Why copying has its place (and how to keep it there)

Hidden (Dreams)

When you learn something new, you copy. When you learn to draw, you copy and trace drawings. When you learn to write, you copy other writers. When you learn a new move, you copy the new move, and so on. So when does it stop? Because a lot of us only copy the work of others. We are afraid to do anything of our own. Because it might not be (gasp!) perfect.

First task: Perfection. Let go of that idea

Nothing is perfect. Everything has room to develop. This life is is about becoming. We learn, we grow, we change. Otherwise, we are dead.

Second task: Examine your mindset

Many of us were raised with the idea that we are born with a certain amount of smarts, and that’s it. If we are smart, everything is easy. If not, it’s hard. If something is hard, we are just not smart enough. Except, surprise! That’s totally wrong. Advances in neuroscience now tell us that intelligence is highly malleable. We increase our intelligence by learning new things. This is a real shocker for many of us. Used to being the smartest person in the room, we suffer shame when confronted with difficult tasks, avoid anything that might make us look stupid, and give up rather than face failure.

Hidden (Dreams)

Yet learning new things is the best way to keep the brain in good health

(and if there isn’t a struggle, there is no learning). Learning develops new neural pathways. Learning wraps those pathways in myelin. Myelin is a white, tape-like structure that cements learning in place. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and several other diseases, destroy myelin, so we forget how to do things, and what things are. Pretty soon, we are loading the laundry into the freezer and pouring soy sauce into our coffee. Nobody wants to be like this.

The more we place ourselves in positions where we constantly learn, problem solve, and figure things out, the more we protect ourselves from these illnesses of demyelinization. A major study by Stanford University concluded that dancing regularly was the best defense against Alzheimer’s and dementia. By a LOT—76% more than any activity studied, cognitive or physical. Dancing makes you smarter. But not just any dancing. Based upon the other most protective activities, Richard Powers, who teaches ballroom dancing at Stanford, suggests, “Involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working on your physical style.”

Split-second rapid-fire decision making.

Yes, we are talking about improvisation. When we improvise, we make innumerable calculations and adjustments, in the moment. We are not even aware of them. Powers refers to the follower in ballroom dance, who must interpret the invitations of the leader, and choose their next move with intelligence and intuition. So duet or group improv can bring even more benefit.

We copy to learn, we take classes, study others, and practice. But there comes a time when we must hop out on the branch, launch ourselves, and fly. Taking such risks benefits us in so many ways, some understood and others yet to come. Will our first efforts suck? Of course they will. Fail early, and fail often. That’s how we learn what works—through trial and error, persistence, and trying again.

We have been brainwashed into thinking that we have to be perfect or stay home

Women especially are tyrannized by the expectation of perfection. That’s just a myth designed to keep you sad and powerless. It’s not about being a perfect copy. It’s about you. Being you. 100% yourself, with all your beauty and variety and personality. The world needs your individual glory.

Fly your freak flag high. 


PS Effortless Improvisation will help you fly!

(Last call for earlybirds. Prices rise on Monday.)
PPS The one-hour video class How to TEACH improv is still available, with a boatload of extras!
  • Webinar Recording (75:49)
  • 5+ pages of Class Notes
  • Classic Qualities of our Dance
  • Music Examples
  • Resources on Learning
  • DanceMeditation Sample Session (20:34)
  • Handy Lesson Planner

PLUS get answers to your questions!
All for the price of a one-hour class.

Come join us!

Why we work on One Skill at a Time (and save our sanity)

The webinar last week turned out really well. An hour of rock-solid information, a host of extra resources (more on that below), plus 15 minutes of Q+A. One of the questions asked about students improvising.

What to do when all kinds of random stuff comes out–not belly dance at all?!

My advice? 

Let it. 



