When "Taking the High Road" leaves you with pangs of regret...

I received a rather lovely email from someone in the local bellydance community a while back that mentioned the following...

"I hope you realize how much you invigorated the dance community and moved it forward when you were involved."  

I do miss it sometimes, but I don't miss:
~ the politics 
~ the backstabbing 
~ the emotional terrorists, squeaky wheels, and grand mal tantrums 
~ the ubiquitous performance scene filled with too much self-indulgence, gimmick, and not enough technique or polish
~ a community that refuses to enforce decent pay because some fool along the way has convinced everyone that there would be a serious threat of being sued for "price fixing"
~ those who are shrewd and opportunistic and screw people over/undercut/steal gigs/venues and then put on this act of blissful ignorance as if "they didn't realize"
~ those who strongly object to certain aspects of the dance to create an air of exclusivity and distance themselves, and then hypocritically embrace it the next moment once there's a buck to be made. 
~ those who openly discredit those who they see as their competition as if they see themselves as the bellydance version of The Highlander.  And here are my thoughts again on competition... the crash and burn is inevitable. (http://zanbaka.blogspot.com/2014/08/unhealthy-competition-in-bellydance.html) 

 I've always been secure enough in my role as an instructor to encourage people to study with as many teachers as possible and study many styles, even if I had concerns about their methods and ethics. But when your students return with a completely different demeanor of suspicion or not return at all, there's a point where one has to wise up. When it happens over and over and over and over again with specific instructors, I had to admit to myself that I needed to stop being so supportive of other people who did not deserve my support. At first, I refused to listen to my intuition that the support was not mutual. Unhealthy competition in our dance, impairs one's long term vision. It makes one short-sighted. Were those dozens of students who's perception of me you poisoned and then took a few months of classes worth it? Too shortsighted to see that you'd be cutting off a lifetime of support, referrals, and income for what you probably thought was a "win"? Too shortsighted to realize that the smart ones would see through it and report back to me what they heard or what they were told? Was the handful of scraps worth it? Was the anonymity you caused and brought upon yourself worth it? Was it worth the deep, permanent fracture in the community? When I think of all the time and energy that it must have taken to keep such close tabs on my business and dance works, all the time it must have taken to discredit me, it;s such a tremendous waste as that time and energy could have been harnessed and put toward your own successes and your own art. 

Is this post vague and passive aggressive? Absolutely. But I feel as if I'm getting to point where I need to lose the 'passive', when and if I decide to teach group classes or produce shows again. Maybe it's time to start taking the low-road right along with everyone else? Perhaps next time I'm asked about one of these individuals, I'll lay out every single past transgression? Not that I dwell on it too often, but when I do think back I have a very clear memory of a long list of incidents and things that have been said, every underhanded, snide, and disarming comment. My suspicious which I tried to suppress for so long that those estranged from these various circles have come to me, unsolicited, to confirm their validity. Situation after situation, where my kindness was mistaken for weakness or naivety.  

There are those in life who create, who build things up, who lift other people up and there are those to destroy, tear things down, and tear other people down... for what reason I'll never understand. When I first set out on this dance journey over twenty years ago I never would have expected that I would experience or witness the ugliness, underhandedness, and toxicity that I have. 

The problem with trying to rise above it all, taking the high-road, ignoring it, not stooping down to their level is that their bad behavior goes by unchecked and the aggressor continues to get away with it and eventually a new target is on the receiving end of it. It's not always the best policy.   

Tribal Fest 15 - Inspired and Impressive Performances! (Part 1)

I haven't been back to Tribal Fest since Raqs Halim Dance Ensemble performed and taught a workshop there in 2005. Hard to believe that was ten years ago!

I've been catching up on performances from the Tribal Fest 15 channel this week and I am SO IMPRESSED with what I've been seeing. It's so incredibly generous of the performers to freely share their videos online with the world.

The level of polished technique, attention to rhythmic detail, synchronicity between dancers in groups, musical interpretation, use of intricate finger cymbals patterns, musical choices, professional costumes, artistry, emotiveness, that triangular tribal connection between fellow dancers and audience, tactful incorporation of folk / regional / world dance elements, and versatility of dancers capable of dancing both group improv and choreography has left me ecstatic!

