Year in Review: 2016

 

As I was thinking back through 2016, I realized why December felt so empty: we didn't have to build a new studio! Technically, we have built studios in December/January for the past 3 years (added the addition to the Lebanon location in 2013, moved to WRJ in 2014, and moved again unexpectedly in 2015.).

One thing due to the craziness of 2014/2015 I missed was being a student. My number one priority was getting back into classes. I was able to take classes, intensives, workshops, and private lessons with Nourhan Sharif, Katia, Shadia, Yasmina Ramzy, Alia Thabit, Katerina Shereen, Roxanne Shelaby, Phaedra, and more! One of my favorite things is to sneak into others Beginner Classes and just soak up being a baby belly again! I also attended close to a dozen shows just as an audience member, and many with live music. One of my favorites was OPA, created by the triple threat dancer/singer/comedian, Aurel.

We hosted our annual Shimmyathon and welcomed 7 instructors from all over New England and put on one heck of a show! We hosted 2 roundtables: One on the history of Belly Dance and Fusion Family Tree, another with Sufi and Religion in Dance vs. Theatrics and Theraputic Abilities of the dance. We also hosted Phaedra of Boston for Workshops and performances.

I was invited to perform at Shalimar's Show at Marco Polo Restaurant in CT twice, a crazy fun summer Birthday Party Celebration for Duncan,  Hannah's Crazy Foam Birthday Bash on the Cape, Goddess Rising in southern VT, Bellies and Brew hosted by the ladies of Eidetic in MA, Performed for most likely the final time at Karoun restaurant before it closes with the Fred Elias Ensemble. We even saw dear Freddie Elias retire in the most killer live music and dancing night for the books. I taught at Rosa’s Noreen’s Bright Star World Dance in Maine, North End Studio in Burlington, VT, and in a couple other states too for private groups. I performed at Sue’s Cairo Cabaret and danced at family events and celebrations that always inspire me to be a better dancer. I’ve been kind of in hiding as a performer the past few years, I am thankful to have had these wonderful venues to reinvigorate and to inspire me to perform more in 2017.

I also did a super fun photo shoot with Peter Paradise Michaels, and with the help of the Lovely Sahina!

The Studio Performing Troupe, the Raq-ettes were on fire this year! In addition to our annual student showcase, they performed at Puppets in Education Gala, Open Fields Renaissance Festival, Marco Polo (some making their first Restaurant Show Debut!), various haflas, and more! Most importantly, their performances helped raise over $3K in VT for Syrian Refugee Resettlement.  I am so proud of them and their continuous growth into not only budding performers, but responsible dance community members that contribute back to the art and culture of which we borrow this wonderful dance from.

 

Which leads me to thanking everyone who supports our events, who dances with us, and continues to root us on from afar. We are so thankful for all of you! So here’s to 2017, which promises to be another busy year with new students, offerings, classes, research, special events, new Raq-On intensives, and more!

Amity Alize

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5 Ways to Avoid Stigmatizing Belly Dance and Help Elevate the Dance Community

 

5 Ways to Avoid Stigmatizing Belly Dance and Help Elevate the Dance Community

Sometimes dancers get so busy branding themselves that they don’t realize some of their choices may actually be toxic to our little 'ol dance world.

 

1. Stop friending everyone who requests it on Facebook and other social media sites.

Somehow, we’ve been groomed to think that having professional photos and 5,000 followers on social media makes us professional dancers. However, it’s actually knowing our material and sharing it with the right audiences that qualify us as professional. Social media is only one way to advertise, and with Facebook’s newer algorithms, our audiences of who we want to see our posts has changed. Let’s face it; we do not have a positive rapport to many Arab men (or Western men at that). Those of us who dance fight an uphill battle to be respected for talent, not tits. Many of us receive messages, love letters, and sexual requests on an ongoing basis. If you wouldn’t friend someone you know who might make such sexual advances, why would you do so for a complete stranger? These creepers are praying on you, your photos, and your self-respect. Click unfriend and block. Send a clear message that you are to be respected as a dancer and as a human being, not some kind of cheap thrill.

2. Understand that pride and feminism works in multiple ways; know your audience and understand that there are multiple viewpoints.

Part of what makes belly dancing a struggle is that both Eastern and Western cultures have to be/are represented and yet be respected simultaneously. Sometimes this line can be as clear as mud. For example, a money shower in some cultures is seen as a traditional sign of respect and love for a dancer; however, westerners may associate that same money shower with strippers. Or take our costuming, as an example. Some women cover up in order to be respected, whereas others might show a bit of skin as an empowering political statement showing ownership and power over their bodies, especially in cultures where women are frowned upon for showing such pride. Know your audience and adjust your choices based on what you think will bring respect to not only you, but to the culture, the audience, and the dance. 

