Dancing for the Camera

Living in Vermont has turned out to be lucky in several ways–the most recent being that there aren’t so many people here, so the whole covid safety thing has been much easier than it might have been. The scarcity of people has also turned out to be lucky for dance in the time of covid. Because there is such a small pool of local folks interested in dance, I have had to go far afield–and the simplest way to do that has been online courses–and yes, dancing for the camera.

I am fortunate there, too, having become an early adopter of online courses at the college level, so I already knew how to design classes and effectively present material online. Thanks to Occupy Wall Street, I took an early interest in livestreaming as well, and have been livestreaming dance since 2012.

Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Preparation

This is aaallll the groundwork that makes a presentation successful. Having a suitable camera, learning the software, preparing your space to be filmed, lighting, sound, workflow, decent internet, etc. This all has a steeper learning curve than I ever expected, and I am still finding out new things, adapting to Zoom’s recent upgrades, and always improving the quality of my work. It is simpler to make things look good when they are pre-recorded; live work is a whole other ball game (the class Zoom Secrets covers all this in-depth).

Top Takeaway? Light yourself nicely. It’s not that hard–a few daylight bulbs, white cloth/cardboard, and clamp lamps will do it.

Presenting

This was hard. It is for many of us. We worry–who is out there looking at us? and that No-one is out there at all! As an introvert, the camera felt judgmental (and I wasn’t wild about myself on the recording, either–more on that later). But I learned.

Top Takeaway? Treat the camera like a friend (a specific friend you love!). Use your monitor to treat yourself like a friend, too. Laugh, flirt, joke, smile. Create a warmth and welcome for yourself.

This helped me survive being stuck in a small town far away from any dance classes.

And now thanks to covid, we are all pretty much stuck. And there is no end in sight. So even though we may live in an area with plenty of people to come to our classes or presentations, we need to develop our online abilities.

So I’ve been bringing my skills to the table to help us all out. Might as well make lemonade, right? And some things you can read about, but these camera skills benefit from live practice with warm, appreciative friends. Sooo, Announcing ….

How to Dance (or speak!) for the Camera.

July 13-Aug 28. Small Group meeting times will be planned with the group.
Five live biweekly small-group practice sessions plus two individual private conferences. This course helps dancers, teachers, entrepreneurs (and others) communicate through the camera.

Learn to feel relaxed and natural, to find your voice, and to create a vibrant on-camera experience.

Registration is open now.

With lots of love,
Alia

PS remember, we have a coronavirus summer special on all Teachable courses.
Coupon code: SUMMERCORONACARE
Click the course you want. Click “Enroll in Course,”
Add coupon on the next screen.

Belly Dance: Powerful Medicine for Modern Times

The news is intense, and change is coming. If you’ve been out of the loop for the last few months, check out my FB timeline to get updates and shareable resources, and this post for my stand on these issues.

The upshot is that many of us are feeling a teensy bit challenged lately. Thank goodness we are belly dancers!

Why?

Belly dance is a premier venue for soothing frazzled nervous systems. 
When we engage with the social, cultural style, rich with improvisation, micromovement, and the feeling in the moment, belly dance brings joy–to dancers and to their guests. So joy is where I am putting my focus for the next few months–because human beings do better when we turn off the alarms, at least for a little while. With all this in mind, I am pleased to offer…

Taqsim Tuesdays 

Taqsim, instrumental improvisation, is all about  the feeling, improvisation, and musical meaning. Taqsim is about enjoyment, relaxation, and openness. It invites dancers to sink into the music, to wait for it, to follow it, to lean into it.

Taqsim is among the deepest, most beautiful elements of Oriental dance–and among the most challenging for Western dancers, especially those trained in choreography. Our class is a five-week deep dive into understanding taqsim structure and conventions, immersion in different instruments and their responses, learning to let go and let the music lead, to trust our bodies to follow, to trust ourselves to feel, and to express what we feel. 

The class includes technique, follow me, and individual exploration. We will explore traditional taqasim plus fusion and world improvisations with a suitable vibe. This class won’t show you what to dance to a taqsim–it will show you how to dance in the moment to improvised music.

