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Hello everyone!

I just wanted to take a moment and thank everyone for their support of this blog. It hasn’t quite been a year yet, but the response has been fantastic. I’ve outgrown this space! I’m going to be creating a new website that will debut later this summer and I’ll host the blog there. The blog address won’t change, and if you’re subscribed now you should continue to receive articles. There just might be a few blips along the way as I transition. Thanks for your patience and understanding. So over the next few weeks posts may be sparse. I’d welcome your comments, feedback, and suggestions on the site, and on what posts you’d like to see next!

Best,
Ananke

P.S. If you arrived here from a search engine or link, please visit the blog through either of these addresses:

http://www.anankedance.com/blog/

http://blog.anankedance.com

I’m taking a break from my life in New Hampshire to visit friends and family this week in Maryland. There’s been a lot of binging on the things I’ve been missing. This includes ethnic food and, of course, belly dance shows and workshops. Happily, my visit coincided with Mia Naja’s annual Moments of Magic hafla, a great showcase of D.C. area talent. And although the show started pretty late, it was well worth the wait. There was a wonderful diversity of styles and talents.Sahara's Treasure at Mia Naja's show

Of course the highlight of my evening was seeing my former students performing as Sahara’s Treasure in a beautiful fusion of classic folkloric and cabaret styles. I’ve known some of these women from their very first class and seeing them owning the stage (after a minor hiccup with the sound system) was very rewarding. They’ve really danced into their own.Khiyatta at the Moment's of Magic showMy favorite fusion act was Khiyatta’s dramatic blend of tribal and ballet en pointe. Delicate spins and precise footwork became eerily dark in a synthesis that included moody arms and even floorwork.Ebony's Raqs Caravan Urban

My favorite new act (new to me!) was student troupe Raqs Caravan Urban under the direction of the legendary Ebony. They performed a fun and funky fusion that was high in energy and flawless in its execution. It was really refreshing to see such unique style.Bogoas of Maryland

Per usual, Bagoas kept the crowd in the palm of his hand with his mind blowing isolations and smooth musical interpretation. An artist in every sense of the word, Bagoas continues to pioneer the field in new and exciting ways.Phoenix Belly DanceI also saw my first performance with a live harp accompaniment. Phoenix’s veil solo piece was thoughtful and emotive. I’ll be waiting to see what develops in the coming years with this one!

There was also, of course, fabulous performances from Nadirah Nasreen, Ebony, Naimah, and Zaira al Zahara, as well! It was a great night.

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You’ve worked really hard to make sure every detail is perfect for this performance. The costuming and make-up, your song selection, the choreography… each took hours of careful planning, hard-earned sweat, and maybe even a few tears. Don’t let all your work go to waste, take the time to write a good stage introduction!

What is a stage introduction? The stage introduction, sometimes called the emcee notes or dancer’s bio, is how your routine is announced to the audience. It’s the ‘who you are and what you’re doing’ that may be read by a live MC, pre-recorded, or printed in the show program. If you’re dancing in an organized show, you’ll probably submit your introduction with your music and contact details. If you’re performing at a professional gig, you may be asked if you want anything announced before you enter.

Why is it important? The stage introduction is often your first impression on the audience. It’s a chance to get their attention, set the mood, and raise the level of anticipation.

So let’s walk through some important considerations before we begin. Then we’ll look at a few creative writing approaches, with examples of how each may by used. We’ll finish with some general tips on style.

Considerations:

  • What’s the format? Will your intro be in a printed program, read by a live emcee, or both? If you know your intro is going to appear in print, then you can ask the show organizer if it would be okay to include a link to your website (or your teacher’s!) in your intro. It’s a great way to get free advertising. If your intro is being read by a live emcee, you may want to consider including a phonetic guide to pronouncing any difficult names.
  • Who is your audience? The purpose of the intro is to provide context for your audience, to help them connect to you and your work. You’ll first have to understand who they are to be successful. Are the people in your audience traditional American, or do they generally belong to a particular ethnicity, culture, or other socioeconomic group? What is their level of experience with bellydance? Will this be their first time seeing a live bellydancer?
  • What’s the venue? Is this a formal gathering, or something more casual? The tone of your writing should compliment the tone or mood of the event.

Approaches:

  • Educational: Explaining a few of the historical or cultural background details related to your performance. This works great for audiences that are new to bellydancing, or for haflas where there are often students in the audience that are learning about different styles and traditions. It also works nicely for folkloric routines.

Ancient dancers in Egypt, Greece, and Turkey held percussive instruments in their hands during religious and secular ceremonies. These instruments would later come to resemble the modern belly dancer’s finger cymbals. Tonight, Ananke fuses the traditional playing of finger cymbals with New Age world music in a routine that features some jazzy rhythms.

