Wednesday, April 27, 2016

THE CRAZY INJURY OBSESSION ALL DANCERS SHARE...AND WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO GET OVER IT



 If there’s one thing  dancers have in common, it’s that we are all absolutely certifiably insane when it comes to injuries.  An injury is our worst nightmare. We dread them, we fear them,  and  many of us ignore them, hoping they will go away. Ultimately, we work through them, but  no matter what, we always obsess about them. Though many of us can easily identify the difference between a major  acute injury and those that are minor or temporary, we still stress out over the very thought that we are injured… and this leads to obsessive behavior.

 Recently, my left  knee was acting up. It wasn’t an acute injury, but something that had started slowly and intermittently. An injury that creeps up like this is usually an RSI, or Repetitive Stress Injury, something that occurs over a period of time, due to  making certain movements over and over. I was experiencing  medial ( inner side of the knee) pain, and I knew it was an RSI, because I dance every damn day. So I iced it a bit and let it rest as much as I could. 

But as the nagging discomfort came and went, I went through a series of  my own “diagnostic tests”.  These included  repeatedly standing with my full weight only on the injured leg, as well as going into movements- without an  adequate  warm up, I might add-  just to see if I could reproduce the odd little pops, clicks and  twinges of pain  that I was getting every so often while I danced.

 Let me tell you right now that I am familiar with anatomy- as well as  the way my own body feels when it’s working properly as opposed to being injured. But my  self-performed “diagnostics” were not only invalid and uninformed as far as real physical tests go, they were just plain stupid! And even though I knew that, I just couldn’t stop my neurotic OCD behavior. It was like an oddly satisfying nervous tick, kind of like when a little kid loses a tooth and is completely preoccupied with poking their tongue into the raw, tender hole where the tooth had been.

 I discussed this phenomenon with several friends, all of whom are seasoned performers and  instructors; other belly dancers,  ballet, jazz, hip hop, burlesque  and contemporary dancers, and guess what? 

They all do the same thing!

 Maybe it’s just an intrinsic part of our dance-life mania, but it sure isn’t helping in any way, shape or form. At best it causes discomfort; at worst, it can aggravate-and prolong- the injury itself.
As frustrating as it may be, you gotta let that injury rest!  Quit “testing” it to see if the status has changed in the past ten hours…or ten minutes.  As the Beatles said, “Let It Be”. It might be easier said than done, but leaving your injury alone is probably the best thing you can do for it.
 It’s absolutely vital to understand that you need to baby your injury- at least for a while- if you want it to get better. It’s much more prudent to cancel a few classes or gigs than try to flail your way through your regular schedule while your injury is in full force.  R.I.C.E or Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation are always good; you can ice and injury for fifteen or twenty minutes every couple of hours to help the inflammation calm down. Over the counter NSAIDS will also help with the pain as well as combatting inflammation.

In the meantime, during your recovery, you can work on any areas of your body that aren't injured. To stay conditioned, stretch and strengthen the rest of your body before returning to your full-on schedule of rehearsals, classes and shows. The last thing you want to do is impede your recovery by ignoring the advice of your physicians and/or physical therapist…or by performing any dumb-ass “self diagnostics”.

 There are many things you can do to keep learning and to help you feel as though you are progressing, even if you can’t actually dance yet.  Ask your instructor(s) if you can audit their dance classes- you can gain insight and learn technique just by watching a class and taking notes. Watch dance videos; analyze the styles or technique you are seeing, and observe more subtle things like stage presence, emotional connection to the music, and the costuming the performing is wearing.

Once you’ve been passed the acute phase of your injury, and with your doctor’s ok, you need to start rehab. If you’ve been prescribed a course of physical therapy, attend the sessions religiously, following your homework exercise regimen to the letter. You might also try Pilates, which was actually designed as a strengthening program to help dancers rehabilitate from injury. Make sure to find a certified instructor and let them know how you are injured.  Start out simple, and basic- if you’re feeling pain from any movements, don’t do them yet… and no matter what, don’t push yourself too hard, because you certainly don't want to exacerbate your injury.  It’s better to err on the side of caution. Walking is a terrific and low- impact aerobic way of keeping fit, and often a brisk walk will lower your overall physical feelings of discomfort.

If your injury has recovered enough that you have the ability to dance- but aren’t quite at a hundred percent, you will need to make necessary adjustments. However, you need to make sure that whatever you are doing doesn’t throw your body out of alignment. For example, if you’re still unable to completely put your full weight on one leg, do not assume that you’ll be fine bearing all that weight on the other leg! It will only lead to more problems. The more you “protect” the injured side, the more likely it will be that you’ll sustain an injury on the side that’s working over-time.

 Try to calm your inner dance-demons while you are recovering, ok? Be grateful for your body’s healing capabilities, have faith in your recovery process, and take the necessary time to recover fully before you get back in the game.

Oh and please… No more “testing”!


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Thursday, February 25, 2016

STAGE PRESENCE, CROWD CONTROL AND TIPPING

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Photo by Kat Bushman

 People  tell me that  me that when I perform, my presence is so large that it fills the entire venue. But it wasn't always that way. Over the years, on what I call my "Work/ Study Program", I learned to master the art of crowd control...especially in venues where tipping was encouraged. 

As a baby dancer, I avidly observed professionals working. I studied the way they handled crowds, watched their interactions with the audience, the way they got the crowd all fired up, how they  accepted tips and the crowd control tactic they employed for handling rowdy customers. I noticed that the dancers never  broke  from their stage persona, even when in a small venue where they personally could relate to the audience, all up-close and personal.

