Thursday, July 28, 2016

practice and my personal sanity

I insist that practice keeps me sane. I love dance, so I practice dance. 

Alas, truth bomb: I started struggling in my practice sometime around November of last year. 

I have continued to show up and work, almost as much as ever. I love dance more now than I ever have. I've made dances, collaborated on dances, worked my technique, taught, and studied. My heart has still been in it 100%. But sometime last fall, the purity of my focus got lost, and that has been hard.

It's been especially difficult because there was no reason for it. I am happy, and although life has its stresses, I haven't been upset or anxious. I just stopped connecting to that thing.

I've almost always been able to get lost in drilling easily, to get to an awesome mental and physical alignment where my only conscious thoughts were about what I was trying to do with my body. It's not that I necessarily am better in that state, it just makes the crazy practice schedule I like sustainable.

Showing up day after day when my mind just whirs and buzzes and wanders has been tough. I wanted my meditative emptiness, but kept bumping up against thoughts instead.

My identity in belly dance is the "hard worker". I've never felt like the cool one who makes friends easily, or the naturally talented one who just up and dances like an angel. I'm just a girl who shows up, works, and achieves some moderate results, sometimes. Which has always been easy because doing the work blisses me out so much. 

When practicing started to drain me, I got scared. I worry that if it had continued, I'd have started to look to other sources to validate my dancing. Compliments from others, invitations to festivals, shiny things, YouTube views... I can't have that. For me, dance is the sum of my practice--not just its contents, but its quality--and the sense of being disconnected from any part of that was painful, almost.

In the end it felt like healing an injury, in a way. It got better a little at a time, until it stopped bothering me entirely. One day, in class not too long ago, the world went away for a few minutes while working a 4/4 shimmy with some finger cymbals. I forget to think about anything else. After that, it came back more and more often until I lost my worry when I began my practice because I knew I'd get my empty brain time. 

I guess I wanted to write this down somewhere because I am sure this will happen again someday, and I want to remind myself that it will pass, and maybe some of the things that seemed to help me:


  • Simplifying. I've made a lot of crazy dances lately, and drilled a lot of bananas technique. Meditating on fundamentals is necessary not just for mastery but for my sanity.
  • Specificity. I often feel like a bad choreographer if I'm not making constantly, or a bad technician if I'm not drilling all the time. I can only bloom one kind of flower at any given moment.
  • Letting the familiarity of practice improve good days, and comfort me on bad ones. If I'm feeling great, a good practice is going to push that day into "perfect" territory. If I'm sad, angry, or sick, dance brings me back and anchors me to normalcy. Let dance do its job.
  • Write it down. As I became more distressed about how I felt after practice, I became less inclined to write it down, which probably made everything worse. 
So dear future Heather, don't worry if you stop connecting with your practice in that special way. It'll come back. It always comes back.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

why I like comedians (part 2)

Still pretty into comedians.

This is a quicky entry, but I wanted to jot down some quotes I loved from Amy Poehler's book Yes Please. When I read books written by people who have done a lot of comedy writing and improv, I nod along almost as much as when I read books about dance and dancers. Particularly when they talk about how to work together and get a job done onstage.

The type of dancing I like to perform, participate in, and make for me, for The Dark Side Student Troupe, and when I co-create with Audra for Lavish embodies a lot of the same principles. This kind work requires trust, teamwork and awareness of the other people in the space, through the development and rehearsal process, and onstage.

"Improvisation is like the military. You leave no man behind. It’s your job to make your partner look good and if you are afraid to look stupid you should probably go home. Improvisation was about not being cool. Nobody stood outside of improv theaters in tiny leather jackets smoking cigarettes. Being “clever” wasn’t rewarded. It was about being in the moment and listening and not being afraid."

  • Make your partner look good.
  • It's not about looking cool.
  • Being clever isn't rewarded.
  • Be in the moment.
  • Listen.
  • Don't be afraid.

To me, this mindset contributes enormously to my looking at a group of soloists performing together onstage, and a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. I'm way into the latter.

I will eventually get around to the part about cleverness not being rewarded, because I think that is very important too.

Lastly, if at all you can, dance (or write, or act, or sing) with people who make you feel like this--

"Sometimes Tina is like a very talented bungee-jumping expert. All it takes is for Tina to softly say, 'We can do this, right?' and I suddenly feel like I can jump off a bridge."

And now I'm outtie.



Monday, July 6, 2015

the lavish project 2015

Hi friends.

I have neglected this blog for a long time, but I have a post to make that's just too long for Facebook. I also feel like I want to record my feelings someplace more permanent than a status update (yeah, I know it's just as temporary on one website as another). But I've (kind of) tried to make a habit of noting some of the things that really mark milestones for me as a dancer here for a long time now, so let's continue that.

Also note that I've tried to write this literally every day for a week and failed each time. So here's hoping I can actually put my thoughts into words this time.



We performed The Lavish Project 2015 on June 27, and more than a week later I'm still completely verklempt. When we first started to chisel away at a rough idea of what this year would look like, Audra and I were full of ideas about what we wanted to do and what we thought it would be like. I was excited-- I'd never had the opportunity to co-direct anything like this, and I'd never taught or co-taught such a long intensive before.

First and foremost, any creative undertaking comes down to trust for me. Whether I'm a student, a performer, a partner, a teacher, a director... it doesn't matter. Trust is what it takes for me to get invested and I know that's true for others too. The dancers we invited to work willingly gave so much trust in our ideas and our process from the moment we reached out that I knew we were headed somewhere special from day one. And it went both ways-- we had asked a group of super-talented, hardworking, and accomplished ladies to join us at the studio for a week and they brought it. I've just never seen anything like it.



