Saturday, December 31, 2011


For perhaps the first time in my life I am sad to see a year end.
2011 was incredibly kind to me and my husband. In 2010 we spent most of our time apart. For much of it I drove him back and forth to work every day (a 45 minute commute one way) so I could get to my ESL appointments. In 2011 he got a contract working for a giant multinational tech company and now we both work at home. We spend most of our time in the same room, talking and obsessing over our little white dog.
We moved to a nice apartment with lots of closet space and big windows that look out into the bright blue sky.
At night we play Magic: The Gathering and Arkham Horror.
We don't live paycheck to paycheck any more.
I started working with a group of writers who make me much more sane about my writing. Some of them even like to play Magic with me. (I played a lot of Magic in 2011.)
I went to the most beautiful island in the world with my beautiful sister to study with the most beautiful bellydancer ever.
I have lots of black and grey clothes in my closet (so I can pretend to be a goth everyday) and I live within walking distance of my favorite store (Goodwill).
I just made space in my bedroom for my art desk so I can start drawing again without hurting my neck.
My little life has never been happier, and I have never felt more comfortable with myself than I do now.

Thank you 2011.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


2011 was kind of awesome. Despite my neuroses and crippling attention deficit disorder I managed to get some good work in. Let's take a look.

  • I finished Redlisted!!!!!!!!11 After going through a months-long period where I couldn't stand to even look at the manuscript, around September I suddenly got the inspiration and the urge to write the last draft, which I actually like and can show to people without cringing or wanting to hide in a hole. I am so happy that I got past the stage of wanting to disown it slash erase all traces of its existence.
  • I produced a show, Doomsday Cabaret, all by myself and it didn't suck. In fact, I've heard people liked it.
  • I taught a workshop at a regional festival for the first time!
  • I got a new part time job and have managed to hold on to it despite sucking at it really, really badly. I am being serious. I am terrible at this stupid job, but I am proud of myself for sticking it out and trying my best.
  • I wrote a short story! NO! TWO SHORT STORIES! Oh wow!
  • I performed outside the US for the first time!
  • I got accepted to perform at TribalCon 2012. I was scared to even apply, so this was kind of a big deal for me.
  • I started writing a novel I am pretty much in love with.
  • I made myself start going to a writers group despite my severe anxiety at the outset. It was totally worth it.
  • I forced myself to start submitting Redlisted to agents, again, despite my fear of everything and my constant feelings of dread when it comes to anything related to the writing industry.
  • I made some awesome costumes! Best costumes yet!
  • I feel like my performances came a long way. I am satisfied watching my videos in a way I haven't been in the past.

I would really like to hear what YOU did this year that you are proud of.


2012 is coming. I better get some stuff done before the world ends. (John Hodgman says it will and I find his books to be totally credible. In fact they are pretty much my most trusted sources of information, ever.)

Last year I went insane with monthly checklists (you can easily find them in the archives) and all kinds of related self-flagellation. This resulted in a hardcore burnout period, especially after I got my second part time job and said goodbye to a good amount of my free time.

I've transitioned into a kinder "do what you can" philosophy since then. I try not to stress about the things I'm not getting done because that list is infinitely long and contemplating it too deeply will make me go insane. Instead I might as well try to enjoy life and feel good about myself from time to time.

Still, there are some things I'd like to get done in 2012. Here are some of them.

  • I would like to finish the first draft of my second novel. Right now it's about half done, and I think if I make it a priority for a few months it will materialize.
  • I would like to produce another Doomsday Cabaret show.
  • I would like to get in better shape. If possible I would like to be able to run a ten minute mile. (That may not sound too fast, but, let me tell you, it would be an improvement over the current situation.)
  • I'd like to write a few more short stories and it would be great if I could get a short story published.
  • I want to spend less time on Facebook and more time reading.
  • I'd like to make at least one more bellydance costume.
  • I want to feel good about what I perform at TribalCon, which will mean preparing well.
  • I'd like to teach some workshops out of town (although I don't have much control over whether or not that comes to pass).
  • I'd like to write an article about bellydance and publish it somewhere.
  • I want to save more money and eat more fruits and vegetables. (Exciting!!)

And of course, I wish and hope that I will find a good agent for my book, and I'm going to try my best, but in the end it's not up to me. If I haven't found an agent by the end of 2012 I will probably go ahead and self-publish on Amazon, and I'm excited that possibility for its own reasons.

What are your resolutions?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Auto Bio

So I have been avoiding querying specific agents because they ask for a writer bio. As someone with no publication credits (yet! I am in the process of trying to find a home for a short story I am actually quite proud of) and no qualifications, I have no idea what the hell to say about myself. I hope it doesn't sound jaded to say that I feel like turdpolishing is necessary. I am just another eccentric among eccentrics who thinks they wrote something people might want to buy.

If I were to tell the truth unvarnished by what I think people want to hear, my bio would probably go something like this:

Sara Beaman was born in 1984 in a small town in New York and raised by Dungeons and Dragons nerds. She grew up a lonely brainiac with impeccable fashion sense (discounting a long stretch of years including middle school, high school, college and her early adult life). Like many other children who suck at sports, she thoroughly enjoyed reading science fiction and fantasy novels while avoiding projectiles thrown by other children at recess.

At some point she moved to North Carolina, where she met her future husband at a high school for unsociable technology enthusiasts. Then, thinking she would like to become a graphic designer, she enrolled in the North Carolina State University College of Design. Her mother warned her not to, and, indeed, it was an ill-advised course of action which left her full of ennui. After only a year and a half she dropped out of design school, preferring to study the history of human misery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill instead.

During her idle years as a student Sara began studying the exotic art of bellydance, perhaps as a way to distract herself from her existential dread. After graduation, she worked a short stint at a temp agency, then a somewhat longer stint as a secretary at UNC. Then she decided to quit her perfectly acceptable job to pursue a career as a full time bellydancer. Then the economy tanked.

Now she thinks she'd probably like to be a novelist instead. She is willing to work hard and try her best. She would like to be able to provide publication credits but she is honestly dreadful at coming up with ideas for short stories. She has written like three, all told, and one of them is kind of crap.

But really, writing is what calls to the jaded remnants of her soul. She is serious about it and will totally do whatever it takes.

Sara resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with her misanthrope husband and her rescue dog Lola who loves humans quite a bit.

LOL okay but seriously I need to write something I can actually send to people. :(

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Doomsday Footage!

Sometimes I still find time to dance. This is improv, and was shot by my awesome videographer dad. The song is "Cabaret Macabre" by Raquy and the Cavemen.

I hope you enjoy!

Friday, December 16, 2011

An update

This morning I received a response from an agent that was not a rejection. So now there is an agent out there with my whole manuscript.

Please make sacrifices to the gods/patron saints of long shots on my behalf.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"Do you dance for your husband?"

A patron asked me this at the show last night.

I couldn't tell how she meant the question. Discomfort in her eyes. Perhaps she was trying to square what she'd seen in my performance with her own personal paradigm of sexuality. Perhaps she was trying to submit a gentle complaint, to police my behavior in a subtle way. Perhaps she was merely curious about what I do at home.

"I dance for everyone," I said, sharing her unease.

I get asked this question a lot, more frequently by new students than anyone else. Always women, never men. Sometimes it's a related question: "Can you teach me how to dance for my husband?" Sometimes it's another variation: "Can you dance for my husband?" ("I'll pay you." "It's his birthday.")

They've been asking me this for years but I never get used to it.

I won't pretend I don't understand what they're seeing: a girl (although I may not qualify as such for much longer), scantily clad, moving her hips and chest around in rhythmic patterns. I get it. It reads, for them, as an unsubtle display of female sexuality.

I am not offended by their perception of what I am doing and why. It may not mesh with my intent, but so what? If I made my intent for each performance completely transparent, it would stop being interesting, and I think it might very well stop being art. Art, to me, exists in the vast space between the intent of the creator and the perception of the audience. It's negotiated.

What bothers me is always the tone. Let's put your dance in an acceptable context, shall we? You are doing this for a man. And he is your husband.

I won't go on about my motivations for dancing because putting them to words would mutilate them. But let's suppose I intended for my audience to take everything on face value alone: girl in lots of makeup and a (sort of) revealing costume, shaking it. Let's say my intention was really just to titillate.

I will do this for whoever the fuck I want, thank you. And I don't care what you think of that. If you want to read me as a sex object, go ahead. Just don't try to cram the patriarchy down my throat. I know you can see a wedding ring on my finger, but don't pretend you understand my relationship with my husband, and don't you dare try to enforce what you think it should be on me.

