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10 Things Troupe Members Should Remember!

I would write a long winded intro for this, but I think the title sums it up nicely. So here you go.  10 things every troupe dancer should keep in mind!

10.  A troupe is a GROUP!  While there will always be opportunities to let you shine in the spotlight, a troupe has to function as a group. This means everyone should be receiving the same treatment, and should expect to follow the same rules.  No one person is any better, or worse, than anyone else in the group.   I hate to use the phrase “you are not a unique snowflake” but hey, if the shoe fits…

9.  You will not always get what you want.  Troupes usually have a director, and the director has carte blanche.  A good director will encourage you to share your ideas and try to incorporate them when possible, but it is simply impossible to make everyone in a troupe happy all of the time.  If the director nixes an idea you had, don’t take it personally.  You will not always be allowed to stand in the back row, or the front row for that matter.  Accept this and try to work with it.  If the director puts you in a specific spot, there is a reason!

8.  You should work as hard as your troupe mates, and work TOGETHER.  If your group is putting extra rehearsal time in or working through a particularly difficult project, you should join in! Aside from the fact that it shows wonderful togetherness and builds the strength of your group, it will ensure you all have a clear cut idea of what needs to be worked on, and you will then be able to ask your director for guidance.  The chain is only as strong as the individual links!

7.  Do not take ‘understudy’ roles personally!  I can’t emphasize this one enough.  Being in a troupe means things happen.  Troupe members get sick or have family emergencies.  But the show must go on.   A good group is always prepared to cover for one another, and step in when the need arises.  If you are left out of a number because you have missed rehearsals or are unsure that you can carry the number, do not take it personally.  You should be glad to give your troupe mates the opportunity to step in and learn a valuable lesson about performance! 

6.  Someone else in the group will always be better than you at certain things.  As dancers, we all have specific strengths and weaknesses.  Just because someone in the group does something better than you doesnt give you the right to get mopey or angry or resentful about it.  Fine, so their combo is smoother than yours.  You can certainly do something better than THEY can.  So stop taking it personally. 

5.  Don’t disappear/drop out because of personal stuff!  I have seen way too many talented people stop dancing because of personal tragedy, and it breaks my heart…because that is when you SHOULD be dancing.  While an injury, death in the family, depression, or any myriad of things can prevent you from going to class or rehearsal, this is exactly when you SHOULD be going.  If you cannot dance due to injury, sit on the side and take notes, observe, and try to absorb what is going on.  In a rehearsal situation, this is extra helpful, because it allows an extra set of eyes to help critique the group!   If you are finding yourself in an emergency, then absolutely take a week or two to get affairs in order.  But don’t turn it into a regular thing!  

4.  Make peace with the fact that you will fail.  Part of performance is that you WILL goof up at some point or another.  Every performer has.  The sooner you learn to accept it and roll with it when it happens, the sooner you will grow exponentially as a dancer and as a human being.  Your troupe mates will fail as well.  It is part of being a performer, and part of being in a troupe!

3.  COMMUNICATE.  If you have an issue, communicate it!  Your director is not psychic.  If you do not communicate a concern, a question, a thought, an idea…how in the hell is your director, or your troupe mates for that matter, supposed to understand what you want?  If you have issues, own it!  There is no shame in that!

2.  Do not take critiques personally.  Your director is there to direct you.  If they nitpick something you are doing, it isn’t them coming down on you or being mean, or singling you out.  They are trying to help you grow as a dancer, and help the overall flow of a piece!  Stop taking things so personally. 

1.  Always make sure you are in the right situation.  If you feel that you need more spotlight, hate following someone else’s instructions, or  if you feel like you need to do more solo work, maybe a troupe isn’t right for you.  Always be true to yourself!  

10 Ways to Combat “Art-Drop”

I know some phenomenally talented people.  Being an artist in multiple platforms, I have found myself surrounded by wonderful dancers and actors, singers, painters, photographers, comic book artists, writers…the list of inspiring people goes on and on.  I am lucky to have these people in my life.

Since creative individuals often flock to one another (I argue that we can smell our own kind!), I have discovered that many of them go through the same emotional issues that seem to come with the territory of being an artist.  This usually involves what I call “Art-Drop”.  If you aren’t familiar with the aspects of what a ‘drop’ is, it is basically the release of endorphins and a feeling of dropping into a darker or lonely place, usually accompanied by depression and sadness as it pertains to the situation. 

 Anyway, I see Art-Drop as a blanket term, a period of time after working in which that dark part of your mind creeps up, and you become tired and sad.  Bitterness and anger are typical as well, along with a feeling of self-loathing and wanting to quit your art.  Art-Drop is the dark time when a creator sees little to no self-worth and debates hanging up the canvas for good or throwing in the towel.  Some people never get out of this funk, and alternatively some turn it into fuel for their creative fire, using it as a catalyst to improve upon their technique or tackle a particularly difficult project. 

I feel that Art-Drop is a necessary component of being a creative person.  If you are creative, you WILL at some point question your career.  It is normal.  It is inevitable.  And it is something you can learn from.

From one Artist to another, I give you my top 10 things to remember during Art-Drop.

10.  Art-Drop is inevitable and you WILL feel it.  This is completely ok!  It’s alright to recognize your frustrations, your anger, your sadness, your feelings of inadequacy and even self-loathing.  Some people may disagree with me here, but really, there is nothing wrong with feeling your feelings, because they are YOUR FEELINGS.  Right, wrong, or indifferent, most artists that I know feel things on a creative level very deeply and personally.  It is a huge part of who they are.

