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 www.jbakstudios.com 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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Review of ATS® General Skills and Teacher Training Workshops

FCBD Certified logo by Shay MooreThere are few things so wonderfully affirming as spending a week completely immersed in doing something you love, with a room full of people who love doing it as much as you do. So, you can imagine how over-the-moon happy I was by the time I completed the ATS® GS/TT (American Tribal Style General Skills and Teacher Training) certification program.

(Side note, I am now an official ATS® certified teacher, so if you’re in the Toledo area and want to take ATS®, I’d love to have you in class! I teach at Aegela’s studio and my personal website is here.)

If you have no clue what ATS® is, in a different post I’ll cover different styles of bellydance, so don’t worry for now (or Google it. ^_~). Also, later, I’ll talk about the personal side of the week-long: the friends, fun times, shopping, etc. This post’s primary focus is reviewing the actual workshop. I didn’t take the “The Business of ATS®” workshop, so I won’t be reviewing that.


ATSĀ® Teacher Training Certification! Woot! :D
Don’t mind my slightly disheveled appearance, it had been a long 6 days.

What the workshops involved:
The weeklong GS/TT is taught by Carolena Nericcio, the creator of this style (www.fcbd.com), along with Megha Gavin (www.devyani.net), who I’d call her second in command. So, we got the info straight from the “Mothership,” as it were.

The first four days were the GS, in which we went over every core move from the FCBD repertoire (The Classic and Modern moves, which are covered in Vol. 1, 4, and 7 of the DVDs. Vol. 9 is not part of the program). Days 1 and 2 covered the Classic moves, and days 3 and 4 covered the Modern moves. There were also handouts about musicality and anatomy which we had to read for homework.

After the 4 days of GS, there was a day of rest and then two days of TT. On Day one of TT, we were broken up into two groups (half went with Megha, half with Carolena) and were assigned a Classic move that we “taught” to the other workshop attendees, who pretended they knew nothing and asked a bunch of questions, followed by feedback from Megha or Carolena on how we did and what we might do to improve. At the end of the day, we were assigned two Modern moves for day two, giving us the evening to practice how we were going to teach them. On day two, we “taught” the move to the whole group and got feedback from both Carolena and Megha.

GS Classic Cert

Here’s me after getting my General Skills Classic Certification.
L-R: Carolena, me, Megha

The workshops ran from 10 am to 5 pm each day (some days getting out a little early), with an hour for lunch. This is the first time the GS was separated into Classic and Modern moves and the first time Carolena and Megha taught it together, so we were guinea pigs for the new format. Also, Volume 8 (floorwork) is no longer part of the GS. It was given to us as an option because they changed the format after we signed up, but according the Carolena and Megha, in the future, it will only be offered as a supplemental workshop outside of the GS.

After receiving our TT certifications, we became eligible to sign up to be an ATS® Sister Studio (You can find out more about Sister Studios at www.fcbd.com).

Personal observations and review
I must say, it was really informative to get the moves directly from Carolena and Megha. No matter how much we thought we knew about the moves, there were tweaks and “ah ha!” moments for everyone. There are nuances that are lost when you solely rely on the DVDs. Plus, some of the moves have evolved since the DVDs were filmed, making the moves more elegant, flow better, and in some cases, making them easier on the body. Plus, you can’t rely on the Youtube clips because they may be experiments or mistakes and sometimes they’re filmed from a weird angle that makes the move look totally different. And if you only rely on workshops by other studios, even Sister Studios, there are regional variations to some of the moves — it’s like a game of telephone and what you may learn as the move may not actually resemble the move once it’s gone through two or three teachers before it gets to you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do Sister Studio workshops and the DVDs, but it’s good to check in with the Mothership occasionally to make sure you haven’t drifted too far.

