Monday, 29 September 2014

Getting into the Mood... Pre-Performance Rituals, and Make-up Must Haves! Part 1

I always have a bubble bath before a show. Always. I will make time to have a bath. Even if it means getting up stupidly early. I need to have at least 30 minutes in among the bubbles to be quiet, read a book, or listen to some music, and compose myself. 
It's a cosmetic thing that means so much to me, and really affects how I feel before a performance! Without that hug of warm water, I would - and I'm not ashamed to admit it - feel quite bereft! Let alone if I forgot my beloved MAC Shimmer Powder - then there really would be temper tantrums before going on stage! 

I thought I would ask some of my favourite dancers about their own personal pre-performance rituals, their make-up essentials, and also what inspires them with their own performance makeup and style!

In Part 1, I will be interviewing the Glamourous Princess Farhana, the Beautiful Rachel Bennett, the Scrummy Helen Santa Maria, and the Exotic Natasha Bradley!

Princess Farhana
So Princess, you are always so busy - you must have performance preparation down to a T! how do you like to prepare for a show or performance?
Since I travel constantly,  sometimes my gig preparation  is done days before the actual gig occurs…  selecting which costumes to pack, making sure I have every piece  and that its in good repair, all the matching accessories, my music, cymbals, and promotional  materials.  If I am at home,  I   do this too, but usually on the day of the show.

Photo taken by Lee Corkett
If I’ve never performed at a venue before ( like when I’m on the road) I  like to get to there early as possible, so I can look at the stage or performance area, hang out with the other dancers, and feel relaxed.  At home, I’m familiar with  most places I perform, but  I have to allow time  for  the insane traffic in Los Angeles, and would still prefer to get to my show early as opposed to rushing in at the last minute!
Wow! That is super organised! How important to you is your make-up ritual before a show? Do you have any other rituals or practices you do before a performance?
 I can do my stage make up anywhere… in 10 minutes flat!  I’ve done it in parked or moving cars  by street light, on beaches, in a forest, in the Men’s Room of a club, in  a tent at Burning Man in the middle of the desert. But whether  I’m getting ready in a dressing room, hotel room,  “on location” or  at my own house, I absolutely  would choose  not rush it. Taking the time to decide upon  my colors, lay out my brushes and cosmetics neatly and taking my time applying make up carefully  centers me and gets me in a nice, calm Zen-like space, where I can focus on my performance.  I like to listen to my music  while I get made up.  Let’s put it this way:  I’d rather do my face than eat dinner -and I LOVE my food, I tell you! - but I’ve have been known eat while  painting up my face, cause nothing trumps this ritual for me!
I always  need time to warm up  too…   no matter where I am, I keep moving and stretching.
I keep a small emergency  bag within my   gig bag  with bobby pins, safety pins, fashion tape, band-aids ( or “plasters”  as you  Brits say!) feminine protection, breath mints, pain relievers like ibuprophen or paracetemol,  a sewing kit, comb & brush, travel sized hair spray, deodorant, and my favorite scent, “Cotton Candy” which is a light body spray that makes me smile… I think it was originally intended for  8 year old girls, but I love it!
Another thing I  always do is to pray before I go onstage.  Actually, it’s more of a   gratitude ritual.  I close my eyes for a moment in a quiet place, even if it’s just the wings of the stage  and  thank the universe  for allowing my dreams of dance to come true… I am always so grateful for this!!! Then I focus on the audience and silently send them love and appreciation for coming to the show, and hope that I can transport them  with my piece, and that we can exchange energy  in a beautiful way.
You have some beautiful make-up looks, and always seem to have your own unique style. Who is your main inspiration for your own personal look, and why?
As far as make up goes, I look to vintage  movie stars and showgirls for inspiration…  and I like to chat with the dancers I’m sharing the stage with- it inspires me to see everyone’s creativity and to get to know them  before we go out and perform!
Where can dancers find out more about you and your performing?

