Friday, May 28, 2010


Is there really a perfect time to make your dance debut?

In the beginning of your dance-journey, no matter how many months or years you spend training at classes, private lessons, rehearsals and practice sessions, you will never feel completely “ready” for your first performance.

Stage fright is common- even after years of experience, many professional dancers- as well as actors, musicians, public speakers, newscasters, teachers, and many others in the public eye still suffer from performance anxiety. But there is a huge difference between a healthy pre-performance adrenalin surge and a stultifying, self-sabotaging sense of doom.

Whether you are dancing for a hobby or if you haven’t yet turned pro but have the desire to, early performances in a supportive environment can help you to grow as a dancer. If you have what it takes technique-wise, own or can borrow a costume and have done your dance-homework faithfully, then it’s time to tough it out, be brave, and try to put your self- doubt to rest. Then get yourself out there and perform as much as you possibly can!

I was always a big time ham, but as a baby belly dancer, even though I desperately wanted to turn professional, the idea of performing filled me with apprehension, if not outright dread. I was used to performing in the theater, on film and as a singer fronting a number of bands, but the thought of non-verbal communication through dance was terrifying. I usually didn’t suffer from stage fright at all- but the thought of failing at something so important that I loved so dearly- belly dancing- scared the hell out of me!

I was afraid my performances would be torn apart by other dancers, fearful that I would embarrass my teachers, not to mention convinced that ethnic audiences would see me as an “imposter”, and that civilians might get bored with watching ethnic dances.

Not only that, I had plenty of other handy excuses: in order to perform, I had to have the perfect costume (which I couldn’t yet afford) and I needed to find the perfect music, which apparently hadn’t yet been composed and recorded! Also, I was absolutely sure I was clumsy, over weight, lacked personality, would never get hired for dance jobs, and that I needed to study for…oh, at least another decade or so!

Many of my early belly dance teachers pushed me to perform when I didn’t think I was ready to, because they could see that I was ready, and, due to their experience, they could also tell I was only getting in my own way by resisting due to my own insecurities.

One dancer, Zein Abdel Al Malik, who was my teacher, friend and mentor (he also actually got me my first job) even spent hours- if not days -patiently and compassionately listening to my long litany of fears … but then he said bluntly:

“Get over it!”

So, teeth gritted, palms sweating, and with more than a few butterflies in my stomach, I took the plunge. Ultimately was glad that I did. I quickly realized that while some of my fears were valid, most of them were more neurotic than founded in actual truth. Even as a newbie, after biting the bullet and performing a few times (improvising to live music, no less) I realized that what you learn intrinsically from every performance is leaps and bounds beyond what you absorb in a class or during practice! In fact, for me, this belly dance “work/study” program was so accelerated, it seemed as though every five minutes of actual performance was worth five hours spent in the studio!

Here are some points to consider:

Check in with your instructor(s) and make sure that they agree that you are ready to perform. Usually, the instructor knows BEFORE the student does. Many of my own students didn’t think they were ready to perform, when I already knew-for months- that they had the capability to perform and do the job well. I have trained many professionals and award-winning dancers over the years. It makes me so proud that I had a hand in shaping these women’s careers… and also that it was me who (very gently) pushed them into performing. Many of them are now teaching others and sharing the joy of dance.

On the other hand, if you don’t think you are ready for the stage but your instructor does, trust her instincts. Think it over; you don’t have to agree to perform right away, and you don’t need to start with a solo, you could join a student troupe, or do a duet with someone in your class. Dancing in a student troupe has many benefits, not the least of which are learning combinations and choreographies for free! And I can’t even begin to tell you how many students I’ve had that were extremely reluctant to go onstage… but who came off stage feeling elated and hungry for more!

If your instructor is over-critical of your performances, appearance or abilities in general, it’s time to consider going elsewhere for your training. Dancing should be fun and enriching, and classes should be supportive environment. Constructive critique is one thing; bullying, sarcasm and derogatory comments are quite another.

