Thursday, 18 October 2012

Wild Horses

Just as wild horses run unfettered, so we need our freedom in dance. Freedom to explore, to create, to find ourselves, to be ourselves. And yet just like the horses, our destiny in dance is not to run alone. We are part of the group; we share the same ground beneath our feet, the same sun on our backs, the same wind in our hair. We share the same hopes, fears, dreams. Together or apart we are as one- think as one, move as one, dance as one.
We may rest quietly by softly flowing rivers. We may race together across wide open plains. We may shake our hair free under the stars as we whirl and spin around the fires of night, beneath every star of heaven. But we do it all as one.
Our spirit is that of the tribes, of the wild horses. Free not bound. Gentle yet wild. Together. Trusting. Sharing. Feeling. Communicating. We each have our own lives, yet at one point, one nexus, they meet. And that point is power.
That point is TRIBAL ....

(the above is an entry from my dance journal from earlier this year. And yes, it captures how I still feel today about the incredible dance form that brings so much to my life)

Tribal Bellydance. Just do it.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

On The Level

I'm just back from a fabulous weekend of fun, frolics and friends at the wonderful Jewel of Yorkshire festival and am feeling all inspired and raring to go! As many of you will know by now our amazing tribal mamma, Paulette Rees-Denis, didn't make it into the UK to join us, but happily Cinzia of Les Soeurs Tribales stepped into the breach assisted by Deirdre and Sun Fyre, and they did an amazing job! Us Sakura girls overdosed on workshops, shopping, flashmobbing, shows and gossip and came away with lots of new ideas and skills to work on and to put into our own dance (I am LOVING the Hottie Drop!).

We had originally booked on all of Paulette's workshops including two 'open level' plus a zills and rhythms on the Saturday and two level two workshops - experience of the style required - on the Sunday. We later gave up our places on the first open level workshop so that beginners to the style could learn from Paulette and instead booked on an additional Friday evening workshop aimed at people already familiar with the Gypsy Caravan tribal format.

Now before I go on I need to say two things.

Firstly the JoY team - Chris and Mandy - are EXCEPTIONALLY good at clarifying ability and energy levels within their workshops. Although obviously there are no hard and fast universal rules governing what exactly IS beginner/intermediate/advanced,, they do everything they possibly can to make sure that the information they provide helps you to make informed decisions about which workshops are right for you. The rest of course is up to you - you have to READ the information and then be honest and realistic about your own abilities and experience. Ask advice if you need to - from your own teacher, from Chris or Mandy or from the teacher delivering the workshop if you're unsure - but that decision is up to YOU!
Secondly the workshops planned by Paulette and taught by Cinzia were exactly as described - just the right degree of challenge for the advertised level. Lots and lots to go at, new things to learn, explanation, drilling, improv. I can even include the beginners' Saturday morning one in there, as I accidentally picked up a handout and so know what was taught! They were precisely what we - and by that I mean Sakura and other UK dancers with GC experience - had expected. But then we read the descriptions, didn't we?
I bet you can tell what's coming next, especially if you're a regular workshop goer, can't you? This is a pretty common problem, I know! Yes, we read the descriptions. Sadly, others didn't! This resulted in both Sunday workshops (Level 2, with an additional proviso written in block capitals on the JoY list - EXPERIENCE OF GC FORMAT NEEDED) and the Friday evening workshop, again aimed at more experienced dancers, containing numbers (in one case substantial numbers) of dancers who didn't know basic GC steps and concepts. OK, so you misjudged your capability in this style - so what do you do? Well, if I was in that position (when I first started dancing it took me a LONG time to dare to enrol on a level 2 workshop, and even then I worried like mad until about half an hour in when I realised I was ok!) I would discreetly move to one side and do what I could without interfering with anyone else. I might sit out and take notes - I'm sure there would be things I could take away and work on. What WOULDN'T I do? Well, I wouldn't ask the teacher to break down basic steps in a beyond-beginners workshop. I wouldn't expect the advertised workshop to be 'dumbed down' to cater for my needs, just because I got it wrong! But did that happen? You betcha!!!
Cinzia handled it perfectly. She explained calmly and politely that this was not a beginners workshop and that it had said experience was needed. She accommodated those who were less sure by grouping them with one of her assistants. She gave extra support where it was needed during improv. She did exactly the right thing - people had paid for a more advanced workshop and that's what she taught (and as an ex-schoolteacher of over 20 years I know that there are times to adjust your content - but this was not one of them). I have heard of similar cases where teachers have not had Cinzia's quiet confidence and assurance and HAVE changed workshops - but unless you find the level is too high for the whole class, that just isn't acceptable. Those of us who had read the description got so much out of all her workshops and had exactly the experience we had expected - just as it should be!
So what is to be learned from this? Well, firstly be realistic about your level of experience and ability. You wouldn't enrol on a German A level course if you couldn't speak any German, would you? This is no different! Read the workshop description and ask if you're not sure. If you do that and it still doesn't work out, then accept that you have misjudged yourself! Don't interrupt the flow of the lesson for others. That's harder in an improv workshop of course - whilst you can drill what you can, once you break off into groups to improvise your lack of experience can actually affect what your fellow dancers can and can't do and practise, so be sensitive to that. It isn't the teacher's or your fellow dancers' fault that you got it wrong - so learn from the experience for next time!
Finally, a few thank yous! Thank you to Paulette, Cinzia, Deirdre and Sun Fyre for planning and teaching workshops that were just as described and gave us exactly what we wanted. We are inspired! Thank you to Chris and Mandy who take such care to make sure that everyone has enough information to decide properly which workshops are suited to them. Thank you to any dancers in those workshops who, even though they might have realised they had maybe been a little over-ambitious, recognised that and just got on with dancing and doing what they could without expecting adjustments just to suit them. And a huge thank you to everyone I danced with this weekend - you all rock!
As a matter of fact :
Until next time, happy dancing!
DISCLAIMER : Whilst this post focuses on one particular weekend, the issue is a widespread one. It's happened to me before and may well have happened to you. Please just read the info, folks!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary ...

