I’m a writer by trade…or education, at least. I have two degrees in this whole fiction business, and I can peck out a piece of fiction at the drop of a hat. I’m not terribly proficient at being concise. I’ve never been really adept at short stories. I need my excessive lore and world-building.
But writing a snappy little intro to go before a performance at a show? Hell. Pure unadulterated hell.
I write about myself here, but it’s more as a background to a larger point. A little paragraph of info about me that doesn’t sound like a dry biography from the 1800s? Yeah…I’m not so great at that. Having social anxiety and OCD really doesn’t help either.
Writing an intro is more nerve wracking than actually performing. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I would assume it’s a product of my neurotic tendency for perfectionism, but I don’t think I’m alone in being frustrated with the process.
It’s a really stupid thing to get worked up over…but, alas, here I am, sitting at my desk at 03:30, trying to peck out 3 awkward sentences for Star Fest.
For those of you out there who aren’t excessively self-conscious? What’s it like? It must be the most wonderful feeling in the world.
It’s finally here! The long awaited footage of the shows from StarFest 2017 hosted by the wonderful Aalim Bellydance Academy of Oklahoma City. I was to learn from the amazing Karim Nagi, who is a wonderful teacher, an awe-inspiring musician, and really really funny. I greatly enjoyed the experience and I learned a lot from his music and rhythms classes. I’ve recently ordered his Finger Cymbals DVD to go along with my new Turkish Delight Professional zills from Saroyan Mastercrafts by way of Dahlal Internationale. I can’t wait for it to arrive.
I had a wonderful time. I was able to spend a whole week with Evryn and her husband leading up to the event. I spent a fabulous weekend of dancing, and I picked up my second costume, the red Fifi Abdo dress featured in Saidi Sass. I can’t wait to see what happens this year.
So, after months and months of anticipation, I present my piece from the Friday night show of the Star Fest 2017 festivities. It’s baladi, of course, my one true love. The music is Tahtil Shibbak by Fatme Serhan. The costume is a Queen Hanan galabeya from Neenee’s Imports.
A particular trait that Evryn and I share, aside from loving this beautiful artform, is the fact that we both have horrendous vision. We have roughly the same quality of vision, although her prescription is slightly stronger than mine. We employ the wonderful technology of high index lenses so as not to walk around with Coke-bottle thick glass on our faces. She has worn contacts in the past, although not in recent years. I’ve never been able to wear contacts myself. Without corrective lenses, we live inside an Impressionist painting with a few extra blur filters added on.
A major component of Raqs Sharqi (belly dance), and any dance, for the stage is presentation. The glitz and the glamour. The costuming, the makeup, the accessories. One thing I noticed very quickly as I saw more and more performances, was that no one ever really danced in glasses. When I became involved with the wider community and the workshop circuit, those I saw at the shows who typically wore glasses removed them for their performance. Whether they wore contacts or stayed half blind, I can’t say.
But, seriously, I am all of the blind. I can see shapes and color, but more than a few feet away and I lose pretty much any degree of detail. I like to connect with the audience, see their reactions, interact with them a bit. When I don’t wear glasses, people generally look like demons from some horror movie, with blurry beige faces and fuzzy black voids where their eyes and mouths should be. So, if I can’t see, connecting can be…difficult.
I have also always been photosensitive. Going outside on a bright day gives me an instant headache, so I pay the price hike for Transitions lenses. Bright stage lighting can be an issue, even when I can see, but I can so see myself running into things and falling off stages if I try to dance blind. Thus, I never have.
At this point, I think it has become part of my overall style. I always like to emphasize how anyone can take part in this dance, regardless of size, gender, disability, look, impairment, situation. Belly dance on the whole is a very inclusive dance form, at least at the community level. I’m sure different regions expect a certain look on the professional level, but I’m not a pro, and I wager most dancers aren’t. I have no intention of being a professional. I’ve never danced for money. I’ve never intended to do so. I adore this dance, and I love performing. I just don’t get many opportunities to do so.
So, I dance in glasses. I think more dancers should. Embrace your imperfections. I’ve never been criticized for my bespectacled presentation. I doubt most people notice much. I have seen some online say that it ruins the aesthetic, but perhaps that’s just because we never see dancers, in really any dance form, wear them.
Join me, my myopic sisters and brothers! Let us begin the spectacle of spectacles and bring glasses to the stage! Bring on the sparkly frames and the smokey eye makeup! You can be glamorous and blind as a bat at the same time. Trust me.
Improvisation from the Vanessa of Cairo show in Tulsa, Ok, June, 2017.
My first experience with Saidi and the assaya (cane) came in the summer of 2016 when I had my first set of workshops with the fabulous Vanessa of Cairo as part of her Folklore Cocktail class. I had never danced with props before, so it was a brand new experience for me. The class didn’t involve a bunch of the assaya tricks one typically sees in a lot of Saidi performances. The focus was the dance. The cane was simply there to enhance it.
As a dancer who has always had trouble with figuring out what to do with my hands when I dance, I actually really liked the assaya, as it came me a way to control my arms without really having to think about it. I enjoyed the class, but I didn’t really pick it up until the following year.
Vanessa released a Saidi DVD through World Dance New York, and you know I got it immediately. As I watched more and more videos of Saidi stage performances, particularly those of Egyptian dancers and dancers working in Cairo, I fell in love with the stick that didn’t have a crook. I loved the look of it, and my OCD self didn’t have to worry about which way the crook was pointing.
The problem is, stick canes for Egyptian dance are ridiculously hard to find online, and I really didn’t have the money to go to Egypt and find one there. I finally found one at Star Fest in Oklahoma City in October of 2017 from Dahlal Internationale who was vending at the event.
I decided then that my next show would be a Saidi number. Armed with my new DVD and my new assaya, I had until April 2018 to figure out what I was doing. I could surely manage to be able to do an acceptable improvisation with six months of practice.
I inevitably always pull something useful from the teacher of the workshops in the hours before the show that helps me with my performance that night. Nada el Masriya was no different in this. Her energy was thoroughly infectious, and she described to us the power and strength of the baladi woman. I will get to her fantastic teachings in the next few posts, but she certainly inspired my styling and a new confidence about my size.
So, at last, I present to you my first Saidi performance to the song Khissa Saidi. I have my issues with the performance, but I did not drop the cane once, so I’ll consider that a win.
Come join us in Tulsa, Oklahoma the weekend of April 14, 2018 for some fabulous workshops taught by Nada el Masriya of the Egyptian Dance Academy of Toronto, Canada! Early bird pricing has passed, but come join us for an Egyptian extravaganza!
The option to pay at the door is available, and if you can’t take all of the workshops, just pop in for one or two! It will be worth it.