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“Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage” – A Book Review

"Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage"

“Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage”

“Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage” is a collaboration by Sara Shrapnell, Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya. All of these women are experienced belly dance performers and bring their own voice and experience to the content. This is one of the most unique things about this particular book – and one of it’s strengths, in my opinion. Reading it is like attending a panel discussion on entering the pro bellydance track. Through copious photographs to illustrate each point, useful checklists and illuminating sidebars and anecdotes, the reader gets to hear and see each of the author’s unique contributions and perspectives on being a working belly dancer on the scene.

I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Dawn Devine and Sara Shrapnell in 2015 while this book was in the writing process, so I am thrilled to see it finished and out in the world  as a belly dance resource. You can watch that interview here.

This book addresses that tricky transition a serious belly dance student has to make if they want to start gigging and make a name for themselves on the professional circuit at any level – local, national or international. For many dancers, these are lessons learned the hard way – that is certainly how I learned most of them! Classes and workshops abound to teach us movement, choreography, specialty props and musicality, but how do you put your “open for business” shingle out there in the belly dance world?

 

Who should read this book?

“Becoming a Bellydance: From Student to Stage” does a very thorough job of answering the minutiae of that question in approachable, actionable and practical ways. Obviously, it’s target reader is the belly dance student contemplating going pro, but as a seasoned professional who trains up-and-coming dancers, I think it’s a valuable read to remind me of how overwhelming  the business facets of starting out can be – something I may have forgotten or taken for granted after being in the game a while.

A Reality Check

You need to know where you are before you can navigate to your destination. I like that this book begins with some honest self-assessment – it is time well spent for the blossoming student. It continues with advice on how to set clear goals and how to plan the intermediate steps to achieve them. This is key to using this book (or making progress in anything) and the best way to approach the treasure trove of actionable material in this handbook.

The Self-Made Bellydancer

We may not like to think of it this way, but a belly dancer for hire is a product for sale. And just like any product designer, considering their customers’ needs and how to fill them, the belly dancer embarking on the business track needs to decide who they are (and aren’t). The author crew walks through all the public-facing aspects of your persona – your “brand” – that signal to the customer who you are and what you do.  

Dawn Devine, a master costumer known to many in the belly dance world, does a thorough breakdown of the layers of costuming that build your overall look. And as I mentioned before, each author adds their perspective and experience. This book even includes 13 costuming projects from “no-sew” to relatively simple – all very handy additions to a dancer’s wardrobe.

Other pieces of the branding game include what to include in an effective website, creating marketing materials, and tips on photo shoots and getting flattering photos. “Becoming a Bellydancer” also includes guidelines on how to use social media to build your brand – a new skill that is very necessary for the current day dancer!

On With The Show

Performance opportunities run the gamut from short festival shows to full sets in a club with live music. Each one has it’s own set of considerations. What music is appropriate? How do you prepare it? Do you need a contract? And then there’s the “people” part of the equation – backstage etiquette, audience interaction, and the politics of the show lineup. These ladies cover all of these things beautifully because they have all been there and done that.

If you are a belly dance student with aspirations of someday going pro, whether as a paying hobby or if your dream is to be a full-time dancer, “Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage” is a valuable reference that you would do well to turn to often to help direct yourself toward your goal. If you are a mentor to dancers in this phase of their training, this book will be just as valuable to you in assisting your students on their dance journey.

 

For more information on the authors, please visit:

Sara Shrapnell’s site

Dawn Devine’s site

Alisha Westerfeld

Poppy Maya

 

March 24, 2017 0 Comments

6 Tips To Close The Deal On a Bellydance Gig

close the deal

Last week, I taught a private lesson that was very different than usual. My student, who has been taking both weekly and private lessons consistently for over 3 1/2 years now, is on the cusp of performing professionally.  An opportunity popped up, so the week’s lesson became how to handle a call from a client looking to book a performance rather than technique and improvisation. When you are seriously invested in the comprehensive training of a bellydance student that is looking to “go pro”, there is so much more than moves to learn!

