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Archive for March, 2012

Dubstep… my only… weakness…

Okay, I admit it… I love dubstep. And I love the new fusion of belly dance and hip hop which is often performed to dubstep music. When I saw this video I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. Fortunately the DVD publisher, World Dance New York, was willing to send me one to review for free. It’s probably one of the coolest fusion videos I’ve seen… ever! Seriously.

The Best Thing About this DVD: is the program itself. Anasma has created something that is uniquely a true synthesis of two styles. Every move is at the same time both belly dance and hip hop. The fusion carries through to her costuming, music, and her expressions, as well. It’s modern and fresh but still true to the origins of both forms. If you’re familiar with Anasma’s work, you know that this is her specialty. It’s also pretty rare. I often see the label of “fusion” describe routines that are just non-traditional. The dancer picks and chooses moves from different genres, but there is no true blending. You definitely won’t find that here.

Other Things I Like:

  • There’s a lot of content- two disks and over four hours worth of content. You get an explanation and drill set for both the belly dance and the hip hop moves, plus a choreography, and some performance footage.
  • The belly dance drills are good enough to stand alone. You could pick up a few nice combinations even if you never use the hip hop section.
  • The choreography is really cute! It’s a wonderful synthesis of the information that’s covered and good enough to be performed at a fusion themed venue.
  • The DVD production values are very good. The lighting and videography are appropriate, and it’s easy to find what you need through the DVD menus.

Be Warned: Although it’s not clearly stated in the description, this DVD is probably best suited for intermediate and advanced level dancers. You will need a good understanding of the mechanics of movement, from either a background in belly dancing or hip hop, for the choreography. There’s really only enough time for Anasma to breeze through the breakdown of each movement, and not enough explanation is given for beginning dancers.

To Summarize: This is a wonderful resource for experienced dancers interested in expanding their realm of experience across different genres. Even if you’re not interested specifically in hip hop, there’s a valuable lesson here as to what a true fusion of styles looks and feels like. The quality of the content and the instruction is excellent.

And there’s a part 2! Check out Wave Explosion, the sequel to this DVD.

Interested? I’m giving away both DVDs in the series. Stay tuned for my next post. 🙂

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What is this Pinterest and how can I use it?

Pinterest is the fastest growing social media site…ever. While surfing the web users can bookmark sites by ‘pinning’ images to themed pinboards. Users can also share their pins or boards with other Pinterest members, repinning and following their content.

From Pinterest’s About page: Pinterest is a free virtual pinboard that “lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes.”

… And now you can use it for a few of your favorite things. Sparkly things, that is.

How to get started

Pinterest is still relatively new, offering its (free) services to members by invitation only.  Requesting an invitation on their About page takes a few weeks, it’s much faster if you can get a current member to invite you. Would you like an invitation? Request one in the comments below and I’ll be happy to send one your way.

If you’re new to this, you should take a few moments to orient yourself to the way Pinterest works. There are lots of great articles about this on the web, and even a few YouTube tutorials. My tip: definitely install the button in your toolbar, it makes pinning while surfing so much more convenient.

Now that you’ve set up your account and are comfortable creating boards and pinning images to them…

Creative uses of Pinterest for belly dancers.. Board themes

  • Costumes and Accessories: the veils, bedlahs, jewelry, etc. that we all know we drool over. example1 example2
  • Makeup and Hair: a database of looks for upcoming performances. example1 example2 example3
  • Costume Design: styles, patterns, color schemes, etc. that contribute to the vision. example
  • Photo Shoot Preparation: poses, lighting techniques, costuming, etc. to inspire. example
  • Health and Fitness: recipes, exercises, tips for active women. example
  • Favorite Articles: your favorite tutorials, discussions, and news. example
  • Bellydance Heroines: your favorite shots of your favorite dancers
  • Documentary: historical photographs, video, and articles about the origin of the art. example
  • Video Playlists: featuring your favorites, tutorials and how-to’s, stylistic themes, etc.

Some tips for professionals and businesses

In an increasingly large number of cases, Pinterest is driving more traffic to webpages than other social media and search engines including Twitter, YouTube, and even Google. That’s because images link back to the source where they were pinned. If you own a belly dance related business, website, or organization it’s time to start thinking about your Pinterest strategy.

If you are…

A store owner or a vendor, you can create beautiful Pinterest shopping boards featuring your products. Including a number with a dollar sign in the description automatically updates the picture to include a price tag.

A photographer, you can increase your exposure by pinning photos from your gallery to a board.

A blogger, writer, or journalist, you should try (now more than ever) to include a photograph with your online publications whenever possible. It gives people something to pin when they read your page.

A teacher or instructor, you can provide resources and tools for students through your boards. It’s a visually appealing way to organize a list of links, articles, or videos that are educational and supportive to their study.

There are now “Pin It” buttons that can be installed on pages and blogs to encourage pinning, similar to the Facebook “Like” or “Share” buttons. If you do not want people to pin things from your website there is now html coding to prevent this, too.

