October 14, 2007

Breakin' Boards for Belly Dance?

Okay, so I have to first apologize for the length of time between my last post and this one. It's not that I don't have things to write about (I actually have a lovely list of topics); it's that I probably have too many things to write about, and haven’t spent the time to sit and write. I do promise to catch everyone up, and share all sorts of belly dance goodies; however, for this post...we're going to take a little detour. Now, you may be wondering what boards and belly dance have to do with each other, but sit tight and I'll explain.

You see, last week I broke a board with my bare hand for the second time in my life (and no, I don't have a problem with anger management). The first time was a terrifying, overwhelming experience laced with the very real fear (in my mind at least) of breaking my hand. I consider myself to be fairly tough, but let's be realistic...compare your hand with all its little bones to a very solid looking 3/4" pine board, and you'll understand my trepidation. (As a side note, Sherry, the Engineer in our troupe told me afterwards that the bending strength of that board was between 900 and 1500 pounds per square inch, yikes!)

It actually took me several tries and lots of reassurance to crack that puppy, but I did it for the first time last December and the photo is my memento of the event. In fact, I still have a hard time believing I actually did it! I broke that board, not because I was testing for some martial arts belt exam or even just trying to show off my fabulous punches (which by the way, are much less girly than they used to be). The whole board breaking process was an exercise in understanding how our mind creates obstacles, and if we can trust our bodies to be in proper alignment, grounded and centered than one punch is all it takes to split that board.

Now, I don't encourage anyone to actually attempt this without proper supervision and training (hint...use a really well trained martial arts instructor) but there are some great lessons to learn that do apply to belly dance.

Both dancing and martial arts require you to be grounded, centered, aligned, relaxed and resilient. If you’re lucky you have the experience of feeling totally alive and connected with your body and your surroundings while dancing or moving through a form. It’s when the music resonates within your body, your movements and motions are simply the expression of those beats and that energy, and you just surrender to the moment and dance. The audience and the stage simply melt away, there are no distractions or hesitations, and you feel 100% present to the moment.

Martial arts’ training focuses on being present to the sensations of your body, and connecting. In dancing we often spend a great deal of time focusing on technique or movement or speed, but sometimes we forget about the intention, the feeling, the movement and the utter joy. When I learned that I would have to break another board last week, there was no anxiety, fear or trepidation. Just like the familiar feeling when the music and your movements melt together, the notion of slamming my palm into the board seemed very matter of fact (although I still needed expert supervision).

And the lesson learned? For me, it is practicing the basics, your fundamentals, the core of your movement whether it is dance or martial arts. Beyond that practice, you have to let go, surrender, release, and trust. So, I encourage all of you who dance (or those who just watch) to allow yourselves to be present to the moment, let go of fears and anxieties, relax, connect and above all else…breathe.

By the way, if you want to see more martial arts and belly dance, come watch our show this Thursday. We have live music with Sonya and Belaharr, lot's of fabulous dancing, and I'll be trying to practice what I'm preaching here (wish me luck!)

September 9, 2007

So, Just How Exclusive is "Exclusive"?

According to Webster's dictionary, the word exclusive has many meanings, among them:
  • fashionable; stylish: to patronize only the most exclusive designers
  • admitting only members of a socially restricted or very carefully selected group: an exclusive club
  • shutting out all others from a part or share: an exclusive right to film the novel
  • disposed to resist the admission of outsiders to association, intimacy, etc.: an exclusive circle of intimate friends

Now, I admit that I do think you have to be in a very special group to know about Mirage shows, and the entire Mirage experience...but really all we want is for everyone to share in this part of Austin's belly dance tradition. If you didn't know, this is the longest running venue in Austin, in Texas and I suspect...in the nation, and we want to keep it that way! Now I know belly dancers (their fans, and significant others) were a little worn out after the "Year and a Day" show but next time, pace yourselves, rest up, pack snacks and make sure you work in time for a Mirage show.

Why you ask? Well, you missed (with the exception of our exclusive audience last week) a really fun and exciting show, and the debut of our beautiful new stage back drop. Now, I may be a little biased because I had the chance to work on this beatiful stage, the reality is that women always want to show off something new in our wardrobe...and to everyone we can find. Now, if it include pretty colors and sparkles..watch out! The ooohs and ahhs are always appreciated, and we just needed to hear more of them!

