Sensual Joy: Sensuality with Valerick Molinary

42996761_10155929459632865_1113087577017024512_n

The very beginnings of my interest in belly dance are somewhat fuzzy these days. It’s been a fair few years since I dipped my toes into this glittery sea, but I distinctly remember my initial interest was sparked by “sensual belly dance.” A video of Blanca’s performance from her Sensual Bellydance DVD was the clincher for me, and was the first dance DVD I ever purchased.

I can’t say that it is a style I’ve performed much. I tend to pick more upbeat pieces for shows. You only get the one slot, after all. I think I also have shied away from more sensual performances because I’m not exactly well proportioned for the bedlah, and I’ve yet to find an Oriental style dress that fits both my body and my budget.

Even so, I relish the sensuality of belly dance. It makes me feel sexy even though I don’t particularly think I am. So, of course, I was extremely excited for Valerick Molinary’s Natural Sensuality workshop at StarFest in Oklahoma City this year.

I’ve never been uncomfortable with sensual movement. I can’t say I’m terribly pleased with what it looks like on film, but that’s more to do with my own insecurities about my body and weight than anything. But the workshop reminded me of how I’ve always been a proponent of getting lost in the music. Another dancer in the workshop commented on how, rather than projecting outward, I draw people inward.

In one of the novels I’ve been pecking at for several years now, I incorporate art, and dance specifically, as elements of worship, as how better to honor our creation, but with the gift of creation we have been given? Within the story, the definition of a good dancer is one who can be consumed by the music and almost forget there is an audience at all. It is the ability to make the audience lose themselves right along with you.

This is fiction, of course, but I think it jives well with how I feel as a dancer. I joke about how I step on that stage and blackout for those few minutes I’m up there, as I get lost in the moment and can’t remember what I even did when I step off the stage. I don’t count. I don’t choreograph. I dive into the music and let it move me. And then I cringe at the footage when I do something not terribly appealing, but we’re all our own worst critics.

The fact that I can even dance in front of people at all is pretty amazing, since I have crippling social anxiety and a long history of stage fright. I have never been one to draw attention to myself in any big way. So…naturally, I nearly had a heart attack when Valerick had me get on the stage twice during the workshop.

The first time wasn’t so bad, as everyone was also dancing and she was up on the stage as well. However, the second time I panicked. I’m not a pro. I don’t claim to be. I never intend to be. I don’t have the social ability or the business savvy for it, and I don’t necessarily think I’m good enough to be a pro anyway. I have a long way to go in my studies, and I know that. So being asked to get up in front of about 50 other women, half of which are pros of some kind, as well as two rather famous professional dancers to perform the choreography by myself was intimidating to say the least.

I screwed up the first time. I couldn’t remember the steps, probably because I was terrified, but I didn’t run out of the room screaming when I was asked to do it, so I did good. I managed to make it through it, even though I’m awful at chaine turns. And I’m sure it probably looked…um…sketchy. There is a video of it somewhere on someone’s phone, but I don’t know if I want to see it.

I did it though. People clapped and cheered. I have to say, I love how supportive the dance community is around here. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. And being called the “sensation of the weekend” by Valerick Molinary was pretty freaking insane. Maybe I’m better than I think. At the very least, I do sensuality well, I guess.

I’m still reeling from this experience, honestly. That workshop was probably one of my favorites, and not because I was complimented by the teacher, but because sensual belly dance is what got me into this. Finding this dance and this wonderful community is one of the best things that’s happened to me and has become one of my greatest passions in life.

I’m a writer by trade, but dance, dance is my joy.

43317177_10161492087700112_5792256989182558208_n

Advertisements

Fall Belly Dance Classes with Lileith!

 

Are you looking to add a little sparkle to your life? Are you looking for a fun new way to exercise, or do you just want to get up and dance? Well, I’ve got great news!

Starting October 23rd, 2018, Lileith of Dance with Lilieth will be offering another four class session of belly dance classes in Fayetteville, AR! Classes will be in the cabaret and Oriental styles and are for all levels.

Classes will be located at Fayetteville Pilates & Barre at 3379 N College Ave, Ste 5, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72703, across the parking lot from Whole Foods.

The four class session is $60, or $18 for individual classes if you cannot attend all four. Pre-registration is highly recommended.

Get your shimmy on and work that belly before the holiday rush takes hold! Come jingle with us! We look forward to seeing you!

Full class details and payment options can be found on the Facebook Event Notice.

