How to Get Into your Zone

in the zone

A while back, someone asked me to “focus on the state of mind of the dancer when she improvs and techniques.” I think this asks about the difference in mind space between improv and technical practice. I can only speak for myself, but this is what I find. 

Many years ago, I danced at a Dowser’s meeting. It was a brightly lit room and everyone stared at me very hard. They weren’t mean, they were just paying attention. But it rattled me; I felt self-conscious and never relaxed into the moment. Later, one of the women told me briskly, “Your spirit guide is an Egyptian woman. I could see her behind you. And you think too much when you dance.” She sure was right about the thinking. 

At that time in my dance, embodiment was hit or miss. I sometimes got into the zone, but I could’t do it reliably. Like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter, it turned up here and there, but go looking for it, and you come up empty-handed. It wasn’t until I got introduced to rhythmic breath that I started to reach that zone on a regular basis. 

What is the technique headspace?

When I am teaching a regular class, for example, I am watching the students, thinking what’s next, organizing and planning. I am not so much in a state of flow. The same when I am leading a move across the floor (or following one). There’s  a lot of mental errand running. If I am practicing technique, making or learning a move or a combo or whatever, I am in an intellectual headspace, observing, assessing, adjusting. 

There’s nothing wrong with this. 

As dancers, we want to improve. Talent has been defined as a reduction of errors. So we look to see where we miss the mark and fix it. Arms, hands, posture, openness, everything is measured, tested, tweaked. That’s fine and normal. But then we get to where we can let that level of attention go. My goal in practicing new things is to integrate them, so they become embodied, habitual, and I don’t have to think about them any more.

The problem is when analysis interferes with embodiment.

Dancing (as opposed to practicing technique) on stage or at home in assessment mode is a drag. Self-judging, self-doubt, etc are real buzz-kills. And the most random things threw me off! Silence, for example. I had a piece I started with my back to the guests for the first few bars, and then spun around. One time the silence that greeted that spin was deafening. I have since learned that silence is good (it means folk are paying attention), but this was so intense, I faltered and totally lost my groove—and never got it back for the whole show. 

Dancers can be a terrible audience. They sit in the front row and squint at you. Seeing a frowning front row of dancers has tossed me out of my zone, as I wonder what I’m dong wrong and why they hate me. They don’t. They’re just trying to figure out what color is my underskirt, if my dress would fit them, where I got my earrings, if they know that step. But it used to really throw me for a loop. 

Dancemeditation™ changed that for me. 

Because now I had rhythmic breath. So when I got rattled, I could go back to my breath and re-immerse myself in the zone. I could reliably get there, and reliably stay there. Plus I matured as a dancer, and realized that silence was a compliment, and dancers were just interested (and maybe nearsighted). So I could more easily let go of my ever-ready self-doubt and enjoy my time on stage. 

Keith Richards once said, “You don’t think on stage; you go into a zone.”

That’s exactly right. When I am in the zone, I notice everything—the coming waiter, the drunk at the third table, the audience. The other dancers in the wings, the band—but none of them have any emotional weight. They are logistical; they get dealt with intuitively rather than through mental effort. I notice them and let them go. I feel spacious and intense at the same time, fully pointed and completely loose. My body is in sync with the music and so is my breath. 

The music is everything. 

When I am in this state, there is a lot of room in the music. I feel relaxed. I take my time. It gives me everything I need. If all else fails, I map my body and face into a state of joy and dance that. 

If I’m dancing on recorded music, I may have something I want to express. I may even have a score worked out—a loose choreography / structured improvisation of content and blocking. I rarely do sequences of moves—most of my choreographed dances are theatrical or conceptual arrangements. So I don’t have to limit myself to how I felt when I composed the dance (even when I make regular choreographies, I am always throwing things out in performance, because they are always too busy and I need more space). And I often dance to songs I’ve never heard just for that live music thrill.

I approach theatrical dance as structured improvisation.

I create a framework that contains any narrative, symbolism, even staging and movement highlights. So I always know what I want to say, but I don’t have to memorize a lot of details. Because it is just a framework! I can change bits, leave them out, or add them in on the fly. This allows me to be in The Zone, to be present and engaged, even with a fairly complex framework. I’ll be teaching this model soon in Wonderland: Theatrical Expression for Oriental Dance (an expansion of a segment from How to Create Dance Art).

