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Belly Dance Costume Inventory: Why & How To Do It

This is Week #1 of Your Sparkly Wardrobe, a collaboration with Sparkly Belly

Inventory costume PIN

How many costumes does a bellydancer need?
Just one more, right?

We’d all like a limitless wardrobe of sparkly things, but whether it is our budget or our closest space that constrains us, most of us will never achieve that beautiful dream. We can, however, make the most of what we can afford and store. In fact, if you’re like me, you may not be making the most of what you have already! That’s the mission of the Your Sparkly Wardrobe project – to help you make the most of the costume pieces you already own by taking stock, re-evaluating your performance needs and creating a plan to up your costume game without any major purchases.

Why do you need to inventory your bellydance wardrobe?

There are many excellent reasons to create an inventory of your costumes.  For starters, if you would like to include your costumes in the coverage of your renter’s or home owner’s policy – which I highly recommend you do – you would need an inventory, ideally with photos and receipts,  to make a claim in the event any were stolen or damaged in a fire, flood or other disaster. If you are a professional with a closet full of high-end bedlahs, this is absolutely essential!

On a more positive note, creating an inventory of your costumes will…

  • make you fully aware of what you already have so you don’t buy duplicates or near-duplicates
  • give you the opportunity to assess the condition and fit of your costume pieces so they are ready for the stage
  • help you spot gaps in your wardrobe that could open multiple options if filled
  • turn up items that you no longer need or want and can get rid of
  • give you an opportunity to discover new pairings of your existing wardrobe pieces

Are you convinced yet?  Let’s do this!

How To Inventory Your Belly Dance Wardrobe

Step 1: Get it together

Gather up all your costume items. This includes full sets, all manner of skirts and pants, sashes, veils and accessories. Put them on a large table, bed or on a clean sheet spread on the floor. Check all your closets, gig bags and any place you may have stashed things. Take a minute to think if you have loaned any items out to other dancers – make arrangements to get them back.

Step 2: Sort it out

Make separate piles for each category of items. Depending on your particular performance style, the kind of pieces in your wardrobe will differ. For example you may have many chiffon skirts, but no flare bottom Melodia style pants or short overskirts – or vice versa –  or maybe you have both! Here are some category suggestions:

  • Full sets with built-in belts on skirts (Egyptian style)
  • Full dresses (for example beladi, Saidi or folkloric costumes)
  • Bra and belt sets
  • Skirts that can be worn on their own (without being too revealing)
  • Overskirts or toppers (that can’t be worn alone)
  • Harem pants or flare bottom pants
  • Veils
  • Cholis and vests
  • Sleeves
  • Belly covers or body stockings\
  • Headdresses

At this point you will proceed with one category at a time through the rest of the steps.

Step 3: Should it stay or go?

We all find ourselves with items hanging around our closet that no longer fit our performance style or taste even if they do fit our figures. Go through your pile and decide one piece at a time if it is something you still use and enjoy wearing. If not,  put it in a bag out of the way. You will decide later whether to toss it, give it away or prepare it for sale. No need to make that call right now.

Do you like the item but just aren’t excited about wearing it any more? Maybe it just needs an update or small addition. Hang on to it for now – next week’s Your Sparkly Wardrobe post may be just what it needs to make it a keeper.

Step 4: Set up your record

For this you can use a small notebook, index cards, a spreadsheet or a wardrobe organizing app (yes, these exist) depending on your preference for paper or digital. If you are using a notebook or index cards, use one sheet or card per costume item. If you are using a spreadsheet, create one row for each costume item. You may want to make one tab for each category of items if your costume wardrobe is large. Wardrobe apps vary widely and may take time figure out, so maybe start out with index cards or a notebook and digitize your record later.

Step 5: Check the fit

Try on every item in the category you are working on. Make a note on the item page, card or spreadsheet row (make a column for Fit)  if the item is too small or too big anywhere. Note if a bra or belt has gaps. Check if the straps are ideally positioned for your comfort and stability. Some people prefer halters, some prefer over-the-shoulder style and some like cris-cross backs. Changing the strap arrangement can be a game changer when you have an uncomfortable bra! Check skirts and pants for length. If you’ve been rolling that waistband up to keep from tripping over the skirt hem – fess up now and make a note in your record.