Pin etiquette

Pinterest briefly covers some basic pinning manners here.

It’s worth stressing just how important it is to pin from the original source. Remember that each image links to where it was pinned, so give credit where it’s due. Check the integrity of the link before you repin anything. Don’t pin from a general Google image search, Tumblr, Facebook, or other secondary image gallery. Given the recent controversy over the copyright legality of Pinterest, this is important now more than ever.

Also, put something worthwhile in the image description; the field is mandatory for a reason. Adding commentary to the images is part of why pinning is protected under Fair Use.

The Copyright Controversy

Let me start this section by saying that I am not a lawyer.

Now that that’s out of the way, I probably don’t need to tell you that there’s been a lot of controversy over the legality of Pinterest. Many have offered, such as in this infamous blog post, that pinning images violates copyright law. Honestly, I’m not convinced. But I think it’s important to be informed and to understand, to the best of one’s ability, the issue at hand. I’ve provided a few links below for further reading.

The Pointless Copyright Freakout over Pinterest

A Flaw in Pinterest’s Potential Fair Use Arguement

Avoiding Copyright Pitfalls on Pinterest

 

UPDATE 4/1/2012: Pinterest has updated its privacy policy and terms of use to address many of the concerns mentioned in these articles.

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Compromising your natural support structure requires balance

You probably already know that balance is one’s ability to maintain an equilibrium either while standing still or moving. Balance is actually linked to strength. It’s the strength of very small muscle groups needed to hold us in place when we disrupt our natural support structure (either by taking a foot off the ground or moving different sections of our body out of alignment). So how do we use balance in belly dance, and why is it important to develop this skill?

What a belly dancer with balance looks like: She appears solid, grounded, and in control of her body and movements. She can easily perform the transitions needed for level changes and floorwork. Movements that require shifting the weight to one foot or movements on relevé seem effortless. She can spin or turn while maintaining her position on the floor or while traveling around the room, stopping with ease and precision.

You know what the feeling of being off balance is like. If you experience that feeling during…

  • large isolation work (such as large torso circles or eights)
  • level changes
  • spins, turns, and arabesques
  • traveling steps
  • relevĂ© (on your tip-toes)
  • movements with the weight on just one leg

… then you know it’s time to work on your balance.

A few tips for balance work:

  1. A lot of balancing in belly dancing relies on the calf muscles. To strengthen these and practice traveling steps, relevé, and level changes, try adding heel raises into your warmups. Lift your heels off the floor, balance on your toes for a few seconds, and then lower with control. Repeat for a minute or two.
  2. You can give yourself an even greater challenge by layering a shoulder shimmy or torso circle over the heel raise exercise. Or try performing a grapevine, or other footwork sequence, interspersed with heel raises.
  3. A lot of people avoid spins because of the unpleasant feeling on dizziness or nausea, but this actually fades with practice. Some people feel less effect focusing on a point turning with them (like their arm or shoulder), on nothing at all, or by spotting. Start with the style that works best for you and try to add a few turns to your practice.

Extra-curricular study: I really like Yoga for teaching body awareness (important for balance) and strengthening core and calf muscles. Standing yoga poses like Vrksasana (the tree) are great.

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Using props requires coordination

Coordination is our ability to integrate our movements into sequence, into what we call dance. It is actually a synthesis of the other components of fitness such as strength and balance.

What a coordinated belly dancer looks like: She is able to effectively layer. She can perform hip and torso movements in tandem, shimmy over circles and eights, or add level changes. Her movements are in sync to the music and form natural patterns to the rhythm. Her footwork is varied and she has an assortment of traveling steps, turns, and transitions to choose from when improvising or choreographing. She can gracefully integrate props such as a sword, veil, cane, or zills into her routine.

You should work on your coordination if you:

  • Feel like you ‘lose touch’ with your arms when you’re concentrating on other movements
  • Feel like you can’t connect to the muscles your instructor describes using for a particular movement
  • Would like to learn to travel with the circles, waves, and eights you already know
  • Would like to add a shimmy to the circles, waves, and eights you already know
  • Want to add more complex traveling steps and footwork to your practice
  • Would like to dance with props such as a sword, veil, cane, and especially zills

A quick note: What’s the deal with isolations? Isolations, as I refer to them, are small, highly focused movements. These include the circles, waves, and eights of the hips, belly, torso, chest, and shoulders. Isolations are a product of coordination (your brain knowing and connecting to the right muscles at the right time), strength (those very small muscles having the power to move large sections of your body), and flexibility (those same muscles being able to stretch long enough to produce a wide range of motion). You need all three to have clean, precise isolation work.

Recognizing the Signs

1.) You’re working on a new isolation but the body part you’re trying to move just doesn’t go where it’s supposed to. Your instructor has described what muscles to use and has maybe even shown you where they are located. You just can’t feel them though, and aren’t sure how to connect to them.

Why: Your brain and the muscle haven’t coordinated yet. You might use the muscle in your day to day without thinking, but haven’t discovered yet how to actively move it where you want it to go.

