Sunday, June 21, 2009
In less than 24 hours I will be on my way to Cairo, and though I'm really looking forward to it, the usual pre-trip pandemonium is in full effect, in a big way!
Yesterday, it was raining here in Hollywood, and I had to take Blondie to the vet for her kitten booster shots. After the battle of getting her into the cat-carrier, I discovered my car battery had died. Got a lift to the vet, and later my patient, awesome boyfriend fixed the car.
Had to cancel a gig last night due to my auto-accident injuries acting up. Booked an emergency on-the-way-to-the-airport visit with my also-awesome, also-patient chiropractor for tomorrow.
Today the sun is out, and while Blondie was playing in the garden with her mom and the other the adult cats, she got stung by a bee. Calls to the emergency vet ensued; with a bit of struggle, I removed the stinger ( what an evil, long-ass thing it turned out to be, too!) with a tweezer and she's now sleeping peacefully in her little basket.
In between all this, I have been doing promo for the July 18 Los Angeles workshop and show with Ozgen, my friend from UK who is an AMAZING Turkish-born dancer. ( See www.laraqs.com for info on that) and talking with my sponsor Shawn for my up-coming Alaska workshops in Juneau and Anchorage, for the first two weeks of August. To see more about this, go here:
Yes, it's always a thrill a minute, never a dull moment at The Royal Palace!
I will try to post some new blog entries from Cairo...but be forewarned: I am a total techno-tard!
In the meantime, Happy Summer Solstice and Happy Father's Day!
The Citadel of Muhammed Ali, Cairo
Princess Of The Nile
An amazing vintage sign in a Cairo store front ( "Misr" means "Egypt", in case you didn't know!)
On the bus with Randa Kamel's singer, Samir, the band and belly dancer Dalila, sitting to my right-on our way to a wedding gig in Heliopolis
Friday, June 19, 2009
I leave for Cairo this Monday, and aside from teaching, performing and partying at Ahlan Wa Sahlan, I am so happy that I will be seeing a lot of my belly dance friends, both those travelling from the US and other countries, as well as my dancer gal-pals currently living in Cairo. One of the people I'm really looking forward to seeing is Aleya, who sort of came up in the Los Angeles belly dance world at the same time I did.
Aleya and I totally tore it up in Cairo last May, and we're planning on doing the same this year, but on an even larger scale...last year, when I went home, she stayed on, in hopes of fulfilling her dream of working as a belly dancer in Egypt!
But before she left the US for Egypt, she left a "calling card"- a great CD called "Bellylicious Raks"
This fabulous CD was a labor of love, conceived produced by Aleya. Angelenos may know her because she has been working in the LA area for years, both as a soloist and with her popular Negma Dance Company. Having spent quite a lot of time in both Egypt and Lebanon, and experiencing Arabic music played live, Aleya had gotten tired of much of the Western-influenced, over-synthesized, soul-free music on the market today, and so she brainstormed this project, with professional Oriental Dance performers in mind. As a result, this CD is textured with dynamic live percussion and beautiful, intricate kanoun and accordion playing. There’s a really gorgeous version of Om Kalthoum’s Oriental classic “Ya Msaharne” and great versions of “Zay El Hawa” and “Ganal Hawa”, which are timed perfectly for restaurant work, private parties or even competitions. One of my personal favorite tracks is the driving opening song, “Hassan”. Now for a shameless plug… Aleya allowed me to “Hassan” in my performance on the up-coming “By Dancers, For Dancers #5 “ performance DVD, which will be released by Michelle Joyce’s Cheeky Girls Productions this summer. Also, I have used one of the drum solos from this CD on my “Abs-Olutely Fabulous” DVD.
But back to the CD: all the musical arrangements are fabulous, done by acclaimed Lebanese percussionist Ziad Islambouli and keyboardist/ accordion player Fayez Deryan, and the whole thing is a great mix of traditional Middle Eastern favorites and new modern pieces.
Islambouli is somewhat of a legend in Los Angeles, having played at the upscale Byblos Nightclub for almost two decades. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in LA and haven’t had the privilege having seen him live, you maybe familiar with his recorded work on Suhaila Salimpour’s musical selections. He is a world-class percussionist, talented and powerful. This CD provides FOUR separate, innovative tabla solos, ranging in length from a minute to just over three minutes, so there is definitely something here for everybody! The drum solos and orchestrated tracks could be put together in a number of ways to make quite a few high-energy routines.
I highly recommend “Bellylicious Raks”- it’s a must for any working dancer and would be a wonderful addition to any performer’s collection….in fact, I can’t stop dancing to it, it’s one of my favorite CD’s!
Bellylicious Raks is available from:
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Yeah, yeah, I know I just wrote a how-to article on packing for belly dance road trips... but this was one problem I didn't really anticipate, my kitten Blondie, acting as The Royal Valet, "helping" me get ready to go to Cairo!
Monday, June 15, 2009
I'm off to Cairo in exactly a week, for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival, and that means I'm about to begin the labor-intensive process of packing appropriately, so I thought that the following article would be a timely blog entry.
