Friday, June 29, 2012

How Contracts Protect YOU

In the bellydance world, people seem to balk at the word contract. But contracts are an industry standard in the performing arts world, and with good reason. Contracts protect YOU, the artist - as much if not more than it protects the company or troupe offering the contract. I'd like to tell you a little bit about why you should seek a company with a contract (or encourage your director to write one) as well as what it should cover. The following are a few examples of what is included in our contract, but is by no means all inclusive.

Working Conditions
Just a few ways that a contract should protect your working conditions  include not requiring dancers to perform or rehearse on dangerous surfaces such as a wet floor or a raked (sloped) stage (obviously the show must go on but dancers can voluntarily approve of the conditions and make decisions for themselves), removing obstacles such as power cords, requiring stage seams to be taped down, having a first aid kit on hand with extra supplies such as sprain wraps, cold packs etc.Compensating dancers for feats of extraordinary risk, and taking necessary steps to minimize danger for performing with fire, sharp blades, suspension in the air or acrobatic leaps or falls, is also a great benefit to dancers.

Traveling arrangements and conditions
So you just got hired for a gig out of town, or a tour! Yay! Wow, now you're crammed into a too small car with your suitcase in your lap and you stop for the night at a dirty, sleazy motel and have to sleep on the floor. Ack! As someone who has gone on the road quite a bit (and been in some pretty sticky situations), traveling arrangements are a big deal, especially for extended engagements. A good contract will provide minimum conditions such as per diem, travel accommodations such as booking a sleeping room if traveling in a train overnight, sleeping in a bed to yourself in hotels, having time to rest after flying or time to recover from altitude sickness etc, baggage handling, travel breaks, etc etc. Overseas travel is a whole other ball game and should be covered in depth. (The travel article is the longest in our contract)

A professional company should offer compensation whenever possible - we do *some* free performances, for charity events or for major public events, and every once and a while for trade. Our contract has a minimum payment amount for gigs - and any free performances are voluntary. We also offer perks such as free classes, discounted merch, etc. Knowing the specifics of how, when and how much you are being paid helps you make decisions regarding your dancing, especially if you have another job.

Costumes and supplies
While not every company can provide your costumes (we do) you should at least know what is required and how much you have to spend, and whether or not you have to make your own. If you are required to buy some sort of supply like a particular lipstick or pantyhose, you should know if you will be reimbursed for that.

Holidays, vacation, leave
You don't want to find out last minute that you've been booked Christmas Eve. Contracts should state upfront what holidays you might work (such as new year's eve), what the terms are, what holidays you have off from rehearsal or class, when your breaks are and how long they are (ours are about 3 weeks in summer and over the winter holidays). If you get pregnant or have a death in the family, maternity and bereavement leave excusing you from classes, rehearsals and performances should also be covered.

Rest periods and length of rehersal
No one wants to rehearse for 8 hours straight - minimum break times, maximum rehearsal and performance times, and periods of rest after long rehearsals, performance or travel are included in contract.

Our contract includes a strict non-discrimination policy (race, gender, height, weight, religion, whatever) that also extends to any client that books dancers with us. I once had a prospective client that insulted some of the dancers and asked for a certain "type" - but we don't discriminate and can't allow our clients to either. This protection extends to other situations If I am under contract to provide a certain condition for my dancers, there are no if's and's or but's. I look at clients or theater managers and say "This needs to be fixed asap, I'm under contract to my dancers to provide x". There's no arguing with that.This protects everyone involved.

Say you get booked for a bachelor party . . we don't do them . . . but say you do - is there going to be an escort with you? If you leave a theater at midnight is someone going to walk you to your car? These are things that are good to know.

No surprises!
Of course, much of a contract will protect the company as a business as well. Examples include non-compete, behavior, tardiness, and generally what behavior is expected at events, rehearsal, etc. The good news with knowing all of that upfront is one, that you won't be surprised by something the director expects and two, the director and artistic staff can't take advantage of you intentionally or unintentionally.

