How to Enjoy Dance Practice Part III

Don't Prepare, Just Show Up
Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up

In this series, we look at how dance has turned from a pleasurable fun activity to one of perfectionism and hard work. The series began with the observations of a dance friend, Sarah, who noticed that practicing improvisation was seen as less valuable than drilling or fitting combos into other songs.

Our first strategy was making time for creative work. Read Part I here.

Our second strategy was Opting for the Most Pleasurable. Read Part II here.

Our third strategy is Share Your Joy. 
Sarah said,
“I feel like I am not fulfilling my duties to the audience if I’m not sharing myself “enough.” But doing that authentically and without trying so hard that it becomes pure performance is a challenge.”

How do you bring confident spontaneity into a performance?

Share your joy.

Dance is a social activity. Even for the millions of us who don’t perform, we may dance at parties and social events. We risk being seen, and with it, being judged—and possibly found wanting. That can feel pretty daunting—especially for an introvert. But sharing joy is a skill. How do we learn to share our pleasure in the dance? Practice, of course. How do we practice sharing? Build it up, and build it in.

Build it up. At first, we may struggle to give ourselves permission to play, to enjoy, to “dance like no one is watching.”
There are techniques to help with this.

  • Dance with your eyes closed.
  • Avoid the mirror.
  • Breathe in time to the music.
  • Slow down so far that the shapes of the moves you know so well disappear, and let the body shift and change the pathway as it likes.
  • Break the rules.
  • Break up your conditioned responses, always going for the what feels most delicious.
  • Sometimes you will do things that aren’t pretty. It’s okay.
  • Relax. This will take time. Don’t rush. Have fun.

Build it in. Over time, you will feel happier and more comfortable in your own skin. Your body (and you) will express the music as it streams in you and through you. You (and your body), will feel more confident in your choices. You will be having fun! Now you are ready to share.

Dance like someone is watching. Dance as if your whole room is watching—and you love it, and you love them, and they love you. Stoke the fire of your heart with the joy of friends. Wrap yourself in a warm pink aura of love and joy. Welcome every corner of the room. You don’t have to go them. They come to you.

Magnetize yourself. Allow the joy of the room into your gravitational field. Oriental dance is inwardly-directed. It is a dance of sidelong looks, playfulness, and recycled energy. It is a visual sillage, the lingering scent of a lovely perfume. For every out, there is an in. So bring the audience in, too.

Consider the egg. Does it go running after the sperm? Never! The egg, ensconced in its cushy nest, leisurely examines the wriggling sperm. We used to think that the pushiest sperm got the egg, but that is not the case. The egg chooses.  Women choose. We, as dancers, choose. We are goddesses.

Dance is a benediction. It is a gift we give, a blessing we enact. We do not need an audience’s approval—or anyone’s. We dance as a gift. It is right and good for the guests to offer us money, adoration and so forth. But we don’t need any of these things.

We are whole, inviolate, replete with resources. Making offerings enriches the guests. We accept their offerings out of graciousness and compassion.

Express the joy. Our guests feel what we feel. Our anxiety or fear gives them anxiety and fear. Our joy in the moment gives the guests joy in the moment. So we call our joy. We allow love to well up inside ourselves. In this way, we love our guests. In your practice, express joy.

Welcome the room. Draw them in with loving, sidelong glances. From your center within yourself, you become the center of the room, the world, the universe. You, as the dancer, are the omphalos, the navel of the world. Everything comes to you. And you reflect back meaning, depth, and joy.

See you next week with Part IV!


Your comments are welcome.


PS Want to inspire, amaze and delight?

Please take a look at How to Create Dance Art (CDA), an online composition intensive for improvisation & choreography, coming this spring.

CDA has a fabulous Premium bonus this year with a series of lectures by Dunya McPherson on Space, Time, and Design.

These come from her Juilliard choreography study back in the 70s, when there was incredible innovation in the field. Most of those pioneers never wrote books and many have passed away.

This rare material comes infused with Dunya’s decades of study with Sufi and Oriental dance and music. It is a special, remarkable opportunity to acquire some valuable, unusual material.

There is a special early deal at the end of November. Please have a look right away as it is very short term.

How to Enjoy Dance Practice Part II

Part 1 is here

In this series, we look at how dance has turned from a pleasurable fun activity to one of perfectionism and hard work. The series began with the observations of a dance friend, Sarah, who noticed that practicing improvisation was seen as less valuable than drilling or fitting combos into other songs.

Our first strategy was making (and defending) time for creative work. You can read Part I here.

