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In order to understand the dance one must be still. And in order to be still, one must dance. (Rumi)

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(Andre M. photography)

My favourite kind of sweat happens on a dance floor.  My second favourite kind of sweat is in a dance studio. Working on a choreography or drilling moves and combos in a workshop. Sweat  makes you feel like you’re really working on something, taking effort, pushing limits. On the late night dance floor, the experience is often more transcendent, cleansing and desperate. That point in the night where you no longer have a choice… a process has been put in motion and it simply must carry through for reasons not  entirely understood by the mind. But the body, yes.

The summer has been eventful, and the nice whether so savoured that I rarely want to sit at the computer long enough to this. post. Sugar Shakers performed at one of our favourite annual gigs: the Spadina Museum’s Great Gatsby Garden Party. We had a super enthusiastic crowd for our Charleston lesson, everyone dressed to the nine as usual.

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Toronto was the home to World Pride this past June and I was proud to perform once again with Serpentina at one of the local stages on the Sunday, as part of the annual ‘Bellydancers with Pride’ show. Here are the three of us who performed, donning our new harem pants. On the Thursday of Pride week, Serpentina was also a part of the Dorothy’s Walk west end pride celebration put on by Lakeshore LGBTQ, where we performed as part of a variety show. A few shots of us sweating our bindis off in the blazing hot sun.

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Recently I had the pleasure of being part of the audience for the Om Laila Steamy Summer Celebration at May Cafe. . With that special  blend of dance, zylls and arabic singing, like only Om Laila does it. Featuring a number of local dancers  and live music by Nomadica, the night couldn’t have ended better. A zaar, led by Roula. Oh man it had been a while but when the audience was invited to throw down, I kicked off my shoes and took off my rings (learned that lesson the hard way –so long delicate amber ring!) and got lost in the rhythm, hair shaking like life depended on it. Catharsis.

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Updates on my current projects coming really very soon…til then, here are some things about town this weekend. Not all related to shows, just some neat stuff for summer(ish) city living.

Serpentina North Ensemble with live electronic set by Jim Boz and guitar by Justin of Amy’s Arms. This Friday at Neutral!

Info here.

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Hip Hip Hooray Cabaret –a new monthly belly dance and world fusion event. First one is this Saturday. Details here.

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Tiki Lani Lanai (tiki gods heavenly patio). Hosted by Toronto Vintage Society. I know you love this kind of kitsch as much as I do!

Details here

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Brunch at Lipstick & Dynamite. The new go-to place, its kitschy/vintage decor, good people and a new  Sat/Sun brunch menu…perfect  for a relaxing afternoon after a night on the town. Oh and pinball. Vegan-friendly menu, yes!

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Being barefoot is good for our health and good for our soul. Barefoot dancing rejuvenates the dancer in a way that dancing with shoes does not. There is a lot of talk these days about the benefits of being barefoot, commonly referred to as ‘earthing’ in a therapeutic context. If you don’t believe me, ask the internet. Even better, just take off your shoes and go for a walk…be your own expert!

Since I last posted, I have completed the first portion of teacher training with Roula Said at Om Laila in her wonderful  little studio that you can only get to through an enchanted little garden in the heart of downtown. Next I’ve moved into the practicum and have started with a small group of students who have so kindly been offering me feedback on my teaching. While I have taught some classes here and there over the years, I have never ventured into the world of teaching ongoing classes and its not specifically a goal of mine to ‘get into’ teaching. But over time more people ask me if I teach –often after a performance or during a conversation about dance –and I would like to develop these skills should opportunities arise. I have a particular interest in the therapeutic effects of dance, and am dreaming up ways to merge movement with some of my other interests in community-based healing work.

Being in teacher training with Roula Said is a special thing, we are the first group she has trained in her Seven Waves style and while all of us will have our own take on it and bring it differently into our practices, all of us are Om Laila devotees and there was no much love and engagement in this process, and though it was a small group, it was an attentive and inspiring one. And the practicum hours continue, as I reach out to groups and people who have stuck in my memory as expressing a love for dance or needing a movement practice of some sort as a way to remember fluidity in this hard world.

In other dance news, Serpentina has a new site and even some swag with the new logo. We have been selling the tank tops out and about, just message me if you want more info on that (various colours and only $15). Last weekend, Serpentina performed at the Lavish Project Gala Show, debuting our new kathak-inspired choreography. Under the guidance of Orkideh, our leader who has been studying kathak for years, we delved into fusions of bellydance and kathak –newer territory for those of us with minimal Indian dance background. The angles and mudras marry so beautifully to ATS, it was a lovely piece to work on with the troupe and as always so much fun to perform at the Darkside Studio.