It seems like there's been a heavy shift these last couple of years from a majority of un-polished or gimmicky or concept pieces that lack substance or dance experience to.... a whole new level of excellence. The bar has definitely been raised and I'm really excited to see what's next for all these different but intertwined facets that collectively make up what we know as the genre of tribal belly dance.

So sit back and dive into the official Tribal Fest 15 channel and youtube: 


...and stay tuned for a round-up of my favorite performances in Part 2!

Resource List for Persian and Central Asian Dance/Music in the Seattle Area

I came across this youtube clip of the amazing Bay Area dancer and instructor, Miriam Peretz. I have long admired this inpiring artist and incredibly versatile dancer. I highly recommend going down a youtube rabbit hole and spend a few (or several!) hours watching Miriam and Ballet Afsaneh... unbelievably immaculate costumes, music, stage presentation, and dance.

Watching this clip made me reflect on the wonderful opportunities I've had to study Persian and Central Asian dances... with Dr. Robyn Friend at Mendocino Middle East Music and Dance Camp, in Seattle with Emiko Nakamura, and a short stint with Heather Rastovac and Sonja Hinz when they taught together in Seattle.

We are so fortunate in the Seattle area to have many great resources for learning music and dances from these regions. I always encourage my students to study with as many teachers as possible and explore as many styles as possible. So please take advantage of what these wonderful instructors have to offer:

Ahmad Yousefbeigi - Perisan Classical and Kurdish Folk Music and Percussion

[In Bellingham, but definitely worth the trek!!!]
Sonja Hinz - Perisan and Tajik Dance

Emiko Nakamura

Helene Eriksen - ANAR DANA Dance Training Programs

Sevillanas = Hard!

Sevillanas are a music/song/dance style that are folkloric, regional dances of Sevilla and surrounding area. While not Flamenco, a Sevillana is pretty commonly taught in Flamenco classes or schools, as many of the movements cross-over into the realm of Flamenco.

There are some Flamencos who really scoff at the idea of dancing a Sevillana, but, to each their own. I love dancing it and I love the interaction and energy of dancing with other people as it's a social dance. For those of us who dance Flamenco outside of Spain, I think it's a wonderful way to connect with and engage with your audience, as it's as pretty popular dance form.

One night in class, our wonderful Maestra, Sara de Luis, shared a very important point about Sevillanas. It's very difficult for beginners to learn, and I totally agree.

It's a lot to throw at someone who is totally new to Flamenco, and maybe even dance in general: a 3/4 rhythm, foot patterns with counts being held, turns, dancing with a partner, and weaving around a partner with turns and specific steps. Although I've never seen it in a classroom setting, I'm sure there have been plenty of kicked shins, stepped on toes, and eyes nearly being poked out in the process.

When I was first learning Sevillanas, I obsessively watched videos, I wrote out the steps with corresonding counts, and also noted stylistic variations. I eventually got there, but it was a rough road. So much work for something that's usually over in 3 to 4 minutes, but so well worth it. If you're currently learning Sevillanas, and it feels frustrating and difficult, just remember that most of us have been there.

Here are some snippets that I found on youtube that may be of help:

Estudio Flamenco Course

Older Video Series, but the pace is nice and slow and there are good sight lines on the first 17 clips in this playlist.

Carlos Saura Sevillanas Film.
I highly recomend owning a copy of this film!

Unhealthy Competition in the Bellydance Community

If I may be so bold as to unleash my inner “Stuart Smalley” for a moment , I’m feeling compelled to share some thoughts on the idea of competition today.

I’m a big So You Think You Can Dance fan and I think formal bellydance competitions can be a good learning experience and an excellent way to make a name for yourself. Dance in these situations is hard to judge, it’s very subjective, and somewhat popularity/reputation based. In many cases, it’s like comparing apples to oranges or flipping a coin. This blog post is not about formal competitions. It’s about the mentality of unhealthy competition. I find myself flabbergasted that I still encounter grown-up, adult women in the bellydance community who have this mentality of unhealthy competition.

There is enough for everyone, as long as we’re working hard to bring excellence in Bellydance to the general public. There will always be enough for everyone. Everyone brings something unique and individual to the table.

There will always be new students, audience members, and aficionados, in addition to the old.

There will always be new venues, festivals, shows, and events, especially if you take the initiative to create your own.

Proliferation of bellydance and an ever expanding dance community is a wonderful thing. I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to be satisfied until Bellydance studios were as commonplace as yoga studios, taught in schools and even in dance programs at higher educational institutions. I would love to see this ideal actualized one day. Unhealthy competition is a malicious foe to this sort of growth in our dance genre.

I’m a lifelong dancer who spent year after year at the ballet/tap/jazz dance studio since age 4. Unhealthy competition between dancers was something that was *never* promoted. Healthy competition, as in, you compete with yourself and top your personal best, was very much emphasized. I’m so thankful to have that early, formative experience and exposure to this positive philosophy of competition in dance.

If you choose to compete with others, you’re ultimately setting yourself up for failure, disappointment, or even if in your mind, you “gain a win” over someone else, it’s only fleeting and a matter of time until you need your next fix. It’s truly a parasitic relationship if your definition of success puts you in a situation where your self-worth as a student, performer, instructor, event producer, etc., is dependant on someone else’s strengths or weaknesses. If you do thrive by this philosophy, if that is what fuels you and motivates you, you’re eventually going to crash and burn.

Inspirational Dance Clip of the Week - Nalini and Blue Lotus at the Northwest Folklife Festival

I can't say enough wonderful things about Nalini. Virtuoso dancer of so many styles of dance... Bellydance, Bollywood, Russian Romani, and director of several professional and student troupes.

I first met Nalini back in the Summer of 2005 when she had just moved to the area and contacted me to perform at Troupe Zamani's monthly performance showcase: Caravanserai at Cafe Solstice. We had to communicate by email and through her husband due to the language barrier at the time. The crowd at Caravanserai was blown away by her dancing and she is one of the kindest dancers I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Soon after that, I hosted a Bollywood workshop with her at Vitality Pilates, where my group classes were being held. Her teaching style is amazing and she demands a lot of her students. You can see the outcome of her high standards and attention to detail with her various performing groups... professional costumes, stage presence, and dance skill. Even though I'm not teaching group classes at the moment, Nalini is my top recommendation for class referrals. Even if her style is not your style, you'll learn so much great technique and dance conditioning. Definitely worth the trip to the East Side. Nalini, I'm so glad the Seattle area is lucky enough to have you here!


Wrist Circles, Hand Circles, and Hand/Wrist Circle Combinations

Until I began studying Flamenco more than a decage ago, I didn’t really think much about the details in my hand/wrist circles or that more definition could create different variations, thus creating more dance vocabulary to choose from and a tool for synchronizing within a group.

Here are 3 basic versions that I use:

Wrist Circles
Originated by an emphatic circular movement in the wrist with an unstructured follow through in the hand. I tend to see this variation most in Cabaret/Oriental Style, although it works well in fusion and could be worked into tribal group improv movements. Some of the hand movements in Central Asian dances also use this technique.
Enjoy this clip of Tamalyn Dallal where she uses many wrist circles and wrist leading movements in the first half of this clip.

Hand Circles (Flamenco Style Floreos)
Originated by hand rotating through 5 positions around an isolated wrist/lower arm. The wrist/lower arm rotates and twists in place, but doesn’t move up/down/back/forth to power the movement. Since this requires an isolated arm and emphatic elbow lift in arm positions, it works well with fusion, tribal fusion, and tribal group improv movements. A feast for the eyes: Flamenco with Matilde Coral and Her Company

Hand/Wrist Circle Combination
Melding the above 2 techniques together… passing through the 5 hand positions but also adding an emphatic wrist movement. The Always Mesmerizing…. Fat Chance Belly Dance

With these 3 basic variations, I like to change them up a bit with directions (in, out, or alternating) as well as leading with different fingers.

Do you differentiate between different variations? Do you have a standard or favorite variation? How do you combine them with arm movements and positions?

And while we’re at it, let’s enjoy some more lovely arms…
Clip from Carlos Saura’s Salome
Miriam Peretz
Mira Betz

You can also find this guide to hands and arms with illustrations and diagrams in Volume I: Foundations of my Bellydance for the Versatile Dancer book series, available through my website or Amazon.

