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The 2015 DBQ Bellydance Challenge

So it’s almost February. The shiny enthusiasm you had for lofty New Year’s resolutions has probably settled down. Hopefully it’s settled into some lingering creative ideas for what you’d like to do with your dance this year. Maybe you need a little nudge to get it rolling.

This year, I’ve decided to launch the DBQ Bellydance Challenge. Inspired by a similar project by Studio 360, I’m inviting you to let the bellydance community-at-large support you (and hold you accountable) in realizing your dream.

How will the DBQ Bellydance Challenge work?

You tell us about your great, big sparkly idea – the book you want to write, the costume design business you want start, the DVD you want to make, the festival you want to host – you name it.

5 or 6 projects will be chosen to present to the online bellydance community who will vote for the 3 finalists.

The 3 finalists will be interviewed and their projects will be shared with the online bellydance community through this blog, the “Daily Bellydance Quickies” email and the DBQ’s social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

We’ll check in with you through the year and see how your project is coming along.

Hopefully by the end of 2015 we’ll be congratulating you on fulfilling your bellydance dream!

Be bold & get started on that dream right now by telling us about in the form below….entries will be accepted through Feb. 15th.

(use your up and down arrows to view the form)

 

January 29, 2015 0 Comments

How To Tame Your Backstage Nerves and Find Your Inner Bellydancing Superhero

3 more dancers and you’re on. Your stomach is churning and sweat is running down the inside of your arms before you have even started dancing.

Not feeling like thisTamin?

WonderWoman

Backstage nerves are no fun and I’m pretty sure every dancer has experienced them at some time. Even if you are an experienced dancer and are used to being calm, cool and collected in front your audience, if you find yourself in a new situation where the stakes are higher or it is a “tougher room” (we all know an audience full of bellydancers is the toughest) you may still develop a case of newbie-nerves all over again.

The most straight-forward way to prevent a case of the backstage jitters is to be prepared. If you know that you are well-rehearsed and come to the gig rested and fueled in a healthful way (skip the Monster drinks) you have set yourself up for success. But that’s not always enough.

Your body and your mind are both in on the scheme, linked by your hormonal chemistry. There has been some very interesting research done recently that has turned up some really useful information for dancers waiting for their turn backstage.

You can read the whole study here, but this is the short and practical version…

First, let’s consider the connection between our brain and our chemistry. The hormone testosterone has the effect of boosting confidence. Levels of the hormone cortisol rise with stress and anxiety. Now the relationship between our body and our mind – we read confidence in body language when people stand up straight and look “open”. When we see someone slumping or crossing their arms protectively, we read shyness, fear, hesitation and the like.

In the study by Amy Cuddy at Harvard University, they found that assuming a powerful, open posture for 2 minutes positively and significantly impacts the body’s chemistry for more confidence and less anxiety. Wow. Quick, free and all natural too!

So what does this mean for you backstage?

Try standing in the “superwoman stance” as you wait, feet wide, hands on your hips and chest and head up. Maybe add some deep breathing to boost the calming effect – it certainly can’t hurt.

Now channel your bellydancing superhero self and go raq their world!

What techniques do you use to mentally prepare before you take the stage? Tell us in the comments below…

January 22, 2015 3 Comments

How I Met My “Belly Grandma”

Who do you consider your “belly mama”? For many dancers, it’s their first teacher. For others, it’s their most influential teacher. That’s how it is for me. My first instruction came from a friend, then I took a group class, then I moved to another class – where I fell into the lap of the woman I consider my “belly mama”, Jazmine.

Jazmine would often talk about her own belly mama, Una. I never saw a video of her or even a photo of her. But one day something magical happened.

I was backstage at Cairo Caravan in 2013. I had just finished my set and  half naked in the dressing room I heard the emcee announce the next dancer, Una.  My first thought was of Jazmine – could this be the woman she spoke so highly of? I was in California which is where she lived most of her life before coming to Arizona. That was a good sign.  As I listed to the emcee introduce her, she spoke of her long career in belly dance. The odds were getting better and I was scrambling to put on enough clothes to stand near the door to watch from offstage.

