Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tamarind Tribal!!!

So, tonight at Belly Dance Wednesdays, the lovely and ridiculously talented ladies of Tamarind Tribal stopped by!  They drove to Bolingbrook from Milwaukee, just to hang out and dance with us. They opened the show, and WOW. Much talented. Such beautiful. They are gorgeous dancers and we were all blown away that some real life ATS celebrities graced us with their presence.

Of course, they joined in at All Tribes, and the Eastern Fire and Amaranth dancers were all bursting out on stage to have the opportunity to dance with them.  And then me.

I hadn't necessarily meant to dance with them... since they are like SERIOUS PROFESSIONAL DANCERS and I'm still working out what to do with my zills, I was kind of like, "Okay, maybe I'll go out like once for All Tribes, I am performing later too, the other girls are super excited about them, don't want to step on anyone's thunder..."

But fate was not with me. Still keyed up from a performance that ended with Grace tearing up and giving me a special hug, I noticed that the amazing Ashley from Cassia was heading up. I figured, what's the harm, let's go, I've got my half wrap on and everything.


Yeah. Whoa.

I'm surprised I was able to keep up with them. For awhile, I was feeling okay. I've only been dancing for a year and a half, so I'm nowhere near their level, but it was going okay. I recognized most of the cues they were throwing down, so that's a huge plus.

And then they started spinning.

We've talked about spinning a little, we've tried some, I've been drilling at home. But I'm not yet ready to start whirling around in front of people, and I dont' want to risk torquing a knee or falling on my skirt.

What's a baby dancer to do?

Hopefully said baby dancer is in quartet (Tymora was smiling upon me), so once the grownups start spinning, she can quietly and seamlessly slink off into the quartet and pretend like she was there the whole time.

Yep, I ran out of there like I stole something.  Nobody seemed to mind, and even Grace said I disappeared well.  So ladies, if your teacher is cool with you bailing when famous people are dancing, then you made a good life choice.

A brief primer in Bailing Like A Boss:

Wait until you're in quartet. Then take a few steps backwards, glance to the chorus leader, and begin doing what she's doing, Smile the whole time. Above all, move with purpose. And remember, you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stuff that Drives Me Batty... Etsy Bra Edition.

No matter your belly dance style, costumes should look like costumes, not underwear. Even if you're doing a vintage fusion piece with pantaloons and lace, it shouldn't look like you walked out of your 21st century door and forgot to put on a top.

If you're going to be selling costumes for any sort of profit, they really shouldn't look like you just glued a bunch of shit onto a bra you just bought.  No, seriously. This is not a look that's cute for anyone, no matter the age, skill level, or style of the dancer. Belly dance bras need to be covered. They need to not look like a bra you'd throw on to go to the store. The original straps need to be removed, as does the back.

Also, if there are no cups, it's not a bra. Sorry not sorry, even though there was some serious craftsmanship in that piece, but that item is a wraparound necklace at that point. Incidentally, (badly!) sewing a bunch of pop tabs onto a Woolworth's bra with the bow still on the center is not "chainmail."

What are you doing? What, what, WHAT ARE YOU DOING. Look at your life, look at your choices.

Finally, belly dance and burlesque are not the same thing. At one time, belly dance and burlesque were very strongly linked to one another, as belly dance used to be performed alongside burlesque performers (and in some cases still is). I'm the last person who has a problem with burlesque... I love a well-choreographed, character- and song-driven, decadently costumed performance by a sexy lady getting undressed. What I don't love is an inability in some people's mind to divorce a hip- and core-driven set of dance moves with stripping. Most belly dancers really don't like being compared to strippers (or sex workers), because it's an actual issue that's going on that affects the lives, livelihoods, housing, and stability of dancers worldwide.

So please stop trying to sell belly dancers pasties. We're not even legally forced to wear them anymore.

That's not to say that there aren't gorgeous, high-quality, delightful items available on Etsy from independent vendors and small businesses for belly dancers... it's just that Regretsy taught us there's a fair amount of crap one has to sift through, and it's just as true for belly dancing.

Friday, October 17, 2014

What Is Old Is New Again

It's funny to think that just six months ago, my class (myself firmly included) was all freaked out about our debut.

We planned and plotted, marked out exactly what we wanted to do, and we succeeded. Nobody passed out, dropped a zill, ran away, or quit. But we did pretty much know what all we were going to do to get from Point A to Point B to Point C to the point where we could leave. And it worked... we put on what I think is a solid performance (even though I fell off my heels and you can toooootally see it in the video.)

We're set to dance again, in about four weeks, and there has been none of this planning happening. Grace worked out a cool pass for trio, and we're going to do that, but beyond... it's basically "Okay, so the goal is to get X and Y to happen so Z can follow and then done. "Whatever, Grace, throw on Bay City Shimmy and we'll make it happen."

I have no idea what I'm going to be doing. And I'm not even worried about it.  We also have another dancer-only hafla coming up in a week, which will be fine too, because it's just a bunch of other ATS dancers getting together and doing a bunch of improv until our shimmies fall out. I'm even less concerned about that (more antsy because I have some jewelry pieces that were supposed to have arrived this week), because as long as I am a minimum level of socially acceptable, it will be fine. I just have to be nice to my other dancers and lead like a boss and follow like a soldier and it will be fine.

The reason I bring this up is because there are dancers in classes behind us that are making their debut! That is so very exciting and lovely... I volunteered to lead for them in case my other dance sisters couldn't make it to Belly Dance Wednesdays, because having gone through it myself, I know exactly how it feels when you're about to put something you've nurtured and worked at and prepared on display, for everyone to see and judge and LOOK AT. Staggering. Nerve-wracking. Exhilarating. Exciting.

