How to Learn (and Teach!) Improvisation

Alia dancing improvisation

It’s been raining a lot this Spring. It was a long crappy winter, and the Spring was no better. Recently we’ve had some lovely days, but today it is raining. Again.

I know, we need the rain, water is precious, etc etc. Lots of people love a rainy day, yadda yadda. I get it. I’m just not one of them. Dark, cold, rainy days disagree with me. My body feels tired and aimless. I just want to eat, read, and sleep. Sunny days brighten me up and I actually want to do things–real things, like walk around and dance. 

I kinda feel this way about Improvisation and Choreography, too. 

Improvisation is fun for me, engaging, curious, and invigorating. Memorizing choreography, making everything exactly the same every time? Not so much. I mean, strict choreography is great, and encompasses much wonderful art; it’s just not my thing.

So I am really grateful to have found Oriental Dance, where improvisation is a core, valued skill. Artistic agency, different every time, the feeling in the moment, all that jazz. Right?

Alia dancing improvisation
Photo credit: Ben de Florio

So, um… Why is so much belly dance choreography? 

The short answer is, Western dance values. Since most folks lack access to the cultural values of Oriental dance, we just paste our own cultural values on top of the dance. Immersed in a culture informed by ballet and the Rockettes, we assume that precision and strict choreography are the way to go.

But belly dance is Eastern. It has completely different values. Setting this straight is part of why I wrote Midnight. But it also drives the way I teach.

How to teach Improvisation? 

I focus on improv from the very beginning. Oriental dance is improv-based. Yes, I also teach technique, folks need to know the basic vocabulary AND how to adapt it to express the music. But even if I’m teaching a one-hour intro class, there is improv. I’d rather see folks have fun to music than struggle through some combo. 

So how do I do this?

I make my classes fun. These are live beginner classes we are talking about right now. I start an upbeat improv warmup, and then slow it down for basic vocabulary practice, and include a Dancemeditation sequence. I also talk about the dance and its cultural values, so folks understand what and why we do these things.

After a while, I intro combinations, which I prefer to choreo for beginners. In Bobby Farrah’s classes, we had a different combination every class, and they were challenging–but in this way we learned very fast how to combine and transition between movements. 

If I do a choreo w beginners (after several months have passed), THEY choose the movement. Dina recently specified beginners should not touch choreography for at least two years, so, yeah, I’m jumping the gun ; ). And these dances also include improv sections where each dancer gets to play. 

For the in-depth, forum-based course, Effortless Improvisation, we get very deep into a variety of strategies to help dancers build confidence and let go of thinking and self judgement so they can enjoy their own dance. Each week we have new strategies. This stuff maybe offbeat, but it works.

The core of the course practice and accountability. The practice is a daily (M-F) 20-minute session of freestyle improvisation. This is where the the strategies show up and make a difference. The accountability is daily (M-F) posting of practice, how it went, how you felt, and so forth–and I give students feedback and coaching every day, tuned to their specific needs.

Students also cheerlead each other. We have small groups, so it is easy to keep track of just a few people, to encourage, congratulate, and commiserate. We have clear guidelines and maintain a positive environment so everyone feels safe and cherished. This is how you run an effective online course. And students agree.

What do people say about this?

This course dives deep into finding personal style and preferences. It approaches the wide spread concept that improv is difficult, filled with moments of dread, panic, and fear of looking boring or just not knowing what to do next. It is definitely a “soft skill” class, where “hard skills” are moves, combos, & choreos. This is about how to dance by finding confidence, how to convey emotion by MEANING it, how to string movements together because they FEEL right. The course is about the art behind the dance.

Brenda G

I feel much more confident about my dancing–even though I have “only” belly danced for 2 years and danced period for about 6 years!Actually, I don’t really feel like a “newbie” anymore now. And I know that when I am not having fun dancing it’s because I am trying to “do it right,” so I can remind myself “there are no wrong moves” and let go into the flow of the music. There is also a bit of sadness there, though, that the course is ending because I enjoyed the support I have gotten from Alia and fellow students. It’s amazing what even just a smiley face can do for encouragement.

