How to Get Into your Zone

in the zone

A while back, someone asked me to “focus on the state of mind of the dancer when she improvs and techniques.” I think this asks about the difference in mind space between improv and technical practice. I can only speak for myself, but this is what I find. 

Many years ago, I danced at a Dowser’s meeting. It was a brightly lit room and everyone stared at me very hard. They weren’t mean, they were just paying attention. But it rattled me; I felt self-conscious and never relaxed into the moment. Later, one of the women told me briskly, “Your spirit guide is an Egyptian woman. I could see her behind you. And you think too much when you dance.” She sure was right about the thinking. 

At that time in my dance, embodiment was hit or miss. I sometimes got into the zone, but I could’t do it reliably. Like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter, it turned up here and there, but go looking for it, and you come up empty-handed. It wasn’t until I got introduced to rhythmic breath that I started to reach that zone on a regular basis. 

What is the technique headspace?

When I am teaching a regular class, for example, I am watching the students, thinking what’s next, organizing and planning. I am not so much in a state of flow. The same when I am leading a move across the floor (or following one). There’s  a lot of mental errand running. If I am practicing technique, making or learning a move or a combo or whatever, I am in an intellectual headspace, observing, assessing, adjusting. 

There’s nothing wrong with this. 

As dancers, we want to improve. Talent has been defined as a reduction of errors. So we look to see where we miss the mark and fix it. Arms, hands, posture, openness, everything is measured, tested, tweaked. That’s fine and normal. But then we get to where we can let that level of attention go. My goal in practicing new things is to integrate them, so they become embodied, habitual, and I don’t have to think about them any more.

The problem is when analysis interferes with embodiment.

Dancing (as opposed to practicing technique) on stage or at home in assessment mode is a drag. Self-judging, self-doubt, etc are real buzz-kills. And the most random things threw me off! Silence, for example. I had a piece I started with my back to the guests for the first few bars, and then spun around. One time the silence that greeted that spin was deafening. I have since learned that silence is good (it means folk are paying attention), but this was so intense, I faltered and totally lost my groove—and never got it back for the whole show. 

Dancers can be a terrible audience. They sit in the front row and squint at you. Seeing a frowning front row of dancers has tossed me out of my zone, as I wonder what I’m dong wrong and why they hate me. They don’t. They’re just trying to figure out what color is my underskirt, if my dress would fit them, where I got my earrings, if they know that step. But it used to really throw me for a loop. 

Dancemeditation™ changed that for me. 

Because now I had rhythmic breath. So when I got rattled, I could go back to my breath and re-immerse myself in the zone. I could reliably get there, and reliably stay there. Plus I matured as a dancer, and realized that silence was a compliment, and dancers were just interested (and maybe nearsighted). So I could more easily let go of my ever-ready self-doubt and enjoy my time on stage. 

Keith Richards once said, “You don’t think on stage; you go into a zone.”

That’s exactly right. When I am in the zone, I notice everything—the coming waiter, the drunk at the third table, the audience. The other dancers in the wings, the band—but none of them have any emotional weight. They are logistical; they get dealt with intuitively rather than through mental effort. I notice them and let them go. I feel spacious and intense at the same time, fully pointed and completely loose. My body is in sync with the music and so is my breath. 

The music is everything. 

When I am in this state, there is a lot of room in the music. I feel relaxed. I take my time. It gives me everything I need. If all else fails, I map my body and face into a state of joy and dance that. 

If I’m dancing on recorded music, I may have something I want to express. I may even have a score worked out—a loose choreography / structured improvisation of content and blocking. I rarely do sequences of moves—most of my choreographed dances are theatrical or conceptual arrangements. So I don’t have to limit myself to how I felt when I composed the dance (even when I make regular choreographies, I am always throwing things out in performance, because they are always too busy and I need more space). And I often dance to songs I’ve never heard just for that live music thrill.

I approach theatrical dance as structured improvisation.