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9.  Don’t let your Art-Drop rule your life.  While Art-Drop waxes and wanes as part of a natural creative cycle, it is important not to let these feelings dictate every action.  You need to establish a clear line between recognizing your feelings and letting them influence your day to day routine.  Having a good cry over things is ok; avoiding going to your day job and refusing to eat is not.

8.  Create your own ladder and acknowledge the journey upward.  Goals keep us moving and give us something to work towards.  They also create dreams and allow us a way to see the bigger picture.  You need a ladder so that you have something to climb unless you’re a natural flyer. 

7.  It is completely ok to never reach the top of your ladder.  Yes, you read that right.  I know that as a creator, we all have grandiose dreams that loftily put us alongside the people we idolize in our field.  Animators want to be the next Glen Keane, belly dancers want to be the next Rachel Brice and comic book artists want to be the next Stan Lee.  Is it good to have a dream?  Absolutely!  But there is no shame whatsoever in not reaching that dream.  Dreams are just that; dreams.  Your life will not be a failure if you never make the cover of Time Magazine.  The view from the top may be supposedly spectacular, but that doesn’t mean that the view from a more comfortable climb isn’t breathtaking as well.

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6.  Let the bitterness go.  This one is integral to not only your own success as a creator, but to your ability to live a healthy and happy life.  Bitterness WILL happen as part of Art-Drop.  But you have to let it go.  Stop pointing fingers at everyone else and accusing people.  You are only hurting yourself and damaging your own image.  Bitterness is not conducive to a good creative flow.  Take it out on your canvas, but never on people.  The instant you take your own issues out on the people around you, you have damned yourself.  People will see the truth of your behavior, whether you want them to or not.

5.  Accept that there is no shame in not making money or even breaking even.  The phrase ‘starving artist’ exists for a reason.  Now, I am not saying that it is impossible for artists to make money doing what they love.  But this usually, unless you are EXTROADINARILY lucky, comes at a huge sacrifice.  You may have to do portraits and boring photography sessions to pay the rent.  You will probably have to take stupid gigs as an artist that you don’t want to do, or that do not interest you or challenge you.  Doing your own work is creatively fulfilling, but the sad reality is that freelance or contract work is, for most, soul suckingly boring and tedious.  Plus there is the added frustration of contract negotiations, overly-expectant clients…the list goes on and on.  It takes money to make money too, so remember that!  You’ll have to pay for rent on a studio to teach, or pay for print costs before a convention, etc.  This is why many artists supplement their income with a day-job.  Not making money is NOT a sign of failure. I tell people at conventions that are looking to get started as an artist that they have at least 10 years of shoveling shit before they get anywhere. And if you are in it for the money, you may want to consider a career change.

4.  Focus less on others, and more on yourself.  It is very easy to be embittered with the other people in your field.  There will always be another dancer who gets all the publicity or another artist at a convention who sells nothing but fan art and makes money all weekend when you make nothing.  This is part of the process, and while it may seem terribly unfair and defeatist, do not place your self-worth as a creator on what happens with others!  Sharing a part of your creative soul with the public in any form is an experience that can make you feel vulnerable, so it is easy to blame your anger on others.  Spend less time being mad at everyone else and more time learning from your own mistakes.

3.  You will make mistakes. Learn from them.  You will mess up a contract, or screw up a commission, or you will not get the aesthetic right on a painting that someone has asked you to make.  You will stumble on stage or forget the words to a song.  It will happen.  Do not beat yourself up.  Learn from the mistakes and use them, as Ze Frank would say, as healthy little fires to light under your ass.

2.  Accept that Art-Drop will happen again.  Just like our hormones ebb and flow from month to month or some people battle with anxiety and depression, Art-Drop is a very real thing and it recurs.  Acknowledge that it is part of your natural creative cycle and do not fear it.  Instead, embrace it and know that you can, and will, learn from it as it continues.  When I do this, the drop itself lasts maybe a day and then I am on with my life!  Never let the Art-Drop rule you.  Use it.  Make something from it.

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1.  You are better than your Art-Drop.  Art doesn’t define you as a person.  It is an integral piece of who you are.  Work to live, don’t live to work.  And never let yourself think that you are less of a person because your feelings tell you otherwise.  You are a creator, and that in and of itself is amazing!  You share a piece of your soul with people.  That is REMARKABLE!  YOU are remarkable.  And no one, especially your Art-Drop, defines you.  Only you define you.  And you are spectacular.    

Get Your Ass to Class!

**PLEASE NOTE THIS IS NOT ABOUT ANY ONE PARTICULAR PERSON!  I want that to be understood.  This isn’t about my students or any one individual, just a general collection of thoughts!!!**

It’s class day.  You have a cold.  You are exhausted.  You just moved or you had an extremely difficult day at the office.  You feel stressed and tense and tired, and everything aches.  You want to curl up with a blanket, or maybe just hide in your room or watch that last three episodes of walking dead that have been eluding you for several weeks while they take up room on your DVR.  You just want to ignore the world and give it a proud middle finger.  But this, my friends, is precisely when you should be getting up and going to class.

(Eeew, rainy weather!  Hard to get motivated when it looks like this outside.)

Let me clarify that as a dance instructor, teachers understand that everyone has ‘a day’ now and then.  I have bowed out of classes I was taking to stay home and nurse an illness or let myself heal, or to deal with family drama or any plethora of other issues.  No decent instructor will give you hell for staying home when you need to heal, and if they do, you really need to consider visiting another instructor!  Urgent show rehearsals, tech weeks for shows or other integral issues aside, if you need a night, take a night.  Trust me, we get it. 