The contract I wrote for my company involved massive amounts of research into performing arts union standards, worker's rights, laws, contracts for other professional dance companies of all kinds, other random contracts, business models, etc.

Please feel free to ask questions and discuss. I hope this article helps dancers make decisions, and helps other troupe directors provide better care for their dancers and better protection for their company!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How to wash your belly dance costume

Many dancers get shivers just thinking about the idea of dunking a 200-800 dollar costume in water - in fact, many dancers are taught to never wash their costumes. If you perform a song occasionally you probably won't need to. However contrary to the other reaction, many professional dancers cringe at the thought of not washing their costumes. "Sweat butter" as Savannah fondly puts it, particularly after 2 hour shows or 15 minute to half hour marathon sets - coming backstage literally dripping, mascara running (the one day I didn't wear waterproof . . ) is reason enough. Add lotion, glitter, hair spray, bronzer, dirt, smoke and whatever other things you might come in contact with on a semi daily basis as a professional dancer, and before long, the insides of your costumes will look like this. Pretty dingy.
So, we've established that you should probably wash your costumes every few months or so, depending on how frequently you perform.  Around here, that's several times a week. Now before we get to the "how to" part, let me state you should not over wash - you will eventually loose luster. When I washed these guys I did have a litle metallic glitter float to the top, however they were brighter and shinier when I was done. The cleaner lining is well worth it.

So to start out you will need mild soap - many dancers use Woolite or lingerie detergent, however I suspect that any detergent is too strong for the beads and sequins. I use mild hand soap that is designed to break down body oils. You will also need towels, a place to dry the costumes flat, a fan, and a tooth brush or other gentle scrubbing brush.

Step 1 - Spot test
Always, always, always check to see how your costume first reacts to water, and then to soapy water. Let it dry so you can see any discoloration or warping. Some people have reported sequins curling up or loosing their luster, though I've never had a problem. The quality of the material has a lot do with it.

Step 2 - Prep.
Gather your materials and costume, and first remove any padding as it will not dry properly. Check for loose hooks, stones or sequins so you don't loose them. Fill your tub with water and a little bit of soap. Just a few drops ought to do.

Step 3 - Dunk, swish and scrub!
 Go ahead and swish the costume around a bit to circulate the soap around the beads. Rub extra soap onto dirty lining and scrub gently with a tooth brush. Don't worry about scrubbing too much, you won't hurt the lining. Eventually it will wear out anyway even if you don't wash it and you'll need to replace it. Be careful not to get too much soap on the sequins, and never ever scrub on the decorated side! Try not to let the costume soak for too long.

Step 4 - Rub

Gently rub the sequins and swish the fringe around a little bit. If there is an obvious stain on the decorated side you can gently rub it with a soft wash cloth.

Check out the difference in the pictures on the right!
Go ahead and have at the lining. I scrubbed it pretty vigorously.

Step 5 - Rinse
Dump out the soapy water and replace it with clean cold water and swish the costumes very thoroughly. You do not want any soap residue as it will slowly break down the fabric and beads, and dirt will stick to it like a magnet. I rinsed twice.
Step 6 - Dry
 First let the costumes drip a good bit, give them a little shake to get as much water off as possible, then wrap in a dry fluffy towel and gently squeeze, being careful not to crunch the sequins.
Lay the costumes flat to dry, preferably with as much circulation as possible. I laid mine out on a wire rack and put a fan underneath, blowing straight up under the costumes. I don't recommend drying them outside. The sun has amazing fading effects, and there is always the risk of bird poo, rain,  etc. Make
sure the costume is completely dry before putting it away, and put it in something it can breathe in! Stay away from plastic or sealing containers.

