Monday, December 15, 2014

Ballet and Belly Dance

I've been immersing myself in ballet in recent months. After progressing to the point of putting on pointe shoes as a teenager, I abruptly stopped.  And now, almost 15 years later, I'm starting classes again. I'm all the way back in beginner, but loving it nonetheless. I've also been frequenting performances at the Pacific Northwest Ballet and reading Misty Copeland's autobiography, An Unlikely Ballerina. Copeland, pictured above, is famous in the ballet world for both being a prodigy and her skin color in a mostly white-dominated art form.  Additionally, over the last year she skyrocketed to household name status after her stint as a guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance and her incredible commercial for Under Armour. Top all this off, I've added in ballet-inspired workouts from the Ballet Beautiful series to my weekly fitness routine, likely making me an official ballerina junkie at this point.

All this recent ballet involvement has acted as a catalyst in getting me thinking about the links between ballet and belly dance, and reflecting on how there is a significant ballet influence in belly dance.  Let's take a look.

First, there was Badia Masabni.  As discussed in a post a few months ago, Masabni began incorporating Western elements, predominately ballet, as well as other Middle Eastern dance styles, with traditional Egyptian dancing.  She encouraged an uplifted carriage and trained dancers to lift and open their arms, like in ballet  She also taught her dancers to use more space on the stage, layering in enhanced traveling steps and footwork that borrowed from the ballet repertoire.  Masabani trained the famous dancers Samia Gamal and Tahia Carioca in this style, who in turn carried forward these ballet elements, thus launching the modern age of belly dance.

Then of course there's the undeniable influence of Mahmoud Reda.  A classically trained dancer and gymnast himself, Reda continued along the same lines as Masabni, fusing classical ballet moves and stylistic influences into traditional Egyptian folk dances.  Reda's influence and crossover effect has been dramatic in defining modern belly dance for future generations of dancers through his choreographies, movies, and training of belly dancers, including Dina and Randa Kamel.

So yes, what we think of as belly dance or raqs sharqi, has elements of ballet and other Western dances as well.  When belly dancers hold their hands with the thumb and middle finger extending toward each other, that's ballet.  When belly dancers extend the leg behind the body in an arabesque, that's ballet.  When belly dancers open the chest and extend the arms to the side in a relaxed second positions, that's ballet.  When belly dancers spin across the stage in a modified version of a chaine, that's ballet.

I know that there are some in the belly dance community who don't care for the mention of ballet and belly dance in the same sentences, and don't believe that there has been crossover in this regard. However, when I view both dances, I personally think that the influence is undeniable. It don't think that by acknowledging these observations that it anyway detracts from the distinct art form that is belly dance.  Nor do I believe that comparisons rob raqs sharqi of its unique nature.  And I don't believe that by discussing correlations and connections it means that belly dance has somehow been "adulterated" by Western culture. On the other hand, I am also not saying that the two dances styles are identical twins, or that belly dance is ballet's little sister  They certainly are not.  But do they share certain aspects? Yes, I believe so. Like most art across time and space, influences from other countries and cultures creep in.

Belly dance ever has been, and ever will be, a changing landscape of moves and movements.  Like it or not, is a shifting, evolving, and growing art form, with new fusion influences and elements being added and experimented with every day.  I think it's best just to enjoy the ride.

Photo Credit: Misty Copeland, calendar photo shoot

Monday, December 1, 2014

Annual Belly Dance Beauty Awards

Beauty-related posts have proven to be popular topics on this blog, including my post last year on my favorite beauty products for belly dancers, as well as Mellilah's guide to stage makeup.  Thus, we are instituting an inaugural annual beauty awards post. Since my last beauty post round-up, here are the latest and greatest products I've discovered that I think fellow dancers may enjoy as well.

1.  Benefit They're Real Push Up Eye Liner - I love this new liner from Benefit! The patented, flexible applicator allows for "tight" lining, which is the most effective placement of liner for making your eyes look bigger and more defined. It also dries quickly and doesn't smudge. I would add the disclaimer that it's not for eye liner newbies, as you need to get it right the first time, as you can't smudge out any mistakes, or reline over a second time, due to the fast drying nature of the product. But this shouldn't be a problem for anyone reading this blog, because belly dancers are eye liner aficionados, right?

2.  Healthy Sexy Hair Soy Renewal Beach Spray - I've owned a large quanity of failed beach sprays in the past. But after discovering this gem not any more.  It actually delivers on its promise to create beachy waves without crunch.  This product will be most effective on individuals who already have some level of natural wave to their hair.

3.  Style Sexy Hair 450 Blow Out Spray - I am frequently asked about my hair and how I achieve my "signature" big curls look.  I always say my secret is hot rollers.  But before I style with hot rollers, I always start with a blow out, and this spray is my new hands down favorite for heat styling.  It's an incredibly light-weight product and doesn't leave any residue or film in hair.I spray it in before blow drying and voila, my hair is soft, silky, and ready for styling.   

4.  Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Nail Polish - Let's get this out of the way: There is no at-home polish that can compete with a salon shellac/gel manicure in terms of drying speed and durability. That being said, Sally Hansen's gel nail polish is a pretty close second for a fraction of the price. It dries fast, stays on relativity chip-free, does not require placing your hands in miniature tanning beds, and doesn't take off half of your nail when you try to remove it. Slide into your local drugstore to pick up your own bottle.

5.  Buxom Lash Mascara - Buxom Mascara seems to be gaining a secret cult following. It's certainly my favorite and go-to for mascara. It goes on clump-free, both lengthening and defining lashes with striking effect.  Maybe best of all, it stays put with no mid-day under eye smudges.

6.  Cane + Austin Retexturizing Body Pads - With all the working out and physical activity that dancers participate in, skin can take a beating. Especially when you combine it with makeup, spray tans, and hair products, you can create a breeding ground for bacteria and acne.  That's why I love these glycolic pads for exfoliating and treating skin.  These are designed especially for the body and are the most effective product I've ever had in eliminating bacne.  They are pricey, but if this is a skin concern of yours, they are worth every penny.

7.  J. Cat Beauty Wonder Lip Paint - These amazing little beauties are the perfect cross between lipstick and lip gloss. They deliver intense pigment on the level of lipstick, dark enough for the stage, but in the form of a stain that doesn't dry out lips like a heavily pigmented lipstick does.  I'm always prone to chapped lips and most lipsticks make the problem worse for me, but I can wear these all day long with no pain to my pucker. Best of all, these beauties start at just $4.99 a tube, and if you use the code 25JCAT, you can get 25% off for the next month!

8.  Buxom Full-Bodied Lip Gloss - This is another great lip product that doesn't dry out lips. I would say these aren't pigmented enough to stand alone on stage, but they are a great for added shine applied over a lipstick or for wearing alone when you aren't performing.

