Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farewell to 2013!


As many of you know, I'm big into goal-setting. And if you've been reading the blog for a few years now, you know that at the end of each year, I take time out to process my year, digging into what went well, and what went not so well. Essentially tying a ribbon around the year, releasing it, and preparing to move into the new year with a bang. And today, on this eve of our new year, it seemed like the perfect time to reflect on all that transpired in 2013.

Back at the beginning of this year I wrote a post called Ignite, my theme for the year, outlining my big three for the year - getting married and honeymooning in Paris, writing a book, and competing in Belly Dancer USA. So how did it go?

Marriage? Yes, yes, and more yes! I am blessed to have married my best friend and love of my life. Feel free to peruse my wedding pictures and honeymoon pictures. Our wedding was intimate and romantic. I could not have been more pleased with the day. And France was simply divine. My new favorite foreign destination.

I did compete in Belly Dancer USA. I didn't place, and I won't lie; I wish I had.  But I still had a valuable learning experience, which I share all about in this post.

And I did write and publish a book. Not the book I was originally intending to write, but that was the way the creative winds took me. My book, designed to jump start your goal-setting and to be a practice companion and journal can be purchased on Lulu.com.  It will soon also be available on Amazon.com.

A few other highlights of the year that weren't part of my "Big Three", was going to an all-women's weekend surf camp in Oregon. The company I learned with was NW Women's Surf Camp, whom I highly recommend.  I also went to the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire for the first time and absolutely loved it. Not a far stretch that a belly dancer loved a festival based on costumes and history sprinkled with a good dose of fantasy, huh? And I also became the newest belly dance instructor through the University of Washington's Experimental College. Shameless self-promotion time: the new series of classes starts February 2nd and registration is now open.

As far as things that didn't go so well. I didn't do nearly as much performing this year as I have in previous years. Between my two major life events (getting married as previously discussed, plus I also changing my day job and leaving the industry I'd been in for eight years), my performance schedule got pushed to the side. Trying to fit in any additional dancing, was starting to feel like major burnout, rather than the joy that sharing a creative passion should be bringing. Thus, I'm hoping with recharged batteries, to pick it back up to full speed in the new year.

And that book I was originally intending to write? Definitely hoping to get it under way in the new year as well. The working title is CPA by Day, Belly Dancer by Night. And with that little reveal, I will say no more. Stay tuned!

How about you? What worked well for you? What are you ready to embrace for next year? And what are you ready to release? Now is the perfect time of year for reflection. So grab a glass of bubbly, a journal, and a pencil and buy out some time for yourself before the countdown to midnight begins.

Have a wonderful, festive, and safe New Year's Eve!  May your 2014 be filled with love, light, and laughter, mixed together with a glittering handful of magic. Blessings to you in the new year.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Performance Bag Essentials

Gigging can be nerve-wracking at the best of times. But it’s even worse if you don’t have certain essentials packed. In addition to the extremely obvious items of costume and music, here are some items that are always stashed in my gig bag.

1.   Safety pins: The dancer’s best friend. The emergency fixer of broken and loose clasps. There’s nothing more dreadful than feeling your costume sliding or worse, popping, out of place while you’re on stage, so be sure have safety pins with you to pin it all together before you start your set.

2.   Hand towel: Double-sets, summer time festivals, rooms without air conditioning. Throw on top of that long-hair and tight Lycra costumes and you have one outcome: sweat. Not so pretty, or great feeling for that matter, when you are exiting your gig or about to go out for round two. Thus I always keep a hand towel in my bag for dabbing off the glisten after performances.

3.   Baby wipes: Restaurant floors are pretty gross. I have one restaurant where the bottoms of my feet are literally black after I’m done with my performance. I don’t even want to think about what kind of bacteria are clinging onto the soles of my feet. Thus enter the baby wipe to clean it all off. Other types of cleansing, cosmetic, or antibacterial wipes can work as well.