Step 6: Time for a close inspection

So far, we’ve only been looking at the fit of the item. Take it off and give it  a close inspection in good light. Check the beading, both flat beading and fringe. Look for any areas where beads are missing or rhinestones are coming loose. Are there missing bead strands in your fringe? Is the finish on your beads wearing off the fringe?  Check the prongs on large stones. Inspect the condition of your sequins, coins or other ornaments. For any items that are lined, how is the lining holding up?  Make notes on anything that needs repair. (If you are using a spreadsheet make a column for Repairs)

Next, a very important task! Check all the closures. Is the stitching holding up? Look for rust and hooks that are weakening and starting to bend open. If you have velcro, consider replacing it. Do you have enough closures? Personally, I like to have two closures on my neck straps and two or three on the back of my bras – usually two large snaps and one flat hook at the end. If one gives way, the costume is still secure – now that’s peace of mind!

Now the gross part. How clean are your pieces? This could be scary. Give it a “sniff test”, especially in all the potentially stinky places like underarms and crotches – sorry, it has to be done. You shouldn’t have to depend on heavy doses of perfume to cover the stench of your unwashed costume. Be nice to your audience! We’ll discuss maintenance in a later part of the project, for now we just need to assess the odor situation.

How does the lining of your straps, cups and belts look? Are there any makeup stains or dirty spots? Light colored skirt and pants are notorious for getting dirty at the hems. Check veils for lipstick or other stains. Make notes as you go.

Step 7: Time to play!

Now that you’ve done the work, you get to do the fun part! It’s time to look at your bellydance costume wardrobe with fresh eyes for new possibilities. Depending on the kind of items you have, your combinations will vary, but here are some ideas to get you started. When I did this, I was surprised by how many combinations that never occurred to me before! I paired the same bras and belts with the same few skirts over and over because they looked good and it worked. Doing this, I found several new combinations that made fresh looks – and I didn’t spend a penny!

Make notes on your item page, card or spreadsheet entry for what goes with what – especially if it’s a new discovery. Even better, snap a quick picture of the items laid out together as you’d wear them. A picture is worth a thousand words as they say.

Ideas to try:

  • Lay out a bra and belt set on your bed or table. One at a time, put each skirt and pair of pants next to it. Does it coordinate or not? If it’s not a great match, consider if an additional item like a veil, sleeves, choli, overskirt or extra layer of hip scarf could tie the colors together. You could wind up with a new and vibrant outfit with a small addition.
  • Try each skirt or pair of pants with each veil. As before, would the addition of another color or metallic bring them together?
  • Try each pair of pants or skirt with all your overskirts, toppers or similar items. You may find a new favorite!


Step 8: Make a plan

Once you’ve gone through steps 3 through 7 with each category of costume items, it’s time to make a task list. Review each page, card or spreadsheet line and list any repairs, alterations or cleaning. I like to divide my “to do” lists so I can quickly select what I have time for.

  • Small tasks that I can complete in one sitting with supplies I have on hand, like replacing a closure, mending a tear or washing.
  • Medium sized jobs that may be 2 or 3 sittings or that I will need to hunt down supplies like matching bead and sequins.
  • Major projects, like re-beading fringe, that may take me weeks to finish.
  • Hired out jobs. These are things I don’t feel confident doing or have the equipment for, like sergeing a veil edge.

Also make a list of items that would fill a gap. For example, maybe in your mix-and-match playing, you’ve discovered that a veil with 2 specific colors would coordinate with several outfits to give you new options. A strategically selected overskirt could be the key to making a tribal bra work with more pants or skirts.  Be sure to keep your shopping list handy when you go browsing online or at the next hafla or bellydance convention to make you next purchase a truly useful one.





