Turkish food and Ozgen

So last night was a girls night out.  I persuaded three non belly dancing friends to go to Mangal in Reading as the male belly dancer Ozgen was appearing there.

What an excellent night out!  There were a few of the usual suspects in the clientele (as one would expect) but for the most part the general public, and ladies in particular, were out in force for the show.

So first up – the food was good, set menu that offered a Meze plate for starter and this was supplemented by some delicious calamari that was an unexpected and very welcome addition.  In fact the Meze was so good that by the time the main arrived I had quite forgotten we would get more food.  The mains were really tasty and the lemon and lime rice was just wonderful with the chili infused kebab I ordered.  Dessert was pretty generic but a nice way to end the meal.

And onto the dancing – Ozgen did two great sets and came out in a cover-up kaftan that then led to whoops of delight from all around when he shed it to reveal his trademark torso revealing costume.  We had a great table, right next to the largest open area (which was not that big to be honest) and I managed to have a couple of (almost!) private moments when he danced in front of me.

He did a great job of working the 98% female crowd – he managed to nicely steer away from over-enthusiastic attention from one diner who appeared to stroke his torso at one stage (he wasn’t that close and she had to get up out of her seat to do it) and who then went on to take a coined scarf he had tucked into his costume.  If that were a man doing that to a female dancer……..tut tut.

In his second set he used a veil and then a stick but the stick didn’t really get any proper use.  There were some lovely moments when he pulled various men and women up to dance and overall did a fantastic job of working a room where there were a couple of areas that were well away from the main thoroughfare.

And my non-dancing friends enjoyed it too – hooray!  I thoroughly recommend Mangal as somewhere to eat if you like Mediterranean food, and if Ozgen is there again then go and watch, a great showman.

An hilarious afternoon

Every other Friday I teach belly dance to a group of women who all have learning difficulties.  They’ve been taking classes with me for three years, and the afternoon is generally huge fun.  Today was just hilarious.

They are currently learning an edited version of a choreography I learned from my mentor and friend, Emma.  They have always loved this piece of music and since performing at our Hipnotic event a couple of months ago they really want to perform again.  As they’ve gone through this routine with me several times already I felt that this would be a good one to work on so that they could perform again quite soon.  Most of the women who come along also attend drama classes and it’s not uncommon for them to rehearse their drama pieces for a year before they perform them, and dance is no different.

However.  Now that we’re *learning it* the fun has gone out of it for them a bit, so I’m keen that they get the fun back, but also that they manage to hit some of the keys points I’ve retained from the original choreography.

The best things about this class is that they are no different from any other beginner level class.  I shout out what comes next (quite loudly).  There are some who remember more than others.  Often there is one person who continues to do something in a very random way.  There are inter-group politics that I cannot always work out, but I can see there’s something going on.

But you know what?  It’s always fun, and great therapy for me, good exercise for them.  If my plan goes ahead then they’ll be performing in May, to a fantastically supportive audience.

And they have requested lessons in how to use zills.  Just like any other beginners class, oh my ears!

Integrating New Dancers

Apologies for the wordy title.  That just means I’ve been teaching for three and a half years, and some of my students have been with me for three years now and whenever I have new students come to class it’s hard to make sure that they get the attention they need, as well as keeping those with more experience happy too.

I don’t think I hold the secret of how this is achieved, but here’s how I go about it at the moment.  The Oriental or Middle Eastern Dance class at 2pm is practicing a choreography that everyone kind of knows but doesn’t have down perfectly yet.  We now just go through this once each week, and the new ladies act as our audience because it never hurts to have real people to try and smile at through the nerves and concentration.  And it’s good practice for those who are the audience too: where should you look when watching women belly dancing?  At their faces?  Their props? Their hips?  Or not look at them at all……  If anyone has a question about the choreo then they can ask it at the end and we try and sort it out.

Then it’s on to learning a new choreography that follows the one they already (kind of) know.  This is a little harder because there are two groups of dancers doing slightly different things at the beginning, then we all slot into dancing as one group.  In fact there’s not much dancing involved (so far as I’m concerned) but I guess to those doing it it’s more than enough.  The new ladies are required to join in with this and as a lot of it involves travelling I’m just getting them used to doing that before I work on moves and technique.  Through moves and technique they’ll get some basics that I can drill them in whilst I get everyone else to work on being where they should be and how they get there.

Then, to ensure a fairly level playing field, they’re all learning how to use zills, and move.  So far we’ve just done patterns of threes whilst walking back and forth and around in a circle.  Last week I added in the Masmoudi rhythm for them to play with and this week I’ll get them to do threes whilst moving their arms into different positions.

To finish, we’re going back to the old stalwart of the sustained shimmy.  Not new to most but after a long time it can come as something of a shock to shimmy for three and a half minutes, and obviously it’s a whole new world for the new ladies!

The tribal class has doubled since getting three new members.  Two are brand new to belly dance, one has been attending Middle eastern Dance classes for years but is new to tribal.

This is much easier to manage.  I can ask my regulars to work on our current piece of music together whilst I show the new ladies a basic chorus move and one lead move.  This means that once we all work together, I can get the newbies to dance as chorus in the back-ground with the instruction to join in when they see us start the move they’ve been drilled in.  They then go back to their basic chorus move until they can join in again.  If nothing else this is good training for them in watching the leads and beginning to anticipate what’s coming from body tension and posture.

It’s going to be hard for them for a while but they’re keen and I’ve explained that like many things once it all starts to click it won’t feel so daunting.

I’ll be letting you know how it’s going in future posts.

Ballet lessons

As part of our troupe training we are currently receiving ballet classes.  That’s right, ballet!

I have to say that so far it has been great fun, difficult but not too difficult, and challenging without being impossible.  The teacher has a lovely manner, and a very dirty laugh – just as well as we all laugh a lot!   And tonight she asked if we felt what we were learning was useful, asked if we were enjoying it.  I think the upshot is that I am enjoying it, but we’re still not sure of how I can really use it.  I know that what I’m being shown can only improve my dancing, but I’m just not at a place where I can pull it into my belly dance life.

With this in mind I’ve suggested that next time we teach the ballet teacher some belly dance.  Then she might see why it is that we find it tricky to get the weight exchanges, and if we show her both some Oriental and Tribal she’ll see how we move and turn.  Hopefully this will help her understand what’s happening for us.  Ballet is all about balance at the front of the feet. being light and airy,  and those of us who have only ever done belly dance are all weighted in the heels, with low centres of gravity and a connection with the earth.  She seemed to be keen on the idea and is going to come along a little earlier so that we can teach her some stuff.

What do I want from this personally?  I want to improve my overall posture, both in real life and in my dance.  I would like to be more graceful, more purposeful and more at ease with my body.  Being a better dancer is all we want isn’t it?