Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Do

Hidden

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it might.

So we use Slow Movement to stay safe. 

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

Doing this work is like a cleanse for the soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never has been. It’s play.

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

So I did.

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

So it works.

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

It’s play.

Let’s play.

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

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

Love,
Alia 

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

Why is Agency the Soul of Belly Dance (and how do we find it)?

Qualities-of-Oriental-Dance

Whatever Lola Wants is a fun film about about an American postal worker (Lola), who falls for an Egyptian man, and, when he returns home, follows him to Egypt. In the meantime, another friend sets her to find the reclusive belly dance star Asmahan, who disappeared from public view following a mysterious scandal.

Spoiler alert: Lola finds Asmahan, who reluctantly agrees to teach Lola to dance.  In general, the dancing is nothing special, but there is a great scene where Asmahan explains the heart of the dance. She tells a frustrated Lola that she will not demonstrate moves because, “You are not me. I can’t teach you how to be yourself. … Take that energy and use it. Use everything you are living. Don’t run from your feelings.” We are meant to honor our own feeling. We are meant to make the dance our own. 

Agency is key

We are not meant to be little dance clones, copying someone else. We are meant to celebrate our unique, beautiful, individual selves, with our own power and agency. This focus on dancer agency–the dancer making their own choices, following their own intuition in the moment–is built in to the dance. Here is a list of cultural values I wrote for Midnight at the Crossroads.

Qualities of Oriental Dance: It's all about AGENCY 

I combine these with three principles (which became the three sections of the book): The Feeling in the Moment; Different Every Time; and Bring the Joy.

To become a wonderful dancer, to approach the true soul of the dance, we must find our own way. 

But how do we do that? 

We have to look, experiment, make mistakes, and experiment some more. It helps to be willing to let go of being perfect, flawless, always right. Learning is about messiness. It is about making mistakes. It is about curiosity and discovery

This is the purpose of the 90 Day Dance Party. 

We 90 Days to experiment and discover, to be curious about our body’s wisdom, to learn how we personally feel the music–we have time to actually feel the music, to discover our own body’s response to it. 

And there is a further magic that happens as we dare to touch into the body, to notice our own physical sensations, to be curious about how they shift and change.

Healing

Most of us are pretty stressed out these days, amirite? We are over-scheduled and under-resourced. The news is harrowing. We run as fast as we can just to stay in the same place. This adds up. It’s like being splashed with mud every day and never getting a chance to wash it off, day after mont after year.

The 90 Days is like a lovely bath, soothing, relaxing, and healing. Allowing the body to express itself undoes the knots of tension. The 20 minutes gives the brain and body a rest from all the daily cares. This adds up, too. It adds up to self-compassion, groundedness, resilience, and–dare I say it? Joy. 

So where do we start? Someone (Hi, Dawnie!) once described the 90 Days as “a series of magical signposts that point in different directions for each person.”  What do we do with that?

It helps to have a guide

That would be me ; ). 

This is why we have weekly video calls. This is why we have the Bonus Pack of Joy, with daily interaction. So folks can ask questions and get answers–so each of us can find out own way to our true self, our true dance. Personal style isn’t about endless copying. It’s about interior discovery and valuing ourselves. Yes, we need the basic vocabulary. But we also need basic self-love and respect. We need confidence. We need a place to make mistakes so we can discover our ability to recover from them gracefully. 

To celebrate the upcoming 90 Days, I’m including a Love Note each week.

Here is the very first Love Note from the very first 90 Day Dance Party. 

D1 Mindsets

Today we begin. Today we gather up our gilded inspiration, put the music on to play, and ascend into the heavens. We breathe, and move, and become one with the music.

For some of us, this will be easy. We have practiced it many times before. For some of us, this may be more difficult. This may be the first time we have ever tried. We may yearn for this state, yet be convinced we will never get there. We expect to fail.

This note is for you.

There are skills and there are talents. Talents you are born with. Maybe you have good hearing. Or steady hands. Or a beautiful face. Lucky you.

Skills we learn. We figure out how to do something, and we practice until we can do it well. Someone with a wonderful voice who doesn’t bother to develop it may not sing as well as someone with a decent voice who learns and trains. Someone with a beautiful face who frowns and sneers will be less attractive than someone with a plain face who consciously adopts a warm, friendly expression.

