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



How to Reprogram Your Self Talk (and why it’s worth the effort)

Behavior Creates Emotion

Yep, I’m reading another book. What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, by Shad Helmststter, PhD is alll about the power of self talk, both positive and negative. I’m not sure what I think of it, yet (I’m a little more than halfway through). But it has made me think, and you might also find this interesting.

As dancers, what we say to ourselves can make allll the difference between our shows feeling great vs feeling like a hideous disaster.

Background–I used to be very, very unkind to myself. I said things to myself that I would never say to another person. I hated myself and told myself so at every opportunity. (It wasn’t until I found Somatic Experiencing® (SE) that those cruel voices resolved, and stayed that way.) And I am not alone in this!

Perfectionist fault-finding and vicious self-talk is wayyyy common. Something like 50% of folks report feeling like imposters. So, of course I had to read this book (plus self talk is a piece of the puzzle I’m putting together for Create Your Glorious Self…) Anyway…

Create Your Glorious Self

The advice is to first listen to your own self talk.

What are you saying? Is it self-compassionate? “There there honey, we’re doing okay. We’ll get through this!” Or self-empowering? “Wow, you did it! that’s awesome! Woo-hoo!” Or even, “Oops! Hmm. Okay, let’s try that differently next time.

Or is it more along the lines of, you stupid cow, what were you thinking?! Or, I suck at this! Or, this is the worst day of my life!

The toxic rain of negative voices can be so constant we don’t even notice it anymore. But that’s what trips us up when we want to shine. That litany of, I suck, I can’t do this, they are looking at me, they hate me, that’ll never work, who am I to ____, I don’t know what I’m doing… is self-programming, and it is also self-fulfilling. When we think this way, we feel powerless, so we act powerless., so we feel powerless, and on and on, in a miserable feedback loop.

(Side note–I’ve had some serious dental infections in the last few years, and one thing I noticed was a rise of anxious, weepy self talk along the lines of “I don’t know what I’m doing…” So sometimes there are other roots (haha), to the problem.)

Anyway…

Listen.

What are you saying? How often do you say it? What happened just before the cascade of negative? Sometimes there is a trigger. Sometimes it’s just an all day party ; ). How do you see yourself? When you look in the mirror, what do you say to yourself? Do you have your own back? Or are you busy stabbing it?

Maybe you are lucky and you feel good about yourself! WOO!!! You can sit back right now and have a bonbon! Well done.

If not, take action.

How to Reprogram Your Self Talk

Helmstetter advises us to reverse the things we say to ourselves, in the moment that we hear them. I suck at this, becomes, “I am competent and I can do this!” They hate me, becomes “They don’t know me yet, so here I am!” Today is disaster, I just don’t have it in me, becomes “Today is a great day! I have plenty of energy, today especially!”

I have been playing with this, and sometimes I have to laugh at the ludicrous irony of these upbeat re-framings. So I have also been engaging in “interrogative” self talk, which means questioning my own inner statements. “Is this really the worst day ever?!” Um, well, no. “Do you really not know what you’re doing?” Well, actually, I am pretty competent. That’s been pretty interesting, too. If the affirming piece is tough for you, the interrogative option might be a nice bridge.

On the other hand, I recognize the value of the process, and I do find a lift follows the shift. Saying things out load makes a difference too, as does writing them down and reading them, and reading them aloud. However we get these new things into our heads, they get into our heads.

Next Steps

We can move on from reversal to general good news about ourselves on a regular basis, saying kind words to ourselves, out loud–and saying kind words about ourselves to others! Speaking of the mirror, I love the bathroom mirror to check in with myself, to smile and cheerfully greet myself and say some nice things. I’m in there several times a day, so that’s several times a day I can check in and smile at myself.

Behavior Creates Emotion
Plus there are practical applications….

Say you want to quit something–smoking (or playing solitaire on your phone, or whatever). Helmstetter advises saying something along the lines of, “I never smoke.” or “I no longer enjoy smoking, and I have quit” He suggests we say these things to ourselves, and out loud, and to others–even as we light up and inhale.