9.  Joico Gold Dust Shimmer Finishing Spray - This is a fun product for adding subtle shine and shimmer to locks, especially as they catch in the glow of stage lights.  I use this product after I've styled and sprayed my hair with a firm-hold hair spray.  I then add this product as a final finishing touch to bring out that extra sparkle.
10. Lush No Drought Dry Shampoo - Dry shampoos are another product that I've had quite a few disappointing purchases of. I've even had most of the cult favorites, like Ojon and Philosophy, but no luck.  It wasn't until I found this product by Lush that my faith in dry shampoo was restored. It actually works for cutting greasy shine and replacing it with volume. Perfect for after a sweaty class or between dance gigs.

Bonus!  Ipsy - If you don't already have an Ipsy subscription, you need one.  For only $10 a month you get a cute makeup bag of beauty swag with approximately five products, mixed between sample-sized and full-sized. It's a great way to try new products and see which work for you without a big investment. You can use this link to bypass the waiting period and sign up for your own subscription.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Blessings of Illness

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I always like to take a break from dance related topics and take a moment to reflect deeply on gratitude. If you'd like to read last year's post on gratitude, you can find it here.  Additionally, if you previously read my post regarding my goals for the year, you already know that boosting my gratitude practice has been on my radar for the entire year and not just for the upcoming holiday.

It can be easy to feel gratitude when things are going well.  That's why for this post I wanted to focus on expressing gratitude in those times when it's hardest to do so: when we face adversity, opposition, and trials.  The times when we feel beaten down and strung through the ringer.  When we'd rather cry than crack a smile.

While I've had some great moments and accomplishments this year, I've also been experiencing my fair share of trials and tribulations.  Starting back in March, I began having stomach issues.  My symptoms have been so severe that there are days I can't really function as a normal human being.  So severe that I've been tested for everything under the suspicion that I may have Crohn's Disease, cancer, or some other terrible illness.  I've had to cancel multiple sets of classes and shows.  I've been late to work and had to back out of plans with friends and family.  There are some days I feel racked with anxiety at the thought of leaving my house because I don't know how I might feel later in the day. I've cried during a friend's wedding ceremony, not out of joy for the happy couple, but out of crippling pain. 

However, after months of testing, the only diagnosis my doctors can come up with is IBS-D. While I'm certainly happy and relieved that I don't have cancer or something else of that nature, I'm also frustrated with this diagnosis because it doesn't really mean anything and it doesn't correlate to any specific treatment.  Thus, I'm continuing to search for answers and a course of action that can get my body back on track.

Since the process of trying to figure out what's wrong with me has been so drawn out there have been many days where I've felt beaten down and emotionally brittle.  Where I've sat on the couch and cried because when I look into my future, it's hard not to see never-ending day after day of continued illness.  But it's because of this that I feel it all the more important to focus on what I have to be grateful for in my life, and even more specifically, what I have to be grateful for from undergoing this illness.  There have been lessons I've learned and growth that I've experienced because of being sick that I don't think I would have experienced otherwise.  With our national day of thanks just around the corner, let me share my reasons for gratitude with you.

  • Being ill has exponentially increased my level of compassion for others who are suffering from chronic and/or severe illnesses.  Yes, of course, I've always felt bad for those who were sick, but experiencing a chronic illness first-hand has made me realize how depressing and debilitating it can be, not only on a physical level, but on a mental and emotional level as well.  Since I've been sick, I find that others confide in me more frequently about their own health struggles.  I've had people tell me about their battles with breast cancer, brain tumors, Crohn's Disease, and a myriad other diseases and health conditions. There are unfortunately a lot of sick people out there, and if you are one of them, I can truly and sincerely say that my heart and my empathy extend to you.
  • Being ill has made me truly appreciate my husband and his love for me. Its easy to love and get along with someone in the good times, but it's in the bad times that you see what people are truly made of.  My husband has been by my side, holding my hand, showing me love, and trying to cheer me up.  Without his help, I couldn't have gotten through this and for that I am deeply thankful.
  • Being ill has made me appreciate good health! It's so easy to take feeling "normal" for granted, but man oh man, do I now look back on former days of health and realize I should have appreciated them in the moment.  So now, when I do get a good day here and there, I cherish and appreciate it wholeheartedly.
  • Being ill has solidified to me that you really only need your basic needs in life to be met to be happy.  Its so easy to get caught up in the daily toil and grind and think the grass is greener somewhere else.  To think that once we get to that special place just out of sight, we'll finally be happy. But that place is actually right here. Assuming you have your basic human needs met, you don't need to be any other place or accumulate any other possessions or accomplishments. Stop waiting, and be happy now!
So there's my list. Especially on my bad days, I try to keep these thoughts in the forefront.  Whatever trials you may personally be going through, I hope you can find your own list of positives to help you find your way through to the other side.  Blessings to all in this holiday season.

Photo Credit: Unknown

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Stars of Dance Spotlight: Mahmoud Reda


Mahmoud Reda was born in 1930 in Cairo. He is famous for being a dancer, choreographer, and actor, as well as founding the world-famous Reda Troupe.

Through the influence of his older brother, Ali Reda, who was dancer, and the American stars Gene Kelley and Fred Astaire, Reda was drawn to dance and movement from an early age.  He originally trained as a gymnast, representing Egypt in the 1952 Summer Olympics. He also attended Cairo University and received a degree in Political Economics.  Shortly after graduating, he joined a South American dance troupe and began touring Europe with them.  Shortly thereafter, Reda hoped to start his own dance troupe, but due to lack of funds, he had to work as an accountant for Royal Dutch Shell.  As an accountant by day myself, I love this fact about Reda!  However, Reda's life was about to change.

Around 1957, Reda met Farida Fahmy, who become his dancing partner.  Reda was married to Fahmy's sister, Nadeeda.  Reda and Fahmy, along with Ali Reda, started the Reda Troupe in 1959. The troupe began with 12 dancers and 12 musicians and combined traditional Egyptian folk dances with Western dance styles, predominately ballet.  It was this fusion of styles that made the Reda Troupe, and Reda himself, famous.  As Reda described it in his own words, traditional Egyptian folk dances weren't made for the stage. Trying to put them on stage resulted in the outcome that "they look odd, they look strange".  But by adding in some Western stylizations from ballet and from Reda's idols Kelley and Astaire, Reda was able to infuse these traditional dances with the extra zing needed for success on the stage and big screen. 

Also aiding the troupe's success was the social standing of Fahmy and her family, which helped desensitize the public's reaction to the normally stigmatized profession of dance.  This fact, combined with the grace and elegance encompassed in the Reda dancers, made the troupe shows acceptable for both men and women to attend. In fact, the troupe was so widely accepted and acclaimed, that in 1961 the Egyptian Ministry of Culture decided to sponsor the troupe. In the same year, the troupe starred in its first movie, followed by subsequent movie roles in 1963, 1965, and 1970. 

Let's take a look, at some clips from these movies.  This first clip is Reda and Fahmy from the 1965 film Love in Karnak. You can strongly see the ballet influence in this dance through the carriage, arm movements, turns, and positioning of the feet.

This second clip highlights Fahmy, while also including Reda and the Reda Troupe. It's a scene from the 1963 film Mid-Year Holiday.

