Friday, December 31, 2010

MY FAVORITE BEAUTY PRODUCTS OF ALL TIME


HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Originally, I was going to do a list of my favorite beauty products of 2010, but then I realized that I've used most of these products for years- they are my "go-to" Beauty Staples, I'm never without any of them! So here they are, in no particular order:


MAC STROBE CREAM
This cream, for me is Nectar Of The Gods… it moisturizes and hydrates while adding a lovely pearlescent sheen to your skin, making it seem to glow from within. Well worth it’s price… hell, worth its weight in gold!


MAYBELLINE DREAM MATTE MOUSSE FOUNDATION
I love this foundation because it’s light, has great coverage without looking cakey, comes in a range of colors – I like to mix two or three shades to match my skin-tone at any given time of the year. I alway mix this with Strobe Cream because used together, it gives my face a fresh, dewy finish.

L’OREAL EXCELLENCE TO GO 10 MINUTE HAIR COLOR
Great if you are doing a touch-up at home…or on the road! Good coverage leaves your hair silky and shiny (it comes with conditioner, too) and who can beat the ten-minute timing? Glamour on the go!

DUO EYELASH GLUE
Hands down, the best eyelash glue EVER!!!! This is non irritating, it comes in clear and black tones, and peels off the lashes easily so you can re-use them. Throw away that dumb crappy glue that comes with your lashes and use this! You can also use Duo for applying bindies and facial jewels, and in a pinch even use it instead of fashion tape!

MAKE-UP REMOVER WIPES
(Tie: $$ VS. DRUGSTORE) MAC & NEUTROGENA
Both wipes take off your face without irritating your skin, even stage-makeup and glitter comes off with one swipe. Of course, I prefer MAC, but the Neutrogena wipes are about twenty bucks less!

MAC LIPSTICK: RUBY WOO
Amazing matte lipstick in a blue-red tone that makes your teeth appear snow white. This color works on EVERYONE, trust me. Also has incredible staying power, pops onstage, and looks fantastic in person. YESSSSSS!!!!!

L’OREAL HIP EYESHADOWS DUO’S
The best drug-store brand eye shadows in my opinion. Heavily pigmented, they come in matte, satin and metallic finishes, and there's no creasing, the price is right, and the duo-compacts save space in your make-up bag.

MAC GEL EYELINER
The.Best.Eyeliner.Ever.

BRUSHES
(Tie: $$ VS. DRUGSTORE) MAC & SONYA KASHUK FOR TARGET
Both lines of brushes are terrific, and both come in a wide range of sizes and shapes…pick your price range.


NARS BLUSH: ORGASM
The soft , natural-looking coral color flatters most skin tones and will add a pretty, peachy glow to your skin.


MAYBELLINE MASCARA
You know, the classic pink tube with the lime-green cap? Still great after all these years- a winner!

JORDANA LIP PENCILS
I love these cheap (usually about a dollar!) lip-pencils. They come in a huge range of colors, and are soft but not greasy. Ya can’t beat the price, and they seem to last for ever. My favorite color is “Cabaret” a deep, rich red.

MAYBELLINE EYEBROW PENCILS
Everything I said about Jordana lip pencils applies here….except that the red color only applies to the packaging!

OPI NAIL LAQUERS
This affordable line of polish has great coverage (even one coat would usually do the trick) and comes in fantastic colors, with really cute names. Also, it's very easy to remove, with no lingering stains.

NARS EYESHADOW: NIGHTBREED
This unbelievable gorgeous coal-black eye shadow has sparkly flecks of silver glitter in it…it also stays on well, works dry or wet, gives great coverage, and a little goes a long way. Try it- you’ll get addicted!

MAC GLITTER: REFLECTS PEARL
I saved my favorite thing for last! Don’t even get me started on this amazing product or I won’t shut up about it! This fine, cosmetic grade glitter is like fairy dust from another universe: ethereal, amazing and otherworldly. Use it on your body, on your face…the best scientific discovery since penicillin, in my opinion!
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I feel the same way about Reflects Pearl as Tony Montana in the movie “Scarface” did about his “yayo”… I want to fill my house with it, horde kilos of it, risk going to jail for it, risk my life for it, and I’d protect it with “my lil’ friend” - an AK47!

Monday, December 27, 2010

FUN WITH KEYWORDS PART SEVEN



As the year draws to a close, it gives me great pleasure to bring you the last "Fun With Keywords" of 2010.

For those of you who don't know, Key Words are the words or phrases people type into search engines that direct them to various websites. Aside from the obvious ones (“belly dance”, “costumes”, “Egyptian Style”, etc.) I always get a kick at the random, downright ridiculous and often surreal things people from all over the world search that directs them to my blog! Hope you get as many giggles out of this as I do!

So here's the last crop of 2010, printed here exactly as typed:

THE BLELLY DANCER IN MOVIE THE GOLDEN BOTTOLE

PRINCESS FEET FOOT

KLEZMER WAITER GLITCHES

FARHANA SEX WITH BOYFRIEND

"FIRING SQUAD"...OR..."GALLOWS"...OR..."EXECUTION"

ARMENIAN GIRLZ

PRINCESS OWN THIS BLOQ

GILDED AGE SLAVES

NAGWA FOUAD NUDE

SMALL TINY EYE THEATER SHOW LITTLE FACE



Illustration: Why, it's a CUCKOO Clock, of course! : )

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

CROSS TRAINING FOR DANCE




Professional dancers work for years to perfect their art, but though dancing is definitely an art, essentially, dancers are athletes. Even if you are just dancing for fun, you are still making demands on your body, far above and beyond what the average person would consider exercise. Drilling in class or even at home takes physical strength, stamina, and co-ordination. For a professional, rehearsing and performing takes more of the same, but is also amplified by the intense repetition of movement and with the individual dancers stage adrenalin.

When a dancer is training, the movements inherent in her unique style of dance ( no matter what it is) constantly use particular muscle groups, in the same way, over and over. So, for reasons having to do with physical health and muscle development, it would behoove you to cross train, the same way athletes do.

The main thrust behind cross training is that it will enhance your performance by diversifying your training in a variety of ways, such as improving co-ordination or working different muscle groups. This expanded training compliments the effectiveness of your primary skill by combining it with other physical activities that will advance your abilities in general. Learning another discipline and taking advantage of the theories and benefits that come with it will help your entire body to become stronger, as well as improve your endurance and mental acumen.

For example, an Olympic caliber swimmer may run to increase endurance; a boxer will practice his fighting technique, but he might also train with weights for strength and run or skip rope for cardio. There are also many other examples of cross training techniques that are not sports-based. In the military, the elite squads are generally those who are proficient in many types of combat strategies. They are well versed in multiple specialties, such as weaponry; wilderness survival, martial arts, parachuting, disabling explosives and can also perform the duties of a medic. Visual artists often work in many different mediums simultaneously for the same reason. A painter who primarily works with oil may also work with many other mediums, like watercolors, ceramics, pen and ink, and found objects.

To make sure you are building muscles and strength in a healthy way, you may choose to cross train with something physical that compliments your dance practice, like Yoga, Pilates, or swimming laps. Aerobic activities like tennis, spinning, running or even fast-paced walking will all improve endurance and stamina as well as work different muscle groups on your body. Strength training, such as working out with weights or resistance bands will benefit your dancing as well as stave off osteoporosis. Taking a leisurely hike out in nature a few times a week may be enough for one person, while another may want to try trapeze or pole dancing- it’s your choice, because only you know what your body is capable of physically, and what you will enjoy.

And of course, learning new types of dance that are different than your primary style will not only move various muscle groups, but also enhance your art!

Remember, stretching in itself is not a warm-up and may actually cause injury, so make sure you warm your body up with a few minutes of cardio or some light dancing before you stretch. And before and after you practice, rehearse or perform, take some time to warm up-and cool down- thoroughly, IT’S THE LAW!

Monday, December 6, 2010

THE HOLIDAYS: A DANCER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE




The holiday season is wonderful and amazing; with all the beautiful holiday decorations sparkling everywhere, we dancers can’t help but feel as though we are totally in our element.

But as we all know, the holidays can also be stressful time, and not just because of the frantic pace at the malls. As usual, many of us are juggling our gigs, classes and rehearsal schedules with day jobs and family obligations…but in some cases the family situation itself may not be optimal, and during the holidays especially, this adds into the mix and creates stress.

During the holidays, more than at any other time, temptation abounds- scrumptious food and alcoholic beverages are everywhere, enticing us to fall of whatever wagon we may be on with a resounding thud. The urge to make unhealthy choices is always heightened by a hectic schedule, lack of sleep, underlying anxiety and keeping late hours.

Over the years, I experimented with a number of ways to keep my holidays “safe and sane”... and one of them is re-thinking my holiday gigs.

For many dancers, the holiday season is a usually huge moneymaker. There are oodles of private gigs for Christmas, Hannukah and New Year’s Eve parties. There are also many corporate gigs, office Christmas parties, and charity events going on. Clubs and restaurants are more crowded and want more live entertainment that during other times of the year, and patrons customarily tips more generously, too.

I don’t have to tell you that the bad economy has affected everybody- we can all feel it. This is probably having an influence on the amount of holiday gigs-and rate of pay- you are being offered this year. The standard rate for New Year’s Eve gigs used to be triple what you’d normally receive, but with money being tight everywhere, this sadly isn’t the case so much anymore.

