For Study Guides, "Zeina" info, and other resources for students and teachers, click through to dancesmarter.blogspot.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

December classes and January Workshop in Astoria

I'll be substitute-teaching on Wednesdays for the first three weeks in December.  The level of the class is open -- I'll teach for whomever shows up, but I'm hoping to include some intermediate/advanced material.  Then, on Saturday, January 29, I will be giving a workshop to teach a short drum solo choreography.    The classes and workshops are both happening at Creative Vibrations Yoga Studio, 22-55 31st St., 2nd Floor, Ste. 200, Astoria.  (If you don't know Queens, don't worry.  The studio is literally AT the Ditmars Blvd stop on the N train (a 23 minute trip from Times Square), and you can exit straight from the station to the studio--you don't even have to walk outside. )

Wednesday classes (12/1, 12/8, and 12/15) are from 7:00 - 8:25, and are $17 each.  The Drum Solo workshop (1/29) is from 5:00 - 7:00.  The cost is still TBD and registration is not yet open -- if you'd like me to send you an email when the details are final, please let me know.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Belly Dance in Poland


On October 22, 23, and 24, I had the pleasure of teaching a series of workshops in Bochnia, Poland.  The weekend concluded with a performance.  During my trip, my hostess, Amar, also treated me to a day of sightseeing.

Having lived for many years in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a Polish enclave in New York City, I thought that I knew a bit about Polish culture, and expected to be in a somewhat familiar environment.  My initial impression of Poland, changing planes at Warsaw’s airport, was that I had come to an entire country of Greenpoint.  The terminal is filled with Citibank advertising and liquor stores (albeit duty-free), and the pale pinched faces of my fellow travellers would not have been out of place on Nassau Avenue.  Fortunately, to my profound relief, things were very different when I touched down in Kraków, and by the time I arrived in Bochnia (about 25 miles to the east), I felt like I had arrived in a storybook.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New artistic belly dance choreography: Dream Waltz


*********UPDATE, June 10, 2013:   There's a new video of a more recent performance of this same choreography, embedded at the end of this post. Better video quality, a performance costume rather than rehearsal clothes, and I am ten pounds lighter. I know you say you don't notice and you don't care, but I know that not all of you are telling the truth.******
 
I recorded this classroom clip of myself on September 29, 2010.  I’ve added this choreography to my list of workshop offerings, and I will be teaching it on October 24 in Bochnia, Poland.



The music is Dansbanan by Swedish ensemble Detektivbyrån.

“Dream Waltz” is belly dance as magical realism:  a glimpse of the extraordinary shimmering through everyday reality.

For most Western audiences, belly dance, with its associations of gypsies, midways, exoticism, glamor, and glitter, carries some inherent suggestion of magic, although it may most often be magic of a duplicitous variety.   “Dream Waltz” builds on the magic in the familiar associations of belly dance, but its open lines give the dance a clean airy feeling, and the winsome music and styling suggest freshness and innocence.  Rather than trickery and veiled shabbiness, the charm of “Dream Waltz” is pure delight.

In Dansbanan, one hears overlapping suggestions of the ephemeral and liminal, evoking a fuzzy feeling of searching through emotion and memory.  The ragtag instrumentation (including plaintive accordion, glockenspiel, and a guy keeping time on a pair of scissors) creates an impression of vagabond musicians, and there’s a further suggestion of an old-fashioned carnival: the ping of the glockenspiel sounds like turn-of-the-century mechanical instruments or musical automata.   But, while the sound of Dansbanan is thin, outmoded, and unconventional, it is still warm and familiar: the use of struck, improvised, and “toylike” instruments also brings to mind children at play.  Rather than eliciting sinister and shadowy associations of the supernatural, Dansbanan inspires the “sense of wonder” so often associated with children.  Impressions of the fantasy “gypsy” and child converge, and one imagines the freedom and fragility of impermanence and a social position on the edge of society.  The rollicking waltz rhythm adds a final layer of bittersweet, simultaneously creating a joyful lift in spirit and a wistful nostalgia for an idealized past.

