Tales from the Road
CHINA! August 2013
One of the most unexpected questions of 2013…”Hey D, do you want to go to China? One week all expenses paid trip to attend the International Belly Dance Conference, and perform in the opening and closing gala event… you in? Take a moment to think about it” The door to the office 1/2 closed and I sat there for a second, the inquirers reopened the door fully and peaked their heads out with huge smiles “…so?” (I like unexpected questions)
YES was the answer and I was extremely fortunate to travel to China to perform with my friend/teacher/company director Ms. Rachel Brice. Completing the Datura trio was Ms. Tabra Bay (another excellent dance partner in crime). Tabra and I were on the same flight, early in the morning we hopped on a plane and of we went. It was my first time to China… and Tabra’s first time out of the country ever! I think I was having just as much fun watching her take her maiden journey as anything. We arrived absurdly late/early after a loooong flight across the Pacific Ocean. Mostly delirious, we got off the plane and couldn’t understand a thing (to be expected). Not only was I sleep deprived, I don’t speak or read a lick of Chinese. We had practiced the niceties as much as possible on the plane and in the weeks leading up to the trip, but with a short amount of time to prepare we didn’t have high hopes for anyone understanding us either! A man had a sign with our names scribbled (in english) on it. I took Tabra’s hand and off we went. The driver, who was very nice, spoke no english. We communicated by smiling, shrugging shoulders, and pointing. It was super dark, Tabra passed out in the back seat and I stayed awake the entire drive from Shanghai to Ningbo, Literally pinching myself to stay conscious. As the signs flew by on the highway I tried to memorize the shapes of the characters so I could make sure we were on the right path. As we neared the city I was totally overwhelmed with bright lights and people running into the street, cars cutting each other left and right, mopeds going wherever they please on sidewalks and flying through intersections. My heart nearly leapt out of my chest more times than I can count. We arrived to the hotel without a scratch. The hotel owner came down to meet us and I babbled something about needing water and to lie down immediately. He showed us to our room. It was then that I realized that staying on the 44th floor of a hotel was not my favorite thing in the world. We fell down in bed and I can rarely remember a time when it felt so good! We woke up to a hotel flooded with belly dancers for the International Conference and the biggest city skyline I have ever experienced. Re the skyline… I literally feel like the wind was knocked out of me. Miles and miles of HUGE buildings. Thousands of people everywhere. The trip was full of good rehearsals; we performed in the opening and closing gala concerts. It was absolutely fantastic! I got to take lessons with some belly dance stars I never thought I would meet: one of the queens of belly dance Fifi Abdo and a new favorite dancer Tito Seif. We saw our Director just showered with admiration from all sides (which is always such a wonderful feeling). We met dancers from all continents and got to spend a day, couple hours really, wandering around a temple and one night off in Shanghai. What more to say, except that I am so grateful for such a unique experience.
Here is a video of one of the performances:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6uLKLzpXgY
and a link to the photo gallery on Facebook:
A little bit of Magic… the early days -Late 2009-
Many of you may, or may not, know about the three or so years I spent on the road, touring full-time with a band called The Underscore Orkestra. It was an incredible time, full of many challenging as well as blissful moments. There are thousands of memories and stories of times spent with this group, too many to recount here. These were some of my most formative years as a performer. For example: doing hundreds of shows every year all over the world shaped my confidence in improvisational dance.
I was 24, bouncing between jobs, and hungry for adventure… this circus pulled into town, and I jumped on the bus. Literally. We toured across the US so many times I lost count, and went to Europe twice. I fell deeply in love with some of the people and places, and saw things I never imagined I would see in my life. I met an amazing collection of musicians and hosts, some real genuine friends for life, and found that by opening my heart to the sometimes frightening unknown, somehow some kind soul or another always opened their hearts back to us.
Venues ranged from big festivals to small inns and pubs, to fancy theaters. Being with a band that played “Balkan, Klezmer, Gypsy Jazz and Swing” music, I performed mostly for non-belly dance audiences. Yes, some people in the world have still actually never seen belly dance! As time went on the music and the dance shaped each other. They wrote more “belly dance” songs and I learned how to shake my hips in odd-meters. It was a wild experience, and I grew to love the ability to open people’s minds to this strong and fascinating dance… as well as change some people’s opinion of what “belly dance” can truly be.
One thing I became aware of, while driving through the SW deserts, is how “in the moment” this touring life was. On the one hand, it was a marvelous meditation of being present. I love traveling and connecting with new places. But it was not always that romantic sounding. We did not have an official tour manager, nor any pre-arranged funding. It was show to show. For the love of adventure and sharing our arts no matter the costs. Our band director booked all the shows, packed us in the bus, and off we went, managing ourselves and each other as best as we can. Most moments when not rehearsing or performing, were filled with “where are we now? where is the next gas station? where are we staying tonight? who’s going to make a run to the grocery store? Man I really want to sleep but drummer is taking the back bunk. Should we stop to busk here, we could really use gas money, but the accordion (or dancer) might die in the sun if we do…? Ok I think the venue is 2 miles on the left…? Maybe right? My GPS is acting funny. Oh thank gods a shower! Oh thank gods another amazing view! Oh damn, we’ve got flat tire. Oh damn he’s got a flat bike tire, everyone pull over. We have 15 mins until show time and we’re exactly 15 mins to the venue… you ready? Who left the accordion at the venue last night, and do we really have 2 hours to drive back and get it?!!!” As much of a buddha like person I was attempting to become, with the whole no attachments and no better time than now thing, I knew I could not sustain the rigors of this style of touring much longer, and I was starting to crave some stability to create my future in a different way.
