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 called6 Ways to Melt Improv Fear.
It’s an online workshop that I’ll present for FREE on Thursday, Jan 30, 2020 at 1PM Eastern time. See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link). YES, there will be a recording!
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 ; )
Maybe you already have fun–but you have friends or students who struggle? Send them along. It’s free!
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.
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.
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!
When I was 16 or 17, I danced at the local block party. It was my first performance, ever. My homemade costume took weeks. I made a grand entrance from the big doors on the parlor floor of my house and danced down the front steps. I did floorwork in the street. Lots of people gathered, and everyone cheered. It was a big hit. I was happy.
A friend filmed the show (we didn’t have video back then). A few weeks later, we all sat down to watch the movie.
Imagine my horror when the film brought back every moment of worry. I was paralyzed by shame. All the fun memories were smashed by the anxiety the film ignited. And this was only my first performance. Over so many years, even when a show felt great and I I got great response from the guests, when I saw the video, I cringed.
It’s taken most of my life to enjoy my own performances. I’d like to help you enjoy yours–now.
What is self critique?
Self critique means looking at our own work with the intention of understanding its strengths and weaknesses. We see what we are doing well, and where we could improve. Take special note of that last sentence—strength as well as weakness. The problem is, most of us have no idea about our strengths, since all we ever see are our weaknesses.
Why self critique?
Why not just ask our teachers and friends to give us advice? Certainly teachers who know more than we do could do a better job of diagnosing our dance and offering solid advice.
We might like doing it ourselves.
Self-critique gives us a lot of control. We can take our time and analyze what worked and what didn’t from our perspective, based upon what we wanted to accomplish. It happens on our own time, when we are ready to do it. While it is incredibly helpful to get honest, unbiased feedback from a mentor or peer, no one needs judgmental comments made by folks who don’t “get” what we are doing.
We may not have reliable mentors/friends.
Thanks to the internet, many of us have learned to dance through videos. We don’t have any friends or teachers that we can easily ask for feedback. It’s fine to ask a random pal what they thought, but they may not know enough about what we are trying to do to give us actionable feedback.
Or we may have plenty of dancer peeps, but we may have outgrown their level of expertise. Or their objectivity may be compromised by their own baggage. It’s challenging to get critique from someone who feels threatened by us, or is obsessed with minor issues of correctness.
Plenty of people will tell us what we did wrong. But not so many will celebrate what we did right. So we are going to learn to do this for ourselves.
The key is objectivity.
This means we have a set of criteria that can be applied across the board to help us measure our accomplishments. AND we have to know which elements are most important—because, frankly, having a good time is more important than whether your hip scarf was tucked just so. Yet so many of us feel a dance was ruined because of some little glitch! If the dance reaches the guests, they never notice that hip scarf, except in the briefest of passing moments. So our tasks are
• Develop a set of objective criteria
• Rank these from most to least important (you may be surprised)
• Apply them as tools to help us focus and improve our dance.
What’s really great about this set of elements is that they are helpful to teachers as well. This is why I developed the course Focus on the Feeling (FoF 😉
FoF is special
Fof helps dancers learn self-critique. It helps us develop an objective view. It helps us help our dance friends, too. AND it helps teachers learn to value strengths and provide more compassionate, productive help for their students.
There are five weeks of classes. Each one focuses on a different tool. All the tools work together–and you can use them for more than dance–in fact, you can assess pretty much anything.
FoF is also special because it is hosted on a private forum. No Facebook groups! It features daily accountability, daily instructor interaction (that’s me ; ), and a fun group of like-minded dancers.
I’ve been teaching critique for over twenty years
I had to learn to help my own students. And now I’m here to help you–and your students ; )
Focus on the Feeling FoF starts Monday, Oct 21–right around the corner! Compassionate, productive critique is such a useful skill in our dance. If you’d like to join, please do! This is one of my favorite classes.
ACE Mastermind This past summer (here in the US) five of us piloted the Artist’s Creative Expression (ACE) Mastermind. It was a happy success, so much so that it is now going public! If you would like to be involved, there is still room! We’ll start up in late Oct or early Nov and go through the end of the year.
