Monday, 2 January 2017

Taking the first step

Yesterday, I was reading this lovely blog from Sara Shrapnell "I'm perfect for bellydance and so are you".

It struck a particular chord with me, not just because this is the time of year when I am thinking about welcoming new dancers into my classes, but also because of a conversation I had with one of my Personal Training contemporaries a couple of weeks ago.

He was telling me about potential clients he had been talking to, who were delaying getting onto their exercise problem because of reasons like: "I want to lose a bit of weight before I start in the gym", or "I want to get a bit more fit before I attend fitness classes". And we chuckled, because looking at it from the other side we can see that these barriers aren't real. If you haven't got fit sitting at home so far, then another few weeks of it isn't going to help; the purpose of fitness training is to help you reach those goals, the sooner you start, the sooner you get there.

But I do understand and empathise with these feelings. Most people fear things like being watched, or doing badly at something, or looking ridiculous. Or being watched while doing something badly and looking ridiculous.

Every time we think about starting out on something new, those little fears creep up on us, and that's OK and perfectly normal, but I'd like to avoid them spoiling your fun if at all possible. It's not uncommon for potential dancers to email me a few times, then turn up several months later when they have worked up the courage.... then tell me they wished they had started sooner. They've missed out on so much fun, friendships and dance time sitting at home worrying. So let's take a look at those worries and see what we can do with them.

What if I'm no good at it?

OK, brace yourself.

In your first lesson, you will not be any good at it. Nobody is. Talent, for those lucky enough to have it, will only take you so far, and even the most gifted new dancer is going to make mistakes and find challenges in their early lessons. Equally there are some amazing dancers out there who started out barely able to step on the beat - at least two of the best dancers in the bellydance world have gone on record saying that they gave up briefly in the early stages because they thought they were no good.

The good news is that there is absolutely no shame in struggling in your early lessons. Everybody in the class has been in your shoes at some point. They won't judge you, they just want you to enjoy yourself, keep coming and dance with them. That's assuming they even notice....

I don't want people watching me.

This is a fear that everyone, new or experienced, has about any dance class, fitness class or gym session. The good news here is that it is entirely unfounded.

In class, everybody is focused on their own dance. The more experienced dancers get more challenging things to do, so they are working just as hard as you are and concentrating just as much on things like not falling over and keeping their arms in a sensible place.

The only person who does pay attention to your dancing would be the teacher. The teacher's job is to make sure you are safe and offer positive, helpful feedback. You won't be put on the spot, or singled out; no decent teacher is that cruel to their beginners.

I might look ridiculous.

Yeah you might. But so might everyone else and bellydance class is the perfect place to let rip with all of your ridiculousness and be embraced for doing so! We love your ridiculousness.

I strongly believe in throwing myself into dance, no matter how scary it might be, because the best results always come from going all out. I am never going to think negatively of someone who turns up, does their best and has a blast doing it.

If you are worried about what to wear whilst being your bad self in class, check out this little post for more detail about what to wear to bellydance class.

This dude is scary, but he doesn't come to class.
So do it! I believe in you!

Starting anything new is always challenging, but know that when you come to class you will be surrounded by people who support you and want you do well.

Still worried, then how about you try one of the following:

  • Contact the teacher, and ask questions. Don't worry about asking silly questions, we've had them all, they aren't that silly.
  • Take a friend for moral support. You might be doing them a favour by introducing them to a new hobby they will love.
  • Ask for someone to meet/expect you. I'm always happy to meet a new dancer at the door and introduce them to the rest of the class.
  • Interact with the community via social media pages etc, so that you "know" some of the people who might be there.

Want to know more about what to expect from your first foray into bellydance lessons? Check out this previous blog, my FAQs, contact me or join my Facebook page. I'm always happy to answer questions and reassure you.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The ever expanding rider of a professional bellydancer - contracts and clauses

When I started out as a new dancer, I joined an online forum called Bhuz, where bellydancers gathered to chat, to exchange information and to learn. Bhuz had a whole section about professional and legal issues, and at the time it seemed kind of ridiculous that turning up and dancing should involve contracts and all kinds of legal wrangling. After all, you show up, you dance, they pay you, everyone's happy. Right?

Oh poor naive past me. What she had to learn....

