Monday, March 26, 2012


Apply make up. Sweat, powder. Sweat, powder. Sweat, powder. Sweat Powder. Sweat, powder. Sweat, powder. Sweat, powder. Remove make up. Moisturize. Repeat.

For years, this has been a daily routine for me.

Dancers skin takes just as much of a beating as our bodies. We sweat our way through rehearsals, eat on the go, and don’t sleep enough or drink as much water as we should. Constant performance also requires constant stage make up…which leads to touch-ups done over sweaty skin…which leads to the perfect storm for:

Irritated, inflamed skin

Blemishes and outbreaks

Extreme dryness or oiliness

Water retention and puffiness

So, how do we combat this? Everyone’s skin is different, and we all have our own skin care rituals. But there are certain things every dancer can do to improve the health of your skin…and your body in general!

Take It Off!
Make sure to remove every trace of make up before going to bed; on performance days and on the days you’re not onstage. Leftover traces of make up on your skin can clog your pores. Leftover make up-not to mention glitter- around your eyes can cause irritation and infection! Plus, your skin really needs a chance to breathe; the more foundation, powder, colored shadows and blushes you use, you are literally suffocating your face…. so this stuff all needs to come off. How you get it off is your call- there are multitudes of make up removers on the market today, everything from pre-moistened pads and towelettes, creams, lotions and liquid removers that are either oil-based or non-oily. Some people like to use more natural make up removers, such as olive oil, and in the old days, performers basically used two things: Albolene cream or Crisco- yes, lard!

Make Up Removal Technique

No matter what kind of make up remover you use, never scrub it onto your face. This will cause irritation (especially if you use glitter on your face- which can actually make microscopic cuts in the surface of your skin) and will eventually encourage wrinkles to form.

The kindest way to remove your make up is to either spread the pad or towelette over your face, or apply your cream, lotion of liquid remover, and then let it sit for a few seconds- I usually count to thirty- before gently swabbing up the make up. This allows the remover to work on the pigments and products, and makes removal far easier.


I can’t tell you what works for cleansing your skin, since everybody is different, but I can tell you what works for me. After I remove my makeup, I cleanse my skin completely. My skin is combination, meaning it is dry in certain places, and oilier in others. It’s also sensitive- I tend to get red and flakey pretty easily. After a gig, I clean my skin with either Dove or Ivory Soap, and alternate these with a gentle cleanser. In the morning when I wake up, I don’t use soap or cleaner at all just lukewarm water, followed by very cold water. After that, I moisturize, let it seep in, apply my sun block, like a religious fanatic, and I’m good to go.

Your dermatologist may be able to recommend a cleansing product for you, or just test some out on your own. Plain old soap and water works fine for some people, for other’s, it’s too irritating and a mild cleanser might work better.

No matter what you use, keep your skin clean!

Keep Your Beauty Tools in Tip Top Shape

No matter how anal you are about taking off your make up, if you don’t keep your tools clean, you will basically be applying bacteria directly onto your skin. Cosmetic brushes and applicators are always full of old product, and because they are in direct contact with your skin, that means they’re always full of oils and dead skin flakes, which makes them a perfect breeding ground for germs! If it sounds gross, it is… so clean your tools regularly!

I wash all my brushes at least once a week thoroughly with soap and hot water. I use either baby shampoo or mild dish washing liquid. I swish the brushes around in the soapy water, and work them gently with my fingers, to get all the product-and soap- out of the bristles. I lay them flat to dry on a clean towel, and with my fingers, form the bristles into shape.

If you are traveling or doing multiple gigs in a row, you can do a quick-fix on-the-spot cleaning by spraying the bristles with alcohol and drying them with a tissue, or you can swipe the brush against a make up remover wipe.

I date my mascara tubes on the bottom with a Sharpie pen… once they’ve been around for three months, I toss them- because mascara is wet, and because it goes on the eyes, it’s a magnet for bacteria. You can never be too careful about this!

Replace your powder puffs or foundation sponges about once a week. Again, they’re full of germs and oil from your skin, so if you’re using an old puff or sponge, you’re just putting all that bacteria right onto your face!

Never lend your cosmetic tools to anyone- it’s the law.

