Teressa-Belly Dance Artist in Toronto

Blog

Dancing Together: Belly dance & Friendship

My students have come to me for a variety of reasons. They found my classes in the midst of messy divorces and heart wrenching break-ups. Sometimes they were just bored and wanted a new hobby and at other times, they needed to do something just for themselves. Since I began teaching in 2007 in Scarborough, I have met so many amazing women who have shared the dancing space of the many studios we danced in together…in these spaces, we learned together, played with music and rhythms and movement, and discussed our lives, forging friendships far beyond the walls of the studio.

While personal change and sometimes crisis have brought students to my classes, there are also students who have seen me through my own personal changes throughout the years. We have talked (and sometimes cried) through break-ups, shared secrets, and looked to each other for community. We’ve attended and danced at each other’s bridal and baby showers, we’ve had bellydance babies, new relationships, lost relationships, moments of overwhelming happiness and moments when we showed up even when we could barely put one foot in front of the other. There is such beauty in dancing together through all of this and it has been one of the aspects of this dance form that I am most grateful for.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

bellydance and I: 10 years together.

Bellydance has been my companion and primary partner for the past 10 years. As we embark on 10 years together, which as long as 10 years has been, with dance by my side, it’s felt like 10 seconds, I’ve decided to take some time to reflect on relationships with our passions (perhaps you’ll find it relevant in sorting through your own relationships with passions or people or otherwise).

Belly dance accidentally entered my life when I was an angsty sixteen-year-old teenager and it kept me focused at a time in life when it was easy for me to fall out of focus. We fell in love quickly and like the very rare true loves in my life, it wasn’t a rational love enabled by our compatibility, but rather one that was fostered by a deep, overwhelming feeling of desire. It was a feeling of being drawn in, but being unsure as to what it was that was drawing me. It’s the difference between feeling completely at ease with someone/something or as a friend once said, a “familiarity,” versus something that’s just strange and doesn’t feel like the matching puzzle piece. It’s a familiarity that you feel deep in your soul and it consumes you in the most magical way. That was my relationship with bellydance. We spent all of our free time together. I went to school, worked my part-time job at the local Staples, and spent almost every dollar earned on dance classes and workshops.

We may have moved too fast too soon and subsequently had to rethink what we were doing. After about a year of dancing intensively, I wanted to dance professionally, but I wasn’t there yet. After some reflecting, we took a change in direction and I began to play with fusion bellydance styles. I played with tribal fusion and Bollywood dance styles and it seemed to work for me…people liked me as this fusion dancer, but like all loves, we had to redefine ourselves once again. I began teaching after a few years. At this point, teaching became my love and my students were my priority. We learned and performed together and I watched them blossom into beautiful dancers. I loved bellydance, but perhaps I also desired a more open relationship, so I began to dabble in other dance styles including ballet, jazz, hip-hop and Brazilian samba. Like all good open relationships, it only enhanced my primary one with bellydance, as I incorporated these new dance practices in my own performance and teaching styles.

Over the past decade, we have moved together from eager dance student to professional performer and dance artist, teacher, and most recently, academic scholar as I interrogate my own dance practices from cultures that are not my own, thinking through the politics of race and gender in our increasingly globalized world. It has been and continues to be a relationship that has pushed my boundaries, challenged me, made me the happiest person in the world, and kept me going in the moments when I didn’t feel like I could keep going. Bellydance has sustained me in such important ways and I am so grateful to have found it and incorporated it into my life.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

My Big Bollywood Dance Weekend!

As a child growing up in Guyana, I was surrounded by the catchy rhythms and energetic dance styles of Bollywood music and dance that were in the movies frequently shown on TV. Guyana has a large Indo-Caribbean population, as many of our ancestors came to the country from India and with that migration, many of the cultural traditions from this ancestral home followed. I remember being 6 years old and dancing with a professional Indian dancer who was performing at a family friend’s wedding. While I don’t remember much of this event, I do remember feeling quite proud of myself after my “dance”…after all, I was the only person who danced with the performer that night. I’m pretty sure I walked around with my head held a little higher that day. My family finds this particular story very amusing and continue to bring it up year after year…I suppose it’s funny since I’m now a professional dancer who performs at many weddings and other events and this was perhaps my “coming out” as a dancer.