We talked about this a little a few weeks back in terms of freewriting. The little pipe in our head that the thoughts come out of gets easily clogged. It’s the same with improvisation. The important central concept is Don’t Think. Just follow. The first skill is to get out of our own way. Just allow the body to move as it wishes. This means letting go of judging and controlling. This is the most important thing. Everything else comes later. 

In the beginning, all kinds of rusty water will come gurgling out of us. And that’s OKAY. Just let it out.

Looking pretty comes later ; )

Avoid the mirror. Close the eyes. Breathe with the music, use slow movement–and let it out. 


PS Check out the video class How to TEACH improv, with a boatload of extras!
  • Webinar Recording (75:49)
  • 5+ pages of Class Notes
  • Classic Qualities of our Dance
  • Music Examples
  • Resources on Learning
  • DanceMeditation Sample Session (20:34)
  • Handy Lesson Planner

PLUS get answers to your questions!
All for the price of a one-hour class.

Come join us!


Want to really make some changes and level up your improv? 

Effortless Improvisation is for you!

Last call for earlybirds. Prices rise on Monday. 

Effortless Improv


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


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.


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 ; ) 
Maybe your body would like to do that itself.  Check out Effortless Improv and this upcoming webinar, How to Teach Improvisation



PS Local VT/NH/MA folks, spots have opened up at at Raq-on.net. I will be teaching creative expression with a strong dose of improv!

Mondays 5:45 to 745 p.m: August 12th-September 23rd.
Intermediate/Advanced class with Alia
 (2 spots left)

This class is for the serious student who has achieved a level II status. You must be willing to take constructive criticism from your instructor work as a team player with your peers. This is a 2 hr. class and is $150 for the 7 week session. 
By permission only. Please email me if you are interested in this class.

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!


How to Enjoy an Improvisational Mindset 

I used to be a cook for Head Start. I made breakfast and lunch for around two dozen kids and grownups every day. The gal who was the previous cook (she had graduated to classroom teacher), was hanging out in the kitchen one day. “I love watching you cook,” she said. “If I ever lost my measuring spoons, I would starve. You just throw things in.”

I do. It’s a form of improvisation.

What does it mean to improvise?

1. to compose and perform or deliver without previous preparation; extemporize: to improvise an acceptance speech.

2. to compose, play, recite, or sing (verse, music, etc.) on the spur of the moment.

3. to make, provide, or arrange from whatever materials are readily available: We improvised a dinner from yesterday’s leftovers.

Verb (used without object), improvised, improvising.

4. to compose, utter, execute, or arrange anything extemporaneously: When the actor forgot his lines he had to improvise.

Clearly there are a lot of ways to improvise (and sometimes we may have a plan, but we don’t pin the whole thing down). Yesterday I said that improvisation is a skill that can be applied to many things. The more ways we practice improvisation, the more comfortable we become with it. I listed a few ways I improvise, but one of the most helpful (and satisfying), has been writing. 

Writing can also be improvisation

In college, one professor made us freewrite for ten minutes. Every school day, Monday through Friday. For the entire term. This, more than anything, made me a better, more fluent writer, plus it helped me figure things out and solve problems. I was going through a very difficult time, and freewriting gave me a place to just spew what was happening. But what was really amazing was writing about problems and finding that the writing helped to untangle and resolve them. 

The great thing about freewriting is that it is a quantity practice. Like our 20 minutes, you choose an amount of time and just write, without debating, stopping, reflecting, or anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s any good. That’s not the criteria. Just write for your time and see what comes out. In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests 30 minutes every morning. In college we wrote for 10 minutes. It’s a good way to start.

Don’t cross out. Don’t worry about staying in the lines. No worries about spelling, punctuation, etc. Just let what’s in your head come out. If nothing comes out, just write, “Nothing is coming out. I can’t think of a damn thing. What stupid exercise…”

Because here’s the thing…

Any second-guessing, self-judging etc. is going to close up the little pipe in your head through which the words flow. And like a pipe, sometimes a lot of rusty crap has to get flushed out before the water runs clear.

thoughts dripping out of the freewriting pipe 

Just like the dance

It’s not always great, but building the habit makes it more reliable. We practice so that it will flow on command. We learn to get into that state where it just comes out. In freewriting and dance, speaking publicly, sports, music, art, comedy, jazz, MacGuyver, anything that values an intuitive response. 

