The Trouble with Instant Gratification

This is an old tune, but one that is worth re-visiting. Every so often I sit down to read my email and receive something like this: “I’m interested in taking bellydance classes.  So, how long until I am good enough to perform?” Or, my personal favorite, “I’ve taken 6 months of classes so I need something really advanced.” Let me be clear, I don’t fault anybody for thinking this way. It is the norm in our culture to assume there is a fast-track method for becoming this or that.  There are even a few restaurants that prey on the 6 month wonders, offering them exciting performance opportunities at half the rate.  What’s the harm, right?  Wrong.  Because the rewards matter less when they are earned too easily.

cereal-instant-gratification

Last night, I had dinner with my father and he asked me what, in my opinion, makes someone a professional.  I answered, “sacrifice.”  He answered, “knowledge.”  Of course, both of these are correct, but, my answer surprised me because it was knee-jerk.  Sacrifice means driving 3 hours to take a workshop, staying up late reading articles or researching the history of a particular style, having to decline invitations to family and social events because of classes or performances.  Sacrifice is dancing with 103 fever or an injury.  It’s spending 5 months rehearsing for a 5 minute performance.  It means having an unwavering love and appreciation for this dance, even when it isn’t convenient or “rewarding” us with something other than satisfaction. And the work never stops.  We can’t suddenly stop learning just because we are paid to teach or perform.

It really isn’t possible to put a time frame on how long it takes to be a professional because this is different for everyone.  Some people immerse themselves right away, train in Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, etc. and have a natural feel for the movements.  Others are only interested in the technique and may be considered “skilled” but not necessarily knowledgeable.  And many dancers are here for the ride without needing to have the label of professional dancer.  These men and women understand the value of lifelong learning and have no goals other than to be their best.  Does someone come and strip me of my title if I stop teaching and performing but continue to train just for the love of it?  Some of the most rewarding moments of my entire dance career have occurred in the past 6 months.  The insta-bellydancers will never cry with gratitude reading beautiful words from their mentor.  They will never go deeper into a movement in a way they never thought possible after 14 years.  And lastly, they will not appreciate or explore subtlety and nuance which is a whole world of potential joy.

If we can stop looking for short-cuts and instant fixes, we can enjoy the meaningful rewards along the way.  Dedication is a virtue that makes everything better.  I’d like to share a recent example of a student of mine who was explaining why she was nervous to perform a solo.  She said, “I have so much respect and appreciation for this dance and I just want to do it justice.  I want to be sure I’m worthy enough.”  Oh Lucille, this is music to every teacher’s ears.  When we dance from a place of respect and admiration for the long history, the nuance of the music, the cultural connection, and the heart & soul, we bring our humility alog with our confidence.  This makes for a much better experience for both the dancer and the audience.  Sometimes there is no audience, and it’s just as meaningful.  I think Dr. Seuss put it best:

“Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t
Because, sometimes they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Tava is a professional bellydancer based in CT and NY.  She is available for instruction, performances (solo and group) and lectures.  To learn more, visit: BellydancebyTava.com

Tava’s Annual Evening of Bellydance

The link is up to purchase tickets for CT’s annual night of LIVE MUSIC and bellydance performances that showcase various styles and cultures.  Tava has produced this event for many years and they are a community highlight.  Sunday May 18th (2014) at 6:30PM

$25 – includes light fare, beer/wine, mini lesson, performances by students and professional dancers (including featured guest dancers).

This year’s lineup: Yasmine (NJ), Lorelie (CT), Aleathea (CT), Nahara (NY), Tava (NY & CT)

Tava’s students from Work It Dance & Fitness and Studio 44

Vending by Bling It On!

Live Music by Carmine & Friends

Purchase tickets here: http://eveningofbellydance.bpt.me/

Tava's Annual Evening of Bellydance in CT

Tava’s Annual Evening of Bellydance in CT

Photoshoot with Adrian Buckmaster

Sometimes I am down on social media for creating a false landscape of “everything is perfect.”  With everyone wanting to share their best emotions, accomplishments, filtered photos and happy occasions, it can be a place of appearance over substance.  It does, however, have its good points.  Reuniting with long lost connections, fostering community, raising awareness of important causes, networking for job search and, (as you’ll guess from the title of this post), finding talented photographers.  This is how I came to find Adrian Buckmaster’s work.

