Game’s Over

For some reason I have, in about 8 weeks, “found” EIGHT of my hard lost pounds. My friend Judy once said that she was not loosing weight, she was getting rid of it for good. Because when you loose something, you generally go looking for it again. Which I apparently have done. Why? I’m sure I can list a myriad of reasons…a stressful couple of months, my on-going struggle with depression, menopause, trouble getting on board with the new points plus plan. Blah blah blah. But really, those are ALL excuses. What happened was I simply stopped paying attention. The truth is, I lost that initial 60 pounds by playing games with myself…(how much can I cheat and still loose weight each week was a popular game). When the weight was gone, the game was over and I went back to my old habits. Because it was a game, I didn’t really replace old habits with new ones. They were only skin deep.

What do 8 pounds mean? They mean my pants are uncomfortably tight. They mean that the dress I was going to give away because it was getting too big now fits me just right again. It means that the summer dresses I was looking forward to buying are not going to be worn (this year) because I refuse to buy clothes in a bigger size. I’m not going there. What amazes me is how easily it can come back. If I don’t sit up and take notice now – today – than it will soon be 10 pounds, then 15, and so on.

This isn’t a game. This is the rest my life. I get it now.

Rockin the Casbah Notes: Raqs Bedaya

If you’ve been reading my casbah notes, you’ll have noticed right away that this was a really fun show. Everything about it was fun. Including this dance.  And there is a story behind this dance (of course!). As you may know, I have quite an extensive DVD library. I often buy a DVD and then find that I already know the material. But that’s okay because even if the material isn’t new to me, I can glean a new perspective on it or find a different way of presenting the material in class. And since there aren’t any classes for me to take here in town, I enjoy just putting on a DVD and dancing along … it’s nice to follow somebody else’s lead instead of being the leader all the time. Makes for good drills. So anyway, at the back of one of these DVDs there was a very nice choreography taught to a song that I have liked for a long time called Raqs Bedaya off of one of the Yousry Sharif Wash ya Wash CDs.When I heard the song, I said “I know that song -I LOVE that song!” So I watched the performance. While the technical material was intermediate, the choreography that she tied it all together with was quite advanced (or seemed that way to me).And I loved it! I abolutely loved everything about it! I loved her cheeky attitude. I loved her lightness of step and heavyness of hips. I could see myself in that dance. So … I learned it! I followed the chapters and learned the combinations one by one. While I was learning each combination, I allowed myself the freedom to change it as I pleased. In the end, parts are definately Jenna’s and parts are definately mine. The piece is a hybrid of choreography that I had an absolute blast learning & doing. And – best part yet – it is a blast to dance! Fun fun fun!

The Big Band makes an interesting back drop, eh?

 And of course there is the perk of being able to wear that outfit! 60 pounds seemed like a long time ago when I danced that night!

One of my favourite moments in the dance…a cute undulating backwalk, Saiidi style.

You charge WHAT? for just DANCING?

“A guy calls the musicians’ guild to get a quote on a 6 piece band for a wedding. The rep says “Off the top of my head, about $2000”. He says”WHAT? FOR MUSIC?. “The rep responds ” I’ll tell you what. Call the plumbers’ union & ask for six plumbers to work from 6 to midnight on a Saturday night. Whatever they charge you, we’ll work for half.”

(From Absolute Underground TV via a facebook status)

I like that joke. It’s funny because it’s so true. People don’t question paying a professional trades person for their expertise, but they are always often thunderstruck when asked to pay a professional rate when hiring a musician or dancer. It’s just crazy-making! Why does this happen? Why does the public so undervalue the professional entertainer?

