Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 round up

Well, that year happened quickly!

I've had an amazing year in dance this year and I am so grateful and happy for all the amazing opportunities I have had. I've been able to work with some wonderfully talented and generous teachers and determined and dedicated students.

In January I decided to completely overhaul the way I approached my dance practice. It's been a tough road but I've got a lot of work under my shimmy belt and I am really feeling the benefits. February was Valentines day, which meant preparing a special restaurant set, so I really did hit the ground running.

March was an amazing month, starting with Majma, where I did all 5 workshops with the wonderful Ava Fleming. I also managed to fit in a private lesson with Ava, which was absolutely brilliant. There really is nothing like spending an intensive lesson working on exactly what you need to work on with such a great teacher. I am still working on and growing through the inspiration and practical tips from that weekend. I also got to watch Ava dance "Too Close", one of my favourite fusion pieces of hers, from right by the stage.

Then there was Ashley Lopez. I was super lucky to bag a place on a low-ratio intensive weekend with Ashley. She is another brilliant teacher, both in terms of technical dance and inspiration. We did a lot of evil conditioning and some mad layering and technical geekery. We also had a really good session on creating a training schedule and a session on postural analysis, which I have applied to my own dance as well as my teaching.

I also started on Alexis Southall's Tribal Fusion Education programme. This means I have been whizzing up and down the M5 on a regular basis for studio time with Alexis. There are 17 of us on the programme and it has been a blast getting to train and hang out with the other dancers, many of whom were already good friends. We've been sharing ideas and discussions and our passion for Tribal Fusion dance in general. Alexis is a fabulous teacher, she's absolutely lovely but also understands the need to challenge us to push our boundaries. I would like to steal her and bring her down here so I can train with her every day!

It's been a good year for teaching too. I taught a fire dance workshop for Gina and the Bellygees on their glamping weekend, which was a great opportunity to hang out with those ladies and get to know them better.

Classes in Glastonbury and Bridgewater have continued and it's been great meeting a new wave of dancers coming into these groups. Glastonbury classes start back on the 11th and Bridgwater on the 5th (first session is a Burlesque session for giggles).

I've also taught a few hen parties which are always hilarious, a workshop at a large exhibition arena.

I hosted my second hafla in Glastonbury, which was a great success. I was also hosting Samantha Riggs and Demelza Fox who both taught workshops. Sam stayed with me for a little while and it was lovely to get to know her. One thing I love about the bellydance world is that I am always meeting such amazing, fun people. Sam's workshop was so much fun, and it was great to see the participants on stage with her showing off their new Bhangra skills. Demelza is another lovely, fun teacher and everyone got a lot out of her stage presence workshop. I also taught a Dark Fusion workshop. I was really impressed with the ladies who took part, the worked really hard and were totally game when I suggested we perform the choreography at the hafla, after just 2 hours spent learning it! They were fabulous!

We also had some great performances at the hafla in various styles. I am always impressed when people turn out and support events, but moreso when I see the calibre of performances on offer and the amount of work that clearly goes into it. I've also really enjoyed attending a whole bunch of haflas this year. It's been a crazy busy time, to the point that I sadly had to turn down invitations to events I really wanted to participate in.

Autumn brought the conception of the Laylet Amar Ensemble. I got the opportunity to rehearse and perform with talented, live musicians, as well as getting together with Oona for dance conspiracy! Here's a little video of part of the performance:

This performance also happened the same week as Infusion Emporium, which was a brilliant weekend of spending time with some of my best dancey people, training outside my comfort zone with Heather Stants and performing a duet with Kitty Kohl at the fabulous and hilarious Glitterball Shakedown.

I'm in my midwinter downtime now, where I sort out my accounting (yawn), plan my calendar for next year and start shortlisting performance ideas and music. Next year is going to be brilliant too. I already have some performances on the cards, a show in Wells, the TFEP showcase and some haflas. There's some good learning to be done and I'm looking forward to finding out what unfolds.

Whatever happens, I wish you a happy, dance filled new year.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

What should I wear to bellydance class.

One of the most common questions asked of me by prospective new dancers joining my class is "what should I wear" so it's probably high time I wrote a blog about it.

I'm going to start with the straight answer that I offer students, if that's what you are looking for:

Wear something you feel comfortable moving in, and can see your movements in. Leggings or yoga pants with a vest or t shirt is fine, you can wear a shimmy belt if you like (I lend them out) bare feet or soft dance shoes are good.

There. Done.

But there's a little more to it than that - because otherwise I wouldn't have started writing about it.

I'm not going to talk about footwear though, because I've done it before.

Dressing for class

What dancers wear to class depends upon a number of factors. The style of the class and the preference of the teacher (and other students) dictates much, the dancer's approach to dance and what they are getting out of it, what the dancer feels comfortable and functional in and what stage of their dance career they are at.

Vashti's short article on Shira's site is spot on. I have been through all these stages and I'm now at the point where I have to remind myself when I am teaching not to dress as I do when I am learning, because people tend not to recognise me as the teacher and think I am a scruffy stray who wandered into the wrong room! [I think I am going to have to write a whole other article about dressing as a teacher, because that's a whole new can of worms.]

Skirt or pants?

Some dancers like to come to class in a skirt, the right shape skirt can help emphasize hip movements and if you want to dress up a little for class a pretty skirt is a good option. I often wear a 25 yard skirt for ATS classes (wrapped and tucked) and occasionally a straight or basic fishtail skirt for Orientale classes too. The downside with skirts is that if the class involves floorwork, yoga or certain types of conditioning you might find a skirt impractical. A skirt also covers your legs and often your feet, which means your teacher can't keep an eye on your footwork.

Pants could be yoga/jazz pants, harem pants, leggings or specialist bellydance pants like Melodias. I find longer pants trip me up a bit, so I tend to go for calf length, leggings or harems with elasticated hems. Really full pantaloons can be a trip hazard, but they are OK for styles that don't involve too much fancy footwork.


Fitted/stretchy tops that allow the line of your body to be visible are really helpful when you are learning bellydance. Often your movements will be small to start with and they'll get lost under a voluminous t shirt or layers. A cropped layer for warmth over a normal vest top is great. You don't need to bare your midriff, in fact I don't think any of my current students do.

For the ladies, I would also recommend a sports bra. Especially for saiidi and suchlike. You might get away without but holding back for "lack of support" takes some of the fun out of your class. And while we are on it, for the chaps, Google "dance belt". You are welcome.

Shimmy belts

Noisy coin belts are sometimes a bone of contention. I encourage them in my classes, because my classes are small and I think the weight and auditory feedback is really useful for learners. In a large class or an echoey venue a lot of students with noisy belts and ants in their pants can be massively distracting (see Stork's sweary guide to sins in large workshops, if you are comfortable with sweary ranting). Also be aware that cheaper coin belts with stamped coins will "shed" as the sharp edges work through the thread. If this happens be sure to pick up your beads and coins before they cause injury.