With a live band, all I do is plan the set list with the musicians. And that may be an emotional arc rather than specific songs. Then I literally just go out and wing it. That is my favorite. At my best, I luxuriate in the music, phasing in and out of time, slow, at speed, slow. I don’t dance on every beat. I let a lot of music go by, and work in slow-motion. Anytime I get rattled, I go back to my breath and slow movement. 

 But what about a group dance? 

Of course, as soloists, we have autonomy. But with group dances throwing things out just confuses the hell out of everyone else—unless you plan for it. You can compose group dances without set steps, using conceptual frameworks, so everyone knows the story arc and what’s going to happen when. Then you get to have a lot of fun onstage with your friends and the story takes on a lot of intensity and playfulness. 

When I do group dances for students, they come up with all the steps. I am the art director, so I wrangle the order, repeats, etc. But they contribute to that, too. So we have fun dances they thunk up themselves—which means they learn faster, remember better, and generally have a much deeper investment—and spend less time thinking onstage.

An improv performance (or practice) is all about making space to be in the moment. So that is what we practice—getting reliably into the zone with breath, slow movement, and related strategies. In the zone, there is a sense of timelessness and being fully present. The sense of “I” disappears; the dancer feels connected viscerally to the music in a state of exalted oneness. 

The Zone: That’s what we’re going for. That’s what we’re practicing. 

All my love,

PS Here’s an Improv prompt.

One thing dancers fear is getting stuck in one move and not being able to think of anything else. Yet we hear of all these great dancers of the past who did maybe 4 moves their whole show and everyone loved them. So how do we get confident and comfortable with a limited palette? 

Dance with only one move for a whole song. I know, right? Boring! But it’s not. The beauty of our dance is micro movement. That means each iteration of each move is different from any other—like snowflakes. So each figure 8 is different. You can vary the move by speed, size, force, height, or width, also by segmenting (starting and stopping), by alternating slow and fast, big and small, etc. And yes, you can change sides. But just one movement. No combinations. So just a figure 8, hip drop, circle, undulation, etc. Your choice. 

Once you choose, woohoo! Just let anything come out, any part of your body, any kind of decoration. You can even do the exact same thing for the whole song–and feel just fine about it.

Music! Radio Bastet, all vintage belly dance vinyl. You can stream the podcasts at Just click on the little grey pod button to the top left of each episode.

The Blue Rope

Blue rope

A year+ of covid. I have to say, it’s wearing on me. You, too?
So let’s escape for a bit…

Here’s a soothing, engaging body adventure….

The Blue Rope

Put on some slow, slinky, music. Lie down on your back (on a mat or some blankets) with your knees up, feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Feel your spine sink into the floor. Let it relax and soften. Visualize all the tiny little muscles that attach the spine together—little bitty bands that hold the discs and let everything move. Let them relax and soften. 

Visualize your spine as a glowing blue rope. It’s thick, shining, infinitely flexible. Move the tiny muscles that hold the spine together—no movement really, because the muscles are so small. Just activate them with your energy. 

Let the rope begin to move. Tiny little arcs and spirals, circles here and there. S-curves running up and down. Let it move with the music, subtle, so tiny it is barely discernible. Breathe with the music. Keep it small and gentle. When your body feels ready, you can let it lift you, but stay low: on your knees for a while. Continue to visualize the spine as a soft, glowing, blue rope, infinitely flexible. 

Notice how the movement feels. Keep your eyes closed, the better to focus on the inside.

You may finally graduate to standing, if and when you feel like it. Continue to move from the spine—avoid activating anything else. Let all the shapes of your movement stay grounded in the glowing blue rope. Cultivate a quality of effortlessness as the spine roils around, enjoying its freedom to ooze and twist. 

How much of your movement can be initiated from your flexible, glowing spine? (hint: A LOT!)

Here’s some music for that: Merçan Dede, Sufi Dreams.

