Review: DragonCon 2015 – The Silk Road Track – Ancient & Modern

*These are just my opinions as a random Nigerian-American who grew up with the cultures of the Silk Road in my international community.

DCon Gifts

Gifts from the director and my 5 year DragonCon volunteer pin! 🙂

This was the best DragonCon I’ve experienced since I started attending. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve finally figured it out after all of these years (i.e. how to attend all of the panels you like plus find time for sleep). But I want to credit it to amazing planning by Kira Lang (Silk Road Track Director), the comfort of the track and having great panelists who are fun and exciting to listen to each day.

Click here to see the Full DragonCon 2015 schedule. It was great! If you weren’t there I’m sorry. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the panels I sat in on. I enjoy volunteering on this track because it’s my track of choice. Sure, I can appreciate Dr. Who and tons of other areas of interest but this is where I can get some history that is close to home. As a homesick person so to speak, I rather rely on this track to further connect with my friends in the modern pop-culture world of the regions and ethnic groups with which I grew up (African, Asian and Mideast).

Highlights of the Weekend – IMO
Asian Ball Jointed Dolls
Japanese Pop Music
Iron Chef
Feminisim in Lolita (Japanese Street Fashion)
Trance Dance and Altered States of Consciousness
Silk Road Expo
Kawaii Culture
K-Pop Music Videos (Beyond Gangnam Style)
Shoujou Rock Heaven
Jason Lang’s Panels

Phoenicia is a popular teacher at DragonCon - providing low impact instruction on the art of Raqs Sharqi (bellydance)

Phoenicia’s class is popular at DragonCon – providing low impact instruction on the art of Raqs Sharqi (bellydance)

Day One
I got there Thursday evening and immediately went to bed because we had an early morning. I woke up Friday and immersed myself into the Silk Road starting with the Asian Ball Jointed Dolls panel. The lady that teaches this is a DC veteran. She has a fan following and they all bring their dolls and display them for all to see and shake hands. The dolls literally come to life for this panel as she talks about what they are made of, their history, where to buy and takes in comments and animated excitment from doll owners in the audience. I always told myself I would not buy a doll but after this panel and all these years of being around them I think I need one. I’m seriously frightened that it will become an addiction. Much like a tattoo, I’ve heard once you get one BJD, you are never done. It sucks you in and before long you and your dolls have matching wardrobes.

There are Lolita-JFashion BJDs, Anime based BJDs and specialty ones from major brands. Much like JFashion, dolls have brands. What’s even more surreal is Baby the Stars Shine Bright and other brands have clothes for BJDs I was told. I’ve actually seen some of these well-dressed babies at BJD meetups. Myself and my porcelain dolls are highly impressed. But I really do not want to become one of those people who suffers from the urge to buy a new doll every few years. I do not need another doll in my life but I already know I’m going to get one. G-d help me keep it under control.

If you’ve never been to this panel, just check it out one year or go to one of the many BJD events around the nation to better understand this fascinating world. Ball Jointed Dolls are beyond exquisite!

The Japanese pop music panel was hosted by Kurt Yoder who is known for his music panels. He did an amazing job twice this year. Notably, he filled in for one panelist who couldn’t make it. He was awesome for showing a series of diverse Japanese music genres for an entire hour. I’ll certainly look for him and his co-host at future J-Pop, J-Music and Japanese Culture conferences/events.

One of my main reasons for even going to DragonCon is for Japanese Street Fashion panels. This year Brittany-Anne, the town JFashion Library and Guru, spoke about Feminism in Lolita. I really enjoyed listening to her discuss the history and go deeper into the subject. For those that haven’t heard or attended this panel I will not spoil it for you by going into great detail. However, I will say that it is not a panel filled with 101 or where to buy Lolita. It’s best one already have a bit of background on the fashion to fully appreciate how thorough it is. I could listen to Brittany-Anne and team discuss this all day long. It was just that good.

