Online Resources

As a dancer, nothing beats practicing. However, sometimes having extra information, or something to read or to help you practice can be a great aid, introduce you to new music, help you clarify some concepts, or merely discuss issues that are bouncing around your head as part of your dance life.

If you do Cabaret, or want general tips and technique, you could do worse than following Mahin’s Bellydance Quickies. There are technique videos, combo videos, some discussion, and a few performances. Great way of finding out new dancers to follow, or getting acquainted with new styles.

If you dance, ATS, there are several options:

  • Fat Chance Belly Dance® has a YouTube channel where they post drill videos regularly
  • The ATS Friday Challenge group on Facebook offers a safe space for dancers to upload videos and, if they want to, get feedback. There’s a new step to practice each week and should be a great resource if you work better with a prompt
  • Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman’s Blog hasn’t been updated in a while but still has plenty of useful information

If you are a Fusion dancer, the Tribal Fusion UK Facebook Group is great for some general discussion on technique and style.

Software and apps:

  • The Amazing Slowdowner has versions for iOS, Android, PC an OSX, and will allow you to slow down music, and create loops , which is brilliant for practicing choreographies.
  • Slow Down Music Player works a bit like a cut-down version of the Amazing Slowdowner, and last time I checked, it was free, and also played in older versions of iOS
  • VLC Player allows you to do the same, but with videos: this is perfect if you want to slow down videos on the fly, and has versions of iOS, Android and even Kindle Fire
  • the Dance Moves List will give you a list of ATS® moves and links to videos approved by Fat Chance Belly Dance® showcasing them; just select the move you want to watch and it will come up. There’s also an Android app here

Finally, a site I strongly recommend everybody reads, regardless of style, and *particularly* if you are already teaching, or thinking of doing so, is Monika Volkmar’s Dance Stronger blog. All of it. Yes, she’s not updating it. However, all of the information in this blog is *pure gold*, and has up-to-date science-backed information aimed specifically at dancers. Sadly she isn’t running her Dance Stronger program anymore, which is a shame, but a lot of the info will be very useful.

So there you go, a bit for your brain and a bit for your body. Now go dance!

ATS® Teacher Training

In a previous post I’ve written about ATS® General Skills, which is a pre-requisite to take Teacher Training. Usually they suggest you do General Skills first, go back home, take some time to get the moves into your muscle memory, then come back. This is adviced even if you’ve been dancing ATS® for a while, simply because it *is* entirely possible that you’ve learnt a move in a way that is slightly different from the “official cannon”, and it’s a good idea to get those kinks ironed out of your dancing before Teacher Training. Even if your technique is solid, it is very likely that you will pick up new nuances in the moves and combos, and again, it’s a good idea to incorporate these before Teacher Training. But not everybody can do this separation. Personally, I am glad I did; my initial plan was to do GS in the UK and attend the Teacher Training that would take place in Budapest in March 2018. Megha’s visit to Europe this year has been suspended, so I’m glad I went out of my comfort zone and did the training last year.

The format is more or less established. You will get a booklet with extra training before the event. You will be expected to be familiar enough with the contents of this booklet. There will be suggestions of bibliography in it, but basically, you are expected to have:

  • some basic idea of anatomy as related to dance; there’s no prescribed book for this, but if you look in the FCBD®’s website, there are a few listed.
  • Some familiarity with movement theory: Carolena prefers Delsarte, I’m more of a Laban person as one of my teachers uses Laban’s Choreology principles in her teaching; but basically, the idea of this is to give you further tools to describe movement to your students
  • knowledge of every single movement from ATS® Classic and Modern; the note I got before GS said “verbatim”; and although you are not expected to repeat word by word what’s on the DVDs or PowWow lessons, it helps to be familiar with the descriptions used in those so you don’t add your own “flavour” to the steps

Something not required, but a good idea to have regardless, is some basic training into voice projection, and some practice on your diction, so your voice travels well and you are clearly understood when you are evaluated. It is also a good idea to do these two days wearing as close to prescribed class attire as possible: choli (or choli dresses), skirts lifted in ostrich tuck to enhance your hip movements and show your legs and feet, and hair up to leave your neck and back clearly visible. You will not get penalised if you are not presenting yourself in this manner, but it’s likely that you will hear something during feedback, and considering you have limited time to get feedback from the teachers, it’s better to spend that time with information that will improve your performance, and not being told that your skirt was obscuring your legs.

Teacher Training takes place over two days. You will get a lecture during the first morning, then the evaluations will start. You will be divided into several “virtual classrooms” with fellow trainees. You will be assigned a step, either randomly or by choice from a small stack of cards. When it’s your turn, you will teach your step from scratch to your fellow trainees. You will have to assume they have as little previous instruction as possible, but if you’re asked to teach a level 2 move, you can assume the students know all the level 1 moves. You will have about 8 minutes in all to demonstrate, explain, drill, correct, and answer questions.