Though I'm terrible at un-packing...my living room is constantly an obstacle course full of halfway un-packed gig bags from local shows and out-of-town workshops, I am great at packing for trips...cause I take them so often!
Here’s what happens when a workshop sponsor meets me at an airport: we exchange greetings, load my carry-on bag into her vehicle, and inevitably she asks,
“Is that all the luggage you have?”
I’ve spent the better part of the past decade jetting all over the world to teach and perform. Because of that, I’ve learned to pack extremely well. Many of my sponsors have joked that I should teach a workshop on packing skills!
I used to drag “just in case” things along that never got used: extra costumes, glamorous dresses, blow-dryers, full-sized toiletries … until I wised up and realized that it wasn’t the dancing that was sending me to the chiropractor’s office, it was my heavy, unmanageable luggage!
Even if you don’t take trips at the rate that I do, packing lightly makes sense. If you are going by plane, and have your bag with you, there is zero chance of the airline losing it, and believe me, that happens more than you would think! If your luggage disappears and your costume(s) and music are inside the lost bag, then you are up the creek without a paddle.
The key to a “great pack” is to determine what is absolutely necessary costume-wise, prop-wise, comfort-wise.
Sometimes, it’s impossible to fit everything into a carry-on bag. If you have multiple costume changes, are traveling with props, workshop essentials like notebooks, flyers, business cards or carrying any amount of merch or promo you probably WON’T fit it all into one suitcase.
In this case, make sure your essentials are in the carry-on itself- at least one costume, and music, so even if everything else gets lost you can still perform. You may want to look into using door-to-door luggage services to ship an extra suitcase. These services tend to be more reliable than airlines, and guarantee delivery. They aren’t cheap, but it saves a lot of hassle and most airlines are now charging for checked bags anyway.
You could also look into Fed-Exing or Priority Mailing a box of merch to yourself care of the front desk at the hotel where you will be staying. The concierge or manager at most hotel chains regularly deals with this sort of thing for their business clients.
The first law of packing is that costumes and props take precedence over street clothes and class-wear. We all know how insanely bulky costumes are, whether it’s a fully fringed cabaret extravaganza or a metal-encrusted, tribal bra and belt with a zillion-yard circle skirt. Take a look at your favorite costumes and decide which ones are most portable… a few may not make the cut for use as “out of towners”.
Ideally, your travel costumes will look absolutely stunning onstage, but don’t need too much attention when pulled out of a suitcase. The newer style Egyptian and Turkish cabaret costumes perfect: they’re feather- weight, many have no belts making them less heavy, and they’re usually made of synthetics, which are wrinkle-resistant. Many costumes appropriate for fusion are also highly packable: of bras and belts that are highly embellished, and simple pants or a flowing skirt. Tribal costumes will be more of a challenge, with the heavy jewelry and yardage involved. For traveling with these, you may want to use only your most amazing costume pieces and accessories, and concentrate on strong stage make-up and a great color palette as opposed to piling on mounds of gorgeous- but ridiculously heavy - accessories.it’s your call!
Pack your costumes cleverly then fill in around them. Roll skirts up small and tight and call or email ahead to make sure the place you’re staying has an iron. Ditto for a blow dryer. These amenities are now standard everywhere you go.
Headpieces or hair-flowers can be packed in Tupperware or utility boxes, cushioned by bra pads, a folded or rolled veil. Wigs or falls can go in a flat disposable casserole tray; pack earrings bracelets or necklaces in plastic bags and lay them on the bottom, before you put you hairpiece in. Encase dance or street shoes in recycled grocery bags; tuck them into the corners of your bag.
I pack my costume, all it’s accessories, my performance CD, veil and zills in a two-gallon zip-lock plastic freezer bag. At my destination, I know all essential parts are together, not stuck into some compartment of my suitcase. Plastic bags also protect your costume. As long as your costume is clean and dry before it goes into the bag, it’ll be fine. Once I had a suitcase sit on the tarmac at London’s Heathrow Airport for 45 minutes in a raging rainstorm. By the time it got into the terminal, the whole bag was soaked through. Boy, was I glad my costumes and regular clothes were encased in plastic bags- they were fine. As for the suitcase, it took almost two days of sitting in front of an English radiator to dry out!
If you are flying with swords, know that there’s no way in hell they’ll make it into the passenger cabin. No amount of begging (“ But it’s only a stage-prop!”) will help get it on board with you. I arrange to borrow swords for my appearances in foreign countries, it just makes things easier. Domestically, you will want to protect your sword by putting it in a well-padded container with “FRAGILE” marked all over the outside. I use a hard guitar-case with a padded interior for sword transport; some use rifle cases. I include business cards, a bio, and photocopies of myself using the sword onstage, just in case an over-zealous TSA agent who thinks it’s actual weapons opens the case!
Though shamadans can be disassembled or collapsed (always keep a screw driver and wrench with you!) they will probably still be too large to bring on board and will have to be checked. Pack it in a well-padded box, labeled “fragile”, and if it has chains with crystals attached, wrap those in bubble wrap individually before packing the rest of the candelabrum.
