In which the writer performs at a wedding (sort of)

Another recent highlight was, as you might have guessed by the headline, performing at a friend’s wedding.

Now, this wasn’t a big formal thing, nor was it a real gig. The couple wanted their friends to put on little skits and the like, and I knew this was just my chance to pull out the ol’ hip scarf and foot undies and embarrass someone. Preferably not me.

Factors working in favour of this momentous event actually taking place included working with Nadira Jamal’s Rock the Routine and taking Cihangir’s workshops last weekend. What I wanted to do was to get my husband to play the doumbek and do a short improvised drum solo, and then go around and get everyone up to dance. I thought if we kept it short and sweet, there would be less time to screw up, and it would be obvious that we were amateurs doing something out of love for the couple.

It also helped that Cihangir mentioned during one of the workshops that the audience doesn’t notice much of the dancing anyway for the first bit of a dance, as they’re looking at you, checking out your costume, and so on. So I thought a stately, showy entrance would get me halfway there, and that already allayed some of the nerves.

The key was getting something sparkly to wear. I didn’t think the full bellydancer getup would be appropriate, especially given that I wasn’t doing a proper performance. But a friend and I went to the Saidi boutique here in Berlin, and after an hour or so of dedicated attention managed to find a gorgeous saidi dress, black with silver vertical stripes, and a light peach, translucent hip scarf to match. I may also have picked up a saidi cane on the way out. The golden goddess saidi dress I also fell in love with stayed in the store, hopefully for a future visit. As you can imagine, trying on the sparkly stuff was tough, grueling work. But I’m just that kind of person.

As the day approached, my love and I did some drum and dance improvising, and I reviewed Nadira Jamal’s notes for the drum solo.

Factors working against this performance? The fact that our son gave us about three hours of sleep the night before the celebration.

But the show must go on. As it happens, I wound up doing my best moves in the bathroom, as I grossly underestimated how slowly the evening’s festivities would progress. I wanted to be ready — with full makeup and warmed up — in time for our appearance. However, we were last on the program, and the precise nature of the performances was meant to be a surprise. Effectively, this meant that I spent about an hour hiding in the bathroom, stretching and practicing a variety of combos. Let me tell you, there’s nothing to combat stage fright quite like the prospect of escaping the smell of a public loo.

The dance itself was incredibly fun to do, if ultimately a bit messy. (There’s no video, and my memory is a bit blank of what I actually did, so the details cannot be reconstructed…) I had the DJ follow it up with Alabina’s Lolole which, since it has the same melody as “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” seemed like it would be an approachable, arabic-sounding but still hummable tune to start dancing too. Then I went around and started pulling people from their chairs and onto the dance floor.

The results? It was fun, I have a saidi dress and cane that are patiently waiting to be brought out again, I overcame a fear of mine, and all sorts of people asked me where I took classes. Somewhere, out there, there are photos. My husband and I proved to ourselves that we could still do zany things despite being kept up by a baby most of the night.

And from now on, no celebration is safe. I have a hip scarf and I’m not afraid to use it.

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Review of Bombshell: Dramatic Make up for the Stage, Photos & Glamourous Occasions

“If you look like the love child of a clown and a hooker, then maybe you have enough makeup on for the stage.”

Princess Farhana’s description of a dancer’s war paint sums it up pretty nicely. Bombshell: Dramatic Make up for the Stage, Photos & Glamourous Occasions is not about subtlety, appropriateness, or painstakingly blending taupe into beige. It’s about glamour, colour, glitter, and having a hell of a lot of fun with your face.

A bit of background about myself: I’ve never thought of myself as particularly girly, and I don’t wear much makeup on a regular basis. I like the look of fresh skin, so I almost never wear foundation, and I work in a slightly conservative field, so purple mascara is out for daytime. Well, I’ve described Dr. Jekyll to you, but there is also Ms Hyde. Lurking deep inside me is not a girly girl, but a full-blown drag queen just dying to come out.

