Even though I’ve been referred to as a drill sergeant by some students, I think I’m a pretty laid back instructor. Admittedly, I adore ritual and symmetry when it comes to training the body and preparing it for dance. I like to explore and energize planes of movement that we don’t get to use everyday. I thrive in playfulness and utilizing gravity and momentum. This is probably my modern dance background peeking through! Some of you come from a dance background while most of you the bulk of your dancing has been social. Middle Eastern or Belly Dance has a large component of social dancing to it. This fact is important to remember, it is a dance of a culture and it’s people woven into the threads of their daily life. But my Western upbringing requires a structure to bring it to life for you….so here are some ground rules. FYI, these will serve you in any dance class of any genre. They will save you embarrassment, save face and garnish respect from your instructor.
- If there is a class going on when you enter the studio, please be quiet and allow the class to come to an organic close as opposed forced to close because of your loud chatter and interruptions.
- Be on time. If you are late, please don’t start talking to your friend in the front of the class. Go to the back of the room and warm up and then integrate into class as unobtrusively as possible. It’s also a good idea to apologize at the end of class for being late. It shows a measure of respect to your teacher and the other students.
- If you have a question, feel free! Just please wait until the music is turned off. It’s hard to hear you or answer you if you can’t be heard. If you have a question, ask the instructor. Why would you want an answer from a student, when you can get it from your teacher?
- Don’t chew gum. Park it in your cheek and keep it there. I’ve been called on the carpet more than once from masters in front of the whole class! I chew gum while I teach, because I get “cotton mouth” from speaking. Aside from the aesthetic, it can be dangerous!
- Respect each other’s personal space. Whoever got there first, gets it. Please don’t obstruct another student’s view of themselves in the mirror or the instructors. If you get there late, don’t expect the class to accommodate your place, go to the back/side of the room.
- Going across the floor…stay in lines and try to follow the guidelines of the phrase being taught.
- Turn off your phone! Unless you need to be available for a sick child or ailing family member.
- Be respectful of the instructor and other students. Disrespect comes in many forms. One form is your body language and eye contact or lack thereof. If your instructor is speaking; listen, if she is of the school of continually giving out corrections throughout class and she repeats it 3 times in a row and repeats the phrase or move ad nauseam it might be because you haven’t glanced in her direction as she is trying to give you eye contact to direct the comment to you directly. One of personal faves (not)!! is the look of disdain. You know the raised eyebrows, a little snarl, arms crossed or hands at the hips…looking like WTF is she saying or doing!
- Don’t hesitate to leave the dance floor and take notes. Instructors adore a thinking and engaged student.
I know I said 10 rules…what can I say? Told you I was laid back! Dance On!
I’m reminded of a blog post that I read from a well-respected dancer, who made the statement that students of dance often make the mistake that their teachers are also their career counselors, marriage and family counselors or life coaches. At the time I thought what a really healthy way to distinguish my boundaries as an instructor. I’m thinking of this post as I reflect on the many times that I’ve observed student’s anxiety interfering with their growth as a dancer. Whether it is the physical consequences of prolonged stress and anxiety that are displaying themselves in her body habits and posture which limit their ability to reap the sheer pleasure of movements in class, or it’s the emotional consequences that have robbed her of any joy, and have only fueled self despair or loathing at her inability to “get it”. So as the years go by, I’m finding this really isn’t working for me. It’s not a very organic or holistic approach to teaching. As some of my students are staying with me for years and yes some decades, I feel like I’m not being a good teacher, (and that gives me anxiety)! if it’s not addressed. Like the police officer whose empathy was captured on video this week giving the barefoot, homeless man a pair of boots. I can’t continue to stand by and witness so much struggle without offering a hand. Anxiety makes everything harder! Ever try to parallel park, when the car behind you is beeping their horn at you, radio’s a blaring, you’re late to an appointment…you get my drift. I’m not talking about that