  The most  important  thing I noticed was that direct eye contact is paramount!

Dancers always appreciate a lively, demonstrative crowd, and it’s our job to get the audience riled up and festive.  So don’t be afraid to make direct eye contact with your audience members- it’s the surest way to make them feel connected to you- and to get them to tip you!  

 As for rousing a reticent audience, by using eye contact gestures alone, you can have the entire crowd clapping along to the music, or get them to be silent during a quiet part of your set.  If you want to break the ice with a tough crowd, the best way to do it is to call a child up to dance with you- they’ll almost always jump at the chance, it’s totally cute and of course, people love a good photo op!  If there are no kids around, select a pretty, vivacious-looking woman, and pretty soon her friends will join in... cause it’s a great social media moment!

 If someone you’ve gotten up to dance overstays their welcome, just “present” them to the crowd, and get them all to applaud- everyone will understand the idea that their dancin’ machine friend is now taking a bow, and should return to their seat.

 As for tipping- at belly dance shows, it's  a popular practice that stems from hundreds-if not thousands of years of tradition. Both the audience and the dancer enjoy tipping; the performer makes supplemental income, but tipping also allows for audiences to interact with the dancer and show appreciation for her skills..and once again, if you want to get tipped, eye contact is crucial!
Photo: Kat Bushman


 As far as tipping goes, most clubs and restaurants have a system in place where an employee, such as the manager or a waiter, will pick up the dancer’s tips and bring them to her dressing room after the show. If tips fall from your costume and a customer notices, they’ll sometimes let you know.  In this case, I either assure them the waiter will get it for me or ask if they wouldn’t mind retrieving it.

Inevitably, you’ll encounter some show off  that’ll offer you a tip… held in his teeth.  I’ve found that the best way to handle this is with humor and pantomime.  I’ll either pat the guy on the head as though he was a dog with a bone in his mouth, or gaze directly at another member of his party, point at the offender and pull a comical face that silently asks  “What’s he doing?”  Usually, someone will make him stop- or they’ll grab the money and tip you properly! 

Once in a while, things can get a little out of hand, especially if the venue serves alcohol. If an audience member does anything during your show that pushes your personal boundaries, interferes with your comfort-zone, or personal safety, or is just being disruptive or seems intoxicated, you have two choices.  You can enlist the service of the nearest waiter or simply remove yourself from the situation right away and report it to the management. This type of behavior is always frowned upon- there are definitely certain circumstances where the customer is not “always right!

 Many audiences are unsure of tipping protocol, and don't want to offend the dancer or do something impolite. There are a few discreet ways to let them know that tipping is OK. Often, dancers will seed their belts with hidden a bill or two (which can be prudently revealed mid-set) giving the audience the idea that tipping is acceptable. Another way to do this is to have the servers help you out before you go on by courteously asking patrons if anyone needs change to tip the dancer.

Whenever you get tipped, make sure to thank the person who tipped you, either verbally or with a nod of thanks, and big smile...once again looking the audience member directly in the eye!
 
Tipping is a way for the audience to tell you how much your performance meant to them.  It’s our job as dancers to transport the audience, and by receiving their tips graciously, you can also take satisfaction in knowing that you have done your job… and done it well.
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Thursday, February 4, 2016

