Mar 06

Even Bellydancers Have Memes

Must be talking about ATS®!!

Mar 05

Tempest in Town!!

Sometimes good things happen on very short notice. In November, Lacy found that Laura Zakroff, aka Tempest, would be in town for a few days with The Ghost Project. Well, let’s not let THAT opportunity go to waste! Time was short and money was tight for many people right before the holidays, though, so two days of workshops was condensed down into one out at Amani Jabril’s little home studio. It turned out to be just the right venue for an intimate and fun workshop.

The morning was devoted to THE FABULOUS FORBIDDEN ART OF FLOORWORK. Floorwork is never, ever going to be my strong point, or much of any kind of point at all, not with my 56-year-old knees, but it doesn’t hurt to learn what I can about it. Tempest was good at showing us variations and how to modify standard moves to make it possible for almost anyone, even me, to add a little floorwork to their dance.

After lunch, which I contemplatively ate alone in Amani’s studio while the others ran out to grab food, Tempest shared her way of connecting traditional Oriental dance with Gothic dramatic aesthetic to produce her powerful expression in dance. I’ll never be a Tempest-type dancer — I don’t have her sense of drama, either — but I can certainly take what she taught us and adapt it to my own way of dancing.

Mugging for the camera with Tempest


Mar 05

“Work That Skirt” Workshop

When I found out that my new friend from ATS GS, Lara Baker Whelan, was giving a workshop up in Chattanooga, I immediately went to the website to sign up, even before telling Margali. Skirts and Romany 9/8 rhythms, what’s not to love??

Luckily Margali was all for the road trip with me (again, skirts and Romany 9/8, what’s not to love?). So early Saturday morning we met at my place for the not quite two hour drive to Chattanooga. After getting only a little turned around in the unfamiliar environs, we pulled into the parking lot of Barking Legs Theater right behind Lara herself.

The 9/8 Karsilama rhythm is not unfamiliar to me, thanks to earlier workshops this summer, but it takes a little time to get used to each time I work with it. Fortunately we spent the first half of the workshop sans skirts working on the steps and moves. After a brief break, it was time to don the yards of cloth and add in the swishiness, along with giggles and general laughter at the odd moves of Turkish/Romany style dance (belly throws, anyone?)

Once the workshop was over, we had plenty of time to kill before the evening show, so we headed up through downtown and across the river to Manufacturer’s Row and the interesting shops there. Late lunch/early dinner was at FoodWorks — yummy in general, and the bread pudding was OMFGINCREDIBLETODIEFOR!!!

Back at Barking Legs Theater, we claimed the best seats available for the show. I, at least, had very mixed feelings about the show. Some of the dancers were very good; Lara, of course, was exceptional. Others were definitely not to my taste, such as the “I Dream of Jeannie” number, and at least one group really was not ready for performance. Margali & I agreed that, based on what we saw, we were certainly at the point where we should put something together for the next performance opportunity. THAT, my friends, may have been the most important takeaway of all.

Sep 27

Raks Geek

I was checking my Facebook feed at lunchtime and found that Mary had found and shared an incredibly geeky bellydance video from the Chicago Raks Geek event last month. After giggling through watching the first one, I had to find the rest of the videos from the event, put them into a playlist, and share them with you:

Aug 23

MidSummer in Athens Part III — ATS® Basket Dance

(Read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already)

Ah, ATS®, familiar territory after four months of classes with Lacy & the intensive General Skills workshop. But what is this? Baskets with it?? Yes, baskets. Jaki Hawthorne, director of Jahara Phoenix Dance Company in Lawrenceville, has adapted some of the traditional moves and added a couple of new ones to allow you to create improvisational choreography with a basket on and off your head, and she was in Athens to share it with us.

First, you have to have the right kind of basket, wide and shallow. Jaki recommended a basket around 15 inches in diameter (give or take a few) and not more than about four inches deep, like this:

A perfect basket for the ATS® basket dance

The first step, of course, was to practice balancing it on our heads. With the right basket, it’s really not much of a problem…at least when you’re just standing still. Then Jaki demonstrated how to hold it. The mantra: “The thumb goes INSIDE the basket!” This turns out to be very important for being able to maneuver the basket.

Then we worked on moves to show off the basket, holding it out, sliding it down beside us, turning with it, drawing circles with it. Lucky for me these are very similar to moves you do with a sword, so it was just a matter of getting used to holding it properly.

Of course there’s more to it than just holding the basket. You need to combine that with ATS® moves. Not all the standard moves will work; in fact, you have to be pretty much limited to the slow moves. Can you imagine doing spins with a basket on your head? Some moves can be very effective with adaptation, like the Barrel Turn, so that was our next step. Barrel Turns are not tough by themselves, but they take on a whole new dimension when you have to manipulate a basket along with it.

Finally, Jaki showed us a couple of moves she had developed specifically for the basket dance. Then it was time to put it all together, get into groups & formations, & just dance. That’s where it gets fun, with the improvisation and the brightly colored baskets enhancing your movement.

At the end of class, we posed as a group with our baskets!

