Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A (slightly late) tribal Christmas present!

Yes - I've been waiting and waiting for this one - fiendishly stalking Facebook, Paypal trigger finger at the ready ..... and finally, the time has come! I'm all paid up, and Paulette's new Gypsy Caravan Tribal Technique dvd will soon be winging its way across the Atlantic to me. Time to stalk the postman now I think!

Paulette shot this dvd over in Milan in October, together with the fabulous Les Soeurs Tribales (including Cinzia Di Cioccio, who's now a member of Gypsy Caravan International). She'll be back there in March, and is apparently doing some more filming then. Yippee! It seems like a good while since we had a new Gypsy Caravan dvd and now it looks as though we're going to be well and truly spoilt for choice in 2012. And believe us, that's just how we like it!

Here's a little bit of a taster as to what's in store for us :

Woo hoo!

If any of you haven't sussed out how to get your copy yet, just visit the new Gypsy Caravan Dance Company International Facebook page here.

And just in case all of that wasn't enough, Paulette is off to Australia in the new year, doing workshops and more filming with the lovely Nina Martinez of Gypsy Rain, another member of Gypsy Caravan International. She's also got a new website in the offing, so we're eagerly awaiting that too. It looks as though it's going to be a fantastically full Gypsy Caravan style 2012 and we really can't wait!         
Until next time, we're off to wait by the letter box!
Happy dancing!

Thanks to Paulette, Cinzia, Nina and Gypsy Caravan Dance Company International for the photos in this blog

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas ....

... from Sakura Tribal to all of our friends everywhere! xxx

The picture is from a Christmas card by the fabulous Rozie Hadley - check out her other cards and calendars here!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ...

Yep, you know the feeling ...... there's a wild flurry of dance activity (which may or may not be accompanied by a wild flurry of snow ...), a mad last minute splurge of tribal pressie buying, the unavoidable festooning of every Christmassy-coloured costume that you possess with glitter of every colour imaginable (from your own hair fripperies, other dancers' hair fripperies, random Christmas decorations in church halls ...).... And then suddenly, quite suddenly, that's it. The last hafla has been hafled. The Christmas performance photos are in. Dance teachers take a well-earned Christmas break. Dance studios close their doors. All is still. All is quiet. (I feel as though I need to break into a verse of Silent Night at this point!)

Cayte and Jan at Liverpool Hafla
 It's a strange feeling - a sort of 'All dressed up and nowhere to go' feeling. Even if you've a busy holiday planned there is still that 'plunge' in activity ... especially if dance is a huge part of your life. We have our last dance class until the New Year on Tuesday and then that will be it until 2012! Eek! Sakura have danced their last performances of 2011, all three of us at Burnley hafla and then Cayte and Jan at Liverpool. We've even had our last practice together until 2012. It feels as though New Year has come early, even though Christmas isn't over yet!

Sarah at Burnley Hafla
 Well, it's quite simply just too early to be doing all that looking back and looking forward malarkey. That's all well and good, and we have some exciting stuff to plan for in 2012, but this just isn't the time for it. We need to focus in on CHRISTMAS! Tribal shopping, tribal costumes, tribal pressies ........ it's all good stuff! For me - Cayte that is! - it also always seems to be a time when I begin to reflect on what this amazing dance means to me. A kind of build up to New Year I suppose - and an opportune time to score a few pretty notebooks and pens in the sales, in preparation for all those dance workshops coming up! Oh yes, we loves our pens and notebooks!

So .... what deep tribal musings are going on this year? What's a Tribal Christmas really all about? A bit of an acrostic coming up I think!

Tribal Connection!
C is for connection. Of course. Yes, you can still get it in other dance forms, but once you've truly felt that tribal improv connection then nothing else comes close!
H is for Happy Tribal. Our kind of tribal!
R is for roots. They matter, They keep us grounded and strong. We are thankful for all of those dancers over the years who have given this dance form such strong roots - Jamila, Carolena, Paulette and more.
I is for improv. Despite what people may sometimes think when watching us (Yes, we do still get the 'Was that really improv?' questions!), Sakura only ever perform improv. It's what speaks to us!
S is for sisterhood. Dance sisterhood. Tribal sisterhood. Or indeed brotherhood. But that begins with a B ....
T is for teachers, mentors, tribal mammas. We owe so much to them all and can never thank them enough. You know who you are ladies!

