Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bellydance and Finances

So one of my 2012 goals, both personally and professionally, is to do a better job at accounting. This is funny if you know me in real life where I run a small business, have an MBA and spend most of my days bookkeeping. I think this is why I slack off after hours, I am burnt out!

To kick this goal off, I have made a few simple changes that will help me get in better control of my finances.

Paypal: Paypal has sent notices to several of colleagues who have business accounts and receive money as "personal." Sending money this way avoids Paypal's fees and I think they have caught on that some people use this type of transaction even if they sell goods. I do a lot of personal shopping with my Paypal but usually have a balance because many of my students use it to pay for classes. For this reason, I have opened a 2nd personal account. Paypal let's you have one business and none personal account and I am going to take advantage of this. They won't let you duplicate funding sources but I have a business checking account and a credit card dedicated to dance.
In doing my end of year reporting, I saw how much I paid in Paypal Fees last year. When I first started taking Paypal for classes, I chose to eat the fee so the cost was the same for students no matter how they paid. Now that I have seen how much that cost me I decided to add the fee into the cost of paying online. I know many other teaching and businesses that do this. Since ,until now, I had been mixing personal with business on Paypal and my credit cards; doing my end of year finances were kind of tedious if I didn't sort things out pretty regularly. I was using Quickbooks Simple Start (I use Quickbooks Pro at work so it made sense to me). QB Simple is easy but is not really more than an electronic check register that will total things for you. There is also only a check register and credit card register so adding in Paypal was difficult. All this prompted me to look for something better. Enter I found a review and recommendation from PCWorld, and then checked a few other reputable sources.
Here's why I like it. It can import transactions from most major banks, credit cards, and Paypal. It will actually import sales info from sources such as Etsy as well. If you have ever used Mint (something else I recommend), it is very similar. One of the best features is that not only can you add custom categories, one of the preset categories is Personal Expense. Once you mark something as a Personal Expense (or Personal Income) it gets removed from all the reports. It also separates out the Paypal Fees, which is how I came to the conclusion above.

I have also set up a Square account so I can take Credit Card payments in class. I am going to add on the 2.75% that Square charges into my rate.

I feel really positive about all of this. My life seems easier already :)

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Cost of a Good Education

I read a lot about performance undercutters on various message boards and online groups. Performers then often discuss the hidden costs of performing. Costumes, lessons, make-up, music, travel time and many other factors affect the cost of hiring a professional performer.

Here a few articles on Bellydance Performer's rates:
Shems: Behind the Rates
Mary: The High Cost of Rates
Shira: Why do you charge so much for only 15 minutes of dancing?

But today I am talking about the true cost of teaching a bellydance class and how I set my rates.

So students want to know why Bellydance classes aren't as low cost as other fitness classes, or don't come free with gym membership.

Well, for one bellydance is just that, dance. It is not a fitness class where an instructor can do the same basic steps over and over for the advantage of caloric burn (there are classes like this but they should supplement a regular dance regime). Being a bellydance instructor means a lot more than just showing up to class and leading a session of follow the bouncing butt.

An instructor spend on average 3 hours outside of class time for every hour of teaching. This time is spent selecting music, choreographing, writing notes, watching videos, making videos and training.
There is also a financial and time commitment of the instructors own continuing education. Bellydance does not have a finite end point. There isn't a book, that when you get to the end you know every thing there is to know about bellydance. There are countless books, dvds and workshops to be studied. I find it easy to attend at least one major workshop per month within driving distance. Because this dance comes from a historical and geographical context, it is important that good instructors study dance history, world history and keep up with how the geopolitical factors of today affect bellydance.
Even if you are only teaching one specific style, you owe it to your students to know enough about other styles that you can recommend good instructors and give them some sort of context of how your style differs and relates.
Aside from these exhaustive costs and time commitments, there are the direct costs of studio rent, liability insurance and advertising. For those instructors lucky enough to own their own studio then they pay more in utilities and higher rates on business and liability insurance.
All this goes into what an instructor charges for his/her classes.

Now I am not trying to make you say," oh 'Azraa, how committed you are to your students." The thing is, I love teaching.  Nothing makes me happier than when I see a student execute something I thought them, or recite a bit of history that I know they learned from me.
I just want people to understand that we, the dance teachers, aren't in it for the money. We can't be. To do all this, and to really work hard to be the best you can be and to make your students the best they can be well, you have to really be committed and practically commit-able.

It would also be a lot easier for me to say, "well, I make enough at my day job that I can teach for free." Sure I would have people lined up outside to take my classes, but that devalues the product we are trying to sell. A good quality dance education is worth something, until you make it worthless. I must also consider my fellow artists and instructors who do make their living from performing and teaching. Charging business sustainable rates means that all instructors whether part-time or full-time can support their business. So not only am I giving value to my classes which are definitely worth value but setting a standard so that other artists/performers/instructors can compete.
"But 'Azraa," you say. "why would you want competition?" Well, in truth, I don't. But I also don't want to drive competition away because I am the cheapest in town. That works for big box stores and corporate conglomerates but I am an artist and an educator. If I am going to drive the competition away it will be by being the best. And as long as the market is not over-saturated, a little competition is healthy. In this business , it is great to have other instructors and dancers who you can work with to put on events, have as guest artists, refer gigs to if you are booked up....there are plenty of reasons to be thankful for a bellydance community of more than just one. Granted, this only counts if you community is made up of reputable and well educated dancers, but that's a blog post for another day.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Borrowed Post: Glitter Gives Back

I don't often use the share on your own blog feature of google reader but what better way to make sure everyone sees this post from Najla at More Than a Mirage. I wanted to re-post this for two reasons. 1. Dance camp attendee or not, you might want to give 2. If you love this but would rather donate close to home then consider starting your own charitable organization like the Aria Dance Foundation and share the joy and giving nature of the bellydancers in your life with your community.

Original Post from More than a Mirage - Glitter Gives Back:
Although we are in the heat of the Texas summer, I know that I’m already dreaming of cooler weather and cabaret dance camp this fall. For those of you who don’t attend regularly, this is (in my opinion) a must-attend event for belly dancers. Not only do you have the opportunity to study with amazing and talented instructors, but you also have the chance to bond and share time with other dancers in a beautiful, serene environment. The Texas hill country has always been the perfect setting for our women’s-only retreat and this year I’m pleased to announce that Bahaia and I are teaming up to organize our first community service project for camp, called “Glitter Gives Back”

We will be making and delivering care packages for women and kids who are victims of domestic abuse and battery and are living in a shelter. We have the luxury each year at camp to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and wonderful companionship and love of all the women who attend, and I want to take this same love and support and share it with women who are in need. So, I chose Hill Country Cares, a non-profit association that has been around since 1986 and serves five counties in Central Texas to be the recipients of our service project.