I will dance for the enjoyment of everyone in the audience, male or female, young or old. To be honest I am more concerned with my female audience members. I want them to see me feeling happy and comfortable with myself, my body, my spirit. I want them to know they can feel the same way. Maybe not by being a dancing girl live on stage, but through whatever medium, in whatever venue they choose.

I want these girls and women to go out into the world and be themselves for everyone, not just their husbands.

By asking me this question I can see these women are not getting that. And it makes me sad.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Here is a second stab at the query letter.

After getting some secret feedback, I have taken another stab at the query. Some cheese has been removed. I am trying to strike a tone between cheese and dramz. Not sure if this succeeds any better than the last attempt.

Writing this thing is in many ways harder than writing the damn novel was. I just deleted this sentence: "I am not cut out to write copy." SHUT UP SARA. Ugh. I will endeavor to believe that I can do this. I want to believe.

all right so here's the second version

Dear XXXX,

I bet you don’t believe in vampires. Few humans do.

Mirabel Radcliffe is determined to keep it that way. As the CEO of Spira Communications, Mirabel uses mass media to brainwash the public and keep the existence of her kind a secret.

But the twenty-four hour news cycle doesn’t stop for a woman who can only go out at night. That’s why Mirabel has gathered a team of perfect doubles—mortal women permanently altered to look like her, talk like her, think like her and conduct her affairs during the daytime.

Kate Avery thought she’d be working for SpiraCom as a reporter. Instead, her boss has her scouring the Internet, searching for people who know the truth and passing their IP addresses to the higher-ups. When Kate realizes what’s happening, she tries to take the company down from the inside. It doesn’t work.

Now Mirabel has conscripted Kate into service as a double. She’s taken Kate’s face, voice, and even her memories. Worse still, the procedures that left Kate looking exactly like Mirabel also left her with an unfortunate dependency on vampire blood.

Fortunately for Kate, Mirabel is not without enemies. When Mirabel’s blood brother Adam Radcliffe kidnaps Kate from SpiraCom headquarters, she gets a chance for freedom—and a chance for revenge.

REDLISTED, 80,000 words, is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sara Beaman

Your thoughts are welcome. If you don't feel comfortable ripping me apart in the comments you can always email me at skbeaman at gmail dot com.

Thanks for reading either way!

Rejected!! also, a query letter.

Well, yesterday I got my first rejection for Redlisted. I am crying zero tears. That's the way things go, and I'm sure it's just the first of many on the road to success (or wherever it is that I'm going).
The rejection letter brought to my attention the fact that the query letter I was using sucked. Thus, I started from scratch and wrote an entirely different one. It is posted below for your amusement. It's a bit cheesy, but then again it is a query for a vampire novel.

Dear XXXX,

I bet you don’t believe in vampires. Few humans do.

Mirabel Radcliffe is determined to keep it that way. Been bitten in the back room of a club? Seen shady characters doing things you can’t explain? She will make you forget. She makes everyone forget.

That kind of blood magic isn’t easy, even for a vampire of one hundred and twenty three years. But Mirabel’s magic is subtle. Pervasive. Corporate. As the CEO of umbrella company Spira Communications, Mirabel uses mass media to brainwash the public and keep the existence of her kind a secret. Her commercials and catchy pop tunes have kept every feeding frenzy and mass draining under wraps for the last century.

But the twenty-four hour news cycle doesn’t stop for a woman who can only go out at night. That’s why Mirabel has gathered a team of perfect doubles—mortal women permanently altered to look like her, talk like her, think like her and conduct her affairs during the daytime. These girls are under some serious conditioning. They shouldn’t be able to make their own decisions, and they certainly shouldn’t be able to rebel.

After working for SpiraCom for years as a pencil pusher, Kate is conscripted into service as a double. Now Mirabel has taken Kate’s face, voice, and even her memories. Worse still, the bleeding-edge procedures that left Kate looking exactly like Mirabel also left her with an unfortunate dependency on vampire blood.

Fortunately for Kate, Mirabel is not without enemies. When a rival vampire kidnaps Kate from SpiraCom headquarters, she gets a chance for freedom—and a chance for revenge.

REDLISTED, 80,000 words, is my first novel.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Sara Beaman

I need feedback to make this thing come to life, just like I did with the novel. If you have a second, pretty please answer some or all of these questions in the comments:

1. Would you read this novel? (presuming you haven't already)
2. Does it sound different from other vampire stuff you know about?
3. Was there anything about the query you didn't understand?
4. Did you have to reread anything for clarity?
5. Did you dislike any part of this letter?
6. Why or why not?*

Thank you, sweet friend, for your support.

*A joke so weak I felt I had to provide this disclaimer.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It is done. Commence Phase Two.

(also known as old news to people who follow my Facebook feed.)

Redlisted is done. Finished. Complete at 80,000 words, it's finalized and I will work on it no more.
I have sent it out to two agents so far. I plan to send it out to one agent a week until I run out of agents to bother or someone indicates interest.
Some rather optimistic (or kind) friends of mine are all like OF COURSE it will be published. I am fairly sure that it won't be, at least not by a traditional publishing house. I am up against some pretty nasty odds and I will be shocked and amazed if anyone wants to pick it up.
Let's take a look at the situation.

This book has been edited by like seventeen people.
I think the final draft is pretty great, and I usually hate everything I do forever.
It's about vampires. Who doesn't like vampires?*
Despite what this blog may lead you to believe I have a fairly okay grasp of English grammar.
I spellchecked the manuscript and made sure to format it according to industry standards.
My writer's group seemed to like the first chapter after I rewrote it for the eighth time.
I don't think there are any plot holes!
I am psychotically dedicated to my quest for publication and will exhaust all options before giving up.

*No one likes vampires. In fact some agents are like "send us anything, AS LONG AS IT HAS NO VAMPIRES WHATSOEVER." Something about market saturation. Not like I didn't know that getting in to the project.
I have no publication credits.**
My cover letter is mediocre to embarrassing.
My synopsis is... Well the plot is complicated, it's not my fault.
Did I mention no one wants to pick up another vampire novel?

**I did write a short story though, and I'm trying to get it published.

Yeah. Vampires.
The truth is I didn't write this book because I thought it would be popular or get published. I wrote it because I felt I had to. They (who?) say that everyone has a story to tell. I don't know if I understand why, but mine was about the undead.
I know it's hokey. At first I was ashamed. "What is your novel about, Sara?" "It's... uhh... vampires." I am over that. We can't decide what is in our heart of hearts! We can only decide whether or not to acknowledge it.
I love this book and I will be its champion. I will give it the best chance I can in this crazy world.

In any case, I am mitigating my freakouts (somewhat) about the submission process and the looming spectre of universal rejection by working on another novel. It is not a sequel to Redlisted; it's an unrelated project. If asked to describe the genre I would say "dystopian dieselpunk fantasy".
Now watch there be a glut of that by the time I'm done with the damn thing.
No Sara! Don't be bitter. Who cares if a million books like mine are published tomorrow? I'm doing what I love and that is the most important thing.
It helps my sanity to know that I have another story in my heart. Maybe there are a lot more in there waiting to be discovered. Even if Redlisted gets rejected by everyone, I'll try again with what I'm working on now.

I expect nothing but I hope for the best.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


I have always been an anxious person prone to rumination and insomnia. I started getting panic attacks when I was in high school. Some time in college I went to a psychiatrist (once) about the problem (yes only once) and she told me I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I proceeded to do nothing about it. (I am 27 now and I have done nothing about it.)

Some people are anxious about social situations, or aspects of life over which they have no control. Not me. For the very most part I am anxious only about the things I have direct control over, or at least those I feel I can control.

For example:

I am anxious when I feel I am not doing enough to manifest my dreams or goals into reality. I'm not talking about the Secret or anything; I'm talking about good old obsessive hard work prolonged over anywhere from a month to forever.

I am anxious when I work too hard at a project which has the potential to fail anyway (given my own perception of failure).

I am anxious when I think I am forgetting something important, which is all the time.

My only other sources of anxiety revolve around competition and judgment. I am anxious when I submit my work (dance, writing, art, etc) to be critiqued or judged by others.

Having established the context of my neuroses I will now move on to my present day situation.

It is time for me to send Redlisted out to agents. Well, it's nearly time. The manuscript is 99.95% done. I need to do some line editing. I need to write a cover letter and a synopsis. And then I need to grow a pair and send it out.