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Since January, I have been part of the production Inanna, created, directed and choreographed by the beautifully sultry Joanne Camilleri. We rehearse our asses off every Sunday and that is soon to ramp up as we move closer to show time. Stay tuned here for more info, this show promises to be like no other, a sort of modern, psychedelic multi-sensory adventure into the story of Inanna –the Sumerian Goddess of Love. Here are a few shots of the dancers from the past couple of months…a super cool crew to work with that’s for sure.

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Dancing is such a deeply fulfilling and exhausting thing. Pleasure and pain, can’t have one without the other.

 

imagesThe year I was born, A Taste of Honey released this record. Twenty years later, I discovered it in a dusty music shop and sixteen years later it remains a loved part of my vinyl collection. The years keep going and now I am another age, something I never shy away from. How could I with all that the passage of time has allowed me, all of the hours and hours of learning and practicing of movement that only time will allow? And all of the refining and seasoning still to come. Dance and movement training can’t be rushed and rather than looking at time missed, I look forward to the learning, opening, and realizations that fluid movement will bring –not just in a studio, but in life. With people, on the dancefloor at 2am or waiting for a bus. The fluidity of movement is never to be taken for granted or confined only to the studio and stage. I’ve recently returned from Cues & Tattoos in Seattle, an improvisational bellydance (as in ATS and ITS) festival with Serpentina North Ensemble (minus two troupe mates who were greatly missed…next year ladies, next year!). After last year studying with Rachel Brice, Mira Betz and Carolena Nericcio, the expectations were high (see my post about last years festival here). My first workshop was with Amy Sigil of Unmata, a three hour primer on her signature super fast style of ITS. This was my first time learning from Amy and her teaching style is truly impressive, in its clarity, repetition and building on the fundamentals of ITS. Without a basic foundation in ATS, people may have been left tripping over their own feet. Fortunately most people there had ATS if not ITS in their repertoire, allowing us to pick it up with some level of ease. Not only did Amy teach us the fundamentals of her dialect of improv group dance but we were ‘tested’ when put into smaller groups to assume the lead position for all the moves we learned. My personal favourite is her version of the Arabic Twist, which when combined with quarter and half turns makes for a high impact set of moves.

with Donna Mejia 2014Later that afternoon I took another three hour with Donna Mejia, ‘Le Funk Arabi’. I did not know much about Donna and I’m so happy to have learned from her this weekend. As an ethnomusicologist, Donna’s knowledge of music, social issues and cross cultural dialogue informs her fusions in a deep and respectful way. The music in this workshop was all underground arabic hip hop and to this soundtrack we learned some combos infused with house, hip hop and bellydance. Her workshop the next day was a whole other flavour, looking at improvisational dance, not in the ATS sense but as in movement experiences that involve, as Donna put it,  “the deliberate act of using the body over cognition.” Moving only slightly into the realm of contact improv, I can say that I felt the community of the room as more cohesive after this three hour session, due to I think the internal experience of tapping into our bodies and also connecting with others in an unstructured way. I couldn’t help but think, of the experience of a dancefloor in a social setting…mainly the kind of setting I have known a dancefloor to be: hours of music, mixed together into the longest song you can imagine. And all of the dynamics that happen as people move as a group, from intersection, repulsion, divergence, resonance –terms used in improv can also apply to the autonomous zone that is ‘the dancefloor.’  And that’s not even getting into issues of transcendence. I’ll save that for another entry.

I got to work on some floor moves with Ashley Lopez in her “Floortastic” workshop. Lately I’m a super keener on floorwork, knee pads now a part of my bag-o-dance gear as I better understand the mechanics of dancing on your knees and dream up ways to incorporate it into my practice. My last workshop of the weekend was with Calamity Sam, who focused on non-choreographed performance and tips and tricks for addressing common issues that arise when there is no choreography to cling to.

For the first time our ITS group Serpentina North Ensemble performed at the Cues and Tattoos, Serpents Muse. As the guidelines required at least 50% improv, we went with a choreographed entrance and moved into an upbeat improv set. It was awesome to finish our weekend up with a performance and for so many dancers. I think our biggest compliment had to be the woman who approached us just after our show, who said “I don’t bellydance, but watching your troupe made me want to.” While we train and practice and sweat over holding this still while hitting that beat with this part, etc…at the end of the day, if you make someone want to dance, that’s meaningful and deeply satisfying.

 

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On the plane home from Seattle I dreamt of the whole troupe being there next year and other adventures to come this summer. I schemed new things for my own practice and current collaborations. Although I don’t discount the local expertise to learn from and support here in Toronto, traveling for dance always brings its own unique set of insights and experiences. Ever unfolding.

