“I Can Breathe or Improv…Not Both”

“I Can Breathe or Improvise…Not Both.” These words, uttered by my dear student this morning, ring true for so many budding dancers. I take that back, it’s not just applicable to dancers. It applies to most human beings who are nervous to do something. In almost every skill I can think of, there’s doing something well and then there’s the art of appearing relaxed while you do it. Appearing relaxed = relaxed breathing.

I recently started rock climbing and I can tell you that there are points, especially when I’m 30 feet off the ground, when my breathing becomes more shallow and my muscles seize up. I can grab the same holds and feel infinitely more relaxed when I’m 5 feet up. Why? It’s literally the same activity! My nerves are making it so much harder.Tava rock climb

WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH BREATHING?

The primary muscles of inspiration (inhalation) are the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles (which increase or decrease the spaces between the ribs). The diaphragm contracts first, followed by the intercostals, and then you’ll engage some accessory muscles in the neck, chest, and abdomen. Here’s where things get interesting. When you’re relaxed, you pause briefly after an exhale. It’s called an “expiratory pause.” The longer the pause, the more relaxed you are. The shorter the pause, or no pause at all, means your body is perceiving some type of threat. . .or, a bear is literally chasing you. So, try moving in a smooth, rich and juicy way when your sympathetic nervous system is ready to pop.

Fear is Excitement without the Breath – Robert Heller

This is not the same as when we’re concentrating on something and our split attention temporarily favors the task instead of the breathing. You should see me when I’m putting on false lashes. I’m not even aware that I’m holding my breath until my body kicks it back on and I realize it when I hear a louder than usual exhale.

Activity + breathing go together like…

Breathing for a specific activity switches it from an automatic metabolic process to a behavioral one. Certain conscious techniques can make you better at whatever the activity is. Check out this video on breath work for clarinet.  And when you’re done with that, this master of Pranayam is really something to see. Whether it’s Yoga, meditation, clarinet playing or circular breathing for the didgeridoo, you have to learn how to consciously alter your breath to improve performance.

When you’re new to improvising, you’re thinking about what to do next. You feel like you’re dancing without the safety net of a prescribed set of moves. It’s like climbing without a harness. Tack on the need to concentrate for certain moves and your split focus chooses that omi or, in my case, the tricky barrel turns to the dreaded left. This is something each person has to cultivate because there is no one technique that works all the time for every dancer in every style. Generally speaking, smooth and relaxed breathing is always a benefit because I can see it immediately when dancers seize up. I actually stop breathing when I watch them. Take this stunning clips of Nesma and notice how you breathe when you watch her. Even though I’ve seen it 50 times, I still find myself slowing down my breathing down to match hers.

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Aleathea looking cool, calm and relaxed during a performance at JeBon

WHEN YOU DANCE 

When you dance to music without the safety of following the instructor or learning a choreography, start with your breath. Consider “drawing” the song in their air with the dips, pauses, tempo changes, etc. Settle on one or two moves to repeat and modify based on what the music is doing. When you freeze, just stand still and breathe for a while. The bellydance police won’t come banging on your door if you start with music that you know and love — even if it’s Prince, Vivaldi or Metallica. Perhaps, improvisation to Farid al-Atrash is a “next step.” That does bring me to another important point. Develop your musicality!

You can’t truly improvise and slink into the pocket of the music if you aren’t familiar with it. I highly recommend taking workshops, buying DVD’s and anything else you can do to understand what makes music sound/feel Turkish, or Moroccan…or Egyptian…the list goes on and on. What is the structure of the song? What are they singing about? I like to imagine the musicians. Are they in bow ties sitting in an orchestra or out on the street wearing jeans? There’s so much more to write on this topic that it has to be another blog post.

So, let’s recap. Listen to your song of choice (repeatedly) and just breathe to it. Crawl deep in to the song and put your musician hat on. Then start with just a few moves to repeat. Before long, you will surprise yourself with the risks you take. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake because there are none. I’ve jumped to hit an accent that wasn’t there and morphed it into something gooey. I’ve fallen and turned it into beautiful floorwork. Once I got my bracelet stuck in my hair and just kept my arms lifted while I worked on deep pelvic movements. Let it all happen. All of it.

Enjoy the ride!

