Focus Shift and Website update

Hello, lovelies!

Over the last few years, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection and experimentation to figure out what do I really LOVE to do in life, not just what I LIKE to do; what actually excites me and gives me butterflies in my stomach, as opposed to those things that are generally fun and enjoyable, but feel safe and don’t really push me creatively.

I credit my teacher Matthew Jordan Smith, with setting me on this path and getting me to realize that a lot of the photography I thought I loved doing, were merely things I liked to photograph.

And not just photography, but everything in my life. I was trying to do too many things: baby photographer, family photographer, wedding photographer, bellydance photographer, bellydancer, fire performer, silk dyeing artist, bellydance accessory vendor — the list goes on.

But Matthew has gotten me to FOCUS more: Follow One Course Until Success, and I’ve done a lot of soul searching and come to the following conclusions:

I want to be a fine art photographer — to do my creative projects and sell prints to hang on people’s walls. And for those client commissions I still do, ideally, those would be artistic portraits and projects instead traditional portraits — Maternity sessions where the mom and dad are a dark goddess and her demon protector, portraits where you find your best self in the mirror, gritty downtown Batman sessions, and more vintage shoots like classic pin-up because those are just pure fun confection!

In addition, the other thing that speaks to my heart and I absolutely must continue pursuing is bellydancing and performing. That is part of my soul and will not go away. Yes, it will be a little tricky finding time and balancing the two pursuits, but I think the two will actually help keep my mind and creativity nimble and help prevent burnout.

With the above in mind, I have updated my photography website to primarily focus on my artistic projects.

website update

Screenshot of updated website

I admit, I am equal parts excited and scared about this. The fine art photography world is completely different than the babies-families-weddings photography world I have been residing.

Wish me luck! Here I go. :)


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Showcase week

Hello! Just popping in quickly to say that regularly scheduled posts will return next week. This is the final week leading up to the Aegela Centers for Middle Eastern Dance yearly showcase, so I will be rehearsing and costuming all week. Lots to do! :)

The show is Saturday, June 22nd, 7pm at Valleywood, 13501 Airport Hwy Swanton, OH 43558. Along with bellydance, we are also featuring African dance from Alma and Indian dance (Bollywood and Bhangra) by Shyam and Aha!. Tickets are $10, go to if interested.

We hope to see you there!

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A Circus-themed Halloween Choreography

Back during the days when the Mystic Lotus troupe (run by Mylitta) had a yearly Halloween hafla, ladies from our studio (the Aegela Centers for Middle Eastern Dance in Toledo, Ohio) would often make the trek up to Michigan to hangout with our dance sisters, watch the other performances, and put on a performance or two ourselves. I miss those haflas, they were so fun. :)

In 2009, I created a circus-themed choreography to “Roustabout” by Beats Antique. Each dancer took on the role of a different circus character/performer — with me as the ringmaster because I made the choreo. ;)

The theme was part macabre circus, part Muppet zombie, part glam/sparkles carousel, and all whimsical fun! :)

Dancers (L-R, Front row first):
Stephanie (tight rope walker)
Elif (Contortionist)
Calliope (Ringleader)
Voni (Girl that rides the pony & does tricks)
Laura (Trapeze artist)
Becca (Lion tamer)
Heidi (Lion)
Sandi (Fortune Teller)

This was so much fun to do with the ladies and they all worked so hard in the rehearsals leading up to the performance.

Thank you, ladies!

-Jen, a.k.a. Calliope

My dance website is: and my facebook page is:

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A look back: Jaclyn’s maternity session

Little baby Lyric just celebrated his first birthday! I can’t believe that little guy is a year old already. In honor of his birthday, here are portraits from Jaclyn’s maternity session (which we managed to squeeze in just in time!) I thought it would be a nice look back for the family and their friends. Enjoy!

Jaclyn strong

Jaclyn looking totally strong, regal, in control, and serene.

Yin and Yang

Yin and Yang

Jaclyn and Eric Laughing

Aren’t they cute! :)

Jaclyn meditation

A serene moment of mediation. Sat Nam.

Jaclyn and Eric artistic

Jaclyn and Eric. A slightly more artsy take on the yin and yang portrait.

To see more of my work, check out my website.