We did this last week in Belly Dance BEDROCK. We had such a good time in this series, re-patterning to find organic ease in our deep movement vocabulary, that we are doing another 5 weeks. This time, we broaden our view into Transitions and Combinations, finding sleek, elegant pathways from one move to another, with some traveling steps to pull it all together. Back when I was first learning, Bobby taught transitions as movements in their own right, and they are.

What folks say about BEDROCK

This way feels so much better.

I get less tired lifting the hip from under

This makes it so much richer

It feels so effortless

It’s amazing how you feel the psoas by thinking of the movement

I love your approach, Alia!

Come explore with us! All classes are recorded (instructor view). Recordings available for a week each.
BEDROCK II Transitions & Combinations runs from Tuesday, March 23 through Tuesday, April 27 (no class March 30), from 4-5PM EDT Registration is open now.

Other things you might like…

The Midnight at the Crossroads Scratch n Dent Sale

Tuning In, Medicine for Modern Times

This fun Saturday party by Zara (3pm EDT)

With love!

The Difference Between Private and Public Dance (and why we need both)

public vs private dance

This may seem pretty obvious, but somehow it isn’t. 

I’m sitting on my couch with my bare feet up on the coffee table, laptop balanced on my lap, lol. I do a LOT of writing like this. My hair is awry. The eyeliner I put on this morning for a meeting is now largely under my eyes instead of around them. I’m in my own personal space where no one has to look at me. While it is true that I sometimes leave the house like this, I do avoid it—because, yes, the messier we are when we leave the house, the more likely we will run into someone we wish hadn’t seen us quite so unkempt ; ). 

Inside is private (relatively, anyway). Outside is public. 

Inside my own home, I can lounge around déshabillé. Outside, I don’t. 

So it is with dance. If I am to dance in public—from socially at a party to professionally for a show—I like to be presentable at the very least. The higher profile the event, the better I dress, the more careful I am with my makeup. And I dance very differently. 

Dancing with friends at a bar is casual. At a wedding is more upscale. A performance at a wedding is way more upscale. Each of these has a certain level of care invested. 

At home, pffft! I can dance in my underwear—or naked, by candlelight. I can roll around on the floor, make weird noises, and drool if I want to (I don’t think I have ever drooled, but I could). 

Just think of how horrid life would be if we were always on display—always had to be well-dressed and well-behaved, even in our sleep. Yuck, amirite? We’d go mad in short order. We need to have down time, slop time, relaxed anything-goes time. 

(me typing) 

Well, the same thing holds true for dance.

The body needs to unload all its accumulated stress and strain.

It needs to be able to move in potentially un-pretty, ungraceful, possibly even raw, ugly ways. 

Dirt is dirt. If we don’t wash it off every so often, it builds up—which makes it a lot harder to remove, plus it feels icky, even squalid. Sustained stress is like dirt on the soul. Free dance can help scrub it off. 

The problem is that we often expect ourselves to dance all perfect all the time, which is super stressful and unrewarding. 

Instead, let’s bring a sense of curiosity and experimentation into our dance. Let’s bring our weird faces and awkward movement. Undancerly prancing and over the top drama queen, little-kid pretending, broken crawling, and sensual writhing. In short, let it all hang out. 

Wahoo, right? Um….

Wait, what if we actually do this in public <gasp!>

The reality is that it depends upon the situation. In the same way that we have a decent idea about how to behave in an assortment of public settings. we have a pretty good idea of how to dance in them, too. 

And while becoming an expert free-dance improviser will probably loosen up our public persona, give us a little more personality, playfulness, and vibrancy, we probably won’t roll on the floor and drool in front of the wedding party (unless it is that kind of wedding, lol). 

I have been dancing this way for a very long time. I did once kinda go off script, but I had given myself permission. So that doesn’t count ; ).

But what about the dance police?! 

Those folks who live to hand out tickets for dance faux pas, who are not happy with anything we do?

Leila Farid told me the more Egyptians liked her dance, the happier they became with her, the more mean, hurtful comments American dancers posted on her youtube videos. Isn’t that interesting? Lots of native dancers tell me they have also been shunned because their dance doesn’t match what some Western perfectionist thinks our dance should be.

Sure, we need to have technique if we are going to be professional dancers. But! We also need to understand, value, and embody the cultural aesthetics of the dance we are doing.

