Monday, September 21, 2015


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

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

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


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

  Always make sure your fringe is proportionate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Look for lots of metal or rhinestone decorations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, September 7, 2015


Phoenix performing at Art Of The Belly in Maryland, photo by Stereo Vision
I have always said that the  world of dance is chock full of  amazing alpha women… and Phoenix, a Denver, Colorado based belly dancer who teaches workshops and performs nationally, is probably one of the most  dynamic chicks I know! A virtual power house, she’s not only an incredible  performer and instructor- she’s  a dance mamma  to legions of dancers in her hometown and directs  a couple of troupes-  she’s also an event producer , a full-time nurse, a terrific cook, and a doting  kitty mamma.

 I met Phoenix  years ago at  the Tribal Dreams belly dance event in Nebraska, and was blown away by her powerful and artistic performance ( her non-stop spins and work with Isis Wings were both off the hook!) as well as her sweet, fun loving off-stage personality.  It was there that I discovered  that  she the co-sponsor  along with partner  Selayma Anan, of  the long-running annual “Shimmy 2B Free”,  a large-scale belly dance event and theater show  in Denver. The  proceeds going to  various  foundations  assisting with health,  financial and socio-economic issues, and the show and workshops are super well-organized. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching and performing there twice, and the event, in addition to raising funds for worthy causes, always runs like clockwork.

Phoenix’s  unique  belly dance style is  a pastiche of Egyptian and Turkish cabaret, spiritual dance, khaligi,  and  tribal, and she’s also into various types of fusion, with performances ranging from  progressive and transcendent theatrical   and dark Goth pieces to light-hearted comedy acts. She’s a master at Isis Wings, often using custom  wings two at a time. In 2008  she  released her internationally acclaimed  instructional DVD “Isis Wings With Phoenix”.

  She's  also  the  creator and publisher of  "Dancing From Within",  an innovative  deck of  belly dance class cards. This deck , based on her  holistic knowledge and  teaching methods, focuses on physical and emotional development using the chakras, elements, movement and technique, and is a great tool for students, teachers or troupes.

 Phoenix is always s always preternaturally calm  at shows, whether she’s organizing , performing or both… maybe it’s the nurse thing-  she’s used to dealing with  critical situations on an every day basis!

 Walk softly and carry large swords: Phoenix  by Artist Edge Photography

 Here, in her own words, are some of Phoenix’s backstage secrets:

“For me prepping for a great show involves organization and focus.  I am an improvisation dancer most of the time but this still involves some preparation regardless if the music is picked in advance or it is a live band.

Organizing myself prior to a show may be the morning of - or day before if I can swing it.  I consider my audience, music and venue.  If I’m  not dancing to live music, then I do like to have my picked prior to that week and listen to it.  This helps 'set the stage' for what I am planning to present.  Knowing that setting helps me decide on what am I planning to present.  What I mean by that is - is it emotional, fun, flirty, dark or what is the energy or story?  Knowing this helps me easily pick my costume and make up.  Once I have these items planned out then the performance often flows with ease. 

Practicing for the show means listening and dancing to the piece of music or the band.  When I do choreograph a piece, I am working on remembering it but ensuring the choreography is not forced and feels natural.  For most of my performances, I practice dancing to the music to get a feel for the changes and accents.  Knowing the music for an improvisation piece allows me to relax and interact with my audience.

The day of the show, I  like to have a little down time. It might be relaxing with my cats or taking  time with the troupe.  I try to not pack my day if at all possible. Sometimes, that’s  not avoidable so in those cases I do try to have some quiet time while I put on my makeup.  The day of the show, I only allow myself to run a routine one or two times if at all.  Practicing too much the day of the show actually stresses me out.  I often have a much smoother performance if I have a "go with the flow" attitude.

The hour or two before the show, I have my costume, props and cover up ready to pack.  I prefer to get ready at home and show up mostly dressed if possible.  I try to arrive  early as the drive is always the most stressful time for me.  I am always concerned about surprise traffic and such.  So once I am there then I can take a moment to relax.

The moments before my performance, I do a little warm up with shimmies, slides and a few pops.  I can use whatever music is there to do this or might listen to mine in an iPod.  This ensures my muscles are awake and ready to roll.  I do try to have a minute of private focus time by just standing alone and deep breathing to relax my mind and body.  I do often get backstage 4 to 5 numbers prior to mine to ensure my costume is in place and ensure I do not distract from other acts.  I can often watch from the side stage while doing a quiet warm up and focus.  It is hard for me to sit still prior to dancing so I love being earlier in a show rather than later.  This way I get to see more of the show also!

