How to Strut Your Stuff (and why it might be scary)

When animals in the wild escape from dangerous situations, they literally shake off the flood of defense chemicals still in the system, exhale explosively, and often celebrate! Which is sometimes called … pronking. Um, what?

“Pronking comes from the Afrikaans verb pronk-, which means show off or strut…” It is related to the English word prance. Since we’re all still alive if we’re reading this, we all have reason to celebrate.

I’ve been inviting my SE clients to strut, as part of feeling success. It has been amazingly challenging! We are so often waiting for the other shoe to drop. We are so often afraid that letting down our guard will lead to ruin. That feeling good about something is dangerous. That feeling good about ourselves is dangerous!

And yet…

Belly dance is all about strutting our stuff. It’s about feeling good, feeling confident, reveling in agency and owning the room. 

Strut! Photo By Yathin sk – I photographed this springbok in Etosha National Park, CC BY-SA 3.0,

So how do we get there?

Connection the feet and the ground is vital. Fear lifts us up and away. Grounding can bring us back.

This is one of the themes we’ll explore in the upcoming class, Philosophy of Belly Dance. Last week, we talked about Feet First—grounding in gravity, bringing our movement up from the earth. In Strut Your Stuff, we’ll expand that to explore agency and attitude—using our grounded connection to power presence and confidence!

Each week we explore deeply cultural elements of the dance. Other elements include Energetic Activation, Breathing Music, and more. 

Philosophy of Belly Dance starts Tuesday, April 23 at 4pm est. 

Come on down and Strut Your Stuff! 

It’s going to be extra special!

Looking forward to dancing with you!

All my love,

Feet First

I remember being in a drugstore in California, quite a few years ago. It was kinda drab in general, but they had this fancy Dr. Scholl’s machine to analyze feet and tell you what kind of insole would be best for you. It had a footpad and a screen to see your results. You stood on the machine, pressed the button, and Boom. So of course, I kicked off my shoes and hopped on. The machine did its work, and the screen showed me an image of the soles of my feet.


According to the readout, the places where my feet the touched the footpad were vastly outnumbered by the places they did not. I was not even sure how I was walking around. The readout recommended every high-level insole there was, implying that I would need about five different insoles to cover all the missing contact points.

Honestly, it was horrifying. I jumped off, tugged my shoes on, and got the hell out of there.

More recently, I’ve been exploring a different way to make the basic moves of belly dance; a feet-first model. One of the practices is slowly moving the weight around the edges of the feet. I thought about my shoes, how the outer corners of the heels always wear away first. So I started paying special attention to the inner corners of my heels. Imagine my surprise to feel a whole new set of muscles come to life! And my bigger surprise when that set of muscles had an immediate impact on my posture, and more.

What’s odd is that I have done things like this many times before and never noticed this change. I have done some intense bodywork in the past months, so it’s possible I was simply not able to connect to these places before. Physical blocks are often a cascade of compensatory holding that is invisible to us–until it’s relieved. I am very happy to have this access now.

Back to that different model of making moves. I’ll be releasing it this month in the upcoming FUN Class series,

Philosophy of Belly Dance 101.

In this series, we will look at some of the less-visible, yet core principles of belly dance, things that are rarely taught, because people don’t always notice them. I am lucky in that I started learning back in the 70s and I had a native teacher in Ibrahim Farrah. In addition, I have always looked at this dance as a cultural expression, and focused my learning and exploration on this value. I have been in this dance as my primary movement practice for over 50 years, and I have picked up a few things along the way ; )

And yes, we will start feet-first–with our feet on the ground, using gravity and connection to power presence and fluidity!

Please have a look!

It’s going to be such a cool series! Please do join us!

Glad to be with you, as always. Glad you are in my life, as always.
All my love,

Announcing: Conversational Belly Dance!

Conversational Belly Dance Illustration


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 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,

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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

News and Updates!


Lots of little odds and ends today. I hope all is well, wherever you live.