Canes, Isis Wings and feather fans can be brought into the cabin on a plane, but call ahead to check the dimensions for the over-head storage bins, and make sure your items fit…you definitely don’t want to check these fragile things at the last minute. Many feather fans, or fan-veils or Isis wings will fit into a carry-on bag. I slip all my foldable hand fans and even smaller Sally Rand fans into hard cardboard document tubes which can be purchased at an office supply store -this will keep them from getting their staves cracked or bent. When you get to your destination, open the wings or your fan veils and steam them in a bathroom with the shower running, to let wrinkles work their way out…. of course, this is not recommended for feather fans! Larger Sally Rand feather fans will fit nicely into a long mailer tube or office-store box- but again, it will need to be checked- pad it well! Smaller brass trays and pots or jugs for folkloric dance can fit easily into a suitcase, protect them with clothes and costume pieces.
STREET CLOTHES, TRAVEL TOGS AND CLASSROOM WEAR
Dress in layers because planes and airports are either too warm or too cold. I wear a tank with a light, long sleeved t-shirt over it, and a hoodie. Bring a large pashmina -type wrap , which can be worn as a scarf, evening cover-up, tied over sweats as a skirt, or used in lieu of a scuzzy airline blanket. I wear Ugg boots for travel because they are comfy and practical: they slip off easily for TSA security checks; they’re perfect for those mad dashes when you’re making a connection. I wear the same pants for travel as I do in classes- jeans are another item that probably won’t be worn all weekend long!
No one is going to notice or care if you wear the same pair of Melodia pants, and you can tuck in a spare pair of straight-legged, stretchy leggings, they can pinch-hit as pajama bottoms, and look great under dresses or skirts. Add in a couple of tanks or crop-tops, your least bulky hip-scarf, and you’ll be good to go for your workshops. If you need a veil and zills for your classes, use the same ones you’ll be using for your performance. A lightweight cover-up will get you to and from the stage when you are performing, and doubles as a robe in your hotel room. Bring a pair of flip-flops to use for street wear, bedroom slippers or protecting your feet backstage. Want to look pretty for evening? Think “little black dress” preferably in a jersey or synthetic knit. They roll up small and won’t wrinkle. Add earrings and heels, and it actually looks like you made an effort!
BEFORE YOU GO
I have a gig checklist on my computer, with all my travel necessities, costumes and props listed on it. Make one for yourself, and refer to it, checking each item off as you pack it.
The night before a trip, I sort through my make-up bag, whittling it down to as few items as possible. I keep all my dry items like powder shadows and pencils, brushes, etc., in the make-up case and fill a snack-sized bag with lipsticks, gloss, eyeliner, eyelash glue mascara- any of the “no-no” TSA items. That smaller bag goes into my allotted quart baggie- along with travel-sized toothpaste, contact lense solution, moisturizer. Body glitter and a couple of sets of false eyelashes go into the bag holding my costumes.
Do a “dummy check” and make sure once again that you have everything essential for your trip, then edit mercilessly.
Pack a couple of snack-baggies full of raw nuts or trail mix- the stuff at airports is over-priced not to mention salty…can you say “bloated”?
Try to get as much sleep as possible a night or two before you travel, because you probably won’t get it at your event!
Make sure to fill a pocket of your bag with travel-sized trouble –shooters: make-up remover wipes, pain relief tables, band-aids safety pins, a small sewing kit, a set of bra pads and feminine protection.
Obey the “quart baggie” rule- it will get you through the TSA security lines much faster. On the plane, I put the items I placed into the quart baggie back into my cosmetic bag where they belong. Before entering the airport, remove any metal objects from your person- including sunglasses, belt-buckles, and jewelry or hair accessories with metal clips and put them in your carry-on. This will save you from walking through the metal detector more than once. Keep your ID and boarding pass out so you won’t have to dig for it.
Buy a couple of bottles of water after passing through security- one to drink while you’re in the air, one for when you land. Flying dehydrates you- this will keep you feeling refreshed and it’s good for you! Last but not least: fly with a clean, moisturized face, and before landing, freshen up and add a little bit of blush, mascara and lip gloss.
Check weather reports for your destination the night before and the morning you are leaving. Bring along appropriate articles, like coats, waterproof boots, bikini , bug spray or an umbrella.
If you are off to Egypt or any other Muslim country, bring modest clothes that pack well and cover you up- long cotton Indian wrap skirts are great, paper-thin long sleeved T-shirts to layer over tanks, and a lightweight, non-form-fitting jacket should serve you well. Bring sneakers or walking shoes. I bring beat up old ones and toss them before returning home. Know that in many North African and Middle Eastern countries, you may not easily find "amenities" like extra tampax, toilet paper, etc., so bring extras "just in case". Also, make sure to pack some Immodium, a tube of Neosporin, band-aids, etc. Check on what-if any-vaccines you will need; make sure to bring enough of whatever prescription medication(s) you may be taking.