The Fix: First, try your best to identify the right muscle group. You might be able to see the muscle movement in your instructor, or even feel it with your hand. Ask your instructor to steer you through the movement with her hands, if you feel comfortable. Then try to incorporate a mind body connection into your practice. Imagine the muscle working, performing the movement correctly.

2.) You’re learning to layer, essentially trying to perform two movements at once. It might be as simple as circling your arms while moving your hips from side-to-side, or more complicated like layering a hip shimmy over a figure eight. In any case, you have that sensation of brain overload. When you concentrate on one movement the other loses its form or shape, starts and stops, or gets dropped altogether.

Why: It’s the typical pat your tummy while scratching your head thing.

The Fix: There are a few things you can try in your practice. Always start with one movement first (I like to start with the harder one), and then slowly add in the other. I also recommend varying the speed of one or both movements. The circle can be really large and super slow when you’re first trying to layer a shimmy.

3.) Fancy footwork is not your favorite thing. Your instructor occasionally throws in a few turns, crossovers, rock steps, cha cha chas… and it’s like showing a dog a card trick.

Why: We don’t always identify as strongly right and left with our feet as we do our hands. It’s difficult sometimes (especially when a mirror is involved) to tease apart footwork.

The Fix: Unfortunately, the only thing to do is practice! It’s good to slow things down occasionally, but a lot of times it can be easier to get things at speed. Don’t think, just try to move. Look for ‘anchors’ in the combination… one two three turn five six rock step… and try to hit these first, the filler steps will fall into place.

Extra-curricular study: I like to think that the footwork I use in my combinations is entirely a product of step aerobics and ballroom dance. From these I learned how to take ‘X’ number of beats and distance A to B and travel it gracefully. I highly recommend both as a supplement to your study, I think you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll learn about belly dance!

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Check out these beautiful body lines, courtesy of good flexibility

With inactivity and aging our muscles tend to shorten and stiffen, in other words we lose our flexibility. Flexibility is needed for extending muscles through their normal range of motion to create the beautiful hip and torso articulations we use in belly dance. And it isn’t just for dancers, fitness experts now agree that being flexible is extremely important to preventing injuries both during exercise and in our normal day to day motions.

What a flexible belly dancer looks like: She always has good posture and alignment. Isolations of her torso, hips, arms, head, and wrists form complete shapes (like circles instead of ellipses) both small or large at her discretion. She has mobility in her spine to bend backwards or forwards, to twist or rotate.

You should work on your flexibility if you:

  • Have poor posture
  • Experience stiffness or tension in your muscles including hips, neck, wrists, arms, and shoulders while dancing (not your joints, that’s something else!)
  • Have trouble twisting or rotating one section of the body (like your torso) separately and away from another (like your hips)
  • Intend to perform backbends
  • Want to improve the range of motion of isolations
  • Want to improve your body lines, your ability to extend hands, arms, torso, or legs to form beautiful poses

A quick note: What’s the deal with isolations? Isolations, as I refer to them, are small, highly focused movements. These include the circles, waves, and eights of the hips, belly, torso, chest, and shoulders. Isolations are a product of coordination (your brain knowing and connecting to the right muscles at the right time), strength (those very small muscles having the power to move large sections of your body), and flexibility (those same muscles being able to stretch long enough to produce a wide range of motion). You need all three to have clean, precise isolation work.

Remember that when stretching aim for tension in the working muscle, not pain! Deepen your stretch slowly and with control while breathing. Never bounce or rock in the stretch. It takes 30 seconds of holding a stretch for the muscle to begin to relax and lengthen, so try to be in the position for at least a minute.

Recognizing the Signs

1.) Your instructor has shown you what good posture is supposed to look like, but it feels really awkward for you to try and hold that alignment. You tend to slump back to what feels normal and comfortable pretty quickly.

Why: You don’t have enough core flexibility to support good posture and alignment. Your muscles are used to being in a contracted state and have therefore shortened, now they really have to stretch to hold good posture.

The Fix: Concentrate on good posture throughout your day, both at work and at home. Supplement your dancing with stretching for the core muscles, especially the upper back, shoulders, and chest.

2.) You’re working on a figure eight or circle for your hips or chest. At one point in the movement you feel a lot of tension, and if you push it too hard pain, in the working muscle. Your circle or eight isn’t completely ‘filled out’ either, because at the same point you pull back inside the trajectory of the shape to prevent tension or pain.

Why: You don’t have enough flexibility in that muscle to execute a full range of motion.

The Fix: Add this circle exercise to your warmup. Perform fifteen circles in each direction for each section of your body starting with your hips, moving through torso, then shoulders, arms, wrists, and finally head. Add extra circles if one direction/side feels more tense. For the movement your working on in the scenario above, find that awkward point in the circle or eight and hold it. Push gently into the stretch aiming for tension not pain, and breath deeply.

Extra-curricular study: The best thing for flexibility is of course Yoga! But any general stretching program will help, too.

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