Be fully prepared: Know your musical selections inside out, have your choreography or marked improv down, make sure you have a costume that fits well and is in good repair- i.e. securely fastened, hemmed, and not shedding coins or fringe. Use enough make-up, and check with your classmates or teacher if you need to. Stage make-up needs to be much heavier than every day make-up, and it may look strange to see your face so painted up. Before leaving for your show or recital, double check and be certain you have all pieces of your costume with you, as well as your music and any props or accessories you will be using. Bring shoes and a cover-up.

Before going onstage, take a few quiet moments for yourself, and focus on your performance piece mentally. Warm yourself up completely, starting with some light dance steps or aerobic activity, transitioning into gentle stretching. Before you go on, take a few deep breaths to center yourself, and remind yourself not to rush and to finish every movement. Think of something that makes you happy, and then your smile will look genuine, not forced.

Remember to have a great time onstage…. even though you will probably not remember your actual performance! Have fun and your audience will, too. Try to project your energy outwards- find a friendly face in the crowd and focus on that person, not the floor!

Performing live- in a “safe” environment, such as in student troupes or showcases, at haflas, and belly dance events will teach you things about audience interaction, spatial concepts, and application of technique that you can never possibly learn in a classroom situation. You will grow as a dancer because of it.

Just do it!

Photo: Princess Farhana in 1992, performing for Anaheed's showcase at The Middle East Connection, Burbank, CA.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I love to recycle…but through necessity, I’ve also become a veteran of re-purposing everyday household items to pinch-hit in the event of a “dance emergency”! I can’t even tell you how many items I’ve found just laying around the house that makes preparing for shows, costume trouble-shooting or dealing with last-minute dance disasters much easier. There are so many useful things I’ve found for problem-solving in my “junk drawer”- not to mention under the sink, in the tool kit or even the fridge.
Though I seriously DO NOT recommend using a Sharpie pen for eyeliner the way I once did at a gig when I forgot my make-up bag (it didn’t hurt me at all, but you might not be as lucky!) you might find some of these common household items helpful to keep on hand…. just in case!

Did you over-do it at a rehearsal or performance? Remember R.I.C.E – which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Instead of fussing with ice-cubes sloppily wrapped in a towel, instead, use pre-cut, packaged frozen vegetables as an ice pack. When you’re done icing your injury, pop them in the microwave, and eat them – you’ll need their vitamins to help your body heal!

These are fantastic for storing your dance wardrobe, and they come in many different sizes. The gigantic two-gallon freezer bags are large enough (and strong enough) to hold a full costume. Smaller sizes can be used to hold veils or accessories, and then slipped into the larger bag holding your bra, belt and skirt. I also use recycled plastic grocery bags to store dance shoes, or even to hold sweaty rehearsal or class-wear in my dance bag on the way home from the studio.

The plastic leftover containers and casserole pans come in many different shapes, and with covers, too. They are great for storing wigs and hairpieces, especially because they can be labeled and stacked on shelves to maximize storage space. They not only protect your falls and wigs, they pack flat and will fit into almost any sized gig bag. I also use the smaller and deeper covered round-shaped plastic containers (meant for soups and salads) to store and transport tiaras and hair-ornaments, and line the tiny square or ob-long “one portion” containers with felt and store costume jewelry in them while I’m traveling.

Nothing works better to keep a sword from sliding around on your head than sandpaper- it beats waxes hands-down! Simply cut a thin strip of rough, large-grain sandpaper, and glue it to the balance point of your sword. It doesn’t show at all during performance, and gives you that extra little bit of grip. Remember, when using a sword-safety is primary, so this doesn’t count as cheating! You can also attach a small piece of sand paper to the back of clip-on flower hair ornaments to help them stick to your head a little better.

I learned this trick from an estate jewelry dealer: use any sort of toothpaste as a gentle, non-corrosive, non-abrasive polish for rhinestone jewelry…and it also works for metal coins (real or stamped) or any type of antique or costume jewelry. If you own vintage pieces, it won’t ruin the finish or the nice patina, it will just add a little shine as well as keep the tarnish from wearing off on your sweaty skin during performance.

