Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I don't believe in fate

If you have this idea of me as a sophisticated woman of high-brow tastes, you should probably stop reading now because today's blog post was inspired by Dinosaur Comics and Cracked.com. But I promise, I'm going to talk about some deep, serious stuff!

I woke up today and as usual, I read through my web comics, and I thought today's Dinosaur Comics (shown above) was really funny and to the point. Then later I was reading The 5 Most Useless Pieces of Advice Everyone Gives and I was nodding right along with it when I read this really poignant quote near the end: "But as far as I can tell, success is heavily based on luck -- it's just that long hours earn you more chances to get lucky. The more stuff you do, the more people you meet and impress, the more chances for opportunity to come your way."

It's strange when great life advice comes from an internet humor site, but there you have it. So often in artistic fields like dance, writing and music you'll hear people grumbling about how it's all about who you know, or being in the right place at the right time... but here's the thing. Everyone has the chance to meet the right people, or be in the right place. And the harder you work, the more chances you have.

I don't believe in fate. I don't believe that when I am ready to start dancing professionally, the perfect gigs will just land in my lap. I believe that sometimes, things will fall together perfectly, and other times I'll work really hard to chase something only to have it end in disaster, and most of the time, things will fall somewhere in between. Everything that has happened to me so far has lead me to feel that way. A few examples:

-Living in Tucson doesn't afford me as many great dance opportunities as some larger cities with a more vibrant community would have, but I did luck out by having two good years of study with Jolie Roberson right when I was ready to really dig deeper into my dance, and she helped me with a lot of my dance problems and has given me the tools to keep growing as a dancer.
-I've also had the opportunity to dance with a great troupe, which has helped me to learn how to work well with others, how to learn choreography, how to work within costuming guidelines, and so much more. Plus I've made some lovely friends.
-But I've also been in some troupes that didn't work out for me at all, and while some might chalk it up as a "learning experience", sometimes I think it would be nice to have put that time and money into something else. The same can be said of some classes and workshops I've taken.
-I've had people offer me performance opportunities that I had to refer to other dancers because I wasn't ready for them yet.
-I've had performance opportunities that seemed like they were going to be awesome, only to have them completely dry up or turn out to not be very good at all.

So all of this, along with things in my personal life and my general outlook on life, has lead me to feel that things don't happen for a reason, they just happen and we can decide how to react to them and what to do about them.

And so what about the correlation between luck and work? Well, I've already seen that "luck" sometimes brings dance opportunities that your way, whether you're ready for them or not. The harder you work at dance, the more likely you are to be able to say "Yes, I am ready to dance at this high-profile event and serve as an awesome example of my local bellydance community." 

But it's not just about training hard. It's about attending classes, workshops, and shows and making a good impression on the other people there. It's about attending non-bellydance art events around town and forging connections in your local art and entertainment scene. It's about being pleasant and outgoing in your community as a whole, so that when that local business owner finds out you're a bellydancer, they hire you for their big customer appreciation party. It's about networking on-line with your fellow dancers, so that when you decide to go on a cross-country bellydance jaunt, your internet friends invite you to teach and perform in their town. It's about building a good website, blog, Facebook page, what have you so that potential clients can find you with a Google search and see what a professional presence you have on-line.

The more you put yourself out there, the more chances you have to know the right people, or to be in the right place at the right time (keeping in mind that sometimes a "place" isn't a physical location, but a Dance Opportunities FB group or a high ranking on Google). If you just sit back and wait for fate to drop something in your lap, you're probably going to start second-guessing whether the universe wants you to dance. But the universe doesn't care, so don't let it control your life. If you want to be a dancer, or a writer, or a stand-up comedian, or whatever, go out there and do the work!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Rarin' to go!

