Friday, June 28, 2013

Why you should be wearing lip tar for your next performance

I've already talked a bit about Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Lip Tar because I used the green as an accent over other colors. I was so happy with it that I decided I should get a color that I could wear for all of my bellydance performances. I've used it two or three times now and I have to say I am really happy with it! I chose "Vintage" which is a nice wine red with a bit of purple/magenta undertone. The Sephora website calls it a Deep Burgundy and it looks that way in the tube but that's not how it wears.

 It comes in a cute little zipper pouch with a cute little brush for application. The cute little brush comes with a little plastic sleeve and you should not lose that, or you will end up with lip tar all over the inside of your cute little zipper pouch. Learn from my mistakes!

Here is a handswatch (Blogger has a case of the dumbs today and rotated the image. No wonder I am considering migrating to Wordpress). This was the tiniest dot on the brush. You can see how the color varies in intensity depending on how much you blend it out.

And here it is on my face! I made my lips WAY big because we were dancing on the big stage under bright lights. Oh, stage makeup, you make me look so.... different. Anyway. Nice intense color.

What I love about lip tar is that despite its name, it isn't sticky or goopy, so my hair doesn't get stuck in it. The color lasts forever and stays in place pretty well (sometimes I get a little transfer onto drinks, but not as much with an actual lipstick), but then when it's time to take it off... it comes right off! The instructions say to apply clear first, which I haven't done but I have found that putting down a lip primer first keeps it from leaving stains behind in any cracks in my lips, which makes for ease of removal.

I swear, this stuff is so magical I'd think it was made of pixie dust and unicorn tears, but the package insists that it is Vegan, Cruelty Free and Gluten Free (is gluten common in lip products? I really don't know). So it's a great product that you can feel great about using, and it comes in so many colors! No matter what your dance style, you can find the color you need, from a demure nude to a brilliant red to pure cyan blue and deep metallic black.

If my words aren't enough to convince you, I totally recommend going to Sephora to try some on. Wear it all day and decide for yourself! (Personally, I like to go to the store and put on Lovecraft because it's the sort of ridiculous sparkly pink I would never normally wear)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Follow Your Dreams Interview with... My Dad!

Let me tell you a little bit about my Dad, Rick Higginson. In addition to bearing half the responsibility for bringing me into this world, he's probably about 90% responsible for the fact that I'm a writer (my Mom was in charge of my schooling, but Dad eventually took over my vocabulary and creative writing assignments, and he surely gave me a genetic predisposition towards story telling). While I have put my fiction writing on the back burner to focus on my dream of being a professional dancer, my Dad has fully embraced his inner author and is self-publishing his Christian science fiction stories. It's not easy to be a niche author, so I'm very proud of him for writing the stories he wants to tell for the audience that wants to read them. If you'd like to learn more about him, visit his blog, Pod Tales and Ponderings.

By the way, I wanted to run this LAST week in honor of Father's Day, but I've been so caught up in troupe costume madness that I didn't e-mail him until that Saturday. So Happy Belated Father's Day, Dad! Thank you for taking the time to share your dream with my readers! And now, on with the interview!

Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your dream.

I'm Rick Higginson, and I'm pursuing my dream of being a writer.
When did you decide to follow your dream? What pushed you to do it? 
I've wanted to follow it since I was a teen, but I think what really shifted me from the "someday" mode to the "get with it" mode was the options that are now available to writers, that we did not have thirty years ago. The "push," if you will, was simply that drive that comes from the characters becoming real to me.
There's a lot of debate in the writing community about traditional publishing versus self-publishing versus ebooks. What made you choose self-publishing? 
One of the determining factors was that "Cardan's Pod" had first run as a serialized novel on Collector Times. As such, the only way I would ever get a traditional publisher to consider it, is if it were already selling enough copies to make good business sense to them to pick it up. Few traditional publishers will even consider something that has been "previously published," regardless of the previous format. Self-publishing allowed me to get the book finalized and into print, and to start building a readership.
You recently had a Kickstarter to fund the editing and printing of your second novel, Marta's Pod. Would you recommend crowd-sourcing to other aspiring authors?
It is definitely a viable option to cover the various expenses of taking a manuscript from the revision stage to the finalized, published product. The costs of the various steps needed can add up to quite a sum (editing alone for "Marta's Pod" is going to be about $950, and it is worth every penny), and many new authors just don't have the extra money lying around. Crowd-sourcing allows for family, friends, and even complete strangers, to partner with the author in getting the book into print.