Posing with our baskets!

Aug 06

MidSummer in Athens Part II — 9/8 Romany Workshop

(continued from Part I)

After a quick break, Christy Fricks introduced the 9/8 musical rhythm, a staple of Turkish Romany dancing, to us. To a Westerner brought up on the standard 4/4 time signature and its variants, 9/8 seems a little, well, odd! If you were counting it out, you would literally count from one to nine at a steady tempo, and then start over immediately. As a drummer, you would most likely play the basic Karsilama (the most familiar of the 9/8 rhythms) as:

Dum (rest) Tek (rest) Dum (rest) Tek Tek Tek

If this doesn’t quite make sense, here is a Basic Karsilama rhythm.

Our first step, of course, was to drill the rhythm by clapping, stationary and then while walking in time with it. With the Karsilama, there’s this little “pause” in your walk on the 7-8-9 which just begs for a hop or skip or SOMETHING. Once you get that, you’ve GOT it. Then we started practicing some of the unique steps and movements of Romany dancing, including “belly throws” where you just let it all hang out and bounce and JIGGLE in time to the music. For us Westerners, that is a hard thing to let ourselves do!

It was obvious that some of the moves were a bit much for the older, less limber members of the class, like me:

Not even going to TRY this!

You can see both me and Andrea standing there watching our classmates try the Romany backbend. For me, at least, getting down wouldn’t have been that much of a problem, but getting back up without losing my balance would be another story!

With this taste of a very different style of dance, we wrapped it up and headed back to familiar territory with the last workshop of the day…(to be continued)


Aug 01

MidSummer in Athens Part I — Drumming

Christy Fricks of Sulukule in Athens hosted a mid-July, day-long trio of workshops to celebrate the middle of summer. Andrea & I found out about it via Facebook, and said to each other “why not?” After all, Athens is less than 1.5 hours on good highway from Andrea’s house, we had the weekend free, and we were both in a “get-outta-town” mood. Plus the workshops themselves looked wonderful and were affordable!

After an easy drive, a U-turn for some Starbuck’s, and some fumbling around in the Chase Street Warehouse District, we arrived at Floorspace Studio — the OLD Floorspace studio. This was to be the last event held in the original location, as they are in the process of moving around the corner into what I assume are new, improved, mo-bigger-mo-better digs. We’d made excellent time & were the second ones there, so we had plenty of time to settle in, chat, introduce ourselves to the Athens ladies, and so on.

Drum workshop, July 21, 2012, Athens GA

The first order of the day was Middle Eastern Drumming, with Marcus Octavius of Greenville, SC. This workshop was an introduction to the various drums used in Middle Eastern dance music as well as a number of the common rhythms and variations that appear. Everyone that didn’t have their own drum, like us, grabbed one of the “loaner” drums to work with and settled in to learn a little theory, followed by the basic strokes of Doum, Tek, and Ka. Once everyone could more or less get the proper sounds out of their instrument, we moved into several of the basic 4/4 rhythms, including Baladi and Maqsoum. We practiced the basic rhythm by chanting it first, then playing it, then embellishing it. Then we added in the 2/4 Ayoub rhythm, followed by 8/4 Masmoudi and Chiftetelli, and finished off with the rather-funky-to-the-Western-ear Karlisima, a 9/8 Turkish rhythm. The two hours was over before we knew it!

Marcus discussing basic rhythm theory.

In a way, I had an advantage in this workshop, since I had a six-week zills class with Lacy back during the winter. We had covered a lot of these rhythms, as well as MANY others, from the zills point of view. Playing them on a drum is definitely different, but the rhythms themselves were familiar. On the other hand, I was trying to play them with this appalling miniature doumbek that was not only too small to play properly, but was covered with PINK pleather. Still, as we practiced the rhythms I would find myself falling into “the zone” and just playing along, DOUM-tekTEK-Doum-TEK.

On to Part 2…

Epilogue: The middle of the following week, Andrea & I paid a visit to Earthshaking Music in East Atlanta Village. I came home with this:

My new doumbek

Andrea found herself a used one a few days later off of Freecycle (!), so we are ready to rock and roll, er, doum and tek?


Photographs courtesy of Jenny Moss (1 & 2) and Meinl Percussion (3).

Jul 20

An Impromptu Performance

The weekend after July 4th my nanobusiness, Copper Dancer Designs, was at the Sandy Springs Artsapalooza to sell our jewelry. The AFFPS shows generally not only have an artist market, they have entertainment as well. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good, and sometimes, well…

Sunday at noon the stage hosted Aviva and the Flying Penguins, along with our friend and bellydance teacher Jenny Nichols. Andrea- & I agreed we would take turns going up to the stage to watch, because Jenny is definitely worth watching!


So there’s the band playing, and Jenny dancing on this postage-stamp area of the stage, moving down onto the blazing-hot asphalt periodically for a little more room to move. And when I say hot, I mean HOT — it was in the low 90s by that time of day and getting hotter. Jenny had to ditch the cute cat mask after just a few minutes because it was just TOO darn hot. The band is great, the best we’ve heard at any of the AFFPS events. Jenny is trying to get the passers-by involved, so she grabs me and her friend Stephanie by the hand and drags us  up there to jam. We jam & goof off. Then it’s time for me to pop back down to our tent & let Andrea have a turn.

