Friday, December 30, 2011
I spent most of 2011 on the road, which wasn’t much of a change from the previous few years. Though I could definitely live without the scary airport food and the hassle of condensing my cosmetics in a TSA-approved quart baggie, I love most aspects of traveling. To this day, I feel blessed grateful that I am not only doing something I love- performing and teaching dance- but that I get to travel all over the world to do it!
But life on the road isn’t always glamourous as you might think… I often joke that every year, I lose at least fifty IQ points to jetlag!
Traveling seems to generate unusual incidents, at least for me it does. I’ve been through four separate hotel fires: Vancouver, BC, Memphis Tennessee, on board the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, and at the Mena House in Cairo. I’ve missed countless planes and had my suitcase handle break off on an English train platform… while the train departed... and my suitcase remained at the station! I’ve been delayed and searched at international borders, spent the night in a Cairo police station, and bump into all sorts of random people at airports, including rock stars. Ron Wood from The Stones helped me get my bags off the carousel once, and I walked right into Alice Cooper at the airport in Athens, Greece. I see people I know in foreign places, too. On a flight from Heathrow to Cairo, the only two people that were in First Class were Jillina and I…and on the return flight, which transferred through Paris, I was coincidentally booked on the same plane to LAX as my ex-husband!
Beyond that, once in a while, it gets even wackier. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not understanding the language or confusion over local customs, but other times things get so totally out of hand and downright bizarre that I actually start to think:
“There’s the signpost up ahead… The Twilight Zone!”
In 2011, I was in five different countries before Valentine's Day, and wasn’t home longer than a week and a half until just before this past Christmas. As per usual, I spent a lot of that travel time on a bullet train to Crazy Town… so I’m gonna share with you my year’s re-cap, The Wildest Rides Of 2011.
In February 2011, I went on a solo European dance tour. Not only did my luggage get lost three times on flights to three different countries, but also the two and a half hour ferryboat ride from Helsinki, Finland to Tallinn, Estonia was completely surreal.
To begin with, Finland and Estonia are so far north that in February, it doesn’t get light til about 10:00am, and darkness sets in again a little after 3:00pm. That alone is disorienting to a California Sunshine Gal like me. The median temperature while I was there was 28 degrees BELOW zero. My nostrils literally froze and my eyes ached every time I went outside. I don’t know how those gals look glamourous in winters like that, but they all do!
The morning I was leaving Helsinki to go to Tallinn, I had to be up super early, check out of the hotel, and get to the ferry dock two hours before the ship departed at 9:00 am…. or, as I took to calling it, “dawn”. I was meeting my Estonian sponsor Berit and the other gals from her belly dance studio Mustika, at the Helsinki dock, because they’d come to Finland for my workshops.
In my haste, I didn’t have time for breakfast, so I grabbed a hard-boiled egg from the buffet and shoved it into my purse.
The dock looked like Ellis Island- I didn’t know the ferry was going to be so big, it was the size of a cruise ship. The embarkation line stretched outside, into the darkness and falling snow. Also, the ocean was completely frozen. The boats all had ice cutters on the prow and as they pulled in and out of the harbor huge chunks of ice flew up like a gigantic blender!
I finally found the Estonian girls, and we got on the ferry. It was three stories high, there was a duty free shop, a huge casino, restaurants, and a bar lounge that had karaoke, where we settled. Beiritt said it was the best place to spend the journey, and asked if I wanted breakfast or coffee from the bar.
I dug in my purse and pulled out my egg, confessing I’d had no idea there’d be food onboard.
All the Estonian dancers laughed in disbelief.
“You look like an old Russian grandma!”, said Daisi, a burlesque artist from Tallinn, as Berit took off her scarf and wrapped it around my head like a babushka. “What else do you have in your purse?”
The ship started sailing and the moment we had our coffee, a lounge singer came on, singing Beatles and Johnny Cash songs in Finnish, Estonian and Russian.
“Oh shit,” Daisi groaned, “This is not helping my hangover!”
Soon the karaoke began. As Daisi winced in pain and the other girls kept joking about my egg, we were treated to hideous versions in various languages of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and the enduring all-time Euro-trash hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.
Soon, a young, wholesome looking guy dressed all in white, with a tousled blonde bowl-cut took the microphone, and before he started singing, everyone burst into applause.
As he launched into a terrifyingly off-key rendition A-Ha’s “Take On Me”, the Estonian dancers started laughing hysterically and whispering amongst themselves.
“What’s so funny?” I asked, utterly confused since they were speaking Estonian.
“Oh, this man singing is the biggest porn star in Estonia!” Yahna exclaimed.
“No way!” I said, convinced they were making fun of me in all my jet lag.
“No, really, he is!” Daisi assured me, “ Everyone knows him in Estonia, and he is very, very famous for his bondage and latex videos!”
As I sat dumbfounded, Berit added,
“ His name is Arnold, but we call him “Second Arnold” because “First Arnold” is our president, Arnold Ruutel!”
Just before “Second Arnold” launched into Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”, I started to believe them, because a few audience members went up to him and had him sign autographs on napkins.
“ I can’t take this any more,” Berit, declared, “I’m going to Duty Free.”
When she returned, Second Arnold was still hogging the mic. He was on his sixth song, much to the delight of the crowd. A few matronly older women stormed the stage, giggling like schoolgirls, taking pictures.
“ I got you something to go with your egg!” Berit cried, handing me a foot-long plastic sperm, with big googley cartoon eyes.
As Second Arnold began to croon Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf”, I held the giant sperm in my hand, regarding it mutely, quite unsure of reality at this point.
“Some cream for your coffee!” Yahna laughed, as Berit unscrewed the sperm’s head and poured a whitish-yellow substance out of its body and into my cup.
As I stared in shock, Berit assured me it was Bailey’s Irish Crème… and, thankfully it really was!
Arnold didn’t stop singing for the rest of the voyage.
* * *
It’s June 2011, and I’m in Cairo, which is curiously quiet and sedate due to the social unrest that has plagued Egypt for most of the spring. There are practically no tourists anywhere, and the Ahlan Wa Sahlan Belly Dance Festival has only about 200 attendees, as opposed to about 1,500 the year before.
My jet lag has grown to new proportions, as it always does by mid-year. I am no longer sure what time it is anywhere. The jetlag to Egypt is always really bad, but this year, it seems worse. I literally haven’t slept in three days.
So, I’m talking to a really nice lady about buying some traditional Egyptian galibayyas. She has a beautiful, friendly looking face, and her hijab perfectly matches the pink bowling shirt – embroidered with a huge Betty Boop- that she is wearing over her own galibayya.
She speaks very good English, and I’m trying to stay focused on the conversation, but I’m so spun out from lack of sleep, my eyes keep drifting from her face to her shirt. There’s English writing on it, but as she moves around, unfolding garments for me to look at, I can’t see exactly what it says. Eventually, I sort of make out the slogan…and it seems to me like something a crack whore would be wearing in a Laughlin, Nevada trailer park.
I remind myself that I am, in fact, In Cairo, and there’s no way in hell this gracious Egyptian woman would be wearing a shirt with an obscene joke on it.
Finally, after I’ve paid for the galibayyas, she stands still for a second, and I realize that her shirt indeed says exactly what I think it says:
IF YOUR GONNA RIDE MY ASS, AT LEAST PULL MY HAIR
I can’t stop staring in utter amazement, it’s as though I’m hypnotized… and then she notices me looking.
“Uh…. I like your shirt,” I manage lamely.
“Oh yes!” she says enthusiastically, pointing to Betty Boop,
“ I AM SO LOVE CARTOON!”
Suddenly, I realize she has absolutely no idea what her shirt says…and apparently nobody else does, either…. otherwise she wouldn’t be wearing it!
I tell her that her English is very good, and ask her if she reads English as well as speaking it. She shakes her head no.
“What it says?” she asks me, as if on cue, “Read shirt to me!”
Since her hair is covered, I know she is religious. If I tell her what the shirt really says, she will be absolutely humiliated. Beyond humiliated. I think there’s a good chance she will run to the bathroom, crying hysterically, and I don’t to embarrass her in any way. I can’t think of anything to substitute for what is written on she shirt, and I’m panicking.
Finally, I come up with a solution. I ask if she’s married. When the answer is affirmative, I know it’s safe to say to her,
“I can’t tell you exactly what your shirt says, but in America, this shirt is very funny…and…” I let my voice drop to a confidential whisper, “ Well…it’s also a little bit sexy!”
