7 dancers, 5 menfolk, 6 flights and 29 degree heat. What could go wrong? Absolutely nothing, as it happened; RockIt have just returned from a fabulous working holiday to Kyrenia, North Cyprus. And it was a blast.
In an amazingly seamless feat of organisation, we travelled across Europe, to meet up with Shifan Ôzseza, the organiser of Kyrenia Belly Dance Fusion Festival, to teach a dance workshop on the Saturday and perform at the gala show on the Sunday. Everybody was incredibly enthusiastic about the trip – our first RockIt working holiday – but also had plenty of questions too. How would our unique style of dance be received in another country? What would we learn from other dancers and performers? And, after training for years in the Rainy City, could we dance in such high temperatures?
Everything went brilliantly; the troop took a workshop with international dancer Elis Pinheiro on the Saturday, learning Samba steps, and other Brazilian dance concepts. Our own teachers Em and Sas taught their own 3-hour workshop, RockIt style. Sunday was the big day, the chance for us to showcase our talents amongst other professional and student performers. I found the introduction to the festival really thought-provoking; the presenters explained that over the years the art and skill involved in belly dance have been overlooked, and as such it has been viewed reductively as nothing more than sleaze, something performed primarily for the benefit of men. It’s an interesting point; I know that many of our dancers (and other belly dancers too) have had the raised-eyebrowed, ‘Oh that’s what you do’ kind of reaction when trying to explain RockIt’s style of dance. And it’s very frustrating!
Our Cypriot hosts went on to describe their view of dance and also of the festival generally; it was about reclaiming dance (in particular) for women, but also about appreciating the years of work and dedication performers have committed to their art. They used the analogy of ‘rebirth’; perhaps suggesting that the idea of belly dance and other forms of art could be viewed differently from now on. There was also a strong message of peace throughout the day; our hosts mentioned that they hoped mediums such as art and dance could eventually reunite North and South Cyprus. There was certainly more to this festival than simply just another Hafla.
The day’s performance took us through a diverse range of styles: from some traditional folklore dance (involving some impressive balancing skills) to belly dance fusion (such as belly dance flamenco) and contemporary. There were also performances from men – and children! The contemporary piece was one of my favourites; a purely physical piece that took my breath away with the amount of skill involved, and showed the dancers’ strength, agility and poise. Em and Sas were also VIPS for the afternoon, as they were part of the judging panel for the later competition – a tough job, but our ladies know good dancing when they see it!
And then – it was our turn. As is so often the case, after the performance we received lots of compliments from strangers – telling us how unique, energetic and sometimes intimidating we can be. Quote of the day came from an audience member who said she’d ‘love RockIt to dance at (her) funeral’! (Which interestingly is not the first time we’ve received that unique compliment!)
Over the last five years, I’ve danced with RockIt all over the country: at festivals, at haflas, in a parade, at a tattoo festival and even on a boat swaying down a river! We’ve been on many road trips and I’ve enjoyed them all. I love the way heads turn when people see our costumes. I love the way mouths drop open when we start to dance. I love the questions and comments from the audience and other performers. In Cyprus, this even extended to requests for photos, so perhaps we really did wow Kyrenia with something very different. Doing all this abroad gave it, for me, something a little extra too; a chance to be even more proud of my part in RockIt. It also got me thinking about the friendships I’ve made during the last few years; some of my most brilliant memories have been made with my fellow performers, people I am privileged to call my friends.
And then, with the performance over, it was off out to celebrate. But first, we had to get back to town. So a local kindly called us a taxi. It arrived, with a smiley driver. We all got in. Nothing bizarre about that, until halfway to town, the driver stopped, let in a few random strangers and kept on driving. I’m not sure who was the most surprised – us or the new passengers. Turns out it wasn’t really a taxi, just a very small bus… with a driver taking us on a magical mystery tour somewhere, and who wasn’t sure how much bus fare to charge us. I love holidays!
Us RockIteers (and our menfolk) have much in common, but in particular is our love good food and booze (oh and cats). There was no shortage of either in Kyrenia (there were also plenty of kittens for us to coo over) – imagine our delight on day one as the hotel bartender announced, in all seriousness, ‘this bar never closes.’ So we all went off to a fantastic (and inexplicably cheap) restaurant to eat as much as possible. We really did stuff ourselves, before literally waddling off back to our hotels. This set the tone for the rest of the holiday – eat, drink, snooze in the sun. Repeat.
