Friday, 4 July 2014

A Dancer's Epiphany

Photo courtesy of PDV Photography
There's that brief moment for every dancer when, just before you go on stage, a final thought goes through your head, and that single thought, I have discovered, can make or break how you feel during a performance.

In the past, my usual final thought has generally been something along the lines of "oh please don't let me fuck this up!" or "oh please let me remember the choreography!"

Not helpful.

Oh sure, it's easy to tell other dancers to just relax and enjoy themselves, but remembering to remind yourself of that is a whole other bundle of hip scarves. In recent performances, I have decided that rather than allow my nerves to get the best of me and worry about remembering the dance or hoping I don't trip on my skirt or veil, I have used a single word or simple phrase that embodies the message or feeling I hope to convey. In doing so, I have found that I concentrate more on dancing rather than on just the steps.

Easier said than done, for sure, as often before a show we're happily chatting away with fellow performers or doing last minute touch-ups to our make-up and adjusting costumes, warming up our legs or simply trying to remember to breathe. That said, I have definitely found in my last few performances that getting into a different mind set has made a huge difference in how I feel - and therefore, hopefully - in how I appear on stage.

Strangely the other thing I have discovered, for my solo work, is that the final tech run can do me more harm than good. For example, my solo at The Lavish Project. I was so nervous because of who else was performing that night and who was going to be watching me that I lost the focus I wanted to keep in my mind - seduction (the song, in Medieval English, is about a prostitute trying to seduce a client) - I was on stage before I realized it and into my routine before I remembered to focus on my intention. 

Why and how does this relate to my final tech run?

I was so worried about being "good" that I simply focused on the steps I had choreographed rather than the mood I wanted to share. And since I felt my tech run was lousy (yes, I know, bad dress, good show), I was extra worried before I went to actually perform. Thus I lost my proper focus and felt disconnected from my music.

Not to say the performance was bad. I think it looked okay in hindsight after seeing the video, but what I feel I lost was my connection to the music and how I felt while dancing. Letting myself get all wrapped up in nerves kind of messed with my own satisfaction with my piece.

Taking that into account, the last Dark Salon I opted not to do a tech run of my solo (we did do a couple of runs of the group drum solo but I find group dynamics bring a different energy and that final prep I think helped bring us all together and to focus). I didn't make it in time for doing a tech run of my solo at the Dark Salon in December and it was one of my better performances, so I thought I'd try it again!

While I haven't yet seen the video of either my solo or the drum solo, I felt completely in the moment during both numbers. It was like having an epiphany, that feeling that you are completely aware and focused on the "now." I felt my music, solidified my intention, and went for it. 

I cannot tell you how much better I felt after that show. Both numbers - while I am sure I made some technical mistakes - felt whole and complete. I was there, in the moment, and having a total blast!

And at the end of the day, isn't that why we all do this in the first place?

Now, that said, I may feel different once I see the videos because, like most of us, I tend to be much more critical of my own work and tend to nit pick as I watch myself recorded, but at least, while I was dancing, I felt totally, completely and absolutely in love with what I was doing!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Growing in a Lavish Way!

So as I recently reported, I took part in The Lavish Project Gala Show. While I am not sure it was one of my stronger performances (I don't think I was fully focused before I went on stage) I still feel I did pretty well - video to come!!

As well as performing, I took a full Saturday of workshops - the morning with Samantha Emmanuel and the afternoon with Heather Stants. I was beyond nervous as I am still a baby tribal belly, but I was determined to give it a shot!

The workshops were multi-level, so fortunately I was able to keep up with most of what was going on. Aside from a few moves that were totally new to me, I think I handled myself rather well!

The morning with Sam focused on intention and how to communicate a feeling during a performance. We warmed up with a series of theatre exercises; moving around the room while expressing various feelings. They ranged from being at the beach to being late for an appointment to being a totally bratty three-year-old - so much fun! Then after learning a series of combinations, we broke into smaller groups to create our own mini choreographies. It was fun to work with dancers I don't normally get to work with, including finally meeting a few ladies I only have known from Facebook (Sahra again, it was a pleasure to finally meet you and see your awesome flutters, and Briar, your Phantom of the Opera solo was brilliant!).

