Archive | February 2014

Weekly Challenge for 2-24-14

Can you believe we are already in the last week of February? I’m just hoping we don’t get a fourth polar vortex here in Chicago!

But it’s Monday, and that means it’s time for a challenge!

Chest Circles

We have another drill challenge! How many can you do in a row? How fast can you go? Can you last a whole song? How about two whole songs, one for each direction?

If you don’t know how to do a chest circle, ask your teacher to show you how to correctly do this movement!

This week, try it each day and see how much you improve! (Just keep in mind that this is only a week, which is not a lot of time for learning/improving a move!)

Let us know how you do!

Here’s some tips:

  • Faster, smaller is the name of the game. Don’t try to do huge chest circles when you go fast.
  • It’s extremely important to keep your technique perfect. If you can’t do a good chest circle fast, slow it down and build up the speed slowly. Check yourself in the mirror to make sure you don’t get sloppy.
  • There are many ways to do chest circles, so don’t fret too much about which one is “right.” Each has a different look and emphasis, so pick one you like, but make sure the movement is safe. If you are not sure, check with your teacher to ensure you are doing safe movements.

    Happy circling!

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    Photo credit: Phil Roeder via photopin cc

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Resurrecting Costumes

Costumes, in belly dance, are the reward for all the hard work we put into our craft. They are fun, they are sparkly, and they make us feel like queens or princesses or just flat out beautiful. Many of us spend hours pouring over websites that sell costumes, or immerse ourselves in boards for selling and buying used costumes.

And, weirdly, belly dance is one of the few art forms where trading costumes, reusing old ones, is totally okay. In fact, unless you make them yourself, you are more likely to buy costumes from other dancers than a new one, especially when you are first starting out. Costumes are expensive, because they are hand made, and are works of art. We want to preserve them, passing them on to other dancers instead of throwing them away or tearing them apart for their beads and rhinestones.

But we’ve all been here: we’re excited to get a new (to us) costume, but when it arrives it’s in worse shape than the seller said. Or it smells. Or it really is too big or too small, or the skirt is too long or too short. It happens, and it will happen to you at some point.

This is not cause for despair or for chewing out the seller! Sometimes it’s not their fault, and sometimes, it might be yours! (Always ask the seller what sort of damage there is. If you don’t, and the price is low, then you are asking for a fixer-upper and it’s better to know about it ahead of time). Something may have gone wrong in shipping. Some areas around the country aren’t known for their reliable postal service, and you may find that your costume got wet or damaged because of incompetent postal workers and rough handling of the package.

So what can you do? Don’t try reselling it (and continuing the cycle of foisting the costume on to someone else!) Resurrect it instead!

Keeping It Clean in the First Place

First of all, if you are the first owner of a costume, there is a lot you can do to keep it in good shape for the next buyer. Here’s an article on how to keep your costumes clean! Let’s all do our belly dance sisters a favor and use linings in our costumes, air them out after a performance before packing them away, and don’t wear them for long stretches of time (if you have a curtain call after a show, take at least the bra off and USE YOUR COVER-UP; you should be wearing one anyway when not performing!)

There are also things you can do to prevent damage. I HATE Egyptian fringe, because you will always lose beads. Too bad Egyptian fringe moves so beautifully! What do I do? I use fabric glue and glue the tiny knot at the end of each strand. Don’t use a lot, or you will glue all your fringe together! Glue a few strands at a time, let it dry, and repeat. The glue dries clear and no one will ever know…except now you won’t lose beads so easily!

Don’t eat (or serve food…yeah, I’ve done that and it sucks), smoke, or apply makeup while in costume. If you must, ALWAYS wear a cover-up. If you smoke, know that no one is likely to buy your costumes unless they are a smoker themselves (here’s a website that can help you quit). Costumes with glitter or other metallic accents can lose the shine over time. Not much can be done about the glitter, but if you have shiny fabric, try not to rub it (don’t sit in it, don’t wear the bra unless you are performing, etc.) and be especially careful when washing it.

Washing Costumes…wait, what?!

Yes, you can wash costumes, and I’m not just talking about Tribal skirts and cholis!  There have been lots of articles about how to clean costumes, so I’m not going to just rehash that here. I will link them, though! Here are some excellent articles on removing odors by Shira and a thread on Bhuz with Princess Farhana’s advice (she used to have it on her website, but the page can no longer be found; just go down to the fifth entry on the Bhuz page).

can add a few pieces of advice here, though. I follow Princess Farhana’s advice pretty closely, but I’ve found that fragrance-free, dye-free, “green” detergent can also work in a pinch if you don’t have Woolite. It is also super important to squeeze the water out with the towel. Don’t hang the costume dripping wet; the weight will cause it to stretch.

