Monday, July 27, 2009

Desire and Pursuit of the Roll: Class Music

Our summer belly roll and veil work intensive is coming fast to a close! In class we are using two pieces from Simon Shaheen's CD Blue Flame. The belly drill is to "Saarab" and the veil routine is to "Tea in the Sahara." (Pictured left, sun on the Mediterranean Ocean, 2007)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Belly in Antiquity

Last evening, I attended a rather haphazard gallery lecture at the Met, "The Body in Antiquity." The focus interested me: how did early artists portray the body in art We started with a Greek sculpture, the Kouros, the oldest freestanding, fully nude sculpture of the human body in marble. The young male body likely marked a burial site. The guide pointed out the Egyptian artistic influences: angular lines, the jewelry, eyes apparently lined with kohl, the left foot stepping forward. Depictions of the body quickly evolved into more anatomically considered renderings with curved features and musculature. The male body focused on power and ruling and physicality.

The first fully nude female depiction of the goddess Aphrodite/Venus suprised at her bath came later and created a different stir. Men stared at her for days, the guide informed us and one man was rumored to have hidden in the temple at night in order to "defile" her. This is a marble Roman copy of an earlier bronze statue made by the famous Greek sculptor Praxiteles who changed art by making it more anatomically correct. He wrote a book on the subject which has since been lost, but other writers make reference to it. The physical body has always had such mystique, respect, and deep meaning to artists, writers, healers, and scientists alike.
What I notice, of course, is the sensuality detail of the breasts and belly, always such a power source and the place where the differences in male and female gender are centered.
The lecture ended with a fast streak through the Persian galleries where we looked at a priestly seated ruler, heavily clothed save for a bare shoulder and a priestly, shaved chin (this was in opposition to the hairy Roman rulers) and finally a dive into the Hatshepsut room in the Egyptian galleries where the female body was depicted as male and female. This interested me less not because of content but because I'd seen this material before.
Those interested in this idea might benefit from the online lecture: "The Nude in Western Art and Its Beginnings in Antiquity."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

NYU Class Music: Summer II 2009

In the NYU Level 2 classes we are dancing to the Drum Solo and Balady Taksim on (Track 6) on Egyptian Academy's Wash Ya Wash, Volume 3. In Level 1 classes, we are dancing to Saad's Bel Arabi from his album Shukran Al Akher.
(Pictured: NYU Students (Sisters of Bast) at the Medieval Festival 2007)

Desire and Pursuit of the Roll, Part III: Yoga Links

Yoga has helped me develop my abs and core strength for many years. Strengthening exercises are necessary in addition to drilling the tiny isolations we use in belly dance (see the breakdown of the Triple Axis Belly Roll and Triple Axis Drills), but yoga exercise, including all forms of back bends and nauli breathing, lengthens the muscles in the rectus abdominus and the inner groin and psoas muscles, which also must be more accessible when working with belly isolations.

Nauli breathing and backbends are best attempted with a certified yoga instructor or a video. Yoga Journal has a generous on-line component that makes home practice a safer and inspiring activities. I like very much an article by Fernando Pages-Ruiz that ran this spring about the natural shape of the abomen. The bad news is delivered unapologetically (fat cells in the abdomen, once you get them, never go away), but the good news is that some relatively easy exercises can offer belly dance students the additional development and flexibility in the front body. Highlights from "Forget Six Pack Abs" are links to helpful poses, breathing tips, and a theory regarding the depiction of yogis and many images of the buddha with large, voluptous bellies. They have prana, Pages-Ruiz explains. Our obsession with flat, six pack abs is certainly a modern convention.

There are also several YouTube links that show nauli breathing. The one I've linked here is the most professionally demonstrated though there seems to be some discoloration in the filming.

Please read Fernando Pages-Ruiz's informative, factual breakdown-- "Forget Six Pack Abs."
(Photo above: Lina Jang photography:

Monday, July 20, 2009

More Desire and Pursuit....

Because this came up in class on Sunday, I've posted this. The technique is impressive though the belly gram act brings up memories I'd rather forget. Neenah has it down though...and she looks like she's having fun!

Desire and Pursuit of the Roll, Part II

(In the You Tube Link: Helena Vlahos)
In this previous Sunday's belly roll series, we reviewed the Triple Axis Belly Roll broken down in the previous post, added a horizontal top lock, and also worked on quarter rolls and coin pops.

Points to remember about Quarter Rolls:
  1. Lie on your back and prop up the chest with the forearms on the floor and do a few horizontal circles to find the placement for the chest and to better find your "skin folds." I suggest working with a skin fold a few inches below your rib cage.
  2. Place one quarter flat against your skin, touching the skin fold at the base of the coin.

  3. Squeeze the quarter toward the ground, using your skin fold like a pincers.

  4. Squeeze the quarter until it flips over.

  5. Repeat with your next skin fold (everyone has them!) until the quarter passes your navel.Repeat the whole series in reverse, rolling the quarter back up.

Points to remember about Coin Pops:

  1. Lie on your back and keep the chest down this time, propping your head up with your hands.
  2. Set the quarter about the width of one hand below your navel.

