Monday, December 19, 2011

Playing to Your Strengths

"... leave acrobatics to others. It is positively more than I can bear to see the pressure such steps put on your delicate muscles and the severe arch of your foot. I beg you to never again try to imitate those who are physically stronger than you. You must realize that your daintiness and fragility are your greatest assets. You should always do the kind of dancing which brings out your own rare qualities instead of trying to win praise by mere acrobatic tricks."
Dancer Anna Pavlova, from the Library of Congress
-Pavel Gerdt, said to ballet dancer Anna Pavlova

You know how it is: you see a dancer try something new that elicits zagahreets and wild applause from the audience, and you're dying to try it out. Except you can't quite get it right: either you don't quite have the skill for it, you're not certain of how she pulled it off, or your body is just physically incapable of doing that move. Obviously, that makes you an inferior dancer, right?

Of course it doesn't! First of all, every dancer is different--and yes, as trite as it may seem, every dancer is special in her own unique way. Second, if another dancer starts a trend, every other bellydancer is going to start imitating her, and suddenly you're one of many. You don't want to be just another face in the crowd, right?

You should always play to your strengths. If you can't do something as well or better than another dancer, so what? Bellydance has tons of other movements you can use. You shouldn't beat yourself up because you can't do a perfect Turkish drop or popping and locking just aren't making sense to you.

"But every bellydancer should be able to execute that move!" you might say. But the beauty of bellydance is that you don't have to do everything perfectly. Sure, you should get the posture in your sleep, and be able to do the basic movement vocabulary. But after that, the dance is yours. You can't do a backbend like Rachel Brice (and who can, really?), but you still know the mechanics of one, and if you physically can't do a move, why would you want to hurt yourself and risk your dance career?

Instead of worrying about what you can't do well, think about what you can do well. For instance, I have a back injury and will probably never be able to do a backbend. But I have strong legs and great hands. So I concentrate my performances on level changes that make the most of my leg strength, and beautiful hand movements that really show off all the work I've done practicing my flureos. Sure, sometimes when I see a really great backbend, I get jealous, but then I go home and work on the things that I know I can do well, and I feel better about my abilities as a dancer.

As a performer, your job is to present yourself in the best light, which means using every tool in your arsenal to make yourself look good. Knowing what you're best at, physically and mentally, is a big part of that, even if it means giving up on never achieving what a stronger or more flexible dancer can. However, if you concentrate on what you're good at, it's a good bet that no one will care.

About Anna Pavlova:
Anna Pavlova was a Russian ballet dancer from the early 1900s. The ballerina of her time was a strong, compact dancer, and Anna was gangly with weak ankles, and thus, wasn't able to perform choreography the same way as other dancers. Nevertheless, she often revised her performances, and even her pointe shoes, to suit her strengths, and ended up bringing back the style of romantic ballet, eventually winning audiences over with her graceful, ethereal look.  She eventually formed her own company and died in 1931, at the age of 41, after refusing a life-saving operation that promised to end her dance career forever.

Friday, December 9, 2011

How Much is Enough?

Ruth St. Denis, New York Public Library
If you're a worrier like me, you might find yourself wondering, "Am I dancing enough?"

Well, enough varies from dancer to dancer. Whether you're a hobbyist or recreational dancer, a pre-professional, or a professional making money teaching and gigging, enough can be as little as just a class or two to several hours a day. For example, a recent poll on the Middle Eastern Culture and Dance Facebook page asked professional and pre-professional dancers how often they practice outside of class. The answers varied from 'not at all' to 8-10 hours a week. Most dancers said they either didn't have time, due to outside interests, or that they taught so often that they didn't have much time for practice.

We've all got plenty of other things that demand our attention: errands, family, our survival job, social lives--these things demand their own time, and it can be hard to find places to fit in your practice. Then you feel guilty when you realize that another day's gone by and your hip scarf and zills are still sitting in your dance bag, untouched. So how much is enough?

In order to determine what's enough for you, you have to look at two things: your time and your goals.

Goals: What do you want to get out of bellydance? Is it just a hobby? Or do you have dreams of the stage? Figuring this out will help you figure out how much time a week you want to spend practicing. If you're just dancing for fitness and recreation, you definitely don't want to spend 5-10 hours a week outside of class, practicing. However, if you want to break into professional dancing, two classes a week isn't going to cut it.

Take some time to work out what you want from bellydance, and what you hope to achieve. You may even want to set a time frame on it, such as "In five years, I want to be teaching and performing x number of times a week." This will give you something to aim for, and once you know what you want, you can figure out a plan to get there.

Time: If you find yourself constantly pressed for time, try keeping a time log. This is a lot like a food log, except you're going to write down what you're doing every day, and for how long. Since this will be an extremely detailed log, you'll only want to do this for a week, unless you want to drive yourself crazy. But this will help you determine what it is you're actually doing with your time, and will help you find places where you can condense activities, or clear a space to practice. Once you figure out how to space things, try your new schedule for a week or two. If it's not working, scrap it and try something else.

What if you've looked at your schedule every which way and there's just no room for practice? Try getting up 15 minutes earlier. Fifteen minutes isn't going to affect your sleep, and that's plenty of time to warm up with some shimmies and do a song or two of drills, with some stretching. Or, see if you can get an hour or two on the weekends for some intense practice time.

Whatever you decide, make sure that your 'enough' is whatever it is that makes you feel like a better dancer when you go to bed. And remember, what's 'enough' for you may not be 'enough' for another dancer, or even too much for another dancer. Don't waste time comparing yourself to others and making yourself feel guilty. As long as you are dancing for you, that's enough.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do

The studios that I've danced at usually take a break for Christmas and New Year's. This week I'm facing my last practice class for the rest of the year, and the classes I teach are breaking the following week. Neither is planning on starting up again until the first week of January. Everyone is so busy around this time and it's sometimes just easier to get things done when you don't have dance class to fit into your increasingly busier schedule. While taking a break from your dance class is a relief, though, don't you feel a little bit guilty for not dancing during that time?

