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