The Ultimate Gift Guide for the discerning Bellydancer

 

It’s back for 2016 – my Bellydance Gift Guide from last year was so popular I’ve decided to do another one! The list is a bit different in that we have a special ‘Extravagant Options’ section where if you REALLY want to know deep inside the dancer’s soul, this is what she wants if money was no object! Don’t forget to comment below if there’s something I’ve missed or that you’d like to see added!

So without further ado, I bring you 15 gift ideas for Bellydancers:

For the Oriental Princess

– Silk Veil –

Every bellydancer needs a veil, whether as a performance prop, backdrop or to be used as a cover up before and after shows. Investing in a beautiful silk veil will be worth the years of wear you’ll get from it and there are so many pretty options to go with any dancers costume collection.

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Silk Veil in Isis + Seafoam, $99 Buy it here

– Bellydance Oasis Magazine Subscription –

These days so much of our media consumption comes in the form of digital that sometimes it’s nice to have that tactile experience and satisfaction that comes from flicking through a glossy magazine. Even better when it’s about our favourite topic: Bellydance! Subscribing to a bellydance magazine not only means you’ll get a surprise in the post a few times a year (it’s the gift that keeps giving!) but you’re also supporting the wider community who work hard to collate & produce high quality content time and time again. Plus, it is a great conversation starter with guests at the coffee table!

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Bellydance Oasis Subscription (3 issues, AU) $39 Buy it here

– Footless Jewelled Sandals –

These were one of the most popular gift ideas so they make it back onto this years list. Just pop them on and off you go with stunning adornment that won’t affect your dancing, and finish off your costume beautifully.

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Swarovski footless sandals, $118 Buy it here

For the Tribal Goddess

– Handmade Adornment –

Everybody loves collecting a piece of unique adornment, so why not gift a dance sister or friend with a beautiful handmade work of art that can be worn on or off stage.

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Acushla Designs Pendant, $68 Buy it here

– Fabulous Faux Assuit –

This year Melodia Designs unveiled her Faux Assuit collection, and it absolutely SLAYED. The real deal is incredibly difficult to come by, and she’s created some core designs that work as costumes all on their own or as statement street wear pieces. Seriously, it’s to die for.

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Faux Assuit Collection ‘Domina’ Gown, $249 Buy it here

– Fusion Beats –

There’s one thing us dancers cannot go without and that’s music! Give the gift of dance to your favourite belly babe by signing her up to Spotify – that’s completely free, otherwise you can upgrade to the premium version for only $11.99 per month. She’ll never be stuck for music inspo again!

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Spotify Premium, $11.99 (monthly) Buy it here

For the Workshop Addict

– Glitter Drink Bottle –

One thing you’ll learn if your significant other is a bellydancer, is that YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH GLITTER! This fun drink bottle will ensure that every single practice, no matter how sweaty, still has some sparkle!

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I Shine Water Bottle – $8.99 Buy it here

– Drill Belt –

Give the gift of bling with a gorgeous drill belt that can be worn on and off stage! Lovingly hand crafted by fusion bellydancer Lilly Sim, by purchasing her wares  you’re supporting the dance community AND looking great!

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Custom Drill Belt (4 pictured above) from $140ea  Buy it here

For the Costumier

– Costume Storage –

If you’re anything like me, costume storage is always a challenge. Help a sister out and grab her a storage rack that she can hang her veils, skirts and other accessories on so they don’t get wrecked!

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Scandi Garment Rack, $49 Buy it here

– Sewing Machine –

A dancer’s best friend, especially right before a big show, is her sewing machine. You’ll save time and money with your own hardware and who knows, you might even be the next costume go-to designer!

Brother GS3710 Sewing Machine

Brother GS3710 Sewing Machine, $349 Buy it here

Extravagant Options. . .

– Bespoke Costume –

For the ultimate in gift giving, nothing is more indulgent than having one of the top industry designers custom creating your very own bellydance costume. Though this process may take weeks or even months to complete, having your own unique piece professionally created just for you is an incredible investment as the pieces are built to last time and time again.