FUN Classes FUN classes are just that–FUN. They are a one-hour, improv-focused, follow-me, vacation form the real world. The current crop begins Thursday Oct 24. These are available here.
FREE Fun Class
We will also have FREE live Fun Class open to the public on Thursday, Oct 17 at 7PM EDT (a recording will be available until to stream until Weds, Oct 23). Please do come, and feel free to invite your friends. Here is the link to sign up: https://alia-thabit.ck.page/free-fun-class
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.
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.
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!
When you learn something new, you copy. When you learn to draw, you copy and trace drawings. When you learn to write, you copy other writers. When you learn a new move, you copy the new move, and so on. So when does it stop? Because a lot of us only copy the work of others. We are afraid to do anything of our own. Because it might not be (gasp!) perfect.
First task: Perfection. Let go of that idea
Nothing is perfect. Everything has room to develop. This life is is about becoming. We learn, we grow, we change. Otherwise, we are dead.
Second task: Examine your mindset
Many of us were raised with the idea that we are born with a certain amount of smarts, and that’s it. If we are smart, everything is easy. If not, it’s hard. If something is hard, we are just not smart enough. Except, surprise! That’s totally wrong. Advances in neuroscience now tell us that intelligence is highly malleable. We increase our intelligence by learning new things. This is a real shocker for many of us. Used to being the smartest person in the room, we suffer shame when confronted with difficult tasks, avoid anything that might make us look stupid, and give up rather than face failure.
Yet learning new things is the best way to keep the brain in good health
(and if there isn’t a struggle, there is no learning). Learning develops new neural pathways. Learning wraps those pathways in myelin. Myelin is a white, tape-like structure that cements learning in place. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and several other diseases, destroy myelin, so we forget how to do things, and what things are. Pretty soon, we are loading the laundry into the freezer and pouring soy sauce into our coffee. Nobody wants to be like this.
The more we place ourselves in positions where we constantly learn, problem solve, and figure things out, the more we protect ourselves from these illnesses of demyelinization. A major study by Stanford University concluded that dancing regularly was the best defense against Alzheimer’s and dementia. By a LOT—76% more than any activity studied, cognitive or physical. Dancing makes you smarter. But not just any dancing. Based upon the other most protective activities, Richard Powers, who teaches ballroom dancing at Stanford, suggests, “Involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working on your physical style.”
Split-second rapid-fire decision making.
Yes, we are talking about improvisation. When we improvise, we make innumerable calculations and adjustments, in the moment. We are not even aware of them. Powers refers to the follower in ballroom dance, who must interpret the invitations of the leader, and choose their next move with intelligence and intuition. So duet or group improv can bring even more benefit.
We copy to learn, we take classes, study others, and practice. But there comes a time when we must hop out on the branch, launch ourselves, and fly. Taking such risks benefits us in so many ways, some understood and others yet to come. Will our first efforts suck? Of course they will. Fail early, and fail often. That’s how we learn what works—through trial and error, persistence, and trying again.
We have been brainwashed into thinking that we have to be perfect or stay home
Women especially are tyrannized by the expectation of perfection. That’s just a myth designed to keep you sad and powerless. It’s not about being a perfect copy. It’s about you. Being you. 100% yourself, with all your beauty and variety and personality. The world needs your individual glory.
Fly your freak flag high.
PS Effortless Improvisation will help you fly!
(Last call for earlybirds. Prices rise on Monday.)
The third incarnation of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche died in a car crash in 1992. He was only 38. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak, during his lifetime. This was in the 70s. Rinpoche was a vigorous, warm speaker, young but clear and precise. During the question time after the lecture, someone asked him to talk about the difference between Hope and Prayer.
His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche the Third, Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge (Click here for some of his teaching).
Prayer, he said, is strong, filled with intention and energy.
Hope, however, is a weak passive thing. There is no action in hope—it is a wish without substance. But Prayer—prayer gets things done.
Rinpoche did not mean personal goods or recognition. He meant to benefit all sentient beings.
This is the only thing I remember from that lecture so long ago. It drove home to me the power of intention, of directed energy. I am not particularly religious, but prayer, to me, has great power. I do associate it with protective entities, in that I visualize their intercession and assistance as part of the package.
