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Where Do You See Belly Dance?

two wolves fighting

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the future of belly dance. The belly dance community was recently rocked by some controversial notes on Facebook (now deleted) questioning fusion’s role in the belly dance community and the erroneous linkage of fusion’s popularity to the decline of belly dance in general. Some other discussions have popped up around the decline of belly dance, the boredom of audiences with belly dance, and the lack of paid performance opportunities.

I had initially written a fairly inflammatory response to these issues, but have decided to, instead, feed the right wolf.

Where do YOU want to see belly dance headed? Do you want to see it go down in flames, with petty in-fighting driving away potential customers and supporters, or do you want to see it thrive and grow, with dancers working together to make belly dance appealing to all audiences?

Personally, I want belly dance – all dance, all dancers – to succeed. I want good paid opportunities, free of harassment. I want students to be supported in whatever style they choose, without teachers’ egos stifling their growth. I want belly dance to be taken seriously as both a cultural artform to be carefully preserved and a new, emerging vehicle for artistic expression. I want full classes and thriving festivals. I want traditional-style dancers to be respected and to eagerly share their wealth of knowledge. I want fusion dancers to want to learn the roots of the dance and to take the issues surrounding it seriously.

To throw another cliche out there, a rising tide raises all boats. If we support one another, if we put aside useless style wars, then we can focus our limited time and resources into making belly dance succeed. I refuse to spend my energy on tearing other dancers down, on arguing over who is or is not doing belly dance “right.” If I’m arguing online, I’m not doing belly dance at all!

So if you want to succeed in belly dance, if you want belly dance to grow and gain a wider acceptance, then put your work in towards that. Stop feeding the wrong wolf and giving the negativity and fighting all of your energy. We can only do this together.


photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar Fighting wolves via photopin (license)

The Five Year Plan

It’s that time of year again and everyone is making their New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, not everyone sticks to them, me included. So here’s something a little different to try for this year.

I have a five year plan. Or, at least, I did five years ago. It’s time for me to make another one, but before I do, I wanted to share what my last five year plan was. I hope that this is helpful to all the aspiring professional dancers out there, and also to already-professional dancers who might be ready to take the next big step.

So what’s a five year plan? Basically, it was one of those silly questions you get in job interviews: Where do you see yourself in five years?

It seems so simple, and it can be, but many people get lost in the details, or get so overwhelmed by what they must get done in those five years, they don’t do any of it. But you have to start somewhere. The old cliche is a good one: The journey of the thousand miles starts with the first step. Or as my old chemistry professor asked, “How do you eat an elephant? Very slowly! One bite at a time!”

The first step is, what is the main thing, the big thing (the “elephant”), that you want at the end of those five years? It should be a big dream, but not too big (we’ll get to the unrealistically big dreams in a minute). It should be a realistic goal, and this is where it gets hard. Many of us don’t know what realistic goals are when we first start out. Pick ONE thing. Just one.

I’m here to tell you it’s okay if you aren’t sure what is realistic right now.

What’s great about the five year plan is that it can be edited and changed with no feelings of “I’m failing in my resolutions.” A five year plan knows that life happens, and plans change, and that’s okay. So remember to be flexible, be honest, and be realistic. You have five years to make it happen, so a setback is not such a problem as it is with one year resolutions.

My five year goal was to teach at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive. It was a big dream, requiring a ton of hard work, but it was realistic. The next step is figuring out what you need to do to get that goal. For me, I knew that I was going to have to up my game if I wanted to be a good enough dancer to be chosen to teach at LVBDI. So I was going to have to practice. A lot. I told myself that I needed to be the best dancer I could be, and, realistically, that meant practicing. Every day. Every. Day.

I was also going to need teaching experience. Luckily, for the LVBDI, you need five years of teaching experience. Perfect fit! So I needed to start teaching, which meant I had to know what I was going to be teaching. Lesson plans, research into how to teach, thinking about what my body was doing and how I convey that to others, all were part of what I had to figure out before I could teach.

Of course, I also needed students. Which meant I needed to find a place to teach and warm bodies to fill the studio. This was actually one of the easier goals, but it was still something I put down on the list as a step in the right direction. It also meant I had to learn at least a little bit about marketing.

