Friday, December 16, 2016

The Power of Posture

To see Darren Rhodes talk on shape shifting, click here.
Several years ago I was an aspiring yoga and belly dance teacher, taking every workshop and training I could afford and fit into my schedule. I was searching for something, but I didn't know what at the time. Until one day. One of my yoga teachers was talking about why yoga/movement was good for us beyond the body. Why it was even better for the mind and for the spirit. And he said, "If you want to change your state (of mind), change your shape." That one sentence blew my whole world open and I began to look at EVERYTHING I was doing in a new light. I applied the concept to my yoga practice, of course, but I also applied it to my belly dance practice. Then I applied it to TEACHING belly dance. And the way I teach grew from there. To me, the most important part of movement is in that one sentence. "Change your shape to change your state."

A friend of mine sent me a great blog post today called Habitual Posture, Habitaul Emotion, Habitual Thought. It is FULL of great stuff on the subject, but the quote that made me jump the couch like Tom Cruise on the Oprah show was "Our habitual postures are connected to habitual emotions and habitual thoughts in a strange dance -- if you have a certain association, then you take a certain posture and have a certain feeling, so it's very difficult to think anything new, to feel anything new, to or to sense in a new way -- if you try to change it's impossible because each center is supported by the other two."

The whole post is fantastic. It illustrates very well what I have never taken the time to. Give it a read here.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Healing Power Of Music

This video first came across my Facebook feed a few weeks ago. I found it so powerful that I saved it. In the days and weeks since, I have seen it many more times. Probably because my "friends" find it powerful too. And each time I see it in my feed, another share from another friend, I watch it again. The title caught my attention. But the music and the movement keep me coming back for more. And I began to notice a trend in the shares. It was either being posted with the thought of "Music is so healing" OR people were commenting with a similar sentiment. Which has led me to this blog post today.

We have all heard famous quotes about the healing power of music:

Many of us read these quotes and a resounding "YES!" comes up from our core. For most of my life, I believed it was healing too. I thought that if I were going through something tough, I could just put on a certain song or set of songs and heal my broken soul. 
But, I have since come to a deeper understanding of this that has led me to ACTUAL healing and wanted to share my thoughts so that maybe you can benefit as well. So here it is: Music can be many things, but not healing. It can be empowering. It can be soothing. It can be cathartic. But it can not be healing.

You see, the healing has to come from inside you. The healing comes from the work. Music, if it is used in the right way, can lead you into the places you need to go, in order to deliver you to the experience you need to have, so that you can heal. But it is not healing in itself.

So, no matter what you are feeling, or WANTING to feel, find a piece of music that make you feel that. Listen to it closely. Take a deep dive into the rhythm, tone and lyrics of the song. And then let it MOVE you. Move the emotion you have or want to have through your body. THAT is healing. 

That is Sacred Movement.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Musings of a SEEDS Facilitator…

In July, 2016, we began the journey developing a SEEDS program at Sacred Movement Studio, in St. Charles.  I was blessed to watch four young women, ages 12-15, share their love & insights into their world today. 

One of our processes revolved around “The masks we wear.”  We women tend to wear a mask, when we relate with others…what we “put out there” is often a defense against criticism, feelings of unworthiness, and fear.  The following are some comments these brilliant young women shared…
  • “You don’t have to be fake, but it’s easier.”
  •  “I realize how much I struggle to cover it [my true self].”
  •  “I felt mad when I was doing the [shadow] side.”

During another process,  Talking Circle time, the young women talked about the difficulty women have giving and receiving compliments.   We usually respond to “I love your hair,” with” OMG, I need a haircut!”  or “It’s such a mess!”  The young ladies practiced giving compliments to one another, in Talking Circle, and simply responding, “Thank you.”   Then we went a step further…. As one girl gave another a compliment, the receiver responded with, “Thank you.  That means a lot to me because…”  As these beautiful young spirits shared & received the loving, heartfelt compliments, I realized how much I and my contemporaries are stuck in our own “self-defeating” internal dialogue. 

