The world is not a pretty picture right now. Bullying and oppression are on the rise. Playing by the rules, following orders, this is not going to save us. So what will help us survive?
It’s time to think on our feet, to be ready to change course at a moment’s notice. We need to be grounded, self-aware, able to step back from the vortex of activating events, and develop our capacity to stay connected to the present moment. This is what improvisation does for us.
Oriental dance improv brings a bunch of other benefits to the table, including grounding, relaxation, and physical ease. Here’s a search of the blog with a gazillion articles.
I’ve spent most of my life cross-training improvisation in multiple genres. It has served me well. It can serve you well, too.
Now is the time. If you’ve been mostly a choreographed dancer, if the idea of improv makes you anxious or feels too monolithic, I invite you to change your life for the better. If you’ve been too freaked out or flat out to even dance, I invite you come home to your soul.
Art feeds us. Let’s do art.
I will be bringing several improvisation skill-building courses over the next few weeks, including Effortless Improv and an interoceptive DanceMeditation-based Fun Class series.
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!
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, 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.
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.
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
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)
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!
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.”
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.
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!
When I was caring for my Mom, one of the hardest things for me to do was also one of the most self-nurturing–dancing. I managed it for a while, but as the care ground on, and my exhaustion reached dangerous levels, I could not make myself dance, no matter how much I knew it would help.
Part of it was lethargy. But part of it was spaciness.
I didn’t have the energy to choose music. I couldn’t do it on my own.
I needed rescue.
So today, here are some really great music choices, to rescue you, to make your musical life easier.
And there is more.
The more you give yourself permission to let your body thrash around to the music, however it wants to, the more you let go of pretty, perfect movement, the more relief this will give.
If you feel anxious that your energy is too angry/freaked out/overwrought for this, move in very slow motion, channeling all the crazy crackling energy; the movement can help that energy dissipate safely.
So here are some YouTube playlists.
Most of this is western music as it has a lower bar for many of us.
I’ve included the full links, since embedded playlist links sometimes don’t work. Please copy and paste the links if they give you trouble.
Even listening to music helps the body feel better, so if you don’t feel up to dance, just put on music and listen.
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?
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.
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.
*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.
*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.
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.
So here are a few guidelines to help us feel more confident. We’ll look at Genre, Intention, and Feeling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you for being part of my crazy path ; ) As a gift, here is a full Fun Class for you to stream. It’ll be up for the next month. https://vimeo.com/378023790 (please copy and paste if the link is not clickable)
Here’s to a great 2020!
LOTS of love, Alia PS I added a 90 Days Sharegasm Payment Plan, if that helps. Remember, the Sharegasm closes with 2019. Scroll down at aliathabit.com/90days/