Sunday, December 27, 2009


The phenomenon of repeating trends and the cyclical nature of pop culture is such a given that we’re all familiar with the phrase “Everything Old Is New Again”. This applies to art, fashion, cinema and yes, even to the world of belly dance.

While the general public has always had a rather dated and archaic view of the art of belly dancing ( veiled dancers wearing jingling coin costumes with big skirts; women who turned their husbands into “sultans” with the drop of a hip and the wink of a heavily made-up eye) fashion trends in Arabic music and dance have moved light years beyond that tired old cliché.

Recently, cabaret-style oriental dancers have favored minimalist, fringe-free haute couture costumes , and those dancing in the realm of Fusion have taken vast liberties both stylistically, conceptually and in costume choices.

In the past few years Arabic dance music- Oriental , shaabi style or otherwise -has been almost thoroughly Westernized, utilizing everything from traditionally “western” instruments such as piano or synthesizers, to crazy samples to musical influences that include hip hop , Bollywood, Brazillian, Electronica, New Age, and on and on.

While all this is fun to dance to ( not to mention thrilling, experimental and modern) sometimes it seems as though it would be nice to go back to the elegance and simplicity of a by-gone age, a time that nobody dancing today has experienced. What I am referring to Egypt’s Golden Age of Belly Dance, which was the fertile, creative period spanning the early 1940’s to the late 1970’s.

The Golden Age produced a veritable galaxy of stars, and preserved their artistic contributions both in film and on audio recordings. We’re talking films like the classic black and white “Tamer Henna” starring Naima Akef to later movies like the sassy 1972 Suad Hosni vehicle “ Khalli Balak Min Zou Zou”, and many other films which featured radiant dancers such as Samia Gamal, Tahiyya Karioka ( her name is spelled many ways, phoentically) and towards the latter part of the time period, Soheir Zaki, FiFi Abdou, Nagwa Fouad, Nadia Gamal, and many others.

We still see their legacy today- many of them have signature steps or combinations named after them; all of them starred in numerous films as well as appearing live on stage, all over the world.

Some singers that became internationally famous during that era were Om Kalthoum, Asmahan, Fairuz, Sabah, and Ahmed Addewiyya; and their work still sounds as fresh and wonderful as the day it was recorded. The same rings true for composers of the day, many of whom also did double duty as singers as well as acting in the movies: Farid El Atrache, Abdel Halim Hafez, Mohamed Abdel Wahab.

Though many younger dancers are not fully aware of this rich history, many are starting to return to the glamorous, smooth belly dancing style of yore: by using music that sounds less modern and more traditional, and by simplifying movements to straight Oriental; and there also seems to be a resurgence in the popularity of retro- costuming: fuller skirts, more fringe. These days, with the internet and Youtube, evidence of this period- and invaluable research on the time itself- is only a mouse-click away.

How wonderful that Hollywood Music Center has recently embarked on a large, multi- disc project entitled the “Golden Era Of Bellydance”! This series of CD’s will concentrate on the music of the artists of the Golden Age period. Though the music is not the original film scores, it is faithfully reproduced by the Ferqat Al Tooras Orchestra, featuring musicians like Aboud Abdel Al, Ahmad Fouad Hassan and Mohamad Al Arabi. The instrumentation is old-school: naid, oud, accordion, kanoun,walls of cellos. The orchestration is acoustic and reflects the feel of the era, and the traditional arrangements are truly stellar.

The first disc in the series is “ Golden Era Of Bellydance,Volume 1: Tahiyya Karioka”. From the opening strains of “Ha Akbalu Boukra”, you will be transported to a by-gone era of dapper fez-sporting men in tuxedos and glamorous dancers in costumes complete with shoulder epaulets, pin-up hair do’s and belly-covers.

This disc also features one of the best versions of Farid El Atrache’s famous “Leyla”, whith an amazingly slinky intro; awesome renditions of “Al Hobbi Kidda”, “Sahara City” and Om Kalthoum’s lovely “Al Atlal”.

All of the pieces on this fantastic CD sound retro, but have none of the crackles, pops and glitches of the original recordings. They are also all in the three-to six minute range, making them perfect to easily incorporate into routines.

Whether you just want to listen to beautiful, vintage- sounding Arabic music or are planning on dancing to these songs, this CD is a must…and I can’t wait to hear the others as soon as they come out!

Order this CD:

Pictured: 1940's-era Tahiyya Karioka

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Happy Holidays to everyone, and wishing you lots of love, good fortune, health, wonderful dancing and crazy crazy adventures in the New Year....NEW DECADE!


Monday, December 21, 2009


I was singing “Auld Lang Syne” at the top of my lungs along with the car radio as I sped down the deserted, pitch-black 210 Freeway in the early morning hours, towards Pasadena.

A mere couple of hours ago, it had been New Year’s Eve 1996. I had flown in from the East Coast earlier that day, and spent the night- including the customary midnight count-down complete with a champagne toast- dancing my ass off at my regular gig, Moun Of Tunis Restaurant in Hollywood. In the couple of hours it had been 1997, I had also just completed a show at a private party, but I was excited- I was going to dance in the 108th Tournament Of Roses Parade!

My belly dance troupe, Flowers Of The Desert Arabian Dance Company, was going to be performing as part of a float whose theme was world peace, ethnic diversity and cultural unity. The float’s sponsors had envisioned kind of a rolling, flower-studded version of Disneyland’s “It’s A Small World” attraction, but instead of the puppets and dolls that many floats feature, the dancers were going to be real people.

The Rose Parade is annually seen on television by more than 32 million viewers world-wide, and though I had always enjoyed watching the parade and it’s early morning riot of colorful flowers, baton-twirlers and innovative, clever displays, I had never experienced it live- let alone been a part of it!

Every float in the parade portrays it’s own theme, and they are custom constructed weeks in advance of the event, parked in huge refrigerated warehouses while hundreds of volunteers painstakingly glue on flower petals, leaves, ferns, seeds and other natural bits of flora. Since I suffer from hay fever, I had taken the precaution of fortifying myself with Benedryl, so I wouldn’t be sneezing and wheezing my way down the long parade route.

I finally arrived in the designated area for the parade’s performers in the pitch black of the wee hours. Of course, in the pandemonium, it took me ages to find a parking space, and even longer for me to find the float I was affiliated with and the rest of my dance troupe.

It was utter chaos: in the gathering masses, I pushed past police barricades, entire families who had been camped out on the street for days to get a good viewing spot on the parade route, television cameras and news crews doing pre-parade coverage, staggering drunks, fire trucks, and tourists with huge mobile homes who had come to watch the big game, which kicked off directly following the parade.

The throngs of other parade participants probably numbered in the thousands. There were huge high school marching bands packed so closely that their tubas and trombones were clanking together; cheerleading squads from across the nation were practicing their moves next to equestrian groups with trick-riders dressed as cowboys and caballeros, and of course, The Budweiser Clydesdales, whose extensive, semi-truck-sized transportation trailers practically formed a maze.

The Clydesdales and other horses were all beautiful, and their riders looked festive, but their presence, along with the mounted police also meant that there was a ton of horse shit on the street, and so I had to pick my way very carefully in the dark to make sure I wouldn’t get any on my Hermes sandals or the hem of my voluminous skirts.

Trying to locate the other Flowers Of The Desert, I encountered acrobatic troupes, soap opera stars, vintage car clubs with members dressed as 1950’s teenagers, astronauts from Nasa, all sorts of military regiments, troupes of Ballet Folklorico dancers, Victorian Christmas carolers, and what seemed like zillions of Disney cartoon characters whose plush costumes and over-sized fake heads I used to think of as claustrophobic, but now envied cause I was so damn chilly in my own skimpy cabaret costume.

Finally, I found my girls, resplendent in a glittering array of ethnic dance costumes, from Saudi thobes to silk pantaloons and Ghawazee dresses. They were clustered in a tight circle, huddled together for warmth. It was so damp I could literally see their breath as they greeted me through chattering teeth.

There are strict rules for Rose Parade participants. One of them is that since there is nowhere to change, you must arrive in full costume. More importantly, another rule was that no performer is allowed to bring anything with them on a float: no food, water bottles, purses, or even jackets. Hence, the goose bumps on all the participants who were dressed scantily, like the poor majorettes and us belly dancers.

I had my house key and a couple of bucks concealed in the bra of my costume. But while the other Flowers were clutching their chiffon veils around them in an unsuccessful attempt to retain body heat, I’d had the foresight to wear a raggedy old hoodie sweatshirt for pre-parade protection. I figured I would ditch it at the very last moment before the parade started at 7:00am.

Unfortunately, that was still a couple of hours away. Even in my hoodie, it was freezing! Not only that, I was becoming ravenous, and sure I wouldn’t last throughout the long morning without a bite to eat.

Deciding it was time to take action, I asked a friendly- looking parade official if there was anywhere to get warm, and he directed me to a Red Cross station set up specially to serve the parade performers.

“You can’t miss it,” he said, looking me up and down and then snapping a picture of me with a disposable camera,

“It’s right around the corner, a big mobile home- you can get warm in there. They have coffee and snacks for everyone in the parade.”

I asked the other gals if they wanted to look for it, but they were concerned that we would miss our cue for the parade’s line-up if we left. For me, the bone-chilling dampness and the antihistamines I had taken, combined with my jet-lag, multiple- gig fatigue and growing was taking it’s toll, and I informed them I was going to look for snacks and coffee, and would bring some back.

