Tuesday, September 20, 2016

TEN HABITS OF SUCCESSFUL DANCERS




How many times have you shared a dressing room or studio space with a dancer who was a total train wreck?  Every other dancer in the place just sort of backs up and watches in horror as the crazy person -who, of course has shown up late- digs frantically in a suitcase scattering it’s contents all over,  yells loudly on a cell phone, or has a complete meltdown. 

We’ve all witnessed that, right?

 Baby dancers can be excused (ok, once or twice) because they haven’t learned the ropes yet and don’t have the experience -or guidance to know exactly what’s up. But ironically, it’s all too common that the disorganized, noisy  and entitled nutcase is a seasoned pro…and sometimes it’s even the featured artist!

There’s a big difference between bumbling your way hit’n’miss through  gigs and being a true professional. Even though most of us already know (and practice) the points I’m about to mention, they’re worth re-visiting; they’ll  help you to have a long, healthy and prosperous career.

 Here are ten habits of successful dancers:

 Make Health A Priority
 This one seems like a total no-brainer, but many of us blithely ignore it. It’s obvious that we can’t perform to the best of our abilities by running on fumes. Many dancers (self included, by the way) routinely function on insufficient sleep and “meals” that consist of a power bar and a handful of nuts… or by pigging out during post-gig fast food parties. And what about ignoring injuries, preferring to dance while in pain rather than sitting a few shows out? Raise your hand if you’ve been there- we’ve all done it.

Needless to say, we’re only given one body per lifetime. Taking care of yourself is vital if you want a long, healthy career. So rest up, eat clean, take your vitamins, and see a doctor when you need to, and know the world –or your career- won’t end if you miss some time due to an injury.

Be Dependable
  Be impeccable with your word. If you confirmed a gig, you gotta be there…and you need to show up on time. If you’re running late, call or text. If you know in advance can’t make a gig or if a sudden emergency comes up, let the show producer or venue owner know immediately. Suggest a substitute, and share their info or offer to contact the sub yourself.

 Manage Time Wisely
 There’s damn few dancers who have managers, publicists and booking agents, so if you want a successful career, you’re going to have to handle all of this stuff by your lonesome. That means that even if you’d prefer being onstage or in the studio, someone’s gotta do the administrative work…and that someone is you. This includes everything from making lesson plans for your classes to promoting your gigs, from updating your website to booking shows, travel and studio time. There are only so many hours in a day, but it’s crucial to carve out some time to take care of business, it’s necessary. Set aside an hour or two a week just for administrative work, and you’ll probably notice a huge difference in your career.

 Be Organized
 This actually relates to the previous point, because good organizational skills will save you time!  Keep a pre-packed dance bag to bring to class, whether you’re taking or teaching- that way, you won’t be wasting twenty minutes looking for your ballroom shoes, resistance band, or iPod.

 Store your costumes with all the pieces and accessories (jewelry, wigs, shoes) you need for that particular act.

   Decide what supplies you need for any gig.  Create a master checklist if you need to, and refer to it as you pack.

 Focus
 Keep yourself on your toes physically by mentally envisioning what you want to achieve. Be in the moment; no “phoning in” your dancing at rehearsals, and certainly never onstage or at an audition.

Set Goals
 Never stop striving for what you want. Set your goals, and   make a timeline for what you’d like to achieve. Break down the steps you think it’ll take into bite-sized, do-able chunks, finishing each task before starting on the next one.

Stay Grounded
 No matter how talented you are, nobody wants to work with a diva.  Entitlement is an ugly trait in anyone, no matter how famous or in demand they are. This old saying might sound a little brutal and cutthroat but it’ll help you remember to stay humble. There’s always someone younger, prettier, more talented, and easier to work with waiting to take your place.

Practice
 Baby dancers are addicted to practice cause it’s so new and fun. But once we get comfortable and established in our careers, many of us tend ignore home practice, or reviewing the fundamentals by drilling.  World famous ballet dancers do their barre exercises every day, and Olympic medalists train like crazy people, also every day.  No matter what level you’re at, you are no different- your performances will grow by leaps and bounds if you get back to basics.