What was the hardest part of following your dream?
Accepting that very few writers actually make a living at it. This is the kind of dream one must pursue out of love for the art, and not out of a promise of a lucrative career. Some writers make very good money, but like most arts, those that do are a very small minority.

When you told people about your dream, what sort of reaction did you get? Did that affect your decision to do it anyway?
The reaction when I was young was very much the above information. What really affected my decision to postpone pursuing the dream, was meeting author Richard Armour back in High School. He advised a group of us aspiring young writers to keep the day job, and write for the love of writing. He commented about how the pressures of the deadlines and the need for a paycheck can quickly destroy our love of the art, until it becomes just another job.

Was there a point where you wanted to just give up? If so, what inspired you to keep going?
There was a long stretch where I all but resigned myself to the idea that writing was just a pipe dream. I think what kept me going is the same thing that keeps many fiction writers going - my characters just wouldn't go away. I've heard some writers complain about "writer's block," but honestly, I think I have the opposite problem. I don't seem to be able to block my characters out.
You wrote one book when I was very young, and then started writing again when I was an adult. I don't remember you really writing during my childhood -- what inspired you to start writing again?
Actually, there were several times during those years when I made some false starts on several stories, and just never got very far with them. The original idea for "Cardan's Pod" actually dates back to about 1993, and it wasn't long after that I knew the basics of how the story would begin and how I wanted it to end, but there was just a gap there I couldn't quite fill. It wasn't until about 2004 that the "keystone" scene occurred to me, and then I couldn't write it fast enough. That was what it took to kickstart my writing again.
Your work has some religious themes to it and you were recently invited to participate on some panels at the upcoming Faith Writers conference in Portland Oregon. Would you like to tell my readers a bit about the conference?
Well, since this is my first time at the Conference, I only have a general idea what to expect. However, the Faithwriters Conferences are geared towards encouraging Christian writers, and offering them workshops on different aspects of both the art side and the business side of writing. Since, so far, I'm much better at writing books than I am at being a salesman, I'm looking forward to the workshops on marketing aspects.

Any parting words of advice for those who are hesitating to follow their dreams?

I love this quote from John Barrymore. "A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams." If we pursue our dreams, and they don't work out the way we'd hoped, then at least we gave it a shot. If we just assume it won't work out, though, we're going to reach the end of our lives steeped in regret and wondering, "what if?" We don't always have to abandon a steady job to pursue a dream. We may have to be creative to find ways to integrate our dreams into the everyday realities and responsibilities we live with, but life is too short to just accept defeat without ever facing the challenge.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Textured Nail Polish: Not For Me

That's right, Beauty Blogging for Belly Dancers is finally back, and we're looking at the current trend of textured nail polish! Now, in general I am digging the fact that nail polish has exploded from "colors or French manicures" to this art form that encompasses tiny drawings, crystals, decals, micro glitter, chunky glitter, shaped glitter, holographic glitter (we've already established that I love glitter, right?), matte colors, iridescence, and so much more. But I haven't really been excited by the idea of textured nails. As much as I love glitter, I hate the rough texture that chunky glitter has and how annoying it is to remove from nails.

However, I figured I couldn't accurately judge these polishes without putting them on my nails and wearing them for a few days, and besides... FUZZY COAT? What is up with that. Will it give me weird Muppet nails?

The answer is no. No Muppet nails. I've got Sally Hansen Sugar Coat in Razzleberry on most of my nails, and an accent nail in Sally Hansen Fuzzy Coat in Fuzzy Fantasy (yes, it's really called that). I applied them over freshly-buffed nails, but without a base coat (because I forgot) and without a top coat (for reasons I will soon get into).

