Upcoming November ATS® Workshops – Chichester

I will be hosting the second ATS® workshops for absolute beginners and mixed levels in November.

https://www.thebodysuite.co.uk/workshops/

We will be covering part of the ATS® Level 1 course, including formations, history of ATS®, slow and fast vocabulary, how to practice at home, some conditioning, and playing zills for those who are not absolute beginners. We will have a break with refreshments, where we can discuss more about what we are learning.

When: November 10th, 1-4pm, 2019
Where: The Body Suite Pilates and Dance Studio, Chichester

If you have some ATS® or BellyDance experience: rekindle your basics, learn how ATS® works, and learn more about musicality.

Upcoming Workshops in Chichester

I will be hosting workshops on ATS® for Absolute Beginners, in Chichester. You are welcome to attend without any previous belly dance experience.

A new one will take place on October 12th between 1 and 4 pm, at The Body Suite in Chichester. We will cover the first part of the ATS® Level 1 syllabus. The idea is to give attendants the basic concepts of ATS®, formations, and some of the steps, so by the end of the class we can dance together.

The second workshop will take place later in October, and ideally, regular weekly classes will follow, depending on numbers and attendance.

If you cannot attend to the first one but have some experience and would be interested in a regular class, please register your interest with The Body Shop, so they can have an idea of numbers.

You can book your place in the workshop directly via The Body Shop’s Online Booking System here:
https://www.thebodysuite.co.uk/workshops/

And follow the link above to my Classes pages to find out more about what is happening, any frequently asked questions, or if you are curious about my dance journey and approach to teaching.

Music Editing

Quite often these days, when applying to perform at a festival, hafla or show, you will be given a set of guidelines, including music length. This is not planned to upset the dancers, but to give everybody a fair chance and to avoid hogging the stage.

The limits I’ve received most often have been between 3:30 and 4 minutes. Does this mean that we can only pick songs or musical pieces that are shorter than that? Easy answer would be yes, but true answer is… not necessarily.

Enter music editing software. Audacity is a brilliant little program, free, which comes for Windows, OSX and Linux operative systems, so as long as you are using a desktop or laptop, you can use it. It’s available for download here: https://www.audacityteam.org/ A lot of people think that editing a song means just chopping off a beginning or an end, but this doesn’t have to be the only thing you do, and for dancing, this can be counterproductive, as it can leave you with a dull repetitive chorus, or remove a punchy end or a juicy beginning. Judicious editing allows you to create a new version of the track, keeping the bits you want, maintaining or even improving the original dynamics, and reassembling them, like a puzzle. Or adding pieces from another song. It’s kind of addictive and opens up a *lot* of possibilities.

So, how do you use it? First things first: you are going to get better results if your original sound file(s) are encoded directly from the source (CD, vynil or original recording) as a looseless WAV. “Looseless” means there was no compression of the sound file aimed at reducing file size; this is usually not that noticeable, but when you are manipulating the files it produces lesser quality results in the end. So if you have a CD, re-encode the song as a WAV. If all you have is an mp3, try to obtain the highest quality possible from the original vendor or distributor (320 kbps if possible). Do not encode upwards, that is, don’t re-encode at 320kbps if you have it at 160kbps, and do not burn a cd and re-encode as a wav if all you have is an mp3. Basically, work from the highest quality file you’ve got.

First, import the track via File=> Import=> Audio. Your song will load, and you will see the first “track” as two fields of squiggly lines (see image below). These are the left and right channels of your track. The blue spiky fields represent the sound waves and dynamics, which translate to our ear into sound quality, volume and intensity of the music (more instruments, more things happening, etc). The top playback controls should be easy enough. I’d recommend you play the track once in full, paying attention how the tracker (vertical line) moves along the track and noticing how what you hear is displayed graphically. Note whether there are particular sections that you want to keep, and bits that you would like to removed, either because they are repetitive, or because they are not adding anything to the song. If you can, note down where they are, using the “audio position” value at the bottom of the screen.

Doing a basic Intro/Outro is the easiest way to get started, so let’s say we want to remove the first 20 seconds, and the last 10. First make sure there’s no playback going on, and none of the playback buttons are greyed out or in use; pause is still playback so you need to make sure to press STOP before attempting any editing. Use the selection tool (vertical line | in the top row, to the right of the red dot for RECORD) to select the first section we want gone. It will highlight; we can hear just that section using the playback controls. If it’s the selection you want removed, hit delete on your keyboard, making sure there’s a smidge of it left before the actual section of song you want to keep starts, unless there’s a very sharp cut (actual silence) in the track. Select this smidge now, and use Effect=> Fade In, to make this start less abrupt. Use the magnifying glasses tool to see the soundwaves in more detail.
Do the same with the ending you want removed, select, delete, and this time use Fade Out to end the track more gradually. Export using the File=> Export=> Export as MP3 to save this new version. Or export as WAV if you want to burn it to a CD.