After hearing lots of horror stories, I realised that it was necessary to have a contract. Too many dancers were being cancelled last minute, without having taken a deposit, or even sent home from a gig (after or without performing) without full payment for various reasons. A lot goes into preparing even a short performance, so losing the gig fee is fairly devastating.

I started out with a cut down version of Michelle Joyce's sample contract. My contract looks a little less formal, because I send it out very early in my conversation with a new client and I wanted a "friendly" approach.

However, as time, and shows, have passed, my contract has grown. For the most part because I have discovered that things that seem basic and obvious to me as a dancer, don't always occur to the client, but also because of some ridiculous, and often hilarious positions that I have found myself in.

This post is a brief compilation of some of those additions, based on the experiences of myself, and other dancers I know. Some details are changed to protect the innocent.

The monies

On the Bhuz pages, it was always the money side that caused the most issues. Common problems include being asked to reduce the fee for various reasons, some of my favourites on the bellydance grapevine:

  • "it's my birthday"
  • "It's only half an hour"
  • "not everyone likes bellydance"
  • "it's fun for you"
  • "it will be great exposure"
I used to be shy about stating my fee, but now I make it very clear at the outset. Some people will be put off, but they will be put off whenever they find out the price, so let's not waste anybody's time. An easy mistake to make when starting out is not wanting to "put off" potential customers, but it really is OK to let an enquirer know if it's not going to work for you.

Deposits. Again, my serious clients have never taken issue with a deposit to secure the booking. It's important because you can end up turning down work because you are already booked, then being cancelled at the last minute. 

Workshop teaching has a whole different pricing structure. While I generally quote a flat fee, it has become increasingly common within the dance community for teachers to work for a percentage of the class takings. At best, it means you can earn slightly more for a popular class. At worst it means that the host is protected from making an unaffordable loss - many workshops just wouldn't happen in the UK right now otherwise, the risk is just too great for the host.

Most of the time it works out just fine, because dance teachers aren't generally out to fleece each other; hosts tend to work very hard to populate classes, and if they can't they tend to be honest and cancel. But there was an occasion where I offered this pricing structure to an "outside" client, who then did not publicise the class, or tell me that there were only two participants, and I lost a lot of money on expenses. Because of this I now include a clause for a minimum number of participants, or a minimum fee.

Changing space.

Almost every dancer I know, who has performed at some point - whether as a pro or a student has encountered this one.

A brief rundown of the top 5 changing spaces:
  • A food storage cupboard in a restaurant
  • The back of a van with no internal light
  • A tent with no standing room.
  • A single toilet cubicle, which was the only toilet for the venue.
  • A shower room with a wet floor.
From a dancer's perspective: Most bellydance costumes are not travel friendly. They have fringe, heavy beading, delicate crystals. They are not designed for being sat on. They are also generally difficult to wash so we want to wear them for as short a period as possible and not anywhere that the hem might be soiled on the ground. They are also complex to get into, we need space and we don't want to drop the end of our belt in a puddle. Even the skimpiest costume often involves a lot of layers, fastenings and pins. And we need light, and preferably a mirror. We know this can be a tough call for some venues, but if it really is impossible to provide a decent changing space, it's best that we know in advance so we can work with that and arrive partially dressed at least - and it might mean that there is no costume change between sets.

Show timings

My terms always state when I will arrive, when I will leave and how long I will dance in between. I often get people asking me to dance for an unrealistic period - like 2 hours straight.

Dancing, full tilt, registers on my Fitbit as an Aerobic workout, but I have to do that without appearing to exert myself excessively. Because nobody likes a bellydancer dripping in sweat and heaving for breath over their dinner. Most dancers consider 20-30 minutes to be a reasonable set length. 

While it might be possible to tone it down and dance for longer, most Western audiences couldn't really handle that. We don't really have a culture where people are comfortable sitting back and being lightly entertained, we want big, in your face... until our concentration span runs out. 

The time window is also important. Firstly because, as Michelle puts in her contract, often a performer has other gigs to get to, so it's not acceptable to postpone the performance at the last minute.Or maybe you need to get home to a babysitter, or before you turn into a pumpkin. Another issue that seems common for festivals and conventions, is that they expect all the team to be on site for the duration. This means that you might get paid for an hour of your time, but you lose 6 hours of your day. That might be OK if the event is of interest to you, and you get to spend the day watching bands or perusing interesting merchandise, but if you are going to be losing the opportunity to work elsewhere, then it is reasonable to charge a waiting fee for your on-site time.

