How to Dance–in Cursive?!

Back in the 70s I was learning to write (and speak) Tibetan.  Which has an alphabet, but it is entirely unlike the English alphabet. As I struggled to form the unfamiliar characters, I came to appreciate those first-grade workbooks, with their little arrows showing which order and direction to make the strokes.

Since then, I have observed grade-school children struggle to make letters and numbers. A character that should take 2 strokes can take several more strokes, much more time, and infinitely more frustration–unless you have that vital instruction in how to make each character. And that’s just printing! No wonder schools have given up teaching cursive–something I, for one, find tragic. And a problem I see in dance all the time. 

I have long puzzled over dancers making each move a separate entity. There are little spaces in between, as they mentally finish each “character” and then begin the next. I finally began to liken this to print dancing. Each letter separate. Where what we want is to dance in cursive–each letter seamlessly joined to the next, in a beautiful, mellifluous, calligraphic stream. I’ve written briefly about the connection of oriental dance and calligraphy. But of course calligraphy can be print or cursive. 

It took me a while to see the cursive angle. 


Cursive writing is all about the effortless transitions between the letters. And belly dance is all about the effortless transitions between the moves. Specific moves aren’t as important and the freedom, agency, and joy. And that little transitional space is where improvisation and micromovement–freedom, agency, and joy–thrive. 

Back in the 70s I was also taking Ibrahim Bobby Farrah’s classes every week. Bobby taught transitions like they were moves in and of themselves. Bobby presented new combinations every single class, and those combos were tuned to the music, and composed of classic moves. He broke those transitions down for us, the weight, directional, and intentional changes. Because of this, we quickly grew adept at transitioning from one move to another, at effortlessly combining moves on the fly–and at improvisation. 

So this is what I want to do in Bobby Style 3: Transitions

Each week, we will take a short combination of classic moves and attend to the transitions between them–so that we can lilt from move to move easily. What this gives us the time and space to enrich each element of the move with those calligraphic attributes of thick and thin lines, flourishes, and adaption of size, speed, force, and so on–all of the dynamics and intentionality that make dance surprising and wonderful. 

Transitions is suitable for most levels of dancer. We won’t spend much time breaking down the classic moves–our focus will be in transitions and musicality. Dancers will gain confidence in combining movements on the fly. Teachers will learn how to improve students’ movement quality and improv confidence). We’ll have fun, dance better, and find our own style over the five-week program. 

Bobby Style 3: Transitions​ begins Tuesday, January 24 at 4pm est. See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link).
Yes, I pushed it back a tad.  It will run through Tuesday, March 7 (no classes on Feb 7 or 14). 

See more and register here:

I look forward to dancing with you!


PS THANK YOU to the intrepid dancers who joined me to film Heart of the Heart! The video is almost all edited and will be posted shortly!

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

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!

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.

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.

With all my love,

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

Wonderland starts Sunday!


I am so excited for Wonderland! And part of my excitement is that Delsarte movement expert Joe Williams will be our guest artist, with a 2-hour live interactive workshop on using Delsarte principles to subtly enhance meaning, emotion, and engagement in our dance! As you may remember, I included Joe’s workshops last year in my professional development post; I am beyond delighted to host him as a guest artist for Wonderland!

Wonderland includes so much material for making meaningful, compelling dances! It is great for creating structures to inform improvisational dances, or to give richness and depth to set choreographies. It can even be used on the fly, with music you’ve never heard before!

This is a major component of the CDA system that I use to make all my dances. CDA incorporates musical structure, narrative and symbolic content, stage pictures, and more to create fully realized dances for improvisation or choreography. Wonderland is the heart of this system.

The course runs 5 weeks, concurrently with Secret Stories, a FUN Class Deep Dive into theatrical expression. Secret Stories (a $65 value) starts Tuesday! It is included free in Wonderland as a bonus! (but you can also just sign up for Secret stories–it’s going to be WONDER-ful ; )

I’ve even included a private lesson with me for each student, to better develop your vision!

This is going to be such a great class! There are still spaces left, along with a modest sliding scale. Wonderland will be hosted on a private forum, just for participants. I hope you will join us!