Did I mention I'm also a high anxiety person?

But between the performances, and the practices, and just getting more comfortable in my own skin, suddenly I feel that anxiety beginning to slip. I'm not there to be dramatic, I'm there to help the baby dancers get up to toddler, and to grow myself to a child dancer. Belly dance is making me fearless.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Costuming on a Budget

Carolena Nericcio is such a day-ruiner sometimes.

When she dances, she's dolled up in fabulous textiles, what looks like authentic jewelry, gorgeous flowers... she makes it look so EASY.  There's a bit of "Oh, THIS old thing?" mixed in with "La, just collected these in my journeys and travels of a full and adventurous life, NO BIG" when she takes the stage. She looks effortlessly fantastic.

And I'm learning that it takes a lot of work to look so effortless!  The cost alone... I mean, the only reason I even own Rokedet is because she was part of a going-out-of-business sale, and you'll have to pry that belt out of my cold dead hands. In fact, it's going in the ground with me.

So, this is how I stay costumed and glorious.

1)  eBay, Forever 21, Claires. While it would be lovely to be able to own nothing but authentic Turkomen and Uzbek silver, sometimes, us budget-conscious ladies do have to go for a knockoff.  Though we may have to paint the interior with clear nail polish (it really helps!), a fabulous fake can get you through the first year or two of dancing, until you've solidified your identity as a dancer more and know what you'd like to invest in.

Tips:  Be careful about big solid pieces, where the metal can tarnish or the finish can come off. This doesn't look aged, this just looks cheap. Try something that's got a lot of chain. If it breaks, it's usually a pretty easy fix.

2)  Thrift stores.  If you live in an area with a high immigrant population, go to the thrift stores in the area. I've found full salwar kameez, saris, and my favorite batik sarong there, and for less than what you'd ever pay in a store, online, or from a tailor. If not, just wait for the whole boho trend to wane (it comes up and goes out pretty regularly) or wait until after Coachella/Bonnaroo/Burning Man/festival season.  There will be so many fringe bikini tops and vests. Sooooo many vests.

Tips:  Look for something well made, where the stitching isn't coming apart, free from holes or tears, and NO stains. Make sure it works well for your purposes, and for the love of god, if it's pilly, move on.

3)  DIY. Take a jewelry or accessory making class, or ask your ATS instructor if she'd like to put on a Craft Camp one day. Grace did one for hair flowers/hair falls, and I'm still using what she taught to this day! Also, it was like six months ago, so it wasn't really THAT long.  It's usually a lot cheaper to make a thing yourself, like the braids I just made for Club ATS on October 25, than it is to buy them already done.

Tips:  Practice and go slow!  Start with something achievable! And steer clear of Pinterest. I'm sorry, Pinterest is great, but there is far too much potential for fail. If at all possible, take some kind of class in person where you have a live, present human instructing you, in case things go Terribly Wrong or Off The Rails.

4)  AND MOST IMPORTANTLY:  Recycle!  If you have a necklace with one pretty element and the rest doesn't work, take out what you want and use it in another piece. I have a hair flower that used to be an awkward necklace, but the proportion of it is just right for the hair.  I also have this one headband I adore... it was originally a sheer caftan from Forever 21 that I adored and wore all the time, until it snagged and started to run. So, I made it a headband instead and it lives on!

Tips:  Again... start small, stay achievable, and be reasonable about what you can accomplish. This is not an indictment against any dancer's craft skillz, this is more an admission that I am the Kwisatz Haderach of trying something beyond my ability and making a bigass mess.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dancer Chow

One of my great passions besides dance is food. I love food. Food is my favorite. I like meats, poultry, veggies, fish, breads, grains, fruits... I'll try anything once, and I'm probably inclined to like it. I love to cook, I love to eat, I love to research recipes, I love nutrition and food science... if I could have a cooking show right now, I would.

Here are some of my favorite tips to keeping your food healthy and delicious at the same time, to make sure you get the right nutrition to keep your dance engine humming along!

1)  Creamy recipe?  Use Greek Yogurt!

Replace cream, milk, sour cream, half-and-half, or anything similar with Greek Yogurt.  It's delicious, nutritious, and probiotic.

2)  Ditch the sugar, embrace the honey!

Honey comes in so many delightful varieties... orange honey is a great way to add Vitamin C when using it to replace sugar. Clover honey is like kissing an elf.  Sourwood honey is a great replacement for syrup and butter on pancakes. And just plain honey pairs well with anything... try it in your coffee. I'm serious.  Honey is also a natural antibiotic, so slather it freely on any of your dance blisters or sword-balancing stab wounds. It also has a better Glycemic Index rating than sugar, preventing the dreaded "sugar rush" and "sugar crash", and you tend to use less honey because it's sweeter than table sugar.

3)  Add your own salt!

I buy no- or low-sodium canned vegetables and stocks.  This isn't because Salt is Evil... it's necessary to support life! Also, it makes food delicious!  What I don't like is sneaky salt. I'd rather salt my own recipes to the appropriate level instead of dumping salt on top of more salt.

3)  Put down the frying pan!

Okay, I love fried, crispy, greasy anything. If it's fried, it's awesome. Especially if it's fried in butter... But there are many other ways to get delicious crispy texture while keeping fried food at a minimum.  Saute vegetables in cooking spray, or roll meat in breadcrumbs and bake it.  Roast your vegetables in the broiler or over an open flame, if you have it.

4)  Healthy does NOT mean bland!

Just because something is good for you doesn't mean it has to have a weak flavor.  Add spices, herbs, vinegar, even a dash of alcohol (red wine + literally anything = mmmmm...) to create a rich flavor. In my house, we go through garlic and lemon juice the same way some people go through bread and milk.

