Presence: How Do You See Yourself? (and how would you like to see yourself?)

You are already good enough

A friend recounted to me in exhausted detail everything on her (immense) to-do list, along with her frustration and overwhelm at its contemplation. She had recently moved into a new house, and the workload was indeed massive. However she had already transformed it from a wreck into a lovely home. Mostly alone. During Covid. Scrubbing grime-blackened floors on her knees. I mean… if it were me, I’d still be living in squalor. Her accomplishments were astounding! So I listed them. Take the time to celebrate what you’ve done, I said. “Oh,” she replied, surprised. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

Few of us do.

We discount our successes. We only see how we’ve missed the mark, made mistakes, or failed miserably. We focus on our flaws. We speak bitterly to ourselves.

It’s not our fault. We are socialized to do this. The vast majority of folks on this list are women, sensitive men, or somewhere in between; in a patriarchal society, we are seen as inferior, as less than, and made to see ourselves as such. We always need a new cream, or dress, or diet, or whatever garbage to improve ourselves. To be good enough.

We are already good enough!

My dear colleague Walladah Valadah made a meme to showcase this. I feel so honored!!

Sure, we can improve ourselves. All our lives.

Plenty of people who feel they are quite perfect can also improve themselves. We will never be truly perfect–we can’t. We don’t want to be. Perfection is death. Life is about becoming.

And with all that socialized attack upon our self-worth, it can be challenging for us as dancers to enjoy ourselves. To love ourselves. To relax, to savor, to relish. To be genuine, real, playful–Present. Especially in this specific art form, where these are our primary endeavor.

There are twin questions that, for me, come at the top of the list for dancers in our dance.

Is the dancer enjoying themself?
Does the dancer share their joy with their guests?

If we are working too hard, thinking too much, fearful, freeze, worry we are not good enough, etc, etc, then we aren’t enjoying ourselves. If we aren’t enjoying ourselves, we can’t share our joy.

So how do we change this?
What if we develop our Presence?

What is Presence?

According to Amy Cuddy, who wrote a whole book on the topic, Presence is “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential.”

Able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential.

How often do you feel able to do that–comfortably? How often are you able to bring that into your dance?

I’ve spent decades unable to do that, in life or in dance. It’s taken a lot of personal work to change that, to be able to comfortably speak my mind, to know my worth, to feel equal to the world. Cuddy maintains that we can self-induce Presence. Which is what I have been studying over the last several months to design CYGS–and what I am bringing, in dance form, to the upcoming FUN Class, Presence.

I’ve written recently about using the mirror and acting as if. We’ve been doing these in CYGS for the last few weeks; all the participants report shifts and breakthroughs. These strategies work.

Today I bring you another simple, yet powerful, strategy, also from Amy Cuddy.

Write about your core values

What is important to you? What do you hold dear? What principles guide your life? They may be big or small. One of mine is to be warm and appreciative with “service” staff–waiters, cashiers, clerks, hotel housekeeps, and so forth.

What are yours? Make a list. Choose one or two that are most central to your identity. Write a tiny essay about it. Just a few paragraphs. Five minutes. What does it mean to you? Why are those values important to you? When in your life have they proved to be important?

This is called self-affirmation, and study after study has confirmed its effectiveness in helping folks saty grounded in challenging situations.

This is just one of the strategies we will use in Presence. We’ll use a different tool each week to help us bring comfort and joy into our dance–and our lives.

As it happens, Presence starts on Tuesday!

Presence: Joyous Connection in Oriental Dance

Our next FUN Class Deep Dive is alll about developing a joyful, confident, connection to ourselves, our dance, and anyone with whom we care to share it. We’ll use pinning, breakouts, and other strategies to increase our capacity for connection, openness, warmth, and joy.
What we’ll do

  • Explore and embody Presence
  • Enrich simple combinations with joyous connection
  • Bring our confident movement quality to a range of musical styles, tempos, and genres
  • Make space for openness, warmth, and love
  • Practice grounded, present, agency

Presence runs Tuesdays at 4pm ET from Oct 4 through Nov 1. Each class is recorded (instructor view only). Each recording is available during the session.

Will you join us? It’s going to be joyfully liberating!

Register here!

With love,
Alia

You might also like Walladah’s fascinating article on the use of the Ayoub rhythm in Cretan music!

And here’s some music for your Presence ; )


Bringing Joy: Tito for the Win

I’ve been thinking a lot about Presence lately, partly because that’s the upcoming FUN Class, partly from all the reading and prep I did for Create Your Glorious Self. I can across this this article I wrote for 2013 90 Days. It struck me as relevant, so here it is.

When I was a kid, my Mom had a NYC art scene friend, Fé Weinstein, who was a belly dancer. My Mom said her best feature was this quality of “Isn’t this fun? Aren’t we all having a great time?” So this is what I filed away as what a belly dancer should be–which stood me in good stead, as it turned out. My Mom is a WASP from the midwest, but somehow she totally nailed this central quality of our dance.

Tito Seif embodies bringing joy

I’m going to talk about this video from 2011; I have also seen him live. He strikes me as very genuine. So I am happy to share this with you today. I like Tito’s attention to traditional style, his gorgeous technique, theatricality, and stage presence, and especially his radiant smile. Besides, the video quality is quite good, with lots of closeups.

Here’s the video

When a performer is having fun, we enjoy also. Tito’s genuine delight, his infectious joy ignites our smiles. When we smile, we feel happier. This is biology. It’s encoded. Watch how he uses his eyes to include the guests–looks at his body, glances up the people, like, “Neat, huh?” When he dances on the drum (and yes, he practiced that the hell out of that bit), what you see is not, isn’t this hard, but instead, Isn’t this fun?

Notice his relaxation

It’s all the way through, but especially as he adjusts his belt–he is in no hurry. He jokes with his guests and takes his time. He teases them, starting to take it off, then retying it several times. This showmanship all leads to the glute isolations at 4:50 (Jim Boz does this same trick), when we also find out Tito is wearing underwear (Leila Farid says, it’s never bad to show you are wearing underwear). Notice also, particularly in the drum solo, but also in the first section, how he uses slow movement to cruise over the music and just hit a few accents–sometimes dramatic accents, but often not even locks, just gentle stops.

Tito stumbles getting up on the drum at 2:10–which may be because he really stumbles, but more likely so we appreciate the difficulty of the task. Everyone who does balance acts stumbles to show the audience how hard it is (witness any high-wire, slack wire, or wire walking act). Maybe he is also testing the stability of the drum before going any further. (His dismount is a wide, two- legged leap; getting smoothly on and off is, in fact, extra hard, so with that stumble he accomplishes several tasks at once.)

He is not particularly flustered by the apparent slip. He flashes a look of omg, oops, laughs genuinely and then stands up to his full height on the drum and shrugs magnanimously–eh, mistakes happen. He forgives himself, and so do we. He then proceeds into a section of slow movement (the opening of the baladi progression), which includes very challenging weight changes, all of which are perfectly executed–mastery in direct opposition to the stumble. Notice also that his directional changes are accomplished by moving the drum. With his feet.

He purposely unties his belt at 3:06 to show off his hip work–notice the duff player behind him clapping–then jokes with the audience as if they do not sufficiently appreciate it. He reties his belt (he does spend a lot of time adjusting his clothes–maybe because he is wearing a modern-style costume instead of his signature galabeya), and continues to interact w the audience, utterly ignoring the opening of the drum solo. Finally he claps a few times to get the audience going, and joins the drum solo at the shimmy.

Is it choreographed or improv?

I don’t know. Tito is famous for his intricate, musical choreographies. And his relaxation is so much a part of his style, it would be impossible to know without asking, or seeing several shows in a row– which is as it should be. He does have some bits that he repeats in several videos (including the dismount). On the other hand, a baladi progression is usually improvised; this one also serves to underscore his performance on the drum. Besides, when we dance to the same music many times, it often kind of choreographs itself.

And I have heard him bemoan the tightly choreographed entries in a contest of which he was a judge. This is not the dance, he said. Which made me like him even more.

Certainly he cues the orchestra several times–he addresses them directly just before the baladi progression/drum solo, at 1:46. He also cues them for several changes, for example, at 6:16, 7:06, 8:18, and then at 8:30 when he shows them the kiss he blows to end the section.

At such events (this is a Nile Group Festival show), the big names bring their own orchestra, so the odds are excellent that these are established cues and they know exactly what he wants. So if it’s choreographed, it’s loose; at the very least there is leeway in what he does, the order of the dances, how long, etc.

It’s his show, so he needs to be able to adjust it how he sees fit in the moment. Um Kaltsoum’s orchestra was famous for following her wherever she went–repeating passages and even entire sections, as needed.

In any case, it’s a great show by an engaging artist who has developed a walloping amount of skill.

All that being said, who would like to have (and be!) as much fun as Tito?

We’d all love to be that comfortable, that relaxed, open, warm and inviting. That’s why we’re doing Presence in the FUN Class this month.  We’ll use pinning, breakouts, and other strategies to increase our capacity for connection, openness, warmth, and joy. Come improvise with us, and start to get comfortable sharing your joy with your guests!

It turns out my video didn’t come through last week–it had disappeared since 2018 when I first wrote that article (also for the 90 Days–more about that very soon!). So here is a recent clip from the FUN Class that shows both Presence and self-enjoyment (in fact, I took the screenshot that is the image for Presence from this clip ; ).

 

Presence runs Tuesdays at 4pm ET from Sept 27 through Oct 26. ). See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link). Each class is recorded (instructor view only). Each recording is available during the session.

Will you join us? It’s going to be joyfully liberating!

More info and register here!

Love,
Alia

How to Develop Stage Presence (or any kind of Presence) in 20 minutes a day

Courage for Stage Presence

Last week, we talked about practicing presence. Here is a little more on that.

When we talk about performance we talk about “stage presence.” 

What is it that makes one dancer mesmerizing, even when they are a beginner or don’t do very much, and another, of equal or better technical skill, kind of… meh? Is it their ability to interact with the guests? 

No. Some dancers’ style may involve interacting with their guests. Others may be more aloof. But either one can have magnificent presence—or none at all. It’s not so much what you do, but the the way that you do it. Except for shrinking back or looking down. That tends to mess up everyone ; ).

Some of us choose to perform; others dance at home, or with friends at a party. And, as someone who often dances with eyes closed and head down, trust me, even home and party dancing involves presence. And it is practice that makes presence happen. So we don’t need a stage at all–we can just connect–with ourselves, our surrounding, our friends and family!

We do in performance what we do in practice. And performance is basically real life. Presence is useful for all of us.

So how do we develop stage presence?

Because it is a skill, something we can learn. Or rather it is a combination of skills that mix together into something the whole of which is greater then the sum of its parts. So let’s unpack presence and see what we see. 

When we are present, we are fully engaged in the moment—the music, the movement, the guests, everything. Since engagement is a big interest of our practice, we can include the main skills of presence during our 20 minutes. 

We’ll look today at Confidence. Your questions and observation are welcome, as always.

Confidence 

This is one of our most important skills. It’s funny to think of confidence as a skill. It seems like an innate thing—either we have it or we don’t. But confidence comes from experience and success. So how do we cultivate confidence? 

Act As If.

Think about this—in studies, folks who held a pencil in their mouths, which made them hold the mouth in a smile, cheered up. People given grainy photocopies to read had to frown to do it—and retained more information than those given clean copies. So it follows that adopting the shape of confidence can help bring us into its reality.  This is not the same thing as faking.

We are talking about using our practice to develop skills. Practicing the attitudes and methods of confidence leads to skill. Remember, behavior creates emotion. When we hold ourselves as if we are confident, we feel confident.

Opening.

Opening means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and nobody likes that. It’s scary. Closing generally means our posture is compressed, often in the upper chest, around the collar bones. It tends to sink in. The usual prescription is to lift the chest. This is tricky. When we are closed and we force an opening in one area, we often close harder around the area. So we need a better solution.

Certainly some of us have lovely posture, and we’ve gotten it through good luck or a lot of work. I’ve had terrible posture, and the work never really seemed to help. But I noticed when I left the acupuncturist’s that I was effortlessly upright. So I think the work is more about feeling better than doing pushups, though upper body strength is good, too.  

One of the things that made a difference for me was something Amar Garcia said in a workshop: “Your confidence is in your throat.” I was so struck by this that I spent most of the rest of the workshop experimenting with relaxing and opening my throat. This is something I invite you to try. 

Caution

Above I noted the challenge of opening in one area only to close in another, and that’s something to beware of here, too. The first thought is to lift the chin, but when the head is thrust forward, as it often is, lifting the chin just compounds the problem.  So try this.

Gently pull the back of the neck back. Then focus on the front of the neck—the throat. Let the whole area from the mouth to the collarbones soften. Allow yourself to feel the sensuality of the throat. The mouth may want to open. Let it. Let the softness spread. Just feel the feelings of that openness. 

Exposing the throat and letting it soften can feel sensual, even sexual, and this may be scary. But this is your practice time, so it is okay. You are safe in your practice space.  It wasn’t until I started doing this softening practice that I noticed how I tucked my chin, protecting my throat. Old habits and feelings of unhappiness can be stubborn, so hold yourself kindly in your heart. 

Integration

As you get the hang of the softening the throat, bring it into your movement. Allow yourself to move with the throat softened, open and exposed. Allow the head and neck to float upward. Extend the arms, wrists up, and notice the vulnerability in that move, too, the longing to be kissed. Bring that tenderness into your dance. 

Allow other areas to open—the spine, the stomach, the low back, the inner thighs, the legs. 

If you’d like to get a head start on confidence, as you dance, for some of the time, look at and include all your beloved guests as you move in self-loving, ways with your open, relaxed throat. 

If you have a mirror, dance with yourself. We usually look at ourselves critically while we dance. Instead, enjoy dancing with yourself in the mirror. Even in a bathroom mirror we can smile and flirt with ourselves.  

It’s fun ; )

For music, Beata and Horacio Cifuentes, Enchanted Gardens full show. Check out that presence! 

Love,
Alia
PS look for the next FUN Class: Presence! A Deep Dive into openness and connection in Oriental Dance.

How does LUSCIOUS feel?

how does luscious feel?

I did my first ever Instagram Live yesterday. I had to look up how to do it ; ). The day went kinda south, so I girded myself with the improviser’s axiom, “Don’t Prepare; Just Show Up.” I had this idea of lusciousness, and that’s it.

So here is that IG Live. Skip in about 35 seconds to the actual start (lol, learning curves ; ).

Alia’s First IG Live!

LOTS of tips on feeling/moving Luscious!


Which brings me to…

Luscious

Hub the cat kind of needs a fez. He reminds me here of all those dear guys in Egyptian movies, caught up in the music, gazing affectionately at the dancer.

This is what I’m feeling, anyway. I’m liking where we’ve been going, and I kind of want to stay with that for a while. The last one was BOLD and we did soak on the bold side of things (Sekhmet, anyone?). I like how it was a little bit challenging, gender-bending, pushing our comfort zones a bit. Gave us a taste of a different way to be. 

I’d like Luscious to be transgressive in a different way.

I’ve had a lot of shame around sexuality to unpack on my journey. It took time and patience. We steep in the mixed messages of our social programming. Must not be sexy! NO! Must be sexy–for the other. Must not like sex! Ew, dirty! Must like sex or at least pretend to–for the other. Must not look sexy! Will get in trouble. BAD. Must look sexy! For the other…

And for us as dancers, it’s even more complicated–our costumes, the public side-eye, the even more mixed messages from the countries of origin. It’s tough to pick apart our own feelings, wants, and desires from the layers of shame and blame. 

Folk of the culture maintain that this is a woman’s dance. Everyone dances this dance, yet it’s a woman’s dance. Interesting. Gender binaries aside, to me, this means egg energy as opposed to sperm energy. The sperm goes out. It rushes. It has a goal. Swift, like an arrow! Get out there! Make those calls! Go get ’em! Rah!

The egg…. attracts. It’s magnetic. It’s engaged within and of itself. It doesn’t have to go anywhere, do anything. It doesn’t even have to put on eyeliner. It’s that juicy and… luscious. 

What if we don’t have a female body, or don’t identify as female?

Who cares? 
Sperm energy is generally valorized in Western culture–we’re allll expected to run around like little do-bees, busy busy productive extraverts. All the genders are expected to act like sperm, so why shouldn’t we all act like eggs, too? It might be a bit outside of our comfort zone–true learning is uncomfortable. And learning new skills increases our capacity for learning skills. So that pays off. And we could all benefit from seeing ourselves as luscious–self-love, affection, cherishing, magnetic, fragrant, mmmm…. 

And we could all use an hour on the sofa with with a nice little dish of bonbons. Right? And getting to enjoy those bonbons, as a choice, nibbling them slowly, for the creamy pleasure of it …

Lusciousness, Dala3, playful sensual/sexual confidence, ​is a core component of the cultural dance. It is NOT about the other. It IS about ourselves and our own self-love, affection, cherishing. Soooo…

Announcing!
Alia’s Inspiring FUN Class,

Luscious

What we’ll do
  • Explore and embody lusciousness
  • Translate simple combinations into lusciousness
  • Bring our luscious movement quality to a range of musical styles, tempos, and genres
  • Make space for self-love, affection, cherishing
  • Practice grounded, present, agency

Luscious runs Tuesday at 4pm EDT from August 9 through Sept 13 (no class Sept 6). Each class is recorded (instructor view only). Each recording is available during the session.

Will you please join us? It’s going to be… luscious ; )
Register here https://aliathabit.com/shop/#live/

Love,
Alia



Two Videos (and more!)

Delighted to present this interview on belly dance and trauma resolution, recorded at Neskaya in New Hampshire for the UK website, DanceWise!


In addition, here is a tiny, tiny dance video from class this week..

This was the final week of BOLD, which was a roaring success–dancers expressed specific attributes and found that they were more relaxed about what to do when they had someone to be.

Our next FUN class starts August 2. What would you love to do? What outcome would you like to have? Let me know. I’m planning now ; ).


If you haven’t yet read Midnight at the Crossroads: has belly dance sold its soul? you might enjoy the first chapter. It is an overview of the book as a whole. Sign up here (use the email this newsletter came to to avoid being signed up twice), and get a free download of the chapter.


I’ve also set up the free Mix and Match demo as an ongoing free class. If you missed it, it came out pretty nicely, and the first half includes a taste of the work we did in BOLD, and will do more deeply in Create Your Glorious Self. Access is for a week, and you can always re-enroll. Register here (again, use your newsletter email)


Finally, Joe Williams’ ongoing Delsarte workshops are back! The next one will be Expression of Arms and Hands. There is no recording–this is a live-only class. I treasure these classes. If you can swing the time, it will be worth your while. Sunday, July 24Th, From 10:00 am – 12:30 pm (Central Time) Register here.

Summer hugs and love!
Alia

Where do you Start when Making Dances?

How to Make a Dance in Five Days

Before we get going, I thought you’d like to know about a really great new venture. Shining Peacekeeper has been living in Egypt for the past several months, with an eye to helping Khairiyya Mazin, last of the famous Banaat Mazin Ghawazi dancers. Well, she has done it with BanatMazin.com.

This website is an online portal to Khairiyya’s classes music and more. Lessons can be arranged, live (virtual) music for events, and many many more things. Khairiyya is thrilled to have both an income and her legacy available to a wider world. Please do check it out, buy some stuff, and share. There is no social security in Egypt, especially not for dancers, especially not for Ghawazi. Thank you, Shining, for doing a great good in the world! BanatMazin.com


We’ve been talking about finishing work, but it can be just as hard to get started. For example, say you want to make a dance. What do you do first? There are so many things!

The music, the costume, the steps, the concepts–! What comes first?

It depends upon the project.

Usually we find a song we like, and we start there, listening to the music and choosing steps to go with it. The RakSultana dancers, for example, chose a song they liked. Their normal routine would have been to put steps and staging to it, but they had been paired with me as a choreographer for the BellyDance Blossom Festival. We explored what they felt from the music, what imagery came to them. A story emerged, and the dancers found characters and substories within the music, The staging suggested it self, as did much of the movement. The result was unique and surprising.


Sometimes it happens differently.

For example, the lovely Australian dancer Rachel Bond is a graduate of CDA (the program that preceded MD5). She was in a project where each participant was given a Major Arcana Tarot Card, and asked to make a dance that expressed that card. In that case, the concept came first.

Rachel got–The Emperor. The hard part was finding music–and a connection to the card. Once she found a song she liked, she went deeply into the music and herself to find the connections between the music and her own journey to authority.


For myself, the music usually comes first–because t moves me in some way, suggests something that I want to express. I make the dance around the content that the music suggests to me. For one pice, though–Medea–I was researching the myth to write a play. At the same time, I was listening to the Hany Mehenna’s epic vintage song Mash’aal on repeat, as I loved it and wanted to do something with it.

One day I was walking along, listening to Mash’aal, and it hit me–the entire myth of Medea fit perfectly into the song! It was like those ads when the peanut butter and chocolate crash into each other. The dance came quickly because the entire piece had meaning. I wish I had a video fo the piece to share, but there is none. Maybe one day I will revive it. But here is the original version of Mash’aal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKkmMds6dDM

So there are many ways to start making a dance.

But sometimes you want a little help.

One way to get some help is through How to Make a Dance in Five Days (MD5). It starts this Sunday, May 22, and runs for two weeks, so you will have plenty of time and support to get your dance made.


I’ve been getting some questions about MD5, so I thought I would share them here.

Question: How many hours of study is there in How To Make A Dance In 5 Days?
A. It’s not that there is so much study, like hours of video. Each day, there is

  1. A process piece–for example, mapping out your chosen music, with several models for doing that, along with a demo, and
  2. A dance étude to help contextualize and practice the process piece–for the example above, you might dance the map that you create.
  3. Me, checking into the course to answer questions, advise, and troubleshoot.

There is an hour long audio recording for each day discussing that days process piece. There are also extra resources for each day. So there is some time there. These are optional, but helpful. There will also be a couple of open Office Hours each week, where you can hop on Zoom with me and ask questions directly.

The various process pieces take different times for different people, so its hard to quantify. I’d say consider allocating two hours per day (which you might not need), OR plan on using the whole 2 weeks and giving 2 days to each section. We also take a day off during the week, so there is time to get back on track.


Q. This isn’t a standard pre-videoed class? How is the class created?

This course is fully coached over a two week period. This means I am there every day to advise, assist, troubleshoot, and celebrate.  It has daily process pieces with resources, prerecorded conversations about the tasks, and practice elements. 

It’s hard to do all this in a week, plus many elements might be unfamiliar to people. Originally, this was the final piece of a 3-month dance composition course, so it’s pretty in-depth. MD5 goes beyond placing a bunch of steps in a row. Hence the two-week window. Folks can join anytime through the first week, and have specific individual, personalized support through the process. Also you will still have the class after 2 weeks, it will just be self-led at that point.

For anyone who wants to get their dance done, this is a great opportunity.

The system we use is quite robust–dancers who have already been through the program continue to use it, and I make all my dances this way.

If you’d like to make unique dances that suit you, that showcase your passion and joy, that your guests will love, this is the place for you.

Come check it out! There is even a sliding scale price.

https://alia.teachable.com/p/make-a-dance-in-five-days

With all my love,
Alia

Aaand here’s a whole lotta Tito Seif, just for you

What is Agency anyway? And how does it conquer the Spaghetti Factor?

I have spent a lot of time in my life feeling overwhelmed. There was always so much that had to be done, YESTERDAY! All the things squshed together like a big plate of cold, congealed spaghetti. You get that image, right? A solid block of spag-shaped starch. I couldn’t even contemplate it. I couldn’t make a decision about which one of the many screaming tasks came first. I felt sick when I tried. So I put out the most flagrant fires. The rest of the time I played solitaire and read novels on my phone.

Agency is the opposite of overwhelm

Agency is a nice hot plate of fresh pasta rich with olive oil (and maybe a little sautéed garlic ; ). Every strand is separate, easy to pull out and manage. You have choices. Options. Confidence. Ataraxia. Ahhh!

The word Agency comes from the Latin. Its root means doing. Agency, according to Napper and Rao (they wrote the book The Power of Agency), is “the ability to act as an effective agent for yourself–reflecting, making creative choices, and constructing a meaningful life.” They go on to explain that folks who feel more agency also feel less anxiety and overwhelm.

What’s the Number 1 problem dancers tell me about improvisation?

Fear. Anxiety. Overwhelm. What to do next? I freeze on stage. I can’t remember any moves. What if I am boring? What if I do something wrong? They hate me!

Building agency (and thus confidence) helps fend off anxiety and overwhelm.

What is Agency? The ability to make confident decisions in the moment, which is, coincidentally, what improvisation is. Improvisation is baked into Oriental dance. Even if all we were ever taught was choreography. One of the most basic principles of our dance is improv.

And this is what Agency means for us, as dancers: We have all the power in our dance. We dance what we feel from the music in the moment. WE make those choices. No one tells us what to do. The musicians follow us.

So if we want to improvise with effortless ease, we want to increase our Agency.

Napper and Rao give seven principles to increase agency. We’ll look today at the very first, which they say is maybe the most important of all.

Reduce Stimuli

The more random things we have to track, the less attention we have. The more fear, anxiety, and overwhelm crowd our brains, the more we try to remember our entire dance vocabulary so we can decide what to so next, the less we can be in our Zone.

How can dancers reduce stimuli?
We focus on the music and the present moment. Everything else is a distraction. Thinking, remembering, is a distraction. So what do we do?

Part of it is practice. Part of it is prior building of Agency. But here’s something we can use in any moment, without any previous prep.

Creative Limitation

That sounds like an oxymoron, right? Limit our creativity? WHY? Isn’t that what daily life is for?

Well, yeah, but intentional limitation can be a wonderful thing. All of the little pictures that I draw have intentionally limited palettes. I use only a few colors–often only three, rarely more than five. After I pick the line color and draw the squiggle, I test that color with a bunch of others, and pick the few that most resonate for me.

When I practice, I focus on one thing at a time—sometimes for only a minute before moving on, but just one thing–the connection between my feet and the floor, or the orientation of my ramii bones, the initiation of my undulation, my breath–whatever. Something will come into my head to notice, and I will focus on that only for a while. Then move on to something else.

Limiting our options is a way to diminish the overwhelm of too many choices–while increasing our creative expression!

Templates

Templates are patterns of qualities. Qualities are dynamics, like fast or slow, heavy or light, flirtatious or serious, traveling or stillness. Shapes can work, too. Circles, for example. Circle… Circle… Circle… Accent Accent Accent. Pretty much any part of our body can make a circle. Or an infinity. Or an accent. So we get to relax and enjoy all the variation and surprising discoveries within Circular movement.

Templates are an intentionally limited palette of options.

In the Free Mix and Match class last Saturday (the recording is available until May), we looked at Quick Quick Slow, a classic pattern for Oriental dance. Quick and Slow are qualities. Quick Quick Slow is a pattern. It can repeat. We can dip into any color on our palette–move quickly for a while. Move slowly for a while. We also explored qualities of being, generating our Glorious Dance Self. Affect is another quality. We can Imperious, or Flirtatious, or whatever quality the music brings to mind. Just one thing at a time. In our current Mix and Match 5-week series, we explore different qualities every week.

Specific movements don’t matter–any movement can be infused with any quality. So we can let go of trying to think and focus on one simple quality. Attending to quality brings us into the present moment.

When we let go of worry about which move will show up, and just let them come, we get more in tune with the music, our own bodies, and the present moment. We have time to be playful. We have time to interact, to relax, to enjoy ourselves.

We have time.

And isn’t that a lovely thought?

As I worked towards health, I taught myself to notice when I felt overwhelmed. I visualized that clump of cold spag, and I drizzled a little olive oil on it. I let the ease of that olive oil seep into my consciousness. Over time, that clump began to loosen up around the edges. Individual strands began to emerge. And one day there it was! The image of a hot plate of yummy fresh pasta. That’s when things really started to change for me.

They can change for you, too.

With love,
Alia

I hope you will check out the recording of the Free Mix and Match class. It’s up until May 5, 2022. Please do sign up, and please do share the link with friends. https://alia-thabit.ck.page/ec91673801

Here’s what folks had to say about our Mix and Match class..

“I just finished your recorded quick quick slow template class. It was Amazing! My body felt so good doing it! Thank you so much!”

“That exploration really opened up something new for me. That it really is powerful to just work with qualities, taking my time, owning the space, and not having to actually “dance”. I really enjoyed it. And when I watched you, Alia, I could totally see the power in it. It was compelling to watch”

“Feeling my individual dancing spirit free to shine through!💗 “

“Thank you for the experience……So much for me to think (and feel) about!”

“Going more into your own pleasure and then bringing it out/sharing it with audience.”​

“I feel more confident about performing!”

“It reinforced the the value of trusting myself.”

Please also consider the 5-week Mix and Match Templates FUN Class! I just posted the first recording. So you have plenty of time to enjoy it before the next one ; ).

Registration for Mix and Match is open for a little longer. More info and register here: https://aliathabit.com/mix-and-match-templates-for-improvisation/

Announcing! THRIVE with Alia!

Thrive with Alia

For the past 6 months or so, I’ve been envisioning a new web presence that highlights my unique skillset. Finally, I have made that vision a reality!

I invite you to check out my NEW home,

THRIVE with Alia!

Thrive with Alia

It’s got clear portals to the services I provide, updated pages, a simplified nav, and general ease of use. Our new domain, ThriveWithAlia.com will soon be live (aliathabit.com still works, and still goes to the same place. I just like this option ; )

In celebration, I’ll be rolling out some special new events and classes over the next several months. Our Free FUN Class last week was the first of these. Look for more coming up in the next week or so!

THANK YOU for being part of my life–and evolution!
Love,
Alia

Make Your Dance More Dramatic + Bundle Sale Closing!

dramatic dance joy

Dancers show what they feel from the music. But many of us don’t really know what to feel. We worry about feeling the “right” things from the music. We don’t trust our own senses.

Weird, right?

This speaks to the heart of confidence.

How can we have confidence when we don’t quite trust our own responses?

How can we expect our guests to feel something when we don’t?
How do we bring joy when we have none for ourselves?

This has been on my mind a lot lately. It came into this discussion of music mapping for the Bundle Party on Sunday,

How to find what you feel from the music so you have something to say in your dance.

It’s the dancer’s feeling that makes a dance truly dramatic. It’s what the dancer has to say, how they share their feeling from the music. It’s the connection, the communication. It’s the honesty and passion of the dancer that stands out, that lives in memory, that brings tears–and joy.

Here’s the recording from the party.
My segment starts at 2:27 (that’s 2 hours and 27 minutes in).
https://lddy.no/125gp
If you scroll down on the page, you’ll find the fabulous teacher showcases–MANY stunning performances! (and Oreet’s Yemeni dance for the WIN). Scroll a little further and there’s a menu of all the presentations from a lot of very interesting people–so there is a lot there to enjoy. For a little while more.

Because…

The Bundle Sale closes tomorrow

It is an astounding collection, a mix of pre-recorded and live content. Many with lifetime access! New material coming out over the whole coming year. Regular updates and reminders of upcoming live events. Recordings are available for ALL live events, so even if you can’t attend live, you won’t miss out. A Facebook group for community and camaraderie.

Myriad resources to help you develop confidence and expertise.

I’m especially pleased to see specific attention paid to improvisation and confidence, as well as classes and lectures from dancers of origin who embody these principles–and you know I build these concepts in to everything I do–even music mapping ; )

I’m especially pleased to see a manageable payment plan too.

Dancers show what they feel from the music.
Let’s start discovering what we feel. And allowing ourselves to show it.

Only one more day for the Bundle.
Here it is: https://lddy.no/11bdz
Please do share!

With love,
Alia

How to Dance on this Ball of Confusion?

dance, arise, resilience,

Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get out of bed in the morning.

Worldwide conflagrations. Insane people doing insane things. Jaw-dropping lies being paraded around as truth. Pandemics. Violence. Hell. The suffering of the world has never been more raw and visceral.

It’s a lot.

Human beings are not built for long-term high alert

I am fortunate. I am not in the middle of a war zone at this precise moment. But I also know lots of people struggling with deeply challenging situations–and many others stuck in war zones inside their heads, all the time. Few of us are in actual firefights right now. But past and present struggles may be ever-present in our bodies. The alarm bells just keep on ringing.

Those alarm bells can get stuck in the ON position. Even when we are in a safe place, we may still be activated. Sometimes we shut down, dissociate. Sometimes we get angry, lashing out at others, or in, at ourselves. Sometimes we can barely function (raises hand). Everything from wired to wiped, and none of it is happy.

Lots of things can trigger this. The disastrous news cycle. Personal life challenges. Oppression. Family stuff. Lots of things can push us into 24/7 crisis mode. And that’s a problem. It’s immensely destructive to health and well being. Look at the ACES Study. Chronic stress is deadly.

Yet we feel guilty for looking away–from our own problems, or the world’s. We feel we must at least witness the horror. But witnessing horror is traumatic in and of itself. It’s a bitter, destructive feedback loop. I’ve been there. And I’ve seen what it does to people.

So what can we do?

This is what I have devoted myself to over the last decade. Turning off the alarm bells. These are the most effective things I have found.

dance, arise, resilience,
caption for image

Belly dance, a great venue for decompression. Improvised, embodied dance is especially so. Being in the present moment, in a flow state, letting go of everyday thoughts, fears, and irritations, is profoundly healing for the nervous system. In general, 20 minutes is a great time period. Breathing with the music, letting the body move as it wishes, invites a playful state of joy. This is why the bulk of my offerings involve improvisation, usually grounded in Dancemeditation. It’s such great medicine. Plus we get to dress up. And it’s FUN.

Creative expression, a doorway to another world. Improvised belly dance is a creative expression. So are many other things, from writing to drawing, to woodworking, to sculpture. All kinds of art-making have the potential to draw us out of our everyday grind. I’ve been enjoying drawing the colorful abstract designs (which grace this blog), since the outset of covid. I didn’t have the energy for meaning, so I just let whatever come out of my hand, and then colored it in. Any creative enterprise can help us into a zone where we can let go of stress and feel fulfilled.

Anyone can do any of these things on their own and get a lot of benefit. But it can be hard to dance or make art when we are really stressed out. I’ve certainly found that. Soooo hard to do the things that I knew would help me feel better. Sooo frustrating. I needed help. And then I found…

Somatic Experiencing® (SE), direct soul-healing. SE has been the most dramatic help in surviving the last 10 years, and recovering from the decades before. Having an SE coach helped me navigate enormous challenges. Helped me come back to feeling creative. Helped me in my quest to become my true self. Am I perfect? No. Am I a helluva lot better? YES. And it is from this perspective that I integrate all of the above to create programs that help other folks feel better, too.

Please secure your own oxygen mask before helping others.

Feeling better does NOT mean turning a blind eye to the injustice and horror of the world.

This DOES mean developing a healthy nervous system that recognizes when we are in genuine danger and when we are not. So we can survive. So we can live our lives. So we can have the bandwidth to actually do something helpful. So we can THRIVE.

Thrive

Belly Dance, Creativity Coaching, and Somatic Experiencing. Three things that can make a difference as we navigate this ball of confusion.

With love,
Alia

PS Don’t want to go it alone?
SPARK* integrates all three elements to bring relief, re-engagement, and resilience. SPARK* starts Friday the 13th. More info is here: https://aliathabit.com/shop/#trust