alexandra graham

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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Reasons you’re not coming to dance class, and why they’re crap

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1.

I don’t have time/ I am too busy to attend class

You’re busy, it’s a hectic time of year and you can’t find extra time to tie your shoelaces – never mind attend a dance class!

why it’s crap – The thing is… and this is a hard truth… you need to make time for class. If you want to attend class, you need to say “On Monday evenings, from 7-8pm I have dance” for you to ever come. People want to meet up on a Monday? “No, I’m sorry. I have class.” My mom always told me that if I had said yes to something, I was going to do it, even if something better came along. And in reality, that “something better” very rarely turned out to be better.

If you let every distraction take you away from dance class, you’ll never attend.

2.

It’s too hot

Geez. These Cape Town summers can be absolutely brutal, especially if you don’t have an air-conditioned studio.

why it’s crap – There’s going to be weather whether you like it or not. Not attending class because of weather is a bit… well, it’s a bit weird. It is hot 6 months of the year, so if it’s too hot to attend class, you’re missing out on half a year’s worth of classes! The teacher is also very, VERY aware of how hot it is, and she won’t push you unnecessarily and she’ll provide enough water breaks.

3.

It’s too cold

Cape Town winter can be as cold as the summers are hot, with snow on our mountains, it brings a horrible chill to the air! No wonder you want to stay at home, with a warm cup of tea and a blanket!

why it’s crap – What are you, Goldilocks? “It’s too hot, it’s too cold!” Well with that attitude, it’ll never be just right. We always warm up before class, and once you get moving you’re plenty warm and forget all about being cold.

4.

My muscles hurt!

Ouch! You’ve been at the gym, eh? It can be rough the day after exercise – even walking hurts!

why it’s crap – Everybody knows that the best cure for sore muscles is to exercise them even more. Once you get moving you’ll totally forget about that hectic gym session – and the next day it’ll feel way, way better.

5.

I have period pains! L

The lady time of the month totally sucks! Pain, discomfort and so much more to contend with. Sometimes, I’d also rather stay home, curled up in a ball and eating ice cream.

why it’s crap – Okay, so we covered this in the 4th point – muscle pain is made better by exercise. I have found 9 times out of 10 that after exercise, my period cramps are a lot less! Warming the muscles up and moving them around is good for you! Also, it tends to make you forget about the pains, and focus on something else.

6.

My friends aren’t going tonight

Whoo! Friends are awesome to dance with, and going to class with somebody just makes the awesome class even more awesome! But when they don’t go, it’s not really worth going because it’s just not going to be as much fun…

why it’s crap – it’s awesome to have friends to go to class with, especially when you’re just starting out. But it also means that you’re less likely to come to class if your friend doesn’t come.  Your friend can’t be there for everything you do, and if you’re an adult, you should be doing plenty of things on your own. Use it as an opportunity to make new friends, and then you’ll change your mindset to “whoo! All my friends will be there!”

7.

I have exams

Exams are really brutal and you need to study as much and as hard as possible for the exam to be a success!

why it’s crap – Your brain needs a break. You absolutely cannot study and cram for hours upon hours without a break. Dance is an awesome break! It’s 60-90 minutes (so a long break!) that forces you to think about something other than your work. Moving your body, not looking at a screen, shifting your mind to something else – all healthy ways to take a break!

  1. I don’t have my shoes/belt/dance pants with me, I shouldn’t even bother

Urgh. You’re having an off day. You’ve left your shoes/pants/belts at home and now are inappropriately dressed for class. You may as well go home.

why it’s crap – You’re looking for an excuse. Your dance gear doesn’t make you dance any better. Sure, it’s a bit annoying if you forget your veil at home and we’re doing veil work. But you can still follow along. It’s never a waste of time to come to class. Even if you need to do the exercises slightly differently, you can still learn something.

  1. I’m tired

Bad day. Long week. Irritating coworkers. All you want to do is go home and rest. So very tired.

why it’s crap –  You will have off days, and it’s important to keep dancing even though you’re not feeling 100%. If you only ever dance when you’re happy, you’ll miss out on so much. Often I find classes can give you energy again, and really help make you feel better. Come to class.

 

10.