In taqsim’s celebration of the present moment, with its invitation to let the body move as it wishes, the nervous system has time to settle, release, re-align. Few classes provide open structures and space for you to be yourself, to feel deeply in a safe space. Now is the time to give yourself this gift. 

Taqsim Tuesdays, 4PM EDT, June 16 – July 14.
Classes are recorded (Instructor view only). Recordings are available for one week.
Register here.

 

Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times

In these challenging times it is hard to feel grounded or confident–pandemics, fascism, racism–fear, grief, and rage are everywhere. How do we ground ourselves with love?

Tuning In comes from a Somatic Experiencing® (SE) and Dancemeditation perspective. It’s a half-hour Zoom chillout session for soothing and nourishing the body, mind, and spirit. It is designed to ease anxiety and restore wellbeing.

Will it cure the world’s ills? No.
Will it help us withstand them? Yes.

We’ll 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.

All are Welcome

Free Open Session Friday, June 12, 4PM EDT
 Live session only (NO recording). Register here. https://alia-thabit.ck.page/tuning-in/

Five Weeks, June 19 – July 31.  Fridays, 4PM ET (no session July 3 or 24)
See this in your time zone Sessions are recorded (instructor only). Recordings are available for one week. Register here.  https://aliathabit.com/shop/#trust/

How to Dance (or speak) for the Camera

Four weeks, June 22-July 17. Meeting times TBD
Our social interaction happens through video these days, and we may be doing it for a while. Through weekly live small-group practice sessions and bi-weekly private conferences, this course helps dancers, teachers, entrepreneurs (and others) communicate through the camera–to feel relaxed and natural, to find their voice, and to create a vibrant on-camera experience. Limited seating.
Register here.

All classes feature pandemic pricing, because times are tough. 

Summer Covid 25% Coupon for all Teachable classes! alia.teachable.com/courses

I apologize that there is an issue with the coupon. Until I get a reply from tech support, please
click the class you want, then paste 
?coupon_code=SUMMERCORONACARE
on to the url. Get your instant 25% off (THEN click enroll)
Example:
https://alia.teachable.com/p/course-name-here?coupon_code=SUMMERCORONACARE

Support Black Artists!

Watch Black films!

Criterion Lifts Paywall to Stream ‘Daughters of the Dust’ and More Black Films for Free.
Curated here: https://www.criterionchannel.com/browse

Read books by Black authors
Some of my favorite Black authors include
Tomi Adeyemi!
Angie Thomas
Nnedi Okorafor
Octavia Butler
Beverly Daniel Tatum (Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria is a must read)

Attend Black-produced Events

Harlem Hafla 2020 (more events coming)

See Black dancers!

MENATdancegeeks is making A Black Perspective by Ahava available to stream for free for a limited time. It is deeply worth listening and worth donating <3

See a selection of Black dancers: Lady Liquid Presents Afrodisiac The Black Bellydance Show

And listen:

JUN 14 Bellydancers Call to Action, Hosted by Belly Dancers of Color Magic https://www.facebook.com/events/270882567360406/

With lots of love and solidarity, 
Alia
PS 10% of June proceeds go to Black causes (TBA)

What is your Buried Treasure?

There is a Rumi poem, Book Beauty, in which a woman wants to be beautiful, so she take pages from the Qur’an, wets them, and mashes them into a paste, with which she then covers her face. She does this because the words of the Qur’an are beautiful, so if she puts them on her face, then she too would be beautiful.

Ouch.

It is so desperate and tragic, that image. But it reminds me of all the things I have put on myself in an effort to feel more beautiful, more attractive, from clothes and make up to a new costume, in hopes that this would do the trick, and I would be beautiful.

 

Just like she did.

We have been shortchanged by our society. We have few venues in which to revel in our beauty. If we admit to feeling beautiful, we are promptly struck down. We are fed a steady diet of airbrushed images designed to crush our sense of self-worth.

To be beautiful, we must consume. We have to shop and find the right dress. We have to go to workshops and learn more moves and work harder and be better. We never get to just be.

