Tuesday, April 9, 2013

This post was originally posted on my old website which is now www.lauraselenzi.com. Thought I'd post it here as a way to archive it!

Working with Live Musicians

Originally published in The Chronicles Magazine, Winter 2009.
By Laura Selenzi
In working with Arabesque Dance Company one of the most valuable learning experiences for me has been that of working with live musicians. The Arabesque Orchestra is without contention the best of it's kind in Ontario and it has been invaluable to work alongside them.
My first introduction was at the Arabesque Pro Course in 2005, where we met lead drummer Sulieman Warwar and Quanoun (among other things) maestro Dr. George Sawa. These master musicians patiently taught us the subtleties of dancing to improvised music. Sulieman taught us the cues for entering and ending a show, and the basic pattern of a drum solo. We would eventually learn that not all drummers have the same methods for communicating with dancers (or any methods, for that matter) and we discovered that we are very lucky to have someone so tuned into the dancer and to creating a harmonious communication between musician and dancer, albeit a bit of a maniac on the drum! George taught us about the Arabic maquams and introduced us to the stunning complexity of the quanoun. At the culmination of the course we performed for an audience with these musicians, which was terrifying and exhilarating for all of us.

I experienced the orchestra for the first time at the weekly nightclub show Arabesque hosts, Layali Arabesque. I had never heard a full live Arabic band before and instantly found the drums exciting and infectious and Bassam Bishara's voice and Oud heartbreakingly beautiful. When I was the featured dancer at Layali, (an opportunity I did not feel ready for in the least!) I was calmed by the band's encouraging smiles and words of wisdom and felt honored at the music they played for me. I still had a lot to learn about dancing to live music, but this was a good start.
Since this first time I have danced at Layali many times over the past couple years. This night has now moved to the larger Myth Restaurant, and new musicians have joined the Orchestra both temporarily and on a regular basis. On an average night we are treated to keyboard, 4 drummers (riqq, bongos or sumbati, doumbek and daff) Violin, Oud and Bassam's lovely voice. We have on occasion had tabla, tahvol (large double-sided drum played with a stick, generally to accompany Saidi style dance), additional violinists, guest vocalists and more.

Arabesque dancers are experienced in the different instruments, rhythms and styles of music that tend to accompany certain folkloric styles of dance such as Khaleegy, Saidi, Shamadan and more. On any given night at Layali, the band may start a beat from the Gulf, and the crowd will cry out in delight and start to swing their hair, accent with their shoulders and wave their hands to the beat in the appropriate style used in Khaleegy dance. This instant recognition of an Arabic rhythm isn't exactly common among westerners, and I'm sure it really throws the rest of the audience for a loop! You can also catch this phenomenon with a good Debke line or any Oum Kalthoum song; sending wistful Arabs into passionate gesticulation and swaying, and maybe a bellydancer or 20 to let the music take her away.

I currently take Sulieman's doumbek class at Arabesque, and although I'm barely a beginner, I was excited to show a drummer in my hometown a couple tips on his doumbek, and from my experience at Layali I was able to guide him into accompanying me in a recent show, a sight which my East Coast town is not usually treated too!
I certainly have gained immensely from my experience with the musicians at Arabesque, and I truly wish that other dancers could experience the same. Because music is so tightly wound into our dancing, I believe this connection to live musicians is vital, and intrinsic to keeping some sense of history and tradition in our dance as we move forward in the history of bellydance.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

10 Ways to Avoid Back and Neck Pain

In my massage practice there is one condition almost everyone is plagued by, and it's back and neck pain. I would say 98% of my clients are experiencing discomfort in this area. I find myself giving the same advice over and over and thought I'd share my top 10 tips for avoiding back and neck pain...with YOU!

Now, if you already have pain in these areas, you need to deal with your tight muscles, trigger points, fascial adhesions etc through massage, osteopathy, or your therapy of choice...and ALSO do the things below to keep it from coming back.

Without further ado!