Strong and sturdy and easier to knot (and stay knotted) than fishing line, dental floss is great for sewing coins or heavy beads on to costumes. In a pinch, I’ve also used waxed dental floss for a temporary repair on Sally Rand Fans.

These are perfect to wind around the bottom of your dancing canes, to prevent the cane from slipping out of your sweaty mitts during performance! Rubber bands are virtually invisible onstage, but colored hair-ties that actually match the colors on your cane are even better!

If you don’t want to spring for an expensive boa for stage use, buy a few cheaper ones, and twist or braid them together, clasping each end with a rubber band or hair-tie. The volume of the feathers with disguise the rubber band, and no one will be the wiser.

You can also sew lengths of larger, thicker rubber bands (the type used for produce at the market) into the back of your heavier dance belts in the same way you would a piece of fabric-covered elastic, because the rubber will grip your skin and prevent the belt from slipping.

Here’s another trick for keeping your canes in top condition: Since the decorative foil sometimes unravels, simply wrap the ends of the cane with clear packing tape to prevent this from happening.

Keep them handy! Pliers, screwdrivers, even-in a pinch- a tweezers will help you keep your fans performance ready- use them to tighten the bolts holding the staves together, so you can control your fans more easily. A tweezers can also be used in lieu of jewelry pliers for re-affixing coins, repairing earrings, or fixing the broken crystal chains on your shamadan.
Metal washers can be used to separate the blades on a fan so it opens and closes more easily, and can also be used creatively for costuming- my friend Tempest pioneered using metal washers as decoration on her corset belts.

Got a jar of pennies you’ve been saving? Here’s an old trick from a pal whose a theatrical costumer- take a few pennies and sew them into the hem of a costume if you need some added weight there. This also works with smaller washers.

Drink your good vodka and save the cheap stuff for cleaning and deodorizing your costumes! I learned this one in the theater too, from a New York wardrobe mistress who worked on Broadway. Make a mixture of 50% water, 50% vodka, put it in a spray bottle and spritz it on your costumes to refresh them and alleviate unwanted odors. It won’t stain or discolor any sequins, coins or stones, and your costume will smell clean and fresh.

We all know that clear nail polish will stop runs on stockings, but did you know that you could also repair beading on costumes? If a row of fringe on a costume or hip-scarf or costume is fraying, stop it immediately by dabbing a bit of clear nail-polish on the end of the threads where it’s coming apart.

When you are cutting Egyptian fringe or even crocheted trim for costuming, you can seal the ends in the same way. And if the pearl or metallic large beading on your costume is chipping or coming off, you can paint the individual beads with nail polish so they look new again. This is a bit time-consuming, but worth the effort.

Another trick for clear nail polish is to paint it over the prongs of the crystals and rhinestones on your costumes, to keep your veils and skirts snag-free. Since the polish dries clear, it doesn’t interfere with the sparkle of the stones, and is completely unnoticeable.

Train a blow dryer on the drip-cups of your shamadan to melt the accumulated wax enough so it can be pried out and removed easily. You can also hang veils in the bathroom while you are showering, and the steam will release any unwanted wrinkles. Go over the veil quickly with a blow dryer to fluff it up, and you’ll be good to go!

Nothing works better than plain old butter knife for scraping the hardened wax- drippings out of the candleholders on your shamadan! Butter knives can also be used as a tool to flatten and secure the prongs on the large crystals decorating your costumes.

If the candles for your shamadan feel wobbly in their holders, wrap the ends in aluminum foil for a snug fit. It’s not only fireproof; it will protect the drip-cups from getting clogged with melted wax.

I believe Morocco may have been the originator of this helpful hint: baby socks or knit booties can double as finger cymbal mufflers if you want to practice your zills in the house, without driving your neighbors to murder! Just pop the cymbals into the ‘foot’ of the sock, and the elastic will hold it in place over your zills. It’s thin enough for you to be able to play freely, and will keep the clanging muffled and neighbor-friendly.

I know I don’t have to tell you that sturdy diaper pins with plastic covers are a dancer’s best friends… but I will anyway! Their uses are myriad: HOARD THEM LIKE GOLD!