(Don’t these chicks look happy?? There is a REASON for that! )

That having been said, when you are at your lowest, what you need is an amp up!  Attending class is more than just going to get a workout or something that will be potentially physically strenuous.  Yes, it will be work.  But dancing is beneficial to your mental and emotional health in multiple ways.  It gives you a chance to ease the stresses that have bunched in your muscles and stretch those tight hammies out, releasing toxins and relaxing the body.  It raises your heart rate and gets the RIGHT chemicals and endorphins pumping through your system.  It makes your brain wake up and forces it to start exercising in its own way, which can be very helpful in clearing a “foggy or unclear” head.  And let’s face it, dance is FUN!  There is nothing quite as awesome as that moment when you push yourself hard and reach the goal you’ve set for yourself, and you manage a cross-step with a glut hit with an undulation on top and perfect posture!  Those are what I call “light bulb moments”, when your brain and your body suddenly learn to speak the same language! 

You have clearly started coming to dance class because you find it enjoyable. So why would you deny yourself of something fun just because it will take a bit of work?  I cannot tell you how many times I have bitched and moaned leading up to a dance class as a student, but once I was done and out of there I was in a great mood.  As my buddy and fellow dance instructor Kelly Holder once sagely told me, dance can be therapeutic, as long as you don’t treat it like therapy.

But here’s the other side of the coin; TEACHERS have those same nights as you do. We want to stay home and watch TV or eat all of the Ben and Jerry’s in the world.  We want to sleep or chill, or spend time with our spouses or significant others who have given us up 2, sometimes 3 nights a week or more to our craft.  We want to say ‘screw it’ and stay home to eat idiotic amounts of pasta and curl up on the couch with a good book.  We would rather stay home to resolve a fight with our husbands or wives, or mourn the passing of a loved one.  We get colds, bronchitis, muscle tears, and suffer through injuries large and small.  We often literally put our lives on hold to teach. 

And we do it for you.

I am NOT saying this as a guilt trip; though I am sure plenty of people will see it this way. I feel like I have to emphasize the fact that I am not trying to make anyone feel bad intentionally. What I am trying to do, however, is to make it clear to you that instructors are people too!  We have the same life issues as everyone else.  But we have taken a vow and made a commitment to help you through your education in dance. We put loads of time into what we do, from rehearsing at home to paying for our own continuing education and performances.  And we have gone through the same things that you have!

I feel that dance students need to start seeing their classes as something fun and enlightening.  If you see it as work, you’re taking the wrong mentality.  If you go into it miserable or expecting it to be a nightmare of work every week, taking a break may not be a bad idea!  Yes, dance class should engage you and make you work. But if you aren’t enjoying it, what the heck are you doing?? 

Be proactive about your physical and mental health and get your butt to the dance studio.   Your body will thank you for it, I promise! 

 

The Student/Teacher Relationship: What to do and what NOT to do.

The student/teacher process is something that has been an increasing presence in my mind of late.  I’ve been a student of Middle Eastern dance in numerous forms the last 10 years of my life, and teaching for the last 3 of that, on my own, consistently.  This doesn’t include the time I was learning to instruct either, which was a good year and a half.

My favorite teachers have been the ones that I have developed a connection with and considered a friend of sorts.  I know that puts me squarely in a minority, and believe me when I say I am not out to be everyone’s friend.  Do I hope that you learn something from me? Yes.  Do I hope that you find something special not just with me but within yourself during your time in my class? Yes.  Do I strive to constantly improve and add challenge?  Of course I do. 

But is my teaching style for everyone?  Absolutely not.

I am, in a word, eclectic.  I do not adhere to any one style, and some students find this frustrating or even confusing.  Most do not, mercifully.  I have learned from teachers in varying styles, so in my fundamentals you may get some fusion, some Turkish, some Tunisian… I tend to think like a performer and even in the tiniest nuances of my class, I explain why facing a certain direction while executing a move is never done because you are thinking of the audience benefit.  I’ve sometimes drawn stupid smiley faces on the mirrors and given them names just to emphasize the point.  But I do NOT expect all of my students to perform, and I do NOT ever push them to.  No one should feel like coming to me means that they have to perform (unless you’re doing M.U.S.E. or something).  Or ANY teacher for that matter.

I am fortunate to have a mostly focused and wonderful group of students that come to me consistently. The new people are always eager, and the experienced people are typically ready for a challenge.  Do I need to put more structure to them?  Of course! Even I am still learning. That never changes, and the day I say I know everything there is to know is the day I should quit and walk away, because you should always be learning. That is the focus of an artist.  That is what BEING an artist IS. 

TEACHERS:

  • Teachers NEED to put focus on continued education.  THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING TO LEARN.
  • Anyone teaching needs to pay attention to ALL students and levels, and learn from their mistakes.
  • A teacher should NEVER criticize a student for studying with another teacher!!!!  I cannot emphasize that enough.  Several of my long-term students work with different instructors in multiple styles.  I APPLAUDE THIS. 
  • A teacher should never be afraid to tell a student where their weaknesses are and what to earnestly work on.  But be CONSTRUCTIVE. 
  • A teacher’s job should be to NURTURE.  Not to ridicule and be rude. 
  • Praise HARD WORK, not just their movements.  Every student learns at a different level and sometimes this can be frustrating for them.  Pointing out that while they may not have all of the movement down, you can notice that they are engaging the proper muscles and get it in their head. Comment that it makes it work, that seeing it is a marked improvement and that it is paying off.  THIS MOTIVATES. 
  • A teacher needs to realize THIS IS NOT A CONTEST!!!!!!!  Having 3 focused students is better than having 20 students that don’t pay attention.  Attendance doesn’t matter.  Quality does.
  • Motivate, cultivate.  Help them shine.