I want to die.

I looked at one (ONE) agent listing on AgentQuery last night. AgentQuery was like, okay Sara, tell us what genre you want to submit for. And I was like open the drop down box and FULL BLOWN PANIC ATTACK.

AAAA! OH GOD! I want to submit a FANTASY novel! (kind of!) FIGHT OR FLIGHT!

Oh God there are lots of agents on this page. Okay let's look at one of them. Oh, she seems really nice from her blog but still I think she's secretly Satan and should I query her she will send me back a response something like the following:
Dear Sara,
Do the human race a favor and stop writing.
Agent Lady

Would I believe it if I got a response like that? I would like to think not, but realistically I would probably spend at least a day listening to "No Surprises" and feeling like I had wasted the last two years.


I thought about it some more. Bad idea.

I realized that the scariest outcome of this entire project would be if the book were actually to get published. Worse yet, if it were to be published and noticed by the general public. Because the idea of critics reading it and saying stuff about it--EVEN GENERALLY KIND THINGS--makes me want to crawl in a hole and die.

I am not just worrying about these things idly, I am physically shaking and my gastrointestinal system is in distress. I woke up in the middle of the night last night just because I needed to have an extra panic attack at 3AM.

All outcomes seem horrible, and I am consumed with fear of everything.

But really, honestly, in a sane world, the worst thing that could happen would be if I were to let these stupid neuroses get the best of me, chicken out, and not submit anywhere. That would be too sad and pathetic even for me.



I will do this even though I am terrified. I will do this even if part of me doesn't even want to succeed. Because I need to show myself that I am strong. And even if I fail I will have succeeded. Because I tried.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The sweet death of ambition

So what follows may seem like another woe-is-Sara kind of post, but rest assured, that's not what I'm feeling. I just want to take stock of things by writing them out. And I feel fine. I'm happier recently than I've been in a long time.

I think it's time for me to re-evaluate my ambitions.

I've been trying for three-ish years to 'make it' as a bellydance teacher. By 'making it' I mean making enough money to do that part time and something else part time. I've never been under the misapprehension that I could teach and do nothing else, at least not in this area or this economy.

I quit my job in 2009. I got serious. I gave it a good effort.

Now I'm tired of it and I want to stop.

I live in an area with a lot of teachers. There's nothing wrong with that and I'm not upset about it, but the fact is if you divide the number of people interested in bellydance by the number of teachers you don't really get a whole lot of people in each class.

I live in an area where dance studio rent ranges from painful to exorbitant.

I live in an area where bellydance doesn't have a huge public face, and where most 'normal people' don't even know that the bellydance community exists.

I live in a time where no one has a whole lot of money to throw around, and when a certain world dance fitness craze has decimated the market for bellydance classes.

I've been teaching regularly since 2004. There hasn't been more than a month-long period when I haven't taught a regular class. I've taught as many as six classes per week in the past.

This year I realized, if I want to ever save any money at all, I would need to get a second part-time job. So now I have two part-time jobs, not one.

My teaching skills and my knowledge base are improving (I think?). My dance skills are certainly improving, anyway. I've recently been asked to participate in regional events as a performer or teacher for the first time. I practice and promote myself and I try to perform for the general public to raise awareness about the beauty of our dance form.

This year I tried to make another push for financial viability, adding two classes to my schedule for a total of four. My class attendance dwindled to fewer students than I had at the beginning of 2011, when I was teaching just two classes. In fact, it was about half the number of students I had in January of this year.

I cancelled two classes. Now my total number of students is the same as it was with four classes.

You'd think this would be frustrating. Well, it's only the fourth or fifth time this (or something worse) has happened to me, and I've learned to just look at it and accept it. And this time I took a step back and looked at how I really feel.

I don't want to teach four classes a week! I feel burned out when I teach that many. Doing 1000x basic moves is hard on my poor wretched FMS-riddled body. I get sick and tired and I pull so many muscles it's hard for me to concentrate on my own dance development. Besides, I like having time to do something other than work and teach and practice! I like not having every single weeknight and every single weekend day booked solid.

I don't really want what I thought I wanted.

For a month or so I've told myself I need to regroup, to try try again, to give it another year, but I look at what it's going to take to rebrand myself and make another big marketing push and I just don't want to do it. I don't want to do it any more.

The thing is I'm not much of an entrepreneur. I hate networking. I like making friends (for realsies) but when I have to worry about promoting myself I get awkward. I hate money and I hate branding! I hate advertising! I'm a naive artist. I want my work to stand on its own, even though I know that's stupid and that no one ever 'makes it' without shameless self promotion. I have too much shame, I guess.

I still love dance. I still want to teach, but I don't want to worry about whether or not I make money doing it. I want to share what I'm interested in, not what I think will sell. I especially want to perform, but I know I won't make money doing that. Those days are over. Maybe a new era will come around some day where you can get a restaurant gig and work it, but I might be too old to take advantage of it by then.

I'm not sad. I have a million other things I want to do with my life. I'll probably never be satisfied no matter what I manage to accomplish, but I'll never be bored, either.

So here's to the future. And to figuring out what I'll do with myself next.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What made me weird, part one

This post is inspired by an old post at Coilhouse, one of my favorite blogs.

I started using a computer when I was three. Back in the 80s this was the exception, not the rule. My parents had a PC Jr, one of the first computers with a monitor that could display any kind of color. My dad taught me how to use MS DOS to access the games on the PC Jr. My favorite of these games was called Rogue.

In Rogue, you played a little adventurer, represented by a tiny smiley face icon. You navigated your adventurer through randomly-generated dungeons; fought monsters, represented by letters of the alphabet (T for Troll, Z for Zombie), all of which had different abilities and strengths; collected gold, potions and equipment; and ate delectable things such as slime mold (viable nutriment in Rogue) to keep your character alive.

I now know that Rogue is considered the first "graphical adventure game" and is kind of a big deal in computer game history. I did not know this when I was three. Mostly I knew that I wanted to get to the fiftieth level of the dungeon and slay the M(inotaur). Because who doesn't want that?

Once, I made it to perhaps the twentieth level, which was a big deal since normally I died every five minutes or so. But it was late and my parents made me go to bed. When I woke up I found that someone had turned the computer off! I wanted to cry.
Dejected, I pushed the power button on the CPU. The little indicator light turned off. I pushed it again; the light turned on.

My dad appeared.
"Sara!" he said. "I just turned the monitor off! I left the computer on!"
And that's how I learned that monitors work separately from the CPU.

Pee-wee's Playhouse.
I think this one explains itself.

Dungeons and Dragons.
My parents have been playing D&D (and later AD&D) since before I was born. If I recall correctly they started back with the original D&D box set where you had to color in the pips on the dice with a white crayon.

As a small kid I thought all adults played D&D whenever they had friends over for dinner. I always wanted to join in but for the very most part I would just listen on the sidelines until I got bored or confused. It was probably too hard for me to play anyway, at least when I was very small. The game is much simpler now, but Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was a different story, with its THAC0 charts and all its innumerable tables and obscure conditional rules.

The first time I actually played a game of AD&D was when I was seven. My friend Tracy was the DM. I took my fighter through a dungeon and in the deepest depths I fought and killed a white dragon. Righteous.

Later that week I went to a novelty store at the mall and bought a necklace to symbolize this victory. The pendant was a dragon-ish looking claw holding a clear marble. I remember thinking very specifically that the marble was the dead dragon's eye. I wore the shit out of that necklace.

The Monstrous Manual was particularly formative for me.

I started reading when I was two. I read all kinds of everything. I especially loved fantasy novels. I read fast and constantly. I read on the playground during recess. (I was not a particularly popular little girl.)

My original job aspirations were astronaut (because space) and author (because books). Then I found out how you use the toilet on a space shuttle and that pretty much killed my space aspirations.

After that I basically assumed I was going to grow up and become a writer. I lost track of that goal for a long time, but I've come back to it as an adult. Even though I'm unpublished I feel I am finally doing my younger self justice.

The kinds of books I read (mostly fantasy) made me want to see things differently. I wanted to look around myself and find secrets and magic. I wanted to believe that there is something more to the world than what is apparent to our eyes and ears.

I still do.

Two books stand out particularly well in my memory. The first is the book pictured above, Wise Child by Monica Furlong. Thinking back, I'm all but sure that this book made me stop being Catholic and turned me into the weird pseudo-pagan-but-not-really I am today. (I identify as Panentheist. Say that five times fast. I'm not Atheist but I'm a-religious.)