Heading off in the direction the parade official pointed me in; I wandered down a residential street as dawn broke, in search of warmth, caffeine and hopefully a sandwich.

I was almost crying with relief as I spotted the large trailer, right where the guy said it would be. I trudged up the rickety, portable aluminum stairs of the mobile home, gathering up my sequined skirts so I wouldn’t trip.

As I stepped into the cozy trailer, I closed my eyes in contentment as I felt the warmth envelop me. I couldn’t believe that the place wasn’t packed full, it was so cold outside. Happily, I smelled fresh coffee.

I grabbed an apple off the counter and bit into lustily it before making my skirt-swishing way to the bathroom to check my make-up in the tiny, fluorescent-lit space. Even though it had been on all night, my lipstick was intact, and my whole face was so bright and glittery that I was satisfied everyone, even in nosebleed seats of the bleacher stands would be able to see how glamorous and exotic I was.

Someone had thoughtfully left some perfume out on the sink counter, so I helped myself to that, too, splashing it on generously. As I stepped out of the tiny powder room, holding my half-eaten apple, the door slammed, almost hitting a gentile-looking older lady in a Christmas sweater.

“Oops! I’m so sorry!” I called out as I plopped down onto a couch, making myself at home.

“ Do you guys have some coffee for me?”

My request was greeted with silence, but I didn’t care since it was so warm in there and I was busy finishing up my apple.

“May I have some coffee, please?” I repeated.

After a long pause, a man’s voice asked solicitously,

“Sure, how do you take it?”

As I looked up to answer him, suddenly things came into focus. Neither the man or the woman in the Christmas sweater were wearing any sort of Red Cross name tag or identification… in fact, there was nothing in there at all even remotely connected to The American Red Cross, no posters, no literature, no visible signage.

There was a tiny, staticy portable TV showing pre-parade coverage, framed family photos on the walls, and some pillows and an afghan covering another couch suggesting it had been very recently used as a bed.

A large Golden Retriever with a holiday-themed bandanna around it’s neck was snoozing on the couch near where I had sat down, and some copies of Reader’s Digest and a half-completed knitting project lay on the table.
The man was elderly and kindly looking, wearing a football jersey and he had his arm around the lady in the Christmas sweater.

I gulped, realizing that I had stepped into a private motor home!

And then it came to me what I must have looked like: an escapee from a mental hospital. I was a blatant, un-abashed trespasser with a sense of grandiose entitlement, and bleary in my Benedryl haze, my face caked with over-the-top, garish make-up, I was a lunatic clad in a revealing belly dance costume topped by the kind of a dirty, ripped-up, gray sweatshirt that would be featured in Bag Lady Vogue if such a publication existed. Not only that, I was holding the core of the recently devoured stolen apple in my hand and I reeked of the lady’s perfume.

“Oh my God, I’M SO SORRY!” I spluttered, my face turning crimson in embarrassment.

The couple tried to keep straight faces- apparently, they had understood exactly what was going on the moment I crashed into their trailer, and were waiting to see how long it would take me to catch on.

“The Red Cross trailer is next door,” the man said, deadpan,

“But you can still have some coffee…and we promise not to tell anyone what you did if you take a picture with us!”

At that, we all burst into laughter, even though mine was pretty sheepish. Turned out they were formerly from Pasadena, but now lived in Idaho, and in town for a few days to visit friends, see the game and watch the parade. They said that they had made the pilgrimage to Pasadena every year for the past decade. Luckily, they were thrilled to see a glamorous- though very disoriented and sleep-deprived parade performer- come crashing into their world. We posed for a few photos, and then amidst more laughter, I left to find my sister dancers, who wondered aloud where I’d been for so long.

“Why didn’t you come to the Red Cross trailer?” they squealed. “It was awesome, everyone was so nice!”

I started to tell them, but then we got rounded up in the appearance order for the floats along with all the other performers, because the parade was about to begin.

At 7:00am, The Stealth Bomber flew over downtown Pasadena, creating an earth-shaking sonic boom, which kicked off the festivities that year. As the floats revved their motors and the procession started, we rounded the first bend on the route, and there was literally a wall of television cameras.

The sound of the crowds in the stands and on the streets was beyond deafening. The bands were all playing different songs at the same time; spectators were screaming and yelling and there was incessant bleating from those plastic souvenir parade horns that vendors sell to kids on the streets during events such as this.

After about forty minutes, my hip sockets felt like they were ground to dust and my feet began throbbing from the constant dancing. My face hurt from non-stop smiling and both my arms were sore from waving.

People cut out of the crowds, zipping from the sidewalk to the floats running up and offering Dixie cups full of water for the all the performers. About halfway through, parade spectators who were obviously locals were holding up large, hand-lettered signs that read slogans like


By the end of the parade route, I was completely exhausted, spent, utterly finished. I was so tired I didn’t even want to get a VIP close-up look at any of the other floats; I just wanted to get home and go to sleep.

But in spite of my sore cheeks, I was still grinning ear-to-ear and laughing to myself, because I couldn’t think of a better way EVER to start the New Year!

Friday, December 18, 2009


The Holiday Season itself is always a bustling blur of parties, family get togethers, gift-shopping, decorating and celebrating...and this season is no different. But there is also always an under-current of craziness, too. This may involve family dysfunction, anxiety and seasonal depression, or monumental events... and not always the good kind.

This year has been stressful for many, due to the economy. Personally, though I have been well, a lot of weird things have happened around me. A close friend fell off her roof the day after Thanksgiving. Thankfully, she will be OK, but she has a long road of recovery ahead of her. My neighbor's dog was hit by a car yesterday. She too will be ok. There has also been a lot of death around to me this year...but it seems that many deaths of those close to me have always been a constant in my life.

To me, The Holidays have always been a time to remember people I have loved who have passed away... and this year in particular, as a new decade is about to start, I am reminded of a heartwarming but completely unexplainable and yes, paranormal incident that occured just when the new century was dawning.

In 1999, during the days leading up to the Millennium, like many people, I began reflecting on life: historical events I had witnessed, personal goals that I had achieved and the things I had accomplished. But what seemed to really dominate my thoughts were the many significant relationships I had with family and friends. I was blessed with so much love, nurture and support. I thought of the many special people who were there for me not matter what… who shared their lives with me, gave me affection and influenced my creative and artistic endeavors.

One of these special individuals was my friend and mentor, the late Zein Abdul Al Malik.

Zein was a male belly dancer of prodigious talent. Well over six feet tall and lanky, he had piercing green eyes and performed draped in luxurious folkloric garb, and wrapped in antique Assuit, balancing a huge brass tray with a full tea set and candles upon his regal head.

Zein began his career in the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid Seventies, dancing with Jamilla Salimpour, and went on to live in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, where he resided in one of the Royal palaces. He lived and breathed Oriental Dance, performing and teaching and doing research.

After we met in 1990, he took me under his wing- me, a beginning baby belly dancer with barely any skills- but somehow he saw my potential and nurtured me. Zein would have me over to his apartment- a wonderful, mysterious enclave of inlaid North African furniture, luxurious plants and relics from the Middle East. He’d make me mint tea in a silver Moroccan teapot and we’d spend hours together while he showed me steps and technique, discussed belly dance traditions, and watched vintage clips that he’d taped from the television in Saudi Arabia, featuring Golden Age Egyptian movies which starred famous Oriental Dancers like Naima Akef, Samia Gamal, and Tahiya Carioca. Zein also helped me select costumes, heartily encouraged my dancing, and got me my very first dance job (at Hollywood’s Moun Of Tunis Restaurant, where he worked) where, when I am actually in Los Angeles, I still work today.

Appropriate music for Middle Eastern dance was hard to find back in those days, and Zein made me copious amounts of Arabic mix tapes- remember, there were no CD’s back then- with the cassettes featuring everything from classic live Om Kalthoum performances to the latest in Egyptian pop and Algerian Rai music. Every cassette he made me had a special cover that he thoughtfully put together by hand, too- featuring Middle Eastern clip art, photocopies of vintage Turkish cigarette boxes and pictures of famous belly dancers like Nagwa Fouad and Soheir Zaki.

Tragically, Zein died about five years after I met him. By that time, we were close friends and because of his encouragement, we were also gigging together regularly. I was absolutely devastated. I remember speaking-or rather blubbering through a speech- at his memorial, my face wet with flowing tears, but I don’t remember a thing I said. I thought of him often, so many things reminded me of him. At gigs when I felt pre-show jitters, I would think of the way he used to calm my nerves through humor right before a show. Wrapped in a turban and wearing a brocade galibiya, shimmying to warm up, with his ever-present Marlboro in his mouth, Zein would sense my anxiety, catch my eye, make an exaggerated coquettish gesture then and whisper in a feminine falsetto,

How’s my hair?”

Somehow, our private joke never got old, and always made me laugh. Whenever he did that, I had a great show, entering the stage with a huge grin on my face. Even though Zein has been departed for years, I always think of him just before I go on.

So…fast forward to New Year’s Eve 1999, at five minutes of midnight. Of course I was at a belly dance gig, in a dressing room, wearing a brand new costume- my first costume for the New Millennium.

The dancer I was working with that evening asked what music I was going to dance to for my first dance set of the century.

