25 December 2010

nutcracker


I was driving home the other night, listening to NPR. There was a program playing about some aspect of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, par for the course at this time of year. Welling up were the opening strains of Waltz of the Flowers. To most, this would be a moment to sit back and enjoy a classic passage of the famous symphony and ballet. To me-something akin to abject terror. In my head I hear, "Get into the wings! We are on next!" And of course the classic PTSD nightmare of every performer, "I'm not in costume!"
In the early 90s, when FatChanceBellyDance was just becoming known to the world, we were already the darlings of the San Francisco Art Scene. We were invited to all sorts of alternative arts functions. We were "ethnic" and "modern" all at the same time. One year, we were approached by Dance Brigade to perform in the "Ethnic Village" of the Revolutionary Nutcracker Sweetie, an alternative ballet. It celebrated the renown ballet, while making a parody of it at the same time. How "San Francisco"!
But I digress, back to the terrifying aspect of Waltz of the Flowers. Since our appearance in the Sweetie, every time I hear the opening measures of Waltz of the Flowers I am paralyzed with fear. It was the act that preceded us in the production. I am forever frozen with fear when I hear it because it tells me, "Get backstage now! Show!"
I might be shopping in a mall, making dinner at home, driving on the freeway. Every time I hear it, my performer-self goes into a panic because I am not backstage, in costume, ready to perform.
Of course we never missed an entrance and went on to present a 2:27 minute suite to the last section of our chosen music, Hossam Ramzy's Roah Albi from Baladi Plus, nicknamed "Nutcracker". Not as you might expect because the drum solo feels like a 'vise grip' but because it was the name of the show that it became famous for.
Ask me and I'll play it for you sometime, It will help to balance out the yearly panic of Waltz of the Flowers.
*ps, that's me doing a layback in the poster!

02 October 2010

Case in Point

Here's an example of what I mean by Old School New Style; I taught L3 Drills class at the FCBD Studio on Thursday night. Haven't taught a weekday evening class in a long time, it was really good.
As per usual, after we did our puja and warm-up dance, I asked what people would like to work on. Three hands shot up: Sahra Turn passing in duet; Double Back passing duet and Slow/Fast transitions.
Previously, regarding the passing turns, I would have said, "No I can't show you that because only the troupe can do that." But that just seemed like an odd thing to say. If we could do it, why can't everyone else do it? Because not everyone is as skilled as the troupe, that goes without saying. Aha, I know! "Because it's not on a DVD and you might take the info out of the studio and show it to someone else before you actually know how to do it...and yet another style of Tribal will be born!"
But this time I just said, "OK, if you know the filter of ATS steps you can figure anything out." And we did.

For the Sahra, we looked at the original step and where the most graceful and logical place would be for the set up (partners face for the "Jane Russel" part of the turn); the passing (partners take one (R) or two (L,R) steps back to back in the "Ava Gardner" section; and trade places (partners twirl around each other two times to the right ending in "Audrey Hepburn.) Hint: the two twirls at the end are really hard.

The Double Back was easier to figure out; you step-turn on ONE, just the way you would in a solo half turn, but this time you step-turn around your partner. If you want to turn face to face, maintain eye contact. If you want to turn back to back, look away just before you turn (this is a classic trick for lots of things.) Land facing your partner and finish the other side of the step.

Finally I reminded the class that not everyone knows these New Style variations, so be sure to discuss it before you perform it.

For the last part of class we used Old School logic and used common sense to drill through Nubian by Raquy and the Cavemen. It a great piece blending slow-fast feeling, although the tempo doesn't change during the 4/4 section and there is percussion in the background the whole time. Plus, there is a sexy 6/8 ending where you have to use dramatic slow and really know the ending or your cover is blown when you miss the final bah, bah, BAH.

So, see? It's not such a big deal. It's what you do when you're in a creative mood. Some New Style ideas, some Old School ideas and no one gets hurt :)

29 September 2010

Contest!

Let's have a contest to choose a permanent name for "ATS Old School" and"ATS New Style."
The winner will go down in history, and get a free something when the results of the contest are announced.
Myself and members of FCBD will choose the winning entries.
Tell me what name describes the concept of "Old School."
Tell me what name describes the concept of "New Style."

Let the games begin!

Yes or No?

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for managing a kind word between the barbs. But, I'm not fooling myself, there were more barbs than soft spots in the recent discussion. I was amazed at the way the {fireside chat} went from people talking to me to people talking at me to people taking about me.
Hello, I'm in the room.
I must have really angered a lot of people when I "took ATS back" a few years ago. But it needed to go into the shop for overhaul. It had gotten so distorted that it stood the chance of losing out on the legacy it deserves. I appreciate you all tolerating the hiatus. But now it seems like you are just as angered at having the name back.
Can't win, that must be the name of this game.
So, what say we just put this game on the shelf? Let's start a new one that pleases as many as possible.

So, here we go with the third in a series of posts about the new identity of ATS. I titled this, "Yes or No?" because several people asked that very question in their responses to my original post "ATS Old School, ATS New Style {fireside chat}" and the follow-up, "FRIENDS, nothing has changed."
And the answer is, "Well, yes and no." Read on.

