Friday, July 24, 2009

Dancing with the Gypsies

Busking in the subway stations has proved to be quite the adventurous endeavour. First, you should be aware that Berlin has a fantastic and immense system of underground and above ground trains. Almost always on time and available to take you anywhere you need to go. This also means that a lot of people use the subway as their primary means of travel- which is to say that certain stations are very busy.
We like the busyness. Lots of potential contributors! There is an art to busking. It turns out that you can’t just stand there and play and make money, no matter how good you are. No, even the best musicians have to work the subway goers the way they would work a crowd at a rock show. Which is what Wilson and I have been doing. He’ll start off with a ballad and then jack it up with a rock song. I’ll dance for a minute to the rock song, and then I’ll dramatically take his cowboy hat from off his head and I’ll shimmy through the crowd with it to earn extra tips.
Passing the hat is key. Apparently, so is almost getting your hand bitten off by a dog. Wilson bent down to pet a dog and almost got quite the bite! I think everyone felt sorry for him, because almost everyone left a tip before they boarded the train.
We’ve been shut down by the cops (but they’ve been very nice about it), had money thrown to us from across the platform in appreciation, saved a dad from the ordeal of his two year old throwing a tantrum (she stopped crying the second she saw Wilson in his cowboy getup), and a few other crazy experiences. My favourite thus far, though, was when a family of gypsies from Bosnia stopped to dance with us. Well, at first they only asked us for money. But they really liked the music and my dancing. One of them was wearing almost the exact same skirt as me. A lot of the moves you see in belly dance originated from traditional gypsy cultures. I’ve always wanted to learn from actual gypsies and thought that I might have my chance while being in Europe.
As I was contemplating on how to ask them what they thought of belly dance and if they could show me a dance step from their culture, one of them piped up and said, “You dance just like…. Shakira! You do Shakira dance!”
Horrified, I tried to explain that belly dance did not originate from Shakira, no matter how well she can shake her hips. But they gypsies insisted. “No, no, you Shakira.” And then they asked, “Teach us how to dance like Shakira!” I didn’t know how to tell them that the dance Shakira does probably originated from their ancestors. Instead, I grabbed one of the children’s hands and we twirled and shimmied and then I grabbed Wilson’s cowboy hat, gladly accepted tips from the bystanders, and then gave the tips to the gypsies.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Topography of Terror

It is interesting to be in a city that has been so affected by war. Wilson and I went to Mitte the other day to “Check Point Charlie”. For those of you who don’t know, Check Point Charlie was one of the border crossings between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. And so we spent an hour reading all the posters and bulletins and historic info about the Cold War and the Berlin wall and how everything had affected the people of Berlin. Coming from a city like Toronto, I couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like to live in a place that was so divided, and what the reunification must have felt like.
After we were finished playing tourist at Check Point Charlie (posing with policemen and standing under the “You are now leaving the American sector” sign) we meandered down the street to the actual Berlin wall (there are parts of it that have been left standing). It was smaller than I thought it would be.
Right next to the wall, just half a block away, was another exhibit. The “Topography of Terror” outlined the history of the Gestapo and SS headquarters that had apparently existed on the very grounds upon which we were standing. A lot of the buildings had been bombed out at the end of WW11 and then the site had been bulldozed during the construction of the Berlin wall. About a quarter of the way through the exhibit, I started getting chills from reading about all the methodical planning that when into the Nazi campaign and the Holocaust. By the time I was halfway through I was crying and couldn’t finish the exhibit. So many pictures of death.
I have studied WW11 and the Holocaust throughout my years as a history major, but I had never been in the same place where some of the events had occurred. There was a weight in the air that was still and somber and almost suffocating. At the beginning of the exhibit, people had been talking and even laughing, but by the halfway point, no one was saying a word. The silence only added even more heaviness to the mood.
The part of the exhibit that affected me the most was reading about the Roma and Sinti gypsies. Like I said, I have studied all this before, but somehow standing in Berlin and seeing so many photos and reading so many personal stories, the whole awful event became much more realistic for me. As a belly dancer, a lot of the technique and dance forms I have studied were adapted from gypsy cultures. As I gazed at the photos of Roma and Sinti woman staring out from their covered wagons with sorrowful eyes, I wondered how they had felt when their culture had been stripped from them, when their language had been cut from their mouths, when they were no longer allowed to dance.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Carousel Revelry

Almost two months have past since the Carousel Revelry show at Bender’s Bar on May 30th, but we just got the videos from the show up on YouTube, so it’s been on my mind. After months of hard work on my end- booking dancers, booking the bands, getting someone to design a flyer (thanks David!), finding a venue, promoting, organizing, meeting with the sound guy, rehearsing, and sending and receiving a gazillion emails- the show finally came together in one glorious night of belly dance and rock ’n roll.
Carousel Revelry was a huge success- not bad for my first production! We had 11 fabulous dancers: Alodiah and Avaishya (Carousel Belly Dance), Avielle, Joie Mazor (My Red Heart with Leopard Print Tan Top), Evie, Alison, Mary Ann, Robyn Lovejoy, and Lydia, Lauren, and Jeannette as a trio. The dancers came from a variety of backgrounds: tribal fusion, American Tribal Style, cabaret, Egyptian, and so forth. And quite an eclectic mix of music! Everything from vintage jazz to rock to oriental to a live ukulele player (Leopard Print Tank Top).
The Ferocious Few was the opening band and did they ever rock out! Danny (on drums) and Francisco (singer/guitarist) make up the whole band but they sure live up to their name. Francisco has a gorgeous voice that makes the girls swoon and Danny seems to play the drums with all his soul. Alodiah and I busted out some dance moves during “Heaven and Hell” and “Loc’d Out”. Belly dancing to rock and roll? We’re calling it “rock-a-belly”! Yes, cheesey, I know, but the phrase fits.
It was Avielle’s birthday that night and all the girls met downstairs in the “dressing room” and sang “happy birthday”. I made yummy chocolate vegan cupcakes. The dressing room was really just the storage room with some mirrors and carpet laid out. But when you’re performing in a bar, you make do!
Castles in Spain was the headlining band. They were the first band that I saw in San Francisco, almost 6 years ago. And they had belly dancers at that show, too! Castles in Spain is a good mix of rock and world fusion. I really don’t know how else to describe them. Other than that front woman, Biatchi, can captivate the audience both with her voice and with her charm. Alodiah performed to “Again”- Castles in Spain’s last song of the night. Alodiah is such a trooper, dancing at 1:30 in the morning!
The best part of the night? We sold out and everyone got paid! No, the best part was having a bunch of fans and friends there to support the artists. And did I mention that I was the MC for the night? Never perform while organizing while being the MC- too many hats to wear! I kept forgetting my lines, but luckily, everyone was too drunk to notice.