The Blog

What’s New in 2016 for “Mahin’s Bellydance Quickies” & Other Sparkly Plans

Hello to all my BDQ subscribers and blog readers! I hope you are all having a lovely holiday season! This time of year is so full with both celebrations and work, with trying to be “in the moment” for this short and special season and at the same time looking forward into next year to decide how to focus our time and energy.  This season of reassessment is very important to me – the momentum that keeps me working comes from not only the personal satisfaction and enjoyment of what I do, but even more so, knowing that it is meaningful and useful to others that share my enthusiasm and love for Middle Eastern dance.

Here's to a Sparkly 2016

Looking back, 2015 has been a tremendous year! I have done more travelling and workshop teaching than in any year to date – a trend that I am excited to see growing! With the help and support of many wonderful people, I am 2 days away from shooting my very first full-length instructional bellydance DVD, “Full On with 3/4 Shimmies!”  And a little project I started in 2010  is about to enter it’s sixth year.

Looking forward into 2016, I gaze through that lens of personal satisfaction and true usefulness to others to decide how I want to spend my time and energy – because just like money, you only get to spend it once. This coming year, I will be refining the scope of my work for more personal artistic fulfillment for me and more usefulness for you, my BDQ subscribers, blog readers and students.

More and more, we are living in a world of well… MORE!  More options, more decisions, more expectations, more emails…. everything draws onr attention. This overwhelm is definitely a stress I feel, and I suspect you can relate to it too. For me, the only “more” I want in my life is more of what really deeply matters to me and to my work.  When something really and truly hits my personal target of fulfilling for me and useful for others, no amount of work feels like “too much”.

So what DO I want MORE of in 2016?

  • I want to engage more personally with students by teaching more workshops and doing more one-on-one coaching.
  • I want more space in my life to devote to my own continued studies in dance – because we are always and forever students of this art!
  • I want to do more event production, which I have almost entirely gotten away from over the past few years.
  • I want to dive more deeply into the bellydance content I teach.

That’s my personal bellydance wish list. How will that play out in the work I plan to do for and with all of you in 2016?

I am opening more time in my schedule for private students – both in person and online.

I plan to host 4 seasonal bellydance events here in Phoenix which will include some curated performances by dancers across all levels and bellydance styles to recorded music, some semi-pro and professional performances with live music and an open floor party with a band for all to enjoy.  If all goes well, I may even revive my annual “Fully Fusion” show series… I left off at “Fully Fusion 5” a few years ago.

Realigning the “Bellydance Quickies”.  This is a bigee! The BDQ is so very near and dear to my heart – and from the feedback I get, near and dear to many of you too.  I also know that keeping up with and truly making use of the BDQ on a daily basis is difficult for most dancers’  schedules. Going into it’s sixth year, the BDQ will transition to a 3-days a week schedule as follows:

  1. The Wednesday Watcher: (Wednesdays) This will include both the fun, unique and surprising finds and the wonderfully inspiring videos I have featured on Sundays.
  2. The Grab-Bag: (Fridays) Music, history, costuming, culture, stage makeup… you will find these here to keep you a well-rounded and informed bellydancer.
  3. Sunday in the Studio: (Sundays)  This is where and when you will find the short tutorial videos. Topics will be a mix of combos, drills and prop material (definitely guided by your input, requests and feedback!) I hope that the timing will give you a better opportunity to use and keep up with what I put the time and energy into creating for you. I have heard from so many of you that you “hoard” your BDQs on your computers – which is very flattering, but I really want you to use them!  Do you see a theme here?

If you are not on the “Bellydance Quickies” list yet and would like to be, you can sign up here – it’s free.

 

Special Topic Programs & Intensives.  As I mentioned, I’d like to present some deeper, longer content in special topic areas. This year I will experiment with 4-week segments, some in collaboration with other bellydancers, focusing on things like health, costuming, dance skill intensives, business building and more. I will announce these in advance in the BDQ, the BellyGram and on my social media in general so you can get on board for whatever interests you and supports your development as a dancer.

Speaking of The BellyGram… I have been so busy this year, I have not put out many of these! I plan to return to a monthly newsletter that includes both event info and special content exclusive to the BellyGram. This is where you will find upcoming editions of the “Raks Me A Question” series! If you want to receive the The BellyGram you can sign up here.