Hipscarves and belts also serve the important purpose of making your hip movements clearly visible. So go for a colour that stands out. If you don't like the noise you can get quieter beaded ones, or just a bright fabric scarf. I have a habit of using my neckscarf (because we are back to the bit where I dress for class like I had to buy my clothes at a charity shop 5 minutes ago).

Remember that what you are wearing helps your teacher to see your dancing, so the clearer your attire is, the better feedback you will get.

Dressing for workshops

OK, there are probably 2 kinds of workshops, and they aren't always that clearly delineated, it's more of a sliding scale. I'm going to call them "fun" and "serious". Not because the fun ones aren't serious or the serious ones not fun, but for want of a better term.

"Fun" workshops are the ones aimed at dancers who dance "just" for fun. Often they happen before a local hafla or as part of an end of term celebration. They have descriptors like "try out a fun folk dance", "suitable for all levels" and tend to be a great laugh with a bit of a party atmosphere.

"Serious" workshops have descriptors that say things like "bring a yoga mat and water", they are aimed at dancers who want to be challenged and push their dance to the highest level.

There are instances where a workshop will have a clear mixture of "fun" and "serious" participants, and that's just fine too.

Fun workshops

For a lower impact, party atmosphere class, you can dress up a bit if you want to. Go for the skirts and your fancy tops, add a little bling (but make sure there's nothing sharp or spiky or generally health and safety  bothersome). Don't wear your performance kit, you'll likely still sweat in it, crumple it and generally shorten its lifespan.

Don't wear anything that is going to affect the learning of others in the room, like enormous headdresses (yes, I've seen that) or extremely noisy costuming - shimmy belts are usually still fine although some teachers will ask you to remove them. I usually go for a quiet belt if I don't know the teacher.

If you don't want to dress up, that's also fine. You can join me in the lost property bin club.

Serious workshops

If you know your workshop teacher has a thing for yoga/pilates. If they have asked you to bring a yoga mat. If the write up suggests it will be sweaty/physically challenging. If the focus is drilling or advanced technique. Then you need to dress for a workout/general dance class, not a bellydance party.

You are wasting your time and money if you can't take part in the class because you are hampered by your outfit. Avoid long/loose pants you will trip over. Make sure you can get down on the floor, sit in a straddle etc without being restricted or flashing everyone.

Go for leggings/pants and a vest, with layers, which you will need for warming up and cooling down, and a light, quiet hipscarf.

If there is floorwork you are going to need kneepads, if there is spinning/turns you will likely need shoes or dancepaws.

So there you go, question well and truly answered to death. I hope that takes some of the mystery/anxiety when preparing for a dance learning environment, and if in doubt, just keep it simple and functional, you will develop your own style and preferences as you go. .

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Reflecting on the sword

Sword is one of my favourite props. It's not a particularly culturally authentic prop, which is to say that while some Middle Eastern and North African dances do involve swords (or in some of the updated versions, rifles) the way that bellydancers use the sword in the west is not recognisable within the frame of MENA dance.

However, it is a very popular prop, it's flash and impressive, balance feats involving swords have a frisson of danger about them and audiences love that. There is also the advantage, when not attempting to create an accurate representation of a cultural dance, that we have the freedom to play, experiment and express our art however we wish.

Some dancers use weapons to create martial arts based pieces, Morgana is a great example of a dancer who blends her martial arts background with dance on stage.

I have also heard people criticise dancers for not doing this, for not "wielding" the sword "correctly" in their dance for instance. I think this criticism comes from a lack of consideration of what the dancer is trying to say with their dance (or perhaps what the teacher they learned from was trying to say), and I wanted to write a little about how we use weapons in dance, not to represent violence, but to subvert it.

I have martial arts training. I fought competitive, full contact Tae Kwon Do and I've trained in Western swordplay. When I dance with a sword, I'm not a fighter, I am a dancer. I don't hold my sword like a weapon, firstly, because it's not balanced like one, it's balanced to sit on my head, but also because part of the purpose of my dance is to take the sword as a classic symbol of violence, death and brutality, and subvert it as something delicate, graceful, even sensual.

Tech rehearsal for Juno's show in 2009
I've heard reports more recently, mostly from dancers in the USA, that they are being asked not to dance with a sword when booked for a performance, the reason being that it might remind people of the atrocities committed by Dae'sh extremists in the Middle East.

It makes me intensely sad that anyone would connect a beautiful performance with such things and moreso to see another way that terrorism creeps into our everyday lives.

As a counter to this I would suggest that artistic expression, dance, music and particularly the freedom of women to openly participate in the same, are all anathema to these extremists' ideals. Perhaps we are reaching a point where a woman, dancing, in public and subverting the symbol of the scimitar is becoming an act of defiance and ridicule against the perpetrators of violence.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Pushing our limits and the problem with comfortable

A few things have happened recently which got me thinking about comfort zones and learning, potential and achievement.

- I took a workshop with Heather Stants, who teaches very contemporary influenced fusion, a style which I find challenging to the point that I had previously concluded it "wasn't for me".

- A new student told me that she struggled with footwork and stated that she was slow at learning it.

- A prospective student asked if she would be able to perform in future.

When I started bellydance, one of the reasons I chose this particular form was because I believed that I had two left feet. I thought I couldn't handle footwork and I thought that bellydance didn't involve footwork.

I was wrong on both these counts.

It's taken years, but the greatest obstacle has not been my physical capability to move one foot and then the next without tripping over, it has been the mental understanding that it is OK to not get it first time, or second time, or the 50th time...

Dancing in Heather's workshop, I was trying to get my head/body around a combination that was all arms and legs and totally outside my comfort zone. I found myself thinking "this is hard", "I'm not good at this sort of thing", "I'm not getting this".

Then I mentally slapped myself around the face with a wet fish and told myself to sort it out. What I was experiencing wasn't being unable to do something, it was being unable to do something YET, and we have all experienced that with absolutely everything we can now do and take for granted. Every dance step we know, walking, talking, breathing. Not being able to do something does not mean never being able to do it, and it is not a good enough reason to give up.

If it frightens you, do it - Amanda Palmer

Your comfort zone is not where the good stuff happens. If you are comfortable doing something then you already know how to do it, so you aren't learning, you aren't progressing, you aren't growing.

It's OK to be uncomfortable. We live in a privileged world with constant progress towards making our lives easier, more convenient, more comfortable, and I think that sometimes we forget what it means to fight for something, to suffer because we know the reward will be worthwhile. There is not instant gratification for an artist, you have to sweat through the process.

Don't be afraid to get uncomfortable, you are safe. It's OK to be frustrated, it's OK to feel like your brain is overloaded, its OK if your muscles are struggling, if you are out of breath. It's all part of the process, this is what really living feels like.

The vast majority of my beginning students tell me that they are no good with footwork. I'm not sure why this is the case, perhaps it is because so much of the raqs sharqui vocabulary is so alien to those from a Western background, that they have no preconceptions, or take it for granted that it will be a struggle, but the feet? They assume that you either have it or you don't.

