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. 

Love,
Alia

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!

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!

Love,
Alia

Music: Abdel Halim Hafez!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztEhH2_gNWY

 

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

PPS LOCAL News (VT/NH)
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
https://amy-smith-lxq4.squarespace.com/yalla-dancefolkloric/

Happy Birthday, Bobby Farrah! (+Alia on Geek Clubhouse tonight)

 

Bobby Farrah1. Happy Birthday Bobby Farrah!

Many of you know that Ibrahim “Bobby” Farrah is one of my major influences. I attended his classes in NYC often several times a week for several years. One of the things I have become aware of over the course of writing the book was just how well his teaching methods prepared me for improvisation and performance to live music. Here is a short piece I wrote for his neice, Tarifa Salem, for his birthday last year.

Bobby Farrah

What Bobby had was firstly a deep understanding of the soul of this dance. He realized the dance is about expression of the dancer’s feeling from the music, that it is about embodiment and timing more than steps or combos. He encouraged personal expression and style in all of his classes. But he did so much more than this.

Bobby’s classes, especially in the early days, were models of learning science.

One of the hottest concepts in learning today is interleaving. This means that rather than sticking with one thing until you get it, you keep the brain always reaching. You do different things so the brain never knows what to expect. You cycle through things and make them different every time.

Bobby never repeated. You could go to his class three times in a week for two hours at a time (and I did). He never repeated. Every single time, he would do something completely different. There was a fairly consistent format of options—for example, a combination, traveling across the floor, following Bobby as he improvised—but it was never the same combo, the floor crossing was always different (and sometimes different for each person), and the impro—well, that, by its very nature, was different every time, even to the same music.

The result of all this multiplicity was that we learned.

We learned musicality, how to combine moves, how to transition between them, how to improvise, how to interpret music, how to compose, how to use a stage—without him ever having to say anything about it. And we learned how to present ourselves, even though we giggled to see Bobby swan across the floor, beaming at himself in the mirror. We learned. It was hard, but it was worth it.

Even in his later years of choreography, the dances were deceptively simple. They embodied this deep understanding. They didn’t beat the music to death. They made space for the dancer’s own special sauce. For her feeling. For the love she brought to the guests. For the expression and communication of her feeling.

You can tell a Bobby dancer by the way she uses the stage. He marked us all, in the best possible way. It took me years to realize what gift he had given us, what a world-class education I had received. It took watching a lot of dancers, many famous, and slowly realizing, Huh. I can do that. I get it. I see it.

Bobby taught me to own the dance.

He taught me that I had something to say. He taught me how to say it with dance. I am proud to carry on his legacy.

 

2. I’m delighted to be a guest tonight on Nadira Jamal’s Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse!

Every month, Nadira interviews a belly dance luminary about something cool, interesting, and useful. This time, it’s me.

We’ll be talking about how a performer’s emotional resonance enriches both herself and her guests.

Here’s Nadira’s description:

My guest, Alia Thabit, will talk about how the gift of sharing your feelings with your audience can enrich not only your performance, but their experience.

Imagine a world with less fear and detachment. A world with more joy and connection. 

As artists and performers, we have the ability to share our emotional responses to the music with the audience, inviting them into our experience. Amid the glamour, the flash, and the hip drops, we have the amazing power to spread joy and cultural understanding through our dance.

YOU’LL LEARN: 
– The power of dance as a personal practice
– The gift of connection in dance (for you and for the audience)
We’ll also have some discussion time, so you can ask Alia your questions.

LOGISTICS:  

This free call will take place TONIGHTMonday, February 27th at 8pm Eastern time.

To see that in your own time zone, visit:
http://bit.ly/2lhC25x

There will be a recording and Nadira generously makes these available to everyone. Clubhouse membership, however, does give you some great perks: you can join the monthly conversation live, get notification of call recordings, and an invite to join the private Facebook group where you can interact with each month’s guest (and fellow dancers from all over the world). If you are already a member of the clubhouse, check your email for the details. If not, it’s free and easy to join.

 

Thanks and see you then!

Love,

Alia

 

What’s your wall?

Sometimes we hit a wall. 

SoHigh2

So high, can’t get over it. So low, can’t go under it. So wide, can’t get around it…

Where is your dance wall?
What stops you, gets in your way, or keeps you from dancing what you feel in the moment? What walls do your students or dancer friends face?

Here are a few things I, and other folks, have struggled with. 

Confidence
Never feeling good enough, creative enough, or anything enough.

Presence 
Getting stuck in one’s head, losing energy, falling out of the zone.

Introversion
Feeling constrained in performance or navigating social scenes.