The third clip is also from Love in Karnak. The first minute showcases some of Reda's gymnastic ability.  Then if you want to skip ahead through some of the dialogue, the dancing begins again at the 4:00 minute mark, as Fahmy makes her entrance. All the dances in this movie were choreographed by Reda. 

In 1972, Reda stepped down as the principle dancer of the Reda Troupe, but continued to choreograph and direct performances.  By this time, the group had grown to upwards of 150 dancers, musicians, and stage crew members. The Troupe went onto tour the world, giving performances as far away as Carnegie Hall in New York and parts of China.  Reda has also received a vast number of awards for his work, including Egypt's Order of Arts and Science in 1967, The Star of Jordan in 1965, and the Order of Tunisia in 1973. In 1999, he was honored by the International Dance Committee/Unesco and by the International Conference on Middle Eastern Dance in May 2001.

In 1990, Reda retired as director of the Troupe.  He has however continued to teach workshops internationally.   I had the privilege of studying with Reda in 2010. I've included a picture of myself and the famous star below.

From this discussion, I think it can be seen that Reda has acted as a crucial cornerstone for furthering Egyptian dance, in terms of Egyptian folkloric dance, stage performance, and I would also add, modern belly dance.  While Reda and his troupe didn't focus directly on raqs sharqi per se, his influence has been dramatic in defining modern belly dance for future generations of dancers though his choreographies, movies, and training of belly dancers. His students and former troupe members include Dina and Randa Kamel.  Along with Badia Masabni, I believe he's been the most influential architect and creator of what movements, vocabulary, and technique have been encompassed into raqs sharqi.  Both Reda and Masabni's work blended in Western elements and added footwork and floor patterns, carrying the dancer across the stage, and ultimately making it the dance we know and recognize today.  Reda's work has also helped to foster interest in Egyptian folkloric dance among belly dancers, making folkloric dances like baladi and raqs assaya frequently common place within a belly dancer's set.

The Reda Troupe was a pioneer dance troupe, and Reda was truly the founder of a new genre of dance. Sadly, the Reda Troupe exists only in name today.  However, it has gone on to inspire countless other folkloric groups in universities and schools all over Eypt.  It can't be denied: Reda left a legacy in the realm of Egyptian dance.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cross-Training for Belly Dance

Ready to take your dance to the next level? Do you have a desire to deepen your body awareness, strengthen your muscles, and shape your overall physique? Then mixing some cross-training into your weekly dance practice might be just the thing for you. What is cross-training?  Cross-training can be just about any other type of dance, sport, or movement.  But if you really want to sync up your exercise with direct benefits to your belly dance practice, you'll want to keep reading for my list of recommended forms of dance and exercise for belly dancers.

Ballet: There is a great deal of cross-over in movements and posture between belly dance and ballet.  Don't believe me? Read my last blog post on Badia Masabni to discover how she fused the two dance forms to create modern belly dance.  Ballet classes will lift your posture, promote grace and fluidity, increase flexibility, and tone major muscle groups. I take weekly ballet classes at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School and I recommend in-person instruction.  However, there are also two at-home DVD options from the Cheeky Girls DVD line, Ballet for Belly Dancers with Brianna and Ballet Blast with Sherena, that are tailored specifically for belly dancers.

Yoga: A big component of any dance style is flexibility. Want to slide down into the splits while balancing your shamadan? Then regular stretching needs to be on the menu. Yoga is a great low-impact way to enhance flexibility while building muscle tone.  Plus, there is also the added benefit of working on connecting movement to breath, a key component of performing.  These days yoga comes in a variety of forms: vinyasa, Bikram, hatha, heated, cardio-fusion, restorative, and kundalini to name a few. Just about anyone kind find the yoga class that appeals to them. If you can't find a yoga studio you like near you, I would recommend the DVDs Daily Energy - Vinyasa Flow Yoga by Shiva Rea for a more traditional approach to yoga, or Yoga Inferno by Jillian Michaels for a yoga-cardio fusion approach.

Barre: A fusion of ballet, pilates, and isometric strength training, the right barre class will have your muscles literally shaking before it's over. You will see and feel the difference.  I've tried most of the major chains and Pure Barre is my favorite.  Classes can be a bit pricey, so if you are looking for an at-home option, I like Xtend Barre: Lean and Chiseled with Andrea Rogers, which infuses a bit more ballet and cardio than most studio classes.

Other Forms of Dance: Ballet deserved it's own category because it's so fundamentally related to belly dance.  But that being said, just about any other style of dance will aid your belly dance, as it will increase your mind-body connection and promote the development of muscle control and emotional expression.  A few other styles in particular to consider delving into are jazz for rhythm and choreography, modern for level changes and extensions, lyrical for turns and emotional gravitas, burlesque for saucy and sassy stage presence, hip hop for intensifying pops and locks, and samba and other Latin dances for footwork and hip articulation.

Pilates: Is another fine-toning based movement approach that combines strengthening and stretching, and was developed predominately with dancers in mind.  Pilates can be done on a mat, or with the assistance of a reformer machine.  Another great option for preparing your body to execute belly dance technique.

Those are my top cross-training recommendations for belly dancers.  However, whether your personal cross-training choice is on this list or not ultimately doesn't matter. The most important thing is to love and move your body every day.  Dance and sweat it out goddesses!

Photo Credit: Unknown

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Stars of Dance Spotlight: Badia Masabni

Badia Masabni was a dancer, actress, night club owner, and entertainment industry revolutionary.  She was born in Syria in 1892 (some records say 1894) and she is arguably one of the most important figures in the history of belly dance, as she is credited with being the matron of modern day belly dance. 

Badia's life got off to a rough and tragic start. At the age of seven, she was raped by a cafe owner.  This event made her prospects for marriage poor, due to a culture that marked her family with shame and herself as "damaged goods".  However, this meant that she instead turned to dance and theater. After a number of relocations, Badia ended up in Cairo in the early twentieth century, which at the time, was the center of the entertainment industry in the Middle East. Badia began working with various theater ensembles as an actress and dancer, at times traveling back to Syria and Lebanon to perform as well.  It was during one of these trips back to her home in Damascus, that she was attacked and almost killed by her brother who believed he was defending the family honor.

Badia didn't let these early tragedies stand in her way.  Instead, she forever changed dance history when she opened the first Egyptian music hall in 1926.  Badia's main music hall was officially known as Opera Casino, but was also informally referred to as Badia's Casino and Madame Badia's Cabaret.  The casino was modeled after European cabaret clubs, and featured a variety of entertainment, including singers, dancers, musicians, and occasionally comedians and magicians.  Badia's club quickly grew in popularity and became a well-frequented spot for upper-class Egyptians, as well as foreign stars and dignitaries. What many don't know, is that in addition to this club, Badia also owned up to five different clubs at different times: three in Cairo, one in Giza, and one in Alexandria. It was in Badia's nightclub that the famous dancers Samia Gamal and Tahia Carioca launched their careers, and made belly dancers common household names.