Piercing through the fuzzy tangle of emotional associations, the tones of Dansbanan are sweet and clear.  The music is full of fast changes played with precision, and the choreography, too, is packed with layered moves and frequent and fast transitions.   But nothing in the dance is abrupt:  the regular rolling pulse of the music and the absence of large or flashy movements create a hypnotic effect.  The unity between music and movement lull the viewer into a deeper reverie and the juxtaposition of clear and fuzzy impressions make the dance feel full and deep.

For students, I’ve uploaded a music diagram and reference notes.  “Dream Waltz” can stand on its own without elaborate staging, but by varying the costume and context, the choreography could be adapted for a variety of fantasy styles:  carnival, midway, or circus; Victorian, music hall, or "steampunk;" fantasy "gypsy;" or "raqs europa" style belly dance.    

UPDATE, June 10, 2013:  
Please forgive the somewhat overwrought tone of this post's language. I don't mean to be self-important, but this blog has taught me that people are much more disposed to appreciate the thought and enormous effort that goes into these dances after after I bluntly spell things out. I would prefer that it did not fall on me to hard-sell you on my work. In a perfect world, commentary and interpretation would be provided by the people whose actual job it is to promote and deconstruct dance—publicists and dance critics. But in the real world apparently it's me or no one, so I guess it's me. I assure you, I am not this pompous nor didactic in real life. 

Anyway, here's a new video of this choreography:



For more information about this new video, see http://autumnward.blogspot.com/2013/06/new-videos-of-old-dances.html

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Belly Dance, Ballet, and Folklore


A YouTube commenter asks,
“where did u learn to dance like the old folkloric styles (<--did i say that right?) did you go to another country and learn?  also u took ballet right (it looks like it)? If so, do you think its possible to learn belly dance with no dance background at 19 years old? I find it requires a lot of strenght and grace that ballet dancers have that I dont. Im still taking classes anyway”
Don't let dance class get to you.  It's enough that you get yourself to class.  :-)

Belly dance does not require study abroad, a childhood dance background, or ballet cross-training. Not everyone has the innate talent or motivation to rise to the level of a star dancer, but none of the characteristics of virtuoso belly dance—musicality, expressiveness, and coordination—must necessarily be developed in childhood, in the Middle East, or in a ballet class.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Enchantress

I created Enchantress in the fall of 2007 for the instructional DVD Fantasy Bellydance: Magic.



This clip shows a performance from October 2, 2009. I danced as part of a showcase, Metamorphosis, presented by Venus Uprising.  Thanks to cameraman Scott Shuster.

I'm not sure why the video goes slow-mo at 4:17!  It's not a special effect, just something screwy with the conversion.

Style
Enchantress is an example of artistic belly dance: genre-redefining belly dance transposed out of its traditional context as folklore, social dance, or nightclub entertainment. Although Enchantress may also correctly be called fantasy, fusion, theatrical, pagan, medieval, cabaret, and tribal, it represents more than is described by any one of these labels alone, and doesn’t conform to the conventions of any single category. The piece draws on movement vocabulary from ethnic and cabaret belly dance, but the steps are creatively sequenced into unconventional combinations, mixed with mime and theatrical gesture, and executed with an attitude of gravitas and level of precision most often associated with tribal and tribal fusion styles. The music combines fantasy and tradition: atmospheric vocals sit on top of Egyptian folkloric percussion. The bell sleeves, fitted bodice, and dropped waist of my dress are common in belly dance costuming, but these elements have been reworked into a bliaud that evokes medieval fantasy. And, Enchantress is not only dance, but dance-theater, with a distinct character, narrative, and dramatic arc.

Choreography and Reference Notes
To match the subject of earthy feminine magic, I choreographed Enchantress in a heavy style, using strong accents, large torso isolations, fast momentum-driven transitions, and a low center of gravity. As always, I carefully reflected the structure of the music in matching choreography, but, because I was working primarily with unaccompanied rhythm, I was also able to choose and sequence steps in the service of plot. My use of finger cymbals adds depth to the music and dramatic punctuation to the choreography.

