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, our studio website, my massage site, 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:

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

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.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Nath Keo Workshop

This weekend I took in Nath Keo's "Sacred Centre" and "Oriental Bliss" workshops, and they were fantastic! Put on by BC ex-pat's Kathryn Burke and Lara Kirkpatrick, the workshops were held at the Dartmouth Sportsplex. I first met Nath after he blew everyone away at the first IBCC in Toronto. He was one of the performers everyone asked about, and due to popular demand Yasmina brought him back the next year to teach. Check out any of his Youtube videos and you'll see that his precise and innovative dancing is like nothing you've seen before.

What I love about Nath is his humble attitude and sense of humor, not to mention impeccable technique and a lot of passion for the dance. Influenced by his training in both Cambodian dance and Oriental style (aka Egyptian/cabaret bellydance for the stage), his style is very unique. Nath often mentioned how his teaching style is influenced by his work choreographing for Sacred Centre dance company, with the end goal being synchronized lines and technique.

Having been away from Yasmina and my other teachers in Toronto for many months, I was thrilled to be a student again, learning a fresh perspective on oriental technique as well as new and innovative combos. I even felt Nath's aesthetic coming out when I taught my classes on Saturday.

Nath is truly a Canadian treasure and belongs on the international workshop circuit. The quality of the workshop was right up there with many I've taken with more famous dancers. So get in your classes with him while you can!

I've been thinking a lot lately about creating group choreographies for our Cabaret Serpentine shows, and for various events in Atlantic Canada. Now I'm even more inspired!

Read more about Nath and his dancers here:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Casino Carnivale

Monique and I performed at a great event at the Casino last week, Casino Carnivale. All week they had entertainment and special promotions. On April 16th and 17th a group of circus performers were brought in from all over the city and abroad to perform on and off for the evening. I had an awesome time meeting so many fascinating people! In bellydance land, I rarely have the chance to work with performers from different disciplines, so it was a thrill for me! So much damn talent in one room. I even got a private juggling lesson!

Monique and I (Monique's Blog here)

Caitlan and Monique (Caitlan's Blog here)

Caitlan and I, practicing my cirque skills!

Just chillin'.

Caitlan stretching

Monique before performing

Caitlan in the lobby stage

Tribally Yours 2011

This April, Monique and I were invited to teach and perform at Tribally Yours in Quebec. Our friends and fellow performers Kay and Elinor joined us for the road trip. Kay drove the whole way there and back in one shot, about 28 hours of driving total! We managed to make the drive fun with good music and photoshoots.

After settling in at our gorgeous B&B, we had a fabulous supper at a nearby restaurant, fresh salmon perfectly cooked, and handmade pasta with carmelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes. Yum! The next day we woke up early to teach our workshop, Drunken Master. Not your typical topic, this was about exploring the loose, juicy side of your dancing. Letting go of inhibitions and stiff perfectionism. However, we stressed that to really achieve the "master" part of the equation, technique needs to be so ingrained in your body that you can let go of thinking about it.

This workshop was inspired by Jackie Chan's Drunken Master, as a martial artist he gets better and better as he drinks, letting the punches flow by as he moves freely and softly around his opponant. We were also inspired by dancers like Dina and Zoe Jakes who truly "let go" when they dance, as well as Turkish Rom which frequently involves pantomimes of drinking. Our featured choreography, of which we taught some sections, has us drinking out of rhinestone flasks and loosening up as we dance.

The workshop was a blast, we started with shaking out the tension in all our body parts, then learning some funky "drunken" combos, and finally I led the girls in a Zaar-inspired ritual at the end to experience letting go of our "demons" and stress of our lives.

As students, we enjoyed Marie-Chantel's awesome Bollywood/Bellydance workshop, and Domonique Senecal's Tahitian dancing.