We concluded that whatever it takes, it is in our best interests to make the time we need for our creative work. And creativity is play, plain and simple. Which brings us to our next strategy,

Opt for the most pleasurable.

Painting by Donna Marie Buchanan
Painting by Donna Marie Buchanan

How often we deny ourselves! Day after day we choke down the dreary, overcooked vegetables of life. Even in our dance practice, we feel obliged to work hard at every moment, to glare at ourselves with pointed eyes and find endless faults. Everything is an exercise in perfection. Everything is a reminder of how we fail to measure up. We cannot even celebrate success—there is always so much more to do.

Sarah explained,

 I’m fairly certain that this is at least partly just a symptom of the larger issue within our culture that devalues any sort of self-care or downtime. Hell, we have even made relaxing “self-care” so that it sounds enough like a job that we can give ourselves permission to do it. 

We feel that if we aren’t working or being productive (even if we are productively relaxing), it is somehow self-indulgent and, therefore, bad. But there is also that perfectionist tendency there, too, and the idea that there is a right way to do each thing or respond to a piece of music. 

Where is our hot fudge sundae? We have so bought into the shame and blame of our society that it even creeps into this luscious, earthy dance. Let’s kick it out.

This dance is a miracle of pleasure. The moves feel delicious in the body. People may think that improv doesn’t develop dance skills—but they are wrong. Take the time to explore a movement. Let it evolve, let your body enjoy it and find the most yummy, rich, elegant expression if it—that is not easy. It is a skill that we learn. This means it will be hard at first, and the change from rote movement may be challenging. But it is so pleasurable, after a while, it doesn’t feel like work.

It’s like the “work” of eating the most delicious meal ever. It’s nourishing and good for you, sure. Yet so thrilling is the pleasure of the meal that it eclipses all those mundane elements. Even a simple meal can have this quality. Everything is better when the ingredients are fresh and made with love.

Celebrate enjoyment. We’ve all heard that the feeling is the most important thing. This pleasure in movement is one of the feelings we want to cultivate in dance. We usually think of feeling as an emotional thing—but dance is also physical (surprise!). The body feels the movement. It feels its connection to the music. The body is wise and beautiful. It will give us our movement with the greatest of pleasure when it allow it to connect. Yet we control every moment of our dance with stylized shapes, combos and choreographies.

We pre-create our dances so we don’t have to risk anything. But these canned combos and dances are like automated telephone help lines. We get so desperate for a live person, soon we start banging the phone on the table, screaming AGENT!

Yet agency is one of the hallmarks of our dance—the alive dancer, reveling in her feeling, who responds in the moment to the music. It is this al fresco creation, presented with love, that nourishes both dancer and guests. It is more of a risk than ordering out or heating up a frozen dinner—but the rewards are far, far greater than the risks.

So how do you bring confident spontaneity into a performance?
Part 3 is here.



PS Want to have more fun with dance? Alia offers Creativity Coaching. Develop the time and space to bring joy to your dance–and life. For details, see here.

How to Enjoy Dance Practice Part I

Beignet and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde, NOLA. Photo by Tamalyn Dallal

Remember fun? Doing things just for the sake of enjoyment? Laughing with friends, riding a carousel, exploring a new road—even window shopping, or having coffee and a treat with a friend. Where the heck did that go? It seems like we do every thing because we have to. Even going to dance class or to an event has somehow gotten mixed up with hard work.

Sarah, a dance friend, recently shared this observation.

I have noticed a distinct feeling that improvising somehow doesn’t count as practice, not only for me, but among other dancers I have talked to. Drills count, refining technique counts, even fitting combos into a song counts. But improv is “just” fooling around or not a productive use of time. Or they have to be “working” the improv so hard that they really aren’t improvising in a pure sense, because they are thinking so hard about being good or getting stuff right. 

Dance has become hard work. Practice is something we have to do to get better—yet we never work hard enough. We are never good enough. And it never stops. Ever.

But dance is supposed to be fun. It’s play. Of course, if you are a professional dancer, there is an element of “work.” After all, this is your day job. But even so, the ethos of this dance is one of relaxation, musical connection, and joy. These qualities are not going to come from grimly drilling yet another combo. And, like a genuine smile, they are hard to fake. So we have to practice them, like any other skill. Wait, how do you practice the skill of enjoying yourself? Good question! Here are three ways to have fun with dance.

Make time to play, opt for the most pleasurable, and practice sharing.

