Wednesday
Feb182015

Ela Rogers: Finding her own way

Interviewed by Amy Smith

Ela Rogers is a belly dance artist, choreographer, and instructor, internationally known for her unique and dramatic musical interpretations, experimental fusion, her graceful and powerful technique, and her talents in the fine arts and costume design. Baseema and Mathura are hosting Ela in a workshop and show on Saturday, March 14 at the Dance Complex in Cambridge.

You started out learning/performing Egyptian style dance…how has this influenced your current style?

It’s funny...I was initially bitten by the belly dance bug after seeing Tribal Fusion style belly dance. Actually, it was when the Bellydance Superstars were in New York in 2005 for a guest spot on the TV morning show “Regis and Kelly”, showcasing a trio of the company’s multi-styled dancers. Being a novice to belly dance, I was unaware that there were different styles! I instantly connected to Tribal Style, after bearing witness to the jaw-dropping confidence, exquisite muscular control and articulation of the body, the earthy and (what I thought was) an almost rebellious image juxtaposed with the classic Egyptian and cabaret dancers. After all, I’ve always been a tomboy who has marched to the beat of my own drum, and to me, this style made me feel accepted and comfortable in my own skin. I could barely contain myself and wished to begin training right away, but soon discovered that there were no Tribal Style teachers in my area. I felt it was imperative to just enroll myself in the nearest classical belly dance class, which was Egyptian style.

Once enrolled, I soon realized the importance of learning the basic history and movements of this ancient dance, how it felt on my body, and where the components originated. Studying with the delectable Elena El Amar was just what my soul needed at that point in my life. She is an amazing teacher and woman, who dances within what seemed to be a magical white light, her heart and eyes just illuminated with passion, emotion, and playfulness that embodies the Egyptian-style dance that she dearly loves. To this day, those are the qualities that still influence my dance. Even though I am a fusion artist, I firmly believe in the importance of intelligent fusion that I define as “know the rules before you break them.” I always carry awareness and respect for everything in my movement repertoire, and meld with care and creativity. That is what it’s all about for me. One can always build atop a strong foundation.

You are self-taught in Tribal Style. Can you talk about your process?

Well, thank you! It’s something that I’ve worked hard for. Limitations are sometimes what we perceive; just because I didn’t have a Tribal Style belly dance teacher from which to take weekly classes didn’t mean that I could not work towards my goal of learning this style. Having backgrounds in classical ballet, jazz, modern dance, and martial arts surely gave me a platform for cultural dance. I had to become resourceful to seek out any forms of instruction. I placyed Fat Chance Belly Dance instructional DVDs daily in my home, along with other Tribal Fusion-style instructional videos for my practice.

Being honest, I also had some set-backs. Still being new at this point to belly dance, I would get overzealous imitating movements that I had seen in Tribal Style dance performances but that I hadn’t yet learned, and was inflicted with numerous injuries. The top two that took the cake were a sprained back and a pretty serious abdominal strain that finally resulted in a six-month leave from dance. After physical therapy and chiropractic care, I slowly restored my body, and was coached in anatomy, strengthening, and injury prevention along the way.

I must say that I learned so much from my injuries, ultimately becoming more acquainted with my body and habits of my dancing. Upon returning to dance, I set out on long car rides to take workshops from as many Tribal and Tribal Fusion-style belly dance teachers as possible and I asked many questions. Then, when I was ready, I began performing at my nearest city’s belly dance haflas and shows, recording my performances, and then studying them meticulously! (Your video camera is one of your best teachers!)

When not dancing, I filled my time with yoga, Pilates, and many hours of watching YouTube videos of belly dance performers of ALL LEVELS. To me, it was important to absorb it all, to discover for myself, how I envisioned perfecting my own dancing. One of my all-time favorite quotes by Claude Monet still keeps me motivated to this day: “It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” Whether it’s honing your craft or seeking out inspiration…stay hungry and just keep digging!

What is your teaching style and approach? What are your primary goals for your students?