Bollywood movies and the catchy music and intricate dance moves have stayed with me throughout all these years after that first performance. As I began my belly dance career many years ago, I revisited my Bollywood dance roots and began to fuse the two dance styles together. Although they were very distinct, they also provided moments of convergence that made for a creative fusion  of the two dance styles. As such, I began doing many more  Bollywood-Bellydance performances and have continued to do so for the past few years.

So far this year, I’ve been doing lots of Bollywood performances, including a weekend I like to call My Big Bollywood Dance Weekend (okay, so that wasn’t very creative…). It was such a wonderful weekend of dance that reminded me of just how much I love the upbeat, celebratory aspects of Bollywood dance styles, so of course, I had to share.

On the Friday evening, I had the privilege of performing at Besharam, a monthly South-Asian nightlife event. This was such a great event to dance at; the audience was so appreciative and excited. Additionally, I got to brush up on my Bollywood music and dance to some newer songs that the audience really appreciated. You know that moment at a club when the DJ plays the song that everyone’s been waiting all night to hear and everyone explodes in happiness? It was one of those nights. Here are some photos:

On the Saturday evening, I performed with my good friend, Svetlana, at the Boxgrove Lion’s Club annual Gala event in Markham, Ontario. The organizers wanted a bit of both worlds: a bellydance show and a Bollywood show. We planned a show that encompassed both, with our bellydance show, we began with a grand entrance with veils twirling around us, followed by duet and solo performances to our favourite bellydance songs. We finished off our first set with an exciting drum solo duet, showcasing sharp accents and big shimmies. Our Bollywood performance followed, which began with a grand Isis wings performance, then a duet performance to the  popular audience favourite, Jai Ho! from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. We performed a medley of upbeat, contemporary Bollywood songs that really got the audience moving. Finally, we finished up our second set by getting some audience members up to show off their Bollywood moves. We had so much fun dancing at this event and it was a blast to do not only Bellydance, but also some Bollywood as well. Below are some photos from the event (photos by Reena Deon):

Bellydance With Svetlana!

Isis Wings!

The audience had some great moves!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Planning a Bellydancing Bridal Shower/Bachelorette

My absolute favourite type of event is doing Performance/Lesson Belly Dance packages at events such as bridal showers, bachelorettes, and Girls Night Out parties. Typically at these events, I’ll do a short 5 – 10 minute costumed performance so that everyone gets to see what bellydancing looks like, costume and all! After this, I teach a lesson to the group in which everyone learns some fun bellydance movements including undulations, figure 8s and of course, the famous hip shimmy. At the end of the workshop, we put all our movements together in a funky choreography, so that everyone gets to strut their stuff and show off their new belly dance movements. Of course, none of this would be complete without jingling hip scarves that I provide to all participants to use for the workshop. These events are so much fun with lots of jingling, shimmying, and of course, giggling as everyone tries to perfect that new bellydance move!

In my career as a belly dancer, I’ve done my share of these events and while I don’t consider myself a party planner extraordinaire, over the years, I’ve seen some really great ideas for these events that I thought I’d share with you. Hopefully these tidbits will inspire you when planning your own Belly dancing event!

THEMES: Themes add uniqueness to your event, so that it’s not just another shower or bachelorette. Below are some theme ideas that work well with a bellydance lesson. Keep in mind of course that you don’t have to have one of these themes in order to incorporate shimmying hips into your event.

  • The Classic Arabian Nights: This is the classic bellydancer theme, with bright, colourful fabrics, jingling coined hip scarfs, the delicious aroma of Middle Eastern delicacies, and of course, bellydancing to the exotic instrumentation of Arabic music.
  • Around the World: I came across this idea recently at the bridal shower I performed at and thought it was such a unique twist to traditional bridal showers. It’s also a great idea if you’re celebrating someone who loves to travel. The hostess had set up activities and food from all over the world for her guests. It was an all-day soiree that involved a henna artist from India, food from all over the world, and of course, the bellydance performance and lesson from the Middle East.
  • Cultural Connection: This idea is typically done for those who want to celebrate the cultural background of their guest of honour and sometimes, their partner as well. For example, I’ve had hostesses request that I do a fusion performance and lesson instead of just belly dance. In the past, I’ve done Bellydance/Bollywood workshops and even Bellydance with some latin dance styles to showcase the cultures of the guests of honour.

