Tuesday, 27 October 2015

If Music Be The Food Of Love ...

Music has been on our minds a fair bit recently .... There's been the whole Beyoncé/Enta Omri debate of course, and then we've come across a couple of instances of people dancing to tracks that, for one reason or another, have made us cringe .....

Now then, first and foremost, we aren't the Bellydance Police. Yes, Egyptian style bellydance done beautifully to a traditional track is simply gorgeous. But equally we don't have issues with dance done to other types of music - pop, rock, goth, metal - whatever. Where we DO have issues is when there's something in that music that is a bit - well - dodgy. You want to listen to tracks with lots of f-ing going on? Fine. Heck I sing along to them all the time in my car. I just don't think they are appropriate or desirable for most performances. Songs with innuendo in the lyrics? (And let's not beat about the bush here. It's pretty darned obvious so don't kid yourselves). Drill to them all you want in private. But publicly? No. Just no. It's really not cool or clever or funky. It's just yuk. 

So - what do we like to dance to? Increasingly it's the kind of music that we both actually like to listen to. If we come on the dance floor in rock t shirts and studded belts they have come from our regular wardrobes. We really aren't into pretending to be something we're not. We aren't Goths for example - and would never bill our dance as 'Gothic' (though that doesn't mean we don't appreciate it when it's done well by dancers who really do 'get' the whole Goth lifestyle and aesthetic). We wouldn't term our dance as 'Metal' bellydance, even though we do sometimes perform to metal tracks (cos it's our sort of music!!). We are just us, dancing how we want, to music we love. But yes, trying to be respectful when doing it. 

And a part of that is the realisation that just because we love it doesn't mean it's ok to perform to it. 


Until next time - happy dancing! 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Flying Solo!

Last Sunday was a very special day for me. My beautiful WildHearts - my class performance group - were taking the plunge and performing Gypsy Caravan improv - without us Sakura girls up there with them to support and bail them out if necessary! 

They were oh so nervous, naturally. Strangely though, I was not. I couldn't wait for them to hit the dance floor - to spread their wings and fly! We had drilled all the moves until they were coming out of our ears, played the music until it drove us to distraction, improvised in duets, triplets, large groups. Everything was as ready as it possibly could be - given they were improvising - and I just knew they could do it! I was so excited for them! 

And so the moment came. They stepped onto the dance floor, the music started, the eyes lit up, the hips began to sway And they didn't just dance. Those girls took flight. 
And as they soared,so did I. 

So proud of you all, WildHearts!

Until next time, happy dancing! 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Let's Play Dress-Up - Sakura Style!

So here I am, doing a bit of sewing and thinking about costuming for upcoming Sakura performances, and I've been dragged into that sew-to-the-end-of -this-thread-then-you-can-reward-yourself  thing. And today I'm rewarding myself by flicking through lots of old photos depicting Sakura in different costumes through the ages! 

Now, much as we appreciate the 'traditional tribal' look it has to be said that for various reasons we don't sport it every time we perform, for a variety of reasons. But hey, we CAN do it from time to time, and you'll get the evidence later! For a lot of performances we do prefer to be a little less -well, encumbered. And we have a few signature items that crop up regularly as part of our 'Sakura Look'. 

1. Sakura Skirts!

I can't remember where the idea for these sprouted from, but suffice it to say they are our very own designs, lovingly brought to life for us by our friend Kate, and are quite definitively 'us'! As with most of our costumes they are similarly themed but not identical - we are our own people with our own tastes and body shapes so that makes sense! We had lots of fun fabric shopping for these several years ago, as I recall, and they're still pretty unique one-of-a-kind, which is why they keep coming out to play! We usually wear them with tribal pants for a slightly funky look ...

2. Coat-Dresses

Now these again are our own creations! Supremely comfortable they work over 25 yard skirts or tribal pants, so are pretty versatile!

Again they are personalised with various splits and sari ribbon (Ye gods, did that take ages to sew on!)

3. Rock Chick Rips

This kind of look comes out when we're dancing to non-traditional stuff - usually rock/metal (cos that's how we roll!). And yes - it involves a certain amount of raiding of our 'everyday' wardrobes! 

4. Seriously Old School

Whilst not a look we would normally go for, we really did enjoy going the whole hog and donning turbans, tassels and tribal bras for the Manchester Day Parade earlier this year. It's certainly a look that draws the eye and commands attention - but not, does it feel good to take it all off and get into your pjs afterwards! I felt like I still had that turban on several days later! 

5. Simply Tribal 

I'm not sure about the 'simply' bit but at least we weren't in the turbans. Although maybe three 25 yard skirts made up for that! This is indeed a beautiful look ... And we love to wear it sometimes - just not all the time! 

