Saturday, 23 August 2014

Estonian Crossroad Socks

I’ve become a little obsessed with sock making and wanted to know more about the traditional techniques, so having seen Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks recommended in a couple of places, I treated myself to a copy. Leafing through, I immediately liked the 'Estonian Crossroad' socks and had to start them. Even though they were another pair of top down, heel flap (I keep telling myself that my next pair are going to be toe-up, but I haven’t got there yet!) I’ve learnt a new cast on, three new stitch patterns and had the heel I worked on my previous sock project, the Seven Colour Socks, confirmed as a square or Dutch heel.

I bought some Texere Jura 4 ply (although I see it's listed as 5ply/Sport weight on Ravelry) 90% wool/10% nylon to add to my sock yarns stash. The 'Pistachio' colour felt a little crisp, rough and hard under my fingers (and feet) and I’m wondering whether it will soften a little once it’s washed. I also bought the 'Leather' colour, and it almost looks like a different yarn, much softer. I should remember to look for yarn reviews on Ravelry, although there isn't much about Jura.  A couple of people noted that their yarns were crisp and one commented that it shrinks, so I think I had better wash these socks by hand.

The book contains instructions for a long tail cast on, but no instructions on how to calculate, or estimate, how long a tail you need for the number of stitches! Thinking about it, I reasoned that perhaps if I wrapped the yarn around the needle the same number of times as the number of stitches to be cast on, plus a couple of inches, I should have enough. On the first sock, I only just had enough yarn to finish casting on. On the second, I overcompensated and had about 20 cm spare. I'm sure there's a way to work this out, so will have to do some research. In the meantime, I gnash my teeth at authors and editors who don't realise that the instruction to 'leave a long enough tail' begs the question 'how long is long enough?'

Temporarily forgetting a previous pair of socks where I found that 66 stitches on my preferred 2.75 mm dpns was about my minimum, I cast on 64 sts, 16 on two needles and 32 on a third (for the instep, as it's easier to do the pattern all on one needle), rather than the 56 stitches as written. The chevron stitch leg is just about stretchy enough, but a bit snug across the front of my ankle. I really hope these socks don't shrink!

The extra 8 stitches were worked as extra knit stitches into the chevron pattern so that the pattern repeat became:
P1 slip 1 K1 psso K5 yo K1 yo K5 K2 tog

When it came to the cable and cross pattern down the instep, the extra 4 stitches on the instep needle were worked in as an extra K2 at the start and end of each chart row.

As I had done a 10 stitch square heel on the seven colour socks, I did the same for this, although the original pattern is fewer, and of course in 4 ply yarn it comes up narrower than in DK.  With 32 sts on the heel needles, the 10 stitch heel is roughly a third of the starting stitches, but in 4 ply, I felt I could do with a wider heel and will have to remember this if I do another square heel.

To get the foot length, I did an extra 10 rounds of stocking stitch ( a total of 70 rounds when counting from the start of the instep pattern). The extra stitches meant an extra row or two of the 'star' toe decreases, as I started with a repeat of K6 K2tog (instead of K5 K2tog as in the pattern). This time I gave in and did a gathered toe as suggested, and was pleasantly surprised at the result.

I used 76g of the 100g cone. I don't think my photo does them justice - they're much prettier in (on?) person!

An Unexpected Blessing

Months ago, I saw a Facebook post by one of my friends, dancer and artist Katherine Soutar-Caddick, about artwork for a woman who was walking the length, breadth, height and depth of Wales (and a little bit of England). She is planning to walk 3000 miles, raising money and awareness for a couple of ovarian cancer charities, having been treated for it herself.

This amazing, resourceful, adventurous woman is Ursula Martin, and you can read all about what she is doing, look at her route, read her blog (a very good read, as she writes very well imho), look at the lovely photos and find out how to contribute through her website: One Woman Walks Wales.

So, much earlier this year, I Liked her Facebook page, bookmarked her blog and casually checked in every so often to see how she was doing, marvelling at the number of miles she was covering, the beautiful Welsh scenery in the photos, the way she was sleeping rough with a tarp and bivvy bag, the people who met and walked with her, the increasing amount of money raised.

Checking in July, I noted she was on the Cistercian Way and realised with a shock that she would be passing only a couple of miles away from me. Sadly, the days when I could pop my walking boots on and join her for a few miles are over. Still, I thought, I could give her the opportunity for a bed, hot bath, food and company. This sort of practical support makes sense to me. Ursula is walking alone, without an entourage and support vehicle. Someone has to care for the carers.

Only one problem - my chaotic cottage! I had made little progress with the 'Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome' in the past couple of months, and decided that having someone to stay at short notice would be an unexpected blessing, motivating me to do more cleaning and tidying. Furthermore, I reasoned, someone used to sleeping rough will be okay with the generally poor state of decoration, the clutter and the number of spiders. This place is an arachnophobe's nightmare. I swear they come in and breed faster than I can evict them, (though I do like spiders and am pretty lax at making them homeless) and they do a good job with the flies and wasps. Ah, the joys of country living!

