2015 Instructors, Muses, Artists, and Musicians

I like to take time at the end of each year to think about where I have come from before I start planning for the future, so I’ve compiled a list of all of the instructors, muses, & musicians that I have had the privilege of working with this year…Thank you for making 2015 a wonderful year to be a belly dancer

I am happy that I was able to take workshops and classes with:

  • Amy Sigil
  • Ariellah
  • Audie OS
  • Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman
  • Jill Parker
  • Kari of Unmata
  • Kristine Adams
  • Patty Stickels
  • Raks Incendia
  • Sarah Schneider Koning

Special thanks to those that hosted the workshops and events:

  • Adira Elham
  • Blue Lotus Tribe
  • Boheme Tribal Belly Dance
  • Valizan

I’m honored to have shared the stage with Anna Miromanova in my first true ATS® duet performance and to have danced Tribal Fusion and ITS with Boheme Tribal and students. I also danced my first ATS® solos this year!

Thanks Carrie Meyer of The Dancers Eye – Fine Art Bellydance Photography and Suzy Torma for the gorgeous photos of me!

It was a real treat to be able to dance to live music by Wisaal at their last show in Kalamazoo!

And here are my 2015 muses:

  • Audra Simmons
  • Colleena Shakti
  • FatChanceBellyDance®
  • Heather Labonté
  • Jill Parker
  • Kendra Ray
  • Raks Incendia
  • Shades of Araby
  • Unmata
  • Zoe Jakes

 

Finally, a huge thank you to my friends, family, and dance family for all of your love and support!

Happy New Year!!!

ReBlog: 10ish Things You Do in Bellydance Workshops That Make You A Dick

I loved Bat Stork’s NSFW version of her belly dance workshop etiquette blog post! If you don’t mind some swearing, click here to read it. BUT many of the offenders are new dancers that haven’t been taught to behave otherwise in workshops. It’s important for all belly dancers to follow her advice. She also wrote a less in-your-face version, which you can read by clicking here. Thanks, Bat Stork!

Kristine Adams Workshops & Shades of Araby 10th Anniversary Show

There are only a handful of things that I find more satisfying than enjoying a long, warm bath on a cold winter day after a whirlwind weekend of travel, belly dance, friends, and fun. That’s what I’m doing this very moment as I reflect upon the past few days.

I am beyond blessed to have been able to take eight hours worth of FatChanceBellyDance® Sister Studio Continuing Education workshops with Kristine Adams (hosted by Valizan) on Saturday and Sunday *plus* attend the Shades of Araby 10th Anniversary Show.
After working my day job and then teaching my ATS® dance class in on Friday evening, I loaded up my car, kissed my husbeast goodbye, and drove through the night to Hamilton, Ontario. Six and a half hours and 330 miles later, I arrived at dawn and attempted to familiarize myself with the area. Hamilton is a pretty cool city. Being the ignorant American that I am, I had no idea how large the city is. I was expecting something similar to the size of my home town (~75,000 people). Hamilton has a population of over 500,000. Whoa. Choc-full of interesting old brick buildings and a fantastic food scene, I was in traveler heaven.

 (Packing Pic)

I was in traveler heaven except for the driving part. Yeah, let’s talk about that. I’m comfortable with driving in big cities like Chicago and I am used to the above-average number of one-way streets in my home town of Kalamazoo, but Kalamazoo’s streets are on a grid pattern and you can count on being able to easily circle around if you have missed your destination on a one-way street. Hamilton is made up almost entirely of one-way streets and it is not safe to assume that after making a left turn onto a one-way you will immediately be able to make another leftie onto the next one-way, and so on. I ended up driving around for two additional hours in attempts to find and park at the workshop location because of the seemingly willy-nilly layout of the one-way streets in Hamilton. It’s okay though. I got to see more of the city this way.