So again I stepped into the vast unknown, and In 2012 I made a decision to “run away from the circus” as I lovingly joke my memoirs will be titled someday, and put down some roots in the city I most love anywhere, Portland. I was craving a steady studio space for rehearsals, and a bedroom to call my own (after proving to myself that I could indeed live with 8 people on a airport sized shuttle bus and in and out of generous guest houses and hostels). Portland was calling to me with open arms. I heeded its call and found immense support from friends as I transitioned back to a sedentary sort of life.
It has taken me all this time, a year and a half or so, to process all that has happened. Settle it enough to be able to share and celebrate! I am eternally grateful to all those friends, family, band-mates (i include those in family), and beautiful strangers. Who have helped me along that early touring path. Who have shone their light to brighten my way, and allowed me to dig deep and discover parts of myself that I never knew were there. If you care to know more of the early days on the road, take me out to tea sometime and ask me all you like. 😉
Here is a link to images (click the photo) I have shared on my Danielle Elizabeth Belly Dance facebook page:
Datura and Tribal Fest®
For a Tribal Fusion Belly Dancer, some might suggest that the “season” really starts with preparations for Tribal Fest® , a dance festival in the small town of Sebastopol, CA. What happens during the showcases and workshops at Tribal Fest is so influential in shaping the future of the dance form, that it is regarded as sort of a mecca for dancers in this style. Certain communities of dancers in other countries even have a scholarship to send people to participate, and Tribal Fest in California has inspired other Festivals centered around this contemporary style of belly dance in other parts of the world to take the same name… Romania, Germany, and Russia for example.
While I believe my personal style doesn’t only fit the category of “Tribal Fusion,” when working on pieces with Datura, directed by one of the creators of that style, Ms. Rachel Brice, I am happy to fully assimilate that title. Working with Datura has brought me indescribable happiness and pushes me to be the best possible dancer I can be. I am beyond lucky to find myself surrounded by such *loving*, intelligent, and talented dancers in every sense of the word. After devoting my life to the road, spending many moments longing to be connected with a community of dancers again, I have experienced more than I ever dreamed of with this sisterhood.
The project is fueled by the powerful technique and incredible creative vision of Rachel and her partner Sol. Datura was not founded as a “dance company” specifically, but rather as a “project” with a rotating cast of characters. It was Datura that initially brought the dancers of Baksana together! Each year around January, Rachel and Sol rev their engines and begin preparations on making dances to be debuted at Tribal Fest. Technique training and rehearsals begin, costumes are researched, designed, and constructed, it truly feels like a magic spell is being weaved together. I have been honored to work with this project for past two years, and as we begin our third season with 2014 preparations already under way, I’d like to take a little look back on the past couple. I hope you enjoy!
Tribal Fest 2014 was fabulous as always! Datura had a hell of a run if I do say so myself. We pushed our boundaries even further than before with Ms. Brice’s choreography and Datura improvisational vocabulary. It was an honor go through this process and to take the stage again with these ladies. I can honestly say those were some of the happiest 9 minutes of performance I have ever experienced. There is nothing quite like connecting with your dance companions, the music, and the audience in a situation like that. Rachel chose a song by Romani band Taraf de Haiduks. We all had a great time researching more about the Romani culture to get in the spirit of the piece. She also has developed more Datura vocabulary, which premiered in this performance. Her duet with Ashley was a touching reminder to genuinely connect to one another. Videos posted below!
Another great thing that happened in 2014 was that I got to premier the live dance and music group Baksana! The group is co-directed by myself and my partner Paul Evans. We elected to perform outside, in the vendor area, and we had a BLAST! It was a really really sweet break away from the packed house inside. We were able to meet the crowd at their level, on the good earth in the park. Dancing and playing music in this setting is always extremely enjoyable for me. I love being outside, with acoustic music. No platform, no frills, no back stage, no fancy lights no electronics or electricity involved, just the energy that we create with our own bodies and minds. Check out some images from Baksana at Tribal Fest here: Tribal Fest Faecbook Album
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy18vl-pGGI – Datura at Tribal Fest® 2012
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIi9cSldNKY – Datura at Tribal Fest® 2013
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzqoniWed-g – Datura at Tribal Fest® 2014 Part I
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5Tr7x6BxPk – Datura at Tribal Fest® 2014 Part II
Click the pic below for some more images from an album on Danielle Elizabeth facebook page.