Dancing With Myself: Part 1: The Pros of Self-Study

PicsArt_08-17-01.36.20

As I have mentioned before, I am a self-taught dancer. I didn’t exactly choose to learn that way. Lack of access to in person classes when I developed an interest in the dance drove me in that direction. However, I think it’s fair to discuss the pros and cons of self-teaching, as there are positives and negatives, and it’s a style of learning that works well for me. In making my list, I came up with a number of points for both sides, so I’m going to address them in separate posts. For this go round, I’m going to discuss the positives of self-teaching.

It’s Often Less Expensive

Unless you are like me, who buys nearly every DVD I can get my hands on, self-study is going to be less expensive than regular lessons. DVDs and online programs range in price, but generally fall within the $10-$30 (USD) range. You can get hours of study out of a good DVD for that one price, whereas regular classes can range $5-$20 a class depending on the teacher, the size of the class, the venue, and the city. There are also free online options for self-study if one wants to try learning without the investment.

You Move At Your Own Pace

With classes, you are locked into a certain pace, either dictated by the teacher, or often by the less experienced learners in the class. A lot of classes in smaller areas tend to be exclusively beginner level, which can be frustrating for more experienced dancers, or dancers who learn more quickly, as the pace of a class can be slowed by students who take longer to grasp some concepts. Self-study allows a dancer to move at whatever pace suits them. I like to be able to work on a concept as long as I want without feeling like I’m holding up a class, or move on from something I’ve figured out more quickly.

You Make Your Own Schedule

When you’re learning on your own, your learning schedule is whatever you make it. You aren’t bound to specific class times and locations. I have found this aspect especially useful for me, as I work overnights and have a bizarre sleep schedule. I can be studying at 06:00, 15:00, or 02:00 depending on the day and whenever I get a whim to dance.

You Aren’t Confined to One Style

With classes, you are limited to the style that the teacher dances. If there aren’t many PicsArt_08-17-01.48.43teachers in your area, then there may be only one, or possibly two styles to choose from. With self-study you can try out a number of different styles to find what suits you. I went through a number of styles before I settled on Egyptian. I just looked through lists of DVDs and bought the ones that looked appealing and eventually the one that felt most natural for my body finally emerged. I also enjoy the freedom of being able to pick up new styles whenever I want, such as Saidi, or Shaabi, because there are so many programs out there by wonderful dancers.

You Get to Choose the Style of Learning that Works Best for You

Everyone learns differently, and self-study allows you to choose the way that works best for you. I’m a visual learner. I’m more suited to the “monkey see, monkey do” style of learning, so I like to see a movement at full speed rather than a slow breakdown. My brain processes the complete movement more easily than the individual components. I also prefer technique programs over learning through choreography (mostly because I’m terrible at remembering choreography) and prerecorded programs allow me to work that way. Sometimes, I just need to watch a movement or a combination over and over again and then let it percolate in my brain before I try it.

Improvisational Skills

Perhaps I’m biased simply because this is how I dance, but I think self-study can lead to developing improvisational skills earlier in the learning process. Most classes I’m familiar with tend to teach through choreography. Improvisation tends to come later, particularly with studios that do troupe numbers most of the time. Since I was never taught through choreography, I have always improvised. This is a double-edged sword, however, but we’ll get to that in the next post.

These are some of the benefits of self-study that I have noticed over the years for myself. Granted, my experiences with learning via classes and workshops are minimal and only based in the U.S. I’m sure other countries teach differently, particularly in countries of origin. This is not a slam on classroom learning. These are simply positives of the type of learning I have chosen for myself. Next time, we’ll get into the cons of self-study, and subsequently the pros of group learning as a result.

Ma’as salaamah!

 

Raq’n Workouts

Belly dance workout DVDs have often been some of my favorite programs to work with throughout the years I’ve been studying dance. They are an introduction to the art for many people, as it’s very easy to stumble across one in the yoga section of a sporting goods store, or the exercise section of any big box store. bd2

My first belly dance workout DVD was the Love Potion program from World Dance New York. It’s a bit much for a total novice, but it’s one I still enjoy from time to time. Luscious, the other program in the series is the better choice for beginner level dancers, in my opinion. Luscious moves at a somewhat slower pace and has simpler combinations separated by move type, i.e. circles, figure eights, undulations, etc.

While fitness and weight loss are current goals of mine, dance workout programs serve other purposes as well. As I mostly work with prerecorded teaching programs, workout DVDs become great for drilling purposes. Movement is constant. It is presented within a dance context, while still providing the repetition of drilling. If I can’t decide on what I want to practice on any given day, I’ll just pop in a workout and do some drilling.