Letting go of the scurrying, thinking brain and tuning in to the intuitive side is a skill we can learn. But first we must realize it is possible. This belief in our ability to solve problems and to learn new things is called a “Growth Mindset.” The belief that one’s talents and intelligence are limited and can’t be changed is a “Fixed Mindset.” Carol Dweck, the Stanford professor who pioneered this research, has found that these mindsets can be changed.

Knowing that intelligence is malleable frees us to stop proving ourselves and start enjoying our experiments. If it is an experiment, there is no failure—you do an experiment to see what happens.

Today, it’s just an experiment. The outcome doesn’t matter. There will always be tomorrow. And the next day. The less the outcome matters, the more enjoyment you can have in the moment. And enjoying the moment is what life— and improvisation—is all about.

*****
The 90 day Dance Party.
We start Feb 16. Come join us. Come find yourself. Come find the treasure within yourself. It’s there. It has been waiting for you all this time. 

Love, 
Alia

How to Interpret Music–through movement

As we count down to the  90 Day Dance party, we celebrate the 90 Days with Love Notes from previous 90 Days. This one is Day 19 from 2018. I’ve noticed that many dancers are terrified of making a mistake–but making mistakes is an essential part of how we learn and grow. The 90 Days is an excellent venue for experimentation with lots of room for happy mistake-making!

How to Interpret Music Through Movement

Among the many things we worry about is if we are doing our dance “right.” And a practice like the 90 Days often causes some fear that we may dance “wrong” <gasp!> to music that has specific genre conventions… which makes it hard to have any fun at all.

How to Interpret Music through Movement: Genre, Intention, and Feeling

So here are a few guidelines to help us feel more confident. We’ll look at Genre, Intention, and Feeling.

The Genre

Even within belly dance, we have many musical genres. There is folkloric music from assorted regions, tarab songs, entrance pieces, the list goes on–and that’s just belly dance. Worldwide, there are countless genres. Some connect to specific dance forms, some are meant for listening, some have lyrics, and on and on.

For those who plan to perform, it’s wise to understand the background of your chosen music.Then you can decide upon the degree to which you will conform to its cultural context and expectations–and the degree to which you will depart from those expectations.

As artists, we make these choices in any art form. In your own home or your own party, it is perfectly fine, in fact, helpful, to dance however you want to whatever you want; however, as a performer, you want to know the rules of your chosen medium so you can break them intelligently.

For example, I love tango music. I’ve taken the time to learn tango, at least a little, and made a point of learning from Argentine dancers. When I dance at home, I can do whatever I please (which rarely looks anything like tango).

If I were to perform, however, I’d be careful to show that I understand the context of the music by referencing (at the very least), it’s traditional movement vocabulary, costuming, and attitude. Doing so expands my range of expression, and it’s just plain respectful of the dance–and its culture.

The Intention

Another layer is our intention for the piece. What do we want to express? Who is our audience? How do we want them to feel? How do we best create the effects we desire? While these are seen as performative concerns, home and party dancers may enjoy creating specific effects just as much as performers do.

Intention also relates to the venue. For example, when I perform in a restaurant or nightclub, I will do a classic show. People go to clubs to relax and forget their cares. They want to have fun. A wedding, even a birthday party, is also like this, but includes a big to-do over the special guests, photo ops and the like.

Nobody in these contexts wants to watch any strange theatrical thing or dramatic downer. And no one wants to hear sad songs about heartbreak or betrayal, either. As artists, we take these things into account. If we only want to do dramatic theatrical weirdness, we don’t book trad parties. Then everyone is happy.

The Feeling

Many of our choices above may come from the feeling we get from the music. I’m putting it last here, but truly it is first in importance. One big reason to dance however to whatever is to find a way into the music, to find out what we feel, to find out what the music suggests to us.

If we deprive ourselves of this experimental phase, for example, if we are afraid to dance the wrong way to some song, if we are afraid the belly dance police can see into our little dance space and will come and arrest us, then we never get to discover many wonderful things about the music and our body’s response to it.

It’s essential to allow ourselves to experience the music fully. If we like it enough to develop it, then we can do all that reflective and research process. But if the most important thing in belly dance is the feeling, then it behooves us to develop our capacity to feel the music, and that means letting our body experience it fully.