For example, when my kids were out late and I worried about them, imagining all sorts of terrible things, I chose instead to put out protective energy, to envision them safe and sound, in the embrace of protectors, in a glow of love. It gives me a sense of purpose, of action. Any time I find myself worrying about someone, or something, I do this.
I view this dance practice much like prayer.
Not in a religious way, but as filled with intention and energy. It gets things done. Not physical things like a million dollars or a nice big house (nam myoho renge kyo, anyone?). More like things that are not things—healing, connection, and joy.
I have a mission.
Awaken people to their own beauty and power
Enable them to express their unique individuality through art
Bring honor and appreciation to belly dance
Enjoy a life of creativity, adventure, mystery, abundance, and ease
Cultivate a radiant oasis of warmth and delight
Everything I do has this intention. It’s not just for me, but it is partly for me, so that I can do the other things. A leader is not a boss. A boss tells people what to do. A leader goes first, so that others see what can be done. A leader gives permission through their own actions.
When my ex was going to Alcoholics Anonymous, I was struck by the way they counted days of sobriety. If you fell off the wagon, you started over. Back to Day 1. That seemed rather harsh to me, that ten years of sobriety was out the window after a single beer. It took a while, but I got it:
Alcoholism is a progressive disease. Not like it votes for Bernie Sanders, either. In this case, it means that even when one does not drink, the disease progresses. If you stop drinking for ten years and then start again, you’re as bad off as if you never stopped. And one beer increases the likelihood that next there will be two beers, and then… So they want people to stay sober, since backsliding can be disastrous.
Dance practice is different.
Habit does have a lot to do with it, and not practicing today may make us less likely to practice tomorrow, but it’s not a life or death thing. Still, folks manage to make it a chore, and to beat themselves up if they miss a day. Many of us are so hard on ourselves, we take any opportunity to tear ourselves down. This is not cool.
All of us are at a different stage in our development. We are in a progression of healing and becoming (unlike alcoholism’s decline) Part of health for us is the development of self-compassion, of self love. We’re not all ready to to do this every day. And that’s okay.
Part of our practice is the development of self-compassion.
This brings me to this book presentation I attended a while back.
I loved the author—tall, skinny, gray pony tail, plaid shirt and blue jeans. Diffident, sweet, and brilliant. The presentation was during my nap time, and I was falling asleep at the beginning, but once he got going, I snapped to attention and listened in awe. I’m glad I went with friends, as all of us were equally blown away.
It was a long talk, extremely well-designed and beautiful organized. Even though I took (terribly tilted) pictures of many of his slides, I can’t begin to recreate its complexity.
The book’s premise is that our sense of God stems from an “innate neonatal model” of—Mommy.
Yes, this is genetic. This is the God is Love side. Mommy is always there. She loves us. She protects us. If we call her, she is there for us. As God is believed to be. The devotion to Mommy (or whatever caregiver), is innate, so it doesn’t make a difference if we had neglectful or absent caregivers; we still have this yearning for Her unconditional love and acceptance.
The OTHER side of God, the punishing, judgmental side, is the Social manifestation of God. God in the image of man, demanding obedience, sacrifice, atonement, etc. This one is a social construct—it is learned. The Love side is innate—we are born with it. Nature (Love) vs “Nurture” (Social), so to speak.
I’m having a hard time writing about this because it is so huge.
Here’s a (badly tilted) slide that looks at the social vs neonatal faces of God
Please note that when I say religion or religious I do not mean Christianity, but religion/spirit in a general way. Spirituality is important to me (or whatever I can call it without pushing new Age buttons). And apparently to women in general. This is one of the puzzles of religion.
Worldwide, women are more religious than men.
Wathey suggests that if the true root of our spiritual longing (our wish for the Beloved, in Sufi terms), is a wish for Mother, that it may help explain women’s religious leanings. Women give birth, so they have innate protective impulses.
I do not suggest that women are innately better suited to clean a house, wear a dress, or bat their eyelashes. Gendered behavior is a social construct—something we learn (like the angry God of righteousness). Men and women both can be excellent (or terrible) caregivers. But in animals that care for their young, particularly those in which mothers feed their young from their own bodies, there is instinctive behavior that feeds, that protects, etc (or woe betide the babies). It complements the neonatal impulse towards the mother.