I have  a number of different workout programs, some I’ve worked with a lot. Some I haven’t gotten to, but all have merit. Most of what I’ve got came from World Dance New York. They have a number of excellent workout programs in different styles.

bd1The program I’ve been working with this week is Jillina’s Shape Up n’ Hip Out. It has a warm up and a cool down sequence and three different routines of varying intensity, which you can do all of, or just one depending on one’s time and energy that day. The three sections are Slow & Smooth, Rhythm Hips, and Turbo Hips. I believe this one is a great option for beginners and for dancers looking to drill foundational dance vocabulary. The combos are simple, and Jillina breaks them down before kicking it up to full tempo. The footwork isn’t overly complex and it’s just a great overview of the basic building blocks of belly dance. I highly recommend it.

There are a number of belly dance workouts you can find for free on YouTube, as well. Tiazza of FreeBellyDanceClasses.com has a number of dance workouts on YouTube and most of them also have companion videos that breakdown the combos she uses. Leilah Isaac also has a number of dance workouts on YouTube, although I have not, as of yet, tried any of her routines.

There are a lot of options for dance workouts out there. It’s my favorite way to exercise and it’s a fantastic way to brush up on your dance moves, or discover belly dance if you’ve never done it before. Or if you’re just looking for a fun way to exercise that is easy on the joints, belly dance workouts are the way to go.

PicsArt_08-11-12.07.52

Remembering the Journey

It has taken me a while to realize that just because I am taking a hiatus from dance at the moment, that doesn’t mean that I can’t still write here. For a while I thought that, because I am not focusing on dance right now, I was somehow unworthy to be writing on a dance blog. Then, I remembered the actual title of this page: Stories of the Unconventional Belly Dancer.  So for my story as it stands, I’m taking a break. That doesn’t make me a terrible person. Every time I’ve sat down to try and write this piece, it always morphed into a slew of excuses why I’m not dancing. The thing is, I don’t need to provide excuses for anyone. I have been so afraid that I would lose friendships over not dancing or not writing on this page, and it’s only now that I see how silly that is. Dance isn’t going anywhere and neither is my best friend.

Between finally moving into our own house and the financial chaos that comes with moving and repairs and whatnot, I’ve had to suspend going to classes for a while. Added to that is my anxiety surrounding performing. I’m not sure if I should be performing if I find it more nerve-wracking than fun. That being said, I’m taking some time to focus on my mental health and spirituality. Yeah, my body has paid the price for not exercising as vigorously as I was with a dance class every week, but taking time for introspection and meditation has been incredibly beneficial mentally and emotionally. I know that dance can be of the same benefit, when I’m ready to return to it. I’ll probably be doing more self-study for a while, and that’s okay.

The important thing is to remember –why- you dance. If you need a break to figure that out, take a break. If you’re burned out, stop for a while and don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s like that old saying, “The people who mind don’t matter and the people that matter don’t mind.”

Dance is a journey, so take it one step at a time.

image1 (2)

The mala I have made for my meditation practice, with a Nuumite heart and a book I’m currently reading.

Annoying the Entire Household: Learning Finger Cymbals

PicsArt_05-01-08.39.27Although I have been dancing for several years, I’ve never really picked up many props. Well, I’ve purchased a few, but I never really managed to acquire the skill. I purchased a veil and a set of finger cymbals (sagat, zills) at the same time, and never really managed to learn either one of them. My first real prop was the assaya, which I debuted last month. Now my newest project is figuring out the sagat.

My first set of sagat came in the form of the Moorish brass set from Saroyan. They were reasonably priced and the description said they were good for beginners. Lies! Lies, I tell you!

Okay, maybe not lies, just not really good for me. I always found the little things hard to handle, and because of that, I never really got around to mastering them. It wasn’t until the last couple of months, that I began to consider that maybe they were just too small for me. In the first zill DVD I purchased featuring Elsa Leandros, Elsa uses these great big zills. I also noticed Karim Nagi prefers larger cymbals as well. His mastery of that instrument is fascinating and super entertaining to watch, both live and recorded.

I asked around in the online community about whether larger would be easier to learn, and the general consensus was start small, but that still didn’t feel right to me. Small wasn’t working. Fortunately, while on a lunch break at the recent Nada el Masriya workshops last month, I mentioned the issue and another dancer pulled out one of her many sets and let me feel them out.

