Smokey Palettes pt.1

Last year was difficult for all of us, for different reasons. Isolation was a big one, particularly for those who live on their own, or are more sociable, or were shielding for safety. One thing I set up with a few friends was a regular makeup session, to chat and try out techniques and colours and basically aiming to play with all the colours in my palettes. That has proven *fun*, as I’ve basically put on a full face of makeup, then moved on with the rest of my day with the makeup on, including niceties like making bread, or prepping food for a week. Those don’t mimic the stress of performance under lights or on stage, but it’s as close as I could manage to stress test the cosmetics.

When posting the results on Instagram and Facebook, quite a few people asked about the palettes I was using, and techniques. So you can expect a few posts with palette reviews, from the point of view of vibrancy and longevity, not just price and pretty swatches and packaging. Today I want to start with that staple of dancer’s makeup bags, smokey palettes. I’ve written about four of them, ranging in price from inexpensive to mid-range. There will be a second post exploring a few more, coming up. In the meantime, take a look at the four palettes below. Any catches your eye? Which one is your favourite smokey palette? Have you used any of these, and how did you find them? Leave me a comment!

ColourPop’s Blowing Smoke

I enjoy ColourPop’s palettes. For those in the US, or able to catch one of their few “free worldwide shipping” days, they are brilliant value for money. Their 9-pans are also magnetic, so you could, theoretically, put together the palette of your dreams (or suitable for your performance/trip) in a single little palette.

I did just that and took Smoke Show to use at Serendipity 2019. It performed well, was easy to work with, lasted all night (if you’ve ever been to Serendipity, you know the parties are legendary!). However, not all is rosy, I’ve got a few minor complaints. One, and this has far more to do with me than the actual quality, is that while most of the darker grey tones have a hint of warmth in them, the lighter tones are very neutral, and to my eye, look a bit harsh when used with the darker colours. That silver really is the only colour that somewhat works for a pop of brightness on the inner eye for me, and I feel it looks a bit harsh on my skin. A second complain is that, beautiful as it is, “Let’s Do It” (bottom left black with pink glitter) had *horrible* fallout and needed cleanup. And most of the colours go either dark or light on my skin, so mid-tones are an issue, but this will be different on everybody.

Get this one if you love the more classic dark smokey look, or if your skin has a neutral or pink undertone. Be ready with a very light warm shimmer to add more range to it. Also, stay tuned for an upcoming video showing how I did the look on the third photo!

ColourPop’s Baroque

This one surprised me. I was expecting mostly blue-based greys but some are a bit more purple than blue, they just don’t photograph that true to colour. This palette has a couple of light faint duochromes (light but pigmented colour, a hint of duochrome in them). It allowed me to create some surprisingly light looks with a hint of smoke in them as well as more traditional smokey looks with different undertones. So far it’s been the most versatile of my CP palettes, and I am sad that right now it’s out of stock/not available for purchase. The colour story won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but it worked really well for me, and blended like a dream. Lasted well into the 7-8 hour mark without budging, and the look in the full face photo I took after filming a dancing video, with 3 takes in full sunlight plus several false starts and corrections.

Get this one if you can find it, if you want your smoky looks warmer, with the option of going for light day looks. Also if you have Blowing Smoke and want something to complement it

Huda Beauty’s Smokey Obsessions

Another 9 pan palette, ultra compact. I’ve taken this one with me when travelling and it works wonderfully. Quality with Huda’s Obsessions palettes is hit and miss, but this one, to me, is one of the best of that first collection, and I imagine it has remained so. But truth be told, it’s not *smokey*, more cool and warm browns, with pops of silver, black, and warm gold (the tone of the look photo lies, I had blue light on me when I shot that look). The darker brown is brilliant as eyebrow filler too, and the black as eyeliner, so the tiny palette (7.5cm/3″) is great when space is at a premium. If you’re doing traditional FCBD® style makeup, in browns darkening to black (see this post for details), this is a great option for travelling, as you can do a lot of neutral to warm day looks too with it. It feels lovely on the skin too, very soft and creamy, and lasts well.

Get this one if really small packaging with minimum plastic use is important to you, or if you want to support a ME-woman-owned company (Huda has had her controversies, though, and I am aware of this). Also get this one if you want options for more variation on neutral looks in a compact package. And talking of smokey brown looks…

Melt Cosmetics’ MaryJane

Melt Cosmetics’ long standing tradition of releasing pot-related collections for April 20th has had their issues. I am not going to comment on this. I also know that some people did not enjoy this palette. But truth be told, my experience has been entirely the opposite. Yes, a couple of shades are chunky and difficult to use (MaryJane and Kali), although once I removed the hard pan they came with via washi tape, they became more usable. I also only use them with my fingers, although I want to try mixing some scraped powder with Mehron mixing medium. The rest of the metallics I’ve had no issue with, and the mates are out of this world. There’s also a nice range from light to really dark, and with some cool and some warm based tones. You can say that since this palette is substantially more expensive than the previous ones, it should perform better. But there’s also more product in each pan. I suspect this is one of the cases where the behaviour of each individual shade will change a lot depending on the user’s skin. In fact, I liked it so much that I used it almost exclusively for a month, from light day looks to smokey, heavy ones, and except for the situations described above, performed brilliantly.

