Tuesday, October 30, 2012


  Ever received voice mails like these?

 “Hi!  I need to talk to you…. Bye!”

“When is the class?”

"I can’t make it to the _______”  (rehearsal, gig, audition, or ??)

 “ Call me, it’s important!”

  “What time is the show?”

 I’m pretty sure you have, and sadly, I’m also reasonably sure you’ve probably left messages like this as well.  

These messages usually come in on the day of a show, when someone is supposed to be subbing a gig for you, or just before a hectic workshop weekend.

 Whether for a performer or an event producer, troupe director, stage manager or venue owner, these messages are   enough to send  a normal, healthy  person’s  blood pressure through the roof!

 The somewhat grim reality is that most of us dancers are so focused on dancing and on our own performances that we don’t stop and think about effective business communications!

 All of the messages above have these things in common:

 The person leaving the message is not identifying herself and expects that the recipient will automatically know who is leaving the message

 No concrete information is given as to what the message refers to

 No date or time is left on the message

There is no number or email address left, so the recipient may not be able to answer back

  So how do  we learn   how to communicate effectively?

 Do not assume that the  recipient knows who you are, or how to get in touch with you.

 Always leave your name as well as the date and time you called.  Start the message with your contact information, and repeat it at the end of the message, slowly and clearly.

  Make your message short and to the point, but always be extremely specific   in what   you are referring to.

  If you are talking about a class, a gig, rehearsal, workshop or whatever… refer to it by date, time and by the name of the event.

If you are going to be late for something, let the recipient know whether you mean you’ll be tardy by ten minutes or two hours.   If you have a flat tire or some other emergency, state   the facts in a brief, succinct manner and also offer an Estimated Time Of Arrival, even if that might mean you will not be there at all!

If you cannot attend a certain class or  time on a workshop weekend, make sure to specify which class or show you are referring to. Chances are, there are multiple events going on   during the course of the event. 

  Merely saying that a message is “important” can have a wide range of meanings.

What is important to you may not be  something earth-shattering to the person you are communicating with- or it might be a major game changer!  Juicy gossip is not important… the fact that your brand new costume looks amazing is not important.

  Remember, “important” can refer to anything from  “ I forgot   the matching head band we’re all supposed to wear” to  “I’m in the emergency room because I just broke my ankle!”

  For certain information needed on the day of the event, refer to websites or previous emails before calling the producer or stage manager.

 Remember, most of this information is probably already available- read the “fine print” on the performer emails or   do some research on the web before causing panic for a stage manager or an event producer…they are trying to do their job while fielding   a number of insignificant, time-wasting calls such as yours. Yes, I actually said that!  Don’t make their lives a living hell by causing unnecessary stress.

Don’t leave anybody high and dry… if you cannot show up for some reason-offer a solution in your message.

 If you need to miss a club or restaurant gig, supply the name or names and contact information of a suitable substitute performer in your message.

If you are a principle in a show, as a professional, you need to   be there, unless it is truly impossible.   Do not make a producer or club manager   replace you at the very last moment unless you are having a bona fide emergency.    Being stranded in an out-of-state airport is an emergency; having a headache is not. 

If you need to get your music in but cannot email it, make sure to send a CD in well ahead of the time it’s supposed to be there. Don’t make the producer or stage manager chase you down.

  By remembering these important tips, you’ll have   much better communication skills, and through your consummate professionalism, will make yourself beloved to whomever you are calling… which of course, will lead to more gigs for you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


  This  is part fifteen of a series I am doing on  the backstage rituals of well-kown belly dancers...  today's post spotlights my friend Raksanna, who has the project of a lifetime  coming to fruition on November 3, 2012...

Raksanna is an amazing bundle of awesomeness.  Though I’d known about her and followed her career, we first officially met in 2009 in Cairo, at the Ahlan WA Sahlan Festival.  For some reason, maybe it was fate, we seemed to be on the same schedule, both workshop-wise and jet lag-wise, and we just kept bumping into each other.
We’d always seem to meet in Hanan’s costume atelier, and smile at each other kinda pie-eyed over cups of steaming hot mint tea, valiantly trying to form comprehensible sentences. When we got over our jetlag, we began having conversations in earnest and   I realized that not only was Raksanna a great performer, but also a truly warm, funny and intelligent person.  She is also driven and ambitious- she always has a lot going on. Aside from teaching and performing, she writes for many dance magazine, has been featured on many belly dance DVD’s and tours the world.