Hydrate Your Skin
There us no way you can be too obsessive about drinking a lot of water. Water is one of the best- and least expensive- things you can do to improve your skin, and your health in general. Dehydrated skin looks dull, dry, flakey, and often appears bloated! Water retention is one of the things that cause facial bloating; the reason your skin appears puffy is because it is retaining water- because it doesn’t have enough! Everyone has heard the recommendation for drinking eight glasses of water a day…and it’s not an urban legend. Drinking this amount- which is equal to about a liter and a half of water- will help your kidneys clear urea, sodium and other toxins from your body. Water keeps you alert and functional during classes and rehearsals. It will also keep your skin looking dewy and glowing. As dancers who sweat profusely, we need even more. Carry water with you at all times, and make sure you have an adequate amount at a show. Even though most venues provide water in the dressing room, there usually isn’t ever enough…so keep a small bottle in your gig bag, just in case.

If you are really working out, you may also want to try water that has electrolytes added; this will not only keep your skin pretty, it will help prevent your muscles from cramping during a tough class or rehearsal. I avoid sugary sports drinks with electrolytes- aside from the fact that it adds empty calories; sugar is terrible for your skin.

Feed Your Skin From The Outside In

After cleansing your skin, pat it dry and replenish it with moisturizer. The type you use is up to you, I myself favor Neutrogena and Oil Of Olay products, they seem to work well for me, but they may not for you.

If you are older, you may be experimenting with anti-wrinkle formulas and retinols. If you have never used these products before, my advice is to go slowly. Some of these products can be very irritating to your skin before the benefits start showing. Ease into your retinoid use. If I am using a retinoid product, and the directions are to apply it every evening, at first I’ll go for every other night, to see how my skin reacts. If I don’t get too red or blotchy, then I’ll move up to every night, but I keep monitoring the situation, and I do skip nights, too.

Always use sun block; an SPF of 30 or above is best. This is essential if you are using retinoids, which make your skin photosensitive, but even if you don’t use retinoids, the sun can damage your skin. You can’t be too careful about the sun!

Feed Your Skin From The Inside Out

You probably already know this, but whatever you eat is reflected in your skin, so making sure to eat a well-balanced diet is imperative.

Inflammation is one of the prime causes of acne, by triggering cells to clog your pores, so eating foods rich in EFAs (the essential fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6) will combat inflammation, and also actually prevent wrinkles…and help heal your dance injuries, too! Some foods that are rich in EFAs are flaxseed, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, soybeans, and in salmon, mackerel and tuna. I am not a fan of fish, so I add flaxseed to my oatmeal, yogurt and salads, and eat nuts as a pick-me-up during class or rehearsal.

Your body in general- but especially your skin- needs fats to look good and function well. I’m talking about healthy fats, like you’d find in avocados or in olive oil. Don’t negate them from your diet or your skin will show it.

Many foods are rich in antioxidants (Vitamins A, some of the B vitamins, C and E plus the minerals magnesium, zinc and selenium) that destroy the free radicals in our system.

The collagen in our skin, which keeps our complexions looking young, plump, and elastic, is extremely affected by free radical damage. The older you get, the less collagen you have in general…so eat to keep your collagen healthy and functional, matter what age you are! Highly colored, un-cooked fruits and veggies are loaded with antioxidants. Just some of them are all types of berries, carrots, broccoli, leafy greens like spinach and kale, raisins, peppers, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. You can never have too much of any of these. Eat raw fruit and veggies daily, and throw them into whatever else you are eating, too. I like to include berries in with my yoghurt and cereals, but I also eat them aloe as snack or put them into my salads. I am a kale junkie- I eat it all the time. It’s amazing raw in a salad or lightly steamed, and every morning I also throw in a few leaves or a couple of handfuls of the raw, pre-packaged variety into my fruit smoothies. It will turn the smoothie a sickly shade of avocado green, but you won’t even taste it!

Quick Fixes
Here are some “emergency tactics” that you can use on days you have gigs.

If you notice a pimple developing the evening before a show and don’t have any commercial spot treatments on hand to use, try a dab of toothpaste on the blemish and leave it on overnight. It seems to dry out the pimple, and reduce it in size. I’m not sure why it works, but it does!

