Today I Danced

Musings on my life as a bellydancer

Transmission Complete

Complete.  Finished.  Done.

Transmission, Day 1

Transmission, Day 1

I crossed the final to-do off my 8 Elements checklist this week, and I’m still working through how I feel about it all.  I have dedicated myself to this program for the last 4 years of my life, and it’s changed me in ways I had no way of anticipating.  Articulating my feelings about the process and its completion has proved to be really difficult for me, and yet I’m compelled to write about it here.  Bear with me?

Each time I’ve gone to Portland I’ve come back different.  Each time I’ve prepped for Portland I’ve felt fear and worry about not being “enough” for the challenge at hand.  My husband, friends, and students were my champions throughout, and I am beyond thankful for their support.

Going to Initiation meant really investing in myself as a dancer, and admitting how important being successful in bellydance had become in my mind and heart.  I was so aware of how little “formal” training I had and was full of fear of discovering how behind I was – extra terrifying in that I was already teaching (and had been for years).  It also meant going “public” as a dancer.  I survived, and came home ready to practice and grow…and work towards Cultivation.

I knew Cultivation was going to be a leap in terms of what was expected of me as a dancer, and I was eager for that challenge.  I had fear again – fear that I hadn’t practiced enough, that I hadn’t grown enough, and that this would be the phase that ended me.  When we saw, on day 1 (I think), what was expected of us on the test I was pretty sure I was done for – it involved things I’d told myself were outside of my “things I can do” list.  The week whizzed by, I dug deep and practiced HARD every day, and I survived.  I passed the tests.  I came home deeply inspired to continue working & growing.  I wanted to get to Phase 4, Transmission.  My challenge?  Getting through Phase 3…Culmination.

So. Much. Fear.  Culmination, from where I was looking, was focused on performance – my weakest link.  I dance for myself and for my students, not for the thrill (?) of performing.  Teaching is my “thing”, and the only way I would have access to the teaching certificate was if I climbed the crazy performance mountain and passed Culmination.  Makeup was involved.  Performing on a stage.  Doing a solo piece was optional on paper and felt like a requirement for myself.   Oh, and there were tests, and a practical.  I reminded myself of how impossible the Cultivation test seemed on Day 1 and that I’d managed to work that one out, so this one must be doable, too.  I survived the show, solo and all.  I passed the written test.  My composition passed.  I passed the “hard” (for me) part of the practical.  I failed the “easy” part of the practical.

Failed.  Having to retake that half of the test meant a delay in access to Transmission.  That failure could have derailed me completely.  Honestly, before doing the work of this 8 Elements journey, failing WOULD have derailed me.

I persevered.  I practiced.  I got help.  I applied for Transmission even though I hadn’t passed yet.  I worked past that failure and made it into the first-ever Transmission AND passed my Culmination practical before heading to Portland.

Transmission was everything I wanted and so much more than I expected.  I had a bumpy road getting there and didn’t feel as prepared (mentally, emotionally, physically) as I’d been for the previous intensives.  Losing Jen weeks before was catastrophic and left me wondering if I’d be able to pull it off – I almost backed out.  Going was the right thing to do on many levels.  The learning environment was restorative.  Having the things I do well validated was amazing.  Learning new ways to help others learn something I care about as much as bellydance was inspiring.  Connecting with the other students and with RB was fulfilling.Malik with Purple Lipstick

I am home, and I am changed.  I am teaching with a new level of enthusiasm.  I am dancing with a sharper focus.  I am approaching life in a more positive way.  I have more confidence and a stronger sense of purpose.

I had no idea how far I could go in 4 years, and I really like the me I’ve become.  I am forever changed and will be forever grateful for the growth opportunities wrapped into this program.

This Little Book Changed My Life

I grew up reading constantly.  I had more books than toys.  I was often reading 3 books at the same time.  I consumed mysteries, science fiction, fantasies, and “regular” fiction like it was fuel.  Somewhere along the way to adulthood books took a back seat to all the other things pulling on my time and, while I’d find my way into reading a book here or there, I lost the art of regular consumption of reading materials.