...where does your dance money go?
   On flowers and rings
   And sparkly things
   And skirts and veils that flow!!!

Well, where DOES your dance money go? This is something that I've been thinking about a lot lately. Having recently given up a fairly well paid job on the grounds that money is no compensation for sanity and spiritual wellbeing, I am really having to prioritise more than ever before. No more blissful meanderings on eBay and the Preloved Tribal Facebook group with my paypal finger at the ready. No more trips to the cash machine to stuff my pockets with wads of tenners (well, small wads!) to trawl any souks that may be lurking temptingly at haflas and festivals. Do I really NEED those two swords that are lurking amongst my dance stuff? And how on earth have I managed to acquire seven 25 yard skirts (not to mention ten pairs of pantaloons!)?

Yes, it's 'tighten your banjara belt' time folks!

As a bit of a shopaholic I'd expected this enforced spending embargo to bring about levels of disgruntledness akin to something out of Fight Club (not that I've ever seen it but if there's fighting in it I'm presuming there's a measure of grumpiness in there). And yet it hasn't. Somehow I feel strangely liberated! 'All Good Things Are Wild And Free' has become my mantra - and I have the tattoo to prove it! For the first time in I-don't-know-how-long I am truly appreciating the simple things in life; the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the company of friends and just dancing with my girls.
But of course, as we all know rather too well, not quite ALL good things are free, not least in the world of tribal bellydance. Costumes, classes, workshops, haflas, music, dvds, travel, all cost money - and understandably so. Let's face it, very, very few of us can afford to spend willy-nilly and I'm more aware of this now than I ever was. When I was working full time I didn't have a bottomless cash pit, but could generally, by hook or by crook, manage to summon up funds to do most of the things I fancied.
Not any more!
And THAT is what's liberating. I have always prioritised before, but now I'm REALLY having to draw up those lists of what's essential and what's not!!! Luckily I love lists. Tribal bellydance is a vital part of my life now, a core part of me, so one way or another it's staying. And all of this has really helped me to sort out what it is about the dance that is most important - and surprise, surprise, it isn't that alluring, delicious pile of skirts!
First and foremost, what matters to me most is - simply dancing. Dancing with my girls, any time, any place! Dancing with Sakura and Namaste (whether we're performing or not). Dancing in class with my lovely students. feeling that connection to other dancers in workshops. rocking it out on the dancefloor after haflas. Plain. simple, heart-lifting soul-singing dance. I love it, I want it I NEED it in my life, one way or another. End of.
Second on the list comes a new-found passion. Earlier this year I started to teach tribal bellydance - Gypsy Caravan style of course. What can I say? I passed my Collective Soul 1 with Paulette back in 2010. Over a year ago I passed an intensive Tribal Teaching course with Steffi Colbert. And still I hung back. I didn't think I was good enough, was conscious of how much more I have still to learn, was concerned that people wouldn't want to dance improv, worried that no-one would want to learn from me. Setting up Namaste Tribal with Jo earlier this year gave me the push I needed - and I think Jo would probably say the same thing. Since then I've taught several workshops and am nearing the end of my first half term of classes. And yes, people HAVE come. Lovely, beautiful, shiny people who are growing in this dance week by week, whose smiles and achievements feed my soul. Just watching them only this week - a class full of gorgeous structural rolls, all in time with one another and the music. Seeing that connection start to click as they dance together. Ladies, when I say you are looking fabulous I really, truly mean it! I am so privileged that you have let me into your lives for that hour every week. So yes, sharing my dance through teaching is WAY up there on my list of priorities!
The next thing on my list underpins everything that's gone before. If I was doing this post as a table (I like tables as well as lists!) it would run alongside my two previous priorities - it really is an ESSENTIAL. And that essential is tuition!!! Whilst DVDs are great (and yes, I have a fair old few myself!) they are absolutely NO substitute for a real, live teacher, no matter where on your dance journey you might be. Someone who can give you honest feedback, help you to identify and address your strengths and weaknesses, build up your confidence as a dancer and of course keep you dancing safely. Whether it's classes or workshops, tuition MATTERS. Of course it comes at a price .... teachers have costs to cover that many students don't even think about .... but it always has been, and always will be, up at the top of my list of priorities when I'm eking out those pennies! So in revisiting what I can and can't afford, this has really taken a prime spot. Weekly classes in your chosen style are great if you can get to them, but what do you do when the cost of fuel works out three times as much as the cost of the class? It just can't be sustained in the long term, even with car shares or link ups via the fabulous Travelling Moves group on Facebook. But there are a plethora of workshops out there if you look hard enough - in all sorts of styles to tickle everybody's fancy. Of course there is then the issue of wanting to do EVERYTHING! Pay as you go workshops whether individual or at festivals such as JoY are a real blessing as you can focus in on teachers and styles you really want to learn and that fit your dance priorities. All-in dance weekends have a great atmosphere and you can learn all sorts of things you might not have tried before, but not everyone can afford them - and I don't mean having to choose one a year or something. I do mean can't afford them at all.
As far and tuition and I go in this new stringent regime - it's a key priority! Before I finished full time work I invested in more intensive training with Paulette down in Bournemouth in a couple of weeks (Squeeeeee!!) and in workshops with her at JoY. I know that this will be an incredible experience that will add so much to my dance and so in my books it's well worth it! I'm also conscious that, barring a windfall, this could be my last ever splurge! I'm doing my homework as regards events coming up - workshops with Les Soeurs Tribales at JoY next year, Paulette at Majma the year after - and will squirrel money away for these and other things that will support my dance journey (including my weekly yoga class!). Online classes with Paulette are another priority - ok, she's not here to correct me when I go wrong but they're brilliantly done and are really supporting my dancing (and my own teaching). 
I know I've warbled on a bit in this section - but I really have been thinking about it a lot and it's all come pouring out!!!
Next on the list - hafla going and performing! Now I spoke a lot about performing in my last post so I'm not going to warble on here. Just let's say I really enjoy performing, connecting with my tribal sisters, smiling at the audience and seeing them smile back (unless of course they're one of those audiences who don't smile at anyone! Yes, you know what I'm talking about!). But it isn't the be-all and end-all. I perform to share this dance with others, in the hope that it may inspire just one person to dip their toe into the water, maybe not in my class, maybe not in a tribal class, but in some form of this wonderful dance. And that through that they might feel even a little of the joy that it brings to me!Going to haflas is so important too - even if you're not performing! Trust me, if you only ever rock up to these events when you've got a dance spot, people NOTICE!! (They also notice if you're always the performer and never the class/workshop attendee too, incidentally!)Watching other dancers inspires you, gives you pointers for your own dance and not only supports the performers and organiser but also helps to build your local dance community! OK, so you may not be able to go to everything, but put a bit of money to one side and plan wisely! (Hot Tip - if you only ever go to the same haflas year-in, year-out, then for the most part you'll only see the same dancers and crowd of people. Which is great of course - we all have our favourite must-go haflas - but when you're budgetting plan on spreading your wings a little from time to time by going to events you don't usually frequent. Your dance life will be so much the richer for it!)
And finally - last and yes, actually least ..... comes costume! We all love pretty things. Dressing up, whether it's for class or performance makes us feel good and that shouldn't be denigrated. HOWEVER - and this is all I'm going to say on the subject - if you spent more in the last six months on costuming (and I'm including ALL dance wear, bindis, hair fripperies, make up etc in this!) than on training, then in my opinion you got your priorities wrong. I could say more but I won't.
So there you have it. Belt-tightening bellydance. I guess really that for the most part my priorities have never really changed; training has always been my first investment choice. It's just that now I'm having to be a lot more focused - and focus never did any of us any harm!
Until next time, happy dancing!