Gerda Lerner suggests that, in part, the rise in patriarchy came as folks figured out the babies didn’t just magically appear—that it takes two to tango, as it were. And then all that righteousness took center stage, and women were reduced to breeding, housekeeping, and childcare (don’t get me started on this…).
Anyway, here’s my point.
We’ve all internalized a lot of angry righteousness.
We apply it to ourselves indiscriminately. This is the tearing ourselves down for every perceived error. Yet Buddhists, who believe in reincarnation, say that we have all been each others’ mother or child in one life or another—that we must look at each person with the love that we have for our own mother.
My mother’s relationship with her mother was not so warm. She preferred to view each person as her own child (she liked us ; ). Another friend reimagined her entire childhood, giving herself loving parents who were there for her and cared for her. We Westerners, with our complex, difficult family relationships, may find these approaches helpful. But I’ll go a step further.
Last week we talked about feeling safe. What, I ask you, is the deepest root of feeling safe, if not the love of a parent? Even if we had sh*t parents, we still yearn for that love.
I suggest that we give ourselves that mother love.
That we give to ourselves the caring, love, and compassion for which our biology has prepared us. That we provide the loving protection, the comfort that we needed in the past and did not get. Our own mothers may have been wonderful—or not. That’s not the point. The point is that we have been encouraged by society to judge ourselves and find ourselves wanting—we can balance that with self-compassion and care.
How do we do that? Hold ourselves close and send ourselves love. Cuddle that difficult inner child. Tell her you love her. Remember when she didn’t get the love and protection she needed. Be there for her now. Just love her. Tell her you are there for her forever more. Mean it.
So that’s why I say props to you no matter what. Because you, me, all of us, as human beings, are worthy of love and care.
This weekend, April 27: Aisha Ali in Vermont!This is a RARE event! Asha Ali did field work back in the 1970s with the Ghawazee in Egypt and the Ouled Nail in Algeria (at great personal risk). She is an excellent teacher and the real deal. There are a few spots left–if you can make it, this is HIGHLY recommended:
Saturday, May 18th: Boston area folks–Soumaya MaRose’s 7th “Thé à l’Oriental” with Tamalyn Dallal and Amar Gamal Garcia, and features a traditional Moroccan Iftar fest. Soumaya is a brilliant Moroccan Oriental dancer, and she does things right. This is a do-not-miss if you are in the area.
Saturday-Sunday, June 8-9:Cassandra Shore in midcoast Maine. Cassandra is exceptional. I can only remember one time she was in New England–and that was decades ago. Do not miss! Hosted by Kay Hardy Campbell, so you know it will be good.
Sunday, July 14: I’ll be teaching improv and group composition in Northampton MA (and performing that night at Cairo Cab). Limited space!, Registration is now open.
Last week, the toilet in my house backed up. It wasn’t the toilet, exactly, but some obstruction between it and the septic tank. Which hadn’t been pumped in over twenty-five years. Which is generally a Bad Thing, but it has worked perfectly all this time. The simple solution was to open the tank and snake backwards from there to break up the obstruction (and pump it, because, why not).
There was only one problem.
I only had the vaguest idea where that dang tank was (it had been decades since I last saw it). On top of that (so to speak), two feet of fresh, heavy, wet snow covered everything. We managed, but it took three guys several hours of intense effort to do the job. It would have been a lot easier if we’d known where to look.
Finding our authenticity is a lot like this.
We know we have an authentic self down there somewhere, but danged if we know where (or how) to find it. Why is that?
I wonder if it is connected to how the dance is currently taught.
Most of us are taught through choreography. We focus on how we look rather than how the dance feels in our bodies. We learn stylized versions of each move and copy the teacher as we fit them together in chains of movement. Chains is an apt metaphor here, because when we are constantly doing what we are told, what does that make us? Yeah. Not cool.
So what’s the alternative?
One of the key aspects of our dance is Agency. We belly dancers don’t need no stinkin’ badges. We are not anyone else’s to direct. We have all the power–we make all our own decisions in the moment. This is pretty heady stuff. But when all we do is pre-set choreography (even our own), we don’t have much time to engage with the moment–we are too busy remembering and executing an exact set of steps. For many of us, this pushes us away from power, confidence, and the authenticity that comes with them.