I invite you to practice improvisation. 

Freewriting is wonderful. If you don’t like writing or think you don’t write well, it’s a great way to increase fluency (ease of writing). 

Or talk out loud to a wall for ten minutes or so. See what comes out. 

There is also free-drawing. Take a length of time and just draw, with no particular goal. See what comes out. 

Something will.

Just give it time. 


For more about dance improv, check out Effortless Improv and this upcoming webinar, How to Teach Improvisation


For more about freewriting, here’s a link to an excerpt from Natalie Goldberg’s classic, Writing Down the Bones. Read from page 5, “Beginner’s Mind” through “Writing as a Practice,” which ends on page 14.


And here’s some music. Mr. Saad Mohamed Hassan plays Umm Kulthum’s “Anasak De Kalam.” Composer Baligh Hamdi.




Why embracing the cultural ideals of belly dance will bring joy to your dance (and how to do that)

We’re all a little overwhelmed by the craziness of the political scene these days. The president’s recent attacks on House members is just the icing on a grim, angry cake. “Go back to where you came from” is a vicious epithet. I’ve been deeply saddened reading the stories of many friends hurt by these words throughout their lives. 

However, I do suggest that we dancers go back to where our dance came from–to understand how it nests within its cultural context–what the dance’s originators value, and why it might be to our advantage to value these things as well. 

mysterious east-flying carpets and minarets? Improvisation!
The mysterious east–flying carpets and minarets?
What are these cultural values? 

When I wrote Midnight, certain things came to the forefront as essential elements of the cultural dance.

  • The feeling in the moment: literally, the pleasure of the physical movements themselves as well as the emotional timbres of the music. The dancer shares their emotional and physical enjoyment of the dance.
  • Different every time: micromovement and improvisation are key! The dancer brings a fresh experience to each dance, though he may dance to the same song. 
  • Bring the joy: our dance is flirtatious and fun! The dancer shares her joy with others–her family and friends in social dance, or her guests if she is a performer.

These qualities are at diametric odds with the Western dance values most of us have internalized, including choreography, stylization, and a separation from any guests. Because these are our defaults, we have to carefully take the time to understand, embrace, and internalize these very different principles. 

Why do that? 

We all like our own ways of doing and understanding. It’s uncomfortable to change. It’s difficult and frustrating. Yet when we do a dance from another culture, and don’t bother to learn it as it is supposed to be, we harm the dance. If we were to learn Japanese Tea Ceremony, we would learn it with all its cultural nuance. We owe belly dance the same respect.

Besides, when we embrace these cultural ideals…

All of a sudden, the dance becomes this joyous stress-releasing, healing balm, infused with wonder and delight. Its expressive, fun, and self-affirming, giving us confidence, pleasure, and self-respect, for we learned to do something rewarding and helped bring the world a little closer to joy. 

So it in our own best interests, as well as those of the dance, to understand these principles, to learn them, teach them, and promote them to the greater dance scene. 

How do we do that? 

One of the best ways is learning to improvise. Improv is a core skill for belly dance, deeply connected to musicality, expression, and and the ability to dance with live music. As I’ve studied Oriental dance improvisation, I’ve found some valuable methods. I include these in the course Effortless Improv (for which there are still a few early bird seats left), but I will also be sharing some of them in the BDBA’s upcoming webinar, How to Teach Improvisation.

We will 

  • Examine the cultural values of Oriental dance and learn how to engage them in our dance
  • Learn how to develop student confidence, musicality, and interoception (an awareness of the interior of the body), with specific exercises for each element
  • Discover how to structure a class to maximize improv learning, and share resources on skill development and talent acquisition.
  • Practice low-stakes, in-class exercises that help dancers quickly become adept at improvisation.
  • Have a Teachable site for post-webinar coaching and support.
And when all of us can improvise? (and believe me, we can!)

