Why Belly Dance is like Narnia (and how we get through the wardrobe)

Why Belly Dance is like Narnia (and how we get through the wardrobe)

The Narnia Chronicles, a classic fantasy series by CS Lewis, begins when a little girl named Lucy accidentally tumbles through an old wardrobe (a closet on legs) to discover the magical land of Narnia. Narnia is peopled by fauns, dwarves, and talking animals, including Aslan the Lion. Lucy is soon joined there by her brothers and sister.

Over the course of seven books, the children have adventures, discover the history of Narnia, defeat evil, and generally become confident, experienced inter dimensional travelers. In the final book, The Last Battle, the children, now kings and queens, along with all the inhabitants of Narnia, repeating the cry of “Further up and further in!” race up a hill, to Aslan’s Country, and the Real Narnia. While there are many fascinating critiques of the series as allegory, it bears up as a marvelous adventure–as does Oriental dance.

Here are six ways that belly dance bears a striking resemblance to The Narnia Chronicles.

1. On the outside, it’s just a wardrobe. Many (if not most) of us come to belly dance attracted to the outfits and the sensual moves. For some of us , that’s enough. And that’s just fine. But there is so much more to the dance….

 2. It’s bigger on the inside. Once you get past those outer trappings, you begin to discover that this little dance has a lot going for it. No matter how much you learn, there is always more to learn. No matter how good you get, you can always see how much better you can be. It is an art form in which the learning curve never flattens.

 3. It develops confidence. Performing with no 4th wall, we learn to enjoy the audience, embrace our personal style, and handle mishaps with grace and charm.

 4. We all become kings and queens. Belly dance is the ultimate in beauty. When we dance, we know we are golden. We radiate our majesty and create a bridge for the audience to a magical realm.

 5. We defeat evil. Fear, anger, and grief are some of humanity’s most crippling emotions. Through dance, we transcend these emotions. Dancing clears the emotional landscape by allowing us to release our cares and those of the audience. Everyone’s misery is lifted for a time, everyone gets to feel the restorative wonder of joy and delight. These shots of goodness help us all to get through the bad times.

 6. We become experienced inter dimensional travelers. Those of us who go through the wardrobe, who go further up and further in, discover a world of joy. Improvisation can bring us to the center of our souls, a place where time, self, and worldly concerns are suspended, where the joy of musical embodiment lifts us and the audience up and out of the every day. From this magical land, we return refreshed, refined, and glorious.

 7. We reach the true dance, the one that exists outside of costumes, ego, and competition. We learn to dwell in a land of timeless beauty we can reach any time we close our eyes and go into the zone.

How do we do this?

How do we get through the wardrobe and into the dance? Just as Lucy did, we close our eyes and feel our way through. As we learn to let the music in through our ears and allow our bodies to respond intuitively in the moment, we become ever closer to the secret center, the soul of our dance (we will get into this in detail in the book).

Over time, and with practice, our improvisation confidence and endurance will improve, and so will our pleasure in dance. We are more easily able to go into a zone on stage. Audiences love the freshness and intuitive nature of our dance. We are all whisked above daily cares and into a realm of love and joy.

Nice, huh?
Another world is possible.

To discover it, check out Midnight at the Crossroads, now available for preorder!

All my love,


How Hidden Dreams find you

It’s October, and that means Inktober has arrived! Inktober means an ink drawing every day for 30 days. I’m doing this (in digital ink so far). You can follow my progress in the album #Inktober #Inktober2016.

There are daily prompts to help you when you feel out of ideas. Today’s prompt is the word “hidden,” hence the title of this piece.

You can hide your dreams–from yourself and the world–but you can’t hide from them. This is my feeling about it. They will find you. They will poke you. They will demand to be seen, recognized, honored. And if you do not, they will clamor until you do. Making art is scary and painful. NOT making art is worse. So consider joining me in the Inktober challenge. You can certainly start now.

Right now. Draw a picture and send me a photo of it!

Here’s my picture for today.