5)  Cook to WIN

Yes, you can win at cooking.  Make big batches of whatever you're making, so you have leftovers for another day, or just to bring to work for lunch.  Set yourself up for success so you can keep dancing.

6)  Weight, what?

Don't worry about the number on the scale! There are dancers of all shapes and sizes at all levels in all styles. Some of these tips might help you lose weight, if that's your goal, but the most important thing is to take care of and honor the body you're in. Dancers need fuel, and they need the best fuel they can get to keep it going during practices, drills, warm ups, and performances. The one and only Grace always tells us to dance in the body we are in, and that's wonderful advice... to work on improving, but not to kill yourself trying to imitate someone else. All of these food tips are merely to make the body you have, own, and move as efficient and well-fueled as it can be.

Friday, September 19, 2014

All Tribes Wednesdays! (With an aside on performance anxiety)

Now that summer is over, my awesome teacher Grace has reinstituted Belly Dance Wednesdays at one of the bellydancers' new favorite haunts, Coop's Den. We didn't have a specific performance to start with, but I was determined to at least dance in the chorus and back up the other dancers.

For those not in the know, All Tribes is how my teacher has defined an ATS performance as it was originally intended, pure improv, dancers with the same vocabulary getting together and rocking it folkloric style.  All of the ATS dancers in the area are invited, and anyone can go up during that set to join formation and groove. So there were plenty of dancers I'd never danced with before, and plenty of dancers I hadn't even met.

Of course, at one point the floor clears and nobody goes up, so one of my dance sisters from EFBD heads up there.  In ATS, one of the strong principles is that a dancer is never alone. We have to have our dance sisters' backs. So, in the spirit of participating, I headed up to take the floor with her, because we're always there for each other.

I have to be honest, I was not intending on even dancing that night, and it still happened. Oy vey. But, I was all gussied up, hair done, skirt on, makeup working, and I had a feeling later that if I hadn't danced, I would have regretted it, and I don't want any regrets when it comes to dancing.  But let me tell you... I WAS SO NERVOUS I THOUGHT I'D PEE MY PANTALOONS.

As I headed up into formation, I felt my knees begin to tremble, and my elbows got all wibbly, and I'm sure I looked like I was going to be shot.  And then I realized how funny it was, that I was looking fine as hell in my fancy jewels and freshly colored hair, my new favorite lipstick on, and a look of sheer glazed terror on my face. And then it came to my turn to lead and I went, "oh fuck."

So I went with about eight eight-counts of easy as fuck stuff (Arabic, Arabic Hip Twist, Arabic Hip Twist With Flourish, Egyptian, Egyptian Half-turn/Full-turn combo) and got the hell out of leadership just in time for the song to end.  We hit Level 3 not too long ago, but I'm still getting over my anxiety about performing where people I'm not used to can see.

There are a lot of anxieties I'm working through, through dance and through life in general. I'm kind of a brash, out-there weirdo in real life, and I work in retail management, so I'm totally comfortable just waltzing up to strangers and striking up a conversation. But in a performance context, my fight-or-flight kicks in majorly, and I get really freaked out and shaky. They say that a fear of public speaking/performance anxiety/etc. is at its base a fear of rejection from the community, and that rings true for me... I really crave reassurance afterwards (most of the time, this is directed entirely at my life partner and sous chef), and even if I have eight amazing classes in a row where I feel like I'm getting things and I'm told how awesome I did at X move, I still feel like I know nothing and I'm going to embarrass myself with my lack of coordination.

For example, I can Turkish Shimmy Quarter Turn Fade like a BOSS. I cue it all the time in class, I follow it either way with no problem, I can get out of it, it's amazing and wondrous and TSQTF and I are BFFs. I talk to TSQTF on the phone on my way to work, we get our nails done together... I love it.  But the second that people that I'm not used to dancing with are looking at me, I completely forget about TSQTF. My BFF disappears from my mind and I just... cannot.

However, although I was metaphorically shitting the bed with nervousness, I take Wednesday night as a huge win. There was a time, believe it or not, that I wouldn't have gone out at all. "Oh, no, it's cool, I'm fine just hanging around in my full costume and not doing anything. You go out there. Be young, have fun, drink Pepsi. My foot hurts so I can't dance." I was exhilarated with the fact that, though I may not have danced as beautifully as some, I did dance. Fear takes time to work through, and perhaps a little piece of it was shaken off with my shimmy.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Bellydance TARDIS

No, I don't mean the inimitable Raks Geek and that beautiful performance (though you should absolutely check it out!), I'm talking transport.

ATS dancers have a ton of stuff. 25 yard skirts, cholis, pantaloons, tons of jewelry, tons of flowers, makeup, belts, scarves, special "choli safe" dance bras, fake hair, zills, props... and we have to get it from our homes to classes, performances, and events somehow.

Grace uses a rolling suitcase for her costumes, and to her credit, she does need it... she's carrying extra skirts, extra zills, extra scarves, merch, music, business cards, planners... the sheer amount of STUFF that she totes around is astonishing.

As I need less stuff, and am an apartment-dweller and do not particularly relish the idea of hauling a rolling suitcase around, I went with the Speedo Teamster bag. I generally like swimming bags as dance bags, because they are HUGE (designed to carry snorkels and flippers and TOWELS [towels are huge]), they're waterproofed, and they usually have separate pockets/compartments for quarantining anything wet, dirty, or gross. My "cordovan" (meaning = burgundy) Teamster is currently holding a pair of dance shoes, two 25-yard skirts, a hip scarf, Rokedet, my wallet, a bottle of water, and my phone, and there's STILL ROOM for jewelry, pantaloons, hair flowers, etc.

