How to Get the Most Out of Workshops

If you’re anything like me, you plunk down a ton of money every year to learn from a variety of instructors that roll through town offering concentrated information about a particular topic. Workshops are where we peel off the layers and get to the core. We explore deeper nuance and expand our knowledge. I like to think about it in the following terms: Classes + workshops + reading + DVD’s or online tutorials + watching performances + self-critique + private lessons = a well balanced diet of the serious student. But, let me ask you this….have you ever left a workshop full of inspiration and by the time you arrive at home you’ve forgotten a significant portion of what you learned? I have. This is particularly true when it comes to choreography workshops. I learn a routine. I forget a routine. I have developed a few strategies for maximizing what I’ll get from a workshop and, who knows, maybe they’ll help you too.

Sira's workshop "Up in Arms" (sponsored by Tava)

Sira’s workshop “Up in Arms” (sponsored by Tava)

1. Sit down!
I injured myself 30 minutes into a workshop with Madame Raqia Hassan and I got more out of that experience that I would have if I danced the entire time. It was a great reminder to absorb what I could with my eyes and ears without the pressure of having to keep up. I suggest watching at least once or twice and take a few notes about something that strikes you. A pause, an angle of the head, which aspects of the routine you can see yourself adapting and which are just not for you. Sit and watch – but watch actively.

2. Get the Music!
The workshops are not cheap! Spending money on the CD or digital file might seem like an unnecessary expense but, trust me on this one, it’s worth the cost. Even something as simple as playing the music in your car on the way home (or iPod on the subway) will help to reinforce what you’ve learned.

3. Record Yourself.
Whether it’s technique-based, choreography or musicality, record your practice with it while it’s fresh. Even if you record the instructor doing the movements, it’s not the same thing as recording your take on it.  You can also compare it to the instructor’s version.

4. Talk About It.
Grab a coffee or a tea with a friend as close to the workshop as possible and have a critical discussion about it. Discuss what you learned, insights, what you would have liked more of, etc… Getting another perspective will reinforce the topic and may even fill in some of the gaps that you missed during a water break.  Sometimes I pile in as many students as my car will fit and we chat about it the whole way home. These are the best discussions!

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One of my most favorite recent workshops – Iraqi dance with Assala Ibrahim (hosted by Uza of NYC).

5. Be Selective.
Just because an instructor is from Egypt doesn’t mean you HAVE to go. Just because an instructor is someone you really enjoy watching doesn’t mean you can’t miss it. Read the workshop description and watch some performance clips. Talk to some friends who may have studied with that person. Just the other day I wrote to my friend Angelica and I said, “Help! I am over-committed to workshops and learning opportunities but this other one just came up and I need to know if it’s worth it.” Over time, you will learn whose style of teaching is a good match to your style of learning.  Of course, there can be surprises.  Maybe you develop a new favorite that you never would have imagined so an open mind is also a good thing.

Bollywood Fusion with Adrea (sponsored by Tava)

Bollywood Fusion with Adrea (sponsored by Tava)

6. Modify Your Learning Format.
Sometimes when an instructor is visiting they have time to do private lessons. I have done this with several dancers lately because it is worth everything to me to have their undivided attention so I can get the most out of my time with them. In my one hour with Luna (of Cairo) or Tamalyn Dallal, I got more amazing feedback that I ever would have in a large crowded room.

Tava's veil workshop at The Dragon's Egg, sponsored by NBDA

Tava’s veil workshop at The Dragon’s Egg, sponsored by NBDA

Investing in your dance training is part of the job. It fuels your love and deepens your understanding. But I think everyone needs to learn how to make it work for them.

….and speaking of workshops
Big thanks to Nahara and Josie’s International School of Dance for having me teach “A Taste of Turkish” on Monday. I had a fantastic time with all of the women.

Saturday December 13th, stay tuned for details about Rosa Noreen (of Maine) who will come to CT to teach a workshop.

Norwalk, CT Registration is Open for Bellydance with Tava at NCC

Do you live in Norwalk (or anywhere in Fairfield County, CT)? A new semester at Norwalk Community College is right around the corner and Tava will be teaching her 101 level course. This is a 10-week session which includes 20 minutes of lecture and 60 minutes of basic technique. The lecture will include an introduction to the history, various styles, legendary dancers and popular Arabic rhythms. The dancing will culminate in a short choreography to tie your “new moves” all together in a sequence. Students will fall in love with this rich and beautiful dance, enjoy community and (for registered NCC) students, gain a bit of credit in the process. The class meets Wednesday evenings from 6:30 to 8:50PM beginning in September.

Tava teaches Bellydance at Norwalk Community College

Tava teaches Bellydance at Norwalk Community College

Annual Evening of Bellydance in CT

Every year I have the pleasure of producing an Annual Evening of Bellydance with music by Carmine & Friends (Carmine, Brad, Casey & Eylem).  It is important for me to share the experience of dancing to live music with my friends, students and the community.  The event took place in May at the Westport Woman’s Club.   The night is a mix of student and professional performances, vending and open dancing for about 100 people. These events always leave me on such a high and serve as the best reminder of why I dance.  There is no wedding, banquet, gala or birthday party performance that comes close to dancing for my community.  Thank you to Nahara, Lorelie and Yasmine for loaning us their talents and Tunnel Vision Company for the videos (more to come).

Tava performs to Nihavent Oyun Havasi:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89qEf2VW-QQ

Nahara dancing to Leylet Hobb:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rQnuY5VvjE

Lorelie peforms to Lamma Bada and Drum Solo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXzcOfn_yXg

A snippet of Tava’s taqsim with Eylem and Drum Solo:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6K093n7Lxc

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Tava is a professional bellydancer located in NY and CT.  She is available for solo, duet and group performances throughout New York and surrounding areas.

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.

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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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