Furthermore, I decided I was going to need more experience in teaching workshops before I could realistically be chosen to teach at a large event like the LVBDI. So I needed to find smaller, more local places where I could present workshops. And then work my way up, doing larger and larger festivals as I went. That meant I needed workshop ideas, and I needed to get good at not only writing descriptions but also not being shy about asking people to be a part of their event.

But before that, I needed to get my name out there. I needed to be seen, to have video of good performances, and a good reputation as a dancer and performer. That meant I had to find places to dance, get video, and let people know what it was I did and that I was a professional.

It sounds like a lot, but let’s break it down. In each step, there needs to be an action that goes towards making that step. This makes things seem easier to handle, like bite sized pieces instead of staring down an entire elephant.

Main goal: Teach at the LVBDI

  • Step: improve dancing skills
    • Action: practice and hone skills
  • Step: Gain teaching experience
    • Action: Create lesson plans
    • Action: Find a place to teach
    • Action: promote classes to get students
  • Step: Gain workshop teaching experience
    • Sub-step: Need to build reputation as dancer and teacher
      • Action: Perform more and record
      • Action: Teach local workshop(s) at home studio
    • Action: Apply to teach at larger festivals

Once that is laid out, you can fill it in even further. How much practice do you need to do in order to reach that goal? That will probably vary, but I started out with 20 minutes every single day. It increased from there, of course, but that was where I started. I built a consistent practice that was easy to maintain. I began offering classes and started getting students. I taught a local workshop, and then another one. Then I landed my first festival workshop gig. It wasn’t a big festival, but that’s not a big deal. It still got put on my resume. No step was too small!

In my fifth year of teaching, I did it. I put in my application to teach at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, and I got in! My five year goal was complete, and I could barely believe it. But looking back, it was a lot of work. It was a lot of steps.

But wait, there’s more! Remember that big, big dream I mentioned earlier? Well, there should always be that one dream, you know, the one that might never happen. It should be the pie-in-the-sky dream, the reaching for the stars dream. It might be completely unrealistic (either in five years or ever), but that’s okay. Why? Because we need to dream big. If we keep all of our dreams small, we might never achieve what we want. It’s good to take risks (within reason), to stretch ourselves, and to do things we normally wouldn’t do. Then, we need to keep our eyes open for opportunity for this big dream. I’m not saying do whatever you need to do to make it happen, but be open to getting in the back door, or going about something in a way that might be different from everyone else. Don’t let opportunity slip by because you think you might not be ready.

One of my friends once posted on Facebook that if they had waited until they felt they were ready for that big gig, they never would have done it. They were approached to do a bigger gig than they were ready for, but they took it anyway, and made it happen. And it opened doors they would never have thought were even there. The definition of a professional isn’t just being paid for your work. It’s also about putting in the work to do what you need to do.

My big dream? Dance and/or teach at Tribal Fest.

Guess what? I got that one, too. Never in a million years would I have thought I would get in to teach, but I did. I took a gamble, applied, and got in. The risk paid off. Was I ready to teach Tribal Fest? Maybe, maybe not. But I made it happen, because I wasn’t going to pass that opportunity up when it came within reach.

And what if you fail? In a five year plan, there is no failure. It’s possible that you might not make your big goal in those five years, but look at all the other steps you did to get there. None of that is wasted effort. If you didn’t make it in five years, it probably meant it was just too big of a goal. At the end of each year, it’s a good idea to sit back and reevaluate. Is the goal still realistic? Did you get it in two years, or are you staring down the fifth year and you’re not even half way there? It doesn’t really matter. If you aren’t there yet, make that five year plan a seven year plan instead. It doesn’t mean you failed, it just meant you underestimated the time it would take to get there.

For me, in my fourth year, the LVBDI announced that its tenth year was going to be its last. It meant that, through no fault of my own, I would never make my dream happen. It was a crushing blow, but it wasn’t a failure. So I decided to try something else. But before I really figured out what that was going to be, the next year of the LVBDI was announced. That was a big sigh of relief you just heard!

So what is your five year plan? Remember, keep it small and manageable, but don’t forget about that big dream. Make it happen.