I'm just going to say that I do not like the Sugar Coat at all, which is a shame because it's a nice color. The directions on the bottle say to apply two thin coats, but it was difficult to get it to go on thinly or smoothly, and the second coat was especially messy because the chunks from the first coat collected the chunks from the second coat. This lead to spots that didn't really get painted at all because they were blocked by a tiny hill of "sugar." You can see how rough the edges are around my cuticles. And this is why I didn't use a topcoat, because the nail surface was so rough that I knew I wouldn't get a smooth application.

As for the Fuzzy Coat, it's not fuzzy, so what's the point? The inclusions might be some sort of fuzz, but once they're trapped in clear nail polish, they function as a non-sparkly glitter, and who wants glitter that doesn't sparkle? That said, it did go on really easily, and two coats gave me a decent amount of "fuzz", so if you like the look, then it's not a bad product.

I painted my nails on Monday and forced myself to endure the weird, rough texture of Sugar Coat until Thursday night. It's kind of like having sandpaper on your fingers. Not quite as abrasive, but it sort of catches on things and feels nasty. It's like the nail polish equivalent of that cottage cheese stuff they spray on the ceiling of apartments. When the time came to remove it, it was difficult because of course the cotton balls snagged on the "sugar", the "fuzz" showed a glitter-like tenacity, and I ended up with blue stains in my cuticles (so if you do like Sugar Coat and you buy this color, be sure to use one of those base coats that prevents staining). I also noticed a bit of peeling on a couple of my nails, which is not normal for me.

From the dancer's point of view, I don't see much use for either of these textures. They don't lend an air of glamor. I guess the Sugar Coat could give you a kind of sandy mermaidy look, but I also think it would feel awful against silk veils and any sort of lightweight flowy costuming material. It probably wouldn't actually snag, but you'd constantly feel like it was. Besides which, if you're close enough to your audience that they can see the texture, you'll also be close enough that they can see all the weird gaps around the edges where you couldn't get it to go on smoothly. Lastly, who knows how long this texture trend will last, it might already be passe by the end of the year and then you'll have this weird nail polish that you never want to wear again. Save your money and go buy something glittery instead.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Feminist Message from Liora K and Sophia Ravenna

While I was at Liora K Photography's studio on Saturday she asked if I would like to pose for a feminist photo too, and I said yes! It was something I'd wanted to do for a while, because I really love what she's doing, but I also wasn't sure what I wanted to say. She'd already covered a lot of my hot-button issues, but she came up with a new twist for me. Hooray! Here's what she said about it on her Facebook page:

Wait, aren't all the feminist photos naked?

Not this one. Sophia Ravenna is a good friend and talented dancer. I used to dance with her in Skirt Full of Fire Dance Company and Fire & Gold Belly Dance. As a bellydancer, she and her peers frequently have to correct the misconception that during their performances, key parts of their costumes will be removed, and that this is done for the purpose of pleasing an adult male audience.

Stripping and Burlesque are amazing forms of performance. It's entirely possible that in those acts, performers may draw on bellydance moves. Fusion dance is amazing, and it's great to watch!

This should not give anyone permission though, to assume that they have the right to see a performer take their clothes off, or ask a performer at an event advertised as "Bellydance" if they will take their clothes off while they perform. It's disrespectful to their craft, and can make performers worried for their personal safety.

Admire the hard work that goes into costumes - many are made by the dancers themselves! Ask questions about the craft, learn, educate yourself. Enjoy the performance! But never assume, and never approach, that a dance is always done to titillate.