When going to Cairo, or Istanbul or anywhere fabulous costumes can be purchased do what seasoned dancers do- check an empty or almost- empty suitcase to use for bringing back the costumes and souvenirs. On the way back, put as many of the costumes you bought as you can fit in your carry-on, and pack your street-clothes in the checked bag. That way, if something gets lost or stolen (this happens way more than anyone would like to think!) it will be your easily replaceable street clothes, not a custom-made stunner from Pharonics or Eman Zaki!
With efficient packing, you can look amazing wherever you go…both on-and off-stage!
Photo: Princess & Sphinx June 2008: Probably the most cliche tourist photo ever... yet still awesome!
Friday, June 12, 2009
Like most belly dancers, I love the look and feel of dancing barefoot. It’s traditional for our art form, so it gives us a connection to our foremothers…but since we’re modern chicks in a modern world, we don’t usually get the chance to dance on the gleaming polished marble floors of temples, or the soft earth of our village square. We might be working in a theater where the stage floor has splinters or where the backstage area isn’t optimally clean, or in a restaurant where shards of broken glass from wine goblets or even another dancer’s beads can get into our soles, or even at a street festival on the pavement… SO WE NEED TO PROTECT OUR FEET!
Nowadays, under the umbrella of belly dance, there’s a myriad of performance styles- but luckily, there’s also an abundance of footwear options that will go with any sort of costume you have. Here are some ideas for shoes that will both preserve your tootsies, as well as look great in performance.
BALLET SLIPPERS: Soft and pliable, these shoes come in full-sole or split sole options- there are many options and styles to choose from. Made with uppers of soft leather or sometimes canvas, ballet slippers will mold to your foot, and feel as flexible as though you were barefoot, while keeping your feet clean as well as protecting them from splinters, or other detritus that may be on your performance surface. Some styles have straps attached; some have elastic straps you can sew on yourself. Ballet slippers have a suede sole, which allows for clean turn while still providing a bit of traction, but if you are using ballet slippers for restaurant work, in order to make them a little more durable, you may want to take them to a shoemaker and have a thin layer of “dance rubber” put on over the suede sole. This will give the shoe’s sole more traction, and further protect your foot, as well as make the shoe itself last longer. If you get a pair in classic “ballet pink” or beige, the shoes can be dyed to match a particular costume, and they can also be easily embellished with appliqués or rhinestones to jazz them up a bit. Ballet slippers can be purchased on line, or at any dance store. Expect to pay anywhere from about $12.00-$40.00 for a pair of ballet slippers. A couple of popular trusted brands are Capezio and Bloch.
These are similar to ballet slippers, but have a full vamp that usually laces up, like an oxford. Jazz shoes don’t really look too glamorous on stage, but because of their thin soles and very small, flat heel, they offer a lot of support and are great for teaching. There are now many varieties of jazz shoes, including lightweight, pliable jazz boots and sneakers, which are great under long skirts or pants. These offer ankle support, as well. Most jazz shoes have prices comparable to ballet slippers.
EGYPTIAN DANCE SLIPPERS
Similar to ballet slippers, these Egyptian imports are usually constructed along the lines of ballet slippers, but with an elasticized edge that fits around the top of your foot, as opposed to straps that go across your arch or ankle. They are usually cut low in the vamp and made with a slightly pointier toe than ballet slippers- this makes for a nice line. These suede -soled soft shoes are usually available in a range of metallics and colors, and the soles are slightly thicker than ballet slippers. You can find Egyptian dance slippers carried by vendors at dance festivals, or sometimes on line. A word to the wise: most Egyptian styles are sized in European sizes, so if you are buying the shoes online, make sure you know what your size conversion is! Egyptian slippers range between about $15.00-$35.00 a pair.
Popular in Irish dancing, Ghillies are also a great option for belly dancers. They are soft shoes made of suede or leather, with a flexible suede sole that resembles a sort of hybrid of ballet slippers and sandals, due to the lacing that begins on the vamp of the shoes and continues up to tie around the ankles. These shoes could look great with a variety of costumes, from cabaret to Tribal, to Goth. The lacing, usually made of cord or rawhide, could be swapped out for ribbons that match or contrast with your costumes. Once again, you might want to add dance leather to increase the shoe’s durability and lifespan. Ghillies usually cost about $20.00-$50.00.
These Grecian-look sandals are a popular choice among belly dancers. Made of thin, usually tan or flesh-toned pliable leather with flexible suede sole, Hermes Sandals look like Grecian Goddess or Gladiator-wear. They are basically a thong sandal fitted with small leather loops around the sides of the sole, and long laces that criss-cross along the top of the foot, wrapping around the ankles - or up the leg- toe-shoe style. They offer protection to the bottom of your foot, but not a lot of support, and many dancers don’t like the binding feeling of the ties wrapped around the ankle. They are inexpensive (ranging from $10.99-$40.00) and look most appropriate for folkloric or Tribal styles. Again, Capezio makes a good version of this style, as does Dance Shooz.
