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my experience, how I see the the world, what I bring to the table.
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Alia Thabit is an Arab-American dancer, writer, artist, and guide. Her teaching, coaching, and performing celebrates belly dance’s cultural ideals of feeling, improvisation, playfulness, and joy.
Alia became a Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner to better help people connect to their body and soul with pleasure and ease. Her dance classes, coaching, and SE sessions help participants reclaim their joyful spirit and deep well of creativity.
It all began when I was sixteen years old. There was a belly dance class on my Brooklyn street. I thought it would be cultural (I’m half Arabic) and sexy!
Little did I know that this dance would consume me, heart and soul, for the next five decades–and counting.
After a few months, the teacher Jeanne (still my dear friend), decided not to teach anymore. She sent her students to her teacher, Bobby.
Bobby turned out to be Ibrahim Farrah, celebrated, world-famous artist of Oriental dance. Which I did not know at the time. Neither did I know that his was a top professional class. No matter.
Soon I was in class several times a week, two classes at a time (a three-week, ten-class card was the least expensive option), avidly soaking up Bobby and his principal dancers Jajouka and Elena Lentini (my idol and mentor).
To support my habit, I worked as a figure model for New York City art schools, Pratt Institute and The Brooklyn Museum. This went on for several years.
I had no idea of the world-class level of dance education I was receiving (the art education wasn’t bad either). I only knew that I had found something I loved.
Fast forward a few years (okay, a dozen), past a move to northeastern Vermont (I fell in love), two kids, a college education, and subsequent single parenthood.
I taught local classes and performed at birthday parties and such. But I never truly understood the gift I had been given.
Then my boyfriend and I drove to New York City for Elena Lentini’s induction into the American Academy of Middle Eastern Dance Hall of Fame.
As I watched élite performers in the gala show, the light slowly dawned:
I can do what they are doing!
I finally began to see...
Fast forward a few more years–to a broken ankle. I saw how fragile is a human body, how precious. I decided that from this moment on, I would dedicate myself to dance. I could do other art when I was old: write, paint, etc. But dance had a shorter shelf life. Dance was for now.
Two days later, Bobby passed away. It was now up to us, his students, to continue to bring the glory and pleasure of our dance into the world.
I was ready.
I began teaching, learning, and performing in earnest, developing skills, finding my voice, attending and sponsoring events.
- A five-week dance study tour to Egypt (to the Ahlan wa Sahlan dance festival–the first performance in the video below!), Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine–by myself.
- A grant to develop a group improvisation process. We developed a show, which we toured in VT and NH.
- My Sofa-Surfing Tour of Fame–I left Vermont for the American West, visiting dance friends and events in California and Arizona, as I continued to learn and grow as an artist, teacher, and human being.
As it happened, Sufi master Dunya McPherson had a weeklong at the same time. I signed up.
By day, I went to Dunya’s classes; by night, I ran a huge puppet and helped stage manage for Elena.
I learned how to use breath in dance, and found a clear, lighted pathway to the state of grace that I sought as a live performer. It was thrilling to see these same techniques embodied in Elena’s choreography each night as I explored them for myself each day.
The spiritual connection of Dunya’s Sufi-based Dancemeditation ™ resonated deeply. I continue to explore Dunya’s teachings in many workshops, retreats, and conversations.
This work, along with the friendship, care, and guidance of many loving dancers, bodyworkers, and mentors, has helped me become the artist I am today.
Over the years, I continued to dance, travel, visit, learn, teach, and perform.
It was a heady, glorious time.
I danced on four continents, in seven countries, and fifteen states. I visited and danced with myriad friends; presented seminars with international stars; and performed with some of our greatest living musicians (see CV).
I learned from many masters of dance and music, including Azza Sherif, Ahmed Hussien, and Dina; I attended Simon Shaheen’s Arabic Music Retreat three times; and made four trips to Egypt, even brought a group. Yep, I got around.
And then things happened, as things tend to do.
I became triggered by a challenging relationship–which had ended twenty years before. Yet all the fear was still there, trembling, below the surface. So I looked for trauma resolution…
And found Peter Levine’s book, In an Unspoken Voice.
Somatic Experiencing® (SE) changed me at a core level. I used to hate myself. Now I like myself. I was steeped in anxiety and paralyzed by fear. Now I am relaxed and confident. Other approaches (I tried so many), have helped, but they were more symptomatic relief. SE was for real.
I began to use its principles in my dance work–and in my book, Midnight at the Crossroads.
The similarities between Sufic, homestyle Oriental dance and trauma resolution are astounding. Like, every single element corresponds.
I found so much relief and joy through the SE process that I signed up for their three-year training program.
Becoming a Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner is one of the most rewarding things that I have done in my life.
It is the most nurturing, gentle model I have ever found. It is profoundly useful for anyone who struggles with perfectionism, self-loathing, anxiety, lack of confidence, or self image.
Unresolved trauma is at the heart of myriad conditions and health issues. It is a huge, relatively unknown problem worldwide.
It has been my pleasure and my honor to include this work in what I bring to the table.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, I took Sean D’Souza’s Cartooning Course.
Over a year and a half, my life changed, as I began making pictures daily, refining skills, even developing my own character. You can follow my Cartooning Course journey here, and see more recent results over on the blog, as I began drawing pictures for every article. I take great joy in my cartoons and squiggleations!
Every cartoon, performance, class, SE session, workshop, email,
every thing I do, empowers our beauty
You, me, all of us–our glory, our power, our joy.
All of my work honors our desire for both order and abandon; I cherish, nurture, and celebrate them, because we are both, we need both; indeed, it is in their balance that we feel the joy of accomplishment and expression
I honor this beautiful dance, how it manifests our wonder, our joy, our love, and how it loves us back.
I honor creative expression and cultural ideals.
I honor releasing old patterns that stand in our way.
The poet WB Yeats said,
“The world is full of magic things,
patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
I help folks sharpen their senses, listen to their bodies, to the music, to their fleeting impressions—to notice, to embody, to express.
I teach folks to listen, look, and sense, to locate blocked, frozen places, to melt them with the power of breath and dance, to resolve lingering trauma, so they can recover their own creativity, beauty, and power.
You are filled with beauty and magic.
We all are. It is our precious treasure, our most valuable asset. Love it, grow it, protect it.
This treasure is already inside us.
We don’t have make anything, think of anything, or impose anything. We just have to pick up the jewels.