“Oooh!” She gasps in delight, her eyes widen and her hand flies up to her mouth as she chortles conspiratorially,
“I like very much sexy!”
Since she has made a good sale, we’ve had a nice glass of tea together and now, we are both laughing out loud she insists that we take a picture together…so, of course I oblige!
* * *
It’s September 2011 and I’m furiously preparing for The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive. Not only am I performing and teaching at the event, my brand new line of Egyptian costumes- Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile- will be making it’s debut at there, in three fashion shows. I’ve spent the past two and a half months on Skype to Cairo with my partner Yaz Taleb for hours every day, approving designs and seeing finished products. I’m also going crazy trying via email to corral the fourteen belly dancers models- from seven different states- to pin down their availability for the fashion shows.
Yaz emails that he’s sent the costume boxes from Egypt, but when I try to track them, all that comes up is a notice saying:
ALL DELIVERIES DELAYED INDEFINATELY DUE TO HURRICANE IRENE
I try to breathe evenly and ignore my impending sense of doom, but I can’t help it.
A few days later, as Yaz arrives in America and the tracking shows that the boxes arrived…. Thank God!
All is going well until the Friday of Labor Day weekend, when I somehow re-injure my neck. Two years ago I was in my car at a full stop when an SUV plowed into my vehicle, resulting in my suffering severe whiplash and six- yes, six- herniated discs. During my extensive treatment and healing process, my doctors had warned me that my spine would " never be the same", and that sometimes, the “jelly” inside the disc would bulge out and create discomfort.
Well, I’m here to tell you that I have never, ever experienced pain like this before, not even when the accident had first occurred!
I called every doctor I could, but because it was a holiday weekend, nobody was in. I began icing immediately, swallowed insane amounts of ibuprophen and paced constantly like a lunatic because the pain was so intense. It felt like there were electric screwdrivers in my neck and blowtorches on my shoulder, it was nuts. I can't sit or sleep, and I'm moaning and keening out loud like a wild animal that's just been shot. This goes on all weekend.
Monday is Labor Day, and it’s Tuesday morning before my doctor calls me back.
The doctor diagnoses me with a cervical disc that is bulging onto my nerve channels and sets me up with steroids and a new pain medication that I’d never had before. I take it and feel sweet relief…. finally! After taking the second dose a few hours later, I feel almost normal, and decide I to pack for Vegas, since I was leaving the very next day.
I don’t realize how high I am, because I’m literally “feeling no pain”. Halfway through packing, I trip over my suitcase, fly across the room and land spread-eagle on my floor. Laughing like a crazed junkie, I just continue to pack.
Two hours later, I wonder why my foot still hurts. Looking down, I realize I’ve broken the last two toes on my right foot! Now, I’ve broken toes before, and the most a doctor can do is tape them up, and I certainly wasn’t going to a doctor again!
I stare in amazement at their shiny purple hue, all fat and swollen. I eat another pill, and, gritting my teeth, yank both toes back into their regular positions, post about it on Twitter (!) tape up the toes, and continue packing.
The next morning I leave for Vegas, and from the moment I’m there, it’s crackers, just non-stop. The fashion shows go great, and my show with House Of Tarab goes pretty well too, considering I was hardly putting any weight on my right foot!
I don’t know what I would’ve done without my dear friend DeVilla, who came to model for me, but winds up being my personal assistant all weekend.
My workshop was another story entirely. I knew I could teach with my neck jacked up - I'd done it when I was healing from the accident, after all- so that wasn’t a problem. But the broken toes kind of threw a wrench in the matter of doing floor work, which was one of the advertised aspects of the workshop… and since I broke my toes the day before I left, and I was going to be at the Intensive anyway, I thought it would be idiotic to cancel the class.
I explain this turn of events to the students, hoping they’ll understand, and have DeVilla come up on stage to be my demo-model. As soon as I start warming up, breathing in and out, all the lights in the ballroom begin dimming and coming up, in rhythm with breathing and the way my arms rise and fall.
At first, I don’t think anything of this because I often have weird experiences with electricity- until all the lights go completely off and come up a few times, strobing like disco lights. This goes on non-stop for a few minutes…. like, ten minutes! By now I’m completely distracted, and the whole class is murmuring and making jokes about it, too.
My “electrical disturbance” as I call it, has been with me since childhood. Cell phones and computers fail regularly, I can make my television turn on and off with a wave of my hand, I cause streetlights go out when I walk beneath them, and light bulbs sometimes actually explode as I go past. This usually happens in times of stress…and I guess my stress has reached a head by now.
“What’s up with the lights?” I yell across the room to one of the festival volunteers.
“I don’t know,” she hollers back, they’ve been fine all day and there were four classes in here!”
DeVilla pushes me out of the way, steps up to the mic and regales the workshop attendees with stories of my "super powers", and how many crazy electrical incidents she’s seen during the numerous times we've traveled together. She’s telling so many stories from so many places I’m beginning to get really embarrassed… it’s not like I can control this “talent” I have.
The lights ultimately settle down, and we get on with the class. For the rest of the trip, DeVilla received her “punishment” for blabbing about my electrical secrets. Poor girl, she’d anticipated a weekend of modeling, gambling, and laying poolside with a margarita in hand, but instead has to play Nurse Maid. She makes sure I take my pills, she brings me ice, tapes up my toes daily and changes the lidocaine pain patches on the back of my left shoulder every few hours.
I couldn’t have done that weekend without her- I owe her big time!
And if you happened to be in my class at The Intensive, now you know why it was so insane!
* * *
It’s November 2011 and I’m doing a couple of dates in the Midwest - Kansas and Missouri, to be exact. I love the Midwest, and I’ve been there a lot. America’s heartland is beautiful, and so laid back and calm compared to Los Angeles, and a lot of the other places I go. The dancers are always a lot of fun, and I look forward to my workshops there, because I can always be assured of a calm, peaceful trip.
Not this time!
The Manhattan, Kansas-based belly dance troupe Eyes Of Bastet are sponsoring me for my second-to-last trip of the year. Cathia, Nashid and I had a long, laughter-filled ride from the airport, a great barbecue dinner where I met the rest of their lovely troupe, and I’m now ensconced in my really plush hotel room, more modern and higher-end than most places I’ve stayed at in major cities. I sink gratefully into my Tempur-pedic hotel bed and I’m on the brink of sleep when I feel an all-too-familiar rolling sensation.
Bolting upright, I panic, thinking it's an earthquake…then I realize I’m in Kansas, not Los Angeles, and it’s probably just a mind-trick being played by my perpetually fried jet lag brain.
The next morning, I walk into the large gymnasium for my workshop and thirty-five women yell simultaneously,
“DID YOU FEEL IT?”
It turns out what was I felt the night before really was a rather large earthquake; the epicenter was in Oklahoma, but everyone in Manhattan, Kansas could feel it!
After a great full day of workshops, I am in my hotel room preparing for the show with Maharet, my Missouri sponsor who'd arrived in Kansas that afternoon. Maharet is taking me back to Missouri after this event, for more workshops and another show the next weekend.
Suddenly, there’s another earthquake. This time, since I am wide-awake, I know it’s real.
“You brought that with you from LA!”, Maharet declares, as we leave for the show.
As I take the stage for my entrance, I spy something out of the corner of my eye, swirling around in the air. I think it’s my veil flying from my spins, until I notice many concerned audience members whispering to each other pointing animatedly to the stage.
I look up, and notice there is a large bat flying around the stage… and he's upstaging me!
The show grinds to a halt while bat is captured in a trashcan, and removed during intermission by helpful belly dance husbands. I accompany them outside to watch it’s safe release; as they let it go, I realize that without the full wingspan, the bat is much smaller than I initially thought.
Back at the hotel, Maharet and I laugh about the earthquakes and the bat. We set our phones for 7:30 am, confirming to each other that the clocks are being turned back that night. On the dot at 6:30am, her phone rings loudly. She mumbles that we still have another hour, we go back to sleep. At 7:30 both our phones go off and Maharet is surprised that hers had rang at 6:30. I wonder aloud if it’s the time change, and check the clock on the bed stand, but it’s not on.
“Our clock’s broken”, I announce sleepily, and try turning on the lights, which also doesn’t go on. The bathroom light isn't working, either.
"Is this your electrical disturbance?" Maharet asks.
Peering out into the hallway, all I see are the EXIT signs. Finally, my eyes make out two teenage girls in pajamas shambling down the hallway like zombies.
“ Are the lights out in the whole hotel?” I inquired.
They answered yes, and I ask, “ Do you know why?”