I teach Enchantress as a workshop offering, and the dance is also available as an instructional DVD. I’ve made choreography notes (including a music diagram and finger cymbal notation) available for download here.

Costume
The bodice of my dress is a flesh-colored leotard; it’s tacked to a skirt made of flesh-colored chiffon and dark green nylon spandex mesh. Both are covered by eveningwear lace fabric from Better Choice Fabrics and Trimmings, 260 W. 39th St, New York, NY, and artificial oak leaves from Dry and Silk, Inc., 123 W 28th St., New York, NY. Thanks to Erica Young for her assistance in design and construction and especially for hand-stitching me into this creation. (My leotard is stretchy, but the green lace on top of it is not. While I wore the dress, Erica patiently tacked the lace to the leotard one knot at a time, and did not stab me once.)

Cymbals

On the Fantasy: Magic DVD, I used Saroyan Afghani Cymbals in German Silver. These cymbals have a low tone, and their size gives them a substantial appearance. For the 2009 performance, I used a combination of cymbals to create an eerie dissonant sound: I have one of the silver Saroyan Afghani cymbals on my right thumb, a Turquoise “B Oriental” on the left thumb, and a pair of Turquoise “A”s on top.

Rose of Damascus ("Medieval" Belly Dance)


I created Rose of Damascus in 2007.  At the time, I had considered it to be a minor project, and was amazed to see it go on to become my most-watched YouTube video.


Style
“Medieval” belly dance, as shown in this clip, should most definitely be considered a fantasy concept.  While it’s true that the historical roots of belly dance stretch back to antiquity in the Middle East, there’s no historical basis for placing belly dance in the British Isles or Northern Europe during the middle ages, and it’s very unlikely that any dance of this era would have the formalized vocabulary and precise body lines shown in Rose of Damascus.  Although I did intentionally choose more natural looking textiles, my costuming follows contemporary conventions from fantasy faire style, not any historical example.

Even if the form is not historically accurate, though, it sits very comfortably in the long-established traditions of romantic medieval fantasy, and for me and many others, draws a feeling of authenticity from sources other than history.
"The Accolade," Edmund Blair Leighton, 1901

Despite its fanciful concept, the actual content of Rose is largely lacking in gimmickry, making for a dance that feels genuine and warm.  Because a medieval theme suggests a simple aesthetic, and because Rose is a work created for a formal theater stage, I was able to take soft movements from the cabaret style of bellydance and show them without the artifice that usually surrounds cabaret style dancing.  Without the trappings of the nightclub (the sequins, the spandex, the push-up bra, the disco lights, the indiscriminately pressed ululation button on the electronic keyboard), one sees not only the sensuality that is always acknowledged in belly dance but also sweetness and sincerity – characteristics rarely associated with this form of dance.   

Rose also benefits from exceptionally organic transitions.  Although I chose steps carefully, the fluid look to my dance largely reflects my having followed the fluid structure of the music.  Rather than breaking into predictable verses and choruses in 4s or 8s, the phrases of Flos ut Rosa, the music I used for Rose, break out in to groups of 2, 4, 5, 6, 11, and 13 measures, arranged without any repeating pattern that I can discern.  Unlike many dances that seem to build, Rose seems to fall away, like water.  (My experience performing this dance, however, wasn’t anything like drifting downstream.  The rote memorization required to hit the accents in Flos ut Rosa makes it an exceptionally difficult piece.  See the music diagram further down in this post.)

Aside from its wandering structure, Flos ut Rosa is easy to hear in a belly dance context, further contributing to the natural feeling of Rose.  As in Middle-Eastern belly dance music, the melody line follows a pattern of call and response and repetition with variation; accents provide punctuation within the flow of the music; and, in passages of solo instrumentation, a full deep sound is achieved through the use of a drone.  Although the instrument providing the drone, a symphonia (a type of hurdy gurdy), is European, it is similar in timbre to double-reed or double-pipe instruments from the Middle East (such as bagpipes, mijwiz, and mizmar/zurna).  One also hears violin, which, while European in origin, is commonly used in Middle-Eastern music; rhythmic percussion (possibly a frame drum); and a clear bell tone that evokes delicately-played finger cymbals.