But really what made Badia and her nightclub important were the changes she implemented to what's currently known as modern day belly dance, or raqs sharqi or occasionally oriental dance.  Before Badia, the dance was a "shabbi" dance, a dance of the people, or more generally "popular dancing". Badia change this by elevating it to a true performance art and making it stage ready.  Before Badia, the only public performers of belly dance were the ghawazee and almeh.  Their dancing was characterized by standing primarily in one spot while performing hip accents, and they carried their arms in a deep bent "w" shape. Badia changed all this. She encouraged an uplifted carriage. She trained dancers to lift and open their arms, adding in flowing arm movements like snake arms.  She also taught her dancers to use more space on the stage, layering in more traveling steps and footwork.  In general, you can visualize the difference in how you might dance at a house party for a group of your friends, versus how would dance on a stage.  In the house party, you're more likely to keep your arms at your sides and dance in place. But if you were put on stage, you would fill up space, moving across the stage, elongating your limbs, extending your energy to the back of the room, and generally presenting yourself for the audience. Badia took popular local dancing and added style, flair, and drama to make it more suitable for a stage presentation.

Badia is also considered to have introduced the use of veil into belly dance.  Because audience members in the back of the club couldn't always see the fine movements of the dancers, she added in a veil to emphasis the movements.

And finally, Badia is credited with implementing musical change.  Badia began adding musicians who were classically trained on the violin, cello, oud, and accordion into the traditional Egyptian musical line-up of riqq, tabla (or derboukka), and ney (or zurna). These additions created more complex musical arrangements and more musical variety that ultimately came to shape the traditional belly dance set as we know now it, including the taqsim.

Badia's life as a night club owner wasn't without problems as well.  In the 1930s, Badia's nephew, Antoine, fell in love with a dancer in Badia's ensemble, Beba Azzadine.  Based on which account you go with, this pair either took over Badia's nightclub from her based on a power of attorney proxy, locking her from the club, or they alternatively left together, opening their own night club and stealing Badia's clientele.  Either way a low blow from trusted companions.  Later in the 1940s, after a parody skit of Hitler was performed at Badia's nightclub, Badia was placed on Hitler's list of people to be executed. Fortunately, Hitler never made it to Egypt!

There aren't too many videos of Badia performing, due to how long ago she was on stage.  Below is one of the few that is available. It's grainy, but still a gem of belly dance history.

Overall, Badia can easily be called the grandmother of modern day belly dance.  Her club established belly dance as a respected art form, even if sadly, some of that respect has been tarnished over the years.  Badia passed away in 1974.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tips for Selecting a Teacher

Whether you are brand new to belly dance, or are looking for a new instructor, it can be difficult to wade through countless websites and advertisements to try and find a qualified instructor. You want the most for your time and money, but aren't sure which teacher can give that to you.   You desire a strong technical foundation and an accurate understanding of belly dance knowledge to go with it, but don't know whose self-promotion hype to believe. 

I used to feel the same way, and thus why I'm sharing this post this month.  From the time I've spent as a student and also working as a teacher myself, I've gathered a few key elements I look for in an coach and mentor.  Here's a cheat sheet of attributes to hunt for in a potential teacher to help you in your search.

  1. Teaching Credentials: While I've certainly studied with great instructors who don't have any sort of teaching credentials, the majority of my favorite teachers did seek out some sort of accreditation.  The possession of teaching credentials is typically a good indicator of a qualified instructor.  It shows that she has invested time and money into her art form to solidify her technique and knowledge, as well as learn the best, most effective teaching methods.
  2. Safety: First and foremost before any teaching happens, your instructor should provide you with basic posture and alignment instruction so that you stay safe and don't injure yourself.
  3. Knowledge: A qualified instructor is well-rounded with a complete set of tools at her disposal. She needs to know much more than just how to teach a Maya or a hip shimmy.  She should be able to explain the history of the dance, relevant cultural elements and their impact on the art form; basics about related folkloric dances; the famous stars of the dance, both past and present; various styles of belly dance; costuming; stage presence and how to put together a set, musical interpretation, and Middle Eastern rhythms. 
  4. Experience: Your instructor should have experience performing. I don't think that anyone can really teach a skill set without having actively done that skill set first.  Further, a history of performing demonstrates that the instructor isn't someone who doesn't have any dance experience, or has dance experience in another genre, and who one day woke up and decided to start marketing and teaching belly dance. A good instructor has years of experience performing what she's about to teach you.
  5. Explanations: Just because someone can evoke magic on the stage, doesn't necessarily mean that she is an effective teacher.  A teacher needs to be able to break down the movements and explain them in an easy to understand manner.  Additionally, since we all learn differently and the way a move is explained can mean the difference between understanding and executing the skill and feeling lost, I've found that the best instructors can provide multiple explanations for any given belly dance movement.
  6. Critique: Your instructor should be able to find a middle ground between telling you everything you're doing is wonderful and perfect, and between making you feel intimidated and discouraged.  To improve as a dancer, your instructor needs to be able to give you constructive criticism, but also make you feel that learning with her is a comfortable and "safe" process.
  7. Encouragement: Your instructor should be friendly and encouraging to you not only in her classes, but also in your overall dance career. You should feel like you can rely on her as a mentor and that she has your best interests at heart.  Of course any instructor, myself included, wants students to continue learning with them.  However, a professional instructor will also be open to you learning from other dancers.  Each teacher has her own specialties and typically one teacher can't provide everything that a student needs to really succeed and be a well-rounded dancer.  A professional instructor will realize and accept this without discouraging students from following their own path through this art form.
  8. Chemistry: Just like a good date, a successful student-teacher relationship needs a dose of chemistry.  This element is probably one of the most important, yet ambiguous, ingredients. But the two of you need to click! To get the most out of your classes, you should like your instructor, you should look forward to going to class, and you should have fun while you are there!
Photo Credit:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Stars of Dance Spotlight: Samia Gamal


This post is the first in a new series for this blog: the Stars of Dance Spotlight, which will feature bios, commentary, pictures, and videos on selected icons of the belly dance stage. I personally believe that part of being a dancer is understanding the history behind the dance, and therefore it's important for dancers to know the performers who have shaped the stage before them.  Kicking off the inaugural post in this series is a look at the beautiful and talented Samia Gamal!

Samia Gamal was born in 1924 in the small Eyptian town of Wana.  Her family later moved to Cairo where she eventually met Badia Masabni (the women considered to be the founder of modern Oriental dance, we'll do a spotlight on her later).  Samia was extended an invitation to dance with Badia's dance company at her famous casino.  Samia studied under Badia's star dancer at the time, Tahiya Karioka.  Samia soon became a famous and respected soloist in her own right.  She began adding her own fusions and modifications to the dance by incorporating both ballet and Latin influences into her dancing.  Additionally, she is credited with being the first belly dancer to wear high heels while dancing.

Samia starred in many Egyptian films, frequently opposite Farid Al Atrache.  Together they become known as the Egyptian Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In addition to being love interests on screen, it is rumored they were love interests off screen.  However, Farid refused to marry Samia due to her lower social standing.

