Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

My costume from 2011
Happy Halloween! I love Halloween because it's an excuse to dress up, which is also one of the reasons why I love to be a bellydancer. Tucson is a pretty casual town so there's not a lot of chance to really dress up. You can go to some of the best restaurants in the city and still find people in shorts and a t-shirt. How boring is that? Give me a chance to wear something other than my usual clothes and I jump at it.
I have dance class tonight, and I'm going to dress as a skeleton. Not very clever, but I already had the bone-print leggings and I felt like I couldn't get away with being some sort of dryad or fairy for the third year in a row. I hope that others show up to class in costume, too!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Urban Decay Black Market Pencil Set

When I saw this new Black Market 24/7 Pencil Set from Urban Decay, I knew I had to have it! I have no lack of eye liners, but this set of mini pencils has some really stylish Autumn colors that would fill some gaps in my collection.

The colors include West (sparkly brown), Desperation (matte grey), Black Market (sparkly black), Riot (sparkly purple), Apathy (sparkly olive) and Ink (sparkly blue). They're the standard UD mini pencil size, which means you can throw all of them into a travel bag easily, or put your favorite in the pencil slot of a palette.
Oh hey, did I mention that I'm in NY and it is COLD out here? So here's my eye look for NYC, using West and Apathy and a few colors from the NYC themed Book of Shadows, plus a warm, fuzzy scarf.
 Eyes closed. Not my best blending job, I only had a few minutes to do my face.
Swatch! Displayed on my arm in the same order they're packaged in. You can see that it's a nice range of dark neutrals and pops of color that will carry you through fall and winter.

I use 24/7 pencils in various colors for dance makeup all the time, and they hold up well. Not quite as bold a line as a good gel liner, but I also don't have to worry about waiting for them to dry, or having the entire pot dry out before I can use it because I live in a desert. Plus they're really portable and it's easy to take a bunch of colors on a trip with you. You can smudge them if you want or leave them as-is. The travel-sized pencils will last you a good long while, I haven't even used up half of my basic black Zero pencil and it's one of my go-to products.

Friday, October 18, 2013

NYX Wonder Pencil

 On a recent dance troupe trip to Ulta, I picked up the NYX Wonder Pencil, along with a couple other NYX products that I'll be reviewing soon. They have a reputation for producing relatively high-quality products at a great price, including a lot of dupes of more expensive products.
The Wonder Pencil (shown here in "Light" because I am incredibly pale) is a multi-purpose concealer pencil. it has a fine tip like a liner pencil, which makes it ideal for lining your lips, covering small blemishes, or brightening your waterline. I use it a lot for that last one, including in the top image here. It helps make your eyes look larger and more alert, but it's very subtle so you can easily use it for daytime or "natural" looks.

I don't use it for covering the circles under my eyes, because I still feel like my Urban Decay concealer pencil is better for that, as the thicker pencil makes for a quicker application.

The Wonder Pencil has a really smooth, easy application and seems to hold up well to being worn for dance. It keeps creamy lipstick from wandering when used as a liner. It's really affordable, really versatile, and easy to throw in your dance bag for quick touch-ups. I'd call this one a win!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New troupe performance video!

I'm happy to be able to share with you this video of my troupemates and I performing one of our favorite choreographies! This video was taken at the Plaza de Anaya Fall Intensive show, featuring Wild Card Belly Dance. We had such a great time being a part of this show, carpooling there and back and eating a late-night dinner at Denny's (still in stage makeup, naturally).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Dance History

Performing an ITS sword dance with former classmates. Also, proof I wear colors other than green.

 If you've been around my blog for a while, or you've read up on my history at all, or you even read yesterday's blog post, you know that I danced ITS for a couple of years. I studied and performed primarily under Anaya Tribal, but also here in Tucson as part of the Tucson Tribal Bellydance Collective (shown above).

I got my start in bellydance taking a few private home lessons from a friend who used to be part of a tribal improv troupe. She taught me some basics before becoming too busy to keep trading lessons with me (I was teaching her jewelry making), but I continued on my own at home, working with what she showed me and trying things that I saw in videos. After a couple years I got bored dancing alone at home and thought it would be fun to be in a troupe like my friend talked about, so I needed to take classes and find friends to dance with.