4.   Water: I’m a regular and frequent water drinker as is, so performance time is no exception. If you’re at a gig that’s making you nervous, some sips of water beforehand can help combat dry mouth and stop your lips from feeling like their sticking to your teeth (by the way, so can a swipe of Vaseline). And especially after a long set, knowing I have water right within my reach when I get backstage is always a blessing.

5.   Mirror: Especially if you’re headed to a new venue, you never know what kind of backstage “changing room” you might end up in.  Hello closet! (Yes, the walk-in storage closet situation really does frequently happen.) Thus it’s always a good idea to have a hand held mirror with you for last minute makeup checks. Also great for festivals when the changing areas are jam-packed with dancers and trying to get a glimpse of the mirror would involve elbowing someone else out of the way.

6.   Makeup bag: Even if you did your makeup at home, lipstick and eyeliner has a tendency to stray. Make sure you’re able to do last minute touch-ups if needed.

7.   Bobby pins, hair spray and/or curling iron: Same concept as the makeup bag. Especially on rainy or humid days, you might leave your house with one hairstyle and arrive at your gig with another.  Make sure you have the tools you need to fix it.

8.   Backup music: You put in the hours practicing and getting ready. Purchased a swanky, expensive costume. You step out onto the stage ready to wow and, and…..nothing.  Your CD is dead in the water. Yup, I’ve had it happen. More than once. So make sure you have a backup copy of your music. Most places these days can accommodate an MP3, which is my preference for backup music, as I find it more reliable than a burned CD.  In addition, I always tote around a small portable MP3 player as well.

9.    Cover-up: You don’t want to go spoiling your big costume reveal as you step onto stage, so make sure you have a cover-up to throw on before and after your set. Also good for keeping warm in the winter months, not to mention maintaining propriety and professionalism.

10. Business cards: You always want to be prepared to promote yourself. So make sure you have some business cards tucked into your bag in case someone asks for one, or there’s an opportunity to set some out on a table.

11. Hollywood Fashion Tape: These sticky little strips are essentially double-sided tape for the body. I always keep some in my bag as they are great for fixing any gaping areas in costumes, especially in the bra area.

12.  Veil and zills: Even if you don’t plan on using either of these items in your set, it’s always a good idea to have them in tow. Last minute, you may decide you’d like to make your entrance with the veil.  Or maybe use it as a cover-up.  Or the person hiring you puts in a special request. Same for zills.  Maybe your backup music also failed (see #8 above) and zills are now all you’ve got to create any type of music.  Murphy’s Law applies to dance, and it applies big time. Whatever can go wrong, will. So be prepared with backup options.

13.  Dance shoe: I’m a barefoot dancer, and I do everything in my power to avoid dancing in shoes, and especially in high heels. Never the less, I always keep a pair of ballet slippers stowed in my dance bag. Especially good for outdoor stages that have been baking for hours in the high summertime heat. Ouch for feet! Or if the indoor floors are looking like a level of yuck beyond baby wipes (see #3 above) and you decide preventative measures are necessary. Thus, I think it’s a good idea to have something you can slip on to protect yourself.

Those are the items that make my list. What else would you add?

Photo Credit: www.trendhunter.com

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Practice Gratitude

To me, belly dance is part of a bigger picture. It's part of a lifestyle that I've purposely chosen and designed. A lifestyle that honors my passions and nurtures my soul. And that lifestyle includes a lot of other components, or as I like to think of them practices, as well - holistic eating, giving back to my community, caring for my loved ones, expanding my world through travel, making time for regular exercise, and many more. Some of these I do well, some not so well.  But all these practices weave together to create a life that is balanced. And one of the practices that has been on my mind lately is the practice of gratitude.