As for the TT, I think I learned almost as much, if not more, by being a student and pretending to know nothing. It was invaluable to see other dancers’ teaching styles and I picked up a lot of tips and tricks. Plus, it was a lot of fun coming up with questions! :)

I really appreciated having both Megha and Carolena as my teachers for the GS/TT. They have different teaching styles and I think they balance each other really well. I found Carolena’s teaching style to be slightly stern, but with an underlying sense of good humor. She has a very regal presence that commands your attention and helps you focus during the long hours of the workshops. Megha is more upbeat and she has that great southern knack for delivering constructive criticism in the sweetest way possible. They both did a fantastic job of giving both positive feedback and constructive criticism to everyone. I think it was really beneficial to have both of them there, not only for us, but for them so that they didn’t get too worn out by the sheer intensity of the workshops.

The supplemental information was also great — the history of ATS®, musicality, and anatomy. We got some wonderful personal anecdotes from them — I love good behind-the-scenes info, the real “meat” of the history of things. And the moments where Carolena dropped her regal nature and acted goofy for a few seconds here and there were hilarious!

I also ended up buying the recommended anatomy books (one is still on the way) and Carolena was right! I thought it was going to be dry and boring but I find the information on how the muscles and bones all work together completely fascinating and I’m sure the knowledge will help me as a dancer and as a teacher.

Should you do the GS/TT?
That depends. If you wish to teach ATS®, then yes, definitely take the GS and TT. If you are a Tribal dancer, the GS is a great idea so you know your history and the core movements. And if you are an ATS® dancer who has a teacher who isn’t ATS® TT certified, definitely take the GS. If you are a Cabaret style dancer and want to learn some tribal to round out your dance education, either dive in and take the ATS® GS or take some of the weekend-long ATS® workshops offered by either Fat Chance Belly Dance (Carolena’s troupe) or one of the Sister Studios.

However, there are other considerations, such as what style of tribal do you prefer? If you’re not familiar with the different types of tribal, before you drop a lot of money on the ATS® GS/TT, I would recommend watching a lot of performances by Fat Chance Belly Dance, Black Sheep Belly Dance, Unmata (Amy Sigil’s troupe — ITS style), and Gypsy Caravan. Those are the main types of tribal improv. They each have their own distinct flavor and presentation style, so either figure out which you want to focus on and go for that or try learning all of them to be well versed in all forms of tribal (which would be quite the undertaking). I personally prefer ATS® because I feel it is regal and elegant but still earthy with a sense of fun. My second favorite is ITS with its aggressive precision.

Krisztina and Me

Me & the awesome hostess of the event, Krisztina of Czigany! She absolutely Raqs! :D
& don’t you just love her sweater coat?

So, if you’re not an ATS® dancer or don’t want to round out your dance education with the core tribal moves, then it may not be for you, but I highly recommend the GS (and maybe the TT) for all ATS® dancers and personally found it to be a completely transformative experience in which I got spend an awesome week learning from two amazing teachers and hang out and bond with a bunch of like-minded dancers.

Many thanks to Carolena and Megha for sharing your time and expertise and to Krisztina and Czigany for hosting (especially Sue!), and much love for all my dance sisters & brother! Hugs and I miss you all! :)

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4 mos with baby Luke

I recently had the pleasure of doing the 4 mos portrait session for baby Luke.

Isn’t he absolutely adorable!! I love his chubby, round cheeks!

And here is my other favorite portrait from the session.

Somebody isn’t happy that mommy & daddy are being mushy. ;)

I love working with Catherine and Justin and catching the sweet moments they share. They are such an awesome couple and I especially love Catherine’s elegance and utterly hilarious dry sense of humor.

Bonus portrait! This is one that they didn’t choose from their session, but it was one of my favorites, so I post-processed it and am sharing it with you here. Parents never pick the drooly ones, but they’re so cute! :)

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

Thanks for stopping by!

-Jen Bak :D

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Family day in Ann Arbor: various locations reviewed

For father’s birthday, the fam (Father, Sister, bro-in-law, my honey, & I) spent the day in Ann Arbor, wandering downtown, perusing a bookstore, comic store, art gallery, and eating tasty foods! :D

First stop was Cafe Zola for Sunday brunch. We arrived around noon, on a Sunday, on Mother’s day, so the hour-ish wait time was only to be expected and had the weather not alternated between warm/sunny and snowing (Yes, snowing. In May.), it would have been quite a pleasant wait, hanging out and chatting with some of my favorite people in the whole world. :)

On the upside, Zola staff (fantastically dressed for Mother’s day much like 4-year old girls will often dress if given creative free reign — neon tutus, furry leg warmers, flower crowns and hats, etc.) came out twice during this time to give us snacks! We got amazingly tasty chocolate covered bananas and whip cream-topped cups of berries.