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Tava is a highly regarded professional bellydancer, instructor and choreographer. She performs regularly throughout Connecticut and the NYC Metro Area. Equally at home performing at galas, family occasions, cultural events, theaters or in music videos, she prides herself on having a career with as much variety as possible.

In addition to the “sparkly bits” of her life, Tava has a Masters in Counseling from Fordham University and uses the dance as a tool for building self-esteem and healthy body image for women.

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Bellydancers and the Chair: The Four-Legged Elephant in the Room

If you’re a bellydancer who has done even a handful of professional performances, chances are you’ve encountered, “the chair.” This four-legged elephant in the room can be the embodiment of an antiquated stereotype. When a male guest of honor is seated directly in front of a female dancer while she performs, it can feel a little “harem girl/seduce the sultan/oriental fantasy-ish,” with shades of lap dance. Personally, I don’t have a problem with empowered women making their living from erotic dance, but I do think we need be to be careful not to blur those lines. A dance rooted in culture that’s a physical expression of celebration has a very different intention. Early in my career, when I danced in front of “the chair,” I saw lots of confused faces when I didn’t dance lasciviously for the  seated male. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better about changing the expectation by having more thorough pre-gig conversations (where I specifically request no chair in the middle of the room) and a bit of on the spot strategy for those times when an audience member decides it needs to be there.

downloadThe vast majority of the time, people are well meaning and have no intention of offending a performer.  In fact, sometimes it’s the women who get the chair out for the guy. But, I find it interesting that the chair never comes out when the guest of honor is a woman (at least, not in my experience). Perhaps there is some inherent understanding that women celebrating birthdays don’t need to be in the “personal space” of the dancer. The dancer’s role is to bring joy to a party and create a memorable experience; not to titillate. The dancer is there to get people up to dance after a certain amount of time showcasing her skill; not to embarrass anyone.

Sometimes the chair comes out and I don’t feel it’s the right thing to stop my show and educate people on why I don’t like it, so I make the best of it. I introduce humor. I’ll put the sheath of my sword on the guest of honor’s head or engage in something that will give the audience a chuckle. I can count on one hand how many times I have been blatantly objectified (it rarely happens), but when it does, there is a chair involved.

EmptyChairThis is what I say to clients when they decide to go forward with hiring me for a show; namely for a birthday party when the guest of honor is male:

“Now that we’ve discussed all of the performance details I just want to mention one other thing. Sometimes a well-meaning audience member gets a chair for the ‘birthday boy’ to sit on and places it in front of me. This actually makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’ve worked hard to represent this dance in the most professional way and that’s just something people associate with lap dances.”

In 100% of cases where I’ve brought this up, the person hiring me thanks me for bringing it up and appreciates the request. That being said, sometimes, we’ve got to roll with the punches and listen to our own “spidey sense.” If the people are down to earth and I feel respected, I may let it slide. If there is any doubt in my mind or I’m being looked at in a way that doesn’t jive with my intentions, I’ll ignore that chair and look for a child to dance with. . . or a spunky grandparent.

My advice is to follow your instincts. Don’t perform in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you enjoy dancing for the chair, hey, great. I’m not here to impose my opinion on anyone. But we should all understand that in the age of event photos going on Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, FB and any other social media du jour, consider what messages a performance sends to people who don’t have the context of seeing your entire show.

We shouldn’t vilify women who dance for the purpose of arousal, but if that’s not what we are doing, we have to make sure the public knows that.

Tava’s Book: “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals”

Tava’s new book “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals” is available on Amazon.com.

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals is an essential read for dancers who may be considering a transformation from hobbyist to professional. Tava Naiyin, author and highly-accomplished bellydancer in NYC and CT, writes candidly about her experiences as an artist who has relied exclusively on dance-generated income for 10+ years. After receiving countless questions from budding dance professionals across the U.S., she compiled her answers and wrote this book to address what she perceived as possible gaps in training. This book cannot take the place of a mentor, however, it aims to promote industry standards and help bellydance artists determine if they have the right skills and circumstances to turn their passion into a career.