“I don’t know, “ I said, pawing through my CD binder, “I’m so sick of all my music!”

My gig bag was full of the usual belly dance accoutrements: stray finger cymbals, perfume, hair accessories, mis-matched sequin armbands, loose aspirin tablets, safety pins. Suddenly, something fell into my hands, a small plastic case. Though my suitcase was always chaotic, there was a method to my madness, and it was always re-packed before every show. The little plastic box was definately an unfamiliar object that I didn’t remember packing. Recognizing what it was in the dim dressing room lighting by the feel of it alone, I wondered how it got there.

“Hey, no way, there’s a cassette in my dance bag!” I cried, kind of amazed.

You still use cassettes?” the other dancer asked incredulously.

“Well, no, not for years”, I answered, dumbfounded, “I have no idea what it’s doing in here!”

“Well, maybe we can dance to it,” she said, “What is it?”

I glanced at the clock- it was now one minute before midnight. Thinking we’d better figure our music out, I turned the mystery cassette case over in my hands. The cover featured a black and white drawing of a 1920’s flapper lounging in a champagne glass.

In hand-lettered Art Deco font, it read:


As the clock struck midnight and the new century began, I got chills.


Photo Of Zein Abdul Al Malik from the cover of Arabesque Magazine, January/February issue 1994

Monday, December 14, 2009


Happy Holidays!
We all need a breather during this hectic season, and we all could use a laugh or two! On November 8, 2009 I posted an article on some of the insane “Recent Keyword Activity” that was leading ‘net surfers to my blog. “Keywords” are the phrases people type when searching for information on the Internet.

As I noted before, the bad spelling and broken English in the Recent Key Word Activity wasn’t even the best part- it was the pure, unadulterated psychosis of the phrases... not to mention the fact that people are actually spending their time searching for this obviously extremely important information!

So, as a follow-up to the first post, I’m sharing ten more of the decidedly kooky Keywords!

The new Top Ten phrases are here… saving the best for last. single Every single phrase is copied exactly as it appeared on my Web Stats.











Thursday, December 10, 2009


Happy Holidays!

I am soooo pleased to announce That Zahra Zuhair and I will be leading a tour group to Egypt this coming June 2010!
For me, this is a dream come true- I've been wanting to share my adventures with other dancers by bringing a tour group to Egypt- and believe me, this will truly be belly dancer’s dream tour!

We are centering the trip around Ahlan Wa Sahlan, the biggest Oriental Dance Festival in the world!!! Zahra and I have both been going to Egypt for years. I've been going since 1991, and Zahra since....well, not totally sure but for definately years before I even considered dancing! And we both have attended- and taught at- Ahlan Wa Sahlan, too- we both truly know how to have a GREAT TIME at the festival AND in the land of the Pyramids!

Our tour will include lodging at the fabulous Mena House in Giza ( site of Ahlan Wa Sahlan, and a historic palace to boot!) plus the festival's workshops, gala shows, off-site dinner/ Nile Cruise shows, costume & souvenir shopping at Khan Al Khalili,excursions to Sphinx & Pyramids, Egypt Museum, Citadel, Coptic Cairo, **and** an optional Nile Cruise in Upper Egypt!

...And you know that there will be many "extra-curricular" activities as well, like a night of seedy Cairo cabarets, getting fabulous massages at The mena House ( I tried them- MANY TIMES- they're amazing!) visiting Manial Palace,exploring the labyrinth of cairo's streets, booking private lessons, sailing on a Felucca down the Nile at twilight, etc.

Just so you know, there will be PLENTY of things for non-dancers to do, as well....believe me, Egypt is a place where you will never get bored- there so many things to explore!

We will have full details shortly- and a website devoted onl to the tour will be up soon!

In the meantime, if you would like to join our email list for the tour, drop us a line:

Info: Zahra(at), princessraqs(at)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


The Holidays are here, and even with the economy the way it is, that means people are celebrating…which, for professional dancers, translates to employment opportunities. Even if you have never worked before, you may already be getting offers for holiday parties and gigs. If you are on the threshold of becoming a working professional dancer, then without a doubt, you’ve been sweating in group and private classes, practicing your butt off at home, dancing with a student troupe and in belly dance show cases, honing your technique and stage presence… and you just bought a fabulous new costume. Well, congratulations, girl, sounds like you’re about ready to go pro- all you need is a gig! Now might be the time for you to start working.

Exactly what do professional dancers know that you don’t? Well, for one thing, they know how to book shows. Whether you’re donating your dancing to a charity event, performing at a private party or auditioning for a restaurant or club job, there’s “technique” involved before you hit the stage as well. The following information will help you book a gig like a seasoned pro… help you to determine the WHO, WHAT,WHERE, WHEN and HOW of your gig.

First off: WHAT TYPE OF EVENT IS IT ? Private party, wedding, birthday, corporate show, Arabic club, holiday festival…etc. Make sure to find out exactly what your gig will be, so you can costume yourself appropriately and plan a set of songs that will reflect the mood.

WHO IS HIRING YOU? Club owner, bride or groom, caterer, event planner…

WHERE? (How far from your house, as well as whether the event is being held at a residence, restaurant, banquet hall, outdoor festival, etc.) *ALSO: Is there a full theatrical stage, raised stage, dance floor, living room, patio or……..???? FIND OUT ABOUT YOUR DANCE AREA!

WHEN? Get specific performance times, and let them know that you are flexible, but cannot stay at the event for hours at their discretion

SOUND SYSTEM : Do you have to bring a boom box ( like for a belly gram situation) or will there be a sound system w/ a deejay? Will you be using a CD or an iPod? Will there be other performers? Do they expect you to dance to a live band? If so- can you rehearse or do a tech check?

NEGOTIATE PAY :Depending on where, when and how long you will be dancing, state your rate, and negotiate your salary. It will behoove you to find out everything possible about the gig before stating a price- keep your price in mind, or even have it written on a piece of paper that you can refer to when on the phone with a prospective client.

DO NOT undercut the “going rate”. If you are not sure what the going rate is in your area, ask another local working dancer, or dance instructor. Start your price a little high, many people expect bit of bargaining. Figure out if it is a tipping situation or not, this will affect the base pay you ask for… and also ask the host or person who hired you if they would like you to stay within your performance area, or if it is fine to dance among the seated guests. Some people consider this acceptable, others think it’s ‘tacky”. DO NOT ask the person hiring you how much they wanted to spend on a dancer until you have stated your price. Everybody wants a “deal”, and will give you a lower figure. Know that it is fairly standard to charge not just for the party or gig, but the length of time it takes to GET you there- think twice about accepting a gig that is far from your home base, unless you know it will be worth your time. And know that pretty much anywhere in the world, the “going rate” for New Years is triple whatever you would regularly charge.

GET DIRECTIONS! If you can’t get directions from the host, call the venue. If you can’t get in touch with the venue, look up the address and driving directions on the internet.

GET CONTACT NUMBERS! Try to get both a cell-phone number as well as the number of the venue itself.

RE-CONFIRM YOUR PERFORMANCE (a week before the show, as well as the day before)

GET A CONTRACT AND DEPOSIT These days, PayPal makes this part so much easier. Set up a PayPal account if you don’t have one already.

DO NOT FEEL “WEIRD” BRINGING ALONG A FRIEND- PREFERABLY MALE : Any “decent” people in this day and age will perfectly understand the concept of personal safety. Tell them it is your ‘driver’. However, it is totally inappropriate for you to be hanging all over your ‘driver’ smooching! Be professional.


SHOW UP ON TIME, READY TO GO (come fully made up and if it’s a private gig with no dressing room fully costumed with a cover-up)

FIND A SECURE PLACE TO KEEP YOUR BELONGINGS- this could be anything from a locked dressing room or office, to a cubby-hole behind the bar or a concierge desk at a hotel or banquet hall. Even if you have to change in the Ladies Room ( and this is a common “dressing room” , believe me) ...or have your "driver" watch them while you perform. DO NOT leave your things there unattended!

LEAVE IMMEDIATELY AFTER YOU PERFORM AND GET PAID (No hanging around, you are an entertainer, not a guest)

BE GRACIOUS, CHEERFUL AND POLITE, but firmly refuse anything you do not want to do…like perform a second time for free!


Food for thought: If you act like a professional dancer, you will be treated like one!

Monday, November 23, 2009


My promotional photos always get a lot of comments, and sometimes even I am amazed at the results. Personally, I love taking photos. I am lucky enough to be very photogenic, and I also feel very relaxed in front of the camera. One of the keys to feeling confident while doing a shoot is to know that you are fully "ready for your close-up". If you have done all your homework, then your photo shoot won't have to be stressful, and you can relax and have fun.

Make sure to discuss your objectives and goals for the shoot with the photographer beforehand, this way surprises won’t crop up for either one of you. Let the photographer be aware of how many costume changes you are planning to do, or what sort of props you will be working with. Once the photographer know what you had in mind for your shoot, you can various discuss ideas together.

Take some quality time a few days before your photo session and make sure you are truly prepared. This means that before your shoot, you have everything you will need, from costumes and props to hairpieces, jewelry, cosmetics and grooming tools at your disposal. Make a list and refer to it as you pack. During a quick costume change at a photography studio is not the time to discover that you didn’t bring your hairspray, or forgot your veil or your make-up bag!