As a preteen, Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces was my makeup bible: I studied the pictures and descriptions, and wondered where in the world one could get the cream eyeshadow he used so often. I would do outrageous looks with my friends and photograph them. I began to acquire a perversely large makeup collection, with probably every shade of glitter and eyeliner imaginable. In the year I was finishing my dissertation, as a full-fledged Serious Person, I would interrupt the tedium by painting high glamour makeup looks on myself, running and showing my boyfriend, and then taking them off. In grad school I even wrote a seminar paper on anti-cosmetic rhetoric, and did a bit of makeup of student theatre. And my secret plan B has always been to go to cosmetology school and run off to Milan.

So this is to say that I’m passionate about makeup, I know a lot of tricks, even if I haven’t tried them, but because I don’t wear huge amounts of the stuff on a daily basis, there are also quite a few things I don’t know. For example, although I own several sets of false eyelashes, I’ve never managed to put them on.

I’ve secretly always wanted to do a Cleopatra look

But I was, you can imagine, extremely eager to take a look at Bombshell. Princess Farhana kindly hooked me up with a review copy, and I’ve been watching it bit by bit over the past month. It’s a massive two-DVD set that covers some makeup basics such as tools, foundation and contouring, false eyelash application, and lips, and then proceeds to focus predominantly on eye looks: retro, movie star, smokey eyes, sixties’, Cleopatra-style, Arabic, modern colour-blocking, and mature makeup. (These are partly my names for the looks.) In a final chapter, Princess Farhana discusses the use of, what else, glitter!

What I was particularly curious about was this: when there are so many makeup how-to videos on YouTube (Lauren Luke famously used her YouTube channel to rise from rags to discount-makeup-riches), what would a DVD offer that would be new? Why shouldn’t I just watch a dozen YouTube videos instead?

Here are my answers to this:

– Video quality. Bombshell is professionally filmed, and it’s easy to see DeVilla and the Princess at work. This is not someone sitting in a darkened living room.

– Diversity. The models have different eye types, are of different races (there is an Asian and an African-American model), and ages. The Princess devotes one of the chapters to making hooded or small eyes look big. So while the instruction is nominally about how to do a variety of dramatic eye looks, all along there are tips and tricks for adapting makeup to different kinds of faces.

– Expertise. This is the big one! Princess Farhana, a bellydancer, and DeVilla, a bellydancer and makeup artist, bring their showbiz experience to bear on this. They teach a lot of techniques that are specific to the stage or to photography, skills such as: contouring for the stage, what colours look good in black and white photography, what looks bad in photography or in a small restaurant, how to use glitter to get glossy lips without the dangerous stickiness of gloss, how to use white makeup or crystal appliques to open up the eyes, and so on.

Throughout the videos, they differentiate between stage and everyday makeup looks, often suggesting how one look might be toned down or played up for a different context. They also give specific advice for performing in a restaurant or on a small stage vs the big theatre. This is the kind of expertise you won’t get on YouTube! I even liked the fact that, in the section on lashes, DeVilla demonstrates a painstakingly precise way of applying them, and Princess Farhana shows a quick and dirty showgirl version.

While I’m unlikely to be on a large stage anytime soon, I did learn a few things I can take away. For example, I’d used dots of white goo in the corners of eyes when doing stage makeup, but I didn’t know the more subtle ways this could be adapted to everyday wear. Princess Farhana shows some faster ways to blend, using her finger or glitter, that I might try when in a rush. And I’m much more likely to experiment with colours or combinations I don’t usually use. Such as lavender. Who uses lavender?

Is it still an objective review if I want to hang out with these two?

My favourite aspect of Bombshell is the way its two stars come across as completely chill and playful. I took a workshop with Princess Farhana ages ago, and I love her wacky sense of humour. She’ll be working on a look which looks completely ridiculous, but she’ll acknowledge that that particular step in the process looks weird, or that she’s making a stupid face to put on eyeliner. Then again, her little quips — she describes one makeup look as hanging out in an opium den with Rudolph Valentino — also show her range of references. (I have to think of those moments on RuPaul’s Drag Race or Project Runway when contestants don’t know what the 1940’s or 1970’s looked like! I always sound a deep, melancholic sigh.) In a final scene, DeVilla and the Princess wipe each other’s war paint off, laughing away. It’s just the right spirit: makeup is fun, a way to be outrageous, and always forgiving. After all, in what other part of life can you always wipe away your mistakes and try again?