Strolling through my news feed one morning I saw some striking photos of a dear old friend that I had lost touch with until very recently.  Keep in mind, the world of bellydance photography is often very “safe” in terms of its’ need to cast a wide net and have mass appeal for potential clients.  It’s only natural that the trend would be smile and look pretty in one of the following 5 poses – it’s commercial photography with the intent of being hired.  I’ve done it myself on occasion.  In any case, this particular photographer jumped out at me for having a unique aesthetic with a lot of honesty and heart.  I wrote to my friend, told her that her photos were captivating, and asked for the photographer’s info.  I wanted to take some risks!

I am honored to have collaborated with every photographer I’ve worked with and while I have some of the “traditional” stuff, I tend to push the boundaries a bit.  I’m proud of this.  The shoot with Adrian was certainly no exception.  My objective was to be less concerned with “looking pretty” and to practice the delicate skill of revealing myself as opposed to tacking on a layer for the camera.  Adrian helped to guide me to that place.  It’s not always comfortable to go there, nor is it a skill I have mastered, but I am less interested in saying “Hi, I’m your friendly bellydancer.” I’m far more interested in saying, “This is me.”

I arrived at his studio with no makeup on (at his request).  We started the shoot this way and then it evolved — first in a simple white top and then it graduated to my most elaborate costume.  Deity Delgado did my makeup and was on hand to help with styling.  She would adjust my hair to match the feel of the lighting and costume, add a bolder lip when it was called for or added high drama for the last leg of the shoot.  They are both masters of their craft.  Sharing a project with fellow artists is the stuff I live for at this phase of my dance life.

I hope you enjoy the fruits of our labor.  Photos by AdrianBuckmaster.com with makeup/styling by Deity Delgado.

Note: If you do not have the rights to an image, do not use the image.

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photo by Adrian Buckmaster
makeup/styling by Deity Delgado & custom veil by Silkdancer.com

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photo by Adrian Buckmaster
makeup/styling by Deity Delgado

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photo by Adrian Buckmaster
makeup by Deity Delgado

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photo by Adrian Buckmaster
makeup/styling by Deity Delgado & custom veil by Silkdancer.com

photo by Adrian Buckmaster/makeup by Deity Delgado

photo by Adrian Buckmaster/makeup by Deity Delgado

 

Too Busy Dancing

Every week I have a great idea for a blog post and then fall short on time to write it.  Exciting things are happening and I am so honored to be a part of events that honor our dance from workshops to galas and cultural events.  Here is a highlight reel:

The amazing workshops and Gala show for Assala Ibrahim.  Tremendous thanks to Uza and her team for bring Assala here because I am now completely hooked on this style. What good is being a dancer when we lose the value of learning?

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photo by Uza and Saif

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A teaser cel phone shot from the Gala show at DROM (NYC)

I also have the honor to bring my mentor Andrea back to CT for a workshop on Persian styling.

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Lastly, I am preparing for two community events.  One in CT – a Gala for Nourhan Sharif that features performances from the professional dancers in CT (sponsored by Kelvia) -tickets available here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/556650

and Nahara’s Springtime Hafla which will feature professional and student dancers from Westchester and CT.  Tickets available here: http://www.josiedance.com/josiedance/Spring_Shimmie.html

It’s also a great time with rehearsals diving into projects for the Theatrical Bellydance Conference.

Regular blog posts to resume shortly.  I promise!

