Ladies I Love: T is for Ever-So-Talented Tribal Fusion Bellydancers

Bellydance used to be a big part of my life, and for today’s T-related A to Z Challenge post, I am going to talk about a couple of Ladies I Love, my favorite Tribal Fusion Bellydancers.  Just before I moved to Portland, I started taking beginning bellydance classes in San Diego, so when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I had a good foundation to explore the many types of bellydance that are out there.  I’m certainly no expert on various bellydance styles and I haven’t danced in a few years now, but I’d like to give you a taste of some of the bellydance styles you may encounter.  You might have seen solo bellydancers perform when you go out to eat Moroccan food; those are typically Egyption cabaret style dancers – lots of colors, scarves, jingly shiny accessories, and they often perform to more traditional middle-eastern music (see the photo below, left).  American Tribal Style (ATS), another another form, borrows traditional bellydance moves and is typified by multiple dancers performing the same movements at the same time.  While there is some improvisation in the choreography, complex movements are signaled by a leader to other dancers in the troupe with subtle movements so that all the dancers know what step is coming up.  ATS dancers borrow a lot of their dress and makeup styles from Eastern Europe (think gypsy!) and Africa to create a unique and recognizable look (below, right).

But let’s get back to tribal fusion bellydance!  I first saw this style at an Offbeat Bellydance show at the Blue Monk, in Portland, Oregon.  A dancer named Endymienne took the stage and I had never seen anyone dance like her before – I was absolutely transfixed!  In fact, here’s a picture from her performance that night, way back in 2010:

14 - Endi

All bellydance is about muscle control and isolated movements of the ribcage, hips, stomach, arms and head (among other parts), but tribal fusion includes so much more.  It’s an off-shoot of ATS, but has elements of cabaret, hip-hop, popping, flamenco, burlesque and breakdance.  Movements can be slow and controlled, or fast and percussive.  The style is a beautiful combination of tribal, old 1920’s and 30’s flapper and burlesque, vintage circus, and modern elements (lots of tattoos and piercings, too).  To me, it’s utterly mesmerizing!  Here are a few more photos to help you picture what I’m talking about:

The two women pictured above are probably the most well-known tribal fusion bellydancers in the U.S., and for good reason.  First, there’s Rachel Brice (the two pictures to the left, above), based out of Portland (here’s her wiki page, too).  She has her own studio called Datura, and teaches classes and workshops there.  She has performed and toured both nationally and internationally since 2002 and has a lot of accomplishments to show for it!  Here’s a fun performance she did a few years ago at a Le Serpent Rouge show at the Tractor Tavern up in Seattle (I like it because a bit of her personality comes through in interacting with the rather adoring audience):

Next, there’s Zoe Jakes (two pictures to the right, above), who is part of a musical group called Beats Antique, which formed in San Francisco in 2007.  She and Rachel Brice often perform together, and Zoe Jakes is a guest instructor at Datura, along with having several instructional DVDs of her own.  She has been bellydancing since 2000, and like Rachel Brice, has a ton of accomplishments under her belt.  Instead of a performance video, here’s one of my favorite videos from Beats Antique (called “Revival”, released back in 2011), which will give you a taste of their music (which seems to be a favorite among tribal fusion dancers…I don’t even know how to describe it!), as well as a peek of Zoe Jakes who performs in it about halfway in.

I could go on and on about these ladies and there are a ton of videos of their performances on youtube, so if you’re interested in viewing more, they’re easy to find.  Was it what you were expecting from bellydancers?  Let me know what you think!

Ladies I Love: S is for the Amazing SCALD EAGLE, My Roller Derby Super Crush!