If that blemish is still angry and red on the day of your show, apply a little Visine or some other kind of eye drop that reduces redness directly onto the pimple. This really reduces the redness and inflammation, if only temporarily.

I have hay fever and allergies and my eyes are constantly puffy in spring and early fall. My friend Maharet taught me to thinly slice potatoes and put a couple of them over my eyes, then relax for about ten minutes. This old folk remedy is almost as good as a facelift- it reduces the puffiness immediately! For those of you who are allergic to nightshades (tomatoes, eggplants and yes, potatoes) try a couple of tea bags dipped into water as hot as you can stand, and then applied to your eyes. The tannic acid in the tea will help calm down the puffiness in your skin.

Take great care of your skin, and you’ll look radiant- both onstage and off!

Photo: Vintage Ad for Pond's cold cream

Friday, March 23, 2012


Key Words are the words or phrases people type into search engines that direct them to various websites. Aside from the obvious (“belly dance”, “showgirl”, “costumes”, “stage make up” etc.) I always get a kick at the random and often completely deranged and ridiculous things people search for… which somehow directs them to my blog!

So, to start Spring off with a giggle, here’s the best of the latest crop of keyword searches, all exactly as they appear in my blog stats. Enjoy!











Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Like many Western belly dancers, before I even started practicing the craft I grew up on a steady diet of vintage Hollywood movies. While Oriental dance purists may turn up their noses at the whimsical, gloriously historically inaccurate portrayal of Middle Eastern dance that was the main stay of The Dream Factory, I embrace it wholeheartedly.

Those films may not be at all true to tradition, but then, what dreams ever are?

I can remember watching “The Brady Bunch” or “The Partridge Family” as a nine-year-old from a broken home, sneering at the totally manufactured, idealized television version of a divorced family…because mine-or any of my friends who came from similar situations never experienced anything remotely similar. I thought those shows were dumb.

On the other hand, in the days before Cable TV was ubiquitous, when I saw those old black and white or spectacular Technicolor visions, my heart-and my brain- melted, and my mind raced with fantastic possibilities that were as remote to me as becoming an Astronaut… but that didn’t negate one bit of deliciousness. The “Sword And Sandal” genre, or the Biblical epics or stuff like Greta Garbo playing Mata Hari or Hedi LaMarr swathed in Assuit as Delilah fed my fertile, prepubescent imagination like nothing else! Sinbad made me swoon, I wanted to follow Bob Hope and Bing Crosby on “The Road To Morocco” and seeing Claudette Colbert beautifully-lit (and with a wardrobe to die for) as Cleopatra still makes my heart sing.

I know many of you out there share my mania for these amazing, frothy confections…and instead of wincing when we see Rita Hayworth as Salome performing a spastic, crazed “Dance Of The Seven Veils” or Julie Newmar’s athletic, interpretive dance in “Slaves Of Babylon”, we go crazy with the kitsch and camp of it all.

When I first started belly dancing…and doing as much research as I could on the subject , I used to feel embarrassed that I had ever liked these movies. All I wanted at that point was to see The Real Thing, not some ridiculous, usually sexist re-enactment that got it all wrong… but after a while, the more I learned about REAL belly dancing, the more I started to realize that it was these movies that literally fueled my life-long obsession with everything Oriental. These films were the very things that, years and years after my childhood, made me want to take belly-dancing classes in the first place. And though much of the acting is stilted and many of the plots are really dumb, there’s no denying the beauty of the women, or the sheer opulence of the gorgeous costumes!

These films and their blatantly far-fetched portrayal of Hollywood’s Harem may not be genuine, but they’ve informed American belly dancing in many ways, and their implausible glory still lives on for us to enjoy today.


Rita Hayworth as Salome, Douglas fairbanks as Sinbad, Greta Garbo as Mata Hari, Hedi LaMarr as Delilah

Friday, March 16, 2012


Last weekend I had the pleasure of performing and teaching in the Washington, DC area. I was absolutely struck by the wonderful dance community that I witnessed... dancers of all genres getting together on a regular basis to put on shows; students learning professionalism from their "dance mammas", and performers taking the time to give back to the community.

