For the love of jazz. My current dance crush: Holla Jazz!

Sometimes dancers catch your attention in ways you can’t quite explain. I mean there are  a lot of great dancers out there and we have access online to take in a lot of amazing movement art and of course being in Toronto also means tons of live shows and events to witness it in person. But there’s something about this crew…

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Lately I’ve been rather infatuated with

Holla Jazz, a local group of dancers that are skilled in a variety of genres but gather in this group to showcase vernacular jazz. With social media being a way artists can connect with audiences and fans, I came across their page on facebook and my interest in solo jazz was re-ignited. I haven’t done a ton of solo jazz since my time in the flapper troupe Sugar Shakers but it holds a special place in my heart –and feet!

In March I attended a vernacular jazz workshop with Natasha Powell, the founding artistic director of Holla Jazz and had a really amazing time. She taught the group of eager movers some fun combos,  with focus on bringing our own flavour to the movements. After all, we’re talking social dance here –there is so much room for playfulness and to bring your own mood and authenticity to the dance.

Lucky for Toronto, Holla Jazz has a full length production Floor’d coming up later this month! I’ve had it in my calendar for a minute and then in early April, I won tickets to the show through Turnout Radio on 89.5 (if you haven’t tuned into this dance show on our last remaining community radio station, you should!). I was so excited when I called into the station to find out I’d won — and the day before my birthday, so it felt extra special…

I’m super looking forward to the show, here is the choreographers statement for more info. Whatever genre of dance you’re into, this show is one not to miss, it runs April 25-28th. See you there!

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Bazaar of the Bizarre –this Sunday!

Once again the highly anticipated, impeccably-curated Bazaar of the Bizarre runs this long weekend, on Sunday in the Parkdale area. Serpentina North Ensemble will be providing some dancing entertainment for bazaar-goers. We always enjoy performing at this event, animating the space alongside stilt-walkers, DJ’s and an array of ultra creative and skilled artisans from in and around Toronto. Have you seen the vendor list yet? You can follow the bazaar on Instagram and facebook to prepare your wallet for all the amazing things you’ll want to buy!

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Winter home practice

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We’re in the thick of it beautiful people, early March in Toronto. It will be ok, the seasons change –and we’re already in March! With the urge to hibernate strong, I have made sure my home practice is also  strong.

Morning is always meditation and asana. Usually I will do about half an hour of varied asana depending on my mood. Some days its more of a yoga like dance improv.

Once evening hits, I’ll do some yoga to work out the physical and mental kinks of the day. Then if I haven’t already gone to a class or rehearsal I will do some drills.

There are so many options for online classes and while I prefer in person any day, there are some really juicy teachings being offered up online with teachers in other areas. Datura Online, created by Rachel Brice is my favourite as anyone can learn from such an array of tribal fusion pioneers (many of whom I can say I’ve had the opportunity to learn from in person!). There is so much to wade through…lately I have been into drills and combos with Henna, cardio/strength training/drills with Ashley Lopez and of course Datura technique with Rachel Brice.

The other online resource I’ve been using is Integrative Anatomy for Dancers by Deb Rubin. This is a series of videos discussing fascia, anatomy and  injury prevention in yoga asana and tribal fusion bellydance. Deb is so knowledgeable about anatomy and movement, with the goal of wellness and longevity for dancers as part of her Dance Therapeutics program.

Bellydancers and yogi(nis), what online resources are getting YOU through this winter???

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Reflections on tribal fusion

The end of 2017, brought the passing of a pioneer of tribal fusion bellydance long before the term was coined –the one and only Jamila Salimour. There is a lot to say about Jamila and how she shaped American style, interpretation and presentation of bellydance over the past several decades in America.

 

In learning of her death, my mind jumped to the one and only time in 2009, that I had an opportunity to learn from her at the Salimpour School in Oakland. It was an adjunct workshop to the annual San Fransisco Mecca Immersion, a tribal fusion intensive in San Fransisco, taught by both Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour. It was a zyll workshop and she played her giant saucer-sized zylls effortlessly, leading us through complex patterns. I had been playing zylls a couple of years and enjoyed the challenge, savoured the experience knowing I had a hell of a lot more work to do to feel comfortable with this instrument.