“ No,” shrugged one, “We just accepted it.” With that, they shambled off into the darkness.
I feel my way through packing my class materials like Helen Keller as Maharet gets us the last two cups of lukewarm coffee from the lobby.
We arrive in class and luckily, the lights have been restored. Apparently, a huge apartment complex that was under construction has burned to the ground, causing a power outage in most of the city.
The next day, as we prepare to leave for Missouri, Maharet discovers she suddenly has no brakes in her car; it turns out there’s a huge leak. We buy a large container of break fluid, dreading the fact that we’ll have to pull over every few miles on the long drive to Missouri to replenish the supply for safety’s sake.
We hear a loud, odd sizzle and look up towards the noise, watching in horror as a poor little squirrel gets fried to death on the electrical lines above us. He hangs limp, his tail sadly blowing in the wind.
The moment we get on the highway, it begins pouring rain. A few exits later, it becomes worse, the rain is torrential, it’s going sideways. After about an hour, it’s so bad that we pull over for coffee, hoping for the storm to pass. It doesn’t, so we decide to drive again.
As Maharet puts the key in the ignition, the burglar alarm goes off. It’s a relentless, rhythmic honking of the car’s horn. She removes the key, and somehow, the alarm continues to wail. After about five minutes of chaos, Maharet calls her husband, and yells above the noise, trying to get him to figure out what’s wrong. He can’t, so we sit in the car, until a middle aged, mustachioed trucker tries to come to our aid. “Tries” is the key word here, because he can’t figure out what’s wrong, either!
Finally, the noise dies down and we take off, thinking the car alarm’s battery has died. No such luck: as we push forward through the driving rain, every time Maharet even taps the breaks, the alarm sounds wildly. We steel ourselves to the din, turn up the radio and scream to each other over the music, gossiping and telling stories.
An hour later, approaching Kansas City, it’s now completely dark. The rain hasn’t let up one iota… and neither has the alarm! It’s rush hour, and the beltway around the city is crowded. Since the weather is so bad and the highway is backed up with cars, Maharet is on the brakes constantly, and the horn is sounding non-stop. Truckers are flipping us off; people are flashing their lights –as well as really dirty looks- at us.
An hour after that, we’re driving through the hilly, unlit roads of rural Missouri. It’s so dark and deserted, I almost expect a UFO to appear right above us…but the sound of the alarm, which is still going off, probably prevents our abduction.
Somehow we make it home. Her husband Bill comes to the door before the car is even parked, saying he heard us approaching from very far away. Once in the house, Maharet heads directly to the liquor cabinet, pulling out a two glasses and a bottle of Wild Turkey, which we down immediately before staggering into bed.
The next day, Bill starts the car, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, the alarm seems to have magically fixed itself!
Happy New Year my dear readers, and May your 2012 be filled with adventure… because I’m relatively sure mine will be!
ALL PHOTOS BY PRINCESS FARHANA
Excerpt from the book, " Good Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere: My Life Onstage, Backstage, And On The Road", scheduled for publication in early 2013.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
When figure skaters flash their panties- which is quite often- nobody cares, because the panties are part of the costume!
But when dancers flash their panties, unless it’s done intentionally at a burlesque show, the audience usually winces.
What you wear-or don’t wear- under your costume is your business, but it shouldn’t ever shock or traumatize your audience!
Nowadays, there are many types of cute, affordable and glitzy undergarments that look great on dancers of all genres...those who flash on purpose ( salsa, swing, burlesque , and can-can dancers) and those who don't, such as ballroom, Flamenco or belly dancers.
Determine your needs depending on what sort of costume you are wearing. There’s a type of undergarment for every type of costume. Many gals prefer thongs or g-strings, but you may want or need fuller coverage; it’s your call.
Lots of salsa costumes and Egyptian-made belly dance costumes now come with matching panties or dance pants built in… but there are plenty of costumes that don’t! If your costume has no built-ins, especially if you are wearing a short skirt or something sleek with a lot of hip cutouts, then G-strings or thongs are a must.
If you want to rock this kind of cut-out costume and feel secure in it, I suggest two options:
The first is to secure the thong to each side of your hips with double-sided fashion tape.
The second is to buy a thong or g-string that matches your costume exactly- that way, if part of your undies show through one of the cut outs, it will simply look like part of the costume.
Nowadays you can purchase any style of underwear in a huge range of colors and materials, including wild patterns and metallic colors, so matching your costume shouldn’t be a problem. I myself have even embellished the straps on my thongs with rhinestones, so if I have a slip-up, no one will be the wiser!
No matter what sort of panty- precautions you take, if you’ll be doing floor work, spins or high kicks, especially when working on a raised stage, unless you are wearing pantaloons or full length pants under your costume, there’s a pretty good chance that you may flash the audience…so it’s your duty to do as much damage control as possible.
Check out boy-cut dance pants and cheerleading trunks to wear under your costumes. Both styles come in a rainbow of colors and fabrics, including metallics, bi-color combos and animal prints; some even have contrasting trimming or ruffles on the booty! Wearing briefs that are color co-coordinated to your costume really minimize the impact of an unintentional flash, and make it look…well, more like a figure skater.
Danskin and Capezio both make really nice versions of dance trunks, in hip-hugger and waist-high styles with different types of legs, from French cut to boy shorts. Balera, another popular dance brand, makes dance briefs that are a tad longer than boy shorts but come in many color options and stay put, covering everything that needs to stay covered.
A word to the wise: you'll probably want to stay away from flesh-toned panties or trunks because they look like....YOU. Go for something matching, or contrasting, so there's no speculation about what's being revealed, accidentally or on purpose!
1970’s showgirls, Flamenco dancers and belly dancers of the same era often used to wear embellished undies beneath their costume, so I stole that trick and started to do that too. It looks cute if there’s a slip-up…in a Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch” kind of way.
The popular lingerie brand Leg Avenue makes darling, lightweight, and very affordable hip-hugger boy shorts that are covered in tiny gold, red, black or silver paillettes. They are inexpensive, comfy and ultra-blingy… so if you happen to flash, it’s just another glitter explosion… and not a guessing game!
Remember- always cut the tags off your undies before you wear them on stage…. no matter what you wear over them!
Cheerleader briefs: http://www.cheerleading.com/Category45.html
Sequin panties: http://www.lalalingerie.com/sequin-panties-p-1638.html?osCsid=1055bc88af65e40987dc5a8f1b0cfc67
Balera metallic & colored dance trunks: http://www.dancewearsolutions.com/Search.aspx?search=balera&brand=Balera&page=2
Photo: Princess Farhana in Capezio dance trunks by Gary & Pierre Silva
Thursday, December 22, 2011
As dancers we spend most of the year giving- we give our time, talent and energy all year round to students and to audiences. We spend our non- dancing time mending costumes, creating choreographies, developing lesson plans, taking classes, rehearsing, and doing our own administrative work. Throughout the year, many of our gigs are in honor of specific holidays, or for parties or special events marking milestones in other people’s lives.
By our very nature, we dancers are the gift that keeps on giving!
Dancers are always “on”, whether or not we are actually onstage. Though we may try to rest up and prepare for this constant out-pouring of energy, we always seem to put ourselves and our own needs last. We usually don’t get enough sleep, we eat on the go, and we rarely allow our bodies to fully heal, even though we think we do. There’s always another important gig, mandatory rehearsal or class to teach or attend.
If, like most dancers, this is your year-round modus operandi, by the time the holidays hit, you may develop an energy deficit that can sap you emotionally and mentally as well as physically. I know I am pretty depleted by this time of year...by mid-December, I've finished all of my travel and my out-of-town workshops and local classes for the year, but I can never seem to make the time to rest and recover, no matter how hard I try! This year, I'm concentrating on doing just that.
During the frenetic holiday season, really try 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.
Say no to your phone for a few hours....the world will survive without you sending constant texts or making and taking calls. Try to get enough sleep to enable your body heal naturally and become refreshed. Even an extra hour here and there can help. Don’t give in to all those glasses of champagne and yummy holiday treats- the sugar rush and crash will play havoc with your already-exhausted body.
If you don’t have children in your life, try spending some time with someone else’s kids. Even though this may sound trite( and even if you say children annoy you and that’s why you don’t have them!) hanging out with little ones will allow you to see the beauty of the holidays through their innocent eyes, not through the constant force-feeding and barrage of retail ads and blatant consumerism.
Be sure to make time for a private date with your spouse or significant other… remember that our (supportive and oh-so-patient) partners are usually casualties of our careers, too!