Hayley Tully of Shekinah - the perfect audience member!
Get a load of that smile!
 M is for music. Music that speaks to us, makes us slink and squidge or gets our hips swinging and our feet tapping. Pulsing drum beats, the cry of the mizmar ...Thank you for the music!
A is for audiences. And especially those people who catch your eye and make that connection with a smile .... Our dance is about much more than performing - it's about how we feel when we dance whether that's in our living room or studio or bopping together after a hafla. But when we look out during a performance and you're smiling right at us it helps us to spread that connection out to YOU!
S is for soul singing. Happiness is one thing, but when you're truly in that moment, connecting with the music and your fellow dancers, flowing, responding - your soul soars. And improv does that for us ....

The 'Winter Kiss'
Ok, ok, I hold my hands up. Other than the acrostic bit, that had NOTHING to do with Christmas. Well, is this any better? Fabulous wintry hair frippery, courtesy of Tania, the Tribal Temptress! I had planned to wear this in my hair at the last hafla of the season but as I was delayed at work then had a long drive through dark December traffic I had a record-breaking hair/costume/make up adornment session of UNDER FIFTEEN MINUTES! I would never have believed it possible! Anyway, given the need for speed I went for simple tried and tested headwear and wore this beauty on my belt instead - you can see it in action further up this post. And rather gorgeous it looked!

Where's Wally - or rather Where's Sakura?! Dancing with
our North Wind class family at Burnley!
Going back to Christmas though ... it's a time for love and peace and family. And of course, in tribal we have that family - in our own tribes, in other people that we meet and dance with, in fellow dancers across the world. So with that in mind, a Tribal Christmas seems very appropriate. We may not see some of our dance family for a week or two, but as we say those last goodbyes of 2011 we know that we'll be celebrating a tribal Christmas together in our hearts.

And if not there's always Facebook.

Until next time, happy dancing!

Thanks to Ian Woodward and Tania Hudson for the photos.I'm not sure where the gorgeous Christmas Tree picture came from - if you know, please let me know!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Huge Sakura Welcome!

Exciting news - squeeeeeeeeee!

Welcome to Sakura, Jan!
Two have become three!!!!! You will have heard us talk about our lovely friend Jan? She's been in our tribal class with Chris Ogden for a while now. Well, having tried workshops in a few styles, she's realised she's a Gypsy Gal at heart. She's been practising her GC stuff like a demon and we've shown her a few of our Sakura moves and we are DELIGHTED to be able to announce that she made her debut - improv of course! - with Sakura Tribal on Friday night, dancing - rather appropriately - to 'New Path' by Gypsy Caravan. She did brilliantly and we can't wait to rock out that GC styling with her some more!


Happy Birthday Jo!
  We had a totally fantastic night altogether at Chris' Burnley hafla - great road trip with our other lovely friend Jo (who's just headed down to London for a bit of ATS; have a great time and a wonderful birthday, Jo! x), lots of dancing and gossip and we performed three times, including as the new Sakura line up. We saw lots of friends and were joined by Ian (Woodward - see his photos on an earlier blog) and his partner, Pauline .... so we got some fabby pics of Jan's first outing with us.

Now - muwahahahahah! - what can we tell you about her? Your life in our hands, Jan!

Two become three
 FACT NUMBER ONE : Jan is another committed vegan! Yep, she's been mentoring me (Cayte) on my journey into veganism. So add in Sarah, a committed veggie and we're a pretty animal-friendly threesome. Compassionate Tribal, that's us! Tee hee!