I began RockIt as a complete beginner, with no dance or performance experience. Now I can camel, shimmy, butt scoop and weeble. I can do chest rolls, slinks, tilts and the human condom. I never thought one day I’d be invited to dance at a festival abroad with eleven other amazing people.
I love RockIt and all those in it. You’re all truly awesome.
Back in February a lovely woman called Badja contacted us, asking to hire us to perform at her birthday party in Rebellion Rock Bar in April. Upon discussing the details, Badja confessed that she’d like to perform one of the tracks with us, and asked if this would be possible! We’d never had a request like this before, and the more we thought about it, the more exciting it sounded!
Although Badja had ten years experience in Jive and Tribal Bellydance, she had never taken a class with RockIt, so we knew that learning our style from scratch, in just two months, would be a challenge. However, when I met Badja at her first one to one lesson with me, I knew this was a challenge she could meet! Badja had a natural flair for dancing, and a fierce determination to put in all the necessary practice to fulfil her ambition.
Badja had a choice of fifty or so of our existing RockIt student routines to perform, and after dabbling with the idea of doing Demanufacture by Fear Factory, she instead chose one of the fastest routines we have, to Shut Me Up by Mindless Self Indulgence. Badja was adamant this was the routine for her, as she loved the song so much, and something told me that with her determination, she could do it justice!
Learning our style of dance for a performance just two months away meant that Badja had her work cut out, but she approached her task with immense drive and commitment. She practiced every day for months, attending private classes with me, and also training sessions with our performance group. Badja was keeping her performance a secret from most of her friends until the night, and she had an unwavering commitment to making it the best it could be. Along with working on technique and stamina, we also looked at performance skills, including facial expressions and intensity – some of the greatest challenges for many performers!
On the night itself, Badja was understandably very nervous, and had the additional pressure of organising the rest of the entertainment and making sure the party ran as smoothly as possible – not an easy task when you’re talking two bands, and up to 100 guests! This was alongside getting changed into her performance costume, and then having to hide from her guests until she went on stage!
I think Badja would agree that it was all worth it! When she walked out onto the stage with us to perform – looking like the Rock Goddess she is! – we could actually hear her friends gasp! During the whole song, their eyes never left her and everyone cheered her on so loudly it almost drowned out the music! She delivered an immense performance!
The whole process of helping Badja prepare for her big moment was so enjoyable and satisfying, but the performance itself was the biggest rush for me too! Experiencing all her hard work in action, and hearing and seeing all her loved ones enjoy her performance was amazing. Knowing that I, and the rest of RockIt, had helped her to achieve something important to her was an experience I’ll always treasure. I am really going to miss teaching Badja!
Here at RockIt, we love teaching and helping people to realise their performance ambitions, and this particular experience was so amazing, that we are now offering the chance for others to experience it too! Do you have a big birthday coming up? Ever wanted to perform as a Rock Goddess with a group of Metal Warriors? Well, you know where we are!
RockIt rehearsing Shut Me Up by Mindless Self Indulgence with Badja at Cloud Aerial Arts, Ancoats, April 2014.
I’ve been dancing since I can remember. I’ve taken classes in Street, Bollywood, Commercial, Salsa, Ballet, Jazz, Contemporary and even the dreaded Zumba. But history kept repeating itself; I’d get to a certain level but the teacher chose not to develop me, accept me into their training group or progress me to the next class level. It always came down to an issue around my ‘fitness levels’, but my ballet teacher told me outright: ‘You’re too fat. You’ll never be a dancer.’
Yes, I’m overweight. I have a cocktail of health problems, none of which are that terrible, but the combination of which makes it difficult to exercise and causes me to store belly fat. Running for a bus would trigger an asthma attack. Dance has always been the one sport that I’ve been able to do without too much complaint from my body. Practice a routine for three minutes, stop, repeat and have so much fun you barely notice it’s exercise.
I had wanted to try Bellydance for years, since I knew it was a dance form where size didn’t matter. Back in 2010, I saw a poster in the pub for RockIt! Belly Dance. Belly dance to METAL?! Try and stop me.