  • Translation: Summarizing a translation of the lyrics to set the mood or tone. This can add depth to your interpretation, especially when the singer relates an interesting story or parable. It also works well for traditional American audiences that may feel disconnected to foreign music.

Ananke interprets a Turkish pop song in which singer Tarkan pines for a woman that is a bit of a tease, and who also happens to be with another man.

  • Dedication: Dedicating the performance to a teacher or inspirational figure, or to a friend or family member. This works well for emotive pieces, especially when the routine demonstrates a quality of the person you are celebrating or remembering.

Ananke dedicates this performance to her good friend Jeanine, who taught her that life’s most valuable lessons are those that are the most hard-won.

  • Provide a setting: Using imagery to evoke a particular scene in space or time. This works well for non-traditional fusion pieces with a particular theme, as well as historic folkloric routines. Here’s one I used for a Halloween show:

On this moonless night you have been summoned to witness upon this stage a dark covenant. From the shadows emerge creatures who conjure around the ghostly flames and take pleasure in ghastly tricks and treats.

  • Use humor: People have a good time when they laugh. Use a bit of humor to engage an audience before a light or playful routine.

Ananke will perform a sizzling drum solo, a traditional component of the Cabaret line-up involving precise isolations that require intense practice and drills. These shimmies are sure to leave you (and her!) breathless.

Tips:

  • Keep it short! Less than four sentences is great.
  • Pick just one of the above approaches (or your own!) and do it well. Don’t overcomplicate the message.
  • If you need to include biographical information (like how long you’ve been dancing, who you study from, etc.), then try to creatively weave it into your approach. Avoid sentences like, “Salimah has been dancing for three years.” when you could write, “In three years of dancing Salimah has learned that the most challenging pieces are easiest to interpret with a veil in her hands.”
  • It is proper for student-level dancers to acknowledge their teachers, and to acknowledge the choreographer of the routine if it is not yours.
  • Remember to write in the third person, “Ananke dances…”, instead of “I dance…”, so that it makes sense when the emcee reads it. And don’t forget to include your name somewhere!
  • Use the present or future tense, “Ananke is performing…” or “Ananke will perform.”
  • Try to use an active voice, it sounds much more powerful. “The routine features…” instead of “… is featured in the routine.”
  • Save the introductions you write so that you can reference (and reuse!) them later.

Happy writing!

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Ananke performing at haflaIt’s spring, which means it’s hafla season. If you’re into performing you probably have at least one upcoming show in the next few weeks. And even if you’re not performing I bet you’ll be attending one soon. So I thought it would be a good time to review the P’s and Q’s of performance etiquette.

Why it’s important. Being polite and respectful at shows is about maintaining your reputation amongst your fans and your fellow dancers. Your name is the single most important thing you have. If you tarnish it, then you don’t dance. It doesn’t matter how good your technique is. It’s that simple.

So what is good show etiquette for bellydancers? I’ve broken it down into three categories:

In the Audience

  • Be positive. You know Thumper’s Law: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all. Help create a show atmosphere where women are supported for being who they are, where they are in their study of the dance. Plus, you never know who might overhear your negative comments.
  • Be supportive. Don’t underestimate the power of a reassuring smile, especially for dancers new to the stage. Clap along to the music, or zaghareet where appropriate. If you’re comfortable with a little Arabic, you can also call out encouraging phrases such as “Yalla!” or “Ya Habibi!” Be careful with hissing- while it may be appropriate in some tribal dance themed shows, cabaret or folkloric dancers will probably find it offensive.
  • Buy something. If the hafla is being held in a restaurant or lounge, you should at least buy a drink to support the establishment. The tables are there for paying customers, and your ticket or cover charge doesn’t count. This is just as true for dancers in the show who are sitting in the audience before or after their number!
  • Stay for the whole thing. Don’t just arrive for your number and then leave after your done. Be there to support all the dancers. If you really must leave for another engagement, then email the event organizer to let them know well ahead of time.
  • Wear your cover-up. For performers not on stage, and this includes any time you’re sitting in the audience, you should wear an appropriate cover-up. A transparent veil isn’t enough; aim for a caftan or change of clothes instead. You don’t want your costume to detract from the performance currently onstage. And if you haven’t performed yet, you don’t want to give away your look!
  • Promote where appropriate. Haflas often have a table with promotional materials such as flyers and business cards made available to the audience. Before placing your own materials here, check with the event organizer.