Still, though there is an opportunity to make bank, this year, especially may be an opportunity to think of what you are forfeiting by doing those shows. Since we dance so often on holidays no matter what time of year, they usually don’t seem like a day off for dancers.

Basically, because of gigs, you are spending your holiday away from loved ones, to begin with. You dance at other people’s holiday celebrations ( not to mention birthday parties, weddings, graduation ceremonies, etc.) year-round, but don’t celebrate those occasions yourself, because you are working! Also, during Christmastime through New Year’s Eve, in order to work, you’re braving bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic, long lines at police sobriety check-points, and even if you don’t imbibe at all,risking the potential hazards of others who are driving while under the influence.

I have always had a steadfast rule about my holiday gigs- especially New Year’s Eve: JUST SAY NO. It doesn’t mean that I don’t accept holiday gigs- I do, frequently. It’s just that I am ultra-choosy about which ones I accept, as well as how I schedule them.

Though it might seem crazy, throughout the years, the “Just Say No” policy has served me well. Unless I am absolutely certain I can get to and from a show (or multiple shows) on time and get paid what I am worth, I’d rather stay home. That means I won’t be spending the New Years Countdown stuck in traffic, stressing cause I’m late for a show; or shivering in a drafty backstage or lonely hallway waiting through endless techno renditions of “Auld Lang Syne” and lengthy toasts to perform a set for a bunch of revelers who are more focused on where their next glass of champers or spiked egg-nog is coming from! Choose your holiday gigs wisely, and decide for yourself it it’s worth the sacrifices you will inevitably make.

Another thing to think about is your own safety- and I don’t mean the common-sense rules that usually apply, like bringing an escort to a private gig or making sure you get a deposit in advance.

Holiday gigs present a variety of “hazards” that may not be present at other times of the year. Specifically, I’m talking about things like open flames from candles, spiky evergreen boughs, breakable glass ornaments, and clusters of snaking extension cords for holiday lighting. While these all make a home or restaurant pretty and enticing, they could be dangerous for YOU…so scope your performance space out carefully, don’t get too close to anything that could break and cut you or snag your costume – or set it on fire! And seriously, while you are performing in a smaller space, really try to get a bead on the drunks in the audience (they’re always there, but even more so at this time of year!) and practice your crowd-control skills…because you’ll need them!

If you are an animal loving dancer like me, you’ll protect your pets, too. While you’re out running around, they could potentially be in danger in your own house. Mistletoe and Poinsettias are extremely toxic to cats, and chocolate –in any form- is horrendous for cats and especially dogs. Don’t leave any of these things around where your pets can reach them. Tinsel and metallic elastic gift-wraps are like catnip for the kitties – so shiny and pretty and interesting! But they can be ingested and cause massive internal problems that require surgery, as well as being a choking hazard. Glass and glitter-covered ornaments should never be hung low on your tree for the same reason, and your electrical cords should be taped down securely or housed in a box (secured at the spot where they plug into the wall) so they don’t get chewed on, causing a short and possibly electrocuting your pet. Need I mention that you should turn all your Christmas lights off when you leave for a gig?

On a less-cautionary note, just after Christmas has passed is always a fantastic time to go shopping for your year-round costume needs. Everything you need to make fantastic costumes and accessories will be on sale, from beaded garlands to luscious fabrics and metallic ribbons, from fantasy feathers to fabric paints, sequin trim and crafting supplies…stock up while it’s cheap, and use them later in the New Year!

Though many people find it hard to stick to their New Year’s Resolutions, making resolutions you KNOW you’ll be able to keep easily is a good idea. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose plan, it could be something as small as vowing to take an extra class per month, or learning some new songs, or experimenting with a new style of dance. I always make a ritual of spending the first couple of days of the New Year going through my costumes and accessories, making sure that everything is in working order, to start things off right. I check to see if hooks need to be sewn on to costumes, or if skirts need to be hemmed, shoes re-soled, crystals replaced, that sort of thing. I also toss a lot of old make-up (especially liquids and creams) that could be contaminated with bacteria, and sew new elastic onto all my finger cymbals… and believe me, that’s a damn chore!

One last thought: give yourself a holiday gift. As dancers we spend most of the year giving: we give our time and energy all year round to students and to audiences. We are always “on”, whether we are actually onstage or not. Though we may try to rest and prepare for this, we always seem to put ourselves last on the list of recipients. It’s a wonderful thing to do, that whole external out-pouring of energy… but by the end of the year, you may develop a deficit that can sap you emotionally and mentally as well as physically.

During hectic holiday season, make sure to take some much-needed “quality time” to recharge your batteries and give back to yourself… even if it’s just a few moments of quiet each day! A massage, mani-pedi or a nice hot bath with Epsom salts are great year-round, but a necessity at this time of year, so treat yourself, because you deserve it!

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 19, 2010

GIVING THANKS FOR DANCE



It’s the middle of November, where has 2010 gone? On these oh-so-long winter nights, I tend to feel somewhat disoriented. Though my clock says it’s 6:30, because it gets dark so quickly, I feel like it’s already 10:00pm! I feel all paranoid, like I’m gonna get into full-on hibernation mode, and just eat and sleep my nights away. To avoid that, I start looking for “year end” tasks to tackle.

Usually, these are little things I’ve let slide during the past months, and haven’t been able to get to during the commotion-and constant travel- of spring and summer Dance Festival Season. Things like finally unpacking and cleaning out all my gig bags, organizing a CD shelf, throwing away outdated, stale make-up, sewing hooks on costumes, and getting a jump on sorting my tax receipts. Feeling a mild sense of accomplishment, I then move onto lists… holiday card lists, lists of presents, and lists of things I want to accomplish in the next year.

Though it may sound a little overly sentimental, since Thanksgiving is approaching, I made a Dance List of everything I am thankful for.

Dancing literally changed my life. On top of the “usual” benefits, like giving me a strong, toned, flexible body, the emotional and spiritual impact dancing has had upon me is so significant, I can hardly put it into words. In my writing, I am usually a confirmed abuser of the exclamation point, but the amount of punctuation I would need to apply in this case is boundless, so I will spare you.

From the age of three, I wanted to dance, but for many reasons ( the foremost being a ballet teacher who rejected me at an early age because my feet were flat ) dancing wasn’t in the cards for me until I had already reached adulthood.

Maybe I had a karmic debt to pay, maybe my life just unfolded the way it was supposed to, but I came to belly dancing fairly late in life, after the age of thirty. Though I still sometimes wish I had been able to study dance since childhood, I no longer feel robbed, or the regret I used to experience about not having been a life-long dancer; now I am just thrilled with the way things turned out!

Mere months after I began belly dancing-almost as a lark- my life did a full 360 degree turn-around. Instead of picking my body ( and it’s individual parts) to pieces by visually and physically comparing myself to unrealistic and “ideal” images in the media, I began to love my body for the way it looked while I was dancing. Soon, that sentiment morphed into simply loving my body. As I developed more skill, I began to be grateful for what my body could do.

Dancing also helped me quit some very self-destructive behaviors I had for decades: substance abuse and an eating disorder. A hardcore bulimic for years, my love of dancing helped me cultivate a healthy relationship with food…and need I tell you that it’s impossible to dance for hours with a hangover or while high? Suddenly, I had a choice to make and I picked dancing over controlled substances.

Dancing helped me get through-and over- a painful divorce. The feminine energy and sisterhood I felt with other dancers was healing and gace me hope. I see this theme repeated with many other dancers, and I hope I can pass this feeling on to others.

Belly dancing also lead me to other forms of dance, and I am eternally grateful. It’s what directly lead to my career in burlesque, not to mention studying and performing other types of dance as well, like jazz, ballet, Bollywood, samba, contemporary, hip-hop and many other genres. Whenever my schedule ( or my creaky ole body) allows, I try to take other dance classes.

Dancing has also allowed me to meet hundreds of incredible, beautiful, intelligent and talented women the world over that I may never have met normally during the course of my everyday life. Through dancing, I have made life-long friends with many strong women of all ages, shapes and sizes who are veritable super-heroines; they are strong and giving, driven, and usually very witty to boot. I have met dancers who are emergency room nurses, teachers, criminal attorneys, children’s advocates, speech therapists, accountants, trauma counselors, ranchers, authors, film festival curators, architects, coal miners, political activists, rock stars, explosives technicians, police women, sitcom actors, college professors with PhD’s… not to mention mothers, grandmothers and even great-grandmothers…and all of them are serious dancers!

I am thankful that I live in a country where women are free to dress as they please, to dance for joy-or professionally if they choose- and where dancing is considered an art-form.

Every day I give thanks that dancing, something I have always done sheerly for love is also what I do for work, and how I make a living. I never take this for granted, sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure my life is real. When I walked into my first belly dancing class, if anyone would have told me that within a fairly short time I was going to turn professional-not to mention have a career twenty years later- I would’ve laughed so uproariously, the walls of the studio would’ve blown apart!


My dance career – my performing and teaching- has taken me all over the globe and I have loved every moment of it. It was a far-fetched wish, and that wish came true. The only thing I might add here ( and believe me, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek!) is the old adage about “being careful what you wish for”. Had I known that my wish was actually going to come true, I probably would’ve added in a clause allowing me to have a luggage valet and a personal massage therapist travel with me!

