Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MY OTHER CAR IS A BROOMSTICK


Photo  & graphics by Maharet Hughes



  Happy  Raq-tober, and Happy Halloween Season!
 This next post has become a  seasonal classic ... I wrote this in October 2010, but of course, it still applies!


If you are like me- and if you’re reading this, I’m relatively sure you are- you're already aware that this is the time of year when everyone you know hits you up about borrowing or even renting your stage costumes.

 Call me selfish, call me witchy, or just call me a “Hallo-weenie”… but I NEVER lend my costumes out for Halloween (or  for Burning Man, or any other event for that matter) unless I already know it’s something that could be replaced, or is an item  I could easily part with.

The stage costumes I own, not to mention my crazy collection of circus outfits, pirate hats, robot suits, saloon girl headdresses, feather fans, vintage corsets, kitty ears, rhinestone studded masquerade masks, wigs, super-hero boots, vampire capes, real and fake fur coats- need I go on? - are the "tricks of my trade", not a treat for someone who won't respect them. 

They took a long time and a lot of money for me to collect, not to mention the cost of  maintaining them.

My costume collection could probably have it’s own episode on the show “Hoarders”, but there’s a reason I have all this stuff around: it’s my livelihood! 

These pieces are my tools, my office supplies, and my working uniform... and in most cases, very expensive. But whether it’s an Egyptian  belly dance costume I paid $700.00 for, a vintage  burlesque outfit  or pair of  old character shoes  that I embellished myself, they are professional accoutrements that I can’t do my job properly without.


Oh, I used to be very generous about lending out costumes and costume pieces for non-dancers to use at Halloween parties, but it always ended badly.

Things would come back to me (usually months later) ripped, stained, with burn-holes from cigarettes or wax from candles, or just covered in cheap drugstore make-up or greasepaint from  Halloween Headquarters or The Spirit Store. And some things never came back at all!

Would you lend someone your laptop if you knew they were going to use it-and maybe accidentally leave it- at a club? Would you let a friend borrow an expensive camera to bring to a party where all the guests were going to be falling-down drunk? I thought not!

I think the reason most “civilians” want to borrow costumes is simply because they want to look good… and they also have nothing but the best intentions in borrowing these things.

  But the average person doesn’t realize that for their seasonal party-needs, a $30.00 costume from the toy store would be fine.

Want some help with your Halloween make-up? I’d be happy to assist you.

But don’t even think about asking to borrow my costumes… cause you’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hands!


#


  Get  a signed  copy  of  my books  The Belly Dance Handbook   and Showgirl Confidential here :  http://www.princessfarhana.com/shop.htm



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

CONNECTING THE DOTS: MAKING SMOOTH TRANSITIONS IN YOUR DANCE



 
Photo by Maharet Christina Hughes
 

  Transitions   are the unsung hero in dance. 

They’re almost an unseen  “missing link”, they are  the lines that connect the dots, stringing together a bunch of separate movements and making them look cohesive.  Good transitions add an unending flow, making our performance look polished and effortless. Sometimes our transitions are fancy and flowery, other times they’re as unnoticeable as a simple weight change…but they always need to be there. Without transitions, any dance would look stilted and jerky, simply a series of stationary movements.

  When I first started dancing, the very idea of transitions totally confused me.  Like many baby dancers, I was focused purely on technique.  I didn’t understand the importance of transitions… and often, teachers don’t fully explain that, either.  Many classes focus solely on drilling on stationary technique, or teach full choreographies to beginners, without stressing the mechanics of what is actually being done in the choreography.  When this alone happens, a student can perform a full choreography, but might not be able to build a choreography (or an improvised piece) their own.

 The purpose transitions serve are many, and once you become comfortable with their purpose and importance, they will seem a lot less esoteric!

Essentially, our dance transitions are a way of matching our movement and moods to the phrases in the music itself.

Transitions function as a preparation for our bodies to segue from one movement into another in a seamless and logical way.  Basically, a physical transition involves making sure that you are in the correct position to make your next movement. A transition usually involves all of at least some of the following: weight placement, body angle and alignment, spatial movement, and embellishment. But transitions can also convey feelings to the audience. Quite often, the music we use in performance calls for a change of attitude on the part of the performer, so the dancer needs to use stage presence and facial expressions as well as body language to change with the mood of the music. In that case, an emotional transition needs to be made as well.