In Oriental dance, improvisation, relaxation, agency, playfulness, and verve are vital.

We get a lot of technique, but we don’t get a lot of improvisation, relaxation, agency, playfulness, and verve. 

So here we are. 

Let it out.

In the studio, in a safe class, find somewhere you can let down your hair and not worry or care.

Your public dance will thank you for it. 

Belly Dance BEDROCK is one place you can let go and move as your body wishes. We start with centering, dissect and re-pattern some bedrock movement vocabulary, and then we PLAY.
Here’s what folks said in the first class:

This way feels so much better. The whole “use the obliques to lift the top of the hip” method never felt great for me.

I get less tired lifting the hip from under

This makes it so much richer

It feels so effortless

It’s amazing how you feel the psoas by thinking of the movement

I love your approach, Alia!

We’ve completed the first live class, but you can still catch the replay, and join us for the next 4 classes.

Register for Bellydance BEDROCK here


Tuning In is a balm for the nervous system. Every week, a half-hour shower to cleanse and regulate the nervous system. Tuning In 6 starts Friday. Register here.

I look forward to moving with you!


Here’s some music from the Rahim AlHaj Trio

The Secret to “Feeling the Music”

feeling the music

We’re always told to feel the music, and we always wonder, where is the secret key to these supposed feelings? Is there a chart that shows where they are? Whatever it is we’re supposed to feel? 

Sorry, no.

Yes, composers may seek to evoke certain feelings through the notes, the structure, the lyrics, and musicians pour their feeling into their playing. But…

There is no secret key.

Okay, there sort of is, and it’s connected to the word feeling. But it’s not about solving a puzzle. It’s about you.

The Arabic word for feeling, AHsahs, covers both emotional and physical feeling, just like the English word. 

And the secret to improvisation, according to group-comedy-improv folks, is following a physical impulse

Physical impulse. 

Yup. That mean letting the body lead. Following the body as it responds to the music (this is how I draw the pix for these articles, too—I pick a color and let my hand do what it wants. And then I fill it in.

So the music calls to your arm, and your arm extends. And you notice the physical sensation as your arm moves. The bones, the muscles, the tendons, the blood, the energy, all of it.

What comes through you as you make this gesture? Maybe it feels nostalgic, or pushing away, or welcoming—or brings an image of something that happened 20 years ago—you hold out your hand and all of a sudden you’re reminded of this other time, this other space. And that comes into your dance.

That’s the feeling you—you, personally—get from the music.

You move, and the movement generates feelings. 

The pleasure of the movement itself, for one. Belly dance is very pleasurable to do, all those muscles and tendons elegantly expanding and contracting with beauty in sync with the music. 

But also, the music has wisps and nuances of feeling that flit across it like flying leaves. We let them pass through us. We don’t decide, or judge, or clutch, or question them. We let them come through us. We show what we feel.

We may get images in our heads, colors, or notice the physical sensations of our movement. We observe and express. 

Dancers interpret the music.

We show what we feel from the music. 

Not necessarily with the face. With the body. With the line, carriage, tilt of head, slope of shoulders. We let ourselves feel and we let what we feel show. (This may make us terrible poker players. The poker face is a separate skill ; )

The more we adopt a curiosity about how our body will respond, the more we step back and observe rather than control, the more space we make for our feeling to blossom. 

Of course, some songs may evoke clear feelings, in certain places or all the way through. Songs may bring images, memories, narratives to mind, and we can dance those. Not as pantomime—belly dance is an abstract art. 

We dance their essence

We don’t have to tell the story that evolves; we just express the sequence of feelings that comes to us. Any guests will hang their own story on our feeling-sequence. 

One of the attributes of the Buddha is that though he may speak only one word, that one word will answer the varied questions of all the different people who hear it. Our dance can be like this. This is why art is loaves and fishes. It feeds everyone. 

The more we engage fully with the music, the more trust ourselves and our bodies and the music, the more we can do this. 

A Lioness doesn’t question her role in the world, her relative worthiness for what she’s doing. She is fully present in the moment. 

And so are we. 

I help dancers bring the dance into their bodies, discover their own feeling from the music, and to express those feelings through intuitive movement.

