The Belly Dance Skirt Handbook – ALLAF 007
Find out which belly dance skirt to wear and which one to skip, incorporate skirt moves into your floor work, and learn this secret of storing your big 10 and 25 yard skirts. Try counting a 9/8 rhythm 4 different ways and enjoy 3 different versions of the Turkish song Rampi Rampi.
DANCEABLE RITUAL: Washing our skirts
We all have favorite skirts. Maybe you wear yours so much that it’s in your laundry basket right now. Imagine looking into your dirty laundry basket. Your everyday costumes. Your clothes might symbolize self-expression, cultural expectations, practicality or impracticality, memories or your future self. Your insecurities, disappointments, accidents and stains are mixed in there too.
Next time you wash your clothes, you can try this:
Before you carry your dirty laundry to a washing machine, breath in as you do a grapevine step and circle it once. Exhale as you pause and do down mayas with your hips. If there’s something on the floor to pick up, inhale as you point a toe and extend a leg toward it. Exhale as you bend at the waist to pick it up with mini classic hands like a you are petting a beautiful bird with each hand. Toss that piece of clothing into the basket like you are doing a one handed veil toss and release. Turn in place once with beautiful arms, sweeping the room with your eyes to see if anything else can be tossed in the basket. Lift the basket, support it with one of your hips, holding the outside up with one hand. Walk gracefully, like you are carrying an ancient ceramic jug of water on your hip.
Make your way to a washing machine. Open it with one hand, and flow into framing yourself with both hands for a moment. Smile. This washing machine is giving you an extra 40 minutes to do something else besides hand washing. Toss the dirty laundry in. Add detergent. Start the cycle as you do hip circles, umis and shimmies, beckoning the machine to do the same with your clothes. Give it a little hip bump and grateful glance before you walk away. Thank you washing machine!
Humans have been doing laundry for a long time. 36,000 year old dyed flax was found in a cave in the Republic of Georgia. Egyptians had linen before 5000 BC, and Chinese had silk by 4000 BC, and. Having clothes is a wonderful thing, and having clean clothes is even better.
For a couple years I washed all of my laundry by hand. Sheets, socks, jeans. Everything. I would listen to all kinds of music when I did it, sometimes belly dance music. I practiced a 3 bucket washing ritual I had learned from the family I lived with in a village in Thailand. Clothes that go on the cleaner upper body were washed first and separately from more unclean clothes that go on the lower body, etc.
While the rituals that make things that are unclean clean again are relevant with the washing of a skirt in many communities where belly dance exists, I’m not bringing that in. The bigger social constructs of clean and unclean are dualistic, complicated and have sometimes been used to control and demean people. And maybe these concepts have kept groups closer together, like some Roma and the concept of mahrime. In my opinion the dichotomy of clean or unclean does not actually reflect the shifting spectrum of cleanliness we have in life. For example, before I had a child, I didn’t eat food that fell on my relatively clean kitchen floor in the US. Now I find a nice cashew on my kitchen floor, and I put it in my mouth or give it back to my kid. So things change.
And the experience of gratitude can shift from high to low throughout life as well. With the luxury of washing machines and dryers and a lot more expectations concerning what gets completed in a day, our gratitude for finishing a load of laundry can elude us.
So let’s bring dance and gratitude into our skirt washing and clothes washing and enjoy life a little more.
DANCEABLE SONG: Rampi Rampi or Çadırımın üstüne (“chah-deer-min Oos-toon-nay”)
Rampi rampi can be spelled many ways, especially because it’s not a real word. Like Obladi blada. So if you google it, try several different spellings. Rombi. Rampi, etc
This song is also sung in Greek and Turkish. Another Turkish title for it is Çadırımın üstüne, meaning “On my tent”. I believe it’s meant to be told from the perspective of a gypsy living in a tent. And it’s raining, and God didn’t take their life…yet. It’s a Turkish folk song, so there are many versions and it sounds upbeat but the lyrics can be a little depressing and full of struggle mixed with partying. And it is often referred to as Turkish Rom, and therefore dancing with a big skirt makes perfect sense.