 

 

 

 

 

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Although I told myself this winter would be low key and I would mostly be spent in a nourishing cocoon of books, ideas and ginger tea, 2014 has been filled with new collaborations, focused planning and steady practice. Also trudging through snow, sleet and last week several inches of rain to get to shows. Doing it for the love, if not always for the comfort!

In January, I began rehearsals with Inanna, a production created and directed by Joanne Camilleri. Dancing, film, live music, gorgeous costumes…I’m excited to be a part of this. Stay tuned, promo to come.

Another project House of Shimmy, kicked into high gear in January, with long time dance conspirator and friend Victoria. Although we have been doing shows together in some capacity for several years, we are finally have a name that reflects our love of bellydance, our inspiration from various dance cultures, and willingness to break traditions. House of Shimmy was so pleased to work with Random Order for their Black Lipstick Kiss album release at the Mod Club. (photo credit: Alexandra Gelis)

by Alexandra Gellis

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The end of February kickstarted a whirlwind of rehearsals and shows for Serpentina: Winter Mirage, The 4th Annual Dragonfly Majlis (an ‘East Meets West’ theme included variety of bellydance genres and some cultural/historical talks), and today the much anticipated TedX at York University today.

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Moonlight Mirage Feb 2014

Somehow Serpentina also managed to get to the ‘Kathak for Bellydancers’ workshop last weekend with Joanna DeSouza. All the dancers were hungry for more…her engaging style of transmitting the traditions of kathak with such skill and grace was really a wonderful experience. Rumour has it, there will be a part 2 of this workshop.

In only a few short weeks I will be in Seattle at Cues and Tattoos, until then some ‘downtime’ relatively speaking, of regular rehearsals. May we all keep the spirit nourished through this deep freeze. Perhaps some thoughtful and music for the deep contemplation and hibernation of this arctic vortex. Maybe you will enjoy these selections as much as I do…if not, go find something that makes your ears happy.

Alice Russel covering Cee-Lo’s Crazy

Yuna covering Nirvana’s Come As You Are

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Its pretty cool that wordpress does this annual review where you can see how people find your blog, where they are viewing from, etc. Having been a teen when the “world wide web” came into my livingroom, I’m still really fascinated with the possibilities of such far reaching communication for collaborations, understanding across diversity, political organizing and of course the lifeblood that keeps me from going under…music. And thus, dance. Here’s to using this mass scale communication tool for the benefit of all.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 970 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 16 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The longest night

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The longest night has come and gone. Happy solstice people, here’s to the return of the sun. But until that time may  we all have comfort in a winter cocoon –whatever that means to you.

Since my last blog, dance life continues to be as expansive, therapeutic and challenging as ever. September brought the final days of Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market where Serpentina enjoyed dancing alongside other local talents for an appreciative crowd in the streets.

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In these photos, I’m wearing my new Medina Maitraya headpiece..a beauty I had been awaiting in the mail. I have been lusting over her designs for some time now. Its beautifully made and a minimally glitzy flapper/gladiator look which goes so well with my costumes. Definitely my favourite costume piece of the year!

October brought the annual Moonlight Tribe celebration, held by Orkideh of Serpentina, for the all night art festival Nuit Blanche. Once again held in Habeeba’s bellydance studio, this year was the best turnout ever with people packed in throughout the night to see some of Toronto’s best dancers. Bellydance, classical Indian, contact dance, Arabic singing (lililili! to Roula Said), and of course all of the amazing fusion that runs in between and across the genres. I had more than a few performances over the course of the night…first Sugar Shakers flapper numbers, a vintage/charleston/bellydance solo and last but never least a group improv with the ladies of Serpentina North Ensemble. It was a wonderful long night being both dancer and audience.

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Then the whirlwind of October continued with the Halloween Bazaar of the Bizarre, where Strange Dames set up to sell our creations.  Here is one happy customer wearing one of my cowl’s. She also makes really awesome sock monkeys!

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October also brought a trip to Detroit for the Theatre Bizarre event –a grandiose costume party and freakshow in a giant masonic temple.  I enjoyed this elaborate carnivalesque party with a great crew of new and old friends. We also checked out the Museum of Modern Art in Detroit, and a weekend marketplace…where i realized recently I had never been into that market area during the day (only warehouse parties over a decade ago!)

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1381659_10151934553359557_1023942933_nNovember brought with it less showtime but still the continuation of ongoing practice. To my delight, Roula Said is once again holding classes in movement and sound like no one else does so I have a weekly dose of that medicinal movement in her new coach house studio space. My appetite for zill-playing has gone unsatiated for some time and having a weekly place to play again has been divine! I had the absolute pleasure of dancing to live music played by Nomadica at the festive party early December. It’s actually the first time I have danced solo to this band and in such an intimate space (the Handlebar in Kensington Market) surrounded by some of my closest and longest dance friends, this was a much needed celebration to ring in the dark season of winter.

