Friday, 18 January 2013


Wherein the blogger formerly known as The Raqasa goes to her first photo shoot.

The first proper post of the year! FINALLY. In my defence, however, I have been extremely lazy.

You may notice I have retired The Raqasa as a blogger identity. It was all getting too much -- one alter ego will do fine. So 'Ramona' it is from now on; on Twitter, the blog and in front of an audience. Now that I am getting serious about dancing in public after the modest success of the Year of Thinking Up, I’ve had a couple of requests for photos and I didn’t have anything suitable. Ramona needs a bit of help becoming a real person.

So I took a half day off work, and on Wednesday I went to my first-ever photo shoot. Because I was using a gift voucher, it was not at a studio I would have chosen or with a photographer I would have picked (in fact, because of the rather cookie-cutter nature of the enterprise, I got no say in the photographer at all) – but the voucher was for a ‘deluxe makeover and photo shoot’ and, goddammit, I needed my split ends seen to.

I used to find this photo hilarious.
Now that I've seen 100 photos of myself pulling this same face, however,
I feel nothing but sisterhood with this woman.

Apart from the eye-watering, unexpected expense of the whole exercise, it was pretty fun. There were several moments beforehand where, I have to admit, it seemed like a good idea to scoop up my costume and high-tail it to Oxford Circus Tube station before the door could hit me on the butt. The first of these was the studio’s website, where the gallery labelled ‘dancers’ provided image after image of ‘dancers’ of the private variety.

The hair stylist and I had a long, far-too-involved conversation about the future survival prospects for pubic lice. I like to think that I am quite a friendly soul, and comfortable in most social situations and with most people, but I was also brought up with a relatively sound grasp on the concepts of ‘dignity’ and ‘appropriateness’. I relaxed my grip on those concepts. “I guess I would rather have crabs than Chlamydia,” the stylist finally decided, to the obvious distress of the woman in the next chair, who seemed immediately to develop an itchy scalp. Although maybe this wasn't because of the pubic louse conversation, and more to do with the fact that the stylist had just bawled at me over the noise of her hairdryer that my scalp was ‘a bit scabby’. Gee, thanks. Even better, it turns out it's a miracle I'm still alive. ‘Oh, wow! You’re only six years younger than my mum!’ trilled the stylist.

Duly reminded of my impending mortality, after I had had my hair and my scabby scalp sorted out – it was very dry, apparently, so I consented to a treatment at an extra cost of ‘only’ £15 – I was ushered downstairs to makeup where a woman who looked spookily like a young Courtney Cox worked her magic on me. There are no smartarse comments or snide remarks to be made here. She complimented me on my skin, especially given my advanced age, and she didn’t even laugh when I produced pictures to illustrate how I imagined my makeup would look. “It’s OK,” I explained hastily, lest she think I had some reverse form of body dysmorphic disorder, “I know I don’t look like Sophia Loren or Claudia Cardinale. I just like the style.” She did, however, charge me an extra £5 to apply my false eyelashes, and give me a list of all the products she’d used on my face along with their prices. At this point I was feeling less like I was being made over and more like I was being done over.

As I waited for my turn in front of the camera, I could vaguely make out my blurry reflection in the shiny black door of the studio. With my heavy black eye makeup and bright lipstick, my face was reduced to an abstract depiction of two smudgy tarantulas advancing in parallel on a large chilli. I began to doubt the wisdom of wearing the false lashes. But I'd just paid £5 to have them implanted, so they were bloody well staying.

All trace of the many, many decades I have survived erased from my puss under several layers of concealer, my hair lustrous, and my scalp de-flaked, it was time to fill in the form to let the photographer know what I was after. From memory, the options were something like:

·         Contemporary (lots of modern backdrops and funky poses)
·         Portrait (3/4 length and head and shoulders)
·         Nude/lingerie*
·         Fashion
·         Photographer’s choice

I need these photos for:

·         CV/LinkedIn profile
·         Family album
·         Performance/professional use (dancer/actor/etc)
·         Private
·         Fashion portfolio

*All our photographers are fully trained professionals and our studio areas are private.
Try as I might, I couldn’t imagine stripping off to my smalls-or-nothing-at-alls in that very chilly basement studio. Based on the photos on the walls, however, many other people could.
The photographer had a very strong Italian accent, which is not material except that it adds a lot of colour to the story if you bear that in mind. His name was Spanish, so for the purposes of this tale I’m going to call him Juan. Juan, who, as the form promised, was totally professional and really likeable, thought my surname was hilarious. I am OK with that – ‘Moody’ is a pretty evocative surname. Despite me making it very clear that I was a belly dancer, he seemed to believe I was a stripper from the 1950s.