Hidden (Dreams)

PS if you are an artist who belly dances, we have a FB group.  Ask me.

I find that my creative work tends to get short shrift. Somehow everything else gets a higher priority. But the creative stuff is the most rewarding, and it takes way less time than every other dang thing in my life including things I have put off successfully for years. It took a long time for me to realize this and I realize it over and over again as I let things drift.

The best way for me to manage this, I have found, is to simply Put Art First. That means that no matter how much other crap is overloading my plate (and there is plenty), the first part of my day is for creative work. And I get up extra early to do it, like 6am, sometimes earlier. I don’t dance. I need quiet that early in the morning.

I mostly write at this time. I don’t check email or FB or anything else. Just maybe make some coffee and toast and go to work. Once I get going, I tend to keep going. It’s getting going that is the challenge. Lots of times I go to work before the coffee and toast, and use that as a break. When I finish, I put on dance music.

This pattern feeds me. I wish I did it every day. I did for most of the last year, but it slid over the summer. Now I am getting back into it. Inktober is helping. National Novel Writing Month is coming soon, too!

What helps you? Post here or email me. 




Cool things you might like! 

Now: Inktober


Saturday, Oct 15th, 7-10pm EDT
Raq-On Community Dance Day Hafla @ the Hotel Coolidge. $15 in advance, $20 at the door
Phaedra of Boston is the featured dancer.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016 at 8pm Eastern Time
The Compassionate Critique Salon
Join Alia Thabit, Rosa Noreen and Nadira Jamal for an evening of kind, actionable dance critique.


November 1-31,
National Novel Writing Month
Write a 50K word novel in 30 days.


Wednesday, November 23-30:
Sausan’s Raqs Al-Masriya,  Internet Choreography and Belly Dance Challenge
Everyone makes a dance to the same piece of music (available on the site) and posts it online. Register with the Challenge to display your video with the others and let the open web view and Like favorite videos.


Friday and Sunday, December 2 + 4
Tarifa Salem (Bobby Farrah’s niece and protege), teaching in Danbury CT. 


August 4th, 5th, & 6th 2017:
Raq-On Strong: VT Festival featuring Leila Farid, Sahra Saeeda, and Tamalyn Dallal
(registration and payment plans now open).  https://www.facebook.com/events/1701852790031831/

And just in case you missed them…
Great Books, recently or nearly published. 

I’m currently enjoying
Create or Hate
by Dan Norris (and at this moment, it is free)  http://buff.ly/2dqPIaC

Erotica, Love and Humor in Arabia
Spicy Stories from The Book of Songs by al-Isfahani
Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani. Translated and Edited by George Dimitri Sawa (georgedimitrisawa.com). Spicy!  http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-1-4766-6365-4

Trance Dancing with the Jinn 
The Ancient Art of Contacting Spirits Through Ecstatic Dance By Yasmin Henkesh (sandsoftime.com). She is brilliant. This will be amazing.  http://www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738737942

THE FIVE ELEMENTS based on the world’s oldest personality system by Dondi Dahlin, a belly dance super star! (http://www.dondidahlin.com)
http://www.powells.com/book/the-five-elements-9780399176296/62-0  After you pre-order, you can head over to www.LearnTheFiveElements.comand pick up three bonuses. All bonuses disappear October 1.

Thanks for looking!



What’s your wall?

Sometimes we hit a wall. 


So high, can’t get over it. So low, can’t go under it. So wide, can’t get around it…

Where is your dance wall?
What stops you, gets in your way, or keeps you from dancing what you feel in the moment? What walls do your students or dancer friends face?

Here are a few things I, and other folks, have struggled with. 

Never feeling good enough, creative enough, or anything enough.

Getting stuck in one’s head, losing energy, falling out of the zone.

Feeling constrained in performance or navigating social scenes.

The feeling in the moment ; )

Not Performing
Why is this such a crime?

How the heck do I… ?

We don’t fit the mold, but have so much to express.

Personal Style
How do you find it? Does it take forever?