So it was that I did a superficial blast through the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen/diner (which took me a couple of days of microbursting) and met up with Ursula in St Clears. She had arrived earlier than expected on Friday 1st August, partly due to the 5.00 am start she'd made from somewhere near Carmarthen. I shopped briefly on the way home and Ursula made up her bed and collapsed gratefully into it for a well-earned rest while I pottered and tidied some more. I made a vegetable curry, we chatted a little and I went to sleep feeling blessed that I'd had the opportunity to meet Ursula and give her a dry, warm place to sleep as it bucketed down with rain outside.

From St Clears, the Cistercian way goes west and south down to Tenby, then turns north again to visit Whitland. Ursula had another stopover arranged for the two days down to Tenby and back, then she could stop over with me again.

All went smoothly, and I picked her up on the Monday evening and whisked her off to Narberth, where she patiently sat through a two hour Imago Dancers rehearsal for the Cardigan Belly Dance Festival the following weekend. After a leisurely breakfast the following morning, with discussion of the problems of plantar fasciitis and heel spurs (oh, how I empathise!) and research into whether the local Pembertons chocolate company still existed (unfortunately not), we took simultaneous selfies.  This is not something I would normally do, as I hate photos of myself, and I'm never at my best in the morning.  Some things just have to be done.

Shouldering her pack, Ursula walked off up the road to pick up the route to Cwmfelin Mynach and beyond, heading for her next stopover in Brechfa. A few days later, new business cards with details of her walk and ovarian cancer symptoms arrived, just in time for me to put some out for all comers at the Belly Dance Festival.

It's taken me a few weeks to catch up with this post, so she's now up in North Wales. She has been walking for nearly 6 months and covered roughly 1300 miles of her intended 3000. I'm hoping to see her again, when she comes back to do the south-western section of the coast path, with a loop along the Teifi and Towy rivers, later in the year. Some of the Imago Dancers may join her for a little way, as she was a hit when she watched rehearsals. Wherever I am by then, perhaps she'll be able to stop over with me again; it would be my privilege and delight.

The Coordination Conspiracy

When you're learning to dance, there are a number of things happening which can make following along difficult and make the dancer feel that they lack coordination. I commented on issues of spatial references and disorientation in my last post, and will cover issues of right/left confusion and mirroring in another. This post is for the whole parcel of other things which are going on, so let's have a little look at them.

Muscle Tension
There is no single way for a body to accomplish a movement; your brain and nervous system knows this and try to select a way of doing it from all the options you have of how to move bits of your body (something called degrees of freedom). When learning a new movement, the nervous system may stiffen up various muscles, to reduce the options of how to move.  As you repeat the movement, your body tries to find an optimal way of moving and things can loosen up again.

The trouble is, as soon as you realise you're feeling stiff and uncoordinated, you become anxious and even more tense.  Tension inhibits movement. The more tense and anxious you are, the more self-conscious you feel, the more tension you put through your body as you try to get or 'grab' for the movement, the more you feel you're behind and that you're making a mess of things, the harder it gets.  So keep a good posture, but otherwise RELAX.

Over-Reliance on Visual and Spatial Cues
Some people are naturally 'visual' learners, but most people have a mixture of learning styles, and therefore a range of memory strategies.  However, dance seems to encourage visual learning. This is great if you are learning, but it's possible for something to go in through the eyes and out through the body without settling in the brain and creating a memory.  It happens with me all the time. When I'm copy-typing, the words go in through the eyes and out through the fingers, and at the end of the page, I probably couldn't tell you much about what I typed. At the end of an Improvised Tribal Style (ITS) piece, I couldn't remember what combinations we had used, because it went in through my eyes and out through my body with enough thought to execute the moves, but not enough to commit them to memory.

I'm often bemused when after 32 counts of drilling something with the class following my back, I yell 'Keep going!' and turn round to see how everyone is doing ... and everyone falters to a stop. If you rely on visual cues and don't use other senses and cues to start remembering moves, a combination or a choreography,  you will be thrown if you no longer have a leader to watch, which could be every time there's a turn! Similarly, if you always rely on certain markers in class, such as a whiteboard at the front, or you always dance in a certain spot, you can be completely thrown when asked to dance in a different place facing a different way. Try dancing things through in your head as you lie in the bath or in bed, dance in the garden where there are no familiar reference points and use as many sorts of cues as you can - hearing the music, feeling the moves in your body, chanting the moves in your head ('back trip-let, back trip-let, step touch, step touch, Maya right, left ...' etc (whatever makes sense to you, but try not to let your lips move!).

Lost in Space - Under-Reliance on Visual and Spatial Cues
Just as you can be over-reliant on what you see, and lost without it, you can get also get lost when you don't pay enough attention to other dancers and your relative position to them and points on the stage/floor. When dancing for the first time in a new space, note where the centre front and centre of the space are, the sides, back and diagonals/corners. Note where your spot on the stage is, and your 'marks' to hit when you move to different places.

