Saturday, 22 February 2014

Changing the biomechanics of the knee joint – Day 8 Week 2

Week 1 trying to fix my knees over here.

This week, my therapist taped my patella using more manipulation than last time. I could literary sense the way that at times my knee was fighting with the way the kinesiotape wanted to direct it.
No pain except a day later – one of the tapes was too long and it snagged at a ligament that it shouldn't have snagged to. I just cut off the problematic piece and enjoyed from then on great support of the joints.
I practiced jumps in ballet class. I even did it without holding on to the barre, trying to minimize the kinetic force that just loves to make a stop at my inner knee because of the way it's built and the way the patella tracks over it.
The change I see is minimal, but what I feel is not minimal at all. More strength and stability. Last night while teaching my yoga class, I even spontaneously kneeled down and sat on my ankles while explaining concepts. I haven't sat down like that in six years.
I have one more week to go before deciding does this have a point for me and how to continue.

No miracle cures here folks, just a desperate lady trying to dance.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Changing the biomechanics of the knee joint – Day 1

I was born with many structural misalignments. It transformed me into a handicapped person, bed-ridden for a while, limited my job opportunities, put the eternal fear of arthritis into me, numerous sprains, pills and tests. And a lot of depression.

Not to mention, it hindered my self-confidence. It took me years to find the answers to my problems and get better through yoga and pilates, and become a teacher for others as well.

My body is still structurally challenged. The fact that I got myself into dance helps immensely, but it gives me heartache not being able to have full mobility or learn some technique or audition for some projects because of the state my knees are in.

I had flat arches my entire life. With yoga, I gained control over that. But my knees are stuck as a result in their x-legged position with a tilted patella that doesn't go over my joint the way it was supposed to – the cartilage gets more wear and tear on one side than it is designed to endure.

I am terrified this will put me back in bed some day.

So, I contacted a therapist I've been working with for a while and asked about kinesiotape methods for this exact condition. Turns out, I'm not the only one who thought of it, there is a method but we can't know will it work or will it work the first time around. It could even hurt me if we're not careful. But then again, horses and professional athletes can't be wrong.

I was really nervous to relax my kneecaps to have it done, of all the fear and expectation and all I have to say is: so far, so good!

No pains, no unusual states and I feel that the muscles who should realign my patella are definitely engaged.

I don't have this figured out just yet, but something is moving along and if I want to dance until my sixties and then some more, I need better knees for that. 

If you want to find out how will it work out over time and the methods I will use, subscribe by e-mail in the upper left corner by entering your e-mail address, ;)

Monday, 9 December 2013

Skinny Girl Bellydances Too (or how to feel good in a systematically discriminated skin)

Sometimes I feel it would be easier to bleed into pointė shoes doing the Swan Queen dance, than getting myself into a form where voluptuousness is highly valued. Offcourse, this is not something people will tell you to your face, but you feel it on the back of your neck and see the support heavy dancers get for any sort of movement that involves shaking the abdomen with brute force.

I'm not writing about the real professionals and technically capable dancers that are artists and not just blind abdomen shakers. This post is about the not-there-yet people, the recreational hobbyist, local social circles, hafla show crowds and such.

To be open about the subject, I'm a skinny woman, therefore completely biased. Always have been and always will be. Most of my curves are muscle, not fat. My metabolism speed is out of this world. My BMI is in the anorexic range.

While learning how to dance, I discovered that my shoulders are wider than my hips. That was a bummer. Do you see the trouble here? Not only am I skin and bones, but an inverted triangle too!