Finding Spirit in Dance
Is it really all hoodoo?


What’s your biggest wall?
How does it affect you?
What would help?


Write to me. Or post on the blog. I’ll write back.



PS I am once again endeavoring to create a little something new, this time in two weeks. This week is for figuring out what to make. Next week is for making it. It shall be done and ready to roll on May 1. I want it to be something that solves a problem for my dance friends–that’s you. Hence my question. More on Thursday!

How to Solve Problems with Improv Power (so you can dance more ; )

Just let it go…

improv-solves-problemsWhen we dance improv, we let go of our constant thinking and controlling. We let the body call the shots. It’s like meditation—we clear the mind of its constant scurrying, busy chatter. We focus on the breath, on the exhale. And we step back.

What we get is a state called diffuse thinking. In diffuse thinking, the brain makes much more random connections. Our unresolved questions are still floating around, but we are not actively digging at them. It’s like a dream time. Fragments and wisps arise and mingle. We don’t seem to be doing anything, but the brain is very powerful. It is always seeking organization and resolution. Behind the scenes, it is processing all these bits and fitting them into the missing puzzle pieces.

We may get only refreshment from our break—the mind needs and enjoys breaks in the routine far more often than we might think, as we are so used to pushing ourselves endlessly. Learning science shows that interleaving—going away from a subject of study and coming back to it later—is a far more powerful learning tool than pushing through (it is the actual going away and coming back that that is valuable—the letting go of and refocusing on the subject). But quite often, after our break, we find answers to our questions, new understandings for our ideas, and wholeness, where before we had only broken bits.

Rather than a controlled, systematic exploration, diffuse thinking makes a space for something unstructured to arise. Rather than digging consciously, we let the rain wash away the dirt. It’s so valuable a process that I regularly keep a notebook handy when I dance, as ideas sometimes come in floods.

Try it. 
Next time you have a knotty problem, let it go and dance instead.

Keep a notebook handy to record any insights you might have. Even if none come, you still get a vacation from your cares.

Let me know how it goes!



How quantum physics illuminates personal style

How quantum physics illustrates personal style

Strange AtrractorImagine you are watching a dancer. You have no idea what the hell she is doing, but everything is moving in complete accord with the music, and that music is live. There are half a dozen instruments, multiple accents, and a wild assortment of inputs, yet she is totally in sync. How do we arrive at this level of embodied expression?

We start out by copying–that’s how we learn. Copying many different artists and styles gives us the tools, models, and permission to be different. Through learning from a range of sources, we increase the variety of spaces in which we give ourselves permission to be. Each time we reset the pattern, we increase our understanding of and relationship to the dance.

All the movement models we experience form a cloud of possibilities for the “how” of any step, any move. Micro-movement has the quantum element of infinite variation. So does the multiplicity of interpretation, the way in which we construct each move. Through this quantum density, this strange attractor of a shape, we find our own path.

This is why it’s important to study with many teachers. And not just any teachers. Follow the visionaries. When we learn/copy from a variety of expressive masters, we gain an ever more expansive range of possibility. Our range of motion increases, literally—and of thought, imagination, expression.

Over time, our eyes open. Every dance we see, every teacher whose class we take contributes to this.  Seek out the best teachers, see great artists, as this is how we develop our range of possibility.

But we can’t copy forever.
As we grow, we find new ways of being in the world. We find out how our bodies want to express the move, the music, the feeling. We branch out on our own. We give ourselves permission to do this. We let go of following. We lead.

Our own style comes from giving ourselves permission to find our own way. The confidence we gain from seeing, learning the variety of ways is the key. I believe our style is already inside us, waiting. The effort and study help us find it, accept it, refine it.

We begin by copying. Our path develops in relation to the myriad paths we have followed. It may lie within or without the experienced range of possibility—through the effort of building the range, we see how there could be an outside, and that we might go there.

And then we go.

Welcome to the bright world of possibility.