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Bespoke Custom order Bellydance costume, $1,793 Buy it here

– Strike a Pose –

Every bellydancer loves to dress up and be photographed. Whether its an opportunity to get glammed up or a long overdue update for her marketing material, treating your dancer other half to a professional photoshoot is a great gift option. You can even take some of the photographed images to be printed onto canvas to turn your beloved into a beautiful piece of artwork in the home or studio!

 

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Photography by Gee Greenslade, $POA Enquire Here

– Textile Treasures –

Every dancer covets a piece of genuine antique Assuit. Named after the Egyptian region where the craft comes from, many of these pieces date back to the 1920’s when Orientalism & Art Deco peaked amongst fashionistas across Europe and America. Assuit fabric is made from tiny pieces of metal hammered into tulle, and is very delicate – but as you can see below is exceptionally stunning.

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Ivory Antique Assuit Shawl, $1,888 Buy it here

– Antique Adornment –

Treat the dancer in your life with a genuine article of adornment that can be worn with costume or kept as an heirloom piece. Genuine antiques are getting harder to find and thus are becoming more and more expensive but they are made to last a lifetime and will be cherished by their owner!

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Silver Rajasthani Cuffs, $1,110 Buy it here

– Extravagant Experience –

Fulfill every bellydancer’s fantasy with the opportunity of a lifetime – a trip to Egypt! Here she can get swept up in the history and culture of Ancient Egypt but also take lessons with some of the top dancers and also see a real live show in a river cruise on the Nile.

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Egypt Holiday Tour, $POA Plan it here

Phew! If you’ve reached the bottom, well done! I have plenty more gift ideas but now it’s your turn – what kind of gifts would you give to your dancer significant other or bellydance sister/teacher/student?

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Sparkle Spotlight: An Introduction to my Favourites

I have something to confess.

I have an addiction.

A costuming/sparkles/shiny objects sort of addiction. The kind that if I were one of those impulse buyers (thankfully I’m not!) I would probably have the equivalent of a Kardashian nightclub appearance fee in credit card debt.

I come across lots of lovely things as a bellydancer, and I think that instead of keeping my addiction a secret I would like to shamelessly share whatever gets my gears going at any particular time.

I’m hoping to make this a semi regular series, with some themed posts now and then. You may have read my blog about my recommendations on gifts for bellydancers which was one of my most shared posts of all time! Bellydancers love presents and also love collectively gasping over gorgeous, covetable items – so I’m sharing the love so that the online space is that much more of a prettier place!

So without further ado, my Sparkle Spotlight Favourites:

3. I am loving this pendant ($68) from Acushla Designs:

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It looks amazing teamed with the assuit as pictured and would be a gorgeous addition to any outfit on or off stage!

 

2. This headdress ($950) by Shape Shifters Tribe.

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It has taken all my self control to not. push. add. to. cart…..

 

1. The entire collection of Faux Assuit by Melodia Designs

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I’m throwing cash at the screen but nothing’s happening…….

Seriously it’s to die for.

 

So there you go folks – my top 3 favourite things right now! What are you totally obsessing over at the moment??

Digital Marketing 101: Tips and tricks for Bellydancers

We are all connected. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Youtube, Vimeo, Skype, Tumblr… chances are most people have at least one social media account to keep in touch with loved ones and keep tabs on each other. With over 1.2 billion people connected to Facebook alone, social networking is becoming an essential part of our lives.

As dancers, it’s imperative to get your name ‘out there’ but with so much competition in the online space, that can seem daunting and downright impossible, especially if you’re not confident using technology or don’t seem ‘up with it’ in terms of new ideas for things to post. Believe me, I’ve been there and it does make you feel frustrated when your voice isn’t heard among the many.

The first thing to do is to have a look at your competitors. What kind of online presence do they have? Who is their audience? What do they respond to? Are they responding at all? As a member of a fairly tightly-knit community you’ll be able to see what people are liking and commenting on, what’s popular and what hasn’t worked so well. Now take a look outside of the bellydance sphere: celebrities, big brands, events, personalities – what kind of social media activity do they undertake? What works for them? How does their audience respond?