Do a photo session “test” or run-through at your home, trying out your poses as well as full hair and make-up a few days before you shoot, especially if you are planning on shooting using a new hairstyle or different cosmetic application. If you want to use a beauty aid that you have never used before, like false eyelashes or a new fall, allow yourself enough time to become familiar with using that particular item. Don’t experiment with new products or hair styles moments before you get in front of the camera, use hair and make-up techniques that are proven to work for you. You may want to budget in a professional make-up application on the day of the shoot. Again, don't wait until the last minute-book your make-up artist in advance, and then discuss the effect you’re after with the make-up artist beforehand so you'll both be on the same page.

Many models cut salt, processed foods and sodium-packed snacks from their diets for a few days before a photo session, because doing so will get rid of any facial or body bloating. Drinking a lot of water will help with this, too. If you are going to have a facial, get waxed or use a chemical depilatory, do it the week before, not the day before, so your skin won’t look blotchy or red.

Get up early on the day of the shoot and relax for a few minutes with some hot tea bags on your eyes- the tannic acid in the tea will help reduce any puffiness. You can also use cold slices of cucumber, or stick two tablespoons in the freezer the night before and press them onto your eyes for a few moments. Eat breakfast to keep your energy up, but stick to proteins and keep your food intake light so that you don’t feel full and sluggish.

Models and athletes often do a few sit-ups, push-ups or even lift light weights just before doing photos, because the blood pumping to the muscles makes them appear more defined on film. You can use this trick too, just don’t work up a sweat and ruin your make-up… and of course, it’s really not advisable to do this in costume!

Speaking of looking good in your costume, on the day you will be shooting, make sure you don’t wear street clothes that are binding or that will leave elastic marks on your body. I usually wear soft sweats on the way to the photo session, and roll the waistband down so it doesn’t leave a mark on my abdomen. The moment you get to the studio, change into a comfortable caftan or robe to further prevent any marks or redness on the skin. A cover-up is a good thing to have anyway, in case you get cold- even with strong, hot lights, many photo studios are drafty.

Bring water and a light snack to your photo session, or check ahead to see if they will be provided. You need to keep your energy up- posing is hard work!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Even the most experienced dancers have shown up at gigs and forgotten an essential item for their it finger cymbals, a costume piece or even music...we've all been there! In order to prevent such snafu's, I have a gig check-list on my computer that I refer to every time I do a show... and though that's almost every day for me, i still need to make sure I packed everything I will need for my show.

In the "olden days", when I was a baby dancer, I needed my list just to be sure I hadn't forgotten anything...nowadays I need it cause I'm in a perpetual state of Jet Lag!
So... thought I'd share my basic gig checklist with you:

1) COSTUME: All pieces including: bra, belt, skirt, choli top, veil, any accessories and any jewelry you wear for your shows.

2) MUSIC: Your routine on iPod, CD and possibly even a cassette ( yes, there are places that still use them!) also,a back-up CD and also a second or third musical selection (just in case another dancer is using the same music, or if you need more or less performance time

3) SOUND: iPod, computer or boom box (if you are performing at a place with no sound system-check before hand so there are no surprises)

4) FINGER CYMBALS (if you use them) and make sure that you have all four, with good, new eleastic)

5) PROPS: cane, sword, pots, shamadan or candelabra (with extra candles and matches!) Isis Wings…whatever props you may be using

6) CAFTAN OR COVER-UP: For warmth as well as for keeping your costume covered as you move through the crowd pre and post-show

7) SHOES: Ballet slippers, Hermes sandals, ballroom shoes- whatever you prefer- just in case your performance floor surface is dirty, un-even or potentially dangerous: pebbles, broken glass, rough and splintery, etc.

8) SMALL TOWEL: An essential for post-show mop-up

9) MAKE-UP BAG: Containing at the very least, powder, lipstick, eye-liner and eye/lip pencils)

10) DIRECTIONS AND A CONTACT NUMBER FOR YOUR EVENT: Enough said…use GPS, if you have it!


You should also pack a small dance-bag “emergency kit” and keep it in your suitcase, with the following items:
1) Small portable sewing kit
2) Safety pins- all sizes. Diaper pins work best for holding heavy dance belts.
3) Bobby pins
4) Feminine protection
5) Aspirin or Ibuprofen
6) Band-aids at the very least, a small first aid kit is better
7) Breath mints
8) Hair brush and comb, assorted bobby pins, clips and hair ties
9) Hair spray or mousse
10) Body glitter....this may not be an "emergency item" for you, but it is for me!
11) Deodorant and/or perfume
12) Travel pack of baby-wipes

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Anyone who is even the slightly Internet-savvy knows that tags and key words are important in directing traffic to your web site. So, after every article I put up on this blog, I add in the key words and tags that are relevant to the story I am posting, to make it easier for people to find the information on my site when they are searching the web. Of course, I routinely use phrases like “belly dance”, “raqs sharqi”, “costume construction”, “Egyptian dance” and so on.

Recently, while analyzing my web stats, I looked up my Key Word Analysis, and it seems that all my tags are working just fine.

However, there is another stat-counting tool called Recent Key Word Activity, of which I wasn’t aware. This function shows the words or phrases people type in on their own, which also directs them to your site.

Curious about this, I looked up my Recent Key Word Activity…and to say I was AMUSED is putting it lightly. I almost fell off my chair, or, in texting/chatting lingo I was ROTFLAO ( translation: Rolling On The Floor Laughing My Ass Off ).

The bad spelling and broken English in the Recent Key Word Activity wasn’t even the best part- it was the pure, unadulterated psychosis of the phrases... not to mention the fact that people are actually spending their time searching for this obviously extremely important information!

I will share a few of the best phrases here, the Top Ten… saving the best for last. Please note that every single phrase is copied exactly as it appeared on my stats.











Thursday, November 5, 2009


Watching your own performances is probably one of the best learning tools possible for your continuing dance training. When you watch a videotape of yourself in rehearsal or performance, everything you are doing becomes crystal clear, from blatant mistakes to wonderful moments of perfection. By monitoring your own performances on videotape, you can clearly and objectively see your “dance truth”. In other words, it will enable you to see exactly what is right-as well as wrong- with your artistic practice . Sloppy technique, missed cues, personal tics, and every little mistake you make during your performance become illuminated. Things you may have missed or not “heard” in class or during a critique are quite obvious on videotape…but then, that is precisely why you are doing this to begin with!

Oh, it’s not easy to watch yourself. Many professionals with years of experience still find it uncomfortable to view themselves on film. When reviewing your own performance, try to avoid negative self-criticism, or comparing yourself with others…because the main reason you are doing this is to improve. Often, we are toughest on ourselves, and sometimes even merciless. Don’t beat yourself up or try to match yourself against others. Know that there will always be dancers who are more talented, younger, prettier, more technically gifted, or who own more lavish costumes than you do. This is a given. Why compare yourself to others and take the joy out of something rewarding and artistic that makes you happy? Competition can be healthy, but setting unrealistic goals about the many things you actually cannot change is harmful, as is denigrating yourself for no valid reason. As an individual, no matter who you are, you have many truly unique things to offer. If you seem to be having a tough time mastering a step or feel like you are not progressing the way you think you ought to be, take a deep breath and realize that you are your own worst critic. Others will never, ever see you or judge you in the harsh way you see yourself! Strive to be the best that you-and you alone- can be…and then cut yourself some slack.

For years, I cringed every time I watched a recorded performance of my own. Now, even after releasing numerous instructional and performance DVDs, it’s still hard for me sometimes, but I have learned to become neutral, almost like a casual third party observer. I go through a taped performance or rehearsal a few times and observe what I did, and then as objectively as I can, take notes the way a director would, observing what was good, and what wasn’t, what stays in the performance or what needs to be removed or re-worked. I evaluate the strengths and weaknesses in the performance and then assess what can be improved. Often during this process, inspiration would hit me like the proverbial lightning bolt, and I thought of completely new ways of interpreting music I had been working with for ages. Seeing myself dancing on tape taught me things about my dancing that no teacher could, and it will be invaluable to you for clearly discerning both the flaws and the strong points as you develop in your individual dance growth.

There is an upside to this, too. Often you will notice great things about your dancing that were never apparent to you when you were dancing. You will find that you might have mastered a perfectly executed a combination which you never thought you’d get, or that you have a dazzling smile, beautiful evocative gestures, or made a wonderfully quick and seamless recovery from a mishap. Sometimes, there are even moments of sheer magic-you might well see yourself doing something amazing onstage that you never, ever would think you’d be capable of!

Viewing yourself dancing on videotape becomes much easier after you have done it a few times, trust me. After a while, you may even look forward to analyzing your performances. So bite the bullet, and give it a whirl.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


At the restaurant where I work as a belly dancer, for years I have also been in charge of hiring and scheduling the other dancers. Moun Of Tunis is a “family place” in more ways than one: customers with children are welcomed and doted on the way they wouldn’t ordinarily be in another restaurant, kids are allowed the run of the place while their parents dine. The owner even keeps crayons and toys on hand to entertain the youngsters.

In keeping with the family feeling, the entire staff has been there for years, in some cases, like my own, for a couple of decades. This is an anomaly in the restaurant business, where servers and cooks come and go, but even more irregular in terms of dance jobs- most of the regular belly dancers have also been there for years. Because of this, the staff itself functions as an extended family, and we are often more relaxed and informal with each other than would normally be expected in a similar situation. Everyone who works there stops by on their nights off, we all know each other’s business, and the use of nicknames, in-jokes and even pranks abound. Hence, my communications with the dancers I schedule for work are often pretty casual, if not downright personal.