Cafe Zola men's room

Cafe Zola’s men’s restroom mirror. Very alien abduction looking. o_O

I was a fan of the exposed brick decor of the dining area and the guys gave mixed reviews on the bathroom: thumbs up for looking like a space ship, thumbs down for having a ring light in the middle of the mirror that made it really hard to see yourself. The food was good but not stellar, though this could have been due to the fact that they were completely jam-packed for hours – not easy for even the best chefs. I had the smoked salmon crepe, tasty, but nothing that put me into food raptures. Sister and Father had omelettes, the Istanbul and the Classic, respectively. We were all bigger fans of the Classic, the Istanbul was pretty underwhelming. Joe-Bro got the Frittata Zola, which was easily the best thing any of us ordered. Very tasty! Legend got the “Kobe*” burger and ended up regretting his food choice. Though he had asked for medium rare, they brought him medium well. $14 for an overcooked burger, and the beef was pretty disappointing. However, the fries were good –Sister especially liked the fancy house-mix ketchup.

Verdict: Like the decor, like the staff, food was ok but since it was somewhat pricey, we expected much better (In fairness, maybe the food is much better on a day they are not quite so busy). I wouldn’t make a special trip to go there again, but I would be willing to give them another try if friends wanted to go there.

One of Joe-Bro’s requested stops was the Cherry Republic store. Pretty much everything for sale in the store is made with cherries: jam, BBQ sauce, cakes, wine, chocolate covered cherries, cherry wood bowls, salsa, juice, etc. And they have samples of just about everything! :) Cherries are my second favorite fruit, so I will definitely be back to get some tasties!

Dawn Treader. Awesome used book store. Absolutely overrun with books, it’s a cozy cocoon of heaven for the biblioholic. They have an incredible variety of books, as well as glass cases full of rare books. I could very happily curl up on a pile of books in a corner there and make it my home. :)

I’m sure Nickel Arcade would have been awesome, but pretty much everything was closed. Not sure if that was because it was Sunday or because it was Mother’s day. We had some fun window shopping the cool antique stores and I got ideas for photo shoots.

Right outside of Nickels Arcade was Espresso King. I didn’t have anything but the fam seemed to enjoy their coffees. However, I did enjoy the bathroom stalls. Lots of inspirational quotes and good advice. Much more uplifting than one expects a trip to the ladies room to be.

Vault of Midnight is full of comics, board games, action figures, and all the related geeky paraphernalia. Definitely highly recommended, if you’re a geek like me. :)

I’m so excited I finally made it to 16 Hands Gallery. They have both Brian Andreas Storypeople art and Watchcraft by Eduardo Milieris (got an Andreas print, need to save up for a watch). I was happy to see, though not surprised, that the other art, crafts, and gifts available were of equally high quality and taste. Definitely an excellent place to buy a special, unique gift for a loved one (or someone you want to impress) or to get a special treat for yourself. I will definitely go back again and again.

Also, 16 Hands is in a really cool building where there are a whole bunch of awesome and artsy shops. Definitely worth the trip to check out all the fun, funky, artsy-ness. Especially since it was really close to our last stop of the day…

Zingerman's Deli

Zingerman’s Deli lunch: Reuben in front, BLT in back.

Yay Zingerman’s! This was our last stop of the day and the first time I’ve actually had one of their deli sandwiches. Having been informed many times that the Rueben is a must, I ordered that. It was a pretty darn tasty Rueben, not too greasy, full of flavor, and the “small” size was more than enough to fill me up. Everyone else’s sandwiches were pretty good, too. I must say, I’m not as big of a fan of the “new pickle”, which is very cucumbery, but I really liked the “old pickle” which is aged and much more pickley-tasting. Zingerman sandwiches are expensive, but they are made with really high-quality ingredients. However, I’m not a huge sandwich person, so in the future, I’ll probably forgo their sandwich shop in favor of spending my money in the grocery section. But if you love artisan sandwiches, I highly recommend them.