My search eventually lead me to Plaza de Anaya in Tempe -- Ok, I got a coupon from the Ren Faire and decided to take a free class. After trying a class and seeing how little I really knew, I was hooked and wanted to learn it all. I decided to drive up to Tempe every week (3+ hour round trip) to study with Anaya Tribal.

I spent a couple of years dancing ITS and I loved it. I enjoyed the follow-the-leader mentality, I liked that everyone got a chance to be the leader, I loved spinning around in a 25 yard skirt and feeling like a princess. I went every week unless I was sick or out of town, I did my homework, I took whatever workshops my teachers recommended. We had student recitals twice a year where I got to dance with my classmates. What a blast!

Although I loved dancing ITS in a group, I also did some solos here in Tucson since I didn't have a group to dance with. Although I never really thought about it specifically, I think my ideal situation would have been performing long shows with an ITS group where we did group improv and had some featured soloists (one of whom would be me, of course). I also wanted to teach bellydance someday.

I took workshops in various other styles but didn't absorb a lot of it, for two obvious reasons: one was that I took workshops willy-nilly without really knowing if they were going to give me what I needed at that stage in my dance life, and two was that I really only knew how to dance ITS, so a lot of what was being covered in the workshops was not really accessible to me.

I continued to love ITS, and I even began taking extra ITS classes with Fonda in Tucson, but I started to wish I could study more tribal fusion. No one was really teaching what I wanted to learn in Tucson, I couldn't go to Tempe twice a week to study with Mia Donna, and I didn't want to give up Anaya Tribal. In fact, I joined their student troupe -and- the Tucson Tribal Collective.

Then Jolie moved to town. She was only going to be here for about 6 months, but she was going to teach classes for that time and I figured well, I had better learn everything I can from her during that time, so I bought an unlimited class card and added her classes to my rotation. If I remember correctly, that meant I was dancing with Jolie Mon and Tues, Fonda on Weds, Anaya on Thurs, and then I had troupe practice for Anaya and/or TTC on at least every other Sunday. I was dancing a lot, and I loved/hated it. I love to dance but my inner introvert wanted more time at home to bead in front of the TV.

When Jolie decided to stay in Tucson and invited me to join the student troupe she was forming, I had to do some hard thinking. I was starting to get burnt out on driving to Tempe 6 times a month, and I was starting to think about my future as a dancer. I realized that my end goal was to be a tribal fusion soloist, and that dancing ITS wasn't helping me towards that goal. I left Anaya Tribe, and eventually also the Collective, and focused on tribal fusion.

During this time, I was also really discovering my limitations. Start a move on the left foot? Nope. Do an undulation without a floreo? Nonsense. Chaine turns? I think not. My body did not like stepping outside of the comfort zone that I had built for it. ITS had such specific ways of doing things, to make sure everyone looked the same while dancing together, which is great for ITS and lousy for trying to learn anything else. Two years after starting tribal fusion with Jolie, I am still struggling with habits that I developed as an ITS dancer (for instance, my husband likes to tease me because I still look for a leader to follow during choreographies that I could do in my sleep).

I don't regret the time that I spent learning ITS. It did a lot to build my confidence, helped me develop a sense of rhythm, taught me to play the zills, and introduced me to some great friends. But if I had to do it over again, knowing then what I know now, I would have made more of an effort to practice general dance skills alongside my ITS moves. I would have forced myself to do everything on the left as well as the right, and I would have played with layering and other challenging concepts at home. I spend a lot of my time now feeling like I am making up for lost time, time that I could have spent developing myself as a dancer, rather than just as an ITS dancer.

Ultimately, this is why I disagree with the assertion that one NEEDS a foundation in some form of tribal group improv to be a tribal fusion dancer. Most of what I learned in ITS classes has not served me in tribal fusion. I could have just as easily learned my Basic Egyptian, Arabic, Turkish, 3/4 Shimmy and more from a tribal fusion teacher, and been developing skills as a soloist as well.

Monday, October 14, 2013

ATS and Tribal Fusion

To continue on the theme from last week's post "There is no high council of tribal fusion" I'd like to talk about why I don't feel you need to learn ATS (American Trobal Style), ITS (Improvisational Tribal Style) or SGI (Spontaneous Group Improvisation) to become a tribal fusion bellydancer.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the post, let me clarify: I love watching ATS, ITS, and SGI. A highly-polished troupe performing these styles of dance presents a really exciting performance. I especially love advanced ATS troupes specifically for their dynamic formation changes which turn the dancers into a living kaleidoscope. I also think that these styles can be a very good introduction to bellydance for those who are intimidated by dance and performing, as the "follow the leader" nature means you don't have to stress about remembering a group choreography or carrying an entire performance as a soloist. I spent a couple years learning and dancing ITS with Anaya Tribal in Tempe and I enjoyed my time with them.

That said, although tribal fusion evolved from ATS/ITS/SGI roots, it is now its own distinct dance. I feel like if you want to be a tribal fusion dancer, whether as a soloist or as part of a troupe, you will be best served by finding a really good tribal fusion teacher who will teach you how to dance the style you want to dance. A good teacher will teach you the basic tribal moves taken from ATS/ITS/SGI, such as Basic Egyptian, Arabic, Maya, Snake Arms, etc, but they will also teach you the skills that set tribal fusion apart from the dances it evolved from.

Taking an ATS/ITS/SGI class will teach you those basics, too, but it will also teach you a lot of things that you will not need in tribal fusion, and some that will actively hinder your growth as a tribal fusion dancer. These skills include:

-Cues (not needed in tribal fusion)

-Follow the Leader (also not needed)

-Combinations (some people do use combos in tribal fusion)

-Formations and Lead Changes (again, some basic knowledge of formations can be good when dancing with a troupe, but lead changes are not needed)

-Very specific ways of pairing movements in different parts of the body (ie, we always use these arms with a maya)

-A specific movement vocabulary which is designed to be assembled into group improv on the fly, and which will usually include a set of rules (ie, we always do this move twice, this move can be done in 1/2 and 1/4 turns but that other one only has a full turn version).

-Dancing as a group (this can be helpful for tribal fusion troupes, but not for the soloist)

Studying with a well-trained tribal fusion teacher will give you the following skills that are not usually covered in ATS/etc classes:

-Traveling movements. While some group improv formats have combos that involve traveling, it is not as involved as movement can be in tribal fusion, especially as a soloist who needs to fill a whole stage.

-Complicated layering. You will learn exciting, sometimes brain-numbingly-difficult combinations of layers, which will make you a versatile dancer and able to more quickly pick up new layering tricks in workshops.

-A wide variety of movements, drawn not only from ATS/ITS/SGI roots but also from traditional bellydance, ballet, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, Latin, African and other dance styles, depending on your teacher's background and tastes.

-Musicality. Although some very experienced and talented ATS/ITS/SGI groups show amazing musicality, for the most part these styles accompany the music rather than interpreting it. Because the tribal fusion vocabulary is less specific and involves either working as a soloist or as part of a choreographed movement, there is more opportunity to really interpret the music at even a beginner level.

None of this is to suggest that either of these styles is better or worse than the other. They are both beautiful, valid dance forms that people are attracted to for different reasons. Some people enjoy performing both, and in fact there are many troupes whose performances contain a mixture of group improvisation, choreographed tribal fusion group pieces, and solo numbers which may be improv or choreo.

In closing, I would like to say that dancers who chose to solely pursue tribal fusion bellydance should at least educate themselves on the influence of ATS and major ITS and SGI groups on the growth of tribal fusion. You don't need to take an ATS class, but you should definitely sit down at your computer and watch some Fat Chance Bellydance on YouTube, read up on the evolution of tribal fusion, and be aware of the roots of the dance you're performing so that when you are asked about it by the general public, you can give an educated and enlightening response.

Come back tomorrow to read about my specific experience with being an ITS dancer who switched to tribal fusion.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Jamberry Nail Wraps

 Recently a friend of mine started her own Jamberry nail wrap business, Kiss My Tips, and when she offered to send out some samples, I jumped at the chance to try a new nail product and review it here on my blog.

