Keeping the creative momentum going
March 18, 2009 6:29 PM   Subscribe

This year I started doing a circus traineeship and learning burlesque, which is awesome. In a week I have to go back to Malaysia for a few months while my new Australian visa is processed. What can I do in the meantime in the middle of nowhere?

I'm mainly concerned with maintaining my skills (our circus traineeship mainly involves ground/floorwork, such as tumbles and acrobalance, as well as some juggling and hoops), my fitness and flexibility, and my creativity (especially on the burlesque end). I have developed a lot over the past few months and would like to keep up the good work. I'd also like to plan out my new life in Australia, especially my finances (and a possible new business venture).

The issue here is that I live in the middle of nowhere: public transport is nearly non-existent and I can't drive so I can't really get anywhere. To do anything interesting I'll have to go to KL, which is a 4-hour bus ride away, and I'll have trouble finding accommodation. In Malaysia I'm rather controlled and limited by my parents, mainly due to lack of mobility and not being in the city centre. The past few times I've come back to Malaysia for holidays I've just atrophied in front of my laptop for the whole day - because there was nothing else to do!

What can I do to keep up the work I'm doing and not lose all the effort? There's no semblance of burlesque or circus anywhere in Malaysia (let alone in my city) so I'll have to do things out of the box, if possible. Some ideas:

* Learning how to make costumes, accessories, pasties (I'm a sewing newbie)
* Looking for yoga or dance classes to go to regularly
* Someone suggested I volunteer for after-school stuff. I could ask my old school if they have students interested in learning some fun performance skills (I'm still relatively a beginner but I can pass on some basic things) or help them with a fundraiser
* Find a yoga DVD and practice with that regularly
* See if there are any adult gymnastics classes (I highly doubt that, but who knows??)
* Draft out ideas for performances, Aussie life, etc
* Getting a job - this is very tricky, as people here are reluctant to hire you if you're only going to be around for a few months (the training would take that long!!). There's also some societal issues that may make this challenging (even though I'm totally up for jobs!!). I'd like to do some location-independent/online stuff but am not sure where to find things that are legit and don't pay peanuts for massive effort.

I've also been thinking of volunteering at events, but things mostly happen in KL which is a 4-hour bus ride (which is fine) and requires accommodation (which is trickier). Any tips around that?

How else can I avoid being another laptop zombie and actually be productive in my transition time?
posted by divabat to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could you teach English? Even though Malaysia is officially'd probably find a lot of people in your nearest state capital, if not KL, who'd be up for either private tutoring (is the end of the school year/exam time coming?) or one-on-one lessons.
posted by mdonley at 6:38 PM on March 18, 2009

Why not start your own circus and/or burlesque troupe? If you're as isolated as you say you are, then this carries zero professional risk, and you can make it sound like anything you want when you're in parts of the world that "matter". I hear they already have popular culture in KL, but aren't your neighbors as bored as you sound? Just don't get your nephew hurt teaching him to walk slack line or something...
Also, IMO, if you have a laptop and working connectivity, what's wrong with living online instead of at home? It just sounds like you have physical ambitions that you should also pursue.
posted by Mngo at 8:03 PM on March 18, 2009

Bellydance DVDs are also good for burlesque skills and toning upkeep.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:21 PM on March 18, 2009

Response by poster: mdonley: That hadn't occured to me! I'm looking around, but the online adverts don't impress me a great deal. I'm writing a post to the Johoreans I know asking for advice.

Mngo: I have very basic circus skills, not enough to start a troupe - and who else would join me?? I can't do burlesque in Malaysia, it'd get me arrested for indecency (it's pretty strict). If I was in KL more often I'd try joining jams and such, but I'm not - where I live there isn't really a live gig culture or anything of the sort (and if there is, it'd mainly be Malay music, which is totally out of my scene). And I have no neighbours. Seriously. It's all empty houses near me.

As for the laptop - that's what I do already! I sit on my bed with my laptop all day. When I go back to Malaysia I'm living with my parents. Not much income to go elsewhere.