STUDENTS:

  • A student should realize right off the bat, first and foremost, that there is ALWAYS SOMETHING TO LEARN no matter what level you are at.  (Notice I said this is true of Teachers too!)
  • A student should never be what we call a ‘6-monther’.  6 months, or even a year of classes does NOT qualify you to teach, nor does it entitle you to any sort of ‘senior position’ above the others in your class. This is especially true of mixed-level classes.  Teaching is something that sometimes takes YEARS of understanding and cultivation.  Just because you KNOW the moves doesn’t mean you should teach them.
  •  A student should never offer suggestions to another student during class time or correct the instructor unless the instructor is working with them one on one to help them learn to teach.  This detracts focus from the teacher, who has years of experience over you and the teacher themselves will not learn more ways to explain things unless students ASK.
  • A student should never be afraid to study with more than one instructor, or to move instruction to a teacher that they feel benefits them the most!  You should be getting the most out of your learning experience.  A good teacher will never begrudge you for wanting to broaden your horizons. 
  • Students should be focused and willing to challenge themselves, even when it is hard and they are tired.  Nothing worth doing was ever easy. 
  • Cultivate, appreciate.

I am sure there is more, but this is what is on my mind today.  Thoughts?  Share with me!

Smashing the Scale

The sad truth is, even as an advocate for size acceptance, I have terrible days.

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As a plus size belly dancer and dance instructor, it’s been a revealing year for me.  I’ve taken up a column for Fuse Magazine, writing “Dangerous Curves” as a mouthpiece for my pitfalls and triumphs.  I’ve been notified that an essay I wrote is being published in the book “I Belly Dance Because”.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see my students, who truly come in all shapes and sizes, blossom and perform and start to truly embrace their bodies.  I’ve put solid work into my fluidity, into opening parts of my body that have been closed off.  I stopped wearing tight, constraining body mesh for performances and chose instead loser peek-a-boo clothing or just going bare mid and letting it all hang out.  I’ve spent hours and hours preaching the word about size acceptance, developing an entire new class based on wellness, health, and bodily acceptance (which launches in February).  I joined the Health at Every Size movement officially.  I’m a board member for the Guild of Oriental Dance in Minneapolis.  

And yet I’ve spent the last four days contemplating, wiping tears from my eyes, and trying to push through one of the most difficult size conflicts of my life. And yes, I am focusing on the fat this time around.  Why? Because I am fat, and I am in the middle of a massive blowout over hateful, hurtful, negative remarks purely about fat.   And while you all know me, and you know I preach size acceptance all the way around, today I am putting a giant bulls-eye on my big, thick, round ass, on my gut, on my large hips and pudgy curves.  Today, fat is the focus; because it has to be.

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In truth, we fat fighters all have days, even the strongest of us.  We wake up and maybe something feels off, or your makeup settles in a way that makes you notice your double chin.  Maybe an item of clothing you found in the back of your closet is now ill fitting, and something that you were excited about now becomes just another reason to be sad.  Maybe buying a bra is a painful experience, or you go out to find cute winter boots with the intent to stomp around sassily all winter and you can’t find anything to fit your calves.  Maybe your doctor criticizes you in a completely unfair fashion and questions if you have ever tried to lose weight.  Maybe someone at a show loudly commented on your fat from the audience.  You can be the most confident person in the world, but you’ll still have an occasionally shitty day that makes you unhappy with your body.   And so, I challenge you, and I challenge myself.  Don’t let them ruin your day and be unhappy with your body. 

Be unhappy with the bullshit public standard, because YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF.

The Militant Baker recently posted a project that I feel is worth talking about.  Smash the Scale was created in response to a belief that people should “’get skinny’ for the sake of making your body culturally appropriate”.  And if ever there was a fantastic concept, I think it’s this one. 

“Smashing the Scale isn’t necessarily about destroying metal, although any girl (and guy!) at this incredible shoot would tell you that is incredibly liberating. Instead it’s about making a conscious decision to detach your worth from that number on your scale. Smashing the Scale isn’t about being unhealthy. It’s about deciding whatyour definition of beauty is and knowing that it is enough. Smashing the Scale isn’t about exclusion either; you may not understand the concept or be interested. And that’s totally okay. Leave us to our crowbars and keep on trucking. We’ll always be rooting for you. Smashing the Scale isn’t about anger, but instead the joy of calling society on the carpet and telling it how it is. And Smashing the Scale isn’t about being perfect at loving yourself, but rather about making a personal commitment to starting your self love journey. Smashing the Scale is much bigger than it sounds, it’s the most empowering thing you can do. Try doing it for you.

It’s so needed in this fascist, conventional beauty obsessed world we live in.”

So I forward this challenge, to myself, and to you.  Smash the god damn scale.  Want to know why I am going to?

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Because people’s issues with the way I look and the fact that I don’t fit a certain standard doesn’t say jack shit about me.  But it says volumes about them. And when I am in my dark corners and periods, I need to remember that.

Visit the Body Love Conference Facebook page to learn more and visit them at @BodyLoveConf on Twitter.  

Share the crap out of this.  Make your own posts.  CHANGE THE WORLD BY USING YOUR VOICE.  Because it has to start somewhere!