I feel like this picture captures the sense of anticipation as I'm about to launch myself forward
My year of dance has been off to an awkward start. Having a house guest means I haven't danced as much as I would like, due to my schedule being off-kilter and my feeling that it would be rude to just take off with our only car for dance class every night. I have been to a few classes and I've been reading a lot and doing some journaling and obviously blogging, but I am just rarin' to go next week! Especially since I'll only have about a week and a half to dance before I get side-lined again by the gem show.
I'm trying to be patient with myself and with life. After all, I pretty much knew I wasn't going to jump right into doing dance stuff 40 hours a week right off the bat. I just wish I was putting in more hours than I am. I have a lot I want to work on! There's costumes to make and choreography to practice and moves to drill and muscles to tone.
I think mid-February is when I'm going to be able to really hit the full-time mark, but I am looking forward to giving it a good go next week. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Perform less, watch more

One of my favorite performance photos from 2013

You may have noticed that I haven't posted about a lot of upcoming performances lately, and I'm OK with that. After attending a few shows as an audience member at the end of the year, I made a conscious decision to cut back on performing for the first few months of 2014, for a few reasons:

1. I feel like in my rush to reach my goals as a dancer, I got into a habit of chasing after performance opportunities.

2. I'm currently in an inspiration lull, where I'm a bit bored with my music and in need of something new. For a while there I felt like I was constantly coming up with new solos and now I am drained, and I really need to go back and improve the things that I rushed through and then discarded.

3. When I'm focused on developing a new solo, I only work on the specific "new" technique or idea I'm playing with in it, instead of doing well-rounded practice. I feel like a lot of my basic technique has gotten sloppy and I want to spend the first 3-4 months of the year getting myself back into shape, and then moving beyond where I was.

4. I feel like right now I should be putting more energy into troupe stuff, now that we don't have a director to keep us on track, I really need to work on self-managing and making sure I'm not getting lazy about the choreographies we perform.

A nice side effect of not performing all the time is that I get more opportunities to watch dance. Faizeh just wrote a great blog post "Why You Should Watch Bellydancers Live and on YouTube" that I completely agree with. And when I get focused on performing all the time, I never get to watch other dancers. Either I'm dancing that night myself, or I feel like I have to stay home and spend time with my husband because I've danced every night that week, or I've blown my budget on costumes for new shows, so I can't really justify dinner out and a show ticket. It's no wonder I'm starting to feel uninspired, I haven't been out immersing myself in the art I so dearly love!

So while I will still be performing at Open Stage every month with my troupe (and probably as a soloist), I'm looking forward to spending more time in the audience than on the stage. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Productive Weekend

I had a really busy, productive weekend and I am feeling pretty pleased with myself and ready to tackle this week.

On Saturday, I was up in Phoenix for the bellydance swap meet. My friend Jen and I had both decided it was time to clean out our dance closets, so we shared a booth. We had just enough stuff to full up our rack and a couple of tables, and we got to spend the day hanging out (and taking turns going out to shop and socialize). I was worried that I wouldn't sell much, but I think I managed to move about half of what I brought with me, including two of the most expensive items in my booth. And I only bought two (matching) costume pieces and a piece of normal clothes, so in the end I was very successful. Plus I got to see a lot of dance friends that I hadn't seen for a while, yay!

Sunday is usually my day off, but this weekend I made an exception to study with Amanda Rose! I took her Dynamics Toolbox workshop, which is great for making you really think about how you can modify moves to make your performances more, well, dynamic. I was already aware of most of the concepts she spoke of, but had never really taken the time to think of the different ways they could be applied and combined to moves. The great thing was that while Amanda Rose does Egyptian-style bellydance, the workshop is really applicable to all styles of bellydance and only required knowledge of the same basic moves that are used in all styles. I definitely recommend it for the intermediate-level dancer who is looking for ways to really bring more dimensions to your work, especially if you're feeling stuck in a rut. Everything that she discussed was equally applicable to building choreographies or dancing improv, and the concepts could really be useful for making your at-home practices more challenging by adding different elements to your drills. I'm excited to start applying what I learned to my practice and seeing how it comes out in my performances.

