Reviews: Katie Holland Double Veil Workshop at Orient Expressions

I’ve always loved veils. They are very closely linked to the popular image of belly dancing, and most people that have never even seen a dancer before will tell you “oh the seven veils dance!” if you ask them what they know about belly dance. Veils are alluring, mysterious, and incredibly feminine, and can add an extra layer to a performance.

I’d learnt basics of veil usage with my teacher Val in class, and later when I started with the advanced group I also had to learn a full group dance with a single veil. But we never really had any more advanced techniques, and the opportunity to take a workshop was too good a chance to pass. So off I went.

Katie is an engaging instructor, very clear when explaining and fun. She has an interest background too, and this reflects in how and what she teaches. Her workshop took us first into getting re-acquainted with our feet and step (more on that on a different post), and learning to turn properly, including two different ways of turning (toe-heel and paddle turns), and spotting. This first part of the workshop was wonderful, well worth the full price, and has helped me immensely.

And then came the second part, working with the veils themselves. Sadly this didn’t go that well, for several reasons.

Firstly, there was just way too many of us. I understand people do need to make a living, but the hall had about 25 people in it, and for using double veil you need at least 5sq.metres around each, which is understandable when you have an adult with extended arms and two pieces of fabric of about 3 metres long each. We were just too many, even when split in two groups, so many that I could barely extend my arm without my veils coming into the path of someone else’s, which completely ruins the flow of whatever it is you are trying to do. It also means that since you cannot do what you’re supposed to, you cannot pose proper questions as required. This, sadly, ruined my mood halfway through the second part. Having said that, this is not something I would land squarely at Katie’s feet.

There were other things that also, sadly, added to the miserable feel during the second part. I had put my hair up in two small chignons to keep it out of the way, but these turned out to be absolutely *fatal* for double veil work, as they blocked the veils flowing every time I try to get in or out of them, and since I had secured them quite tightly, I couldn’t take them down easily. And to add insult to injury, my veils turned out to be slightly too long and slightly too deep and entirely the wrong shape, and against my better judgement, I would have been far better with my smaller, cheap semicircle veils from the Turkish Emporium, which I despise because they’re too short, but in this case would have been absolutely perfect. Both these issues are 100% my own fault, but combining with the space issue, they made quite a bit of the actual veil work rather difficult to achieve, which resulted in much frustration and less enjoyment.

The instruction from this second part was not that different from what you can find in Petite Jamilla’s Double Veil DVD, except that with the workshop, we got a few things explained more thoroughly, like how to hold the veils for this sort of work, or why it’s a good idea to have an edging on them. To be perfectly honest, I think the workshop has complemented the DVD at least for me; I don’t think I came out of the workshop anywhere near confident enough to do a routine with double veil, but with the instruction I got, I do feel it was a great way of getting started. I would probably still suggest you get the video, for getting a bit more, and to refresh concepts you might have forgotten.

Overall, if I’d had the right veils, hairstyle and enough room, I do feel I would have been able to take more advantage of the workshop, but as it was, even just the first part was well worth it, so much so that when discussing the particulars with my martial-artist husband, he praised the approach Katie used and mentioned that, again, the sort of instruction we got for that was invaluable.

Would I take another workshop with Katie? DEFINITELY
Would I take another workshop on double veil or veil? Yes, but only as long as I am absolutely, positively certain  that there will be enough room, and that I own the required props to avoid frustration. And this time, I’d wear my hair down.
Would I take another workshop at Orient Expressions? Yes, and I’m already booked for one.
So in closing: good workshop, too bad about the number of people present.

Watch below an impromptu performance of Katie, showing off the type of moves we learnt through the workshop.

Tribal Bra and Belt: The Bra

Tribal Bra Full

Tribal Bra in black and burgundy

This was my first bra project, and also my first ever belly dance costume piece, but in my usual convoluted way. ends being posted here after others. Most of the basics of how the bra cups were setup have been explained in the original how to cover a bra post. The only major difference in the cups is that I used the exact same pattern for all three new layers on the cups: interfacing,  calico and fashion fabric, to keep the cups as smooth and even as I could. I chose crushed velvet as fashion fabric.