I love their grocery section! The staff is uber-friendly, uber-helpful, uber-knowledgeable, and absolutely gleeful about giving you samples of everything! :D I tried no less than 6 different cheeses and 4 different meats, all amazingly tasty. However, I learned a valuable lesson: if you get prosciutto cut from the bone, have someone start working on that first and then, if possible, have someone else help you with the rest of your order. I got my cheeses first, then ordered 1/4 lb. of proscuitto and it took him over 10 minutes (perhaps 20 min?) to cut it. I am certain that when I open it, it will be the most beautifully sliced prosciutto ever, but standing around for so long to get it was mildly annoying. But hey, if that’s the worst thing I can say about Zingerman’s then they’re still stellar. :)

Dad's bday cake!

Dad’s b-day cake, made by Sister!

After that, it was back to Toledo for the tasty tiramisu-inspired, homemade cream-filled, homemade chocolate ganache-topped birthday cake Sister made for Father! A fun and fantastic day with family. :D

*Restaurants saying they have Kobe beef is a pet peeve of mine. There is a very limited amount of Kobe beef imported to this country and some of that is going for upwards of $350 per steak. The $15 burger you order at a local restaurant is NOT going to be actual Kobe beef.

But, Jen, this beef was called “American Kobe Beef! That’s legit, right?” Without getting into detailed explanations of why it doesn’t work that way (read the articles below if you want details), calling it American Kobe Beef is akin to saying a Chihuahua is a “Mexican German Shepherd,” or how so many restaurants sell krab as real crab, or the Argentinian steroid-ferrets-sold-as-poodles scam. To quote Middle Man TV show, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

Check out this article and this article, both from Forbes magazine, if you want more info.

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Two of my loves: dance & animation

Wednesdays here at the J. Bak Studios blog are normally reserved for bellydance, but this week, I wanted to showcase a non-bellydance dance animation video that gives me the shivers (in a good way).

I was one of those kids for which animation struck some kind of vital and primal chord. For whom, even though I knew they weren’t actually real, cartoons were, in some ways, more real than live-action shows and they reached some very deep part of me. Scott McCloud has some interesting things to say about this phenomenon in his book Understanding Comics.

So, when really well done animation is combined with music and dance (two things that touch me down to my soul), I think the result is magical.

I hope you enjoy the magic, too. :)

Thought of You from Ryan J Woodward on Vimeo.

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Ooky and Spooky: Baby Announcement Photo Session with an Awesome Couple!

This photo session was so much fun to do!

When Nick & Amy contacted me stating that their inspiration for their “We’re expecting” announcements was Morticia Addams making a three-legged onesie at the end of the first Addams Family movie, my response was an enthusiastic, “YES!!!! I am the photographer for YOU!” After all, I already owned a vase of thorny rose stems with no roses, anyone else remember that from the show? :)

I love that they gave me free reign to create the artwork and wording for the announcement. Don’t they look fantastic?

Albin Family 'We're Expecting' Announcement Poster

And they actually had the three-legged onesie made! How awesome is that?! I need to see if I can commission the artist to make one for me, too.

And two more photos from the session.

Albin Family 'We're Expecting' Announcement Poster

Albin Family 'We're Expecting' Announcement Poster

Thanks to Mr. Kim for letting us use Korea Na Restaurant and Sushi Lounge for the setting. It was a bit tricky getting my red, faux-leather couch in there (the gargoyle and other props were much easier to move) but it was totally worth it!

Thanks to Falln Stock and Graphic Identity for the fancy Photoshop brushes used in the poster.

Bonus art! Nick made a special request. Do you remember how in the Addams Family movie, sometimes Morticia would be shown in shadow with only her eyes lit? Here are the previous two photos with that treatment:

Albin Family 'We're Expecting' Announcement Poster

Albin Family 'We're Expecting' Announcement Poster

I know it shows a bit dark on most screens, but in print form, there is just enough detail showing to make these really dramatic. :D

What about you? Any favorite Addams Family moments? Or are you part of team Munster instead? ;)

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