Then each group was given an intention and had to express that through the same short combos we had created. I was thrilled our group got the three-year-old - we slammed fists into the floor and stomped thorough our combination in full pout mode - I can't tell you how much fun that was! The other groups had the beach holiday and being late - amazing to see how different a dance is when you put a strong intention in place!

What was particularly exciting for me was Sam's discussion with us of finding a word, intention or emotion to focus on when we do a performance. This is something new I am exploring and was thrilled to hear that this was a technique she used too!

Heather Stants is yoga-based, so we spent the first hour of the afternoon working through a series of poses. Many I already knew, but I am so not a yoga person so it was indeed a challenge holding and even just getting into positions Heather seemed to flow into so naturally. The combinations and steps she worked on with us were simple enough for me to follow and she was stressing the importance of how we move, not just moving. That may seem a odd comment but there really is a distinct difference between going through the motions and feeling them flow through your body.

She directed us on working with shapes and how we can dance a shape - again, may sound a bit different but it was a real eye-opener! She encouraged us to explore, be ourselves and really get into feeling what different shapes felt like in our bodies. It was a great compliment to much of what Audra talked to us about during the Basic Black Intensive and why certain shapes appeal to us. It's so awesome to learn how all these different forms and ideas come together to make a dance!

The show in the evening was fantastic! Several of the workshop participants did pieces and the range of styles and music was just brilliant! No two performances were even remotely similar so it was an amazing display of fusion and tribal styles from dancers across North America, both troupes and soloists.

The second act with Audra, Sam and the Heathers was a delight to watch. Seeing four very talented and unique ladies come together to create one masterpiece was so exciting to see. They moved seamlessly and I actually think I saw Audra smile on stage (something she admits to not doing all that often)! The solos, duets and group segments flowed like water across the floor and was completely engaging. I admit I was disappointed when they were done!

I absolutely loved the experience and really hope The Dark Side hosts something like it again in the future. Having the chance to work with such internationally renowned stars up close and personal was so inspiring.

Look for an article on the Bellydance in Toronto website in the future. I am working with Heather Labonte on an article about where the idea for The Lavish Project came from and the group's experiences during their series of workshops and rehearsals!

Thursday, 29 May 2014

"Yes, we're all individuals!" (I'm not)

Well, it's almost here! I have been anticipating this coming Saturday's Lavish Project Gala Show at The Dark Side for a good few months - amazing how fast time flies!

While I had a minor "OMG the show is in a week and I totally suck what the hell was I thinking?!" meltdown last Sunday, I am feeling considerably better as the week and my practicing progresses. It's actually not that unusual for me to have a pre-show panic like this, but that doesn't mean I wasn't totally ready to throw in the veil and give up.

Alas, I am a Scorpio. We are stubborn chicks and tend to not give up.

Anyway, I mentioned in my last post that Audra was looking for everyone to dance in their own style rather than expecting everyone would be pure "Tribal." I've actually been thinking about that a lot lately and have had a few revelations.

Think of any truly noteworthy bellydancer and you can point to something about them that is unique. I'm not referring to how they handle technique, though that is certainly a part of it, but there is often an inner light, an energy, that is all their own, not so much what they do as how they do it. When I took a pro dancer course with Mayada a couple of years ago, she wanted us all to find something that was our "thing;" something we apply to every performance that we would become known for (I wanted to be the chick with the wicked shimmy!). Yet as I continue on my own journey of discovery I think there is even more to it than that. I don't actually think you can even really put a label on it, but it is distinct.

For example, I commented on a fellow bellydancer's video, saying that it was wonderful and I could clearly see the influence of a specific instructor I knew she worked with a great deal. She wrote me back and asked me to clarify, as she was working to develop her own style, not be a copy of someone else. I was worried I had insulted her where I was merely in my naivety saying she reminded me of someone I admired, but then the light bulb went off and I experienced the "a-ha!" of what she meant.

I love Violet Scrap, but what if every other Tribal dancer out there danced exactly like her, using music that is typical of her choices and wearing costumes that looked the same? Rachel Brice is also a goddess, but part of what makes her so is she is Rachel Brice. I love to watch the Serpentina North Ensemble and Shades of Araby perform, but that's because - while they are both ATS troupes - they are unique in their own ways and that's exciting.