Show content

It's really important that clients know what to expect from a show, I usually have videos and music samples, and that goes into the initial agreements so it's super clear.

A couple of other useful things....

"The show will be culturally sensitive" - which is a really nice way of saying "no, I'm not going to dress your uncle up as a "harem girl" and teach him a dance to humiliate him, but I will gladly do some audience participation that is respectful of the culture I am representing"

"I will choose who to invite for audience participation". I stole this from another dancer. While sometimes it's cool to be asking the guest of honour up to dance, it's preferable and "safer" for the performer to choose participants herself. Then she can choose people who look keen (because embarrassing people isn't usually actually fun) and avoid people who might cause issues (like the guy who strips off his shirt and wants to rub up against her while she dances. This has happened to dancers I know. It's gross and unacceptable).

"The show will be family friendly". This eliminates some of the wierd preconceptions some people still have about bellydance and sexuality. 

On a related note, here is the moment for a story from a friend of mine who is a burlesque dancer. She and a colleague were booked to perform at a corporate event. The organiser came to see them just before, in the dressing room and said "just to be sure, you're not going to be doing anything *too risque* are you?". Well. The problem is, that they were. As strip tease artists, that was exactly what they had planned, and while they had alternate acts in their repertoire, they hadn't brought the costumes and props for those. It seems the client had booked performers who were known to be good at what they do, without properly checking what it was that they do.

Often our clients aren't used to booking performers, and they don't know what questions to ask. The performers on the other hand are so used to what we do, that we often forget that some things aren't obvious to an outsider. This is why I like to keep it all written down in a standard document, that I can quickly customise and send out.

A safe space to dance

Another one for a list of ridiculousness, I have experienced....
  • Wet tarmac
  • A slope of about 30 degrees
  • Deep sand
  • A rolled lawn, which disguised uneven ground underneath (I broke a toe on a turn)
  • Grass with thistles in it
Often an event organiser will think about space, but not think about the floor, which is the most important aspect of the performance space. The only way to overcome this is to be really prescriptive, and include the caveat that says you won't dance but will require payment if the area is unsafe. It sounds harsh, but it's not as harsh as losing a month's dance income due to injury and I've never had to follow through on this as clients tend to be brilliant once their attention is drawn to the right areas.

The green room

OK, so now we get into diva rider territory! I always put into my terms that I will require access to drinking water. It's easy to get stuck backstage, with nothing to drink and performing is a hydration heavy occupation. If there will be substantial gaps between my teaching or performance slots when I am expected to stay on site then I need a rest area (green room) with bathroom access etc. No peeled grapes and blue M&Ms, I promise. I just don't want to be left sitting on my suitcase in a corridor!

Tech requirements

This one is super important. Music is absolutely crucial to a dance performance and I cringe every time I hear the story of a dancer who had to dance to the client's playlist, to their phone speaker or nothing at all. I clear up the sound system requirements straight away and offer up my sound rig if they need it. Then I bring an MP3 player and a CD of just that set. I also bring cables to connect my MP3 player via phono, analog and USB. Then I put my Minirig in my bag. Just in case.

This isn't because I am super awesome, it's because I have had to run out for a new cable 10 minutes before a performance, or got to a venue and found their sound system is too quiet. Also there was a time when I decided to charge my iPod on my laptop, but it synced with iTunes and erased the playlist that I had compiled on the device. I only realised when I arrived at the venue and went to soundcheck. Always  soundcheck.

I also ask for someone to be on hand when I arrive and, if relevant, when the performance/class starts to help with tech setup (and if it's a class, registering etc). The story behind this came from an event where I had arrived first thing in the morning, but was teaching after lunch and inbetween times, the location of my class was changed. To a cinema. Which had no accessible music system. And was playing adult films. Clearly this is not an acceptable situation, and none of the organisers or support staff were anywhere to be found. I had to delay the class by 15 minutes while I ran around trying to find a tech person to sort it all out. So now my contract is set up so that sort of thing doesn't end up being my responsibility.

Finally, and probably most importantly.

When I started using contracts, and to an extent still, I felt awkward about it. I worry about sounding divaish with an extensive rider, or like I have no faith in the client's ability to host me appropriately. However, I have noticed a stark difference between how clients treat me when I provide a contract, vs when I don't. The more prescriptive my terms, the more willing people are to fall over themselves making sure everything is right for me, and the whole thing goes better for everyone.

