How to Give Back to the Dance

Last week, we saw how Kongtrul Rinpoche explained the difference between Hope and Prayer. Rinpoche did not express much hope for Hope. He is Tibetan, a people who have been systematically crushed by China, most heavily for the last 150 years–from mass killings, environmental devastation, and forced marriages, to  brutal torture. An intensely faithful, gentle people, the Tibetans did not merely hope for salvation–they brought on their centuries of powerful prayer to preserve themselves, their culture,  and their faith. I can see why hope wasn’t high on his list. But…

Many of us interpret hope differently. 

Wikipedia says, “Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.[1] As a verb, its definitions include: “expect with confidence” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation.”” [2]

For many, hope is a refusal of despair, a determination to keep living, to take one step after another. It is the only reason we can get up, day after day, and continue. Because maybe today will be different. And what is the alternative? Not so good…

I think it’s clear that the optimism of hope combines well with the activism of prayer. Many of us are not religious or do not believe in standard gods. That’s okay. We can make of ourselves a lighthouse, radiating positive outcomes. We can call upon alternative energies, the earth, the universe, the moon. Our friends…

Which brings me to a conversation I had with some friends recently…

These are Arabic women, smart, talented, and fun. Both teach dance (and you know, this is fairly rare, that women of the culture take the social risk of teaching or performing Oriental dance). Both were born and raised in Europe, deeply enmeshed in their original culture. Both found that here in America they were much more accepted–they endured much less racism than in Europe.

Except in one area.

Belly dance. 

How ironic is that? 

They told me of being pushed aside, argued with, ignored, and otherwise excluded. These are people I love. It hurts my heart to hear these things. 

Even more recently, I attended Soumaya MaRose’s “Thé à l’Oriental 7- Attaï Sharq: ” Surprise”.” I have attended several of Soumaya‘s events, and they are always remarkable, high-quality gatherings. This one included a panel discussion and an Iftar dinner (the event took place during Ramadan, when many Muslims fast from sunup to sundown every day for a month. The dinner at sundown is called Iftar). 

Thé à l'Oriental 7- Attaï Sharq:
Thé à l’Oriental 7- Attaï Sharq: ” Surprise” 

Pictured from left to right, Hanane El, a Moroccan dancer/teacher in NYC; Amar (Gamal) Garcia, late of the BellyDance SuperStars, Soumaya MaRose, dance artist and event producer; and Tamalyn Dallal, worldwide pioneer of belly dance. Click  the image for more pix from the event

Soumaya asked specific questions of each of the pa.nelists, and also questions of the guests, most of whom were part of the belly dance scene. We are also asked to get into groups and draw a map of the middle east/north africa. After the panel discussion, Rawda Aljawhary opened the Iftar with a heartrendingly beautiful Quran recital, we had a really fabulous traditional Moroccan Iftar, created by Saadia Malek, Khadija from  Sabrine Bakery in Revere, MA, and friends.  And then several of  the Moroccan women took up instruments and we had a mini dance party!

The panel discussion was fascinating–and challenging.

One of the questions Soumaya put to the guests was, “Why would you not ask a native woman questions about the dance?” I could see the guests cringe a little. No one wants to be pushy or ask total strangers things that might offend them. But when you have an artist of the culture, offering to help you, why ignore what they have to say, even if it may be a little uncomfortable or challenge your beliefs? It’s a big world out there. 

One of the biggest questions Soumaya asked was right at the beginning: “Dancers, what do you do for the culture that feeds you?” We have all been nourished by our dance. Many of us teachers have also made good money off it. How do we give back? How to we nurture and nourish the culture that has given us Oriental dance? 

For myself, I wrote a book. I was pleased that the vast majority of the questions Soumaya raised, I also raise in the book. I also seek out teachers of the culture, have visited the middle east several times, and regularly write about and highlight the cultural elements of the dance. 

What about you? 

How do you give back to the dance’s culture of origin?

If the answer is, um, I don’t, what might you do differently? 

 

This brings me back to Hope and Prayer. 

It is my hope that we in the belly dance scene can step back from the anti-Muslim propaganda that we are fed so routinely in the West. It is my hope that we can come to understand the breathtaking beauty of the cultural dance–we have been fed a Westernized, stripped down version, with little of its inherent richness and joy. It’s time for that to change. 

I mentioned above, maybe we can pray to our friends. One of the older uses of the word pray, is as please–pray tell, pray go on, etc. Please, do some thinking. Do some reading on the cultural aspects of the dance. Do some improvisation. Do some classes with native dancers. Do some traveling in the Middle East. Do something to benefit the culture of our dance. This my prayer to you. 

Thank you. 

With love,
Alia

How We Change The World

Smash Patriarchy

Greetings!


It is so nearly spring here in Vermont that the weather changes every day. We are tired of winter–so very tired.

#inktober 25. Tired. Drawn with Note 3 + Sketchbook for Galaxy
When will it ever be spring again?

Apparently, dancers are tired, too–tired of the toxic environments, bullying, and negativity many belly dancers must navigate.

In a recent Facebook post, Yasmina Ramzy, yasminaramzy.comwrote on Facebook of her dismay over these challenges. The post struck a chord, with almost 200 replies from folks who had such experiences, as well as many suggestions for change. The following quote is just a taste of the original.

RAQS SHARQI IS SO BEAUTIFUL, EMPOWERING, HEALING, INSPIRING, SOUL-ENRICHING AND FULL OF JOY.
And yet ….

often when I arrive in a new city to teach a workshop, the host picks me up at the airport and at some point we share a meal and then the host breaks down crying while she asks what to do about feeling bullied by the BD community Or….

the out-of-town students in Pro Course who book a private and within 10 minutes they are in tears asking me how to cope with being bullied by other Bellydancers . Or….

the 2am phonecalls, I receive from across North America from past students in tears who can not cope with troupe members or students being nasty to her or to each other
Or….or….or….