Even with that comment in the middle about stripping and burlesque being amazing, at least one person still thought we were trying to slut-shame strippers, which was absolutely not our aim, so I'd like to reiterate: I am 100% cool with stripping, burlesque, and pole. I know lots of great ladies who perform in those styles and I love what they do. But it is not what I do, anymore than I do tap, line dancing or traditional Israeli folk dance. I am a belly dancer and I do belly dance, which happens to not involve taking my clothes off. I don't leave my clothes on because I think it's wrong for other women to take theirs off, I leave them on because they are part of my dance. I am not ashamed of my body, but I am proud of my handmade velvet bra adorned with Afghani coins and Turkoman buttons.

The important thing is, a woman should never be asked or told to take her clothes off just because she is dancing. It is our choice whether or not we strip, not yours. Even in arts like burlesque and pole, there's no guarantee of a "reveal." Many pole performers choose to stay fully clothed. Many burlesque acts only do a partial reveal, or no reveal, instead focusing on a cheeky sense of humor. Even some performers who do strip may not do so at all events, if it's not appropriate for the audience or they just don't feel like it.

So in conclusion, the only people who I want to shame are the people who think they deserve more control over my body than I have. I won't take it off, and you just have to live with that.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Professional Photos -- A Worthy Investment!

This past weekend I finally took the plunge and invested in a professional photo session with my dear friend Liora K Photography. Liora's been getting a lot of attention from the media lately for her feminist photo series and the Attractive + Fat photos that she took for The Militant Baker, and for good reason. She's great at what she does.

It's hard to make the decision to invest in professional photos as a semi-pro dancer. The majority of my gigs are still unpaid, and my main investment of course has to be my education, followed by the occasional new costume piece (or, if I'm at Tribal Fest, a whole BUNCH of costume pieces since I could try them all on). However, I felt like the time had come to make sure that I had a great headshot (see above!!!) and plenty of beautiful photos for my website, blog, and any promotional materials I might need to make. Since I had a bunch of great new costumes and Liora and I both had a weekend free, it was time.

The great thing about Liora is not only is she a true professional with a dedicated home studio, professional backdrops and lighting (not to mention training and mad skillz), but since she's also a bellydancer, she gave great directions, like "Channel Mardi Love" or "Give me a really big right maya." She knows the terminology, she knows what looks good on a dancer's body, and she didn't try to direct me into any cheezy stereotypical Egyptic poses.

I love the above photo, because not only is it pretty, but I think it really captures my dance persona, ethereal, mysterious, and probably daydreaming or plotting something.

I am really excited to share more of these photos with you in the future. And be sure to come back tomorrow to see what else we did while I was in her studio! I think you'll love it!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pretty pictures

I'm happy to say that there were some really beautiful photos of me taken at the Legends of the Labyrinth variety show! Above and directly below are images by Kelly Bender.
 And this shot by Jake DeBruyckere is pretty much the best picture that has ever been taken of me on stage:


Monday, June 10, 2013

It's important to be professional

Sometimes I can't find a picture to go with the topic of my opinion pieces, so I made my own. Graphic designer I am not.

It's important to always be professional. Note that I didn't say A professional; it is perfectly awesome to be an amateur dancer for your entire dance life. But even if you never want to dance for money, you should still always have a professional attitude. It makes everything flow more smoothly, from class to haflas to traveling to events with your fellow dancers.

One of the best things about a professional attitude is that unlike pro costuming, nice props, and weekend intensives, it doesn't cost you anything. The most inexperienced, broke dancer can still be the nicest, most helpful person backstage and thus make a better impression than the professional in a custom dress from Egypt and the diva attitude. When you respect your fellow dancers, event coordinators, helpers and audience, people remember you and want to work with you in the future. By the same token, getting snotty about some minor problem at a student showcase can leave a sour taste that will linger well into your career.

So how do you develop a professional attitude? The first step is to always be polite! Don't trash-talk your fellow performers (if you do need to complain about something, save it for later). Be gracious when giving and receiving compliments. Don't take up more than your fair share of the dressing room or mirror. Be willing to help your fellow dancers make last-minute costume adjustments. Thank people for allowing you to be part of their show, for dancing with you, for taking pictures, for coming to the show, whatever. Smile, or maintain a pleasantly neutral face.

