south africa

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 Student,

So this is the delayed part 2 of my “Dear Teacher” blog post from much earlier this year. I have been teaching dance since about 2010 – beginners classes at first (I LOVE teaching beginners!) and now I occasionally teach our intermediate and advanced classes. In this time, I’ve learned a lot about being a good student and being a good teacher. It takes more than just knowing the material to be either. I can obviously write an entire long list on how to be a better student, but I think that would come out as a bit condescending and maybe a bit mean – so I think this is a gentler approach.

————-

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Dear Students,

I love having you in my class! Thank you for coming and being a part of my little dance world!

First, I just want to say that having you in my class is a big deal for me, so when you don’t come it really is frustrating. I totally understand work commitments (sometimes I can’t make class either and need to get a substitute teacher in), sometimes it’s impossible to find a babysitter and other issues come up that prevent you from coming to class. I have had students come to class who work shifts and can only be there every second week, so I am flexible when it comes to missing class. However, missing class because “it’s cold” feels like a lack of commitment. Trust me, when it’s raining and storming outside, I don’t want to leave my house either! 🙂 And on that note…

I can only put you in a choreography if you attend class. I know you pick things up quickly – and that’s awesome for you! – but that doesn’t mean you don’t need practice. Working as a unit takes time and it is very obvious when a student doesn’t come regularly and tries to slot into a choreography.

There are soooo many reasons for being chosen for a choreography. I would love to put everybody in, every single time, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes we have to pay to perform and our studio happily carries that cost, but we can’t carry the cost every time for 15 students to be in a dance, sometimes we need to work on stage space and sometimes it’s just about aesthetics! But often times it comes down to: Who attends class, who has the costuming, who is doing the dance well, who is doing it ON TIME with the music, and (for me at least) it’s also about giving equal opportunity to perform. You may have been dancing for years and are really good, but if I am always putting you in every dance, it means one less spot for somebody who may also be really good, but with less experience. Everybody needs performance opportunities and sometimes it means cutting the more experienced dancers out of a dance to give less experienced dancers a chance to perform. 🙂 (If you are unsure how your teacher chooses people for choreography – just ask! 🙂 )

Want to dance more? Do a solo or choose a dance sister to do a duet with! I am thrilled if students want to do their own thing! You are an individual dancer as well as a group dancer, nurture your individuality by dancing alone! I am happy to help you with a choreography/solo/duet piece if you’d like help or want feedback. Dancers doing choreography without me makes me proud!

Please listen when I talk in class. Goodness knows I do a lot of talking, but it’s because I have so much information to share that everything I say is useful. If you can’t use it, discard it and keep dancing. On top of that, listening in class means you don’t miss important information – about performances, payment info, holiday breaks, etc. I really do say it all in class!

Ask me to repeat myself – I love getting feedback like that! I can easily barrel right through an entire exercise in a few minutes, but it doesn’t help I speed things along if you’re not getting the first part of the exercise, so just ask. (please!)

I know that sometimes it’s been a particularly shitty week and you’re not absorbing anything in class, so don’t worry – I do understand! Even with teaching, I sometimes have days where I need to check my notes 20 million times in a lesson to check that I know what I’m doing! (I am sure all my students can attest to that!) You’re allowed an “off” day – what’s more important is that on these “off” days, you’re still in class!

Turn your cellphones off/on silent and don’t check them during water breaks. It’s a huge distraction for you (I don’t really get bothered) when your phone is always going off. You’re always wondering who is on the other end and it just keeps your mind off the dancing.

Lastly, be on time! It’s such a simple one, but often overlooked. If class starts at 18:30, don’t be there at 18:29. Aim to be there 10 minutes before class starts, that way if you do run late or get stuck in traffic, you’re at least not late for class. Arriving early means you can have a chat, say hello to your classmates, settle your account with the teacher and generally just settle in. If you are late, just warm up at the back and join in as soon as you’re warmed up.