Improvisation
The feeling in the moment ; )

Not Performing
Why is this such a crime?

Technique
How the heck do I… ?

Age/Looks
We don’t fit the mold, but have so much to express.

Personal Style
How do you find it? Does it take forever?

Finding Spirit in Dance
Is it really all hoodoo?

 

What’s your biggest wall?
How does it affect you?
What would help?

 

Write to me. Or post on the blog. I’ll write back.

Love,

Alia

PS I am once again endeavoring to create a little something new, this time in two weeks. This week is for figuring out what to make. Next week is for making it. It shall be done and ready to roll on May 1. I want it to be something that solves a problem for my dance friends–that’s you. Hence my question. More on Thursday!

How to transmit wonder with your dance

TransmitWonderIn our secret hearts, we come to this dance for transformation. We seek a magic carpet ride to our true self, our inner goddess, femme fatale, power and glory. We want this so hard it hurts. We cry at night for the loss of the beauty, freedom, mystery and adventure with which we were born. Life is hard, and it has taken its toll.

We come to this dance for redemption. To see ourselves in a new, truer, mirror, one that will shine back to us the beauty and joy hidden away in our souls.

This dance delivers. It delivers in spades.

Everything we crave awaits us inside this dance. All the joy, the beauty, the glory, hidden treasure waiting to be found. A secret blossom trembling on the brink. A fourth doorway, a portal to the Divine, hidden from sight—until we are ready to open it.

But we are afraid. Afraid of feeling our pain, afraid of shoveling through the shit of life to get to the treasure. Afraid there is no treasure. So we put on our hipscarves and copy empty movement for an hour a week, pretending we are beautiful. It is an epic tragedy.

How do we get through the fourth door? 

Well, first we have to find it. 
And then we have to make a few changes.
And that may take some effort.

Learning is hard. It hurts, like an unused muscle, newly awakened. We all want to have fun, but most of us also want to learn. How do we balance the difficulty of learning with the pleasure of the dance itself?

This dance flourishes within its cultural context. All of its wonderful, chaotic heterophony, micromovement, improvisation, social ritual, and feeling–these are not quaint traditions. They are the living breathing center of this dance.

Our dance is a magical doorway. It leads to a place within where we feel our beauty, dissolve trauma and stress, nurture our body and brain, feed our soul, and connect with the Divine. This is the nature of this dance. It is a magical transmission of wonder. 


Wait, how do we magically transmit wonder?
The first step is to reclaim our own wonder. We have all been brainwashed into regarding ourselves with narrow eyes, alert for any flaws or ways in which we do not fit the proscribed vision of perfection. Alas, there are so many ways to miss the mark.

Let’s change the rating system. Let’s step back from perfection of form and the Platonic Ideal. Let’s step up to shared mystery and glory.

The wonderful Fahtiem once explained, “It’s not just a hip drop,” as she rolled her eyes, looking bored with her own movement.

“It’s a hip drop!” And she gasped, her eyes got big as her face expressed amazement. Suddenly the move transformed into wonder–the wonder we all felt once upon a time, the wonder that drew us to this dance.

What if every hip drop, every move, every moment of our dance were a testament to wonder? We feel and express the wonder so others can also see it, feel it, live it.

The fourth doorway awaits. 
Will you walk through?

Love,
Alia

PS Last call for How to Create Dance Art
Oriental dance evolved for improvisation. Choreography can inhibit our ability to express our feeling from the music in the moment, to be different every time.

On the other hand, recorded music is the same every time. How to balance these conflicting influences?

Create Dance Art is the solution!
Check it out: http://CreateDanceArt.com

PPS Final free webinar on Sunday: Fast, fun, fabulous Group Dances that folks can remember and enjoy doing! Plus a special offer for Create Dance Art!
Click here: http://eepurl.com/bJETD9

Happy Holidays, Beautiful!

Happy Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule, Kwanzaa, Eid, Solstice, and more!
Whatever you celebrate, even if it is a can of soup, I send you all my love and kisses.

And of course, we have a present, too!
This year’s present will keep giving all year…

[sdm_download id=”3134″ fancy=”1″]

Christmas-15tiny

 

Hugs and kisses,

Alia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance Magic Webinar

Hola, beautiful!

Ready for a free LIVE webinar?

Box of rocks_0(3)
Sometimes making dances is like sorting a box of rocks.

How about one on making dances? Lots of holiday haflas coming up! How do you quickly make a dance so you feel confident–without having to remember all those steps?

Ta-daa! Presenting

Dance Magic

Quick, easy ways to make a dance without setting a single step. 
In fact, we will make a dance right on the webinar!

