Sunday, 6 July 2014

Costume Evolution Part 1

I'm well ahead with my costuming for Gothla, which is unusual for me, so it seemed like an opportune moment to have a muse about the costuming process, and how I get from the first doodles to the finished (for a given value of finished) product.

Most of my costumes start off as a series of doodles, which appear all over my desk at work, on the back of sticky notes and in the margins of minutes. Sometimes the music I'm working on sparks ideas, other times I get hooked on someone else's visual, and have an urge to rework it. Once I have concreted my ideas (and in the case of troupe costumes, everyone else's ideas too), I break out my favourite drawing pad (yes, it's cheesy, but it's exactly what I need) and start a concept sketch.

With the current piece, we wanted an earthy, organic feel, with a sprinkle of voodoo imagery. We also wanted to wear something that wasn't black! 
Next comes the process of transferring ideas from the concept into something that meets the following criteria:
a: easily made or 
b: cheaply purchased
c: suits two very different bodyshapes, neither of which are size 6 and 7ft tall
d: stands a chance in hell of being finished before being needed 

In this case, C scratched the hi-lo skirt hems as being unflattering, and found some suitable broomstick skirts on eBay. I ruled out the turkish vests as I suck at tailoring, and the tatty hems for being way too time-consuming.

Next step? Amassing stash. Oh man, I am so good at this. I hoovered up vaguely boho skirts and jewellery from every charity shop I stepped in. A lot of it bypassed the costume pile and went straight into my wardrobe instead!

Out of shot - Irish setter with sequin stuck to nose
This lot was culled almost wholly from charity shops and the discount section of Claires (like the awesome animal rings lurking at the back). Not shown, three more dismantled necklaces, a packet of feathers, two belts, seven gypsy skirts, two plain vest tops and a brown crochet tankini.

C and I compared amassed bling at each rehearsal, and eventually reached a point where it was time to start putting things together...

Friday, 27 June 2014

Gothla Preparations

It's that time of year again already, and Women of Mass Distraction are elbows deep in preparation for the dance highlight of our year, Gothla!

I'm particularly excited about my workshop with Michelle Manx. I really love her fusion of pin-up style and vintage glamour, as I am a dancer who likes a bit of cheek in her shimmy. And really, who wouldn't want to take a class with someone who dresses like this?

At the very least I intend to reap some costume inspiration!

The highlight for us at Gothla is performing at the open stage on Saturday night, and this year is no exception. It's just C and I, as R is thoroughly tied up with her baby twins (rumours that she is already training them to play zills and doumbek respectively are wholly unfounded) and will be a spectator this year.

The choreography we've put together is, though I says it as shouldn't, flipping awesome. The chosen track is sleazy, steamy, Southern style rock with a supernatural twist, and we have had a whole lot of fun making the moves match.

We're mid-costuming at the moment, and my house is full of fabric in tones of mud and swamp, cowries, disassembled jewellery and Jack Daniels miniatures. Fortunately no chicken feet. Those are C's problem!

I'm also richer to the tune of one wig, bought for about as much as it's worth (ie not much) and dubbed Cousin It because of how much it freaks out the dog. It's in need of a lot of work before it can hit the stage!
Apparently it looks like I stole it from Tina Turner's dressing room...

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Happy New Year?

Oh man, where has this year gone?

I went from no real bellydance news at all to dancing so much that I haven't had time to blog!

So, a brief catch up:- 

I finally found a new class within a sensible distance from my house. It's Oriental, which makes a nice change as the last couple of years have been very heavy on the tribal, and I'm a girl who likes her glitter.

My teacher Tahirah is a very light, balletic dancer, which makes for some tricky times when you're more like the hippo out of Fantasia, but the challenge is fun. It's an intermediate class, and I'm really enjoying the feeling of being stretched in my dancing, tackling more complex choreographies and performing as a troupe.

And in other news, this happened...

No, I haven't taken Britney Spears for a style guide. This was to raise cash for Macmillan, and it succeeded to the tune of over £1000, which is almost enough to console me for the fact I won't be doing any khaleegy for a long while.

I don't actually like it, regardless of how many people have told me it 'really suits you', I could never carry it off', 'you're so brave' and 'maybe it will grow back curly'. 

I've become an expert in head scarves and hair wraps - this style is my favourite as it's idiot-proof. I have had a lot of colleagues asking me if I do tarot readings!