The trouble with skinny people doing bellydance in the modern world

  1. It's hard to dance in a group. This is hard for everybody, but chances are nobody else is that thin so you make the average bodies look huge and they in turn make you look like a broom in a bedlah. Yay. For the record, I believe that every body type should be dancing in a group if they can and want to. A group should have a range of similar bodies if it is a professional group just for the sake of visual coherence. If it isn't possible for that kind of a group to get together, tough luck. Work with what you have and mask the differences with costume choices.
  1. Some heavier dancers get a shimmy going and the audience cheers (nevermind the quality of the said movement). I get a shimmy going and they can't even see it if it's a big room.
  2. Some people or dancers tend to think we're just not good enough because our movements look different in our tiny frame. Seriously, there are people that systematically ignore technical quality and emotion-invoking capacity of thin bellydancers, disallowing them from being a valid performer in the community.
  3. Uneducated teachers tend to force skinny dancers into a dangerous range of movements because they want to see the same size of movement they get from the wider girls instead of drilling strength, timing and dynamic to make both bodies seem well tuned and engaged. Also, our problems tend to go unnoticed as we often don't get the tips and tricks we need to know about our bodies and how to make them look good on stage .

    Disheartening, right? This is why I'm writing this no bullshit article. Because I'm sick of getting facebook comments discussing my weight in the public arena and mostly from other women, usually not audience members. And I have had enough of the «inspiration images» that are taking just one side into account.

    Cos' big is beautiful
    But slender is antifeminist
    + starving and ugly

    Tips and tricks for the dedicated dancer

    Luckily, my suffering is not in vain: I got some first and second hand advice for you.

    1. Pick your elbows to the back to avoid being “pointy”. Get a rounded look of the arms. Use flamenco and ballet arm postures.

    2. Also, for other types of vocabulary, bring your elbows closer into your torso for the mysterious and sticky parallel movements and isolations.

    These two sound counterintuitive, but trust me on this one – you do not want to hang your arms and elbows in the middle space, the standard oriental bellydance posture, except to pass through to another position. Either elongate/round yourself elegantly like in ATS,
    flamenco and ballet or keep close to your center just like the slinky dancers usually do.

    3. Speaking of slinkyness… play up on it! It is your strength, especially if you are hypermobile. Do not go into excessive joint range of motion. Keep it safe, but find space inside every little millimeter of your tissue and train it for slow and slinky.

    4. Costume yourself to mask stuff you don't like or feel like it looks bad. Jewlery accessories, headpieces, fabrics. It can be done. We are probably not born to be minimalists.

    5. Be proud of your muscles. You have worked very hard to build them up from nothing. They are a part of you and they are beautiful.

    6. Whatever people say – you are the type of body in commercials, on magazine covers and you are what people think about when dance is discussed as an art form. You are the image on their refrigerators when they try to loose weight. Culturally, you are the accepted form, rejoice it without feeling guilty.

    Feel free to communicate your own standing on the topic. I would love to know how you handled and solved your own body image issues as a skinny bellydancer.

Monday, 14 October 2013

How to "make it" as a bellydancer?

This is not a step-by-step guide. It is not first hand experience. It is a mini breakthrough for me after being trapped in many never-ending circles, and I imagine it might be for you too.

All the time I see dancers bickering, being passive aggressive, competing against one another; who has more performances, haflas, productions, money, costumes, attention, followers, whatever.
And as much as I love this dance, there are issues that it brings along that are SICK. It puts us in this rat race of having to be better than someone else, competing for ego. It makes people form their little tribes and become cold to anyone outside no matter how valid of an artist/teacher/community member they might be.

Marketing experts are always talking about growing a tribe as a base for your business, but I think that in the case of bellydance specifically, this is inherently wrong. Our tribes are incestuous – they produce value that is consumed only by the tribe itself and those nearest to them. This type of tribe doesn't have a tendency to grow, it has a tendency to close in on itself, surviving in the world as a charity effort instead of living as an art form or valuable entertainment.

Reconsider what constitutes as "success"

This will vary for hobbyists, aspiring/semi pro or professional dancers. The balance between sweat poured into the effort and the fruits. It is safe to say that everybody secretly wants to be famous, at least locally.
Because "famous" pays the bills while doing what you love. Instead of wanting to achieve the bellydance royalty status, you should aspire for more. Not just “be like” Rachel, Jill, Zoe or Suhaila (notice how I only have to write their first name and you already know who they are?).
Unless you're a personal friend or student, those women are just media images you see (or torture yourself with on bad nights) and build visions of them as supreme goddess like creatures that set the bar out of reach. For yourself, being happy doing what you do should be the first thing you wish to achieve. It's the basis for your mental well-being. 

