Thursday, September 22, 2011


My last blog touched on the use of “stretching” when there was no actual muscle elongation happening. This is just one of a number of misused terms that grate for Madame Pedant.

There is also the misuse of “warm up” to just mean the start of a class. No. A warm up is meant to prepare your body (and mind) for dancing. Stretching is not a warm up. In fact, for real stretching you need about 15 minutes of warm up first.

A physiological warm up is understood to be something that includes continuous action of large muscle groups of sufficient intensity to elevate the internal muscle temperature by a couple of degrees; to allow more efficient energy production in muscles; increase flexibility of tissue; increase joint lubrication; allow for faster muscle contraction and increase speed of messages along the nerves. It prepares the body to work and decreases the chance of some types of injury.

How you do it is another issue. A drill with lots of big muscle movements and lifting arm movements can work fine (I think this is why barre work may work - assuming you are not having to stretch to do it - ie you are working well below you own limits). Basically, just avoid small muscle work early on or anything that uses extreme ROM or force.

Then there is the term “belly dance”. A misunderstanding of this phrase’s history has led to pulsating bellies and coin rolling. It is not the belly that dances but the torso – especially the hips. And yes, in modern belly dance there is also footwork.

People have a range of ideas on alternatives. I’ve explored them in the past and I have also looked at what the various terms can mean - No point in rehashing that all here.

One that grates but does little harm is the misuse of “stomach” as in “use you stomach muscles to do this move”. Pretty hard. The stomach is an organ of digestion and its only real action is squeezing the food along. In most cases the word wanted is abdominal. Although often it is not all (or any) abdominal muscles and may be a group like the lateral flexors – obliques (one set of abs) and the quadratus lumborum (a back muscle).

Now we wander into “style X generates movements using muscles (good), style Y uses the skeleton (bad)”. Wrong. You cannot move using just the skeleton. Movement is generated by muscles contracting. These are connected to bones via tendons and with the help of joints and ligaments and a nervous system generate movement.

What can vary between styles is whether the pelvis is moved by the abdominal muscles or pushed around by the legs. Beginners often initially have to use their legs to generate hip rocks, circles and eights. This is not desirable long term for reasons of safety (watch what happens with your knees if you do a horizontal eight this way), texture (leg driven is pretty much on or off – there isn’t much subtlety), or balance (leg driven often hangs off the ITBs at the extremes). Experienced dancers tend to migrate to abdominal generation in most styles – look at some of the old Egyptian footage. Decades before Tribal was invented and all core driven.

Another difficult term is “hips”. It can mean a number of different things. For most English speaking general public it is the part of the body from the waist to the legs. And in class I will use this – knowing it isn’t quite right. Basically we are moving our pelvis around – which is a complex bony bit – covered in muscle and fat. The top of this is the ilium.

The “hip joint” is where the leg bone meets the pelvis – and it is in your groin! The socket is the acetabulum and its exact configuration long with the length and angle of the neck of the femur will determine whether someone can ever achieve 90 degree turn out or the lotus position.

Lastly there is “efficient”. I frequently hear people say they are thin because their bodies are so efficient. Actually it is exactly the opposite. Their bodies are inefficient and are wasting food. In today’s obese society, thin is good and because “efficient” is good the two must be equivalent.
But efficiency is the ratio of useful work to energy input. Thin people use all their input energy. Rounder people store some of the input as fat – so they need less energy input to survive – which means they are more efficient.

Words are our tools to communicate. If we use them in a sloppy manner our communication is less efficient; there is more misunderstandings; people go off on tangents. So let’s try and use clear and unambiguous communication.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thinking about stretching

The term “stretch” gets bandied around in a very sloppy way. It seems to have at least four quite different meanings – depending on who is using it.

Some people (wrongly) use it to mean a warm-up. A warm-up prepares your body for dance (or exercise) and involves raising your internal body temperature. The muscles get more blood; the joints get more lubrication. The most effective way to warm-up is to move the big muscles of the legs and lift your arms above your heart.

Some people use it to mean a cool-down after exercise. Yes, you should cool-down and stretching is a useful way to do this – but not all cool-downs are stretches.
Some people use it to describe what I’d call “mobilization”. That is, moving your joints through their range of motion by moving gently.