In the Dressing Room

  • Be on time. This helps the event organizers run the show smoothly. It also gives you more time to prepare backstage. Be sure to check in with the stage manager and to hand off your music, stage introduction, etc. to the DJ or emcee as soon as you arrive.
  • Come prepared. You should arrive in full costume and makeup with only some last minute pinning and adjustments needed. Triple check that you have everything you need before you leave. Have your dancer emergency kit (extra safety pins, costume tape, needle and thread, bobby pins, etc.) with you. Remember: “A lack of planning on my part does not constitute an emergency on someone else’s part.”
  • Don’t hog the dressing room. It’s rare to be in a dressing room that isn’t overcrowded. Do what you can to maximize the space by bringing in only what you must. Try to give everyone some mirror time, especially the dancers going on stage before you. And please please please don’t practice your routine in the dressing room.
  • Stay positive.  It’s good to remember that everyone prepares for a show differently. Some people might want to chit chat to ease their nerves, others may want time alone to recenter. Stay positive and cheerful. The “OMG I’m going to mess up!” neediness is draining for everyone. You’re already here. Take a breath. Have fun.
  • Offer some help. Other dancers may need assistance with zipping, pinning, clasping, etc. Lend a hand if you have a spare moment, especially if you’re already done with your performance.
  • Mind the door. Some dressing rooms open into an area that is public. Check to make sure that you won’t expose any dancers before exiting. Knock before entering if necessary.
  • Don’t bring anyone else. Your friend/significant other/children should not come with you to the dressing room. If you need support or assistance, ask another dancer. If you need a babysitter, hire one to stay with your kids in the audience!

On Stage

  • Shh! Be quiet. While waiting in the wings try not to make any noise or ruffle the curtains. This includes talking, zilling, jingling, etc.
  • Stick to time limits. Let me tell you a little secret. I’ve never seen someone dance over their time limit and be glad they made the decision. Sticking to your time limit is respectful to the event organizers and your fellow dancers. Also, the best performances leave the audience wanting more. It’s hard to go wrong leaving too soon.
  • Give credit. In your stage introduction (or emcee notes) you should acknowledge anyone that assisted you with the choreography or the routine. Giving credit also means acknowledging the musicians if dancing to live music, and acknowledging the audience with a bow or curtsey.
  • Have a prop retrieval plan. A lot of event organizers would prefer you to leave the stage with whatever props you had when you entered. Even if this is not the case, make sure someone will be there to collect your things before the next performance.
  • Entrance and exit (have them). Be in character before the audience can see you, and keep it until after you are well out of sight. Nothing ruins the moment like an artist getting into character on stage.

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Do you have an example of really great show etiquette? How about a horror story? Please post in the comments below or share it on the Facebook page.

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On the second Saturday of every May dancers from around the world observe World Bellydance Day. The holiday has a strong charitable emphasis according to founder Lydia Tzigane of Dubai:

Our mission is to unite the initiative of dancers around the world to celebrate the wonderful art of belly dance as a holiday… We got inspired by the idea of holding an event that would serve as a reminder that belly dance is an ART form, a cultural event, a sport, and a social and family entertainment. It is also a wonderful chance to help those in need.

In its sixth year, WBD 2012 delivered an exciting assortment of classes, shows, parades, and even a few shimmy mobs. Here’s a look at some of this year’s most interesting events:

Tallahassee, Florida, USA, Tallahassee Tribal’s shimmy mob surprised shoppers at a local farmer’s market with an impromptu performance to benefit Refuge House, a shelter that aids victims of domestic violence. More.

Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, Dancer’s of Cinnamon Twist School of Bellydance offered free workshops and demonstrations to benefit the Smith’s Family Sponsor a Child Program for disadvantaged children. More.

Cape Town, South Africa, Studio Feminine Divine hosted dancers from 26 studios from the Western Cape for a bellydance themed fashion show that celebrated natural feminine beauty and raised money for St. George’s Home for Girls. More.

Hanoi, Vietnam, Over fifty bellydancers from Apsara Dance Studio joined in a flash shimmy mob to benefit the Blue Dragon Children Foundation. More.

Glasgow, ScotlandSarasvati Tribal organized a charity hafla that raised £200 for the Marine Conservation Society.

Ham, Belgium, Amirah and Saïda hosted a day of bellydance that raised over 2000€ for FACE for children, a charity working with orphanages in Egypt. There were workshops and performances from notable Belgian and German artists such as Queenie, Kayla, Ishani, and Khalida.


Want to see some video footage? Check out my WBD 2012 50+ video playlist on YouTube!

Congratulations all on your wonderful successes. I can’t wait to see what you do next year!

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It all starts with music. It’s the foundation of your dance. You can have great technique and stage charisma, but if you’re not connecting to the music then you’re not connecting to the audience.