Of course, with the Thanksgiving holiday, when not overshadowed by turkey and gravy, the idea of gratitude is probably discussed more at this time of year than any other.  And it's such a remarkably simple practice. At it's most basic, all it involves is taking a moment of reflection on all the blessings that we have in life.  And why is taking this step back into gratitude so important? Numerous studies and scientists have researched the effect of gratitude on the human psyche and they consistently report a host of benefits:
  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated
Despite it's simplicity and benefits, being grateful can be so easy to forget as well. When the pressures of daily life come crashing down, it's easy to focus on the ugly, the negative, and what we want to change. Our focus becomes targeted on the crack in the pottery, rather than appreciating the beauty of our lives as a whole. At least I know mine does if I don't remind myself to step back, see the bigger picture, and be present with what is.

But practicing gratitude goes beyond just being grateful for the shiny, sparkly portions of life. What about being grateful for the challenges? I think this is where the meat and potatoes of a gratitude practice lies. When challenges and trials come our way, it can be hard to not let them drag us down.  We become mired in the muck and stuck in a mode of suffering. But it's the hard, gritty parts of life that refine who we are. Our challenges shape us and define us. It's the Universe's way of honing and forging our authentic selves. Looking back at the most painful experiences I've had in my own life, they've turned out to be the most transformative. It was these experiences that pushed me to my breaking points, and that when I came out the other side, I was more than I was before. This is where our real opportunity lies to practice gratitude.

If you're feeling like me and want to step up your gratitude practice, here's a few ideas on ways to embrace gratitude in your own life:

1. Start a gratitude calendar. I simply love this idea, and starting January 1st I'm going to be setting one of these up. Just think, with less than a minute each day you can reset into the mindfulness of gratitude and after a few years, what a lovely record you'll have to reflect back on.

2. Watch Louie Schwartzberg's Ted Talk on gratitude.

3. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has helped you in your past, maybe a teacher, spouse, mentor, or coach. Let them know what their help has meant to you.

4. Take a vow of gratitude for 1 day, 7 days, or a month. A vow of gratitude is like a vow of silence, only instead of saying nothing at all, you say only positive things. Don't complain, criticize, or gossip. And if you start thinking these things, gently remind yourself to return to a place of gratitude. See how this makes you feel. How much time and energy were you using on negativity?

5. Start a family practice of gratitude. It's fairly common on Thanksgiving to go around the table and have everyone say what they are thankful for. It's a beautiful moment. So why not do this everyday as your family sits down for dinner? Or even try it with your coworkers over lunch?

Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo Credit (top): www.huffingtonpost.com

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pictures From My Honeymoon in France

Another detour from belly dancing this month to share some pictures from my honeymoon in France. I've done my fair share of traveling, and have loved everywhere I've gone. But France really captured my heart and I think I might have to say that it's my new favorite destination. After you take a look at the pictures, I don't think I'll  have to explain why.
Chateau Chenonceau in the Loire Valley
The French Alps as seen from the top of the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix
Rodin's Thinker at the Rodin Museum in Paris
The flying buttresses of Chartres Cathedral

Marie Antoinette's French Hamlet within the grounds of the Petite Trianon in Versailles

The rooftop of Chateau Chambord in the Loire Valley

Dining at the famous Le Train Bleu in Paris

View of Paris and the Eiffel Tower as seen from the Pompidou Center

Beynac as seen from our canoe in the Dordogne region

Chateau de Castlenaud in the Dordogne region

The Mediterranean and the Promenade des Anglais in Nice as seen from Castle Hill

The Abbaye de Fontenay in Burgundy
Reims Cathedral in the Champagne region
The Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct, in Provence
The view from Chateau de Beynac in the Dordogne

The French Hamlet inside the grounds of the Petite Trianon in Versailles

Fountains in the gardens of Versailles
Mont Saint-Michel

Chateau Azay-le-Rideau in the Loire Valley

The famous windmill of the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris
A gargoyle on the rooftop of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris

Sacre-Coeur cathedral in Montmartre in Paris

The beautiful stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The 10 Types of People You Meet in an Audience

Audiences are the best, because without an audience, there isn’t a performer. But I just couldn’t resist stereotyping some of the typical personalities a dancer runs into in an audience with a little tongue-in-cheek humor.  In particular, I’m focusing on a restaurant performance, not a hafla or night club, because restaurants are where you run into the opposite ends of the spectrum and everything in between.  Certainly not meant to be all inclusive, but these were the first 10 types that came to mind. Enjoy!

