Friday, August 21, 2015

PLAYING WITH FIRE: EGYPTIAN RAKS AL SHAMADAN


 
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 wedding...at 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:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFRNCEam7OE

Purchase my instructional DVD  “BELLY DANCE AND BALANCE: THE ART OF SWORD AND SHAMADAN”  by clicking  here:
http://www.princessfarhana.com/shop.htm

 


 Purchase a gorgeous shamadan from Turquoise International here:
http://www.turquoiseintl.com/filigree-shamadan/

Monday, July 27, 2015

DANCERS BACKSTAGE RITUALS: ROSA NOREEN

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Rosa Noreen in Giza, Egypt 2015

Rosa Noreen is a shining beacon in the belly dance community. Hailing from Portland, Maine, she lights up the stage like the famous lighthouses that illuminate the New England coastline. An up-and-comer in the world of Oriental dance, Rosa is the proprietress of Bright Star  World Dance, a beautiful, airy studio on the top floor of an arts center in downtown Portland.  She teaches several classes a week there as well as bringing in dancers from other states for workshops, and she produces several dance events per year.  This past April I had the pleasure of teaching at her studio and performing in one of these events, which wasn’t “just” a hafla.  “Springtime Spectacular” was held at a beautiful small theater called One Longfellow, and featured local musicians, singers and belly dancers as well as many performers from New York, Vermont and Massachusetts.
Rosa  looking gorgeous in a Hallah Moustapha costume

  Rosa made her first pilgrimage to Egypt recently, and loved it so much she’s already booked another trip for December, 2015. Her ballet background and ethereal stage presence  plus the two instructional DVDs she’s produced and starred in (  Delicious Pauses: Negative Space In Movement  and the brand new Rhythm And Pause, a 2-disc set including an Arabic rhythm CD by  the talented Jonatan Gomes Derbaq) have made her a popular workshop instructor.

   The first time I ever saw her perform was onstage at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive a few years back, and I was blown away by her sheer elegance. However, as  refined and polished as she appears in performance and authoritative in class, she is not always that way in real life.  When she’s off duty, she’s fun and extremely silly,  is a doting kitty mom, and has what some would call eclectic taste in entertainment. We liked each other a lot   the first time we met, but  something happened while we were getting ready for the One Longfellow show that really bonded us.  I heard horrible screams coming from  the room where Rosa was getting ready…. and  somehow, it sounded strangely familiar. I walked in and  asked,

“Hey, are you watching some murder show ?”

 She looked at me, blinking  her huge, doe-like brown eyes and replied sheepishly,

“Um… yeah, I…uh….”

Bonded by belly dance...and trash television!
It was apparent she was grappling for any excuse that would make her pre-show  routine seem legit and hoping I wouldn’t think she was completely crazy.

 “I adore crime shows!”  I declared, “What one are you watching?”

I immediately informed her that I too have a penchant for watching “murder shows” while I get ready. She looked at me almost suspiciously before  saying, “You do?”

  I assured  her that my “happy place” while getting ready  to dance  is watching Cold Case Files  or Lockdown  and  she  heaved a sigh of relief  before we both started giggling.

“Want me to turn it up?” she asked, like a gracious hostess.

 Here, in her own words, is what Rosa  does ( in addition to her penchant for crime shows!) to prepare for her shows:

“For me, the most effect way to prepare for a performance is to work hard in advance, and not work on it at all the day of the show itself. That helps to ensure that the performance itself is fresh and not over-rehearsed. 

While I'm putting on my make-up, I like to watch murder mysteries. CSI Miami, Midsomer Murders, and Criminal Minds… they take my mind off the upcoming performance and they generally make me giggle at the preposterous nature of the scenario (or the writing) at one point or another!  Is that terribly grim?

Before my entrance, I like to do a warm-up that is centering and familiar. I lead my students in this warm-up at the beginning of each class, before we begin belly dance movements, and before any group performances. This reminds me to breath consciously, which is an important aspect of performance. Without conscious breath my dancing will be stilted or hurried or both; with breath I'll be in the moment, I'll remember to enjoy the movements, my face will be more relaxed--and everyone will have a fun time!

The more warmed-up, the better, so I also like to dance to everyone else's music while backstage if I'm at a multi-dancer show. If it's a bellygram or similar, I'll at least spend a good chunk of time shimmying and playing my zills (silently) in my changing area. 

If I'm nervous--which, thankfully, happens only rarely nowadays--I'll do ballet barre exercises, interspersed with belly dance movements. Ballet technique is all consuming, and it feels like coming home. But in ballet your center of gravity is much higher, and you're specifically trying NOT to move your hips. So putting some belly dancing movements between the barre exercises reminds me to ground myself, to be ooey and gooey, while ballet comforts and gives extra confidence. 

If I'm performing in a show with a backstage and an intermission, I believe in staying backstage for the duration of the act I'm in. This is my theater and ballet background showing… in theater there is very specific rules that everyone needs to follow in order to ensure that the production goes smoothly. Sometimes that means boredom (though who can be bored when there is dance?). Sometimes that means you don't get to see all of the other performers… Those are some of the sacrifices we make in order to experience the glory of sharing your dance with an audience! 

Having some set rituals is grounding. It is comforting. It helps me know where the boundaries are… and then, once everything is as it should be… I can break them! “

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Purchase  Rosa’s fantastic instructional  DVDs – ON SALE until July 31, 2015, here:


Rosa teaches "A Dancer's Hands And Arms" at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive September, 2015:

Rosa will be at the Pittsburgh Belly Dance Festival, November  2015:  http://pghbellydancefestival.com/

 Rosa will be at Art of the Belly, March 2016  http://www.artofthebelly.com/

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

STAGE MAKE UP FOR DEEP SET AND HOODED EYES

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Work with the shape of your eyes by lengthening them instead of trying to widen them.  Photo: Maharet Hughes


 I get so many questions about stage make up for deep set and/or hooded eyes that I'm re-posting this article that was originally published in 2010. If you're a "hoodie"(like me) I think you're gonna love this! Enjoy...

Onstage, a dancer’s face is every bit as important as her body. As performers, it’s imperative that we convey emotion to the audience, and without a well made up “stage face”, that task is nearly impossible. I have always been adamant with my students about the importance of wearing appropriate stage make-up.

When I perform, depending on the venue,  the make-up I wear runs the gamut from Standard Stage Face to Ridiculously Over The Top Extravaganzas… yep, that means I like to pile it on, with all the bells and whistles! Of course, like most women, I enjoy playing with make-up in my “civilian” life, especially if I am going out at night. But contrary to popular belief, I don’t go overboard with cosmetics 24/7, I do give my skin a rest on  my days off. Much to my amazement, even when I am wearing just a little make-up on the street or in class, people shower me with compliments on my “beautiful big eyes”, my “ exotic cat eyes” and my “bedroom eyes”. 

Why does this surprise me? Because, as the late magician Doug Henning was so fond of saying,

“It’s an illusion!”

My eyes with  no make up at all
Have a look at the pictures here, and you will see my eyes with and without make-up. In truth, my eyes are small. Very small. They are also narrow, almond-shaped, deeply set, extremely hooded and they actually turn down at the corners. If you want to get all scientific and official about it, my eyes have a very pronounced Epicanthic Fold…. which sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is. The Epicanthic Fold is a common genetic trait among many Asians, Eastern Europeans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders… and since I am an American Mutt with at least two if not three of those gene pools, I got hooded eyelids in spades- more than anyone else in my family, who all have big, wide peepers.

My Epicanthic Fold is so extreme that when my eyes are open, none of my eyelids visible at all…and my eyelashes actually recess back into the fold as well. On my face, the Epicanthic Fold looks almost like Asian eyes, but the area above my eyes is puffy, not flat, and always has been. People have often speculated about my ethnicity because my eyes are not an average shape.

With "civillian" evening make up
Growing up, I suffered severe Eyelid Envy, and always wanted “normal” eyes, with big lids and cool eye sockets that made hollows under the brow bone. We always want what we don’t have, right? I flat-out HATED my eyes-and all the brutal teasing I endured in school because of them- with a passion. That is, until I discovered eye make-up. When I turned twelve, one of my mother’s theater students gave me a little tin of Mary Quant Eye Crayons and a tube of mascara… and my life changed forever. I learned, through trial and error, how to turn a “flaw” (my hooded, deep-set eyes) into an asset. Suddenly both men and women were drooling over my exotic eyes.

I got so good with make-up and wore it so consistently that once I even fooled my landlord of four years into thinking I was someone else. He came to demand the very late rent; I answered the door sans make-up, and he had no idea that I was!

“ Please tell her I stopped by”, he said, earnestly. I closed the door, amazed that he didn’t recognize me. Ah, the power of make-up!

As an adult, I realized that many women have eyes exactly like mine, or eyes that share similar traits. Out of curiosity, I looked up some tutorials for hooded eyes on You Tube. Yes, there are many of them, but sadly, most of the videos seem to get the make-up application all wrong. They mostly focus on creating the impression of a lid or crease, which to me just looks kind of weird. They try to “bring out” the eyelid by applying a lighter shadow there-, which might work theoretically, but is absolutely useless if your hooded eyelid recesses under your Epicanthic Fold. 

There is such a dearth of information on applying make-up for eyes with this unique shape, I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks. They will make your eyes look strong and exotic onstage, and you can use fewer products and a lighter touch for an every day look as well.

If you have hooded eyes, don’t believe all the “experts” who say that dark eyeliner will make your eyes look smaller. Au contraire- dark liner, ringed around the entire eye, will actually make your small eyes look much bigger. If you don’t believe me, try this on only one of your eyes, then look in the mirror and see what a difference the dark liner makes! Don’t be afraid to play around and experiment, you will probably need a few tries before you get comfortable with it.

First of all, instead of trying to “draw the lid out” from the hood with a lighter shadow, line the entire eye with a dark color. You can use black, dark or light brown, deep blue, green or grey- the color doesn’t matter- it’s the deep richness and darkness that does.Make sure you use a powder eye shadow and a soft thick eye shadow brush, not a sponge applicator, which tends to feel almost sharp, and doesn’t hold as much product. Get a lot of pigment on your brush, tap the brush or blow on it sharply to remove the excess powder, and line the entire upper and lower lids, working from the roots of the lashes outwards. I do this with my eye shut, working the shadow well into the lash-line. Making sure that the entire upper and lower lids are covered evenly, I then fade the dark color up above the crease onto the hood, or Epicanthic Fold, for a smoky effect. 

In order to make the most of your narrow, lidless or hooded eyes don’t fight their shape; work with it, instead of against it. Trying to fake a crease will probably only make you look weirdly surprised, or like you have raccoon eyes! Instead of trying to create the illusion of a crease, or wide-open eyes, go for extending the length of your eye. Applying the powder shadow a bit past the outer corner can do this. This can be done a few ways: by applying the shadow straight across, by adding a bit more shadow in a V-shape smudged at the outer corner, or by winging the shadow sharply upwards along your the hood of the eye for a cat-like effect. For stage, I always use a black liquid or gel liner to intensify this lengthening effect, especially on the lower lid. Personally, I don’t always use eyeliner extended outwards on the upper lid, because on my eyes (and perhaps also on yours, depending on how hooded they are) the upper line won’t be really visible. It might work for you, though, so try it out on both top and bottom.

From the center point of my lower lid, at about the middle of the iris when I am looking straight ahead, I use my eyeliner to draw a thin straight line over the powder shadow and extending outwards, to just beyond the edge of my eye. I then take white liquid eyeliner, and draw a thin line of white just above the black liner. From up close, this looks a little strange, but from the stage, it actually tricks the audience, giving the impression of extending the whites of your eyes, making them appear much longer-and larger- than they actually are. You can also use a soft eye pencil in white (MAC makes a great one) or use some frosty or matte white powder shadow applied with a thin brush, for the same effect.
If your eyes are hooded, chances are that once you open your eyes, your natural lashes will almost disappear. For every day wear, using an eyelash curler with a few coats of mascara may help make them more visible, but for stage, false eyelashes are essential. There is nothing that highlights and frames your eyes better than faux lashes and they look lush and gorgeous. 

If you have never used false eyelashes before, you may be a bit apprehensive, but once you get the hang of it, the application is simple. Many newbies tend to opt for a lash that looks natural, but if you’ve got hooded eyes, a shorter lash just won’t cut it, it will get lost as easily as your natural lashes will. It’s length and volume you’re after, so bigger is better! That being said, if you haven’t used false eyelashes before, they may feel a bit heavy on your lids, so try a medium sized lash and work your way up to full blown drag-queen length slowly.