I have excerpted anonymous quotes from the blog posts so I can be sure to answer as thoroughly as possible. Great questions and comments from everyone, by the way. {I'll refer to ATS Old School and ATS New Style in this text, but don't be put off if you were offended by the terminology that I suggested. See below for a contest to adjust the nomenclature.}


Q: "If we perform the core/old school ATS steps as we have learned them (from the videos), but add additional steps that we have borrowed from other groups and adapted, are we still ATS? Or are we "cheaters?" We have no intention of our ATS steps dropping below a distinct majority of our vocabulary."
A: If you have a vocabulary that includes Gypsy Caravan and/or Black Sheep Belly Dance steps, and are not a Sister Studio, you are welcome to use the term "ATS" in your title. However, I see GS and BSBD as distinct styles in and of themselves, so it's a bit hard for me to see them all working together. I suppose you might even have to redesign some of those moves to suit the FCBD ATS "filter."

Q: It hit me full on when I found myself in a huge ATS circle, led by Rachel Brice in precise FCBD format. I could never have danced with her if I had not learned a language we both spoke. I knew that night that I wanted to be fluent so I could experience that magic again and again. I believe it is this that we fear losing, but with strong attachment will come preservation by many.
On the nomenclature.: Cabaret dancers differentiate "classical" Egyptian style from other interpretations and is highly respected because of its heritage. If that is what happens with ATS, as I believe it will, I will be even more pleased to help represent the "original gangsta".
A: I see that the broader definition of ATS has caused a general fear that the original vocabulary will be lost. Not while FCBD is on the scene! We will continue to uphold the format, even with the eventual addition of new steps and variations from our own studio.

Q: I find this very interesting. I was among the people who thought I was ATS, then found I wasn't once the definition was clarified (and went through a whole gamut of emotions including confusion, sadness, and anger), and have come to peace with my troupe's ATS-esque style. I think that, with this introduction of multiple ATS styles, it is possible we'll see some fantastic innovation. Instead of many mini-FCBD's, I think different troupes or areas of dancers will emerge showing their strengths and bring interesting developments to the dance. At the same time I think dancers and groups that stick tight with how FCBD is doing things will continue to get stronger and keep that core ATS alive.
A: Exactly, this is very well worded. It's about being free to create and continue to spread ATS all across the globe. No more arguments about who is and is not, ATS. But your creations will flourish or perish depending on how well they work with the ATS Old School vocabulary.

Q: Do I think everything that comes up will be awesome or fit what Carolena has in mind? No. Do I think people will use the term ATS when their dancing has nothing at all to do with what *is* ATS? Yes, but they'd do that no matter what Carolena or anyone else says. Is this transition going to be smooth and effortless, without lots of questions and clarifications and all that mess? Probably not. It might open up some good dialogue within troupes, communities and the wider ATS world about how people are dancing, why they are dancing, how they want to achieve their dance goals, and the future of the style.
A: We have seen already that it's not going to be easy. I meant for it to be a joyous occasion, like opening the castle walls and inviting the whole village in so we could share our abundance. But it wasn't like that. I still feel a bit stunned by the abject criticism that I received for a few days after the original post on 16 Sep. Some of the harshest words came from the Sister Studios, whom I think felt like I was taking away their hard won status. Even more curious, almost all of the SS that objected said that they have their own new moves already, but were keeping them out of the ATS vocabulary. Hint: don't hide them from me, show them to me.

Q: With this announcement, I feel relief. I don't feel like I've been sneaking into Mommy's liquor cabinet to drink her port while her back is turned. :)...Our original moves and variations will go back back into our vocabulary and go back to dancing in Carolena's name. ...I can understand everyone's fear of everything becoming ATS. I look at the indiscipline of so much of the Tribal Fusion out there, and shudder to think that could happen in ATS. ...But as was said earlier, this isn't going to change anything. There are already crappy dancers who don't know their Core ATS (Old School in CN's terms) but calling themselves ATS. ...And they will attract people who don't know or care about the difference. But out of those people will come people who WILL want to know FCBD moves.
A: Well, I'm glad someone feels relief! I will still ask that Sister Studios maintain a strict adherence to the FCBD format, both Old School and New School. If you teach GC or BSBD moves, just keep them separate as you have been doing. FCBD Sister Studios should really be FCBD Sister Studios.
*You can have the Port, it's too sweet for me. I prefer a rich Merlot and Cabernet.

Q: My wish, Mama C, is for some very clear criteria in this next DVD. Maybe a numbered list or a fancy flowchart (e.g. "Does the move maintain uplifted arms? If yes, proceed to the next question..."). All kidding aside, I realize very clear criteria may seem like we're spelling out common sense, but I am very concerned that not everyone has the same ATS common sense. If you showed one hundred dancers a new move and asked us if it works as NS ATS, would we all give the same answer...I don't know. I'm worried that we will all have different interpretations of what ATS is. ...So, though it may be difficult to write "rules" for such a creative, beautiful dance, I think that spelling out the criteria for knowing if something is ATS...very clearly...with no room for misinterpretation...would be very helpful.
A: Flow chart, very good idea. Probably easier for dancers to visualize the filter/format than translate the words. And you are right, this whole thing fell apart in the mid-nineties when people branching off did not, in my mind, exhibit ATS Common Sense, that was why I wanted to take ATS back and be able to control the quality of who used the name. But that's proving to be an exhausting process and I think I would be holding creativity at bay if I didn't make the decision to open the castle gates.
--
Q: It seems fairly clear (to me, at least), that if the vast majority of your moves are FCBD, and you have created some of your own variations on these moves, added a few unique moves, and modified a few GC and BSBD moves to fit within the ATS format, you are invited back into the club. I have also gathered from previous posting on Tribe, that GS and TT is not a requirement to identify as ATS. As clear as it seems to me, I would appreciate a solid "yes" or "no".
A: It is not necessary to attend General Skills for ATS (GS) and Teacher Training for ATS (TT) in order to be considered and ATS troupe, or to teach ATS. Ever since I started teaching classes, and eventually producing videos, people have considered a secondary understanding of the dance to be enough experience to begin teaching and performing. Surely, this is how the dance spread world-wide and I have no contest with it.
GS and TT are for the people that want a first hand tour and desire to (or, can tolerate!) spend four to six days with me asking whatever question they want and get a thorough education about each and every step, formation and application.