One of the things which makes American/Improvised Tribal Style so lovely to watch is the way everyone looks up and out, or at each other when circling, so that they can use their peripheral vision to catch the leader's cues and ensure their moves are synchronised and their spacing good. You cannot do this if your unfocused gaze drops to the floor while you dance, which is a very common issue. As a beginner, you feel self-conscious, and the modest, lowered gaze is a sort of 'don't look at me' signal, as well as a way to avoid looking at the scary audience and watch the leader's feet instead. Smile, or at least set your face in a pleasant, open expression, and focus on where you are supposed to be looking, whether it's a glance down to your own hip, following your moving hand, looking out to the audience, engaging with the other dancers, or just looking in the direction of travel for turns and steps taking you around and across the floor.

Mind the Gap
There's naturally a gap between perception and action. See then do, hear then do, think/remember then do. When you're trying to dance quickly, this gap needs to be as small as possible, and preferably an overlap rather than a gap. The trouble often occurs when you are over-thinking, which can create a mental block, derailing instructions to your muscles, literally making you pause for thought. and you get stuck in serial processing, building the movement layer by layer from the feet up, rather than parallel processing mode, getting the feel of the whole body movement. When this happens, try to find other cues, such as a a point in the music or a repeated combination or series of combinations which you like or find easy, and then stop thinking so hard.

Tricky Transitions and Stuck Feet
Transitions are often about where the next move comes from, thus where the last move finishes.  Problems with transitions and feet which feel stuck are often due to having your weight in the wrong place. For example, if you finish the last move with your weight on your right leg, then it's likely the next move will either stay with the weight on the right, or transfer your weight to the left. If you unthinkingly shift your weight or take a step after the last move, then you may not be able to start the next move promptly, or at all! The moment of confusion, where it feels like you feet are stuck to the floor, leaves you behind the music as your mind starts to freewheel. Don't panic! Find a point in the music where you can pick up again.

You also need to be ready to move and ready for the next move. It amuses me sometimes when I'm asked 'Which foot do I move?', when one is supporting the body weight, and one is free to move.  I'm always tempted to give the wrong answer to see what happens. Go through the move slowly and deliberately, noting which foot/leg is supporting and which is free to move, and which foot is supposed to be leading for that step. Make sure you don't inadvertently shift your weight from one leg to the other, for example, by lowering a heel from classic foot position.

Another way to get your feet stuck is to have the weight too far down and back. Remember your posture; lift the ribs away from the hips and keep the spine long, shifting your weight very slightly onto the balls of your feet, ready to move.

Size vs Speed
There is a  trade-off between speed and accuracy of movement which is mediated by size.  In other words, the faster you have to make a large movement, the harder it is to control it and be accurate. To keep control, the movement needs to start smaller. For example, the back-step triplet in my choreography to Habibi Ya Eini requires fairly fast steps (that means transfers of weight) and a peep back over the same-side shoulder as the foot stepping back. To keep it fast, the step back is only small - about a foot length, with the heel scarcely touching the floor, and the look back only involves turning the head and shoulders by twisting the upper body.  If you take a large step back onto a flat foot and turn the body side on, the move becomes too big and slow.

Inflexible Muscle Memory
It is possible for a move to get 'stuck' a certain way, so that you have to fight your muscle memory to do it differently.  For example, if you have been dancing for a while but have almost always only done step-touch moving forward or around on the spot in quarter turns, it can be very difficult to do it on the spot, travelling backwards, or with a half turn. If, as a beginner, you copied the teacher's exaggerated steps, stamping down on a flat foot, you may find it difficult to do the move quickly and smoothly without a tense, flexed ankle. It's good to practise moves with as many variations as you can think of, to build flexibility into your muscle memory.

Doing Too Much
I bless my various teachers for their advice over the years, and this is a subject which has generated some true gems:
  • Sometimes, less is more. Don't try to layer everything, hit every accent, move every part of your body at once or visit every part of the stage in a single dance piece - it's too much.
  • Don't throw all of your energy out all of the time. High energy output all of the time wears your audience out. Allow them to breathe!
  • Do only the moves you need to, and use only the muscles you need to do those moves.
This is particularly true for belly dance, as throwing everything you have at a move can result in a lack of isolation and rhythm.  It becomes even more noticeable in group dances. Sometimes, it's a result of a lack of control and subconscious panic; in trying to keep up, you end up doing twice as much. Start slowly and build up speed, and practise regularly to tone muscles and make them respond you your commands.

