Why I love dance

17240317_10208617972790492_6766275715742757536_o.jpg

Dancing has always been a huge part of my life. When I was around the age of 4, my Mum started learning how to belly dance and, after discovering her innate talent for it, began teaching small classes to the women in our neighbourhood. She enrolled me in ballet and I did a competition at the local Shedley theatre where I twirled about as a Christmas fairy and over-acted as I shook a present to see what was inside. In my mind it was the most glamorous thing imaginable. I didn’t realise I had lost the competition because a) I was only 4 or 5 years old and b) they gave me a Caramello Koala as a consolation prize, still my favourite treat to this day. I can still remember my first bellydance costume: a gold and cream baladi dress (kind of like a kaftan) with a coin belt that my Mum had lovingly crafted. I danced in it in front of her students and family in a small hall in Elizabeth. As I grew I continued to take classes and learn from my Mum, as well as begin teaching classes to the younger kids. It became a 20 year passion, leaving ballet in the dust with it’s tight buns, disapproving looks from other mothers and classical music that I found boring (I love watching ballet now – it was just never a good fit for me). The bellydance studio was a family affair with my sister, my Mum and myself dancing, performing and teaching classes and my Dad playing the Tabla (arabic drum). This is the first reason I love dancing: it is intrinsically linked to my family. I would go on to marry a dancer and build an extended family of dancers too.

In high school it seemed only natural that I would take dance as a subject. The dance style taught was loosely “contemporary”, often driven by the students’ tastes and interests. My particular class was a big fan of creating routines to Prodigy. While I loved the different movement opportunities these classes gave I was not particularly good at them. I could barely touch my toes and had rather a limited range of movement which meant I looked nothing like some of my classmates who could contort themselves this way and that. Still, I loved the classes and it was my favourite subject. My dance dreams came to a halt when I began to develop chronic back pain which was so debilitating I missed months of school and almost didn’t finish year 12. The pain became like an unwanted acquaintance constantly hanging around, and, oh yeah, stabbing me in the back with a handful of knives. It was not until many years later that I made the connection between the flare-up of this condition and the many daily hours spent cavorting on a hard, unforgiving floor without a proper warm up or cool down, and a lack of any kind of strengthening exercises. I don’t blame my teacher for this. I’m sure she tried, but I went to a public school with over 1000 students and a limited budget. Just getting students to attend class was a triumph. I still have chronic back pain today, although it is no longer debilitating and only flares up badly on occasion. I have learned how to be careful and take care of my body. This is the second reason I love dance: it has shown me both the strength and fragility of my body. When I treat it well I can do things I never imagined like flip upside down in the air, dance ridiculously fast and flail with abandon. I can shimmy like nobody’s business.

As I entered academic life at university I stopped dancing as much and did what most people my age were doing: drank beers at the Uni bar, dreamt and floundered with no real idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. The bellydance studio was winding down with my Mum on the edge of retirement and my sister and I moving on to other things. It was at this time that I discovered swing dancing through a bellydance friend and I went along to my first lesson. It was somewhat of a revelation: dancing with another person! I was immediately hooked and, I’m embarrassed to admit, was that annoying person who asked to stay for the next level class on my first night. It’s not because I thought I was good enough, it’s because I just wanted more. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself these days. Swing dancing has brought me joy and friendship and family. There is something completely magical about sharing 3 minutes with someone, dancing to some of the most amazing music in the world, and creating something that has never happened before. Every dance with every person to every song is unique. And this is the third reason why I love dance: it is magic made flesh, joy given form and stupid amounts of fun.

Philosophising…

121109193158054

Today I wrote a list of all the things I need to do this weekend:

  • The dreaded T-word……..TAX
  • Chuck out the gross food in the bottom of my fridge
  • Properly file away the 629 icons on my laptop desktop
  • Sort through a box of miscellaneous crap under my desk
  • Clean the hair out of my bath drain – makes me want to cut all my hair off again
  • Put all the DVDs back in their correct cases
  • Clear out the props from Adultish out of the back of my car….yep they’re still there.