Q: In the context of New Style, your comments make perfect sense regarding BSBD and GC keeping in mind ATS posture, etc. This is the area, I think could get muddy as I believe some will take this new information once you publish it and run.
A: I'm fine with the general ATS public blending FCBD ATS with GC and BSBD. I would expect that Sister Studios will continue to keep the style separate, as SS means that you *want* to adhere to FCBD Old School. New creations of FCBD ATS are acceptable, but we won't be using anyone else's steps as part of our vocabulary.

Q: This is essentially what I see this "Old School/New Style" ATS announcement fostering. Allowing (and encouraging!) .... directors and teachers, and our troupes as well, to follow our creative bliss, while still staying true to ATS aesthetics and philosophies. This empowers everyone to create moves and ideas which are reflections of our troupe's individual creative visions, but still be part of a larger ATS "family" with whom we can collaborate and support.
A: Exactly!

Q: Those who choose to closely follow in FatChance's footsteps will still have that joy and freedom to do so. The body of work endorsed by FatChance, through their workshops and videos, will continue to be a yard stick for technique and presentation. Sister Studios will continue to be part of that standard by which ATS will be measured. Acknowledging and empowering this not-at-all-new branch of the ATS tree isn't taking anything away from anyone. I know that it feels like that to many, but I hope that they will see that you have been surrounded by these dancers all along--you have supported them, admired them, connected with them, shared with them, inspired them and been inspired in return. They're strong and respectful dancers who are valuable contributors to the ATS community already. Carolena is now putting her arm around those dancers and saying, "Welcome to the family, we're glad you're here." And I think that is a benefit to everyone, don't you? I hope so...
A: Perfect, thank you for this.


These comments were really helpful in showing me what needed to be clarified from the original fireside chat. Now, let me try to summarize where we are right now.

When I started teaching and making videos back in the early 90s, I had no concept of having to control what happened to ATS. I felt that since I was creating a "style" of an established dance, it wasn't my place to impose anything more than my creativity and loyalty (and funding, let's not forget that I paid for a lot of ads to get all of this into place! Before there were free FaceBook ads, we had to pay dearly for newspaper and magazine placement.)
But things didn't go as anticipated. People started branching off and teaching and the aestheic of the style started to change. At first I tried to make a statement, but it only resulted in resentment. I decided to retreat and let things develop "out there" while we stuck to the orginal vision of ATS "in here."
Eventually Tribal Fusion emerged and things started to divide in a way that made sense. I was comfortable saying that ATS was what FatChance did, Gypsy Caravan was what Paulette did, Black Sheep Belly Dance was what Kajira did, and Tribal Fusion was what the youngsters did. That met with some resistence, but it felt like the right thing to do.
But now, as the years have passed, we have lots of Sister Studios that are happy and willing to hold down the FCBD ATS format. I find that it has become so solid, that we are starting to create. Not only at FatChanceBellyDance, but many of the Sister Studios are coming up with new moves and variatons, to my delight some are actually the same! Osmosis! Collective subconscious! 100 monkeys with typewriters!
It's time to open up the boundaries of ATS. I propose, of course, to follow tradition. The core steps from Tribal Basics Vol. 1 Dance Fundamentals and Tribal Basics Vol. 4 Embellishments and Variations are the Old School*. Everyone knows them, they are universal and will continue to be. Tribal Basics Vol. 5 Cues and Transitions and Tribal Basics Vol. 6 Improvisational Choreography support both Vol. 1 and Vol. 4 as well as the Tribal Basics Vol. 7 Creative Steps and Combinations collaboration with FatChance and Devyani Dance Co.
I want to embrace new steps as they emerge and call them, simply New Style*. Because of the landslide of new steps I wiil likley not add them to the General Skills for ATS curriculum. I don't even need to see all of them as they are created. As long as they follow the format of Antatomy of a Step: the posture does not change; the ATS Old School steps remain the core;the result of a new step reinforces the aesthetic of uplifted arms and joyful display of the body; the step conveys happiness; any cues should be brief and logical, the more "rules" you have to add, the less successful the step will be; the principals of non-verbal communication govern all cues and formations.

So, to answer the question, "Yes or No?" The answer is Yes and No. I had intended the Old School/New Style idea to be applicable to those that were adhereing to FCBD ATS. It never occured to me that the GS/BSBD blends would want to come on board. But OK, here goes: "Yes", you can call yourselves ATS if you are not doing stricly FCBD ATS, but you don't have to if you have settled with another name for your brand of Tribal. "Yes" you can blend and create new steps regardless if you are blended or FCBD ATS. "No" you will not flow** with other dancers if they don't know your stylizations, but you can share them and the universe will expand. "No" you should not blend GC/BSBD if you are a Sister Studio, the desire to remain true to FCBD ATS should be apparent.

**Flow: If you choose to create your own thing you will not be able to flow with another ATS dancer that you have never danced with before. What do I mean by flow? Flow is when both dancers have the same muscle memory for steps, interpret the music in the same way, have a similar skill level and use the ATS formations of duet, trio and quartet. Flow is dancing in the divine subconscious. But if you have one version of a step and another dancer has a different version, you will have to discuss it ahead of time and you will have to think, or stay in the conscious while you dance. This is not a bad thing, but just be aware of it.