 

I love having all of my students in class, I love their input, I love their dedication and their crazy ideas. I want to keep up that level of closeness, but I need help sometimes to make class awesome. 🙂

Keep on dancing and keep on being inspired!

Love,

Your overly-enthusiastic teacher.

Racism in Belly Dance

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RACISM IN BELLY DANCE

*warning: this post contains my opinion. If you don’t like it, stop reading and go and look at photos of puppies and kittens* This is also a wordy post with no photos.

*If you would like to get riled up; read this: http://www.salon.com/2014/03/04/why_i_cant_stand_white_belly_dancers/ *

Wait, what?! This blog is supposed to be about all the light and fluffy stuff, right? And RACISM in BELLY DANCE?! How on Earth do those two go together? (This is what I imagine you all to be thinking, when in reality I’m sure you’re just a bit nosey 😉 )

 

So a few weeks ago, one of the top belly dancers in South Africa was tagged in a video on Facebook of her dancing at a workshop, alongside a drummer. A comment was made on this video that said: “How about giving other cultures a chance too.” Followed by this, when asked to elaborate:  “There are many unique lovely cultures here but belly dancing belongs to easterners and westerners. We don’t dance with our bums out instead of in. Brutal but true.”  (Spelling errors fixed, but otherwise copied-and-pasted)

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The dancer in the video was a black woman. Now, why didn’t I mention it at the start of the story? Well, because it simply. doesn’t. matter.

The statement made by the dancer shocked everybody in South Africa, to the point of her being banned from performing at some events all over the country. Dancers all over rose to offer words of support to the dancer who was attacked and it does make me quite proud of our community – to see that we are not tolerating those who think like that. Not only are there incredibly inaccuracies in the statement/insult, but it’s just plain racist.

But this whole incident got me thinking about who is “allowed” to belly dance and who isn’t. What makes it more acceptable for one person, and not another? Mere skin tone? Because if that is the case, as a pale white African, there is probably a lot I shouldn’t be doing! (Like calling myself African? 😉 )

Cultural Appropriation

So cultural appropriation is a topic allll on its own, and if I were to go into a lot of detail here, I think I’d end up with pages and pages of info. Basically, cultural appropriation is when one culture adopts elements of another culture. I believe that this isn’t inherently bad, but it can be a slippery slope. This has been done (especially in art) for thousands of years.

How does this tie into belly dance? Well, there is a school of thought that belly dance should only be performed by those of Middle Eastern blood. Now this will exclude a lot of people in the world (there are 1.3 billion people in China who “aren’t allowed” to belly dance by that logic) and quite frankly I think it’s a bit ridiculous. Belly dance has a notoriously dodgy history and I have never read a single article that can pinpoint its exact country of origin. There are assumptions, yes, but there is no proof.

This whole thought of belly dance not having a specific country of origin (Turkey? Egypt? Morocco? *insert country here*?) has an appeal to it, in that it is a dance form that allows for everybody. We often hear “anybody can belly dance” preached from the rooftops by dance teachers as well as statements like “belly dance at any age!” and “size and weight irrelevant!” and I think that is part of the appeal for a lot of people.

I think the key to doing it correctly is honouring and understanding the cultures it comes from. Although I believe there is no clear indicator as to which is the country of origin, we do have a general idea of where it comes from. And let’s face it – if you’re performing Egyptian style belly dance, then you should understand and appreciate the culture of Egypt. Even more so if you are performing folkloric styles that feed entirely off the cultures they come from.

This ties into race because a lot of people believe that it shouldn’t be performed by people who simply aren’t of Middle Eastern descent. They also tend to view it as an insult when non-middle easterners perform belly dance. (we are “stealing their cultural heritage”) I totally disagree with that.

I think belly dance has made the shift from being a cultural dance (originally) to being art. I think that this changes how it should be viewed. Women in the USA performing cabaret belly dance are not doing the “cultural” side of it, but I think rather the “art” side of it. So I think it’s evolved past the point where it is just for one culture or country.