Except here. This dance and this practice reconnect us to our beauty and power. When we are in the moment, alive, eternal, we feel it. We feel the lineage of dancers before us.

We feel our connection to the Divine.

Our worth, our beauty, our power, they don’t come from things we buy to cover up our true selves. They come from within. They are treasures gleaming deep within our souls. Oriental dance helps us to find that buried treasure, to dig deep, to sift out our glittering truth, to bask in its soft light. To see and feel our true selves.

We can bring this treasure back with us into everyday life. We can walk this walk every day, everywhere we go.

This is a subversive notion indeed. This is what this our dance is all about. This is our true challenge.

What treasure have you found through dance?

Love,
Alia

PS Music! Taksim Trio live.

 

Extra! Afrodisiac – The Black Bellydance Show
Sunday, May 31, 2020 at 4:30 PM PST  – 7:30 PM EST https://www.facebook.com/events/293035675044702/


Extra: Prince and the Revolution LIVE watch party : at 7pm CST on Thursday, May 14 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRa8ZH_iOXo  follow the link and set a reminder


Extra:  The film “Free Trip to Egypt” will be streamed for free for one day only at 7pm EST Sunday May 17th and will be followed by a Q&A with the creator.  Thank you Amanda! info: https://www.facebook.com/events/1328632977333048/ Tkts: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/watch-the-film-free-trip-to-egypt-for-free-watch-party-in-may-tickets-104654662914

Sacred Dance Summit (+ Fun Things to D)

pretty pic and nice zoom background
I’m so pleased many folks have enjoyed my interview for Sacred Dance Summit! The Summit been a wonderful opportunity for me to share my experiences with others.
 
My interview, and those of our other four speakers, will be available free through May 8–register here to get access.
 
Leslie Zehr author of “The Alchemy of Dance: Sacred Dance as a Path to the Universal Dancer” is your host for this free online Sacred Dance Summit. She has brought together five women well know in the world of bellydance to speak about their journeys with the spiritual and mystical dimensions of bellydance.
 
The summit runs May 4th-8th. Each day at 12am PDT (3am EDT, 7am GMT/UTC, 9am EET, 3pm AWST) a new interview will be released. The interview will be available for viewing for free until the end of the summit!
 
Sacred Dance Summit May 2020 Speakers line-up:
Day 1: Awakened Bellydance ~ All Movement is Divine when the Heart is Danced Awake with Katie Holland
Day 2: Belly Dance: a Healing Jewel that Connects us to the Divine with Alia Thabit
Day 3: Spiritual Empowerment through Bellydance with Carrie Konyha
Day 4: Somatic Approaches for Dance – How to Enhance Sensory Awareness with Keti Sharif
Day 5:Embodied Bellydance – Ancient wisdom meets contemporary somatic intelligence with Maria Sangiorgi
 
In addition to the interviews each of our speakers has a wonderful free gift for you on the interview page.
For my gift to Summit registrants, I’ve included the full chapter on Practice from Midnight at the Crossroads: has belly dance sold its soul?
 
Be sure to check it out and take advantage of it. It is an excellent way to get to know our speakers better, as well as a way to expand your awareness of the healing and sacred side of bellydance.
 
Hope you will join us to hear what all these wonderful ladies have to say as we glimpse behind the veils of the ancient art of bellydance. And please share with your friends!
 
Registration is easy and the summit is free!
For those who’d like to keep the interviews past tomorrow, the All Access Pass is a great deal.
 
I hope you will join us to hear what all these thoughtful  women have to say as we “peek behind the veils” of the ancient art of bellydance. And please share with your friends. Thank you!
 

pretty pic and nice zoom background

Fun Things to Do

I’ve got some great new things coming up, Including How to Dance for the Camera, Focus on the Felling–A Dancer Empowerment Project, and  Tuning In–Group Chillout Session. More on these shortly. 

The Fun Class continues with Pandemic Pricing through May! Come dance and relax and feel good with us!