My wonderful friend Jennie came to my first class with me, but five minutes in I didn’t need the moral support. I loved seeing the shapes my bigger body could make from moves focussing on feminine curves. And the music didn’t suck.
I went to every class I could and quickly progressed. I knew certain students were being asked to perform and I was determined to become one of them. I worked my ass off and was asked to perform at Rusty Cage Club Night. The teachers had recognised my talent, and couldn’t care less about my size.
I loved it. I loved commanding the attention of the whole room. I loved hearing people cheer, watching me move, enjoying what I could do with my body and actually appreciating how I look. I felt strong, sexy and powerful.
For me, RockIt Dance is all about power. Bucking the idea of both submissive female rock dancers and bellydancers, we’re strong, assertive, aggressive. The moves are big, bold and brash: powerful. I think this creates a unique power-play, stemming from audience expectations. When the audience hears metal dancers, they think of music-video girls. If they hear bellydance, they think Egyptian or Arabic whirling dervishes. Ultimately, the expectation is ultra-feminine and flirty. Then there’s the second layer of expectation, of girls ‘not getting’ metal, or only pretending to like metal to please their boyfriends. Finally, all audiences want to be entertained. It’s like a gauntlet has been laid: ‘Come on, amuse me.’
The expectation is never snarling, sweating, (occasionally grunting with exertion) warrior women throwing themselves about to heavy-as-fuck tunes. We are the last thing they expect. That shift in power from audience to performer, that ‘what the fuck?’ moment, is as exhilarating as the dance itself.
From then on, the performer has the power over the audience. We have your attention. Those three minutes are ours.
(For me personally, I always feel there’s an expectation that ‘the fat one’ will be shit – that my size means I’m not as skilled as the other dancers, or as fit. It’s probably my own insecurities, but it drives me to work harder. When I’m performing, I dare you not to watch. I dare you not to enjoy it. I dare you to think my body shape means I can’t dance. I can dance, and dance really, really well. My size does not determine my skill).
My favourite part of performing is always that moment of stillness, right at the end. We stop. You can hear a pin drop. Then the audience erupts with applause and cheering. That split-second silence is the sound of the audience processing what they’ve just seen, and working out how to react to it. In that moment I feel that power – yes, that was awesome.
But the absolute best part of all of this, is that I have eight other amazing, powerful women around me, who have all gone through similar growth experiences over this time. I bet if you asked any one of us a few years back whether they’d ever go on stage wearing nothing but lace trousers and a metal bra, we’d laugh in your face. But here we all are, standing proud and strong – and often wearing handmade chainmail.
Over the past three years I’ve performed all over the UK with RockIt. I’ve developed my dance skills and my fitness, and I’ve grown some killer leg muscles. My ass is toned, my posture is better, my arms have increased muscle mass. But more importantly, I care less and less about my belly and my costumes have become scantier. In fact, just this week at a photo shoot I wore a mesh crop top – showing my belly in public for the first time. My body has become powerful. I appreciate it for what it can do more than what it is.
Despite being my biggest, my confidence is sky high. Yes, I will never be thin. I will never run a marathon. But I bet a marathon runner couldn’t do 10 minutes of the routines and drills we spend hours perfecting every week. We all have different strengths and skills – mine is expressing confident, dynamic movements to awesome tunes.
We are RockIt. Hear us roar.
Rehearsing Feuer Frei by Rammstein at Olympic Gym, Eccles, February 2014.
Them: ‘So, what do you do?’
Me: ‘I’m a rock and metal dancer.’
Them: ‘What’s that?’
Me: ‘Well, I’m part of a group of nine dancers that choreograph routines and perform them to rock and metal.’
Me: ‘We’ve adapted belly dance and other styles, made them bigger and more energetic to fit alternative music.’
*Nods but still looks confused*
Me: ‘You know, think really good club dancing to metal, but synchronised and polished.’
Them: ‘… So… what is it you do again?’