THAT'S JUST HOW I ROLL: TIPS FOR AMAZING ABDOMINAL WORK



 
See that long vertical line going up my belly? That's  my rectus abdominis muscle.  Photo by Marcus Ferrando 
Strong abdominal work is something that all belly dancers-and audiences- love and admire. Among dancers, abdominal technique is always coveted, but rarely mastered.  Spectators go crazy for  rolls and flutters, too. Dancers and “civilians” alike regularly ask if I have an alien in my belly…or if I do crunches to get such strong abs.  However, though I occasionally enjoy pretending that I’m a Reptilian Hybrid from a distant planet, the answer to both questions is a resounding  “no”.
 Seriously, the only way I train my torso is with belly dance abdominal work. Though I love Pilates, and have dabbled in Yoga, I knew zilch about either discipline when I started working on my abdominal technique. I’m here to tell you that all it takes for amazing belly work is a little knowledge of proper technique… and a lot of practice time.  If you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll have a wild “alien belly” just like me, I promise!
 Here are a few tips for achieving strong abs- and there are no sit-ups, crunches, or cross training involved. With practice, you’ll be able to achieve mind-bending rolls, undulations and flutters yourself.
 First, let’s discuss undulations. There are two types: Muscular and Muscular Skeletal. The first kind uses only the muscles of the abdomen; a belly roll is muscular only, meaning that the bones or joints-or combinations thereof- are completely still.
The second type of undulation uses muscular engagement combined with bone/joint movement, usually coming from the pelvis and ribcage. A fine example of this would be the movement most of us know as a Camel.  But even though a Camel appears to be coming from the pelvis itself, it requires the interior abdominal muscles to engage in order to look really pronounced.  When I perform this movement, I tighten up (or engage) my lower abs –and also the muscles of the pelvic floor- when I pull back with my pelvis, and release them when the pelvis itself pushes forward.
 The muscle predominantly used in belly rolls is the rectus abdominis, a long, strong-banded pair of vertical, parallel muscles, which run up the length of the torso.  The banding in the muscles is what creates the hot “six pack” on guys who are super- fit.  The banding creates natural sections in the muscles, which are enhanced by training.  But for us belly dancers, even though the bands are present, the movements we do while dancing enhance the muscles length-wise, or vertically, so they look a little different…I like to refer to this as our chick pack. Most of us have a very strong rectus abdominus…but only around our middle band, the one that falls at our natural waist.  We often don’t use the parts of the muscle that is above or below that spot- and getting those areas stronger is essential for heavy-duty belly rolls.
A great way to train for rolls is to locate the muscles of your pelvic floor and tighten them up, much the same way you’d do a kegel exercise.  Pull in with the rectus abdominis as though you were zipping up a zipper all the way to the top of your rib cage. Hold it there for a moment, and then try to zip the “zipper” downwards again.
 My flutters   are even, highly sustained and large enough to see from the back of the room- no matter what size the venue is. They do not come from an ability to move my abdominal muscles in and out quickly. I could definitely do that if I wanted to!  However, if I engaged my abs by pulling them in and out super-fast, then I wouldn’t be able to layer belly rolls with my flutters…a movement that I call the  “flundulation”.
The main secret for crazy flutters is to keep your   abdominal muscles soft and relaxed, while your skeleton remains in standard dance posture- pelvis neutral with the tailbone tucked slightly towards the floor, ribcage lifted, and shoulders back and down. This sounds a lot easier than it actually is!
 Think about it: our abdominal muscles are constantly engaged, whether we’re conscious of it or not.  When enter in performance, our abs are always engaged- we’ve been trained to do that!  When we walk into a party or social gathering, we automatically pull up into a regal posture, without even thinking about it. Trying on a costume or an item in a store’s dressing room, we immediately suck in our stomachs. 
Letting our bellies remain loose and relaxed is completely conditioned out of us by society, so it might take you a while to get the hang of keeping your skeleton engaged and your abdominal muscles soft. When I was training to do this- and I taught myself, no one showed me- I’d place my hands on my sides, actually hooking my fingers just under my top ribs, so I could really feel my ribcage staying lifted as I let my belly go soft.  It looks kinda dorky, but try it- it works!
After you’ve gotten comfortable with that, it’s time to discover your diaphragm, which is the place of initiation for all my flutters.  The diaphragm, the large, major muscle that controls our breathing, is strong and kinda dome-shaped, sitting in the lower middle of your torso. Though we’re usually not aware of it, the diaphragm contracts rhythmically as we breathe as we breathe in and out. But if you concentrate, you can control the diaphragm- like when you breathe in deeply, holding your breath before diving into water. Think of your diaphragm as an inflatable ball. It fills up as you inhale and deflates when you exhale.   So you can feel it in motion, place your hand on your diaphragm and breath slowly and deeply.
 Once you’ve located your diaphragm and felt it moving naturally, try it a few times with conscious control, breathing in and out slowly and deeply as you keep your skeleton lifted and your abdominal muscles soft and un-engaged.  Now, try exhaling sharply, cutting the diaphragm’s muscle movement off. You’ve done this correctly if you feel a little clutch or catch.  Repeat this a few times, allowing yourself a couple of moments of regular breathing in between, so you don’t hyperventilate and become dizzy.
 A word to the wise: while many people advocate catching your breath and “cutting it off” at the throat, I don’t like this practice at all! Not only are the little “catches” you make while doing that visible to the audience, the movements also  cause the tendons in the neck to pop out and look  stringy and ugly…even on younger dancers!  Instead, try to visualize the little clutch or catch staying  just at the top of your ribs, directly under your cleavage…or, if you're a guy, directly under and between your man-candy pectoral muscles.
 Remember, the diaphragm is one of the strongest muscles in our entire body because  it’s in constant use as we breathe. If you repeat these practice movements even just a few times a day, the strength in your diaphragm will build up really quickly…and soon, you will have a an "alien in your belly", too!
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 If you liked reading about abdominal technique here, then you’ll LOVE my instructional DVD, “ABS-olutely Fabulous”- it’s packed with info on flutters, belly rolls, and undulations! 
Get it here:

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF DRESSING ROOM ETIQUETTE

Charlton Heston in the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments

 

1. Dance Is The Lord Your God, The Dressing Room Your Temple
 We worship at the altar of dance; we live  and breathe for it. Seriously, to a dancer, dance is spiritual; it’s a religion. That means preparing for a show is an act of devotion. The places we usually “worship” in aren’t made of alabaster pillars and draped in brocade, filled with priceless relics. They’re often up or down steep flights of well-worn stairs, the  walls covered in graffiti, full of lamps with missing light bulbs. They’re stuffy and musty or too drafty, and no matter how spacious they are, they’re always too small. But just like an  ancient temple, what happens inside a dressing room is pure magic.

 2. Thou Shalt Not Hog Mirror and Counter Space
 It’s always a good idea to get into the dressing room early so you can claim a prime spot for getting ready. But just cause you arrived at the venue on time doesn’t mean that you’re allowed spread out over half the backstage territory. Hang your costumes up if there’s a rack and stow your gig bag- with your street clothes in it -under your make up station or in a corner, not on a couch or chair that someone might want to sit on.  Keep your cosmetics contained to an area that’s roughly the width of your shoulders- the room’s going to get crowded soon and mirror space will be at a premium. If you’re done with your stage make up and there’s somewhere else you can go, it’s courteous and professional to offer your mirror space to another performer, especially one who came in from out of town and didn't have the leisure of getting ready at home. If you’ll need your spot back later- like to put on a wig, do a make up change, or costume change, just say so.