I create a framework that contains any narrative, symbolism, even staging and movement highlights. So I always know what I want to say, but I don’t have to memorize a lot of details. Because it is just a framework! I can change bits, leave them out, or add them in on the fly. This allows me to be in The Zone, to be present and engaged, even with a fairly complex framework. I’ll be teaching this model soon in Wonderland: Theatrical Expression for Oriental Dance (an expansion of a segment from How to Create Dance Art).

With a live band, all I do is plan the set list with the musicians. And that may be an emotional arc rather than specific songs. Then I literally just go out and wing it. That is my favorite. At my best, I luxuriate in the music, phasing in and out of time, slow, at speed, slow. I don’t dance on every beat. I let a lot of music go by, and work in slow-motion. Anytime I get rattled, I go back to my breath and slow movement. 

 But what about a group dance? 

Of course, as soloists, we have autonomy. But with group dances throwing things out just confuses the hell out of everyone else—unless you plan for it. You can compose group dances without set steps, using conceptual frameworks, so everyone knows the story arc and what’s going to happen when. Then you get to have a lot of fun onstage with your friends and the story takes on a lot of intensity and playfulness. 

When I do group dances for students, they come up with all the steps. I am the art director, so I wrangle the order, repeats, etc. But they contribute to that, too. So we have fun dances they thunk up themselves—which means they learn faster, remember better, and generally have a much deeper investment—and spend less time thinking onstage.

An improv performance (or practice) is all about making space to be in the moment. So that is what we practice—getting reliably into the zone with breath, slow movement, and related strategies. In the zone, there is a sense of timelessness and being fully present. The sense of “I” disappears; the dancer feels connected viscerally to the music in a state of exalted oneness. 

The Zone: That’s what we’re going for. That’s what we’re practicing. 

All my love,
Alia

PS Here’s an Improv prompt.

One thing dancers fear is getting stuck in one move and not being able to think of anything else. Yet we hear of all these great dancers of the past who did maybe 4 moves their whole show and everyone loved them. So how do we get confident and comfortable with a limited palette? 

Dance with only one move for a whole song. I know, right? Boring! But it’s not. The beauty of our dance is micro movement. That means each iteration of each move is different from any other—like snowflakes. So each figure 8 is different. You can vary the move by speed, size, force, height, or width, also by segmenting (starting and stopping), by alternating slow and fast, big and small, etc. And yes, you can change sides. But just one movement. No combinations. So just a figure 8, hip drop, circle, undulation, etc. Your choice. 

Once you choose, woohoo! Just let anything come out, any part of your body, any kind of decoration. You can even do the exact same thing for the whole song–and feel just fine about it.

Music! Radio Bastet, all vintage belly dance vinyl. You can stream the podcasts at http://radiobastet.libsyn.com/. Just click on the little grey pod button to the top left of each episode.

The Blue Rope

Blue rope

A year+ of covid. I have to say, it’s wearing on me. You, too?
So let’s escape for a bit…

Here’s a soothing, engaging body adventure….

The Blue Rope

Put on some slow, slinky, music. Lie down on your back (on a mat or some blankets) with your knees up, feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Feel your spine sink into the floor. Let it relax and soften. Visualize all the tiny little muscles that attach the spine together—little bitty bands that hold the discs and let everything move. Let them relax and soften. 

Visualize your spine as a glowing blue rope. It’s thick, shining, infinitely flexible. Move the tiny muscles that hold the spine together—no movement really, because the muscles are so small. Just activate them with your energy. 

Let the rope begin to move. Tiny little arcs and spirals, circles here and there. S-curves running up and down. Let it move with the music, subtle, so tiny it is barely discernible. Breathe with the music. Keep it small and gentle. When your body feels ready, you can let it lift you, but stay low: on your knees for a while. Continue to visualize the spine as a soft, glowing, blue rope, infinitely flexible. 

Notice how the movement feels. Keep your eyes closed, the better to focus on the inside.