Though she lives in Chicago, she has taught for the past four years at the Ahlan WA Sahlan festival in Cairo, where we keep seeing each other for our once-a-year date!

One of the things we love to do   at the Mena House’s Khan Al Khalili coffee shop is pig out on koshary, sip some wine and discuss our various goals and projects…and for Raksanna, one of her projects has just fast-forwarded into reality!  She has just written and released a book called “Confessions Of A Belly Dancer: Secrets Of The Hieroglyph”, can be purchased here: www.lulu.com/raksanna.

 Not only that, it’s been adapted for the stage, and co-produced by legendary Egyptian dance master Momo Kadous!  “Confessions Of A Belly dancer will come the stage next week  on Saturday, November 3, 2012 at the Paramount Theater, Copley Stage in Aurora, a western suburb of Chicago.  Featuring an international cast of eighteen members, the show, which features music by Dr. Samy Farag, will be touring in 2013.

  Here is what Raksanna has to say in her own words,  about preparing to go onstage:

“As a dancer, I believe the ability to bring music to life on the canvas of our bodies is a very special gift from God. Each time we have an audience, we have an opportunity to share that gift and uplift the people who come to spend time with us.

We never know what the people in the audience are facing – perhaps they had to choose between paying the electric bill and buying a ticket, just to escape the stress of life for a brief moment; perhaps they just had a huge fight with their loved ones; maybe they just received a promotion – we never know. Before I perform, whether as a soloist or with my team, I always pray and ask God to allow the Universal Spirit of love flow through me and touch each audience member on the soul level, leaving them uplifted and happier than before they walked in the door. I also thank God for the special gift of being able to dance.

Then, two deep breaths … and I dance my way to the stage.
And on the evening of November 3, my team will gather in a circle, hold hands and give thanks for the opportunity to touch the audience and ask for the Universal Spirit to flow through each of us – then, we’ll zagahreet as loud as we can … and take the stage by storm!”

 For more information on “Confessions Of A Belly Dancer”- either the book or the November 3, 2012 shows-and the workshops she’s hosting with Momo Kadous on November 1 & 2, please visit http://www.raksanna.com/  

Photo:  Radiant Raksanna in a costume by Mahmoud Mahmoud, at The Mena House, Cairo in 2011.  I'm not entirely sure.... but I think I took this picture!

Thursday, October 18, 2012


 Driving The Saudis is an incredible memoir by actress/producer Jayne Amelia Larson.

 The book, which was just released on October 16, 2012, first came to my attention via an email from the author herself- she wanted to hire me to belly dance at one of her book signing events in Los Angeles!  I couldn’t do the date, so I sent another dancer, but I did request an advanced copy   to review, thinking it would be an interesting read. Boy, was I right on the money- this book is a page-turner! I devoured it in one sitting.

 Even the information on the book’s cover is intriguing- here’s a sample:

When the Saudi royal family vacationed in Los Angeles, they hired Jayne Amelia Larson, an actress struggling to make ends meet, to be their personal chauffeur. She’d heard stories of the Saudis’ outrageously generous gratuities and figured that several weeks at their beck and call might be worth her time. But when the family arrived via their private jet with an entourage of forty and millions of dollars in cash, Jayne Amelia realized she might be getting into more than she bargained for...
Based on the author’s successful one-woman stage show, the story depicts a vivid portrait of the Saudi royals as few ever get to see them.”