3. Thou Shalt Cleanse Thine Dressing Area Continuously
 If you’ve blown through five make up wipes and half a package of Q-Tips while getting you’re Stage Face on, if you've just wolfed down a power bar, used a bunch of double-sided tape, opened a new package of hose, unwrapped a gift, or finished a bottle of water, throw that stuff away pronto! There’s limited space in any dressing room- no matter how large it is – and that’s before a bunch of dancers start cramming into it. Quarters are always tight and space is at a premium, so it’s seriously doubtful that other cast members would be super-enthused about preparing for the stage amidst your trash.

4. Thou Shalt Not Run Thine Number Within The Sacred Inner Sanctum Of The Dressing Room
 Some dancers pop in their ear buds and quietly listen to their music while they’re getting ready. Others practice in the hallway, on the stage after tech rehearsal is over, or   go outside the venue to run their numbers a few last times. However, many soloists, and even troupes somehow think it’s ok to crank up their music and rehearse right there in the dressing room, amidst the suitcases, cosmetic bags, garment racks, and all the other dancers, many of whom are trying valiantly to get dressed while dodging somebody else’s elbow during a quick turn sequence. We’ve all seen this, cause it happens constantly!

 Dancing in the dressing room is a really big no-no.  It’s extremely discourteous to other cast members, on many levels.  Consider the following ideas and you’ll get the picture.  Many dancers don’t want to hear your music, they’d rather hear their own…and that’s precisely why they brought their ear buds.  Others desire a peaceful environment so they can get in character, or into The Zone for their performance. Several performers of all levels of experience have serious stage fright, and a boisterous rehearsal in a tiny space will work their last nerves. And nobody wants to have his or her costumes knocked off the rack or get a black eye cause you wanted to rehearse!

There’s a reason it’s called a dressing room, not a rehearsal hall or dance studio.  Please respect that.

If you truly need to run your number and the only place to do it is inside the dressing room, at least give everyone fair warning before you start, and limit running the number to one time, ok?

5. Thou Shalt Only Use Thine Inside Voice Within Thine Dressing Room
 It’s always terrific to have some serious backstage bonding.  The dressing room is often the single place many of us get to catch up with close friends we only see a few times a year. We joke, we crack each other up until we’re crying, and we gossip and swap dancer war stories. We compare costumes and trade make up hints, some of us enjoy a glass  (or more likely, a plastic cup) of wine together before or after the show.   A lively group of dancers who’re stoked to see each other and all  amped  up on performance  adrenalin can make for a really fun ‘n’ rowdy time. Although we dancers know that the “real” show often takes place backstage, it’s important to remember that there’s an actual show going on, and the performers onstage –as well as the audience- really don't need to hear us shrieking about the latest rumors or the adorable pair of boots someone just got on sale.

Also, many backstage areas have notoriously bad cell reception, so please remember not to scream into your phone, and that it needs to be put on vibrate or shut off just before the curtain goes up. Oh yeah, and if there’s a toilet in your dressing room, don't flush it until intermission!

6. Thou Shalt Switch Off Or Unplug All Appliances When Not In Use
 Do this for safety’s sake! How many times have you seen a red hot curling iron left plugged in on a dressing room counter top, when the owner is nowhere in sight… and there are highly flammable costumes nearby? Can you count that high?  I can’t. Once I was in a green room where some idiot had left a flat iron plugged into a wall socket, sitting in a puddle of water in the sink! 

Turn off or better yet unplug everything with a cord after you use it, including but not limited to hot rollers, electric kettles, flat irons, electric shavers, blow dryers and curling irons. And don’t forget the vanity lights on the mirrors when you’re done with your make up- if no one else is using them, they don’t need to be on, because they’re so damn hot they can turn a crowded dressing room into a sauna in no time at all!

 7. Thou Shalt Not Leave Food Or Drink In Close Proximity Near Thy Neighbor’s Personal Belongings
 Sure, you  need that miso soup, latte, burrito or  sports drink to keep your energy up before you go on… and there are many dancers who simply can’t live without chocolate or red wine backstage- but please do not leave any of this sustenance sitting out next to someone else’s make up and costumes!

8. Thou Shalt Respect Thy Neighbor’s Costumes, Make Up And Props
 While it goes without saying that you’ll probably covet thy neighbor’s costumes (who doesn’t?) please don’t touch anyone else’s stuff without their permission. Period. End of Story.  And do not move someone else’s things- no matter what it us-for any reason, unless you ask first.  Somebody could need a specific prop, accessory, wig or cosmetic product for a quick change; your dressing roommate might’ve placed it there specifically so they could access it immediately. If you absolutely must move something when the owner isn’t there, let them know about it the second you see them. If you’re about to go onstage and have just moved an item, ask someone else to inform its owner that it’s been moved.

9. Thou Shalt Issue Forth A Spritz Alert Before Spraying Thine Products
 Before you douse yourself in hair spray or your favorite fragrance, please announce to everyone that you’re about to use self-tanner, perfume or Aquanet, or whatever, and make sure it’s ok… someone might be severely allergic to the product(s) you’re about to use.

10. Thou Shalt Leave Thine Dressing Room In Better Condition Than Though Hath Found It
 Some productions have a volunteer crew to tidy up the dressing rooms, or assign small backstage cleaning tasks to each dancer, but many do not. Also, many venues actually charge show producers   cleaning fees for dressing rooms that were left looking like a tornado hit them. No matter what condition the dressing room was in when you first entered, it’s just plain old good karma to leave it spotless!

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

HATERS: A DANCERS GUIDE TO DEALING WITH TROLLS, FRENEMIES, UNDER MINERS AND STALKERS

Khalil Gibran wasn't ever a dancer... but apparently he knew all about trolls!