 If you were to imagine your dance piece as a classical painting, then transitions would be the place where the colors in the painting are blended. If you   didn’t have the transitions  (or a mixture of colors in the painting) then your piece of art would be just a bunch of blocks of color, not a finished work. Well, maybe it’d be Modern Art… but I digress.  

Another analogy would be to think of your dance piece as a story, or a book.    In that case, transitions are the punctuation as well as the points of separation for new thoughts or idea that run through the entire narrative, connecting the plot-lines so that the story makes sense. Essentially, our dance transitions are a way of matching our movement to the phrases in the music itself, so we can better “illustrate” the song we are dancing to.

 Here are some ideas that will help you out with incorporating smooth, flowing transitions emotionally and physically.


 Weight Placement
 This is one of the most important facets of transitions, knowing your footing. Without proper weight placement, your dance is destined to fall apart. In order to avoid performing an odd (and unwanted) little jig as you move from step to step, or from phrase to phrase, be hyper-aware of your weight placement.

A good rule of thumb is: “What Goes Up Must Come Down”.
 In other words, if your weight is on your right foot, in order to make a seamless transition, you will step onto the left foot…and vice versa.  This is especially important while turning!  Drill your weight placement even if you think you are fine with it already.

 Work With The Counts
 When I was a baby dancer, I was confounded that so many movements could be fit into eight counts… or sixteen, or thirty-two. I jut didn't get it, and always seemed to finish late, after everyone else was done. The problem was real, and the solution was simple, but it was assumed that everyone in the class would understand. What I didn’t know was that the transition in movement starts occurring one or two beats before a phrase is finished…and that concept was never explained to me!  No wonder I was finishing late, I had no idea what was going on.

 So, if a phrase is eight counts long, the transition to the next phrase will start at the sixth or seventh beat, not on or after the eighth beat.

Look For Clarification In Class Or Rehearsals
 Make sure you understand everything you can about the way a choreography- or a “follow the leader” type of improvisation works. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher (or another dancer) to go over weight placement, phrasing, or a preparation for a turn.  If you’re worried about holding up the class or rehearsal don’t be- chances are, you’ll be asking a question that many are wondering about them!  And even if that isn’t the case, it’s always better to be performing correctly, so that the entire group looks uniform and together.

 Analyze Music Without Dancing To It
 Take some time to get really familiar with your music. Sit with it, and analyze it; break the entire piece down into measures of eight counts.

After you’re comfortable with this, have another few listens and identify the musical changes themselves… you will start to be able to see how each musical phrase is a “paragraph” in your musical story. 

  Of course, do this exercise with the music you’ll be using in class or for your show, but also with music that you would probably never use onstage.  At first it might seem like a big daunting task, but after a while, you’ll have that “A-Ha Moment”, and you’ll have fun breaking your music- or any music- down in this way.


  Feel The Music
The next step is become comfortable with it, really feeling it and recognizing exactly where the transitions will come.   Remember to look for changes in the emotional attitude of the piece, such as a bridge that goes up into a sweeping crescendo, or pauses and full stops in the song.

The music itself will inform you, but by using your counts and sensing the mood of the composition, you will know when to physically begin your transition.

 With practice, this will become almost intuitive, ingrained into your consciousness, and you will start being able to anticipate where and when your transitions will need occur, even if you’ve never heard that particular piece of music before.  



#


  Sunday, October 19th, 2014, Washington, DC
I’ll be teaching  a  three hour  mini-intensive on this very subject as part of the  Raven’s Night weekend.
“Go With The Flow: Musicality, Sensuality, Texture And Fluid Transitions”        3:30-6:30pm
 Epic Yoga
1323 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036

 More information & Registration here:











Wednesday, October 1, 2014

DAMN YOU AUTOCORRECT...BELLY DANCE STYLE





I adore my iPhone, even though I’m… ahem… of the age where I can recall all too clearly thinking that FAX machines were sheer magic. In fact,  when I got my phone, my teenage niece had to set my phone up for me, and I’m reasonably sure I’m only using it to a tiny fraction of it’s potential. There are many wonderful apps and tricks to be learned and used.

