Today I Danced

Musings on life as a bellydancer


Earlier today I completed my 600th consecutive day of practice.

600 CONSECUTIVE days of doing dance and yoga – I am damn proud of myself!

I have learned a lot about my body and my mind over the last 600 days, and I am definitely stronger in mind and body than I was when I started this practice plan. One tangible way in which I’m stronger is visible in this video:

The pose in the middle, where I drop the video down to regular speed, wasn’t something I could do when I started.  I kept it there as a placeholder, doing as much of it as I could, every single day. I’m not done working on it – I can see areas where I can improve and get stronger.  The tangible way in which my mind is stronger is that seeing that room for growth is EXCITING and INSPIRING.

Along the way, I’ve really learned how to work within a growth mindset and that is, by far, the greatest gift this practice habit has given me.

Mirror Power

I spend a lot of time teaching facing away from the mirror and, honestly, a lot of my classes are taught with the curtains pulled over the mirrors so even the students don’t see themselves dancing.  This is very intentional – I want them to FEEL the moves in their bodies before/instead of getting distracted by how the moves LOOK.  This makes them stronger dancers, more in touch with the sources of the moves they’re creating with their muscles and bones.  This makes me a stronger teacher since my focus stays 100% on them and directs their focus as well.

The result, though, is that – unless I seek out the mirror – I don’t spend a lot of time seeing the results of what I’m doing with my body.  This week I changed that, and crossed a body image line in the process.

I have been practicing daily for almost a year now.  Every. Single. Day.  Over the course of the year I have adjusted my daily practice routine several times to dig into different areas of growth, and I’ve practiced in a lot of different environments.  For the past week I’ve made two things constant practice elements: knee shimmies and a mirror.

Early Dance MalikKnee shimmies are significant for me.  When I first started dancing I was at the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life.  Shimmying gave me permission to love my body – the GOAL was to move the flesh and the resulting noise from my coin belt or swish of my skirt was celebrated and encouraged.  What an awesome treat for someone who had hated her body for so long!  As I continued along my dance journey and worked hard to shed pounds so my hips, knees, and ankles could continue to support my efforts, my shimmy got smaller and smaller and, eventually, became one of my most challenging moves to execute.  With the extra flesh I hadn’t really had to nail down technique to get the satisfying shimmy to go.  Without that extra flesh…well, I had to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to make my new form do what my old form came by so easily.

My physical shape has changed again, as has my relationship with my body.  My shimmy has been a gauge for me.  My current goal is to turn up the intensity dial on my knee shimmy and to get all the flesh I have to dance along with me.  Daily practice in the mirror has given me the tools I need to kick up my shimmy a notch or two.  And here’s the important part –

I LOVE seeing my flesh move.

I love it!  My new tattoo dances, my stretch marks dance, my tummy flesh dances – everything moves in the most awesome way.

That body love is new.

2017-04-14 20.27.37This week of practice in the mirror has pushed me over into LOVING my body instead of just accepting it.  And believe me – accepting my body was a huge accomplishment in the first place!

I’ve been saying “Bellydance Changes Lives” for years and I love that I still get to have these moments of discovery and learning from this art form.

Dancing through Grief

Dancing every day is a part of my life now.  I dance when I’m sick and adjust my practice to be shorter or less intense.  I dance when I’m busy and fit it in by breaking up the practice session or by staying up late/getting up early.  I have danced in odd locations due to travel or other circumstances.  I get it done.

Dancing through grief creates, by far, the oddest sensations for me.  Not dancing doesn’t feel like an option – I *need* the music and the movement and the physicality of dance to get me through the feelings.  I get a tiny slice of respite from my feelings while I’m moving.  It really does feel like I hit pause on my emotions while I’m dancing.  That pause lasts as long as my practice – so if I move for 20 minutes or 2 hours, the pause holds.

The pause isn’t like what happens with technology.  There, when you hit pause everything stops and, when you hit play, it picks up right where you left it as if nothing happened.  This pause isn’t so seamless.  When I stop moving, stop dancing, my feelings rush back in like water released from a dam.  Strong and fast and, somehow, stronger for having been held at bay.  The experience is intense and can literally bring me to my knees.

2016-01-03 18.17.23Dancing through grief is a part of my life now, too.

I get it done.

Achievement Unlocked

I spent the morning at a business book-club meeting talking about the book The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth.  I count this as one of my Key Books in that it has had a significant impact on my life.  It was neat to get to discuss it with others after months of dropping nuggets and discoveries into conversations with unsuspecting friends and students.  The group was made up of women who, with one exception, own their own businesses.  That’s it.  Nothing else in common.  None of them are bellydancers (yet).

I had read the book a while ago and had forgotten my “why” for reading it in the first place until the discussion started.  For me, reading this book, and several others focused on self-development and habits, all came out of the ideas/questions sparked while working on my homework for various phases of the 8 Elements program.

2016-05-10 22.24.45I find it fascinating how impactful this training experience has been and continues to be on my whole person.  I am a different dancer, teacher, business owner, friend, parent, partner, and woman.  I didn’t set out to change my everything.  I was “just” looking to take my dance to a new level.

I often say that I feel the most me when I’m dancing.  This holds true on and off stage, by myself or with others around me.  Given that feeling, it makes sense that seeking to change my dancer-self trickled out into changing my self-self.  I did NOT see it coming.  I DO like the results.

How cool is that?  What experiences have you had that led to more changes than you anticipated?