You may finally graduate to standing, if and when you feel like it. Continue to move from the spine—avoid activating anything else. Let all the shapes of your movement stay grounded in the glowing blue rope. Cultivate a quality of effortlessness as the spine roils around, enjoying its freedom to ooze and twist. 

Play!
How much of your movement can be initiated from your flexible, glowing spine? (hint: A LOT!)

Here’s some music for that: Merçan Dede, Sufi Dreams.

We did this last week in Belly Dance BEDROCK. We had such a good time in this series, re-patterning to find organic ease in our deep movement vocabulary, that we are doing another 5 weeks. This time, we broaden our view into Transitions and Combinations, finding sleek, elegant pathways from one move to another, with some traveling steps to pull it all together. Back when I was first learning, Bobby taught transitions as movements in their own right, and they are.

What folks say about BEDROCK

This way feels so much better.

I get less tired lifting the hip from under

This makes it so much richer

It feels so effortless

It’s amazing how you feel the psoas by thinking of the movement

I love your approach, Alia!

Come explore with us! All classes are recorded (instructor view). Recordings available for a week each.
BEDROCK II Transitions & Combinations runs from Tuesday, March 23 through Tuesday, April 27 (no class March 30), from 4-5PM EDT Registration is open now.


Other things you might like…

The Midnight at the Crossroads Scratch n Dent Sale

Tuning In, Medicine for Modern Times

This fun Saturday party by Zara (3pm EDT)

With love!
Alia

The Difference Between Private and Public Dance (and why we need both)

public vs private dance

This may seem pretty obvious, but somehow it isn’t. 

I’m sitting on my couch with my bare feet up on the coffee table, laptop balanced on my lap, lol. I do a LOT of writing like this. My hair is awry. The eyeliner I put on this morning for a meeting is now largely under my eyes instead of around them. I’m in my own personal space where no one has to look at me. While it is true that I sometimes leave the house like this, I do avoid it—because, yes, the messier we are when we leave the house, the more likely we will run into someone we wish hadn’t seen us quite so unkempt ; ). 

Inside is private (relatively, anyway). Outside is public. 

Inside my own home, I can lounge around déshabillé. Outside, I don’t. 

So it is with dance. If I am to dance in public—from socially at a party to professionally for a show—I like to be presentable at the very least. The higher profile the event, the better I dress, the more careful I am with my makeup. And I dance very differently. 

Dancing with friends at a bar is casual. At a wedding is more upscale. A performance at a wedding is way more upscale. Each of these has a certain level of care invested. 

At home, pffft! I can dance in my underwear—or naked, by candlelight. I can roll around on the floor, make weird noises, and drool if I want to (I don’t think I have ever drooled, but I could). 

Just think of how horrid life would be if we were always on display—always had to be well-dressed and well-behaved, even in our sleep. Yuck, amirite? We’d go mad in short order. We need to have down time, slop time, relaxed anything-goes time. 

(me typing) 

Well, the same thing holds true for dance.

The body needs to unload all its accumulated stress and strain.

It needs to be able to move in potentially un-pretty, ungraceful, possibly even raw, ugly ways. 

Dirt is dirt. If we don’t wash it off every so often, it builds up—which makes it a lot harder to remove, plus it feels icky, even squalid. Sustained stress is like dirt on the soul. Free dance can help scrub it off. 

The problem is that we often expect ourselves to dance all perfect all the time, which is super stressful and unrewarding. 

Instead, let’s bring a sense of curiosity and experimentation into our dance. Let’s bring our weird faces and awkward movement. Undancerly prancing and over the top drama queen, little-kid pretending, broken crawling, and sensual writhing. In short, let it all hang out. 

Wahoo, right? Um….

Wait, what if we actually do this in public <gasp!>

The reality is that it depends upon the situation. In the same way that we have a decent idea about how to behave in an assortment of public settings. we have a pretty good idea of how to dance in them, too. 

And while becoming an expert free-dance improviser will probably loosen up our public persona, give us a little more personality, playfulness, and vibrancy, we probably won’t roll on the floor and drool in front of the wedding party (unless it is that kind of wedding, lol). 