1. Stop sticking your head out.

I admit this one is a constant battle. Many of us stick our heads forward to look at a computer all day, while driving, while studying, while squinting because you're not wearing your glasses etc etc. Your head is meant to be perfectly balanced on your spine. Kapandji (Physiology of the Joints, Volume III) states that for every inch your head moves forward, it functionally gains 10 pounds in weight. So the muscles in your upper back and neck have to work extra hard to keep your head up. This puts the suboccipital muscles (at the base of your skull) in constant contraction. So gently tuck your chin back in, or think of bringing your ears back to be right over your shoulders. Instant poise! Read more on this here.

2. Correct Your Posture.

Everyone knows they need to "work on their posture", but how do you do this? Constant correction is a start...good reminders are: Weight over the arches of your feet, feet straight forward, knees straight forward, hip sockets, heels, shoulders and ear in a vertical line, chest in neutral (don't let it sink or thrust it forward) and pull up through the crown of your head.

But why is this so hard? Most people have very tight pectoral muscles (over your chest) and weak mid-back muscles. So, stretch your pecs, and strengthen your mid/upper back muscles, and you will find good posture comes easily.

3. Sleep on Your Back.

Many people sleep on their stomach with their head cranked to one side. (You know...for breathing.) To me this is pretty clear how this causes your spine and neck muscles to be irritated. Another problem is sleeping with a pillow that isn't the right size. If you can re-train yourself to sleep on your back, use a fairly flat pillow. Many people recommend sleeping with a pillow under your knees in this position to take the strain off your back. If your back is strained by having your legs straight...you need your hip flexors worked on, now. A very small pillow is probably ok. I guess.

If you absolutely cannot fall asleep like this, or you snore, try on your side with a pillow big enough to keep your head at 90 degrees to your shoulders, and hug a big pillow to keep your shoulders from rounding in. A pillow between your knees will keep your pelvis even too.

4.Drink Enough Water.

You've heard it a million times before, but did you know that being underhydrated can lead to stiffness and pain? Fascia is the connective tissue that weaves throughout your whole body, encapsulating every muscle fibre, muscle group, organ etc. See the gross pic at right (its a back). It's everything that's white. Stuck, immobile, or contractured fascia is often thought to be more responsible for pain and imbalances than the muscles themselves. And guess what, they need water to be pliable and delicious. I mean...functional. Read more on this here. Think about chewing gum. It's hard until you add moisture, movement, and warmth. More on the last two coming up.

5. Keep Warm.

Cold muscles like to contract to conserve heat. Walk out into the cold and your shoulders want to jump up into your ears. BAD SHOULDERS! Keep them happy with a cozy scarf and dress properly. This can also happen with a cold air vent or window draft hitting you, be sure to avoid this at the office and especially while sleeping.

If your muscles are already tight, we all know heat is a wonderful tool for relief! Hot showers, moist heat packs, and infrared heat are great because they penetrate deeper into muscles than regular dry heat.

6. Stop Sitting All Day.

I realize that you may be required by your job to sit for many hours a day. And although this is cruel and unusual, I get it. Oh, and no desk is "ergonomic" if you're sitting all day. It's a shocking revelation, but we didn't evolve to sit in chairs. See the diagram at right. It shows the positions used by humans all over the world. How many are you using?

The simple fact is that doing anything over and over, all day, causes injury. We know this about repetitive stress injuries, but did you consider that sitting is something you do over and over, all day? Every day, your hips and knees are put at a 90 degree angle, shortening your hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves. When you eventually stand up, your muscle length is totally out of whack and your back has to arch to compensate, among other problems. See more here. And be very afraid. But there are lots of things you can do...just read Katy's Blog. Get up and walk around as much as possible. You can even make a standing desk!

7.Get Moving.

This is the fun part! Your body NEEDS movement to be healthy. And not just a shot of exercise once a day. Change your positions as much as possible! Walk instead of taking the bus! Take breaks from sitting! Take more dance classes! ;) Moving through the ranges of your joints is necessary to keep your mobility. Use it or lose it!

