Friday, June 29, 2012


Because of their very nature, overuse injuries sometimes known as RS or Repetitive Stress injuries end to creep up; you might not even notice you’re until you’ve already been injured for quite some time. This type of injury can affect almost any area of the body. Overuse injuries are cumulative, occurring when a certain part of your body gets tired and over-worked from constantly functioning at a certain level of physical stress. Because of the number of repetitive moves dancers make (Hello…Technique drills?) we are quite vulnerable to overuse injuries.

Examples of non-dance related overuse injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow, but for dancers, the majority of our injuries tend to occur in the hips or lower back, the knees, ankles and feet.

Many overuse injuries arise from improper posture and body alignment- most dancers typically have one side that is stronger than the other. Having a history of past injuries that weren’t rehabilitated correctly is another culprit. Other causes of overuse injuries are the frequency and duration of classes, rehearsals and shows, inadequate warm-ups and cool downs, or environmental factors such as dancing on concrete floors or in chilly studios. For belly dancers, typical overuse injures include- but is not limited to- tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons) bursitis (inflammation of the bursa, the small fluid-filled sacs which cushion and lubricate tendons, ligaments and joints) muscle strains and tears and sprains. There is even a possibility that you could get carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis in the wrists from playing finger cymbals! Burlesque dancers are at risk for most of the same injuries, but might be more at risk from tendon or muscle strain due to wearing high heels which don't offer a lot of support.

If you suspect you may have an overuse injury, look for these factors:

Constant, low-grade pain that gets worse during classes, rehearsals and performances

A sense of physical discomfort that persists even when you are fully rested

A postural change such as favoring one side of the body

Loss of stamina or endurance

Strength and flexibility issues

Intermittent pain in just one area

Numbness and tingling that comes and goes after certain movements are made

Overuse injuries can be treated in a variety of ways. To start off with, you will want to employ R. I.C.E ( which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) and take an over-the counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprophen. Massage may help, too.

If a few days of rest don’t seem to lessen your symptoms, make an appointment with sports medicine doctor or chiropractor and get an evaluation. Depending on the outcome of the examination you may be ordered to rest further, and/or receive a prescription for physical therapy, which will strengthen the area around your injury and help prevent recurrence.

If your pain is extreme, you may be given a course of steroid pills to take, or be given a local injection to reduce swelling and inflammation. If nothing else works, surgery might have to be considered. If this is the case, find out as much as you possibly can about your injury and get a second opinion! If surgery is absolutely necessary, ask your physician if you are a candidate for a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure.

Tips For Avoiding Dance Injuries

Focus on proper posture and technique at all times. If you aren’t at the point where you can tell what safe posture feels like, check yourself in the mirror or request that your instructor to watch and correct you. If you aren’t sure of the way a movement should be executed, ask your instructor.

Warm up and cool down properly. Before you start dancing in earnest, do a few minutes of light dancing or aerobic activity, then some light stretching. After you dance, take some time to cool down and then stretch a little more intensely, to prevent lactic acid build-up.

Allow your body ample time to rest after classes, rehearsals and shows. Your body needs to repair and recover from your intense activity.

Stay well hydrated, eat properly, and get enough sleep. Injuries often occur when a dancer is exhausted.

Don’t make dance your only activity. Many injuries can be prevented if you are strong and flexible. Cross training with something that compliments your dancing, like yoga, Pilates or strength training will work different muscle groups and reduce the risk of overuse injury.

Wear shoes during class, rehearsals and at your gigs. Proper foot wear will support and protect your precious feet. Burlesque dancers should consider wearing ballroom or character shoes instead of "off-the-rack " high heels. Also, in the case of belly dancers - you may not like wearing shoes because it doesn't look “traditional”, but it sure beats picking glass out of your feet!

Dance overuse injuries can be daunting and evening frightening, but if you take care of them as close to the onset as possible by getting rest and following your doctor’s instructions to the letter you, should either be able to make a full recovery, or recover sufficiently to be able to resume dancing with a few modifications.