The above conversation is an exchange that I experience almost every weekend. I’ll be having a few drinks in Manchester, get chatting to someone when the inevitable question arises; ‘So, what do you do?’ For most artists the answer is easy; ‘I’m a belly dancer’, ‘I’m a pole dancer’, ‘I’m a burlesque performer.’ I envy these people with their succinct responses, which are easy to understand because the person they’re speaking to has seen or at least heard of their occupation. But how do you explain an act or concept to someone who has never heard of or seen it? They may be aware of the component parts, but when combined the resulting impression isn’t quite clear. It’s hard to imagine what it looks like and how it works. This is a challenge I face every time I try to explain what my dance act, RockIt Dance, is all about.
We started off by merging our dance background (belly dance) with our musical interests (rock and metal). It was clear that this was going to be a challenge from the start. Don’t get me wrong; we weren’t the first people to combine belly dance with alternative music, but we wanted to do it a little differently. On the one side you have metal, embodying aggression, energy and power. On the other you have belly dance, oozing flirtation, elegance and control. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger meets Jessica Rabbit; not an obvious match but it has potential if both sides are willing to adapt.
At first we merely substituted Egyptian and Arabic music for rock and metal whilst using the same dance moves; hip drops, hip lifts, shimmies and so on. It wasn’t until we choreographed a routine to Slipknot which was later featured on Sky 1’s ‘Got to Dance’contest that we realised we had to alter the dance style itself for it to reflect the music and form a coherent performance. The reaction of the ‘Got to Dance’ judges, all of whom were professional dancers, both confirmed and denied our fears about being understood. One just didn’t get it and immediately interpreted us as a somewhat lacking belly dance act. One was blown away by how we’d adapted a traditional style to metal. The other gave us the most constructive and balanced feedback; they praised our distinctiveness but advised us to make better use of the stage and mix up our sequences. This confirmed for us that what we were producing worked and it could be understood and enjoyed with more work. Shortly after we started including more formation changes, diversified our dance styles and completely overhauled our act over a 12 month period.
After making some changes RockIt Dance became more sought after and we began working with a collection of alternative fairs and agencies, however I still found myself having the above conversation anytime someone ask ‘What do you do?’ I considered whether I could be accused of naivety having not considered how the type of dance performance I’d created would be understood before I decided to form it. However the combination of rock n roll and girls dancing seemed like a no brainer to me. The issue was perhaps not the act itself, but the preconceptions of ‘rock girls dancing’ that already existed. These presumptions often point to scantily clad, heavily made-up girls writhing on podiums for the pleasure of the audience. Even the simple term ‘dancer’ screams ‘stripper’ in some peoples’ minds. Therefore another challenge lay in explaining the difference between this commonly held notion of ‘rock dancers’ and what our act consisted of. The fact that we choreograph each of our routines, train for at least 8 hours a week and dance for the love of dancing itself and not just to titillate, has set us apart from other acts and led us to be described as ‘powerful’, ‘fierce’, ‘crazy’ and my personal favourite ‘domineering’.
The people who have seen RockIt Dance perform clearly understand it, enjoy it and can describe it. In that case perhaps my response next time I’m talking to that person in a bar about ‘What I do’ should be ‘You’ve got to see it to believe it’. It’s a mysterious and inevitably intriguing response that does run the risk of coming across conceited, but perhaps it’s the best way. Those that see us perform are always enthralled, especially the women in the crowd which is by far the biggest compliment we could ask for. Social media channels such as Facebook and YouTube allow us to reach a much wider audience, whether they’re viewers in other countries, potential clients or self-made critics of everything on the planet (i.e. everyone on YouTube). So if you’re the next person to ask me the question ‘What do you do?’ be prepared for an enigmatic response, an invitation to our next gig or having my smart phone thrust in your face with our latest video playing. I am a rock and metal dancer and I am here to be seen and believed. See you at the bar.
Performing to Piss by Pantera at The Alternative & Burlesque Fair, Sheffield, April 2013.
Hey there! So, I was wondering, does every first blog start with the words “I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for a while”? I think they probably do! Well, this one does too, cos it’s true! I thought it’d be fun to give people more of an in depth look at what we get up to than what you usually see through our Facebook and Twitter, or find out when talking to us at a club, when we’re busy getting drunk and whacking men with our rucksacks. (True story for another time maybe).
Here at RockIt, lately we’ve realised – again – that, sometimes we’re so focused on working towards our goals that we forget to stop for a while and appreciate what we’ve experienced and achieved, so this first blog will be a mini review of some of the highlights of this past year!