Helen Santa Maria
So Helen, as a seasoned performer, how do you like to prepare for your performances? Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
For my very first gigs I used to start the build up build up about 3 days before! Then on the day I'd gear my whole day around getting ready and warming up etc.
These days I like to listen to my list of 'inspirational songs' and decide my set list whilst getting my make up on. I also listen to any new music I might be dancing to. I'm usually trying to entertain my one-year-old daughter, Sophia, who likes to get involved in the make up process. Through sheer necessity I can pretty much get myself ready from top to toe in 90 minutes or less! But however stretched I am for time, I ALWAYS have a cup of tea before leaving the house - that's non-negotiable.
I like the idea of the cup of tea! I think I need to include that in my own ritual! So what is your must-have in your performance make-up bag?
It depends on the season: in Summer it's face powder but in overall I'd have to say a really good lip gloss. Generally I travel pretty light for gigs.
You always look so polished and beautiful when you perform. Who or what is your inspiration for when you do your own make-up for shows?
I learned to do make up when I was a competitive ballroom dancer. I'm not naturally very artistic or good at make up so I had to just copy what everyone else did as best I could. Boy do they plaster it on, it was good training!
Where can dancers find out more about you and your performing?
Find out more about me at Follow me on twitter Connect with me on facebook: Like my facebook page: Subscribe to my youtube:
Come and see me perform!: - Resident dancer at Mangal Turkish restaurant, Reading 24th October, 7th November, 19th December - Sheikh It! Kenton Theatre, Henley 22nd October - Hossam ans Serena Ramzy hafla, Hurst Village Hall, 29th November

Rachel Bennett
Hi Rachel! As a super busy dancer who is is constant demand, do you have any pre-performance rituals to keep you calm and performance ready?

My most important ritual is to pack in advance using my special personalised bellydance performance pack list. Knowing I have everything I could possibly need is essential for a focused mindset.
What are your make-up must haves for your performance cosmetic bag?

My key cosmetic staples are: Eyelure eyelash glue, Max Factor pressed powder, MAC khol eyeliner crayon, Lipsticks in 3-4 key shades and of course, Perfume. All of equal importance and essential for makeup maintenance and refreshing in between sets!

Wow! You have a good arsenal of key items - I can't leave without perfume in my bag either! You are always so perfectly presented, how have you created your own personal bellydance look?

My look is individualised for me. I play with ideas but ultimately I create a look that endeavours to compliment and enhance my appearance as a bellydancer.
Where can dancers find out more about you and your performing?
You can visit my website at!

Natasha Bradley
Natasha, your performances are always so upbeat and full of life! What do you do to prepare?
1.      I don’t often have the luxury of time when preparing for a gig. I will usually settle on a playlist and dance around a bit to get some ideas and then music is fresh in my head before I go. I will also listen to some up-beat bellydance music whilst applying my make-up to get me in the party mood!  When at the venue I will warm-up and stretch just before going on.
If I am doing a practised performance at a show however, my preparation will be more about relaxing, deep-breathing and again lots of stretching!
Good call with the stretching - that's something a lot of dancers forget! What can you not leave the house without when it comes to your make-up bag?
        I always make sure I take ALL my make up with me if I’m doing more than one set so I can touch up in between sets... but the things I cannot leave behind when going to any gig would be... safety pins, a hairclip (as I have to get my hair off my sweaty neck ASAP!) and eyelash glue!! I love my false eyelashes as they help me get into character and hate it if they come loose!!

      Good call with the hair clip, that is definitely every dancers worst nightmare if you have long hair! I always bring a hair band so I can tie mine up after the first set! So tell me about how you do your make-up, your style is very exotic and really adds to your costuming - what's your inspiration?
I must say it took me a while to get my make-up right, and I am still always experimenting and change it all the time. I like the classic Cleopatra look with heavy eyeliner in a long flick from the eye...but also recently like using bhindis at the edges of my eyes, or one eye for an easy splash of colour.  I also take inspiration from ancient Persian art, again with the heavy black eyeliner to accentuate the almond eye shape, I sometimes darken and lengthen my eyebrows too.
Where can we find out more about you and your performing?
       You can find me at I dance every Saturday night in Windsor and teach classes with SMBA.
That all for now folks - stay tuned for Part 2, where we will be chatting to some more dancers about how they get performance ready!

Final Note for the Day:
All these dancers have one thing in common - they all PREPARE. If you are a nervous performer, prep your bag the night before, I guarantee, it will take a load off your mind if you know that all your costumes, make-up and extras are all in one place, ready for you to take to your gig!

Want to catch up on my 100 day Belly Dance Challenge? Don't forget to check out my YouTube playlist here.

If you want to use this post in your e-zine, blog or newsletter, please go ahead! But make sure that you credit Louise Brooks -

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Beauty of Silence

Silence is a powerful tool within the dancers vocabulary. I'm not talking about pauses or rests in music, but in quietening the body, and allowing your body to be still as part of your routine - to allow your body to become... Silent.