Scald Eagle by Your Sunday BestI am Super Stoked to write today’s “S” post for the A to Z Challenge!  Today’s Lady I Love is the magical Scald Eagle, or Hillary Buscovick, as the non-roller derby world knows her.  But for those of us who play roller derby, Scald Eagle is probably at the top of most of our derby crush lists!  Scald Eagle plays for the Rose City Rollers, a league out of Portland, Oregon.  There are four “regular” teams in the league, and she plays on Guns N’ Rollers.  In addition to that, she’s on the Rose City Rollers’ all-star travel team, Wheels of Justice.  AND, in addition to THAT, she’s on freakin’ TEAM USA, a collection of 32 of the best derby players from across the United States.  So Scald Eagle is definitely the cream of the crop, y’all!  Team USA will compete with other derby teams from all over the world this December in Dallas for the Blood and Thunder Roller Derby World Cup…an event NOT to be missed by anyone remotely interested in derby!

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

But let’s get back to Scald Eagle.  Below is a short video taken from Team USA’s Stars vs. Stripes Exhibition Bout just this past February.  Now, if you don’t know anything about how modern roller derby is played, I’m going to give you the very basics; otherwise, the video might look like chaos.  But there’s a surprising amount of skill and strategy involved in derby, which I hope will become clear in a minute.  First, a bout (or game) is divided into two periods, each made up of several jams that can go on for a maximum of two minutes.  There are two teams, and each team has five players.  Each team has one jammer, and the rest of the players are blockers.  The jammers are the only ones who score points, and they do this by passing members of the opposite team (so if the jammer passes all members of the opposite team, that’s five points).  The 8 blockers make up the pack, which has to stay together on the track.  Members of the pack are trying to block the opposite team’s jammer from getting through the pack and scoring points, while at the same time, moving the other team’s blockers out of the way so that their own jammer can get through and score points.  So you can see where this can get complicated!!!

Scald Eagle by John Wijsman

So in this exhibition video, you’ll see Scald Eagle do her magic; she’s number 50, and is wearing a white jersey and white helmet with a star on the side.  The star on her helmet means that she’s her team’s jammer.  Watch as she easily passes through the other team’s blockers, almost as if she’s invisible to them!  And remember, this is not easy.  This is Team USA here, and still, Scald Eagle flies through like it’s nothing!  Check it out:

I also found this older interview (from 2011, I think) of Hillary talking about what it’s like to play derby.  She seems down-to-earth, goofy and modest.  And she was just this way when she guest-coached my league, the Storm City Roller Girls, a few months ago!  I remember her saying something to me, but honestly, I don’t know what it was because I think I was just completely star-struck (and I know I wasn’t the only one).  She was an amazing coach, but the thing I remember the most from her was that she seemed so nice and authentic…I can’t imagine her playing dirty or being anything other than upstanding…she seems to have a lot of integrity!  It’s no wonder she’s a hero in the derby world!

Ladies I Love: R is for Rachel Carson – Scientist, Conservationist and Writer

USFWS Employee PhotoToday’s A to Z Challenge post is brought to you by the letter R.  R stands for Rachel Carson, one of the Ladies I Love in the field of science.  If you don’t know who Rachel Carson was, as a female biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I am very proud to be able to tell you a little bit about her.

Rachel Carson lived between 1907 and 1964.  She was fascinated by nature during her younger years, and went on to obtain her master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.  Soon after, she got a job with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (which would later become the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) where she was one of only TWO professional women working for the organization and earned under $40 PER WEEK when she started.  She did a lot of writing for radio broadcasting at that time, primarily focusing on the ocean in an effort to inform the public about the treasures that marine systems contain and the services that they provide.  She moved up in the Bureau/Service and wrote several books about oceans, which hit the top of best seller lists everywhere.

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

It was in the mid-1940’s when she learned about DDT.  I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but throughout the next couple of decades, Rachel Carson did a lot of research regarding the effects of DDT on the environment, specifically about bioaccumulation in the food web. In 1962, Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring”, which detailed the harmful effects of pesticides and predicted that if our irresponsible use of them continued, we would start killing off species, let alone jeopardize human health.  For example, one of the effects of DDT and bioaccumulation resulted in the inability of some bird species (primarily predatory birds) to successfully reproduce because DDT weakened egg shells, resulting in eggs being crushed in the nest.  Several species (e.g., peregrine falcon, pelican) were put on the Endangered Species list because of this!

