Friday, August 24, 2012

Power to the She

If you were anything like me, you were glued to the TV during the recent London Olympics. Staying up late into the night to watch just one more match, one more race, one more fight to the finish. But what you may or may not have noticed while watching, was that these games were marked by breakthroughs from women athletes, proving that women are a force to be reckoned with.  Here are some highlights:
  • Out of the 104 total medals won by the United States, 58 were taken home by women. That's right, more than half were won by women.
  • Illustrating that you are never too old or too young, of the 539 athletes on the U.S. team, the oldest team member was 54-year-old equestrian Karen O'Connor, while the youngest was 15-year-old swimmer Katie Ledecky.  Katie won gold in the 800 meter freestyle, becoming the youngest women to ever do so.
  • Saudi Arabia sent 800-meter runner Sarah Attar and judoist Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani to compete in the London games, thus marking the 2012 Olympics as the first time in history that every single country represented had at least one female athlete competing.
  • Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to become the individual all-around champion.  She also became the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics.
  • Tunisia's Habiba Ghribi became her country's first woman to win a medal in the games.
  • Women boxers made history by being included in the games for the first time.
  • Seventeen-year-old Sadaf Rahimi became the first female boxer to fight for Afghanistan in the summer games.  This is quite a feat, considering the prevalent violence against women in Afghanistan and given the fact that that under Taliban rule, women were not allowed to work or leave the house without a male escort from 1996 to 2001.  Rahimi’s accomplishment registers as a hopeful cultural milestone.
  • And this list doesn't even begin to include all of the world records broken during the 2012 Olympics, which you can read all about here.
And because men aren't so bad either, I just have to mention the incredibly moving and inspiring performance by Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, nicknamed Bladerunner, who became the first double below the knee amputee to compete in the Olympics. Proof that you can overcome any obstacle.

Since the Olympics have ended, I have been continuing to tap into the strength, flexibility, speed, and determination exhibited by of all these amazing athletes, and have been using their example to fuel my own athletic and dance goals. I've been using the inspiration of gymnasts, like Chrystalleni Trikomit of Cyprus pictured above, to work on my flexibility. And I have signed up for the Athleta 5K race here in Seattle on September 9th.

So whether you are competing on an international stage or dancing around the stage of your living room, remember this: you are powerful.

I would be honored to hear how the London Olympics impacted you, and what dance or fitness goals you are currently working on.

Photo Credit:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Favorite Music CD's for Belly Dancers

Music. The driving force behind any dance form. It's a necessity that as a dancer you are connecting with and inspired by your music choice. And especially for belly dancers, as we are striving to be the visible manifestation and interpretation of the music. I think we've all seen it when a dancer is not connected with her music. I've seen it happen with some really great dancers, and it's certainly happened to me more than once. Even audience members who may not be able to put their finger on what exactly is wrong will sense that something is not quite right. That the performance lacks that magical zing.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some CDs that have been my favorites.  These have been an inspiration to me and have infused fresh creatively and enthusiasm into my dance over the years. Hopefully some of them either have already worked or will work for you as well! (P.S. Read the whole post to catch the insider tip on free music.)
  1. Bellydance Superstars Vol. V: The first track, Yearning, is the real shining piece of this album. If you haven't performed to it yourself, you're almost guaranteed to have seen someone else do it. The rest of the CD is good as well, with a number of upbeat tracks that are good for gym classes or when you just want to crank up the energy.
  2. Made in Zanzibar: Produced by Tamalyn Dallal, this CD is Western classical meets Middle East masterpieces meets African folkloric. Classical orchestral pieces like Canon in D, Scheherazade, and Bolero are mixed with famous Middle Eastern pieces, like Lamma Badda, and smoothed over with a unique east African feeling. It's like a yummy, gooey dessert all blended together with perfect harmony.
  3. Bellydance Superstars Vol. III: With tracks like Habibi Ya Eini, Ana Wel Leil and Fi El Awel, this CD is regular in my rotation for restaurant shows and parties. The CD has good variety and I've been able to use every track on this album at some point or another.
  4. House of Tarab (Self-Titled): This album is must for learning the classic belly dance pieces. It's tracks include Aziza, originally composed by Mohamed Abd el-Wahad, and Hibbina, originally composed by Farid al-Atrash, two of the great composers of the Egyptian Golden Age.  There is also a beautiful violin solo and a short piece perfect for exit music.
  5. Turkish Hits Vol. 1: The tunes on this compilation are infectious. And currently, on Amazon, they are also free (just follow the link). My favorites that have recently been in regular rotation for both classes and performances are Dilli Duduk by Tarkan and Askim Baksana Bana by Nazan Oncel. I think the nuances of Turkish music can at times be easier for Western ears to grasp than classical Egyptian, which, at least for me, has made them good starting off points for introducing Middle Eastern music in gym and beginning belly dances classes.  Additionally, just about anything by Tarkan is good, which you can also listen to and download from Amazon.
So what are your favorite albums or songs? I'd love to hear what makes you have to get up and shimmy. Share in the comments section below!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Interview with Nadira

I'm excited to introduce a new series in the blog: interviews with other professional dancers!  And starting off this new series is my interview with the beautiful and talented Nadira of Seattle!