In case you're not familiar with nail wraps, they're sort of like stickers for your nails. You can use them for an entire manicure, or pick a cute patterned one to use as an accent nail, as I did for my space-themed nail look here. For new, skeptical customers they suggest that you pit Jamberry against traditional nail polish for one week, by wearing your favorite color and some wraps for one week and seeing which looks better at the end of the challenge. Well, instead of using a favorite color I picked a random color from my stash that looked good with the galaxy-patterned wraps. This proved to be a mistake as the nail polish was old and from a random brand and didn't go on well and didn't last long even with a base and top coat. I was ready to remove my manicure after only about 4-5 days but I stuck it out for the full seven and this was the result:

The wrap on my left nail is in perfect shape! The one on my right looks pretty good but it was peeling away/fraying at the tip. I think when I applied them I didn't seal that edge well enough because it started peeling at the corner almost immediately, whereas the left one pretty much stayed in place.

Application and removal were pretty easy. You apply them with a bit of heat and pressure -- I used my space heater and it worked perfectly. I feel like it would take a little practice to line them up perfectly, because they went on a little crooked so I had blank space on one side, but you could only tell if you were really examining my nails. To remove, just heat them back up again and peel. They left some sticky residue on my nails, but I slathered on some cuticle cream and the oils broke up the adhesive. Easy-peasy.

I have really long nails, as you see, and by cutting a strip in half I was able to do two nails and have excess on the ends. During the week that I wore them, I did all the sorts of things that would abuse a manicure... Lots of handwashing and showers, including using using some body scrub, plenty of crafting, playing with pets, dance classes and performances, I even had to replace a split ring on my keys which did a number on my traditional nail polish. If they can hold up to my lifestyle, they're pretty sturdy. I'd definitely recommend them for my fellow dancers who lead a busy life and want to still have fabulous nails for class and gigs.

Although I still like traditional nail polish and enjoy taking the time to give myself a manicure, since Jamberry wraps come in a lot of fancy designs (patterns, ombre fades, even sports team logos), they're ideal for when you want one of those cool nail art manicures without stressing about how quickly it's going to chip! I've also heard that they come in glitter colors which don't leave sparkles all over your nails after removal, so I'm pretty intrigued by that. Oh yes, and you can of course use them on your toes, too.

FTC disclaimer: These wraps were provided for free for testing purposes. I chose to blog them of my own volition.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

There is no high council of tribal fusion.

So, the wonderful thing about the internet is that things that were posted years ago will suddenly and randomly make a comeback, as one person comes across it again and posts it, and then other people agree with it so they post it... That's happening right now with a post someone wrote quite some time ago about the state of tribal fusion. To say that I disagree with that particular blog post would be a bit of an understatement. It annoyed me enough that I felt I had to get something off of my chest:

There is no high council of tribal fusion.

No one gets to tell you what can and can't be done in tribal fusion, or who you have to study with or how you have to dance. No one gets to dictate your facial expression or what moves you're allowed to use. No one gets to tell you that you aren't tribal enough. There is not a secret cabal of bellydancers who have codified exactly what percentage of your movement must have originated from bellydance, and which styles you're allowed to fuse, and how many sparkles your costume may have.

Are there rules to tribal fusion bellydance? Of course there are, but they're the same kind of rules that would apply to any dance form. Off the top of my head, they include:

-Study with the best teacher(s) you can. Depending on where you're located, that might be an ATS, ITS, Tribal Fusion, AmCab, Egyptian, Turkish or just general bellydance skills teacher. If there is not a good tribal fusion teacher in your area, you'll have to use videos to take the basics you're learning and modify them to fit the aesthetic you prefer. If you have the opportunity and money to study with multiple teachers in different bellydance styles, that's even better, although you may not want to do that right away as a beginner as it can get confusing. But if you learn multiple styles, you get different approaches to the same moves, some different moves, different ways to interpret the music, etc etc, and you can combine them to create your own personal style that works well in your body (obviously that only applies to soloists, in a troupe you'll want to do your best to do the moves exactly how your director does them).

-Study the kind of dance you would like to add to your tribal fusion. If you study with a tribal fusion teacher, you'll probably get a little bit of ballet, jazz, hip-hop or maybe Latin dance, depending on your teacher's tastes and backgrounds. But once you know what other non-Middle Eastern elements you prefer in your fusion, it's good to take classes specifically for those styles. For instance, I love the extensions and turns from ballet, so I take ballet classes. I also take Femme Cardio because it's a good workout, makes me think on my feet, and gives me some different movement to try to absorb.