I feel working together backstage is really important for all.  The energy we create impacts each other.  I love being a part of shows where people are excited even if they are nervous.  If there is a drama or turmoil, I avoid it to ensure that I do not absorb negativity. 

As any sponsor will tell you, the ritual and plan for shows where you are the sponsor changes drastically.  The basic ritual is to ensure all are okay and show is starting then be backstage on time.  For these shows, I pick music and props that do not require a ton of prep and often dance to music I have used in the past. 

Experience has shown me that if I need too much prep time, something might happen so 'keep it simple' and 'remember what brought you here'.   I feel if you hit the stage with that attitude and good training - that is what the audience also came to see!”


 Phoenix  is teaching at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive on  this coming Sunday, Sept. 13th, 2015  8:30-10:00am.   Her “Express Yourself” workshop focuses on connecting emotionally to the music.


 Find out more about Phoenix’s classes and shows in Denver as well as her national events ,  her cards and DVD  here:

Visit the Shimmy 2B Free website:

Thursday, September 3, 2015


  So many people- friends, family members, aspiring dancers and even  random strangers sitting next to me on airplanes- are always very curious about what it's like being a traveling professional dancer. My standard answer is usually something along the lines of :

"It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work!"

 But that doesn't really begin to scratch the surface.

 There are indescribable highs, like getting paid to travel the world doing something you adore, seeing fabulous sights and meeting wonderful new people. There are extreme lows, too, like working when you're absolutely exhausted and riddled with jet lag or working while injured. Both of these are constants, no matter how young, flexible or healthy you are, no matter how well you eat or how much you try to take care of yourself. Often, your injuries don't have time to heal because a) you need to work constantly and b) you never get enough sleep-ever! Homesickness can be an issue too. Even if  you love to travel, when you're doing it all the time,  you miss your loved ones.

 Unless you've "been there", you really can't imagine what being on the road is really like. But here's a blow-by-blow approximation of one of my typical weekend trips,which I do two to four weekends a month-unless I'm on an actual tour...enjoy!

7:00- 7:15 AM
 Wake up, hit snooze on the alarm, prepare strong coffee and a green smoothie. Drink both while rinsing off  your face,  popping in contact lenses, feeding and petting the kitties. Get dressed in sweats and sneakers.

7:15-8:20 AM
 Swift 20 minute walk. Shower, apply body lotion and moisturizer. Put on the clothes you’ll wear to the airport and apply just enough make up- eyebrow power, mascara, lip gloss and a touch of blush- so that the general public won’t scream and run when they catch sight of your sleep-deprived, puffy face.

8:20-9:00 AM
Cut up some veggies to take on the plane while scarfing down an apple mixed with Greek yoghurt and cinnamon...which you use liberally because of it's anti-inflammatory properties. Drink another cup of coffee while paying for your checked bag online and printing out your boarding pass. Stuff your Tempur-Pedic pillow into the bag of teaching clothes and merch you’re checking through to your final destination. Go through your cosmetic bag to make sure all liquids and gels have been removed and placed in the TSA Approved quart-size plastic bag that will live in your purse. Do a “dummy check”, making double sure you have every piece of the two costumes that are already sitting in your carry-on bag.

9:00 AM-10: 30 AM
 Open the Uber app,  request a car and bring both suitcases outside. Say goodbye to your boyfriend and the cats. Load your bags into the car when it arrives, ride through gridlock Los Angeles rush hour traffic to LAX.

10:30-11:15 AM
 Arrive at the airport, check your bag curbside. Get in line to go through Airport Security, trying not to become disgusted with the idiots who haven’t obeyed the “3-1-1’ quart baggie rule and are holding up the line. Find your departure gate. Purchase a hideously overpriced liter of water. Discover (yet again) that the notoriously bad Free Wi-Fi at LAX isn’t working well enough for you to log onto Facebook. Buy a tabloid and read it until your flight starts boarding.

11:50 AM
Your flight finishes boarding and takes off. Go through the notes for the workshops you’re teaching, even though you’ve taught them many times. Glance at the schedule for the weekend;  happily you don’t have to judge a competition, only  teach and perform. Finish the tabloid and donate it to the flight attendants. Eat your veggies, trying not to cave in to the salted peanuts being passed out, because if you eat them, you'll arrive looking like The Elephant Man. Idly browse though the airline magazine tucked in the pocket of the seat in front of you while trying to ignore the loudly whining child whose repeatedly kicking  the back of your seat.

4:40- 6:45 PM CST
 You’re now on Central Standard Time, laying over at ORD, aka Chicago O’Hare Airport. Take the shuttle between terminals to your next departure gate.  Text your sponsor to let her know your plane seems to be taking off on time. Rejoice in the fact that the ORD free Wi-Fi actually has a strong signal. Do some administrative work during remaining hour before your next flight, returning emails about an up-coming class series, sending workshop descriptions to a potential sponsor for next year and photos to producer designing a poster for a show you’re doing in five months. Buy a salad at an airport kiosk. Text your sponsor again, letting her know that due to stormy weather, your flight has been delayed for a half hour.  Board the next plane, eat your salad and try to discreetly stretch in the aisle near the galley and restrooms while the rest of the passengers doze.

9:45PM- 12:20 PM EST
 Arrive on the East Coast, wait twenty minutes for your checked luggage to appear, drag both suitcases out to the curb to meet your sponsor. Sponsor arrives, greets you with a hug, helps you load luggage, and you both chat while she drives you to your hotel and you check in. Bring luggage up to the room, call boyfriend to tell him you are safe at your destination. Go out in search of food. Most places are closed at this hour; drive around for nearly thirty minutes, winding up at TGI Friday’s perusing the menu for something healthy to eat. Have a glass of wine with sponsor, eat, giggle. Return to hotel room.

12:20-2:10 AM
Turn on the television; cruise through the channels until you find a suitably riveting reality show. Unpack; hang up costumes, iron skirts and veils for tomorrow evening’s show. Move dance togs and merchandise into your carry-on bag to bring to the workshop in the morning. Remove make up, wash face, brush teeth, set alarm for 6:45 am, and try desperately to fall asleep. Finally, you do.


 6:45 AM
 Wake up, hit the snooze button  repeatedly on your phone. Toddle down to the lobby in the clothes you wore on the plane, make a “to go” plate of the only things you can eat at the breakfast buffet- hardboiled eggs, a banana, an apple. Pour a huge Styrofoam cup of super-weak hotel coffee. Go back up to the room. Dump a pack of Starbuck’s Via instant coffee into the hotel coffee, find another reality show, watch it while guzzling the doctored-up coffee and eating your breakfast, to which you’ve added a one of the nutrition bars you packed in your checked luggage. Get in the shower.

7:45-8:37 AM
Dress in your teaching clothes, apply make up so as to look as though you are  actually a member of the human race. Remember that students will want selfies with you, so apply a little more eye shadow and a brighter lipstick so that you will vaguely resemble the promo photos for the event that are plastered all over Facebook. Sponsor texts you saying there will not be time to return to the hotel after the workshops and before the show, and that she will arrive in fifteen minutes to bring you to the studio.  Madly dash around the hotel room, packing your costumes and cosmetic bag into the suitcase with the merch…so much for the ironing you did last night! Take elevator to the lobby, wait outside for the sponsor.  She pulls up, helps you get your bag in the trunk and hands you a tall latte with an extra shot of espresso. Hear angels singing as you sip the coffee, trying not to spill it as the sponsor races to the studio.

9:00Am-1: 29 PM
Arrive at the dance studio, set up your merch, greet students and make small talk. Class begins ten minutes late due to stragglers. Teach for an hour and a half, take a break and sell some merch, pose for photos with students. Resume teaching.  The workshop is supposed to end at noon, but everyone wants more photos. Chat with students while they are taken. Lunch is supposed to be from 12:30 to 1:30, but since you’re being mobbed, the sponsor has thoughtfully sent out a volunteer to get you a salad.  Eat the salad sitting on the floor in the studio while returning emails.  Call your boyfriend and leave a message. Check Instagram and Twitter. Students trickle in to the studio, chat with them and take more selfies.

1:30-4:49 PM
Teach your second workshop, sign a few DVD covers and sell more merch during the break. Three dancers you’ve taught several times before in two different states greet you and there are hugs all around.  They’ve driven for four and a half hours to come to this event. One of them gives you a gorgeous necklace; the others confide that they have a bottle of champagne for later.  Pose for a class shot with the sponsor and all the students; pack up your merch.  Drag luggage to the car, put it in the trunk.