I have been dancing this way for a very long time. I did once kinda go off script, but I had given myself permission. So that doesn’t count ; ).

But what about the dance police?! 

Those folks who live to hand out tickets for dance faux pas, who are not happy with anything we do?

Leila Farid told me the more Egyptians liked her dance, the happier they became with her, the more mean, hurtful comments American dancers posted on her youtube videos. Isn’t that interesting? Lots of native dancers tell me they have also been shunned because their dance doesn’t match what some Western perfectionist thinks our dance should be.

Sure, we need to have technique if we are going to be professional dancers. But! We also need to understand, value, and embody the cultural aesthetics of the dance we are doing.

In Oriental dance, improvisation, relaxation, agency, playfulness, and verve are vital.

We get a lot of technique, but we don’t get a lot of improvisation, relaxation, agency, playfulness, and verve. 

So here we are. 

Let it out.

In the studio, in a safe class, find somewhere you can let down your hair and not worry or care.

Your public dance will thank you for it. 

Belly Dance BEDROCK is one place you can let go and move as your body wishes. We start with centering, dissect and re-pattern some bedrock movement vocabulary, and then we PLAY.
Here’s what folks said in the first class:

This way feels so much better. The whole “use the obliques to lift the top of the hip” method never felt great for me.

I get less tired lifting the hip from under

This makes it so much richer

It feels so effortless

It’s amazing how you feel the psoas by thinking of the movement

I love your approach, Alia!

We’ve completed the first live class, but you can still catch the replay, and join us for the next 4 classes.

Register for Bellydance BEDROCK here

.

Tuning In is a balm for the nervous system. Every week, a half-hour shower to cleanse and regulate the nervous system. Tuning In 6 starts Friday. Register here.

I look forward to moving with you!

Love,
Alia

Here’s some music from the Rahim AlHaj Trio

You’ve heard of Ramses the Great–but what about Ramus the Inferior?

It’s a good thing I’ve been celebrating tiny wins recently! A lot of other things have kind of fallen off the table, like this newsletter (Happy Thanksgiving ; ). But here we are! I’ve missed you, and I’m glad to be back.

It’s a pretty special time, and not just for the holidays. The Age of Aquarius is finally here–when “peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars.” And not a moment too soon! Well, it will be on Dec 21, when Jupiter and Saturn kiss each other as they pass by in the sky. They are visible now, if you look near the horizon in the SouthWest, about an hour after sunset. They will be getting closer together every night until their Grand Conjunction on the 21st–an event which has not happened for 400 years.

I know, people laugh at astrology, but if the moon can turn the tides here on earth, who am I to judge? The Aquarian Age will last 2000 years, so let’s hope it is a good time for us and our planet ; )

And yes, we have all the seasonal holidays too! One of my favorite things at this time of year is deciding what I will give you as a gift. And I know now what it will be. Of course, it is a secret! BUT!

IF you are available on Sunday Dec 20 from 4-5 PM EST (see this in your time zone (add to calendar button in link), AND you can meet via Zoom, AND you’d like to help me create this gift (and discover the secret of Ramus sooner rather than later–YES this is all about our dance!), then click this link: Ramusize me. You’ll get an email to confirm.

Otherwise, you’ll just have to be patient until the gift arrives (Dec 25, so it’s not a long wait ; ).

THANK YOU for being part of my life this crazy year!
Here’s to 2021–with harmony and understanding.

Love and Joy,
Alia

Taqsim, Hurray!

taqsim

I realized that although I write a lot about improvisation in general, I rarely write about Taqsim, solo improvisation of melody instruments. But Taqsim is a core element of Oriental music and dance! So here we go to rectify that.

Part of this is that I’ve recently been teaching Taqsim improv. I loved that so much, I decided to make that my contribution to this year’s Belly Dance Bundle. Speaking of which, the Bundle is doing a wonderful Zil Challenge with a $350 prize!

Now, ON TO TAQSIM!