I also appear to have forgotten how to smile in photos. May have to relearn that before I perform again!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Sense of Community

Another quiet patch for me at the moment. I'm not back in regular classes until January, and a series of diary clashes have meant I've also missed out on monthly intensives with my fusion teacher.

We did get out and perform at the after party for Infusion Emporium (Rachel MF Brice is teaching there next year. There may be bloodshed when the workshop places are released...) and for added excitement, we were officially dancing as a quintet!

Why? Well, turns out my troupemate, seen in the middle there, is expecting twins in March. Given she's expanding at frankly exponential rates, and I've lost two stone since we first performed the piece, it's a damn good job we went for stretchy velvet dresses!

Photo by the talented DarkSoulPhotography

Our last performance of the year was over in Coventry for Bellydance and Surprises. It was one of those rare haflas in that it felt very relaxed and informal, but there were some fantastic performers. Add to that a chance to catch up with lots of old friends, and it was a lovely way to almost round off the year.

I say almost, because the belly dance year here in the UK ended on a very different note for many, with the news that the bellydance teacher Shafeek Ibrahim was convicted on multiple counts of rape and sexual abuse of female dancers.

My heart goes out to the very brave and honourable women, including Charlotte Desorgher and Tara Lee Oakley, who brought this case to court and helped ensure justice was done. I cannot imagine what these women have experienced, and my heart goes out to them. I am so very full of pride for all my dance sisters, and I hope they can move on and find strength and hope now that this man is behind bars.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


A couple of weeks back I had the excitement of going to workshops with the lovely Sayuri

These were initially booked (and paid for) back in January, but frankly horrific weather on the part of the West Midlands meant that they had to be rescheduled. Which was kind of nice actually, because they felt almost like a freebie.

The workshops were organised by Lisa McKain, who has been hosting a series of dancers under the title 'Best of British'. Lisa is an amazing organiser; she even laid on a lunch for us all between the workshops, which was most welcome, although it did make for some queasy faces when we tackled spinning later in the afternoon!

We kicked off with a fun and energetic Saidi Stick piece. I'm not always a fan of choreography based workshop, but this was a great introduction to stick. It's a prop I've avoided in the past due to wrist injuries, but Sayuri was light on the drilling of individual moves, and heavy on the different ways of stringing them together, so I got to enjoy the feel of Saidi without ending up disabled by too much stick twirling. We also had a quick breakdown of different Arabic rhythms, which was very enlightening,

The veil workshop in the afternoon focused more on differing techniques and tricks than on a pure choreography. I've done a fair bit of veil work, but there were some new ideas here that I liked trying out. Only downside was that we were dancing to Yearning, which I do not love. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Not Dead, Just Lazy

Very little to report in the land of Lilith at the moment. 

I managed to sprain my ankle just prior to a weekend intensive with Kajira Djoumanha (and by just prior I mean as I was getting into the car that morning). Not unnaturally, this put a bit of a kink in my dancing activities for a while. It's difficult to write a good blog about sitting at the back watching everyone else have fun!

I was hoping to get back into tribal classes in Walsall this autumn, but the start of classes coincided with a bit of a dip in my mental health, and I decided that getting home at 11pm on a work night could best be described as a bad idea.

By the time my spoons were back in order most teachers were well launched into the term, so it looks like it will be early November before I am back in a regular class.

I'd like to say I have used the time to do extra practice and drills but this would be what is commonly known as a lie. 

Getting back to class is going to hurt!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Gothla 2013 - Workshops and the Open Stage

Picking up where we left off, I woke up bright and early on the Saturday morning of Gothla, and took myself out onto the mean streets of Leicester in search of a fry up.

I ended up at Cafe Brazilia, which was the original home of Gothla when it first started. The breakfast was enormous, and aside from the soggy tinned mushrooms (urgh) just what I needed for a long day ahead.

Workshop 1 was Hecate's Cauldron with Paige Lawrence. I didn't realise until about two weeks beforehand that Paige is actually a bloke, and due to my complete failure to do any research on him at all, had no idea what to expect!