I thought I’d share a few of the tips I went over with her in hopes that they will be useful for my blog readers here and on the “Bellydance Quickies”.

  1. Open it up. Start the conversation about booking by asking a simple, open-ended question like “Tell me about the party you are planning.” The key to making a good booking at a good price is getting good information. You don’t want every gig you get an inquiry for – trust me. Bachelor party? No, thank you.  This is where you initially screen the booking to see if it’s a good fit for you.
  2. Now shut up. Listen more than you talk. Your client will most likely tell you more than you thought to ask about the nature of the occasion if you get them started and give them a chance. Clarify specifics briefly as needed, but let them tell you all about their big plans. It is just as important to understand the size and formality of an event and the vibe they want to create as it is to know how long the show will be and at what time.
  3. Take notes. Take notes while you are listening to the client describe their vision for the party, wedding or corporate event they are planning. You will, of course, need to get more specifics like the exact address later to write up the contract, but you can gather much of what you need from being a good listener and asking a few well chosen questions. I keep a small notebook in my purse just for this in case I get a call while I’m out and about. I use the same notebook for calls I take at home, that way I can keep all potential client information in one place. I  put the date I received the call on the page too, so if I haven’t heard back from a client in a week, I call to see if they are still looking to book. You’d be surprise how many say, “I’ve been meaning to call you this week – thanks for checking back!”.
  4. Don’t jump the gun!  Clients are sometimes (often) in a hurry to get a price out of you. Make sure you have all, and I mean ALL the information you need before you give a price. Usually the first time I get a “premature ask” I deftly redirect with a question about other specifics I need to set an accurate price. What is the address? If I’m at my computer, I run it on Google Maps while I have them on the phone. There may be a travel fee. For example, here in the Phoenix area, if someone is in north Chandler, it’s a 20 minute drive from my house. If it’s south Chandler it could be over 45 minutes. During rush hour it could be 90 minutes!  Is this a wedding? Toasts, speeches, receiving lines… wedding receptions almost always run behind schedule. Figure extra time into the cost. And those are just two examples of the many things that could affect your quote.
  5. Paint the picture. Even if your potential client isn’t pushing you for a price, it is in your best interest to delay pitching your price. The more you can help the client build a mental picture of the lovely and exciting show you will plan for them, discuss the logistics of music hookup and how to get in and keep it a surprise for the guest of honor, the closer you are to sealing the deal.
  6. Keep your mystique. This is one paradox of   the bellydance biz . Remember that what the client is seeking is exciting, glamorous entertainment for their event. They saw your gorgeous, elegant photo on your webpage and thought, “I want HER to dance for our wedding!”  Yes, you need to be thorough and professional in your business dealing, but if you are “all business” and too cold in discussing the details, you can blow the magic your photo created. It may not work in your favor for getting booked. It takes lots of practice to finesse the client call with just the right balance of business and charm so they stay excited to have YOU grace their event.

Keeping all this in mind as you guide the client through a booking call takes practice, just like your choreography! The more you do it, the more situations you have to navigate and different types of events you have to organize, the better you’ll get at it. Honesty, I didn’t fully realize how much I’d learned over 16 years of taking bookings until I spontaneously had to give a “booking call lesson” last week and it all came spilling out!

If you are also starting to book professional work and would like more comprehensive coaching on how to handle client calls, I do offer lessons on Skype or Google Hangouts. I can take you step-by-step through an initial client call, booking and follow-up, including role-playing exercises (where I can play the indecisive client, the “price shopper”,  and a total pain!)  so you can learn to close the deal like a pro! Email me for more information.

January 13, 2016 3 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

Below The Knee: A Primer on Feet and Ankles for Belly Dancers

Bellydance puts a lot of focus on the hips and torso, but like a house with a beautiful second floor balcony, it needs a strong first floor to support it. We may not be as hard on our feet as ballet dancers, but we depend on the muscles and ligaments of our lower legs and feet to help us glide gracefully, turn safely and transfer weight smoothly.