Protect and care for your body vigilantly, and you ought to be able to have a healthy dance practice for years.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Correct posture is just as important for belly dancing as it is any other form of dance. The right posture will not only create the illusion that you look longer and leaner onstage, but will enable a greater range of motion in your hips, make your isolations look cleaner and more distinct, and prevent knee and back pain. Because of the many movements of the pelvis and torso, it’s imperative that your posture is correct and safe so that you protect your lower back.

These basic rules for posture apply to any type of belly dancing, so let’s start from the bottom up:

Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, or just under your shoulders. Your toes should be facing forward, and you should have an even weight distribution on both feet, from the balls to the heels.

Keep your knees soft and pliable, they will function as shock absorbers, and the knees are also the place where many of the movements of the hips are initiated. Never lock your knees back, and don’t force them into a squat either. Aim for your knees to feel a little springy. Keep the glutes and quads relaxed.

For safe belly dance posture, your pelvis needs to be in a neutral position. This is achieved by pulling your tailbone down ever so slightly towards the floor, lengthening the spine. Let your pelvic bone lift just a little bit towards your navel, which will draw your tailbone downwards. It is important not to let the back arch, and also not to over-tuck your pelvis, tilting it too far forward. The neutral position will protect your spine.

Once you have achieved a neutral pelvis, make sure the muscles in your abdomen are engaged. Lift your ribcage up, using your abs and the muscles in your back to keep this area lifted. Your ribcage should be positioned very slightly forward from your hips. The muscles in your upper back should feel engaged, but not clenched. Your chest should be open.

Keep your shoulders level, and pulled ever so slightly back and down. The back of your neck will be elongated, and your chin will be level with the floor.

This is safe and correct posture for belly dance. Notice that your center of gravity is fairly low, that the lower body is flexible, soft and almost bouncy, and that your upper body is elegant and uplifted.

Now that your body is aligned, extend your arms to the sides, with your hands on the same plane as the lower portion of your ribcage. Your arms should have energy in them, but not tension.

The elbows will be rotated ever so slightly towards the back of the room, so that your arms appear curved and rounded but not and sharply bent.

The wrists will be flat but have some play in them, the palms of your hands will be facing downwards, with the fingers arranged in a relaxed, aesthetically pleasing position.

For beginners, this entire set of mechanics may seem like an awful lot to keep track of… and it is, but over time, your posture will become instinctual. In class, your instructor should be monitoring your posture and reminding you to keep it correct.

If you have been studying for a while and are practicing on your own, continually check all these posture points and body alignment in the mirror. Initially, it is most important to remember to keep the knees soft and the pelvis neutral.

In the recent past, many dancers were taught to perform with knees that were overly bent, and an over-tucked pelvis- this position is not safe for your body!

Another thing to remember is that most people hold a vast amount of tension in their shoulders, so even if you have been dancing for a while, you may have to remind yourself over and over to stop hunching and to bring your shoulders down, which will also improve your arm carriage and your body lines in general.

Your hands may need a lot of work- most beginner’s hands do- and Lord knows mine did at first... but this is more a stylistic issue and much less critical than keeping your body alignment safe and neutral…pretty hands will come with time and practice!

Above all, your goal should be to keep your entire body aligned and ready to dance in the safest manner, protecting yourself from potential injury!


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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

CAIRO CARAVAN 2012: Dancers And Sailors And Ghosts...Oh, My!

Cairo Caravan is one of the largest- and oldest -belly dance festivals in America. For the past thirty five years, The Middle East Culture And Dance Association (known as MECDA) throws the gigantic party every year on the first weekend of June, with non-stop performances, workshops and a gala show… and over four thousand belly dancers, drummers, fans and aficionados in attendance.

Personally, I hold a large and very mushy soft spot in my heart for this event… back in the days when it was called Cairo Carnival, it was the first belly dance festival I ever attended.