When we do our own creative heavy lifting, however, we regain our agency. We have creative control in the moment, at every moment. We become skilled improvisers. But improvisation often scares dancers raised on choreography. And why is that?
Perfectionism is the bane of our existence. Yeah, yeah, we all want things to be good. Blah blah. Whatever. I’m not talking about quality control. I’m talking about the serious problem of dancers hating on themselves to the extent that they are afraid to take the tiniest risk for fear of Making a Mistake.
First off, there is no true learning without mistakes.
It just doesn’t happen. No one can be Little Miss Perfect all the time, try as we might. Remember that thing about omelettes and broken eggs? Yeah. Can’t have one without the other. There’s a reason it’s called a Comfort Zone. Going outside it is uncomfortable.
Though you may feel frustrated at first, after a while, you get used to the feeling of learning and start to welcome it. And yes, you can do all this on your own, but it’s nice to have (or be) a teacher who empowers students’ artistic growth. But how to do do that?
Teachers empower authenticity by providing Opportunity, Scaffolding, and Practice of creative agency.
This means they make space for student creativity in performance. They provide opportunities and create a series of baby steps to walk the student through the process. And they do this over and over again, tweaking the process and providing practical, productive feedback along the way.
Practice doesn’t make perfect–it helps us recover more gracefully from mistakes. That graceful recovery, where we surf over all the weird, effed-up random stuff that happens in a show (or in life), while laughing with our guests? That’s where we want to be.
I’ll be teaching a one-hour video class on Empowering Authenticity for the Belly Dance Business Academy’s Online Teaching Summit, May 22-26, 2017.
The Summit will run 25 classes in 5 days with leading experts in the belly dance community. You can participate from your computer anywhere in the world. There will be 30 minute versions of each class available for free during the summit, but you can also purchase the entire package at a ridiculously cheap early bird price. Then you OWN ALL the classes and can watch at your leisure, AND you get bonus interviews and pdf extras from each teacher.
For many of us, this past election cycle triggered a lot of pain, outrage, and fear. Our friends, family, and selves are divided, by turns angry, frightened, sobbing, or all three, amplified by the rage we saw around us and in sensation-grabbing headlines. In the USA, half the population now wonders if they will live through the next four years. Of course, many perfectly nice people voted for Trump despite his more unsavory fans. But those unsavory fans have been validated. The stories already have begun.
A dancer went into an appliance store. She had always shopped there and been well-treated. On this day, however, she wore hijab, the headscarf Muslim women often wear. She was shocked to find herself followed around, condescended to, and generally treated like dirt. This was before the election.
A gal in LA going to the market yesterday reported getting her crotch grabbed by a guy with a MAGA hat. He whispered, “Are you scared now, you liberal cunt?” Yes, she was. She took the Bernie sticker off her car.
Many friends report rioting, threats, and unrest in nearby towns. Children are afraid to go to school.
Muslims, people of color, LGBT folks, and women all wonder what is next.
These are nothing. Shaun King is chronicling myriad such stories on his twitter: twitter.com/ShaunKing
Yes, this election is an American problem. But racism, sexism, intolerance, and bias are worldwide problems.
So what do we do? How do we go forward in the face of fear?
Stay in the present moment, focus on the good, and dance–but not just any dance.
Stay in the present moment
I went to a rough, scary school back in Junior High. It was in a neighborhood far from mine. I was a shy, quiet kid who got threatened regularly and hit or beat up more than once. I skipped school constantly to get a break. A few years later, I got a job in that same neighborhood. I had to take the same bus and walk on the same streets. I realized I was shaking with fear at the thought of going back there. So I developed a strategy.
I told myself that 99% of people are normal people who just want to get through their day (this is true). They have no interest in me. They don’t want to hurt me or harass me. I’m also different now. I’m older, smarter, more confident.
I made all that my mantra. I got on the bus, and I went to work. It took a lot of effort, but it helped that my mantra was demonstrably true. When I looked around (staying in the present moment), most everyone was just people, on their way to or from wherever they were going. And honestly, even at school, though I looked, acted, and dressed differently, the vast majority of kids never bothered with me.