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

Part of a 1947 ad in Time Magazine.

There was, however, a lot of money in the pesticide industry and tremendously fierce opposition to her work, which publicized the negative effects of DDT on animals and the environment.  If you simply google DDT and look through the videos that come up, you can find old footage of people being happily sprayed by CLOUDS of DDT!  Rachel Carson actually received death threats and harassment because of her work and the questions it raised about the pesticide industry.  In fact, Rachel Carson’s research and work gave rise to the modern grassroots environmental movement that has inspired generations to protect the world around us, AND resulted in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.  After her death (due to illnesses contracted during her treatment for breast cancer), President Carter awarded Rachel Carson the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously for her landmark work, and in 1969, the Coastal Main National Wildlife Refuge was changed to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Rachel Carson by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images

What an amazing woman and inspiration to younger generations of scientists!  Few scientists can claim the magnitude of influence that she had in any field, and in particular, conservation of our natural resources.  Take a look at this short video about Rachel Carson and her life’s work; there is a ton of information online as well, if you are interested in learning more (just follow any of the links I’ve provided above to start).

Additionally, just this past March (Women’s History Month), the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe, honored Rachel Carson with this video.

Ladies I Love: Q is for the Mad Queens of Wonderland

Red Queen - Header

Welcome to another Ladies I Love edition of the A to Z Challenge!  Today’s letter is Q, for QUEEN.  Specifically, I’ll be introducing you to four queens from Lewis Carroll‘s books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass“.  I’m a huge fan of these two books and have several editions of them at home – I even memorized “The Jabberwocky” in seventh grade and can still recite it!  And did you ever notice that Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land are actually Queendoms?  It’s the queens who rule these lands, and even though the kings are there, they’re pretty wimpy and submissive to the queens, who are able to rule with gusto.  If you are interested in Alice’s Wonderland adventures, there’s a great wiki that you should visit – you can find it here.  But let’s get on with the business at hand!

Queen of Hearts

The Queen of Hearts playing croquet

First, there’s only one queen in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and I’ll bet you can guess who that is – that’s right, the Queen of Hearts!  But don’t get confused – she is also sometimes mistakenly referred to as “The Red Queen”, whom I will introduce in a moment.  The Queen of Hearts is actually one of a pack of cards who enjoys playing croquet (using hedgehogs for balls and flamingos for mallets), and of course, handing out death sentences like they are going out of style by yelling “off with her head!” should anyone look crosswise at her.  Fortunately, the king is there to discreetly pardon most of the convicted, but if it’s all the same, I wouldn’t want to get on the Queen of Heart’s bad side!

After Alice leaves Wonderland, she enters Looking-Glass Land and there encounters two more queens of a different sort as they are chess pieces and not anything like the sociopathic Queen of Hearts.  First she meets the White Queen, directly upon entering Looking-Glass Land, but the queen doesn’t really interact with her until further in the game of chess that Alice finds herself playing.  She takes her place in the game as a white pawn and has to get to the 9th square to become a queen herself.  When she gets to the fifth square, she meets the White Queen again, who then gives Alice some great advice:

When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” — The White Queen, Through the Looking-Glass

The White Queen is a bit mysterious, and fades in and out of the story, transforming into a knitting sheep and into one of Alice’s white cats.  The Red Queen, on the other hand, is a bit more proactive with Alice in getting her to the 9th square.  The Red Queen is my favorite of the queens we find in Alice’s story.  While bossy, the Red Queen can get things done.  She urges Alice to move quickly and save time where possible.  She states:

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” — The Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass

Red Queen - Running

The Red Queen drags Alice across the chess board (illustration by John Tenniel).

