How to Get Into your Zone

in the zone

A while back, someone asked me to “focus on the state of mind of the dancer when she improvs and techniques.” I think this asks about the difference in mind space between improv and technical practice. I can only speak for myself, but this is what I find. 

Many years ago, I danced at a Dowser’s meeting. It was a brightly lit room and everyone stared at me very hard. They weren’t mean, they were just paying attention. But it rattled me; I felt self-conscious and never relaxed into the moment. Later, one of the women told me briskly, “Your spirit guide is an Egyptian woman. I could see her behind you. And you think too much when you dance.” She sure was right about the thinking. 

At that time in my dance, embodiment was hit or miss. I sometimes got into the zone, but I could’t do it reliably. Like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter, it turned up here and there, but go looking for it, and you come up empty-handed. It wasn’t until I got introduced to rhythmic breath that I started to reach that zone on a regular basis. 

What is the technique headspace?

When I am teaching a regular class, for example, I am watching the students, thinking what’s next, organizing and planning. I am not so much in a state of flow. The same when I am leading a move across the floor (or following one). There’s  a lot of mental errand running. If I am practicing technique, making or learning a move or a combo or whatever, I am in an intellectual headspace, observing, assessing, adjusting. 

There’s nothing wrong with this. 

As dancers, we want to improve. Talent has been defined as a reduction of errors. So we look to see where we miss the mark and fix it. Arms, hands, posture, openness, everything is measured, tested, tweaked. That’s fine and normal. But then we get to where we can let that level of attention go. My goal in practicing new things is to integrate them, so they become embodied, habitual, and I don’t have to think about them any more.

The problem is when analysis interferes with embodiment.

Dancing (as opposed to practicing technique) on stage or at home in assessment mode is a drag. Self-judging, self-doubt, etc are real buzz-kills. And the most random things threw me off! Silence, for example. I had a piece I started with my back to the guests for the first few bars, and then spun around. One time the silence that greeted that spin was deafening. I have since learned that silence is good (it means folk are paying attention), but this was so intense, I faltered and totally lost my groove—and never got it back for the whole show. 

Dancers can be a terrible audience. They sit in the front row and squint at you. Seeing a frowning front row of dancers has tossed me out of my zone, as I wonder what I’m dong wrong and why they hate me. They don’t. They’re just trying to figure out what color is my underskirt, if my dress would fit them, where I got my earrings, if they know that step. But it used to really throw me for a loop. 

Dancemeditation™ changed that for me. 

Because now I had rhythmic breath. So when I got rattled, I could go back to my breath and re-immerse myself in the zone. I could reliably get there, and reliably stay there. Plus I matured as a dancer, and realized that silence was a compliment, and dancers were just interested (and maybe nearsighted). So I could more easily let go of my ever-ready self-doubt and enjoy my time on stage. 

Keith Richards once said, “You don’t think on stage; you go into a zone.”

That’s exactly right. When I am in the zone, I notice everything—the coming waiter, the drunk at the third table, the audience. The other dancers in the wings, the band—but none of them have any emotional weight. They are logistical; they get dealt with intuitively rather than through mental effort. I notice them and let them go. I feel spacious and intense at the same time, fully pointed and completely loose. My body is in sync with the music and so is my breath. 

The music is everything. 

When I am in this state, there is a lot of room in the music. I feel relaxed. I take my time. It gives me everything I need. If all else fails, I map my body and face into a state of joy and dance that. 

If I’m dancing on recorded music, I may have something I want to express. I may even have a score worked out—a loose choreography / structured improvisation of content and blocking. I rarely do sequences of moves—most of my choreographed dances are theatrical or conceptual arrangements. So I don’t have to limit myself to how I felt when I composed the dance (even when I make regular choreographies, I am always throwing things out in performance, because they are always too busy and I need more space). And I often dance to songs I’ve never heard just for that live music thrill.

I approach theatrical dance as structured improvisation.

I create a framework that contains any narrative, symbolism, even staging and movement highlights. So I always know what I want to say, but I don’t have to memorize a lot of details. Because it is just a framework! I can change bits, leave them out, or add them in on the fly. This allows me to be in The Zone, to be present and engaged, even with a fairly complex framework. I’ll be teaching this model soon in Wonderland: Theatrical Expression for Oriental Dance (an expansion of a segment from How to Create Dance Art).