Marketing is fundamentally identifying your target audience, understanding what it is they want, and finding ways to communicate or advertise to them to turn them into a customer. Once you’ve had a bit of a research, ask yourself – who is your target audience? Are you focusing on people living in a particular area? Perhaps you’re targeting expectant mums for a prenatal dance class – put yourself in mum-to-be’s shoes and ask where would she find your message online? When you have identified who you are trying to reach you can make more informed choices about how to reach this audience via social media!

For the purpose of this article I won’t be writing examples of what specifically to post however I’ve found that the following points are a good place to start in terms of content:

  • Consistency in posting content regularly across all social channels
  • Variation in both content and timing across channels
  • Creativity in content to keep your audience interested in what you have to say

One person who I follow in the online space does this particularly well – US bellydancer/actress/writer Princess Farhana of Hollywood. If you haven’t read her blog, it’s absolutely fantastic! It has been aptly named Princess Farhana: Missives from the Royal Palace and features topics such as stagecraft, choosing makeup, costuming and positive body image. As a writer she has combined her skills to provide meaningful content that other dancers can read, enjoy and share with their social networks. Her instagram is an insider’s look into her crazy antics and performance adventures with some really fabulous flashback pics from her punk rock days thrown in for good measure. Her Facebook page is a bit more professionally focused with upcoming shows, blog links and performance pics featuring prominently to over 10,000 fans. On every account Princess Farhana shows a different aspect to her personality, both as a professional performer and as a human being. Very rarely do her posts overlap in content and it’s always engaging in some way!

Once you’re figured out who you are writing to and what you’d like to say, it’s time to get noticed. Among all the social chatter it’s now even harder to get your messages seen, what’s important is to now identify your point of difference. Whatever makes your brand unique, use this in your social media activity. If you can differentiate yourself in some way you’ll have a better chance of standing out in a crowd. Do you have term choreographies for students to learn? Show a snippet of what students can expect to learn via instagram or Facebook. Do you make all of your own costumes? Maybe writing a how-to guide based on your experience to show how much work and effort goes into looking great on stage. Whatever it is, show people creatively – these days an image and a Facebook post won’t get you much love.

Every day we are bombarded with advertising from when we wake up and our brains are programmed to filter out the ‘noise’ in order to cope. The same phenomena can be witnessed via social media feed – who doesn’t scroll down idly until something catches their eye and pause the screen? The first step in successfully marketing on social media is to make sure the stories you are telling are authentic to your brand, unique in their voice & relevant to the audience.  The tricky thing about social media is that it is really a trial and error exercise, the more approaches you try the more likely you are to succeed. You cannot predict the behaviour of your audience, but at the very least you can offer meaningful content to encourage them to return to your page again and again.

Cultural Appropriation & Bellydance – A Post Modern Perspective

In recent years there have been many vocal opinions about cultural appropriation and bellydancing. I would say one of the most extreme would be the piece written here which likens bellydance to blackface. As a fusion dancer of mixed nationality I would offer a different view. I’d like to note that this piece is not intended as a rebuttal (which would include far more in depth research & referencing) but as an example of a different point of view.

First, a little bit about me before I begin my piece.

I am a second generation Australian woman of mixed nationality. My grandparents were European immigrants who settled in Australia in the 1950’s and this is where my parents were born. I don’t know any of my family in Europe, I have no idea what my ‘true’ nationality is or where my surname comes from. My grandparents come from Polish, Greek, Ukrainian and Russian backgrounds, however when I google my surname it is actually an Iranian name which dates back to Mesopotamia – so I suppose you could say I could be distantly Iranian. But I’ll never find out and as such the point of me highlighting this is that I do not identify with any culture in particular. Aside from a Roman Catholic upbringing, I don’t have family traditions or anything that distinctly ties me to a particular culture.

I also have a degree in Visual Arts, and spent a little bit of time studying Post Modernism at university. So my particular view of cultural appropriation comes from a Post Modernist perspective which informs the way I interpret & appreciate the dance that I do. At the time I was studying this particular topic, there was quite the controversy in the art world with respected photographer Bill Henson being accused of taking a series of ‘pornographic’ images of a nude 13-year-old girl (Trigger warning: This article shows an uncensored image from the exhibition (plus an extremely compelling argument) in question and is very very NSFW).  In the weeks following the scandal, we examined the exhibition from a post modernist approach, where we debated in class about censorship & intent. In this school of thought, the piece was in an artistic sense capturing the beauty of a young girl transitioning into womanhood in a non-sexual way. However his work was denounced as sexualising a minor which therefore made it pornographic and thus illegal to display. By declaring the piece a sexualisation, those vocal individuals were informed by their own personal experiences which did not necessarily take on the viewpoint of the artist or the artists’ target audience. But even though the artist didn’t intend on presenting the work as a sexually obscene piece, it’s controversial nature meant that it would challenge viewers who may not have been exposed to his previous work or any other similar work.

So what does this have to do with bellydance and cultural appropriation? I say plenty. Like many thousands of people out there, men and women alike, I think bellydance is a beautiful celebration of femininity. Fusion bellydance in particular is also a celebration of diversity, art and experimentation. You can study for years and years with the Egyptian Masters and have the ultimate badass Belady and be an amazing dancer, without the cultural heritage to give you ‘permission’ to present this to an audience. Your intent may be to entertain, to teach, it may be just a personal desire. Your audience may enjoy your Badass Belady – clapping, yelling, smiling faces – and you may get verbal compliments or approving looks. Those individuals in the audience are informed by either their cultural background, the context of the dance (ie – this is a bellydance concert so I am watching a type of style of belly dance), or whether they are expecting to be entertained. You cannot control the reaction of the audience or how they perceive your performance or catalogue your style in their minds. If someone other than yourself calls you a fusion bellydancer when you see yourself as a classically trained dancer who dabbles in experimentation every now and then, you cannot control that & therefore you are, to that person. The same thing applies to cultural appropriation. If someone looks at your dance and labels it appropriation, they are doing so (hopefully) informed from a cultural perspective. They cannot see what you are trying to portray,  or it’s not appreciated in the context it has been presented in.

I say it’s like looking at the Mona Lisa and saying she is smiling serenely – others say she looks mysterious, like she has a secret. It’s still the same picture, you’re just looking at it differently than the other person based on how you are informed as an individual.

I don’t buy into the idea of ‘ownership’ of a culture – especially in terms of bellydance. In this global world linked inextricably though the Internet, and social media in particular, it is virtually impossible not to be influenced by different cultures, especially in places such as the US and Australia which have such a diverse melting pot of cultures living in every single city, not individual countries or towns. I think that the bellydance=racism argument is fundamentally flawed in that you cannot control the intent of an individual in displaying any kind of art, performance or otherwise, which has taken on cultural aspects. It’s like saying you can’t listen to hiphop or be a rapper unless you’re African American. Or that you’re racist for being a black person and doing Flamenco. Art and personal expression just doesn’t work that way and while you can have the view that, “Hey, that person is stealing MY culture by presenting it offensively,” you also need to ask yourself, why?

Is it offensive because of how it’s presented? Is the dancer ignorant of the meaning of the song? Is it being presented to an inappropriate audience? If so, why? Perhaps you aren’t the target audience? I think these are all valid questions to ask yourself before denouncing something as ‘cultural appropriation’ – in this world, I just don’t think it exists in bellydancing in the purest sense.

Bellydance is an ancient system of movement which has no official historical root, it belongs to no-one and everyone. As all things do, it has evolved to embrace our globalisation, with the advent of the post-modern Tribal Fusion. That name speaks for itself really. There is no stopping the creativity of expression. Bellydance is for all of us and elements of the dance can be found across all different dance styles anyway- for example, some hip movements found in Polynesian dance distinctly mirror those from Bellydance, and footwork found in Samba is also found in Bellydance. It’s not strictly limited to a certain peninsular in a far off land – there may be a distinct dialect developed as a result of the art being fostered in a certain environment but it’s fundamentally the same across all cultures.