Like all folk songs, this one has been transmitted from person to person for who knows how long, with no one author able to claim ownership. Ever-evolving, especially up to the first recording.
Our band Taksim Ithaca and our Turkish-American singer Doga just recorded this song, so we can actually hear the whole song on the podcast. Yay!!! There are some diverse versions on the Spotify playlist that we’ll say a little about after introducing the song more.
Rompi Rompi is in the rhythm or ikat 9/8.
This means it can have a delicious built-in pause.
I count it as 3 sets of 2, then one set of 3.
12 – 12 – 12 – 12(3)
As a dancer, you can count it any way that’s easy for you.
1234 – 12345
1234 – 1234pause.
It’s also called a “karsilama”, which can refer to it being a folk dance or that it’s counted in a 9/8 rhythm. And Karsilama translates directly to “welcome”.
This Turkish Karsilama is one of the first songs I really felt comfortable dancing to, and it was the first choreographed skirt dance I ever learned from my first belly dance teacher June Seaney. We performed it as a troupe, and the audience always seemed to enjoy it. The skirt brought a story quality into the choreography. A way for us dancers to interact with each other while performing and do the laundry together. During the clarinet taksim in the song, we wiping the sweat off of our foreheads, and then were down on the ground together washing our skirts. Then we would fluff them out, rise up and keep dancing. I believe my teacher June Seaney also choreographed that piece. It was really special.
The most popular recording of this song I have heard I the US is by Turkish musician Omar Faruk Tekbilek & American-Armenian oud player Richard A. Hagopian off of the compilation Gypsy Fire. Apparently they formed this band for shows in Las Vegas in the 60s. That must have been fun to be part of and see. Maybe I will ask Richard Hagopian’s son Harold about that sometime.
I was honored to play in a band with Richard Hagopian’s son Harold for a couple years. Harold and his son Simon actually. Generations of musicians. Simon was already an amazing percussionist at 6 years old when he used to perform with us. His father Harold would put a suitcase under the 6 year old so his feet wouldn’t dangle from the regular size chair. The little boy would play right under his father’s left arm as he played violin. Harold’s subtle directing and brilliant violin solos taught me so much about music.
The Hrant Kenkulian version features him on oud and also features a clarinet. Hrant was a blind musician who escaped the Armenian genocide in the early 1900s and lived most of his life in Turkey. They called him Udi or “Oud Master” because he was so good at playing the oud. Pretty cute. Hrant was one of Richard Hagopian’s oud teachers.
The Roza Eskanazi version features the violin. Roza is one of my favorite singers of all time. As a Jewish woman nightclub owner living in Greece and Turkey during WWII, she has quite a life story. She saved a lot of other Jews and may have had an affair with a Nazi officer in order to keep saving peoples’ lives. She danced and sang in many languages and played finger cymbals. I wonder what her skirts were like. When you listen to Roza’s version of this song on the Belly Dance Body and Soul playlist on Spotify, notice how the finger cymbals are simple, not the galloping pattern many belly dancers in the US default to. And they are only played in certain parts of the song. There’s no need to overplay finger cymbals, as they often dominate over the melodic instruments. In my opinion, it’s best to let the musicians play finger cymbals rather than the dancers because they can pay full attention to the music while playing. We don’t ask the musicians to full-on dance while they play. I’ve actually never seen a dancer dance with instruments other than castanets in a way that I though complimented the music. Skirts are a wonderful way to add to the music. Like a flower blooming on stage with a dancer for a stem.
DAMN SEXY DANCE MOVE: Opening a gift on the ground
Try this with any full skirt you have. The visual effect is the best when it’s a 10 yard skirt or fuller and you can get a continuous ripple through the skirt.
Rest your hands on the tops of your thighs. If you have your full skirt on, pinch a little of the skirt fabric with your thumb and pointer finger. If you have regular clothes on, just practice the motion. Bring your hands together. They are the bottom center of an M you are about to draw with your closed hands. Now raise both hands up and separate them to make the top curves of an M, falling open as the gift of your beautiful skirt in motion emerges. Keep you hands flowing all the way back to your upper butt cheeks. Rest a fist on each cheek, still pinching that bit of skirt. Take a deep breath and pose. Very nice. Now adjust where you are pinching the skirt to see how it changes the shape of this unfurled gift, and instead of pausing at the end continue the motion.