They felt good in my hands. A nice size, a nice weight. Not large, per se, but about a .25 inches (.64 cm) larger than my Moorish set. A week or two ago, I ended up ordering those same sagat, the Turkish Delight Professional brass set from Saroyan. I also learned the nifty trick of using tiny safety pins to secure the elastics instead of employing my sub par sewing skills and screwing it up. They are much easier to adjust, even if it’s not the way you’re supposed to do it.

I have always had trouble with the numbering system for learning sagat as well. It’s the most common method. At least three of my DVDs that involve cymbal patterns use it. However, I don’t count when I dance, so numbers just kind of break my brain. I much prefer using the dum-tak-tik-tok method as the sounds translate much more easily to me than the numbers.

After studying with Karim last year, I really enjoyed his method and his performance. I love learning the proper Arabic terms for the music and rhythms. I love how he approaches it from a musician’s perspective and not only from a dance perspective. So this week, I grabbed his finger cymbals DVD, because, I don’t just want to learn to dance with the sagat. I want to learn to actually play them like an instrument.

PicsArt_05-01-08.36.05

We’ll see how well I do. I’m definitely going to spend a lot more time on these before I try to perform with them than I did with the assaya. Wish me luck! And pray for the poor ears of my cats.

Star Fest 2017 Performance

PicsArt_04-25-11.47.38

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 Spectacle of Spectacles: Dancing in Glasses

PicsArt_04-22-12.16.51A 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.

Saidi Sass: My First Saidi Performance

PicsArt_04-16-06.40.17
Vanessa and I post-show 2016.

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.IMG_20180416_063251

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 spent loads of spare time at work watching videos of Sahar Samara, Randa Kamel, Taly and Kareem Gad, Cinzia Purificato, Carmen Duende, Wendy Sidar, and, of course, Vanessa of Cairo, trying to learn the attitude of the Saidi woman on stage. I pulled much inspiration from those videos. I enjoyed the powerful nature of their performances, the strong, sassy quality of their musicality. I wanted to be able to embody even a fraction of that energy.

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.

Dancing with a Disability

Cerebral Palsy manifests differently for almost every person that has it and everyone’s experiences and struggles with it are as individual as fingerprints. That being said, I can only speak for myself and my own personal experience. I don’t even see myself as fully disabled, really. I’m able to walk around just fine, albeit a tad more slowly. Honestly, the only physical signs that I am any different from the average person are that my right leg and foot turn inward, I have a noticeable limp when I walk, one of my eyes tends to go lazy when I’m tired, my right side is significantly weaker than most people’s non-dominant side, and it sometimes takes me a little longer to grasp certain concepts. That’s it. Other than those few things I am a typical twenty-seven-year-old housewife and dancer.

It has become increasingly clear to me through research for this post and personal experience that the four most common things that are desired most among the disabled community are acceptance, compassion (but not to the point of patronizing), independence and overall, simply to be treated like everyone else. However as I stated above, I can only truly speak for myself.  This is exactly the reason why when I encounter someone who is, say, slow of speech, I speak to them at normal tone and speed unless they tell me otherwise. If there is one thing that I ask of anyone that is reading this, it is this: never treat anyone as if they have a lower intelligence just because you expect them to have a lower intelligence. I cannot stress to you enough how damaging it is to be on the receiving end of this.

Along the same vein is the problem that I face as a disabled dancer with other people never seeing beyond how I walk, or how my leg looks on stage. There have been times where people have simplified their speech around me just because they saw me limp into the room. Trust me, I can keep up. There have been people in the audience that have come up to me simply to say how good a dancer I was “for someone like you, with your challenges.” Qualifiers like that completely decimate any recognition of true hard work or bravery, because apparently I will never be as good as a fully “able-bodied” dancer. That’s the sort of thing that needs to come to a grinding halt. I know I may sound bitter to some, but that little reminder every so often that I’ll never be as good as my classmates in the eyes of others slowly eats away at my self-confidence.

This is a battle cry for all dancers, regardless of ability: OWN YOUR DANCE. For those that are disabled, do you have a move that you just cannot master because of your disability’s constraints? Talk to your teacher! I have found in the year and a half that I’ve been in a studio environment that belly dance teachers in particular will bend over backwards (pun intended) to help you succeed.

Don’t call me an inspiration for simply existing.  I want to be an inspiration because I’ve done something to earn it. Don’t call me “brave” or “courageous” for getting up on stage just because my leg is a bit twisted. I’m battling heaps of anxiety in the minutes before the music starts just like every dancer around me. We are all together on the same stage, each with our own unique spin on this beautiful craft.

image1 (1)

My first performance, Aalim Spring Showcase 2017