Saturday, September 28, 2013


Tanya Lemani dancing for Captain Kirk and the rest of the team on "Star Trek"

Classic American Cabaret belly dance-also known as Vintage Orientale- is currently having A Moment. The style  is experiencing a resurgence,  becoming very popular with younger dancers , many of whom were not even born when this type of dancing  was in it’s heyday during the 1960's through the 1980's.

When I began my career in the early 1990’s, I was trained primarily in the Egyptian style, but Vintage Oriental was still very much with us, especially for restaurant dancers.  Audiences expected to see a lot of  veil and finger cymbal work.

American Cabaret  doesn’t just use music from one genre or country- it’s a lovely pastiche of many types of rhythms and  songs  from all over the Middle East,  North Africa and Central Asia. Finger cymbals and extensive veil work are a couple of the hallmarks of this style,  and  I often get requests in my workshops  to show some of the  exotic veil wraps  that were used “back in the day”. 

The old-school wrap  Photo: Lapis
If you’d like to experiment with this style, enter with your veil wrapped around you. You can use a separate veil to enter, or just come onto the stage with your cymbals a-blaze.   After an opening piece,  do a slow taxim or chiftetelli  piece,  and incorporate some veil moves.

For starters, try this simple, pretty wrap:

 Extend your left arm out and parallel to the floor. Drape your veil length-wise over it so equal halves hang in front and in back.  Make sure the hems are even and straight.  Pick up the  front half  of the veil and bring it across your chest, tucking the long hem into your bra straps and the left and right sides.

 Tuck the corner of the gathered fabric into your costume at the right hip.

 Now, take the portion of the veil that was hanging on the back of your left arm, gather it up at the far  corner, and tuck that it into the center back of your costume. If you like, you can also tuck the front  part of the veil in at each hip, and blouse it out for a billowy Grecian Goddess effect.
Un-wrapping the veil  Photo: Ken Vegas
 To unwrap, take the portion of the veil from the bra straps with both hands and slowly pull the veil way from you, so that the end tucked in your costume’s right hip releases. Play with the veil like this for a few moments, holding it in front of you, moving or spinning slowly. When you want to release the end of the veil that was tucked into the back, simply pull the hem of the entire veil away from you, and it will come un-tucked easily.

Friday, September 20, 2013


You want to look as gorgeous as possible onstage, right?  You contour and highlight your face to accentuate your features before you go onstage to make them stand out or recede... For dancers, especially when wearing costumes that show a lot of skin, the same techniques can be applied to the body, to accentuate your muscles and curves. It’s a pretty simple process: whatever body part is lighter will stand out, and those that are darker will recede.
Princess Farhana by Maharet Hughes

 Here are some  cool tips  for cheating just a little bit to get your body as beautiful as your face:

With a full, fluffy brush, apply a thin stripe of pearly white, pinkish bronze or golden highlighting powder down the center of the arms and legs to make them look longer. While you’re at it, dust some of the same powder around the curves of your shoulders,and lightly across the tops of the breasts to make them appear fuller and more prominent.

Shading and contouring is just as easy. For this, you will want to use a matte color. Stay away from pearly or frosty cosmetics, because they attract light, and you will be using your contouring colors on areas which you want to appear to be shadowed.

Use a slightly smaller brush than the one you used for highlighting to dust on a darker contouring shade to the places you want to recede. A rosy brick tone or bronze color that is a shade or two darker than your own skin usually works well for people with fair to olive skin, but using matte brown colors will appear muddy on fair to olive skin. If your skin is darker, don’t be afraid to use deeper, richer browns, but make sure to keep the contour color just a couple of shades darker than your own skin tone.

Drawing a soft, smudged line in the center of your cleavage will accentuate it and make it seem deeper.  Make sure the actual line isn’t visible- blend it well.

For the torso, softly brush the contour color you’ve selected onto all the spots that you want to underscore and shadow, giving the impression of more muscle tone.

Royal Secret Alert: since I do a lot of abdominal work when I belly dance and want to accentuate it, I do this all the time!

Using my contour color, I start by drawing a thin, faint line down the center of my abdomen from the cleavage to my navel, along my abdominus rectus, the long muscle that runs the length of the torso. Then I draw two more vertical lines, one on each side of the muscle.

I suck my breath in hard, look in the mirror, and brush soft contouring color into the hollows that have formed under my top ribs. I start near the center of my bra, and shade the color out towards the sides. After that, I brush on diagonal lines up the inside crest of my hipbones, pointing outwards to accentuate the cut in my obliques to make them seem more defined.