feeling of excitement pre performance that can fuel your dance, or the anticipation of an upcoming event…well maybe I am!! It’s essentially the same thing, except in a tiny way…..those feelings haven’t physically hijacked your body! You are able to use that experience to your advantage. When I say hijacked, I mean that the feelings you have, have stimulated an onslaught of body responses that can sabotage (physically and emotionally) any attempts you might make at engaging or completing a task that you set out to do. I think the problem might lie, that we are all coming from a place of low-level anxiety, that we never give “it”/ us an opportunity to shut down. So it is easily ignited into a state of “fight or flight” or “my emotions got the best of me” state. It’s well documented what anxiety can do initially and what happens to our bodies when it is a chronic state. Increased blood pressure, shallow respiration, increased muscle tension, increase in cortisol, poor concentration etc. occurs immediately, in the long-term it contributes to heart disease and cancer. This statement is so broad, it’s almost misleading and dismissive, I don’t want to list all the ways it can display itself…stress/anxiety can be observed in every cell of our beings. If you think of the science of it…every cell…yea it can be seen by a microscope…No wonder it can affect you so profoundly! In the dance studio, anxiety reveals itself in the frustration you might feel, because you are unable to release the muscle habits and body responses that are a result of a chronic anxiety or stress or of profound concentration. Those body responses and habituations that interfere with a centered, balanced, responsive dancer body. Unlikely, that the anxiety exists only in your head, left unchecked, it will reveal itself in some physical way. It’s the body’s way. So, if you haven’t developed a practice of mindfulness along with your other dance practices, consider it. A practice that combines a mindful breath to keep you centered emotionally can lead to a physical equanimity. A practice of self-examination and observation from the inside out, free from the burden of a critical judgment, can release you from your angst and quiet those inner voices. Taking this practice of observation, free from harshness, clearing out your emotional debris, can free you up for the physical challenges of dance. Starting you on the path of allowing your body to be more aligned with the forces of gravity. So start with your breath, keep yourself connected to your breath… Middendorf or holotropic breath work deeply explore the breath, and are intense studies of their own. Yoga integrates breath with movement. Simple mindful, deep abdominal breathing, is a practice you can put in your pocket and go! My ideal practice combines a lot of those elements. It connects me to my spine, my diaphragm, pelvic floor….my inner vessel. Where my movements originate from. A breath that elongates my spine with inhalation….an exhalation whose destination is my belly and pelvis, reminding me of my base of gravity, initiating the strength of my pelvic floor. A breath that allows me to expand my rib cage without disturbing my upper torso stability…unless I want it to….only if I want to send the pulse of the movement there…in all directions without excessive muscle tension and keep my connection to my inner vessel. A breath that allows my clavicles to broaden, and scapula to slide down to my waist, softening my neck muscles along with it. A breath that allows my sacrum to sink with heaviness towards my heels and the earth. A breath that releases excessive muscular activity in my legs, calves and feet. A breath that allows me to receive the force of the earth up through my arches into my leg bones, relying on their density to support my vessel as it transmits that energy into my pelvis and torso, where my strength emanates from. Here are a couple of links to get you started on the fundamentals of breathing.
I’m a big believer in homeopathics and natural remedys , some days, I have to pull out the big guns! When you’ve got a terrible bug and you have to, just have to be there…You know when the “show must go on”…..Well today and tonight is one of those days…1) Food 1st…whether I feel like it or not, can’t take all those pills on an empty stomach. 2) Lots of water...more than usual. I have a head cold so I’m breathing through my mouth alot. 3) 2 Extra strength Tylenol, 2 Advil, I like the gel caps, they dissolve faster, 2 Sudafed PE, non stimulating, it still opens your sinuses , Zyrtec, this is my favored antihistamine….it slows down all that mucous production. Yea, I know that was 7 pills, but a girls got to do what a girls got to do. Of course, I need a little caffeine, if you can’t deal with that…have something hot, it will melt all those pills. A packet or 2 of Emergen C can’t hurt either.
Then I have to stretch, stretch all my major muscle groups, all my deep ones too. The ones that shortened up like a dried rubber bands on the way home from the last gig. Not a very good image….but while I’m doing it…I try to visualize soft supple taffy..ooh! feels better already. Of course, I’m rolling and releasing on my balls and noodle.
Next step, pick my self up, freshen up my makeup, hit the road and do another show.
This really is not for the faint of heart….I don’t recommend this unless there are large amounts of $ involved or excessive amounts of passion or dedication to your dance.
If you have existing health problems with your liver or kidneys….forget it! If you are on a MAOI, forget about it, if you have heart problems…just don’t. I recommend hot broth and CSI New York reruns.
That’s exactly what I’m going to do when I get home tonight.
Some say that the cradle of civilization is somewhere in Iraq. I think as women we know right where it is!!!
The pelvic floor is comprised of muscles and connective tissue around the vagina and anus. The pelvic floor controls both the anus and urethral sphincter- the latter being the muscle that controls the flow of urine and contracts during orgasm. The pelvic floor is the supporting structure for all organs between the pubic bone and tailbone. There is also a fascial connection between the lower abdominals and the pelvic floor. Daily activity, utilizing a full range of movements through the hip joints, pelvis and torso are essential in keeping your floor healthy and functioning well.
Contract your sphincter muscles, which surround the urethra ,vagina and rectum. Do not tighten your but, or abdominal wall. You want to keep up a feeling and sense of expansion in the pelvic floor at all times. You may feel a response in your lower abdominals, because of the fascial connection that is shared. Hold for 6 seconds and release slowly. Hold this sense of contraction for 6 seconds and release slowly. Repeat 6-10 times. You can use the visualization of a flower opening with your inhale and it returning to a bud on your exhale to aid in this movement.
Sense your sphincter muscles again between the rectum and vagina. Lift as far as you can and use the patterns of holding and repetition as above. You can use a visualization of an elevator going up one floor at a time, and on release the elevator going down. Remember, don’t use any accessory muscles, buttocks, or tighten your jaw or face in concentration! We want to gain some control in isolating the pelvic floor while it is supported, from the abdominal wall, despite them being so intrinsically enmeshed, for some of our more forceful, staccato type movements.
Ideally, you need to do this while you are breathing. It doesn’t help us to innervate our pelvic floor while we are holding our breath. You want to start to feel the relationship between a normal breath where the diaphragm mobilizes normally and a responsive pelvic floor.. With repetition, connecting the breath to an organic response in your pelvic floor is ideal. What’s better, is to also connect it to every day movements and challenging movements in dance class, where the possibility of compressing is possible with out your focused intent to do otherwise. What’s best, is to retrain the body so you don’t have to think about it, it becomes as natural as your breath.
All of this is just a nut shell, a little piece of the puzzle that makes up a dynamic dancing body.
I’m a life long dancer. What does that mean? Well, I’ve been making dances for myself and my friends since I was a small girl. When I say small, I mean even before I started school. I was one of those little girls who danced through her house, backyard and everywhere in between and when I stopped long enough to answer the question; “what do you want to be when you grow up”…a ballerina I would scream as danced away!
Well, I didn’t become a”ballerina”, (but took regular classes for 3 years straight in college),which is a good thing, as I would have been long retired now, and my joints wouldn’t be in as good a shape as they are! Through my childhood and adolescence I studied Hula, Tahitian (I lived in Hawaii for a couple of years), jazz and pre-hiphop….don’t what else to call it! I was a cheerleader and a gymnast. By the time puberty rolled around it was becoming obvious I didn’t have a “ballerina” body and was fast losing upper body strength to whip myself around those parallel bars. Didn’t matter, I still loved to dance and continued to study many dance forms throughout the years. In high school, I took a belly dance class, and I was hooked. My first teacher, Lynette was a partner of Bert Balladine. (No, it’s not Lynette of Gilded Serpent), but they both had a beautiful head of long, blond, big curly hair! Enchanted with her and the dance, I took twice weekly classes from her for 2 years, until she retired. Thirty plus years have passed and I still wonder about her. She then referred me to DeAnn of Dream Dancers and Light Rain fame. Another blond, long, haired beauty! I had the fortune of performing with her troupe for many years and DeAnn was always very encouraging of my continued study even after the troupe disbanded and she quit teaching. She supported me so and encouraged my teaching. DeAnn has been gone since 1998, RIP friend and dancer extraordinaire. So today, I can say that I have taught for over 20 years (and still going strong, Thank You very Much)! I have had the honor of teaching hundreds of lovely women and a few men and some of them have been with me almost all that time!
