We are all “real” bellydancers.

So, I’ve joined a gym. I go through this phase from time to time, where I’m feeling like I’m not in touch with my body, not moving in the ways I want to be moving, not feeling like I’m as strong as I’d like to be.  And it’s good!  I’m delightfully sore all the time, and I’m enjoying the way my body is changing and getting stronger.

One thing I love about the gym I just joined is that they explicitly celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes. No matter where you are on your fitness journey, they’re happy to see you exercising, getting strong, moving your body.  They don’t shame you or tell you you’re overweight, or not good enough; they just push you to be better. It’s a really positive (and butt-kicking!) experience to go there.  There’s no competition except with yourself, and the trainers are loving and patient.

When dance class is good, it’s the same way. There are natural variations in our sizes, shapes, and flexibility levels, and there are variations from day to day, and we all need to work with the bodies we’re given today, in this moment.  We all strive to be more skilled and expressive, but the only real competition is with ourselves.  Not all of us can do a back bend or floorwork, or hold a plank for five minutes, or do ten burpees in a row, and that’s okay.  We don’t have to match someone else’s arbitrary standard of thinness or flexibility.

The nature of ATS® is that it works on many different bodies.  The standard costume and the new Bessie skirt look good on bodies of many different shapes and sizes.  (Go check out the super cute fashion show to see the new line in action!)  And because the costume is flattering on so many different shapes, we get to focus on the joy of building community and creating art.

Audiences, too, are inspired by seeing dancers of different shapes and sizes and ages and races and whatever – all celebrating their bodies moving together. They love witnessing a social, community-based experience that is welcoming and expansive.

This is not a call for sloppy technique, however.  Work your body. Get stronger and more flexible. Practice, and come to class, so you can execute movements with skill and precision, and be a better dance partner.

It is a call to love your body where it’s at, today.  That will let you focus on the artistry and community you’re engaging with.  Build yourself up, and build up your dance partners.

ATS® & Diva Dreads; or, what to do with a pixie cut

I love my very short hair, but sometimes a girl just needs a hair garden to stick stuff into!  So, at last year’s Cues and Tattoos, I walked up to the Diva Dreads booth, pointed to my head, and said: “I’m an ATS dancer. What can you do for me?”

Brandie, the owner, knows and loves the aesthetic, so she understood:  I didn’t want anything dangling down, and I wanted height and a certain shape.  So she invited me to have a seat, and whipped out a set of dreads.  In just a few minutes she had created a “hair turban,” mostly pinning the dreads to themselves, and had clipped in a few flowers.

It was pretty good.  But I showed it to Carolena, who was vending from an adjacent table, and she made that face I’ve come to know so well:  good idea, but the execution needs some work.  Carolena pointed out that my head shape is pretty round, so I should try for some height next time rather than going with a round shape.  So I took the dreads home and started playing.  And now, a year later, I am happy to share how I make this happen!

I’ll be sharing pictures as we go through this tutorial.  Please forgive the blurriness – I took most of these in a hurry from the hotel room where I was getting ready for the Tessera performance at this year’s Cues.

As a reminder, here’s where we’re starting.  It’s a bit of a long pixie right now, but still too short to effectively make a solid ponytail.

The current state of the pixie cut - a little longer than at last year's Cues & Tattoos.

The current state of the pixie cut – a little longer than at last year’s Cues & Tattoos.

You’ll need a set of dreads threaded onto elastics big enough to go around your head.  If your preferred vendor only puts them on ponytail elastics, you could make a simple modification — or just talk to Brandie and she’ll make you a set that will work for you.  You’ll also need a scarf and boatloads of bobby pins.

Here’s what the dreads look like.  I store them wrapped up in the scarf I usually wear with them.

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Step one is to put the elastics around your head, with the dreads dangling down the back.  The sets of dreads don’t overlap with each other, they just sit side by side. Like this:

 

 

ERMAHGERD! It's Wendy Allen photobombing!

ERMAHGERD! It’s Wendy Allen photobombing my tutorial selfie!

Next step, I start wrapping the outside-most dreads over the top of my head, alternating sides, and bobby pinning in place behind my ears.

First one side...