 I have danced for various members of the Saudi Royal Family over the years, and I never quite got over the sheer opulence. I fondly (and greedily) remember the days back in the 1990’s when Saudi Royalty was present at shows I was doing at Arabic clubs: it became almost dangerous to perform, because there was so much crisp, fresh-from-the-bank cash on the parquet floor that dancing was literally like ice-skating on the bills! For one private party gig, I was picked up in a white stretch limo and brought to a mansion in Santa Barbara   (an hour and a half north of Los Angeles) to perform. At another gig, a Saudi  “scout” was sent out to video tape a show I was doing at an Arabic club before I was hired… and this was back when no “normal” person owned a video camera!  At that particular event, I remember   the moments before my show spent mentally totting up the amount of money that was probably spent on floral arrangements alone (not to mention the priceless antiques!) and realizing that it amounted to probably more than I made in the course of two and a half or three years. There were Arabian antiques everywhere, and the women I danced for were dripping in jewels and Dolce & Gabbana custom-made couture.

 So anyway, I figured this book would reflect some of that glamour, and it did, in spades…but it also shows a decadent, darker side that most people don’t have privy to.

  Within this realm, the Royal entourages of relatives, staff and hangers-on, all members are more than aware of their position and status- and are constantly scrambling to keep their status intact. The inter-personal relationship dynamics and the insight into human nature, both good and bad, are absolutely fascinating.

 There is a hair dresser who is a holy terror, spoiled teenage princesses who are addicted to In-And-Out-Burger and hip-hop hits, and even more spoiled adult princesses who routinely drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on designer duds in a single afternoon shopping spree on Rodeo Drive while their maids and chauffeurs patiently wait on the street, sleep deprived from being on-call for 24 hour shifts, guzzling Red Bull. There are tales of multiple  plastic surgeries, forbidden love, rebellion and resignation.

 The Royal family’s security is an operation on par with the CIA, and in the sumptuous Beverly Hills hotel where they are ensconced, an up-scale suite is consigned for use only as a tea-room, with furniture, incense, the tea sets and food imported in gigantic crates from Saudi Arabia.  Meanwhile, the North African and Philipino female maids and servants also on 24-hour call, are forced to sleep seven to a room!

 Larson had the distinction of being the only female chauffer of many drivers hired, and because of this, she formed close, intense bonds with many of the women in the entourage, from Royals and the trusted nannies they’d grown up with to the extremely young maids.  She also experienced rivalry and suspicion among the male drivers, because of her unique closeness with the Saudi women.

   Jayne Amelia Larson’s one-woman show, Driving The Saudis won Best Solo Show at the 2010 New York Fringe Festival- and this book is so well-written, with so much astute observation, that the reader will feel like they are right there among the entourage.

I highly recommend this book…and also wish it could be made into a feature film!

Purchase Driving The Saudis 

 Driving The Saudis, by Jayne Amelia Larson,
 Published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


It’s a few weeks  before Halloween, which has always been my favorite holiday ever...  so,  in honor of the season, here is an article about  the way I feel about lending out my costumes at this time of year. 

 I wrote this in October  2010, but of course, it still applies:

If you are like me- and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you are- you are already aware that this is the time of year when everyone you know hits you up about borrowing or even renting your stage costumes.

 Call me selfish, call me witchy, or just call me a “Hallo-weenie”… but I NEVER lend my costumes out for Halloween ( or  for Burning Man, or any other event for that matter) unless I already know it’s something that could be replaced, or an item  I could easily part with.

The stage costumes I own, not to mention my crazy collection of circus outfits, pirate hats, robot suits, saloon girl headdresses, feather fans, vintage corsets, kitty ears, rhinestone studded masquerade masks, wigs, super-hero boots, vampire capes, real and fake fur coats- need I go on? - are the "tricks of my trade", not a treat for someone who won't respect them

They took a long time and a lot of money for me to collect, not to mention the cost of  maintaining them.

My costume collection could probably have it’s own episode on the show “Hoarders”, but there’s a reason I have all this stuff around: it’s my livelihood! 

These pieces are my work tools, my office supplies, and in most cases, very expensive. But whether it’s an Egyptian  belly dance costume I paid $700.00 for, a vintage  burlesque outfit  or pair of  old character shoes  that I embellished myself, they are professional accoutrements that I can’t do my job properly without.

Oh, I used to be very generous about lending out costumes and costume pieces for non-dancers to use at Halloween parties, but it always ended badly.