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

Dread Falls Workshop!

kamrah belly dancer

Hey, all, just wanted to give a shout-out for a workshop that people have been asking me to do!

If you want to learn how to make dread falls, I have two great blog posts here and here.  But now you can learn how to do this IN PERSON!  Please come to this workshop!  It’s going to be a lot of fun.  We’re not going to have time to make a full set, but I will show you all the steps you need to know, including installing the falls (which I haven’t yet done on the blog).

So if you are in the Chicago area, please consider stopping by and joining the workshop!  You don’t even need to be a belly dancer!  If you are interested in dread falls for any reason, please sign up! Click here!

The workshop will be at Arabesque Studios, 3120 W. Belmont, on Saturday the 15th at 12:00pm.  Cost is $30 per person. Please pre-register by the 12th of December, because cost goes up at the door!

You will need the following items for this workshop (some extras will be available, but supplies are very limited, so please bring your own if you can):

  • One package (at least) of Kanekalon Jumbo Braid hair (this can easily be found at most beauty supply stores, or go to Doctored Locks)*
  • One comb (teasing comb is best–also found at beauty supply stores–but any comb will do)
  • An iron or a hair straightening iron
  • A spray bottle
  • Two towels (one small, one large, if possible, but any two towels should do)

*You will actually need anywhere from 6-10 packages of hair, depending on what you are doing, for a full set of dread falls.  But for the workshop, we’ll only be using one package.  If you want more than one color, you can bring a second (or third!) color, and I can show you how to make spiral dreads.

What’s the Proper Etiquette for a Belly Dancer at Dinner?

kamrah belly dance

Due to a recent blog post asking the question, “What is the proper etiquette for a belly dancer at dinner?”, I have written this post with the purpose of educating the general public on what to do if a belly dancer does appear at your restaurant at dinner (and a little bit about belly dance history and belly dance itself).  This is an excellent question, and one that, as a professional belly dancer who has danced in restaurants, I am qualified to answer.  What do you do when a belly dancer comes to dinner?

Don’t worry about the length, there’s a summary at the bottom for retention and for the TL;DR folk.

What is Belly Dance and Why Is She Coming to My Table?

Belly dance is a beautiful art form from the Middle East. Its exact origins are vague and beyond the scope of this post, but know that Egyptian, Lebanese, Turkish, and Greek dancers have been dancing a very long time. Belly dance was filmed at the World’s Fair way back in 1893, by Edison himself. It has changed a lot since then, with sparkly costumes, ballet movements, and some amount of standardization in techniques added to the more folk-style dancing seen in those films.

Middle Eastern restaurants like to hire belly dancers as part of the atmosphere of their establishments, and many famous dancers can draw large crowds of educated consumers to come and enjoy good food, good culture, and good dancing. Dancers may perform for the audience in general, if there is open space enough or a stage available, or will approach individual tables so that customers can admire the exquisitely decorated costume (usually from Egypt or Turkey) and the lovely movements up close.  Some of these movements may be too subtle to be seen from a distant stage.

Belly dance is a part of Middle Eastern culture, and many dancers spend many years studying the movements, music, and culture in order to give you as an authentic performance as possible. Many dancers have B.A. degrees (or higher!) in dance or some aspect of Middle Eastern culture and language. Others may be movement specialists, with degrees in kinesiology or certifications in personal training, massage therapy, yoga, and/or Pilates. Some dancers may just enjoy experiencing a culture different from their own, and have other degrees or interests (shameless plug, I have a B.S. in microbiology and do cancer research, and I have obtained a certification in massage therapy).

Why is the Costume so…Sexy?

Belly dance, while it is somewhat misnamed because dancers use much more than their bellies, actually does use the belly! How else would you be able to see the fine muscle control that the dancer has developed over years of practice and study? Belly dance is not specifically meant to titillate, as with other performances such as burlesque, but the movements are beautiful and sensuous. There is nothing wrong, dirty, or scary about a woman’s body.