I don’t enjoy classes

You’re not having fun anymore, it’s a chore to go to class and you don’t like your classmates.

why it’s crap –  it’s not. If you’re not enjoying classes anymore, stop doing them. Sometimes you need to re-evaluate why you come to class and if you’re still getting what you want from it. On the other hand, sometimes we need to push through times of “ergh. I don’t feel like it” and you’ll come out on the other side feeling much better. It happens to all of us, but it’s up to you to determine whether it’s a passing feeling or something deeper.

 

ONE REASON NOT TO COME TO CLASS:

I don’t have money. Please, please stay away. You are not helping anybody by attending class and not being able to afford it. If you can’t pay on time, discuss it with your teacher. If you are unsure whether you can pay at all, it’s better not to come.

 

If any of these apply to you, you may be making excuses. If you find yourself making these excuses week after week, it might be time to put the belt down and have a serious think whether this is for you or not. There is no shame in stopping if you feel you have outgrown the studio, outgrown belly dance or found another hobby. If you are wanting to come to dance again, there is always a place for you.

 

 

Thank you to Jeanne and Samantha for their input on this one! 😉 

 

Bellydance Bra: A How To Tutorial

First post of 2014! One I promised to do nearly 5 months ago… oopsy!

Life got in the way a bit in 2013, but I’ve promised myself that I’ll write blog posts more often. I need to get into it for my photography site as well, so it’ll be a year of blogging!

So this post is a bit of a tutorial on how to make a bellydance bra. I don’t promise that this is perfect or the only way to do it. If you do something differently to the way I do – let me know in the comments below so I can try out your methods! As they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. (ew.)

First, you need to find a bra to work on. This means doing a bit of shopping. Try on different shaped bras to see what suits you best. I find that this “sweetheart” styled bra fits me quite well and makes me feel very secure, which is really important since you’re going to be (hopefully) flinging yourself around in it.

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Check that the back of the bra isn’t riding up. That is a sure sign that it doesn’t fit properly! A good bra should sit relatively low in the back (as this lifts the girls up in the front), the straps shouldn’t dig into you & you should be able to do the “arm test” (scroll down to see that)

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When I try on bras, I do this silly looking test that I call the “arm test”. I lift my arms in front of me (as illustrated below) and I see if the bra gapes. If the bra gapes, then I usually don’t buy it. Simply because if I am in the middle of a choreography and want to lift my arms in front of me, I won’t be able to do so without flashing the audience. (Not sexy)

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Like I said, silly looking. 🙂

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I encourage you to always buy bras that are “multi way”. This is because if you want to make halter straps, the bra is already designed to be able to move that way. If you buy a bra that doesn’t have the multi-way function, and you make a halter neck, it will distort the bra and make it gape.

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I recently bought bra cups at our fabric shop. I still want to try them, but stuck with what I knew for this tutorial.

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What you will need:

* Fabric of choice

* Scissors

*Thread (in the same colour as the fabric, unlike me. Don’t do as I do…)

*Pins

*Needles

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And optional: A sewing machine.
This was the first bra I have ever sewed using my machine. I just used it for the straps, as other parts of the bra are too thick to sew through and I didn’t have the right needles.

It just means it goes faster and is slightly neater.

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Not optional: Delicious snacks to get you through the process.

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* Interfacing

Below I have a photo of a bunch of different types of interfacing. From top to bottom:

* A reasonably thick vilene. Doesn’t bend when it’s folded & is not the iron-on stuff.

* Buckram. Very hard & difficult to sew through. Best used for reinforcement.

* A thin vilene. Thin like tissue paper. Not ideal for building straps.

* Thin buckram. Flimsy & soft. Not ideal for building straps, but useful for extra reinforcement.

* Denim (not pictured) I used this for AGES for building my bras & belts. Soft, long lasting & easy to work with.

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STEP 1:
I cover my bra. I usually take a corner of the fabric and try pinning it in different ways before cutting it. Cutting is very final. Buy extra fabric if you’re worried about it.

I first pin the top and then the bottom. The top will always be pinned the same way, but at the bottom you can either use a dart (folds sewn into the fabric to give it a 3-dimensional shape) or ruching (gathers of fabric used to form ruffles.)

I spent a good 2 hours pinning my bra. I wanted to show you how a dart would look, as well as ruching (which is what I went with in the end)

Pinned at the top:

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A very messy dart:

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Ruching Pinned: (lots of pins!)

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Ruching sewn.