Doing Too Little
Apart from forgetting or skipping moves and combinations and looking lost, the main issues with doing too little are to do with where your weight is and that the moves and dancing can look sloppy and unfinished. If it's a four count step, such as a 'forward-and-back' step (AKA Turkish, Ghawazee and probably other things too, depending on the teacher or who you ask) make sure you step (transfer weight) on all four counts.  If you only do three, you'll be on the wrong leg. If you convert it to a forward and back foot gesture, you may end up with your weight on the correct foot, but two counts early. You may forget arm frames and flows, or 'drop' a move before it is finished or centred, which can have knock-on effects in transitions, as well as looking as though you just got bored of the move halfway through.

Know Your Music
It can be very difficult to dance and react to music you don't know, unless it just has a constant 4/4 beat, in which case you could probably pick any piece of music with a similar speed and constant beat and dance the same thing to it. The quarter tones and intervals of Arabic music can sound strange at first, but the more you listen to it, the more familiar it becomes. If you are going to dance a choreography, you really need to know the music.  Initially, you may get too involved in trying to learn the moves to listen to the music properly, and miss cues in the music as a result, so that you end up behind or ahead. Listen to the music over and over, until you know it and could perhaps sing it to yourself, and are familiar with the count, rhythms and musical cues.

You Can Do It!
All this makes it sound as though learning to dance is very difficult, but it's easy and hard at the same time, and sometimes only as hard as you make it.  Over-comparison with others can make you feel like you're not getting it, not doing it well enough, or assuming that others can do it more easily than you can, but you have to try not to compare yourself to others. You may be very self-conscious, but thinking only about the dance and losing yourself in the music can help you forget about that. Take a gradual, mindful approach to learning, and believe that you can do it (because if you believe you can't, then you won't!). Dance like nobody's watching. And practise, practise, practise.

Disoriental Dancing

This post has been brewing for several weeks now, so dancers in my classes will have heard all of this at some point and performed the choreography which gave rise to this series of thoughts. I felt I needed to write them up, for future reference.

Working on the notes for the class choreography and the difficulties dancers were having in the last lesson of term set me thinking about awareness of space and direction, how I describe them, and how easy it can be for newer dancers to have difficulty with them.  My choreography notes always contain a table of the abbreviations I use to describe directions and as I copied it into a new document, I thought about the root of the words oriental and orientation. At times like this, I reach for my battered copy of The Concise Oxford Dictionary.

Orient, (noun): the East, countries east of the Mediterranean, especially East Asia. Middle English from Old French from Latin oriens, orientis rising, sunrise, east (oriri rise).

Oriental (adjective): of the east or of those countries east of the Mediterranean.

Orient, (verb): place to face east, determine position with regard to points of compass, settle or find bearings, direct towards, gain a sense of direction, position or relationship with one's surroundings, (from French orienter from Latin, as before).  Also Orientate, as a back form from ...

Orientation (noun): the act or process of orienting oneself or being oriented to find one's relative position, gain knowledge of surroundings, information or sense of self.

Add the prefix dis- and you have the reverse, removal or absence of this.

Disorientation (noun): A temporary or permanent loss of or state of confusion over one's sense of direction, position or relationship to surroundings, place, time, sense of what is correct, or personal identity.

Which is a very good word to describe the feelings of bewilderment resulting from the sensory overload involved in trying to keep track of, and concentrate on, what your feet, hips and arms are all supposed to be doing, the direction of travel and where you are supposed to be facing in relation to the 'front' and other dancers, while keeping time with and listening for cues in the music and probably also listening to instructions and prompts AND trying to watch and mimic the teacher (or the dancers in front or to the side and occasionally all of them in turn). It's amazing no-one falls over and not surprising at all that many dance students feel they have problems with coordination.

Many people think their coordination is bad, but actually, it's such a common issue when learning to dance as to be normal. I think beginners assume that practiced and professional dancers don't have problems with coordination, but I've been in a class with other professional dancers where none of us could coordinate our arms and legs on the first try in one exercise. It took a bit of thinking about and slow, deliberate practice a few times before we were up to speed and could then let our bodies take over and stop concentrating so hard. Except for certain neurological and movement disorders can make it very challenging indeed, coordination can be learned and improved. This is why I regularly add coordination exercises in my classes - I need the practice too!

So let's have a look at issues of space and direction, and I'll discuss some other things which conspire to make you feel clumsy and uncoordinated when you're learning to dance in future posts.

When you're dancing, you are moving your body through space and time. I bet you've never thought of it like that!

The time element is in the beat/time signature, speed (beats per minute), rhythm(s), melodic phrasing, the corresponding speed and duration of dance moves and overall duration of the music and dance.

In terms of space, there are two sets of references:

Fixed, which describes directions in relation to the dance space. The dance space is often thought of as a box, with four walls and four diagonals. Turning clockwise from the front, you would face the right front diagonal, right side, right back diagonal, back, left back diagonal, left side, and left front diagonal. If you were on a traditional stage, the front wall is where your audience would be. Stage right and left are from the point of view of you as a performer on stage. Old stages sometimes had a slope or 'rake' so that they were higher at the back, so upstage is towards the back wall, and downstage is towards the front. Up is towards the ceiling, down is towards the floor. On is into the dance space, off is out of the dance space.
Some people think of these directions like points on a compass; others prefer to divide their space into 12 and think of a clock face.

