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In honor of Earth Day I wanted to focus this week on scary toxic chemicals… and I’m not talking about the ones that spew from cars and factories. I’m talking about the ones in your cosmetics.

The average woman uses about 10 personal products daily. This includes things like shampoo, toothpaste, lotions, and deodorant. Unfortunately, the FDA does not regulate the majority of the ingredients that go into these personal products, and many contain trace amounts of carcinogens, mutagens, and neurotoxins.

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, 60% of lipsticks contain lead. Yeah, that stuff they removed from paint because it was too toxic to be in our walls- you’re probably putting it on your lips!

How is this possible? Well, the cosmetic companies would argue that these ingredients are added in such small amounts that a user’s exposure is quite limited. That may be true, but what are the cumulative effects of using these products daily for a lifetime? The studies are quite limited and I personally would rather play it safe than sorry.

Here’s the good news

There is a growing movement towards safer, more environmentally friendly cosmetics. People are working to get lawmakers to impose stricter regulations. New green businesses are beginning to offer cleaner alternatives. So here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Look for fragrance-free options. Added fragrance to shampoos, lotions, and creams is one of the worst sources of these harmful chemicals. A lotion that doesn’t smell like cucumber melon can be just as lotion-y without the artificial additives.
  2. Avoid chemical dyes and colorants, including hair dye and especially skin lighteners. Hydroquinone, which is often found in skin lighteners, is considered to be one of the most toxic of all cosmetic ingredients.
  3. Keep a short list of the worst offenders. You can keep a list in your purse of common yet harmful chemical additives. But be warned- the FDA does not require that all these be listed on the label. If it’s not listed, it doesn’t means it’s not there.
  4. Check products before you buy. You can search your favorite brands on EWG’s skin deep database for a full breakdown of ingredients and any warnings associated with them.
  5. Shop the green cosmetic market. A lot of companies (especially small, family-owned ones) are making an effort to provide personal products free of harmful, synthetic chemicals.

Bellydancers use a lot of personal products in preparation for a performance. We might be getting more exposure than the average woman, especially on the nights we have gigs!

Be safe and be healthy!

References and Further Reading:

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

The Story of Cosmetics

EWG’s Skin Deep Database

Thanks to all who participated in my Spring Challenge and submitted or voted on their favorite belly dance hip hop fusion video. The winning video, with just over half the votes, featured Ebony of Washington D.C.

All DVD winners have been notified and their prizes will be shipped tomorrow! I can’t wait to hear what you think of the instructional program.

I’ll be posting a Summer Challenge this July. In the meantime please look for a new blog post every Monday. Next week I’ll be featuring something special for Earth Day. I’ve also got more giveaways, video tutorials, and guest bloggers planned for the next few weeks. It should be fun! If you haven’t already, please subscribe or follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates.

Thanks also to World Dance New York for supplying such fabulous instructional material!

And as a bonus, my personal favorite fusion artist for belly dance and hip hop, Luna Rouge:

 

 

Thank you to everyone who submitted a video this week. There were a lot of interesting choices- making my selection tough! I have decided upon the final three videos and have embedded them here.

Voting is now open!

The video with the most votes by Sunday, April 15th wins. Anyone may vote a total of one time. Yes, you may solicit friends and family to vote for your favorite. The person who submitted the winning video will be shipped Anasma’s Bellydance Hip Hop Liquid Fusion and Wave Explosion DVDs, courtesy of World Dance New York. These are truly wonderful DVDs. You can read my review of them here. Or buy them online from World Dance New York here.

Don’t forget the BONUS GIVEAWAY! Anyone who votes this week is eligible to win Android Goddess, also from World Dance New York!

Video 1: Amani’s Hip Hop Leylat Hob

Says Emilie… It was one of the first fusion videos I stumbled across several years ago. I like that she has a hip hop flavor, but it’s still mainly belly dancing. I also like that it’s not a tribal fusion-y, robot dance-y version of hip hop fusion. Says Ananke… I love the old school hip hop! This was a great submission because it exemplifies a true blending of style, costuming, expression, and attitude. The intro is a little long, but the dance technique is superb. Thank you, Emilie.

Video 2: Ebony Quall’s Hip Hop Tribal Fusion

Says Tiziri… Love, love, love this dance! There’s an ease and playfulness to it that is just flat-out fun. She seems totally comfortable with both bellydance and hiphop, so it really works as fusion. Says Ananke… Ebony is one of those amazing ‘multilingual’ dancers that speaks several styles fluently. If you saw her traditional Egyptian number, you’d never know she was capable of something like hip hop fusion. An entertainer in every sense of the word. Great pick, Tiziri.

Video 3: Kami Liddle and Zoe Jakes Tribal Fusion to Dubstep

Says Kelly… I loved how in synch they were and the musicality…the fluid movements and the look and feel of the performance is very powerful! Says Ananke… I agree completely. The hip hop influence here (beyond what is generally found in tribal fusion) is subtle, but well blended with the other movements. Also I very much appreciated the dubstep music! This is a great remix of a Natacha Atlas song, performed by Beats Antique. Thank you, Kelly!

So which video is the best fusion of Bellydance and Hip Hop? You decide!

Thank you for voting! If you’d like to be entered into the Bonus DVD GIVEAWAY please enter the field below, and hit submit!

Did you read my review for World Dance New York’s DVD, “Bellydance Hip Hop Liquid Fusion with Anasma?” Are you interested in getting a copy? Here’s your chance!

I’m giving away both DVDs in the series to one lucky winner:

Here’s what you have to do:

1. Find an awesome example of a dancer fusing hip hop and belly dance (any styles thereof) on YouTube. Fill out the form below and include a link to the video. Submissions are due Sunday, April 8th 2012 at noon.

2. I’ll choose my favorite three submissions based on the criteria below and post them next week (Monday, April 9th). Readers will then watch and vote for their favorite. All votes will be due by Sunday, April 15th 2012 at noon. I’ll announce the winner of the DVDS on April 16th.

What are the video submission rules?

The video must be uploaded to YouTube publicly. It should be 3-6 minutes in length. You may submit footage of yourself as the dancer. One submission per household, please. You want to get your favorite in FAST, since I will only accept the first link to a video. If you submit a link to a video that’s already been submitted, I’ll notify you and you can try again (within the give time period). Open to residents of the U.S. only.

What criteria will you use to select the final three videos?

I’ll export the links to an external document so that I may review videos independent of your contact information to avoid any personal bias. I’m looking for dancers with great technique, appropriate expression and stage presence, as well as creative costuming. S/he should fluently blend styles in a way that is innovative while maintaining a genuine connection to both art forms. Finally, you all know that I love dubstep, so I’ll award extra points if its their music choice. The quality of the video does not matter, but keep in mind that lower quality does not often pick up the subtleties of isolation present in either style.

What are the voting rules?

Anyone may vote a total of one time. Yes, you may solicit friends and family to vote for your submission. You can encourage them to vote by telling them about the bonus giveaway…

Bonus GIVEAWAY!

Anyone who votes for any one of the three final videos during the week of April 9th to 15th is eligible to win this DVD (Android Goddess: Tribal Fusion Bellydance), also from World Dance New York!

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Submit your favorite video:

*I won’t use your email address for anything else, promise!*

Thank you for participating, and good luck!

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. 🙂

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.

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
  • relevé (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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