help but wonder “could I have done this differently?” And most of the time, the answer is no. Especially in the last year, I have had to remind myself that I can’t make everybody happy, and as long as I try and have their best interests at heart, I can’t fault myself.

SO… 2017 is the year of the student for me. I am trying very hard to listen to my students wishes and take their ideas and thoughts into consideration. We are having weekly goal setting meetings with our advanced students at the moment and we have put some effort into putting on a small 10 year dance celebration in July, which will not only celebrate the past 10 years, but also the future of the studio – our students!

That just about sums up 2015! It was a hard year, and I think we barely made it through, to be completely honest. In the spirit of keeping things jovial, I will say that 2016 seemed to be the rise of the amazing students – we had a bunch of great beginners at the start of the year, that have since become even better intermediate students. Our advanced class is working incredibly hard this year and we have some of the most dedicated students we’ve ever had, with amazing visions for their future dance.

I’m excited to see what 2017 brings. J

If I have any advice for studios that are struggling: Hold onto your dedicated students, work hard with them and don’t ever forget that they were there week after week. Go and give them a hug, or a chocolate. They deserve it! 😉

 

As part of my 2017 blogging goals, I’d also like to revisit some old blog posts. Any in particular you’d like to see me tackle again?

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Dear Teacher,

In the last year I have been trying to take as many classes in different exercises as I can afford, and 2015 is the year for even more of this, including as many workshops as I can get.

I have been doing hooping, yoga, fire dancing/poi and of course belly dancing over the course of 2014 and being a newbie student again has helped me a lot in my teaching, so I thought I’d do a quick little letter to teachers everywhere, from a student’s perspective.

Top R: Me in September Bottom R: Me in December I still suck at it, but small improvements are still improvements!

Top L: Me in September
Bottom L: Me in December
I still suck at it, but small improvements are still improvements!

Dear Teachers,

I love your teaching, or I wouldn’t be in your classes, so please don’t get mad when I tell you what has been bothering me. Sometimes I just don’t like what we’re doing and it doesn’t gel with me (physically or otherwise!) Don’t take this personally.

Please explain a new sequence to me in different ways. Everybody learns differently (a blog post on this soon!) – sometimes I am not sure which learning method will work for me at the time, so try them all!

No, we are not even a little bored of you repeating yourself. Please keep doing that so that I can finally get that incredibly tough sequence into my head! I know you’re bored because you’ve learnt it and now have to repeat it over and over, but we’ll let you know when we’re bored too.

Ask me if I am doing alright! I’d love to give you feedback or ask you a question, but sometimes I’m too shy to ask in case my question comes across as a stupid one.

It’s so easy for me to forget all the important things I need to be doing with my posture and my feet, hands, hips, waist, chest, head, neck, shoulders, knees and thighs that sometimes one of them will slip my mind. A gentle reminder of where I need to be helps wonders and it keeps me focussed on what I am doing. I don’t mind being singled out.

Occasionally I have an off day and nothing wants to stick. Please just ignore me when that happens – I’ll be better the next time!

I’d love to chat to you about setting goals for myself. Telling myself I want to learn X is one thing (and easy to ignore!) but telling my teacher is a whole new world and means I might actually have to commit to it!

And finally, thank you for all the hard work that you put into your classes. I love it!

Love,

Your dedicated but mostly useless student.

—-

The Bellydance Blog comes to YouTube!

I have been thinking about doing this for quite a while, and I’d like to do more YouTube videos on common topics that keep coming up in the belly dance world. I’d perhaps even like to revisit some of my old posts in video format.

Let me know what you think and if you’d be interested in seeing more videos! 🙂

P.S
It’s terrifying putting yourself online like this – so be nice! 🙂

New video

So here is a video, of me in studio last night. I love this song by Beats Antique and I finally decided to just try a bit of improv!

I obviously see a lot of mistakes and things I can do better in. I like improv though and I’d like to try and get better at it. I am actively working on dancing more and doing yoga more often, so I want to document any progress I might make.

Seeing yourself on video is a double-edged sword. It’s cool that I can see what I’ve improved on, but at the same time it shows me what I still need to do.

I’m trying to see that in a positive light – that I have never learned it all and that there is always so much for me to do! It’s a never-ending journey! 🙂

Anybody can be a belly dancer!

I was browsing through Shimmies, Sequins & Slippers the other day, hoping a new blog post would magically appear as I was scrolling. *ahem Roxanne, ahem!* Although I wasn’t surprised with a new blog post, I was intrigued by reading some old ones that are very good that I had forgotten about.

One of the posts that caught my eye was the unintentionally mean post. (I would recommend reading it here, before reading my post). In short, it was about a dancer that performed at a festival and was absolutely terrible. Roxanne just chats about whether all dancers should be allowed to perform in public – and she didn’t mean it in a mean way! (Go read it!)

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and even asked my Facebook friends what they think of the latest phrase to be thrown around: “Anybody can bellydance!”