© Zanbaka, Tradition and Innovation: A Bellydance Column, Seattle, WA, 2007-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Zanbaka, Tradition and Innovation, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Snippets from Seattle's Tribal Style Bellydance History

I was unpacking a few boxes this past weekend and came across my old binders full of dance notes, newspaper clippings, workshop handouts, newsletters, etc. I blew off the dust, cracked one open and took a little stroll down memory lane. Amazing to think that these valuable pieces of paper were once the only way to disseminate info about bellydance before the web was commonplace.

My favorite thing I came across was a copy of a 'Caravan Trails' newsletter from Fall of 1998 and it brought back such amazing memories.

On the back page of upcoming events it listed my first workshop with Paulette Rees-Denis in Seattle at the Ballard Firehouse (Oct'98), which was sponsored by the ladies of the early Goddess Squad (the two Michelle's and Annette - what great gals). It also listed the Hossam and Serena Ramzy Concert that was put on by MEAI (Nov'98). I remember I was sitting in the row or so ahead of Paulette at that concert and being almost too starstruck by her presence to say 'hello'. I attended another Goddess Squad workshop with Paulette in 1999 where we did a beautiful and earthy combo to the "Beledy" piece from Omar Faruk Tekbilek's Gypsy Fire CD.
Then I attended Breitenbush for the first time later on that year, where I first met Kajira Djoumahna, who was also attending Breitenbush for the first time. She gave me a very nice piece of advice about Tribal vs. Cabaret that I took to heart and carry with me to this day. In the early days of Caravan Studios (which I think opened in 2000?), Paulette hosted a weekend of workshops with Dalia Carella that I was lucky enough to attend. Dalia's workshops were truly life-changing event in my dance trajectory. In July 2000, Jaleh sponsored a weekend of workshops with FatChanceBellyDance in conjunction with the Seattle Mediterranean Fantasy Festival (aka Med-Fest, put on by the Babylonian Ensemble). That experience with the FCBD Dancers and my early workshops with Paulette were so very formative...I soaked everything up like a sponge! (By the way, if anyone has photos of FCBD from Med-Fest that year, I'd love to see them.)

Busking at the Seattle Northwest Folklife Festival: May 2001
On my ever-growing dance "to-do" list is to convert to digital my old vhs footage of my troupe Raqs Halim and my various student troupes and possibly make an archive page on my sorely neglected website, which is in the process of a major overhaul to bring it current to the year 2014. I'm ashamed to admit that mine still links to the Tribal Dance Web Ring and I'm possibly the only person left on it!

This archive may even include some accounts of tribal bellydance's early days in Seattle. Check out this little gem of a link from the Tribal Belly Dance yahoo-group from November of 2002 by Sharon Moore: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/tribalbellydance/conversations/messages/979 What a great little piece of Seattle's Tribal Bellydance history, although I definitely wouldn't call myself "folk-mish-mash". LOL! I'm sure it wasn't intentional for her to use a term that usually has negative undertones.

Moving on... 2001 was such an amazing time for tribal bellydance in Seattle. The year before, I had co-taught as a guest instructor with Indira at the Goddess Squad Forum at the Ballard Firehouse in July of 2000 and by myself in July 2001. After much harassment to offer a regular ongoing class by the women of Goddess Squad and people who came to our shows, I decided to succumb to the requests, take the plunge, and start teaching regularly. My regular classes began on June 25th, 2001. I still have a couple flyers from this very first session. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest, I was so excited and nervous on the drive to teach my first class that night. Saidah-Joy, a wonderful Egyptian Style dancer, was kind enough to rent me space at 12th Avenue Studios aka Trace Athletic Studios on Capitol Hill. The building it was in has since been gutted and replaced with condos, but those old studios had some serious character!

After teaching as a guest instructor a couple times at Goddess Squad in 2001, Sharon began teaching regular classes in Gypsy Caravan style in October of 2001, Katrina began regular classes in FCBD ATS style in October 2001 as well. Adriene Rice also began teaching regular FCBD ATS classes shortly after October 2001. Within several months, there was this wonderful abundance and variety of tribal style bellydance classes in Seattle.

Neutral Spine in Basic Bellydance Posture

Not only is aligned posture vital for injury prevention, but it’s imperative for balance, turns, range of motion in isolations, stability in areas not being isolated, and presentation. 