Americans tend to be nervous about women’s bodies because women are taught to hate their bodies unless they are perfect (which they never can be, because even the models have cellulite, blemishes, and rolls that are airbrushed and Photoshopped away). Belly dance is a beautiful art form that celebrates women’s bodies in a way that is powerful and empowering for women. The costume is part of that, though it is also part of the long history of belly dance (again, beyond the scope of this post).

But I’m Embarrassed to Watch!

That’s okay! Again, Americans are trained to find women’s bodies embarrassing or repulsive unless they are Photoshopped into “perfection,” and this is merely a symptom. What’s the cure? Try belly dance yourself!

But that doesn’t help the embarrassed patron of a Middle Eastern restaurant! Not to worry; if you are too embarrassed to watch, the dancer will not take it personally. Merely ignore the dancer as you would a waiter that is not your own, and likely she will get the message and not dance at your table, and more importantly, not be offended. If you are open minded enough to want to watch the dancer, smile, watch the movements she is doing, clap for her, and then go back to enjoying your food. If you find that you enjoyed watching the amazing things the dancer can do with her muscles, many dancers accept tips, so consider tipping the dancer for her hard work in entertaining you that evening. (Tipping etiquette is complex, so please see the following link here for more information; if in doubt, watch the other patrons.  It’s all part of experiencing a different culture!)

If you find it too embarrassing to even have the dancer in the same room with you, don’t go to the restaurant when the dancer is present. Typically, restaurants will have general performance times posted quite visibly, and if it’s Friday or Saturday night, it is very likely a dancer will be present at a Middle Eastern restaurant. Most restaurants want the largest crowd possible for the dancer, so weekends during the peak hours will be when she performs.  If it’s a slow night, the dancer may go on later, when there is a larger crowd, though this will depend on the restaurant, the management, and the dancer.

Isn’t Belly Dance the Same as Stripping?

No, it is not. The performer will never remove her costume. Costumes are expensive (anywhere from $200 to well over $1500, depending on designer, country of origin, and complexity; costumes are hand-beaded) and easily damaged; a dancer would not want to risk losing or damaging a costume that expensive by dropping it on the floor or leaving it somewhere in the restaurant.

While there is nothing wrong with stripping, belly dancing is not the same thing, and dancers risk confusion, anger, embarrassment, and bodily injury when the two are mistakenly interchanged. Uneducated restaurant customers may try to manhandle the dancer (the risk is more than it’s worth–you can be thrown out of the restaurant or, worse, touch a sweaty dancer), or a dancer may be hired with the expectation to remove her costume at a private party. This can be awkward, and possibly dangerous (due to an irate patron), to the dancer. Ballet dancers would never be asked to remove their costumes, and the same should be true for belly dance. It is not part of the dance. Let’s all try to educate ourselves so that cultural misunderstandings do not happen.

So What Do I Do?

Enjoy the performance! Your dancer is there to entertain you, to make the wait for your food more enjoyable, and to provide atmosphere for your Middle Eastern dining experience. You can ignore her or watch her as you please, as you would any performer at any other restaurant, whether it be a jazz singer, a band, or a dinner theater performance.  Clap for her when she is done, tip her if you thought she was good (tip her well if you thought she was great!), and bask in the knowledge that you experienced something outside of your own culture.

If you want even more culturally relevant information on being a good audience member for belly dance, go here.  Shira is a treasure-trove of belly dancing knowledge!

In Summary:

  • Belly dance is a culturally appropriate entertainment for Middle Eastern restaurants.
  • Dancers train for years in order to perform authentically and often have advanced degrees in Middle Eastern studies.
  • Dancers will approach your table in order for you to admire her costume and see her movements, some of which are impossible to see from a stage, up close.
  • If you are uncomfortable watching the dancer, she will not be offended if you merely ignore her.
  • It is perfectly okay, and desirable, for audience members to watch the intricate movements of a dancer.
  • Tipping the dancer is a complex process, but often appropriate and desirable. Watch other audience members or go here for more information.
  • Belly dance is not stripping and is not meant to titillate. It is a cultural art form performed in the Middle East (and elsewhere) that takes years of study to perform.
  • Education is better than ignorance.
  • Being culturally sensitive is also desirable.

I hope this blog has helped to answer the question of what to do when a belly dancer comes to dinner. Please feel free to comment below, though I will say this: let’s all be adults and learn something from one another!