I became interested in tribal fusion bellydance around 2008 after dancing for a few years learning Arabic as well as cabaret styles from my teachers. While learning from Roula Said (the Salimpours were among her teachers in her travels to San Fransisco) at Om Laila for a few years, I had joined the student troupe  under the direction of Megan Shields. Here I was exposed me to what she used to refer to as ‘tribalesque’ –the elements of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion that she brought into a more classical bellydance foundation. Once I discovered some more about this style of dance as well as what it means to fuse dance styles, I started to get more curious about its origins. That led me to a study trip to my first SF Mecca Immersion in 2008, where I learned that tribal fusion is a branch off of American Tribal Style group improv, the codified group dance created by Caroleena Nericcio-Bolhman of Fat Chance Bellydance. I stumbled my way through her workshop, trying to wrap my head around the cueing system, but noticing all of the common ground of vocabulary that shaped tribal fusion: elements of bellydance, flamenco and classical Indian dances. The raised strong arms, floreos, rhythmic isolations and fluid hips swaying to music from traditional to electronic. I was in love and fell hard. I went back for more in 2009, this time for the extended intermediate track of SF Mecca Immersion.

Its coming up on ten years since I first set foot in San Fransisco to explore dance roots. Some of that journey has been shared through this blog.  I am fortunate to have teachers in Toronto who have learned and continue to learn from the pioneers of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion. I have now been in Serpentina North Ensemble for six years and have none other than the green haired forever goth, Orkideh to thank for the opportunity to delve so much deeper into group improv as well as fusion bellydance. Workshops, intensives, and performance has been a large focus of mine over the past decade I suppose. And we all live in the legacy of our teachers and our teachers’ teachers. So whether or not you got a chance to directly learn from Jamila Salimpour, she is an iconic figure who created the foundation of what we know as tribal fusion.

To other dancers, I love to hear about peoples influences! Please feel free to share in comments, your experiences learning directly or indirectly from the work of Jamila Salimour.

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking up with glitter

I’ve used my fair share of glitter. I’ve glittered and over glittered for holiday parties,  90’s late night rave adventures,  (after all, it had to last til the break of dawn at least), pride, concerts and in more recent years as an essential part of many dance performances. As a bellydancer, glitter is just part of the preparation –a sort of show girl must, if you will. After all, who doesn’t like to sparkle? Show folk of every gender joke about finding glitter days after shows often wedged into crevices they hadn’t intended. With December upon us, many people use glittered items as part of their festive decor. And kids love glitter, that added element of dazzle on any kindergarten craft project. I mean there’s scientific research on the evolutionary underpinnings to our love of sparkly  things.

Who doesn’t like glitter, you ask? Well for one, the ocean and all of the life in its watery depths. Also the birds who starve to death because their stomachs are filled with teeny plastic particles like glitter. Glitter is made up of particles so tiny that, like microbeads (ban in Canada set to take effect mid 2018),  in many cosmetic and body products, they pass through water systems into the digestive systems of plankton and up through the food chain as well as deeper into the ocean. This short National Geographic Video breaks down how this happens:

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As someone who strives to live by her politics, these facts are unnerving to say the least. I don’t use feathers or fur in my costuming (or daily life) and am now choosing to switch to non-synthetic glitter aka ‘bio-glitter’. While the science is not yet clear on how much of the plastics showing up in the digestive systems of marine life can be attributed to glitter, I anticipate more specific research come, as the discussion has now been open about a ban vs. pressure to change industry standards (Lush Ltd has made a statement on their changes in glitter products)

As a long time vegan, its not just about products containing animals that sits at the heart of the vegan ethic –but a dedication to uphold the value of all life. Over two decades ago I opted out of participating in the system of factory farming as well as fast fashion of the consumer machine. There is no point of ‘arriving’ in this ethic, only a continuous curiosity, learning and adjusting of habits and lifestyle that promotes dignity not destruction of living beings and our natural world.