Nothing in that list particularly inspires me. So here’s the list of things I want to do:

  • Play my ukulele
  • Flip through my fancy cookbooks whilst stuffing takeout in my face
  • Paint
  • Go to brunch and observe the local hipsters
  • Do something exciting and scary, like busking or an improv class
  • Dance
  • Pick out a quilting pattern – my Nanna is going to help me make my first one!
  • Kiss my husband and hug my friends

These are the things I NEED to do, because these are the things that make a life. I also need to add “write philosophical crap” to the list.

The worst thing about being grown up.

I think the worst thing about being an adult is having to make decisions. Life is so much easier when you’re a kid – all of the major decisions are made for you! The biggest thing I had to worry about was what I was going to buy at the school canteen with my pocket money. The jam tart or the sausage roll? But when you’re grown up, the decisions are bigger and there is no one to make those decisions for you but yourself. And that SUCKS!

Mini me!

Mini me!

I recently realised that I was actually quite unhappy. I felt overworked (and of course, as an artist, underpaid) and had no passion left for what I was doing. Overall I loved the work, but I think I loved the idea of it more. I never really realised that I was unhappy because I was so busy and there always another project to focus on. But when I really thought about it, I saw that I was down more than up. So I decided that I had to make some major changes.

Sapphire and I in our very first photo shoot! OMG we were such babies!

Sapphire and I in our very first photo shoot! OMG we were such babies!

The decision to downsize my business (The Swing Sesh), and leave the partnership I had been in since 2009 (Peaches n Gin Burlesque) was the hardest decision I think I’ve ever had to make. I felt like I was letting everybody down and that people would be angry with me. I really struggle with letting negative judgement get to me. I was also terrified that I would regret it, that I could never go back, and that I would miss out on a lot of opportunities. I agonised over it, but when I said to myself “I’m doing this”, I instantly felt like it was the right decision. The hardest thing was telling people I cared about – especially the teachers at The Swing Sesh who I was essentially letting go, and Sapphire.

10672247_10152693750210238_9062509838025831445_n

Now that I’m a few weeks out of letting everyone know, I have a much clearer head. I still feel bad that my decision has, in some cases, had a negative impact on people, but I also know that if I hadn’t made it I would have burnt myself into the ground with the same result (except I’d be ashes!). I think Peaches ‘n’ Gin will run a lot smoother and more efficiently now that there is one person at the head, and I will still be involved and doing the things that I love, like teaching and performing. With regards to The Swing Sesh, I’m excited about having more time to focus on planning awesome classes and events – I can feel the fire start to burn in me already without the burden of running a large school. I’m confident my classes are going to be much better with more time to dedicate to them.

10689721_10153205054019616_4240334105450484221_n

Decisions really do suck. But sometimes you have to make them even when they don’t please everybody. If you don’t look out for you, who will? I am so happy that I get to spend time with family and friends now, and still have time for burlesque and swing dancing. As a friend aptly put it, I’m “right-sizing” not “down-sizing”. I think I’m done for major decision making for a while though now, so if anyone needs me I’ll be on the playground. 😀

Going back to my roots….

Not everyone knows this about me, but I was a bellydancer from the age of 4. My Mum started when I was around that age and quickly found a life long passion that engulfed my family. She started teaching out of a hall in Elizabeth, and I remember performing my very first solo there in a little gold baladi dress which my Mum made. She then opened her own studio in Elizabeth Grove – Henna Nights.

1917509_100236850005187_2576844_n

My Mum in her first studio, with my little sis in the background!

The classes boomed – bellydance was the latest thing, especially after Shakira released her debut single with tons of shimmying and shaking in it. At one point we had over 500 students in the school!

24334_114452881916917_3965047_n

My Mum, my sister and I in the Elizabeth Grove studio.