One of the highlights of the entire great weekend was talking shop with Artemis Mourat and my sponsor, Belladonna. We sat around Artie's cozy house sipping wine and feasting on a Moroccan chicken dish she'd prepared, and talked for hours. The conversation stayed focused on dance, but veered wildly between the past, present,and future. We talked about dancers we all admired, the joy of teaching, and Artie's early days in the clubs, when she herself was a baby dancer. She spoke about how wonderful it was to dance to live music, her hippie lifestyle, which at the time was considered "Bohemian", and how she navigated through shark-infested waters, working with dancers who came from overseas, who mercilessly struck down their competition by pulling "Showgirls" type stunts, such as leaving shards of glass in the shoes of a rival dancer.

Mostly, what we talked about was community...and how important it is.

A vibrant dance community affords benefits to all of its members. In a healthy dance community, each and every person is relevant. There is a large pool of talent to choose from for learning purposes, or for gathering a cast for a certain show. Those with specialties and unique areas of expertise can share their knowledge, enriching the individual skill sets for everyone. Creativity becomes contagious, because it is encouraged to thrive.

Younger or less experienced dancers have the opportunity to learn the ropes from competent professionals, while more practiced dancers can keep current with the latest developments and newest trends. Community members of all ages and ranges of experience can interact freely and respectfully with each other, gaining insight, while every individual can also pull in new members, who could also potentially enrich the existing group.

In an ideal dance community, every member is considered important enough to have a say, and every individual can make a contribution to the whole.

Nowadays, due to the Internet and with the big umbrella of dance populations from all over the world interacting online, there is even more to learn. Individual dance groups from far-flung areas are no longer isolated and completely self-sufficient; the various communities can experience each other’s triumphs and tragedies with the click of a mouse.

Still, nothing replaces face-to-face interaction, and so keeping a live, local dance community running smoothly is paramount for it to be a nurturing environment for its members.

Like the modern urban model for a city, a dance community is composed of the “city” itself, which is basically everyone involved in that particular dance community. The “citizens” include everyone from nationally or internationally known established dancers to regional professional and semi-professional dancers as well as their students. The “ city council” is composed of the leaders, which would mean the most high-powered community members, or elders. The “city council” can pass certain “ordinances” which would include establishing fair pricing or a going rate for gigs, or creating safe spaces for the community’s less experienced members to hone their craft.

Meanwhile, there are also the city’s various “neighborhoods” (dance schools and troupes, and individual dancers who are not attached to either) and the surrounding “suburbs”, made up of people adjacent to the dance scene, such as musicians, costume makers, club owners, theater managers, photographers, booking agents, dance supply vendors, dancers’ families, fans and the like.

If there is a problem in a certain “neighborhood”, such as an incident of price undercutting, theft of a costume or even a gig, or some other sort of bad behavior, the rest of the community will undoubtedly find out and act accordingly, somehow rebuking the offender(s), sometimes by driving them out of the community.

But though these problems do exist, in a strong dance community- and there are many of them- these sort of things are less likely to happen, because of the community’s sense of ethics. For example, in my Los Angeles dance community, there seems to be less discord and fewer problems with dancers in general, undoubtedly because there are so many world class, name dancers living here. Professional behavior and courtesy are the norm, and instilled in baby dancers from Day One. In LA, as with anywhere else, there are always more performers than gigs, and there is the occasional kerfuffle over real (or imagined) trespasses, but it just seems to be handled a bit more…professionally.

You may be wondering what you have to offer to your community, or how you can help to foster a great community atmosphere where you live.

There are many ways to go about it; but the most significant is to simply get involved!

Offering your services to your own dance community-whatever they may be- will always be helpful. This can be anything from assisting others backstage to donating a few hours of your time at local dance festival.
Consider offering to teach pro-bono classes, even if it’s a just a one-off, maybe at a women’s shelter or for a group of underprivileged children as a form of outreach. Perform gratis at a local hospital, rest home, or at a benefit for a charity organization that you believe in.

Share Your Knowledge

Imparting information is a huge way to ensure your community’s sustainability and continuing legacy. Raise your “children” (students) well; prepare them for their life as dancers as well as you can. Mentor a student or students; take the time to make sure everyone in your classes understands and respects not just technique, but also local dance history, and as much universal history as you know about your particular dance form.
If you teach, verse your students well in professional etiquette, be it onstage, backstage or within the community itself.

