Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Lampeter World Dance Show 2014

Only a couple of months since the August show, there I was, in cat-herding mode again! This time, for the Lampeter World Dance Show, a showcase for a variety of dance styles to promote classes in the Lampeter area. It had been 18 months since the previous one. Due to other bookings in the Victoria Hall, this show had to be on a Friday night, with some taster workshops on the Saturday. As usual, I was still chasing dancers' music and details in the week leading up to the show. I had thought that setting the running order for August was difficult, but this was really tricky, as so many dancers were dancing more than one piece. I spent hours on it, trying to sort out some breathing and changing time of at least 7 minutes for those dancing more than once. A Friday night so close to the start of the autumn term was too difficult for all of my dancers, so I decided to do one solo in addition to fan veil choreography which Rose and I had set for our fan veils workshop on 1st June. One of the groups I was counting on for a veil piece pulled out early on. The running order became possible again with the addition of a 20 minute Flamenco section, effectively creating a three part programme. Two short intermissions for people to take a break, get something to eat, browse the souk, and for the raffle. Sorted, what a relief!

The relief didn't last long. I printed out the running orders, then had a call to say that the Flamenco section had been cut due to illness. In a last minute flurry, I asked our visiting stars if they could do an extra piece each, just to re-establish some breathing space for other dancers. And, being stars, they said yes they could.

I used to drive to Lampeter via Newcastle Emlyn, but this time took a route through Carmarthen, which proved quicker and seemed an easy run with fairly good road and traffic conditions. I helped to set up the dance area, gave running orders and other details to the sound and lighting technicians and had enough time to put on costume and make-up without feeling rushed. Dancers started to arrive. As the time drew on though, we started to worry. Where was the souk? It turned out that they had left London quite late and were on their way. We planned to have all hands on deck to help unload and set up the minute they arrived. At the half, they still weren't there, and that included Zara, one of our guest stars; they were caught in bad traffic and horrible weather on the M4.

We hung on a little longer, then started the show anyway, the running order hastily amended to include an additional brief dance history chat and improvised Tsifteteli from me. Our other visiting star, Stephanie Gawne, danced the most brilliant and immaculate Charleston I have ever seen. In fact it was Meta-Charleston, sparkling, fun, energetic. I wished I'd filmed it, because I wanted to watch it all over again. She said she wanted to do something a bit racier for her fill-in piece and would only need a very quick change behind a screen before she went on again, for what turned out to be a very cheeky samba. In fact, so cheeky (ahem!) I think some of the audience were a little shocked. But, as she said, 'So what? We've all got them!'
Photo credit: Zara Dance
Zara and her lovely Mum arrived at the break and dancers flocked to help get boxes in from the car and set up some tables of dancers' goodies. Zara also danced a samba, and took a great photo of the lovely Sue P. trying on the samba headdress for size.

Rose dancing with a Dancing Moth silk veil!
By the end, I was exhausted and was grateful that, as I wasn't a local or a special guest star teacher, I wasn't due to give a workshop the following day. Even though I had heard about the change in the weather from dancers arriving for the show, I was quite shocked at how bad the roads were when I drove home, compared to my drive there six hours beforehand. Water, leaves, chunks of wood all over the roads! Thankfully, everyone got back safely. I decided not to go back up to Lampeter to attend any taster workshops, but I heard that they were as good as ever, and felt I'd missed out.

With thanks to all the dancers, technicians and audience and helpers for making another successful show!
(PS, dates for your diary, the next Lampeter World Dance show is currently planned for Friday 16 / Saturday 17 October 2015!)

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


With so much focus on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in belly dance, it's easy to forget that Greece has a shared cultural history through its time in the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Greece has its own style of belly dance, Tsifteteli, (similar to the Turkish Ciftetelli). With the Lampeter World Dance Festival coming up in mid October, I thought it would be nice to dance Tsifteteli, as an appropriately folkloric-based style. It's not the first time I have visited Tsifteteli, as something about the end of the summer seems to bring it out for me. Perhaps I'm trying to hang onto the last days of brightness and warmth, or wishing I'd managed to have a holiday ....

I picked up my still-unfinished notes and started thinking about music and choreography in earnest, with a view to basing the first half of the Autumn term classes on this. It contains a nice selection of easy footwork, hip moves and shoulder shimmies which are part of the building blocks of belly dance, but the movement vocabulary is more restricted than the variety of moves used in, say, Egyptian-style raqs sharqi. At the same time, Tsifteteli's cultural context of history and music is quite deep and occasionally dark. So it's interesting but accessible, just the job for new starters in the class.

However, I've only ever attended one workshop a while ago, which had more focus on the rhythm and footwork steps than the core-based belly dance moves or cultural aspects of it. Thank goodness, then, for the internet and YouTube, because if I had to try to research this through a library, I would probably get nowhere. The discussions around cultural (mis)appropriation are still in full flow. I'm bored stiff with the topic, so I won't go into it here. Suffice to say, I want to create something which respects the music and dance form. So that I feel I can teach with a little authority, I have been doing a lot of research to fill, well, not just a gap in my knowledge, more like a vacuum! I've immersed myself in it, become sidetracked reading about Greek history and listening to Tsifteteli and other Rebetiko music.  

Even so, I'm finding very little on the subject, so it's proving quite slow and difficult. I came across the predictable comments that 'you had to be born Greek to be able to do it' and conflicting opinions about what it was not, rather than what it was. I could see that someone else had asked the question on a (non-belly dance) forum, and the answers were a sort of off-hand 'it's Greek belly dance like they do in the clubs'. If you search for Tsifteteli dance on YouTube, most of the results are for modern DJ club mixes. The accompanying videos either show mash-ups of other videos of belly dancers who are dancing oriental or tribal fusion styles to other music, or shots of bright young things in very high heels, small tops and short skirts, gyrating away under club lighting. Anyone who can do wrist curls while doing hip lifts or asymmetrical horizontal hip circles turning on the spot would fit right in.  There are so many of these types of video, it's difficult to find something more authentic. However, there are a few leading authorities to whom I am immensely grateful; Chryssanthi Sahar, Athena Najat and Maria Aya. (Hmm, maybe you do have to be Greek?)

I've also been having an entertaining time watching extracts of the Greek TV variety show Στην υγεία μας (Stin iyeia mas - Cheers!) where they have the studio set up a bit like a bouzoukia club, with a platform for the live musicians and singers, dance floor and small audience who chat, drink, smoke, sing along, shout encouragements, get up to dance, break plaster plates or throw white carnation flower heads at the dancers and each other until the dance floor is so littered that an area needs to be brushed clear. I'm loving the music and party atmosphere (although it seems that only the young and very slender get up to dance!)

Current earworm: Tha Spaso Koupes. I can't stop singing it. 'Aaah, aaaah, tsifteteli, aman, aman, yaleleli ...'