Tuesday, January 31, 2012

DANCERS FEET





Dancers feet are scary.

If you haven’t seen them up close, you wouldn’t know this…like most of the general public, you’re completely deluded.

You probably think of a ballerina pirouetting in gleaming pale pink satin pointe shoes, or maybe a ballroom dancer gliding around the stage strappy metallic heels.

Possibly you see a Rockette in fishnets and pristine character shoes, a sassy burlesque gal strutting around in darling vintage baby doll pumps, a street dancer in unlaced tennies or a barefoot belly dancer with a perfect pedicure, a mehndi design fetchingly winding up her arch?

Get real! That’s way off mark.

Dancers feet routinely take a beating, and it shows. The feet of any professional dancer or avid dance student-no matter what age or experience level, are full of blisters, thick calluses, split skin, corns, and bunions. If the dancer works barefoot, the way many styles of dance require, then you can also add “filthy” onto the list, because even when a barefoot dancer scrubs and pumices her feet, they still appear dirty, because of all the calluses.

The plain truth is, most dancers have feet that are undeniably frightening- in fact; they give most zombie movies a run for their money!

I have dancers feet- oh, you bet I do.

Before I started dancing, I went barefoot habitually, so I already had the calluses and dirty-looking thing goin’ on, but as much as I liked feeling the grass or sand underfoot, I was never too fond of my feet. They served their purpose well, but they were never what anyone would call aesthetically pleasing.

My feet are small and square, almost as wide as they were long. I have the feet of my ancestors: tough little dogs that had apparently been designed for standing hours on end in a soggy Ukrainian field, harvesting a meager crop of potatoes.

I used to joke that the appearance of my feet was akin to the way the bottom of The Coward Lion’s costume looked in “The Wizard Of Oz”: oddly- shaped, boxy and grubby.

When I first began to dance, I felt even felt a bit of foot-shame.

Like most civilians, and many dance novices, I thought that dancers were supposed to have beautiful, dainty, high-arched feet that matched the preternatural beauty of their bodies in motion…and mine just didn’t live up to the fantasy. Boy, was I wrong…. and I heaved a sigh of relief, feeling as though I had just joined a wonderful secret society, a club where everyone’s feet looked like they’d been through a war! I no longer had to make excuses for my battered, banged up tootsies- I now had an excuse, I was a dancer! My messy-looking feet had finally brought me home.

When I started performing, I made every effort possible to have my feet look presentable in performance…so I could preserve the glamourous illusion for the sake of my audience. I’d sleep with my feet slathered in Vaseline, encased in a pair of thick socks. I obsessively carried nail polish in my gig bag so I could touch up my ghetto- looking toes before hitting the stage.

I got frequent pedicures at my Korean-run nail salon, but it was kind of pointless. It was like when you see a car driving around with a totally smashed- in bumper that the driver has tried to repair with duct tape…making the damage just seem even more visible.

I always felt a little nervous going to my nail salon, like I was some kind of an imposter trying to pass an identity test, because most of the other patrons weren’t dancers, and they all seemed to have perfectly groomed, impossibly soft and pampered feet.

Finally, at the salon, I found Anna, a nice lady who did great work at repairing my feet and making them seem almost human. Though her English was toddler-level at best, Anna was always cheerful as she’d scour away the layers of dead skin. Plus, she gave great massages that went all the way up to the knees.

I tried explaining to her that I was a dancer, but I don’t think Anna ever comprehended what I was saying…. she’d just smile and nod. But she intuitively understood which calluses needed to stay and which needed to be destroyed. She’d bend over the wreckage that was my feet, working diligently and keeping up a constant, happy murmuring chatter in Korean with the other technicians.

Once in a while, Anna would wave the nail polish I’d selected and look me directly in the eye, beaming at me and whispering,

“Ni’ colo’ … men like!”

I always tipped her sumptuously, and truly believed we had a rapport.