Get this one if the pot reference doesn’t bother you, you want to support women-owned business, and you love the colour story, although I would wait until their Black Friday sale to get it for less. Also get this if you want smokey browns in shades that veer more towards colder or greener shades, and less warm than Huda’s palette.

On Ballroom Tango

Every year, I dread the Strictly Come Dancing season. Not because I watch it and get excited. But because every single year, someone will tag me in whatever “Tango Argentino” horror happens to be presented to the public. If I manage to avoid the tags, it will invariably be in the news as some sort of groundbreaking art event.

Except that it isn’t.

I am Argentinean. I lived there until nearly 30. My father was an avid tango dancer; my brother teaches it professionally. I don’t dance tango regularly, but I take classes and attend milongas whenever I visit. I am nowhere near a “tanguera”, but it’s also not something I have no acquaintance with. And about 99% of the “Ballroom Tango Argentino” I see sets my teeth on edge.

I don’t claim to speak for all of the Argentineans, or all tango dancers. This is just my own analysis of my own lack of comfort with what I see portrayed. I have engaged in this analysis over the years, as a way of helping me explore my relationship with my own culture as a migrant. The reasons for my dislike are complex, and something I am still exploring myself, something I expect I will continue to explore and maybe even change my point of view. But so far I can point to a few major offenders:

  • oversexualisation: incredibly often, when we see Ballroom Tango, it’s presented with this idea of overworked sexuality inherent into it. It’s talked of as “sexy”, “passionate”, and it leads to an exotization of the country and culture, which in reality is miles away from what you see when attending any social dance in Argentina. It seems the history stopped at the point where it reads “this dance might have started in the brothels” and never went past there.
  • there is very often an underlying narrative of domination/submission between the male and female (I am stating male and female as I have not seen this played with same gender couples). The man is a Manly Man™, who beats down (sometimes even literally) the sometimes reluctant, sometimes defiant, often “unfaithful”, but always “out of line” female who ultimately submits because… MACHO™. A clear example of this is El Tango de Roxanne on Moulin Rouge, which follows the ballroom aesthetic and this plot line nearly to the letter to the point of assault. Beautifully danced and filmed, and at least the music attempts to be a bit faithful to the original. But when that’s the only exposure that non Argentineans get to Tango, I don’t think I need to explain myself further on why I find this highly problematic.
  • there seems to be little of the intimacy between dancers that I’ve seen at milongas and tango presentations, even in stage tango shows. Borrowing Megha’s “painting the music” expression, it’s far less about “painting the music through an expression of the relationship of the dancers” and more about showing off flashy stuff in perfect posture and sync while looking the other way unless the choreography says so.
  • the music is often too removed from what tango music is. Don’t get me wrong, I love Metallica and New Order (the “casualties” of Strictly Wreck Tango from 2020 and 2021). But a pounding 4/4 is nowhere near the expressive music needed for it.

So, the music is not suitable, the steps are far removed from the origin, the dance aesthetic is completely different from the originating one, the dancing often follows a contrived problematic narrative … what is left? How is this “tango argentino” at all, and not some tango-inspired hybrid for the masses that cannot handle the sound of a bandoneon, or simply that prefer highly stylised couple dancing to music they know and appreciate, with some fantasy storyline thrown in for titilation? Is all Ballroom Tango like this? I don’t know, but pretty much every single one I’ve seen falls foul of one or more of the above.

Now, does this mean that I think only Argentineans should dance tango? Resounding NO. Turkey has such a strong tango culture that they write their own tangos. A few years ago I attended an event set up jointly by the Buenos Aires Secretary of Culture and the Turkish Consulate, to showcase some of their best work, and promoted on FM Tango, the official tango-only radio in the city. So obviously this view is shared by many. One of the best tango dancers in Europe right now is also Turkish (Murat, go look him up). Japan also has a strong tango culture, with orchestras and classes and milongas. The same can be said of a lot of other countries.

Does this mean that I think you can only dance tango to tango music? Again, resounding NO. One of my favourite pieces I saw my brother and his partner dancing to was Pink Floyd’s Maroon (link opens in new tab, go watch it!), and it was done at the request of the hosting milonga that wanted “something not tango”. But the movement kept the tango sensibility and musicality applied to the different piece of music. And above all, it kept what I can only describe as a sense of intimacy and fluidity between the partners.