The performance was an amazing mix of over 30 acts. A HUGE amount of talent in this show. Monique and I performed solos as well as our Drunken Master duet. My favorite act was Marie-Chantel's infectious Bollywood to "Choli Ke Peeche" which I can't get out of my head.

Monique's awesome Hula Hoop/Bellydance/Cirque act:

My sword solo:

Drunken Master:

We spent the next night in Montreal, drinking wine and chatting with the girls. It was a great trip- we really enjoyed meeting so many talented people and seeing their creations! We were sad to go...especially sad to leave the land of fresh squeaky-cheese and easily accesible wine. Le sigh.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

New classes in Halifax

I'd like to thank all of the lovely ladies who came out to my classes this Saturday at King's College Dance Studio. I'm so thrilled to be teaching again, these will be my first regular classes in Halifax since moving back from Toronto.

It was refreshing to see seasoned students from a variety of different teachers in my Intermediate class looking to brush up on their technique, study a new style and just to keep learning. Sometimes we forget that reviewing the basics can be so important and effective, so today I focused on Egyptian style shimmies and some arm patterns with this group. It's always tricky to get the Egyptian or "thigh" shimmy down when most of us start out with a bigger, more American-style shimmy that has the knees so connected to the hips. Everyone did a great job with the challenge.

I also had a great time teaching my brave beginners! I went through the full range of motion of the hips today, accent, twist, tilt, forward, backward and sideways slides, and Egyptian shimmies. I was impressed to see how patient and focused the ladies were today, taking the time to get the technique right instead of barreling ahead and missing the subtleties.

I think I'm going to enjoy teaching the more laid-back East Coast crowd!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Choosing a Bellydance Teacher

It seems like everywhere you turn there's a bellydance class these days. When I lived in Toronto, there were 4 bellydance studios within walking distance. 7 if you're athletic. When Yasmina Ramzy started Arabesque Academy in Toronto, there was nothing else like it in most of Canada. Now you can find a bellydance class at every university, gym, rec centre and dance studio. Are all of these teachers qualified? How can you find out? In this post I hope to give you a couple good tips on how to determine if a teacher is right for you.


There are certainly more people bellydancing than ever before, and many more talented dancers. But being a great performer does not necessarily make a good teacher, and vice versa. Someone may have a great website and look absolutely stunning, but that does not make them a good dancer. You may fall in love with a performer, and find them cold and disorganized as a teacher. One thing is for sure, you want to be inspired by your teacher, so finding someone who's performance style you love is important. If you find a dancer to be awkward and uncomfortable as a performer, they will likely be the same in class, and may not be comfortable teaching to large groups.


Does the teacher have respect for themselves and for the art form? Seeing one of their performances can be a good way to find out. Do they act bawdy and crass, or classy and professional? Do they teach in a clean, safe studio, or some sketchy dive? Do you really want to associate yourself with someone who is doing the art form a disservice? Also, remember that price should NEVER be your top priority, if you want to get your money's worth. A true professional will not undercut other teachers and devalue the profession by giving away their work for free or at a deep discount. Even if they turn out to be a knowledgeable teacher, it shows a lack of respect to other teachers who work hard to make a living.


Many people just want a fun class to get fit, feel sexy and have fun. This is a great reason to take a bellydance class! But just because you don't have any professional ambitions doesn't mean you should go to just anyone. Many newbie teachers say, "Oh, I know I'm not that experienced, but I only teach beginners". Beginner is the absolute most important level! 90% of advanced moves are a combination of isolations learned in beginner, and if you learn bad technique from the beginning, trust me, it is MUCH harder to unlearn than it is to learn something from scratch.

The other issue is your safety. Bellydance may seem like a gentle dance form, but all that hip twisting, shoulder snapping, chest popping and hip bumping can injure you if you don't have a knowledgeable teacher. Someone with experience will be specific when teaching technique, warning you to avoid things like stressing your joints, compressing your neck, hyper-extending your knees, etc.

Watch out for those backbends...