Anyway, this is not a paid advertisement. I do not work for Speedo, nor am I being compensated. To keep me from still blabbing about my bag, let's talk about yours, and how to choose one. So, how to choose a dance bag that you will actually use:

  1. BE REALISTIC ABOUT YOUR NEEDS!  Ideally you should appreciate the bag, the contours, the color, the way it looks and fits. But this is also equipment, and much like my post on dance shoes earlier, looks are secondary to function. Instead of buying a cute bag that doesn't work for you, buy something that absolutely works that you happen to like the look of.  I used to have this problem... I would insist that a particular bag was PERFECT, I needed it, it would be fine, no problem. But after I'd fallen in love with the look, I'd realize that it didn't at all work for my lifestyle or the amount I needed to carry (here's looking at you, sling backpack). Only time and experience made me realize that function came over form when it came to matters of the bag.
  2. POCKETS! ALL OF THE POCKETS! I looooove pockets. So I strongly advocate that you find a bag with pockets, sections, or some kind of division in it in case you need to keep, say, dirty dance shoes that reek from spilled beer away from your vintage hand-batik dupatti, and preferably something with an easily accessible interior pocket that you can stash money, a phone, or keys in.
  3. BUT NOT TOO MANY POCKETS!  When buying the bag, take a good, critical look at all of those nooks and crannies, and make sure that they will be put to use.  One or two pockets that you kind of write off as too small to fit anything or too oddly placed to be of use is one thing, having an entire bag where you only make use of the main compartment literally defeats the purpose of having pockets in the first place.
  4. CHECK YOUR CONSTRUCTION!  Trust me, you want something that's at least weatherproofed, with a reinforced bottom and zippers, and some kind of padding on the straps.  I have gone through far too many "trendy" bags to ever recommend anything else.  There was the cotton canvas messenger with a nylon web strap that gave me rugburn before the strap pulled free of the stitching and I had to tuck the whole mess under an arm. There was the fabulous mid-century style faux-croc satchel whose clasp snapped off. There was the inflatable vinyl purse that only lasted for three months before it popped. There were the series of tiny, gothy purses and my valiant attempts to cram everything in there. Invariably, these purses would tear, wear, break, snap, or leak from rain.  If you're going to be carrying anything hard to replace or electronic in nature, you definitely want something heavy-duty and waterproof.
  5. CHECK YOUR LIFESTYLE!  Does the bag actually work for you?  If it's too heavy, too unwieldy, too ugly, too hard to manage, or too complicated, you just won't use it. (Remember the swing backpack I linked above? I wore one like it five times. I still have it, but I never use it).  It's a similar principle to clothing... if you're not comfortable, you'll never wear it.
  6. GIVE IT A TEST RUN!  Okay, so you've picked a bag that's big enough, has the right amount of pockets, is comfortable, is built like a tank, and that you'll use. Now, before you take the tags off and lose the receipt, put all of your dance stuff in it and walk around the house with it for twenty minutes.  Does it fit everything comfortably? Is it making your arm go numb or your shoulders ache? Are any of the seams straining? Is it doing anything weird (i.e. in the eternal example of the sling backpack, is the velcro from the strap catching on your clothing and turning it into a Pilling Hafla)?  If any of these are true, take it back. Life's too short.

Friday, May 2, 2014


So, I've been doing this dance thing for almost a year now. It's had some ups and downs, but for the most part, it's been a blast.

Last night at class, I had a really cool epiphany. I've struggled with the shimmy, been terrified of leading, and gotten confused in formations. But for some reason, it all clicked as we worked on the Turkish Shimmy 1/4 turn with a fade.

We'd done it a few weeks ago, to much confusion, and reviewed it again last night, and for some reason, all of the elements just clicked for me. Shimmy, cool. My hips were like YES YES WE WANT TO SHAKE ROKEDET ALL OVER THE CLASSROOM! My arms waned to be elegant, and my feet actually knew where they were going!

I'd never quite had this type of learning experience. I was The Smart Weirdo growing up, so a lot of the concepts we were being taught, my brain snapped up pretty quickly. A lot of the things that were challenging for me, well... I never had the greatest frustration tolerance (neurodiversity, yay) so I'd learn just enough to skate by and then never speak of the ugly incident again. I don't know why I decided to stick it out with bellydance, even though my body just didn't get it at first, but I'm certainly glad I did, because I'm feeling the payoff now.

It helps that Grace likes to throw a bunch of stuff at us, let it marinate, and then go in and refine it. That's really helpful to me at least... I can think about the new moves, play with them a little at home, get a feel for them, and then get feedback on it. I'm a fan.

Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm on TV!

Yes, it's public access.  Yes, it's a ten-second portion of a 2 1/2 minute segment.  Yes, I do not say anything, nor am I credited.


During the last segment, my fantastic teacher Grace and Eastern Fire Belly Dance are featured... and there's me, in my green skirt, purple tank top, and pretentious hand knit open toe dancin' socks! YIP!

Our debut has not been posted yet... we have to get releases back to the videographer.  I am kind of freaking out about seeing myself on video, because I know how I look when I'm looking in the mirror. I know how I look when I put my clothes on. But I do not know how I look in full costume, dancing with my sisters, with my man lookin' straight at me. He made it easy to smile, bless him.

Until then, my feets are on Naperville Public Access.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014



My dance sisters and I had our debut last night, and it went AWESOME.

Awesome, of course, is a word which means "Nobody died, nobody dropped a zill, nobody got lost, nobody ditched."  My man was all compliments... he said I looked great (I felt okay about it), I looked really comfortable, I danced really well, and "no, honey, you didn't swear. I would have heard you." I got a little shaky in the middle, but at least I didn't show it on the face. And by the time the last part of the music hit, I was comfortable enough to actually have fun.