The idea behind the colors came from Katarina who liked the idea of blending spice colors and indian influences for our new website. Although many dancers choose a traditional cabaret or raks sharqi style, the truth is we have an equal number of dancers who perform on our stage that prefer tribal, fusion or just plain 'ole American (or is it Austin?) style belly dance. So, when I was shopping for ideas this summer, and consulting with Sherry and her 'secret stash of saris'...blending the colors and using saris to create a "harem-like" effect seemed to be the perfect solution.

We're thrilled by the new look, and how extra-beautiful (and stunning) everyone looks on stage. And like most women, we have plans to make some additions to the new 'wardrobe'. So, mark your calendars for our September 20 show, come see for yourself...and help us redefine the word "exclusive"!

(P.S. You can see more photos from the show on our website and our Myspace pages.)

Ready to shimmy again soon,


September 4, 2007

Are You a Socialist or a Belly Dancer?

Okay, if you believe that this question requires each of you to think about your own philosophical or ontological perspective of the world think again. If you know anything about the Mirage experience, it simply is a way to determine where you’re sitting at Ruby’s BBQ after the show. I know, belly dancing and barbeque seem like an odd combination and quite honestly I don’t know how it all got started, but its part of the tradition of our Thursday night shows.

My memories of Ruby’s BBQ actually date to before it was Ruby’s, and was a little place called Fajita Flats. If you look carefully at the sign out front, the original name still remains. This was where I had my first real college experience of “hanging out” on campus. I was a senior in high school but had the opportunity to come visit UT for a weekend to get a feel for the dorm and university experience. I stayed at Kinsolving Dorm (which I later lived in) with a drill team friend name Kendra. She was the one who took me up the street (it seemed like such a long distance away) to a place that really did look like a hole in the wall (a little scary for such a suburban girl like myself) and introduced me to fajitas (no, they haven’t been around forever!). I really felt like I had the inside scoop on the college experience and while attending UT, I frequently visited the place, even after it became a BBQ joint.

The beauty of Ruby’s is that it hasn’t changed much over the last 20 years. And, unless you’re in the “cool’ crowd of belly dancers you wouldn’t know that every other Thursday in the fall and spring, groups of belly dancers and socialists gather together to share a bite of food, some stories and many laughs. Now, granted we do sit at separate tables…and you can usually tell us apart (the sparkles and glitter are a dead give away)…but nonetheless it feels like a group experience to me! For those of you who haven’t joined in the fun, just come to a show and come join us afterwards (they even have great vegetarian entrees) and see for yourself.

I'll see you soon

Najla (I can smell the brisket from here!)

August 29, 2007

Believe Your Eyes

As we enter our 32nd year of performances (yes, guys…it’s been that long), I’ve been reflecting on what Mirage represents to the dancers in the troupe and the community as a whole. My intention behind this Blog to is to share some of the stories, experiences and insights into Austin’s belly dance community from the “Mother of all venues”, Mirage. You can even expect to hear from some guest "bloggers" amongst the troupe who have great tips, insights and stories to tell as well.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, Mirage began in 1975 as a showcase for Shirley Schlarr’s students. At the time, this was the only regular venue and featured dancers on a weekly basis. I would argue that a majority of dancers here in Austin either got their hips wet on the Mirage stage…or at least, their instructors did. Either way, if you want to trace the roots of belly dance in Austin just step into the Texas Union Showroom.

Although dancers have moved in and out of the troupe over the years, one thing has remained. Mirage has been Austin’s Belly Dance Showcase for over three decades. It is open to all styles, all levels and all stages of a dancer’s career and will always represent a nurturing, welcoming and fun environment for dancers to shimmy their stuff.

I'm excited because we’ve got some new things in store this semester, beginning with a new look for our stage, and a new look for our website (coming really soon, I promise). This is all due to some diligent Mirage elves who have been designing, sewing and shopping (and programming) this summer. So, don't miss our first show on September 6, at 7:30 p.m. so you can see our handiwork and then mark your calendar for fabulous shows every other Thursday!

In October, we have a treat planned when Mirage doesn't do Mirage...but let's someone else do it instead (you'll have to stay tuned for more on that) and we're capping off the year with a visit from everyone's favorite Middle Eastern Lounge singer, Mahmoud Velveeta. I promise your holiday memories won't be the same after this show.

Happy Shimmies,