Recently, I got a new cell phone. Because of a glitch in the transference of my old phone’s address book, not all of the numbers came through in the memory. I was about to send a text message to one of my regular dancers, but her number wasn’t listed in my phone’s address book. Instead of looking her number up in the restaurant’s files, I figured I knew her number by heart, so I typed her number in manually, and sent the following message:

(My Message)

Hey babe,

How the hell are ya?

Miss U!! Been waaay too long since I’ve seen U.

I really REALLY need U 2 dance for me tomorrow nite- can U do it? PRETTY PLEASE?

Have TONS of dates for you next month if U R down with it.

Let me know ASAP!

(The Reply)


Mystified by this response, upon checking, I realized that the number I thought belonged to one of my dancers was a digit off- a wrong number. OOOPS!

Re-reading my message, which had seemed pretty innocent in terms of asking a dancer to sub a shift, I realized immediately how it could be completely misconstrued by a total stranger! Yes… context, as they say, is everything!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Due to the wonders of modern technology, we now have the entire world at our disposal. With just a few clicks of a mouse, we can now find almost anything that tickles our fancy. But buyer beware- purchasing costumes on the Internet are akin to Internet dating: everything is not always what it appears to be!

In an on-line swap meet situation, the seller’s idea of “gently worn” may be your idea of “completely thrashed”! Many belly dance costumes available for purchase on-line may not be of professional quality... Halloween costumes and "Airport Specials" ( cheap souvenir-type costumes) are definately not for the serious dancer.Don’t be afraid to ask questions- if possible, contact the seller by phone to make inquiries before you make your purchase.

Whether you are buying something from an out of state or overseas vendor, or a private party, it’s imperative that you clearly understand everything about the transaction you are about to make. If you are ordering from a dealer’s website, make sure it has a secure connection before you enter your credit card number. Check on policies for returns, refunds and exchanges, as well as finding out who pays the shipping (usually it’s the buyer) as well as how the item will be getting shipped- ground or air, through the Postal service or with anther carrier like UPS or Fed Ex. Find out if the item will be insured, and if you are having it shipped to a post office box, make sure that a package from whichever carrier is shipping it can be accepted there- some companies have a policy that they will not deliver to post office boxes. Also, find out if the item is in stock, and when the item will be shipped- it may be on backorder, which means it could take weeks or even months to get to you.

Though it seems out-dated, many foreign costume vendors do not accept PayPal or credit cards, and will only take wire transfers from banks. Eman Zaki, for example does this- but her costumes are worth it... and many others are not. The whole process of wire transfers is time-consuming and will require you to visit your bank in person, so make sure that you really want to go through this procedure, because there are plenty of on-line vendors who will accept more "modern"- ie. CONVENIENT- forms of payment.

Be aware of sizes- some items may be listed with sizing other than those your country uses, such as European sizing versus American, or dimensions listed in centimeters instead of inches. The same is true for colors: computer monitor displays vary greatly and the color displayed on your screen may not be “true”, once you get the item it may be significantly darker or lighter than it appeared to be on your computer monitor.

There are other things to consider about Internet buying, too. Check about the seller’s policies on returning the costume if it’s a style or color you didn’t order; if the item is damaged, doesn’t fit you correctly, or does not match the on-line description. And as far as auctions go, that if you are participating in one on-line, be aware that the price of the item may increase significantly due to bidding from others, and what started out as a bargain may wind up costing far more money than it’s worth.

Choose your Internet costume purchases wisely, and they will serve you well!

PHOTO: A "belly dance" costume that is actually a cheaply made novelty costume

Monday, October 19, 2009


Life has been a whirlwind lately, but for me, that's nothing new!

My recent UK trip was fabulous- I heart London anyway, and consider it my home-away-from home, but this trip was special because I was going to the World Premiere of "Stuck!", Steve Balderson's homage to women-in-prison movies and Cinema Noir. "Stuck!" was playing for the first time ever at the Raindance Film Festival, and since I portray Dutch, one of the main characters- and hadn't seen the movie yet- I was bubbling over with feelings of anticipation...and anxiety! Lots of the "Stuck!" crew were making the trip, in addition to Steve and his family members, friends and production assistants Tony And Michael from Macon, Georgia ( where the movie was shot last spring) and some of the other actresses/ jailhouse gang came along, too: Starina Johnson, Susan Traylor and Stacy Cunningham. Stacy's mom came along and Starina and I had UK pals in tow- her delightful friend Ben and my close friend and music publisher Paul Jordan were with us almost the entire time. Our 'cellmates' Mink Stole and Jane Wiedlin stayed in the States to present the film at another festival in New Mexico, along with screen-writer Frankie Krainz. Oh, did we miss them! I was totally touched and excited to see lots of my UK dance friends at the premiere, including Heike Humphreys and hubby Woz,Joan, Tree, Lynne Chapman and hubby Alan Lenton.

We were all only in the UK for four days, and they were packed full of sight-seeing and celebratory dinners with the wine flowing freely. The movie was playing at The Apollo Cinema in Piccadilly Circus and on the way there, I was as nervous as a gal on a first date...and not only because my cab driver was a suicidal nut from Bengladesh who kept screaming "SHIT!! I MAKE MISTAKE, I MAKE MISTAKE!" as he pulled U-turns directly in front of on-coming double-decker buses in the middle of the street!

The movie passed in a blur, because seriously, watching yourself on-screen in a movie theater is definately a surreal experience- just ask anyone whose ever done it before! But the audience seemed to love it, and all of the reviews coming in have been fantastic, more than, i think, any of us could have ever hoped for. The movie will have it's proper theatrical release next year, but for more info on "Stuck!", and the multiple national and international film festivals where it's playing in the next few months,you can visit

As soon as the premiere was over with, like Cinderella, my life turned from movie star to back to belly dancer.

My good friend, the incredible Turkish dancer Ozgen had arranged for me to perform as a special guest on Sunday, October 11 at Archangel in Kensington, which he assured me was a very "posh" club. Friends who live locally in London confirmed to me that the place was totally a celebrity hang-out, but being from Hollywood, I don't really care about that sort of thing.The evening, billed as a Belly Dance Cake Party, was overseen by Jalya, an amazing dancer and a gorgeous person, both inside and out. As I walked in to the place, I was astounded by the sheer volume of people crowded into the place! The dancing had apparently already started, because the crowd ( which entirely filled the place and was spilling out into the halls and cloak-room) was going absolutely wild over someone who was dancing ( it was so packed I couldn't even see her!) screaming and hollering and taking pictures. I made my way to backstage, dodging countless girls in belly dance costumes and sparkly caftans and met Jalya, who was wearing a jaw-dropping, fire-engine red Bella costume. I immediately wanted to mug her and steal it, but I figured not only that it wouldn't be polite, but might possibly ruin the long-standing diplomatic propinquity that the USA and Great Britain had going on.

Time whizzed by as I watched the talented dancers, including Solaris, who performed with with a humongous albino Boa Constrictor and Johara (lovely!) and then it was time for my show. As I danced, I felt bathed in a flood of British Belly Dance Love. As soon as I came off stage, Jalya grabbed me by the hand and brought me to cut the gigantic cake- shaped like a belly dancer and decorated amazingly with a turquoise frosting costume with "fringe" made of silver sugar sprinkles. My wonderful dancing friend Layla Smith was also there, with dancer Samantha Hough ( who it was great to finally meet!) in tow.

Upstairs, as I was leaving Archangel, a bartender was juggling bottles like Tom Cruise in "Cocktail" and a bunch of tipsy Norwegians who I later found out were celebrating a birthday, grabbed me and handed me flute after flute of expensive champagne while begging me to swing dance with them to Abba.... so of course, I obliged!

The next day, Ozgen had set up some private lessons for me at his lovely penthouse studio in Belsize Park, a quaint, almost rural section of London. The students were all enthusiastic and well-trained, we had a blast. After that, Oz and I met our mutual friend Charlotte Desorgher for lunch nearby. Charlotte was still recovering from organzing the recent Belly Dance Conference and told us backstage tales of Fifi Abdou and Randa Kamel. That night I didn an interview and photos with UK-based belly dance publication Nafoura. Incredibly,in the middle of the street, I also bumped into my old friend Bridget, my Hollywood neighbor of ten years, whom I had no idea was living in London!

The next morning at 7:00am,the cab came to whisk me off to Heathrow.

I've been home for less than seven days, but this weekend I am off to even more Steve Balderson movies, film festivals and belly dancing! "Underbelly: A Year In The Life Of Dancer Princess Farhana" ( directed by-you guessed it- Steve Balderson) is playing at the Tall Grass Film Festival in Wichita, Kansas. I will be performing at the gorgeously restored Victorian-era Orpheum Theater directly after the screening, doing a Q& A after that, and teaching dance workshops for two full days at Amira Dance Productions. For info on the entire October 24 & 25 weekend events, including the festival and my dance workshops, visit

...and can somebody please pass the Airborne? I'm gonna need it!