Audacity after importing a track

This is all well and good, but what happens when you want more complex editing, and what do I mean by that? Example: this (plus a couple of seconds that are missing from the video) is a Type O Negative track that I danced at Belle, Book & Candle show with Princess Farhana in 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XgNH5lTRwY. The original track is 7:15 and you can listen to it here ; the single edit for the radio is 4:51. My editing took the song down to 3:39, and instead of chopping off the atmospheric intro or the mournful outro, I worked removing second verses, phrases and reducing length of solos to achieve the length I needed. Comparing both tracks you can see that they keep similar dynamics, and all the sections from the original song are there; mine is just condensed. I basically cherrypicked what I considered the best moments of the song, and distilled them into a new version.

So, how can you achieve a similar effect and keep it ? Like before, listen to the track, notice bits you want to keep and bits that can go. Find the first obvious place to make a cut, but instead of just deleting, cut from the place you want the cut, to the END of the song, create a new track (Tracks=> Add New=> Stereo) and paste the second part of the song in this new stereo track. You can use the “mute” and “solo” buttons on each track to listen to each part on their own, and since you wanted to remove a bit, you now have basically the scenario above of editing begining and/or ending. Therefore, the same procedure applies: select the bit you want gone, delete, fade in or out. Use the Time Shift Tool (the double ended arrow <-> ) to move the new section to the right (later) or left (earlier) so it starts as the previous section ends; the fades in and out of each section should make them blend. Lather, rinse, repeat.

To avoid lag, I recommend working with no more than 4 stereo tracks at a time, but this might not be enough for complex edits. If you’ve got a beginning worked out and your computer is slow updating the viewport, export this beginning by muting the non-edited section, then using File=> Export=> Export as WAV. This will create a new file with everything into a single stereo track. Save this doc. Select the unedited section and copy, then close this document. Open a new document, import the track you created in the previous step, then create a new stereo track and copy the unedited section you copied from the previous doc; continue editing the last sections in the new doc.

It will take some trial and error to find the best places for these edits, but some care will get you the best results.

  • always match the actual tempo; for instance, don’t end one section on the 4 and start the next one on the 2 or it will feel jagged; if there is a slight difference -can happen in field recordings and ethnic music- use the Effect => Change Tempo tool to see if you can make the transition better.
  • keep to the song’s basic structure as much as possible, so if your verses are 4 lines each, 8×4 counts, your editing doesn’t turn them into 3 lines, or 5x 4 counts.
  • when working with instrumental sections that need removing, try to match the beginning and end chords or notes if possible, or to make the cut where the first is moving onto the second naturally anyway; it helps if you sing this note and maintain it as you listen to the next section. This will make the transition seamless
  • don’t be afraid to overlap sections from different places if they match, to get a bigger sound, or a stronger dynamic (see the graphic below)
  • use the selection tool to listen to the joints in sections, but don’t be afraid to step back regularly to listen to all you’ve got so far, to make sure that it’s got the overall dynamics that you want.
More complex editing, using 3 overlapping stereo tracks

Most important, to me, try to keep the song’s flow; I know it’s quite common these days to have 4 bars of this song and 8 bars of another and 16 bars of something yet again different, and to my ear, quite often this feels disjointed. But this is your story to tell, just make sure that the editing doesn’t overshadow or distracts from your dancing.

And that should be it. The process is laborious but not too difficult once you figure out how to do it; it does require attention to detail, but it will help you break free of pre-recorded music constraints.

What about you? Do you feel like learning to edit your tracks, or would you rather work with tracks the way they were intended originally, regardless of length?

Gothla 2019

Last year marked my first year teaching at a festival. I offered two craft workshops, in belt and bra making. The content was expanded from what I’ve been publishing here, and required me to write a small book -about 100 pages between text and photos- as handout. If you couldn’t attend my workshop, that book will be out in digital format at some point before end of December.

This year’s Gothla promises to be another stunning affair, with not one but two intensives. Ariellah is teaching a 10-hour intensive on Compelling Choreography Composition, and Valenteena teaching her Killer Dancer’s Path. Guy Shalom will also be teaching an advance drumming workshop. There will be other teachers and workshops if these are not your thing, including Morgana, Ida, Carina, Darkstar, Fulya, Nia, Rachael, Robyn and a few other teachers.