In November I had an opportunity to be a part of a Day of the Dead photo shoot with local photographer Paul Devisser. And what happens when you put a group of performers together for a shoot? We take our own pics during the breaks! Good times with some of my favourite dancing ladies…

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And now with December come and nearly gone, reflections abound. I don’t really do new year resolutions, but the list-maker in me jumps at the chance for a new list as each year wraps up. So now that I reflect on my dancers wish list –or should I say work-my-ass-off-for-it list,  here are some of my 2013 highlights:

  • traveling to Seattle with some troupe mates for Cues & Tattoos, where I took 3 workshops with Rachel Brice, 2 with Mira Betz and a Fat Chance floor work workshop with Carolena Nericcio all in one weekend! Immediately following was my first visit to Portland Oregon, where I checked out classes at Datura and Gypsy Caravan
  • working with a skilled physiotherapist on alignment, strength and posture that did incredible things for my dance and overall everyday movement
  • increased flexibility (see backbend pic above…I couldn’t do that last year!)
  • maintained a consistent home yoga practice
  • completed Basic Black certification at Darkside Studio
  • developed a vintage jazz/charleston/bellydance fusion choreography to ‘Charleston Butterfly’ and got to debut it at Darkside’s gala show for the Kami Liddle intensive.
  • danced to Nomadica live
  • I continue to have the honour of dancing with the amazing ladies of Sugar Shakers and Serpentina North Ensemble. The synergy of all the dedication to and passion for dance is definitely a highlight of my year! FUmasquerade2013
  • and the award for 2013’s most carnivalesque and exhilarating gig goes to: Fedora Upside Down Masquerade 2! with this longstanding but yet-to-be-defined trio

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL! MAY YOUR 2014 BE FILLED WITH HEALTH, LOVE AND MOVEMENT.

 

 

 

 

Fall apart, fall together.

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Creative grounds are shifting. Leaving space for new things to percolate. Stretching out time by not packing the schedule is my new fascination. And while at first it can make one feel like they are missing out on something — when projects or collaborations go on hiatus, shapeshift or drift– it ultimately creates the kind of space and time of which new possibilities are born.

This is why I love fall: fall apart, fall together. Winds of change are blowing strong. And this has everything to do with my adventures in movement.

The spring brought with it studies with some truly inspiring people at Cues and Tattoos. This being my second year attending with Orkideh –one of my troupemates in Serpentina North Ensemble – the excitement of the new instructors mixed with being more familiar with the event made for particularly enjoyable anticipation. There I studied in three workshops with Rachel Brice, two workshops with Mira Betz and one with floorwork workshop with FatChance Bellydance.

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with Mira Betz and son

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with Rachel Brice

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with Carolena Nericcio, grandmother of American Tribal Style (ATS) bellydance

While there wasn’t much time to explore Seattle, we took a bus to Portland when the conference finished. There we danced with a large group of Gyspy Caravan ladies and took some classes at Datura with Colette Todorov and Ashley Lopez.

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Being silly in Portland

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We capped it all off with a much needed restorative yoga class at a studio I can’t remember and spent the last few days vintage shopping and eating our way through a most vegan-friendly city.

The next major dance happening that I was looking forward to was the Kami Liddle intensive at the Darkside Studio. It was two days of really great drills, combos and group exercise. I was so excited be invited to perform at the gala show. I performed a vintage flapper fusion piece to Charleston Butterfly by Parov Stelar, as well as some straight up flapper goodness, ala Sugar Shakers. Thanks to PDV Photography for the lovely shots!

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Summer in this city is never complete without performing in the Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market. Serpentina did three editions of Bellydance Revolution, with two more to come.  Always a  relaxed festival atmosphere dancing in the streets alongside other local talent.

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This summer I had an opportunity to work on a shoot with local visual artist/VJ Jax-A-Muse, as she gathered dance footage for prepared for a big show at the Royal Ontario Museum. I had a great time working on the green screen for video as Jax got footage of various tribal bellydance movement. And lucky me, Adriana of Plastik Wrap just happened to drop in, and between her and Jax a great set of still photos were born. Looking forward to working with these creatrixes again, that’s for sure!

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Last but not least, here are a few shots from the last couple of Sugar Shakers shows as well as my performance at Bellydancers with Pride with Undine Dance Co. and Serpentina (pride pics by PDV photography)…

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Savouring the sun as the nights get crisper, the dance schedule is about to pick up again. In a couple of weeks there will be workshops with Paulette Rees-Denis of Gypsy Caravan. Details on the Serpentina site. Be sure to check the Upcoming Shows section!

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