Whew!! That’s a lot of plans for 2016 but I’m excited!  I’m looking forward to all of it and hope that you’ll dance along on this journey with me. As I write this, it is December 26th and I’m deep into the final preparations for the “Full On with 3/4 Shimmies!” DVD shoot on the 29th. The “Bellydance Quickies” will be taking a short holiday break, returning in it’s new 3-day format on Friday, January 1st.

I want to take this opportunity to THANK YOU for all your support of the BDQ, my workshops and for your friendship – online and in person! I wish you and yours the merriest of days, filled with love, good times, good food, and some time to recharge for a fabulous shimmy-filled 2016!  – Mahin

Your thoughts, comments, requests and feedback are welcome …. please share in the comments below!

 

December 26, 2015 2 Comments

Must-Know Bellydance Song: “Misirlou”

Who, What and When?

“Misirlou” is one of the most recognizable Arabic melodies there is, thanks to modern covers by Dick Dale and more recently, sampling by the Black Eyed Peas.  The earliest recorded version is from Egypt in 1919, with credit for the composition given to Sayyed Darwish, a prominent composer in Cairo at the turn of the century.  Darwish worked with many Greek and Turkish session musicians there and it is likely that is how the tune spread so widely through the Mediterranean.

Greeks and Turks have been known to claim “Misirlou” for their own, though the earliest documented source appears to be Darwish’s Egyptian recording. Early Greek versions from the late 1920’s are often classified as “rebetiko” music, which was urban and political by nature. One of my Greek musician friends described “rebetiko” as “anarchist music” and told me it was banned in Greece from 1938 till around 1950 due to it’s lyric content.

Versions of “Misirlou” abound – from very soft and flowing to upbeat and energetic. Aside from the instrumental variations, there are versions sung in Greek, Turkish, Arabic and probably more out there.

What is “Misirlou” about?

“Misirlou” means “Egyptian Girl”, and the 1919 recording was, in fact, titled “Bint Masr” which means the same in Arabic. It is an ode to an exotic beauty.

My Misirlou, your sweet eyes
Have lit a flame in my heart
Ah ya habibi, ah ya leleli, ah
Honey drips from your lips

Ah Misirlou, your magical exotic beauty
Will drive me crazy, I can’t stand it anymore
Ah I will steal you from Arabia

My black-eyed crazy Misirlou
My life changes with a kiss
Ah ya habibi, with a little kiss, ah
From the little mouth of yours, oh!

Source: Greek Songs – Greek Music . Interesting note – this site credits the lyrics and music to Nick Roubanis, a Greek immigrant who first registered the copyright for it in the United States in 1934.

Because this song is widely known, it is a solid choice for most any audience. Although  some would say it’s a bit cliche, it does have a beautiful melody which is probably why it has traveled so far and wide.

Here’s the earliest known Greek recording from 1927

 

How about you… do you like to perform to “Miserlou”? Do you prefer the faster or slower versions?

 

October 4, 2015 6 Comments
Rukshana

Quick Change Tips for Bellydance Costumes

I love getting questions from DBQ subscribers – especially great ones like this!

Recently I was in a bellydance show and performed 2 numbers close together and was a lot slower than some of the other dancers changing. I was wondering if you could offer some tips in a Friday DBQ on quick costume changes.

Been there – done that. It’s stressful – and stress is the last thing you need when you want to take the stage with calm, cool and collected confidence.  A dancer can use all the help she can get, so for this very critical question, I asked an expert – Rukshana, lovingly known to the DBQ community as “The Costume Fairy”. Not only is Rukshana a genius bellydance costume designer and seamstress, she has had a long career in professional theater costuming. In short, she knows all the backstage secrets and she’s sharing them with us here!

The Costume Fairy says….

Fast changes can be done super fast if you take the time to prepare a proper set up.  It’s even faster if you have a helper. Here are some tips to prepare for a smooth quick change.

