Thursday, 8 December 2011

Adventures in Undulations: A year of belly dance

Sonia Drum Solo, source unknown

Last weekend I performed at my first hafla. What is a hafla I hear you say? A hafla is a belly dance party. And why was I performing at a belly dance party? Let me start from the beginning.

Once upon a time In January this year I began taking belly dance classes. What this means is that I’ve gotten in touch with my abs, oblique’s and even my glutes too. And I looove it!

Once bitten by the belly dance bug, any notions I had of silky harems and drooling sultans quickly disappeared to be replaced by a million* questions: What is tribal fusion?  Coin belt or hip scarf? How do I shimmy? How do I layer my shimmies? How long until I can do anything that vaguely resembles this? Should I learn to play zills (finger cymbals)? Dance with the veil? Assaya (stick dancing)?  All three? And where can I get an amazing costume?

Raqs Sharqi ( the Arabic name for Oriental dance) is a world unto itself that encompasses everything from pure dance beauty to intense athleticism. (With a myriad of rhythms,stylistic variations, aesthetic interpretations, and moods in between.)You try contracting your lower abs, upper abs and upper back for a body wave, now travel!

I believe belly dance can be widely/loosely categorised into two main categories: traditional oriental style, originating in the Middle East and Modern Fusion, developed the world over which takes inspiration from everything from Bollywood to Ballet to the Biblical. These inspirations only serve to make the art form stronger and multi-faceted. And belly dance, although typified by feminine grace and energy (and all things sparkly and jangly) is not reserved for women only!  There is a long tradition of men belly dancing, which is fabulous, and still continues today.

I have no qualms with crediting Shakira originally for this obsession. The video for Whenever,Wherever in 2001 planted the seed which finally came to fruition (10 years later!!) on taking classes this year. And it was worth the wait because I got a Fabulous teacher. In class each move is broken down technically, so you learn that an undulation  is executed by contracting your upper back,  then upper abs, then lower abs, then releasing. At first I pondered, what does my upper back have to do with belly dance? But on seeing my teacher demonstrate a perfect undulation I was like, if that’s what it takes, hello upper back!
Twelve months of classes and practise sessions later ( and youtubing drum solos, stalking ebay for costumes and not a few sit-ups) my belly dance idols now include Sharon Kihara, Sadie, Rachel Brice, Meher Malik, Samia, Didem, Ansuya, Sonia, Jillina….

It all climaxed in a hafla thrown by my teacher in November. A hafla is a fabulous belly dance party/festival where dancers perform for each other and audience members, either to live or taped music. I performed in two student dances and loved every second of it.  The atmosphere was beautiful, the audience really enjoyed themselves and each dancer was awe-inspiring. The hafla marked a first milestone in my belly dance journey and I can’t wait for the next step!**

Some of my favourites: 

*Samia belly dance * Maria - Drum Solo *Samantha Emmanuel- Belly dance  *

 *Rachel Brice- Drum Solo *  Meher Malik- Odissi Fusion * Sharon Kihara- Drum Solo *

More links:

*Or thereabouts
** On relevé with a choo-choo shimmy

Ps: I've started a belly dance tumblr, check it out!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Why Hello London: Places to make you smart

The academic year is upon us again and it’s back to school for the lot of you.

Whether you’ve combed your entire campus and still havent satiated your thirst for learning, or want to give your next trip around town an intellectual flavor, visit these spots that are sure to give you smart points.

The British Library
96 Euston Road

If youre looking for that extra material for your coursework you are sure to find it here amongst the 14 million books kept in the worlds largest library, based on number of items. Once youve got your membership card ( free for students) and found your way around the reading rooms you can knuckle down with whatever book, journal or even sound recording you need to help you get top marks.

Grant and Cutler
Grant & Cutler at Foyles,
113-119 Charing Cross Road,

Ni hao! ¡Hola! Hej! If you’re taking a language degree or brushing up on the lingua franca for your travels abroad, then Grant and Cutler Foreign Language Bookshop is the place to be. The shop is conveniently located within Foyles Bookshop on Charing Cross Road, so your language learning need not interfere with your window shopping. Stocking textbooks, novels, dictionaries and even games (Italian fridge poetry anyone?) in every living language you are sure to find that je ne sais quoi necessary for all your vernacular needs.