After reinforcing the cups, I obtained a pattern from the stretched band, made two mirrored versions of it in calico, edged each with gross-grain ribbon (again, for extra strength and resistance to stretching) and covered them in the crushed velvet. I then anchored the straps, created as stated before, crossed over the back, to each of the “peaks” in these new pieces. I left the standard bra band in place, now with the insertion points for the old straps attached to the anchoring points for the new ones, and added hook and eyes on both ends of these new rigid pieces, so they interlock and flatten. The bra is then supported in place by the crossed straps, the original bra band and the new calico semi-rigid band, which not only supports any wayward “extra” flesh that wanted to move out of place, but also makes this incredibly strong: once you put it on, it WILL STAY THERE! And since the old bra band is sewn to the old one, it won’t curl and show underneath or above the fashion fabric one.

Tribal bra closeup decorations

Close-up of the decorations on the tribal bra

All I thought was left after that was adding decoration. For this I chose a gold and burgundy jacquard sari ribbon, shisha mirrors and some silver-plated flower findings that I had leftover from a jewellery project, which turned out to look really nice when sewn onto the black velvet. I used a fine needle and extra strong thread to avoid problems. I finished it all off with four sets of chains to add some movement around the cups, and a kuchi piece with dangling chains that adds a bit more interest and movement. Sadly, as this was my first ever piece of costume, I learnt a LOT: I learned that you cannot push a needle through foam cups and 3 layers of fabric plus adornments without damaging your nails very badly, for instance, but it wasn’t until I’d done the 3rd bra project that I finally found suitable tools, so for quite a long while after this, and the black costume, I had to wear my nails very short. This one also started the current trend with my costumes, which state that a costume isn’t finished until I’ve somehow managed to make myself bleed. And boy did I bled *sobs*.

Later on, after thinking I’d finished and worked on the piece overlaying the bra, I also added an extra piece in between the cups, as I decided I wanted a smoother line under the cups. And soon I will change the hooks and eyes for hooks and slides, which are far easier to take on or off, and stronger. The other interesting thing of note for this whole costume is that absolutely everything, except for the calico fabric used for support, was purchased online, most of it via Ebay. The bra was part of a dual-pack from Naturally close (the second bra went into the black and silver Fustan Raqs), the kuchi piece came from Sirik Tribal, the fashion fabric and jacquard came from Cheap Fabrics UK, and the rest of the decorations were obtained via Ebay. Nowadays I would re-think the position or even use of the chains.

Tribal Bra full cup close-up

Tribal Bra full cup close-up

The method does work well, however, and the result was quite a nice bra that supports and enhances my bust very naturally. Possible variations include removing the bra band altogether and changing it for the ever popular rings with ribbons tied through them, or even possibly leaving the rigid side bands up to a certain point (maybe one third of the back) then add the rings there. This particular bra was created for a ghawazee/bra/belt ensemble or gypsy top/bra/belt (as shown in the Tribal Outfit post), so the back needed to be very flat to avoid showing too much through the top layer. I’m also very tempted to replace the central kuchi piece with a similar piece with burgundy and black enamel, and longer chains, and rearranging the chains to drape along the bottom instead of dragging downwards, but this is something that I will have to re-think at the time I re-think the chains on the matching belt (upcoming making-of post, really!).

Katie Holland and Jon Sterckx Fusion Dance Workshop

Katie Holland and Jon Sterckx

Katie Holland and Jon Sterckx Fusion Dance Workshop at Mehiras Jewels Studio, Derby, on Saturday 19th January 2013, from 2 to 5 pm.
A fantastic opportunity to dance with Katie and Jon
Ideal for fusion, tribals and any dancer who wants to learn more about the different rhythms, dance techniques/combos from India, Africa and the Middle East and how to fuse them together in a traditional yet contemporary way!

Katie is renowned for her unique fusion dances incorporating Arabic, Bharatnatyam, Bollywood, Sufi Whirling, Sacred Dances, African and Samba. She has performed extensively in India and across the UK with musicians such as Hossam Ramzy, Abhishek Basu, Phil Thornton, Simon Webster, Sukhbir and

Jon Sterckx is a UK based percussionist with over 20 years experience of world percussion. Jon plays a variety of percussion instruments and has worked across a wide range of musical styles, from Indian classical music and other traditional world music to contemporary experimental & ‘fusion’ styles, theatre and dance collaborations, and his solo multi-percussion Live Sampling / Live Looping performances – Drumscapes.
Jon performs and teaches Tabla, Indian music, world music and percussion.

For more info on Katie, head over to

For more info on Jon,

The above is pretty much copy of their email, and I’m reproducing it here for information purposes. Wish I could go, but it’s a bit too far away for me.