When I started working through the 8 Elements program books came back to me.   This time in the form of non-fiction, but the latent reading habit was reborn!  3 phases of training, each with a reading list, got me back into the habit of being a regular reader.  The return has been wonderful!  One book, though, has become an almost daily companion over the last few years, and this book has changed my life.

The Little Book Of Talent, by Daniel Coyle, lives at the studio in 2014-03-29 Cultivation Day 1 cropits paper form.  I share pieces of it at the end (and sometimes the beginning or middle) of my technique-focused bellydance classes.  It lives in its electronic form on my computer so I can reference it when I get stuck or frustrated with my dance practice or progress.  Its pages have sent me off to read other books, digging deeper into the science and magic of how our brains work and how habits are formed and how to make little changes to our everyday routines – all with the intent of growing to be the best human I can be.

I’ll be sharing thoughts on each of the tips in a series of blog posts.  I hope you get your own copy of the book and read it (you can get through the first read in an afternoon) so we can compare notes here.  Maybe the book will change your life, too!



First Attempt In Learning

That’s where I am right now.  And I’m ok with that.

If you’ve been following along you know I’m working my way through the 8 Elements program.  This process is no joke – I often say that it feels like I’m getting my Masters Degree in bellydance.  Going to Phase 1 was a big step for me because it represented really investing in myself as a dancer.  Going to Phase 2 was a big step because it pushed me to the edges of my abilities and made me reach for more.  Going to Phase 3 was a big step because it made me face my fears.  And now, in order to finish Phase 3 and earn the Practitioner certification I’m getting the chance to accept failure as a necessary part of a growth process.

I’m GETTING the chance – for real, it feels like a gift.

I got the results today for my Practical exam – a test I worked on for 3 months.  Daily practice for 3 months with a huge emphasis on what I considered to be the hard part of the test.  Well, I passed the hard part and failed the other half.  Yep – the focus and determination I had to nail the thing that was the biggest challenge for me 100% paid off (yay!) but the other half of the test suffered from that focus (boo!) and needs to be redone.

I am inspired by this taste of failure.  I am thankful for it.  I am ready for the experience to push me to the next level.  And when I pass (WHEN, not if), it will feel so, so good.

Now, off to practice.



That’s all it took to solve a teacher puzzle that’s been plaguing me for about 6 weeks.

I’ve been taken with the Hagallah shimmy I learned from Rachel Brice and have seen it popping up in my daily improv and my choreographed combos for a while now.  It is a tiny part (8 counts) of a piece I’ve got two different groups of dancers working on getting performance ready.  And it’s been a universal struggle for my students to really “get”.  A struggle enough that I pulled it from one group’s piece because we’d run out of time to get it right before the piece went up on stage (this weekend).

And then, this morning, I experimented with the 50-minute Phone Rule.  In the quiet of the unplugged morning I gave myself 5 minutes to just think.  My mind wandered from the pile of old clothes taking up space in the corner of my bedroom to the zill practice I needed to do today to the one spot in the composition I’m drilling that gives me pause even after 8 weeks to the written notation of the notes I need to play…when it hit me – I needed to give my students the e!

As in 1e&a2e&a…

The e was what I hadn’t fully communicated about the timing of the Hagallah shimmy!

I brought the e to class tonight and the ladies almost brought me to tears.  THEY GOT IT.  And, honestly I TAUGHT IT.

I taught it from my own brain, not from what I’ve heard others say to me.  I taught it from a place outside of what I needed to learn it for myself.  I Taught – with a capital T.

Now, I need to unplug for the last 50 minutes of my day and see what magic the quiet brings tonight.

Practice Practice Oops Practice



I returned from Culmination on 7/19/15 buzzing with the energy created by spending 10 days surrounded by other dancers just as focused as myself.  The following day, 7/20/15, was my 44th birthday and, more importantly this year, the start of two practice initiatives: prepping for my Culmination finals and my intention to dance my way through (daily, on video) this year.

I enjoyed the longest run of consecutive days of personal practice (outside of my 100Days Improv Challenge™ work) to date, not missing a single day from 7/20 – 8/25/15.