-Yasmina Ramzy

She listed many more such experiences and and asked what folks thought would help. I have a lot of thoughts about this, so I posted a response–which garnered a hundred likes, loves, etc, and 25 comments of its own. Wow! I saw that people are interested in this topic, so I decided to share it with you. Here it is. (I have edited it a little bit ; )

I have also heard the stories and been thinking about this.

I notice several elements in play.

1. We in the west have made this dance over in our own likeness 
-as a primarily performance art rather than a social dance 
-as a venue for stylization, choreography, and competitive perfectionism, rather than a playful dance of joy
-as a taking rather than a giving

2. We have all been damaged by internalized sexism and patriarchy. In some folks this results in victimizing, shaming, and blaming (do unto others), and in others, in ongoing vulnerability to victimization.

-this is part of our dual addiction to perfectionism and self loathing, both of which, I think, are connected to the unresolved chronic stress of being women in this society. It is even worse for minorities of any kind, who get double doses of daily meanness.

3. Everyone is angry. Turf wars in a saturated market place, scarcity mentality, Internet anonymity’s decimation of decent manners, and the legitimate rage felt by those who have gotten the short end of the minority stick all conspire into a time of unprecedented bullying from every angle.

How do we heal our troubled dance world?

The fact is, we can only change ourselves. But we are leaders. Leaders go first. They show the way. So where we go, others will follow. That being said… one person can have a BIG impact.

A. Bring the dance back to its roots.

Value improvisation, with all its impermanence and messiness. Value live improvised music of the culture. Value social dance, playfulness, and joy. Dance is supposed to be fun!

B. Prioritize dancer agency.

This is a core strength of our dance. Empower student confidence. Engage students in the creative process. We do not need little dance automatons who are only concerned with following orders and how they look. We want our dancers to have something to say. Dance is communication, self-expression. Teach dancers to find their own true dance.

C. Focus on how the dance *feels.*

Patriarchy wants us to focus on our looks, our sexual attractiveness. It wants us to always be seeking approval. It undermines our felt reality. It’s time to take back our pleasure in movement. 

Oriental dance is about expressing our feeling from the music, emotional, yes, but also the deliciousness of the physical action of dance. This dance feels good to the body. 

When we improvise, we let the body respond to the music as it wishes. As such, the dance becomes a healing, stress releasing, and deeply spiritual practice. We have enough problems in life. Dance is for joy. 

D. PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS.

We get what we pay attention to. Its time to let the haters go.

-Someone is a jerk? Unfollow them. Don’t go to their classes or events. 

-Don’t bitch in class about anything–dance class is joy time. I don’t care how hard it is to to get respect, make a living, etc. Don’t put that on your students (or your classmates). You don’t want their pity. You want their enthusiasm.

-Find compassionate, generous dance folks and back them–especially teachers of the culture. 

-Check your privilege. Most belly dancers are white women. For folk of other colors, sexual orientation, abilities, low socioeconomic status, etc, life is so much harder than we can ever imagine. Remember this.

-Take steps to be fair and kind, to provide safe spaces for your students. It’s okay to fire bitchy, troublesome students. Make your classroom a bubble of joy. 

We may only be able to change ourselves, but we can build a nurturing creative oasis, and welcome others inside. The ripples spread, ever outward…

We heal the world, one undulation at a time.

###

We bring joy. That’s our job Let’s do it.

Love,
Alia

PS If this resonates with you, you might enjoy the book Midnight at the Crossroads: has belly dance sold its soul? http://aliathabit.com/bellydancesoul.com

PS Want something to do?

(if any links don’t work properly, please copy and paste)

Everyone!

Ziltastic: Fast, fun, finger cymbal Improvisation and
Embodiment: musicality for Oriental Dance
are now open at https://alia.teachable.com
Build skills and have fun with well-designed e-courses!

Tonight, April 11: Ranya Renee has been curating a wonderful series of free livestream interviews on colorism in the dance world. Her guest tonight is Aaliyah Jenny, a marvelous performer and stellar human being. Join Ranya’s FB group to get access: https://facebook.com/groups/gingercity
More info: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10161733456885327&set=a.10151026251745327&type=3&theater/

New England Live!

Sunday, April 14: Lebanese male dancer Victor “Sharif” Ziter performs at the Cairo Cabaret in Chicopee MA. If you want to see a man dance, this is it. https://www.facebook.com/events/1259294750904527/

Saturday, May 18th: Boston area folks–Soumaya MaRose’s 7th “Thé à l’Oriental” with Tamalyn Dallal and Amar Gamal Garcia, and features a traditional Moroccan Iftar fest. Soumaya is a brilliant Moroccan Oriental dancer, and she does things right. This is a do-not-miss if you are in the area.

Saturday-Sunday, June 8-9: Cassandra Shore in midcoast Maine. Cassandra is exceptional. I can only remember one time she was in New England–and that was decades ago. Not to be missed! It’s hosted by Kay Hardy Campbell, so you know it will be good. https://www.facebook.com/events/1060567260783532/

Sunday, July 14: I’ll be teaching improv and group composition in Northampton MA (and performing that night at Cairo Cab). Space is limited and registration is now open:
https://www.facebook.com/events/2178111372274149/?active_tab=about

Elsewhere Live!

June 5-12: Tamalyn Dallal Weeklong in New Orleans is ALWAYS a treat. https://www.facebook.com/events/208356106754704/

What are we supposed to feel?

For the last two months, I have been deep into the How to Create Dance Art course, createdanceart.com. One of the assignments is to note any feelings or images that arise as you listen to your songs.