It can be really insulting, too, when someone calls to hire you to perform for their event and then changes their mind when they find out that you actually charge money. Money! “Well,” says a typical inquirer, “I thought you could stay and enjoy the party in return for dancing.” Or how about the restaurant owner who offers you a “free” supper in return for the evening’s entertainment. Or worse yet, the potential employer who cancels your gig because they found someone else who will do it for significantly less money. I even had one conference organizer who, upon being told my fee, asked me if I had a student I could recommend who would do it for free! This might lead you to think that I charge exorbitant rates – not true! My rates are similar to what bellydancers are charging for similar gigs in Calgary, Edmonton & Vancouver.I think dancers and musicians have in large part done this to themselves through a history of undercutting. Undercutting is when someone agrees to work for significantly less money than the current local rate. This results in the going rate going insultingly lower and lower until a professional can no longer justify working.

Sometimes this happens in all innocence – for example, several years ago I passed a gig along to a student of mine who I judged ready. She was excited to accept. When she discussed what rate she should charge, she suggested a rate about 50% of what I typically charge for the same event. “No, no!” I cried! “Don’t undercut me!” She was shocked – she hadn’t considered it to be undercutting. In her mind, she was my student and less experienced and therefore should charge less than me. Logical on the surface; however, I explained that once you enter the arena of the professional, you must conduct yourself as a professional in every way, including your rate. (How to determine your readiness to become professional is another topic.) The client has hired a professional, and that is you! Why should a client want to pay $175 for a bellydancer if they can get one for $75? Why should they want to pay $50 for a bellydancer if they can get one for tips and a meal? And so it goes.

Another example is when people accept a gig for very little or for free because they “just want to dance.” They want the fun and the experience. They aren’t thinking that they are getting their experience at the expense of those working artists who gig for their living, to supplement their income or support their art. These dancers may be ultimately shooting themselves in the foot, because when you undervalue yourself as a performing artist and don’t charge a professional level fee, everyone’s fee goes down – including yours on the day you decide you’re worth more than a plate of nachos.

And what is wrong if you just want to dance and don’t care about competetive rates? Nothing! Dance for your family and friends. Dance at public events such as fundraisers for good causes. Dance in the school recital with your teacher. Just be sure, when dancing in public, to let people know that you are an amateure, not a professional for hire.

I pretty much suit myself these days when it comes to what gigs I accept and what gigs I turn down. I enjoy dancing for friends – in fact, this weekend I’m helping to celebrate the birthday of an old friend by showing up in costume and doing a little performance. I take a paying gig if it takes place at a date & time I am happy with, and only if the client is happy to pay a fair rate. I am too old to want to beat the bushes for paying gigs at this point in my life, and I’m past the days of wanting to make a living gigging – fortunately I have a 9-5 that takes care of most of my living expenses. These days the dance pretty much manages to pay for itself, and that is 95% through the school. I dance for free a lot – donating my performances to good causes that I believe in. But even there, I set a limit. Often oganizations who are fundraising will have a small budget for honoraria, and I always ask if they do. I am happy to give a receipt for in-kind donation for records if they are non-profits. This also lets them know that they received a gift of some value, and that I value my time & talent. And let me stress that while I do donate performances to good causes, they have to be causes I am passionate about. I’m sure nobody would be surprised to hear that everyone considers their cause to be the best one! So I hope the phone doesn’t start ringing with people wanting free entertainment now that I’ve said that.

The subject doesn’t come up very often, but when it does I just want to throw a little tantrum – which, I guess, is what I’m doing in this blog post. I have spent countless hours practicing technique. I have spent a lot of money on my dance education and training. I am a professional dance artist. I teach classes and have spent hours and hours (and dollars!) attending professional development classes and workshops learning how to teach dance and how to teach adults in general adult ed. It takes a couple of hours to prepare for a gig. Am I dancing at your wedding or at your convention? Am I doing a little solo followed by a fun bellydance lesson for your baby shower or your women’s retreat? Costumes are expensive, and the client expects a professional performer to show up in a professonal costume. But there’s more to it than that – it also takes a good chunk of time to put on makeup and do the hair for a performance. It takes time and expertise to plan the gig – what numbers I will dance to, making the lesson plan for the workshop, putting the music in order. Arranging my day to accommodate the gig (which is often at an inconvenient time). Waiting around in the kitchen or the closet or hiding in the guest room for the right moment when the birthday boy will be surprised by my entrance. Helping the bride plan the right moment for the dancer to entertain the guests in phone calls before the event. Isn’t having a professional arrive on time, prepared and ready go, adding pizzazz to your event in a seamless, no hassle way worth the price? It should be.