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3. Choose performance opportunities wisely

I often hear dancers say that we’re not respected as much as other art forms. Remember that this dance was originally folklore performed behind closed doors and at celebrations. It was never meant to be put on stage. Then came Western and European Orientalistic fantasies, Hollywood cinema, and Vaudeville.  The industry wanted money .Those who loved this dance wanted to see it on the same stages as black and white movies featuring Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers.  These warm hearted-elders wanted to elevate the dance. Most of them are older and poor but have a legacy.

Ask yourself, do you want this dance to feed your soul, or feed your belly?

It’s not always about the money. It is damn hard these days to make a living as a dancer, but it always has been. Would you rather be known as a dancer who made a living dancing every Thursday and Friday Night at hookah bars, or a dancer who performs less, but has earned the respect and honor of his/her peers and the cultures he/she represents?

I’m not sure how we ended up dancing in hookah bars between the baklava and hummus, instead of upstage by the band in a more elevated format, but either way, where we perform does impact how people see us. If we only dance for entertainment and not as an art form, we are doomed to judgment just like those in gossip magazines-by our looks, what we wear; and not our talents or knowledge. Or, we could set the tone by providing history and information where we perform. Provide programs, brochures, or informative cards on the tables during Haflas, recitals, or other entertainment venues. (hint: the kind of people you want in your class pay attention to this type of memorabilia more than a simple, pretty business card). The dance doesn’t have to lose the interaction and ceremony of its origins. Look to those who have tried to elevate the dance through performances of caliber such as Yasmina Ramzy, Sahra Saeeda, Cassandra Shore, Mahmoud Reda, Jillina, etc.

 4. Educate yourself. Learn folklore, culture, music, and history.

There is so much more to this dance than sequined costumes, technical movements, and performance opportunities.

Let’s take an example. You are American. You associate your culture/expression with Hip Hop music and and dance culture. You bring your friends with you to a restaurant because you are so excited to share your culture with them. Or maybe you are bringing your family for entertainment to this venue as you have moved to another country and you miss home. You are excited to share your culture with others.

Imagine going to this restaurant/venue/show where someone comes on stage coined as an American Hip Hop Dancer. They come on stage, have some of the moves, and some of their costuming makes sense, but when the music plays - it’s country-western! The dancer may have a fabulous stage presence and great technique, but to those in the audience expecting a hip-hop act, it feels out of place and possibly even disrespectful. It just doesn’t make sense – no matter how artistic the interpretation- to you. Would you come back? Would you bring friends?

Imagine you keep trying to find a show with real hip hop, because it reminds you of home and your culture. Each show you go to only has a 5% resemblance to your image; would you get frustrated, stop looking, and recommending people to go out and see these? When other people clap and cheer in a room for them, would you shudder and wish you could show them what real hip hop looked it? Wouldn’t you start to even to not like these groups? What would you do if you asked the dancers why they don’t dance to hip hop music although they are coined hip hop dancers, and they said it’s because there are too many rules and it doesn’t fit their own artistic expression?

When the cultural traditions, expectations and understandings are blurred, it causes a rift in respect between cultures and those parts of the community whose folklore is being misunderstood, are inevitably going to feel a bitter resentment towards those who try to change something that isn’t theirs to change.  When we don’t respect the history/culture, we lose the respect of the people. When we lose the respect of the people, we lose our audiences. When we lose our audiences, we lose our venues.

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5. Give back to the dance community. Don’t be a dance and ditch diva.

We can’t always be performing in the “limelight,” otherwise, there would be a stage full a performers with no music, no lighting, or no stage technician. There’s an illusion in the dance world that all you need to do is show up, doll-up, and dress up. Somehow our sparkly costumes, perfectly-placed eye shadow, and false lashes have masked the hours and effort of work that takes place before any performance.  

I gained a lot by observing and helping my elder dancers with events. I learned the ins and outs and the what to dos and what not to dos. I also learned a negative side of the dance world-watching dancers come merely for the opportunity to perform, but never give back to the dance community. In 15 years of dancing, I’ve never asked to perform in a show, restaurant, or venue; I have to turn down opportunities. I firmly believe this is because I learned the importance of giving back and sharing resources. When people organize an event, they know they can count on me not just to perform, but to pitch in.