The second is Oddly Enough by Bruce Coville, a collection of short stories, one of which ("The Language of Blood") most likely generated my deep and abiding love for vampires.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sara Beaman, Re-Animator

So I'm going to try blogging again. Let's not talk about the hiatus and my related feelings of shame. No one wants to hear about it, least of all me.

Instead let's talk about my current projects.

The old obsession rears its (ugly? fabulous? combo of the two?) head.
After a months-long hiatus, I am working on the fifth draft (sane, normal, balanced decision) of my vampire novel, which henceforth shall be referred to as Redlisted as I have decided that will be the title.
I got really burned out on Redlisted earlier this year and didn't think I would ever want to work on it again. For reasons I can only speculate about, within the last week I have suddenly become eager to work on it again.
I'm going to be integrating major changes that I think will improve the book, to make it more coherent, to bring out the nature of the characters and to make the plot more interesting.

I am also working on a second novel. It's not about vampires.

I am putting together an anachronistic variety show, the Doomsday Cabaret. It will have bellydancers and hopefully other kinds of performers doing fun and interesting things, and will take place on Friday Dec. 9. Please come if you care about my feelings. And let me know if you are interested in performing or contributing to the administrative aspect of the show.

I'm going to be giving another lecture about bellydance history at UNC next week (most likely, it's still tentative).

I'm teaching a benefit workshop for the Wake County SPCA on October 9.

And of course I am teaching class, performing, etc etc that sort of thing.

I recently started a second part time job as well. So I'm having to teach myself some stricter time management techniques. But it's starting to work out all right, and it's nice not to have to be super stressed out about money all the time.

And there you have it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Workshops in Greensboro!

July 9 at Twisted Dance Studio in Gboro! I will be teaching two awesome workshops and giving a FREE lecture about the history of bellydance!

Both workshops are open to all dancers, regardless of skill level or stylistic persuasion. I try to include something for everyone! (Hopefully more than one thing!)

10am-12pm: Dancing from the Core
The heart of fusion is the core–the core muscles, that is. We’ll learn the essential principles of muscular technique, including posture, alignment, one, two, and three dimensional isolations, and layered isolations. We’ll learn how to use visualization techniques to help us dance with great power and refinement. Perhaps most importantly, we’ll learn how to dance without pain.

1:30pm-3:30pm: Choreography 101
Learn the secrets of how to keep your audiences enthralled! Dance is not just a series of moves–it’s moving sculpture, it’s theater, it’s life itself. We’ll explore the choreographic process using exercises that a beginner could do and a professional would still benefit from. Topics covered will include musicality, stage dynamics, transitions, traveling patterns, and performance mentality.

4:00pm-5:00pm: History of Bellydance
A free lecture on the history of Bellydance.

More info is available at the link above.

If you are coming to these workshops, please let me know what you're hoping to work on!

Feeling guilty

because I haven't posted in quite some time. I've been feeling kind of drained lately, both mentally and physically, and I haven't had much happen that I was excited to write about.
A few weeks ago I thought I had happened across a prescription combination that was going to be the magic bullet for my fibromyalgia symptoms. I was really ready to believe that I might be able to achieve a new standard of living, permanently. I think I got excited over... not nothing, but a few days of feeling better, after which I went back to normal. It was nice to feel better for a little while, anyway. But right now I'm tired and enervated.
I spent a long time thinking I could make myself feel better without (legal) drugs, and for a while I think I was right. I spent most of my college years feeling pretty okay. The years since then have been harder. I exercise regularly (although not very strenuously, because then I'd hurt myself), I eat fairly well, and I get more than enough sleep every night, and now I'm even on drugs because I gave up on making it on my own, and I still feel kind of shitty most of the time. I only work about four hours a day, six days a week (yes I know what that multiplies to. I'm functionally idle), but between that and cleaning and cooking and a few half hours of writing and practice every day, it feels like all I can manage.
I know I am going to have to make a big push if, for example, I want to try to get my book published--and I might as well try; it's pretty much finished. But right now I don't have the energy to do much other than get by.
Which is fine. At least I'm getting by.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Productivity Secrets

I have a confession to make. I am a serial procrastinator, and I have the attention span of a puppy at a public park. I have low energy, I can't remember what happened five minutes ago, and I can't seem to get organized no matter how hard I try. I'm basically a cautionary tale, so it might seem that I'm the last person in the world that should be writing about productivity.
HOWEVER. Despite my flightiness and my crushing neuroses, I do manage to get stuff accomplished when I want to, thanks to some techniques I use to cope with my damaged brain.
Here are their stories.

15 minutes at a time. I set an egg timer for 15 minutes (or 20 if I'm being ambitious) and I tell myself I must only work on a single task for that time. It might be cleaning, or writing, or editing, or strength training, or what have you. I do this both for things I want to do (and might spend too much time doing otherwise) and things I dread. For things I like, I force myself to stop at the bell. For things I hate, I force myself to keep going until the bell. IT WORKS! Without my beloved egg timer, I would never be able to focus for more than 15 seconds. This means a sudden 60x increase in productivity! LIKE MAGIC!
This technique has the added benefit of helping me figure out how long things actually take. My internal sense of time is completely wrong: I think things I dislike take much longer than they really do. I am always amazed at how much housework I can get done in 15 minutes.

Don't talk about it. I try not to spend too much time talking about what I intend to do in the future. I don't let myself talk to people about my projects until they are semi-complete. For example, I didn't tell anyone outside my family that I was writing a novel until the first draft was complete.
Why? Discussing your goals or incomplete projects with other people can give you a false sense of accomplishment. For example:
You: "I'm writing a novel." (read: I have five pages written and a bunch of ideas, or just a bunch of ideas.)
Your friend: "Wow!! That's amazing!"
You: Wow! I AM amazing!
Not that you're not amazing, but yeah.
I really like talking about myself, so I reward myself with the ability to freedom to talk (incessantly and at length) about my projects once they are actually done.

Don't think about it. The more time you spend ruminating about what you want to do, the less time you have to spend actually pursuing your creative goals. You won't know what works until you try to do it anyway, so stop thinking about it and do it!

Mini-Tip Bonus Round!
Don't watch TV any more!
Don't commit to anything you don't really want to do, unless you need to do it for money!
Quit your day job and become a professional eccentric like me!*
Don't worry about cleaning too much! Life's too short!
You probably don't need to shower every day unless you have a glandular issue! Fewer showers = more productivity time!
Writers! Convert time spent waiting in public to productivity time by bringing notebooks everywhere!
Spend driving time listening to inspiring music and thinking about your projects, or use that time to listen to NPR!
Don't waste time on the webs! Figure out what blogs you like and visit only once a week!
Figure out what you love and make room for it in your life by getting rid of whatever else you can!

*seriously, only do this if you have a trust fund, very supportive parents, and/or a very supportive, saintlike spouse with a great job.

Finally, the biggest tip of all:
Figure out what you want--what you really want, what you'll gladly sacrifice a lot of free time, sanity, and even cold hard cash to accomplish.
And then DO IT!

Go with my blessing!

Monday, April 11, 2011

What is up

This moment's thought: Oh shit. That's right. I have a blog.
So I haven't blogged in over a month. That's shameful. Here's a hasty attempt to assert my enduring devotion to the interwebs and to all of my amazing, charismatic, erudite readers, all of whom have excellent taste and should totally keep reading.
Here's what's up. I'll keep it to soundbytes.

Fibromyalgia. I am probably having some sort of relapse. I feel like crap even though I've been eating okay, exercising (albeit half-heartedly) and getting enough sleep. I'm going back to the doctor soon, I think? I can't remember, just like I can't remember anything else.

Bellydance. I am teaching at the Asheville Bellydance Festival next weekend, and my workshop is SOLD OUT. Holy crap. I thought I'd be lucky if three people showed up, seeing as that's basically what happened to me at Triboriginal 2009. Not that I should be advertising that fact on the internet. I am redoubling my efforts to make the workshop totally rock everyone's faces (in a kind, student-focused and supportive way, of course).
The Sparkle Oasis workshop remains open and will be even more face-rocking because it features TWO teachers--including one teacher who doesn't suffer from fibromyalgia brain death syndrome: my majestic sister Emily.
Also. I taught a workshop a few days ago to benefit Historic Green which raised $540, which I need to go online and donate as soon as I am done with this post.