The cardboard rolls inside toilet paper and paper towel are great for packing veils and keeping them virtually wrinkle-free. Iron or steam your veil, fold it carefully into an oblong shape, and then wrap it around the tube. When you get to your gig, simply un-wrap the veil, and hang it up before using it.

Though I don’t recommend using this on a regular basis because the adhesive is very strong and can be irritating, I have used double-sided carpet tape as an emergency fix for everything from holding up droopy gauntlets and gloves, to attaching pasties! To add a little traction on the bottom of ballroom shoes or ballet slippers, just stick a piece of carpet tape to the shoe, under the ball of the foot.

There are many uses for plain old household wire, picture-hanging wire, etc. You can use it to shape buckram for headdresses, sew it securely into felt as a backing for a costume piece, or even thread it through the butt ends of fan staves as an emergency holding tactic. Just twist the ends together securely and you’ll be fine, for at least one performance!

Super glue comes in very handy as a quick fix for repairing broken nails, re-attaching stones onto a costume for a last-minute repair, or even dotted on to secure the bolt of a fan that is coming loose. I’ve also used it for last-minute repairs on canes, swords-you name it. Keep a little container in your gig-bag; you never know when you might need it!

My friend Maharet, a belly dancer and professional photographer, taught me these trick- use potatoes for an instant “facelift”! Nothings works as well for reducing eye-puffiness! Just cut a couple of slices of raw potatoes, put them over your eyes, and relax for ten minutes. Rinse it off and you’ll look fresh as a daisy before you put your make-up on for photo shoots or performances.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


This year I have been on the road non-stop… right now, I feel like I “woke up” in the middle of May-it’s hard to believe that 2010 is almost half over. After many back-to-back trips, most recently to Miami and Tribal Fest in Northern California, I’m home in LA and, miraculously, will be here for three full weeks. Being home with my wonderful boyfriend and my four amazing kitties-not to mention sleeping in my own bed and NOT living out of a suitcase seems like quite a luxury…but even with my vagabond lifestyle and occasional bouts of home sickness, I love my life. Even though I have been doing this for years, it never gets old. Every day I am not only thankful that I am doing something I love to make a living, but also that my profession allows me to meet so many remarkable people- both artists and behind-the-scenes folks!

On the first weekend of May, Joharah brought me to Florida for her spring event. a weekend of workshops and shows at The Miccosukee Resort, just north of Miami. From the moment I arrived, it was non-stop fun. Joharah’s assistant Jeanette picked me up and brought me to Joharah’s house, for an incredible homemade dinner. In addition to being a costume designer, running a bustling import-export business and putting on huge events, Joharah is also a kick-ass gourmet cook! And so funny- what a sense of humor that woman has - we got along so well immediately, she is charming and earthy. Her house is literally a palace of bling-bling; full of gigantic piles of costumes, mounds of rhinestone jewelry, and the tabletops littered with intricate little perfume bottles from the Arab Emirates. The walls are hung with hand-sewn Egyptian tapestries, there was furniture covered with gold leaf and made of wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl, Saudi-style low cushioned couches, Moroccan rugs… it was a feast for the eyes.

My workshops started the very next day, and all I have to say is that Joharah knows how to throw an event! The whole weekend was so well organized, not to mention being completely fun and totally detail-oriented. Her support staff and family members help her and everything runs like a well-oiled machine…. The theme for this weekend was “Seventies” and it was carried out in full even to Disco-Ball decorations on every table. At the end of the workshops, Joharah gave away many full costumes for door prizes.

