90 Days Countdown!

Here’s another 90 Days Love Note. We’re counting down to the start of this year’s 90 Days with a Love Note a day through March 11th.

 

Day 15: How to sneak it in

I don’t know about you, but I like to have fun. In some ways it is my downfall, in others my salvation. I will blow off responsibilities to have fun—but fun keeps me sane so that on other days I can face those responsibilities. I kinda think that most of us don’t get enough fun. We get overwhelmed by those life and death responsibilities, chained to the grindstone, taking care of others.

Wait, fun? What’s that? I know! We get so ground down we don’t even bother putting on lipstick, let alone eyeliner. We just wear sweats—all the time. It’s so hard to feel glamorous in dirty sweats with our hair tied in a knot as we rush from one useless take to the other (or sit and watch TV to keep someone company). We’re bored, tired, and overworked. Some of us have a hard time getting out, or don’t have any friends around. Our plates are just too full, and everything on them is canned spinach and overcooked liver. It’s jam yesterday and jam tomorrow—but never any jam today. So let’s get some jam.

How to sneak in some fun.

 

Pay attention to what you enjoy. I have found the smallest things can rev me up. Coffee with a friend. A phone call with someone I love. Drawing pictures (I haven’t drawn one since I finished the Cat book). Performing and teaching dance. Running around and hanging out with friends. I am a social bipolar—hermit most of the time, and the rest I’m a café society kinda gal. I even like sitting in a café all by myself, enjoying the hubbub and basking in my solitude.

Include your obligations

I usually hate for anyone to see me practice, and that has not been a productive approach. So after sulking for over a year (and not dancing), I now dance for my Mom. I made a tiny habit that when Mom gets up, I put on dance music. It doesn’t always work, but most days it does. I dance for 20 minutes. She’s happy, and so am I. One of our members dances with her kids. You can’t maybe roll around on the floor as much as you would like, but, hey, it’s a lot better than nothing, and it helps build the habit.

Step back

It always seems impossible, but it’s surprising how it can work out. We can’t control everything. Other people won’t do it as well. The world will end. Usually, it won’t. And while some of those things are life and death, most aren’t as important as they seem. So just announce it. I will be doing X instead of Y starting Monday. I will be going out for a coffee instead of vacuuming the house. No one will step up. Step back anyway. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Just blow them off

I had to study for a math final. I also had an invitation to a lunch party an hour away. I declined, based on the final. My friend, said, “Oh, just come. You know you’re going to procrastinate all afternoon and not study till tonight anyway. Might as well do something fun instead.” She was right. So I went. And at the party, I got an idea I used for an English paper—and that idea got me an A, the first in two semesters with that particular professor. Never underestimate the power of relaxation to free your mind.

Sometimes letting go breaks the pattern of interaction–it disrupts the dysfunctional distance that must always be maintained, and gives others the space to approach. It’s still dysfunctional, but it can be a doorway to change. (I’m in this motel in Eunice LA, drinking coffee and eating donuts. The innkeeper (who has a law degree), tells his daughter, “The only person whose actions you can control is you. If you want to go outside, go outside. He doesn’t want to go, so let him alone.”)

Be nice to your liver

See Day 12. Feeling trapped is a prime symptom of liver stress. Whenever you feel trapped and resentful, pay attention. The doorways are there, you just can’t see them. Sometimes difficulty is our karma (when my Mom came to live with me, I looked up one day and said, “Really, God? Really? This is what I’m supposed to do?” The answer was a firm Yes). Sometimes it’s just what we have to do for a while. But sometimes that yes is about learning how to manage in the face of great difficulty, and a healthy liver helps us find the ways. If nothing else, it makes the load much lighter.

So does music!

Sufi Flamenco

https://soundcloud.com/m-zid/ahmed-el-tuni

YT Playlist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uapUGquAtc&list=RD4uapUGquAtc

All my love,

Alia

90 Days Last Call!

Here’s another 90 Days Love Note. We’re counting down to the start of this year’s 90 Days with a Love Note a day through March 11th. 

Day 71: How to “face” the music…

We’ve all seen the glued-on smile—the frowny class face—the distracted counting face, the anxious, the mopey, the bored, the fake—and the genuine. Ah, now that we like. Real feeling, openly expressed. That’s nice. It draws us in. It feels inviting.

Facial expression and dance are an interesting conundrum. We’re told to smile, and we’re told to feel the music. Not all the music is smiley. Neither are we. So how do we reconcile this? How do we express genuine emotion and be true to ourselves, if we always have to smile?