One of the reasons I went in to Massage Therapy was to better understand bio-mechanics and the inner workings of the body to become a better teacher. What qualifications does the teacher have? Even if it's just knowledge collected from years of teaching and various related courses that may not have resulted in a degree, this is something you should research if you value your health! And as for learning the right technique, you may not start out wanting to be a "bellydancer", but so many girls fall in love with the art form and find themselves dedicated artists many years later. You deserve to get off on the right foot.


How long has the teacher been dancing before she started teaching? How long has she been teaching for? I personally waited 6 years until I felt I was ready to teach. Some people wait a year or less. Do they really have enough knowledge to be taking your money for it? I have seen some dancers become amazing bellydancers in as little as two years, however these girls usually have a very strong dance background in other styles, and study like crazy for those two years. If the teacher studied every day with top-of-the-industry teachers, then maybe two years is enough. If they studied for 10 years with some lady in the park, well, not so much. Look at their training.


Is this just a silly on-the-side thing, or something the teacher is passionate about? For me, my love for bellydance is behind everything I do. There are a couple ways to tell if the teacher is serious. Have they studied with renowned teachers? If someone isn't willing to invest money and time into this dance, they can't be taking it seriously. Dance training is expensive. Period. Do they invest in regular training? If they don't live in a big city, do they occasionally travel (or bring artists in) to stay fresh?

This extends to costuming, as shallow as it may sound. No matter if they're "designer", but a lingerie bra with a necklace sewn to it doesn't exactly scream "professional". Pro cabaret costumes cost a few hundred dollars. If you put together an amazing tribal fusion costume, it will be similar, if not more (That antique Rajasthani jewelry adds up).  Like I said, expensive!

Of course, having lots of bling doesn't make you good. I've seen a couple "interesting" performers with rich husbands who love to buy them designer costumes. The key here is professionalism. The costume doesn't have to be expensive, but it should show respect for the dancer and the art form.

Serious dancers will have a website. I know a couple amazing dancers in Toronto who don't, but you should at least be able to read about them on the dance studio website. In general, if someone is taking the profession seriously, they should have one. Good business cards too. There are always exceptions to the rule, but there needs to be a way to learn about the dancers background.


Aida Nour leads a group at the 2008 International Bellydance Conference of Canada

Now, we can all get a little flustered or disorganized at times, but in general you want to see that your teacher has a plan. Technique should build on itself as you go, and the class should have a good warm-up and cool down. Designing a class plan, what order to teach the moves in, to what music, and in what time frame takes experience. This is something you usually only find out after you take the class.


It seems obvious, but simply knowing how to shake doesn't cut it. What kind of shimmy is that? What muscles are powering that chest lift? Where does veil work come from? Where does BELLYDANCE come from? Who are the Saidi people? Bellydance is a cultural art with a rich history. If the teacher has no idea where it comes from, they are doing both the dance and their students a disservice. There is a lot of discussion about whether Tribal Fusion teachers (who clearly state they don't teach traditional dance) should know about the roots of bellydance and Middle Eastern Folklore. I believe that of course they should at least know about the general history of the dance. Modern dancers don't necessarily have to study ballet in depth, but they do know the basics.


For me, this is a big one. Do you leave class feeling like crap because of a put-down from your teacher? Does she make you feel excited about learning more, or like you should just give up? How does she give criticism? Don't keep going to a teacher who crushes your spirit, or who makes you feel uncomfortable. That's not what you're there for. Sahra Saeeda is a wonderful example of the right kind of personality. Taking her "Journey Through Egypt" folklore certificate course, I felt so excited to learn more, she made us feel like scholars of dance. She respected the knowledge we came in with and was excited to teach us more.

I've had other teachers make me feel like I will never understand all the complexities of this dance and I should just give up. They may insult your other teachers and insist they are the "one true path" and their next big expensive workshop is the only way you'll ever improve. Which personality do you think will really encourage your progress?