To prevent mildewing of a costume after washing, which is especially important with Turkish costumes or other types with heavy beading and thick fabric, like buckram (or if you live in a high-humidity area), use a fan to speed up drying. I have a drying rack that I use. I put the fan, facing upwards, on the bottom of the rack, and then lay the costume out on the top. Depending on how humid it is, drying it this way will only take a few hours to overnight. Just make sure the beading won’t get caught in the fan!

Repairing Costumes

Yeah, I know, most of us don’t have the time to repair costumes. But really, it doesn’t take that much time, nor does it take a lot of skill. “But, it’s beading!” Well, yeah, but if you can sew on a button, you can repair some beading. It’s not really that hard.

Need beads? One great site is Fire Mountain Gems. There will also likely be bead stores in your area; just look up seed beads (which are the type used most in costume decoration, like fringe and edging). Take your costume (the bra might be easiest) with you in order to match color and size (and sometimes shape; hex-cut beads are often used because they sparkle more). I recommend finding a local business rather than shopping online because it will be easier for a beginner beader to get help from the staff in finding the right beads (and because, well, it’s a local business and it’s important to support local businesses…because you are one too!)

All you need to do then is follow the same pattern. Don’t worry if it’s not exact! Usually, the areas that need repair won’t be that big, and if someone can notice a repair that small from dozens of feet away while you are dancing, there’s something more wrong than just your beading skills!

Need help? I absolutely lurve this website! She has much more about costume making than just how to bead, so be sure to check out the whole website. Everything I know about costume making, I learned from that site (or from making my own mistakes!)

Repairing holes in the fabric can be more challenging, but it can be done. Holes in the seams can easily be stitched up by hand. Tears in the fabric itself (often near the hem because of heels) are a little bit more challenging. You might have luck, if you have tiny stitches, in just sewing the hole closed. But you might be able to stitch up the hole, and cover it up, with some beading! Check out the design of your costume and see if it’s plausible. Consider sewing a similar design elsewhere on the costume so that there isn’t just a random bit of beading somewhere. Or add small tassels of beads randomly about the costume (including where the hole is), which will take less time than a flatwork design.

Altering Costumes

Sometimes, you just gotta have a costume, and it’s not quite the right size. Or maybe you over/under estimated or didn’t measure correctly (or the seller didn’t!) and now you’re stuck with something that doesn’t fit!

Bra straps (and belts) are easy to fix: just move the hooks. Any professional dancer should know how to move hooks to resize bras and belts. If the costume came with flimsy ones (often the case with Egyptian costumes), you can even leave them in place and sew your own sturdier hooks in the right places. I always use two, facing in opposite directions so that if one goes, the other will likely stay. Just make sure to use sturdy thread (I use embroidery thread) and sew enough to keep those hooks in place!

Straps that are way too long can be a bit more of a problem. One costume, that I had ordered custom made, came way, way, way too big (I’m not talking a little bit…I ordered a 36D and ended up getting a 46DD or bigger). The straps, which were like regular bra straps (meaning they were not adjustable, and sewn onto the sides and back of the bra, permanently), were so long the bra hung around my waist. I thought I would have to return it, but I needed the costume right away. So I cut the straps off of the back of the bra, removed part of the beading, and added hooks to the ends of the straps. Then, on the inside of the bra, I added hooks at an angle so that I could cross the bra straps fully across my back (yeah, they were that long).

When cups are are too big, just add padding…but PLEASE don’t make it a sock! In Dina-style bras, the socks are often easily visible from the sides! Most fabric stores, or stores that specialize in female underwear, will have “cookies” that can be inserted and either pinned or sewn into place.

Resizing can be more difficult, and you’ll have to have more skills. Again, Shushanna has an excellent tutorial on resizing bras. I especially like the technique of adding fabric for a too-small bra.

Hemming skirts might be tricky, but I have seen it done, even with beading on the edges. You can either take the beading off (daunting) and then hem it and add the beading back on, or you can just tuck all of it up under and use a loose stitch to hold it in place (that way, if you sell it, the buyer has an option of just taking the stitching out for the extra length). If the beading is just around the bottom hem, no one will know, because there is no design to interrupt. If the bottom of the skirt isn’t an option, sometimes the middle is! Depending on the design of the skirt, you might be able to take up an inch or two by folding up the fabric near the “seat” of the costume and sewing (carefully) along the edge where the beading ends, using the beading to hide the stitches. Or add ruching (loose gather) by sewing double lines of long stitches in strategic areas of the upper part of the skirt, then pull them to draw the fabric into a gather. Sew it down with regular stitching (which you might be able to cover up with rhinestones!) You might be able to take off two or three inches just by adding ruching, and it can be done in and around the beading.

Got any other ideas for resurrecting costumes? I’ve even seen beading taken off and completely replaced onto a whole new bra! That might be too much work, but what else can we do to resurrect our costumes? I’d love to hear ideas, so please comment below!