-Practice hard. Practice the things that you're bad at so you become good at them. Practice the things you're good at so you become amazing at them. Practice things that feel weird. Drill moves. Put on random music and do improv. Give yourself emotional and artistic challenges. Master some props. Practice your costuming and makeup skills, too.

-Make good choices. Choose music and movement that is appropriate for the venue. Choose a costume that is appropriate for the mood of the piece and the style of movement you're going to be doing (no floorwork in delicately beaded vintage skirts!). Early on in your performance career, while you're still developing your style and your sense of what is appropriate, you may want to work with a mentor who will help guide you until these things become second nature.

-Dance with integrity. As long as you are making good choices based on your knowledge and capabilities (ie, fusing the bellydance you've been studying diligently and the jazz you've been studying diligently, instead of saying "I want to do a belly-tango fusion tomorrow so I'll just watch a few tango performances tonight, no big deal") and you dance the very best you can, and interpret the emotions of the song you're dancing to, you'll be fine.

I think it's important for us to remember that tribal fusion bellydance is a very young artform. There's going to be a lot of experimenting, and there may be offshoots that thrive and become their own style, and offshoots that last only a year or two and prove to just be a passing fad. It will probably be decades until it settles into a semi-permanent form with a specific style of costuming and a core vocabulary of moves, and even then there will be differences, just as traditional bellydance isn't just one thing, but encompasses folkloric dance and fauxloric dance (inspired by traditional dances but completely made up or given some theatrical spin), and Egyptian, and Turkish, and Lebanese, and AmCab, and probably a few others I'm not listing. So just chill out. Stop trying to apply your rules to it, sit back, and let it evolve. You don't have to enjoy everything that you see, and sometimes you will see some objectively bad dance performed by people who rushed to the stage without taking the time to really develop your skills. But no one is the one high judge of what counts as tribal fusion.

I'd like to thank Gothic Charm School for inspiring me with the concept of the Secret Cabal of ElderGoths. The Lady of the Manners has such a way with words!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


 BFFs stands for Beautiful, Fabulous Females, obviously! Look at us.

The problem with having your best friend live across the state is that you don't get to hang out often, especially when your weekends are jam-packed with dance. Usually when I get to see my friend Jen, it's because we're both at a dance event (often, I'm crashing at her place for a dance weekend), so we don't get a lot of time to just sit and talk. But this week she had some time off so we had what I am calling The 2nd Annual Jen and AJ Wear Boots and Drink Tea Regardless of How Warm it is Because it is October, For Pity's Sake (2nd annual because we did basically the same thing this time last year). A relaxed morning/afternoon of drinking tea, catching up on our dance lives and regular lives, brainstorming about upcoming events, and drinking more tea. Oh yes, and wearing boots, even if they were paired with skirts and tanktops. Last year involved scarves, but last year we went up onto the mountain where it was actually cool.

I'd like to think that this serves as an official kick-off for the Fall season :)

Friday, October 4, 2013

30 Day Makeup Challenge!

So, today I had to go to the MAC store to buy some more black gel eyeliner, because my current jar has dried out. As I was walking back to the car, I was thinking about how frustrating it was that I was going to have to throw out about 2/3 of the jar, and how that's not the first product I've had that problem with, and that maybe I should do my makeup more often so I can use my products before they expire.

The thing is, although I love makeup and I love looking at makeup and buying makeup, I don't usually do my makeup unless I'm performing or testing a product for this blog. As such, when it is time to put the pretty on, I tend to fall back on the same rotation of products and the same basic look. After all, I spend most of my time either at home or sweating it up in the dance studio, so there's not a lot of call for makeup, right?

Well, for the next 30 days I'm going to break that trend. Even if my plan for the day is to sit around in my PJs writing blog posts and doing laundry all day, I'll do it with style. 30 days of makeup! 30 days of trying new products (and old ones that are just hanging out in my train case) and new looks. 30 days of fabulosity!

Every day I'll post a picture on my Sophia Ravenna FB page showing my look and the products I used. If you're curious about any of the products, just ask and I'll include them in a future Beauty Blogging for Bellydancers post.