Dancing to the Instruments

There is a lot of advice out there, much of it well-meaning. For example, we get a lot of advice about what we should do with each instrument. 

“Shimmy to the qanun!”
“Shimmy to the oud!”
“Dance with the part of the body near where the instrument is held!”
“Arms and hands for the etherial nay!”

Everyone is terrified that if they dance the wrong way they will get in trouble. 

I say, forget all that.

Back in the five-part routine days, we did floor work to taqasim (musical improvisations. Taqasim is the plural; taqsim is singular). We didn’t shimmy; we slithered and roiled. 

As floor work fell out of fashion (illegal in Egypt and hell on expensive costumes), dancers focused on standing taqsim, and this required different movement options than rolling around ; ). But still, we are artists. we dance what we feel from the music. There is no law about what to do or how to do it. 

When I interviewed Dr. George Sawa for Midnight, I was pleased that he agreed with me about this. 

The percussive quality of the plucked instruments like the oud, buzuq, and qanun, he explained, is what the musician has to do to sustain the sound. Rather than dancing on that, dance on the melody the musician plays. Even in a taqsim without meter (rhythm), the musician plays notes, and the tones rise and fall. 

Follow that. 

Taqsim is hard for Western dancers partly because we tend to favor the rhythm. A chiftetelli rhythm, which often accompanies a taqsim, is very compelling. I have seen plenty of otherwise excellent dancers completely ignore the solo instrument and dance only on the rhythm. 

Taqsim is also hard because this is where the musician’s feeling comes out. Taqasim are improvised musical journeys. They begin on one maqam and then journey through a range of others, often through heroic musical leaps, before finally returning to where they started (the maqamat are Arabic musical modes. See Johnny Farraj’s excellent site, maqamworld.com for more on this). 

So when we dance on taqasim, we open ourselves to the feeling, because it is in there

There are no rules for what we “should” feel from the music. What you feel is what you feel. Yes, the composer may build things in, yes the musician invests the music with their own feeling; our task as dancers is to open up and see what comes through. 

I know, what if we do it wrong? How do we learn, except by making mistakes? Answer: we don’t. You have to kiss a lot of frogs in this life. Might as well pucker up.

So, for our music today I give you a 20-minute taqsim.

 It is a collaboration between Simon Shaheen on the oud, which has the lower, more mellow tone, and AJ Racy on the buzuq, which has a sharper, higher tone, courtesy of its metal strings and smaller sound box.  

Music: Simon Shaheen And Ali Jihad Racy – 01 – Maqam Kurd

The oud is fretless, like a violin, so it is especially suited to the bending of notes common in Arabic music. The buzuq has frets, but they are adjustable. Listen for the differences and see if you can follow—and maybe dance on—each instrument individually (Hint: the oud goes first, and the buzuq comes in second).

Use Slow Movement if you like; it helps. Use Low Space if you like; it feels right. Ask me questions if you like; I welcome them. 

For those who would like to explore Taqsim, I will be offering a five-week course through the BellyDance Bundle.

I am also very pleased to offer Effortless Improvisation, a Live Deep Dive for our in-depth Forum Class this fall. Effortless covers taqsim along with a deep dive into improvisation technique and strategies for confidence and joy. Registration opens October 1st; Effortless begins the week of October 11.


I look forward to dancing with you!

Love, 
Alia

PS Here is a great FREE online festival of Turkish Dance from Serkan Tutar!
Turkish Night Homemade Gala Show Part 2
The show opens Sunday 27th September 2020 at Rakkas Istanbul Youtube Page at 20:00 (Belgium/ Brussels time ). It will stay available for a while after that. It features a range of famous Turkish and Turkish-style dancers, with everything from oriental to folk to historic styles. Our dear friend Walladah Valadah performs classical Ottoman dance!

How to “Orient” in Oriental Dance (and why it boosts confidence)

orienting eyes

When mammals enter a novel environment, they look around. They explore the space with their eyes. This is called Exploratory Orienting. It is all about curiosity, a relaxed, engaged process. Mammals do it many times in a day.