I made some cute dance and chat videos for the FUN Class, and made them into an itty bitty playlist!
Here they are!

Speaking of which, Luscious is still open and it’s delicious! We had no class this week, so you have time to dance along with the first class recording and join live on Tuesday for Class #2! Register here.

Katie Sahar’s Social Shimmy Challenge just started on on Instagram–come follow my posts or make your own!

Create Your Glorious Self (CYGS) Registration is now open!

  • This is the most remarkable class I have ever envisioned. The transformative effect is going to be splendid. It’s designed to work for pretty much any venue in your life. If you find you are unhappy with your performance–in dance, work, or daily life–CYGS is for you.
  • It’s 10 weeks, with bi-weekly meetings, personal attention every day, and tons of great, science-based material to help you level up your life. The first weeks will be all about designing your persona and learning to bring your chosen attributes into your body. The next section we practice our attributes daily so we become comfortable them and the then we take our new selves out into the world!
  • CYGS starts August 28. I’ll be posting some extra goodies and video between now and then, so please keep an eye out. It is so exciting! I hope you will join us!

Blast from the past, Jess Reed (aka Nadira Jamal), just released her Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse interviews on YouTube! Here is one she did with me on Opening Yourself to the Audience–and there are many more excellent interviews available.

My dear colleague (and brilliant dancer), Walladah Valadah is starting a newsletter. She’s looking to hear from folks about what kind of content they’s like to see. “The newsletter will be issued once per month and it will be free. It is meant to be a concise source of knowledge and information, not only about my approach to dance but also through occasionally hosting other dancers’ contributions too. The topics in the survey are themes I am considering to include, if not in every newsletter issue, at least on some regular or consistent basis. Therefore, please feel free to choose your preferences so that I make sure that the newsletter covers existing needs of the community. Thank you very much in advance.” Have a peek at her survey here

With love,
And here’s a playlist for a great, great album from the 70s!

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).
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.


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:
Please do share!

With love,

It’s not what you do….

Moves are like boxes.
What’s important is what’s inside them. The more engaged a dancer is—the more they have something to say, some gift they put inside the box—the more engaging they are to watch…

Continue reading

How to Learn Musicality (and why it is possible)

Frances racing towards rebirth

It’s been 49 days since my mother’s passing. I was fortunate that I could visit her in the last few months, to have a funeral, that I had weekly prayers to say for her, and that several drawings came to me during these weeks that seemed to speak to her traversal through the bardo to her rebirth–which takes up to 49 days.

The pictures were interesting. When I start a picture (I draw on my phone), I make a random squiggle–whatever comes out of my hand–and then develop and decorate any imagery that suggests itself to me. Over time, I have come to have confidence in just letting things appear to me.

I did not set out to draw anything in particular, but as the designs appeared, they said firmly that they were connected to Frances on her journey. This most recent one came yesterday. When I realized what it was, I took time to add some Buddhist symbols and colors as well. It felt right and important.

Oddly, musicality is like my drawing process.

We open ourselves up to what appears. We let it move us. We decorate and color what comes to us. It’s intuitive, yes. But it’s also a skill. And skills, including intuition, can be learned, improved. It is hard at first, so we may feel we just cannot do it, and quit. But that very difficulty, that feeling of frustration, is a sign of learning. So it behooves us to persevere. To keep going, even when it feels stupid. One day, surprise! Brand new tooth ; ).

When we improvise, we never know what is going to happen next, so we have great freedom. We allow ourselves to notice any sensations, images, and meaning that arise from the music. We allow our bodies to express those things. And we develop the confidence to let our bodies bring the movement to us.

We layer our physical expression of the impressions we get from the melody over our connection to the rhythm–along with any knowledge of genre, music, and rhythm, which may call to mind specific steps and affects. But the basic mix is the timing and the expression. And, of course, confidence in our bodies to be there for us in the moment.

Timing + Expression = Musicality

For example, someone asked in class the other day, how to interpret the rise and fall and phrasing of the singer’s voice. That interpretation is musicality. Here is the recording of my answer.

In the video, I mention that trust we develop in our bodies, the trust that brings confidence in our own intuition–to speak, draw, dance–or know in our bones what feels right and important.

The upcoming Musicality series starts next week. It will be a fun, eclectic class, with lots of opportunity for live practice. More about that is here:
Registration is open.

I look forward to dancing with you!

Musicality: Expressing Nuance

musicality pattern

In 2010 I saw this improv jazz ensemble at Barbés, a tiny little club in Brooklyn. The musicians were an eclectic assortment rather than an established band. They played music with no structure, before each piece asking the audience for one word to get them going (like many comedy improv ensembles).

There was no song. There was no container. They built it as they played. Maybe half a dozen guys. The headliner was an Arabic trumpeter named Ibrahim Maalouf. Maalouf plays a quarter-tone trumpet invented by his father in the 60s (yes they exist–Amir al Saffar plays one as well).

The room was packed, the music thrilling; each musician played with humor and tenderness. I was standing next to the piano. Oh my god, the delicacy with which this guy played. Pablo Vergara listened with this whole body to the other musicians, utterly attuned.

His hands hovered over the keys, and I watched as he sometimes threw in a few notes, sometimes didn’t–his hand would waft towards the keys, and then draw back; other times he played full on. His every move was in service to the music that created itself out of nothing, in the moment, in the hands of the group.

This is what I mean about quality of movement, and about the textures and dynamics of sound. This is what I mean about deep listening. Each performer has to be incredibly open to to each other performer at every moment, and this includes the dancer. We listen with our whole bodies, our whole souls, the better to experience and express the fullness of the music.

Can I just say I LOVE the internet? I found the exact show, recorded in its entirety. Listen to it here:

As you listen, notice the stunning range of sound textures, the dynamics of pitch and volume. As you dance this music, tease out the thread of one instrument and follow that for a while, then try another. Take a horn for a while, then get into the drum or the clarinet. Practice following your instrument through the tapestry of other voices. Embody the themes of the music as whole, rising, swelling, subsiding, delicate, intense. Just feel it.

Musicality is a core element of Oriental dance.

Because we have micromovement, we are free to adapt our movements to embody and express all the subtle nuances that we hear and feel from the music.

Part of it is Timing–knowing when to change, to pause, to speed or slow, to hit an accent, because that is what the music does. Knowing because you can feel it coming, rather than because you have memorized a recording.

But it is also responding to dynamics in the music–coloring our movement with its timbres, force, volume, and pitch. Allowing ourselves to feel and express its emotional content. Having enough confidence in ourselves as dancers to react with authority, to be with the music, to trust our bodies to saw what we feel in our heart.

I made the class Embodiment to help dancers explore musicality in an organized, thoughtful way. But as we have progressed through the BEDROCK series, I’ve found myself wanting to explore it in a more organic way as well. Sooo…

Our next series will be BEDROCK 3: Musicality (it even rhymes ; )

Each week we will listen, to samples of music, and to how we feel that music in our bodies. We will explore how we might interpret the musical dynamics though our physical expression. We will follow physical demonstrations of musicality, and we will have free improvisation time to explore music with our own bodies.

BEDROCK 3: Musicality runs Tuesdays at 4pm EDT from June 8-July 6. See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link). Each class is recorded (instructor view only). Each recording is available for a full week. Registration is now open.

Understanding musical structure

Understanding musical structure

Back before Google, some friends and I went to a dance event in Montreal for a week. I got a map of the city from AAA, and spent time studying the neighborhood where we would stay. Maps are fun—everything is right there. I enjoyed finding our hotel, the class venue, and getting to know the streets in and around our location. 

This paid off, because when we were driving around trying to find things, I knew which way to go. I knew which street got us back to the hotel, where the metro was, etc. I knew my way around, though I had never been there. Even on unfamiliar streets, I had a good idea of where we would end up, because I knew the shape of the area. 

Just like going to to a new town, it’s nice to study the map of a new song.

One difficulty students face with Oriental music is its unfamiliarity. Dancing a song is a lot easier when you have a map. Sadly, there is no AAA for Arabic music. Happily, music has a lot of consistent elements from song to song, so even if you don’t know a specific song, you can still find your way around. 

What is structure? Most musical compositions have some level of internal structure, from simple to complex. There are multiple parts to the song. These are arranged so that the musicians know when each part is coming. Most Eastern bands do not use sheet music—they learn the song by heart, the better to play what they feel in the moment. The better an overall understanding of structure we have, the easier it is to dance on a new song. 

How do we discover structure? One way is by listening to lots of music. You get it by osmosis. Listening will do well for a lot of the old nightclub style music (and some Arab pop), with a relatively simple structure. There are usually two themes, the verse (the same melody and different words), and the chorus (same melody and same words), some taqasim (instrumental solos), and maybe a bridge (a connector). 

Most of these sections will be in phrases of 4 or 8 measures (one measure is usually one iteration of the rhythm). This is  similar to Western blues, rock, and  pop. As we get familiar with the material in general, it becomes fairly simple to anticipate when one section will end and new one begins—even when we don’t know the song. 

Mapping helps with the more sophisticated orchestral music

For example, Om Kalthum, entrances, and other complex music written specifically for dance. Each piece has many themes, including surprising changes in rhythm, tempo, and melody. One simple way of mapping is to draw the music as it occurs—our drawings will show us the overall shape of the music. But we can also be quite deep with our notation. 

Thanks to the miracle of recorded music, we can break these pieces down to their elements. Through listening over and over to a song, one can begin to discern the patterns—repeating melodies, sections of taqsim, rhythm changes etc. We can note these. Just watch the time on your player, and mark on paper every major change in the song. As you then notice the changing (and recurring) themes, you can label them—A, B, C, etc. Or you can ID them as verse, chorus, (or Khaligi part, Viking, whatever fanciful name helps you to recognize the section). Each rhythm change, taqsim, etc. can be noted as well (I use a spreadsheet). 

You can get super exact, but often one section will have a couple of elements. If they repeat the same way most times, then together they are one theme. After noting, them, count how many measures each section is, and write that down, too. It’s always interesting, especially when some part of a song is giving you trouble. Doing all this will give you a map of the music, so you know your way around. 

Plus, the musicians signal when to change.

They signal changes by slowing down, speeding up, playing short sections of the new rhythm before beginning the melody, etc. Over time, you get a handle on song structure and the messages of transition. Even new, complex songs become more manageable. Sure, there will be sections that throw, you, but most of it will make sense. 

Knowing complex songs in advance is optimal. The musicians do—so should we. In 2004, I heard the song Darit il Ayyam for the very first time—while dancing on it. In the Ahlan wa Sahlan festival contest. With a live orchestra. Darit il Ayyam is a complicated Egyptian orchestral piece made famous by Om Kalthum. While I looked (most of the time) like I knew what I was doing, I was at sea for a lot of it. And that’s not always fun. 

I didn’t have a map to that particular song. But like the grid structure in a city, you get a sense of where you are going and which turns will take you back to the main road. Still, it can be pretty hair-raising as you barrel around the turn, only to discover that the road stops suddenly and you are heading into the oncoming traffic. So for music like this, whenever possible, know your songs before you dance them. Understanding their structure gives us space to play with the music in a more relaxed way. 

The musicians have practiced these songs.

They have learnt them by heart. That familiarity gives them the space to improvise within the structure. This approach works well for dancers, too. Plus, the lyrics are often poetry. Even when the song is played as an instrumental, it helps to understand the emotional themes of the song, over and above the feelings one gets from the music. 

The great thing is that it can be done. And every song you analyze gives you insights to every other song. 



PS How to Map Your Music, a new on-demand Teachable class, is coming–soon ; )

Music: Here’s a beautiful song by Simon Shaheen. What structure or patterns do you find? 

How Belly Dance is like–Clogging?!

modern clogging

This post is from 2015, when I accompanied Tamalyn Dallal on a road trip to gather material for a film.

Tamalyn Dallal’s project, “Pockets of Treasure,” was to be a film about traditional dances of the American deep south. Over the last 10 days, I’ve had the pleasure of accompanying her a recon trip, filming material for a trailer. Last week we were in New Orleans and rural Louisiana documenting Cajun and Creole mardi gras traditions. Two days later, here we are in Asheville, NC at the Bailey Mountain Cloggers (BMC) annual competition. In events ranging from Pee-wee Contemporary to Adult Traditional, we watched cloggers of all ages compete for a table full of prizes.

Clogging is an Appalachian country dance. It evolved from rural traditions of solo dance such as flat step, buck dance, hoedown, and rural tap dancing. Tamalyn introduced me to “Talking Feet,” a brilliant documentary of early styles, which you can view online (,121). 

Clogging couldn’t be further from belly dance.

Performed to bluegrass music, it is largely percussive footwork with no upper body movement. Here is some of what we saw and sought out on this leg of the trip.

Yet today we were in for a surprise.  

Imagine an ocean of little girls in sparkly outfits, full make up, their hair sprayed, clogging to—hip hop? Yes. Hip hop. Clogging fused with contemporary dance. Chest bumps. Hip work. Arm circles. Happy little girls, grinding away in between the clogging steps. After about three of these numbers, I leaned over to Tamalyn and whispered, “Where are the Gothic fusion cloggers?” (yes, we found them). 

Sprinkled between these numbers was traditional clogging. The Bailey Mountain Cloggers, a college team (yes, you can get a clogging scholarship), are dedicated to traditional styles, and specifically include trad categories in the competition; in fact, the grand prize  goes the best traditional clogging team. They made us so welcome, announced Tamalyn’s project from the stage, introduced her, told the crowd we would make them all famous (this seems to be a theme in introductions), and generally gave us carte blanche. 

So while Tamalyn filmed dances, I wandered around interviewing participants.

I’m kind of shy (I know, no one believes this), so I felt daunted to ask people to talk to me. Then I caught sight of a gal whose traditional group I had admired (the Hot Foot Cloggers), and asked her if she would be interviewed. She was delighted, and just as sweet as pie. Over all, I interviewed half a dozen people, including the director of the BMC and the daddy of the first girl, plus got us an invitation to a clogging group in Boone, NC, who happen to know a buck dancer Tamalyn has been trying to find.  

Here’s what I discovered.

The roots of clogging were solo dances that were all about the dancer’s feeling from the music. Everyone had their own style, culled and developed from watching other dancers. 

Then team clogging rose. The focus came to be on precision and choreography (except for hoedown, in which the caller calls the patterns and everyone freestyles their footwork). Nowadays, clogging is often fused with other dance forms (hip, lyrical, contemporary), in an effort to get and keep kids interested. 

Sound familiar? 

Traditional music is harder to dance than contemporary music, and young folks often don’t get it—they want what they know, which is modern music. But as students get interested in the dance, they realize the trad music is perfect for it, since they evolved together (I also saw many young kids dancing trad and whooping it up). And the Hot Foot group’s mission is to bring trad clogging to kids so they’d have something to do in a town with nothing.

The most important thing about clogging is having fun

Enjoying the dance and the team and making it fun for the audience. Every person told me this. And even the choreographer of the the most out-there fusion school (XDC), who maintains that you should fuse everything, says that if you are interested in clogging the most important thing you can do is learn the traditional styles first. Hmm. That sounds familiar, too. 

So there you have it. 

Like clogging, belly dance has evolved from a solo improvised dance into a team sport valuing precision and novelty. But also like belly dance, the traditional roots are seen as the best grounding, and as dancers grow in skill and appreciation, their interest centers on the traditional art. 

We are on the right track. 



Here’s that doc again:,121

And here’s some bluegrass: 

You might also like Why belly dance is like hummus ; )