“OK, my belly dancer, you are going to shake it for me, huh?” he winked, swinging his shoulders around in the universal gesture for Hoochie Coochie. (Yes, but he was obviously joking.) I gave him what I hoped was my best tolerant smile. “I’m just going to pose. I’m not going to dance for you; there’s no music and I’m too nervous.” Hoping to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible, I went off to get changed.

“What if I pay you?” Juan called after me, but I figured I could get away with pretending I hadn’t heard him. Unfortunately, my folkloric outfit was not what Juan had in mind either. “What is this?” he pouted when I appeared clad head to foot in an Assuit dress. “OK, well, still, with the pose, think ‘Out of the cake!’”

Freezing him with my eyes didn't work. And then something great happened. “Mooo-ooo-dy! You are so moody, c’mon. Smile at me, don’t be angry. And shoulders back and down and tilt your pelvis please,” and at this point I laughed until I got the stitch because I realised that Juan was actually just every teacher I have ever had IN DISGUISE. After that the whole thing was a lot more fun.

“You look like something out of Aladdin!” he laughed when I appeared in my ‘tribute to Jamila Salimpour pantaloons and coin bra’ outfit.

“Well, maybe that’s good, because I feel like a drag queen.”

“Ah, Mooo-dy. I did not like to say...”

So to the aftermath, in which I had to pick one photo out of the 170 taken in order to avoid paying any more money. A photo that I would not own the rights to, and that I would not be given a digital version of.

“Can I not pick some at home and buy them later? I mean, just one photo is pretty hard to choose out of all these.”

“No, because we don’t keep them. Sorry. You’ll have to choose now. And the smallest package we have will cost you the naming rights to your first child, a sample of your DNA to use however we wish and 10% of whatever you make from now until the day you die.”

Reader, I fell for it. And although I kinda bargained, I still feel a bit ill that I am on the first direct debit payment I have set up from my personal account since 2005. And yes, telling The Man when I got home was a bit awkward. (As it turns out, I was ‘just meant to enjoy the experience’ and not buy any photos, but that’s easier said than done when someone is pushing you to make an impossible decision on the spot and you have just spent literally three and a half hours of your life trying to get a good snap of yourself for the Hafla on the Hill website and ohmygod you are really sick of looking through all the photos you have of yourself and realising that in nearly all of them you are either eating or hiding behind someone else.)

BUT. BUT. BUT. I do now own these photos. The poses are generically cheesy. (No, I didn’t buy the ones where he had me recline on a couch with one arm up over my head. *shudder*) The lighting is flattering to the point of too much. The makeup is heavy. And as happy as I am with the results, I will organise my own shoot next time so that I am not taken aback by anything. Just as soon as I finish paying for this, of course.

So, to paraphrase Tyra Banks, my best shot's after the jump.

The confidence to do this was brought to you by Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred DVD and an attack of norovirus.


  1. Glad you got a good picture in the end! I've decided that if I ever need pictures I am going to sell a kidney to get Maani - at least he *gets* dancers!

  2. Ah, yes. Maani was my first choice, and who I ideally wanted my photos taken by. But I don't want to sound ungrateful; it was a very positive experience and when I questioned 'Juan' later it turned out he'd photographed LOADS of dancers (which came across very clearly when he corrected my posture!), including a fair few belly dancers.

  3. Lovely photo, and a very nice dress too!

  4. I LOLd my ass off reading this, but wow-- absolutely gorgeous picture. I can't wait to see the others :)

  5. Great post, thanks for sharing! You are too funny. And you look lovely. Up!

  6. I've just installed iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers dancing on my desktop.