September 27, 2009

What I Did on Summer Vacation

Whew, long...long time in posting. Life's been busy and very tumultuous. So, here's the short list on what I did this summer.
  1. Rushed from the end of Mirage season into workshops, performances and teaching.
  2. Decided spur of the moment to get some professional pics taken, and then decided to make a new costume in less than 10 days.
  3. Realized that my belly dancing rut had more to do with life in general and decided it may be time to make some changes, big changes.
  4. Decided I wanted to take a sabbatical from Mirage in the fall, and re-group.
  5. Discovered the Artist's Way and realized it may just be what I needed to restart my creative juices.
  6. Found an Artist's Way group starting the book in September...and joined them.
  7. Was invited to join Bahaia and Stacey Lizette in a twice a year student recital, that we named "The Hip Circle Hafla" in which performances would be limited to our students.
  8. Joined forces with Jamie Lynn to create a one-day costume workshop to teach people how to make and alter cabaret-style costumes.
  9. Announced to Mirage that I would be taking a sabbatical...interesting and enlightening conversations ensued, then...
  10. Decided to quit the troupe after 8.5 years as a member.

I felt like I ended a long-term relationship when I wasn't quite ready to make that change. I cried, I felt alone...and then I felt inspired and invigorated. When I started this blog I intended to have stories beyond just reviews of the show. How ironic, that now it is really about me finding out who I am as a dancer outside of Mirage.

Mirage was the place I got my 'hips' wet, performed my first solos, directed my first choreographies, was given the opportunity to teach, and above all else, the honor of meeting and dancing with so many wonderful women. Now, I get to learn if I am more than just a member of the troupe. How fitting this blog title now seems!

Fall Classes are Beginning!

Come discover the art of belly dancing with Najla with beginner or intermediate classes. Najla has been performing Middle Eastern dance for over 12 years, teaching since 2001 and performs regularly in Austin. Both the Beginner and Intermediate level classes include a 30 minute drill/warm-up, a 15 minute stretch and 45 minutes of technique, combinations or choreography (depending upon the topic).

Classes are held in central Austin at Tarrytown Dance, which is conveniently located at Windsor and Exposition. (2414 Exposition Blvd., Suite B-110 Austin, Texas 7703)

Class rates are $15 drop-in, or $12 a class if purchasing more than one class at time. Fall series begins September 27, 2009!
  • Beginner Classes: A perfect way to start your shimmies, or brush up on fundamental techniques. This fall in additional to working on basic belly dance moves, we’ll be exploring Middle Eastern rhythms and working with zils (finger cymbals). No previous experience required. Sundays, 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Intermediate Classes: Continue to explore this dance form and learn improvisational skills and solo techniques. This fall we’ll be exploring taqsims (instrumental solos), solo improvisation and veil work. Sundays, 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The Art of Costuming

Ever wonder how to make or alter those fabulous and sparkly cabaret costumes? Or, do you wonder how to get bras and belts to fit and flatter your figure just perfectly? Well, come join myself and the wonderful Jaime Lynn of San Marcos for an afternoon workshop on October 10, 2009.

This interactive, hands-on workshop focuses on the design, construction and history of belly dance costuming. Join us and create your own Bedlah-style bra and belt set, and learn what style looks best on you. The workshop will cover the following topics:

  • Introduction to the History of Belly dance
  • Costuming and Styles
  • Aspects of Basic Design
  • 3 hours of guided construction (you will need to supply your own materials and bra base
  • One-on-One Technical Help
  • Trouble Shooting" (bring in your "trouble projects "for a little guidance!)

Taught by:

Austin' s own "Najla" who has been designing and making her own costumes for 12 years. Her attention to detail and style makes her a creative costumer. And in dance circles, she's even known as the 'bra whisperer'!

Jamie Lynn Shelton-With her MFA in Art and Design, she has been designing and creating artworks for over 20 years. From Fine Jewelry to stained glass to custom iron works, she now creates and makes her own belly dance costumes.

Workshop will be held at Tarrytown Dance from 1pm-5pm.2414 Exposition Blvd , Suite B-110 Austin, Texas 78703Price is $45 in advance or $55 at the door. We will happily accept checks or cash. Please email Najla( or Jamie (zahiraishtari@ for more details and payment info. Additional information on what to bring will be provided to those who sign up. Space is limited so we can spend qualitytime with everyone, so sign up early!

July 21, 2009

Problems with Posing

The last week has been a whirlwind. I completed a costume for a photo shoot I had lined up and that alone seemed like a race to the finish line. The photo shoot was an impulse event spurred on solely by the fact that a really wonderful dance photographer was going to be in Austin for a couple of days only. Pixie is her name, and very cool photos are her game.

I knew I had less than ten days to get everything ready to go. Although I knew I couldn't lose 20 pounds in that time, I wanted to feel completely confident and fabulous. The costume was more work than expected but came out wonderfully. I tried waxing my underarms for the first time (ungodly painful....but actually worth it), did my nails (which means I can't type fast right now), and even practiced eye make up applications several times.

I spent so much time working on the logistics I forgot about the emotional and physical sides of this. I've done shoots before but they were much more posed and choreographed. Imagine my surprise then when she wanted me to move more, but not in the way I was used to dancing. Every little nuance that would work on stage looked really bad on film, which now explains why my dance photos rarely turn out!

Between her barking out instructions and my mind rushing to interpret them, somewhere along the way my self-confidence and ego were just shattered. I felt overwhelmed, stiff, uncomfortable and awkward. Even my hands didn't know how to behave! I'm known for my graceful hand and arm movements but apparently they took the day off. It was an incredibly long hour and I truly felt stripped, exposed and not very joyful.

That one hour taught me more about where I need to improve as a dancer than any workshop I've ever attended. It was such a hard lesson to learn and not at all what my ego was expecting this week. She wanted joy, but I fell short. She wanted smouldering, and I fizzled. She wanted warrior and I wimped out. She wanted confidence and grace and I had none. In the end I felt like I had run a marathon without the endorphin rush.