**pix; "Stuck!" on the schedule at Apollo Cinema; Jalya and Princess backstage at Archangel by Paul Jordan

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Once again I am off to my home-away-from home, London... this time for the world premiere of "Stuck!", Steve Balderson's homage to vintage women-in-prison movies. "Stuck!" will be screening for the first time ever at Raindance Film Festival, the largest Indie Film festival in Europe, showing at the Apollo Cinema in London, near Piccadilly Circus, on Saturday October 10th.

I am so excited for the premiere, but also a little nervous, as are the other women in the cast...because we haven't seen the movie yet!

The past month has been spent at home- pretty rare for me these days! It has been great to have a break from travel...I have been working on new choreographies and costumes, re-bonding with my boyfriend and cats, teaching local classes and workshops, writing and reading a lot, mostly dance biographies.

After the UK, I will be attending another film festival- The Tall Grass Film Festival, in Wichita, Kansas where "Underbelly: A Year in The Life Of Princess Farhana" will screen on Saturday, October 24th. I will perform directly after the film at The Orpheum Theater on October 24.

I will also be teaching workshops at Amira Dance Productions in Wichita on October 24 & 25th, contact Terri Dirks for info:

Bon Voyage!

Monday, September 28, 2009


People all over the globe, in every income bracket, are feeling the effects of the failing global economy… and belly dancers are no different! The belly dance world has been experiencing the fallout of this recession just like everyone else. Un-employment is high, and many are losing jobs. People are cutting back on necessities, not to mention luxuries and leisure expenditures. In general, it seems that belly dance students are attending less classes , and in turn, studios and instructors are experiencing lower overall attendance, which means less income. Restaurants and clubs have cut back on nights featuring live entertainers- belly dancers and musicians. Across the board, belly dance suppliers and vendors have noticed a drop in belly dance costume, prop, DVD and CD sales. Merchants are complaining about having less buyers, and buyers themselves are frustrated that they can no longer afford “luxuries” like belly dance costumes, DVD’s, and the like.

Yes, our county’s financial situation is dire, but there are things we can all do to make sure we can keep our careers, favorite hobby or dance practice alive. Sometimes, it just requires a little monetary juggling or re-thinking where and on what you are spending.

When I first began dancing almost twenty years ago, I was in a rock ‘n’ roll band, already leading the life of a “starving artist”… in other words, I was flat broke! Out of necessity, I had to get really creative about the ways I was going about moving my dance career forward, and figure out means for taking classes, getting myself costumed, and promoting myself. It was always a scramble to do this on a practically non-existant budget, but somehow I made it happen.
Recently, I began to recall all of the things I did “ back in the day”- my tricks for cutting corners and being able to afford music and costumes so I could do to achieve my goals… and I thought perhaps some of this might help other dancers get through these financially tough times, so here are some ideas.

There are many things you can “afford” by using barter or trade, and that includes your continuing dance education! Ask your local studio if you can trade some volunteer time in exchange for classes…maybe you can offer to tidy up the studio, or sit at the desk to take attendance for regular classes or workshops, or do office/ administrative work in exchange for classes.
Want a private class but can’t afford one? Think of what you could offer your teacher. If you have a skill, it could be a straight exchange: are you a photographer, make-up artist, seamstress or web designer? Any of these talents could be traded for belly dance lessons. Or perhaps you speak French, or are good at gardening, book keeping, child-care- whatever! Think of the skill set you have and see if they could possibly be performed in exchange for private dance lessons.

Make a Dance Play Date with a friend. This is like a private lesson, essentially: two dancers get together and figure out what they want to learn from each other, book an hour or two of rehearsal time in a studio (or just get together at someone’s house) and give each other a private lesson in each other’s specialties, say sword technique for fan tips, Hip Hop or jazz dance know-how in exchange for a Saidi choreography, even a Cabaret and Tribal movement swap. We all have skills and talents that we want to learn or wouldn’t mind sharing. Just ask!

Carpool to classes- enough said! This saves on gas and gives everyone a chance to socialize and hang out, too. You can also car-pool to major dance events, and for road trips, of course, share hotel rooms. Bring along cooler or two and save some dough by bringing along your own water, snacks and munchies. This is usually healthier-and way less expensive- than buying food on-site at dance events.

Many instructors are happy to give private lessons to two students at a time, or even a small group, for the same price that a single person would pay. Ask around about it and you might be able to get private instruction for less than the cost of a regular class.

Combine printing and promo costs. Say you and a friend both want business cards- print them double-sided (one dancer per side) and split the cost down the middle. If you have an event coming up that is fairly close to another scheduled event, contact the other promoter and see if there is a way to cut promotional costs by sharing a website, graphic designer or by printing up both events on one flyer or post card. This will reduce your expenses, and also open you and the other person up to a whole new range of potential students, business contacts, or ticket-buyers.

Share props and costumes with your trusted friends. Own a shamadan but need some fan veils for an up-coming performance? See if anyone would be interested in a temporary prop-swap…this would save you having to buy the props if you are only going to use them a couple of times.
If you are ordering a set of Isis Wings in silver, see if someone else in your area has them in gold (or red, or whatever) and ask if she would be willing to trade them on a per-performance basis, so they could be used by each of you with more than just one costume…and you wouldn’t have to spend on two sets of wings! Or, you and a pal or two could go in together on buying an expensive costume or prop, and decide who gets to use it and when. Some friends and I were all going to buy expensive Sally Rand Ostrich plume fans, and before buying them, we all co-coordinated who ordered what color so we could interchange them for various shows based upon our individual costume needs.

As someone who makes a living from teaching dancing both live and on DVD, I don’t at all advocate illegal copying of any DVD’s or CD’s… but I do think it’s perfectly fair for individuals to buy instructional or performance DVD’s and CD’s and share them with each other. Either swap your DVD’s after a few viewings or have a “workshop” day or “DVD party” at your house and invite a couple of dance pals over to view the latest instructional or performance DVD.

Make sure to take care of all your costumes and props, keeping them clean, repaired and in working condition. This will help not only in extending the “life span” of whatever you own, but should you decide to sell it, it will keep the re-sale value of the item higher.
Hand-wash your work-out and class wear- this will not only save on energy and electricity bills, but the garments will last longer, because the color and fabric fibers get broken down in the clothes dryer.
Belly dance costumes can also be hand-washed , too, and a clean costume will definitely last longer. Many dancers are afraid to try it, but do a spot test first, to make sure the color won’t run. To wash your costume, fill a bathtub about a quarter full with cool water and a very mild hand-washing dtergent, like Coollove or Woolite. I myself use baby shampoo. Just swish the costume around a little, rinse very well, and lay it flat somewhere safe to dry. On highly embellished costumes, this may take up to a few days, but the costume –and it’s fringe-will sparkle like new.

Think of ways you could re-work older costumes to make them new and fresh again. Replacing worn-out fringe - or even taking fringe off completely- can make it look new again, and costs much less than buying a new one! Gather up all your un-used veils and sew them into a full gypsy skirt… if you have a costume with sleeves, see if they can be removed and made into gauntlets… try dying older or stained veils- most dye well, and the sequins will retain their original color…mix and match the costume pieces you already have and see if you can come up with new ways to wear them.
Get your wigs and falls re-styled instead of buying new ones. This will not only prolong their life-span, but is much less expensive.
Re-sole your suede-soled dance shoes with a thin layer of “dance rubber”- this will extend the life of the shoes as well as protect your feet.

Sort through your costumes mercilessly and figure out what you can part with. Sell old items or those that never fit quite right on the Internet, or in your local dance studio. You can definitely “find” some money this way- or be suddenly able to afford a new costume.
Organize a costume; accessory and prop swap with your dance friends- one dancer’s trash is another gal’s treasure!
Shop at second-hand stores for old evening dresses or accessories that can be used to make or enhance costumes. Take a hard look at what you own, or what you want or need, and figure out a way to get it, either by making it, or incorporating it in some way…like cutting off appliqués from a brides maid dress you bought at a garage sale!
Ask your local dance studio or gym if they have a discount “class card” or will offer a special price on a block of classes paid in advance. Many studios and gyms do this already.
If you are professional dancer, you might already know that larger companies like Capezio or Mac Cosmetics offer a substantial professional discount if you present a business card, or register into a “Pro” program. Work this option, girl!

Many on-line vendors have a mailing list you can sign onto that will notify regular customers of costume and prop sales- sign up and save some serious greenbacks! As for festival vendors, if you are coveting a pricey costume you can always have a word with the vendor about your purchasing options- some vendors may reduce the item’s price after a few months, or be willing to charge less if you pay in cash, or will put it on lay-away for you.
Explore ordering belly dance supplies whole sale. You and a few friends want new hip scarves, CD’s or need finger cymbals? Contact vendors and see if it’s possible to get a wholesale price on an order with multiple pieces.

If you have dance items, props, craft supplies or even old materials or trims you are not using, consider donating them to a student dance troupe, local theater companies, drama classes, kid’s day camps or even women’s centers. It will not only clear out your closet, you will have the great satisfaction of knowing that someone will be getting some good use out of whatever you don’t need!
Above all, don’t let the bad economy prevent you from doing something you love! Have fun, get creative and keep belly dancing! The world- no matter what the financial climate- will be a better place because of you!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Over the years, many people have wondered about my stage name, Princess Farhana. Reactions to my royal moniker have run the gamut from those who “get” it, to people who are confused or once in a while, even outraged. Many individuals show tongue-in-cheek deference and call me “Your Majesty”, or “Your Highness”.