*Now let's have a contest to choose a permanent name for "ATS Old School" and"ATS New Style." Send your suggestions to my blog, look for the title "Contest!" The winner will go down in history, and get a free something when the results of the contest are announced. Myself and members of FCBD will choose the winning entries.

I hope this third post will satisfy the need for clarification that was absent in the first two posts. As ever, let me know your thoughts on my blog.

20 September 2010

how has ATS changed your life?

Hi All,
Whew! let's take a sideline to the raging fire of Old School, New Style.
Let me know how ATS has changed your life. Be as specific as you like.

18 September 2010

ATS Old School, ATS New Style

This is new home for the infamous fireside chat discussing ATS Old School, ATS New Style.
Please re-post all the great comments from FaceBook, Tribe.net and any personal emails you send to me that you would like to share. Let's keep the conversation going!

{fireside chat} Greetings,
Thanks for joining me, there's something that I want to share with you.
When I first released Tribal Basics Vol. 1 Dance Fundamentals, I encouraged the viewer to "use these ideas in your version of American Tribal Style Belly Dance." At that moment, I had no idea that ATS would become a worldwide phenomenon. I had no thought to control it, I just wanted to get it out there for people to enjoy. I assumed that you would see it, be inspired, and go on to create a dance that followed, what was to me, the obvious aesthetic and lines of classic female beauty.
Imagine my surprise when my little ATS morphed into so many interpretations of "Tribal."
At first I was delighted, so many people were coming on board. I faced a lot of criticism from the traditionalists who feared that the public would regard Tribal as more authentic than Oriental Style. I stood my ground in that I wasn't trying to steal anyone's market share, I just had a new idea that knew would add to the growing population of students interested in belly dance. People like me, that loved the music and culture, but felt a resonance to the romantic idea of a more folkloric looking dance. The music we chose was more from the countryside than the city and we also experimented with sounds from other cultures, as well as modern fusions that were emerging in San Francisco and other progressive cities. The costume was rich and heavy; full skirts, pantaloons, a version of the Indian choli top, mythical coin bras and tassel belts, and of course a full cloth headdress and lots of jewelry.
As things evolved in our San Francisco classes, I came up with the signature concept of ATS-group improvisation. We used standard belly dance steps, and made up some of our own based on those steps, but what was new was the way that we used them in set formations. We decided on duets, trios and quartets, with the occasional solo, to be performed within the context of a chorus line of troupe dancers. The posture and steps would remain a solid, unchanging core but the way the dancers used them was the improv part-the leader would cue the followers as to her next step and the whole formation could change in unison.
This is still a mystery to audiences, the whole group flows so seamlessly that it is often impossible to tell that it's improv. Perhaps that's the one hitch in ATS, the most amazing part is hidden from the onlookers.

Onward to the reason for tonight's talk.
I never intended to have to police the dance. I expected that everyone would play nice and respect each other, and me. But something happened in the mid-nineties. The desire for the dance had begun to spread and more and more people wanted to learn. I was invited to travel, but had no interest in it at the time. If I left San Francisco, the business would fall behind. Plus, I didn't consciously know it at the time but I wasn't done creating the dance. Truthfully it felt, and it still does, like I was just a tool of the dance goddess. Not to sound cliche`, it was just that I had no personal plan other than to dance for a few years. It feels like something bigger than me just plucked me out of the masses and said, "Go do this."
And, I did.
But the bubble burst when students started splintering off and teaching right around the corner from me. That felt wrong. I would never have opened up shop if my teacher was still on the scene. I decided not to take a stance, not wanting to appear petty and more importantly, not wanting to put a damper on the progress of the dance.
But here's the deal-it felt as if just when I was preparing to give a gift...it was snatched out of my hands. I was attempting to be humble in giving the dance away, not feeling the need for ownership, as I assumed that would naturally be attributed to me out of courtesy. But it was not to be. I was stunned, hurt, angry and too proud to say so. I retreated.
I waited and watched to see what would happen. It was pretty rough for a while. All sorts of dances were being created and called "Tribal", some even "ATS", which made no sense to me as there was nothing ATS about them at all.
I realized that people who had no experience with ATS were jumping on the bandwagon. It made sense to remain in the game and encourage people to call these new styles simply Tribal. Most people added a prefix or suffix, like Fusion, Gothic, East Coast, etc. Attempting I believe to stay under the umbrella of the popularity of Tribal while distinguishing themselves as original at the same time. Makes no sense to me, but OK.
Eventually, the very people that turned away from me, or perhaps I should say the next generation of students of the original diaspora, started to recognize the true ATS, and me. I felt like it was worth the wait. I'm glad I didn't speak out against those that had broken away. And I'm glad that we are on track again.

