Belly Dance and Free Software

Professional performers need tools for managing photos and creating attention-getting promotional materials for print and on-line. Manage the photo collection with gthumb, and lay out posters with ease using Scribus.
Free Software in Belly Dance Promotion

We use free software for everything from professional photography to document generation, as we discuss here. We have held several belly dance photo shoots at the Creative Camera professional photo studio in Santa Clara, California. This photography was conducted with a digital workflow that uses 100% free software tools. For example, we use The GIMP, gthumb and gtkam (see the on-line Resources).

Free software definitely addresses several concerns mentioned by belly dancers. For example, in talking about Web content development for her business, Tempest says “Thumbnailing, sizing and finishing images is very time consuming and can be especially tedious if the quality of the images is less than ideal.” Having spent a lot of time recently batch-processing photos with gthumb, we find this gPhoto2 utility indispensable for Web and print work.

Now we turn to some creative uses of free software in belly dance with two key examples of creating belly dance concert posters. Each example is a little different. In the first, we intentionally wanted to create a new document from scratch for an upcoming event and needed documents suitable for both print and electronic media. In the second example, an event already was being promoted on the Web, but we needed a print version right away, so some novel repurposing was done with free software tools.

To create a new poster for a Spring-themed belly dance event, we held a photo shoot and then edited the studio photos with gthumb and The GIMP. These resulting images were combined with other text and photo elements to create the poster. The poster itself was done on Linux using a desktop publishing (DTP) application called Scribus. Refer to Clay Dowling's article “Linux as a Publishing Platform” on the Linux Journal Web site for more details on using Scribus and The GIMP to publish on Linux. Although we describe only some of the big steps we used with The GIMP and Scribus, we were surprised at how easy it was to use this powerful application to position graphic elements precisely and ultimately obtain a professional result.

The first task was to select a suitable main photo of Michelle Paloma-Hudkins, who was promoting a belly dance event held in Sunnyvale, California, in March 2005. We start with gthumb, as shown in Figure 1. After looking over several photos in the series that we did, we selected one. But rather than insert a photo decorated only with a simple color border, it seemed more Spring-like to use a fuzzy edge to the photo. This was managed by using The GIMP's Script-Fu decor menu in Figure 2. The output after edge manipulation is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 1. Viewing a photo collection with gthumb to find exactly the right photo.

Figure 2. Using a Script-Fu menu in The GIMP, we created a fuzzy border for the chosen image.

Figure 3. The result nicely details a glamorous photo of Paloma, with the fuzzy border effect.

To sell the idea of Spring, we wanted to composite into the poster a photo of daffodils from a separate photo shoot. One photo was a field of flowers, over which we intended to lay out announcement copy text. Another photo was a bright closeup of a single daffodil.

The GIMP has powerful layer manipulation capabilities, and we needed only a few of them to accomplish a lot. In Figure 4 we added a layer filled with all-white color and merged this at 50% opacity to create the slightly faded flower field image. The resulting picture is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 4. Using layers in The GIMP, we added a white layer to make the background photo appear faded.

Figure 5. The faded photo is now ready to use as background art for a Spring-themed event.

To assemble all of the graphical elements, we started Scribus. The easiest thing to do was to place the text onto the letter-sized layout view in separate chunks, along with graphical items. These could be changed and placed using Scribus tools. An early version of the poster layout is shown in Figure 6. We used the Scribus editing panel for changing the original ASCII text, which imported with a default font, into something different and more appropriately sized for the poster (Figure 7). Other text bodies were handled similarly. This work included colorizing the text, changing the line layout and other typographic qualities.

Figure 6. Working on the poster in Scribus. The background photo has been added, but the text chunks still are in the default font.

Figure 7. Working with copy in the Scribus editing panel.

After text placement and coloring, we added two additional photos from live belly dance events, with Simone and Tempest at the bottom. The photograph of the single daffodil was placed in the upper right, near the poster title. With the final edits complete, the bright and engaging poster is shown in Figure 8. Using Scribus, one source document could be used simultaneously for both print applications and as an on-line PDF file for Internet distribution to the public.

Figure 8. Final Result in Scribus: Dance into Spring

Our second example solved a problem in belly dance promotion where pre-existing marketing content had to be used. With photos we'd taken at an earlier photo shoot, Paloma created a Web poster for a belly dance event held in December 2004, called Jingle Bell Raks. We now needed to create a print poster plus a separate high-resolution electronic distribution format. Free software made it possible to support Paloma's marketing concerns where “...obstacles include venues to advertise at low cost. Finding the right bulletin boards to post on to be most effective. Also finding new avenues of distribution to reach outside the Belly Dance Community, to draw in the general public.”

A high-quality print-oriented conversion program called HTMLDOC (see Resources) came to the rescue here in an unusual application of free software. The robust HTMLDOC program can be compiled from source with ease. What is does is amazing: it reads in HTML, images and other data and then automatically turns that content into PDF files or PostScript as output. It also has powerful book-production and indexing features. Our case was pretty simple, we wanted to create a one-page print poster and PDF file automatically. It was really easy to do, as shown in Figure 9. We simply inserted the name of a single HTML file via the HTMLDOC GUI and then configured the program to make PDF files. The resulting poster as shown with xpdf is depicted in Figure 10.

Figure 9. HTMLDOC GUI menu box—adding one filename.

Figure 10. HTMLDOC rules! Jingle Bell Raks, as seen with xpdf.

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