I did learn that what translates on stage doesn't always translate to photos. You can make grand sweeping gestures, flick your hair or dazzle people with spins, however one on one with a camera those moves don't matter, they don't count and they don't work. I learned yesterday that I hide behind a variety of moves in my dance that may not always serve me well. So, my work is to let go of them, explore different movement and really assess how I want to be perceived as a dancer.

In the meantime, I do have some lovely photos to enjoy. I walked away with over 200 photos taken, about 35 that I'm pondering, and I'll end up with 12-15 that will be edited for publicity purposes. So, there were moments where I triumphed, where I hit the mark, where I was completely in the moment but it sure took a lot of work to get there!

July 15, 2009

Moving along...

Well, I have five days left in my quest to make a costume in time for a photo shoot. Although it doesn't seem like I'm very far along, I do believe I'm over the hump. Personally, I think the bra construction is really time consuming in order to get a good fit. Once that is done and it's covered, then the decorating can begin. I really should have starting taking pictures from the beginning, but here are a couple of shots so you can see the behind the curtain. The first one is just the back of the bra strap. This, along with the inside of the bra will be lined with felt (so you can sweat in it) at the very end. I tried to make my corner as neat as possible.

Here's the insider of the bra. I just happened to find a pink bra (maybe that was a sign) but really, it could have been any color you just need to worry about shape and fit. The original straps and elastic on the sides have been replaced by buckram and grosgrain ribbon, covered in fabric and then stitched down. Not so pretty on the inside, but very functional. I've also made numerous adjustments to the fit at this stage of the game because it's much harder to do once you've covered it.

The infamous beading? Well, here it is in this photo. The color is a little wonky on the close up but you can see the trim. This is going around the edges of the bra, belt and arm cuffs. The bra, including all edges and lines was about 120 inches of beading. The beads are in sets of six sitting on top of each other in a semi-herringbone pattern. By my calculations, I used over 5,000 seed beads to complete the bra. The belt won't take nearly as much!

Here's a shot of the trim that will be going on the costume. I'm not beading the entire thing, but I have loads of these chains. They are actually rhinestone belts that I snatched up on sale at Kohl's last year (go figure). My plan was to finish adding them to the bra tonight, but I can't seem to find my pliers so that may be tomorrow's plan.

In the meantime, I got my skirt fixed (thanks D'Anne) and received my L-Rose arm bands and belt I'll use on my base. Those should be easy to get through hopefully. Finally, in the absence of trying to bead, I worked on my technique for drawing leopard spots on myself. There's certainly a plan here (not related to the photos), and it's quite fun. In fact, this is the first time I could really imagine myself with a tattoo...hmmm...

Next posts should have some really cool bra photos and perhaps a semi-finished costume!

July 12, 2009

Counting to six

In an over exuberant moment I decided a few days ago to start on a new costume to wear at a photo shoot scheduled for July 20. It's an impulsive decision, and my right arm is stiff from sewing beads. I feel like this a race to the finish line, and I just hope I make it.

I've written about being in a dance funk, but I haven't written much about the happy things in my life. Among them, a shorter, brighter, sassier hair cut, wonderful dance plans for my students (and myself) this fall, and a professional photoshoot with an amazing artist!

I've wanted photos for quite awhile so when I learned this last week that Pixie was coming to Austin I knew it was time. I've never met her personally but I've seen her dance photos of other dancers and I'm just blown away by her work. She seems to really capture the personality and beauty of each woman. Besides, who wouldn't love someone named Pixie????
Although I have several back up cabaret options, I really wanted something different, something new. I did a little online shopping but didn't really see what I wanted (in a price I was willing to spend right now). Then, I thought about the supplies for a fuchsia costume that have been sitting in my closet for over a year now, and now I'm off on this mad frenzy. For a gal who shunned pink most of her life, I'm feeling quite obsessed about it right now.

I ordered upper arm cuffs and base for the belt from L-Rose on Thursday (because they have matching velvet fabric) and had them do a rush shipment. (Which they no extra cost...yeah!). Friday after the Patsy's show I went bra shopping and found a new base for the bra, tore it apart and reconstructed it in one evening. Saturday I covered the bra in charmeuse satin and velvet ribbon and began beading.

Today (Sunday) I'm still beading, and in fact have spent way too many hours counting out tiny glass seed beads in sets of six just to make the correct edging. If I make it through the next week I'll have a fabulous new costume and no feeling in my right arm. Wish me luck.

P.S. Here's a photo of the bra as of Sunday afternoon, around 4ish. If I can move my arm tomorrow, I'll check back in with everyone.

July 10, 2009

Funk Update

I've posted off and on this last year about feeling like I'm in a dance funk, and in the recent months I've been working on how to get out of that funk and on to to other things. I've realized several things in the process. First is I've been performing way too much given all the other things going on in my life. I work a full-time job, teach 2-3 classes a week, take 2-3 martial arts classes a week...and oh, then there's the laundry. On top of all of that, I've been performing 20-30 times a year.

Most of the performances haven't been strategically planned, they just get scheduled or rather I get asked to dance, or I think 'how fun' that would be. For many dancers, this would be wonderful and exciting, but I really have moved beyond the phase where I feel that I should dance at every possible opportunity into a phase of selective solos.

That being said, I've got a solo planned tonight at Patsy's Cowgirl Cafe. Yeah, don't laugh...this is Texas. It's a quirky little place that I haven't danced at since last November when I had a really nasty stomach virus (not related to the restaurant) hit me literally less than an hour after dancing. It's a fun venue and you get to eat queso after dancing!

But, here I am still at work trying to get in the mood. And, after deciding this summer I would no longer put myself in this position, I'm actually a little miffed at myself. I've been working so diligently on my 'plan' for this fall to get back in the groove and focus more on my creative energies, my dancing and myself and this one just isn't fitting in.

My biggest dilemma for the evening? What to wear and what to dance to. Here's the TMI portion of the post: I haven't shaved my underarms and don't want to because I want to get them waxed next week (which is big news for a woman who's always shaved). I have a couple of more casual/fusion outfits with sleeves that would be perfect for the venue, but I'm not feeling the fusion-y dance vibe. I've been feeling very cabaret classic lately. So I may just go with the more traditional song and less traditional outfit, 'cause I'm thinking the cowgirls may not know the difference :-)

June 28, 2009

If Emily Post had learned to belly dance

I've realized that over the years I've accumulated a great deal of belly dance knowledge and etiquette. Maybe it's a sign of me growing older, but I'm often disappointed or even worse, shocked at some dancer's behavior in and about town. I consider myself the Switzerland of the local belly dance scene. I get along with most everyone, I can be invited to almost any event, and I don't start any wars!

