Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Beauty Abounds: Austria & Switzerland

During the month of August I was blessed to be able to spend three weeks in Austria and Switzerland. Strolling through castles, meandering through charming villages, and reveling in all the beauty; it was an amazing time to say the least. Here are a few pictorial highlights of my travels.

Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

Altenburg Cathedral, Austria

 Belvedere Palace, Vienna, Austria

Swiss Alps, as seen from Schilthorn, Switzerland

Burg Kreuzenstain, Austria 

 Chapel Bridge, Luzern, Switzerland

Chateau du Chillon, Switzerland 

Eiger, Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Hallstat, Austria 

Hallstat Austria 

Fountains of Hellbrunn Palace, Salzburg, Austria 

Hofburg Palace, Vienna, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria

 Kursalon, Vienna, Austria

 Luzern, Switzerland, as seen from Chateau Gutsch

Melk Abbey, Austria 

Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria

Rosenburg Castle, Austria 

Salzburg as seen from Hohensalzburg Fortress, Austria 

Fountain of Schonbrunn Palace, Austria

Grossmunster of Zurich, Switzerland

St. Gallen Cathedral, Switzerland 

Old town buildings of St. Gallen, Switzerland 

Stephansdom, Vienna, Austria 

Buildings with the ringstrasse of Vienna, Austria 

Buildings in old town, Appenzell, Switzerland

Altenburg Library, Austria

Monday, August 1, 2016

Adventures with Aziza



Last month I had the opportunity to attend Aziza's Dreamcamp in Montreal, Canada. The camp was taught by, of course, Aziza, in conjunction with the lovely Mercedes Nieto. In the one week duration of the camp, I felt everything from amazement and joy, to irritation and overwhelm, and back again. In case you've ever wondered what attending Dream Camp is like and whether or not it's the right choice for your dance journey, here's a summary of my experience and takeaways.

The Accommodation
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: despite being called Dreamcamp, it's not camping. There's no tents or outdoor wilderness skills needed. There's no roughing it involved, unless you consider sharing a bedroom and/or a bathroom to be roughing it. The new location as of this year is at Le Couvent, which is about one hour from the Montreal airport. The rooms, dance studio, and dining area are all housed inside one building, meaning you don't even have to go outside unless you want to. All your bedding and linens are provided. The building is near a lake, which was perfect for peaceful morning walks, albeit high levels of mosquito activity. There was also a pool onsite as well, which made for great cool-down dips after classes.

Lake Raymond, the backdrop for Dreamcamp

The room sizes varied from single to quadruple occupancy, and thus the sleeping arrangements varied by the same degrees. I was originally assigned to a triple, but after the first night in which one of my roommate's cell phones pinged all night, capped off with a very early morning phone call (thus the irritation part of the camp), I inquired if I could be moved to a single room and was able to claim the last single room available. The bathrooms were shared, with a toilet, sink, and two showers at the end of each wing.

A shared dormitory room at Dreamcamp

The diet for the week was all vegetarian. At first I was a bit skeptical about this, as I usually eat predominately paleo, but the food was surprisingly good and the chef was able to accommodate my food allergy for the most part. I think my favorite meal of the week was a very tasty Indian-inspired dinner. Oh, and I better not forget to mention that there was wine each night with dinner.

Dreamcamp wine, served nightly

The Activities
A typical day at Dreamcamp went something like this: optional morning workout, breakfast, two and a half hours of dance instruction, lunch, three to four more hours of dance instruction, fun activity or break, dinner, and final fun activity or free time.

The first couple days of dance classes focused more on technique, exercises, and drills, and then quickly turned into learning choreography by mid-week. I enjoyed the technique classes the most, as this is where I find the most long-term benefit to my dance. In terms of takeaways for later use, it's these type of classes that always leave the biggest impression on me.

Aziza and Mercedes each taught a separate choreography of a little over four minutes each. Both choreographies were beautiful and unique. It was interesting to contrast the drastically different styles of the two teachers. Merecedes' choreography was very challenging (thus where the overwhelm came in), and I felt like I struggled to keep up. But at the same time, the exposure to movement sequencing that was outside of the normal belly dance box was refreshing. However, with choreography, I always feel that after it's done, it's something I won't ever revisit and thus not as helpful to me. So for me personally, I could have done with a bit less choreography.

Inside the dance studio at Dreamcamp

The fun activities really ran the gamut. One day we had belly dance Olympics, in which we were separated into teams and competed against each other for Dreamcamp glory in events like water bowl balancing and pantyhose potato racing. There was also a movie night and game night.

Waterbowl balancing, an event at the Dreamcamp Olympics

The week culminated in a hafla. It was really fun to see everyone get snazzy after a week of sweating it out in class, and it was very magical to see each performer shine in her own music choice and performance style.

Alessandra performing at the Dreamcamp halfa

And then the after party. What do dancers do after dancing for a week straight? They dance some more of course! The dancing encompassed quite a few more bottles of wine and wasn't even deterred by a power outage. I lasted until about 1:30am, but I hear a contingent made it until 3:00am and even went for a late night swim in the lake.

The Advisors

The Dreamcamp instructors, Mercedes Nieto and Aziza

From the moment I arrived and she embraced me in a big hug, Aziza made me feel comfortable and welcome. I think she has one of those personalities that just puts people at ease. She was friendly, down-to-earth, and didn't take herself to seriously. What does doesn't take herself too seriously mean? Well for example, one day for our morning workout, undeterred by funny looks from passing bikers, we did prancerise along the lake path.

But all fun and games aside, Aziza is unquestionably a talented and gifted dancer. Her strong technique and magnetic stage presence left me scrutinizing her movements and gobbling up her feedback. Her teaching manner was encouraging and made me feel as a student that it was okay to just put it out there, not be intimidated, and not worry about making "mistakes".

And I really only have one word for Mercedes: Wow. Just wow. I've never really seen or experienced anything like it before. Her level of musicality was off the charts and her style was completely and definitely all her own. I've not even sure how to describe. I think it's just something you will have to experience for yourself. If you ever have the chance to study with her, by all means, do it.

The Final Analysis
All in all, I really enjoyed my time at Dreamcamp. I felt challenged by the classes. I felt blown away by the instructors. And I felt inspired by my fellow campers

Thus I would say, if you have been considering going, I would say do it! As Aziza would say, seize your opportunity to be "undeniable"!

P.S. If you are considering attending, keep in mind that spots fill up fast. I signed up about a year and a half in advance. However, looking at the website today, I see that there are still spots available for summer of 2017. And next years guest instructors include the world-famous Sadie and Shahrzad!

The Dreamcamp instructors, staff, and students

Photo Credits: Eric Perreault