The more we practice this with a wide variety of music, the more it becomes second nature. So even if we have a somewhat balky relationship to improv with belly dance music, maybe because our dance education was too tightly choreographed, through allowing our body to respond however it feels to a variety of music, we also train ourselves into responding freely to whatever music, including belly dance.

One Caveat

Of course, different music inspires different kinds of movement. And any genre may have specific vocabulary. And we have to be aware of this to give the music its due. But it’s through relaxed, intuitive movement that these things come together and look good.

It is sad to see a dancer conscientiously run through her little repertoire of genre moves with all the studiousness of a 4th grader in a school play. I have seen even good dancers do this. Honestly, we don’t have to constantly pull out those little Lego blocks of movement. We can allow things to drip and meld. This is who we are, and it’s okay.

When we have the movement in our bodies, when we allow our bodies to respond organically to the music, we bypass awkwardness and come into our own style.

And that is where we want to be.

Questions? Please ask!

Music? Here ya go! 

John Berberian’s Expressions East from 1964

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfDsB0SEsQc

Love,

Alia

PS Do you worry when you improv? Join me for a FREE web class, “6 Ways to Melt Improv Fear.”
Yes, there will be a recording!

Please invite your friends! Send them to aliathabit.com/melt-fear 
Thanks!

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

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

Here is one of my favorites.

Day 16/2018. This is your brain on joy

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

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

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

Here are some of the results of one such study.

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

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

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

What does this mean for us?

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

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

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

What if we told ourselves better stories?

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

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

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

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

Olympic athletes visualize their success.

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

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

So…

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

Practice feeling joy.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine–having fun with improv! You can ; )

Or…

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

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

With all my love and Happy New You!
Alia

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

New Years Eve Radio & Show + 90 Days Sharegasm price ends Wednesday

It’s New Year’s Eve! 
I’ll be dancing in the Rabble Rousers show at Echo, the Leahy Center in in Burlington VT! We go on at 11:30 or so–come hang out if you are in the area. 

For those at home, come visit with me, Cassandra ShorePatricia Cumbie (author of The Shape of a Hundred Hips), on the radio! We’ll be talking about belly dance and healing, artistry, music, and cultural values. It’s sure to be a winner–even our planning meeting was a blast. It’s 7-8pm CST (see this in your time zone) on the programWrite On Radio, KFAI Minnesota

And finally, the Sharegasm+1 price for the 90 Days expires at midnight on Jan 1. I’ll wait until the end of the day, but if you want the very best deal on the most unique event in all of belly dance, find a friend to dance with and take advantage of this offer. There’s even a payment plan.

The 90 Day Dance party costs about as much as one-day workshop–but it gives you three months of personal support in a really cool group of interesting people doing something different, fascinating, and wildly fulfilling. 

Each person’s experience is unique–someone once characterized the Love Notes as signposts on a journey that pointed in different directions for each person who read them. 

Everyone has their own path to their true self, the real you. That’s what this is all about–getting to that place, where you are in the moment, enjoying yourself, your dance, they music, and everything is YES. 

Come join us!

Love, 
Alia

The 90 Days Rides Again!

Greetings, mes amis!

I am happy to announce that we will once again embark upon

The 90 Day Dance Party! 

AND there is special Holiday +1 Sharegasm pricing in place until Dec 31. That means you get the 90 Days for two people for the regular price of one (plus $1). What is the 90 Days you may ask? Find out more here: AliaThabit.com/90Days

Coming Soon: fun things to help empower you–and your dance!

Live video conference: How to Dance for the Camera
Artist’s Creative Expression (ACE) Mastermind
Webinar: ODE: Oriental Dance Empowerment Protocol
e-Course: How to Make Dance Class Fun

More in a bit!
Love,
Alia

How to transition effortlessly between moves

pic of sheet music

Imagine, you’re dancing along and suddenly you have a better idea. So you go with it. Then you have another. But that one’s not so good, so you switch to something else. Then another, and… It’s like a bad dream. In a split second you are trapped in your head, worrying and thinking. How can we transition gracefully between moves during improv?

Structure, Timing, and Relaxation

Structure

Music has structure. Even a taqsim with no rhythm has structure. We make our transitions in accordance with this structure. We make them between the phrases. Between the measures. This is why we listen to so much music, so we can intuit the structure. This is why we want to know our songs, so we have an idea of when the changes come. It’s fun to dance blind to music we never heard before, but it’s all the listening we have done in the past allows us to do this.