I can see how Bellydance can be seen as cultural appropriation in the strict sense- adopting elements of a culture by members of a different culture. In my experience it’s less of adopting an element and passing yourself off as a different culture, as it’s the continuation and preservation of an art form which has developed in a specific way in specific regions. I think that a lot of responsibility falls to teachers to ensure they are educating their students who choose to perform & present bellydance, that if they intend on presenting the dance in an ‘authentic’ fashion, be it Greek, Turkish, Egyptian or any other ‘classical’ vein, that they do so in a way that respects the spirit in which it is presented. Presenting Bellydance in Tribal Fusion is an entirely different matter, where a number of elements from different cultures come together to create something completely new. To me this is a positive thing and shows the world that Bellydance has moved on from the same Orientalist tropes which have been rehashed time and time again and is now coming into it’s own expression to reflect this new modern age.

No, I don’t think of bellydance as cultural appropriation. What I do see is that it’s used in an argument to bully and belittle a dancer when it’s not enough to comment on her looks/technique/styling/musicality. There is a difference between poor performance choices or ignorance and outright racism or cultural insensitivity. Let’s not forget that Bellydance as we know it has become commodified by many cultures, not just in the West – a form of entertainment to be consumed by the masses, whether we like it or not, which in my opinion makes the cultural appropriation argument moot. Before you decide whether a culture is appropriated, look around to see the world we live in where we have so much to learn from each other and enjoy, and apply this logic to the dancer you see. Don’t use the argument to bully, use it to educate and inform and make us all better dancers and global citizens.

 

What’s in a name? Using a Stage Name in Performance

What’s in a name?

A name is a label – it’s what differentiates Jenny from Sue, it’s your personality, your quirks, your reputation. It changes depending on who is using it and if they’re mad at you (parents/siblings/partners especially). It most likely links you to your heritage, your birth country, your ancestral home, or that of your spouse.

When you are a performer, it’s also a brand.

When you start your journey as a stage performer, whether you’re an actor, model, musician, dancer or public speaker, most often you sign up and spend the first years of your education just as ‘you’. But as you begin to learn and evolve, perhaps you find yourself becoming someone else or adopting a different persona when you’re out in front of a crowd. Maybe thinking of your ‘other’ self as being the performer helps to ease your stage fright or assist in giving your best character performance or maybe that character IS the performance. Maybe at this point you decide you are no longer Sue but Suzanne the Magnificent, or Suellen Strange, or Sneaky Sue, depending on your character.

Luna Queen by Kalikah Jade, Adelaide Bellydancer

Luna Queen by Kalikah Jade, Adelaide Bellydancer

Deciding on whether to commit to a professional stage name is a big decision, like most brands, once it’s out there and you are advertising yourself, it’s really really difficult to change once you’ve built an audience and/or community – Christina Aguilera went to Xtina then back again, Snoop Dogg turned into Snoop Lion then Snoopzilla and who knows what the next name will be. As an audience it’s confusing and it’s really tough to keep tabs on your performer buddies if they keep switching names!

If you decide that a stage name is the way to go my advice is:

  1. Google it a few times, to be certain that the name isn’t already used or doesn’t have unfortunate connotations or associations
  2. Pick something to suit your performance style that is easy to say and spell
  3. Practice using it privately or with a trusted group of friends to see if you feel comfortable being referred to by that name
  4. Be absolutely sure that you want to stick with it

When I first started out as a soloist, I used my first given name. That’s who I was, who my teachers and classmates referred to me as and what I was most comfortable with. But there came a defining moment, where with the advent of social media and more public accountability I made the decision that for professional & privacy reasons I wanted to give myself a stage name. This also helped in compartmentalizing my social/dance life, everyone who knew me from then on knew Kalikah, and close friends, family and work colleagues knew only my given names.

Siren Fusion Solo

Siren Fusion Solo, Cirque de Serpentine, Brisbane, 2013

The challenge with having a stage name is that it’s really really hard to change people’s mind as a performer once they know your ‘real’ name, or if they knew you prior to taking up your new identity. Personally I really identify with Kalikah and I have become my own brand so calling me anything else while I am at a show or in training (unless I’ve given explicit permission) is deeply jarring, both on a personal level but also at a performance level. It really ruins the air of mystery I try to maintain, especially at shows. I’ll never forget the time I was just finishing up a big stage show for the Adelaide Fringe, and I was heading out into the lobby to meet my family who had come along to watch. My mother got so excited to see me and screeched out my given name amongst the crowd and absolutely everyone heard it! In that instant it kind of ruined that character I’d built up during the show. Having said that, one lesson I’ve learned is that your parents will never, ever call you by your stage name ever. Even if you remind them!