In 1949, Egypt's King Farouk declared Samia "The National Dancer of Egypt", which combined with her tabloid marriage to a so-called "Texas millionaire" in 1950, rocketed her into international star status. Her second marriage was to the famous Eygptian actor Roshdy Abaza, who she also starred in a number of films with.

Let's look at a few video clips of Samia dancing.  The first clip is from the 1952 Egyptian film Don't Tell Anyone, also starring Farid Al Atrache.  I like this clip because I think it shows off Samia's overall style, which to me is very soft, rounded, light, and graceful.  There aren't many sharp stacatto movements or isolations.  She employs a lot of hip circles, various figure 8s, arabesques, and camels; all balanced on top of her signature high heels.

The second video clip is of Samia dancing in the 1955 Egyptian film A Glass and a Cigarette.   I selected this one for sharing as it's a beautiful piece that she floats through, and the ballet influence can really be felt in the arms and her overall grace. 

And another short movie clip from the 1954 American film Valley of the Kings.  This was a fun one because you see her acting side come out a bit more as she teases the stuffily-depicted Western woman.

And a fourth movie clip from the 1949 Egyptian film I Love You Only, which also starred Farid Al Atrache. I selected this clip because I like the creative stage setting and I also think it illustrates how Samia drew from other dance traditions, which can be seen in the overall choreography and footwork. In this one I especially get a sense of Hollywood influence, as certain movements, and even the attire, are evocative of Carmen Miranda.

Samia danced until the early 1980s.  She passed away in 1994 at 70 years of age, forever leaving her mark on the world of Oriental dance. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Permission Slip to Say No

This is your permission slip to say no. That's right, no.

Say it with me. No.

As women it seems we frequently feel the need to say yes. We want to please other people and make them happy, and by result, end up saying yes even when we don't really want to.

But this often creates the problem of living a life that doesn't always align with one's own core values and interests. Of having a schedule that is overly full. Of not being able to find peace of mind and settle into the present moment.  We need to stop being busy just for the sake of being busy, or for fear of displeasing others. You're worth isn't defined by your achievements or the fullness of your date book.  Sometimes less is more, so that's why I'm granting you a permission slip this month to say no. 

What can saying no do for you?  Maybe you'd like to find more time for your belly dancing or for another hobby or activity. Then saying no can help you to reclaim your time.  It can clear up large blocks on your schedule.   Maybe you don't really need to attend a book club meeting for a novel that doesn't interest you, or go to you child's PTA meeting.  Maybe someone else can take on the extra project at work or drive the carpool for once.   I'm not advocating never doing anything for anyone else, but rather advocating taking a step back and re-finding your balance. As Paulo Coehlo said, "When you say 'yes' to others, make sure you aren't saying 'no' to yourself." Make sure you aren't inadvertently saying no to your dance.

Summertime especially can be a busy time for dancers with many festivals occurring, and also frequently more private parties.  Thus maybe you're feeling the opposite and burnt out with too many dance commitments; saying yes to shows or other dance-related events you feel you should say yes to, but deep down, don't really want to attend or participate in. Sometimes taking on all the gigs you can squeeze in, in the hopes of breaking-through to another artistic level, or to get your foot in the door professionally is what you have to do.  But sometimes we also need to give ourselves a break.   If that's what you're feeling, then permission granted to say no my darlings.

As we sail through the final weeks of summer, find the time to savor them, engaged in the activities that resonate with you.  Maybe you'll find that you'd like time to:

...savor an afternoon cup of tea a new costume
.... soak in the tub
....or just take a nap
However it is you decide to enjoy your time, be present and savor the moment. 


Photo Credit (Top):
Remaining Photos: Unknown

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What is the Right Way to Belly Dance?

What is the right way to belly dance? This question has been swimming around in my head lately, as within the belly dance community there seem to be some fairly opinionated thoughts on this topic. I really got to thinking about this topic after reading a recent article written by Leila Farid of Cairo on Gilded Serpent in which she critiques Ukrainian dancer Alla Kushnir against the Egyptian dancers Tahia Karaoka and Dina, essentially stating that Alla Kushnir's dance is too technique and movement based, while lacking in emotional depth and subtlety.  (Before moving on, I would like to clarify so that I'm not putting words into the author's mouth that weren't said: Farid never uses the words "right" and "wrong" in her article or any variation of them, and ultimately the message of her article that I walked away with was to promote cultural awareness.  But I did see her article setting the stage for this type of discussion, which it certainly did across various belly dance forums and news feeds after it was published.  Therefore this post does not represent some type of response or counter-argument to Farid's article, but rather a progression of thought.)

I have to be honest, when I first entered this art form, I never imagined that there would be so many "rules". Rules about how to interpret the music, what to wear, how to represent culture, how to put together your performance set, and so on. And yes, at least initially, I agree that knowing and studying the "rules" including cultural context, especially for a dancer presenting herself as a professional, is a requirement. Heck, I even posted my own set of "rules" quite recently on when, in my personal opinion, a dancer is qualified to be a professional.  So I'm not proposing some type of dance anarchy. 

But when does it all become too much?  When does appreciating culture and history turn into just drawing an arbitrary line in the sand?  When does following the rules start inhibiting creative expression and personal authenticity?

Coming back to the examples that Farid used in her article, to me when I watch the videos, the main thing I see is that they are different. I don't see that any of the three performances are inherently better or worse. Or that one style stands out as the "right", "correct", or "better" way to belly dance.  I think each dancer is representative of her own style, including the time period and cultural background that she is dancing in.  Watching the three videos, you can definitely see an evolution of style.  In a global context, performance art in general has moved toward a more flashy, in-your-face and frequently trick-based focus.  You may personally like it or dislike it, but I don't think it's either right or wrong, because art can't be put into boxes of right or wrong.  Art just is.  You can personally feel drawn to it, repelled by it, or feel neutrally.  But that still doesn't make it right or wrong.  To me, all art, including dance, exists on a different plane where this type of black and white judgment isn't relevant.

Putting the comparison of Karoaka to Kushir into an American cultural context, I think it's like comparing the talents of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to the professional dancers on Dancing With the Stars.  Astaire and Rogers are smooth and classy.  When I watch them, I can feel myself sink down into their performance, comforted and wrapped up in it.  They are timeless.  Watching the pros on Dancing with the Stars, I am drawn in by their athleticism and power.  It's sexy and fast-paced, bringing me to the edge of my seat.  I like both styles. I can appreciate both styles. And I think there's room for both in the dance world. I don't look at one set and think that their style and their interpretation is incorrect. All art, dance or otherwise, evolves and changes to represent the time period and the location it's being created in, belly dance in Egypt being no exception.