I’m going to be absolutely frank with you: No, not everybody can belly dance. It’s like telling a child that they can be anything they want to be if they work hard enough. Yes, part of that is true and it’s a wonderful thing to believe. But especially with art, a lot of it needs to be natural talent as well as hard work. Singing works as a brilliant example, just look at the Idols contestants every year. There are always complete opposite degrees of talent that audition for that show – the completely tone deaf that make the “Wooden Mic” reel, the people that can hold a tune, and then those with exceptional voices. I don’t know much about singing, so when I watch Idols auditions and I see those that can hold a tune get voted off, I often wonder why. The reason for this is that they can hold a tune. They can sing, yes, but there is nothing exceptional about them. They may be able to sing along to songs with no problem and maybe even make it into a church choir. But it’s a huge leap from there to being a professional. And in a competitive industry (like dance) you need to be better than good at your craft. You need to be exceptional.

Another example comes from my past – when I was younger I was obsessed with crime novels and investigation shows. I started out by reading Famous Five books, moved onto the Point Crime series, then started getting into Jeffery Deaver when I was 13. I watched shows like Bones and CSI. I even bought a “Forensics for Dummies” book. I was completely convinced that I was going to study forensic science when I left school. I was passionate and interested in it and willing to work hard at it. I ended up getting 40% for science at school, and got a tutor in who helped me get it to 60%. At the end of grade 11, I realized that I didn’t have that natural knack that some people have for science. My brain just wasn’t geared towards thinking that way, and no matter how much I trained it, I would never be as good at it as my tutor was – it was second nature for him. A completely natural way of thinking.

The reason that the “Anybody can bellydance” phrase came around was to show people how it was different from modern dance and ballet. It’s different in that it is a dance form that has no restrictions for learning. You can be any age, shape, colour or nationality to take a belly dance class. Ballet has always been a dance form reserved for the young, and although now we are seeing adult dance classes advertised, it’s still a new thing. Another big difference is that you can start belly dancing at the age of 25 and still go pro, where you can’t do that with ballet.

The unfortunate truth of it is that some people  believe that they can be a pro, because anybody can do it! has been floating around in their heads. And then you end up with a lot of mediocre dancers flooding the market and taking gigs away from seasoned pros. As well as dancers who take to the stage because they believe they are ready – after all, anybody can do it, right?

As dance teachers we need to have the guts to tell our students they’re not ready to advance to the next class or to perform on stage. There are lots of opportunities for students to perform, and if there aren’t then we should create more. Inviting family and friends to come and watch a student recital or small hafla is a great way to get dance exposure if you’re still new to dance and especially if you’re not ready (technically, artistically or mentally) to go pro.

In the end, it’s about being honest with yourself. Being honest about what you want from the classes – are you doing it for me-time, for the social aspect, for fitness, to be a pro dancer or some other reason? It’s also about being honest about your abilities as a dancer and learner. If you’re honest with yourself about your wants and abilities, there should be no problem. I know it’s difficult to admit your weaknesses, but you need to be honest with yourself to get an idea of where you are going and where you want to go.

Passion is a beautiful thing, but we have to be honest and realize that audiences don’t want to see somebody go onto stage and be passionate, but have no technique. Audiences (and other dancers!) want to see something impressive and different. I sometimes feel that a technically great dancer with little passion can go further than one with passion but no technique.

I think that as a dance community we need to have a definition of what makes a pro. Because – like we learned in school – every right comes with a responsibility. What are the responsibilities of a pro dancer? What are the rights of a pro dancer? As well as deciding what makes a dancer ready for the stage. The difficulty in doing something like this is that belly dancers don’t have a syllabus, so we don’t have a way to ‘measure’ our dancers and how to tell if one is ready for the stage. As Roxanne said in her blog, taking to the stage is an honour and a privilege and if we let everybody onto the stage, I think it loses it’s magic a little bit. Don’t you think? It suddenly becomes attainable and nobody wants to work hard for it.

I believe that anybody can enjoy belly dance, anybody can take classes and anybody can improve dramatically. I believe in student recitals (We used to do it every second term, where all the students would come together, we’d perform for each other and try out new choreographies on each other, and just DANCE together) I also believe in haflas geared towards students and giving students a chance to perform on a stage. I also believe in there being separate shows, bigger events like a showcase for when we bring in an international dancer – those showcases are reserved (in my opinion) for the professionals. I don’t even believe that I am ready for a big show like that (Although I’d love to be given the chance!).

I think the important thing here is to realize your potential, realize what you are capable of. And while it may hurt to be honest with yourself about your abilities, it NEEDS to be done. Some people are meant for the stage. Some people aren’t.

As a side note: I don’t even know if I’m a “real” performer or if I should just stick to smaller things. I love to perform and have a good time on stage, but when I watch the real pros I feel like I’m missing something. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but maybe I’m just being honest. 😉

Cabaret VS Tribal

Tribal VS Cabaret – this is a long and involved debate, with purists and experimental types bashing heads over this argument. Since this is my blog, I am going to give my opinion, so prepare yourself!