I have seen students begin the term falling over their own feet, but in 6-10 weeks, their grapevine, step touch and rocking step is second nature. If you can nail any one of those, you can nail any other step pattern. It's just a question of doing it over and over, slowly until it gets into your body. It will always be hard to start with, it will be automatic by the time you are done. Just don't give up before you get there.

The answer to the potential student's question is yes. You will be able to perform in time, if you put the work in. It may well be a couple of years, and I know that is daunting. When I first started out, I remember reading somewhere on Bhuz that one can expect to be at beginner level for around 2 years. A beginner? For 2 whole years? That seems like a long time when you have been dancing for 2 whole months! Well, time has flown and the more I dance, the more like a beginner I feel, and that's a good thing because it is merely an indicator of the immense amount of amazing dance experiences there are out there for the taking.

I do push my students, I am fairly unapologetic about it too! I won't throw them in the deep end (although I might encourage them to try the water just so they know how it feels), and I won't ask them to do anything they don't have the technical foundation to attempt safely. But I'm definitely not going to let them come back week after week dancing the same old material without testing their boundaries and trying new things. It's my responsibility as a facilitator of their dance journey to give them opportunities to test their limits and grow to meet their personal potential.

Naturally, I have to set the example by trying new styles, techniques and concepts. And when the going gets tough, I'll grit my teeth and get stuck in.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

What's in your gig bag?

I'm packing to go to Infusion Emporium at the moment (well, I'm procrastinating packing by writing a blog). It's a bit of a mammoth task because I have to have everything I need for attending workshops, being a bit fancy for the theatre show (by fancy I really mean, "not in sweaty leggings") travelling and staying overnight - Oh and because I love my students I am driving back early on Monday for my Glastonbury classes, so I need everything for that too. But the biggest obstacle is that I also need everything for performing at the Glitterball Shakedown.

When I do a performance, and often if I am teaching a hen party class or suchlike, I take my hallowed gig bag. It's a carry on size suitcase which has literally everything I could ever need in it. I carefully pack it beforehand, and "reset" it afterwards. Some of the contents is changeable, like costumes, props etc, and some of it is consistent.

For this weekend it doesn't make sense to take 2 suitcases, so I am having to decant the bits and bobs I need from my gig bag, into my weekend luggage. It's the little, consistent things that are the trick, because it has taken me a while to refine exactly what I need for any eventuality. Here's some of the stuff I carry around with me:

Hairgrips/bobby pins

I always have 2 packs of these, because the hairgrip pixies steal them at a frightening speed. Anyone who has hairgrips knows about the hairgrip pixies, they will take 80% of your stash every time you look away. Don't Blink.

If you buy in bulk, they just get lost faster, I have tried. So my rule is that I buy small packs, and there must be one in my dresser and 2 in my gig bag, all at least half full.

I carry 2 packs because one will be standard grips and the other heavy duty/wig grips, which can take the strain of pinning hairpieces, rats and bulky accessories.


My Minirig is one of my favourite things ever, no exaggeration. It's a speaker about the size of a large mug of tea, which is rechargable and surprisingly loud. Loud enough to teach with, on high gain you can get enough sound to perform with, even outdoors. Not super noisy, but enough. I have a 500W tailgate speaker which is louder, but it's about the same size as my gig bag, and I'm only going to double my luggage if I absolutely have to.

Even if I know my venue has a sound system, it is no trouble at all to carry the Minirig and that means that if there is an issue with sound, I can still teach/perform.

MP3 player

I go absolutely nowhere without my MP3 player. It has *all* my dance music on and specific playlists for particular lessons, moods and performance sets.

Tin of gubbins

Used hairgrips, safety pins (essential for securing costumes and last minute fixes), hairbands. Anything small and vital goes in my tin.

My tin of gubbins, essential kit.

Sewing kit.

This little repair kit came from my local craft shop. It's important to be able to fix  costumes on the go because a loose hook can be the difference between a servicable costume and having nothing to wear, or worse, a costume malfunction! The scissors are also great for trimming lashes.

All the underwear

In case I happen to forget to pack the appropriate underpinnings for the particular costume (Shira has a great article on this), I always carry a pair of black and a pair of fleshtone "invisible" knickers (seamfree, but I like to call them that because I never get tired of saying "I can't find my invisible knickers"), which between them will work for most costumes. I also carry a normal pair because I was raised to be prepared.

I also carry a pair of Capezio dance tights in my bag all the time, and a fleshtone, sleeved bellystocking, both are transferable to almost any costume if need be.


Body glitter, travel size hairspray, hairbrush, versatile red lipstick. These are necessities, so they stay in there. Also a spare shake and go wig, because nobody needs a hairmergency.

Eyelashes and glue

I always have a spare pair of eyelashes, just in case. Eyelash glue suffers in the same way as hairgrips. It's small and the pixies steal it. I use latex free eyelash glue, which isn't commonly available, so I buy lots of little bottles and secrete them in handy places (no use buying a large bottle, it dries up). Eyelash glue isn't just for eyelashes, I use a lot of little gems in my makeup and it's useful for wayward wig lace. Having spare glue is essential if any of the cornucopia of stuff stuck to my face comes loose.

Pre-gig war paint photo demonstrating how I might stick stuff on my face...

Health stuff

In case of emergency. Ibuprofen and paracetamol (for headaches or injuries), Tiger Balm and sanitary protection. More often than not I am lending this stuff to other dancers in need!

Wet wipes

Amazing all around for everything. You can wipe down the surface in the dressing room, before or after use. You can wipe the floor dirt off your feet, a smudge of hummus off your costume, take your make up off with them, all sorts of things.

Parking change.

Because there is nothing worse when you have somewhere to get to than finding yourself in a car park with no meter money... in costume.

Flyers and business cards

You never know where a networking opportunity might come up, so I try to keep a stock of class flyers and business cards on hand.

Video camera and tripod

One of the best ways to improve your dance is to video yourself and watch it critically. I do this in practice, but where I can, I try to do it for performances too, because sometimes stuff comes out under pressure. I carry a small video camera and a tabletop tripod for that purpose.

The changables

So all those things are a given, I might need them in most situations. I also have room in my bag for the items that are specific to a gig.

So if I am teaching a burlesque party, I will have half a case full of feather boas, spare gloves, party favours etc.

If I am doing a bellydance performance I have space for 2 complete costumes (providing only one of them is a bulky one) and a cover up, plus shoes, hairpieces etc.

Everyone's essentials are going to be different, and it has evolved over time as I have learned what I can do without and what I wished I had packed.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Dancing for an unresponsive audience.

Performing in public takes serious nerve. And nothing breaks your nerve like an audience who ignores you, doesn't react to your performance or worse, reacts negatively. Today I'd like to explore how this happens, and how not to let it ruin your performance.

Gigs with potentially tough audiences

Some performance venues carry a stronger potential for a tough crowd. It's important to prepare well for these and not rely on the atmosphere to carry the performance. If you are a nervous performer, or struggle not to take the audience reaction too personally, you might want to consider avoiding them.