So what do you do during your dance break? Well, as with everything else, you have options. There's a ton of things you can do on your own time, depending on your schedule and how much you can fit in. Take a look at some of your choices:

  • Do nothing: This is probably the easiest thing to get away with over a holiday dance break. However, it's also the thing that will leave you feeling the guiltiest. After all, if you do nothing, aren't your skills going to degrade? Will your teacher notice? The thing is, though, sometimes you do need a break to do nothing, especially if you take several classes a week over the year, or dance more than five hours a week. You don't want to risk burning out, and if you're starting to hit that point, then take a full break from dancing and enjoy it. Of course, there are still some things you can do to keep the dance fires alive.
  • Try something new: Do you want to keep dancing but are feeling a little burnt out on bellydancing? Look around and see if there's any workshops or short classes in other styles of dance going on in your area. Flamenco and ballet are good ones to take to supplement your bellydance, and ballroom is an old favorite that you can take with a partner or friend. This is also a good time to go with something crazy and fun, like pole dancing or burlesque. Whatever you pick, just have fun with it!
  • Drills: No matter how good you get, you'll never escape drills. However, instead of drilling your usual hip and chest work, take the time to work on something that's been giving you trouble. Think back over the last few months. Is there a move or a piece of choregraphy you couldn't wrap your head around? Ask your teacher for some final pointers before the break, and devote some practice time to just that. Make sure you try different pieces of music so you don't get bored.
  • Watch dancers: Christmas is when all the ballet troupes are doing their version of The Nutcracker. There's also plenty of other dance theater in different styles and stories.  If you have a theater nearby, check out what they have to offer and make a date to see a professional dance show. You can even get your dance sisters and brothers in on it by forming a group to go see a show. 
  • Read a book: There are so many books on bellydancing out there. Stop by your library and pick up one or two, or hit up and buy something. Not only do you get some entertainment, but a book is the perfect escape from the crazy holiday season. One of my favorite fiction bellydance books is *The Bellydancer, by DeAnna Cameron. Other favorites that cover some of the history and stories of other bellydancers are A Trade Like Any Other, Serpent of the Nile, and Grandmother's Secrets.
  • Watch a video: Not just bellydance practice videos, though if you've been eying one for a while, now's the time to get it and try out. There's also documentaries about dancers (not just belly dancers) and Egypt that you can watch if you want to get a little bit of history and real life in there. If you've got Netflix, they have several dance documentaries available on streaming.

As you can see, there's plenty for you to do during your holiday break. Personally, I'm planning to see a folklorico ballet, read two books, one on the history of Egyptian performers and one on dance anatomy, and drill shimmies. I also have Zoe Jakes's new DVDs on my Christmas list, so if I get it, I'll be running through it at least once.

Do you have a favorite thing to do when you're taking a break from dancing?

*Disclaimer: I don't know any of these authors personally, though I've met Ms. Cameron several times through my teacher. I don't receive anything from the links except good karma.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Your 20 Percent Time: Getting Creative With Your Choreography

Have you heard about Google's 20 percent time? It's where they give their engineers and programmers a day a week to spend on personal projects. An entire day, to work on anything they want, paid for and encouraged by their company. The bonus for Google is that these side projects often result in new features for the company: both Gmail and GTalk were born out of their 20 percent program. It works because employees are given a chance to do something that isn't work, to explore new opportunities and lines of study that wouldn't be open to them in their normal projects. The creativity required to build new things comes out of that 20 percent time.

So how does this impact a dancer? Well, have you ever seen a dancer perform something creative that's not quite belly dance? Every wonder how a dancer figured out that that kind of fusion might look good, or that that piece of music might have a great story to dance to it? Did you ever ask yourself, as you're drilling hip lifts and hip drops for the millionth time, how can I be more creative as a dancer? Well, the answer to that is the 20 percent program.

Sure, you should be drilling the basics and practicing your choreo and your cues, but if this is all you do, that creative bolt out of the blue that you need to make something new and different isn't going to happen. Sure, you can watch those dancers and figure maybe inspiration will strike you, but in reality, it doesn't happen as often as you think. The best way to make those creative bolts of lightening happen is by creating your own 20 percent time.

Your own 20 percent time can be anything you want. Have you always admired ballet or flamenco or hip hop but love belly dance too much? Try to find a class in something other than belly dance and study a new style on the side. Hear a piece of music on the radio that sounds really danceable but it's not a bellydance song? Practice to it anyway. If you're still apprehensive, just play something inspiring and move. It doesn't have to be belly dance--try acting out an emotion, or come up with a scene in your head and dance it out. Play with it, see what you come up with, and if it feels great, take it further.

Of course, we all have constraints on our time, so your 20 percent time doesn't have to be exactly 20 percent. Maybe it's a day a week, or even just a song. Spend at least a little time doing something different. Once you get used to experimenting, don't forget to try adding it to a choreo or your solos. You'll soon have other dancers coming up to you to ask where you came up with that idea.

By creating your own 20 percent time, you'll quickly find that you're more creative, and that you're a better dancer because of it!

(And if you'd like a more personal example, this blog is an example of how I utilize my 20 percent time)

Obstacles and Creativity

Ruth St. Denis, New York Public Library
Have you ever wondered how you can be more creative? Ever watched another dancer's amazing performance or choreography and wondered, "How can I do that?" Or, if you're like me, have you ever tried to choreograph something new, or improv to a song that felt really inspiring when you started, but now feels like an un-rhythmical mess? You've probably told yourself that you just aren't that creative, or maybe you're not cut out for performing, but in fact, there is a way you can help your creativity along.

There are a lot of suggestions from other creatives on how to get past your "dancer's block." Find an inspiring piece of music, watch other dancers, try a new style of dance, record yourself dancing over and over until you find what works--there are plenty of things you can do to spark your creativity. But one of the best things you can do is to limit yourself, rather than trying to step outside the box.

Psychological studies have shown that when people are given limits and obstacles, their imaginations soar. Our everyday lives are all about maximizing efficiency, and eventually we just try to find the easiest route (remember those one-class wonders who are professionals after one session?). However, when your brain is forced to operate within certain constraints, you are forced to come up with new ways to be original. Just look at ballet: a dance that has been around for more than a century, has strict rules on methods of movement, costuming, and music, and yet it's still one of the most beautiful art forms. Even instructors of modern dance, with all of its outside-the-box style, recommend that students study ballet first.

So how do you apply this to your own dance practice? Drill, baby, drill! Practice the basics, over and over, and then see what you can do with them. It's how the greatest fusions are born. Dancers started out in jazz or flamenco or ballet, started studying bellydance, and fused the two together because they knew the constraints of each dance and were able to take them to greater heights. But even if you're just sticking to bellydance, put on some music and practice the moves that form the foundation of bellydance. You're never too old to pretend to be a beginner. Or, if you're a little tired of drilling, find a difficult choreography and work on mastering it for a performance.