With ruching, I just sew at the bottom of it. I don’t sew further up the cup because I don’t want stitching on the cup as it will be visible. I don’t know if this is the correct way to do it, but it is the way I do it.

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STEP 2:

Cut out straps. I used the first Vilene mentioned above to make my straps. I had a pattern from straps already lying around that I had cut out of the thin buckram.

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Placed the pattern on the Vilene. I folded it to end sooner because I wouldn’t be making straps that connect in the back. This is up to you. I

I folded my vilene in half and drew one pattern. I then cut through the 2 layers so that they would be perfectly equal. It also saves time.

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I used this handy little pen to draw on my vilene. It fades in 48 hours or so, so it’s perfect for mapping out your pattern on fabric.

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I place my strap onto my bra to see if it fits. I made a mark with the pen to show where I would need to cut it.

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Before making a commitment to making the straps, I check out my stash of loops & rings that I’ll be using for the straps.

With this, you want to make sure that your loops aren’t much bigger that your straps. If they are, they tend to move around and can end up not fitting quite right.

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I added grosgrain ribbon to my straps for extra reinforcement. This is a new thing I am testing out. Seems to work well!

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Now, take a break and eat one of your snacks. Hmmmm. Chocolate.

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This is the bra with the straps covered & one of them pinned onto the bra. Covering the straps is as simple as putting the fabric over it, pinning & sewing. Nothing fancy or difficult there.

Note that the original bra straps are still on.

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The backs of my bras are always insanely messy. I have started lining my bras (you will see why in a bit) but that can only be done once it is totally decorated.

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One half of the bra has a top decoration on it. This is just a silver lace I bought, and folded over the top of this bra.

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The inside again.

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I used my loops on the back straps of the bra, and pin in place. I hand sewed this because my machine can’t get close enough to the loops. (I tried & broke a needle in the process)

At this point, you can cut off your side straps. You can see in the picture above where I cut mine off. Usually where there is a bit of boning in the strap.

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Next, make your top straps. Using vilene (or your base of choice) and grosgrain ribbon, sew them together & cover them in your fabric. Pin to the bra & sew in place. (Again, I did this by hand)

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Ta-da! You now have straps!

NOT PICTURED:

Adding the loops to the top straps & sewing in place.

Then go outside and take some photos in your fabulous new bra!

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Below you can see the reason why lining is so important. the tiny bits of fabric will sneak out of the bottom of your bra and show. (I have no idea how to line stuff – I just make it up as I go along!)

Harem Pants & Necklace: Also by me! 😉

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Back of the bra:

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You can see that it is still very rough, but I am fine with that, as I will be covering all those seams.

I know some of you like to pin my stuff, so I’ve done this picture below that you can use as the pinned picture:

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If you cant seem to pin it, find my pin here (click click) and feel free to share! 🙂

If you have any questions or suggestions, let me know in the comments below! I love to hear from you!

xx

My Makeup Transitions & Some Tips

I have said before that I know next to nothing about make up. I was always hopelessly lost when I needed to buy new things for dance and I ended up just going with items that clearly showcased my lack of knowledge. I’m almost embarrassed to post this, but I do want to show you how far I’ve come in my make up choices!

I’ve also said before that I grew up with a mom who didn’t wear a lot of makeup – which I’m totally grateful for now. Because as nice as it is to know how to apply makeup properly, it’s even nicer to have a mom who taught me that appearances aren’t everything. After all, make up is a skill you can learn if you practice enough.

Since I started working, I realized how important it is for me to wear a bit of makeup. I find that I look too young (and in people’s minds, therefore inexperienced) and makeup helped me age a bit. Every month or two I’ve bought at least one new makeup product. Nothing over R100 (+-$10) but just enough to play around with.

So if you’re not experienced with makeup, or can’t afford the high-end products, don’t worry. You can learn how to apply makeup and you can do perfectly fine with cheaper/drugstore products.

I started out with using incredibly cheap products. Pretty much whatever I could get at any R5 Shop or Mr Chen Superstore was the kind of thing I would go for. After all, I started dancing and performing when I was 16, so R8 for a bunch of eyeshadows really was the only thing that was affordable for me.

My first performance ever (in 2007), in which the eye makeup was inspired by makeup that could be found in the Sims 2.

Below you can see one of the looks I would go for at the start of my Tribal Fusion career, typically:

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Mainly a liquid eyeliner. Actually… only a liquid eyeliner. I was messy with it and didn’t really know what I was doing.

