Monday, June 25, 2007

How do they do it?

Ever wonder how all these belly dance festivals get their performers? Some are by invitation only. Some you find out by word-of-mouth. Others you ask for a performance slot and if you're lucky you're in. One festival wanted a photo and audition video tape. A little much I thought to dance for free. But, the wildest are the "call-ins".

A week before one festival I got a flyer with all the details. Who'd be teaching what workshop, how to purchase booth space, etc. a nice 4-5 page mailer. All this along with info on how to get a slot to perform. The call-in date and phone numbers for either live or taped music. So, like other festivals before, I marked my calendar and put reminder notes in places around my house so I wouldn't forget. I even set up the cell phone to give me reminder ring that morning.

So there I was with 2 cell phones, something to drink and some snacks. I've been here before. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to have one phone on auto redial and the other where you keep redialing manually. About an hour in my sister started dialing as well. After 2 hours straight finally got through. You would think I'd won the lottery. Yeah! After hearing the busy tone all that time when you hear the phone ringing it catches you off guard.

In the end most dancers end up complaining to the organizers that they come up with a better method. Perhaps you should have to mail in a request to perform card and the organizers throw them all in a big spin container and pull out cards until they fill up all the slots. Now, I'm not sure how I'd pull off such huge festivals but for the time being at least once every couple of years I join hundreds in the phone race for a dance space.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The End of a Era

I renamed my troupe to "Daughter of Anket".I first learned of her in 2003 and build a new choreography around a not so familiar Goddess.It was a beautiful piece.Isis wings,elaborate veil work,swirling turquoise silk simulating the Nile.Dazzling.

So who is Anket?The Goddess of the island of Sahal,near the First Cataract of the Nile shown as a woman who wears a crown of ostrich feathers.Daughter of Satet,wife of Khnemu.Together,they formed the Triad of Elephantine Island.Originally,Anket was a water Goddess from Sudan.Her name means,"to embrace"interpreted to mean her embrace during the annual Nile floods.

This year I changed my dance style to Egyptian more suited for a soloist, dumped the old choreography, designed new costumes(silk tunics,intricate gold trim,long flowing sashes all dyed soft&vibrant colors).They reminded me of the female attendants engraved at ancient Egyptian temples dedicated to their Goddess.The new troupe name just seemed right.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Just when I thought I had completed the troupe's new choreography to Mustafa Amar's "Elsoud Ayounda" I learned there was a longer version after I watched a dancer at Cafe Bellie in Berkeley perform the piece. I had to scurry to add another ending. I think I spent and entire afternoon looking for the extended version. Turns out it was a song from the late '90 album "Nar al Hob". You have to check out the video version of the song. It's a kick!

I like the new ending better. Which reminds me to always check out a particular song before putting it together. Either way, we've got a few rehearsals before we perform the piece at the "Annual African American Breast Cancer Conference" on May 19th.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Why do you want to become a belly dancer? Is it the music? Captured by a desire to explore a different culture or dance form. Was it after you saw a dancer in a restaurant, nightclub, street faire or dance festival? How 'bout the glitz, glamor and sensuality of it? Where you convinced this dance was indifferent to size, shape and color? Was it to flatten your abs? For me all of the above. But, there was also a more sublime connection to things Egyptian.

It happened on my first trip with Ma to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She loved that museum. Taking me meant I was a big girl now. I remember her saying, "Don't touch anything!" The same way she said it when we went to Filene's or Jordans. "Look but don't touch", she'd say.

We walked through room after room after room. Huge oil paintings. Artifacts locked in softly lit display cases. Statues representing this and that old culture. Old European furniture. Remember, I was a kid. Truthfully most of it was boring. I'd had enough and got that face kids get about how they're hungry or their feet hurt. Just about the time I started pouting we descended to the bottom floor.

It was cold. Dark and kinda creepy. I got goose bumps on my arms. The tall stones and straight ahead staring faces on the smooth carved statues scared me. What was this? I moved closer to Ma. What looked like stone coffins were lined up around the rooms with funny looking writings on them. In every case elaborate jewelry, cups, plates and small hand carved statues. No soft lighting here. I couldn't resist. And, despite my mother's warnings I ran my hand on as many cool, smooth dark and light stones I could.

