Friday, September 30, 2011


Theatrical lighting enhances stage performances in many different ways. Through the use of colors and intensity, good lighting can set a mood, it directs attention to-or away from- a certain performer or place on the stage, it can take the place of scenery, mark the passing of time, or even be used to enhance the action onstage, or move a plot along.

Lighting can make or break a performance, turning an average piece into something special, or even turning a beautiful and technically perfect dance piece into something mundane- or worse, something that cannot even be seen!

Lighting technicians used to change the moods onstage manually, but nowadays, many theaters are equipped with computerized lighting boards that can be programmed to change in a split second.

While not all dancers regularly perform in a proper theater with state-of-the-art lighting, it is still a good idea to be familiar with some working knowledge of theatrical lighting.

Have you ever experienced this all-too-familiar exchange?

Question: “What kind of lighting would you like for your piece?”
Dancer: “ Um…. I’m not sure…?”

With a little bit of know how, you will be able to decide exactly what sort of lighting you would like for your dance piece, lighting that will enhance your performance and make you look beautiful…or menacing, innocent, young, old, remote, friendly and accessible or even as grotesque as you want!

While this is by no stretch of the imagination any sort of complete guide, it’s a quick 'n' dirty, easily memorized guide to the basics of theatrical lighting.

House Lights
These refer to the lights in the actual theater, not the lights on the stage. The house lights illuminate the entire audience area, and can include everything from chandeliers to sconces on the walls, and the runner lights on the floor that illuminate the walk ways and aisles. House lights are often controlled by the theater’s lighting designer, and can be dimmed or brought up before and after the performance, as well as during intermission.

Work Lights
Work lights refer to the lights that are on ( both onstage and in the house) for the cast and crew to work by during a rehearsal or tech-check, while the theatrical lights for the performance are being set up.

Spot Lights
There are many different varieties of spotlights, but they all have one thing in common: they focus an intense beam of light directly onto a performer or place on the stage. A follow spot is mounted on a moveable base, so it can literally follow a performer around the stage, continuously illuminating the individual. A pin spot directs a very narrow beam of light onto a person or place on stage.

Fill Lights
Fill lights and side fills are supplementary lights, usually used to lighten up the shadows cast across the performer’s features.

Accent Lights
The type of lighting used to accent a person or a place on stage, to make it stand out. Accent lighting may be done with colors or with intensity- a spotlight is basically an accent light.

Black Out
This term refers to a total absence of lighting on stage. Many performances begin and end in a black out, while the cast members walk on and off stage. There should ideally be a small mark on the floor done in glow-tape or fluorescent paint at center stage, so it can be seen it in the dark and help performers get their bearings as they step into place. Whenever possible, have a stage hand or the lighting tech make a separate mark on the floor for you if you are beginning in place on stage anywhere other than center.


A “wash” refers to the mix of lights being used onstage at any given time.


A gel is the thin sheet set across the front of light to alter the color of the light. Nowadays, gels are commonly made of plastic, but “back in the day” they were originally made of gelatin (from animal tissue) hence the name.

A Gobo is a generic term for any sort of opaque object placed in front of a light to block a portion of the beam, or the entire beam of light.

A Gobo with any sort of design cut into the surface. When placed in front of a beam of light, the patterned Gobo projects the design onto the stage.

Colors of lights and/or gels, and the effects they will have on skin tones, make up and costumes:

Black Light/ UV Light
Black light, UV, or Ultra Violet light, this is a bluish- purple light used for theatrical effects, and will highlight white or fluorescent-colored costumes and props, such as hula hoops or juggling clubs.
Black light is often used for psychedelic effects at parties and nightclubs. Aside from the fact that it makes almost any skin tone appear lavender to dark purple, it also evens out the skin and makes it appear flawless, and makes teeth appear glowing white, which is why so many “gentlemen’s clubs” use UV lighting. However, black light or UV light onstage is so unnatural and unusual, that on a stage, it should be used judiciously, for special effects only.