My approach in teaching is to invite my students to experience my movement material on their bodies in a safe environment, to have them relax, and then have them find emotion within themselves and to embody it in their own movement. This is what I found to be equally exciting and challenging when learning dance. When I’m the student, my intentions are to be receptive to the unfamiliar, but to remain open to explore. From there, you begin to perceive yourself in subtle nuances, further leading towards your feelings of identity. There is an emotional and spiritual side of dance within the mover, along with the anatomical side.

A lot of my students hear my speech of my “Spider-Man Policy”, based on Spider-Man’s well-known phrase: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s what I use to engage my students to encourage the mindset of truly honoring and respecting one’s body as a dancer and athlete. If becoming a strong and healthy dancer is what you desire, and if you wish to dance efficiently for an extended length of time, one must be responsible and maintain strength, flexibility, and have a devoted practice. Above all, I deeply enjoy sharing my passion with people and being part of teaching something that is SO much bigger than all of us. It is history. It is dance. It is art and the creative process.

Who are your top 3 dance influences?

I would have to say that my main three influences who truly affected my development when I began my journey in belly dance would be: my first belly dance teacher, Egyptian-style dancer Elena El Amar; innovator of American Tribal Style belly dance, Carolena Nericcio; and Rachel Brice, who continued the lineage of the dance into Tribal Fusion belly dance. These women represent three different dance forms, and I admire their hard work, fearless determination, and dedication to their art and sisterhood. Through the years, they constantly reminded me to step up my innovation, practice more, to become as educated as possible, and to continue to keep setting goals.

Currently, my inspirations change and flux all the time. I admire so many dancers and movers, outside of the belly dance genre, as well. Cyd Charisse is my current crush with her sinuous body lines and flow! Artwork - be it paintings, sculptures, or shapes and textures in nature - also heavily influence my dance.

Sunday
Aug312014

Improv Roulette: A Collaborative Dance Experiment

by Elizabeth Morlani

Improv Roulette really began out of my love of putting on ridiculous music and dancing to it. It was a physical and mental exercise I found myself returning to over and over again. Dancing reactively and honestly, without the pressure to perform a polished piece, allowed me the freedom to experiment creatively. Practicing with intention and goals is a necessity, but on occasion, it is valuable to just dance and see what comes out. My movement, while probably not as technically proficient, is more creative, more emotional, and more about experiencing and reacting.

And I wanted to share that with friends. So in the fall of 2012 I hosted the first Improv Roulette...and only six people came. But the six of us created magic that night. A belly dancer and a poi spinner shadowed each other and Berber walked across the dance studio. One dear friend brought a pogo stick as a prop and another used it as her slow dance partner. By the end of the evening I had tears streaming down my face and my sides ached from all of the laughter. From the moment it ended, I wanted to do it again.

Every three months I have been renting out a beautiful yoga studio in Pawtucket, RI and inviting people to join in on the experience. Participants begin by placing their names in a "hat". When a person's name is pulled, they get up and perform to the next song that comes up. Songs are on shuffle and we never know what we are going to get. There are fast songs and slow songs, folk songs and rock songs, ballads and baladis, love songs and heartache anthems. Participants are encouraged to bring props if they wish.
People from all performance genres have attended. Seasoned performers and new students have worked together to create spontaneous works of art. At past Improv Roulettes, we have been treated to a touching duet of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful" by a singer/guitarist and a puppeteer. Sweeping flags have moved in opposition to swirling fan veils set to the music of Metallica. While most of the people that attend are belly dancers, since those are the people that I am most in contact with, this event is not just limited to belly dancers. Hoopers, poi artists, singers, and dancers of all types have created magic in the moment at an Improv Roulette. Every Improv Roulette has played out differently, but they all foster the concepts of collaboration, community, and creative spontaneity.