July 14, 2016 2 Comments

Good For Your Heart & Everything Else – My Cross-Training Routine for Belly Dance

Bellydance is great exercise, but if you are a serious dancer cross-training is essential to your progress and longevity in dance. Even if  you put in several hours of practice and performing each week, you may not hit up all the muscle groups you depend on for a solid performance with enough intensity to keep them at their peak. Also, cross-training – designed properly – will work a wider variety of muscles than your dance so you don’t over-train or develop imbalances that can lead to faulty movement patterns or injury.

No one workout is perfect for everyone, because each dancer comes to it from  a different level of fitness and with different goals. These goals will certainly change over time and I find are often specific to what a dancer is working on stylistically. For example, if you are currently looking to improve or expand your floorwork skills, you may be concentrating on core and shoulder strength.

Here is one of my general workouts that I use as part of my own overall cross-training which also includes yoga, running and a weight lifting class that is geared for endurance rather than maximum strength or power.  By alternating jump rope with lifting or other exercises in this workout, I get both a cardio and strength workout in what is known as a “high intensity interval training”  or HIIT format.

How many reps you do of each exercise and which weight you use will be entirely unique to you. The “right” weight to start with is the one you can use with good form for about 8 reps. When your form goes bad, you should stop. With consistency, the amount of good reps you can do will increase. When you can do 15 with good form, it’s time to up the ante a bit (about 10% more weight is good) and go back down in reps again. Some of these exercises can be started without any weights at all and are noted as such. I’ve included some links for exercise descriptions as well.

Above all, listen to your body. It’s okay to feel like you are working hard, but not okay to feel sharp pain. If you have any pre-existing injuries or undiagnosed pain, you should consult your physician or physical therapist regarding any exercise that uses the body parts in question.

Start with 5 minutes of dynamic warm up such as walking with high knees and butt kicks, leg and arm swings or jumping jacks.  No static stretching here!

Yes, this is a challenging workout. Honor your body and start where you are – shorten the jump rope intervals, do the leg exercises without weights, go through just one series. Work hard and be patient with your body for best results for your dance and your health overall.

P.S.  The single-leg Romanian deadlift is my personal nemesis – but I keep at it! What’s your toughest exercise? Tell us in the comments below….

February 14, 2015 0 Comments

Back In The Day – What It Was Like To Be A Belly Dance Star in the 60’s & 70’s

Are you ready for a trip in the bellydance time machine? We’re turning back the clock about 40 years to a time when glamorous bellydancers graced the stages of big clubs almost every night of the week. I chatted with Roxxanne Shelaby, a California-based bellydancer and daughter of Lou Shelaby, owner of some of the most well-known Arabic clubs of the west coast.

Mahin: Tell us about yourself…

Roxxanne: My name is Roxxanne Shelaby and I am of Lebanese and Brazilian heritage. I grew up in my father, Lou Shelaby’s Arabic nightclubs, The Fez and the Cascades in Southern California. I have been belly dancing since I could stand up, started performing at the age of 5 and began my professional dance career at 15 at the request of Farida Fahmy principal dancer of the Reda Troupe from Egypt. I teach and perform nationally and internationally as well as produce Belly Dance events.

M: How is it that you came to know Farida Fahmy at 15?
R: She was living here and going to UCLA with Sahra C. Kent who is my closest friend. I met her through Sahra. They were planning to bring the Reda Troupe to perform at an Arabic festival in LA but the visas didn’t go through. So at the last minute Farida trained Sahra, Kamala and Latifa of Arabesque Dance Co. and several other dancers to perform in their place. I was just hanging out with Sahra and went with her to one of her rehearsals and they happened to need one more dancer so I was standing in for the “mystery dancer” since they didn’t know who they would choose yet. Farida liked my dancing and asked me to do it.

Roxxanne dancing with Arabesque Dance Company including Sahra C. Kent and Kamala in the late 80's.

Roxxanne dancing with Arabesque Dance Company including Sahra C. Kent and Kamala in the late 80’s.

M: What a lucky break! Did you perform in your father’s clubs?
R: It really was a lucky break!
Unfortunately not, I was too young. My dad sold The Fez when I was one and the Cascades when I was 14 but I did social dance a lot at the Cascades and we had a one- hour folkloric show choreographed by Sahra which I memorized because I saw it every night and would go home and perform in my bedroom.