Assuming that your client isn't an expert in bellydance performance (and that's a safe assumption, because that's your job), they can't be expected to understand the minutiae of what helps you to give your absolute best. They will assume, that you have it all in hand, which rightly they should, that's what they pay you for. So if there is something that you need from them, they are going to need you to let them know or assume you won't get it.

Often a client contacts me, not really knowing what to expect, they might have a idea about what I can do, but part of my job is often to say "that's great and I can accommodate that" (or "I'm afraid that's not going to be possible") "BUT, I can offer you this.... which has worked out really well for similar occasions in the past".

For this reason, I always submit a contract for every performance or teaching booking. It doesn't matter if it is a local fete or nursing home, a charity fundraiser where I am donating my fee, or a high end ball. Even when the client is someone I know well and trust. Because without fail, every time I have let things slip and failed to provide a comprehensive set of terms at the very outset, something has avoidably gone wrong.

Here's your Jerry Springer moment. When you don't bother with the paperwork, things usually turn out OK. Sometimes they go disastrously or hilariously wrong, but that is the exception - usually you can muddle through. Paperwork fixes the problems before they happen, but what it mostly does is makes it clear from the start that you are not a rank amateur, and sets expectations appropriately. When you do everything professionally, not just how you behave and present yourself to perform, but also how you set yourself up, from the start with all the official contracts, invoices etc, clients better recognise your value and are enabled to treat you better. Not only this, but it elevates the impression of our artform as a whole.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The big November update.

I've been having an amazing couple of months, so I thought I had better do a little news post to catch up....

Dancewise my latest big thing was being part of The Juniper Project. I realised recently that this was the first time in 7 years that I have danced as part of a large troupe. The challenge of learning a choreography written by someone else (the amazing Alexis Southall), polishing to the point of uniform consistency and working with a bunch of brilliantly talented dancers was a really enriching, and intense experience. Oh. And the zills. All the zills.

We performed the piece at the Infusion Emporium show. I'm really looking forward to seeing the official videos  when they come out in January, because the sneak peeks I have seen are looking great.

Photos by Dan Fullard, here...
Infusion Emporium was also an excellent opportunity for me to get some training in. I took workshops with Piny Orchidaceae who really got me thinking about more interesting ways to move and to generate movement ideas, Amy Sigil, who I find really inspirational as an artist and teacher, and Anasma, who again was pushing me into realms of movement outside my usual repertoire. I came home after 4 1/2 hours of driving and went straight into the studio to start mixing some new ideas into my current WIPs.

Speaking of the studio, my home studio is now up and running. My Monday morning Glastonbury classes will now be taught out of my studio (no longer the Goddess Hall). I'm also getting a lot more work in, having a dedicated, full time training space, with all my props etc at hand.

The dancers of Bridgwater are shimmying on. We've been working on a party theme this term and I have been making them do more improvisation as well as getting a handle on some more social dancers. I am super proud of them for nailing some fairly challenging stuff this term. New dancers are always welcome to join this friendly and enthusiastic bunch.

The Laylet Amar Ensemble, a collective of musicians and dancers from the South West are going to be appearing at the Glastonbury Frost Fayre, Sat 26th Nov, on the Melodrome stage at 13.15. Come along and cheer us on if you are about.

Last of all, the big news is that I have now qualified as a Personal Trainer. Training and qualifying has been an extremely intense process, but it has given me a whole new skillset and understanding that is already adding new depths of understanding and tools for my dance teaching, particularly in terms of postural correction and complementary conditioning. I am also now providing fitness training through Fire Lotus Fitness, which will see me supporting individuals and groups in reaching their own health and fitness goals through in person and online personal training!

I'm really excited to see how the next few months pan out!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

News round up, Summer 2016

Tum te tum,doo do doo DAAAAA!

It's time for a quick round up of all the things that have been happening at Scarlet Lotus HQ lately.

Bridgwater bellydance classes are on a break for the school holidays, we will be back next term, starting on the 6th of September at a new time of 7-8pm. We are still in our usual venue of the YMCA.

Glastonbury classes continue for now, in the Goddess Hall on Monday mornings at 11.30. These classes will be taking a bit of a break in autumn - The last class will be on the 5th of September and we will continue again on the 24th of October- but watch this space as we may be at a new venue, all being well.