I am so thankful for all the wonderful women who have sponsored me to teach and perform. Sponsors are super-human, and in addition to paying for my travel, feeding me, housing me and fulfilling my backstage requests, and staying up til the wee hours talking shop, many of them have also gone wa-a-a-ay above and beyond the call of duty. They have taken me sight-seeing, brought me to amazing shows, given me gorgeous gifts, taken me hot-tubbing, booked me massages- even brought me to the emergency room, or dealt with my tearful grief when I was thousands of miles away from home and my beloved kitten disappeared. You ladies know who you are, thank you so very much! In general, my sponsors have gone so far out of their out of their way to make me feel comfortable when I am on the road, I cannot thank them enough; most of them have become life-long friends.

I am very grateful for my teachers and dance-mentors, women who were dancing professionally long before I even started to dance…all of whom were very generous with sharing their knowledge of not only technique, but also practical application, not to mention costuming ideas, crowd-control skills and career- building know-how.

My students, whether on-going pupils or one-time workshop attendees, make me feel such gratitude, I can’t even verbalize it. I learn something new from them every day.

I would like to thank "the audience" too- where would any dancer be without you? There is almost nothing more fulfilling than hearing an appreciative audience and seeing smiling faces in a darkened theater, just ask any performer!

Last but not least, I also gotta say that I am so very grateful for having a job that has the best, most amazing “uniform” EVER- what could be better than a blinged-out costume?

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Monday, November 15, 2010

BEAUTY FROM WITHIN


Okay, I've finally hit bottom and now I have to admit: I'm powerless over my addiction to beauty products.

I buy them compulsively, use them frequently, and, like many other women, I hoard them. But the real problem is that I eat them. You name a product; it's a pretty safe bet that I've tasted it. I’ve eaten everything from hand lotion to Clinique's Turn Around Cream, from Vicks Vap-O-Rub to Coppertone's Cocoa Tanning Butter - which I wouldn't recommend, it left my tongue numb for over an hour. In the '70s, I would literally drink Love's Roll-On Kissing Gloss by popping the rolling ball out of the glass tube and sucking out the gloppy gloss. To me, it was better than ambrosia!

I've tried every flavor, I mean, scent, of Victoria's Secret Luxurious Hand and Body Cream, my favorite being that divinely edible Pear Glace. I use that one up so fast that I've actually cut open the tubes with a scissors so I can lick out the hard-to-get remnants when the container is virtually empty. Once, at a raging party in Austin, Texas, during the South By Southwest Music Festival, I became instantaneously infamous for eating an entire package of jalapeno potato chips using Noxzema as a dip. Frantic revelers tried to stop me, erroneously thinking I'd crossed the line of sanity (not to mention socially acceptable behavior) and was doing something I'd surely regret, if not in the morning, then when I'd sobered up. WRONG! What those good Samaritans failed to realize was that I knew exactly what I was doing, and the fact is a jar of Noxzema is the perfect foil for jalapeno potato chips. It’s cool, refreshing minty taste was just what those hotter-then-hell morsels needed!

Of course, like most glamour queens, I've made jokes about the ridiculous amount of make-ups, lotions, masques, exfoliating scrubs, and other treatments I use on a regular basis. I used tell people I got my signature look by mainlining liquid eyeliner.
But I really don't know anyone else who eats the stuff, and though I wouldn't recommend this unique and highly personal habit - maybe I should say fetish - to others, I can honestly say that it hasn't hurt me in the slightest.

This was always a dark, shameful skeleton in my closet...er, medicine chest... the fact that I was so focused on beauty products that even the mention of them sends my pulse racing. I mean, my favorite line in the film Silence of the Lambs is when the serial killer bellows,

"It puts the lotion in the basket!"

Recently, I had to admit that I was powerless over my addiction, the first step towards healing. I wanted to come clean, get it out in the open, and decided to put my cards on the (vanity) table and be upfront about everything.

The man in my life uses a Japanese hair pomade stick called Tancho, with an utterly intoxicating lavender scent. Not only am I obsessed with him, the smell of his hair drives me bonkers. In moments of high passion, I'd take a quick sniff behind his ear and be driven into a frenzy of desire. Soon, having located the source of my pleasure in his bathroom, I'd lock myself in, grab the Tancho, and hold it under my nose, inhaling its heavenly aroma. A few days of that and it just wasn't enough. I began actually wiping it on the end of my nose so I could smell it all day. In a dizzy downwards spiral, it was just a matter of time until I began eating Tancho, furtively scraping the waxy substance off the top of the stick, taking great care and making sure to smooth the surface so my boyfriend wouldn't catch on to the fact that I was devouring his hair pomade.

Alas, one day, I was caught in the act. Incredulous, he demanded to know what I was doing. In a scenario almost identical to the one at the party in Austin, I tried to explain that for ages I'd been eating all manner of beauty products, but he looked at me dubiously, with a mixture of pity and suspicion, the way you'd regard any common street junkie.

Trying to sound rational yet no doubt appearing completely insane, I gave him the history of my cosmetic consuming obsession, which dates back to early childhood… I guess it all started when I was about eleven years old.

My family lived in New England, where the winters are brutal and chapped lips are a problem. Ever vigilant, my mother armed us all with Chapstick. What she didn't realize, however, was that Chapstick freezes in your pocket when you're out all day sledding and making snow forts. The paraffin becomes so cold and stiff it actually does nothing to prevent your lips from becoming more chapped and cracked. At that point, I hadn't realized that either. So one day, when I lost my Chapstick and told my mom, she replaced it with Sea & Ski Lip Balm, in Orange Mint. Now, Chapstick, in those days, wasn't flavored, so not only was the Sea & Ski Orange Mint a pleasant novelty, but it also had a different, slicker formula - it didn't freeze. It remained soft, even in sub-zero weather.

I'd slather the delectable stuff on my lips, all satiny smooth, and it would smell and taste so good, I'd eat it right off. It got to the point that I'd be caking in on really thick just to taste it, then scraping it off my lips with my teeth, actually eating it.

Needless to say, the condition of my chapped lips wasn't improving. If anything, it was getting worse. One day, I just cut to the chase, rolled the entire contents up and began sucking on it like a lollipop. This was so unbearably satisfying, that unable to contain myself, I took a bite. In a matter of euphoric seconds, I'd gobbled up the entire thing. Of course, I needed more. That night at dinner, I blatantly lied to my mother and told her I'd lost my Sea & Ski. On her next trip to the grocery store, she replaced it....with Chapstick!

"But M-o-o-o-o-m," I wailed, my disappointment barely concealed, my uncontrollable urges starting to surface, "I need Sea & Ski!"

Clueless to my by-now burgeoning addiction, she replied with the practicality only a mother can muster,

"They're all the same."

End of subject.

Ever crafty, I waited what I thought was a decent number of days, jonesing the whole time, until I thought the incident would be forgotten. I once again told my mother I'd lost my Chapstick, pointedly asking for Sea & Ski. Still oblivious to my growing needs, she replaced my "lost" lip balm with- shudder to think - more flavorless, hard, dull, boring, ugly old Chapstick.

Realizing that to argue would be utterly pointless, I asked for an advance on my allowance, which was the pricey sum of a quarter a week. I figured, quite rationally, that I'd just buy the Sea & Ski myself. What I didn't realize until I stopped at the pharmacy on my way home from school was that Sea & Ski was twenty-nine cents a tube, a full four cents more than my weekly allowance. Confronted with the horrible reality of the situation, up against a wall, I made the split-second decision to take the Sea & Ski, my first foray into shoplifting.

Well, I got away with my petty crime, and also got an adrenaline rush from the danger in the act of stealing. Like most junkies, I entered the world of larceny to feed my habit. I stole all the Sea & Ski that the pharmacy had in stock, then began accompanying my mother on her weekly trips to the Grand Union or Stop' N' Shop to steal more.

Clearly, I was enslaved to my habit, eating the stuff in the bed at night, slipping into the girl's room at school to take a discreet bite between my fifth grade classes. I was completely out of control, but the sheer magnitude of the situation didn't hit me until, in one colossal embarrassing incident, I hit bottom. My mother had sent me and my two little sisters (twins, four years younger) to the Palace Theater to see Franco Zeffrelli's Romeo and Juliet. Barely twelve, I nevertheless had a handle about what was going on in the movie, but my sisters had no idea. They'd been disrupting everyone around us by asking multiple questions in rather loud voices. It was getting towards the movie's dramatic climax, when Juliet comes back to life inside the Capulet tomb and sees her beloved Romeo dead, lying on the floor. The entire theater was weeping in unison.

"WHY IS EVERYONE CRYING?" my sister Meghan practically yelled, as half the theater turned to glare at us in annoyance.

"Because it's sad," I hissed. "Now, shut up!"

"WHAT'S JULIET DOING WITH THAT KNIFE?" Meghan asked urgently, her voice rising with hysteria, desperate to know what was going on.

"Just be quiet!" I said, through gritted teeth. "I'll tell you later!"

Convinced (and rightly so) that most of the patrons were about to band together to lynch us, I decided to de-stress myself by getting a calming fix of Sea & Ski. Alas, my container was nearly empty. I could see from the flickering light of the movie screen that there was a little bit left down at the bottom, and tried to wedge my pinky down into the tube to scrape it out, but my finger wouldn't fit. Hit with a moment of inspiration, I took a bobby pin from my hair and proceeded to use it as a tool to get the rest out.


Since she couldn't understand the movie, my sister took an instant interest in my furtive actions.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"

"Nothing!" I stammered, horrified at being caught.