We all know that in belly dance, our goal is to interpret the music with our hips and bodies - to embody the violin, accordion or drum that is accompanying our dance - to feel the music, and create a "visual interpretation" of the song. 
An important part of this interpretation is to allow the body to be still at certain parts of the music - whether it's in a pose, deliberate hesitation before a turn, or elongating and pausing during a move. 

But how do I know when to be "Silent?"

It's very often the case that dancers - especially in belly dance - become obsessed with movement. So much so, that a choreography can become a shimmy from the very first second to the last few bars of the track - as we are so desperate to showcase everything within our vocabulary in a short 4 minute slot! We become scared to stop - especially when we are first starting out as performers - as it feels as though, if we stop dancing, the audience will see us for who we are. Not to mention when adrenaline kicks in, and time flies at lightening speed!

Take a look at Uliana Lopatkina performing "The Dying Swan". As Belly dancers we can learn a lot from other dance forms, and Ballet is the perfect example of this. Within this piece Uliana rises and falls with the music. She creates light and shade, and contrast between movement, and stillness. Watch at 2:00 when she creates large shapes and travelling steps, before becoming quiet and soft at 2:17. And also at 2:49 when she dramatically stops, and holds her pose - creating an air of sadness, of finality, and you can almost see the swan in the sky taking it's last few breaths.

This is important to take in as dancers, as those pause make all the difference. Imagine if she hadn't paused then? Or slowed her movements at those certain times? Would the effect have been the same?
She is still moving - and still dancing, but she is incorporating stillness into her dance, allowing it to show emotions that sometimes, movement just can't!

Have a look now at Serena Ramzy performing a Baladi Piece. Watch how she uses pauses to great effect, for example at 0:39 where she drops her hip, and really let's the audience soak that in, before then interpreting the Accordian. This creates an air of calm, of confidence, of being comfortable in her own skin. Using the pauses within the music really does mean you "interpret" the music to the fullest, it also gives you as a dancer time to breathe, to think, and to relax into your performance. 

 These pauses within her piece create a completely different atmosphere to the one created by the ballet. Serena creates anticipation. With every pause, or elongated move, it creates excitement, it creates a build up, which is especially important in Baladi where the music gradually swells to a climax.

Therefore looking at both these performances we can determine the following:
Pauses and Silences within your dancing can create an atmosphere or emotion for your audience.

I will leave you with this quote from a fantastic book "The Intimate Act of Choreography" by Lynne Anne Blom and L.Tarin Chaplin, in which they say:

"Stillness is not an inaction. It is a waiting, with a sense of ongoingness. A hesitation, a caught breath, is a moment arrived at, held precious, and left. Stillness is gathering in the past... Holding, savouring thr present... Anticipating the future. It contains within it both past and future. There is a hint and promise of what is to come, a memory of what was - stillness, a moment tattooed."

Final Note for the Day:
Interested in how to interpret Egyptian Music? Look no further - all you need is this beauty of an article from Hossam Ramzy. Click HERE to read it!

Want to catch up on my 100 day Belly Dance Challenge? Don't forget to check out my YouTube playlist here.

If you want to use this post in your e-zine, blog or newsletter, please go ahead! But make sure that you credit Louise Brooks -

Monday, 8 September 2014

Injecting some fun into Bellydance - The 100 day Challenge!

I've found recently that it's been very difficult for me to have "fun" dancing. I'm often drilling, rehearsing, and choreographing, and although that is fun... It's not silly fun, it's not just losing yourself in the moment and dancing freely to music fun. And I think this is something that we all miss a lot in our day to day practice - the chance to break free, stick on a tune, and just... dance!

Inspired by a fellow 8 Elements student Malik Turley, who is currently breaking boundries, and is a real bellydance warrior, I've decided to create my own personal challenge.

This is a challenge to inject some fun back into your dancing. This is a challenge to push your boundries, find some new tunes, and just rock out in your living room. I wanted to do a challenge that would release your inner artist, jog your creative memory, and perhaps unclog some of that dancers block we get from time to time, where choreographies and dances jut seem lacklustre and don't have that glittery shine they used to.

I've been reading a book called "The Artists Way" by Julia Cameron - and in it she talks about "Filling the Well, and Stocking the Pond". In order to be creative artists we need to learn to be "self nourishing", we need to actively pursue fun, new images to replenish our resevoir of creativity. I personally find, that when I take the time out to just dance to a track, floodgates open, and all of a sudden, I am inundated with ideas of what I could do next.

Here is a breakdown of the 100 day bellydance challenge:

Every day, for 100 days I will be picking a tune at random, and just dancing to it. No choreography, just improvising, no matter how bad, no matter how truly ridiculous. I will film it (No retakes!) and upload it - to inspire you to do the same.

My uploads will be on an unlisted YouTube playlist - accessible only from this blog. I'll post a commentary every week or so letting you know how I'm getting on! (You can also see the evidence if you check back regularly!)

So, there you have it. I will be putting myself out there, making a fool of myself once a day, for 100 days, to show you that dance does not have to be perfect. Dance does not have to be precise. However, it does have to be fun.

And, to make things better, I'm taking requests! Got a track you want to see me boogie to next? Bring it on - no matter how silly, no matter how ridiculous. 

I dare you to take on this challenge too. Let me know how you get on! You don't have to film it, just take the time, once a day to dance to something and just let go, have fun, and let your inner dancer go wild!

Find my YouTube Playlist here:

You can tell my vids are one take only - sorry for the poor sound quality and abrupt ending of Day 1 - I'll make sure I have enough battery in my camera next time ;)

Final Note for the Day:

Ever wondered why Egyptian dancers like Fifi Abdou or Dina are so great at performing? It's because they really take the time to feel the music. They understand the mood, the nuance, the beauty of the track or live music they are performing to. Next time your improvise or Choreograph a piece of music - take the time to have a little look into the background of the track, or find translations of the lyrics so you can really get to grips with the music you are dancing to!

If you want to use this post in your e-zine, blog or newsletter, please go ahead! But make sure that you credit Louise Brooks -

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Costume Maintenance 101

Costumes are important. They are such an investment, almost like collecting artwork. Every dancer remembers buying their first proper costume, tracing their fingers over the beadwork, running their hands through the fringing, the sparkling of the crystals, and sequined designs glittering away in a multitude of colours. You always treasure that first costume that makes you feel like a princess, and when you put it on to perform, you feel transformed into a belly dance goddess.

So after spending so much money on your precious, glittery babies, I thought I would give you some top tips on how to protect your precious cargo in between performances, and how to maintain their glamour so you can wear them with pride for many years to come!

  • Sequins can lose colour when they come into contact with perfumes, deodrants and glitter sprays. I reccomend applying all these things before putting on your beautiful costume, to ensure you are not spraying anything directly onto sequins and gemstones. This will stop them from tarnishing or losing colour, and keep them shining for longer!
  • After every performance, check your clasps! As soon as you get home from your performance, check the strength of each clasp and make a note of what might need restitching before your next show! This means that you are actively keeping on top of any wear and tear, aswell as preventing any costume mishaps in the future!
  • After purchasing a new costume, I like to check the beadwork, rhinestones and fringing carefully. Sometimes costumes can have loose threads that can result in beads dissappearing or bits of fringing coming loose. These things are very easy to rectify, if they are caught in time! Make sure to check your costume when first purchased, and then after big performances to make sure nothing has caught or come loose. With fringing, you can paint a little bit of clear nail polish at the end of each strand which will secure any knots and prevent unravelling!
  • Air out your costume after each wear. I don't often "wash" my costumes due to the fact they are so delicate, an airing is normally good enough! However if something is in dire need of a clean, I will gently hand wash in cold water in my bath with a little bit of baby shampoo. Cold water because it prevents colors running, and baby shampoo as it is usually unfragranced, and very very gentle! I then gently press out any extra moisture into a towel, and dry flat. DO NOT TUMBLE DRY OR MACHINE WASH COSTUMES.
  • I like to store my costumes in laundry bags or zip up fabric bags. I try to keep any delicate fabrics away from bedlahs or very ornate costumes to prevent any runs or snags. I also keep some silica gel packets in the boxes I keep my costumes in as it prevents any moisture from getting to the costumes!
  • Last but not least, if your costume is very heavy with a lot of beading, store folded and flat, do not hang. Purely because (especially with cabaret dresses) the beading is so heavy it causes the fabric to stretch! And you don't want a misshapen costume! The same goes (Suprisingly) for circle skirts, as some fabric likes to "grow" and so hems can become uneven over time! I tend to store my circle skirts, rolled up, rather than hung.
I hope this has helped you with any costume questions you may have! If you have any other top tips on how to look after your costumes, let me know in the comments! I'd love to hear!

Final Note for the Day:

When buying a costume, don't rush. Take your time. Think about where you might wear it, what pieces you might dance in it. Don't be persuaded by the sequins alone. (And I know it's hard, as they are very persuasive!) Remember, you need a costume that you will want to wear again and again, and like the little black dress, is timeless.

If you want to use this post in your e-zine, blog or newsletter, please go ahead! But make sure that you credit Louise Brooks -