Relative or Body, which describes directions in relation to your (the dancer's) body. You have a front, right side, back and left side. I sometimes refer to 'dancing in your own box'. You can move your whole self or just bits of you forwards, backwards, left, right, diagonally, turning clockwise (i.e. to your right) and anticlockwise (to your left), upwards, downwards, outwards (away from your centre) or inwards (towards your centre).

When dancing 'on your feet' (as opposed to sitting, lying, etc) your weight can be even, across both feet, or transferred from one foot to the other, or moved towards your toes or heels. When you are doing something like a hip drop, your supporting leg is the one carrying most of your weight, and your working leg/hip is the one doing the hip drop.  The leading foot is the one you step onto first, which may or may not be the same as your direction of travel. The trailing arm or leg is usually the one on the other side, for example, away from the direction of travel. It can be useful to think in this way when learning moves, as it relates them to the body, reducing the right/left confusion which arises when you do the move 'on the other side'.

I use clockwise and anticlockwise for the direction of circular movements, turns and curved pathways, to distinguish them from the directions right and left.  I could say round to the right, but this begs the question - on the spot or in how wide a circle?

Okay so far? As with anything, dance has its jargon.  Different teachers may explain things differently, but once you start to become familiar with a way of thinking about space and directions, it can make learning to dance easier.

It may help to think of your dance space as a box,  but what if the box has no distinct front or is a circle or other shape, with audience spaced around it? Dancing on a diagonal may take a bit more concentration, but you just have to decide which way is front. Your own personal front, sides and back don't change. Difficulties arise in trying to cope with both sets of spatial references, and the issues of right-left confusion, mirroring and handedness (which are big enough to need their own, separate post!).

Working with two sets of spatial references may need some thought, but is an accurate way of recording and thinking about what you are doing and where. It starts to get confusing when there is a perceived clash of directions, for example, moving forwards facing the back (i.e.upstage), working with your right leg/hip while turning left (or vice versa), or arms held in front while you are facing anywhere but front.

If you're in a class or workshop, and you find yourself a bit 'lost in space', there's a good chance that others are too, so ask the teacher to explain or go through it again. Break the movement phrase or combination down, thinking about the fixed and body-relative references and timing. Repeat a few times, building speed, then try to stop thinking about it so hard and feel the whole body movement instead. With practice, everything will start to fall into place and you'll feel less uncoordinated and disoriented.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Seven-Colour Socks Pattern Translation

These are the socks I wrote about in June. I was looking forward to wearing these socks to keep my toes and ankles warm between dance workshops, but so far have forgotten to take them with me, probably because it has been so warm. I am thinking of developing a pattern without the stranded colourwork and with a shorter leg and fewer colour rings, as they would make lovely lounge socks for dancers (and anyone, really).

Meanwhile, here's the pattern, translated from Norwegian into English.  My additions and comments are included [in square brackets]. You will need to refer to the original pattern charts on the website for the colourwork (click on the hyperlink with the pdf symbol under the heading 'Last ned gratis'). I've included a list of the original colours at the bottom of this post, although you can choose your own colour combinations.

Rainbow Socks
Design: Borghild Kolas

Rainbow socks with many colour variations.
Sizes: 6/8 - 10/12 years - adult/women's
Yarn: Embla Hifa 3, 100% pure new wool, approx 201m per 100g
Fjell Sokkegarn (Mountain Sock Yarn) 3, 80% wool/20% nylon, approx 167m per 100g
Yarn pack contains enough yarn for two pairs of socks. [ offers yarn packs for these socks.]
Suggested needles: 4mm dpns
[Tension: 10 x 10 cm
Fjell Sokkegarn 3    22 sts. x 29 rows on 3.5 – 4 mm needles
Embla Hifa 3        20 sts. x 27 rows stocking stitch on 3.5 mm needles/20 sts. x 23 rows stocking stitch on 4 mm needles]

Yarn colour and quantity:
[I've included the suggested quantities, but I think they refer to the yarn supplied in the pack. Although acrylic is lighter than wool, my pair of socks only weighs 103g in total. See below for a list of the original colour variations. I used acrylic DK in the following colours:

50g   Colour 1  Camel
100g Colour 2  Dark Red
100g Colour 3  Burgundy
50g   Colour 4  Claret
50g   Colour 5  Copper
50g   Colour 6  Old Gold
100g Colour 7  Dark Brown

With colour 1, Cast on 40 - 44 - 48 sts, (10 - 11 - 12 sts left on each needle) on 4mm needles. [I cast on 56 sts for my chunky legs, 14 per needle, although the main thing which will restrict the stretch is how tightly you carry the yarn between stitches for the colourwork.]
Work 8 - 9 - 9 rounds stockinette.
[Change to colour 2.] Continue in pattern on chart 1.
[The cross pattern is worked over rounds 3-5 of 7 rounds in stockinette.  There is one stitch of background colour between the crosses (which are 3 up, 3 across). The Cross pattern is interspersed with 4-4-5 rounds of background colour in purl/reverse stockinette.
So the pattern proceeds by adding the next colour to do the cross pattern with that colour as background and the crosses in the previous colour, and then 5 rounds purl with the background colour, then adding the next colour and repeating until you have used 6 colours.]