Promenade performances

A promenade stage is a performance area where the audience is "passing through". It might be a high street, shopping arcade, carnival or fete. Essentially you don't have a captive audience and you may find that the vast majority of people walk past without casting you a second glance.

The unexpected or out of place performance

If people aren't expecting to see dance, they can be a more reluctant audience. It might be a fete, art show, music event or street performance, but if people are there with a purpose other than watching dance, they are liable to be less enthusiastic.

The uncomfortable party

This is a tricky one to predict. Often when a dancer turns up to a party performance, the atmosphere is great, the dancer is welcome and everyone gets in the spirit and has a smashing time. Sometimes it takes a bit more coaxing. Bellydance still suffers a little with the reputation for being a bit risque. There are still times when a dance performance is booked to gently embarrass the guest of honour, and that can be awkward for everyone. On the other hand you might find the guest of honour and organisers really "get" your performance, but other guests are uncomfortable or unpleasant.

Culturally inappropriate

I've heard tales of dancers or groups being booked for "world" or "cultural" events and being poorly received by an audience of authentic Middle Eastern people who don't recognise their own culture in the performance (or do recognise it and don't appreciate how it is represented). This is a matter of communication, preparation and authenticity. If you are dancing a westernised or fusion style then it is important to make that clear, and if you are dancing an authentic Middle Eastern style to an audience who know what they are looking at, it better be rock solid authentic. That means music, costume, movement, the lot. It means no pop music with controversial lyrics, no Turkish in a Greek venue and there's a potential whole other post on all that....

Be prepared for a flat audience

If you are heading off to your local friendly hafla, it doesn't always matter if you are a bit unsure of yourself, because it is a safe space. Most haflas are supportive and fun, and they know what you are facing. You can get away with assuming that the audience will carry you a little. If I am trying out something new, I will always do it in a safe place among other dancers who understand the process, not for the general public.

If you are up for a tougher gig, your set needs to hold up on its own. Think about making it suitable for the occasion. Think about how to catch their eye and hold their attention. Use music that excites you and wear a costume that you feel fabulous, not self-conscious in.

Don't project motives onto your audience

"They didn't like my performance"

"They looked at me disapprovingly"

"They hated me"

I have heard all of these from dancers after a tough performance, but the truth is that you just can't tell what is going on in your audiences' thoughts. On more than one occasion I have had an audience member who sat with their arms folded and apparently scowling, go out of their way to tell me how much they loved my performance.

You don't know how someone's day is going, you can't say that the person who rushed past your stage area glowering wasn't just late for an appointment or hungry, or just had a row with their partner. Let it go.

It is your job to perform and present your art. It is not your job to control how it is received. If you have put the work in to present an appropriate and skilled performance, you have not failed.

Of course some people will react genuinely negatively. You can hear their concerns if you choose, but remember that not all critique is valid or necessary, process it as you will.

Find someone to dance for and focus on them.

In most audiences you will find someone who is into your performance. So dance for them.

Don't make it creepy and actually just dance at them, but know that they are there and they are a reason to keep doing your best.

Sometimes it's a small child who is totally, unabashedly into the music and spectacle. Sometimes it's a couple of tweens who might be put off or embarrassed by more than a fleeting smile in their direction. It might be just that one person who is really enjoying the dance. [It might also be a slightly creepy guy in a grubby mac, ignore him....]

You might have just instigated some major revelation or change in that one person, that makes it worth it. Don't let them down.

Find your intrinsic motivation

Why do you dance? Do you perform solely to gain appreciation and gratitude from your audience? If so, that's OK, but you will need to choose your performance outlets accordingly. What about the other reasons?

Are you trying to share the art and raise awareness of your danceform among the public? Know that not everyone who is inspired or interested by the dance is going to respond with rapture and gushing from the outset. Sometimes you are just planting a seed. Being visible and letting people know that it is possible to dance, to dance with curves, or with age, as a woman, as a man - you are making an impact, even if you can't feel it at the time.

Are you dancing to express yourself? then dance, send out your message to the world. You won't always make waves, but the act of expression remains.

Or perhaps you are dancing because you just love the music, and just love to dance. So keep doing it. Nobody can take that joy away from you, even if you offer it to share, and they choose not to accept.

Just keep dancing.

Or just imagine these guys in place of your actual audience.

Laylet Amar at the Gaia's Union Refugee Crisis Fundraiser in Glastonbury

Glastonbury bellydancers shimmy on for charity

A rare and lovely opportunity arises this week for lovers of music and dance in Glastonbury. So don’t miss your chance to see live Arabic music with not one, but two fabulous dancers - and it’s all for a good cause!

The Laylet Amar Ensemble (Night of Hope) is a collaboration featuring local dancers Oona La Luna and Kash Salem performing alongside musicians Michael Burridge (oud/riq), Elvin Herrick (darbuka/guitar) and Mark Ommadom (darbuka/frame drum). This is a brand new grouping, created especially for this occasion where they will be performing alongside some of Glastonbury’s most popular local performers.

Expect a set of popular Egyptian music, enchanting and lively, to bring balmy Arabian nights to the chill of our Somerset autumn.

To catch their debut performance, and a night of music, song, dance and poetry, come along to the Gaia’s Union Refugee Crisis Fundraiser, in the Glastonbury Assembly rooms, from 8pm on Thursday 29th October. Suggested donation £3.

Laylet Amar in rehearsal this week;
 L-R Mark Ommadom, Oona La Luna, Michael Burridge, Kash Salem, Elvin Herrick. 

Friday, 16 October 2015

No dancer is an island.

Recently I have been up to my ears in all sorts (apologies for the blog absence) and a lot of that has to do with collaborations!

I wrote recently about my ongoing work with Doum Tekka, our resident darbuka player, which, apart from brief work with musicians - like the Miss Bellydance UK competition in 2013-  represents the sum total of my work with others since leaving Juno in Weymouth. All of a sudden I have 2 separate collaborative performances happening in the same week!

Firstly is on Thursday 29th October in the Glastonbury Assembly rooms. Gaia's Union is putting on a night of entertainment from local performers to raise money for Syrian refugees.

Laylet Amar is a collaboration involving local dancer, Oona la Luna, myself, and musicians Mark Ommadom, Elvin Herrick and Michael Burridge. We are doing a set of around 20 minutes including musical favourites. Also performing are a whole bunch of brilliant local bands and performers. If you are local, you should come.

I'm really looking forward to rehearsing with these guys over the next couple of weeks. I've danced to Elvin's fantastic drumming before in training, but otherwise this is the first time I have performed with any of the collective, so it's all very new and exciting!

In contrast, the next collaboration of the week is with my oldest dance peer. We've known each other since before either of us started dancing, and it was witnessing her love of the dance that inspired me to seek out a good teacher after a disastrous first few lessons nearly put me off dance entirely. We train together with Alexis Southall, but actually, we've never performed together before either!

Kitty Kohl and I are dancing together at the Glitterball Shakedown - The Infusion Emporium festival's notorious afterparty. Living on opposite sides of the country has made choreography and rehearsal a bit tricky, but it's looking great  so far and I'm really looking forward to performing in Wolverhampton on November 1st.