So, in the spirit of neutrality and with the hopes of providing some nuggets of information or resources to newer dancers, I've decided to start my own, "Dear Najla" column. I posted recently some tips about attending a workshop but now I'm the process of working on several posts about dancing at events, getting invitations to perform and being a gracious guest or dancer. Don't even get me started about costuming issues either...we could spend sooo much time talking about how regular bras are not dance bras. (I'll save that one for later).

For you the reader, I hope you enjoy. If you have any topics or suggestions you'd like me to take a stab at or have pet peeves you'd like addressed, leave me a comment. But be nice, be like Switzerland.

June 24, 2009

In honor of Judd's pants

Cottonwood Heights Elementary---late 70's---Salt Lake City, Utah---Fifth grade---Judd Adams. I know we all have those geeky awkward stages of our lives that we'd like to forget but show up through family scrapbooks or now, Facebook posts. I don't need a photo however to recall Judd Adams' pants. They were made out of that dark navy, fake blue jean stretch fabric that was such a rage in those days. Judd's particular pants had extra wide bell-bottoms with red, white and blue flag fabric inserted into the flair on the side. By themselves the pants would have been quite a sight, but on Judd who was very tall, and gangly at that age they seemed to only accentuate his long, angular lines. Now whether or not Judd loved these pants or just didn't have many wardrobe options we may never know but I do remember he wore them quite often.

Now, when I started belly dancing we didn't wear pants, unless they were the harem style. However, with the influence of tribal, fusion and goth styles and the popularity of Melodia-style pants, belly dancers everywhere traded in their requisite chiffon circle skirt for flared or bell bottom pants. Initially I resisted, especially because of my memories of Judd's pants and the fear of looking ridiculous at my age. But I did give in and became very fond of the way these pants flatter and fit all shapes and sizes. Now, my dance wardrobe is not complete without them.

Some of my all-time favorite flare leg pants come from Brandy Bollin with Tribal Evolution in Dallas. I wear them when teaching, and for some of my fusion performances. I was saddened to hear at the Austin Belly Dance Convention that she was taking a break from making the pants. (Okay, I was sad until I found out they were all on sale for $20 each, woo hoo!!!) So, despite my plans for other purchases that weekend I spent a large majority of the weekend in the bathroom trying on every conceivable pair of pants that may fit me and walked away with a nice new stash.

There was one pair I just could not add to the pile. They were dark, heavy, navy-blue stretch fabric and the only difference between these pants and Judd's was the lack of a flag fabric insert. I tried them on several times, but kept putting them in the reject pile. All I could see looking in the mirror was that tall, awkward kid from my past wearing those goofy pants. On the last day, at the last minute, I gave in. In a spontaneous gesture I picked them up, and purchased them simply because I couldn't let such a good deal pass me by.

I'm happy to say I now love my pants, and they may become my staple while teaching classes. I'd also like to think that somewhere right now Judd is telling his kids or friends about these super-cool pants he had in elementary school but still misses to this day. So Judd, wherever you are...I'm keeping the memory alive...but in a much more attractive form!

June 7, 2009

Post-Workshop Additions

Okay, I'm awfully tired and sore...but very happy after a long weekend of dancing, drinking, socializing and classes. All in all, good stuff. However, while it's on my mind I thought of something else should be including on my top ten list. Don't forget to pack the Advil, Ibuprofin or any other related drugs to help you with muscle soreness, headaches or late nights dancing and drinking really cheap booze. If you're really planning ahead you can add an extra toothbrush and jammies to help out that roommate you weren't expecting. Your dance friends will appreciate your generosity!

I'll do my best to post more about the Austin Belly Dance Convention later on...after a little recovery time.

June 1, 2009

Najla’s Top Ten Tips for Belly Dance Workshops

Workshops have always been a part of my dance education, and I have been lucky to take from amazing dancers over my career. I originally prepared this list for my students last year, and I’m dusting it off, changing a couple of items and sharing it with the rest of the community in honor of this year’s Austin Belly Dance Convention. If you have any other suggestions to add, please feel free to comment!

1. Clothing:

  • Wear comfortable work out clothes that you would normally wear to a class, but stay away from anything too “costume-y”. We all know you’re proud of your new skirt/pants/choli top, but a class is for learning. Save the cute outfits and costumes for the shows and performances. Seriously, I’ve seen cabaret style belts worn in class, and there is nothing attractive or exotic about that.
  • Think in terms of layers. Pack clothing that is easy to take off and on depending upon the intensity of the class, and the temperature of the room. Air conditioning in hotels and conference centers is often too cold. Its fine when you are working and sweating, but not so good if you cool down too fast.
  • Speaking of sweating, if you sweat a lot consider bringing an extra top or t-shirt to change into as well as a towel to help keep you fresh! Your neighbors will greatly appreciate your thoughtfulness on this one.
  • Bring something to wear over your work out gear when you go to lunch. Advertising for belly dance shows is good, but dancers with bare and/or sweaty tummies eating lunch…not the same.

2. Footwear:

  • Consider slipping some dance shoes, ballet slippers or socks into your bag. Hotel ballrooms are not always feet friendly, or the carpets are not fabulous to sit or walk on.
  • Bring a pair of sandals or flip flops to slip into if you need to run out to the bathroom or hall quickly.
  • Remember to stretch your calves, hamstrings and feet regularly. If your feet hurt too much, you can’t dance. So take care of them!

3. Accessories:

  • If you love hip scarves with coins, don’t forget to also bring one that is decorated with fringe or beads and much more quiet. Some instructors may not want everyone in class wearing noisy scarves, and others may be perfectly fine with that. Be prepared for either option. I usually go the quiet route because it takes up less space in my dance bag.
  • Pack a veil and zils, regardless of what the fliers indicate. It’s the belly dance motto where you should always be prepared, except in our case it’s usually something shiny or silky that we have to pull out!