Performers take people into another world of their choosing –often filled with fantasy, illusion and mystique. I obviously love all of these aspects of performance. And glitter adds to the otherworldly beauty of a performance –or just a night out. Still, we have to live with ourselves, we have to be able to sleep at night. Once you know the ‘underbelly’ of something as whimsical as glitter, it just can’t be business as usual.

Stay tuned for glitter that everyone can live with, coming up in the new year through House of Shimmy.

Share your thoughts and continue the conversation in the comments area!

 

Summers end and 108 days of dance

 

 

Well it seems I was too busy dancing, to write about dancing! So here is the post I started writing and left unfinished on in September:

Without much fanfare, yesterday was the 108th day of my 108 Days of Dance journey. I had my usual Tuesday evening rehearsal with Serpentina, working on a kathak bellydance fusion choreography we have been developing.

I told one person yesterday that it was day 108. Because practice mostly is a solitary thing and most certainly discipline is an internal experience. Knowing that each day you will practice, no matter the weather or your mood, with or without Instagram, with or without telling anyone…

I used this personal challenge to take my practice to a new level. Though I’ve been practicing a few days a week for several years now between classes and rehearsals, now its daily. The point for me of a challenge like this, as I did with yoga practice as well, is not just to complete the said amount of days, but to continue with daily dance.

Last weekend, I had a House of Shimmy show at Music in the Park, then the next day hit a dancefloor at a soul night. As the summer comes to a wrap, here are a few pics from shows around town. As usual Pedestrian Sunday was a chance to dance in the streets on a car-free day in Kensington Market.

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We are [not] the robots

20664520_10159348228720455_8960342708194455563_n The body is not a robot (PS, I love robots). Most days, people treat their bodies like robots,  like a machine that needs fixing, like a series of parts that can be replaced, improved or ‘spot’ trained. The ways we talk about our bodies matters and changing language can have a profound effect on our experience of our bodies.

We all have days that it feels like our body is a hindrance and depending on our particular age, health and ability/mobility, we each have a unique range of movement that we’re working with. This is not an ‘anyone can do it if they really try’ type of sentiment that I’m talking about here.

Across all of these differences, we can embody our physicality in ways that are appreciative of the body as a process, as a complex ecosystem that remains forever in flux. The only constant is change, a zen concept that has a lot to offer us in our movement practice. Life will add and subtract things from our bodies, gravity will always be more reliable than willpower and time will not move backwards. Within these concepts are further subtleties as bodies oscillate along the continuum of sickness and wellness, stamina and fatigue.

IMG_8017Part of a healthy movement practice as  I see it, is allowing for the fluctuation of practice while still maintaining a discipline. Pay attention to the messages you tell yourself both when you ‘do well,’ ‘see results’ as well as when you fall behind on your practice or fall short of accomplishing something you had your heart set on. This is all food for thought, these reflections on the stories we tell ourselves and how its connected to our movement.

I love watching dancers whose movement flows so seemingly effortlessly from their bodies, with a flow that gives the perception they are being moved by something the audience can’t see. I know they worked their asses off for it but the ease of their movement weaves a compelling imaginary tale.

We’re not all going to be able to do the things we admire in others. I will not be able to perform the physical feats of a professional dancer but I am serious about practices that maintain an ease of movement in walking and dancing and sitting life. All of it, bring ease to all of it. Even the uncomfortable and painful things, cultivating grace will allow the body to move in ways that brute force just wont be able to.

Yes pushing ourselves physically and mentally is healthy and necessary, that’s how we grow. Trust the process, as they say.  And, we are not robots, not machines, not broken to be fixed. We are fleshy, bony, organ-y,  casings of shifting rhythms that house emotions and nervous systems and histories –be kind to yours no matter what.

So far this summer has been filled with delicious movement!

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Katalyn Schafer (Hungary) pop-up workshop hosted by Ya Amar.

Raqs Al Saif

Serpentina North Ensemble

 

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