As for me, I'm going to start taking ballet next year. I've always loved it, and after going back and forth on different dances to try, I've chosen to stick with the classics. Of course, it is also the easiest class for me to get to--I don't want to make my obstacle too big!

So if you want to get more creative, give yourself an obstacle or limitation. Try to master a basic move you've had trouble with in the past, start taking a new dance style in addition to the one you have, or learn a new choreography. You'll not only get better at your new skill, but you'll also find your imagination expanding!

 Source: Need to Create? Get a Constraint

Own it! When Things Don't Go the Way You Planned

Once I was supposed to perform a group flamenco piece at the Orange County Fair. I had several other shows that summer and couldn't come up with the money for a flamenco costume, so I rented from another dancer who was the same size as me. Because I was renting the costume, we decided that the costume's owner would bring it to the show. Unfortunately, she thought I was bringing it. So, here we are at the show, I'm supposed to be on stage in an hour, and I have no costume to wear!
Luckily, we had ten other dancers who were performing a gypsy fusion bellydance piece just before our flamenco piece. With their help, I was able to borrow a skirt from one of the dancers and use a camisole and jacket from my practice gear and assemble a costume. In the end, no one even noticed I was wearing something different.

One of the reasons no one noticed was that I owned my costume. Even though I was wearing something vastly different than the other two girls I was dancing with, I didn't hide in the back or shrink away from the spotlight.

When you're on stage, it's important to own your stage, no matter what. When you own your stage, you can do no wrong. If you're in a group choreography and turn the wrong way or perform the wrong part, keep a smile on your face and a confident stance, and your audience will believe that everything happened the way it was supposed to.

Owning it helps in improvisational situations, too. If you're doing a group improv, sometimes things don't happen the way you planned. I've had my muscle memory kick in at the wrong time, resulting in my cuing a move I didn't mean to cue. Rather than derail the train I was leading, I followed through with the move and changed it at the first opportunity. The girls behind me didn't notice anything was wrong, nor did the audience.

Whatever you do on stage, do it with confidence. Strut your stuff with your head held high, and tell everyone you meant to do that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

But I Don't Feel Like Practicing Tonight!

I love dancing. I hear music and I start composing choreo to it. I flureo while on the phone. I do shimmies walking around the office.

But there are nights when I get home and I look around my messy house and my undone laundry and the pile of dishes in the sink and say, "Do I really have to go to practice tonight?"

Of course, the answer is Yes! I have to go to practice. I want to be a professional bellydancer. I want to teach more students, I want to dance on more stages. I have to go to practice if I want that. But sometimes, it's hard to remember my end goal, or even why I want that end goal in the first place.

In a case like that, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to get my body and my brain cooperating and off to practice.

How to conquer your practice resistance
Put on your dance clothes: When you feel yourself start to slide into the Don't Wanna Practice Blues, put on your dance clothes. For this to work, you should have special dance clothes--maybe a special top or practice skirt, or some yoga pants just for dance class. I have several skirts I wear just to practice that get me in the mood for dancing.

Watch some bellydance videos: Have a favorite dancer or troupe? Look up some of their videos on YouTube and spend a few minutes watching them. I always get inspired by watching the dancers I admire, and it always makes me want to jump up and start dancing myself. Watching other dancers also serves to remind me what I'm aiming for, and I remind myself that I'm not going to get good just sitting around watching videos.

Put on some music: Did you just buy some new dance music? Put it on and try out a few moves. Even if you're just walking around the house cleaning or cooking dinner, play your favorite dance music and watch the way your body reacts. Your body will just start dancing naturally, and you'll find yourself in the mood to move faster than you think.

Recruit a dance buddy: I introduced a friend of mine to bellydance, and now that she lives near me, we carpool to class. Whenever there's an extra class or workshop, I give her a call and we go together. It helps to have someone else go with you, and remind you to go to class. It adds the extra little bit of accountability you might need to succeed.

Set up prepayment with your teacher: Still having trouble getting to class? Pay for a month's worth of classes in one go, and have your teacher set up an expiration date. If you reach the expiration date and haven't used all your classes, you've lost them. Some studios will do this automatically, to discourage the one-class wonders, but you can easily do it to yourself if you're on good terms with your teacher or studio. Knowing that there's money riding on your attendance will give you the motivation to get to class.

If you've tried everything and you're still having trouble getting to class, maybe it's time to consider that something isn't working. If you come to this conclusion, don't despair yet! Maybe it's just the teacher's style, or the women you're dancing with. It's okay to admit that maybe you'd get along better with another group, or learn better from a different teacher. Really take a look at your situation, and if you really want to stick with bellydance, make sure you figure out what works for you and keeps you going to class.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Practicing Effectively, or "Why Aren't I Getting Better?"

So, not everyone practices their bellydance at home. Things get in the way, you're doing so much, and if you've got a family, it's probably impossible to find the time. However, sometimes you get a few minutes to shimmy--maybe while cooking or waiting for the shower to heat up. It's enough, right?

That depends. If you're working on trying to memorize choreo or getting a new move down, sure. But if you're trying to get better, then it's not enough. But you only have snatches of time throughout the day to practice, so how are you supposed to get better?

Every time you practice, you want to concentrate on improving. If you can only shimmy for a minute or two straight before exhaustion try adding on another 15, 20, or even 30 seconds. Each time, add on another few seconds as you build up. Or, if you don't have enough time to shimmy for five minutes straight, try making it more difficult. Use a fast song, go up on releve, or do circles around yourself. Every time you practice, make it more difficult for yourself.

The same is true for the more muscular moves, like taxeem or body waves. While it's harder to measure, you can still push yourself past your maximum. Every time you drop your hip for a taxeem, try to push it a little bit further. When you do chest lifts, strain a bit more to get that little bit of extra height. Even if you can't see it in the mirror, you'll be making slow and steady progress.

The most effective method for getting the most out of your practice, however, is tracking. You may not be able to track measurements such as repetitions, weights, or distances like you would with strength training, but you can track what you do. Every time you practice, write down what you did. Did you do shimmies? Hip circles? Go over choreo? Write it down, write what music you used if you're drilling, and mention how you felt. Did you use a faster song this time and felt like your hips were all over the place? Write it down.

Eventually, you can go back through your notebook or document and view your practices, and see how you get better with each one. Tracking also helps you figure out what you need to improve. Maybe you tried drilling to a faster song one week and couldn't keep up. If you write down the song and the drills, you'll be able to look back through your notes and figure out what to practice next.