It will be GLORIOUS!

And maybe, as we transcend our own fears of something new, as we develop our own confidence and compassion, as we embrace our dance’s ideals, we can also embrace the wonderful kaleidoscope of folks from other cultures who enrich our world and make it so very marvelous. 

This is my wish, my hope, my prayer. Our dance is a conduit for love and understanding. Let it fly!

The webinar is here. Please do share with any teachers you know, or anyone who would like to improvise with flair and joy. Thank you!

BDBA webinar, How to Teach Improvisation.

As a special treat, there’s a clip from a recent show included on the page–all improvisation!




How to Improvise for Oriental Dance

Alia dancing improvisation

Stuck in choreography? Wish your students could improvise? Wish you could improvise?

Dancers are often afraid to improvise, preferring the safety of choreography. Yet improv is a core skill for belly dance!

So how do we teach this? Can improv even be taught? Is there no hope?

Yes, there’s hope!

Alia Thabit is a specialist in improvisation and improv-based composition, and the coming months are a celebration of improvisation! From local classes and workshops to an online webinar and forum-based course, the time has come to open ourselves up to the music and see what comes out!

Alia dancing improvisation
Photo credit: Ben de Florio

Here are our upcoming events:

Cairo Cabaret, July 14. 2019

Workshops in Northampton MA: 

Effortless Improv + Micro-Movement
11 am-12:15 pm
Improvisation is a core skill for belly dance, but so many folks just learn choreography–which makes it even harder to learn improvisation! Through tested strategies such as Micro-Movement, Rhythmic Breath, Slow Movement, and Creative Limitation, students will learn how to access limitless movement options, turn off anxiety and self-judgement, and turn on their intuitive response to the music. 

Spontaneous Construction—complex, exciting easy-to-remember group dances–in about an hour.
1-2:15 pm
In this class, we will learn how to build fast, fun, group dances–in about an hour. Dances that are complex, interactive, and easy to remember; dances that leave room for each dancer’s personal expression, with every cue drenched in feeling and meaning so dancers are free to embody the music in a more organic way. Full process notes will be included.

Full day- $70; Single Workshop $40
Bonus– all workshop attendees are invited to participate in an online book club discussion her book Midnight at the Crossroads. Still a few spaces left. Join here: https://www.sahinabellydance.com/workshops-with-alia.html/ 

Cairo Cabaret Show
5-8 pm
 at American Legion Post 275 in Chicopee (see map below)
The show is hosted by Troupe Hazine and is open to the public. Cover is $8.


Webinar: How to Teach Improvisation for Oriental Dance

August 4th at 2PM Eastern. $15 includes includes notes and follow-up. I will be teaching a few classes for the Belly Dance Business Academy, starting with this webinar. It’s pointed at teachers, but students will also get a lot out of it. Signup coming soon.  Info is here


Raq-On Studio Classes

Aug-September, White River Junction, VT. Focus on improv. Sold out, sorry. 


Effortless Improv: a 6-week online improvisation crash course

Sunday, August 25 through Friday October 4th, 2019

Effortless Improv explores improvisation including Dancing to Live Music.
You can learn to improvise. You can learn to feel the music. It’s a skill, and you can learn it.
Designed for those who want to learn or teach improvisation.
Check it out here! Still a few early-bird seats left… https://aliathabit.com/classes/effortless/


Available any time

Embodiment: Musicality for Oriental Dance

Ziltastic! Fast, fun, finger cymbal improvisation. 

Want something else? Just ask!




How to Learn (and Teach!) Improvisation

Alia dancing improvisation

It’s been raining a lot this Spring. It was a long crappy winter, and the Spring was no better. Recently we’ve had some lovely days, but today it is raining. Again.

