Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dancing for the love of it..........

There are many times in my life when I wonder why I am doing what I do.  The stress of being self employed and not having a regular weekly paycheck, that money that I can depend upon to keep my electricity on and a roof over my head, can sometimes seem overwhelming.

I got my first job at the age of fourteen, working part time for a professional photographer. I was enrolled in a homeschooling program that allowed me to make my own schedule and correspond with my teachers through the mail. So having a job in the mornings every weekday was no hardship on my education. The photographer I worked for owned his own business. We traveled to day care centers throughout the state of Florida and did 'Pony Portraits'. I took my job seriously and did everything that was expected of me and went above and beyond my responsibilities.  I worked for that Pony Portrait company for over 5 years, by the time I left I was a full fledged photographer myself and was what they called a crew chief. At 19 years old, I had a lot more going on in my life than most 19 years old do.

That first job taught me a lot about self esteem, accomplishment and reliability. Since then, I have NEVER been unemployed. I am one of those people who likes to find a place in life and set down roots. I don't like change, I don't like moving. Don't get me wrong, I AM adaptable, but would prefer to avoid change if I can help it.

So back to why I do what I do. There was a very smart person who once told me, "If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life," basically what he meant was, if you love your job, it isn't work, it's doing what you love to do. I have had a lot of jobs that I have LOVED to do, I can attest to those wise words. Sometimes it's hard to find just what fits your personality, sometimes people have such adaptive personalities that just about anything will fit. I am very lucky to be pretty darn adaptive. What I need most from my job is a sense of accomplishment.  I like my work to be challenging, to push me to the limits, whether it is physically, mentally or artistically or all three. I also like people, I love meeting new people, making friends and helping others.

I currently have two aspects to my self employed 'job'. I teach dance and I perform. I have also started a new aspect which is to be an event organizer.

I have found such joy as a teacher. Granted, there are always troublesome or bothersome students to deal with. Sometimes there are conflicting personalities. Sometimes there are those whom think they already know everything or at least are unwilling to hear any suggestions or criticisms offered by the teacher....which makes me wonder why they even bother taking a class. All in all though, teaching can be a very fulfilling and rewarding job. Watching a new student accomplish a new movement or connect to their body in a new way. Seeing the joy on a student's face as she moves around the classroom performing a choreography she created herself after months of study and dedication, or watching a student perform improv for the first time to the applause and cheers of her classmates. I feel each of their accomplishments as if they were my own. I love to dance and I love to share the exhilaration and joy of dance with others.

Performing is by far my most favorite thing to do. Who wouldn't like to dress up in jewels and silks and be the center of attention at special events? LOL....okay, so maybe LOTS of people would NOT want to be the center of attention, but I do. I feel so free and feminine when I dance. To me it is the embodiment of who I am. I dance just simply for the love of the dance. The music speaks to me and I express how it makes me feel through the movement of my body. At the heart of the dance, the most important thing to me, is that the dancer is the music, that dance is emotion in motion. It is not about dancing by numbers, or perfecting a choreography, it is about dancing "in the moment".  When a person performs with abandon and feeling, it transcends the ordinary and becomes extraordinary, and that is when the audience is truly captured and enraptured by the performance.My goal as a performer is to be that dancer.

I have found that job that isn't a job, that special something that makes it 'not working', but boy is it a lot of work. Sometimes it can be really thankless too. I never truly have a day off, I don't get year end bonuses, or paid vacations.  Perhaps with a lot of hard work and dedication there will come a day when I can depend on a regular income from doing what I love, but until that time, I will just smile and accept my spot with pride and joy as a member of the Starving Artists from around the world. I will teach and perform and dance....for the love of it!

Friday, November 18, 2011

WHAT is she wearing?!....Costuming Do-s and Don't-s....Part 3

I honestly do not know what is worse, to flash a little something up top accidentally, or flash a little something down below....I think they are both equally embarrassing. Being a belly dancer is challenging enough without having incredibly embarrassing things happen to you while you are on stage. I have seen some doozies! I have also sadly had a couple of those moments myself that will go down in history (for me at least) as some of my worst costume faux pas' in my life! Thank goodness I learn from my mistakes and I will share my knowledge to prevent these things (hopefully) from happening to others. (LOL....please note, not all the things I will mention below have happened to ME...phew...only a couple)

Part 3 of Costuming Do-s and Don't-s...Keeping the undercarriage "clean"......

Imagine you are at a belly dance show, it has been toted as a "professional show", and dancers are there performing by invitation only with a live band playing. How exciting! A beautiful, young and vibrant dancer comes out on stage, she is dressed in a beaded Bedlah (a bra and belt set) and layers of colorful skirts. She is just enchanting, her movements serpentine and strong. As she dances you notice her skirts fly up pretty high when she spins. The next thing you know, your getting a flash of BOTH her butt cheeks.....eeekkk! This show is supposed to be family friendly, and this dancer is supposed to be a professional! What the heck!?

