Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I moved my blog!

Blowing a good-bye kiss to Blogger
Last week I saw someone post about how you could easily migrate all of your old Blogger posts to your WordPress site, so I made that one of my goals for this week... And today, while drinking my second cup of tea, I did it. I did it all by myself, too. I figured out how to migrate it, how to change the author name, how to make it show up on my website, everything. You can go see it HERE.

Blogger has served me well for the few years I've used it, but I have had some problems from time to time. But mostly, when I started this blog I was an amateur dancer who just wanted to share her progress when she challenged herself to dance every day for a year. Now that I have my eyes on a professional career, it makes more sense to have my blog rolled into my website (which I didn't have when I set up this blog).

I'll be leaving this blog up, as I know people have linked to some of my old posts in the past and I want those links to remain active. But from now on you can find new material AND all of my old posts (complete with comments!) over at sophiadances.com. I hope I'll see you all over there :)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Steps towards Body Love

I get weird, squishy creases when I bend this way and that's OK.
Side note, it's really weird to see my right hip without a tattoo.

When I shared last week's post about pizza 'n' bikinis, I got a lot of interesting responses, but what made me sad were the ladies who said they didn't love their bodies. It got me to thinking about my own progress in loving myself, so I thought I would share it.

Note: I realize that I speak from a place of privilege here. I'm white, medium sized, cisgender, and aside from my teeth, probably conventionally pretty. So I started from an easier point than others do. Still, maybe my advice will give you something to think about, and set you on a path to look for advice from people who have a similar experience to you.

For me, the first step to body love was finding individual parts of my body to love. For one thing, I love my hair. Even before I decided to dye it with henna making it a color that I adore, I loved its length, thickness, and gentle waves. I loved how I could put it in a bun and anchor a bunch of hairsticks, flowers, and other accessories in it.I loved wearing it down my back, or in braids, or in a bouncy ponytail.

Next, I learned to love my eyes. I never thought much about them, other than the fact that they tended to change color from time to time, but my husband loves them, and because he loves them, I love them. If your lover thinks that a part of your body is especially beautiful, ask him or her to tell you why, in detail. It will make you feel all ooey-gooey inside and help you see yourself as your lover sees you.

Somewhere along the way, I decided I also loved my legs. Sure, other people think they're too pale, and they are attached to my excessively tight hips, but I love how long they are, and I love their shape, and I love how elegant I feel in an arabesque with my leg stretched out behind me.

Once I came to love a few body parts, it was easier to be pretty happy with my body in general, and learn to love most of the things that I didn't like, or at least accept them.

Another way to love your body, if you can't bring yourself to be happy with your looks (or if you're already cool with your looks but unhappy about an illness or injury that keeps you down), is to love what your body DOES. The human body in and of itself is a pretty amazing thing, and each of us has probably achieved some cool thing with our body. I love my body because it's pretty good at dancing and that makes me incredibly happy. Maybe you love your body because it grew a baby, or because you can bench press an insane amount of weight, or you ran a 5k, or your body carried you up to some beautiful place where you got the most breathtaking view of your life.

One last thought: Body love and self-improvement are not mutually exclusive. I love my body, yes, but I also dye my hair, I'd like to lose 5-10 pounds, and I'm always working on improving my strength and flexibility. Loving your body doesn't mean you wouldn't change anything about it! I think of it this way: you can love your house, but still want to remodel the kitchen and paint the bathroom. The important thing is to have a healthy attitude about the changes you're making! Love the body you're in, but also love the progress you make with it and the different body you'll have down the road. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

That time I ate pizza in a bikini

Best pizza party EVER!

Last week I went over to Liora K's house to participate in a little photo shoot to promote the Body Love Conference. The theme? Eating pizza in our bikinis. I was totally down with that idea, even when a cold wind blew in and it started raining! Luckily the weather cleared up just in time for us to lounge around the pool. And lounge we did. This is just the start... a lot more beautiful women showed up lately and one of them brought cookies and brownies. I can't wait to see the rest of the photos!

All of this was to provide images for this article on the Body Love Conference in The Tucson Weekly. Apparently there are three full-page images in the print version! I need to go pick one up today, and if you're local I recommend you do, too. I also recommend attending the BLC if you can, because we all need to learn to be more loving of our bodies.