 

And I want to share it with you. For 2014 I have been taking the event on the road - first New England and then beyond. I want to dance to Justin Timberlake and watch my troupe mates move to MC Hammer. I want to see a group of ATS dancers who have never performed together before bring a masterpiece of movement to life to the tune of Duran Duran. I want to create a collaboration with someone I've never even met. I want to watch someone's interaction with a prop that they've never used before. What can you do with a hula hoop if you don't know the things you're "supposed" to do with a hula hoop? Let's swap our dance stories and create brand new stories together on the spot. Let's mix up my strengths and your strengths and make something so much greater than the sum of our parts. I want us all to laugh until we cry and be grateful for our bodies' ability to listen and feel and speak the music - even if it's Lady Gaga.
Upcoming Improv Roulette dates:

October 19th - Tempest's Waking Persephone in Seattle, WA

November 8th - If Seattle is too far for you, please join us at Aurel's Ancient Art Studios in Berkley, MA

Would you like to host in 2015? If you are interested in hosting an Improv Roulette or creating an Improv Roulette chapter, please contact Elizabeth at improvroulette@gmail.com

 

 

 



 

Friday
Aug152014

The Athletic Artistry of Frank Farinaro

by Brittany Capozzi

Jaylee and Heather Powers host tribal-fusion dancer Frank Farinaro (New Mexico) the weekend of Sept. 12 - 14 in Portland. Visit the event page to get more info and to sign up. Contributing writer Brittany Capozzi interviewed Mr. Farinaro about his background, his Hammerhead Sharqui technique, and the increased numbers of male dancers in tribal fusion.

What does your artistic background/education consist of?  

I would say that my artistic background and education is unconventionally broad. Ever since I was a child, I have loved art, science, history, fitness, and education. I apply elements to my craft that I have learned from elementary school, all the way up to what I learned in a rehearsal last week. The condensed description of my artistic background is a combination of focused classes, workshop intensives, academic research, real-life experiences, and experimentation.

In your Tribal Fest biography, you describe Hammerhead Sharqi as “athletic artistry” with “emotional expression”. It sounds like there are dualities to this dance- a hardness and softness -so how does one know if it is right for him/her? What is the choreography like?   

"Athletic artistry" was actually a description of my dancing by Princess Farhana. The cornerstone of my Hammerhead Sharqi Technique is about finding balance. No matter what style of dance one does, it requires a balance of athletic training and emotional expression. My first male belly dance mentor, Elijah Sound, taught me that each person is a result of the masculine meeting the feminine. So if dance is a celebration of life, then we celebrate by embodying the masculine and feminine energies that created us. Like most dance curricula, mine is rooted in foundational dance technique and focuses on conditioning, practice, execution, performance, and instruction/mentorship. But unlike most regimented forms of dance, mine focuses on teaching the individual to dance to the best of their own abilities and find their own artistic voice. Finding one's own artistic voice is a big draw of this dance form. 

My goal is to help dancers dance for their unique body type and create their own experiences. It's here that you learn what looks best for your body, how to dance in a troupe with different bodies, and performer/audience psychology.  In choreography, I like to teach my students how to make commanding entrances and powerful exits. Everything that falls in between is the meat of the sandwich. That is where we focus on the communicative elements of performance art - to find our voice, effectively address an audience, and generate the reaction we want. It's with this intrinsic exploration that we create more cohesive projections when we perform or teach.

Are meditative practices incorporated in Hammerhead Sharqi Dance? If so, how?  

I take a very East-meets-West approach to my teaching and dancing. There are a lot of focused meditations in the form of mind-body communication for isolations and muscle memory, rhythmic trance for breath and musicality, emotional exploration for Method Acting, and visualization for production and performance.

As a performer of the Rakkas Festival, which features male tribal fusion belly dancers, do you see more men becoming involved in the craft, shifting the paradigm, as opposed to shying away from it? Is there more liberation with expression out there than there used to be, before Rakkas Festival was created?  