Scientifically, a stretch is a way to elongate your muscle fibres. You do this to increase your range of motion – it is not needed to prepare for dance – but is a way of improving what you are capable of doing while dancing.

You can think of a muscle as a stack of interleaved cards. Normally they are partially overlapping. When you contract the muscle they overlap more. Your resting length depends on how much they overlap when they are not working (contracting). This length can be increased by moving the cards (fibres) apart and holding them for a while. All going well, next time they are relaxed they are a little less interleaved. (click the muscle fibre sketch to see what I mean)

A stretch is done with a warm body and holds a specific (and non-working) muscle (or muscles) at their extreme limit. You release and repeat as required.

So what can go wrong?

If you try and stretch a body that is not warm (think of trying to bend frozen toffee) or push too far by using force or bounce the stretch you may tear something. Of you are lucky a muscle. If you are unlucky - a ligament or tendon. (Bouncing is a problem due to the body’s reflex to resist the stretch – if you push and release too quickly the body responds by contracting the muscle)

Next, although people may tend to be “tight” or “loose”, it is not uncommon for a person to have some tight bits and some loose bits. To make the most of your stretches you need to target the muscles which are actually tight rather than do general stretches. If your stretch involves several muscles what will tend to happen is the loose ones will get looser and the tight ones don’t change.

Finally bad technique. For instance, not aligning yourself correctly or trying to stretch a contracting muscle (this can some times be done but takes training). The most common ineffective (and potentially damaging) stretch is a standing hamstring stretch. When standing the hamstrings have to contract – so they won’t relax and stretch. Instead you are likely to stress your lower back; possibly tearing ligaments and in an extreme case damaging the disc.

Best Practice:

Assess what parts of your body need increased range of motion and identify which can be helped by stretching and what needs to be tackled first.

  • Find suitable exercises for each individual muscle group.

  • Then, over a period of weeks or months, stretch at least every second day.

  • Make sure you warm up first (increase internal temperature by a couple of degrees by walking, cycling or other big muscle group exercise)

  • For each muscle group:

    • Ensure your technique and alignment is correct.

    • Hold each position just where you start feeling it in the muscle.

    • Breathe – increase the stretch as you feel the muscle soften.

    • Repeat a few times.

  • Cool down

After some weeks, retest your range of motion and adjust your stretch program to reflect new priorities. If you have not made significant progress after 6 weeks get a sports physio or similar to check you are doing the stretches correctly and there are no other issues. For instance, some hip configurations mean some people will never be able to achieve significant hip turn out – let alone a lotus position - because the bones get in the way. Stretching will not help this at all.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Belly Dance – Anyone Can Do It

Yes, our local dance network sent me a link. “Bellydance Comprehensive” – yes, in six weeks you can learn Orientale and Tribal and be up to doing a Fusion choreography. I guess I’m a slow learner. And a bad teacher – I certainly cannot teach a class Orientale in ten weeks – let alone six. Let alone Tribal.

This is probably because I have the wrong training. I have been learning Middle Eastern belly dance and folkloric for 20 years. The one who will get you up to speed in six is trained in Contemporary Dance. But she is Latin American – so it’s in the blood. Everyone knows the Egyptians migrated to South America when Atlantis dropped below the waves. And they took their fertility Goddess dance of the Sultan for painless childbirth with them.

The other kicker is that it is linked in with a mundane dance studio; lots of easy publicity. I wonder how they would react if I said I was qualified to teach Salsa because I like Mexican food?

Yes, yes, I’m getting my bedleh in a knot – everyone knows belly dance is really simple – you just drape yourself in bling and shake about a bit. If you can’t get it first time – have a couple of drinks.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Past Beginner – Beginning to Perform

Having just seen the amusing animation "Why Yes, I Am a Professional Belly Dancer!" – I had to laugh but then started to think about just how much there is to learn. Or alternatively how much I need to teach those in my care.

Go onto most belly dance bulletin boards and there will be lists of things a beginner needs to learn. Most of these centre around movement generation – basic isolations, shimmies, undulations; the vocabulary of the dance. What makes that list will depend on a person’s style and experience. Some will also add props such as veil or zills. Some add some background knowledge of the culture and history of the dance.

So, let’s assume our student has all that – and now they are going to perform – in public. Hopefully those first forays are in a supportive environment of family and friends with something safe to dance. By that I mean, a piece within their technical ability, that they know well, and in an appropriate costume. Around here that is usually a 3 minute choreography in a group.