Rachel B

Dancing with my eyes closed while I practiced.  I found it so much easier to breathe, relax and take in the music when I wasn’t also taking in my surroundings or tempted to see how things looked as I danced.  When we moved on to homework later that we kept our eyes open, it was much easier to simply dance and not be so concerned with what my eyes might see.

I feel like I get so much more out of Alia’s online intensives than many of the 2 or 3 hour workshops I have attended in person.  There is much more time to ask questions and working thru the short homework each day really helps make the material click

Melissa R

I will be teaching a webinar on How to Teach Improvisation for the Belly Dance Business Academy in August (info coming) and Effortless Improvisation, an entire course this fall (still some early bird seats left!), which helps dancers who want to learn AND teachers who want to teach improv more effectively.

Whether you are a student or a teacher, please take the time to explore improvisation. You will find it a wonderfully rewarding enterprise. Oriental dance is a powerful venue for healing and transformation; I explore this aspect in all my classes–and improvisation plays a large part.

With love,
Alia

​How to Have Your Own Style

(This was the Day 47 Love Note from 90 Days 2018)

I saw a Frank Zappa piece back in the 70s in which the musicians’ scores were comic books. Zappa conducted, and the musicians played the comic books (I think they had the same comic, but I can’t swear to it). The audience had a part as well—he gave hand signs for specific responses—we shouted sound effects like RUNCH! It was a wonderful concert.

It took those musicians a long time to get the chops to do that—not just to play their instruments—but to play a comic book. And it was the goofy intention to play a comic book that came first.

It has been suggested that one needs 10,000 hours of effort to master a skill.

Even the Sufis say one needs 1,001 days (or nights) of training. If you figure 10-hour days, there you have it. For many things, including dance, I am sure this is true. But it is also true that you can get a handle on something in as little as twenty hours. You won’t be a master, but you will begin to develop competence.

Twenty hours is what we get in my Community College classes. We have 15 weeks, and we dance for up to 1.5 hours each week (the rest goes to lecture and discussion). By the end of the semester, the students–who range from young gals who have taken part in their High School dance program to folks with nary a moment of dance experience—all somehow manage to miss the fact that they signed up for a dance class.

By the end of the semester, they have danced for a little over twenty hours—and they can dance. They can improvise. The whole class develops a group dance, and can solo briefly on their own—and look good doing it—happy and free. They each have their own unique style. In 20 hours.

We can do that, too. In the 90 Days, we dance 20 minutes a day for 90 days. It adds up.

Developing one’s own style is often portrayed as an enormous undertaking. 

One must study like a dog for years, copy slavishly, and then, maybe, if the moon’s phase is just right, they may begin the arduous, perilous quest for their own style.

My opinion, if they hadn’t spent all the time slavishly copying, but instead worked on expression and allowing their body to discover its own response to the music (along with technique), they would have their own style, and long before anyone who spends their time executing other people’s choreography.

To have our own style, we have to practice it.

I know one of the things that makes people nervous about this practice is that they might start whiffing and snorting and stamping and shaking on stage.At which point the belly dance police will cart them off to prison.

People also wonder why we bother dancing to all the alternative music, since they want to be able to improv to belly dance music.

Improvisation is its own separate skill.

It can be applied to any genre.

And: often folks’ relationship with belly dance music is kind of stiff, hampered by the conditioning of copying and choreography, of Lego block dance, and fear of making mistakes.

So we use a lot of different music to break up that pattern. And we practice all this weird stuff like Slow Movement and Rhythmic Breath to help us respond to the music intuitively.

Bottom line, the music has a lot to do with what we do.