My prenatal and baby yoga classes will also be suspended for this period, though I hope to be offering an alternative, so again, watch this space.

The reason for this break is that I will be spending 6 weeks in September and October training for a Level 3 Diploma in Fitness Instruction and Personal Training. I'm really excited about this as I believe it will add a new dimension to my dance teaching and enable me to offer a whole new range of classes and services.

The summer "break" has been remarkably busy so far. Back in June I taught a weekend of workshops, one covering Vintage Golden Era styling and the other on double veil technique. We had a great turnout and lots of fun.

At the beginning of August I ran a full day intensive, Dancing with the Red Goddess. Again we had a fantastic group of lovely dancers who came together to do some very intense and productive work. We also had catering from Wizard Hospitality, who put together an absolutely magnificent spread to fuel our efforts.

I'm spending my teaching break (hahahaha "break") working on new teaching material, planning, writing, renovating my home studio, rehearsing for the Juniper Project and taking fitness classes so as not to show myself up in Personal Trainer school. I've also had a visit from Paola Blanton, who is fabulous and taught me some Balkan dances! I suspect I might be sharing some of this with my students in the new term.

I hope you are all having a lovely summer and I hope to shimmy with you soon!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Bellydance - the art of femininity?

For a while I have been trying to wrap my head around the issue of bellydance and femininity.

I know many teachers advertise their classes using this term. "Try this beautiful, feminine artform". "Discover your femininity". And it gets me wondering what this means. Or whether it means to me the same as it means to the teacher, or the women who see the ad. Or indeed the men - because to me, there is plenty of scope for dancers of all genders in our artform.

And then I start to wonder if bellydance *is* a feminine artform, and if so, how. And what does that even mean?

When I typed "feminine" into my usual stock photo source, it gave me this, which is kind of apt for where I'm going now....

When I was a little girl, my mum insisted I kept my hair cut in a fairly short bob style. She told me that while I needed her help to wash, dry and style it, I would have to have a style that made this easy for her.

I hated this and often begged my mum to let me grow my hair out. Because girls have long hair, obviously. I also recall refusing to wear trousers in case people thought I was a boy. Being a girl was an important part of my identity and how I perceived myself. While a child's gender might arguably be an unnecessary consideration for those around them (does it really make a difference if a child you glance at in the street is male or female?), it does often matter to the child. I wasn't really a pink and princessy type of girl, though I "understood" that these were the girl things that girls liked and I should probably aspire to because I was a girl. I knew my own gender identity and wanted to express this in the manner I had learned was appropriate.

I was about 10 when my mum finally relented and let me grow my hair. As I've grown up I've done all sorts of things with my hair. It's been everything from very long to pixie cropped, I've shaved bits off, put dreadlocks in it and dyed it all the colours. This isn't because my understanding of my gender has changed, it is because I have discovered that there are many ways to express femininity beyond the Disney princess stereotypes. Women, and indeed femininity in those who don't identify as women, are complex and multifaceted, there's a lot more to women than being doe-eyed and conventionally "pretty".

So back to dance.

I recall a dancer I know posting on her Facebook page to say that she was painting her nails bright pink and how she loved bellydance because it was a great excuse to "be girly". That's great if that's your bag. I know plenty of dancers who love the prettiness of the costumes, who are light, elegant, bubbly and dance with maybe just a touch of coy flirtation. It suits them, because that is how they connect with themselves as women. Personally manicure duty is my least favourite part of preparing to perform - although I appreciate the aesthetic of well groomed hands (not pink polish mind....)

I've often witnessed ATS and other group Tribal style performers refer to each other as sisters and present a rich earthy aesthetic while dancing in a powerful style with the joy of togetherness. Undoubtedly feminine, but totally different. While a "cabaret" style dancer usually caters to a commercially acceptable aesthetic, other styles often ignore or shun the male gaze, or media-endorsed ideas of beauty.

One of my favoutite  dance friends recently prepared for a performance saying "I'm not going to do fancy make up, I'm doing ugly today" while applying fierce warpaint. But her performance was beautiful and touching - it gave me goosebumps. In fact when I look around my circles of dancing friends, I see all kinds of people, expressing themselves beautifully in unique and diverse ways. It's wonderful, but it doesn't really help in my quest to find out what it is about bellydance that is feminine.