The first Rakkas Festival that Mark and Matt Bissell produced in 2012 made very bold statements by having an all-male cast of belly dancers and an all-female drum ensemble.  This year's Rakkas followed a similar formula, but was a tribal-specific event. I think that that also spoke to the legitimacy of tribal being recognized today.  When I first entered the bellydance scene in 2005, I noticed that there were quite a few male dancers, all over the world, who danced all styles fitting under the belly dance umbrella, who were working on ambitious projects. With us all being so scattered, it makes it difficult/impossible to work together.  But our dedication to our craft, and our feelings of being minorities have bred a strong sense of comraderie.  Some of us lovingly call it "The Brotherhood of the Sisterhood."   

The belly dance world is experiencing three major events: men being recognized for their dance achievements, Middle-Eastern dance/culture being recognized by the mainstream, and a generational-shift. I feel that this dance attracts people from all walks of life, but to see that there are a handful of men nearing the front of the pack in this female-dominated scene is very inspiring to other men who are intrigued to explore this art form. I think if I would have seen the scene now, back then, I would have started belly dancing a lot sooner.  As more of us men have emerged, there has been a growing amount of talk (both joking and serious) that there is a competitiveness among us, but events like Rakkas really allow us to showcase and celebrate our brotherhood.

Your lecture "The Belly Street Journal" (a lecture on community ethics, politics, economics, and demographics in the Bellyverse) sounds fascinating. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges in the bellyverse today? 

The Belly Street Journal might be a bit controversial, as we will be discussing some hot-button issues, as well as avoiding and dealing with drama. I listed a few things that are affecting the Bellyverse today, in the previous answer. Some of the other topics that will be discussed are market-saturation, a guide to Personal vs. Professional, getting out on the festival circuit on a budget, and focused networking. 

 

Tuesday
Jul152014

Get in line! 

by Amy Smith
Line dancing at the AverofIt’s church festival season - Lebanese mahajarans, Greek festivals, and Armenian picnics. These events almost always feature excellent live music and the opportunity to line dance. There is nothing quite like a lively Greek hasapiko to spark an appetite for the chicken souvlaki the church ladies have been slaving over for weeks.

Even if you don’t know an Armenian shuffle from a Michigan Hop, get up and dance. It's fun! These events are ideal for learning - everyone from little kids to the church ladies are happy to teach you. They will appreciate that you appreciate their music and dance. And, as a belly dancer, you will round out your skills. It used to be that, after their nightclub shows, belly dancers were expected to lead the audience in line dancing. Those days are gone, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to hop onto the dance floor at the Sahara or Athenian Corner, and debke with the crowd?

There is some basic line dancing etiquette of which you should be aware. You won’t set off any international diplomatic incidents if you don’t follow it, but these guidelines will help you learn the dance, have a good time, and blend in. 

  • First, watch the dancers and see if you can parse the steps. My first teacher, Naharin, told me that she would observe and see if she could reproduce the steps, using her first and middle fingers, on the table. This seemed to help imprint the steps in her mind. Observing won’t teach you everything, and you won’t quite catch the subtleties of the rhythm as if you were dancing, but you can probably figure out the basics this way.
  • Join the line at the end - never at the beginning. I’ve seen many newbies do this, and while the line leader is always gracious about this, it’s a big faux pas. The leader of the line is setting the pace and often, doing their rock star thing - leaps, turns, and other embellishments. A newbie taking the lead slows the line and puts a damper on the leader’s improvisations. Plus, now the leader has to show the newbie the steps. 
  • Watch the second person in line to see how they dance. They are a) performing the dance sans embellishments and b) probably know the dance very well. This is how you can pick up the steps. 
  • Hold hands like the experts are doing. If they are linking pinkies, do that. If they are holding fingertips, do likewise. Have a light touch and avoid a death grip. 
  • Move! Don’t be a drag on the line. If you can’t figure out all the steps, fake it til you make it. 
  • If you are the last person in line, it’s a nice touch to fold your free arm behind your back. You will look like a natural.
If you are hesitant about jumping in, there are many teachers in the area who can give you some lessons before you venture out to the next kef: Shadia, Riena, Phaedra, Melina, Katia, and Kanina to name a few. A private lesson or two might be just what you need to feel a bit more confident about what you are doing.