They provide prevention, intervention, and recovery services for women in need, not only for women who live close to our camp, but often for women who travel much further and are sent there to escape their abuser. Our goal is to create 50 care packages containing basic hygiene products for women and 15 care packages for children. These packages will not necessarily be used for women who are currently living at the shelter, but will be handed out to incoming women and kids over the next few months. Originally my plan was for 50 packages (one for each camper), but after talking with the volunteer coordinator about their needs I’m upping the ante a bit and adding some bags for kids.

Blank bags, all ready to decorate. And for you with the wild imaginations, it's a green toothbrush holder ladies!

Our care packages will be delivered in canvas tote bags that can be used to store their supplies. The fun part is that we will decorate all these bags the first night of camp, along with our ritual t-shirt decorating. I already warned the shelter that there may be a plethora of glitter and sparkles in our bags and they were tickled by the idea of having something fun to share with these women and kids.

We will also have cards to sign (and add personal comments if you wish), and we’ll be taking photos share. My hope is that we can bring a smile to someone’s face and let them know that despite their immediate crisis, we are sending them strength and love. I struggle to imagine how someone would feel to flee their home because of violence, and end up at a shelter without their own toothbrush. So, the goal is to make sure women will have some basic products including shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, razors, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and body lotion to call their own.

Basic supplies for the womens' bag

For the kids, the shelter asked for kid-friendly products like toothpaste in fun flavors, bubble bath, and kids’ shampoo. A basic bag for women will cost around $25, and for kids $15, but with some smart shopping, and creativity I hope we can do more than just a basic bag for everyone, I’m hoping we can add some extra treats! To see a list of the basic items we’ll be providing, as well as suggestions on additional items to include check out this file.

Basic supplies for kiddos...any ideas on other things we can add?

If you’re a camper, would-be-camper, or just love the idea, here’s what we need you to do! We’ll be putting up a link to a PayPal account very shortly where you can donate, or ask friends, family and co-workers to assist. You can:
  • Sponsor the cost of an entire package for either a woman or child.
  • Collect financial donations to help off-set costs. (maybe get creative and do some fundraising)
  • Collect product donations (for example, ask your dentist for extra toothbrushes), although this may only work for those of us living close by. We wouldn't want you flying in with a case of deodorant…that could cause all sorts of problems during the pat down!
  • Consider throwing an extra tube of toothpaste, bottle of shampoo, or deodorant into your shopping cart over the new few months.
  • Check your house for unopened, products that could be added in addition to the basic needs. (Keep in mind we’ll have limited space in our bags). For these little additions, sample sizes will work, we just want to make sure the basic needs are not trial or travel sized.
  • Consider bringing a small keepsake or memento that you can add to a bag. Think about what would make you smile if you found it among your bag of goodies.
  • Brainstorm on ideas for kid’s bags, take up donations from other families in the area, or if you have kids involve them in the process of collecting supplies. (I’m not a Mom so my ideas are limited.)
We’ll be posting more information as we go, and sending out updates on what we have and what we still need. I have to say that this project really excites me. I have been blessed in my life because I have never suffered abuse, violence or rape. However, I do know many women who have had to deal with these circumstances, and it breaks my heart to know that this happens to women on a frequent basis. I think that as belly dancers, we understand the strength of our community and our dance and I look forward to sharing that with other women who need that love and support. I have faith that we can all make this project a success and that our Glitter Gives Back program becomes a well-loved tradition at camp and beyond!

Friday, September 23, 2011

What you get out of a workshop

I often tell of how as a beginning dancer I only wanted workshop with choreography. Not combos but full out choreography, because then I felt I had something I can use. This is extra funny since I don't think I ever once used one of these choreographies until I pulled out two 4 year old workshop notes recently.
Now I find it is the opposite. Unless I am studying with someone who is truly a master of choreography like Yousry Sharif then I am not interested in it. I want technique, history, methodology, and anything else that will advance my dancing be it improv or choreography.
But then the question becomes, when do we use this? Is it a waste if you spend $200 and two days of your time on a workshop and don't come home dancing like the instructor or growing your own dancing in leaps and bounds.
I think of each class, each workshop, each instructor, and each topic like a drop in a bucket. The bucket is all the things you have at your disposal when you dance. Each workshop may only add one new drop or it may add a spoonful, either way every drop is worth something. As our buckets fill so we grow as dancers, teachers and performers.
I never feel like I need to remember or assimilate everything I learn, just add a few drops here and there. It makes learning more fun and it makes me want to travel around and get splash or new ideas from here, there and everywhere.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Organizing Your Belly Dance Notes

After I posted the "Hoarding" confession regarding my bellydance media and notes, dancer Naima asked:

So what is your recommendation on sorting notes? I have workshop hand outs, workshop choreos, my choreos, my notes, zill/music, etc. I just can't seem to decide how I want to organize them. Everything is in a big binder in order I obtained them only. I tried sorting once and got overwhelmed because I couldn't decide how to sort them.

That is an EXCELLENT question, and I would love to address it. Please keep in mind I am NOT the most organized person on the planet by ANY means, and what works for me may only confuse other people! But I've tried a few systems before, and I'll give you the rundown on five of what appear to be the most common. I personally actually use a combination of systems, with multiple copies of notes in multiple places, and organized mostly by subject matter, so I sort of blend all of them.

(FYI - When I'm discussing notes, I'm talking about printed copies. I'm very old-school and don't like searching the computer for digital versions of my notes. I like to see them printed out in black and white. However, a more eco-friendly approach would be to scan and digitize all those notes and organize them in your computer using one or more of these systems. That keeps the clutter down, prevents you from spending a month's pay on sheet protectors, and allows you to search your files by keyword, which I imagine would be infinitely helpful! Don't forget to back up your files or save them to Google documents, where you can access them from any computer.)

First let's talk about the types of notes we're dealing with:
  1. Class handouts describing what you're learning in class that week.
  2. Workshop handouts given by the instructor to either help you remember concepts or to give additional reference material to what she/he is teaching.
  3. The almost mandatory "list of bellydance moves I've learned" that every student at least attempts to create at some point in her education.
  4. Notes you've taken by hand at workshops or during classes
  5. Notes you've taken on DVDs (instructional or performance) or on live shows you've seen.
  6. Notes you've taken on your own performances or videotaped practice sessions, or from private lessons or other suggestions.
  7. Choreography notes: either yours or someone's else's.
  8. Notes you've taken on non-dance subjects, like music, culture, language, costuming, song lyrics, etc.
If you've never considered taking written notes on any of the above, now is the time to consider doing so. You can learn a lot from disecting and analyzing a videotaped practice session, or from taking notes at a show, or from making that "list of moves" that we all seem to acquire during our early years of education.

Now how to organize them? Let's look at a few different approaches:

1. Chronological
2. Instructor-based
3. Subject-based
4. Combinations and movements only
5. Personal practice system only


Any student who has been taking class for more than 6 months or so probably has a fistful of class handouts, maybe a few workshop notes, and that "list of bellydance movements." Keeping a file folder or binder full of those notes in chronological order is probably the first "system" that most students try. This works great for a few months or years, but at some point it becomes a lot of work to go back through those notes to find a meaningful bit of information.