M: I’ve worked for many Middle Eastern family owned restaurants and though I was usually treated very well, I was also aware that they did not see performing as a bellydancer to be fit for their own daughters. Can you comment on this?
R:  <laughs> You’ve opened a can of worms! I will do my best to be PC.

M: It’s an issue many dancers don’t understand! I know I didn’t really process that and make peace with it for several years.
R: Middle Easterners have a tenuous relationship with belly dancing (and in many cases with performing in general). They love the dance and want to have a dancer at every possible occasion. However, they would not want their own women to be professional dancers and in many cases for their sons to be musicians or performers. Artist are not considered as highly as other professions. And in a traditional culture where women are not supposed to draw attention to themselves in public, being a professional dancer on stage-drawing attention to themselves and wearing a provocative costume goes against their conventional ways.
My dad used to tell a story that illustrates this well. When he was in middle school in Boston, he and his sister performed in the school talent show. He played the violin and she sang a popular song at the time, something like “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”. When they got home, they both got a spanking from my grandfather – my aunt because she had the audacity to stand up in front of people and draw attention to herself and my dad because he was the male and supposed to protect his sister’s reputation. In this case we are not even talking about belly dancing but 2 teenagers performing a harmless song for their friends. But it shows how many feel about performers in general.
Also, here in the west we have dancers who are highly educated women. In the old country, they are not used to and they don’t understand how a woman like myself for example, who is an elementary school administrator can also be a dancer and loves to dance, and dances for many reasons beyond looking sexy or getting attention.

M: I recall this being a very confusing feeling when I first started out. I thought that maybe they really did look down on me even though they were very kind and almost always had me sit down to dinner with them.
R: They don’t hold women who are not of their culture by the same norms, so its ok for you to dance. They probably love your dancing and love you…and might not necessarily want you to marry their son
M:  <laughs>

R: My dad was the only musician/club owner who tried to bridge this gap. He taught the Arab musicians and patrons that these women (dancers) were good women, they dance because they love our music and culture and they are intelligent and often very well educated.
M: Historically speaking, what years were your family’s clubs open?
R: The Fez was owned by my family from 1959-1970 then sold but remained open until 1979. My dad bought The Cascades in 1976 and it was open until 1985.

M: Being a working dancer back then was so much different than now, it would seem. Having seen both first hand, what would say is the difference in the dancer’s importance in the club’s entertainment overall?
R: At my dad’s clubs the dancer was the star. She worked in one place and had a following. The people came to see her! She only danced to live music and especially at The Fez, danced for a mixed audience of Arabs and Westerners. This shaped their dance. They learned to dance in a more authentic way because they were dancing for the people of the culture.
They made their own costumes and learned by watching other dancers.There were really no teachers then and certainly no classes.

Advertisement for The Fez

Advertisement for The Fez

M: Were the stars of the clubs in that era doing this as a 2nd job or as their primary source of income?
R: From what I understand the majority of them only danced. They were dancing 6 nights a week usually.

M: How many shows per night and how long were their sets typically?
R The Fez had an upstairs room and a downstairs. Downstairs was a formal dining area with a stage and upstairs, “Sinbad’s Cave” was a more intimate space with low tables and cushions on the floor and the dancer danced in a smaller space closer to the audience. They danced at least once in each and possibly more depending on the crowd. There was also more than one dancer at the club. Their set was 45 minutes – can you believe that?
My dad believed in having different styles of dancers and he would rotate them every few months so the audience wouldn’t burn out.

M: Did the dancers venture into the crowds near the end of their set as is common these days?
R: At my dad’s clubs the dancers stayed on stage and were not tipped on the body. Money was showered over them or made into a necklace of dollar bills.

M: Yes, I’ve seen money necklaces – what a great way to be tipped!
R: Yes, I remember customers at the Cascades spending all night with the stapler and some dollar bills (or 10’s and 20’s) coming up with interesting ways to put the bills together for the dancers!

M: How did the dancers’ pay rates compare to current rates? Have you ever done a conversion with adjustment for the years?
R: Thats a great question. I would need to look into it – I don’t want to miscalculate. I can find out!