I know, we need the rain, water is precious, etc etc. Lots of people love a rainy day, yadda yadda. I get it. I’m just not one of them. Dark, cold, rainy days disagree with me. My body feels tired and aimless. I just want to eat, read, and sleep. Sunny days brighten me up and I actually want to do things–real things, like walk around and dance. 

I kinda feel this way about Improvisation and Choreography, too. 

Improvisation is fun for me, engaging, curious, and invigorating. Memorizing choreography, making everything exactly the same every time? Not so much. I mean, strict choreography is great, and encompasses much wonderful art; it’s just not my thing.

So I am really grateful to have found Oriental Dance, where improvisation is a core, valued skill. Artistic agency, different every time, the feeling in the moment, all that jazz. Right?

Alia dancing improvisation
Photo credit: Ben de Florio

So, um… Why is so much belly dance choreography? 

The short answer is, Western dance values. Since most folks lack access to the cultural values of Oriental dance, we just paste our own cultural values on top of the dance. Immersed in a culture informed by ballet and the Rockettes, we assume that precision and strict choreography are the way to go.

But belly dance is Eastern. It has completely different values. Setting this straight is part of why I wrote Midnight. But it also drives the way I teach.

How to teach Improvisation? 

I focus on improv from the very beginning. Oriental dance is improv-based. Yes, I also teach technique, folks need to know the basic vocabulary AND how to adapt it to express the music. But even if I’m teaching a one-hour intro class, there is improv. I’d rather see folks have fun to music than struggle through some combo. 

So how do I do this?

I make my classes fun. These are live beginner classes we are talking about right now. I start an upbeat improv warmup, and then slow it down for basic vocabulary practice, and include a Dancemeditation sequence. I also talk about the dance and its cultural values, so folks understand what and why we do these things.

After a while, I intro combinations, which I prefer to choreo for beginners. In Bobby Farrah’s classes, we had a different combination every class, and they were challenging–but in this way we learned very fast how to combine and transition between movements. 

If I do a choreo w beginners (after several months have passed), THEY choose the movement. Dina recently specified beginners should not touch choreography for at least two years, so, yeah, I’m jumping the gun ; ). And these dances also include improv sections where each dancer gets to play. 

For the in-depth, forum-based course, Effortless Improvisation, we get very deep into a variety of strategies to help dancers build confidence and let go of thinking and self judgement so they can enjoy their own dance. Each week we have new strategies. This stuff maybe offbeat, but it works.

The core of the course practice and accountability. The practice is a daily (M-F) 20-minute session of freestyle improvisation. This is where the the strategies show up and make a difference. The accountability is daily (M-F) posting of practice, how it went, how you felt, and so forth–and I give students feedback and coaching every day, tuned to their specific needs.

Students also cheerlead each other. We have small groups, so it is easy to keep track of just a few people, to encourage, congratulate, and commiserate. We have clear guidelines and maintain a positive environment so everyone feels safe and cherished. This is how you run an effective online course. And students agree.

What do people say about this?

This course dives deep into finding personal style and preferences. It approaches the wide spread concept that improv is difficult, filled with moments of dread, panic, and fear of looking boring or just not knowing what to do next. It is definitely a “soft skill” class, where “hard skills” are moves, combos, & choreos. This is about how to dance by finding confidence, how to convey emotion by MEANING it, how to string movements together because they FEEL right. The course is about the art behind the dance.

Brenda G

I feel much more confident about my dancing–even though I have “only” belly danced for 2 years and danced period for about 6 years!Actually, I don’t really feel like a “newbie” anymore now. And I know that when I am not having fun dancing it’s because I am trying to “do it right,” so I can remind myself “there are no wrong moves” and let go into the flow of the music. There is also a bit of sadness there, though, that the course is ending because I enjoyed the support I have gotten from Alia and fellow students. It’s amazing what even just a smiley face can do for encouragement.