Body love has been on my mind a lot lately, not just because of this photo shoot and the fact that the BLC is just around the corner, but the fact that once your eyes are opened to a concept, you see it all around you. Earlier this week I got an e-mail from Sephora offering me a gift of 5 summer must-haves. What were they? Five self-tanning products! Well, I don't tan. It's not in my nature. I burn and I freckle, and I'm OK with that. I used to dislike my freckles because I didn't want to be "cute" but I have embraced the fact that I can be cute AND sexy. I love my long white legs, and I'm not going to tan them or my white belly and back to fit some arbitrary sense of beauty. I think I'm beautiful the way I am, pale skin, squishy belly, freckles and all.

Aside from the body love aspect, my favorite part of this photo shoot was Liora's neighbor's dog. He was a HUGE weimereiner, and he kept putting his feet and head on top of the brick wall and just watching us. No barking, growling, or anything else, just watching. I'm pretty sure he wanted pizza and ear scritches. He was absolutely adorable!

Oh, and while I was writing this, Liora sent me MORE PICTURES! YES!

 No big deal, this is just how we eat pizza. In our bikinis.
Look at those beautiful, happy faces!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why I Don't Teach

Photo by Santa Joe.
Maybe about once a month or so, I come across someone who thinks I should be teaching belly dance. I always smile and say something like "Oh, maybe some day, but not right now" which you think would be enough, but sometimes they come back with "Oh, why not?" or "You really should" or "I think you'd be great." So let me spell out a few reasons why I, and probably a lot of other dancers like me, do not teach yet.
1. Let's just get this out of the way. I am not as good of a dancer as you think I am! No, I'm not being excessively humble or tearing myself down. I think I am a good dancer, but I'm not yet a great dancer. More importantly, when you see me perform, you see the best of me. I only break out the moves that I am good at, the props that I am proficient with, the sort of music I'm comfortable with. You don't see all the elements of a well-rounded dance knowledge that I am still struggling with.
2. I am not even dancing professionally yet. This isn't to say that I think a teacher has to also be a professional performer. Maybe a teacher might have another job or family commitments that makes it hard for her to be out performing at night. But I think a teacher should be good enough that she (or he) could be performing professionally.
3. Knowing how to dance is not the same as knowing how to teach dance. I know how something works and feels in my body -- that doesn't mean that I know how it works and feels in your body. Or what might be making it not work in your body. Or how you can safely do that move if you have a knee injury. Before I teach belly dance, I want to make sure to get some formal training in anatomy and physiology, because I would hate to cause an injury to a student due to a lack of knowledge of body mechanics.
4. Tucson doesn't need yet another teacher offering beginning belly dance classes, and currently, that's all I'd be able to teach. There are other, more experienced, more qualified teachers already offering classes in my city, why would I compete with them?
5. Hanging your shingle as a teacher before you're ready can be really damaging to your reputation as a dancer. I don't want to overstep my bounds of where I am as a dancer and burn bridges with people who I might want to work with in the future. I'm in dance for the long haul and I want to foster good, healthy relationships rather than trying to shove myself into the void left by my own teacher moving away and making a quick buck or two before people realize that I'm in over my head.
So yes, I do appreciate the vote of confidence and I'm glad that I put forth an image of being professional, skilled, and knowledgeable but no, I am not ready to teach. Yet. Talk to me again in a couple more years! 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tucson Festival of Books Recap

Photo by CR Reardon with Ashley Grove's camera

On Saturday, Fire & Gold Belly Dance performed at the Tucson Festival of Books, which is a HUGE event hosted at the University of Arizona featuring local and national (perhaps international?) authors, performing arts, vending, food, science education and a whole lot more.

Even though I LOVE books I'd never made it to this event, due to the fact that it always seemed to conflict with other scheduled events this time of year. So I have to admit that when I heard we were going to perform at it, my first thought was "Cool" but my second thought was "What does belly dance have to do with books?" When I actually got to the event and saw that we were next to a circus (!) and followed by Colombian dancers, it made a lot more sense. It may be the Festival of Books, but there's a whole lot of general "festival" atmosphere to go along with the books. This is actually a smart move because it probably makes it easier for bookworms to get their less-bookish friends and family to come along with them, and gives some exciting diversions for little ones who might have a short attention span.