Sahra shows Jaene a Ghawazee-style costume at left

Another thing to be wary of is teachers who are so sweet that they never correct your technique (again, what are you paying for?) or who feed your ego by promising you that you'll be a huge star. You want someone kind and encouraging, but you also want someone who will push you to be your absolute best. This may mean you occasionally leave class feeling frustrated or bummed-out, but you shouldn't feel personally hurt or disrespected by your teacher.

There are so many more factors to take into consideration, and following your instincts will always help you. I wish everyone could have a wonderful experience learning this incredible dance and hope you can find the best possible mentor to guide you!

Laura and Monique with Rachel Brice in 2007

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Going Home

Most of you know I'm moved back to Halifax, Nova Scotia from Toronto this winter. This has been such a hard decision for me and about a year of angst went into it. I've had a lot of people ask why I would move to a smaller city at this point in my career, so I thought I'd write a bit about it here.

When I initially left Halifax, many of my friends had already moved away, I was at a standstill in my bellydance and photography career, and I wanted a change. I had taken the Arabesque Pro Course in Toronto in the summer and was completely excited about the idea of working with Canada's leading bellydance company, Yasmina Ramzy, and learning to work with live musicians. In October 2005 I moved to Toronto and started taking classes at Arabesque like crazy.

My first year was hard. Toronto is a hard city to crack and it took me almost the whole year until I started to like the place. When I visited Halifax, Monique and I would have intensive bellydance pow-wows and started our duet group, Cabaret Serpentine. We began putting on shows every 6 months or so and dreamed of working in the same city and starting a business together. I planned to move home in about 2 years after studying intensively at Arabesque.

That didn't happen. I became an apprentice and then a lead dancer at Arabesque. After working full time as a bellydancer, teaching and performing all over the city, I became concerned at the flighty nature of the work and wanted a side career to support it. Something that would be a compliment. After a lot of searching I found Massage Therapy. It felt like the perfect match; I would learn more about anatomy and biomechanics, I would be helping people, I could be my own boss eventually, and could set my own schedule.

2 years later I graduated from Sutherland-Chan as an RMT, with a wonderful boyfriend. :)
We spent the next year and a half together and things just kept getting better. Many of the Arabesque girls had become very close friends, and wonderful opportunities kept coming my way. I had two great jobs as an RMT and had finally started to feel at home in Toronto.

All this time Monique and I kept talking about the possibilities for our business, brainstorming new workshops, choreographies and ideas. I loved working with Arabesque but I was starting to get tired of being an instrument in someone else's vision and wanted the opportunity to create my own work. I missed my family, the tight-knit community in Halifax, the ocean and my friends. When I visited in the summer to help put on "Serpentine Circus", I saw what I would be missing out on if I stayed in Toronto. A chance to be a leader in the bellydance community with something to offer the city, as opposed to Toronto where there are so many amazing dancers, events and workshops going on that nothing really stands out. Creating your own events is so incredibly expensive and complex in Toronto that it hardly seems worth it. In Halifax our network of incredible talented people meant that our shows had been great successes.

So after about a year of driving both Monique, my boyfriend and my family crazy, I decided I needed to try moving back and see if I could make it work. My (did I mention wonderful?) boyfriend finally agreed to move down with me in April, a crucial detail! In December I left my jobs, had about 4 tearful goodbye parties with Arabesque, packed up my crazy apartment and moved home over Christmas.

Since I've moved back, everyone has been so welcoming and wonderful. I'm thrilled to see the interest in traditional Egyptian dance by Halifax dancers, with two sold-out workshops this month! It has been so good to connect with my family again and working with Monique is exciting as always. Our plans are finally taking shape and so many amazing opportunities and projects have come our way already. I've started a great job as a massage therapist as well. I can't thank everyone enough for your love, support, and encouragement this last year, I certainly wouldn't have made it without you.