How to be a dance major

Being a dance major at Towson University is an experience that requires balance: you need to have an acute sense of your mind-body connection, emotional expression and artistic ability. Dance Department Chair Susan Kirchner and some dance students take you through the process of being a dance major. Read more.

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Connected

Trowbridge celebrated its annual May Fayre event this weekend. The event took place in Wiltshire, England. May Fayre and Faerie Festivals are happening as the summer approaches in the states as well: Maryland had its own Faerie Festival this weekend, and Capetown South Africa was home to an international belly dance day celebration. And who could forget the Maryland and Pennsylvania Renaissance fairs?

Ouranitsa dances

Photo by Allison Brickell 

With warm weather come all kinds of arts and music festivals, which make for popular belly dance venues.This is the kind of thing that I get really excited about during sweltering months of summer. Festivals are great for many reasons, of course. There are funnel cakes, arts and crafts, live music and time to spend with friends and family. But more importantly for me and you, there’s belly dancing!

Belly dancing began as a social type of folk dance, so venues like this are great for belly dancers at any level. You get more performance experience and you become exposed to other dancers and the festival atmosphere. You can also use this opportunity to network: meet other dancers and instructors in the area and strike up a conversation! To really immerse yourself in the belly dance community, you need to realize that’s what it is – a community. Not only does getting to know other dancers help you learn from them, it makes you new friends. You can make plans to collaborate or just hang out. The possibilities are endless!

The Towson University Belly Dance club after a group performance

Photo by Elizabeth Brickell

This aspect of community is one of the most wonderful things about belly dance. There’s a deep sense of sisterhood among dancers, and a sense of respect for the art form. Just from these articles you can see how incredibly widespread belly dance has become: from England to South Africa to the United States, belly dance inspires people from all over the world. For whatever reason you choose to dance, be it for entertainment, personal enjoyment or performance, this dance connects people. Whatever name you call it: danse du ventre, raqs sharqi, oriental dance, middle eastern dance – it’s a community.

Belly dancing is also a way of practicing mindfulness, or being aware of the present moment, without negative thoughts or judgments clouding our minds. To quote Hans Bos: “When I dance, I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole, that is why I dance.”

You aren’t just making movements with your body, you’re dancing as a part of something much bigger and much older than yourself.

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Healing and inspiration.

Belly dance can mean different things for different people. For some, it’s a way of enjoying themselves. For others, it’s a form of entertainment. Some do it to forge connections with other dancers, while others do it out of a passion for performance.

And then there are others who dance because they are made whole by it.

A woman featured in this story is one such person. She is inspiringly resilient in the face of a terminal illness and says that belly dance is what keeps her going in the face of a difficult time.happy

Her story speaks volumes to the healing power of dance. I don’t mean this in the literal physical sense, but more in a mental and spiritual kind sense of healing. (Though belly dance has a slew of both physical and mental health benefits as well.)

Belly dance as an activity requires physical ability, but as an art requires creativity.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have the same body type as an Olympic athlete. Quite the contrary, in fact; unlike some other types of dance, belly dance has no size requirement. Belly dancing is a way of celebrating the female body, in whatever size that may be. Rachel Brice, a tribal fusion dance innovator, said she was first inspired to belly dance when she was mesmerized by the dance of a woman who weighed around 300 pounds.

MaviBelly dance is thus able to be enjoyed by everyone. Its origins lie in the celebration of women, and it’s a fantastic way for women to develop and maintain confidence about themselves and their bodies. Given the outrageously unrealistic beauty ideals that permeate western society, it’s easy to see why so many women see belly dancing and bare midriffs as something for only the most perfectly sculpted bodies. But the reality is that anyone can learn this dance and become excellent at it.

Finding inspiration for belly dance isn’t difficult. For Sigi, the terminally ill dancer, her inspiration comes from her love of life. For others, inspiration can come from music or art or other forms of dance. A type of inspiration I find useful comes from watching other dancers. From their costumes to their choice of choreography to their execution of the moves, there’s so much to learn from other dancers. This is true for any belly dance style, but it is especially so for fusion styles, because they are constantly evolving as dancers create new moves and spark new ideas.

The next time you dance or watch another dancer perform, appreciate your body for what it can do. And the next time you’re looking for inspiration, keep an open mind. It’s everywhere.

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Taking yourself seriously, but not too seriously.

Chances are if you’re new to a dance form, you’re going to have moments where you feel like your body’s movements are akin to a baby giraffe trying to walk for the first time. Let’s face it: unless you’re a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance who’s good at every dance all the time, there’s going to be times when your body feels like a wildly uncoordinated mess.

And hey, that’s okay! Everybody feels like that sometimes.

Naima’s Bellydance blog posted a hilarious parody video of belly dance and I think it’s a good talking point for beginner dancers.

Photo by Allison Brickell

Now, I’m not saying that this performance from Sibel is something that any beginner should strive for (obviously). The point here is to maintain a balance between working hard and having fun. If you want to grow and improve as a dancer, you’ll need to put in a lot of practice. But along the way, be sure that you’re enjoying it. Too often people become intimidated by the amount of work it takes to better a skill, or they become so focused on the end goal of obtaining a status of “good enough” that they lose any pleasure they can derive from the practice.

This is a tragedy. Whether you’re dancing to perform, become professional or just have fun, you need to enjoy yourself. Some tips on staying positive while learning belly dance:

It’s easy to look down and become consumed with the technicalities of what your hips and your arms and your legs are doing, but look up! Practice in front of a mirror and see yourself improving.