Non- UV Lighting in the violet family will cause any sort of warm color to appear redder, and will make yellows and greens turn brown and muddy. Red colored make up used on the performer’s face will look very deep and unnatural, and sometimes black. Shadows under facial features (like cheek bones) will also appear dark gray or black.

Deep purple lighting effects makeup and costumes in the same way violet lighting does, only even more intensely. Any costume or prop in with blue coloring will appear violet.


Less intense than purple or violet, a soft lavender light will make the performer appear lifelike, but with a slightly cooler cast to the tone of the flesh.

Though an intense color on its own, careful use of magenta lighting can actually look rosy and romantic when used an accent color onstage.

Straight up pink lighting will intensify warmer colors and gray down cooler colors. For example, a lemon yellow costume will appear almost orange, and a royal blue costume may appear to be dark purple, black or gray. Red or pink lipstick or blush will appear intensified and doll-like.

Light Pink or Peach
This rich, warm color flatters most theatrical makeup, and mixed in with whites, will bring a softer look to a bright stage.

Used on it’s own, red lighting will either wash out or muddy up almost any color of costume, and plays horrendous tricks with stage makeup. On the face, everything but the darkest color of make up pretty much vanishes…. in other words, you will look like a corpse! Light and medium rouges fade into the performer’s foundation make-up, whereas dark red rouges turn a rusty brown. Yellows will become orange, and the cool shaded colors turn dreary shades of gray and black.

Orange or golden-toned light will make most flesh colors turn sallow. It will also turn colors in the red or pink family even more orange. Cool colors- blues, greens, purples, will be grayed and won’t stay true.

This color is pretty much universally flattering, because it warms the skin and picks up the lively pinks and flesh tones in almost any sort of theatrical makeup, making the performer appear healthy and “life-like”.

Bastard Amber

This is a warm pinkish-golden tone that is commonly employed onstage to mimic daylight- it adds a rich,robust tone to almost any shade of skin or any kind of stage make-up, and costume colors appear bright and true. And really is called Bastard Amber!

Yellow lighting on it’s own makes most skin tones appear sallow and sickly, and can wreak havoc on almost any color used in costuming or back drops.

Another color to be careful of using too much of onstage is green. It can make performers look sick…or just plain weird! Green lighting will make all flesh tones appear white and/or gray, and reds or pinks will appear black in proportion to the intensity of the green light. Any props, sets or make up that is already green in color will be intensified, blues will become greener and yellows will appear light green.

Used by itself, blue-toned lighting will definitely gray most flesh tones and cause them to appear more red or purple, again giving a zombie-like appearance to performers. As a special effect blue light can be very interesting, but use blue lighting with caution, and as an accent, for lighting that will highlight the performers themselves.

Almost all colors in the spectrum tend to stay true under white lighting, as do metallics and mixed neon brights, or costumes with patterned fabric. Any sort of shiny trim or sparkling stones will gleam and twinkle insanely and supernaturally.

Though pretty much any color costume will look great under white lights, unless you mix in other colors in a wash with the white lights, most skin-tones may appear ashy or extremely pale and facial features- no matter what the age of the performer- will look rather harsh.

If you are unsure of what sort of lighting effects to ask for, or there is a limited amount of lighting in the venue, a nice, bright stage with a mixed wash of whites, pinks and ambers is a safe bet.

It will compliment any performer’s skin tone and show the true colors of costumes, props, sets and backdrops. These colors used together will warm up and soften white lights, and make the performers on stage look life-like and animated without looking harsh. A stage lit like this will also allow the audience’s eyes to take in a performance without being distracted.

Photo: Princess Farhana basking in a spot light, during Hollywood Music Center's "Soul Of Bellydance" DVD shoot

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I just returned from Michele Nicola’s Arabian Nights At Sea Belly Dance Cruise to Ensenada, BC Mexico. This year marked the 14th annual voyage, but it was my first year on board The Carnival Paradise. It was definitely one of those experiences that makes me feel so fortunate and grateful that my life involves doing something I love- dancing, teaching dance, traveling, and meeting great new friends.