Some basic understanding of the structure and musculature of the parts below the knee that we’re hiding under our chiffon skirts can help us enhance our movement quality, solve problems in faulty movement patterns, prevent acute injuries such as ankle sprains and chronic problems like plantar fasciitis.

The feet and ankles are the hidden mechanisms of dance movement.

The feet and ankles are the hidden mechanisms of dance movement.

A tour of a dancer’s foot and lower leg

We’ll start at the forefoot which includes the bones of the toes and their metatarsals. The front of the foot is controlled by both intrinsic and extrinsic muscles. The intrinsic muscles have both their origin and insertion within the foot itself. The extrinsic muscles originate from the lower leg and run into the foot. The intrinsic muscles of the forefoot give us stability and help us balance in relevé. The main extrinsic muscle in the forefoot is the flexor hallucis longus which makes the big toe so powerful. However, if the intrinsic muscles of this area are weak, your toes may “claw” the floor instead of lengthen which will inhibit your balance and can make the big toe muscle do too much of the work.

Exercises for the Forefoot

Moving along to the midfoot, we have the part we consider the instep or arch. Not only is this the “pretty” part of the foot, especially when pointed, it is also the part that helps us make graceful and smooth weight transfers. The midfoot is the shock absorber and allows the foot to act as a segmented lever for finer control. It has 5 oddly-shaped bones and a very strong ligament, the plantar fascia. This is what gets inflamed in plantar fasciitis, causing heel pain.

The intrinsic muscles of the midfoot need to be strong to support the structure of the arch and help execute and stabilize fancy footwork like grapevines in relevé.  A weak  and sagging arch is not just an aesthetic problem, it sets ups a chain reaction of misalignment that runs up the inside of the leg to the knee and can cause or exacerbate problems there. The shape of the arch also protects blood vessels and nerves on the bottom of the foot from being compressed.

Exercises for the Midfoot

foot

Making our way to the rear or hindfoot, we have reached the part of the foot that transfers our bodyweight to the wider support base of the foot and helps us articulate movement. Of course, the heel is the where we have the Achilles tendon which delivers the action of muscles higher up the back of the leg to foot.

Before we leave the foot, let’s talk a little more about arches. The transverse arch is the one that is most visible that we addressed above, but there are two more. The medial and lateral arches run the length of the foot on the inside and outside, respectively. The purpose of the arches is to distribute body weight proportionately to the structures of the foot – the smaller bones of the forefoot bearing less than the larger bones of the rear and midfoot. A strong lateral arch is important because it must bear weight in order for the medial arch to be able to lift. As mentioned before, arch problems can lead to other problems up the kinetic chain of the body.

A dancer’s ankles are the hidden mechanism of many larger movements. Consider a “cross turn”.  Stand on one foot and cross the other in front with the ball of the foot on the floor. Rise up onto the balls of the feet and by unwinding your legs and feet, you have turned yourself around – tah dah! During the turn, the muscles that surround your ankles on all sides need to support the joint to prevent strains or sprains. While we’re considering this example, the muscles of the arch need to work to stabilize against the torque of turning too. Chains of multiple travelling turns and quick direction changes also require strong ankles for safety. Face it, when your ankle gives way and you go down, much more than your ankle can be injured. You can twist your knee or injure your wrist when you instinctively try to break your fall.

Exercies for the Hindfoot and Ankles

Our last stop is the lower leg. The gastrocnemius and soleus are the two calf muscles that arrive at the heel through the Achilles tendon. They lift us into relevé. The gastrocnemius crosses both the ankle and the knee and is the more powerful of the two. The soleus lies underneath it and originates below the knee. It has more slow-twitch fibers and is geared more for endurance than power. The soleus assists in balance at the the ankle.

Your ankles shouldn't look like this in relevé.

Your ankles shouldn’t look like this in relevé.