It didn't hurt that he was RIGHT THERE in front of me and grinning the whole time. It's easy to smile and loosen up a little in front of the person that tends you when you're ill.

Anyway.  One of the things I like about Belly Dance Tuesdays in Bolingbrook is that there is such a range of dancers. There are ATS tribes, Tribal Fusion troupes, and Egyptian Cabaret soloists.  Also, the group of dancers we had last night was particularly diverse... dancers of all ethnicities, shapes, sizes, ages, all coming together to watch and perform (and get a little tipsy). White dancers, black dancers, Asian dancers, Latino dancers, Christian dancers, Jewish dancers (mazel tov!), Muslim dancers, dancers in their twenties, dancers in their sixties, tiny dancers, voluptuous dancers, dancers with round bellies and narrow hips, dancers with flat bellies and big hips, tall dancers, short dancers, all kinds of dancers! One of the best acts (in my opinion) was Mahira... not only was she zilling while holding a veil (and she accompanied the live drummers at the end with her zills, WOW), she worked the crowd and got everyone fired up. Stage presence... she has it.

The night was not without its snags... some of the food took awhile to get out, for the spectators, and there was one dancer whose ADD-riddled backside lost her zills. Yep, I have no idea where they are. They might be in the house somewhere, they might have sprouted legs and gotten the heck outta Dodge. I don't know. Fortunately, my dance sister Melissa tossed me her spares and got me out of the fire. Phew! I don't know what I would have done if she hadn't thought ahead. Probably just went up there and pretended I had zills on or something, I'm good at that.

All in all, a good time was had by most, there was drinking and dancing and carousing and "Holy shit, Katrina, you have a ton of makeup on!" "I KNOW I'm a hot tranny mess!" I'm so glad I did it. I can't wait for the next one.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Performing tomorrow!

Eeek!  What did I get myself into?


I haven't yet started to prep yet... well, I do have most of my costume separated from the rest of the clothes and hung up (instead of on the floor!  Adulting, yay!), and I'm going to find my zills soon (meh, maybe ten minutes before I have to leave, who cares). I've run the music a couple times, and I'm feeling kind of okay.

Let's see how this goes on the Day Of.

Anyway... here's something more substantial than just "Yay, performing tomorrow! Oh noes!"  One of the things I have always struggled with is looking stupid.  I am not a stupid woman. I am very comfortable in my identity as a Smart Person. I am well-read, well-educated, and I have a lot to say on a variety of topics. I can do fractions. I can speak languages other than my native tongue. I understand Science.

But I hate hate hate hate looking stupid. Not knowing where to go, who to speak to, what to say, or how to begin. I once ducked out of a store because I accidentally addressed a customer as an associate, and I was too embarrassed to keep shopping. I avoid social situations where I don't know how things will go. I didn't dance.

Fortunately, because of my Meetup group experience (explicitly for nerds, by nerds, welcoming to any and all Awkward Turtles as long as they don't remind us why we Can't Have Nice Things), I am far more comfortable with admitting that there are Things that I Need To Be Told, and it may be mildly awkward to tell me, I am much happier dealing with 5 awkward points for having to be told, versus 67 awkward points for Fucking It Up in the moment.  After a long discussion with our dear Grace, here are the things you (may) need to be told!

1) There will be a Dancer's Call at any and all haflas, events, etc. It might not even be an explicit Thing, but the time you may need to arrive could well be different than the time that the event will start. It doesn't matter if the event starts at 8 and you're not going on until 9:30, if the master of ceremonies (dance sisters/etc) wants you there at 7:30, your happy ass better be there at 7:30 or you might not be asked back.

2)  If you are dancing, wear a cover-up. Something. Anything. Try to make it look nice, i.e. a scarf, veil, fancy robe, Ghawazee coat, etc. No matter how lovely, it will look Awkward As Hell to stop dancing and put on a pink angora cardigan with mother-of-pearl buttons, especially when you're in full tribal kit. Or a Bears jersey. You cover up before and after your performance. Grace mentioned that having street clothes or removing portions of one's costume after a performance is de rigeur, but I'm not going to be the one that codifies this as fact.

3)  If there is alcohol at the event, it would probably be embarrassing or annoying to the other dancers for you to get pissed before (or even after) your performance. Same with any other drugs save for prescriptions. If you need to get baked, some venues may frown on that.

4)  Zaghareeting, yipping, and hissing are all ways to show your appreciation. For those of us in the non-bellydance community, applauding politely is always welcome.

5) Along with #1, arrive 75% done, if not completely done. That is, costume on, makeup done, hair done, accessories on, cover on... all of it. You may not have a place to do your hair. You may not have a place to dress, or a mirror to put your face on.

6)  This is one that even my awkward ass doesn't need to be told... Don't be a diva, a bitch, a stage parent, or a Wacko Meanie. Be nice, say hi, smile, compliment others' performances. If you have to say something nasty, do it in your car by yourself. Until then, greet and talk to other dancers. You never know... you might make a friend, find a new mentor, get inspired for a costume idea, or at least have a good story to tell over your next craft circle meeting.

I'm sure there will be more as I perform more, but that's a good place to start!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Pleasing Contour

T-minus 4 days.

Our last run-through went really well.  At first, I thought my class was just going to be in the chorus, zilling and looking appreciatively towards the student troupe. Then, it expanded to two minutes of slow choreography, which then went to two-and-a-half. I'm down with that... we've been running our song for the last few weeks, feeling kind of awesome, smiling and performing (and trying not to watch the damn mirror for cues!), and learning a few new tricks to make our performance at least 20% cooler.