Over a fairly short period of time, I was able to relax and stop being afraid all the time. When I got picked up in Cairo by a Muslim Brotherhood cabbie last year, I used the same strategy. It worked. I add long exhales now, and that helps, a lot. But the truth is, most people have their own problems. You are the last thing on their mind.
I know, that 1% of crazies are still out there.
They are angry. And they feel empowered. We may find ourselves in dangerous situations. But the more we learn to release fear, to keep our heads, the better a chance we have of getting away from them. And most of the time, we are worrying about them more than we are in front of them. This is key.
It’s waaayyy too easy to get into a downward fear spiral. It’s familiar ground, an addictive headspace, and it’s very hard to get back out again–and to stay out. But that’s what we have to do. Ninety-nine percent of the time, no one is attacking us. We are actually fine. But we feel like we are under attack. And worry feels useful when in fact it is destructive. Save your adrenaline for real emergencies. The rest of the time, breathe, open your eyes, and ground in the present. How do you do that?
Look around. Feel the safety of your space. Exhale for twice as along as your inhale. Keep doing this. You will feel calmer. Use your eyes. Look from side to side, up and down, focused and unfocused. Keep exhaling. You may feel shaky and weird, but then you will feel better.
People are mostly good. They are mostly trustworthy. What if we remember this, and repeat it to ourselves when we feel anxious? Studies show that we will be happier and have better health. When we focus on the good, we get the good.
Focus on the good
Dr. Kelly McGonigal wrote a thoughtful piece on finding good in this election cycle. She suggests that we do something, look for the good, and be the good.
Do something: Read about what’s going on and be informed. You can start with Matt Taibbi’s engrossing (and meticulously researched) book, The Divide. You can find this in your library or as an ebook via OverDrive.
Look for the good: There are good things happening all over, but they are hard to see when bleeding leads on every network channel. For example, Minnesota elected Ilhan Omar, a Somali Muslim woman, to their legislature. That’s pretty cool. Catherine Cortez Masto became the nation’s first Latina Senator. We also have a first Native senator (plus a Native federal judge, and the first disabled woman Senator to be elected (she’s also a veteran). http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/historic-firsts-achievements-election-day-2016/
Be the good: A friend subscribed to several quality newspapers to support objective journalism. I donated recently to Standing Rock’s legal defense fund. Whatever is important to you, do something to help that thing along. Teach a class, make a video, or donate to a cause. Take some time or some money and put it to work for good. Or just be nicer to people impacted by hate and intolerance. Smile and be genuinely welcoming to people of color, LGBT, women, and refugees. Make someone’s day a little brighter. Little acts of kindness have a huge power to ripple outwards.
Dance (but not just any dance…)
Improvisational belly dance is one of the best things we can do to feel calmer, brighter, and more grounded. Especially when we couple dance with breath, when we let go of our cares and let the body just move and relax with the music.
Play easy music, relax, and enjoy yourself. Even a few minutes will help. And if you take 20 minutes to just play and relax, the effects last for hours. Click the purple button for a free booklet on how to release fear through belly dance. [sdm_download id=”3134″ fancy=”0″ new_window=”1″ color=”purple” button_text=”Release Fear through Belly Dance”][sdm-download-counter id=”3134″]
Take time to consciously relax.
That’s a hugely revolutionary act all by itself. Being kind to others, being kind to ourselves, dancing and having fun, all of these are far more subversive than they seem. Reject fear. It doesn’t feel safe to do so, but that is a self-perpetuating function of fear.
I send you my love and all my strength. I am here, holding you close in my heart, every minute of every day. Remember this.
PS last call for the Compassionate Critique Salon!
I’ve been reading a lot of novels in the last few weeks, since I discovered OverDrive, which lets me take ebooks out from the library and read them on my phone. I am ridiculously happy reading on my phone, which, as a book person, I never thought would happen. I’ve been binge-reading Ursula Le Guin, Richard Kadry, and Neil Gaiman. It’s been such a pleasure to read beautifully written books!
The other day I read a passage in Gaiman’s book, American Gods that just floored me. Sighing, I thought, “I will never be this good, no matter how long I write.” Oddly, this didn’t depress me–I get such a lift from great work. More oddly, the rejoinder that came right to mind was, “No, but if I put the effort in, I can certainly be good enough.”