I can so relate to this statement – sometimes life feels like this, right?  In fact, there’s something called The Red Queen Hypothesis in the field of biology that describes how evolution works:  “For an evolutionary system, continuing development is needed just in order to maintain its fitness relative to the systems it is co-evolving with” — Leigh Van Valen (1973).  This means that evolution is just a big game of “Keeping Up with the Jones'” – if you have a competitor or a predator, as a species, you need to evolve to find ways of surviving the challenges of the competitor or predator.  However, those competitors and predators must also evolve too, to keep up with you!  But I digress…

In the end, Alice does get to the 9th square to become a queen in her own right.  The White Queen meanders off and disappears, but the Red Queen continues to cause trouble for Alice, who decides to shake some sense into the Red Queen.  The Red Queen then transforms into Alice’s black kitten and Alice wakes from her dream…having defeated the Red Queen (and King) and won her game of chess.

Three Queens

The three queens of Looking-Glass Land: the White Queen, Alice, and the Red Queen (Illustration by John Tenniel).

To be honest, the Queens are not my favorite characters in Alice’s adventures – I rather enjoy the Cheshire Cat (no surprise there, right?) and the Mad Hatter.  But they are both male, and well, I needed to write about Ladies for this Challenge.  But the queens are no less fascinating than any of other Lewis Carroll’s inventions!  Who is your favorite character in these stories, or do you have another fairy tale that you connect with?

Ladies I Love: P is for the Power Puff Girls (Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice, plus Whoopass!)

Powerpuff Girls Header

Are you ready to meet today’s Ladies I Love in the A to Z Challenge?  If so, P is for the POWERPUFF GIRLS, who consist of Blossom (“the leader”, in pink), Bubbles (“the joy and the laughter”, in blue), and my favorite, Buttercup (“the toughest fighter”, in green).   The girls were created by their scientist “father”, Professor Utonium, who combined sugar, spice and everything nice…plus an accidental little something extra to give them their super powers.  The original cartoon, created by Craig McCracken in 1992, was called “Whoopass Stew!” but was renamed by the time it made its official debut on the Cartoon Network in 1998.  By then, the “little something extra” had been changed from a can of whoopass to “Chemical X”, which gave the Powerpuff Girls superhero powers such as flight, super strength, x-ray and heat vision, and super speed.  But the thing I love about the cartoon is that, even though these girls can do all these incredible things, they still have to face issues that siblings and youngsters go through: rivalries, hygiene issues, the use of security blankets, wetting the bed, and going to school.  Not to mention, fighting all the criminals and villains who want to take over Townsville, where the Powerpuff Girls and Professor Utonium live (and unfortunately, destroying much of Townsville in the process)!

Buttercup-powerpuff-girls-24270377-391-429My favorite character is definitely Buttercup, because she just wants to throw-down and fight the bad guys.  She doesn’t do a whole lot of planning ahead, she’s more of an action type of girl!  She’s strong-willed, adventurous, and isn’t afraid to get dirty and play rough.  She takes no prisoners!  I like her so much that I dressed up for her in a parade that our roller derby league participated in – the theme of the parade was “Super Heroes”, and I chose to be Buttercup.  She’s a superhero, right???  And the villains are kind of THE BEST EVER for an animated series.  Take this quiz to find out which villain you are (I came out as Mojo Jojo)!

Powerpuff Girls 2013The last episode of the Powerpuff Girls aired in 2005, but the Powerpuff Girls also starred in a feature-length animated film, a 10-year anniversary special in 2008, and a 2014 special (made without McCracken’s involvement).  For the 2014 special, the Powerpuff Girls received a CGI makeover (which I personally don’t like nearly as much as the more colorful, rounded version of the girls).  But the Powerpuff Girls had a very successful run, being nominated for and winning several awards in the process.