And I've never felt anything like it either. Every moment was super charged with possibility and dedication to the work. The studio is always filled with a sense of purpose and creativity, but last week it was alive in a way I've never seen it before.

In my very first dance journal I wrote that I was afraid to tell anybody how much I wanted from this dance and the things I had a mind to do with it someday, because they'd think I was delusional or too ambitious for my own good. Along the way I've realized that the dreams I'm most afraid to tell anyone about are the ones I have to chase down and hang onto like they owe me money. And now I'm lucky enough to find myself on the exact path I quietly dreamed about and barely hoped my dance life could take. And I'm so damn grateful.

Andrea, Angela, Erica, Karen, Kristine, Sahra, Sarah, Stacie, Susan, the Vanessas, and Victoria-- I am so proud to have gotten to work and dance with you all. Thank you so much. I admire and absolutely adore each and every one of you. You all have a piece of my heart.

Audra, I've got no more words except thank you. Partners in crime <3



I'm gonna go make some dances now...

All photos by PDV Photography

Monday, March 23, 2015

omg this week

There is so much stuff happening this week that I had to take to my blog to put it all in one place.

Thursday, March 26 - Open Lavish Rehearsal

Although this one is a precursor to the other events, in some ways I'm most excited to open up and share Lavish rehearsal with friends. We did this once before, when we were preparing for TribalFest 13, and it was so cool to share our process, our jokes, and answer questions. Can't wait for Thursday!
When I was getting started, I would have loved to see how various companies structure rehearsals.

Inspired by that, the fact that it's incredibly helpful for us to have a "pretend" audience in preparing for performance, we're inviting the public to come and watch our rehearsal, for FREE! Open to all.



Saturday, March 28 - Hip, Hip, Hooray! Cabaret (March)

Lavish and The Dark Side Student Troupe are coming to #hiphipcabaret March, and I couldn't be more pleased!

Student Troupe is looking so incredibly slick, and Lavish is debuting TWO new pieces-- Tubstomper (which you can learn on Sunday) and a new duet featuring a little bit of a surprise that Audra and I can't wait to share.

Sunday, March 29 - Dance the Sublime: Afternoons with Lavish (Tubstomper)

Prepare to be wowed by Audra and this new Lavish choreography, which she describes as:
"A glitchy, hip hop-y, smooth-as-silk song that’s gotta dance, with a lotta attitude and super fun gliding shapes and movements over top."
There are some other incredibly exciting announcements for the studio and Lavish coming REALLY, REALLY soon and the kinda thing I'm going to want to wax at least a little about, so I'll be back, real soon like.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the lavish project

Calgary is happening next week! There are just a few spots left in the workshops, and some tickets for the show. But if you'd like to attend either, you should definitely get your hurry on!

I feel like I need to document something from The Lavish Project. I don't write as often as I'd like, but this blog goes back to some of my earliest days in tribal fusion. A lot of my musings, hopes and dreams in that time were around my favourite dancers-- people who I hadn't met yet, or learned from, but who inspired me a lot. These three ladies, Heather, Sam, and Audra, were among the very foremost of my inspirations, and still are.

It was a really proud moment for me in May to get to stand with them and present something we'd made and worked on together. And it feels like a full circle for me to be able to share this video here.

I feel really lucky <3

Monday, April 7, 2014

hello calgary!

So, this is super exciting. I have never been to Alberta before and now it's happening!



The absolutely adorable and awesome Kristine Jennes (you might also know her as Beautiful Unusual) is bringing me to Calgary to teach some super cool tribal fusion bellydance and perform in what I'm sure is going to be an awesome show. There's such an incredible pool of bellydance talent out West and I haven't made my way out there to experience it for myself yet! 

Kristine and I have been good friends since living in St. John's and being involved in the dance scene there. We've been living halfway across the country from each other for nearly five years now, but we've been in such close touch the whole time that it doesn't feel like it at all. And I'm going to hang out with her all week as we do The Dark Side Dance Program - Lavender, so that's pretty great too. I'm super thrilled to be working together to make this weekend happen.

It's really exciting to step into a community with dancers who work in really different ways from me and share some new ideas about how I like to work and think about things. I'll be teaching 10 hours of class over two days, and it will be a mix of drills, technique breakdown, and combinations. I love working through nitty-gritty technical stuff because it's so satisfying to see everyone work so hard and really get it. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm a huge technique nerd.

That said, I'm especially excited to teach the two combination-based workshops because as we work I'll be talking about how I actually made the things we're learning. The Sunday afternoon class will be especially fun in that way because I'll be teaching and breaking down combinations from three distinctly different movement styles that I like to draw inspiration from in my own modern and tribal fusion bellydance work (jazz, modern, and hip hop) and working through how I go about choosing ways to fuse movements, stylizations, and phrases. I love to pull inspiration from all kinds of sources, and so I'm excited not only to share some of the work I've developed, but also the things I've learned along the way about fusing styles effectively.

September probably can't come fast enough, and if you are anywhere in the vicinity of Calgary you should totally come because we're going to have a truly kickass weekend <3

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

february 2014 roundup

Just doing some cleaning up and a little mini facelift for the site. Who knows, maybe some deep thoughts coming to this space soon. In the meantime, check out this interview I did for Bellydance in Toronto last week!

And if you're in Montreal or Toronto this weekend, come see me dance!

Saturday at the Wiggle Room in Montreal with Ethereal Tribal and Cult of Yes.

Sunday at Dragonfly Dance for Majlis: West Meets East!