Where is the most organic place to change? Every song, every section, every phrase, every beat has a beginning, middle, and end. There are verses and choruses, calls and repeats, rules  of 4, etc. And there is almost always a change at every 4 measures. That is a great place to switch. (Some songs have 3 measure phrases, some two, and some have sections with longer phrases—it doesn’t matter.) The end of a phrase (or a measure) is the best place to switch. You will always look in synch.

Timing (a quick lesson on music).
So here comes the end of the phrase—what do you do? You switch on the and, usually between the 4 at the end of one measure and the 1 at the beginning of the next.

The rhythm can be broken down verbally to accommodate all these notes. For example, 1(and 2 and 3 and 4 and) 2(and 2 and 3 and 4 and) etc. In music, it’s often phrased thus: 1 a-and-a 2 a-and-a 3 a-and-a 4 a-and-a.

Music can have lots of notes per measure, but the base measure is usually 4 counts. (Most of our music is 4/4. There are many other time signatures—3/4 is waltz time, 9/8 is karsilama, etc, in which case the base count is different). Each count can also be divided up to fit many notes in the measure (see below for more).

Here’s the music for Ah Ya Zein. The horizontal lines show which note to play. The vertical lines show the demarcation between each measure.

Musical notation for Ah Ya Zein
Musical notation for Ah Ya Zein

 And here’s Ah Ya Zein in person. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3tt_KvAz4o It’s being played as a 2/4. You can hear the ayyoub rhythm under the melody going dum, ka dum tek; dum, ka dum tek1, and2, and 1, and2, and . You would change on the final and (after the 2), so you are ready to go on the 1.

1,

and

2

and

dum,

ka

dum

tek

Here’s a maksoum beat: dum tek, tekka tek, dum tekka tek, (tekka). This translates to 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. That last and is the place where you change.

1

and

2

and

3

and

4

and

dum

tek

tekka

tek

dum

tekka

tek

(tekka)

A drummer will often play that last bit of the phrase differently. They may play more or fewer beats, speed up or slow down—for they are also signaling the change to the rest of the musicians. And if there is to be a change in rhythm, they will signal that quite vigorously, often with a series of dums, as he has to adapt as well. Understanding the rhythm helps us feel this most basic structure of the music (the melody brings us to the higher levels of structure).

While you wait for the moment, relax. Relaxation is the key to everything. The more we get chased by worry and stress, the harder everything gets. When we feel stressed in dance, it’s time to slow down and start Rhythmic Breath. Breathe with the music and slow down. Whatever you are doing, no matter how fast the music, intentionally relax. Remember to enjoy yourself. This alone is radical.

When we are relaxed, suddenly everything is possible. Everything is easier. Everything is more enjoyable. When we slow down before a change, we get to see the change coming. The space around the change between phases opens up like sunny day. It becomes easy to pass through the change, even gracious.

As you find the spaces in the rhythm, you can change even more frequently. Try changing with every measure, every beat even, as in stop motion. Tribal fusion does this a lot, and it can make for some nice accents. But remember the melody, too. The rhythm is the most basic part of the music. The melody is a heavenly palace of textures and warm breezes to waft you along.

Keep it relaxed! Too many changes wears everyone out, including the dancer. The music repeats—so can you. Take the time to explore and enjoy each section. People want to have a good time. When dancers relax and enjoys themselves, so do the people.

Take your time. Connect to the rhythm. Express the melody. Enjoy your dance.

Want a more structured approach? An actual class? I invite you to check out

Embodiment: Musicality for Belly Dance

A fun, easy way to to embody the music. 

Love,
Alia

What is your biggest problem with improvisation?

freeze response

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

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

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

We might make <gasp!> mistakes.

freeze response

But there are also benefits to improvisation 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show up
Be present
Bring joy

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

Love,
Alia

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

How do you remember choreography?

How do you remember choreography?

This is one of the questions I hear most often, and with the most anguish.
One dancer struggles as another effortlessly repeats. Why?

I learned to dance through improvisation. In Bobby Farrah’s classes of the mid 70s, no matter how many times a week you went to class (and I often went three times a week for two hours at a time, 1973-1977), we did something completely different.

The format of each class was fairly consistent: there was usually an extended combination, moves across the floor, and often we followed him as he improvised. Cymbal class was much the same, with zils on.