Ladies, here are some very important rules you SHOULD follow, at least if you are performing in public, for a family friendly audience....

1) Know your dance space. If you are dancing on an elevated stage, then the audience will be sitting with their eyes at knee or even foot level. Which means, yes, they can see your bare legs under your skirts and often even higher if your skirts have enough weight to them to fly up when you dance. You can do things to prevent flashing something offensive!

Do not wear a G-string, or T-back undies....please! There are a lot of options out there for presentable full coverage, hot pants or cheerleader shorts are a great option, you can buy them to match the color of your costume and then you can flash them all you want. Skin toned undies and hot pants are NOT a good idea, you will just have your audience wondering if you even have ANYTHING on underneath there! Which by the way, many of us belly dance ladies ARE free spirits and I have met a few who never wear underwear...lol....but when on stage they make sure they are not going to flash their audience.

2) Know how your costume, skirts, etc. are going to move and react to your dancing.  I love, love, love Floorwork, but when I am kneeling or sitting or laying down on the floor, my skirts WILL and DO move around me very differently than they do when I am standing up. There are many positions on the floor that can very easily show large portions of your upper and inner thighs as well as...ahem....other areas. It is a really good idea to try out your floor routines in your costume and have a friend be 'the audience' while you practice.

Some of the rules I follow for shows with floorwork......

  • I never wear mermaid skirts, or close fitting lycra skirts with high slits.
  • I WILL wear chiffon or silk skirts with high slits, but try to wear a few layers and do some strategic tucking of the skirts to show just enough thigh without flashing more private bits. 
  • Harem pants are a great way to keep modest, even a pair of see through ones with the whole side slit open will cover up the areas most in need of covering. I have several pairs of harem pants that cannot be worn alone, but under a skirt are perfect replacements for the hot pants.

3) Some skirts have just enough weight to them that they can twist around on your waist as you shimmy and twist while dancing. A perfectly safe and sexy skirt with a high slit on the thigh can become a very embarrassing skirt with a high slit right in the middle if you aren't careful! A great way to prevent the twist effect is to attach your skirt to your underwear or hot pants. A lot of costumers are now selling that style of costume with the undies already attached. (Again, make sure you wear something that the color matches your costume, so it looks like it is part of the costume, then even if they get a little flash of it, they will think nothing of it.)

4) Match your underthings to your overthings...lol....I once saw a really impressive dancer, just beautiful, vibrant and exciting on the stage, and I got to see her Tuesday underpants under her skirts as she spun around the floor. Yes, Tuesday was printed in big bold block letters of Purple across a pair of Hot Pink full coverage panties. Her costume was baby blue and pink and yellow....lol...the rest of her performance was kinda forgotten after that. Maybe she forgot her performance pants at home, maybe she didn't know her skirts flew up so high, maybe she didn't care, but it was a major distraction. I know I wasn't the only one who saw them, I heard talk of it for two days afterward at the workshop classes that followed that Friday night show.

In conclusion, I would just like to remind you that it is important to present a full package. You should be a performer from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, and even though you do not plan to flip up your skirts and show what you've got underneath, you should make sure even that area is presentable to the GP.

Happy Dancing,  


Thursday, November 17, 2011

WHAT is she wearing?!....Costuming Do-s and Don't-s....Part 2

The music starts to play and a young woman glides across the dance floor swaying and twirling, enveloped in a swirl of silken veils. The audience is enthralled by the artistry and beauty of the movements and colors as she executes an intricate set of undulations and snaky arm movements. Then as the music changes, the dancer removes the veils covering her rhinestone encrusted costume and briefly dances with the veils, manipulating them with elegance and finesse, making them dance through the air with a life of their own then, she arches into a deep backbend as the  music changes and tosses the veils aside with a flourish as she rises to strike a pose. All of a sudden everyone's eyes are riveted on her chest, whispers are exchanged behind hands, a nervous giggle rises and abruptly stops in the back of the room. Unbeknownst to the dancer, part of her right breast has popped up over the edge of her costume and the audience is getting a glimpse of more than they had expected to see. The next song starts and the dancer just keeps on dancing, playing her zills and shimmying....completely unaware of the incredibly embarrassing costume malfunction that she has become victim to.

I have heard similar stories and warnings of what 'could' happen from friends and teachers alike, the titillating conversations spoken in hushed tones in dressing rooms and during intermission at big shows. I have witnessed a few near disasters myself. I feel terrible for the poor women who have had things like that happen to them. I would imagine it is something you can never truly forget. For those who have had things like this happen, take heart you are NOT alone. For those lucky ladies whom have not had such a horrible experience, or are new to the dance and just learning....here is some advice to help you prevent and/or deal with it the best you can. (Part 2 of costuming do-s and don't-s)

2) What is wrong with her top?