Offer to help at any event. Put out chairs, take tickets at the door, or help vendors set up. Offer to do tech, sound, or stage managing. Share events, even those events you are not even attending or part of. Do things without having to be asked. We are a team; a very small team of committed individuals. When one prospers we all prosper.


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Dear Elder Dancers

 

Dear Elder Dancers,

Please keep dancing. I equate you to cooking. When we first begin cooking, we have a mold/pan (the dance style), the recipe (the technique) and the seasonings (your style, emotion, and embodiment). At first, we stick to using the same pan and same recipe. It can take many years and many burnt pans to get better, but eventually we start to venture by adding our own unique seasonings to the recipe. Suddenly, there’s a unique dish that although is recognizable by all who enjoy it, it is uniquely our own. People can appreciate and remember your special dish because of the way it tasted to them. Your family may even pass it down from generation from generation. Those who follow the recipe might add our own seasonings to fit our unique palettes, but ultimately, the inspiration comes from those who created the original.

So please, keep dancing.

I’ve been watching a lot of you lately. Your presence embodies something that I yearn for, that I too want to embody. I want to know the secret seasonings but I want to pick my own mixture. The way you drop your shoulder towards the audience, the way you allow us into the conversation versus talking at us; you’re not trying to tell us how to enjoy the dance, you’re enjoying the dance and inviting in to enjoy it too.

So please, keep on dancing.

I hear you worry about still dancing publicly, whether you are too old, whether a few wrinkles spoil your show, or whether the younger dancer with “the look” might be better fit for the spotlight. But I watched you own your space, your dance, your lines, your emotions, and most importantly, your smile. Watching a dancer who has lived and embodied who they are, unapologetically, is one-million times more valuable and exciting to watch than a dancer who still follows the recipe.

So please, keep dancing.

We need to see our mentors owning aging, owning being human, owning the stages of life. When you worry, we worry. We try to cram as much dancing and events in “while we’re still in our prime” or before we become un-hirable for mainstream gigs instead of growing and learning. We become dancers, but not the dance. We become cooks, but not chefs.

Please keep dancing.

Continue performing for yourself, because only now do you have a beautiful, delectable, five-star dish. Continue performing for the audiences and younger dancers, for we will never know what good food is unless it is served to us by a chef that pours their heart and soul into their art. Please, fight for us too by performing, so when we get to the same level there is a platform to share our dishes with the generations to come.

So please, please keep on dancing.

~Amity Alize


Originally posted on raq-on.net on 2/1/2015

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Time to shimmy in the new year!

As this year winds up, it’s time to reflect on 2011 and set your dance goals for 2012!

When it comes to your personal dance world, the word “life” can be substituted with “dance” in the following quote: “Life is a journey, not a destination.”   Just as individuals burn out on many fitness goals by February, the same can happen with dance!

~Set small, manageable goals. Watch one video a week, practice 15 minutes three times a week outside of class, move your arms in different pose to a song each day, or even work on one costume an hour each week while watching TV.

~Self-evaluate. What do you do well, what needs work? Pick a few items and conquer! Find dancers to watch/learn from that will help you overcome your weaknesses. This is a great idea if you feel overwhelmed with the mass amount of dance workshops, classes, online media, and activities available to you; pick more events that help you improve weak areas.

~Tell someone! Having a support group or at least vocalizing your goal to others makes you more apt to do it!

~Work goals it into your classes, performances, and practice. If your goal is better arms, why not work harder in class holding your arms up in stronger or new positions (the way you practice is the way you perform). Next time you’re dancing, focus more on one specific problem move, technique, or position.

~Keep a dance journal. Bring it to classes, workshops, and even performances. Write down things you want to work on and open it up when you need new challenges.

~Don’t forget to leave time for you. Leave yourself a sticky note on the fridge, program time into your calendar, set a reminder on your phone.  We all are busy, and the first thing that usually goes is time for you!

 

As part of your 2012 goal making, Raq-On is here to support you:


~In January we’ll have a goal board at the studio in which those who wish to take the challenge will write their name and goal on the board for the year. The goal doesn’t come down until it’s achieved! It doesn’t matter what style of dance you do, whether or not you take classes at Raq-On, or if you have even stepped into the studio before, stop on by and commit to dance in 2012!

~Create your own support group and rent the private lesson room and meet once a month. For example, for $5 a month (the cost is $15/hr) you and two of your fellow dancers can work on shimmies or watch one of over a 100 DVD’s of your favorite dancers!  Still need help? Schedule a small group lesson on a specific topic.

~Request specific topics in January. Every January we take time to go over your goals for the year. Start brainstorming!

 
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