So, next time you practice, try a few of these things, and watch yourself, slowly but surely, get better.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thought Supression in Belly Dance

Have you ever had trouble with a dance move, and noticed that the more you think about it, the less likely you're able to do it? Or have you ever been practicing something you've been trying all week to get down, but all the practice in the world doesn't seem to be helping? You'll even see this happen just before a performance, or sometimes even when everyone else in the class seems to have mastered a move and you're still trying to figure it out.

This is called 'thought suppression', or the 'white bear' effect. It's named so because of a study where a group of participants were asked not to think of a white bear for 5 minutes, and had to ring a bell every time they thought of one. Members of the group ended up ringing the bell twice as often as the control group, who were asked to try to think of a white bear. So how does this relate to your dance practice? Well, if you're trying to master a move and keep thinking things like "I'll never get this choreography"), you'll have a harder time trying to master it.

Thought suppression can affect your dance practice negatively by producing negative thoughts. All of us can have negative thoughts, and it's easy to see the rest of your class move on without you and think that you're a terrible dancer, or to tell yourself you'll never be ready in time for the show. However, if you're still trying to practice, and banish those negative thoughts from your head, they can keep coming up, making it harder for you to practice, or to even want to practice. If you aren't careful, they might make you quit dancing all together.

Don't despair, though, if you've had trouble suppressing negative thoughts about your dancing. There are some things you can do to help you ignore or replace those thoughts:

  • Tell yourself to think about those negative thoughts--much like trying to make yourself hiccup when you have the hiccups. By trying to think of something negative, you'll find it harder to come up with something, and soon you'll forget what it was you were thinking about. 
  • Distract yourself. Rather than work on something you're having trouble with, work on something you excel at, and try to make it better. When you return the original dance move or choreography, you'll be less likely to think of those negative thoughts. 
  • Learn to meditate. Now, meditation won't banish negative thoughts immediately, but as you learn to empty your mind and dismiss thoughts as they come to you, you'll have an easier time ignoring negative thoughts during dance practice--definitely something you want to hold on to for the future!

Why Thought Suppression is Counter-Productive
Thought Suppression

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Dancer's Safety

As bellydancers, we're often driving to and from different venues. Because of this, it is inevitable that we will find ourselves leaving a venue alone at night, and facing a long walk to whatever parking lot our cars are located in, while wearing several pounds of fabric, makeup, and jewelery, and carrying dance bags, props, swag, and a number of other things. And, as much as we hate to admit it, this situation does put us at some risk. So how do we minimize that risk?

To start with, you don't need to strap on a muumuu and become a black belt in your martial art of choice. However, here's where your bellydance training can come in handy, and help you keep yourself safe in any situation.

Posture: It's not just for bellydancing! There's a reason we bellydancers use the 'head up, shoulders back, chest lifted' posture to dance. It gives the impression of a strong, confident woman, and the last thing a potential mugger wants to do is attack a strong, confident woman. If you're faced with walking alone, this posture will give anyone in your area the idea that you are not someone to be easily trifled with.

Props: Keep your hands free. Easier said than done, I know, but if you know you have a lot to carry and a long way to walk, don't be afraid to ask for help. It doesn't make you weak, and you're not imposing on anyone--and if you do get another dancer, musician, or friendly audience member to give you a hand, remember to pay it forward. However, you do want to have your car or house keys in your hand, and if you have to carry something that can double as weapon, keep it accessible. I like to thread my keys through my fingers when I'm walking through a parking lot.

Rehearsal: No one wants to think about getting assaulted, but combat psychologists have been studying the military and police officers for years, and the ones who rehearsed their actions prior to a gunfight or physical fight came out better than the ones who didn't. If you get assaulted, you're going to be scared, adrenaline will be shooting through your veins, and you'll lose your fine motor control skills. This is where taking a self-defense course is handy, so you can learn defensive moves and have the chance to practice them, and if you ever find yourself assaulted, you'll have an easier time defending yourself and getting away.

Attitude: Be aware of your surroundings. Now, that doesn't mean that you have to walk around looking like a scared bunny rabbit, but know where the people are around you, where the cars are, where the lighting is. Above all, don't live in fear of being attacked. Paranoia can do funny things to you, including preventing you from taking gigs where you might have to travel alone or far away to. Don't think like a victim, and you won't be a victim.

Just a few changes to your behavior can help you walk without fear, and keep you and your dance sisters and brothers safe. There's always safety in numbers, but every dancer should know how to keep herself safe when she's alone--and if you follow the above tips, you'll be that much safer.

Monday, October 3, 2011

To the beginning bellydancer...

Congratulations! You've just discovered bellydancing, and with it, a lifelong passion filled with fun, creativity, and great friends.

If you're just looking around at what bellydance has to offer, and haven't taken your first class yet, get yourself to one! There are many resources online that can point you to a teacher near you. Don't be afraid of sampling teachers and styles until you find one that's just right for you.

If you've started taking classes, fantastic! You've already experienced some of the wonderful aspects of bellydancing, and have hopefully met some great sisters and brothers, as well as a great teacher who can guide you through your training and help you develop your love for dance.

If you're still a little curious, here are few things bellydance is:

-A fun hobby
-A career
-Aerobic exercise
-Social interaction
-Costume design
-Musical training
-Production training

And here are a few things bellydance is not:

-A quick way to slim down
-Fast track to making money

Of course, if you want any of the things that bellydance isn't, there's a whole host of other hobbies and activities that can provide those things for you. However, if you've read the list and find you want more of the things bellydance is, then put on your hip scarf and get ready to shimmy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Drama, drama, everywhere: How to handle it gracefully

Drama is an unfortunate part of belly dancing. No matter how hard you try, it always finds a way to insert itself into your shows, your classes, and your professional life. You wish you could find a way of eliminating it, or just avoid dealing with it, but unless you choose to stop dancing all together, you'll always find that you have to deal with the drama.

Depending on where the drama originated from, you may not have to be involved, but you usually have to make a choice. Do I get involved or don't I? Whose side should I take? Should I even take a side? What will this mean for my professional life?

Dancer versus Dancer

Most of the drama I've seen has been between dancers. One dancer might accuse another of stepping on her toes, and both sides of the argument will get someone to back them up. With this type of drama, if you are not directly involved, you can safely remain an arm's length away from. If the involved dancers are professionals, they may even be able to handle it with grace, and without ruining it for everyone else.