Thanks for stopping by!

-Jen Bak :D

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My Favorite Toledo Burger Joint: Bar 145

Burger Bar 145

From my first meal there. We got the duck confit fries and I got the salmon burger with sweet onion, mushrooms, peppers, arugula, and I think the red pepper aioli.

I’m not really a burger person in general, I’m much more of a salad person or a Korean food person or Thai or Indian or…well, you get the idea. :) So when I do get a craving for a burger and fries, I want it to be reeeeaaaally good because if I’m only having ~4 a year, it better be damn good. Bar 145 is my favorite place in the Toledo area to fulfill this craving.

Bar 145 gets it name from what they believe is the perfect burger-cooking temperature (medium rare). While I’m normally wary of eating a burger prepared medium rare, if the meat is high-quality enough, I happily indulge. After picking your temperature (or if you don’t want beef, you can opt for chicken breast, veggie burger, or salmon burger instead), you then have the fun task of filling out the rest of your Build-a-Burger sheet. I don’t know about you, but I find something really fun about filling out a bubble sheet — Yes, I’m being totally serious. :)

Truffle fries and chicken breast sandwich. I can't remember what my companions were drinking.

Truffle fries and chicken breast sandwich. I can’t remember what my companions were drinking.

  • You get to pick your bread (or non-bread – you can skip the bun or make it a salad),
  • Cheese type (has some amazing cheeses that rotate periodically — Detroit brick was an amazing, creamy, flavorful peace of heaven),
  • Veggies (woo! Arugula! Cucumber relish! Oven-dried tomatoes! And others!),
  • Premium toppings (House-cured Bacon, Duck Confit, Avocado Slices, Peach Habanero Chutney, etc.), and
  • Sauces and Spreads (Red Pepper Aioli, Bourbon Steak Sauce, Balsamic Mayo, Maple Demi Glace, Truffle Sea Salt Rub, etc.).

I love having that much control over my food and I have tons of fun coming up with various combinations (much like at Yogurt Vi’s and Cold Stone Creamery). I know it’s dorky, but I actually keep a copy of all the combos I develop, in case I want to revisit them or tweak them.

Roasted bone marrow. Amazingly good. I love it, but I know some can't get over what it is they're eating enough to actually enjoy the taste of it.

Roasted bone marrow. Amazingly good. I love it, but I know some can’t get over the thought of what they’re eating for long enough to actually enjoy the taste of it.

Bar 145’s other menu items are equally awesome, tasty, and totally fulfill my craving for things “foodie”. A burger place MUST have good sides. If a place has great burgers but awful fries, I’m not interested (and yes, there is a burger joint in town I refuse to eat at for this reason). At Bar 145, I haven’t yet met a side there that I didn’t find incredibly tasty, though I’ve found some to be a bit heavy for my salad-loving self and prefer to share them amongst a few friends (like the duck confit fries and the roasted bone marrow) or just have a taste of theirs (the cheeseburger soup was amazing but way too heavy for me to have a whole cup to myself, I found one or two bites was fully enough to satiate me). I also particularly like the tempura-battered green beans and the House Truffle Fries with Rosemary, Parmesan, and Red Pepper Aioli.

As stated in a previous post, one of my favorite things about Bar 145 is what makes it my honey’s second choice for a burger place — he finds it slightly pretentious because the fancy foodie dishes offered and the fancy burger toppings like arugula. He still really likes Bar 145, it’s just his second choice, if given the option.

Bar 145 also has an extensive bourbon list and I’m assuming a full bar, but I must admit, I don’t know from personal experience, I’ve only ever gone for lunches.

Since this was their 2012 Mayan Apocalypse party, we decided I should really do it up as a "dark harbringer of doom". I had so much fun with this.

Since this was their 2012 Mayan Apocalypse party, we decided I should really do it up as a “dark harbringer of doom”. I had so much fun with this.

The only time I was there at night was as a performer for their Mayan Apocalypse Party, and though I didn’t get to see much because I was busy dancing and eating fire, the crowd seemed to enjoy the atmosphere of the bar immensely and my friends who came to see me perform had a good time there. The night atmosphere was *very* different from the daytime one. At lunchtime I have fun with my foodie friends, at night it seems more like a regular bar crowd (but I honestly can’t say for sure, since I didn’t see much and I was there for a special event so the crowd may not have been the usual one).
The moment before I eat the fire.

