Sunday, June 28, 2009

If Emily Post had learned to belly dance

I've realized that over the years I've accumulated a great deal of belly dance knowledge and etiquette. Maybe it's a sign of me growing older, but I'm often disappointed or even worse, shocked at some dancer's behavior in and about town. I consider myself the Switzerland of the local belly dance scene. I get along with most everyone, I can be invited to almost any event, and I don't start any wars!

So, in the spirit of neutrality and with the hopes of providing some nuggets of information or resources to newer dancers, I've decided to start my own, "Dear Najla" column. I posted recently some tips about attending a workshop but now I'm the process of working on several posts about dancing at events, getting invitations to perform and being a gracious guest or dancer. Don't even get me started about costuming issues either...we could spend sooo much time talking about how regular bras are not dance bras. (I'll save that one for later).

For you the reader, I hope you enjoy. If you have any topics or suggestions you'd like me to take a stab at or have pet peeves you'd like addressed, leave me a comment. But be nice, be like Switzerland.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In honor of Judd's pants

Cottonwood Heights Elementary---late 70's---Salt Lake City, Utah---Fifth grade---Judd Adams. I know we all have those geeky awkward stages of our lives that we'd like to forget but show up through family scrapbooks or now, Facebook posts. I don't need a photo however to recall Judd Adams' pants. They were made out of that dark navy, fake blue jean stretch fabric that was such a rage in those days. Judd's particular pants had extra wide bell-bottoms with red, white and blue flag fabric inserted into the flair on the side. By themselves the pants would have been quite a sight, but on Judd who was very tall, and gangly at that age they seemed to only accentuate his long, angular lines. Now whether or not Judd loved these pants or just didn't have many wardrobe options we may never know but I do remember he wore them quite often.

Now, when I started belly dancing we didn't wear pants, unless they were the harem style. However, with the influence of tribal, fusion and goth styles and the popularity of Melodia-style pants, belly dancers everywhere traded in their requisite chiffon circle skirt for flared or bell bottom pants. Initially I resisted, especially because of my memories of Judd's pants and the fear of looking ridiculous at my age. But I did give in and became very fond of the way these pants flatter and fit all shapes and sizes. Now, my dance wardrobe is not complete without them.

Some of my all-time favorite flare leg pants come from Brandy Bollin with Tribal Evolution in Dallas. I wear them when teaching, and for some of my fusion performances. I was saddened to hear at the Austin Belly Dance Convention that she was taking a break from making the pants. (Okay, I was sad until I found out they were all on sale for $20 each, woo hoo!!!) So, despite my plans for other purchases that weekend I spent a large majority of the weekend in the bathroom trying on every conceivable pair of pants that may fit me and walked away with a nice new stash.

There was one pair I just could not add to the pile. They were dark, heavy, navy-blue stretch fabric and the only difference between these pants and Judd's was the lack of a flag fabric insert. I tried them on several times, but kept putting them in the reject pile. All I could see looking in the mirror was that tall, awkward kid from my past wearing those goofy pants. On the last day, at the last minute, I gave in. In a spontaneous gesture I picked them up, and purchased them simply because I couldn't let such a good deal pass me by.

I'm happy to say I now love my pants, and they may become my staple while teaching classes. I'd also like to think that somewhere right now Judd is telling his kids or friends about these super-cool pants he had in elementary school but still misses to this day. So Judd, wherever you are...I'm keeping the memory alive...but in a much more attractive form!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Post-Workshop Additions

Okay, I'm awfully tired and sore...but very happy after a long weekend of dancing, drinking, socializing and classes. All in all, good stuff. However, while it's on my mind I thought of something else should be including on my top ten list. Don't forget to pack the Advil, Ibuprofin or any other related drugs to help you with muscle soreness, headaches or late nights dancing and drinking really cheap booze. If you're really planning ahead you can add an extra toothbrush and jammies to help out that roommate you weren't expecting. Your dance friends will appreciate your generosity!

I'll do my best to post more about the Austin Belly Dance Convention later on...after a little recovery time.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Najla’s Top Ten Tips for Belly Dance Workshops

Workshops have always been a part of my dance education, and I have been lucky to take from amazing dancers over my career. I originally prepared this list for my students last year, and I’m dusting it off, changing a couple of items and sharing it with the rest of the community in honor of this year’s Austin Belly Dance Convention. If you have any other suggestions to add, please feel free to comment!

1. Clothing:

  • Wear comfortable work out clothes that you would normally wear to a class, but stay away from anything too “costume-y”. We all know you’re proud of your new skirt/pants/choli top, but a class is for learning. Save the cute outfits and costumes for the shows and performances. Seriously, I’ve seen cabaret style belts worn in class, and there is nothing attractive or exotic about that.
  • Think in terms of layers. Pack clothing that is easy to take off and on depending upon the intensity of the class, and the temperature of the room. Air conditioning in hotels and conference centers is often too cold. Its fine when you are working and sweating, but not so good if you cool down too fast.
  • Speaking of sweating, if you sweat a lot consider bringing an extra top or t-shirt to change into as well as a towel to help keep you fresh! Your neighbors will greatly appreciate your thoughtfulness on this one.
  • Bring something to wear over your work out gear when you go to lunch. Advertising for belly dance shows is good, but dancers with bare and/or sweaty tummies eating lunch…not the same.

