Breaking news: Shimmy in the City is CANCELLED

Shimmy in the CityWhat the title says. You can read the full statement in their website.

To say that I am disappointed would be an understatement. I booked myself for another workshop with Khaled very nearly the moment the bookings opened, and for the shows soon afterwards. The reason why this is making me rather angry is because, being non-British, I’ve not only had my run-ins with the Home Office, but also because as a consequence of those run-ins, I have, in the past, studied the Immigration Act rather *closely*, and there’s very little I can think of that justifies what they appeared to have done. Unless of course -and this is 100% pure personal speculation- whomever looked at the applications decided that the dancers were really not intending to go back. Without looking at their careers, they probably saw “dancers” and decided this was an euphemism for something else, or they’d be unemployed/unemployable, which is of course a crock of bull. And what if they didn’t want to go back to what appear to be escalating to -or most definitely is, in the case of Yasser- a country torn by civil war? would that have been *that* bad, considering they all have international careers and would have been able to find plenty of work teaching all over the world, if they had wanted to stay here until things calmed down? They have skills, talent, they would be easily be able to settle here and perform all over and pay taxes within the UK. Hey, they often let American actors do it, they let Madonna do it, why not them? Alas, that’s not for me to decide.

What worries me the most is the impact this cancellation will have on the future of the festival. I have only been introduced to Khaled, haven’t really talked to him, but I am friends with people that consider him a dearest friend. It concerns me that Charlotte and Sheila and him have been planning this for a year, have had hotel, catering, workshop facilities booked… and now nothing will happen. It concerns me that there are dancers from outside of the UK -and some from within- that booked travel and accommodation and will now have far less than they expected. The Festival is a great way for UK people to find out more about Middle Eastern culture, it promotes tolerance and understanding. Apparently those values are no longer important for some bureaucrats. And I don’t blame the organisers a bit, but I do blame the Home Office, for their intransigent, miopic, tick-box approach to what is a complex issue.

My thoughts are with Khaled, Sheila and Charlotte, and I hope they come out of this as unscathed as possible.
And I do hope I never have to write something like this again.

Inspiration: interview with Rachel Brice

This isn’t a performance, just a little interview where she talks about the first belly dancer she saw. And it’s not what you might imagine…
Watch, listen, and remember it next time you are feeling like you shouldn’t be dancing because of your size.

Making a comfort short/body stocking hybrid

How many of us wish we could pair that staple of belly dancer’s wear, the body stocking, with that other staple of the curvy girl’s wardrobe, the comfort shorts? I know I’ve been wanting one ever since realising that every time I wore middrif-baring costume, I kept having layers upon layers of clothes, as most of us will wear the comfort shorts for shaping and avoiding discomfort too, and sometimes, with some of the more lacy costumes, it’s nice to have a bit of modesty around the legs, just in case.

Still, much as it does sound like common sense, I have yet to see anything like this in the market, so each time I was putting on costumes, particularly my ATS styles, I’d need to go with the body stocking, the short leggings, then the pantaloons, then the skirts… Today I made a stretch velvet mermaid skirt to pair with existing (and upcoming) costume pieces, and realised that I needed a stomach cover, and since I had a matching colour power mesh, I decided to experiment.

You will need some stretch cotton, powermesh, and a pattern for leggings that fit you. Failing that, you can use cyclist shorts, leggings -if you don’t mind the length- or even tuck-me-in-pants, although these can often have quite a bit of structural detail that might alter the pants if you cut them, and also, these can be quite expensive and therefore not suitable for experimenting. You will also, ideally, need an overlocker, as you can sew the powermesh with a standard machine, but in that case you will need to reinforce the seams thoroughly and probably use spiral stitch to “wrap” the seam allowances.

Some time ago, I was thinking of doing my own tribal pants, and made a proof of concept cyclist shorts using cotton jersey to try the fit; they were waistless and rather low on the hip, therefore ideal. I won’t go over how I obtained the pattern, as it’s long and complicated and full of potential issues, so I strongly suggest you find a pattern for sports clothing to obtain this. If you don’t happen to have anything this convenient, I would suggest picking a cheap pair of cyclist leggings from your favourite shop or even supermarket. The top on these normally comes up to the waist, so you will be chopping it off. To make sure you don’t make a booboo, put them on and have a friend mark around your body a bit below the level where your usually wear your belts, so there’s no accidental panties exhibition. Cut a bit above this marked line to have enough seam allowance to join the body stocking. A possible (might be necessary) extra modification would be to split the crotch so you don’t need to remove all the layers to use the facilities, although whether you add this or not depends a lot on how long you usually stay in costume… if you take part in full-day events, then you definitely should consider doing this!