Readers can expect information about costume purchasing and care, performance etiquette, general do’s and don’ts, how to get the most out of practice, staying inspired, juggling art vs. commerce and more. Ms. Naiyin’s bellydance colleagues and mentors weigh in to share their thoughts and resources on topics ranging from: how to find your own dance voice, keeping the dance flame lit and effective marketing strategies. Readers can expect inspiring and practical tidbits from top bellydancers Andrea (NY), Angelica Jordan (Quebec), Maria (CA), Riskallah Riyad (CT), Sira (NY) and Zaina (Globetrotter). Anyone who is considering a career in dance or the performing arts will come away with useful information to help them make informed choices and avoid costly mistakes. To learn more about Tava, visit BellydancebyTava.com

What people are saying about Tava’s book:

Whether you have a burgeoning curiosity about belly dance as an art form, or are already a seasoned student ready to take the next step, this book is a must! Tava’s advice and insights come only from years of studying, training, performing and evolving as a dancer and as an artist in general.

Tava does not preach from a pen and ink pulpit; She is with you through this book, sharing her own experiences, “aha! moments”, mistakes, stumbles and triumphs as a dancer, artist, teacher and mentor. Her writing style is inviting and smooth, and this book is hard to put down once you start reading! She includes anecdotes and input from her mentors, peers, and students. Her love for this dance and her unyielding devotion to keeping this dance elevated and held to high standards is readily evident. Once you finish reading, you will understand what a gift this is to the world of belly dance!- Christine R.

An insightful book from the artist’s perspective. This book is not just about dance. It’s about passion, perception and practicality. Valuable advice in this age of “do what you love.” Anyone considering doing so would gain important insight into balancing one’s art and inspiration with the realities of life.

The interviews convey the deep respect these women share for the culture and dance they represent and the accompanying photos are beautiful. Bellydance is lucky to have such passionate and articulate advocates. – Mary

Those Unavoidable Curveballs. . .

One thing we can always count on is that life has an endless supply of curve balls to toss our way whenever it sees fit.  I’m not talking about huge life-altering curve balls that require major changes, hours of meditation and psychological adjustments — just the garden variety “Oh man…I did not see that coming.”  The very nature of our work involves dancing through unknown variables and making the best of it.  Maybe there are balloon ribbons getting stuck in your lipstick because they’re dangling too low from the ceiling (true story), or you fashion a skirt out of a tablecloth because you left your real skirt at home.  One consolation prize is that these curve balls generally make for good stories down the road.  But, sometimes, they just make for good ol’ life lessons.

Tava bellydancer performing at a birthday party

That party with balloon strings in my mouth.

1. Shoveling Blues.

When Yowalka and Alanah invited me to be a part of their event at JeBon, I was thrilled that they asked me to perform with my fan.  I even treated myself to a new one that was lace-trimmed. I decided to incorporate some of Dalia Carella‘s fan technique so I hopped into NYC and had a brilliant private lesson with her.  I settled on Scheherezade L’Andalous as my song and I was feeling the love — ready to dance.  But then, it snowed.  And it snowed some more.  I had to shovel in order to free my poor little car from the snow/ice cocoon that the plowing had caused.  I shoveled a pathway for my little dog to walk.  The next day, there was excruciating pain in my wrist.  After a trip to the orthopedist, it was determined that I had a pretty bad sprain.  He gave me some mega meds and told me I could get through the show to but keep my brace on and be very careful.

Sprained wrist - next the bandage will at least be dipped in glitter ;)

If there is a next time, the bandage will at least be dipped in glitter 😉

As the sweet taqsim ended and the song picked up intensity, I snapped the fan open and  did a little twirl to test the waters.  I think my whimper was in the same key as the violin so I’m assuming nobody heard.  I couldn’t twirl very well and I even put the fan down half-way through the song.  But I decided to give extra love to the movements I could do and I enjoyed spinning, making shapes/lines and breathing through the pauses.  Hey, I did my best and I made some decent lemonade out of those wrist-pain lemons.

2. Get a Grip!

I recently choreographed a slinky sword duet for my student and I that we would perform at my friend Joy’s event.  I was excited to dance at this venue and although I should have known better, I forgot to inquire about the surface we would be dancing on.  My husband is a production manager whose job it is to leave no stone unturned and he would shake his head in his hands at my oversight. A minute into our performance, the carpet was gripping me like it was madly in love with my pants. Where things were meant to be slinky, they were…uh…rug burn-y.  But, of course, we hoped the audience was none the wiser.

When you feel a show going south, it’s important to remember that the audience has a totally different expectation.  They cannot be disappointed that your choreography isn’t quite working because they never saw what it should be.  Don’t let your face show defeat.  I’m an improv gal so it’s rare that I perform choreography and this is part of the reason why. I don’t want to be thrown when I’m rolling with the punches.  But it was a good exercise in not losing our cool.  Kia, my student who performed with me, did a great job and was thoroughly “christened” by her first dance curve ball.