These study, closed-toe workhorse shoes work well with almost any style of dance. Within the “character shoe” category are standard tap shoes, flamenco and tango shoes, and T-strap and Mary Jane “chorus girl” type styles that would work well with a range of costumes. Usually available in flesh-toned tan and black, they also can be custom ordered in a range of colors and metallics. They are equipped with a hard, thick heel (heights range from about 1.5-3”) and grooved leather sole, which also takes well to a thin application of dance rubber. The oval-shaped toe-box, while giving a streamlined look, fully protects your feet and is unusually roomy, even for dancers with wider feet. Built for optimal support, these shoes can really take a beating. They work well for all styles of dance, and offer variety- depending on which style you choose, they can work for anything from straight ahead belly dance, folkloric, classic, even a 1920’s or Victorian Gothic flavor. I even have a pair of Capezio tango-style character shoes that I bought for stage use, but because they were so darn comfy- and foxy – that I wound up wearing incessantly in my “civilian” life! Expect to pay anywhere from about $20.00-$70.00 for character shoes, and they are well worth the price!
Yes, boots! A few years ago, nobody would’ve thought of wearing boots to belly dance, but nowadays dancers don them for a variety of belly dance fusion styles, like Raks Gothique, Circus/Vaudeville/Steam Punk/Flapper/Burlesque fusion, Rom ( Gypsy) dances, Pirate belly dance and Ren-Faire-wear. The variety of boots worn in belly dance is pretty staggering, ranging from big honking club-gear type platform boots to dear little lace-up Victorian styles….so it’s difficult to give a typical range for price, styles, and durability. However, if you choose to wear boots for belly dancing, make sure they have a comfortable base, both in the toe-box and through the arch, and that they offer support, don’t restrict your movement, or constrict your ankle flexibility. Yes, there are some professional styles available, for example SCA type boots, or Capezio makes a darling lace-up Can-Can boot that can be custom-ordered in low or high tops, and a wide range of colors- but be forewarned, they are pricey.
Hands-down the most glamorous and showy choice for dancers, ballroom shoes offer complete support to the entire foot, and yet look amazing. They come in a mind-bending variety of styles and colors, including loud animal and reptile prints (YAY!) A veritable rainbow of metallic leathers, shiny fabrics, contrasting colors and sometimes-even rhinestone buckles. Style-wise, ballroom shoes can be open toed, close-toed, ankle straps, tie-straps, and made with many different heel heights and widths as well. The uppers are usually strappy, but though they look flimsy, these shoes are constructed with dancing in mind. The soles are suede, and let you really feel the floor, but there is usually a steel shank embedded in the arch of the shoe leading up to the heel, which offers optimal support. Again, you can have the suede soles covered with dance rubber, but it’s not necessary. Ballroom shoes are available “out-of-the-box” but many dancers have theirs custom-made, mixing and matching styles, colors, and even heel shapes to their own personal choice. Either way, expect to pay a lot for these babies. What they ARE NOT is cheap, but they are constructed so well, it’s always a great investment. When I first started dancing, in the early Nineties, at the recommendation of my teacher, I bit the bullet and paid $98.00 for a pair of gold and silver ballroom shoes to use for belly dancing. At the time, I thought I was nuts- why did I spend that excessive amount of money on a pair of shoes? But I wore them incessantly, and it was TWELVE YEARS (and four sets of-re-soling) before I finally had to retire them, due to wear and tear. A dozen years of wearing them three to seven times a week- you do the math! Nowadays, the prices on ballroom shoes range anywhere from $50.00- $375.00, depending on what type you get. Do what I did- bite the bullet, you WILL NOT regret it!
Dance shoes are designed protect your feet, and that’s a really smart investment in your dance career!
IF YOU OPT TO DANCE BAREFOOT:
Make sure you have a clean performance surface. If there are other dancers working the stage before you, ask someone to sweep up between performances. Carry a package of baby-wipes with you to clean your feet before slipping back into your street shoes, and bring a pair of flip-flops along to get you to and from the stage safely. You may want to bring some band-aids along too, just in case of emergency. And check your pedicure! Nothing wrecks your gorgeous stage appearance like dirty, calloused feet with a chipped pedicure… remember- BEST FOOT FORWARD!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
At some point in your career as a belly dancer, you will probably be asked to dance at a wedding. Though you obviously would treat your performance the way you would any other gig, by showing up on time, using music that is well-recorded, acting friendly and professional, and dancing up a storm, there are certain things you should know in order to make the event go smoothly.
The first thing you should be aware of is that though weddings are joyous occasions, there is a certain amount of stress involved….uh, make that a MAJOR AMOUNT of stress involved! A wedding is a huge stepping stone in life, and may result in a display of nerves from not only the bride and groom, but also family members, and, depending on the scale of the event, the wedding planner, caterer or deejay that hired you.
Weddings are absolutely notorious for running late, and this can be compounded by bridal party photo-ops, traffic on the way to the reception; a hired band playing longer-or shorter- than they were supposed to, or even slow food service. The fact that it’s a private family celebration, and not a regular club or restaurant gig, will also add elements of chaos which may affect your performance in the form of kids running around, people drinking too much, lengthy toasts, amorous ushers, elderly or disabled people seated in wheelchairs, maybe even a fight! You have to prepare yourself for any possible snafu, and be a trouble-shooter- ready with your own Plan B (or even C or D) just in case!