There is also another kind of orienting. Defensive Orienting, which happens in response to a perceived threat, is about fight or flight. Where is the exit? Where is the safest place? How do I get there? It is adrenaline and contraction. All your friends who want to sit in the Godfather/Shane seat, back to the wall, so they can see the whole room? Defensive Orienting.

orienting eyes

This is one of the cool things I learned in the three-year Somatic Experiencing® (SE) training. Through this, I realized that I generally engaged in Defensive Orienting when I entered a new space–like a party. I did not look around with curiosity. I found a secluded spot, and I stayed there, eyeing the room for threats. Defensive Orienting.

It has been very interesting to shift my awareness to Exploratory Orienting. I now begin all my groups with some orienting, letting the eyes look around the room, settling on whatever they enjoy. We explore our other senses as well–hearing (our fastest sense), smell, taste–and touch. Our bodies in the chair, the feeling of clothes on our bodies, the air on our skin–and we go inside as well–what is going on in there?

SE is about what is happening inside our bodies–as is Oriental dance.

In SE, we track sensations associated with challenging memories and triggering events, and we also build and grow sensory resources— feelings associated with success, joy, and pleasure.

In Oriental dance, the feeling is the most important thing–the emotional timbres that come and go in the music and also the physical pleasure of the dance movement it self. We get to relax, to enjoy the isometric pull of our muscles as our bodies respond to the music, revel in the juiciness of them.

So what does Orienting have to do with all this?

Well, I noticed that I was doing Defensive Orienting even when I danced.

Wow.

Part of me was protecting myself from my guests. So I didn’t really look at them, and there was a defensive quality in my presence. This made it hard to be genuine, relaxed, and present.

This resonates with keeping the eyes more fixed, staring at screens–these behaviors reinforce one another. I’ve written before about how eye work improved my vision. It’s improved more than that.

So I changed my approach.

I began intentionally taking the time to orient. As I gazed around, I sat with the discomfort that arose and let it pass through me. I made the time to settle. And dance became easier. Friendlier. When the body feels settled so many more options come online.

And this is what our dance is really about–Personality. Presence. Communication. Joy. We really can have it all.

We can have it with our choreographed performance and also with our improvisation. Feeling settled and relaxed makes it so much easier to enjoy the music, to be present in the moment.

We can have this in our daily lives as well. My regular life has vastly improved. Yes, I have also done a lot of SE work–because even small bits have made big differences, I keep going. Even the first session caused marked differences.

I have been building Orienting in to all my classes. It’s a big feature of the improv Fun Classes, and Tuning In is pure SE.

I invite you to try it out–what might a more settled nervous system do for you–and your dance?


How to Improvise to Classic Songs

This is not your “classic” song class. We will not work on technique or pop-bead combinations. We will focus on the structural elements of classic songs, the phrases and measures, the sections and the organization, so we can understand and predict changes–and feel confident when dance to any song that comes our way. We’ll let ourselves feel and respond to the emotional timbres. We’ll allow our bodies to respond freely to the music, as we let our feeling express itself.

Each class is recorded (instructor view). The sound is beautiful! Each recording is available for one week, so you can review or catch up. Each week gets a playlist of songs to use for practice. We may explore some standbys along with less-known treasures.

Improv to Classic Songs is a FUN Class Deep Dive. It runs five Weeks, Sept 8 – Oct 6. Tuesdays at 4PM ET. Register for Classic Songs here.


If your daily life needs more attention, you might enjoy

Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times

This little half hour packs a lot of power. Sometimes we do more soothing things, sometimes more active, sometimes both. But every exercise is all about re-regulating the nervous system to the body can settle, and life has room for more savor, ease, and joy. We 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. Each class is recorded (instructor view). Each recording is available for one week.


Tuning In runs five Weeks, September 18-Oct 23 (no class Oct 9). Fridays, 4-4:30 PM EDT. Register for Tuning In here.