Don’t Compare Yourself To Other Dancers
 This is much easier said than done, because it’s in our nature to compare and contrast.   It’s one thing to want to perfect a move because you like the way another dancer does it.  But all too often, comparison leads to us beating ourselves up, because we perceive we’re lacking something that another dancer has.
 Once you realize that every dancer is different and each has individual strong points to offer, it’ll be much easier to stop comparing, and feel comfortable and happy in your own right.   

Never Stop Learning
 There’s always something to learn. The more you broaden your horizons, the better dancer you’ll become. Learning is a process; it can be active and intentional- as in taking a class in a style you’ve never studied, or it can be passive, like watching another dance’s performance on You Tube.   If you’re receptive, you can learn things that will improve your own dance technique even by studying unrelated subjects.  Even your beginner students can teach you something relevant. Inspiration and “A-ha moments” can strike at any time. Stay open and be curious.

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

TECHNIQUE TIPS TO IMPROVE TURNS

 
Photo by Maharet Hughes

Turns and spins may look effortless on stage, but the components that go into them are many, and sooo much more than just moving through space.

When I first started dancing, turns seemed like an elusive, unreachable goal.  I knew nothing about the mechanics involved... and all too often, I found myself in classes where it wasn’t properly broken down, either. It seems that outside of beginning ballet classes, it’s just assumed that dancers already have the foundation technique or innate ability to execute a turn-or series of turns- and that’s simply not true!

 To begin with, clean well-executed turns of any kind all start with balance. 

Achieving and maintaining the center of gravity in the body is crucial to dance in general, and specifically for turning. This sense of stability activates three different parts of our physical bodies, and they must work together, constantly shifting and adjusting to make up the clean execution of turn technique.

 The first is our vestibular system, located in the inner ear. Without getting too scientific, it’s the primary place that controls our ability to move our bodies. The vestibular system sends messages to our brains about kinetics, or the ability to fuse movement with balance.  This is why people affected with inner ear problems or an ear infection often experience vertigo or dizziness.

The second is our motor control skills, which govern the interaction between our brains and our muscles, bones and tendons. The motor system sends cognitive information from the central nervous system to our musculoskeletal system, enabling us to perform every day movements and tasks…and to dance.

The third component is the ocular or visual system, which not only allows us to see, but registers depth perception and physical orientation. Of course, the eyes send info to our brains when we dance. It’s important to know that during a turn, unless you’re a crackerjack at spotting, your eyes won’t be fixed on a certain point, putting your equilibrium a little out of whack.

 All three of these  bodily systems work together as reflexes to aid our proprioception, or the sense of our physical body in space. A common example of the use of proprioception (or lack of it!)  is the field sobriety sobriety test where an offer commands a potential offender to close their eyes while standing on one foot and touching their nose? A sober person can usually do this easily, but someone who is impaired or intoxicated cannot.

Ok, so now that you’ve got a little background, let’s move on to some exercises that will get you turning like a champ.

Develop Your Proprioception
 In my classes, to demonstrate what proprioceptive orientation is, I ask my students to close their eyes, extend their arms, and stand on one foot for as long as they can.   Some can do it for an extended time naturally, while others start to sway and waver… while sober!  Proprioception works almost without any visual cues, it’s our body’s sense of “righting” itself. The good news is that by doing exercise better proprioception skills can be developed.


Improve Your Balance
 Check and see where your weight is by rising slowly up onto the balls of your feet and maintaining the position for as long as you can. Notice where the brunt of the weight is. If it’s on the outside of your foot, towards the small toe, that’s showing a weakness in your ankles. This position is not optimal for turning, and it could potentially injure you. A “classic” Dancer’s Sprain occurs when the foot rolls over onto the outside edge, during dancing or any type of day-to-day activity.

 Try this exercise to get your weight placed properly:
 With feet just under your hips, rise up slowly onto the balls of the foot, pressing your toes into the floor. Keep your weight over the middle of each foot, and a little towards the big toe. Hold this position for at least eight counts, and slowly lower down to the floor. If you need to, use a ballet barre, a chair or even a wall or doorframe to maintain stability.  Hold on as lightly as possible, trying to let your body do most of the work. Repeat at least four times, slow and steady.

