Crafting a Set 1

Dancer with a fan in her right hand holding her skirt in her left hand
Location matters!

With Spring fast approaching, the events queue starts filling up rather quickly. Now is a good time to review the previous year and prepare for the upcoming season.

Over the years, I’ve had to plan or co-plan sets for these events, ranging from last minute “please put together a CD for the group performance tomorrow” to “there’s a 30 minute performance in two months”, and I wanted to share my impressions and notes for those who could find them useful. A lot will sound rather obvious if you have done this before, but wasn’t to last-minute-scrambling-first-time me, so I’m writing this series for *that* potential person.

Carolina Nericcio says that any ATS® presentation needs to be a combination of three factors: steps, music and costume. I firmly believe that when preparing a set for a particular event, even if you are not performing ATS®, all three elements need to be aligned not just with each other, but with the event.

Now might be a good time to remind you that I come from a design background, where choices are rarely “because I say so”, and instead are analysed and weighted against each other, both for functionality and for impact with the target audience. So what follows will be heavy on analysis and far less a case of choosing a shiny option. If you know your process is different, the next few posts might not work at all for you, or they might still help you figure out how some of us think. This is how *I* go about to do it, it doesn’t mean you are wrong if your process is different.

How do we do that? Start gatherting the bits you know:

  • what is the occasion? is this a town festival? a re-enactment? a friend’s wedding? a charity run? is there a theme for the occasion?
  • who is your audience? general public? kids? other belly dancers?
  • where are you dancing? is it an open field, a stage, street tarmac, a dance floor within a marquee, or multiple locations? Is it by the sea, on the beach, on top of a hill? How will you need to get there? Car, train, walking?
  • when? what’s the season, and what is the weather likely to be like? morning, afternoon or evening?
  • how long? have you been given a time limit for the set?

Now that you have the details above, you can figure out how they affect your set:

  • Occasion: if there’s a theme, your costumes and music should have some relevance. For example, if there’s a pirate theme, pick music that has a bit of a sea shanty flair to it. If there’s a significant time period to it, for example a re-enactment event, music and costume should be appropriate for the time period. Wedding? Do the bride and groom have some requests? Charity run? could probably do with lively, uplifting music.
  • Audience: other belly dancers are more likely to be receptive to an experimental piece; but for general audience, it’s far more likely that they will expect pure entertainment, and if we are not delivering, they will walk away. Choose pieces appropriate for your audience.
  • Location: if you are dancing on grass or tarmac, you probably won’t want super fast turns as they grip your feet; tarmac would also mean no floor work. Consider whether location impacts atmospheric conditions: I did not for a set right by the seafront, and picked a lively skirt and Flutter Fan piece. The flutter fan was threatening to blow off my hand at any moment, and I’m lucky the skirt didn’t cover my face, although it showed off plenty of my pantaloons! (see the photo above) If it’s multiple locations, do you need different sets for each location? If it’s a theatre, what colour background would you have, and cannot use for your clothing or props?
  • Weather: Temperature and general weather will obviously impact costume choices, but if the date is in a notoriously rainy or windy month, you might also need to make allowances for these, or even include in your application/contract that certain conditions can be hazardous and see about alternatives.
  • Duration: make sure you stick to the set duration, taking into account the time for introduction, goodbyes, and music and groups changing, particularly if you are part of a line up of different performers. If your slot is 15 minutes, that’s for everything, not just the music and then extra time for people to switch and get in formation for the next song. Be mindful of your fellow performers!

You will notice as you read the above that the options of possible music and performance reduce as you fine tune the performance environment. And this is OK, it makes your choices easier. With my workflow, the pieces evolve organically most often than not, but they follow roughly a similar path: I would start by selecting the music, then allow the dance to follow, and finally the costume. Next time, I’ll write about my music selection process.

Do you have any tips for good sets? leave a comment below!

Inspiration: Elif’in Hecesi

I’m currently working on a series of posts talking about my process putting together a set for performance, beginning to end, but there are four parts (at the time of writing this) and I want to make sure it all keeps the right tone. I’ll have more meaty content again next week, no worries, and thought I would share another inspiration post in the meantime.

Elif'in Hecesi YouTube Channel logo

Today’s inspiration is a bit left field. Elif’in Hecesi is a YouTube channel. I discovered it thanks to a recommendation of a single track, then kept watching/listening to, and the more I watched, the more I loved. I would have materials for months if I was recommending each piece here, so I’ll just recommend the channel.

The concept is simple: one (or sometimes two) musicians, in a natural setting: forest, farm, or their own living rooms. One camera. Traditional instruments more often than not. Sometimes they improvise, sometimes they play their own compositions, sometimes they play music of their region. So far it seems that it’s all Turkish, mostly Anatolian music for what I can tell (I might be wrong). There’s a LOT of it, and all of it beautiful, and very different from what we tend to hear in the West… Stellamara comes close at times, but not *quite* to this level of beauty in simplicity. There’s something magical about listening to these people playing while life happens around them. Quite often the viewers have left lyric translations too.