The moment before I eat the fire.

Price is slightly on the high end for lunch (I normally spend $15-$20, with tip), but not over-priced given the quality, variety, and inventiveness of the offerings. As far as the service, I’ve personally always had really good experiences and the one time there was an error with our order, the manager came over and apologized, they took it off our bill, but still gave us the corrected item (yay for free appetizer!). To be fair, I must report that a friend of mine went and had really bad service, so I don’t know if she just went on a bad day, if the server was new, or if my experiences there were out of the ordinary. However, I have gone multiple times and she’s only gone once, so I think they must have just been having a bad day.

I highly recommend this restaurant to any burger lover (whether meat eater or vegetarian) and/or foodie looking for a high quality and out-of-the ordinary food experience in the Toledo area.

Just one more picture of my performance there — sorry if I’m boring you with these, but I really like this pic :)

Me and my fire fans!

Me and my fire fans! Mayan harbringer of DOOM!! :D

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OWE, She, & Stage Names

Had so much fun with my dance sisters performing this past weekend at the Old West End Festival and at She ~ A Celebration of Women. :)

First was the Old West End Festival from noon to one. I always love performing at this one, but lots of sunblock is always required. One year, I forgot sunblock and the pattern of my very elaborate necklace was tanned into my chest. o_O

But despite tanning mishaps, it’s such a fun venue. There’s always a really great crowd who really get into the performances, it’s one of the places I get to eat/dance with fire, and we normally have time afterwards to wander the festival.

For those not familiar with Toledo’s Old West End, it’s a historic district with a lot of cool houses, an awesome bed and breakfast (Mansion View Manor), is near the Toledo Museum of Art, and a bunch more. Bonus: during the festival a lot of people have yard sales, so you can wander the neighborhood, look at cool houses, and do some shopping. :)

But I digress — I think the Aegela dancers made a pretty strong showing at the festival. I was proud of my tribal (ATS®) students during our improv number and it was great to see some of the choreos the other ladies have been working on, plus, Aegela did a sword number! It was the first time I’ve seen her do sword. :)

After OWE, a contingent of us dashed off to She ~ A Celebration of Women held at Fat Fish Blue in Perrysburg. We, unfortunately, arrived towards the end, so we didn’t get to see many of the other performances, but that’s how it goes when you have more than one performance in a day. We did get to see Becca Nease, who was AMAZING and is now my favorite local musician — very powerful voice, but not overblown. She played acoustic guitar and the harmonica and rocked out a few songs, including among others: Jewel’s “Who Will Save Your Soul”, C-Lo’s “Crazy”, and an original song (my favorite!). Since she plays the harmonica, I’d love to hear what she could do with some Blue’s Traveler. She has some samples of original work on her Facebook page, so I hope she comes out with an album soon.

While we were waiting to perform, a somewhat odd thing happened, and if anyone has an opinion on it, I’d love to hear it. A Blade photographer came up to our group to get our names for the paper. I gave her my dance name and she asked for my last name. I explained that “Calliope” was my dance/stage name, thinking she would take that as sufficient, but she pressed me for my legal name. I thought the point of a stage name was to use it in situations like this? I kinda stared at her confused because Aegela had just given her the name “Aegela” and she didn’t ask her for a last name. The photographer gave up after a bit and moved on to the next dancer, leaving me a bit relieved. I honestly wasn’t trying to be difficult, but I’d prefer all press mentions of me as a dancer reference my dance name and not my legal name. Have any of you other dancers run into this? Was I supposed to give her my legal name, too, or was the photographer just not well-versed in how to handle dance/stage names?

The Aegela Dancers were the last performance of She and we were all honored to be included in such an empowering event for women. If they have another event, I sincerely hope we are invited back.

Plug for the studio: our annual showcase is coming up on Saturday, June 22nd. Tickets are limited, so if you’d like to come, you can get ordering info at We hope to see you there! :)


Awesome lamp at the Grape Leaf Diner

Side note: some of us went to the Grape Leaf afterwards and they had these lamps: If anyone knows where such lamps can be purchased, let me know!