Most faux lashes are manufactured to be intentionally too long length-wise, so they can fit a variety of eye shapes and sizes, so trim them if you need too. The outer ends generally are longer, so trim the lash from the shorter hairs on the band, the part that will sit on the inside corner of your eye. Some faux lashes are designed especially for Asian eyes. Instead of the lashes being longer on the ends, these are longer at the center, and tapered on each end and they look terrific on hooded eyes. A friend brought me some Korean eyelashes that were shaped this way, and I wore them until they disintegrated. Unfortunately, since the label on the box was in Korean, I have no idea what they were called! Some brands available in the USA that make false lashes which are longer in the center are Japonesque and Sonia Kashuk, whose make-up line can be found at Target. You could also try hunting down lashes like this at Asian beauty supply stores, or finding them  on the Internet.
After you’ve trimmed your lashes, roll the band of the lash around a little with your fingers to make it more pliable, so that it will conform to the shape of your lid more easily. Apply a thin band of glue to the base of the false lash, (you can do this with a toothpick, painting it on the band to avoid any big glops of glue getting onto the lashes themselves) and let the wet glue sit for at least 30 seconds, even up to a full minute or two, until it gets tacky. The brand of the glue, or the amount you put on the lash will determine how quickly it dries, as will the climate. If you are in a humid area, (or are doing your make-up in a small dressing room full of sweaty dancers) it may take a little longer to get tacky enough to use. The most common mistake most people make when applying lashes is trying to stick them on when the glue is too wet. 

I recommend "DUO" lash glue in clear/white, or Revlon's Precision Lash formula because they hold extremely well and are also the least irritating of any brand I've used. Clear glue will dry invisibly, making any mistakes less obvious. To apply the lash, sit it on your upper eye-lid, just above your natural lash-line. Press down lightly in the middle first, and then tap the lash down lightly towards inner and outer corners. Keep your eye closed for a moment, to let the glue take hold. You may have to gently press the lash upwards, towards your brows, with the pad of your index finger. This will give a more “open” look to your eye.
Many women cut the lashes in half, and use them only from the center of the eye to the outer corner for a wide, doe-eyed effect. Also, the lashes are a little easier to apply this way, and this technique will also aid in the producing a cat-like look.

Your eyebrows are very important for expressing emotions on stage, so make sure they are accented too. I like to use a stiff, slanted eyebrow brush and powder for eyebrow shaping, and also to fill in any bare areas. Use light, feathery strokes, and follow the natural shape of your eyebrow. You can also use an eyebrow pencil, but make sure it’s sharp, and again fill in and darken up your brows with feathery, short strokes. To add a lift to my entire eye area, when I am doing make-up for the stage, I usually extend the brow upwards and outwards towards my temple at the outer edge.
Heavy brows sitting over hooded eyes tend to make them look smaller, so if you have very thick eyebrows, you may want to have them shaped by a professional.

After I’ve done my brows, I finish up by contouring the hooded area just under them. I cover the inner corner of my eyes under the brows with a powder shadow shade that is a little darker than my skin tone, or in the same color family as but a little lighter than the shade I used to lie my upper and lower lids. I then add frosty white powder shadow as a highlighter just under the brow from the middle of the eye, extending it to the outer corner. I generally tend to keep the highlight thin, because on hooded eyes, a lighter shade spread over the hooded part will only accent its puffiness more. Sometimes I add a little bit of pearly white powder shadow to the area just above the tear ducts, or inner corner of the eye. For stage, I often use a small dot of white liquid eyeliner here- again; an effect that looks kinda bizarre up close, but it really opens up the eyes (by making the whites appear bigger) for the stage.  
Close up of some really insane stage make up; note the white at the inside and outside corners

If you’re a “hoodie” like me, take some time to play with make-up, and see what works for you. Fool around with colors, and with different techniques for shading, lining and shaping. You’ll learn to love your unique, exotic eye shape. 
 
And who knows… maybe one day some chick with huge, round eyes with big lids and fantastic eye sockets will probably sigh in envy, telling you she wished she had your wonderful, exotic eyes!