Here’s a guy who really created his own style, the remarkable Sun Ra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLFh8St9Vwc&list=PL141521662CC1C09C

Twice, Then Quit: How to Train for Resistance to Change http://www.samuelthomasdavies.com/twice-then-quit/

How to Find your Hidden Treasure


There is a story in the Thousand and One Nights called The Ruined Man who Became Rich Again Through a Dream.

A rich man from Baghdad became so poor he had to do manual labor all day long to make ends meet. One night he had a dream–a voice told him to go to Cairo, where he would find his fortune.

So the man set off to Cairo. It was far away, mind you, and not an easy trip back then. It took a long time, and when he finally arrived, it was nighttime. He crept into a mosque, and curled up to sleep.

Unfortunately, a band of thieves robbed the mosque that night. While Our man slept, the thieves stole everything they could grab. When the police arrived, they found the sleeping man, beat him furiously, and threw him in jail.

A few days later, the police chief called the man from his cell and asked where he was from. Baghdad, the man replied. The police chief then demanded, “What were you doing in the Mosque?”

The man said, “A dream told me I would find my fortune in Cairo. But all I have found so far was a beating from you!”

The Chief burst out laughing. “You fool!” he chortled. “I have had a dream three times, telling me to go to a certain house in Baghdad,” (here he described it in detail), “with a fountain in the garden–and underneath the fountain is buried a fabulous treasure. But I am not so stupid as to go there!” He gestured towards the cells and warned, “You follow the voice of a dream, and this is what you get!”

The Chief then took pity on the poor man and gave hime some money. “Go back to your home,” he said. “Listen no more to the voices of dreams.”

The man went straight back to Baghdad, for the house the Chief had described was none other than his very own! When he got home, he dug under the fountain in his garden–and there he found the fabulous buried treasure!

This man’s treasure was right in his own backyard. That wealth was within his grasp the whole time, but he needed to gain greater perspective before he could find it.

As artists, our creative treasure is also in our own backyard–but sometimes we, too, need greater perspective. Artistry and creativity exist within us all–but sometimes we can’t see them.

We are all intuitive, creative, and beautiful. But life is hard sometimes, and we lose sight of our treasure. What with the struggle of daily life, the superficial models around us, and the discouragement showered upon us, we may never realize our dreams.

It’s so sad.
We’re so tired, so hemmed in by our obligations and responsibilities.

How do we nurture our creative soul? 
With Self-Compassion.

Self compassion is NOT self esteem, self pity, or self indulgence.

Self compassion IS self kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” –Kristen Neff, self-compassion.org

What if we try changing our perspective? What if we try being kind to ourselves for a while?

Maybe when we stop raining on our own parade, we might be able to rediscover our treasure more easily.


How to transmit wonder with your dance

TransmitWonderIn our secret hearts, we come to this dance for transformation. We seek a magic carpet ride to our true self, our inner goddess, femme fatale, power and glory. We want this so hard it hurts. We cry at night for the loss of the beauty, freedom, mystery and adventure with which we were born. Life is hard, and it has taken its toll.

We come to this dance for redemption. To see ourselves in a new, truer, mirror, one that will shine back to us the beauty and joy hidden away in our souls.

This dance delivers. It delivers in spades.

Everything we crave awaits us inside this dance. All the joy, the beauty, the glory, hidden treasure waiting to be found. A secret blossom trembling on the brink. A fourth doorway, a portal to the Divine, hidden from sight—until we are ready to open it.

But we are afraid. Afraid of feeling our pain, afraid of shoveling through the shit of life to get to the treasure. Afraid there is no treasure. So we put on our hipscarves and copy empty movement for an hour a week, pretending we are beautiful. It is an epic tragedy.

How do we get through the fourth door? 

Well, first we have to find it. 
And then we have to make a few changes.
And that may take some effort.

Learning is hard. It hurts, like an unused muscle, newly awakened. We all want to have fun, but most of us also want to learn. How do we balance the difficulty of learning with the pleasure of the dance itself?

This dance flourishes within its cultural context. All of its wonderful, chaotic heterophony, micromovement, improvisation, social ritual, and feeling–these are not quaint traditions. They are the living breathing center of this dance.

Our dance is a magical doorway. It leads to a place within where we feel our beauty, dissolve trauma and stress, nurture our body and brain, feed our soul, and connect with the Divine. This is the nature of this dance. It is a magical transmission of wonder. 

Wait, how do we magically transmit wonder?
The first step is to reclaim our own wonder. We have all been brainwashed into regarding ourselves with narrow eyes, alert for any flaws or ways in which we do not fit the proscribed vision of perfection. Alas, there are so many ways to miss the mark.

Let’s change the rating system. Let’s step back from perfection of form and the Platonic Ideal. Let’s step up to shared mystery and glory.

The wonderful Fahtiem once explained, “It’s not just a hip drop,” as she rolled her eyes, looking bored with her own movement.

“It’s a hip drop!” And she gasped, her eyes got big as her face expressed amazement. Suddenly the move transformed into wonder–the wonder we all felt once upon a time, the wonder that drew us to this dance.

What if every hip drop, every move, every moment of our dance were a testament to wonder? We feel and express the wonder so others can also see it, feel it, live it.

The fourth doorway awaits. 
Will you walk through?


PS Last call for How to Create Dance Art
Oriental dance evolved for improvisation. Choreography can inhibit our ability to express our feeling from the music in the moment, to be different every time.

On the other hand, recorded music is the same every time. How to balance these conflicting influences?

Create Dance Art is the solution!
Check it out: http://CreateDanceArt.com

PPS Final free webinar on Sunday: Fast, fun, fabulous Group Dances that folks can remember and enjoy doing! Plus a special offer for Create Dance Art!
Click here: http://eepurl.com/bJETD9

How to see the path in front of you (d’oh!)

Well, I found my anchor. 

The Right Anchor

It’s funny how things can be right in front of you–yet invisible. Back a couple months ago when I first got my new phone, I made an alarm for 9am. I set that alarm to ring every day. And it does. I have no idea why I made it. And every day, as I grab my alarming phone, I think, why the eff don’t I cancel this thing? I’m already awake, it doesn’t signal anything.

But I never do. Occasionally I even think, maybe I could anchor my dance practice with that alarm. It’s a good time for me. I am generally winding down the writing portion of my morning, ready to move to on to other things. Then I’d tell myself no, 9am is a time, not an action. Amazing what we tell ourselves, isn’t it?

Then one day, it dawned on me. Well yeah. 9am is a time. But picking up my phone to turn off the alarm is an action. And after I turn off the alarm, I can start my playlist.

So that’s what I have been doing all week. And it’s working! I dance a crazy 20 minutes, laughing and crying, all alone–in silence, because I put in my earphones. I even added a habit to the chain–after I dance my 20 minutes, I clean something. I just keep the music playing and keep going. Now there are empty corners blossoming! I’m probably jinxing this by writing about it ; ). And there will be days (like today), when I have to be out of the house early and it might not happen. But I can live with that. It’s a process.

Process is an important word. We so much want things NOW (or anyway, I sure do). I rarely (hardly ever), feel all energized and gung ho. The grind of process appears as a weight that drags me down, the days/months/years it takes to accomplish anything of merit. But in my secret heart, I know that’s what it takes. Daily effort, daily focus, daily baby steps moving forward.

Daily focus makes huge leaps possible. Daily grind has brought my book to be ready for its second draft. It’s the groundwork, the infrastructure. That’s where I want to focus this year.

I feel ridiculously accomplished each day that I dance. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing. I have been growing my habits for a while now, and looking for that dance anchor. I’ve found it. Even if I don’t have my phone, scheduling is a pretty good strategy all by itself–another thing that made me laugh about resisting that 9am slot for so long.

 Schedule Art. Schedule self care. Schedule fun. Scheduling all the important things we know we need, but never get to, because we are so busy putting out fires day after day after day. Everything is urgent. It’s draining. Let’s get out of the Emergency Room.

What self-loving habit could you create? What pleasure do you already schedule? Where could you tuck in some personal pleasure? Developing a loving habit is like having a secret nosegay. You give it a happy sniff all day long, and feel good.

Let me know your plans; email or post them here on the blog. The more of us who do this, the more love and happiness we bring to the world.





PS Free webinar on Sunday! Make a dance in an hour. If you are not signed up yet, click here:  http://eepurl.com/bJETD9

PPS GREAT article by Judith Lynn HannaWhat Educators and Parents Should Know About Neuroplasticity, Learning and Dance

How to Survive the Winter of our Discontent

I’m tired. How about you? 

It’s winter.
It’s cold. It’s dark. I’m bored, restless, and unhappy–with myself, the world, my art, everything. At this point, I always wonder why I bother. I feel like quitting. I used to get super bummed out in these phases. But now I know them better. And I know why they happen.

I’m not making any art. I’m just crawling from day to day, putting out fires–but not building anything new. This is the real problem. I don’t have anything going on that excites me or gives me a reason to get up in the morning. I mean, yeah, there’s always coffee, but that’s not going to carry me through the entire day.

The most important thing is art. I come back to this over and over. It is my bottom line. So why is it so hard to do any? Well, I have learned an annoying truth about art.

It’s not hard; it’s habit. Habit. When you have an art habit, you just do it because that’s what you do. When you don’t have a habit, Resistance takes every opportunity to get in the way. I’m too tired, I don’t feel like it, blah blah blah. That’s where I’m at. I let my art habits slide–over the holidays, the dark, the fatigue, etc, etc. And some of them slid much longer ago than that…

It’s time to get my habits on track. Every time I think about this, I want to invite you to join me, and I devise all kinds of accountability strategies–Facebook groups, daily video, yadda yadda. But all of them require a lot of work on my part. I don’t need to make more work for myself. I just need to make art.

I favor TinyHabits.com. They have a great program, and it really works. Here’s how: The habit must only take 30 seconds to do. It must have a anchor (something you normally do after which you do your new habit. So you attach the new habit onto the existing habit. For example, one that is sticking and working is, After I start the toaster, I open my vitamins. I only commit to opening them. But once I’m there, I’m going to take them.

The vitamin habit has stuck. So has my reading habit–which swaps with my writing habit: After I sit down with my coffee and toast, I open my book. The ones that didn’t stick need better anchors. Like dancing my 20 minutes. That needs a better anchor.


What’s your dance anchor? Email me or post on the blog.


PS Want to make some art–and get some accountability? Create Dance Art starts Feb 8. You’ll make art every day for three months–and get personal feedback every day. Pretty cool, huh? Good for improv or choreo, any style. Check it out: CreateDanceArt.com


Lots and lots of love,

Goodbye, 2015

 ChaosWhat a rollercoaster.


There were great highs–the 90 Day Dance Challenge. A Mardi Gras road trip with Tamalyn Dallal. Teaching in Egypt for Leila Farid. The Small Product Lab. Sufi Camp with Dunya McPherson. Ziltastic. Open Heart. Effortless. Performing at Amity’s birthday party. I took some classes, too, and met some wonderful people.

There were also some lows. Life chaos ratcheted up, week after week. It was pretty scary. I ate carbs, freaked out, and felt helpless.

What lesson am I to learn from all this? Maybe it has to do with the irony of being completely undone by stress while writing about belly dance as a venue for stress relief. It would have been easy to dance for the lousy 20 minutes a day that would help me stay together. But I didn’t do it.

How does stress do this?  How can we know exactly what would help, have it free, easy to do, and yet not do it? This response does not serve me.

So now what? How do I keep myself together and do what I need to do?


Something is brewing in my head. It has to be simple. It has to be consistent. It has to work. It’s probably going to involve video, so it has to be dead easy.

I’ll be back with a plan. Simple, consistent, effective. A daily dose of serenity. You might like to join me.

Are you in?