My old sewing machine

I bought my sewing machine when we were living on Merry Island in 1983. I took a Home Ec class in junior high school, but other than that I had never sewn anything before. And honestly, I don’t even remember why I wanted a sewing machine! I was 22 years old. I lived on a light house. What in the heck did I need a sewing machine for? No matter. I dug out my trusted Sears catalogue and picked out a basic entry-level Kenmore. I still have it. It’s older than Michael.

I’ve sewed a lot of things on that old machine over the years. Back in our square dancing days, I sewed my own dresses with rows and rows of gathered ruffles. I set in zippers and made button holes. I hemmed and sewed trim. I set in sleeves (never very well) and fought with yokes and cuffs. All with my trusty Kenmore. I never thought the old machine was the best one around, but it did what I needed it to do.

It has definitely developed some persnickety quirks over the years. It is very demanding of high quality thread. Nothing less than Guteman’s thread for this machine! It doesn’t tolerate even the slightest fuzz build-up in the bobbin area. I have to brush out the lint every 30 minutes or so of sewing. If I don’t, the threads will tangle in the bobbin, resulting in a greasy monster of a mess on the back of my fabric. It sometimes has trouble remembering what the tension setting is, and breaks my thread for no apparent reason.

One time I loaned it to a friend, and it came back with a broken fly wheel. In order to stop the needle from going up & down when you wind the bobbin, you have to disengage the flywheel. Ever since my neighbor borrowed it, the flywheel has been stuck – which means that every time I wind a new bobbin, the needle goes up & down and the machine rattles and shakes like it’s having a convulsion. LOL! Yes, I learned the hard way to never loan your sewing machine. This same neighbor also borrowed and broke my blender. Sigh.

The old Kenmore does just fine for regular old sewing as long as I keep it cleaned and treat it nicely and am patient with it. But lately I’ve been wanting more. I’d like to do a small bit of machine quilting…something I wouldn’t even think of attempting on the old Kenmore (a healthy fear of a greasy tangled mess on the back of my quilt!) So my quilts are hand quilted and/or hand tied. Which is lovely. I will NEVER stop hand quilting and hand tying. But it would be really nice to have the ability to do some machine quilting, too. Without fear. And maybe some machine appliqué, too. Definitely.

So I have started a savings account and begun researching towards a new machine. I hardly know where to start! We have one quilt shop in town, Bear Paw Quilts and they sell Berninas. I haven’t tried one yet, and I’d like to look around and see what else is out there. Right off hand, I’ll admit that I’m intimidated by all of the fancy electronics on some of these machines. I’d definately like a more user-friendly bobin system (a LOT more user-friendly!) And an accurate 1/4″ guide is a must. 

Something else I often think about is a treadle machine. If I had a treadle sewing machine, I would set it up out at the cabin. Can’t you just see me on Sunday afternoons, sewing away out at the lake? Bliss!

Anyway, if anybody reads this blog and has a comment about what you are using, please write in and tell me what you like/don’t like about your machine. And what you sew on it!

The Big Band meets Old Mac Donald

I just got home from band practice tonight, and realized that I’m not done talking about Old MacDonald! We played it tonight, and ya know, I don’t really play it very well. Why? Because all the time the band was rehearsing and working out all the bugs and getting everything nice and tight, I was in the back dancing! lol! So now I have to practice and learn my musical part! And the bari sax has a great part way down on the bottom end of the sax line.

