entertainment

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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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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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. 🙂

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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. 🙂

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