Why Belly Dance is like Narnia (and how we get through the wardrobe)

Why Belly Dance is like Narnia (and how we get through the wardrobe)

The Narnia Chronicles, a classic fantasy series by CS Lewis, begins when a little girl named Lucy accidentally tumbles through an old wardrobe (a closet on legs) to discover the magical land of Narnia. Narnia is peopled by fauns, dwarves, and talking animals, including Aslan the Lion. Lucy is soon joined there by her brothers and sister.

Over the course of seven books, the children have adventures, discover the history of Narnia, defeat evil, and generally become confident, experienced inter dimensional travelers. In the final book, The Last Battle, the children, now kings and queens, along with all the inhabitants of Narnia, repeating the cry of “Further up and further in!” race up a hill, to Aslan’s Country, and the Real Narnia. While there are many fascinating critiques of the series as allegory, it bears up as a marvelous adventure–as does Oriental dance.

Here are six ways that belly dance bears a striking resemblance to The Narnia Chronicles.

1. On the outside, it’s just a wardrobe. Many (if not most) of us come to belly dance attracted to the outfits and the sensual moves. For some of us , that’s enough. And that’s just fine. But there is so much more to the dance….

 2. It’s bigger on the inside. Once you get past those outer trappings, you begin to discover that this little dance has a lot going for it. No matter how much you learn, there is always more to learn. No matter how good you get, you can always see how much better you can be. It is an art form in which the learning curve never flattens.

 3. It develops confidence. Performing with no 4th wall, we learn to enjoy the audience, embrace our personal style, and handle mishaps with grace and charm.

 4. We all become kings and queens. Belly dance is the ultimate in beauty. When we dance, we know we are golden. We radiate our majesty and create a bridge for the audience to a magical realm.

 5. We defeat evil. Fear, anger, and grief are some of humanity’s most crippling emotions. Through dance, we transcend these emotions. Dancing clears the emotional landscape by allowing us to release our cares and those of the audience. Everyone’s misery is lifted for a time, everyone gets to feel the restorative wonder of joy and delight. These shots of goodness help us all to get through the bad times.

 6. We become experienced inter dimensional travelers. Those of us who go through the wardrobe, who go further up and further in, discover a world of joy. Improvisation can bring us to the center of our souls, a place where time, self, and worldly concerns are suspended, where the joy of musical embodiment lifts us and the audience up and out of the every day. From this magical land, we return refreshed, refined, and glorious.

 7. We reach the true dance, the one that exists outside of costumes, ego, and competition. We learn to dwell in a land of timeless beauty we can reach any time we close our eyes and go into the zone.

How do we do this?

How do we get through the wardrobe and into the dance? Just as Lucy did, we close our eyes and feel our way through. As we learn to let the music in through our ears and allow our bodies to respond intuitively in the moment, we become ever closer to the secret center, the soul of our dance (we will get into this in detail in the book).

Over time, and with practice, our improvisation confidence and endurance will improve, and so will our pleasure in dance. We are more easily able to go into a zone on stage. Audiences love the freshness and intuitive nature of our dance. We are all whisked above daily cares and into a realm of love and joy.

Nice, huh?
Another world is possible.

To discover it, check out Midnight at the Crossroads, now available for preorder!

All my love,

Alia

How to transmit wonder with your dance

TransmitWonderIn our secret hearts, we come to this dance for transformation. We seek a magic carpet ride to our true self, our inner goddess, femme fatale, power and glory. We want this so hard it hurts. We cry at night for the loss of the beauty, freedom, mystery and adventure with which we were born. Life is hard, and it has taken its toll.

We come to this dance for redemption. To see ourselves in a new, truer, mirror, one that will shine back to us the beauty and joy hidden away in our souls.

This dance delivers. It delivers in spades.

Everything we crave awaits us inside this dance. All the joy, the beauty, the glory, hidden treasure waiting to be found. A secret blossom trembling on the brink. A fourth doorway, a portal to the Divine, hidden from sight—until we are ready to open it.

But we are afraid. Afraid of feeling our pain, afraid of shoveling through the shit of life to get to the treasure. Afraid there is no treasure. So we put on our hipscarves and copy empty movement for an hour a week, pretending we are beautiful. It is an epic tragedy.

How do we get through the fourth door? 

Well, first we have to find it. 
And then we have to make a few changes.
And that may take some effort.

Learning is hard. It hurts, like an unused muscle, newly awakened. We all want to have fun, but most of us also want to learn. How do we balance the difficulty of learning with the pleasure of the dance itself?

This dance flourishes within its cultural context. All of its wonderful, chaotic heterophony, micromovement, improvisation, social ritual, and feeling–these are not quaint traditions. They are the living breathing center of this dance.

Our dance is a magical doorway. It leads to a place within where we feel our beauty, dissolve trauma and stress, nurture our body and brain, feed our soul, and connect with the Divine. This is the nature of this dance. It is a magical transmission of wonder. 


Wait, how do we magically transmit wonder?
The first step is to reclaim our own wonder. We have all been brainwashed into regarding ourselves with narrow eyes, alert for any flaws or ways in which we do not fit the proscribed vision of perfection. Alas, there are so many ways to miss the mark.

Let’s change the rating system. Let’s step back from perfection of form and the Platonic Ideal. Let’s step up to shared mystery and glory.

The wonderful Fahtiem once explained, “It’s not just a hip drop,” as she rolled her eyes, looking bored with her own movement.

“It’s a hip drop!” And she gasped, her eyes got big as her face expressed amazement. Suddenly the move transformed into wonder–the wonder we all felt once upon a time, the wonder that drew us to this dance.

What if every hip drop, every move, every moment of our dance were a testament to wonder? We feel and express the wonder so others can also see it, feel it, live it.

The fourth doorway awaits. 
Will you walk through?

Love,
Alia

PS Last call for How to Create Dance Art
Oriental dance evolved for improvisation. Choreography can inhibit our ability to express our feeling from the music in the moment, to be different every time.

On the other hand, recorded music is the same every time. How to balance these conflicting influences?

Create Dance Art is the solution!
Check it out: http://CreateDanceArt.com

PPS Final free webinar on Sunday: Fast, fun, fabulous Group Dances that folks can remember and enjoy doing! Plus a special offer for Create Dance Art!
Click here: http://eepurl.com/bJETD9

How thankfulness in dance brings joy and peace into our lives

Amity+Alia
Alia and Amity at the birth of Amity’s new studio

In the USA, we have this powerful myth of the first Thanksgiving. The first pilgrims came to the shores of this country, escaping religious differences in England. The ingenious peoples kindly took pity on them and invited them to a feast. The pilgrims were so grateful for this kindness that they commemorated the feast as a national holiday.

Today, laden tables will be set in every home that can afford it (even the virtual genocide of native folk hasn’t dimmed the glory of Thanksgiving). Each person at the table may even be pushed to to name something for which they are thankful. Which they will do, however sulkily. On other days, though, most folks focus on what’s wrong (of which there is always plenty).

What if we highlight what’s right? There has recently been a lot of research that highlights the power of good–of thankfulness and gratitude in daily life. Folks who prioritize the positive feel happier and more at peace with their world. The impact of terrible events recedes, and love finds a foothold in their hearts.

We can bring this practice into our dance with marvelous effect.  Kenny Werner, the author of Effortless Mastery, said, you can be the most miraculous player in the universe, never hit a wrong note–but still not be free. He said, the only way you can be free is to love your playing *even when you play badly.* When you hit wrong notes, make mistakes, and generally suck.

Freedom means loving yourself–and your art–no matter what. How radical is that? We are so conditioned to punish ourselves, dismiss compliments, and obsess over our flaws. Where is our thanksgiving?Where is our gratitude for the joy of creating art with movement, this marvelous dance that offers us joy, solace, and a pleasurable, self-loving relationship with our bodies?

What if we let this year be different? What if we choose to reflect upon ourselves with kindness and love? Our dance will not suffer. It will not grow less. It will grow more, as our dance, too, becomes more loving and filled with joy. As we fill ourselves, we fill those around us. The whole world wins.

What if you write a love letter to the dance? To your teachers. And to yourself, as a dancer. Tell yourself all you have accomplished, how beautiful you are, and how much joy you have brought into the world through dance. Write one today–and every week for a month. No negatives–just the good. Replace negative thoughts with love and affirmative warmth.

Next time you dance, what if you just enjoy yourself? Enjoy the pleasure of your moving body. Only do what feels good, what feels easy, what your beautiful body enjoys. Allow yourself this pleasure, this happiness.

It’s a dance of joy.

Let’s enjoy it.

Love,
Alia

What is Belly Dance? Part IV

What is Belly Dance? Part IV

Read Part I here

Read part II here

Read Part III here

 

It’s pretty clear by now that belly dance is much more than a sparkly little toy. It’s much more than a sexy treat for the male gaze, a fun way of getting exercise, or a dress-up opportunity. It is more than entertainment. It is more than art. We can use it that way, and it will work just fine, but we are playing marbles with giant pearls.

Belly dance is a glorious marriage of the sacred and the profane—beautiful, sensual, healing, and integrative. It aligns the body and mind, washes away stress and trauma, frees us from fear and anxiety, and connects us to the Divine. How many other venues have all that?

There are plenty of practices that do most of it—tai-chi, yoga, Zen archery, even sitting meditation. But none of them include those sensual, beautiful, entertaining, profane qualities. There are no spangles, playfulness, or music. No sensuality. No fun.

Belly dance has all that and more.

Belly dance has been seen asa pastime, entertainment, even art—but always as a generally innocuous occupation with little meaning outside of itself. Many of us have a mission to “elevate the dance,” which often means to make it more Western—put it on bigger stages, with bigger audiences.

What if there were a way to elevate the dance that kept its cultural values? Without them, this dance is dead. It’s an empty movement vocabulary. It becomes like Cheez Wiz or Cool Whip—an artificial, processed, non-food masquerading as real food. We don’t need more plastic crap in our lives.

We need real things that connect us to our true selves. We need avenues to our souls, ways to accept and nurture ourselves, be kind to ourselves, love ourselves. Through accepting and affirming the self, we find the courage and the kindness to love others.

Little by little, this love radiates outward, touching others, healing as it goes. It extends outward, all over the world, finally returning back to us, energizing us and everyone it meets.

Am I saying belly dance has the potential for world peace?

Yes. Yes, I am.

Instead of using this dance to glorify ourselves, we can spread love, healing, kindness, spirit, joy.

We heal the world, one undulation at a time.

 

An excerpt from the upcoming book, Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its soul?

What is belly dance part III

What is belly dance? Part III

Read Part I here

Read part II here

appropiration2Of course, there are specific folkloric dances that have nothing to do with belly dance—no one is arguing about that. But there are others that have been adopted. They are not belly dance as such (Sa’idi stick dance, for example, or Turkish Romani dance), but they are here to stay in our repertoire. So “belly dance,” (a made-up name to begin with), is already inclusive of many fusion elements. Then there are the various forms of “Tribal” dance, from Jamila Salimpour’s Bal Anat through tribal fusion, a host of ethnic and other fusions, and all the theatrical approaches. It’s a mishmash. What do we do with all of these? What do we call them?

I am loathe to kick anyone off the belly dance bus. I have concerns about some things, and will explore them as we go along, never fear. But as we come to understand the soul of the dance, misconceptions fall away. There are qualities of the dance that underlie everything else, and these are where we want to put our focus. The rest is window dressing.

To me, the vital elements of the dance are

  • improvisation to improvised (preferably live) music
  • the foundation movement vocabulary, with micro-movement
  • an inseparable connection Oriental music and its the values and qualities, including  the importance of the feeling in the moment.

I will return to these elements often. This dance is not only as an ancient, beautiful art form. It also has healing, spiritual properties, and is a legitimate mind-body practice that equals yoga, tai-chi, and sitting meditation in its effectiveness and power. Really? Yes.

Sparkly little belly dance has immense power. People are drawn to it because they sense this, though they may not know how to access it. Once they come to a class, they are usually taught a sterilized version: stylized, choreographed, counted, body-control to recorded music. This is not the dance they were looking for. But it is all they see, so okay. Well, it’s not okay with me. I am here to explode this view of the dance. I am here to shine a light on the magic and mystery of our dance.

We are drawn to this dance because we feel something from it. It is real. It is there. The dance waits for you, a hidden seed trembling with life, ready to blossom in your heart and soul. It is beautiful and free and loving–and so are you.

Part IV coming next week…

What is belly dance? (and why is that a question?)

What is belly dance? (and why is that a question?)

Back in the early 70’s, when I was a baby dancer, I worked as a figure model for art classes, mostly at the Brooklyn Museum art school (sadly, long gone), and at Pratt Institute. There was one prof at Pratt whom I liked a lot, and I worked often for his classes. In addition to regular still poses, each semester we ran through a sequence of sessions for his Illustration class as he taught them to draw objects in motion. For the capstone of the series, I brought my dance gear to class, put on belly dance music, and danced in full costume while the class frantically sketched. It was a lot of fun.

One day during this class, a dark-haired student burst into the room. He took in the scene–the madly sketching students, the glittery dancer, the white-haired, bearded prof–and demanded, “Who is playing this music?”
I am, I said.
“This is John Berberian!” he said.
Um, yeah. Yes, it is.

I wondered if he were going to yell at me for dancing to this music. Instead, it turned out the kid was Armenian (as is John Berberian). He told me John was about to perform at an upcoming Armenian church supper. The kid eagerly invited me to the supper, because anyone who loved John Berberian was family. I loved John Berberian, so of course I went. My mother, who had introduced me to John’s music, also loved him–so off we went.

The church was packed, and food was everywhere (it was just like the Arabic food I was used to, and it was delish). My Mom and I were both kind of shy, but the kid from school soon saw us, thanked us for coming, and found us seats. Everyone made us feel welcome, even though we didn’t know anyone. My Mom and I sat in a happy daze with the food and the swirl of activity all around us. Soon it was time for the concert. Or so I thought.

When Berberian and his band took the stage—everyone jumped up to dance. The floor was awash with ecstatic people of every age and size boogieing down in in every way, shape, and form. As I watched, it slowly dawned on me—these people were all belly dancing!

Now, I am Levantine on my father’s side, but no one in my family danced. I had already been taking belly dance classes with Ibrahim Farrah, Jajouka, and Elena Lentini for a couple of years. I could dance—but I had never seen belly dance “in the wild,” so to speak. These folks danced alone, in groups, as couples—and all the things I had learned in class were their natural expressions of the music: hip drops, shimmies, undulations—the works. It was belly dance in its natural environment.  It was a revelation.

I didn’t dance that night—I just watched (I also bought John’s new album, which he autographed—I still have it ; ). But I learned a lot—and I never forgot.

You would think “what is belly dance” would be pretty obvious—you see the people dancing, the hip drops and undulations—and there it is. But you would be wrong about that.

The definition of belly dance is surprisingly contentious. In our next post, we’ll take a look at the history of the term, and what it has come to define.

An excerpt from the upcoming book, Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its soul?

Read part II here

Why we dance—the secret surprise (and how to find it)

Those little voices....
Those little voices….

You know those little voices that always rag on us to just quit and be done with it?  That we will never amount to anything? What does that even mean? Like we will not be world-class famous dancers with tons of money and fame? Why is that the benchmark of success in our dance?

Few of us dance solely for adulation or money. It’s awesome that dance gives us those things, but the dance is deeper than this. It’s the connection to the music we crave—the sense of oneness that we value. Yet all the emphasis is on the pretty girl on stage in a costume.

Most people who do this dance do not teach or perform. They dance with friends at home or at parties. Why would they do that? Dance around the house and play music, women of all ages. A dance of joy. What does that really mean?

This dance has power. We know this. And not all of it in the venue of performance. That in some ways is the smallest of it attributes. Because it is a dance of joy, that is why its performances have power—they bring joy, both to viewers and dancers. That is also why it is so popular offstage as well. Doing or viewing this dance lifts one’s mood. Joy is there for all of us.

I sometimes hear disdain for the “hobbyists.” You know, the ones who take classes, fill workshops, and pay the bills The ones with relatively normal lives who just want to dance and have fun. Because we all should be serious dancers who work hard.

Well, surprise. Maybe the hobbyists have the right idea. I’m all for performance. I am a performer. I love it. Many of us do. I love teaching. I’m good at it. So I get it. I’m not suggesting anyone stop. People feel called to open studios, develop professional companies, dance at birthday parties; I say YES to all of it. But this dance is a folk dance, done by folks, in their homes. And that is a legitimate, honorable relationship with the dance.

What if we stop beating ourselves up for notgoing anywhere” with our dance? Think of all the people who do yoga, or tai chi. They don’t look to be performers. Few even look to be teachers. Most of them just go to class, a workshop, a retreat. The activity is part of their life. It gives them physical and emotional benefits. Maybe a community. And they enjoy it.

The same with dance

The physical interaction with the music is pleasurable in and of itself. And the more in sync we get the better and more beautiful and delicious it feels. Think how lovely our 20 minutes could be if we focused on the sensuality of the moves and their relationship with the music. Right there is a good reason for pursuing mastery. For the pleasure of the activity all by itself. On our own or with friends.

That sounds radical, doesn’t it? Most of us don’t move for the enjoyment of it. We practice to get better. We work. What if we enjoyed ourselves instead?

Something to think about…

Love,

Alia

PS With the encouragement of my friend Mackay Rippey, of Lyme Ninja Radio, I’ll teach a free 4-week web series this fall called Belly Dance Foundation Flow–an exploration of belly dance movement for healing and joy. It will be a lovely, rich experience.

Update: Mackay and I recorded an interview for his podcast;; the web series followed. It is all archived–you can get the recordings here. This is a totally free series. All are welcome.

Music: Fun African mix: https://soundcloud.com/snyk-dk/ud-og-samle-svampe-i-afrika