    a) First off...and it should go without saying, yet I see these mistakes ALL the time....make sure your top FITS you properly!! Here are some things I have seen that just blow my mind that a woman would go out in public and dance like this.....
            1) Cups that are too big for your breasts....ladies if you put your performance bra on and you do not fill it up and there is empty space between the top of the bra and your chest, it it too big. I call them 'floating cups'....it looks much to me like a 5 year old little girl trying on her mommies bra.
             There are ways to fix this! You can buy a bra that fits. You can also do what a lot of dancers do and put pads inside the cup (often called cookies) to push your chest up to fill it in. (IF you put pads in....PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE attache them to your bra...I have seen pads slip up and out while someone was performing.)
            2) Bra straps that are too long or slip off your shoulders. Just shorten them or crisscross them behind your back. You should not have to worry about them slipping off while you dance, and constantly reaching up to adjust them is very distracting to your audience. (This goes back to my rule of always trying on your costume and dancing BEFORE wearing it to perform somewhere).
            3) Underboobage! You know what I am talking about don't you? That bit of flesh that flashes under your bra in front....because the bra is too loose around the ribcage. Again, a good fit is really important, while you dance you raise your arms and move around a lot. Make sure you aren't at risk of slipping out the bottom.
            4) Cups that are too small for your breast...like the poor young lady in my story above. If you are wearing a bra that barely covers you, you are at risk of popping out the top. If you are dancing at a public event that is family friendly, NO ONE is going to want to see nipples! When you try on a bra, bend forward and backward and do shoulder shimmys and anything else you might do while wearing that bra. If you are in the slightest doubt that you might expose something don't wear it.

What do You think everyone will remember about this Wedding? The beautiful service? The obvious love of the couple? Or the brides overexposed Breasts?

  On the other hand...I know plenty of ladies who wear their bras small and tape themselves to the bra to prevent slippage. You must take into consideration though, the fact that your audience will not know you are taped into your bra and might spend your entire performance on the edge of their seats just waiting for it to happen. If you want them to notice your DANCING then I would suggest covering up a bit more. If you want them to stare at your nearly exposed chest...well, that is your business.
            My personal rule is, my bra cups must cover at least 75% of my chest (I do like cleavage), but if I am going to a community event, outside, and during the day, I cover up even more.

    b) The same rules above for a choli top or gypsy top. Make sure it fits you well and will not slip up or down or sideways and expose your private bits to your audience. You also need to make sure if you are wearing a top instead of a bra, that you have proper support! It is incredibly distracting to see a well endowed lady flopping about inside her shirt while performing. A performance bra (even those worn under other clothing) should be supportive and sturdy.
      I recently witnessed one young lady bust a bra strap while vigorously shimmying her shoulders at an event....it was very obvious because her chest started to move a lot more afterward and she nearly did pop out of the top of her dress. Sure enough it was the one thing EVERYONE remembered most about her performance afterward.

    c) Another common mistake I have seen, make sure that before you wear any top in a performance you have checked the clasps, hooks and other hardware used on it. It should all be tightly and securely attached. One of our 'troupe moms' had a rule she told all us girls...."sew it till you can't see the shine of metal anymore," except the actual hook itself of course. :)
      Here is an example of what can happen......One of my troupe mates several years back had purchased a lovely bra and belt set. When it arrived at her house she tried it on and amazingly the hooks on both pieces were set JUST where she needed them and she did not need to make any adjustments. Sadly, no one in our troupe (including the two teachers) had thought to warn her about sewing everything on tight and securely. The first time she wore the set was at a Workshop where we were representing our teacher by performing the choreography she had taught earlier that day. At one point in the dance we all do a deep forward bend while throwing our hair and rise up rolling our shoulders. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my troupe mate dash off stage, arms clutched around her chest. Evidently as she had bent forward the hook on the back strap had ripped free....and her bra had started to slip off the front of her. Thank goodness she caught it and left the stage with most of her dignity intact and nothing having actually been exposed to the audience. She had safety pinned it, but the safety pins could not handle the pressure of her ribcage and vertebrae as she did the deep bend forward.

    d) One last thing that really just drives me and most professional dancers I ask crazy. The obvious 'Bra bought at the local department store' bra. There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a bra locally and turning it into a costume bra, but PLEASE cover it and cover or replace the straps and cover or replace the elastic and make it LOOK like a REAL costume bra, not something you just picked up at a local store an hour before you performance!

So, in conclusion, considering what your top or bra is covering, it is incredibly important to make sure it fits properly and is in proper repair. Put it on, dance while wearing it, check it for loose threads and tears. Ask a friend or teacher if it fits well, or if they have any concerns. Be aware of how you present yourself in what you are wearing.

We all want our dancing to be remembered, not our costuming disasters!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

WHAT is she wearing?!....Costuming Do-s and Don't-s....Part 1

If you are a regular attendee at the local Hafla or dance party, or you participate in shows presented at workshops, you have most likely seen or even sadly been the victim of a costume Faux Pas. It happens to the best of us, but more often then not it happens to the newbies....those oh so lovely and eager students who jump wholeheartedly into performing (but without all the information they need). Sometimes the lack of information is their own fault and sometimes the blame lies solely in the hands of their teachers.