If you’re not familiar with the Powerpuff Girls, I know you are curious to get a little taste.  Here are two clips for you:  first, the theme that shows at the beginning of each episode:

And second, a clip from one of my favorite episodes, “Take a Bath, Buttercup!” where Buttercup refuses to wash her stinky self!

Who is your favorite Powerpuff Girl or villain?  Or, if you have another favorite cartoon altogether, what is it?  I’d love to know who you cheer for in the fight of good vs. evil (and which side you’re on)!

Ladies I Love: O is for the Entire Freakin’ Cast of Orange is the New Black!

If you are looking for a binge-worthy show to watch, you’ll want to definitely bookmark today’s A to Z Challenge post.  This is because O is for the entire cast of “Orange is the New Black“, who are all Ladies I Love!   If you don’t know anything about this show, it’s produced by Jenji Kohan, the same woman who created the show “Weeds”, and is based on a true story that was detailed in a memoir called “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” by Piper Kerman.  Piper was sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison because of a crime she committed ten years prior – transporting a suitcase full of money for her international drug-smuggling girlfriend, Alex.  In the ten years since, she settles down and lives a “normal” life as an upper-middle class white woman with a fiance in New York.  But someone snitches on her and look out – she is convicted and finds herself in prison.

OITNB - Cast photo

While Piper is the main character in the series, each episode tells the story of the inmates that Piper lives with in the prison.  The women are complex, varied and multi-dimensional, and at first, Piper thinks she has nothing in common with them.  AND, surprise surprise, she meets up with an old friend in her cell block: Alex.  The relationships that exist, form and change in the prison are born of necessity and are darkly comedic, like the series.  Yes, it’s a women’s prison show, which means that there are “adult themes” including strong language and nudity.  However, it adds to the realism and the color of the show…orange.  The cast is amazing.  Watch the trailer and you might be hooked…I binge-watched the entire series in one weekend!  Fortunately, Season 2 is coming out this summer, and I can’t wait!

UPDATE!!!  The Season Two trailer was just released TODAY!!!  And here it is, just for you!

And here are a few of my favorite characters (played by an incredible collection of actors):

OITNB - Season 2

Ladies I Love: N is for the Nymphs, Naiads, and Nixies

Water Spirit Sketches by Ewa LudwiczakToday’s A to Z Challenge post is brought to you by the letter N, but these Ladies I Love may not actually exist (although some might argue with you).  I’ve had a number of items in my adult life that all needed to be named.  Not CL208F2, or Freddy or “Green Notebook” but something far more creative and descriptive.  For example, I always wanted someone to be able to look at our department’s network of computers and go “oh – there’s the aquatic ecology lab computer” and not have to shuffle around a bunch of papers looking for the right identification code.  Well, ok, that only partly relates to today’s ladies I love post – the other part is that I grew up loving fairy tales (you know, the kind with fairies).  The artwork of Brian Froud used to mesmerize and terrify me all at once (I’m looking at you, Jenny Greenteeth!).  Hence, being an aquatic ecologist and fish biologist and fairy “aFISHionado”, I’ve tended to assign names based on aquatic folklore.  In fact, part of my email address is “limnixie”, a word I made up that loosely translates to female lake fairy.

Here are a few short definitions for you about some of my favorite aquatic fairies:

  • Nymph:  Generally, female water spirits who animate nature.  Often depicted as young and beautiful maidens who love to sing and dance; they can be immortal, but can also die under some circumstances.
  • Naiad:  A type of water nymph that presides over fresh water of any kind (e.g., fountains, wells, springs, streams and brooks).
  • Nixie (or Neck):  German or Nordic, a water spirit, typically a river mermaid; they can be malicious but also kind or benevolent as well.  They are shape-shifters, and are said to lure men to their watery doom in some cases.  You can recognize them in their human form by noting that their skirt hems are always wet.

Do you have a favorite type of fairy?  Do you resonate with any kind of natural habitat, type of plant, or landscape feature?  If so, there might be a fairy just for you!  Look it up and tell me what you find!