I’m happy to announce that the organisers have very kindly invited me to teach again. This time, I’ll be teaching a workshop on musicality, using Western musical theory as the starting point. This will be an open level workshop, and on it, I will use my background in classical music to first cover basics of musical structure, then work on how to apply those concepts into our dancing. Not two of us hear the music the exact same way, but I hope I can help you unlock your musical ear into a next level, both to help you in your own creations, and when dancing someone else’s.

You can find more about the workshops at https://gothla.uk/workshops/

Costuming for Plus Sizes

With the Summer performance season almost over, I am always rather surprised at the amount of items I had to make; it seems that no matter how much costuming I’ve got, I always end short of *something*, but based on my own experiences, and listening to what other plus size dancers tell me, I think the costumes are often a source of stress.

Why? Simple. Sizing is difficult. A lot of the cheaper costuming options (e.g. China) don’t really offer plus sizes or if they do, they are wildly inaccurate. Even for some US manufacturers, sizing can be inconsistent or confusing, citing US sizes like L-XL without measurements or with different measurements for the same pieces in different colours, or even ignoring easing. For those of us outside the US, these mistakes are EXPENSIVE. Custom sizes, if offered, can take months to get to the front of the queue. Ill-fitting clothing can also be very unflattering, knocking down confidence.

If you are a plus size, you are probably very aware of everything I have said so far, and probably all I say below. When you are planning your own costuming it’s not that bad, but when someone else is, either for troupes or group dances, these issues and more can come to the fore. You might have felt anxious, shamed or dejected as a result. You might wonder if it’s just you. No, it’s not you; sometimes even people with the best intentions can’t avoid these pitfalls, because they don’t live with a plus size body. And if you are not a plus size and you landed here because you have one or more fluffy people in your group and you’re not sure what to do in terms of costume planning, I do get it: as a teacher or director, you’ve got a “Vision”. You want things to look a certain way. As I was reminded not that long ago, putting a plus size on stage is an act of defiance and rebellion, but for that rebellion to have its full impact and meaning, it needs to look the part. You trust your plus size student or troupe member to be on stage, and they trust your experience and guidance. So maybe, if you are not a plus size yourself and you arrived to this page looking for ideas, you should trust their experience living in their body, to know what might or might not work for them.

A few suggestions then, which you can take or leave; these are written mostly for non-plus-sized readers, and the language will reflect that.

  • Timing: Decide on your costumes early; very little is available off the peg for anything above a UK size 20, so while it is possible to have an extra cool outfit, you should consider the extra time it will take for that custom order or for making their own, unless you are doing a group order for everybody; for those of us making our own pieces, we will need to develop a pattern if necessary, find the correct fabric, and make it; that’s not a small or fast endeavour, and neither is modifying existing kit to fit
  • Support: It is not a truth universally acknowledged that any plus size is in need of good support, but statistically, it’s often the case; cute yoga tops, simple triangular tribal bras, bandeau tops, or cholis without bras might work perfectly fine for C cups and below, but remember that a C cup on a 38 bra band is the volume equivalent of an F cup on a 32 bra band. Keep this difference in mind when looking at coverage, something that looks cute on that 32C cup might look beyond bountiful on a 38C cup. You want all your dancers to feel beautiful and confident, you don’t want your dancers worrying whether they will have a costume malfunction because that cute little number on the top cannot handle their bust!
  • Cost: This should go without saying, but custom or plus size is usually much more expensive than off the peg (we can discuss the reasoning behind this some other time); if you all just have to have that particular piece, try to make the purchase worthwhile and not a one-off
  • Pre-loved: Suggesting items that you think are common in charity shops is, in theory, a great way of reducing cost and consumerism. Except that most charity shops rarely stock anything above a size 18, and when it comes to belts, what comes as standard might not fit anyone above that size anyway, so would be useless. Plus sizes would either need to find the right size, or look for two identical pieces that can be joined together, which is even rarer.
  • Tribal sizing: A lot of the Tribal pieces are small: tribal belts rarely go above 42″ hips, which is a size 16; banjara type skirts are equally small; you really don’t want your plus size to have a huge gap at the front or wear an overskirt which looks like an ass-cape because it’s too small; there are solutions to this often involving some creative work- so accept that some items will need extra effort and some mild cultural vandalism to make them work
  • Silhouette: believe it or not, quite often plus sizes will really rock stylised looks that elongate the body proportions; tents make everybody look shapeless, and capri pants look awful on everybody unless they are Audrey Hepburn, as they cut the lines of the legs and make them look shorter. Boxy or bulky silhouettes will do no one any favours, and big drapes -whether on chest or legs- will highlight the bulk instead of covering it up. Don’t be afraid to suggest mermaid skirts, if available! (hint: there’s a tutorial on this site). Same goes for arms or tummies: long sleeves elongate the lines far more than cap sleeves, covered tummies often can elongate short or boxy torsos.
  • Stigmatising: what I mean by this is, avoid temptation to single out your plus size. I can’t count how many times, while I was dancing Cabaret, I was told by costume sellers -and even some teachers at workshops- that I should just “get a galabaya“, regardless of what style I was dancing, or how the rest of my dance mates looked; being the only one dancing in a particular type of costume singles you out rather badly, and the same can be said of using cheap fabrics for a quick knock off, or something three sizes too small. Also, goes without saying, if you hear other dancers making nasty comments about the plus size dancer’s costumes, you should speak out; don’t penalise your fluffy dancers