Infusion Emporium, guaranteed epic dance times and you can still book in.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Reflecting in the aftermath of Tribalgate

Those who are part of the global Tribal Fusion community, will be well aware of the enormous controversy and upheaval that has been happening in the last week, since the release of this statement, and subsequent responses.

I have been hanging back for a few days, digesting the information and giving those directly affected an opportunity to speak and be heard on the subject. I've never been a part of Tribal Fest (although I would have loved to attend at some point) and I think it is important to hold space and support those at the centre of the turmoil as things were coming to light. The noise to signal ratio in situations like this can become unworkable, especially in this age of social media where everyone has an opinion and a right to publish it.

That said, the whole situation has brought into the spotlight some really important issues and that is what I would like to write about today.

Our safe space.

The bellydance community is an amazing place for women. At its best it is a place where we are free from the pressures of the modern/media ideas of beauty, femininity, fashion or social mores.

It is no coincidence that the first session of my Red Goddess course focusses on Inanna and the shedding of societal expectations and masks in order to dance as our true selves. That's not something I can take credit for conceiving, it is a part of being an artist in the bellydance community.

Within our community, at haflas, festivals etc, we have the freedom to dress as we will, to express ourselves as we will, to be "unladylike" without judgement, to be in our own skin with confidence, to be sensual without inviting sexual objectification, to be primal without inviting disgust. There is so much power and importance in this.

As a teacher I count myself among the guardians of this safe space. Safeguarding the dancers who bestow me with their trust means so much more than keeping their personal details safe and the studio floor clear.

First and foremost it is about having respect for the individuals and their journey. The understanding that dance, for every committed participant, is life altering on some level and scale. It is my responsibility to keep the environment uplifting and positive and to exclude damaging elements. The safety of the bellydance bubble is part of its appeal and one of our community's greatest strengths. Because of this I stand by the teachers who have chosen to remove themselves from Tribal Fest, for the safety of their students and fans.

The male gaze in bellydance

Unless you are completely unfamiliar with bellydance, you will be aware that, contrary to popular myth, it is not a dance of titillation for men. Sure there are times when it is sexy, but as Ava Fleming put it, it is sexy "by accident".

Tribal fusion takes a step further back again, consciously distancing itself from the male gaze and focusing on an almost completely female centred model.

When I perform in public, I usually ignore the men and keep my focus and eye contact for the women and children in the audience, it's about sharing the joy of the dance. But when a performer chooses to dance in public, they understand that they are exposing themselves to the opinions and misunderstandings of that audience, it's something we are aware of and have ways to deal with.

When a dancer performs at a hafla or festival, for an audience of fellow dancers and dance community members, they shouldn't have those elements to worry about. It allows us to be free in our artistry, it also allows beginners to feel safe when they dance with their midriff uncovered for the first time, or tentatively demonstrate months of hard work to an audience for the first time.

There are men in our community, but, for the most part, they are respectful and understanding of the hard work we do and the privilege they have of bearing witness to our heart and soul on stage.

The male allies in our community

While the bellydance world is dominated and managed by women, there are men among us who are important to us and loved by us. Male dancers, teachers, photographers, musicians, DJs, webmasters, event organisers, husbands and boyfriends all have their part to play in our ecosystem.

As the Tribal Fest scandal has unfolded attention has, quite rightly, been focused on the female victims and maintaining the community as a safe space for women. I hesitate to bring this up, because very few feminist discussions are improved by a bout of "what about the men?", but I'm going to say this:

I've seen some amazing responses by male allies in our community over the last few days. Men with integrity and respect for the women they work alongside, coming forward horrified at the breach of trust that has been uncovered, reaffirming their support for the women affected and their commitment to the safety of the community. I am grateful for them.

I am sad that we will now find ourselves second guessing the motives of the men around us, and I am sad that these decent people will be subject to that, as a result of the disgusting behaviour or a couple of individuals.

Strength and conviction

I am so proud by the overwhelming show of strength from the dancers at the centre of this. Many bellydancers have strong convictions about their individual lifestyle and political issues. I might not always agree with every one, but it is good to be surrounded by strong women of substance.

When teachers and traders came out in support of the public statement, they were putting themselves on the line. They will lose income, they could have lost reputation and professional currency coming out against the biggest festival in the Tribal world, but they did what they felt was right.

It sends such an important message to step forward and state "we will not tolerate this".

Solidarity as dancers

In response to this message, for the most part a closing of ranks was witnessed. So many dancers came out in support of those affected.

Sometimes dancers refer to each other as "sisters", I'm not entirely into that for reasons that I might cover another time, but if you wanted to call it sisterhood, I would agree with the sentiment for now because I am finding it almost impossible to put together words that convey the immense power and solidarity I have seen in the past few days.

I have no doubt that our community will bounce back from this blow. We are strong, resourceful, united, and I am inclined to say unbreakable.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Teaching a class with a drummer.

Anyone who attends my Glastonbury or Bridgwater bellydance classes, or indeed knows me from the local hafla circuit, will know that I often come as half of a double act.

Doum Tekka plays darbuka/Egyptian tabla, we met at my first Glastonbury hafla in 2013 and he has been regularly playing in my classes for nearly 2 years.

I know that not all teachers feel they can "use" a drummer in their class. When Doum Tekka first asked if he could play in class I wasn't entirely sure how it would work. I knew a live drummer would be really helpful for teaching rhythm recognition, but it didn't make sense on a weekly basis. Or did it?

Today I'm going to write about all the reasons why having a live drummer in my classes, almost all the time, is actually pretty marvelous and I consider myself very lucky for a whole host of reasons:

Finding the beat

New dancers often have issues recognising the downbeat in the music. With a live drummer you can either dance to a plain rhythm (and keep it as plain as you like) or ask them to play along with the rhythm in a recorded track.

Either way, the beat comes through more clearly and students have told me they find it easier to co-ordinate their footfalls or keep the pace of a move.

Learning rhythms

When I play recorded music, I usually talk to my class about the track, its origins, instrumentation, lyric meanings and rhythms. Again, with a drummer playing along with the rhythm, it's clearer and easier to recognise. Or I can ask for a quick demonstration of the rhythm then ask the class to listen out for it on the track.

I knew from the start that a live drum would be useful for teaching rhythms, but this doesn't have to happen as an isolated lesson once a year or so, it can happen every lesson. Also, while a dance teacher should have a good working knowledge of Arabic rhythms, a drummer will always be better, that's their area of expertise!

It's not just my dance students that learn more about rhythms from our resident drummer. I do too, all the time. It's great having someone really enthusiastic turning up every week with a new variation on a basic rhythm, or something daft like a 14/8 saying "hey check this out".

The track you want

If you are a dance teacher, no matter how organised you are with lesson plans and matching playlists, there will inevitably have been a time when you were desperately trying to find the right track for something. Maybe your students needed to go over something slower than you expected, or you were led down a new  path and changed your plans at the last minute.