Just continue to say the words, as we continue to smoke. We became conditioned to smoking, and we will become conditioned to the idea that we do not smoke. It will take some time, maybe a few weeks or so. One day we will be lighting up, and our now-reprogrammed subconscious mind will say, then what are you doing with that ciggie?! Yuck!

The trick is remembering to do that. Helmstetter explains how much more valuable it is to generate positive self talk ourselves–but he has built an empire on pre-recorded self talk for every conceivable issue. Which is funny, but everyone’s got to make a living, I guess.

Anyway, I’m planning to play with this in the coming week <cough solitaire cough>. I invite you to join me at whatever level. Listening, reversing, questioning, or straight up affirming your wonderfulness.

Know that you are wonderful! You are beautiful and loving, and worthy of love.
I invite you to say so to yourself, every day ❤️

And here’s some music (a sound bath, anyway ; ) for self loving self talk.

Love,
Alia

PS Create Your Glorious Self is coming together beautifully! I’ll be doing some cool events leading up to it, so please stay tuned! (Registration opens at noon EDT on August 7, 2022. There are only 15 seats…)

Your Glorious Dance Self

Your glorious dance self

Back in the day when everyone had to have a dance name, I thought about making one for myself. I already have a perfectly good Arabic name (being SWANA), but part of the dance name thing was separating one’s dance identity from one’s every life. Safety being one of the concerns, also sounding more glamorous (and sounding more “ethnic,” now regarded as brownface, kinda racist, and best avoided*). However,

Safety and glamour are entirely legit–scads of performers have stage names, authors have pen names, and they can make a big difference in our sense of confidence as artists.

So I was wondering about a stage name for myself. I love my name, Alia–it means sublime, exalted–“the high clear place at the top,” my mom told me. But you know, the safety and everything. So I thought about borrowing my cousins’ name–AbuSamra. Talk about Glamour!

Alia AbuSamra!

But then I thought about keeping track of two names (I can barely keep track of the one I have). And I thought about divorcing my dance self from the rest of my life-accomplishments. And I though about how much more glam Alia AbuSamra would be than I am. I did not want to be jealous of myself, and I wanted to own all my facets, so I let it go.

Recently, I have been thinking about her again….

During Secret Stories, and now Mix n Match, we’ve been playing a lot with different qualities–of movement, but also of attitude–ways of being.

Confidence is a big issue for dancers.

Part of it is the way we’re often taught. We squint into the mirror and criticize ourselves–constantly. We tend to look at what’s wrong, and how we can fix it, generally by developing an ever-more rigid focus on technique. On top of this, we endure an unending deluge of media messaging telling us just how we do not make the cut–too fat, too skinny, not pretty, young, shapely, smart enough–need this cream, that blush, deodorant, shapewear, and so on, day after day after month after year.

It’s no wonder we doubt ourselves.

So how can we increase our confidence?

Part of the problem is that we bring our squinting, criticizing, fault-finding, terrified self to the party. Because that’s the only dance self we’ve ever had, that’s who shows up.

What if it were Alia AbuSamra who showed to dance? Or Aphrodite? Or Astarte, the Phoenician goddess of love, sex, war, and hunting? Or Elena Lentini, the goddess of Oriental dance? Or Taheyya Karioka?

It starts to get interesting, doesn’t it?

Richard Wiseman, author of The As If Principle, reviewed study after study, all of which show that behavior creates emotion. For example, when folks act as if they are cheerful, they start to feel cheerful. So if I started to act as if I were my mythical Alia AbuSamra, I would start to feel like her–to become her. I wouldn’t have to be jealous of her–she would be my secret! And I could BECOME her, as I practiced embodying her qualities.

When we act as if we are Taheyya–embodying our sense of her–we start to feel like her too. We start to embody that mindspace. We start to become it.

I’ve been diving into the research in this and other areas as we explore these qualities of being in the FUN classes. They’re like Secret Identities. We’re having a lot of fun with them–and not just for dance.

Superman has Clark Kent.

Selina Kyle has Catwoman.

Who might you have? Imagine who could show up in other areas of your life!

I’m thinking about a 3-4 month coaching/course to develop and field some Secret Identities.

I wonder if that might be interesting for you. A deep dive with monthly accountability, email updates, and lots of opportunity for exploration and test-driving, reporting back, tweaking–and reveling!