Body Stocking pattern

Body Stocking pattern

For the body stocking, I took measurements for my underbust, waist and hip -at the level the leggings end-, then divide by two; measure distance from the bottom of your bra to your hip line; trace all these measurements down onto paper, remembering that you’re doing half, and you’ll be cutting two of these pieces. Depending on your body shape, you might end with a rectangle, trapezoid or even something like an funnel. Take a look at the diagram on the left to give you an idea of how to create your pattern.

BodyStocking seam

Seams close-up

Pick your powermesh and check the stretching, I reduced about 10cm (4″) on each width-wise measurement, after making sure that it could stretch that much. I left the length the same as sideways stretching can sometimes reduce the length of the body stocking. Powermesh is very slippery, so I folded mine, and pinned down all around the edges to make sure it stayed in place, then marked the piece and pinned all around the inside so it would remain stable and both pieces I cut would be identical. Once you’ve got both your pieces, overlock or sew the edges, then attach to the cyclist shorts. You might need to experiement as the mesh part might be smaller than the shorts’ waist. What I did was to put the mesh tube on and the shorts on top, mark where the shorts reach on the tube, then remove everything, and pin it all with the right sides together. If you want this seam on the inside, you will probably have to pin the tube upside down and shoved inside the pants to be able to attach it… when you pull it up, the seam will be closest to your skin. Again, experiment to see what works best for the effect you want.

finished bodystocking

Finished piece

All that is left after that is figuring out the method to keep the body stocking in place, although this will differ depending on what you are wearing on your upper body. There’s no reason to try to reinvent the wheel, so you can just create some small loops with ribbon to use clear straps to keep everything in place, and of course you can go with the time-honoured safety pins. And you’re done! You can see the final result on the left, modelled by the trusty white pillow. I made a dip at the front as I tend to prefer that shape, but that is a personal choice, but if you prefer a straight line, just go for it!

Upcoming Events

A quickie to list some events coming next in the next few weeks/months, which I should add to the event calendar, but want to also mention specially:

  • September 15th: Workshops with Hilde Cannoodt and Alexis Southall in London: Drills and Belly Dance Geometry, more details and booking on Hilde’s website
  • September 19th: Tribal Café at the Blue Man in Brighton; details and booking also on Hilde’s website
  • October 13th: Orient Expressions; Tara Ibrahim will be teaching Khaleeji. View details in their Facebook Event page
  • December 14th-15th: Fantasia Festival; lots of workshops in different styles, competitions and a show. View details and bookings
  • February 8th-9th: Choreological Study of Tribal Fusion Dance with Hilde Cannoodt; view more details
  • May 2nd-5th: Tribal Remix in Brighton; Tribal Fusion at its best! Details and early bird booking
  • June: ATS General Skills and Teacher Training Certifications; no further details yet, other than it will be taught by Carolena Nericcio

Review: Rosangela Silvestre Intensive

I attended this workshop back in July, but I’ve delayed writing about it not because I had anything bad to say, but because it’s just so difficult to explain *why* it was so good, as it was quite an intense experience. And sadly, for part of it, I could only say “you had to be there”.

First things first: Rosangela Silvestre is a contemporary dancer from Brazil, who has developed a full technique for dancing that she’s rooted in the Brazilian culture. Her technique is often called “esoteric”, and in a way, you do get to hear, during the training, about things like four Elements, Chakras (energy centres in the body that correspond, roughly, to major endocrine glands and that align along the spinal column), and Orixás (Yoruban Nature deities that were adopted and further developed in Brazil). These four elements are the same as the traditional Greek four elements that were later picked up by ceremonial magicians and several flavours of Pagans. Same goes for the Chakras, you’ll find a lot about them in the New Age section of any library or bookstore.

Yes, all of this sounds rather… “interesting”. New-agey. Pagan.
Does it mean you have to believe in all of this? Absolutely not.
What does it have to do with dancing then?
Turns out, A LOT.

Rosangela has developed a full series of moves to work with each element, to begin with, that correspond with certain aspects of our dancing: earth goes with balance, air and water with expression, fire with perception, and all of them combined turn into Will. Each of these series of moves does give you a really good conditioning routine that, when followed, will work as a good dancing conditioning would, while emphasizing certain “qualities” of that particular element, so you can work on “Water” to make your movements more fluid, or Air to work on what other people call “opening” to allow your dancing to express and transmit this to your audience more, or Will to gain focus and energy and intention when dancing, and not just going through the motions.

The workshops were two days, 5 hours each day. The days were split in two. On each day we worked for around 2-3 hours on the Elements, first starting with the conditioning moves, and later on going onto combinations and, on the second day, a small choreography. Then we had a bit of “theory” where Rosangela told us about her vision, why she developed what she developed, and how it worked and what it was improving. After this break, we then worked on Orixá dances, learning stylised versions of dances she codified and developed from traditional dances done during Candomblé rituals in Brazil. Throughout all of this we worked with Rosangela’s instructions, sometimes singing (she’s got a beautiful voice) and with Sabio’s live music, which was fully improvised, and done to match our moves and the general atmosphere of what we were doing. As an aside, I did like that Sabio did the warm-ups with us, even though he wouldn’t be dancing, but I suspect that gave him a good chance to atune to how our bodies would work for the rest of the day.