#SmashTheScale

(photos by ilessthanthree photography and Oneiros Imagery 2013)

Why Trolling at Cons Won’t Bring Me Down

Many, many years ago, I showed up at a popular Midwest convention with a pen, a prayer, and no godly idea what in the hell I was trying to do.   People had urged me to make money with my artwork, and I thought that the idea sounded fun.  I actually did well enough that first weekend considering I had no signage, no real focus, and a complete lack of proper materials.  But it sparked a love affair that refused to die.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve done freelance work, web comics, design and just about everything in between.  When we launched Whip Angels, I was totally convinced that it was the best thing we had ever thought of.  It’s a great concept.  I STILL think it’s a great concept, and we are continuing the production of the comic.  But even after 12 years, I thought about quitting.  And I thought about it hard.

2013 has been one of the hardest years of my life.  We moved.  We lost two of our cats for five days, leaving me in pretty much a gigantic mess of a human being.  We’ve lost not only family, but an old friend from back in the day, taken from us not even two weeks ago.  Family issues arose, medical problems kept me out of work for a week and a half, I almost lost my job due to financials, and that was just the start.

Then there was C2E2.

I was going to avoid saying the Con’s name, because really it isn’t the convention’s fault that we had a terrible time.  For local attendees, I am sure C2E2 is a fun event, especially if you are looking for some serious shopping opportunities.  The con was clean and full of well informed and fairly friendly staffers.  I can’t knock them for that.  But I won’t be going back.  Because C2E2 was the convention where I questioned myself as an artist for the first time and was personally bullied by not one, not two, but probably about 100+ attendees over the course of the weekend.

I haven’t talked about it much since it happened.  I know that I blogged after the con, but things didn’t really sink in until recently when just this past weekend my husband and I were discussing the future of our studio and what we wanted our goals to be.  And I burst into tears.  I don’t do this regarding much in my life, but it seems like every time I do, it involves the studio.  I think it’s because I have sunken everything I am into our work, regardless of what people think.  I’ve bled myself dry, drained bank accounts, and moved mountains to get things printed and bring new stuff to the masses.  I’ve literally bled.  No, seriously.  Stabbed myself with an xacto knife once.  So did Rich.  This is why we now use digital screen tones. 

Emergencies set us back this year pretty hard core, which has put us behind on our production schedule. Very far behind.  Otaku –no- Yen has been sitting there unfinished for the year.  Whip Angels volume 2 is running a bit late.  Dirty Rice has another project but hasn’t had any movement or direction.  And it dawned on me Sunday, sitting there as I faced the reality of it all, that I felt lost.

Let me explain.

Art used to be a passion for me.  I’d lost that feeling for a very long time until we came up with the idea for Whip Angels.  Book 1 of W.A. is probably some of the best color and artwork I’ve ever done.  I am proud of it like a mama is proud of her children.  It isn’t perfect, but it’s damn good in my opinion.  And the series is just going to get better as it goes along.  When we came up with the idea for the series, it brought new life to me.  I felt energized for the first time in years.  I felt hungry and ready for a fight, ready to take on the whole god damned world.  I worked endless hours and didn’t sleep, poured my love into every single layout and page.  Richard and I fought over EVERYTHING that had to do with the book because we both wanted it to be completely perfect.  When the first copies arrived, I was so happy I cried.  I shed a tear.  I felt like hey, this is legit.  I mean, we’d had books for OnY but not like this.  This was a new format, a new way of approaching our work and a new story that catered to what we felt was a larger audience.  It was relatable.  Even I felt I would read the book if I had no idea what it was. 

So when we took it to C2E2 and people openly mocked me just for displaying my artwork, it was like being burned at the stake.  People didn’t pick up the book or read it, or offer constructive criticism.  They didn’t say “this sucks and here’s why”.  They didn’t say “You need to work on your art.”  No. 

They said “don’t go to that booth. They’re perverts.  Just look at them.”

They said “fucking otaku get out of our con.”

They said “Jesus lady stop kidding yourself,”

They said “Don’t bother looking at that shit.  It’s garbage.”

They said “Dumb bitch doesn’t know how to draw.”

I made it until Saturday mid-day before I finally had to run to the restroom and cry in a stall for a while.  And I was more ashamed of the fact that I WAS crying.  I don’t let people get to me.  I just don’t.  But this time around, it was relentless, and it was consistent.  It didn’t end.  And it kept going right until the instant that we broke down to leave. 

I spent a majority of our drive home in silence, trying not to let it get to me.  But in the back of my head, that little voice had started, saying “maybe this isn’t your calling”.  I didn’t want to listen. We’ve been insanely fortunate over the years to have gained so many fans, to have people that brought us hand made pillows with our logos and shrinkie dinks of our characters.  We’ve had the good fortune of making dear friends through the convention circuit that have stuck by us for years. But here I was, staring at the rolling Wisconsin landscape that I am becoming overly familiar with this year and wondering…was I kidding myself?  Was my stuff that bad?

I’ve been mulling this over for months, and I’ve let it fall to the wayside because it was easier than dealing with the pain.  And Sunday, that came up.  Tears welled again and I felt myself growing vulnerable.  I hate vulnerability.  I’m not a vulnerable person.  I stand up for what I think is right and I shamelessly put myself out there. But I also explained it to my husband like this.

“I am more scared of getting back behind a convention table right now than I am of getting on a stage in pasties and shaking my ass half naked.  What the hell is wrong with me?”

And then the dialogue opened.