As teachers we often have to balance the chance to let someone perform who still hasn’t quite got it but who is really keen with our own reputation and the audience expectation. In a clearly student show you can cut them some slack. But I worry if a see a piece that none of the performers can handle – for instance something with lots of shimmy where none of the students can do more than flop around out of time to the music or a cane piece which tries to do tricky stuff but canes let loose, fly across the floor or injure other dancers. In these cases, the teacher needed to pull back her expectations and choreograph something that suited her students and made them look good.

Costumes can be tricky too. Students need guidance. They are students. For instance – “this item will require bra, belt and skirt. The skirt needs to be opaque under lights. The bra needs to fit and support your breasts.” In some cases suggestions on cut and colour are appropriate. For stage shows I now buy bolts of fabric or have class groups go out and pick material that suits them all. For galas and fairs I usually have a more relaxed approach but the general look needs to be similar.

Quality can be an issue. Here there has been an influx of cheap, nasty hip scarves. Personally I won’t have one worn in an Orientale piece – and only better quality ones in folk, shaabi or fusion pieces. Worst look I ever saw were students with one worn as a hip belt and another wrapped to (almost) hide their underwear bras.

This becomes even more of an issue as students start to do their own work. If a teacher doesn’t tell her student bedleh is not appropriate for beledi how are they going to learn? With student troupes, some times intervention is needed for the overall look and balance; for instance costume colour, physical shape and ability needs to be considered for the final presentation.

And it is when the students get past those first simple dances to pop pieces that things start to get tricky. Especially when they need to know their cultural references. “Your solo music is old style beledi – I suggest you wear a dress – forget the veil – and stop waving your arms in the air”. “This music is sa`iidi – why are you dressed as a harem slave?”

But the hardest thing to get across is the feel of a style. I recently saw an Orientale piece that was appropriately choreographed. The students did all the movements correctly – yet didn’t. The problem was they didn’t seem to get the styles being referenced. Was it nerves? Lack of preparation? Unfamiliarity of the underlying styles? This is one reason I believe any one other than a hobbist needs solid folkloric performance experience before tackling “grown up” belly dance. This is what sa`iidi is meant to feel like. This is how you move in khaleegi. This is beledi. This is debke. Then when 32 counts need to be slotted in they will know what they are trying to do.

Another issue that is hard to get across to students (believe me I have the same problem) the need to appear to engage with the audience: relaxed faces, smiles when appropriate; relaxed upper bodies. I think many of us over emphasise the isolation needed and instead of working hips and shoulders independently they end up holding their torso rigid – often with rigid hands as well. One teacher (Elenie) once said to me that the shoulder girdle communicates emotion – and I think she is right. The plastic Barbie look occurs with a plastered on smile and cold unmoving shoulders. And this year Momo repeated the idea by saying that the face and shoulders expressed the soul.

But of course, many skip all these boring lessons and go straight to being a pro belly dancer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Teaching Insights from Workshops with Momo Kadous

This was the 16th Brisbane Winter Warm Up and the first with Momo Kadous. I admit I signed up a little unsure of whether I was making a mistake in times when every dollar needed to be carefully placed. I knew nothing about him other than he was Egyptian and recommended by Dr Mo Geddawi as a replacement when he, himself, was unable to take his planned workshops and teacher training. And it looked like too much Orientale and not enough folklore.

But I am so glad I went! His dance style was interesting, his approach to the dance on my wave length, he added a session on shaabi flavoured dance – and I was reminded a lot about teaching from watching him teach. I intend to make more of an effort to incorporate some of these aspects:

His philosophy that a dancer should dance for herself – but present for the audience. So, we were being continually being pulled up on the awareness of where the audience was; what they could see. Right from the first hour when we were just learning some new combinations; head, torso, arms, hands.

Humour – Momo was happy to use humour to release tension in the class (who wants a tense belly dancer!) – even when he could be seen as the butt of his own humour. Sometimes belly dancers get just too precious about themselves and their art. Laugh!

Repetition – we learnt it at Teachers’ College – the “broken record” technique – and I thought I was doing it. But I’m a rank amateur. More repetition needed. There were some points he made every few hours over the four days. Not because we were particularly slow, but, he stressed, he wanted to make sure his changes had become habits that would be hard to break.