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 Purchase my  instructional  stage make up  DVD  “Bombshell: Dramatic Make Up For The Stage, Photos And Glamourous Occaisions” here:
http://www.princessfarhana.com/shop.htm



Friday, June 19, 2015

15 ARABIC WORDS EVERY BELLY DACER NEEDS TO KNOW

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 Through mere osmosis, belly dancers absorb a lot of Arabic and Turkish words. Just by listening to our favorite songs, we know that “habibi” means sweetheart, and “ana bahebek” means “I love you”.
 But do you know the difference between a taxim and a chiftetelli? What the heck is a mergence?  Here is  list is a  short compendium of some  basic, often-heard  Arabic terms relating to music and dance.  Some of these words are commonly used  by belly dancers, others, not as often.  Though I’ve included names of some popular rhythms (definitely not all of them!)  I’ve left out the names of instruments, because there are so many, it could be a blog post on its own.

 BALADI (variously spelled BELEDY, BALADY) In Egyptian Arabic, this word   means “of the country”. For example, “bint al baladi” roughly translates to “country girl”, and in Egypt,  “baladi bread” is what they call home made pita.  But baladi also refers to the name of a rhythm, as well as dance and musical traditions that developed when Egyptians from the countryside migrated to urban areas like Cairo and Alexandria in the first half of the 20th Century.  Raks Al Baladi refers to the social dance of every day people, while Raks Sharqi  (“Dance of The East”) is the refined - and often staged- version of women’s solo dancing.

 BALADI PROGRESSION This is an improvisational interlude stemming from folkloric Egyptian musical traditions. The structure of a typical baladi progression usually begins with an improvised solo-or series of solos by several instruments. Usually, the baladi progression begins without percussion, and as it progresses along the rest of the band, including the drum  (tabla or doumbek) is added in, gradually building to a climax that often culminates in a full-blown drum solo. There are patterns in the music such as a call and response between the tabla and whatever instrument(s) is soloing, so that each and every version can be identified as a baladi progression.

CHIFTETELLI   A Greco-Turkish rhythm, often used in context with a taxim.
Doum tek tek-a-tek-doum-doum-tek

HAFLA The original meaning of this word describes informal dance party where guests get up to cut a rug. Nowadays, within the belly dance world, this word basically means the same thing, but with dancers performing in costume, to live or recorded music. Also, it can refer to an event where admission might be charged.

MAKSOUM An Arabic time signature similar to baladi,  even though  many dancers refer to  maksoum as “baladi”.
 Doum Doum Tek A Tek Doum Tek A Tek

MAQAM  (plural- MAQAMAT) There are many different maqamat or Arabic musical scales, which are or melodic modes arranged in quarter tones as opposed to the Western version which uses half-tones.  The word “maqam” in Arabic means “place”, or position or location.

MAWAL (or MAWWAL) A traditional vocal prequel to a song, wherein the singer will demonstrate and highlight his or her prowess and talent through a series of non-metrical improvised calisthenics using the voice alone.  This is usually performed in colloquial (as opposed to classical) Arabic language (kind of like American Blues music) and has roots in the historical traditions and Arabic poetry.
MERGENCE (variously spelled MAGENCEY, MAGENCIE) A complex, dynamic multi-rhythmic Oriental opening piece, meant to display a belly dancer’s skills. A mergence is often written specifically for a dancer, such as “Set Al Hossen”, which was composed for Nagwa Fouad by composer Mohamed Sultan. Some other examples of   the mergence:  “ Ma’shaal”, “Alf Layla Wa Layla”, “Sahra Saeeda”(written for Sahra by Ashraf Zakariah)  “Amar El Laily”, written especially for Russian star dancer Katia, who lives in Cairo.  Though many classical Arabic compositions are multi-layered and have many parts, such as “Enta Omri” by Om Kalthoum, they are not necessarily a mergence, because they are usually too slow or moody to be used as an opening piece.

RAKASSAH (variously spelled RAQQASA, RAKASA, RAQESSA, etc.) A female professional dancer.  The male version of the word leaves the “a” at the end off, spelled “rakass”…or any of the other ways.

SAIDI is a term relating to Upper Egypt. Saidi is an Arabic rhythm as well as a folkloric style of music. Saidi dancing often-but doesn’t always- include raks assaya, or dancing with a cane?