One word – connection. Its all about the feeling, right? In our dance we express the feeling from the music and the movement through our bodies and faces. So the first step is connecting our bodies, faces and feelings.

This takes practice. Explore what the face and body do, how we hold them, during various emotional states. Memorize this, so you can access it “offline,” as it were. Notice your feelings. Notice how your face and body behave when you feel sad, angry, happy (if you never feel happy, that is a more important issue to explore). Map that facial expression. Map that body line. Practice putting it on like a special dress. Over time, you can place yourself more easily in a mood.

If the music feels regal, be regal. Stern, be stern. Not all of us are smilers. We don’t have to smile, but neither do we want to dilute the impact of our feeling from the music with a lot of noise. Noise is external personal concerns that interfere with our embodiment process. Watch out for those moments of, What the heck am I doing? What comes next? What is sticking to my dress? Because those are clearly visible, plus they knock you out of your zone.

Of course, sometimes we feel anxious. We’re worried about the next step, the floor, falling off the stage. Do we show that? NO! Sure, it’s a feeling, but not from the music—it’s a factor of NOT being in the moment. This is why we practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect—it helps us recover gracefully from mistakes. We can often see in a video where a dancer is worried about the floor, the choreo, the costume, whatever. We feel what she expresses, so we worry, too. This is not good.

Some things we don’t want people to know. We need to shift back and forth. In real life, we often wear a mask, for if everyone saw how much they annoy us, there would be problems. And there are other reasons. In poker, you wear a mask—you keep good news to yourself, and/or may deliberately mislead the other players.

I fell off the stage in Vegas. I laughed. I taught myself to laugh when I make a mistake—previously, I frowned (even cursed), and anyone could see I had screwed up. Laughing helps me recover my groove and puts any observer at ease. Wherever I notice personal negative feelings showing instead of the music, I practice myself out of it.

The feeling is what’s important. But not our outside feelings—not the everyday, today sucks, my cat is sick, I hate my bra feelings. Those are outside the dance. It’s the feeling from the music and the enjoyment of the movement that we express in the dance—and this is a dance of joy.

Does this distinction make sense? It’s very important.

What if the music is sad? It depends upon our purpose. In classic oriental dance, the sadness is always tempered by the joy of the present moment. The sad thing happened before—it’s sad, but we have perspective, so there is always a bittersweet dialectic. In a theatrical piece, however, we may express a wide range of strong emotions untempered by time.

Sometimes we dance for ourselves. The dance brings up emotions. We create a safe space to allow ourselves to feel and release them. Even so, random outside stuff doesn’t really belong here—and neither does dwelling on any of this stuff. Let the music carry you through. Let the feelings go. Come back to your joy. This is part of the 90 days.

All of these are fine. Each has its place.

What we express matters, even at home. Placing oneself in an attitude of joy is contagious. Smiling makes us happier. This is science. People study this stuff—frowning makes you concentrate more, too, so if you really have to study, go ahead and frown—just not while you dance. Check out Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast and Slow for more on this.

What we do in practice also shapes what we do on stage. Even in class, learn to release concentration face (try opening the throat—it helps). And remember to breathe.

Cultivate joy. Feel it. Show it. Share it.

Music: House of Tarab’s Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/house-of-tarab

***

The 90 Days start tomorrow. Today is the last call. 

Will you be with us? Please do! 

aliathabit.com/90days

Love,
Alia

aliathabit.com/90days

Day 39: What is the most beautiful move?

Here’s another 90 Days Love Note. This one is Day 39 from 2015. We’re counting down to the start of this year’s 90 Days with a Love Note a day through March 11th.

***

Think of the most wonderful dancer you’ve ever seen. Everything they do entrances you—every action feels perfect. You notice only the energy and the love. Joy and warmth suffuse your soul. You feel loved and loving, uplifted and happy. At the end, you applaud wildly, wishing only for more.

How do they do it?

How do they make everything so beautiful?

They must practice a lot.
If only… ;(

Here’s a conundrum.

In any moment, all of life can be perfect—or hell—or however we happen to feel. Ironically, the moment itself may be neutral. It’s about how we feel. (Okay, some moments suck—but even so, our emotional experience can be at odds with the circumstances. Who hasn’t felt crappy at a happy event? Or curiously free at a sad time?)

