Archive | October 2012

Dread Falls – Part I

I’ve been asked about my dread falls (side note: dreadlocks are the ones that stay in your hair permanently, and are usually made from your own hair, but can be also made with fake hair.  Dread falls are fake hair that you can take out) a lot…are they my real hair?  Where did I get them?  How did I make them?  I’ve both bought and made my own dread falls.  I prefer to buy them, but sometimes you just can’t find what you want.  Why do I prefer to buy them?  My time is valuable, and dread falls take an awful lot of time to make.  It’s easier (though not cheaper) to just buy them.  The time it takes to make them is why they usually cost so much when you buy them, but I personally think it’s a pretty good deal.

But…making them is easy.  So, if you have a spare 8 hours or so, go ahead and make them.  Yep, it will take about 6-8 hours to make a full set of dread falls.  And it will take longer for your first set, trust me.

What you need:

  • Kanekalon hair (natural colors can be found at nearly any beauty supply store, while unnatural colors will probably have to be bought from Amazon or Doctored Locks; if you are making an entire set of falls, you will probably need 8-9 packages of hair for full length, 4-5 for short)
  • Teasing comb (also found at any beauty supply store)
  • Water spritz bottle
  • Towel
  • Iron or hair straightener (irons take longer, hair straighteners are expensive if you don’t already have one)
  • Something to hold the hair (I use an old piece of ugly fabric)
  • Chair or other item with vertical legs
  • Ironing board if you are using an iron
  • Scissors
  • Elastic, 1/2″ wide
  • Small rubber bands (the tiny kind used at the ends of cornrows) in a matching color, if possible

    All the supplies needed for making dreads

  1. First, tie whatever it is you are using to hold the hair to your chair.  I use this method because it makes a loop at one end of the dread, thus giving you a way to anchor the dread either directly to your head (you braid them in) or to a piece of elastic to make falls.  Take a look at the picture, it’s easier 🙂  You need to be able to remove the dread from it at the end!

    I’ve tied a piece of old fabric around chair legs

  2. Open up the package of hair.  Kanekalon gets EVERYWHERE, so make sure you ALWAYS know where the middle is, and keep it bunched up together or you will have a mess on your hands.  Remove the little rubber bands and anything else that holds the hair together.
  3. Loop the hair over your holder and let it spread out a bit.  If you are making shorter dreads, cut the hair in half and then loop it over your holder.

    Loop the hair over the fabric at the marked middle

  4. Take a chunk of hair and separate it out from the rest.  Typically, I am able to get 5 to 6 dreads per package of hair, but the thickness will be up to you.  Thinner dreads mean you will be making a lot more of them (takes more time) but thicker dreads are harder to steam.  Mine are usually about the width of my pointer finger (and I have skinny fingers) or a little thinner.  This will now be the “lock” of hair you will be working with.

    Separate out a small lock of hair

  5. Braid a small section of the lock of hair, only one or two cross-overs.  This will help hold the loop and keep the dread together.  You don’t need to braid much of it, just enough to keep the loop.

    Braid the hair to secure the loop

  6. Start back-combing using the teasing comb, including the short braid.  You will be doing this for good, long while.   Make sure to get all sides of the hair, and all the way down to the tips.  The hair will start to get fluffy and the braid will make a sort of tangle.

    A teased section of hair

  7. Back-comb some more.  You will get really tired of it.
  8. Once the lock is really fluffy, shove it over to the side.  I typically will back-comb an entire package, then steam it, but you are welcome to steam each dread as you finish them.  Whatever works for you.
  9. Once you are ready to steam, plug in your iron or straightener.  My iron is typically set to a medium-high setting, or the “silk” setting.  Kanekalon will melt, so you can’t go too high, but if it isn’t hot enough, the dread won’t stay twisted.  You may have to experiment.
  10. Starting at the loop/braid, start really tightly twisting the dread.  It needs to be tight.  I don’t twist the whole thing yet; I go in sections, it’s easier to keep hold of and you get less “escapage” from the dread.

    Twist the dread tight

  11. Drape your towel over the dread, making sure it goes all the way up to the loop.

    Drape the towel over the dread

  12. Spray down the towel.  If this is your first dread, you really do need to soak the towel reasonably well.  It doesn’t need to drip, but it does need to be fairly wet.  Otherwise it will not create enough steam to hold the dread.  This isn’t a problem once the towel is damp after a few dreads, but usually my first dread needs to be resteamed.
  13. Place the iron on the top of the dread and hold for 8-10 seconds (it should hiss; if it doesn’t, the towel isn’t wet enough).  If you are using a straightener, you have an advantage, because you can do two sides at once.  With the iron, I then steam each side and the bottom of the dread, making sure the towel covers the dread the whole time.  Don’t let the bare iron touch the dread for very long.  If using an iron, be prepared to burn your fingers a little with the steam generated.  Take precautions.
  14. Take the towel off and check the twist.  If it stays, repeat steps 10-13 down to the ends of the dread.  If it doesn’t, re-wet the towel and re-steam the dread.