M: Do you know what the dancers were paid then?
R: Antoinette who was one of the first dancers said she started off at $5 a night – but that was around 1960.
(She looked up the conversion during our interview)
$5 in 1960 is equal to $35 now.

M: As many dancers who have worked with a band know, dealing with tips can get dicey. Do you know what was customary back in the day as far as sharing or dividing the tips with the band and dancers?
R: Yes, the tipping practice was that all the tips were put together and 1/3 went to the dancers 1/3 to the musicians and 1/3 to the house.

M: About the musicians – how large was the band and were they of mixed backgrounds?
R: The band was usually 5 members or so in the old days (60’s to mid 70’s). There was an oud, a drum, a violin, a singer and maybe qanoun or tambourine. They were mostly of Syrian or Lebanese heritage and some Arabs of Armenian descent and maybe a Persian or two. Then it started to change there would be a keyboard and maybe an electric guitar and there was an influx of Egyptian musicians.

M: When I interviewed Helena Vlahos a few years ago, she talked about the mixed bands that really were at the root of what ultimately became “American Cabaret” style.
R: Yes but that was in other clubs. My dad tried as much as possible to keep everything authentically Arabic. There may have been an Armenian, Turk or Persian, but they were playing Arabic music for the most part.
My research on The Fez has shown that the dancers there did not do the style of dance we now refer to as American Cabaret. They did play finger cymbals and dance with a veil but they each had their own style and as I mentioned before, they were dancing to Arabic music for Arabs. I’m told that this style of American Cabaret came here from the East Coast.

M: Did the dancers’ shows have any format musically or stylistically?
R: Yes! They entered wrapped in a veil, did a fast number then a taxim followed by something fast then a drum solo and then an exit. I’m teaching a Fez routine workshop!

M: That sounds like fun! Wish I could take that one! Did the dancers every use folkloric styles or props in their shows?
R: Yes, they did. Not so much in The Fez days, but in the Cascades days folklore became popular. They would include Dabke, Assaya, and some Khaleeji among others. We would feature dancers such as a Circassian man who would do a knife dance and an Egyptian woman named Alia who would do a Shamadan dance.

M: I’m imagining all this as you describe it and I feel like I’m being transported to a very exciting place and time to be a dancer! I wish I had a time machine!
R: You and me both! Thank you because this is exactly what my mission is with this documentary – to not only preserve a piece of our history but also to transport dancers, and other aficionados, back to one of the greatest times and places to be a belly dancer!

M: It just occured to me …being a “bellydance star” back then was to be famous among the club patrons and ethnic communities. Now it is to be famous amongst other dancers!
R: You said it!

M: That’s both a good and a bad thing. We’ve become an insular community in some ways.
R: Exactly! So many dancers today have not only NEVER danced to live music but they have never danced to Arabic music. I think all the styles of belly dance that have emerged are great, but we have to know what our roots are – our tradition – then we can go on and take creative license and fuse the dance with other elements.

M: Very true. I feel very fortunate that I danced weekly for years with Arab-born musicians. It was a HUGE part of my education as a dancer. Sadly, my students don’t have that experience available to them where I am based here in Phoenix..
R: IMHO you have not really danced until you have danced for an Arab audience!

M: I agree. That is a completely different experience than an American audience. and a world apart from an audience of other dancers!
R: Yes, and only dancing for other dancers has taken the dance in a completely different direction as well. As a promoter I took on the responsibility of promoting showcases with live music only so that dancers would be able to have that experience. Sadly many of them refused because they don’t know how to dance to live music and wanted to cling to the safety of their recorded music and memorized routines.

M: That is is so discouraging. On the flip side, sometimes when a dancer who IS able to and would love to dance to live music comes to a gig, the owner wants them to dance between the band’s sets to recorded music so the band can have a break. The only thing breaking in that scenario is my heart!
R: Ditto – but the only way that is going to change is by showing them we are good at dancing to live music and that the crowd wants to see that.

The dancer who the downward vertical hip figure 8 movement "maya" is named after.

The dancer who the downward vertical hip figure 8 movement “maya” is named after.