I’ve grown weary not with the artwork, but with the circuit.  For so many years, our focus has been to do as many conventions as we could. We’ve been invited to conventions as guests, yes, but we’ve also been treated like second class citizens at some of these conventions because we are ‘just artists’.  We’ve also been invited to several local conventions only to have them un-invite us because we weren’t important enough, or they botched and just figured we weren’t important enough to give the consideration of a phone call.  We’ve been told we are “D-listers” in the convention circuit because we aren’t voice actors (this is not a knock to voice actors, we have lots of friends who do voice work and they are amazing people).  We’ve been passed over at autograph lines because we ‘weren’t known enough’.  We’ve been insulted, told we suck, and now trolled right to our faces. 

Really…how much of that could YOU deal with before you just stopped giving a crap?  I pointed all of this out.

“I wish it was like it was in the beginning,” I admitted quietly.

“So we stop doing it for anyone else,” he said.  I blinked and didn’t quite follow, so he continued.  “Remember what we used to say about our comics?”

“That they were killing us slowly,” I said with a joke.  He shook his head.

“No,” said Rich, “that if we sold three books, we felt like John Grisham.  So let’s just be that way again.”

And he’s right.

I’m done worrying about convention invites or publicity.  I’m done fretting and losing sleep over things, and I am done listening to the trolls.  I am done worrying that I am ‘not good enough’, because I am.  I am good enough to tell our stories and move forward in my own way.  I’m good enough to keep learning and grow as an artist and a person.  And I’m not going to give a crap what people think anymore.

Whip Angels will continue and it will be spectacular.  And the studio will continue to do things.  We’ll still support our local cons (much love for Anime Detour and Anime Fusion) and do what we can from time to time, but 2014 is going to be a quiet con year.  2, maybe 3 shows. Tops.  That’s it.  We’re going to refocus and do our own thing and put out good quality material.

Growth is painful even after over a decade of doing something.  Just remember to keep your head up and grow.  Keep growing, enjoy yourself, and screw the haters.    

The Continued Burly Journey

I made it through the intro course without much fuss.  If anything I found myself craving more, and by week 2 I was completely comfortable with my stance in the class.  I started chatting with a couple of the gals on and off, and I’ve hooked up with a few via social media.  It’s nice to meet new people, especially those going through the same journey I am.  And they are genuinely sweet folks in these classes.  Everyone has a vested interest in performing, which is encouraging.  I love when any art expression grabs new people and gets them excited and jazzed about something.  That’s what it should do.

Intro taught me a few things.  

1.  The feather boa is to Burlesque what the Veil is to Bellydance.   And I hate doing veil.  Our instructor showed us a few moves and I found myself saying “shit.  It’s the same as the veil moves. Same arm stances, same movements.”  I dislike veil because it makes me feel like a gimpy T-rex.  I have shortish arms and tiny fingers, and veil just never translates well with my body.  It’s never been my favorite prop.  So I doubt I’ll do much with boas.

2.  I love chair.  It’s sassy, leaves for a LOT of fusion opportunities, and it really puts an emphasis on your legs.  There’s so much you can do with it.  

3.  Floorwork is still a problem for me as I’m recovering from a knee injury from last year.  But I have the same issues with belly dance floorwork and choose my battles carefully and slowly.  I did manage to pull off a move I haven’t done much since the injury so that was neat.

I started Level 2 last night.  The group had dwindled down a bit, but you have to expect that.  Here’s what I learned last night:

1. Much of the same problematic performance stuff that you see in Belly Dance carries over to Burlesque.  People using cliches, overusing songs, etc.  Seriously if I have to hear Shik Shak Shok one more time I am going to burn something down.

2.  I need smaller heels.  I’m used to dancing barefoot after a decade and I need to not be a hero and try to dance in 3-4 inch heels.  To my credit, I did make it 45 minutes before admitting defeat to de feet.  I am going to try some ballroom style shoes and jazz them up. 

3.  Shimmies.  I got this.

4.  I need to work on my hands for Burly.  I’m so used to holding them a specific way for Belly Dance that it’s a bit counter intuitive.

We live, we learn, we grow.  :)

Adventures in Burlesque Part 1: An Ephiphany

So last night, I took my first Intro to Burlesque class.

The Twin Cities has a unique variety of Burlesque performers.  It’s a very interesting mix of people.  Some are cabaret performers, some are comedians, singers, jugglers, fire performers, belly dancers, you name it.  It’s also a very queer-centric circle here, and I kind of love it all the more for that.  But there are clear differences between the groups here, and it’s been fascinating learning more about the circles and people involved here.  

When I arrived at the class last night, I had that little nagging voice in the back of my head that usually hits whenever I try something new.  You’re totally going to be the fattest chick here, you know.  Yeah, I know.  Probably.  But the weight of that sentence didn’t hang on me like it did all those years ago when I started belly dance.  I heard the voice clearly, and I shrugged it off while I pulled out my Michelle Visage shirt that is about eight sizes too big for me and shimmied my ass into it.  So what?  Who cares if I’m the fattest chick here?  I’ve got almost a decade of belly dance under my belt, and I feel like the last five years have been trial by fire.  Not much scares me anymore. Granted, I didn’t know this until I was in the moment, but it was nice to know.

Epiphany #1: My size does not dictate who I am as an individual any more.  I am me.  I revel in my size, but it does not define me.

We began some subtle warm ups and I found myself focusing on the crap I always focus on.  My quads, my collarbones, problem areas that I am constantly working on to try and loosen or open them up.  I didn’t bring heels…shit.  Ah well.  I’m used to dancing en releve.  Few people were talking with the exception of the few girls that knew one another.  We went through the dance warm up and then got into a big circle to talk a little about the history of burlesque and who we were, what were our reasons for coming to class, etc. 