Malet Street

 When the book you need has already been grabbed from your university library you are likely to find it in the sometimes forgotten Senate House Library. Nestled between UCL, SOAS, and the British Museum it is open to students of all colleges of the University of London  ( which includes UCL, Kings, LSE, LBS, Goldsmiths, SOAS among many others.) Interesting fact- the striking building would have been Hitlers headquarters of choice had he taken London.

Regent St

 If youre filled with wanderlust but are running out of change to top up your Oyster card let alone fund a plane ticket, take a trip to the National Geographic shop for a travel experience just at the top of Regents Street. This would be a look but dont buy expedition only, as the curiosities from around the world, mountaineering gear and furniture items sold lie outside the student budget.  Nonetheless the stores three floors hold enough photography books, souvenirs and travellers wares to merit an eye- opening browse. The photography exhibit held in the left wing of the store is always worth a look.

Belvedere Road
South Bank
SE1 8XT 

Whether you study film, media or want to dip your toes into some culture without moving very much, take in a film at the BFI Southbank.  The offerings ranging from the classic to the independent and experimental will satisfy any movie buff. Watch a film from the archive for free in the Mediatheque, or flash your student card for discounted tickets for screenings. Check the website before hand to see whats on. If you go on a Saturday be sure to check out the Second-hand book market that pops up in front.

183 Euston Road
 NW1 2BE

The Wellcome Collection houses items of interest to every student in the medical, science, art and history field. The oddly intriguing articles on display range from grisly 19th century medical implements to Napoleon’s toothbrush and used guillotine blades. The collection also showcases historic and contemporary art exhibitions.  Admission is free.

102 Eaton Square

Not just for lovers of Don Quixote,  the Instituto Cervantes attracts students and aficionados of Spanish language and culture alike. It holds regular culture events, film nights and boasts a specialist Spanish library. Most events are free to attend and simultaneous translation is provided, so no matter if your Spanish is limited to hola and por favor.

22 Betterton St.
Covent Garden

Escape the corporate coffee chain and get inspired at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden.  Not just for poetry lovers, come here to read, relax or catch up on some coursework. In a quiet moment cast your eye over the poetry thats scattered about the place. The café, hidden away from the tourist beat holds poetry readings most evenings and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. The perfect place to eke out your inner Dr Seuss or just enjoy the ambience.

Hertford House
Manchester Square

The Wallace Collection is a hidden gem a stones throw away from Oxford Street.  Students and lovers of art, history, design and anyone looking for some intellectual or aesthetic enjoyment will be satisfied by the art and antiquities housed here. Browse the paintings by Velasquez, Rubens, and Rembrandt among others whilst strolling by the largest collection of Marie Antoinette furniture in Europe. If paintings aren’t your thing, the impressive decor of the beautiful mansion itself is worth a look. The piece de resistance is a huge collection of European and Oriental suits of armour and weapons.  Admission is free and highly recommended.

And dont forget Londons stellar museums guaranteed to hold something relevant to your course and interests:

Happy learning!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A heart shaped cloud over London

I took this picture in my garden yesterday, on the fourth day of the riots. 
To some it may just be vapour, but to me it's a wonderful omen . 

Spread the love and stay strong people! And enjoy your tea!


Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Dear Looters, some tips for you.

Make sure to get the right size the first time, the shop won't accept returns!

Smiling makes you seem friendly and approachable. 

Show off your bounty. We'd love to hear about it.

Take time to chat with the locals, no need to be antisocial!

Shield yourself from harmful UV rays.

Get some practise in for the next series of Supermarket Sweep.

Remember what Tyra says, find the light.

Form an orderly queue, we're British after all.

If your bike hasn't got a basket, improvise!

Don't forget to pick up dinner.

And remember,
 loot now, pay later.

 Pictures from