The warm-up and conditioning part started SLOW. And I mean almost glacially slow; I’m used to having cardio-style warm-ups, and doing slow bends and pliés with holds allowed me to realise that my body much, MUCH prefers this type of work. I found that problem areas like my knees were far more pliable than I was used to feel, my bends were deeper and my muscles were moving a lot more at ease than what they normally do. Rosangela also made sure that we understood that not everybody has the same body shape or muscle capacity, so she worked a lot on letting us get comfortable with our bodies’ moves before pushing it a bit further, all the while also encouraging healthy movement and attitude. This is brilliant for ANY body shape, as it encourages you to find the ways that your body prefers moving, but does require some effort from your part to realise what it is that your body prefers, and make an effort to improve where things are not right. Trust me, this will also push you to re-examine a LOT of what you do daily, from how you sleep and work to how you spend your time.

The Elements work included what you could call “embodying” each of them through the series of moves. If you are esoterically inclined, you could say that you were channelling each element, but you could just as easily think that you are trying to achieve particular things, like flowing for the Water, or focusing on the grounding and balance for Earth.

There was also a lot of encouragement to “will” our bodies to avoid repeating, and instead “re-doing” moves with full awareness each time. Talking with hubby later, I found this is a common concept within some martial arts, as it encourages muscular memory with a level of consciousness, so moves don’t become predictable or drilled wrong. This “will” also extended to trying to find better ways to work with the body, and to encourage things like learning weight shifts or using inertia from one move to flow into next naturally. This was best exemplified by a combination we did on day 2. It included a backwards spin with a jump. Jumping, that thing a lot of us absolutely DREAD. And yet, the way she guided us into it, it felt like a natural progression. And even with my weak joints, and notoriously bad balance, I went through it without issue.

The second part of each day, after the break and the “theory”, was devoted to the Orixá dances. They were a good chance to learn a whole new vocabulary and mode of expression, with emphasis on one or several of the Elements. We worked on the Welcoming -a dance done to open the floor for the Orixás, so to speak- and Oxumaré dance on the first day, and a very long Yemajá sequence on the following day. Rosangela picked both for Water-based Orixás, as, most of us being belly dancers, she felt we would be able to connect better to a lot of the moves. We worked in “families” of 3 or 4, doing passes along the studio as most of the steps were travelling steps. A lot of them were rather low on the ground, and this was killer exercise for quads too, but most of all, she was interested in seeing us do our dancing strongly and projecting intention.

And over all of this, during the 10 hours, we had nearly uninterrupted, improvised live music provided by Sabio, which managed to set the tone for everything so perfectly that at some points, if it hadn’t been for the repeating nature of what we were doing, it would have been more a party than anything else.

Overall, I was very impressed, moved, and felt that the workshop gave me a lot of food for thought, and a lot to work on; it helped me become friends with my body again, and break some mental barriers I had in place goodness knows for how long or for what reasons. Whether you are taking the Elements/Chakras/Orixás associations as “real” or as metaphors for what we do while dancing, I do believe there was a lot to learn and take home. The most important thing I got out of the workshop was a newfound trust in my body and its limits… I almost didn’t book for it, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to survive the first 5 hours without collapsing. Turns out I was wrong. Also, the style of the work made it so that my body did re-assess itself, and I found that during and afterwards, I was able to do quite a few things I hadn’t been able to do for a while. This workshop allowed me to remove mental barriers that had been put in place ages ago, and although some still remain, they are also on the way out through careful training… after all, identifying these mental barriers is half of the battle. As an example, before the workshop, my knees protested loudly at me every time I tried to do any level change, no matter how small. Afterwards, part of the “listening to my body” work made me realise that sitting too long (and badly) at the computer was causing my legs and knees to get this impression, and now I’ve changed my work routine to have frequent active breaks to remove this source of issues, and of late I’ve started doing level changes training within the ATS class… I still haven’t managed to break through the barrier of doing a full one in class, but at home I have managed to do changes from standing to tiptoes to a full crouch and up, and its only a matter of time until I can do these as part of my dancing… I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing that when I started ATS a year ago!

Would I take another workshop or intensive with Rosangela? A resounding YES, I feel I got a lot out of the work I did with her. She was also very accessible, and was a pleasure to chat with someone that was born and raised in South America as I was.
I hear she might be coming again next year, and I’ll be ready for it. In the meantime, if you want to see a bit of the kind of work done, talk a look below:

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