Can you be sad on stage?

Dancemeditation and Open Heart Belly Dance are venues for exploring and releasing charged emotional states in a safe, titrated way.

One of those genre conventions in Oriental dance is the admonition that, “You can’t be sad on stage.” But can you? When? How?

Dancers use plenty of complex orchestral works and tarab songs (which didn’t used to be dance music). Many of them express shifting emotional states, not all of which are happy. Do we dance that? 

Then we get yelled at for dancing happy to perky songs with sad lyrics. So… wth?

There are a few things going on here. 

One is that it’s a good thing to understand the context of your music. Sometimes composers intentionally oppose the emotional content with the mood of the music itself. So some sad songs may sound happy and surely there are some happy songs that sound sad ; ). When we know what’s going on, we can play with these oppositions.  

(Most of the time, you can feel the emotional context of a song without knowing the lyrics, but knowing is always good.) 

And you definitely DO want to express the emotional nuances of the music, whatever they may happen to be. Even sad, nostalgic, yearning, and so forth. 

What about anger?

There is not a lot of anger in Oriental dance music—it’s purpose is to bring joy and entrain meditative states—but it does come out in some folkloric music such as Turkish Roman, and in some post-revolution Egyptian sha’abi, and mahragan. 

Mohamed Salah, a dancer in the Reda troupe who taught at the Belly Dance Blossom festival in Canada, talked about the anger and violence expressed in street dance in Cairo—oriental dance vocabulary used to express the frustration and anger the people felt after the collapse of the revolution. This is pretty radical, and demonstrates the vibrance and elasticity of Oriental dance. I am fascinated by this as a phenomenon. More about this in a bit… 

But back to the sad thing…

The issue is dancer attitude. When we come onto a stage, it’s our job to bring joy to the guests. This is one of our biggest genre conventions. We bring the joy. 

So we can’t very well go out and mope around because our life is in the toilet. When we perform, we are there for the guests. No one goes to a nightclub to be depressed, or to feel sorry for the performers. 

We can and do reference any emotions that we feel in the music. 

One of the beauties of the dance is its ability to hold complex emotions in a container of joy. When Souzan Healy (a wonderful dancer form Florida), was researching the maqam Saba (popularly known as the “the sad maqam”), she came upon the concept of, “this sad thing happened a long time ago; listen, I will tell you the story.”  

The sad time is in the past. The present moment is filled with intimate joy that we share together. It is a container to hold this past sorrow, to give us distance, perspective, closure. 

I love this so much! It is an integral part of our dance’s capacity to resolve pain, stress, and grief. 

So in performance we are performers. 

But!

In our own practice we may explore any number of issues that come up. We may intentionally address sorrow, anger, grief, guilt, fear, allow ourselves to feel them and let them pass through us. When we dance in our practice, it is for ourselves–we go where we will. Dancemeditation and Open Heart Belly Dance are venues for exploring and releasing charged emotional states in a safe, titrated way.

Our personal practice exploration of what arises can help us access our own true responses to the music and free ourselves of emotional limitations and roadblocks. As we integrate all of this over time, we open ourselves to a wider range of expression and greater confidence in our movement. We may want to bring this new awareness into our art. ​

Hello, theatrical fusion….

As artists we may have a lot to say. ​We may explore all kinds of more intense emotional expression in performance—in theatrical pieces. For example, here is Syria. It’s war-torn themes are not at all traditional. So it is presented as theatrical fusion.

–> On this note, watch out for Wonderland: Theatrical Expression through Oriental Dance, coming soon.

Confidence is everything. Attitude is everything. When we believe in ourselves, others will too. 

Here’s Merçan Dede’s album Dünya

Love, 
Alia

PS I have a few scratch n dent copies of Midnight at the Crossroads: has belly dance sold its soul? available at a deep discount. They are here: https://aliathabit.com/shop/#books

PPS if you missed signing up for Bedrock II: Transitions and Combinations, you’re in luck! Our Week 1 recording is still available, and Week 2 is coming up! Registration will remain open through Tuesday. https://aliathabit.com/shop/#live

How to Nurture the Spark

nurture the spark

I last performed live, with real people in real time, September of 2019. Yeah, that was a while back. Now, I rarely see anyone (well, except for grocery shopping, and my son, who lives with me right now). So I dance at home by myself. 