Because I didn’t want to offend her in any way, I’d taken to trying to do a bit of damage control before each appointment, trying to make myself “presentable”. Pre- professional pedicure, neurotically soaking, scrubbing and pumicing my feet at home, trying valiantly to get them up to the level of the sorority girls or stay-at-home-mom’s feet that I felt Anna was used to dealing with.

One day, I had a pedicure appointment directly after a class I was teaching. Since I wasn’t at home and couldn’t do my usual pre-pedi cleansing ritual, I reached into my dance bag to grab a baby-wipe, and at least get rid of some of the surface grime.

To my horror, the package was empty.

By this time I was already in the car, and also running a bit behind. I wasn’t late yet, but I would be if I went back into the studio to rinse off, or to stop and purchase more baby wipes. I blithely made the decision to show up with my feet as-is for my appointment; after all, I was Anna’s regular customer, we knew each other…. she’d understand!

As I hurried into the salon, Anna was already set up at her station, waiting for me.

“Hi Prince’!” She said in her low, polite voice, “You late… you forge’ appoin’me’ with Anna?”

Contritely, I explained that I had just come from class, kicked off my flip-flops and stuck my feet in the tub. To add to my shame, the water immediately turned a muddy dark grey. There were actual specks of studio-floor dirt and debris floating on the surface.


Feeling guilty, I had an urgent need to address the situation and apologize for it, so I confided my predicament to Anna in a conspiratorial tone.

“I’m sooo sorry,” I began, “I just came from dance class, and my feet are… uh…well, they’re kind of dirty.”

She abruptly cut me off in mid-sentence, her voice rising to a decibel I’d never once heard her reach previously.

“OOOOOOOOOOH, PRINCE’ ! ”, she bellowed in an accusatory tone so loudly that every manicurist and patron in the salon whipped around to stare at me in disgust,


“YOU FEET ALWAY TERRIBLE!”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DANCERS BACKSTAGE RITUALS PART EIGHT: MICHELLE MANX




Like many actors, some dancers work by really getting into character before their shows. Immersing themselves into the role they will be playing onstage is paramount to turning in a believable performance. Michelle Manx is one of these dancers…but she doesn’t just practice this theory before shows, she lives it!

Michelle is the originator of “Pin-Up Belly Dance”, a unique type of alternative fusion, which she herself invented. Pulling from her varied background of Tribal, Bharata Natyam, Burlesque, Yoga and traditional Oriental Dance, and tempered with her academic background of anthropology, Michelle has brought the glamour of Vargas and Petty girls to life within the world of belly dance. With her petite frame, porcelain doll face and psychedelic flame red hair, Michelle’s everyday look could be described as “Jessica Rabbit meets Fatchancebellydance”. A sought-after pin-up model and fashion icon with a bubbly personality, she has modeled for many clothing companies, and appeared at tattoo conventions and rock and roll events… but her first love is belly dance.


Growing up with a belly-dancing mom, Michelle began ballet and taps at the age of six, and has never stopped dancing. In 2002, she discovered the world of belly dance, and found her calling. She has extensively studied both raqs sharqi and Tribal styles, with teachers from around the globe, and has been certified in both the Suhaila and Jamilla Salimpour formats.


In 2008, Kajira Djoumahna invited Michelle to teach a workshop based on her brand of Pin-Up Belly dance at Tribal Fest, and she has not looked back. Currently, she is also the producer of Tribal Belly Dance Camp in her native Texas, which will take place this year with special guest Amy Sigil of Unmata.

I have known Michelle for years and am always stuck not just by her beauty but by her dedicted and artistic approach to life. Not only that, she is tons of fun!


This is the way Michelle prepares for her shows, in her own words:

“Recently, my performance day ritual has drastically changed. My old method consisted of a relaxing day (typically of lounging around the house), prior to the performance. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that a day of rest actually leads to an ultimate build-up of anxiety associated with the performance. I’ve found that if I spend my part of my day at my day job or dance classes/workshops, prior to a performance, I tend to have a more relaxed feeling on stage, which of course, leads to a better connection with my audience. As long as I have prepared for the performance, this method tends to work well for me.

