Stuck in choreography? Wish your students could improvise? Wish you could improvise?
Dancers are often afraid to improvise, preferring the safety of choreography. Yet improv is a core skill for belly dance!
So how do we teach this? Can improv even be taught? Is there no hope?
Yes, there’s hope!
Alia Thabit is a specialist in improvisation and improv-based composition, and the coming months are a celebration of improvisation! From local classes and workshops to an online webinar and forum-based course, the time has come to open ourselves up to the music and see what comes out!
Here are our upcoming events:
Cairo Cabaret, July 14. 2019
Workshops in Northampton MA:
Effortless Improv + Micro-Movement 11 am-12:15 pm Improvisation is a core skill for belly dance, but so many folks just learn choreography–which makes it even harder to learn improvisation! Through tested strategies such as Micro-Movement, Rhythmic Breath, Slow Movement, and Creative Limitation, students will learn how to access limitless movement options, turn off anxiety and self-judgement, and turn on their intuitive response to the music.
Spontaneous Construction—complex, exciting easy-to-remember group dances–in about an hour. 1-2:15 pm In this class, we will learn how to build fast, fun, group dances–in about an hour. Dances that are complex, interactive, and easy to remember; dances that leave room for each dancer’s personal expression, with every cue drenched in feeling and meaning so dancers are free to embody the music in a more organic way. Full process notes will be included.
Full day- $70; Single Workshop $40 Bonus– all workshop attendees are invited to participate in an online book club discussion her book Midnight at the Crossroads. Still a few spaces left. Join here: https://www.sahinabellydance.com/workshops-with-alia.html/
Cairo Cabaret Show 5-8 pm at American Legion Post 275 in Chicopee (see map below) The show is hosted by Troupe Hazine and is open to the public. Cover is $8.
Webinar: How to Teach Improvisation for Oriental Dance
August 4th at 2PM Eastern. $15 includes includes notes and follow-up. I will be teaching a few classes for the Belly Dance Business Academy, starting with this webinar. It’s pointed at teachers, but students will also get a lot out of it. Signup coming soon. Info is here.
Raq-On Studio Classes
Aug-September, White River Junction, VT. Focus on improv. Sold out, sorry.
Effortless Improv: a 6-week online improvisation crash course
Sunday, August 25 through Friday October 4th, 2019
Effortless Improv explores improvisation including Dancing to Live Music. You can learn to improvise. You can learn to feel the music. It’s a skill, and you can learn it. Designed for those who want to learn or teach improvisation. Check it out here! Still a few early-bird seats left… https://aliathabit.com/classes/effortless/
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with a group.” This is supposedly a South African proverb; I don’t know that it actually is. Or that it is always true. But I do know that combining group work with personal work is a fast way to go far.
This is how I have always created my courses–a mix of group accountability and camaraderie combined with individual focus and experimentation. I have found this combination to be satisfying and effective,, both in the classes I have taken as well as those I have taught.
I know, everyone despised group work in school.
Largely because it is for a grade, so everyone hates the slacker who drags them down almost as much as the perfectionist who drives them forward (at one time, I had my college students categorize themselves as Early Birds, Slow and Steady, or Caffiends, and grouped them accordingly–which worked surprisingly well).
One thing I noticed, though–the more fun the task, the more agreeable the groups were. The more motivated people are, the better everything goes.
Fun and motivation are key.
I have been in many, many groups (you probably have, too), from boards to business to classes. I have found that a good group motivates me to show up, and that I learn as much from the processes of the others as I do from my own (sometimes more). Groups work best when we have our own things to do between meetings, and we come back together to debrief and choose our next focus.
As someone who has often danced in a vacuum, with no teachers near at hand, before the internet, I am familiar with going alone. It’s not my strong suit, even though I do it all the time. Why?
I’m an introvert.
Generally, I avoid people. I abhor groups. They make me tired. I don’t like to be seen. BUT!
I get a lot farther with others to help me prioritize, act as a sounding board, or generally be on the path with me. Sometimes it’s just one person, sometimes it’s several. But when we are all motivated and the task is rewarding the process becomes enjoyable.
This is how I structure my classes.
A long time ago I read that some students responded more in written conversations and others to in-person conversation. I immediately tested this in my college classrooms, and was delighted to find silent students become chatty and helpful in forum threads. Since then, I have used a mix of video meetings with private forums for my classes–and it works.