It’s funny to think that, isn’t it? “Good enough” is kind of second best. It was was a catch-phrase a friend and I enjoyed over the summer. “I’ll never be as amazing as you,” one of us would sigh. And the other would kindly respond, “Well, if you work reallly hard, someday you might just be good enough.” And then we would laugh our heads off.
Good Enough has a lot going for it.
When I had to make a lot of repairs to my house so my insurance wouldn’t get cancelled, we worked like dogs–but as the hour of the inspection approached, I realized we would never be finished in time. I almost just gave up. Then I thought, well, it won’t be done–but maybe it will be good enough to succeed anyway. And it was. So many times this has happened. It’s not perfect. But it does what it needs to do. It’s enough. And that’s good. And next time it will be better.
It’s like this with the book too–which is so close to done, it’s scary. What if it’s not good enough? But it will be. It won’t be perfect. Nothing is. It won’t please everyone. Nothing does. I’m sure it could be better. Everything can. But it will be good enough.
We are so hobbled by the notion that if we can’t be the BEST we might as well stay home.
That anything less than perfection is failure. Every artist struggles to reconcile the image of what they wanted to create with the reality in front of them. Even Neil Gaiman finds a typo in every book he publishes, yet American Gods still won every award in sight and is being made into a TV show. I don’t have to win every award, nice as that would be. I just want to make work that satisfies me and that readers buy and enjoy.
It’s the same with dance.
You put in the effort, and you get better. But there will be mistakes, errors, disasters. That’s how you know you are learning. After a while, you have fewer, but each time you put yourself in the position of being a novice again, you go back to that awkward place of beginner-dom. but there is nothing better for us than to be thrown periodically back into that place. Real learning is a difficult, messy, uncomfy process. But that;s how we increase our intelligence and gain new skills. By putting ourselves outside of our own comfort zones, taking risks, and–failing.
It’s not the failing that’s important–well, it is.
Failing means that we tried to do something new and difficult. We put ourselves out there. We went for it. But there is more to it than simply falling on our faces. There is the getting back up again. There is the continuing. The keeping going. Persistence. Perseverance. That is what makes a difference. So many of us have had dreadful setbacks–but we continue on. Not everyone gets to do that. Some of us are unable to go on. Those of us who can have something for which to be deeply grateful.
I will never be Neil Gaiman.
Or Bill Watterston, who created Calvin and Hobbes. Or Elena Lentini, queen of our dance (and that one does sting). Here she is, thanks to Tarifa Salem (Bobby Farrah’s niece): https://youtu.be/regqBiXdLrc
But I can be me.
And I can be a pretty darn good version of me. Maybe not the Me I see shining in my mind’s eye–the Platonic Ideal of me. I’m just too damn tired for now. But I can keep going. I can keep learning. I can keep challenging myself. I’ll fail. But I’ll also succeed.
We spend so much energy bemoaning our failures and not nearly enough appreciating our strength, good fortune, success, and persistence. Let’s cut ourselves a little slack. Let’s be grateful that we are all here, together, and that we can dance.
Let’s try liking ourselves.
I like you. You like me. Why not like ourselves?
PS I’ll be teaming up with Rosa Noreen and Nadira Jamal for another Compassionate Critique Salon. We will celebrate each dancer’s strengths as well as some suggestions for growth. Get some feedback for yourself or watch and learn. It all happens on November 15th. http://www.bellydancegeek.com/compassionate-critique-salon/
Thank you all so much for the CompassionateCritique event! I appreciate your discerning eyes on my dance, especially I have had no outside critique in over 12 years. I have just been bumbling along on my own, doing my best to apply what I learn as I can. I also took copious notes on everyone else’s critiques too because, as it was pointed out, there is so much to learned from other people’s critiques.
All 3 of you were great at articulating what I see in dancers but can’t always explain. So it was also very useful to me as far as being able to give better critiques as a teacher. I also really appreciated the different perspectives that each of you brought to this salon.
Thanks again for offering it. I hope you will do it again.
Wednesday, November 23-30: Sausan’s Raqs Al-Masriya, Internet Choreography and Belly Dance Challenge www.raqsalmasriya.com
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.