A digression for a history lesson of the ATS underground, finally here is the reason for tonight's talk.
Things are good right now. There is still some confusion about what is ATS and what is any variety of Tribal, but that's OK. We have Sister Studios, teachers that adhere to the philosophy of FatChanceBellyDance in their ATS classes, 98 at the time of this writing. We have TribalStar Galactica, my attempt in getting all the "tribes" together in one place, no matter of the genre, 247 at the time of this letter.
It's finally time for me to give the gift that I had intended at the filming of Dance Fundamentals-be creative and have fun.
There are so many new steps and concepts being presented to me that I feel the need to broaden our definition of ATS. I propose that the steps from Tribal Basics Vol. 1 Dance Fundamentals and Tribal Basics Vol. 4 Embellishments and Variations be considered ATS Old School, as they are the foundation of what we do. Everything else, including our Tribal Basics Vol. 7 Creative Steps and Combinations, are to be considered ATS New Style.
There will be new steps added to the ATS vocabulary, but they will not be mandatory. As well, you are free to create new steps and variations of your own. You can show them to me, or not. I am always happy to give a common sense creative critique on what makes a good ATS step, but you will not get in trouble if you are moved to create something on your own.
As one dancer recently brought to my attention, we all have our own dialectics. By the nature of either distance, ala FatChance and Devyani, or simply a student group that dances together on a regular basis, we develop our own creative steps and variations (more on how to do that at the end of this letter.) The dance is the same but experimenting and mistakes lead us to create, and that's a good thing.
But here's the deal; if you choose to create your own thing you will not be able to flow with another ATS dancer that you have never danced with before. What do I mean by flow? Flow is when both dancers have the same muscle memory for steps, interpret the music in the same way, have a similar skill level and use the ATS formations of duet, trio and quartet. Flow is dancing in the divine subconscious. But if you have one version of a step and another dancer has a different version, you will have to discuss it ahead of time and you will have to think, or stay in the conscious while you dance. This is not a bad thing, but just be aware of it.
So that's it.
I'm still on the scene. I will still be teaching ATS all over the world. We will continue to produce instructional DVDs. I'm not going anywhere. In fact I'm just sitting here on the porch and I invite my dance family to come and play in the front yard. Show me what you are doing, tell me how it has changed your life, share a new piece of music with me. Just come home for a spell and let me enjoy your happiness. Then you can run off to the next house and create yet again.

Anatomy of a Step.
In June of 2011 we will shoot the next instructional DVD, to be released in the Fall. It will be titled Anatomy of a Step. We'll introduce you to the new work that we are doing as well as that of guest artists. The theme of this DVD will be to introduce you to the process of creating steps and variations. But for now, use this formula: the posture does not change. The ATS Old School steps remain the core. The result of a new step reinforces the aesthetic of uplifted arms and joyful display of the body. The step conveys happiness. Any cues should be brief and logical, the more "rules" you have to add, the less successful the step will be. The principals of non-verbal communication govern all cues and formations.
I think that if you follow these suggestions you will have success, and I hope find more depth in the dance.

My friends, enjoy the dance. And phone home every now and then.
Best wishes,
Carolena

05 July 2010

The Break Up

Today I am breaking up with my body image disorder (aka BID).
We have been together since I was eight years old. At the time, I didn't know that it was an inappropriate relationship. I was young and just did whatever it said, wanting so much to be liked. We continued on and off into my teens, 20s and 30s. Because there was so much going on during those years, I never considered the possibility of a long term relationship. But as I crested my 40s I realized that it has been the only relationship that has lasted. It's been there for me no matter what, through thick and thin (literally and figuratively.)
Now though, as I head towards 50 I want a life of my own-whatever that may be. I'm telling BID that our relationship is standing in the way of my happiness. It's not that there weren't good times, but the bad have always out-weighed the good and we really have to stop.
I know that it will be hard. Waking up alone in the morning, without BID's seductive commentary will seem like a wasteland. But I know that the void it will create in my brain can be filled with compassion in action and generosity towards others. I have so many plans and ideas, I just can't justify the energy to keep the relationship going. I want to enjoy food, not give in to what I now realize is the self-centered guilty pleasure of obsession. I want to enjoy a glass of wine or a cigarette for what they are, not for what they are covering up.
I know that I will slip. BID will entice me when I am weak. But just as I would tell any of my girlfriends if they gave in to the temptations of a controlling and abusive relationship, it does not mean we are back together.
Wish me luck.

08 June 2010

Dharma Quote of the Week from Snow Lion

I thought this was an interesting way to look at amateur instructors...


"Many spiritual seekers are not yet ready to become the disciples of spiritual mentors. Their present levels of commitment may suit working only with Buddhism professors, Dharma instructors, or meditation or ritual trainers. Even if they are ready to commit themselves to the Buddhist path and to spiritual mentors, they may not yet have found properly qualified mentors. Alternatively, the spiritual teachers available to them may be properly qualified and may even have shown them great kindness. Yet, none seem right to be their mentors. They feel they can relate to them only as their Buddhism professors. Nevertheless, the Kadam style of guru-meditation may still help such seekers to gain inspiration from these teachers at the present stages of their spiritual paths.

Unless our spiritual teachers are total charlatans or complete scoundrels, all of them have at least some good qualities and exhibit at least some level of kindness. Our Buddhism professors, Dharma instructors, or meditation or ritual trainers may lack the qualities of great spiritual mentors. Still, they have some knowledge of the Dharma, some insight from applying the Dharma to life, or some technical expertise in the practice. Our teachers are kind to instruct us, even if their motivations contain the wish to earn a living. If we correctly discern and acknowledge whatever qualities and levels of kindness that our professors, instructors, or trainers in fact possess, we may derive inspiration, through guru-meditation, by focusing on them with conviction and appreciation."

--from Wise Teacher, Wise Student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship by Dr. Alexander Berzin, published by Snow Lion Publications

03 June 2010

mediation is like ATS


A few months ago, I took a 40-hour course in Mediation with Community Boards in San Francisco. The idea is that if all the mediators know what the outcome is to be-people in conflict create their own resolution-and they all use the same "tools." The mediators can come together without knowing each other or ever having worked together, and facilitate a resolution for the parties in conflict.
Impossible you say? Not really. I realized that it's like ATS. We have steps and formations that everyone agrees to, music that is a familiar format, and we all want the same outcome-a great show.
Today I participated in my first Mediation. There were two experienced Mediators to work with. We met 15 minutes prior to the start of the session. We got the case history 5 minutes prior to the parties arrival..sound familiar?
Piece of cake, really. We Mediators agreed as to who would be "points person", who would do "the welcome", who would do "confidentiality agreement", etc. Then we just "hit play" and the show started, as it were.
I was a bit nervous, being my first time, but it actually went really well. We were able to work with the parties and brought them to resolution.
It was like ATS. We all knew what we wanted to achieve-a favorable outcome for all involved-and we simply used the common "tools" and "vocabulary" to bring it about.