  3. Pull the abdomen down toward the floor, as if drawing a bow back, hollowing all of the way up to the chest cavity.
  4. Press the abdomen straight up. Keep trying until it flies in the air.
  5. Note: You must draw back to push the coin up. Thrusting the abdomen forward only will only make your belly sore!

I highly recommend Deliliah of Seattle's video on belly rolls and floor work (Number 3 in her original series) for additional practice. I used this video constantly when I began dancing with the Goddess Dancing in Boston. Here is the link to her company: Visionary Dance Productions.

Ahlan Wa Sahlan Festival Quandary in the BBC

The BBC featured belly dancers attending Raqia Hassan's festival in Egypt. The article very briefly compares the views on dance from native, religiously leaning Egyptians with those of the eager foreigners. Also, Diana Esposito, who is in Egypt on a fellowship to investigate the dance's decline in popular support, is mentioned. View "Enduring Allure of Egyptian Belly Dance."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Show at Je'Bon on July 22

Please join me this Wednesday for a show at Je'Bon with Kaeshi Chai and the lively band Djinn. The evening begins around 8 p.m. and lasts until 10:30 p.m. Kaeshi will also perform. Visit the beautiful Belly Queen website or just come-I've been told the fish noodles are amazing-

D'Jam at Je'Bon
Je'Bon Noodle House
15 St. Mark's Place
New York, NY
$10 cover charge; $5 minimum at the table.

The Desire and Pursuit of the Roll, Part I

Last Sunday in our Flow Workshop at the Panetta Movement Center, we discussed the "Triple Axis Belly Roll." While any roll is a vertical wave, or undulation pattern, of the rectus abdominis muscle (see left diagram), I find manipulating the wave from the three separate sections creates variety and develops the muscle more intensely. My participants and I did this in a drill that moved through each axis, circling in toward the spine and then stretching away from the spine. For the full benefit, the spine should continue stretching upward, providing a strong, straight line that contrasts with the undulating action of the rectus abdominis.

The three axis points are: the break at the very base of the muscle, the break at the navel, and the break just above the navel. An even higher break can be added by pressing down the rib cage, which adds a bit of skeleton to the controlled muscular isolation and lengthens the roll for a higher variation.

In today's workshop, we'll add multiple horizontal variations to the vertical basic roll. Please come! For more information on the workshop, which continues through Sunday, August 2, please visiting my previous post on this blog: (The diagram is from Wikipedia and Gray's Anatomy. Alas, the pictured abs are male, but it was the easiest diagram to access. If anyone has access to female diagrams, please let me know!)

Pina Bausch Dreams of "the East"

Walid Aouni of Egypt's Modern Dance Theater Company at the Cairo Opera House offered a beautiful portrait of Pina Bausch whom he admired and knew. Bausch's company was scheduled to present work in Cairo this October and then she planned to tour the ancient cities on the Nile. In this tribute, Aouni writes:
"Our conversations about the eastern human being were deep. She dreamed of coming to Egypt. She asked, "What does the Great Pyramid look like?" I was surprised by the question, since she concentrates not on the look but on the meaning of something. Yet such was her approach. It was as if she asked, "What does love look like?" Matter to her is not matter, nor is feeling simply feeling. Both are the secrets of paradox and symbol."
Read Aouni's full article from Al-Ahram Weekly here (and please notice the spontaneous likeness between this photo from the paper and the bird goddess pictured in the previous post.)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"She Walks in Beauty: The Feminine Ideal in Ancient Egypt"

A brief gallery talk at the Brooklyn Museum gave a brief overview of the role of women in various dynasties and time periods. The museum is famous for its Egyptian collection, known for the quality of works on view rather than quantity. The collection is smaller than the Met, but I did see many pieces that were stunning in detail and the pieces seemed to have a more sensuality in nature. The erotic musicians and the sculpture of Osiris returning to inseminate Isis are like nothing I've seen at the Met, the British Museum, or the Egyptian Museum.

The bird goddess, pictured left, is worth the trip to the museum. Her face appears to have the shape of a beak, an ibis perhaps, associated with wisdom and writing, or perhaps a bird that represents sexuality, which appeared on an unrelated scuplture. There is no mystery to the rest of her physicality, powerful hips and butt, defined breasts, her hands making the same beaked gesture of her face. Everything suggests fertility. She may be dancing......

According to the guide, ancient Egyptian women and men valued beauty, investing time and money in make up, wigs, and jewelry. Women kept their last names and were in charge of their own dowries, even if the union ended in divorce, which was practiced. Many of the sculptures of couples are side by side and similarly sized. Other times, a woman had her arm wrapped around her husband's leg and was about calf high. Sculptures of a voluptuous Isis and Hathor abound, often in a nursing role--icons for protection and abundance. The gestures of the bird goddess, the offering hand position, and the acrobats contain glimmering antecedents of hand gestures dancers use today. I would have like to know about the walking in beauty referred to in the title. Many statues have a left foot forward, a mystery my previous guide at the Met said was still unsolved.

Photograph info:
Female Figurine (“Bird Lady”). Egypt, from Ma’mariya. Predynastic Period, Naqada II, circa 3650–3300 B.C.E. Terracotta. Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund, 07.447.505