It was also so much fun that I am completely hoarse from three full days of non-stop laughing, not to mention yelling and zaghareeting over the din of live Arabic drums and dozens jingling hip-scarves!

Nearly two hundred belly dance cruisers attended, from all over North America- there were even two dancers from such a remote place in Canada that it had taken them four planes-and two whole days- to get to the ship!

The ship had plenty of on-board activities, shore excursions in Ensenada, and relaxation opportunities. The classes were wildly varied, including Tribal Fusion, Jazz-Influenced, Oriental, Veil, and Mahalia’s instructional henna workshop.

My other co-instructors were Fahtiem, Ava Fleming, The Shimmy Sisters, tabla master Reda Darwish, Ashley Lopez and my cabin-mate, the lovely Paulina, to whom I am now permanently and irrevocably bonded.

Paulina and I had a three night slumber party that included talking shop, doing each other’s make-up, and waking up at six am to barking sea lions…not to mention marveling over professional break dancers who spun on their heads, and sharing mojitos in a hot tub that just happened to be full of foxy twenty-something guys.

Oh, I forgot to mention the cucumber!

What happens on the ship isn’t gonna stay on the ship- at least THIS time! Here goes:

Paulina was already settling in as I entered our cabin. As I plopped my luggage down, she greeted me in a rather unusual way.

“I brought you a present!”, she chirped brightly, brandishing a giant, light green cucumber. She then whipped out another one and added,

“And I brought one for myself, too,”

I wasn’t exactly sure how to take this rather… unique greeting, and I guess my confusion kind of showed on my face!

Finally, noticing that I seemed flustered, Paulina clarified that she had grown them in her Ojai garden, and had thought they might make a nutritious snack for us in between classes and performances! We both got a great big belly laugh out of that.

Live music for the shows, which took place in the ship’s lounges, and theaters, were provided by Doug Adams and Light Rain with Reda Darwish guesting on tabla. I have loved Reda’s drumming for years, but I gotta say that watching him play live- and dancing to his talented drumming- brought things to a whole new level! He is a beaming ray of light when he plays, all the joy just pours out through his talented hands.

On Saturday night, Light Rain and Reda played for an amazing open dance party on the top deck of the ship, near the pool. They sounded fantastic! Not only were all the A.N.A.S instructors and students reveling, there were many “civilians” who happened to be on board joining us. There was an entire Persian family, whose daughter and mother-in-law joyfully joined us in dancing for hours, and a whole crew of old Egyptian folks whose veiled women clapped and zagareeted wildly from the ship’s balcony. Fahtiem and Ava Fleming engaged in uproarious ballroom dancing, Ashley Lopez got her groove on, and The Shimmy Sisters put on an incredible, gymnastic hoping show, complete with belly dancing- and contortions!

The cruise ended with a cocktail party that included a fabulous show, including Turkish dancer Nilay Enjin, Jan, Angela and many more, which photographer Richard Lowe documented for posterity. After dinner, there was an all night dance party in the ship’s Rex Lounge.

Right now, I’m recovering from my working “vacation” and still giggling at what went on…because aside from the cucumber incident, what happens on board stays on board!


Nilay Engin performing at the cocktail party

Paulina and me with the break dancers

Participants from my "Strike A Pose: How To Make The Camera Love You" workshop

Ava Fleming teaching class

Check A.N.A.S out and sign up for next year!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I am so very excited about MECDA’s Pro Dance Retreat… and there’s only one more week left to register!

The event takes place OCT 6-10, 2011, in Newport Beach, California

This weekend will be like a crash college course in all aspects of business for belly dancers! From learning about music copyrights to making a class curriculum; from structuring a show to negotiating gig fees, from promotion to professional networking- and more!

Back when I first started dancing, there was absolutely nothing at all like this- not to mention no cell phones, email or internet. Finding out ANYTHING about belly dancing, from history to costuming, was nearly impossible....and as for figuring out how to go about becoming a professional at something I loved and thought I'd be good at? NADA!