 We all know that spell check and autocorrect is of the best – and worst- features on smart phones.  There are the funny, odd word substitutions that autocorrect makes as a matter of course; for instance, a friend recently texted me asking if she could borrow my  “oink” veil… and I instinctively knew she meant my pink one!  And since I often use a lot of “colorful language” in my texts, my phone decides to substitute words like ducking instead of the he rhyming oath I’m attempting to type!


 But I think really there needs to be a special  Damn You Autocorrect site for belly dancers only.

  If my  own phone is any indication, many words that are “indigenous” to belly dancers – including common Arabic terms and casually used dancers slang- magically start appearing instead of the “every day” English words I’m trying to use.  

 I can’t be the only one with this problem, right?

 For instance, when I was texting to a neighbor about our parking situation, the word “garage” became Ghawazee.  She had absolutely no clue what I was writing about!

   If I  discuss grabbing a cab, “taxi” always  turns into taxim,  “have to” magically becomes hafla and when I attempt to write  “ I said”, the word Saidi appears.

When I tried typing “infinite” autocorrect decided I was really trying to say infidel;  “being” immediately becomes bling-bling and the word “because” routinely turns into beledi.  

  When texting about  a dish I was bringing to a  ( non belly dance) pot-luck party, “make some”  became maksoum;   the word  “easy”  it  always  becomes  Egypt ,  “purchase”  comes up as Persia and when I  give directions  to my house, “turn ”  morphs into Turkey.  The words "still" or "silly" become zills and  whenever I write the word "about", it turns into Abdou ... as in Fifi!

  Naturally, I’ve learned to live with these silly substitutions, but  they still make me- and most of the people I’m texting-laugh out loud.The one thing I cannot understand though, is that no matter how many times I write my stage name, for some reason, autocorrect never thinks it’s valid.

The general public might think  of me as Princess Farhana... but to my phone, I’ll always be Princess Farmhand!



 #


 Get an autographed copy of The Belly Dance Handbook  or my memoir Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road here:


Photo and graphics by Maharet Hughes

Sunday, September 28, 2014

DANCERS BACKSTAGE RITUALS: ALLI RUTH OF HELSINKI, FINLAND


 
Alli Ruth by Atelieri O. Haapala, Helsinki, Finland
 Every so often, I’ll meet a dancer whose onstage persona is so completely unlike the way she is in real life, it really throws me for a loop. One moment we’re backstage acting like complete idiots, giggling over silly things while compulsively shoving carrot sticks into our mouths.  Then, she performs a set so amazing, that when she finishes, I’m so blown away with utter fangirl appreciation, I almost feel too shy to talk to her!
 
 Alli Ruth is that kind of dancer.  Even though we’ve been pals her for years, and I’ve seen her multiple times in ratty sweats with no make up, an Ace bandage wrapped around an injury, swearing like a truck driver, I can never quite reconcile her fun, down-to-earth true self with the preternaturally elegant creature I’ve just witnessed bringing the house down onstage.  And   not only that, in her real life, she’s a librarian! To see her performing classic American and Turkish style floor work is like having a private audience with a goddess!

Photo: Atelieri O. Haapala
Alli Ruth lives in Helsinki, Finland, where she teaches and performs her specialty-and passion- American Cabaret style belly dance. She herself calls what she does “AmCab Fusion”, because  she isn’t  nearly old enough to have ever performed this style back in it’s Seventies heyday!

As White Kali in a Desert Sin performance
After moving to Finland in 2010,she realized that dancers from across the continent of Europe had a hunger for this uniquely American style, so she began teaching what she’d grown up with as a dancer. She came to belly dance in 1998, in her native Los Angeles, learning from   the masters of the American Cabaret (also known as Vintage Orientale) genre, including the late, great Diane Webber, whose unique style and considerable influence inspired another of Alli Ruth’s mentor’s, LA-based dancer Anaheed.   Dance mother to many in Southern California, Anaheed invited Alli Ruth to appear with The Perfumes Of Araby, a troupe founded by Diane Webber. In 2001, through Anaheed, she met and began dancing with Elayssa of Desert Sin, a gloriously theatrical “alternative belly dance” troupe whose influence is still widely felt in the Tribal Fusion community, and as Alli Ruth says, “whether they realize it or not!”
 