I did get better years later at the eyeliner, but also started experimenting with eye shadows. I also started watching YouTube tutorials to learn a bit more about makeup. Since I didn’t know what I was looking for, I watched random videos and picked up a few hints from them. One of them being the use of sticky-tape to create a solid winged line by your eye. I did this for a really long time, and I actually want to try it again sometime, using my newer knowledge of makeup application.

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Not being used to make up, you can see in a lot of these images that I was too light handed with my shadow and I should’ve been piling it on a lot heavier. If you’re not used to makeup, any makeup is a lot to wear!

I am lucky in that my studio occasionally has a “dress up” class where we get to wear new costumes to test out, or try new hair/makeup tricks. I used a lot of these classes for experimenting with makeup and I’m very grateful for that – otherwise I might still be doing the liquid liner…

I also started to use concealer (very recently actually – only about a year ago) for performances because I have quite bad under eye circles and it became more noticeable when I had darker shadows on my eyes.

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Here are a few things I’ve learned that you might find helpful too:

  • NO LIQUID EYELINER!! That deserved both of those exclamation marks. Use the liquid eyeliner to… *gasp* line your eyes, don’t do the entire thing in plain ol’ black eyeliner. Yucky.
  • Blend Blend Blend! Swiping your eye shadow over your eyes and walking out the house never looks nice. Take time to blend your eye shadows out so that it gently fades rather than abruptly stops.
  • Using JUST a kohl/pencil liner on your bottom lid doesn’t make for very pretty eyes. It tends to make the bottom lid look heavy and very harsh. Either tight line (upper water line) your eye or blend it out so it’s not a hard line.
  • Using cheap products will NOT take you a long way. You don’t need to buy ridiculously expensive products either – just be an informed consumer by reading reviews before buying.
  • False eyelashes. Wear them. You don’t need to buy the super expensive ones like Ardell (which go for between R50 – R90 here). If you want to test falsies out, buy the cheapies at the China shops for about R10, but definitely buy quality glue! The stuff that comes with the cheapies is mostly useless.
  • Mascara is your friend.
  • Filling in your brows is something that people seem to not talk about very often. Ever seen Zoe Jakes without makeup? Nearly no eyebrows. On stage? Super amazing eyebrows. That girl knows her brows. Honestly though, it’s important to fill in your brows if you’re performing. Having thin brows makes them disappear on stage and it can look a bit strange. (also, really thin/non-existent brows is NEVER flattering!) If you ARE going to fill in your brows, use a powder to do so. Loads of brands stock an “eyebrow kit” for doing exactly that. *
  • Don’t go for a lipstick that is too dark. It can often look black and black lipstick is never flattering. EDIT: As Rasha Nour pointed out in the comments – don’t wear a lipstick that is too light/natural either or it can fade away. I think your best bet is to go for a vibrant red or bright colour.
  • Use YouTube. There are plenty of YouTube gurus who can help you out with ideas and tips for the perfect look for you.
  • Make sure your foundation matches to your skin. Nothing is weirder than seeing somebody’s face is shades lighter/darker than the rest of them.

I’ll be writing another post soon about some of my favourite YouTube gurus and makeup videos – if you’re interested!

Here are some of my more recent make up looks, and I think I have improved dramatically!

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And my most recent, taken just a month ago at International Bellydance Day!

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I hope some of this was helpful to you, and if not, I hope you had a giggle at my earlier makeup. It’s a bit cringe worthy, but hey – what was your makeup like when you were 16? 😉

I didn’t want to talk about buying things too much in this post, because I believe that there are plenty of makeup blogs that cater specifically to that, and I also don’t believe that expensive products mean better results. It’s often about how you apply the products, and there are plenty of cheaper brands out there that are perfect for dancing.

To finish this post off – I do think that knowing how to do your makeup is a very important skill to have if you’re a performer of any sort. With the internet and YouTube tutorials, there’s no reason you can’t learn!

Until next time! *waves*

*I have a bit of a thing about eyebrows.

Casablanca Nights & Oriental Dreams

It’s already March, and I’ve failed to post these photos and videos from November last year. Oopsy! I kept meaning to, but thought that perhaps I should write something interesting instead of just posting videos and photos.

I have since failed to think of anything interesting to write, and while there are a few vague ideas for blog posts in my head, most of them are rubbish and I get sick of thinking about them for a while.

