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

Dancing with Myself: Part 2: The Cons of Self-Study

 

PicsArt_09-14-02.36.33
David of Scandinavia Workshop 2017

While I have primarily done self-study throughout my dance “career” and have found it beneficial, there are a number of drawbacks to only engaging in independent learning. I only get snippets through the occasional workshops I do throughout the year and the couple of class sessions I’ve taken in the last couple of years, but I notice them.

No Feedback

One the downsides of independent study is you don’t get any teacher feedback. If your form is off, or if you’re doing something weird, you have to figure it out on your own, because there’s no one there to correct you. A way to mitigate this is to film yourself dancing a lot and comb over the footage and correct yourself accordingly, but it’s still not the same as immediate feedback from a more experienced dancer.

Lack of Guidance

When you study on your own, you’re…well…on your own. You have to decide how to develop your own program, which can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for. You don’t have the guidance of a teacher to steer you in the right direction. When I started, it was a bit of a struggle to find what fit, because I didn’t know the vocabulary. I didn’t know what words to look for. I gravitated towards Baladi and Shaabi early on, but it took a few years for me to learn the words to be able to seek those things out. For a long time, I confused the two because I found the word Shaabi first, and the dancer was wearing a baladi-style costume.

No Accountability

When you study on your own, you are the only one who can make you practice. There are no classes to ensure you practice on a regular basis. This is why when I do find classes to take, I pay for the entire session in advance. This obligates me to attend. No excuses for not going. I find myself often going through long periods where I don’t practice at all. If I had people to dance with, I feel I would dance more often.

Slower Progress

I feel like I have done well for learning on my own, but I also understand that my progress as a dancer has been slowed because of it. Having been acquainted with the Aalim Bellydance Academy for the last few years, I notice their students progress a lot faster due to the regularity of their practice, access to teachers, and regular performance opportunities. With lack of guidance, accountability, and feedback, you will move slower.

No Community

Ultimately, all of these issues come back to the ultimate drawback to self-study, the lack of involvement with the dance community. That support network isn’t there. All of the aforementioned issues come from this single most important point. Being a baby dancer all alone is really difficult. When you finally do stumble your way into the community, you feel like an uneducated dolt because you don’t know all the words. You don’t know the big name dancers, your dance ancestors, the famous composers. It can be intimidating.

I am grateful that managed to find the community via the workshop circuit. It has improved my dancing a lot even with just the few events I go to each year. I have met countless new friends through these experiences and even found a few classes as a result. While I am pleased with the results of my independent study, if I had had the opportunity to learn with others in the beginning, I would have. If you don’t have the opportunity to learn from a live teacher, or take a class, then independent learning is a great way to get started with exploring this beautiful dance. If you do have the opportunity to take a class, do it. Seriously, you won’t regret it.

PicsArt_09-14-02.35.07
Folklore Cocktail Workshop with Vanessa of Cairo 2016

“Dance Like You’re 100 Kilos”: Nada and the Baladi Woman

PicsArt_04-19-02.23.12I cannot begin to describe the excitement I felt when I heard Nada el Masriya was coming to Tulsa. She was one of the dancers I had come across in my previous explorations of the baladi style, and I adored her energy and her attitude. I couldn’t wait to learn from an actual Egyptian woman, a native of the culture I have fallen in love with.

The first day was four hours of just baladi, my dance bread and butter. Working with her was an absolute joy and I learned so much about the cultural context of the style and the idea of the character of the baladi woman. I had heard of the concept of characters in Egyptian dance, but I’d not really learned about the idea. As she described it, I began to realize why I connected so strongly with that style.

She said a baladi woman is a strong woman, confident, fully embracing her femininity and her sexiness, but still ready and willing to get her hands dirty to help people and take care of her home and her family. She is beautiful, yet unrefined. Earthy and grounded. She is voluptuous and her movements are deep and gooey.

“Whether you’re 50 kilos or 100 kilos, dance like you’re 100.”

As a large-bodied dancer, I can’t begin to describe how inspiring that one statement was. I mean, I’ve got that 100 kilo thing covered. I’ve always been fairly self-conscious about my body, especially when I first got into the workshop scene, surrounded by all the lovely professional dancers with their shapely, much thinner bodies. But the dance community has always been one of the most accepting and supportive groups of people when it comes to appearance.

But hearing that the goal was to dance like I weighed what I already weighed? Yeah, that felt good.

She still kicked my butt though, and the butt of everyone else in the class. I never thought dancing baladi could be so strenuous. Finding that deep movement was difficult. When I woke up the next morning, muscles were hurting that I didn’t know could hurt. I mean, my hips hurt. Like, how? I always come away from a workshop weekend with sore legs and feet, but we found some muscle groups I didn’t even know existed. PicsArt_04-19-02.25.04

I loved it. I loved everything about it. I learned about the character, the attitude, the movement, the culture, and even the styling. I did Saidi that night at the show, but I did baladi hair per the description Nada gave, and I think it turned out well.

Honestly, I can’t wait to study with Nada again, and I know my dance will be infinitely improved by my experience this past weekend.

Ilalliqa’!

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.

Nada el Masriya in Tulsa, April 14, 2018!

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.

Midtown Tulsa Belly Dance always puts on wonderful workshops. You won’t be disappointed!

nada flyer

Can’t make it to the workshops? Come join us for a spectacular show featuring dancers from Oklahoma and the surrounding areas, and, of course, Nada el Masriya herself. Oh, and me! I’ll be there too!

IMG_20180404_020318

Yalla!