Review: DragonCon 2013 -Silk Road Track focus

Kira, track director for the Silk Road

Kira, track director for the Silk Road

First, big hats off to Kira Lang for putting the Silk Road Track together in such an amazing fashion with stellar panels that grab people’s interest. Her leadership, sharp decisions and ability to pick a great team have proved rewarding for all involved. This is a huge event that supports a large charity and those that volunteer their time are certainly doing wonderful things for a greater good.

I’ve been volunteering at DragonCon for about 4 years. My first con was in 2006. Yoyo Campbell (Chinese -American) had led us through a very beautiful sleeve dance choreography and we presented it at DragonCon’s 2006 Silk Road Show -we opened the program. I continued to go because I liked hanging out with Kira, Carole Ann and the crew. Though the Silk Road track panels at the time didn’t seem to have many other Silk Roadians aka Asians and Africans presenting the panels I still enjoyed the concept (and was intrigued by the Japanese traditional and contemporary fashion). So, Kira didn’t have to ask me twice when she requested I be her second for the track back in 2011. I got to work right away with suggestions and ideas. The first two years were tough but this year was perhaps the smoothest yet with large numbers of track attendees, repeat fans and updated information for several panels and classes (i.e. Persian Dance and the Raqs Sharqi courses)

japanese Fashion Panel

Japanese Fashion Panel

There just isn’t enough time and space to go into great detail as I have in the past. We pretty much featured the same tracks as before but with updated info, new presentations and more in-depth conversations. I know next year will be different. There won’t be the exact same classes and in fact there will be totally different approach to many things. We’re looking at a Japanese Street Fashion Show, Brittany-Anne’s incredible knowledge on the fashion as well as more people from Asia and Africa speaking. That’s the plan anyway. We’ve already gotten in touch with several potential panelists, such as Kenneth Lovell, an known expert on Japanese culture, and we can only hope the Con will accept our requests and allow us to bring them all onboard.

Japan's photo team came in to take pictures of the track late Thursday night as we set up.

Japan’s photo team came in to take pictures of the track late Thursday night as we set up.

Popular panels and classes this year were Godzilla, Persian Dance Panel (the lecture and the dance class), Kumihimo panel (the first of the day), The Silk Road Show featuring the band Allah Yustur and the Japanese Fashion Panel. Several of these panels had lines out the door and people had to be turned away due to the fire code that only permitted 100 in the room.

There were movies that ran late into the night and those panels were full. Adult Origami had a long line that resulted in people being turned away as did a ton of other panels. We really need a bigger room or a ballroom for most of what we do but I’m grateful for what we have and that many are interested in the many facets of the track.

Ay-leen the Peacemaker

Ay-leen the Peacemaker

Highlights – Going in-depth on panels (in no particular order)
Orientalism -facts vs fiction
This panel took place on Sunday and was led by Ayleen the peacemaker. It was filled with information on how the world really doesn’t know the eastern cultures through eastern eyes but instead through the fantasy of western male traveller who had very little access to more than the eastern business men they encountered. The idea of harems with women running around naked waiting to service their husbands while being bathed by “black slaves” was just that…an imagined fantasy by those that never even entered the homes of the business men. The presentation gave examples of how the western imagination coloured art with their own idea of inequality, slavery based on colour and so many other (now deemed shameful by the western world) inhumane western idealogies and trends that, again, are now seen is blatent racism and in some cases domestic terrorism. These are the words/summaries of those in the panel, not mine. Sadly a few in the audience held fast to these ideas and made broad sweeping comments about members and certain nations in Middle Eastern society. As an international community member it was very distrubing to hear that mumbled in the audience despite proof that Orientalism was simply a “fantasy.” Some didn’t want to let go of it and preferred the images of the women as “sex objects” vs. active participants and contributors in eastern society.

Ayleen seemed a little nervous during the presentation, drinking several cups of water and saying “um” well over 100 times. Still, I’d sit in on that panel again for an update on her studies. She’s a member of the Steampunks in Orientalism Group? Correct me if I’m wrong. She was certainly an asset to the track and I hope she returns with more information and something interactive.

Godzilla – The panel was packed, people were very interested and commented throughout the film. It was like being a member of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 with commentary coming out of every corner of the room. While I am not a Godzilla enthusiast it was fun to watch the crowd so interactive and enjoying the prize give-aways which included limited edition items around Godzilla films.

Persian Dance Panel -I was impressed with this panel for the very indepth information that Jadi Fatima provided. She presented some very accurate research based on material directly from the region. Her videos, references and more were spot on. I did notice a few Iranians in the audience and one person who was raised in Saudi Arabia, they seemed engaged. I felt, as a person adult-adopted into a Persian family- very proud and, again, impressed with the presentation. There were interactive maps, great questions for the audience and amazing dance examples that span the entire region not just the classical persian dance for which many people have settled. She went deep and I advise any 2014 conners to come on by and see this. The presentation follows with an actual dance class. If you’re feeling a little rusty or a little dejected by the news from the region, you’ll feel pretty darn good after this class; revisiting the best of the region’s art, music and contributions to global dance. Baleh Jadi, Baleh! Yes, this was what we wanted. Mersi Mamnoonam.