In those days, I felt like I was on a treasure hunt for knowledge…and though it was fun, a lot of what I learned about becoming a successful professional dancer was learned through the “school of hard knocks”. In fact, i probably got a PhD in that, which is precisely the reason i am so stoked about this conference, which is the first of it's kind.

The workshops are designed for those who want to turn pro, or professional dancers who want some assistance in reaching their career goals and increasing their income, promotional skills, class and performance knowledge, etc.
There will be workshops on everything from developing your professional persona, to making class curriculum, stage make-up to marketing! Also many opportunities to network, and get one-on-one brainstorming sessions with dance professionals. Of course there will also be leisure activities like cocktail parties, an informal hafla and optional luxury spa treatments.

Here is how the event is described on the MECDA site:

This conference is a MUST if you’ve ever…
▪ wondered “am I ready to become a professional?”
▪ dreamed about opening your own studio.
▪ thought about quitting because you’re just not making a living wage.
▪ felt like the economy is kicking your butt, and you’d like to kick back.
▪ wanted to have the extra money to buy costumes and go to workshops without feeling guilty.
▪ figured there’s got to be an easier way to get paying gigs.
▪ been told “better keep your day job!”
▪ believed you had to be a starving artist.
▪ wished you could teach workshops locally or nationally.
▪ felt like producing your own DVD, but didn’t know where to start.
▪ wondered where to find students and how to keep them coming back.
▪ discussed holding a big event, but didn’t know how.
▪ wanted to learn how to run a successful troupe.
▪ been curious about the history and heritage of our dance.
▪ paid a fortune in advertising and wished you didn’t have to.
▪ been treated badly by another dancer protecting “her territory.”
▪ had a burning question and no one would give you a straight answer.
▪ wished you had access to event promoters and organizers.
▪ reached a point where it was too painful NOT to be a professional dancer, but were too intimidated or confused or fearful to get started.

The teachers are all fantastic, and include Zahra Zuhair, Julie Eason of The Bellydance Business Academy, Angelika Nemeth, Amara, Devilla , Nadira Jamal, myself and more—don’t miss this opportunity.

Find out more- and register- here:

You'll be glad you did!

Monday, September 19, 2011


This is part two in an on-going series, which will share the the way well known- and in some cases, wildly famous- dancers prepare for their shows.

Everyone I spoke with had a highly personal take on stage preparation: some are “all business”, listening to an iPod and going over choreography, some hate to be around people while others need to, and even others are superstitious- like yours truly!

Do you ever get backstage jitters or performance anxiety?

Even professionals who have been dancing for years sometimes get that sick feeling in the pit of their stomach- you know, the not-so-nice butterflies that feel more like deadly pterodactyls?

There’s not really any way to “cure” these backstage demons, but you can get them under control a bit. Some of these dancers may be doing a certain pre-show something that can help you.

And anyway, it’s just plain fun to get a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes lives of some of the amazing performers we all see live on stage, or on YouTube, as the case may be!

To the belly dance community, Suhaila Salimpour needs no introduction… but I’m gonna go ahead with one anyway…not only is she an uber-talented supernova of a dancer, she is a artistic, talented, a shrewd business woman, and a great mom. I have known her since I first began dancing, and aside from being very generous with me on a professional level, I will attest to the fact that she also has a hilarious sense of humor—just look at the second picture of Suhaila and me on the set of the film “Two Sisters”...

Here’s what Suhaila does backstage, in her own words:

“I began doing "circle time" with my dance company from the first performance we ever had. We make a big circle with all the dancers, myself, my mom (if she is there), and any musicians or special guests and link pinkies. We all stand facing inside the circle and start to vibrate…or try at least. : )
Then I make a speech about the work that went into the performance we are about to do and how proud I am of everyone. I start a pinky squeeze to pass the love and I watch it go from one dancer to the next. When it gets back to me then we all take a big breath together and start to chant "juice, juice, juice" (like give me some "juice" during the show) and it turns into a zagareet. When we part there are a few hugs given and then we focus and grab props and anything else needed for the performance.

