Inspiration Doesn’t Pay the Bills

…but it feeds the soul.

Lately I’ve experienced mega-doses of inspiration from some creative projects.  That being said, if I think about the cost of commuting, costuming, hours spent rehearsing, researching, and whatever else, I would drive myself nuts.  Then when it’s over I pay the photographers and videographers and hope for a clip/gallery to be proud of and add a worthy addition to my dance memories.  But, in the end, it is always worth it.  Even if it’s a humbling realization of what I need to improve upon, it is always worth it.

Most of my performances follow a typical format.  Sure I change my music, accommodate preferences and rotate my costume selection but I know what my role is.  When given the chance to assume a different role and flex the artistry, it can be intimidating.  It’s definitely humbling.  I made a decision to do less teaching and more learning this year, seeking collaborations that would challenge me after feeling a tad stale with my dance life.  In that time, I was fortunate enough to perform with Elena Lentini’s company at The Theatrical Bellydance Conference, The Divas of the Golden Age (produced by Noora Aphrodite), Entelechy Dance’s Siren Revival show and some non-traditional staged shows with various musicians.  At the same time, my part-time writing job dissolved allowing me more time to immerse myself in workshops and private lessons (albeit with less income).

Performing with Elena Lentini’s company for the Theatrical Bellydance Conference in June was so much fun.  Nearly 4 months of rehearsals seeing her vision come to fruition was a dance highlight I will never forget.  I have long admired Elena’s approach to movement with her sculptural lines, stillness and feeling.  When I took her classes at Fasil’s, I would arrive cranky from trains, subways and tourists and leave happy like I had just spent the hour meditating.  The rehearsals had the same impact.

In the Diva’s of the Golden Age, I selected the well-respected ‘Katy’ who had a captivating smile, great musicality and an infectious enthusiasm.  I studied every clip I could find, taking notes and watching for nuance.  Noora shared some guidance about pacing and the end result was an attempt to get the most out of simple movements and add more expression.  Katy’s signature wink, high kicks, slow shoulder accents really grew on me.  Actually I find myself using those slow shoulder accents during my regular shows.

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For The Siren Revival, I was asked to add a splash of classic Cabaret to the show which featured mysticism, emotional storylines and some comedic numbers.  “Sure!” I thought.  “How fun.”  But then I tortured myself relentlessly; videotaping my rehearsals and sending them to my mentor for feedback, over rehearsing something that was meant to be improvisational fun.  I wanted dynamics and little pops of “wow” while staying true to my Cabaret roots.  I’m not sure if I achieved that or not but I can definitely say that I danced with an open heart and felt all the stress and self-doubt melt away.  Sometimes you just have to say “screw it…I’m gonna have fun.”

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My duet with Sira was a 1920’s inspired skit about two sisters at a Speakeasy.  Sira and I spent countless hours researching the period, dance moves and music.  Costuming took a while to get right after our initial choices were returned.  Fortunately, we love being goofballs and the audience seemed to support our risks with comedic timing.  I hope the Speakeasy sisters have more adventures together…what a blast!

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And lastly, I had the chance to perform at the student and instructor showcase at Work It Dance & Fitness.  What an honor to be among those talented instructors and dedicated students.  I was so eager to skip all the “showy” things I often need to do for work and just enjoy music.  Sorry, the quality of video is not great (clips from a cell phone) but I hope it still conveys a genuine love for what I’m doing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCJ19-KgYBo

Thank you to Stacey and BrowsersOnline.com for the photos.

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Tava is a professional bellydance instructor, performer and choreographer based in CT and NY.

Tava’s performance clips from JeBon – Bellydance in NYC

I always get a hint of nostalgia recalling all the performances I have watched at “Le Fig” then Grisly Pear and now JeBon.  Dancing with Scott Wilson & Efendi has been a right of passage amongst my dance friends and I.  My first performance was opening for my mentor, Andrea and my nerves were through the roof.  I have been an audience member countless times and watched fellow student dancers become professionals with students of their own.  These experiences have turned into some of my happiest dance memories.

This past Sunday, I was so thrilled to return as the dancer for Scott’s bellydance night along with my students : Starlet, Zella and Debbie.  I did my best attempts at editing short clips from my cell phone so please excuse my attempts at stringing them together.