I know I dance differently to different music. I bet you do, too. But belly dance music inspires belly dance movement. And Turkish music brings out different movement from Egyptian music. And classic Tarab songs bring different music, and moods, the, for example, the Anghami Modern Dabke playlist. Make sense?

Moreover, the venue affects our dance as well. If I am dancing for myself, my eyes closed, I dance differently than when I perform for my guests. The focus of the show affects what I choose as well. Even the lights and the size of the stage affect what I do.

Then there are various intentions, which may show over the course of a song or a show—joyous here, nostalgic there, mysterious, whimsical, whatever. These all color the dance in different ways.

As we learn to respond in the moment, we organically develop our own style. 

The beauty of all the improv practice, the beauty of learning to allow your body to respond to the music in the moment, is that all of this becomes easier the more we practice it. Because it is your body, your interpretation, it will perforce be unique and special.

Of course we need technique—we need it so we dance safely, have nice lines, and can execute our movement vocabulary. But improv dance is like slam poetry. You just let things come out of your mouth. You have to practice letting things come out as poetry, and that takes skill, but so does everything. Well. Most things worth doing well. Letting dance come out of your body takes skill, too. It’s all about TRUST.

So I invite you to cross train your improvisation.

Freewriting is good. I’ll talk more about that later.

I’m a largely improvisational cook—I’ll combine whatever I have with basmati rice and cook it for half an hour—voila, dinner.

I sing goofy little songs about what I am doing.

I’ve danced television shows for my practice time.

What do you do?

Where can you improvise?

What would be fun?

Love,
Alia

PS here is a Zappa concert from Brooklyn College in the early 70’s. I don’t think it’s the one I attended, but it’s a taste. I invite you to improvise to it. Be prepared for something unusual ; )

Is your weekly class on vacation for the summer?

Try ours! We’ll be having weekly FunClasses over the summer. These live classes are via Zoom. They last about an hour and include follow-me, features, and Dancemeditation. Sign ups open next week; classes start in June.

How to transition between worlds: The Music of the Spheres

Once upon a time, I got invited to an acquaintance’s birthday party. I liked her very much, so I went, though she lived almost two hours away. She had sent a rather long list of things one would need for a ritual she planned to do as part of the celebration. It made me tired even to read it. On the way, I picked up all the things on the list. It took a while. Finally I got to the party.

I had never been to her house before, so I pulled up across the street to scope it out. It was a chilly, gray day. There were lots of people, outside. The party was outside. Everyone looked drab, in brown and denim. I sat there a while. It began to drizzle. I didn’t know any of these people. I am an introvert. I am not a big ritual person. I gave up. I turned my car around and drove away. 

There was no easy transition from my world to that one. The difference was too great. This happens with our practice, too. If the transition is too difficult, we are likely to avoid it. Jihad Racy told me to always have my instrument out, to have m music out, to have everything ready so all I needed to do was pick up the nay. It helps to have our dance space and music ready, too—a streamlined workflow, so it is easy to push play and walk onto the mat. But them what? 

How do we get from the everyday into the flow? 
One way is Spherical Movement. Elena Lentini, elenalentini.com, one of our greatest living dancers, uses this exercise in her warm up. It’s soothing, and healing, and low stakes, just what a warmup should be.

You are on a sphere (imaginary ; ), pressing against it from head to foot, arms upraised, like you are embracing a ball bigger than you are; your whole body describes the arc of the sphere. You could also do this sitting (the ball would be smaller), or lying down, or body part by body part, or even visualize the movement.

As your body moves, you morph around the sphere, from front to back, breathing as you go, exhaling as you arc forward, inhaling as you arc back, as if the ball is now behind you. Go slowly. Take your time—after all, you are now a heavenly body :). Discover each moment individually as you ooze around the sphere.


The perfect music: https://www.dropbox.com/s/lopoy0rpkv186li/Elena_Music_05.mp3?dl=0(This music is nice in a big space if you have one–you will get it when you hear it. Don’t listen in advance—listen the first time when you use it. I don’t know who the artists are—if anyone does, please tell me.)

