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)

How to Dance Away Body Shame​

The 90 Days is going well. Already many folks have found it easier to improvise, to dance for 20 minutes, and to enter a zone of presence and calm. Here is on of this year’s Love Notes I thought you might like. 

How to Dance Away Body Shame

Many years ago at Ahlan wa Sahlan, I took a class on dance from Siwa. One of the steps was a cute little skippy side step—with a twist. Not a physical twist, but a mental one.

The step was done facing away from the guests, and the intention was to show off the dancer’s, um, behind. Our intention was to show off our luscious rear end, to put our attention there and to feel and convey how juicy and nice it was.

 

How to Dance Away Body Shame

Frankly, this was the first time in my life I ever did this. And I was not young at the time. My relationship to my rear end (and a few other body parts), was problematic to say the least. But Lo!

It was SO FUN. And naughty and liberating and mischievous!

It was so fun that later on I did some experiments. I chose troublesome body parts (ones I generally hide), and danced as though they were the most beautiful, glorious, delicious body parts in the world.

Mmmmmmm ; )

Imagine a body part you hide—with clothes, costuming, etc—or wish you could.

In your practice, I invite you to let it be the leader, the most beautiful and lush. Display it with gratitude, pride, and delight.

Today was sunny, the snow was melting, and the day was so much longer! Let’s dance renewal and rebirth, too.

With our newly luscious body parts ; )

Love,
Alia

Music: Here’s Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue

And here’s a long version of Summertime

And here’s a great venue in which to flaunt your body parts! ; )
March into the Spotlight: Bring Basic Belly Dance Back Challenge
March 1-14 2020

  • Dance for fun, no costume or fancy setup. 
  • Video yourself. 
  • Post the vid on FB or Insta.
  • Hashtag with #basicbellydancerchalleng
  • Use the hashtag to find other videos.
  • Watch everyone else’s videos and they will watch yours!


It’s free, fun, and fabulous. Plus you can win prizes!
I’ll be doing it–I hope you will too!
I’ll be doing pop-up live streaming of my dances via zoom–if you’d like to be part of that, join here: remind.com/join/raqsalia​

March into the Spotlight: Bring Basic Belly Dance Back Challenge




Your Brain on Joy (+ 90 Days EarlyBird Ending Saturday)

In honor of the upcoming 90 Days, our upcoming newsletters will feature Love Notes from previous 90 Days. They are examples of the sort of wide-ranging musing that powers the Love Notes–and the daily music suggestions that accompany them ; ). And all this thoughtfulness gets explored and reinforced in the BPJ group. It is a unique personal journey to your real self, and your true dance. I hope you will join us!

Here is one of my favorites.

Day 16/2018. This is your brain on joy

There was this story of folks who imagined themselves playing darts, and their dart game improved. Then there was a lot of flak about what a fake load of crap that was. But the truth is out. It works.

The  brain can’t tell the difference between the real and the imaginary.

There is AMPLE evidence to show that imagining something is almost as good as doing it.

Here are some of the results of one such study.

“Volunteers were asked to play a simple sequence of piano notes each day for five consecutive days. Their brains were scanned each day in the region connected to the finger muscles. Another set of volunteers were asked to imagine playing the notes instead, also having their brains scanned each day.

“The top two rows in the image show the changes in the brain in those who played the notes. The middle two rows show the changes in those who simply imagined playing the notes. Compare this with the bottom two rows showing the brain regions of the control group, who didn’t play nor imagine playing, piano.”  —David R. Hamilton PhD

http://drdavidhamilton.com/does-your-brain-distinguish-real-from-imaginary/

What does this mean for us?

It means we can visualize our choreography or a challenging transition as a means of practice. But it also means we can lie on the floor and visualize dancing when we are not able to dance physically. Listening to the music and letting our bodies respond, even when we do not move is remarkably powerful. Small impulses slip into our muscles, activating them, connecting them.

But it also means more than this. What we think is powerful. The stories we tell ourselves, the words we say to ourselves, they have bigger results than we may know. 

We say things to ourselves, and we mean them—even when they are, well, sorta mean. I know, people laugh at affirmations. “It’s just a lie,” is the most common complaint. But I would submit that the self-hating acid drip in which we daily bathe is at least as much of a lie, and far more toxic.

What if we told ourselves better stories?