I'm hoping to use this new skill to offer a new service, Tribal Counsel. I'd like to make myself available to dancers (troupes, individuals) who are "stuck" and need help with business consultation, developing healthy troupe dynamics and tools for resolving conflict.

Talk to me.

30 May 2010

smile, honey

Yes, I know. As women we have heard this over and over again:
"You are prettier when you smile." But you know what, you are prettier when you smile. You know why? Because it makes the recipient feel better about the communication. Why does this matter as a performer? Because as humans we are tuned to look at the face for initial communication. If the face keeps changing expression, we will continue to monitor it until we hit stasis. So, if your performer face is flashing between smile, no smile, smirk*, laugh, frown..it keeps the audience looking at your face-and not seeing you dance. Worse yet, not seeing the group dance.
That's the reason for the "pleasant neutral" face in ATS. We are asking the audience to see us as collective group, not individuals.
So, the very thing you are fearing..."They are all staring at me!", is the very thing that you are cementing when you don't smile (or just hold a pleasant neutral face.)
When you and your group can maintain a consistent, positive expression the audience will start to explore the whole of you dancing together-and all those expensive costume pieces you want to show off.
*Interesting enough, when you smile demurely-gazing down and smiling through closed lips-you give the effect of a grimace or smirk. Try it now-go look in the mirror and see if I'm right.
...
OK, see what I mean? What you want to come across as humility is coming across as 'bored teenager.' Ugh.
I have lots more on this topic but it's late and I want to hear what you have to say.
Until tomorrow... :)

(smiley face pun!)

20 May 2010

TribalStar Galactica!


Introducing TribalStar Galactica, my newest venture. It is a world-wide database for all things Tribal. It's free to list yourself and search for dancers, teachers, vendors, events-if you have Tribal anywhere in your identity, we want you!
Really? It's FREE? Really?
Yes. It is my gift to all of you. Come and take a ride on the Mothership.
Go to:
http://www.fcbd.com/tribal/tribalStarGalactica.php
to sign on and start surfing the universe!
*if you already signed on and are wanting to edit your listing, that link is coming soon, thanks for you patience.
Please tell all of your Tribal friends to meet you at FatChanceBellyDance.
And as always, your comments, questions and ideas are welcome.

27 April 2010

Dad, pt. 1

I have been trying to start the chapter about my Dad, Carl Nericcio. There is so much to say, that I've decided to do it in small parts.
As some of you might know, he passed away a few years ago just after his birthday, at the age of 88. It was the closing weekend of Devotion 2008.
This morning as I was sorting through some of his things, I came across his driver's license and a hand written combination to a lock. I decided to use them to start an ancestor altar in my house. As I was setting it up, the thought came to me, "I wish we could try again, so I could weather the storm with you."
Our relationship was fractured, due to lots of things that will come to light in future posts. But suffice to say that when I was a child I was confused by his temper. Ever the Capricorn, I kept trying to figure out the pattern to his outbursts, so could stay out of the way. But there was no pattern, he was like a ball, ricocheting off any surface. There was no way to stay out of the way. It took more than 30 years for me to realize that he wasn't angry at me, (the ego gets involved even when it would be less painful to stay out of it!) he was just angry.
I try to live my life without regrets. I don't spend time wishing things could be different. But this morning I wanted to be able to go back in time, to a moment when he was raging and just stand there with him. If I could just put my little-girl hand into his and smile at him without being afraid or running away. Just be there to weather the storm.

21 April 2010

this is rich, pt.2

Some of you will remember my post "This is Rich." from Dec 09.
The DMV had changed the name of my city from South San Francisco to Linderville. It was time for my license to be renewed, but to go through the proper channels, i.e., via the mail, would take so long that my license would expire before I received it. So, after an exasperating yet ultimately entertaining phone call with a clerk who patiently explained that I had three options (1. renew by mail with the address change and let the license expire in the process, 2. renew by internet and have the wrong city name, or 3. go to a DMV office -the only appt available was 4:30pm on Xmas eve, my birthday and not the best time to be in downtown San Francisco!) She didn't seem to share in the irony that none of the options were viable.
So, I decided to just renew by internet to keep the license from expiring...and it did indeed come back listing Linderville, CA as my city.
Just for amusement, I checked to see where Linderville, CA is...and there is no such place.
OK, the zip code is correct so no matter.