The best performances are the ones that blend all elements together seamlessly- the music complements the choice of movements, the costuming, the venue, and the dancer’s expression. Here are six tips for selecting and interpreting your next musical piece:

Selection

  • Pick a song that inspires you. Songs that naturally move you will be easier to choreograph and more enjoyable to watch in performance.
  • Give a thought to the venue. Where do you see yourself performing this routine? The musical style should fit the theme or demands of the show for which you are preparing. A non-traditional or fusion piece should only be performed at fusion-friendly events. Traditional music is appropriate at most shows, restaurants, and private gigs.
  • Avoid music that is too long or complicated. Basically, this boils down to owning the routine and dancing within your limits. You want to leave the audience wanting more. Beginners should stick to songs that are three to five minutes in length, with simple rhythms and a single mood or theme. You can begin to add in complexity as you advance in your studies. (This doesn’t mean beginner dancers can’t dance to more complicated music- it’s just not the best selection for a performance).

Interpretation

  • Know the meaning of the lyrics. This may be useful in helping you understand the emotions of the piece. And you also generally want to avoid music with religious, political, or other controversial themes. Try searching for a translation online.
  • Listen to the music, a lot! Learn all its pieces and how they fit together- the accents, crescendos, and pauses. It may sound tedious, but interpreting music is like developing a relationship with a person. There will be elements that grab your attention and excite you when you first hear the song, but your understanding will be deeper and more complex when you have gotten to know it well.
  • Break it down into recognizable segments. There should be repetition in your music- a chorus, a melody, a drum section. Find these patterns and map the overall structure. It’s important because your dancing should acknowledge repetitions in the music. Your movements, combinations, and patterns should repeat, at least in part, with the music.

Question for you: How do you know when you’ve found the right song?

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Spring has got to be the busiest time of year for bellydancers. The gigs, the workshops, and the shows can begin to take their toll on you physically and mentally if you’re not careful. Fortunately, with this arsenal of superfoods under your coined belt you have nothing to fear. Here’s my suggestions for 5 snacks that can keep up with you!

Chocolate: The before class pick-me-up

Let’s start things off right with chocolate. Dark chocolate, to be exact. Chocolate is packed with flavonoids, which can help lower blood pressure and also act as antioxidants. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, which trigger feelings of pleasure. It contains serotonin, an anti-depressant, and mild stimulants as well. It’s the perfect pick-me-up after a long day when you still gotta get to the studio!

The Snack: Try one or two squares of dark chocolate with five to eight almonds. The addition of heart-healthy nuts will provide long-lasting protein energy. Just be sure to only eat a little as both foods are high in calories. The point is to get big bang for your buck, since nobody wants to come to class and shimmy on a full stomach.

Mint Leaves: The stomach soother

Everyone’s experienced that queasy feeling in your stomach when you’ve gone a little too far with you veil spin drills. Or maybe you made the mistake of eating too soon before class. Chewing on mint promotes digestion, soothes indigestion, and reduces nausea and headache. Plus, it makes your breath minty fresh!

The Snack: You can now buy fresh mint leaves in the produce section of most grocery stores.  If you don’t want to chew on leaves, gum or breath mints with real mentha oil will work just as well. Don’t like the taste of mint? Try candied ginger for some of the same benefits.

Bananas: The post-shimmying replenishing fuel

Besides packing a healthy dose of vitamin B6 and vitamin C, bananas contain about 400 mg of potassium. Potassium is one of those important electrolytes that are often lost in workouts. It also helps prevent muscle cramping and soreness. And if that’s not enough, bananas are good for brain and bone health, too.

The Snack: Blend a banana with a cup of soy milk and one tablespoon of almond butter in a blender for a fruity nutty protein-packed treat! You can sweeten the drink with a tablespoon of honey, too.

Trail Mix: The classic in between gigs snack

So trail mix is probably not new to you, but it’s worth mentioning here because it does it’s job so well. Easy to store and take to shows and workshops, it’s also packed with antioxidants, heart healthy fats, and protein. Just be sure to eat only a little- it’s high in calories.

The Snack: I like to make my own trail mix to keep things new and exciting. There’s lots of great recipes on the internet with fresh combinations. You can go sweet, spicy, or tangy to suit your palette. Just be careful of salty, as you don’t want to dehydrate before going on stage. And watch out for sulfites and other preservatives in dried fruit.

Blueberries: Healthy daily living food

Blueberries are packed with anti-oxidants that help prevent cancer. They have also recently been linked to brain health and improved memory functioning. Plus, they retain a lot of their nutritional value even when frozen. As such, they are available for healthy snacking year round.

The Snack: I like blueberries with one of my other favorite foods- Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt has about twice as much protein as regular yogurt for just a small increase in calories. I mix blueberries into naturally sweetened (no sugar or corn syrup!) Greek yogurt and sprinkle chia seeds on top for an extra protein and anti-oxidant boost.

Happy snacking!

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