For instance, one of my bellydance friends and I were visiting a city we used to live in, and we took some of the local dancers to see my old teacher perform. As it turned out, one of the locals we were with was locked in professional combat with my old teacher. Fortunately, the local dancer was completely professional, sat through the performance, and never mentioned it again. This is an ideal way to handle drama, especially if you end up at a show or workshop with someone your troupe,  teacher, or friends has crossed words with.

Another type of dancer vs. dancer drama can involve the entire troupe. When it's a troupe at war with another troupe, things can get very sticky, especially if you are all located in the same area. You'll often find yourselves competing for gigs, and a lot of the time you'll be at the same gig.

If you're not a senior member of the troupe, it's best to remain professional when interacting with the other troupe--if you have friends in that troupe, perhaps agree to remain friends but not get involved in the troupe drama. The last thing you want to do is let a small argument ruin your friendship. However, if the drama is getting out of hand, or the senior members are making ridiculous demands on what you can and can't do (such as seeing a friend from the opposite troupe outside performances), you'll want to consider changing troupes.

If you are a senior member of a troupe, try to remain the bigger person and at least work things out enough so both troupes can remain in the same geographical area and not get in each other's way. If that's not possible, maintain a professional demeanor at all times: don't gossip and don't tell your troupe members to slander or attempt to sabotage the opposite troupe. Remember that your actions are indicative not just of yourself and your troupe, but of bellydancing in general.

Student versus Teacher

This is a tough situation to be in. You don't think it can happen, but there's all sort of things that can cause student vs. teacher drama. For instance, perhaps a teacher is putting down a student's previous training. Or a student decides she's learned enough and decides to start parroting the teacher's lessons down the street without the teacher's blessing. Or a group of students circumvents the teacher and starts bidding for the same gigs as the student group.

Again, if you're not directly involved, try to stay out of it. Unfortunately, with student vs. teacher drama, especially if it involves several students, you might be forced to choose sides. If you've been with your teacher for a long time, you should have developed a high level respect for and her talents, so it's best to remain on her 'side'. However, refrain from gossip and slander, and be sure to support your teacher and the remaining students. If the teacher is at fault, you may have to find a new teacher. In this case, asking other dancers you trust--perhaps the students who are leaving--for a teacher recommendation.

Other kinds of drama

Sometimes drama doesn't even involve other bellydancers. It can involve a third party, such as a musician, an event coordinator, or even a vendor. I recently experienced dealing with this type of a drama when a vendor locked horns with my teacher. For me, it was easy to figure out what to do. I trusted my teacher, and have been with her longer than I've known the vendor, so I remained on her 'side'. I did ultimately make the the decision to stop visiting the vendors store, but there are other places I can get my costuming and jewelry. Unfortunately for my teacher, because she and the vendor are in the same geographic location, they will have to work with another for large shows. My teacher has chosen to remain as professional as possible, be honest with her troupe, and try to work together to achieve a great show.

This kind of drama, where it's focused outside the dancers but still involves the community, will still affect you in the long run. What happens if your troupe falls out with a musician or an event coordinator, and later when you're doing solos, you find you have to work with them? Hopefully, the primary parties will understand and not put you under stress by forcing you to become involved. If you do find that's the case, though, it's best to remove yourself from the situation. Remember, there will always be other opportunities elsewhere. Is it really worth it to participate when you'll have to deal with drama the entire time?

With dealing with drama in the belly dance world, just remember a few things: Always remain professional and courteous, and refrain from trying to undermine any of the involved parties. If you find yourself in a situation, remember that you are all Bellydancers, and give each other the respect you deserve.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Making the jump to teaching

I've recently started teaching when a studio director I once took flamenco from asked me to come in and take over an ill teacher's classes. Now, I have no teaching experience, but I have a lot of experience taking classes, so I hoped I could extrapolate some of what I'd (hopefully) absorbed.

I'm not a big people person by nature, so it took awhile for me to get used to the fact that I was standing at the front of the class, talking, instead of standing in the back of the room, listening, but my students are friendly and willing to learn. The studio owner, who has a decade or two worth of experience, has been fantastic about giving me advice on things to try, and while I'm stumbling along, I'm doing the best I can.

Truth be told, I had thought about contacting her and setting up classes, but I kept telling myself I wasn't ready yet, I've only been dancing for four and a half years, I have so much more to many excuses. A lot of them are the same for why I haven't performed solo.

I'm still not ready, but I'm never going to be ready if I don't start, and make mistakes, and test things. For instance, if the studio director tells me to try something new, or helps me figure out my students' personalities, I will try it next class, tweak it, see how it works, and go from there. This week, I'm putting together a simple choreo for the baby dancers to learn, so they have something to work towards.

And I've learned that not everyone dances like me. Not every belly dancer wants to be a professional dancer. Some of them just want something fun to do after work, or some reason to get away from the kids. I think that's the most difficult part, is getting into that mindset. They don't care about whether their arms are perfect; they just want to have fun dancing around to great music, and maybe show off their skills a little later.

So what have I learned so far?

Listen to your students. You can tell by their smiles, by how willing they are to work on the material you give them, how they leave the class, and how friendly they are with you, whether or not they are enjoying the class. It's this way that I can see whether or not we should move on, change the move, or keep working on it.

Know your audience. What kind of students do you have? Are they serious students who have dreams of performing and teaching one day, or just students who want a new, fun hobby? Ask your new students what their goals are, and teach accordingly.

Plan not to plan. Just like you, your students have varying moods. Maybe they've had a long week, or something happened at work or in their family. Or maybe they just aren't going to understand a move or are injured. If you plan out your class to the last detail, something will always go wrong and you'll be off your schedule. The most I will do is have an idea of what I want to teach in class, and then go from there.

Know your anatomy. The best teachers I've had know how the body works, and can explain which muscles I'm supposed to be using and when. This is probably one of the hardest parts for me, because I know all the basic moves instinctively. I can't remember what it's like to be a beginner, and not know how to do a chest lift, or what part of my abdominal I need to contract to do a hip circle. The ability to break down the move is a must for any teacher.

I hope to add more information here as I learn it--my journey into teaching is definitely a fun ride!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Treating Yourself to a Massage

Massages are a huge benefit to bellydancers. They can loosen up tight muscles, alleviate soreness, and help heal injuries. There's plenty of pyschological benefits to massage, too: relaxation, rest, and you can even have the social benefit if you go with a friend or partner, or make friends with your masseuse!

If you have never had a massage before, you should try it! You can either do self-massage, or pay a professional to do it. I recommend both, but first, the benefits of one over the other.