"WHAT IS THAT?" Meghan asked loudly, as nine more sobbing people turned look at us in outrage.

"It's Sea & Ski," I whispered, hoping beyond all hope that my answer would placate her, and get her to shut up.

"OH...YOU EAT IT WITH A BOBBY PIN?!?", she screamed incredulously.

Mortified, I slunk as far down into my seat as I could go. To this day, I have no idea if she was astutely trying frame me, or if she really thought that was what you did with lip balm: surreptitiously eat it with a bobby pin while watching a sad movie! I was so awash in abject humiliation that I don't even remember leaving the theater that night, or if Meghan tattled on meand my obviously perverted culinary desires. What I do know that the Romeo and Juliet incident didn't even put a dent in my habit, it simply continued.

My boyfriend took this story in stride, and, in fact, I was under the mistaken impression that he'd forgotten all about it, until about a year later. We were at a seafood restaurant with some friends and he was ordering oysters, trying to get me to indulge along with him.

"NO WAY!" I proclaimed, wrinkling my nose in distaste.

"Come on," he cajoled, "Oysters are an aphrodisiac!"

"Oysters are like snot!" I cried.
"The only reason they're considered an aphrodisiac is because if you eat them, you'd eat anything!"

For a moment, he regarded me harshly, then said,
"Oh yeah, you won't eat oysters, but you'll eat lip balm and hand lotion and hair wax!"

He went on to regale the entire table with a list of all the beauty products I've consumed. Needless to say, the burning shame I felt in the darkened movie theater visited itself upon me once again.

Well, by now, I guess you could say that I've come to terms with my addiction. I try not to devour every cream, massage oil, or facial emollient I come into contact with. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But even if I try just a little dollop, I still don't wolf down the whole jar, and even if I did, I don't beat myself up about it. I talk about my problem, and the fact that I’m powerless over my addiction. It’s no longer a dark secret I keep to myself.

I just take it one day at a time, you know?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

GIRLZ IN DA HOOD: EYE MAKE UP FOR DEEP SET, HOODED EYES






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

Onstage, the make-up I wear runs the gamut from Standard Stage Face to Ridiculously Over The Top Extravaganzas… yep, that means I like to pile it on, with all the bells and whistles! Of course, like most women, I enjoy playing with make-up in my “civilian” life, especially if I am going out at night. But contrary to popular belief, I don’t go overboard with cosmetics 24/7, I do give my skin a rest on days off.

Much to my amazement, even when I am wearing just a little make-up on the street or in class, people shower me with compliments on my “beautiful big eyes”, my “ exotic cat eyes” and my “bedroom eyes”. Why does this surprise me? Because, as the late magician Doug Henning was so fond of saying,

“It’s an illusion!”

Have a look at the pictures here, and you will see my eyes with and without make-up. In truth, my eyes are small. Very small. They are also narrow, almond-shaped, deeply set, extremely hooded and they actually turn down at the corners. If you want to get all scientific and official about it, my eyes have a very pronounced Epicanthic Fold…. which sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is. Read more on it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicanthic_fold

The Epicanthic Fold is a common genetic trait among many Asians, Eastern Europeans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders… and since I am an American Mutt with at least two if not three of those gene pools, I got hooded eyelids in spades- more than anyone else in my family, who all have big, wide peepers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First of all, instead of trying to “draw the lid out” from the hood with a lighter shadow, line the entire eye with a dark color. You can use black, dark or light brown, deep blue, green or grey- the color doesn’t matter- it’s the deep richness and darkness that does.

Make sure you use a powder eye shadow and a soft thick eye shadow brush, not a sponge applicator, which tends to feel almost sharp, and doesn’t hold as much product. Get a lot of pigment on your brush, tap the brush or blow on it sharply to remove the excess powder, and line the entire upper and lower lids, working from the roots of the lashes outwards. I do this with my eye shut, working the shadow well into the lash-line. Making sure that the entire upper and lower lids are covered evenly, I then fade the dark color up above the crease onto the hood, or Epicanthic Fold, for a smoky effect.

In order to make the most of your narrow, lidless or hooded eyes don’t fight their shape; work with it, instead of against it. Trying to fake a crease will probably only make you look weirdly surprised, or like you have raccoon eyes?

Instead of trying to create the illusion of a crease, or wide-open eyes, go for extending the length of your eye. Applying the powder shadow a bit past the outer corner can do this. This can be done a few ways: by applying the shadow straight across, by adding a bit more shadow in a V-shape smudged at the outer corner, or by winging the shadow sharply upwards along your the hood of the eye for a cat-like effect.

For stage, I always use a black liquid or gel liner to intensify this lengthening effect, especially on the lower lid. Personally, I don’t always use eyeliner extended outwards on the upper lid, because on my eyes (and perhaps also on yours, depending on how hooded they are) the upper line won’t be really visible. It might work for you, though, so try it out on both top and bottom.

From the center point of my lower lid, at about the middle of the iris when I am looking straight ahead, I use my eyeliner to draw a thin straight line over the powder shadow and extending outwards, to just beyond the edge of my eye. I then take white liquid eyeliner, and draw a thin line of white just above the black liner. From up close, this looks a little strange, but from the stage, it actually tricks the audience, giving the impression of extending the whites of your eyes, making them appear much longer-and larger- than they actually are. You can also use a soft eye pencil in white (MAC makes a great one) or use some frosty or matte white powder shadow applied with a thin brush, for the same effect.


If your eyes are hooded, chances are that once you open your eyes, your natural lashes will almost disappear. For every day wear, using an eyelash curler with a few coats of mascara may help make them more visible, but for stage, false eyelashes are essential. There is nothing that highlights and frames your eyes better than faux lashes and they look lush and gorgeous.

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

Most faux lashes are manufactured to be intentionally too long length-wise, so they can fit a variety of eye shapes and sizes, so trim them if you need too. The outer ends generally are longer, so trim the lash from the shorter hairs on the band, the part that will sit on the inside corner of your eye. Some faux lashes are designed especially for Asian eyes. Instead of the lashes being longer on the ends, these are longer at the center, and tapered on each end and they look terrific on hooded eyes. A friend brought me some Korean eyelashes that were shaped this way, and I wore them until they disintegrated. Unfortunately, since the label on the box was in Korean, I have no idea what they were called! Some brands available in the USA that make false lashes which are longer in the center are Japonesque and Sonia Kashuk, whose make-up line can be found at Target. You could also try hunting down lashes like this at Asian beauty supply stores, or hunting them down on the Internet.

After you’ve trimmed your lashes, roll the band of the lash around a little with your fingers to make it more pliable, so that it will conform to the shape of your lid more easily. Apply a thin band of glue to the base of the false lash, (you can do this with a toothpick, painting it on the band to avoid any big glops of glue getting onto the lashes themselves) and let the wet glue sit for at least 30 seconds, even up to a full minute or two, until it gets tacky. The brand of the glue, or the amount you put on the lash will determine how quickly it dries, as will the climate. If you are in a humid area, (or are doing your make-up in a small dressing room full of sweaty dancers) it may take a little longer to get tacky enough to use. The most common mistake most people make when applying lashes is trying to stick them on when the glue is too wet.

I recommend "DUO" lash glue in clear/white, because it holds extremely well and is also the least irritating of any brand I've used. Clear glue will dry invisibly, making any mistakes less obvious. To apply the lash, sit it on your upper eye-lid, just above your natural lash-line. Press down lightly in the middle first, and then tap the lash down lightly towards inner and outer corners. Keep your eye closed for a moment, to let the glue take hold. You may have to gently press the lash upwards, towards your brows, with the pad of your index finger. This will give a more “open” look to your eye.

Many women cut the lashes in half, and use them only from the center of the eye to the outer corner for a wide, doe-eyed effect. Also, the lashes are a little easier to apply this way, and this technique will also aid in the producing a cat-like look.


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

Heavy brows sitting over hooded eyes tend to make them look smaller, so if you have very thick eyebrows, you may want to have them shaped by a professional.


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

If you’re a “hoodie” like me, take some time to play with make-up, and see what works for you. Fool around with colors, and with different techniques for shading, lining and shaping. You’ll learn to love your unique, exotic eye shape.

And who knows… maybe one day some chick with huge, round eyes with big lids and fantastic eye sockets will probably sigh in envy, telling you she wished she had your wonderful, exotic eyes!


PIX: Top:My eyes w/ a bare minimum of make-up, Epicanthic puffs in full force

Middle: My eyes w/ basic smoky make-up for stage & photos

Bottom: My eyes in full-out Farhana Extravaganza


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To get a Tarot card reading from me or to check out what I do when I’m not dancing, click here: http://www.pleasantgehman.com/
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

FUN WITH KEYWORDS PART SIX


Welcome to my 100th post...and Happy Halloween, Samhain and Dia De Los Muertos to all!
In the prank-filled silly spirit of the season, here is part six of "Fun With Keywords". Key Words are the words or phrases people type into search engines that direct them to various websites. Aside from the obvious ones (“belly dance”, “costumes”, “Egyptian Style”, etc.) I always get a kick at the random, downright ridiculous and often surreal things people from all over the world search that directs them to my blog! Hope you get as many giggles out of this as I do!