With all my love,

The Power of Secret Stories

secret stories

Have you ever worn racy underwear? Gartered stockings, or a little lacy nothing? Or an audacious t-shirt, crazy socks, or even a special token, safe in your pocket? And then gone about your normal day, in your normal clothes? It’s kinda cool, right? The hidden knowledge whispers into you, subtly changing everything about how you stand, feel, and interact. It’s a secret, with meaning only you know. Yet it can color every moment with its warmth and clandestine thrill…

Continue reading

How to be messy–AND orderly (and have fun doing it)

messy and orderly

I’m not the most organized person in the world. If I want something, I have to go look for it. And sometimes I can’t find it. Until it wants to be found ; ) And I’m a triple Virgo! We’re supposed to be orderly, organized, tidy. Um. No.

There is one place I am orderly as well as messy: in art.

As an artist, I embrace structure. Which is funny, since you know I also embrace improvisation. It makes more sense than it might seem to. The messiness of improvisation thrives within the framework of structure. It took me a whil to learn this, and now I see and apply it in all the arts I practice.

As a writer, I freewrite to find out what I want to say. Then I organize my writing into an arc. Sometimes I know what I want to talk about, and sometimes I discover it. These newsletters are often written this way.

For my drawings, such as you see in the newsletter, I let my hand roam, drawing what it likes. Then I find the relationships between the elements, the narratives that arise between them. I highlight these as I develop the drawing, making meaning through selection and enhancement of the order I find beneath the disorder of my improvisational approach. It’s amazing what turns up!

As a dancer, my practice sessions are largely built around letting my body respond as it wishes to the music, interspersed with embodying elements I want to bring into my dance, from specific movements to overall ethos. When I make a dance, though, I collect musical impressions, develop them into a “narrative” of sorts (which sometimes more resembles a fever dream), and plan the floor patterns, imagery I want to express, and other elements. Then I dance that impressionistic sequence.

What I get is dances that have meaning and intensity baked into them, that are easy to remember, and that give me freedom in the moment, to go or stay, or take time to visit. Because I know what I want to express in each moment–so I am free to choose how I express it. I am free to be present in the moment.

I do this with my classes too. I leave lots of room for personal discovery. I don’t teach folks what to dance; I teach them how to find their own dance.

So it is with Make a Dance in Five Days (MD5)

Each day there is a prompt, something to explore, and then to add to the developing dance. My messy side wants the freedom to explore. My structured side uses a spreadsheet. I know. It’s funny to me, too.

Messiness, exploration, and freedom are vital to making art!

Creativity is not a tame lion. It’s our wildness. It’s improvident. It wants to be expressed even if it is silly, frivolous. Who are we to draw all over that cave wall? Thank the muse they did!

How many venues to we, as adults, have to be expressive, silly, self-engaged, doing things for the joy of it? Life gets so complicated. Survival trumps everything. So it’s important to step back from the daily grind and do something for joy. For love. For fun.

Maybe we don’t care to perform–we can still make dances! Making dances gives us a window into our music and ourselves, a way to discover who we are and what we bring to the table. So what if we dance in our bedrooms and kitchens? Culturally, most folks dance at home with family and friends. But they still love to dance, and to dance well. So can we.

Structured improvisation allows us to play and look good doing it ; ). Art nourishes and heals us from the woes of the world. In art, we can have it all–structure provides a framework for our joy and passion. Joy and passion provide a framework for our best lives, our true selves.

Want to try it?

Make a Dance in Five Days starts next week.

Join a well-designed class with like-minded folks

Make a dance in five days

A daily prompt with video expansion and examples. A private Teachable group for QnA, cheerleading, and camaraderie.

BONUS! I will be on Zoom for an hour each day from 3-4 PM EST. All participants are welcome to drop in, ask questions, work on their dance for an hour, or to work along with the recording for an hour.

Social dancers welcome! (why should performers have all the fun?) Make a dance for your own pleasure!

Make a Dance in Five Days runs Thursday Oct 28 to Tuesday, Nov 2 (we’ll skip Halloween, Oct 31).
Optional Video recital, Wednesday, Nov 3.

Sliding scale pricing because the world is wack.

What makes this class special?
It’s a time-tested, systematic approach to dance composition that you can use over and over again.


Check it out here:

In other news

I’m honored to be part of the

MENAHT Dancers Collective Panel Discussion!

Come converse with dancers of the culture!

Saturday, Oct 23 at 12pm Pacific time / 3pm Eastern.

Live on the MENAHT Dancer Collective Facebook page

AND You’re invited to a party!

The BellyDance Bundle sale is now on through October 27 (YES, there is a payment plan!).