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 Every profession has its pitfalls, and the world of dance is no different. But the arts and the entertainment industry -dance in particular-definitely has it’s own set of rules. There have always more performers than jobs, and it’s probably been that way since cave people built the very first prehistoric stage.  Every community built around  a certain profession has its stars… and it’s problems, but with dance, there are always critics ready to pounce, or an underling whose just waiting for their own personal All About Eve moment. In the world of  dance, perhaps more than any other profession except maybe acting or modeling, there will always be someone stepping forward to judge you on everything from your technique to your looks.  There are  those who’ll delight in taking you down a few pegs…or taking your place. Unlike other artistic  communities, where the naysaying and unwanted reviews often come from   an outside source,  for dancers,our worst critics are usually our peers, colleagues, students or a disgruntled friend.

The undermining, snide comments and offhand compliments are meant to sting, and outright hate can take many forms: face-to-face, behind your back, and more often for the past few years, online. Perhaps the online trolling and bullshit – yes, I said that- is probably the worst, because even though many social media sites have an anti-bullying policy and options for blocking  “hate speech”, often it’s still pretty damn hard to get those ugly comments taken down.

 Usually, when anyone- even a sister dancer- acts like this, it’s because they’re operating from a base of fear. Often they have self-esteem issues and feel bad about themselves…so they take it out on you, hoping to ease their own pain. These hate campaigns can be outright and overt or very subtle, but they still do the damage they’re intended to do!

And sometimes online, the people-or should I say subhumans masquerading as people- lurking can actually be dangerous and need to be reported.

 Here are examples of a few of these bullies and their hurtful, trolling behaviors- and some tips on what to do about them if you’re the target.


 FRENEMIES
 We all know about the concept of frenemies- the dance pals who’re all tight with you… until the green-eyed monster of jealously strikes. They believe you’re getting the opportunities that they deserve, or you’re more getting more attention than they are.  In reality, they could be envious of anything: an unintentional slight you made, that expensive costume that looks great on you, or maybe you got an audition they wanted. It could even something you have no control over whatsoever- like the fact that your spouse or partner is supportive of your dance career and theirs isn’t.  No matter what the reason, suddenly they turn on you.

Society has conditioned us all to be nice and not to make waves…so frenemies try to “kill you with kindness”, meaning they’ll use an indirect-and seemingly innocent- way of ruining your self worth.   Don’t be fooled: this is straight up passive/aggressive behavior.  If someone says something to you that seems patronizing, makes you feel inferior about anything, or just doesn’t sit right, you’re dealing with a frenemy. The comment could possibly be unintentional, so let the first time slide. But if this behavior continues, it’ll only escalate.  Trust your gut instinct: if your stomach knots up when someone says something- even if they wonder why you’re making “a big deal about it”, you have a few choices:

 Let it roll off: for whatever reason, your very existence is alarming to your frenemy. You make her feel small and unimportant.  Look at your frenemy with empathy and compassion, and just let the comment go.  Take the high road and be the bigger person!

Detach and refuse to engage: She’s throwin’ some shade out like a fishing line, hoping you’ll bite- so don’t join in and try to one-up her, cause that’ll only spread more toxic vibes. Your reputation is waaay more important than getting back at someone, whether you're a professional performer, an instructor, or just in the same dance class.

Try speaking with the frenemy privately:  Again, be as compassionate as possible, but don’t be a damn doormat.  Be open, honest and don’t blame, cause that will put your frenemy on the defensive. Use   “I” language, such as “I felt hurt” or “I have been wondering why…” At best, this will open up a dialogue, and it can also be healing.  But you might have to…

Disengage:  If any of the tactics above didn’t work, you may ultimately have to cut this person out of your life, or at least be around them as little as you possibly can.  You don’t need someone that negative around you… especially if they’re making you feel like crap about something you love- dancing! 

 Say BUH-BYE! 

  But make sure to say it silently, inside your own head…and don’t ever even consider diminishing your own success- or even ceasing to lightly brag about your accomplishments!  You worked damn hard for what you’ve got- celebrate what you’ve achieved. If your frenemy put as much effort into her dance practice as she did with trying to make you feel insignificant, she’d be probably celebrating, too.



  PROFESSIONAL UNDERMINERS
 Underminers have many faces, and they’ll use similar tactics as frenemies, but the difference is, often the people who are undermining you are also in a position to help you, so you need to be very savvy about the way you treat them!

  A professional underminer can be an instructor, a show or event producer, or even a dancer you don’t know very well, who is a bit   “above” you career-wise.  These underminers are often well-respected dance community members, but again, for some reason (like your frenemy peers) they feel threatened by you.  The reasons are many- and often crazy.  Could be that they’re feeling their age and are jealous of your youth -and the entire lifetime of opportunities you have in front of you.  Perhaps they’re offended by something non-dance oriented, something that’s ridiculous and commonplace…  like the blue streaks in your hair or your tattoos.  More likely, your talent, technique and skills- intimidate them and they see you as an “upstart”.  In order to put you in your place, an underminer will make damaging remarks to you or to people your know, verbally or in print on the internet, that could potentially tarnish your reputation- or interfere with your entire career!

The underminer M.O is a bit different than the tactics a frenemy uses.  Sometimes they’ll make catty comments   to you, with no constructive value whatsoever. But even worse, under the guise of  “professionalism”, an underminer will be nice- and often extremely flattering- to your face, but will gossip to others about you behind your back OR show their dissatisfaction by denying you opportunities.