Fiction. I have started working on the sequel to my vampire novel (which I still haven't decided on a title for--now THAT is procrastination). This is not premature and it is in fact a fantastic idea even though it's making it so that I have neither the time nor the energy to finish editing the existing novel or to begin preparing said novel for the agent submission process. Shut up. It totally is awesome and you don't even know.
But seriously, I'm excited about it. I always allow myself to go crazy with the first draft and write really badly. (Otherwise I would never be able to write anything ever.) I'm probably more excited about the opportunity to write really cheesy hackneyed trash than I should be, but whatevs. It's fun not to worry so much about how things sound and instead to focus on what happens next. I don't outline, so I have no idea what is coming. I just get to keep going down the rabbit hole.
My non-vampire short story (novella? novel?) kind of stalled out, so I am submitting it to my writers' group in an attempt to motivate myself to finish it. I will let you know if this ends up being a good idea or a terrible one.

Other. Nothing else about my life is worthy of comment, except for the fact that between private lessons, classes, and tutoring, I can feel that I'm slowly approaching the burnout insanity that I experienced this time last year. I'm glad to be working and to be in demand, but unfortunately I have a Constitution score of 4 (on the DND scale, obvs) and I just can't handle working every day of the week. I'm a little scared to pass things up, though, because I know it's either feast or famine, and a girl needs to eat.
Like I said, I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Teaching bellydance, part 3

This is Part 3 of a 4(?) part series on teaching bellydance. Part 1 (why to teach, and what to expect when you start teaching) and Part 2 (resources for new teachers) are available at the links.

Part 3: Cultivating Uniqueness

So you've started teaching, or you're considering it. How are you going to distinguish yourself from the other teachers in your area and create a niche for yourself? In other words, how are you going to avoid needlessly duplicating someone else's instruction, especially someone else with more teaching and dancing experience than you? These questions are important-- maybe even crucial-- to your success in the long term, but they're not always easy to answer. Here are some steps to help you cultivate your own unique teaching style and vocabulary.

For the Love of God Don't Plagiarize
What follows is the truth, not my personal opinion. Choreographies, including combinations, are the choreographer's intellectual property. If you are teaching another dancer's combinations or choreography without their consent, you are plagiarizing from that teacher! This is wrong! It's basically stealing.
ASK before you teach someone else's stuff. If you can't ask, or don't want to, don't teach it. If you desperately want to teach someone else's stuff and can't get permission, it's your responsibility to make major changes to it before you teach it. You should still say that your version of the combo or choreo is inspired by the person you learned it from.

Everyone gets their inspiration from somewhere. Most of us get it from other dancers. There's absolutely nothing wrong with taking inspiration from other people, but if your dance gene pool (so to speak) is too shallow, it will show. To avoid looking like a weak imitation of another dancer, open your eyes, mind, and heart to new sources of inspiration.
Investigate other dancers. Never stick with one teacher; at the very least, take workshops from different people. It's best if you can take classes long-term with more than one person whose work you respect.
Investigate other styles. Don't assume that classes or workshops with a dancer whose style is not what you're interested in will be worthless! Instead, use them as an opportunity to broaden your knowledge base and your skills. What can you learn from someone whose style is totally different than yours? How could you adapt their moves and combinations to look more at home in your own style?
Investigate other dance forms, at least over YouTube. You might not want to use moves or combinations from other forms of dance, but it helps to watch videos with a critical eye. Some elements of dance are universal. What makes a dance interesting? What poses and lines could you adapt for your own dance? What about traveling patterns and group formations?

Teach what you've Learned
In other words, don't teach what you don't understand.
If something doesn't make sense to you, even if it comes from the mouth of someone you deeply respect, don't teach it. Maybe it will make sense to you in time, but until then, don't just parrot the words to your students. What if someone asks you a question? How can you elaborate on something you don't comprehend?

Give It Time
I usually "sit on" new info from teachers for a while (say six months), integrating it into my home practice over that time, before I teach it to my students. This way I can teach from my own experience. Sometimes I come home from workshops or intensives with stuff that's too exciting not to share right away, but in most cases I think it's best to let things stew for a while before you give them to your students.

Adapt and Integrate
There is no one perfect way to teach each move. It's a calculus; you approach 'perfect' for each person by adapting and refining your teaching strategies over time. Part of this is integrating what you hear from other people.
Don't get complacent. Don't keep teaching basic moves the exact same way each time, and for the love of God, don't just teach what your teacher taught verbatim. Meditate on basic moves on a regular basis. Think about how and why they work.
Read books about anatomy. Understanding body mechanics can help you dig in to your ideas of how to explain both basic and advanced movements.
Take lots of workshops and classes. Look at lots of videos. Listen to how the moves are being taught, don't just learn how to do them. What aspects of each dancer's instruction work for you? What tips and metaphors are really helpful? What parts DON'T work? Make notes, go home and think about what you learned. Think a lot.

Learn from Your Students
Observe your students. Their ability to understand your instruction is the bottom line. Whether or not your techniques are effective will be pretty obvious if you really watch what's going on with each class.
What questions come up again and again? What problems do most students have? Does this reflect on your teaching strategies? How can you adapt to make progress easier for your students? What issues are outside your control?
Encourage your students to give you feedback and to ask as many questions as they need (unless they get way out of control and start asking questions every fifteen seconds, which happens very occasionally).
Don't obsess over the progress of individual students-- sometimes one student or another will face obstacles to improvement that you simply can't control. If most of your students are improving, that's the best you can ask of yourself. If most of your students are not, ask yourself why.

I hope these tips help. Please feel free to leave questions or further advice in the comments!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mini writing update

I am starting to feel better about the book again. (Let's see how long that lasts.) I'm plugging away at the edits of the even chapters and I think I'm starting to see improvement.
Meanwhile, I am busy working on my "short story" which is quickly ballooning in scope and asking to become a novella, a novel, even a series of novels. The more I think about the premise and setting the more I want to keep going down the rabbit hole, but I also want to write a short story and I'm not sure how I would manage working on two novels at once in two completely different universes. I think I need to have my head checked for even considering it.
Right now I want to stay up and write but I have to go to bed. Fibromyalgia makes me turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of eleven. No witching hour for me.
With that, good night.

P.S. It's not paradise over here, though. I've got a choreographer's block the size of Greenland. Long suffering sigh.

Monday, February 28, 2011

February recap and goals for March

Hey, guess what? That's what! It's walk of shame time.

Here were my goals for February.

-Choreograph a solo for the Bozenka show. ALL OF IT.
Well, I tried. I got a minute and a half of a new choreo done, then decided I totally hated it. And now I will be doing improv. Abort/Retry/Fail.

-Write an epilogue for my book.
I did this. And I actually liked it.

-Write a plot summary. No, really. Actually write it this time.
Okay, so I'm 2/3 of the way done with a synopsis. Partial success achieved.

-Go to some more writers' meetups.
I did this. In fact, in a particularly unhinged moment, I agreed to read an excerpt from a short story I'm working on at a writing group tomorrow. Why did I do this? I probably won't be able to sleep tonight. Oh God. I shouldn't think about it.

-Stop freaking out about anything and everything that has to do with book submission.
I think that's going to require some pretty heavy medication. Otherwise, it's most likely unachievable.

-Come up with an action plan for preparing my novel for submission over the next three months.
I'm working on a fourth draft instead. Is it necessary or am I just avoiding the things I fear? It's a column A / column B kind of thing.

-Try to eat like a sane person, not a third grader.
Let's not talk about it.

All right, well, as shameful as that was, I have reasons to be happy with myself. Well, one reason: I'm working on a short story that I really like after months and months of false starts and ideas that were pretty much dead on arrival. So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Here are my goals for March:

- Do my taxes. A perennial source of fun!
- Finish and revise the short story I'm working on.
- Finish rewriting the even chapters of the book.
- Make a choreography for my solo at the Asheville Bellydance Festival gala. COME ON SARA. YOU CAN DO IT.
- Finish the synopsis of the novel and clean it up.
- Write a first draft of a query letter to send to agents.
- Promote my upcoming workshops and events.
- Start getting ready to move by cleaning and getting rid of stuff I don't use or need.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Teaching bellydance, part 2

Resources for New and Aspiring Teachers
If you want to teach, but you're unsure about how to lead a safe warm-up, how to help students avoid injury, how to explain safe alignment, and other such concerns, these resources can help.
If you are a teacher, and you know of a helpful book, website or DVD I haven't included in this list, please let me know in the comments!

Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain
List Price: $29.99
If you are only going to buy one book about exercise science, consider this one. Its companion, Anatomy of Movement: Exercises, includes concrete ways to integrate the concepts into your classes.
This is a clear guide to human anatomy written in layman's terms and heavily illustrated. It's the most helpful book on anatomy I've ever read.

ACE Group Fitness Instructor Manual
NOTE: If you buy this book from the Amazon affiliates I've linked to, it will be much cheaper than buying it from ACE themselves.
This is a comprehensive guide to leading group fitness classes. Were you planning to teach an aerobics class, everything in this book would apply to your goals one hundred percent. Of course, you're not; you're planning to teach a dance class. It's still extremely helpful, but not everything in the book will really apply to your needs. (You probably don't need to know how to lead a class in freezing temperatures, for example.)
It's a large book, and not particularly fun or interesting to read, but it has a lot of very important information that you might not get anywhere else. Topics covered include the biology of exercise, how to lead a warm-up and cool-down, safe stretches for different kinds of exercise, and how to accommodate students with different health issues including pregnancy.

Belly Dancing for Fitness by Tamalyn Dallal
List Price: $14.95
This book is written and marketed as a self-instruction manual for students who want to learn bellydance at home. However, it would still be helpful for anyone who wants to teach beginner classes and is unsure where to start vis a vis lesson planning.

Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation by Anita Boser
List Price: $24.95
This book is more than what it looks like. The first two chapters provide a fairly comprehensive framework for working with students who are out of shape or in chronic pain. Moreover, it includes a lot of wisdom about spinal alignment, learning to relax, and overcoming stiffness and mobility issues. The rest of the book is dedicated to a series of exercises that work well as light, enjoyable conditioning to help students increase their range of motion and warm up their bodies for class. It's easy to read and many of the exercises are illustrated.

Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery by Eric Franklin
List Price: $30.95
This book is almost the opposite of the ACE manual; it's a treasure trove of information about teaching dance, but not all of it applies to teaching bellydance. However, it's still extremely helpful, especially as a resource for teaching intermediate and advanced students. It's heavily illustrated and includes a ton of exercises to help students increase their body awareness and make their movements clearer and stronger through visualization techniques.

Together with lots of dance experience, these five books would provide a comprehensive basis for any new (or experienced) bellydance instructor.

While you're in research mode, don't neglect to learn about the history and culture of the dance form you're teaching. These two books are a great place to start:
Belly Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism and Harem Fantasy by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young
A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt by Karin van Nieuwkerk

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Teaching bellydance, part 1

I've been getting my thoughts together for some private lessons on teaching. I thought I'd post about it, since I'm trying to organize my mind over it anyway and the easiest way for me to do that is to write.
I've been teaching since 2004, which is not that long. I'm not the final authority on anything. Everything in this article is just my opinion, nothing more.

That being said, let's start at the beginning: making the decision to start teaching bellydance.

Good Reasons to Start Teaching
While there are a million other great reasons to teach, I think if you don't fit into at least two or three of the statements on this list, you might want to reconsider the idea of teaching, at least for now. Continue your training and continue growing as a dancer, then come back to the idea further on down the line.
Some good reasons to start teaching include:
- You have something unique to teach in your local market.
- You have the blessing of your own teacher.
- You have a good amount of experience being a teacher's assistant.
- You have a background in exercise science and/or you have experience teaching other forms of movement.
- You are genuinely excited about the idea of helping other people learn how to dance, even if that means they might take what you've taught them and do it better than you.

Bad Reasons to Start Teaching
There are just as many bad reasons to start teaching. Here are a few.

#1: To make money. Unless you are already well-known in your area and have a fan club of people that are dying to study under you, or you are in an area with no bellydance instructors where people are dying to study under anyone, you will most likely not make money off your classes at first. If you rent space for your classes, you'll probably start off making a loss. If you teach at a fitness center, you'll get paid, but most likely not much. $25/hour sounds pretty good until you realize as a new teacher you should be doing at least 2 hours of prep work outside of class for every class you teach. And you have to pay for gas. And fliers to promote your new classes. And a website. And et cetera. During lean months (August and December come to mind), even established teachers with a solid student base have trouble making money.

#2: To increase your cache in your community. If you have a dance community in your area, you will be competing against established teachers for students. If people don't already respect you as a dancer and a human being, this will not make them feel any better about you. It will not make them take you seriously. In fact, it may make them respect you less. ("Did you hear so-and-so started teaching? But she's only been taking classes for six months!")

#3: To bolster your sense of self-worth as a dancer. What happens when one of your students decides to switch over to someone else's classes (and they will)? Do you want to become one of those psycho bitches who gets all possessive? No. You don't. But if you don't have a strong sense of your own worth that isn't predicated on the number of students you have in any given session, you just might.

#4: Because you've learned all you can from your current teacher. Yeah, that seems like it should be reason enough, but it's really not. In fact, I believe that people who have only studied with one teacher have no business teaching, except to teach as that dancer's assistant. Why? Because without multiple points of reference, when you start teaching, you will be parroting what your teacher taught you. In essence, you'll be putting yourself on the market as a watered-down knockoff of your teacher.
If you've learned all you can from your current teacher, go take lessons with someone else. If there's no one in the area, look up your favorite workshop instructor (you have taken some workshops, haven't you?) and see if they'll do lessons over Skype.

What You Need to Start Teaching
It's a long list.

A lesson plan helps, but it's only a start.
You also need to be able to cultivate a warm, inviting, and respectful classroom atmosphere.
You need to know how to lead a safe warm-up and cool-down.
You need to know how to accommodate students with a history of chronic pain and/or injury.
You need to know how to explain safe posture AND how to recognize when students are in unsafe postures.
You need to be able to recognize when students are executing movements in a potentially harmful way.
You need to feel comfortable giving corrections to students regarding their posture or technique.
You need to be able to explain each movement you plan to teach at least two ways-- the way that makes the most sense to you, and an alternate way in case your students don't understand the first way. (Not everyone learns the same way, so the descriptions and metaphors that worked for you might not work for other people.)
You need to be able to gracefully acknowledge questions you can't answer. ("Well, I'm not sure, but let me get back to you about that next week.") In other words, don't make shit up just to look smart.
Similarly, you need to have the humility to acknowledge the things you aren't ready to teach. For example, I don't teach backbends, because I'm not sure that the way I execute my backbends is entirely safe.

Note how a lot of those requirements have to do with safety. Well, I'm obsessed with safety, partially because I've injured myself doing things that my teachers told me were safe. I never want that to be the experience my students have in my classes.
You may not really care whether or not your students get injured, but remember... people can sue.

It's Not All About You
Your classes should be about your students and your students' experience. Sounds great, right? Well, it is, mostly. The vast majority of bellydance students, just like the vast majority of people in general, are awesome.
And then there are some that are not.
Be prepared to handle the following:
-Occasional psychotic episodes from students; students who are inappropriately confrontational, either with their peers or with you.
-Students who ask questions constantly and, in essence, demand private lesson levels of attention during group classes.
-Students who are vastly more experienced than you showing up to your classes for reasons you can't surmise.
-Students who think they are vastly more experienced than you and attempt to correct or augment your instruction during class.
-Painfully shy students; students who seem totally disinterested; groups of friends who chatter with each other while you're trying to talk to the class.
-Students who take six weeks of classes with you and then try to teach. (Thankfully, this has yet to happen to me, but it's happened to some of my teachers!)
-Students who ask questions such as "How many classes do I need to take before I'll be a professional bellydancer?"
-Students who will do anything not to pay you; students who always have some excuse as to why they can't pay you today; students who steal class supplies such as hip scarves, either accidentally or on purpose.
-Students who talk shit about other students in the middle of class.

As much as it might seem lame and stupid, it helps to have print-outs of class rules and policies on hand at all times. Decide what you think acceptable behavior is for your classes and write it down, then give it to each new student as they arrive. It's much easier to say "you're in violation of the rules so I need to ask you to leave" than "you're acting like a psycho bitch so please go away".

The bottom line is, being a good teacher is hard. You can't ever be prepared for every eventuality, but you should do your best to prepare for things you know will happen.

Students will be self-conscious; you need to be friendly and draw them out of their shell.
Students will do things incorrectly; you need to be able to correct them without making them feel bad.
Students will ask questions you can't answer; when that happens, you need to be able to be humble and tell them "I don't know".