What if we visualized our own success? In detail. And stuck to that.

One of the things I do is what I call Mapping. I pay attention to my body in certain emotional states. The joy of connection in dance. Feeling successful. Happiness. Things like that. I map my body’s posture and physical sensations while I experience these positive feelings. So I can recreate that state later on. So when I am going to perform, I place myself in a body map created from a generous expression  of joy.

And, Lo, I let that feeling infuse my body. I “Just Say No” to toxic whispers of doubt. This didn’t come easily. It took practice and perseverance to notice these feelings and learn to create them. But it was worth the effort.

I do a lot of little things. At night before I go to sleep, I relax my jaw. I make sure none of my teeth are touching. I relax my eyes, my mouth, my face. Habitually holding tension in various body areas doesn’t go away by itself. We have to take action. And we are in good company. 

Olympic athletes visualize their success.

They visualize their whole event—their technique, strategy, competitors, the whole thing. They see it in their heads, their most perfect performance—and it’s serious business. They mean it.

If it’s good enough for Olympic athletes, it’s good enough for us.

So…

Next time you have a moment of joy, I invite you to notice what you feel, physically, in your body. What sensations do you notice? What is the shape of that joy? How does your body hold itself when it is happy? What is on your face?  Map that. Go there.

Practice feeling joy.

Smiling brings joy. Smiling at ourselves in the mirror, a real smile, makes a difference. Let’s make that difference.

Improv brings joy too. Here’s a tiny little improv video. Let your brain think your body is doing it ; ) 

The 90 Day Dance Party is the best for upping your improv comfort and ability. The Earlybird price ends Saturday, 9/18/20!
And there is a very nice payment plan to go along with it ; )
I invite you to check it out ; )
Love,
Alia

And now for something completely different! Astor Piazzola, a playlist. Tangueros have told me you can’t really dance tango to this music as it’s so complex, so feel free to let your imagination soar (or your body move as it wishes 😉 and have super-dramatic blast!

 

How to transition effortlessly between moves

pic of sheet music

Imagine, you’re dancing along and suddenly you have a better idea. So you go with it. Then you have another. But that one’s not so good, so you switch to something else. Then another, and… It’s like a bad dream. In a split second you are trapped in your head, worrying and thinking. How can we transition gracefully between moves during improv?

Structure, Timing, and Relaxation

Structure

Music has structure. Even a taqsim with no rhythm has structure. We make our transitions in accordance with this structure. We make them between the phrases. Between the measures. This is why we listen to so much music, so we can intuit the structure. This is why we want to know our songs, so we have an idea of when the changes come. It’s fun to dance blind to music we never heard before, but it’s all the listening we have done in the past allows us to do this.

Where is the most organic place to change? Every song, every section, every phrase, every beat has a beginning, middle, and end. There are verses and choruses, calls and repeats, rules  of 4, etc. And there is almost always a change at every 4 measures. That is a great place to switch. (Some songs have 3 measure phrases, some two, and some have sections with longer phrases—it doesn’t matter.) The end of a phrase (or a measure) is the best place to switch. You will always look in synch.

Timing (a quick lesson on music).
So here comes the end of the phrase—what do you do? You switch on the and, usually between the 4 at the end of one measure and the 1 at the beginning of the next.

The rhythm can be broken down verbally to accommodate all these notes. For example, 1(and 2 and 3 and 4 and) 2(and 2 and 3 and 4 and) etc. In music, it’s often phrased thus: 1 a-and-a 2 a-and-a 3 a-and-a 4 a-and-a.

Music can have lots of notes per measure, but the base measure is usually 4 counts. (Most of our music is 4/4. There are many other time signatures—3/4 is waltz time, 9/8 is karsilama, etc, in which case the base count is different). Each count can also be divided up to fit many notes in the measure (see below for more).

Here’s the music for Ah Ya Zein. The horizontal lines show which note to play. The vertical lines show the demarcation between each measure.

Musical notation for Ah Ya Zein
Musical notation for Ah Ya Zein

 And here’s Ah Ya Zein in person. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3tt_KvAz4o It’s being played as a 2/4. You can hear the ayyoub rhythm under the melody going dum, ka dum tek; dum, ka dum tek1, and2, and 1, and2, and . You would change on the final and (after the 2), so you are ready to go on the 1.

