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 Mozunas are Moroccan metal sequins, originally made in silver.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

Hair Flowers

Materials for your Hair Flowers

I love wearing a big hair garden, but I am rather particular with the colours and flowers I like to use. I haven’t been too keen on the flowers I’ve seen available for purchase, and the clips I saw on them didn’t look sturdy enough for my finicky hair. So very early on I decided to buy the silk flowers and clips, and make them myself.

What you will need:

  • silk flowers
  • some sturdy fabric (calico, canvas or the like)
  • some felt of an appropriate colour (I prefer green as it looks like leaves, you can use other colours that match your hair, or the flower itself)
  • aligator clips; you can find them as aligator clips, hair bows, or metal hair clips. I prefer the longer types at least 5.6cm
  • E6000 or another similar type of contact glue; you can use hot glue, but I find that with my body heat, items attached with a glue gun fall off, so I’ve stopped using it; YMMV
  • scissors; I use pinking shears to give the wavy look but you can use normal ones

First, make sure you are working in a well ventilated area, as we’ll be using contact glue that can give headaches and other undesireable side effects.

Cut some rectangles out of your felt, slightly smaller than the flowers’ diameter. You will trim these down so don’t worry about very specific measurements; as long as they are roughly smaller than the flowers, they will do.

felt squares
Felt rectangles

Spread your glue over the felt, generously so it covers the whole surface, but not that much that it saturates the felt.

Felt squares with glue
Felt Squares with glue layer

Grab a scrap (or several) of your strong fabric, and press the glue side of the felt squares onto it, so that one or more of the felt pieces are over one piece of strong fabric. This is to prevent the felt from stretching or tearing once you have the flowers on your head; it will make the clip sit better.

If you want, once these dries, you can add a second layer of felt on the calico, but this is not necessary.

Felt on strength layer
Felt pieces glued on strength fabric

Prepare the flowers, by chopping off the little bit of stem that protrudes on the back if necessary. This should leave you with an even surface (see photo below)

Silk flowers, back
Silk flowers, back

Once the glue on the felt+calico pieces has dried, grab the felt+calico pieces, and cut them as ovals, so they are smaller than the bottom of the flowers. Make two small cuts along the centre (see photo below)

Felt Ovals
Felt cut for attachment

Grab the hair clips, put them through the two cuts, so the two ends of the clips are on the felt side. Turn them over, and add a thin layer of E6000 over the calico, making sure there is some under the hair clip, and over it too.

Felt pieces with hair clips
Felt pieces with hair clips

Press the side with the glue layer over the bottom of the flower, making sure the felt follows the curved shape of it, and the hair clip also presses against it.

clip base with glue layer
Clip base with glue layer

Let it dry thoroughly, and if there’s any white showing on the upper side, you can trim it down, following the shape of the flower.
You are done.

Hair Flowers finished
Hair flowers finished

Upcoming Events

Here’s a list of events that we know so far will be happening during the year. I’ll add events as I find out about them.

Jan 25th, Christchurch: Tribal Taster with Akasha (Heike Humphreys);

Feb 2nd, Chichester: ATS® Workshop with me;

Feb 8th, Crawley: A Performance to Remember;

Feb 9th, Angmering: Orient Expressions;

Feb 29th, Southampton: Folkloric Fusion zills with Lisa Müeller-Albrecht;

Feb 29th, Hedge End, Southampton: MegaHafla 2020;

Mar 28th, Isle of Wight: Isle Shimmy;

Apr 10-13th, Brighton: S.I.G.I.L. with Amy Sigil;

Apr 25th, Chichester: ATS® with Spanish Fan, with Eureka Floyd;

July 17th-19th, Leicester: Gothla UK;

Later in the year:

Aug 29th-31st, Brighton: Deviation with Violet Scrap & Hilde Cannoodt;

Oct 23rd-25th, Wolverhampton: Infusion Emporium;

October 23rd-25th, Tavistock: Oasis Serendipity;

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: 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 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?

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