A stage name evokes a sense of mystique, it gives the audience a sense that the person you see is not just your average citizen who goes to work like the rest of us, no she is ‘of the stage’ and therefore unique and exotic. I see my job as a performer to be like a game of imagination, the anonymity of an exotic name better allows the audience to believe even for a minute that they’ve been whisked from their everyday lives into a glimpse of the world I create through  my art.

I think if I was to give any advice it would be to make it crystal clear to your troupe, teachers and colleagues that from now on you’d like to be referred to at all times by your stage name, at practice, at shows, online, to help get into your new persona.

As I touched on earlier, using a stage name is also a fantastic way of keeping your private life private. At the time I was coming up with my stage name I was also applying for my first graduate jobs which required me to have an online presence, so I definitely didn’t want any future employers looking me up and seeing my dance footage out of context. I was also acutely aware of the possibility of unwanted attention, so for my own personal safety and responsibility I thought it would be a good idea.

So for me using a stage name has had a huge number of benefits –

  • I’ve been able to seperate my dance persona and my private persona
  • my stage name reflects the kind of imagery I’d like to think I evoke as a bellydance performer
  • I’ve been able to build a strong brand and presence around my stage name, allowing me to be comfortable in being Kalikah at any dance functions or performances, seamlessly able to get into or maintain my stage persona
  • my privacy is protected

Everyone has their preferences for their identity, and for me having a stage name has worked for me for over 8 years. I no longer think of that name as just a label, it’s me & everything I stand for as a bellydancer and as a performer!

What do you think? Do you have a stage name? Do you choose not to have a stage name? What have been your greatest benefits from either using one or refraining from using a stage name?

 

The Psoas: Muscle of The Soul

body divine yoga

psoasI was delighted when I first came across Liz Koch’s amazing work because it confirmed much of what I’d been intuiting on my own. I had begun to open and close my yoga practise with hip opening poses with the specific intention of releasing tension in my psoas and hip flexors. I’d breathe and imagine tension flowing out of constricted muscles to be released as energy into the torso.

It worked, I’d feel my body soften yet somehow grow stronger.

Reading Liz Koch I instantly realized what I was doing – by learning to relax my psoas I was literally energizing my deepest core by reconnecting with the powerful energy of the earth. According to Koch, the psoas is far more than a core stabilizing muscle; it is an organ of perception composed of bio-intelligent tissue and “literally embodies our deepest urge for survival, and more profoundly, our elemental desire…

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10 Reasons Why Learning Bellydance Will Improve Your Life

1. You’ll find a new appreciation for your curves (and those of your fellow dancers) when you learn hip, chest and arm shapes.

2. Your social calendar will be perpetually filled with hafla invitations, rehearsals, gala shows, workshop invitations and after class catch-ups.

3. You will learn to listen to music in a new way and all of a sudden you can hear new rhythms in all of your favourite songs that would be *perfect* for a drum solo!

4. You can plan your international (or local) travel around your favourite master teacher, book in a dance holiday AND meet a tonne of new friends from all over the world!

5. You have friends in every continent, and if you’re an ATS® dancer, you’ll have a group of sisters to dance with regardless of language – such is the power of the language of dance!

6. You’ll develop an unhealthy obsession with textiles, jewellery, world music & youtube.

7. You will improve your muscle tone, flexibility and strength in a gentle, low impact way and improve your joint mobility.

8. You’ll be less likely to yo-yo diet so that you can still fit into all of your costumes without complicated (and expensive) alterations!

9. Objects such as canes, candle trays, swords and light floaty fabric now have a whole new realm of uses and possibilities.

10. You’re all set with your ‘party trick’ – the three quarter shimmy!