I was fourth or fifth I think.  When it got to me, I mentioned that I am a belly dance instructor and that I had many friends that were in the burlesque community.  I said “some of them want me to cross the streams.  So here I am, all 230 lbs of me.”  As we went around the circle, at least 3 of the girls made the comment that they had once been much larger.  ”I was 250 lbs.”  ”I was 230 and lost half of that.”   All of which was stated after my introduction.

Five years ago, this would have destroyed me.  It would be easy to misconstrue what they said as an insult.  Hell, it may have been, but I didn’t take it that way. These are girls that have clearly worked hard to lose weight and to feel comfortable in their bodies. They SHOULD revel in that.  They should be happy and comfortable in their own skin.  I want them to feel fabulous as people, and to be comfortable and confident and amazing. And I know each of them has this ability!

Epiphany #2: Life isn’t a contest to see who looks better at what activity.  The people in that class came in different sizes and shapes.  Someone else’s opinion should have zero influence on my enjoyment of something. 

We started strutting around and practicing on the floor, and it was surprising how much of what I already know just kind of meshed right in with subtle adjustments.  I’ve been tooling around with a stage name for a while, but what I had picked out didn’t seem quite right.  I wanted something that represented me in all my big-ass-glory.  I wanted to revel in my fat and share my body with the world.  I wanted a word that conveyed every juicy part of myself.  But nothing I came up with worked for me.  It was all half hearted and idiotic sounding.  So I’m stomping down the floor on the balls of my feet, hips swaying, hands in my hair and shaking it out, and the song on the playlist goes “Oh, HONEY!” 

And Honey Crisp was born.  The juiciest apple ever.  Epiphany # 3.

I feel like I’ve just started skipping down the yellow brick road, and I have a  long, long way to go.  But at least last night I managed to find my Scarecrow, my Lion, and my Tin Man.  I’m armed with a picnic basket and some shiny ass shoes, and I plan to dodge every flying monkey along the way.

I’m offended! You’re offended! EVERYONE IS OFFENDED!

It’s been an interesting weekend for me.  You will note this because I don’t often post on Mondays.

Saturday morning, I woke and did the Shaun of the Dead shuffle into my office, where my husband was playing around on Facebook.  We said good morning, and I wandered back into the hall.  I had just managed to brush my teeth and throw some water in my eyes when he called out “oh the geek rage is strong today!”  I hurriedly dried my face and wandered back into the room, asking for explanation.

It was then that he sent me this link to a Jezebel.com article.  I am not a huge fan of Jezebel, as i get tired of the feminist crap and yogurt-girl-part-slinging nature of their site, but I’ve found some good empowering stuff on there from time to time, so I sat down to read it.  Richard was watching me with rapt attention, curious what I would have to say or so I assume.

I am not going to get into the whole argument about the Harley contest here, as Saturday apparently my stance pissed someone off enough that they felt the need to verbally attack me and then de-friend and block me on Facebook.  I have no problem with people having a different opinion than myself, but when they feel the need to resort to name calling and petty insults, I draw the line.  Let’s just say I’m an artist, I am not easily offended, and while I think DC is dumb for their timing and needs to be smacked for some of their other issues like the Batwoman equality story line, the contest isn’t as offensive in my mind as people are making it.

But it does raise a valid point, and one that my husband asked recently:  Where do we draw a line and realize that we can’t all be offended by every little thing on earth?

I think Richard gets uncomfortable with my outspoken nature sometimes, especially when it comes to defending body image and trying to educate people.  He’d probably tell you otherwise, but there are times when my anger, my frustration, and my loud mouth do probably make him uncomfortable.  Sometimes I am a little too outspoken about things in many people’s minds.  Do I think there is a problem in this country with people villainizing fat? Well duh. If you’ve read my blog, you know I do.  But it doesn’t mean I can’t occasionally laugh at a fat joke. Hell, I CRACK them from time to time when referring to myself.  My favorite saying ever is “He/She can kiss the largest part of my size 16 ass. And that would be all of it.”  But here’s the way I look at it.  There is a tremendous difference between making fun of a situation, and making fun of an individual in a harmful and bullying and hurtful way.

Here’s the perfect example.  Let’s turn our attention to two of the most infamous mockery experts in the world: Matt Stone and Trey Parker.  These two have made a living out of making fun of stuff. They’ve mocked celebrities  Mormonism, AIDS, organized religion, cultural misunderstandings, and sex.  And frankly, I think there are few people who do it as well or as stylishly.  Stephen Soundheim himself has even gone on record as congratulating and praising their work.   Is their work offensive?  Of course it is!  Is it hilarious? I think so.  And I am not the only one.

People are so quick to get offended, to jump and immediately assume the worst.  As a society, I think we have lost our ability to joke and laugh about things.  I look at some of my favorite films, and there is NO way in hell they could come out now without someone crying out and protesting, or starting fights.  Blazing Saddles is a perfect example.  Mel Brooks is probably best known for that film despite dozens of other amazing pieces, but if that movie was to come out now, the masses would freak out.  We have lost our ability to laugh at satire.  We have lost our ability to find things funny.  We’ve lost, as Avenue Q would say, our ability to have schadenfreude moments.

I am not saying there are not times when being offended are completely acceptable.  Racist comments meant to wound and hurt, or cause harm to a human being is never okay.  Coming up to someone at the store and mocking their body right in front of their face is not okay.  Chasing women around a convention talking about how you love rape is beyond not okay.  When you make someone fearful for their life or safety, or insult them with the intent of hurting their feelings, there is a problem.