5:15 PM
 Arrive at theater; claim a corner in the dressing room, lay out costumes, and hang up veils. Do a tech check for sound and lights.  Go to men’s room to apply Stage Face undisturbed, since the venue is overrun with female dancers, and the lighting in the dressing room blows for make up application. Eat some grapes  somebody's sharing with a nutrition bar and call it dinner. Guzzle a sport-sized bottle of water mixed with powdered green juice mix.

7:00 PM 
The doors in the venue are open.  Warm up and stretch in a hallway backstage along with a few other performers while listening to your set on your iPod. Socialize in the dressing room and have half a plastic cup of the champagne your friends are passing around.  Change into your first costume.

8:30 PM
The show has started. Shimmy non-stop backstage and try to stay somewhat quiet as more selfies-this time with crazy faces- are taken.  Text the BF at home; he answers back that the cats are all good. Watch bits and pieces of the show from the wings of the stage…many good dancers are performing tonight.

9:15 PM
 Intermission. Much of the cast is in the lobby mingling with friends and family. Pack up your first costume; change into the second one. Put your hair up in pin curls and stage-proof the wig that goes over them. Change your lipstick color to a darker, retro shade. Touch up your eye make up. Warm up...again.

10:00 PM
The show went great, the curtain call was fun, and the cast has given you flowers. Pack up  your stuff  while socializing amidst a dressing room full of shrieking dancers  all still high on stage  adrenalin.  Give gentle critique to the dancers who (inevitably) ask for it. Go to the lobby, pick up your merch and payment from the vending table. Pose for more  photos. Grab your suitcase from the dressing room and drag upstairs and to the street.  Throw in the  sponsor's trunk.

10:42 PM- 1:38 AM 
After party at a local restaurant. Of course your bag comes into the restaurant with you because you’re too paranoid to leave it in the car.  Drinks are served; you nurse one because you have to be on point in tomorrow’s workshops, plus you’re super-tired…and starving. The restaurant is crowded with tables full of rowdy, elated dancers. Make the rounds and chat with everyone. Take pix and post them on Facebook and Instagram. The food is taking forever; you’re ready to eat the furniture.

2:11 AM
Arrive at the hotel; try to work up the energy to scrape all the glitter and eyelash glue off your face. Turn on The Weather Channel for Storm Stories, switch to a true crime show because you’ve seen that episode before…last week, in fact…in another hotel room, in a different state.  Unpack your costumes and drape them over a chair to air out. Repack your carry on with merch and teaching clothes.  Wash your face as the killer whose being profiled on the crime show is being sentenced.

2:53 AM
Call your boyfriend to say goodnight because it’s three hours earlier in Los Angeles. Slather your sore hips with Arnica, your face with heavy-duty moisturizer, guzzle water and take vitamins. Try valiantly not to pick at the “road zit” that’s developing on your left cheek. Cover it in toothpaste, which works as a pinch-hitting astringent, replacing the Clearasil you apparently forgot to pack.  Listen to the uproarious racket of dancers having an after-after party down the hall.

3:16 AM
Turn off the television and lights, grateful that the workshops are starting at 10:30 am; as opposed to 9:00…you get to sleep in!  Pass out cold.


7:32 AM
Somehow, you’re wide-awake. Lounge in bed for twenty minutes returning emails before getting up for real when your phone alarm goes off.

 8:00 AM
Stumble down to the lobby, noticing under the fluorescent lights in the buffet line that your limbs are still coated in glitter from last night’s show.  Become ridiculously happy that there’s scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast because it’s Sunday. Eat tons of food in the lobby’s café area, semi- incoherently rehashing last night’s show with a couple of dancers who are also staying at the hotel.  They admit they’re extremely hung over, but are excited about today’s workshops. Steal a couple of bananas from the buffet for later and fill a to-go cup with coffee. Stop by the front desk and print out your boarding passes for tomorrow morning’s flight.

8:36-9:59 AM
 Dump two packets of Starbuck’s via into your shitty hotel coffee, shower, make up and stretch to The Real Housewives Of New Jersey.  Return emails; one of them is from and LA dancer asking if you can sub her class the day after you get back. You accept and note it on your calendar. Another is from a sponsor asking about your music for a show that’s happening in a month and a half. You write back, saying you’ll send it when you get home the next day. Try not to notice the road zit, which is reaching massive proportions and looks like it’s going to blow like Mt. Vesuvius at any moment.