Or, I should say, with myself. 

I first started doing this several years ago, when I started making little videos on my laptop with a webcam. Previously, I had struggled with video, as I recorded it on little cameras and I couldn’t see what I was doing. I’d have to set up my dance area in the camera’s viewfinder before I danced, and if I bumped the darn thing without noticing, all I had done was unusable. 

But with the laptop and the webcam, everything changed. 

Suddenly I had a monitor. 

I could see myself! 

Fortunately, I had come far enough in my trauma resolution journey that I had come to actually like myself, and to like my dancing. (In the past, I had generally been mortified by my dance on video. Like, awash in shame. I didn’t like myself in the mirror in class any better, and generally stood where I couldn’t see myself…

Anyway, finally I could enjoy my own dancing. And what I found was that as I looked through the camera to all the people on the other side with great joy and love—that I was also smiling happily at the dancer on the monitor (myself ), and dancing with her. Together, we were having a good time. 

Needless to say, the videos became better ; ).

I don’t make videos every time I dance. But I do have a lot of mirrors scattered around the house (I am a dancer ; ). At first I began to give myself an encouraging smile every time I passed by. Soon I started dancing with myself in the mirror. 

Now I do it all the time. 

One of the things I focus on in my practice is my focus—being invested in a specific direction, projecting my energy and joy. The mirrors give me someplace to focus—and I get to grin at and flirt with myself while I do it. 

It is a scientific fact that smiling makes one happier. Even holding a pencil in the teeth, which stretches the mouth into an approximation of a grin, makes one happier. Seriously, people have studied this. Twinkling, as you may have noticed when you tried it, also makes one happier. I don’t think that’s been formally studied, but hey. It still works ; ).

Sooo…

Whatever brings a spark of happiness is worth cultivating.

This week, let’s notice the little things that bring us joy. The sun or a sweet breeze on our skin. A bird’s nest in a tree. (The melting snow up here in Vermont). A wonderful color combination or a lovely sound. The small things. Whatever it is, take notice. Collect these. Let more and more things bring a smile to you. Remember them. Take pleasure in them. Like Frederick the mouse, use these precious joys to help you through. 

The more we take the time to feel good, to enjoy ourselves, pleasant sensations, beautiful things, the more we build our resiliency and strength. 

Life can be pretty challenging. It’s soooo easy to get sucked into the vortex of pain and dread. We may even feel guilty for enjoying ourselves, for having any fun at all. So let’s take action on the positive side to keep ourselves together. 

I invite you to bring expressive joy into your dance this week.

Dance like someone is watching, a lot of them, and they are all wonderful friends—us, for example, your dance friends. Flirt and laugh with us, be naughty, have fun, show your joy. 

I invite you to notice and bask in the good, however it comes to you. Buy a pretty postcard and tack it up in your dance space. Or a piece of cloth, or whatever gives you a rush of beauty. 

I invite you to practice loving yourself, seeing yourself as beautiful, having compassion and warmth for yourself. Give yourself some smiles in the mirror.  Give yourself some hugs and love at the end of your dance session. 

You are beautiful and you are loved. 

Truly. 

Next week we’ll have our spring schedule! This week….

I am dancing online!

As part of the Raq-On Gala and Auction. It’s a pretty cool event to help the studio survive covid. Amity has been working double hours and selling all her costumes through 2020 to keep the lights on and the rent paid.

It is also a celebration of 10 years for the studio.

I met Amity about 20 years ago when she appeared in my dance class, a shy local teenager. Belly dance captivated her! She embraced the dance and the creation of community. Everywhere she went, she created vibrant spaces for dance, despite utterly surreal levels of wtf (crazy landlords, the death of her long-time love, spaces disappearing, covid, the works).

She has sponsored endless workshops with revered teachers, traveled to Egypt many times, performed often with live musicians of the culture, and generally devoted herself to this dance.

I’m so impressed by her accomplishments in myriad enterprises–all of which have subsidized dance now that dance could not subsidize itself.

I feel so fortunate in meeting as we did and all the dance life we have shared–and seeing Amity grow and blossom as an artist, and a human being, with so much generosity of soul. It is an honor for me to be part of what this beloved dance daughter has created.

I am the opening act–will you please join me? I look forward to dancing for you, and for Amity!