No problem if you have live musicians. You can request the rhythm you want at exactly the speed you want, slow down, speed up, gradually accellerating, whatever you need.

Handsfree, wireless music control

I know I am spoilt by having a live drummer in class because I always complain when I have to keep pausing or changing the music when he's not there.

We've reached the point now where Doum Tekka will watch me break down a technique, work out what rhythm will work for it, and start playing to match my pace as we drill. It's like movement activated music and it is absolutely brilliant!

Developing a drummer

A good drummer for dancing needs to have a whole host of skills other than the usual technique and musicality of a  standalone musician. A good dance-drummer should be able to read a dancer, to recognise the need for a change of pace or rhythm, to maintain a subtle 2 way communication that makes for better performance and frees up improvisation.

There aren't a lot of places for drummers to learn this. Mostly occasional workshops at dance festivals or hours of drum solo practice with a dancer. In class however, these skills develop organically. Start working with a drummer who knows their rhythms and gradually they will grow into a drum solo partner.

Drumming for class is also excellent practice, extended periods of play, practising rhythms that might have been over looked and playing slowly with a focus on quality of sound and technique are all really worthwhile from the drummer's perspective.

Keeping the connection

A good drum solo performance is not just about a good drummer and a good dancer being in sync with each other, it's also about chemistry. Dancing with a drummer you get on with, can share a joke with an suchlike makes a big difference to your performance. Seeing each other on a regular basis for class and a catch up fosters a good working relationship, as well as many short, incidental practice sessions.

Being on good terms with the drummer also means it's easier to negotiate sets without worrying about offending them!


Work with someone long enough and you will start to pick up their habits and idiosyncrasies. I can hear when Doum Tekka is winding up the end of the solo, he can see when I am, so we finish together. I also recognise when he likes to put the pops on top of his rolls so I can ornament them, or how he structures the ornamentation on the basic rhythms which allows me to acknowledge more of the music in my dance. None of this comes from conscious study, it's just familiarity. It comes from hours of practice and listening, which builds up quickly with a couple of classes a week and regular pre-class jams.

When doesn't it work?

Most of the time having a drummer in class is really useful. Teaching choreography is a possible exception. This might be more my own hang up because I feel guilty constantly interrupting the flow to repeatedly work over the same short sections. On the other hand, plain drums are a great intermediate step between dancing to a count and dancing with the actual music.

The other potential issue, if your drummer is male, is breaking the "women only" space. This might be an issue if you teach Muslim women, who will not want to dance in the presence of a male, or if your class are very self conscious. That said, I have never had any feedback from students suggesting that they have an issue with a male musician in class, mostly they focus on their dancing and ignore him! My classes are open to all genders, and I don't consider a male drummer to be any different to a male dancer in class. They are there to work just like the rest of us.

When I run the Red Goddess course, that is a feminine centric environment, and a fairly raw emotional one too, that is the only class where I personally would rule out the presence of any individual who was not an active participant in the primary course content.


Dancers often tell me how lucky I am to be able to work with a drummer, but I have also met a lot of teachers who are very reluctant to allow a drummer into their class. My advice would be to give it a go, it's a fabulous learning experience and it could well open up a whole new aspect in your dance and teaching.

Kash and Doum Tekka - image by Angie Budd

Monday, 21 September 2015


A general note of news for dancers in Bridgwater interested in attending my bellydance classes.

Our Tuesday night class, at the YMCA, will henceforth be running from 6.30 to 7.30pm. Same night, same location, 1 hour earlier.

Thank you!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The summer roundup!


I am back from the void!

So first thing, I have to apologise for the brief absence, summer is supposed to be my downtime when I teach less and get my affairs in order, but this one has been fairly hectic! So here's a bit of a round up, starting with the all important new-term's class information.

Glastonbury classes continue in the Goddess Hall, Mondays at 11.30am. By request I am going to be focusing on Tribal Fusion style this term, so we will be looking at the stylisation, musicality and evolution of this style.

Bridgwater classes recommence on Tuesday the 15th September at the YMCA at 7.30 pm. In October and November there will be a slight time change to 6.30pm, just for those weeks then back to normal in December. I've been looking at some classic Golden Era dancers for inspiration for this new term.

So what's been happening in bellydance this summer?

The summer break began with the hafla. We had a brilliant day of workshops. Demelza Fox was absolutely bewitching, both in her teaching and performances. I've had a lot of excellent feedback from those who attended her class. Samantha Riggs gave an energetic workshop which resulted in a brilliant performance where she turned the attendees into her own Bhangra gang. I was extremely proud of my workshop dancers, who all opted to join in and perform my Dark Cabaret choreography at the hafla.

Sam dancing Bhangra - photo by Angie Budd

The evening hafla was a roaring success. We had some fabulous performances and I have to again thank the lovely performers who came along and shared their dancing with us.

During my "teaching break" I also ran two workshops for a group of dancers visiting the area, one on tray balancing and one on stage presence - that was a marvellous weekend which wrapped up beautifully when I got to watch them perform in town for the Glastonbury Fringe Festival, great to see them putting their stage presence tips into practice too!

I've also been up to Manchester teaching a workshop for a large exhibition, a couple of hen parties and of course Glastonbury classes have continued, Bank Holidays and Goddesses excepted.

I've been working on some new choreography, which I am very excited about. I've been enormously inspired by training with Alexis Southall this year and I've been taking things in a whole new direction. I am also working on a super secret collaboration with an amazing dance partner, but I have already said too much.

Then, on top of it all, I discovered one of my favourite fellow dancers, Dawn O Brian teaches a monthly drills intensive in Bristol, so I went to that, which was awesome.

Somehow I still managed to find myself missing the dance community, so I started a group on Facebook, to help dancers in the South West to network, socialise and organise themselves.

Doum Tekka, our resident drummer organised an event in August. Originally planned as a picnic on the Tor, though the weather sent us undercover. No spirits were dampened however, we had a whole bunch of drummers from all over the place, including Ommadom from Wales and some visitors all the way from Ireland. The Ommadom dancers rocked their thing and even took a turn out by the Market Cross to cheer everyone's Sunday afternoon. It looks like this will be a regular event, so I am looking forward to that.

So it's been a dancing, drumming, teaching, costume making, conditioning and planning kind of summer. I can't wait for the new season of classes to start so I can take a break.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Writing your bio for a bellydance performance

Let me introduce myself....

I promised this for the dancers who are attending my hafla this weekend, so I had better get on it...

When you are performing, whether at a show, restaurant or a hafla, it is usual to provide some kind of bio or introduction for your performance. For many dancers this is a struggle. Firstly because not all dancers are writers and secondly because many of us feel awkward about talking about ourselves. But never fear, I am here to help!

Why write a bio?

It's a fair question, why not just let your dance speak for itself? Well, some events do that, but if you are dancing in a show with an MC, they will want to say something. What they say will prime your audience for your performance, and you want your introduction to be an appropriate representation of you and your dancing.