How boring would bellydance shows be if every dancer looked like a carbon copy of the dancer before them? Every troupe the same patterns, costumes, music?

This is, I think, the difference between studying with someone to gain technical experience and studying with someone to be exactly like them (yes, Audra, I finally think I understand what you've been trying to hammer into my noggin all year!). I mean, I know we've all seen a performer do something exceptionally cool and said "OMG I so want to learn how to do that!", but I don't think we really mean that we want to BE that person (okay, true, there are days when I really wish I was Scarlett Johansson but you know what I mean...). I think we mean we want to learn some of their moves to incorporate (because that's ultimately the reason to then go study with that person) into our own personal bag of tricks.

I know when I work on a choreography that I picked up a particular hip combo from Mayada, a fun twist move from Zahira or an arm path from Audra, but that's where it becomes my style. I'm selecting the bits of technique I really like and can do well and mixing them into my own dance cocktail. I can't label it, I don't know what to call and I don't know that it really needs a name. It's just, well, Nashita's Dance.

Hope to see you Saturday night at The Dark Side! Doors open at 7:30pm and the show is at 8pm. The line up is awesome and it promises to be a magical event!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Choreography Chronicles

At the end of May, I have the honour of being one of the performers at The Dark Side Studio's Lavish Project with Samantha Emanuel and Heather Stants. I'm excited and very, very nervous!

I've decided for this performance that I will be taking the very first song I ever did a solo to and revamping it (I will also be giving it a first run May 11th at Dancenette!). The song is called Dringo Bell by the Medieval Babes. They are a classical choral ensemble from England and sing in Middle English. All the instruments are traditional as well and the music is haunting and beautiful.

I had been looking for an opportunity to revisit the original choreography that I first did nine years ago, because I love the song and wanted to see what more I could do with it, now that I have several more years of dance behind me and technique from a variety of instructors to play with. This show seemed like the perfect opportunity.

At first I had a panic attack when I realized I was performing at a Dark Side show and my grasp of Tribal Fusion technique is still tentative as I slowly move up from Basic Black to Lavender and Turquoise. Oh sure, I'm starting to understand it better and am remembering what muscles I should be using as I execute this new technique, but still, I've barely gotten my feet wet and became worried I would be the obvious amateur in the show.

Fortunately, Audra is not looking for everyone to be dancing the same style or using the same base technique - phew! She stressed that the idea was to have dancers all performing in their own style and in their own voice. That certainly took a massive amount of stress off as I began to work out how my choreography would flow.

I am, for this go around, mixing some classical Egyptian technique with some of the new modern bellydance technique I have been learning from Audra. Heck, there may even be a couple of ballet moves where the movement fits!

Something new I learned from the Creating Choreography workshop I took with Audra last summer is finding my intention. For me, this means finding the story in the music that I am trying to tell and that I want the audience to be able to experience. So, instead of simply trying to figure out what steps simply fit the phrases of music, I am focusing on what movements best express the mood I am trying to set so my story or emotional intent is clear.

I have so far only done one choreography using this new focus technique and the response from other dancers was amazing! I hadn't realized how different going up on stage and thinking "surrender" as my intention rather than "please god, don't let me forget my dance!" It even felt different up on stage with that focus, and while I did have a couple of missteps (yes, pun intended!) the final product was very different than what I had been doing in the past:

So, now as I go through and make my choreography notes, I'm not just noting timing, steps, pacing, directions and arm paths, I am also including what I want to be saying during each phrase of the music.

I have right now what I will call a rough draft of the dance. I am stuck on a couple of technical things and not totally happy with how a couple of phrases are joining together, but that's all a part of the creative process.

I've also decided to let go of the whole concept of "getting it right." What I mean by that is that while I am indeed working out set steps and patterns to fit the story and the mood, I am also allowing myself some freedom and being looser about the actual steps themselves. I am hoping that by giving myself permission to let go a bit, I can get over the bump of coming off stage and agonizing about a missed hip drop. My energy will instead be going into "did I get the story out?"

In no way does this mean I will not be focusing on nailing my technique and drilling, drilling, drilling, but I am curious to see how much different my attitude towards my actual performance changes based on just letting go and dancing.