If You Don’t Have Anything Good To Say, Don’t Say It At All

Sharing ideas or constructive criticism is one thing. Sharing gossip or spreading rumors is a whole other animal. Slandering or defaming other dancers, whether in “real life” or on the Internet, tears down a community. Put yourself in the other person’s place and think about how you would feel if this was happening to you. Though it may be tempting to pass on a juicy tidbit, post a catty comment on a social media site or stir up the pot with a little hearsay, please think twice about doing it.

Give Back To The Community

Giving back to your community can come in many forms- so give generously of whatever you have to offer. It can be anything from providing advice or a shoulder to cry on, collating programs for a show, or tidying up a dressing room at the end of the night. Maybe you’d consider waiving all or part of your performance fee to help out a friend who is bringing in a guest artist.

Giving back can also be donating used props or costume pieces to a dance studio or a newbie performer, or extending a free service- such as graphic design or sewing- to someone within your community who needs it. It can be offering a scholarship at your dance school, or making sure you show up to support a special event…even if it’s just a student show! It can be going a little out of your way to drive a dancer you don’t already know home from a gig; that could wind up as a friendship or an artistic collaboration. It can be attending shows other than those you are involved with, offering words of support to a nervous baby dancer, and being an enthusiastic audience member. Do what you can.

Whatever you give to your community will always come back to you in some way…often when you need it most.

Monday, March 5, 2012


We all hope for great introduction before we hit the stage, right?

Well, in order for this to happen, the dancer has to supply one- but that also means the dancer has to write up an intro to give to the emcee. Strangely enough, many dancers dread undertaking this simple task. Whether it happens to be the last thing they think of when preparing for a gig, or that the performer is unable to toot their own horn, many dancers don’t even think of including an introduction along with their music, no matter how many shows they do… And then when the emcee mispronounces their stage name, omits facts, or gives an intro completely unrelated to the piece, then she get stressed out… which is certainly not a fantastic way to begin a show!

The first common mistake dancers make is not submitting an introduction, or to hand in an intro that has only the most bare bones basic information- like the dancer’s name and the title of the piece.

If the dancer hasn’t handed in any sort of information on her piece, odds are that the emcee will probably be at a complete loss for what to include in the introduction. Though there are some very professional emcees out there, who not only delight the audience but can make any performer sound amazing, many emcees may have wound up with the job because they are volunteering at the event, or simply because they speak well. This does not mean that they know who is performing, or what the specific dance pieces are about.

You may not be aware of this, but the emcee has the hardest job in any show.

The emcee is on stage more than any of the performers, and is basically working all night! Even if he or she has a photographic memory, there is NO WAY that they will remember little detail about every performer… or the number they will be doing that night. So when a dancer doesn’t hand in the necessary information, odds are that her intro will be curt and off-hand at best! Sure, someone who is a superstar or at least, a well-known headliner can expect an emcee to say something on the money about them and their performance…however, most professionals don’t leave this up to chance- without being asked, they routinely supply an introduction, as well as stage directions, such as “Bring the lights down, do the announcement, start the music, and I will enter onstage”. That way, everything is completely spelled out, and nothing is left to chance.

The second mistake dancers make is to furnish way too much information.

Nobody attending a wants to sit through an exhaustive, rambling introduction for a five-to-fifteen minute dance piece! By the time the second paragraph is finished, the audience is getting antsy; by the time the third paragraph is finished, you can bet people are rolling their eyes!

We’ve all suffered through that long-winded, self-important introductions- you know, the ones that sound like a Wikipedia page?

“ Miss Dancer comes from a fifth generation performing family and exhibited a precocious talent by the age of two…. At the age of four, she learned to love and excel at (insert any of the following: ballet, tap, jazz, baton twirling, stage combat, acrobatics etc.)

By the age of nine, she was (insert some long winded anecdote about: appearing at the State Fair, soloing in a recital, joining a production of “The Nutcracker”, featured in a Junior Beauty Contest, accepted at some prestigious dance school, etc.)