He also demonstrated using different learning methods. For instance during the drum solo. We’d sing the rhythm then tap it out and only then use our hips and feet.

Mixing individual and class correction (yes, this was a workshop teacher who would come down and ask if you’d “left your left hip at home? Why not bring it to class?”). And yes, I do correct – but I find I self censor – “she won’t want me to say that again”, “they just want to get to the end of the choreography” – yet, as the student, I found those interruptions valuable.

He closely targeted some corrections, staying on the target until she had made a reasonable attempt to change what she was doing. Or he just did the eye and the gesture which would get half the class checking their hips, or their footwork or their flapping hands. Or he would stop what he was doing completely to go over a particular point: varying from a makeshift creation of a barre to practice lifting our legs like dancers not like footballers to repeating a short sequence over and over to a drum track.

All obvious. All stuff I know. But it was good to see someone using it in such an effective way. And the content of the workshops? Also excellent. We had classes in technique, drum solo, Khaleegi, shaabi and Orientale. In each class, in addition to the dancing, Momo explained the music, the lyrics if there were any, and any relevant cultural and staging information.

Momo Kadous is well worth keeping an eye out for.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Monday 13 June – Earthquakes Again!

My next blog was meant to be about stretching – but another earthquake has pushed itself into my consciousness. You’d think after over 7000 odd since September we’d be over them – but this one was very pushy.

I’d finally decided to tidy up and put away. After all we’d had nothing significant for a while. The last three magnitude 5 pluses were on the west side of town so were no big deal in Brighton. (For those of you not blessed by earthquakes the magnitude is logarithmic and measures the energy at the epicentre. A 7 is about 30 times as powerful as a 6 and a 9 is about 900 times as powerful as a 7. But a 7.1 several km away can have less effect than a 6.3 right under you. It also makes a difference how deep the fault is. Christchurch’s little darlings were only 5-15km below the surface.)

So Monday the 13th arrives. I’ve arranged to cook for eight people for dinner at a friend’s. No need for the gas cooker I was lent in February – power’s been up for weeks. Ditto the water, in nice heavy pots in the kitchen. Won’t waste it but pour it into plastic containers and put it in the laundry (spoiler alert!). Now, start with soup – I’ll complete it and microwave it when I get there (spoiler alert!).

Across town to get the meat I want (my local shops are open but didn’t have the right cut and closer possibilities are still munted). I’m making pörkölt – a Hungarian stew with lots of paprika. Right, it’s underway. I can replace some of my ornaments on the shelves. Will still keep the heavy ones on the floor but the light stuff should be safe enough.

Next job: bookshelves. All but one have been screwed to the wall – but the books still fly out with the shaking. I’d decided to lace the front and fill in the sides to reduce this. And I’d come up with a method to secure the last bookcase. I’ll tackle it once I finish the lacing etc. (spoiler alert).

So, I’m crouched down with my screwdriver when another aftershock hits. At first I didn’t pay it much attention. But there is something about feeling like you are on a giant waterbed, while suspended over the cavity which is a garage and under another storey made of heavy beams, that give you pause. And what’s more it is continuing and I can here things crashing. It’s a big one. (5.3M as it turns out)

Poor Isis. Light and tall she’s hit the floor for the third time – very undignified for a Goddess. A bit of bluetack will fix that. What about the rest of the stuff? Pretty heavy; still on the shelves; just push them back a bit (they’ve moved forward a few centimetres). No real damage. Fill in a GeoNet report. Update my Facebook status with something light and time to start the potatoes.

Not too keen to go back into that bedroom though. Empty the chemical toilet? No, not while cooking. Maybe wash the kitchen floor now I’ve had reliable water for a few weeks. It’s pretty grubby after 4 months and won’t take much water – but maybe I’ll wait until I finish cooking. Potter, potter. … Wham! Thump! Thump! (that’s the stereo speakers) Crash! (CRT monitor) Thunk tinkle! (1 litre of olive oil from bench to floor – with plates)

Egyptian reproductions? Isis is standing firm – but the fake stone carvings are scattered across the floor. Books? Most still on the shelves with only some on the floor. Bookshelf? Yes, crashed over the bed – sans books (now on floor, again) With a broken water main outside my neighbour’s, how’s my supply. Trickle … and gone – but I do have 10l on the floor of the laundry.