Another lower leg muscle that we talk about less often is the peroneal group (a duet of longus and brevis). These run down the outside of the lower leg and support the ankle by preventing it from rolling outward. Face the mirror with your feet parallel and rise up on the balls of your feet. Do your ankles sag outward (see photo)? If not, your peroneals are doing their job!

Exercises for the Calves

Like a house, you need to be strong from the ground up. Dancing in itself, does strengthen our feet but sometimes additional exercise is needed too.  There are many exercises designed to address very specific areas and actions of the feet and ankles – far too many to go into right here – but we will be going over some in coming weeks of the “Daily Bellydance Quickies” so be sure you are a subscriber if you are interested in learning them.

 

 

February 21, 2015 3 Comments

Making the Most of Your Belly Dance Music

Around this time of year, I get the urge to clean out things and get rid of what I no longer have use for. I literally spent 8 straight hours ripping my bedroom apart this week.  I even vacuumed under that bed – take that dust bunnies!  Not only did I clear my room of useless clutter that just got in the way, I found things I had long forgotten I owned or that I had thought were lost – like my favorite tweezers!  The big payoff for me is waking up in my refreshed and organized space in the morning. My first sight is a pleasant accomplishment that sets the tone for a good day.

One thing I never get rid of however, is music, especially since these days it’s digital and takes up no space. But I DO take some time to go through it once or twice a year – the payoff is just as real!

These tips are based on using iTunes, but most music library programs have similar characteristics.

An example of ratings and comments from my iTunes library.

An example of ratings and comments from my iTunes library.

Categorize your music by how you USE it.

Do you have all your belly dance music in one category? I used to years ago. 80% of my catalog was one category! That didn’t help to narrow things down at all. Now I categorize my music by how I use it. I have categories for entrance and exit music for shows, drum solos, Saidi, Khaleegy, drill music for teaching, etc.  This makes finding what I need a snap.

Use the “last played” sorting option.

I truly believe the 80/20 rule applies to belly dance music. Without intervention, I would use 20% of my music collection 80% of the time simply because they are my favorites for performance or are really effective for class drills. While that gets the job done, it doesn’t keep things fresh.

Try sorting your collection by play history with the most recently played at the bottom of the list. When you are reading email,  cleaning or otherwise putzing about the house, play it from the top. You’ll unearth songs you didn’t even know you had – and may be perfect for a show, class or your next choreography!

Use the music rating system.

When I’m listening to my least played music, I give it a rating. The rating system helps me find those standbys I love very quickly, but also reminds me of the good stuff I’ve turned up when I go looking for new combo music for DBQ video segments or the next student piece I’m writing.

Be a Comment Queen!

If your program has a comments or notes entry like iTunes does, use it to your advantage. I add info like the predominant rhythm, the “feel” of the music or even the general idea of the song lyrics so I don’t use a song about heartbreak at a wedding reception! For example, if I’m doing Chiftitelli zill drills in class, I look in my Drill Music category, then scan the comments for Chiftitelli – there it is! Another example – I have a TON of Saidi music. Some of it is very modern and some is very heavy and folksy, I keep notes on the “feel” of the music so I can find what I need quickly and easily.

Use playlists creatively.

Of course I keep playlists of party shows, holiday-themed shows, shows that include props and all the workshop topics I teach. Sometimes I use them as is, sometimes I swap out a song or two to keep things fresh. They are in a constant state of musical evolution.  I also use playlists as reminders and personal study guides. I have a playlist of interesting songs I’ve found and want to get to know better.

I usually turn these up during my “excavation” of the least played items or when I buy a new CD and a track  piques my interest.  Another handy playlist is the “I’d like to choreograph this someday” list. Sometimes I find a song I think I’d like to write choreography to – for myself or my belly dance students – but I don’t have an upcoming project at the time. One the list it goes. When the time comes, I have some pre-screened ideas ready to check out.

 

What tips and tricks do you use to organize your digital music collection? Share them in the comments below…

December 29, 2014 3 Comments
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