In the spirit of total transparency, here is video of both performance.  Please be kind – now that you know the back story 🙂

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Tava is a professional bellydancer, choreographer, lecturer and performer based in NYC and CT.  She teaches weekly classes, specialty workshops and offers elegant, family friendly performances throughout the tri-state area.  To learn more about Tava, visit www.BellydancebyTava.com

On the Topic of Gratitude

There’s something about Thanksgiving that begs us to pause and reflect.  I have so much to be thankful for.  I suspect many of us have more to appreciate than we have time to ponder, but the focus always returns to the people who enrich our lives and the experiences we’ve had that have changed us for the better.

funny-kid-boy-beach-water-arms-out-bring-it-life-picsThis Thanksgiving, I’m recovering from some sort of virus that has me too weak to join in festivities.  I’m on the mend but I am alone.  I woke up feeling pangs of sadness. . .alone on Thanksgiving without my husband for the first time in at least 10 years.  I felt sorry for myself for a good 30 minutes.  Then the calls and texts started pouring in.  I was thought of by people in Cleveland, NY, CT, Montreal, Portland (a la Maine), Kansas City and Sacramento.  I took my dog on a peaceful quiet walk amidst snow flurries with hardly another person in sight.  I got some work done, cleaned up as much as my energy would allow, and began to feel nurtured, loved, and grateful.

So, while I’m thankful for a closet full of Bellas, a collection of chocolate and spices (things I swoon for), technological gadgets, a steam cleaner (which I’m surprisingly excited to own), that stuff is just… stuff. I’ve been reflecting a lot on my relationship with dance and the amazing people & experiences it offers me regularly.  From my first recital dancing as a Christmas present with legs to dancing solo in theater shows, paring movements to music has been my security blanket, my social life, my passion and my motivation.

I know the day will come when I have a different relationship with dance and that it might even take a back seat to my life.  The end of 2014 represents my 15 year mark with bellydance.  I’m excited to see what the future brings.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Copyright: William Winters

Copyright: William Winters

A Bellydancer’s New Year’s Eve

Tava bellydancing at a restaurant in NY on New Year's Eve

Tava bellydancing at a restaurant in NY on New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is one of the most exciting nights for bellydancers.  I have had years when I’ve packed in 7 shows and other years when I’ve accepted only a few local jobs. On a handful of occasions, I’ve taken the night off to be with my husband.  Typically, I fit in as many shows as my schedule (and stamina) will allow.  There is no adrenaline high quite like being a bellydancer on New Year’s Eve.  The planning starts months in advance and it goes something like this:

– The inquiries come in and you say yes to the jobs that confirm.

– More inquiries come in and some work better for your schedule so you have to make choices while honoring your commitments to the people who specifically want you.  (These are special clients so we are always good to them).

– The day before NYE, there are always last minute changes and additions so you call your network of dancers and offer some work, accept some work or just plan strategy with each other because sometimes you’re performing duets.

The day arrives and you let yourself sleep as long as your body will allow.  You have a huge breakfast because it might be your last big meal for a while.  Then, it’s time to pack the bag.  Here’s what I like to pack for a long night:

– Snacks and coconut water (I also take a B vitamin as I hop in the car).

– All props and back-up props.  I pack a separate (lightweight) costume in case there is any damage to the one I’m wearing and I have no time to repair it.  I also bring extra shoes.

– Warm cover-up or caftan.  In many cases, it’s running from venue to venue so you need something warm that is easy to get on/off.  I have a floor-length sweater that I use on these occasions.

– Advil and Tiger Balm (or something like it).  There is no time to feel the pain of something pulled so it’s best to take precautions.

– Extra lash glue.  Lashes were just not meant to stand up to the rigors of 7:30PM to 2AM sweating.  Around midnight, I find it’s time to re-touch.

Tava (filling in for the lovely Sira), Layla Isis and Mariyah dancing at a restaurant on New Year's Eve.

Tava (filling in for the lovely Sira), Layla Isis and Mariyah dancing at a restaurant on New Year’s Eve.