The second step is to always be reliable. Be the one who sends her music on time, shows up early, stays after to help, promotes the event, is willing to carpool, always comes to class, etc etc etc. When people see that you are dedicated and can be counted on, they tend to take notice of you.

The third step is to be positive. This was a struggle for me and still is on some days! Being positive means not complaining when something in class is difficult (or if you do complain, make it good-natured, "Oh, I'm going to feel this tomorrow! At least I burned off that pizza I ate for dinner!"). Being positive means that when you show up for a gig and there's only three people in the audience, you put as much energy into it as if there were three hundred. Being positive means that your social media presence is always upbeat, that you post nice comments on others' wall posts and YouTube videos. Being positive means that if you have a problem with a teacher, student, venue, event organizer or workshop instructor, you take it up with them privately rather than airing it on Facebook.

The fourth step is treating every gig like a professional gig. No more "Oh, it's just a student hafla, I'll just wear these old things and not bother with lipstick." You do full hair and makeup for every show, and you wear the nicest costume possible within your budget. And when you step out onto the stage (which is actually just a little empty spot in the dining area of a coffee shop), you turn on your mega-watt personality and you dance with your whole heart and soul.
The fifth step is to own up to it when you fail. Everyone has off days. Sometimes you get some bad news right before a gig, or you just feel cruddy in class, or something else in life is bothering you and you slip up and say or do something mean. When this happens, apologize. Don't make a huge big deal that draws more attention to it, but contact the people affected and say "I realize that I was really off last night and I was pretty rude backstage. I feel awful about it and if I hurt or offend anyone, I sincerely apologize."

There are other steps you need to take when you want to be an actual professional, but I'm still learning those as I go so I don't feel qualified to give much advice on them. For now, start with the things in this post, and I have a feeling you'll find yourself very popular at your local events, and as a bonus, the more positive you act in class and on stage, the more positive you feel inside. And that comes from a card carrying sarcastic cynic, so you know I'm not just making it up.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On writing a good intro

You don't want to get a disapproving look from Becka Bomb, now do you?

On the request of Becka Bomb, one of my favorite emcees ever, I am going to write a few words about how important it is to write a good intro when you're performing. I know, I know, it can be really hard to talk about yourself in the third person, and even harder to decide what to say and what to leave out. But writing an intro is a skill, and like any skill, it just gets better with practice. Besides, I'm here to give you a list of tips.

1. Follow the guidelines given to you by the event. If they ask for a short two-line intro, give them two lines. If they want an entire paragraph, do that. Do not just send in whatever you already have written, whether or not it fits the bill.

2. That said, you can save yourself a lot of hassle by already having some pre-written intros or by setting yourself a formula. My formula for a short intro is to say "Sophia Ravenna is a member of Fire & Gold Bellydance and a solo performer. <insert one line about what I am presenting at this show> You can find out more about her at" For shows that want an entire paragraph, you can probably have one paragraph that you always use, with maybe one line that mentions specifically what you're doing at that show.

3. Do not be afraid to either include the pronunciation of your name, or to talk with the emcee and double-check that she knows how to say it. That can save one or both of you from some embarrassment!

4. If you're dancing as a troupe, say something about who your director is, or how you formed. Small troupes can get away with including everyone's name in the bio. More than 4-5 people and it gets awkward.

5. If you are performing at a large event with acts from all over, make sure to mention where you're based out of so people know where to find you in the future!

6. If you are a relatively new student, or if your teacher helped you a lot in the development of your piece, mention your teacher in your bio. If you are performing material exclusively developed by a specific troupe (like Anaya Tribal) then mention that. Otherwise, you really don't need to name-drop.

7. Feel free to have a little fun. If you're performing at a themed event, write a special intro that meshes with the theme. If you're dancing at a birthday or wedding and you know the guest(s) of honor, include a little shout-out to them. Things like that.