There are so many different versions of posture in the Bellydance world and many elements don’t really make sense in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish with executing isolations while staying balanced and elongated from the feet to the top of the head. 

Keep in mind that this is just a general guide for basic postural alignment and you may be weaving in and out of this alignment with more advanced movements. For example, knees coming in front of the toes during level changes/floorwork, or a core-supported arch, twist, or tilt in the spine for a pose or backbend variations. 

Continuing from where we left off in: Getting Specific About Neutral Pelvis in Basic Dance Posture, let’s keep moving up the body...

Neutral Spine
Think of maintaining the natural curves of the spine. No part of the spine should be flat and the upper back should not be arched into a flat orientation. This shouldn’t be confused with visualizing space between the vertebrate, length in the spine, elongating, and standing tall.  

The Core Band 
Envision a spirit of cooperation amongst the muscles of what I call, the "Core Band".  
Think of an old fashioned waist cincher corset that is slightly longer in the front, reaching up to just below the ribcage and down to the pubic bone. Now, find an anatomy book or a good online resource to familiarize yourself with the complex and layered web of muscles in this area: Transversus Abdominus, Internal Obliques, External Obliques, Rectus Abdominus, Multifidis, Erector Spinae, Latissimus Dorsi, Quadratus Lumborum, and the Iliopsoas group. Note that some of the Core Band muscles extend outside of the imaginary border of the “waist cincher”. Also note that the action of muscles contracting or lengthening goes in the direction of the muscle fibers, but many work  together to achieve the isolations we do in bellydance.

Think of keeping the abdominals engaged, not contracted or relaxed. There is no ribcage or pelvis to support the lumbar spine, so think of these muscles working together to provide support for your midsection and protect this vulnerable area. In addition to powering some isolations, abdominals aid in balance and also stabilize the relationship between  the ribcage and the pelvis. A sedentary lifestyle causes a sinking in of the upper body into the  pelvis, so try to maintain a feeling of air and space between ribcage and pelvis in the Core Band by staying engaged and elongated.  This Core Band is also where that oppositional pull between a skyward upper body and grounded, earthy lower body originates.

Stable Ribcage
The ribcage should be slightly, but not overly expanded. Visualize space between the ribs around the entire ribcage. Also think of slightly lifting the ribcage evenly from the front, back, and sides as if taking a deep breath, then holding the lift created as one exhales. Eventually learn how to arrive at this position without using your breath. The chest should not be tilted or jutting forward, as this restricts possibilities for chest isolations. The weight of the ribcage should be centered over the pelvis and the ankles.

Instead of arching the upper back and pinching the shoulder blades together to achieve openness in the front of the chest and across the shoulders, think of rolling the shoulders back and pulling the shoulder blades down, while maintaining the natural curve of the thoracic spine.  Even in contemporary  Flamenco, a more basic aligned posture is used, as opposed to the old-timey arched posture. This arched position in sometimes emulated by different genres of tribal style dancers or someone dabbling in Flamenco Fusion, but it’s not necessary to arch to  obtain the lifted, regal look of a Flamenco dancer, which actually comes from strong arm lines and positions. A slight level ribcage lift, held evenly, will keep everything isolated. This same lift is used in Flamenco to isolate rapid footwork from a stable upper body.  

Neck and Head
Think of lengthening the neck, while still maintaining the natural curve of the cervical spine,  and lifting tall through the back of the head. From a side view, your ear should be aligned with the shoulder, hip joint and ankle. The weight of your head is balanced and aligned over ribcage, pelvis, and ankles. 

I’d highly recommend that dancers, students, and instructors read any of Eric Franklin’s books, especially if you’re a visual learner or reader-learner. He is a true genius! One of the concepts he talks about in his books is the alignment of the “Three Floors”: Pelvic Floor, Diaphragm,  and First Rib Floor. Visualizing the alignment of these floors can greatly improve stability, balance, and works in  conjunction with our Basic Bellydance Posture. 

You can also find this posture guide with illustrations and diagrams in Volume I: Foundations of my Bellydance for the Versatile Dancer book series, available through my website or Amazon.

© Zanbaka, Tradition and Innovation: A Bellydance Column, Seattle, WA, 2007-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Zanbaka, Tradition and Innovation, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.