– A gig roadie.  This is key if you’re going to be driving all over the place!  If you can find someone to help you park, check traffic/find alternate routes, help sort your money to be sure it all comes with you, hand out business cards while you’re performing, etc.  It’s hard to find someone who is willing to give up a New Year’s Eve full of fun but they a friend, husband or loved one (who is reliable) just might enjoy being with you.  I have paid people in the past – mainly students who wanted to know what the night was like.

When it’s all over, you are beyond hungry and it’s time to make a choice.  Hit the diner and feast at 3AM or have a light snack and get to bed.  Personally, I say go for the 3AM diner experience.  Enjoy a celebratory cocktail while you’re at it.  I may have indulged in a mini bottle of Fireball last year. It’s hard to calm down after all of that adrenaline surging through you so you may as well enjoy yourself.  Take a satisfying shower, and hit the pillow.  In the morning, some gentle Yoga always helps me and then I treat myself to reflexology.  Congratulate yourself on a job well done!  Be safe, have fun and spread some shimmy!

Tava and Layla Isis in Times Square for New Year's Eve

Tava and Layla Isis after performing in Times Square for New Year’s Eve

Tava is a professional bellydancer based in NY and CT.  She is available for bachelorette parties, weddings, corporate events, galas or any family-friendly occasion (no all-male events).  Solo, duet and group performances available. To learn more, visit: www.BellydancebyTava.com

8 Realizations You will Likely Have as a Professional Bellydancer

1. You’re Never “Good Enough” – At least, according to yourself.  Chances are you will watch your videos and be blinded by that thing you wish you did differently, by your pacing (or lack thereof), by that moment your arms lost their integrity of movement because you opted for a bit of complicated hip work.  I have these conversations with newbie students and my friends who are 20+ year veterans, it’s just the way it is for most of us. 2. You Will Get Hurt – Even if it’s a relatively mild injury, there is no way to be a professional dancer and not experience repetitive strain or fatigue-related injuries of some sort.  Learn what your body can handle, seek out the best ways for your body and your budget to experience self-care. Maybe it’s a $20 pedicure….or a 90 minute deep tissue massage.  When your body is your main source of income, it’s sometime unavoidable to overdo it. images-1 3. You’ll Wonder About Certain Costume Trends – I started in the era of “there’s no such thing as too much fringe.”  Then the look became a little softer and more refined.  Then it became acceptable to have visible “boy shorts” in our costumes and even short skirts.  Some trends you will love and some will baffle you. PS – The same may go for prop trends! 4. Your “Ah Ha Moments” Keep Coming – Recently, during a private lesson with Tamalyn Dallal, I had an “ah ha moment” about something so basic!  I have them all the time when I study with my mentors or even when I hear myself describing something in class.  Yes, sometimes you have to dig for them, but they are always lurking — if you’re humble enough to notice 😉 5. Your Place in the Community is Earned …Continuously – If you should happen to be that dancer (even student dancer) who shows up only when asked to perform but never attend a performance as an audience member, the invitations will stop.  It’s just bad etiquette.  We can’t do everything, and we must say no to far more events we say yes to.  But even the events I cannot attend, I’ll share on my student page or offer a note of support. 6. Your Wallet is a Revolving Door – To do this right…to carve out the appropriate balance of money in vs. money out, it is extremely difficult to earn a living this way.  You will spend money on workshops/training, costuming, books, music, transportation and (possibly) a website, promotional materials, SEO, photo shoots.  Dancers notice the ones who do not – and they are often the ones who resort to undercutting to give themselves an advantage. 7. You Won’t Be Liked by Everybody – Whether it’s the picky club owner, a fellow dancer who feels competitive towards you, a YouTube troll who fancies him/herself an expert, the bottom line is – some people just won’t like you.  My skin is still not as thick as it should be and I’ve worked hard not to make waves but even still…I find myself dealing with the occasional dirty looks or hearing that I’ve been the subject of a conversation what was not kind.  Thankfully, this is very rare but it still happens.  You are also likely to meet some of your best friends this way.

Erica Joan, Tava, Sira and Yasmine

Erica Joan, Tava, Sira and Yasmine

8. You Will Have an Inordinate Amount of Friends With Names that end in “A” – Funny, but true 🙂 ************************************************************************************************ Tava is a professional bellydancer, instructor, and choreographer based in NY & CT.  She is available for family-friendly and corporate events (solo or group), as well as workshops on a variety of topics.  To learn more, visit BellydancebyTava.com

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

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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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.