Andrea didn’t stay up there long because it was just too hot for her, so I took advantage and went back up. This time I wasn’t up there two minutes before Jenny dragged me out there again. This time I wasn’t just jamming — Jenny let me know (without words, just that non-verbal communication that bellydancers have) to follow along with what she did.

By golly, I DID IT. I kept up with her! That ATS training kicked in, at least the part with cueing and following. We managed a nice little totally impromptu duet, her in her cute dancer costume and me in my tank top & skort and Keen sandals — not exactly standard dancer attire! What’s more, I ENJOYED it! I didn’t do my usual self-conscious stage not-quite-hidden freak-out; I was in the moment, moving with the music, & the only thought in my mind was “Hey!! This is awesome!!!”

Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture to show you because the woman who was taking some hasn’t sent me any yet.

Jun 30

A Few Words of Wisdom From ATS® GS

I thought I’d share with you some of the more notable words of wisdom I picked up during the General Skills Certification. Mostly they are paraphrased because I was writing too fast to write down exact quotes.

  • Your brain lives in an ivory tower, and would prefer you not move at all. It wants you to just sit in a comfy chair and eat carbs instead.
  • When you turn, blink. But you can’t make it happen, you have to let it happen.
  • “The lead makes the suggestion and the follower confirms it.”
  • “Happy Hour ends at 9 o’clock.”
  • Duets do not fade!
  • Fades have to be big. Commit!!
  • Taxeem and reverse taxeem look like opposites, but the internal mechanics are completely different.
  • “Performance is not the time to try something new!”
  • Push yourself 100% in the classroom, but only 80% in performance. The audience will still see it as 100%.
  • Belly rolls and flutters are mind as much as body. They don’t take strength; they take awareness and control.
  • Some bodies just aren’t built that way. (w.r.t. laybacks)
  • No matter what, try not to bang your knees. Even with knee pads, it hurts.

Jun 28

ATS® General Skills Day 4 — The Finale

Day 4 opened at the usual time with a very welcome yoga mini-session to get everyone good and stretched out for the morning’s rather strenuous agenda of laybacks and floorwork. We were all cautioned that working on these moves was strictly optional and that anyone with Issues should NOT attempt anything that might hurt them! The ensuing discussion of anatomy convinced me that I MIGHT be able to do a layback with plenty of work on my hip flexors first, assuming my vertebrae are rounded rather than squared. However, there is going to be very little floorwork in my future repertoire because my body is NOT built for it. It has to do with internal rotation versus external rotation of your hip joints. If yours are internally rotated, you can easily sit between your heels with your feet out behind your butt to either side. If they are externally rotated, sitting that way is extremely uncomfortable, but you can sit tailor/half lotus style without trouble. Think about it. Well, my hips are definitely externally rotated — in fact you find me in tailor seat on the floor a LOT.

Level 1 floor work is get down onto your knees on the floor using a lunge down and back up. While you’re down there, you can do a number of the slow moves like body wave and taxeem. I decided to give it a try, and THAT was workable. Level 2, though, was a NOPE for both Berber walk and Mermaid Turn. Then we got to Level 3, the Zipper, which was a HELL NO. Level 4, the ultimate, the standing drop, made think very loudly, “ARE YOU F***ING KIDDING ME???”

Here, Carolena demonstrates the Zipper:

We still had more moves to learn after that. The remaining slow turns, barrel, wrap-around, and Sahra, weren’t hard at all, and add a lot to a dramatic slow piece. The Sunanda and Re-shamka fast moves were fun even though my feet kept geting tangled on the Sunanda. Things got challenging with Chico four corners (which isn’t that hard but needs practice), wet dog (just like it sounds), and the Egyptian full turn, which in and of itself is not hard but I need to learn to catch the cue properly.

After lunch came the final hurdles, spins and Arabic shimmy variations. I get dizzy when I turn fast because I don’t have enough skill at spotting, so the spins were making me crazy, especially because a full spin in ATS® is actually FOUR full turns. Fast. When we got to the Arabic shimmy with arms & fades & circling & zills, I pretty well short-circuited. I didn’t have the Arabic shimmy, which is tricky enough, down, so adding anything else to it totally confused both brain and body. I pushed through it, but the drilling with my two group partners, Liezel and Michelle, was hopelessly muddled because they weren’t much better off than I was.

The OTHER half of the class drilling the Arabic shimmy with stuff — glad it wasn’t our group!

At last, it was time for the Presentation of the Certificates! One by one, all 34 of us got our certificate and our picture with Megha and Carolena.

Receiving The Certificate, with Megha (l) & Carolena (r)

And time for a group shot!

Oh, and that piece of paper for which I worked my tail off?

No mere piece of paper, this!

Thanks to Clara Ortiz for allowing me to use her videos in this post!!!  SMOOCHES!!!