When we dance, we can feel great, crappy, or anything in between—whether the audience loves us or not—and this largely depends upon how we feel about ourselves in that moment. So if we feel like we are are crap, the moment will be crap. But when we feel great, beautiful, enchanting—the moment will be lovely. We can literally transform the moment through our own emotional projection. It’s magic.

So the most beautiful move is the one you are doing right now. 

I know, right? Sadly, the crappiest move can also be the move you are doing right now.

Yes, the same move. The difference is in your mind. This is why you won’t see me suggesting specific moves, or how to use specific muscles. Movement choice and creation in the moment is intuitive. The movement doesn’t matter. What’s important is how we feel, our connection to the music, and what we give to the audience. That’s what the audience notices. That’s what they love. That’s what they remember.

I first heard this from Fahtiem, a wonderful dancer, great teacher, and super cool human being. She said, “It’s not a hip drop. It’s a hip drop! Every time!” It’s something cool and special that we share with our guests—and ourselves. And it’s up to us to make it happen. What do they know? Nothing. We create the audience’s perception through our projection of emotional texture. So we have to learn to feel great about our moves. Seriously.

How do we learn that?

Practice. But not the way you think. We’re mostly trained to practice technique—perfecting our physical ability to create shapes in time and space. And that’s important.

But there is more to improvisation than making a shape. There is our intuitive connection to the music, which we practice in our 20 minutes. And there is the mindspace of joy, of beauty. Yes, that, too, deserves practice.

How?

Here’s the secret: Pick a basic move. My favorite is the infinity (aka snake hips). Do the move. Slowly. VERY slowly. Enjoy the physical feeling of every moment. As you do it, use your breath. I exhale the weight change. As the hip goes down and out, I exhale. (the inhale takes care of itself). As you do it, gaze lovingly at yourself and say, “This is the most beautiful move I have ever seen.” And mean it.

I do this after using the restroom, before I walk out the door. It’s one of my Tiny Habits. I do it 3 times, with the breath and the affirmation. It takes 30 seconds. PS, if the mirror bothers you, then don’t look. Just feel it. Here’s a tiny video to show you what I mean.* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bT2ntWMinhU

 

Yeah, but I’m not very good

That’s in your mind. Really. Even if you are an absolute beginner, the fastest way to hip-drop hell is to tell yourself how much you suck, to apologize on stage for existing. Look, the guests took time out of their busy lives to come and see you. Give them some honey. They don’t care about you—they care about how they feel. And that comes from what you give them: Joy. Verve. Fun.

These are things you can practice. The most beautiful move is whatever you perceive as such. So when you sashay out on stage with joy and verve, when you delight them with your love and generosity, they will respond.

Try the exercise for a week. Put a note in the bathroom to remind you. See how you feel. Love yourself. Love your body. Love your moves. Love your audience. They will love you back.

 

Truth.

 

* * *

I wrote the above for the 90 Day Dance Challenge of 2015. We’re doing the 90 Days again. It starts March 11th. In honor of this, I’m posting a Love Note every day from now to the 11th, each from one of the previous 90 Days.

Still time to join us. Will you please take a look? I’d love to see you there. aliathabit.com/90days

All my love,

Alia

*Adapted from Kenny Werner’s highly recommended book, Effortless Mastery(and eternal thanks to Teadora for suggesting it). Werner writes about jazz improvisation, but his observations apply to us as well.

Music: Istanbul Oriental Ensemble: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tJzgeDOMEI&list=RD1tJzgeDOMEI#t=10

Day 18: How to have your own style (and what that really means)

I grew up on President Street in Brooklyn, NY in the 1970s. You grew up somewhere else, somewhen else. Each of us has been marked by our micro-culture: our family, our location, our environment, as well as by the larger culture of our respective countries. We are each as different as leaves, as clouds, as trees. None of these are exactly the same. Neither are we. We each have our own special sauce…

The warmth of Soileau, LA.Mr. Andrew tempted this young man into attaining high grades by promising him a horse–which he promptly earned! You can see the whole album here (if the link isn’t blue, please copy and paste):  https://www.facebook.com/aliathabit/media_set?set=a.10153203790844363&type=3

To me, having one’s own style brings all of our self and our influences into our dance. We may not be (and probably won’t be even if we want to) “pure” anything, and why should we? Every dancer of the culture is a product of her culture and influences–so are we. We synthesize all our aspects into our dance–and that is how it becomes us, our personal style.

