Why is Agency the Soul of Belly Dance (and how do we find it)?

Whatever Lola Wants is a fun film about about an American postal worker (Lola), who falls for an Egyptian man, and, when he returns home, follows him to Egypt. In the meantime, another friend sets her to find the reclusive belly dance star Asmahan, who disappeared from public view following a mysterious scandal.

Spoiler alert: Lola finds Asmahan, who reluctantly agrees to teach Lola to dance.  In general, the dancing is nothing special, but there is a great scene where Asmahan explains the heart of the dance. She tells a frustrated Lola that she will not demonstrate moves because, “You are not me. I can’t teach you how to be yourself. … Take that energy and use it. Use everything you are living. Don’t run from your feelings.” We are meant to honor our own feeling. We are meant to make the dance our own. 

Agency is key

We are not meant to be little dance clones, copying someone else. We are meant to celebrate our unique, beautiful, individual selves, with our own power and agency. This focus on dancer agency–the dancer making their own choices, following their own intuition in the moment–is built in to the dance. Here is a list of cultural values I wrote for Midnight at the Crossroads.

Qualities of Oriental Dance: It's all about AGENCY 

I combine these with three principles (which became the three sections of the book): The Feeling in the Moment; Different Every Time; and Bring the Joy.

To become a wonderful dancer, to approach the true soul of the dance, we must find our own way. 

But how do we do that? 

We have to look, experiment, make mistakes, and experiment some more. It helps to be willing to let go of being perfect, flawless, always right. Learning is about messiness. It is about making mistakes. It is about curiosity and discovery

This is the purpose of the 90 Day Dance Party. 

We 90 Days to experiment and discover, to be curious about our body’s wisdom, to learn how we personally feel the music–we have time to actually feel the music, to discover our own body’s response to it. 

And there is a further magic that happens as we dare to touch into the body, to notice our own physical sensations, to be curious about how they shift and change.

Healing

Most of us are pretty stressed out these days, amirite? We are over-scheduled and under-resourced. The news is harrowing. We run as fast as we can just to stay in the same place. This adds up. It’s like being splashed with mud every day and never getting a chance to wash it off, day after mont after year.

The 90 Days is like a lovely bath, soothing, relaxing, and healing. Allowing the body to express itself undoes the knots of tension. The 20 minutes gives the brain and body a rest from all the daily cares. This adds up, too. It adds up to self-compassion, groundedness, resilience, and–dare I say it? Joy. 

So where do we start? Someone (Hi, Dawnie!) once described the 90 Days as “a series of magical signposts that point in different directions for each person.”  What do we do with that?

It helps to have a guide

That would be me ; ). 

This is why we have weekly video calls. This is why we have the Bonus Pack of Joy, with daily interaction. So folks can ask questions and get answers–so each of us can find out own way to our true self, our true dance. Personal style isn’t about endless copying. It’s about interior discovery and valuing ourselves. Yes, we need the basic vocabulary. But we also need basic self-love and respect. We need confidence. We need a place to make mistakes so we can discover our ability to recover from them gracefully. 

To celebrate the upcoming 90 Days, I’m including a Love Note each week.

Here is the very first Love Note from the very first 90 Day Dance Party. 

D1 Mindsets

Today we begin. Today we gather up our gilded inspiration, put the music on to play, and ascend into the heavens. We breathe, and move, and become one with the music.

For some of us, this will be easy. We have practiced it many times before. For some of us, this may be more difficult. This may be the first time we have ever tried. We may yearn for this state, yet be convinced we will never get there. We expect to fail.

This note is for you.

There are skills and there are talents. Talents you are born with. Maybe you have good hearing. Or steady hands. Or a beautiful face. Lucky you.

Skills we learn. We figure out how to do something, and we practice until we can do it well. Someone with a wonderful voice who doesn’t bother to develop it may not sing as well as someone with a decent voice who learns and trains. Someone with a beautiful face who frowns and sneers will be less attractive than someone with a plain face who consciously adopts a warm, friendly expression.

Letting go of the scurrying, thinking brain and tuning in to the intuitive side is a skill we can learn. But first we must realize it is possible. This belief in our ability to solve problems and to learn new things is called a “Growth Mindset.” The belief that one’s talents and intelligence are limited and can’t be changed is a “Fixed Mindset.” Carol Dweck, the Stanford professor who pioneered this research, has found that these mindsets can be changed.

Knowing that intelligence is malleable frees us to stop proving ourselves and start enjoying our experiments. If it is an experiment, there is no failure—you do an experiment to see what happens.

Today, it’s just an experiment. The outcome doesn’t matter. There will always be tomorrow. And the next day. The less the outcome matters, the more enjoyment you can have in the moment. And enjoying the moment is what life— and improvisation—is all about.

*****
The 90 day Dance Party.
We start Feb 16. Come join us. Come find yourself. Come find the treasure within yourself. It’s there. It has been waiting for you all this time. 

Love, 
Alia

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