The Auction runs Feb 13-20. It is free to shop and drool over at all the cools stuff, from hipscarves to costumes to dancer art prints, custom Egyptian cartouche pendants. Link will be posted here on Feb 13
https://www.facebook.com/events/714386902790880/

The Show is Feb 20, 7pm est. Tickets are sliding scale, starting at $5. Tix available here.
https://raqon-102776.square.site/product/feb-20th-gala-show-ticket/141?cs=true&cst=custom

THANK YOU for helping to support our dance.

Holding you close in my heart, 

Alia

The Difference Between Private and Public Dance (and why we need both)

public vs private dance

This may seem pretty obvious, but somehow it isn’t. 

I’m sitting on my couch with my bare feet up on the coffee table, laptop balanced on my lap, lol. I do a LOT of writing like this. My hair is awry. The eyeliner I put on this morning for a meeting is now largely under my eyes instead of around them. I’m in my own personal space where no one has to look at me. While it is true that I sometimes leave the house like this, I do avoid it—because, yes, the messier we are when we leave the house, the more likely we will run into someone we wish hadn’t seen us quite so unkempt ; ). 

Inside is private (relatively, anyway). Outside is public. 

Inside my own home, I can lounge around déshabillé. Outside, I don’t. 

So it is with dance. If I am to dance in public—from socially at a party to professionally for a show—I like to be presentable at the very least. The higher profile the event, the better I dress, the more careful I am with my makeup. And I dance very differently. 

Dancing with friends at a bar is casual. At a wedding is more upscale. A performance at a wedding is way more upscale. Each of these has a certain level of care invested. 

At home, pffft! I can dance in my underwear—or naked, by candlelight. I can roll around on the floor, make weird noises, and drool if I want to (I don’t think I have ever drooled, but I could). 

Just think of how horrid life would be if we were always on display—always had to be well-dressed and well-behaved, even in our sleep. Yuck, amirite? We’d go mad in short order. We need to have down time, slop time, relaxed anything-goes time. 

(me typing) 

Well, the same thing holds true for dance.

The body needs to unload all its accumulated stress and strain.

It needs to be able to move in potentially un-pretty, ungraceful, possibly even raw, ugly ways. 

Dirt is dirt. If we don’t wash it off every so often, it builds up—which makes it a lot harder to remove, plus it feels icky, even squalid. Sustained stress is like dirt on the soul. Free dance can help scrub it off. 

The problem is that we often expect ourselves to dance all perfect all the time, which is super stressful and unrewarding. 

Instead, let’s bring a sense of curiosity and experimentation into our dance. Let’s bring our weird faces and awkward movement. Undancerly prancing and over the top drama queen, little-kid pretending, broken crawling, and sensual writhing. In short, let it all hang out. 

Wahoo, right? Um….

Wait, what if we actually do this in public <gasp!>

The reality is that it depends upon the situation. In the same way that we have a decent idea about how to behave in an assortment of public settings. we have a pretty good idea of how to dance in them, too. 

And while becoming an expert free-dance improviser will probably loosen up our public persona, give us a little more personality, playfulness, and vibrancy, we probably won’t roll on the floor and drool in front of the wedding party (unless it is that kind of wedding, lol). 

I have been dancing this way for a very long time. I did once kinda go off script, but I had given myself permission. So that doesn’t count ; ).

But what about the dance police?! 

Those folks who live to hand out tickets for dance faux pas, who are not happy with anything we do?

Leila Farid told me the more Egyptians liked her dance, the happier they became with her, the more mean, hurtful comments American dancers posted on her youtube videos. Isn’t that interesting? Lots of native dancers tell me they have also been shunned because their dance doesn’t match what some Western perfectionist thinks our dance should be.

Sure, we need to have technique if we are going to be professional dancers. But! We also need to understand, value, and embody the cultural aesthetics of the dance we are doing.

In Oriental dance, improvisation, relaxation, agency, playfulness, and verve are vital.

We get a lot of technique, but we don’t get a lot of improvisation, relaxation, agency, playfulness, and verve. 

So here we are. 

Let it out.

In the studio, in a safe class, find somewhere you can let down your hair and not worry or care.

Your public dance will thank you for it. 

Belly Dance BEDROCK is one place you can let go and move as your body wishes. We start with centering, dissect and re-pattern some bedrock movement vocabulary, and then we PLAY.
Here’s what folks said in the first class:

This way feels so much better. The whole “use the obliques to lift the top of the hip” method never felt great for me.

I get less tired lifting the hip from under

This makes it so much richer

It feels so effortless

It’s amazing how you feel the psoas by thinking of the movement

I love your approach, Alia!

We’ve completed the first live class, but you can still catch the replay, and join us for the next 4 classes.

Register for Bellydance BEDROCK here

.

Tuning In is a balm for the nervous system. Every week, a half-hour shower to cleanse and regulate the nervous system. Tuning In 6 starts Friday. Register here.

I look forward to moving with you!

Love,
Alia

Here’s some music from the Rahim AlHaj Trio

How about a nice vacation?

We’re getting down to the wire here. In the USA, elections are in less than three weeks. Covid is spiking worldwide. The centuries-long other pandemic of systemic oppression is going strong, too, with a rise in fascism, racism, and xenophobia across the planet. Who wouldn’t like a vacation? Oh, wait. We can’t really travel…

Good thing we dance!

We’ve all gone to a belly dance class feeling crappy and come out feeling light-years better. And even though most of us don’t go in person now, there are so many online options! (Yes, there are issues around bandwidth, and so forth, so I always have recordings, and I edit those recordings to bring down their size.) Mostly we think of classes as things at which we work.

Let’s think of them as mini vacations!

We get to let go of the real world, feed our souls, and nurture our bodies, all at once.

Humans are not suited to suffer endlessly. No living creature is. Chronic stress isn’t just unpleasant; it has serious health effects. We can grit our teeth and get through it, but what will really help is stepping back from our pain, especially when we can do that in nurturing ways.

Like a belly dance vacation!

To really dig in to this, I’ve enriched all my classes with extra vacation goodness–especially now.

Our next Deep Dive, Open Heart Belly Dance,

We’l connect Dancemeditation, Somatic Experiencing, and Oriental dance into a rich, luscious roll in joy. It’s all follow-me and improvisation with centering and grounding, breath, expansion, and interoceptive body-awareness, a soothing balm for the soul. Lower your heart rate, soothe your senses, and dance better, too!

What we’ll do
*Nurture pleasure and self-compassion
* Bask in the moment of improvisation
* Allow our own body’s wisdom to bring the moves to us
This is NOT about perfection, drills, or copying
This IS about enriching personal style, musicality, improv ease, and joy in the moment​

Little talk, lots of unique exercises, modeling, and guided practice.​

Open Heart runs from Tuesday, October 20 through Tuesday, Nov 17m from 4-5PM EDT See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link).

Of course, a lot of us are super broke now too, so Open Heart has Pandemic Pricing, including payment plans, sliding scale, and Pay What You Will.

Registration is now open! https://aliathabit.com/shop/#live

With all my love,
Alia

PS Of course, many of us are saving up for The Belly Dance Bundle, because it’s such a deal.

That goes on sale next week. It’s in two tracks this year (or you can get both).
The Dance Track.
The Lecture Track.
There is a STUNNING amount of cool stuff in each track
I contributed a deep dive into Taqsim this year — Here is my podcast on Taqsim, and my Instagram Challenge UnDrill Taqsim video for your enjoyment (I’m Day 6). More on this next week!
Big hugs to everyone!

Arabesque: Arts of the Fathers

The 2020 hits just keep on coming (talkin’ to you, endless fires), so today’s post will be short and escapist ; )

As I continued to explore the concepts I found in my Dad’s art, I started focusing on a more Arabic form of expression–by using the Symmetry feature on my phone. Whatever I draw gets mirrored both horizontally and vertically. I’ve used this before, but mostly in one direction. Adding all those lines and outlines to my squiggles, though–voila! Symmetry turns my squiggle into a beautiful pattern–Arabesque! It has been a ridiculous amount of fun!

This is the first one that really said YES. More followed!

As I shared these images with friends, the comment that kept coming back was, This would make a great phone case! So, I am making them into phone cases (and a few other things). This one is the first–there are more to come. I have to agree they are adorable (it has also been really fun to actually like my own art. This has been one of the most remarkable side benefits of SE).

While we are on the subject of Arabic expression, I was delighted to attend North African Dance: Resistance and Performance, part of Hanan’s Shimmy Shift Pivot series, with Algerian dancers Esraa Warda and Amel Tafsout. I don’t know how long it will be up, so watch fast. It is worth the time to see two articulate native dancers discuss their art. Hanan created Havana Habibi–an oriental dance festival in Cuba. Everything she does is super interesting.

Effortless Improv is coming this fall! Plus the Belly Dance Bundle will be back. More info soon ; )

If you need some settling during these crazy time, Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times starts next week.

I look forward to dancing with you!
Love,
Alia

And on the topic of dance, the second half of Amity’s Online August retreat is this weekend–with Sahra Saeeda and Tamalyn Dallal. I very much enjoyed the first half and look forward to the second half! Info and registration is here.

Ataraxia and You

Back at the end of February, I had the pleasure of a tarot reading by my friend, Catti. We’ve done several of these over the last few years, and they are always inspiring and rich, helping me to understand what is going on in my life. This time, I was curious about where to focus my attention in the coming months. I’ve had some shifts that point towards finding new pathways, so I asked Catti’s cards, basically, which way I should go. 

They said, welp, major things are happening (three major arcana cards in a row, including the Tower), but you don’t know which way to go because—it’s just not clear yet. You’ll have to step carefully and have faith. 

On the one hand, I was like, well huh. On the other, it’s always good to know that it’s not just me—the way really is cloudy. 

As it happens, this was just before Coronavirus smashed into our daily life.

Which brings me to Ataraxia

It’s a Greek word that means “to be content knowing that you don’t know everything.” This is what my Literature prof told me in college. I fell in love with the word right then and there.  Because I am content knowing that I don’t know everything. I have a healthy respect for mystery. I am content to wait for things to unfold. Time is a real thing, and sometimes things aren’t ready yet. So you have to wait. 

Evening Green

Now, it is also true I have spent an inordinate amount of my life waiting. I have spent entire years unable to plan what I would do in five days, as I waited for some kind of sign. And I have planned entire years in five minutes flat.  

At the time of this reading, I feel impatient, yet mystified. Like I am in the middle of a transformation, that place where the caterpillar has dissolved into goo, before the butterfly starts to form. Hence my tarot question. And having it thrown right back to me—”Sorry, your question can’t be answered at this time. Be of good cheer,” was, well frustrating. 

So, Ataraxia. 

Recently, I found another definition of ataraxia—in Andrea Deagon’s wonderful novel, The Dancer from Tyre. It was, “freedom from care—the conscious setting aside of things that wear down the soul.” 

This definition made me love the word even more. And it’s something for us to think about in these (or any) troubled times. 

It is unhealthy and unwise to stew in despair, fear, or anger. The world news is enough to give us all panic attacks every day. And what good does that do? None. 

This is where we practice ataraxia, that “conscious setting aside of things that wear down the soul.”

For our 20 minute improv dance session, we let all that go. And maybe we can take time through the day to return to our flow state, to be more present in the moment, and less subject to the vortex of pain and misery that is always pulling at us. 

We also can be content to wait and see what happens. We don’t know everything. We are all in a state of transformation that is part of this practice. Things are happening. We don’t/can’t know what they are, but they’re happening. So let’s have faith, and be of good cheer. 

Here’s some music for that—also from Catti. Gaye Su Akyol

PS Improv is a place where we never know what will happen! Where we set aside our cares to be in the moment. In this vein, I’m delighted to be offering a series on improvising to Drum Solo and one on simply relaxing and feeling better.


​Starts Tuesday July 28! DreamBeat–Fun Drum Solo Improvisation
​Five Weeks, July 28 – Aug 25. Tuesdays at 4-5 PM ET.
A five-week adventure into drum solo interpretation and intuitive movement. Drum solo structure, technique, and exploration of various rhythms. We will use Middle Eastern drum solos as well as fusion and surprises! Registration is now open.

​Starts Friday, August 7 Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times
Five Weeks, August 7 – September 4. Fridays, 4-4:30 PM ET
This half-hour class comes from a Somatic Experiencing® (SE) perspective. It’s is a half-hour chillout session focused on nervous system regulation. It is designed to ease anxiety and restore wellbeing. We use gentle movement, breath, and body-based strategies to bring calm in the here and now. These strategies can be used any time to help the body feel more relaxed and grounded.

I look forward to dancing with you!
All my love,
Alia

Is our Dance Sacred?

The word sacred or spiritual or anything like that sets some of our teeth on edge. I generally avoid these words, but  my practice is certainly spiritually nurturing for me as well as healing (plus good exercise, a mind-body practice, and generally an amazing package of benefits! My teaching is geared to helping others feel more deeply and develop their intuitive movement, and I see my performances as blessings. 

So…

I am very excited to be part of the Sacred Dance Summit this May 4-8!

Leslie Zehr, author of The Alchemy of Dance: Sacred Dance as a Path to the Universal Dancer, is the host for this free online Sacred Dance Summit. Twice a year she brings together five fascinating women to speak about their experiences with Dance as a Spiritual Practice.

The speakers span halfway across the globe from Arizona to Australia. Guests, besides myself, include Carrie Konyha, Katie Holland, Keti Sharif and Maria Sangiorgi, all of whom are belly dancers.

They will discuss modalities ranging from Awakened Bellydance, Embodied Bellydance, Dancemeditation and Spiritual Belly Dance; to how to bring somatics, esoteric wisdom and energy healing arts into bellydance. You can read more about each of these women on the Universal Dancer website

The summit runs May 4th-8th. Each day at 12am PDT (3am EDT, 7am GMT/UTC, 9am EET, 3pm AWST) a new interview will be released. The interview will be available for viewing for free for until the end of the summit.

In addition to the interviews each of the speakers has a wonderful free gift for you on the interview page. I invite you to check it out and take advantage of it. It is an excellent way to get to know the speakers better, as well as a way to expand your awareness of the healing and sacred side of bellydance.

I hope you will join us to hear what all these wonderful ladies have to say as we “peek behind the veils” of the ancient art of bellydance. And please share with your friends!

Registration is easy and the summit is free!

Free Sacred Dance Summit


If you’d like to own the interviews and get some cool bonuses, there is a huge deal on the all-access package…

 

 

With much love, 
Alia

PS the Fun Class runs through May with Pandemic Pricing. Come dance and have fun with us!

American Umm Kulthum

Here’s a vintage Love Note from 2013 (so it wasn’t last night, but 7 years ago ; ).

I’m not gonna lie, I went out and got drunk last night (and I’m a cheap date: one Lemon Drop and I was pretty happy :). I had gone to see my friend’s Al’s band play, and it was glorious.

They played music I love, standards like Mustang Sally and Black Magic Woman, but also music from the Allman Brothers that I hadn’t heard in years, Statesboro Blues and Whipping Post. Ahhh, such joy! I vividly remember back in the 70’s when we came out of the Fillmore East as dawn broke over the city skyline, because back then, bands really did PLAY ALL NIGHT.

Dancing joyously, I realized it is the songs of our own generation that speak to us—we know all the words, we can sing them in our sleep, and they make us happy. Of course, oldies stations are always popular for this reason, but there is more to it than that. These musicians jammed, long intricate improvisations, and the structural integrity of the songs, the remarkable skills of the musicians (technique being, as ever, the servant of expression), the deep blues influences, this was an authentic outgrowth of American music, and it expressed its generation as cogently as Umm Kulthum expressed hers.

If we want to really understand Oriental dance, we must bring its music into our hearts and souls as fully as the songs of our own youth. I remember a belly dancer (I wish I could remember who), who wrote that she was a cheerleader for the audience’s favorite songs as they sang along to the music of Umm Kulthum. She was perfectly fine with that—their joy spilled over onto her; she became part of it.

Al’s band is “just” a cover band playing forty-year-old songs as the audience hums along, dizzy with delight. They, too, bring the joy. And this music is part of my Umm Kulthum; I feel it in my heart and soul.

So tonight I present to you the music of my youth, The Allman Brothers, recorded live in 1971 at the Fillmore East. I was probably at these shows.

This is a playlist, but several of the songs are at, longer than, or close to 20 minutes, so you can just pick one if you like.

Love,
Alia

PS The Basic Bellydance Challenge is going on right now! There are lots of giveaways for participants (I’ve provided three, plus a coupon for Teachable classes), and watching the videos folks post on FB and IG is a lot of fun. Here’s my Day 3 video.

Local VT/NH folks, the live classes at the Grindstone Café in Lyndonville are Thursdays at 5:30PM Come dance and have fun with us!

What is the Most Beautiful Move?

The most beautiful move is the one you are doing right now.Think of the most wonderful dancer you’ve ever seen. Everything they do entrances you—every action feels perfect. You notice only the energy and the love. Joy and warmth suffuse your soul. You feel loved and loving, uplifted and happy. At the end, you applaud wildly, wishing only for more. How do they do it? How do they make everything so beautiful? They must practice a lot. If only…

What is the most beautiful move?

Here’s a conundrum. When we exist in the moment, all of life is perfect—or hell—or however that moment happens to feel. Ironically, the moment itself may be neutral. It’s about how we feel. (Okay, some moments suck—but even so, our emotional experience can be at odds with the circumstances. Who hasn’t felt crappy at a happy event? Or curiously free at a sad time?)

When we dance, we can feel great, crappy, or anything in between—whether the audience loves us or not—and this largely depends upon how we feel about ourselves in that moment. So if we feel like we are are crap, the moment will be crap. But when we feel great, beautiful, enchanting—the moment will be lovely. We can literally transform the moment through our own emotional projection. It’s magic.

So the most beautiful move is the one you are doing right now.

I know, right? Sadly, the crappiest move can also be the move you are doing right now. Yes, the same move. The difference is in your mind. This is why you won’t see me suggesting specific moves, or how to use specific muscles. Movement choice and creation in the moment is intuitive. The movement doesn’t matter. What’s important is how we feel, our connection to the music, and what we give to the audience. That’s what the audience notices. That’s what they love. That’s what they remember.

I first heard this from Fahtiem, a wonderful dancer, great teacher, and super cool human being. She said, “It’s not a hip drop. It’s a hip drop! Every time!” It’s something cool and special that we share with the audience—and ourselves. And it’s up to us to make it happen. What do they know? Nothing. We create the audience’s perception through our projection of emotional texture. So we have to learn to feel great about our moves. Seriously.

How do we learn that?

Practice. But not the way you think. We’re mostly trained to practice technique—perfecting our physical ability to recreate shapes in time and space. But there is more to improvisation than making a shape. There is the intuitive connection to the music, which we practice in our 20 minutes. And there is the mindspace of joy, of beauty. Yes, that, too, deserves practice. How?

Here’s the secret: Pick a basic move. My favorite is the infinity (aka upward hip figure 8, aka snake hips). Do the move. Slowly. Enjoy the physical feeling of every moment. As you do it, use your breath. I exhale the weight change, as the hip goes down and out, and I inhale the hip up. As you do it, gaze lovingly at yourself and say, “This is the most beautiful move I have ever seen.” And mean it.

I do this after using the restroom, before I walk out the door. It’s one of my Tiny Habits. I do it 3 times, with the breath and the affirmation. It takes 30 seconds. PS, if the mirror bothers you, then don’t look. Just feel it. Here’s a tiny video to show you what I mean.* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT2ntWMinhU

Yeah, but what if I’m not very good?

That’s in your mind. Really. Even if you are an absolute beginner, the fastest way to hip-drop hell is to tell yourself how much you suck, to apologize on stage for existing. Look, the audience took time out of their busy lives to come and see you. Give them some honey. They don’t care about you—they care about how they feel. And that comes from what you give them: Joy. Verve. Fun.

These are things you can practice. The most beautiful move is whatever you perceive as such. So when you sashay out on stage with joy and verve, when you delight them with your love and generosity, they will respond.

Try the exercise for a week.

Put a note in the bathroom to remind you. See how you feel. Love yourself. Love your body. Love your moves. Love your guests. They will love you back.

Truth.

Love,
Alia

*Adapted from Kenny Werner’s highly recommended book, Effortless Mastery (and eternal thanks to Teadora for suggesting it). Werner writes about jazz improvisation, but his observations apply to us as well.

PS The 90 Day Dance Party starts Feb 16. Now is the time. Cherish yourself!

*Adapted from Kenny Werner’s highly recommended book, Effortless Mastery (and eternal thanks to Teadora for suggesting it). Werner writes about jazz improvisation, but his observations apply to us as well.
Here’s Sun Ra, with some of my favorite jazz.

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

Qualities-of-Oriental-Dance

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