Over all I am really happy with what I accomplished over the weekend!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Reading Material

I'm having a hard time getting good dance practice in with a house guest here, but at least I'm getting some dance-related research and learning in! It was perfect timing that the latest issue of Fuse and Princess Farhana's new book "The Belly Dance Handbook" both arrived earlier this week.

I've already torn through Fuse. It was jam-packed with great interviews and articles, with a focus on adornment. I really enjoyed reading about henna and tattoos. There's also some good product reviews. One thing that I like about Fuse is unlike the beading magazines I used to read, it's not jam-packed with advertisements, the ads are worked in with a mind towards not interrupting the flow of the writing, and they're pretty much all for things I would like to buy or events I would like to attend, so I can look at them and daydream. Now I'm waiting for the back issues I ordered to arrive so I can go on a magazine reading binge.

So far, I've only read the first little bit of the Handbook, but it was really hard to put it down! From flipping through, it looks to be jam-packed with information to help you all the way from being a newbie looking for your first teacher to becoming an international workshop instructor and jet-setting superstar. There's sections on caring for your costumes, and avoiding injury, and choosing dance shoes, and all sorts of things. I really love the fact that Princess Farhana is a treasure trove of knowledge and that she shares it with the world instead of hoarding it to herself. I'm really looking forward to diving into this book, reading it cover-to-cover, and bookmarking the best parts so I can return to them time and again. I'll be sure to post a full review when I'm done!

I'm looking to really build up my dance-related library. What are your favorite dance books?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fire & Gold is Back!

We're going to need new pics to reflect our current roster, but I still like this one by Liora K.

Last night was Fire & Gold Bellydance's first practice as a collective. It felt like it had been forever, since we had to take two weeks off for the holidays and then our first get-together of the year was a meeting to make plans and delegate responsibilities and make sure everyone was on the same page.

I have to say, I'm pretty proud of us so far. Being a collective isn't easy, without a director to tell everyone what to do, practices can devolve into chat, and there can be lots of disagreements about what to do. But we're starting off strong with a focus on getting everyone caught up on current choreographies and a proper costume wardrobe. I feel like it helps that we spent almost two years as a student troupe so we have a good foundation of how a practice should be structured, and we have existing material we can work on and keep performing while we figure out what we want to create on our own. It also helps that we have Open Stage to dance at every month, and a big festival performance in the Spring that we want to do really well at.

I'm so happy to be able to keep working with these ladies and I can't wait to see what we accomplish in 2014! 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tools for Productivity

This year isn't just about dancing, but about being smarter and more organized about my dance. As such, I've got a few tools to help me out with that.

1. My journal! This is my new dance journal. I am really proud of myself for finally filling up my old journal late last year. My goal is to write in my dance journal every day that I am working on dance stuff, to note what I did, how it made me feel, what I learned, etc etc. The cover says "Never lose sight of your dreams" which is an important reminder that I need every now and then.

2. Dancer's Day Planner! A page a day to write down my goals for dance, my classes, to-do lists, meal planning, and more. Kind of like a combination of my normal day planner (which I used to keep track of everything that I need to do and make sure I don't double-book myself) and my journal. It's a little big so it's not as portable as either one, but I think it will help keep me on track.

3. My new tablet! This was purchased primarily to replace my old Nook eReader, but because it's a tablet I also put a time tracking app on it so I can see how much time I'm actually putting into dance stuff, and I bought a tiny keyboard for it so I can take notes in workshops, and I can use it to take pictures and videos if I want. It will be nice for when I'm traveling and I don't want to take my laptop with me, but I want to be able to write e-mails and blog posts and things, which is difficult to do from a phone. Plus I can use it to read books on dance and creative living and all that.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ballet Class

Ballet group at West School, courtesy of Flickr Commons

I just got back from ballet class a little bit ago. This year I hope to go 2x a week, and I think I'll see a lot of improvement, especially once I feel like I know things well enough to practice them at home. Right now I still feel pretty awkward in class, but some things are starting to come more easily. Having a nice teacher and friendly classmates definitely helps, and these past several years of bellydance classes have taught me how to be good at accepting corrections.