A few more things to know:
Never wash a costume with faux pearls - the coating will come right off as soon as it hits the water! Certain cheap plastic sequins aren't much better - always spot check.
Don't try to wash a cheap costume. I bought cheap Indian costumes (they were terrible, you get what you pay for) and I had extra fabric so I
tested some of it - not only did the dye bleed right out but the fabric itself pretty well disintegrated.
I don't recommend machine washing costumes. I know some people pop their costumes in a pillow case and put it on gentle but I don't think it's good to have them in the water that long.
Don't panic if you see sparkles floating around - you will loose some metallic bits, but keep in mind any time you perform you're likely losing shiny bits too.
The results of cleaning these costumes were fantastic! I have six (or seven? . . ) of these so I washed two today and compared to the unwashed ones and they were definitely brighter and more sparkly, and the lining looked brand new!
And at that, I will leave you to go inspect the linings of your costume!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Can Bananas Ease Stage Fright?

Today on a forum discussing performance nerves, I came across an interesting idea - that bananas can ease stage fright symptoms such as shaking, racing heart and nausea. Intrigued, I did some research and lo and behold, there is very solid evidence to support this theory! Bananas, as well as many other foods including potatoes, white beans, raisins and orange juice contain high levels of beta blockers. These chemicals stop receptors in your brain from receiving stress signals caused by the release of adrenaline. Bananas also contain potassium and magnesium which have the added benefit of preventing muscle cramps and shaking.
Now adrenaline in the right levels can be very useful for performing. The body actually responds to the pressure of performing as a do or die situation and responds physically the same way it would if you were in danger! Shaking and increased heart rate increase blood flow and work to warm your muscles, and can help prevent muscle tearing (as can an adequate warm up). Adrenaline also sharpens your focus and quickens your reaction time. But too much adrenaline and anxiety can actually cause mistakes, or just flip you into fight or flight causing you to balk at the curtain.
I am certainly going to be putting bananas in my gig bag now! But don't just rely on foods, relax and stay focused in the moment. I find that staying busy until the last moment and sticking to my routine (good breakfast, practice, long bath, listen to my music, pack up, hair/makeup, warm up and GO), as well as practicing deep breathing and listening to calm music if possible can help to ease stress and anxiety.
Things to avoid if you get overly anxious and jittery are stimulants, including caffeine. Personally, tea relaxes me, but I don't get very serious stage fright anymore. My most common stage fright symptom is a runny nose. I still can't explain that one.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bellydance and Weight Loss

Something I hear a lot, is "Wow, bellydancing has got to be great exercise!". And yes, it absolutely can be, and it is for me because I spend hours upon hours doing it. But the question is:

Can you really loose weight bellydancing?
Yes, but it depends on how you're doing it. I'm sorry to say that a class or two a week will hardly put a dent in your calorie consumption, let alone declare war on your existing fat stores. In dance class, a lot of time is spent explaining the mechanics and technique of each movement, and all that time is lowering your heart rate!

Ok, so how DO you loose weight bellydancing?
The answer to this question is multi parted. The first element is the frequency of your dancing. An hour or two a week of any exercise is generally not enough to target fat cells, for reasons we'll address later. According to recent research, people who were successful at loosing weight worked out for at least an hour on most days of the week.
The second element is the intensity of your dancing. You must keep your heart rate elevated long enough to not only trigger muscle growth, but to switch to using fat as fuel. We're talking fast paced traveling shimmies, level changes, large extroverted turn and traveling sequences, shimmy endurance drills, practicing your entire repertoire without stopping except for a swig of water or to change the music . . . etc. Basically, whatever gets your heart pumping and keeps it pumping for at least 40 minutes.

Ok, so that's awesome! To be honest, if you dedicate time each day to a decent drilling session, you can indeed "loose some weight while having fun and getting in touch with your feminine side" (to quote almost every bellydance workout DVD out there). But I always say knowledge is power, and understanding the scientific factors behind fitness can really help you to actually do it! So let's look at some other factors that when combined, can not only skyrocket your fat burning potential, but increase your health, energy levels and confidence.

PS: The following is not just a good way to loose weight, but to be healthy in general. Health is not a destination, it is a journey. This is how I live my life even though I don't need to loose weight. Please also keep in mind that weight loss is not about looks it's about health. And health doesn't exist in the extremes - either too heavy or too thin. Especially for dancing, health is critical. You must have good strength, great cardiovascular health, high energy levels, and more nutrition than the average person. And dancers do actually need high calorie diets, just like athletes. What's more important is the source of your calories . . . more about that later. Also, everything in this article is shadowed by the information in this book. Diet for Dancers is one of the single most illuminating books about health, nutrition and weight loss I've ever read. You need it. Go buy it.

Turning fat into fuel
Did you know that most physical activity is fueled by phosphorus? Yep, most daily activities don't even balance out your calorie intake! But don't panic, all you need to know is how to turn your body into a fat burning machine, and it's not as hard as it sounds. The keys are cardio exercise and muscle mass. And by cardio exercise, I mean huffing, puffing, sweat pouring exercise. Light cardio will use calorie intake for fuel, meaning you can burn off the candy bar you just ate, but it won't touch your tummy pooch. To start melting off the pounds, you've got to crank up your workout into true cardio. That's when your body decides to finally break out the big guns and use up its survival instinct comforts. In the natural world we lived in thousands of years ago, fat is gold and calories of any kind are the meaning of life. That's why we are so attracted to fat, sugar and salt, and why it can be nearly impossible to put down the bag of chips! If you've ever felt like you need fatty, sugary food, well it's because your body really honestly does think it needs it. Even in this world where calories are evil and the only thing more evil than calories in general are calories from fat because we live in a sit down world (sit at your desk, sit at home, sit while going to work or going home, ok run on sentence). WHY do our bodies not get the message that we are in fact not in any danger of starving to death?? O_O . . . you may be asking yourself.

Because the food we eat saps the nutrition right out of our bodies, replacing it with empty calories.
So that brings us to the next important factor - nutrition. Things like chips and cookies aren't just high in fat, they are almost negative nutrition. Sugar (Remember that starches and carbohydrated break down into various kinds of sugar, more on that later), especially massive ammounts, sap nutrition from our bodies. To top it off, artifically engineered nutrients that are added to the food probably don't actually do us much good. Some recent research has shown that the body recognizes vitamins in their natural state (surrounded by the compounds that accompany them) far better than it recognizes lab made nutrients. It is also harder to overdose on most vitamins in their natural state. This has scientists scratching their heads a bit because chemically they are the same thing in theory. The body just responds differently.
What happens is that in the nutritional void and the cloud of high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated canola oil our bodies can actually go into starvation mode. Your body may be getting empty calories and saturated fat, but it isn't getting the nutrition it needs to keep all your systems in order. This not only creates fatigue, deppression and a host of minor health problems, but triggers cravings for salty things if you're low on minerals (minerals are salty), cravings for sugar if you're low on vitamins C, A, etc (fruits are sugary) or fat if you're craving things like vitamin E or omega 3s. But unfortunately we reach for chocolate cookies and salt and vinegar chips instead of an apple, some leafy greens and some almonds. This is why it can be so hard to control what you eat, but if you're smart and realize why you are craving what you are, you can slate your cravings while adding nutrition and avoiding massive amounts of fat, sugar and useless fluff.

So, let's get some real nutrition
Nutrition is NOT a lack of calories, and it is certainly not a "light" packaged, frozen dinner (which is low in calories and everything else, leaving your still hungry and more likely to just eat something else, like the cheese its staring you down from the cupboard). Lean meat (if you eat it), eggs, leafy greens, some fruits like avocados and nuts are a great way to get protein and healthy fat (fat that can make your skin smooth and your brain function better and not just sit uselessly on your hips) Did you know that leafy greens are actually a better source of protein than meat? If you look at the protein levels that exist in both before they are eaten, yes the meat wins. However, the protein found in meat is actually very hard for the body to use effectively. The protein found in leafy greens and other vegetable sources is ready to go! It's all about absorption. Another similar myth is that dairy products are the best sources of calcium. WRONG. High in calcium in its natural state, yes. But fat cancels out calcium absorption, and dairy products, even low fat ones are high in fat. (Low fat dairy products may actually be worse for you - they just pulverize the fat, making it too small to absorb effectively, but it still cancels out the calcium!). A study by Harvard following 77,761 women between ages 34 and 59 found no decrease in bone fracture risk in women who consumed high levels of dairy products versus those who did not consume dairy products.

Make your food work for you
I would like to refer you now to the book Eat More Weigh Less. Everyone who knows me knows that I eat a lot. I eat frequently and a lot at once. It's not how much you eat, but what you eat. There are plenty of delicious foods out there that don't dish out thousands of calories per serving. This wonderful book puts food in perspective. It compares the nutritional, fat and calorie content of healthy foods to unhealthy foods. For example, you'd have to eat pounds upon pounds of corn to get the same amount of calories in a small hamburger with french fries. I dare you to try to eat that much corn. The fact of the matter is that no one ever got fat off of say, celery. It's impossible. In fact, some foods are super weight loss champions! Celery is actually a negative calorie food. It's full of fiber, which will fill you up, but it is complex and hard to break down, and the body will actually spend more calories digesting it than it gains from eating it! Brilliant! Another great weight loss champion is the grapefruit. It actually contains compounds that line fat cells, preventing your body from stocking up! I don't recommend eating a ton of grapefruit, because it can put a strain on the liver's wash cycles in regular high doses, but a little here and there is very good for you!

Almost everything you eat turns into sugar.
Literally almost everything. Sugar isn't just sugar, some are better for you than others. For example, fructose is far better than sucrose. Fruit is the most common source of fructose, and causes less tooth decay than other sugars. It is also broken down in the upper intestine and sent off to the bloodstream, providing energy to the brain among other things. Sucrose is broken down in the lower intestine, which causes bloating and gassiness.
So aside from eating things that have sugar content on the label, what else breaks down into sugar? Carbohydrates - cereal, bread, pasta, rice, oatmeal, potatoes, etc. all break down into various kinds of sugar. All fruits are high in sugar, as are many vegetables. Even milk has sugar. Point is, we get all the sugar we need from the good foods we should be eating. In addition to that however, we pile on the processed sugars found in all the junk we eat. This overdose can cause mood swings, bloating and all kinds of nasty things.

Burn fat in your sleep.
A huge factor in health and weight loss is building muscle. Muscle takes enormous amounts of energy to sustain. And calories are energy.  If you have a large volume of muscle, your body will have to burn huge amounts of calories just to feed those muscles around the clock, regardless of what you're doing. Muscle will increase your metabolism and burn calories (which your body will eventually start raiding fat storage for). After a good hard workout (especially one combining cardio and weight lifting or resistance training) your body will burn extra calories for as long as 14 hours after your workout! This effect, however is not found in low intensity exercise such as walking. You have to feel the burn, because what's causing that increase in calorie consumption are your muscles recovering and growing.

Step away from the scale
If you're trying to loose weight, the scale is not your friend. Why? Because it's lying to you. Well, it's not really lying, it's just that you don't want to loose weight you're trying to loose fat. Big difference. The reason for that is that when you're working out you are building muscle. Muscle is denser than fat and a pound of it will take up much less room than a pound of fat. If you loose a pound of fat, that's a lot of fat! But in your journey of loosing that fat you may have easily put on a pound of muscle. Your scale will stay the same and likely discourage you, even though you are actually smaller. The tape measure is your friend! A tape measure will give you a much more accurate result on your fat loss than your scale will. It's also important not to obsess. No matter what the fad magazines tell you, you're not going to drop x pounds in a day. Measuring twice a week in the morning is sufficient.

Don't focus on your target weight
Try not to focus on your end goal, whether it's a target weight or whatever. Studies show that those who focus on their long term goal tend to get overwhelmed and fall short or give up. To succeed, you have to focus on the short term goals. Focus on small, attainable goals. When you get up in the morning try saying "I'm going to eat a healthy breakfast" and see that through. Chances are, you'll feel so good after breakfast that you'll have a salad for lunch. Even if you had told yourself "I'm going to eat healthy today" you're more likely to fail. You will be more likely to feel deprived of that snack in the cupboard if you feel like you can't eat it than if you tell yourself to maybe eat it later. Stay focused in the moment, and set goals to be proud of yourself at the end of the day. Before you know it you'll look in the mirror and notice the difference!

Don't deprive yourself, simply add healthy foods
If you give in to eating a cookie, tell yourself you can have the cookie if you eat a carrot too. You get more nutrition than eating the cookie alone, you probably won't eat another cookie and hey - you still got to eat the cookie! In fact, eat some celery and take the stairs and you might put a dent in some of those cookie calories! Deprive yourself of things you like and you will probably give in. My rule is to eat the same amount of veggies as snack food. So get yourself a little bowl of pretzels, but fill half of it with baby carrots. The carrots will actually fill you up, preventing you from eating a whole bag of pretzels.

Don't count calories, and focus on being happy!
Remember that calories are not created equally. Calories gained from a salad are not going to affect you the way calories from a loaded baked potato will, period. Furthermore, a study following hundreds of thousands of people loosing weight (and determining the factors of those who were successful versus those who weren't) found that those who counted calories tended to not loose weight, or even to gain weight! I think there are two reasons for that - one that low calorie diet foods generally leave you hungry and sap nutrition, as discussed beforehand, and that obsessing and dwelling will only frustrate you. Looking at your calorie count at the end of the day instead of thinking about how great you feel creates depression and cravings. Depressed people are more likely to put on weight for a number of reasons. Depressed people do not experience things as well - food literally doesn't taste as good, and people may actually eat more to try to obtain that good flavor. Food also won't trigger the normal dopamine and seratonin responses. And whether you're depressed or not, trying to hit a number (and likely failing) can be frustrating and depressing, leading you to comfort foods or even wanting to give up.

Don't grab the whole container!
Whatever you do, do NOT nab the whole box of snack crackers, especially if you mindlessly munch in front of the telly or computer. Allow yourself to have some, and enjoy it. But put some in a bowl (with those carrots, mind you) and savor them. Once you sit down, you're way less likely to go all the way back into the kitchen for more than you are to just keep reaching into the box (and before you know it, they're gone and you've just knocked back 1950 calories and 91 grams of fat! Pst that's what's in a box of four cheese cheese its, eek!) If you can manage it, eat something healthy first. You'll be fuller and more satisfied, likely to eat much less than you would otherwise, and you just may take long enough eating that your craving may pass, avoiding the unhealthy snack altogether! But if you still want the snack, go ahead and have it. It's not the end of the world (but eating the whole box might be).

The grocery store is the battlefield
Get yourself inspired and motivated before you go the grocery store, and eat before you go (hungry shoppers will buy more food). Make a list, better yet get a list of healthy recipes you want to eat and then make your list (gets you inspired about the yummy dishes you can make!) and stick to it. Don't even go down the snack food isles. Buy lots of fresh or frozen fruits and veggies (avoid cans which are lined with BPA), nuts and lean meats (or not). Them when you get home, wash and prepare your fruits and veggies and put them in clear containers at eye level in your fridge. Put your nuts and other healthy snacks at eye level in the cupboards. When you get the munchies and "just want to grab something" you're way more likely to grab something healthy if you don't have to wash it and chop it up.

In conclusion
Eating right, exercising and weight loss don't have to be painful. Keep a positive attitude and stay in the moment. Enjoy life, don't obsess, and think about the long term effects. Focus on health, not weight. Focus on happiness, not calories. And dance! ;)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cute hairstyle ideas for dance class!

This post is for all of you who get bored of the same old class hairstyles - buns, ponytails, half buns, etc. While functional and easy, why not try something new? These hair tutorials are fresh, pretty and surprisingly easy! Just remember to secure hair well o you don't have to mess with it during class.

This knotted, braided bun is adorable and would be easy to secure well enough for class!

French braids may be daunting, but once you get the hang of it you can do this style in minutes! This does not require many pins, and is excellent at keeping stray hair secure! Ok, I admit I just figured out how to French braid and practicing did make my arms sore but once you've got it, you're set.

This is by far the easiest way to do a French twist I've seen! Just make sure to use plenty of pins to secure for dancing.

This chignon is easy and beautiful, once again use plenty of pins!