M: So many of our prominent master teachers began their performing careers in those days. Who were some of the The Fez’s stars we would recognize?
R: Aisha Ali, Feiruz Aram, Marta Shill, Helena Vlahos, Janaeni Rathor (Ansuya’s mother) and Tonya Chainis. Jamila Salimpour also appeared at The Fez and had a long standing friendship with my dad.

M: That’s quite a legacy. Did you interview all these women for The Fez documentary?
R: Yes I did!! And there are a few others that are not known by the dance community today but are legendary and are also part of the documentary. One is a dancer by the name of Maya Medwar . She passed on and is not in the documentary, but I did meet her. She is the dancer that Jamila Salimpour named the vertical figure 8 “Maya” after.

M: Ah- thats why her name sounds familiar. I have heard that story before. Im sure their interviews are fascinating – I can’t wait to see them! What’s the status of the project currently and when can we hope to see it?
R: It is almost finished! It will premiere at Cairo ShimmyQuake in Los Angeles on June 7, 2015. Then it will be available for purchase and download.

M: I predict a lot of dancers having a movie night once it is released! It will be quite a history lesson.
R: Yes I hope so! You know we are currently doing a Kickstarter to pay for the documentary. One of the prizes for donating is a movie night with me for a Q & A session in person or via Skype. There will also be private screenings as well.
M:  Thank you so much for the opportunity to get a window into this part of our history. I am so looking forward to the film!

February 12, 2015 7 Comments

Interview with “Improv Roulette” Founder, Elizabeth Joy

One of the most fun, creative and inspiring things I did in 2014 was to participate in an Improv Roulette event. It really was unlike any other dance experience I’d ever had. You can read all about it here, including my combat veil to “Living Dead Girl”!  Yes, I know you’re shocked!!

Naturally, I wanted to find out more about the person who brought this concept to the bellydance community – so I tracked her down for you.

Improv RouletteMahin: Tell us about yourself. How did you get into dance and what you’re doing now?

Elizabeth Joy: Hello, I’m Elizabeth Joy. I live in Providence, RI. I’m an active member in the Providence and Boston performance communities. I’ve been studying various facets of belly dance since 2007. I am currently primarily studying with Neylan of Providence and Aurel of Boston.

M: What styles) of bellydance do you primarily perform and study?

EJ: My mother is Lebanese and my father is a jazz musician. Music and the arts were always important in my family. Because of my mother’s heritage, I was introduced to the sounds of Middle Eastern music at a young age, but it wasn’t until 2007 that I finally signed up for a class.

I would consider myself a lifelong student. Every year, I can feel myself progressing as a dancer… and realizing how much more I have to learn. I am currently studying Gypsy Caravan style Tribal with Neylan as well as a myriad of Middle Eastern studies with Aurel, although her current focus is modern Egyptian with an emphasis on how it was influenced by classical dance training.

M: As some DBQ readers may recall, I came across your “Imrov Roulette ” after reading about it on Sophia Ravenna’s blog.  Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to actually attend one in Tucson.  For our readers who aren’t familiar with Improv Roulette, can you describe the experience for us?

EJ: Yes. Improv Roulette is a multidisciplinary collaborative performance experiment. Performers of any type get together quarterly to create spur-of-the-moment reactive performances. They use the environment, as well as other performers to create these pieces. Improv Roulette sets up a safe, casual setting that allows performers to creatively explore, without the pressure of performing a polished piece.

Improv Roulette is for any type of performer. Belly dancers, singers, guitarists, bagpipe players, puppeteers, acrobats, etc are all welcome. It is for the seasoned performer as well as the budding student.

M: One of the things I really enjoyed about the experience was there was no way to prepare. You had to just let go and approach it as play – which is something we often lose sight of when we train as dancers, in my opinion.

EJ: Exactly. I know that I am very much a person that wants to feel prepared…. but I feel a great sense of freedom in letting go and just experiencing and reacting to the music and the “audience” and my performance partner.

It lets in a sense of freedom and honesty and as you said, play. I once took a choreography workshop (ironically) with Cera Byer and she made a great comment about how we don’t play enough. We jump right into choreographing without giving ourselves and chance to explore first.