Off the check the neighbours. Pat and calm their dogs. Now, how’s the bridge? Traffic is flowing both ways but I want to see if it is passable with my little car which doesn’t take kindly to 200mm steps in the road. Never made it on foot between the new liquefaction and broken water mains meant I needed gumboots – and nerve (some of the liquefaction holes can be very, very deep).

I get a text that the dinner venue while without power (like me) – does have a generator and gas. So I pack up the food – soup, pörkölt, vegetarian alternative, potatoes (uncooked). I’m giving desert a miss. Oh, and spare clothes, a radio, torch, batteries, cash – and a camera.

Off I go. Only now there is a queue for the bridge – too late it’s closed. U-turn. Maybe the Brighton bridge is open. Opps, the flooding is a bit deep – I’ll go via the mall. Missed the worst of it – and it’s closed. Won’t follow the river – they still haven’t fixed the road from September. It’ll definitely be under water – but Bower Ave bridge was almost okay last time. Head back to the coast then cut back. Not this time – but at least they had someone on the roundabout. Anzac Drive? Nice new bridge? Nope – and this time I had to go the whole distance through the flooding which filled the bits of road that had slumped about half a metre – either this time or earlier. Nice young man says I have to go west – so I do and realize I’m heading into Dallington! River flooding to the left, cars back up ahead, liquefaction almost covering the crown of the road. I cannot risk a U-turn that may get me into the unknown – cars have been swallowed by liquefaction holes. So it’s a 3 (or 4) point turn. Onward.

Back via Stanmore Road, where only this morning this building – and that - were standing. No more. But now at least there’s little road damage, flooding or liquefaction. Then - at last – after only 80 minutes and 67km I have complete a trip that is normally 6km and takes under 10 minutes.

The dinner went very well. All but one guest could make it. We ate in the ambience of 17 candles and I wore earthquake chic – silt covered shoes and a head lamp. (The gennie turned out to be only for the server)

There was one surreal moment when I left the roar of the gennie to visit the Port-a-loo and heard a strange sound echoing around the hills. It almost sounded like a call to prayer – a drone with indistinct words. But it turned out to be an automated evacuation message “Please evacuate the building immediately. Do not return for personal possessions. Immediately make for the assembly point”. One positive side effect of the 5.6 at 1pm was that malls and most buildings had already been evacuated when the 6.3 hit at 2:20pm.

And the numbers? From 1pm until 2:20pm there were six earthquakes (5.6M, 4.4M, 3.4M, 2.9M, 3.1M, 6.3M – 9-11km deep). From then until dinner started at 6pm there were 24 more (varying from 2.9M-4.9M 2-12km deep). There were 10 more during dinner (2.9M-4M, 5-9km deep). Overnight, add another 14 (biggest was a 4.7M - which is what I think did in a few more things at home). In all over 24 hours we had 59 earthquakes. Oh, and there’s another.

PS Power now back on and bridge open. Main problem was washout due to burst water pipe – hence still without water over here. Guess the floor will have to wait a bit longer!

(And here is my thoughts back in March Reflections Five Weeks After the Earthquake)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When a Belly Dancer isn’t Belly Dancing

I’m a belly dancer. I have been for many years. I spend time working on improving my technique and expression; I like to watch good dancers for pleasure and ideas; my leave is usually spent on belly dance related activities; my best clothes are belly dance costumes.

Yet, I am not belly dancing every time I dance. I take an exercise with dance class – yes, there is an occasional hip drop – but I’d say the class uses more Jazz aesthetic than Belly Dance.

Some years back I attended a gathering of women to celebrate the female divine. Arriving on a whim I didn’t know we were expected to bring gifts – some sang or recited poetry, some played music, - and I danced. I think I did a good job off the cuff to music I’d never heard before. But it is still slightly uncomfortable when I run into people who were present and get tagged as “that wonderful belly dancer”. I wasn’t belly dancing – I was just dancing.

Then, some times I’ve been at parties and asked to “do a belly dance”. Well, apart from the fact I normally charge to do that (are other people giving free medical consultations? fixing someone’s diff? perhaps, handing out samples of their merchandise?) – the music is all wrong. No, I don’t belly dance to “Copperhead Row”.