Now’s the time you need some pampering- especially if you don’t pamper yourself on a regular basis. This is the perfect time for you to indulge in a massage, a mani-pedi, a nice hot bath with Epsom salts, experiment with baking or some other hobby or craft you’ve always wanted to try. Spend a quiet hour alone writing in your journal, enjoying a good book…or a trashy tabloid! These little escapes are great year round, but it’s a particular a necessity at this hectic time of year.
Treat yourself to some “you time” because it will enable you to keep giving others the gift of your dancing!
Monday, December 19, 2011
This is Part Seven in an on-going series of articles I am posting, which shares the ways that well known- and in some cases, wildly famous- dancers prepare for their shows.
Everyone I spoke with had a highly personal take on getting ready for taking the stage.
For most of you, Kajira Djoumahna needs no introduction. She is one of the queens of Tribal Belly dance, an innovator with an illustrious career that has been spanned over two decades and shows no signs of slowing down. Kajira’s the founder, creator and “Chief Imagineer” of The BlackSheep BellyDance format, and along with her husband Chuck, is the producer of Tribal Fest, the largest and longest-running Tribal belly dance festival in the world, which takes place every May in the beautiful Northern California town of Sebastopol. She is a writer, with a regular column for the belly dance magazine “Zaghareet”, but more importantly, she is the author of the definitive book on Tribal style belly dance, “The Tribal Bible”. As of 2010, “The Tribal Bible” has been through six printed editions. Kajira has many instructional and performance DVDs on the market, and teaches and performs all over the world.
Kajira and I have known each other pretty much since the beginning of both of our careers, at the dawn of the 1990’s. We met in a really crazy way, and became fast friends. Happily, the craziness never stopped.
Before I started belly dancing, I was a wild rock ‘n’ roll chick… some people in the dance community think I’m wild now… but suffice to say, they didn’t know me before! I was a Hollywood punk rock fixture. I recorded albums and toured all over with my all-girl band, The Screaming Sirens, I booked clubs in Los Angeles, and under my given name, Pleasant Gehman, wrote extensively about rock ‘n’ roll for many national and international publications. There was a little bit of crossover time between my two careers before I began devoting all my time to dancing.
So, how does this relate to Kajira?
About twenty or so years ago, I’d written a profile of Iggy Pop for a well-known rock magazine, and when the editor asked me for a photo for the Contributors Page, I sent a picture of myself in my belly dance costume. Weeks later, on one of my visits to the office, the editor told me the magazine had published a Letter To The Editor that a reader had sent in.
Handing me the original letter, he said with a somewhat perturbed look on his face,
“I’m not sure what “AIWA!” means…. but I think it’s good.”
Upon hearing the Arabic word for “yes” I was highly intrigued, and grabbed the letter, which was from…. you guessed it- Kajira!
I wish I still had that letter, but sadly, I don’t, so I’ll paraphrase it. Basically, it went something like this:
“ A big “AIWA!” on the Iggy Pop story- I can’t BELIEVE there is another belly dancer out there who is a writer, and who also loves rock and roll!”
Well, at this point I started hyperventilating- because I also couldn’t believe there was another belly dancer out there who loved rock ‘n’roll in general and specifically Iggy Pop!
You must remember that this was pre- internet, and before cell phones. At that time, most of the women that I met who were into belly dancing were doing it as a hobby, and were, like, suburban housewives- I knew I loved this dance and was already obsessed with it, but I didn’t have jack in common with the dancers I was meeting.
Also, a in those days, most of the places that were featuring belly dancing were Arabic clubs and restaurants- I had to cut off my dreads and dye my hair from punky rainbow stripes back to it’s original color, and hide my tattoos in order to be able to get dance work…as well as borrow “normal” clothes from my mother because I only owned stuff like leather mini-skirts and ripped fishnets, and you couldn’t wear that stuff to Arabic clubs!
I couldn’t believe there was a kindred soul out there…someone who also loved rock ‘n’roll, writing and belly dancing- I was hearing angels sing because I Wasn’t Alone!
I began hounding my editor to find the envelope that the letter had come in, so I could get the return address and write a letter back to this woman who shared my passions. Finally, he did.
A couple of days after I’d written her a letter, Kajira called me, and we stayed on the phone for ages, talking about our favorite bands, writing, and, of course, belly dancing.
Kajira had just started studying with FatChanceBellyDance founder Carolena Nericcio and was making the transition from cabaret style to Tribal. Meanwhile, I had been studying with a woman who had been a student of Jamilla Salimpour, and a chorus girl in Bal Anat. I’d been learning Jamilla’s folk-based Ren Faire style, but after my first trip to Cairo, was starting to get heavily into classical Egyptian dance.
Kajira and I started corresponding through snail mail, writing lengthy letters and sending each other costume pieces. She'll probably kill me for mentioning this, but she sent me a pink lace and gold lame ruffled cabaret skirt that she was no longer using, and I sent her a hand-embroidered Bedouin vest that I’d gotten on my first trip to Egypt…which I, having “gone cabaret” was no longer wearing.
Soon, Kajira called me and excitedly told me that she would be down in Southern California to do a workshop with the legendary Morocco in Anaheim. I was rehearsing for a show and couldn’t make the class, but we made arrangements for her to come up and spend the night at my house after the workshop was over.
I wound up taking her to my favorite Hollywood dive bar, The Blacklite, a place that not only had a great jukebox, really cheap and exceedingly strong cocktails, but also was populated mostly by tranny hookers! We drank boatloads of margaritas and I dimly remember buying a bunch of studded belts for, like, a dollar a piece from a bag lady that had wandered into the bar.
The rest is history- we stayed in touch and kept track of each other’s personal dance –paths and career progress. In 2005, she asked me to teach at Tribal Fest for the first time; in 2006, beginning at the MAJMA festival in Glastonbury, England, we started meeting up with each other at various workshops and events all over the world.
But maybe the most insane dance festival experience we shared actually took place at her own event! A couple of years ago, we hung out in an equipment closet (cause it was quiet and private) in the back of the Main Hall, at Tribal Fest, while Amy Sigil of Unmata was teaching, and shot the breeze, while Kajira was being interviewed for the belly dance magazine “The Chronicles”...while simultaneously getting tattooed by artist Natasha Vetlugin. Yes, just a “normal” day in the life of Kajira Djoumahna!
Anyway, this is what my longtime friend - and globally acclaimed dance figure- Kajira has to say about the way she prepares for her shows:
“ As I put on my costume and makeup, I start my backstage process. Even if I'm still at home looking into my own mirror, I am now "backstage". If I hadn't become my stage name by now in all of my life, I would "become" it at this point; as I don my makeup I also don my persona. I become larger than life, I take on a new idea of myself as I transform my physical look.
At my destination (assuming I got ready at home or a hotel) I put on my finishing touches close to the time of my performance. These consist of my belt, lipstick, sometimes Paws or other dance shoes, and heavy tribal bracelets. Once fully adorned, I stretch and breathe and ready my finger cymbals for a quick put-on.
After my cymbals are on my hands and the time is even shorter, I always do a backstage centering meditation in the form of an East Indian pranam, or "puja for the stage". My personal pranam (also known as a prayer, moving meditation or centering exercise) is a variation of my teacher's. Everyone in my classes learn this as well, as it serves to set apart sacred time from mundane and it really works to help change focus and bring one into the "now".
My "prep" is still not over, whether I'm performing with BlackSheep BellyDance or solo! Once on stage, I almost always make a circle when I enter to help me "claim" my space and set it aside in my mind from anywhere else. If I cannot make a circuit because of my style or choreography that day, I do so in my mind to delineate my space from everyone else’s.
Now fully prepared, I lose myself in the moment and just dance!"
Kajira & Black Sheep Belly Dance: http://www.blacksheepbellydance.com/home.html
Tribal Fest 12: The Year Of The Unicorn:
PHOTOS: KAJIRA BY VICTORIA WEBB; KAJIRA, PRINCESS FARHANA & LEE ALI at BELLY DANCER OF THE UNIVERSE
Friday, December 16, 2011
”Last Looks” is an ages-old showbiz term used in the theater and on movie sets. Basically, it’s the overall appearance check that occurs just before an actor goes on camera or on stage.
As dancers, we usually don’t have the luxury of wardrobe assistants and make up artists fussing over us and perfecting our appearance…but we can always fake it!
So before you even consider stepping out of the dressing room, make sure that you perform your own version of “Last Looks”.
