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#NaBloPoMo, Day 3: Dance

Tonight, I’m grateful for dance.

For the way it brings people together, in circles, squares, pairs, clumps, and huge crowds.

For the catharsis of a solo soul-dance party with nobody watching.

For the way it makes great music greater.

For the rush of a great performance – for both dancers and spectators.

For the beauty and grace, and for the sweat and burning.

For the instant mood-lifter, especially when there are kids involved.

For the satisfaction of a primal, global human instinct to express rhythm and melody with one’s whole self.

And tonight I’m especially grateful for my own community of dancers, the gorgeous, fascinating, warm, hilarious ladies in our dance troupe. Even when we’re tired, for three hours every Tuesday night we come together and muster our energy for each other’s sake. There’s compassion and empathy when you need them, and there’s always lots of laughter, and we are always better off afterward.

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Invoketress Drum Solo performed at Mosaic 2014. Photo by Dennis Novosad.

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100 Happy Days – Day 28: THE SHOW

Invoketress Dance - Mosaic 10th Anniversary Bellydance Fusion Show

 

What a night.

It was the kind of dance performance experience you hope for:

  • Everything went smoothly – no obvious costume mishaps, lighting and music cues were all on, people did their jobs well.
  • We had an almost-full theatre.
  • Our guest performers were all amazing.
  • We got great feedback from our audience (even some of the tough customers who happen to be related to troupe members).
  • Any of those random choreographic mistakes made (usually ones you’ve never made ever before) during performances were not noticeable to said audience members.
  • Our troupe has never been more cohesive and full of sisterhood. It is an amazing team to be part of.

We’re all still taking it in. Grateful and glowing.

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100 Happy Days – Day 27: Gettin’ Stuff Organized

The day before the show!!!

I have been in this many dance pieces (5) – or even more – in other shows, but never with quite so much in the way of complex costumes. It feels great to have everything ready to go.

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The sassy exuberant one with the tambourines.
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The Bollywood-style dance face-off with long head veils (dupattas).
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The post-apocalyptic tribal drum dance.
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The cheeky duet about falling in love (and I say “cheeky” partly because we dance to “Cheek to Cheek” by the Good Lovelies).
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The enigmatic, meditative finale in honour of the Never Not Broken Goddess.

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Why I Love Belly Dancing

Dancing has always been part of me. Long before I took my first ballet class at age six, I liked to fling myself around the living room to music, preferably with filmy garments draped over me.

bellydance superstar petite jamila with veils
This is not me (it’s Petite Jamila) but I wish it were.

Since then, I’ve tried almost every kind of dance you can think of, except for tap. (Not that I have anything against tap – the opportunity has just never come up.) I’ve done ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip-hop, jive, several kinds of swing, Irish, Latin, African, interpretive, square, circle, line, bits of flamenco, fox trot, waltz… You get the idea. For me, moving to music and rhythm is instinctual, almost involuntary.

My relationship with Raqs Sharqi, or belly dancing, began in 2002. I took my very first class at the University of Toronto on a whim, because the hip-hop class was full. I have a distinct memory of my teacher – a woman who had to be at least in her fifties but was as lithe and slim as a young girl – putting on a piece of low, slow, fluttery flute music and doing a movement she called a “maya“… and me being completely entranced. I really wanted to know how to make my body do that.

Dilovely bellydance 2008
This IS me – before kids, obviously – doing a maya.

When I moved cities, I realized I was in dance withdrawal and quickly signed up for a class. I took up belly dance because I’d enjoyed the classes in Toronto, and that was when I found the teacher who truly hooked me on Middle Eastern Dance. She was young, short, voluptuous, with a plus-size body type, and even more gorgeously hypnotic than my first teacher. She did drills to music that was only drums, making the rhythms visible through the movements of her body. I couldn’t wait to learn those moves.

Under this teacher, I became part of a belly dance troupe for the first time.

By then, there was no going back. Learning the skills of Raqs Sharqi, I knew I’d found my dancer-home.

Here are some reasons Why I Love Belly Dancing.

  • You wear pretty, sparkly costumes. (Yes, I’m a Quaker who not-so-secretly likes beads and sequins. I think Sean and I may be the first people ever to have had a Quaker wedding with belly dancers performing at the reception.) Once you’re a grown-up, there aren’t that many good excuses to wear glitter, but this is one. I know it’s a bit weird that I put this reason first – it’s NOT the main reason I love belly dancing, but in my childhood ballet classes, a lot of my motivation came from wanting to wear flowy chiffon skirts or sparkly tutus… so you could say my entrance into the world of dance was, in a large part, materialistic.
  • It’s compelling. As I said above, once I saw what the movements looked like on experienced dancers, I HAD to learn them.
  • It’s lovely to watch. In my first year of teaching, some of my co-workers came to the student recital to see me dance, and came out saying, “That was beautiful.” I think people expect it to be raunchy or somehow explicit, but done properly, it is neither. It’s a celebration of femininity. Sensual, yes. But in a classy way.
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Like this.
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NOT this.
  • Rich history. There is an amazing amount of lore surrounding belly dancing, theories about fertility rituals, harems, the dance of the seven veils, etc., and it seems no-one is sure which things are true. But they make for very cool back story, not to mention inspiration.
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Back in the day.
  • Variety. There are different styles of belly dance originating from Egypt, Turkey, and Lebanon; there are classic styles and then folkloric ones, each with their own reasons for being; more recently, tribal style was born in the United States, and now we fuse Raqs Sharqi with all different types of dance. The movements are so organic, they lend themselves to being incorporated into basically any other style.
  • Music that gets into your blood. It took me a while to warm up to Middle Eastern music, since I’d never really been exposed to it before – but now it’s really grown on me. Especially the drums – they are spellbinding. If you ever get to see live tabla and dumbek drumming by an expert, well… it’s hot.