I have seen so many Costume Faux Pas and Blunders over the years, some that make me cringe in sympathy and others that are more of an annoyance. Hopefully this Blog will give some people a second thought before they 'suit up' for a show and wake up those teachers out there who have been remiss in teaching proper costuming. Hopefully. ;o)

You might be asking....Why are costume Faux pas and Blunders such a big deal!? 

When you are on stage performing, everything is under scrutiny by your audience. If something goes awry with your costume, or looks like it is going to go awry, that is all the audience will pay attention to or remember about your performance. (Think along the lines of 'traffic creepers', you know what I am talking about....those people who snail past an auto accident in the morbid hope of seeing something titillating or gory?!) Well that is just part of human nature, we want that bit of excitement, that OMG moment to whisper about behind our hands. As a performer you have to make sure YOU do not give them that! It doesn't matter how awesome of a dancer you are, if you have distracting things happening while you dance, that is all the audience will be paying attention to, they will not remember anything else you did.

I think perhaps the best thing to do, is start from the top and work our way down (for fear of writing an incredibly long Blog I am going to break this subject into several parts - this is Part 1 - The Head).......

1)What is she wearing on her head?

    a) Road Kill -There was a really fun fad that came out several years back in the ATS genre, these colorful and fluffy 'hair extensions' made from fuzzy yarn and ribbons, sometime with beads, shells or coins woven into them. I am not sure what the originator of this bit of whimsy had named these 'hair pieces', but down in Florida where I was a student at the time, we fondly called them 'road kill'.....lol....now if you are like most belly dancers I have met, one of the things about us is we ALL love our bits of sparkle and jingle and all the really cool and pretty things we can wear when we perform. 'Road Kill' was/is an incredibly cute and fun bit of something to wear when performing. There is a point though where a person needs to draw a line....if you are dancing Traditional Middle Eastern dances or American Caberete....please DO NOT wear 'road kill'! It is not proper costuming for those styles.

    b) Hair Ornaments - Flowers, sparkles, and other doodads are all awesome and pretty things to wear in your hair when performing! BUT, please make sure they are Properly attached and that they will not get in the way of your performance. If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times...before you perform in something, try on your WHOLE costume (that means hair ornaments, jewelry, shoes, everything) and DANCE with it on. I have seen it so many times, it DRIVES me nuts! A beautiful and talented girl on stage dancing her heart out and everyone is staring at the flower in her hair that is bouncing and bobbing wildly as she dances, wondering just when it is going to let loose and go flying across the stage. Or another girl who is obviously new to performing, but valiantly doing a lovely job of following the steps of a choreography with her troupe, who keeps getting her veil wrapped up and stuck on the rhinestone hair clips she is wearing. Another thing that can happen with those lovely ornaments in your hair...your hair can get wrapped up in it and stuck and you end up with some funky poof of hair sticking out the side of your head....which YOU will not even know about till after you are done performing and get a gander at the pictures or video. (Because 99% of the time, none of your friends are going to tell you about it for fear of making you feel bad...lol)

    c) Hair - yes, I do mean Hair...lol...there are two parts to this complaint. Many professional dancers wear hair pieces, wigs and extensions...if they are high quality you really can't tell they are fake and they are a beautiful addition to your performance attire. Nothing says 'feminine goddess' like long flowing locks of hair. Many of us (yours truly included) have not been blessed with naturally thick, luscious and fast growing hair...and we live in a time when short and spunky hairdos is the IN thing. Just make sure if you are going to wear extensions or a wig that it matches your hair color (or totally covers your natural hair) and that it is well attached and doesn't look like you shaved all of your daughters Barbie dolls to attach the plastic strands to your head! Cheap wigs are so easily identified, especially under stage lights...do you want the audience to ooh and ahh over your beautiful dancing? Or snicker over the huge mass of fake hair you have on your head that is SO obviously fake? (I personally would rather see a dancer with short natural hair that one that has enough fake, plastic-y looking hair on her head for three women...just my opinion though.)

      The other big Hair blunder that drives me crazy? Those dancers that constantly pet, rearrange and fiddle with their hair while they are dancing! There is nothing wrong with reaching up and removing that annoying lock of hair that is stuck in your mouth, but PLEASE stop fiddling with your hair already! It is incredibly distracting and gets to the point where I just want the performance to end so I do not have to watch the hair rearranging any more! 

    d) Head Scarf - last but not least, the head scarf...a MUST for dancing many styles of Folkloric dance. I love head scarves. My biggest pet peeve with head scarves is that dancers just tie them on their head and think they will stay! Sorry, that is NOT how it works. You are dancing, not just walking along at the local market....even Arabic women who are not dancing and wear head scarves pin them! Use Hair pins and Hat pins (the long, straight, sharp and pointy type - Hatpins) to attache it properly to your head/hair. AGAIN, having a piece of your costume wobble and wiggle and start to fall off is a huge distraction to your audience. Even if you handle it with finesse and smoothly remove it the rest of the way and toss it aside, it has already caused a distraction that is hard to recover from.