It is imperative that I have set aside enough time to prepare my hair and makeup for the performance, especially if I am planning to wear my hair in complex styles, such as Victory Rolls. You just never know when those rolls may decide to not cooperate! Therefore, if I give myself enough time to allow for hair mishaps, I'll have enough time for last minute yoga stretches.

If my pre-performance day does not consist of classes or workshops, I enjoy dressing up in a cute vintage dress. This ritual helps me ease into my stage persona. If the weather is humid, I'll show up to the dressing room in a Rosie rag over my hot rollers. In these instances, I have to arrive at the venue early, but this method has rescued my hair from becoming frizzy before I take the stage.

In cases of festival or seminar appearances, I typically train with the guest instructors all day, prior to the show. After four- six hours of classes, I’m way too exhausted, yet exhilarated, to focus on those moments of pre-show anxiety. In addition, I often feel excited that I've made it through a challenging day of workshops, which always boosts my spirits and performance confidence levels.”

-MICHELLE MANX

Michelle is the producer of “TRAMP”, TRIBAL DANCE CAMP, in association with Bahaia and HOT Texas Seminars. This year’s camp will be April 12-15, 2012 at Vista Camps, Ingraham, Texas. This year’s special guest is Amy Sigil of Unmata

For info, visit: http://www.pin-upbellydance.com/index.php

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

COSTUME HINTS FOR RESALE VALUE





Some of us make our costumes, others buy them, and most of us sell them… so here are a couple of fabricating, storage and alteration tips that’ll keep your costumes in good condition and open to a range of sizes, should you decide to sell them.

If you make your own costumes, always buy a little more than you’ll need of the trimming and embellishments you’re using- a few extra inches of pre-strung fringe, some spare crystals or beads, a couple of “just in case” appliqu├ęs or feathers. Also, save scraps of the costume’s base material, too. That way, if you-or somebody else- has to replace anything on the costume, you’ll have a perfect match on hand. Pass these extras on to the costume’s next owner and she’ll love you for it!

This concept also applies to other areas of the costumes you make, too. If your costume can fit a variety of sizes, it’ll have better re-sale value. So think about making your straps a little longer than you need, and tucking the excess into the lining of your bra. That way, it can be let out- or taken in, as the case may be- to fit someone whose size and shape is slightly different than yours. Also, if you have a pre-made costume and take anything off of it, be sure to save it for the new owner as well.


You can use the same concept when you are hemming skirts you make yourself. Create a hem that’s a little deeper than you need, so that the garment can be let out to fit someone who is taller than you are.


If you need to add extra padding to the bra of a pre-made costume, don’t butcher the costume’s lining. Instead, add your pads over the lining of the bra, then recycle and cut up an old t-shirt (in a similar or matching shade) and sew it over the pads, directly onto the lining. This way, the pads won’t slip, the original costume will remain pristine, and you’ll have a comfy and absorbent liner for your bra. If you don’t have an old t-shirt that matches the costume, use craft felt. This holds up well, is inexpensive and absorbent, plus an extra bonus is that it doesn’t need to be turned under or hemmed- just cut it to your desired shape and sewn it in place.

When making alterations on the inside of a costume, use thread that contrasts with the costume itself- say pink thread on a black costume, or green thread on an orange costume. Why? These alterations will never be seen by the audience, and when you- or the costume’s new owner- needs to adjust the costume, the stitches will be super-easy to see, and will make the task that much easier.



Keep silica sachets or canisters in your costume bags at all times to absorb moisture and keep the costumes fresh and dry. If you have to pack up quickly at a gig, the silica will start to work immediately, attacking the moisture until you get home and can unpack, allowing your costume to air-dry overnight.