Things would come back to me (usually months later) ripped, stained, with burn-holes from cigarettes or wax from candles, or just covered in cheap drugstore make-up or greasepaint from  Halloween Headquarters or The Spirit Store. And some things never came back at all!

Would you lend someone your laptop if you knew they were going to use it-and maybe accidentally leave it- at a club? Would you let a friend borrow an expensive camera to bring to a party where all the guests were going to be falling-down drunk? I thought not!

I think the reason most “civilians” want to borrow costumes is simply because they want to look good… and they also have nothing but the best intentions in borrowing these things.

  But the average person doesn’t realize that for their seasonal party-needs, a $30.00 costume from the toy store would be fine.

Want some help with your Halloween make-up? I’d be happy to assist you.

But don’t even think about asking to borrow my costumes… cause you’ll have to pry them out of my cold, dead hands!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


  You know how  everyone makes New Year's Resolutions...and then breaks them?  At the  end of  last year, I promised myself that  I was going to really and truly try to stay put a little more. 

 "This  next year will be for me,"  I said earnestly to myself. 

 " In 2012,  I'm gonna  take more classes than I teach...get back to cooking instead of eating  road food... maybe start a garden. Hell,  maybe  I'll even go on a vacation!".

  Yeah, right!  I'm kinda stunned that it's October already, the year is almost over. It's already  time for The Holidays... that is, if you count Halloween as part of them, the way I do! Anyway, so much for my resolution... I'm finishing out the year the way  I started it- on tour.  And  lots of  my 2013  travel is already  booked  and confirmed- just the way I like it.  

 Might as well face the facts, I'm a damn vagabond- I love  being on the road!

 Which leads me to this: 

 In January 2013 , the Los Angeles-based Punk Hostage Press  will be  publishing a  new book ( under my given name, Pleasant Gehman) that I've written, titled Lady Don't Be Panic!    

 The book is all memoir- true stories  featuring  some of my craziest on-the-rod road incidents, from my days touring with my all girl rock bands  in the 1980's to  more recent  global  shenanigans  from my dance career.   If you'll be in Los Angeles on Sunday, October 14, I'll be previewing some of the  material in a re free reading at Stories Books  & Cafe, along with Punk Hostage authors  Iris Berry and A. Razor. 

 Details are here: https://www.facebook.com/events/281497675284289/

 And  if you want to check on the exact release date of   Lady Don't Be Panic, the publisher's  official website is here: http://punkhostagepress.com/

 If you don't  live in LA, then  I'll probably see you soon at a dance event! 

 Here's what else  I'm up to- at least for the near future.  Excited to see old friends, make new ones, dance up a storm, and  generally cause some  trouble!

  Black Forest  Tribal Festival

OCTOBER 26-28, 2012 EL PASO, TX
Dangerous Beauties On Tour

Tiara Tuesdays: Princess Farhana’s Belly  Dance Showcase
Moun Of Tunis Restaurant
7445 ½ Sunset ( at Gardener)
 Hollywood, CA 90046  Dinner: 7pm; Show; 8:00pm
(323) 874-3333

NOVEMBER  2 & 3, 2012  DECATUR, GA
Princess Farhana workshops & performance
Glamour Garage Intensive ( Sat)  Dance Workshops ( Sun)

 Tribal Fusion Faire
Princess Farhana workshops & performance
Madonna Expo Center at The Madonna Inn

 Holiday Raks-travaganza  Show
Skinny’s   Lounge 4923 Lankershim, NoHo, Ca
(818) 763-6581


Princess Farhana’s Glamour Garage
Santa Rosa Rancheria Community Gym
16085 Jersey Avenue
Lemoore, CA 93245

FEBRUARY 15-17, 2013
Belly Dancer  Of The Universe 2013

MAJMA Dance Festival


info: Alia  info@dancewithalia.com

 March 30 , 2013  HONOLULU, HAWAII

APRIL  20 & 21,  ATLANTA, GA
  Gems Of The South Competttion

 MAY 14-19, 2013  SEBASTOPOL, CA
 Tribal Fest 13

  MAY 31-JUNE 2, 2013, LONG BEACH, CA
 Cairo Caravan  on board The Queen Mary

Shimmy 2 B Free