If you don't provide an introduction they might just announce you by name (will they use the right one, will they pronounce it right?) or they might add all kinds of things, snippets from your website, something your said to informally describe your dance over email - who knows? You might know the MC well and feel you can leave it in their hands, and if you are comfortable with that, then it's all cool, but that's not always going to be the case.

It's entirely possible that if you do submit a bio, they will edit it to fit in with the other introductions, or add to it regardless, but at least you had a hand in it!

Another thing to consider is that your introduction is a venue-wide networking opportunity. Are you a teacher with classes or workshops to promote? Are you a solo dancer who is looking for potential troupemates? Let them know.

So what goes in an introduction?

You can put in pretty much anything you like, but here's some ideas:

You need to include your name, you might start with it, or end with it, or put it somewhere in the middle, but it's important. If your name might be mispronounced, put a phonetic breakdown in brackets too. I have an Arabic surname, but in my case it comes from a family line that came to the West several generations ago and use Western pronunciation. I get many variations if I don't let people know my preference.

You probably want to include something about your background, where you come from, if you teach or are part of a group, if you are a student performer then it is good to credit your teacher. If you are a newer dancer and this is your first solo, or even if it's not, you can let people know. Hafla audiences tend to be super supportive of new blood!

What are you dancing? What's the style? What's the music? I can take or leave this bit, depending on the audience. In an audience of other dancers, it might not be worthy of mention, if your audience is less well-versed, then maybe a brief explanation of the origins of the style will help them.

Next part is about context, what are your inspirations for this piece. Did attending a workshop with a particular teacher heavily influence this dance? A life event? Did the music just move you? More generally where do you get inspiration? What dancers do you love to watch? Did you come back from a Middle Eastern holiday bursting with ideas? Again, any dancer/musician/location names that the MC might struggle with will need a phonetic breakdown.

Credits. Did someone else write your choreography? Then you must credit them. If you learned it in a workshop then adapted it, make that clear - it's their intellectual property. If you are a group but one member wrote most of the choreography, credit them. It is also good to credit any teacher, or otherwise, who helped you prepare for the performance. You might also want to credit music editors or anything of that ilk, but don't turn it into an oscar speech.

More than one of you?

If you are dancing with others, you need to introduce all of you. With a live drummer, they will have their own bio to run alongside yours. This can make things a bit lengthy so if I am dancing more than once, I will have my full bio for my solo, but the "duet" introduction will focus on the drummer.

Doum Tekka and I performing at Gina's Bellygees hafla earlier this month - Photo by Angie Budd

If you are in a troupe, you can include information about how the troupe came together, who leads the group etc. If there are more than 2/3 of you, there probably won't be time to include much detail about the individuals, so focus on what you have in common.

What shouldn't go in the introductions?

This is me, your milage may vary, but there are some things I can do without...

Long introductions. The audience doesn't need to know every teacher you ever studied with, your education history and what you had for breakfast. Keep it interesting, relevant and brief. Some shows are notorious for long introductions - I can think of one in particular where I know I can reliably scroll through the first full minute of video before any dancing happens - but most of the time people just want to see you dance.

Instructions for the audience. OK, so this might be a very personal bugbear, but I really dislike being told how to react to a dancer. If I am told that I will be AMAZED by a performance, my inner contrary teenager sits back, folds her arms and says "come on then 'amaze' me". Of course the more sensible and supportive dancer tells her to shut up and engages with the performance, but it is worth considering that if you tell your audience to expect something spectacular, you have to deliver.

How the audience reacts is their choice. As an artist you can only present your piece, what they do with it is not your responsibility. That's especially important to remember when you have a tough crowd. Instead of telling them that they "will be moved" by your dance, tell them what inspired you, and let them take the performance in context and experience it for themselves.

Make it yours

It's always good to have something unique to you, a little quip or whatever reflects your personality. Watch out for cliches, there is no point in the MC reading out the same phrases for every dancer!


That being said, if you are still a bit stuck, here are a couple of idea to get you going:

Our next dancer has travelled all the way from [hometown] to be here. He has studied under [teacher] for 3 years and this is his very first solo piece. Inspired by a his recent visit to Egypt and the work of Mahmoud Reda. Please welcome [name].

[Name] and [Name] have been dancing together for 4 years after meeting at [dance festival]. [Dancer 1] teaches weekly Rasq Sharqui classes in her hometown [place], she has recently travelled to [place] to train with [teacher]. [Dancer 2] is based in [town] and is the troupe director of [troupe]. Today they are dancing to [song name] which is a song about [subject] from [location].

[Troupe name] are local dancers and students of [teacher]. Tonight they are really excited to share a piece, adapted from a choreography they learned from [teacher] at [festival]. This dance is in [style] which originated from [some background]. Ladies and gentlemen [troupe name]

These are focussed on a hafla-type venue. If you are performing in another context, you will have to think about what references your audience will understand, and what they will relate to.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

What's the point? Why fitness is about more than skinny jeans.

What are you fighting for?

I've been thinking recently about fitness, conditioning and our motivation for working at it.

I cross train, alongside my dance for a host of reasons, and I have noticed that almost almost all of the fitness classes or DVDs on the market have weightloss or aesthetics as a primary focus. That is to say, they are not marketed based on what your body can do, but what it looks like.

My favoured source of non-dance centred conditioning is Jillian Michaels, who does talk a lot about health, feeling strong, getting fit etc, but also spends a lot of time shouting about how we will feel when we get to go skinny jeans or bikini shopping. I know how I will feel incidentally, sweaty and awkward. Even though I no longer feel awkward (there's no escaping the sweaty) while completely owning her workouts.

Recently, when I was part way through writing this post [which has been sat as a draft for a week...] an aspiring professional dancer posted on a social media group for professional performers, asking about their fitness regimes. At the end of her question, she put a little caveat, that was along the lines of "please don't think I'm being shallow, this isn't about looks, it's about improving my dance".

While a commercial dancer will find her job opportunities limited by her looks, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with working to optimise that, if she chooses. The fact that she felt pressured to explain, to a group of dancers, that fitness was important to her in terms of her physical ability to dance, is very telling.

What does a bellydancer's body need?

I've been working on classes that I want to offer and how to market them. I really want to do a class that is purely conditioning and basic drills. Nothing fancy, just the solid foundations, the stuff that Zoe Jakes calls "dance vegetables".

I wanted to call it "body for bellydance", but then I realised that this would likely be interpreted as being slim with a flat, but not too muscular belly that would be considered widely socially acceptable in  a skimpy stereotypical 2 piece costume. I am not the postergirl for this concept.

I can live with this as I know that these criteria are not what is necessary in a bellydancer's body. Conditioning is important to reduce the gap between artistic vision and physical capability, not to make a dancer "the right shape". What a bellydancer needs is:

  • Control
  • Co-ordination
  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Balance
  • Flexibility

You can have these at a size 6 or a size 26, but no one gets it without training.

Measuring progress in conditioning should never be about chasing unicorns.

Training goals need to be achievable. If they are not, then we give up. If my motivation for conditioning was centred around my dress size I know that I would never stay motivated on a tough regime. In the last 6 months of intensive dancing and conditioning, my dress size has remained stable while the factors that really matter have come on in leaps and bounds.