If I'm doing a solo I just like to be left alone. I focus on my music going through it inside my head and make sure I'm deeply warmed up. When I'm back stage getting ready to go on I usually miss my mother and wish she was backstage with me. It's like I get home sick.

When I'm done I can't get undressed fast enough or drink enough water! “

Suhaila Salimpour

Princess Farhana & Suhaila on the set of the film "Two Sisters", directed by Margaret Cho

For more info on Suhaila, please visit

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive was just that...INTENSE!

The event itself was, as always, well-organized and tons of fun, with all minute details taken care of, great shows and scads of workshops. For my part, I barely had a chance to sit still...or even to sit down! It was non-stop from the moment I stepped on the plane to Vega$...and I did this all with a broken toe, having tripped over my suitcase while packing the night before I left, in a classic, typical "dancers are klutzes when off stage" moment!

The pro shows were just stellar- fantastic sound and lights and what an array of performances! I loved Malia Delapenia and her Dancers In Paradise and their crazy Geisha Fusion, Frank Farinaro blew me away as usual, and Rosa Noreen was so beautiful doing a classy Balady. I got a huge kick out of sharing a dressing room- not to mention the stage- with Leyla Amir and Jill Parker...we laughed and joked while waiting to take the stage. It was also so much fun to see old pals like Tanya Popovich, Sacha Biondi, Ahava, Delilah and House Of Tarab, and hang out with new ones- like Ruby Beh and Oregon-based dancer Fanina.

The debut of my costume line, Princess Farhana For King Of The Nile was amazing. Samira Tu'ala and stage manager Sandi Stewart had worked with me to set up three fashion shows during the weekend. It was incredible- on a personal as well as professional level- seeing my costumes on real live dancers, not mannequins! I seriously had to wipe away a tear of two of joy and disbelief. the belly dancers who modeled for me really brought it to the stage! Seeing famous dancers like Aradia trying on my costumes had me beaming, and luscious Vegas-based dancer Farasha ( also one of my models) bought a nude and red version of my Ghazal costume and wore it during her performance at the after-party...that was about as big of a compliment as I could have ever hoped for!

I am in awe of my partner Yaz Taleb , photographer Lena Marshall, and my "wing-woman" DeVilla for helping me to pull this off. I would also like to thank Belle and my model, dancer Liza Wolfe, for helping out in the booth all weekend.

You all RAQ!!!


Top to bottom:

My models and me in our booth at The Intensive: DeVilla in my "Warda" costume, Vahana in my "Amerah" costume, me, Farasha in my "Ghazal" costume, Etoile in a velvet class wear set of mine, Nynishka in my "Theda Bara" costume

Aradia of Las Vegas in my nude and red "Ghazal" costume, with double-layer reversible skirt

Festival director Samira Tu'ala modelling the personalized hip-scarf we gifted her- yes, it says "Samira" in Arabic...and you, too can order your name on a hip scarf!

Model Liza Wolfe in my "Warda" costume on the Vega$ $trip, around midnight

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Sometimes actions speak louder than words…and if you’re a belly dancer, “One Zill Up” pretty much says it all!

By popular demand, the infamous “Finger Symbol” is OFFICIALLY available on a T-shirt, so now you can speak volumes without even opening your mouth!

Originally, the "Finger Symbol" was my impromptu reaction inspired by a recent incident which rocked the belly dance community. When I photographed my own hand flippin' the bird with a big cymbal on my middle finger, in the wee hours, giggling hysterically, I had no idea so many people were going to relate to my heartfelt response....but they did and the rest is history. If you missed the hoopla the first time around, read about it here:

Since it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I would also like to add that every penny of the proceeds from this T-shirt is going to a close friend's gi-normous hospital bills for her treatment. She is a fighter, and I'm glad this "symbol" will be able to help her!