SAGAT is the Arabic word for finger cymbals, known in Turkish as ZILLS

SHAA’BI Modern street music, often an urbanized version of older or more traditional songs. Often, the lyrics are way more overtly political or sexual than standard Arabic pop songs.

 TAKHT A small orchestra or ensemble of musicians. The word itself means “bench” or bed, and in the old days, musicians often sat on benches as they played together.

TARAB The transporting sense of pleasure, elation or ecstasy that manifests in listeners while hearing soulful Arabic music…the term tarab can also be applied to dance, singing, or other forms of art.

TAXIM (variously spelled TAXEEM, TAKASIM TAQSIM) Many dancers think a taxim is a song- but it is not- it is an improvised presentation of the Arabic maqam or scale, performed by a solo musician. Though many taxims are recorded (giving the impression that they are, in fact a song) when played live, the taxim is an improvisation, and in the context of a live performance, the dancer and musician improvise together, presenting a seamless representation of the music. Though it may seem so, the improvisation being played isn’t really free form; it follows the rules of Arabic musical theory, with an emphasis on the player’s emotion and expression. A taxim can be played by a solo instrument (an oud, nai, accordion, kanoun, organ, violin, etc.) and is usually never played on any percussion instrument, such as a tabla or riqq.  Sometimes the solo instrument is backed by a drone, or even with soft percussion, usually set to the maksoum beat, making it a “balady taqsim”. A taxim is also popularly set to a chiftetelli beat; but many dancers use the terms “taxim” and chiftetelli interchangeably, even though they are not.  A taxim can be a chiftetelli, but a chiftetelli cannot be a taxim- chiftetelli is the name of a certain rhythm.

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 Get a signed copy of The Belly Dance Handbook here: http://www.princessfarhana.com/shop.htm





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Photo and Graphics by Maharet Hughes

Monday, June 8, 2015

SIDELINED! PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL RECOVERY FROM DANCE INJURIES


For most dancers, an injury can almost seem like a death sentence. Though many of us have come to the point where we can identify the difference between major injuries and those that we deem we can work through, we still stress out about the very thought that we are injured. For us, being sidelined is a black hole of frustration. The sheer helplessness and physical inability that comes along with a serious or accute injury (and the accompanying pain) goes against every bit of the dance training we’ve ever had!

 There is of course, the valid fear of losing income by being unable to perform or teach- and because most of us are self-employed independent contractors, there’s no way of getting Workman’s Comp.  Also- shudder the thought- there is the very real possibility that once you have recovered, your body will never be the same as it was before you were injured, which on its own is a horrible idea but made even more so by the fact that it can potentially reduce our earning power.

Pain provokes a veritable grocery list of emotions in everyone who experiences it. With pain from a recent injury, but especially chronic pain, the individual suffering is likely to experience stress, frustration, irritability (which often manifests as anger directed towards those around you) anxiety and depression. Anyone in pain is not a happy camper...especially if they're a dancer.

  Something many doctors neglect discuss with their patients is that pain can potentially create a vicious circle that involves the emotions and psyche.  When you are in pain, your discomfort level is often so high that it often prevents sleep, or at least quality sleep.  Without sufficient restorative REM sleep, our bodies simply cannot repair themselves, which in turn creates more pain…and more anxiety, which leads to even less sleep, exacerbating the initial problem! This can lead to chronic pain, which is usually diagnosed as any pain that lingers after the point of projected recovery, or any pain that lasts longer then three to six months. This includes the low-grade, constant pain of an RSI or Repetitive Stress Injury- something that many dancers suffer from, caused by our repeated actions in rehearsals, classes and shows.  Way too many of us are over-achievers who try to work through RSIs without giving our bodies a sufficient recovery period.  But even if you try to soldier through your agony and act like everything’s normal (which it totally isn’t) your pain is always in the forefront of your mind, affecting everything you do- or can’t do.

All of this is magnified for dancers, because in addition to experiencing the pain itself and the accompanying psychological response to it, there are extremely legitimate reasons to feel stress and anxiety. For non-dancers, or anyone who doesn’t lead an athletic lifestyle, although the paint in fact hurts, it’s typically a temporary inconvenience.  For dancers, it seems like The End. Period.

   I myself didn’t realize any of this until 2009, when I sustained a serious car accident that resulted in a sideways whiplash and seven herniated discs- and intense chronic pain that lasted almost four years.  After the initial period of rest, I went through three separate courses of physical therapy, and still didn’t feel any better.  A few “concerned parties” suggested that maybe it was time I gave up dancing… I wouldn’t hear of it! Since I wasn’t healing up in the projected time frame for my injuries, I cautiously (and with my doctor’s permission) went back to work teaching and performing, gritting my teeth when I hurt- who was pretty much all the time.   One day, while writing in my journal, I looked at a sentence that I’d just completed and it really shocked me cause it was just so…wrong.

“I’m really sad that I’m so stressed out all the time!”

 A light bulb went off in my head, and I googled “pain and depression”, and fell down a rabbit hole of reading about the emotional and mental ramifications of pain.  Once I realized that what I was experiencing was a legitimate chemical reaction to my own pain and I wasn’t going crazy, I stopped seeing my clueless “mainstream” physician, who not only never made the connection between pain, sleeplessness and anxiety, but who literally threw opiates at me while wondering out loud how I could be so physically flexible while claiming I was so sore.

  I went proactive immediately, booking standing twice a week appointments with my chiropractor -who did discuss the emotional and mental side effects of pain- I got regular massages and acupuncture, bought a new bed (and my own TENs machine) did Pilates and completely changed my diet.   And though I never used anti-depressants, I took comfort in knowing that if I needed them, they would be available to help me get through this.  It was a long road to recovery, but by   sheer will- and everything I mentioned above- I made it. Though once in a while I’ll experience pain where my injuries occurred and it’s doubtful I’ll ever be able to do a backbend again, my life has pretty much returned to normal.

The tips for the physical, mental and emotional recovery I’m about to give you definitely helped me get through that very rough period in my life, and I hope they can help you.

 Consult Your Doctor
  Duh…this is obvious; if you’re seriously hurt, of course you are seeing your doctor pretty regularly! However, if you are experiencing disrupted sleep because of your pain, or are starting to feel depressed, it’s definitely time to talk to your doctor again.

 Like I said, I didn’t take anti-depressants, but I knew I could if I needed to. What really helped me immensely was prescription sleep medication. I’m not advocating sleeping pills for everyone, and there is quite a real danger of them becoming habit forming. I took Ambien four nights in a row- and finally after months of dreamless, restless slumber, getting a few nights of actual restorative sleep- I felt like a new person. Once that initial sleeping  “re-set” happened, I found I only needed to take the pills maybe once a week, if that.  Seriously, it was like a miracle.   It not only made my body feel better, it helped my mood and calmed my pain-related anxiety.

 If you are wary of taking prescription meds, try an over the counter medication for a couple of nights. If f you are anti-drug, try some herbal supplements, such as valerian or melatonin.   Chamomile is also great; chamomile tea tastes nice and it has a soothing effect. You can also try a number of   proven  “sleep hacks” that don’t involve drugs at all, such as not watching television or staying on any device (cellular phones, tablets or computers) for at least an hour before bedtime. Using a white-noise machine   or listening to a recording of something like ocean waves might help too, as does removing any sources of light from your bedroom. Taking a long bath is always good to induce drowsiness, or even having some warm mikl might do the trick, too. As I said before, massage and acupuncture  can help with your pain, which in turn will aid you in sleeping better, too.

 Strengthen Your Body
 Once you’ve been passed the acute phase of your injury, with your doctor’s ok, you need to start strengthening and rehabilitating your injury.  If you’ve been prescribed a course of physical therapy, attend the sessions, and follow your homework exercise regimen to the letter.  You can also try yoga or Pilates, which was actually designed as a strengthening program to help dancers rehabilitate from injury. Yoga  will help you stay limber and toned, Pilates will strengthen  the areas around your injuries as well as make you stronger in general.

  In either discipline, look for an instructor in either of these practices who is certified, and make sure they know that  you are injured.   Start out simple, and basic; if you have pain from any movements, don’t do them yet… and no matter what, don’t push yourself too hard, at least at first, because you certainly don't want to aggravate your injury. Walking is a terrific and low- impact aerobic way of keeping fit, and often a brisk walk (or as brisk as you can take it while recovering) will lower your physical feelings of discomfort.