43 days straight.

I’m tempering my disappointment with myself by referring back to the James Clear article, “How to Build a New Habit” and realizing that, while I did have a couple of misses this week I managed to get back on the horse today.  Did I lose some momentum with the skill I’m working on developing?  Yes.  Do I know I have the drive, determination, and ability to regain my progress and move forward through daily practice?  YES.

And through it all, I didn’t miss a single day of improv.  Today marks day 41 of my current 100Days Improv Challenge™, and my 341st video recording.

Time and Fear

Austin Kleon says to share something of your work daily, and my last post was 4 months ago.  Whoops.  Why the gap?  Time and Fear.


April, May, June, and July were spent devoted to prepping for and living through Culmination, phase 3 of Rachel Brice’s 8 Elements program.  The reading, practice, costuming, and choreography development ate up my “free” time for sure.  More than the hours, though, the consumption was related to Fear.


Would I be ready?  Did I know enough?  Had I really earned my spot?  Would I have the nerve to get up on stage?  Would this be the level where I flamed out?  If you’ve never really worried about something that mattered to you, you may not be familiar with how all-consuming that special kind of fear can be.

But you know what?  It all paid off.  I got to Portland feeling prepped and ready, and I made it through the intense week.  Was it hard?  Yes.  Emotional?  Yes.  100% worth it? YES.

I intend to share more consistently moving forward, but for now, here’s the solo I brought with me, developed in those few intense pre-Culmination months:

Turning Corners

“How’d your performance go last night?”

“Really well!  Thanks!”

The above interchange was brought to you by 200+ days of improv practice, and would NOT have happened without it.  Let me explain…

I typically perform with my students in duets, trios, quartets, or large group numbers.  We dance choreographed pieces after months of practice.  Before last night, every time I broke out of that mold and brought an improv piece to the stage I came off stage sure that what I’d done was terrible.

Not mediocre – terrible.  Simple.  Boring.  Repetitive.  Lame.

When there was video of my performance I was, sometimes, able to see moments of positivity in my work but even that was hard for me to really believe.  They say we are our own worst critics, and I lived up to that and then some.

But last night was different.

I was nervous but calm (strange but true) before taking the stage at the hafla, but the real magic happened during and after the performance.  For the very first time  – the VERY FIRST TIME – I wasn’t beating myself up while I danced, AND I FINISHED FEELING LIKE I DID A GOOD JOB!  I felt this before I watched the video, I felt it while I watched the video, and I’ve felt it every time I’ve thought about it since.

The exercise of focusing on the positive, even while naming the negative, that we use in our reflections during the 100Days(tm) challenge has (finally) sunk in and worked its magic.  I feel like I’ve turned a really important corner in my dance life, and I’m looking very much forward to see what’s on this block.


Dance Heals

I took a leap, did something scary, and feel different on the other side.

I dance, yes, and I have a history that includes acting, true, but I have NEVER been a poet and I don’t typically share my past.  This week I combined all four and put it all out there on stage at the Women & Gender Studies Conference at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, IL.

The prompt was simple – share your story as it relates to feminism.  I am in the process of becoming increasingly aware of how much of my life is spent as a poster child for the feminist movement so it seemed like a great opportunity.  I am also working on putting myself out there more as a performer, and I have dreams of being a “real” writer – this met all of those needs AND I’d get to reconnect with some women for whom I have great respect.  Sold.

I wrote my piece right before the first of the 3 rehearsals we’d scheduled, sitting in the window seat at the studio.  I knew I wanted to incorporate dance into my piece but really had no idea what part of “my story” I wanted to tell.  I set my timer for 52 minutes and let the ideas flow.  45 minutes later I had my contribution written…I wasn’t quite sure what it was – story? poem? performance art? – but I was ready to share it with the group and get their feedback. After hearing what everyone was contributing it was decided that mine should be the last presented, and that our performance should conclude with a group dance number.  Our 5 stories covered a lot of ground: Race, Disability, Abuse, Acceptance – all a part of the Feminist landscape.