What I want to highlight today is today is the free classes Tamalyn has been giving on Facebook. The links below can be viewed without having a facebook account!

Thanks for being here!
Love, 
Alia

 

From Tamalyn Dallal

“Here is a recap of the eleven mini classes I taught online last month. The first seven classes are basics for everybody regardless of how long you’ve been dancing, and they are also suitable for complete beginners.
The “Yo Yo Ma Silk Road Series” which has four classes, is intermediate level. It is good to take all of the classes in order. That’s why I am posting the links in order. I have several classes that are professionally produced and you can rent them on www.daturaonline.com. My documentaries are also available on www.Daturaonline.com.
I will be collaborating with other dance teachers in teaching three online Zoom workshops during the month of May: Saturday, May 16, 10am-11:20 with Joana Saahira, Friday, May 22, 10am – 11:20 with Joana Saahirah, and Saturday, Time TBA with Tatiana of Ukraine.”

Basics for everyone series (7 mini classes)

Circles
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3145393168828185/UzpfSTEwMDAwMDcyNTk4NTgzMTozMDYwNjExMjk0OTk0MTQ6MTA6MTU3Nzg2NTYwMDoxNjA5NDg3OTk5Oi04MDg4Njk0Nzk0NzI0NTkzNTI5/

Shimmies
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3147780465256122/

Figure eights
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3150124208355081/UzpfSTEwMDAwMDcyNTk4NTgzMTozMDYwNjExMjk0OTk0MTQ6MTA6MTU3Nzg2NTYwMDoxNjA5NDg3OTk5Oi00ODI2MTI5NzI5NzI2OTYxMTM/

Basic traveling combo
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3152586584775510/

Undulations
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3154941277873374/

Veils:
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3157322410968594/

Slow movement review
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3159809647386537/UzpfSTEwMDAwMDcyNTk4NTgzMTozMTU5ODM4ODI3MzgzNjE5/
__________________________________________________________
Dancing to Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project Series (4 mini classes)

Upper body basics
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3182515968449238/

Shimmies
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3185030778197757/

Finger Cymbals
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3187616087939226/UzpfSTEwMDAwMDcyNTk4NTgzMTozMDYwNjExMjk0OTk0MTQ6MTA6MDoxNTkwOTk0Nzk5OjkyMDI4MDYzNjI0NTAwMDQzOQ/

Veils
https://www.facebook.com/tamalyn.dallal.1/videos/3190148881019280/UzpfSTEwMDAwMDcyNTk4NTgzMTozMDYwNjExMjk0OTk0MTQ6MTA6MDoxNTkwOTk0Nzk5OjgzMTAwOTc5NjE3NjA3MTMyMjc/



 

Is our Dance Sacred?

The word sacred or spiritual or anything like that sets some of our teeth on edge. I generally avoid these words, but  my practice is certainly spiritually nurturing for me as well as healing (plus good exercise, a mind-body practice, and generally an amazing package of benefits! My teaching is geared to helping others feel more deeply and develop their intuitive movement, and I see my performances as blessings. 

So…

I am very excited to be part of the Sacred Dance Summit this May 4-8!

Leslie Zehr, author of The Alchemy of Dance: Sacred Dance as a Path to the Universal Dancer, is the host for this free online Sacred Dance Summit. Twice a year she brings together five fascinating women to speak about their experiences with Dance as a Spiritual Practice.

The speakers span halfway across the globe from Arizona to Australia. Guests, besides myself, include Carrie Konyha, Katie Holland, Keti Sharif and Maria Sangiorgi, all of whom are belly dancers.

They will discuss modalities ranging from Awakened Bellydance, Embodied Bellydance, Dancemeditation and Spiritual Belly Dance; to how to bring somatics, esoteric wisdom and energy healing arts into bellydance. You can read more about each of these women on the Universal Dancer website

The summit runs May 4th-8th. Each day at 12am PDT (3am EDT, 7am GMT/UTC, 9am EET, 3pm AWST) a new interview will be released. The interview will be available for viewing for free for until the end of the summit.