10:02 AM
 Sponsor -fully made up but looking half asleep- arrives  to pick you up from the lobby. She suggests stopping for espresso at a local coffee drive through and you practically jump on her in gratitude.

10:30 AM- 12:30 PM
 Teach your first workshop, which gets off to an awfully slow start because everyone’s bushed from the show and parties the evening before. Pose for photos, sell merch. Take a call from your boyfriend, the kitties are good. You miss them terribly and feel guilty about leaving them.

12:40 PM-1: 25 PM
 Lunch at a Mexican joint near the studio with lots of dancers. Shovel a tostada salad into your mouth, wishing it was enchiladas... and that you could have a margarita and nap after you licked the plate clean.

1:30 PM-3: 30 PM
The second workshop actually starts on time; the dancers pick up technique quickly, and it’s a blast.  Take a class photo, sign some books. Dancers who are leaving the event come up and say their goodbyes, take more photos with them.

4:00 PM-6: 7:17 PM
 Three private lessons in the studio, two single lessons and one small group who wants pointers on choreography in progress. They show up in full make up and costume, running there number-which looks great-like a well-oiled machine.

7: 20 PM 
Return to the hotel to drop off your suitcase, change and freshen up for dinner. Call the BF, no answer. Return emails from the lobby while waiting for the sponsor to arrive.

7:45 Am -9:50 PM
The sponsor and her troupe members bring you to dinner at lovely local restaurant. Everyone is exhausted but happy, dinner and cocktails are ordered.  Hear about some local dance drama during appetizers. Share dessert with everyone and call it a night.

10: 14 PM- 1:44 AM
 Arrive back at the hotel; listen to Scared Straight on television while packing your suitcases. The checked bag is considerably lighter because most of your merch was sold. Yay. Talk to your boyfriend and your sister.  Facebook chat with a European sponsor ( it's morning over there) about an upcoming workshop weekend. Write a cursory entry in the journal you didn’t have time for all weekend long. Start working on a new blog post while listening to some  creepy paranormal documentary on Nat Geo.  Get ready for bed. Pass out.


6:45 AM
Wake up, shower, and grab breakfast in the lobby while trying to write another journal entry. Slip an apple and a hardboiled egg into your purse to eat on the plane. Take the elevator back up to your room, pack up your toiletries, do a dummy check, and leave some change for the maid. The Do Not Disturb sign has been up on your door all weekend and the bathroom in particular is a horror show, full of wet towels covered in glitter and body make up plus  an overflowing trash can.

7:57 AM-9: 02 AM
 Sponsor meets you in the lobby to check you out and pay you. Sit on a floral couch under a gaily-colored over-sized  annoying "corporate art"  painting while going over the finances for the event.  She pays you and asks you back for the year after next. You accept. Load the suitcases into the car, drive to the airport.

9:30 AM
  Sponsor drops you off, you hug. It was a fabulous event. Thank the Universe silently for TSA Pre-Check as you whiz through the long Monday morning security line. Find your gate; buy a liter of electrolite water and a copy of Allure to read on the plane. Board the plane, silently surround your row with White Light, praying that no one will join you and you can stretch out. Your prayers don't work, but you congratulate yourself on being anal about always booking an aisle seat.

11:30 AM CST
 Change planes at ORD, thankful that the sky looks clear because it seems like every time you go through this damn airport there’s a  severe weather delay.  Find your gate, read about the new anti-aging techniques that are being developed.  Feel a slightly depressed because  now you not only have wrinkles, your face is puffy from far too few hours of sleep and the road zit is now the size of South America.  Board your second plane and heave a sigh of relief because this time the White Light trick actually worked! Spread out. Eat lots of tiny packets of salted peanuts...who cares if you look like The Elephant Man  when you're on your way home?

 3:30 PM PST
 Finally home after narrowly missing LA’s Monday Rush Hour. The cats swarm you, purring. Your boyfriend has cleaned the house and it looks amazing. Put your phone on the charger, slather Clearasil on South America, and pig out on some watermelon before taking a nap.

5:45 PM
 Wake up with your phone’s alarm. You could totally  sleep waaaay longer, but then you won’t be able to sleep at all later, and you have a full day of errands- plus a Skype private and the class you agreed to sub- the next day.

