Today I Danced

Musings on life as a bellydancer

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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.


 Wendell Smallwood Jersey

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.

 Henrik Zetterberg Womens Jersey

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…

  Adarius Glanton Womens Jersey

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). Lance Alworth Authentic Jersey

Pint-sized Inspiration

I am sharing this video even though it’s far from perfect.  I could take you through all the things I *don’t* like about it but that wouldn’t be good for any of us.  Instead, I ask you to focus on these three moments in the dance:

1:37, 1:59, 2:49

Those three moments bring me so much joy because of what inspired them.  I see the events of my day play out in my improv all the time – little glimpses of something I’ve read about bellydance, or of a video clip I’ve watched, or of a class I’ve taken.  What is special about those three moments is that they showcase moves created by these wonderful dancers:

Mother_Daughter_Bellydance_Jan15_aOn their 3rd class (of a 3-week series), these mother/daughter pairs jumped into a stacking exercise and gave it their all.  They came up with new moves that combined an upper body move with a lower body move and gave each move a name.   We finished up with new bits of awesome called “Toe-tap Wrist Turn Singles”, “Ticking Grass”, “Up and Down”, “Traveling Ferris Wheel”, and “Blooming Flower” that will, I imagine, work it into future choreography.  The three that made it into yesterday’s improv were, in alphabetical order,  “Bouncing Snake”, “Hello Neighbor Squat”, and “TaDa” (can you figure out which moments above have which names?).

Blends like this, where my teaching melds in with my own creative expression, are so special.  And taking a group of mothers and daughters and turning them into bellydancers?

Mother_Daughter_Bellydance_Jan15_bThere’s nothing else like it in the world.

  Justin Abdelkader Authentic Jersey

I liked it

Every so often (and it’s getting more frequent these days) I’ll really like what I see when I review the video from one of my 100Days recordings.  The focus this round was to do the 1st minute of the song SLOW, and it worked out really well.

 Alvin Kamara Authentic Jersey

Fear, Part 1 of Many

I am afraid of failure, or rather of not measuring up.  Really, really, REALLY afraid.  I realized today, while zilling, that this fear is keeping me from sharing what I’m doing in my practice sessions.  Sometimes it even keeps me from *doing* my practice sessions.

Let me unpack that…

I want very much to land in Portland in July ready and able to tackle Culmination.  In order for that to happen I need to commit to a significant practice schedule between now and then.  If I do serious practice daily for the next 26 weeks (yes, I counted) and DON’T succeed…


By admitting my fear of not measuring up I’m hoping to make that fear smaller, even if just a bit.


  Kawann Short Jersey

Practice…I don’t WANNA!

Oh, I did NOT want to practice today!  Or rather I did, earlier – it was a part of my plan for the day…

  • 7:45 – 8:15…prep the studio
  • 8:15 – 1 pm…teach
  • 1 – 2 pm…lunch break (no working allowed)
  • 2 – 4 pm…work
  • 4 – 5 pm…choreograph
  • 5 – 6 pm…practice
  • 6 – 11 pm…family time/knitting/dinner

But, as days are want to do, my afternoon didn’t play out quite the way I’d planned.  I was doing pretty well until the “choreograph” part, honestly.  Working on Feed The Muse today was 100% NOT inspiring.  I wasn’t finding the things I wanted in the video footage and that put me in a funk that left me with zero interest in practicing.

Zero. Interest.

What’s a dancer to do?  Especially a dancer with a fair amount of worry about being ready for The Big Thing in July?

Practice anyway.

So I did.  I didn’t do much, mind you.  I pulled off 30 minutes…

  • 20 minutes of zilling to the first 4 songs served up by shuffle, one song for each of the zill patterns I’m focusing on.
  • 5 minutes of Heaven To Earth (my bellydance warmup sequence)
  • 5 minutes of shimmies alternated with single-hip drills

Dancing daily is a habit now thanks to my 100Days challenges, but adding practice time into the mix is new.  I’d been really struggling with it these last few weeks when I found an article about building new habits that really helped, especially this quote:

“Top performers make mistakes, commit errors, and get off track just like everyone else. The difference is that they get back on track as quickly as possible.”

So, while I didn’t do ALL the practicing I’d planned for the day, I DID PRACTICE.  For today, I’m calling that a success.

188 days until Culmination

 Otis Sistrunk Authentic Jersey

Choreography Begins…Feed The Muse

I worked on dance for over 4 hours on Sunday and didn’t break a sweat.  That’s because all the work was cerebral and either on paper or here on the computer.  Let me show you…

Part A: Listen to Feed The Muse by Solace, on repeat, approximately 3000 times (maybe more if you ask my family)

Feed The Muse Choreography Notes

Dance starts on paper

Step 1: Map out the measures

Step 2: Name the sections

Step 3: Tally the counts within each section

Step 4: Brainstorm general ideas for each section

Step 5: Note the start/end time for each section
So, at the end of Part A I’ve done a fairly good job of burning the song into my brain AND I have two lovely pieces of paper to show for about an hour of work.  Taking the time on the front end, though, will (I hope) make the rest of the choreography process go more smoothly once I do get to stand up and dance.

But not yet…

Part B: Review 100 Days worth of improvisation fodder

Yep, this song was one of the 5 to which I danced in my first 100Days Improv Dance Challenge, so I have 20 videos of me dancing my heart out to this song.  Culling through them is not the easiest exercise, and this will be the first time I’ve tried to create choreography based on my 100Days process.  I found I was watching them more for the choreographic potential then when I’ve compiled other highlight reels (I only got 2 made, and those were only for the first 50 days, so this was also a challenge for my stamina).  The song is 4:18…20 viewings = a lot of time staring at myself.  The intention behind taking the videos was not to create something for the public (so sometimes, for example, I’m dancing in my pjs, and you may get glimpses of my dogs) but in the name of Showing My Work, here’s the highlight reel for Feed The Muse:

So, now, the next step will be to get on my feet and try some things from the videos, adding in some magic from Initiation and Cultivation where there are gaps.  Here goes! Russell Bodine Jersey

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