Changing Gears

Until now, this blog has mostly been for my dance students.  As of this summer, however, I am no longer teaching dance due to a spinal problem,  There's probably an operation in my future.  Meanwhile, I've gone back to an old pastime, dressing and restoring dolls.           Together with my Mom, I built quite a nice collection of antique dolls.  Many of these have been sold through the auction house Theriault's.  I recently had the chance to pick up several Asian ball-jointed dolls at a nice price, so I plan to spend the winter customizing and dressing them.  

Tonight, though, I'm making a list of all the things I have to do to prepare for hurricane Sandy.  Such a banal name.  Indeed, the whole hurricane prep thing has gotten to be a real pain in the ass.  Will a tree fall on my house?  Will my basement flood?  Will the generator run out of gas at 3 AM?  I'm too old for this pioneer woman stuff.  How many days will be be without power this time? - this Aughst it was 6 days, and we spent most of that time upstairs at Wegmans, where my Daughter could use the internet.

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Learn a Dance Rhythm: Ciftetelli
  This is a Turkish and Greek rhythm, also spelled chiftetelli or tsiftetelli.  In this clip Alexandra King dances a slow ciftetelli with floorwork.  Floorwork means the dancer kneels or lies down on the floor or sometimes on a table.  Alexandra King was one of the first dancers to prepare an instructional belly dance video back in the 1980s.

Here's another piece, posted by another belly dance veteran, Carmen Guida.  I recommend all his CDs.  Note how the dancer is clicking her cymbals rather quietly, instead of making a loud ringing tone.  In a small restaurant setting, you may not want to make your cymbals too loud!  You should find it easy to pick up the rhythm from this piece.

Interpreting the Music
  Last night I spoke about really "getting into" the music and letting its emotion direct your movement.  that's one reason why I recommend taking the time at home to put on music you love and dance to it without restraint.  Remember Tom Cruise's little dance  in the movie Risky Business?  That's the kind of unselfconscious expression to go for.  No, you don't have to be that wildly emotive on stage, but any audience can tell if you're just going through the motions or, as they say in show biz, selling it.   To further illustrate the idea of emotion in dance, here are several versions of Taht il Shibbak (underneath my window,)  a very old Arabic pop song about a woman flirting with and yearning for a lover - sort of like the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. 

We'll start with a choreographed version done to recorded music.  The acting or mime moves can be thought of as stylized versions of the type of movements that flirtatious girls naturally make.

Now, in contrast, see how different the same song looks when performed by a famous Egyptian dancer with live singer- the equally famous Fatme Serhan- and band.  Although Dina must have danced this song a hundred times, watch the emotion in her face.  I don't have anything to say about her costume- she's a Diva who likes to push the envelope.

"Tribal" Style Belly Dance
 This is one of the most popular styles in the US today.  It's a bit like a game of Follow the Leader- a leader cues the other dancers with subtle movements, so the dance looks choreographed, when in fact it is an improvised sequence of steps that all the dancers know.  The "tribe" concept refers to the bonding between the women who perform together, not to any ethnic group.  Sometimes very 'folksy' music is used, like that in the clip, other groups may use more modern and electronic music.  The troupe founder explains it for you!

Here's another group, Ultra Gypsy:

Meet the Stars of Egypt
Every bellydance should know something about the dancers who made bellydance popular the world over.  Before the 1930s, Egyptians would hire dancers, either soloists or a group, to perform  for special gatherings.  Gradually, though, it became popular to have bellydancers in nightclubs, and dancers began to appear in Egyptian films.  Some of the dancers from those early days are Taheya Carioca, Samia Gamal, and Soheir Zaki.  You can find some of their dances on YouTube, but don't be disappointed in the quality- remember, these videos are copied from film.

This is Suhair Zaki.  Notice that her stomach is covered- Egyptian law regarding modesty and dance has changed several times over the past decades.  The dancer is required to have her stomach "covered," even though sometimes that covering is sheer or netting.

Beautiful hand and arm movements
  For beginners, it's often easier to get the big hip movements and footwork right than it is to have graceful, fluid hands and arms.  It takes time to find the right balance between relaxation and energy, but don't be discouraged.  Learning to dance is the process of developing muscle memory, so you don't have to consciously think about every little movement.
Here's a nice demonstration of typical arm/hand movements:

Famous dancer Fahtiem has some wise words on the subject:

The way a dancer uses her hands and arms to express the music are highly personal.  Here are some more moves for you to try to follow along with:

a class of brave beginners
This class has bravely allowed themselves to be filmed as they do a choreography to Egyptian pop music.  Instead of practicing individual steps and moves, try dancing along with these students.  The first time you go through it, just look at the feet and try to copy.  The second time, focus on the torso movements and hips, and the third time through, add in the arm poses. 
  So, we can tell these dancers are beginners, yes?  How do we know- they are doing their steps correctly.  I think we know because there is a certain hesitation, and they are a bit out of time with the music a couple of times.  Smile and be confident!    Your performance comfort level will rise the more you practice, until you are able to embody the emotion of the music without thinking too hard about what steps you are doing.

A hot modern number!
Belly dance can be just as bold as any MTV video- this performance by Lotus Niraja and her group features strong percussion and modern costumes.  Watch on full screen for best effect.

The Origins of Bellydance
  Much has been written about the dance we now call belly dance, and much of this is sheer speculation.  We can look at ancient art work depicting dancers, we can read the accounts of travelers to the Middle East, but it's still nearly impossible to get a clear picture of how this dance evolved.  Here's my favorite article on the subject, written by a dancer I respect, Andrea Deagon: 
It's about two full pages.

In the late nineteenth century, it was not unusual for male European tourists  to visit Algeria, Turkey, or Egypt in search of all the naughty things they couldn't openly do back home, like smoke hashish and cavort with shady ladies
This is the kind of thing they saw:                                            And this is the fantasy as they portrayed it in art:

Male Belly Dancers

I'm ofter asked if there are any real male belly dancers.  Not many, but they get a lot of attention!  Here's my favorite- Horacio Cifuentes.  He and his wife Beata were ballet dancers in Argentina before they switched to bellydance and moved to California.  I love watching this guy because his movements are so sharp.  Why not put this clip on 'full screen' and see how many of his moves you can copy- except maybe popping your biceps...

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