  •  “Rig” your jewelry.  Use magnets or Velcro closures on necklaces. If you aren’t fast with pierced earrings, find clip-ons or convert the pierced earrings to clips.  Check the jewelry findings area in your local craft store or shop on line.  If you add a piece of double stick toupee or Hollywood tape to the clips they have added security.
  • Preset your costume on a chair in the reverse order you would put it on.  For example– bra on the bottom, then belt, skirt.  Put any shoes under the chair. Jewelry can go under the bra or next to your shoes, depending on the space and size of the accessories. I like to have a clean sheet under the chair so I can drop the costume I’m wearing without worrying about it getting dirty.
  • Rig closures for speed where applicable. You are not going to Velcro a bra or belt, but you can use a skirt with elastic or use a zipper instead of a row of hook and bar closures. Big hooks and bars on a bra or belt are better that multiple small ones as a closure. Size matters!
  • If you can attach the skirt and belt this also may increase speed.
  • If you are wearing a belly cover have your bra attached at the front to it so you have fewer attachment points to secure it to the bra or use clear elastic straps to hold it up.
  •  It’s faster to have a designated belly cover for each costume than to change them.  Sometimes you can even rig your skirt to the cover and bra with some stitching or snaps.
  • Practice the change!  Do a couple dry runs where you figure out what placement works best for you.  Then run it for speed.  You need to know how much time you have between songs. A minute is a long time if you have everything prepped and ready.
  • See if you can arrange to have a dresser back stage. Their job is to facilitate the change.  This person needs to be calm and cool under pressure.  You don’t need someone high strung rushing you.  A good dresser will help as needed and keep you moving and out of panic mode if something is not going as planned.
  • Set up your change as close to the stage as possible. Garment racks with sheets thrown over them can form a small quick change booth in a pinch.  Walled pop up tents work great too.
As a professional costumer I can tell you nudity is an occupational hazard I face daily. We have all seen it so when speed is important modesty goes out the window. As a dancer I will try to be sensitive to my surroundings but I will make my change.  I have mastered the art of changing costumes with out excess nudity (dance panties cover as much as a bikini if not more and if you practice it’s amazing how you can undo the neck strap on bra 1 and slip bra 2 over the top before releasing the back band to drop bra 1 and then position and secure bra 2.
Remember the clock is ticking!

Have another quick-change trick you’ve used? Share it in the comments below…

September 17, 2015 5 Comments

Skill, Challenge & Creative Flow in Belly Dance

Let’s begin at the end this time. Have you ever set to working on a bellydance choreography and found that you competely lost track of time? Ideas are coming, you’re jumping forward and backward in the music as you find the movement that is the perfect fit of musicality and style. Ahhh… flow is a wondrous thing. The “flow” state, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his TED talk,  is that lost-in-the-work feeling you get when it’s all coming together easily, or at least steadily. You face the sticker moments head on without inadequacy and drill right through them. Those are amazing and energizing moments, but for most of us, they don’t come nearly often as we’d like.

Creativity requires your full attention.

Researchers say that flow can only happen when we work alone and without distractions because to pay attention to another person uses over 50% of our brain capacity. To get into creative flow, we have to source our ideas from within the contents of our brain, or what we can synthesize using our existing skills and knowledge. We can’t stop to look things up or gather ideas from outside sources or other people – that breaks our flow. Therefore having s solid bank of skill is key to getting and staying in this golden creative state. We need to have it at the ready and fully integrated into our skill set, not as a passing bit of information we once heard, saw or tried, but an adaptable understanding of how that information can apply to the work at hand.

So… what does this have to do with bellydance?

Does it sounds like I’m talking far away from the topic of bellydance? Not really. Let’s look at the example of going to a workshop. During the workshop you may learn several new moves and combination that you really enjoy  and would like to incorporate in your improvisational dancing or choreography projects. However, if those moves and combos only live in your notebook and a dusty corner of your dance memory, they are very unlikely to come out in your work. To get this information embedded into your dance brain and muscle patterns, you need to drill it consciously so it can come out spontaneously when you are deeply embroiled in writing new dances.

Taking a huge load of workshops at a bellydance convention is fun and mentally stimulating, but ask yourself how much of the information that you paid for and took in do you really, truly actually apply in your dancing? If we’re honest with ourselves, the percentage is probably fairly low.  I observed this about my own workshop experiences going to conferences and I changed my objective. I still may take a lot of workshops for the variety, opportunity and experience of new material and teachers, but my goal is to pluck a few nuggets that I will really, truly use and get them into easy reach of my working movement vocabulary by engaging with the material consistently in my personal practice during the weeks following.