Hope to see you on the dance floor!
Wednesday
Apr302014

Amanda Rose: A Modern Classic

Amanda Rose, Belly Dancer of the Universe - Egyptian Category 2008, makes her first Northeast appearance in Syracuse (NY) May 24-25. She is sponsored by the 3 Early Girls. Register online at Ionah Raqs or see the Facebook event. Amanda graciously answered a few questions for BDNE. 

Mo Geddawi said that you reminded him of Taheya Carioca. You've also been described as having a unique blend of classical and modern style. Do you take a lot of inspiration from the "Golden Age" of Egyptian belly dance? Who are your greatest influences? 

I definitely take inspiration from the “Golden Age”, though I wouldn’t say it's seen overwhelmingly in my style as you might notice in some other dancers. Egyptian dance has developed so much in the last 100 years, I really like to reflect on the development and the change, the energy and the feeling that was demonstrated throughout different periods of the dance and the approach that was taken to achieve those effects. I have a lot of influences, which makes it hard to pinpoint other artists that I specifically reflect in my dance style. I like this because it allows me to be inspired and influenced by so many great artists but still develop my style and myself differently. I would say some of my greatest influences are Randa Kamal, Munique Neith, Tito Seif, Jillina, Sahra Saeeda, Mira Betz, Orit Maftsir, Fifi Abdo, Mercedes Neito, Sharon Kihara, Khaled Mahmoud, Dina and the list can just keep going. ;-)    

Let's talk a minute about that blend of classical and modern style. What characterizes each style? Why might a dancer today want to incorporate "classical" style into her repertoire?

Dancers like Dina, Randa Kamel, and Tito Seif - who stylized their dance quite differently than one another - have really forged modern Egyptian style. The style in some ways has moved from the previous lyrical focus to a percussive focus. Now there are shimmies layered on top of everything, and you’re hitting a lot of accents. It’s a much more aggressive approach to the music. There is also an exploration of modern classical dance aspects found in Western dances that have been added into the style. Before there was a representation of some ballet, but that was really the limit of Western dance seen in Egyptian styling. Now there’s more modern dance and jazz found in the style seen in body folds, extensions, and leg work.

Classical Egyptian styling has a lot of beledy aspects, but is very lyrical and much softer than the modern style. There is a lot of light balletic traveling, and the hip work while strong, is not nearly as complicated as in the styles put forth today. What I love about classical styling is that it’s subtle, and perfect. It doesn’t need a whole lot of noise, bells and whistles - it stands alone and rings true.

I really like to blend the more aggressive, dynamic and complicated hip work, with the subtle and soft old school style, transitioning from modern dance and jazz movements into a folkloric and beledy approach. It gives me freedom to move and express myself within the realm of belly dance, but blend pieces to my own delight. 

You were a member of Ava Fleming's Black Opal Dance Company and since then have worked with Jillina on two different Bellydance Evolutions shows and Munque Neith’s International Ballet as well as having your own project ‘Team Latina’ with Mexican dancer Ashmina Karem and Spanish dancer Cristina Gadea. What do you like about being in a dance company?

I absolutely love collaborating and working with other dancers in the industry from near and far. These groups have really given me the opportunity to work with some of the most talented dancers in the world, from Europe, Asia, Latin America as well as some of the worlds most acclaimed superstar stars like Jillina, Sharon Kihara, Munique Neith, Kaeshi Chai, be under their direction and really grow from watching them work and perform behind the scenes. I’ve taken so much away from these experiences to my own company Raqs Sharki Movement Collective, and these opportunities have really made me such a better teacher, dancer, collaborator, and director. 

You choreograph both Oriental and folkloric dances for your own group, Raqs Sharki Movement Collective. Why do you think folkloric dance is important for modern belly dancers to know and perform?

Folklore is the roots and base of everything Raqs Sharki stems from. When you strip everything away, the western influences, the ballet, the jazz, the traveling and stage concepts, you’re left with beledy, and folklore. If you understand those, then you can truly represent Raqs Sharki at its fullest.