So instead, I’m going to post tons of photos and videos from the 2 performances in November. I’ll start with Casablanca Nights.

Casablanca Nights was a dance showcase hosted by Anita from Moondance Studios. Anita asked our troupe to perform 3 pieces at the showcase, and of course we were happy to do so! Anita is really a wonderful woman and I always enjoy spending time chatting to her. Our troupe performed 3 pieces, 2 of which we have on video. The third piece we performed was our choreography from the Oriental Festival, which you can see in my previous post.

I performed a solo piece, and I must say, I’m getting quite into performing solos. They may not always be as interesting to watch as group choreographies, but I find such a creative freedom when I perform solo – mostly because if I mess up, nobody knows! This choreography was a piece I created a while ago, and I posted a video of me performing it for the first time. Since then, I’ve forgotten the choreography and now mostly improvise with a few set moves thrown in for stability.

Anyway, here it is, and a SUPER HUGE thank you to Paula for taking the video and to Kash and George for the photos! ❤

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Behold my abs! Seriously though, I’m super proud of my stomach for coming to the table and showing everybody what I’ve got. Yay abs!

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The troupe also performed our 2012 creation, Lunar. Every year we try and learn a very difficult choreography from a dancer. This year we chose to learn from Sera Solstice, and did her choreography from her DVD, Lunar. Sera doesn’t teach the choreography on her DVD, but does all the combos on the DVD and then a performance at the end, so there are some changes that we made to suit us, but roughly followed the choreography.

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Later in November, Leoni (Firefly) and I performed at Layla’s Oriental Nights Hafla. We had a really great time there, and I performed a new dance that unfortunately didn’t get recorded. Hopefully sometime soon I’ll be doing it again, so I’ll have something to show you. 🙂 But there are photos!

Firefly performed a fire dance with her poi and the crowd really enjoyed it – it’s definitely something different and adds an element of danger to the performance!

Crappy cellphone photo before the show!

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And I think that concludes my looong blog post. I hope you enjoyed the photos and video – I’d love to hear your thoughts. Hopefully a better blog post soon. 🙂

x

The Oriental Dance Festival 2012

What a crazy time the last few months have been! Just when I think I can catch my breath, there are a million and one other things to do! I guess this is life for most people, eh? It makes me all the more amazed that you all still find time for kids, partners, family, friends, dance, work and other activities! I sometimes wonder if there are enough hours in the day…

At the end of last year (can you believe 2012 is over?!) Maya Troupe performed quite a few times, and we also did a photo shoot with the photography company I’m working for! I’m hoping to post all of that in the next few days, starting with the videos and photos of performances.

In October, as per usual, we performed at the International Oriental Dance Festival. I got the chance to meet some lovely ladies who had flown down from Joburg to perform at the festival and gala evening. What a treat to meet such wonderful women! They were so friendly, and I hope they found Cape Town as welcoming and as warm as they were towards me.

The festival consists of 3 performance days – the Thursday is usually the gala evening. I’ve never been to a gala evening, but I’m hoping to go this year. On the Saturday and Sunday , the Fringe Program runs all day. Belly dancers are constantly performing in the tent all day, from 9am – 5pm. They have short breaks and alternate between the huge tent they set up and the amphitheatre.

Dancing in the tent

Dancing in the tent – thanks to Tarryn for the photo!

Frieda (our studio owner and troupe leader) made these wings herself! Many threats were made and much cursing happened during the making of these wings. I think the results are totally worth it. They’re super original, beautiful and I love that when she opened them up you could hear the crowd say ‘ooh’!

(I am second row on the R. 🙂 )

For the first time, we performed at the amphitheatre this year! It wasn’t as nice as I was hoping, and the ground was incredibly hot, so we ended up wearing our shoes. I hate dancing with shoes, but luckily this dance didn’t have much travelling. Both days went really well, and there were no serious mishaps, except some of the troupe being a bit late on the Sunday, which caused a bit of stress amongst those who were there early.

It was an incredibly hot day, and I am fair skinned, so I tried to stay out of the sun. It resulted in me wearing a scarf over my head and Leoni and Nadine calling me a vampire. (Thanks guys!)

As usual, the weekend was really fun, and I had a good time trying out the new makeup I had bought.

I can’t think of much more to say except that the performances went smoothly and we’re looking forward to performing again in 2013.

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!