Self-massage requires either a tennis ball or a dense foam roller. Foam rollers can be had for very cheap--I purchased mine from Amazon for less than fifteen bucks. They're great for your hips, glutes, thighs, calves, and upper and lower back. If I'm a little sore or did too many shimmies in dance class, I just pull out the roller. You can also use them as exercise tools to improve your core for those belly rolls. Check out some of the videos on YouTube for ideas.

For smaller areas or to work out a knot, use a tennis ball. They work best if you lie on the floor with the ball underneath you, and you roll around the ball to work out the knot. You can also have a partner, friend, or family member use the ball to apply pressure to the area you want massaged, but make sure you effectively communicate what you want and what hurts.

Professional Massage

Professional massages can be more expensive, but it's worth it to have someone who is familiar with massage techniques and anatomy, and how all the muscles work together. There's also that psychological benefit, because spas are designed to be very relaxing. If you're an introvert like me, you've got a quiet room with soft, soothing music playing and maybe even some aromatherapy. If that much quiet makes the extrovert in you uncomfortable, make friends with your masseuse and you can enjoy some conversation while your get your muscles worked on. Massage can often help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression, so even if you're not experiencing any soreness or tightness, you'll find you can still benefit from your massage.

If you're injured, get yourself to a masseuse as soon as possible (after you visit a doctor, of course). A professional masseuse trained in sports massage can help break up scar tissue, stretch the injured muscles, increase blood flow to the area for healing, and restore mobility and flexibility, leading to a faster recovery.

Tips for your first time

If you've never had a massage before, the first time you walk into the room can be daunting. Here's a few tips on handling your first time.

Before your massage:
-Remember that your masseuse does this almost every day, all day long. There is very little she hasn't seen before.
-However, don't go to your massage appointment after a class or a sweaty workout. Just because your masseuse has seen it all doesn't mean you need to subject him to it. 
-Your masseuse should have a short briefing with you when she shows you to the room. This is the time to tell her about any trouble spots you have. Any old injuries, stiffness, places you want her to avoid--speak up!
-You can get as undressed as you want, whatever's you're comfortable with. Since you'll be face down or covered by a blanket the whole time, though, I do suggest at least removing your bra so the masseuse can work on your back. 

 During your massage:
-Don't be shy or afraid to speak if something hurts. Speak up if it hurts, or ask your masseuse to work on something else for awhile to give you a break if the pain gets to be too much. 
-Learn to relax. Your masseuse will move you if she needs to, and she needs you to be relaxed for that. My goal is always to have my masseuse tell me "Relax!" as little as possible.

After your massage:
-Tip your masseuse. It's just the nice thing to do.
-If you want to go frequently but money is a problem, ask your masseuse or the receptionist for upcoming specials. Some spas also give you points for recommending new clients, and everyone has social media promotions nowadays. There are lots of ways to discount your services. Don't be afraid to ask!
-Hydrate when you get home A deep massage will release toxins into your bloodstream and dehydrate you, so you may feel nauseated or have a headache after. The best cure is to drink plenty of water.
-Soreness and bruising are common, especially after your first couple of sessions. Apply hot and cold packs, or take a hot bath or shower and rinse off with cold water after. Any soreness will disappear in a few days. Hydration will also help alleviate any soreness.

If you decide to make an appointment with your masseuse post-haste, enjoy it, and prepare to get addicted!

Friday, September 16, 2011

What's Bellydance?

I've noticed a disturbing trend among bellydancers. It makes me really sad sometimes, especially since bellydance in general is a very misunderstood artform, and we already have to fight for some modicum of respect.

Some bellydancers refuse to acknowledge other bellydancers.

In fact, there are some belly dancers out there who claim that their fellow bellydancers aren't real bellydancers.

With the current generation of bellydancers exploring what they can do with the dance and the creative ways they can update it, modernize it, or just make it their own, the old school dancers and their protegees are refusing to claim some branches of tribal bellydance as part of the overall tree of bellydance. There are even some tribal and ATS dancers out there who insist that what they are doing isn't bellydance. Why would they say that?

A Brief History

There are thousands of resources out there that explain, in detail, where belly dance came from. For the CliffsNotes version, the origins of belly dance are found in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. So right away we don't even have a specific area to work with. And, like most things that have have developed and evolved along with the human race over the centuries, it wasn't a single culture or race that came up with the idea.

Eventually, belly dance moved over to the United States, via the The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the many iterations of Little Egypt. Some of the burlesque dancers caught on, and so did Hollywood, and of course, everyone put their own spin on it. This lead us into the 70s and 80s, where the folkloric aspect of belly dance started spreading to Renaissance Faires and the Society of Creative Anachronism, which eventually led to Jamila Salimpour, Masha Archer, Carolena Nerricio, and the creation of FatChance BellyDance and American Tribal Style. From there, ATS dancers began taking some of the FatChance moves and spinning them into their own style, and tribal fusion, improve tribal style, alternative tribal, urban tribal, gothic tribal, et al., were born.

The one line that sums it up: It's all bellydance.

That's right. From your restaurant cabaret dancer to your Egyptian dancer covered in sequins, to the tribal troupe wearing kuchi jewelery and plain cotton skirts to the fusion dancer wearing yoga pants and minimalist accessories, it's all bellydance. Like it or not, we all came from the same place. We evolved from the Ghawazee dancers who inspired raqs sharqui, which became bellydance when it moved to Europe and the U.S.

What's not Bellydance? Well, you've got your hobbyist dancer who wants to learn a few moves to look sexy. Or the woman who takes six classes and decides she knows everything she needs to know about bellydance. Or the dancer who calls herself tribal fusion without ever learning what she's fusing. Or the bellydance that is so far removed from the basic movements that it's basically modern dance or hip hop.

None of us are performing "true bellydance" because there is no true bellydance. We evolved to avoid becoming extinct, like Ghawazee style, the knowledge of which is now mostly contained within the Banat Mazzin family in Luxor, Egypt.

It all comes down to respect

We spend so much time asking for respect from the general public, that we don't even realize we're crippling ourselves by infighting and refusing to change. It's true that tribal fusion, alternative tribal, and other kinds of tribal are the most popular styles right now, but tribal wouldn't have existed if it weren't for the women before us who evolved the dance, who asked, "What can I do with this?"

As long as you recognize where you come from, and respect the men and women who came before you, you're a bellydancer. And what you do is bellydance.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dress Rehearsals, and Why You Need Them

I had a purple drawstring skirt that I was dying to wear to a performance. However, I'd bought it from another dancer who was slightly taller than me, so it was a few inches too long. No matter; I'll just roll it a few times and pin my scarves to it to keep it up, I told myself. But when it came time to go on stage, I realized that all the safety pins in the world weren't going to keep that heavy skirt around my waist, hip scarves or no hip scarves. For the entirety of the performance, I was in fear of stepping on that skirt and accidentally ripping it off.

