Sunday, September 28, 2014

DANCERS BACKSTAGE RITUALS: ALLI RUTH OF HELSINKI, FINLAND


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
The Snow Queen: photo by  Irina Alanko


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

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

FALLING INTO AUTUMN : A CHANGE OF SEASON CHECK LIST FOR DANCERS



On the eve  of the Autumn Equinox I  wish you a very  Happy First Day Of Fall!

 Even though it’s sunny and hot here in my native Los Angeles and doesn’t feel like autumn at all, every Solstice, I get the urge to prepare for the new season dance-wise. And for those of you in places where the weather actually changes according to the season, it’s even more imperative!

The first thing I do is go through my costume closet and take a look at everything to see what needs mending, alterations or some other kind of attention. I get out my sewing kit and re-do hooks and snaps,  repair any loose beads or dropped hems, and see if anything needs to be washed or dry cleaned.  I check my dance shoes to see if they need to be repaired or replaced, steam or iron my veils, and add new elastic to my finger cymbals, and replace the cedar chips in the air-tight boxes where I store my feather fans.

 Most of us have costumes that we wear less often during summer- like those with sleeves, more coverage, or stage creations hade of velvet…now’s the time to bust out those beauties, cause they’ll come in handy during these colder months.

 I also re-stock my gig bags and class bags with new supplies for the chilly season, adding a heavier cover-up  plus things that come in handy in drafty dance studios or back stage, like leg warmers and a light dance sweater or hoodie.  I make sure each gig bag includes a little emergency kit with bobby pins, safety pins, needles and thread, Band-Aids, feminine protection, pain reliever tablets, and stuff I blow through constantly, like breath mints, hair spray and body glitter.

 Fall is a great time to check your stage make up, too. This might not be pertinent for Goth chicks, but as the seasons change, your skin tone is probably changing, too!  The transition from being a sun-kissed, beach  babe to your non-summer complexion means that you’ll need to address your  skin products and foundation.

 Now is the time to get a slightly thicker moisturizer or serum to protect your skin from the cold and rain- might as well get a jump-start on it, right?  And you'll probably have to blend a couple of tones of foundation to get your “transitional” skin evened out. I usually take a clean new travel-sized container and mix the two colors directly into the container. Remember that for stage work, if your foundation is a shade or two darker than your actual skin tone, it won’t look odd; it’ll just make you appear healthy and robust.

 At the change of seasons, I also throw away any cosmetics that have run their course- especially items like mascara or creamy eye shadow or eye make up primer.   Because these are wet and can attract bacteria every time you use them, in order for these products to not potentially cause an infection, their life span is usually only three months, anyway. I date mine with a sharpie pen and get rid of them at the three-month mark.

  Right now is also a fantastic time to get a jump on your holiday season gigs, too!

Show producers and private parties begin booking for the holidays well before the end of October…because if they don’t, the prime days-  especially weekend nights  between Thanksgiving and the middle of December, will already be taken!

 Send out emails with descriptions of what shows and service you can offer during the holidays   now. Make the tone friendly and professional, and alert your previous clients as well as sending an email (or hard copy promotional package) to venues like nightclubs, theaters, restaurants, banquet halls and to individual event planners in your area.

Tune up your technique and  start making your warm-ups a little longer and more thorough; the cold weather can seize muscles  and some of us feel the damp in our joints, too.  Start setting choreographies  for your holiday gigs now… and take the next few weeks to  make sure that  your special  holiday costumes are either gig-ready, or  at least  that construction has started!

 If you teach, this is also a fantastic  time to contact the studio where you’re work- or where you’d like to work, to discuss class and workshop plans and time slots for 2015!

 And as of right now, it’s only a few days until October!  Can you believe it?  I sure as hell can’t!

 Now is also the time to practice saying NO…because in a couple of weeks, everyone and their baby sister are going to be hitting you up to borrow your expensive stage wear to use as Halloween costumes!

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Get yourself  a signed copy of The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer  here:

Sunday, September 7, 2014

BREAKING BAD: GETTING RID OF PESKY PERFORMANCE HABITS


 I made an "executive decision" to play with my hair for this picture!
Photo: Maharet Hughes


We all love to watch a dancer who looks effortless and relaxed onstage because  it’s a joy to see. This type of natural performance allows audience members to just sit back and become enthralled by the dancer’s personality and connection to the music. But this air of ease and confidence   is often something many performers struggle with, because before we actually hit the stage, we’re hyper from performance adrenalin and nervous energy! Usually this type of laid-back grace isn’t natural, it’s a learned skill, which has been honed and perfected, just like any other type of technique!