  Another exercise is to stand with the feet hip width apart. Pick up one foot- not too far off the ground- while making sure the foot you’re standing on has equal weight distribution between the ball and the heel. Hold in place for at least thirty seconds, before switching to the other foot. Repeat.

Strengthen And Stabilize Problem Areas
  Even though we dance constantly, all of us are stronger in certain areas…and those areas over-compensate for where we are weaker. One of the most notoriously weak areas for many dancers (of all genres) is in the hip. My chiropractor taught me these strengthening and stabilizing the hips.

  The first is to strengthen the calves. Stand on a staircase and lightly hold the railing, stand on one step with the toes and ball of both feet on the stair itself. Raise both feet to releve’ position, hold for sixteen counts, then as slowly as possible, lower the feet so that the heels are pointing downwards, towards the next lower step.  Repeat at least four times. This will strengthen your calves and give a nice stretch to your hamstrings, too.

For he second exercise on the stairs, turn sideways to face the railing, holding it lightly, keeping the knees soft. Keep one foot on the step itself, and slowly lower the other foot towards the next step. If this is difficult, your hip is weak; you also might notice that one side is stronger than the other. Repeat the exercise on both sides at least four times initially, building slowly towards eight, then twelve repetitions.

Find Your Weight Placement For Turning
 Practice each turn in its most basic form; even if you think you’ve mastered it already.  This will help you with the “intention” of the turn, and burn it into your muscle memory. Do the turn in slow motion on flat feet, planting each foot firmly down onto the floor before taking the next step. Next, do the same thing, but with your eyes closed. After you’ve repeated these movements a few times, do the turn full speed and you should notice a marked improvement.

Engage Your Core While Turning
 While we perform or rehearse, we are in dance posture:  spine elongated, abs engaged, ribcage lifted, shoulders back and down. But sometimes in class or during solitary practice, we forget our posture because we are so focused on mastering technique. In order to execute a great turn, keeping dance posture is essential…and that includes keeping your core tightly engaged. This will provide you with far better bodylines, and provide an essential center of gravity.

Learn To Spot
 Spotting keeps the dancer’s eyes and heads oriented in a certain place to alleviate dizziness and to enhance control during turning.   The way it works is that a fixed focus for the eyes will help you to keep control and retain your balance. While the actual turn is happening, the dancer’s body will rotate at a certain speed… but the goal of spotting is to have the head actually get through the rotation a little more quickly, in order to control the direction of the turn or series of turns.

Spotting is simply the act of focusing on a certain spot while turning.  To practice spotting, pick a location on a wall or the studio mirror, and practice turning very slowly, beginning and ending each turn with your eyes on the place you’ve picked as your spotting point.


 If you practice these techniques, your turns should show a marked advancement in a fairly short time.

  Happy dancing!


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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

CAMOUFLAGE 101: HOW TO HIDE TAN LINES AND LOOK GREAT IN YOUR COSTUMES


 You put on your favorite costume, the one that always makes you  look and feel amazing, but like a slap in the face, you suddenly realize you can’t possibly wear it. It’s not because the hooks need to be replaced or you’ve gained or lost a few pounds, and certainly not cause you dribbled some form of condiment while scarfing down a post-gig meal backstage.

 It’s because your summer wardrobe doesn’t match your dance costumes!

Maybe you wore a halter-top this past weekend and your SPF wore off. Your chest and midriff are now evenly tanned… but the tops of your boobs look like two giant glow-in-the-dark white Hostess Cakes. Or perhaps you  got a sunburn while wearing that Kendall & Kylie “celeb style caged harness” swimsuit from Top Shop…and now there’s such an insane network of pink lines on your torso, it looks like you’ve contracted a hideous tropical skin condition!

 If you’re not religious about using sunblock -and you damn well should be- you’ll wind up with a tan or a painful burn. But even if you’re careful about using sunblock, you can still get those pesky tan-lines. And believe me, they look like absolute  %@$# on stage!