    A partially steamed dread

  15. The end of the dread is tricky.  I usually set it on the ironing board, soak it down really well with water, twist it, and then roll the iron back and forth across it.  It needs to be really wet and really fast, otherwise the hair will melt to your iron.  Messy!
  16. Clip any straggly ends off with the scissors and push that dread to the side.
  17. Repeat and repeat and repeat!  It usually takes me about 45 minutes to do 1 package of hair, but it depends on what I’m doing with the dreads.  Fancy effects like two-tones and spiraled dreads take longer.
  18. This next step is optional.  I like my dreads really tight, and sometimes the iron just doesn’t do the job.  I’ll then boil a big pot of water and quickly dip the dread in the water to re-set them.  This works especially well to tighten up the loop (stick a wooden spoon handle through the loop before dipping it into the water).  It’s also a faster way to re-set all your dreads after a few times of wearing them (they will start to get a little loose).

Next time, I’ll show you how to put the dreads on elastic so that you can actually wear them.  However, you can also braid these dreads into your hair for a semi-permanent option.

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Challenge for Halloween!

It’s nearly Halloween, my absolute favorite holiday ever!  This week’s challenge was inspired by this holiday.

Pushing Boundaries and Changing Perceptions

I am a dancer.  I dance raks sharki (otherwise known as belly dance or oriental dance or whatever the current name du jour happens to be).  But I am also an artist.  I am a creative person that chooses to express myself through my dance.  I’ve blogged a lot about this before (many times).  That means that sometimes I do things that are…different.  Or weird.  Or things that people don’t like.  And you know, as artists, we have to come to terms with the fact that there will be people out there that do not like what we do.  That’s hard to accept.  Really hard, because our dance is an expression of our feelings and our souls.  For someone to reject that HURTS.

But there are ways that we can reach out to people and show them that what we do might be different but not necessarily bad.  What can we do?  The only thing we can do: change our own perception.

Have you ever gone to a show and hated half of the acts because they were Tribal?  Or maybe you got bored with the endless repetition of Egyptian classical music that all sounds the same?  Or maybe you hated the song one performer chose, even though her dance was beautiful?  Or were they just playing it too loud?  Have you ever whispered to your neighbor, “God I hope the next act is better!”?

If you have, you need to change your perceptions and push your own boundaries.  I’m guilty as charged, too.  I’ve seen a lot of belly dance, and there were times I wish I could crawl away without seeming rude.  I’ve sat through acts I was embarrassed to be viewing, and all I could think about was, “This is five minutes of my life I will never get back.”  But I’ve also seen belly dance that completely changed the way I thought about the entire art.  I’ve sat with my jaw hanging open, listening to music I never in my life would have considered dancing to, watching artists change everything about how I felt about my own dance.  The best and the worst…and I am sure you have too.

So what’s the challenge?

Do something in belly dance you never, ever, ever thought you would do.  Ever.  Like, really, ever.  If you hate Tribal, maybe you should drop in on a class or two and see just how difficult it can be.  Maybe instead of “suffering” through the next Tribal piece you watch, you can at least appreciate the technique and hard work those ladies put into it.  It may not end up being your cup of tea, but at least you can find something to appreciate.  If Egyptian classical music bores you, maybe you should take a class on Arabic music.  Then you might realize how complex it can be and how different it is compared to Western music.  Then the next time you watch a classical Egyptian dance you won’t feel like you’ve heard that song a few million times (though you couldn’t name the song or be sure you HAD heard it before) and can’t wait for it to be over.  Think about how you can stretch your boundaries as both a dancer and an audience member.  Uncomfortable with being sparkly?  Why?  Think Tribal fusion is a mess?  Why?  Want to do something really out there, but are afraid to do it?  Do it anyway.  You never know who you might touch or inspire, and that’s powerful.

Don’t feel like you are wasting your time watching other dancers in a style you do not prefer.  Think of it as expanding your horizons.  And having an open mind is probably the single-most important thing we can do as human beings to understand and appreciate one another.  You may decide afterwards that you still hate Egyptian music, but at least you gave it a try.  You may never dance Tribal fusion, but at least you can now sit through a piece of music you hate and watch just how awesome pops and locks can be.

So give it a try.  Try something weird, uncomfortable, or strange…or scary!  Challenge yourself and your perceptions, and remember that it’s okay to be wrong.  I’m wrong all the time (yes, I admit it freely, and that is so FREEING). Do something that you might not like…you never know what might happen!!

Weekly Challenge – More Dancing!

Another weekly challenge!

Dance

Wait…what?  Um, don’t I do that already? Of course, but I’m going to challenge you to dance even more. That’s right, MOAR DANCE!