Fortunately for Miss 'failure to plan in advance' it was a cracking workshop. Paige is funny, friendly and extremely approachable, and is the sort of guy you would be happy to spend an evening with down the pub! The workshop focused on looking at different elements of ritual, and how to incorporate these into our dance. We had a thorough warmup and stretch, and then got to really let loose, playing with different moves and expression to evoke different feelings. We got a sneak peek at some of Jamila Salimpour's writings on ritual imagery, and how Bal Anat used this in their famous dance of the magic of birth.
Paige with Gothla organiser Bridie (photo by Sue Hutton)
The workshop ended with free dance to different clips of music, each evoking different elements of ritual feeling. The penultimate one was ecstasy, and I ended up dancing guedra style, feeling lots of positive energy. I was sky high by the end of it!

My second workshop was much more relaxed - Beauty and the Beast makeup workshop with Dawn O'Brien. Dawn is my teacher, and I have long envied her makeup skills, so it was great to get some inside tips, plus (cos it's Gothla, and we're all about the spooky) ;earning how to make some gory special effects. Still can't put on fake eyelashes though!
which is fast becoming a Gothla tradition - the place was full of dancers.

Then it was a quick stop in the hotel room to wrestle with costumes and makeup before hitting the open stage.

Did we rock it?  There was certainly a lot of whooping and hollering from the crowd as we danced, but if you dance to a rock classic (AC/DC Back in Black) to a rock crowd, it's always going to go down well. And as you can see from the photo, we had a lot of fun!

Sunday was a definite 'morning after the night before' sort of day. I sensibly decided not to do any more workshops, and instead spent the morning hanging out in the souk, buying a few things, and chatting to the other hungover and tired dancers (there was also a male 'fashion show' on Sunday, but I'm not sure the internet needs to see that!).

Julie and Lynne Chapman of Kookie Kaftan - showing how much better you look when you don't party til 3am! (photo by Sue Hutton)
There were far too many acts to name them all, but these are some of my highlights. All photos are by kind permission of Dark Soul Photography unless otherwise stated.

Resurrecting Zombies!

This cabaret dancer also had some covetable feather fans

Lapis Lazuli's crazed nurses were both hilarious and extremely well choreographed!

A Weeping Angel from Dr Who - she was besieged with photo requests

Boomshanka's incredible 'thorns around the castle' piece from Sleeping Beauty

There were some very flexible dancers this year!

Fusion troupe Lunatique getting their cannibal on.

Friday, 2 August 2013


So my next blog was going to be a continuation of the awesomeness that was Gothla, but I'm waiting for some pictures to go up, because it's all about the pictures, and in the meantime, I have been evening things out like a good Black Sheep dancer, and flexing my cabaret muscles.

And where better to do that than in a workshop with a lady straight off the boat from Cairo, the lovely Lorna of Cairo

Some of you may remember what happened last time I tried to go to a workshop with Lorna. Mashallah, this time no one tried to run my little Fiat off the road, and I got to the venue with time to spare. The workshops were hosted by teacher Diana Mehira, who has a purpose-built studio, complete with lots of mirrors. I've long overcome my fear of mirrors, and as Lorna favours the 'follow the bouncing bum (FTBB)' style of teaching, I was very pleased to see these.

The first workshop was on Cairo technique, and involved short sections of improv FTBB, after which Lorna would break down whatever we'd struggled with. At first I was completely poleaxed - there appeared to be arms and hips and attitude all over the place, and I couldn't work out what to focus on, but I soon got into the swing of it, and if I wasn't getting everything, I was at least getting enough to have lots of new ideas for adding interest and authenticity to my dance.

During the lunch break, we got a bonus impromptue debate on the state of Egyptian politics - a complicated subject that was broken down into neat bite-size pieces. I feel like I may actually have a clue about things over there now!

Back on the floor, this time to tackle the tricky subject of accents and how to, well, accent them! Lorna has an incredible 16 different types of move or element to mark an accent, and we went through all of them. My head was spinning by the end of it, but in a good way, jam packed with new ways to think about and respond to music. I can't wait to put them into practice!

Hotter than hell, but still smiling!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Gothla UK Comedown - it begins!

Just got home after a weekend spent embracing my darker side in Leicester, and how shattered am I?

I landed in Leicester on Friday lunchtime, dumped my bags at the hotel, and then spent a blissful afternoon trawling every charity shop in the city centre, plus stopping in at the Freaks Mecca that is Top Girl (top floor of the Haymarket, for anyone who has a lycra hotpants shaped hole in their life) to buy a fan (vital accoutrement for a weekend at Gothla) and a pair of harem pants.