During your teaching period, the teachers evaluating (Carolena, Megha, Philippa, Jesse, etc) will be walking around the virtual classrooms, listening to you, and taking notes not just on your delivery, but your tone of voice, command of the classroom, engagement of your fellow students, and yes, your technique too. After your time is up, you will have a period with your group to get feedback from them, to see what work and what didn’t, what they wished they saw more, or what you would have said, and sometimes if they saw something they didn’t quite like or understood. After this, you will all sit, and group by group, you will listen to the feedback they gave the “teacher”, and then the actual teachers will give you their feedback. It is a *very* good idea to listen to the feedback people get before you, and plan to adjust your delivery; if you’re especially lucky, you will hear someone else getting the critique for the same step you will be teaching, which is invaluable.

You won’t get a mark, just told whether you passed or not, but it is a very good idea to take into account ALL you’ve heard during your training and before you start class. One more thing that I would strongly recommend is, if you haven’t got the information through other channels, either to take a good course on safe delivery of dance classes, or at least invest in a few books and read them before attending Teacher Training. You will not be expected to pronounce “sternocleidomastoid” or “gastrocnemius”, and you might even be disuaded from using muscle names if you are clearly not familiar with them, but having a good idea of where movements originate, how they work in general, and how to structure a dance class safely is invaluable, particularly if you will be working with hobbyist dancers who might lack proper dance conditioning or awareness. A book I thoroughly recommend is Safe Dance Practice, by Edel Quin. I am currently reading it, and will write about it once I’ve finished it.

Overall, just don’t expect to do Teacher Training and come out knowing it all; this is not how these things work. Instead, expect GS and TT to be the first steps towards deepening your understanding of the format.

Upcoming Costuming Workshops at Gothla UK

On July 22nd, I will be teaching two costuming workshops at Gothla. Tickets are on sale now, you can find more details at https://gothla.uk/workshops/ and book your space at https://gothla.uk/tickets/

Grouped under an “Appetite for Construction” theme, these are not the typical “how to decorate your outfit” workshops. We’ll focus instead of how to create costume pieces that have the structural integrity to withstand years of use and plenty of decoration. We will work on tailoring the fit to your own body and not some generic shape, and which tools to use to make things easier. Finally, we’ll cover types of decorations, how to handle the most common decorations, out of the ordinary details, and other extras that can make life easier for you as a dancer.
You don’t need to have previous sewing experience, but it would be advantageous.

Strap it up! Belts 101 Sunday July 22nd 10am-12pm
A sturdy, well designed, well fitted belt can cover up a multitude of sins. Skirt too big? Belt will hold it in place. Waistband too small giving you muffin top? Belt will smooth it out. Boring pants? A nice belt will make up for it.
In this workshop we’ll make patterns for our own belt bases, adapted to our individual bodies, then create the bases from scratch, sturdy enough to support the weight of our choice of decoration.
As we progress, we can have a Q&A about working with difficult fabrics like brocade or assiut; and decoration and beading basics, both from a design and a craft point of view.

Boobie Trapping 101 Sunday July 22nd 12:30-am-2:30pm
Bras are one of the focal points for our dancing costumes, and need to be supportive and sturdy while leaving us room to move comfortably.
In this workshop we’ll focus on creating a bra (almost) from scratch, reinforcing it to take the heavy decorations we use in Tribal Fusion and ATS. We will discuss how to give more coverage to the cups if necessary, how to create sturdy straps that won’t sag or stretch, and how to replace bra bands.
As we progress, we can have a Q&A about working with fabrics like assiut or brocades; and decoration and beading basics, both from a design and a craft point of view.

ATS® General Skills

I wanted to write about ATS® General Skills intensive not just to record my experience, but because I’ve been asked a few times afterwards what to expect and what it covers. But I also wanted to leave some time in between finishing it, and writing, to let the effects settle and see whether/how it had influenced my dancing and practice.

What it says in the box: this is a 4-day intensive course where you cover all the steps from FCBD® ATS® DVDs vols 1, 4 and 7. You also cover vol 3 (zills), history of the styles, and formations. Basically, after finishing, in theory, you should be familiar with all the steps from ATS® Classic and Modern. No vol 9 moves, dialect, or advanced formations like duelling duets are covered. General Skills is a pre-requisite for ATS® Teacher Training

I said “in theory”, because truly, there isn’t much time to cover each step in extreme detail, not the way you would in a regular class where you can devote weeks to work with one step and its variations, not with all the nuances. So to get the best out of it, I’d *strongly* recommend that you arrive with a good foundation, in a physical state were you are capable of dancing five hours a day, and aware of your limitations and pitfalls. If, for instance, you’re still struggling to understand what the arms positions for fast vocabulary are, or you have trouble with the zilling, it might not be the right time for you to do General Skills yet.