FACT NUMBER TWO : She's also more than a little bit of a metalhead. And here is the proof - as posted onto her Facebook page recently :

With some of the Morrigan girls, Marcail and Charlotte
FACT NUMBER THREE : Jan also dances with Morrigan, a North West troupe who do tribal choreo with a bit of a dark twist! She danced with them too at Burnley - they were great! She's also danced a few styles in her time, including Egyptian - but has now found her tribal home. Ahhhhh!

In the lead!

FACT NUMBER FOUR : She's not backward about coming forward, no matter what she might say! Here's the proof, as she quite happily steps into the lead in her very first Gypsy Caravan improv performance with us! She did a really great job too, including a couple of tricky lead and formation changes, and didn't get phased at all. Well done Mrs!

Welcome to Sakura!

FACT NUMBER FIVE : She's an all-round fabby person! She makes great vegan cakes, giggles a lot, loves glittery J2Os, ADORES my singing (yes, you KNOW you do Jan) and is a great friend and a wonderful dancer. Welcome to Sakura, Jan!

We really need to do a little interview with her now so that you know all her deepest darkest secrets!

It's just the two of us on Friday!
This Friday we're off to Kate Farrow's Christmas Hafla in Liverpool where Sakura will perform again, this time as a duet! Yes, and it's Cayte and Jan this time (Sarah's going to watch Shed Seven in Manchester so can't join us sadly!). We're really looking forward to it! We're mini-road tripping there with Jo, who's doing a solo (Yay! We love Jo!) and we might even persuade TJ (as in Tribal Jane) to join us! Good times!

Until next time, happy dancing!

Big thank yous again to Ian Woodward for all the fantastic photos in this post!

Sleepover - Tribal Style - Part Two!

Tribal Jane meets Aunty Pauline!
Well, it might be a week late (it's been a busy, exciting week!) but here as promised is the second part of our Tribal Sleepover weekend. Can't believe that seven days ago we were there - it seems much longer now! Could this be a sign of old age creeping up on us, we wonder? Anyway, one week passed is one week closer to the next one! So, what do we still have to tell you? I think I mentioned workshops, drumming and the hafla? And a bit of Tribal Jane feedback, hmmm? Let's see ....

A nicely chilled out TJ!
THE WORKSHOPS : There was a fantastic choice of workshops - crafty, musical, dancing - something for all tastes and all moods. I was in a chilling sort of mood, and cut my cloth accordingly. The Saturday morning started with Jane Mowat's fabulous yoga session - lots of gentle stretching which really eased us into the day's activities nicely! Following that I hot-footed it next door for a bit of guided meditation with Pauline, where I spent twenty minutes being soothed in a verdant forest clearing to the sound of hypnotic drum beats from Asif --- great stuff! The laid back morning continued with aromotherapy, again led by Jane. That was such fun and so well delivered. We not only learned lots about the history of the subject and uses of different oils but also got the chance to try out our hands as Aromatherapy Apprentices, making a Dancer's Foot Massage blend and then designing and making our own oils. The workshop closed with an Aromatherapy quiz. The prize was a gorgeous aromatherapy candle from the rather exquisite Neom shop (check it out here), and guess who won? Squeal!

Michelle - one talented lady!
From there, Sarah and I parted ways - she was delivering her Gingerbread Bunny 'Funky Hair accessories' workshop which seemed to go down a storm (I saw lots of beautiful evidence of this adorning lovely heads at the hafla!)There were lots of feathers and sparkly things involved, anyhow!  Meanwhile I headed off down to the basement, to a fantastic tribal workshop - with a Christmassy flavour - from the fabulous Michelle Pender. We had great fun - loved it! AND we had the added bonus of being able to perform the choreo we learned at the hafla later ....

A bit of African drumming
 We had planned on a bit of Bollywood that afternoon, but still feeling a bit chilled we opted for some African drumming with Mike - we loves our drumming, we does! We really enjoyed it! It was quite different from the Arabic drumming that we're used to, but we had great times drumming together, really getting into the zone and going faster and faster and faster and faster ...... There were more workshops after that, but we had decided to go and get showers before the rush started and then get ready for the hafla and evening meal. Great minds think alike; Tania and Amy had opted for the same approach so there was lots of girly chat!