1,

and

2

and

dum,

ka

dum

tek

Here’s a maksoum beat: dum tek, tekka tek, dum tekka tek, (tekka). This translates to 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. That last and is the place where you change.

1

and

2

and

3

and

4

and

dum

tek

tekka

tek

dum

tekka

tek

(tekka)

A drummer will often play that last bit of the phrase differently. They may play more or fewer beats, speed up or slow down—for they are also signaling the change to the rest of the musicians. And if there is to be a change in rhythm, they will signal that quite vigorously, often with a series of dums, as he has to adapt as well. Understanding the rhythm helps us feel this most basic structure of the music (the melody brings us to the higher levels of structure).

While you wait for the moment, relax. Relaxation is the key to everything. The more we get chased by worry and stress, the harder everything gets. When we feel stressed in dance, it’s time to slow down and start Rhythmic Breath. Breathe with the music and slow down. Whatever you are doing, no matter how fast the music, intentionally relax. Remember to enjoy yourself. This alone is radical.

When we are relaxed, suddenly everything is possible. Everything is easier. Everything is more enjoyable. When we slow down before a change, we get to see the change coming. The space around the change between phases opens up like sunny day. It becomes easy to pass through the change, even gracious.

As you find the spaces in the rhythm, you can change even more frequently. Try changing with every measure, every beat even, as in stop motion. Tribal fusion does this a lot, and it can make for some nice accents. But remember the melody, too. The rhythm is the most basic part of the music. The melody is a heavenly palace of textures and warm breezes to waft you along.

Keep it relaxed! Too many changes wears everyone out, including the dancer. The music repeats—so can you. Take the time to explore and enjoy each section. People want to have a good time. When dancers relax and enjoys themselves, so do the people.

Take your time. Connect to the rhythm. Express the melody. Enjoy your dance.

Want a more structured approach? An actual class? I invite you to check out

Embodiment: Musicality for Belly Dance

A fun, easy way to to embody the music. 

Love,
Alia

How do you remember choreography?

How do you remember choreography?

This is one of the questions I hear most often, and with the most anguish.
One dancer struggles as another effortlessly repeats. Why?

I learned to dance through improvisation. In Bobby Farrah’s classes of the mid 70s, no matter how many times a week you went to class (and I often went three times a week for two hours at a time, 1973-1977), we did something completely different.

The format of each class was fairly consistent: there was usually an extended combination, moves across the floor, and often we followed him as he improvised. Cymbal class was much the same, with zils on.

However, the content varied widely–what we did was always new and different, class after class, week after week. I learned to dance, very quickly, and with a wide range of options. I learned how to use a stage, how to interpret music, and how to create on the spot.

However, I did not learn any choreography. Consequently, when I started attending workshops (Morocco’s was my first), and even Bobby’s later classes, I was at sea. I quickly developed a strategy of not giving a damn about the choreography, just cherry-picking steps, attitudes and some combinations, and I was happy with this. But I did feel stupid when I saw other people learn so fast. On the other hand, I usually didn’t like their dancing, so I just snobbed over this little problem.

Then my students wanted me to teach them choreographies. Okay. I had been exposed to enough of them. I started making dances for my students. I went to more workshops where there was nothing presented but choreographies. I watched movies such as A Chorus Line and saw that professional dancers could repeat complex combinations after seeing them ONCE.  And I paid attention to the differences in values between oriental dance and western dance. And this is what I saw.

In traditional Oriental dance, the dancer creates the dance in the moment. Oriental dance values intuitive movement and expression of emotion. Technique is the servant of expression. The most important thing is the feeling. These are the values of the music as well.

Western dance, however, distinguishes between the dancer and the choreographer (even that word is hard to type!). Dancers are trained to remember and repeat. Movement is stylized, specific, and exact. So are movement strings. The dancer is the vessel for the vision of the choreographer. The dancer’s job is to manifest that vision physically. So how do these dancers remember all that choreography?

Dancers remember choreographies because they practice. It’s as simple as that. What do they practice? Remembering choreography. In the dance school setup, children as young as three begin this practice. They go to class and learn choreographies. Their parents buy the cute (expensive) little cossies and have pictures taken, while their babies go on stage at the annual recital and toddle charmingly through their steps.