Sometimes when I was teach and perform in Europe and the UK, where there are people who are true royalty, dancers earnestly and politely asked my sponsors if they should refer to me by my “title”. I even recall a review of a an early video performance of mine where the mean-spirited writer not only dissed my dancing but seemed to be downright disgusted that my name was Princess Farhana. I should have taken a cue from my royal sister Marie Antoinette and told her to go eat cake!

The truth is, when I started dancing, I was just plain old Farhana. But like an ancient legend, my royal title was bestowed upon me; the “fairy-godmother” who started calling me Princess Farhana was the dancer Atlantis. Her reason? The fact that I wore my trademark crown or tiara every time I performed. Like many nicknames, it stuck immediately!

Before I even set foot onstage, I had a crazy, big-ass collection of crowns and tiaras, ranging from vintage beauty queen numbers I’d found at flea markets to plastic kid’s tiaras with blinking LED lights to cheesy “Halloween Headquarters” Cleopatra-style Egyptian cobra-crowns to Victorian –through- 1920’s headpieces glittering with semi-precious stones purchased (sometimes for budget-breaking sums) from auctions and estate sales. I was an addict! It got to the point that rhinestone tiaras were simply not enough, I needed CROWNS. Then, in total junkie mode, crowns were not enough and I needed full-on headdresses. I soon realized that merely wishing for royal headgear wasn’t going to make it a reality… so I got out my craft supplies and started to play.

After a lot of experimenting, I got pretty good at fabricating fabulous head pieces… so here are a few ideas and tips for doing it yourself. You will need some or all of the following materials, many of which can be purchased inexpensively at craft or sewing stores, or even- if you are a crazy crafts/costume hoarder like me- found around your home. Here’s what you’ll need: a glue gun and glue sticks, craft glue, glitter, a yard or two of 1” elastic, rhinestones, artificial flowers, Mardi Gras beads or pearls-by-the-yard, feather plumes, sequin appliqués, and scraps of decorative material, such as brocade, sequin-dot fabric, or lame’. Get a couple of cheap plastic headbands – Goody, Scunci or any dime store brand is fine. Also- have a Styrofoam wig-head on hand, they are invaluable for the crafting of your headpiece, and the perfect place to store crowns and headdresses.

Coquette Feather Spray:
This cute headpiece is like one that a can-can dancer or saloon girl would wear, and is an awesome topper for cabaret, tribal, Goth or burlesque style dance costumes. Place a headband securely onto a wig-head, and with your glue gun, draw a line down the center of surface of the headband, thinly and evenly, then press sequin trim or decorative ribbon down on the line, turning the ends of the trim under at each end of the headband. Wait a few minutes for the glue to set, and then squirt a healthy blob onto one end of the band, the part that goes over and behind your ear. Press a feather plume or two into the glue. When the feather is stable, squirt more hot glue onto the “join” of the feather and headband, and cover it with glitter or rhinestones, which will cover any excess glue as well as look adorable!

The difference between crowns and tiaras is that crowns encircle your head, and tiaras are U-shaped, affixed to your head at each end, behind the ears, for dance-worthy tiaras, it’s a good idea to secure the headpiece with elastic from end-to-end. You may want to buy a couple of a pre-made tiara forms, which are basically wire-framed buckram or net crowns, available from most bridal shops or on the Internet. These range in price from about $5.00-$15.00, and make wonderful bases for embellishment, as well as save you some time in fabrication. If you get one of these, they usually have a covered wire attached from end to end. You can either leave it on, or snip it off with a craft scissors or wire cutter, and affix elastic either to each end by hand-sewing it with sturdy thread or dental floss. If your hair is dark, use dark elastic, so that it matches your hair.

You can cover the tiara form with decorative material (trace the tiara, c and cut the material a little larger so you can fold back the edges for more coverage. An easier option would be to lightly spray the tiara form with regular spray paint (from a hardware store) to match your costume. After it has dried thoroughly, and affix sequin appliqués or faux flowers to the front of the crown with a glue gun. You may also want to line the top edge of the tiara with sequins-by-the-yard trim or grosgrain ribbon, to give it a finished look. Make certain to turn the ends under, so they do not fray.

To fabricate a headdress, begin by measuring your head from ear-to-ear across the top, and using a plastic headband for a guide, draw a curved crown shape on a sturdy piece of cardboard… any stiff cardboard is fine- I’ve used everything from (oh, the GLAMOUR!!!) water bottle or beer boxes to mailing cartons from the recycling bin! Cut the shape from the cardboard with a sturdy scissors. You may need a couple of tries to get a good shape that fits your head snugly. You may also have the crown rounded or with a point in the middle, at the top- your choice. Personally, I like the ends to be about 1-2” in size, and the mid-point, or top of the crown, about 3-5”. Once you have a shape that works for you, fits your head and is the height you want, trace it, and cut out another identical shape. To embellish, you can either spray the crown-shapes again, or lay them flat on a two scraps of decorative cloth, tracing out the design on the cloth with about an inch to spare. After you’ve cut out the shapes on your material, lay each of the cardboard crowns on both of the pieces of cloth, and glue them down by folding the cloth over the edges, and securing with a glue gun.

Next, place one crown-shape with the decorated side down, take your feather plumes, and lay them out on the wrong side of the crown, end-points down (you may need to trim them a bit from the bottom) on the crown. An uneven number is best for this, so start from the center, and place the other plumes on each side of the center plume. Measure for even spacing, mark with a pencil, and using your glue gun, trace the lines you’ve marked, with a good amount of glue, and press the feathers into the glue. Let this dry, try it on, and measure a length of elastic (white or flesh tone is best) from ear-to-ear, with about an inch left over on each side. This will be your headdress chinstrap, so make sure it’s a tight fit, but not so tight that it will strangle you! Again, with the glue gun, squirt a healthy dollop on one end of the headdress, at the bottom, on the wrong side (the side you’ve affixed the feathers to) and glue down the excess elastic. Making sure the elastic is straight; repeat this step on the other side.

Now, take the other crown-shape, and its wrong side, cover the entire surface with hot glue. Making sure it is laying evenly on top of the first form you made, press it down like a headdress-sandwich onto the feathers, so that they are held between the two layers of crown-shapes. After it has dried, you may want to make sure that top ends of the headdress-crown or held together in a sturdy way, and add a little glue for re-enforcement, being careful not to get any of the goo on the feathers.

Make sure to practice your dancing with the headdress or tiara a lot before you hit the stage- because the added height can throw you off a bit. Turns will also have a different feel, because of the height and resistance-factor, and some moves, like head-tosses, may be impossible! Also, warm up your neck and shoulders properly, because if you don’t, even that little bit of extra weight on your head may cause some discomfort the next day.

Have fun being a dancing diva!!!!

*Photo by Don Spiro

Monday, September 7, 2009


It's barely the end of summer, and in some places, school isn't even in session... but already, the stores are filled with Halloween decorations, and you know that means: we're sliding down a slippery slope to the end of 2009, and The Holidays. For some people, that means going into a purchasing frenzy. But with the economy being the way it is today, many of us may not be able to afford to spend the way we previously did on the gifts, feasts, bells and whistles that go along with the Holidays. So why not get your Jolly Holiday fix for 2009 by helping others?

Have you ever wanted to contribute to a worthy cause, but couldn’t seem find the time to volunteer, or realized that any “disposable income” you might have went directly to dance classes or costume purchases? There's a way you can help, and it doesn't cost a penny. Dancing at benefits and fund-raising events for charities, social or environmental organizations can be a great way for you to contribute to the worthy cause of your choice AND display your dance talent.

My entire adult life I have been involved in the arts, and though that has been unbelievably rewarding on a personal as well as creative level, I can tell you sincerely that “starving artist” is not a euphemistic phrase. Sometimes, over the years, even donating ten or twenty bucks to a great cause that I believed in would’ve broken my bank, so whenever I could, I donated what I could: my time and talent - both as an entertainer and an event producer- to organizations or assistance groups whose work I supported.

Since the late 1980’s, I have either produced or performed on countless shows that raised funds for organizations like The American Red Cross, The United Way, Rock The Vote, Hollygrove Orphanage, AIDS Project Los Angeles, Sweet Relief, Project Angel Food, The Los Angeles Free Clinic, SPARK, Caring For Babies With Aids, The ASPCA, Food Not Bombs, Los Angeles Youth Network, Children of The Night and numerous women’s shelters…as well as many “private citizen” benefits for fellow artists who needed financial help in dealing with health problems or personal misfortune. This experience has definately enriched my life, and also given me a handle on how to help the community through donating my services as opposed to financial resources. Like me, you may have a schedule that is too full to be able to volunteer on a regular basis, so you may want to explore being part of a benefit show, or even putting one on yourself.

Fund raising shows occur all year round, because there is always a need for money. Youth organizations, animal rescue services, women’s shelters and general relief type charities constantly need funds. There are also certain times when benefits or fund raising events might “spike”, such as the months leading up to the Holiday Season, or after a national or international disaster, like Hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami. Every bit of money counts, so there is no such thing as any show or event being too small. Do what you can, when you can because it all adds up.

If you are interested in donating your time and talent to this sort of work, there are a few ways of going about it: you can either choose to offer your services to an established organization as an entertainer, or you can set up a fund raising event yourself. Either way, you will get that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with doing good deed!