Practicing skirt moves is so playful. Even more so than a veil, because your skirt is less likely to get stuck in your face or fly off of you like a veil might. Skirts are really pure fun.
This “Opening a Gift” is a pretty standard skirt move, and it’s beautiful. When you incorporate it into floor work, it gets more interesting.
There are a lot more opportunities to stretch and feel good on the floor than we might realize. Having a baby is a great opportunity to stretch and get strong on the floor while playing with them. And when I’m in Asia, I spend a lot more time on the floor. Humans can do it. When it’s part of your life, it’s easier to get better at it.
If you are worried about your knees or have a hard time sitting on the floor or standing up from the floor, this part of the move may not be for you. There are teachers and trainers and physical therapists who can help you with feeling good about getting up and down to the floor. It may be a mindset thing there, where you make it hard for yourself because you think you can’t do it. Or there may be some strengthening that can happen that will ease pain and increase flexibility when other movements happen as well. I am not advocating for getting hurt. I am advocating clearly seeing what is possible and becoming the best possible version of ourselves free of self-imposed limitations and negative self-talk.
Back to the possibility of bringing this lovely skirt move down to the floor.
It’s especially important to practice transitioning to and from the floor when you are wearing a full skirt. There’s a lot of material that can get caught and then you’re dancing while worrying about how to get up or you don’t get up or go down as gracefully as you would like. So if you are going to perform floor work, master those transitions.
I like to go straight down to the ground, and sometimes I “Open a Gift” while I’m going to the ground so the audience focuses on the flowing skirt instead of my legs or any misstep. This also gets the skirt out from under me a little.
When I “Open a Gift on the Ground”, I am kneeling on the floor with both knees directly under me. This is a similar effect to standing and “Opening a Gift”. When I sit back on my heels and do this move, it looks more like I am the pistil at the center of a flower and my skirt makes the petals around me.
FEATURED LIGHTEN MY BODY FOOD: Quinoa
It’s a curly little round grain that reminds me of a big skirt, so I’m going with it. Quinoa the seed of a flowering plant closely related to spinach and amaranth. It is a whole grain that has been eaten for thousands of years in the Andes of South America. It gained more visibility in the world news around 2013 for food security and political reasons. The price tripled, higher-income countries were buying it, and people who grew and ate quinoa traditionally started either not being able to afford quinoa or choosing to buy processed food to eat instead.
Whole grains are sacred and ancient and nourishing. Processed food to me is like eating plastic. And a life without whole grains is just not satisfying and often leads to overdoing fat and protein. So in this show we’re celebrating quinoa.
It’s versatile, fluffy, gluten-free, and like brown rice it contains protein. Quinoa takes about 20 minutes to cook, where brown rice can take over 45 minutes. And it contains all 9 essential amino acids, so is an exceptional plant food and it makes eating meat even less necessary.
There’s a recipe for Creamy Avocado, Red Bean and Spinach Salad on my site that goes great with cooked quinoa.
If you look closely at each grain of cooked quinoa, you’ll see a little curly tail. It looks like the quinoa is swirling it’s skirt. So cute.
MAKE YOU SHINE COSTUME TIP: Store skirts in pillow cases or big bags
I like to make drawstring bags for my costumes out of tshirts or scarves I love but never wear. Then it’s easy to bring the skirt to gigs in that bag and protect it from getting snagged by other things in my costume trunk. It’s easier to find, too.
Just like wedding dresses, there is a universe of gorgeous costumes that can get applause all on their own even without a dancer in them. But design is also about the way a costume moves with a dancer. The way it frames us. How it makes us feel.
When we worry about something popping out or coming undone or getting tangled, we are not immersed in the dance and the music. We are distracted or nervous dancers, and the audience can see it. Uncomfortable costumes don’t deserve space in a sacred costumes trunks. Uncomfortable costumes go in a Memory Bin if they have sentimental value or give away piles if they don’t.