8. Ditch the Heavy Shoulder Bag.

When my clients come in with a combination of a very tight shoulder/neck on one side and tight low back on the other, this is always my first guess. A couple quick fixes: Before you go out, take out every extra thing that you don't need in your bag. Carry less. Get a smaller bag. Get a bag with a longer strap that will cross over your body. If you must carry heavy things, get a rolling bag. (These have saved my neck many times.) Get a (horror) backpack! There ARE cute ones out there! And according to at least two sources on the internet, they are stylish again. So you can feel smug, not dorky.
-Reconsider the Backpack
-Oprah Said So
-15 Cute Backpacks For More Than Just The Gym
-This is actually nice. This too.

9. Stop Wearing High Heels.

We all know they're not great for us, but turns out, they're actually horrible. Remember how I said that sitting at the desk all day shortens your hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors? Well, on top of that, so do your heels. They put a ton of pressure and strain on your low back too. The human foot is a miracle of engineering, and heels of any height (actually, most shoes) seek to create their own crazy engineering. If your foot muscles aren't able to move (as in almost every shoe), they are shutting off, and throwing off your whole biomechanical chain. This has been shown to lead to Osteoperosis, and even weakens your pelvic floor. I can't get into this right now. I just can't. Go here. And here. Please.

10.Reduce Stress

*Having pets has been shown to reduce your stress level, so this adorable kitten is totally relevant.

It still amazes me the difference that stress makes in the tone of our muscles. Many clients who come to me with chronic pain feel miraculously better on vacation. Once they're back to their stressful job/life, all the pain comes back.

Make your mental and emotional health a priority. Remember that to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself first. Whether this means getting regular massage treatments, taking yoga or dance classes, finding a creative outlet, meditating before bed, or whatever works for you, you need to take care of yourself, people!

This also goes for seeking treatment, don't wait until you are in severe pain. It is much more effective to catch a problem before if becomes a fully-fledged condition. Again, be kind to yourself. Good luck!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Update: Life with the new studio

Oh, hi there blog world! It's been a while.

I've been a little busy. As of now, I am responsible for updating my website www.laurasbelly.com, our studio website www.serpentinestudios.com, my massage site www.lauranewton-rmt.com, our studio facebook page, twitter, and this blog. I also have 4 email accounts and a real life mailbox. But that one is always empty except for bills. (Where ARE you new Beats Antique album??)

Anyway, I'm not complaining because I not-so-secretly love HTML and facebook and spending an hour trying to figure out why the tiny photo of Monique won't line up with the others. Ok not so much the last part.

So what else is new? The studio is humming along, some classes have sold out and others are still very small- mostly a happy medium. We love having a beautiful space to call our own. It's so great to be able to do things like serve tea from our favorite tea shop (World Tea House), and have a wall especially for practicing handstands. I also love being able to have classes that I personally think are awesome. Right now I'm taking Circus Fit with Caitlan, Acroflex with Monique, and Ashtanga Yoga with Erica and am essentially getting my butt kicked. All 3 classes are very challenging but a lot of fun.

I think my arms are getting more toned already and I'm getting stronger. Also, I did my best handstand ever the other day and it was very exciting! Handstands are by far my favorite circus trick, probably because your progress is so obvious. Other than that it would have to be splits...I would like them a lot better if I could actually do them. Must practice.

I'm also taking Flamenco with the amazing Maria Osende. I wish I were taking classes with her more often so my progress wasn't so slow. The rhythm and footwork is SO different from bellydance that it is taking me a while to wrap my head around it. The arms and posture come much easier to me.

And speaking of practice, it's definitely easier to do when you have your very own space. I love dancing in our studio, it's inspiring. I find that great music really is the key to get me off my butt and pushing myself. This week it was Fi Hagat by Nancy Ajram. It's a sad song, and has that strong Arabic emotion that I love so much. Here's the video. Although it's a different language, I think the feeling comes through.

Can't wait for the student showcase coming up Nov 19th...I may perform this song but haven't decided yet. Looking forward to seeing all of our amazing students perform at this event, it will be a great feeling to see it all come together. :)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Studio Grand Opening!

It is with great excitement that I write this entry, as our dream of opening our own studio has finally come true! Our website has been updated and everything can now be found here: www.serpentinestudios.com

Monique and I are thrilled to have found the perfect space, in the heart of downtown Halifax on Barrington Street. Floor to ceiling windows, brick walls and hardwood floors are more than we could have asked for. Check out our facebook page for updates!

The amazing Elinor Crosby, Erica Schmidt and Caitlan Anthony joining us as instructors. Check out all our classes on the fabulous schedule. We will also be offering Registered Massage Therapy and infrared sauna sessions in our treatment room for your tired muscles.

We're celebrating with a week of FREE CLASSES from September 12-18 to kick off our Fall session. Come try any and all classes in bellydance, hula hoop, flexibility, pilates and more!

As if that weren't enough to keep us busy, this weekend we're performing "Mesmerize" at the Atlantic Fringe Festival. If you can't decide which style of bellydance to take, check out the show for a sample of everything! This show is has a fabulous mix of bellydance, circus and theatre. See you there!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fringe Festival Teaser

Monique and I are thrilled to be taking part in the Atlantic Fringe Festival this year. We don't want to give anything away...but here's a little teaser.

The Poster:

Some of our Inspirations

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

5 Reasons to Have Bellydance at Your Wedding

With so many wedding websites and blogs out there, there is a lot of talk about how to make your reception the most fun, the most original, and the most fabulous! I've noticed a lot of sites discussing whether belly dance is an "appropriate" form of entertainment. To me this argument is a bit funny, since belly dance is perhaps the most traditional wedding entertainment in the Middle East, an area known by some for its conservativism. There, the bellydancer is standard, and brings good luck to the new couple while making their wedding the talk of the town! So in an effort to raise awareness of this fabulous wedding option, here are your Top 5 Reasons to Have Bellydance at your Wedding:

1. Make an Entrance

One of the funnest new trends in weddings is to have a choreographed entrance by your wedding party into the reception venue. Why not throw a traditional Zeffah wedding procession into the mix for something different? Historically the the bellydancer led the bride and groom through the streets, bringing them luck and fertility. Today the dancer(s) leads the couple (and often the whole wedding party) dramatically into the reception hall, playing finger cymbals and wearing a sparkling Shamadan (candelabra) on her head. Check out this video to get an idea!

2. Throw a Memorable Party

You want your reception to be remembered as the best party of the year, right? Well, 81% of guests say the thing they remember most about a wedding is the entertainment.* Between all the long speeches, cake-cutting, and making the happy couple kiss, there's gotta be something a little different. A colorful, swirling, dramatic performance by a skilled bellydancer is just the right thing to enchant and delight your guests.

Plus, teaching your uncle Fred or Grandmother to imitate our hip shimmies is too much fun! Kids love belly dance too, little girls especially love the princess-like costumes and love to dance with us.

Entertainment is often one of the Bride's last priorities, but within one week after their reception, 78% of Brides say they would have made the entertainment their highest priority, and almost 100% of people say they would have spent more of their budget on the entertainment.* Something to think about!

3. Get the Party Started!

We've all been at a wedding where the food has been eaten, the first dance has happened, and music is playing...but everyone is still in their seat. Awkward! But wait, this is our specialty! Belly dance is a great ice breaker. A professional performer will entertain your crowd, then pull a couple feisty guests up to dance with her. By the end of it, people can't wait to get up on the dance floor and show off their moves!

4. Express your Culture

Do you come from an Arabic, Turkish, or Persian background? Maybe your partner does, or part of your family. What better way to pay homage to your culture than a dance performance! Whether it's a classic, glittering belly dance show or a more traditional Middle-Eastern folk dance, an experienced bellydancer can offer a wide variety of cultural dances.