SETTING THE MOOD:

  • About 2 years ago, I performed at a Bellydance/Bollywood bridal shower that was so beautifully decorated that I haven’t forgotten it. The hostesses took lots of brightly coloured fabrics (if you have saris, these would work really well) and placed them all over the room including draping them from the ceiling in order to create a tent-like atmosphere. When I walked in (danced in), the bright pinks, reds, and turquoises really added to the exotic atmosphere of the belly dance performance and made for a memorable event.
  • Similar to draping fabrics all over your venue, for a similar feeling, get coined hip scarves and place them strategically around the room to instantly add a whimsical, Arabian Nights mood. Drape a few on the walls, over chairs and even use them as table runners!
  • I once performed at an indoor/outdoor Girls Night event that although wasn’t done in an “Arabian Nights” or “Belly dance” theme, was still magical in its décor. Keep this one in mind if you love the idea of a bellydancing bonding activity at your event, but don’t want the entire event to revolve around that theme. This particular event was in the evening and when I walked into the house, all the lights were off and candles filled the entire space, giving off a romantic, beautiful glow. Get a large pack of tealights and place them all over your venue, turn off the lights, and there you have it, instant mood lighting, perfect for bellydance!
  • As long as your guests don’t have any allergies or other issues with scents, having the sweet aromas and subtle smoky hints of incense floating through your event add an exotic sensory appeal.
  • Sounds are so important in cultivating the feeling of your theme. If you’re having a belly dance performance and/or lesson, consider incorporating Middle Eastern music as your guests mix and mingle. If you are hiring a bellydancer, feel free to ask her for music suggestions that would add the perfect atmosphere to your event!

EXTRA SURPRISES:

  • Purchase coined hip scarves as party favours for your guests. You can find cheap hip scarves in every colour of the rainbow at lots of jewelry/scarf shops in and around Toronto/the GTA for as little as $9 or $10 per scarf. You can also check online on auction websites such as eBay for great deals. This great party favour allows your guests to practice their new bellydance moves after they leave the party and serves as a reminder of your unique event.
  • Hire a henna artist to beautify your guests’ hands with beautiful designs. This will also make bellydancing extra fun as your hand and arm movements ill be embellished by the henna designs!

These are just a few ideas to help get your creative juices flowing as you plan your upcoming Bachelorette, Bridal Shower, or Girls Night event! Check out our Belly Dance Bookings page to book a dancer for your upcoming event!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Summer in the City

I adore the summer in Toronto! The weather is beautiful with clear bright blue skies, hot temperatures, and a wide variety of awesome summer festivals all over the city, from east to west and north to south! Summer is also the time of year where we do lots of belly dance performances at outdoor festivals and community events in the city. This year has been no exception.

Just this past weekend, I, along with two of my student dancers, were invited by the Warden Woods Community Centre to perform at their yearly Taste of the Woods Festival. We performed for the first time at the event last year and it was exciting to be invited back as we had a great time performing for the crowd last year. The Taste of the Woods Festival is a great event in Scarborough, where community members gather at the centre, sample delicious multicultural foods and see performances that ranged from singing, Tai Chi demonstrations, and of course, bellydance, to name a few. I even managed to do a bit of food sampling myself before our performance with a couple spring rolls, some tandoori chicken, and a vegetarian dish that was delicious, but I don’t know what it was called. I also spied with my little eyes jerk chicken with peas and rice and curry and roti. There was an abundance of mouth-watering treats for all your hunger needs!

I performed, along with my longtime students, Camille and Elizabeth, for a very enthusiastic crowd. At the end of our performance, we found some very great young dancers in the audience who participated and showed us their awesome bellydancing skills. I also have to give a special shout out to the two boys by the DJ booth who were AMAZING bellydancers and with a little coaxing, strutted their stuff with us in front of the audience. Camille even managed to start a bellydance train! I’m not sure how she did it, but all we could do was join in! Choo-choo!