Here are a few choice recent keyword entries, copied exactly as they were typed in:


QUESTION MARK FACE

MAKE STYROFOAM A CROWN FOR QUEENS

HOME MADE HIGH CLASS TRAMP COSTUME

MOVIE DRAMA 2010 MAGIC TRAVELLING HOUSE

WHY DO BELLYDANCER WEAR SO MANY LAYER

SCARAB CLITORIS G-STRING

SWEAT MEANS DREAMBEDS FOR A SAUDI PRINCESS

FRANCH MARSEILLEZ SONG

CAMCORDER FISHNET ON WOMAN

SAW ME IN HALVES

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

MY OTHER CAR IS A BROOMSTICK



It’s a few days before Halloween, which has always been my favorite holiday ever.

If you are like me- and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you are- you are already aware that this is the time of year when everyone you know hits you up about borrowing or even renting your stage costumes. Call me selfish, call me witchy, or just call me a “Hallo-weenie”… but I NEVER lend my costumes out for Halloween ( or Burning Man, for that matter) unless I know it’s something I know I could easily part with.

The stage costumes I own, not to mention my crazy collection of circus outfits, pirate hats, robot suits, saloon girl headdresses, feather fans, vintage corsets, kitty ears, rhinestone studded masquerade masks, wigs, super-hero boots, vampire capes, real and fake fur coats- need I go on? - are the "tricks of my trade", not a treat for someone who won't respect them. They took a long time and a lot of money for me to collect, not to mention maintain.

My costume collection could probably have it’s own episode on the show “Hoarders”, but there’s a reason I have all this stuff around: it’s my livelihood! These pieces are my work tools, my office supplies, and in most cases, very expensive. But whether it’s an Egyptian costume I paid $700.00 for, or pair of character shoes I embellished myself, they are professional accoutrements that I can’t do my job properly without.


Oh, I used to be very generous about lending out costumes and costume pieces for non-dancers to use at Halloween parties, but it always ended badly. Things would come back to me (usually months later) ripped, stained, with burn-holes from cigarettes or wax from candles, or just covered in cheap drugstore make-up or greasepaint from The Spirit Store. And some things never came back at all!

Would you lend someone your laptop if you knew they were going to use it-and maybe accidentally leave it- at a club? Would you let a friend borrow an expensive camera to bring to a party where all the guests were going to be falling-down drunk? I thought not!

I think the reason most “civilians” want to borrow costumes is simply because they want to look good… and they also have nothing but the best intentions in borrowing these things. But the average person doesn’t realize that for their seasonal party-needs, a $20.00 costume from the toy store would be fine.

Want some help with your Halloween make-up? I’d be happy to assist you.

But don’t even think about asking to borrow my costumes… cause you’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hands!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

KNOW YOUR MOTIVATION : DANCE AND DRAMATIC TECHNIQUE



As dancers, our primary goal is to illustrate the music for our audiences. But also included in our job description is to transport the audience, to take them away on a journey into a lovely, magical world where they forget anything having to do with their day-to-day lives.

To be a dancer, you must have technical skill. But even superlative technique can fall by the wayside and become forgettable when a dancer doesn’t project her feelings and emotions into her performance.

A great dancer knows how to access the universal truths of the human condition… which is exactly what great actors do. Both types of artists work fully with their bodies, through character portrayal, telling a story. So in essence, as dancers, in order to really connect with the audience, we must also be actors. The main difference between the two genres is that actors make a script come to life verbally, while dancers make music come to life through movement.

Because both my parents were involved in the entertainment business, I was lucky enough to literally grow up in the theater, watching everyone from avid students to huge stars perform on a nightly basis. It taught me a lot, and I learned at an early age what worked onstage and what didn’t.

As an adult, I have also had the good fortune to make two films in the past year. To me, acting in those movies was not only a chance to get involved with another art form, but also an educational opportunity! I cannot tell you how much I have learned about performance in general from watching the other actors working. It was incredible to see how they breathed life into the roles they were playing, and to witness the transformation occur as their characters spoke the lines that had previously merely been writing on a page. They were nuanced not just in vocal inflections, but also even in their body language.

Sometimes, during the different shoots, it would be easy for me to access my emotions because I would be playing opposite someone who was so thoroughly engrossed in their character, there was no way I couldn’t react as a human being. Other times, I would be so mesmerized and carried away by watching the other actors, that I would forget my own lines… CUT!

During one shoot I needed to cry on cue and during the time leading up to that scene, I would wake up every night, stressed that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish that. The day of my crying scene came and of course I had major performance anxiety. But I shocked myself (and probably the director!) By not only crying on cue, and with real flowing tears, but doing it consistently through four takes… and it was all because the girl who was in the scene with me was such a genuine actress, there was no way I could not get caught up in the moment.

That is the level of emotion we must try to bring to our dance performances; it’s what makes the performance riveting, and not merely a series of movements; it’s what involves the audience in our piece. Some people seem to have that innate, passionate ability, while others need to work on it a little more.

Here are some thoughts on acting and dramatic technique, which can easily be incorporated into any dance performance:


GET INTO CHARACTER

Sometimes actors stay “in character” throughout an entire performance or shoot even when they aren’t on stage or in front of the camera. Dancers would do well to get into this habit too....at the very least, just before a performance.

This could be as simple as warming up completely and taking a few moments for yourself to get centered before you perform, or it could be a more elaborate preparation, depending on your piece.

Are you performing as YOU? Then don’t be afraid to let your own, off-stage personality shine through…. even if it’s quirky. The audience will embrace you if you are being genuine.

Are you performing as a character in a dramatic piece? If so, know exactly who your character is. Those “make believe” games you played as a kid can really go over-the-top here. Are you feeling happy, sad, fiery, naughty, angry or innocent? Is your character a temple dancer, a courtesan, an innocent girl, a sorceress, a cartoon character or mythological figure? Whatever or whoever it is, do it to the hilt. And remember to stay in character as you walk off the stage…. and into the dressing room…and as you come back to take your bow if there is a curtain call.

KNOW YOUR MOTIVATION

Sounds cliché, right? Well it’s not! Actors always know what is motivating their character in any given scene, and need to know your dance character’s motivation for your piece. Invent a back-story for your performance, even if you are not doing a character-driven theatrical piece that has an obvious storyline. It will help you to convey your emotions to the audience. Many dances tell a story; others do not, but there still needs to be an emotional journey. Your back-story can be a simple sentence… it can be just “all about the beauty of the music”- but it still needs to be there.


ACCESS YOUR EMOTIONS

Actors use their senses and emotional memories in the context of performing scenes. Since you are performing to a musical “script”, you really get in touch with your emotions in order to be able to present the music in a way your audience will feel it. As part of your rehearsals, just listen to you music a few times, without moving, and see how it makes you feel. Chances are, what you are feeling is a universal emotion, meaning your audience will feel it too.

Your performance will definitely include physical references to rhythmic changes, different phrases or the choruses of the music, but your emotions really need to be invested as well. If the music is instrumental, let your face and gestures provide an emotional context. If you are performing to a piece with singing and words, the lyrics are already obvious, and you need to decide before hand if you are actually acting them out fully or just referencing them.

Of course, if you are a belly dancer and your music has words being sung in a different language, you really need to find out exactly what the song is saying! I once witnessed a dancer performing what she thought was an Egyptian love song, so she was acting out the “lost love” quite dramatically. The only problem was that the song was not about love at all- and she was performing to an ethnic audience who spoke Arabic and understood the words. The lyrics of the song were so opposite of what she was portraying, her dance became an unintentional comedic parody. As she went through her romantic histrionics onstage, the audience was practically rolling in the aisles! What she took as raw emotion in the song was basically a series of vocal calisthenics. Luckily, these days, there are many translations for popular Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Armenian songs on line.


THINK SLOW

Stage actors and screen actors alike sometimes tend to speak a little more slowly than anyone would in “real life”, to insure that the meaning of their words has a chance to sink in and not get lost. They also enunciate very clearly. Translated into a dance performance, a dancer could incorporate a similar technique by really paying attention to the pauses in the music, and not trying to cram in a movement to every beat. Reign yourself in, dance a little more slowly and allow your audience to savor and enjoy every movement you make. Also allow yourself to actually finish each movement fully, before moving on to the next one.


FIND YOUR BEST LIGHT

Actors usually have a director to set their marks and actions so that the stage or movie lights will showcase them to their fullest advantage. As dancers, we are not always so privileged. Take advantage of your tech rehearsals to figure out where the best lighting on the stage is, and if need be, tailor your performance so that you are dancing where the lights are the hottest. Make sure to be nice to your lighting technician- it’s worth it! Even if you do not get a full tech rehearsal, or are not dancing in a theater, you should scope out your performance area and make sure you know what the lightest and darkest parts of your “stage” will be, and know where to dance so the audience will be able to see you.


STAY OPEN

For actors in the theater, keeping one’s back to the audience for extended periods of time is anathema. It is not always this way for dancers- sometimes it can be very dramatic to begin a piece facing away from an audience. Use your best judgment on this, but know that onstage, there are very definite concepts of positive and negative space. Positive space is audience-inclusive; negative space is not. Depending upon your performance and the feelings you are conveying, you will be utilizing positive and negative space.

Many actors keep their bodies presented flat front to the audience, but in dance, our bodylines are different, and we are usually not static, but in constant motion. Facing dead on front is not usually a dancer’s most flattering angle, three-quarters usually is. But you can still direct your face towards the audience, thereby “including” them. Also coming down towards the front of the stage and actually making eye contact is an excellent way of engaging your audience. And while actors often worry about being upstaged by other actors, dancers don’t usually face that problem. Don’t however, “upstage” yourself by blocking your face- or some lovely hip work- with your arms …remember to rehearse the best angles for your arms, and to only hide your face if it’s intentional!