Ambrosia Voyeur: Bellydance!! That's a good idea, I'll look that up!
posted by divabat at 8:29 PM on March 18, 2009

Go get scuba diving certified! It'll be cheaper than in OZ. Great diving in Malaysia!
posted by carolekorea at 9:30 PM on March 18, 2009

I was also going to tell you to get certified in something, for example Basic First Aid from the Malaysian Red Cross would be pretty useful.

But that was before I saw "I live in the middle of nowhere" part ... So um, how middle of nowhere is it exactly? Are there any opportunities to take up short courses in your place?

Or perhaps pick up a new language or two.
posted by joewandy at 9:57 PM on March 18, 2009

Response by poster: I can't swim (though I could probably learn). I could go to the city, and maybe there'll be short courses there - the Red Crescent is pretty active in Johor - but it's not as metro as KL.

Put it this way: you need a car to get out of the neighbourhood, public transport is non-existent, and the houses around us have no one in them.
posted by divabat at 11:57 PM on March 18, 2009

You could learn shadow puppetry! It's beautiful and also subversive, at least in the North. Even if you're nowhere near Kelantan, you could work with one of many organisations working to keep the art of Wayang alive. While you're there you could help the organisation with networking, and when you go back to Australia you'll have the beginnings of a new skill that you can incorporate into your circus studies.

Alternatively, if you're planning to leave Malaysia for good maybe you could use the time to consolidate any skills or knowledge you might want to bring with you. Have you read the best of Malaysian literature? Seen all its most famous films or plays? Are there religious texts you've never gotten round to reading? (Whether you're a believer or not). Do you know how to cook all the meals your mother or grandmothers make? Are there elderly relatives you should visit or family stories you should record or transcribe? I left my home country years ago and I sometimes wish I had a period of unstructured time to do all of these things. But I'm so glad I took the time to learn my grandmother's recipes before she passed.
posted by embrangled at 12:00 AM on March 19, 2009

I'd use some of the time to strengthen and expand my circus skills. You mentioned that you've already learned some juggling, which is great. Take your juggling balls (at least two more than you can currently juggle - one to lose, one to add to your pattern) because they're small and light enough to fly with you. Then try to learn some 3 ball tricks, 4 ball tricks, etc.

Also consider learning to spin poi, which I'd imagine will work into a burlesque act more easily. If you want to buy a set of poi I can vouch for their shop (I and several friends have bought from them with no problems), but you can just make a pair dropping some tennis balls into long socks. There's also some good fire safety advice on the site if you're interested in learning to play with/eat/breathe fire. I'd recommend only learning this stuff from a real-life teacher though.

Contact juggling is also a skill that lends itself to very creative, expressive performances and only needs very minimal equipment. Get a cheap contact ball (a largeish juggler's stage ball will be fine to start with, no need to buy an acrylic) to take with you. I don't know much about contact but I've heard good things about both of these books. I assume it'd be easier to learn from a web video/DVD than from a book, but I don't know any specific ones to recommend.

Also consider learning to paint faces. You already know that in any performance that relies on projecting a personality your face is the most important part of your costume, so there's massive potential for creativity here. Buy a varied pallet of face paints, brushes and sponges before you go out (and test that you're not allergic to this brand before leaving!), then practice painting your relatives' faces and your own. You don't have to go down the "make them look like an animal" route that you get at kids' parties; a friend of mine does amazing makeup for shows using swirls and gradients of colour around our faces. Think about emphasizing or caricaturing different emotions/personality traits, or be completely abstract and use disjointed lines to de-empasise facial features and make people's faces just an extension of the costume.

And a final idea to force your creativity: take a webcam and start a video blog. Promise your friends that you'll post a new video every (other?) day talking about your life in Malaysia. Each post has to have something new - a home recipe, a new trick, new makeup technique, presented by you inhabiting a different stage persona, a stop-motion animation using stuff from your parents' garden... whatever. Just force yourself to cast around for, remember then act on creative ideas every day you're out there. Knowing you have an audience waiting to see what you've come up with every day could be exactly the pressure ou need to keep the creative momentum up.

Also, the diary of an ascending burlesque star with time on her hands in Malaysia would be awesome if done well :D.
posted by metaBugs at 8:19 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

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