This is what we’re doing in Belly Dance BEDROCK which begins Tuesday, Feb 2. We develop ease with and confidence in the movement, in how it feels in the body.

This is a side benefit of what we’re doing in Tuning In, which begins Friday, Jan 29. Tuning In is about settling the nervous system to we can feel more alive in the moment. This helps pave the way for more intuitive, confident response to the music.

And it’s what we are doing in Taqsim Tuesdays, part of the Belly Dance Bundle 2020, and now available to all.

The feeling is the most important thing.

Here’s to feeling alive and free in the moment.


Music! Georges Yazbek, Oud and Rhythms. Please copy and paste if the link doesn’t work (not with your phone)

PS Interesting short article

Rise like the Moon, Shine like the Stars

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


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

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

I do have a theme for the year.


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

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

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

For the moment, we have a few things happening.

A new round of Tuning In starts tomorrow.

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

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


Belly Dance BEDROCK

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


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

With all my love,

The Hill We Climb, by Amanda Gorman

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

The loss we carry. A sea we must wade.

We braved the belly of the beast.

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

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow we do it.

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

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

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

We are striving to forge our union with purpose.

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

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

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

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

We seek harm to none and harmony for all.

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

That even as we grieved, we grew.

That even as we hurt, we hoped.

That even as we tired, we tried.

That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded.

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

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

This is the era of just redemption.

We feared at its inception.

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

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

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

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

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

Our blunders become their burdens.

But one thing is certain.

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

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

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

We will rise from the golden hills of the West.

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

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

We will rise from the sun-baked South.

We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover.

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

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

The new dawn balloons as we free it.

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

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

How to Celebrate Tiny Wins (and why you might even enjoy it)

Who’s tired?
I sure am.

When I look at all the stuff I haven’t done, I get even more tired.

I’ve trudged through most of my life, always feeling behind, not enough, overwhelmed. I bet I have a lot of company in this endeavor. We marinate in self-accusation sooo much of the time. We beat ourselves in ways we wouldn’t treat a two-dollar mule.

And it doesn’t help. We don’t get more done. We just feel worse.

The list of things to do never really gets smaller. Sure for a minute or two, but there is always more than a person could ever actually do in 10 lifetimes. However, the list of things we’ve done does get bigger.

I drew a picture! Yay!

So I stopped looking at what I didn’t do. Instead…

I look at what I did.

Even the tiny things.

And I celebrate them.

Got out of bed! Woohoo!

Made coffee! You go, girl!

Yeah, those are pretty small things. I’ve done bigger things, too. Since you are reading this, I wrote an article today. It’s not very long, but hopefully it gets its point across.

(Well done, Alia!)

When I’n not paralyzed by my myriad failures, I sometimes actually feel like doing something!

Recently, my friend Tea said, “What if I don’t have to improve? What if there isn’t something wrong with me? What if it’s okay to be okay? I have to tell you that this thought is terrifying.”

And it is.

What if we just felt better about ourselves?

Would the world collapse?

Probably not. And we might enjoy life a little more.

In tough times like this, it helps to be extra kind and gentle to ourselves, to our inner child, to our bodies (who I am pretty sure ARE our inner child).

So this is my suggestion today. Pat yourself on the back. Lower the bar for your life. Do something you feel like doing, just because (maybe taking a nap–that’s what I’m going to do).

With love and hugs,

If you’d like to designate some time to feel good, and you’d like someone else to supply the content, here is what I have to offer.

Open Heart Belly Dance

Improvisational belly dance infused with the principles and practices of Dancemeditation and Somatic Experiencing®. Deeply soothing, interoceptive, and introspective, it will help see us through the election with embodied, grounded joy!
Tuesdays, 4-5PM EST. December 8 – January 5  See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link)
Register here:

Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times

Tuning In is a half-hour chillout session focused on nervous system regulation. It is designed to ease anxiety and restore wellbeing. We use gentle movement, breath, and body-based strategies to bring calm in the here and now. These strategies can be used any time to help the body feel more relaxed and grounded.
Fridays, 4-4:30 PM EST. November 27 – December 25 (yes, Christmas). See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link)
Register here:

One Surprise Reason to Embrace Taqsim

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

How do we do that?