With my "belly grandma", Una at Cairo Caravan 2013

With my “belly grandma”, Una at Cairo Caravan 2013

I had my confirmation within the first few bars of music – the exuberant zill playing,  the footwork style – it was crystal clear. Even 20+ years after leaving her belly mama’s nest, she still carries the stamp of much of her training. Of course, she has plenty of her own flair too, but the lineage was evident as much as a child that has her mother’s smile.

 

I was the only one in the dressing room. I felt like I was going to burst – this was so amazing and unexpected, I HAD to tell someone! I was  practically jumping out of my skin with excitement to tell her who MY teacher was and that I was her belly granddaughter.  I know that Jazmine had lost contact with her long ago.  The poor woman, I practically lunged at her while she was still breathlessly coming into the dressing room! I told her how highly Jazmine spoke of her and all the little gems of knowledge she passed on to us and credited to her. She was very gracious, and surprised – and I’m sure more than a little taken aback at my excitement. She probably tells people about the crazy dancer that accosted her backstage at Cairo Caravan!

 

So now it’s 2014, almost 18 years since I first started in bellydance and I guess I can consider myself a “belly mama” to a few dancers and that makes me very proud. In some, I can see some of my own style mixed in a wonderful way with who they are as dancers. This was something Jazmine always stressed. She never encouraged cookie-cutter dancing and said on more times that I can count “dance like YOU”, either literally or as the subtext of what actually was coming out of her mouth. 

 

Sometimes I even see bit of what I absorbed from Jazmine in my students – things I tell them or they have just internalized through learning my choreography. Things that Jazmine learned from Una.  It makes me wish I knew who Una’s belly mama was. It’s a beautiful thing.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas and all the lovely “belly mamas” and “belly grandmas” out there! Who’s YOUR belly mama and what’s the most important thing you learned from her? Tell us in the comments below…

May 11, 2014 4 Comments

How Not to Exercise – Work Smarter, Not Just Longer

Brazen FitAs bikini season approaches, I see more and more fitness challenges on Facebook and Twitter. The “Brazen Fit Ab Challenge”, the “30 Day Squat Challenge”,  and the “5/100 Fitness Challenge” are just a few examples . Anyone who has subscribed to the Daily Bellydance Quickies or has followed this blog for any length of time already knows that I am a huge proponent of fitness training for not only your general health, but also to improve your belly dance. However, I am not a fan of many of these internet challenges. Yes, I know you’re shocked. Let me tell you why….

Some of these challenges focus on only one exercise, like the “30 Day Squat Challenge”. Assuming this is in addition to a well balanced fitness routine that includes the upper body and core, it might not be that bad. But you could do a lot better. That’s great if you want to spend a  month really focusing on lower body strength. And the squat really is a fantastic multi-joint exercise.  This plan (and others that focus on a single exercise) simply increase the number of repetitions. If you really want to make strength gains, you need to keep your muscles challenged with new things, not just more of the same.

This program could be improved with the simple modification of gradually adding weight to the squats rather than just reps. Even better would be to change up the lower body exercises using different kinds of lunges (of which there are so many), single leg varieties and plyometric squats which include jumping (no weights, please!).

My dance friend, Kamrah calls these kinds of exercises her “stupid exercises”. I don’t think squats and crunches are stupid… unless you’re doing them in quantities like these.  How long do you think it takes to do the 250 squats that  are the goal on Day 30? I timed myself doing 50 squats at a respectable speed with full range and good form (and why would you do them any other way?) . It took 1:54. Let’s do the math….if you could keep up that pace for the whole 250 squats – which I doubt anyone could- you’d be squatting for about 10 minutes straight. I’m bored out of my gourd just thinking about it! I would love to know the statistics of how many people who start these things actually finish them. I suspect boredom, monotony and time constraints bump many people off this kind of fitness wagon.

Now let’s consider some of the multi-exercise challenges. I’ll use the “Brazen Fit Ab Challenge” pictured above as an example. This one gets points for using 3 different exercises, but well… not really. Why? First, none of the three target the obliques directly. Second, the leg raises are a very problematic exercise, especially in the quantity they want you to do them. It’s very easy to strain the low back doing these, especially once your abs fatigue. Another issue with these is that as the abs fatigue, the hip flexors step up to help – and that’s not what you meant to work. I talk more about that and demonstrate what’s going on here.