One of the things that drives me (and other audience members, whether they are professional dancers or not) crazy when watching a show is a performer who carries over bad habits from their rehearsals or classes into their performances.  It's also the bane of every dancers existence- cause  at some point in our career, we all have had  bad habits that presented themselves in our performances. Dancers of all levels often have difficulties controlling unconscious nervous tics and stressed out gestures when they’re on stage, whether it’s holding tension in their jaws, a glassy  “concentration face” kind of stare or mouthing the counts of the music. We’ve all seen it!

 My own go-to nervous gesture used to be constantly playing with my hair… and not in a sexy, come-hither way!  I looked more like an agitated fifth grader about to take a spelling test than a relaxed and capable  professional dancer.

It took me a long time  to  break that habit…and it also took a lot of cussing  out loud at myself in the mirror while I practiced!  But the work was worth it, I finally laid that unconscious tic to rest, and now the only time I play with my hair onstage is if I do it intentionally.

 To remedy our habits, we need to be vigilant during our classes, practice sessions and rehearsals so that we don’t take these audience distractions onto the stage with us!

Habits- in any form- are difficult to break.

 These unconscious gestures are have become automatic, and the reason they get repeated is twofold. First of all, our habits are almost always something that has been done constantly; whether it is physical, mental or emotional, habits are learned through repetition.

To illustrate this, think of a good habit (like your basic dance posture) and you’ll get the idea.  Prior to your study of dance, you didn’t go about your daily activities standing straight and tall, with the muscles in your abdomen engaged, a lifted ribcage and your shoulders held back and down…. did you?

  Nope, you learned this posture!

 And it took a damn long time to get to the point where this stance became normal for you! But once you got used to standing in dance posture, it became one less thing to keep track of, thereby allowing your brain to focus on more important issues…like executing difficult technique or getting your timing and phrasing down.

Secondly, many of these habitual behaviors have become comfortable, reliable and somewhat pleasurable, because for whatever reason, they make us feel calm and peaceful.  Think of a child sucking it’s thumb and you’ll get the idea. A self-soothing habit (whether it is shopping compulsively, always having a glass of wine with dinner or  making odd grimaces onstage) triggers the chemical dopamine in our brains, which in turn activates our  brain’s Reward Center.  Why does a dog beg?  He knows he will get a treat!  It's a habit.

Why did I always used to twirl my hair onstage? Cause it felt good to do that in a stressful environment…playing with my hair was a self-soothing “treat”,  but it sucked because I not only did it in public, during performance, but I didn’t even realize I was doing it, because I wasn’t thinking about it!

 Once you understand these two concepts, any habit will become a little easier for you to break. You’ll still need will power, and you’ll still need to really re-wire your brain to change the habit, but it can be done!

 Here’s how:

IDENTIFY YOUR BAD HABITS
The best way to do this is to watch taped performances and practice sessions.

 Some of the problem areas you notice will be physical, such as hunched shoulders,  sloppy arm paths, or not finishing each and every movement fully.

Other habits  will be more emotionally or mentally based, like mouthing counts in the music,  looking at the floor, or or making a face while reacting to an on-stage mishap.

Remember  that you’re not watching your performance to tear it apart, but so that you can become a better dancer!  Take an objective detachment, become your own “casual third party observer”.   Watch  your tape a few times and make brief notes on what you’d like to change or improve upon, and then let it go, don’t do anything about it for a couple of days. Watch it again, and see if your reactions to the performance are about the same, or less or more than they were when you initially watched it.  Take notes, and compare the notes from both observation sessions.  Now, what you need to work on will be clear.

 TAKE BABY STEPS
 Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your onstage habits weren’t either!

Once you’ve identified the habits you’d like to break, you can start re-training yourself to avoid them in performance. Most experts agree that it takes considerable time and dedication to discontinue any sort of habit…  depending on the individual, breaking a habit or correcting a nervous tick could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to six months. It’s a process whereby you’re actually re-wiring your brain!


PRACTICE SELF-AWARENESS
 Watch yourself like a hawk in class or rehearsals, be vigilant and merciless…. By that, I mean in noticing and correcting the bad habits, not by emotionally beating yourself up! Remember, you are doing something positive here! Remind yourself  just before you go onstage that you are NOT in any way, shape or form, going to give into falling back to your old habits. Tell yourself out loud if you need to!  You might look like a nut in the dressing room, but it’s way better than looking  compulsive or nervous on stage!