The festival has taken place at many different venues over the decades, but for the past few years, thanks to MECDA president Blume Bauer, Cairo Caravan has made it’s home on board the grand ocean liner The Queen Mary, which is permanently at port in Long Beach, California. This unique location is perfect; not only are there plenty of ballrooms on board for the workshops and stages for the performances, there is the added advantage of participants being able to stay on board in the darling Art Deco cabins, many of them furnished with the ship’s original accoutrements. This adds a whole new dimension - or shall we say “ another dimension”- to the festivities, because The Queen Mary is seriously haunted! But more on that later…

The theme for Cairo Caravan 2012 was “ A Moment In Time”, which was just a teensy bit ironic, because this year, there was so much to do during the festival, I seriously doubt anyone had a free moment! I know I didn’t- and neither did any of the other headliners. In fact, some of them, I didn’t even get to see, on or off stage!

Cairo Caravan always offers a wide range of workshop instructors, from cabaret to tribal, from dancers and musicians extremely traditional to envelope-pushing postmodern. This year, CC featured cabaret artists Zahra Zuhair, DeVilla, Amara from Texas, Sandra (who was seven months pregnant) Penny Collins, and yogi/masseuse/dancer Lori Edwards. Fusionistas included Onca O’Leary and The Mezmer Society, Samantha Riggs, Marjahni Bella Morte, Sooz, and from Mexico, up and coming star Alejandra Escarcega, who dazzled everyone. Rounding out the line up were musician Raquy Danziger and Liron Peled of Raquy and The Cavemen, deejay Amar, and musician/dancer Karim Nagi, who doesn’t really fit into any genre unless you count “exceptionally talented” as a category.

Backstage, things were incredibly hectic and silly as usual; that’s always where the real show is. Liron from Raquy & The Cavemen warmed up his throat for singing by bellowing into a drum case while DeVilla tried not to get gold body paint all over her fellow performers. But, depending on how you look at it, things either rose- or sank- to a new level when all the lights went out backstage in the middle of the show. As volunteers valiantly tried to get the power back on, Karim somehow started everyone singing a rousing a Capella version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the pitch black, substituting the Arabic word “gallibaya” for “Galileo”. The song, getting so loud that it’s shocking the audience didn’t hear it, got almost to the end before the lights came back on! The unanimous vote backstage was that Karim needs to include this as a cover version on his next CD.

The parts of the “Moment In Time” gala show on Saturday that I did get to see were spectacular, what a display of amazing talent, all in a gorgeous Art Deco ballroom. Each act was so different; it was hard to look away. Zahra Zuhair was elegant, fluid and classical; Alejandra staggered the crowd with her power and flexibility, and Karim Nagi brought the house down with his outrageously fun stage presence and tireless, energetic dancing…all while playing spot-on tabla! DeVilla and her Isis-Siren-Sekhmet troupe did a really cool 1960’s period piece. The gals in her troupe completely hid her with their gold Isis wings, then revealed her, completely covered in metallic gold as she danced on top of a tabla, as a statue of Isis come to life! Sam Riggs is one of my favorite Bollywood dancers; she almost looks animatronic as she hops up and down, with incredible stage presence. Amara did a fusion piece with pre-planned audience participation: she got on social media and had a number of people bring flashlight to artistically light up the audience as she danced her way to the stage. My piece was a tribute to Egyptian Golden Age cinema, and also included a pre-planned surprise… to the delight of the crowd Karim joined me onstage for a live drum solo. Our rehearsal that morning had been fun, but onstage it felt electric. As a baby dancer, I cut my teeth dancing to live music in Arabic clubs, and I have to say that there’s still absolutely nothing like dancing live to a great drummer!

Cairo Caravan also featured non-stop free lectures and seminars on a wide range of dance –related topics, including everything from injury prevention to embroidering sheesha mirrors, to Arabic culture to reading Tarot cards. There were continuous shows on The World Of Wonders sideshow stage, the ShimmyThon competition (won by Turkish dancer Nilay Elgin) a Friday evening concert, and of course dozens of vendors.