Day Two

Saturday was awesome, starting with the parade. We were so high up in the Hyatt that looking down at the amazing crowds made me dizzy. But oh how beautiful was. I Periscoped a lot of it. Great seeing dancer Josh leading the Silk Road and the few Japanese Street Fashion society members not far behind. Thanks to all who joined in on Persicope to watch from Egypt and beyond. It was great having you alongside for the virtual chat.

The Parade by DragonConTV

The Iron Chef panel took place on Saturday as well. Kurt Yoder also leads that and has so much history and backstory on this Food Network favourite show. It’s really a shame that the Japanese versions are so hard to get these days. Though he has done the Iron Chef panel before, he makes it feel like a “new” experience. There are more tidbits of info and the latest in the fandom and where to buy Iron Chef souvenirs. It’s a full hour of information for mega Iron Chef fans! Hope he comes back next year and I hope we can get Chef Marimoto to visit and discuss traditional Japanese food and more. #TeamIronChef #TeamMarimoto

Trance Dance and Altered States of Consciousness – This panel was hosted by the SCA’s Jadi Fatima who recently received her MBA and congrats to her on that. This course was perhaps too short for the amount of material and visuals covered. I feel they needed a lot more explanation than time allotted. The hour long talk discussed dances of my region and those of surrounding nations and areas…particularly those that are considered “trance” to some (i.e. by both westerners and easterners). While I appreaciate her appreciation of the culture and the dances (not to mention she and I grew up in similar environments where international community life ruled the day), I feel like the types of dances in the videos were too complex of a subject to show to people who may not have the background to see this as a scholar or dance community member may see it.

There were videos of regional people trancing out and so caught up in a moment of ta’arab that I worried if it even made sense to anyone not deeply involved in the eastern dance industry or those who are not approaching this as a scholar. Too many times the west is fed the “exotic” of a culture’s dance. I’m not sure how the video labeled “African Voo-doo” was relevant in this presentation. Too often sweeping titles are thrown on African culture when particular pieces really should be labled by their exact nation not the entire continent.

Jadi’s work and studies are excellent and her presentation is beyond valuable. However, I just wonder if it can be better understood in a different setting where we can guarantee that everyone has enough background on a complex subject before layering something as serious and personal as trance dancing on top of it. I will certainly consider inviting her to future lectures in the Raqs and Regional Dance World where audiences are more likely to have a deeper understanding of the cultural background from which these trance dances are taking place.

Ayla_EileenMorrissey

Ayla – photo by E. Morrissey

The Silk Road Expo
This extravaganza was filled with several top artists from the southeast…mostly mideast dance enthusiasts who have taken the time to learn beyond “the stereotypes of bellydance.” Names such as Masati Jahan were present. Phonecia of Florida (the con’s resident bellydancer) and Ayla (a new person to our cirlce) performed exquisite pieces that were not only upbeat but very beautiful and fantastic salutes to the culture…namely the Khaleegi piece. Khaleegi is more than just slinging one’s hair, there are intricate steps and shoulder movements and interplay that complete the dance. Masati’s troupe made a great effort to demonstrate that. Nice job!

I particularly loved Ayla’s Asian Fusion piece and would like to know more about it so that I can credit it appropriately. Her clothing, make-up and movements were absolutely stunning, making her my favourite performer of the entire show. Hands down, this is what I love to see at an event that focuses on Silk Road culture.

I also enjoyed the Martial Arts team’s piece. Please consult the video on the Silk Road Facebook page and reach out to them with any questions. Best presentation of marital arts I’ve seen outside a dojo.

And please allow me to praise the darling Fashion portion of the show. This year I wanted to not only showcase dance but also fashion of the modern day Silk Road. Members of the Atlanta Japanese Fashion and Lolita Society did a quick “desfile de moda” during intermission. Please enjoy the video further below to see the various brands and Jfashion street styles worn by the models. I look forward to expanding this to be more inclusive of the various genres of the movement. This is a very important part of the culture that has influenced not just Asia but the entire world. These ladies made me very proud!