Stay tuned for further updates and, of course, video of the final product once it has been performed!!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Performance Notes

This weekend, I am thrilled to be performing at my very First This Ain't Egypt student showcase at The Darkside Studio. It won't be my first time dancing at The Dark Side but it will be my first time doing a class choreography with my Basic Black class.
It's a very cool experience for me because while I have performed a lot, there are ladies in my class who have never done a show before and I am finding their nervous excitement to be very energizing. It's going to be a really neat experience dancing with people who are new to shows and don't yet know the power and wonderful, uplifting feeling that you get after a job well done, taking that very first step to becoming a bellydancer and knowing you have a great group of women standing with you, sharing the moment when the lights dim, your first pose is struck and the music starts. 

What has also been a very interesting experience during this process is the information and shared wisdom your teacher brings to the table in helping a group get ready for a performance, and rather than simply tune it all out as things I presume to already know about, I've taken this opportunity to really step back into my beginner dancer brain and remember why everything Audra is sharing with the class is so vitally important. Not just for this one single show, but for every performance - group or solo, amateur or pro - going forward during a dancer's career.

Some of this is very basic and probably most of you know this information like the back of your own hand, but like being an advanced dancer and going back to take a beginner level class to go back over some basic technique every so often because it helps keep your form in check, going over basic performance etiquitte and process is also good to be reminded of once in a while. 

The best notes I've taken again and wanted to share may seem obvious but really, how often do we forget to look at the audience, stay centred and breathe?

So, here are my take-aways that will help me not only this Saturday night but for many other nights and days to come:

1. The audience is on your side. They are not there to pick you apart, wish you ill or hope you fall on your butt. Especially for something like a student show where everyone is there to see another student and possibly for the first time. They are eager to see you do well. 

2. Your classmates are on your side. While maybe relying on other dancers in your group to know and remember the choreography for you is kinda cheating, there is nothing wrong with looking beside you to give a fellow dancer a smile and a reminder they aren't up there alone, that their success is your success.

3. Spacing, spacing, spacing! Having danced with troupes certainly helps remind me to watch the others around me to know if I am out of sync or out of line, but it never hurts to be reminded that as a student class or a professional troupe, you are dancing together and the choreography looks better when everyone remembers they aren't alone.

4. Don't freak out as soon as you get off stage if you think you made a mistake. The audience can feel that kind of negative energy and so can other dancers waiting to go on next. I am as guilty of this as any other performer and have lost count of the times I've quite literally stormed off a stage, angry at myself for screwing up or freaked that my error caused anxiety for another dancer on stage with me. Let it go. 

5. For the love of all things shinny, SMILE!!!!!!! If you look like you're having a good time, the audience feels you are enjoying yourself and it gives them permission to have a good time too! I have danced with others who are technically amazing dancers, but then had negative feedback from the audience about them because they either look at the ground the entire time or employ a look of abject terror onstage. Relax! We do this for fun, remember???

6. Enjoy and revel in the process of getting ready. I love getting "into" bellydancer mode! I use the time I take to do my make-up and hair to really breathe, concentrate on my work and feel how each stroke of the liquid liner, touch of the blush brush and handfuls of glitter gets me into performance mode. I make sure I leave myself lots of prep time so I can enjoy getting all dolled up!

7. Everyone has their own way of getting ready backstage. Some people get super hyper and bouncy, others prefer to lock themselves into their own head space by listening to their music, meditating or simply taking a few minutes to breathe and ground themselves. Respect everyone's space and prep.

8. Be available to help backstage if you can. Some people have quick costume changes and knowing you have an extra pair (or three!) of hands to fasten clips and double check costumes are secure is invaluable!

9. Cheer your fellows on! Be proud of everyone and share your happiness!

10. If a piece of your costume falls off, kick it away and keep dancing. No one really cares or notices if a bracelet falls off your your hair band, so the less you make of it the less likely anyone will even notice it happened. We've all had wardrobe malfunctions and none of them are ever serious enough to ruin a performance.

Above all remember to relax and have a good time. Performing is fun and hearing an audience cheer, applaud and zagreet away is the best feeling in the world!!!