Expanding the Practice Container

Your practice (or mine at least) expands or contracts to fit the container of time you make for it.

2017-01-10 16.41.30I posted the statement above on my dancer Facebook page earlier this week and have been chewing on it ever since.  Practice is a key component in my life and of great importance to me.  Why, then, does the size of my container for it get so very small some days?

It seems to me that, while it’s important to me, I don’t see my practice as important to the rest of my world.  As a result I let other things take a higher spot on the amorphous priority listing that I carry around in my head and in my bullet journal.  *That* it happens is my focus…how long it is hasn’t become quite as important.

I’ve developed my practice plan based on the science supporting habits and their successful adoption.   I started small so I would have easy success to encourage me to continue.  I committed to a daily practice and to not missing more than one day in a row (I haven’t missed any since adopting the habit).  I attached it to an existing Keystone Habit since that had already had such a positive impact on my dance (and personal) life.  I rewarded myself when I hit the 200 consecutive day mark, and I’ve set my next reward threshold at 365 consecutive days.  I post a #practicelog post daily with the running total number of days so I have some sense of public accountability to provide external motivation on the days when my internal resolve is weaker.  I set my weekly practice intention in my bullet journal and check off the boxes when I finish the pieces.  I’m doing ALL THE THINGS…mostly.

In order to meet my goals, increasing the minimum “allowed” container size needs to happen.  My container has grown over the last 283 days of practice.  When I started, my minimum practice was 5 minutes of yoga.  That was it – there wasn’t even any dance mandated.

Now, my minimum is a slightly longer yoga practice (10 minutes), a 5-minute dance drill, and my daily improv when a challenge is running.  So 20 minutes of movement (and another 10 minutes of writing/reflecting) needs to happen for me to write it down as “practice” in all of my documentation spaces.

2017-01-11 21.50.45It’s time to bump that minimum up, making the amount of time I devote to my practice as much of a priority as the practice itself.  I need to spend MORE time in my dance room every day.  I want to increase the base size of my practice container and commit to having it GROW instead of shrink.

I’m ready for the challenge.

Journey Back From Portland

2017-01-15 19.47.13I’ve been back on home turf for a few days now and am starting to fully process my last Portland experience.  Is it the Portlandia effect (note: I’ve never seen the show) or a natural side effect of digging in to continuing education that leaves me so raw and changed upon return?  I don’t know that there’s a way to really land on an answer.  What I do know is that I felt compelled to sit down with pen and paper and document how I was feeling after the trip.  Here are the dance-related fit-to-print nuggets:

  • Studying with Rachel Brice is good, even when it’s short
  • I want to develop more grit when traveling and everyday
  • I know more about dance and performing than I give myself credit for
  • Tribal fusion has strong folkloric ties
  • I am an extrovert and don’t benefit from long solo stretches
  • I default to giving/helping and like that about myself
  • I am doing more work on self acceptance with my tattoo, ready or not.
  • I want to accumulate the resources for more travel
  • I want to won my success with the 100Days Improv Challenge and make it grow
  • Dance is incredibly important to me
  • I want to really work on creating a bellydance rat park
  • I want to build my physical strength
  • I want to deepen my dance friendships, even from afar
  • It was more challenging to maintain my TRUST focus away from home/routines/controlled environments

2017-01-14 10.06.11In addition to learning/clarifying the above points (and the ones that are just for my eyes), I learned SO MUCH about Egypt and the origins of this dance form.  I am hungry to learn more and to share what I’ve learned so far, and that feels like the perfect place to be after investing the time, energy, and dollars into training.  I highly recommend Journey Through Egypt, and would love to talk with you after you go.  Maybe you’ll be changed, too.


JtE1 - Malik and SahraI’m in Portland this week, back at Studio Datura, taking Journey through Egypt 1 & 2.  It feels like this workshop opportunity came at the right time.  I’m soaking it all up and working on integrating it, at the same time as I’m working on letting go in my dancing and trusting what my body wants to do.  The week off from the normal hustle of home is giving me the gift of many days in a row where dance gets to be my focus – a luxury!

I’m feeling a connection to the roots of this dance in a way I haven’t before, and that’s making me want to learn ALL THE THINGS.  Folkloric dances didn’t really hold much appeal for me in the past, so it feels like I’ve just been given a present that will take ages to fully unwrap.  I love presents!  The benefit of having these doors opened when I have a full week available to explore is significant.  Videos, books, websites, other dancers – so much to play with!  It will be interesting to see what effect this new knowledge will have on my daily improv.  Only time will tell.

New Beginnings



I am committing to 2017, and I am committing to myself.  Last year was full of pain and sadness and doubt and fear.  I’m deciding to leave that all behind and see where I can take myself – personally, as a dancer, and professionally – this year.  12 months of intentionally focusing on trusting myself, my abilities, and the feedback I collect from the people around me.

In the last round of 100Days I committed to sharing a clip of each day’s video on instagram.  That was an interesting experience and one I was still a bit uncomfortable with as of day 100, so I’m doing that again for this round.  Round 9.  Wow.  I will be blogging my way through this round, focusing on my thoughts and feelings conjured up through the challenge and my daily dance practice.

I am also going to share more full videos this time through.  I’ll only share when doing so won’t be a spoiler for those thinking about doing the challenge in the future so this won’t be anything close to a complete catalog of the experience.  It will be more than I’ve shared before.

I welcome your comments and constructive feedback.

2017 – let’s do this!

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!

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