A Bellydancer’s Reflections on 2013 and Riding that Art vs. Commerce Rollercoaster

January is my “belly-versary” month so I always get a bit nostalgic around this time.  Maybe it’s the introvert in me (which, for some reason, very few people believe about me unless they know me really well), but I am very content to sit with my thoughts and assimilate all that happened this past year pertaining to dance.  I noticed a theme swirling around in my brain on this cozy snow day about my year and my gig habits.  That old awkward dance between art and commerce rears its head when we rely on our dance jobs.  Here are my thoughts:

1. The problem with gigs

This seems obvious but, in truth, it creeps up on us when we’re too busy to notice.  It’s like feeling so relaxed on a train ride that you fall asleep and then wake up in a place you hadn’t intended to be.  You can get back on track, but it takes a little bit of effort.  Gigs are fun.  They are exciting.  They pay money…cash in most cases.  They can have elements of glamor and allow us the chance to share what we train so hard to learn.  But sometimes, they take control of our dance lives and there is not so much art in gig collection.  They lead to unfair comparisons and envy when reading about the 20 gigs one dancer has in a week-end while I may have 4.  Somewhere, another dancer has zero and wonders what she’s doing wrong.

Secondly, gigs deal with being an entertainer as opposed to an artist.  Some of my favorite performances to watch are not ones that cause me to smile and clap.  They move me and take me somewhere to a dream state that I can’t describe.  Only getting to access the happy joyful state of entertaining birthday guests and celebrations is incredibly fun but over time (several years), it can lack the depth that true art produces.  I love making people happy but there is something equally magical about moving an audience to tears ; NOT at a birthday party or at a Saturday night restaurant of course!

And lastly, they often follow a formula which allows little room for deviation.  Every now and then I “rebel” and skip a drum solo one night or don’t use a balance prop just to keep it fresh and give me a chance to miss something.  But, typically, we know what is expected at our performances and it’s an opener, a balance prop, a drum solo and pop songs.  Thankfully, we love this dance so much that it is always fun to share it with a good audience and I love seeing their faces light up when they watch what we do.

In 2013 I was jarred out of the lull from my regular work due to restaurants closing or cutting costs to try and remain open.  Suddenly without that guarantee of work, I noticed how comfortable I had become.  How many dancers had popped up hungry for opportunity and utilizing more props that were taller, shinier and had more fire…yikes!  I took advantage of more free time to take on creative projects, join a dance company, take every workshop/class I could attend (more than usual).  It was expensive, humbling and exhausting but I have never felt more inspired or had more to share with my students.  I am performing a bit less, but I’m enjoying every show so much more.  To my pleasant surprise, I am getting nicer jobs and dancing better than I did when I was “gigging” like a crazy thing.

2. A big ol’ slice of humble pie

As I flexed my artistry, I noticed my artistry muscles were on the weak side.  How can you strengthen them without regular opportunities to explore them?  You can’t take those muscles to the gym.  I was so used to relying on interaction from an audience/crowd that I disappointed myself as a soloist on stage.  Nah, it wasn’t horrible.  It wasn’t my best by a long shot.  I had to take a good look at my weaknesses that would never have been revealed in “gig land.”  I’ve written several posts about the differences between staged shows for dancer-filled audiences vs. restaurants and parties so…nothing new there, but, magnify those differences times 100 when you’re a soloist and not just trying to fill a choreographer’s vision.  Humbling.

3. As a recovering gig-chaser, I can say that in certain periods of 2013 my main drive was financial.  I was truly relying on money from my dance jobs to pay my bills.  Creativity can start to feel like some sort of optional luxury when you’re counting tips.  I cultivated other income streams to take some of the pressure off so I could enjoy the love more.  What a difference!

A little distance from everything gave me some good perspective and I’m still looking for that perfect balance (aren’t we all).  In the end, I’m more in love with this dance than I ever have been.  After a lengthy night of dancing on New Year’s Eve, I was drenched in sweat catching my breath after my final show when a woman came up to me and paid me the best compliment of my dance life.  It was as if she heard every rant, every internal thought I had about dance and hand-crafted the most perfect thing to say.  I felt so validated and grateful.  Bring on 2014 and fill it with equal parts performing and learning.

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Tava is a professional bellydancer in NYC and CT.  She teaches regular classes and is also available for Skype lessons and workshops.