When figuring out what costume to wear, these are the considerations
- Audience (Conservative or not? Majority or hosts from a self-specified country or culture? Will children be there? Drinking or not? Burlesque?)
- Music style
- Floor (Dirty or clean? Wet or dry? Elevated or at crowd level? Fire pit? Port-o-potties?)
- Transport (Walk bike or ride?
- Size of my bag (purse or rolly suitcase)
- Lighting (Stage lights? Sunlight? Poorly lit?)
- Background (want contrast ex: If curtains are red avoid red, if curtains are black wear something bright, if busy where a solid color)
- Plans for afterwards
- Full flare spinning skirts (circular hem, tiered (ATS or gypsy), layered (less common), super wide A-line circle skirt without bottom ruffle (Am Cab), circle skirt with bottom ruffle (Sevillanas), “gypsy”, 25 yard, 10 yard, 5 yard, 2 yard, can have weighted hem) – best for indoor stage
- Bottom flare spinning skirts (A line, mermaid, hippie, can have weighted hem) – fits in your bag, better for outdoors and potentially wet floors
- Stretchy straighter (broomstick, straight, peasant) – best as danceable street clothes
- Ruffled full – not sure what these are good for, but I saw one with LEDs in it so it lights up!
- Cutout (over side upper side thigh or hips)
- Full (Separated 3 panel circle skirt or just light-weight fabric gathered) double or single front slit skirts
- Slits can be as high as the waist band or farther down on the thigh
- High slits make underwear choice or wearing harem pants very important, especially when on a stage with strong light
- If you are wearing opaque harem pants under your skirt, slits work for a conservative audience
- Slits can be as high as the waist band or farther down on the thigh
- Bottom flare double or single front thigh slit (wrap skirt)
- Straight double or single front thigh
- Side slits (full, bottom flare and straight)
- Fringe or translucent fabric
- High low maxi circle skirt (flamenco with ruffles, etc)
Most practical: Machine washable black skirt that doesn’t show wrinkles, has a nice flat waistband with no safety pins needed. In colder climates, no slits.
If you like to spin, 10-25 yard Full skirts with contrast or weight on the bottom
If you like to do beautiful leg poses, a front thigh single slit skirt on the side of the body you favor.
Biggest pain in the butt: 10-25 yard full circle skirts, skirts that are too tight, skirts that need safety pins to create the effect you want
With slit and other leg-revealing features: Be aware of what your knees and feet do when you turn. I have older photos where my knees look like they are pointing at each other while I turn. Not pretty.
FEEL GOOD LOOK GODDESS HABIT: Get rid of uncomfortable costumes
The goddess feels good! Skirts that are hard to walk in are hard to dance in. Safety pins suck.
SAINT OF TRUTH
This is the seventh episode of A Little Lighter, and I finally realized I never explained why this “Saint of Truth” segment is in here. A wonderful dancer friend of mine gave me this title, probably because I say things to her that others don’t. It’s not always nice to hear. And I’ll tell you what. The Saints of Truth in my own life help me step up and help more people. They help me see what is holding me back. I’ve encountered these saints in Enlightened Warrior training, Landmark, my family, friends and even in strangers.
This segment will often be a confession related to the show. A time for me to get real with myself and bring vulnerability into the light. Sometimes what remains unsaid hurts us the most. Once something that has wasted our energy and brought us cognitive dissonance is identified, clarity is possible. That’s the idea. Hopefully when I share my vulnerability, you will have an easier time loving yourself and seeing some of your own. Forgiving ourselves and committing to doing something meaningful instead of what is habitual or expected can erase so much suffering.
This “Saint of Truth” segment may also be a time for me to challenge a social norm that gets in the way of us all being our greatest selves.
With that, it’s time to confess that I have not been very good about siting the sources of the information I have presented in these shows. I include links in the show notes, but when I get information from Wikipedia or individuals I do not always give them the credit they deserve. Going forward, I will give credit to my sources in this podcast and in the show notes. Whew! That’s a relief. Thanks for listening.