Photo by Allison Brickell

Dance to music you love. This may seem like a no-brainer, but music has a huge effect on the mood or emotion of your dance. Dance to music that’s dance-able, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be classical Arabic tunes. There are all kinds of styles out there, so I’d recommend going on a music hunt and keep yourself open for inspiration. You’d be surprised how many different kinds of songs work well with belly dance. Some of my favorites lately have been Bassnectar, Florence and the Machine and Muse.

 
Be patient, reward yourself when you get better and be proud of what you’ve accomplished! Whether you’re coming at belly dance from a completely different dance background or you’re coming at it with no dance experience at all, give yourself time to learn and adapt to this. It will take time. Celebrate yourself! That’s part of what this dance is all about.
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So you want to perform?

Photo by Allison Brickell

As a belly dance beginner, you may be unsure of how much you want to incorporate performances into your practice of belly dance. Perhaps you’re just looking solely to practice the dance on your own or within a troupe. Maybe you’d like to eventually perform at a student or group hafla, a performance that would be within a supportive environment and among fellow dancers. Or maybe you’re excited to perform at a campus event or festival for friends and family and people outside of a troupe. What to do?

An article from The Gilded Serpent touches on this subject. The author discusses the different areas of performance available for belly dancers, including restaurants, parties, haflas and big name theaters. Though the author speaks from an advanced level dancer’s point of view, she brings up information relevant for beginners nonetheless.

As a student dancer, there are a few performance options for you. My professional dance instructor Ouranitsa informed me that student dancers are very much encouraged to perform in student-centric events, like those held on college campuses, and haflas. Haflas can be a party exclusively for belly dancers wherein dancers perform with each other and for each other, or they can be a larger event with a formal stage show that includes non-dancers as audience members. All of these types of events are very communal and encouraging environments for beginner dancers.

Since you’re not a professional, you won’t be able to go to professional gigs, or performances that would provide payment for you. This might seem obvious, but as a belly dancer you must be very careful to maintain the dignity of the dance form. I’ve learned from my instructor that non-professional student dancers who perform for money are actually looked down upon in the belly dance community. This is in part because to do so

Photo by Allison Brickell

would be to give the audience the wrong impression that what you’re doing is what professionals do, and also in part because you would be disrespecting all the professionals who earn their money that way.

I can say from experience that performing at campus events is a fantastic way to get yourself out there as a performer and build a sense of community with a troupe. It’s fun to perform with those dancers you’ve formed a bond with, and you get to show off everything you’ve learned. Additionally, your fellow dancer audience members can clap and zaghareet for you! Trust me, everyone will be impressed.

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Student Enrollment Experiences Range From Easy to Exhausting

Student Alex Eggleton browses potential classes before enrolling. Photo by Allison Brickell, Towson University student.

Students have conflicting experiences when it comes to enrolling for classes at Towson University. Some find the process quick and easy while others find it drawn-out and frustrating. Listen to the story here.

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Page One

Brian Stelter answers questions from curious students.

Towson alum Brian Stelter’s visit to campus brought in a number of interested students, professors and others within the mass communication department to the event spotlighting him and run by students and staff last Thursday night.

An estimated 150 people attended the event, which featured an introduction of Stelter by student members of the Society of Professional Journalists, a viewing of the documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times” and a Q&A session to conclude.

The documentary covered the New York Times as an authoritative and recently challenged voice in an industry facing major changes.

Kristopher Jones, a student member of the Society of Professional Journalists and an audience member, said the event was important because Stelter was a member of the Towson community who can offer good advice.

“We wanted to bring him in to share the experience with everyone,” he said.

The students of SPJ and various members of the mass communication department worked together to put together the event. Devin Hamberger, a member of SPJ, said that everyone involved was very excited for the event.

“I’ve heard so much about him but I’ve never actually seen the film and I’ve never actually met him before,” Hamberger said. “So having him come here and be able to interact with him one-on-one and ask him personal questions and everything is just a really great experience.”

Hamberger said she personally was interested in pursuing a career in journalism with many different elements, something that Stelter mentioned was important later in the event.

“I think the most important thing is to definitely have that multi-platform,” she said.

During the Q&A session, Stelter said the New York Times “sets the agenda” for the news America reads but has gone through difficult times.

The Times, Stelter said, went from being the top paper in the country to potential bankruptcy and has been changing since a low financial point in 2009. He said there were many people in denial about the reality of the situation due to the prestige of the paper.

“There’s a difference between ‘shouldn’t fail’ and ‘can’t fail’” Stelter said.

As stands now, Stelter said, insecurity pervades the newspaper industry. He said organizations like WikiLeaks and ordinary individuals have taken actions that used to be reserved for professional journalists and that the power of the internet has been drastically influential in this.

He said these changes mean that journalists should be flexible.

“We can all be reporters now,” he said. “We’re going to need to keep adapting.”

Stelter said the biggest change at the Times currently is that the website is now charging readers to subscribe. “It doesn’t save us,” he said. “But it does give us stability.”

The important strategy for that, he said, is to write things that are “so damn compelling” that people will want to subscribe. News, he said, is a commodity worth paying for.

Younger generations of students aspiring to be journalists are setting “fresh new ground for growth” in terms of changing and improving journalism, Stelter said. He said it’s essential for students to get out there and establish themselves.

“We have the metabolism to just start doing it today,” he said. “Whatever you think it might be, go and start doing it today. Don’t wait.”

Stelter said that even as a seasoned professional he has his bad days along with his good days.

“A lot of my stories are failures,” he said. “You can have failures in private and successes in public.”

Stelter said despite the amount of work and irregular hours his career requires, he still writes all the time and actually gets a reasonable amount of sleep.

“I try to look like I’m always working,” he joked. But only, he said, so that his boss would think he was available all the time.

Still, when asked about his personal ambitions, Stelter said he’d be perfectly content to work at the Times “until the day I die.”

Here’s a brief interview with Brian Stelter.

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