1.      The Guy On a Date – “Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact.” That would be the motto of the man on a date. We know are you trying hard to impress that pretty lady sitting across the table from you, and you certainly wouldn’t want her to get any ideas that you are checking out the belly dancer. So your eyes stay riveted on her, on your food, on the floor, anything but the belly dancer.  I can almost see the beads of perspiration starting to form as you wish for me to move along to another table.

2.      The Birthday Party Table – Laughing, talking, clapping, you came out tonight to have a good time, and celebrate you shall. Balloons and a bottle of champagne on ice decorate your table. And your friend that you are celebrating tonight? You have no qualms about offering him or her up for sacrifice.  Pushing, pulling, another shot; whatever it takes to get your buddy up dancing in front of everyone. Because we all know true friendship is built on the foundation of embarrassment.

3.      The Diamond Anniversary Couple – You’ll soon be hitting your 30th, 40th or 50th year of being married.  How did you manage it? I think because you don’t take life too seriously and it's demonstrated by the manner in which you watch the show. The husband doesn’t try to hide to fact that he’s making eyes at me and enjoying watching a woman in a midriff baring outfit, while the wife laughs good-naturedly at his silliness.  She could care less if he makes a fool out of himself.  She shrugs her shoulders, used to it after all these years.  Yes, he might be ogling a bit, but it’s only when he looks at her, the woman who’s been at his side for all these decades, that his eyes really light up.

4.      The Teenagers – Yeah, we all know it, you are too cool to be sitting at a table with your family, and you are certainly too cool to display any form of enthusiasm in public. God only knows how you got roped into this family shindig when you should be out with your friends. But even you can’t help but sneak some sideways glances when you think my back is turned.

5.      The Uninterested Table – You remind me the Anglo-American parents in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Polite, but unemotional.  Well-mannered, but reserved.  You aren’t showing much interest in the show, and frankly, you aren’t showing much interest in each other either.  Zills, veils, swords; whatever I try I just can't seem to put a crack in that icy demeanor.  When your flaming cheese also fails to elicit any type of emotion, I realize a lost cause when I see it, and move on.

6.      The Fellow Artist – Maybe it was a belly dance class, maybe another form of dance. Or possibly just an artistic disposition and interest in the performing arts, but you watch with appreciation, acknowledging with your eyes the complexity and difficulty of the moves. Asking me questions about where I learned and how long I’ve been performing. Realizing that there is much more going on than just a sparkly costume and made-up face.

7.      The Dad With Three Kids Under Five – Between the late night feedings and never ending diaper changings, it’s amazing that you’ve made it out to a restaurant at all. You’re tired eyes watch, remembering a not so distance past where you recall your wife being more fun and energetic. A time when the two of you, without a caravan of little people, used to still party and stay out late.  Maybe someday you will again. Tuning out your family and the chaotic mess that’s become mealtimes, you allow yourself a brief respite from the daily grind, happy to have a women smile at you without making any demands. Now if only you all can get home without any episodes of crying or baby vomit.

8.      The Table of American Guys – You are, perhaps surprisingly, quite well-behaved.  Maybe being raised in the country of women’s lib, you’ve learned that leering is inappropriate.  You’ve been taught that women deserve respect, not objectification.  Not waiting to be labeled as a sexist by fellow restaurant patrons, you watch shyly out of the corner of your eyes.  Your upbringing comes out in full force when it comes time to tip. “Do I put my money into her costume?  No, I must just hand it to her, right? No, maybe the first way was right.  Um, no, second way?” Indecisive, your outstretched hand with proffered money is hanging awkwardly a few inches off the table, unsure of what to do next. You look relieved when I solve your dilemma by politely taking your tip from you.