(ZILL ELASTIC PIC)

Once I had successfully located The Spice Factory, I realized that it was quite close to the Hamilton Farmer’s Market, which excited me because the last time that I was in Canada (ATS® GS/TT Toronto in 2014), I found my #1 favorite cheese in the whole world…one which I discovered in France and have not been successful in finding in the states. I was hoping to get lucky again and, wouldn’t you know, I found my cheese again!! Morbier. Check it out. It’s a bit on the pricey side at over $25/lb, but worth it. Semi-soft, complex fruity flavor, a tad tangy, just plain yummy. I bought a little over a quarter of a pound and ate all of it for breakfast.

(MORBIER CHEESE)

Okay, so you really want to hear about the dancey stuff, right? Four workshops with Kristine Adams of FatChanceBellyDance®, who has spent the last three and a half years traveling the world to dance with as many American Tribal Style® dancers in as many different countries as possible. Check out her website/blog at fromthebellyofatraveler.com to read her stories and look at pictures and videos from her travels. The event that I just attended was her very last international one before she returns to the United States and tours the country, continuing her mission of ATS® world domination.

Saturday, 20 Nov 2015, workshops:

  1. The Usual Suspects – Sticking to the Basics: “Refine and finesse the backbone of your dancing with dynamic combinations and their proper technique. Learn to ‘WOW’ the most critical audiences with simple and clear communication.” We focused heavily on establishing/maintaining good posture and then fine-tuned basic moves like the Taxeem, Arm Undulation, Torso Twist, and Camel.
  2. The Ginger-Ro-Shambo: “Extreme combinations. Use these exciting combinations to pump up the thrill factor in your performances.” We experimented with creating interesting shapes and textures with moves like the Egyptian Step, Egyptian Half Turn, Triple Egyptian, Shoulder Shimmy Hip Drop Combo, Calibrated Spins, Re-Shamka, and Wet Dog. We also learned a dramatic slow combo for entering the stage from the chorus.

Sunday, 21 Nov 2015 workshops:

  1. Go With the Flow – Smooth Transitions: “Make the moments between the movements count. In this workshop we will focus on how to bring an elegance and refinement to the ‘and’ to give your dance a polished, educated look.” Using the Barrel Turn, Barrel Cross, and Rainbow, we tried to create seamless transitions to avoid surprising the audience unintentionally.
  2. Every Shimmy Under the ATS® Sun: “Learn to shake and shimmy in every way possible! Keep your audience amazed with this continuous movement. We will study closely the mechanics of what makes up the shimmy, and work on making your shimmy bigger, bolder, and more reliable.” After drilling almost every shimmy in ATS® existence, we drilled several zil patterns (RLR, Military, Baladi, & Alternating) and then looked closely at the Basic Shimmy, Arabic Shimmy, Turkish Shimmy (and Turkish Half Turn), Ghawazee (and Ghawazee Quarter- and Half Turn).

(EVERYONE DANCING AT WORKSHOP PIC-Here I am (left side of photo) getting schooled by Kristine Adams on my foot/hip work for the Egyptian Step while others drill it. Photo credit: Valizan. )

Now, I’m only a private lesson and an additional hour of SSCE instruction away from FCBD® Sister Studio re-certification. Yip! In addition to learning from Kristine and dancing with a bunch of truly wonderful folks, I got to attend the Shades of Araby 10th Anniversary Show. This was by far one of my favorite showcases to date. I am always happy to see Shades of Araby perform and it was an honor to be there for their 10th anniversary. On top of that, the show was jam-packed with incredibly talented and passionate dancers/troupes that left me yearning for more. I see more road trips to Ontario in my future!

 

Of course, it was a real treat for me seeing Kristine Adams perform live…she embodies ATS® with every fiber of her being and her moves and aesthetic command one’s complete attention and awe at all times. Shades of Araby brings an unheard of level of energy and drama to each of their performances. Oh, and their costuming is fucking amazing. No, I’m not sorry that I swore there…I own my f-bombs and there is simply no other suitable way to state that fact. Fucking amazing. Anyway, I can’t begin to describe why Kristine Adams and Shades of Araby are so special to watch. If you have the chance to see them live, cancel your other plans and see them instead. Seriously. If they aren’t performing near you, at least follow them on YouTube. At one point, Kristine Adams and Valizan (the founding director of Shades of Araby) performed together. Like I said earlier, I’m a lucky lady to have been able to attend this event.