There are two   basic ways to deal with underminers.  They’ll both involve eating a little crow, but once you know   that you’re making a wise career decision, you’ll be able to swallow that crow up and ask for seconds! 

 The first tactic is to have a private conversation, exactly the same way I suggested   for frenemies.    Do this in person or write a heartfelt email- or even a handwritten note- and begin that note with a few sincere sentences bout how much you respect the underminer, and admire their accomplishments. Only then can you bring up the fact that you’re wondering what    you did to upset them.

 The second idea- and the one that’s usually way more effective- is to seek that person out, look them straight in the eye, and ask for their advice.  Even if you don’t want or need it, think up something- anything- to ask them about. Psychologically, this immediately puts the underminer in a position of authority, which is exactly what they need to feel good about them, especially where you are concerned.  It also implies that you respect them and hold their opinion in high esteem, which’ll give them oodles of warm fuzzies towards you. Everyone wants to feel needed and admired!  It’ll even make some underminers feel protective over you.   At the very worst, they’ll feel all puffed up and proud, and might back off a little. And at best, who knows?   Maybe   you’ll actually become friends, or get a for-reals mentor.


RANDOM INTERNET TROLLS
These days, with social media rockin’ everyone’s world 24/7, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter an Internet troll… they’re all over the place!  These are the killjoys-often total strangers- who post negative comments on Facebook or Twitter feed, or write stupid, mean stuff  (usually misspelled!)  on your YouTube channel.   If it’s only a comment or two, just delete it… that person is probably sitting in their office cubicle at a boring job – or in their mom’s basement- feeling small and insignificant and gets their jollies by posting crap about people who are actually having fun and being productive.
But if the comments continue and/or grow aggressive, block and report that person!  And do not in any way, shape or form take to heart anything that idiot said, OK?


 OVER-ZEALOUS, NEEDY FANS
 These are people that you don’t know at all, or maybe you barely know them- but they simply adore you.  In fact, they’re probably living through you!  These are true fans, and often about as nerdy as it gets. They’ll post effusive, positive comments on your social media sites, and if you see them in real life, they’ll often talk your ear off, sometimes even bring you a little gift or flowers.  These people are truly well-meaning- they really are true fans- but they can also get to be a little much.

Be nice to these people if you see them - do say hi at shows, but keep a little distance.  Chat for a moment but excuse yourself quickly- tell them you need to get backstage and get ready, or pack up your stuff.  On the internet, you can occasionally “like” their comments or type a brief answer back, but don’t do it too often, or they’ll barrage you with comments non-stop.

 Notice I used the word “needy”, and not obsessive.  If someone is obsessed with you, the situation can quickly turn dangerous, which leads us to…


STALKERS
  Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with a stalker; I speak from my own experience- stalkers can be really scary, and   many of them are also potentially violent. Several dancers have had a stalker at some point in their lives- I know one person whose had a stalker for over twenty years. He’s really annoying but relatively harmless; however, her situation is probably an anomaly.  Stalkers can be male or female… but if they’re crazy, and prone to violence, the stalker’s sex doesn’t really matter that much- anyone can own a gun!

 Do not mess around with a stalker; do not engage in any way, shape or form, even if it’s an ex of yours.  Go directly to the authorities; make a police report, and get a restraining order. Once you have one, make copies and always keep a copy with you. Keep a log of any incidents with the date, place and time, and also note if there were any witnesses.

 Make sure you are accompanied at all times, change the locks on your doors if you need to and secure your house.  Vary the patterns of your day-to-day routine.  Change your phone number if you need to, and use a Google Voice number or something similar on your business cards and promotional material.

 Of course, we all know it’s not smart to post the address of your residence on the Internet or anywhere public; but we dancers often post the addresses of our studios, or the places we perform… and that are where your stalker will be waiting!  Make sure you leave these places with a large group always- and with a male accompanying you whenever possible.  If you sense-or know- that someone is following you on foot or by car do not go home!  If you’re driving, go directly to a police station; if you’re walking, hotfoot it to a well lit, public place as fast as you can, and in either situation, dial 911, or whatever the emergency code is in your country.

I know the past few paragraphs about stalkers are somewhat unnerving…in fact, it makes your frenemies look like angels!  But no matter what-or who- you’re dealing with, the whole point is to keep yourself as physically, mentally and emotionally protected as possible… so you can concentrate on doing what you love, to the best of your ability.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

ILLUSIONS OF GRANDEUR: FABULOUS HACKS FOR COSTUMING AND STAGE MAKE UP

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The fringe I'm wearing here is the kind that gives the illusion of  lengthening the torso. Photo: Maharet Hughes
 As performers, our job is to create a gorgeous illusion onstage by transporting the audience out of their everyday life and into another world.  Aside from dance technique and dramatic skills, you’ll also need to look larger than life. Terrific theatrical costuming and stage make up often involves a lot of playing around with optical illusions.  The idea is to trick the audience’s eyes so that you appear as the best possible version of you…or the character you are portraying.

In real life, we have less leeway with creating illusions because people see us “up close and personal”, but on stage there’s a plethora of tweaks we can get away with because we’re much farther away from those discerning eyes.

Here are some smoke and mirror tricks that’ll help you look your best on stage:

 COSTUMING ILLUSIONS

Fringe Elements
We dancers love all the blingy bells and whistles that accent our costumes, and we loooove us some fringe! It sparkles like crazy under the hot lights swishing and swinging, accenting even the smallest of movements. But in order for fringe to really work onstage, the placement has to be pinpointed for optimal effect- or it can do a lot of collateral damage.

  Always make sure your fringe is proportionate.