8. Do not over-explain. Good: "Sophia would like to dedicate this dance to her husband in honor of his birthday." Over-explain: "Sophia is dancing to one of her husband's favorite songs tonight. The drinking motions reference the many bottles of root beer they shared during their courtship; her costume is made from one of his old t-shirts that she bought for him after their second date" etc etc etc. Keep it short and sweet, let the audience figure out the rest or ask you about it after the show.

9. You don't have to be clever. If you're drawing a blank on what to write, just state your name, the song you're dancing to, and how much you appreciate being part of that night's entertainment.

10. Before you send it out or hand it in, double check that your name and any contact information is spelled correctly! Maybe even read it out-loud to make sure it doesn't come across as too awkward.

Follow these tips and hopefully you'll have a happy emcee and event coordinator every time you perform! 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wear Your Cover-Ups!

It was really hard for me to find a photo of me in a cover-up! Everyone wants costume pictures.
Many better, more famous dancers have already written about the importance of wearing cover-ups, but I've been asked to do so as well, so here's my thoughts. Wear your cover-ups. Ok, now that I've gotten that out of the way, time for tea and chocolate!
Ok, ok, I guess I can say a little more than that. Cover-ups are important for many reasons. They give you an aura of mystery. They keep you from drawing attention from the other acts on stage. If it's cold, they keep you warm. They help protect your costume from stains and other damage. They keep your back from sticking to the car seat on long, hot drives to gigs in Phoenix. They allow you to look a little less strange when you go grab a quick bite on the way home from your show.
With all those reasons to cover up your costume, it would be silly not to. But maybe you're new to dance and you have no idea what to wear, or your favorite cover-up just bit the dust and you're at a loss for what to replace it with. With that in mind, here's my handy list of tips for choosing a cover-up.
1. Whatever it is, make sure it either wraps or fastens in the front. Even if you don't wear a lot of ornaments in your hair like I do, you don't want to mess your hair up or get lipstick on your cover-up when changing. You also want it to be easy to get in and out of, because sure enough, you'll be chilling back-stage and the organizer will want a quick group shot of everyone in costume before they let the audience in, or you'll be relaxing after the show and your friends will want to take pictures with you in your costume. Make all those quick changes easy on yourself!
2. Try to get a fabric that breathes well and can be washed. You're going to wear this for every gig, so you want to be comfortable and you want to keep it nice and clean.
3. But with that in mind, make sure it's not too loosely woven, or else it will catch on chain, jewelry, beads, sequins, hang-nails, scenery, props...
4. You may want one light-weight cover for summer and a heavier one for winter, especially if you're doing a lot of outdoor gigs.
5. As you can see, it's pretty hard to cover up a huge 25 yard tribal skirt. Just make sure you've got your bra and belt areas covered and that will preserve most of your mystery. Of course, sometimes you can luck out and find an awesome long garment with slits that will mostly cover you while still having room for your skirt. Treasure that!
6. Check the swim section for awesome bathing suit cover-ups. You can even use a sarong, I often do and it's an especially great affordable, easy option for a newbie dancer.
7. A veil may seem like the obvious answer because it is a large piece of fabric. And you can use a veil that is dedicated to life as a cover-up, but please don't use a veil you plan to dance with. What if it gets damaged while you're wearing it?
8. Always have at least two cover-up options available, just in case when you're packing for your gig you realize that your usual cover-up has a tear or the top button came off last time and now it shows off your bra. 
9. Try your cover-up on over your costume! Something that fits fine over your street clothes might not fasten across your heavily decorated and padded dance bra. Or it might snag constantly on everything. Or the sleeves might be too tight to go over your bracelets.
10. Choose something that still puts forth the image of a belly dancer. Kaftans and similar garments are popular because they are from that region. Even if you buy a sarong, choose one with a more Eastern pattern over something Hawaiian. Look for Indian-influenced paisley patterns on your scarves. Err on the side of exotic over mundane. Just be careful that you're not wearing something inappropriate -- for instance, some dancers don't like seeing a thobe (traditional Saudi garment) worn as a cover-up because it is also worn for performing kaleegi dances.

I hope this helps!