Old MacDonald is a very clever piece of music. Not just the vocals (which are marvelously clever), but the entire chart. It’s a much more complicated piece of music than you would expect, given the title. It moves right along and poor Rebekah hardly has any place to take a breath for the entire 2½ minutes. The horns have great shots that have to be tight and crisp. It almost has a soft-shoe feeling about it. It’s the “Bolero” of swing…the entire piece builds and builds and builds, crescendoing right to the end. To top it off, the entire piece modulates up a half-step every 16 bars – that’s a key change for every verse. On your toes, fellas!

Old MacDonald was recorded at the very end of his years at Capital Records in 1960.

Rockin’ the Casbah Note: Old MacDonald!

One Monday night in early Fall 2009, I walked into the Porter Creek Secondary School bandroom for Big Band practice and Rebekah had a cd playing. Frank Sinatra, ol’ Blue Eyes. I just love Frank! Anyway, here comes a tune I hadn’t heard before…Frank Sinatra singing his version of Old MacDonald had a Farm. Do you believe it! Too fun!

Ol’ mac donald had a farm, e-i-e-i-o! And on this farm there was a chick, the prettiest chick I know. With a little curve here and a little curve there, this chick, she had curves everywhere! Ol’ Mac
Donald had a farm,
And oh this chick she had to walk,
e-i-e-i-o! And how this walk would drive ’em wild, swinging to and ’fro! With a little wiggle here and a little wiggle there, man this chick had wiggles to spare! Ol’ Mac Donald had a farm, e-i-e-i-o.
When she went walking into town, e-i-e-i-o! The local gentry popped their eyes, tarnation what a show! With a gol-dang here and a gosh-darn there, heavens to betsy I do declare! Ol’ MacDonald had a farm, e-i-e-i-o!

So of course I had to dance to it. Do you blame me?

But oh! I needed a performance venue! Luckily for me, I was going to be attending Saqra’s Showcase that November to teach a couple of workshops, and be a member of a panel of judges for the competetion. What a great performance opportunity! I did two pieces back-to-back…Alf Leyla to show that I know what I’m doing in the classical arena, followed by Old MacDonald, just for fun and to show the real me. But once that was over, I still wasn’t ready to give the dance up. Then along came Rockin’ the Casbah. And with it, my very own Big Band. So, I bought the chart and the band learned it. Rebekah Bell sang the vocals and away we went!

What’s a girl to do?



photos by Alistair Maitland

Some things just beg for a caption!


This is Fawn and Kim (with Saba) in Dream a Little Dream of Me.
I should have called it “I put a spell on you!’ Too funny!

Leave a comment with  YOUR caption ideas!

A Call from Mozart

I’m going to take a break from writing about Rockin’ the Casbah to say a few words about another project I have had the great honour to be a part of: playing 2nd clarinet in the Mozart Requiem.

In late February I got a call from Barb Chamberlin, director of the Whitehorse Community Choir. They were putting on Mozart’s Requiem, and needed a clarinet part covered. I had heard that they were doing this piece, and was very excited to see it. So when Barb called me, I said yes right away. I was right in the middle of our intense pre-show rehearsal schedule with Rockin the Casbah, though, and had to miss the first week of the Requiem rehearsals.

  I was a little nervous.  Other than playing Begin the Beguine with The Big Band, I hadn’t had my clarinet out of it’s case in 10 years…and hadn’t really seriously PLAYED it in 20 years. And honestly, it was probably 30 years since I actually worked at playing anything of substance or even anything new. I think the last time I purchased new music was in 1980.  So yes, I was a little nervous! Here’s a secret: when I was given the opportunity to play Begin the Beguine on the clarinet with the band last year, I had to borrow a fingering chart from the high school because I couldn’t remember some of the fingerings. That’s how bad it was!

 But what an opportunity! I just couldn’t believe it. I used to love my clarinet so much. I still do. In fact, every once in awhile I would take my clarinet out of the closet just to smell it. Yes – laugh all you want! I’d laugh, too! But smell is a powerful thing, and the smell of the grenadilla wood and the bore oil evokes powerful emotions. There was a time in my life where I spent a lot of time together with my clarinet. I’ll bet you didn’t know that I did my first year of university as a clarinet major, eh? There you go! Hours and hours in practice rooms with my beloved clarinet. In high school I used to walk next door to Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) and use their practice rooms. I can still hear my footsteps on the wooden floors, and the hot, dusty smell of the old rooms. The senses are powerful, indeed.