What would have helped me realize that nothing short of superglue was going to keep that skirt on was a dress rehearsal. My troupe does do rehearsals, but we never do a full dress rehearsal, with everyone in their costumes and makeup, leaving it up to the dancer to determine whether or not her costume will fit. Looking back, it sure would have been helpful to try dancing in that skirt beforehand so I could realize that it wasn't going to work. I've run into many other dancers who should have tested their costumes before a performance--there's nothing more distracting than watching a belly dancer frantically tugging at her hip scarf while in the middle of a performance.

So what is a dress rehearsal, and how does it differ from just a rehearsal? Well, it's in the name already. A dress rehearsal implies that you wear your full costume and makeup and run through the entire performance, rather than just marking it out on stage. All kinds of performance art use a dress rehearsal, from theater to musicals to a ballet show. You are basically putting on the show for an empty theater before you perform the show live, allowing you and your troupe to work out any and all kinks before letting the audience in. And a dress rehearsal will point out all kinds of things that you never thought you'd have to worry about.

For instance, I spoke to a belly dance recently who was growing her hair out. Prior to an upcoming show, she decided to do some floor work, and during the dress rehearsal she went through her routine. It was during her routine that she realized the floor work wouldn't be practical because she kept sitting on her hair! She would have never thought of this before the dress rehearsal, but it was lucky she realized it prior to going on stage, or she would have had to do some quick thinking.

If I had had a dress rehearsal, or even just worn the skirt to our practice, I'd have realized beforehand that the skirt needed shortening before I could consider wearing it on stage. A dress rehearsal is also a good time to figure out if any parts of your costume need reinforcement, such as hair pieces and bra straps. The last thing you want is for a large flower to come flying off your head and hit an audience member, or for your coin bra to snap open in the middle of your show.

Even with all the preparation of a dress rehearsal, though, there are still small things you won't get to practice. I have seen plenty of zill-related incidents that would have never been worked out in a dress rehearsal. There's also the freak accidents that occur, such as a troopmate getting too close to you and accidentally hooking their costume on yours, or getting your hair caught in their jewelry. You're certainly not going to spend your dress rehearsal brushing past you troopmates to determine whether or not you'll get stuck to them! And you can't always plan for your performance space or audience, either.  Things just happen sometimes, and no matter what, you can't have control over them.

However, the advantage of a dress rehearsal is that you can be as prepared as possible. Freak accidents will happen; but that's no excuse for making sure your costume will stay put and you won't accidentally kill an audience member with a flying accessory. And one of the best things about dress rehearsal is that it gives you another chance to dress up in your finest and dance. Sometimes that ten minutes on stage just isn't enough to make up for the two hours it took to get ready, and you'll enjoy that second chance to rock your costume, even if it's just for your troupe mates.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Workshops, Intensives, or Classes?

I've had the good fortune to have access to quite a few different belly dance teachers in my short 4 and a half years of dancing, so I've experienced several different types of classes. From the three hour workshop to the multi-day intensive, to the 6-week class format and the beginning/intermediate/advanced class levels, I've been taking notes for when I eventually start my own teaching.

I love workshops because they give you a chance to get a taste of something completely new. A local-ish studio used to host several workshops, and I would sign up for about 2 or 3 of them per year. I also started taking workshops at Cairo Caravan this year, and learned about Indian fusion dance, adding some knowledge about spins and turns to my repertoire, and I learned about conditioning myself to do crazy things with my body. What I've really learned, though, is that if you don't take what you learn in your workshops and apply it to your practice, you'll soon forget it. There's at least one workshop I've taken, unfortunately with the lovely Sabrina Fox, where I don't actually remember what it was about. And I even took notes! But since I never applied it to my practice, it didn't stick in my memory. If you're going to take a workshop, decide beforehand what you want out of it and how you will apply it to your practice or performance.

I recently had the opportunity to take a 4-day intensive with Carolena Nericcio and Kristine Adams of FatChance Bellydance, and while it was the most exhausting thing I'd ever undertaken, it was also the most fun I've ever had as a dancer, second only to Cairo Caravan. I got the change to spend 5 hours a day with some great dancers, from all over the country and even one from halfway across the world, and even though we were swamped with tons of new information, I learned a lot. Even my teacher commented that the intensive improved my skill. My brain was fried after, but it was completely worth it. That being said, I think intensives should be a once-a-year thing. You might wind up overloading your brain if you do too many of them, and because intensives are usually packed full of new things, you'll be hard-pressed to find ways of applying all that new knowledge to your practice and performance.

Class Format
When it comes to classes, I do have a preference for the level class format over the 6-week format. With the level format, it's up to the teacher to assess whether or not you're ready to advance to the next stage. Everyone learns at a different pace, and moving everyone up after 6 weeks does a disservice to all the dancers, regardless of skill or talent, and to the teacher, who may end up having to teach to the lowest lowest level dancer. You'll end up with advanced dancers who are bored with the material, and lower level dancers who feel pressured to advance quickly, resulting in injury and high drop-out rates. And ending a "session" after 6 weeks doesn't give the dancer the right opportunity to perfect the moves, and she might end up losing her confidence as other dancers who have time to practice a little more or who are naturally talented seem to grasp concepts faster than she can. However, the level format does require a teacher who really knows her dancers, and can tell when someone is ready to move on. Unfortunately, the only place a teacher will learn that skill is through experience.

When I start teaching, I want to use the level class format. Not being an advanced student myself, my concentration will be on taking beginners by the hand and showing them the basics. I want to give them the confidence to start performing earlier, and to seek out more knowledge from other teachers and dancers. I'd like to start doing workshops one day when I sort out my performance style (though, strength-training for the belly dancer comes to mind), but I don't feel that I have enough to offer for the intensive. Leave the intensives for the innovators. I just want to share my love for the dance.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dialing Down Your Ego

A few weeks ago, thinking I was hot stuff, I put in a ballet workout DVD to work on leg strength and work on some of the finer points of my posture.

Instead, I was beaten by the DVD about halfway through the warmup. Now, I know ballet is hard, but it's harder still when you find out that you're not as flexible, strong, or as good as you thought.

I found a saying once, when I first started belly dancing, that went like this: "Beginning belly dancers want to be good enough to dance with everyone, even the advanced dancers; intermediate belly dancers are too good to dance with anyone; and advanced belly dancers are so good they'll dance with everyone, especially beginner dancers!"

I guess that would put me squarely in the intermediate dancers.

It's important to remember to humble yourself as a dancer. I'd say it's important to stay humble, but that's a lot harder than it sounds, especially when you're getting praise from all sides, are performing regularly, and practicing frequently.  So how do you humble yourself?

Ask Your Teacher
Now, don't start out by asking her to tell you what you did wrong. Instead, go to her honestly, see if you can arrange for a private class, or even just some time before or after class, and ask her for pointers. Tell her you're looking to get better and want to know what you can improve, or what you can do to perform better. Chances are, she already has a list of things she thinks you could improve on and didn't want to do an info dump on you. If you think that's the case, make sure you bring a notebook first, so you can take notes on everything you tell her. This has the added benefit of showing your teacher how serious you are about your practice, and how willing you are to take advice and instruction.

Fight Your Weakness
Is there something you've been struggling with? It doesn't have to be something you've been banging your head against--even something that you know you don't do as well as you'd like will work. Commit to a performance that consists of mostly that one thing you're struggling with, and then practice it constantly. My teacher likes to tell us of the time she committed to performing with zills even though she was struggling with them, so she forced herself to practice every day until she mastered them. Maybe your shimmy isn't as good as you'd like, or you've noticed that your arms aren't always perfect. Commit to a choreography with whatever your weakness is, and battle it until you come out the victor.

Try Something New
Take a new dance class, try yoga or pilates, start strength-training. Do something that's not belly dance, that you've never tried before. Trust me, all your belly dance training will not help when it comes to a completely different style of exercise! By the end of your class, you'll come out feeling like a beginner again--and maybe even with a new hobby!

Take an Advanced Class
Try one of the advanced classes offered by your teacher or studio. Even dancing with the advanced girls for one class will show you how much more you have to learn. Another advantage to this is you'll probably be shown things that, as an intermediate dancer, you wouldn't have access to. If you do take an advanced class, make sure to take notes and apply it to your regular practice.

A Final Note
Whatever you do to humble yourself, make sure it's not discouraging. The last thing you want to do it try something that's so hard you feel like giving up dancing entirely. If you find yourself getting discouraged, think back to the days when you were a beginner dancer, and 3/4 shimmies seemed completely beyond you. Remember what it felt like to be a beginner, and how eager you were to learn. Regain that beginner's mind, and forge ahead to new dancing heights!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bellydancer, belly dancer

I took a workshop with Frank Farinaro during Cairo Caravan 2011, and he said something interesting about belly dancers. He said that he had heard from another dancer that there is a difference between a belly dancer and a Bellydancer.

A belly dancer is a hobbyist. He or she takes maybe a class a week, doesn't really practice, just does it for the fun of it or for exercise or whatever. A Bellydancer is a professional.

Because belly dance is such an informal style, it's sometimes hard to tell the Bellydancers from the belly dancers. When I think of a Bellydancer, I think of Rachel Brice, Frank Farinaro, Sharon Kihara, Ariellah, Steven Eggers. People for whom belly dance is a full-time job, and they spend all their time practicing, rehearsing, putting on shows and workshops, traveling all over the world.

And I certainly know some belly dancers. They are the women who don't show up to class every week, or don't practice at home, or joke around in the back when the teacher is talking about a concept she's trying to fix inside our heads. And that's where the grey area is. Some of the women who don't show up to class every week have reasons: they don't have enough money to pay for class, or they have to work, or there's something else going on at the same time as class, or they're so tired when they get home from work or there's too much to do and they can't practice. And I wonder, is this really worth it to them? Do they really want to dance that badly?

Because I do. I make sure I have money every week to pay for my classes--for awhile, I even had a budget specifically for dance class, and now I have an account that's specially earmarked for future workshops fees and conferences. I make time to go to class, and I've turned down social engagements--hell, I've turned down family dinners--in order not to miss class. Sure, I've made exceptions. I have a book club that meets once every 6 weeks on the same night as class, and to me, the book club and the time I spend with the people are as important to me as dance class. So I am fine with missing class that one day, every 6 weeks.

So I guess, using our definition, that makes me a Belly Dancer.

And my question is, how badly do you want to be a Belly Dancer? Because if you really want it, if you dream about it and dance about it and write about it and talk endlessly about it...there is no excuse. You can't say you want to be a Belly Dancer and then, in the same breath say "But I can't afford class, and my friends are going out that night, and I have to work, and I'm so tired from working all day."

If that's your excuse, you'll always be a bellydancer.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Dancer

I just finished watching The Dancer, a documentary following Swedish ballet dancer Katja Bjorner as she trains to become a professional ballerina. Apart from yet another confirmation that most people don't know how to film dance, the documentary was very interesting and informative.

Dance is something that can sometimes look effortless, and most non-dancers have absolutely no idea what dancers have to go through in order to achieve that level of skill. There were a lot of scenes of Katje at the barre, going through simple ballet exercises. One of my favorite scenes was one where Katja was doing a combination of steps, and her teacher kept making her do it over and over, with changes to her hands and feet and the way she turned each time. To my eyes, I saw no difference in the way Katja was dancing, but it was clear from the teacher's tone of voice that every time, she did it a little bit better.

There was also an interesting scene where they showed Katje's pointe shoe fitting, as well as what goes into making a pointe shoe. I'm a little obsessed with feet, so these scenes were gold to me. The foot strength of ballet dancers is absolutely mesmerizing. I loved watching them go up on pointe, come down again, curl their feet to stretch them, spin around--even watching them go on pointe barefoot was amazing. And for all the stories about how ugly a dancer's feet look, I saw nary a bad foot in this documentary.

One of the things I enjoyed most, though, was listening to Katje and the choreographers talk about how to present a dance. I notice that in belly dance, you don't hear too much about the acting and theater part of it, but the reality is, you're interpreting music and a story for your audience. The joke among my fellow dancers is that the photographer always catches you making a weird face, and lucky for me, my default performance face is a great big smile, but what I really want to learn the theater aspect of it, too. There is acting going on during a dance.

The documentary showed a prima ballerina practicing with her partner, and her expressions and even the way she held herself were beautiful. It was clear what she was expressing, and for a performance art that has no words to tell the story, it was most effective. I've missed some of the workshops on theater and belly dance because I've told myself I don't really need them, but now I regret it, and I hope to find another one again soon.