My piece left me exposed, and I was ready to share.  With this small group, with the audience that would be there for the performance, and now with whoever reads this/watches the video.

I am a Feminist. I am ready to share. Dance Heals.

Releasing Control

When I’m dancing – at the studio, on stage, at home in front of the camera – I’m primarily in control.  I know that I know what I’m doing (even when I’m in learning mode) and that I have a sense of ownership of the finished product.  I get it, I am comfortable, I am in charge.

On Thursday night I stepped out of my comfort zone, went back in time, and ceded control for 2 hours.  I went back to Piven.

10155387_10152201180794372_5236558292436416794_nIt was a night of playing improv games with a group of peers  who had all been a part of the Young People’s Company back in the mid/late 80s (that’s me in the middle of the back row).  We came together to warm up/rehearse before taking the stage as part of a show series hosted by Piven, and will put our improv games on stage for all to see later this month.  An extra bonus was having one of our former teachers join us to put us through our paces.

Being in the space brought back a lot of memories for me.  I loved being at Piven.  It was a safe space away from all the yuck of home, and playing the games and acting in the stories was a much needed escape for me back then.  Socially, my time in the Young People’s Company was awkward at best – I didn’t really fit in with most of the other kids – but I dove in with both feet and lost myself in the work.  Somehow that was easier to do as a kid than it was as an adult.

I found it really hard to find my voice and body in the games we played on Thursday.  My brain was full of “I can’t do this.” and “was I *ever* able to do this?” and “I’m the weakest link.” – thoughts that don’t leave a whole lot of room for creativity and impromptu expression.

I know this.  At least I know this when I’m dancing.

Our last game of the evening was Musical Transformation, where all we had to do was sing a song over and over in different styles.  It was pure bliss.  I found myself playing for the sake of playing, not thinking, not comparing, just singing (and dancing) with peers.  It helped me unlock, and I finished out the evening looking forward to coming back for more.

The stage awaits on the 28th, and I have every intention of shaking off the past, giving up control, and letting myself just PLAY with my Piven alum peers.  Maybe you should come see what happens…


Dance…No One Is Watching?

I know I need to get back on the choreography horse both in life and here on the blog, but I want to share an experience I had this weekend first.

My 100Days video project is almost exclusively filmed by my very patient and supportive husband.  There are times, however, that I need to turn to others for the filming if my schedule makes it so the time to dance falls when he’s not with me.  That came up this weekend since I was lucky enough to spend an extended evening with my two best friends.

I have made a commitment to myself to get through the full 100Days project without having to film any “Drunk Dancing”.  This came up a few times in the first go due to poor planning on my part.  No, I don’t have a drinking problem, but I DO enjoy a cocktail every Friday night and often have wine on Saturday evenings.  Dancing after the drinking does not leave me performing up to my full potential, but I digress…

The prompt this round was to review all of the “Do It Agains” for the song of the day (we’ve done 10 rounds at this point, so 10 days of notes per song) and choose something we saw to focus on in this round (#11).  For me, that meant focusing on two things…”dance like no one is watching” and my ever-present struggle “more isolations/locks”.  Doing this at home with Bill would have been easy.  But how do I dance like no one is watching when I have an audience of 2 and they’re not who I’m used to improving for??

Yeah, it didn’t go so well.

I danced, and I even found some moments to stay with isolations/locks rather than having it be a 4 minute exploration of ooey-gooey moves (my safety zone), but I was VERY aware of my audience and could feel myself holding back.  This was the last song of the round and the only one where I didn’t meet my challenge full on.

I confessed my failure to my besties right after I finished dancing.  They were both surprised – “but we’re your best audience!  we love whatever you do!” – lovely to hear but their reaction isn’t really the issue inside my head.

My take away?

IMalik at Jens 1_31_15 need to work on remembering that my dance is for ME first, then my “audience”.  I wasn’t happy with my video that day, not because of what I saw on camera, but because of what I knew I didn’t do, didn’t try.  Just as I’ve met my resolution to steer clear of drunk dancing, I intend to meet this resolution head on.


Good thing I have 53 more days to practice (and then all the days after that).

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