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:
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!


Here’s that link again…

Dance Magic me!

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…

Why we dance—the secret surprise (and how to find it)

Those little voices....
Those little voices….

You know those little voices that always rag on us to just quit and be done with it?  That we will never amount to anything? What does that even mean? Like we will not be world-class famous dancers with tons of money and fame? Why is that the benchmark of success in our dance?

Few of us dance solely for adulation or money. It’s awesome that dance gives us those things, but the dance is deeper than this. It’s the connection to the music we crave—the sense of oneness that we value. Yet all the emphasis is on the pretty girl on stage in a costume.

Most people who do this dance do not teach or perform. They dance with friends at home or at parties. Why would they do that? Dance around the house and play music, women of all ages. A dance of joy. What does that really mean?

This dance has power. We know this. And not all of it in the venue of performance. That in some ways is the smallest of it attributes. Because it is a dance of joy, that is why its performances have power—they bring joy, both to viewers and dancers. That is also why it is so popular offstage as well. Doing or viewing this dance lifts one’s mood. Joy is there for all of us.

I sometimes hear disdain for the “hobbyists.” You know, the ones who take classes, fill workshops, and pay the bills The ones with relatively normal lives who just want to dance and have fun. Because we all should be serious dancers who work hard.

Well, surprise. Maybe the hobbyists have the right idea. I’m all for performance. I am a performer. I love it. Many of us do. I love teaching. I’m good at it. So I get it. I’m not suggesting anyone stop. People feel called to open studios, develop professional companies, dance at birthday parties; I say YES to all of it. But this dance is a folk dance, done by folks, in their homes. And that is a legitimate, honorable relationship with the dance.

What if we stop beating ourselves up for notgoing anywhere” with our dance? Think of all the people who do yoga, or tai chi. They don’t look to be performers. Few even look to be teachers. Most of them just go to class, a workshop, a retreat. The activity is part of their life. It gives them physical and emotional benefits. Maybe a community. And they enjoy it.

The same with dance

The physical interaction with the music is pleasurable in and of itself. And the more in sync we get the better and more beautiful and delicious it feels. Think how lovely our 20 minutes could be if we focused on the sensuality of the moves and their relationship with the music. Right there is a good reason for pursuing mastery. For the pleasure of the activity all by itself. On our own or with friends.

That sounds radical, doesn’t it? Most of us don’t move for the enjoyment of it. We practice to get better. We work. What if we enjoyed ourselves instead?

Something to think about…



PS With the encouragement of my friend Mackay Rippey, of Lyme Ninja Radio, I’ll teach a free 4-week web series this fall called Belly Dance Foundation Flow–an exploration of belly dance movement for healing and joy. It will be a lovely, rich experience.

Update: Mackay and I recorded an interview for his podcast;; the web series followed. It is all archived–you can get the recordings here. This is a totally free series. All are welcome.

Music: Fun African mix:

Small Product Lab Days 3-4

Gumroad Small Product Lab, Days 3-4

I’ve been doing the Gumroad Small Product Lab 10-Day Challenge (, where folks commit to making and launching a new product—be it a tutorial, t-shirt, or toolkit–in only 10 days! Here’s how it’s been going.
Day 1 we had to pick a thing to make. I was torn between 3 things,

  • An e-book on How to Critique
  • A video class on How to Accompany yourself on finger cymbals
  • A process overview of How to design an online dance course.

I asked a lot of people in my group and on Facebook what to do, and got great suggestions. everyone voted for zils and critique. But I wanted to to e-course design.

So by Day 2, I was all set to do– online class design! Per our assignment, I made an elaborate to-do plan. The next day (Day 3), I was to make it a sales page. But somehow I couldn’t see what it would look like. I decided to sleep on it.

The next morning, Day 3, I woke up and had a coffee. Then, much to my surprise, I designed a finger cymbal class. I took a picture of some zils and made a page for the class. Boom! I guess I am making a zil tutorial!

Here it is: Ziltastic! A video CRASH Course in Finger Cymbal Improvisation
Check it out! 

Ziltastic (1)

Cool, huh?

But there is so much more to this!

I have been so impressed by all the folks doing this challenge.