Next up, we’ll be performing at the Scarborough Village Summer Festival on Saturday, July 23rd. This will also be our second year performing at this event. We are so lucky in Toronto to have big, wonderful summer festivals every year, but we’re luckier still in Scarborough that we have a variety of community festivals of our own that we get to enjoy! These are some of my favourite events to dance at because it’s a way to really connect with the community close to home. Check out some more Photos from the Taste of the Woods 2011.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Cross Training…or tales of a bellydancer in ballet & jazz class

I took my first bellydance class when I was 16 and before that, the most dancing I had done was a short stint in an 8-week hip-hop class for teens and before that, coming up with dance routines to songs by the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child with my cousins that we then performed in front of our family…yes, we were that awesome! I wasn’t a child dancer who took classes in ballet, jazz, and tap, the fundamentals of all childhood dance training, so jumping into belly dance training intensively was my first real foray into the dance world.

When I became serious about belly dance, I still sometimes felt as though I was “missing” some dance training. When I first started dancing for example, traveling steps and turning were not my fortés and I knew that it was my lack of this childhood training that left me stumbling over my feet, while others glided effortlessly.

With the rise of shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and their amazing contemporary routines that I fell in love with, along with the understanding that I needed ballet and jazz in my life, I hopped on over to a local dance studio to take adult ballet and jazz classes. I started this adventure over 2 years ago and the training has been amazing for my bellydancing.

Ballet was a huge challenge at first. Did they say that I have to move my legs without moving my hips? No, that can’t be right because that’s impossible! I was trained as a belly dancer, which meant that my hips were directly connected to my legs, so if my leg moved, the hips obviously followed…obviously. In ballet, I had to learn to keep everything still, whilst only moving my legs. Ballet was also instrumental in helping me to create strong lines and pointed toes when I dance. Although I’m no ballerina, my toes now create a much stronger arch and line than it did before these classes. Trust me, there are results!

I also decided to try jazz/contemporary since one of my dreams was (and to some extent, still is) to become a fab contemporary dancer. It’s a long shot, but I’ll keep trying. Jazz was and continues to be amazing at helping me with turns and traveling steps. No longer do I look as though I’m about to tip over when I’m turning. It’s also awesome that after 2 years, I feel extremely confident in class about doing those scary across the floor exercises.

In addition, the new movement vocabulary provided in jazz classes has given me a lot of new options for my bellydance movement vocabulary. New foot patterns, jazzy kicks, even a few jumps are a part of my bellydancing repertoire now!

So bellydancers, get out there to your local dance studio to find a ballet and/or jazz class and jump in! It’s a bit scary at first, especially if you’ve never heard of pirouettes, jettés and a lot of other French words being yelled out by your instructor whilst you look around in confusion. But trust me, after a few classes, you’ll get the hang of it and will be pirouetting and jetté-ing all over the dance studio (and possibly in your kitchen and hallway after class).

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

The Fun, Fab, and not so Glamorous Side of Photoshoots!

Over the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of working with two amazing dance photographers to shoot some new bellydance photos to update my website and promotional material. As such, I thought it would be fun to share my experiences, as well as some helpful tips for doing photoshoots.

My first photoshoot was in late February with the amazingly talented Samira Hafezi. Check out her work and you’ll see why she’s one of the go to talents for dance photography in Toronto. Samira has worked with numerous bellydancers before, so she has a great eye for dance movements and poses that work well for photos. In addition, I also got to work with the fabulous make-up artist, Christine Millan, who can manage 3 completely distinct make-up looks with just a quick flick of her magic wand (or make-up brushes). Christine, being a bellydancer herself, also helped with constructing really unique ideas for the shoot. This duo is amazing and dancers, if you get the opportunity to work with them, jump on it!

This shoot was my first in over 3 years (3 years!), so I was a little rough around the edges when it came to poses and making pretty facial expressions. I had also decided pre-photoshoot that I had too many photos in which I was smiling and my costumes this time around seemed to call for a more serious look. Unfortunately, serious isn’t really my thing and sometimes I ended up looking really pained or just numb. Who wants a numb bellydancer? Not I. Even with my sometimes funky facial expressions, the shoot was awesome! Samira and Azhia came up with cool ideas that had them, for example, wrapping the veil around me and then making it seem as though the veil was floating beside me. These ladies are full of great ideas to give you unique shots. In addition, Samira not only did the traditional full body bellydance poses, but also did some shots halfway and even headshots, so you have a lot of options to work with.

One of my “Serious” Costumes

Flying Veil!