It might sound from what I've said that teaching is just a huge pain in the ass, but if you put the right kind of energy into it, it's extremely rewarding. Seeing your students grow into confident, body-aware, self-possessed dancers is magical. I always tear up when I see my students perform!

I will leave you on that happy note.

In Part 2 of this article, I plan to talk about resources for new teachers, and how to integrate what you're learning into what you're teaching.
In Part 3 of this article, I plan to talk about creating a niche for yourself, understanding the teacher you want to be, and identifying the kinds of students who will mesh with you as a teacher.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New session of classes!

Early Spring Session 2011

This will be a six-week session of classes with no breaks. Classes start on February 26 and run until April 2.
Both classes will take place at World in Motion Dance, Movement and Music Center. Find out more about the studio, class policies, and registration at !

These classes are likely to sell out, so be sure to register as soon as possible!

Fusion CORE (1:00-2:15PM) Fast Moves, Shimmies and Traveling
This session in CORE, we'll be working on a high-energy mix of fast moves from the American Tribal Style vocabulary, fast fusion moves, traveling moves and all different kinds of shimmies! We'll combine these moves into original combinations that would be right at home in your choreographies or group improv.
Students of all experience levels are welcome. You don't need to have previous bellydance experience to join this class.
Expect to see some core and leg conditioning exercises and to receive specific individual feedback.
Drop-ins are welcome, space permitting. The enrollment cap for this class is fourteen students.

Fusion FLOW (2:30-3:45PM) Veil Choreography
In FLOW, we'll learn a fun, fast-paced fusion veil choreography appropriate for anyone who has a little bit of experience under their hip belt. We'll start with the basics of veil technique; you don't have to know how to use a veil in order to join us. I'll have lots of veils available to borrow, so don't worry if you don't have one to bring to class.
Because many veil movements take up a lot of space, the enrollment cap for this class will be eight students.
Expect to receive a lot of individual feedback. Drop-ins are welcome, space permitting, but because this is a choreography class it is recommended that students attend as many classes in the session as possible.

Register online at .
Find more information about class prices and policies at .
Get directions to the studio at .

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Used Bookstore Digs

An attempt at a sort of column.

Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love cast-offs. My ideal shopping experience involves digging through heaps of crap to find hidden gems. I'd rather have a $30 shopping spree at Goodwill than a $200 spree at the mall, even though Goodwill smells funny and there are no benches in most of the dressing rooms.

The reasons for this are many and varied. Here are a few:
1. I feel much more excited when I find something awesome at a thrift store than when I find something awesome at Target.
2. I do not like being bothered by retail staff.
3. I imagine it's better for the environment to buy things used.
4. I am cheap. I work only part-time and I don't have much money.
5. I am full of latent anti-corporate (not anti-capitalist, mind you) sentiment, so I hate the mall and I hate big box stores.
6. For the very most part, the stuff they sell at the mall bores me to tears.
7. I don't like having the same stuff as everyone else.
8. I live in a relatively affluent area where people like to get rid of new or good-as-new stuff, so I can shop used and still not look like a hobo (unless that's the look I'm going for).
9. I wear a size 8/10, so there's always plenty of stuff for me to choose from. I realize that people of other sizes may not actually have the option of successful thrifting.

The only things I won't buy used are underwear and makeup. However, there are a million blogs about thrifting for clothes, and no one cares what I'm wearing, so I probably won't post about my cheap-ass fashions unless I find something really exciting.

Instead, I bring you USED BOOKSTORE DIGS.

These are the chronicles of my used book purchasing experiences. So gripping. So intense. Possibly of interest if you also live in the area and want to buy books for cheap.

Let's begin!

First Expedition

Location: Mr. Mike's Used Books, Cary NC location
I found this store completely by accident between outings to Chipotle and Trader Joes. (It's in the same plaza as the Cary Trader Joes. FYI.) I can't recommend it enough to anyone who reads SF, horror or fantasy. They have a wonderful speculative section. Everything is well-organized, well-lit, and in good condition. The person on staff was friendly. From what I could tell, all the paperbacks are $4. (Next time you go to Starbucks, think about the fact that you could probably buy a great book from a local business for the same price as your grande whatever.)

What I bought: Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Why I bought it: It had a picture of a trilobite and an endorsement from Neil Gaiman on the cover. I also like the word "threshold". I can pretty much guarantee that if I had seen a more recent edition of the book, with its updated cover, I wouldn't have bought it. I guess trilobites appeal to me as a reader more than goth girls do, or maybe I'm just tired of emo looking teenagers gracing the cover of like every single book in the genre.

Genre: Horror, I guess?

Spoiler-free reaction: I enjoyed the author's style. It was quirky enough to be unique without veering into the annoying or incomprehensible.
I liked the mix of hard science (geology and archaeology) details and mythological or religious motifs.
I found the characters to be relatable, realistic and compelling.
The setting really sucked me in. It's clear that the author has spent a good deal of time in the South, which is always a plus if you're trying to write about it.
This was not an easy book to read. It's unclear if several scenes actually occurred, if they were psychic visions, if they were just insane hallucinations or some mix of the three. That being said, the level of obtuseness was fine with me. I like ambiguity (to a point). However, I would not recommend this book to anyone who doesn't want to deal with nonlinearity, stories told out of chronological order, or passages that blur the line between reality and dreams.
It didn't give me nightmares, but as I've already mentioned, it was fairly creepy, so don't pick it up if you don't like dark themes or horror.
I liked the ending but kind of hated the epilogue.

Hoard, Resell or Recycle? Hoard. I'll just pretend the epilogue didn't happen.

NEXT TIME: Another book from a different store! Or maybe the same store since I have store credit at this store!

Fourth draft blues

I just realized I haven't posted in over a week, so here's to rectifying that.

The book has me in a funk. I have always oscillated through periods of liking it and hating it, and right now I am in a hater phase.

I am attempting to edit half of the chapters to make the voices of my two narrators more distinct. This means bringing these newly-reworked chapters back to a much less polished phase of production. Although I imagine that this process is necessary or at least beneficial, it's frustrating and discouraging.

I'm not just lazy. It's not that I don't want to work on the manuscript any more. I just have gotten to the point where I can't seem to tell if the changes I'm making are helping or hurting. Sometimes I wonder if I will even be able to resolve the issues I am trying to fix, or if the work has critical flaws that can't be undone.

I've been working on this novel since last April, which doesn't sound like too long (10 months, whatever), but it's been an intense 10 months. I normally work on it for at least 2-3 hours a day, more if I can scrape together the time, and I normally enjoy the work, but it's difficult not to get discouraged sometimes.

In an effort to avoid burnout I'm going to force myself to take a break from it for a few days. I'd like to say I will leave it alone for a week but we all know that isn't going to happen.

In the meantime I am working on a short story. Why am I writing on my break from writing? I don't know. In my free time, I also read and work on dance stuff, but I don't watch television or play video games in my free time any more, and I try to limit the time I waste on the Internet. Mostly I write, think about writing, and bother my loved ones with my writing-related drama. In any case, writing this story feels like a break, so it's a break. So there.

Right now I am happy just to have an idea for a story. I've been searching for one for months, but I kept coming up with stuff that was too complicated to condense into short fiction. I'm hoping this idea is just complicated enough. It's going to be interesting to see how the project turns out.

But back to the book. Here's the thing-- I believe in the story and I believe in the characters. It's everything else I'm not so sure about. But whether or not the writing itself is hackneyed crap, I've gleaned a tremendous amount of knowledge from writing it. Even if there are problems with the manuscript that I will never be able to fix, I will keep writing other things and I will keep trying.

It would make me sad to let this project go, because I am so fond of the characters and the plot. But I'm nowhere near the point of no return, not yet. I'm not ready to give up. I just need a break.

It does feel weird to live in this space, where this project dominates so much of my mental energy, knowing I'm the only one who cares even ten percent this much about it. Even for me, an introvert with a hyperactive imagination and a tenuous grasp on reality-- even for me it's weird.

But I'm used to weird, so whatever.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cool stuff my friends are up to

I'm hoping to make this a regular blog installment-- hopefully I'll figure out a better name than the above. But yeah, my friends are up to some pretty cool stuff. Check it.

The fabulous Lisa Zahiya started a new blog, A Year of Practice, which chronicles her own resolution to practice every day in 2011 and encourages others to do the same. Practice what? Well, in her case she means bellydance, but the project isn't specific to that alone-- you can follow along in the field of your choice. What would happen if you dedicated thirty minutes a day for the next year to cultivating a skill or working towards a creative goal? We're trying to find out. I'm following along by trying to write or edit at least 1 hour a day, and practice dance for at least 30 minutes every day. WOO!