They also need to be positive. Any goal that shames your current state is a poor goal. To care for your body you need to believe that it is worth caring for - too many weight loss orientated goals ignore this. At best it leads to apathy or self sabotage, why bother when you are worth so little? At it's worst it leads to unhealthy regimes, overexercising and dieting to the detriment of your health.

What does fitness look like?

I have a bit of a rant, fairly regularly, about the lack of diversity in images of fitness. It becomes very clear as a blog writer, searching for images to illustrate fitness writing. A "fit" woman, according to stock photography is:

  • Slim built
  • Lean
  • Conventionally attractive
  • White
  • Usually blonde
  • Made up
  • Wears a sports bra and hot pants.

Here she is:

 Very lovely she is too, but if this is the only acceptable look for a fit and healthy woman, then I, along with the vast majority of people, am not it. Why is this important? Well, if this is what we are aiming for, most of us won't get there. Not being stupid, most of us will realise this and give up feeling bad about ourselves, losing all the benefits of a good fitness regime.

A few months back I discovered this project, a startling quick reference that demonstrates that a fit body does not have to fit the fitness model stereotype. Athletes at the top of their game, men and women selected not for their look, but for their accomplishments, for the superior physical function of their bodies.

Take a careful look through all the images on the link. Even among top athletes, there is an enormous variety in body shape, size and composition. Even between individuals competing in the same field.

Most have low body fat and high muscle mass, but we see tall, short, broad shoulders, slight shoulders, slender legs and powerful bulky thighs. Fitness doesn't have a single look, so why are we pretending that becoming fit will make us look a certain way?

I'm really heartened to see increasing visibility for diversity in fitness.Yoga teachers coming forward and breaking stereotypes, dancers showing us that you don't need to fit the ballerina aesthetic to excel in as an artist. In the bellydance world, Bellydance at Any Size seeks more acceptance for diversity in our danceform, because everybody deserves to dance.

So why do I work out?

I love the effortless leg lifts and arabesques that come from hours of pilates. I love how squatting down to pick something off the floor isn't a big deal. I love throwing a 20kg feed bag over my shoulder and confusing the pet store owner. I love being able to dance a 10 minute drum solo without pausing. I really love the strong feeling when I move and I know my muscles are working, but it doesn't feel like a struggle. I love the endorphin rush and satisfaction when I have got through a tough workout. I love how the strength in my leg muscles means I get less joint pain. I am proud of how I can now actually do burpees - hate them still, but I can do them!

Our understanding of how build and body composition relate to health is improving all the time. We don't have all the answers, but what we do know is that being active keeps you healthy. So let's focus on keeping our bodies healthy, not a particular shape.

PS - have you bought your hafla and workshop tickets yet?

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Breaking news you've all been waiting for.

I am so very excited to be able to bring you the details on our final workshop for my summer 2015 hafla and workshop day in Glastonbury on July 26th 2015. It's Samantha Riggs everybody!

Samantha offered me an amazing selection of workshops, and I have chosen one which I think is going to be so much fun for everybody, quite different to anything available locally and a good compliment to the other 2 workshops on the day with myself and Demelza Fox.

Competition Bhangra with Samantha Riggs

[Samantha's description]

Bhangra is a folk dance style from the region of Punjab in Northern India. There are many Bhangra competitions around the country in which teams participate for prize money. In the quest for the prize, the traditional Bhangra moves have been spiced up by the competing teams… much as the bellydance community has elaborated on traditional Middle Eastern dances. The result is an athletic and exuberant version of traditional Bhangra… which is already quite aerobic in itself! 

Samantha has studied this over-the-top style with Punjabi instructors and will break it down for you. Be ready for jumps, stomps, drops and fun with rocking Bhangra remixes! 

This class is suitable for both men and women at a beginning or intermediate level in Bhangra. Women should be sure and wear a sports or support bra. trousers are recommended – students will only get frustrated wearing a skirt. If you need knee or ankle support to do deep knee bends, please bring it (alternate moves will be available for those with knee issues). This class is quite a workout, but fear not! You're up to it – just challenge yourself ;)

Level: All (athletic).

If you are interested in seeing some Bhangra, then Samantha has compiled an excellent playlist on YouTube.

So if you book all 3 workshops (at a discount no less), you can expect a packed day of sass and attitude, a little bit of slink, a little bit of introspection ending with a lively dance-filled session to get us all pumped up for the evening's party!

So who's the teacher?

[bio from Samantha]

Samantha Riggs is the Founder, Director and Choreographer for Portico Dance Company which is based in Bellingham, WA where she lives and teaches weekly classes. Portico Dance Company is Samantha's newest brainchild (but is now 4 years old!) and works with collaborating artists from British Columbia, North Carolina, Oregon, California and Arizona. "Portico", being an Italian word referring to a porch supported by columns, is so-named as a salute to the power of community. Samantha and Portico perform and teach traditional and original dances in the styles of Bollywood, Bhangra and Tribal Belly Dance. With profound love and respect for the cultures in India, the Middle East and the US by whom they are inspired, Portico's performances are a gift of love to their audiences. The dancers hope that their viewers, too, will partake in the joy of these traditions.

With a prestigious 21-year dance career, Samantha has amassed an impressive portfolio in both traditional and original dance styles. She specializes in Bollywood, Bhangra, Tribal Style Bellydance, Tribal Fusion, Fire Arts and Fight Choreography for Dancers, and is the creator of the innovative "Portico-Style Bollywood Fusion Improv” dance style. Gaining notoriety as both an independent dancer and with her troupe involvement as director, assistant director, choreographer, teacher and musician, her featured performances have reached audiences worldwide. During Samantha's time with Domba Tribal Fusion Dance Troupe, they won the 2006 Zaghareet “Best Troupe” award. With her second directorial project, Boom Boom Bollywood, Samantha's innovative “Minnat Kare” choreography won first place in the Aashiyana All-Indus Dance Competition in 2007. In 2012-15, Samantha's current company, Portico, performed and taught at a sold-out panel at Emerald City Comicon, as the headlining artist for the show "Bombay Underground" in Vancouver, BC, at Reigning Down on Oregon Dance Camp and as a featured artist in the “Shakti Awards Gala” in Surrey, BC. Samantha continues to be in demand as an instructor, choreographer and performance artist. She is also a core performer and the costume designer for Jamila Lotus Bellydance Carnivale.

For Samantha, Art is really all about saving the World through an unadulterated, fearless and unapologetic expression of Love and belief in the benevolence of others.

Samantha is also a tall ship sailor and gunner. She can often be found somewhere off the west coast of the United States or Canada, 70-90 feet in the air in the rigging, hauling like mad on a halyard, happily covered in pine tar or firing the black powder guns of the brig Lady Washington. She is currently studying to be a marine mechanic and electrician so she can fix things on more modern ships and work on big, loud engines.

I am feeling exceptionally lucky to be able to host Samantha here in Glastonbury, so don't miss your opportunity to learn from her, book your tickets today!