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

How to Interpret Music–through movement

As we count down to the  90 Day Dance party, we celebrate the 90 Days with Love Notes from previous 90 Days. This one is Day 19 from 2018. I’ve noticed that many dancers are terrified of making a mistake–but making mistakes is an essential part of how we learn and grow. The 90 Days is an excellent venue for experimentation with lots of room for happy mistake-making!

How to Interpret Music Through Movement

Among the many things we worry about is if we are doing our dance “right.” And a practice like the 90 Days often causes some fear that we may dance “wrong” <gasp!> to music that has specific genre conventions… which makes it hard to have any fun at all.

How to Interpret Music through Movement: Genre, Intention, and Feeling

So here are a few guidelines to help us feel more confident. We’ll look at Genre, Intention, and Feeling.

The Genre

Even within belly dance, we have many musical genres. There is folkloric music from assorted regions, tarab songs, entrance pieces, the list goes on–and that’s just belly dance. Worldwide, there are countless genres. Some connect to specific dance forms, some are meant for listening, some have lyrics, and on and on.

For those who plan to perform, it’s wise to understand the background of your chosen music.Then you can decide upon the degree to which you will conform to its cultural context and expectations–and the degree to which you will depart from those expectations.

As artists, we make these choices in any art form. In your own home or your own party, it is perfectly fine, in fact, helpful, to dance however you want to whatever you want; however, as a performer, you want to know the rules of your chosen medium so you can break them intelligently.

For example, I love tango music. I’ve taken the time to learn tango, at least a little, and made a point of learning from Argentine dancers. When I dance at home, I can do whatever I please (which rarely looks anything like tango).

If I were to perform, however, I’d be careful to show that I understand the context of the music by referencing (at the very least), it’s traditional movement vocabulary, costuming, and attitude. Doing so expands my range of expression, and it’s just plain respectful of the dance–and its culture.

The Intention

Another layer is our intention for the piece. What do we want to express? Who is our audience? How do we want them to feel? How do we best create the effects we desire? While these are seen as performative concerns, home and party dancers may enjoy creating specific effects just as much as performers do.

Intention also relates to the venue. For example, when I perform in a restaurant or nightclub, I will do a classic show. People go to clubs to relax and forget their cares. They want to have fun. A wedding, even a birthday party, is also like this, but includes a big to-do over the special guests, photo ops and the like.

Nobody in these contexts wants to watch any strange theatrical thing or dramatic downer. And no one wants to hear sad songs about heartbreak or betrayal, either. As artists, we take these things into account. If we only want to do dramatic theatrical weirdness, we don’t book trad parties. Then everyone is happy.

The Feeling

Many of our choices above may come from the feeling we get from the music. I’m putting it last here, but truly it is first in importance. One big reason to dance however to whatever is to find a way into the music, to find out what we feel, to find out what the music suggests to us.

If we deprive ourselves of this experimental phase, for example, if we are afraid to dance the wrong way to some song, if we are afraid the belly dance police can see into our little dance space and will come and arrest us, then we never get to discover many wonderful things about the music and our body’s response to it.

It’s essential to allow ourselves to experience the music fully. If we like it enough to develop it, then we can do all that reflective and research process. But if the most important thing in belly dance is the feeling, then it behooves us to develop our capacity to feel the music, and that means letting our body experience it fully.

The more we practice this with a wide variety of music, the more it becomes second nature. So even if we have a somewhat balky relationship to improv with belly dance music, maybe because our dance education was too tightly choreographed, through allowing our body to respond however it feels to a variety of music, we also train ourselves into responding freely to whatever music, including belly dance.

One Caveat

Of course, different music inspires different kinds of movement. And any genre may have specific vocabulary. And we have to be aware of this to give the music its due. But it’s through relaxed, intuitive movement that these things come together and look good.

It is sad to see a dancer conscientiously run through her little repertoire of genre moves with all the studiousness of a 4th grader in a school play. I have seen even good dancers do this. Honestly, we don’t have to constantly pull out those little Lego blocks of movement. We can allow things to drip and meld. This is who we are, and it’s okay.

When we have the movement in our bodies, when we allow our bodies to respond organically to the music, we bypass awkwardness and come into our own style.

And that is where we want to be.

Questions? Please ask!

Music? Here ya go! 

John Berberian’s Expressions East from 1964

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfDsB0SEsQc

Love,

Alia

PS Do you worry when you improv? Join me for a FREE web class, “6 Ways to Melt Improv Fear.”
Yes, there will be a recording!

Please invite your friends! Send them to aliathabit.com/melt-fear 
Thanks!

Here’s a holiday prezzie for you!

Thank you!

Happy holidays!

Thank you for being part of my crazy path ; )
As a gift, here is a full Fun Class for you to stream. It’ll be up for the next month.
https://vimeo.com/378023790 (please copy and paste if the link is not clickable)

Here’s to a great 2020!

LOTS of love,
Alia
PS I added a 90 Days Sharegasm Payment Plan, if that helps. Remember, the Sharegasm closes with 2019.
Scroll down at aliathabit.com/90days/

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). 

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


Soumaya asked specific questions of each of the panelists, 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 heartrending Quran recital; and 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 led 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 and promote 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!