Where do you get these silica products? Simple- just recycle them! Silica mini-canisters and gel packs are everywhere- nowadays, they’re tucked into vitamin and prescription drug containers, inside shoeboxes, purses, and many types of dried foods, like rice or oatmeal. Save them, they work wonders for your costumes.

More costume hints coming soon!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

YOUR DANCE TEAM: SPORTS MEDICINE PROFESSIONALS


A late Happy New Year to you...welcome to my first post of 2012.

We all make New Year's Resolutions-and some we actually even keep!

But seriously, as a dancer, there is nothing more important than your overall health and physical well-being. Your body is your instrument, and it needs to stay in tune in order to perform properly.

So, for 2012, I'm proposing that we all make a resolution to get a working dance team in place.

By dance team, I don't mean a troupe- I’m referring to the variety of sports medicine professionals who keep your body- which is your main means of expression- in optimal running order. Usually, we don't think about this sort of thing until we have an emergency situation! Now's the time to change that.

Like athletes, we dancers put a huge amount of strain on our bodies… and most of us also have an extremely high pain tolerance. Unlike mere “civilians”, we are so driven by what we do that we also have a preternatural disposition to keep on working in spite of our injuries and the resulting pain. Some injuries are incurred from accidents and others from exhaustion or over-use, but any way you cut it, injuries suck!

Most professional athletes have a team that keeps them healthy and able-bodied, and as a dancer, you are essentially an athlete. Like any athlete, you will undoubtedly need sports medicine treatment at some point in your career. Basically, sports medicine is the treatment and prevention of injuries related to exercise.

Though you may not have the big bucks budget that a pro basketball player does, you do need to think ahead and anticipate what professional services your body might need in the future.

Your team should be composed of a number of sports medicine professionals with whom you have a working relationship based upon trust. The members if your team, even if you do not see them regularly, should have an understanding of what you do and the demands that you make on your body as well as what you need in terms of overall health.

On my sports medicine team, there are a couple of people I see regularly, which is at least once a month- my chiropractor and massage therapist. I’ve been working with both of them for years. If it wasn’t for them, I swear I’d be down on all fours howling in pain! They’re both familiar with my body and all it’s quirks (a big hello to all of my hyper-mobile joints!) and all of my old injuries. It’s gotten to the point where either my chiropractor or my masseur can take one look at me… and without even laying a hand on me, know where my body is off-balance.

Both of them are fully aware that I am a professional dancer with a demanding schedule, which includes hours of dancing a day plus extensive travel. Because of this, if I have an emergency, or I’m only in town for a day, they will always make room for me in their busy schedules.

My team also includes a physical therapist, who has gotten me through some serious injuries-including six herniated discs which were the result of a rear-end auto collision that occurred in 2009. Knock on wood, I don’s see him nearly as often as the other two, but he’s there in case I need him! Same with my acupuncturist.

Your team can include physical therapists, chiropractors; massage therapists, acupuncturists, personal trainers, nutritionists, Pilates or yoga instructors, performance coaches…go ahead and count in your manicurist or hair dresser if you want to! Your team members should provide services that keep you feeling robust and ready to work, and of course, everyone’s needs are unique.

Do a bit of proactive homework before you actually need any of these services. It’s a great idea to ask around and get recommendations from other dancers whose opinions you trust.

Once you have some likely prospects, introduce yourself by phone or email, explain your needs, say you are “shopping around”, and see what they have to offer, check out the prices, appointment availability, and general policies. That way, if you happen to sustain an injury, need to work on a specific area of dance, or just would love a relaxing massage, you won’t have to call your friends in desperation or troll the internet looking for whatever you need, you can simply call and make an appointment.


How often you work with your team is up to you; it might be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or “as needed” - but the idea is that you have your team in place, so that in case of an emergency, they are there when you need them!