How it works: Prior to arrival, you will get a list of the moves to cover for Classic and Modern ATS®. You don’t need to memorise the list, but it helps to be aware of it. You will be expected to do a short warm-up on your own before starting. You should be mindful of proper warm-up and stretching techniques, and of your own body. I know for instance that I need a slow deepening movement practice and not a big cardio to begin with, so every morning, I arrived early and did a short section off one of Datura’s yoga practices to start moving the body and articulating my spine. After roll call, you will have a quick song or two for cardio warm-up led by one of the teachers, using the moves you will cover that day, and from day 2 onwards, any you might have covered in previous days. You will get an explanation of a couple of moves from different families. You will then get a guided drill, and after that, you will go in groups of four people and start the exercises. There will be a tiny bit of time after each exercise for a post-mortem (quick talk of what went on) and then there will be another two movements. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The first day felt like the longest for me because there was a lot of foundation work for taxeems, shimmies and formations, and a lot of walking in a circle and stationary drilling. The following three days were much more dynamic.

You should keep in mind that, aside from the long time spent on the foundations (undulations, taxeems, shimmies), the pace is BRISK. There is time for question and answers, but at the same time you are taking notes, everybody else is also asking questions, so if you are trying to take note of everything said, it is likely that you will miss something. This isn’t a bad thing, not in my book. GS should be, at least to me, to learn directly from the source; to gain polish, refine some areas, or figure out something that has eluded you, or to understand the underlying aesthetic driving the style. Learning the steps requires practice, repetition and study; you might have some repetition and practice during the work, but not enough to “nail” each step; that requires hours and hours that you are expected to work on at home: there’s a reason the “ideal” is to take GS and only a year or two afterwards, do Teacher Training.

How has it affected my practice? When learning ATS, it’s very tempted to chase after the latest step or dialect, in an attempt to keep the vocabulary fresh. For me, doing GS gave me a new found love for “classics”, and helped me realise things I needed to work on and why; getting the information directly from the horse’s mouth allow me to develop a better idea of the general of the underlying principles behind the aesthetic as opposed to just learning steps and combos. It deepened my understanding of the format, and gave me lots of tiny nuances to work on.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, although probably in a few years.

How was it? I personally found the experience exhilarating. I’d already been attending ATS classes for nearly 5 years before doing it, but I don’t often get the chance to dance with new people. As I worked with the same group for the whole of the intensive, I could see how we went from having trouble reading each other’s body language, to pretty much be able to read the smallest movements before even the actual cues to drive the movement, and you could see over the daily videos how we were getting more and more in sync with each other. I personally think that this connection you forge with your fellow dancers is the greatest strength in holding GS in the way it’s held: as the days progress and you figure out where you are (and often, how much you need to work on x, y or z), you also develop very strong bonds with those with whom you are dancing. Which is, ultimately, what dancing ATS should be about.

2018 Calendar

January is almost over, we’ve all shaken off the last of the Christmas drowsiness, and if you’re anything like me, you are itching to get back to dancing. This year promises to have a lot of interesting events in the UK and Europe. Some events might be already sold out, but it’s always worth registering interest with the organisers, as quite often people drop off last minute.

  • February 16th to 18th: Kalash Tribal is sponsoring a twelve-hour intensive with Sandi & Wendy, from FCBD, in Devon. It’s sold out but might still have a place opening last minute.
  • April 6th-8th: Gabriele Keiner is hosting SuperBeth for a Tamarind Tribal Transformations Weekend, exclusively to learn Tamarind dialect. Details can be found in the facebook event. It might already be sold out but again, if you’re interested, contact the organiser.
  • April 21st-22nd: Nairiam Tribal Dance is hosting Kelley Beeston in Osnabrück, for a weekend ellegible for your Sister Studio Continuing Education Program. Also organised via Facebook event.
  • May 25th-28th: Tribal Remix, organised by Hilde Canoodt, bringing Jill Parker, Tjarda Van Straten, Lamia Barbara, Alexis Southall, and a few others. Individual workshops go on sale on January 31st
  • June 8th-21st: Integrated Dance levels 1 and 2 hosted by Alexis Southall; for any style of dancing, particularly if you are already or considering teaching
  • July 20th-22nd: Gothla UK, this year hosting Sharon Kihara with a Butoh intensive, and yours truly giving two costuming workshops on the Sunday; Sharon Kihara’s intensive can be booked now, individual workshops will go on sale in February
  • August31st-September2nd: Hilde Canoodt is hosting Michelle Sorensen in Brighton, workshops and show; bookings are already open
  • October 12th-15th: Kelley Beeston in Warsaw, hosted by Szkoła Tańca Orientmania; three days of ATS, also elegible for the SSCE Program. More details in the Facebook event page.
  • October 26th-28th: Infusion Emporium 8, in Wolverhampton; teachers include Amy Sigil, Aziza, and Olga Meos; registration hasn’t opened yet, but you can find more details in the Facebook event page

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