So high, can’t get over it. So low, can’t go under it. So wide, can’t get around it…
Where is your dance wall? What stops you, gets in your way, or keeps you from dancing what you feel in the moment? What walls do your students or dancer friends face?
Here are a few things I, and other folks, have struggled with.
Never feeling good enough, creative enough, or anything enough.
Getting stuck in one’s head, losing energy, falling out of the zone.
Feeling constrained in performance or navigating social scenes.
Improvisation The feeling in the moment ; )
Why is this such a crime?
Technique How the heck do I… ?
We don’t fit the mold, but have so much to express.
How do you find it? Does it take forever?
Finding Spirit in Dance Is it really all hoodoo?
What’s your biggest wall? How does it affect you?
What would help?
Write to me. Or post on the blog. I’ll write back.
PS I am once again endeavoring to create a little something new, this time in two weeks. This week is for figuring out what to make. Next week is for making it. It shall be done and ready to roll on May 1. I want it to be something that solves a problem for my dance friends–that’s you. Hence my question. More on Thursday!
Imagine you are watching a dancer. You have no idea what the hell she is doing, but everything is moving in complete accord with the music, and that music is live. There are half a dozen instruments, multiple accents, and a wild assortment of inputs, yet she is totally in sync. How do we arrive at this level of embodied expression?
We start out by copying–that’s how we learn. Copying many different artists and styles gives us the tools, models, and permission to be different. Through learning from a range of sources, we increase the variety of spaces in which we give ourselves permission to be. Each time we reset the pattern, we increase our understanding of and relationship to the dance.
All the movement models we experience form a cloud of possibilities for the “how” of any step, any move. Micro-movement has the quantum element of infinite variation. So does the multiplicity of interpretation, the way in which we construct each move. Through this quantum density, this strange attractor of a shape, we find our own path.
This is why it’s important to study with many teachers. And not just any teachers. Follow the visionaries. When we learn/copy from a variety of expressive masters, we gain an ever more expansive range of possibility. Our range of motion increases, literally—and of thought, imagination, expression.
Over time, our eyes open. Every dance we see, every teacher whose class we take contributes to this.Seek out the best teachers, see great artists, as this is how we develop our range of possibility.
But we can’t copy forever. As we grow, we find new ways of being in the world. We find out how our bodies want to express the move, the music, the feeling. We branch out on our own. We give ourselves permission to do this. We let go of following. We lead.
Our own style comes from giving ourselves permission to find our own way. The confidence we gain from seeing, learning the variety of ways is the key. I believe our style is already inside us, waiting. The effort and study help us find it, accept it, refine it.
We begin by copying. Our path develops in relation to the myriad paths we have followed. It may lie within or without the experienced range of possibility—through the effort of building the range, we see how there could be an outside, and that we might go there.
In the USA, we have this powerful myth of the first Thanksgiving. The first pilgrims came to the shores of this country, escaping religious differences in England. The ingenious peoples kindly took pity on them and invited them to a feast. The pilgrims were so grateful for this kindness that they commemorated the feast as a national holiday.
Today, laden tables will be set in every home that can afford it (even the virtual genocide of native folk hasn’t dimmed the glory of Thanksgiving). Each person at the table may even be pushed to to name something for which they are thankful. Which they will do, however sulkily. On other days, though, most folks focus on what’s wrong (of which there is always plenty).
What if we highlight what’s right? There has recently been a lot of research that highlights the power of good–of thankfulness and gratitude in daily life. Folks who prioritize the positive feel happier and more at peace with their world. The impact of terrible events recedes, and love finds a foothold in their hearts.
We can bring this practice into our dance with marvelous effect. Kenny Werner, the author of Effortless Mastery, said, you can be the most miraculous player in the universe, never hit a wrong note–but still not be free. He said, the only way you can be free is to love your playing *even when you play badly.* When you hit wrong notes, make mistakes, and generally suck.
Freedom means loving yourself–and your art–no matter what. How radical is that? We are so conditioned to punish ourselves, dismiss compliments, and obsess over our flaws. Where is our thanksgiving?Where is our gratitude for the joy of creating art with movement, this marvelous dance that offers us joy, solace, and a pleasurable, self-loving relationship with our bodies?
What if we let this year be different? What if we choose to reflect upon ourselves with kindness and love? Our dance will not suffer. It will not grow less. It will grow more, as our dance, too, becomes more loving and filled with joy. As we fill ourselves, we fill those around us. The whole world wins.
What if you write a love letter to the dance?To your teachers. And to yourself, as a dancer. Tell yourself all you have accomplished, how beautiful you are, and how much joy you have brought into the world through dance. Write one today–and every week for a month. No negatives–just the good. Replace negative thoughts with love and affirmative warmth.
Next time you dance, what if you just enjoy yourself? Enjoy the pleasure of your moving body. Only do what feels good, what feels easy, what your beautiful body enjoys. Allow yourself this pleasure, this happiness.