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

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

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

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

Taqsim is the icing on the improvisational cake.

And here’s another nice surprise!

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

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

I look forward to dancing with you!

How about a nice vacation?

We’re getting down to the wire here. In the USA, elections are in less than three weeks. Covid is spiking worldwide. The centuries-long other pandemic of systemic oppression is going strong, too, with a rise in fascism, racism, and xenophobia across the planet. Who wouldn’t like a vacation? Oh, wait. We can’t really travel…

Good thing we dance!

We’ve all gone to a belly dance class feeling crappy and come out feeling light-years better. And even though most of us don’t go in person now, there are so many online options! (Yes, there are issues around bandwidth, and so forth, so I always have recordings, and I edit those recordings to bring down their size.) Mostly we think of classes as things at which we work.

Let’s think of them as mini vacations!

We get to let go of the real world, feed our souls, and nurture our bodies, all at once.

Humans are not suited to suffer endlessly. No living creature is. Chronic stress isn’t just unpleasant; it has serious health effects. We can grit our teeth and get through it, but what will really help is stepping back from our pain, especially when we can do that in nurturing ways.

Like a belly dance vacation!

To really dig in to this, I’ve enriched all my classes with extra vacation goodness–especially now.

Our next Deep Dive, Open Heart Belly Dance,

We’l connect Dancemeditation, Somatic Experiencing, and Oriental dance into a rich, luscious roll in joy. It’s all follow-me and improvisation with centering and grounding, breath, expansion, and interoceptive body-awareness, a soothing balm for the soul. Lower your heart rate, soothe your senses, and dance better, too!

What we’ll do
*Nurture pleasure and self-compassion
* Bask in the moment of improvisation
* Allow our own body’s wisdom to bring the moves to us
This is NOT about perfection, drills, or copying
This IS about enriching personal style, musicality, improv ease, and joy in the moment​

Little talk, lots of unique exercises, modeling, and guided practice.​

Open Heart runs from Tuesday, October 20 through Tuesday, Nov 17m from 4-5PM EDT See this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link).

Of course, a lot of us are super broke now too, so Open Heart has Pandemic Pricing, including payment plans, sliding scale, and Pay What You Will.

Registration is now open!

With all my love,

PS Of course, many of us are saving up for The Belly Dance Bundle, because it’s such a deal.

That goes on sale next week. It’s in two tracks this year (or you can get both).
The Dance Track.
The Lecture Track.
There is a STUNNING amount of cool stuff in each track
I contributed a deep dive into Taqsim this year — Here is my podcast on Taqsim, and my Instagram Challenge UnDrill Taqsim video for your enjoyment (I’m Day 6). More on this next week!
Big hugs to everyone!

Taqsim, Hurray!


I realized that although I write a lot about improvisation in general, I rarely write about Taqsim, solo improvisation of melody instruments. But Taqsim is a core element of Oriental music and dance! So here we go to rectify that.

Part of this is that I’ve recently been teaching Taqsim improv. I loved that so much, I decided to make that my contribution to this year’s Belly Dance Bundle. Speaking of which, the Bundle is doing a wonderful Zil Challenge with a $350 prize!


Dancing to the Instruments

There is a lot of advice out there, much of it well-meaning. For example, we get a lot of advice about what we should do with each instrument. 

“Shimmy to the qanun!”
“Shimmy to the oud!”
“Dance with the part of the body near where the instrument is held!”
“Arms and hands for the etherial nay!”

Everyone is terrified that if they dance the wrong way they will get in trouble. 

I say, forget all that.

Back in the five-part routine days, we did floor work to taqasim (musical improvisations. Taqasim is the plural; taqsim is singular). We didn’t shimmy; we slithered and roiled. 

As floor work fell out of fashion (illegal in Egypt and hell on expensive costumes), dancers focused on standing taqsim, and this required different movement options than rolling around ; ). But still, we are artists. we dance what we feel from the music. There is no law about what to do or how to do it. 

When I interviewed Dr. George Sawa for Midnight, I was pleased that he agreed with me about this. 