 Stay Connected With Dancing In Non-Physical Ways
 There are many things you can do to keep learning and to help you feel as though you are progressing, even if you can’t actually dance yet.  Ask your instructor(s) if you can audit their dance classes- often you can gain insight and learn technique just by watching and taking notes.  Same goes for viewing dance videos; analyze the styles or technique you are seeing, and observe more subtle   things like stage presence, emotional connection to the music, and the costuming the performing is wearing.

Of course, you can also use your down time for dance-related things, like   costume repair, learning and analyzing music you’d like to use in the future, writing choreographies and planning up-coming dance projects.   Once when I was sidelined for n injury, which occurred years before the one I mentioned before, I wrote the entire script for my Belly Dance And Balance: The Art Of Sword And Shamadan DVD.  The silver lining to that injury was that if I’d been performing and teaching during that particular period, I probably wouldn’t have had the time to devote to planning   that DVD at all, let alone getting the material all written out.

  Get Back In The Game Slowly
 Once you’ve been green-lighted to return to dancing, start off gradually.  Even just being out for a few days can make a difference in your stamina level or muscular condition and control. Take it easy, and do not push yourself.  Work up your strength gradually, warm up thoroughly and baby yourself a little.   Remember, you’ve been sitting around for a while dying to get back   to classes and shows, and while your enthusiasm is terrific, you don't want to re-inure yourself by “making up for lost time”. Your body is different now.   Your injury has changed your physical being… even if it’s just temporary. As you test the waters, take things gradually and see what you are capable of. Your strength and command will probably take a bit of time to build up again.

Make Adjustments As Necessary
If your injury has changed your body permanently, but you still have the ability to dance, you will need to make necessary adjustments to your dancing.  In my own case, after that major car accident, my back was so damaged that it will never, ever be the same. I actually had to sign a legal document   at the time of my settlement, which stated exactly that; my spine was changed irrevocably.  My neck alone was so messed up that I doubted I’d ever be able to do sword balancing again, and it had been a specialty of mine for years.  I also haven’t done a backbend since the accident… used to be able to   get my hands down to the floor from a standing position. Am I bummed about the lack of backbends? At first I was- but then I started looking upon them as a nice part of my past, kind of like an old boyfriend. I loved doing them at the time, bit I was leading a different life then… they just didn’t fit in anymore.  As for the sword balancing, I was determined. It took over three years – and a lot of work- to get up to speed again, but by golly, I worked up to it, and can now do everything I was able to do with a sword that I used to.

 I’ve also helped many other dancers re-think they’re dancing to disguise their injuries and limitations. One woman I worked with had been burned badly in a fire- the fingers on her left hand were completely fused together. Together, we devised hand and arm movements that would make her hands look uniform with each other as well as not distracting to the audience.  When she dances onstage nobody notices that her left hand isn’t flexible.  Another dancer I worked with had a metal plate in her spine, and couldn’t raise her arms above shoulder level. We worked on a series of movements and gestures   that would make her arms appear to be changing levels  “normally”.   We used arm pathways, lines and angles and even facial gestures and head movements to create the illusion of varied arm positions.  To She worked her butt off practicing, and again, not a single person in the audience notices her limited range of motion.

Think Positively
 Sounds trite and clichéd, but   your emotions really can have an affect on your healing. Remaining optimistic and having the will to recover will really help with your physical recovery!  Stay away from naysayers and negative people.  During the recovery from my car accident, I can’t tell you how many trolls had the nerve to blithely say   the dreaded words  ‘Maybe It’s time for you to retire…’ Color me crazy or chalk it up to my punk rock past, but my reaction to this  “helpful advice” was mostly composed of four letter words! Some idiots actually delight in the misery of others, and someone who is injured is a prime target for that sort of negativity.  Haters always want to hate…so turn a deaf ear to their malicious glee, or just outright cut them from your life- at least temporarily. You have enough on your plate right now physically; you don’t need any more mental or emotional feelings than you’re already dealing with.  Don’t let anyone bring you down! 

  Dancing is a gift, one that many of us almost take for granted because we do it so often…until we are injured.   Being injured is horrible, but as far as life lessons go, it makes us realize just how precious dancing truly is.  Be grateful for your dancing, be respectful of your  gift, have faith in  your recovery process, and use your time on the sidelines to find out just how strong you truly are.

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Photo and graphics by Maharet Hughes
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