There may already be belly dancers involved in volunteer work in your area, and you can seek them out and get involved with them. For example, in Los Angeles, MECDA routinely holds haflas that raise funds and take donations of food, clothes and bedding for women’s shelters, and Tonya and Atlantis of BDUC have always put aside a portion of funds from their events to make financial contributions to animal and wildlife organizations, like Wild Horse Rescue and the ASPCA. Ask around with the dancers in your community, see what you can find; then introduce yourself and offer to help.

You can also approach an organization you believe in and tell them you would like to donate your services as an entertainer or stage manager if they are planning any future fund raising shows. Ask for the people who head the fund raising or public relations committees, explain that you want to help, what you can offer, and make sure they keep your business card and resume on file.

You could opt to put on a show yourself- on any scale, large or small- but you also need to know that if you producing a fund raising show or benefit yourself, prepared for a lot of work, literally- weeks and months of work, to be specific.

If you are asked to perform at a charity event, there are a few things you need to bear in mind. Some fund-raisers pay entertainers a fee for their services, but this isn’t always the case. You may not be able to afford missing a regular gig in order to do a fund-raiser, but on the other hand, you may feel passionate about the cause and wish to participate even if it means foregoing pay. Some benefit shows are very high-profile events that will bring you a lot of free publicity, not to mention other job contacts, so it can be lucrative for you in the long run.

Ask questions about where you will be performing, as you would for any gig. Is the venue a theater, art gallery, or a private home? Will you be dancing on a stage or dance floor? Outside in a festival atmosphere? In this case, because of wind and other weather conditions, props such as veils and swords may not be a good idea. Bring shoes, flat sandals or ballet slippers are probably best when you are not sure what sort of surface you will be dancing on. Make sure there is a dressing room or somewhere you can change and safely leave your belongings while you perform.

More things to inquire about: What is the sound system like? You may be the only act that features music. Definitely bring a back-up copy of your performance set. If there is more than one oriental dancer performing, it is a good idea to co-ordinate the music with other dancers beforehand, so two dancers don’t use the same song. How long will your performance be? And what sort of performance is it?

Many people who are not familiar with oriental dance will want to book a belly dancer at their fund raising event, but as an “atmosphere performer”, to add “color” to their event. The event may have a theme such as “Circus” or "Arabian Nights”. If you are asked to perform to add to the atmosphere, this basically means that they would like to dance through the crowd, to whatever random music is playing. Obviously, though you will be helping to raise money for your cause, this is not what would be termed an “optimal” performance opportunity! Check to make sure that this is what is being asked of you, because if it is, you may want to reconsider, or at the least, explain that although you appreciate that they want “color” at your event, your talents will go to waste. Personally, I ALWAYS insists on dancing on a stage or dance floor, in a designated performance area. I turn down any gig- for charity or otherwise- where they want me to dance through the crowd. You may not feel the same, but my reasons- with experience, as my teacher- is many. First of all, why dance to any music other than your own personal performance piece? Secondly, roaming through a crowd doesn’t show off your skills, there’s just no room to actually perform, and in a crowd situation, there is always the risk of having people step on your skirts, rip your veil or spill drinks on you. This is no good for a paying gig, and it’s even worse if you are volunteering your time! You want to come home feeling good, not resentful, riiiight?

As for other considerations, if you are donating your time and talent to an event, at any well-organized show, it’s routine have your parking taken care of, and have water, soft drinks or food provided. It’s also not unreasonable to ask if, in return for your services, you can have your business card or contact number printed in the programs, and you should also check if you can pass out or display business cards or flyers advertising your classes or other performances. Some benefit producers will pay you a small honorarium, but even if you are not getting paid, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a charity donation receipt, which you can use for your own tax purposes.

If you are putting together a benefit or charity event yourself, like I said earlier, be prepared for A LOT of work. It will be necessary for you to have someone designated as your ‘second in command’ and a stage manager at the least, if not a full staff of volunteers, like door people, raffle-ticket sellers, stage hands, and so on. Don’t even attempt to co-ordinate AND perform if you have no previous experience in running a show. You will want to start strategizing and planning your event months in advance.

First you must pick your cause- whether it’s a fellow dancer who needs help with medical bills, or an established charitable organization. If you are putting on a show for a specific, established organization, you need to contact the organization, tell them your intentions, and make sure that it is ok for you to use their name on flyers, advertising the benefit. Some organizations are leery of being associated with any sort of “outside” fund-raising events because of scams- many people claim they are doing a fund-raiser and the money never actually reaches it’s intended goal. In addition, the cause you are raising money for may want to send representatives, speakers, or printed literature to your event.

Now it’s time to choose your performers. You want to go for those with a large draw, so the event will be packed. If you want to work with someone locally (or even nationally) famous, write up a short, business-like proposal letter, outlining your goals, specifying date, what cause the money will go to, and possible venues. With good performers, venues will be more interested in working with you. If dancers will be working in a tipping situation, you should allow them the option of keeping their tips, as they are donating their time and talents to your event. Make sure you specify how long you need each artist or group to perform, and roughly what time they will go on. Make up a schedule; allow for lateness or run- over by inserting a few minutes of “dead time” between performance slots. Make sure each act knows what time to be there for sound/light checks or tech rehearsal, what time the show begins, what time they actually go on, and if they will be permitted to bring a guest or two. Confirm all this in writing and re-confirm by phone or email a week before the show as well as the day before. It’s not just a great idea but a necessity to make up a contact list with email and cell phone numbers of your crew and performers and keep them updated as to schedule changes, availability of promotional materials, etc. in the weeks before the show.

Next, you should pick a venue. Ideally, it would be a restaurant, club or theater with which you already have a relationship. Set a date that is far enough in advance for you to be able to generate ample publicity. Getting the space donated for free is optimal, but if that isn’t possible, try to work out a special rental rate. Sometimes, if you want to use a place on an off night, and seem to be able to guarantee business, they will be happy to work with you. And many business owners are glad to do something for a good cause. You either need to put the money up yourself, or agree with the owner that the rental expense will be taken directly off the top of the door. Some restaurants may be glad to charge a cover and split it with you for donation purposes, or donate half of each paid meal to the cause. Don’t expect this, and make sure to work this out in advance with the owner, and get it in writing. Offer to make out a charitable donation slip in their name or the name of the business for a tax deduction. You can do this with your performers, too. Everyone needs a tax write off! You also must mutually decide if customers can pay with personal checks and /or credit cards, or if you will be accepting cash only. Some places will also allow you to put a donation box up, too. The price of the event should be slightly higher than normal, because this show is special, but you don’t want to make it astronomical, because you want a sold-out crowd. Decide in advance if you will also be taking donations of, say, canned foods, used clothing, toys, etc. If you do this, know that it is your responsibility to get the donated items to their final destination.

You can also explore getting flyers or programs, T-shirts, or ads in newspapers donated by sponsors. This takes legwork- you have to contact the potential sponsors, give them an outline of your goals, etc. Local papers or magazines may be able to give you a special charity rate or even donate an ad, and they are usually enthusiastic about running a pre-event announcement, sometimes, they will even run a feature. Make sure to provide them with photos or j-pegs at least a month in advance of your event. Publications almost never turn down printing pictures of pretty women … Hello! Glamorous belly dancers working for a good cause! If a sponsor or a publication is donating a sizeable amount of cash or ad space, you may want to put their names above the title of the event:

“ (You) and (Local Business or Businesses) Present A Night of Dance To Benefit (Name Of Organization) “

Otherwise, printing their name in a “ Special Thanks To Our Sponsors” area of the program will do. You may be able to get artwork and/or printing, either for flyers, programs or T-shirts donated, too. Be aware that this process takes a lot of time and follow-up work; so if you are going to try to get these goods or services donated, start working on it as soon as you secure your date and venue.

You can raise even more money with door prizes, either by using numbered admission tickets or by having volunteers selling raffle tickets inside the event. In order to get good prizes you also have to use your head: who do you know that would be willing to donate a door prize? This can be anything from a set of zills or grab-bag of CD’s, to gift-certificates from a store, passes for movies, dinner for two at a local restaurant, or coupons for a spa treatment, theater show car-wash … Anything goes! How about a gift certificate for free belly dance lessons?

On the day or night of the show make your performers feel comfortable. Be sure you have water, soft drinks and snacks backstage, or that you have arranged for the cast and crew to be fed afterwards. Some promoters even provide a small, inexpensive gift for performers. This is a nice touch, which shows your gratitude, but is not necessary. Treat your performers and volunteers well because they are donating their precious time and talents.

Hopefully, your show will go off without a hitch… BUT DON’T COUNT ON IT! Even though Murphy’s Law will usually apply, try to maintain a calm, professional attitude no matter what. Definitely anticipate last minute, “Plan B” type changes, but also realize that if you have worked everything out in advance, there will be glitches, but they should be minimal.

After the show is over and the money has been counted, it is your duty as the producer to get the funds and whatever other donations (canned food, toys, clothes, etc.) To the organization or person you raised the funds for. You will probably also be spending some time filling out tax donation receipts for yourself, the venue, and performers. Please remember to thank all the performers, technicians, wait staff and volunteers that donated time, services and talent. You can do this by phone, or email, but a thank-you note is much classier!

Remember, you can make a difference! May you be blessed for your generous spirit, and have a great show!