By high school, these kids have practiced this at least 800 hours (an hour a week for 15 years), repeating precisely stylized movement, combinations, and choreography. If they are at all enthusiastic, they go more often than once a week, and they practice at home, too, running through their choreographies endless times, not only with their bodies, but in their heads. They have gone to dance camp, this camp, that festival, the other workshop, spending many, many hours a day honing their technique and learning to repeat. We could be talking thousands of hours of practice here.

How much time have the rest of us spent? Learning to remember choreography? Not dancing, not improvising, not creating dances. Remembering. Probably we looked that other dancer and just felt stupid. Then we gave up, and said, I’m not good at learning choreography. I’m stupid. I’m slow. At that point, Resistance’s work is done. We have given up. And even though we struggle, we know it’s no good, because we compare ourselves to the other.

But I bet you have spent quite a few hours practicing other aspects of your dance. And I bet there are even more things you never thought about practicing, things that would have a much bigger impact on the quality of your dance than remembering choreography. Like being in the moment. Loving the audience. Enjoying yourself onstage. Laughing at your mistakes. Developing your emotional response to the music.

We do much better at whatever we practice. So if we practice feeling sorry for ourselves because some little twerp has a better memory for choreo, we will get better at feeling sorry for ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Talent is Overrated by Shawn Colvin speaks to this.
Colvin’s premise is that much of what we think of as inborn talent is in fact the result of effort and practice. He tells the story of SF, an otherwise unremarkable guy, who learned through 250 hours of training to be able to repeat a string of 80+ numbers, no small feat. Prior to this, memorization and repetition of such long strings were thought to be outside the range of human ability. A pal of SF’s later went on to repeat a string of 102 numbers. The researchers concluded that there was no upward limit to the length of number strings that humans could remember. 250 hours is not a big investment to change the course of history.

Colvin mentions “retrieval structures,” one of the most important elements of memory development.
These are the strategies we use to remember things. SF cast his numbers into groups that represented running times. We will create choreographies with rich structures so that we will have myriad retrieval strategies in place. And we know that intelligence is malleable and can be grown, that anyone can develop skills with practice. So we can use the techniques of deliberate practice to learn whatever we want more effectively.

We may never put in the hours to learn choreo in one click. But as Colvin reports, ability in one area has nothing to do with ability in others. Sf could only remember numbers. Chess masters could only remember games. So don’t waste time comparing yourself to others. You have much better uses for your time.

Ask yourself, what makes a great dancer? Is it remembering choreography? I didn’t think so. Make a list. Leverage the skills you have. Leverage your ability to learn new things.

Where do you want to excel?

Practice that.

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How to critique for confidence (or, “What the hell is this B?”)

A gal I knew was raised to believe that she mustn’t handle flowers when she had her period, because the flowers would die. I’m not kidding. People used to believe this.

I was shocked to meet someone for whom this had once been a truth. We met in the first belly dance class I ever took, so she had finally figured out there was something wrong with that picture (and it is an easy test, after all).

Outdated Beliefs

Sadly, many of us are raised with equally outdated beliefs and models

And we never even think to question them.

One of the more dysfunctional models with which I was raised was the dismissal of anything done well, and a focus on what was wrong. For example, growing up, I never heard, “Oh, honey, four As. Nice work!” Nope. All I got was, “What the hell is this B?” So this is how I talked to myself, too.

My self-critique was vicious. I couldn’t watch a video of my own dance without wanting to die. I never saw the good of what I did. I felt anxious and insecure.

I see that same focus on what’s wrong in many of my dance friends and students. We have been brainwashed into thinking that we have to be perfect or stay home. Women especially are tyrannized by the expectation of perfection. That’s just a myth designed to keep us powerless. When we focus our critique on what’s wrong, we rob ourselves of confidence and accomplishment. When we focus on what’s right, we win.

Switching to what’s right builds confidence

In child-rearing, the productive model is to tell the kids what to do. Instead of saying NO all the time, you can say YES. Instead of “Don’t touch that!” you redirect the kid to what is okay for them to play with. This was a big shift. When I started teaching writing at the college level, I educated myself about how to teach, how to do critique. Wow. I learned a LOT. It changed me as a teacher and as a human being.

Focus on student success

I have been a teacher at some level since the early 80s, working first for Headstart and later as a Speech Language Assistant in the public school system. I now teach English Composition at the college level (and have for over 20 years), so I have to do a lot of critique.