Miami is chock full of incredible, well-trained, dedicated dancers who are beautiful inside and out. Everyone brought their A-game to my workshops and to the stage. There is a diva-licious fierceness that the local dancers have which seems to be unique to the Miami scene. I have never seen such collective hot attitude and stage presence-not to mention such an assortment of awesome, sparkly, animal-print costumes- anywhere else. All of the performances on both of the nights were great, but a few really stood out to me… and two were even dedicated to me- what an honor. One was from Superior Dance Arts, directed by Monica and Sarah Silvestri, and featured a hot chair dance: imagine my surprise when, at the end, the chairs were tipped over and the underside spelled out “F-A-R-H-A-N-A”. The other dedication was offered from Jihan Jamal’s Bellyrinas. I had never met Jihan before… and was excited to, because when I first started belly dancing, I actually carried around a picture of her in my wallet that I’d cut out of “Arabesque” Magazine. I used to stare at it every day for inspiration. I was so touched that Jihan dedicated her group’s performance to me because of my baby-dancer/ fan-girl obsession, that when I admitted this to Jihan afterwards, we both became teary-eyed. Another beautiful dancer I shared a teary moment with was Lamis, a veteran dancer and one of the “mothers” of the Miami scene, to whom the entire event was dedicated. Lamis performed an elegant fan number with huge Sally Rand fans, and was a light-filled presence both onstage and off. I had met dancer Princess Turimmi in Cairo last year, but had never seen her perform, which she did Saturday with her new Egyptian husband, Mahmoud Shalaby. They did a Tannoura (whirling dervish) duet- and for some reason, perhaps a spiritual connection, Tannoura always makes me cry… so yes, it was a tear-filled weekend, but oh, such happy tears! Last but not least, I was totally blown away by Andrus, a young make dancer who dances modern Egyptian style. In addition to being completely fun offstage, his stage presence is dynamic; he also has impeccable technique, gorgeous, clean bodylines and an impressive sense of control.

I also got to hang out with my pal Carrara Nour, a Connecticut-based dancer who was visiting Florida, and Michael Toscano, who'd been a production assistant on my movie "Stuck!". Both of them came to Miami and brought a lot of laughter with them!

After Miami, I was home for two days and then off to Northern California for Tribal Fest 10: A Decade Of Deca-Dance. One of my favorite events ever, I have been teaching and performing there for the past six years, and it’s always a blast! Even though Tribal Fest was the very first-and still the largest -Tribal and Tribal Fusion event in the world, every year it just gets bigger…and better! And every year I’ve attended, I come home hoarse from laughing and yelling- because it’s always so much fun! Kajira Djoumahna and her husband Chuck Lehnard really know how to throw one crazy party that is also another event which practically runs itself: with total precision and a lot of behind-the-scenes help from volunteers. If you have never attended Tribal Fest before- I urge you to… no matter what style of dance you like or perform, you will be left dumbfounded because it’s such an eye-opener! Such diversity of style, so many terrific up-and-comers, so much creativity in dancing and in costuming.

For starters, here’s a sampling of just some of the teachers: Rachel Brice, Carolena Nerrichio and Fatchancebellydance, Amy Sigil & Unmata, Kami Liddle, John Compton & Hahbi ‘Ru, Heather Stants, Ariellah, Deb Rubin, Sharon Kihara, Suhaila Salimpour, Tempest, Paulette Rhys-Dennis, Zoe Jakes, Artemis Mouratt, Jeremiah Soto, Elizabeth Strong and Mardi Love. Everything from folkloric Rom dance to yoga, from “old-school” Tribal to deejay mixing to all sorts of fusion is offered… everything that is except possibly strict cabaret-style dancing- but this year, even that taboo was broken- and not by me…. But by Rachel Brice, who taught an entire workshop on fusing Tribal with cabaret!

Over the course of the three days of performances, there were way too many stellar shows to mention. But some high points were: rising young dancer Frank Farinaro’s athletic set, Zoe Jakes, Elizabeth Strong and Rose Harden’s Beats Antique extravaganza, which featured everything from Roaring Twenties style showgirl floor work to fan dancing to a precision chair dance done in white Israeli gas masks… Colorado’s gorgeously blinged-out fusionistas, TribalTique; John Compton and Habi’ Ru, who are always crowd-pleasers, Ela Roger’s elegant solo, and Kami Liddle’s beautiful dance, which, unbelieveablely was performed less than an hour after a car accident: she was rear-ended on her way to the event! More jaw-dropping performances included Colleena Shakti’s exquisite Indian piece-she is always so divine; and of course the fantastic group work of, as I like to say, “The Big Four”: Fatchancebellydance, Kajira’s Blacksheep Bellydance, Unmata and Gypsy Caravan.