When performing at a wedding, you never know what can happen. I was once hired by a friend of the groom’s father to perform at Armenian nuptials in Hollywood. When the bride found out there was going to be a belly dancer (oh, the horror!) she locked herself in the bathroom crying hysterically. Sheepishly, the groom’s father’s apologetic friend paid me… TO LEAVE!
I once did a fabulously huge, traditional Jewish wedding at the posh Bel Air Hotel, with flowing champagne, mountains of caviar, tuxedoed waiters and gorgeous decorations that were probably worth as much as the engagement ring. The bride and groom were being paraded around held aloft in chairs, towering dangerously above the crowd, who were all wildly dancing the Hora to a live Klezmer band. Everything was going off magically, without a single glitch… until a helicopter got tangled in some power lines about five miles away and wiped out electrical service in the entire area!
There were a few moments of pandemonium before hotel’s staff brought out candles and battery operated lanterns. The food had to be served immediately or it would have spoiled; the ice cream was melting before dinner was over, the deejay was sent home with half his pay. Thinking quickly, I asked the Klezmer band if they could play acoustically, and together we worked up an impromptu set of music I could perform to, by candle light....it was truly an unforgettable event!
When booking a wedding, try to find out as much about the event as possible, and try to discern your area’s the “going rate” for this type of performance- it varies widely, depending on who, what, where, when. Most importantly, if the bride or groom is hiring you, designate with them a contact person (a family member, close friend, caterer, deejay, etc.) who will meet you, as well show you where to perform and pay you. The bride or groom may think they will be able to handle these duties at the event, but trust me, they won’t! Whether it’s a casual wedding for a close friend of yours or a big gala you’ve been hired for, here are some things you should determine immediately:
LOCATION: Is it indoors or outdoors? Is it a club, hotel, recreation or reception hall or private home? Get the address, cross-streets, specific directions, on-site contact number (either the number of the place and/or a cell-phone number for someone in charge) and re-check them to be sure. Bring shoes you can dance in, since you will have no idea if the floor is clean, or if you will be dancing on grass, cement, tiles by a pool, or on a carpet. Determine if there is a place for you to change, or if they want you to show up in costume. Is there somewhere safe you can leave your belongings while onstage? Bring a cover-up in case you get cold. Find out where you can park, and if you will be able to get a validation or if you have to pay.
PERFORMANCE TIME AND PAYMENT: Make sure you set your performance time- exactly. You don’t want to think you’re going on at 9:00PM and then wait around until midnight. Get a specific time, confirm it- and your fee- a week or two before the event, then re-confirm a day or two before, and if you have any doubts, try to confirm the day of the show. It helps to be flexible, because these events don’t usually run on time- but we’re talking ten or fifteen minutes, not three hours!
If it’s getting late, pleasantly but firmly say you have another show, and be adamant about implying “ It’s now or never”! Make sure you and the client mutually agree to the length of the performance. You should negotiate payment BEFORE you accept the show, and it never hurts to have a contract! Get a deposit- trust me, the florist does…the band does… the caterer does! If the gig is coming from a trusted source, say a deejay or restaurateur you work with regularly; a contract probably is not necessary. But weddings are hectic, and somebody from the family or the event planner may not remember to confirm your appearance, so it’s up to you.
COSTUMING/MUSIC/ SHOW: Go over this in detail. Are you dancing to iPod, CD, or a live band? What sort of music do they play? What songs are in their repertoire that you know and can dance well to? What is the sound system like? There is nothing worse than music that is too low, especially if you’re in a big hall. Some wedding parties may not want you to wear a revealing cabaret costume, they may prefer something more covered up. Of course you must respect these wishes. There may be a specific color- theme they want you to match, they may want you to dance to a pre-arranged piece of music, which of course, you should be familiar with, whether it’s the couple’s “our song” or, say, traditional Persian wedding music. Do they want a full show, or just a few pop songs? Don’t say you’re familiar with a Moroccan folk dance or some other traditional thing if you are not, you will only disappoint your clients. Will there be audience participation? If so, it’s always best to start with pulling kids up to dance, as this is a crowd-pleaser and makes you seem more like a family-oriented performer, not some ‘sleazy seductress’. Though it might not be acceptable to dance around tables in a club, at weddings, it’s usually fine, it ups the energy. Don’t actively solicit tips. They will either tip you, or not. Some people feel this is tacky, and will discreetly inform you of this and possibly tip you later. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask (during negotiations) if this is a tipping situation, then you can adjust your price if it’s not. Are there other performers, such as musicians, other hired dancers, magicians, singers? Look over your performance space, you may be dodging floral arrangements, balloons, waiters, electrical cables and large video cameras mounted on tripods. Will you be doing a zeffah?