Art journaling is so cool!
On the Sunday morning Sarah was teaching an Art Journaling workshop. I was still in that lazy sort of mood, so hung out there with her. She had a full house and I was so impressed with the work her ladies came up with - well done all of you! The final workshop of the weekend was our Asif fix - Arabic drumming (Intermediate/Advanced, no less!). As always we were not disappointed. I had asked him to be gentle with us, but of course he refused point blank - and instead provided lots of challenge and hard work. But hey, it was worth it! Great stuff!!!

Arabic with Asif
Now of course We couldn't go to every workshop as there were three on at once ... we missed out on African dance, Chakra dance, Mbira, henna, making zill pouches, make up, reflexology and no doubt a good few more. But it was great to be able to choose what suited our mood and hey, there's always next year!  Suffice it to say, everyone seemed to be buzzing whatever they'd done!

Mike and Mark doing a bit of Friday night drumming!
THE DRUMMING : I've told you a bit about the drumming workshops, but that really is only the half of it! We had drumming ALL weekend .... whilst chilling on the Friday night, accompanying performers at the hafla, providing music for bopping at the hafla ... you name it! It was all really relaxed so that everyone felt comfortable just picking up their doumbek and drumming along, and drum along they did! I can't finish without mentioning the 'Best Dressed Drummer; competition on the Friday night of course!

AND FINALLY ........ 

'Vessel Mix' with North Wind Tribal
THE HAFLA : We couldn't have all those tribalistas there without getting together for a bit of a boogie now, could we? We had gone not sure if we would perform or not - we had our music just in case. Well, I ended up performing THREE times! It was that sort of a hafla, where everyone is so relaxed and friendly that you just get swept up in the excitement of it all and end up squealing 'Us, Us!' whilst brandishing your music in the air and bouncing up and down in your chair! Sakura performed to 'The Huntress' (where I managed to get so caught up in the flow that I kind of bumped into Sarah - now that's dancing close together!), we got up with some of the North Wind girls to dance 'Vessel Mix' (from our classes with Chris) and then stepped out of the Gypsy Caravan music zone for a while to do Michelle's Annie Lennox Christmas choreo. Phew --- we needed that chilled out day to keep us going!

Go, girls!
There were so many fabulous performances that I really can't mention them all here. Solos from our teachers, class dances, troupes, mbira playing ... such a great mixture and all with a tribal slant. A couple of things really did stand out for me though ..... Firstly the performance by the African workshop ladies. This really closed the hafla on a high - wow! Everyone had so much fun, and it was so high-energy we couldn't sit still as we watched! We must confess though, that although it was fantastic we heaved a secret sigh of relief that, given our laid-back mood that weekend, we'd opted for the Aromatherapy session instead that day .... we would have been on our knees by hafla time otherwise!

Amy's first solo
Another highlight for us was at the other end of the hafla- right at the beginning of the dance performances! It was our friend Amy's very first tribal fusion solo, and she did an amazing job! Well done Amy! We were then treated to Bollywood, BTS, ATS, more beautiful solos ...... so much!I shall be here all day if I try to talk about them all! Everyone did so well; we were thoroughly entertained! Thank you all for a great evening!

So that's it .... a great weekend over! Mega huge thank-yous to all the organisers; you did a great job! Can't wait for the next one!

Guess who?
I'm going to sign off for now, but will be back later today or tomorrow. I have some very SPECIAL Sakura news for you. It's something we are VERY VERY excited about .... but that's all I'm going to tell you now! You'll just have to stay tuned to this channel for more!!!

Until then, happy dancing!

With thanks to Julie Horner-Kucharski for the photos of Michelle and Asif, and ian Woodward for the photo of the Sakura belt!

P.S. Tribal Jane has decided she wants a special post of her own to tell you all about her recent travels .... look out for that one in a week or two. I should warn you there will be some pretty hair-raising moments!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Sleepover - Tribal Style - Part One!