Perhaps the highest-or lowest… as the case may be… point in all of the shows was Kajira’s husband Chuck’s novelty tribute to Tribal Fest’s 10th year anniversary,” King Chuck and The Chuckettes”, featuring Rachel Brice, John Compton, Heather Stants, Tempest, Kajira, Michelle Manx, Amy Sigil and myself, with sign language interpretation by Lori Tawasha of Evil Eye Belly Dance.

Done to the tune of Steve Martin’s “King Tut”, King Chuck and The Chuckettes had one highly disorganized on-site rehearsal, which resulted in gales of laughter and disbelief from all who participated. Rachel Brice showed up to the rehearsal all serious and ready to tape the choreography, which mainly consisted of all the dancers doing kooky “walk Like An Egyptian” cheesy moves, perfecting our “show-biz faces” and generally hamming it up. Chuck admitted then and there that when he asked all of us to join in, he never dreamed we’d really take him up on it!

We performed our debut -and farewell - performance on Saturday afternoon in silly, over-the-top costumes, including John Compton dressed as a mummy and Amy Sigil in a cabaret outfit that nearly fell off as she took the stage! There’s nothing quite like the backstage mechanics of a “number” like this, including Chuck’s bout of stage fright and not to mention seeing Rachel Brice in a cheap Cleopatra wig dumping an entire can of baby-powder onto John Compton’s mummy rags to “age” them! Heather Stants had just run off the stage following her performance and was transformed immediately into a tacky showgirl with a cheap wig and my sparkly leopard-print caftan. The on-stage dancing was constantly interrupted by John Compton’s “Mummy Dearest” antics, as he pawed at Rachel and me, leering one-eyed through his mummy rags. Frank Farinaro even threw underwear onto the stage as though it was a Tom Jones concert!

It’s insane moments like these that could never happen at another dance festival that makes Tribal Fest unique and so much fun! If you’d like to view the hysteria, you can see it on YouTube:

With that, I’m off to actually cook dinner…. something I NEVER gets to do when I am on the road!

Photos: Rachel Brice, John Compton and I backstage at Tribal Fest before performing "King Chuck" ; Andrus and I hanging out post-show in Miami

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I constantly get asked what it is like being a traveling dancer. My standard answer is: it’s a lot of fun, but also a lot of work! You get to meet a lot of marvelous people- both students and sponsors. You get to see foreign countries or parts of the United States… places you might not ever be able to see unless this was your work brought you there.
It’s a very rewarding way to make a living, but it’s also physically- and sometimes emotionally-taxing. Usually, even if I fly in for a workshop weekend the day before the event starts, I’ve spent the entire day traveling to get to the event. And almost always, like all other traveling dancers, no matter where or when I get in, I hit the ground running.

There are also endless hours spent in airports and hotel rooms, as well as on planes… and sometimes that may mean spending hours on a runway, waiting for a weather or mechanical problem to be solved. There’s a lot of riding in taxis, airport shuttles, trains, and automobiles, in cramped seats. The hours are absolutely crazy, especially when jet lag figures into the mix!

You need to un-pack and re-configure your costumes and teaching supplies. Then you have tech-checks and run-throughs at the venue, and no matter what, you must be to be able to be “on” for a show, whether you are jet-lagged, sick or just plain worn out from hours of teaching. You need to make time for your workshop participants, to answer questions and take photos after class, and also to speak with and take pictures with audience members and sponsors before and after a show. Sometimes, there is not much privacy; other times you are alone in a hotel room with too much privacy! Due to the time differences and hectic schedules, it is often impossible to check in with loved ones at home. Inevitably, something crazy will occur at your home base when you are on the road… this seems to be Murphy’s Law. I’ve dealt with countless stressful problems from the road, including missed flights, hotel bookings that disappeared, and crazy stuff that you just couldn’t make up! One traumatic incident occurred while I was in Egypt and back home; a kitten of mine was rushed to the vet. She had been stung by a bee-and extremely allergic to it! Thankfully, she was OK!

Still, I love this lifestyle, and wouldn’t trade it for anything!