Even if you’ve done dress rehearsals and tech-checks in full costume and make up, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Look over your face in a well-lit mirror and add more make-up if you need to. If you’ve been in the dressing room for any amount of time, it’s a fairly sure bet you’ll need to freshen up a bit. Clean up any streaks, raccoon eyes, migrating pigments, wayward lipstick smears or stray glitter flecks; dust a little translucent powder on your T-zone to prevent shine, and to set your foundation. Floss your teeth, add another coat of lipstick, blotting it well so it stays put, and then check your teeth for lipstick residue.
Re-spray your hair to prevent flyways. Toss your head to make sure any faux hair you may be wearing is stage-proofed, or that any flowers, crowns, head bands and head pieces are immobile. Check your earring closures and necklace clasps.
Examine yourself in a mirror from all angles -or get a friend to help you out- to ascertain that you look stage-worthy. If you’re rockin’ body glitter, or wearing any sort of body make up, see to it that the products are spread evenly over your skin, especially in hard-to-reach areas like the upper back. Be certain there is no lint from your street clothes or excess deodorant under your armpits- that stuff is bad enough in real life, but it’s a huge illusion-wrecker during performance!
See that there are no undergarments, clothing tags or bra pads showing anywhere. Spin around a couple of times to make sure your that your skirt won’t show more than you intend, and that don’t unintentionally flash the audience when you are on stage.
Shimmy vigorously in your costume, making sure every hook or snap is closed and that your costume is anchored where it needs to be. If you happen to be doing a burlesque number, also make sure that all hooks, snaps and Velcro will release easily- but only when you need them to. Shake your arms around a bit to check that all pieces of jewelry are securely fastened, and any armbands or gauntlets won’t slip down once you start dancing. If you are wearing a two-piece bra and belt belly dance costume, pin your belt to your skirt for added security.
Wearing heels when you dance? Do a few dance steps and be sure they don’t catch on the hem of your costume and trip you up- or, adding insult to injury, rip the costume! If you’re dancing barefoot, make sure any anklets or leg decorations you’re wearing won’t catch on your skirts either.
Have a big drink of water- you’ll need the hydration. And suck a mint or a have breath strip into to further stave off dry mouth.
After you’ve passed Last Looks with flying colors, get your game face on and hit the stage!
Backstage photo of Princess Farhana by Sherri Wheatley...taken in the dressing room of course!
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Synthetic hair can change your performance look in the blink of an eye, and you definitely don’t need to break the bank by investing in a few pieces.
We are so lucky to have a smorgasbord of wigs, falls, fantasy hair pieces, faux- dreadlocks and extensions available to us!
Hairpieces made of human hair are expensive, and are certainly worth it, if you can afford them. But if you can’t, synthetic hair is the way to go. If you are wearing faux hair on stage, and it won’t be seen up close, look for super cheap deals at wig stores and beauty supply shops, as well as swap meets and on the Internet.
There are so many inexpensive and believable…or completely, fabulously fantastic on-purpose- fake-looking hair pieces around that you pretty much owe it to yourself to experiment with them. We’re talking white-blonde finger-waved 1920’s bobs, pastel pink page boy flips, luxuriously long mermaid hair, falls with highlights and lowlights, and rainbow fantasy braids, among many, many other styles.
There is something for everyone- beyond your wildest dreams. Get thee to a wig store and spend an afternoon trying on different looks!
If you are wearing a wig with a full cap, the best way to keep it stable on your head is to make small pin curls in your own hair, pin them down with bobby pins, and then weave larger bobby pins through the lace of the wig cap and into the curls in your own hair.
Falls attach onto the head in many ways. There are some that are half-wigs with combs that hook into the hair, and ponytail falls that have a drawstring which gets tightened around your own hair. Some falls come mounted on a banana-clip.
If you have a lot of hair, but want to use a ponytail fall, use this trick…that I most probably didn’t invent, but am giving myself the credit for it, anyway! Pull your hair up into a tight bun on the crown of your head, towards the back. Secure it well with bobby pins then put the fall over the bun you’ve made in your own hair. This will give a really awesome bouffant Sixties-type look, like Sharon Tate wore in “Valley Of The Dolls” or like a James Bond Girl It will give the appearance that you teased an sprayed your hair for a cool retro ‘do, but without doing any damage to your own tresses.
Dreads and braids can also be clipped in by claw-clamps or sewn on to elastics that fit around your own hair. These days they even have fake bangs that clip in to the hair above the forehead!
Whatever kind of faux hair you use, make sure you really anchor it to your head, and definitely rehearse with it to make sure it’s stable and “stage-proof”.
Photo: Princess Farhana as "Belly Parton" fooling around at the end of a photo session with Dusti Cunningham
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
You contour and highlight your face to accentuate your features before you go onstage to make them stand out or recede.
It’s a pretty simple process: whatever body part is lighter will stand out, and those that are darker will recede.
With a full, fluffy brush, apply a thin stripe of pearly white, pinkish bronze or golden highlighting powder down the center of the arms and legs to make them look longer. While you’re at it, dust some of the same powder around the curves of your shoulders,and lightly across the tops of the breasts to make them appear fuller and more prominent.
Shading and contouring is just as easy. For this, you will want to use a matte color. Stay away from pearly or frosty cosmetics, because they attract light, and you will be using your contouring colors on areas which you want to appear to be shadowed.
Use a slightly smaller brush than the one you used for highlighting to dust on a darker contouring shade to the places you want to recede. A rosy brick tone or bronze color that is a shade or two darker than your own skin usually works well for people with fair to olive skin, but using matte brown colors will appear muddy on fair to olive skin. If your skin is darker, don’t be afraid to use deeper, richer browns, but make sure to keep the contour color just a couple of shades darker than your own skin tone.
Drawing a soft, smudged line in the center of your cleavage will accentuate it and make it seem deeper. Make sure the actual line isn’t visible- blend it well.
For the torso, softly brush the contour color you’ve selected onto all the spots that you want to underscore and shadow, giving the impression of more muscle tone.
Royal Secret Alert: since I do a lot of abdominal work when I belly dance and want to accentuate it, I do this all the time!
Using my contour color, I start by drawing a thin, faint line down the center of my abdomen from the cleavage to my navel, along my abdominus rectus, the long muscle that runs the length of the torso. Then I draw two more vertical lines, one on each side of the muscle.
I suck my breath in hard, look in the mirror, and brush soft contouring color into the hollows that have formed under my top ribs. I start near the center of my bra, and shade the color out towards the sides. After that, I brush on diagonal lines up the inside crest of my hipbones, pointing outwards to accentuate the cut in my obliques to make them seem more defined.
Without blending the contouring color, it will look like you have a long diamond shape drawn on your torso, with three lines up the center, dividing it. Once you blend the darker shade in and soften it up a little, brush a little translucent powder over the whole area to blend it even more. Believe me, it’ll look like you have fantastic abdominal muscle definition, especially in a dark restaurant or on a bright stage.
When I use this trick, people in the audience always comment on how ripped my torso looks…but then, those same people also tell me I have gigantic eyes, too!
All make up–but especially stage make up-is an illusion…so why limit the beautiful fantasy to your face?
PHOTO: Princess Farhana at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, 2011 by Taboo Media
Costume by Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile
Sunday, December 4, 2011
My entire house looks like a really messy backstage, it’s full of costumes and headdresses, swords, opera-length gloves, feather fans, Isis Wings, silk veils, fan veils, glitzy ballroom shoes, you name it.
That on it’s own wouldn’t be a big problem, except for the fact that my closets, shelves, and drawers are loaded down with yards of shiny materials and sequin trims, beads, rhinestones, bugle bead fringe, loose feathers and coins… not to mention broken jewelry, scraps of lace, hunks of rayon chainette fringe, a random foot of 4” wide organza ribbon, mis-matched drapery tassels, random buttons and Mardi Gras beads.
Yep, I’m a magpie, attracted to bright and shiny objects...which I take back to my "nest" on a regular basis!
Every so often, I have a kooky fantasy that the television show “Hoarders” will call me to offer me a starring role in an exclusive dance-centric episode, but so far…that hasn’t happened.
But I like to recycle and re-purpose these things-every day objects- into costumes, props and accessories. So instead of holding onto all this dazzling stuff, I like to make Christmas stockings for all of the kids ( and adult kids) in my life: my nieces and nephews; my dancer and civilian pals and their kids, too.
Some of my friends call me “The Showgirl Martha Stewart”, but I wasn’t the originator of these stockings.