9.      The Table of Foreign Guys – You my friends are a different story. You leer, flirt, and stick money in my costume without hesitation.  You’re watching the show and don’t care who knows it.  The only time you aren’t watching is when you are outside smoking.

10.   The Under 10 Set – Oh yes, you are my favorite group. Your eyes light up at the sequins and sparkles when I walk into the room. Your gaze follows me around the floor, intently watching my movements. Surely, I must be some type of magical princess!  You tug on your parents’ sleeve, awestruck, telling them they need to look as well.  You haven’t yet learned to be “mature” and hold back on unbridled enthusiasm, and you aren’t embarrassed to get up in front of a restaurant full of people and dance along with me. And my, aren’t you cute when you come over with dollar bills from mom and dad?
Alright my fellow dancers, who did I leave out? Who would you add to this list?
Picture Credit: Yours truly, dancing at Enat in Seattle, back when I used to be a blonde!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Photos From My Wedding Day

I know it's been awhile since my last post, but getting hitched and honeymooning is time-consuming business! And before we dive back into belly dancing, I want to share some pictures from my wedding day!

Looking back at these pictures, it really was a fairy-tale of a day, filled with love and laughter, warmth and smiling faces. We elected to have an intimate affair of only close friends and family. We wed in the afternoon, outside under the canopy of Mother Nature, and in the evening wined and dined with the tableau of the setting sun across Elliott Bay as our back drop.

I can without a doubt say I enjoyed every single beautiful and blessed minute of it.



If you are curious about the location of our ceremony, we tied the knot out at Treehouse Point in Issaquah and the pictures were taken by John Crozier.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Validation is for Parking

Validation is for parking.

So simple, yet so wise. If you read my post about my experience prepping for and competing in Belly Dancer USA, then you heard me mention this phrase there.  As much as I might like to, I can’t take credit for this genius phrase.  I stumbled across this from Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It’s short and to the point. I got through it in a 1-hour lunch break. But man oh man, is it powerful.
Seeking validation is something I’ve consistently struggled with in my belly dance career. It’s in part, a holdover from the rest of my life, where if I’m being honest with myself, I also seek a lot of validation.  In my past I’ve consistently sought and received validation in the form of awards, money, jobs, promotions, and certifications.  In school, I was an honor roll student, captain of the gymnastics team, first chair in the orchestra, and swimming record holder.  In college, it turned into full-ride scholarships, international business competitions, and graduating magna cum laude. And it’s continued into my adult life with job promotions, raises, and professional designations.  Overall, it’s been a lot of running around checking accomplishments off a list. 

Additionally, I think the need to seek validation in belly dance has arisen for me more in this art form because belly dance doesn’t originate from American culture.  When I belly dance, I’m representing someone else’s culture and history.  A culture that I didn’t grow up in, don’t speak the language, and don’t fully understand the social nuances of.  I’ve certainly tried to lean as much as possible, but regardless of what knowledge I take in, it will never change the fact that I’m an American.  I fully respect other cultures, and as such, want to make sure that if I’m representing someone else’s, that I am doing so in a manner that is respectful and accurate.  However, at times I think this desire has gotten in my way of being my own dancer and allowing me the freedom to interpret belly dance in manner that is individualized and adapted to myself.  
Thus, I’ve spent a lot of my belly dance career seeking outside validation.  Wondering, am I doing it right? Does the audience like what I’m doing? What do the other professional dancers think of me? Am I good enough? Are they judging me?  Is my technique solid?  Maybe they are all bored?  Should I dance faster?  Smile more?  Maybe not so fast and not so much smiling?  Maybe if I just do X, followed by Y and finished up with Z I'll have it down? Or no, maybe I should do Z, then X, and Y? Or how about X, Y, and Z all together at the same time?