It was a hard job to change this in myself, but it mattered a lot. I was a LOT nicer to my students than to myself,  but I still told them what was wrong with their work instead of what was right. It didn’t work very well–for me or them.

The main thing I learned is to emphasize everything students did right. I even developed rubrics with all the tasks so I could find more things to compliment. And I went one step further. When we discussed what needed improvement, I framed it as an action step—something to do, instead of taking them to task for mistakes.

For a dance example, to a student with good presence but sloppy, floppy hands, I’d say, “I love your shining presence. I’d love to see you bring that energy into your hands. What if you try this?” And I’d demonstrate. This worked. It worked with the writers and the dancers. It worked for me, too.

Yes, there is a lot of crappy dance out there

But is shaming dancers for their mistakes going to make it any better? What if we try another way? When dancers enjoy the pleasure of the movement and the moment, when they give themselves to the the dance, when they are relaxed enough to enjoy the process, they feel more confident–and their technique often improves organically.

Nothing is perfect. Everything has room to develop. This life is is about becoming, not being. We learn, we grow, we change. Otherwise, we are dead. We copy to learn, we take classes, study others, and practice. But there comes a time when we must hop out on the branch, flap our wings, 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! Growth and learning include failure and revision. That’s how we learn—through trial and error, persistence, feedback, and trying again. Embracing process, identifying and correcting errors, this is key to improvement. Shame is not.

Let’s all learn how to reinforce the good, critique wisely, and model Eastern dance principles.

For more on how to do this, please check out our upcoming course, Focus on the Feeling. Registration is open now. There are only 25 seats. The super early price is good for the first ten purchasers. Please take a look right away.

Why we focus on Fluency, Clarity, and Correctness (in that order)

I teach writing part-time at a state university. I’ve done so for the last 20 years. When I started, I was frustrated when the only thing I could say to a student was, “This sentence isn’t right.” I could tell them how to fix it, but I couldn’t explain why. Back in grade school, I just ignored all the grammar stuff. I always knew which constructions were correct, and how to fix the the wrong ones. My family spoke standard English and I read incessantly, so that was easy for me. Grammar rules, however, were confusing and annoying. I blithely ignored them. 

But now I needed to understand the damn things. I engaged in a pretty rigorous study of how to teach writing, how to critique effectively, grammar, structure, and so forth. I brought piles of books home from the school library, and any that were boring or badly written, I threw aside, then picked up a new one. I mean, it’s writing. If some expert can’t write a book about it that is interesting, well…

I learned a lot in my home-made study course, and not just about writing. I’ve found that strategies for writing well (and for critiquing writing) translate very nicely into dance. One of the reasons is that writing is very much an improvisational activity. Even if we know what we want to write to write about, our actual putting together of words is done off the cuff–we may stop once in a while to think of a word, and we may revise quite carefully, but the initial act of putting words on paper is a creative improvisation.

Over time, I have adapted many models of writing, revision, and critique to dance. One that I especially like is the quick assessment model, Fluency, Clarity, and Correctness–in that order. This means when we assess a dancer, we look first to fluency. If we don’t find it, if the dancer’s movement is awkward, hesitant, off-time, or whatever, we stop there and work on that.

Let’s look at these concepts one by one, and how they work in writing as well as dance. Today, we will look at…

Fluency

In writing, fluency mean the ability to put words on paper with relative ease. You understand the language and can easily craft suitable sentences. Freewriting, for example, increases fluency, as we write fast without stopping or judgement. We learn to write without constantly stopping to think about what comes next–we get into a zone, and we trust our pen/keyboard/body to come up with what we need. We don’t think about each sentence we write. We just write–and if anything needs correcting or polishing, we do that later. 

In dance, fluency means we can dance easily, respond to the music, and generally enjoy ourselves dancing as we improvise. It’s about being able to easily transition, to trust ourselves that what we need will come out, and to be able to be in a zone and enjoy the moment. 

One Skill at a Time

In both writing and dance, we will not get very far if we can’t create with ease. I’m not saying we don’t ever struggle to make our work shine–of course we do! But we have internalized that skill of allowing the body to do its thing without lots of agony or second guessing. In writing we learn to disconnect the editor from the creator. We just let the words out, and we polish them later. In dance, we also learn to disconnect the editor from the creator. When we dance, we let go of thinking and just move with the music. Both embrace a flow state, full engagement with the present moment. 