Now it's time to get back to getting the guest room ready. I'd rather be dancing! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Beauty Blogging Break

Beauty Blogging for Bellydancers is on a short hiatus again! Unless I suddenly find myself with some extra time to test cosmetics, there won't be a new review until January 31st. Regular dance-related blogging will continue during this time, although it may be a bit sporadic. I have a house guest coming and I'm not really sure what my schedule is going to be like.

Thank you for your patience! I have a few products I am really looking forward to reviewing soon.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

New Pants!

I now make sure to nicely point my toes even when taking sloppy pictures at home.

This blog hadn't really been living up to its name lately, so here's a picture of some new dance pants! I actually bought these primarily for costuming my steampunk persona, a saloon girl turned world traveler, but I have a feeling they'll make it into my dance costuming rotation too, even if only for wearing to Ren Faire on a warm day or to a workshop when I feel like being cute. For that matter, they might come with me to Tribal Fest, they'd easily go from workshop to hanging out, especially paired with some over-the-knee socks and a pair of cool boots.

I don't buy dance pants as often as I used to, now that I'm no longer taking weekly classes at Plaza de Anaya, where I was constantly tempted by new arrivals. I do spend a lot of time looking at pants on places like Etsy, and I found these cuties on Dahlal while I was looking for something to go with a troupe costume. Lately I try to only buy something if I need it for a specific performance or if it fills a gaping hole in my wardrobe. In this case, I needed some more things to mix and match for steampunk and these fit my character and were a good price, so I let myself indulge.

And with all the cleaning I've done, I might even be able to fit them in the costume closet!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Maintaining Ties

Photo by Artemis Photography Creations
It can be easy to maintain ties with your friends when your friends are also dancers, as in the case of me and my bestie Jen. While we do have to do a bit of schedule-juggling based on which events we're attending, it's pretty easy for us to be at the same place at the same time, despite living in different cities. But for our non-dance loved ones, it can be difficult to maintain relationships, when dance classes and events have you busy most nights and weekends. I've been brainstorming about this for the past week, and here are some ideas I've used in the past and some that I want to try in the future:
-If a friend or family member is coming to one of your shows, invite them to dinner or drinks afterwards. It's a good way to catch up with them and show that you appreciate them supporting your art. Obviously this isn't always possible as sometimes there's an after-party you need to attend for networking purposes, but for small local shows you should be able to do this.
-Have a stitch and bitch. Sure, we often have these as a troupe activity, but if you have crafty friends, invite them to get together and while you work on a new costume or boring repairs (replacing zill elastic is the worst, isn't it?) they can crochet a baby blanket or bead a necklace.
-Invite your friends to come to a class with you. Sure, your friends who don't bellydance aren't going to come to an advanced drills session with you, but maybe they'd like to come to a dance cardio class or a beginning poi-spinning workshop.
-Do lunch or brunch! I just got done doing brunch with a friend and it was great. Since my scheduled stuff is all evenings and weekends, it's pretty easy for me to arrange my daytime work of practice and blogging around a lunch date, and my flexible schedule makes it possible for me to go meet someone who has a specific lunch break at their day job.
-Go makeup shopping. Non-dance friends who still like cosmetics will probably appreciate your expertise, because anything that holds up to you getting sweaty on stage will hold up to their daily life.
-While we're on the subject of fun girly things, go get a manicure together! You'll have nice, professional-looking nails for your next gig and you'll get to chat with your friend while your nails are being painted.
-Make sure to make time for the things your loved ones are interested in, too. If your friend who is a painter comes to your bellydance show, you should go to her gallery opening. Honestly, this goes for your fellow dancers, too. It's important to go to events where you are not performing to support your community, both the bellydance community and the local art scene as a whole.
-Be willing to occasionally skip things to make time for your loved ones. Obviously you can't blow off a performance you're already committed to, a workshop you pre-registered for months ago or troupe practice for anything less than a family emergency, but you should be willing to occasionally miss a non-required dance class or local event you were thinking of attending. If every time your family tries to plan a birthday party or a friend invites you out to dinner you say "Well, I have classes Mon, Tues, Thurs and Fri and I'm performing Saturday and attending a workshop on Sunday", people are going to get frustrated with you fast. You need to learn when it's important to stick to your schedule and when it's OK to say "I'll skip Ballet this week to spend time with you."
-If you're in a relationship, make sure you communicate clearly with your SO what your dance schedule is like and what you need from them, then be willing to listen to what they need from you. Sometimes this means you have to give up on something you'd kind of like to do because there's something you really need to do for your SO. Once again, you'll have to learn where to stand your ground and where to bend a little.
-Don't take people for granted! It's so important to make time for the people in your life and to thank them for being supportive of your dance career. So even if you can't take a friend out to dinner after your show, make sure you find them and thank them for coming out. Thank your SO for putting up with you being at class every night. Thank your family when they plan the big birthday dinner for that one night when they don't have classes. If your parents give you some money to spend at a big dance festival, let them know what you spent it on and how happy you were to be able to buy it. And when you make use of any of the above suggestions to get together with someone, make sure to let them know how happy you are to see them! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