Another important factor with any of these high-rep programs is the danger of developing overuse injuries. Doing the same activity day after day in high quantities is hard on the body and can lead to issues such as tendinitis or compartment syndrome, both of which would require lots of rest to heal. That will set your fitness and bellydance goals back in the long run.  I won’t even get into the possibility developing of muscle imbalances.

Regarding the quantity, again, why would you want to do 100+ crunches? If you check out the “Brazen Fit Ab Challenge” website, there’s actually an extension to 48 days where you can do 245 crunches! Really?? There are so many more challenging ab exercises you can do. When 50 crunches no longer challenges you, step up to other things.  The same is true for planks, just longer is not better. Go for a minute of a tougher variation. Need a suggestion? Try the “walking plank” or this “plank twist” which will also target your obliques.

If these kinds of programs get you off the couch and doing something versus nothing, then great – let them get you started. Then start doing your homework or enlist help from a fitness pro to keep going in a way that will keep you challenged with variety and motivated to try new exercises. Work smarter, not just longer. Heck… maybe put in some extra bellydance practice time instead of 10 minutes doing squats!

Have you ever done one of these programs? Did you finish? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments below….

April 4, 2014 5 Comments

A Review of “The Belly Dance Handbook”

"The Belly Dance Handbook" by Princess Farhana

“The Belly Dance Handbook” by Princess Farhana

Very few books on belly dance catch my attention enough to actually read them. Even fewer find a way to be relevant to both the beginner and the seasoned performer. After being a fan and follower of Princess Farhana’s blog for years, I knew “The Belly Dance Handbook” would make it onto my reading list. This lady is one of the hardest working and most diverse performers in the biz, and she’s got a wealth of experience that ranges far beyond just the dancing. That’s what I love about this book – she shares the goods on all the topics a pro dancer needs to know, but will never learn in dance class. I can hardly cover it all, but I’d like to share a few of the aspects I found particularly valuable.

Princess Farhana’s overview of belly dance styles and props is a major strength of this book. The beginner would find it useful to get the “lay of the land” so they can begin to explore in an informed way and have some context when they encounter performance genres they don’t recognize. I made this assigned reading for my serious private students! As an experienced dancer who’s done her fair share of research, I loved this section because it really wove together all the threads of styles over time, creating a “bird’s eye view” of our history.

Another place where this book really shines is in the costume department. Princess Farhana is legendary for her elaborate, meticulous and “totally together” look. In the costuming section, she discusses strategies for building a costume wardrobe on a budget, including how to make sure you get your money’s worth whether you are purchasing new or used. But it doesn’t stop there – she schools us on how to store, transport and clean our delicate bedlahs. This section also covers all the extras that complete the look like hairpieces, jewelry, the low down on costume undies, and makeup tricks for face and body.

Trial and error – lots of error – are the way so many dancers learn about things like photoshoots.  That can be an expensive lesson!  Princess Farhana’s photos are always striking, unique and full of personality. What works on stage and what works in front of the camera are not the same. She shares lots of tips for preparing for your shoot, how to play up your best features and creatively mask others,  as well as what kind of photos are necessary for promotion and getting your “brand” across.

I really appreciated the section on stage lighting. This is another topic we don’t get exposed to till we are in the moment and need it. Most dancers wouldn’t know what to ask for if given the chance. Most lighting techs at shows wouldn’t be willing to tell you what they are using and why so you could learn, but the Princess will fill you in on stage jargon, lighting basics and how colored gels can enhance your skin tone and costume color, set a mood … or just make you look sick.

I’ve really barely scratched the surface of what “The Belly Dance Handbook” covers.  There is plenty of practical information about living and working in the biz – onstage and off, including turning pro, teaching, belly dance tourism, navigating the belly dance community and business practices. Princess Farhana’s voice and engaging personality really shine in the writing so it’s never dry. I highly recommend it, wherever you are on your belly dance journey!

Have you read “The Belly Dance Handbook” already? Share your thoughts in the comments below….

March 27, 2014 1 Comment
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