Every successful tango-to-not-tango-music piece I’ve seen has kept that feel between the partners. And every successful not-tango-to-tango-music I’ve seen danced kept the fluidity and the strong sense of musicality. But I don’t think you can remove all of the above and still call it tango. It’s not necessarily bad dancing, it shouldn’t be canned, the dancers should not be pelted with rotten tomatoes. To me, it’s just not tango, and that’s ok. Dancing is a live art and it can go into different directions and change. But there is a point in the path of change where something is not what it was at the start. To me, this point is when it has lost all the elements that made the original, or if those elements are so badly translated that the essence of the original is lost.

I think this is the key of the issue: there is often a total mistranslation of the elements that result in a loss of the soul of the original style. That intimacy I was talking about, gets mistranslated as “sexual” by Hollywood or in popular imagination. The almost surrendering of the follower, whom you can often see dancing with eyes closed at milongas, is turned into “submission”. The drawn slow movements, originally to accommodate the long notes from violin, bandoneon or singer, used to express drawn deep feeling, are mistranslated as stiltedness. These are not the same.

I’ll leave you with two videos, and one reflection. The first video -embedded below- is from my brother and his partner’s final live presentation before the Pandemic hit the milongas in Buenos Aires. The second is the “tango” performance at Strictly 2020 , which I won’t embed here but you can access through this link. I cannot recognise anything from the former video into the later one, and I know which one I prefer.

My reflection: when picking up a social type of dance from a culture we are not familiar with, it might be a good exercise to figure out what makes it tick. It’s often not just a particular move or other, or clothing worn or a rhythm pattern. There’s a whole world and sensibility behind it, which we would do well to try to understand and respect when approaching it.

Just a thought. I don’t have all the answers, I am still grappling with some of the questions myself, but I know it is important that I keep questioning where I stand on these issues and why, because it helps me connect further with a strong element of my own culture and past, and helps me understand better how I connect with elements of the culture I now live in.

Inspiration: The Siren Project, Be Tribal Online Festival

The current situation has created difficulties for live performances, but has also created opportunities for experimenting with video techniques, quite effectively. It also allows performers to take part in festivals without having to travel, which is no small feat.

I’ve personally been studying Flamenco Fan FCBD® Style dialect for a couple of years now (or is it three? November 2018 I think?), and I find it beautiful and powerful. This year I started regular online classes with my teacher Mai Roma ( @eurekafloyd on Instagram) and it’s been great for my sanity. I might post some noodling around with a fan soon (ish), but in the meantime, enjoy The Siren Project, who developed most of the fan dialect out there.

Crafting a Set, revisited

Right around the beginning of last year world wide madness, I made a series of posts discussing how I craft a set, beginning to end. From selecting the music, deciding on costuming, to figuring out the dancing. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s the kind of info I wish I had found more readily available when I started.

I wrote all the posts and programmed them to release at set dates between February and April. And then COVID hit, and planning gigs was so far down on everybody’s list that it felt pointless. So let’s try these again, but all gathered together.

As I wrote there, this doesn’t mean that this is the *right* way to put together a set. Your process may be different. But hopefully reading someone else’s will maybe help you understand how it works for someone else, or maybe even consider it from a different point of view.

Question or comments? Please leave them below!

Back in the saddle!

Haven’t danced, or haven’t danced as much as you wished because of the pandemic, and are looking for ways to ease yourself back in, in a way that is also kind to your needs and body? I’ve got two possible options for you:

  • Sofia, from Tessera and the former FCBD troupe, is running a September Step Up your Stamina challenge. It’s running on her Social Media platforms, on Instagram  https://www.instagram.com/sofiadances/and YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEWRmxOuoqTcFz053AOgjnA
    She’s done a wonderful job of organising this month long practice as SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely, more on that at a later date) while offering dancers of all levels potential points for improvement
  • Sahira is running a Zill Challenge, with a support group on Facebook, and daily videos in your inbox. It’s also only just started, and you can take part by singing into the group here https://www.facebook.com/groups/zillicious
    Again, SMART goals set up in a progressive fashion, and with accountability within the group if desired

If you’re still not certain about restarting, or need an even slower pace, remember you can download the guides and do them at your own pace. I am only going to attempt Sofia’s during September as I also have other dancing going on, and one of *my* objectives is to not self-sabotage by taking on too much. I’m still downloading all the videos from Sahira and will attempt them during October. I’ve also just become aware that registration for Sahira’s has closed on her website, but not sure the status on the Facebook group.

Saroyan German Silver Zills

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