In other words, I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about what other people think and hoping to receive their validation.
But art isn’t black and white.  There isn’t right or wrong, regardless of those who try to insist their way is "right".  Yes, you do need to know the rules before you can break them.  But after you've learned the foundation, it's all an interpretation.  You can attempt to compare and categorize, but it’s so subjective that when it comes to art, no two people are going to come to the exact same conclusions all the time. So if you’re always worrying about what other people think you will never reach your full potential as an artist.  You will never own your own creative process.  You will never be truly authentic.  You will never birth the art that resonates with your inner being.  And you will never experience that elusive state of tarabYou’ll instead spend your time being an imitation, chasing yourself in circles and second guessing your choices.  

I should know. I’ve been there.
Well, actually, I’m still working through it. Trying to find my own voice in this dance.  But hey, they say you “teach” what you most need to learn, right? Thus, this is where my current work resides: letting go of fear, fully opening myself to vulnerability, and allowing myself to speak my truth.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Best of the Interview Series

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the wildly popular interview series. Each dancer who's been interviewed has shared such amazing insights with our dance community.  To commemorate, I read back through the interviews and pick my favorite quote from each dancer.

"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!" - Nadira

"I think there's room for all of us. We should all be sisters in the dance. As dancers, we are already on the fringe anyway, so it's a waste of energy to compete or argue. We should band together." - Dolphina

"There are three things that make a great dancer: technique, appearance, and stage presence....To be a good dancer, you need two of those three attributes. To be a great dancer you need all three. And I would say there's a certain charisma that makes up the last 10% that really tells you someone is a star. When you see it, you will know. The hair on the back of your neck will stand up because it is so perfect and so amazing. That's what it's all about. You will just know." - Mish Mish

"Dance is build on basics. Take the time to learn the dance and don't rush to get ahead." - Tamalyn Dallal

"Taking the stage is sacred, wait for it and know that you earned it....And remember that when you are on stage, your number one job is to make every audience member comfortable. No one should feel scared for you. "Introduce" yourself as the dancer and be confident. When you are comfortable, the audience will be comfortable and will be able to enjoy the performance. Then you can just be you and share what is in your heart. " - Malia 

"I know there's a lesson for me in every gig, and every dancer will experience audiences that are indifferent or even offended.  These situations demand of us to dance for ourselves in the moment.  When I find myself in a gig like that, where I just want to walk out, I have to remember, and am reminded, that there are always a few lives I touch no matter what." - Dahlia

"Whether you want to think of your dance as a business or not, it’s really important to determine how much time you want to invest in it. How much you put in, is how much you’ll get out of it."  - Ziva Emtiyaz

P.S. I know it's been a couple months since a new interview has come out.  Once I get through my wedding and honeymoon, I'll have some more time and interviews will recommence. Keep your eyes peeled!
Photo Credit (Left to Right): Dahlia, Nadira, Malia

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Favorite Beauty Products for Belly Dancers

