Sunday, October 31, 2010
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
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
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.
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.
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
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