Unfortunately, some of these services are not always covered by insurance and can be expensive, but if you stop to consider that all of this relates to your physical well being, (which in turn reflects on your ability to dance and sustain your career) you will realize that the money will be well spent. Determine your needs, and make absolutely sure to find a competent practitioner who is licensed!

Here are just a few basic types of health services that will keep your body tuned up:

Massage Therapy
There are many types of massage, but in general, a massage therapist works the muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments, joints and connective tissue to keep your body functioning well. Massage can aid in the body’s natural healing process and promote relaxation and wellbeing. Massage can be gentle or vigorous, depending on what type you get- a sports massage or Shiatsu is vastly different than a Swedish massage. Some people like deeper work, others prefer gentle strokes. Massage therapists often work out of doctor’s offices, health clubs, and spas. Some do house calls, others do not.


Chiropractors

Chiropractors are licensed primary care physicians, and will perform a full intake exam before any treatment for your current complaint or injury gets underway. Chiropractors focus on the patient’s health and musculoskeletal body structures. They treat misaligned bones, joints and spinal vertebrae, which can cause problems like chronic head and neck aches, back pain, bad posture and nerve impingements.

The theory behind chiropractic medicine is to keep the body balanced, and chiropractors maintain the patient’s balance through adjustments to the structures of the body (most often to the spine) by gently manipulating the patient’s body manually. By adjusting the skeleton, the body will be able to heal naturally as it returns to it’s own balance.

Chiropractors often use other treatment modalities such as ultrasound treatment, heat or cold packs, electronic muscle stimulation, or the Activator, a rubber-tipped metal instrument that manipulates joints and vertebrae. If a chiropractor believes a patient needs an X-Ray or MRI, they will make a referral to the appropriate facility. Chiropractors do not prescribe drugs or perform surgery, but can refer patients to doctors who do.


Physical Therapists

Physical Therapists are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat injuries or an illness that inhibits individuals from participating in the functional activities of their everyday lives. Just some of the injuries they care for are fractures and sprains, injuries of the back and neck, arthritis, and repetitive stress injuries.

A Physical Therapist is often referred to the patient by another healthcare provider, and often works in tandem with the referring physician to develop a plan of treatment and rehabilitation. Physical Therapists practice in private offices, outpatient facilities, fitness centers and hospitals. A physical therapist will fully examine a patient to ascertain what needs to be done to restore function, reduce pain and improve mobility. Some of the techniques used in physical therapy include supervised and at-home therapeutic and strengthening exercises, assistive and adaptive equipment, spinal traction, massage, ultrasound, and electrotherapeutic devices.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine treatment involving the insertion of thin needles into the body at certain meridians or points to relieve pain, treat diseases and promote general health. There are many types of acupuncture, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean styles. Stemming from the concepts of traditional Oriental medicine, the general theory behind acupuncture is that bodily functions are regulated by a flowing energy-like entity referred to as chi. By inserting needles into specific points, acupuncture practitioners believe that the energy flow will rebalance, stimulating nerves, muscles and connective tissue. The stimulation of the needles also appears to increase blood flow and boost the activity of the body’s natural painkillers. Just some of the maladies acupuncture is beneficial for are sports injuries and muscle strain, nerve pain, chronic pain management, menstrual problems and allergies.

An acupuncturist will ascertain a patient’s needs in many ways- through inquiring about all of the patient’s bodily functions including medical history, digestion and elimination, sleep patterns, and sensory function. They also take note of body type, pulse, posture, movement, the tone of the skin and luster of the hair, and assess the patient’s tongue.

Acupuncture does not hurt, which is surprising to most people. If there is any pain at all, it may occur when the acupuncturist is manipulating the needles into place, but that usually only lasts for a couple of seconds. Acupuncture treatments are generally very relaxing, but some patients may experience a bit of discomfort stemming from remaining absolutely still while the needles are in the body.


Accidents happen and injuries are inevitable...but in 2012, let's all resolve to be better prepared for them!