I've been quite disciplined here as I could have posted LOADS more photos, but they'd all really have been variations on a theme! Suffice it to say we love to dress up - and to think about how our costumes fit the music, performance and our personalities. Yes, comfort comes into it too - we like to relax and chill after dancing without having to do a complete change. We also like to wear stuff that's a little different - and is very 'us'- hence why we came up with our Sakura Skirts and coat-dresses. Having said all that, we do both adore that traditional tribal look too - it's so distinctive and is just gorgeous! 

Better get back to sewing now - time and costuming wait for no one! 

Until next time, happy dancing! 

Monday, 17 August 2015

Beautiful Beginners

The very best dancers know that they are never too good for beginners' class. 

I could actually leave this blog right here, with just that one sentence (and maybe a pretty picture of course!). It really does say it all. Some of the most powerful moments in my dance life have been when I have taken a workshop with a fab teacher at a dance festival and then gone into my next - beginner level - workshop, to find that very same teacher dancing and learning right alongside me. Yes, it's about humility, but it's also because those teachers recognise you can never have too much of the basics. You never stop learning, and adding and improving. And it's that realisation that makes them so darn good!

Conversely, it's often those students who really NEED more work on those basics that think they're above mere beginner classes. They think they have been there, done that and are ready for something new. I really hope that isn't you, dear reader (Jane Austen moment there!) but just in case .......

Five reasons why you're never too good for beginners : 

1. Beginner classes are the foundations of your dance. Shaky foundations mean wobbly buildings, folks. And guess what - that basic Arabic that looks a bit dodgy because it needs more work is STILL going to look dodgy when you throw it into that more advanced combo that you've been racing to learn! Beautiful basics impress more than poorly executed fancy stuff, every time. 

2. Learning doesn't happen in a simple straight line, where you learn one new thing after another. It's far more complex than that and involves lots of layering, adding new stuff, adapting, adjusting ..... The first time you are introduced to a new move you'll focus in on the main, visible aspects. The big picture. Unless you are an extremely talented, multi-faceted dancer, you will at first tune out the finer points. It's only when you revisit the move that you will become more aware of the small details; once your body is confident in the basic move then you'll be free to become aware of the nuances that make it special. Let's have an example ....

Let's take the Ghawazee #1 - a GC move. Essentially a ghawazee with a level change - down down up up. OK - so you've got the level change and reckon you've 'got' the move? Well - how is your ghawazee doing in there then? Is it still going or has it faltered? Are you remembering to keep your rib cage and hips separated for better definition? What about your knees? Are you keeping them bent, even on the up up? And your feet? They are staying parallel aren't they? Not too far apart? You're not stepping out too much either? Are your shoulders down? What about your arms- hands at shoulder height, elbows slightly down (this is GC!)? Have you managed to keep power and intention through to your hands? And your head - not hanging down/sticking forward is it? Oh - and have you found the '1' in the music? Are you dancing on the beat? AND ARE YOU REMEMBERING TO SMILE?!!!!!!!

Phew!!!! So much to think about in one simple BEGINNER level move ...... And we haven't even tried to turn it! Yes, some of those points are generic, will apply across lots of different moves and can be practised in many different contexts BUT by revisiting such beginner moves in class you are getting the ideal chance to reinforce and build on them! 

3. Old habits die hard, and bad habits are all too easily picked up. Revisiting the basics will help you to become aware of these and to correct them. Do you seriously think you haven't picked up any such bad habits on your dance journey? If so, you're way above us mere mortals! 

4. Skills on their own aren't a lot of good. What's important is being able to APPLY them. A decent beginner class will not only give you the opportunity to work on the moves, but also the chance to drill them in different sequences, put them into short sequences as you travel across the floor, work on leading them clearly and confidently and following them quickly and faithfully. If you're a reflective learner - and to be truly effective and get better you do NEED to be - then you'll be thinking about transitions, how to make them flow, what works and what doesn't, how things fit into the music ..... It's what makes a good dancer. Working in a beginners' class with more familiar moves frees up your mind and body to concentrate on that stuff. It's a different challenge to being in a more advanced class where you're taking in more complex moves - but make no mistake about it, it's still a challenge!

5. Taking a beginners' class means you are learning alongside, yes, you guessed it - BEGINNERS! And if you think that you have nothing to learn from dancers less experienced than yourself then I just wasted a whole blog post. There is ALWAYS something new to learn; I learn from my students every single class! Where do I start? Well, you'll have to put into practice one of the basic aspects of tribal improv; you're all in it together! When you're in the lead you will have to THINK extra hard about what moves your followers know. There's nothing clever about throwing in that tricky move you learned in last week's intermediate class, because this is about everyone being able to follow and look good. Oh, and are your moves and cues clear enough for everyone, including less experienced dancers, to follow? If you're following, then you may well be taking your lead from someone who's far less confident than you are. Their execution of moves make not be clear, maybe they're off the beat .... But you need to be right there with them. Yes, it can be tricky, but it really is great practice and will impact positively on your development as a whole. And don't switch off in those drills either! LISTEN to the points and corrections your teacher makes. Just because you've been learning longer it doesn't mean you've got it all right! Practice makes perfect. 