I am sure there are other bits of head gear blunders I will recall after I post this, but those four above are the most distracting I can think of.

Next installment.....Keeping things covered up top.....lol...........

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Prepairing for gigs....How to Prevent Unpleasant Surprises....

No one likes those little unexpected surprises that can happen at a performance! It is so much worse if you are supposed to be a professional, who is being paid for your dancing.

I am sure you have heard the horror stories....a costume piece missing or even worse breaking and possibly falling off while you are performing. Your music not playing, or crackling, popping and pausing as your trying to perform, or you forget your zills or your veil, or you didn't bring shoes and then you find out your dance floor is potentially a mine field of broken glass and muck.

You can save yourself from having these problems, it just takes a bit of preparation and foresight on your part. Of course, you cannot  foresee every possible problem that could arise, but taking time to prepare can help to prevent MOST of these debilitating events from happening.

First and foremost, when you are auditioning for or booking a gig, make sure to ask lots of questions. You need to know what type of dance space you will have, how high are the ceilings, what type of floor, will there be a place for you to use as 'back stage', will you have  a changing room. Find out all you can. Once you have all that info, then it is time to prepare.

Second, make sure to prepare a few days ahead of time.

Pick your music, organize your set/s and burn your CD or download it on your Ipod or what ever you use (this is all assuming you have confirmed what sort of sound system is available for you at your gig). Make sure to test play your music....ALL THE WAY THROUGH!

Pack your costume/s, and make sure you have packed every piece you plan to wear (don't forget your jewelry). I often pack extra costuming to wear (See What's in My Gig Bag). Check for tears, stains and loose clasps and hooks NOW, before you pack them. Even if they were fine the last time you wore them. Make sure it fits you properly! (There is enough to say about costume fit to fill another blog!)  (o;

Make sure you have all your props together and make sure they are ready to use. Veils ironed, sword polished, zill elastic fits you properly, etc, etc, etc.

Check out your gig location, print your Mapquest directions or whatever it is you do (I have a GPS machine, and have GPS on my Blackberry, but I always print up directions anyway....because you never know what might happen). Check for how long it will take to get there and give yourself extra time to get there early!

Pack your shoes and your cover up! Don't forget your make-up and hair accessories if you use them.

Getting all these things ready a few days ahead of time will make you feel calmer and more prepared to perform with elegance and confidence.

Embarrassing 'Uncle Bob'....adventures in gig-land....Part 2

That moment when you step onstage can be so very important, it can easily influence what happens to your entire performance.  

Let me paint a picture for you, of my surroundings and audience. It is 10:30 PM and the bar where the birthday party is being held is dark and very smokey, the whole city is having a blackout and the electricity has been off for hours. The temperature outside is hovering somewhere around 18 degrees Fahrenheit, clumps of ice and snow everywhere, the cold is slowly beginning to permeate the inside of the bar as well, which of course makes everyone smoke more to help warm up. Lit candles are on all the tables and the wink of burning embers from cigarettes are glowing all around the room. My audience is an eclectic group of friends and family, some in jeans and cowboy boots, some in biker leathers with shaggy beards and tattoos, some dressed up a bit more. You can hear the chink of glasses and beer bottles and the murmur of raspy voices. The people in the bar have all bravely sat around for hours in the cold and dark waiting for me to arrive (unbeknownst to the birthday boy, who when the blackout started urged everyone to go home).

So it was time for me to perform....there I was, my music is playing, the audience is clapping and cheering, I sail toward the dance floor with my veil floating behind me and......What!?... Candles....on the dance floor (there is a first for me)...my skirts would surely brush across them and catch on fire....and the birthday boy is sitting in a chair, smack dab in the middle of MY stage! Oh crap what to do, what to do........

So what did I do? I danced right past the dance floor and into the audience. I danced my entire veil routine in the 4 foot wide and 15 foot long space between the dance floor and the tables, thankfully I always perform improv at my gigs, so I didn't have to worry about forgetting my choreography. I spent at least half of the time with my back to the tables so the birthday boy could enjoy the performance, but I didn't get up onto the slightly raised stage. Also, I'd like to mention again, all the tables had open candles flames on them too, a serious fire hazard with a veil floating around in the air. Just to make things more interesting (another for my list of gig firsts) there were two burly bikers standing on chairs at either end of the dance stage with giant flashlights in their hands, shining the lights over my head like spotlights...lol....very ingenious I must say!

I finished my veil dance with a flair, then instead of tossing my veil to an audience member like I usually do, I decided to give them all a laugh and the birthday boy a blush. As my next song, a Chiftitelli, began....I gathered my veil up and danced onto the raised floor and wrapped my veil around his head like a turban. 