 I am  super-anal about wearing sunblock, but because of my mixed heritage and olive skin, I tan in a heartbeat, no matter what. Seriously, I can take out the trash in the early morning, and by the time I get out of the shower fifteen minutes later; I’ve got stripes across the tops of my shoulders from my tank top.

 Hey, it’s summer; we’ve all been there.

 But let’s get you back into your favorite costume, shall we?

To get rid of tan-lines quickly, first thing you need to do is exfoliate, cause it gets rid of all the dead cells on the surface of your skin. Exfoliating will literally buff away a bit of your tan, and it’ll keep your skin looking fresh and dewy, too.

 Please note that this works only for those who are tanned, not burned. If you’ve got a sunburn, it’s an absolute must to let it heal to the point where it’s not painful or tender, because you don’t want any scarring to occur. Instead, slather the burned area with Aloe Vera gel. Straight from the plant is best, but there are also plenty of gentle commercial formulas on the market, too. Take an aspirin or two, stay out of the sun and let your skin heal for a few days before exfoliating.  A nice all-natural spray to relieve sunburn pain is black tea.  Brew up a strong pot of black tea, let it cool in the fridge and transfer it into a spray bottle. Spritz the cool mixture on your skin after you bathe or whenever you want. The misted tea is refreshing and calming to the sensitive sunburned areas. But black tea also contains a high amount of tannic acid, which will help fade the marks on your body quickly.

 But back to exfoliation: I recommend Oil Of Olay Exfoliating Body Wash or St. Ives Purifying Sea Salt Body Wash.  Both are terrific, inexpensive options, plus they’re under ten bucks at most chain drug stores like Target, CVS, Rite Aid or Walgreens. If you wanna splurge a bit more, try Guyton Exfoliating Body Wash. It’s available on from www.glytone-usa.com or from Amazon; some department or beauty supply stores carry it, too. The glycolic acid isn’t a chemical peel, it’s easy on your skin, but helps your cells to shed and your skin to rejuvenate faster.

To make an ultra-cheap (but very efficient) D.I.Y exfoliating scrub, get a large glass bowl and add in these ingredients: a tablespoon of sugar with one cup of baking soda and half a cup of water. Mix it well, until it becomes a thick paste. Bring it into the shower with you, and with bath mitts or your bare hands, glob it onto your skin, scrubbing in long strokes or small swirls  (your choice, just as long as your hitting the affected area) like your damn life depended on it.

 Once you’ve exfoliated, now it’s time to camouflage those hellish tan lines.  If you’re skin is medium, olive-toned or dark, get a matte bronzer in a shade that’s a close match your actual skin tone; a shade or two darker is fine. If you’re fair, a rosy pink ought to work well. Just make sure you don’t use pearly or metallic shades- it won’t look natural and will only draw attention to your “disguise”. You can use cream or powder, whichever you prefer, both are fine. With a small soft dome blush brush – or even a cotton ball- dab the product onto the lighter area, but then blend it out onto the tanned area as well. If you apply the makeup only on the un-tanned skin,  instead of hiding the tanning marks, it’ll  make them look way too obvious.

 After you’ve applied the product, make sure to set it so it won’t rub off on your fancy costume. There are several makeup-setting sprays available. One of my go-to fixers is Ben Nye Liquiset, which is a theatrical makeup sealer in a spray pump.  It’s pretty inexpensive and really keeps any pigments in place, even when sweaty from performance.  However, aside from Amazon, it’s usually only available at costume/theatrical stores and some beauty supply places. There are drugstore brands that work just as well, such as L’Oreal Infallible Fixing Mist or Urban Decay Chill Cooling And Hydrating Makeup Setting Spray.  All of these products are made to be worn on the face, but they work just fine for tan marks on the body, too. None of them crack or smudge, and they come off with whatever sort of makeup remover you use also.