Happiness is a state of mind.

In short, you are probably not as original or good as you think you are. If you think you suck, you're probably better than that. Everything has been seen and done before, but in the past we didn't have all this media and the internet to tell us that when we thought we had an original idea.

What can you do about anything, really?


Go out there and create gigs and opportunities for yourself and bellydance outside of the community. Find people who have no idea what bellydance is and introduce them to it. Get featured, network, be talked about.

Bypass the incestuous self serving community and reach out with your dance where no bellydancers reached out before. It will put you in front of non-judgemental eyes, outside of all the drama and create opportunity for you and those that will come after you.

Let's "make it" in new and different places.


Friday, 23 August 2013

How to tell people you’re a yoga teacher/bellydancer.

Imagine this: a completely normal situation involving pleasant conversation, everything is running smoothly and then it suddenly explodes in your face as soon as the person you’re talking to, whether it’s your old friend from high school, a family member or a perfect stranger, reacts weirdly when you answer their “So, what do you do for a living?” question.

Because, from that point on, you have the bubonic plague.

Sound familiar?

In a matter of seconds, your stomach turns upside down and you know this is going to be one of those things. Whether it’s yoga or bellydance (I don’t think they figured out pilates is evil yet), you get accused of things you have nothing to do with, get smirked upon, called stupid, weak or crazy.

And everything that I’m thinking at those moments is, “Wait a second mister, you’re the crazy one here.”

Crazy for judging people, creating an uncomfortable situation where the best defense is just letting the crazy one talk and pretend you’re listening to their opinion as if it’s a conversation with an intellectual equal.

Let them have their stage because they obviously need it more than you. You’ll never convince them in the validity of your point of view anyway.

Do to others as you would do to yourself?

In yoga as in dance and sports in general, your teachers always try to instil into you respect for yourself and respect for others. In doing so, you become more open to the world, to different people and experiences. It makes you grateful, it makes you attentive.

It is a shock, after all this time still, to meet a person – a nice person that is helping you out – who is calling you out on your life mission, your dharma you dedicated years, effort and your whole being, as “STUPID”. That person being old enough to know better than to jump the gun like that before knowing who is he speaking to or anything about the subject he so willfully stomped. Old enough to have learned by now how to read my disgust and old enough to know it’s not nice to insult people you’re helping out because, obviously, they won’t stand up to you. Old enough to get his dance teacher shit together.

Yes, it seems he is a teacher as well.

That is why I always say be careful who you’re learning stuff from, you may just be getting a one sided story full of holes.

I would have stopped that car and got out with all my stuff in the middle of who-knows-where if I was alone and not with another person I would seriously inconvenience that way. That’s how mad I was.

Even when we all said goodbye and thank you, this guy used the opportunity for one last omnious “You have to get out of this stupid yoga business, it’s gonna take you on the wrong path.”
I told him, using wording that he would understand, “Hey man, this is my livelihood, it’s not like you can snap your fingers and leave everything behind.”

But that is not what I wanted to say.

I actually wanted to tell him that I’m sorry for him being so blind and so sorry for him needing to preach his limited viewpoint mapped by unknown terrors from eastern arts that hurt him so. Because I love what I do and take pride in it.

I also wanted to tell him good luck with your spine if all you ever do is one single set of strenuous movements because the boogie man will get you if you reach out to experts in fields other than yours to learn something.

I wanted to tell him that he can hurt people with his destructive behavior.

But I set it all aside. A mask of nothingness on my face, empty thoughts that ward of the hatred of others and the evil from their words that I used so many times before, detaching myself from the here and now but staying present enough just to calmly walk away.

I remember back from my martial arts days when I was young and learning about discipline and respect for the very first time from my Sensei. And a lot of other people after him.
I remembered for a moment what Bruce Lee said in an interview, “Be water my friend.”

And water, I was.

Getting out of the car, I told my boyfriend, “Next time I’m telling them I’m a pilates instructor.”