Of course, the three of us in Grace's Thursday class are nerds, and what do nerds do when we're nervous and about to do something new?  We ask questions! Lots of questions, from "What should we wear?" to "how is it going to go?" to "when in the music are we supposed to head up and do the Ghawazee shimmy with the rest of the girls?" Fortunately, Grace is cool with questions (see the post I wrote about my boobs, ferchrissake) and was totally down to answer them all.

I feel good. I'm nervous, of course, but I've made sure that I've loaded the audience with at least a few friendly faces, and I'm pretty sure I remember everything I want to do.

There is one more issue I've got, though, and it has to do with photographs.  I hate being photographed, and it's not because I don't think I'm pretty/hot/etc.  It has to do with the fact that no matter what weight I am at, from a narrow little size 4 (at 14, mind you, but still) to a curvy and fabulous 16, I have this awkward double-chin. I've got a small chin structurally, and there's this little fat pad that's always been there. It bugs me enough to want plastic surgery on it, but affording that is going to take a looooong time.  Nosirree, Bob, I'm not going to be able to get a vacuum to suck out my double-chin.

So, inspired by the inimitable Princess Farhana, I experimented with contouring.  I looked in my Bag O' Makeup Fun, and found a lovely Smashbox cream eyeliner of some kind.  Probably came from a Sephora goody bag. It's dark enough that it doesn't just look dirty, and it blends nicely.  I actually tried it on this evening, and once I figured out where to put the contour, WOW. I even took a picture, and it looks like I have a CHIN!

Washing it off is going to be a nightmare, but at least I'm not worried about sticking my chin up in the air, a la high school color guard competitions, so nobody accidentally snaps me with a pelican pouch.

Friday, March 7, 2014

My Boogie Shoes!

Barefoot dancing is great. It's all about being connected to the earth, being in full contact with the dance surface, using the natural strength in your feet to manage turns, power shimmies, and create your lines.

Not for me!

The second-most-fucked-up parts of my body are my feet (you don't want to know what the first is). My mother used to have a saying... "Italian shoes do not agree with my German feet!" I inherited her width, but I also got my father's inverted arches, and I have my own problems with callouses.  YAY! Couple that with plantar fasciitis and a propensity towards plantar's warts, and there will be no dancing barefoot for me. Bad, bad plan.

I am stupidly jealous of ballerinas in their pointe shoes. I know for a fact that the feet IN those shoes are fucked, but the shoes make their feet look so elegant and delicate. The same cannot be said for me, sadly. I dance in a pair of Leo's jazz sandals. They are... not cute. In fact, they look downright geriatric.

Fortunately, I dance ATS. As our dear Grace says, "You're wearing two skirts and a pair of pantaloons. Nobody's going to be looking at your feet."  Thank goodness, because the friggin' sandals make my feet look like duck flippers. Long, wide, and really dorky.

However, as aesthetically challenged as these poor shoes are, GODDAMN do they work great for me! The heel keeps me elevated off of my crappy arches, but not so much that exacerbates the plantar fasc. The elastic gore stretches to accommodate the wideness. Even the little elastic tab connecting sole to heel has a purpose for me... it hits me in the exact spot where the adductor muscle bulges out, so it gets to chill out in open air and not be constricted.

(For those of you who are wondering what the last bit means... basically, where most people have the arch of their foot, my feet are completely flush to the ground. I make bigass footprints. And the part where you all have arches? My muscle bulges outward. I've told them that feet don't go like that. They haven't listened.)

I wish I could reliably wear a pair of shoes that felt great and looked fierce, but I've always had to choose between style and substance. I'm finally at a point in my life that substance is starting to feel a fuckton better than style, and as long as nobody can see them, I'm not embarrassed to wear grandma jazz shoes instead of a pair of bedazzled foot panties. And so long as they make yoga socks, nobody else has to see them either.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Crisis Averted!

Rokedet is going to be fine.

She had some loose beads on one of the big lovely beaded panels, and I had a momentary freakout.

The thing about writers and artists (of which I am both) is that they can be incredibly dramatic freaky-outy Shakespearean-level tragedians about relatively minor setbacks.

The thing about costumers (of which I am one) is that they tend to roll with stuff pretty well.

The thing about me is, as both, I am continually torn between two tigers, one that is all "OH MY GOD WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO!" and "EVERYBODY CHILL THE FUCK OUT ALREADY AND GET A NEEDLE."

If you read the last post, guess who won.  Yeah. Awesome.

Rokedet and I have a very close relationship, I suppose.  I put her on and I feel like everything's going to be okay, because she will tell me if things are weird. If I have no power in a shimmy or pivot bump, she'll say so. If I'm moving too much during a body wave or torso twist, she'll let me know. She might be the whole fairytale of the "Magic Shoes," but it WORKS, at least for my confidence. So, when I saw some beading coming loose, I pooped a little.

It was Artax dying in the Swamps of Sadness. It was Frodo being unable to continue on the quest to destroy the One Ring. It was Snape killing Dumbledore. Anakin Skywalker screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO" and succumbing to Darth Vader when Padme died. Okay, bad example. Bane breaking Batman's back? Mordin Solus sacrificing himself to stop the krogan genophage? Sephiroth killing Aeris? Captain America plunging into Arctic ice?  Loki "dying" at the hands of the Kursed?

Rokedet would only grow weaker, lose more of herself, as I grew stronger. She had a death sentence, and it was only a matter of time.  The hero of the tale would someday be alone.

Maybe someday, but that day was not to be today.