4. Hydration and Nourishment:

  • Bring your own water; preferably in a reusable container (let’s not forget the environment!). There is usually water available but the line may be long and it’s just easier to have your own stash.
  • Think about dropping some Gatorade or Propel/fitness water packets into your bag. I always have a couple in my dance and workout bags if I want something with electrolytes for my water.
  • Bring snacks or fruit to nibble on during short breaks or if you feel a little lightheaded. Workshops tend to run much longer than regular classes do and unless you’re prepared for three hours of physical activity it can take a toll on your body. But if you do have to stop for a snack, be discrete!

5. Respect:

  • Workshops are a great opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people. Be open to new ideas and opinions in and out of class. You may be the self-proclaimed expert on all forms of hip drops, but if you’re not teaching that day, let the instructor explain it her own way.
  • Be on time. Yes, I know that workshops often start late but that does not mean you should presume they will. Show up when and where you’re supposed to out of respect for the instructor and fellow workshop participants.
  • Be flexible. Schedules change, show line ups may vary, life don't be too married to a schedule/date/dancer or topic.
  • Keep talking and chatting to a minimum. I know, it’s all very exciting and lots of fun especially when you get to hang out with fellow dancers. However, don’t talk during class even with the vendors sitting on the side. Believe me; it’s incredibly distracting and annoying!
  • Be aware of other dancers during class. This means not hogging the space on the front row or believing that you can use as much dance space as you would like. It may be crowded, and hard to see the instructor at times, so work together, share the space and be gracious.
  • Pay attention to any signs about taking photos or videos. With all the advances in technology, it's easy to take the shortcut and make your own clips from the weekend. However, it's considered very poor taste professionally and artistically to take videos and photos on your own, when the workshop promoter and instructors have explicitly asked you not to. Believe me, this is a close knit community and we all know how to use Google and YouTube!

6. Shopping:

  • Bring extra cash for food, and for things that may catch your eye. That being said, most things at belly dance events will catch your eye, that’s the intention, so think of spending budgets!
  • Think in terms of key items that you really need to help build your dance wardrobe. Then leave room for impulse items. Some of my favorite items were bought on impulse, but I’ve also regretted the times I did not buy the ‘key items’ first. Be strategic, and then you can go wild!
  • Talk with vendors to learn what they stock on a regular basis. They may not have what you want sitting on a table, but they may have it sitting and home ready to be shipped off to you! One of my favorite veils was acquired this way. I saw someone looking at it, and assumed it was the only one. When I asked the vendor he said he had another one at home and it was shipped to me in days! Yeah!!!
  • Try on costumes during breaks. Don’t wait until you’re ready to buy to start figuring what styles, shapes and colors work best on you. Vendors are usually happy to let you try things on (be nice though), and you never know when you’ll fall in love with something unexpected.

7. Information Overload:

  • Everyone gets overwhelmed by all the information, moves and materials. Best advice is to try and take 1-2 things away from a class that resonate with you and you can work on.
  • Don't stress too much (some people try to write everything down, etc.), and enjoy the opportunity to try some different styles.

8. Learning new moves:

  • It’s okay to sit out a portion of a class if you’re feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. You can learn things from watching as well, just be respectful of those who are still taking the class.
  • If you’re struggling with particular moves, don’t worry. Although you can ask clarifying questions during class, keep in mind that the instructors are not there to teach you everything in this dance form.
  • Let your own individual teacher help you with the more involved technique questions when you get back to class. That is their job!
  • Give your body a break. It takes months to internalize any new movement. Don’t expect to learn technique in one or two days.

9. Networking:

  • Talk with other dancers, instructors and vendors during breaks. Workshops are wonderful opportunities to meet people you'll run into time and time again!
  • Find out what inspires and motivates other women in this dance form. You may find some interesting ideas for yourself.
  • Exchange numbers and emails. It's wonderful to find new friends in this community.

10. Enjoyment:

  • Relax and enjoy the weekend.
  • You can "enjoy"the experience, but be careful of enjoying it a little too much. Hangovers and dehydration don’t look that attractive in a Sunday morning workshop.
  • That being said, a glass of wine, good friends and a great show are always wonderful ways to spend the weekend!

May 6, 2009

Start Packing Early

Okay, for the early birds among all of you dear readers, here is the Fall 2009 Mirage schedule, hot off the presses (or email actually). Now you have no excuse for being absent at any upcoming shows, right?

Sept 10, 2009
Sept 24, 2009
Oct 8, 2009
Oct 22, 2009
Nov 5, 2009
Nov 19, 2009
Dec 3, 2009

May 3, 2009

Glow versus Sweat

There's an adage that women don't sweat, we perspire or glow. Well, I hate to ruin the illusion, but we do sweat and this last weekend was a prime example! It all started with a two and a half hour martial arts class in the park Saturday morning. Next I moved onto errands, running around and heading home to rest, shower and get ready for a show that night. My students and I were performing at Desert Passion's monthly show and even at home practicing it took forever for the house and myself to cool off. Unfortunately the trend continued at the show where the combination of a large crowd and air conditioning that wasn't working well created the equivalent of a sauna. Even my veil seemed soaking wet and took extra effort to move.

Thankfully during the group cane number I didn't lose my grip and whack some poor audience member...although the people sitting close to the stage were a little nervous! Here's a picture of me with my beautiful girls who make up my student troupe, Baharat. And no, it's not the shine of a camera lens or extra glitter...we really were past the glowing stage and I, at a minimum was quite drippy. The lovely Tiffany is in turquoise, Alejandra in red (I know, it looks pink here...but it is really red), and Malika in fabulous fuchsia.

Side note, fabulous shiny holographic metalskin costumes look great on stage but don't all!

Sunday was no different on the sweat-front as I spent the day on a marathon teaching tour. I left a little after 11:00 a.m. and didn't return until close to 9 p.m. I was subbing for two of Sherry's classes in addition to my two. Between the hip drills, shimmies, veil work and drum solos of the day there was a lot of sweating on my part. The good news is a quick shower will clean me up...bad news is there will be several Austin ladies who wake up quite sore tomorrow (sorry!) and probably cursing the name of Najla!