IT TAKES A VILLAGE
 Well, maybe not really… but getting an objective, neutral party to help   break your habits is a fabulous idea! Discuss your habit-breaking goals with your  instructor, troupe leader, show director  or a friend, asking them to point out when you engage in the practices that you want to discontinue.  It will help to have another set of eyes on you, and it will also make you feel a little more accountable and supported.


REWARD YOURSELF
 Go all Pavlovian - every time you make it through a class,  practice or performance without  engaging in the  habit you want to break,  give yourself a little reward.  A  sweet treat, a new pair of earrings, whatever! And  when  you’ve broken  your habit once and for all,   your  biggest reward will be a better performance.

 You can do it!

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   Get a signed copy of  The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer here:




Photo and graphics: Maharet Hughes

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DANCERS ON THE INTERNET, PART TWO: #HASHTAGS 101


The mighty mighty #hashtag


  In my last blog post, I mentioned using social media to network and promote your dance classes and events… and I gotta say that one of my very favorite tools for doing just that is the hashtag.

 Most people know what a hashtag is; it’s that “number sign”, the tic-tac-toe symbol hat looks like this: #

 But even though most of us are familiar with hashtags, many of us don’t know how to use them at all, let alone use them to their fullest advantage!

I worship at the altar of hashtags- and after you find out how to use them, you probably will, too!

 Last year at the annual Raven’s Night belly dance event in Washington, DC as many of us were sitting around talking shop into the wee hours, I was asked to give an explanation on hashtag use.  Though it was extremely informal (and just a little tinged with the wine we were drinking!)  Illuminated the idea of how hashtags, function. After that, many of us jokingly started saying the word  “hashtag” in our speech, in front of the words that would be hashtagged if they were being typed on a social media site! It turned into such an in-joke that weekend that a group of us who were already actually got small sized hashtag symbols tattooed on our bodies!

  So, this is the way hashtags work:  if you type the hashtag symbol (#) in front of a word on social media sites, the hashtag and the word will turn blue, indicating that whatever word you type  (such as #dancer) will turn into a searchable term.  That means anyone who is hunting for the word “dancer” will be directed to your post!

  Now, let’s look at hashtag use in terms of promotion. 

 When posting an event flyer or photo on a social media site, many people just leave it at that, using the image only.  Their online “friends” will see the image, and can “like” it.   That right there is good…but it could be better.

 If you use hashtags correctly, everyone   who is interested in whatever you #hashtag will see it!   I’m gonna use one of my own online flyers here as an example.

Post the image, and then type the information in your post to go along with it, like this:

 
Photo & Graphic: Maharet Hughes


TIARA TUESDAYS:  #PRINCESSFARHANA  ’S #BELLYDANCE #SHOWCASE
August 26, 2014 Special Guests  #Jenna  & #Stephanya  #tarotcardreadings by Natalie
#MOUNOFTUNIS
7445 ½ SUNSET
LA CA 90046
 Dinner: 7pm   show: 8pm 
North African Feast $17.50 per person
Reservations a Must!  (323) 874-3333
#Orientaldance #rakssharqi #tribalfusion #cabaret  #LA #Hollywood #entertainment #girlsnightout #danceperformance

Promotion-wise, adding all the info clearly typed is a good idea anyway. But I’ve also hashtagged pretty much anything that could pertain to my event as well, including really obvious things like cities, neighborhoods, the names of the special guests ( so anyone who is a student or fan can see them) as well as specific types of dance or things that people might be looking for if they want a night out in #losangeles! 

 There is so much information on this specific “post” that it would only fly on Facebook.  It would be way too long for Twitter, which only allows 140 characters per post, so in that case, I would just use #bellydance, not the whole shebang!

  If I wanted to post this on  #Twitter, I would click on the image on #Facebook  (  aka #FB) which will then come up with all the information I have typed in to go along with it, copy the URL, and paste it into my  Twitter post, adding something short  like: 

 “ Come to my #bellydance show 8/26 in #LA ".

If you are  posting on #instagram ( also known as #IG)  you have a lot more space  for text and can use #unlimited #hashtags

 Got it?

#Hashtags are a #huge part of  #socialmedia , and also a really #important #promotionaltool too!   
Once you’ve mastered the concept, you can even have #fun with them… like this:

#learnsomethingneweveryday
 #ihearthashtags
 #hashtagabuse