So, how best to deal with the above:

  • be flexible: and be prepared to allow for variation to compensate for the issues you find. What do I mean by this? if you really have to have those triangular bras because of the V neckline with the halter, check if you can make the band taller instead to add support and coverage, for instance. And always ask, maybe some of the non-plus sizes would also feel more comfortable with a bit more coverage or side support
  • introduce variations: unless you are going for a perfect army-look, having slight variations on a theme will add visual richness and avoid singling out *one* dancer: have a variety of options for pant legs and tops, including at least one sleeve option, so you get a unified, but not uniform look
  • use colour, accessories and other less size-dependant cues to tie the group’s look together: hoods/snoods, shrugs, hip scarves, gloves or gauntlets and even jewellery can help with this
  • be aware of which manufacturers do affordable, consistent bigger sizes and support them; avoid the manufacturers who will send you three items marked the same size but sized all over the place, and will charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege; if possible, tell them this, as inconsistent sizing is a problem that can be mortifying when trying on pieces
  • avoid the fashionable item which only comes in sizes mini, tiny and small; if you are a teacher/director who have them, save those for when you are dancing on your own; if you aren’t within the size range, and you really want one, enquire about custom order, or look for alternatives; more often than not, there are some out there
  • don’t assume that your plus size dancer will only have or want to wear drab costume pieces; ask what we’ve got available and if enough of the other dancers have it -or if there’s enough to go around- use it! Keep a list of who has what available, so you know where your group stands at any point, and can build from there.
  • don’t put the burden of costuming on your plus size dancer all the time: it’s unfair if they are the only ones that always need to modify, adapt, and make things; if they have a suitable item but another non-plus size dancer doesn’t (e.g. tribal bras) and that dancer can get a loaner, maybe make that dancer use the loaned item instead of dictating everybody uses sports bras with thin straps (see support above); this also applies for skirts, trousers, etc
  • encourage costuming sessions: these allow for bonding time among dancers, are fun, remove the isolation factor, put everybody on a level playing field, create staples like decorated bras, and you never know, maybe that lady is actually quite good with a needle or has an eye for design, and everybody benefits
  • find key staple pieces: wide bottom trousers, mermaid skirt, cholis, single colour pantaloons and 25-yard skirts; encourage making or purchasing of other staples like bras and belts. These allow for a lot of repeated use and are pieces worth investing on; use them and abuse them
  • find local seamstress if no member of the group offers to do it, and give them your custom: they might not be big names, but they are probably going to be able to produce those staples I mentioned above; stimulate the local economy!
  • manage costume from the beginning: related to the previous five points, see if you can put together a list of basics from the start, and if appropriate, have a set colour palette too e.g. for ATS® black short sleeved choli, tribal belt, flat colour skirt, flat colour pantaloons, velvet burnout hip scarf, eventually adding a tribal bra; once you have these, USE THEM. This means everybody knows where they stand and what they need to have as staples, avoids people wasting money on pretties that won’t be used, and gives a level playing field that can be built upon as time goes on.
  • finally, don’t leave costume decisions to the last minute assuming that inter-group lending will sort it all out, because most often than not, plus sizes are left out of this; allow PLENTY of time for ordering, making or modifying

Or, to put it more simply: use your empathy to see where people are coming from. If you are not and have never been a plus sized, don’t debate or negate their experiences. If you were ever a plus size but aren’t now, remember what it used to feel like to be embarrassed and afraid of not fitting into the clothes you requested. If you are a plus size, cut yourself some slack: you deserve to look your best, and even if you can’t buy the brand name off the peg, learning to make your own well fitting clothes will fill you with confidence and make you look fantastic.

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