We moved to a larger studio space when I was in high school, in Smithfield, taking over a giant shed and turning it into a bellydance paradise with draped fabric and murals on the walls. We stood out between the auto repairs shops!

The Smithfield studio - all cleared out! :(

The Smithfield studio – all cleared out! 😦

It truly was a family business. My Mum taught the bulk of the classes, and my Dad started playing the tabla. I started teaching kids classes when I was around 12, and then adults as a teenager. My sister took over our kids classes, and then started teaching her favourite style – Tribal Fusion.

1917509_101125986582940_7893184_n

My Mum and Dad performing

We had our little grumbles like all families do, but Henna Nights was such a wonderful experience for us. We did so many things creative things together, we often travelled in a clan to interstate events, we produced shows together and we danced together. I think I really took that kind of connection for granted when I was a kid, but looking back now I think it is one of the reasons I am so close to my family.

1917509_101125953249610_4705790_n

My beautiful little sister

I loved bellydancing and I got to do so many wonderful things like teach and perform interstate, but I started to lose my passion for it in my early 20s and started to pursue other interests like swing dancing and burlesque. A lot of my life happened in the city once I moved out of home, and even though Smithfield isn’t that far away it did leave me disconnected (our family home was right around the corner from it). I didn’t feel like there were as many opportunities in bellydance as I was getting in swing and burlesque, and the scene was quite political in those days which really squashes creative feeling in me. I can’t stand drama. So, I moved on to other things. My sister moved to Townsville with her now husband, and in 2012 my Mum decided to retire after nearly 20 years as a belly dancer.

One of my favourite pictures of my Mum

One of my favourite pictures of my Mum

I haven’t really done any bellydancing since then. I do a bit around my house every so often, and lately I have started to really miss it. It was such a huge part of my life for a long time. Sapphire and I are expanding the Peaches ‘n’ Gin Academy this year to include different dance styles, and so I will be teaching some bellydancing again. I’m pretty rusty but I’ve started my training again recently and things are coming back to me faster than I expected. I think this year will be the right time for me to start getting back into it a bit again. I’m looking forward to checking out the first Adelaide Bellydance Festival later this year and will be taking some workshops. I’m looking forward to learning again!

1917509_101514169877455_4070327_n

I have such fond memories of Henna Nights, and wish I hadn’t taken it so for granted. But it still lives in the bond between my parents, my sister, and I, and those who found inspiration in it’s walls. ❤

Last night I sang in front of people and I didn’t die

I have this crazy anxiety about singing in front of other people. I don’t know why – I enjoyed singing as a kid and was in my primary school choir, but I also have memories of feeling like I wasn’t very good and feeling ashamed of that. I think I stopped singing fairly early on. Up until recently I couldn’t even bring myself to sing in front of my husband – not without putting on a funny voice and making a joke out of it.

photo-of-ella-fitzgerald-photo-by-michael-ochs-archivesgetty-images-portait-2

Ella Fitzgerald – one of my favourite vocalists.

When we were writing The Gin Sisters the plan was to have a couple of songs in there, and I was going to do a song by myself. The idea terrified me but I was determined to give it a go and get over my fear. The first time I tried to sing in front of our director I was a mess – as soon as I stood up the anxiety washed over me and I could barely get anything out. The next few times I got a bit better, but my voice was still shaky and I was so nervous that we pulled it from the show. I was bitterly disappointed in myself and angry that I was letting my own self-doubt get in the way of my goals. I put it away for months while we focused on the rest of the show, and said to myself “well that’s just one skill you can’t do”. I beat myself up so badly over it – ridiculous right? I stopped practicing and became shy about singing at home again.

I played my uke in The Gin Sisters but didn't sing!

I played my uke in The Gin Sisters but didn’t sing!