WATCH AND OBSERVE

To master their craft, any actor who wants to learn about portraying “the human condition” will observe people constantly with the sharp eye of an anthropologist. They study everything from vocal inflections to posture; from hand gestures and nervous tics to the way other people walk. They also watch a lot of movies, and plays, and observe other actors.
As a dancer, for your character work, it behooves you to study “real people”. It’s also absolutely necessary to see as much dance as you possibly can- both live and recorded performances. Don’t limit it only to the genre (or genres) of dance you perform, and don’t limit it only to strictly professional performances. There is something to be learned from every dancer you see, whether it’s divinely inspiring or even if that something you learn is just “what NOT to do”!


QUIET ON THE SET!

Whether there are cameras rolling or not, as a professional courtesy to those you perform with, be as quite as possible when others are on stage. This means backstage in particular! In the dressing room, as in the audience, before the performance has started, turn your phones and handhelds off. All you should be hearing is what’s going on under the lights, and the audience reacting to what they are seeing.


TAKE A BOW

At the end of your performance, or if there is a curtain call, give the audience heartfelt gratitude for their time and admiration and take a bow… you deserve it!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

USE YOUR ILLUSION:BELLY DANCE, MOVIES AND MAGIC


I’m finding it hard to believe that it’s already October…not to mention the fact that I am actually writing this from my own house, because this year has been full of travel. I’ve hardly been home for more than a week since February. Last night I slept in my own bed for the first time in a month…but what a month it’s been! Belly dance festivals, magic and utter mayhem!

My recent escapades began in August, with Yaa Halla, Y’All in Texas and ended at The Redwood Coast Belly Dance Festival in Northern California. Backstage at Yaa Halla was so much fun and so full of laughter that the stage manager had to actually tell us- a group of seasoned professionals which included Aubre, Jayna, Frank Farinaro, and Aradia- to be quiet on more than one occasion! Since it was the tenth anniversary of the festival, there were a bunch of special events planned, including a joke act with Amaya and Mher Panossian of Hollywood Music Center, who was in character as "Mo Hummous". He spent the entire weekend in a fez, a fake mustache and a completely scary uni-brow. There was a recurring series of jokes revolving around the reality show “Jersey Shore”…and I will NEVER forget Carmine Guida throwing “Jersey Shore” gang-signs at me onstage, cracking me up in the middle of our drum solo! Another highlight was finally getting to meet and hang out with two dancers I’ve admired from afar, but never worked with: Bozenka and Virginia. Both are beautiful onstage and off. Virginia is much smaller in person than she seems to be in pictures or performing; Bozenka is gorgeous and CRAZY!

Shoshanna’s Redwood Coast Festival was also chock full of fun and laughter. I was treated like royalty, and hung out with some of my favorite pals, the gals from Wild Card Tribal and Marjhani. The event kicked off with a fabulous dinner reception thrown by L. Rose Designs, with champagne and home cooked quiche that was…well, almost better than her fabulous designs!
Seeing Shoshanna, Andalee and Emily Alrick dance was mind-bending, as was the open-floor dancing for budding belly beauties under the age of ten, including performances by Marjhani’s daughter Zoe and Shoshanna’s 3-year-old Amira. Those girls are going to be dangerous by the time they reach double-digits! There was also a terrific afterparty at Shoshanna's studio, and the chicks from Solstice Dance Studio in Santa Rosa hosted a crazy, impromptu hotel room after-after party, which included lots of blasting disco hits and attendees dancing on top of the beds and chairs! I'm surprised the police didn't come! The weekend ended with a visit to The Finnish Country spa, and lemme tell you, my sore joints needed that.

In between those two dance events, I went on location to shoot Steve Balderson’s new film “The Casserole Club”, a dark drama set in 1969. It was pretty crazy switching gears from my belly dance reality to suddenly becoming a swingin’ red-headed ‘60’s housewife. The ensemble cast was incredible, including some of my former death-block cellmates from last year’s “Stuck!” as well as Daniella Sea from “The L Word” and musician/actors Kevin Richardson and Jane Wiedlin. Considering that Kevin was in The Backstreet Boys and Jane was in The Go-Go’s, most of the cast and crew confessed at some point to having had teenage crushes on both of them! I learned so much from working with all the immensely talented actors, and of course our after-shooting bonding was pretty intense. “The Casserole Club will be released in 2011; for info on the film, you can visit the website: http://tinyurl.com/24vjnfj

Of course I’m saving the wackiest part of this post for last...

Just before the film shoot, with only a travel day in between, I’d been at Samira Tu’Ala’s beyond-fabulous Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive. The word “intense” certainly should be highlighted-the Intensive is a huge and extremely well-run festival, also with non-stop performances, two nights of gala shows in a beautiful theater and an incredible array of workshops…but when you add Las Vegas into the mix, it becomes beyond insane! The Intensive was held at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, so in addition to the belly dancing mania, there were the things Vegas is famous for: the non-stop clanging of slot machines and the whiz of Roulette wheels, scores of Ed Hardy-clad tourists, drunken bridesmaids wandering through the casino clutching their heels in their hands 3:00am, Donnie and Marie Osmond’s show in the Flamingo lobby and Cher across the street at Caesar’s Palace… it was pretty surreal! All this was in addition to teaching two workshops, and hanging with some of my favorite dancers like John Compton and Fahtiem, who was fresh from her tour of China. I got to meet my internet pen-pal Ozma of Japan, and was also one of the judges for this year’s contest, “So You Think You Can Belly Dance”.

I’d been looking forward to this event all year in general, but even more so due to the crazy, top secret, Vegas-style surprise I’d been planning for months, with my partner-in-crime, belly dancer Tanya Popovitch.

Last February at the Belly Dancer of The Universe Competition in Long Beach, Tanya and I hatched up a scheme: in the middle of my set at the Intensive, she would come onstage and saw me in half, in the style a vintage magic act…. then to prove that both halves of me “still worked”, I would pop out of the sawing box and do my drum solo.

This whole thing came about almost as a joke: we were standing in front of Dahlal’s costume booth, and for some reason, the subject of magic came up. When I blurted out that it had been my life-long dream to be a magician’s assistant and get sawed in half on stage, a strange look came over Tanya’s face.

“I could saw you in half!” she declared emphatically.

I must have looked kind of shocked, because she added that for years her “day job” has been being a professional magician’s assistant, and that had been wanting to “step out of the box” and do some magic herself.

Her “other half” so to speak, is Joaquin Ayala, a world-famous magician, who also does many of illusionist Criss Angel’s special effects. Tanya and I swore each other to secrecy and started planning. There were a lot of “if’s” involved: we didn’t know if Samira would allow such a folly at the Intensive, Tanya and Joaquin didn’t own the sawing box prop, so we’d have to find one to use; and since we lived in two different cities there would be a bare minimum of rehearsal time.

Somehow it all came together. When I approached Samira on the phone and enthusiastically detailed our plan to her, she didn’t say anything. The silence, in fact, went on so long that I was beginning to fear she was having second thoughts about having a lunatic like me as a headliner.

Finally, Samira said,

“ I think that’s the most “Vegas” thing I’ve ever heard- LET’S DO IT!”

As the date got closer, Tanya and I furiously finalized all the details. Tanya found a prop and we settled on music for the magic portion; the theme from the 1980’s television show “Vega$”. Immediately after I arrived in Las Vegas, Tanya whisked me off to Planet Hollywood for a champagne-soaked VIP party in honor of Criss Angel. I hung out with magicians, circus people and mentalists, and later it turned out I was one of the women doing padding through the casino barefoot, my high-heels in hand.

The next day, my Intensive workshops began, followed by an afternoon of magic rehearsals.

We rehearsed the act at Farrington Productions, which apparently is the nerve center for all the large productions and stage shows in town. It’s located in a huge, non-descript compound that, from the outside, looks like an ordinary warehouse- but inside, it was a glitter queen’s wet dream! There were giant pieces of scenery and props, floor-to-ceiling shelves of magnificent showgirl headdresses, racks and racks of sparkly stage costumes. It was so overwhelming, I was almost weeping!

We waded through sequined and fringed 1920’s flapper shifts, suits of armor, polka-dotted flamenco dresses, Victorian outfits with massive hoopskirts and bustles, over-sized Mardi-Gras style heads, neon clown shoes, boas, Sally Rand feather fans... even a green dress covered in glitter watermelon slices and a bunch of psychotic-looking vegetable costumes, and finally came to the large dance studio on the premises, where we met Joaquin and lovely dancer Sacha Biondi, who was going to be Tanya’s assistant. I “met” my prop for the first time and it seemed so tiny, I was having major apprehension over whether I would be able to fit inside of it, let alone remember everything I needed to with just two days of rehearsal.

Tanya suggested I watch them run through the act before participating it, and she and Sacha took their places as Joaquin cued the music. It was spectacular; they had every little movement choreographed. By the end of the number, I’d completely forgotten about the showgirl headresses I’d been coveting and actually really was weeping! I felt like I’d won the lottery, and couldn’t believe how incredible the whole act was, choreographed in minute precision, let alone how much thought and work Tanya, Sacha and Joaquin had put into the act. It was literally my dream come true and more. I wiped away my happy tears and we got down to work.