Rachel B

Dancing with my eyes closed while I practiced.  I found it so much easier to breathe, relax and take in the music when I wasn’t also taking in my surroundings or tempted to see how things looked as I danced.  When we moved on to homework later that we kept our eyes open, it was much easier to simply dance and not be so concerned with what my eyes might see.

I feel like I get so much more out of Alia’s online intensives than many of the 2 or 3 hour workshops I have attended in person.  There is much more time to ask questions and working thru the short homework each day really helps make the material click

Melissa R

I will be teaching a webinar on How to Teach Improvisation for the Belly Dance Business Academy in August (info coming) and Effortless Improvisation, an entire course this fall (still some early bird seats left!), which helps dancers who want to learn AND teachers who want to teach improv more effectively.

Whether you are a student or a teacher, please take the time to explore improvisation. You will find it a wonderfully rewarding enterprise. Oriental dance is a powerful venue for healing and transformation; I explore this aspect in all my classes–and improvisation plays a large part.

With love,

​How to Have Your Own Style

(This was the Day 47 Love Note from 90 Days 2018)

I saw a Frank Zappa piece back in the 70s in which the musicians’ scores were comic books. Zappa conducted, and the musicians played the comic books (I think they had the same comic, but I can’t swear to it). The audience had a part as well—he gave hand signs for specific responses—we shouted sound effects like RUNCH! It was a wonderful concert.

It took those musicians a long time to get the chops to do that—not just to play their instruments—but to play a comic book. And it was the goofy intention to play a comic book that came first.

It has been suggested that one needs 10,000 hours of effort to master a skill.

Even the Sufis say one needs 1,001 days (or nights) of training. If you figure 10-hour days, there you have it. For many things, including dance, I am sure this is true. But it is also true that you can get a handle on something in as little as twenty hours. You won’t be a master, but you will begin to develop competence.

Twenty hours is what we get in my Community College classes. We have 15 weeks, and we dance for up to 1.5 hours each week (the rest goes to lecture and discussion). By the end of the semester, the students–who range from young gals who have taken part in their High School dance program to folks with nary a moment of dance experience—all somehow manage to miss the fact that they signed up for a dance class.

By the end of the semester, they have danced for a little over twenty hours—and they can dance. They can improvise. The whole class develops a group dance, and can solo briefly on their own—and look good doing it—happy and free. They each have their own unique style. In 20 hours.

We can do that, too. In the 90 Days, we dance 20 minutes a day for 90 days. It adds up.

Developing one’s own style is often portrayed as an enormous undertaking. 

One must study like a dog for years, copy slavishly, and then, maybe, if the moon’s phase is just right, they may begin the arduous, perilous quest for their own style.

My opinion, if they hadn’t spent all the time slavishly copying, but instead worked on expression and allowing their body to discover its own response to the music (along with technique), they would have their own style, and long before anyone who spends their time executing other people’s choreography.

To have our own style, we have to practice it.

I know one of the things that makes people nervous about this practice is that they might start whiffing and snorting and stamping and shaking on stage.At which point the belly dance police will cart them off to prison.

People also wonder why we bother dancing to all the alternative music, since they want to be able to improv to belly dance music.

Improvisation is its own separate skill.

It can be applied to any genre.

And: often folks’ relationship with belly dance music is kind of stiff, hampered by the conditioning of copying and choreography, of Lego block dance, and fear of making mistakes.

So we use a lot of different music to break up that pattern. And we practice all this weird stuff like Slow Movement and Rhythmic Breath to help us respond to the music intuitively.

Bottom line, the music has a lot to do with what we do.

I know I dance differently to different music. I bet you do, too. But belly dance music inspires belly dance movement. And Turkish music brings out different movement from Egyptian music. And classic Tarab songs bring different music, and moods, the, for example, the Anghami Modern Dabke playlist. Make sense?