So I’ve settled down at home tonight with a nice big gin, sat opposite my cat Harley (he doesn’t do laps despite my fervent encouragement), and here it is. Oh and beforehand I took some selfies of me and Harley for the blog of course, cos what’s a good blog without a photo of a pissed off looking cat? With a woman nuzzling him, telling him how good he smells, and asking him how he got so soft? Well you can’t see that in the photo, but know that it happened.
So here goes. This year started with seeing ourselves on’t telly. For those of you who don’t know, in January myself, Emma and Gemma appeared on the Sky One show ‘Got To Dance’, a competition to find the UK’s best dancers. Last year we’d gone through the long process of an application and audition in Manchester for the producers, and at the end of the year we made it to the first round of judge’s auditions in London. We’d prepared hard, and the experience was fun and exciting, despite not getting through to the next round. We all agree that the best thing about the experience as a whole was the feedback we received, and how we’ve drawn on it to improve and develop our dancing. It was awesome being described by one of the judges, Kimberley Wyatt (ex Pussycat Dolls) as ‘innovative and really cool’, and by another judge, Aston from JLS, as ‘intense’. Love us or hate us, our aim is to capture people’s attention! (We were also left feeling a strange fondness for JLS, as it was Aston who wanted to put us through to the next round!)
I’m not underestimating to say that our choreography (our dance routines), has changed so much since receiving our feedback on Got to Dance. When we came back to Manchester we had an overhaul of our training, and myself, Emma, Gemma and Dominique started developing our performance piece to ‘Redneck’ by Lamb of God, working really hard to develop and vary our routines, which we think makes our dancing much more exciting to watch. We love the power and aggression, and all the formation changes, and it’s still one of our favourite routines to perform.
But of course, it’s not all dressing up in a kilo or so of homemade chainmail and performing, we’ve spent hundreds of hours this year locked away at the epic Olympic Gym in Eccles (home to powerlifting world champion Tania George!) and rehearsing our asses off. The first big challenge of this year was our audition in March for Heresy n Heelz’ Productions at The Alternative & Burlesque Fair Manchester. This was an incredible day. One thing we sometimes contend with as a rock and metal dance act is finding the ‘right’ audience for what we do, and we definitely found it here. The fairs always bring out lots of open-minded alternative people looking for interesting and entertaining performances, and our routines to ‘Redneck’, and ‘Piss’ by Pantera were really well received, by the audience and the staff, and the reception we got actually brought a tear or two to our eyes. With our audition a success, it’s been a delight to go on and perform this year at their fairs in Sheffield, Bristol and Birmingham, and we always have loads of fun, and meet some lovely and interesting other performers. Through Heresy n Heelz, we’ve also had the pleasure of performing at our first fetish club night, Skin Two Midlands, and found our chainmail costumes looking very much at home next to the acres of amazing latex worn!
In order to get more performance work and reach a wider audience – without so much of the associated admin! – one thing we’ve been striving for for a while now is to get signed to an agency. I absolutely hate cold calling agencies, but luckily our Em takes this kind of thing in her stride, and this, along with sending out lots of emails and videos meant that this autumn we finally did it, and got signed to the brilliant Warble Entertainment! The first gig we were hired for was for Warble itself, for their Halloween charity ball, and all nine of our dancers performed, which is always great fun! We also saw some of the more creative and scariest costumes ever, including Pyramid Head from Silent Hill who scared Emma so much that she kept hiding behind people and whimpering. Well, even the most hardcore metal dancer gets frightened sometimes!
Shit yeah, it’s been a great year! We’re looking forward to another hardworking and fun year ahead, especially to our upcoming trip to Cyprus in May, where we’ve been invited to teach and perform at the Kyrenia Bellydance Fusion Festival!
Thanks for reading, and from all at RockIt, we wish you an amazing year ahead, and hope to see you on the road! \m/
P.S. Harley told me to tell you “What up, yo”. That cat’s been watching a little too much Breaking bad if you ask me…
P.P.S. Here we are performing to Redneck by Lamb of God at Cross X Over club night in Manchester, October 2013 – When I was 15 and hanging out at The Ritz on Monday nights I never dreamed I’d be back there performing on the stage nearly 20 years later!