So far...

Pretty picture by Liora K Photography

So, here we are, one week into the new year. How are things going so far? Not too bad. I don't think I'm quite up to full-time yet, but I am definitely doing more dance stuff, and better dance stuff. I'm thinking actively about why I do the things I do, examining my motivations and seeing what benefit I get from doing things. I'm writing this stuff down, so that when I get into a "Why bother?" sort of funk, I can remind myself. Of course, I can't take full credit for these ideas, Jolie told me to write that stuff down, and I had a good conversation with Mahin about always knowing why you are doing what you're doing (whether it's going to class or accepting a gig). I am really fortunate to have more experienced dancers share their hard-earned wisdom with me!

I've also been examining the stuff that I own. Later this month I will be hauling a bunch of my old costumes up to Phoenix for Yasmina's Bellydance Swap Meet. I've been pretty mercenary in choosing things to sell. Originally it was just going to be stuff that didn't fit or didn't really suit my style of dance, but I'm also selling some things that I genuinely like but haven't worn in two or more years. And I'm going to be cutting apart some things that I don't wear and don't think are worth selling either. It will be nice to have more room in my dance closet, and more money to buy things at Tribal Fest. The two may seem mutually exclusive, but if I sell TEN things at the swap meet and use that money to buy TWO really nice things at TF, I still end up with more room. Especially if I buy jewelry instead of costumes!

Yesterday was my first chance to actually do some bellydance drills and it felt great. Of course, I had to deal with the fact that I wanted to practice everything and didn't have enough time. The fact that I wanted to do so many more things makes me confident that as I get my schedule ironed out, I will have no problem filling hours with dance practice.

I also went back to Ballet class yesterday. I've been going sporadically over the holidays, but I really enjoy it. The class is small enough that I get individual, hands-on corrections, and the other dancers are really friendly. I'm hoping to take ballet at least two times a week and I think once I'm attending regularly, I will see a lot of improvement. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Stila Smudge Sticks

 I love Stila's current line of packaging that's all art-supply themed. I don't know why I'm so into it, because I'm not an artist (well, not a paint and colored pencils sort of artist, obviously dance is art), I just think it's really cute and clever. I resisted for as long as I could, but Ulta had a special on this Smudge Stick set last month and it was a really nice selection of colors, so I decided to treat myself. Turns out it's on sale again, so if you like what you read about it, now's a good time to buy!
 The included colors are Stingray (basic black), Lionfish (sparkly medium brown), Aubergine (shimmery medium orchid), Navy (basic navy blue), and Emerald (bright and shimmery Color of the Year emerald). They come in this cute tin, but if you want to keep them with the rest of your makeup it feels like the plastic insert would be easy to remove and then you could use the tin for something else.
I wore Stingray last night, but foolishly forgot to get a good close-up so you can see it. Anyway, it was easy to apply and gave a pretty good fine line which I was then able to smudge out a bit. It wore well. Above, you can see all of the colors swatched in the order I listed them. They all look pretty nice.