However, the content varied widely–what we did was always new and different, class after class, week after week. I learned to dance, very quickly, and with a wide range of options. I learned how to use a stage, how to interpret music, and how to create on the spot.

However, I did not learn any choreography. Consequently, when I started attending workshops (Morocco’s was my first), and even Bobby’s later classes, I was at sea. I quickly developed a strategy of not giving a damn about the choreography, just cherry-picking steps, attitudes and some combinations, and I was happy with this. But I did feel stupid when I saw other people learn so fast. On the other hand, I usually didn’t like their dancing, so I just snobbed over this little problem.

Then my students wanted me to teach them choreographies. Okay. I had been exposed to enough of them. I started making dances for my students. I went to more workshops where there was nothing presented but choreographies. I watched movies such as A Chorus Line and saw that professional dancers could repeat complex combinations after seeing them ONCE.  And I paid attention to the differences in values between oriental dance and western dance. And this is what I saw.

In traditional Oriental dance, the dancer creates the dance in the moment. Oriental dance values intuitive movement and expression of emotion. Technique is the servant of expression. The most important thing is the feeling. These are the values of the music as well.

Western dance, however, distinguishes between the dancer and the choreographer (even that word is hard to type!). Dancers are trained to remember and repeat. Movement is stylized, specific, and exact. So are movement strings. The dancer is the vessel for the vision of the choreographer. The dancer’s job is to manifest that vision physically. So how do these dancers remember all that choreography?

Dancers remember choreographies because they practice. It’s as simple as that. What do they practice? Remembering choreography. In the dance school setup, children as young as three begin this practice. They go to class and learn choreographies. Their parents buy the cute (expensive) little cossies and have pictures taken, while their babies go on stage at the annual recital and toddle charmingly through their steps.

By high school, these kids have practiced this at least 800 hours (an hour a week for 15 years), repeating precisely stylized movement, combinations, and choreography. If they are at all enthusiastic, they go more often than once a week, and they practice at home, too, running through their choreographies endless times, not only with their bodies, but in their heads. They have gone to dance camp, this camp, that festival, the other workshop, spending many, many hours a day honing their technique and learning to repeat. We could be talking thousands of hours of practice here.

How much time have the rest of us spent? Learning to remember choreography? Not dancing, not improvising, not creating dances. Remembering. Probably we looked that other dancer and just felt stupid. Then we gave up, and said, I’m not good at learning choreography. I’m stupid. I’m slow. At that point, Resistance’s work is done. We have given up. And even though we struggle, we know it’s no good, because we compare ourselves to the other.

But I bet you have spent quite a few hours practicing other aspects of your dance. And I bet there are even more things you never thought about practicing, things that would have a much bigger impact on the quality of your dance than remembering choreography. Like being in the moment. Loving the audience. Enjoying yourself onstage. Laughing at your mistakes. Developing your emotional response to the music.

We do much better at whatever we practice. So if we practice feeling sorry for ourselves because some little twerp has a better memory for choreo, we will get better at feeling sorry for ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Talent is Overrated by Shawn Colvin speaks to this.
Colvin’s premise is that much of what we think of as inborn talent is in fact the result of effort and practice. He tells the story of SF, an otherwise unremarkable guy, who learned through 250 hours of training to be able to repeat a string of 80+ numbers, no small feat. Prior to this, memorization and repetition of such long strings were thought to be outside the range of human ability. A pal of SF’s later went on to repeat a string of 102 numbers. The researchers concluded that there was no upward limit to the length of number strings that humans could remember. 250 hours is not a big investment to change the course of history.

Colvin mentions “retrieval structures,” one of the most important elements of memory development.
These are the strategies we use to remember things. SF cast his numbers into groups that represented running times. We will create choreographies with rich structures so that we will have myriad retrieval strategies in place. And we know that intelligence is malleable and can be grown, that anyone can develop skills with practice. So we can use the techniques of deliberate practice to learn whatever we want more effectively.

We may never put in the hours to learn choreo in one click. But as Colvin reports, ability in one area has nothing to do with ability in others. Sf could only remember numbers. Chess masters could only remember games. So don’t waste time comparing yourself to others. You have much better uses for your time.

Ask yourself, what makes a great dancer? Is it remembering choreography? I didn’t think so. Make a list. Leverage the skills you have. Leverage your ability to learn new things.

Where do you want to excel?

Practice that.

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