The beautiful sight of a glowing bride, the heart-warming speeches and connections made, fun music and dancing, these are some of the wonderful things about a wedding. But if you're looking to really create a spectacular, memorable event, belly dance is a great way to do it! Let us wow you with shimmering "Isis wings", daring sword dances, sparkling candelabras and fabulous dancing, all with a smile and an eye for taking your event to the next level.

PS- We also do Bollywood dancing, and there is nothing like Bollywood to get a party going!


Looking for a particular color scheme, a special song, or a certain guest you'd love to see try their hand at belly dance? A professional entertainer is adept at meeting all the challenges of today's weddings. Our bellydancers have years of experience and this is what they LOVE to do!

Check out our hire page to learn more about bellydance performances and booking.

Wonder what a wedding performance might look like? Check us out below!

Some thoughts from our wonderful past clients:

"You were amazing!!!! The best money spent on my wedding!" -Suzie, bride
"We were thrilled with your performance to say the least. All of our guests commented how beautiful and entertaining it was. [You two] are so talented. Thank you again." -Natalie, bride 

"You did a wonderful performance, we couldn't have asked for anything better! You looked absolutely stunning and your dance was amazing!" - Samira, entertainment organizer

"On behalf of [my husband] and myself, I wanted to thank you for your beautiful performance. You added that touch of exotic-ness! Many guests complemented your work to us; you were fantastic." - Parisa, bride

"...Laura was absolutely fantastic, and everyone has been raving about the performance. She was professional and wonderful, and very engaging with the crowd (not to mention a very enthusiastic four year old). Many people have come up to us saying how much it opened their eyes to a new form of incredible dancing. It was the perfect touch to our wedding!" - Stephanie, bride

"You were a big hit at our wedding! Thank you for performing...and for being easy going with everything I needed, it turned exactly how I imagined!" - Rund, bride 

*These statistics were published in St. Louis Bride & Groom Magazine in 2003. Sources include: Simmons, 2001; USA Today, 2002; National Bridal Service, 2001; The Knot, 2002; Brides Magazine, 2001. This rendition of these statistics from the American Disc Jockey Association website adja.org

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Colleena Shakti events

Only one week left before our next show, and as usual, it's madness!

Monique and I are especially excited about this event as we're flying international performer Colleena Shakti in from India for three workshops and the show. I have been a big fan of Colleena's ever since I heard of her from her Odissi Guru, Padma Cherun Dehury in India. In 2005, I studied Odissi with Padma for 6 weeks in Orissa, and when he heard I bellydanced, he showed me Colleena's business card. I was instantly enamored with this western woman who had been intensely studying Odissi and Rajasthani dance since 2001.

When I learned that Colleena lives for most of the year with the Khalbelia 'Gypsies" in Rajasthan, my respect only grew. Being accepted into this group was no easy feat, and Colleena had managed to become "one of them" through respect, dedication and passion for the dance. "Colleena was the first outsider to go so deeply into the Khalbelia culture to find the origins and symbolism in their dance and lifestyle."

I finally met Colleena in person in Pushkar, Rajasthan where she helped me put on a small show at the Raganath Temple, where she now operates the Shakti School of dance. Since then, Colleena's star has been on the rise around the world, her authentic and graceful presence hypnotizing audiences at Tribal Fest and many more events. In fact, after leaving Halifax, Colleena is teaching two sold-out workshops at the opening of Studio Datura, Tribal Fusion Pioneer Rachel Brice's new studio.

Colleena Shakti

We will be blessed with Colleena's presence at the show, where she will be performing both Odissi, Rajasthani, and Indian-Arabic fusion bellydance. Besides Colleena, we have so many other amazing performers! Both Monique Ryan and I are debuting new-to-Halifax numbers, Rhonda Barrett and Nawal Doucette will be performing their delicious fusion bellydance, the ever-awesome Elinor Crosby is in attendance along with her troupe Uberwench Tribal, and I can personally attest to the fabulousness of Mahari's gorgeous new number! This is one show you don't want to miss. Buy your tickets here or at Pretty Things Boutique in Halifax.