A word about outdoor events in Arizona: you never know what you're going to get when it comes to weather. Friday was windy, cloudy, and even cold at times, so I was pretty worried about Saturday. Sure enough, although it was warm and clear, Saturday was SO WINDY! In the picture above you can actually see the back wall of our stage blowing in. This made prop work a little difficult, and there was grass and cotton candy blowing in the wind, too. But despite this weather we managed to draw a sizable and enthusiastic crowd, including a bunch of little girls who were excited about the idea of belly dance lessons.

My original plan was to wander the festival for a few hours after performing, but the wind made that a less-than-attractive prospect, so instead a few of us found a restaurant for a bite to eat. I did get to see some of the booths on the way back to the car and I was really impressed by the variety! It seemed like every genre under the sun was represented. There were self-publishing authors, local book stores, large publishers, artists, local organizations and so much more! I hope that next year the weather will be more cooperative and I can really browse and find some new reading material. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

e.l.f. Makeup Remover Pen

This handy little pen is quickly becoming my favorite quick-fix tool for makeup mistakes. Previously I used those little q-tips with the makeup remover in them, but they had the problem of not being very precise and sometimes smudging things instead of neatly removing them. But I've used the e.l.f. Makeup Remover Pen on eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick/lip tar with great results!
 Let's pretend my hand is my eye, and I'm just adding this black gel eye liner to this neon green eye shadow and OOPS! I sneezed! Now there's an annoying dash of eye liner going down my face. Uuuugh, I don't want to clean that off and start over.
Makeup Remover Pen to the rescue! Just a couple seconds of swiping and cleaning up the edges, and it's good as new! Depending on how gentle my hand is and how stubborn the product being removed is, I might even be deft enough to not remove the makeup underneath the offending stain. It's especially handy for cleaning up lip lines, as the point is fine enough that you can tidy up the edges without smearing it around. I also like it for mascara drops on the lower lash line, as I can easily get in under my lashes for a quick fix.

At only $3, this is a great investment. In fact, you might want to have one for home and one for your gig bag at that price!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My website!

This is how I felt when I realized my website was missing.

Recently I've had to include my website on a couple of performance applications, and that reminded me that I hadn't really done anything with my website in a while, so I figured maybe I should go in, add a couple new photos, update a few things, that sort of thing. Imagine my dismay when I went to my site and found that it was a blank white page. Imagine my further dismay when I realized that since I never go to my own website, it could have been that way for MONTHS!

So, what went from "Oh, I'll spend maybe 15-30 minutes sprucing up the site and then go practice" turned into spending my entire afternoon trying to remember passwords, calling tech support, deleting and reinstalling WordPress (because the admin screen was ALSO a blank white page!) and then rebuilding my website from scratch. On the bright side, my site looks better than it did before. On the not-so-bright side, I still have a lot of work to do on it.

It's going to be a work in progress for the next week or so, but feel free to pop over to www.sophiadances.com and let me know if you come across any problems or have ideas for improvement. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Skirt Work

Fire & Gold Belly Dance is hoping to add a skirt choreography to our repertoire soon, so I felt like it was time to dust off my skills. As such, I took a solo I'd done in the past and added some skirt work to it. It's fun, it's sassy, and it makes for such pretty pictures!

I think 25 yard skirts are one of the most fun "props" out there. There's something about spinning around and swishing your skirt that brings back memories of being a little girl, playing dress up, and dancing around in floofy dresses. This is the grown-up version of that. I'm really looking forward to seeing what my troupe does with them!

Monday, March 10, 2014

In Defense of the Selfie

I posted this "selfie" on Thursday night as I was about to head out the door to Open Stage. Why? Well, I was feeling pretty happy about my freshly-hennaed hair and how I was wearing it down, and how cute my magenta glitter lipstick looked, and I wanted to share it with the world. I think it's fun when dancers post a little "On my way to the show" picture too, as it builds the excitement.