When she reached age sixteen, she was asked to (insert any or all of these options: appear on local television, sign a talent agency contract, go on a world tour, dropped out of school to study dance, etc.)

As an adult, she has performed for (list as many organizations as you can; mention as many z-list, unheard of soap opera stars as possible) as well as won recognition and acclaim by (write down the name of every teacher you have studied with, even if you only took one class with them; add a huge list of places you have performed, and make sure to include the name of every dance contest ever entered since pre-puberty even if an award wasn’t won)"

Ok, I know I’m being a bit mean spirited here, but come on! Can you say “TMI”?

Half the time, after such a long and illustrious intro, the dancer’s set seems like a letdown…. so don’t set yourself up for that!

A great introduction should be concise and to the point, furnishing pertinent information about you and/or your piece.

It should include your name, the style of dance you are about to perform- and possibly a short explanation about the style of dance you are performing, especially if you are dancing for the general public. Example: “Tonight, Miss Dancer will be performing a Thingamajig, the traditional folk dance of Some Very Obscure Lost Tribe From A Country You Have Never Heard Of”.

It should also contain one or two pertinent pieces of information, such as “Miss Dancer recently won first place at Some Outrageously Famous Dance Contest” and/or “Miss Dancer will be teaching Bla Bla Bla next Saturday afternoon at Some Nearby Studio”.

If you are a relative newbie, it is certainly fine to tell the audience that this is your first performance in a certain genre, or to thank your teacher for giving you the opportunity or to make some other acknowledgement, perhaps to the show’s headliner for inspiring you, or maybe even dedicating your piece to someone in the audience.

If you have an exotic stage name, spell it out phonetically so that the emcee doesn’t mangle it. Don’t assume that your emcee will immediately know how to pronounce your name!

On my introductions, I always write in large letters:

Princess Farhana
(Pronounced “ Far—HAH—nah”)

And I do the same for the title of the song I’m using- especially if I want the emcee to mention it, and it’s in a foreign language!

If I’m doing a dance that tells a story, I don’t like to give the entire plot away to the audience- I usually will just put a sentence or two alluding to what the dance is about.

It’s also fine to include something cute or humorous.

Once when I was performing at Gothla USA, I was kind of at a loss for something to say about my dance piece. It was a retro piece, and it certainly wasn’t Gothic by any stretch of the imagination. But since most of the people at that event already knew who I was, and were familiar with my dancing, I went for trying to get a giggle out of the Dark Audience, and included this in my introduction:

“Most people who know her think Princess Farhana is way more scary offstage than she is onstage!”

It worked, it got a laugh.

If you really can’t think of anything else to put down on your introduction, it’s always gracious to thank the event producer for having you, or let the audience know it’s an honor to be performing for them.

So remember: your introduction should contain pertinent info, and be short, sweet and to the point.

Now, go and git ‘em!

Photo: Joel Gray as “The Emcee” in the 1972 film “Cabaret”

Friday, March 2, 2012


I was so sad when I learned about the passing of Davey Jones, the lead singer for The Monkees.

Some of my best childhood memories involve The Monkees…like standing with my little brother Charlie in our tree fort, ardently playing air guitar on broken badminton rackets, singing ( ok, I really meant yelling!) along to “The Last Train From Clarksville”.

The other day, I heard The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” on the radio.

Not only is it one of my favorite pop songs, it got me thinking about the concept of really paying attention to daydreams. Daydreams are not just whimsy- I seriously think that what they really are is something very important that your heart and soul is pointing out to you.

I heartily believe in pursuing your dreams, no matter how unachievable or unreal they may seem. Even if you do not succeed in everything you set out to do, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you gave it your all in trying...and just think of how much fun you'll have along the way! And your dreams might just come true...I know many people whose dreams did come true, and I know lots of of mine have, too!

I’m big on the pop culture references today, but as the song from “The Rocky Horror Show” says, “Don’t Dream It, Be It”!

Here’s some inspirational quotes on dreaming…please refer to them when you have a dream that is so far-fetched you think you might have really gone insane:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
Mark Twain

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined."
Henry David Thoreau

“None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“ Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back: a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”
Anais Nin

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Walt Disney