To start off with, I am a Tribal dancer, so I am obviously inclined to Tribal and Fusion belly dance. However, I do love to do the occasional cabaret piece and of course, watch great cabaret dancers. We can all agree (I hope) that good dancing is in the end exactly that – good dancing. Just because it may be a different style doesn’t mean that it’s not good. I am not a fan of contemporary style dance. At all. But I can appreciate the skill and dedication that the dancers have. I think we should always strive to do that – appreciate a dancer, be polite and clap at the end of their performance even if it’s not our personal style.

Art is like religion (yes, I said it!) it’s a very personal thing and our life experiences and emotions will drive our receptiveness of a piece.

I don’t believe the “versus” argument. I have seen a world of belly dance where, at a Tribal Hafla, a cabaret performer was cheered on and zagareeted to. I have seen a world of belly dance where dancers from all over the country dance together at festivals, regardless of shape, size, age and dance style.

I have (and always will) believe that there is no versus is dance – people create those arguments based on their own insecurities, their need for validation and are fueled by a lack of education in dance and dance history.

I have compiled a few videos that I think illustrate my thoughts on this segregation in the society.

I wanted to start with a clip of Rachel Brice dancing at Cairo Caravan, but it seems that the video has been removed from YouTube. How odd.

Here is one I have always loved, called “It’s All Bellydance” – I love dances where we get a taste of a bit of everything!

The Bellydance Superstars – I think always good at keeping the balance of Tribal and Cabaret dancers. Here they are, each doing the same thing, at the same time but it looks so different because they have stylized it to suit the style they dance. *YIP!*

Last but not least, this is Zoe Jakes and Kami Liddle at Massive Spectacular. They are dressed slightly cabaret, and do a lot of cabaret inspired moves but they still manage to keep it Tribal! 🙂

Let me know your thoughts – I’d love to see a reply post or “proof” that one is better than the other. Go ahead. Try me. 🙂

x

Miscellaneous Catch up

Welcome back!

I know, I’ve been absent for 2 months, but a lot of dance related drama has been going through my head and I’ve had a bit of stuff to deal with. But it’s all sorted now and I can look forward to 2012, which is already looking better than 2011!

I have been doing a fair bit of costuming, I made a new Tribal Fusion bra from bits and pieces bought at Geka and lovely faux suede fabric in a chocolate brown colour – ooh! I realized how many things I have in browny shades for my bottom half and that I only had 2 black fusion bras, but nothing brown to go with my brown pants or cream coloured wraps. Below is a very bad photo of this new bra – just taken with my phone. I will find and upload a nicer photo at some point.  I still want to do a bit of work to it, without overwhelming it with things. The problem is that it looks full and great up close but when I wear it in the studio it doesn’t look like much from far away. Hmm. Ideas? Also, the dark brown lace on the sides is insanely itchy which is great for keeping my arms up and not letting them drop but it does leave ugly marks on me after I take my bra off. Ah, the joy of sensitive skin!

In other costuming news, I have taken apart my blue cabaret costume. I realize I never posted photos of the finished product, but I have one or two from our show that I will post. After seeing the DVD of the show, I realized that there was too much wrong with it. Firstly, I am a rather short person (1.58m = 5 feet 2 inches) so having a belt on that was so wide just didn’t suit me and made me look shorter, especially with such long fringing! Then the bra had collapsed and gone soft so it didn’t fit properly, the straps were badly designed for my body type… I could go on. I’m sure you understand now why I decided to take apart the old bra and belt and make something new. Also – the shiny fabric was awful to work with and I wouldn’t mind working with just a plain cotton fabric.  So that is a future project… I have ideas of what to do with the long fringe because it’s too long, but I don’t think I’ll say what the plan is until it’s done. Otherwise I might fail miserably and then be the laughing stock of all belly dancers ever.

In other news – Kash from Rhythm Nouveau Dance Company is hosting Heather from Tribal Angels up in Joburg for a few ATS workshops! I am unfortunately dirt poor so I can only attend ONE of the workshops – boo! – however, Maya has also been asked to perform at the hafla which is being hosted on the Saturday night. I will be performing my solo from the BellyRing Hafla last year and Maya will be performing Lunar which we also performed at the Oriental Festival last year. I just need to wait a bit of time and then I can upload our performance of Lunar at the Oriental Festival. It’s an amazing dance and we loved learning and performing it.

In preparation for the hafla and workshops, we are doing ATS  every week until the end of February. We haven’t done ATS in a while, and I had forgotten just how much I love it. I am the first person to admit that it’s not always exciting to watch, but performing it and doing the moves and having great interactions with the other dancers is AMAZING. I might be in love all over again! 😉

Well, that’s all for now. Hopefully I will be posting more and more… if there is a topic you would like me to cover or an argument you feel like having me rant about, then please email me or leave a comment! At the top of the page you will find a “contact” page and you can find my email address there. 🙂