Designed and manufactured by by Deluxe Screen Printing, the Royal “gesture” is printed in white and golden yellow on black womens fitted short-sleeved, crew-neck T-shirts , made of 100% ringspun cotton jersey.

Available in womens Small, Medium, Large, X-Large and XX-Large.

This shirts will be available at The Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, September 8-11, 2011.

If you are not attending, and would like to order a shirt, please specify the size(s) you prefer.

Send your order via PayPal to:

pgehman (AT) earthlink (DOT) net

The shirts are $22.00 each, which includes postage and handling in the USA.

For all other countries, shirts are $27.00 each, including postage and handling

Friday, September 2, 2011


Do you get backstage jitters or performance anxiety?

Even professionals who have been dancing for years sometimes get that sick feeling in the pit of their stomach- you know, the not-so-nice butterflies that feel more like deadly pterodactyls?

There’s not really any way to “cure” these backstage demons, but you can get them under control a bit!

Personally, before a show, I hide in the wings and take a few quiet moments for myself. I take some deep breaths and get centered, then I mentally focus on my performance, reminding myself not to give in to my on-stage adrenalin surges...yes, I still get them.

It also helps if I have ample time to put on my make-up. Even though I could technically apply my stage face in a dark car in ten minutes flat, it helps me to feel much more grounded if I can take my time, and perfect every little stroke of color. If I am out of town, I prefer to do my make-up in my hotel room, listening to The Weather Channel….I’m not sure why, but that is one of my “happy places”!

I also have a crazy superstition that I cannot be seen in my costume before a show- for some reason, I feel as though if the audience sees me in costume, my show won't go well! So I always make double-sure I have a cover-up with me. After the show, it doesn't matter, but before the show- NO WAY!

Then, when I get to the gig fully transformed into Princess Farhana, I can socialize a bit and not feel stressed out, and have ample time to warm up before dancing.

Pondering this subject, I thought it would be interesting- and helpful- to see what sort of practices, or rites, if you will, other dancers perform before going on stage.

So have asked many of my friends-most of whom are world-renowned professionals, to share their own personal backstage rituals. I will continue to post these every so often, for inspiration, or even just so you know what’s going through the head of these beautiful performers before they take the stage!

So…. For the first offering, here are some thoughts from two famous belly dancers who are among my biggest inspirations: ZAHRA ZUHAIR and DELILAH:

“Before a performance I have a beauty and pampering regime with facial scrubs and masks I make myself with yogurt, oatmeal, avacado, honey, and other natural ingredients.

Then I take a hot bath, and stretch.

When I travel, I can't do the homemade beauty ingredients (it's kind of silly to pack a blender and produce), so I have products I can easily travel with.

I'm a big opera fan, so while putting on my makeup, I have to listen to whatever my favorite aria is that day. I never skip my makeup-opera ritual, no mattter how rushed I am.

I love angels, and I have a lot of tiny angel pins that I pin inside my costumes for good luck. Certain angels go with certain costumes. I'm never without my angels.

Once I'm backstage at the performance, my main ritual is over. I usually keep my ear buds on, and listen to my performance music to stay centered, plus I'll try to stay warmed up, but that's about it.

Sometimes with hectic travel schedules there isn't much time for my entire centering ritual, but I always try to do as much of it as I can. "

--Zahra Zuhair

“Mirror, Mirror. . .

My false eye lashes are my talisman. When I put them on my dance character walks into my body like a voudoo loa. She empowers my dance by bringing me confidence, balance and endurance.
Along with the act of looking in the light up magnifying mirror and putting them on, I would also have psychic experiences. Like I'll see someone I haven't seen in years and they will walk in the club that night, or even plane crashes and money coming in the mail. Very strange and uncanny.
The ritual of looking in the mirror and into ones eyes night after night for so many years grew to become a very powerful transition period.”


For more info on Zahra, visit

For more info on Delilah, visit

Do YOU have a backstage ritual you'd like to share?

If so, feel free to post it here as a comment or email me: princessraqs(AT)gmail(DOT)com