Monday, September 21, 2015

Organizing a street show

Bellydance blooms in the midst of bustling downtown Fredericksburg 

When you dance on the street - actually the sidewalk - on a beautiful, sunny Saturday with lots of strolling shoppers passing by, small performance segments work best.

This past weekend 3 of my dancers and I participated in "Art Attack" in downtown Fredericksburg amidst painters, glass blowers, potters, musicians, hoopers, and more, all creating art outside on Caroline Street. When we do this event we always plan to perform in several locations; and this year we did three separate shows spanning several blocks. We'd stroll until we found a good place, then set up camp like nomads, dance, and enjoy the scene.
dancers, kids, pedestrians on the street
taking a break in between sets

This was the first year we used recorded music in addition to our own drums and percussion. I grouped our four songs into two short sets of two songs each: one started with Tribal Odyssey group improv including swords, then solo improvs in front of a Chorus Line.
dancers balancing swords on their heads
happy sword dancers in front of Pickers Supply! 

The other set was a dance with finger cymbals, then another song for solo improv as before. We also sang, drummed, and chatted with folks.
group of dancers singing and playing percussion
singing and drumming in downtown Fxbg

It was very free-flowing and easy to adapt to the vibe of the moment. As a lover of momentum I enjoyed how our group set up, performed, interacted with people, finished, and moved on. It felt great!

Using these two-song sets (each set about 8 minutes long) gave us a good chunk of performance, but then we could stop and talk with folks who were watching before they decided to move on. And I'm really NOT a huge fan of using recorded music on little speakers right next to traffic, but it worked pretty well. At least we had finger cymbals and drums to fill in the tempo when the street noise interfered.

So my advice on street performing is, keep it short, mix it up, bring your own noisemakers, and just enjoy yourselves - it makes for a good show!
Yours in dance,
Anthea "Kawakib"
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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Is Gender Still an Issue in Belly Dance?

It's a dance class, not a bathroom.

I wonder how many guys read this? Lots, I hope! I think men should always be welcome in the world of belly dance - it's too good to keep to ourselves; don't you think so too? Have you run into the "keep men out" trend in your belly dance community? If so, don't feed into this beastly mentality.

In The Beginning

The early modern era of American belly dance (the 1960's and '70's) coincided with the social upheaval of the counter-culture movement, as well as civil rights protests, and "women's liberation". Women's groups or circles were quite popular; they were part of consciousness-raising efforts of the feminist movement; as women tried to find their authenticity. Perhaps because of this separatist trend, sometimes men were not allowed into belly dance class. That is, they weren't allowed to TAKE class.
My imagination runs away thinking of the implications: did they actually check people at the door, or could men sneak into class in drag? Was gender certification on the honor system, or did it require a doctor's note? Yes, these scenarios are improbable, but they show the silliness of excluding somone based on gender.

Discrimination is SO Not Cool

It's true there are more male dancers now, I love seeing them on social media and YouTube.* But I also see a resurgence of the "women only" trend. I'd hate to see that mentality prevail in dance class again - even to cater to someone's religious beliefs, let alone because someone says having only women in class feels "safer" or more comfortable. We're not talking about bathrooms, we're talking about dance class! Now that we're discovering how fluid gender identification can be, doesn't discriminating against someone based on body parts or hormones seem - at the least - morally questionable?
And at this point, how many professional bellydance teachers haven't taken a class from a man? So let's stop the hypocrisy!
I believe women can feel feminine, strong, empowered, and whole even in the company of men. Do you agree, or do you feel that you have to separate yourself and shut the door to men in order to feel this way?
I hope no one is ever again turned away or made to feel unwelcome in class because of gender. It's ironic that I planned to write about this years ago; I thought this issue would've played itself out by now and that we would've moved past this. My heart goes out to anyone who can't attend a belly dance class or event because they have the "the wrong equipment". Discrimination is not only ridiculous, it's unfair - let's move into wholeness TOGETHER.
(adapted from my column in Zaghareet! Magazine, May/June 2015)
*On a happy note, my Pinterest board of "Male Bellydancers" is very popular!
screenshot of pinterest board
We love our male dancers!

Yours in dance,
Anthea "Kawakib"
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

answering an "open call" post

Dancers Wanted! 

If you use social media you’ve probably seen posts from musicians, event organizers, or club owners stating that they need a dancer for such-and-such gig. When you see other dancers eagerly responding to these “looking for dancers” posts, do you wonder if you should reply too? After all, you dance; you’ve performed; you have pretty costumes; and people who’ve seen you dance say you are great!

If you perform with your class, as part of a troupe, or at local haflas, you may only have to show up on time, follow directions, dance, and go home. It’s all so much fun! But wait - do you know what goes on behind the scenes to make it all happen?

Before any dancer’s performance, many decisions, tasks, and preparations led up to the culminating experience of being onstage. If you respond to an open call for dancers, who will take care of all these duties? That’s right, YOU will! 

What Do Professional Dancers Do?

Here's a typical "open call" post on social media: in less than two days it received 63 comments! 
image of social media post
a typical "looking for dancers" post
Next time you see one of these Open Calls on social media, watch what the professional dancers do. First, they’ll probably comment that they’re interested, and then ask to converse with the original poster privately to work out the details. They won’t just “sign up” in the Comments section.

You can’t see their conversation now; so what could they be working out?
Before a professional commits to perform, here are a few things they’ll want to know:
  • client information
  • show location
  • type of venue
  • type of audience
  • show length
  • sound system
  • amenities (bathroom/changing room)
  • price; and when payment is due
That's just the starting point. All these variables can impact the show, the price, and whether the dancer even cares to pursue the gig at all.

Learn from Experience

If “experience is the best teacher” shouldn’t you try to perform as much as possible?

If you are fortunate enough to have a teacher or troupe leader who arranges performances for you, then YES. If not, be wary of jumping on these open call “opportunities” even though other dancers are rushing in ahead of you.

If you are a beginner on your own in the public arena and don’t know why any of those details listed above make a difference, then get a local mentor - a temporary coach in your corner to help you navigate through the pitfalls of public dancing.

Yes, you could ask your questions in an online belly dance group (it happens every day) but then you’ll have to weed out the random know-it-all’s opinion from solid professional advice. And because gig standards vary by area, getting advice from someone across the country isn’t really the best idea.

Last but not Least, the Contract 

When money’s involved, only work with a written contract. Without one, there’s a good chance that either you or your client will misunderstand something - and perhaps even feel fooled.

So yes, you can respond to these “dancers wanted” posts; but why make every possible mistake in order to learn? Learn from OTHER people’s experience. Like walking in the snow, it’s easier at first to follow someone else’s footprints until you’re big and strong enough to head out on your own.

(adapted from my column in Zaghareet! Magazine, Mar/Apr 2015) 

Yours in dance,
Anthea "Kawakib"
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Monday, August 3, 2015

a new class ritual

Peace, Love, Respect for Everybody

This is a phrase I heard from Donna Graham, an African Dance teacher and performer I met years ago when I rented her studio (Dance Space) in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Her dance classes always ended with the students in a circle sharing a quiet moment of centering and dedication to the community, reciting the mantra "Peace, love, respect for everybody." It was powerful. It made you feel that a positive force was at work in the community. That was twenty some years ago and I’ve never forgotten it.

This year I've begun this ritual at the end of class (if I remember!) - we gather for a quick "pinkie circle" and recite the mantra together. 
people holding pinkies in a circle
Pinkie Circle around the article! 
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all classes or gatherings ended this way? It could help create a strong and supportive dance community. This mantra is specific, it’s pro-active, and it goes beyond “being nice”. A healthy community takes more than just being nice!

There will always be people who don't see eye-to-eye. What are you going to do about it? Civilization isn't a "given" - it must be learned by each generation. Look at the news to see the precarious state of our civilization today: warfare decimates age-old cultures while the rest of the world wallows in self-gratification. Compared to this, how petty our dance world tiffs are, yet we let them provoke us to bad behavior.

Where does it end? It matters - because each action we take toward others becomes our default moral code.