Any feelings–strong or fleeting, odd or mysterious, any and all wisps–record them in the spreadsheet where they occur. One line can have a markedly different feeling/image from the next; allowing the body to experience and interpret these treasures brings the dance to life.

All answers/feeling/images are correct. If you get nothing, that’s perfectly fine. This will be great for some of us and meh for others.”

To my surprise, I got SO many comments about about not being able to parse the feelings in songs. “Oh, I am not good at that,” people said. Then I noticed other folks saying the same things.

Like there were some hidden meanings they were supposed to be able to uncover. Like someone said somewhere that this passage is sad and that one is happy, and you are supposed to be able to figure out which is which according to some mysterious invisible rulebook.

Forget that. It does not exist. 

You don’t know what the composer intended–you only know what YOU FEEL. Your responses to the music may be…

  • Emotional–just straight up emotions like happy, sad, yearning etc
  • Physical–movement, but also other physical sensations, cold, warm, buzzing, heaviness, and in any part of your body
  • Images–people, locations, colors, land or skyscapes, anything
  • Meaning pieces–attitudes, postures, events, locations, characters, stories, or whatever
  • Or ANYTHING ELSE that comes to you as you listen to, draw, contemplate, or dance your songs

It’s YOU. Whatever YOU FEEL. That’s what’s important. Listen to YOUR body, your feelings. Discover your responses to the music. Open yourself to the music (and if you don’t feel anything, listen to better music ;).

It’s all about you <3

People feel different things. If I am making a dance that others will dance, I will tell them what I intended, which would be what I felt from the piece. But the fact is, we feel different things. This is why this dance is predicated upon the dancer’s own agency and interpretation.

Maybe some instructor told you what they felt from the music. But you might respond differently. And that is OKAY.

If you want to know what the words mean, fine. Maybe they are in counterpoint to the melody. If the words are sad and the tune feels happy, then you have an interesting dynamic to dance. And vice versa. It’s all good.

Dance what you feel. What YOU feel. That’s the bottom line. “The dancer shows her guests what she feels from the music.”

That’s what this dance is.

Speaking of dancing with feeling, I’m dreaming of a holistic “belly dance to heal trauma” retreat, someplace lovely. Would you be interested? Where would be a good place to do this?

Also, the #basicbellydancerchallenge was great fun! You can see my efforts on my Facebook or Instagram profiles, and you can search either platform with the hashtag to see everyone else’s.

With all my love,
Alia

PS Entrepreneurs! I’m very much enjoying Eric Maisel’s new course Mastering the One-Person Business. It’s practical and pragmatic, yet empowering–and it breaks everything down into doable parts. Recommended!

How to Make the World Better-by dancing

Tasting good food

Can recipes make you more creative?

When I was a kid, any time my Mom and I wanted to cook something new, we hauled out all our favorite cookbooks and found as many versions of the recipe as we could (there was no internet back then <gasp!>, so yeah, cookbooks). 

We read them all, chose those we liked, and noted what was consistent between them. Then we mixed and matched everything else to come up with our own, custom recipe. 

Damn, we made some great food. 

That early mix-n-match experience made me a confident cook. And it colored my outlook on pretty much everything. With a little prep, I could make whatever I did my own. 

This is also how I have approached belly dance.

It has made me open to a wide variety of influences. The foundation has come from the cookbooks–er, the tried-and-true dance experts from whom I have learned over time–what do they say that is consistent, and what is personal style? 

The first time I went to Egypt in 2004, I attended the Ahlan wa Sahalan festival. One of the things that pleased me there was realizing that I interpreted the music much the same way the Egyptian dancers did. I understood their choices. It was a nice validation. Over the course of writing my book, I took pains to analyze what made the dance Eastern and to clarify the differences between Eastern and Western artistic priorities.

In many ways, I was fortunate that I did NOT have a Western dance background. I had no dance instruction to speak of before I came to belly dance–with the exception of Twist lessons with Chubby Checker on television waaay back in the day. I’m pretty sure Chubby’s freestyle approach didn’t hurt, either ; ).

As I wrote Midnight, I also realized we have a problem here in the West. We have built a model of belly dance classes (whereas folks of the culture learned from family and friends). So we have students who want to show their work. They want a product, something the can take home and show off. So we make dances for them. And it’s only gotten worse. In the competition circuit, dances are choreographed down to the last wink and smile. They are the exact same, every single time. But there is a problem.

At its heart, our dance is improvised.

How do we reconcile East and West?

In the book, I made a list of what I found to be the essential elements of the dance. Here it is.
(You can read the entire first chapter, which includes this list, here: https://payhip.com/b/a1Qp).

  • The foundation movement vocabulary, hip drops, shimmies, undulations, etc.
  • Micromovement, the modulation of a movement’s size, shape, direction, speed, and force to better fit the dancer’s mood and the music
  • Improvisation to improvised (preferably live, preferably Eastern) music or loose choreography/structured improvisation that can be changed or modified to each situation
  • Expression of the dancer’s physical and emotional feeling in the moment, including playfulness and fun
  • Embodiment of the principles and values of Oriental music (more on this later in the chapter)
  • The Eastern music with which this dance has evolved. You can have all of the above with other music, but the music and dance go together, and they make special magic together.

The more of these principles we include in the mix, the closer we get to the soul of the dance. So where does choreography figure in? Belly dance at its heart is an improvised solo dance form. But even solo dances are now rigidly choreographed, every wink and nod the same every time. To me, there is a Trifecta of Oriental dance mastery. Here it is.

The Feeling in the Moment, Same but Different, and Bring the Joy.

My long-term goal is an improvisational dance company. But my short-term goal has been, how to bring these principles into set dances? Because choreography is here to stay. So what do we do with it?