Yes I know, kinda tacky, but I had to do something about him being in the middle of the floor and didn't want to treat him like he had the plague! I also know my veil was going to be in need of a washing when I got home, but actually, everything was, because my costume had to be completely saturated in cigarette smoke within 5 minutes of walking into the place.

My veil taken care of, my next order of business was to deal with the candles...so I danced over and picked them up and performed a slow candle dance (instead of the planned sword dance, to my Chifti). As my music drew to the end of the song, I brought my candles out into the audience and placed them on a table out of harms way. Now I had two more songs left...a fast Beledi with Zils and a drum solo, so I started my Beledi and urged the birthday boy to stand up and dance with me and as we danced I drew him out toward the audience and his wife (and got him a seat). I finished my Beledi on stage (alone...yay) and then ended the whole performance with a drum solo...mostly on stage and some in amongst the crowd.

I think all in all I handled things quite well, everyone loved the show and I didn't catch fire. We had a quick round of pictures, lots of compliments and questions about lessons (woohoo) and several individuals from the audience slipped tips into my hand (another woohoo). The birthday boys wife didn't want me to walk out into the dark alone (they didn't know my hubby was outside waiting for me) so she assigned one of my spotlight fellas to accompany me out to my car, whom evidently had already planned on doing so anyway. (It wasn't safe for such a pretty young lady to be walking around alone this late at night). He was a big tough looking guy, with a long grisly 'ZZ Top' style beard, wearing jeans, big black biker boots and a leather vest....I think his name was 'Tiny'....and what a gentleman he was, he held my elbow as we crossed the parking lot so I wouldn't slip in the ice patches and made sure I was in the my vehicle and that it started before he went back inside.

I am so glad I took the gig! I was treated with respect, paid my full price (no questions asked) as well as given a hefty tip (plus all the extra tips from the audience) and had a fun and interesting experience to remember, that will always bring a giggle to my lips and a twinkle to my eye....and Tiny if you ever read this....thanks so much for your kindness and care. Gentlemen like you are rare nowadays, you are a true treasure.

As for all you ladies out there who are interested in gigging, remember to never judge a book by its cover. I have found that the average, working class clients I get are always the best. They respect what I do and know I too need to make a living. They never try to nickle and dime me and talk my rates down and always tip me afterward. Granted we sometimes have misunderstandings (culturally) about what a Belly Dancer does, but once they see a performance they understand. They see the artistry, the elegance and the sensuality and love it for what it is!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Embarrassing 'Uncle Bob'....adventures in gig-land......Part 1

Okay, 'Uncle Bob' isn't a real person...well he is actually many real people, but they are not all named Bob. Uncle Bob is that poor schmuck whose wife or brother or some other 'dear' friend or relative, thinks it would be a great joke (all in good fun) to hire a dancer to writhe and gyrate around Uncle Bob at his birthday party. All for kicks and giggles of course. You Belly Dancers out there who have been hired for Birthday Gigs know what I am referring to. For those who just love Belly Dance, or aspire to become a professional dancer....here is an interesting look into what the future can hold for you.

Let me paint a picture for you, in all it's scandalous details and hilarious memories. :)

For those of you who do not know me, I live in Kentucky, in the Heart of the Bluegrass region. Horse Farms, Cowboys and Rednecks abound.  The countryside is beautiful and wild and our Bourbon Distilleries are honored with pride.

I received a phone call for a last minute gig.  This ladies husband was turning 40 and they wanted me to dance at his party. (First thought in my lil' head was, uh ohhhh) The Kentucky twang was coming through loud and clear over my cell phone. I asked my usual list of questions, the lady was really very nice and polite. 

One of the things I sometime hear from prospective birthday party clients is, "We wanted to hire a stripper, BUT there are gonna be kids there, so we decided to hire you." I try really hard to not lecture people on exactly what I do, and how it is NOT sexual and that comparing ME to a cleaner version of a Stripper is actual quite insulting....but I do try to get the message across.

Well, happily I did NOT get the stripper comparison, of course, there weren't going to be any kids at this party, because it was being held at a bar. Yep, a bar. I did seriously consider not taking the gig. The thing is, the bar owner was the birthday boys brother, and the bar was actually going to be closed to the GP for the party. I was told it was just their close friends and mixed genders. Again, I repeat, the client was sweet and polite, and concerned about whether or not I would be comfortable dancing at a bar. I explained how I dance at Restaurant/Bars and Hookah Lounges and that I would be fine as long as everyone was respectful. She assured me we would have no problems.

So at this point you are probably thinking...oh no, don't do it! Not to worry, really, everyone was real polite and everything went pretty darn smoothly....considering.

The night of the party arrives, I decide since it is only a 12 minute drive from my house, and only a 15 minute gig, that I shall bring my husband with as bodyguard muscle (since it IS at a bar after all...lol) We leave out from the house and head to our destination...this is when the true fun begins. As we are approaching the address we notice there are no lights on any where, no street lights, no stop lights, and there are cars all over the place driving around. I call the client to see if everything is okay, it ends up the entire City of Frankfort was having a blackout. Luckily I had my portable CD player with and they still wanted me to come dance.