Then today, I read this article titled "The Age of the Selfie" which suggested that I should not, in fact, be inflicting pictures of my face upon my friends. How dare I be so vain as to suggest that I might be a little pretty and that maybe people would like to see me? Well obviously I have a couple of problems with the anti-selfie sentiments that float around on the internet!

My first problem is the suggestion that there's something wrong with feeling that you are pretty or cute or that your new haircut is awesome. I don't have the best self-esteem but there are still days when I look in the mirror and think to myself "Self, you're so darned cute today, look at that outfit and that makeup, you're rockin' it!" And while I don't share all of those moments with the internet, sometimes I feel so good about myself that I do want to share, and then yes, I definitely enjoy the validating comments that I get from my friends.

It's no secret that girls and women suffer from a lot of image-based insecurity. Whether it comes from what we see in the media, or how we were treated when we were kids, or rude comments in the street, or a complicated combination of all that and more, it's a hard problem to combat. But it seems like there are segments of the population who feel like we're supposed to feel bad about ourselves, and that feeling good about how we look is horrible vanity. Oh, we should care about how we look, we should primp and preen and dress to impress, but as soon as we acknowledge that we did a good job making ourselves presentable, we're being narcissistic.

My second problem is that I think a lot of people who are against selfies have a deep misunderstanding of the nature of internet friendships. Sure, I have friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that I see in person regularly, but I also have friends who I rarely if ever see face-to-face. Some of them are friends who I've only known on-line, others are people who I met in person but they've since moved away. I LIKE seeing selfies of my long-distance friends. I like knowing what they've done with their hair, what kind of clothes they're wearing these days, what they're out doing in the city they live in now. And a lot of my friends LIKE seeing selfies of me. Especially now that I bellydance, they always want to see pictures of my new costumes, what sort of makeup looks I'm experimenting with, and of course, videos of me dancing.

My third and final problem with all this anti-selfie raging is that it is the smallest, stupidest of problems to worry about. Sick of seeing a friend's selfies? Just scroll past them. No big deal. If they post them constantly, you can even adjust your newsfeed on Facebook to not show their pictures. Honestly, what is it harming anybody if people like to post lots of pictures of themselves having fun, looking pretty, being bored, soliciting opinions on their new hair color, or anything like that? They're not spreading hateful opinions or damaging misinformation or overplayed memes. They're saying "Here's what I'd look like if you were here with me right now" and there's nothing wrong with that.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Neutrals from NYX

 Of course after last week's rant about the over-abundance of neutrals, I would have to review a neutral-hued product! I've actually had this mini-palette for quite a while and have been meaning to give it a good look. It's from NYX's Love in Paris collection and is called "Parisian Chic." I chose this particular one because it had a nice combination of shimmery and sparkly golden colors with some nice taupes, too. I figured it would be a good one for me to use to do a neutral smoky eye, like so:
I used four colors from the palette to create this look, and topped it off with a little Urban Decay 24/7 liner in West. I applied the colors dry over a base of Urban Decay's shadow primer and then spritzed myself with some makeup setting spray and headed over to troupe practice. After an hour of building up a good sweat, I came home and found that I had a little color loss. I had also noticed this after wearing it all day on a non-dance day last week.

So far I'm not really convinced that this eye shadow can stand up to hardcore dancing. However, I do really like to use it for daily wear when I want to look nice. A quick swipe of a couple colors from this palette gives me a slightly glamorous neutral eye look that is great for daytime meetings with clients or fellow dancers. I also think this might be a good choice for the student dancer who is only going to be dancing for a few minutes at the recital and wants something she can make use of outside of her dance life, too. The packaging is compact, sturdy, and closes securely, so it should travel well. NYX offers 10 different Love in Paris palettes that are each only $10 for 9 colors, so they're worth a try, especially since they are Cruelty Free.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why I Love White Belly Dancers (and dancers of all other colors)

Belly dancers come in all colors, shapes, sizes and ages!

I can't bring myself to read that article that all the belly dancers are mad about, you know, the one where the author doesn't like white belly dancers and thinks we're engaging in some harmful cultural appropriation. But what I can do is write something pleasant about diversity in dance.