2. Footwear:

  • Consider slipping some dance shoes, ballet slippers or socks into your bag. Hotel ballrooms are not always feet friendly, or the carpets are not fabulous to sit or walk on.
  • Bring a pair of sandals or flip flops to slip into if you need to run out to the bathroom or hall quickly.
  • Remember to stretch your calves, hamstrings and feet regularly. If your feet hurt too much, you can’t dance. So take care of them!

3. Accessories:

  • If you love hip scarves with coins, don’t forget to also bring one that is decorated with fringe or beads and much more quiet. Some instructors may not want everyone in class wearing noisy scarves, and others may be perfectly fine with that. Be prepared for either option. I usually go the quiet route because it takes up less space in my dance bag.
  • Pack a veil and zils, regardless of what the fliers indicate. It’s the belly dance motto where you should always be prepared, except in our case it’s usually something shiny or silky that we have to pull out!

4. Hydration and Nourishment:

  • Bring your own water; preferably in a reusable container (let’s not forget the environment!). There is usually water available but the line may be long and it’s just easier to have your own stash.
  • Think about dropping some Gatorade or Propel/fitness water packets into your bag. I always have a couple in my dance and workout bags if I want something with electrolytes for my water.
  • Bring snacks or fruit to nibble on during short breaks or if you feel a little lightheaded. Workshops tend to run much longer than regular classes do and unless you’re prepared for three hours of physical activity it can take a toll on your body. But if you do have to stop for a snack, be discrete!

5. Respect:

  • Workshops are a great opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people. Be open to new ideas and opinions in and out of class. You may be the self-proclaimed expert on all forms of hip drops, but if you’re not teaching that day, let the instructor explain it her own way.
  • Be on time. Yes, I know that workshops often start late but that does not mean you should presume they will. Show up when and where you’re supposed to out of respect for the instructor and fellow workshop participants.
  • Be flexible. Schedules change, show line ups may vary, life don't be too married to a schedule/date/dancer or topic.
  • Keep talking and chatting to a minimum. I know, it’s all very exciting and lots of fun especially when you get to hang out with fellow dancers. However, don’t talk during class even with the vendors sitting on the side. Believe me; it’s incredibly distracting and annoying!
  • Be aware of other dancers during class. This means not hogging the space on the front row or believing that you can use as much dance space as you would like. It may be crowded, and hard to see the instructor at times, so work together, share the space and be gracious.
  • Pay attention to any signs about taking photos or videos. With all the advances in technology, it's easy to take the shortcut and make your own clips from the weekend. However, it's considered very poor taste professionally and artistically to take videos and photos on your own, when the workshop promoter and instructors have explicitly asked you not to. Believe me, this is a close knit community and we all know how to use Google and YouTube!

6. Shopping:

  • Bring extra cash for food, and for things that may catch your eye. That being said, most things at belly dance events will catch your eye, that’s the intention, so think of spending budgets!
  • Think in terms of key items that you really need to help build your dance wardrobe. Then leave room for impulse items. Some of my favorite items were bought on impulse, but I’ve also regretted the times I did not buy the ‘key items’ first. Be strategic, and then you can go wild!
  • Talk with vendors to learn what they stock on a regular basis. They may not have what you want sitting on a table, but they may have it sitting and home ready to be shipped off to you! One of my favorite veils was acquired this way. I saw someone looking at it, and assumed it was the only one. When I asked the vendor he said he had another one at home and it was shipped to me in days! Yeah!!!
  • Try on costumes during breaks. Don’t wait until you’re ready to buy to start figuring what styles, shapes and colors work best on you. Vendors are usually happy to let you try things on (be nice though), and you never know when you’ll fall in love with something unexpected.

7. Information Overload:

  • Everyone gets overwhelmed by all the information, moves and materials. Best advice is to try and take 1-2 things away from a class that resonate with you and you can work on.
  • Don't stress too much (some people try to write everything down, etc.), and enjoy the opportunity to try some different styles.

8. Learning new moves:

  • It’s okay to sit out a portion of a class if you’re feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. You can learn things from watching as well, just be respectful of those who are still taking the class.
  • If you’re struggling with particular moves, don’t worry. Although you can ask clarifying questions during class, keep in mind that the instructors are not there to teach you everything in this dance form.
  • Let your own individual teacher help you with the more involved technique questions when you get back to class. That is their job!
  • Give your body a break. It takes months to internalize any new movement. Don’t expect to learn technique in one or two days.

9. Networking:

  • Talk with other dancers, instructors and vendors during breaks. Workshops are wonderful opportunities to meet people you'll run into time and time again!
  • Find out what inspires and motivates other women in this dance form. You may find some interesting ideas for yourself.
  • Exchange numbers and emails. It's wonderful to find new friends in this community.

10. Enjoyment:

  • Relax and enjoy the weekend.
  • You can "enjoy"the experience, but be careful of enjoying it a little too much. Hangovers and dehydration don’t look that attractive in a Sunday morning workshop.
  • That being said, a glass of wine, good friends and a great show are always wonderful ways to spend the weekend!