But rather than criticizing evolution or differences, I believe there can be great merit to adaption.  And in terms of developing a personal style, I believe it should absolutely be embraced, because ultimately that's the purpose of art: to enjoy a personal and meaningful communication with others.   Isn't that why we create to begin with?  To sacredly surrender a portion of ourselves to our fellow human beings?  Thus I think the only "wrong" way to dance is to dance in-authentically to yourself.  There's no point in trying to be a copy of someone else, of trying to replicate someones dance in exactly the same manner and fashion.  Each dancer will have her own strengths and weaknesses, and her own cultural and physical background that she brings to the table with her.  While it's important to understand the history of the dance, each dancer needs to also look forward and honor her own journey through it.  I believe that once a dancer knows what the "rules" are, the dancer can make the informed decision to break them if she so desires. Yes, it might mean that some people will dislike her performance.  It might mean that her performance is not traditional or "authentic", but as long as she's not representing it as such (or hired for such), why does it matter?  I think the great Martha Graham summed it all up when she said, "You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something is lost."

Photo Credit: Unknown

Monday, July 14, 2014

Two Steps to Find More Practice Time

We all know in reality that practice is easier said than done.  There are emails to answer, deadlines to complete, Facebook status updates to post, meals to prepare, children to wrangle, errands to run, and clothes to iron.  We live in the age of being busy.  Ask someone how they are, and they’ll likely tell you busy.  In our modern lifestyles, we all have so many demands on our time and never-ending to-do lists, that carving out time for a regular practice schedule gets pushed to the bottom, waiting for that someday, when we're all caught up to peacefully ease into a practice session.  Well, sorry to say, that day will never come.

However, by using two simple steps, I think you'll find that you can find the time to practice.  It doesn't need to be a complicated process of rearranging your entire life or trying to reshape your personality.  Two steps.  That's it.
Step #1: Block Out the Time 
The only way to have time to practice is to make time.  A magical day free of responsibilities and demands will never come.  You have to buy out the time.  So right now, before you read on, pull out your calendar, iPhone, planner pad, or whatever system it is you track your schedule on and look at your upcoming week.  Where in your week can you find time to practice?  You don’t need large blocks of time to do it.  Fifteen or thirty minutes here or there can really add up.  Find a minimum of one hour in the next week, either all together or broken into pieces, and pencil it in right now.  Block out that time for yourself before another activity fills it up.  Too many activities already on your calendar?  Then assess which commitments you really either have to or want to fulfill, versus which you said yes to out of pressure or feelings of obligation.  Your time is valuable, so use it to engage in activities that are fulfilling and meaningful to you. Presto!  You have a date with yourself.  Now keep it!
Worried that you won't stay accountable to yourself?  Then sign up for a class AND pay for it in advance.  When we invest financially in ourselves we are much more likely to follow through with our intentions. 
Step #2: Just Begin
Of course inevitably, when that day and time rolls around, there will probably be an assortment of new stresses that have come up that you originally did not anticipate.  You might be tired from the neighbor’s dog keeping you up the night before, or your husband’s snoring.  You might feel like you really should do the dishes first or give the kids a bath.  You might just feel burnt out and that an hour zoning out in front of the TV would be so much easier.  Whatever excuse or obligation it is, acknowledge it, and then let it go.  The hardest hurdle to cross is just starting.  It’s that initial step from inaction to action, from routine to change, that always likes to present itself with so much resistance.  Just begin.  Don’t think about it, debate it, or rationalize it.  Like Nike says, just do it.  If you had one whole hour written down and that seems like an unbearably long time, tell yourself you’ll do a minimum of five or ten minutes.  Once you start, you’re almost guaranteed to continue on longer.  This time is sacred to you.  Honor it by showing up.

Photo Credit: Unknown

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

When Should A Belly Dancer Go Pro?

This is a topic sure to bring out varying opinions and I'm certainly not the first person to bring it up.  But I would like to pose the question: when should a belly dancer turn professional?

Over my years in the belly dance community I've heard a lot of different opinions on this.  In the interviews (see "Discover Posts by Topic" below) I've done of other professional dancers, there has been a wide range, with some interviewees saying as low as two years of experience, and some up to six years. On belly dance forums, I've frequently read rants from seasoned dancers about "flash in the pan" students turning pro too soon, and how their lack of well-rounded experience reflects poorly on the community as a whole.

Many times, I think there absolutely is truth in dancers turning pro to soon.  I'll admit that I think I myself was one of them.  At two years into my belly dance studies, I was in the right place at the right time to obtain a job teaching belly dance at a nation-wide fitness chain, and therefore launched the professional stage of my belly dance career rather early.  However, in hindsight, I can see that at the time I didn't have all the components and training necessary to truly be a professional dancer.   Having had a background in dance, I'd picked up the technique and movement vocabulary fairly quickly, but I was lacking in many of the other tools I now believe a professional belly dancer should possess.  Even now, many years later, like most professional dancers I'm constantly continuing to learn, working to hone my art form, and frequently humbled by the knowledge and skill of other dancers.

However, at other times, when I hear dancers rant against the newest performer on the block, I don't always agree that it's a lack of professional qualifications and skill set, but more about the seasoned dancer protecting her business and her paid dance opportunities. 

So when should a dancer go pro?  I don't think it's as simple as putting a number of years of study into the equation; that once you complete your requisite years, voila, you're ready.  Nor do I think if you can list studying with certain teachers that you'll be better or sooner qualified.  Everyone learns at a different speed and pace.  Everyone has different goals for what it is they want to achieve out of their dance.  Everyone has a different background of other dance, athletics, and movement vocabulary that they come from.  Everyone has a different personality and comfort-level with being on a stage.  And for some dancers, no matter how many years they log, they may not ever be ready to go pro.  In short, I don't believe there is a simple answer.

Thus, more than a quantitative number of years or who you've studied with, I would argue that it's more of a matter of reaching certain qualitative milestones.  This is the list of criteria I would look for in a professional dancer.

For Performing:
  1. Mastery of technical belly dance movements, including proper control, alignment, and precision.
  2. Competency in use of finger cymbals and basic patterns.
  3. Understanding of Middle Eastern music styles, rhythms, and instruments.
  4. Knowledge of the history of the dance and the key players, both past and present.
  5. Ability to artistically connect with and interpret music, giving a performance that is nuanced and layered.
  6. Appearance that reflects level, with professional-grade costumes and stage makeup and hair.
  7. Knowledge of the various styles of belly dance, and the related history, music, and costuming.
  8. Minimum of knowledge of, if not actual experience with, dancing various Middle Eastern folkloric styles of dance.
  9. Ability to perform both choreography and improvisation.
  10. Competency with at least one other belly dance prop (likely veil, but may vary based on the style of belly dance performed).
  11. Ability to exhibit confidence while performing, including capacity to relax on stage and put audience at ease.
  12. Professional demeanor at all times while performing and teaching.
  13. Understanding of how to run a business, comply with applicable regulations, and interact with customers.
For Teaching, in addition to the above:
  1. Must be able to effectively communicate with students, design class curriculum, and explain breakdown of movements.
  2. Instill proper positioning for safety of students.
  3. Ability to diagnose technical and artistic issues that arise with students.
Succinctly, being a professional dancer means amassing a pretty large toolkit. It's not done overnight and it's not for the casual hobbyist. But it's amazing to see a well-equipped professional dancer practice her craft.