I just got back from ten days on the road, teaching and performing in West Virginia and Missouri…and I also just finished packing for Miami, where I will head in less than 36 hours. This recent trip, like all the others, was hectic and full of long hours… but it was wonderful. My sponsors were all darling: Sandy Stewart in West Virginia, Chris Bryant and Judy Cunningham in Missouri. I didn’t stay at hotels, but at their private homes, so I felt welcomed, pampered and happy in beautiful houses with loving pets- a joy because I miss my kitties so much when I’m on the road! I had home-cooked meals, wonderful conversations, and a lot of adventures!

On the way back from the Charleston, West Virginia airport, when I was really stupid with jet-lag, we got pulled over on a winding mountain road by a female police officer, who said a car matching our description was known to be transporting drugs from Ohio! She pulled us out of the car, searched the vehicle, and called for back up. While another car and officer arrived, she cuffed us because she had found drugs in our car, under the passenger seat. She pointedly asked if they were mine, and I innocently replied that I had drugs, but they were in my suitcase and were from a pharmacy! All I could think of was that I hoped we didn’t all go to jail, and that my costumes would have to sit out all night and get stolen from the car! It turned out to be an epic practical joke: the officer was a belly dancer who would be attending my workshops the next day!

West Virginia is coal country and I got a tour of a real coal mine, as well as being brought to some lovely parks to take in breathtaking panoramic views of The Appalachian Mountains. Our show was at the beautiful Tamarack complex, an Appalachian Cultural Arts center. The theater was gorgeous, and the stage was huge. Our workshops were in large rooms with a hoe-made Turkish lunch made by Rezan, a Turkish caterer and belly dancer.

I then drove from West Virginia to Missouri with Judy Cunningham, and though it was a very long drive, the scenery was gorgeous. We saw barges and old-fashioned steamboats on the Ohio River in Louisville, saw the St. Louis Arch at sunset, stopped at yard sales and thrift stores, and we talked and laughed a lot.

In Missouri, I stayed at my sponsor Chris’ lovely home that is a mini-horse ranch way out in the country. Chris is a professional photographer, and we had some time to “play” in her studio and took a lot of beautiful shots. I taught belly dance and burlesque classes at both events. In Missouri, we had a Ladies Only private burlesque evening where everyone who had any desire to performed. The show began with a striptease by a wild card: 61-year-old woman who had actually seen Gypsy Rose Lee dance when she was younger. She had always wanted to perform burlesque, it had been a life-long dream of hers…. so she did an impromptu striptease to kick off the show, and “popped her cherry” to the screams and whistles from all the other participants.

The belly dance show in Missouri was open to the public and benefited “Relay For Life”, an organization who raises money for cancer treatment and awareness, and was at the local community center, which had a nice raised stage. The whole day following the workshops was devoted to private lessons, including a class where a student and I both bonded so heavily over shared personal issues that we both broke down in tears.

But on this trip, as in past trips- things couldn't be "normal", they were just nuts, both on the road and at back at my place in LA! In addition to great shows and fabulous classes, I was on two separate flights that were delayed due to extreme weather, my allergies went so insane that my eyes were as swollen as though I had been punched in the face, and my voice got hoarse from all the post-nasal drip. I broke a phone charger; woke up and thought I saw a ghost - but it turned out just to be a glow-in-the-dark bottle and aside from waking from a dead sleep I didn’t have my glasses on. I also got a really bad burn on right calf from a motorcycle...a souvenir I won't soon forget! Then, right when I was worrying that the wound was infected, I got a call from friend Sashi, the well-known LA-based Tribal Fusion dancer, who had just been hospitalized for five days with a staph infection on her leg! Thankfully, she is recovering, and out of the hospital now.

Back home, all hell was breaking loose as well. My boyfriend called while I was in Missouri, to say that The ATF had woken him up, apparently busting into a neighbor’s house with many armed agents… apparently, the entire street had been blocked off. I thought he was joking at first but it had actually really happened!

Anyway, I’m about to pack for another workshop weekend Miami, and also for Tribal Fest next week… but I’m also about get a massage- and I really think I’ve earned it!