In addition to the interviews each of the speakers has a wonderful free gift for you on the interview page. I invite you to check it out and take advantage of it. It is an excellent way to get to know the speakers better, as well as a way to expand your awareness of the healing and sacred side of bellydance.

I hope you will join us to hear what all these wonderful ladies have to say as we “peek behind the veils” of the ancient art of bellydance. And please share with your friends!

Registration is easy and the summit is free!

Free Sacred Dance Summit


If you’d like to own the interviews and get some cool bonuses, there is a huge deal on the all-access package…

 

 

With much love, 
Alia

PS the Fun Class runs through May with Pandemic Pricing. Come dance and have fun with us!

American Umm Kulthum

Here’s a vintage Love Note from 2013 (so it wasn’t last night, but 7 years ago ; ).

I’m not gonna lie, I went out and got drunk last night (and I’m a cheap date: one Lemon Drop and I was pretty happy :). I had gone to see my friend’s Al’s band play, and it was glorious.

They played music I love, standards like Mustang Sally and Black Magic Woman, but also music from the Allman Brothers that I hadn’t heard in years, Statesboro Blues and Whipping Post. Ahhh, such joy! I vividly remember back in the 70’s when we came out of the Fillmore East as dawn broke over the city skyline, because back then, bands really did PLAY ALL NIGHT.

Dancing joyously, I realized it is the songs of our own generation that speak to us—we know all the words, we can sing them in our sleep, and they make us happy. Of course, oldies stations are always popular for this reason, but there is more to it than that. These musicians jammed, long intricate improvisations, and the structural integrity of the songs, the remarkable skills of the musicians (technique being, as ever, the servant of expression), the deep blues influences, this was an authentic outgrowth of American music, and it expressed its generation as cogently as Umm Kulthum expressed hers.

If we want to really understand Oriental dance, we must bring its music into our hearts and souls as fully as the songs of our own youth. I remember a belly dancer (I wish I could remember who), who wrote that she was a cheerleader for the audience’s favorite songs as they sang along to the music of Umm Kulthum. She was perfectly fine with that—their joy spilled over onto her; she became part of it.

Al’s band is “just” a cover band playing forty-year-old songs as the audience hums along, dizzy with delight. They, too, bring the joy. And this music is part of my Umm Kulthum; I feel it in my heart and soul.

So tonight I present to you the music of my youth, The Allman Brothers, recorded live in 1971 at the Fillmore East. I was probably at these shows.

This is a playlist, but several of the songs are at, longer than, or close to 20 minutes, so you can just pick one if you like.

Love,
Alia

PS The Basic Bellydance Challenge is going on right now! There are lots of giveaways for participants (I’ve provided three, plus a coupon for Teachable classes), and watching the videos folks post on FB and IG is a lot of fun. Here’s my Day 3 video.

Local VT/NH folks, the live classes at the Grindstone Café in Lyndonville are Thursdays at 5:30PM Come dance and have fun with us!

Why It Doesn’t Matter What You Do

Hidden

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

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

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

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

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

Well, it might.

So we use Slow Movement to stay safe. 

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

Doing this work is like a cleanse for the soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never has been. It’s play.

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

So I did.

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

So it works.

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

It’s play.

Let’s play.

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

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

Love,
Alia 

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

What is the Most Beautiful Move?

The most beautiful move is the one you are doing right now.Think of the most wonderful dancer you’ve ever seen. Everything they do entrances you—every action feels perfect. You notice only the energy and the love. Joy and warmth suffuse your soul. You feel loved and loving, uplifted and happy. At the end, you applaud wildly, wishing only for more. How do they do it? How do they make everything so beautiful? They must practice a lot. If only…

What is the most beautiful move?

Here’s a conundrum. When we exist in the moment, all of life is perfect—or hell—or however that moment happens to feel. Ironically, the moment itself may be neutral. It’s about how we feel. (Okay, some moments suck—but even so, our emotional experience can be at odds with the circumstances. Who hasn’t felt crappy at a happy event? Or curiously free at a sad time?)