Personally, I still have all the original notes I received in class or in workshops, (and also printed copies of the handwritten notes I took during those workshops) stored chronologically in a couple of binders, but really more for sentimental reasons. I think of it as my dance scrapbook, more than an actual USABLE resource. While I do believe that thumbing through your "dance scrapbook" can be a healthy experience, letting you see what you've learned and how you've grown over time, it's probably not the BEST system for making use of your notes, especially if they have expanded into larger and larger binders, or even into multiple binders (or in some serious cases, into their own room in the house!)

If you choose this system, I would recommend the following:
  • Separate the pages into years or months or decades -- whatever works for you. Use divider pages to keep the sections clear.
  • Make an INDEX page for the beginning of your binder. Don't feel the need to get overly specific, but general notes like "Stage presence and dynamics, see pps 12, 189, 200" or "Dancing for Lebanese Wedding -- see pps 34, 56, 78." Or "Saidi dance/music pps 12, 18, 145" (or if you don't do page numbers, you can use colored sticky tabs for each topic, or mention the instructor and the date/year.)
  • Make friends with paper flags, post-it-notes, highlighting, and any other attention-grabbing devices, and use them. Flag the important stuff (or what you deem important today.) Highlight the stuff you want to remember.
  • READ your notes! It seems obvious, I know, but who wants to read a bunch of notes when there's dancing to do! Seriously, get a cup of tea and some cookies and just sit down and read through them on a regular basis: once a week for relatively new students; once a month or once every two months if you have more experience, or as your note collection grows. Read through them daily if you're super-motivated or need ideas for your daily practice material.
  • If you attend a workshop or class, take hand-written notes on the material. This is a general rule and applies to all systems. TYPE OUT YOUR NOTES (or at least rewrite them) VERY SOON AFTER THE CLASS IS OVER. This is key -- don't be like me and wait until almost a year later to message your dance partners and ask "What was that funny Reda step thingie we did in Sahra's class last spring right before lunch, do you remember? I can't read my notes." They will usually not remember, or if they do, will get tired of you asking. Rewrite the notes no longer than a week after the class. Place the rewritten notes in chronological order in your binder, alongside any handouts you got at the workshop. (Many times your notes will help you make sense of the abbreviated notes on the handouts, so you'll want to keep them together.)
  • Keep your "list of moves" in the front of the binder, and don't be afraid to add to it on a regular basis, or abandon it as you see fit. (I made a spreadsheet on the computer and after the thing grew to over 3 pages, I abandoned it. But it was a great reference at first, and probably could be pretty useful if I ever would go back and rethink it.) But more on that later.


This could be a pretty useful system if you spent a lot of time studying from or attending multiple workshops with a handful of teachers, or if you enjoy training in multiple "styles."

I worked with this system for a while, and I still use it to some degree. I had individual binders for Suhaila Salimpour class, workshop, choreography, and general notes; Shareen el Safy workshop, choreography, and dvd notes; Ansuya class, workshop, and dvd notes; Tribal workshop notes -- etc. (Alternately you can section off one big binder into compartments for each "style.")

Currently I have a big binder that's all notes on "Egyptian Style" from instructors like Tito, Dina, Raqia, Shareen el Safy, Sahra Kent, Ranya Renee, Faten Salama, and my teacher Nashwa. (I suppose I should actually create a sub-section of the binder for just Reda Troupe technique, and maybe I'll get around to doing that someday.) I read through this one about once a month, and try to work through the concepts and practice the movements at least once a month.

The advantage to this system is that you keep all of your notes regarding special "techniques" or "methods" all together. This can help a lot if you are trying to focus on or specialize in a particular technique at that time. Having a binder for Tribal and a binder for Egyptian style makes it easy to create a personal practice session based around one concept or the other. I currently have one binder for Suhaila/Jamila material (and nothing but Suhaila/Jamila material) so when I feel inspired to work with her method, I pull that binder out and practice whatever I turn to.

The disadvantage to this system is that if you don't do extensive study with any one method or any one instructor, then you'll just end up with a bunch of mostly empty binders. Also, it can be difficult reconciling what two instructors tell you when that instruction differs. I have movement notes from one dancer that say "never start in the front" and notes from another dancer that say "always start in the front." This system is best left to the student who understands the variances in the "continuum" of a chosen style or method.

My recommendations for using this system:
  • Don't try it if you are a very eclectic student, studying from multiple instructors and in multiple styles or disciplines, unless you really really really want to be able to focus on each system individually.
  • Make use of that index page. Instructors like Shareen el Safy often teach choreographies and include detailed information about the music and the composer, or the first dancer to dance to that piece of music. You don't want to lose this info, so make a note of it on your index page.
  • Consider adding additional notes, comparing and contrasting different instructors and different methods. (Learning Reda technique is good. Comparing Reda technique to general Oriental dance technique, looking at what was changed and stylized, and anticipating what Reda would do with movements and choreographies you've already learned is even better!)


Sorting by subject can be a relatively organized system, but it's also the most unwieldy system when you're dealing with a lot of notes. I use a modified version of this system, with multiple copies of notes in different locations: I have a file cabinet full of individual file folders on subjects from Algerian dance to Zeffa, and several binders devoted to specific subjects: choreographies, Egyptian dance, personal practice notes, performance analyses, etc.

Consider the following when putting together a subject-based system:
  • Keep separate binders or files for subjects like costuming, ethnic or region-specific dances, music theory, music lyrics, Arabic language, and Middle Eastern culture. These subjects can easily grow into very very large stores of information, and if you can separate them out, it will help you access all the material more easily.
  • Keeping a binder solely devoted to choreographies can be a great resource when you need to plan a show or work on a piece you learned two or three years ago. I like to thumb through mine every now and then for an old choreography to "resurrect" for a hafla.
  • Make friends with someone who owns a photocopier. Or scan your original note sheets and print out as many copies as you need in order to file those notes in all of the appropriate places. I have Habiba's notes on Andalusian dance choreography in three places: once in the original chronological "dance scrapbook" binder, again in the file on Andalusian dance, and again in the binder full of choreographies.
  • Subject-based notes can be great for concepts and ideas that maybe you don't think about during every practice session. I have a binder I've named "Performance Study Guide" and in it are copies of all my notes on stage dynamics, presentation and performance skills, choreographic theory, improvisation, and anything I feel I need to consider when preparing a new dance for performance. Another binder is all notes on concepts that I want to include my classes: ideas on how to vary the texture or dynamics of a movement, exercises for improvisation, classroom games, etc.
  • Although you can make one binder for all of your "Notes on DVDs" it's probably more helpful to break down those notes into individual subjects too. If the DVD focuses more on concepts in dance or movement rather than specific technique tips, you might get more use out of the DVD and your notes on it if you filed those notes in your "Performance Study Guide" binder, or your teaching binder.
  • Don't let this system get out of hand. If you have a file cabinet or big book shelf and are comfortable with 100 individual files/binders on 100 individual topics, then great! But if you find yourself overwhelmed by multiple files/binders full of information you're not even sure what to do with, then consider just picking a topic or two and focusing on those for a while. It's not necessary to keep a detailed separate binder on Tunisian rhythms if you aren't currently working on Tunisian dance. Keep those notes in the original binder or folder, (or make one big file of "stuff to work on later,") put that binder on the shelf (or put the file in the cabinet) and come back to it when you feel ready. It is actually possible to over-organize. Don't let that happen!