This week hopefully will be less sweaty, but equally as fun. We have our last Mirage show of the semester, which always feels a little bittersweet. It's like the end of the school year and you're equally excited with the time off from classes but also know you'll miss the class mates. Good thing we still see each other frequently...including a couple of road trips this summer.

April 15, 2009

Come Discover the Art of Belly Dancing

Many believe that belly dancing dates back to the dawn of time when sisters, mothers, aunts, daughters and friends celebrated events through music and movement. Although many people believe this dance form is about enticing men, the truth is that belly dancing past and present has always focused on women dancing for women. It is about building community, forging relationships and connecting to yourself in a way that other exercise and dance programs cannot do.

Belly dancing encourages and embraces all sizes, shapes and ages of women. Regardless of who you are, you are in the perfect shape to learn belly dance. This dance incorporates strength, flexibility, grace, and muscle control with beautiful music and rhythms in a fun, supportive environment.

So, if you'd like to learn more about taking belly dance classes in the Austin area, check out my class schedule.

Happy Shimmies!

April 11, 2009

Baharat Belly Dance Ensemble

Baharat is a term used to describe a blend of Arabic spices. When I was looking for a word or phrase to describe my student troupe, the term seemed to fit just perfectly. They are a mixture of sweetness and sass, and their enthusiasm and love of this dance is just contagious. The troupe consists of students in my Intermediate level class which meets on Sunday evenings. Attendance in the class is mandatory for troupe participation, and class time is spent working on choreographies, technique, solo preparation as well as improvisational skills. If you wish to attend the class but don't want to perform, you can certainly do that as well!

In January, 2010 Baharat Dance Ensemble debuted as a collaborative venture that includes my current intermediate students and guest dancers. This mix of dancers from the community allows me to bring in talented dancers to round out performances and allows my students to work with other lovely ladies. So, look for more events this upcoming year!

March 31, 2009

Will shimmy for shoes

Tonight in class I had the opportunity to turn back time, and revel in the joy and enthusiasm of being a freshman in college. One of my students brought two friends along...and after I learned they didn't have a ride home (they were going to wait for a cab), I offered them a lift back to campus. Of course, I had to force one of them to sit up front so I didn't feel like their mom, and they were very quiet and well behaved on the way home...but nonetheless I felt that glimmer of giddiness and joy that we all had when we first left home and headed out into the world.

We talked about how hard some of their classes were (okay they talked, I listened) and I became excited to find out they had been taking Italian. Seriously, I dream of going to Italy just to be romanced by hot Italian men who chase me around shouting 'bella, bella'. And amongst, the chasing I get to eat loads of fabulous pasta, drink hedonistic amounts of wine and then shop for shoes.

When I told them how I dream of those shoes but probably couldn't afford all the ones I wanted, the three girls suggested I could belly dance on a street corner to earn extra money. Literally, shimmy for my shoes. One of them even suggested I could use a extra bra as a place for tips. So, now I'm even more distracted as I think of how my 'cups could runneth over' and in exchange score me some hot Italian heels. It's such a lovely thought, wrong in so many ways, but still just as lovely :-)

March 13, 2009

Connecting to joy

Sometimes we forget at time how much this dance form touches, uplifts and transforms women of all ages. I certainly cannot imagine who I would be today with the dance and the music. Maybe my closet would be a little less shiny, perhaps I’d have a little less credit card debt but I have no doubt I wouldn’t have as many moments of joy and utter happiness.

Last night at the show, one of the guests performed her first solo on our stage. She’s been dancing for several years and has taken from a variety of instructors in town. However, I was her first instructor through UT’s Informal Class program. Every time I see her at belly dance events I’m tickled that she’s stuck with it so long and works so hard at this art.

We were talking at one point and she confided that this dance has been such a boost in her life. I didn’t know until last night that at the time she first started taking classes from me, she was going through a very difficult time in her life. And, the only time she felt happy was in that class, for those few hours and those few weeks.

I was certainly touched, and very impressed that’s she’s come so far. But, I’m not that surprised at her reaction. I think that as women we can become disconnected to our real spirits, our souls and ourselves. If we’re given the chance to let go of distractions and frustrations and focus on moving our bodies in a safe and supportive environment than we can open ourselves to joy…even if it is fleeting. It’s not a matter of disappearing into the music and movement but rather connecting to it on a deeper level. And, if we’re lucky we can take that experience and bring it into other parts of our lives. So, here’s to joy, happiness and lots of shimmies!

March 12, 2009

Someone should read her own blog!

Now I'm laughing, really laughing. I just wrote about feeling moody before the show and then went out to the blog to see the post. The funny thing is the last time I posted I mentioned I was moody as well! And, I'm not all that moody of a person, I'm usually upbeat.

So, grousing and griping aside...I'm officially working myself to the pumped up and excited phase. In fact, I may skip out of work early just to devote extra effort to that endeavor.

I'll blame it on the weather

After our brief foray in spring and summer temperatures (we're talking 80's here), we're now back to the dreary cold (okay 40's and 50's) and rain. I'm not too excited about the gray skies, but since central Texas is in a drought, I'll take the rain. However, for reasons we could not predict, we're down to half of the troupe for our show tonight. That's right...out of eight dancers we have four that will dance tonight. Thankfully we've got four guests scheduled as well so I'm not scrambling this afternoon trying to find people to dance on short notice. The irony of it all is I thought about not going to the show.

I've been in a little bit of a dance funk lately, and I've been busy and preoccupied with many other things. I rarely miss shows, and the last time I chose not to dance but just come watch I was regretting the decision immediately and dancing in my chair. This week, I couldn't come up with any good reason to sit out the performance so I figured that some time between leaving the house and 7:30 p.m. I would start feeling inspired. And as much as I love dancing, some times it's a bit of drudgery.