Sweet, sweet, softness and exaltation.

Please let me know how it goes. 

Love,
Alia

News and happenings

March into the Spotlight: Bring Basic Belly Dance Back Challenge
Mar 24 – Mar 30
https://www.facebook.com/events/285570978801836/

Alia’s Upcoming Classes and Workshops


Fun Classes. I’m teaching live weekly-ish online dance classes! Each class is streamed live on Thursdays at 7pm EST and a recording is posted until the next class replaces it. Registration coming soon! Email me if interested.


July 14. I’ll be at Cairo Cabaret in Chicopee MA, dancing and teaching workshops in Improv and Group Dance composition. https://www.facebook.com/events/2223293227683591/


Aug 12-Mid Sept. I’ll be covering for Amity’s Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced classes in WRJ.


Any time. Zitastic and Embodiment are now available on Teachable! 
https://alia.teachable.com

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.

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 twinkling at our pets, stuffed animals, and furniture. Where else is there to go? Yet 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 danced 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.

The other day at Leila Farid’s improv class, 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 ; ). https://www.dropbox.com/s/r6b7p97272co7t4/Alia-Practice-6-HB-baladi%2Bclassic.mp4?dl=0

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!

Love,
Alia

Music: Abdel Halim Hafez!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztEhH2_gNWY

 

PS ONLINE News
I’m doing a series of live online classes starting in June.
More info coming soon. Email me if you want early news

PPS LOCAL News (VT/NH)
I’ll be teaching a 3-credit Middle Eastern Dance and Culture class for the Newport VT Community College this fall. Check it out here: https://andromeda.ccv.vsc.edu/Learn/Grid/Sections.cfm?COURSEID=DAN-2210&grid=Fall

 

Folkloric Weekend (GREAT instructors) in WRJ, July 7-8
https://amy-smith-lxq4.squarespace.com/yalla-dancefolkloric/

Why Belly Dance is like–the Matrix?! (and how to get your red pill)

In the iconic film, The Matrix, Neo is offered a choice: The blue pill or the red pill?

The blue pill lets you stay in the cave, living an illusion of life. The red pill–ah, that’s another story. The red pill means opening your eyes to hidden things. It changes your life. Awakens you. Frees you from illusion.

Belly dance is like this.

In belly dance, we have the well-known Westernized version of the dance–stylized, flashy choreographies with an emphasis on appearance and athleticism. There is drilling, a push to perform, and a perfectionist agenda. That’s the blue pill. The illusion. So what is the red pill?

The belly dance red pill is the lesser-known Eastern version of the dance. It values feeling, playfulness, improvisation, and joy. It makes everyone beautiful. It heals pain, brings pleasure, and lights up  the world. No, we don’t get to stride through the lobby blasting high-tech weapons into jackbooted guards. But we don’t have Agent Smith out to get us, either.

And there is one other difference. The Matrix red pill led to a harsher, more dangerous reality. The belly dance red pill leads to a more loving, compassionate life.  We get to enjoy our dance more–and bring joy to others.

Um, no brainer, right?

 

Take the Red Pill, Neo

Take the red pill.

Here are a few red pills for your consideration…

Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its soul? is one giant red pill. It shows the differences between Eastern and Western mindsets, the surprising benefits to Eastern style, and practical strategies for embracing soul of the dance. Find out more at bellydancesoul.com.

The 90-Day Dance Party Challenge is three full months of red pill. It’s a daily dose of inspiration, improvisation, and illumination. It’s available right here: aliathabit.com/90Days/

And to kick it off, how about Alia and Amity’s Awesome Winter Weekend? Another red pill, it’s a two-day all-inclusive retreat, February 10-11, filled with dance, friends, food, and fun. Check it out at   aliathabit.com/awesome-winter-retreat

And the Whole Red Pill Enchilada?

Get the Retreat and the 90 Days and get a SUPER EARLY FREE BONUS: a signed print copy of midnight ($45 value) PLUS a month of Alia’s Kickass Creativity Coaching ($185 value). Red Pill your Life!

Kickass coaching includes

  • 1 hour introductory phone/skype VIP Intensive
  • Goal setting, support, and accountability
  • Weekly email exchange
  • 30-minute wrap-up phone/skype call
  • Any month in 2018

WOW!

The Whole Enchilada:

  • Amity and Alia’s Awesome Winter Retreat ($275)
  • Alia’s 90 Day Dance Challenge ($100)
  • A signed print copy of Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its soul? ($45)
  • A month of VIP Kickass Coaching ($185)

That’s $605 worth of awesomeness for only $375.

Click here:

But only for 10 people (or until the Retreat sells out, whichever comes first).

Just call me Morpheus ; )

Love,

Alia

How to empower authenticity in performance

Last week, the toilet in my house backed up. It wasn’t the toilet, exactly, but some obstruction between it and the septic tank. Which hadn’t been pumped in over twenty-five years. Which is generally a Bad Thing, but it has worked perfectly all this time. The simple solution was to open the tank and snake backwards from there to break up the obstruction (and pump it, because, why not).

There was only one problem.

I only had the vaguest idea where that dang tank was (it had been decades since I last saw it). On top of that (so to speak), two feet of fresh, heavy, wet snow covered everything. We managed, but it took three guys several hours of intense effort to do the job. It would have been a lot easier if we’d known where to look.

Finding our authenticity is a lot like this.

We know we have an authentic self down there somewhere, but danged if we know where (or how) to find it. Why is that?

I wonder if it is connected to how the dance is currently taught.

Most of us are taught through choreography. We focus on how we look rather than how the dance feels in our bodies. We learn stylized versions of each move and copy the teacher as we fit them together in chains of movement. Chains is an apt metaphor here, because when we are constantly doing what we are told, what does that make us? Yeah. Not cool.

So what’s the alternative?

One of the key aspects of our dance is Agency. We belly dancers don’t need no stinkin’ badges. We are not anyone else’s to direct. We have all the power–we make all our own decisions in the moment. This is pretty heady stuff. But when all we do is pre-set choreography (even our own), we don’t have much time to engage with the moment–we are too busy remembering and executing an exact set of steps. For many of us, this pushes us away from power, confidence, and the authenticity that comes with them.

When we do our own creative heavy lifting, however, we regain our agency. We have creative control in the moment, at every moment. We become skilled improvisers. But improvisation often scares dancers raised on choreography. And why is that?

Perfectionism.

Perfectionism is the bane of our existence. Yeah, yeah, we all want things to be good. Blah blah. Whatever. I’m not talking about quality control. I’m talking about the serious problem of dancers hating on themselves to the extent that they are afraid to take the tiniest risk for fear of Making a Mistake.

Amity Alize owning the moment.

First off, there is no true learning without mistakes.

It just doesn’t happen. No one can be Little Miss Perfect all the time, try as we might. Remember that thing about omelettes and broken eggs? Yeah. Can’t have one without the other. There’s a reason it’s called a Comfort Zone. Going outside it is uncomfortable.

Though you may feel frustrated at first, after a while, you get used to the feeling of learning and start to welcome it. And yes, you can do all this on your own, but it’s nice to have (or be) a teacher who empowers students’ artistic growth. But how to do do that?

Teachers empower authenticity by providing Opportunity, Scaffolding, and Practice of creative agency.

This means they make space for student creativity in performance. They provide opportunities and create a series of baby steps to walk the student through the process. And they do this over and over again, tweaking the process and providing practical, productive feedback along the way.

Practice doesn’t make perfect–it helps us recover more gracefully from mistakes. That graceful recovery, where we surf over all the weird, effed-up random stuff that happens in a show (or in life), while laughing with our guests? That’s where we want to be.

I’ll be teaching a one-hour video class on Empowering Authenticity for the Belly Dance Business Academy’s Online Teaching Summit, May 22-26, 2017.

The Summit will run 25 classes in 5 days with leading experts in the belly dance community. You can participate from your computer anywhere in the world. There will be 30 minute versions of each class available for free during the summit, but you can also purchase the entire package at a ridiculously cheap early bird price. Then you OWN ALL the classes and can watch at your leisure, AND you get bonus interviews and pdf extras from each teacher.

If you (or your teacher or your friends), might like this, please share with them this special, early-bird link:  http://bellydancebusinessacademy.teachable.com/p/teaching-summit-early-bird/?

Love and thanks,

Alia

 

 

How to go forward, even in the face of fear

 How to go forward in the face of fear

For many of us, this past election cycle triggered a lot of pain, outrage, and fear. Our friends, family, and selves are divided, by turns angry, frightened, sobbing, or all three, amplified by the rage we saw around us and in sensation-grabbing headlines. In the USA, half the population now wonders if they will live through the next four years. Of course, many perfectly nice people voted for Trump despite his more unsavory fans. But those unsavory fans have been validated. The stories already have begun.

  • A dancer went into an appliance store. She had always shopped there and been well-treated. On this day, however, she wore hijab, the headscarf Muslim women often wear. She was shocked to find herself followed around, condescended to, and generally treated like dirt. This was before the election.
  • A gal in LA going to the market yesterday reported getting her crotch grabbed by a guy with a MAGA hat. He whispered, “Are you scared now, you liberal cunt?” Yes, she was. She took the Bernie sticker off her car.
  • Many friends report rioting, threats, and unrest in nearby towns. Children are afraid to go to school.
  • Muslims, people of color, LGBT folks, and women all wonder what is next.
  • These are nothing. Shaun King is chronicling myriad such stories on his twitter: twitter.com/ShaunKing

Yes, this election is an American problem. But racism, sexism, intolerance, and bias are worldwide problems.

So what do we do? How do we go forward in the face of fear?

Stay in the present moment, focus on the good, and dance–but not just any dance.

Stay in the present moment

I went to a rough, scary school back in Junior High. It was in a neighborhood far from mine. I was a shy, quiet kid who got threatened regularly and hit or beat up more than once. I skipped school constantly to get a break. A few years later, I got a job in that same neighborhood. I had to take the same bus and walk on the same streets. I realized I was shaking with fear at the thought of going back there. So I developed a strategy.

I told myself that 99% of people are normal people who just want to get through their day (this is true). They have no interest in me. They don’t want to hurt me or harass me. I’m also different now. I’m older, smarter, more confident.

I made all that my mantra. I got on the bus, and I went to work. It took a lot of effort, but it helped that my mantra was demonstrably true. When I looked around (staying in the present moment), most everyone was just people, on their way to or from wherever they were going. And honestly, even at school, though I looked, acted, and dressed differently, the vast majority of kids never bothered with me.

Over a fairly short period of time, I was able to relax and stop being afraid all the time. When I got picked up in Cairo by a Muslim Brotherhood cabbie last year, I used the same strategy. It worked. I add long exhales now, and that helps, a lot. But the truth is, most people have their own problems. You are the last thing on their mind.

I know, that 1% of crazies are still out there.

They are angry. And they feel empowered. We may find ourselves in dangerous situations. But the more we learn to release fear, to keep our heads, the better a chance we have of getting away from them. And most of the time, we are worrying about them more than we are in front of them. This is key.

It’s waaayyy too easy to get into a downward fear spiral. It’s familiar ground, an addictive headspace, and it’s very hard to get back out again–and to stay out. But that’s what we have to do.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, no one is attacking us. We are actually fine. But we feel like we are under attack. And worry feels useful when in fact it is destructive. Save your adrenaline for real emergencies. The rest of the time, breathe, open your eyes, and ground in the present. How do you do that?

Look around. Feel the safety of your space. Exhale for twice as along as your inhale. Keep doing this. You will feel calmer. Use your eyes. Look from side to side, up and down, focused and unfocused. Keep exhaling. You may feel shaky and weird, but then you will feel better.

People are mostly good. They are mostly trustworthy. What if we remember this, and repeat it to ourselves when we feel anxious? Studies show that we will be happier and have better health. When we focus on the good, we get the good.

Focus on the good

Dr. Kelly McGonigal wrote a thoughtful piece on finding good in this election cycle. She suggests that we do something, look for the good, and be the good.

  • Do something: Read about what’s going on and be informed. You can start with Matt Taibbi’s engrossing (and meticulously researched) book, The Divide. You can find this in your library or as an ebook via OverDrive.
  • Look for the good: There are good things happening all over, but they are hard to see when bleeding leads on every network channel. For example, Minnesota elected Ilhan Omar, a Somali Muslim woman, to their legislature. That’s pretty cool. Catherine Cortez Masto became the nation’s first Latina Senator. We also have a first Native senator (plus a Native federal judge, and the first disabled woman Senator to be elected (she’s also a veteran). http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/historic-firsts-achievements-election-day-2016/
  • Be the good: A friend subscribed to several quality newspapers to support objective journalism. I donated recently to Standing Rock’s legal defense fund. Whatever is important to you, do something to help that thing along. Teach a class, make a video, or donate to a cause. Take some time or some money and put it to work for good. Or just be nicer to people impacted by hate and intolerance. Smile and be genuinely welcoming to people of color, LGBT,  women, and refugees. Make someone’s day a little brighter. Little acts of kindness have a huge power to ripple outwards.

Dance (but not just any dance…)

Improvisational belly dance is one of the best things we can do to feel calmer, brighter, and more grounded. Especially when we couple dance with breath, when we let go of our cares and let the body just move and relax with the music.

Play easy music, relax, and enjoy yourself. Even a few minutes will help. And if you take 20 minutes to just play and relax, the effects last for hours. Click the purple button for a free booklet on how to release fear through belly dance.

1026 Downloads

Take time to consciously relax.

That’s a hugely revolutionary act all by itself. Being kind to others, being kind to ourselves, dancing and having fun, all of these are far more subversive than they seem. Reject fear. It doesn’t feel safe to do so, but that is a self-perpetuating function of fear.

Love Drawn with Note 3 + Sketchbook for Galaxy

I send you my love and all my strength. I am here, holding you close in my heart, every minute of every day. Remember this.

Love,

Alia

 

 

PS last call for the Compassionate Critique Salon!

Do you crave honest, objective dance feedback?

(Wish it didn’t hurt so much?)
Here ya go!

 

 

 

What’s your wall?

Sometimes we hit a wall. 

SoHigh2

So high, can’t get over it. So low, can’t go under it. So wide, can’t get around it…

Where is your dance wall?
What stops you, gets in your way, or keeps you from dancing what you feel in the moment? What walls do your students or dancer friends face?

Here are a few things I, and other folks, have struggled with. 

Confidence
Never feeling good enough, creative enough, or anything enough.

Presence 
Getting stuck in one’s head, losing energy, falling out of the zone.

Introversion
Feeling constrained in performance or navigating social scenes.

Improvisation
The feeling in the moment ; )

Not Performing
Why is this such a crime?

Technique
How the heck do I… ?

Age/Looks
We don’t fit the mold, but have so much to express.

Personal Style
How do you find it? Does it take forever?

Finding Spirit in Dance
Is it really all hoodoo?

 

What’s your biggest wall?
How does it affect you?
What would help?

 

Write to me. Or post on the blog. I’ll write back.

Love,

Alia

PS I am once again endeavoring to create a little something new, this time in two weeks. This week is for figuring out what to make. Next week is for making it. It shall be done and ready to roll on May 1. I want it to be something that solves a problem for my dance friends–that’s you. Hence my question. More on Thursday!

How to Solve Problems with Improv Power (so you can dance more ; )

Just let it go…

improv-solves-problemsWhen we dance improv, we let go of our constant thinking and controlling. We let the body call the shots. It’s like meditation—we clear the mind of its constant scurrying, busy chatter. We focus on the breath, on the exhale. And we step back.

What we get is a state called diffuse thinking. In diffuse thinking, the brain makes much more random connections. Our unresolved questions are still floating around, but we are not actively digging at them. It’s like a dream time. Fragments and wisps arise and mingle. We don’t seem to be doing anything, but the brain is very powerful. It is always seeking organization and resolution. Behind the scenes, it is processing all these bits and fitting them into the missing puzzle pieces.

We may get only refreshment from our break—the mind needs and enjoys breaks in the routine far more often than we might think, as we are so used to pushing ourselves endlessly. Learning science shows that interleaving—going away from a subject of study and coming back to it later—is a far more powerful learning tool than pushing through (it is the actual going away and coming back that that is valuable—the letting go of and refocusing on the subject). But quite often, after our break, we find answers to our questions, new understandings for our ideas, and wholeness, where before we had only broken bits.

Rather than a controlled, systematic exploration, diffuse thinking makes a space for something unstructured to arise. Rather than digging consciously, we let the rain wash away the dirt. It’s so valuable a process that I regularly keep a notebook handy when I dance, as ideas sometimes come in floods.

Try it. 
Next time you have a knotty problem, let it go and dance instead.

Keep a notebook handy to record any insights you might have. Even if none come, you still get a vacation from your cares.

Let me know how it goes!

Love,

Alia

How quantum physics illuminates personal style

How quantum physics illustrates personal style

Strange AtrractorImagine you are watching a dancer. You have no idea what the hell she is doing, but everything is moving in complete accord with the music, and that music is live. There are half a dozen instruments, multiple accents, and a wild assortment of inputs, yet she is totally in sync. How do we arrive at this level of embodied expression?

We start out by copying–that’s how we learn. Copying many different artists and styles gives us the tools, models, and permission to be different. Through learning from a range of sources, we increase the variety of spaces in which we give ourselves permission to be. Each time we reset the pattern, we increase our understanding of and relationship to the dance.

All the movement models we experience form a cloud of possibilities for the “how” of any step, any move. Micro-movement has the quantum element of infinite variation. So does the multiplicity of interpretation, the way in which we construct each move. Through this quantum density, this strange attractor of a shape, we find our own path.

This is why it’s important to study with many teachers. And not just any teachers. Follow the visionaries. When we learn/copy from a variety of expressive masters, we gain an ever more expansive range of possibility. Our range of motion increases, literally—and of thought, imagination, expression.

Over time, our eyes open. Every dance we see, every teacher whose class we take contributes to this.  Seek out the best teachers, see great artists, as this is how we develop our range of possibility.

But we can’t copy forever.
As we grow, we find new ways of being in the world. We find out how our bodies want to express the move, the music, the feeling. We branch out on our own. We give ourselves permission to do this. We let go of following. We lead.

Our own style comes from giving ourselves permission to find our own way. The confidence we gain from seeing, learning the variety of ways is the key. I believe our style is already inside us, waiting. The effort and study help us find it, accept it, refine it.

We begin by copying. Our path develops in relation to the myriad paths we have followed. It may lie within or without the experienced range of possibility—through the effort of building the range, we see how there could be an outside, and that we might go there.

And then we go.

Welcome to the bright world of possibility.

Love,

Alia

Here’s a guy who really created his own style, the remarkable Sun Ra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLFh8St9Vwc&list=PL141521662CC1C09C

Twice, Then Quit: How to Train for Resistance to Change http://www.samuelthomasdavies.com/twice-then-quit/