You might be surprised to know that dancers that “make it” don’t just have training in belly dance.  They often started as dancers in ballet or jazz or tap before finding belly dance (and then becoming obsessed, because that’s what belly dance does, right?!).  However, there are many of us (me included) that did not start a dance career at the age of 5, and are coming to belly dance–or any dance for that matter–as an adult.  Belly dance is appealing because adults can learn it, and get good at it, without having 20 years of grueling training under their (coin) belts. (And please don’t misquote me…I’m not saying belly dance is easy, because it isn’t.  I’m saying that adults can learn it without having 20 years of training). But that doesn’t mean that belly dance training makes you a good dancer.

Oops.  I let that secret slip, didn’t I?

That’s right, the best dancers take the training they had as kids and apply it to belly dance. I once had a teacher tell me that ballet is perfect for belly dance because it teaches you lines, and how to hold a pose, and how to fluidly move from one thing to another. Belly dance teachers often stand in one spot and teach how to do the “move” (like a maya, or a hip drop, etc.) but never show how to move from one to another. Sure, they may throw those moves together in a combo, but they don’t TEACH you how to move from one to another. Other dance forms may help fill in those gaps. And just because you are 20, or 30, or 80 doesn’t mean you can’t take up ballet now.

So what’s the challenge? Try another dance form. Yep, you heard (read) me. Go out and take a ballet class or two or three. Or if ballet leaves a bad taste in your mouth (I keep having flashbacks to the chubby-me as a kid trying to fit in with the slender ballet-girl-types and failing miserably), try something else fun, like modern or jazz. Even ballroom dancing could be helpful.  The point here is to dance, not just learn how to do belly dance moves. And when you do practice belly dance this week, see what you can’t do with your new training (yeah, I know, taking two or three ballet classes does not constitute “training” but it doesn’t mean you can’t put what you have learned already to work). Did the endless repetitions of port de bras help you with how you hold your arms in belly dance, or do you still get chicken arms? Maybe if you paid as much attention to your arms in belly dance as you did during those port de bras, that wouldn’t happen! So use what you learn, and apply it to your practice.

Have fun, and happy dancing!

Hey…shameless self promotion here…did you know that I have a Facebook page where you can keep up with my performances and what I’m doing. AND, I also have a Twitter you can follow…AND a website where you can learn about my amazing workshop offerings and classes! So please go check them out!

Better Late Than Never!

Wow, okay, so there was so much to do this weekend that the challenge didn’t get written OR scheduled!  So…now that it’s Tuesday, let’s try this week’s challenge!

Counting

If there was sin in dance, one of the big ones would be not knowing how to count your music.  Of course, if you read the last challenge, you also know that not expressing emotion in dance could be considered another.  Counting in dance is fundamental, the basis of 90% of your dance (or more).  Of course, it is possible and appropriate to approach music without counting (as in lyrical dance or during a taxim), but in belly dance the beat and the rhythm are of paramount importance.  Egyptian dancers especially focus on the rhythm of the music.  If you aren’t counting, you aren’t doing it right.  Dancers should also have a basic understanding of musical theory, since music is so important to dance.  So, on to the challenge!

Beginner: Your teacher should be teaching you, perhaps not specifically but through osmosis, how to count.  Listen to her (or him!) as she counts out your steps.  Normally she gets to 8 and starts over, right?  Maybe 4, but usually 8.  There’s a reason for that.  Your challenge is to find out why.  Ask your teacher (or look it up on the Internet) why dancers count to 8.  What is the significance of time signature?  What does it mean to a dancer?  Once you know why, start learning how.  Try to pay attention to how your teacher counts the music.  Ever wonder why she’ll wait through a piece of music and then suddenly start dancing?  Why did she start there?  Remember that it is of utmost importance to learn how to count your music.  Once you know how, start practicing counting, just not out loud.  That’s a bad habit to get into (nothing worse than watching a dancer count on stage!!)

Intermediate: Hopefully you know how to count your music.  If you do not, you need to do the previous challenge until counting is second nature.  At this level, you should work on making count so much a part of your dance that you do it automatically and unconsciously.  You should be able to identify the downbeat in a piece of unfamiliar music just by how the music feels, not by having to count from the beginning of the song.  This can be an extremely difficult thing to learn if you are not a musician or have not had dance training throughout your life.  Your challenge this week (if counting is no big deal) is to make that count second nature.  Instead of counting out loud, or thinking too hard about it, put it in the back of your mind.  It’s almost like getting a piece of music stuck in your head, but instead it’s 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 stuck on an endless loop in your brain.  For now, stick to music you know that has easy time signatures, like 4/4 or 2/4, and try a brief improv dance while counting.  If you have a mirror, make sure you don’t have “counting face” (in other words, the audience should not see the gears grinding in your head).