Is it wearing floaty chiffon skirts and rhinestones? Is it push up bras and layers of hipscarves? Is it being comfortable enough in your natural woman's body to shun convention and dance with unshaven underarms? Is it baring your soul in a tender and emotional dance? Or is it showing strength, pride or sass? Is it flirty? Is it, as Ava says "sexy by accident"? Or is it not at all because being a woman isn't about what men think of you? Is is smooth, soft, gooey hips? Is it elegant lines? Is it explosive locks and isolations?

I think it's probably any, all and anything else you can think of.

I don't believe the dance itself is inherently feminine. Dance is a route to self expression, each dancer gets to choose how they wish to express themselves. We tell our own stories. We can choose to present a character, who might be fun or liberating to play. Or we can be raw and authentic. And maybe the audience never really knows which is which.

I don't doubt for a minute that many women discover bellydance as a safe space to find and express their femininity. Whether that means dressing up, or learning to feel good moving their body. I came to dance after an acute illness that left me feeling broken and out of sync with my body. Bellydance is accessible to women of all ages, body shapes and sizes, and so many find self acceptance through the realisation that their bodies can do amazing and beautiful things. Women coming through traumatic life events often find their joy and learn to express it through dance. I've spoken to a few trans-women who have found bellydance helped them discover how to move in their female identity, and I am not sure whether that is purely an act of physical instruction, or whether dancing and being accepted in a community of women is the perfect confidence boost.

Learning about ourselves through dance is an ongoing process. I always feel immensely privileged to hold space for dancers who come to my class, for reasons they might not tell, dealing with issues I may never hear about, then slowly but surely bloom, as their true self begins to surface and shine.

If you are interested in exploring your own ideas of authentic self and what femininity means to you, do check out my Dancing with the Red Goddess immersion, taking place on the 6th August.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

How long does it take to dance for 30 minutes?

I've found there's a real art to getting myself ready to go out and perform. Whether it is a hafla or a wedding reception, putting on a performance can be quite a palava!

Preparing the dance for a performance is a process in itself, from conception, to banging my head against the wall to meticulous rehearsal. But preparing to perform is about a whole load more than having the choreography polished.

Sometimes a potential client will ask me to perform at a reduced rate and only perform a single set, instead of two, or for 10 minutes rather than 20. In reality I can't offer much discount for this, because the part that people actually see is only the tip of the iceberg. Being performance ready involves continuous commitment (like drilling, conditioning and developing material) and a solid investment of time beforehand, specific to that gig.

As a professional performer I do believe it is necessary to have the ability to drop everything and dance at short notice. I always have costumes on the hanger, generic sets compiled and regularly rehearsed etc, so that if I get a last minute booking, or another dancer calls and asks me to cover for her, I can roll up with a few hours notice and put on a fabulous show. But from my own perspective, I know that I do my best work when I have had the opportunity to tailor my performance to the client, venue and audience. I also know I am in my best headspace for performance, and give my absolute best, when I can be totally confident that everything is in place and is going smoothly.

Recently I was making small talk with the mother of one of my childrens' friends. I told her what I did for a living and she was rather surprised, "I'd never have guessed" she said. "Yeah" says I "it takes quite a lot of work to turn me into a bellydancer"....

T - at least 1 week. Finalising the playlist.

 I'll usually check in with my client about now too, and confirm any music requests. Finalising a week in advance means that I can guarantee myself rehearsal time in a large studio to run the entire set (I have space booked for one session a week by default).

I will likely have rehearsed each track separately many times, but I think it is important to rehearse a whole set from start to finish at least a couple of times. That 6 minute drum solo might feel fine as a standalone piece, but can you still dance it with as much energy after performing 15 minutes of upbeat pop?

T- 2 days. Costume alteration time.

There's no point in doing this too early, because the fit on my costumes has to be exact and a tiny fluctuation in weight can be the difference between a good fit and a potential mishap. Sometimes I will be wearing a costume that I haven't worn for a year or so, and you can't just get those out of the wardrobe 3 hours before a performance and hope they will fit! 2 days is a good timeline to get it done, without it being too last minute and with time to buy in supplies if repairs are needed.

I make the vast majority of my costumes myself, and when I do, I keep adjustability in mind.