Finally, on a more mundane level, Rose provides a rare vehicle for my red hair and freckles to seem perfect for belly dance.   As a peaches-and-cream American, I work with the continual challenge of seeing my work judged differently—generally more critically—than that of someone who is (or merely looks) ethnically Middle-Eastern.  (Once, I was even sent home from a job.  I had been hired over the phone by a restaurant manager, but was turned away at the front door by the restaurant’s owner for not looking "exotic enough.”)    It is a wonderful change of pace to have instant and unquestioned credibility simply because I look the part, although I do roll my eyes over the irony that such a non-authentic item in my repertoire should garner more praise for authenticity than my carefully-researched Middle-Eastern dances.

Music
Flos ut Rosa is played by Estonian ensemble Rondellus.  The track is on the CD “Carmina Sanctorum,” and is also available as a free download from their website.  Rondellus is perhaps best known for their CD “Sabbatum,” a collection of Black Sabbath covers arranged in the 14th century style and sung in Latin.

Technique and Choreography
I’m flattered, although somewhat bewildered, by requests to teach medieval bellydance.  The dance steps in Rose come from the same vocabulary I use in all of my work.  (My DVD, Beautiful Technique from Step One, provides an introduction to this style).  It’s been suggested that Rose has a somewhat Persian look, and while I do acknowledge some Persian influence throughout my basic technique, I think the Persian look of Rose is primarily an artifact of the time signature—a certain amount of right-left-right/left-right-left is inevitable anytime one is moving to a ¾ or 6/8. 

I do teach combinations to medieval music, Enchantress (the choreography performed and taught on the Fantasy:  Magic  DVD), and plan to have another workshop-ready medieval choreography for 2011.

I do not teach Rose as a workshop offering, because the music is simply too hard to anticipate.  Try counting along at home:

Time code
# of
3-count measures
Musical phrase
0:00
2
Introductory percussion
:04
5
double “bong” accent
:12
6
triple “bong” accent 
:22
11
lute (ends with repeating motif)
:42
5
double “bong” accent (ends with repeating motif)
:50
4
triple “bong” accent
:57
11
violin
1:14
5
double “bong” accent
1:22
6
triple “bong” accent
1:31
13
symphonia  (ends with repeating motif)
1:52
4
double “bong” accent
1:59
6
triple “bong” accent
2:07
4
false ending
2:14
5
double “bong” accent
2:22
6
triple “bong” accent
2:31
2
false ending (ends with repeating motif)
2:34
5
double “bong” accent (ends with repeating motif)
2:42
4
triple “bong” accent
2:49
5
double “bong” accent
2:56
6
triple “bong” accent
3:06
2
false ending (ends with repeating motif)
3:09
4
double “bong” accent
3:16
6
triple “bong” accent

At this time, I do not have official choreography notes to share for this dance.  However, if you have a question about a specific step or combination, please feel free to email.

Related Work

My Enchantress is another dance with a medieval feeling.   (YouTube, DVD).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Captive Breeding




“Captive Breeding” was my contribution to a group show, the Zoo, presented by Venus Uprising in the spring of 2010.

Style
Clearly, Captive Breeding  is not traditional bellydance.  The moves, I guess, are Egyptian-ish, although I did try to chinoisify the body line a little.  I think of the piece as a burlesque, although I’m not aware of any burlesque currently happening with as much emphasis on dance.  I would be delighted to see this piece cited as an example of "Contemporary Panda Fusion," "PandCab," "PTS," or something of the like.

Music
The music is two tracks:  Song from Shandong and The Menjiang Girl.  Both are from the CD Chinese Traditional Erhu Music 2 by Lei Qiang.  The entire album is really very lovely, and adding it to my collection was an unexpected side benefit to this project.

Props
My veil is just three yards of plain old polyester chiffon. 

Super Sudoku to Exercise Your Mind and Yahtzee  are available on-line or probably at the bookstore wherever you live.