  • That being said, you can belly dance to anything. I remember laughing with one of the other dancers, the first Christmas season I was performing, as we realized we both had found ourselves doing bellydance moves to Christmas carols.
  • It’s good exercise. Depending on the style, it can be quite aerobic, and it can seriously work your large muscle groups. And it’s always a great core strengthener.
  • At the same time, it’s kind to the body. Most other kinds of dance are hard to do really well without a significant likelihood of injury/strain. As long as you’re paying attention to proper posture, belly dance is gentle on joints, and even sometimes helps with pain. (After participating in a workshop I taught one summer, one middle-aged woman told me her lower back, which was normally problematic, hadn’t felt this good in decades.)
  • It’s challenging. Technique can always grow and improve, and learning to layer different movements on top of each other is some serious brain gym.
  • I get to be my own physical self. Anyone who’s done ballet for a while knows that body type plays a large role. I was very good at ballet until puberty, and then I was suddenly too tall, too long-waisted and too short-legged, not to mention having too wide a ribcage and arches that really weren’t high enough – and weirdly-shaped feet that hated pointe shoes. Belly dance is the first dance form I’ve encountered that truly suits my body type.
  • It’s accepting. Everyone can be her own physical self (or his – there are male belly dancers too, and some damn good ones). I have seen incredible belly dancers of all different sizes, shapes, and ages – and it seems to keep people magically youthful.
  • All of this makes for an amazing community. I was lucky, as a kid, to be in a ballet class full of nice girls who became my friends; but whenever I forayed into the competitive dance world, I found stereotypes of cattiness and snobbery coming alive at every turn. The belly dance community, by contrast, is uncompetitive – full of real people who just want to dance for the joy of it. That means that gatherings of belly dancers, including performances, at least in this corner of the world, are full of laughter and mutual appreciation and support.

The show last night was a perfect example, performed with my current teacher and troupe, a fantastic group of women who embody all the best things about the dance. We were joined by a whole bunch of awesome guest performers. So many different groups of dancers, so many fascinating costumes, so many influences and styles, so many different bodies, all revealed as beautiful in the dance.

{And, I brought my baby girl backstage and she was passed around and lavished with affection by all sorts of lovely women, and I knew she was in good hands. (Thank God for Auntie Em, though. She was the primary caretaker, and without her help, I could not have been in the show at all.)}

Here are two bellydance clips I love (even though they don’t demonstrate the body-type diversity I told you about – sorry). The first is a traditional-style drum solo by Jillina, the second is a tribal-fusion-style duet by Rachel Brice and Illan. I have been fortunate enough to see all these dancers perform live, and they are frickin’ amazing. Enjoy.


Hey, bellydancers out there – if you have a favourite clip, please feel free to leave a link in the comments! I love adding to my collection… 🙂

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A few pertinent numbers

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  • 1 Day until Mosaic, the belly dance fusion show in which I’ll be performing with my belly dance troupe!
  • 3 group numbers I’ll be dancing in with the gorgeous ladies of Invoketress;
  • 9 guest performers/groups gracing us with their presence tomorrow;
  • 3:24 minutes of solo I’ve choreographed to a well-known pop song (hint: I’ll be wearing a skirt that’s short and a jacket that’s long);
  • 4 costumes I assembled today (with more accessories than I bothered to count);
  • 10 pretend candles I will be sticking to my shamadan (candelabra) to wear on my head (fire code prohibits actual candles in the theatre);
  • 14 months we’ve been preparing for the show (if you count back to the beginning of the first piece we learned);
  • 2 family members who will be backstage with me (1 daughter to feed between numbers, 1 Auntie Em to be her caretaker the rest of the time);
  • 7 (at least!) different dance styles fused with bellydance to be performed, including tribal, modern, ballet, jazz, Irish, Tunisian, and burlesque;
  • 65 (approximately) tickets left!

It’s gonna be FUN, people!

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Hypes and Gripes – June 2011

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Bellydance Bizarre

I thought y’all might enjoy this video of (some of) our dance troupe, Invoketress, dancing our interpretation of the story of Lillith to Apocalyptica’s cover of Metallica’s “One”. We performed last weekend at the Bellydance Bizarre, hosted by DownHips of Cambridge. What a fantastic show: all the dancers bring their most funny/weird/creepy numbers to the Halloween show every year, and it’s GREAT.

It’s a bit rough: the images were inserted to mitigate the annoyance of people’s heads getting in the way of the footage, and also it must be admitted that this choreography was created for the show we’re doing a month from now… so we don’t perform as solidly in this video as we plan to in November. And we’re going to have a real guitarist who will play rather more seriously. But STILL! I hope you enjoy.

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