Cunningly, my hotel was right opposite the venue for the Friday night showcase, so I got suitably dolled up (the dress code is the more outre the better, but at 30c in the shade, PVC and crinolines were abandoned for a cotton dress and a slick of lippy) and got there just in time to join the massive queue to get in. Fail.

I didn't take photographs of any of the showcase this year - past experience has taught me that there is little or no point, and besides, I was too busy watching. It was compèred by my troupe-mate and all round awesome chick Charlotte, who did a cracking job, and kept things ticking along nicely.

Highlights are probably too many to mention, but they include a gorgeous Shui Xiu piece (Chinese long sleeve dance) by A Liuba Layali. I've never seen this style before, and was captivated by the grace of it. It also made me wonder what sort of rehearsal space she had - those sleeves need a lot of space!

Heike and Elin did a lovely duet which really complemented their individual styles. Elin is known as the Arctic Fairy, and looked suitably fey and ethereal, dancing with two lit candles. Heike is a statuesque dancer with a strong, powerful stage presence, and the duet really made the most of their differences. Loved it.

Darkstar performed an intricate, super locky and funked up dance to a Korn track, while Bex brought the 'billy back with her mix of creepy goth undulations and crazy fast horror psychobilly. Organiser Alexis duetted with my teacher Dawn in a sort of warped sister act, and the rest of Team Gothla appeared for a high energy take on Black Sheep improvisational style, accompanied by much baa-ing from the audience.

Ariellah opened the show with a dark, dramatic and technical solo. I think it speaks volumes for her impact on the Tribal Fusion scene that a good half dozen dancers throughout the weekend credited her as a main inspiration. She later sat at our table to watch the remainder of the show,and was vocally supportive of all the performers. Always nice to see a big name who is not too posh to clap!

Costume-wise, the burlesque trend is on the wane, and cabaret stylings are making a come-back! Yay! Dawn and Elis Pinheiro were both in cab style costumes, and as a sparklehound at heart, I appreciated the return of the glitter. Raqs Fusion Factory and De Nova Luce also had a hint of sparkle in their costumes, and I liked the way it contrasted with their fierce dancing.

Morgana was sublimely indifferent to costume trends, and wouldn't you be too if you looked that good in leather? Paige Lawrence (of Tribe Uru, no less) also went for leather in the form of a cropped vest -a great choice for a guy, showing off his ab and hip work but also bringing a hard edge that matched his moves.

By the end of the night it was sweltering in the theatre, and those of us with fans were very popular. Rumour has it that the lovely Fulya was providing fanning services for those damsels overcome by the heat - not sure if this improved the overall temperature or not though!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

I'm Ba-a-a-a-ack...

It has been a while, hasn't it?

I sort of dropped off the online belly dance network for a while. I think I was getting tired of seeing the same old arguments rehashed again and again. I'm not all that interested in hearing why fusion is bad and why only Egyptian dancing is real belly dance and why belly dance is a bad name for it anyway and how tribal dancer are all super bitches who hate cabaret and calling it cabaret is a massive insult anyway and besides everyone knows you're not a real belly dancer unless you can play zills while standing on your head although gimmicks and props are naff and a real dancer doesn't need them she just feels the music and responds to it although she only ever dances to live music as recordings suck.

Ahem. Perhaps tired is not the word.

Anyway, apart from grumping about people being wrong on the internet, I have mainly been working on rehab for the hip that was injured in a car accident, and Masha'allah it seems almost there now. 

Which is good, because Gothla 2013 is almost upon us, and my troupe are performing on the Saturday night. Gothla is always the highlight of our year, and we want to be on top form, especially as my troupe mate C will be compere on the Friday for the Showcase. We always knew she was destined for big things!

The choreography is top secret - even the music we've chosen is under wraps. Rest assured that it looks amazing though - I can't wait to show it off.

We had a slight hiccup after another troupe went for very similar music, and costumes that were just what we were planning. However, rather than gripe about it (and it really was just sheer bad luck that two trios went for the same band and the same costumes to perform at the same gig!), we put our heads together to come up with something totally different. Perhaps we will set a new trend - who knows?

As I said, it's all top secret until we debut it on 20 July, but as a little make-up for being off the scene so long, I shall treat you to a sneak preview....