I think that people who believe that it is insulting for a non-Middle Easterner to belly dance are trying to hold onto the art form and essentially not allow it to grow. Art is something that grows, changes and shifts into different directions. Wanting to keep it “pure” just holds it back and I think actually hurts the art form far more than it helps.

I don’t think that just because somebody else is doing it, that it takes away from what you are doing and why you are doing it. If you allow it to bother you that somebody out there is doing something that you love to do and that you associate with “you” or “your culture” or “your family” – I believe there are deeper problems than just “That’s mine! You’re not allowed to do that!”

In essence, belly dance is a SOCIAL dance and from all the history we’ve seen, it’s always been that way. I have never heard of it being a spiritual dance (historically, that is) and I was always told that it was performed in social settings.

I don’t see why this can’t transcend cultures and be a “world dance” rather than belonging to X or Y or Z.

What we get out of dance is universal.

We get body acceptance, a sisterhood, a feeling of unity, fitness, confidence, focus, memory, creativity and coordination. These are things that transcend race and culture.

Belly dance is a universal dance form that belongs to all of us. I think as long as we treat it with respect, don’t go out of our way to insult the cultures it comes from, it will continue to grow and belong to us all.

 

*warning again: this post contains my opinion. If you didn’t like it, go and look at photos of puppies and kittens* 🙂

 

(as a side note: is it “bellydance” or “belly dance”?)

 

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

How to: A belly dance bra

Here’s my list of excuses: I haven’t felt inspired, I’ve been really busy at my new job (yay!) and I’m lazy.

At the end of July I was offered a position at a photography studio in Somerset West – Digital Moment – and I accepted! I have a good friend who has been working there since the beginning of the year and I must say, since I started, I haven’t stopped! There are photo shoots almost every weekend, events to cover, and tons and tons of editing work to do afterwards!

A couple of weeks ago, a fellow troupe member ( Hello, Cheri! 🙂 ) asked me about constructing a proper dance costume and although I don’t think I know a lot about it, I ended up rambling and realized how much info I do know. I’m no expert on the subject and I have had many failed projects that I quietly unstitch and throw away, never to be spoken of again. Although I get irritated at the waste of money, I have learned a lot from it and I think that I’m qualified in telling people what NOT to do! Enough so, that this is what this blog post is all about.

A lot of the things I’ve learned when it comes to costuming are things I picked up from reading many, many blogs about it. At the bottom of this post is a list of useful links and blogs to help you make a costume successfully! (And all of those ladies are far more accomplished seamstresses than me!)

Anyway! Back on topic.

I lay in bed last night thinking of all the bits and pieces I have to talk about, so I’m going to cut this blog post into two pieces – one about bras and one about belts. So here is all the info I have on bras!

Selecting a bra for a costume

My first advice is to know what size bra you are! I’ve never been measured, because in South Africa our lingerie selection is rather poor and I have previously bought 2 bras that were exactly the same size on the label and the same make, same colour, same bra, same everything! When I got home they fit me completely differently! I am a 32D and I struggle to get bras that fit me properly, so what I do is I will try on a 34C, 32D and 34D just to see what fits me best. You’re going to have to do this too.

  • Try on a bunch of different bras – you never know what might look flattering on you! Remember, don’t go for a specific colour, you’re going to cover it up anyway. I personally find that Ackermans’ Mosaic Range sells a lovely shaped bra, that I find suits me quite well. It’s their generic bra section, just a plain white bra. All of these bras are the same base, bought from Ackermans:

  • Make sure the bra cups are STIFF. If they are too soft, they will collapse the minute to try to embellish them! There are ways of reinforcing a bra if you’re going to do a lot of embellishing/heavy embellishing on them. I’ve never needed to do that, but Shushanna (link below) has a section on that if you want to learn how to do it! To test the stiffness of her bra cups, Shushanna has this great trick of placing a small ceramic bowl on top of her bras, and if they don’t collapse under that weight – she carries on! 🙂
  • When choosing your bra, try and choose one that has changeable straps. In other words, one of those bras where the straps can criss-cross at the back or be removed entirely. The reason for this is so that if you decide to do a halter-neck style bra or even a criss-crossed back like my blue costume in this post, the bra cups won’t move around! If you take a regular bra and make a faux-halter neck, you’ll find that the bra cups gape and it looks quite ugly. The same thing will happen if you take a regular bra and give it a halter neck or criss-cross back.
  • This next one is a personal preference, but perhaps something you haven’t thought of before. If you are small chested – follow the diagram below. Buy a bra that fits you! Small chested woman tend to wear bras that cover their nipples – because they don’t have much chest muscle/boob to cover up. All big-boobed girls can tell you that your boobs start on the sides of your chest! Not in the middle! If a large chested woman were to wear a bra that only covered the nipple, she’d end up with side-boob leakage. Same applies to small chested woman! Wearing a bra that covers your nipple but not much else also makes your shoulders and chest look INCREDIBLY big. Small chested woman have a huge advantage in that they can easily make a halter top without a worry of falling out of it. (I’d love to have one, but this is a huge fear for me!)

Check out my drawing-in-a-hurry skills!

  • If you struggle to find a bra that fits you around your chest (ie. The number part of a bra – 32D) try on bras that fit your boobs, but perhaps are too big (or small) around your chest. The reason for this is that you should make new straps, so the size of the straps doesn’t really matter. And seamlessly (heh) onto my next point…
  • Cut all of your straps off your bra! I usually keep the straps on until the last minute, just incase something goes wrong. I also make my straps with denim fabric. It’s cheap, I have a lot of it and it goes a really long way! I know of other people using buckram and grosgrain ribbon, but I’m not sure we get that at our fabric stores. I never cut the straps off at the bra base either. Most bras have that tiny vertical line on the straps, close to the bra base. Sometimes it has a small piece of wire in it, other times it’s just folded fabric. I cut it off on the outside of that strap, so that I can get the angle right when adding side straps. Here is my “pattern” for side straps, if you’re interested:
  • Always, always, ALWAYS cover your bra! There is no excuse for this, except laziness! Your bra shouldn’t look like lingerie. It should look like a costume bra, part of a bedlah, whatever. Just not like something you wear under your clothes. My suggestion would be not to use stretchy fabric, but cotton or something similar. For a first-time costumer, I wouldn’t use a chiffon or “slippery” fabric. I wouldn’t use anything too shiny either, because shiny fabric tends to slip a lot. It can be very frustrating! Another useful tip when costuming is don’t be afraid to layer fabrics! This is something I still don’t do enough, but when done correctly it can look amazing and really unique!  (Ozma does this beautifully!)
  • When you’ve cut off your straps, added new straps and covered your bra, you’re ready to begin embellishing your costume! This is probably the most fun part for me, because I feel like I can be really creative from this point on. It’s also exciting because I can cover up any mistakes or ugly sewing I did! Hehe! My first piece of advice is to throw the glue gun away! Yes, yes, glue is quick and easy. But it’s not so quick and easy when you make a mistake or want to change something. Learn to sew sequins and beads onto fabrics – start with a square of scrap denim and try out some patterns on there and see what works and what doesn’t.
  • Try on your bra every step of the way! Don’t assume that it fits well! Sometimes small alterations have to be done, and it’s best to catch it every time you finish a step, rather than realising it at the end when it’s all done!

I hope that I’ve covered everything, and if you need to know anything don’t hesitate to comment below or contact me via my Contact page above.

The super useful links are as follows:

Ozma’s Costumes (Facebook Page) – she doesn’t give straight up advice, so you have to browse through her albums and look at her pictures because in the captions she gives a lot of advice.

Naima’s Bellydance Blog: She does excellent step-by-step tutorials and gives a LOT of advice! Her skills are amazing and all of her costumes are excellent! (And she writes about other belly dance related things too – so it’s overall a great blog to follow!)

Shushanna Designs: How to make costumes: She has amazing tips and tricks and her posts are all worth a read!

There are so many more places to get costuming tips, but those are the ones I visit regularly when I need advice! 🙂

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. 😉