On to today's fiasco. I am currently on hold with Expedia. On 9 Mar 2010 I booked a ticket for my trip to Barcelona 28 Apr where I am performing and teaching a Tribal:Pura event for Mandragora Tribal. Over the course of the last month Expedia has contacted me several times about "changes to the itinerary." Each time there was a glitch in communication btwn Expedia and Iberia Airlines. Each time it was worked out. Last week however, I was told that my Iberia flight had been canceled because they had not received funds.
Huh, funny that I have a copy of my credit card statement showing full payment to Iberia on 9 Mar. And, the American Airlines flight from SFO to NY is still intact. Huh.
As my sponsor, Maria, and I struggled to find another flight to Spain, I received another "urgent message' from Expedia telling me that the SF-NY flight had been canceled as well. No reason given. Just gone. Poof!
One has to assume that the plume of volcanic ash emanating from Iceland had something to do with it (and I do feel for the people left stranded, I assume my flights were shanghaied for the common good.) But apparently, the flights available through Expedia, and one would assume the other on-line travel agencies, are not in fact confirmed when the suck the funds out of your account. I think they are virtual assignments that pend on junk flights that the airlines cannot fill at the last minute. They just keep rerouting, canceling and re-booking them until you either do or don't get on the plane.
In other words, they can take them back without reason. Poof!
OK, just got off the phone with the chirpy clerk at Expedia. They have issued a full refund (to be processed over the next two billing cycles...)
Maria and are still looking for a flight to get me there next Thu for the event Fri-Sun.
Wish me luck. Don't buy from Expedia.
Maria

05 April 2010

help me write my book

Dear readers,
This blog is intended as a sounding board/sketch pad for my book, "FatChanceBellyDance, the making of American Tribal Style Belly Dance."
I'm trying to get used to organizing my thoughts and putting them to the keyboard on a regular (well, sort of regular) basis.
I'm having fun dallying around with topics, but I really need to get more focused.
Here's where you come in, as the potential readers of said book, what would you like to know?
Remember, it's not a how-to about steps and dancing, it's about my crazy life and how I ended up creating ATS.
So, let me know what you are curious about, what topics are of interest to you, whatever comes to mind.
This post can serve as the first outline, we'll all work together. You give me a topic, and I'll write and essay in response.
Ready...set...GO!

29 March 2010

Saying good-by to an old friend


A few weeks ago, Ruby passed away. He was the most awesome house cat ever. He lived with Devi Mamak and her family in my favorite place, the Blue Mountains, Australia.
I met Ruby several years ago when I began my Aussie odyssey. Already an old man, he ruled the house with a velvet paw. He held court in his basket in the living room. Everyone that walked through was drawn to "make puja", stoop down to pet him before going on to the next task. He took all of this in stride, never lording it over us. He had a special physical characteristic, a missing a canine, so that his lip would often hook on his gum as if he were sneering, Elvis style.
I especially loved mornings. Each day Anthony, Devi's husband, the "man of the house" would make porridge for all of us. During this process Ruby would take the opportunity to make his needs known. He would stretch his arms up and "Meow" for his breakfast. Anthony would fill his bowl, but ever the optimist Ruby would continue to "Meow" for another morsel. Anthony would conclude this session with, "That's it Rubes, no more." At which point Ruby would counter with an "Ack!" and finally walk away.
But perhaps the best episode was one evening when Anthony elected to take the kids, Kalon and Dea, to their Yaya's house so we three teachers could have the night to ourselves after a long workshop weekend.
Moments after they left we heard a "thump' at the back door. When we opened the door we were treated to a dead rat. Including the tail the rodent was larger than the one-canine Ruby.
It was as if he were saying, "Ladies, the man of the house may have left but I am here to protect you. Here is a rat as proof."
I have never felt so cared for and protected. I will miss my friend, Ruby. May he rest in peace and always have the warmest bed and the most breakfast treats.

12 March 2010

Sleep in the middle of the bed

A few years ago, I made the decision to become single, again. This seems to be an on-going game of mine. I think I want a committed relationship, find a victim and push for matrimony. Then, when things start moving in towards the goal, I panic and run away. I think there are self-help books on the subject, but I don't want to read them. This time I finally realized that it was time to look at my behavior and possible desire to live alone.
After all, over the years I have acquired my own house, have a solo business which provides income that is deposited into my personal bank account and am quite capable of entertaining myself. I am, I realized, very happy on my own and can meet my own needs.
One thing though, I was concerned about flipping the mattress. When I had a partner there was someone on the other side of the bed. Now I sleep on the left side of the bed out of habit and ostensibly to be near the table that hold my books, iPhone and reading glasses. But this creates the problem of putting all the wear on only one side of the mattress.
So, I flip the mattress to move the potential "dent" from taking up residence in any one spot . On my own I can manage turning it side-to-side, but need help with top-to-bottom flips.
I woke very early the other morning, because my mind was talking to me. This happens when I particularly good idea or solution to an impasse is coming to fruition. My mind said, "Sleep in the middle of the bed." Still half asleep I dutifully scooched to the center of the mattress. It felt good.
I got up and went into the spare bedroom to fetch two extra pillows. I put those on the bed and got back in. It felt really good.
During the rest of the day I let my mind continue to talk to me about the situation. By the end of the day I realized that I have been, metaphorically, sleeping on one side of the bed for my whole life. I have been holding a space open for a partner, not fully forming my life so I would be able to compromise and flex when the time came to settle down.
The message my mind sent that morning was that it was time to move to the center of my own life. Hearing that gave me immense satisfaction and brought back the old saying, "Wisdom is accepting the obvious."

11 March 2010

02 March 2010

I'll take that as a compliment

I was at The BayHill Gym yesterday. It's a working-class place, no nonsense, no frills. I go every day that I am not traveling, except Saturdays when I work all day at the studio. I love working out, it makes me happy and keeps me sane. I like picking up heavy things.
I was talking to George, the owner, about a pain in my right shoulder. George is a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" sort of guy. He is a Vietnam Vet and a fireman. He is straightforward and well, really cool.
As we were discussing the possible reasons for the pain and what to do about it he said, "A doctor would tell you to lay off the shoulder for a few months but you aren't going to do that because you're a maniac like me. We don't back down."
A manic like George? Really...me?
I'll take that as a compliment.

24 February 2010

Can I talk to you about the wrinkles around your eyes?