However, it probably has less to do with the idea of dancing and is more related to the obligation of being somewhere at a set time. The good news is that with fewer dancers tonight I can do a little longer song. So right now, I'm going a little moody with one of my favorite numbers Bitswanna Beek. It's that odd length, too long for six-minute sets we usually try to stick to, and too short for longer performances in other venues that require 8-10 minutes. And even though I just groused a little about going somewhere to dance, I know I'll really enjoy the show because this music makes me feel a little languid, a little loungy, and more than just a little sultry ;-)

February 4, 2009

Feeling moody

Or perhaps just waiting to feel the right mood, or at least a song to match the mood. Although I love having a regular dance venue, I often find myself waiting until the last minute to make a decision on song and costume. Now, I do practice at home and I do think about songs and performances, so I'm not completely unprepared. For me, when I have more than one option from which to choose, I try to wait until the right mood strikes.

For example, I had planned on doing a sword number for quite a while. I have a couple of song options, but still hadn't decided on the costume. Last weekend I danced at Kick Butt Coffee with Z-Helene and Rick Fink. It's a monthly gig they have, with live drummers and completely improv dancing. In fact, the second half of the show consists of audience members calling out a 'theme' for you to interpret with another dancer. Zanjabil (from Mirage) and I had to deal with 1) tigresses in the mist; 2) battle of the redheads; 3) spontaneous combustion; 4)something else I forgot...all at once. We had a running dialogue during the dance that went something like this:

Me: Are we tigresses yet?
Zanj: I think we're dueling
Me: Is it time for spontaneous combustion????
Zanj: Maybe...

It was loads of fun and really makes you think on your feet. For the first half however, I wanted to do's been on my list for a while, and I really want to explore dancing to sword in a close, tight, space...and all improvisation. I did sword however, and it was all improv and the drumming was much faster than I anticipated. There were several problems with my performance. 1) the drumming was soooo much faster than I anticipated; 2) my hair was way too slippery that night; and 3) I was too stubborn to just give up, put the sword down and move on. I know, one of the first rules of using props is to not fight it...if the prop doesn't want to play, just move on...but, unfortunately I didn't. In fact I tried even harder to do choo-choo shimmies, rib work, and balance the sword...all at once. Can't say that I was very proud in the end!

So hot off the heels of that performance (and I even had students in the audience, yikes!) I planned on doing sword again this week, just to redeem myself. The problem is, I'm not in the mood. I'm feeling quite cabaret today and feel the need for some sparkles and girliness. A little less dangerous, but at times...oh so wonderful!

So come join all of us at Mirage this Thursday (Feb. 5) for our second show of the season. The first one was such a blast...I'll try to get photos again and post them, but I may be distracted by the rhinestones ;-)

January 24, 2009

Family slide show

If you think about all the time we spend together as dancers, we really are an extended family, one that grew a lot last year. So, just pretend you came over for dinner, we've finished dessert and I'm bringing out slides of the family vacation. Thanks to Valerie for the lovely shots, and if you missed the show just know that we had wayyy too much fun without you, hah! We were missing Dana Winn this week (sigh), but she'll be back in February after finishing some work related training...remember, we are beautiful and smart and we have to work at both constantly! Without further ado, our first foray into the spring 2009 season:

Part of the troupe performing our opener (and yes, Eva Tennessee was feeling particularly fabulous!). We did this number (half choreo, half improv) last semester and decided to give it one more try. The goal is to look specific times. We're still working on that one though ;-)

The entire gang at the end of the number, and for the astute reader you'll notice that I did lose my veil wrap early on. For the creative ones in the group, just imagine hot pink, four-yard silk. It was stunning...and you should imagine it the same way.

The beautiful Katarina opened the show performing her first official 'duet' (wink, wink). She normally does very percussive, drum-solo pieces but was actually feeling much more lyrical last night. Hmmm...wonder why...could it be that fabulous glow she's sporting these days? We can't wait to meet the new kitten this spring and introduce her to the stage as well.

Zanjabil did a wonderful performance incorporating floor work (intentional this time), veil and some great combinations at the end. I can't believe it's just been one year since she joined the troupe...our baby has grown up (sniff, sniff) and looking so smokin' hot!

Then it was time for me, and I decided at the last minute to perform a cane number. What are some of the rules you shouldn't break when performing? Try dancing to a song you don't know really well, with a prop that is new, in a costume you haven't worn before. Well I 'went rogue' and just broke all of them in one fell swoop! Oddly enough this is the only pic where I'm not laughing out loud. Apparently the whole situation kept me amused while dancing. Can't wait to see this video!

Our first guest of the evening was one of my intermediate students (you'll probably recognize the veil). I was soooo proud of Tiffany because she decided on Sunday (yes, four days before the show) to perform...impromptu...and with veil. Major kudos because this was her second solo ever, and the first one was entirely choreographed. I think she was secretly waiting for the chance to try out her new turquoise holographic costume because that's not something you can pull off at work...or even cocktail parties.

Sherry brought out the sex kitten charm again, wearing one of her (and our) favorite costumes. Funny thing is, I remember when she joined the troupe and we all suggested she accessorize we can't stop the glitz and glam on her (and would not dare!). Who says engineers aren't hot????

Nisaba always charms the crowd with her enthusiasm (and usually zils). I'm loving her new hair style which is a little hard to see in this photo but very sassy and cute in person!

Alana Shea performed as our second guest, and it was appropriate since this was her second solo on our stage. Her style is a wonderful fusion of various dance forms combined with some really beautifully athletic and graceful movements. We'll certainly have to see her on our stage again soon!

The always beautiful Jeanette pulled out the charm and coquettish moves that she has really perfected in this dance form. And of course, no one does purple as well as she does!

Our last Mirage soloist of the evening was Eva Tennessee. She is also celebrating her one year anniversary of joining the troupe. I remember this time last year, she was so worried that her style wouldn't be traditional enough. It's taken a little coaxing (actually...not much) for her to just really do what she does best, which is 'modern belly dance'. This is what happens when someone with a modern dance background moves into belly dance, and it is pure art!

Our last guest of the evening was Rania. It's been quite a while since she joined us as a guest, because up until recently she's been a member of the troupe. It was a little bittersweet because we'll miss having her around. She's just spending more time on her dance practice and performances, and troupe practice was a tough commitment to work in. She'll still be back for more dancing and always has an open invitation to come perform at shows so don't be surprised if she pops up again (soon I hope!).