This holiday tradition started with my Grandma Nelly, who was an ardent crafter; she fashioned beautiful sparkly felt stockings by hand for all her grandchildren. My mother continued this lovely custom, and every year I get out the blue Christmas stocking she so lovingly made for me, marveling that the little evergreen tree still has every pearl and sequin “ornament” intact!
I love carrying on this magical legacy, and you can do it too- because they’re so easy, and lots of fun to make!
First, have a look through your craft supplies, and see what you have- pretty much anything sparkly, shiny or bling-blingy will do. Make sure you have a needles and thread, craft glue and a glue gun on hand, too.
Gather all your bits and pieces together, then start thinking about which you’re going to make your stockings for, picking out a design that will delight your recipient. Sketch out your idea, and then start figuring out which leftovers will work best for your stocking(s).
I created all the stockings pictured here, and had a blast doing it. The peacock stocking was for one of my sisters, cause she was really into peacocks- and silhouettes. And of course, the person who got the Obama stocking was obsessive about our president! Ho-Ho-Hope! The pink stocking with the Egyptian motif was for the baby daughter of my dear friend Bahaia, the Texas-based belly dancer; the pink stocking with the horse on it was made for my niece who loves to ride, and the kitty was for my boyfriend, who calls himself “Mr. Crazy Cat Lady”!
After you’ve gotten your design together, cut out a large, simple stocking shape from a double thickness of felt, using a pinking shears or even just a regular scissors- the felt won’t ravel. My Grandma Nelly probably started off using felt because it doesn’t have to be hemmed…it’s also inexpensive and quite durable.
I make my stockings about 12” wide at the top, and about 15”-18” long at the bottom, where the foot shape is. They hang about 17"-20” long. With these measurements, you can actually fit little stocking stuffer presents inside the stocking before you give it as a gift.
Next, lay out your design on the felt, pin it down, and hand-sew ( or glue) the embellishments to the felt. Since I’m a confirmed glitter addict, after I’ve done this step I glue tons of rhinestones on top of all the designs!
Add any trimming you like to the top- wide ribbon, thick braid or sequin trim is always good to use, and those leftover pieces of fringe work very well here- attach the fringe, then put the trimming over it.
With embroidery thread or dental floss, hand stitch the stocking sides and bottom closed.
Last, sew on a looped length of pearls-by-the-yard or a doubled tab of ribbon to one of the corners at the top, attaching it on the inside. This way the stocking can be hung on the mantle... with care, of course.
If your hand sewing skills aren’t that great, you can machine stitch the stocking around the edges if the decorations aren’t too close to the borders. Or, if you just don’t have the time to make the stocking shape, just buy an inexpensive plain stocking- there are scads of them everywhere- and then custom decorate it.
Last: when you leave out cookies and milk for Santa, make sure to add in a pair of sunglasses for him, because if you’ve made the stockings in true showgirl style, they’re gonna be so bright, he’ll need shades!
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Ah,glitter! Where would we dancers be without it? No doubt you've seen this before:
"Glitter Is The Herpes Of The Art World"
...I'm not sure who originally said this, but like Herpes, glitter is certainly "the gift that keeps on giving"-it gets all over everything, and stays embedded no matter how much you try to get rid of it. It sticks to you, your significant other, your pets, your furniture. In fact, I don't even think comparing it to Herpes drives home the point of how much glitter pollutes....everything it gets near.
I prefer this saying,which i made up myself:
"Glitter Has More Of A Half-Life Than Uranium!"
What was once the sole domain of pre-teens and strippers, glitter is now a performance mainstay for all types of dancers...as well as gymnasts, cheerleaders and gals who like to sparkle on the dance floor during a night on the town.
And now that the Holidays are upon us, glitter is EVERYWHERE.
Glitter looks lovely under stage lights, it will highlight your every movement and make you look like a fairy dusted fantasy. It can be applied to the skin , and even on top of the stockings on your legs - or body stockings, if you wear them. There are many types of commercial body glitters available;they come in sprays, oils, and in little solid waxy bars as well as in the “sprinkle on” type. However, I prefer to make my own body glitter mix; it looks much better with my coloring, and it also saves money!
On your face and especially around your eyes, you must wear cosmetic glitter. In the old days glitter was made of metal flakes. Now, glitter is usually made of some type of copolymer plastic. The individual cosmetic glitter flakes are laser cut, in shapes that are are oval and/or rounded, not square or octagonal the way most craft glitter is cut. When used on your face, this will reduce (but not prevent!) any injury, should the glitter get into your eyes. Also, some craft glitter is still made of metal.
How do I know this? I am so glitter-obsessed that I actually have a friend who was a biology student at Berkeley look at many types of body glitter, craft glitter and cosmetic grade glitter under her microscope! I sent her lots of unlabeled glitter samples, and she told me what shape they were and what they were made of…it was extremely educational!
But back to making your own body glitter and saving money by doing it- since you will not risk potential injury by using craft glitter on your body, there is no need for you to buy expensive, pre-made body glitter.
Buy a few different colors of regular, inexpensive craft glitter, the kind in the big shakers, then mix them up in a jar and pop it into your gig bag, along with a small container of hand lotion or body cream. When you want to glitter up, just mix the two products in the palm of your hand and apply it liberally to your skin.
For my own body glitter mix, since I am fair-skinned, I use equal parts of lavender, opalescent pink, iridescent white, gold and silver. If you have skin that is darker, you might want to also mix in shades of bronze, orange, opalescent yellow and copper.
Deeper colors of glitter such as dark reds, purples, black, blues or greens tend to look ashy and strange onstage, so stick to a mix of shades that enhance your natural skin tone.
Insane as this may sound, I also think glitter is a great exfoliant! When you wash it off in the shower, it totally helps to slough off any rough or dead skin cells.
A word to the wise: though glitter looks great in motion ( such as in performance, on film or videotape) but in still photos, but it can appear gritty and make your skin look bumpy, unless you are photographed from very close up, so think about doing some promo shots without it, then adding on the sparkles... or just saving it for performances.
Oh, and be prepared to sleep in a bed full of pixie dust, because that’s exactly what you’ll be doing post-show, even if you showered the moment you got home!
I’ll say it one more time: do not use craft glitter on your face!
Now get on out there and SPARKLE!
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/
Sunday, November 27, 2011
This is part six in an on-going series of articles about the ways that well known- and in some cases, wildly famous- dancers prepare for their shows. Everyone I have spoken with has a highly personal take on getting ready for taking the stage, but one similar thing I've noticed while talking to my colleagues is that many of us seem to be very spiritual in general, and especially in relation to their dance practice.
For years, I assumed I was alone in this… but that was probably just because I just hadn’t discussed my feelings with anybody.
From the very beginning of my career, I would always become very emotional before I took the stage- and by using the word "emotional", I'm not referring to stage fright. It was more like a private, internal feeling that I would get just before I stepped onto the stage. Waves of gratitude and even disbelief would overwhelm me. Though I knew I had worked very hard for years to get to the point I was at, I would be overcome by a sense of my own good fortune and I felt humbled that I was being allowed to live out my dreams.
I have always been blessed with creativity, and I have always wanted to dance, but for me, dancing wasn’t always an easy journey. From my first performance onwards, every time I was about to dance, I would thank the universe and the heavens for being allowed this chance, and I would silently pray that that my performance would be “worthy”, both for the audience, and for whatever spiritual forces were granting me this beautiful opportunity. And I still do.
The two dancers- Artemis Mourat and Tamalyn Dallal- whose quotes you will see below, both seem to feel that in their dancing, they are connecting with a very sacred thing, in very much the same way as I do. In an odd coincidence, both of them are also writers and globe trotters as well as dancers, just like me.
Since we are in the midst of The Holidays, I thought it would be a good time to put up a post that is a bit infused with the spiritual side of dance.
Also, as I write this, I have just gotten off the phone with the highly acclaimed Artemis Mourat. She is a lovely person both on and off stage, quite down to eath and extremely funny. Our conversation was all about dance, history and culture, but of course we giggled a lot, too!
A legend in her own time, a belly dance pioneer and an expert on Turkish and Romany dances, Artemis is practically a household word in the belly dance community. She has done decades of field research all over the globe. She has also performed and taught worldwide, made music CDs and instructional DVDs, and has always been extremely generous with her wide scope of knowledge. To say that she has inspired thousands of dancers during the course of her rich career would be a vast understatement!
Here are Artemis’ words:
I pray before each show. I ask that light shine through me onto all who see me. I asked that everybody there leave the show happier than they were when they got there. I ask to be worthy to carry this torch. I ask that the blood of the dancers who have come before me should flow through my veins. And I ask for a spiritual wall of protection around me and around all of the people there.