Belly dance isn’t just a bunch of moves. It involves an approach and musicality; it is tied to a culture. But more to the point, belly dancers are allowed to dance in other styles. There are belly dancers who also do Latin, Ceroc, ballet, jazz, line dancing, Highland … When they are doing these forms they may be still technically belly dancers – but they are no longer belly dancing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reflections Five Weeks After the Earthquake

A break from dance related topics to give a personal view of living in Christchurch five weeks after the 22 February earthquake.

The news was initially filled with the shocking images of destroyed buildings, rescue workers and the army. Now most of the dead have been recovered; yesterday some business people were allowed back into the red zone to recover essential equipment and records; buildings are being removed, roads cleared, and life tries to get back to normal. But it isn’t – quite.

Here’s what it is like living in South Brighton – an area barely affected by the quake – very few houses are written off for example, but still …

I was lucky and got power back after just nine days. Across the road they needed to wait a bit longer. The houses fed by the New Brighton substation are being fed via huge generators as the substation took significant damage (it sunk about 1.5m into the ground, all four incoming cables and the ten outgoing ones were “buggered”; they ran overhead lines several kilometres to another substation to try and get over the problems)

So, five weeks on we have power – but we are advised to avoid using electric heating – including jugs and ranges – unless absolutely necessary. This is especially the case from 5-7pm where a sudden switching on of appliances can lead to the power going off. This restriction covers all of the eastern and southern suburbs – I’d say at least half of Christchurch.

I was very pleased I had held out for replacing my log burner with another log burner – not the alternatives pushed by the council which required electricity to run. Only problem was, set in the middle of the house, there was no natural light and all cooking needed to be completed by dusk. Later, a friend lent me a portable gas stove. I continue to stash torches (with good batteries) all over the house – just in case.


Next service to be reconnected was water – a trickle started coming through after 3 weeks – not enough to fill the hot water tank though. When pressure was restored my damaged pipes blew apart so I was off again until my father came over and capped the errant pipe (and at the same time fixed the four doors which no longer closed due to slight movement). At this stage we still have a boil water notice in effect.

What happened in the meantime? Well, only a day after the quake they had a water tanker at the local school. Hundreds of people queued for water with a range of containers – from empty 2l ice cream containers, to empty rubbish bins – and waited for a means of getting the water out of the tank (there was no fitting to release the water) - after 2 1/2 hours I walked home without any! One of my neighbours was singing “don’t have to live like a refugee”.

I had emergency water to drink – and some unbroken beer and wine for follow up. But had never considered how much water is needed for cooking – let alone washing dishes (I can now do a sinkful in 2l). Washing clothes and bodies were not even considered. We all stank equally.

Currently the whole city is on water restrictions – but my garden died in the first few weeks so I’m not tempted to try and bring it back to life before spring.


This is still not operational for about 160 000 people. Many people have toilets that flush – but for many it doesn’t leave the property, or it may only to be blocked by broken or silt filled pipes further along. The overflow flows into the rivers and estuary – or are actively pumped into them. That’s the story here – but at least it doesn’t flow in the streets like in some places.

However, if they could get it all to the treatment station it wouldn’t help as it is running at only 70% capacity due to damage.

Needless to say you cannot swim at the beach – let alone do any water sports on the rivers or estuaries. People have already got sick. They are recommending to keep even dogs out of the water.

They started with thousands of Port-a-loos but since have handed out tens of thousands of chemical toilets as this will continue for 3-4 months (all going well). Note, to those who don’t have one – emptying them is not a pleasant chore.


Within days they had filled many of the small car sized holes in the road (no joke we are talking metres wide and half a metre - at least - deep). The 18 broken bridges are now mostly passable – although many are limited to under 3.5 tonne. Many of the roads are restricted to 30km/h – which can be too fast if you drive over a outstanding manholes (they rose with the liquidfaction) due to poor visibility. Potholes, waves, sinks, cracks are all a normal part of driving now. Trips take often twice as long as before. Adding to the traffic problems are the cordoned off parts of the city with rubble or danger of falling masonry.

Let me explain. A good route is one with about 50% gravel and only a couple of bone jarring ridges. Bad routes slow you down to a crawl. Detours and single lanes are common. “Water” on the road is not unusual – and you always suspect it’s raw sewage. But at least most of the silt has been removed.

We are quite lucky here – we got our supermarket back up and running after only a few weeks. Many other suburbs around here are still without any supermarkets, fruit and vege or butchers – so ours has become a little busy. Still better than a 45 minute drive across town which I had to do for the first few weeks though.