Over the 2009 winter holidays I was given the opportunity to be an employee in my own shop. Kae and Kristine were on their much deserved vacations and I was the last woman standing for two days at the studio. It was refreshing to set aside my administrative duties and instead be available for customers. My job was to show up on time, receive web orders, answer emails and greet last minute customers in the store.
Everything went pretty well, but I did notice one thing. The keyboard for the office computer was carpal tunnel waiting to happen. It even stressed my right hand so bad that I couldn't knit for the first few days of my precious down time! Things were going to have to change. When Kae got back I asked her if she wanted a new keyboard (yes please!) and off we went to the Apple Store. It's in the Stonestown Mall, a rather upscale experience with all the requisite shops and those little kiosks selling all sorts of things from iPod covers to cosmetics. As we left the store we were greeted by an enthusiastic young man who wanted to compliment me on my scarf, find out where we were from, make any kind of sympatico conversation that might lead us over to his booth were he was selling eye creams and other age-reversing potions. He was nice enough, and we were nice enough, but I really didn't want to get pulled into his pitch (he also had smaller shoulders and softer hands than me, and that's just wrong.) So, when he said, "Can I talk to you about the wrinkles around your eyes?" I just smiled (they really show up when I smile), said "No thank you" and continued walking.
And it got me to thinking, I don't want to cover up the wrinkles around my eyes. I like my wrinkles as much as I like my grey hair. I don't want to look younger because I don't want to be treated as if I were younger. It took me a long time to get to 49 and I want all the cred that goes with it. It also occurred to me that I don't dress and flamboyantly as I used to. I think this is part of the same vein, I don't need to call attention to myself with things on the outside of my body, I am interesting just by being me. I've been through a lot, good and bad, and have wisdom on my side. I want you to see who I am plain and simple (aka older women are the bomb, babe!)

Now, if he had said, 'Can I talk to you about the fat around your waistline?', he could have probably sold me the whole kiosk, but that's for another day.

20 February 2010

Grand Torino-or if your are White, look down and keep going

I'm on a Clint Eastwood jag. I watched Grand Torino recently and I had a memory of growing up in Daly City, CA.
There is a scene in the beginning of Grand Torino, where a couple of African American guys have a beef with an Asian girl. Her Caucasian friend attempts to step in and is advised to move on.

These days, that's the politically correct way of saying it. Here's how it would have gone in 1974;
Black-hey Yellow, we want to talk to you.
Yellow-yeah, what do you want?
White-Hey! Yellow is with me, leave her alone!
Black-Whitey, if you want to get out of here in one piece just look down and keep going.
White-implied silence.

And that's the way it was in the multi-colored neighborhood where I grew up. Black and Brown and Yellow where always at war and if you were White the best thing you could do was look down and keep going.
This tactic worked well for me at Serramonte High School until I graduated in 1979.
But then, I had to get job.

I was lucky enough to land a job at Another Roadside Attraction, at Serramonte Shopping Center just down the hill from the high school. It was one of the first cafes to grace the scene in what is now an common place occurrence. We served Capricorn Coffee and Just Deserts in a world of MJB and doughnuts. I was hired as a counter clerk. I arrived at 7AM everyday to brew designer coffee and serve "natural (today if would be 'organic')" pastries. But I was frustrated at the fact that I couldn't get a better shift. Eventually, I confronted my boss and asked why I had the lousy shift. He paused and said, "Because you don't smile at the customers."

Oh! My safety mechanism for survival in Daly City wasn't going to work in the real world. I decided to heed the generous advice of my boss and give smiling a try. Within weeks I was promoted to waitress and had a great lunch-time shift with lots of tips. I even learned to be the one to smile first (perish the thought!) and keep smiling even when I had a cranky customer...tips! Or the "Smile honey" customer...no problem pal... tips!

Remember my story from SF Beledi when my teacher, Masha, told me to smile or get off the stage? That was actually before I worked as a waitress. But even with my real-world-waitress-smile-honey training, as I entered the world of teaching and performing on my own, I would often fall prey to "concentration face." I simply would forget to smile because I wasn't yet in the flow of letting the music move me. I was still thinking. Time for more strategy, if I wanted to attract and keep students and audiences...you guessed it...smile! It wasn't hard. The tip was still tied to the sale and I could see the results. I had to force it for a while, but as soon as it became part of my dance muscle memory, I was in.

So now when you see me in class or on stage, that smile is real. But it's not just for the tips anymore, it for the reward of lessons learned.

31 January 2010

There but, for the blond hair and long legs, go I

I want to thank Hollywood for their generosity in casting me as Kate Winslet in the movie, Revolutionary Road.
Not much to say. It captured what I would have experienced if I had been a housewife in the 1950's. I would have gone insane, aborted an unwanted child and risked my own life to get out of my surroundings.

Luckily, I was born in 1960 (this time around) and had the forethought to decide not to have children before I entered the breeder team. I had a compassionate mother who didn't press me into "service." She told me that I should have a child if I wanted and absolutely not feel obligated to have a child if I did not.

I might have been able to live though my character's situation if I had given the gift of ignorance. And, jumping to the defense, I don't mean that women who are comfortable in the role of wife and mother are such. I mean that for me, the only salvation would be not knowing.

This feels incomplete and I'm sure I will have more to say late, but just wanted to get this out there. It means a lot to me.

10 January 2010

my interview in the San Francisco Chronicle

I love that it's in the BUSINESS section. Let's party.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/01/10/BUFI1BFMK4.DTL

07 January 2010

New tattoo in the works

[photo-783430.jpg]

If only all tattooing could be as easy as the back ...