Make time to play. None of us has buckets of extra time floating around—and even if we do, we probably have a lot of entrenched Resistance preventing us from using it for fun. Maybe we are busy procrastinating—that takes a lot of time. Or maybe we are angry about something—obviously we cannot let go of that to have fun. But that is exactly what we must do. For any creative enterprise, one of the hardest tasks is carving out the time and defending it with our lives. Yet it is also one of the most rewarding things we can do. So how do we do that?

Designate the time and space. Don’t leave it to chance. Maybe it means getting up earlier (I know, it hurts, so much!). Maybe we find a private corner, get earphones, utilize small moments of downtime—even include our children. Just hoping it will happen means it probably won’t. We have to make the time, and then smooth the way towards using it. Schedule it in your planner, put it on your calendar. Use and app or an alarm. Do whatever it takes. There are myriad methods for for helping us remember to use the time we have carved (I favor But the most important element is the decision to do it—followed by the determination to protect it.

Defend the time and space with your life. Everybody and every thing will do its best to get in between you and your Creative Time (one of the many benefits of getting up even earlier is that no one else is awake to derail you). Become like a tiger protecting her cubs—fearless, ferocious, and determined. The phone will ring, someone will need a ride, your boss/mother/kids will get sick—there is no end to the trickery of Resistance. Just Say No. This is a skill. At first, it will seem like a horrible transgression. After a while, it will become normal. You can even do it pleasantly.

It is in everyone’s best interests to make the time we need to do our creative work. We will be better, happier, and more generous people when we care for our creative selves. And creativity is play, plain and simple. Which brings us to our next strategy,

Opt for the most pleasurable.

Part II is here



PS Want more time and space for art? Alia offers Creativity Coaching. Develop the time and space to bring joy to your dance–and life. For details, see here.

Why we dance—the secret surprise (and how to find it)

Those little voices....
Those little voices….

You know those little voices that always rag on us to just quit and be done with it?  That we will never amount to anything? What does that even mean? Like we will not be world-class famous dancers with tons of money and fame? Why is that the benchmark of success in our dance?

Few of us dance solely for adulation or money. It’s awesome that dance gives us those things, but the dance is deeper than this. It’s the connection to the music we crave—the sense of oneness that we value. Yet all the emphasis is on the pretty girl on stage in a costume.

Most people who do this dance do not teach or perform. They dance with friends at home or at parties. Why would they do that? Dance around the house and play music, women of all ages. A dance of joy. What does that really mean?

This dance has power. We know this. And not all of it in the venue of performance. That in some ways is the smallest of it attributes. Because it is a dance of joy, that is why its performances have power—they bring joy, both to viewers and dancers. That is also why it is so popular offstage as well. Doing or viewing this dance lifts one’s mood. Joy is there for all of us.

I sometimes hear disdain for the “hobbyists.” You know, the ones who take classes, fill workshops, and pay the bills The ones with relatively normal lives who just want to dance and have fun. Because we all should be serious dancers who work hard.

Well, surprise. Maybe the hobbyists have the right idea. I’m all for performance. I am a performer. I love it. Many of us do. I love teaching. I’m good at it. So I get it. I’m not suggesting anyone stop. People feel called to open studios, develop professional companies, dance at birthday parties; I say YES to all of it. But this dance is a folk dance, done by folks, in their homes. And that is a legitimate, honorable relationship with the dance.

What if we stop beating ourselves up for notgoing anywhere” with our dance? Think of all the people who do yoga, or tai chi. They don’t look to be performers. Few even look to be teachers. Most of them just go to class, a workshop, a retreat. The activity is part of their life. It gives them physical and emotional benefits. Maybe a community. And they enjoy it.

The same with dance

The physical interaction with the music is pleasurable in and of itself. And the more in sync we get the better and more beautiful and delicious it feels. Think how lovely our 20 minutes could be if we focused on the sensuality of the moves and their relationship with the music. Right there is a good reason for pursuing mastery. For the pleasure of the activity all by itself. On our own or with friends.

That sounds radical, doesn’t it? Most of us don’t move for the enjoyment of it. We practice to get better. We work. What if we enjoyed ourselves instead?

Something to think about…



PS With the encouragement of my friend Mackay Rippey, of Lyme Ninja Radio, I’ll teach a free 4-week web series this fall called Belly Dance Foundation Flow–an exploration of belly dance movement for healing and joy. It will be a lovely, rich experience.

Update: Mackay and I recorded an interview for his podcast;; the web series followed. It is all archived–you can get the recordings here. This is a totally free series. All are welcome.

Music: Fun African mix: