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

Happy Spring, Easter, Passover, Beltane!

It’s finally Spring!
(or Fall depending on where you are and if you have seasons there ; )

The past year+ has been–intense.

Congratulations on living through it! 🥳

My love and sympathy to the friends and families of those no longer with us.
May they be free from suffering. May their spirits shine eternally in our hearts. 

Hang on. We still have far to go. But we are on the way. 

My Springtime wish for you is a rebirth of creative inspiration.

It’s hard to even think about sometimes. But it will return. 
May it be soon–and deep. 


With love, 
Alia


How to Nurture the Spark

nurture the spark

I last performed live, with real people in real time, September of 2019. Yeah, that was a while back. Now, I rarely see anyone (well, except for grocery shopping, and my son, who lives with me right now). So I dance at home by myself. 

Or, I should say, with myself. 

I first started doing this several years ago, when I started making little videos on my laptop with a webcam. Previously, I had struggled with video, as I recorded it on little cameras and I couldn’t see what I was doing. I’d have to set up my dance area in the camera’s viewfinder before I danced, and if I bumped the darn thing without noticing, all I had done was unusable. 

But with the laptop and the webcam, everything changed. 

Suddenly I had a monitor. 

I could see myself! 

Fortunately, I had come far enough in my trauma resolution journey that I had come to actually like myself, and to like my dancing. (In the past, I had generally been mortified by my dance on video. Like, awash in shame. I didn’t like myself in the mirror in class any better, and generally stood where I couldn’t see myself…

Anyway, finally I could enjoy my own dancing. And what I found was that as I looked through the camera to all the people on the other side with great joy and love—that I was also smiling happily at the dancer on the monitor (myself ), and dancing with her. Together, we were having a good time. 

Needless to say, the videos became better ; ).

I don’t make videos every time I dance. But I do have a lot of mirrors scattered around the house (I am a dancer ; ). At first I began to give myself an encouraging smile every time I passed by. Soon I started dancing with myself in the mirror. 

Now I do it all the time. 

One of the things I focus on in my practice is my focus—being invested in a specific direction, projecting my energy and joy. The mirrors give me someplace to focus—and I get to grin at and flirt with myself while I do it. 

It is a scientific fact that smiling makes one happier. Even holding a pencil in the teeth, which stretches the mouth into an approximation of a grin, makes one happier. Seriously, people have studied this. Twinkling, as you may have noticed when you tried it, also makes one happier. I don’t think that’s been formally studied, but hey. It still works ; ).

Sooo…

Whatever brings a spark of happiness is worth cultivating.

This week, let’s notice the little things that bring us joy. The sun or a sweet breeze on our skin. A bird’s nest in a tree. (The melting snow up here in Vermont). A wonderful color combination or a lovely sound. The small things. Whatever it is, take notice. Collect these. Let more and more things bring a smile to you. Remember them. Take pleasure in them. Like Frederick the mouse, use these precious joys to help you through. 

The more we take the time to feel good, to enjoy ourselves, pleasant sensations, beautiful things, the more we build our resiliency and strength. 

Life can be pretty challenging. It’s soooo easy to get sucked into the vortex of pain and dread. We may even feel guilty for enjoying ourselves, for having any fun at all. So let’s take action on the positive side to keep ourselves together. 

I invite you to bring expressive joy into your dance this week.

Dance like someone is watching, a lot of them, and they are all wonderful friends—us, for example, your dance friends. Flirt and laugh with us, be naughty, have fun, show your joy. 

I invite you to notice and bask in the good, however it comes to you. Buy a pretty postcard and tack it up in your dance space. Or a piece of cloth, or whatever gives you a rush of beauty. 

I invite you to practice loving yourself, seeing yourself as beautiful, having compassion and warmth for yourself. Give yourself some smiles in the mirror.  Give yourself some hugs and love at the end of your dance session. 

You are beautiful and you are loved. 

Truly. 

Next week we’ll have our spring schedule! This week….

I am dancing online!

As part of the Raq-On Gala and Auction. It’s a pretty cool event to help the studio survive covid. Amity has been working double hours and selling all her costumes through 2020 to keep the lights on and the rent paid.

It is also a celebration of 10 years for the studio.

I met Amity about 20 years ago when she appeared in my dance class, a shy local teenager. Belly dance captivated her! She embraced the dance and the creation of community. Everywhere she went, she created vibrant spaces for dance, despite utterly surreal levels of wtf (crazy landlords, the death of her long-time love, spaces disappearing, covid, the works).

She has sponsored endless workshops with revered teachers, traveled to Egypt many times, performed often with live musicians of the culture, and generally devoted herself to this dance.

I’m so impressed by her accomplishments in myriad enterprises–all of which have subsidized dance now that dance could not subsidize itself.

I feel so fortunate in meeting as we did and all the dance life we have shared–and seeing Amity grow and blossom as an artist, and a human being, with so much generosity of soul. It is an honor for me to be part of what this beloved dance daughter has created.

I am the opening act–will you please join me? I look forward to dancing for you, and for Amity!

The Auction runs Feb 13-20. It is free to shop and drool over at all the cools stuff, from hipscarves to costumes to dancer art prints, custom Egyptian cartouche pendants. Link will be posted here on Feb 13
https://www.facebook.com/events/714386902790880/

The Show is Feb 20, 7pm est. Tickets are sliding scale, starting at $5. Tix available here.
https://raqon-102776.square.site/product/feb-20th-gala-show-ticket/141?cs=true&cst=custom

THANK YOU for helping to support our dance.

Holding you close in my heart, 

Alia

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

Rise like the Moon, Shine like the Stars

Somehow I thought I would come into this new year with new energy, clarity, and focus.

Um…

I thought this week I would have a nice slate of new year offerings for you–but I find myself unclear on what exactly those should be. I feel myself in a place of alignment, as my love for Oriental dance, trauma resolution, and creativity combine into something new, rich and nourishing. But what?

Something is coming. It’s not clear yet. But I feel it coalescing. It resonates with my mission: “Awaken people to their own beauty and power. Enable them to express their unique individuality through art. Bring honor and appreciation to Oriental dance… “

I do have a theme for the year.

CONNECT

Its subtitle is Show Up and Do the Work. This inspired my choice to post a new dance clip every day in January. Here they are on Instagram and FaceBook (or search #Danceuary21 on IG to see who else decided to do this–you are welcome to join, dancing / posting as much or as little as you like–any music, any clothing, any time. It’s all about fun). More on Connect soon. I feel it coming, gentle as the moon and the stars.

Accountability is another word for this year. It’s been essential for me. I’m building small-group series that help folks reach creative goals, like the ACE Mastermind; to develop online skills, like How to Dance for the Camera; or to empower dancers to excel, with Focus on the Feeling. This year, meetings every week feels like too much. So I’m planning more bi-weekly or even monthly meetings, expanding the connection, accountability, and support so we can really soak these things into our core.

For the rest of it, I’d love to hear from you–what is your biggest challenge? In dance? In life? What would you like to be different? What would you like more of? What would you like to feel?

For the moment, we have a few things happening.

A new round of Tuning In starts tomorrow.

Tuning In helps us settle, ground, integrate our awareness into the here and now. Five Weeks, Jan 22-Feb 12. Fridays, 4-4:30 PM EST. Learn more and Register here.

I like the combination of still and active. It reminds me that even the things I rush with, don’t need to be a mental rush. I can still be connected. 

–JM


Belly Dance BEDROCK

BDB is a Fun Class Deep Dive combining our core dance vocabulary with intuitive improvisation, to bring the movement into our bodies, so we don’t just do the dance–we are the dance. Belly Dance BEDROCK runs from Tuesday, February 2 through Tuesday, March 5 from 4-5PM EST 
Learn more and Register here.

Inspiration

I’m heartened and hopeful following the recent Inauguration, especially by our brilliant Youth Poet Laureate, 22-year old Amanda Gorman. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb” stands as a clarion call to all of us to reach our True Selves, to join together for a better world. Below is the text of her poem, and here she is reading it.

With all my love,
Alia

The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman

When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.

We braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace, and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow we do it.

Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.

And, yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.

We are striving to forge our union with purpose.

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.

We close the divide because we know to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.

We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.

That even as we grieved, we grew.

That even as we hurt, we hoped.

That even as we tired, we tried.

That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.

Not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.

If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb, if only we dare.

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.

It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it.

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.

We feared at its inception.

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.

But within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.

So, while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe, now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?

We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation, become the future.

Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain.

If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left.

Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the golden hills of the West.

We will rise from the windswept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.

We will rise from the sun-baked South.

We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade of flame and unafraid.

The new dawn balloons as we free it.

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.


Crackin’ the Cosmic Egg of 2021: Let’s Dance!

Crackin' the Cosmic Egg #danceuary21

Today is filled with New Year advice, suggestions, and resolutions.

I just want to dance.

I’ll dance every day in January, and post it, too. Care to join me?
#Danceuary21 Insta and FB for me; post wherever you like.

Crackin’ the Cosmic Egg 2021

Any music you want. Any outfit you want (your bathrobe or sweats are fine). Any timeframe you want (but let’s make the posts no more than a minute or so). I suggest this as a first song if anyone is wondering what to use: Boom Shakalak

Holiday Hugs and HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Alia

PS The Bellydance Bundle’s Struggle to Strength is a (NOT) competition–all the good stuff of goals and accomplishment, and none of the bad. It’s a 4-month accountability program with professional feedback.  https://aliathabit.com/S2S Use my name–ALIA–for a $20 discount.

PPS These are cool. Two different approaches to the sheet music for Alf Leila wi Leila

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.

One Surprise Reason to Embrace Taqsim

Surprise!
Life is full of surprises, right? Just look at 2020 0.o
Fortunately, this taqsim surprise is more pleasant ; )

I was surprised back in 2011 when I started looking into trauma resolution by its many connections to Oriental dance (in particular the cultural, improvised, personal form of it). The whole letting go, letting the body express itself, the inner focus, the joy–I knew I was on the right path, and I have sought to heighten those connections ever since.

But my second big surprise was a few years later, when DaVid mentioned that aHsas, the Arabic word for feeling (as in “feel the music,” as in “the Most Important Thing is the Feeling“), meant not only emotional feeling, but also physical feeling–the physical sensations that arise from the music and the movements.

What? No belly dance teacher I ever had mentioned physical feelings before.

This is exactly what Somatic Experiencing® (SE) tracks and attends to. In particular, we notice and enjoy the pleasant sensations of goodness that come into the body. I had already found this to be a vital quality of Oriental dance, but the clarity of aHsas brought home to the the cultural rightness of this practice. And aligned it even more firmly with the resolution of trauma, those harmful events of the past to which we have all been subjected.

Surprise!

This relates to the vacation aspect of the dance I spoke of a few weeks ago. With all the crap going on in the world, it’s difficult to avoid the chronic stress (fear, rage, shutdown, or combinations thereof), that many of us experience on the daily. Yet chronic stress is known to be highly destructive, resulting in a myriad of apparently unrelated mental and physical health issues, including all manner of syndromes (IBS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue), and serious medical conditions such as addiction, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. So do we need a vacation from all this? OH YEAH, WE DO.

In general Oriental dance is a great vacation–how many times have we gone into class feeling crappy and come out feeling good? And I find that the unstructured improvisational Oriental dance (for example, a Dancemeditation session), magnifies this effect immensely. So I have been infusing this into all that I teach, because all of us have crap from the past and everyday life to wash away.

The secret is focusing the attention on the inside of the body.

We usually look at the outside of our body–in the mirror. What do we look like? It’s a very pointed gaze, as we are usually looking for flaws to fix. So it is a big shift to go inside, to be curious, to wonder, what does this feel like?

How do we do that?

Close the eyes. Do your own dance. Let the body move as it wishes.

As you move, notice the feeling of the bones, muscles, joints, blood, energy in the body. Feel what you’re doing. Breathe with the music and the movement. We normally think of stringing moves together. Let your body react however it wants to the music. Go more slowly and let surprising new shapes emerge. When you notice yourself thinking or worrying, notice instead your breath and the sensations of your moving body. Relax. Slow down. Enjoy the movement.

This goes for all Oriental dance–and it goes double for taqsim.

Taqsim is allll about slowing down, relaxing, going inside, savoring the body. It is luscious, meditative, and deeply soothing. This is what we need, right now. That’s why I made taqsim my contribution to the Bellydance Bundle. That why I put so much taqsim juiciness in Open Heart (starts Oct 27).

Taqsim is the icing on the improvisational cake.

And here’s another nice surprise!

Please join me for a free belly dance vacation courtesy of the Bellydance Bundle‘s Live Party!

The party starts at 11AM EDT on October 25. LOTS of great offerings, classes, panel discussions, performances, and more. All FREE. It looks like I’ll be on around 4:30-5pm EDT. More about this soon—it’s so new it doesn’t even have a web link yet.

I look forward to dancing with you!
Love,
Alia