Dread Falls – Part II

Missed Part I of my dread falls tutorial?  Find it here!

Okay, let’s get to putting those dreads to use!  You will need:

  • 20-40 individual dreads
  • Small rubber bands (preferably matching)
  • Elastic, 1/2″ wide
  • Scissors

    All the dreads!

  1. First, you will need to cut some of the elastic.  This is what will hold the dreads and allow you to tie them into your hair.  Cut two pieces of approximately 12 inches or so (longer if you have a large bun, i.e. a lot of hair) of 1/2″ elastic.
  2. Hold the two pieces of elastic together and slide an “anchor” dread onto BOTH pieces of elastic.  Use one of the small rubber bands to anchor the dread at the loop to the elastics.  The rubber band needs to be tight, because this dread will keep all the others from falling off!

    Anchor dread on elastic

  3. Next, separate the two pieces of elastic and start slipping dreads onto each SINGLE piece of elastic.  Add them equally to both pieces of elastic, and, if you have multiple colors, randomly space those out.  Make it too ordered, and it might look weird and unnatural (yeah, because white and blue are natural…).  Leave one last dread out as your second anchor.

    Dreads spread out onto both pieces of elastic

  4. Add your second anchor dread by slipping the dread over BOTH pieces of elastic, just as you did in Step 2.  Push all the dreads together, giving you a big “O” of dreads.

    The big “O” of dreads

  5. And…repeat!  You need two sets of dreads for installation, or even more.  When I wear my full set, I actually have 4 dread falls on my head!  The next post will be all about how to install them!  Keep an eye out for it!

Ya know, this post (and the previous one) has taken a lot of work, so, if you enjoyed this post, please consider DONATING.  I’d be forever grateful if you donated a little bit of money to cover the large amount of time I used to bring you this post, and others.  Support your community!  Just click the DONATE button on the right side, and thanks so much!

How to be a good audience member

Many bloggers (including me) write primarily about how to be a good dancer, how to improve yourself, how to stretch and reach for the stars. But not too many write on how to be a good audience member, especially if you are a dancer. We think, hey, I’m a dancer, and I know how I want an audience to behave. But what might be acceptable to you may not be to another dancer. Here are some tips for being a good audience member.

  • Never show up in costume to another performer’s gig. This is just about as rude as you can get. If you want to see another dancer perform, and you have a gig afterwards, show up in your street clothes (or dressy clothes, whatever is appropriate for the venue) and change once you get to your gig (and not in the dressing room of the other dancer)
  • Even if you are capable of this or this, DO NOT zill through another dancer’s set, unless she has specifically asked you to. It’s great that you know how to zill, and it’s wonderful that you want to participate in the show, but keep it to your own set. You may distract the dancer (and the audience) or cover up the accents she is trying to hit, or, horrors, not be playing the right rhythm! I’ve had this happen to me too much, ruining sets and video because someone was zilling through my set.
  • If you do not like the dancer, don’t bad mouth her before, during, or after her set, especially in the hearing of other audience members. When she is performing, it is her stage, her moment, no matter how much you don’t like her. Let her have her time on the stage. And, to be fair, if you don’t like a dancer, you shouldn’t bad mouth her ever. Keep it to yourself.
  • If you do not like a performer’s set, song, style, or skill level, also keep it to yourself. Clap politely (or not) at the end. Please do not loudly proclaim how you can do so much better, or wave your hands wildly in dismissal, or cluck unappreciatively. I’ve seen all three of those from other belly dancers, and it is so rude. This is childish behavior and will reflect more on you than on the dancer.
  • Please do help get a dead crowd going. Most Americans are taught to sit quietly and politely through a performance, and this can kill the energy of a belly dance show. Help a girl out and show the audience that it is okay to clap, make noise, and tip the dancer. The dancer should be the one to handle this, but there are some crowds that need more help than others.
  • And finally, the best thing you can do to be a good audience member is…show up! If you have no intention of going, don’t reply with a “yes” on Facebook (this can give the dancer higher expectations and when no one comes, be a big disappointment). Support other dancers in your community by going to their events, even if you are not performing.

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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