It is worth listening to, if you feel you want to add to your Middle Eastern music appreciation past the staples. Just don’t expect catchy sing along hits. This is the kind of music you listen to when you want to soothe your soul or be reminded of the beauty of the world. I’ve left two examples below, but there’s a lot more!

Stay tuned, and in the meantime, enjoy!

Inspiration: Kristine, Philippa, Lacey & Jessie at ATSReunion 2020

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these. There’s been quite a few wonderful sets coming out of ATSReunion, so I thought it would be nice to showcase my favourites.

Enjoy! Do you have a favourite ATS® set? Tell me in the comments!

Mozuna Ropes

What are Mozuna ropes? Mozunas are Moroccan metal sequins, originally made in silver. The ropes have them strewn in tiny loops along their length, and as far as I know, are used for decorating camels and horses. Like a lot of other similar adornment, dancers have adopted them. And why wouldn’t we? They can be wrapped around hips, layered over skirts, tied with hair; they have shiny metal discs that bounce and reflect the light. They are wonderfully versatile yet lightweight.

Sadly they can be a bit difficult to find outside of Morocco. Artemis Import in the US has them often, so does Tribe Zuza in the UK, but finding the colour you want can be trickier. Furthermore, us plus sizes do need longer lengths for our wider hips, and quite often the imported ones are shorter, about 1 metre long.

I’d advocate, if possible, to obtain them directly from the local artisans. However, not all of us can do this (either directly or by proxy), or we might want something special. Luckily, they are easy to make. You will need:

  • a decent amount of thin yarn, in your choice of colour: this needs to be thin but not *too* thin; I’d also suggest using wool that is not too fluffy, or some type of cotton/viscose yarn.
  • Mozunas: try to get the original Moroccan; if not, vintage metal flat sequins should work; normal plastic flat sequins will work in a pinch, and of course you could try other types, but they won’t look the same
  • one wool needle (short, thick, with a big eye)
mozuna ropes components

Start by preparing the strands for your braids. You’ll need about 1.3x the length of your finished braid per strand, so about 3 metres for a 2.3 metre rope. When preparing these, it’s easier if you loop the yarn around fixed heavy objects to keep them in place and with some tension. So you will need a lot of space. How many threads per strand will depend on the thickness of your yarn; I used 45 loops for each of mine, which turned into 90 threads once I removed the loops from the fixed points, and extended them as a single braid strand. Realistically, I could have used even more to make it a bit thicker. Make three of these strands (so, three strands at 90 thread each), making sure you keep them laid out and as stretched as possible.

Once you’ve got all three strands, tie them at the top, leaving a bit that will become a tiny pompom, secure this somewhere like a door knob, and start braiding. You will want to keep the strands as separate as possible as you do. This will be fiddly but not difficult, you could use some cardboard squares with a slit to insert the bottom of each thread and wrap it, to make them easier to manage and prevent tangling. Just don’t braid more than 4-6 passes without untangling the strands, and don’t braid too tightly. Braid to the end, and tie it, this time make the knot TIGHT. Trim both ends so the ends are even and look fluffy

Now grab a double thread of your same yarn, thread through the needle, tie both ends so you have a four-thread strand, and put through the braid, securing it with a knot if necessary. If your yarn is a bit thick, you might only need the yarn doubled. Use your criteria, you want the loops to be strong. String a mozuna, leave about 1-2cm and string back in through to the other side of the braid, and do the same there. When you’ve put the mozuna loops on both sides, knot in place (to prevent unraveling) then put the needle along the rope, about an inch; bring it out, and do the same. Continue knotting and stringing until you reach the end of the rope. If you are feeling extra fancy, or want to add even more bling, do the same but this time along the sides of the braid, not top and bottom, and using the space in between the original loops so there’s more surface with metal. Once you’re happy with the amount of mozunas you’ve added, add beads over the end knots if you want; this will also help secure them.

threading and knotting
Threading mozunas and knotting the loops

Your mozuma rope is done.

You can get your yarn from local haberdashery, or Hobbycraft, I recommend you figure out how much you’ll need. I’ve done mine using lace-weight yarn that I’d bought for a hip shawl but found to be too thin. It has red lurex, so it’s a bit more showy. I used about 800 metres (one and a half 500m cones), you will use less if your thread is thicker. But yarn is measured by weight not length, so ask the attendants for approximations. Crochet yarn should be suitable; make sure you are not buying something that will unravel or cut easily. Buy all the yarn at once as the colour can be different depending on the dying batch.

Artemis Bazaar in the US and Hillary’s Bazaar in the UK both sell Mozunas. They are inexpensive, and you shouldn’t need a lot, 200 should be enough for a 2.5m rope with one pair every 2.5cm; double that if you want the second layer of mozunas.

Do you have mozuna ropes? What’s your favourite way of using them? Tell me in a comment!
Have fun, and happy making!

Mozuna Rope Finished
Mozuna Rope Finished

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