THE ZEFFAH: At many Arabic weddings, you might be asked to do a zeffah, instead of-or in addition to your regular show. This is a traditional Egyptian wedding processional. The zeffah dancer’s duty is to lead the bride and groom out for their first appearance as man and wife. Zeffah means, “procession with noise” and is usually done in a line, with multiple dancer zagareeting, playing cymbals and tambourines, leading in the bride and groom for their first appearance as man and wife. You can dance accompanied by music (there are many CD’s available with traditional zeffah songs on them) or just make a lot of noise with your cymbals.
When the couple’s names are announced and the music starts, simply make your entrance, with the bride and groom following, lead them around the dance floor a few times, plant the couple in the center, and dance around them, encourage them to kiss, hold hands, or dance together. Then lead them to their seats (sometimes up on a dais), seat them and have the dancers pose flanking them on each side, for a photo-op. People will probably be screaming and cheering. Raks shamadan (a dance involving a lit candelabras balanced on the heads) is a wedding tradition, dating back to Egypt in pre-electricity days, and part of the zeffah , but not absolutely necessary.
If you’ve never done shamadan before, a wedding is NOT the place to try it out! If you’ve performed it onstage, but not at a wedding - make sure you get permission from the venue where you’re performing to use open flames. If you can’t, use battery operated candles ( usually available at florists or party supply stores) but bear in mind that they are much heavier than real ones. Check doorways for clearance, have matches or a lighter on hand, steer clear of draperies, and don’t light up until you’re just about to perform. Avoid ceiling air-conditioning ducts. You can use “ dripless” candles, but once they’re on your head, and you’re moving, there is no such thing. Not only will ceiling vents blow your candles out, they will spray the melted wax all over your head!
Also, know that the bride and groom have probably never actually been part of a zeffah before, so you will very likely be directing them on what exactly they should be doing…and remember, they will undoubtedly be nervous, so spell it out!
It’s fine to talk to them and direct them, but remember it’s THEIR day- try not to steal their thunder, and make them feel comfortable, encourage them to have a blast!
These tips will help you in booking a wedding performance-so, have a great show, dodge those randy groomsmen, make lots of money, and don’t forget to say “ marhaba !” to the happy couple!
Sunday, June 7, 2009
We all know how crazy things can get when you have a show, and it doesn't seem to matter if it's your first-ever performance or just another hectic week traveling to an out-of-town workshop and show in the life of a professional dancer. Show days and the prep-time that ensues are always magnets for insanity, with the phone ringing non-stop, furtive hunts for costume pieces and lost liptsick, burning CD's, getting directions on-line and last minute emergencies- it never fails!
Before leaving for your gig, even if you are a seasoned pro, take a minute to check your gig bag and collect everything, including but not limited to your costume, finger cymbals and music. Make sure you’ve packed your iPod and or CD’s,a back up CD in case the sound system can't/won't play it, or even a different set burned onto another CD in the event that another performer might be using the same piece of music. This happens more than you might think!
The moment you go onstage is not optimal time to test out a new piece of music, so whether you are doing a choreography or improvising, make sure you are familiar with whatever it is you're about to dance to.
If you are working with a live band, learn the names of at the very least 4 or 5 popular Arabic songs that you are familiar with, so you can request the songs you want and there won't be any surprises or “mystery music”. Always bring along a pair of dance sandals, ballet slippers or ballroom shoes in case the floor or stage is dirty or splintery. Your gig bag should also include necessities like a cover-up, make-up for touch-ups, a sewing kit, band-aids, tampax, baby-wipes or a small a towel, and bottled water.
Though you are undoubtedly familiar with this concept… PLEASE WARM UP WELL BEFORE YOU DANCE! If you get injured while performing, you will lose out on future opportunities and jobs, as well as your own dancing pleasure… not to mention the fact that you’ll be in pain! It’s also an absolute necessity to stretch and cool down AFTER dancing or rehearsing, as well.
If you are not beginning your performance onstage, before you enter, let the musical intro or a few bars go by before you hit the stage, to add some drama. When you make your entrance, it's good to move around the whole stage or performance area to establish yourself to the audience. Let them get a good look at you, and become accustomed to your unique presence. Dance into your performance space as though you are claiming territory. You can’t afford to be tentative- a nervous dancer creates a nervous audience!
If you enter “old school” style with your veil wrapped, let some time go by before you remove your veil, to add a touch of suspense. If you are entering Egyptian style (sans wrapped veil) do a few circles of the stage, some light veil work, and either ditch the veil altogether (out of your dance path and in a place where no one can step on it) or put it into "storage" by wrapping it around your neck, so you can use it later at a slower point in your routine.
If you are going to incorporate a prop, make sure to “introduce” it to your audience, so the crowd can get a full appreciation of what they’re about to experience. For example, instead of just plopping a sword onto your head, make sure to really display it to it’s fullest advantage, letting the lights gleam on the blade, so the audience can appreciate that it’s a a real metal sword and not a fake. Be aware of the angle of your props, too. Fans, for example, are best displayed FLAT to the audience, so the crowd can see the full “wingspan”.