I do not recommend that you purchase Forbidden Treasure.  Yes, I did read it all.  In the tub.  And I regret every steamy moment of it.  If you really want to know, a reviewer has provided an extraordinarily thorough plot synopsis here.

Costume
Eleftheriou’s Chinese peasant costume was purchased from Pearl River.  (I bought a white set and a black set in the largest size available, spliced them together, and then tacked in numerous layers of polyester batting around the midsection).

My top was also purchased at Pearl River; I cropped it to midriff length.  Pants salvaged out of a jumpsuit on the sale rack at Rainbow

My hipscarf, appropriately, came from a hole in the wall in Chinatown.  Observant fans may recognize it as one of the scarves worn by the mermaids in Atlantis.

Cast
Eleftheriou Targouisti has the soul of an artist.  He developed his intense love of the Dance in childhood.  After attracting the attention of a benefactress, he studied at L’Ecole du Mime with Etienne Decroux.  In this performance, he combines a love of movement with a passion for animals.  Of Greco-Moroccan heritage, Maestro Targouisti now makes his home in Astoria, Queens.

Other Videos
If you enjoyed Captive Breeding, you may also enjoy Atlantis.  This video is not currently available on YouTube; it is included on the collection Fantasy Bellydance from World Dance New York.  Buy it here.

Egyptian Dance

I’ve been reading on the internet that I am “a ballerina who made a belly dance video,” or that I no longer perform traditional bellydance.  This is not so!  Here’s a video of a performance of mine from earlier this year. 




This performance was filmed on April 24, 2010, at Je’Bon in New York City.  I danced as part of a showcase, “Disco Al Sharq: Al Rabia,” hosted by Mark Balahadia and Leela.

For students, critics, and others who want to learn more, production notes follow.

Style
The dance in this video is an upbeat interpretation of raqs sharqi, Egyptian belly dance.  Although it has a folklore feeling, it is a mixture of both traditional and modern.   I designed this piece for venues where the audience has some distractions, such as parties, or for when the audience is simply less of a “belly dance” crowd, less attuned to softness or subtlety, and best able to appreciate high energy and a feeling of fun. 

The music is Saidi, and the lively footwork and use of the cane are playfully borrowed, in a softened and more flirtatious form, from the region’s folklore.  (There is said to be no pure tradition of women’s dance from the Said,  a conservative area where women do not perform.) The heel-bouncing steps of this style suggest the prancing of horses, which play an important role in the history and culture of the Said; in the music, too, one occasionally hears a “whinnying” sound.  The twirling cane imitates the heavy staffs used by men in Tahtieb, a regional martial art which may also be staged with music. 

I had originally set out to do an entirely traditional Saidi piece, but I couldn’t resist the exuberant feeling of using finger cymbals, a prop more often associated with baladi dance, in the opening.  My dress, too, is baladi.  Because the earthiness of folkloric vocabulary is always more exciting against an elegant counterpoint, I added Oriental moves as well.  A few of the stylistic touches are wholly “Autumnal;” in particular, my use of arms and quick transitions are unlike what is seen in mainstream Egyptian style.  So, while the dance has a lot of traditional influences, my personality and my stamp as both a choreographer and performer come through in the style mixing, dynamics, and my creative touches.

Music
The music is “Saidi Routine,” from the CD Sahra Saeeda.  (Available for purchase here.)  The second half of this track is an arrangement of the song “Ala Nar” with saidi instrumentation.  (Another version of Ala Nar that I like, and have frequently used in the classroom, is on Beata and Horacio’s Oriental Fantasy Volume One. )  "Ala Nar" means "I am on fire."

Props
In this performance I’m playing finger cymbals from Turquoise International, in the “Size B Oriental - 2 ½" diameter” model.

The cane was handed down to me by a retiring dancer many years ago.  I don’t know its provenance.

Costume
My galibeyah is by Hanan Mahmoud , with a slight modification—I shortened the sleeves, and used the extra pieces to make my hairband.  The hipscarf has been in my costume closet for more than ten years, but I originally purchased it from Scheherezade Imports.   
 
Other Videos
Fans of this video may also enjoy Hanady.