Many of the big banks here are still closed.

The two nearest malls are closed (but who would enter a mall again?).

Obviously, central city is out of the question.

I have dropped half my dance classes due to students who have left town or are unable to get here – or are just too stressed due to losing their houses and/or jobs.

My day job clients were mostly based in the CBD and if they are working at all are just holding on and only calling on IT help for urgent issues. Forget pretty upgrades, new features or training.

So, we are still here and trying to make a go of it – but it’ll be a long time before it is anything like “normal” again. In the meantime – make sure you have at least 10 litres of drinkable water, containers for still more, investigate a bypass on your downpipe (and a barrel to hold the rain water), food that you can eat without cooking or water, torches, a battery or solar radio, batteries, portable cell phone chargers, direct plug in landline phones, gas or wood cooking facilties – and a pack of cards.

(And here is the June update - Monday 13 June - Earthquakes again)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Communication is the Key

Do we live in a world now where because it is so easy to communicate often we don’t?

When I started belly dance teaching much of my communication was done by email. It was what I was used to (I worked as a software engineer and the directive was to email – even the guy in the next office – never interrupt by phone or dropping in). As more and more people got connected and everyone (in New Zealand) seemed to have at least one email address, I dreamed of the time when I could organize classes and shows totally electronically.

Sure I email out information. But does anyone get it? Does my vital email about rehearsal get lost in the spam box? Or does the student’s partner clear her email and “lose” mine? Or, is the PC down? Or does the student never actually check her email? Or is it seen and then there are no capabilities to follow up on time?

I rarely know. People often disable read receipts (I do it myself often enough – but I also respond to the text of the email instead). People often fail to say they are unable to make a practice – even rarer that they received my message and are all go.

Since November I’ve been tracking responses – less than 30% with my current students – 0% for students who asked to be informed when the next term starts. Does that mean on 8 February I’ll have no beginner students (unlikely) or 30 (far too many for my little studio)?

And it isn’t just classes. People book Hen’s Nights but never stump up with the deposit. Does that mean they have changed their minds or still expect me to turn up? An email inquiry very often gets no response at all – not even a “no thank you” or “we’re still thinking about it”. If there are people out there who are wondering why your belly dancer never showed – have you checked your email?

Even the EQC seems to have the disease. I paid for repairs myself (sorry, I really need my hot water to shower after a gig). They said they’d pay by beginning of December (well, three months isn’t too long to wait). They finally responded to an email and said it’d be by Christmas. Now, they won’t respond at all. Maybe I’ll try the phone and push all the silly digits and wait for 20 minutes. Email is such a much better means of communication – but you have to read it and respond to it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Choreography vs Improvisation

I love improvisation. Most of my own performance is improvisation. I believe that improvisation is at the heart of belly dance. I introduce it in the second week of my beginner course. But I teach mostly choreography. Why?

First, there is the huge resistance I have found from most of my students to improvisation. And, no, I don't start with expecting them to do a whole song. Choreography feels safe to them - even if it is harder.

Second, most of my students perform as a group so they need a structure to look good. I have a couple of numbers where pairs "improvise" for a few bars but in practice what they do is create their own small choreography.

Third, with good choreography you do learn. This year at the Winter Warmup I added six more from Aida Nour. There was something to learn in every one. Several things in some - from musicality, to combinations, to weight transfer, to gestures, to arms and hands, to folkloric knowledge, even facial expressions.

Yes, you can learn this using the follow-the-bouncing-butt method – but these days I have difficulty in remembering much of 20 hours of improvised dance – but a choreography – where you go over and over the same moves - will stick better; even if the actual dance doesn’t have the range of nuance of several interpretations to the same music.

Finally, choreography is a way to reinforce what is belly dance. Some times when I have had enthusiastic students improvising I need to pull them back when they step over the belly dance line. (I generally let the beginners go initially) You can learn the lines through watching lots of good performances - but learning choreographies from a range of sources is another way to learn what is and is not "belly dance".

That said, to get past being a beginner I think you do need to be able to improvise. Not necessarily to completely unknown live music but you have to be able to let the music flow through you. Then, I think, your choreographed performances will also be better. And as a bonus you won’t get thrown when a waiter or small child wanders through your dance space.