The clip below was the opening song from the set.  As is typical, there is a lot of zill playing and greeting the audience:

The next clip has a bit of comedy since a big flick of the veil resulted in it getting stuck on the ceiling.  Who says mistakes can’t be fun?  At the end, Scott gets up and does one of my favorite of his signature moves; playing the Oud behind his head.

The final clip contains clips from the chiftitelle and the drum solo, played by Mal Stein.

Please support live music and bellydance in NYC.  Scott offers these nights monthly featuring performances by many top dancers in the area.

Evidence of my Duality

While I appreciate expressive and elegant bellydance –  it is what I always strive for – there are times when the inner goofball must be released.  This past Sunday, I had my 15th Bi-Annual Evening of Bellydance.  It was an amazing night of music and dance.  My students wowed, my professional dancer friends inspired, the band (Carmine & Friends) rocked, and the staff at Quattro Pazzi restaurant was attentive and accommodating.  What I really appreciated was the fact that I got to represent both sides of myself.

It should be a relatively known fact that the Carlton Dance (made famous by Alfonso Ribeiro on the TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”), brings joy to whomever does it.  Rarely does a week go by when I skip my dose of that particular brand of happy dance.  When my good friend Erica Joan agreed to perform in my show, we quickly decided to insert a bit of comedy into the night by sharing our bellydance version of the Carlton Dance.  It is followed by a tribute to a classic scene from that same show in which Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro perform a duet to the song “Apache.”  I hope you enjoy and that it gives you a smile.

Before donning headbands and shredded cutoff T-shirts, I gave my heart and soul to one of my favorite  classic songs made famous by Oum Kalthoum: Leylet Hob (one of many spellings).  Carmine & Friends (Brad Mack, Casey Bond and Eylem) supplied the beautiful sounds and I turned off any desire to showcase technique in favor of pure feeling.  Dancing for my students and their families always brings out my emotions and I’m afraid that the video can’t quite capture that.

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Professional bellydancers Nahara, Tava, Uza and Erica Joan

My Husband’s Response to the Selectman’s Opinions on Children and Bellydance

My husband’s response to the following bit of news: http://www.telegram.com/article/20121119/NEWS/111199908/1116

Dear Mr. Selectman:

I am sure you have heard a wide range of comments regarding your position on bellydancing.

I am not a bellydancer, however I am happily married to one.  She started learning the dance when we were dating.  Twelve years later it has turned into a career for her.  She has well over two hundred students and she is an adjunct professor of middle eastern dance at our local community college.    She can articulate in fine detail the difference between the Turkish and Egyptian styles of bellydance.  She possesses a wealth of bellydance knowledge ranging from history, social implications, instruments, music, to
evolution of style.

My wife performs in wide array of settings: theatre, cabaret, music and instructional videos, restaurants, weddings, arts festivals, birthdays and more.  Children routinely come up to dance with her with the encouragement of their parents (not just parents of Middle Eastern
descent in case you were wondering).  You are the first politician that I am aware of to make an issue of bellydance.  I believe your judgment is hasty and not adequately informed.

If you think this is even vaguely pornographic, I suggest a bit of research and a recalibration of your opinions.

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I am a proud wife.  I respectfully disagree with the Selectman’s opinions on this matter since dancing with children has been one of my greatest sources of joy as a performer.

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Tava’s Bi-Annual Evening of Bellydance

Please join us for the 15th Bi-Annual Evening of Bellydance at Quattro Pazzi (269 Bedford St., Stamford CT) on Sunday December 2nd at 6:30PM.  $25 includes admission, food, mini-bellydance lesson (cash bar).  I am so delighted to share this dance, once again, with my community.  My students have worked hard to learn the choreography and my professional colleagues are an inspiration.  Members of my advanced student troupe will perform solos as well: Starlet and Zella.

This time around we are so happy to bring back the LIVE MUSIC – courtesy of Carmine & Friends (Carmine – Oud, Brad – Doumbek, Casey Bond – bass doumbek, Eylem – Violin).

Our guest dancers are:

Nahara (based in Nyack, NY) – www.NaharaDance.com

Erica Joan (based in Brooklyn, NY) – www.ericabellydance.com

Uza (based in Brooklyn, NY) – https://www.facebook.com/uza.dancerny

As usual, the beautiful Zella will be the Mistress of Ceremonies and my husband Peter is the Guru of all things technical.