Andrea Nicole in Haenuli (Japanese Street Fashion)

Andrea Nicole in Haenuli (Japanese Street Fashion)

The Kawaii Culture panel rounded out my night and it too was hosted by several very knowledgable JFashion Society team members. I was highly impressed with the number of people who attended and see that this is an area that needs dedicated attention to the many needs and wishes of Kawaii fans at the con. Brittany-Anne and her team went above and beyond in their information and gave some great insight into what Kawaii truly means in terms of Japanese culture. She showed how it has spread and gave information on what Japan is doing to promote it worldwide. Their dedication to this subject is stellar and I hope to expand on that with deeper subjects in the coming year.

Day Three Sunday
My Sunday at DragonCon was saturated by music from the new Silk Road. While Japan and Korea were not originally listed on the Silk Road early on, they certainly have made their way onto the list of countries trading, working and meshing together beyond food and finance. The music of Japan has inspired other areas as has Korea. Both JPop and KPop are major in the global music industry. We had two panels, K-Pop beyond Gangnam Style and Shoujou Rock which showed us how these two music genres have evolved. It’s really impressive, eye-opening and thought provoking. So much can be discussed on the race, class, gender scale here and perhap next year we’ll talk about that because we can’t ignore what has influenced K-pop nor the evolution of Japanese music from western artists…again, this is a subject where we can spend days diving into the intricateness of it. But instead, I’ll leave you with this video of Shonen Knife, an 80s Japanese staple in many of our lives. These ladies are still performing, were at AWA 2014 and can be found touring from time to time.

Day Four – Monday
This day is dedicated to Godzilla, let’s face it. The Piedmont room fills up and not only are there movies about Godzilla but discussions, trivia and so much more. If you love Godzilla, you will appreciate Mondays at DragonCon. Big thanks to all who make that possible! Some epic prizes are given during those trivia games.

A Con’s Favourite Panelist – History of Japanese Wrestling, Godzilla, Mechanical Toy and TV Culture
Jason Lang is one of the many outstanding people who dedicate their time to DragonCon. While I have no true background on any of the topics he covers, he is the MOST entertaining panelist of all the tracks I’ve ever attended. He’s so funny, engaging and down right all around awesome I can barely stand it. I HAVE to sit in on his panels because he is just so much fun.

To his credit, he does give a lot of information and backstory so those who are not mech fan followers aren’t completely lost. But this is truly for the fanatics. Attendees are shouting out, standing up, going wild over his material. He lures in the true die-hards of his craft. Be sure to look out for him on the DragonCon schedule to see when he’s presenting. You won’t want to miss it! He’s VERY cute too!

Extras
Loved my stay at the Hyatt. Courtney at the Valet is always greeting everyone with a smile. The concierge and security voluntarily came to my rescue as I waited for check-in. How awesome is that of them to be so concerned as to why I was standing alongside the wall with my bags.

For the first time ever I got some real sleep at DragonCon. It’s a miracle. This was partly because I stayed on task and didn’t do any partying, late night consumption or tomfoolery. I literally went to my panels and like a responsible adult went to bed afterwards and got up early to be downstairs and ready for them each day.

I took advantage of Uber and their convenience by leaving my car off the property and being driven in. With garage rates at $20-$40 a day in some areas and hotels I just think it’s an expense I can avoid. I brought enough snacks to not lean on fast food or fighting crowds in the foodcourt too often. I actually “felt” really good which is very important at such a big event.

Regrets
Not seeing Evah Destruction beyond con photos on Facebook and not going to the dealer’s room. But hopefully there’s next year! See you around the con!

All credit goes to Kira Lang who spent a lot of her year putting the schedule together, reaching out to guests and continuing to work hard at bringing the best to the track. Her contributions to the organisation are priceless and should be noted. Huge thanks to all who posted videos and photos from this year’s event. What a great show!

Thanks for reading!

AA

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