(The costume in the picture above was my first costume ever, and I had to “resurrect” it. It smelled AWFUL and had weird flimsy hooks in all the wrong places. I had to wash it TWICE before the smell came out of it. Luckily it has so much fringe that the small amount of missing fringe doesn’t matter. But I did use fabric glue on every.single.strand. of the rest of the beads. It took a long, long, long time.)

Photo credit: The Dancer’s Eye by Carrie Meyer

Weekly Challenge for 2-17-14

It’s Monday, time for the weekly belly dance challenge!

Proprioception

What a fun word! What is it? Proprioception is actually a sense, like hearing or vision, and it is how we know where our body parts are in relationship to the rest of our body and in space.

Here’s a fun exercise (and no, it’s not the challenge!): Close your eyes and reach your arms out to the sides, fully extended. Now try to touch the end of your nose with one finger of your right hand without moving your head. Extend the arm back out and try it with your left.

Proprioception is how we can touch our own noses with our eyes closed. How did you do?

Our brain has a map of our body and a kind of “map” of the space around us. “Clumsy” people actually usually have low proprioception and bang into things because their brain either isn’t paying attention or doesn’t have an accurate map of either the body or the space. In dance, if our proprioception isn’t great, our movements tend to be less of what the teacher wants, we can’t practice without mirrors, and learning new movements is extremely difficult.

If you didn’t do so well touching your nose, don’t despair! Proprioception can be trained!

Here’s the challenge, for all levels this week.

Practice without a mirror.

BUT, while you are practicing, be aware of what your body is doing. How does a maya FEEL in your body?

For this week, maybe you can stick to movements you know pretty well, and instead of concentrating on how they LOOK (in the mirror), concentrate on how they feel. If you ever want to perform, there will be no mirror for you to check and make sure your maya is correct. Your body has to know how it feels to know whether the hip is actually making it out to where it is supposed to go.

If you are learning new movements, a mirror is essential in making sure that you are doing it correctly by how it looks. Once you have that down, take the mirror away and again concentrate on the feeling.

For more advanced dancers, if you practice choreographies or layering or even facial expressions normally with a mirror, try it without one this week. Same thing – new techniques should be blocked out in the mirror, then take it away and see how it feels.

I actually do not practice with a mirror AT ALL. That’s primarily due to the fact that I only have a small mirror, but I still wouldn’t want to practice in front of one regularly. Of course, when I’m trying out new techniques, or if I’m trying to check to make sure something looks right, I will drag out my mirror and make sure it’s right before practicing without it.

Happy dancing!

Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!

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Photo credit: ZL-Photography via photopin cc (This is the “Bean” in Chicago, aka Cloud Gate)

Weekly Challenge for 2-10-14

Monday! Time for this week’s challenge!

Creativity

Belly dance is an art form. That means it taps into our creativity. Yes, belly dance is also a folk dance, which means it is traditional and creativity has less of a place (though there is still a place for creativity even in the traditional!)

And being creative is not something that you are just born with. Yes, many people are born with certain aptitudes for certain creative skills. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have to work on their creativity just like they need to work on their dance skills. And people who claim to not be very creative can increase their creativity; they don’t have to be “born with it.”

Even if you never want to perform professionally or in a troupe, being creative is a life skill. It helps in almost every job, helping you to think outside the box, or at least help you last through your shift without wanting to harm yourself or others.

So how do you increase your creativity? Easy, do something creative.

Many people think that creativity is like a well. Once you use it up, it’s gone, and you may have to wait awhile for it to fill up again. In some cases, this may be true, especially if you have strong demands on your creativity and do nothing to replenish it. For most people, though, creativity is like a muscle. Use it, and it only gets stronger, bigger, more useful. If you take care of it, it will never burn out or get torn or crap out on you. Build it carefully, and it supports you, muscles you through difficult times, and can be quite impressive.

How do you build creativity?

Just like building muscle. Dancers should cross train; they should take strength training classes, or do yoga, or do some other sport that can build leg and core strength or help with balance, speed, and fluidity. Cross training helps avoid injury due to repetitive movement, giving your body and muscles something else to do besides hundreds of mayas.

Your creativity needs cross training too! Even if you have no skill whatsoever in anything creative other than dance, try to do something else! Learn to draw, or play an instrument (I HIGHLY recommend dancers learn music…it will make you a better dancer!). Spend time coloring in your kid’s coloring book. Get dirty in some clay.

Your challenge this week to, in addition to your regular movement practice, spend some time building your creative muscles. Try not to choreograph anything this week, or do anything else creative with dance. Instead, spend that time drawing, or playing, or sculpting, or making jewelry! Replenish your creative well, or build your creative muscle, by doing things that are fun, even if you aren’t that great at it. Building skill in another art form is not the goal this week (this is a belly dance blog!) But building creativity is, and you can only do that by doing more creative things!