I often returned to the museum when I needed a place to sit and think. Later still I'd roll my baby through and wander around looking at old oil paintings and works of one featured artist or another. But I always ended up in the chilly Egyptian rooms.

Ma loved museums. And living in Boston all her life didn't stop her from making herself at home in any place displaying art and culture, especially that place. Not many black folks went there. She didn't care. with a sister, friend or colleague they'd look at the new stuff and end in the fancy tea room, no doubt set up for the hoity toity Boston elite ladies, drink tea and, I kid you not, eat little sandwiches with pink cream cheese and cucumbers as someone played the violin or harp.

On one of those visits Ma bought me this beautiful elaborately beaded belt. It wasn't big enough to go around my hips but, her way of acknowledging and supporting my endeavors to become a belly dancer. I later incorporated it into one of my most beautiful dance belts.

Before Ma died, a visit to the museum was our last outing together. It had been years since I visited that place. In fact, years since I traveled back to Boston. I rented a car and talked her into going even though I knew she didn't feel good. Ma was dying from cancer. It wasn't easy to get her in and out of the car but, that wasn't the point, I wanted one more chance to do one of her favorite things with her. We drove through the streets of Boston and pulled up to the side entrance.

I ran in got a wheelchair and rolled my mom through the exhibits. She was tired but still wanted to see as much as she could. Taking the elevator we moved together through the old Egyptian exhibit. It looked smaller than before especially after seeing the scandalous stolen booty in the Louvre in Paris. There I felt like I'd walked into Egypt itself. My mouth fell open and it made me mad to see how much was taken. But, that was another time and as the light faded so did my Ma's.

That's what I meant by the sublime. I became connected to the part of Africa called Egypt, as a girl. And, each time I dance, I honor my mother; the first person to introduce me to Egyptian history, art and culture. isn't it interesting that for me, when I dance everyone can look but not touch.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


My students are putting together their first solos. Are they nervous? You better believe it. Everything's scary the first time. Dancers who've performed for years still get nervous. We fear making a fool of ourselves. Now, I've had my share of embarrassing moments. The worse was the first time I danced at Rakkasah, the biggest belly dance festival, they say, in the world. I dialed that call-in number a hundred times. I was that determined to get in. I picked my music. Put my choreography together, made my costume and practiced 'til I could dance it in my sleep. Looking back, the costume was all wrong though. Actually, it took me years to realize 2-piece costumes do not work on me. And silver spray painted dance slippers - gimme a break.

So there I was. Waiting in the wings all gussied up. Then, "From Richmond California Aaahsataaa...”. The applause died down and I thought "damn that's a huge audience". Later I learned a well-known dancer was next. Anyway, my music shook the hall and I whirled, twirled and shimmied around the stage. Go sata. Go sata. It's ya birthday. Go sata. I felt good. I'd made it through the first half of my dance. And beautiful belt, the one I spent hours sewing various colored beads and fringe on, slid lower and lower. I kept on dancing and it kept on sliddin'.

When the music ended, I did my diva pose and swished off in a grand exit. I felt sweaty, out of breath and proud of myself. Peeling off the fake eyelashes I changed and found my sister. “Great job", she said. Leaning closer she whispered “..but, every time you turned around we could see the crack of your butt.” My eyes got big with that "What you talkin' bout Willis" look on my face. “Every time you turned we could see the crack of your butt.” Ohhh my Goddd! Imagine the crack of your ass exposed to hundreds even thousands of people. Go on laugh. I did when I read this. To this day, I have a hard time looking at that video.

So, make sure you perform your entire dance routine in your complete costume at home. Before you adjust anything, stop and look in the mirror...front and back, if you catch my drift. It's no secret belly dancers use lots of safety pins. Second, choose a costume flattering for your body type. And please no spray painted ballet slippers, they look stupid. Finally and most importantly, don't ever give up!

Monday, February 26, 2007

I threw out all my old choreography. I couldn't listen to those same songs one more time. I figured I'd take a few months to create some new stuff and get back to performing. Not so easy. Not so quick. You see, I'm transitioning from American to Egyptian style belly dance. It's all good though. A few more months of rehearsal, new costumes and we're least I hope so.