With a live band, all I do is plan the set list with the musicians. And that may be an emotional arc rather than specific songs. Then I literally just go out and wing it. That is my favorite. At my best, I luxuriate in the music, phasing in and out of time, slow, at speed, slow. I don’t dance on every beat. I let a lot of music go by, and work in slow-motion. Anytime I get rattled, I go back to my breath and slow movement. 

 But what about a group dance? 

Of course, as soloists, we have autonomy. But with group dances throwing things out just confuses the hell out of everyone else—unless you plan for it. You can compose group dances without set steps, using conceptual frameworks, so everyone knows the story arc and what’s going to happen when. Then you get to have a lot of fun onstage with your friends and the story takes on a lot of intensity and playfulness. 

When I do group dances for students, they come up with all the steps. I am the art director, so I wrangle the order, repeats, etc. But they contribute to that, too. So we have fun dances they thunk up themselves—which means they learn faster, remember better, and generally have a much deeper investment—and spend less time thinking onstage.

An improv performance (or practice) is all about making space to be in the moment. So that is what we practice—getting reliably into the zone with breath, slow movement, and related strategies. In the zone, there is a sense of timelessness and being fully present. The sense of “I” disappears; the dancer feels connected viscerally to the music in a state of exalted oneness. 

The Zone: That’s what we’re going for. That’s what we’re practicing. 

All my love,
Alia

PS Here’s an Improv prompt.

One thing dancers fear is getting stuck in one move and not being able to think of anything else. Yet we hear of all these great dancers of the past who did maybe 4 moves their whole show and everyone loved them. So how do we get confident and comfortable with a limited palette? 

Dance with only one move for a whole song. I know, right? Boring! But it’s not. The beauty of our dance is micro movement. That means each iteration of each move is different from any other—like snowflakes. So each figure 8 is different. You can vary the move by speed, size, force, height, or width, also by segmenting (starting and stopping), by alternating slow and fast, big and small, etc. And yes, you can change sides. But just one movement. No combinations. So just a figure 8, hip drop, circle, undulation, etc. Your choice. 

Once you choose, woohoo! Just let anything come out, any part of your body, any kind of decoration. You can even do the exact same thing for the whole song–and feel just fine about it.

Music! Radio Bastet, all vintage belly dance vinyl. You can stream the podcasts at http://radiobastet.libsyn.com/. Just click on the little grey pod button to the top left of each episode.

Can you be sad on stage?

Dancemeditation and Open Heart Belly Dance are venues for exploring and releasing charged emotional states in a safe, titrated way.

One of those genre conventions in Oriental dance is the admonition that, “You can’t be sad on stage.” But can you? When? How?

Dancers use plenty of complex orchestral works and tarab songs (which didn’t used to be dance music). Many of them express shifting emotional states, not all of which are happy. Do we dance that? 

Then we get yelled at for dancing happy to perky songs with sad lyrics. So… wth?

There are a few things going on here. 

One is that it’s a good thing to understand the context of your music. Sometimes composers intentionally oppose the emotional content with the mood of the music itself. So some sad songs may sound happy and surely there are some happy songs that sound sad ; ). When we know what’s going on, we can play with these oppositions.  

(Most of the time, you can feel the emotional context of a song without knowing the lyrics, but knowing is always good.) 

And you definitely DO want to express the emotional nuances of the music, whatever they may happen to be. Even sad, nostalgic, yearning, and so forth. 

What about anger?

There is not a lot of anger in Oriental dance music—it’s purpose is to bring joy and entrain meditative states—but it does come out in some folkloric music such as Turkish Roman, and in some post-revolution Egyptian sha’abi, and mahragan. 

Mohamed Salah, a dancer in the Reda troupe who taught at the Belly Dance Blossom festival in Canada, talked about the anger and violence expressed in street dance in Cairo—oriental dance vocabulary used to express the frustration and anger the people felt after the collapse of the revolution. This is pretty radical, and demonstrates the vibrance and elasticity of Oriental dance. I am fascinated by this as a phenomenon. More about this in a bit… 

But back to the sad thing…

The issue is dancer attitude. When we come onto a stage, it’s our job to bring joy to the guests. This is one of our biggest genre conventions. We bring the joy. 

So we can’t very well go out and mope around because our life is in the toilet. When we perform, we are there for the guests. No one goes to a nightclub to be depressed, or to feel sorry for the performers. 

We can and do reference any emotions that we feel in the music. 

One of the beauties of the dance is its ability to hold complex emotions in a container of joy. When Souzan Healy (a wonderful dancer form Florida), was researching the maqam Saba (popularly known as the “the sad maqam”), she came upon the concept of, “this sad thing happened a long time ago; listen, I will tell you the story.”  

The sad time is in the past. The present moment is filled with intimate joy that we share together. It is a container to hold this past sorrow, to give us distance, perspective, closure. 

I love this so much! It is an integral part of our dance’s capacity to resolve pain, stress, and grief. 

So in performance we are performers. 

But!

In our own practice we may explore any number of issues that come up. We may intentionally address sorrow, anger, grief, guilt, fear, allow ourselves to feel them and let them pass through us. When we dance in our practice, it is for ourselves–we go where we will. Dancemeditation and Open Heart Belly Dance are venues for exploring and releasing charged emotional states in a safe, titrated way.

Our personal practice exploration of what arises can help us access our own true responses to the music and free ourselves of emotional limitations and roadblocks. As we integrate all of this over time, we open ourselves to a wider range of expression and greater confidence in our movement. We may want to bring this new awareness into our art. ​

Hello, theatrical fusion….

As artists we may have a lot to say. ​We may explore all kinds of more intense emotional expression in performance—in theatrical pieces. For example, here is Syria. It’s war-torn themes are not at all traditional. So it is presented as theatrical fusion.

–> On this note, watch out for Wonderland: Theatrical Expression through Oriental Dance, coming soon.

Confidence is everything. Attitude is everything. When we believe in ourselves, others will too. 

Here’s Merçan Dede’s album Dünya

Love, 
Alia

PS I have a few scratch n dent copies of Midnight at the Crossroads: has belly dance sold its soul? available at a deep discount. They are here: https://aliathabit.com/shop/#books

PPS if you missed signing up for Bedrock II: Transitions and Combinations, you’re in luck! Our Week 1 recording is still available, and Week 2 is coming up! Registration will remain open through Tuesday. https://aliathabit.com/shop/#live

The Difference Between Private and Public Dance (and why we need both)

public vs private dance

This may seem pretty obvious, but somehow it isn’t. 

I’m sitting on my couch with my bare feet up on the coffee table, laptop balanced on my lap, lol. I do a LOT of writing like this. My hair is awry. The eyeliner I put on this morning for a meeting is now largely under my eyes instead of around them. I’m in my own personal space where no one has to look at me. While it is true that I sometimes leave the house like this, I do avoid it—because, yes, the messier we are when we leave the house, the more likely we will run into someone we wish hadn’t seen us quite so unkempt ; ). 

Inside is private (relatively, anyway). Outside is public. 

Inside my own home, I can lounge around déshabillé. Outside, I don’t. 

So it is with dance. If I am to dance in public—from socially at a party to professionally for a show—I like to be presentable at the very least. The higher profile the event, the better I dress, the more careful I am with my makeup. And I dance very differently. 

Dancing with friends at a bar is casual. At a wedding is more upscale. A performance at a wedding is way more upscale. Each of these has a certain level of care invested. 

At home, pffft! I can dance in my underwear—or naked, by candlelight. I can roll around on the floor, make weird noises, and drool if I want to (I don’t think I have ever drooled, but I could). 

Just think of how horrid life would be if we were always on display—always had to be well-dressed and well-behaved, even in our sleep. Yuck, amirite? We’d go mad in short order. We need to have down time, slop time, relaxed anything-goes time. 

(me typing) 

Well, the same thing holds true for dance.

The body needs to unload all its accumulated stress and strain.

It needs to be able to move in potentially un-pretty, ungraceful, possibly even raw, ugly ways. 

Dirt is dirt. If we don’t wash it off every so often, it builds up—which makes it a lot harder to remove, plus it feels icky, even squalid. Sustained stress is like dirt on the soul. Free dance can help scrub it off. 

The problem is that we often expect ourselves to dance all perfect all the time, which is super stressful and unrewarding. 

Instead, let’s bring a sense of curiosity and experimentation into our dance. Let’s bring our weird faces and awkward movement. Undancerly prancing and over the top drama queen, little-kid pretending, broken crawling, and sensual writhing. In short, let it all hang out. 

Wahoo, right? Um….

Wait, what if we actually do this in public <gasp!>

The reality is that it depends upon the situation. In the same way that we have a decent idea about how to behave in an assortment of public settings. we have a pretty good idea of how to dance in them, too. 

And while becoming an expert free-dance improviser will probably loosen up our public persona, give us a little more personality, playfulness, and vibrancy, we probably won’t roll on the floor and drool in front of the wedding party (unless it is that kind of wedding, lol). 

I have been dancing this way for a very long time. I did once kinda go off script, but I had given myself permission. So that doesn’t count ; ).

But what about the dance police?! 

Those folks who live to hand out tickets for dance faux pas, who are not happy with anything we do?

Leila Farid told me the more Egyptians liked her dance, the happier they became with her, the more mean, hurtful comments American dancers posted on her youtube videos. Isn’t that interesting? Lots of native dancers tell me they have also been shunned because their dance doesn’t match what some Western perfectionist thinks our dance should be.

Sure, we need to have technique if we are going to be professional dancers. But! We also need to understand, value, and embody the cultural aesthetics of the dance we are doing.

In Oriental dance, improvisation, relaxation, agency, playfulness, and verve are vital.

We get a lot of technique, but we don’t get a lot of improvisation, relaxation, agency, playfulness, and verve. 

So here we are. 

Let it out.

In the studio, in a safe class, find somewhere you can let down your hair and not worry or care.

Your public dance will thank you for it. 

Belly Dance BEDROCK is one place you can let go and move as your body wishes. We start with centering, dissect and re-pattern some bedrock movement vocabulary, and then we PLAY.
Here’s what folks said in the first class:

This way feels so much better. The whole “use the obliques to lift the top of the hip” method never felt great for me.

I get less tired lifting the hip from under

This makes it so much richer

It feels so effortless

It’s amazing how you feel the psoas by thinking of the movement

I love your approach, Alia!

We’ve completed the first live class, but you can still catch the replay, and join us for the next 4 classes.

Register for Bellydance BEDROCK here

.

Tuning In is a balm for the nervous system. Every week, a half-hour shower to cleanse and regulate the nervous system. Tuning In 6 starts Friday. Register here.

I look forward to moving with you!

Love,
Alia

Here’s some music from the Rahim AlHaj Trio

The Secret to “Feeling the Music”

feeling the music

We’re always told to feel the music, and we always wonder, where is the secret key to these supposed feelings? Is there a chart that shows where they are? Whatever it is we’re supposed to feel? 

Sorry, no.

Yes, composers may seek to evoke certain feelings through the notes, the structure, the lyrics, and musicians pour their feeling into their playing. But…

There is no secret key.

Okay, there sort of is, and it’s connected to the word feeling. But it’s not about solving a puzzle. It’s about you.

The Arabic word for feeling, AHsahs, covers both emotional and physical feeling, just like the English word. 

And the secret to improvisation, according to group-comedy-improv folks, is following a physical impulse

Physical impulse. 

Yup. That mean letting the body lead. Following the body as it responds to the music (this is how I draw the pix for these articles, too—I pick a color and let my hand do what it wants. And then I fill it in.

So the music calls to your arm, and your arm extends. And you notice the physical sensation as your arm moves. The bones, the muscles, the tendons, the blood, the energy, all of it.

What comes through you as you make this gesture? Maybe it feels nostalgic, or pushing away, or welcoming—or brings an image of something that happened 20 years ago—you hold out your hand and all of a sudden you’re reminded of this other time, this other space. And that comes into your dance.

That’s the feeling you—you, personally—get from the music.

You move, and the movement generates feelings. 

The pleasure of the movement itself, for one. Belly dance is very pleasurable to do, all those muscles and tendons elegantly expanding and contracting with beauty in sync with the music. 

But also, the music has wisps and nuances of feeling that flit across it like flying leaves. We let them pass through us. We don’t decide, or judge, or clutch, or question them. We let them come through us. We show what we feel.

We may get images in our heads, colors, or notice the physical sensations of our movement. We observe and express. 

Dancers interpret the music.

We show what we feel from the music. 

Not necessarily with the face. With the body. With the line, carriage, tilt of head, slope of shoulders. We let ourselves feel and we let what we feel show. (This may make us terrible poker players. The poker face is a separate skill ; )

The more we adopt a curiosity about how our body will respond, the more we step back and observe rather than control, the more space we make for our feeling to blossom. 

Of course, some songs may evoke clear feelings, in certain places or all the way through. Songs may bring images, memories, narratives to mind, and we can dance those. Not as pantomime—belly dance is an abstract art. 

We dance their essence

We don’t have to tell the story that evolves; we just express the sequence of feelings that comes to us. Any guests will hang their own story on our feeling-sequence. 

One of the attributes of the Buddha is that though he may speak only one word, that one word will answer the varied questions of all the different people who hear it. Our dance can be like this. This is why art is loaves and fishes. It feeds everyone. 

The more we engage fully with the music, the more trust ourselves and our bodies and the music, the more we can do this. 

A Lioness doesn’t question her role in the world, her relative worthiness for what she’s doing. She is fully present in the moment. 

And so are we. 

I help dancers bring the dance into their bodies, discover their own feeling from the music, and to express those feelings through intuitive movement.

This is what we’re doing in Belly Dance BEDROCK which begins Tuesday, Feb 2. We develop ease with and confidence in the movement, in how it feels in the body.

This is a side benefit of what we’re doing in Tuning In, which begins Friday, Jan 29. Tuning In is about settling the nervous system to we can feel more alive in the moment. This helps pave the way for more intuitive, confident response to the music.

And it’s what we are doing in Taqsim Tuesdays, part of the Belly Dance Bundle 2020, and now available to all.

The feeling is the most important thing.

Here’s to feeling alive and free in the moment.

Love,
Alia

Music! Georges Yazbek, Oud and Rhythms. Please copy and paste if the link doesn’t work (not with your phone) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCL2rSffgOM&list=OLAK5uy_nmPAaAbEqjhk6AJLefmgZeDE67bUBO3VI

PS Interesting short article

https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/music-to-release-sadness-and-feel-happier-study/

How to Celebrate Tiny Wins (and why you might even enjoy it)

Who’s tired?
I sure am.

When I look at all the stuff I haven’t done, I get even more tired.

I’ve trudged through most of my life, always feeling behind, not enough, overwhelmed. I bet I have a lot of company in this endeavor. We marinate in self-accusation sooo much of the time. We beat ourselves in ways we wouldn’t treat a two-dollar mule.

And it doesn’t help. We don’t get more done. We just feel worse.

The list of things to do never really gets smaller. Sure for a minute or two, but there is always more than a person could ever actually do in 10 lifetimes. However, the list of things we’ve done does get bigger.

I drew a picture! Yay!

So I stopped looking at what I didn’t do. Instead…

I look at what I did.

Even the tiny things.

And I celebrate them.

Got out of bed! Woohoo!

Made coffee! You go, girl!

Yeah, those are pretty small things. I’ve done bigger things, too. Since you are reading this, I wrote an article today. It’s not very long, but hopefully it gets its point across.

(Well done, Alia!)

When I’n not paralyzed by my myriad failures, I sometimes actually feel like doing something!

Recently, my friend Tea said, “What if I don’t have to improve? What if there isn’t something wrong with me? What if it’s okay to be okay? I have to tell you that this thought is terrifying.”

And it is.

What if we just felt better about ourselves?

Would the world collapse?

Probably not. And we might enjoy life a little more.

In tough times like this, it helps to be extra kind and gentle to ourselves, to our inner child, to our bodies (who I am pretty sure ARE our inner child).

So this is my suggestion today. Pat yourself on the back. Lower the bar for your life. Do something you feel like doing, just because (maybe taking a nap–that’s what I’m going to do).

With love and hugs,
Alia

If you’d like to designate some time to feel good, and you’d like someone else to supply the content, here is what I have to offer.

Open Heart Belly Dance

Improvisational belly dance infused with the principles and practices of Dancemeditation and Somatic Experiencing®. Deeply soothing, interoceptive, and introspective, it will help see us through the election with embodied, grounded joy!
Tuesdays, 4-5PM EST. December 8 – January 5  See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link)
Register here: https://aliathabit.com/shop/#live

Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times

Tuning In is a half-hour chillout session focused on nervous system regulation. It is designed to ease anxiety and restore wellbeing. We use gentle movement, breath, and body-based strategies to bring calm in the here and now. These strategies can be used any time to help the body feel more relaxed and grounded.
Fridays, 4-4:30 PM EST. November 27 – December 25 (yes, Christmas). See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link)
Register here: https://aliathabit.com/shop/#trust

How to Crush Joy–or Savor It…

Delsie Hoyt makes beautiful art-quality braided rugs. They are a joy to see! She also teaches rug braiding. She says it makes her chuckle when students bring their project to her, often in tears, to show some terrible mistake they have made, some wrong twist somewhere along the line—and now their project is ruined. Ruined! Delsie throws the rug on the floor so the whole thing is visible. “Can you see that now?”

The answer is generally No.

Once we step back into a wider perspective, things tend to even out.

As humans, we tend to orient towards any potential threat–we get so used to that, we will invent one when we can’t find any. I recently piloted the class How to Dance (or Speak) for the Camera. Over the course of the class, folks became much more confident and skilled in their on-camera interactions. It was a real pleasure to witness! We met every other week; folk also received two personal sessions to use as they wished (from SE work to resolve anxiety to practical coaching on tech issues). Participants practiced with the group and developed strategies for their particular approaches.

One of the most important parts of the work was feedback on the practice presentations. The only feedback allowed was avid attention, enthusiastic applause, and things we liked about the presentation. Yep, that was it. And it’s harder than it sounds. Not the giving–there are so many wonderful things to notice when we look for them. It’s the receiving that is hard.

Savor Joy

Who among us can take a compliment?

I mean, really hear it, savor it, let it sink in? It’s kinda hard, right? We are so used to being told what’s wrong. Where we need work. How to improve. We’ve been conditioned to think we need that. We mistrust compliments. We want brutal honesty.

What, compliments are inherently dishonest?

What about kind honesty?

I have taught English composition at the college level for 25 years. I teach students how to write papers. One term, I got a note from a student who thanked me. She said, You are the only English teach in my entire life who ever complimented my writing. I kept that note on my office wall to remind me what’s important. Kindness. Positive reinforcement. A focus on what’s good. Because when I do that, I see student work improve.

I find it in dance as well.

And I found it in that camera class. Creating a safe space for students to play, to try new things, made a difference. A big difference. So I, too, chuckled when folks came to their personal session asking me to actually critique their work. Like what was wrong, needed work, improvement, and so forth.

Thus, I was delighted when a friend mentioned this article, The Case Against Critical Feedback (Thank you Sajia!). The article starts with,

Earlier this year, I took a writing workshop where one of the chief rules was no negative or even constructively critical feedback. This was odd to me, as I’ve always enjoyed constructive feedback and felt it improved my writing. But I went with the new method, and the effect was nothing short of transformational. It felt like magic: as if by one wave of a wand, my writers block was gone.

Lauren D. Woods

I gotta say, I am with Lauren Woods on this. It is so easy to crush joy and enthusiasm, and soooo hard to get it back. We find this in dance alll the time, people’s joy in dance crushed by negative feedback, by making into WORK something that is meant to be FUN.

I recently assisted at a year-long Somatic Experiencing training. Assistants sit in on student sessions to help hold the container and create a safe space. We also give feedback. We talk about what we liked. And we ask afterwards, how was it for you to hear that? Why do we do this? People have to make mistakes in order to learn. People are reasonably smart, and most of them learn by observing. So we let them make mistakes and learn through doing. It’s surprisingly effective.

So all those things you feel guilty about because you should be doing better? Should be entirely perfect? Throw them on the floor. Step back into a wider perspective. Look at what you HAVE done. What IS working.

Look at you! You’ve survived, all this time!

This is nothing short of a miracle.

Celebrate your life. Your strength. Your resilience. All that you have been, done, and all that crap that’s been done to you. Yet here you are. Reading this.

Take a moment and let that sink in.

You are beautiful. You are loved.

Say it with me:

I am Alive.

I am Real.

Let that sink in, too.

With respect, appreciation, and love,

Alia

PS Thank you for supporting the Bundle, and my work through the Bundle. I appreciate your choice.

How to Stay Grounded with Improvisation (and why we need to)

The world is not a pretty picture right now. Bullying and oppression are on the rise.
Playing by the rules, following orders, this is not going to save us. So what will help us survive?

Improvisation.

It’s time to think on our feet, to be ready to change course at a moment’s notice. We need to be grounded, self-aware, able to step back from the vortex of activating events, and develop our capacity to stay connected to the present moment. This is what improvisation does for us.

Today’s Improvisation

We know improvisational dancing makes you smarter.
It enhances creativity and well-being.
Improv can even improve your business savvy.

Oriental dance improv brings a bunch of other benefits to the table, including grounding, relaxation, and physical ease.
Here’s a search of the blog with a gazillion articles.

I’ve spent most of my life cross-training improvisation in multiple genres. It has served me well. It can serve you well, too.

Now is the time. If you’ve been mostly a choreographed dancer, if the idea of improv makes you anxious or feels too monolithic, I invite you to change your life for the better. If you’ve been too freaked out or flat out to even dance, I invite you come home to your soul.

Art feeds us. Let’s do art.

I will be bringing several improvisation skill-building courses over the next few weeks, including Effortless Improv and an interoceptive DanceMeditation-based Fun Class series.

For right now, the new Tuning In series starts Friday, Sept 17 (tomorrow!).

I was somehow skeptical of how simple things can have a great impact, but here they are. They do have a huge impact and it is quite immediate in terms of time and effectiveness.

IS

With all my love,
Alia

How to “Orient” in Oriental Dance (and why it boosts confidence)

orienting eyes

When mammals enter a novel environment, they look around. They explore the space with their eyes. This is called Exploratory Orienting. It is all about curiosity, a relaxed, engaged process. Mammals do it many times in a day.

There is also another kind of orienting. Defensive Orienting, which happens in response to a perceived threat, is about fight or flight. Where is the exit? Where is the safest place? How do I get there? It is adrenaline and contraction. All your friends who want to sit in the Godfather/Shane seat, back to the wall, so they can see the whole room? Defensive Orienting.

orienting eyes

This is one of the cool things I learned in the three-year Somatic Experiencing® (SE) training. Through this, I realized that I generally engaged in Defensive Orienting when I entered a new space–like a party. I did not look around with curiosity. I found a secluded spot, and I stayed there, eyeing the room for threats. Defensive Orienting.

It has been very interesting to shift my awareness to Exploratory Orienting. I now begin all my groups with some orienting, letting the eyes look around the room, settling on whatever they enjoy. We explore our other senses as well–hearing (our fastest sense), smell, taste–and touch. Our bodies in the chair, the feeling of clothes on our bodies, the air on our skin–and we go inside as well–what is going on in there?

SE is about what is happening inside our bodies–as is Oriental dance.

In SE, we track sensations associated with challenging memories and triggering events, and we also build and grow sensory resources— feelings associated with success, joy, and pleasure.

In Oriental dance, the feeling is the most important thing–the emotional timbres that come and go in the music and also the physical pleasure of the dance movement it self. We get to relax, to enjoy the isometric pull of our muscles as our bodies respond to the music, revel in the juiciness of them.

So what does Orienting have to do with all this?

Well, I noticed that I was doing Defensive Orienting even when I danced.

Wow.

Part of me was protecting myself from my guests. So I didn’t really look at them, and there was a defensive quality in my presence. This made it hard to be genuine, relaxed, and present.

This resonates with keeping the eyes more fixed, staring at screens–these behaviors reinforce one another. I’ve written before about how eye work improved my vision. It’s improved more than that.

So I changed my approach.

I began intentionally taking the time to orient. As I gazed around, I sat with the discomfort that arose and let it pass through me. I made the time to settle. And dance became easier. Friendlier. When the body feels settled so many more options come online.

And this is what our dance is really about–Personality. Presence. Communication. Joy. We really can have it all.

We can have it with our choreographed performance and also with our improvisation. Feeling settled and relaxed makes it so much easier to enjoy the music, to be present in the moment.

We can have this in our daily lives as well. My regular life has vastly improved. Yes, I have also done a lot of SE work–because even small bits have made big differences, I keep going. Even the first session caused marked differences.

I have been building Orienting in to all my classes. It’s a big feature of the improv Fun Classes, and Tuning In is pure SE.

I invite you to try it out–what might a more settled nervous system do for you–and your dance?


How to Improvise to Classic Songs

This is not your “classic” song class. We will not work on technique or pop-bead combinations. We will focus on the structural elements of classic songs, the phrases and measures, the sections and the organization, so we can understand and predict changes–and feel confident when dance to any song that comes our way. We’ll let ourselves feel and respond to the emotional timbres. We’ll allow our bodies to respond freely to the music, as we let our feeling express itself.

Each class is recorded (instructor view). The sound is beautiful! Each recording is available for one week, so you can review or catch up. Each week gets a playlist of songs to use for practice. We may explore some standbys along with less-known treasures.

Improv to Classic Songs is a FUN Class Deep Dive. It runs five Weeks, Sept 8 – Oct 6. Tuesdays at 4PM ET. Register for Classic Songs here.


If your daily life needs more attention, you might enjoy

Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times

This little half hour packs a lot of power. Sometimes we do more soothing things, sometimes more active, sometimes both. But every exercise is all about re-regulating the nervous system to the body can settle, and life has room for more savor, ease, and joy. We use gentle movement, breath, and body-based strategies to bring calm in the here and now. These strategies can be used any time to help the body feel more relaxed and grounded. Each class is recorded (instructor view). Each recording is available for one week.


Tuning In runs five Weeks, September 18-Oct 23 (no class Oct 9). Fridays, 4-4:30 PM EDT. Register for Tuning In here.

I look forward to dancing with you!

Love,
Alia

How to Call In Confidence to your Dance

Who here doesn’t have a lot on their mind? Hm. I don’t see any hands…
And how many of us have a lot of things on our dance mind? Oh, there they are ; )
And those things can undermine our confidence…

As dancers, we always want to dance more beautifully, more truthfully, to refine our technique, to remember our core–the list goes on and on (and on). Sadly, it often goes on while we are dancing. It can be real hard to enjoy dancing while we are still ticking all those boxes and watching ourselves for any screwups (not to mention yelling at ourselves when we catch one).

All those things we try to keep in mind as we dance, they may be important elements, yet having to track them constantly is distracting from the present moment. We all know that the feeling in the moment is the most important thing–but too often that feeling is shame and anxiety as the little voices yell at us.

Dance anxiety


We’d like to feel joyous delight.

So how do we get there?

One way is by calling in the qualities we would like to embody via a pre-show process (I hesitate to use the word ritual since I avoid them in general, but if that works for you then you may prefer to go with it),

For example, we might want to embody confidence. As part of our process we draw ourselves in to confidence. We call it in to our dance. Strong legs. Beautiful arms. Each of these things, we illustrate with out body and soul as part of this process. We give ourselves time in each place to feel it, to bring it in to feel its comforting presence at our back.

We honor and activate that element.

What technical things skills are you developing? Include a functional shout out to to those skills and qualities. Call them into your dance. Act out or illustrate each element as part of a movement warmup statement of intention, flowing through a series of poses, each one illustrating one intention for our dance.

What do you want to see in your dance/performance? Call it in. 

And let me know how it goes.

Love,
Alia

PS remember, we have a coronavirus summer special on all Teachable courses.
Coupon code: SUMMERCORONACARE
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Help Beirut

Here are three fundraisers run by reliable people focused on raising $ for folks affected by the horrific blast in Beirut. Each one is funneling money directly to reliable people on the ground.

The NY Arabic Orchestra
https://www.facebook.com/NYarabicorchestra/photos/a.428492016678/10160195832151679/

Lebanese Simon Sako
https://www.facebook.com/donate/973949763064932/974166389709936/

Dance for Beirut: Raffle & show. $ also to Lebanese Red Cross. Many prizes, including a signed, inscribed copy of Midnight https://www.facebook.com/events/577227352948870/584445022227103/