We dance how we dance—the mitigating factor is the music. The music to which we dance influences our choices. So we will dance differently to Turkish music than to Egyptian music, or fusion clank-n-crank, and so on. Sure, we want to have the specific vocabulary and cultural understanding of whatever genres interest us, but even within those genres, we need to be our own dancer. Everyone from the culture is, so why not us?

So you grew up Cajun or Greek or Spanish or Nebraskan. You bring that with you, because that’s who you are. You don’t have to leave everything behind. I mean, you can if you want. But you can bring it with you, too—whatever you want, because it’s part of you.

We want to understand the deeper nuances of the dance. I’ve been watching folks two-step for the last few days (and done a little myself). It’s a deceptively simple dance—there is a lot of nuance. It takes time to get it. Just like in bellydance. The cultures have all this precious stuff that you can’t see at first glance.

And you can’t get all of it by reading or listening.

You have to feel it—like the warmth of the people of Soileau, LA, you can’t see it in a video or read about it in an article—you have to feel it. You feel the subtleties by doing it and being open to it.

I hope this makes sense. It’s almost contradictory.

On the one hand, it’s steal like an artist. You see a step, a song, a costume element and it resonates for you, steal it. Everyone does this. You copy what you like, and through experimenting with a lot of stuff you gain the confidence of your own style.

On the other hand, explore, learn, understand, and grow as an artist. Feel the character and the humanity behind the surface. That takes time and effort. When I went to Beirut, I only planned on staying a few days, I soon realized I would have to stay longer. That city doesn’t just give itself to you on the first date. You have to stick around and develop a relationship.

Even though “steal what you like” sounds like cherry-picking cultural whatever, it’s not the same thing as ignoring all the context. None of the sparkles will feed you unless you also take the time and make the effort to experience the richness underneath.

Take your time. Dance yourself. This is how you find your style, find how you respond to the music. It’s worth the effort.

 

***

I wrote the above for the 90 Day Dance Challenge of 2015. I was in Louisiana with Tamalyn Dallal at the time, experiencing rural Mardi Gras traditions.

Just like each dancer, each 90 Days is different. Each Love Note is written fresh, that day, an improvisation to go with all the dance improvisation. 

We’re doing the 90 Days again. It starts March 11th. Still time to join us. Will you please take a look? I’d love to see you there. aliathabit.com/90days

In honor of this, I’ll send you an email a day from now to the 11th, each one a Love Note from one of the previous 90 Days.

All my love,

Alia

Awesome Retreat Last Call

The Awesome Retreat Last Call is Thursday Feb 8. After that, we’re heading out to Dowd’s Country Inn in Lyme, NH to kick back and have a wonderful time. Thanks to everyone who has chosen to join us! aliathabit.com/awesome-winter-retreat

I’m so excited about the classes I’ll be teaching at the retreat. One of them is *Timing–the Improv Secret Skill.* Here’s the description: “Improv is scary because how do you think of what to do? What if it’s boring? Focusing on moves moves keeps us thinking, unable to fully enjoy our dance. Focusing on the music instead changes the game, opening up the dance like a flower.”

Before this one is a class on the Eastern soul of the dance–what that means and how to develop your own. A class on improv strategies follows, pulling it all together.

I constantly analyze what I do so I can teach others to do it. One of the things I do is to tap into the musical structures when I dance. I don’t worry about moves at all. Moves are fairly arbitrary–anything that fits the music is usually fine. I just focus on the music and let it tell me when to change. And I trust my body to move. Trust is the key.

 

The Retreat is coming right up and we still have some space.  It’s going to be a wonderful escape–great food, great classes, a lovely location, and a fun group. You can stay an extra night before or after–even both. We even have day rates for local folks.

This coming weekend, Feb 10-11. Check it out here: aliathabit.com/awesome-winter-retreat
Will you join us? Please do!

Love,
Alia

 

 

Thank you!

It’s Thanksgiving Day in the USA (a politically fraught holiday, considering the USA’s lousy treatment of its indigenous peoples). Despite this, the practice of gratitude has a lot of merit.

Giving thanks reminds of what is good in life. Most of us spend more time noticing what is wrong. Looking for, and actively focusing on, what is right is a complete game changer.

Thank you!

Today’s most right thing is uploading the book files to the printers.

In early November, I realized that it was time to simply move forward. I formatted the print book with a highly-regarded software called Vellum. My son Ben, a professional graphic designer, helped me format the cover.

It’s done.

Insha’allah, we will have print books for the holidays.

At long last this is coming to fruition.