TAKE YOUR TIME! Don't give everything up at once. Walk in like a queen, the DIVA that you are, and show yourself off. Let the audience get a good look at how beautiful you are…let them admire your costume, and wonder about where this dance journey will take them. Start building the energy level slowly; save some tricks, whether it's veil work, snazzy zills, crazy shimmies or great undulations-whatever- for later, to keep the audience interested. Remember that sometimes onstage adrenalin makes time seem to go by differently, so mentally remind yourself every so often to relax and slow down.
In many Arabic night clubs, dancing among and around the tables is discouraged, but this is perfectly acceptable at belly dance showcases, most restaurants, and especially at parties, unless the host has requested that you don’t. Some people equate this with soliciting tips, and believe it looks tacky. Acceptable ways of being tipped are: having the money showered over your head, Arabic club style; bills being (politely) tucked into your costume; money being handed to you or to the waiter (for you) after your performance. Though it goes without saying, being groped by customers or having bills offered to you ORALLY are not only disrespectful to you, but completely unacceptable in any arena or venue! Don't stand for this sort of behavior. However, if there’s a troublesome drunk or an obnoxious kid in your audience, you can usually deflect the situation humorously by embarrassing the person whose doing it. This will usually stop the idiot from continuing, as well as take the threat out of the situation. By pulling a comical, over-the-top “I’m shocked!” type of facial expression, or just shaking your head no, like the tipper has to be crazy, you can usually get your point across. More likely than not, a member of the party the offender is with will ask him to stop so you don't have to. Remember: ultimately, YOU are in control of YOUR show. If anyone really becomes a problem, remove yourself from the situation immediately and explain the matter to the owner, manager headwaiter or person who hired you. They don't like this sort of vulgarity, either; it puts a bad light on their establishment.
Though this doesn’t usually apply at haflas or dance festivals, if you are working a club or stage show or even a private party, try not to mingle with attendees or customers in your costume before or after a show. To do this is not a faux-pas, but it does kind of diminish the magic you are creating for your show. Either throw on your caftan, or change quickly. Don't ruin the illusion of your costume by parading around in it. If you are working at a club or restaurant, you might want to bring a second costume if you have more than one show, too.
And a word about dressing rooms: no matter WHO you are, where you perform, or how long you have danced, a good dressing room is hard to find! In spite of what our dressing room fantasies are, dressing rooms are usually tiny, crowded, too hot or freezing, drafty, damp, or stuffy. They are rarely well-lit, and there is never enough mirror or floor space, especially if you count in multiple performers, and this goes double at dance festivals. I have changed in toilets, outdoor sheds, hallways, broom closets, even in the stage wings. Once, at a huge dance festival in Salisbury, UK, the performer’s dressing room was a cattle storage pen! I kid you not…it was clean and there wasn’t any livestock around ( thankfully!) but still, it was crazy. Of course, I couldn’t resist a photo-op!
Many venues or event producers provide water and food ( or snacks, at least) but be prepared! Long tech rehearsals or waiting around during a full-length show can take it’s toll on your appetite- and your stamina. It’s hard to perform with a growling stomach or low blood sugar. Keep some nuts or a nutrition bar in your gig bag along with some bottled water. Leg-warmers, slippers, a towel or baby-wipes, a light sweater or hoodie might be things you wish you’d thought to bring along! Try to have a friend watch your purse, or find a secure place to leave it while you perform. Also, in spite of whatever you want to think about the morality of your sister dancers or, for that matter, the wait-staff, if you are gigging at a large venue with many other acts, and you don’t know the people you are working with or working for , lock your suitcase!
After your show, remember to pick up your veil, zills, swords, or other props after your performance. Also remember to get your iPod or CD back, and double check your costume bags so you don't forget make-up, small costume pieces, shoes, tips or anything else. Do a double-dummy check- especially in crowed situations. Recently, I left an entire make-up bag backstage at the “Tales Of Desire” DVD shoot. It was so hectic and crowded backstage it was hard to tell where one person’s suitcase left off and another began! There was stuff literally littering the entire floor! If it wasn’t for Sabrina Fox of Atash Maya, I would’ve lost all my shit… and no make-up is a death sentence for a glammy Princess like me!
Check about the ethnic customs and/or general taste of the audience you will be dancing for, If you are uncertain about a risqué costume choice, for example, it’s always safer to go with something a bit more covered up. Though it’s hard to believe, some people still frown upon tattoos, as do many Arabic clubs,so you might want to cover them with clothing or make-up. Recently, with tattoos and piercings becoming a mainstream trend, this may not matter as much as it used to. I myself am heavily tattooed and pierced, and have not encountered any problems- but it does ultimately pay for you to be aware of what your audience’s comfort level is. When performing at strictly belly dance events put on by other dancers or at parties thrown by friends, you can be a bit more lax about everything, assuming you have a handle on your audience’s taste and preference.
Remember, you may be the first belly dancer someone has ever seen. Do everything you can to put on a beautiful, amazing show. Relax and have fun, and your audience will, too. Always be professional as possible….and once again: warm up! IT’S THE LAW!
Pictured: Dancer Rachel Bennett and I hamming it up backstage in Salisbury, UK, June 2007…in the Cattle Pen!
Me backstage at the "Tales Of Desire" DVD shoot for Hollywood Music Center