For example, extra long fringe can make a short dancer look way smaller than she actually is; it can even   make her appear squatty by literally “eating” her body. 

A good rule of thumb is: shorter dancer, shorter fringe.

Heavy fringe all over the cups of a bra can also overwhelm a busty dancer and make her look really a little too top-heavy.  For a streamlining, there are a couple of pretty trick-the-eye effects that even out body proportions by lengthening the torso.

The first would be to leave fringe off the cups entirely and just have the fringe as an accent, hanging in the middle, right at the cleavage. Another way would be to use one row of short fringe along the top of the cups, pointing down in a “V” shape, also towards the cleavage, because this will make the cups look smaller and the torso longer and more lithe.

Many belly dance costumes come with fringe hanging straight or in loops all the way around the bra band, and this too can make a dancer (of any body type) look like they have a shorter-and stockier- midriff.   I usually remove the fringe from every place along the bra band except for the center; sometimes I let the fringe under the cups remain as well. On most Egyptian and Turkish costumes, the fringe is easy to remove, because it is pre-strung and knotted between the strands, which means it can be cut without losing any of the beading.

 To remove fringe, turn the costume wrong side out, and you’ll often see the fringe hand-stitched straight onto the bra band. Sometimes it’s tucked in between the costume base and the lining, open the seam, and you’ll see it. 

If you want to be extra careful, before you cut the fringe, take some clear nail polish, dab it at the place you’re going to cut, and let it dry before you slice into it. Cut the fringe all or partially away, and tack the ends down. Sew the lining- if there is one- back up.

 A bonus to this fringectomy is that you can always sew it right back on if you don't like it…ad if you do, you’ll have some extra left over fringe in case some of the remaining fringe wears out.  Fringe is always the first thing to go on a costume, because it gets so much wear and tear so this, as Martha Stewart would say, is A Good Thing.

Belts
 Many belly dance and burlesque  costumes have a hip belt, and often it’s hung with fringe.  The shape of that belt can alter your shape! Belts that  are thick  or vertically “tall” or those that are cut straight across tend to make your torso look shorter; if they’re hung with long fringe of a uniform length, they can also make your legs look shorter!  Belts that are cut with a dip or “V” shape in the front lengthen the torso. To make a flat derriere look bigger and rounder, opt for a  belt  that’s narrower in the front but graduates into  a  butt-hugging “U” shape in the back.

If you make your own costumes,  keep these ideas in mind when you’re crafting.



Stripes, Animal Prints And Other Patterns
 The same rules regarding stripes that apply to every day clothes go double for dance costumes: vertical stripes will make you look taller, horizontal stripes will make you appear wider, diagonal stripes look great on almost anyone, they flatter many body types.

Very thin stripes will not show up well on a larger stage, they’ll sort of melt into each other; a costume with thin black and white stripes can actually look gray to the audience.
Thick stripes can look jarring or comical -and unless that’s the look your after, it’s better to forgo them. For the best and most flattering effect, look for stripes that are about one to two inches wide.

Patterned fabric may or may not work onstage, it all depends on the size of the pattern itself, the colors being used, and the type of material it’s printed on.  Florals are always beautiful and feminine, but onstage, unless the audience is extremely close to you, an all-over print of tiny daisies is not going to look nearly as stunning as, say, fabric printed with larger sunflowers.  Most brightly colored, medium-to-large sized floral prints look gorgeous and luxurious, and will prettify dancers of all shapes and sizes.

 If you’re going with an animal print costume, check that the print is large enough to register onstage. An itty-bitty leopard or cheetah print will appear brown or rusty to the audience instead of wild and safari-like, so look for spots that are about and inch and a half in diameter. It goes for any reptile print -or any kind of mermaid costume. Make sure the squares or “scales” are significantly sized so that it reads reptilian or aquatic!

Black Costumes
 In real life, we all adore wearing black- it s slimming, expensive-looking and elegant. Soignee and somewhat mysterious, black also has a rock’n’roll or Goth, witchy edge to it. While black is awesome for real life, be careful when you wear  black costumes!

Wearing black onstage is not impossible, but it can be difficult.

  First of all, you need to know that black can wash almost any performer out, so you’ll need more stage make up than usual… and many of us still don’t wear enough to begin with.  Black costumes need strong eyes, lips, and, unless you want to look like Morticia Addams (and some of us do!) tons of bright blush.

 This next thing I’m about to tell you are super-important to know about black costumes.
If the background of the performance area is black, a black costume can cause the performer’s skin -which is always lighter than the costume, no matter what your race is- to produce an unpleasant optical illusion. The black costume pieces will appear to recede and the performer’s lighter skin will appear to jump forward, causing the dancer to look oddly heavy. This effect is doubled if the performer has dark hair, which will also recede into the background, effectively making the performer look bald…or like she has a floating face!

If you are going to wear a black costume onstage- and I’m pretty sure 99% of us own a black costume- make sure that it has any or all of the following, and you should be ok:

* Choose fabric that has a black-on-black pattern, a metallic sheen, and/or has sheer or lace panels that will allow your skin to show through

* Look for lots of metal or rhinestone decorations

* A black costume that has bright accents or design elements-even if they’re small- in tones such as red, orange, gold, silver, white or any loud, rich color will still read “black” but won’t look dull and drab

 Know Your Venue
 Costumes that look terrific on a large stage and costumes appropriate for a smaller venue are totally different animals. These two types of costumes can be extremely different in color, decorations and construction, cause it’s all about the audience’s perception.