This will be on Thursday, Dec 17 at 3PM EST (see that in your time zone: https://goo.gl/tJs7UB).
Yes, there will be a recording!

Sign me up!

(We will only use your addy for the webinar (unless you also choose to get Alia’s fabbo newsletter). Pinky swear!)

Save the date! It’s gonna be a hot one!

Love,
Alia

Here’s that link again…

Dance Magic me!

How to Enjoy Dance Practice Part III

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

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

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

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

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

How do you bring confident spontaneity into a performance?

Share your joy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you next week with Part IV!

Love,

Alia
Your comments are welcome.

 

PS Want to inspire, amaze and delight?

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

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

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

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

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

What is Belly Dance? Part IV

What is Belly Dance? Part IV

Read Part I here

Read part II here

Read Part III here

 

It’s pretty clear by now that belly dance is much more than a sparkly little toy. It’s much more than a sexy treat for the male gaze, a fun way of getting exercise, or a dress-up opportunity. It is more than entertainment. It is more than art. We can use it that way, and it will work just fine, but we are playing marbles with giant pearls.

Belly dance is a glorious marriage of the sacred and the profane—beautiful, sensual, healing, and integrative. It aligns the body and mind, washes away stress and trauma, frees us from fear and anxiety, and connects us to the Divine. How many other venues have all that?

There are plenty of practices that do most of it—tai-chi, yoga, Zen archery, even sitting meditation. But none of them include those sensual, beautiful, entertaining, profane qualities. There are no spangles, playfulness, or music. No sensuality. No fun.

Belly dance has all that and more.

Belly dance has been seen asa pastime, entertainment, even art—but always as a generally innocuous occupation with little meaning outside of itself. Many of us have a mission to “elevate the dance,” which often means to make it more Western—put it on bigger stages, with bigger audiences.

What if there were a way to elevate the dance that kept its cultural values? Without them, this dance is dead. It’s an empty movement vocabulary. It becomes like Cheez Wiz or Cool Whip—an artificial, processed, non-food masquerading as real food. We don’t need more plastic crap in our lives.

We need real things that connect us to our true selves. We need avenues to our souls, ways to accept and nurture ourselves, be kind to ourselves, love ourselves. Through accepting and affirming the self, we find the courage and the kindness to love others.

Little by little, this love radiates outward, touching others, healing as it goes. It extends outward, all over the world, finally returning back to us, energizing us and everyone it meets.

Am I saying belly dance has the potential for world peace?

Yes. Yes, I am.

Instead of using this dance to glorify ourselves, we can spread love, healing, kindness, spirit, joy.

We heal the world, one undulation at a time.

 

An excerpt from the upcoming book, Midnight at the Crossroads: Has belly dance sold its soul?

What is belly dance part III

What is belly dance? Part III

Read Part I here

Read part II here

appropiration2Of course, there are specific folkloric dances that have nothing to do with belly dance—no one is arguing about that. But there are others that have been adopted. They are not belly dance as such (Sa’idi stick dance, for example, or Turkish Romani dance), but they are here to stay in our repertoire. So “belly dance,” (a made-up name to begin with), is already inclusive of many fusion elements. Then there are the various forms of “Tribal” dance, from Jamila Salimpour’s Bal Anat through tribal fusion, a host of ethnic and other fusions, and all the theatrical approaches. It’s a mishmash. What do we do with all of these? What do we call them?

I am loathe to kick anyone off the belly dance bus. I have concerns about some things, and will explore them as we go along, never fear. But as we come to understand the soul of the dance, misconceptions fall away. There are qualities of the dance that underlie everything else, and these are where we want to put our focus. The rest is window dressing.

To me, the vital elements of the dance are

  • improvisation to improvised (preferably live) music
  • the foundation movement vocabulary, with micro-movement
  • an inseparable connection Oriental music and its the values and qualities, including  the importance of the feeling in the moment.

I will return to these elements often. This dance is not only as an ancient, beautiful art form. It also has healing, spiritual properties, and is a legitimate mind-body practice that equals yoga, tai-chi, and sitting meditation in its effectiveness and power. Really? Yes.

Sparkly little belly dance has immense power. People are drawn to it because they sense this, though they may not know how to access it. Once they come to a class, they are usually taught a sterilized version: stylized, choreographed, counted, body-control to recorded music. This is not the dance they were looking for. But it is all they see, so okay. Well, it’s not okay with me. I am here to explode this view of the dance. I am here to shine a light on the magic and mystery of our dance.

We are drawn to this dance because we feel something from it. It is real. It is there. The dance waits for you, a hidden seed trembling with life, ready to blossom in your heart and soul. It is beautiful and free and loving–and so are you.

Part IV coming next week…