The bar was in darkness, filled wall to wall with all these people (who knew I was coming and even though they had been without electricity for hours, stayed to wait) candles sat on all the tables, a cloud of cigarette smoke floated through the air. Everyone shouted with enthusiasm and delight that the entertainment had finally arrived. My audience was a motley crew of Bikers and laborers (and their wives...phew).

I found that I couldn't go into the ladies room to take off my cover up. I seriously dislike uncovering my costume where the audience can see. My client graciously took me to a dark little nook at the back of the bar to help me. My music was ready, a gentleman with a ZZ Top beard and leather vest waited patiently to press play, and I was ready to go. The music starts to play and I gracefully make my way to the designated dance floor. Well guess what? They had, sneakily might I add, put a chair out in the middle of the dance floor and seated the birthday boy on it. They also thought it would be really helpful to place a few candles around the dance floor, so everyone could see me better. So here I was, in 'performance' mode, music playing, ready to perform and I had all these things that were NOT supposed to be there, on the dance floor.

1. a hot seat for 'Uncle Bob'

2. and open flames at ankle level

Yikes.......to be cont.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My First Class (and lessons in life)........

As I have mentioned in the past, I have been a lover of dance forever.  To me dance is an amazing, exhilarating, and incredibly fulfilling part of my life, that I truly could not live without.  I know there are many, many other women (and men) in the world whom feel the same way. That is why there are T.V. shows and Movies that are centered all around dance, FAME, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing with The Stars, Stomp the House, Saturday Night Fever, The Black Swan....the list is almost endless!

Dance transcends the ordinary, it brings us closer to our Creator, and elevates us to a higher state of being. There is a certain ecstasy found in the release of thought and purpose, when your only purpose is to move.

I was enraptured the very first time a watched a woman belly dance, as she gracefully swayed and undulated to a style of music I had never heard before. She was a performer at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fl, and she was dancing with a huge Boa Constrictor in her arms and wrapped around her neck. I loved the movements, the music, the costume and I knew then and there that someday I WOULD find out where I could learn to dance like that. Now, as a educated dancer, with a lot of years of study and tutelage, I realize that what that dancer was doing was really a form of Fantasy Belly Dance. (That is for another Blog sometime...lol) I was just a kid, I think maybe 10 years old?! But I will never forget the way I felt and the determination to become like her.

Time passed, many more belly dancers were admired and envied, at restaurants, Disney World, Busch Gardens, even a few private parties I had attended. Life always seemed to get in the way, lack of money, lack of time. I grew up, got married, had kids....time fly's by and days become weeks, weeks become months and months become years. 

I am sure you are probably now thinking..."Get on with the story already!"  Well, I just thought it would help for you to know, how I did the same thing that so many people do.  I had seen something that intrigued me and I so dearly wanted to do, but I let it slip away in time like grains of sand.  I look back at all those years I put off finding a teacher, and pursuing what NOW is such a huge part of my life and I mourn the loss of that time.

So...lol...as I have written before....here goes my story of my first class....

One day I received a phone call from my mother in law. She and her neighbor (in her 55 plus community) had decided to take an exercise class at the local Adult Technical Education Center, and wanted to invite me and my 10 year old daughter to join them. Now, being a good daughter in law (and wishing to keep the lines of communication open, and build (hopefully) a good relationship with my hubbies mom) I agreed to go. In my mind I was picturing a bunch of geriatrics doing some weird form of Chair dancing/Jazzercise high-bred...lol....yeah, I have seen some of the exercise classes offered at local colleges. Anyway, my MIL had no idea what type of class it was, but thought it would be great bonding time for us.

So off we went, that next Saturday, morning to take the first class. We walk in the door, and sure enough 60% of the women were between 50 and 70 years old, many very overweight (including the teacher, who was definitely pushing hard on 70 and squeezed like a sausage into her black jazz pants and T-Shirt). I was not feeling real good about this, but figured it was not that much money, if we hated it, we could just not come back. (I know this all does not sound very PC of me, please bare with me....I promise it gets better).

Well, guess what happened? The teacher starts talking and welcomes us to her class and starts to explain the origins of Belly Dance, or what should really be called Raqs Sharqi.

Wow, belly dance class? OMG, I couldn't believe it! 

We started with warm ups and stretches, and then she immediately started to teach us a choreography. The music was fun and funky. The movements and combinations were so cute. I loved it, and man could that old, fat lady DANCE!! She was a goddess moving across the floor, her hips swaying and rolling, her chest undulating, her hands weaving gracefully through the air, an expression of ecstasy in her eyes.....I was floored! And I was hooked!