The Introduction
Whether it's being featured on Persian television, touring Turkey, or dancing next to your table right here in Seattle, Nadira is a dancer you can't take your eyes off of.  She has claimed no less than six national titles, including Belly Dancer USA and Belly Dancer of the Year.  She has also been featured in numerous belly dance performance DVDs and even has her own instructional DVD, 5-Layers From the Ground Up.  In addition to performing as a soloist, she can also been seen performing with the renowned troupe, Fleurs d'Egypte. For more information about Nadira, to sign up for a class, or purchase her DVD, check out her website.

The Interview
Alessandra: What other dancers are currently inspiring you?
Nadira: In the belly dance realm, Hadia. But right now I’m very much into all kinds of dance. I’ve trained in other dance forms my entire life, so get lots of influence from everything out there. Currently I’ve started to get back into my jazz roots.

Alessandra: You have an impressive list of competition titles that you’ve won.  What have you found to be the benefits of participating in competitions?  Any negatives?
Nadira: Thank you!  My reasons for each competition I’ve entered have been different. I originally entered for feedback to grow as a dancer, but also to push myself out of my comfort zone. It’s scary to put yourself out there to be judged in that type of setting. Pushing through the fear has always been important to my growth as an artist. The benefit I experienced was that getting ready for a competition forced me to set goals and kept me very focused. You can’t enter a competition with the goal of winning, that’s too much pressure and you have no control over the outcome. Setting goals more geared toward growth are an excellent way to grow in this dance. A negative is that competitions aren’t for everyone. When I have a student who wants to compete, we figure out their reason and focus on that.

Alessandra: Speaking of competitions, there’s currently a belly dancer on So You Think You Can Dance, and there’s been a wide range of thoughts on her, her dancing, and her participation in this prominent, national venue, as voiced by our own belly dance community. What’s your take?
Nadira: She’s on the SYTYCD because she has other dance backgrounds. You can see it in her movement; she’s had years of other dance. That show is rooted in strong dance training and there’s no way someone with solely one dance style could make it that far. I’m torn. I like that a belly dancer has made it to the show, but I see her style is not that of an experienced belly dancer. I hope her presence on SYTYCD brings positivity to belly dance.

Alessandra: For you, what has been the most rewarding part of being a belly dancer?
Nadira: Originally this dance was solely for physical therapy (I have a herniated disc in my lower back and migraines from an accident). What it has blossomed into is, I’ve gotten to know myself as a woman, an entertainer, and instructor.  It’s very empowering.  On the performer side, there is a unique opportunity for expression and give and take. You give the audience your energy, and they take it and give back. On the instructor side, I enjoy seeing my students grow and find their voice in this dance. I have several students who are embarking on their new dance career and I am excited to help them along their journey.
Alessandra: And what has been the most challenging?
Nadira: That’s a broad question and has many facets, but right now it’s about finding a balance between the dance and the home self. I’m getting married shortly and finding the balance between my new life with family and home, and my growth, training, instructing in dance. A good challenge to have though!

Alessandra: For a new student of belly dance looking to continue growing and progressing in her technique and knowledge, what advice would you give her?
Nadira: To figure out and set goals. Also to enjoy the journey. It’s about putting in the time to train and hone your technique, but also to have fun. Make mistakes, try new things, go see shows, and see how the pros perform. The only way to find your voice in this dance is to DANCE. It took me a few years to get my true voice in this dance, and it was one of the best journeys I’ve ever experienced!

Alessandra: And for either a student looking to turn pro, or a new professional, what advice would you give her?
Nadira: Find a mentor who can work with you and guide you to your goals.  Rome was not built in a day, and neither are professional performers. At most established venues where professional dancers perform, you get one shot. That can be an intimidating thought, but there are ways to prepare. When you are first beginning to perform, it is best to work your way up to the established venues. This will allow you to get your performance/entertainment chops fine-tuned by dancing in smaller dancer friendly venues. Also, professionalism is not simply pretty costumes and technique. This is a business just like any other business and there’s etiquette and a professional standard to uphold.