The makeup, the glitter, the sparkle, the shimmer.  If you want to be involved in belly dance, you better like to play dress-up, because makeup and beauty products are required.  In a big way.  I've compiled a list of my favorite beauty and beauty-related products.  Whether a dancer, performer, planning a special night, or just heading to the office, I think you'll find something in this list to add to your makeup bag.
  1. Estee Lauder Daywear BB Creme: If I were to only apply one beauty product in the morning, this would be it. It's an oil-free antioxidant moisturizer and foundation in one. It goes on light, but provides exceptional coverage, so I use it for the stage as well.  And best of all, it has 35 SPF coverage, because I'm sure you never, ever leave the house without sun protection on, right?
  2. Sephora Collection Blotting Papers: I have a tendency toward afternoon t-zone oiliness.  I've never bought into the idea of applying a layer of powder over oil to mask shine.  Why not just remove it? These little blotting papers do the trick.  And now they come with added beneficial ingredients infused, such as tea tea oil, salicylic acid, lavender, or Vitamin C, depending on your skin concern.   
  3. Conair Ion Shine Hot Rollers: Hot rollers are the secret to creating volume, movement, and body in hair.  A Conair set from the drugstore works just fine.  I would recommend "jumbo" size to get big luscious waves.  (By the way, I wrote a whole blog post on hair care and styling here.)
  4. Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion: I used to apply eyeshadow and two hours later I would have big creases guaranteed.  Not anymore.  I apply this primer first and my eyeshadow stays in place.  Also great for beach vacations.  Use this product and your eyeshadow will still be on when you exit the water.
  5. Urban Decay Eyeshadow:  Apparently Urban Decay has it figured out when it comes to eye makeup.  Because not only do they make my favorite primer, they also make my favorite eyeshadow.  They have a broad spectrum of fun, bright colors, and many with that staple of the stage - glitter.
  6. M.A.C. Paint Pot: Another area where I used to have melting and smudged eye makeup.  This  cream eyeliner pigment goes on thick and dark, and then dries without becoming flaky.  Stays on through multiple sets and accidental eye rubs.  I never use any other type of eye liner anymore.
  7. Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Skin Creme Protectant: A Jill-of-all-trades skin product.  You can use it to gloss lips, shape eyebrows, smooth cuticles, protect cuts, and more.  I predominately use it over lipstick to add shine.  But I've also used it to effectively soothe rashes and irritated skin.  I also really like it for after performances to restore moisture to my lips after wearing heavy matte colors.
  8. Duo Eyelash Adhesive: That eyelash adhesive that came with your lashes? You can toss that straight into the trash.  Duo eyelash adhesive will ensure that through multiple performances your lashes will remain in place, rather that slowly migrating around to different parts of your face.
  9. Crest 3D White Strips Gentle Routine: I always keep a supply of these white strips on hand.  If I've had to much coffee and my teeth are looking less than white, I'll pop one of these in, which I've even been know to do on route to a gig.  I have sensitive teeth and gums, and as such can't use a number of whitening products on the market, but these are gentle enough to not cause any pain.
  10. Trader Joe's Tea Tree Oil: This is always another staple in my medicine cabinet. It's cheap and it works wonders on clearing up blemishes and helping heal scars.  If you're not near a Trader Joe's, pretty much any other brand that's 100% Austrlian Tea Tree Oil works just fine as well. 
  11. Dior Bronze Natural Glow Self-Tanner: Being a natural shade of pasty white, I've tried quite a few at-home self-tanners in my lifetime and this one is my favorite. It adds a nice subtle tanned glow, dries quickly, doesn't permanently stain clothes or sheets, and goes on streak-free, even for the novice self-tanner.
  12. Dermalogica MediBac Clearing Skin Purifying Wipes: Combine sweat, spray-tan, and hair products and you have a recipe for back acne, especially if you just let the combo sit on your skin and percolate. Enter the Dermalogica wipe. The salicylic acid in these wipes helps remove that film of junk from skin and minimize breakouts. Especially during summer time or when I know I'm a long ways out from a shower, I stash these in my bag and give my skin a quick wipe down after sweaty performances.  
  13. Yes to Cucumbers Natural Glow Facial Towelettes: These facial cleansing wipes require no water.  They are gentle enough for sensitive skin, but tough enough to take off your layers of stage makeup.  Great for on-the-go removal of excess makeup and perspiration after performances.
  14. Lancome Juicy Tubes: I am a slave to this hydrating lip gloss, and in particular, the Tickled Pink color.  Not enough color to wear alone on the stage, but great for every day or wearing over lipstick for added shine.
  15. Bauble Bar Jewelry: Love, love, love this site. I am a convert. I no longer buy jewelry from anywhere else. They have gorgeous jewelry at pretty reasonable prices, including free shipping and free returns. You also collect points for each purchase, which can be used immediately after on your next purchase to discount your price. Everything I've bought so far has stood up to wear and tear, with no broken clasps, missing gemstones, or tarnishing.
Your turn! What would you add to this list?

Photo Credit: Unknown

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Best Business Practices for Belly Dance

Over the years, I've frequently heard belly dancers complaining about how their art form and in conjunction, themselves, are not accepted by the general public.  How they can’t fill classes and shows, and how they are unfairly discriminated against.  And by all means, yes, at times there are the uneducated and ignorant who dismiss belly dance and belly dancers unfairly without knowing anything about the dance.  But there are also other occasions where I think belly dancers are shooting themselves in the foot by not taking advantage of every opportunity to present themselves and their art form in in a relevant and professional light.  My observations come from applying my corporate business background to the business of belly dance.  For those who don’t know me in the “real world”, I have a Bachelor’s degree in business, am a licensed CPA, I worked in professional financial services for eight years, and am now currently overseeing accounting and finance for a multi-state organization with a budget of almost $50 million.  Below are a few observations I’ve noted over the years.  None of these are radical, novel ideas, but they are common best business practices, no matter what line of business you are in.  
1.      Embrace Technology – Maybe it’s because dancers are so focused on perfecting their art form that they forget about the business side of things, but frequently I see that some belly dancers are behind the times in technology.  For example, dancers not accepting credit card payments, requiring the printing and snail mailing of paper forms, no online scheduling for classes, outdated information on websites, etc.  For example, I recall calling a phone number on one dancer’s website and that phone number was out of service.  Eeek!  Talk about losing customers.   Ease of use and being able to complete tasks quickly with a few mouse clicks are becoming more and more important in our culture, and customers are expecting this as the norm.   I’m not saying I’m immune to this, because I’ll be the first to admit I’m guilty of doing (or not doing) some of these things myself.  But it’s on my radar and I have a plan to address them.  Do you?

2.      Stand Firm on Punctuality – Personally, this is a big pet peeve of mine.  While I understand that belly dance originates in countries that have different concepts of time and punctuality than our own, if belly dance is going to be successful and appeal to the general American public, it needs to align with American cultures, one of which is punctuality.  I have frequently been to shows that start anywhere from a half hour to an hour or more late.  Where multiple breaks are taken and the whole event ends up lasting for hours longer than it really should.  I’ve even seen audience members walk out before the show is over because the show has dragged on for too long, the hour has gotten too late, and a commitment of this this many hours is just not what they signed up for.  There are certain dancers in my area who are notorious for this, and frankly, for the most part, I avoid their events.  In our American culture, punctuality is important.  Go to the symphony, the opera, the ballet, etc. and they start and end on time.  Running late is unprofessional and disrespectful of your audience’s time.  If you want more audience members at your belly dance events and you want the general public to take you seriously, run your event seriously: smoothly and by the clock. 

3.      Be Transparent – More often than not, belly dancers don’t quote their prices for performances on their websites.  Again, this may come back to a cultural difference, but American culture is not one of barter and negotiation.   When prices aren’t quoted, Americans get suspicious and wonder why.  And I agree, why aren’t you listing at least a base price or a range?  Is it a secret?  Are you looking to gouge me because I’ve never been through this process before and don’t know what is or isn’t a reasonable quote?  Am I going to have to go back and forth with you over the phone to settle on the price?  Legislation and regulation in the U.S. continually moves toward more transparency in business transactions and this environment trickles down to the little guys as well.  If I’m online looking for services, short of surgery, legal services, or extensive construction projects, I expect vendors to list either an exact price or at least a base price with a description of variables that will affect my ultimate ending price.  Variables of course go hand-in-hand with belly dance shows as well, and each show will have its own formula of details that will make up the final price, such as length of performance, date of the event, specific requests, and location of the venue.  But ultimately, there’s a minimum base price that you are willing to accept to show up.  Consumers expect to make quick, snap decisions when they are online.  If they have to call you to determine if you’re even in their price-range, they may have already ruled your services out.  Not listing your pricing is simply outdated. 
Alright, those are my personal observations, and yours may be different.  Please leave comments, as I’d love to hear your own opinions on these topics!