 My very favorite camouflaging product, which I use with or without tan lines, is Sally Hanson’s Airbrush Legs. It used to come only in a spray, but now, they’ve added a cream formula as well. This stuff is pure magic- it makes you look like the best filters on Instagram! It stays much better than any self-tanner, never looks streaky, doesn’t cake, and really lasts on stage, even through multiple performances. It gives your skin a gorgeous look, truly like you’ve been airbrushed. I’ve used it to hid bug bites, bruises, and scratches from my kitties, and even to completely hide my tattoos! Let it fully dry before you put on your costume, though. After it sets, it won’t rub off on anything. The only other thing you need to know is that if you’re using the spray, it would behoove you to use it in the shower, cause it could stain clothing (or a carpet) and it’s kind of smelly to use in a dressing room. However, the smell goes away as soon as the product dries. Also, sometimes it stays on the skin for an extra day or two, even after bathing… but who doesn’t want to look airbrushed, right?

These tips will allow you to have fun in the sun, but still look great onstage- tries them out and sees for yourself.

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photo: Dusti Cunningham, graphics: Natasha Vetlugin




  For more cosmetic  tips, purchase  my  double-disc instructional stage makeup DVD  “Bombshell” or a copy of "The Belly Dance Handbook  here:  http://www.princessfarhana.com/shop.htm

photo and graphics: Maharet Hughes/Graphic Vibe


Sunday, July 10, 2016

CONTOURING FOR STAGE MAKEUP

Believe me- that jawline, cheekbones ( and my cleavage) were NOT given to me by Mother Nature...just sayin'!
 Photo by Maryann Bates

Contouring has always been around, but suddenly it seems to be all the rage. The shading and highlighting techniques that were once the sole realm of  high fashion  photo shoots- or drag queens- have practically gone viral- suddenly; everyone is chiseling, shaping and molding their features as part of their every day makeup application. All the major cosmetic lines have introduced contouring kits, and every inexpensive drug store or knock-off brand has followed suit.

With the right colors and  a little practice, we all can have higher cheekbones, a defined jawline and a longer- or shorter, or narrower nose.

But contouring for the stage is a very different animal than just adding a little boost to the face that your gene pool gave you.

 To begin with, you must understand - and most of you already do- that strong, bright stage lighting will erase every one of your features. Seriously, if you’re thinking of wearing daytime (or even party-time/clubbing make up) on stage, your face will appear blank and washed out in performance.

 You need to pile on everything from lashes to lip color…and even then, it might not be enough! Trust me: when done properly, stage makeup contouring will look downright horrifying up close, but under the hot lights, you’ll look like a perfect Grecian statue.

Though it’s always fun to get new make up, you really don’t need any special contouring kits for this. Often, you can find the perfect shades among the cosmetics you already own!  Go ahead and splurge on Mac, Anastasia Of Beverly Hills  or Kat Von D if you want to, but it’s totally not necessary to get the look you’re after. It really doesn’t matter at all if you’re using an eye shadow to sculpt your cheeks- it’s only the color that counts!  

However, I will say that while cream formulas work fine for every day contouring,  for  the stage you’ll probably want to use powders or pressed pigments - they stay better, last longer, and are much easier to work with when building your performance look.

 First, you’ll highlight areas you want to bring forward, like the planes of your cheekbones, the tip of your nose, the jawline, and the inside corners of your eyes. For day-to-day make up, depending on your skin color, you’d be using a matte ivory or maybe a very light rose gold, or  bronze color for darker skins.

 Onstage, you can use matte shades to highlight, but frosty shades look much better, because they attract and refract light. What might look over-the-top and…yeah, kind of…crazy... in real life will be just right for a large stage!  Depending on your skin tone- and the effect you want to project in performance- you can use any color for your highlights, from bright pearly white to lavender, light pink (or even baby blue) to metallics like bronze, silver or gold. With a fluffy brush, get a load of pigment on your brush, and tap or blow off the excess. Then go to work on any features you’d like to bring forward.

I used a light blue highlight on my temples and  cheekbones 
 Swirl the frosty highlight color on the tops of your cheekbones, working it all the way into your temples. Dust a faint line down the center of your nose, and lightly around your jawline- not underneath it, but right along the jawbone itself. Blend all of these areas a little but not too much-remember, you’re doing this for the stage, not every day life! Onstage, we want our features to pop, in order for them to look “natural”.

 With a fine-tipped brush, use the same frosty shade to draw a thin pearly area just under your eyebrow and the brow bone itself.  Dab in some “eyelights” at the inside corner of each eye. This will give a gorgeous, wide-eyed affect, really opening up your eyes-no matter what size they are. To do this, use a Q-tip, placing it just above your tear-ducts and slightly into the side of your nose. Just load the cotton swab with pigment, blow or tap off the excess, and place a precise dot of highlighter at the inside corner.  This doesn’t even need to be blended. It will look quite odd up-close but the illusion onstage will look fantastic.  If you want to exaggerate the wide-set, doe-eye look, bring the color up the inside of the eye to the eyebrow, blending it into your eye shadow.

For all the areas you want to recede, you will use a matte color.  Do not use pearly or frosty cosmetics for shading, because they attract light, and you’ll be using your contouring colors on the specific areas you want to appear to be shadowed. Once again, there’s a wide range of colors that can be used for shading, depending on skin tone.  Pick out colors that are about two  shades darker than your own complexion.  Darker skinned gals can use anything from a matte medium brown to chocolate brown; olive-skinned dancers should use a taupe or dark beige, and a slightly rosy brown or even a brick tone will work well for those with fair skin.

  Use the same size brush (or a slightly smaller one) than the one you used for highlighting to dust on a darker contouring shade to the places you want to recede. The shadowed areas will usually be just under the places you’ve highlighted, such as underneath the natural cheekbones, and under the jawline, from ear to ear. When working on the jawline, make sure to dust the contour shade all the way from the center of the neck to past your earlobes, and all the way to the bottom part of the tip of your chin.   To make a wide nose appear narrower, apply a thin line of the shading tone up each side of the bridge, blended well. To make a long nose appear shorter, dust some of the contour shade under the tip of your nose, again blended thoroughly.   With a clean dome brush, make sure you buff out and blend the shadowy parts- because you want to look like a chiseled goddess, not a trashy 1980’s Mall Rat!

 If you want to make your lips look fuller, you can contour  them, too. This time, you’ll be using your lipstick and lip pencils. To give the illusion of a pouty lip, use a darker lipstick on the top lip, and fill in the lower lip with  a color in the same family, but one or two shades lighter.  If you want your lips to look lush and bee-stung,  start out by lining them with a flesh tone or white  pencil.  This will bring out your natural lip-line and make it look more pronounced and prominent. Next, use  just one  shade for the top and bottom lips- a true red with blue undertones works best  and has the added bonus of  making your teeth look whiter, too. After you’ve applied the color, blot it, apply a second coat, and  take a finger full of frosty white, light pink or gold powder and smudge it into the  center of the lower lip. Bingo- better than having “work” done and your lipstick will stay put through your performance without smudging!

These same face contouring techniques can be used to highlight your body, especially when wearing costumes that show a lot of skin, to accentuate your muscles and curves. It’s a pretty simple process: whatever body part is lighter will stand out, and those that are darker will recede.


With a full, fluffy brush, apply a thin-ish stripe of pearly white, pinkish bronze or golden highlighting powder down the center of the arms and legs to make them look longer. While you’re at it, dust some of the same powder around the curves of your shoulders, and lightly across the tops of the breasts to make them appear fuller and more prominent. Drawing a soft, smudged line in the center of your cleavage will accentuate it and make it seem deeper. Make sure the actual line isn’t visible- blend it very well- you can even dust on a coat of translucent powder over the highlighter and contour colors instead of blending it. Since your arms, legs and torso are much larger areas than your face, you don’t need to be quite as careful with the blending.

 Play around and experiment with these applications, and with the colors you use, then snap a selfie or two to see what looks best on you.  With a little practice, you’ll get these looks down to a science!

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 For even more make up tips, purchase my instructional  how-to stage make up DVD  “Bombshell: Dramatic Looks For The Stage, Photos and Glamorous Occasions or  “The Belly Dance Handbook here: 
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 Bombshell: Dramatic Makeup For The Stage, Photos And Glamorous Ocsaisions,  instructional stage makeup DVD
Photo by Dusti Cunningham


 August 1, 2016 I'm teaching a 1970's retro stage makeup look as part of  the "LA Legends Of Belly Dance" intensive. Info here:
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