Okay, so I am trying to get away from taking photos at shows because it detracts from my experience as an audience member and can be annoying to others that are watching or performing, so I don’t have any personal photos to share from the show. Go out and enjoy a live show. And leave your camera/cell phone at home. Relax; fully take in the sights, sounds, and sensations by living in that moment. I promise you that it is much more indulgent this way and, although you won’t have any (let’s be honest….likely crappy) pictures or video from your experience, you will have felt it that much more deeply. ::steps off of soapbox::

(SOA BACKSTAGE- All of the past and present members of Shades of Araby performed together for their 10th anniversary show. Sarah, Sophie, Maral, Karina, Erika, Delice, and Valizan. I absolutely adore them!)

Besides Shades of Araby and Kristine Adams, it was a true pleasure watching the performances of Relativity BellyDance, Karimah Helou, Wild Orchid Bellydance, BellyUp’s Fusion Collective, Invoketress, Krisztina (Michigan respresent!), Serpentina North Ensemble, Lavish, Tribe MayaFire, Ala Nar, and Ishra. During the show, Valizan explained that the performers that were invited are the people/troupes that invited Shades of Araby to perform at their events in their beginnings. That’s how you do community <3

 

Alright, I know that I get wordy with things here. It’s difficult for me to give the important details without sharing some of the intricacies. Did I mention that I tried pho for the first time? I forgot to rant about the ridiculousness of the ‘Merca’s stubbornness to convert to using the metric system and the importance of familiarizing oneself with foreign road signs and basic traffic laws before taking an international road trip. Also, there appear to be no potholes in Canadian roads. Nice.

I must take a moment to give thanks. Thank you to Valizan for organizing this event, and for going out of your way to make sure that I had a place to sleep, food in my belly, and directions home. Thank you to Kristine Adams for spending many years studying ATS®, then devoting years to traveling the globe to offer top-notch instruction and outstanding workshop, show, and personal experiences to the world. Thank you to Shades of Araby for gracing this world with your powerful, dramatic performances for the past decade. You are one of my biggest influences in dance. Muah!

(FAMILY PIC)

I can’t possibly thank everyone individually, but I do need to mention a few people that made my trip that much more special. Thank you to Karimah and Barb for inviting me to join you for lunch on Saturday. We don’t have affordable sushi of that caliber in Kalamazoo and it was lovely to chat with you about belly dance and life. Thank you to Barb for letting this strange tattooed, pierced American crash on your hotel floor, and for your company at the show and over dinner at that surprisingly awesome dive bar. You are a joy to hang out with, and an absolute sweetheart! Thank you to Jessica and Laura for taking me out for pho on Sunday! The food made me happy in belly and heart, and it was great getting to know both of you a bit. I ate my leftovers for dinner on the drive home, saving me from having to eat icky fast food. Jessica, thank you for buying my lunch! Next time, I’m buying and I learned my lesson…always exchange currency after crossing the border. Thank you to all of my dance partners! It was nice to see lots of familiar faces from GS/TT last year, and I got to meet a lot of beautiful souls too. Thank you to my mom, husbeast, and Travis for making this trip a possibility. And last, but certainly not least, and to Carolena for creating this beautiful dance style that draws all of us together.

 

And now friends, my toes are all wrinkly from soaking in the bath tub for too long, so it’s time for me to pull the plug. I hope that you all have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wow, It Has Been a Year!

At this time last year (August 17, 2014) the Make My ATS® Dream Come True! Dance Teacher Certification Kickstarter project that enabled me to travel to Canada and become a FatChanceBellyDance® Sister Studio and Certified American Tribal Style® Instructor was fully funded. Woohoo!!!