So, today, I can also say that I have had an amazing performing career! Just imagine, when I started performing, there were no CD’s…we barely had any good cassette tapes. When I mean good…the whole set or side had to be good, to play all the way through. The technology to make a good set via cassette wasn’t easily available. When I started doing private parties, we didn’t have cell phones or a computer for that matter!!! No Google maps, I had paper maps! With no computers, all dance work was word of mouth, or they saw me dancing at a club or a wedding somewhere.
I’ve had the pleasure of entertaining foreign dignitaries, movie stars, and royalty. I’ve had the pleasure of working with my band for over 10 yrs. Yes, they were my band…I didn’t have to rotate or share my nights! I was in what I call the ‘tween generation. In between Casbah and Baghdad days, where there were several dancers a night doing 40-50 minute sets. My era, was after that! A lot of club owners were trying to clean house a little after and during all the debauchery of the times! I was lucky enough to work in an era of time where clubs had house dancers. Where my boss would always make sure I was fed, yes dinner and refreshments or even to go containers included. And safe from any unwanted elements!!It was an era when musicians also had an interest in the music and making a dynamic show for a dancer, after all it was their show too; and if I looked good they did too! When each club closed and another opened (due to economic times) the band, singer and I would be hired by the management. Working with live music in a nightclub environment for appreciative Arab audiences was one of my preferred venue. Even today, I will see some of those customers and out comes the smart phone, where they have downloaded their daughter’s wedding video with me dancing!
At some point, I started to embrace the digital age. Hasn’t been easy! For a couple of years I was thinking I wasn’t smart enough for a smart phone! My mailing lists are now digital, I have a huge digital musical library that gets bigger and bigger. I’ve finally learned how to convert videos for YouTube, have converted most of my cassettes to digital form and have clients prepay via PayPal. I even have Skype and Face-time students!
Today, five years after I’ve stopped performing regularly (at clubs; there are none left) I still can’t get to bed before 2 am on the weekends! I continue to teach regular classes, choreograph and dance with my student troupe, RaksTerayz and do at a few parties. In addition to my day gig (health care), I teach therapeutic movement (Lebed) to chronically ill patients and my form of “Body Lessons” that I have developed for myself and share my dances for anyone who wants them.
This is a chapter in the story of a little girl who dreamed of becoming a ballerina and became a life long dancer instead.
It’s a New Year…and I’m finished!! Finished performing on New Year’s Eve. I’ve been the entertainment at New Year’s Eve partys for many years…I think every year since I was 18, except one. I went to a local club with a boyfriend, girlfriends, my Mother, for drinks, dancing and dancing!!! I’ll never forget it… we all had soo much fun, and my dear Ma (RIP & I can’t wait to see you on the other side) complained how her favorite shoes got ruined by all the alcohol that was spilled on her as we danced the night away! Well, that night was a long time ago, 20 years plus, and I’ve worked ever since. New Year’s Eve’s nights usually started around 6pm and end around 2am, with 3-4 wet costumes in the trunk and a load of cash. Oh…yea!! Good food in abundance! (Lots of to go containers in my back seat)! So at midnight when everyone is kissing loved ones, I was either racing to next gig, pulled over making a phone call, or sometimes lucky enough to still be at a party or club where others were celebrating and I could join in. Don’t get me wrong or misunderstand, it was wonderful, and I LOVE bellydancing, but I’m finished performing on New Years Eve!