Pauline, our hostess extraordinaire!
Whew --- three days later and I'm FINALLY awake enough to blog! Still coming down after the most amazing Tribal Sleepover weekend organised by Pauline and Asif Qu, together with Michelle Pender and Angela Noble. And what a stunner of an event it was, hopefully the first of many more to come. It was an intimate and select gathering where we danced, drummed, chilled, chatted, ate cake, laughed, at more cake, made new friends ... and generally had the cockles of our hearts warmed in the midst of a very chilly November weekend. Now - where to begin? 

Top left hand window = Our Room!
THE VENUE : Cliffe House in Shepley, near Huddersfield was the perfect venue! Only an hour and a half or so away from us the journey was fine even given Friday evening traffic on the M62! The house itself is a magnificent Victorian affair with some stunning stained glass windows, a Dickensian wreath on the door and a rather grand staircase to the first floor. Of course, Pauline had got us well sussed and had put us up in the eaves in the servants' quarters ... in a quirky beamed room straight out of Harry Potter! We loved it! Tea, coffee and cake (replenished at regular intervals by the invisible cake elves!) on every landing, a range of rooms for dancing, relaxing and watching dvds on big screens and some rather unusual toilet facilities (I rather liked the one on the first floor which was also the fire escape route!) really made us all feel at home. We sadly didn't get chance to romp about on the adventure playground outside in our tribal gear - maybe next time?

Tribal Jane goes vegan!
THE FOOD : Oh, the food! As a newish vegan I was a little nervous about this, and brought copious amounts of sustenance in my suitcase (that could have been why you had to help me up the stairs with it, Pauline?). I needn't have bothered ... the lovely folk at Cliffe House catered perfectly for folk of all persuasions! Vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, nut free - you name it and it was there! And it was all delicious! I have happy memories of falafel and tagine at Saturday night's Middle Eastern feast, polenta cakes and apple crumble (not together!) at Sunday lunch and veggie sausages to die for with saturday's breakfast. And just in case anyone was still peckish, there was always cake .... including some wonderful stem ginger vegan cake (how did Pauline know I LOVE ginger?). I was the only vegan there but was never made to feel I was a nuisance; nothing was too much trouble for the lovely ladies (and gentleman) of Cliffe House!

Just wow!!
THE CAKES : need a special mention! Home baked and decorated by Pauline and Asif, these were a veritable triumph! Sadly none were vegan (I shall give you a recipe next time Pauline; vegan chocolate cake is to die for!) but I certainly feasted my eyes on them! What super talented people we have in our community! The Henna cake was quickly devoured by hungry dancers and drummers, whilst the others were raffled in aid of charity (Our friend Jo won the drum one whilst our other friend Julie won Muriel the dancer!). Fantastic!

My fab-tastic new i-phone cover!
THE SHOPPING : Tribal paradise! Qu'Reations by Pauline and Asif, Michelle's Whirling Dervish, TribeZuza with Angela and Mark, Tribal Temptress Tania and Catherine's Peacock and Rose Designs meant that we were all in seventh heaven! I did TRY to resist, honest --- but it was all too much for me! I ended up with a hipscarf, necklace, i phone cover, hair ornament and Tribal Goddess top. But could have spent SO much more. I really did try ..... but all those stalls full of pretty things were just THERE!!

The smiles here say it all!
THE COMPANY : It was just wonderful to spend the whole weekend with so many like-minded people, with friends old and new. We had fantastic room mates (waves at Amy, Jo and Tania) and everyone was so relaxed and friendly. We gossiped over meals, giggled as we chilled out together, forged new friendships over vodka and cake and came away full of warmth and love for our tribal sisters and brothers. There was an amazing atmosphere of support and togetherness and we were so well looked after by both the organisers and the staff. There really wasn't one 'down' moment all weekend. Actually I think we need this EVERY weekend!

Just one of TJ's special memories!
Well, I have LOTS more to blog about ---- the workshops, the drumming, the dancing, Tribal Jane's favourite moments .... but I'm afraid you're all going to have to wait for Part Two! I'm off to make vegan sausage butties and to bask in my happy memories! I have SO much more to tell you all ....