It takes some guts to put yourself out there as a plaything of fate, but ultimately I believe that it is worth it.

M: In your experience what has been dancers’ first reactions to the idea of participating in Improv Roulette?

EJ: It depends on the dancer! Some dancers jump at the opportunity to meet and collaborate with performers that they’ve never worked with before. Other dancers are understandably timid with the idea of getting up and performing without the ability to prepare. I acknowledge the act of courage that it takes to participate in this experiment, even with it being a safe and welcoming environment. It takes some guts to put yourself out there as a plaything of fate, but ultimately I believe that it is worth it. I would be willing to bet that the once hesitant participants would agree with my statement.

M: I think one of the really important factors in the event’s structure is that everyone who comes in dances. There is no audience other than fellow participants, so we all walk the same tightrope in turn.

EJ: Yes. That is a very important element. I like to joke, “No spectators, only victims.” Everyone, regardless of their improv experience, will being trying something new at Improv Roulette. Everyone will be challenged and everyone will be supported by the performance community in attendance.

M: The online comments preceding our Improv Roulette event were full of “I have to get better at improv first” kind of statements. I agree, just showing up is an act of bravery to some degree. When it comes to creative endeavors, I think it it scares you a little (and you can’t foresee any serious harm) you should definitely do it. This was such a great way to push personal boundaries artistically – and really liberating.

EJ: Well the best way to get better at something is to do it! Because Improv Roulette is not a formal performance, it really is a good place to get improv practice in. I agree that if something pushes you out of your comfort level, it’s probably worth trying. I am primarily an improv performer in my solo work, and yet I still feel a great sense of freedom in the Improv Roulette experiment. It takes me out of my general process of working on a piece and allows my body and mind to just react.

M: Agreed!  How did the idea for Improv Roulette come to you?

EJ: Well it really came out of me experimenting by myself in my living room. I enjoyed exploring my movement to unexpected songs. But I was missing the element of interacting with others. This is, I think, and important skill that performers need to practice. Knowing how to instinctively play off of the audience or interact with a collaborator really brings a technically accomplished performer into the realm of entertainer.

M: Bellydance is definitely a style where being able to “entertain” as well as perform is so important!

EJ: I agree. I think it’s Nadira Jamal who wrote a wonderful article about having both hard skills and soft skills.

M: It seems that Improv Roulette has escaped your living room and is spreading! Where has this concept gone so far and where do you see it headed in the future?

EJ: Yes! I wanted it to be as inclusive as it could be so that very first Improv Roulette was not in my living room! I rented out a beautiful yoga studio just north of Providence and invited all of the performers in every discipline that I knew. And only six people showed up. Just as you experienced, people were a little intimidated by the idea. But as the participants shared their experiences, interest grew. And it’s still growing. In 2014 I began working with other community builders to start regional Improv Roulette chapters across the country. Right now we have three official chapters with a few more in the works. I am specifically working with organizers that are active members of their current performance communities and really believe in the concepts of collaboration, community, and creative spontaneity. I

M: Do you have any non-dance practices that you routinely use to feed your creativity?

EJ: I do! I have a career in textile design and a background in fiber arts. I am often creating sewing/dyeing/fabric manipulation projects both for dance costuming as well as other end uses. I also have a love for gardening and when I’m not in rehearsal, I’m usually digging in the dirt… that is when it’s not covered in two feet of snow.

M: Did you have any closing thoughts for our readers?

EJ: Well first and foremost, that you for the opportunity to be interviewed. Your blog and DBQ are always informative and enjoyable. I also appreciate the chance to tell more people about Improv Roulette. I really believe in the power of collaborative experimentation and the power in taking creative risks. I believe that Improv Roulette gives performers the opportunity to discover something about themselves and their work. It really is work, constantly growing, so we’d might as well feel the elation that comes with taking risks and discovering something about ourselves in the process.

For  more information on Improv Roulette please visit here.


What do you think? Does the idea thrill you? Scare you? Would you do it? Tell us in the comments below…

January 29, 2015 4 Comments

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