Here are some comments from a recent class…
I think the group encouragement helped us all come “out” and share videos, etc… without feeling we would be judged. I felt everyone’s beauty from the inside out. I got to know them because we interacted everyday online. The love I felt from knowing them and seeing their dance was so sweet for me to watch. I am going to feel lost when the course is over. I also feel like I have made friends. I felt like I could do no wrong, explore and try new things every step of the way.
In this course Alia always encouraged being “you” and how “you” feel. All the assignments were open to “our” interpretations to build “our” dances. Alia gave guidance and examples, not “do this” “like this.” And everyone including me shared their own experiences, ideas, twists, struggles, questions, learned from each other, inspired each other, supported each other. There was no right or wrong. There was no who is better than others or “this is good because it looks like the example.” There really wasn’t. –HT
The group made all the difference. Things that I was privately feeling or insecurities I had would be expressed by someone else in the group. This gave me the confidence to speak up, ask questions and not be afraid of what others thought. The group was very supportive and their questions and comments were very helpful. I did not feel alone. ..I got so many great ideas from others in the forum. I remember saying to myself on numerous occasions, “I want to try that!” We were all free to share and explore together. –KG
“Awaken people to their own beauty and power. Enable them to express their unique individuality through art.”
This is my mission. This is why I teach classes, write books and articles, and dance the way I do. This is why I am embarked upon the trauma resolution path, to help others transcend the ice of old fear so they can create the art of their dreams.
It is from this place that I present our fall calendar.
I have built these courses over time. I have built them to heal the divides I see in our dance scene. I have built them for you. Thank you for reading, for thinking, for being part of all this, for being you. You are my heart and soul. Let’s go far–together.
Fall 2019 Upcoming Events
Raq-On Live Classes, mid Aug-mid Sept
I’m excited to be teaching some of Amity’s classes between mid August to mid Sept. There are a few spots left in the intermediate to advanced class on Monday nights–join live in the studio or Skype in.
“Individual growth while focusing not just on technique and drills, but different styles, props, history, and performance methods. You must be willing to take constructive criticism from your instructor work as a team player with your peers. Please note, in order to join this class, you must get instructor permission.” If interested, please contact me.
FUN classes are live online (video) classes designed for FUN. They are primarily follow-me, improv classes with some combinations, technique, and an extended Dancemeditation section for stress release and joy.
Each class is recorded. The recording is available for one week only, then replaced by the next recording. We use zoom for the classes and teachable.com to host the streamable recordings. Registration opens in August.
Creative Expressions Mastermind
I am very excited about this new venture. This Mastermind is for small groups (+/- five people) who meet online bi-weekly for two months (five total meetings of about two hours per meeting). Each member chooses their own creative goals while the group provides accountability, cheerleading, and coaching.
Each person gets twenty minutes per meeting to talk about what they’ve done, what they want to do, and troubleshoot or discuss. Alia will provide coaching, and they will choose their new goals or next steps for the coming month.
What might you focus on? It could be any kind of creative goal, dance, improvisation, a prop, or anything you want to learn or get better at, painting, costume making, writing, marketing, establishing boundaries, whatever you want to work on.
This Mastermind will run through September and October. Meeting times will be decided by the group. Meetings will be recorded and available via teachable.com.
There are only ten spaces available for the mastermind. If you are interested, contact me. Formal registration opens in August. However, if you are sure this is for you, you may partake of our special Trust the Chef pricing (there’s even a payment plan).
How to Teach Improvisation
Save the Date: August 4th at 2PM This is a webinar I’m teaching for the Belly Dance Business Academy. More info and signup coming soon.
Effortless Improv: a 6-week online improvisation crash course
This is one of my favorite classes. It is wild and crazy and oh, does it work! Get ready for transformation. Ten spots are available right now at a special early price (only 25 spots for the whole class). Info/Register
Focus on the Feeling How to Get and Give Great Critique for Oriental Dance
Who among us has not been told something cutting about our dance? Sure, maybe it’s true, but really–cutting? All of us want to improve; none of us need to be shredded in the process. Yet the only other option seems to be saying how good something was–when it wasn’t? Can’t we be honest, yet kind?
YES, WE CAN.
Focus on the Feeling helps us identify our strengths, prioritize our growth, build up our skills, and enjoy doing it–we even get to enjoy our own videos! Find out more here. FoF will run for 6 weeks, from Sunday, October 13 — Friday, November 22, 2019. Registration opens in September.
When I was a kid, any time my Mom and I wanted to cook something new, we hauled out all our favorite cookbooks and found as many versions of the recipe as we could (there was no internet back then <gasp!>, so yeah, cookbooks).
We read them all, chose those we liked, and noted what was consistent between them. Then we mixed and matched everything else to come up with our own, custom recipe.
Damn, we made some great food.
That early mix-n-match experience made me a confident cook. And it colored my outlook on pretty much everything. With a little prep, I could make whatever I did my own.
This is also how I have approached belly dance.
It has made me open to a wide variety of influences. The foundation has come from the cookbooks–er, the tried-and-true dance experts from whom I have learned over time–what do they say that is consistent, and what is personal style?
The first time I went to Egypt in 2004, I attended the Ahlan wa Sahalan festival. One of the things that pleased me there was realizing that I interpreted the music much the same way the Egyptian dancers did. I understood their choices. It was a nice validation. Over the course of writing my book, I took pains to analyze what made the dance Eastern and to clarify the differences between Eastern and Western artistic priorities.
In many ways, I was fortunate that I did NOT have a Western dance background. I had no dance instruction to speak of before I came to belly dance–with the exception of Twist lessons with Chubby Checker on television waaay back in the day. I’m pretty sure Chubby’s freestyle approach didn’t hurt, either ; ).
As I wrote Midnight, I also realized we have a problem here in the West. We have built a model of belly dance classes (whereas folks of the culture learned from family and friends). So we have students who want to show their work. They want a product, something the can take home and show off. So we make dances for them. And it’s only gotten worse. In the competition circuit, dances are choreographed down to the last wink and smile. They are the exact same, every single time. But there is a problem.
At its heart, our dance is improvised.
How do we reconcile East and West?
In the book, I made a list of what I found to be the essential elements of the dance. Here it is. (You can read the entire first chapter, which includes this list, here: https://payhip.com/b/a1Qp).
The foundation movement vocabulary, hip drops, shimmies, undulations, etc.
Micromovement, the modulation of a movement’s size, shape, direction, speed, and force to better fit the dancer’s mood and the music
Improvisation to improvised (preferably live, preferably Eastern) music or loose choreography/structured improvisation that can be changed or modified to each situation
Expression of the dancer’s physical and emotional feeling in the moment, including playfulness and fun
Embodiment of the principles and values of Oriental music (more on this later in the chapter)
The Eastern music with which this dance has evolved. You can have all of the above with other music, but the music and dance go together, and they make special magic together.
The more of these principles we include in the mix, the closer we get to the soul of the dance. So where does choreography figure in? Belly dance at its heart is an improvised solo dance form. But even solo dances are now rigidly choreographed, every wink and nod the same every time. To me, there is a Trifecta of Oriental dance mastery. Here it is.
The Feeling in the Moment, Same but Different, and Bring the Joy.
My long-term goal is an improvisational dance company. But my short-term goal has been, how to bring these principles into set dances? Because choreography is here to stay. So what do we do with it?
I have always been drawn to theatrical dance–most of the dances I made had meaning in them. Though meaning in Oriental dance comes with the feeling from the music in the moment, Egyptian film choreographers, already practicing with Western models, lavished theatrical dances on the films they made. So I considered this a suitable precedent. Choreography is Western meaning in art is Western, but how could I use these few Western elements, yet stay true to the soul of the dance?
I developed a systematic approach to dancemaking that took into account all the above issues. I wanted dances that were wonderful to dance and wonderful to view.
I began building improvisational frameworks that had something to say–while staying true to the dance’s core principles. I could choose stage patterns and a backstory without tying myself to exact steps (and I could throw them away if I pleased). The results were amazing. So I decided to share them. You are invited to a Webinar!
How to make a Dance without Steps
Yup. No need to agonize over setting steps. More fun to make, more fun to dance. Takes about an hour. Really.
How does this make the world a better place?
When we see joyous art, we feel that joy within ourselves. When we create joyous art, we free our ourselves–and our guests–from cares and pain. Even if only for a little while, everyone gets a vacation from everyday stress. It is a valid calling, to heal ourselves and the world.
Over $1300 worth of belly dance resources. Over 25 contributors. Over 85% off. The bellydance bundle is available for for one week only.
All the courses have been revealed.
It’s a wonderful collection! I’m VERY excited about Embodiment, the six-week musicality for belly dance class I made for the Bundle. It’s great for dancers and it’s great for teachers–you can use these methods in your own classes. Embodiment has a value of $95 all by itself–half the cost of the entire Bundle. http://aliathabit.com/bundle
You can see all the yummy goodness on the bundle website. I hope that you will consider buying the Bundle. It is an excellent resource, with top-notch contributors.
PS yes, you will get a lot of emails for the Bundle. Pick your preferred provider, open an Incognito window in your browser, and use their link. I invite you to use mine ; ) http://aliathabit.com/bundle
27 contributors. $1000 worth of belly dance madness. Over 80% off!
This innovative package of wonderful dance classes, tutorials, and so forth, got a lot of attention last year with good reason. It is well-designed and a great value.
This year Bundle purchases will be giving back directly to the dance community and will also be supporting the SEEDS program run by Myra Krien with each sale! At least $5 of every sale will go to helping dancers in need, and to help support young women through the ATS dance community.
I love the Bundle because Tiffany does such a great job. I’m happy to be part of it. It helps me reach new folks and helps me make some money while I do it.
How does the Bundle work?
We contributors donate our courses to the Bundle. Each of us is also a partner is the program. We provide the Bundle to you, and we get a commission on each sale we make. This is the way we get paid.
You’ll probably get Bundle offers from several dancers you know and love. We apologize for the repeats, but it will only be for a short time. And you can choose whose link you use.
My contribution to the Bundle
This year, I’m making a whole new course for the Bundle. Here’s a sneak peek:
Belly dance is all about expressing the music–but how do you do that when it doesn’t even make sense? Wouldn’t you love to feel confident and sure of yourself—and your dance?
Embodiment: Musicality for Oriental Dance
A six-week self-paced course by Alia Thabit
In this course, students will learn musical structure; explore rhythm, melody, and phrasing; and practice improvisational templates so they can bask in joyous expression.
Week 1: Demystifying the Music
Week 2. Understanding Rhythmic Structure
Week 3. Dancing on the Melody
Week 4. Interpretation and Texture
Week 5. Using Combo Templates
Week 6. How to Float–and Land
Each week includes conceptual breakdowns, musical assignments and a dance études, along with video examples, handouts, and song suggestions.
Included FREE with the Belly Dance Bundle!
Pretty cool, huh?
Links go live September 1. That’s when the site gets updated.
Here are my links for the NEW Bundle offers and some nice free gifts!
One of the great dance films is Dr. Magda Saleh’s documentary, Egypt Dances. Dr. Saleh was Egypt’s first prima ballerina; she made the film in the 70s as part of her doctoral studies. It is splendid, a cross section of local dance all over Egypt. One of my favorite sections is when she interviews this shamadan dancer I cannot remember her name). Dr. Saleh said that she tried on the shamadan and her head couldn’t stay upright—the thing weighed a good 40 pounds.
This dancer told Dr. Saleh that back in the day, all the dancers were very large—so large that they could not dance standing up. Instead, they danced seated. And she gives a demonstration.
Yeah, it’s cool.
So how about dancing seated today? Sit in a comfy chair, put on some nice rolly music and kick back. See what happens.
Here’s some fun debke music for your seated boogie!
Egypt Dances is at the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library. When you are in NYC, you can go there and watch it. It is worth the trip. And the rest of library isn’t half bad, either. They also have Bobby Farrah’s company performance, I think at Riverside church, and many more cool things. More about the film here: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/30153e10-f879-0130-94b7-3c075448cc4b
The Belly Dance Bundle Returns! I’ll be making a class on Musicality for Belly Dance. More soon!
Oct 12-14 Vending Midnight at the Crossroads at Rakkasah East Come see me dance, too–Sunday at 1:48pm
Nov 4-Dec 8
Glorious: A Five-Week Course about the Five-Part Routine Each week we will: Highlight one part of the routine. Dance through an entire routine (different every time). Each class will be recorded. Each recording will be available for one week. There will also be a Q&A video/phone conference each week. Students will learn structure, moods, and technique, as well as practice improvising through the routine. Trust the Chef Premium Earlybird Pricing (until Sept 23): $69 (full price $99). https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=WGXCTY2AW22LW
I’ve been noticing how many things get to a point where it seems everything is falling apart–but then they don’t. It’s become such a thing that when I start to feel the chaos swirling, I remind myself that this happens every time, to just stay my course and things will come back together.
Of course, sometimes it all goes to hell, but most times this works. For example, the 90 Days. It took three rounds for me to notice that around a certain day, something happened–usually some criticism–that threw me off my game. The first time, I was destroyed. The second time wasn’t much better. The third time, I thought, wait a minute. I have been here before…
That’s when I went back and looked at the first two times. And realized the timing was almost to the day. I’m sure it will happen this time, too. But hopefully this time I will be able to see it as a natural phenomenon, and recover more quickly.
Speaking of the 090 Days–and of noticing, here is the Day 20 Love Note of the 2015 90 Days (and then some upcoming events–and some changes ; )
Why the Dog Shit Moment signals change
What’s that smell?
We’ve all been there. By that time, it’s too late. There is dog poop on our shoe, our carpet, everywhere. We scrub and curse, vowing to be more careful.
More cursing, more scrubbing. But this time, maybe before we get home…
Just at the moment of impact, we realize. Too late, but only just.
Whoa! Just step back.
Now we are getting somewhere. Just before the foot goes down, we see it coming, and we have time to to stop, reverse gears, pull back, and step away.
That’s dog shit, and I’m not going there.
Change has truly come. We see it, note it, and steer clear.
Where is the dog shit in your life?
Is it a person? An interaction? A relationship pattern? Where are you at in the continuum? Do you see it coming, or do you only notice the smell after you’ve stepped?
Recently I noticed I had tracked some crap into my life. I scheduled three challenging things all together in one month. Almost on the same day. Here they are.
Amity and Alia’s Awesome Retreat
The worldwide release date for Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its soul?
30 Midnights: a 30 Day Challenge based on Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its soul?
The 90 Day Dance Challenge.
I think you can see what a terrible idea it is to do all of these at once. So I asked for help. Amity came to my rescue, telling me how to re-order the events. Here they are:
Amity and Alia’s Awesome Winter Retreat, Feb 10-11 in Lyme, NH.
This is going to be a wonderful event in a lovely place, and it’s all inclusive–meals, a room, even a chair massage! There are only 10 spaces left, and there’s a deal on the page so do take a look: aliathabit.com/awesome-winter-retreat
Midnight Worldwide Release, Feb 10
That’s when the print book goes live on BN.com, Amazon, and so forth. (Also BN has a very nice nice preorder price and a great price for the Nook version of the ebook).
The 30-Midnights book challenge, Monday, February 12, 2018 to Tuesday, March 13th.
This 30 days thing is going to be pretty cool, different from the 90 days. It will give us time for a deep dive into the book and set the stage nicely for the 90 Days (thanks to Gudrun for this title <3).
This challenge is free for anyone who signs up for the 90 Days by Feb 10 (and for those who backed the book’s Kickstarter). This and an ebook of Midnight are a bonus for joining the 90 Days before Feb 10. Register for the 90 Days here: 90DayDanceParty.com
The 90 Days will begin Saturday March 17th and run to Thursday, June 14th.
This is our flagship course, and it’s a winner. It’s also ridiculously cheap for all you get–three months of daily attention and support, Love Notes, and a chance to bring your dance way beyond the next level. Check out the 90 Days here: 90DayDanceParty.com
Thank you for your trust in me. Thank you for supporting this work. It is my pleasure and honor to dance with you.
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.
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
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.
But only for 10 people (or until the Retreat sells out, whichever comes first).
I’m delighted to announce that there will be a 90 Day Dance Challenge beginning on Feb 11, 2018 and ending on World Belly Dance Day, May 12, 2018. Daily Love Notes, weekly videos, and a FB group for support and friends. Sign up info in the fall; we’ll have plenty of time to spread the word. Thank you for all your patience!
I’m looking into teaching a 6-8 week local class in STJ (or maybe Hardwick), for those of you who live around here. Thinking about Friday afternoons at 4, starting in late Sept and ending mid November. Also thinking about streaming a live class again, in a similar time period (but different day and time). Hit me up if you’re interested.
Finally, I’ll be part of a very cool event this October. It’s still in the planning stage, but it involves a LOT of cool stuff from a LOT of cool people–please take a minute to check it out: aliathabit.com/bundle
Coming at the end of a difficult year, the Summer Movement Monastery, shone like a precious jewel in my mind’s eye. It was my last chance at release and renewal. After the previous SMM, I hadn’t wanted to yell at anyone for a good month–this year I hoped for more.
Summer Movement Monastery (SMM) happens at Ravenrock.
That’s Dunya’s retreat on top a mesa in New Mexico. It’s nearest town in Las Vegas (not the one in Nevada). The air is dry. It rains for a while almost every day, often spectacular thunderstorms. But then the sun comes out again. It’s 7,000 feet up, wide open, flat, turfed with scrub and cactus punctuated by clumps of piñon pine and cedar.
There are sometimes bears on the mesa (we’ve never seen one), and rattlesnakes (seen several, though not this year). The steep road is a series of impossible switchbacks, some of them on bare rock. The earth is red clay, which turns to sucking mud after a rainstorm. Most cell phones work, somewhat, somewhere. There is no electricity, though there is a solar charger. There is a privy in a tent. We sleep in tents. There is cold running water, by virtue of hand cranked pumps, cached from the many rainstorms.
None of this matters.
The view off the rim matters.
The bones of the earth, jutting up from the red clay. The stillness. The light. The brilliant lichen clothing ancient stones. After dinner, we often gather on the porch and relax, laugh, watch the sunset, the stars. The stars at night are brilliant. It is always chilly after dark. At breakfast, which is silent, the sun warms us. Each day is a gift.
Arriving this year felt sweet, so sweet. The land is gracious, spacious, soothing, welcoming. I felt more grounded at once. Stepping into the studio–a red corrugated metal barn on the outside, a warm, secure space on the inside–felt like coming home.
Every day, two sessions, several hours long. But they fly. I am a clock watcher. Not at SMM. It is always over sooner than I think. There are so many things. Following, Slow Movement, breath practices, chanting, various layers of attention to various body parts. Always marvelous music. Always the others, the group, engaged, present, peers. People who embrace this practice tend to be easygoing, smart, and fun. It’s a pleasure.
I’ve written about her before. You know the 90 Days is based upon her work. The work stands on its own, but Dunya’s decades of experience and deep understanding permeate everything here. It is her eye that chose this location, her power that invests it. When we did a modest fast, she knew simply by looking at our eyes if we should go another day or step out of it. She knows what she’s doing. It’s impressive, over and over again, to see her do it. She’s fresh from helping both parents move on from this earth, double hip replacements. This is a big deal, this SMM. She brought her A-game, speaking each morning with hair-raising clarity.
Her first commandment for the retreat was rest.
She read us this quote from the poet David Whyte that encapsulated our mission:
To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals.
To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets and shift the goal not to an inner static bulls eye, an imagined state of perfect stillness, but to an inner state of natural exchange.
The template of natural exchange is the breath, the autonomic giving and receiving which is the basis and the measure of life itself. … When we give and take in this easy foundational way we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested.
To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given. —David Whyte
For the first week I thought no thoughts and did as little as possible. We all have tasks to do each day, kitchen, privy, or space cleaning. We rotate through these details, a day or a few days on each. I did my tasks, ate simple food, practiced with the group for five hours each day, and took walks on the land. The rest of the time, I lay in a sun-dappled hammock amidst buzzing hummingbirds and read a marvelous 600+ page historical novel (Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen). It was exactly what I needed.
By the second week, I began to feel human again.
Like a normal person, with ideas, who could be silly, in a good mood. My body felt more cooperative. Though the weather was cold, rainy sometimes, my tent was dry, and the sun was out most of the time. The peace I feel in this place is unmatched in any other. Just sitting and staring off into the valleys, watching the colors shift, the far-off thunderstorms, seeing the sun play across the mesa feels profoundly worth while.
The work itself is deceptively challenging, but rewarding. Opening oneself to one’s inner workings is a messy business. It can engender tension and heaviness–contraction. This is mitigated by the quiet and grandeur of the land. Having a safe space to encounter difficulty helps bridge the process. Some days I felt withdrawn, even cranky. Others I felt happy and human. But the whole period is a process of becoming whole, of uncovering one’s true self.
Key concepts this year: Rest, Relaxation, Receiving, Reciprocity.
More about these in another newsletter.
I can’t remember how many SMMs I have attended. At least six. I keep coming back because there is nothing like it. Because I love how I feel, especially afterwards, so much more able to greet my life. So much more able to live in the moment. I always look better when I come home, and the benefits last a long time. I love the people, and I love the place. I’ll be there again this year. I hope you will check it out. Info is here: http://www.dancemeditation.org/movement-monastery/