Moreover, the venue affects our dance as well. If I am dancing for myself, my eyes closed, I dance differently than when I perform for my guests. The focus of the show affects what I choose as well. Even the lights and the size of the stage affect what I do.

Then there are various intentions, which may show over the course of a song or a show—joyous here, nostalgic there, mysterious, whimsical, whatever. These all color the dance in different ways.

As we learn to respond in the moment, we organically develop our own style. 

The beauty of all the improv practice, the beauty of learning to allow your body to respond to the music in the moment, is that all of this becomes easier the more we practice it. Because it is your body, your interpretation, it will perforce be unique and special.

Of course we need technique—we need it so we dance safely, have nice lines, and can execute our movement vocabulary. But improv dance is like slam poetry. You just let things come out of your mouth. You have to practice letting things come out as poetry, and that takes skill, but so does everything. Well. Most things worth doing well. Letting dance come out of your body takes skill, too. It’s all about TRUST.

So I invite you to cross train your improvisation.

Freewriting is good. I’ll talk more about that later.

I’m a largely improvisational cook—I’ll combine whatever I have with basmati rice and cook it for half an hour—voila, dinner.

I sing goofy little songs about what I am doing.

I’ve danced television shows for my practice time.

What do you do?

Where can you improvise?

What would be fun?


PS here is a Zappa concert from Brooklyn College in the early 70’s. I don’t think it’s the one I attended, but it’s a taste. I invite you to improvise to it. Be prepared for something unusual ; )

Is your weekly class on vacation for the summer?

Try ours! We’ll be having weekly FunClasses over the summer. These live classes are via Zoom. They last about an hour and include follow-me, features, and Dancemeditation. Sign ups open next week; classes start in June.

How to transition between worlds: The Music of the Spheres

Once upon a time, I got invited to an acquaintance’s birthday party. I liked her very much, so I went, though she lived almost two hours away. She had sent a rather long list of things one would need for a ritual she planned to do as part of the celebration. It made me tired even to read it. On the way, I picked up all the things on the list. It took a while. Finally I got to the party.

I had never been to her house before, so I pulled up across the street to scope it out. It was a chilly, gray day. There were lots of people, outside. The party was outside. Everyone looked drab, in brown and denim. I sat there a while. It began to drizzle. I didn’t know any of these people. I am an introvert. I am not a big ritual person. I gave up. I turned my car around and drove away. 

There was no easy transition from my world to that one. The difference was too great. This happens with our practice, too. If the transition is too difficult, we are likely to avoid it. Jihad Racy told me to always have my instrument out, to have m music out, to have everything ready so all I needed to do was pick up the nay. It helps to have our dance space and music ready, too—a streamlined workflow, so it is easy to push play and walk onto the mat. But them what? 

How do we get from the everyday into the flow? 
One way is Spherical Movement. Elena Lentini, elenalentini.com, one of our greatest living dancers, uses this exercise in her warm up. It’s soothing, and healing, and low stakes, just what a warmup should be.

You are on a sphere (imaginary ; ), pressing against it from head to foot, arms upraised, like you are embracing a ball bigger than you are; your whole body describes the arc of the sphere. You could also do this sitting (the ball would be smaller), or lying down, or body part by body part, or even visualize the movement.

As your body moves, you morph around the sphere, from front to back, breathing as you go, exhaling as you arc forward, inhaling as you arc back, as if the ball is now behind you. Go slowly. Take your time—after all, you are now a heavenly body :). Discover each moment individually as you ooze around the sphere.

The perfect music: https://www.dropbox.com/s/lopoy0rpkv186li/Elena_Music_05.mp3?dl=0(This music is nice in a big space if you have one–you will get it when you hear it. Don’t listen in advance—listen the first time when you use it. I don’t know who the artists are—if anyone does, please tell me.)

Sweet, sweet, softness and exaltation.

Please let me know how it goes. 