When the chart is complete, work 7-8-9 rounds with colour 7.

"Parish Decrease" (or knit your usual heel) [This is a square heel]:
The heel is worked in the same colour as the ribbing (= the colour you have on the needles). Work back and forth over 20 - 22 - 24 stitches (10 - 11 - 12 on each needle) [or in my case, 28 sts, 14 per needle.] with a pattern as follows:
1st row (RS): Slip 1 Knit 1 rpt
2nd row (WS): Slip the first stitch and purl rest of the stitches.
Repeat these 2 rows, approx. 4 - 4.5 - 5cm

Continue the ‘parish decrease’ as follows: [to turn the heel]
RS: Slip 1 Knit 1 etc. the first of the two needles. Slip 1, K1, Slip 1 on the other needle (3 stitches), dec 1 stitch. [I thought I should have a wider heel, so did S1K1 twice on the second needle - 4 sts before decreasing using K2tog.]
WS: Purl back and [then] 3 stitches from the next needle , dec 1 st . Turn. [For me, 4 sts on the second needle, P2tog decrease.]
Repeat this until you have decreased on both sides, when you have 4 stitches left on each needle (all knit). [The K2tog/P2tog decreases are worked 'across the gap', leaving a central heel section of 8 sts for the original pattern, 10 sts for my wider heel.]
Pick up stitches on both sides of the heel so that you again use four needles and knit around in stockinette.
Decrease in "curve" on the side (at each side of the ankle) so you have 10 - 11 - 12 sts on each needle (= total 40 - 44 - 48 sts), less if you want a narrower foot.
[This is where the original pattern assumes you know how to do all this. How many stitches you pick up depends on how many rows you did for the heel flap, plus a couple for the corners. I did 14 rows, so picked up 9 stitches on the first edge of the heel flap onto the same needle holding the heel stitches, knitted the instep stitches onto another 2 needles, picked up 9 sts on the other side of the heel flap and continued to work half the heel sts onto the last needle (Needle 4) so that the rounds started mid-sole. There were 16 sts on heel/sole needles and 14 on instep needles. I wanted to decrease to 12 sts on all needles and worked as follows:
N1 Knit until 3 sts remain, K2tog, K1
N2 K1, SSK, knit the rest on that needle
N3 Knit until 3 sts remain, K2tog, K1
N4 K1, SSK, knit the rest on that needle
Then knit a round without decreases.
Repeat this decrease row and plain round, until all needles have 12 sts.]

Change colour [to colour 2]
And knit 5-6-7 rounds stockinette.
Continue pattern from chart 2.
[Add colour 7 as background, 2 rounds in col 7, 1 round alternating sts of cols 7 and 2, 2 rounds col 7, 3 rounds with crosses pattern in col 2, 2 rounds col 7, 1 round alternating sts of cols 7 and 2, 2 rounds col 7.
Change to colour 4 and repeat the 7 round 'crosses' pattern, using colour 5 for the crosses.]

After completing the chart, continue the toe in colour 3
Work 4 - 6 - 8 rounds Stockinette or desired length (depending on how long you want feet).

Decrease for toes:
Round begins mid-sole of foot.
Needle 1: K until there are 3 sts left, knit 2 together, knit the last st
Needle 2: K1, SSK, knit the rest of the stitches on the needle
Needle 3: As needle 1.
Needle 4: As needle 2.
Knit a round without decreases.
Repeat these 2 rounds until you have approx. 8-10 stitches left.
Cut the thread and pull it through the stitches and sew/bind off. [I used a kitchener graft.]

Sew in all loose ends.
Knit second sock the same.

The original colour variations are as follows. The codes in brackets are the yarn types - Embla Hifa 3 are 4 figure codes starting with 6, the other codes refer to Fjell Sokkegarn:
Colours and quantities: 1/50g, 2/100g, 3/100g, 4/50g, 5/50g, 6/50g, 7/100g
Rainbow: Purple (Lilac) (6077), Purple (Mauve) (519), Cobalt Blue (518), Green (6024), Yellow (6069), Orange (6070), Red (505)
Mountain: Mottled light grey (6054), dark grey (130), medium grey (115), light grey (110), unbleached white (100),  Charcoal (6056), black (511)
Sun: Maize yellow (6002), cognac brown (525), dark red (513), Red (505), Orange (6070), Yellow (6069), Ochre (526)
Sea: Light blue (6081), Denim Blue (507), navy (506), turquoise (512), bleached white (504), Cobalt Blue (518), Cobalt blue/black (538)
Rose: Lilac pink (6044), Dark lilac pink (S524), deep pink (521), Purple (Mauve) (519), bleached white (504), grey-purple (523), Pinky-lilac (520)
Forest: ochre/black (536), light olive (529), olive/black (539), black (511), unbleached white (100), cognac brown (525), dark green (510)
Autumn: Purple-brown  (6099), Ochre (526), dark green (510),  light olive (529), dark brown (6010), dark terracotta (6503), cognac brown (525).