There's a balance to be set between the ease of getting into a costume and versatility in sizing - especially with costume bras. Some of my bras have long straps that are tied in a knot or bow, and reinforced with a safety pin. This makes them really adjustable, you can get the band and shoulder strap length spot on every time, but they have to be tied right; usually they need to be tied, left to settle, then adjusted. My modern Orientale style costume bras are usually based on the hard "Dina" bra bases. These tend to fasten with hooks (I use trouser hooks, which are bigger and stronger) they are great for quick changes but the hooks have to be taken off and resewn in order to adjust them.

When I make skirts or pantaloons I always make the waistband accessible and easily adjustable.

T- 24 hours - putting together the costumes

At this point I gather together all the separate components. I tend to store complete sets on the same hanger, but some items go with more than one costume. The complete costume might also include shoes, bodystockings, tights, hairbands/flowers. I also always include a cover up, because I almost always need one at some point. I always lay everything out before I pack it so I know exactly what I have and can pack it efficiently.

For most commercial bookings I will be dancing 2 sets, which means 2 full costumes, often with a change of accessories (I try to make them starkly different so I often change my hair and everything between sets).

T- 23 hours - packing the bag

THE BAG has consistent components that I will always need, and changable components. The night before a performance I will check the stocks on things like hairgrips and pack the costumes and props into the bag carefully. Once it's set to go I try not to interfere with it at all, in case I accidentally take something out and forget it. I'm quite particular like that.

I also always pack at least 2 copies of my music. Usually I have my ipod, my phone and a CD of the whole set. There are some things you just don't take chances on.

T - 3 hours, the final countdown

On the day of a performance I try and make sure I have a couple of hours before I have to leave set aside for getting ready. I try to give myself more than I need because rushing is the sort of thing that gets eyelashes glued to your ears.

First thing I do is eat. Something proteiny so it's filling but not stodgy. Dancing on a stodgy meal is not good. Sometimes when I perform at a restaurant they will offer me dinner, which is frankly awesome. The tough bit is waiting until after I have finished dancing to take them up on it.

There was also the time when I told my husband not to worry about me for dinner, because I was dancing later. He took that as meaning I wouldn't have time to eat, so he boxed up a whole homemade pizza for me. I had a 2 hour drive ahead of me with this pizza smelling amazing on the passenger seat. I planned to eat it on the way home. Most of it didn't make it that far.

So once I have eaten I will usually have a shower and start looking at getting ready proper. If I'm using my real hair, I will usually dry it at this point and set it in velcro rollers or large pin curls to keep it out of the way while I do my face.

T- 90 minutes - Beat that mug

I give myself an hour for stage makeup, it actually takes less, but various other things tend to be going on as well which I can't really quantify - like painting nails. Taking time to lay down a good base and contours makes all the difference in a solid, lasting look.

Things like false eyelashes need a steady hand and time to get right, it really is a case of more haste, less speed otherwise.

T-30 minutes - Hair

Hair is always the last thing I do before leaving the house. It usually involves messing around with some kind of hairpiece and loads of bobby pins.

T - 15 mins - clothes

I rarely travel to a gig in costume. Most of my costumes are not comfortable to travel in and many could potentially be damaged. They just aren't made for sitting in. They also aren't made for being chucked in the washing machine if I get splashed by a puddle or catch the skirt in the car door. I usually wear something like a jersey maxi dress that I can step into to avoid hair and make up issues.

Time to go!

Grab the gig bag and off I go!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Bellydance training with an injury

This post partly comes out of my recent post about managing my EDS for dance, because managing injury is an enormous part of being a dancer with EDS, however it is also something I have been meaning to write about for general reasons, because every dancer has to deal with this sometimes, whether it is because of ongoing issues, accidents or even a bout of flu.

Illness or injury has the potential to completely mess with your training schedule, knock out your opportunity to rehearse for performances and for a teacher upset your schemes of work and student progression as you plan your classes around your own physical limitations.

When an injury happens, you have to rest it, but I am always aware that while I am doing so, there is a risk of muscle deterioration, which means slipping backwards in terms of the joint stability I have worked so hard to build up, not to mention my general dance conditioning.
I'm still trying to work out a solid strategy for injury management, but these are the things that have worked for me so far.

Recognising the problem, and not denying it.

Denial is really easy when you are used to regular twinges. It's easy to think "oh that's just a little sore, it'll be fine" and carry on. Well, it might be fine, but even if it is, taking care of it won't do any harm. I use a warming muscle rub on anything that feels tight or sore. It aids recovery from post-conditioning aches and I've also found it helpful for stiff and sore ankles.