In addition to this, I do the usual physical warm ups and one glass of wine is mighty nice.
Tamalyn Dallal performed and taught around the world since 1976. In addition to being a superlative dancer, has authored three books, including her latest “40 days And 1,001 Nights”, where she lived for forty days in five Muslim countries, and recorded her experiences. Not only that, she produced a documentary film and two music CDs, both based on the book! In 1990 she founded the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange, which mentored dancers all over the globe. The last time I bumped into Tamalyn, it was this past June in Cairo. I haven’t spoken to her lately, but I know she id doing a continuing documentary series called "Dance On Film" and Ethiopia is next. Here is a link to her Kickstarter site to fund the project:
And here is Tamalyn’s pre-performance ritual:
I usually say a prayer and consider how lucky I am to be able to dance, free to dance, and live in a place where women have the luxury of taking a dance class. So many places, people have hard lives and struggle to eke out a living and feed their families.
We are among the privileged few who can dance our hearts out in beautiful costumes for the sheer joy of it. I then think of my dance being offered to the audience as a gift.
To read more about these infinitely inspirational dancers, please visit their websites:
Artemis Mourat: http://www.serpentine.org/artemis/artemis.htm
Tamalyn Dallal: http://www.tamalyndallal.net/homepage.html
Photos: Artemis ( in black) & Tamalyn ( with headwrap)
Thursday, November 24, 2011
It’s Thanksgiving, and I would like to take this moment to thank all of the “dance partners” out there…all the spouses, significant others and close friends who make it possible for all of us performers to be able to do what we do.
As an entertainer, having a supportive partner is paramount. Our partners are like The Great Oz, they’re the people behind the curtain…and behind the scenes, backstage, schlepping our bags, building our props, taking photos, taking us to the airport at ridiculously early hours as we leave for workshop weekends…. and picking us up when we come back, sore and hoarse and full of stories about people they don’t know.
Our dance partners are the ones driving back to get the costume piece that was left out of the gig-bag, the ones dee-jaying or sitting at the door taking tickets at the hafla, they are the stage managers and lipstick roadies, and the ones who tell us we are lovely when all the make up is off.
Our dance partners are the ones who allow us to rope them into burning cd's, being emcees, or doing something crazy in costume as part of our shows…cause nobody else would do it! They’re the people who bring us food in class when we are starving, who send us “Break a leg!” texts when we are backstage at shows they couldn’t attend.
Our dance partners are the men and women who make our websites, and make us coffee when we have early classes to teach. They’re the “civilians” who know (by osmosis) how to layer complicated moves, the ones who surprise you by knowing the difference between Egyptian and Turkish music, or classic and neo-burlesque. They're the caretakers who know when you need ice and ibuprophen, and they rub your sore muscles when you're in pain. Our dance partners are already in bed by the time we get home from gigs, but they don't mind that we came home so late. They are the ones who don't get to see us very often, but they never complain.
They are the patient souls who don’t grumble when they have to go to work covered in your body glitter, or the odd rhinestone… but wear the sparkles proudly, because they are so happy to be with a dancer, that they want the world to know!
This is for all the belly dance widowers, the burlesque husbands, and the supportive best friends who never so much as took a dance lesson but come to all the shows…thank you all so much- we couldn’t do it without you!
Photo: The Princess and her favorite dance partner, james
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Something all belly dancers have in common is a love of body adornment. We pile on make up, jewelry, wigs, hair decorations, costumes and permanent or temporary tattoos until we look like human Christmas trees, or a prize doll that you’d win at a carnival!
Many of the cosmetics and accoutrements we use are modern inventions, and worn just for fun, such as body glitter…but a lot of the adornments we wear come from customs that are probably older than recorded history.
Here are some types of body decorations that have been traditionally linked specifically to belly dance or to cultural, religious and ceremonial traditions that have been adopted by modern-day belly dancers:
Probably the world’s first and most famous eyeliner, kohl has been used constantly from ancient times to the present day. Thousands of years ago in Egypt, the luxurious fine black powder rimmed the eyes of women, as well as men and children, and acted not only as a cosmetic, but served to protect the eyes from the glare of the hot desert sun, and was also known for it’s antibacterial properties. Ancient Egyptian art included depictions of both humans and gods alike with heavily rimmed dark eyes.
Desert nomads, as well as city dwellers still use kohl today for these same reasons. For centuries, kohl was made from ground up minerals, such as antimony and galena- or ash- mixed with animal fat and/or some sort of oil. Galena and antimony,which are both lead sulfide products, are toxic and their use can lead to lead poisoning; also, kohl made with any sort of ash or charcoal in it is a carcinogen.
Kohl is still widely used throughout North Africa as well as in the Middle East, where it is sometimes called kajal and in India, Pakistan and other Asian countries where is known as surma.
Nowadays, traditionally-made kohl is widely available in it’s countries of origin, but because the manufacturing of kohl is mostly unregulated, not to mention the potential danger of the ingredients, importing it is illegal in many Western countries.
Commercially packaged kohl is often for sale at bazaars, import or specialty stores, but remember that you will be putting this product on your eyes, and you may not be sure exactly what is in it. You can get the same exotic effect from using any number of commercially manufactured, safe-to-use soft eye pencils or powders.
Since the dawn of history, henna has been used as a cosmetic. In ancient Egypt, Nerfertiti and Cleopatra were known to use henna, and it was also popular in India and throughout the Roman Empire. A shrub that is native to arid climates, henna was cultivated for many uses. The leaves were ground into a paste, sometimes referred to as mehndi, that was coveted for the rich reddish-brown color it produced. Mehndi paste been used for thousands of years to dye hair, skin, fingernails, fabric, and leather, such as saddles and drum heads. The flowers of the henna plant were also used to make perfume. Additionally, henna has medicinal properties, and has been used for hundreds of years as an antifungal agent and insect repellent.
In the ancient Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, henna was regarded as bringing baraka or blessings to those who wore it. Henna was used in bridal ceremonies on the bride herself often in intricate, traditional designs, as well as on the groom and on the wedding guests. It has also been traditionally used in other celebrations such as circumcisions, the Hebrew festival of Purim, or in Arabic countries for Eid parties or Islamic moulids, or saint’s days. These traditions that have continued for centuries and show no signs of going away.
On these types of occasions, henna is applied to the hands and feet (and sometimes other places on the body) in intricate, traditional designs, which are supposed to ward off evil and bring good luck to the person wearing them. Often, henna paste or mehndi was also applied to the hooves and tails of domestic animals, such as donkies, horses and camels, for the same reason.
Depending on the strength of the paste, and the texture of the person's skin to which it is applied as a tattoo, henna decorations can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. After drying, it can appear in any shade ranging from bright orange to dark brown. These traditional designs are applied with a wooden stick, or squeezed from a cone, and done free hand or sometimes with mehndi stencils.
Bridal mehndi has become a booming business in modern India, Pakistan, and many Arab countries, as well as in immigrant communities in North America and Europe. This work uses contemporary as well as traditional designs, and often incorporates glitter, rhinestones or other modern touches.
Henna has also taken off as a trendy body decoration among people who have no idea about its cultural or historical significance. It is often offered as temporary tattoos at Renaissance Faires, street festivals and pirate gatherings or bachelorette parties. Another place henna is commonly seen is at beach resorts, where street vendors offer henna as temporary tattoos.
Often artists offer “black henna”…but word to the wise: in nature, there is no such thing as black henna. The paste used to create the jet-black henna tattoos usually is mixed with a carcinogenic hair dye containing para-phenylenediamin, or PPD. When applied directly to the skin, PPD can cause extremely severe- and in some cases fatal- allergic reactions in certain individuals, including blistering, permanent scarring and long-lasting chemical sensitivity.
Make sure than any henna product that you put on your skin or hair is made of all natural ingredients.
Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, tattooing has been practiced for centuries. The discovery of mummified remains from ancient Egypt seems to indicate that tattooing was fairly common in those days. More recently, Egyptian Coptic Christians had crosses tattooed on their wrists, and occasionally on the forehead, to distinguish them from Muslims.