To celebrate, we are having a FREE Live Party ALL DAY LONG!

From 9:45 am to 9:45 pm est, there are classes, dancing, and general mayhem. There’s a full schedule listed on the page. I’ll be on from 12:10 – 12:30 doing some unusual movement stuff–invite your friends, come say hi, and hang out!

The BellyDance Bundle Live Party ALL DAY LONG!

Come dance!

With all my love,

Improvise to an Improvisation?

Music Map of Ibrahim Maalouf "Soon Will be a Woman" Improvisation

I made a lil video of me dancing to my own music map for the Bundle’s Instagram Challenge last week (it’s still on until10/22, with new prompts every day!).

My “UnDrill” invited dancers to make their own music maps and to dance them. For this purpose, I made a pretty straight ahead, fairly representational map.

Here’s a picture of it (and here’s the song).

When you watch/hear the video, you can see I put one phrase of the music on each line–until I got to the taqsim, which is more free form, but still fairly linear.

But it made me think about even more abstract maps…

So I made another one, with the rest of the song. Try dancing this map as you listen to the music. Let the drawing come in through your eyes and the music come in through your ears, and let your body decide how to follow them. Put aside linearity and control; let your body move as it wishes.

How does it go?

I’d love to hear from you!

In other news…

The Bundle Scholarship Application is live!

See it here:
If you are:

Of MENAHT origin/descent
(and/or) Are of Indigenous origin
(and/or) Are Black
(and/or) Are a POC
(and/or) Part of the LGBTQ+ community
(and/or) Live in a country whose currency is weak against the dollar, pricing you out of the Bundle this year…
AND would not be otherwise able to purchase and participate in this year’s Bellydance Bundle please fill out the form below to apply for one of our 15 award seats.

9 award seats will go to marginalized dancers, and the other 6 will go to dancers living in countries whose currency is weak against the dollar.

Scholarships will be awarded via random draw of all applicants on October 18th at which point everyone who applied will be contacted via the e-mail address provided on the application.

Your application and scholarship will be kept private. Your financial situation is no one’s business but yours.

There is no proof of identity or financial need required.

Apply here: Please share!

How to Write a Blog Post–THIS SATURDAY!

This 90-minute live Zoom class walks participants through the process of writing short (500+ words), well-organized articles, suitable for a blog, newsletter, even a sales page–with ease.

Discover the pleasure of writing what you want to say–without the misery!

Live class, Saturday, October 16 from 2:00-3:30 pm edt. See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link). YES, there will be a recording.

More info and register here:

And finally….

How to Make a Dance is 5 Days is happening!

Thursday Oct 28 to Tuesday, Nov 2 (we’ll skip Halloween, Oct 32). Virtual video sharing, Wednesday, Nov 3.
Daily prompt with QnA. Private Teachable group for cheerleading and camaraderie. Regular price and sliding scale.
More info and registration is here:

How do we unite dancemaking and improvisation?

There is a big trend in our dance to make tightly choreographed dances, where we do it exactly the same every time. This is partly because we have recorded music, but it is also popular for a few other reasons.

For one, folks trained in Western dance styles usually started learning choreographies at the age of three in Miss Susy’s School of Dance. So that seems most natural and normal. For another, contests tend to value those highly stylized dances. And finally, many dancers just feel safer knowing exactly what comes next–unlike the messy surprises of life, our dance is at least one dang thing we can control.

But improvisation is the natural habitat of Oriental dance

So what can we do?

I thought about this a lot as I prepared How to Map Your Music. For a lot of us, getting into the nitty-gritty structure of a song is an invitation to tie it down, to articulate every note with a pre-selected movement, specially chosen to show off what a great dancer we are. Personally, I’d rather see a dancer enjoying their dance and inviting me to enjoy it, too. I am a big fan of improvisation.

I’m also a big fan of theatrical dance and structured improv. Structured improv means we have a plan. The plan can be based on many different things, but it’s still a plan. We have a general idea of what we’re going to do. Fall on the floor here, pose there, run across the room somewhere else in the song. Or what part of a story we are telling. Or any number of other cues.

I choose to champion improvisational composition

Structured improv preserves dancer agency and is a lot of fun. Plus we can have time to relax, to make connections in the moment. Oriental dance is alll about connections. We are right there with our guests, or with our friends and family when we dance socially.

To that end, I shared a bunch of improv inspiration on the Yallah Raqs Podcast. Here’s a link to my episode, Mapping the Music.

You might also enjoy my 2020 podcast on Taqsim, and 2019’s Joy and Improv.

I’ve also highlighted improv in this year’s UnDrill for the Instagram Challenge. This one is ridiculously fun, and I made an unspeakably cute video for it. There’s more where that came from, too. Wait till you see the next one!

Shameless self promotion–MYM is part of the Lecture Bundle this year, along with some topics that I am looking forward to, such as Zara’s talk discussing cultural, political, economic & social issues facing Egyptian Bellydancers, and Dawn Devine’s lecture on Danse Du Ventre at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This year’s Dance Bundle is also loaded with goodies.

Many of these teachers feature free inspiration on the Podcast and the Instagram Challenge (which is 21 days of dance prompts to get everyone feeling like dancing aqgain).

Next year is shaping up to the Year of Composition of here, and all of it deliciously engaged with improv. But why wait?

Recital season approaches!

It occurred to me some of us might want to perform in recitals, or might just enjoy making their own dance.

Want a “Make Your Dance in 5 Days” (or make your dance in a day) this fall?

We could do it towards the end of October, so the dances would be ready for the holiday season.

If that interests you, comment below, or email me and let me know.

Here’s some improv music ; )

How to Fill Your Dance with Freedom

Fill Your Dance With Freedom

One of the things I love is structure–which is hilarious, since I am the Queen of Chaos (this mostly shows up in my everyday surroundings. Yes, I am a triple Virgo. Go figure). But I am pretty organized on the inside–and as an artist, composition, aka structure, brings freedom.

This is why I am always pointing out musical structure in my classes.

As dancers, we have more freedom when we can see what is all around around us. Like a busy restaurant, when we know the entrances, exits, and pathways of the waitstaff, it’s a lot easier to navigate.

And while we have all survived (and many of us enjoy), dancing to unknown songs, having a sense of structure will make that song much more predictable. We’ll have a better sense of timing, accents, and transitions, so we can enjoy ourselves a lot more.

Because I am making this Map Your Music course for the Bundle, I’ve been thinking a lot about dance composition. In my experience, belly dance choreographies tend to be made as step-sequences. Four of this, turn, kick, hip 2, 3, 4, etc. This pains me, as belly dance is meant to be improvised, in the same way its music is improvised–the song may be the same, but the musicians’ decorations, solos, and embellishments are always changing. “Same but different” is a point of pride for musicians and dancers alike.

So why as dancers do we try to do things the same every time?
Let’s be more whimsical!

Well, that’s how we get taught. Lots of dance in the West is tightly choreographed. Because we have recorded music, it is tempting to do recorded dances. And a beautiful choreography, beautifully danced, is a beautiful thing.

It’s just not the only thing. I’d love to see us have more fun with our compositions.

Belly dance is all about dancer agency and being in the present moment.

We are supposed to be able to respond to the music in the moment, as we feel it. So let’s make dances that celebrate this!

For example, instead of deciding on every step, what if we just plan the floor patterns? Then we know where to be and when to be there, but we can do any step we feel like to get there.

Or we can just set movement families. So this verse will be all hip drops, and this one will be all arms.

Or tell a story.

Or whatever. We can bake in variety in ways other than specific steps. We don’t even need specific steps.

In this way, we also bake in our agency and freedom. And it’s fun!

We’ll be doing some composition things this fall. I’m guessing folks are doing some recitals even if they are on Zoom. Stay tuned! I haz ideas ; ). I’ll also be talking more about this on the Bundle Podcast, which is coming soon–but there are already lots of great interviews there: Bundle Podcast

Lots and lots of love and hugs!

The BellyDance Bundle Zill Giveaway is happening now. Five prizes–maybe one of them is for you? Check it out! Zill Giveaway

How to Map Your Music (so you can always find your way)

It’s important for us to understand the meaning of lyrics in songs we dance on. It’s important to understand the cultural relevance of things like improvisation ad micromovement. Knowing these things makes our dance better, more nuanced, more authentic.

It’s also important to understand the structure of our music–so we don’t get lost, so we know when to change, so we know what’s coming down the pick even with an unfamiliar song. Lots of music is pretty simple–there’s a verse, a chorus, maybe a taqsim.

And then some of it is more complex. A LOT more complex. And then there’s all that music that sounds the same all the way through. How on earth do you keep track of all that?

Whether we are learning choreographies to such songs, or want to make our own dance, or just have fun improvising. It’s all a lot easier when we can sense into the structure of the song.

From the rhythm up through the melody and taqasim, we dance better when we feel confident. Knowledge is power! Understanding musical structure is power.

Want some of your own?


How to Map Your Music
(a 4-step system for musical confidence)

And what are those 4 steps?

Observe, Explore, Inspect, Expand.


This is allll about listening. Listening to the music, listening for changes, listening for each instrument–listening to the images, ideas, and visions that float through my head. When I plan to make a dance, I listen without dancing, so I have the time and space to really hear the song, without the distraction of movement. I have walked around all day for days with a single song on repeat. And been rewarded with just the right images and concepts to make the dance come alive. Once I have a sense of the song, next comes…


Now I will dance, draw the music, play with characters, costumes, and so forth. I’m not making anything yet, just feeling into the song, for what it wants and what it says to my body, looking for the right mix of elements to spark my imagination and motivate me to go further. Then, I’m ready to…


This is where it gets very nitty-gritty. I use a spreadsheet. Yep. I’m kinda geeky. I track the changes in the music, even down to the measures if I have to. It takes me a couple of passes to find all the changes. I do a rough sort and then fill in as I go along. When that’s all good, I get to…


This is where I make notes on what instruments are soloing, the melodic themes, the flavor of any particular sections that takes my fancy. I’ll even write down narrative, imagery, and movement that comes to me over the process. What do I do with all this?


It all comes together in a new composition. I’ve filled my creative well with a deep dive intot he music,. Now I compose all of the elements that I’ve chosen to incorporate. I throw things in and out, mix and match, and hey, presto! A dance!

Here’s one The RakSultana Dancers made for the BellyDance Blossom Festival, using this system, adapted for groups.

Could I do this all right at the beginning?
Heck no!

I learned by trial and error.

And now I have a system that works–not just for me but for the many students who have used this same system in How to Create Dance Art, a three-month odyssey into the creative process.

Song mapping = WONDERFUL! That made a massive difference to me and it helped me visualize the song.


I am so stoked! I cannot wait to use what I’ve learned for my next choreography. I’m more confident and even would go as far as saying “more genuine” in my dance. I’m not afraid to make mistakes or fully put myself out there anymore….


I appreciated that Alia didn’t tell us “the way to do things,” but rather gave us exercises that helped us each develop our own way.


Midway through the course, I realized movements came out of my body if I just let it happen.  I started listening to the music and how it made me feel instead of listening to the music and thinking of what I should be doing.  It was fun. 


I’ve been teaching CDA since 2013. Students asked me to break it into modules. The first of these was Embodiment. Map Your Music follows on from there.

How to Map Your Music (MYM) is now a standalone course!

I’m pulling it out and making it available on demand to dancers everywhere. It’s simple and IT WORKS. But it’s not available quite yet…

MYM is my contribution to The Belly Dance Bundle for 2021.

I love the Bundle, and I love Tiffany, who puts it together. This year is bigger than ever with some really great names taking part. Fifty-five contributors, including many dancers of origin and of color–Esraa Warda, Ebony Qualls, and Lebanese Simon, just to name a few.

Our big giveaway this year is a beautifully-designed Practice Tracker. The Tracker helps dancers choose a focus area in their practice, plan their practice, and then track that as they proceed through their month. (it works great for the #21daysofbellydance Instagram challenge!). There’s a zil giveaway coming up, too. Plus a party, mini lessons, and…

Well, it’s a lot.

And I can’t wait! I am especially looking forward to the #21daysofbellydance on Instagram. And the Podcast! Squee!

So there you have it!

A breakdown of the four steps to map your music–and a quick overview of this year’s Belly Dance Bundle.


Lots and lots of love and hugs,

How do you remember choreography?

How do you remember choreography?

This is one of the questions I hear most often, and with the most anguish.
One dancer struggles as another effortlessly repeats. Why?

I learned to dance through improvisation. In Bobby Farrah’s classes of the mid 70s, no matter how many times a week you went to class (and I often went three times a week for two hours at a time, 1973-1977), we did something completely different.

The format of each class was fairly consistent: there was usually an extended combination, moves across the floor, and often we followed him as he improvised. Cymbal class was much the same, with zils on.

However, the content varied widely–what we did was always new and different, class after class, week after week. I learned to dance, very quickly, and with a wide range of options. I learned how to use a stage, how to interpret music, and how to create on the spot.

However, I did not learn any choreography. Consequently, when I started attending workshops (Morocco’s was my first), and even Bobby’s later classes, I was at sea. I quickly developed a strategy of not giving a damn about the choreography, just cherry-picking steps, attitudes and some combinations, and I was happy with this. But I did feel stupid when I saw other people learn so fast. On the other hand, I usually didn’t like their dancing, so I just snobbed over this little problem.

Then my students wanted me to teach them choreographies. Okay. I had been exposed to enough of them. I started making dances for my students. I went to more workshops where there was nothing presented but choreographies. I watched movies such as A Chorus Line and saw that professional dancers could repeat complex combinations after seeing them ONCE.  And I paid attention to the differences in values between oriental dance and western dance. And this is what I saw.

In traditional Oriental dance, the dancer creates the dance in the moment. Oriental dance values intuitive movement and expression of emotion. Technique is the servant of expression. The most important thing is the feeling. These are the values of the music as well.

Western dance, however, distinguishes between the dancer and the choreographer (even that word is hard to type!). Dancers are trained to remember and repeat. Movement is stylized, specific, and exact. So are movement strings. The dancer is the vessel for the vision of the choreographer. The dancer’s job is to manifest that vision physically. So how do these dancers remember all that choreography?

Dancers remember choreographies because they practice. It’s as simple as that. What do they practice? Remembering choreography. In the dance school setup, children as young as three begin this practice. They go to class and learn choreographies. Their parents buy the cute (expensive) little cossies and have pictures taken, while their babies go on stage at the annual recital and toddle charmingly through their steps.

By high school, these kids have practiced this at least 800 hours (an hour a week for 15 years), repeating precisely stylized movement, combinations, and choreography. If they are at all enthusiastic, they go more often than once a week, and they practice at home, too, running through their choreographies endless times, not only with their bodies, but in their heads. They have gone to dance camp, this camp, that festival, the other workshop, spending many, many hours a day honing their technique and learning to repeat. We could be talking thousands of hours of practice here.

How much time have the rest of us spent? Learning to remember choreography? Not dancing, not improvising, not creating dances. Remembering. Probably we looked that other dancer and just felt stupid. Then we gave up, and said, I’m not good at learning choreography. I’m stupid. I’m slow. At that point, Resistance’s work is done. We have given up. And even though we struggle, we know it’s no good, because we compare ourselves to the other.

But I bet you have spent quite a few hours practicing other aspects of your dance. And I bet there are even more things you never thought about practicing, things that would have a much bigger impact on the quality of your dance than remembering choreography. Like being in the moment. Loving the audience. Enjoying yourself onstage. Laughing at your mistakes. Developing your emotional response to the music.

We do much better at whatever we practice. So if we practice feeling sorry for ourselves because some little twerp has a better memory for choreo, we will get better at feeling sorry for ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Talent is Overrated by Shawn Colvin speaks to this.
Colvin’s premise is that much of what we think of as inborn talent is in fact the result of effort and practice. He tells the story of SF, an otherwise unremarkable guy, who learned through 250 hours of training to be able to repeat a string of 80+ numbers, no small feat. Prior to this, memorization and repetition of such long strings were thought to be outside the range of human ability. A pal of SF’s later went on to repeat a string of 102 numbers. The researchers concluded that there was no upward limit to the length of number strings that humans could remember. 250 hours is not a big investment to change the course of history.

Colvin mentions “retrieval structures,” one of the most important elements of memory development.
These are the strategies we use to remember things. SF cast his numbers into groups that represented running times. We will create choreographies with rich structures so that we will have myriad retrieval strategies in place. And we know that intelligence is malleable and can be grown, that anyone can develop skills with practice. So we can use the techniques of deliberate practice to learn whatever we want more effectively.

We may never put in the hours to learn choreo in one click. But as Colvin reports, ability in one area has nothing to do with ability in others. Sf could only remember numbers. Chess masters could only remember games. So don’t waste time comparing yourself to others. You have much better uses for your time.

Ask yourself, what makes a great dancer? Is it remembering choreography? I didn’t think so. Make a list. Leverage the skills you have. Leverage your ability to learn new things.

Where do you want to excel?

Practice that.

Want more?