Alright then, anything that I left out? What else would you add to the list?

Photo Credit: Unknown

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Egypt's Newest Music Style: Mahragan

There is a new underground music style quickly gaining popularity in Egypt, especially around the suburbs of Cairo. It's known as mahragan, or also referred to as mahraganat (the plural form), which literally translates as "festival music".  Sometimes it's also just referred to as techno or electronic sha'abi.  As the last name implies, this new style of music is rooted in Egypt's sha'abi music (sha'abi meaning "music of the people"). 

Mahragan music can typically be recognized by its distinctive sha'abi beats that are overlaid with an electronic melody which is commonly improvised by the DJ, and singing that is frequently closer to U.S. style rap. As far as the production of the music, it is almost entirely digital, with a DJ on a computer and mixer, occasionally a keyboard, and the singer's voice often distorted by synthesized autotuning. And what the singers are singing about is definitely new as well. The lyrics range from humor to sex to religion to political rants, and oftentimes include slang and vulgarity.  Something typically taboo and unprecedented in Egypt's conservative musical and cultural past. 

Like most belly dancers, I've been familiar with sha'abi, and sha'abi songs been a frequent staple in my classes for many years now, but mahragan itself only recently crossed my path. While this new genre of music has roots that can be traced back as far as 2007, it really only started to become popular shortly after the Egyptian revolution in 2011.  And for myself, I was first introduced to this style of music a short while ago during Seattle's International Film Festival while watching the documentary Electric Shaabi, which documented the music of some of the rising stars in this genre.   The documentary showed glimpses into the lives of the artists, including exhibiting the poverty-ridden neighborhoods encircling Cairo that most of them came from, neighborhoods such as Salam City, Matareya, Sabteya, and Amareya. Here's the trailer of the documentary:

The movie also highlighted how this style of music has become popular at weddings and street festivals in these neighborhoods.  As highlighted in the documentary and on YouTube video clips, these street festivals have a rave-like atmosphere, with large groups of people gathering to particpate in wild and aggressive late-night dancing, almost always by men only.  If any women are in attendance, such as at a wedding, they are segregated into their section or even behind curtains or screens, with the genders never dancing together. 

Embracing this form of entertainment in these suburban neighborhoods is becoming increasing popular with younger generations, and not to mention, frequently also cheaper. Or at least it was until many of these fore-running artists started making names for themselves.  And in fact, in many instances, where once a traditional band with a belly dancer would have been hired for a community event, such as a wedding, it is becoming more popular for Egyptians in these suburban neighborhoods to now hire these young men to DJ and sing.  As the genre and artists have gained popularity, it appears that the trend may even be slowly catching on in urban and upscale weddings as well, evidenced by a YouTube clip of two of these popular artists, Oka and Ortega, singing at what appears to be the wedding of famous Egyptian singer and film star, Tamer Hosny. 

So who are the artists producing this music?  It's likely safe to say the most popular and well-known are the aforementioned Oka and Ortega, who have been able to penetrate the mainstream with television and movie appearances, and have gained international fame outside of Egypt.  They are now frequently booked for events throughout parts of the Middle East and Europe.  Other artists on the rise are Shehta, MC Sadat, Wezza (or sometimes spelled Wiza), DJ Figo, Amr Haha, and Islam Chipsy. Oka, Ortega, and Shehta also collaborate together in a band called Tamanya Fil Meya, or "Eight Percent". My understanding is that Wezza used to be the third member of Tamanya Fil Meya, but was later replaced by Shehta.

Well, I don't think you can talk about music without actually listening to it, so let me share a couple of clips I found online.

This first video is Oka, Ortega and Wezza's hit song Ana Aslan Gamed.

This second clip is from MC Sadat's own wedding.  Can you imagine this being your wedding reception?!

A third clip is from a street festival of Islam Chipsy playing the keyboard. The video and sound quality is not that great, but watch at least the first 30 seconds to notice the crazy and unique technique he has for playing the keyboard.  It's like an adaption of how a DJ would scratch and mix with a record. I have never seen anything like it! There are some better quality videos of him on YouTube, but this one gives you the up close and personal of his hands.

And a final clip of Oka and Ortega, with a third performer, who appears to be Shehta, also intermixed with some shots of DJ Figo (at 2:15 in the video) wherein you can get an idea of the street-style feel of the music, complete with crazy stage climber. The performance starts at about 1:30. Since I'm not an Arabic-speaker, I can't tell you what they are talking about at the beginning of the video.

Personally, I like the music.  I like it a lot in fact.  While I've grown to like classical Egyptian songs over the years that I've been immersed in belly dancing, it wasn't love at first listen.  But with mahragan, I like the upbeat, make-you-want-to-dance, raw and fresh sounds of these artists and their music.  I like that they are pushing boundaries and voicing their own opinions during a time of political and cultural upheaval in Egypt. Although, a word of advice to dancers, I would exercise caution before including these songs in your performance sets, as songs could contain cursing or other lyrics that may be offensive to some listeners.  Be sure you know your song and your audience before including.

Being relatively new, there isn't a huge amount of material on the Internet, at least in English, available for researching, so I'm definitely interested in hearing from readers. What do you think? Do you like this new style of music? What else do you know about it? Please share in the comments!

Picture Credit (Top): Movie still from Electro Chaabi, directed by Hind Meddeb

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Belly Dance Makeup Kit by Mellilah

I'm excited to present a special featured post this month. The lovely belly dancer and guest blogger, Mellilah, has crafted a post on putting together the perfect makeup kit for belly dancers.

As a belly dancer, you need to dress the part, which includes your face. The makeup you wear is just as important as your costuming and dancing skills. The right makeup will create that professional and/or polished look; while makeup applied wrongly or the lack of sufficient makeup can distract the audience, taking away from your performance. As a performer, the spotlight is on you, so dazzle them! 

Before learning how to apply makeup for shows, you’ll need to start with the essential tools and products. Below are my essentials for building your personal makeup collection or “makeup kit.” I’ve also included advice on when it pays to spend more money on professional brands and when to save money shop by shopping at your local drug store. There are some differences between the products you’ll need for stage shows vs. gigs (private parties and restaurants), and these are noted below.

The “Makeup Kit”:

·        Lube and Vaseline - Lube is great for applying glitter to lips and eyes. Vaseline is used on the teeth to keep the lips from sticking to the teeth when the adrenaline flows and your mouth gets dry.

·        Brushes - The brushes you use are very important. I recommend professional brushes which can be costly, so I’ve narrowed it down to the top 5 brushes that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. You can supplement cheaper brushes for other needs and eventually add more to this collection. Visit your nearby MAC store and purchase these 5 basic brushes: (Alternatively, find similar brushes from a comparable company.)
                   Angled Brow Brush – A must for darkening eyebrows
                   Flat Definer Brush – Great for adding lines of compact color
                   Pencil Brush – A must for applying contour to the lid and packing on color
                   Small Contour Brush – Used to add definition or contour to the face
                   Foundation Brush – Used to apply foundation for a smooth, even finish 

·        Glitter - You’ll want to start collecting different colors of glitter to match various costumes. I like to use “Eye Kandy” as their products are recommended for the eyes. MAC has great glitter but the company warns against using on the eyes. Although it may not be safe for eyes, I have found great glitter at Claire’s; use at your own risk. You’ll also want to purchase body glitter or shimmer. I recommend glitter for stage and gigs!