After I wound myself up into a frenzy a little bit more, I found some Coats Extra Strong thread and a needle, and I set to work.  I have never repaired beadwork before in my life, but goddamnit, I was going to.  So, I went back to the source of the fray, and anchored the thread, stitching Rokedet up as best as possible. I tested it a little, to make sure it would hold, and then immediately returned her to her place of honor. Now I can rest easy, knowing that Artax would reunite with Atreyu, that Samwise would carry Frodo to his destination, Snape would turn out to be the hero of the piece, Batman would rise again, "Mordin" would be remembered as the hero of Tuchanka, Aeris returned to the lifestream, Cap fished out of the ice, Loki faked his death. Rokedet and I are going to be fine.


...for now.

T-minus Two Weeks and Counting.

I'm starting to get a little nervous about the even that I'm dancing in. Granted, it's only two and a half minutes, and I'm only leading for a minute fifteen, approximately, and the rest of the time, I'll be in the chorus and doing some backup-dancing for the rest of the performance, AND we get to close the show, so at least it's not "LOL FIRST".

I know, it's not a big deal, and I've invited a bunch of people for support. Though I haven't performed in front of an audience since my senior year of high school, I've put myself out there artistically. I've gotten paintings in shows, and I've published two novels.

Perhaps it's because dance is an active medium.  No art is created until the dancers move, and the audience is watching a piece of art being created, from inception to completion. The dancers are vulnerable, open, and in the moment. Whereas, the process of creating something visual or textual is largely hidden, and the audience is presented with the final result.

I guess I'm just mentally masturbating for a bit, to get past the fact that I am FUCKING EXCITED AND TERRIFIED.  Excitified?  Tercited? Something. I don't know.

Eight months ago, I could not dance. I could not fathom dancing in front of people, showing my stomach, being vulnerable in front of a crowd, opening myself for judgment. I did not want to perform. I did not want to show my belly in class. I didn't get the Egyptian, my hips wouldn't shimmy or taksim (because of tight hip flexors and plantar fasciitis, which got diagnosed after I started dancing), my body waves and Arabics looked dumb. I could pivot bump, because I have hips, but that was the only move I could reasonably do, but not for too long, because my left leg did not like having all the weight on it.

Now... I may not be an expert dancer (it's only been eight months!), but I have a pair of pantaloons that are my go-to comfy pants for around the house. I'm the proud owner of one choli, a coin bra, another set of pantaloons, two turkish vests, a panel skirt, and two 25 yard skirts, a pair of Sorayan Nefertiti Zills, my dance shoes, and Rokedet, the One Belt. Not to mention the hair flowers, accessories, and jewelry I've been repurposing from my collection. I do my body waves in the car at stoplights, I shimmy at work and at the grocery store, I practice arm undulations while waiting for customer orders to print out... I'm a dancer. It's changed me, bit by bit, and I wonder what else I might end up challenging.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Look at my belt, my belt is amazing!

I've been dancing in a "hip scarf" (i.e. whatever scarf I found that fit around my hips) since I started dancing. Sometimes it was one of those inexpensive coin deals that are a dollar on eBay, that no Halloween belly dancer goes without. Sometimes it was what I found on the floor. You know, whatever.

Then the incomparable Grace told us about Tribal Bazaar's going out of business sale. I'm not going to lie, I plotzed. I'm pretty sure my adorable recovering-Catholic gent even said, "why are you plotzing so much?"

I had just coveted so many pieces on that site. I had even crunched the numbers and figured out how many jobs I'd need to have a complete dance wardrobe (about five, two full time). And now, here it was... Infinitely more affordable!

I went easy, and only snapped up a coin bra and that gorgeous belt. I'd tried for a choli too, but those were out of stock. 

I danced with my belt for the first time last night. And it was glorious. She fit me comfortably, like my hips had grown in for just this purpose. And then I shimmied, taksim-ed, and pivot bumped, and for the first time, I got literally instant feedback on my dancing. My teacher is excellent, but to have someone snuggled up around your body, jingling softly when you shimmy, tapping along as you pivot bump, drawing a hard bright line where your hips should rotate... I felt awesome.

Of course, she's not just a good friend. I couldn't get a full pic, but she's amazing. Shisha mirrors, embroidery, beadwork, and (not pictured) antique kuchi pendants... My belt is a rich tapestry. She's a piece of art, not just a piece to keep the pants on.

Clothes do not make the man. But any drag queen can tell you... Sometimes you just need the right accessories!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Zill, baby, zill!

Ahh, zilling.  The terror of many a bellydance student, the bane of many a professional dancer.

And I effing LOVE IT.

We started talking about zilling in November, and in January, my class started zilling for realsies. Of course, the first several sessions, my hands could not get the rhythm down for more than a couple measures, and then I'd end up thinking about what I was doing, and the second your brain interferes with a movement like that, it all comes crashing down.  But, then I committed myself to practice. I'd zill two or three songs a day, whatever I had saved on my phone. And then I'd screw it up, get annoyed, and remind myself, "Just two more songs, you can hold pee for two songs when you're driving. If you need to cry, cry and cut."

It would always be more than just two more songs, though, because DAMN IT I want to be the best zill player in the universe. But, by the times my fingertips turned blue (the international signal for "You want I should stop, maybe?") I'd take off the headphones, and feel accomplished. I might have fallen off the rhythm eight times, I maybe zilled only eight bars total that night, but I was trying.

This past week has been a realization for me in terms of zilling. We were working on fast moves with zills in class (Arabic and Egyptian), and I realized as we were drilling the movement, my brain wasn't shitting itself with too much math to keep track of. It was pretty comfortable, actually.

Then, on Sunday, just to be different, I was talking to my folks about dance (The Gentleman and I went to hang with them). I mentioned playing "the finger cymbals", and they wanted me to demonstrate.  So I did... and even with three people looking at me, I didn't fall off the rhythm.  Then, in class today, we did the fun drill of walking around the studio in time with the beat, zilling while we went back and forth across the floor. And... I CAN ZILL!