Tava’s 2013 highlight reel:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq0YRvTv4zM

11 Tips for Better Bellydance Practice

1. Divide your time between technique drills and improvisation.

2. Practice to a range of music styles (taqsim, drum solos, pop, baladi, etc.).

3. Record yourself and watch to help identify progress/areas of weakness over time.

warming up before a music video shoot photo by Francine Grillo

warming up before a music video shoot
photo by Francine Grillo

4. Give yourself a weekly theme such as graceful arms, accents, abdominal work, folkloric, etc.

5. Involve your face as much as possible (aka – don’t have “practice face” on the whole time – include emotional connection to music).

6. Watch your favorite dancers for inspiration right before you dance.  Think of a quality you’d like to try and emulate in your own way.

7. Don’t try to “copy” your favorite dancers.  Allow space for you to develop your own style.

8. Pay attention to your body immediate after practicing.  Are there areas of tension or soreness or do you feel great throughout your body.

9. Once in a while, practice in costume as a treat.  You won’t even realize how much “special sauce” you can add to your dancing when you feel great about what you’re wearing.

10. Don’t go it alone!  Daily or close to daily practice is a companion to your weekly classes.

Tava teaches balancing drills at Work It Dance & Fitness

11. Protect your feet!  Dancing on a hard non-sprung floor?  Choose appropriate footwear.

Happy Practicing!

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Tava teaches bellydance classes in Fairfield County, CT with occasional workshops in NY.  For information on classes, private lessons, or workshops, visit www.BellydancebyTava.com

The Chore of Choosing Music

Every time I perform in a show which requires the music ahead of time, I wrestle with choosing the right song(s).  The music has to match my feelings and mood and that can be hard to predict in advance.  That’s what makes an authentic performance for me.  (Hmm, did I just admit to being moody)?  Since it is not always possible to select songs an hour before I leave for the show, I have to consider other things:

What is the “theme” of the show?

Is it a Halloween party where some non-traditional fun may be appropriate?  Or more dramatic costuming?  Perhaps it’s a gala to honor a highly acclaimed Egyptian dancer.  All of these things go into choosing music that helps me pair my style of dance within the greater context of a show.

Who is the audience?

If the audience is made up of my peers, friends and students, I can dance in a way that highlights the nuance of this art.  I don’t need to “wow” them with flashy props since they will (hopefully) have enough understanding/appreciation to enjoy the subtlety.

Where is the show?

A theater performance where the audience is not all around me, drinking and eating a meal would call for music that allows me to tell some kind of story with my performance.  Not necessarily on the level of a Spanish novela but something that can “develop” as the song progresses.  A show where the audience will be all around me and part of the experience will bring out a different side of the dancer’s personality.

In a typical show which generally runs 20-25 minutes, a dancer gets to be mysterious, joyful, show technique, restraint, humor, etc.  In a shorter set with one to two songs, we can’t possibly fit all of that in without looking a little nuts.  Well, maybe some dancers can and I have some work to do.  In any case, this is why I hate choosing music and struggle with my choice; often changing my mind when it’s too late.  I am in the process of choosing a song for a holiday party with my students and friends when I decided a blog post would be more productive than venting aloud to my dog.

Photo from 2012 Holiday bellydance party with Tava and her students performing a funk fusion piece in Norwalk, CT.

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If you are in Fairfield County and enjoy bellydance, join us at our holiday party Sunday December 8th.  Tickets available online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/512508

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New Bellydance Promo Video

My first attempt at using iMovie and, several hours later, I came up with this. I have already spotted a couple of things I may have done differently but in our business, we have to wear many hats! I have a lot to learn when it comes to video editing but I’m going to give myself a bit of credit for getting this together. I hope you like it! Big thanks to my dance partner and friend Sira (Bellydancer NYC) and the numerous musicians that have inspired me to dance in each of these clips: Scott Wilson, Maurice Sedacca, Mal Stein, Souren Baronian, Haig Manoukian, Carmine, Casey Bond, Eylem, Brad and the guys in U2 Nation!