The percussive quality of the plucked instruments like the oud, buzuq, and qanun, he explained, is what the musician has to do to sustain the sound. Rather than dancing on that, dance on the melody the musician plays. Even in a taqsim without meter (rhythm), the musician plays notes, and the tones rise and fall. 

Follow that. 

Taqsim is hard for Western dancers partly because we tend to favor the rhythm. A chiftetelli rhythm, which often accompanies a taqsim, is very compelling. I have seen plenty of otherwise excellent dancers completely ignore the solo instrument and dance only on the rhythm. 

Taqsim is also hard because this is where the musician’s feeling comes out. Taqasim are improvised musical journeys. They begin on one maqam and then journey through a range of others, often through heroic musical leaps, before finally returning to where they started (the maqamat are Arabic musical modes. See Johnny Farraj’s excellent site, for more on this). 

So when we dance on taqasim, we open ourselves to the feeling, because it is in there

There are no rules for what we “should” feel from the music. What you feel is what you feel. Yes, the composer may build things in, yes the musician invests the music with their own feeling; our task as dancers is to open up and see what comes through. 

I know, what if we do it wrong? How do we learn, except by making mistakes? Answer: we don’t. You have to kiss a lot of frogs in this life. Might as well pucker up.

So, for our music today I give you a 20-minute taqsim.

 It is a collaboration between Simon Shaheen on the oud, which has the lower, more mellow tone, and AJ Racy on the buzuq, which has a sharper, higher tone, courtesy of its metal strings and smaller sound box.  

Music: Simon Shaheen And Ali Jihad Racy – 01 – Maqam Kurd

The oud is fretless, like a violin, so it is especially suited to the bending of notes common in Arabic music. The buzuq has frets, but they are adjustable. Listen for the differences and see if you can follow—and maybe dance on—each instrument individually (Hint: the oud goes first, and the buzuq comes in second).

Use Slow Movement if you like; it helps. Use Low Space if you like; it feels right. Ask me questions if you like; I welcome them. 

For those who would like to explore Taqsim, I will be offering a five-week course through the BellyDance Bundle.

I am also very pleased to offer Effortless Improvisation, a Live Deep Dive for our in-depth Forum Class this fall. Effortless covers taqsim along with a deep dive into improvisation technique and strategies for confidence and joy. Registration opens October 1st; Effortless begins the week of October 11.

I look forward to dancing with you!


PS Here is a great FREE online festival of Turkish Dance from Serkan Tutar!
Turkish Night Homemade Gala Show Part 2
The show opens Sunday 27th September 2020 at Rakkas Istanbul Youtube Page at 20:00 (Belgium/ Brussels time ). It will stay available for a while after that. It features a range of famous Turkish and Turkish-style dancers, with everything from oriental to folk to historic styles. Our dear friend Walladah Valadah performs classical Ottoman dance!

How to Stay Grounded with Improvisation (and why we need to)

The world is not a pretty picture right now. Bullying and oppression are on the rise.
Playing by the rules, following orders, this is not going to save us. So what will help us survive?


It’s time to think on our feet, to be ready to change course at a moment’s notice. We need to be grounded, self-aware, able to step back from the vortex of activating events, and develop our capacity to stay connected to the present moment. This is what improvisation does for us.

Today’s Improvisation

We know improvisational dancing makes you smarter.
It enhances creativity and well-being.
Improv can even improve your business savvy.

Oriental dance improv brings a bunch of other benefits to the table, including grounding, relaxation, and physical ease.
Here’s a search of the blog with a gazillion articles.

I’ve spent most of my life cross-training improvisation in multiple genres. It has served me well. It can serve you well, too.

Now is the time. If you’ve been mostly a choreographed dancer, if the idea of improv makes you anxious or feels too monolithic, I invite you to change your life for the better. If you’ve been too freaked out or flat out to even dance, I invite you come home to your soul.

Art feeds us. Let’s do art.

I will be bringing several improvisation skill-building courses over the next few weeks, including Effortless Improv and an interoceptive DanceMeditation-based Fun Class series.

For right now, the new Tuning In series starts Friday, Sept 17 (tomorrow!).

I was somehow skeptical of how simple things can have a great impact, but here they are. They do have a huge impact and it is quite immediate in terms of time and effectiveness.


With all my love,