Without blending the contouring color, it will look like you have a long diamond shape drawn on your torso, with three lines up the center, dividing it. Once you blend the darker shade in and soften it up a little, brush a little translucent powder over the whole area to blend it even more. Believe me, it’ll look like you have fantastic abdominal muscle definition, especially in a dark restaurant or on a bright stage.

When I use this trick, people in the audience always comment on how ripped my torso looks…but then, those same people also tell me I have gigantic eyes, too!

All make up–but especially stage make up-is an illusion…so why limit the beautiful fantasy to your face?

*This article is an excerpt from my new book, "The Belly Dance Hand Book", which will be available November, 2013

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


   Most dancers leap at the chance to get on film. We love having our performances documented for posterity, and we always need great promotional shots to get our jobs, so that means we spend a lot of time schmoozing with photographers and videographers.  But in this wonderfully symbiotic relationship between the subject and the people behind the lens, there can be a few potential bumps in the road. 

 You know how sad and short-changed you feel when your name gets left off an event poster, or you aren’t mentioned in a show program?  Or when someone uses your image, but your name isn't on it?  It feels awful!

The sad truth is that dancers commit that very same sin against the people who take their pictures all the time, by neglecting to give credit to the photographer who created their image! Read any dance magazine, check out promotional post cards, show posters or just take a look on Facebook…and what you usually won’t see is a photo credit!

Like dancers, a good-or great-photographer has spent many years honing his or her craft; there are countless hours spent learning and perfecting skills, and a sizeable investment in lights, cameras and lenses, photo-editing programs and other equipment. Many photographers started out being talented and having an aptitude for what they do, but on top of this, a lot went took classes or went to college to perfect their craft.

Though you might not realize it, many photographers feel as under-paid as dancers do!  We negotiate prices for gigs that we think are fair...and we get bummed out when someone tries to negotiate our prices down.  We reason that our prices are set because we’ve sweated for years in dance classes and rehearsals spent a small fortune on costumes, and it also takes us a long time to get ready for our gigs. 

While you might feel like paying for your photos is expensive, look at it from the photographer’s view point: sweating for years in a photo lab before there was digital photography, spending an entire evening retouching just one image, and that's not even counting all the time and money it takes to book studio time, to set up lights and backdrops…or schlepping all that equipment to a location to do pictures!

 Like any artist, a photographer needs to be credited; just like dancers, photographers need that name recognition so they can get more clients; so people who like the photo will be able to seek out more of the photographer’s work. Giving a photo credit is  a simple professional courtesy, and it’s free – it costs you nothing to take a couple of minutes to do. And with compelling images going viral all over the internet on social media like Facebook and Tumblr and every other site, leaving a photo credit off is not just a disservice to the photographer, it’s practically a crime…so please, take a moment to remember to give credit where credit is due.

 The same goes for videos, especially if they are posted on YouTube.  Even if you paid to be filmed at a dance festival, it’s just considerate and polite to credit the videographer…who needs to work as much as you do…and who loves to be recognized for their art in the same way you do! The videographers who work at dance festivals are there for many hours at a stretch filming the entire show, not just your performance. They rarely even  get a  bathroom break, even if they have an assistant.

  Something else that I see all the time at dance festivals is people talking loudly around the video camera. These thoughtless individuals are often the ones who  are asking stupid questions of the videographer while he or she is working. While you might think that the camera just needs to be set up and sit there, that is far from the truth.  As the camera person works, they are checking contrast as the stage lights change, adjusting sound levels, zooming the focus  in or out, burning the videos onto CDs or putting them on flash-drives. They are probably also  doing the paperwork  for  all the people who didn’t take advantage of the offer to pre order their videos…something that makes life easier for everyone- the videographer and the client!  So please, save your questions for a break in the performance.

 And then there are  also those who like to dissect other dancer’s performances, blow-by-blow, right next to the camera! Even if something nice is being said, if it is being said too close to the video camera, the chatter will get picked up on the soundtrack, pretty much rendering the video un-useable.  At festivals, we all get just one chance to strut our stuff on stage, and imagine what you would feel like if another performer  ruined your video by talking all the way through it!  Whoever does this is being super disrespectful of the performer and  videographer as well. Don't be that  thoughtless person.

 Ok, I’m done with my rant…but pretty please with sugar on top of it remember that photographers and videographers are artists as well, and treat them with the same respect that you would any performer, because they deserve it!