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Belly Dance DVDs - What To Look For, What to Avoid

While riffling through my classes folder and updating my list of the classes, workshops etc that I've taken as part of my continuing professional development (CPD), I came across a handout I'd prepared for my classes five years ago (!) on belly dance DVDs. As I was reading through it, a promotional post advertising a set of belly dance DVDs popped up on the Facebook newsfeed.  What a coincidence!  But ... one glance at the advert told me it was time to update that handout via this blog!

Although not a substitute for classes with a good teacher, however occasionally, in order to correct any incipient bad habits, nevertheless DVDs and streamed video can play an important and useful role in the belly dance journey. Unless you have a bit of self-discipline and experience, it can be difficult to work through drills, combinations and choreography consistently without some sort of prompting, so DVDs and streamed video make good practice companions. You can learn new moves, broaden your knowledge and do as little or as much as you want - even 10 minutes a few times a week can make a difference. As a beginner, it can be difficult to know where to start ....

What To Look For
Firstly, you need to know what you want.
  • An emphasis on dance or on fitness?
  • Instruction and practice in the form of drills and combinations?
  • To learn about a particular style or working with a prop?
  • To learn a choreography?
  • Watch performances for inspiration?
  • Everything! (Or, I don't know what I want/I want it all and I want it now!)

What does it cover? On the better DVDs, it's obvious from the title, but still it's a good idea to check the level that it's aimed at, and whether it covers the sort of thing you want to do. There are lots of cheap DVDs (or even VCDs) on eBay which are essentially copies of other video instruction in the public domain.  They are easy to recognise, as they often have no box, stock photos on the label, and tag lines which contain everything ('learn to belly dance easy lose weight fitness workout sexy beginners to advanced ...'). You could hazard a couple of quid on one if you want, but it's probably best not to encourage this sort of thing.

Look for reviews and trailers. You can usually find trailers for DVDs on YouTube and it's a good idea to watch the trailers, and anything else that takes your fancy.  Yes, there is a lot of rubbish on YouTube, but there is also some great stuff, and it will help you to start to learn what's what. Depending on your computer set up at home and broadband speed, working with YouTube content could replace the need for a DVD for quite a while. Just remember the safe practice rules - don't get carried away or push yourself hard and keep a check on your posture and alignment. Only perfect practice makes perfect!

How long is it? Someone commented to me once that they did not like long DVDs, but I would not recommend short ones. Some of them just scratch the surface, so that you can go from the content being beyond you to behind you in a matter of weeks, without feeling like you’ve had value for money. The first belly dance video tape I bought was quite expensive, only 50-ish minutes long, and contained a lot of repeated content in different settings, leaving me feeling cheated. You don't have to watch or work with DVDs from start to finish.  Most are divided into chapters so you can pick and choose, stop and start, as you like.

Which region is it? I have to say that some of the best DVDs come from the USA. Look for titles by IAMED (expensive, but good), World Dance New York and Cheeky Girls Productions. You need to check that the format and region are compatible with your DVD player. In Europe, this is generally PAL format and Region 2, but many DVDs are now 'Region Free'.

Where to buy it? Having decided on a DVD, shop around. Check and compare prices on Amazon, eBay (you might be lucky and get it cheaply, second hand) and Aladdin's Cave, whom I can recommend, having bought from them a few times.  Also, chat to your teacher and classmates, who may recommend something, or even have DVDs to sell.