I’m grateful for the help, to have it done, and for the amazing backers who kept the faith over this long, long process. And I’m grateful to YOU, for reading, believing, and hanging in there all this time.

THANK YOU!!!

All my love,

Alia

How to WIN with finger cymbals (+ video!)

I love finger cymbals. They make a dancer REAL. Somehow you go from sort of invisible to flesh-and-blood, from ignorable to exciting. And they are a real boon when improvising with live music, as you can accent your own dance in case the musicians don’t quite follow all your accents. Zils take practice, but once you get it, you’ve got it. One of the toughest parts of practicing is the NOISE!

Here’s a little video that shows you how to muffle your zils so you can live long enough to get good at them (and yes, I do have this great finger cymbal improv course, ziltastic.com, which will be back soon, but that’s not the purpose of this post…

 

Today’s post is to give you the skinny on a spiffy contest from the Bellydance Bundle folks: Zils and Lace!

The winner gets 8 sets of all-brass, scrollwork-engraved zills of various tones and sizes from Turquoise International, valued at over $300.00 USD!  Dance away with THE best zills available today. Keep them all for yourself, or share with your friends!

PLUS, the winner receives a copy of Bellydance Geek, Nadira Jamal’s newly revamped “Lace” zil course which teaches  you to make your zils more musical by introducing more space.

Whether you win or not, you get a free copy of the Bundle guide,  Figuring Out What to Practice–a 15-page guide to help you pinpoint your dance strengths and challenges so that you can focus your practice time on what really matters (many of you have already received this, but if you haven’t yet, it has been getting great reviews).

Where is all this great stuff? Right here: aliathabit.com/zil-contest

More soon!

Love and thanks,

Alia

 

What to practice?

“We’ve all been there. It doesn’t matter your experience level. Figuring out what to practice can be mind-numbingly difficult, and practicing the things you’re not as good at is HARD.

It’s extra hard when you’re struggling to make the time to practice in the first place, let alone working on the stuff
that makes your brain hurt. Haven’t you already expended enough willpower to be there in the first place?

And so we end up in the cycle. We practice at the studio, and we practice choreographies for the recital, but the
other stuff? It tends to fall by the wayside. We get better over time, because we keep going to class and our teachers are awesome, but we know we’re capable of SO much more.

So the question becomes, “How do I figure out what to practice?”

Announcing!free guide from The Bellydance Bundle.

 

Figuring out what to practice: a guide for the modern dancer

Worksheets lead you through finding your dance strengths & challenges and help point the way to a much more effective practice session. It’s time to focus your practice time on what really matters!”

Did I mention it’s free? 

Get it right here: TheBellydanceBundle.com/gift

It’s almost June?!

It’s almost June?!

It’s been a long year already with some serious challenges–and marvels. Visiting Australia with lovely Rachel Bond in Feb and the Blossom Festival in Toronto in May were huge inspirations. Life feels poised on the brink of change. My fingers are crossed for the future.

I had a wonderful experience with the RakSultana dancers of MI creating a collaborative choreography (I got to dance myself during the random improv drum solos). Here’s proof, lol (photos by Ken Dobb–click the pix for more from these albums and the rest of Ken’s gorgeous pictures).

I have SO MUCH to share–it’s all coming.

For now, I have a correction.
Last time I sent the wrong link to the BDBA Summit. I apologize for the error and  give thanks to the folks who signed up. This one goes to the free offering. Each class was free for 48 hours.

  • Monday- Business Skills for Teachers
  • Tuesday- Getting the Word Out
  • Wednesday- Hard to Teach Topics
  • Thursday- Building and Maintaining Community
  • Friday- Ethics and Activism

These courses are designed for teachers, but they are useful to students as well. The topics concern us all.

Check it out

Thanks for reading. More soon <3
All my love,
Alia

It’s that time again–Holiday Prezzie 2016!

Greetings, my darlings!

I am delighted to present you with the first chapter of Midnight at the Crossroads! This will be a .pdf file, suitable for printing or reading on your device.

It is nearly in its final form, but may may have some typos or formatting artifacts, will not have its illustrations, and may differ slightly from the final version.

We will have beautiful professionally-formatted print and e books available by the end of January, insha’allah. But I wanted you to have this now. It’s been a long, long road, and I appreciate your patience and enthusiasm along the way.

Your file is here: https://payhip.com/b/a1Qp
You will need to provide an email address.

Please share this link with your friends.
Please tell me how you like it. 

THANK YOU.

All my love,
Alia