 If you’re working on a larger stage or on film, you can pretty much wear anything-as long as it’s sparkly- and it will look great! Seriously, you would not believe what some stage or film costumes look like up close. Cheap fabrics, plastic rhinestones, faded sequins, pieces of broken jewelry and chunks of missing fringe… all held together with safety pins.  Basically, the costume can be a jumble of trash, and look horrific up close. But under bright lighting, as seen from the audience, these cheap-o thrown-together monstrosities always look spectacular!

  Seriously, some of the absolute crap I’ve worn on stage or in videos and movies is so outrageously bad up close it’s almost a joke, but as long as it’s seen from far away and the lighting is strong, it looks amazing. I was just telling a pal the other day that one of my most iconic Mata Hari costumes is awful up close. For real, it was constructed so slap-dash (over night, for a video shoot) that it’s one step away from having bits of macaroni on it- it looks like a summer camp arts and crafts project!

 However, if you’re working in a smaller, more intimate venue, you must understand that there are no way you can get away with wearing what I like to call “garbage costumes”. When you’re doing shows where the audience will be very close by, always opt for costumes made of quality materials that are in good repair…the best costume you can afford! And of course, they need to fit well, because needless to say, you will not be using safety pins as closures!

Use Your Illusion
Fishnets
Fishnet hose comes in many colors, but the best for stage use are nude (many shades are available to match different skin tones) and black. Because of the open net pattern, black will create an optical illusion and make your legs look more curvy; nude or flesh tones will make your legs appear longer. Though The Radio City Rockettes and Las Vegas showgirls are already long-stemmed, they almost always wear skin-toned fishnets with neutral high-heeled shoes precisely because this combo makes the legs look like they go on for miles.

When you choose fishnets for the stage, stay away from white, as it will make your legs look chunky.  Also, be sure to get a style that has smaller “windows”- some of the fashionable styles have larger squares, and though that may look cute up close at a party, it isn’t at all flattering to a dancer’s legs when she is onstage. Decide what your costuming needs are and which illusion-longer or curvier- you are after.

Padding
 I’m sure we are all aware of the benefits of strategically placed padding…but some of us aren’t sure about the optimal way to pad a bra!  For the most boobaliscious look, open the lining of each cup at the sides- not the bottom- and insert your pads vertically, arranging them so that the bottom of the pad sits under the girls, and the upper portion pushes in from the side to create more cleavage.  Shhhh- doesn’t tell anyone- I often use two sets of pads this way for a fuller look.  If your bra cups are bigger than your actual breast size, but not by too much- you can use three sets of pads. Lay one pad across the bottom of the cup, and slip two into each side.  And a word to the wise: shoulder pads are much less expensive than brassiere pads, and work just as well!



 ILLUSIONS FOR THE FACE

Cheeks
If you want to look younger, fresher or just more healthy onstage- no matter whether you’re sick, hung over or “of a certain age”, this one trick will knock your socks off!
Apply blush to the apples of your cheeks only. Find the apples of your cheeks by smiling, then load a domed blush brush up with powder, blow or tap off the excess product and gently brush the product into the center of the apples, then curve it slightly up, in a “C” shape towards your temples.  For stage there’s almost no such thing as too much blush, but if you feel like you’ve applied a bit too much color, gently blend the blush with a dry cosmetic sponge or tone it down a little with some translucent loose powder.
 
In these photos of Marilyn Monroe, you can clearly see her over-lined lips... and that the top lip is slightly longer while the bottom lip is much more  rounded
Lips
If you’re going with a bright red or pink lipstick onstage- and I know most of us do- always make sure it’s got a blue undertone. Blue-red or blue-pink makes anyone’s teeth truly appear pearly white! As we age, our teeth- no matter what our habits- tend to become a bit more yellow… and some people naturally have teeth that are more ivory than white. This optical lip illusion works wonders, creating a super-snow white smile!

Onstage, I am a nut with lip-liner; I go for the full Joan Crawford Effect by over-lining my lips almost a quarter inch outside their natural parameters.  From the stage, under hot lights, this is another fabulous (and very anti-aging) optical illusion, because as we get older, our lips lose collagen and become thinner and less plump…or maybe you just have a smaller mouth.

When you line your lips, a rounded Cupid’s Bow always looks much more pillowy and kissable than a pointed one. Also, after I have my “full mouth” on, I always go into the bottom corners of the lip and wipe the color out of them.   This makes the top lip appear a little bit wider and the bottom lip look just a tad fuller. I stole this trick from   the legendary Hollywood makeup artist Whitey Snyder, who was such a whiz that Marilyn Monroe wouldn’t let anyone except him touch her face!  In fact, it was Snyder who created Marilyn’s signature bombshell face.  If you look at any of her photos, pay attention to her lips and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Taking this lip treatment a couple of steps further, before you line them in your regular colored liner, draw the top line on first with a pearly white pencil- it will make your lips stand out and look pleasingly puffy on an Angelina Jolie level. After penciling in the white, then over-draw the shape of your mouth in a bright color that matches your lipstick.  And when you’re done with the lipstick, rub a little dot of pearly white eye shadow into the direct center of your bottom lip, an effect that makes it look more luscious, but also gives the illusion of shine.

Eyes
A super-fab trick for making your eyes look brighter is to use dark blue liner... as opposed to black or brown.  Blue liner plays an optical trick, making the whites of your eyes really alabaster-white.  For stage, I apply the dark blue powder shadow first, and then go over them with a black gel liner, which adds definition while retaining the softer look of the powder.

  Try some or all of these tricks…  seriously, they’re like magic!


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