Still think you have nothing to gain from beginners' classes? Then you are obviously a dancer at the top of your game with nothing to learn from anyone! 

All I can do is finish as I started : 

The very best dancers know that they are never too good for beginners' class.

Until next time, happy dancing! 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Sakur-iosity Rocks!

As many of you know, Sakura are going a bit 'off piste' now, so to speak! We've danced Gypsy Caravan style improv for a few years now - since 2010 in fact - but our curiosity and individuality has finally caught up with us! (Those of you who saw our dead flapper dance several years ago may say it happened some time ago of course!) And hey, are we having fun with it all! 

Of course it's early days yet. This process isn't something you can rush; it's going to take lots of hard work, time and bucket loads of inspiration. We already have a few combos of our own that we've been developing for a while so we've been evaluating these ... dropping/adapting as necessary so that they fit into our 'new' aesthetic (more about that later). Whilst what we do will still be rooted in GC (it's a style that will always be very dear to our hearts and we will always be so thankful to Paulette!) it's going to have our own unique twist. So we are looking too at our favourite GC moves and combos - incorporating some (and of course acknowledging where they've come from) and making changes and additions that will individualise them more to us. And we are taking stuff from other styles and dancers too --- people and formats we've loved and admired for eons - considering what fits or indeed can be adjusted to fit. It takes lots of discussion, batting ideas to and fro and yes, dancing it all out! And then of course there are our own creations - combos that are pretty much pure Sakura! 

We are both really keen to ensure that we don't just end up with a 'Pick and Mix' approach where we choose moves we like and just throw them in regardless of how well they fit with the whole look and feel of the dance. That isn't what we're about at all. We have spent a long time chatting about how we want this dance to feel and look - yes, that aesthetic again - and we are constantly returning to that. There are moves that we love that we aren't including because they just aren't right for us. Anything new we bring on board also has to work with, for example, the GC way of doing Arabics - those basics that underpin our style. It has to work with our music and costuming which aren't as 'traditionally' tribal as before. And of course they all have to work with improv too, cos that's how we roll! There's a concept behind all this which fits our personalities and how we love to perform - and that's our guiding light! 

The creativity was really flowing at our Sakura practice this week - and oh yes, Jan was on a real roll! It was searching, challenging and yes -exhilarating. We debated, danced, laughed ... And came up with some ideas that we think you will love! We love them! This is all so exciting - and it's so good to be sharing who we are! 

Of course this isn't going to happen all at once. It's going to take lots of time and commitment and dedication - but we have those in spades. The new moves and look will develop gradually - after all, it's taken even the most talented dancers such as Paulette years and years to get their formats to where they are today, and that development and growth never stops. We're looking forward to much more learning too ... classes, workshops, training. It all continues! But if you saw our performance at the Nile to the Mersey a few weeks ago then you saw Sakura perform 'pure' GC for the last time ...

Moving on from Gypsy Caravan hasn't been easy. It's been a part of our dance and lives for so long and I'd be lying if I said there hasn't been a lot of soul-searching and yes, even some tears. But it will still be there shining through in its own way and yes, this is so very much the right thing for us to do! We are both feeling so hopeful, fulfilled and oh so excited about the future! 

Looking forward to seeing some of you somewhere soon - and rocking out a few of our new moves for you! 

Until next time - happy dancing!

* Photos of Sakura in this post are by James Lacey (Dark Soul Photography), Ian Craven (Mr Jan!) and Ian Woodward (The Hooded Lens). Thank you all - you rock! * 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

WildHearts On Parade!

Date : June 14th, 2015
Location: Manchester, England
Occasion : Manchester Day Parade! 

Yes, on Sunday Sakura were thrilled to be joined by WildHearts Audrey, Elaine and Sue, our old friend Kate, new friend Jean, drummer Andrew and of course photographer extraordinaire Ian (Jan's other half!) to parade through the streets of our local city as part of its annual Manchester Day celebrations! 

We were the Tribal Sagat Army - and  yes, we zilled as we went! Joined by dancing gypsies, harem fluffers, a battalion of Isis wings and some crazy flying carpets, all pulled together by the fabulous Michelle Pender, we zagareeted, shimmied and sashayed our way through the streets in front of, so I believe, a crowd of around 175,000. Scary stuff! 

The sun didn't smile on us - but then the rain stayed away too so we really can't complain! There was a fabulous party  atmosphere and some amazing costumes and creations from other groups. We had FUN - as you can see from all the smiles!!! 

For the occasion our costume theme was 'old school tribal' and we went the full hog with pantaloons, 25 yard skirts, lots of tassels, tribal bras, facial markings - and of course, turbans! This was a bit of a departure for us as we normally adopt a more pared-down, contemporary look - but it was great fun and really effective with the black and red colour code. And yes, it did take us all a couple of hours to get ready. And yes, we raised many eyebrows on our trips into/out of the city on the tram. And yes, it didn't take two hours to take the costume off again but it sure as heck felt like it (HOW many safety pins did I use???!). Not something we'll be adopting all the time - but definitely a really good choice for a special event like this one! 

Of course we weren't the only ones who had gone to so much trouble with our costumes ... There were the two suffragettes on stilts on huge bicycles, the aeroplane complete with 'Amelia Earhart', the fabulous peacock, the amazing griffin (complete with moving head!), the uncostumed but adorable Irish wolfhounds and oh so many other spectacular sights! It was just fabulous! There was a fantastic sense of community between all the paraders and the crowd ... Although I did manage to miss seeing at least four people I know who were amongst those lining the streets (sorry - but hey, I didn't even know what street I was on most of the time, let alone who was in the crowd!!). 

So yes - it was a great day! And would we do it again? Definitely!!! Huge thanks have to go to Michelle who masterminded our part in it and brought together dancers from across the North West to craft and giggle and dance together as one community! You are a star!!!

Thank you too to Ian Craven who is responsible for all the photos in this post - great memories of good times! 

I'll finish now with a few more of our favourite WildHeart/Sakura photos. 

Ready for the tram ride : Jan, Kate and Kate

More trammers : WildHearts Sue, Elaine and Audrey 

Drummer Andy (right) and guest WildHeart Jean (centre)

Another great one of Andy

Well hello there!! Sue, Jan and Kate

Community spirit : Elise had to wrap her wings around Jan to keep her warm as we waited to parade. 

Looking cool, calm and collected before the parade - nobody had mentioned 175,000 people at this point!

And finally a sneaky selfie  (not from Ian this time). Some of the group were cultured and went for coffees in the museum. Others (ahem) went to the pub. Guess who?

Until next time, happy dancing! X

Tuesday, 9 June 2015


Woah - it's June already and nearly half way through the year! Where is 2015 going at all? 
After a few bouts of illness/injury/life Sakura are getting ready for several upcoming performances over the next few months. As these go on you may start to notice a few differences ....

Most of you will know that Sakura have been performing Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance for a number of years now. However everything changes - and so do we. It's the right time now for us to explore, to wander down new pathways, to satisfy our 'Sakuriosity'. GC will still lie at the heart of our new endeavours ... providing those firm foundations - but we're already working on new moves, new music, new formations - all of which will fit into the funky aspects of GC that we love so much.

Delilah, in her book about performance talks about the level on which you connect with your audience. She mentions those dancers who come across as being 'above' their audience - superior, removed, not really connecting. Then there are those who I suppose you would say are 'beneath' their audience. I don't think I've seen many of these but I suppose they come across as little girls, begging to be liked? Then there is the final group - those who are on a level, together with their audience. Those whose dancing and demeanour screams out 'I'm having fun here and I'd love you to come along for the ride!'. It's this last group that us Sakura girls have always tried to be a part of. We want you with us, we want you to want to join us! This will be something that we really focus on as we grow and develop over the coming months! 

It won't happen overnight, but will be a gradual change - lots of work to be done here! We are both really excited about this next stage in our journey - and we hope that you will enjoy it too. We will keep you posted on here as to how it's all going and on our trials and tribulations!

Cayte's classes in Wigan will still follow the Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance Beginners and Intermediate syllabus. We both believe that it's important to have strong roots and to know and understand what those are, and are so grateful to Paulette Rees-Denis for those foundations that she has given to us with her beautiful dance style. We want to make sure that we pass that on to our students too! They will continue to perform Gypsy Caravan - sometimes 'flying alone' and sometimes joined by Sakura for the odd special performance! It is so good to see them all grow in skill and confidence, and to witness their beauty shining out. Love you ladies!

We hope to see some of you somewhere in the near future. We are very excited to be taking part in the Manchester Day Parade this Sunday, along with some of our WildHearts and other fabulous North West dancers. Our zills and turbans are at the ready, our tassels are tasselsied and we're all set to rock out a bit of old school tribal. Maybe a few of you will be there too? 

If not we will be at the Nile to the Mersey hafla in Liverpool on 20th and then will be shaking out our posh side (off duty as regards dance) at a Masquerade Ball on 27th. Good times ahead!!

Speak soon and in the meantime, happy dancing! 

Cayte & Jan xx