6:07 PM
 Walk into the living room, open your suitcases, and a kitty jumps in. Trying not to disturb him, add in a new stack of merch: t-shirts, more DVDs, copies of your book, and a box of promotional postcards. 

 Remove your class clothes and costumes, replacing them with fresh leggings, unworn tank tops and different costumes…because you’re doing this all over again in four days.



 For some truly crazy stories about my years of travel, check out my memoir Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, backstage And On The Road. Purchase an autographed copy here:

Friday, August 21, 2015


Raks Al Shamadan as performed in an Egyptian Golden Age film

One of the most elegant belly dance props ever is the shamadan. Spelled phonetically in various ways, the shamadan  is a large candelabrum balanced on top of a dancer’s head, in a tradition unique to Egyptian dance. This beautiful dance prop is historically used in the Egyptian wedding procession, or zeffah. The Arabic word zeffah literally means “procession with noise”.
Me performing raks al shamadan, 1995 in Los Angeles

I became interested in Egyptian Raks Al Shamadan at the very beginning of my belly dance career, and began performing it early on. Not only was I attracted to the fiery beauty of balancing a large candelabra on my head while I danced, the tradition surrounding raks al shamadan is fascinating. In my dance career, I have performed raks al shamadan at  many theaters and night clubs, as well as at over a hundred Egyptian and Arabic weddings. The traditional Egyptian wedding music, "Zeffah Al Arousa" gives me goosebumps and makes me cry every time, even if I have never met the bride and groom before bringing them in! 

I've also performed this gorgeous dance at the weddings of many belly dancers... one my favorite belly dance wedding performances was for Jillina's nuptials, where a huge line of belly dancers including myself, Neena and Veena Bidasha, Louchia, and many more all made the zeffah procession in ruby red and gold costumes, playing our cymbals for all we were worth, and zaghareet-ing like a bunch of banshees! The other was for Arkansas-based dancer Lena Regina, who was hosting me as a workshop instructor for the annual event Shimmy Fest. The night before I left for Arkansas, she called me at midnight to tell me that her and her boyfriend has decided to have a surprise the event, directly after the show! She wanted me to lead the zeffah, so of course I did! Lena was a beautiful bride in bright orange, and the whole crowd and all the performers joined in the surprise wedding, it was pretty spectacular!

Performing  non-traditional shamadan fusion, 2003
Now as in years past, a zeffah is a joyous wedding parade, usually taking place at night, consisting of hired dancers (with or without candelabras atop their heads) musicians, singers and family members, winding through an entire neighborhood, taking the bride to her groom’s house. In the years before electricity was used, dancers would balance large, lit-up lanterns- and later specially made candelabrum- on top of their heads, to illuminate the bride and groom’s faces during their first appearance as man and wife. These dancers were hired, and depending upon the wealth or status of the wedding party, there could be a large range of shamadan dancers, from just one or two to many performers. Today, though outdoor zeffahs still occur in Egypt, many are performed in hotels or rented banquet halls, making the wedding procession much shorter in duration.

Raks Al Shamadan as part of the zeffah procession began in the early 20th century. Prior to that time, the lighting for the zeffah was provided only by long, over-sized, decorated wedding candles as well as by illuminated lanterns ( klob in Arabic) which were carried by members of the wedding procession. It is believed that the dancer Zouba El Klobatiyya ( also spelled in various ways) was the first performer to dance with a lantern-or klob balanced on her head- hence, her name. If she wasn’t actually the first dancer to perform with a lantern balanced atop her head, she did at least become the first to gain recognition for it. She was followed in quick succession by a Coptic Christian dancer, Shafiya El Koptyyia ( Shafiya The Copt) who also performed this skill. Legendary Egyptian dancer Nadia Hamdi, who is known the world over for her shamadan skills and floor work including splits, is noted for her skills with shamadan, having been trained by the original dancers, and is still in action today, preserving the tradition. As a young girl, Nadia Hamdi learned the practice from observing Zouba El Klobatiyya first hand, and then was formally trained in the tradition by her grandmother, a contemporary of Zouba El Klobatiyya and Shafiya El Koptiyya.

