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!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Tribal Travels!

She's back!
So this week I have been having a little contemplate, and have exciting things in the pipeline! Next year looks like being a good one for us UK Gypsy Caravan fans ..... Deirdre Macdonald is back with us and we have Les Soeurs Tribales over at JoY in April ...... with the possibility of Paulette herself later in the year. Squeaaaaaal just doesn't do it! Anyway, as if that wasn't enough, I found out that Paulette was back in Milan next March! Now I had to miss her there in October (needs must when the bank manager calls ....) but hey, I'm determined to have a 2012 full of GC delights, and so I'm making plans. Now this is no small step for someone who didn 't even have a passport until last year and has NEVER travelled abroad alone, and so it's got me thinking .....

Our fabulous teacher, ChrisOgden
 In the dim and distant days of the past, before Sakura was even a twinkle in our eye, we dipped our toes into many tribal waters. Interestingly our first tribal workshop was with Deirdre at JoY in Saltaire   .... a beginners GC class where that fabulous lady had us all improvising and loving it within the space of an hour! From there we started regular workshops and classes with the amazing Chris Ogden of 400 Roses fame ... we still learn with her now, and her GC based 'North Wind' style dovetails really well with what we do as Sakura. However, in between all that we've also done lots of other stuff ..... lessons and workshops in ATS and other key formats as well as the odd fusion workshop. However, as time has gone by we have become a lot more focused. We know which style speaks to us, and we have to be more selective now about which workshops we go to. That doesn't mean we only ever go to GC based stuff - that wouldn't be good! - but we choose things that complement what we do (Fulya's brilliant Indian Fusion workshop at Tribal Vibe last year and Pauline Qu's excellent slow drills workshop, for example), but unless we have a lottery windfall we just can't do everything!

We love Steffi!
Now, not only does this mean we have to choose what we spend our money on, it also means we have to travel. And travel pretty far too! The furthest north we've been? Glasgow, twice - workshops with Deirdre and with Paulette. South ? Bournemouth for Tribal Teacher Training with gorgeous Steffi Colbert. East? Haxby, just north of York (workshops with Pauline and Asif Qu. And West? Well, that's the biggie .... San Francisco where we had lessons at the FCBD studio and with Wendy Marlatt (with a stop off in Portland to train with Paulette of course!). And a fair few places in between .....

Victoria Hall - venue for JoY
So, what is the point of this post you may ask?  What on earth is the daft woman wittering on about now? Well, quite simply it sometimes amazes me when people put costumes etc before training. Yes, I know that, especially if you have to use public transport, getting to workshops can be difficult but hey - you can't go far wrong with JoY! Literally five minutes walk from the train station and hotel, there's a whole range of workshops to suit all tastes and levels, at really reasonable prices. So whilst you may not be able to get to individual workshops, you do have lots under one roof there! And yes, there ARE local workshops too in a fair few areas ... but you may have to travel across town to get there! And once you do, you'll find it really IS worth the effort!

Me in early tribal days - dancing with Chris' class
Weekly lessons can be a little more difficult of course; we make nigh on  a 90 mile round trip to ours, and there's no way we could do that without a car. But if we couldn't manage that, then workshops would become even more important to us - it just isn't possible to get the feedback you need from dvds. A real live teacher is quite simply irreplaceable.  

And we haven't even started on our travels to haflas - not always to perform either!
'Dancing makes nomads of us all'
A good friend of ours, Jo, put it very succinctly:
'Dancing makes nomads of us all'.
It's very true. To  learn tribal, you have to be prepared to travel. Not necessarily hundreds of miles, but you need to be ready to make a bit of an effort, even if it's only once a year. We aren't millionaires, we can't do it all time or money wise. So we have to choose. There are lots of wonderful bits of costume and jewellery that I would totally LOVE right now. But none of it means anything without the actual experience of dancing and learning and growing. 

Cinzia of Les Soeurs Tribales with Paulette
So I've made my choice. No more 25 yard skirts or Kuchi necklaces in the near future.

Milano - here I come!

Until next time - happy dancing, wherever your travels take you!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

New Instructionals - and a CD!

Oh my giddy aunt! It's been two whole weeks since the last blog ..... what IS the world coming to? I may just have to blog twice this weekend to catch up! I have to say, I do have a few posts sort of mulling around in my head, but they need a bit more mulling yet ..... so I shall start with a relatively straightforward one to get back into the swing!

I was very VERY excited earlier this week to hear some great news. Paulette (Rees Denis, of Gypsy Caravan) is releasing a new instructional DVD in December! Squeal!!! She shot it with the fabulous Soeurs Tribales on her recent trip to Milan, Italy (Congratulations to our lovely friend Wendy Hughes who passed her CS1 and TT1 certifications there! x). Not only is it coming out soon, but she's shared a snippet with us :

Woo hoo - Paulette and LST in one dvd - can't wait! I've read somewhere that she's also going to shoot one with Nina Martinez (of Gypsy Rain) on her forthcoming trip to Australia - sooo looking forward to them both!

Now there's also another instructional dvd that I'm looking forward to gleefully! For some time now I've been watching Divine Chaos on You Tube and particularly enjoying their gorgeous skirt work and now guess what? They're bringing out an instructional dvd! And double guess what? There's a sneak preview right here:

Gorgeous - another one to look out for! I may have to feature these ladies in  a Video of the Week at some point!

Finally, on to someone who hasn't got a dvd out yet but jolly well should have! It's the wonderful Seba of WildCard Bellydance. She has quite a few instructional videos up on You Tube and they are excellent. She explains things VERY thoroughly so that new tribalistas should be able to follow BUT even if you think you know the move inside out there isstill  LOTS there to learn! Here's an example of her teaching a Turkish Shimmy:

There are lots of other great short instructionals on her You Tube channel but hey, Seba - we so NEED a dvd!!!

On the plus side though, WildCard have been working with musicians Arcane Dimension and a cd will be out this winter - with lots of the tracks that you may have seen the WildCard ladies performing to! So that's something else to get excited about!

Well, it looks like it's going to be a good Christmas dance wise - I've already got quite a few things on my wish list!

Until next time (which may be sooner rather than later!) - happy dancing!