Hundreds of us are in this Facebook group, posting ideas, giving feedback, frantically revising and editing. It’s really something. Being involved in a creative group project opens up a lot of energy. I’ve had so many ideas, and I am not the only one. There such incredible variety I can’t even list them. Check my FB timeline for a series of shares of people’s projects:

Group members have battled Resistance, time sucks, black holes, and all manner of trips and traps to keep us from completing our projects. But we are not alone! In addition to our group, we have some mentors to help us along–Nathan BarryJeff Goins, and Barrett Brooks; plus the winner of the first SPL, DJ Coffman; and runner up Christopher Hawkins. Yeah, all men. But out trusty team leader is a gal, Emmiliese von Clemm. It’s only been 4 days and we are coming together as one creative hive mind.

Yes, there are some prizes, but for most of the us, the real prize will be this reckless endeavor–making and launching a Brave New Thing in only 10 days.

I so recommend this process. Please check it out:

Much love,



PS Saturday, July 25, 2015, 7 p.m.
She Who Walks in The Moonlight
This was a great show–here’s a great picture of me as Nyx, Greek goddess of the night (Thanks to Peter Paradise Michaels!)


Alia as Nyx, Greek goddess of the night
Alia as Nyx, Greek goddess of the night

And here’s my performance

How can slow movement improve technique?

How can slow movement improve technique?

When we whip through a move or combination at speed, when we do it the easy way, we limit our progress. We might cut corners, or miss small errors, particularly in areas that are difficult or in the outer fringes of our physical abilities. The circle isn’t really circular; the curve has a divot in that area where our hip has a little hitch. The little hunch in our shoulders, the glitch in our balance as we turn goes unnoticed.

Slow movement, movement at a speed Dunya describes as “glacial,” allows us to deeply inhabit every moment of the shape we create. We engage and focus our attention at each moment, feel intimately each tiny increment. Where we might skimp at normal speed, we can anticipate hitches, see them coming, and adjust our trajectory, slowing down even further, so we slip unobstructed through the straits.

When we go slowly enough, we are less likely to trigger pain, so we can complete the arc more graciously. When we find a trouble spot, we can hold it like a pose, motionless, while our bodies sort out balance, line, reaching like flowers for the light of openness and effortless lilt.

We also build myelin, the neural manifestation of skill. Myelin (skill) is an insulating substance that wraps neural circuits and grows according to certain signals (Coyle). And one of those signals is slowing things down. We learn faster and improve more quickly by slowing down. Myelin reinforces the neural pathways that we use—the definition of skills development. So whatever we do, that’s what gets reinforced. If we skimp, that’s what gets reinforced. If we make beautiful, elegant arcs, that’s what gets reinforced.

Breaking things into small chunks and practicing them out of sequence also builds myelin. Taking small, disconnected chunks of technique, feeling them deeply, inhabiting them, slowing them down, making them into a series of elegant poses, that reinforces those neural pathways. Doing the power poses regularly reinforces those neural pathways. And we need those certain signals. Doing things mindlessly doesn’t get us there. We need to be in the sweet spot at the edge of our abilities.

The brilliant thing about this practice is that we are always at the edges of our ability. We are always searching, discovering, intent, focused, spreading our feelers out from every inch of our consciousness. So don’t worry if this is hard. Hard means you are learning. It means you are building myelin. We focus now so we can let go later. We build skills now so that on stage, they will be there for us. Through effort, we attain effortlessness.



How to make dance class fun (3 simple hacks).

How to make dance class fun (3 simple hacks you can do right now).

Dance and have fun!Why is fun so important? Monica Caldwell taught more than 50 dance genres—she was incredibly versatile. You always learned a lot and felt accomplished in her classes. Yet they were also loads of fun. Monica had figured out something really important—people come to dance class to have fun. So fun is the best way to have class. Besides, people learn so much about how the dance works in their own bodies through self-expression, a sense of accomplishment, and free social dance.

Most of us teach class as though our lives depend on it, either terrified of boring the students or determined to cram in as much hard info as possible. I have been to many beginner classes where all we did was drill or learn choreography. These classes were not fun, and my body hurt after the drilling.

So how do we make class fun?

1. Encourage the students’ self expression.

This may seem like a horrible idea, since the students have no clue what they are doing, and our job is to teach them. But it’s easier than it seems. You can have any group, even if they have never danced before, dancing happily in 5-10 minutes.

  • Let the warmup be silly and fun.
  • Avoid stylization and let the dance be folky and easy. Even people who have never taken a class can shimmy and do step touches.
  • Strut around in a circle, and have the the students echo your actions. Just dance around.
  • Keep it simple, yes, but have fun. If you have fun, they can have fun.

