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.