The big thing is... practice and troubleshoot. When something weird happened with the zills (for example, that delightfully awkward quacking noise they make when you clap the whole thing together), I'd speak up, to try and find out how not to do that. And zilling for even fifteen minutes a night made a huge difference, both in my confidence and in my ability.

...Now to get through those damn taksim drills!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Don't Be A Boob

On January 21st, Grace produced a show at a restaurant in Bolingbrook IL Made nationally famous for the Drew Peterson case, Bolingbrook is not exactly a Mecca of creativity. However, Grace was able to attract tons of dancers, in all styles.  Her student troup Cassia made their debut as well.

She had announced to my Level 1-2 class that we would be joining them next time, if we're interested. As a costumer, my main question was simply, "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO WEAR?"

Grace just looked at me and shrugged. "The other girls were just wearing skinny tanks."

I looked down at myself. The other girls are mostly small ladies. Narrowly built, small on top, almost to a person. One of the ladies is a bit larger than the others, but not by much. I... am curvy.  Full hips. Narrowish in the waist, and a 34DD on top. I have one of those homunculus bra sizes that most manufacturers ignore. The only way I can buy a bra in a store is if someone returns an online-only item with the tags on. Either way, I looked up at Grace again and pointed to my breasts. "So yeah... so about that."

Grace immediately moved to reassure me. "We will find something that works for you, don't worry. There are plenty of women your size and larger that dance. I'll talk to some vendors, we'll figure it out. Don't worry."

Of course I'm not worried, and I know Grace will come through with an idea, but I do not leave things to chance when it comes to costumes. So, I got to thinking. What if I take a burner bra, sew the straps on so they're closer to the back-side border of the ribcage, cut off the straps behind that, sew on some D-rings, and then just pass the choli straps through? And yes, I already have the choli and the burner bra on order.Just need to get the D-rings and make some time.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Path Begins (baby belly dancer)

I'm Katrina, and I dance American Tribal Style belly dance, as begun by Carolena Nericcio and FatChanceBellyDance. My home studio is Eastern Fire Belly Dance, my teacher is Grace Tucker, and I've been dancing, zilling, and enjoying almost every minute of this style for about seven months now.

I started with a little Egyptian Cabaret style belly dance, and by a little, I mean three weeks.  And by three weeks, I mean three classes. It didn't really connect with me, to be honest... the shoulder shimmy felt wrong, the head slide didn't really make any sense to me... the bit of veil work I learned was cool, but I wasn't about to be all "you ladies shake it up front, I'm gonna play with my fabric over here!" So, I decided to poke around a bit, and I figured I'd try some other classes, see what happened, and what happened was I found Grace, and EFBD, and went, "This... this is more doable."

I love the moves, I love how they look when performed properly. I love the costuming, I love the group improvisation, I love sharing the leadership of the circle, and I love the fact that we can have a frank and open conversation about bodies and frustrations and what if I can't, what if it won't, and feel heard and acknowledged, but encouraged to keep on. The three-quarter shimmy was damn hard for me. I have issues with the lower half of me (hip flexors that disagree with me, plantar fasciitis, flat feet, among other things), and it took me two or three months of drilling, of trying, of not quite being able to get there in class but sometimes starting up a shimmy at home, until I'm much more reliable. My hips aren't perfect, of course, but they're getting better all the time. Zilling was a bit scary, but as I drill at home (I use folk music to get my fingers moving, Daft Punk and the Sex Pistols when I'm feeling like a masochist, and songs from the South Park movie's soundtrack when I'm frustrated and need a laugh), I'm getting more comfortable.   I'm at the point where I'm no longer a terrified newbie (I don't think, Grace might disagree). I no longer feel like the mirror at the studio will eat me if I'm leading, and I feel comfortable enough in the vocabulary I've learned so far to tell when I think something is weird.  I'm also relatively close to a dance debut.

I'm also a lot more comfortable in my own skin, with my own body, and out in the wild as well. When I first started, I was a Non-Dancer.  Dancing would happen, and I'd be all, "Cool. I'm going to chill out over here, you guys shake your booties." Now, I found myself dancing wildly at a New Years' party, though I might have been a bit on the inebriated side. Before, I wore the baggiest effing thing I could to dance class. Now, I buy cheap crop tops so I can see what I'm doing. My belly used to be gross and flabby and undesirable... I used to have hideous backfat, and my hips were bulgy, and my ass was big. Now I know that most people get backfat in certain clothes, because that's how they sit, and they push things down. My belly can do some cool stuff, my shimmies fly even when I'm halfassing (derp!), and my ass is still big, but I'm much less likely to fall into a toilet.

I haven't conquered every bit of negative body image, of course... you couldn't pay me to put on a bikini (well, you never could. Even when I was fourteen and a tiny little thing, no dice). And I'm sorry, but I couldn't wear a traditional Egyptian Cabaret outfit either... I'm cool with a spangly bra, a sequined panel skirt and a belt, but put a bigass floofy tiered skirt under those panels, and can I get a Turkish vest so I can hide a real bra, please? Oh, and my eczema is flaring on my legs, so on go the pantaloons!  w00t!

(For reference, I'm an hourglass, big butt and plenty of boobs on broad shoulders, narrow in the waist. Buying jeans is a nightmare. Buying costumes is ridiculously easy.)

I'm nervous about a debut. I'm nervous about putting myself out there, in front of friends, family, and strangers, and maybe doing something awkward or embarrassing. (Ex. "Oh, shit, our portion is only two minutes long. I'm leading and we've been doing the taksim for, like, a minute thirty... um... you can turn the taksim, right?? RIGHT???) You live and you learn, though, as long as you have fun doing it.