In this series, we look at how dance has turned from a pleasurable fun activity to one of perfectionism and hard work. The series began with the observations of a dance friend, Sarah, who noticed that practicing improvisation was seen as less valuable than drilling or fitting combos into other songs.
Now let’s look at some caveats–things to watch out for. Sarah mentioned that she and her dance friends tended to dismiss “just improv” as not a quality practice session.
We must consider what a person means by “just improv.” If they mean put on music and hop around on autopilot, no, that is not going to make them a better dancer. It will maybe up their stamina, but otherwise it is just going to reinforce hopping around on autopilot.
When a person really dances, they become more skilled at really dancing. The interoceptive (Sufi, Dancemeditation™) model puts us in questing, curious relationship with our body, the music, and the Divine. That is entirely different from hopping around.
I’ve had days where I’ve danced for 30-40 minutes; playing around with the music and what feels good … Then I beat myself up for not having “really” practiced.
Part of the shift is letting go of beating ourselves up. For anything. This is a destructive behavior. It is a symptom of old shame and trauma. When we feel it happening, we can take long exhales and let the impulse wash out of the body. Practicing self-love and acceptance is far more valuable–and genuinely subversive ; ).
To dance well, we need confidence. Drilling and technique practice encourages us to look at ourselves with narrow, critical eyes. Really dancing, using our time to enjoy and connect to the music, the guests, our bodies, and our joy–this develops our confidence. The affirmation in the picture, “I am a Master. I am great!” is worth a lot of repetition.
There’s a difference between drilling and improv. Drilling practice makes us more precise and stylized. Quality improv practice develops musicality and intuitive response.
A classical musician trains through technique, plays scales. A folk musician plays music. That is his practice. The folk musician may be every bit the musician and every bit as skilled as the classical musician. It’s just a different system.
Dave Brubeck went to Turkey and was flabbergasted that the folk musicians were so brilliant and improvised on odd meters better than trained Western musicians. That’s what inspired him to write Take 5 (or that’s the myth, anyway). Even in Arabic music, there is the maqamat, a classical learning system of modes and scales, and there is the nagamat system, that of melodies (nagam means melody in Arabic).
What I suggest is a nagamat system: practicing dance–by dancing! (the raqsat system, if you will).
Wait, what about technique?! I roll technique into my practice. I often stop to explore a move, enjoying its path and texture in my body. I fit my movement to the music, listen for and express emotional timbres, respond intuitively, explore and enhance individual movements & vocabulary, develop grace (slow movement), strength (by using the floor), etc etc.
I also practice stagecraft and connection. I roll all of this, too, right into my practice. I “dance like someone is watching.” I challenge myself to be as open as I am in the interoceptive mode while connecting to an “audience.” I dance with my eyes open, and pull out all the performance stops, right in my own room, flirting with the walls, mirror, and the guest who exist far past those physical walls.
This practice style makes me more creative, innovative, and happy. I am always finding new ideas, new avenues, and new elements in my music. I have more freedom, better technique, and a lot more joy–both in dance and in life. Plus my musicality improves, too. This is a pretty significant win-win.
If you want to be a great dancer, it may take more than 20 minutes of practice a day. But if all you have is 20 minutes, you will become a better dancer by dancing–and developing a deep connection to your body and the music–than you ever will by drilling. It may not be the same in other dance forms. But that is how it is in this dance.
The basics of our dance are not that hard. It’s not like ballet, or even Flamenco. It’s super organic, super comfortable on the body. I mean, it’s a folk dance. There’s a learning curve, but you can get most of it in a couple of months. Hell, you can get a lot of it in an couple of hours.
–> The artistry is in the intuitive connection to complex, improvised music, in never doing it the same way twice, in the feeling, in the connection, in the joy.
You can’t drill that.
You have to dance it.
That’s what we’re doing when we practice improv.
Or at least, that’s our path.
PS Want to inspire, amaze and delight?
You might enjoy How to Create Dance Art (CDA), an online composition intensive for improvisation & choreography, coming this spring. http://CreateDanceArt.com
“Alia took the time to read my postings and reply to every one, always with helpful information and insight. I felt that she really understood the different ways people learn and work. We weren’t all the same people. I felt that I was a part of the group but that I was also lucky enough to be taking a private course with Alia.”
“The work is spaced out over a long period of time which allows for a true thinking sift to happen. It’s a lifestyle change not a diet so to speak. I would recommend this course to people who are ready to have a paradigm shift and who have an open mind.”
“it was really amazing in the ways that it helped me to make my dancer richer. Even if it was only in my mind. Because every feeling I have is somehow translated to the audience, and having so much to work with made me feel that I would never be out of ideas. I could do a hip circle 20 times, but if I emoted differently with each one, it would seem different to the audience. Mind blowing.”
There is a special early deal November27-30. Please have a look right away as it is very short term. http://CreateDanceArt.com
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.
Of 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, includingthe 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.