My second photoshoot was with Paul Cutler, who I’ve worked with twice before. For this shoot, I only had one purple costume that I really wanted to shoot, along with my new pair of Isis wings. I had also just gone shopping that past Thursday and purchased a funky jacket/dress that just demanded to be shot with full lights and heavy make-up! I figure they’ll be great headshots for the books I write when I become a professor in a few years (in my other life, I’m starting grad school in September). And anyway, every girl needs headshots and some frivolous photos, right?

My dress!

This shoot went fantastically! Why? I had just had the experience of a photoshoot with Samira, so my rough-around-the-edges poses were now not so rough. I learned that I should probably smile, so there was lots of smiling. In addition, my comfort level with Paul from our previous shoots together made everything flow effortlessly, which included some awesome shots such as this one (I can’t believe I’m posting this on my website):

So Glamourous!

Here are 5 tips for your own bellydance (or otherwise) photoshoot:

  • Look up images of the kinds of shots you’d like to get from your shoot: If you’re a dancer, look up dancers. I looked up some amazing bellydance photos, but I also looked up jazz and contemporary dance photos, which have really unique poses that can work beautifully for bellydancers. If you’re doing a couples shoot, look up engagement or wedding photography. Doing sassy headshots? Try to find some of those on photographers’ websites. Compile all these great shots in a folder that you can refer to before the shoot to practice, as well as on the day of your shoot.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice! Remember all those great shots you procured from your hours of late night Googling? Now they’ll come in handy as you stand in front of a mirror with your photoshoot outfit(s) and pose away! If you’re in a bellydance costume, now is the time to see if your desired poses will work with the type of costume you’re wearing. For example, I had a lovely pink costume that I wanted to do some particular poses with, but the fabric was heavy and didn’t flow the way I had imagined, so it was off to my folder for new ideas. Get these prepared beforehand so that you don’t miss a minute of your shoot fumbling about for ideas.
  • Get Comfortable: Get to know your photographer. You want to make sure that you are comfortable on the day of the shoot to be silly, sexy, spunky, and a bit outrageous. After all, it’s your personality and comfort level that will make the shoot work. If you need a glass of wine beforehand to loosen you up, then by all means, pop that bottle! I highly recommend a bottle of Canei white wine!

  • Take Risks: Don’t be afraid to try something new or different that you hadn’t thought of beforehand. Move around, play, jump, and enjoy the shoot. Some of the best shots come from really unexpected moments. In addition, specifically for dancers, dance and move around! Play with your props, twirl your canes, spin with your veils, and kick up your skirts! All of this movement captures beautifully on the camera. For example, with my Isis wings, I expected that I would pose with them and have the traditional poses with the wings beside me like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. However, I started moving around a bit with them and my favourite shots with them are the ones that have me mid-dance. Who knew that Isis wings could capture movement so well? Now you know.

Isis Wings & I

  • Listen to Your Photographer: Your photographer is an expert at photos, so listen to them. They may tell you to turn your head a certain way, twist and contort your body in ways that seem awkward and unconvincing, but trust them! They’re behind the camera and can see what’s working and what isn’t.

Good luck with your fab photoshoot!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

10 Ideas for Practicing Bellydance When You’re Not in Class

Recently I’ve had quite a few students come to me with sighs and distressed looks, wondering how they were supposed to practice all the dance technique/combos/choreographies we do in class when they’re at home by themselves. It’s all too much to remember and they’d love some guidance on how to improve their dancing in the comfort of their own home.  So here are some ideas to help you out when you’re feeling flustered about your ability to get your practice on at home:

1. TAKE NOTES IN CLASS: This is so important for all student dancers and will help you to get the most out of your class time and your practice time later on. Writing down a combo you did in class or a new movement that you learned and want to practice more is a great way to jog your memory later on when you decide to practice. Get a funky notepad that you can keep in your handbag or even use your phone as a notepad!

Here’s an example: I currently take 2 to 3 jazz classes per week and after every class, I pull out my iPhone, open up my notepad app and type in the new movements, combos, or choreography notes from a song we danced to in class. I’m not necessarily going home to practice my jazz jumps right away, but those notes are secure in my notepad, waiting to be used when I’m ready to practice.