I learned a lot of things that first class. One of the biggest and most important....Belly Dance is about passion and grace and feeling the music as you move, it doesn't matter how old or young you are, how big or small....what matters is that you are doing something you love to do. Since then, I have seen dancers of all ages and sizes and all walks of life, who transform on the dance floor.  I have been enthralled by their movements and the stories they tell with their bodies, and I could care less what they look like!
Since that first class I have taken many more, roughly 2500 classes, not including workshops and practice sessions. I still take classes....this dance is so varied and so vast, I do not think I will ever learn it all.

Okay...I do believe I have nearly written a book this time. I hope my ramblings have not confused you, or appalled you with my straightforwardness! What I think is important though about this bit of rambling....If you find something that 'speaks' to you, that calls to your soul; do not put it off, do not wait till 'later' to pursue it.

And if that something happens to be Belly Dance....don't make excuses, like you will start after you loose weight, or that you'll never start because your too fat, or you'll start when you have more time, or when you can afford private lessons (because you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of other people)...there is no time like now to enjoy your life! So just Bite the Bullet and get on with it! I promise you will not regret making yourself DO what you WANT to do. :)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The pursuit of Happiness.........

Have you ever had one of those moments in life where you look back at all that you have done, and all that you are doing....and realize it is just not enough? Not enough fun, not enough memories, not enough good deeds. You realize that you have just been 'living'. You get up, eat, work, spend a little time with the family, eat some more, sleep and then start all over the next day. No real fulfillment, no real excitement...you just kind of exist.

When I was 23 yrs old I had one of those moments. I was sitting on an examination table in a doctors office, holding my husbands hand. Before me stood a doctor who had just two weeks before Biopsied a mole from my lower chest. With a somber look in his eyes he told me I had Malignant Melanoma and I needed to go to a hospital and have it removed and have my Lymph Nodes tested...and that if it had Metastasized they had a bed waiting for me in North Carolina at a Cancer Research Center, where they could 'try' to help rid my body of this cancer.I am not really sure how far modern medicine has changed since that fateful day, but back then if you had MM you had one option, excision of the lesion, Chemo and Radiation had no effect on it. So here I was, a 23 yr old wife and mother of two small children, having barely lived my life yet, and I was looking death in the face. That was my moment, the eye opener that made me take a look at how I was living my life and realize I wasn't truly happy. I was content, I could have kept going on the way I was, but I wanted so much more!

Thankfully, after my surgery and my tests, and many months of regular check-ups with my Oncologist, I was given a clean bill of health. Though my tumor had been quite large and I will carry the scars of its removal forever, it had not Metastasized and I was safe.

Since that day, I have had a new outlook on life. I want to be the best that I can be, I am always reaching for the Golden Hoop and trying to share my joy in life with everyone I can. Granted, I have my low moments, life isn't all sunshine and rainbows, but my outlook on life and the way I handle the pitfalls has altered as well. Things don't always turn out the way I want them to, but life is an adventure...and I will live it to the fullest!

I now take time to enjoy the little things....the taste of snow flakes melting on my tongue, the budding of new leaves in the spring, the sharp bite of a cold wind, the laughter of my little boy and the warm bear hugs of my husband. 

To me Happiness is life, in all its glory and all its pain. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I will always pursue my experiences to the fullest.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The pursuit of success......

Phew....I am just amazed at how much time has passed since my last entry. It seems sometimes, like time just fly's by without you even noticing it. As a professional dancer/teacher BUSY means good and even when I am not driving all over the surrounding states gigging my tail end off and teaching my regular classes, there is always something that needs getting done.

I wanted to share with everyone out there some advice, especially for all those ladies who want to become professional dancers and/or teachers, that I found helped me tremendously. This is not my first endeavor into the world of self employment. I am sure it will not be my last. I have worn many 'hats' in the workplaces of my life and have, I hope, grown and matured through the wearing of those 'hats'.

So here goes....

It is a wonderful thing to be self employed; you get to pick your hours, your wages, your co-workers (or lack thereof), you get to make all the rules and make all the decisions, but you MUST be the best employee anyone would ever wish for. Just because you get to pick when to work and how hard, does NOT mean you can slack off whenever you feel like it. In fact when you work for yourself, you really have to work twice as hard as someone who goes out and works a Nine to Five to collect their weekly/biweekly pay check. Because if you don't bust your butt and do everything that you possibly can to make your business the absolute best that it can possibly be....there will be no paycheck!

Yep...that is my advice, work twice as hard, push for perfection, never ever think you have done enough! You always have to be on top of your game. Make improvements even when everything its great. 

Of course, there is a whole lot more to success than just that, but your drive and determination to be successful is THE most important. Success isn't going to just come marching up and knock on your front door....you must pursue it, with all of your being and all of your energy! 

You also need to know that success doesn't happen over night...okay, so it does for some people, but not for most.....if first you don't succeed, try and try again! If what you are after is your dream, don't give up. There will be pitfalls and bumps along the way.  Most businesses take YEARS to actually turn a good profit. 

And one last cliche for the road....its not the destination that is important, it is the journey along the way. Do not, please, do not forget to ENJOY the journey!