(SS Logo)

I’d like to thank the following generous individuals for backing my project: Jim Jager, Jacquie Sanders, Megan H., Margie Harrell-Page, Tim Decker, Josh Hughes, Peggy Page, Alexandria Harvel, Tish Sanders, Karen Bittner, Gail Heydeck, Ashley Juengling, Gail Jager, Emily Quackenbush, Greg Amaro, Becky T, Cristine Thomas, Michelle Theodore, Rick Jager, Casey Jager, Corey Jager, Lana Mini, Kate MacKenzie, Suzy Torma, Liz Barney, Dean Theodore, Kristin, Andy Smith, Amy June, and Jessica Shepard. THANK YOU so much for your support!!!

In case you’re not familiar with the project, I spent a week in Toronto, Ontario at The Dark Side Studio and completed American Tribal Style® General Skills Classic, American Tribal Style® General Skills Modern, and American Tribal Style® Teacher Training with Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman (founder of American Tribal Style®, Artistic Director of FatChanceBellyDance®) and Megha Gavin (Founding Director of Devyani Dance Company).

The trip has had a profound positive effect on my life and I’m truly grateful that I was able to do it. I blogged about my experiences (look for my October 2014 blog posts in the archives if you’d like to read them and see my pictures!). Here are a few of my favorite pictures from my trip and my time there:

(Kensington Market area of Toronto, home of The Dark Side Studio.)

(The sitting area inside the gorgeous Dark Side Studio)

(Carolena, me, and Megha on the final day of Teacher Training)

(General Skills Graduates!)

(I had one day to explore Toronto (LOTS more pictures in my October 2014 blog posts!). I enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch by the water, eating my favorite French cheese.)

(Downtown Toronto and the CN Tower pic)

Since completing this training and obtaining the various certifications, I am the first and only Certified American Tribal Style® Instructor and FatChanceBellyDance® Sister Studio in Southwest Michigan (one of only six Sister Studios in the entire state).

(ATS CERTIFIED LOGO)

I currently teach belly dance in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, Michigan. I am steadily building my business and creating a troupe of student ATS dancers based in Kalamazoo. I have some fantastic goals for the future and I’m enjoying the journey as I make my way ever closer to reaching them!!!

2015 Goals: 6-Month Check-Up

Back in the beginning of this year, I shared my dance goals for 2015 and I thought that it would be a good time for me to check-in and see how I’ve been doing.

My 2015 dance goals:

  1. Practice ATS® belly dance and Tribal Fusion at least twice a week outside of regular classes.
  2. Assemble a complete, professional quality ATS® costume.
  3. Perform ATS® solos at events in order to draw new students and increase visibility.
  4. Teach ATS® belly dance classes up to 3 days per week at various locations.
  5. Complete the annual continuing education requirements for FCBD® Sister Studio re-certification.
  6. Plan on applying for FCBD® Advanced Teacher Training by the end of 2018.

I also read a blog post that inspired me to choose a word for the year. The quote that led me to the blog post:

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.” ~Brad Paisley

 

 

After some consideration, I chose GROUND to be my word. The word has multiple meanings to me and it is perfect for describing what I will be doing and what I want to focus on. It is my goal to be grounded mentally so that I can maintain that precarious balance between work and play. I am also laying the groundwork for my career as a belly dance instructor this year. While doing so, I must always remember and honor my roots because I would not be where I am today without my mentors, friends, family, and muses that supported me along the way and inspired me to become who I am.

So, how am I doing? I would say that I am doing pretty well on most of my dance goals. I have assembled an ATS® costume that I am quite happy with. The only thing that I really want to add to it is more tribal jewelry…lots of chunky cuffs, big rings set with beautiful stones, one-of-a-kind necklaces (I fell in love with one of Audra Simmons’ creations…)

I am beginning to dance solos to help increase my audience and draw students. I performed a duet with my dear friend Anna in May and have danced solos at several smaller events. I will be performing an ATS® solo at the Second Annual Dangerous Curves Plus Sized Belly Dancer Convention in Detroit this weekend. If you’re in the area, please consider coming to the show! I’ll also be participating in a workshop or two on Saturday. http://www.plussizedbellydancersconvention.com/

(2015 DCBD banner)

As far as my teaching goal goes, I currently teach a weekly beginner belly dance class at the Battle Creek Family YMCA on Wednesday evenings and by the end of this month I will be teaching four classes (one of which is pure ATS®) per week. Two of the new classes are for children (in conjunction with the City of Kalamazoo Parks & Recreation department’s Summer Camp in Kzoo program) and the ATS® class will be at Caravan of Dreams Gallery and Studios in downtown Kalamazoo (Tuesday evenings). I am also available to teach private lessons. Please check out my “Classes” page if you’d like to know more!

Certifications and training are constantly on my mind. I only need to complete one more thing for this year’s FCBD® Sister Studio re-certification: a private lesson with Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman or Megha Gavin. In addition, I am registered for Sacred Circles (a Tribal Pura event that takes place in Michigan this October) and ATS® Homecoming 2016 (San Francisco in January 2016). I originally wanted to apply for FCBD® Advanced Teacher Training by the end of 2018, but I am not sure that I will be ready by that time. I will reassess myself yearly to see when I am ready to apply.

My first (and most important) dance goal is to practice ATS® and Tribal Fusion belly dance at least twice a week outside of regular classes, and I have not been doing well with this goal. Since writing my goals, I have decided to focus about 80% of my time improving my ATS® skills and knowledge and 20% of my time working on Tribal Fusion belly dance and other dance forms. I began teaching a weekly beginner belly dance class and by the end of the month I will be teaching two beginner belly dance classes for children and one ATS® class, but I have been unable to attend regular classes outside of those that I teach. I participated in an Improv Tribal Style belly dance class for several years, but the time has been changed and it overlaps with a class that I teach in another city. In addition, It is important to me to keep my ATS® moves as pure as possible and it was confusing to other students when I danced in a way other than what their teacher taught. It was also confusing my muscle memory. I am sad that I don’t get to participate in that class anymore. Actually, I am not currently taking any weekly classes, which doesn’t make me happy. However, this is no excuse and there is no reason why I cannot practice at home. My home practice commences one more beginning today!

 

Did you set any goals for yourself for 2015? What are they? Have you fulfilled any of them yet? Share your stories!

Summer Camp in Kzoo 2015

I am pleased to announce that I am teaming up with the City of Kalamazoo Parks and Recreation department this summer! I’ll be teaching kids how to belly dance at “Summer Camp in Kzoo.”

(PARKS & REC PIC)

Summer Camp in Kzoo is a 9-week-long day camp licensed by the State of Michigan. Registrations are accepted for the entire camp or on a weekly basis. Camp is held from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Camps are held in three different locations around Kalamazoo; campers will have the opportunity to participate in various sports, games, crafts, performing arts, field trips and weekly special activities. Camp is for children entering first grade through 12 years of age. Scholarships are available. Please contact their office at (269) 337-8191 for more information or visit their website at www.kalamazoocity.org/residents/parks-recreation.

Beginner Belly Dance for Fitness Class at YMCA

I am teaming up with the Battle Creek Family YMCA to offer a Beginner Belly Dance for Fitness class beginning in May!

 

This class is open to Battle Creek Family YMCA members (FREE!) *AND* it is open to the public (non-member rate: $10 day pass *OR* $70 for the entire 8-week session). To learn more about becoming a member, please visit their website.

 

There will be an optional introductory workshop offered on Wednesday, April 29th where potential participants can come see what it’s all about. I hope to see you there!

(FLYER)

Kaeshi Chai/Brad MacDonald and Sonia Ochoa Workshops

I attended a day of workshops with Kaeshi Chai and Sonia Ochoa in Kalamazoo on Saturday, December 27, 2014, and you can bet your booty that I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity! It is not everyday that one gets to study with former Bellydance Superstars when you live in my area.