This is the least helpful system to most advanced dancers, because at some point we realize that the list of moves we started during the first week of class has either (a) gotten way too ridiculously long, or (b) pretty much topped out at a total of 10-25 by just describing the movement shapes. For a new student, it's a great resource. But don't stop there.

Some instructors suggest that students make notecards of their movements, sorting them by "sharp" or "soft" or "traveling" moves. I think this is a great approach for learning choreography and improvisation. We do tend to grow out of a need for this after a certain amount of experience, though, and we want to explore more facets of the dance other than just movement.

If you ONLY keep notes on movements, you're missing out on the music and the culture and the real spices that infuse our dance and keep it fun and exciting. Consider keeping those workshop handouts too. Consider taking notes that aren't centered around the movements themselves. You'll be a much more well-rounded dancer in the long run, and you'll get a lot more out of your classroom and workshop experience.

If you like to keep notes on combinations, do you find yourself ever actually going back and reviewing or USING those combinations? If not, consider making a simple practice choreography using only the combinations from a particular DVD or from a single workshop. See if you can vary and change up the combination enough to make it really fit the music like a glove. That's what your instructors want you to learn from those combo workshops and DVDs. Don't collect combos like baseball cards -- USE THEM!


This one works for some people, but not me. Basically this theory is to throw away old notes on stuff you already know and only keep the notes on things/movements/concepts you haven't yet mastered. I hesitate to throw any notes away because I never know what I might forget (and also because I'm an information hoarder.)

So I modify this. I have my "Personal" binder, wherein I keep my notes on personal practice critiques, my analyses of videotaped performances of both myself and the classic dancers, personal practice goals, copies of notes taken on DVDs I'm working with (like Ranya Renee's Balady DVD and Nadia Jamal's Improvisational Tooklit), and notes relevant to whatever concept or choreography I'm currently working on. It's my "to do" list, sort of. But I still keep all the other notes in their original forms. I just can't bear to throw them away!!

So as you can see, I use modified versions of most of these systems. Yes, it means a lot of paper and sheet protectors. Yes, it means a whole file cabinet of notes and book shelf full of binders. But I like being able to go into my study and pull out the binder on Egyptian Musical Studies, for instance, and have access to all my notes on music in Egypt. I like to look through the binder on Suhaila method for inspiration in creating a Suhaila-style finger cymbal drum solo. I like being able to grab the "Egyptian style" binder to compare modern Egyptian dancers with my notes on those from the Golden Age, or to contrast all the variations of the "Jewel" step. And I like to thumb back through the years of workshop notes in my chronologically-ordered "Dance scrapbook" if only to giggle over what was just SO HARD in those first years, and puzzle over why I ever thought Hadia's "Tales of the Sahara" choreography was too complicated for me.

Anyway, this is what I've gathered over the years on ways to organize my dance notes. I hope this information is of some value to you dear readers, and especially to Naima, who inspired this blog post. And please, if you have a different system or found a way that works for you, leave me a note in the comments section!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Confessions of a Belly Dance Hoarder ...

Hello. My name is Amanda/Aziyade. And I'm a belly dance hoarder.

Not the costuming kind -- I have 6 costumes, I think, and that's just because I needed more folkloric looking ones for some of our troupe dances. I'm the information hoarding kind. You know the type.

I have every issue of Arabesque, all those of Habibi I could get my hands on, years and years of magazines like Belly Dancer, Chronicles, Jareeda, Aramco World, and anything else I could find on ebay or at swap meets. I have read them, taken notes on them, and filed those notes in a 4-drawer filing cabinet, organized alphabetically by both concept and country of origin.

Books -- got everything on ME dance, music, and women's culture that was commercially available, except Nelly Mazloum's book, which is $75 and somehow I draw the line there. Again, read ALMOST all of them, made notes, and filed those notes.

YEARS of old MEDance mailing list posts are archived (but not actually organized) on a separate hard drive, along with selected posts from tribe, oriental dancer, bhuz, and some of the lyrics forums. I'm not sure exactly what to do with some of this information -- do I really need the list of the "Top 40 songs on the radio in Cairo in 1995" ? Do I need to keep those ancient (although recurring) debates on where shimmies come from, or how to do a "jewel," or the analyses of hip drops we've often gotten into on the forums? YES -- I have to keep all of that until I can find a good reason to throw it away!!

Now let's keep in mind that INFORMATION is taking up less and less space these days :) I have pdfs of almost every article in 2 volumes of the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, but they're all on one DVD. All those forum posts are in word documents and pdfs on another dvd. (The books and magazines take up the most space, sure. But they have pictures!) So it's not like this stuff is piling up in my house! Well.. then there's the media library...

I did a physical inventory of my Instructional (not performance) DVDs and Videos last month. Ya'll ready for some crazy? I have 381 instructional dvds and vhs tapes. Well actually, I have more now since I just ordered Nadira's Improv Toolkit 2 and bought a couple of newer Raqia Technique dvds off another dancer. But last month I had THREE HUNDRED EIGHTY ONE of the buggers!! How the heck did that happen????

(That isn't counting the 200 + performance dvds and videos. I have so many of those, and they're spread out all over the house and with my students, that I haven't yet gotten around to counting them all. I think some of the old bootleg footage is probably repeated here and there so sorting these is going to be more work than sorting the instructionals.)

Some of them are beginner instructionals that have little to no value to most dancers. But I bought them because I thought as a teacher I could learn from them -- new ways of describing movement, new little tips and tricks. Most of the older out-of-print ones I bought off a dancer who was quitting dancer, and many of them I got when vendors decided to quit vending and sold their stock 1/2 off. (Almost my entire collection of Little Egypt videos came from a vendor retiring.) Of course, I used to vend for Dahlal also, so I took the opportunity to use my 15% off and bonus money to expand my inventory. And ebay was a great source for used older tapes and dvds for a while.

I bought a lot of them because I didn't have access to a weekly class and because I was somehow incapable of creating a decent practice session for myself without the structure of the video. I'm much better at that now, but I admit I'm still inclined to just throw in a dvd when I'm feeling intellectually lazy. (Or do an online class -- which I don't count in my inventory.)