When we dance, we can feel great, crappy, or anything in between—whether the audience loves us or not—and this largely depends upon how we feel about ourselves in that moment. So if we feel like we are are crap, the moment will be crap. But when we feel great, beautiful, enchanting—the moment will be lovely. We can literally transform the moment through our own emotional projection. It’s magic.

So the most beautiful move is the one you are doing right now.

I know, right? Sadly, the crappiest move can also be the move you are doing right now. Yes, the same move. The difference is in your mind. This is why you won’t see me suggesting specific moves, or how to use specific muscles. Movement choice and creation in the moment is intuitive. The movement doesn’t matter. What’s important is how we feel, our connection to the music, and what we give to the audience. That’s what the audience notices. That’s what they love. That’s what they remember.

I first heard this from Fahtiem, a wonderful dancer, great teacher, and super cool human being. She said, “It’s not a hip drop. It’s a hip drop! Every time!” It’s something cool and special that we share with the audience—and ourselves. And it’s up to us to make it happen. What do they know? Nothing. We create the audience’s perception through our projection of emotional texture. So we have to learn to feel great about our moves. Seriously.

How do we learn that?

Practice. But not the way you think. We’re mostly trained to practice technique—perfecting our physical ability to recreate shapes in time and space. But there is more to improvisation than making a shape. There is the intuitive connection to the music, which we practice in our 20 minutes. And there is the mindspace of joy, of beauty. Yes, that, too, deserves practice. How?

Here’s the secret: Pick a basic move. My favorite is the infinity (aka upward hip figure 8, aka snake hips). Do the move. Slowly. Enjoy the physical feeling of every moment. As you do it, use your breath. I exhale the weight change, as the hip goes down and out, and I inhale the hip up. As you do it, gaze lovingly at yourself and say, “This is the most beautiful move I have ever seen.” And mean it.

I do this after using the restroom, before I walk out the door. It’s one of my Tiny Habits. I do it 3 times, with the breath and the affirmation. It takes 30 seconds. PS, if the mirror bothers you, then don’t look. Just feel it. Here’s a tiny video to show you what I mean.* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT2ntWMinhU

Yeah, but what if I’m not very good?

That’s in your mind. Really. Even if you are an absolute beginner, the fastest way to hip-drop hell is to tell yourself how much you suck, to apologize on stage for existing. Look, the audience took time out of their busy lives to come and see you. Give them some honey. They don’t care about you—they care about how they feel. And that comes from what you give them: Joy. Verve. Fun.

These are things you can practice. The most beautiful move is whatever you perceive as such. So when you sashay out on stage with joy and verve, when you delight them with your love and generosity, they will respond.

Try the exercise for a week.

Put a note in the bathroom to remind you. See how you feel. Love yourself. Love your body. Love your moves. Love your guests. They will love you back.

Truth.

Love,
Alia

*Adapted from Kenny Werner’s highly recommended book, Effortless Mastery (and eternal thanks to Teadora for suggesting it). Werner writes about jazz improvisation, but his observations apply to us as well.

PS The 90 Day Dance Party starts Feb 16. Now is the time. Cherish yourself!

*Adapted from Kenny Werner’s highly recommended book, Effortless Mastery (and eternal thanks to Teadora for suggesting it). Werner writes about jazz improvisation, but his observations apply to us as well.
Here’s Sun Ra, with some of my favorite jazz.

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

Qualities-of-Oriental-Dance

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

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

Agency is key

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

Qualities of Oriental Dance: It's all about AGENCY 

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

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

But how do we do that? 

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

This is the purpose of the 90 Day Dance Party. 

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

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

Healing

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

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

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

It helps to have a guide

That would be me ; ). 

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

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

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

D1 Mindsets

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

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

This note is for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, 
Alia

How to Interpret Music–through movement

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

How to Interpret Music Through Movement

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

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

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

The Genre

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

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

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

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

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

The Intention

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

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

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

The Feeling

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

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

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

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

One Caveat

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

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

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

And that is where we want to be.

Questions? Please ask!

Music? Here ya go! 

John Berberian’s Expressions East from 1964

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

Love,

Alia

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

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