I am grateful to Kaeshi Chai, Brad MacDonald, Brad’s mother (thanks for the cookies!), Sonia Ochoa, and Chad Goei (thanks for the gorgeous pictures from Sonia’s workshop!) for spending the day with us at the studio!!! Please click on the bold names above to visit their respective websites 😉

 

We started out the afternoon with Kaeshi and Brad’s hour-and-a-half long workshop, “Combo Platter to Live Percussion.” Kaeshi introduced her theory about the types of movements that make up belly dance, discussed the differences between Oriental, Turkish, and Fusion belly dance, taught combos featuring each of these styles, and had us do some exercises to help us find the movements in our own way. The last two activities were accompanied by live drumming by Brad MacDonald. It sure feels magical to dance to the music that someone is playing especially for you! Brad also taught us a bit about the different styles of drumming that go with Oriental vs. Turkish belly dance. Saidi (pronounced sah-ee-dee) is an upbeat 4/4 Middle Eastern drum rhythm that belongs to the maqsum family. The basic saidi rhythm (with a key):

D – T – __ D – D – __ T – __

D = Dum (right hand, clear low tone)

T = Tek (right hand, high crisp tone)

– = space after note (sustain)

__ = space during rest

This rhythm is played by drummers across the world but the way that they play it will vary based on their style, which is influenced by the drummer’s country/region (as well as by who their teachers were and other factors). The dancer needs to know how the drummer will play the rhythm so that he or she can dance accordingly. Complicated!!! Brad gave us a tip on how to determine a drummer’s dominant style: pay attention to what they call their drum. If someone tells you that they play tabla, they play Egyptian drum (goblet drums include Darabukka, Derabucca, and Darbouka). In the UnIted States, many drummers call their drum a doumbek (it depends mostly on who their drumming influences include).

Click here to view a pretty good list of the various names of goblet drums. Brad is a visual designer, artist, author, and musician (also, a very nice guy).

Kaeshi believes that all of the belly dance moves fall into the following four categories: percussive, vibratory, sustained, and pendular. She taught us that Oriental Style belly dance movements are predominantly vibratory (think rapid shimmies!) and pendular (hip drops and other movements in which the body is pulled toward the earth) in nature. While Fusion belly dance may also feature vibratory and pendular movements, it often includes a lot of sustained (example: flowy arm undulations/snake arms) and percussive movements (popping has been especially popular…wow! I sure say some funny things. Those words are straight from my brain to my keyboard. No pun intended.). That makes sense for Fusion belly dance since it is essentially a conglomeration of many different styles of belly dance and other dance genres. Turkish belly dance is made up of primarily vibratory and pendular movements, but the feel of the dance is much more heavy (earthy) than in Oriental belly dance. I found Kaeshi and Brad’s workshop to be very educational and I especially liked the activity where we danced back and forth across the studio to the drumming while feeling the movements and embodying the different styles for ourselves. Here is a picture of everyone after Kaeshi and Brad’s workshop:

(KAESHI WORKSHOP PIC)

We finished out the day with Sonia’s hour-and-a-half long “Drum Solo, Sonia Style” workshop. Sonia warmed us up with lots of shimmies and then taught a choreography set to a beautiful composition by master percussionist Issam Houshan, with whom she worked extensively while she was a member of the Bellydance Superstars (Note: Mr. Houshan’s website is tablabyissam.com…what does that tell you about his drumming style?). Sonia taught an Oriental Style drum solo choreography and I don’t have a lot of experience with this particular style belly dance but she made the material easy to understand and the dance was very beautiful! I smiled the whole time because it was such a pretty choreography to dance. Here are a couple of photos taken by photographer Chad Goei during Sonia’s workshops (thanks, Chad, for giving me permission to use them here!):

(SONIA WS PIC – Practicing Sonia Ochoa’s drum solo choreography. Drum solo workshop at Caravan of Dreams Gallery and Studios 27 Dec 14. Photo credit: Chad Goei (facebook.com/chadgoeiphotography).)

(SONIA COOL DOWN PIC – Cooling down after a day of belly dance workshops with Sonia Ochoa and Kaeshi Chai/Brad MacDonald 27 Dec 14. Photo credit: Chad Goei (facebook.com/chadgoeiphotography).

I had such a wonderful day! After I arrived home from my 40-minute commute from the studio, my heart was happy, my mind inspired, and my legs were literally vibrating on their own…I think that they were already showing signs of withdrawals from Sonia and Kaeshi! Until next time…..

Melissa