A cool feature just started recently is Cairo Kids, an entire area deep in the ship's belly that was full of children’s activities, like arts and crafts and tyke-centric dance classes, all run by MECDA’s amazing staff of volunteers. I wandered through Cairo Kids a couple of times and the tots were having a blast- it seems so logical to have a safe and fun place for children to go to at a festival where ninety-five percent of the participants are female, but I think Cairo Caravan is the only festival to offer this!

Another thing MECDA offers is full and partial scholarships to their events, which is magnificent not just for those wishing to attend but being short on dollars, but also for building a healthy dance community. Again, more festivals should take a cue from this.

In sync with the “Moment In Time” theme, there were some spectacular highlights which focused on the history of Oriental dance in America.

First off, Los Angles-based dancer Suzanne McNeil - aka Jenza- organized an incredible Vintage Costume Fashion Show, which featured gorgeous hand-made creations created by dancers “back in the day” and modeled on a runway, to retro music. I had the pleasure of shimmying down the catwalk for this event, but also got a close-up view of these stunning works of art backstage…legendary dancer Helena Vlahos, who also modeled one of the costumes she made, constructed my two favorites, a golden serpent -embellished costume and a stunning blue and silver masterpiece. The intricate beadwork and attention to the tiniest details on her costumes was seriously mind-blowing: I have always bowed down to her as a performer, but she is a true artist in the design department as well!

The second historical event was the Q & A panel entitled Tales of The Golden Age Of The Night Club Dancer, featuring dancers from the 1960’s and the 1970’s, including Kamala Almanzar, Nabila, Tonya Chianis, Lee Ali (who runs the 1970’s Belly dance page on Facebook) Marguerite, and the afore-mentioned Zahra Zuhair, Helena Vlahos and Jenza. These women- many of them still actively continuing their performance careers, were not only full of knowledge and nostalgia, but also had the audience in stitches.

Lee Ali’s tales of the Philadelphia clubs where she danced as a teenager were hilarious. One story involved drunken Greek sailors brawling and throwing rocks outside a club, another was a long-winded and hysterical epic about a famous dancer who used typically used to hide on top of the commode in the ladies room to get out of doing her last set…until the night a bit of her costume hung down below the stall door and the club owner discovered her trick!

Another thing that makes Cairo Caravan so unique is the fact that many ghosts that call the Queen Mary home. 
The Queen Mary is considered by many to be one of the world's most haunted places. Forty-nine souls died under mysterious circumstances on board, and there are allegedly over 150 spirits in residence. Full apparitions in vintage clothing, clouds of colored mist and balls of light have been reported frequently, as well as scents and sounds, including clanging metal, rushing water, muffled screams, and ringing telephones… with no one on the other end of the line.

In 2010, I lead an all-belly dancer paranormal ghost tour on the ship, and I repeated that again this year as well. Before you go thinkin’ I’m some sort of nut, there’s plenty of history, lore, legend, and confirmed eyewitness sightings- not to mention videos to prove this point. Just ask any of the ship’s crew- there are even memorial/historical plaques placed around the winding corridors, where phenomena has occurred regularly, and been witness often, on many occasions. The ship’s staff used to keep it quiet, but more recently, have been prominently featuring the paranormal aspect as part of The Queen Mary's appeal and charm.

The ghost tour itself was cool, and a wonderful way to explore the creepiest parts of the grand ship- of which there are many. My two co-leaders were Samantha Riggs, a tall-ship sailor as well as dancer, who recited interesting historical maritime facts, and dancer Crystal Ravenwolf, who is a paranormal investigator in addition to her dancing- and she brought all her equipment along.

But the stuff that happened to me personally, at random times during my stay on the ship – all witnessed by other people- was what really blew my mind.