·        Primer - Primer prepares the skin by calming and smoothing and improves the application of makeup. I recommend “Prep + Prime Skin” by MAC or Sephora’s “Smoothing Primer.”

·        Foundation (Base Makeup) - Foundation covers flaws and evens out skin tone, creating a blank canvas for your face for which to apply color and create contour. It is absolutely essential. For the stage, I recommend using professional products that were created for the stage. So, you’ll need to spend some money here. Look for products that are long wearing, sweat-proof and that provide medium to full coverage. I recommend MAC makeup as it was created for the stage. I use MAC’s “Studio Sculpt SPF 15 Foundation” for stage shows. For gigs, I mix “Studio Sculpt” with my lighter day-to-day foundation. FYI: I only use MAC for belly dance shows, as it is full of chemicals and often too heavy for street wear, in my opinion. If you have sensitive skin, then do some research but find a product that will provide medium to full coverage.

·        Concealer - This will be used under your eyes and used to cover facial blemishes. I recommend spending money here and not buying the drug store brands. MAC makes some of the best concealers, and they are heavy enough for stage and gig use. I like to use “Select Moisturecover” by MAC, but they have other products that may work well, too.

·        Brow Liner - There are lots of fancy products to line your brows, but most importantly, you just want your brows to be at least a shade darker than your hair. You may be able to save money here and buy a really dark brown eye shadow from your local drug store. For the stage, you’ll want your brows to really pop, as they will disappear under the bright lights. When applied correctly for the stage, they should look somewhat artificial, especially if you’re blonde, and you will need to give yourself time to get used to the look. For the greatest control, I use a dark brown eye shadow applied with MAC’s angled brow brush.

·        White Eye Pencil or Powder - You’ll want to purchase a white eye liner and/or white eye shadow which you will use to highlight your eyes, helping the eyes and brows pop. I like MAC’s “Eye Kohl” in the “Fascinating” shade.

·         Eye Shadows - Minimally, you’ll need two eye shadows, a neutral shade (like a soft beige or copper) and a dark contouring shade (a color that will give you more intensity). I use the same shadows for both stage and gigs, applying it more heavily for stage shows. For the darker contouring shade, I recommend buying MAC as it is made with lots of pigment and truly the best for this purpose. Many of the over-the-counter brands just don’t get dark enough, even if applying in layers. I use and highly recommend MAC’s purple “Shadowy Lady” and very, dark blue “Plumage” as contouring shadows.

·        Eye Liner and Mascara - You’ll need the blackest black eye liner and mascara. I find the liquid eye liners give me more control and intensity than the pencils do. I don’t use MAC for this, as I don’t want all those chemicals so close to my eyes. I use Zuzu Luxe by Gabriel Cosmetics which is a safer, mineral based product. I like their mascara in the color “Onyx” and their liquid eyeliner in the color “Raven.” These work well for stage and gigs.

·        Lip Liner - This is an essential and a good quality lip liner is generally worth the price. The cheap ones may break easily or may become worthless once you sharpen. I like to use “MAC Lip Pencils” as they sharpen well or the “MAC Creamstick Liner” that doesn’t require sharpening. You’ll need 2 in shades that are darker than the basic two lipsticks that you choose below. I find that I often gravitate towards my “MAC Creamstick Liners” in the colors “Portside,” a dark brownish red, and “Red Enriched” which has more red in it.

·        Lip Stick- Most drug store brands will work just fine. You’ll want to get at least two colors, one for the stage and one for gigs. As a rule: stick to shades with depth/intensity in the reddish-purple-brown family. Generally, stay away from beiges, pinks, light frosts, and odd colors. For stage, it isn’t as important that it matches your skin tone. You’ll want a really dark color for stage that looks “over-the-top” up close. Reds usually look great on stage. For gigs, the color doesn’t need to be quite as dark and you can find a color that better matches your skin tone. I often use “MAC Red” and “Diva” by MAC. Avoid lip gloss as it can get pretty sticky and you might find that your hair will stick to your lips.

·        Lashes and Glue - I’ve heard that false eyelashes can cause thinning of the lashes overtime; therefore, I only use them for stage shows. You’ll want them to be dark, thick and long, especially for the stage! I would save money and buy them at your local drug store. However, the only glue that I would recommend is DUO adhesive, which I know is sold by MAC.

·        Facial Powders or Creams - You’ll need 3 different powders or creams. 1. Blush- A reddish, pinkish, and/or coral-like blush or one that matches your skin tone to use on your cheeks for gigs. For stage, go with brighter pinks. 2. Contouring Powder or Cream- A dark powder or bronzer for adding contour to the face. It should be a couple of shades darker than your skin tone. 3. A Setting or Finishing Powder- Used to smooth out and set makeup. Use a matte powder for gigs and a shimmering powder that reflects light for the stage. I absolutely love Mac’s Iridescent Powder. I use the color “silver dusk,” which could also be used as a highlighter.

·        Highlighter - This is used strategically to brighten the face, bringing out specific features on the face. For example, it can be used to accentuate the cheekbones and/or to bring attention to understated facial features. To save money, use a loose white, silvery, or ivory colored eye shadow or a light golden shimmery shadow for dark skin tones. For better quality, you might try NARS “Cult Cream Stick Highlighter” in silver.

·        Wet Facial Towelettes - These are essential! I use these after applying my eye shadow to clean up the excess powder that falls onto my cheeks and under my eyes. Applying makeup, lashes, etc… can get messy, and you’ll be glad to have these around. I like to use “Yes to Cucumbers” (hypoallergenic and chemical free) facial towelettes. Hint: To save money, I tear them the long way into fourths.

·        Setting Spray - Setting spray will keep your makeup in place and help you avoid a makeup meltdown. This is especially useful if you know it’s going to be a long night. Save money and try Ben Nye “Final Seal” usually sold at costume supply stores. Be forewarned, it can feel like you’re straying your face with hairspray!

·        Eye Makeup Remover - As you’ll be wearing more makeup then you’re used to, maybe even false eyelashes, you’ll need to wipe your eyes with an eye makeup remover before washing your face.  I have found “Sea Fennel Gentle Eye Makeup Remover” by Gabriel Organics to be great for removing stage makeup, and it’s organic and chemical free.

I hope these makeup tips and essentials are helpful for you and wish you the best on your dance journey. Should you have a question or comment, please leave it below. Also, please stay tuned for my follow-up article, “Makeup Technique for Belly Dancers” by Mellilah which will be published on my blog.

Mellilah is a professional belly dancer teaching and performing in the Greater Seattle area. She is the author of Everything Belly Dance Blog:Essential Information for Belly Dancers. She can also be found at