2. PRACTICE THE FUNDAMENTALS: Okay, so that new funky undulation-reverse-maya-layered-with-a-hip-shimmy-into-really-complex-traveling-combo didn’t really sink in after tonight’s class and you can’t remember all of it to practice (you’re thinking you probably should have taken notes, see #1 above). However, if you’ve been dancing for a bit, you’re certainly an expert on your bellydance fundamentals. These are the movements that you started out your bellydance career with and the ones that continue to drive every single Intermediate/Advanced technique concept that you’ve encountered and will encounter in the future. Practice those!

I like to start from my head and work my way down my body with isolations. For example:

Head slides/Shoulder accents Forward & Back/ Shoulder Accents Up & Down/ Chest Lifts/ Chest Slides/ Stomach Accents/ Hip accents/ Hip Drops/ Hip Slides/ Pelvic Tilts

3. FOCUS ON SHAPES: If you think about it, bellydance is all about creating shapes with our bodies, so focus your practice on a particular group of shapes.

Some major shape groups to practice are:

  • Diamonds (Head, Chest, Hips)
  • Circles (Head, Chest, Hips)
  • Figure Eights (Chest, Vertical Hip, Horizontal Hip)
  • Undulations (Torso, Arms, Hands)

4. FOCUS ON TRAVELING STEPS: When we think of bellydance, we don’t necessarily consider the traveling steps that make a lot of our dancing possible. Traveling steps are near and dear to my heart because we don’t focus enough on them, yet they are so vital to the dance form. To practice traveling, make a list of some common patterns and practice those. Additionally, try layering some of your fundamentals and your basic shapes (see above) with traveling steps.

Here are some of my commonly used traveling steps to get you inspired:

  • Walking
  • Triple Step
  • Rocking Step
  • Grapevine
  • Turns (3-step Turns, Double Turns, Crossover Turns)

5. ¾ SHIMMIES: ¾ shimmies are a bellydance staple and as such, you need to practice them all the time. I like to practice my ¾ shimmies alone, then layer them with additional movements.

Some ideas include:

  • Drill your ¾ shimmies for a full 3/4/5 minutes or for the duration of your favourite song
  • Layering your 3/4 shimmies with movements from some of your shape groups above (#3)
  • Layering your 3/4 shimmies with traveling steps from above (#4)

6. SHIMMIES AND DRUM SOLOS: In every class (or almost every class), I do a drum solo drill in which we practice developing strong shimmies and layering shimmies with some of our fundamental movements and groups of shapes. This is a great way to practice as well. Put on your favourite drum solo and start shimmying! Add some layers and see what happens.

Additionally, practice by improvising to a drum solo. Pick a drum solo that you know really well and just dance. Another challenging option is to pick a drum solo that you don’t know very well (or you’ve never heard before) and try to dance to it. You can also use YouTube to find drum solos that you’ve never heard/danced to before (see #10).

7. PROPS: Playing with props is a great way to practice and gain additional skills that are so important for bellydance performers. Try some basic movements with your veil or just toss it around a bit! I know that doesn’t sound like the best advice, but especially when a prop is still new to you, it helps to just play with it  in order to understand the way it feels and moves in your hands. When I first started practicing with veils, I spent a lot of time with the veil tangled around me, trying to figure out how to to simply get it to move properly.

Have a cane? Hold it, move with it, try your fundamentals, shape groups, and traveling steps while holding/moving the cane. In addition, practice twirling the cane in both your right and left hands.

8. USE DVDS: Practicing with a bellydance DVD is like having your very own bellydance instructor in the comfort of your home. The best part is that bellydance DVDs are widely available and easy to access. One of my favourite websites for purchasing DVDs is www.amazon.ca as they have great DVDs, a wide selection, and it gets to my door in just over 24 hours.

Some great production companies making bellydance DVDs  that you should definitely check out are:

Don’t have too much extra cash to splurge on a bellydance DVD collection? No problem! Check out your local library for bellydance finds. When I started dancing at age 16, I was a teenager working part-time and spending all my money on bellydance classes, so purchasing DVDs was not a luxury I could afford.  Instead, I went to the library, found a whole collection of DVDs and used those to practice on my own. I actually first learned undulations from one such library DVD. Typically, you’ll find mostly Beginner level DVDs at the library, but they’re a good way to review your fundamentals and it’s always useful to have a new perspective on how to do a particular movement.

9. IMPROV: A lot of my students get nervous when they hear the word “improv,” but learning how to improvise is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a bellydance student.

Improvising is easy! Just throw on a song from your bellydance music collection and start moving. It doesn’t matter if you do something strange or spectacular! I always tell students to keep moving regardless of whether they feel silly, stuck, or have no idea what’s happening in the music (or will be happening in 10 seconds). The more you keep practicing and moving through those tough and awkward moments, the more comfortable you will become at improvising.

There’s also no rule that you have to practice to bellydance music. Choosing a song you love, in any genre, will make your improv practice that much more relaxing and fun! Love that new top 40, soca, or Bollywood song? You’d be surprised how conducive bellydance movements are to other dance forms. Even as I write this, I’m trying chest circles and undulations to Britney Spears’ new song…it’s going rather successfully, I must admit.

Here are some additional suggestions to begin the process of full-blown improv:

  • Pick one or two movements and do those for the entire song (Add variation with arm patterns, level changes, layering, dynamics, and speed)
  • Pick one part of your body and only perform movements with that part of your body for the entire song (i.e. Focus on arms, upper body, hips, traveling steps). This is also a great practice tip if you’re known for neglecting one part of your body in dancing. For me, I think I need to try this with my upper body only since I’m definitely a hip-centric dancer!
  • Pick a particular shape group and only perform movements from that group (i.e. Figure eights, circles, undulations)

10. YOUTUBE: YouTube is amazing for bellydancers! It’s a great way to see what other dancers are up to and get inspired by all the amazing talent found all over the world. When I’m feeling a bit uninspired, I usually take a trip onto YouTube and search for some of my favourite dancers and see what they’re up to. Don’t have a favourite? Just search for “belly dance” or “belly dance Toronto” for example and you’re sure to find some dancing. Be warned that not all dancing is great dancing on YouTube. Because of its user-friendly format, anyone and everyone can post videos of themselves as a “professional” bellydancer, so use your bellydance discretion as you check out videos!

To help you out, here are some names of just a few of my favourites:

Older Egyptian Dancers

  • Samia Gamal
  • Tahia Carioca
  • Suheir Zaki
  • Fifi Abdo

Current Dancers:

  • Randa Kamel (Egypt)
  • Tito (Egypt)
  • Orit Maftsir (Israel)
  • Aziza (North America)
  • Sahra Saeeda (USA)

Dance Troupes/Companies:

  • Mahmoud Reda & the Reda Troupe (Egypt)
  • Arabesque Dance Company (Toronto)
  • Bellydance Superstars (USA)

Another great way to use YouTube (which also relates to #9 above), is to put on a performance of a dancer and use the music she/he dances to as another way to improv. This is a great way to practice if you haven’t built up an extensive music collection as yet and allows you to sample some of the music that the greats are using!

There you have it, 10 ideas to help you practice when you’re not in class! Now it’s time to get practicing!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

They’re Here, They’re Here!

The ~undulate~ 1001 Nights photos have finally been posted. The photographers got some really great shots (and of course it helped that my performers were all pretty awesome), so check them out here: ~undulate~ 1001 Nights Photo Gallery

Here are some of my favourites that I just had to share:

My Bollywood Students: I love the energy of all the girls in this photo; it’s so upbeat and let’s be honest…it screams Bollywood!

Banat el Sharq: I love the way Stacey and Leah are having so much fun and really enjoying dance! Funnily, this was for the piece called “The Happy Lands,” so it worked out perfectly!

GypsyVibe: The performance, the lighting, and this awesome photo were so amazing! This is such an empowering shot that really emphasizes the sense of community that was the theme of this piece.

Cairo ala Nar: It might be a bit uncool to choose a photo with myself in it, but I really like the contrast between Moli’s sexy samba movements and my standing there…doing not much.

Okay, I think I need to stop. I could really do this all night as there are so many amazing photos, but I’ll just let you check out the Photo Gallery instead and share in the story of ~undulate~ 1001 Nights.

Coming soon: Videoclips from the show (assuming I find a computer to cooperate with me)

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

~undulate~ 1001 Nights

Wow, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted and so much has happened since then! I guess I’m not so good at this whole blogging thing!

The biggest news in the past few months was of course our successful ~undulate~ 1001 Nights show that happened on Saturday, November 27th at the Leigha Lee Browne Theatre here in Scarborough. The night was wonderful and all the performers were fabulous! I’m still sifting through the over 500 (and more to come) photos from the actual show, but they will be up soon, with lots of photos of the each amazing performance.

I’m so happy that I was finally able to get a theatre as our venue.  I’ve wanted a theatre since I first started doing our ~undulate~ shows and have been searching since that first show, but I guess third time’s the charm as I was able to find the perfect venue in the Leigha Lee Browne Theatre. It was a great opportunity for all of my students to perform in a theatrical setting, complete with an enormous stage, beautiful lighting, and a wonderful audience.

The change of venue wasn’t the only change for this show. It was also the first time that I incorporated a theme (or in this case, it was more of a storyline), which as you may have guessed was the story of the 1001 Nights (also called the Arabian Nights). Just in case you’re not familiar with the story of 1001 Nights, it tells the tale of the King and Scheherazade. The King finds out that his wife has betrayed him, so each night he takes a new wife, but by morning, he has her killed as he constantly feels suspicious of each new wife. Scheherazade is taken as one of his wives (in some versions of the story, she volunteers herself as the next wife), and she devises a plan to save her life and the lives of the additional women that may be killed next. Each night she tells the King a story, but instead of concluding the tale, she keeps the King in suspense until the following night when she tells him the rest. In doing so, Scheherazade ensured her survival as the King was intrigued with her stories and wanted to hear the conclusions of each. After 1001 nights and 1001 stories, they fall in love and Scheherazade’s life is spared. In the 1001 Nights, the story of Scheherazade and the King’s relationship form the framestory for a series of diverse tales that derive from the Middle East, South Asia, and Persia.

So the long and short of it is that I used the story of Scheherazade and the King as the framestory for all the beautiful pieces in the show, many of which served as “tales” that Scheherazade told the King. Some of our tales included the Tale of the Sailors of Port Said (performed by my folkloric class), the Tale of the Egyptian and the Brazilian (samba-bellydance fusion piece by Cairo ala Nar), and the Tale of the Girl from Alexandria (folkloric melaya piece by Emilia). Each individual piece really made the show and story come alive.

I’m not sure what I’ll do next, but I love the idea of themes as it really allows for artistic and choreographic creativity. I got the idea of themes because the studios I teach at are both children’s dance studios and always have a theme for their year-end recitals (it’s a common thing for children’s studios). I thought it was such a neat idea and hadn’t seen it done for bellydance recitals, so I thought it would be fun to give it a try. Who knows what theme you’ll see next!

Finally (and most importantly), I have to thank some people who put in a lot of time and energy to make this show such a success.

Okay, here goes (hopefully they’ll read my blog!):

BIG, GIGANTIC Thank Yous to: Aamirah and Stephanie for managing the backstage all night so that I didn’t have to do a thing/ Amanda for managing the music and creating and editing voiceovers with me with lots of patience, especially when I couldn’t for the life of me recite a voiceover without going into fits of laughter/ Carlos and my dad for their amazing photography/ Shaun for videotaping and standing on a box all night in order to get the best angles/ Krissy for taking charge of the front of house and making sure that there were snacks for everyone.

And of course the performers: My amazing students who come to class week after week and work their hips off/GypsyVibe for supporting my classes in Scarborough and coming all the way from Barrie to take classes, workshops and perform (even in winter snowstorms!)/Emilia for sharing your flirty girl from Alexandria with us/Ingrid for coming all the way from Niagara Falls and showing us what Raks al Assaya is all about/Sabine for actually using a real tale from the 1001 Nights and embracing the tale of the peacock with a beautiful, elegant performance/ Mayada for performing a beautiful solo and bringing her 2 troupes to perform 3 additional pieces/ Cairo ala Nar (Mayada, Sabine, Liv, Moli, Sue, me?) for your awesome samba-belly performance that people could not stop talking about after the show/ Banat el Sharq for sharing your love of folkloric dances with my audience with not 1, but 2 fabulous folky pieces (Mayada, Sabine, Liv, Danielle, Stacey, Leah). Phew! Okay, I think I’ve got everyone. One more time: THANK YOU!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off