In order to ensure that the restaurant has adequate food, an informal headcount is needed.  Please contact dancingtava (at) yahoo.com if you plan to attend.  We will do our best to accommodate up to 90 people.

I look forward to these nights and I’m grateful to be able to have the friends, students and colleagues to make them possible.

~Tava

www.BellydancebyTava.com

Tava's Bi-Annual Evening of Bellydance

What a Week!

I’ve been too busy to write as often as I’d like but I really appreciate all of you who subscribe and take the time to read my posts.  It’s a great outlet to combine my love of writing with my love of dance.  In the meantime, I’ll keep dancing up a storm.  Great shows under my belt this week and some fun gigs to look forward to as well.  Somebody pinch me I’m living my dream!  If only I got a bit more sleep in the process but, you can’t have it all.  Here are some clips from recent shows:

Thanks to Josie’s International School of Dance for inviting me to dance at Sonora and showcase a blend of modern and traditional Arabic dance.  Here is a contemporary veil number:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F9hDNqu6RI

and Sword Balancing:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KAkHrwoN4o

And for something a little different, a performance with rock band for a benefit concert.  The band “The Scrubs” is a collective of physicians and special guest musicians.  This time Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Joey Molland from Badfinger.  I just supplied a few flames to “Light my Fire.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUa2-Q1fzHM

After 12 hours of dance this week-end, I decided to blast Black Flag and treat myself to some good wine and even better company.  At the end of the day on a week-end like this one, I may have stray pieces of glitter all over my home but I’m going to put on an old metal T-shirt and treat myself to some completely non-glamorous R & R.  Coming up: Donna Summer meets bellydance (duet performance with fellow dancer Sira), an event for an animal rights activist, regular restaurant performances and a host of other events.

 

Feline Lessons in Life and Dance

Those who know me are well aware that I lost my dear cat Willa over the summer.  She was a petite and sassy gal who moved with such deliberate steps that we felt her walk needed its own soundtrack.  My husband used to joke that she would curl up and vibrate with the frequency of the Universe because her stare was so intense and her personality much larger than her small frame.  As the months passed, our raw grief was replaced by a quiet empty feeling and the occasional laugh over our favorite Willa memories.  I grew even closer with my remaining cat, Satchmo.  His grief seemed to trump my own and he wailed every night until he had no voice left.  Little by little, he resumed his normal behavior but was never quite the same after Willa’s passing.

We got Satchmo in November of 2000.  He quickly showed us what a true character he was, in addition to being totally fearless.  He could climb anything, jump anywhere, and had a huge enthusiasm for life and for us.  We called him “Big Love” because there was nothing that made him happier than showing affection to my husband and I.  He lived on our shoulders and would fall asleep staring into our eyes. . .literally hugging us with his paws.  Sadly, we lost him just over a week ago.  It seemed the stress of losing his best feline friend, coupled with years of chronic asthma, was too much for his lungs.  We tried everything to save him, and it broke our hearts to say goodbye.  The sadness has been tremendous.

People might be quick to point out all of the major problems in the world (natural disasters, genetically modified food, poverty, stagnant economy, antibiotic resistance, etc…) and wonder how I can be so upset over my two cats.  The fact is, an animal’s comfort is unique.  My time with them was a great way to decompress after dealing with certain harsh realities.  When the stress became too much to bear, a sweet little cat would come walking up my chest to remind me that for this moment, there is peace.  It was a gift which I never took for granted.  There is mounting evidence about the health benefits of pet ownership but any animal lover is not surprised by this information.  The bond we feel with our pets is profound.  At this stage in the grieving process, I am looking for silver linings… for lessons learned…for a way to acknowledge their memories.  Since I am a dancer, it is no surprise that I want to honor these memories while doing the thing I love the most.

My first performance after Willa died was very emotional.  My friends and students came with me, knowing I might need some extra support.  I dedicated my dance to her and asked her to please share some of her grace and her confidence.  When Willa inspires my movements, they are both delicate and feminine.  But Willa was also a great reminder that something can be small and have a commanding presence at the same time. I love to play with this concept when I dance and feel myself become taller.