I'm disappointed to say that my Navy stick was broken off at the tip so it's completely flat. This is the sort of liner where the product is inside the plastic and you twist to bring more up and it makes a small fine tip. I don't know how I'm supposed to sharpen this flattened liner? At least it's the color I'm least likely to wear, and since I got it on sale for $15 for the set that makes it $3, but if I had paid full price or it had been a color I really wanted, I'd be really annoyed.

Over all, I feel like if you're already pretty happy with your current selection of liners, there's probably no reason to also get this one. But if you're in the market for some good go-tos, this would be a good investment (especially while it's on sale!). Stingray and Navy are good classic basics, Lionfish would look great with the rose golds that are hot right now or with my favorite olive greens, and Aubergine will come in handy for looks inspired by the 2014 Color of the Year Radiant Orchid. I think most people will find Emerald hard to use. Even as a green lover, I don't know how often I'll use it as I usually go towards dark instead of bright. I am tempted to wear it for day makeup just because I think it's a fun color, but I don't know if I will use it for performance makeup very often.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

30 Days of Dance Photo Challenge

I'm kicking off the year with this #30DaysofDance photo challenge started by Faizeh! It ties in nicely with my goal of branching out into more social networks. You can now follow me on Instagram for these pictures and more! Don't mind all of the Cthulhu pictures, I used to only use Instagram to document the adventures of my beaded Cthulhu plush. I'll still post him from time to time but it's going to mostly be dance stuff.

So far my year of dance is off to a good start. I didn't end up having time to dance yesterday (other than some hip work while I was cleaning), but my family had our gift exchange and I received two types of poi which will help me with my goal of mastering my prop collection. These new poi are much softer than the practice set I made for myself, which often resulted in strange bruises. And as for today, I've already put in a few hours working on Open Stage and my social media stuff, I'm about to do a little practice and then it will be time to put on my face and head over to Sky Bar. This will easily be an 8 hour day of dance-related work. Awesome!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

And now, to move forward with my plans...

Photo by talented photohgrapher Alex Wild.

Well, here we are, January 1st 2014, the first day of my year of treating my dance training like a full-time career. Of course, since I'm starting on the holiday I'm not actually working full-time today, but I have been doing a few internet things related to dance (like writing this blog post), and I plan to get a little practice in today while I'm getting ready to have my family over later.

My original thought was to start 2014 with this really well-organized schedule of exactly what I was going to do every hour of the day, but then I realized that was pretty unrealistic. I don't think I can go straight from basically unscheduled anarchy to strictly regimented full-time career mode overnight. Besides, how can I make my schedule without knowing how long things are going to take, how much time I'm really going to want to dedicate to different tasks, and for that matter, what the new year schedule is going to be at BreakOut Studios?

There are a few things I know for sure, though:

1. I need to get back to really drilling my basics.
2. I want to be in several ballet classes a week, whatever else I decide to take.
3. It is time to really put my Datura Online subscription to use.
5. I will spend some time every day doing dance-related reading, whether it's a bellydance magazine or an anatomy book or going back over workshop handouts.
6. If I own a prop, I should be skilled with it.
7. I have a whole lot of costuming to get done.
8. I need to include some cardio and strength training so I can be in tip-top shape.
9. I will continue to experiment with makeup, and start doing more hair-related experiments too.
10. Sunday will be my DAY OFF. Except when I have workshops on Sunday, then I don't know what I'll do. But when I don't have workshops, it's a complete day off from dance. Maybe a little stretching, but otherwise I'm going to relax, work on jewelry instead of costumes, and make sure to get some quality time with my husband and our pets and maybe friends and family too.

And of course this blog is going to be a big part of this. It only seems right, since I originally started it to track that year where I tried (and mostly succeeded) to practice every day. I hope my readers will cheer me on and give me the occasional kick in the dance pants when my motivation is flagging.

Happy New Year and all that. Let's dance!