With Princess Benu in Istanbul
She has also seriously studied with other legendary AmCab performers such as Cory Zamora, Alexandra King and Princess Benu of Turkey, plus the Queen of Floor Work (and inventor of many of it’s staple moves) Anahid Sofian of New York City. Alli Ruth’s teaching and performing career  abroad has been as busy as it has been fulfilling; though like any dancer worth her salt, she considers herself a student and constantly attends workshops, classes and private lessons. By doing this, she is also preserving   a distinctive and exceptional American contribution to belly dancing.


Here, in her own modest words, is how Alli Ruth prepares for her show-stopping performances:


“I try to do as much of my makeup and prep at home, especially if I don’t know the backstage conditions, or don’t have a backstage at all. This too allows me to change my mind, for example about an eye shadow color at the last minute. I enjoy socializing backstage and would rather relax and talk to, or assist other dancers than be stuck in the mirror. It also makes more time for warming up. My warm up consists of lots of relaxed shimmies, “African Stretch” for the spine (Diane Webber used to make us do it every class), large loose hip circles, lunges and ankle, shoulder and wrist circles. 

Alli Ruth at Sutdio Iqaat, LA photo: Kat Bushman
My costuming style is what they used to call “Mixy Gypsy” so I never wear the same exact ensemble. I also never know exactly what I’m going to wear in advance. I’m famous for being frantic about “what to wear” and changing my mind about details up until the last minute. My breast size fluctuates greatly, leading to hasty alterations. My lifesaver mom is accustomed to my begging her to stitch bra hooks, and over the years I’ve taught a couple boyfriends how to use a needle and thread. Because I improv, I also have the opportunity to change my music up until the last minute, particularly if the organizer doesn’t need it in advance. What I’m getting at is that I have total ADD, which I struggle with when it comes to show prep.                                                                                                 

I’ve learned to not make or watch recordings of myself within 3 days before the show as it inevitably results in a self-critique that will cause me to change my mind, if not fall apart entirely. Also, to have many bra hook options on both the back and neck straps of my bras. I of course have a prepped gig bag and even extra, extra things that other dancers may have forgotten themselves (Belly dance karma!). 

Because I do floor work, one of the most important things is to know the condition and material of the floor to help determine the bottom half of my costume. Harem pants can get pulled by carpet (I’ve heard of dancers literally pantsing themselves) but carpet can cause serious burn on a bare leg. Some settings may have floor that is too harsh-such as pavement, be too small or placed in such a way the audience wouldn’t see you on the floor. Sometimes, floor work won’t work which factors into my music selection. 

I’m always way more nervous in the days before the performance and on the day of the show than I am when I’m about to go on. The main thing I do in the moments before coming out to dance is taking deep breaths and remind myself, it’s simply about sharing a dance. I try to remember that nobody cares so much about me that they’re going to go home and think for days about how I may have messed up; they have their own lives and concerns and nobody wants me to fail. I try to quiet my ego and dance for the joy of it. I think of all the happiness and fun I’ve experienced myself when watching other dancers and the gratitude I have towards them for this. It’s simply my turn to do the same for others, to share. This really keeps me calm and ensures a good experience. 

After my performance, it’s like I got something out of my system and just wants to return to being “Al”-my nickname amongst friends. I almost always, immediately tear off my bra and throw on a t-shirt -or a comfy cover up if I’m coming out from backstage, maybe crack a beer or pour a glass of wine.

I like dancing most at private events, where I can come both in and out as the belly dancer …and the mystique of the backstage, behind-the-scenes stays in my own home.”

 
The Snow Queen: photo by  Irina Alanko


 ##

  Sunday, October 4, 2014
Hardcore Floor: Old School AmCab and Classic Turkish Floor Work With Alli Ruth
You’ll learn ascents, descents, back bends, layouts, and some nearly extinct (and very wild) Turkish moves and Rom gestures for floor. Floor work for both drum solo and taxim will be explored.
1:30-4:30pm
Dance Garden
3191 Casitas, Ste 112
LA CA 90039
ONE DAY ONLY, $50.00
To register, contact Devillaraks@gmail.com

##

The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer is now  available wholesale for dance teachers and studios. To find out about wholesale order,  visit www.princessfarhana.com and click on the “email” button at the top right of the home page.