Since losing Satchmo, I have thought about the vulnerability it takes to be a performer.  It takes a lot of courage to approach an audience with an open heart like my fellow dancers and I do all the time.  We risk rejection.  Sometimes we convert an uptight stick in the mud into a bellydance enthusiast, other times we are not as lucky.  In any case, when I think of Satchmo, it reminds me to take that leap of faith with my audience.  On some nights, it may seem easier to plaster on a smile and look past people, disconnected from their reaction.  Satchmo’s lesson is to always dance with heart.  Last night, I attended a bellydance show at Drom.  Some of the dancers hopped off the stage into the audience for a song.  I watched them scan the crowd for that friendly face that beams with the opportunity to share a moment with beautiful dancer.  It only takes one smile to make it all worthwhile.

Lastly, I want to thank my friends and family for helping me through this.  I have experienced death and loss before, and I assume I will again.  It is nice to know that I have your support along the way.  Thank you for the shoulders to cry on, the giggle fits, the heart to heart chats at all hours, the empathy and the love.  These are the best silver linings I could hope for and I will always do the same for you.

With Willa’s grace and Satchmo’s heart, I’ll dance my way through this.

Rest in peace Willa and Satchmo…

Tava is a professional bellydance artist in NY and CT

The Joy of Rapport

Whenever I complete a flurry of performances in a short time, I take a few moments to form a mental “highlight reel” of my gigs and I think about the moments that really stand out in my mind (for both good and bad reasons).  Recently, I started to think about what makes some performances more magical than others?  Sure there are a whole host of factors that impact the success of a show, but I also think there is that x-factor that we can’t really control. 

Many things can vary on my end.  My energy level, connection with the music (or musicians), my mood, even my costume can change the way I interpret the music or influence my movements.  Think about it feels to move in flowy chiffon vs. shiny lycra.   The audience can be a mix of ages, genders, or cultures with varying levels of …eh hem… lubrication.  For instance, a Sunday afternoon birthday party is going to feel different from, say, a New Year’s Eve party at 11 30PM.  But beyond all of that, what is it that makes some performances feel like an equal give and take between audience and dancer where both are truly elevated by the experience?  In a word, I believe it is, rapport.

Wikepedia describes rapport as “one of the most important features or characteristics of subconscious communication.  .  . a commonality of perspective.”   As a performer, I strive to communicate joy, sorrow, longing and humor with my dance.  Ideally, the audience gets this and responds in a way that demonstrates their recognition of the feeling.   While joy may be the strongest emotion I express when performing in certain venues, it doesn’t mean I tack on a smile  the entire time.  Joy is expressed through playful gestures, body lines, and eye contact that people subconsciously recognize and (hopefully) reciprocate.

So, how does a bellydancer establish rapport with an audience of strangers?  When I was in graduate school for my Counseling degree, we had entire courses devoted to feeling and demonstrating empathy which is a close cousin of rapport.  We learned about how subtle factors such as the position/angle of our head, tone of our voice, eye contact and leaning back or forward in our seat would impact our clients.   But there is no “empathy formula” that equals success every time.  Some people just seem to have a natural time feeling connection while others struggle.  In a group situation like dancing for an audience, it is even harder.

If we accept the idea that it is subconscious communication, how can we influence the process of building rapport so that our audience has the best experience possible?  My first thought is to be as prepared as possible and ask as many questions as you can when you are hired for a gig.  I try to get a sense of who I am dancing for and choose my music and costuming accordingly.  Secondly, I need to be “filled” before I dance.  This may mean a brief meditation with my warm-up, taking a moment to dedicate my set to someone or some issue I care about, or bouncing up and down to build up my energy and get out of my head.  When the music starts I seek out friendly faces to make eye contact with.  For others, I become a bit coy and lower my eyes or peek at them from over my shoulder so I don’t come on too strong.   Soon after, I realize that I love what I’m doing and let the music take care of the rest.  If I’m genuine with my movements and emotions, it works much better than forcing it to happen.  The rest is up to the chemistry of the group and factors I cannot control. 

This past week-end, I had a restaurant full of people chanting my name, standing on their feet, and clapping.  I wish I could say this happened all the time but, for whatever reason, the rapport was strongest with that particular group.  If I could learn the secret formula, I would bottle it up and distribute it to my performer buddies.  But, then again, sometimes the thrill of  a show is the possibility of great rapport and knowing it will be there might take some of the magic out of it.  Whatever the case, I always enjoy those moments of pure dancing bliss when I realize it’s not about me, my technique, or my costume, but that it is an honor to participate in a shared positive experience with strangers. 

Happy dancing everyone!  Happy 2011.