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From the Archives: 2011 Girlified Final Fantasy Red Mage

My friends and I are costumers and out of all of us, I would say that Amanda (a.k.a. Ayablue) is one of the most dedicated and talented out of the group.

One of the things we like doing is taking male character costumes and Lolifying them (a.k.a. girlifying or Lolita-fying — see Wikipedia for a description of Japanese Lolita if you are not familiar with the fashion trend). This was Amanda’s take on the Final Fantasy Red Mage character type (who has shown up in numerous FF video games).

She made the costume and hat, I did her make up, and the photo shoot. I love her wig and the red contacts! :)

I love the drama Amanda brings to a shoot.

In this last one, I had a little fun making her look a little more doll-like.

To see more of my work, check out my website.

Thanks for stopping by!

-Jen Bak :D

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From the archives: my first solo

From 2010, my first solo in the Aegela Centers for Middle Eastern Dance yearly showcase (That year’s show was called “Evolutions”).

The song is called “A Song of Storm and Fire” by Kaijura Yuki, from the Tsubasa Chronicles soundtrack and I tried to dye the veil to resemble flame. I think the effect came off pretty well, especially against the black backdrop. :)

The track is pretty quiet, so you may need to turn up your speakers.

I’m not sure if it was out of ambitiousness or nervousness, but I decided to do veil poi for my first solo. Actually, it was a little of both. I think there is a fear amongst dancers (and other performers) that we, by ourselves, are not entertaining enough to hold an audience’s attention, so we believe we have to add some sort of prop or gimmick. I think, ultimately, that fear is unfounded, but there is still often a desire to rely on the crutch of a prop, which is why I’ve tried to make myself do a lot of no-prop solos since my first solo.

My dance website is: and my facebook page is:

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A Florida trio turns 6

I had the privilege of meeting Legend’s (yes, that is my honey’s legal name, given to him by his parents) uncle Rob, his wife Jennie, and their triplets: Anna, Will, and Ellie on the occasion of their 6th birthday party. Photographing a party of 6-year olds is tiring but much fun.

After the party, I sat the kids down for some portraits. Not my most brilliant idea because, by this point, the kids had spent a few hours running around playing, getting hopped-up on sugar, and otherwise completely wearing themselves out, so they were most definitely NOT in the mood to have portraits taken. But I think things turned out well. :)

To see more of my work, visit or like me on Facebook.

Have a great day!

Jen :)

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R.I.P. Granny (Helen Vertrees)

Legend and his beloved Granny.

Legend and his beloved Granny. I would have gotten more pics of her, but she was rather camera-shy.

Last year, Legend’s Granny had a bit of a health scare, so Legend & I flew down to visit her and the fam in Fort Myers, Florida. Luckily, she was doing much better by the time we got there and I got to meet her and some of his aunts, an uncle, and cousins. Plus, we got to get away for one short evening (his aunt Ann insisted we go to the beach since we made the trip all the way to Florida) and had a fun and romantic time watching the sunset and playing on the beach at Captiva Island. It ended up being a really nice visit. :)

Photos from Captiva Island:

Road to Captiva Island

So blue!

Road to Captiva Island

I’ve always thought palm trees look like feathers.

Road to Captiva Island

Rather different than Ohio, yes?

Legend on the beach at Captiva Island

My cutie honey on the beach. He blends right in with his beach wear. ;)

Hey! I'm actually in a pic!

Hey! I’m actually in a pic! How did that happen?!

Me playing in the ocean.

Me playing in the ocean.

That was last year. This year, his Granny took a turn for the worse and had to go to hospice. Thankfully, last weekend Legend and I made it down to visit again. We got to see her two days when she was awake and lucid and I’m thankful she knew that her darling grandson came to see her. She passed this Thursday, May 23rd, at around 7:30 am. According to Aunt Ann, Uncle Robert was with her, holding her hand and singing to her when she passed. She raised around 8 kids (sorry, I don’t know the exact number), so she had a lot of frequent visitors at hospice. I do have pictures from this visit, but for right now, I’m just posting some pics of the happy visit from last year.

I only got to meet her a couple of times, but even from those short visits, I could tell she was an amazing woman. Rest in Peace, Helen Vertrees. You are missed and loved.

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