The final act of the show was a trio consisting of myself, Sherry and Zanjabil. We wanted to perform the same choreography that gave me such grief last year. I love it dearly, but it was a difficult one to work out, and I am entranced by the final result. When we get it posted on YouTube, I'll let you know. This by the way, was the same number we performed in the Middle Eastern Troupe Competition last August and won second place (we barely missed first!). Elena Lentini was one of the judges and she told us "you have found the mystery, fabulous". I could have cried with those words...Elena is so amazing and talented and it was such an honor to hear her compliments.

January 23, 2009

Parallel worlds

We started our spring semester last night, and as usual I was more concerned with packing, prepping and loading the car versus dancing. In fact, when one of my co-workers said she was going home, taking a bath, changing into sweats and then eating dinner I thought 'how wonderful' that sounded. A little later in the evening I did wonder how many women that same night were sitting at home, in their sweats, eating dinner wishing that they could be off doing something more belly dancing. I guess exotic and exciting is in the eye of the beholder ;-)

January 20, 2009

Merry Christmas Baby!

It may be a little late for a holiday greeting, but not too late to watch some of the fun we had last December at our year end show. It's become a little tradition of ours to include a special holiday belly dance number, and to give it all the serious creative energy we can put into one performance. Here's our nod at a truly, 'American Cabaret' number.

Enjoy, and don't forget our Spring season starts this Thursday at 7:30 p.m.!

January 18, 2009

If I must dance...

Here we are starting up a new year at Mirage. I think we're considering this the official 34th season. We don't know when in 1975 the first show was held but January seems a good time to turn the page and make it our anniversary. Each semester I'm in charge of booking guests at the show and normally do 2-4 guests in addition to the eight of us who perform regularly. We do about 8 shows each season, and have two official 'seasons' each year. Despite our long standing performance, it always seems that getting the first show booked is like pulling teeth, and despite my plans to have it take care of, I had one cancellation that I just couldn't seem to fill for our show this Thursday.

So tonight, I asked my intermediate students, if anyone was feeling brave enough to jump in and do an impromptu solo. Since they all love to have everything planned and choreographed in advance I wasn't surprised that no one took me up on the offer. It's nice to be prepared, but in my experience the ability to jump in with little or no notice is a great skill, and those who organize shows don't forget you! For example, for my second solo I was given a couple of hours of notice...really...not even time to wash my hair. I jumped at the opportunity because I was dying to be back on stage and it paid off in the end for me. A few months later I was asked to join Mirage and I really think my willingness paid off.

Fast forward to tonight, after I get home and open my emails. One of my students had sent me this (and she's only done one solo in her entire life...). For the record, I agreed with her first three conditions, and compromised on the fourth one. I told her she could have tap water with ice, and BBQ after the show...and she went for it. Now if all the other performers were only that easy to please!

OK, I've thought about it. If you really really really need another dancer on Thursday, I'll do it. It's 2009 - I need to take risks and do new things, right?? BUT! On the following conditions:

  1. You put me at the end of the list so if anybody else wants to do it, they can.

  2. I could dance to Lamma Bada, please? If I'm going to do some sort of improv, I know this song really well and would feel most comfortable with

  3. Maybe I can borrow one of your green or blue veils? Pretty please? OK, this is less of a condition than a request - I only have one veil and it doesn't go with my awesome turquoise outfit. But if you decline this condition, I'll be forced to buy another veil, and really, worse things have happened.

  4. My dressing room be filled with 200 white lilies, white pixie lights, 2 cases of premium champagne (no Korbel or anything like that), and a roasted camel stuffed with a roasted goat stuffed with a roasted pig stuffed with a roasted chicken stuffed with delicious oyster stuffing.

January 6, 2009

No room for a dance room

It's such a balancing act being a belly dancer (no jokes about swords now...). Although it is a major part of my life, it is not my entire life. Although it influences many things around me, where I go, who I see, how I dress, and how I live, it does not influence all of me. And so, at home, I always have that quandary where I try to make room for my dance things without them taking over the space.

I swear that when I buy a house it will have a room I can dedicate solely to my dancing. So many of my friends do that now and it's an enviable arrangement. In this space, in this house, I simply cannot afford a room that doesn't serve a dual purpose. My living room doubles as a practice space (yes, you can use the windows at night as mock mirrors), as well as a dining room...let alone it's regular purpose for living and lounging. My bedroom doubles as linen storage (under the bed, in the tiny closet recess) and a laundry room with it's entry way to the utility room and garage. My study serves as a work space, and costume storage and staging.

There are many aspects of this house that I love, with it's quirky floor plan and original hard wood floors. It's close to work and to downtown, I have a wonderful landlady, the rent is cheap (for this area), and it is quiet and quaint. The down side is the lack of room, closet and otherwise. The house was built in the 20's and the closets reflect that. On a scale of 1 to 10 on usable storage space, this house rates a 2-3, and for someone like myself who has such an active life it just sucks!

Each year I fight a constant battle of trying to clean out and reorganize my space to make everything fit. I go back and forth between the need for less things and the need for more space. This year, I've come to the conclusion that I need more things for storage and actually decided it may be time to buy another dresser for the bedroom. It may be a tight fit, but well worth the drawer space.

I'll have to find something small, yet roomy enough for all my fitness clothing. Clothing for workouts, yoga, martial arts and of course, belly dance (and I'm not talking costumes!). They all have different purposes and last night I felt like I had an epiphany when I realized that my biggest problem was not enough dedicated space for each grouping of clothing. If I do find a dresser that works, it will be the first time I have allowed the belly dance stuff to creep into another room of the house...and in this case a room with a decidedly Asian theme. We may be looking at breaking international boundaries (or at least design ones) when East meets East meets West.

January 4, 2009

Belly dance beats the c@#$ out of allergies

I know that I had willingly offered to teach class this past weekend, despite my original plans. However, I was quite a grump in the afternoon when I realized I wouldn't have a relaxing evening, but had to get up and off the couch and go teach. To say that I was less than enthused doesn't even hit the mark. I'll blame it mainly on my allergies which are really driving me crazy this past weekend. Never mind that I've been cleaning out closets and the utility room (double yuck), vacuuming rugs out on the driveway and all the while forgetting to take my allergy medicine. It couldn't be my fault that my nose is congested, running, itchy and sneezing. It wasn't my fault that I just wanted to lay on the couch all evening, right?