I’ll just throw myself out there for this, to make a point.  I’ve been mocked in public for being fat.  I’ve been made fun of on trolling websites for the size of my ass.   But I can still laugh at myself from time to time.  Do you know why?  I am comfortable enough with myself to laugh at satire and tell the haters where to stick it when they are trying to be hurtful.

Standing up for what you believe in is a good thing. It takes outspoken people to change sad ways.  But at the same time, jumping on every ‘Dick Wolf” situation, freaking out over a contest where someone is naked in a bath tub (because we all wear clothes in the bath), and  claiming that Riddick is sexist against women because they kill a chick in the new movie is just…well I don’t have a nice way to put it.  To me, it’s stupid.

Lighten up, America. Lighten up and realize that we aren’t a sterile place.  We aren’t perfect.   We make mistakes and we have a LONG way to go with understanding. But art is art. Satire is Satire. And it doesn’t mean you will like everything, but you don’t have to attack every poor schmuck on the internet that doesn’t like what you like.

Now go listen to Hasa Diga Eebowai and simmer down.  

 

More on Props: DANCE, GOD DAMMIT!

A couple of weeks ago, I did a blog post about prop use in Belly Dance, in which I pointed out that you need to respect your props.  This post was well received, much to my relief, and I’ve been contacted by several people since making that post with notes of thanks and suggestions for future blog articles.  I want to say thank you to everyone for your suggestions!  I’m now a columnist for Fuse magazine, so I will probably bring some of that into play in my column at some point too.  I’m very glad that the post was well received and shared as much as it was around Facebook.  I truly believe that as dancers and teachers, we have an obligation to spread not just knowledge, but safety and smart practices to our students and fellow dancers.  It makes me very happy to see so much positive sharing out there.

A few days after making that blog post, I performed at the local Guild of Oriental Dance festival show, something I try to do monthly when my schedule isn’t beating me upside the head.  The coordinator of the show that evening was a friend of mine, another local dancer whom I adore to pieces.  I was helping her into her costume when she made a suggestion for a future post, asking me to bring a topic up if I was willing. And I think it was a brilliant idea.  So humor me here for a moment while I am blunt.

If you are a dancer, DANCE with the props.

I know…shockingly silly and simplistic, right?  One would think this goes without saying.  But unfortunately, those of us that have been doing this for a while know that simple common sense doesn’t always dictate what we do as dancers.  But I have this vision, you see, a dream in which all dancers are responsible and take time to cultivate their training before just going on stage and flinging props around, resulting in injured body parts…or pride.

Let me tell you a story.  Settle in and get some cookies or something.  Or carrots.  Whatever.

I hate doing veil work, and I’m not quiet or shy about it.  Aside from the fact that veils make me feel like a derelict T-Rexrex  with stubby arms that never looks quite right, I’ve never been able to really get a good flow or beauty to my veil work.  It looks stark and utilitarian, and frankly I’ve never enjoyed working with veil.  A long time ago when I had just moved to Michigan, I attended a dance class with an instructor from the group I would eventually dance with.  The second half of her class was veil choreography.  It was the first time I had ever been handed a veil, and it made me feel so unbelievably clumsy and awkward.  I remember leaning over to one of the students and mumbling about how lost I was as I tried to follow along.  And she said the following to me.

“Really? I love veil.  It’s like you can dance like shit, and no one will notice because ooooooh, pretty silk!”

Seven years ago, that was funny.  Today it makes me sigh, and it reveals a sad side to prop work that many of us just gloss over during the learning phase.  People often pick up props like veils, fan veils or fans, swords, and more because they feel it will automatically make them look more graceful or skilled as a performer.  And while there is an art to balancing a sword on different parts of your body, there is more to working with any prop than just moving around with it. 

You are a dancer.  Your focus should be on dancing, not on going out there and waving a fancy prop around without any finesse.

I truly understood this after watching Roxanne of Wine and Alchemy perform a double veil solo at a hafla one evening.  I had mentioned to her before the show that I hated working with veil because it just never felt right to me.  She watched me work with one and told me that my issue was that I wasn’t feeling the prop, or letting it become an extension of my body.  I could make the motions, but it was boring.  I think at that point in my career, I wasn’t graceful enough in the arms or shoulders to really understand how to extend any prop from my body.  My spine wasn’t elongated, and my posture was garbage.  It takes time and practice (oh no, there are those dreaded words again!) to get it right.  I tried, and I failed, over and over again.  But when I watched her take the stage and move without thought in a seamless display of whirling and silky soft colors, I was mesmerized.  And it made sense to me in that moment, like a light switch clicking on.  Veil wasn’t for me, because I just couldn’t feel the prop and make it a part of my body.  And I would be doing it a disservice if I kept trying to force it at that point.

Many people don’t like the idea that you have to work with a prop regularly to make it a part of you, an extension of your movement, because it involves work.  Well, guess what, kids.  Dance is work.  No one starts and is perfect at something right away.  No one who respects the dance just rushes in to prop work.  No one takes one workshop or class and starts performing, and if they do, they should stop and think about the disservice they are doing not only themselves, but the art form. 

People who have respect for the craft take their time and work their asses off.  It’s as simple as that.  Think about that before you start presenting your props to an audience.  Aside from the safety aspect, can you dance? Can you dance and move with the prop, and not just brandish it as a sharp pointy implement of doom?

Food for thought.  Now go out there, work your booties off, and be awesome.  

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