Most days I get up several hours before anyone else in my family. It is often dark, now that it’s fall here in Vermont. It’s also cold. I hate getting up in the dark, and I hate the cold. I’d prefer to sleep in every morning until it is sunny and warm. But I get up. I don’t like it–but I like myself better when I do it.
I wash up, make some coffee and toast, and take my vitamins. Then I open the file of my book. And then I write. I like to put in at least an hour or 1K words. I often go more and sometimes less. (For a while I was reading every morning, but now I am focused on the writing). After I write, I put in my headphones and pick a dance song on my phone. Once I’m moving, I usually dance for my whole 20 minutes. And then I feel like I accomplished something, all day long, even if the rest of it goes completely to heck.
It’s hard, because when I feel sorry for myself, I tend to get self-indulgent. I slack on things I know are important. I eat crap food. I don’t write–or dance. Then I feel guilty (another big time-waster). Then I feel even sorrier for myself–and the cycle of Resistance continues.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this point of relative consistency. And I don’t always defend my time well. Yesterday I overslept and my Mom got up early. I just stepped back. I wasn’t happy with myself, but I am done beating myself up over the occasional slip. NGAMO, right? No Guilt And Move On.
Today I got up earlier and wrote–but I didn’t fully close the book part of my morning and formally move on to the next task in the chain, the headphones and song. So somehow I didn’t dance.
Little by little, progress comes. I narrow the focus of my intentions and determination, things get done, and they become habits. Accomplishments then become more reliable, and my skills improve, because I get consistent practice, so I feel better about myself. You get the picture, right?
It’s so seductive to let our creativity slip down the back of the sofa. We put ourselves last and swallow our frustration, turning it against ourselves. We waste our lives hating ourselves for our weakness. Hating ourselves is just another trap.
Why do we do this? Some of it is what we learned to do. Some of it is our own fear. Where does the fear come from? Often it’s left over from times we got shamed. Wherever it came form, it’s corrosive to our creativity. Art requires us to take a stand and make something–to move, to put words or ink or paint on the page.
Instead we believe the lies we tell ourselves. It’s no good, I’m no good,. It doesn’t matter. It’s too hard. I don’t care. It’s just…
How do we protect our creative spaces? Our dance habits? Our self-confidence and joy, which are so tied to our creativity?
It starts with showing up. Showing up to do the work. This is a big reason I like taking classes (besides the learning). I have a reason to show up. Someone besides me notices. They’re on my side. I started teaching so I would practice. I still do. Little by little, I grow my habits.
Every day, I learn to show up. When the Muse comes looking, I want to be there.
What an intense couple of weeks. I made it through the Gumroad Small Product Lab Launch and met all kinds of cool creators. I feel full of ideas from being around so many. And made a new thing–Ziltastic!– in only 10 days. Thanks to everyone who supported this crazy endeavor. Here’s a snippet: https://vimeo.com/135481234.
The SPL crew voted me a People’s Choice award! This is for being a helpful member of the team. Squee! So Ziltastic is in the Honorable Mention section of the July SPL collection. Check out all the cool stuff we made–you might see something you love. https://gumroad.com/smallproductlab/creators/july2015
Then Mackay Rippey called. He interviewed me about belly dance’s potential for trauma healing. We blew through the interview and kept right on conversing for another hour. The interview will air on his Lyme Ninja Radio podcast September 13–more as we get closer. And thanks to this conversation, something wonderful came into being. Announcing…
A Belly Dance Foundation Flow series this fall. We will explore foundation belly dance movement for somatic release to refresh the body and soul so joy can flow into our lives. This will be online, with no cost–a special gift. All are welcome. More soon.
Thanks, Mackay, the Small Product Lab, and all of you for encouraging me in this journey!
I’m off to New Mexico for Dunya’s Summer Movement Monastery–camping in the high desert for Sufi dance. I’ll be back with more soon!
Lots of love,
PS People are excited about Ziltastic. This makes me so happy! I love the material that is coming through.
I just watched Part One! It changed my entire relationship with my zils. I bought two pair a few years ago and i just couldn’t handle the ringing in my ears, couldn’t see the end goal and actually disliked them (but my guilt made me store them in a really cute bag). Now I know what I own, how to keep from giving myself a headache and know that I can play them with fun, musicality and improvisation as my goal. They are out of my cute bag now! And the cat stays in the room! Thank you Alia! Ziltastic! ~Anica
“I love looking and listening to you. I love watching you, your calm, connected style. It feels like I’m right there in the same room. I can’t wait to start playing.” ~Irit
Thanks to everyone who’s taken the plunge with Ziltastic! Our group is wonderful!
Want to be part of it? There are about 15 seats left for the special coaching gift. Grab ’em while you can! Right here: http:/ziltastic.com
I’ve been doing the Gumroad Small Product Lab 10-Day Challenge (https://gumroad.com/smallproductlab), 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!
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: https://www.facebook.com/aliathabit
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 Barry, Jeff 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.