'So, what about that advert?', I hear you ask.
I followed the link to the website and found a few things which rang alarm bells straight away.
  • The title 'BellyDancingCourse' has a trademark symbol. The rules for trademark in the USA are different to the UK, which is probably how a name formed from common words with the spaces removed can be trademarked. But a generic-sounding name with a trademark immediately triggers my cynical response circuits.
  • The tag line on the video box set: 'Learn how to belly dance like a pro in 2 hours!' 2 hours to dance like a professional, oh, please! Further on, it states that all the basic moves are covered in 2 hours. I wonder if their idea of basic moves is the same as mine.
  • 'Comprehensive course ... everything you need to know ... covers everything ... (in only 8 hours? Really?)
  • '3 different teachers'. Okay, WHO?
  • 5 different dance styles, including Turkish Didem? Didem is a famous Turkish dancer, and I suppose she could be said to have her own style, but it's not a distinct and recognised dance style.  And if you want to quibble, then Gothic and Tribal fusion could be counted as two styles.
  • The video examples on the site are available elsewhere through YouTube.  The first (on Camels) is Nuala, a teacher from London, and I doubt very much if she gave her permission for this. The second (on head slides) is one of the ExpertVillage series.
  • Along with 'borrowed' videos, the site pictures include several stock images, rather than, for example, stills from the videos, or pictures of the dancers/teachers involved.
  • If you look for excerpts from this course on YouTube, you see that there are a lot of 'reviews' under different names, posted at roughly the same time, and the 'reviewers' often only have this video upload to their name.
  • In the reviews, there is one from someone in London stating that they can't find a belly dancing class in their area. London is pretty much belly dance central in the UK with lots of teachers and classes, so I find that claim unbelievable!
  • Who is Mariella Monroe? Apparently she has been dancing professionally for 18 years, but there is no website to advertise her dance business, whether for her Sacramento classes or herself as a performance artist. (lots of other teachers in Sacramento, though!). I would expect YouTube footage and a website, possibly also articles on belly dance magazine sites such as the Gilded Serpent, for such an apparently well-known, working dancer and dance writer, but all search results lead back to this 'belly dance course'. So, a strong web presence for this course is completely at odds with no web presence for the teacher/dancer.
  • What a coincidence (ha!); the introductory blurb 'from the desk of Mariella Monroe' has today's date and the order page suggests that the offer of the bundle for $47 expires in a few day's time. This is just a marketing ploy in the hope that you'll rush into buying something without thinking it through properly.
  • There are a number of Facebook pages relating to the course as well, generally full of spam and the same stock photos, but I found one of Sadie's promotional pics on there (and I bet she didn't give permission for that!). There are few comments, but some complain of non-receipt of the DVDs or denounce this as a scam, and there are no replies to counter the accusations.
Everything about this shouts SCAM! despite reassurances of the 'Love it or Shove it!' money back guarantee and statements of the seller's experience and trustworthiness on the FAQs page (the DVD set is marketed and sold through ClickBank).

I thought I would search some of the belly dance social media to find out if anyone in the real belly dance world has bought it, used it, or even knows who Mariella Monroe is.  There were very few results, but I found the following:

  • There were comments stating that dancers had had their picture used without approval.
  • Apparently Mariella Monroe's 'popular dance studio' was and is completely unknown to other professional belly dancers in the same city.
  • There was a belief that Mariella Monroe is a name made up for marketing, and so are all the YouTube reviewers and those endorsing the DVDs/course.

I wish I could justify splashing out on this, just to see if it arrives and what it contains.  If anyone reading this blog actually bought this, I would love to know whether my suspicions are justified or not. Please go ahead and comment.

Catching Up

After a hectic few months of getting so busy that the butterfly count and moth night passed me by, teaching (with an inspection, just to keep me on my toes), doing courses and exams, nursing a sick hen (who got better for a couple of weeks, then went downhill again and has just died), hosting a special guest for a couple of nights, and all the preparation and rehearsals for the Cardigan Belly Dance Festival, (more on the latter two in other posts), I feel like I've reached a break point.

Not that there is now any less to do.  I have a few costume and jewellery commissions, a stack of paperwork to deal with, next term's classes to advertise and plan, a mountain of cleaning and laundry to do. I've made in-roads into the 'To Do' list, but it is still growing faster than the 'Done' list. I really want to reverse that, because it is getting on my nerves. Still, the lack of appointments looming in the diary helps me to feel that I have time to tackle the jobs in the house and garden. Time to catch up a little on this blog, where I'm still failing in my resolution to reduce the number of posts in draft. Time to finish projects and perhaps start new ones. Time to breathe and try to catch up a bit.

A teaching friend and I planned to go to the beach during the school summer holidays, but I realised with a  shock that this weekend is the August Bank Holiday, and she starts back at school a week later. In the meantime, she's on holiday with her husband, after which she's taking her mother away for a few days. We had some very hot weather in June and July - I remember sitting in stuffy classrooms, emerging into hot and dazzling sunlight at lunch time, and even wore skirts and dresses, as a cool change from my usual yoga pants. I got utterly fed up with my long, straggly hair and had it cut into a short bob, which is so much easier to manage and I love so much, I wonder why I didn't do it earlier. I commented on how unseasonably cool it was in my single post in June. Lammas brought a change back to unsettled weather, with patches of sunshine interrupted by drizzle, rain showers, downpours, thunderstorms and hail. The forecast yesterday was for ground frost in some rural parts of Wales - a month early!

There are still plenty of swallows around, but they seem to be flying south and east already. I saw my first group of thrushes while driving through the Preselis on Sunday evening and could smell September in the air, in mid-August. As the days shorten, I'm hoping that Summer hasn't given up altogether and that we'll have some more good weather to enjoy before Autumn truly begins.