Within Berber and Arab tribes, many women typically bore facial tattoos, with mystical designs that were meant to accentuate beauty, ward off the Evil Eye, prevent disease and prolong life. Many Berber women had tattooed chins, with a series of lines and dots extending from directly below the lower lip, the purpose of which was to increase fertility. These tattoos were usually applied around the onset of puberty, on nubile women who were ready for marriage. Tattoos on the cheeks and temples were also traditional. Bedouin women were often heavily tattooed as well, usually by the Nawar, a nomadic people who roamed through Egypt, Libya, Iran, Iraq and Syria and other territories until the beginning of the last century. The tattoos were applied by hand, with ink that was composed of a paste of ashes, water, plant sap, and sometimes mother’s milk.
Often, belly dancers performing folkloric dances from North Africa and Middle East will paint on these traditional facial tattoos with eyeliner, to create an authentic look.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, many Turkish belly dancers sported tattoos of a five-pointed star, usually on the calf or thigh. I am not sure about the origin or tradition of this, but I have seen this on several vintage promotional pictures of Turkish dancers from the time period.
Currently in America and Europe, many belly dancers have beautiful-and quite extensive -tattoos. This was pretty rare in the global belly dance community until fairly recently, because dancers working at Arab clubs and restaurants didn’t want to offend the owners oor clientele, many of whom were Muslim... and tattooing is forbidden in the Muslim faith.
However, tattooing became more accepted and downright trendy among the general public around the same time that Tribal style was making a mark on the belly dance community. Henceforth, there are many dancers around the world sporting a lot of beautiful ink!
A bindi is an adornment worn on the forehead, generally seen in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries, where they are sometimes called kum kum. The word “bindi” comes from the Sanskrit word bindu, meaning “dot” or “drop”. Bindis are traditionally placed between the eyebrows, at the sixth chakra , and are sometimes referred to as the “third eye”. Contrary to popular belief, the bindi does not denote wedlock, and is not worn only by Hindu women, nor does it signify age, social status, religious background, ethnicity or sex: bindis can be worn by men, women or children. When worn by men (usually as a sign of devotion) the mark is referred to as tilak.
Traditional bindis were often red, and applied with a moistened powder. They were thought to have many meanings, including aiding the wearer in focus during meditation, and as a sign of beauty.
In modern times, some bindis are still applied the traditional way, but sticker bindis have become hugely popular, with the self-adhesive decorations coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some are so intricately made, they are tiny works of art, including foil, rhinestones, twisted wires, and colored beads. A modern take on these decorations are "intimate bindis"- jeweled stickers designed to fit around a woman's private parts and nipples!
Even though bindis are not traditional in Arabic cultures, because of their exotic beauty, not to mention their bling-bling factor, in the past decade or so they have been all the rage with belly dancers of all styles, who wear them purely for ornamentation.
Head And Hair Decorations
The beautiful traditional Indian jewelry called maang tikka are hanging ornaments meant to be worn on the forehead or in front of the ears. Popular for centuries with Indian brides (and for quite some time with belly dancers) the tikka or decoration, hangs from the maang- a string or chain that fits across the crown of the head, and ends with a hook that attaches into the hair. Maang tikka are made from any number of precious and semi-precious metals and stones, and are also reproduced as costume jewelry. The forehead tikka is designed to hang at the sixth chakra, whichis an important are according to Ayurvedic beliefs.
Many Orientalist paintings as well as racy antique photo post cards depict odalisques or harem slaves with thick braids in their hair, adorned with strings of pearls, coins and tassels. Documented in photographs from the early Twentieth century, the Algerian Ouled Nail dancers embellished their braided hair with all sorts of beautiful ornaments, from heavy strings of silver coins to jewel-encrusted diadems, or crowns. Crowns and tiaras are also worn as part of traditional costuming for Uzbek and Persian dances, often with trailing veils. From the Ottoman era to the mid-twentieth century, Turkish dancers often wore small pillbox-style hats, frequently decorated with metallic braiding, pearls, jewels or strings of beads.
Belly dancers often wear fresh or faux flowers in their hair, though it is unclear whether or not there was traditional significance in Arabic or Middle Eastern cultures, other than decoration. Across the world, in a kaleidoscope of cultures, women have always worn flowers in their hair. In general, the flowers served a dual purpose for the woman who wore them- they were not only a beautiful decoration, but they gave her a pleasing scent. Flamenco dancers typically bedeck their hair with fresh-cut roses or other flowers. In Tahiti, dancers wear crowns of flowers called hei, as do brides and grooms on their wedding day. In Tahiti and Hawaii, a single gardenia blossom worn behind a woman’s ear also means something: worn on the right side, she is available; worn on the left, she is spoken for. Japanese Geisha typically wear kanzashi, or silk hair ornaments fashioned into plum or cherry blossoms, attached to the hair with combs. Many Indian women wear long, fragrant strings of fresh blossoms in their hair, or attached to the ends of braids.
Today, many Tribal and Fusion style dancers often wear entire “hair gardens” with fanciful flowers decorated with rhinestones, strings of coins, pearls, cowrie shells and feathers. Faux flowers, crowns and tiaras have always been popular with cabaret style dancers, too.
Piercings have been a widespread body modification in various cultures for centuries, with the most common placement being the earlobes and the nose. Historically, many African tribes also pierced the lips and tongue, and nipple and genital piercings have been traced by to Rome and ancient India, respectively.
Pierced ears on both men and women were prevalent in ancient Greece and Persia, and one has only to look at the gold death masks of King Tutankhamen and other Egyptian Pharaohs to see that this practice was popular in ancient Egypt!
Pierced noses have generally more commonly seen on women, from many different countries. In India, many women had the left side of their nose pierced, because Ayurvedic medicine associates this area with the female reproductive system, and it was assumed this would aid in child bearing. Nose piercings in India were considered a sign of physical beauty and also to honor the Hindu goddess Parvati, who is associated with marriage. In Central Asia, many Pahari and Pashtun women have both nostrils pierced with rings, allegedly to pay for their funerals.
More recently, in Western cultures piercing is a popular trend, with no special social significance attached. Earlobes and nostrils often sport multiple piercings, and areas such as the navel, nipples, eyebrows, genitals and lips are fashionable as well as socially accepted piercing locations.
Bracelets have been worn by women of all cultures for many millennia. In ancient Egypt men and women wore scarab bracelets, which symbolized rebirth, and were also affixed to the arms of mummies for the afterlife.
In India, bangle bracelets are common, and in some parts of the country, the number and type of bangles denotes marital status. Bulgarian women traditionally tied red and white string bracelets, or Martenitsa, to their arms in the early spring as an offering to Baba Marta, a mythical old woman whose moods controlled the weather. A similar tradition is found in neighboring Greece, where women weave string bracelets and wear them from the first day of March until the last days of summer.
Gypsies and fortunetellers are often depicted wearing piles of bracelets, perhaps stemming from the Indian-Romany connection. In certain styles of Uzbek dance, performers wear bracelets of small bells to accent their intricate hand and arm movements.
Belly dancers often wear bracelets just because they are pretty, and many Egyptian and Turkish costumes come with accessories in the form of bracelets, arm cuffs, gauntlets and armbands.
Historically, ankle bracelets were worn customarily by women and girls in India as well as across the Middle East and North Africa. Nomadic tribes such as the Rom or Romany, Berber and Bedouin females often sported them, too. Anklets were worn for decoration, but also for cultural or religious reasons as well. In the harems of Turkey, anklets with a chain connecting from leg to leg were worn by female odalisques or slaves, for the purpose of creating a more “feminine” gait.
Anklets were also common in societies that practiced segregation among the sexes, such as in India, where anklets were worn during times of Purdah. Called payaal or jhanjhar in India, the anklets were often made of chains hung with small bells.
In the zambra mora, a style considered by many to be the missing link between Romany dance and Flamenco, barefoot dancers often wear ankle bells to accentuate the stomping and intricate, rhythmic foot patterns that are a part of the dance.
In Egypt, up to the middle of the Twentieth century, women frequently wore -and sometimes still wear- khukal, which are the traditional C-shaped, open-ended ankle bracelets hung with coins or small metal discs. There is even a famous Egyptian musical composition called “Rennat Al Khukhal” or “The Sound Of Ankle Bracelets” which often used as a song to belly dance to.
many of these types of anklets do make beautiful tinkling sounds when worn while walking, but the real purpose of ankle bracelets was probably to let everyone know that a woman was approaching.
Nowadays, ankle bracelets are worn by dancers for both traditional as well as purely decorative purposes.
Vintage photo of an Ouled Nail dancer with headress and facial tattoos
Belly dancer Luna with bindi and Tribal Fusion head decorations , shot by Princess Farhana
hands with traditional mehndi pattern and bangle bracelets
Indian bride wearing maang tikka and many bangle bracelets