Inspiration: Jon Sterckx’s Dhaginatak

JonSterckx's Drumscapes

JonSterckx’s Drumscapes

Today I received an invitation to a tribal fusion workshop with Katie Holland and the percussionist Jon Sterckx, and there was a link to a little gem taken during a TEDx talk. It’s a wonderful fun piece, using live looping and traditional instruments, but the best of it all? People stood up and DANCED. Me? I can’t wait to use it next time I’m teaching. It’s infectious and very rhythmical but, because of the nature of the loops building up the song, predictable, so very usable even with a first time listen, so great for practicing pops and locks and little detailed movements, I think.

I can’t embed the video because embedding has been dissabled from YouTube, but if you want to view it, and more importantly listen to it, you can go to

There’s a full album and two singles available on Spotify, and on eMusic, here

It’s Friday. Go dance and have some fun!

“You will die if you don’t loose the weight…”

The other day, I was talking to someone whom I respect a lot, and, since he’s very keen on exercising, I’d asked for some help figuring out what sort of exercise to do to help strengthen my body for a particular type of movement. What followed was pretty much any curvy girl’s nightmare.

I started getting a lecture on why I *had* to loose weight, as if I wasn’t aware of risks already, and I hadn’t been told that much by my doctor. I also started getting a lot of “tough love”, including demands that I stopped “making excuses for myself”. Apparently it doesn’t matter that I’ve lost weight during the last couple of years, or that I’ve gone down 4 sizes, or anything; what mattered was that this friend saw his opening to express his concerns, and went in, with all the subtlety of a battering ram. Anything I brought up, including medical conditions that make some things difficult -like planning a diet, or yes, loosing the weight faster- was dismissed as being “picky” or “excuses”, and in the end, it was all burnt down to not being strong-willed enough.  Because obviously being strong-willed can cure years of real metabolic problems, it seems.

And all I could do was sit there, on the other end of the screen, in tears and disbelief. Because, touched as I was by his concern, it meant that with a single stroke he’d rendered, at least in his mind, EVERY SINGLE DROP OF SWEAT that I’d done so far in terms of exercising worthless. Every kilo I’ve shed, every size I’ve dropped, was unimportant. Every reading I’ve done on studies (proper medical studies) about why my body behaves the way it does, and what I could do 0r not to adjust it was dismissed as an “excuse” and every week experimenting trying to find my optimum was also dismissed. I felt so unempowered by someone who, while well meaning, seemed to really believe he had the moral superiority to do so by the simple issue of his having been dealt different cards when the gene pool was handing them out (the exercise, the good diet, the gathering of information on nutrition? I do those too). And you know what? It felt awful. Even more because things that I see as fundamental for my well being (like my family, my pets and yes, even my dancing) were also classified as “hobbies” during this tirade and therefore tainted with the idea that they are somehow superfluous in what should be my quest for thinness. Because I’ll obviously be better off thin than happy (yeah, that was sarcasm).

After several minutes of this, I had to remind him that I had only asked for some advice on particular exercises, and that while I understood that his tirade was well-meaning, it was also extremely unwelcome. He dropped it, in a huffing manner, and he hasn’t talked to me since. Later on, when I calmed down, I realised that of course everything is only as worthless as I consider it to be. This hadn’t been malicious, just ill-informed, but sadly it is something that quite often happens when you’re overweight, not just from well-meaning family and friends, but also well-meaning strangers. From those that approach you when doing groceries with “you shouldn’t be eating that” without even knowing why you’re buying what you’re buying -or for whom-, to the stranger that approaches you with the exact same phrase when having lunch. And yes, it’s happened to me; I was eating a chicken breast with salad without dressing, I’d love to know what they consider healthy food if that wasn’t. Or the family that says the same, regardless of the contents or portion sizes on your plates.

Your weight is seen as giving anybody carte blanche to pass judgement on you.
Regardless of their own lack of knowledge of your situation or limitations.

It is, I guess, a bit like that nurse that told hubby he should think about exercising because he was “overweight” after just measuring his height and weight, without noticing that he had a flat stomach and rather bulky shoulders and arms; she was quite embarrassed when she found out that hubby was doing martial arts 3 times a week already, and when he asked *where* she was expecting him to loose the fat, she apologised. Overweight people never get the apologies; whatever we do, it’s never enough in the eye of these well-meaning -but ultimately ill-adviced- people, and nothing will redeem us in their eyes, except being thin.