Filling your bellydance “well”

As creative artists, bellydancers should be looking to “fill their well” every day with a variety of images, music, dances and inspiring thoughts. Sometimes we seek it out, sometimes we just have to be open to what is around us..  These all converge and align in the moment when we need them…. if we’ve provided ourselves a steady diet of thoughtful material of all types.  This is a practice recommended in both  The Accidental Creative and The Artist’s Way – two books and authors I have personally  found invaluable and highly recommend.

Recently, I shared an article in the “Daily Bellydance Quickies” regarding creativity as a skill  that can be acquired rather than a “gift” one is born with – or not. One of the “skill builders” for creativity the article described is being an “explainer” to yourself.  Talk out loud to yourself, or write down an explanation of new information you want to truly learn. Share it with someone else; the questions and comments in these interactions can be quite illuminating and will enrich your own understanding and synthesis of the information. The goal here is to get those skills on board so they can go with you down the river of creative flow.

The goal here is to get those skills on board so they can go with you down the river of creative flow.

True flow also needs something for us to leverage our skills against. Mr. Csikszentmihalyi  and Julie Bernstein each explained aspects of this idea in their TED talks.  The challenge presented needs to be high and met by a high skill set. If our challenge is high but our skills are low, we are anxious and unsure. If both are low we are bored. If our skills are only slighty below what is needed to meet the challenge, then we are in an “arousal” state where curiosity and interest are piqued and the atmosphere for learning is optimal. If you’ve been in a bellydance workshop with just the right amount of challenge – a reach but not a frustrating overreach for you technical skills – then you know the kind of exhilarating learning experience this can be!

So what does it all mean for us as bellydance artists?

If our end goal is to experience flow in our dance creations often and turn out quality, inspired work, then we have to seek out and be receptive to new ideas and inspiration that “fills our well”. We have to let ourselves move toward and with the ideas that  draw our interest and engage with them deliberately. This sets them in our brain s Continue Reading →

May 21, 2015 4 Comments

Thoughts on “Bad Musicality” in Belly Dance

At a bellydance event, I recently overheard one dancer remark to another that she thought that the performer they were watching had “bad musicality”. Putting aside questionable politeness, was does that mean  anyway?

Cairo Caravan 2012 - Performance Portraiture and Stage Photography by Lee Corkett

We have discussed musicality in the Daily Bellydance Quickies many times and in many ways. Loosely defined, it is the ability to illustrate the music with movement. It can include larger elements such as instrument sound textures down to the tiny details of accents and momentary pauses.

Ignoring everything else and going just with the beat could be considered the absence of musicality in dance. But at the other extreme, hitting every tiny thing with an almost literal conversion of music to movement can be, as Ranya Renee once said,  “too clever”. I agree entirely. I find that as unappealing as ignoring the musical features. I prefer to see discretion and artful choices.

Choices – yes – there are many to be made. You make them in slow deliberate decisions when you write choreography and in the flash of a instant in improvisation. What are you reacting to in your music? The rhythm, the phrasing, the sharp accent, the lilting melody line or the tension of a violin note – they are all valid possibilities.  The choosing of one over the other in any given point in a performance is like a painter choosing red paint or blue for the flowers that are about to bloom on the canvas.

We all hear a piece differently, despite the fact that the same sounds come rushing at us from the band or through our earbuds. I even find I hear different things in the same familiar piece of music at different times. I call this my “coffee pot theory“. So what makes for “bad musicality”? Is it that a dancer completely ignored something you consider top priority and un-ignorable and opted for a different musical element to grab on to and dance? That just means two dancers have different artistic sensibilities – and thank goodness that is so. Otherwise, we would all dance the same and bellydance would be filled with “rights” and “wrongs” – another idea that could take a step back, in my opinion.

When I look at a performance and consider the musicality, what’s the bottom line for me?

Can you show me how you’re hearing the music?
Show me how to listen through your ears.

If I can, then I’m happy – even if it’s not the same choice I would have made. I like surprises and seeing different points of musical view.

What do you look for? Share in the comments below…

April 13, 2015 3 Comments
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