Friday, February 23, 2007

Looking With A (Gleam In My) Dancer's Eye

February blog carnival topic

Whenever my mom and I go clothes shopping together (which is not enough) we always make sure to point out any sequined, beaded, embellished clothing as "Nana Clothes". My grandmother loved such items; all of those decorated holiday sweaters, dress up sparkly tops and glittered shoes for going out (I wore a pair of her 1960s dancing slippers in high school).

My mom dresses more in earth tones, and it seemed for a while that perhaps this eye for the the shiny had skipped me too. I started dressing in (almost) all black starting in middle school. This followed a brief neo-hippie phase, until I figured out I hated the music, and though I loved the clothing I didn't like identifying myself as a part of that crowd. Basic black became the standard instead, more in the teen angst version than any attempt at being chic or sophisticated.

20 years later black still dominates in my wardrobe, though there has been brief forays into color. I'll wear blue jeans now. I own some red Danskos and boots. Purple, ironic shades of pink, and deep jewel tones will make an occasional appearance. But I think all the years of monochromatic dressing left me with some kind of inherent inability to color coordinate. Okay, there was the entirely chartreuse green outfit: dress, tights and matching underwear set, accented by my hair (dyed with one side a matching green, one side magenta) and a pair of thrift scored, Italian made, raspberry suede, low winkle picker boots. But other than that it's been mostly black, black, black . . . and striped socks.

Then came the dance classes, and my subsequent browsing on belly dance websites and discussion forums. Suddenly my world was a kaleidoscope! Sure, I may prefer to dance tribal, and my natural inclination is to the bright primary and deep earth tones found in many of the ATS costumes, but really I'm not picky. I love everything from the pastel of layered chiffon circle skirts to the deep tones of a velvet beledi dresses. Screaming pink Egyptian style lycra costume? Sure! Dusty browns of a minimalist tribal fusion outfit? Yep! The occasional foray into a dramatic white bedlah, the antithesis of my all-black days? Love it! Sure, I don't WEAR all of these, but I love cruising costume vendors and dancer's galleries, gobbling up the bright costume confections.

What really grabs my eyes though is the shine, the sparkle. Shisha mirrors on a tribal belt, glittering fringe dripping from a bra, sequins edging a veil; they all elicit a low, "Oooo, shiny, pretty" from me. When watching a dancer I tend to focus in and out, from costume to dancing, following a snaky arm up to a sequined bra to shoulder shimmies down an undulation to the belt and fringe accentuating a hip figure eight. I sit back and take in the entire package of dancer and outfit and music, then focus in on tricky technique, clearly expressed emotion or a particularly stunning piece of costuming. When I see a vendor's table of bedlah or rack of dresses I head over to check them out, drinking in the piles of coins, sequins and beads. Sure, I tend to tassels and pantaloons and coin bras for my performance gear, but I am a sucker for the glitter.

It took me about a year into my dance classes to realize that belly dance indulges my eye for "Nana Clothes". Perhaps there is some deep seated happy association that links fond memories of my grandmother and her sparkly clothes to the pleasure I get from watching (and being) a glittering, shining performer. Or perhaps the love-of-the-sparkly gene didn't pass me by, it was waiting for just the right catalyst to turn it on. Dancing is a hell of a lot of fun, but to quote Baltimore performance group Fluid Movement, glitter makes it better.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Performance Blues

When I started dance classes I never intended to perform. When my classes began I'd already been doing fire dancing for almost a year; some of that involved performing in very low key situations. The last time I'd stood up in front of a bunch of people was in high school during my theatre geek days. I didn't think that as an adult I'd be performing on a regular basis, though.

Belly dance has a tendency to take you down the road of performance. First it's dancing for your classmates, perhaps in an end of class session "show". Then it's on to informal haflas, where you cobble together an outfit and get up in front of friends and family. Many more haflas, studio shows, and other informal events follow. Then suddenly it's gala shows (the ones that happen during a workshop weekend, are yearly events sponsored by local teachers, or something of the sort). Dancing at fundraisers, or showcase nights at local venues. Before you know it you're involved in the whole, "What should I/we set as a pay rate" debate and BAM . . . you're performing.

Now note, not all dancers do this. A lot of people never get on stage or stop with the the informal performances. They don't want to get on a big stage or commit the time to performing or deal with the stress, and that is great! I think it is awesome to do something because you love it for yourself.

I'm one of those people, though, who likes to have something pushing me forward, and beyond my own perfectionist streak I've found that the deadline of an upcoming performance works rather well. What I've also found is that the looming deadline pushes my stress level up to new heights.

Sometimes that can stress can be good. In November I danced at the DCTribal sponsored Tribal:PURA show with my troupe mates Brooke and Nora. We had two weeks to pick music, brush up the new moves we'd been working on, and get costumes together. It was two weeks of intense rehearsals, evenings in my living room going over and over the music, and last minute sewing. We were practically delirious on the ride to the venue, nervous as hell through the run through, nauseous while waiting our turn backstage. There were minor flubs on stage, but it went over well, we got a great response and we felt good about what we'd done. The show left us is on a high (thank goodness, as it was the start to a long weekend of workshops).

This past weekend the same trio danced at a local hafla. Again there was the rushed lead up, though intentionally more relaxed this time. There was nervousness before the show (even worse in a way because we were the last to perform). Despite minor problems (such as my belt getting up close and personal with Brooke's belt, locking us together until I spun around and released us) it went well. Afterwards, though, I crashed. Like literally as SOON as we stopped dancing I felt like I could have laid down on the floor and slept for a million years. It was like the pre-show stress and recent troupe goings on had all crashed down on my head and left me completely drained. We left, I schlumped home with my SO, peeled off the layers of my costume and swapped them for my pajamas, and spent the evening staring at the computer.

When dancing leaves me energized it is fantastic. When it leaves me drained it is awful. I have to learn that all of my dance experiences will not be great ones, that I can't beat myself up over it and I have to keep moving forward. I can't let the bad times sour my opinion, because performing can be great and I know I'm going to do it again - an invitation to dance will pop up, we'll all decide to go for it, and the cycle begins again. I just have to hold onto all of the good times and remember that the tough ones are the situations that usually lead to a period of change, growth and progression. I have to keep reaching for the next goal, raising the bar for myself and finding out what I am really capable of achieving.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Thinking is not doing, though it's a step on the path

Lately I've been thinking about writing here, without really getting anything down. I have one paragraph of a post about zills; I was interrupted while writing and now I can't remember what I wanted to day. It seems that all my good ideas hit me while I'm at work, and once I make it home the will to blog is gone.

On a productive note, I've been cleaning up my office/sewing room and laying out the projects I have to complete. In the wings:
backing the cool tasseled material and turning it into a hip adornment, finishing the yoked pantaloons, taking the Rajasthani choli to the fabric store and picking out material to use for alterations, buy a bra to use as a base to start playing around with new top ideas.

On an unproductive note, I have absolutely no desire to do all the things I need to do to prep for a show this weekend (adjust belt and sew on some mirrors, figure out how I want to do my hair/make up, figure out what to wear and make sure it's not balled up in the floor of my closet). Lately the siren song of new library books, DVDs and napping in our ugly orange chair has been hard to ignore.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Guilty pleasure

So, my belly dance background and taste is with ATS/group tribal improv. But sometimes I like to check out the Dahlal catalog*. I like to ask myself, "If I was a non-tribal belly dancer with lots of cash, which costume would I buy?" Actually, I already know the answer to that, I'd get one of the coin sets. Shiny.

*I like some of the practice wear too, so perhaps I'll spend some money with them in a more modest way.