So I got this call to play in the Mozart Requiem and jumped at it. I was agonizing over what to do about the dance school…should I take a year off? Should I retire? Should I re-organize? I obviously needed a break – and was really REALLY worried about not having creative outlets. I wondered, if I relaxed in one area of my life, might doors open in other areas? No sooner had I even acknowledged these treasonous thoughts than Mozart called. Or, rather, Barb Chamberlin called. Here was a door. Opening. So I stepped through.

Here is the Introitus & Kyrie (opening sections of the Requiem). Listen for the clarinet!

Rockin’ the Casbah Notes: At Last

With every show I produce, I set myself a personal challenge. In Eshta it was to perform with the sword. In Under a Cairo Moon it was to choreograph a full original Raqs Sharqi. With this show, it was the piece “At Last.” This piece came hard to me, and it came as a challenge that I didn’t expect. I wanted to do a solo with Fawn accompanying me on vocals. We talked about music and I described the sort of piece I was looking for: a ballad, something soft and slow. A love song. She forwarded me a few songs to consider. This is a picture of Fawn singing in the show. Gorgeous!

I think At Last was the second one on the list. The Etta James recording. Oh my…it was love at first listen! This was my song! Or more accurately, the song said “this is my dancer.”

“This is my dancer. I will move her. I will touch her skin from the inside. I will sing and it will be her heart singing. I will move and it will be her heart, moving. I will bend and she will sway. I will whisper and she will sigh. This is my dancer. I am her song.”

Like every relationship, we had some hard times. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to choreograph the piece. What does that mean? It means that I wanted to control it. I approached it like it was mine to mold. But I was wrong…I didn’t understand. It didn’t belong to me…I belonged to it.  I phoned and emailed back and forth with Fawn several times over the song selection. I’d tell her that I couldn’t choreograph to it. It just wasn’t working. Lets pick a new song. She kept saying “okay” and she’d make another suggestion, and then I’d say, “no, no – lets’ stick with it – I’ll just improvise if it won’t come together”. And that was the key. Every time I just put the music on and closed my eyes and danced, it came smooth and flowing. Then I’d start to choreograph & write out the phrases and the process would turn to thick sticky mud again. So I finally just gave in to it. I decided NOT to choreograph. I made a conscious decision. And that’s when the magic happened. Gradually, the piece became directed, structure began to emerge. Never consistent, but I began to trust the music and my body. And that trust did not fail me.

The piece I danced at the dress rehearsal was not the same piece I danced in the show. Personally, I think the dress rehearsal piece was the best work I’ve done with At Last. I felt totally connected with the music – like there was no separation between us. The music moved under my skin. The show night piece was great also – but for me, the dress rehearsal was when everything came together. The photos here are from the dress rehearsal.

Giving in to the music and my own emotional response to it was very difficult. This was the challenge in At Last. It is a big risk to expose yourself emotionally. You are vulnerable and instead of closing off and protecting that vulnerability, you have to offer it for others to see. It has to be real. It has to be unrehearsed and unaffected. It’s taking a risk. And it’s taking that risk that makes the piece resonate with the audience. It has to be real & it has to be honest.

At a lesson with Yasmina Ramzy in 2003, she suggested that I try to explore the sensual more. That I include “moments of uninhibited sensuality.” To allow a “restrained sexuality to peek through the cracks once in a while.”  It took me 8 years to take that risk.

I dedicated At Last to my husband of 30 years. I carried thoughts of him in my mind as I was performing. Fawn dedicated her vocal rendition to her husband Michael. 

I invited the audience inside in a very honest and heartfelt way. It worked for me, and from feedback that I continue to get, it appears to have worked for the audience as well.

photos by Alistair Maitland