This happy opening sets the tone for the rest of the class.

2. Ensure that the students feel accomplished.

A lot of teachers want their students to feel needy, so they will come back. But you will have better return rates when your students feel accomplished and happy in your classes. You do this by facilitating their success.

  • Focus on the music, listening and responding.
  • Value student interpretations. Allow variation from the norm.
  • Get student input on which steps to use in a choreography. The resulting dance will be at their level, and they will feel more ownership.
  • Rather than showing a complicated combination and then breaking it down, build it up, instead. Show them something easy. Then another easy thing. Then a third. Start combining the easy things, but not all at once. Sahra Saeeda uses this method to great effect.

3. Include lots of open floor dancing

Many teachers assume their students dance at home. But most students do not. So take the last 10 minutes for open floor. Putting the new learning in context right away empowers students, and combining moves in a relaxed environment helps them feel comfortable expressing themselves, which, after all, is the basic idea.

  • Put on some fun music and make a circle.
  • Everyone dances, all around the circle.
  • You take the first turn in the circle. Feel free to clown around and have fun. Then choose one of the students to dance in the circle.
  • They may pick a friend to dance with them.
  • When they are done, they pick the next center dancer.
  • Everyone gets to dance.

Students can also dance in small groups, pairs, etc, regrouping or switching partners every couple of minutes. You can circulate through the groups, joining and moving on so that you dance with everyone.

Art is about communication.

Dance is art. When students feel the value of what they do, when they dance with others and feel the joy of it, when they dance for others and feel the joy of it, they nurture themselves and spread light out into the world. Social dance is the backbone of our art form, people enjoying themselves together, feeling good about themselves and each other.

Isn’t that what we all want? 

I sure do.

Want to know more?

Check out bellydance soul.



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


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

When you learn something new, you copy. When you learn to draw, you will copy and trace drawings. When you learn to write, you will copy other writers. When you learn a new move, you will 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: Perfect. 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.

In reality, 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 so 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. 



Walk the Line

Walk the Line: How do you represent the dance and give the people what they want?


When I started teaching, my students wanted choreographies, something they could take home and show off. So I made them. Because the students were beginners, I needed simple, repetitious music. Do you know how hard this was to find? These days, there is a plethora of Egyptian pop (plenty of which is horribly boring, synth, repetition), but back in the 80s it was almost impossible to find a song that kept the same structure all the way through.

But that’s what I looked for, because, being self-taught, as everyone was, I didn’t know any better. And I made some fairly charming dances for my students. Even back then, I tended to have a lot of emotional and narrative elements, but most folks do not have this component. Additionally, I had the benefit of a superlative dance education through several years with Ibrahim Farrah, one of the most highly-regarded teachers of his day.

As I became a better teacher, my choreographies got more interesting and fun, and I encouraged my students’ creativity as well. It was important to me that their own voices come through, that they be creators in their own right. I encourage and make space for a lot of creativity and personal style in my classes. We free dance regularly, there are new combinations, and very little drilling.

But the minute I started teaching a choreography, the students’ creativity dropped like mercury in a polar vortex. Suddenly, they were anxious, careful, and narrowly focused, where the week before, they had been open, graceful, and free. They couldn’t remember, they were overly focused on symmetry, and they argued about their spacing. Their own dances suffered, as did the overall easygoing atmosphere I treasured in the classroom. Hmmm….

Why can’t the students make the group dances? Already, when my students  traveled to events, other students were amazed that my folks made their own dances. Even my beginners are trained and encouraged to make their own dances. So this is what I set out to do.

I began by having each student present a move that went with the music, which they then taught to the other dancers. I merely sequenced the steps with the music, usually in the same order as the students presented them. We let the music tell us how many times to do the move and what floor patterns we would take.

SHAZAM! Suddenly I had fully engaged students who remembered the moves, counts, and transitions, came up with floor patterns, and filled in any blanks without even being asked. Our focus was on feeling and expression rather than stylization. We had far more elaborate and complex interactions than before. Cooperation soared. The dances were great. And rather than passively accepting material, everyone was learning and doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I love making dances. It is a great, great, pleasure to craft something just so. It is a great way to present new material in a concise way. But I love happy, productive, creative, engaged students even more.

My college classes–absolute beginners– now create, remember, and execute a beautifully, engaging dance, all within their final two weeks. A group of experienced dancers can do this in one hour.