Sunday, 21 July 2013

How to shoot a dance themed session – Practical advice for photographers from the dancer’s POV.

How many times has it happened to you – you got a spectacular dancer in front of your lens, fully costumed and made up with artificial hair, eyelashes and warpaint ranging from eyeshadow to three different lipstick colors all at once (what are ombre lips, you may wonder :D). There are light technicians on board and make-up artists, you have a perfect location and everything seems like you’re gonna take photos to die for.

Afterwards, you’re noticing that something is off. This is not what you hoped for it to turn out. When other people take pictures of dancers, it looks so full of life, but your images just lack something crucial and yet you don’t know what it is.

Join the club.

Many photographers suffer from this condition, not only beginners – shooting people is different than shooting architecture, still life or even animals. Yes, they are quick and unpredictable, but their faces are almost always a picture perfect because they are so foreign to us - unlike human bodies, faces and expressions we know how to read all too well.

A person doesn’t stand still for very long, especially if you have a dancing person in front of you.
Plus,dancers don’t make instantly good photos just because we have superpowers.

I’ve had my fair share of witnessing these mistakes, don’t let them happen to you for the sake of your end product.

1. Give me music.
Don’t expect us to dance without music. It will look fake and unnatural. Even professional models love to work with music in background. You can use music to manipulate the mood and setting,
just choose well – dancers respond differently to different types of music, it is a language that goes into the body and out as a translation of what has just happened.

2. Give me time to warm up.
Don’t assume the dancer is a wind-up jack in a box that can go into a split or a contortionist pose with cold muscles and then keep it up for five minutes straight. It’s just a silly notion, the body doesn’t work that way.

3. Switch sides.
Nobody will tell you straight to the face because we’re used to it when working on choreography, but if you are shooting specific, static, strenuous poses, tell your dancer to do it opposite or risk us
getting grumpy. For example, if she was (or he, for that matter) balancing on a right leg, tell them to switch to the left for a while. It is healthy for the body to be used symmetrically and it gives you more time on one pose + maybe you will discover a fresh new angle you didn’t notice just a moment before.

4. Go from easy to hard.
The backbend isn’t the first thing you wanna shoot. It’s most risque for the dancer to perform and it ends up with bad photos because neither of you is properly warmed up. Yes, you need to warm up too, so don’t use the most spectacular ideas straight away. Chill.

5. It’s not all about the acrobatics, athleticism and the freak-show revue.
Watch a dance show or rehearsal. What do you see? The technique. The emotions, perfect nuances that appear only when you have your dancer in the zone. You have to let her be in the zone, like she is performing for the stage or for herself, but don’t overlook those moments that make dance what it is. If you wanna shoot a split, there is a number of sport professionals that can give you a split. Think about what makes the dance so much more different that it persuaded you to do this shoot. Also, give emotions or storylines as inspiration for movement and posing. Use vivid language. See the unseen.

6. Don’t ask your dancer to strip if this is not a previously arranged artistic nude shoot.
This goes without saying – you will damage whatever trust that they have in you.
Lack of trust = lack of motivation.
Also, if they said “no” once, do not ask again. Seriously.

7. Talk the talk.
Find out about your dancer’s background and learn the basic terminology of the dances she knows – for better communication and better photos. Even if you have no idea in hell what something means, just ask her can she do it or maybe combine with something else, freestyle. We appreciate the effort. :)

8. Respect the body and its limitations.
If the dancer had a recent injury or is healing, do not ask them to do movement that will aggravate the injury. I once had an experience where the photographer was without inspiration all until he had this great surge of it all at once and it required me to move a part of the body that was only a month out of an injury. Nothing else was good enough, he had his vision limited to that set of movements. If something was hurt or is weak, don’t try to make your subject feel guilty or under pressure. Be a professional, figure the problem out without compromising another debilitating injury.

9. Don’t say that you’ll think of the poses when the only thing you will do is put the dancer on location and expect them to prance around.
Tell them in advance that they will have to take care of that. My advice is to put some thought into this – you should be the outer eye that is responsible for creation – not just for documenting someone else’s creation. Decide for yourself upfront are you a documentarist or a creator and then act accordingly.

Ta dah. How to shoot a dancer in 9 easy-to-follow steps. Try it and you won’t regret it. Just saying.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

On love, bellydancer husband support and flamenco

Often, you will see dancers paired up with drummers, other musicians, organizers, photographers or other supporting artists. I always wondered if these women end up with them by pure coincidence or are they almost naturally attracted to people who can give their act a helping hand.

Are you honestly in love?

Husband of a bellydancer support group comes to mind here. Are we so manipulative with our partners that they end up channeling their personal interests towards something that will help us on our way because they don't like to see us struggle? I've certainly seen good and bad examples of this behavior on both sides.

While thinking about why am I not paired up more conveniently (after trying to learn how to bellydance to a blues guitar improvisation and discovering this Mardi Love video as an only result of the effort), I start to wonder why the dancers of non-ethnical dances who don't do commercial gigs for a living don't seem to follow this pattern of relationship behavior.

The ballerina will go for a fellow dancer or for the computer guy in the building next door or for somebody she met on the rare, once in a year, two weeks vacation trip. It isn't of much “use” for her to fall for the musician or the photographer – she works for an institution on a steady payroll and gets everything she needs from it, not having to fend for herself.

You know what I'm talking about. Learning the dance, costuming it, learning how to find a gig or create it from zero, theatrical make-up skills, promotion, dealing with contracts or risking without one, negotiation with club owners and all sorts of shady people that want to screw you over, driving and traveling insane distances for workshops, classes and performances, acquiring and paying for professional photos, creating flyers and business cards, being not only a dancer but ten other people just to keep up with the competition and putting the right image in front of the audience.

It's hard. :( And you don't get any help, unless from, you guessed it – loved ones.

When you meet that “not so much your type” darbuka drummer, are the sparks you feel on the inside of genuine love interest or are they coming from the “how much easier would this make it for me” stream of thought?

The cross training argument.

I thought about all of these things back when I was just falling in love with my partner. A musician, a very good one, but not in any genre or stylization that would be compatible with my dance. We tried with the blues, we will probably keep trying, but it is simply so far apart from bellydancing that I will have to learn how to read his mind in order to know what's coming next.

Early on, I tried to persuade him to go through the arabian or spanish orientale route (see what I did there? How many of you tried the same thing and did you succeed?). Alas, it wasn't his cup of tea and it was thought to be too much work, to go on and learn to play a new genre like that. (He just wasn't that into me yet.)

I told him, after he added that it was too difficult, that I train ballet inspite of it being difficult in order to cross train myself – work different muscle groups, revive my motorics, learn more control and vocabulary and in the end, the classical ballet classes do make me a better tribal fusion dancer so why shouldn't guitar players dive themselves into another style just for enriching their repertoire and possibilities?

Did I have a good argument or what?

Partners in crime.

However, it didn't turn out the way I planned. No big deal, I let it rest.

Until just a couple of days ago, the love of my life just happened to ask me about flamenco. I took three workshops some years back. Not much, but not nothing.
My jaw dropped down and touched the ground when he said he would try to learn the flamenco guitar if I could learn to dance to it (could I not, I already have the shoes!).

I have enthusiastically said yes and now I'm waiting september/october to hit me with all the extra blood, sweat and tears of learning a new dance and also the extra money I will be needing for the classes.

Now I at least have another excuse to watch Bodas de Sangre again, and Antonio Gades. I love it how flamenco has raised itself to this level of having dance companies, institutionalized schools, storyline flamenco dances, collaborations and all kinds of art inspired by it all around.
I 'm going to try it for my blues guitar player because I just love him so much. And we're both compromising here.

I just found a flamenco DVD that other bellydancers speak highly of, judging by the reviews. Flamenco is Hot! - Campanilleros, featuring Puela Lunaris. Beginner flamenco classes, Flamenco dance instruction, Learn flamenco dance

Something will come of this. Not necessarily what we expect, but we'll just wait and see.