We rehearsed for hours each day, running the act over and over. Personally, I am a perfectionist; a total stickler for rehearsals and for getting things exactly right… but what they had already worked out for the act blew me away completely. In the back of my mind, I really felt the need to measure up to the amazing standard they set, especially since was just a green rookie with a crazy dream, and they were world-class professionals in the realm of stage illusions. We ran the number so many times and so continuously that even in the air-conditioned studio, I was dripping with sweat. At one point, my back and all my limbs were so wet, I skidded as I got into the box, which lead me to having what Tanya referred to as a “Magic Meltdown”- a mini-panic attack inside the prop. She assured me every assistant has one at some point. By the end of our intense rehearsals, I looked like a victim of domestic violence, because I was covered in “Magic Bruises”, from climbing in and out of the prop quickly to the beat of our fast-paced music. I was battered but unbowed: combined with my little claustrophobic episode, the bruises were the final proof that I had popped my Magic Cherry!

On the day of the show, in keeping with what we we were now referring to as The Top Secret Project, Samira and stage manager extraordinaire Sandi Curtis gave us a closed tech rehearsal and we ran the act on the stage. The word was out that i was doing something special, and they were both afraid that if anyone saw the rehearsal, the surprise would be ruined. That day and evening passed by in a blur, and regrettably, I didn’t even get to see the other dancers on the show- hot performers like Lotus Niraja, Samira Sharuk, Lee Ali and Steven Eggers... but I could tell they were amazing by the sound of the crowd.

Next thing I knew, I was living out my childhood dream of being sawed in half onstage. I guess by now, dear readers, with all my carrying on about this, you are dying to know how the magic act works.

Can you keep a secret? I thought so.

I can, too!



Photo by James Packard: Sacha, Princess & Tanya onstage at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive

Monday, September 6, 2010

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM....FUN WITH KEY WORDS PART FIVE


Key Words are the words or phrases people type into search engines that direct them to various websites. Aside from the obvious ones ( “belly dance”, “costumes”, “Egyptian Style” , etc.) I always get a kick at the random things people search that directs them to my blog!
Here are a few choice recent entries:

MAKE A FACE DANCE

THE RUSSIAN PRINCESS WHO DIDN’T LISTEN AND
HANDLED THE DANGEROUS FLOWERS

LATEX BELLY DANCE COSTUME

I FEEL YOUR HEAT OH MOUSTAPHA

ROMANY CORSET LACING

CANING LADIES TUBES

THINGS FOR FARHANA TO DO THIS EVENING

ORYANTAL NIPPLE MOVIE GALLERIES X VIDEOS

PORNO LESPO MIT HAREN

ZOE JAKES BOYFRIEND

Thursday, September 2, 2010

BODY OF WORK: THE BURESQUE HANDBOOK BY JO WELDON



BOOK REVIEW: THE BURLESQUE HANDBOOK BY JO WELDON (IT! Books/Harper Collins, 2010)

Whether you’re a budding showgirl or a seasoned pro, a serious researcher or just curious about the origins of this super-sensuous art form, “The Burlesque Handbook” by Jo Weldon (IT! Books/Harper Collins, 2010) has something for everyone whose had even a passing fancy for burlesque. From fan dancing to tassel-twirling; from stage make-up to costuming hints; from old school Classic Burley moves to crafting high-concept post-modern performances… this book has it all!

Written by the illustrious Jo Weldon, neo-burlesque legend and headmistress of The New York School Of Burlesque, and star of many instructional burlesque DVD’s, this book is jam-packed with information. The tips and tricks you will learn in this book are usually hard-won through years of experience, but Jo shares her wealth of knowledge freely and happily. The chapters are well organized and cover a lot of ground, including sections of music selection, character development and “Backstage Etiquette”. There’s even patterns for making your own pasties included!

Jo’s facile and often droll writing style makes reading the book a breeze, and her anecdotes about her own career and what attracted her to burlesque in the first place are mesmerizing.

The book is also packed with photos of contemporary burlesque stars and how-to diagrams for technique in boa and fan work, plus hints and ideas from many big name burley professionals working today, including Dita Von Teese, Michelle L’Amour, Dirty Martini, World Famous BOB, Tigger, Kate Valentine, Erochica Bamboo…. and of course, lil’ old ME!

Mega rhinestone and feather-covered kudos to the lovely Ms. Weldon for not only walkin’ the walk, (or struttin’ the strut, as the case may be!) but also talkin’ the talk in an informative way…. and then having the fortitude for putting it all down on paper.

Trust me, if you have any interest at all in burlesque, you will enjoy this book immensely, and refer to it often as a resource.

Purchase this book: http://tinyurl.com/2bq2qtm

Purchase Jo’s instructional burlesque DVDs: http://tinyurl.com/37u9m3c

Purchase Princess Farhana’s instructional burlesque DVD’s: http://tinyurl.com/2a24ze4

Photos: Jo & Princess at Jo's LA book signing; book cover

Saturday, August 28, 2010

WELL BALANCED: CRIB NOTES ON THE USE OF BALANCED PROPS IN ORIENTAL DANCE



The history and use of balanced props in Oriental Dance is as subject to speculation as the dance form itself, but it seems that for decades- if not centuries- belly dance performers have often used balanced props to display their grace and skill. Though this is by no means at all a complete history on the use of balanced props, perhaps it will help you, dear reader, to understand why we-belly dancers-use some of these gorgeous "dance partners" on stage.

The origins of sword dancing are unclear; and many people believe it came from American Cabaret belly dance, and was never traditional in Middle Eastern folkloric dances performed by females, let alone as a part of raqs sharqi. Used as a display of weaponry or prowess, swords, scimitars and daggers have been used often in dances or displays ( by men) in the Gulf regions, as well as in The Levant.

However, the roots of sword or scimitar dancing as performed by women do seem to come from North Africa or Turkey. There are many 19th century Orientalist paintings and lithographs depicting scenes with musicians playing as jewel-bedecked women dance with curved scimitars atop their heads, and there are also numerous written references to dancers performing with sabres stemming from the same time period. It is difficult to tell if this was merely an Orientalist fantasy, or a recording of actual events as seen by Western travellers.

Exotic and glamorously dangerous, sword dancing is extremely popular today in cabaret and fusion style performances. The curved scimitars are balanced on the head, chest, shoulders, wrists- as well as many other locations-on the body of the dancer, and many dancers use more than one sword.

The contemporary version of sword dancing ( dating from the late 1960's into the '70's) has been attributed both to noted dancers Leona Wood (who used a custom made carved wooden sword) as her prop, and to Jamila Salimpour, whose troupe Bal Anat was a precursor to the American Tribal style of belly dance.

Raks shamadan, performed by a dancer crowned with large, flaming candelabra, is an Egyptian wedding tradition, dating from the turn of the last century, in the time before electricity. Shamadan-bearing dancers lead the zeffah al-arousa or bridal procession through the darkened streets, illuminating the newly married couple, a tradition that is still continued today. Because of its spectacular effect, the dance was also performed theatrically, as part of both cabaret and folkloric Oriental performances.

Some believe that in the 1920’s, Badia Masabni brought the dance to the stage of her Cairo nightclub, The Casino Opera, where legendary Golden Age dancers like Tahia Carioca and Samia Gamal began their careers. But a more likely version of the origin is credited to a pair of Egyptian dancers from the Mohammad Ali Street district of Cairo, at the turn of the last century. It is believed that Egyptian dancer Zouba El Klobatiyya was the first performer to dance with a lantern-or klob- balanced on her head- hence, her name. If she wasn’t actually the first dancer to perform with a lantern balanced atop her head, she did at least become the first to gain recognition for it. She was followed in quick succession by a Coptic Christian dancer, Shafiya El Koptyyia (Shafiya The Copt) who also performed this skill.

Much more recently, Egyptian dancer Nadia Hamdi, who is known the world over for her shamadan skills and floor work including splits, is noted for her skills with shamadan, having been trained by the original dancers, and is still in action today, preserving the tradition.

Other folkloric dances from Egypt that sometimes incorporate balancing skills include balass (water jug) dance, where the vessel is held on the shoulder and sometimes balanced on the head of the dancer, and raks assaya, where the performer manipulates a cane, twirls it, and if skilled, balances the cane on various parts of the body. Tunisian and Moroccan folkloric dancers balance clay pots (or stacks of them!) on the head, as well as doing head balances with large brass trays, sometimes laden teapots, glasses. Both male and female performers perform tray dancing, and the illustrious John Compton is one of the masters of this dance.

Please be aware that working with any type of balanced prop can take years to perfect. It requires absolute stability of the head and neck, and increased flexibility and power (especially in the upper thighs, abdomen and arms) for floor work. The heightened isolation skills, mental concentration and slower movements necessary for balance will have a very positive affect on your overall dancing. You will need to practice- a lot. You also must be sure that in addition to your regular warm-up, to really thoroughly warm up your neck, shoulders, upper arms and thighs before attempting to balance anything…even if you are already comfortable with performing floor work, and the extra weight on your head.

Above all, please remember when balancing any sort of props, whether used with or without fire: SAFETY FIRST!

Monday, August 16, 2010

THE E TICKET TOUR




Hello, Dear Readers!

It’s been such a long time since I’ve written, I fear you may have abandoned me…but here I am again!
This entire year has been full of amazing things, but it’s also been so hectic I’ve barely had a chance to catch my breath. This summer was no different. In fact, I’ve taken to referring to my summer travels as “The E Ticket Tour”, because I spent most of the summer in England and Egypt…. and yes, it really was a E-Ticket ride!