Until then, happy dancing!

With thanks to Jules Horner-Kucharski for photos of Pauline and of the hafla audience

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Dancing with Soul

Chris & Debbie
Last night we saw a wonderful performance. Our breath was taken away by the sheer beauty of a tribal duet by our teacher, Chris, and her dance partner, Debbie. They were dancing to 'The Merciful One' by Zohar and their interpretation of the music was just perfect. They moved with so much grace, elegance and synergy and the connection between them was tangible. We were transfixed. On the (rather long!) journey home we (Jan and I - Sarah couldn't make it) were both agreed; what we had experienced was dancing with true soul.

Cayte, Sarah & Jan - just so you know!

We had been across to the Todmorden hafla ---- around a forty five mile drive each way for us, but worth it. We had a great night, with lots of varied performances from dancers of all styles and experience levels. We had had a whale of a time dancing with North Wind - a veritable tribal army of 17 dancers from Chris' various Yorkshire classes. But out of everything we saw, this was the highlight for us. And no, it's not just because we're biased .... it was one of those performances that you don't just watch - you really feel it. Writing about it now takes me back to the first time I ever saw Chris and Debbie duet together, to 'Eireann' (by Afro Celt Sound system) at Helmshore Hafla a good few years ago. That was another breath-taking moment.

Paulette & Dulcinea - more dancers with soul
 That 'dancing with soul', to me, is 'my tribal'; it's what makes tribal Tribal (deliberate capitalisation there!).  Feeling inspired this morning I indulged in a bit of the old art journaling, pondering over what exactly it is that takes some dancing to that 'hold your breath' level. so much of it is fleeting, ethereal, indescribable. Yes, we can talk about that 'tribal connection', dancing 'in the moment' and so on, and they are all really powerful and important.  But sometimes something just takes a tribal performance - often improv but occasionally a tribal choreo - to the next level. With apologies beforehand for my failure to express it adequately in mere words, this is what does it for me :

    Jo - feeling that joy
Tribal with soul is all about warmth. It's sunshine, not ice. It's connection, not detachment - with the audience as well as with your fellow dancers, Now that doesn't mean it has to be done with huge grins all the time (although as you know I'm the world's biggest fan of smiley tribal!) but there's something there in the eyes, the faces, the demeanour of the dancers that draws you in to the whole thing. They're not just showcasing themselves, performing at you. They're performing with you, and you are a part of what they're doing, even though you may never leave your seat.

Chris improvising to Arcomnia
Following on from that, and with my apologies if it sounds a bit high- falluting (is that a word or did I just make it up?), tribal with soul comes to serve, not to impress. It is what it is. It comes from within the dancers, from the inside out rather than vice versa. Yes, the costumes and the make up and the jewellery and all the other fripperies are magnificent, but at the end of the day they only capture our eyes. It is the dance and the dancers that capture our hearts. And that's what makes the difference.

So what else, for me, turns good dancing into captivating dancing with soul? Put simply (well, as simply as possible, given that I'm in a philosophical mood tonight), it comes from the heart, not from the brain. It is brought to life by feelings, rather than dampened by intellect. Whether consciously or not, it never forgets that we are spirits that have bodies, rather than bodies that just happen to have spirits. And as such it lives, breathes and reaches out to us with true inner beauty.

Debbie and Clare, drawing me in with colour
 Now this next point might appear to contradict something I said earlier, but bear with me and you'll see what I mean! The tribal that speaks to me lives in colour, not in shades of black and white. It doesn't matter what that colour is - deep, rich jewel tones, earthy shades of rust and green, bright colours that leap out and tweak your mouth into a happy smile; it's the colour that does it for me. And that is about more than just the superficial thing . I'm a pretty visual person, and colour really does have a huge impact on my mood and response - whether I'm watching it or wearing it. It also speaks to me about you; to me the colours you choose say something about you, about what you're saying through your dance, about what you want to say through your dance at any given time. That doesn't mean you have to look like a rainbow of course - I can appreciate a flash of colour amidst a completely black outfit too! Sorry if that all sounded a bit 'woo woo' and off-the-wall, but for me it matters, not outside, but inside - it's all about how it draws me in and how it  makes me feel.