Advanced: Try different time signatures!  There are so many interesting time signatures out there, so learn how to count them.  Start with something relatively easy, like the kashlama rhythm (a 9/8 time signature).  Learn how to identify the downbeat, and how to count it out (hint: it’s not always easiest, or appropriate, to count unusual rhythms straight out, like 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9).  If you know that one, try others, like Sami’i, or 6/4 and 6/8.  I have a song on my iTunes list that is in 12/8 time!!  Have fun and explore the different rhythms.  Extra challenge: learn how to dance to these rhythms!  Can you move in 9/8 time (it’s easier than it sounds!)?

Weekly Challenge – Traveling!

Another Monday, another challenge!  Let’s get right to it!

Traveling

Ever see a belly dance performance where the dancer’s technique is exquisite, but she never moves from the spot she glued herself to on stage?  Have you been dancing at a restaurant and wanted to get from the table of bored teenagers (desperately trying to be cool by avoiding eye contact with the dancer and smoking their hookah) to the loud one waving dollar bills at you?

You need to travel!  And walking isn’t (always) going to cut it.

Beginner: Ask your teacher to show you a few easy traveling moves, like grapevine, step-touch, or a basic camel (the oriental belly dance kind, not the ATS® camel).  For now, stay away from turns (which can be difficult to travel with at this level and get over-used in some cases anyway).  Practice those every day this week until they feel pretty good.  If you already know one of these, great!  Try alternating a static movement (like a maya) with the traveling movement until you can switch between them seamlessly.

Intermediate: Make up your own combos!  Pick two traveling moves and two other moves and make a short combo with them!  Have fun, make sure you fill up your 8 counts (meaning don’t travel for 2 counts, do something for 1 count, another something for 2 counts, etc….that’s too frantic), and write them down.  Make up a new combo every day, but don’t stress yourself out by trying to come up with 14 different traveling moves.  Reuse them.  Make new combos and explore transitioning between all sorts of different movements.

Advanced: Improv time!  If you dance at a restaurant, you definitely want to work on how you go from table to table (or stage to table, whatever your situation may be).  Don’t walk!  (Or if you do, make it pretty!)  Practice your improvisation but make sure you add in your traveling moves.  See how many you can come up with, but don’t cram them all into one session!  Make it a point to focus on one or two different traveling moves per song.  Only use those for that song, then switch it up for the next song.  The next time you dance at the restaurant (or do any other sort of improv gig), make sure that you use these traveling moves you’ve been working on in order to get from table to table.  Added challenge: if traveling is no big deal to you, layer it.  Add ummis or mayas over a grapevine, belly rolls (not just undulations) over your camels, or a shimmy over your step-touch.  Go crazy!

Happy dancing!

Weekly Challenge for October 1st!

OMG…it’s October!!  Time to start hibernating, right?  Wrong.  Let’s do another challenge!

Have you ever watched a dancer with perfect technique, but absolutely no emotion in her/his face?  If their technique is strong enough, that might be fine for awhile, but when we listen to music we are trying to connect to an emotion.  Dance is all about emotion.  No emotion, no dance.  If there is no emotion in your dance, you might as well get up on stage and start a drills class.  And plastering a I-gotta-get-this-over-with smile on your face doesn’t cut it either.  I’m guilty of this sometimes as well, when I’m performing a choreography I don’t know well enough or if I’m super nervous (which doesn’t happen much anymore, but it can still happen).  So this week we’re going to work on putting some emotion into our dance!

Emotion in Dance

Pick a song, any song.  Something you enjoy, and not necessarily something you want to belly dance to.  Close your eyes and listen to it.  It’s fine if your mind wanders, but take a mental note of where it goes.  Take note of how you feel when you hear the song.  Chances are you will feel what the artist intended you to feel during that song.  Either the lyrics will tell you (if there are any) or the actual sound of the music will (freebie nugget of music theory…a minor key makes you feel sad!).

Now write down what you felt at the top of a piece of paper.  If it’s more than one emotion, great!  Use a page for everything you felt.  Under that heading, split the paper into two columns.  On one, label it “Facial expressions” and the other label “Dance moves.”  This is going to be a toughie, because there are not necessarily any right answers.  In these two columns, brainstorm what facial expressions (including things like tears, laughter, or touching the face with the hands) and dance moves fit your emotion.

Arabic songs may be a bit more of a challenge for us Westerners.  For starters, the lyrics are in a language most of us do not understand, and the musical scale that Arabic music uses is different from what we are used to.  But humans still composed and performed that music, and that means they felt an emotion while writing it.  You can still connect if you close your eyes and open yourself to it.

Use your list when improvising a dance or when planning out a choreography.  Do this to one song every day this week, and start mixing in songs you want to actually dance to.  This will help you connect to the music and actually dance, not run a drills class on stage!

Happy dancing!