Review of Go-Go Dance with Angie Pontani

Friends, it has been aaaaaages since I’ve done a review. For various personal reasons, it has been a struggle even to go to my in-studio ballet classes. Getting things together enough to do a video on any given evening has just been too much. Saddest of all, I haven’t bellydanced in even longer. At this point, it feels like I barely remember the moves!

So a few days ago I was looking to get back into things. I wanted a video that I could do in an hour or less, that would give me a real workout, and that would be dance-related. My eye fell on Angie Pontani’s Go-Go Dance, which is billed on the cover as being for beginners. I received a review copy of this from World Dance New York, and back when I got it, it didn’t seem like my kind of thing. After all, go-go dancers don’t tend to impress me in terms of dance technique. But this weekend I really liked the idea of a dance DVD that was more about having fun than about perfecting a move, so I got my workout clothes on and did the entire video.

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Ladies and gentlemen, I will never scoff at go-go dancers again. Go-go dancers now have my utmost, undying respect. Which is to stay that Angie Pontani sweetly, methodically, kicked my butt. After the workout every single muscle in my body hurt (in a good way), and I could have launched sailboats on the seas of my sweat. It was awesome. I can’t wait to do it again. In the meantime, let me tell you what it is.

The program consists of three tutorial sections followed by combinations made up of the moves already learned. At the end, the sections are put together into one song-length choreography. There are enough repetitions of the combos and the choreography at the end to give a real workout, beyond the practice of individual moves.

The moves themselves are retro- and bellydance-inspired. Angie Pontani is also a burlesque dancer, and her go-go dancing is 1960’s in flavour, with moves like the Jailhouse Rock, the Buffalo Bill, the Roll & Shoot, the Jerk, and the Pony. She also teaches chest and full-body shimmies, as well as a fast hip shake she calls “The Princess Farhana.” Despite there being extensive grinding, and not a lot of clothing, the whole video still has an air of sweetness and innocence about it. The point seems to be more fun and entertainment than seduction.

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Pontani breaks down each move, and gives little tips on safe movement and stylization. Her instruction is quick, but detailed enough for someone with a little bit of dance experience. I noticed a few tiny differences between the combo instruction and what actually happened in the combo, but this does not really matter once you are practicing the combo multiple times. And, overall, Pontani is a delight: just cheerful and encouraging enough to keep you going for about 65 minutes of dancing that looks much easier than it actually is.

Go-Go Dance is a video that beginners can enjoy, and it also has a bit of space to grow. While I could do all the movements on the first go, doing them at Pontani’s top speed was still a challenge. Working on stylization and nice arm movement would add another layer of difficulty. But the real point is that it’s fun — grab a towel, some water, and a few changes of clothes, and prepare to boogie!

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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?

The Princess in Milford

Yesterday, a treat: Princess Farhana was giving workshops in Milford, CT. I really enjoyed this, both because of the Princess’s way of running a workshop and because of the warm, welcoming attitudes of the women attending. It helped me realize that the competitiveness I had felt at the NYC class was not just something I had imagined, but also, quite happily, that there are other ways of experiencing a dance class with other women. Farhana had us all say at the beginning how much experience we had so that she knew how to deliver the instructions, and we ranged from 3 months to six or seven years. This could have been weird, or a moment for showing off, but instead everyone applauded the “bellydance babies,” and I had the feeling that having less experience was just not something to be embarrassed about in this environment.

As for Farhana, my god is that woman fun. She has a style that I can only describe as “studied vulgarity,” and I mean that in a very good way. She playacted at being domineering and angry when we did the moves too quickly, she described some of the hand-to-head poses as the “one hand headache” and the “two hand headache,” she swore a bit too, but it was always with a sharp sense of humour. That was one side of her performance. The other was composed of dancing that was just lovely and graceful, a real acknowledgment of us as individuals, and a sense of warmth.

The class itself was quite relaxed, and quite varied in content: a big section on abdominal muscle control, some quite lovely combos which then had abdominal work layered on them, and finally, a short amount of time with veils. I didn’t buy anything: to be quite honest, I’m still a little weirded out by the intense shopping aspect of workshops. This was only my second, and while I really love shopping and getting bellydance videos, props, etc., it still seems kind of weird to me to gather around a table of wares instead of dancing.