Every action, every remark to or about others paints a clear picture of our feelings; and that can influence others, for good or bad. Face to face or online, it’s easy to tell when someone is being 'dissed' - that is, disrespected or dismissed.

It's not just about dance, it's not just about ourselves, it's not even about being “right". We’re all playing in the orchestra of civilization. Tune yourself to the melody of love.

Treating others right takes more than just “being nice” to their face. Whether or not your peers or teacher disrespect other dancers, have the courage to stay true to the Golden Rule, treating others as you’d wish to be treated. 

(originally published in ZAGHAREET! "For Beginners", Jan/Feb 2015)

Yours in dance,
Anthea "Kawakib"
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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

First Lesson with Finger Cymbals

Yes, you CAN play cymbals!

Even if you've tried before and couldn't play and move at the same time, try my step-by-step method.*
The secret to cymbals is your body has to move in time with the beat! Just change weight from one foot to the other, or use your hips as I do in the video below.
wearing finger cymbals
Position the elastic between nail and knuckle
First, make sure you are wearing the cymbals correctly, with the elastic between your nail and knuckle. Students often can't play easily because they don't have the cymbals on right.
Then try the first video and follow me as I move, listening to the cymbals. After you can do the first video, try the next one. You'll be able to learn on your own! 

Tips for teaching finger cymbals

Teachers, the video demonstrates a solid method for teaching that works. Building from the simplest steps and increasing the complexity bit by bit creates teaching segments and structure for the "drill" part of class. 
Keep in mind that because there are no students to correct in the video, it does move from one segment to the next faster than a real-life class. You will need to give students more time to feel comfortable as they discover this new skill. 

Here's the first video on how to dance and play Finger Cymbals!

*Note: this method is for "Oriental" solo dancing. My Tribal Odyssey group improv method works a different way. In that method, students learn the dance combinations first, then add specific patterns to the combos. It's easier for beginners. If you want to learn more, see the TOBD drills playlist on my channel. 

Yours in dance,
Anthea "Kawakib"
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

those fabulous TRAVEL STEPS

Everyone loves to "step-arabesque"

dancer on stage
"Don't look down!"

After years of working at the Marrakesh (DC) on a tiny raised stage, I became obsessed with Travel Steps.
I'm exaggerating, but looking back I can plainly see the action and reaction, the cause and effect. At Marrakesh I couldn't really move from my spot, as I was scared of falling off the stage - so I basically danced in place for my whole show.
At the same time though, foot patterns and travel steps were creeping into my classes more and more, becoming a staple of my warmup, drills, and teaching method. Now I really love them - my feet finally feel "unchained"!

I've long loved and admired the Egyptian dance stars of the late modern era - their individual styles were quite developed and idiosyncratic, so that watching them you could easily see their favorite moves and steps because they repeated them over and over as they danced. One of the dancers I find very inspiring is Azza Sharif - a large, strong, dynamic powerhouse of a dancer. In one of my new solos I was really tickled to find a chance to incorporate a wonderful travel sequence I've seen her do that uses the step-arabesque pattern. It seemed perfect for this short break in the music where there were no flashy frills or solos, just the rhythm. But as "luck" would have it (and contrary to how I'd rehearsed!) I started on the wrong foot, so you can see the first sequence has step-step-step-step-arabesque... which I think is the first time I ever did THAT. And of course, the energy doesn't seem as powerful as the awesome Azza's; but anyway, here it is! 

I find travel steps so exciting - the feeling of momentum moving through space! 
Do you have favorite step sequences that turn up in your dancing?

Yours in dance,
Anthea Kawakib
(end of post)


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

give the veil LIFE

Whirling and swirling...

dancer with veil
Veil dancing

This little clip is from the first show I did here in Fredericksburg, back in January of 2000. For this veil dance I used a very light silk chiffon veil made from sari material; the gold trim on the edges helped it catch the air. I loved whirling it around! Music is by Desert Knights, appropriately enough: "The Veil". 
I always loved using the veil to make shapes and patterns in the air.
Belly dancers give the veil LIFE - it's a match made in heaven!

Yours in dance,
Anthea Kawakib
(end of post)