I look forward to dancing with you!

Love,
Alia

Ataraxia and You

Back at the end of February, I had the pleasure of a tarot reading by my friend, Catti. We’ve done several of these over the last few years, and they are always inspiring and rich, helping me to understand what is going on in my life. This time, I was curious about where to focus my attention in the coming months. I’ve had some shifts that point towards finding new pathways, so I asked Catti’s cards, basically, which way I should go. 

They said, welp, major things are happening (three major arcana cards in a row, including the Tower), but you don’t know which way to go because—it’s just not clear yet. You’ll have to step carefully and have faith. 

On the one hand, I was like, well huh. On the other, it’s always good to know that it’s not just me—the way really is cloudy. 

As it happens, this was just before Coronavirus smashed into our daily life.

Which brings me to Ataraxia

It’s a Greek word that means “to be content knowing that you don’t know everything.” This is what my Literature prof told me in college. I fell in love with the word right then and there.  Because I am content knowing that I don’t know everything. I have a healthy respect for mystery. I am content to wait for things to unfold. Time is a real thing, and sometimes things aren’t ready yet. So you have to wait. 

Evening Green

Now, it is also true I have spent an inordinate amount of my life waiting. I have spent entire years unable to plan what I would do in five days, as I waited for some kind of sign. And I have planned entire years in five minutes flat.  

At the time of this reading, I feel impatient, yet mystified. Like I am in the middle of a transformation, that place where the caterpillar has dissolved into goo, before the butterfly starts to form. Hence my tarot question. And having it thrown right back to me—”Sorry, your question can’t be answered at this time. Be of good cheer,” was, well frustrating. 

So, Ataraxia. 

Recently, I found another definition of ataraxia—in Andrea Deagon’s wonderful novel, The Dancer from Tyre. It was, “freedom from care—the conscious setting aside of things that wear down the soul.” 

This definition made me love the word even more. And it’s something for us to think about in these (or any) troubled times. 

It is unhealthy and unwise to stew in despair, fear, or anger. The world news is enough to give us all panic attacks every day. And what good does that do? None. 

This is where we practice ataraxia, that “conscious setting aside of things that wear down the soul.”

For our 20 minute improv dance session, we let all that go. And maybe we can take time through the day to return to our flow state, to be more present in the moment, and less subject to the vortex of pain and misery that is always pulling at us. 

We also can be content to wait and see what happens. We don’t know everything. We are all in a state of transformation that is part of this practice. Things are happening. We don’t/can’t know what they are, but they’re happening. So let’s have faith, and be of good cheer. 

Here’s some music for that—also from Catti. Gaye Su Akyol

PS Improv is a place where we never know what will happen! Where we set aside our cares to be in the moment. In this vein, I’m delighted to be offering a series on improvising to Drum Solo and one on simply relaxing and feeling better.


​Starts Tuesday July 28! DreamBeat–Fun Drum Solo Improvisation
​Five Weeks, July 28 – Aug 25. Tuesdays at 4-5 PM ET.
A five-week adventure into drum solo interpretation and intuitive movement. Drum solo structure, technique, and exploration of various rhythms. We will use Middle Eastern drum solos as well as fusion and surprises! Registration is now open.

​Starts Friday, August 7 Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times
Five Weeks, August 7 – September 4. Fridays, 4-4:30 PM ET
This half-hour class comes from a Somatic Experiencing® (SE) perspective. It’s is a half-hour chillout session focused on nervous system regulation. It is designed to ease anxiety and restore wellbeing. We 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.

I look forward to dancing with you!
All my love,
Alia

How to Sit with Discomfort (and why your dance might thank you)

Discomfort. Yuck, right? Who needs it? It’s pretty normal to avoid pain or awkwardness or discomfort as much as possible. Or just ignore it. Pretend it isn’t there.

But sit with it? Look at it? Ewww, no.