In June and early July, my Eternal Egypt co-tour leader Zahra Zuhair, and I took a group of seventeen belly dancers to Egypt. I’ve always wanted to bring a tour group to Egypt, and so I finally realized a longtime goal. In truth, I couldn’t have done it without Zahra- it was a lot of work- I doubt either of us slept for more than four hours a night, if that!

But in spite of the insane jet lag, a wonderful time was had by all- it was an awesome group of really fun people. I know I sound like I’m bragging, but the tour itself was truly fantastic, and there was certainly a lot of bonding going on. In fact, I’d say that it was rare that ten minutes would go by without someone bursting into laughter. Our group included amateur and professional belly dancers from all over America, including two sets of mothers and daughters. Most of the group had never been to Egypt before, and they were speechless with awe over everything: The Ahlan Wa Sahlan dance festival, The Sphinx and pyramids, the incredible music and belly dancing that is literally everywhere, the crazy traffic in Cairo, and the antiquities- not to mention the relentless heat- of Upper Egypt.

So- before reading on, I just must tell you that it was such a terrific experience; Zahra and I are definitely doing it again in 2011!

Of course, the highlights for us were seeing all the belly dancers, and boy, did we get saturated with belly dancing! We saw Randa Kamel on the Nile Maxim our first night in Cairo. Her band set up and she literally ran onto the stage in an insane lime green costume, it’s bra covered with huge, spiky rhinestone flowers that resembled Christmas decorations. We were seated close enough to notice her purple and silver airbrushed nails! Randa is magnificent and powerful, mixing her trademark dynamic, sweeping kicks with a flurry of subtle shimmies and internal muscular technique. Her emotions were written all over her face, and her unbelievable energy never flagged. Devilla, an LA-based professional dancer and make-up artist (and my roomie the entire tour!) commented

“Randa is like a racehorse- sleek and stunning!”

The shows at Ahlan WA Sahlan were equally over-the-top. The Opening Gala featured Cairo-based Russian Dancer Katia Sherbakova, Cairo-based Brazilian dancer Sorraya Zayed, and, have course Dina. Each one a full, night-club length show, complete with their own singers and twenty-plus piece orchestras…and Dina’s band this year included a full Western-style horn section, complete with trombones… which I’m very thankful were absent during her classic Oriental numbers. Kati was spectacular as always, with her swift, athletic style, powerful vibrations and mind-boggling deep backbends. During their sets, Dina and Sorraya both danced to “Enta Omri”, and it was pretty incredible to see the stylistic differences in each dancers interpretation of the same song: Sorraya’s was technique-driven, quick and almost minimalist, while Dina’s was full of emotion and juicy shimmies. This year, Dina looked tiny… and extremely buff! I found out later from Katia that Dina has been “religiously” doing yoga and Pilates! Of course, Dina’s costumes always have everyone all agog. She wore an acid yellow number with the same type of chunky “Christmas” bling as Randa’s costume from the previous night, and she also had on a stunning Sahar Okasha number, a skin-tight zebra- printed dress festooned with coral beads.
The Gala was equally as great, and we were treated to new talent, including Aziza from Egypt (not to be confused with American Aziza) who did an energetic set and displayed technique that was just full on ridiculously amazing. She also had a blind singer with her, whose voice gave me immediate goosebumps the moment she began her song… I wish I’d caught her name! At one point during her closing song, Aziza literally whirled her head around non stop- as though she had no bones in her neck and spine- to the beat of a drum, for like, over two minutes. Sitting next to me, Zahra was as shell-shocked as I was, and commented:
“I don’t know how ANYBODY will be able to follow that!”

The other “new face” on the scene was a gorgeous dancer named Jouanna, whom I believe is also Egyptian- her announcement said she’d been working in Dubai and Sharm El Sheikh. She slid onto the stage in a Fedora, doing a really Fosse/ jazz type opening that somehow managed to be oriental at the same time, and then proceeded into a high-energy set which included standard Arabic songs, a really cute Saidi number, where she danced through the crowd.

During Ahlan Wa Sahlan, I spent as much time as I could catching up with old friends, like Hallah Moustafa, LA dancer Aleya (now living and working in Cairo, Diana Esposito (another American living and working in Cairo) and the wonderful Karim Nagy. I also spent a lot of time at Hannan’s atelier inside The Mena House …and yeah, I admit it, I bought a shitload of costumes! At Hannan’s, I also always seemed to bump into Chicago-based dancer Raksanna, who is delightful. Shaabi music was always blasting, Hannan’s little daughters danced on top of chairs while other kids run through pulling each other along on a skateboard using a gold assaya cane as a handle and older kids delivered Turkish coffee. Hannan herself bustled around with a mouth full of safety pins, overseeing everything from fittings to purchases. Seven months pregnant at the time, Hannan was radiant; her gorgeous, finely boned face made up with brilliant turquoise eye shadow, which matched her headscarf exactly.

Speaking of costumes, I also spent a lot of “quality time” with Yaz Taleb, who is the brains behind King Of The Nile Belly Dance Costumes. Yaz, a true gentleman, helped my tour group immensely, in every way possible, from making our group custom ordered costumes in ridiculously small amounts of time, to taking the gals on shoe-shopping expeditions, to translating for us at Khan Al Khalili, to bringing us tons of delectable take-out Koshary whenever we got hungry.

Yaz and I also embarked upon a super-secret joint project that is already in the works… but for right now, mum is the word- all I can say is that it’s very exciting and hopefully, when it comes to fruition, you will be as excited about it as I already am!

Upper Egypt was serene and beautiful- we spent our time on a Nile Cruise between Luxor and Aswan, on a charming boat called The Cheops, after the Pharaoh of the same name. The temples, ruins and antiquities were wonderful, but even more so was our guide Bishoy, who not only spoke perfect English, but gladly took to the name our group bestowed upon him, “Big Daddy Pharaoh”.

After two weeks in Egypt, the group went home with Zahra, but I went on to do two weeks worth of workshops and performances in the UK. As with all my previous trips to the UK (and I’ve been there so much, I think I’ve actually lost count of how many times it’s been) every sponsor was delightful! My first weekend was spent with Charlotte Desorgher from Hipsinc, which is one of the largest belly dance schools in the country, based in the greater London area. Charlotte has sponsored me many times, but on this trip I actually had a bit of downtime with her and got to relax at her lovely country house in Kent, and pet her next-door neighbors- two adorable donkies! They threw a really wonderful hafla at a great venue with a nice large stage, and my pal Ozgen, a wonderful male belly dancer, from Turkey, came out to the show, so we had a blast hanging out backstage. I also got the chance to watch-and meet- many of the Hipsinc instructors, who are all incredible women- not to mention amazing performers. Just as I left, the Hipsinc crew was preparing to film some instructional DVD’s…. and my advice to anyone would be- BUY THEM AS SOON AS THEY’RE ON THE MARKET! These women totally RAQ!

From there I went on to Yorkshire, to the city Leeds, which is full of fantastic, well-preserved Victorian buildings. My sponsor, Beverly Smith and her crew of women were also super-sweet, crazy in that awesome-belly-dancer way, and just loads of fun. Beverly herself is a tiny dynamo, with crisp, beautiful Egyptian technique, and all the other dancers I met blew my socks off as well. My workshops were held in a drama school, during one of the most intense thunderstorms I’ve ever experienced. I thought it might be “normal” weather for Northern England, but when all the workshop attendees showed up looking like drowned rats, I knew we were having an Extreme Weather Experience! The show the next evening was put on at a beautiful black box theater, and from what I saw standing in the wings, it was just superlative.

I also must give a shout out to the wonderful people at The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Leeds. Since I travel so often, it really makes a difference when the staff at wherever I’m staying is gracious and helpful, but in this case, I actually bonded with two hotel employees: Marc Philpott and a wonderful girl named Freddy. They not only made my stay worthwhile, but I gained two friends! We stayed up after my gigs laughing and talking like old friends.

My last UK gig was a Gothla UK 2010 in Leicester. Again- what a lovely experience! These women sure know how to run a festival! Bridie, Heike, Rosie and everyone else had it all down to a science. And the sheer amount of creativity involved in all the shows was stunning. Most of the dancers on both of the Gothla shows made their own costumes, and truly brought drama and passion to their performances. Gothla may be the only place where one could witness a belly dance performance entitled “Teatime At The Asylum”, and involved performers looking like a bunch of hot, spooky Victorian nurses! I had a ball teaching 1920’s style stage make-up and combinations, and also hanging out with some old dance friends, like Lynne “Fulya” Chapman, her sister Julie, and my wonderful pal, fusion dancer Tree Russell.
There seemed to be a lot of “Eastern Bloc” women at Gothla this year- including many Polish dancers who were all beautiful and unique. Who knew Eastern Europe was so “dark”?!
My co-headlining Gothla instructors were both from America: Ariellah, whom I’ve had the pleasure of doing many shows with previously, and the super-amazing Sera Solstice, whom I got to know better. Sera brought along her charming three-year-old daughter Sequoia, who quickly became the backstage favorite!

I’ve been home almost a month, and am still reeling from my “E Ticket Tour”…. But, of course, I’m on the road again, this time off to Texas for belly dancing at Yaa Halla Y’All this weekend… ya think I should bring my cowboy boots?

*Photos: Pool sign at The Oasis Hotel, Giza; Gothla UK Babydolls