As a teacher (of both writing and dance), my first goal is that students can comfortably create. I assign freewriting to my college classes, and to my dance students, I assign freeform improvisation. I don’t worry in the beginning if their work makes sense, if their movement is pretty, or even if they are belly dancing. The first skill is letting go of thinking and judgement; it is letting the body move intuitively with the music. 

In the idea we’ve been discussing, One Skill at a Time, fluency is one skill. It’s a big one, and there are smaller skills along the way, but they are all in the same club. So we don’t get all exercised about the other stuff. I’ve talked before about that little pipe in our head through which ideas flow. As we begin learning, there is a lot of rusty crud backed up in there. As with an unused faucet, it has to come out first so the clear water can flow. Worse, getting all knotted up with thinking (or freaking out about the rust) cuts off the flow entirely. So at first, we just let it all out. One skill at a time. If we have to worry about how we look, whether we are doing “allowable” movement, we will just freeze up entirely and that will be the end of us. 

Baby steps

Once we have mastered basic fluency, when we can follow the music without getting in our own way, we can add in another skill, like incorporating our dance vocabulary, or expressing more complex music, or whatever. But still, one skill at a time. Even if that time is only 30 seconds, and then we switch to keeping our posture for a while, or our pretty hands, or feeling our feet interact with the earth–we keep it simple. Because when we try to do too much at once…

Too much at once
Uh-oh!

It’s a DISASTER. 

We practice in the studio so when we go to dance, we can just let go and dance. And one of the most important things we practice–is letting go. So we can dance. Effortlessly. Ahhh!
Love,
Alia

PS If you would like to just let go and dance, you might like Effortless Improvisation! It’s a great  six-week improv crash course suitable for home dancers and performers alike. Registration closes on Sunday, August 25th, so please have a look right away. 


Upcoming events: 

I’ll be performing September 14, 2019 at Belly Dance Nights at the Main St. Museum in White River Junction, VT. We start at 7PM, and it’s only $15 for advance sales. This is the funnest show and dance party going (and there’s plenty of parking). Please come join us!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Improvise for Oriental Dance

Alia dancing improvisation

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

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

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

Yes, there’s hope!

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

Alia dancing improvisation
Photo credit: Ben de Florio

Here are our upcoming events:

Cairo Cabaret, July 14. 2019

Workshops in Northampton MA: 

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

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

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


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

 

Webinar: How to Teach Improvisation for Oriental Dance

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

 

Raq-On Studio Classes

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

 

Effortless Improv: a 6-week online improvisation crash course

Sunday, August 25 through Friday October 4th, 2019

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

 

Available any time

Embodiment: Musicality for Oriental Dance

Ziltastic! Fast, fun, finger cymbal improvisation. 

Want something else? Just ask!

Love,

Alia

 

​How to Have Your Own Style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improvisation is its own separate skill.

It can be applied to any genre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I invite you to cross train your improvisation.

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

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

I sing goofy little songs about what I am doing.

I’ve danced television shows for my practice time.

What do you do?

Where can you improvise?

What would be fun?

Love,
Alia

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

Is your weekly class on vacation for the summer?

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

The Bellydance Bundle is Live

It’s time. 
The Bellydance Bundle is live.

Over $1300 worth of belly dance resources. Over 25 contributors. Over 85% off. The bellydance bundle is available for for one week only.

All the courses have been revealed.

It’s a wonderful collection! I’m VERY excited about Embodiment, the six-week musicality for belly dance class I made for the Bundle. It’s great for dancers and it’s great for teachers–you can use these methods in your own classes. Embodiment has a value of $95 all by itself–half the cost of the entire Bundle.
http://aliathabit.com/bundle

You can see all the yummy goodness on the bundle website. I hope that you will consider buying the Bundle. It is an excellent resource, with top-notch contributors. 

I invite you to buy from me ; )
http://aliathabit.com/bundle

Thank you!

Love,
Alia 

PS yes, you will get a lot of emails for the Bundle. Pick your preferred provider, open an Incognito window in your browser, and use their link. I invite you to use mine ; )
http://aliathabit.com/bundle

http://aliathabit.com/bundle