I grudgingly packed up my dance bag and headed out, trying all the while to mentally map out what I wanted to work on. I thought we may have a small class, but I wasn't completely sure. I've talked before about how much effort it is at times to go do dance events, but once you're there it is all worth it. Well, teaching is no exception to that rule. The closer I got to the studio the more uplifted I felt. Even if I had only one student out that night, I was excited and ready to start the year off.

This time last year, I had just started up my intermediate classes on a regular basis. We had a space to dance in that had many disadvantages and never really felt that warm and welcoming. I had picked that spot based on availability and proximity alone. After that location closed I had to look elsewhere and found the perfect new home. We have a beautiful, warm and charming dance space that is often filled with the excitement and enthusiasm of young girls and teenagers taking ballet, jazz and cheerleader classes. It's as girly as girly can get. And, on Sunday evenings we have the space all to ourselves, to behave more, hmmm womanly perhaps!

I had a nice full class, with one new student and one returning student that I haven't seen for months. We worked on incorporating breath and movement, improvisational dance, and a short choreography. We stretched, we shimmied, we butt-bounced and all the while, my nose and allergies behaved. Really, it was like Cinderella at the ball, except in my case I didn't lose the glass slipper at midnight but I did regain the stuffy nose after the evening ended. My prince may not be waiting tonight, but the Benadryl is!

Announcing "Miss January"

And the winner is...#2! She won me over with her talent portion of the competition, so yes January goal is blogging! And, so far, so good. I'll admit the bar is a little low right now, and it would be easy to just match or beat the number of posts from last year in one fell swoop. I spent so much time last year thinking about blogging, planning to blog and just not doing it.

One primary reason was that the intent of this blog was to talk exclusively about belly dancing in Austin, and focus on Mirage in general. I hesitated on many occasions to post because I wanted to talk about other things, other interests and other ideas. It didn't seem appropriate to use this blog as the vehicle for my thoughts and ideas even though I've been the sole source of information for the troupe. So, my solution? Two blogs.

Yes, let that sink in for a moment. Crazy you may say to the woman who has been unsuccessful with one blog...well, I laugh at that, and you...and myself. So, if you want to hear more about my other life, my other new year's goals and just general stuff, you'll have to join me here. Otherwise, you can stay with me here and I'll do my best to let you in on more belly dance secrets. Of course, you can read both if you really love me ;-)

By the way, if you're wondering why I don't have any belly dance items on my list of goals. That's simple...I don't need a list for the things I'm already doing. For example, I get to practice dance four days a week...for a minimum of 8 hours a week. I am so fortunate to have multiple performance opportunities, and opportunities for workshops and seminars. I also have a wonderful community of belly dance friends, performers, and students to keep me actively engaged, creatively inspired, and delightfully amused. So here's to a wonderful new year of dance and exploration!

January 3, 2009

The Plan

I wouldn't be human this time of the year if I didn't sit down and reflect upon the past year and make resolutions for the new one. Personally I've never really liked resolutions, I prefer the term 'goals'. A resolution seems very definitive, with no room for alterations whereas a goal can be modified, changed, and updated. I actually started coming up a with a list of goals in December and had a wonderful pipe dream of posting my equivalent of the '12 days of Christmas' which included my 12 goals and focus for the new year. For those of you who've checked this blog, you'll notice that they never materialized in 2008.

However, here they are, in no particular order. The plan is to work on one thing each month with the hope that it will be a habit, an integral part of my life...or just something I can check off the list. I haven't made a final decision on which one will be the poster child for January, but I have some strong front-runners for that award. I'll keep you posted on which one I choose, along with my explanations for why I chose each of these items for this year. For now, just wish me luck or let me live in my happy oblivion for just a little while longer, that is until the work and chores get the best of me!
  1. Meditate.
  2. Blog.
  3. Do the dishes (more consistently).
  4. Practice my martial arts.
  5. Put up the laundry.
  6. Make my bed.
  7. Take better care of my skin.
  8. Take better care of my feet.
  9. Clean my desk off regularly at work.
  10. Keep in touch with friends and family.
  11. Pack my lunch 1-2 times a week, and cook at home more often.
  12. Manage all my receipts.

January 2, 2009

Belly dancing makes everything better

One of my biggest accomplishments this last year was setting up a regular teaching schedule. Although I've been teaching since 2001 through Informal Classes (at the University of Texas), their schedule runs in six-week sessions. It's a great way to introduce a number of people to this dance form, but I've always wanted a place to call my own, a schedule to set on my own, and students to nurture on my own time. Despite a rocky beginning, I'm now looking forward to four classes a week...including my regular informal ones. I'm excited, but at times a little overwhelmed by the amount of work and effort it takes to really work with so many students, at different levels and varying skills.

My original plans was to take some time to regroup over the holidays, work on some new lesson plans, re-design my warm up and drills for the intermediate students and get a lot of marketing out of the way. All that, along with cleaning my house and some R&R before January hits.

However, I received this email today from one of my most dedicated students, who wasn't able to come in December due to a major car accident and subsequent injury. I knew she would be ready again this month to start dancing...but it seems like she needs this more than I need a rest. I'm not sure I can justify waiting another week, especially since I just convinced my martial arts teacher to meet me Saturday morning for some extra practicing in the park, despite his original plan to take another week off! I'm sure it's all a part of some compulsive, obsessive behavior on all our parts...or maybe just plain old fashioned passion.
"When do classes start up again? I've had a horrible holiday and I need to get some belly dancing in to fix everything. Belly dancing makes everything better!"

January 1, 2009

Dear Internet...

I know you think that by now, I've forgotten you...moved on, and found another. Well, I'm here to say that you've always been on my mind even if I haven't shown that by my actions. It's been a busy year, and I admit that I have been busy 'doing' versus 'blogging' and that you've been left behind in the process.

On this first day of the new year, I suggest that we forget past indiscretions and focus on a more fulfilling relationship in 2009. I realize that you've been the victim here, just waiting with nothing else to do...but I promise to make it up to you, invite more people over, I even redecorated a little. So, can we give it another try...pretty please?