Every so often, I’ll meet a dancer whose onstage persona is so completely unlike the way she is in real life, it really throws me for a loop. One moment we’re backstage acting like complete idiots, giggling over silly things while compulsively shoving carrot sticks into our mouths. Then, she performs a set so amazing, that when she finishes, I’m so blown away with utter fangirl appreciation, I almost feel too shy to talk to her!
Alli Ruth is that kind of dancer. Even though we’ve been pals her for years, and I’ve seen her multiple times in ratty sweats with no make up, an Ace bandage wrapped around an injury, swearing like a truck driver, I can never quite reconcile her fun, down-to-earth true self with the preternaturally elegant creature I’ve just witnessed bringing the house down onstage. And not only that, in her real life, she’s a librarian! To see her performing classic American and Turkish style floor work is like having a private audience with a goddess!
|Photo: Atelieri O. Haapala|
Alli Ruth lives in Helsinki, Finland, where she teaches and performs her specialty-and passion- American Cabaret style belly dance. She herself calls what she does “AmCab Fusion”, because she isn’t nearly old enough to have ever performed this style back in it’s Seventies heyday!
|As White Kali in a Desert Sin performance|
After moving to Finland in 2010,she realized that dancers from across the continent of Europe had a hunger for this uniquely American style, so she began teaching what she’d grown up with as a dancer. She came to belly dance in 1998, in her native Los Angeles, learning from the masters of the American Cabaret (also known as Vintage Orientale) genre, including the late, great Diane Webber, whose unique style and considerable influence inspired another of Alli Ruth’s mentor’s, LA-based dancer Anaheed. Dance mother to many in Southern California, Anaheed invited Alli Ruth to appear with The Perfumes Of Araby, a troupe founded by Diane Webber. In 2001, through Anaheed, she met and began dancing with Elayssa of Desert Sin, a gloriously theatrical “alternative belly dance” troupe whose influence is still widely felt in the Tribal Fusion community, and as Alli Ruth says, “whether they realize it or not!”
She has also seriously studied with other legendary AmCab performers such as Cory Zamora, Alexandra King and Princess Benu of Turkey, plus the Queen of Floor Work (and inventor of many of it’s staple moves) Anahid Sofian of New York City. Alli Ruth’s teaching and performing career abroad has been as busy as it has been fulfilling; though like any dancer worth her salt, she considers herself a student and constantly attends workshops, classes and private lessons. By doing this, she is also preserving a distinctive and exceptional American contribution to belly dancing.
Here, in her own modest words, is how Alli Ruth prepares for her show-stopping performances:
“I try to do as much of my makeup and prep at home, especially if I don’t know the backstage conditions, or don’t have a backstage at all. This too allows me to change my mind, for example about an eye shadow color at the last minute. I enjoy socializing backstage and would rather relax and talk to, or assist other dancers than be stuck in the mirror. It also makes more time for warming up. My warm up consists of lots of relaxed shimmies, “African Stretch” for the spine (Diane Webber used to make us do it every class), large loose hip circles, lunges and ankle, shoulder and wrist circles.
|Alli Ruth at Sutdio Iqaat, LA photo: Kat Bushman|
My costuming style is what they used to call “Mixy Gypsy” so I never wear the same exact ensemble. I also never know exactly what I’m going to wear in advance. I’m famous for being frantic about “what to wear” and changing my mind about details up until the last minute. My breast size fluctuates greatly, leading to hasty alterations. My lifesaver mom is accustomed to my begging her to stitch bra hooks, and over the years I’ve taught a couple boyfriends how to use a needle and thread. Because I improv, I also have the opportunity to change my music up until the last minute, particularly if the organizer doesn’t need it in advance. What I’m getting at is that I have total ADD, which I struggle with when it comes to show prep.
I’ve learned to not make or watch recordings of myself within 3 days before the show as it inevitably results in a self-critique that will cause me to change my mind, if not fall apart entirely. Also, to have many bra hook options on both the back and neck straps of my bras. I of course have a prepped gig bag and even extra, extra things that other dancers may have forgotten themselves (Belly dance karma!).
Because I do floor work, one of the most important things is to know the condition and material of the floor to help determine the bottom half of my costume. Harem pants can get pulled by carpet (I’ve heard of dancers literally pantsing themselves) but carpet can cause serious burn on a bare leg. Some settings may have floor that is too harsh-such as pavement, be too small or placed in such a way the audience wouldn’t see you on the floor. Sometimes, floor work won’t work which factors into my music selection.
I’m always way more nervous in the days before the performance and on the day of the show than I am when I’m about to go on. The main thing I do in the moments before coming out to dance is taking deep breaths and remind myself, it’s simply about sharing a dance. I try to remember that nobody cares so much about me that they’re going to go home and think for days about how I may have messed up; they have their own lives and concerns and nobody wants me to fail. I try to quiet my ego and dance for the joy of it. I think of all the happiness and fun I’ve experienced myself when watching other dancers and the gratitude I have towards them for this. It’s simply my turn to do the same for others, to share. This really keeps me calm and ensures a good experience.
After my performance, it’s like I got something out of my system and just wants to return to being “Al”-my nickname amongst friends. I almost always, immediately tear off my bra and throw on a t-shirt -or a comfy cover up if I’m coming out from backstage, maybe crack a beer or pour a glass of wine.
I like dancing most at private events, where I can come both in and out as the belly dancer …and the mystique of the backstage, behind-the-scenes stays in my own home.”
Sunday, October 4, 2014
Hardcore Floor: Old School AmCab and Classic Turkish Floor Work With Alli Ruth
You’ll learn ascents, descents, back bends, layouts, and some nearly extinct (and very wild) Turkish moves and Rom gestures for floor. Floor work for both drum solo and taxim will be explored.
3191 Casitas, Ste 112
LA CA 90039
ONE DAY ONLY, $50.00
To register, contact Devillaraks@gmail.com
The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer is now available wholesale for dance teachers and studios. To find out about wholesale order, visit www.princessfarhana.com and click on the “email” button at the top right of the home page.