Performance Etiquette (Weddings)

Recently, I received four messages from people in four different states with questions about wedding performances.  For starters, I’m only one person so I don’t claim to write “the rules” but I know that what I do is similar or identical to what my friends (whom I really respect and admire) also do for weddings.  Having performed at weddings with my mentor when I was getting started, I also kept a watchful eye on how she handled herself.  In any case, here are some guidelines I follow before, during and after the event.  I hope someone out there finds them useful!

1. The Conversation

Use the initial conversation to really connect with the bride, wedding planner or whomever has hired you.  Get a sense of the bride’s personality, temperament, tastes and style.  Ask questions about primary and accent colors (to select the best color for your costume), guide them through their decision about when to have the performance and send them a contract with as much detail as possible.  This helps to put them at ease and establish yourself as a professional.  It will also help you create an accurate expectation; elegant sophisticated crowd or a crazy party with home-made hooch and dancing on tables.  Example: I recently danced at a Persian wedding and the initial conversation helped me select appropriate music, costuming and determine what flow would be the most successful for their day.

2. The Follow-Up

A few days before the wedding, call your contact to confirm the details.  Sometimes an important details is over-looked.  For example, I recently had a bride forget to tell me that the venue gave a firm no on my using candle tray.  I had enough time to secure event insurance (paid for by the bride’s family), contact the venue and show them video clips to put them at ease, and work out a solution that made them comfortable enough to change their policy for me.  The bride had her heart set on candle tray and if it weren’t for that, I would have just skipped the prop all together.

3. The Big Day

On the day of the wedding, It takes me 2 hours to get ready because I “do more” than I do for regular restaurant shows.  Nails polished, costumes ready with coordinating veil and selected props.

I arrive at least 20 minutes early even if that means getting a sub for a restaurant show beforehand.  If the venue is within 40 minutes or so, I will arrive in costume.  Otherwise, I arrive in a formal dress and change there.  This is usually worked out ahead of time and included in my contract.  I tell my contact if I will come in costume or need a private space to change.  It’s important to have a cover-up in case there is a slight walk from changing area to performance space.

During my show I give special attention to the bride and groom, followed by the mother of the bride whom I seek immediately.  I typically spend the first part of my set on the main dance floor and then switch gears to engaging the crowd and getting the party on their feet.  Of course, sometimes the crowd is too excited to wait and it turns into a party the moment my music starts.  This is a topic for another blog.

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4. Post-Show

After my performance, I will immediately leave the area.  I like to wipe off any sweat and check my makeup quickly before posing for photos.  Maintaining the image of elegant professional is important so I don’t want to publicly wipe sweat or look like a hot mess in people’s wedding pictures.  Payment is collected and I go on my way.  It is in my contract that I cannot be delayed in case I have another show so I generally do not stay beyond 10 minutes.  Any waiting either before the show or after to wait for payment will result in another $100 fee.  Finally, I will give my card to the photographer in case there are photos I can use for promotional purposes.

5. Giving Thanks

A few days after the wedding, I will send a thank you email.

Notes:

Our clients are often really great people that we form a bond with by being a part of their happiest days.  But it’s not in our best interest to spend 30 minutes posing for photos, waiting 30 minute to go on, trying to track down payment from a drunk Uncle, etc.  Polite, respectful and professional is the way to go.  Our schedules are like moving puzzles and having enough time to get to the next show is important for our peace of mind.  We have to protect our time.  Lastly, I am so honored to have performed at people’s engagement parties, followed by their weddings, baby showers and anniversaries.  Cultivating that relationship is something I am very proud of.  Happy dancing!

CT Bellydancer TAVA is available for family-friendly, corporate or cultural performances.

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Recent photoshoot for Tava and Sira – Freezing Bellydancers in NYC

_8227293c - Version 2Recent photoshoot for Tava and Sira - Freezing Bellydancers in NYC

photos by Joe Marquez (The Smoking Camera)
I don’t necessarily recommend wearing chiffon and a bra in 10 degree weather but if you’re going to do so, grab a talented photographer, a really close friend and a little bit of Armenian whiskey.

Website for CT Bellydancer Tava – www.BellydancebyTava.com

NYC Bellydancer Sira – www.BellydancerNYC.com