We did two runs of the show – Perth Fringe World and Adelaide Fringe, and I tried to see as many shows as possible. I’ve been so inspired by the work I’ve seen that I decided it was time to step out of my comfort zone even further than I had with The Gin Sisters (where I still have my partner in crime Sapphire to rescue me when I forget my lines!) and do a one woman show, which I am writing at the moment and will be performing in the Cabaret Fringe Festival in June. In that vein, I have been trying to do new and scary things and so I decided that I would try singing a little song in our amateur night, Bloomers.

11026088_1384029101918687_847089211227437405_n

Some of the gals performing in Bloomers with Sapphire – some for the very first time!

One of my biggest problems is that if I don’t start in the right place, I can be singing way out of tune but not know how to get back in tune. Sometimes when I hear notes next to each other I can’t tell which one is higher or lower, and I also struggle to tell when I am doing it right. The fear of being out of tune really puts me off. So, to get over that, I sang accompanied by two egg shakers (skilfully manned by audience members), so I wouldn’t have to stress about being in tune with anything except myself. I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it so I could back down shame free, but I also didn’t bring a plan B which meant I pretty much had to do it.

You know what, I was ok. My voice didn’t break, I think I hit the right places and my words didn’t come out muffled. I’m not going to be doing musicals any time soon, but I did it. And I’m really proud of myself. It was just a silly little song that lasted all of a minute, but it’s a wall I’ve been running into for years, and it feels great to have broken through a little, and I’m interested to see what’s on the other side.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 9.42.28 am

I think it needs saying again.

workforfree

Click to enlarge. By the very talented Jessica Hische. http://jessicahische.com

I posted this on my Facebook wall in August last year, and I feel like maybe it stands to talk about it again. I’m hearing of pretty appalling pay rates during Adelaide Fringe. Variety nights and small capacity shows are one thing, but I’m hearing pretty shocking pay rates for shows that have large capacities and are selling very well. Don’t be afraid to demand what you’re worth.

21st August, 2014

“I don’t normally write this sort of thing but I feel compelled to do so: I am hearing about (and being offered) lower and lower pay rates for shows in SA. This is just my opinion – but if a show is being billed as a professional show with professional performers then those performers need to be paid a fair rate. Shows billed as amateur in my opinion are a different matter because they are being promoted as such and there are different expectations from both the performers and the audience. 

The more that performers continue to accept sub-standard pay rates the more this will be taken advantage of, and rates will go further down as new performers come in and accept even lower rates. In my opinion if a producer can’t afford to pay the performers a decent rate they shouldn’t be producing the show. Accepting low pay rates also means that performers who make most of their living from this (such as myself) can’t get any work as I refuse to lower myself below my minimum pay rate.

Performers, I implore you to really consider what your time is worth. It’s not just the three minutes you are on stage. How much did your costume cost you in time (if you made it) and money? How long does it take you to do your hair and makeup? How much does your makeup cost? How much will parking cost you? How many hours did you spend conceptualising and rehearsing your routine? How much have you spent on training? A rate of $20 (this is the lowest I have heard recently) for an act does not even remotely cover those costs. (edit – I’ve been hearing of $50/$60 rates for several performances in a show during Fringe. Maybe it’s just me but I think that’s horrendous)

We need to stand together – your time is worth more. I know it is the love of performing that drives most of us and not the money, but I have seen this happen in other scenes where now there is next to no work and sub-standard shows because everyone is performing for next to nothing. I love the SA scene and I want to see it grow and prosper. How are we supposed to continue to innovate and create if our work is undervalued?

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and even if you don’t agree with me I hope this can prompt some discussion about this issue. Love Luna x

PS – of course, I understand there are some exceptions to the rule and if performing in the gig benefits you in a real and tangible way then sometimes a lower pay rate is warranted, but I think this is about 10% of the time.”

#dearme: Life turns out awesome

Tiff and Jesse

My sister and I. I think I’m about 14?

Today is International Women’s Day and Youtube is currently running the project #dearme, asking women from all over the world to record what they would say to their younger self. Here is my contribution – I’m talking to myself in high school. What would you say to your past self? I’d love to hear from you 🙂