 

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I do that until I’ve got most of the top of my head covered.  Next up, I start pinning the center dreads up to where the back of my head meets the top of my head, usually two at a time.  Make an X with two bobby pins to keep every section in place.

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Back view.  Holy moly, do I have a bald spot?!

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Continue pinning until you have two small chunks (just a few strands) left on either side.

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Now, flip your head upside down and start twisting.  The placement of the sections in your hands will determine the overall shape of the updo; bring them tight and slightly to the back to create a stronger vertical line and avoid too much roundness.

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Next, twist into a fairly high bun, and pin the crap out of it!  I recommend using more bobby pin “X” shapes, since mostly you’ll be pinning the dreads to themselves and single bobby pins are unlikely to stay.

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You can fine-tune the shape with more bobby pins.

Finally, grab your scarf and tie it over to cover the elastics.  Tie it snugly at the nape of your neck.  I like to then twist up the ends and bring them up and over the headband, pinning the ends in place.

This photo is from a few weeks ago - I loved this version of the bun!

This photo is from a few weeks ago – I loved this version of the bun!

Finally, put all of your flowers, jewelry, whatever you like into your ‘do.  You look MAHVELOUS.

with Jesse and Nina at Tannourine

with Jesse and Nina at Tannourine

 

Turbo-Speed Tribal: Prep for a gig in less than an hour

I know dancers who take two hours or more to get ready for a gig.  I understand wanting to take time for yourself, to get the makeup just right, to get all the stuff in your hair.  And I know it takes time to pick out the costume – and goodness knows, sometimes just putting on the jewelry takes ten minutes or more.

But here’s the problem: sometimes the gig itself is ten minutes of actual dancing. And for me, that ratio of getting ready to actual performance time just seems ridiculous.  Or maybe you’re coming from your day job and you just don’t have the time.  Or maybe it’s a morning gig, and you are prioritizing having a slow morning with a cup of coffee and your Facebook feed.

Ladies (and gents), consider this my call to streamline. Here’s how to do it.

1. Make a checklist.
I make my checklists from bottom to top, in three layers.  It helps me stay organized, and keeps me from forgetting anything (like that one time when I forgot a belt, and luckily a fellow dancer had brought an extra)!  It could be a mental checklist, or you could actually write it out. I break it down in the following layers:

Base costume – footwear if applicable, pantaloons, skirts, choli

Second-layer costume – this includes hip wear such as shawls, saye goshe, tassel belt, etc.  This also includes my coin bra, if I’m wearing it, and a formal cover-up.

Jewelry – I don’t write out every bangle, but I want to give myself an overall idea for the look.  Again, bottom to top – so the belly chain comes first, and earrings come last.

I keep my performance jewelry in little hand-decorated and labelled bags that hang from a hook board. My beloved gave me this for Christmas last year. It’s incredibly thoughtful and ridiculously functional.

Hook board for jewelry.  Some bags have rings or necklaces; some are labelled specifically, like the one with the Talakhimt necklace).  My CholiDeco lives in the bag with the bronze circles. The colorful red bag houses my Diva Dreads and hair flowers. Many of these bags are empty because I just had a gig and haven't put all my things away yet.  Note the extra markers for when I want to label more things!

Hook board for jewelry. Some bags have rings or necklaces; some are labelled specifically, like the one with the Talakhimt necklace. My CholiDeco lives in the bag with the bronze circles. The colorful red bag houses my Diva Dreads and hair flowers. Many of these bags are empty because I just had a gig and haven’t put all my things away yet. Note the extra markers for when I want to label more things!

Here’s what a sample list might look like.

Sample gig checklist.

Sample gig checklist.

2. Put on the first layer.
Here’s a tip: If you’re wearing two skirts, put the outside skirt on FIRST, and slide the underskirt on underneath.  Much easier that way!

3. Prep the gig bag.
Put the following into a sturdy, large, presentable tote bag:

  • Second-layer costume
  • Jewelry
  • Your other essentials: pins, eyelash glue, lipstick, hand mirror, zills. Include the set list or CD if you are the person responsible for it.
My new favorite gig bag, from the Something Tribal This Way Comes festival in St. Paul, Minnesota. It's a good size, sturdy, and thematic! And if I have to put it on the ground, I can wash it later.

