performing

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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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

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. 😉