Japanese Fashion "Lolita Transformation"  Panel (Lolita is a fashion and has nothing to do with Nabakov's book in this case)

Japanese Fashion “Lolita Transformation” Panel (Lolita is a fashion and has nothing to do with Nabakov’s book in this case)

Japanese Fashion Panels
These were packed as expected. On Friday, members of Frill came out and transformed two young women from the Atlanta Lolis into darling dolls wearing coords from Bodyline and Angelic Pretty. It was all stunning and well done.

Frill Volunteer, Brittany Anne and her friend did two panels on Sunday covering the history and span of Japanese Fashion and then a panel on Japan’s embrace of all things Kawaii. Though we went off tangent at times it was a very good presentation and we look forward to having her back in 2014 as she’s always on time, seems organised and is able to really give us the true scoop on the culture. Brittany-Anne is a joy to have on the panel.

We met Fiona a "Brolita" last year on the track. He's a wonderful, kind person who wears the fashion etremely well. He couldn't be with us this year. We salute you Fiona!

We met Fiona a “Brolita” last year on the track. He’s a wonderful, kind person who wears the fashion etremely well. He couldn’t be with us this year. We salute you Fiona!

We also had a quite a few inquisitive people at the Lolita breakfast that Monday morning at 10am. It was great. Made some new friends and directed the new Lolis to the communities that can help them get started with the culture and fashion.

I’m going to have to stop here and suggest that you contact Kira, myself or the track attendees to find out what happened at the other panels. Again, many were well attended if not overflowing with lines down the hall.

Vending:
My dear friends at MissBellydance.com were vendors this year. This was their first con. I went over to see them and found a packed America’s mart filled with everything under the sun. I relunctantly purchased yet another limited edition Hello Kitty “for adults” bag (that I truly wasn’t prepared to purchase). I have to agree with most that it was very hard to find certain vendors and I trust that next year the maps of where all the shoppes are located will be bigger and well publicised. image

The Parade:
Saturday is the most crowded day at DragonCon and nothing stresses that more than the parade on Saturday. It is just difficult to get around with over 60,000 trailing 4 blocks. I stood in the back on an incline, waited for the Lolis, took the pictures and left. I couldn’t hang again this year. I had to get out of that congestion.
My advice, set up at 8:30am. Bring iced drinks, a camping chair and a hand fan to keep cool. Also wear light airy clothing so you don’t sweat. You can change into regular costuming in the hotel. If you’re in the parade, find comfy shoes and train as if you’re in a marathon so you can have the energy to walk the length of the parade. It’s not very long but you need to be there early and if you don’t have a float to sit on it might hurt to strut along in stilettos and man heels.

The Hotel
I’ve only stayed in the Marriott and the Hyatt, both were great for my needs. I have no idea what the other host hotels are like. This year they included some rooms at the Omni. There are roughly 8-9 host hotels and a trolley or bus that takes people from one hotel to the next. Some said they couldn’t find the buses while waiting for them but saw them going down the road as they went walking. Certainly join the official Facebook pages for advice and learn how to make your con the best it can be.

Con Crud:
Yep, I got it. It lasted a week. I ate peppers, garlic and lemons to get rid of it and got some extra sleep. I do not know how to prevent this other than staying warm in the air conditioned rooms and wearing socks at night in the hotel.

Expensive Food/Gluten Free Options/What to eat
I suggest the bistro in the Hyatt…bring about $150 for the week for 3 meals a day.
They don’t have a lot of gluten free options but they have salads and sandwiches, coffee and snacks. Every major item is about $8 and you will get satisfied from it.

AllahYustur the band -Our name roughl translates as "Bless their hearts" -Majda

AllahYustur the band -Our name roughly translates as “Bless their hearts” -Majda

The Silk Road Show -let’s end on a jolly note.
The Silk Road Show was 4pm on Saturday…much earlier than we expected. It was in the ballroom immediately following one of the bellydance classes, featuring several dancers decked out in MissBellydance.com items. They looked great, such a colourful audience. The band set up and played a number of classics after what we call the “canned” music show. There were modern raqs presentations, a salute to Dr. Who by the featured instructor and several dances to live music with performances by Awalim’s Barbara Smith, Allah Yustur’s Christy Smith, family members of the band and a Persian Piece by Jadi Fatima. Markus O’s tabla solo was unreal, he wailed on that doumbek like a pro. The audience went wild with applause and several, including myself, gave him a standing ovation. Kira Lang, the track director, did a beautiful Chinese Water Sleeve piece as well. Ryanne was the MC and was funny and entertaining though I had to tell her to stop putting herself down just for laughs. She’s such a pretty girl and I hate when she says anything that doesn’t put her in an intelligent light.

Bellydance class with dancers in MissBellydance.com's Melih Du Chant ensemble

Bellydance class with dancers in MissBellydance.com’s Melih Du Chant ensemble

If you’re looking for history, culture beyond Europe and the Western World with plenty of modern kawaii fun, then the Silk Road track is certainly a place for you to stop by during the Con. There’s so much to do and get immersed in. You can also be considered for hosting a panel if you wish. Here’s to a great D*Con 2014 with no con crud and plenty of room to breathe easy! 🙂

Look at my new friend... I'm in love! <3 #NewFriendsAtDragonCon

Look at my new friend… I’m in love! ❤ #NewFriendsAtDragonCon

My D*Con pictures (very limited) https://www.facebook.com/RaqsAndRockBandSuperFan/media_set?set=a.10150998370996991.412724.531031990&type=3

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