Les Soeurs Tribales - poetry (and fluidity) in motion!
And finally (I could warble on with far more, but I'm not going to!), dancing with soul is never mechanical. It has a real grace and fluidity that responds to the music and the place and the time. Sometimes you see really slick performances, but they're reduced to a string of movements without true feeling. Soul dancing flows, whether powerfully or softly. It soothes and inspires, makes you smile and makes you cry. And you know when you've experienced it. Gypsy Caravan, Les Soeurs Tribales, Origin, Samaya Tribal amongst others all have it for me. And Chris and Debbie.

Chris and Debbie (yep, that's me there too!)
So there you have it. Now, I have seen examples of amazing dancing with soul in other types of bellydance, but it's just that tribal is the one that speaks most to me. That's just my take on it; you may respond to totally different things. But judging by the homeward journey last night and snippets of conversation at the hafla I know I'm not alone! Huge thank yous to Jan Ibn Sina who organised a fantastic hafla and to all the fabulous dancers who made for such a great night. But the hugest thanks of all to Chris and Debbie for sharing their beautiful performance with us and for all their inspiration. If Sakura ever dance a quarter as well as you ladies, we'll be very happy bunnies!

Until next time, happy dancing!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Spotlight On .... The Man Behind The Lens!

Those of you who frequent haflas in the North of England may well already be aware of the fabulous work of Ian Woodward! He is now a regular fixture at our dance events, together with his partner, Pauline (herself a dancer) and he takes some pretty amazing pictures of us all in our finery strutting our stuff. A nicer bloke you couldn't wish to meet .... he is so patient and generous with his time and work and even remains calm under the pressure of hordes of dancers harassing him on Facebook as he desperately tries to download hundreds of pictures in super-record time!

Anyway, we decided it was time to turn that lens around and focus in on HIM for a change ...... He very kindly agreed to do an interview to tell us a bit more about the real man behind the camera! So here we go!

1. Ian - you are getting pretty well known here in the North West as one of our leading hafla photographers! For how long have you been wielding your camera? What first got you interested in photography?
Me, famous? Surely not! I know it’s hard to believe, but I am VERY old! I got my first camera a LONG time ago, a little plastic thing from Woolies. I think it was 2/6d, and took black and white roll film with yellow paper backing – no 35mm film cassettes back then. Probably 12 shots per roll. My dad was an illustrator and art lecturer, and was taking pictures as long as I can remember. I learned all the technical basics from him, including composition, lighting, taking care with backgrounds (avoid trees growing out of people’s heads) and of course darkroom stuff (developing tanks, chemicals, temperature, enlargers, paper types, cropping, vignetting etc. etc.) The first roll of film I remember shooting (and which still survives) was in the primary school playground in 1962-ish on the Woolies camera (no, that’s not me, just some classmates).

2. And for the techy ones out there - what sort of camera/equipment do you find gives you the best results? Does anything make hafla photography particularly tricky?
I don’t want to get into recommending a particular brand or model. I have had many, many cameras over the years, and had some great pics from all of them. I still like some I took on a pocket instamatic back in the 70’s. Because it was small enough for fit in a (denim) shirt pocket, I always had it with me, so rarely missed interesting photo opportunities. I moved over to digital a few years ago – with the advent of the Internet and FaceBook you can’t avoid it. But, I miss some things about the old fashioned way too.
Hafla (or any event) photography does present challenges. Firstly, the photographer is not in control of what happens, who stands where, or for how long. Don’t forget it’s a live performance, and I try not to distract the performers, or obscure the view of the audience, who have after all paid to watch the show. I try not to point the flash directly at the dancers, preferring to bounce it off the ceiling or walls where possible. This gives a more even light, without harsh shadows on the wall behind, and helps to reduce red-eye. Backgrounds are the bane of my life though! Raffle prizes, souk clothes rails, exit signs, fire extinguishers, serving hatches, wall paintings and striped wallpaper: Grrrr! I do my best in the digital darkroom to reduce the impact of these distractions. Also, the lighting at these events is always poor. Even when there are spotlights in the room, they are rarely used. So, the dancers are either in the dark, lit with fluorescent tubes, or no better illuminated than the audience. This is why I use flash for most of the pics I take.