Older versions of Egyptian-made shamadans (even as late as the early 1990's) were fitted on the bottom with a slightly inverted cup, which balanced by sitting on the on the crown of the dancer’s head, a skill which took precision, grace and- usually- years of practice. Today, most modern shamadans are constructed with an attached head band which fits around the dancer’s temples. This beautiful dance prop is still used today in the Egyptian wedding procession, or zeffah as well as in folkloric and theatrical shows, and sometimes even incorporated into  night club or theatrical belly dance routines.
1980's shamadan  dancer in Egypt

For a brand new imported or Egyptian-made shamadan, expect to pay anywhere between USD$100.00-$300.00 (as of this writing) outside of Egypt. This is because they are all hand-constructed, and heavy to ship. There are many different styles, some are extremely intricate, and others are more utilitarian. Shamadans from Egypt are large and sometimes not altogether stable the arms may move around, but this can be fixed with pliers or by soldering or gluing them.

 The crown of the shamadan should have a snug, almost tight fit around your head, resting just above the temples. If your shamadan is too loose, it will wobble on your head. It is easy to glue sponge rubber or some other type of padding to the inside of the crown to prevent it from slipping around, and this will provide you with a more comfortable fit.  In fact, I even know some belly dancers who  share their  candelabrums  with various troupe members; in order to  allow the shamadan to fit every gal, they actually use self-stick  maxi pads inside the headband, adding or subtracting the pads as needed!

Larger shamadans look very impressive, but slightly smaller ones are more portable, and much easier to work with. There are now even “collapsable” (portable) shamadans, though I have never used one myself. Never leave a shamadan in your car or trunk for even a short length of time- even the slightest heat in a short amount of time will melt the candles! When traveling with a shamadan by car, lay it on it's side wrapped in a towel, or strap it in with a seat belt. The crystals or beads and coins decorating some shamadans can be repaired if the chains break with a jewelry pliers or even, in a pinch, a regular set of tweezers. These crystals can also be replaced by purchasing new strands at stores that sell lamps and lighting fixtures. If the crystals get covered with wax drippings, remove them from the shamadan , put them in a baggie and put them into the feezer for a few hours, the cold wax will pop right off the glass, and they will be good as new.

After every shamadan use, clean out the candle's drip-cups, or the wax will build up and be more prone to spill onto your hair. You can either use a butter knife and pry the dried wax out, or you can train a blow-dryer set to high heat on the wax drippings, which will soften them up enough for the wax to be wiped away with a cloth. Since shamadans are still constructed by hand, and candle sizes vary, some of the candle holders may be loose- wrap your candles with tinfoil for a snug fit. Remember that longer candles or long dinner tapers are also heavier, short emergency candles look good and are lighter on your head, they're also cheaper than dinner candles-remember, you're going to have to use at least nine, maybe twelve candles. Even if a candle is "drip less", there's no such thing when it's on your head! Make sure that you always keep a book of matches or a lighter and extra candles with your shamadan, as well as a small craft pliers for any chain or crystal repair or re-fastening.
An Egyptian shamadan - notice how some of the drip cups are tilted

When dancing at a wedding or on a stage, avoid ceiling air-conditioning vents, as it will blow the hot wax onto you, all over your hair and costume. Be careful of ceiling and doorway clearance, and of course, be very wary of draperies. Also- makes sure to thoroughly check with your venue and the local Fire Marshall concerning fire/open flame/insurance laws. Many places do not allow open flames, or require performers working with open flames to carry fire insurance. In this case, if you are un-insured, you can purchase LED or battery-operated candles (from a craft shop or florist supply store) but note that these candles will be much heavier and therefore more difficult to balance.

As far as costuming goes, especially if you aren't used to wearing a shamadan, don't select a costume to wear which will allow the inevitable wax drips will show up                ( because, believe me, wax will be dripping!) and potentially ruin it.

Many balady or hagallah dresses made in Egypt are made of netting, which  make it easy to pick  off the dried, melted wax. Of course, these are best if you don’t want to stain your costume.  If you get a stubborn patch of wax on your net costume, put it in a plastic baggie and place  it into the freezer overnight. The wax will freeze and  stiffen up, so that you’ll just be able to pop the wax off with a flick of your finger! When using real wax candles, don't light up until just before you're about to dance because of the wax-drip factor. If you're not doing a zeffah (Egyptian bridal procession), pick a slower song or a taxim, because dancing quickly with a shamadan negates its stately beauty.

Shamadan resources:

  Watch a video of me performing raks al shamadan here:

Purchase my instructional DVD  “BELLY DANCE AND BALANCE: THE ART OF SWORD AND SHAMADAN”  by clicking  here:


 Purchase a gorgeous shamadan from Turquoise International here: