Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Do

Hidden

The 90 Day Dance Party starts on Sunday! 
We’re counting down with Love Notes every week. This one is from 2015. 

One of the main movement practices of the 90 Days (and Sufi-based Dancemeditation, on which the 90 days is based), is the idea of allowing the body to lead, to move as it wishes. This can be a pretty scary concept. But if we want to improvise, to move intuitively with confidence and joy, it is an essential skill. So we have ways of mediating the fear….

Day 7: Why it doesn’t matter what you do

Let the body move as she wishes. This can be pretty scary. Because what if the way she moves isn’t acceptable? What if it isn’t pretty? Or perfect? What if it’s embarrassing or dirty or, or, or it smashes open that big chain-bound casket of everything dark and ugly that we have worked so hard to keep stuffed down at the bottom of our souls?

Hidden (Dreams) Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Do

Well, it might.

So we use Slow Movement to stay safe. 

When bad or scary things happen to us (often as children), our unexpressed defensive impulses (such as flight or fight) get stuck—like electrical short circuits. This is trauma. It is entirely subjective—what freezes one person with fear may not bother another. Slow Movement lets us come closer to these stored short circuits and lets us move away again. So we don’t have to engage them. And we can begin to feel safe because of this. There is a lot about this in the Quickstart—it’s good to read it again.

Doing this work is like a cleanse for the soul.

Emotions and impulses do come up. This can feel scary and dangerous. When they do, go back to those long exhales, open your eyes, and focus on soothing sights. You might enjoy running in place or drumming your feet on the floor. (If you have a history of medication and/or hospitalization for mental health, proceed with caution, and check in with your doc.)

The body wants to heal—it’s a hard-wired organic process that we have largely lost, as our dangers have morphed from lions and tigers to car wrecks, surgeries, abuse, and chronic stress. Through DancemeditationTM, we release this stress by letting the body move as she wishes. The body is thus able to express these short-circuited responses. The breath, the slow movement, all of these are tools to give us space and grounding.

So yes, some if it may not be pretty or fun. Cleaning out an old, stuffed toilet rarely is. It’s a process. But having a consistent outlet for the new layers of stress helps keep things clean and shiny. And that is kinda cool. Since I started working on trauma resolution, my general mood has improved, my breathing has slowed and become deeper, and those cruel inner voices have chilled out. Yes, I still get angry, desperate, depressed—but much less so, and it’s not hopeless like it used to be. My dance is better, too.

But how does this help our dance? You can’t go flail around on stage!

Generally, no. But here’s what happens. As we develop our intuitive expression by letting the body drive the bus, we also develop our intuitive expression of the music. And, in Oriental dance, the music is everything. Through this practice, we learn to let the body respond to the music without our controlling intervention. And it will respond differently to different genres of music.

How you interpret the music organically, that is a huge part of your personal style. Funk. Blues. Tango. Maori. Haitian. Mauritanian. And so on. Maybe not with the established vocabulary of the genre. But with the deepest, richest part of you. With your soul. And people see that. This is why we use such a varied assortment of music for the 90 Days.

If you put on Turkish Roman music, you will feel the rhythms, emotions, and melodies and dance them. You might not cram in all the gestures and fixed steps you ever learned, but your feeling will be stronger and your dance richer than if you self-consciously click through your repertoire. After one show during which I chose to refrain from any specific Roman technique, a gal told me, “Your 9/8 was good. Usually I don’t like it when they do 9/8, but yours was good. And I’m Turkish, so I know.” Turns out it was Suzy Tekbilek, Omar Faruk Tekbilek’s wife, the gal who taught Dalia Carella (Faruk Tekbilek was playing for us that night). So, it works.

Likewise, try some Egyptian orchestral music. Let your body enjoy the oozy yumminess of the melodies. Yes, enjoy. Like, Mmmmm, delicious! Every move your body makes will be rich and juicy—for real, not because you try to look juicy. I mean, this dance is a pleasure! It is a pleasure for the body to move with the music, to let go and just respond.

We make it so much about hard work and being perfect, but it’s not.

It never has been. It’s play.

When I went to Egypt in 2011, I danced in the opening night show at Camp Negum. The orchestra played for me one of my favorite songs, Hayart Elbi Ma’ak. Azza Sherif was in the audience. I wore a plain red dress and danced with a veil. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to dance “Egyptian.” I would have to dance just plain old me. With the veil. Not Egyptian at all.

So I did.

Afterwards, the old Sai’di gentleman from the folklore troupe came all the way to the back of the room to touch his heart and bow. The waiters (all of them) insisted I was Egyptian. The Russian costume designer told me she loved my dance because I was not afraid to not be pretty. And the next day, Madame Azza called me out in front of the whole group to tell me she loved my dance.

So it works.

Sure, you need technique, skills, vocabulary. But we already get a lot of that. What we don’t get is the opportunity to discover how our own bodies respond to the music. How to play.

It’s play.

Let’s play.

Here’s some Mercan Dede. See what comes out.

The 90 Day Dance Party starts on Sunday. Come play with us!

Love,
Alia 

PS In other news, LOCAL VT FOLKS: I’m teaching live classes at the Grindstone Cafe in Lyndonville VT. Come dance!

Your Brain on Joy (+ 90 Days EarlyBird Ending Saturday)

In honor of the upcoming 90 Days, our upcoming newsletters will feature Love Notes from previous 90 Days. They are examples of the sort of wide-ranging musing that powers the Love Notes–and the daily music suggestions that accompany them ; ). And all this thoughtfulness gets explored and reinforced in the BPJ group. It is a unique personal journey to your real self, and your true dance. I hope you will join us!

Here is one of my favorites.

Day 16/2018. This is your brain on joy

There was this story of folks who imagined themselves playing darts, and their dart game improved. Then there was a lot of flak about what a fake load of crap that was. But the truth is out. It works.

The  brain can’t tell the difference between the real and the imaginary.

There is AMPLE evidence to show that imagining something is almost as good as doing it.

Here are some of the results of one such study.

“Volunteers were asked to play a simple sequence of piano notes each day for five consecutive days. Their brains were scanned each day in the region connected to the finger muscles. Another set of volunteers were asked to imagine playing the notes instead, also having their brains scanned each day.

“The top two rows in the image show the changes in the brain in those who played the notes. The middle two rows show the changes in those who simply imagined playing the notes. Compare this with the bottom two rows showing the brain regions of the control group, who didn’t play nor imagine playing, piano.”  —David R. Hamilton PhD

http://drdavidhamilton.com/does-your-brain-distinguish-real-from-imaginary/

What does this mean for us?

It means we can visualize our choreography or a challenging transition as a means of practice. But it also means we can lie on the floor and visualize dancing when we are not able to dance physically. Listening to the music and letting our bodies respond, even when we do not move is remarkably powerful. Small impulses slip into our muscles, activating them, connecting them.

But it also means more than this. What we think is powerful. The stories we tell ourselves, the words we say to ourselves, they have bigger results than we may know. 

We say things to ourselves, and we mean them—even when they are, well, sorta mean. I know, people laugh at affirmations. “It’s just a lie,” is the most common complaint. But I would submit that the self-hating acid drip in which we daily bathe is at least as much of a lie, and far more toxic.

What if we told ourselves better stories?

What if we visualized our own success? In detail. And stuck to that.

One of the things I do is what I call Mapping. I pay attention to my body in certain emotional states. The joy of connection in dance. Feeling successful. Happiness. Things like that. I map my body’s posture and physical sensations while I experience these positive feelings. So I can recreate that state later on. So when I am going to perform, I place myself in a body map created from a generous expression  of joy.

And, Lo, I let that feeling infuse my body. I “Just Say No” to toxic whispers of doubt. This didn’t come easily. It took practice and perseverance to notice these feelings and learn to create them. But it was worth the effort.

I do a lot of little things. At night before I go to sleep, I relax my jaw. I make sure none of my teeth are touching. I relax my eyes, my mouth, my face. Habitually holding tension in various body areas doesn’t go away by itself. We have to take action. And we are in good company. 

Olympic athletes visualize their success.

They visualize their whole event—their technique, strategy, competitors, the whole thing. They see it in their heads, their most perfect performance—and it’s serious business. They mean it.

If it’s good enough for Olympic athletes, it’s good enough for us.

So…

Next time you have a moment of joy, I invite you to notice what you feel, physically, in your body. What sensations do you notice? What is the shape of that joy? How does your body hold itself when it is happy? What is on your face?  Map that. Go there.

Practice feeling joy.

Smiling brings joy. Smiling at ourselves in the mirror, a real smile, makes a difference. Let’s make that difference.

Improv brings joy too. Here’s a tiny little improv video. Let your brain think your body is doing it ; ) 

The 90 Day Dance Party is the best for upping your improv comfort and ability. The Earlybird price ends Saturday, 9/18/20!
And there is a very nice payment plan to go along with it ; )
I invite you to check it out ; )
Love,
Alia

And now for something completely different! Astor Piazzola, a playlist. Tangueros have told me you can’t really dance tango to this music as it’s so complex, so feel free to let your imagination soar (or your body move as it wishes 😉 and have super-dramatic blast!

 

Do you worry when you improvise? Want to have fun instead?

I’m struck over and over again by how many folks find improvisation ​to be a scary, anxious endeavor. Since it is such an important skill for belly dance, I’ve been applying myself to solving this problem. 

To that end, I have put together a presentation called 6 Ways to Melt Improv Fear. 

It’s an online workshop that I’ll present for FREE on Thursday, Jan 30, 2020 at 1PM​ Eastern timeSee this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link). YES, there will be a recording!

Do you worry when you improvise? Want to have fun instead?

These will be hands-on, tried and true methods to help dancers relax and enjoy improvisation. We’ll experiment with the methods and talk about how they work–each participant will ave multiple strategies to use in their own practice. 
Sign up here

Imagine–having fun with improv! You can ; )

Or…

Maybe you already have fun–but you have friends or students who struggle? Send them along. It’s free!

Here’s that link: aliathabit.com/melt-fear

With all my love and Happy New You!
Alia

PS, one more week for the 90 Day Dance Party Earlybird price! I look forward to dancing with you!

What is your biggest problem with improvisation?

freeze response

This is the question I posted to each person who signed up for my 2019 Bellydance Bundle class, Intro to Effortless Improvisation. I’ve gotten over two dozen responses so far. And most of them mention some kind of freeze response.

Their vocabulary goes out the window. Only the most basic moves show up. No moves show up! At its heart, this is the fear of being judged and found wanting–and this fear causes us to have nothing at all to say. 

It is true that improv is riskier than choreography. It’s messier. We don’t know what will happen. We have way less control over the dance. It won’t be as polished. It won’t be as fancy.

We might make <gasp!> mistakes.

freeze response

But there are also benefits to improvisation 

Improvisation gives us more time to feel the music 
When we improvise, we can take our time, enjoy the physical sensation of moving. As we enjoy our own dance, we make a space for others to enjoy it as well. The belly dance scene has way too much squinty focus on technique. Ours is a dance of joy. Let’s all enjoy ourselves and our dance a little more.

Improvisation allows for increased presence
When we enjoy our own dance, we can be more present with our guests. We are not bound by a preset movement agenda. We can relax, enjoy the people, visit with them, chat and blow kisses. When we are present, there is more connection. Our dance becomes a collaboration between ourselves and everyone else in the room. Our response to our guests’ energy brings them into our dance. They feel our love for them. We enter a healing state that nourishes everyone in the room.

Improvisation helps us share joy
Ours is a dance of joy. Is the dancer enjoying themself? Do they share their joy with their guests? Are they one with the music? These are marks of mastery in Oriental dance. As we learn to trust our bodies, the music, the moment–this is when, and how, the magic happens.

Choreography is generally designed to be the same every time. Our dance, and its music, are designed to be different every time. Improvisation.

We don’t need lots of moves
We have micromovement, We can dance with only circles and make every one of them different, through dynamics such as force, speed, size, and decoration. We can relax, slow down, and take the time to enjoy each flex of the body. Make each movement have meaning, weight, resonance.

This is the beauty of improvisation
It’s not about showing off and pushing yourself out. It’s about showing up and pulling your guests in. It’s about sharing joy.

Show up
Be present
Bring joy

Your dance is a gift of joy that you bring to your guests. This is what it is all about.

Love,
Alia

PS The next three FUN Classes are still available! Improv-based, follow-me classes, different every time. Each class is recorded, and the recording is available for a week. 
Check them out: aliathabit.com/shop/#live
I’d love to see you there!

How to Focus on the Good (to feel stronger and take action)

Last week, I inadvertently gave the impression that we should all turn off, tune out, and stop caring about the cruelty going on in the world. This was not my intent. I apologize for having done so.  

I am concerned with the levels of overwhelm that swamp so many folks. There is a lot of bad news, and many of us feel powerless against the rising tide. This is why I stopped posting bad news and started posting good news, news about people who had made a difference. Because we can all make a difference. But marinating in misery doesn’t really help us do that.  

Focusing on the good helps us step out of overwhelm.

Focusing on the good helps us have the space to take action. Taking action helps us make a difference. Even a small difference makes a big difference.

My small way of taking action has been to learn about trauma and how to heal it. My model of choice has been Somatic Experiencing (SE). I just completed their truly splendid three-year training program.  Soon, I will be certified as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner. 

I’m pleased with what I have accomplished. But I’m more pleased with now having the tools and skills to help folks come back into their bodies. Into theirselves. Into their lives.

Trauma is a killer.

Most of the cases of depression on the list below are trauma-related.

There is a picture here worth seeing

Most of us have suffered challenging experiences whose effects still drag on us. Many toxic elements of the current global situation (not to mention our life experiences) are extremely challenging. They won’t stop. So we have to stop them from eating us alive.

We do this by creating safe spaces for ourselves.

We do this by consciously becoming aware of moments when we are not under attack. Feeling the sensation of safety.  Sometimes it may amount to sticking our fingers in our ears and singing La la la. Or reading a trashy novel. It’s a start. 

Yes, we can live in a constant state of overwhelm. Sort of. But it’s exhausting and unhealthy. When we feel stronger and more stable, we can do more, take more action, be there for ourselves, our children, and generally, the world. So it makes sense. 

Focus on the good. 

Focus on what works.

And take some action. Pick something. Just one thing. It can be very, very small. It still makes a difference. Taking action feels good, too. 

One of the greatest goods in my life is Oriental dance. It has so many built-in elements that help release stress and trauma! These elements are strongest in our improvisation. I’ll be featured Friday on the BellyDance Bundle’s new podcast Yallah Raqs talking about Improvisation, and included in their Instagram 21 Days of Practice Challenge (along with many other great teachers!).

Plus!

I’m pleased to offer a short series of live, online Fun Classes. 

They focus on–fun! Having fun with dance. 

FUN classes are live online (video) classes designed for FUN for all levels. They are primarily follow-me, improv-strong classes with some combinations, technique, and a 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 to host the streamable recordings.

Let’s set aside one hour a week to marinate in joy. 

6-Week session starts Thursday, Oct 17 at 7PM Eastern time.  Sign up here. I would love to see you!

 

With all my love, 
Alia

 

 

 

 

How to Make Big Changes, Fast

I read fantasy novels and play solitaire on my phone. A lot. I didn’t used to. Well, partly because I didn’t have a smart enough phone. But it was more than that. It started in the last year of caretaking my mother. 

I don’t know if you have ever cared for someone with severe dementia.  It’s stressful. Especially when it is your own family. It’s one of the most stressful things I have ever done, and it went on for years.

Because my mom could not be left alone, when we were at home, I was pretty much next to her. All the time. While she talked. Incessantly. Unless I had music or the TV on (and often, even when I did). And she expected me to listen. But none of it made sense. At all.

Yeah.

To cope, I resorted to the reading and solitaire. I even started playing audio books in the car. Thank god for the library!

This was fine. It helped. I could be there, yet be somewhere else. All good, right?

But it’s been over two years since she went into the nursing home,  and I’m still doing it.

Somehow my coping strategy became ingrained. I had become habituated to this constant input. And when I was stressed, it skyrocketed. 

I was no longer comfortable just being with myself.



Once I realized this, I began taking steps. I made myself read print materials. Restricted my solitaire time. Still, the compulsion of the screen was kinda scary. And hours went by…

The other day, I mentioned to Eva,  my Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapist, that I used to be so content to just hang out with my own thoughts, and now I couldn’t.

(You all know I’m training to be an SE practitioner. In fact, the final leg of my training is next week. I’m very excited about this. SE trauma resolution is one of the best things I have ever done for myself, and the training is splendid. In fact, I just arrived in California for the last leg of my three-year program!)

She asked me to imagine just being present with myself. I felt an immediate clutch of alarm, a constriction in my chest and throat.

She asked what words went along with that. All I had was a fearful gasp.

Okay then.

She had me track these sensations, which means to notice them and observe how they evolve.

Trauma happens when we perceive ourselves to be in danger and unable to defend ourselves. Our defensive impulses become trapped in the body, which can prevent the nervous system from settling itself afterwards. SE helps these trapped impulses to discharge, so the nervous system  can reset.

I reported their progress, and soon a wave of pulsing tingling in my hands and feet signaled some resolution. My eyes began orienting (looking around the room). This all happened in the first 15 minutes of the session.

For the next 45 minutes, I continued to experience waves of activation and settling. Eva just let me keep going, occasionally asking a question, or pointing out some shift in my affect.

Whatever I had been holding was very, very big.

By the end I felt relaxed and happy, but almost woozy. Eva had me walk a straight line before she let me go, and I spent another 10 minutes just walking around the block before getting in my car.

I had lunch and didn’t need to read while I did it.

I drove home (2 hours) and didn’t need to listen to an audiobook.

I woke up in the morning and didn’t need to play solitaire. 

I’m on a bus to the airport and writing this because I don’t feel like reading.

Did I read some? Sure. Did I play some solitaire? Sure. Did I feel driven to? Nooo. Wild, right?

Will it last? Probably. SE is amazing. When trauma is gone, it’s gone.

I’m also glad I am about to be away for 2 weeks, as the activity will help to soften the habit. And that I’ll be at my training, as those are always uplifting.

I’m particularly looking forward to this one, as we’ll be learning SE Touch, which is very, very interesting. Once I’m certified, I plan to do a whole ‘nother year-long training in SE Touch Skills. Very exciting.

SE is gentle, and it works. Many challenges evaporate in one session. Some take longer. Life is complex. But SE helps. Its helped me, and folks I know who’ve done it. A lot.

Oriental dance, especially in the Sufi-based system from which I teach, incorporates a lot of trauma resolution principles. And SE turbocharges that process.

As we become more skilled at resetting the nervous system, we become calmer and more resilient in general.

So I have been pleased to incorporate SE into my dance coaching. It’s been very effective for dancers, around confidence, fears, procrastination, improvisation, and so forth.

I’m also pleased to be offering coaching at a special rate.

But what is coaching, exactly?

Coaching is largely about process. Unlike, critique, which is an assessment of strengths and weaknesses, coaching helps us uncover our roadblocks–in life as well as dance–and resolve them.

Is video scary? Trouble making practice a habit? Consumed by self-doubt or judgement? Stuck on a creative project? Stuck in general? Just feeling blah and uninspired? Coaching helps resolve all these issues and more besides.

I’m offering both individual and small group coaching this fall.

Small group coaching comes in the Artists’ Creative Expressions (ACE) Mastermind. In these Zoom.us group video sessions, participants identify their goals and we create processes to meet them, with group support and accountability. You will find more information on the ACE page.

Individual coaching offers an intensive focus on your personal process. This includes SE sessions. We start with a free video call to meet and discuss your wishes, then decide a time for our session. Sessions are conducted via Zoom video meetings. More information is here.

I hope that one of these offerings resonates for you. If you’d like to chat about what might be right for you, email me and we will make a time to talk.

I look forward to our conversation!


With all my love,
Alia

Why we focus on Fluency, Clarity, and Correctness (in that order)

I teach writing part-time at a state university. I’ve done so for the last 20 years. When I started, I was frustrated when the only thing I could say to a student was, “This sentence isn’t right.” I could tell them how to fix it, but I couldn’t explain why. Back in grade school, I just ignored all the grammar stuff. I always knew which constructions were correct, and how to fix the the wrong ones. My family spoke standard English and I read incessantly, so that was easy for me. Grammar rules, however, were confusing and annoying. I blithely ignored them. 

But now I needed to understand the damn things. I engaged in a pretty rigorous study of how to teach writing, how to critique effectively, grammar, structure, and so forth. I brought piles of books home from the school library, and any that were boring or badly written, I threw aside, then picked up a new one. I mean, it’s writing. If some expert can’t write a book about it that is interesting, well…

I learned a lot in my home-made study course, and not just about writing. I’ve found that strategies for writing well (and for critiquing writing) translate very nicely into dance. One of the reasons is that writing is very much an improvisational activity. Even if we know what we want to write to write about, our actual putting together of words is done off the cuff–we may stop once in a while to think of a word, and we may revise quite carefully, but the initial act of putting words on paper is a creative improvisation.

Over time, I have adapted many models of writing, revision, and critique to dance. One that I especially like is the quick assessment model, Fluency, Clarity, and Correctness–in that order. This means when we assess a dancer, we look first to fluency. If we don’t find it, if the dancer’s movement is awkward, hesitant, off-time, or whatever, we stop there and work on that.

Let’s look at these concepts one by one, and how they work in writing as well as dance. Today, we will look at…

Fluency

In writing, fluency mean the ability to put words on paper with relative ease. You understand the language and can easily craft suitable sentences. Freewriting, for example, increases fluency, as we write fast without stopping or judgement. We learn to write without constantly stopping to think about what comes next–we get into a zone, and we trust our pen/keyboard/body to come up with what we need. We don’t think about each sentence we write. We just write–and if anything needs correcting or polishing, we do that later. 

In dance, fluency means we can dance easily, respond to the music, and generally enjoy ourselves dancing as we improvise. It’s about being able to easily transition, to trust ourselves that what we need will come out, and to be able to be in a zone and enjoy the moment. 

One Skill at a Time

In both writing and dance, we will not get very far if we can’t create with ease. I’m not saying we don’t ever struggle to make our work shine–of course we do! But we have internalized that skill of allowing the body to do its thing without lots of agony or second guessing. In writing we learn to disconnect the editor from the creator. We just let the words out, and we polish them later. In dance, we also learn to disconnect the editor from the creator. When we dance, we let go of thinking and just move with the music. Both embrace a flow state, full engagement with the present moment. 

As a teacher (of both writing and dance), my first goal is that students can comfortably create. I assign freewriting to my college classes, and to my dance students, I assign freeform improvisation. I don’t worry in the beginning if their work makes sense, if their movement is pretty, or even if they are belly dancing. The first skill is letting go of thinking and judgement; it is letting the body move intuitively with the music. 

In the idea we’ve been discussing, One Skill at a Time, fluency is one skill. It’s a big one, and there are smaller skills along the way, but they are all in the same club. So we don’t get all exercised about the other stuff. I’ve talked before about that little pipe in our head through which ideas flow. As we begin learning, there is a lot of rusty crud backed up in there. As with an unused faucet, it has to come out first so the clear water can flow. Worse, getting all knotted up with thinking (or freaking out about the rust) cuts off the flow entirely. So at first, we just let it all out. One skill at a time. If we have to worry about how we look, whether we are doing “allowable” movement, we will just freeze up entirely and that will be the end of us. 

Baby steps

Once we have mastered basic fluency, when we can follow the music without getting in our own way, we can add in another skill, like incorporating our dance vocabulary, or expressing more complex music, or whatever. But still, one skill at a time. Even if that time is only 30 seconds, and then we switch to keeping our posture for a while, or our pretty hands, or feeling our feet interact with the earth–we keep it simple. Because when we try to do too much at once…

Too much at once
Uh-oh!

It’s a DISASTER. 

We practice in the studio so when we go to dance, we can just let go and dance. And one of the most important things we practice–is letting go. So we can dance. Effortlessly. Ahhh!
Love,
Alia

PS If you would like to just let go and dance, you might like Effortless Improvisation! It’s a great  six-week improv crash course suitable for home dancers and performers alike. Registration closes on Sunday, August 25th, so please have a look right away. 


Upcoming events: 

I’ll be performing September 14, 2019 at Belly Dance Nights at the Main St. Museum in White River Junction, VT. We start at 7PM, and it’s only $15 for advance sales. This is the funnest show and dance party going (and there’s plenty of parking). Please come join us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to go far, fast.

the key to groups

“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.

the key to groups

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. 

–CR

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.

Love,
Alia

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

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.

Thank you!

I look forward to hearing from you <3

​How to Have Your Own Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improvisation is its own separate skill.

It can be applied to any genre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I invite you to cross train your improvisation.

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

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

I sing goofy little songs about what I am doing.

I’ve danced television shows for my practice time.

What do you do?

Where can you improvise?

What would be fun?

Love,
Alia

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

Is your weekly class on vacation for the summer?

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