So those tapes and dvds have their own bookcases and shelves, and they probably take up the most room. Unless you count the now over 500 Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Flamenco CDs in the library ... :O

Music is one place where I just can't give in and go all digital. I HAVE to have the original liner notes. I can't stand downloading full albums from iTunes because I need the security of the liner notes and the jewel case (wherein each CD has a big post-it note with my personal notes for each song. If you ditch the case, where do I put the notes???) (Plus I swear I can hear the diff between an mp3 and an aiff file). I haven't been able to toss the cases and put the individual CDs into binders. I just can't!!!!! So yeah, those are sort of leaking over into the rest of the house. And the garage. And the studio at work. ...

My friend says my home studio (where most of this stuff is stored) is like the Library of Alexandria but without all the Romans. :) I laugh, but then I look around and wonder when it's all going to fall over on top of me (metaphorically -- I really don't have stacks of DVDs lining the walls. Well, not anymore. Not since we got more shelving.)

If information hoarding is a crime, take me to jail. Slowly but surely I'm organizing and digitizing as much as I can, and trying to figure out a way for all this stuff to be put in a searchable database on the computer, instead of in manilla file folders and plastic binders. (Did I mention I have all of my workshop and class notes in binders? And all of the online class notes? And all of the notes I've taken on various instructional and performance dvds? Yep, all in binders in the bookcase with the Habibis. I DO get those out and read through them a lot, so it's not like the information is forgotten.)

So, I'm a hoarder. But I use MOST of my hoard. I write little articles about music for my student newsletter. I study my notes and create class exercises and educational material out of them. I share that with other instructors who ask for it. I share as much as I can -- with the caveat that I'm always learning and refining, so be prepared for me to revise what I once told you.

Am I crazy? Maybe. But you know something: I never get bored. And I am very rarely "uninspired." Some days all I have to do is just flip through a few CDs, or pull out a random DVD or file folder, and I'm energized and excited again about dancing, music, practice, performing -- whatever. Knowing I have access to some of the world's greatest authorities on our dance -- well, that's pretty darn inspiring, you know?

Oh and by the way: that necklace with the series of half moon shaped pieces that you often see the Ghawazee wearing? It's called a "kirdan" (according to Habiba/Barbara Siegel.) Didn't know that? Now you do. Welcome to my obsession :)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Workshop Review: Sahra Saeeda and Roxxanne

I admit that I have gotten out of the habit of doing workshop reviews. Why? Because every one I go to is awesome, and I feel like my readers will be bored hearing about another awesome thing I went to. But I realize even if the reviews are all "Loved All The Things", telling you what those things are might help you decide if you can't attend every workshop ever (and who can).

I have studied with both instructors twice now. I would study with either of them 100 thousand times, in fact I would move in with them and cook their meals in exchange for the knowledge (hint, hint).

If you pass on a chance to study with Sahra please send me your address so I can come to your house and SHAKE YOU! Talk about knowledge. If you want to know about Egyptian dance and particularly if you want historical and cultural insight, then this is the lady you need to see. Sahra applies here degrees and experience in cultural anthropology (that may not be her exact area of study but close) to really delve into the history of bellydance in Egypt. She takes you through all the famous dancers of Egypt from Reda to Dina, supplying you with not just their movements and styling but their motivation for choosing those movements. As in instructor, I find it invaluable to tell me students about Samia Gamal, show them how she danced and have the background to tell them where she came from and why she danced this way.
Sahra also shares with her students the stories and perspective that only someone who spent the time training and working in Egypt as she has can. My long term goal is to attend her entire Journey Through Egypt series. Location and timing wise, it has not her been in the cards for me. If I haven't found a way to attend in the next year then I will plan on going to one of her regularly scheduled classes in California. That will be the farthest I have ever traveled for a workshop.

I first met Roxxanne at last year's Camperet. She is just a really fun person. At Camparet, she taught classes on Debke and Khaleegi. I just want to give a shout out that those classes were awesome. I also took a private lesson with her on Lebanese style which was very insightful.
This past week-end her workshop focused on dancing for an Arab audience and putting together a traditional show/set. If you don't know about Roxxanne, her father was Lebanese and she grew up in his night club in California (where Sahra was a regular performer). The first part of her workshop was lecture and Q&A. She gave us all valuable tips including dos and no-nos. She was very open, honest and not afraid to hurt someone's feelings in they did not like what she said (luckily she didn't at this class). I even resigned myself to be more open to performing in shoes. We went through what sort of questions to ask of the people hiring you, how to work with a band/drummer, and a whole list of better safe than sorry plan ahead ideas.
In the second half we listened and dance to some traditional opening piece songs and talked about how to choose music that is right for you and how to set the tome of your show.
The workshop went well over time and no one cared. We have a 4.5 hour drive home and still would have stayed several more hours to pick Roxxanne's brain.

Both these women are amazing dancers, and amazing educators. If like me you are a nerd first and dancer second then I can't recommend enough that you get yourself to one of their workshop.

And finally - a shout out to Kira's Oasis. Located in Dayton, Ohio, Kira's Oasis is the nicest studio I have ever been in. Every time we took a break I fantasized about one dance owning my own studio. It is clean, gorgeous and just really perfect in every way. The location is also really nice. It is in a suburb near a large mall with plenty of places to stay and eat. I also think it is an easy part of town to get around and very close to the interstate. I think despite the long drive, I will keep an eye on her schedule and try to attend some more events up there.

Roxxanne, 'Azraa and Sahra

Monday, August 15, 2011

Let's play the alphabet game

This was actually Amanda's idea, but I am going to blog it anyway.

How many letters of the alphabet can you fill in with the name of workshop instructors? Here is mine:

A - Ava Fleming, Ansuya, Ahmad Hamad, Amani Jabril, Aziza
B- Bahaia
D- DaVid
E- Elena Lentini
F- Frank Farinaro
G- Gina
J- Jim Boz
K- Karim Nagi
L- Leila Gamal, Linda
M- Malin, Momo Kadous, Mohammed el Hosseny, Michelle Joyce
N- Nourhan Sharif
P- Princess Farhana
R- Raksanna, Roxxanne, Ranya Renee, Ruby
S- Samara, Shahira, Shana of Little Rock, Sahra Saeeda
T- Tito, Theresa Tomb
Y- Yousry Sharif

Not bad. I am attending Bahaia's Camparet again this year and will be able to mark off C and Z with Conchi and Zafira.

Play the game. Leave your alphabet in the comments.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Revisiting: "Serious Bellydance with Tamalyn Dallal"

It seems like every day there is a new belly dancing DVD released, and like many of you, I collect as many of them as I can. But in the rush to collect all of the "new" stuff, we sometimes forget the oldies but goodies still sitting on our DVD shelf. I'm super excited to share with you reviews of some of my favorite "forgotten" DVDs.

So let's take another look at an older DVD that might already be in your library:
"Serious Bellydance with Tamalyn Dallal" from 2000.

This DVD is targeted to intermediate to advanced dancers, and I'd say that's about right. Although Tamalyn does give a short breakdown on some movements, it's assumed that you are familiar with the basic movement vocabulary and basic cymbal playing. The content of the DVD is drills, combinations drilling abdominal work, and later those combinations with cymbals added, so it's good for dancers who want to polish their movement technique and really work on generating movements from the abdominals. Also, if you're ready to move beyond walking with the "triple/gallop/longa" with your cymbals, you'll find the more exciting cymbal patterns added to the combinations to be a unique challenge.