I have always been drawn to theatrical dance–most of the dances I made had meaning in them. Though meaning in Oriental dance comes with the feeling from the music in the moment, Egyptian film choreographers, already practicing with Western models, lavished theatrical dances on the films they made. So I considered this a suitable precedent. Choreography is Western meaning in art is Western, but how could I use these few Western elements, yet stay true to the soul of the dance?

I developed a systematic approach to dancemaking that took into account all the above issues. I wanted dances that were wonderful to dance and wonderful to view.

I began building improvisational frameworks that had something to say–while staying true to the dance’s core principles. I could choose stage patterns and a backstory without tying myself to exact steps (and I could throw them away if I pleased). The results were amazing. So I decided to share them. You are invited to a Webinar!

How to make a Dance without Steps

Yup. No need to agonize over setting steps. More fun to make, more fun to dance. Takes about an hour. Really.

How does this make the world a better place?

When we see joyous art, we feel that joy within ourselves. When we create joyous art, we free our ourselves–and our guests–from cares and pain. Even if only for a little while, everyone gets a vacation from everyday stress. It is a valid calling, to heal ourselves and the world.

Let’s do that. Here’s how.

Live WebClass

Wednesday, January 23, 2019
7-8 PM EST
Register here: https://bellydancesoul.webinarninja.com/live-webinars/78875/register
YES, there will be a recording.

See you then!

Love,
Alia

How to have the most beautiful dance (yes, really)

Recently in my practice, I enjoyed playing with The Most Beautiful Move. As the music unspooled, I let random moves appear, marveling over each one as The Most Beautiful I Have Ever Done. Continuing to follow the music, I let more moves come, and each of them was the Most Beautiful. It occurred to me, as I dusted a cloud of shimmering love over each move, that I could step up to The Most Beautiful Dance I Have Ever Done. I wondered what that would be like…

Well.

Everything changed.

My posture changed—it became more lifted. My face changed. It became more more relaxed, engaged—dare I say benevolent? My chin came up, not high, but straight. It’s funny, that a normal, relaxed head position that brings the chin and face to level, should feel haughty. This is how beaten down we/I have become over the years. Just taking up our own space, allowing our bodies to uncompress and uncrimp, should seem haughty.

There was a study I heard about, decades ago, that measured how much women and men spoke in a conversation. Generally, the men spoke more. Oh, surprise ; ). But when a woman spoke as much as a man (an equal amount), everyone—men and women—perceived that the woman overshadowed the conversation, that she spoke far more than her fair share of time. I have no idea how sturdy or flawed this study was, but that sounds about right. And it is instructive.

Women in general are expected to shut up and let men talk. Let men do. Let men be the center of attention. Our dance reverses that. Despite every effort to subvert it into something done at the behest of men.

Our dance gives dancers agency, beauty, and joy.

So why do we still duck our heads and feel ashamed of our dance? In the West, at least, so many of us have been encouraged to never feel good enough. To hide our accomplishments. To believe that loving ourselves, believing in ourselves, expressing ourselves, is vain, arrogant, selfish. Our dance becomes an apology for taking up space. Or we are afraid to share our dance, thinking that we will be somehow shamed. Because we have been shamed so many times.

You know the adage, “dance like no one is watching”? I understand it’s supposed to make us feel free. But maybe it’s time to dance like someone is watching. Someone who loves us.

Ourselves.

It is time we love ourselves. Believe in ourselves. Express ourselves. It is time we bring joy into our dance.

So.

I invite you to dance The Most Beautiful Dance You Have Ever Done.

Indeed, I invite you to dance this every time you dance.

Understand–for this is vital—it is the feeling, the commitment, the conviction, that is important.

What you do doesn’t matter. How you do it, the intention, the love, the cherishing with which you do it–that is the important part. That is the beautiful part. To allow ourselves to feel beautiful, loving, joyous—and through us for our guests to feel the same—this is the gift of our dance.

Embodiment: Musicality for Oriental Dance helps dancers understand the music so they can relax and enjoy themselves. It’s just one of the many great classes available at two for 1+ over on the Sharegasm. You’ll find them all at https://aliathabit.com/holiday18

Love,
Alia

PS Here’s the music I used—Hashet from O. Faruk Tekbilek’s Mystical Garden. It’s almost 9 minutes. Feel free to play it twice. Then rest. That’s what I did ❤️
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5SW4vJgaLvQ

What Dina Said II

Is belly dance like coffee? What does Dina think?

Back when I was a kid, you wanted coffee, that’s what you got. There wasn’t much choice. The only decaf was Sanka, and instant coffee was pretty much undrinkable. Now you go into a nice café, or even a small grocery store, and the assortment is dizzying. Coffee from Sumatra, Brazil, Columbia, East Timor, Bali, even Hawaii. There’s Fair Trade, Shade-Grown, Organic, light, dark, and medium roast—a stunning level of diversity.

Just like belly dance, right? Egyptian, American, Russian, Tribal, Fusion and on and on.

Right?

Well…

Dina said NO. 

This was at the Belly Dance Blossom Festival in May 2018. Dina Talaat (yes, the Dina) was a panel of one, taking questions from the audience.

Photo by Ken Dobb

We asked about the state of belly dance. “Is bad,” she said. “Every country takes belly dance for her own. Spanish belly dance, Russian belly dance. Is bad.”

“Is there Russian samba?” she asked. “No. Samba is samba. Why isn’t belly dance belly dance?”

“Samba is samba. Why isn’t belly dance belly dance?”

I had never really thought about this in such a way, but it makes sense. I’ve spent my time internalizing the big picture elements of belly dance—celebrating the feeling in the moment, incorporating the infinite variation of micromovement, and bringing joy. Everything else is window dressing– regional accent or personal style.

In addition, Dina’s point reminded of what Mo Geddawi had said at the same festival the previous year, when asked about a suitable name for belly dance. Egyptian dance, he said promptly. It comes from Egypt. Historically, when other Arab-speaking countries dance this dance, he explained, they call it raqs Masri—Masri being Arabic for Egyptian.

Dina (and Dr. Mo) want Egypt to get credit for this monumental addition to world culture. Even if Egypt herself is not willing to take the credit, even if, as she maintains, that raqs sharqi will never be the national dance of Egypt (Dina dismissed that hope with one word—Dream). Still, it’s from Egypt and that’s that. I can relate to that. So then we asked her, 

What is the number one foreign dancers mistake?

Dina said it’s that they don’t follow belly dancing. It’s not a style to mix, for example, Russian style. She said “Dancers go to Dubai and see hair dance, or erotic steps and mix that with belly dance. They call it belly dance. It’s not. Golden age dancers never used their hair like this. I’m different–but I do the same steps [as the golden age dancers]. To be different, you have to BE different, be you,” but the steps are the same. The dance is the dance.

“To learn belly dance for real is difficult,” she said, “but you have to do it, because you love this art and you have to do it real… Easy to dance and get money. To love this art, is not about money. It’s about the future of your art, where it’s going.”

What should beginners do?

Beginners should “learn technique first—torso (the hips and upper body), then take hands. Hands important, showing the step or moving the step. Don’t touch choreography before two years.” 

Dina’s ideas about teaching and learning really resonated for me. How many beginner classes start out with choreography? Most of them, right?

Mine don’t. When I teach beginners, we learn technique and improv and transitions. My Community College students can dance in 15 weeks. Yes, this dance takes your whole life, but they dance with more grace and confidence than lots of folks I see who’ve been dancing for years.

What is our responsibility as pro dancers?

“The new generation,” she said, “to teach them the truth of belly dance. This is Egyptian, this is the rules, 1 2 3 4, Oriental belly dance–and this–this is other thing. If you mix, it’s fusion. Call it fusion.”

And what do we call all our merging of belly dance with ballet, hip hop, kathak, and god knows what? What do we call that?

“Fusion,” she said. “Is a good word. Fusion.”

Okay. But where does this leave Turkish belly dance? 

Also Greek, Lebanese, and any other Near Eastern regional style?

Turkish dancer Birgul Beray from https://goo.gl/images/ZGPQqE

When Dr. Mo suggested Egyptian dance as a name, Yasmina Ramzy said, no, we can’t have that because we have Turkish etc.

Turkish stye is a fusion. But I believe it is also authentic. Here are three reasons off the top of my head.

  1. Turkish music is somewhat different–clarinet, influences, etc–so some of the dance differences are from representing the music, plus it’s regional accent, see below.
  2. The dancers there have a regional “accent” related to the local folklore and culture. I think that’s authentic, as everyone has that, no matter where they dance.
  3. The inclusion of Romani steps (and music). Here is where it’s mixing and now it’s fusion. And it is–though it is a venerable established thing. To me, it’s still belly dance.

Why? Leila Farid once told me that in Cairo, audiences expect a dancer to mix in some of the folklore from her native village. This is what the Romani dancers have done. So that’s authentic.

How is it different from us dancing the cancan to Peter Gunn in bellydance costumes? To me, that’s too many things that don’t go together. That’s clearly fusion (not to mention some hints of appropriation, depending on who what when where why).

Now, Dina or Dr. Mo might not agree with me.

They may well think that Turkish style is an abomination. The Ottomans did, after all, control Egypt for almost 300 years, and they are roundly disliked for it (which is why you don’t see much 9/8 in Egyptian music). And Egypt and Turkey have blamed each other for belly dance, neither willing to accept the blame (or credit) for being the originator of the dance.

But the Romani people are not Turkish. They are a separate ethnic group, an oppressed people who take on the styles of their oppressors to make a living from them. So they get special dispensation.

What’s the answer? Yes, you can certainly say it’s fusion, however it’s
A. Very old, and
B. the unique creation of an entire ethnic group. So I think we can still say Turkish style, just like we always have ; ).

And there you are.

Dina’s points make sense to me, especially having explored the differences between Eastern and Western values though writing Midnight at the Crossroads. Belly dance is a uniquely magical, healing, creative, expressive dance form–it deserves to be valued for itself.

Wikipedia says, “The native (undomesticated) origin of coffee is thought to have been Ethiopia, with several mythical accounts but no solid evidence. The earliest substantiated evidence of either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree is from the early 15th century, in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen,[1] spreading soon to Mecca and Cairo.”

So coffee is another thing, like belly dance, that comes to us from Africa. Clearly, there are some similarities. But everyone seems to be happy to let coffee become nativised in country after country. The thing with coffee, though, is that it’s still coffee, no matter where it’s grown. The species doesn’t change. It has regional differences due to terroir, but it’s the same plant. It’s the same stuff. 

Belly dance hasn’t always fared so well. When we see our dance through Western eyes instead of an Eastern perspective, we start to lose its most important attributes–feeling, improvisation, and joy. And then belly dance becomes something very different–stylized, externally focused, competitive, and performative. Yet, in its home environment it is internal, joyous, social, healing, and free. So in this way, it is unlike coffee. 

Both coffee and belly dance are are delicious and addictive. But if I drink too much coffee, I get a headache and my armpits stink. Too much Western culture does this, too. Belly dance never does that to me. So there’s that ; )

Over the years, I’ve developed classes that teach technique, improvisation, musicality, and composition from a clear Eastern perspective. Some of them are coming up (details are below), but whatever classes you take, or styles you dance, these are things to think about.
So let me know what you think ; )

Love,

Alia

PS I’m on Instagram!

@BellyDanceSoul, or instagram.com/BellyDanceSoul Come say hi!

And I’m enjoying the Bellydance Bundle’s #21DaysOfBellyDance Instagram Challenge. I did Day 1 so far. Check it out: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bnpc6WZgWNV/

My ridiculously cute Un-Drill video airs today on Instagram! It’s part of the Bellydance Bundle’s #21DaysofBellyDance. See it at https://www.instagram.com/p/BnrC4VqnexX/

Follow along—and get your free 21-Day Practice Guide right here: https://aliathabit.com/Bundle-21Day-Guide

Fall Calender

Sept 23-Nov 3
Effortless Improv, a Six-week Online Improvisation Crash Course
Want to improvise with joy and ease? You can! Effortless is a forum-based course with daily exercises and accountability. More at   aliathabit.com/effortless

Oct 1
The Belly Dance Bundle Returns!
Over $1000 worth of belly dance madness. 27 contributors. Over 80% off! I’m making a class on Musicality. See more at https://aliathabit.com/bundle

Nov 4-Dec 8
Glorious: A Five-Week Course about the Five-Part Routine
Each week we will: Highlight one part of the routine. Dance through an entire routine (different every time). Each class will be recorded. Each recording will be available for one week. There will also be a Q&A video/phone conference each week. Students will learn structure, moods, and technique, as well as practice improvising through the routine. This is so fresh it doesn’t even have a sales page. Trust the Chef Premium Earlybird Pricing (until Oct 8): $69 (full price $99). Link goes straight to Paypal. Please copy and paste if the link is not clickable. 
https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=WGXCTY2AW22LW

Special Super Early Deal: Buy both Effortless and Glorious for $219 (full price $249). Only until Sept 18. Link goes straight to Paypal. Please copy and paste if the link is not clickable. 
https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=J6TXSY3DF6WXN

What Dina Said

This past May I attended Yasmina Ramzy’s final Belly Dance Blossom festival. I was fortunate to be on the panel Raqs Sharqi as Revolutionary, with Christine Sahin and Amara of NYC. It was fabulous, as are all of Yasmina’s events. But the main attraction was Dina Talaat (yes, THE Dina).

Dina taught a workshop each day, was the sole member of a panel discussion, and performed in the show Saturday night.

Her Friday workshop, I gave up even attempting to follow. Saturday brought another two-hour workshop. This time I was better able to follow along (as were many other folks, so I think it was just easier ;).

While I was there, I took a few notes for you.

First, she said some interesting things.

“I never turn from a cross. It’s ugly. No bellydancer should turn from a cross. You have the long skirts, and, uhhh,” she shuddered (By cross, she meant crossed legs. I’m just reporting, folks. We’ve all seen gorgeous turns from crossed legs—like every barrel turn ever).

“You explain the mawaal with your body, so you have to go with the words. You can’t be early. Wait for the words,” ie the movement you make must be hinged to the timing of the words of the mawaal. (Mawaal is vocal improvisation).

“The mawaal is slow, you have to dance slow. It is more difficult to dance slow. The good dancers show what they can do with the slow. Anyone can dance fast.” (I’ve heard this from others Egyptian dancers, too).

“Shimmy comes from the knees (shimmy from the floor is ghawazi). It must be very tiny. Keep legs and feet closed.”

I also noted a few things about her style.

She shimmies a lot (very tiny) on one leg. She shimmies like this on extended vowels from the singer (among other places).

Her mouth is relaxed and open when she dances, even when she demonstrates the moves.

She does these little flat-footed quarter-turn pivots, where both feet appear to be on the floor the whole time, and she often chains then together.

And for that conversation about getting up from the floor, while Dina never went to the floor, but she often did accents or small hip circles all the way down, but she never then came right up to standing—instead she released the head and upper body to the front, so she could toss the hair back and roll up (much, much easier).

And then there was her show…

There’s a reason she’s so famous.

First of all, it was a tremendous outpouring of energy, maybe the highest-energy show I have ever seen. The woman is a powerhouse.

She danced on a recording of her band. The sound quality of the recording wasn’t splendid, but oh well. She was.

She does a LOT of complicated, complex stuff, but it’s just thrown away, part of the whole. She didn’t show off technique.

She loved all of us We could feel it <3.

And the clothes!
She changed costumes four times (link to pix below).

The first was somewhere between chartreuse and acid yellow. It was the most “normal,” simple bra and straight skirt design. It had a big sparkly star around the high slit and a sparkly bra. Her stomach was bare.

Photo by Ken Dobb.

The second was a straight blue skirt (like a French blue leaning towards violet), open on one side with funky flat silver decorations. Never seen anything like it. It was build on nude mesh. The bra was half silver and half green and red stones, yet somehow understated. Her tummy was covered in nude mesh.

Photo by Ken Dobb

The third was silver-gray lace, heavily textured, covered stomach (I can’t remember her arms). It was gorgeous and not really sparkly, more subtle.

Photo by Ken Dobb

The fourth. Was black lace and ribbons (I think) on nude mesh. I thank god there is a picture, because I can’t describe it. It was splendid.

Photo by Ken Dobb

So, that’s Dina.

With all my love
Alia

 

All of Ken Dobb’s pix from the Saturday show. If you poke around you can see his pix of all the events from the weekend.

https://www.facebook.com/ken.dobb/media_set?set=a.10155229839837062.1073742121.595582061&type=3

 

Why Belly Dance is like–the Matrix?! (and how to get your red pill)

In the iconic film, The Matrix, Neo is offered a choice: The blue pill or the red pill?

The blue pill lets you stay in the cave, living an illusion of life. The red pill–ah, that’s another story. The red pill means opening your eyes to hidden things. It changes your life. Awakens you. Frees you from illusion.

Belly dance is like this.

In belly dance, we have the well-known Westernized version of the dance–stylized, flashy choreographies with an emphasis on appearance and athleticism. There is drilling, a push to perform, and a perfectionist agenda. That’s the blue pill. The illusion. So what is the red pill?

The belly dance red pill is the lesser-known Eastern version of the dance. It values feeling, playfulness, improvisation, and joy. It makes everyone beautiful. It heals pain, brings pleasure, and lights up  the world. No, we don’t get to stride through the lobby blasting high-tech weapons into jackbooted guards. But we don’t have Agent Smith out to get us, either.

And there is one other difference. The Matrix red pill led to a harsher, more dangerous reality. The belly dance red pill leads to a more loving, compassionate life.  We get to enjoy our dance more–and bring joy to others.

Um, no brainer, right?

 

Take the Red Pill, Neo

Take the red pill.

Here are a few red pills for your consideration…

Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its soul? is one giant red pill. It shows the differences between Eastern and Western mindsets, the surprising benefits to Eastern style, and practical strategies for embracing soul of the dance. Find out more at bellydancesoul.com.

The 90-Day Dance Party Challenge is three full months of red pill. It’s a daily dose of inspiration, improvisation, and illumination. It’s available right here: aliathabit.com/90Days/

And to kick it off, how about Alia and Amity’s Awesome Winter Weekend? Another red pill, it’s a two-day all-inclusive retreat, February 10-11, filled with dance, friends, food, and fun. Check it out at   aliathabit.com/awesome-winter-retreat

And the Whole Red Pill Enchilada?

Get the Retreat and the 90 Days and get a SUPER EARLY FREE BONUS: a signed print copy of midnight ($45 value) PLUS a month of Alia’s Kickass Creativity Coaching ($185 value). Red Pill your Life!

Kickass coaching includes

  • 1 hour introductory phone/skype VIP Intensive
  • Goal setting, support, and accountability
  • Weekly email exchange
  • 30-minute wrap-up phone/skype call
  • Any month in 2018

WOW!

The Whole Enchilada:

  • Amity and Alia’s Awesome Winter Retreat ($275)
  • Alia’s 90 Day Dance Challenge ($100)
  • A signed print copy of Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its soul? ($45)
  • A month of VIP Kickass Coaching ($185)

That’s $605 worth of awesomeness for only $375.

Click here:

But only for 10 people (or until the Retreat sells out, whichever comes first).

Just call me Morpheus ; )

Love,

Alia

Why belly dance is like hummus ( and how to make it right)

It’s a funny thing about food, especially ethnic food. However your grandmother made something, that’s the way it’s supposed to taste. Unless you never met your grandmother, or she couldn’t cook worth a damn, of course. That happens, and I’m sorry. But for most of us, she’s the heaven to which we aspire, the yardstick by which we measure all other things.

My kids never got to taste my grandmother’s hummus, but I did, and they got to taste mine. Ironically, I learned how to make hummus from my non-Arabic mom, but she learned from my grandmother. So it’s not a matter of ethnicity, but understanding and valuing.

So the kids know what it’s supposed to taste like, and what’s supposed to be in it (and so will you, shortly). And oh my god, you should hear my daughter’s disdain for what she calls “hippie hummus.”

You’ve eaten it, I’m sure.

Bland, grainy, tainted by sun-dried veggies or roasted garlic, or even made with other legumes entirely! Like non-basil pesto with no pine nuts, such foods may be fine inventions on their own, but they are not hummus, which has a specific ingredient list and texture.

Hummus bi-tahini means chickpeas with tahini. So there are two essential ingredients right there. The others are massive quantities of fresh garlic and lemon juice, and some olive oil. In addition, a smooth, creamy texture is essential. Everything else is frippery.

I realize this is a bit draconic. But this is the way I learned. I’m Levantine (Syria, Lebanon, Paelestine). So if you’re fam is from somewhere else and the ratios are different, that’s fine. But I have been to a ton of old school restaurants and they all make the same hummus, so I’m not just being nostalgic. It’s a real thing.

Belly dance is also a real thing.

It has a basic recipe. It varies by region, but like chickpeas and tahini, there are basic ingredients and textures that one changes at one’s peril, and with each variation it becomes further removed from its own truth.

What are the basic ingredients of belly dance?

For me, there are three basic ingredients, though each one expands to encompass several other things. These include the basic movement vocabulary, the music, and three conceptual frameworks: the feeling in the moment, same but different, and bring the joy.

The further you get from these basic ingredients, the further you get from belly dance as a cultural jewel, the closer you get to white bean dip with sun dried tomatoes and soy sauce calling itself hummus. That is to say, it won’t make sense to its own people.

Most of us are familiar with the movement vocabulary, less so with the music, and often not at all with these textural concepts. Let’s take a closer look at them, with the music in context, since the music and the dance go together like chickpeas and tahini.

1. The feeling in the moment

This is the dancer’s feeling from the music, which she shares with her guests, both its emotional timbres and her body’s enjoyment of the movement itself as it follows and interacts with the music. The goal is to embody the music, to be connected to it and to any guests in a visceral, immediate way.

Most of us are trained to judge how we look and ignore the pleasure of the movement. What if we flip that and get back to enjoying how the dance feels?

2. Same but different

Musicians of the culture pride themselves on never making a song the same way twice. The melody and rhythm may stay the same, but the feeling and the ornaments change. In addition, musicians tweak the notes themselves to better express their feeling in the moment.

Dancers who improvise make their dance different every time. Even with choreography this us possible, allowing the body to react from its feeling today differently from yesterday. In addition to this, we have micromovent, with which we tweak the dynamics of our movement, their force, speed shapes and textures.

Why spend all our energy on perfecting choreos? We have all this agency as dancers. What if we take this back, teach this, and give dancers this confidence? Even groups of beginners can do this. And it’s beautiful.

3. Bring the joy.

The arts of the near and middle east tend to have the intention of meditative entrainment. You see it in the music in the concept of tarab, musical ecstacy. We’re talking joy. The dance is always characterized as a dance of joy. It is meant to bring joy, to the dancer, musicians, and any guests.

Yet so much of what I see is dancers working hard or showing off. When our goal is to engage a room in joy, to give joy rather than to get approval, our dance changes. What if we dance to experience and to share our love and joy?

These are important questions, important skills worthy of the time and effort it takes to change our focus. So we might need some food to sustain us…

Here’s my Grandmother’s Hummus Recipe

You’ll need a blender or food processor.

  • 1 can of chickpeas, up to 20 oz.
  • Freshly squeezed juice of five lemons (nice juicy ones).
  • An entire bulb of garlic (nice and fat. Really).
  • Tahini to taste
  • Salt to taste (if any)
  • Olive oil to drizzle on top

If all that garlic scares you, put it with the lemon juice and blend that first. Blend the hell out of it.

Then do the same with the chickpeas. Add them to the liquid and blend until it is liquified, smooth, smooth, smooth.

Add tahini to taste. This is a bit subjective. Too little and the hummus stays watery and gross. Too much and it gets bitter. Just enough and it suddenly becomes creamy and pale and delicious. It usually takes a few tablespoons. (Please note, this is how I cook. It’s a little slap dash, but it works.)

Olive oil drizzled on top, and or mixed in. Tastes vary.

Serve with pocket bread, marouk (super flat mountain bread) or even veggies. I can live with fresh veggies, lol.

So there you have it. Belly dance and hummus. Let me know how it goes.

Love,

Alia

How to empower authenticity in performance

Last week, the toilet in my house backed up. It wasn’t the toilet, exactly, but some obstruction between it and the septic tank. Which hadn’t been pumped in over twenty-five years. Which is generally a Bad Thing, but it has worked perfectly all this time. The simple solution was to open the tank and snake backwards from there to break up the obstruction (and pump it, because, why not).

There was only one problem.

I only had the vaguest idea where that dang tank was (it had been decades since I last saw it). On top of that (so to speak), two feet of fresh, heavy, wet snow covered everything. We managed, but it took three guys several hours of intense effort to do the job. It would have been a lot easier if we’d known where to look.

Finding our authenticity is a lot like this.

We know we have an authentic self down there somewhere, but danged if we know where (or how) to find it. Why is that?

I wonder if it is connected to how the dance is currently taught.

Most of us are taught through choreography. We focus on how we look rather than how the dance feels in our bodies. We learn stylized versions of each move and copy the teacher as we fit them together in chains of movement. Chains is an apt metaphor here, because when we are constantly doing what we are told, what does that make us? Yeah. Not cool.

So what’s the alternative?

One of the key aspects of our dance is Agency. We belly dancers don’t need no stinkin’ badges. We are not anyone else’s to direct. We have all the power–we make all our own decisions in the moment. This is pretty heady stuff. But when all we do is pre-set choreography (even our own), we don’t have much time to engage with the moment–we are too busy remembering and executing an exact set of steps. For many of us, this pushes us away from power, confidence, and the authenticity that comes with them.

When we do our own creative heavy lifting, however, we regain our agency. We have creative control in the moment, at every moment. We become skilled improvisers. But improvisation often scares dancers raised on choreography. And why is that?

Perfectionism.

Perfectionism is the bane of our existence. Yeah, yeah, we all want things to be good. Blah blah. Whatever. I’m not talking about quality control. I’m talking about the serious problem of dancers hating on themselves to the extent that they are afraid to take the tiniest risk for fear of Making a Mistake.

Amity Alize owning the moment.

First off, there is no true learning without mistakes.

It just doesn’t happen. No one can be Little Miss Perfect all the time, try as we might. Remember that thing about omelettes and broken eggs? Yeah. Can’t have one without the other. There’s a reason it’s called a Comfort Zone. Going outside it is uncomfortable.

Though you may feel frustrated at first, after a while, you get used to the feeling of learning and start to welcome it. And yes, you can do all this on your own, but it’s nice to have (or be) a teacher who empowers students’ artistic growth. But how to do do that?

Teachers empower authenticity by providing Opportunity, Scaffolding, and Practice of creative agency.

This means they make space for student creativity in performance. They provide opportunities and create a series of baby steps to walk the student through the process. And they do this over and over again, tweaking the process and providing practical, productive feedback along the way.

Practice doesn’t make perfect–it helps us recover more gracefully from mistakes. That graceful recovery, where we surf over all the weird, effed-up random stuff that happens in a show (or in life), while laughing with our guests? That’s where we want to be.

I’ll be teaching a one-hour video class on Empowering Authenticity for the Belly Dance Business Academy’s Online Teaching Summit, May 22-26, 2017.

The Summit will run 25 classes in 5 days with leading experts in the belly dance community. You can participate from your computer anywhere in the world. There will be 30 minute versions of each class available for free during the summit, but you can also purchase the entire package at a ridiculously cheap early bird price. Then you OWN ALL the classes and can watch at your leisure, AND you get bonus interviews and pdf extras from each teacher.

If you (or your teacher or your friends), might like this, please share with them this special, early-bird link:  http://bellydancebusinessacademy.teachable.com/p/teaching-summit-early-bird/?

Love and thanks,

Alia