An injury needs rest, elevation and ice asap, I usually take some ibuprofen at the time, to help stop the inflammation. There really are no prizes for being a hero here - admit there is a problem and deal with it before it turns into a bigger problem.

Then you have to actually rest it. Princess Farhana wrote recently about how dancers just can't leave their injuries alone. Stop poking it!

Modifying exercises

In my work as a perinatal yoga teacher I am used to finding workarounds for conventional exercises. There's no shame in using props or adapting to reduce impact or exclude a joint that won't tolerate the position. Usually modification means compromise in terms of results, but it's a much better option than doing nothing, and definitely a better option than continuing to work a damaged or weak joint.

Splitting the body

In general I try to work different areas of the body on different days. Core almost always happens, but I have legs days and upper body days and abs days. This is fairly conventional in fitness and allows recovery inbetween. If I have an ankle injury, I will focus on the other areas for a bit. I also keep my conditioning symmetrical, because an injury on one side of the body will strain the other, so that will need some respite and care too.

When I was pregnant and suffering with pelvis instability, I started drilling arm pathways, with weights, while sitting on a fitness ball. There's often a way to rest an injury without stopping completely!

Splitting the work

On reflection I have realised that I can split my practice into a variety of levels, each with their own internal goals, this helps a lot because it means I don't have to drop everything when one part is compromised.

  • Basic fitness for cardiovascular and metabolic health - this is walking and generally being active.
  • Strength and stability for joint health - simple hatha yoga, restorative yoga, basic pilates, wobble board etc.
  • Strength and conditioning for dance - pilates, interval training, ashtanga yoga.
  • Dance training - drills, technique and rehearsal

Only the first two are essential for managing my general health (though the others do make a marked difference). It is possible to "mark time" in recovery periods by identifying the activities that make the most positive difference for the least harm.

Managing the domino effect.

A couple of months back I sprained my right ankle, I'm not entirely sure how. A couple of weeks later my left ankle buckled under the pressure of compensating for the weakness. It just gave way underneath me and I sprained that too. The right was almost better, but after a day of the left being weak, it got much worse again. Another day later and I was suffering from excruciating muscle pain up the outside of my left calf and the inside of my right quad - as a result of losing the balance and alignment in my walk. The quad imbalance affected my kneed and my kneecap subluxated...

This is a pretty usual pattern in my experience and it characterises how devastating a relatively minor slip can be as well as reinforcing how important to rest.

I've become very aware of how the body compensates for injury, usually by compromising alignment. Appropriate use of supports and splints helps. If I damage one ankle/foot, I will use a support on both, to protect the good foot. I also use a lot of muscle rub, massage and stretching to prevent tightness and imbalance in the muscles that support the joints.

One of my postnatal yoga clients was asking me about using supports for an injury just this week. In particular she was concerned about relying on the support and losing the musculature that would naturally provide support. Ideally what you need to to is talk to a physiotherapist who can let you know exactly how to use supports appropriately. So... this is my personal experience and not advice... When I feel a weakness or pain, I use a support, always. Why? Because I have found that continuing to use a joint that is weak, wobbly or generally unreliable leads to further injury. A slight weakness due to reliance on a support is a much lesser issue than the risk of aggravating the injury or causing further injury. And I'm not convinced that a support will cause weakness, if your muscles/joints needed the extra help in the first place.

Total rest.

Sometimes the best thing to do is just stop and give yourself some recovery time. If you are ill, you need to get better and while in some cases taking a half hour to walk in the fresh air might do you the world of good, in others it might just prolong your illness and keep you out of training for much longer.

It's OK to have downtime, and downtime doesn't have to mean a break from dance entirely. I've written before about how you can improve your dance by watching and analysing video footage. So that's a start. There's also other things like mapping music for choreography (I hate this job but I've found it essential for really understanding all my performance music, improv too), or even just listening to tracks through services like Spotify or even on YouTube to find your next performance peace.

As a teacher I use downtime to plan lessons, or to type up my rough lesson plans, choreography and workshop notes from my notebooks. Or sort out the dreaded accounts.

You could also work on zills or drumming, or costume making. There's lots of ways you can turn a bit of time off your feet into genuinely productive work.