Happy creating!

And hey, share with me what you’ve done this week! Post photos or videos to share with me and other dancers what you did this week to build those creative muscles!

 

Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!

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Photo credit: joamm tall via photopin cc

Weekly Challenge for 2-3-14

A whole new month! A whole new week! Time for another challenge!

Stage Presence

I’ve blogged about this before, but I thought this would make another good topic for the weekly challenge. What is stage presence? It’s the command you have of your audience as a performer. It’s not about just getting up on stage and dancing. Stage presence is your character, how you present yourself, how you interact with the audience, and then…way down the list…what techniques you are doing and how you are doing them.

I hear it a lot — and I agree with it — that many professional dancers would much rather watch other dancers having fun (even if the technique is so-so) than a mechanically perfect dancer whose head could be screwed off and replaced with another and there would be no difference. To put it a little harshly, if you are dead from the neck up, then you might as well not even be there.  If you aren’t having fun, the audience isn’t having fun. If you aren’t feeling the emotion or character you are trying to convey, then the audience won’t get it.

Dance isn’t just about what awesome techniques you can do.  It’s about the performance.  That’s what we do, we perform. I’ve blogged a lot about creating characters and challenges for adding drama to your performances. If you are new to the weekly challenge, try out one of those maybe this week.  Or, take a peek at this one:

Beginner: Again you may be telling yourself (or shouting it at the screen) that you have no interest in performing, and that is totally, totally fine.  However, this is the perfect time to start learning how to perform, not just do movements. Don’t wait until your technique is solid and you are chomping at the bit to perform to try to learn these skills (if you do decide you want to perform). These skills are like any other: they take time and practice to master. Starting now will only help you in the long run, and they are fun anyway. This week, while you are drilling or practicing your combos, try imagining yourself on a stage. Don’t get nervous, because you really aren’t on stage! But think about what it would be like: the lights shining in your eyes, you in that beautiful costume, performing to your favorite song. What sort of character are you? It doesn’t have to be anything complex, just think about who you want to be on stage. Do you want to be Dina or Randa? Pretend you are Zoe or Rachel! (a caution here: don’t compare yourself to these dancers, for that way lies frustration and disappointment. Instead, just imagine you are them, and project what you think of as essentially Dina or essentially Rachel onto your own skin*). Do this every day you practice, and maybe mix it up a little!

Intermediate: Whether you perform with a student troupe or not, this really is the time to make sure you are starting to get performance skills practice in your regular practice.  It’s more than just smiling on stage. Smile while you practice, or project whatever other emotion your teacher has told you to try for that performance (fusion troupes often have other emotions, but it’s perfectly okay to just be happy). And we’ll take it a step further. If you are supposed to be happy while you are performing, start thinking about things that make you happy. Yes, you are trying to remember choreography, but hopefully you have practiced it enough your body could do it while you were sleeping. And being too nervous before a performance can sabotage your memory. Relax and think of something happy while you practice. It will make your smile genuine instead of the plastered on, “I’m-really-nervous-and-would-rather-be-somewhere-else-but-I’m-here-so-SMILE!” smile. If happy isn’t your emotion, then use whatever it is while you practice. If sad, think of something sad (but don’t make yourself cry! You don’t want to smear makeup on stage!). If angry, get angry.

Advanced: I watch a lot of belly dance because I enjoy it. But too often the piece I enjoy the most is the one that is off-the-wall, silly, or just plain fun, not the technically perfect one. Or maybe it’s the truly imaginative one, or the different, unusual (maybe even avant-garde) one, regardless of technique. Yes, technique is important. But so is stage presence. You should be practicing stage presence just as much as your technique. Imagine how wonderful it would be to see an engaging, fun, AND technically perfect dance! Use the previous exercises to improve your stage presence this week. But the most important challenge for you this week is this: make a commitment to working on stage presence not just for this week, but for the rest of your career. Every day this week, look in the mirror when you practice–drills or choreo–and try to find that character, that spark, that bit of silliness or fun or scary, and work it into the stage persona. Will it to come out and make a home in your dance practice. Nurture it this week, and make a promise to it that you will continue to do so, forever and ever.

Happy dancing!

*There has been some discussion about copy-catting and finding your own style recently. I wanted to add here that I do not think it is okay to copy other dancers’ styles. However, this is a perfectly valid exercise for new dancers. It’s not about copying their style, but about learning how to perform a character, and most dancers, even new dancers, will know these famous dancers only as “characters” not as someone to “copy” or “steal” from. There is a caution here, too, though for newer dancers: while it is okay, in the beginning, to try on new styles and characters, it is important to remember that you are not Rachel Brice or Dina. Use them as inspiration for your own style, when you get to that point.

Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know!  Tweet it!

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