3. What first got you involved in the magical world of bellydance?
That would be Pauline’s fault. When we got together, she was already attending a class in Ormskirk college, and now goes to Sarah’s in Lydiate and Bridie’s (Weird Sisters) in our village in Wales. Hafla-ing is something we can do together, and provides me with plenty to photograph.

4. And what do you particularly like about hafla photography?
Firstly, it’s a darn good evening’s entertainment (although I see most of it through a tiny viewfinder)! Secondly, I get a chance to photograph all the fabulous dancing, costumes and general sparkle for a few hours all under one roof! Thirdly, I get to meet some of the nicest people around. I’m not just saying that, I find the atmosphere very supportive and friendly, everyone getting a cheer whatever their level they are at, regardless of style, age, shape, costume etc. A happy place to be. What’s not to like?

5. Do you have a favourite style of bellydance/costuming, from a photographer's point of view?
I’m not going to declare any favourites, I like it all! Photographically, I try to get the best from every picture I take, regardless of dance style or costume.

6. Again from a photographer's point of view, what makes for a good hafla and/or performance?
 Not been to a bad one yet! Getting a good seating position is important for me, one with the least distracting background stuff behind where the dancers will perform. In this respect, Lowton is good, where I sit on the floor, sideways on to the dancers with the black stage curtain as the background, although those speakers on the wall, sigh… Also, Casino El Layl, where the dancers are on stage with the black sparkly curtain behind. The type performance matters less to me, and each has its own challenges for composition, focus, lighting, movement, timing etc. It’s actually quite hard work!

7. Are there any hafla photos of which you are particularly proud (obviously not including any of Sakura or any of their friends of course! ;-0) 
Yes, I have quite a few faves. One day soon, I will make an album of the ones *I* like the best, photographically. That’s not to say these are necessarily my fave dancers (rapidly trying to dig myself out of a hole here…). Here’s one photo I particularly like, of DarkStar at the Pick ‘n Mix hafla in July 2011.

8. Are there any dance performances that really stand out for you? (again obviously not including any of Sakura or any of their friends of course! ;-0)
As I said above, I have my personal favourites, but too diplomatic to say here! Photographically, they all offer interesting, and welcome, challenges.

9. How does it feel just after a hafla when you have over 500 photos to process and almost as many dancers hassling you on Facebook to post them NOW?!!!
Flattered that there is so much interest! Also, very amusing – it’s a bit like a feeding frenzy of great white sharks circling around a surfer! I try to tag people I know on FaceBook as soon as the album is uploaded, but I am often beaten to it by the gathering hoardes! If I leave the PC for 20 minutes after posting, I usually return to a broadcast storm of notifications (likes, comments, shares, requests to tag). Everyone is so nice about the pics, and each other too!

10. What other subject matter do you like to photograph?
Ah, what DON’T I like? People, places, buildings, signs, gigs, travel. Anything that looks interesting, amusing, where I can take an unusual angle or juxtaposition.

11. Where can people see your photos/contact you?
Facebook is the best place to start. Just search for Ian Woodward. I do post a lot of my pics on Picasa here:
I also have some on Flickr, but those are also on Picasa.

12. And finally - is there anything else you'd like to tell us about yourself?!
Er… I ride a Harley Davidson! The empty one at the back of this group in the Alps:

Thank you so much for all your hard work Ian - it really is appreciated! Keep those fantastic photos coming , and we'll see you at the Merhaba Christmas hafla!

Until next time - happy dancing!