My new favorite gig bag, from the Something Tribal This Way Comes festival in St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s a good size, sturdy, and thematic! And if I have to put it on the ground, I can wash it later.

4. Do your makeup.
There is a lot to this step, and this part will be an entire blog post just by itself. Suffice to say that yes, even when I’m rushed, I still wear false eyelashes.   Such a difference.

I do, however, limit myself to fifteen minutes.  Maybe twenty. Time is of the essence here, and unless you’re doing a photoshoot, it’s okay if it’s not perfect.  You just need to be seen.

I don’t bother with fancy lips at this point – just enough to make the costume look complete as I’m walking into the venue.

5. Do your hair.
For me, with my pixie cut, I have two options: I either do a casual headwrap, or I wear my Diva Dreads.  But if I’m rushed, there is no two ways about it – it’s Team Headwrap all the way.

I think this step would take me a lot longer if I had a lot more hair. We shall see!

6. Put on your “travel” coverup.
For me, this is usually my FCBD® hoodie.  It’s a little more casual and covered than the formal coverup.

With the beautiful Sofia and Jesse. Photo courtesy Don Labit Design.

With the beautiful Sofia and Jesse. Photo courtesy Don Labit Design. OG represent!

7. Get to the gig before call time.
Just a few minutes will do. You don’t want to be stressed out, and you have more work to do!  And now you don’t have to occupy your brain with anxiety about being late.

Once you arrive, put on the rest of your costume.  If there is a green room, great!  If not, find a restroom or unobtrusive corner to continue adorning yourself.

8. Dance your set!
This is the best part.  And remember – this is supposed to be fun.

Headwrap for the short-haired ATS® dancer

I’ve had a pixie cut, or something a lot like it, for nearly two decades.  Unfortunately, it’s not  conducive to the beautiful hair gardens that ATS® dancers build on our heads.   I can build a beautiful hair garden if I use my Diva Dreads, but that can take forever. And as you’ll find out in another post, I don’t like to take too long to get ready for gigs.

Occasionally, though, it’s worth it, if only so I can wear my amazing peacock hair comb:

with Jesse, backstage at Tannourine

with Jesse, backstage at Tannourine

Thankfully, Carolena gave me an idea for a quick, lightweight headwrap that gives me a really similar shape as my dance sisters.  It’s not the same, but it does give the impression of being unified, with a smooth top, bun, and flowers.

It also has the effect of taking me out of my normal appearance, so I’m not just “that person from the office,” but an entirely different creature with an entirely different presentation.

Here’s where I start:

photo 1

… and here’s where I wind up.

At Something Tribal This Way Comes. Photo courtesy Stray Things Photography.

At Something Tribal This Way Comes. Photo courtesy Stray Things Photography.

Such a dramatic look for stage! Here’s how it’s done.

1. Choose and cut your fabric.
This is maybe the most important part. Choose a very lightweight stretchy cotton. You’ll need about one yard. Then, cut it into a fat T-shape. You’ll see why shortly.

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2. Get your pins.
You can use turban pins / hat pins if you want, but I found that for this application, “tidy pins” work better. These are square-shaped pins that are typically used to hold sofa slipcovers in place. They have them in the fabric store by the dressmaker pins.  They help keep the bun attached to the wrap part – like hairpins, but for fabric.

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3. Tuck your hair away, and put the longest part of the head wrap over your head. You can’t let bangs show, unfortunately – you need to pull the head wrap down far enough on your forehead that it will stay.

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4. Tie the arms of the T in back, on top of the middle part. Tie tightly enough that it will stay, but don’t give yourself a headache. If the fabric is stretchy, it will do a lot of the staying on its own, and you don’t have to tie it as tightly as you would a turban.

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5. Braid or twist the three ends into a bun, and secure with your tidy pins. I started by braiding them, but after a couple of gigs I decided that I preferred the looser, softer look of just twisting them together. Either way, the tidy pins secure the bun.

6. Attach a scarf or headband, and arrange your flowers. Done!  Go have fun and dance with your sisters!

with Tribe Elation in San Luis Obispo, CA

Performing as a special guest of Tribe Elation in San Luis Obispo, CA