What would you like to see in a course like that? What would make it work for you?

As you ponder that, I invite you to try it out. Act as if you are your heart’s idol!

Please let me know how it goes.

Reply to this email, or comment on the Blog!

Love,
Alia

PS it’s Recital Season again!

Wouldn’t you love to show up to your recital with a mesmerizing dance you made yourself? Without all the frustration and tears?

You can!

Announcing

How to Make a Dance in FIVE Days!

From entrance to applause without setting a single step
Learn a time-tested, systematic approach to dance composition that you can use over and over again.

MD5 opens Sunday, May 22 through Saturday, June 4th. I’ll be monitoring the forum during that time to answer your questions and help troubleshoot any roadblocks that arise.

I invite you to have a look, and see if MD5 is a good fit for you:
alia.teachable.com/p/make-a-dance-in-five-days


*Of of course, if you have a vintage Eastern dance name, please go right ahead with it. Currently we can do better, but anyone who already has an established name, kinda gets grandmothered in ; )

Mix and Match: Templates for Effortless Dance Improvisation

Templates for coloring pictures

One of the biggest improv fears dancers have is what to do next?! We try memorizing–a stock of combinations, a few moves we can fall back on, our entire dance vocabulary—all so we can pick a move. In short, we try to think and remember while we dance. At the same time as we are trying to be fully in the moment, engage with the music, and, if performing, with the space and our guests. Yikes!

Yet the first rule of improv is DON’T THINK. 

So how do we resolve this dilemma?

One way is with templates.

Templates for coloring pictures
Blue, Lavender, and Gold are the template for this image.
What are templates?

Templates, in this context, are patterns of qualities. For example, one of the classic Oriental dance patterns is “Quick Quick Slow,” 

ANY move can be done quickly or slowly, from a walk to a hip drop to an undulation to an accent. Quick is relative to Slow. Slow is at least twice as long as quick (1, 2, 3-4). 

So far so good?

Template elements can be mixed and matched, sliced and diced….

For example, Quick Quick Slow could also be 

Slow Quick Quick. 

Or Quick quick quick quick Slllooowwwww….

or Slow, slow, quick quick quick

or Quick, slooowwwww. Quick, slooowwwww. 

And each time, Quick and Slow can be the same or different moves—whatever your body supplies in the moment. Quick could be shoulder accents and Slow could be a shoulder roll. Or a hip circle. A change in gaze direction. A traveling step. Or whatever comes out of your body. Because the only quality we’re looking at here is velocity. ANY move can fit the bill. 

It doesn’t even have to be a move! We can just express the qualities of quick and slow as we ooze around.

Within this simple structure, we have incredible freedom!

Templates are elastic and variable, just like our micro-movements, just like an Arabic orchestra will sometimes repeat a phrase or verse or passage of a song, or place them in a different order. As dancers, we have all the agency; we can do them as we please. 

We’ve been using Templates for the last month is Secret Stories. Gestural, directional, conceptual—the possibilities are amazing! What’s been really fun is establishing the template early in the class and then applying to various songs, various character elements, and all kinds of fun moving parts. 

Soooo

What folks said about our free Mix and Match Class

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

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

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

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

“I feel more confident about performing!”

“It reinforced the the value of trusting myself”


Our next FUN Class Deep Dive into Templates is happening! 

Each week, we’ll explore a different template. We’ll use it with different moves, different music, different attitudes. We’ll mix and match, and slice and dice until each template is a comfortable friend, so we can relax and enjoy improvisation. 

Mix and Match: Templates for Oriental Dance Improvisation

Tuesdays at 4pm EDT
Mix and Match runs 5 weeks, from April 26 through May 24. 
All sessions recorded (instructor view only). All recording available during the run of the series.

Luscious... Alia's Inspiring FUN Class
Our next FUN Class Deep Dive!

Luscious: Opulent Self-Love and Luxury for Oriental Dance

Feel Luscious style=width= I’ve had a lot of shame around sexuality/sensuality 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 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.

So we could all use an hour luxuriating 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…

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
* Glory in grounded, present, agency

Luscious runs Tuesday at 4pm EDT from August 9 through Sept 13 (no class Sept 6). 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 please join us? It’s going to be… luscious ; )

Pay in Full $70
Pay Weekly $14.50/week for 5 weeks
Sliding Scale $7.50/week for 5 weeks
Pay What You Will.
Open to All.

BIPOC, LGBTQ+, MENAHT and any marginalized groups are invited use this option

With love,
Alia

How to Space IN (a secret skill for Oriental dance)

But first, a message from our sponsor ; )

Joe Williams at the Gates

Joe Williams’ Show and Tell workshop was truly exceptional. The concepts we explored have made a deep impression on my approach to movement. It is available to stream through April 7. This is huge–Joe does not usually allow his classes to be recorded. If you are interested in the streaming option, I invite you to have a look here: https://alia.gumroad.com/l/show-and-tell-joe-williams. It is SO worth it! And alll the $ goes straight to Joe.

And now back to our regularly scheduled program ; )

Spacing IN…

I am pretty good at spacing out. It’s one of my main skills, lol. I was a figure model for art classes in my teens, and it was a perfect job for me–I didn’t have to do anything—just sit there—and there was always plenty flowing through my mind to keep me occupied (I also learned to accurately count seconds, another useful skill). 

But spacing out is not so helpful for a dance practice focused on presence and embodiment. 

What we want is more like spacing IN. 

What might that be like?

Neil Gaiman is a marvelous writer. He’s won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, and many of his books have been turned into films and television series (American Gods, Good Omens, Coraline). He’s also kind of an oddball, but who cares. His books are wonderful (my favorite is Neverwhere). 

Recently, I was reading about Gaiman’s creative process.

He writes his drafts in longhand with a fountain pen (I firmly believe that handwriting has magical powers). He often rents hotel rooms for month-long writing blitzes, or at least goes to a café for dedicated writing time (+1 for writing in cafés and alternative spaces! It’s hard to do anything at home. I had to get up at 5am every day to write my book). 

But more important is what he does during that dedicated writing time, when the writing doesn’t come. Or rather, what he doesn’t do—which is anything at all. If there are no words coming, Gaiman just sits there, staring at his paper until they do. 

No chatting. No web surfing. No doodles or playing cat’s cradle with string. No Twitter posts. No reading. No anything. He waits. He stares at that page. He makes a space for the words, for the writing. He defends that space by avoiding anything that isn’t writing. He spaces IN. 

Gaiman gets bored, waiting. 

Boredom is an interesting space. 

It leads to higher creativity. Things have a chance to surface when there is nothing else going on. 

Walter Mosely (another wonderful writer), compares writing a novel to “gathering smoke.” You have to stay on it, be there every day, or it will get cold and float away. 

We make space for dance with our 20 minutes. But even so, it’s very easy to space out—to let the body prance about while we debate what to have for dinner, or how early to get up tomorrow, or whatever the myriad barrage of random stuff that comes into our heads. 

The more we let the mindless chatter go, the more we are just there with the music and the breath, the more things appear. 

Many of us have found new ideas surface during our practice, have moves we forgot we knew turn up in our dance. We make the space and keep it open; as we learn to bypass mind’s nattering, those creative flashes become more frequent.  

This is a skill. It is hard at first, but it gets easier with practice. 

Music helps. It’s enlivening.

This week, I invite you to be bored.

Stay with the breath–rhythmic breath or long exhales. Twenty minutes is a great amount of time, because generally something will happen before it’s over ; )

Even if you lie on the floor with an empty mind listening to music (or not) for 20 minutes, well, things could be worse ; )

Music! It begins with Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes by the Cairo Steps and then keeps on going ; )

Love, 

Alia

Show and Tell

Joe Williams at the Gates

with Joe Williams
Delsarte Technique for Oriental Dance

Joe Williams, guest artist for Wonderland!

Please join Joe Williams, internationally acclaimed Delsarte expert, in this 2-hour live online workshop geared especially to Oriental dance.

Oriental dance is an expressive impressionist genre. As dancers, we show our guests what we feel from the music. Delsarte technique gives us subtle yet powerful tools to enhance expression. Highlighting specific body parts suggests meaning in subliminal ways. When we understand this physical language, there is a delicious feedback loop of knowing what we suggest, validating our expression through movement, and giving ourselves and our bodies permission to feel, to speak, and to exist with agency and joy.

  • In the first hour, we learn how to Show what we feel and highlight character through physical expression.
  • In the second hour, we Tell our stories as we compose short dance sequences based upon emotional expression using the Delsarte system.
  • Joe live coaches participants as we find our way in this unique mode of expression.

Please note, this workshop was recorded for the Wonderland class and for Joe’s archive. It is ONLY available to stream through April 1. Joe seldom allows recording of his classes. This is a rare, unique opportunity to learn from one of the only teachers of Delsarte as a physical system of expression.

Two-hour recording of LIVE Zoom workshop. Special price: $30.

Please note, this workshop is ONLY available for purchase through April 1.

YES! Purchase via

Note Gumroad policy: Upon purchase, you will have a 30-day window in which to watch the video. Please note that once you click “play,” you have 72 hours to watch before access expires.

Share via Facebook…

Wonderland starts Sunday!

Welcome to WONDERLAND

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

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

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

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

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

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

With all my love,
Alia

The Power of Secret Stories

secret stories

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

Continue reading

Why Nurture Improvisation? (Bobby Part 2)

split-second-decision

Last week, we talked about the beneficial structure of Bobby’s classes. Now let’s look at some of the science that supports this (an excerpt from Midnight at the Crossroads: has belly dance sold its soul?)

Stanford University did a 21-year major study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, looking at how well leisure activities, both cognitive and physical (from reading to swimming and everything in between), protect the brain from dementia. Frequent dancing topped the list, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s by 76%. That is a lot. It was the only physical activity correlated to a reduced likelihood of dementia—and it had the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical. Here’s a link to the study: nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022252.

The study didn’t look at different kinds of dancing—but Richard Powers, a ballroom dance instructor at Stanford, examined the cognitive activities that were most protective and collated the findings with several other studies on brain protection. His advice is, “Involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working on your physical style.”

Split-second, rapid-fire decision making

Yes, we are talking about improvisation—and improv to live improvised music doubles the payoff. When we improvise, we make innumerable calculations and adjustments in the microsecond. We are not even aware of them. But they add up.

Powers explains that, “One way to do that is to learn something new.” Anything. Learning new skills will make everything else work better. And taking a dance class can be highly effective, as dancing “integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity.” This is also a good reason to study with many teachers, as the learner navigates a variety of movement patterns, music, and methodology.

Powers further predicts that, of the couple in a ballroom dance, the one who gets the most benefit by far is the follower. Carolyn Hamilton, creator of the brain health movement program Motional Intelligence, notes this as well: “Following someone who is improvising or doing a loose choreography is the most beneficial in terms of brain health. Not even the person doing the improv gets as much benefit as the follower… It’s the spontaneous reacting that causes the brain to create new pathways.”

The leader can resort to well-worn patterns in which there is no spontaneity, only repetition. The one who benefits is the one whose dance is spontaneous—the one who listens, intuits, and goes with his feeling in the moment. Hey, that sounds familiar!

Powers further asserts that a leader who embodies these same improvisational principles can find as much benefit as the follower, which has a lot to say for improvised duets and group dances. “Spontaneous leading and following both involve entering a flow state.  Both leading and following benefit from a highly active attention to possibilities… That’s the most succinct definition I know for intelligent dancing: a highly active attention to possibilities.”  You can read the full text of his article here: socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm.

It is in improvisation that we make these rapid-fire decisions, that we develop Powers’ “highly active attention to possibilities.” Dancing in restaurants, at parties, and in odd spaces we have to be awake—especially with live music. It’s Different Every Time. But repeating choreography? Drilling established, stylized steps? Doing the same thing every time? Not so much. Repeating what we already know does not help us.

And there’s more

Dr. Marilee Nugent has been studying neuromuscular control and the stages of learning—how one goes from beginner to advanced. She presented on this in 2014 at the Sahar conference in Vancouver, BC. As she applied her research to belly dance, she found that each individual movement has an arc from beginner to expert—and the arc for each move is different. Learning one belly dance move (for example, a hip drop), does not prepare us to learn another. The learning curve for each is unique and distinct. Even going from one version to another, for example, from bottom-up to top-down infinity, can challenge new students (and doing that with an undulation can challenge advanced students).

Add this to that constantly shifting re-contextualization of ever-changing combinations and patterns we talked about last week. You can see the immense benefits, not only in skill levels, but also in brain health. Since the current Alzheimer’s predictions are the one third of us–YES, one third of all of us–will develop Alzheimer’s disease (and trust me, it is hell), it is very much to our benefit to put ourselves in a position of constant learning.

How do we know we are learning? If it isn’t hard, it isn’t learning.

This is why we nurture improvisation

Because it makes a difference on so many levels. Yes, it is a core value of Oriental dance. This is just one example of the brilliance of the cultural dance. This is how Bobby taught. This is how I teach. This is WHY I teach this way. I love our dance and all its hidden jewels. And this is also why….

It gives me so much pleasure to do this Bobby-Style FUN Class Deep Dive!

I’d love to see you there!
Big hugs!
Alia

Luscious... Alia's Inspiring FUN Class
Our next FUN Class Deep Dive!

Luscious: Opulent Self-Love and Luxury for Oriental Dance

Feel Luscious style=width= I’ve had a lot of shame around sexuality/sensuality 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 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.

So we could all use an hour luxuriating 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…

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
* Glory in grounded, present, agency

Luscious runs Tuesday at 4pm EDT from August 9 through Sept 13 (no class Sept 6). 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 please join us? It’s going to be… luscious ; )

Pay in Full $70
Pay Weekly $14.50/week for 5 weeks
Sliding Scale $7.50/week for 5 weeks
Pay What You Will.
Open to All.

BIPOC, LGBTQ+, MENAHT and any marginalized groups are invited use this option

Honoring Ibrahim Farrah, Master Teacher

Ibrahim "Bobby" Farrah

Many of you know that Ibrahim Farrah (aka Bobby) is one of my major influences. I attended his classes in NYC religiously for years. One of the things I became aware of over the course of writing Midnight at the Crossroads: has belly dance sold its soul? was how well his teaching methods prepared me for improvisation and performance to live music–even though we had only recorded music in the classes.

Bobby Farrah had a deep understanding of the soul of this dance. He realized the dance is about expression of the dancer’s feeling from the music, that it is about embodiment and timing more than steps or combos. He encouraged personal expression and style in all of his classes. But he did so much more than this.

Bobby’s classes, especially in the early days, were models of learning science

One of the hottest concepts in learning today is interleaving. This means that rather than sticking with one thing until you get it, you keep the brain always reaching. You do different things so the brain never knows what to expect. You cycle through things and make them different every time.

Ibrahim "Bobby" Farrah

Bobby never repeated.

You could go to his class three times in a week for two hours at a time (and I did). He never repeated. Every single time, he would do something completely different. There was a fairly consistent format of options—for example, a combination, traveling across the floor, following Bobby as he improvised—but it was never the same combo, the floor crossing was always different (and sometimes different for each person), and the impro—well, that, by its very nature, was different every time, even to the same music.

And wow, did we learn!

We learned musicality, how to combine moves, how to transition between them, how to improvise, how to interpret music, how to compose, how to use a stage—without him ever saying much of anything about it. And we learned how to present ourselves, even though we giggled to see Bobby swan across the floor, beaming at himself in the mirror. We learned. It was hard, and it was worth it.

Even in his later years of choreography, the dances were what I think of as “deceptively simple.” They didn’t beat the music to death. They weren’t crammed with show-off steps. They did embody his deep understanding. They made space for the dancer’s own special sauce. For the love they brought to the guests. For their feeling. For the expression and communication of that feeling.

You can tell a Bobby dancer by the way they use the stage. He marked us all, in the best possible way. It took me years to realize what gift he had given us, what a world-class education I had received. It took watching a lot of dancers, many famous, and slowly realizing, Huh. I can do that. I get it. I see it.

Bobby taught us to own our dance

He taught me that I had something to say. He taught me how to say it with dance.

I am proud to carry on his legacy.

This is Part 1. Part 2 is here.

With love,
Alia

PS I am delighted that the Fun Class folks have elected to do a series of classes celebrating his model!

This 5-week session will soon be available to stream!

Come join us! It’s going to be fun ; )