News and happenings

March into the Spotlight: Bring Basic Belly Dance Back Challenge
Mar 24 – Mar 30

Alia’s Upcoming Classes and Workshops

Fun Classes. I’m teaching live weekly-ish online dance classes! Each class is streamed live on Thursdays at 7pm EST and a recording is posted until the next class replaces it. Registration coming soon! Email me if interested.

July 14. I’ll be at Cairo Cabaret in Chicopee MA, dancing and teaching workshops in Improv and Group Dance composition. https://www.facebook.com/events/2223293227683591/

Aug 12-Mid Sept. I’ll be covering for Amity’s Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced classes in WRJ.

Any time. Zitastic and Embodiment are now available on Teachable! 

How to develop stage presence at home (and on video)

Alexander the Great conquered the known world. Everywhere there was fell to him. He did a good job, too, keeping the local culture culture intact. But his big love was conquering. When he got as far as there was to go, when there were no more countries to to invade, Alexander broke down and cried.

Mosaic of Alexander and his horse, Bucephalus (c. first century AD), ancient Roman floor mosaic from the House of the Faunin Pompeii showing Alexander fighting king Darius III of Persia in the Battle of Issus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great)


Sometimes it seems we can only go so far by twinkling at our pets, stuffed animals, and furniture. Where else is there to go? Yet many of us do not perform, or we have few chances. We need some real live interaction.

Well, here is an an idea.

Dance with the mirror.

Most of us have been trained to squint at ourselves critically. What if we danced instead?

I started by just smiling at and reassuring myself in the bathroom mirror. Then I moved on to a little mirror in my living room. Then when I danced in that room, I found I danced to myself in that little mirror—just my face. I would dance and smile and twinkle, and it was so much nicer.

The other day at Leila Farid’s improv class, people were asking about using mirrors to practice improv. This is generally a terrible idea, since we all squint and judge ourselves so much in the mirror, focusing upon what we look like and tweaking our visual.

I mentioned that I was developing a new relationship with my mirror, dancing with rather than staring at, and I danced a little bit, twinkling at my reflection, enjoying the moment.

The reaction was interesting. Everyone’s jaw dropped. Clearly, no one had done this before. So I mention it today. What if we all reclaimed our self-relationship? What if we all used the mirror to reinforce our self-love and enjoyment? I think that could be one hell of a revolutionary gesture.

This also works on video.

I first noticed this when I was making 90 Days practice videos. I see what the camera does on my computer screen. I keep an eye on the monitor to be sure that I am in the frame, and I smile and send love out through the camera to to all of my guests. But I realized I was doing more than that—I was dancing with myself. Instead of squinting and judging, I was twinkling and smiling and playing!

Well! That was a fun surprise. I find it is becoming a habit. And what a nice habit! Because I smile at myself, it comes through the camera as though I smile into it, so it has a double benefit of love to myself and love towards my guests.

I usually position the cam so it is at waist height, which I understand as the best angle for recording dance, as neither half of the body is lengthened or foreshortened. I do all the normal video things, check the light, mark the space I have, remove any clutter, and then I have a good time dancing with myself! I even like the way the videos have been coming out. So it is a win-win.

I have a video for you below, so you can see what I mean. I made this for the 90 Days; now you get to see it, too ; ). https://www.dropbox.com/s/r6b7p97272co7t4/Alia-Practice-6-HB-baladi%2Bclassic.mp4?dl=0

I invite you to try it for yourself!

Start with mirrors or video as you like—just smile and twinkle at yourself. Dance and have fun!


Music: Abdel Halim Hafez!


I’m doing a series of live online classes starting in June.
More info coming soon. Email me if you want early news

I’ll be teaching a 3-credit Middle Eastern Dance and Culture class for the Newport VT Community College this fall. Check it out here: https://andromeda.ccv.vsc.edu/Learn/Grid/Sections.cfm?COURSEID=DAN-2210&grid=Fall


Folkloric Weekend (GREAT instructors) in WRJ, July 7-8