With a camera at the front of the room, it's as if the cameraman was filming Tamalyn leading an actual class in her studio. No mirrors. Filming is always from the front of the room, so you have to mirror what Tamalyn does. For most of the DVD, she has a group of her students taking the class with you. For the cymbal section, it's just her.

The DVD is chaptered so you can skip directly to the combinations or the cymbals if you like. If there were individual sub-chapters, they didn't work on my computer.

It's produced on a DVD-R (with the purple back) and in my experience these are known for skipping and pixelating in my DVD player, so the first thing I did was make a back-up copy to practice from. Alternately I would recommend you rip it to your computer as a Quicktime video or something you can play on your computer or iPod. I've lost way too many DVDs over the years to faulty media, and this is one I did not want to lose!

Let me begin by saying the camerawork and sound is less that stellar. It looks as if someone was just walking back and forth with a hand-held camera, and the sound is picked up through the camera's microphone. While this is really annoying when you're just sitting down and watching the DVD, if you're up practicing with it you don't notice. This was filmed back in the era before there were a lot of professionally produced DVD, and when "homemade" wasn't such a bad thing if you received good content.

The music used is a live musician playing oud (Doublecheck this) and what sounds like a generic rhythm CD. It's okay music, and she probably did this to avoid licensing fees, but I have to admit I actually prefer to take the drills and combinations and practice them to my favorite Hakim or Saad music. So if you can't stand the music, take notes and just practice what she teaches to other music.

After a gentle warmup, she moves into a short series of arm path drills which I think could be a separate practice session all on its own. As she demonstrates the movements, she gives imagery and technique tips.

A brief breakdown of the belly roll follows, which begins a series of basic movement drills layered with or combined with a belly roll. This was the hardest part of the dvd for me (since I'm not much of a belly roller.) Tamalyn's belly rolls are gentle and elegant and don't have the appearance of "alien preparing to burst out of stomach" as I've seen on some dancers. Even though I consider myself basically an Egyptian-style dancer, I wouldn't hesitate to work with these drills on a regular basis, to add that skill to my repertoire. It's so pretty!

The drills go from upper body movements to undulations into internal hip work, all with the extra addition of a belly roll. She focuses on very internal movements, exploring the difference between simply doing the movement and then doing the movement with a more internal focus.

(I would say the drills in this section are comparable to, but a little harder than, those in Ava Fleming's "Sizzlin' Hips" DVD.)

Next comes a series of 4 (and a shorter 5th) short combinations -- none too difficult, so you really have a chance to work on technique here. Again the focus is on keeping the movements internal, and going over and over the material to plant it solidly in your muscle memory. She teaches a combination, practices it for a while, and then moves on the next combination.

Then all the combinations are strung together in a longer series, and you practice that for a while. The music is the generic beledi drum beat, so students will probably want to take these combinations and practice them to music of their choice.

Finally, there is an extended section on playing cymbals. Although this begins with a short basic tutorial on playing 3s/longa/gallop/triples, (whatever you call them) it quickly moves beyond that and into variations of common patterns to malfouf and beledi. Lastly, cymbals are added to the combinations previously taught, and you drill those for a while before moving into a gentle stretch and cooldown.

Bonus material is short clips from performances and some adorable Greyhounds dressed in their Sunday best. (A portion of the proceeds of this DVD goes to Greyhound rescue efforts.) There is NOT a full-length performance by Tamalyn on this DVD, which is disappointing, but the focus is supposed to be on the class itself.

Get over the fact that it's a homemade production, and you have a great series of drills that really work on generating movements from the abdominals, as well as actually dancing and playing with cymbals, beyond the step-hip with triples. I'm especially fond of the drills which focus on abdominal rolls with other abdominal and torso movements. This is a great DVD for intermediates to work up to, and for advanced dancers to use as a practice companion, or as a substitute for a weekly class. It's all drills and drilling combos, so there isn't really any wasted time in about 2 hours of practicing.

Total running time: 116 minutes
Price: $30

Available from major belly dance retailers and directly from Tamalyn Dallal:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dance and my life balance

I think it is fair to say that all of us have self-doubt at one time or another. We think we aren't good enough or a similar negative thought.
One of my common negative thoughts is about my age. I am relatively young. I am only 30 and began bellydancing when I was 23. Now I came into this with little to no dance experience, and to be honest quite a klutz. Sometimes I see amazing dancers and I hear that one of the reasons they are so good is that they started young and have already danced a long time. Now I don't mean Ansuya or Suhaila young, just 23 young like me.
That makes me panic. At only 30, with 7 years dance experience I should be on my way to the big time.
The thing I have to step back and realize is that I don't want to be in the big time. Yes, I want to continue to grow and push myself to limit but my limit is not that of some others. Part of why dance makes me so happy is that it is a part of my balanced life. I have a full time day job. I keep a clean house. I like to cook and bake from scratch. I have a nice lawn and flower beds. I visit my elderly grandparents twice a week because I want to spend what little time they have left with them. At the end of the every day, I watch about 1-2 hours of tv with my husband. We chat during commercials and it is the time that we are together and not really distracted. This balance in my life is what makes me happy. Yes, I could dance 2 hours everyday and push myself to advance faster than I am but then what? Do I think it would still make me happy? I am not sure. I love dance and I spend a lot of time practicing, choreographing, attending workshops, and reading. I could spend more time doing those things and even though I love it more that many of my other activities, I am not willing to give any of them up to make more time for dance. In the short term, for a special performance I will but that is different.
My husband came up with this analogy for how I feel about progressing my dance:
There are people who play golf. There are people who play golf really well. Those people may never go into the PGA. They may not want to. They may just be the Country Club Golf Pro. They give lessons, know about all the latest equipment, and almost everything there is to know. They may give lessons to someone who ends up in the PGA. This is me. This is who I want to be in the dance world. I do not want to be a Bellydance Superstar, have an instructional DVD or be a master instructor like my mentor. I want to be always learning and getting better and sharing my knowledge but never pushing so hard that I have to give up any other aspects of my life for dance. The balance is part of what keeps me happy, grounded and moving forward.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Jen answers your questions with wine

I am doing a fun video blog post on my other blog where I answer people's questions and give advice while I am drinking. Pop on over to Say Something Funny if you want to participate.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

'Azraa's Dance Space

A fellow member of GypsyNet asked to see everyone personal dance sanctuary. I decided to share mine here.
When my husband and I moved back to my hometown from the place we had lived for 8 years, one of my requirements for our new home was my own dance space. Ideally, I wanted a finished basement. We systematically looked at every house in our price range with a finished basement and none of them fit our bill (mostly lacking in other important features). We then started looking at house with an extra bedroom, den or any spare space that I could turn into my own. We finally decided on a house with an extra small bedroom. It only holds about two dancers but is perfect for my practice or private lessons.

Our whole house has laminate floors (installed by my crafty husband) so the floors are great. It had mirrored closet doors which helped and we removed the fan and replaced it with a plastic light since it will most likely get beat with a stick.
Pink and turquoise are my dance colors so the decor was a no brainer. I bought a large mirror to finish out the mirrored wall at a consignment store. You can also see my giant goals/to-do list posted on the wall.

The fan veils are part decoration, part I have to iron them less this way. The mirrored doors made less work in setting up the room.

I found this great screen at a flea market. I feel so lucky every time I see it.

 My corner shelf is filled with photos, nick-knacks, autographs and memories of my dance time. I use my little PA for sound and the small drawers hold my Cd's and things I need while practicing.

 In our old house, my dance stuff shared the closet in our office with our less worn formal clothes and all my craft supplies. They finally get there own space which make me feel better since I am an organizational freak.

The other side of the closet holds my TV and DVD which I can roll out if I want to work with a video. I tacked up shirts and bags that have meaning to me.
I wanted to paint the whole room pink but my husband asked me not to, so the closet is pink instead. "Sexy Pink" if you need the exact color.

I hope you enjoyed this little peek into my dance space. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

On being challenged

So a remarkable thing happened to me this past week-end. I became a 1st rate dancer. Now let's not argue the semantics of what that means because that is not important to this post. What is important is that we talk about how that happened and why it is important.

I arrived at the workshop and saw that MY NAME was listed as the last performer before the headliner. Now whether or not the organizer considered it such, I consider that an amazing and incredible honor. Not to mention I was proceeded in the show by some dancers who already intimidated me with their poise. A show has to flow and you need the preceding dance to really be incredible and set the stage. - again, my opinion. The organizer of the show may have drawn names out of a hat but that doesn't matter. What does matter is when I saw my name there, I freaked out. And then you know what I did? I brought the heat.

I can say without a doubt that I danced this week-end like I have never danced before. To make matters better and worse, my music cut out. It cut out several times in the first half of the song. I didn't let it phase me. I just kept dancing like that music was loud and clear. I think the audience heard it in my head. Only once did I get off track and the music cut back in and I was not with it. I just winged it and let the music catch up with me.

Typically, when I am done dancing I hate everything that just happened. I want to see the video and nitpick every little thing even though friends and family swear that it was awesome. When I left the stage out Saturday, I felt unstoppable. I danced my heart out. I took it and I handed it to that audience, even with the music skipping.

Why? Why was this time different. Why did I dance with everything I had and leave nothing left? Because I had to. I was the last act before the headliner. I was first rate.

I wrote this post earlier and published it but I have decided to come back and add another anecdote about being challenged.

When I was a beginner, I worked really hard at becoming a better dancer. My self-esteem issues that come from physical appearance made me push even harder because I thought I needed to be that much better than the "pretty" girls. The thing that was holding me back was my own self-doubt. Self-doubt that was perpetuated by my lack of an encouraging mentor or teacher. Maybe that isn't the right word. I was encouraged to get the moves within my level. I was also challenged with more difficult things. I was not however, encouraged to take on tough challenges, or pushed to try something on the next level. I needed the kind of encouragement that resonates with your whole being. When I decided that I was not getting what I needed and started looking elsewhere, I was still a beginner. I had been a beginner for almost 4 years because no one had ever told me I was anything more.
I found what I needed in teachers and mentors that when I was faced with a difficult challenge said to me, you can do this, you are a really good dancer. For them I became a really good dancer.

I take this lesson with me when I work with my own students now. You have to find that line between challenging them at the next level and making it so difficult that they get discouraged and give up. I think it is important for instructors to try to not only understand their students learning styles but to understand what sort of challenge they need to be presented with.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A case for improv

I am always reading discussion board threads on improv versus choreography. 

In my earlier dance days I preferred choreography and only choreography. Improv was a scary thing in which you were forced to think and dance at the same time and I was so sure that I was being judged as well. My fear came from thinking that I would do the same thing over and over or not be able to come up with a move that fit the music.

Now things are quite reversed. Choreography is still good. It is great for group performances and I have also learned some incredible choregraphies from master instructors that far surpass my own improvisational and choreographing abilities. It is very inspirational and challenging to dance these pieces and I do enjoy it. 

But when it comes to what I want to dance, the answer is improv. I don't mind improvising to live musicians, and I think that musicians and a dancer all improving is a particularly organic piece of composition. I prefer to improvise to music I am intimately familiar with because that is generally the music that moves me in an emotional way that I wish to translate into dance. I like to be moved and then do what moves me.

So, how did I develop this love of improv and how can you?

I had an instructor that really encouraged improv and would give us time at the end of class to just dance. She even turned the lights down so we wouldn't feel self conscious about seeing each other. I encourage my students to improv and do this same thing. I also use games to help build on their improvisational skills. Taaj's book 

Beyond Moves is a great resource for games and ideas to help introduce improv to your students (and yourself, even if you don't teach I recommend getting this book and working through it).

The other thing that helps you get comfortable with improv - Just do it! Below are a few ideas for when and where to improv, please feel free to add more in the comments.

1. If you perform at a community event, take the time to get the crowd to dance with you. You are still doing improv but there is less pressure when a 5 year old is shaking it with you.
2. Put on your music and dance around the house while you clean.
3. Set a time limit. Put music on and dance. For a surprise improv set, I like to set a kitchen timer then put my iPod on shuffle.
4. Dance for your friends and family.
5. Host a hafla with your dance friends. Just do a casual get together, no frills, no costumes, just fun and dancing.
6. Go to a venue with music and dancing and joining the crowd on the dance floor. I used to frequent a Hookah Bar where everyone danced between the performer's sets. Getting up with the crowd or a couple friends and dancing is really what made me comfortable with improv.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wardrobe Malfunctions

It is something we are all afraid of. Getting out there and something pops, snaps or falls.
Well, I have been victim of every wardrobe malfunction out there. So let's take a look at my disasters and what we can do to prevent them from happening.

1. Hip scarf falls down
Thanks to my apple shape, my hip scarf gets tied at the biggest part of my waist. This means it can easily slide down. How to stop it? Pin it with safety pins. I recommend one on each side of the tie and one in the center back.
At a recent show, even though my hip scarf was pinned, it was sagging on the side. Since I was doing improv I took a moment to untie it as I turned and made a big deal of tightening it to the music. At a previous performance when a scarf was falling and it wasn't pinned and I was over trying to keep it on, I stopped and shimmied it off making a show of using my "jedi" powers to make it fall. I then kicked it clear of the dance floor.
Moral: Pins are your friends

2. Other layers falling/riding up
I once heard that Jillina didn't allow BDSS to use any kind of pins and they all had to sew snaps into their costumes. I don't know if this is true but it is brilliant!
I have started buying the large size snaps - quarter size, and sewing them into my various costumes. I do them all the same direction, i.e. the male side always points out. I sew the on the 4 compass points of the top. If you wear pants, skirt and belt it does make for an extra inch all around but it is worth for peace of mind and a much faster costume change.
I performed a few weeks ago and even though my harem pants already had snaps, I was worried the delicate fabric of my dress would show the snaps. MISTAKE! Even though I wear those pants all the time, I was wearing a bike shorts style undergarment. My pants started to slide down during the dance. They didn't ever fall enough to be seen in the slits of my dress but I felt them and it broke my vibe and ruined my dance.
The moral, snaps or pins, attach every layer together.

3. Bra malfunction
Twice I have had bra hooks pop. Once there was a back-up and I kept dancing. The second time, I had to retreat and change. Luckily, most bras fit so that if the hook pops you realize before anything gets exposed.
Moral: Always used heavy duty thread to reinforced hooks. Make sure you have at least two hooks. Check all your hooks for signs of wear before every performance.

4. A missing piece
You can check as many times as you want but something usually gets left behind. I always try to pack back up pieces - a matching tie top in case the something wrong with my bra, extra harem pants or even dance pants in case it is cold or I have trouble with my skirt, and an emergency back up costume. I do a lot of performances out of town and if something gets forgotten then there is no going back. I have one of Hanan Saidi dresses that are so popular. It is soft and stretchy and packs easily. I can also wear it with my everyday undergarments. When traveling out of town I always through it in my bag so if something is wrong with my costume, that one piece can be my back-up.
Moral: Always have plan B

If you have a story of a wardrobe malfunction or a solution leave it in the comments.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Things I like

I love the PA that I got for Christmas. I had a couple of outdoor events where I used a small cd player or had to burn a disc because the sound set-up wouldn't take an iPod. This prompted me to ask for a PA for Christmas. I asked my husband because he is well known for doing his research before making and purchases.

He picked out the Pyle-Pro PWMA930I 600-Watt VHF Wireless Portable PA System/Echo with iPod Dock from 

This thing rocks. Upon opening it and testing it, I actually could not turn it up all the way because it was too loud for my ears.
It has an iPod dock on top, with controls to play, pause and advance the iPod. It is a little tricky to get the iPod into the dock because there is a spring loaded cover which I assume it to keep the area clean. With a smaller iPod (mine is a last generation nano, so current gen will be way to small), you will need to use the input cable into one of the ports. I also use this cable with a discman (yes, they still make them) to play cds. It also has a port for a guitar and 2 microphones. It comes with a wireless mic which I have used and think is awesome.
The best part, is that it has a chargeable battery so you can take it to outdoor events where there is not outlet and run it off the battery.
At my last show, my husband did the sound using our iPad connected to this. While it was a smaller show, we had plenty of volume for both the music and introduction. I give it 5 stars.

Things that are on my mind

I know I am not good about keeping up this blog and maybe if I wrote more about the things that are on my mind I would. This might be considered a rant or it might be mindless drivel but it is what I want to share.

I started teaching full time when I moved. I moved from a town with 5+ full time bellydance teachers to a town with none. Now I could have just went to workshops and practiced and performed, but I had a good feeling that if I taught I could find companions who loved this dance as much as I do. I wasn't sure that I felt super ready to teach even though my mentor encouraged me to. While I was moving, I spent countless hours on Bhuz reading threads of common teacher concerns, reading articles both about bellydance, teaching styles, adult education and brushing up on my bellydance history. I developed a syllabus for my first session and practiced teaching imaginary students in the mirror. I created my own beginner choreography. Why did I do all this? Because I love this dance. I love it so much that I am appalled to think that someone could be misinformed by an instructor. I recall overcoming my own bad habits as a beginner. They were bad habits I taught myself. How awful to think that a beginning students would pick up bad habits from me as their instructor.
This brings me to my complaint. It is a complaint as old as time, but I want my opinion on the record.
I believe a dancer needs to be at a certain level herself before she can ever be an instructor. Why do so many beginners go on to teaching? The same reason I wanted to teach. They are eager to share this dance with others. However, in that eagerness they lose sight of how important it is to be a master of the thing you are teaching. Many dancers think if they are one step past the beginner level then they can teach beginners. This is absolutely not the case. To teach beginners you need to be able to execute the move with near perfection and explain it at least 3 different ways. You need to be able to present combinations and choreographies that challenge beginners so that they will grow. How is this possible if you are barely past that level yourself?
All that being said, I think since I departed on this journey as a teacher I was forced to grow to that point. I wanted to do it right and every time I felt not good enough, I took a harder workshop, read another book, choreographed a more challenging dance. I pushed and pushed my own skills so as not to let my students down.
That is the level of dancing and instruction that I want my community to be exposed too. It hurts my heart and soul to see students and my community exposed to poor quality dancing and mis-information.
If a better dancer/instructor came along, I would take her classes and encourage my more advanced students to do so as well. Luckily for me, I have a day job so if that made my classes dry up I would be happy to share the dance with my new instructor and her other students.
Honestly, I am not sure I am ready to mentor someone to the point where they are ready to teach but if I ever had a friend or student who I felt was ready, I like to think I would be nothing but encouraging. If I thought the person wasn't ready but they had made up their mind I think I would play devil's advocate and try to make them see all the training and concepts they are missing or haven't thought of.

Anyway, that's my two cents on this topic.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Best Beauty Products of All Time (muwahahaha)

I am so glad that Princess Farhana posted her favorite beauty products. I admit that I get into a little niche and never come out when it comes to make-up. It did give me an idea. What if all my bloggy-blog friend did post on their favorite products and linked them in the comments. Then let's say in two weeks (January 22nd) I will post a poll that pits mascara against mascara and rouge against rouge and we can see who the Best Beauty Products of All Time (queue lightning) are!

Shellac Nail Lacquer 
I am lucky if I can get home from the salon with my nail color on. If I dance on Saturday, my nails get done on Friday and I DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING. Enter Shellac. Cured by a UV light, this polish will last for two weeks. I am not kidding, it only looks bad then because my nails have grown out leaving little have moons of naked nails at the base.

Any and all primers
I don't care which one. They all work. L'Oreal and Bare Minerals are my favorite ends of the spectrum.

Bare Minerals
My face breaks out if I concentrate hard enough so this is my everyday make-up of choice.

Coastal Scents
Eye shadow doesn't get better than this. The high pigment colors pop and last all day or through the show which is my goal. I use them for the stage and every day.

Smashbox Gel Eyeliner
I love cream/gel eyeliners and this one has to be favorite. I have been meaning to try the awesome colored gel eyeliners from Coastal Scents.

Make-up forever Lipstick - the Rouge series
I actually don't like that it is perfumed and reminds me of my moms old maybeline (the way it tastes) but the color is incredible and it lasts without drying my lips out and looks shiny without being so sticky my hair get stuck in it.

So go ahead, do a make-up post and link to it here. The make-up poll goes up in two weeks.