Announcing: Conversational Belly Dance!

Conversational Belly Dance Illustration

Greetings!

A cultural dance can be seen as a language, including a new vocabulary, with its own inflections and conventions. In our last FUN Class session, we looked at dance moves as letters in an alphabet, writing in cursive script as opposed to printing in block letters. This time we look at individual moves as words in sentences.  

For many of us, our ability to improvise (to have off-the-cuff conversations with the music), is hampered when we can’t remember our dance vocabulary, and our minds are yelling at us the whole time as our palms get sweaty and we wish the ground would just open up and swallow us. Simply drilling words in rote sentences is not the answer—ou est la plume de ma tante, anyone? 

To really speak a language, we must engage in conversation! So this improvisational ease is our focus in…

Conversational Belly Dance
Engaging the music with comfort and confidence!

What we’ll do each week

1. Introduce one or two classic moves (aka words). Combine and recombine them them with other basic moves into small combinations (aka sentences ; ). 

These combinations and moves will change every week—however, we will add our previous moves into our rotation, so we will become comfortable with them in many different combinations. In learning science, this is known as creating a constellation—we add new stars every week and mix them around in the context of actual dancing to varied actual music. 

2. Facilitate daily practice using TinyHabits.com models. Since conversational language gets better with practice, we will to find time each day to at least listen to music from provided playlists, and at best dance from just one song to to up to 20 minutes a day, incorporating our words of the week into our existing vocabulary however many days a week we choose. We will also help you troubleshoot your workflow to make the act of opening the practice session as simple and seamless as possible. 

3. Offer accountability for this practice. We’ll provide daily check-ins via app or text. Let us know you’ve practiced, and we’ll respond! Participants are free to choose accountability buddies from Alia, the class, or outside of it. 

4. Provide playlists of suitable practice music. We’ll include a fallback song or two—something you can have ready on your phone to turn on at a moment’s notice to get your daily practice happening. 

Conversational Belly dance promises to be a fun way to gain confidence in your ability to dance without having to think of moves, even as you increase your vocabulary and and your ease in connecting words into sentences on the fly. 

Conversational Belly Dance runs Tuesdays at 4pm EST for five weeks, from April 25 to May 23, 2023. See this in your time zone. Each class is recorded (instructor view only). Each recording is available during the run of the class.

I hope to see you there!
With all my love,
Alia

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PS Speaking of accountability!

Watch out for our NEW ACE Mastermind series! Our kickoff event is a FREE group Target Practice, as we set our sights on getting some things done and HOW we’re going to do them.


AND! Upcoming Local VT/NH Events

In other news, things are opening up and folks are doing things in person again–including me 0.o. For example,

I have an office!

It’s in St. Johnsbury, VT for in-person SE sessions (yes, I even have an air purifier!). I’ll be talking more about the benefits of SE for artists and dancers in the coming weeks.


I’m teaching a live class!

It’s suitable for all levels, a fun social class for relaxation and enlivening! The class is Thursdays from 6-7pm in St. Johnsbury, VT. We’ll do a a free sample class on April 20th, and start a 6-week session on April 27. More information is here. Please do share the page with anyone you think might be interested.


Coming soon: Live Tuning In sessions.
Probably in Lyndonville, VT. More on that in the next few weeks.


Noteworthy Online Events

Click the links for more information

Classes with the legendary Amani of Lebanon, April 29 and 30, 2023, sponsored by Tammy Stanzione

Nawarra of Morocco, on the state of folklore dances in our industry with Walladah Valladah

Lecture by Tamalyn Dallal on the the Arabic diaspora in South America, sponsored by Mahin

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. 

Basmalah

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: https://aliathabit.com/shop/#live

I look forward to dancing with you!

Love, 
Alia

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!

How to Accept Praise (+ grow as an artist)

Here’s a Love Note from the 2015 90 Days. This year is the 10th anniversary of the first 90 Day Dance Party! To celebrate, we’ll do a 90 Days in 2023. Tentative start date is Feb 19. Look for an early bird special for Black Friday.

It’s also the 50th anniversary of my life in Oriental dance. More about that coming up, too.

***

When I was a kid, my grandmother assured me she would pay for all my college textbooks. Not having any idea what books cost, and having been drilled in self-sufficiency, I said, Oh, no—no need. My mild, loving grandmother fixed me with a steely eye and snapped, “When someone offers you money, you take it!”

We could accept a few other things, too. Praise, for example. Thanks. Success. What happens when a student gets an award, but doesn’t tell anyone? A writer completes her novel (which took years of late nights after work and children). She puts it away in a drawer. A dancer finishes her show and runs off, leaving the audience to applaud an empty stage…

Art Venn Diagram

Why we reject the positive

Many of us have been slapped for pride or vanity, those convenient sins through which others put us in our place. When we think well of ourselves, do anything for ourselves, enjoy life a little bit, plenty of folks are only too happy to cut us down. (Some take a lot of satisfaction in raining on everyone else’s parade. Maybe it makes them feel better about being dreamless, unhappy, finger-pointing grinches) In any case, it hurts. A lot.

After being kicked quite a bit, we may be loathe to raise our heads again. We hunker down, keeping all our goodness to ourselves. When others compliment us, we deflect those compliments. We barely say thank you. We point out our flaws, instead. Because we are not going to be lifted up on false hopes, only to be dashed again to the rocks. We have been betrayed and disappointed in ourselves too many times for that. It’s safer, sure. But….

There’s a problem with this

Several, actually.

One is that the world is deprived of our voice, our contribution. We may feel they don’t deserve it, having been snotty to us in the past, but the world is so much bigger than our little corner of it! How many others suffer as we have done? How many would welcome a voice that validated their experience? As artists, we heal the world. When we refuse to share our wealth of insight and experience, we shut out change.

Another is that it’s rude. Our admirer is left holding the bag. Someone who was moved enough to risk coming up to talk to us just got the door slammed in their face. I don’t care how introverted, shy, or self hating we may be, it’s our responsibility to accept compliments.

A third is that it corrodes our souls. We are so hard on ourselves. Nothing is ever enough. We belittle our own efforts so routinely, we are astonished when anyone exhibits such poor taste as to compliment us. We assume that compliments are anything from empty politeness to stupidity, to the ravings of lunatics or perverts. So we deflect them. We ignore them. Or we sneer at them. And we cherish instead dissatisfaction, envy, resentment, and regret that destroy our happiness.

What can we do?

Say thank you. Genuinely. With all our heart. None of that eye-rolling dismissal. No qualifiers. We can’t know what our actions may mean to someone. Our words, activities, whatever, carry far more weight and importance than we can ever imagine. So every bit of positive feedback is to be treasured, respected, and acknowledged.

Accept thanks from others. Don’t just thank them back. Say, You’re welcome. Afwan. De nada. My pleasure. Take a moment to appreciate their gift. They want to express their feeling. It’s churlish to short-circuit this. It hurts us and them.

Celebrate success. Enjoying our own accomplishments is a vital step on the road to self-compassion. Like shutting out compliments, shutting out success leads to gray days and dark nights. It’s really okay to take pleasure in accomplishment! We are so often afraid of seeming vain or conceited. We don’t want to burden anyone. So we keep our mouths shut. But at what cost?

Wait, what if that “compliment” is really a sarcastic snark?

All the more reason to genuinely thank the giver. Graciousness is the best revenge. Nothing pisses off a detractor more than missing the mark. In fact, act really touched. Bring a tear if you can. It’s worth it. Lol, just kidding (a little). But do treat everyone as though they are genuine. Let god sort them out. Besides, sometimes the shock of kindness can change a person.

Gratitude conclusively upgrades our lives. Saying thank you, you’re welcome, and celebrating success help us appreciate the good things in our lives. Few of us are narcissists. In fact, many are hobbled by self-doubt. We could all use some more positivity and pleasure.

Look for the good.

Find the good

Cherish it. Share it.

Love,
Alia

PS We’re doing the 90 Days again. It starts Feb 19th. In honor of this, I’m posting a Love Note most weeks from now to then, each from one of the previous 90 Days.

Read more about gratitude

Music: FELA Kuti! Soundcloud playlist


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 at home (and on video)

Alexander the Great conquered the known world. Everywhere there was fell to him. He did a good job, too, keeping the local culture culture intact. But his big love was conquering. When he got as far as there was to go, when there were no more countries to to invade, Alexander broke down and cried.

Alexander the Great
Mosaic of Alexander and his horse, Bucephalus (c. first century AD), ancient Roman floor mosaic from the House of the Faunin Pompeii showing Alexander fighting king Darius III of Persia in the Battle of Issus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great)

Sometimes it seems we can only go so far by dancing for our pets, stuffed animals, and furniture. Where else is there to go? Many of us do not perform, or we have few chances. We need some real live interaction!

Well, here is an an idea.

Dance with the mirror.

Most of us have been trained to squint at ourselves critically. What if we enjoyed ourselves instead?

I started by just smiling at and reassuring myself in the bathroom mirror. Then I moved on to a little mirror in my living room. Then when I danced in that room, I found I danced to myself in that little mirror—just my face. I would dance and smile and twinkle, and it was so much nicer.

A while back, at an improv class of Leila Farid’s, people were asking about using mirrors to practice improv. This is generally a terrible idea, since we all squint and judge ourselves so much in the mirror, focusing upon what we look like and tweaking our visual.

I mentioned that I was developing a new relationship with my mirror, dancing with rather than staring at, and I danced a little bit, twinkling at my reflection, enjoying the moment.

The reaction was interesting. Everyone’s jaw dropped. Clearly, no one had done this before. So I mention it today. What if we all reclaimed our self-relationship? What if we all used the mirror to reinforce our self-love and enjoyment? I think that could be one hell of a revolutionary gesture.

This also works on video.

I first noticed this when I was making 90 Days practice videos. I see what the camera does on my computer screen. I keep an eye on the monitor to be sure that I am in the frame, and I smile and send love out through the camera to to all of my guests. But I realized I was doing more than that—I was dancing with myself. Instead of squinting and judging, I was twinkling and smiling and playing!

Well! That was a fun surprise. I find it is becoming a habit. And what a nice habit! Because I smile at myself, it comes through the camera as though I smile into it, so it has a double benefit of love to myself and love towards my guests.

I usually position the cam so it is at waist height, which I understand as the best angle for recording dance, as neither half of the body is lengthened or foreshortened. I do all the normal video things, check the light, mark the space I have, remove any clutter, and then I have a good time dancing with myself! I even like the way the videos have been coming out. So it is a win-win.

I have a video for you below, so you can see what I mean. I made this for the 90 Days; now you get to see it, too ; ). 

I invite you to try it for yourself!

Start with mirrors or video as you like—just smile and twinkle at yourself. Dance and have fun!

This is exactly what we will do in PRESENCE!

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.

Presence runs Tuesdays at 4pm ET from Sept 27 through Oct 26 2022. Each class is recorded (instructor view only). Each recording is available during the session.

More info and register here!

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

Love,
Alia

Music: Maewood, by Abdel Halim Hafez!



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.

3 Ways to Thrive (and create your Glorious Self)

Mind the Gap

Recently, I’ve written about improving self-talk, celebrating tiny moments of success, resolving trauma, strengthening willpower, and many more. I’ve talked about how Behavior Creates Emotion, and devoted the FUN Class series to exploring behavior as a way to bring emotional resonance into our dance. And now 3 more ways to thrive.

These are just some of the methods we will use in Create Your Glorious Self to develop our personae and activate our agency. I love them because they are based in science–each of them has been studied many many times and found to be practical, repeatable methods–and because they work. Try them and see! These are methods you can start using right now. You can change how you react to challenges–and become more chill, relaxed, and present.

As you change yourself, your circumstances change as well. We are all engaged in patterns of behavior. Some of which are very old and may no longer serve us–but they are so ingrained as to be automatic. The good news is that patterns are a sort of fractal–when you change one element, the whole pattern gets interrupted, and there is a sudden opening for change and growth. So…

3 Ways to Thrive

1. Choose Your Own Adventure

It’s a pattern. My kid snipes at me. Annoyed, I snipe back. Huh. Not so helpful. What would serve me better than this conditioned response of joining the snipe-fest? And how would I put that into play?

The same goes for all of us. What is the pattern, the behavior loop in which we are trapped? What happens first? What next? Where is the gap into which we can insert an exit? Once the pattern is interrupted, there is an opportunity for everyone’s behavior to change. First, we choose how we want to be, who we want to be in any specific interaction. It could be dance, home, work, play–anywhere something is happening that we want to change. Where is one such place for you? How would you prefer to respond?

2. Mind the Gap

Between a “stimulus” (eg, our kid breaks a plate, or we see the audience all staring at us, or our boss ignores us again, or whatever), and our “response” (eg, scream at the kid, start panicking, shrink into a hurt-ball or whatever), there is a tiny little gap. A space. A breath. Literally. This is the place to pause, breathe, and choose. It’s small, so it usually flits past before we even notice. But it’s there. We can often find it in retrospect. Track back from the moment everything fell apart–there will have been a stimulus and a response. And that tiny little gap.

The first step is to become aware of it. To notice it. Once we see it coming it, we can use it. However we have decided to be different, this tiny gap is the place where our new tire has a chance to meet a new road. Where we offramp out of the old, and into the new.

Rather than speeding forward, however, the trick is to s l o w t h i n g s d o w n . . .

3. Take the Red Pill

Once we are in the gap, we can move way more slowly than everything around us. We can breathe. Observe. Make a choice about how to respond.

Slowing down our breath is a prime strategy here. Not only does it increase willpower (which we need right now), it also increases our presence and our options. It pays to practice in less dire circumstances, too.

So here is the Red Pill: Inhale slowly for 5-6 seconds. Exhale slowly for 5-6 seconds. Let the breath be so gentle it forms a circle, with no real beginning or end. Do this five times. Do it often throughout the day so it becomes second nature. If you want to get fancy, you can gently hold the breath at the end of each inhale and exhale for another couple of seconds. Celebrate after each breath session. Woohoo! This is a win!

Then, when you hit the gap in your challenging situations, breathe. Honestly, just pausing will break the pattern. Shifting into a present, ready state will break the pattern. So we are already ahead of the game just by doing this one thing.

I invite you to try the breath now. Take note of how you feel before you start, and after you finish. What is different afterwards? Please let me know! Comment here on the blog or email me.

Change Takes Effort

If you want change, you have to do things differently. That’s just how it is. Me, personally, I am an efficient person. I love wasting time for my own ends, but I like my workflow to be smooooth. Everything I’ve been sharing about habit formation, willpower enhancement and so on, all these things help. I’ve integrated all of it into Create Your Glorious Self, built it all in, designed the support and accountability that I’ve found over the years to e the most useful and satisfying for so many dancers. I’ve been teaching online classes for a long time, and teaching professionally for decades. I know what I’m doing.

CYGS will help you. What you get out of it will reflect what you put into it. It will also reflect what I’ve put into it–and that’s a LOT ; ). The tools I’ve been collecting for Create Your Glorious Self thrill me beyond measure. I so look forward to sharing the whole process with you! CYGS is all about designing your Glorious Self and having the support and accountability to bring them into your life.

If you would like to show up differently–more open, more assertive, more confident, smarter, kinder, better–as a dancer, creator, worker, parent, lover, or human being in general, have a look at this program. It’s outstanding.

Love,
Alia

When Lusciousness Feels Hopeless…

Maybe we are just so stressed out, so overwhelmed with what needs to be done, that we just don’t have it in us. We’re getting from day to day; isn’t that enough?!

 Maybe we have survived sexual assault and any connection to sensuality feels unsafe. Guilt and shame whisper that our sexuality caused the attack….

Maybe we are alone, and have no one with whom to share our lusciousness. Maybe we have been alone a long time or just recently. Maybe we have lost someone dear to us. Why bother trying to feel luscious? We will still be alone… 

There are so many ways we may feel helpless in the face of events we did not choose, that have been forced upon us by circumstance. So many reasons we may feel safer turning our back upon any lusciousness….

Baby steps…

Trauma is an inability to be in the here and now. We get hijacked by there-and-then. When we feel activated, we want to respect that. Our body is doing its best to keep us safe. It’s pointless to demand that it stop. It’s going to need some help with that. 

The antidote is first to focus on the here and now. Notice our surroundings. Is anything bad or dangerous right here in the room with us? Yes? Get out. No? Okay. We could maybe settle, just a little bit in this precious moment. 

That alone is huge. 

Just looking curiously around our own space, noticing what is right here, right now. Look around our space. Feel our other senses. What we can hear. Feel. Taste. Touch. Scent. Rest in the here and now. Notice your breath (are you breathing?). Just notice. Observe. See what happens next., Maybe it will change on its own. Become a little slower. Or you may notice a sudden big exhale, maybe even some trembling. Or a yawn, belch, fart, gurgle in the tummy. All signs of settling. 

Course correction

Over time, as we increase our capacity for settling, our Observer may come online. This is that calm inner voice that notes what’s going on in an unbiased, thoughtful way. 

We may begin to notice when we are more or less settled, more or less present, or even when we are spinning in the trauma vortex. Just noticing is huge. And as we begin to notice, we may begin to make choices. The choice to be more present is a useful first step. As above, we notice our space, and slowly, gently, check  in with each of our senses. 

As we become more able to be present, even for small moments, we may begin to expand our use of interoception. This is our perception of what’s going on inside of us. We often push such awareness aside, as we navigate the dangerous waters of everyday life. As we begin to settle, we begin to increase our capacity to look inside our bodies, to acknowledge what’s going on in there, to be curious about it, to bring our Observer to bear. 

Over time (and it helps a lot to have professional help on this journey), we can get curious about what’s going on inside our bodies when we get triggered. And as we notice what’s going on in there, we can wonder, What happens next? 

Setting aside the pain, just for the moment 

As we begin to dip a pinkie toe into settling, we often experience a sudden upswing of activation. The body, used to being on alert, distrusts this settling and leaps back to activation. Our fear, despair, anger, or grief may re-emerge just as we begin to feel differently. At first, this may hijack us (again, personal sessions with a qualified Somatic Experiencing Practitioner are of great help on this journey, to hold space, to notice the shifts, and to guide us through them). 

In such cases, as our capacity increases, we become more able to acknowledge the activation and respectfully set it aside—just for the moment. So that our nervous system can learn that it is okay to cycle off. That not every moment is life and death. So that we can make space for pleasant sensations, for pleasure, for lusciousness, for joy. 

The value of joy

After such a long time in high alert, the concept of joy may seem a bit frivolous. Even the notion of looking at the good, resting in what’s working, noticing our resources may seem pretty damn pointless, especially when we have been stuck in perfectionism, fault-finding, and a generally negative disdainful ethos. 

I have a friend who has always been relentlessly negative, and is now currently suffering such a frightening time that it seems ridiculous to suggest that they might find it more endurable by noticing what is pleasant. Yet it is true. We humans are not built to exist in a state of constant suffering, anxiety, fear, anger, etc. Our bodies evolved to respond to immediate threats, and then to settle. 

The more we develop our capacity to orient towards what is pleasant, settling, even joyful, the better our nervous system works, the more capacity we have to endure the challenges life brings brings us, and the better we are able to recover from them. 

Act the way you want to feel

Even the most momentary vacation from high alert makes a difference. I Luscious, we will take some time each week for that vacation, in the privacy of our own homes. You are welcome to turn off your camera, if you prefer. You are welcome to just lie on the floor and listen. However is best for you to show up with your own self-kindness is good. 

LUSCIOUS starts today!

Luscious runs Tuesday at 4pm EDT from August 9 through Sept 20 (no class August 16 or Sept 6). Each class is recorded (instructor view only). Each recording is available during the session.

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

I look forward to dancing with you.

Love,

Alia

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