My friend, student, and MVTest Reader Ginny has also started a very different kind of blog-- one that delivers some pretty fantastic serialized fiction. Follow her writing project at Maybe, Possibly, Perhapsody. Anyone with a penchant for fantasy can pretty much count on getting sucked in immediately-- I know I did!

My friend and mentor Hannan Sultan just released a performance DVD! Having never seen the DVD, I can still tell you it's completely amazing because I was there when she filmed it. Hannan is really a dancer's dancer, and the routines on this DVD show off her amazing technique to great effect. You can buy the show on DVD or on digital rental-- see her website for more details.

And last but not least, my old friend William just wrote a fascinating article about video games for The Escapist that explores the following question: is it a glitch or a value add?

Monday, January 31, 2011

January recap and goals for February

It's that time of the month-- the time when I look at what I wanted to accomplish and either laugh at the naivete of my goals or berate myself for failing. Just kidding! I do usually get most of what I want to do done. Sort of. Sometimes.

Let's see how I did in January.

-Don't get sick again
I only got a little sick. I'm feeling okay for the most part. Silver Star!!

-Continue practicing as daily as possible
I am actually sticking to this resolution unless I genuinely feel too sick to practice. Gold Star!!

-Clean up Draft 3
I get bonus points for this one. Not only have I done a ton of editing, I forced myself to go to a writer's group and then I groveled to all my friends for help reading the manuscript. I've been super busy integrating all of the changes everyone has suggested and it's been really helpful. Happy Octopus Sticker!!

-Write a summary of the book
LOL, no. That did not happen. "0%" written in red Sharpie!

-Start researching literary agents
I did a little bit of work on this front, so I'll give myself a pass on this one. Check!

-Work on a new choreography
I'm not sure how I managed not to do this, what with all the practicing I've been doing, but I didn't even start on anything! Mr. Yuk sticker!

-Clean my damn house
I cleaned it twice-- really cleaned it, like a normal person who isn't a slob might-- and then tried to do maintenance cleaning. And yet, it still looks like a superfund site. Printed out image of Sisyphus!

-Eat less refined sugar
Yeah, uh, "less" is a relative term. I did eat less than last month, but I'm not sure I deserve credit for not carrying on with a diet that would put most people in diabetic shock. Apple sticker!

-Drink more water
Oh, that reminds me. *goes to the sink*

So what are my goals for February?

-Choreograph a solo for the Bozenka show. ALL OF IT.
-Write an epilogue for my book.
-Write a plot summary. No, really. Actually write it this time.
-Go to some more writers' meetups.
-Stop freaking out about anything and everything that has to do with book submission.
-Come up with an action plan for preparing my novel for submission over the next three months.
-Try to eat like a sane person, not a third grader.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Persona and confidence

The real SKB.

My FLOW class will be working on stage presence and persona this weekend. As I've been preparing our curriculum, I've been thinking about my own dance persona and my goals as a performer.

I've realized that I don't really have a dance persona. I have a real life persona. The way I behave in my performances, especially recently, is a better representation of who I really am as a person than how I act in everyday life.
My inner universe is intense, although not particularly dark, and I feel I need to consciously dull down the display of my emotions for the sake of everyday interactions. I just don't feel comfortable being myself to my fullest extent all the time. I'm afraid of alienating people by being too loud, too obsessed, too manic, too angry or too confident.

It's sad, but more than any other emotion, I intentionally downplay my confidence in front of other people, especially my female peers. I learned to do it when I was in elementary school, and I keep doing it today because I feel weird otherwise.

The truth is, I think I'm a great dancer. I know people enjoy watching my performances. I think I'm smart and talented and interesting and funny. I think I'm pretty and I have great hair. I try my best to be kind and responsible and to live my life ethically, whether or not I always succeed. I wear cool earrings. I might even be an okay writer.
I like myself. No-- I love myself. I am fucking awesome.

I'm proud of myself for learning to be confident again. I was super confident as a little kid, but then the world taught me that it is not cool to like yourself too much. I've learned to disagree. Since I've learned to love myself, I have more empathy for other people and I can appreciate their successes more easily. 99% of the time, I don't feel the need to compare myself to other dancers, but I can still admire strengths that other dancers have that I don't.

Still, the norm is that people, especially women, cut on themselves in public to accomplish some weird kind of social bonding with their peers. It's like we can only understand each other through our shared weaknesses. When was the last time you talked to your girlfriends about how great your own work is? Can you even remember? What about the last time you talked about how fat you always feel?

Sometimes I feel really alone-- it's like I'm the only one who's not drinking the haterade.

What we're telling ourselves and each other with this behavior is that it's normal to hate yourself, and it's deviant to like yourself. It's stupid. I try my best to avoid these mutual self-flagellation sessions, but sometimes I catch myself participating out of force of habit, or social pressure, or I don't even know-- something equally inane. I hate it. It needs to stop. It should be vastly less embarrassing to say something positive about yourself among peers than it is to cut on yourself. Why, then, is it always the other way around?

But I digress.

At the beginning of this session, I asked my students to tell me what they wanted to learn in class, or to give me questions they wanted me to answer. Almost everyone told me they wanted to know how to look more confident onstage. All right. Here's my opinion on that.

Sure, there are tricks you can use to emulate confidence onstage, but there's no substitute for actually being self-possessed and thinking you are awesome. This is a hard thing to accomplish, to be sure, but it's more important than any dance technique, or really anything else in your entire life, so you might as well give it a shot.

Find your confidence and guard it with your life. Society is going to try to beat it out of you-- in fact, they're doing it right now-- but don't let them. Fight for your love. Endeavor every single day to show yourself that you love yourself, the same way you would if you were trying to woo someone else. Tell yourself things that you like about yourself. A lot. Be heartfelt about it. Find ways to make yourself feel comfortable and happy. And for the love of God, if you wouldn't say something to a friend, NEVER say it to yourself.

No one else can make you feel that love, but once you feel it, no one can take it away.

OK. So. You work on that, and I'll work on trying to lose my mild-mannered real life persona.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I need YOU

to help me accomplish my dream.
You. Yes-- you. Any and all of you-- however many of you are willing to help.
I supplicate myself before you and beg for your aid.

As you may or may not have heard, I have written a novel. I don't mean I have a half-finished idea for a novel, either-- in fact, it's about as done as I can make it on my own. I've put my heart and soul and countless hours of work into my book, and now my dream is to get it published. I have never felt this way about anything before in my life and I'm not sure I will ever feel this way again.

Soon I will be sending my book out to agents. As an unpublished writer, I know I need to expect that no one will be interested in it. Nevertheless, I'm going to do everything in my power to increase the chances that someone out there will at least want to look at the full manuscript.

Here are some ways that you can help my chances go from zero to marginal, or from marginal to slight:

If you are a published author or you work in the publishing industry, it would be invaluable to me to have you read an excerpt and give me your feedback. I don't expect you to read any more than a thousand words or so. If your feedback is positive, I may ask you for a quote I can use in my cover letters. If you are local to RTP, I would love to meet you and talk to you about your experience in the industry. If you're not, I'd still love to talk by email or on the phone whenever you have the time.

If you know anyone who works in the publishing industry, especially anyone who has ever worked with speculative writers, and you wouldn't mind giving me their contact information, please get in touch with me.

If you have editing experience, fiction or non-fiction, I could use your help. I am willing to trade private lessons or graphic design work with anyone who is interested in such an exchange.

If you are also an aspiring author, I would love to do an editing exchange.

If you like to read, I am still looking for test readers, especially for the first few chapters of the novel. There's never been a better time to become a test reader; the book is much stronger now than it was when I started editing it. The first three chapters together are less than ten thousand words long (which isn't long at all).
I need your honest, unfiltered reaction to what you read. Criticism is much more valuable to me than praise.

If you don't fit into any of these categories, but you know someone else who does, you could always forward them the link to this post. Please do.
You can also become a follower of my blog in the column to your right.

If you can think of anything else you can do to help me, please tell me.

If there's any way I can ever help you in return, let me know. I want to help you with your dreams too. What I can give in exchange includes bellydance instruction, bellydance-related advice and criticism, graphic design help, illustration work, administrative work, and copy editing.
In short, and within reason, I will do whatever I can to make you feel like the effort you're expending on my behalf is appreciated.

Thank you so much for reading-- just that much is sincerely appreciated as well.