Finally got a veil!

So, I have quite a few veil DVDs, some of which I also need to review, and I thought the next few months would be a great time to do so. My torso and belly might not be as flexible, but I can still use my arms, right? The thing is, I’ve done very little (like, really, really little) in-class veil work, and even that was years ago and rather randomly taught. And this week, when I was working with Jennifer Jimenez’ “Lets Dance Together – Prenatal Dance Fitness” (review coming soon) and got to the scarf/veilwork section, I went to find the piece of chiffon I’ve had lying around for years and — could not for the life of me find it. I found practice zills, hip scarves, poi, all kinds of little props I have hanging around, but no chiffon! I realised the awful truth — I badly needed a veil.

But what kind? It turns out that bellydance videos have varying amount of information on choosing a veil. Veil with Aziza and Kaeshi Chai’s Expressive Bellydance Veil both go over the basics, silk and chiffon, and Kaeshi also shows how to steam iron your veils to keep them looking fresh. There’s a small section on choosing veils in Sarah Skinner’s Seven Veils, but the really long introductions are in Skinner’s Bellydance with Veil and Shoshanna’s Fabulous Four Yard Veils. Skinner’s intro is more of a show-and-tell — you can tell that she’s really in love with her veils! — and she focuses quite a bit on the makeup of the fabric and the look, weight, and hemming of the veil, going through varieties of chiffon and even more unusual fabrics. Shoshanna doesn’t deal with quite as many kinds of fabrics, but she gives more examples of how particular veils might work in dance, what moves she likes to do with what kinds of veils, and also which veil fabrics are too heavy and might cause injury!

Other resources I like are Dina Lydia’s article, “Making a Veil,” and Zorba’s “So Many Veils, So Little Time!” In the end I went to Little Egypt, a store and bellydance school here in Dallas, and picked up a couple of silk veils at their sale that were pretty much cheaper than on eBay! (And a little practice cane… because I’m bad.) I’d still like to get to a fabric store nearby and see what kinds of chiffon are out there, and if I can make a really sturdy — or at least disposable — practice veil out of some on-sale fabric, but for now I’m ready to go!

Holiday 2011 Bellydance Steals and Deals

What with the Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Commercial Craziness lately, I thought I would round up a few of the online sales that would be interesting to bellydancers. I’m including costuming! Many of them seem to be going beyond this weekend, so this post should be useful for a few months!

Updated: Ocean State Media has some good deals on their new website — varying percentages off of videos. (Link goes directly to their dance videos.) Until December 31st, use coupon code 104CH for 10% off!

New: Leyla Lanty is offering a holiday combo special: her DVD “Habibi, You Are My… WHAT?! Leyla Lanty’s Essential Arabic for Dancers Vol 1” plus her Egyptian dance music CD “Golden Days Enchanting Nights,” for $23 including shipping to US or Canada. (Usually $28). Email her at leyla – at – leylalanty.com for details.

Hollywood Music Center has had a sale for a while: Middle Eastern CDs for $5 and DVDs for $10 each. Seems particularly good if you’re interested in folkloric stuff.

BellyDanceShoppe has a Cyber Monday sale just today: 15% off with the code Cyber.

Dahlal Internationale has a 25% off sale, but for the life of me I can’t make it work!

SharifWear has a second item at 50% off sale, with free shipping for orders over $100 for Cyber Monday.

Dancers Warehouse offers 10% off with the code HOLIDAY10, and they’ll ship for free on orders over $75 with the code FREESHIP.


World Dance New York has had special pricing on their website for a while: 15% discount for orders of more than one DVD, and free shipping to US addresses.

I’ll be updating this list as I learn more — if you know of any sales, please include them in comments. I have ordered from (and been happy with) Hollywood Music Center, World Dance New York, and Ocean State Media. I can’t vouch for any of the other merchants.