I’ve had chronic pain for decades I just ignored as much as I could. It was always there and it hurt, so I just blocked it out and went on with my life. Of course, I also tended to avoid anything that aggravated it…. Which did kinda limit my connection to my body…

And then there’s emotional pain and discomfort.

Yeah, everyone’s favorite.

Even learning new skills causes discomfort.

So what is this about sitting with discomfort?

WHY WOULD WE?

Because often, allowing ourselves to experience our own discomfort–in a gentle, curious, open way, without judging or pushing it away–helps it to resolve.

When we have pain, even emotional pain, we tend to cringe away from from it. Over time, that cringe, the tension around the hurt, the physical walling off of sensation, becomes habitual.

Softening our response to the pain helps it dissipate.

Even that chronic pain I mentioned above, allowing myself to feel it, to relax around it, helped it to ease. It came back, until the root causes were addressed, but it could be eased through practices such as Slow Movement. This was huge.

So many things agree!

As I got involved with Somatic Experiencing® (SE), I learned that sitting with the often uncomfortable physical sensations that arise as we approach a challenging memory, following them as they shift and travel–can dissolve the triggering that accosts us in the present. Permanently.

Learning Science shows that when people learn new skills–when we are really learning, not just amassing information–it feels immensely frustrating and uncomfortable. People often give up, believing that they are not smart enough to learn, all because they don’t know that frustration and difficulty are hallmarks of learning. As in, no frustration, no learning.

Our perfectionist culture expects us to be good at what we do and leaves little room for the messiness and pain of learning. Of life. The more we accept these things the better off we are.

Because with all that messiness comes the joy and beauty of life as well. Perfectionism drown that out, focused as it is on “improvement,” and its focus on what is wrong. Tension and avoidance drown that out too.

What important is what’s good, right, and joyful in our lives

In order to feel the joys of life, we also must sit with the downs. We focus on the good so we can traverse the challenges.

Dancemeditation taught me about Contraction, is the discomfort that precedes change and growth. It also taught me about Expansion, that joy of being in the new place. We need contraction (think of birth contractions), to get to Expansion–the new life, the new understanding, the expanded container that allows us to experience the world from a more grounded, stable perspective.

This is how I design my classes

Space to sit with discomfort

I make classes that explore essential elements of the dance that can be challenging–like improvisation. Attempting these dance elements can feel uncomfortable and frustrating–because there is so much learning available, so much opportunity for growth. It’s important to honor this challenge with compassion.

I bring a myriad of strategies to the table from a wide range of influences–because I’ve been a teacher for decades, I am curious, and I love learning, even though it hurts sometimes. So I make my classes effective and empowering, because I want us all to dance with feeling, variety, and joy.

Space for joy

Joy is vital. And times are hard, especially now. So wherever we can bring some joy into our lives let’s do that.

We have some really lovely classes coming up, opportunities to allow discomfort to pass through, and come to Joy. I invite you to have a look.

How to Dance (or Speak) for the Camera
July 13-Aug 28. Anyone feel anxious about dancing or speaking to the camera? This is for you. I am really looking forward to this class. It will be empowering and powerful. No days or time to post as our Small Group meeting times will be planned with the group. Bi-weekly one-hour small group meetings and two half-hour personal sessions. Registration closes July 12.

DreamBeat–Fun Drum Solo Improvisation
Five Weeks, July 28 – Aug 25. Tuesdays at 4-5 PM ET.
A five-week adventure into drum solo interpretation and intuitive movement. Drum solo structure, technique, and exploration of various rhythms. We will use Middle Eastern drum solos as well as fusion and surprises! Registration is now open.

Tuning In–Medicine for Modern Times
Five Weeks, August 7 – September 4.  Fridays, 4-4:30 PM ET
This half-hour class comes from a Somatic Experiencing® (SE) perspective. It’s is a half-hour chillout session focused on nervous system regulation. It is designed to ease anxiety and restore wellbeing. We 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. 

I look forward to dancing with you!
All my love,
Alia

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

Belly Dance: Powerful Medicine for Modern Times

The Camera is Watching

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)