I’d love to know where this notion that we ENJOY being overweight, having crappy clothes, being easy targets for bullies or told off for whatever, really comes from. I do not, I never did. But I also do not enjoy being reminded of the situation or risks constantly, particularly in an alarmist manner… someone weighting more than me with far higher abdominal fat who eats like crap, smokes, doesn’t exercise and doesn’t get constant health monitoring is obviously at a higher cardiac risk than me, putting both of us on the same level just because we both have some extra weight is wrong, and I profoundly resent being thrown in that category just because I happen to have fat accumulated on my hips and thighs. I am tired of people assuming immediately that I hit the junk food every single day just because of my weight. Worst of it is, everybody that does this *thinks* they are helping. They are NOT.

How can *you* help if you’re worried about friend or family member and think they would do better if they lost some weight?

  • behave like a human being: you’re not the Wrath of God(dess), you’re not an Instrument of Right Eating; tell them you’re worried, ask what you can do; don’t be a prick
  • don’t try any emotional blackmail: ultimately, the impulse is either there or it isn’t, but don’t try to give them a “think of your children” or “think of your husband” lecture; chances are, this will only create more stress
  • find the right moment: do NOT do this while they’re going through a divorce, moving house, changing jobs or fearing about loosing their jobs, or there is an illness or death in the family, or a new kid; these are extremely stressful times and diets or habit changes are extremely likely to go down the drain in these situations, and every doctor, nutritionist or Weight Watcher advisor will tell you the same
  • don’t dismiss the effort they’ve put in so far: if they’ve recently started exercising, praise, suggest new goals, or even better, find something that you can do together; if they haven’t found something they enjoy, suggest (and go for) walks, or other activities that would burn calories while being fun; a LOT of us have hideous memories from exercising at school, the only way to make exercising enjoyable for those cases is to create new and enjoyable memories; if they’ve started dieting, even if there’s hardly any weight loss apparent, you can comment on things like better looking skin, or them having more energy; telling them that they’re looking good goes a long way, and by all that you hold holy, refrain from adding “but you’d look better if you lost some more”
  • if you live with them, help with the diet; this doesn’t mean you have to diet yourself, but you’ve all heard about “out of sight, out of mind”… if you want that yummy chocolate snack, you might be better off eating it at work; also, remember to keep healthy food in the house; it’s a lot easier to have a healthy eating plan if there is healthy food available
  • don’t assume: that standard coke can or hard candy after the gym could be because they’re diabetic and having a low glucose episode; the pudding while having dinner out could very well be explained by them being on their day off, or if they’re using a WW-style point-counting, them compensating some other way; if you see this every day it’s a different matter, but don’t immediately jump to conclusions without having the full picture
  • don’t push: this goes for your beliefs, your diet-assumptions, or even your food; I can’t count the times that I’ve seen mothers *visibly offended* when their children eat less than what they consider a standard portion, or in their attempt at being “nice”, effectively sabotage their children’s diets, constantly; also remember that alcohol does have calories, so don’t push them to drink more than what they’re prepared to drink, even if this means no drinking at all
  • don’t assume that fat = unhealthy and thin = healthy; quite a few thin people don’t exercise, drink a lot, smoke, and eat badly, and quite a few of the overweight people eat sensibly and exercise
  • try to push forwards the benefits (i.e. less medication, better well-being, better rest, etc) instead of the negatives
  • avoid, at all costs, shaming, either public or private: this is the surest, straightest way for someone to say “sod this, there’s no way I can ever live to their expectations” and just throwing it all out, or to do the opposite just to be contrary
  • finally, find out whether there’s some particular trigger that increases food intake; emotional eating is incredibly common, and all you’re doing with a shaming or “intervention” session is to trigger another one of these; suggest counselling, or plainly be there for them; help your loved one find out whether things like stress are hindering their efforts, and see if you can help them plan strategies to cope.

Overall, be possitive and be there for them. Becoming active and loosing weight are extremely difficult things to do on their own, and whoever is trying to do either deserves our help and support, not a harsh battering with “facts” that might have nothing to do with them. And I am happy to say, this supportive attitude is what I’ve found within the belly dancing community: people are kind, accepting, and encouraging; which goes a *long* way towards making the activity enjoyable and making people like me want to continue. This is another reason why I dance, and why I think belly dance is such a great activity. Yes, you might burn more calories in a Zumba session, but burning calories should never, ever be the ultimate reason for any physical activity. Your own health and well-being, mental as well as physical, should be paramount, and ultimately, you are the best judge of that.


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