One of the things that I love the most about this dance form is how inclusive it is. I've known dancers of various races, sizes, shapes, ages, genders and sexual orientation and while there may be the occasional other dancer who isn't as accepting as we would like, the community as a whole is cool about everyone being welcome. We're also welcoming of different religions, political groups, professions and more.

I love belly dance for introducing me to all sorts of people I never would have met otherwise. I've made friends with whom I had a zillion things in common, and friends from very different walks of life from me. It's really broadened my horizons and made me better at relating to people with whom I only have one thing in common.

I'm not saying that there's never any cultural appropriation in dance. I've seen and heard about things that could be considered culturally insensitive and inappropriate. But I've also known people whiter than me (yes, it is possible) who have dedicated themselves to presenting a culturally accurate and respectful version of Egyptian Raqs Sharqi. I know people who study and perform authentic cultural dances from the Middle East to authentic music in authentic costumes. I know people who travel overseas to learn more about the dance, who study Arabic, etc. And for those of us who perform Americanized styles such as my beloved "tribal fusion", many of us still make the effort to learn about the roots of our dance, familiarize ourselves with the greats in traditional styles, study with Egyptian-style teachers, and educate our general-public audiences about the difference between what we're doing and what they're used to seeing at the Lebanese restaurant across town.

No matter what, I know that some people are still going to be offended by non-Middle-Eastern dancers doing belly dance, and there's nothing I can do about that. But there's lots of other things I do in my life that might offend people (my way of dressing isn't modest enough for some religions, I have a tattoo, I say naughty words, I eat meat, I post pictures of insects on FB even though I know I have friends who are afraid of them, I'm just a bundle of offenses). I'm going to keep dancing, because I love it, and I'm going to keep being white, because I have no choice in the matter, and I'm going to keep loving the diverse community that I am a part of. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Busy Season!

Dancing at Sky Bar, one of the many places you'll see me performing this Spring
We have two busy seasons here in Arizona: Spring and Fall. Bookending our harsh Summer, each of these seasons is about a month and a half to two months long, and organizers cram in as many events as possible to take advantage of the beautiful days when people actually want to be outside. This leads to a lot of schedule juggling for belly dancers and other entertainers, as we try to balance the events that we're scheduled to perform at and the events we'd like to attend as spectators.

I've just updated my upcoming performances side bar, and you can see that in addition to our regular appearances at Sky Bar, Fire & Gold Belly Dance will be dancing at the Festival of Books and the Pima County Fair. That's awesome! But what you don't see is the list of events that I'll be attending as an audience member... I've got Wild Wild West Con this weekend, a couple of trips out to Ren Faire with different people, The Body Love Conference, maybe a little get-away with my husband, and a whole stack of events that I've had to turn down due to scheduling conflicts. Seriously, I've turned down 4 events in Tucson this weekend due to already having tickets for WWWC.

All of this AND I'm waiting to hear back about my Tribal Fest performance application! In fact, I should probably be practicing for all of these gigs instead of blogging about them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

First Mondays

I've been participating in First Mondays for a while now, because I believe strongly in supporting artists and small businesses. Usually I use it as an excuse to buy something small from my Etsy favorites, every now and then it's a big splurge (my beautiful peacock-colored fan veils were a First Monday purchase!). Here's a few of my ideas of how bellydancers can incorporate First Mondays into their lives:

1. Buy some new music, preferably directly from the artist via their website.
2. Register for an upcoming workshop or session of classes.
3. Get a ticket to an upcoming bellydance event or other cool performance art to inspire you.
4. Spruce up your look with a new handmade bindi, hair accessory or piece of jewelry.
5. Get a new hand-dyed silk veil.
6. Splurge on a custom costume item.
7. Back a dance-related crowdfunding campaign.
8. Pamper yourself with hand-blended perfumes or cosmetics.
9. Get a print of a beautiful image to hang in your practice area.
10. Buy a handmade card and use it to write a heartfelt note to a favorite teacher, struggling classmate or awesome event promoter.

These ideas can easily start as low as a dollar for a new song, so really, there's no excuse not to do at least a little something every First Monday. I find it gives me something to look forward to at the start of the month, which is usually bogged down by the grown-up necessity of paying bills.

Love this idea? Be sure to spread the word so more people will jump on it!