As Crystal and I rehearsed the ghost tour route during the daytime by ourselves, her equipment picked up numerous entities and an EVP recording of a voice saying “Major”- which was apropos considering that The Queen Mary had served as a troupe ship during World War Two.

That evening, as I prepared for the ghost tour, I was in my cabin by myself running the facts and anecdotes out loud, and as soon as I got to the part about a brutal wartime incident (where the ship’s cook had been stuffed into an oven in the galley and literally burned alive) the fire alarm went off! I almost hit the ceiling before dutifully leaving my cabin and filing outside, the way everyone else on board did. False alarm…. But for me, anyway, the timing was extremely odd.

Later on, when I finished the ghost tour, I tried to call my boyfriend since I hadn’t spoken to him all day. I dialed and it started to ring, then the screen on my iPhone came up like this:



I’d never seen any message like that before, and I’d had the phone for over a year. I showed it to the gals standing near me, and they too stared in disbelief.

As I was getting ready to turn in for the night, I saw a gigantic pearl on the floor of my cabin… that hadn’t been there just minutes before. Mystified, I rationalized that it had probably rolled into the center of the rug, but upon closer examination, the pearl was the decoration sitting on top of a six-inch long vintage hatpin. I put it on the bureau and went to sleep. The next morning, I asked my roomie Onca O’Leary if it was hers, thinking I’d seen something similar in her bouffant nest of dreads.

“Never seen it before...though I have five that are similar,” she said casually.

I ventured that it might’ve fallen out of her hair, at which point she showed me the five she had…which were safely tucked into a make up bag in her fully zipped, not-yet-un-packed suitcase.

“Well, here’s another one for you,” I said, handing it to her as I left for my classes.

Standing at the elevator, I happened to look down…and there was another pearl hat-pin at my feet!

That afternoon, two strange things happened at the Vintage Costume Fashion Show. The first was a cold draft in the dressing room; something that wouldn’t seem odd except for the fact that it was just in one spot, and there was no air conditioning vent or fans anywhere nearby. Since spirits sometimes manifest as cold spots, all the gals getting into costume back there kept making jokes about the voyeuristic ghost!

After I walked the runway, I went into the crowd for photo-ops…and as I took pictures, my camera-started smoking! Everyone close to me saw it, a thin but very visible stream of smoke was steadily issuing forth from my camera…. I guess the pix I was taking were smokin’ hot! The camera itself didn’t feel hot, and it didn’t affect the pictures or the camera itself. My friend tried to take a video, but though the smoke couldn’t be seen on video, though lots of people saw it as it happened.

Later that afternoon, walking to my cabin on one of the ship’s endless corridors, I stepped through an area of the hallway that fairly reeked of tuberose perfume. Suddenly, I realized that there was no one at all in the hall ahead of me, and since I was midship, no cabins on either side where the fragrance could be coming from. Slowly I turned around, and nobody was behind me, either. I walked a few paces forward and stepped out of the scented area, then realized that I may have been experiencing another manifestation of a spirit. Like a crazy bag lady, I walked around in a small square, sniffing avidly like a bloodhound on a trail. Self-consciously, I realized that someone might be watching me, so I had a paranoid look around to make sure that no one was! The smell was contained to one area, just a few feet in diameter! Hmmmm….

Anyway, the whole festival was over way too soon, and it was time to go home. This year was the best Cairo Caravan ever, but then I say that every year!

I’m urging you to think about attending next year, from May 31-June 2, 2013. I’ll be there again, and other confirmed instructors so far are Rosa Noreen and Amani Jabril.

And of course, the ghosts (who now know every word of an Arabized “Bohemian Rhapsody”) will be very happy to see you!

For more information on Cairo Caravan or any of MECDA’s other incredible events, such as the second professional Dancers Conference and Retreat in October 2012, please visit:


Golden Age- Karim & me backstage; Vintage Costume Fashion Show backstage: IrinaXara & Helena Vlahos; Madame Onca and "The Queen" herself; "Hey Sailor!" emcee Laura & me on The Red carpet before the Gala