On our third of five days, two (white) sisters arrived, and had been in conflict all morning (as sisters sometimes are).  These young women live in a predominantly white, middle class, community, in St. Charles County, and of course their life experiences/perceptions  are shaped by their environment.  The other two SEEDS young women are (black) cousins, living with mother/auntie, in a very different community in north St. Louis County, and their life experiences/perceptions are shaped by their environment as well.  So to give the sisters a few hours of peace  we “switched things up.”  Each sister/cousin chose a different “sister” to “adopt” for the day.  They noticed a difference in their interactions right away…though they were told to treat each other like a “real” sister…complete with “picking on her.”  During Talking Circle, realizations abound about how we treat our “sisters.”  At the end of the day, all of the girls were exchanging cell phone numbers.  I overheard one young “sister” say to another, “I was afraid you wouldn’t want to be my sister today.”  I drove home, in tears.

Over five days, I observed (with my trained educator’s eye) four adolescent young women stand taller, speak their truths, and share their genuine love for one another.  My brain knows that adolescents, when given fertile ground to grow and learn, are highly successful;  my heart now knows the “research” is truth.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Too Much Ego Will Kill Your Talent

We all know at least one dancer who's ego is bigger than their talent.  You can see it in their classroom behavior, in their performance or both.  It can present itself as being needy of attention, having an bad attitude, or being entitled to more than you have worked for.  All of us have this issue at one time or another.  We all have an ego.  It is a product of the human condition.  It is nothing to be ashamed of.  But as students and/or performers it is something that we need to be aware of and learn to use to our advantage, rather than our detriment, because:

 The Ego and the Student
One of the most perplexing things that I have witnessed in the classroom, both as a student and a teacher, is the dancer who thinks the teacher owes them x,y, or z.  Now I know you are thinking, "Not me!  I have never been that person."  But let's all take a moment to reflect.  Have you ever thought you should get a bit more attention in class because you were struggling with a particular move?  Have you ever thought that the teacher should move you to the next level even though you were told you weren't ready?  Did you join class with the singular goal of joining the performing troupe?

The truth is, the only thing that your teacher owes you is the lesson you paid for.  Furthermore, if there are 15 people in the class, she only owes you 1/15th of her attention.  In order to keep the class on schedule, your teacher can not spend time helping you figure things out that require more than 30 seconds to a minute of one on one attention.  If you are not happy with the amount of one-on-one attention that you get in public class, book a private lesson.

If you want to move up to the next level but your teacher says you are not ready, respect her decision.  If you want to know why you aren't moving up and what you need to work on, book a private lesson to discuss it with her/him.  If you want to improve those things in an efficient and timely manner, book a private lesson to work on it with her/him.

And if you want to be a member of the troupe, you need to keep in mind that there are many factors that contribute to that goal.  Troupe membership is not really about who is the best dancer, though that does help.  Specifically for ATS®, the most important factor comes down to how well you play with others.  Let's think about what this means.  Do you take direction well?  Do you treat your teacher and fellow class mates with respect?  Do you bully people?  Do you bring your personal drama into the studio/performance?  Do you take constructive criticism well?  Do you uphold "The Tribal Code"?  These things and many more contribute to troupe membership.  Want to dig into this a little deeper?  Wendy Allen of FCBD® wrote this fantastic post on the subject  I hope you will check it out.

Ultimately, too much ego in the classroom can hold you back from learning, progressing and reaching your goals.  Practicing humility will help you learn better, progress faster and achieve the goals you set for yourself.  

The Ego and the Performer
When you become a performer, you add many new levels to your studentship.  You now need to study how to draw from everything you have ever learned in class and learn how to perform it.  Just because you can dance with good technique and musicality does not mean you can perform it well.  I think that this is such an important distinction, and one that we sometimes fail to give proper attention to while we are in pursuit of becoming a performers.  There are many lessons on this subject that I could go on for days about.  But I really only want to talk about the most important factor for this post.

The single most important thing to remember when you begin performing is that your performance is NEVER about you.  EVER.  When you decide to perform, you are taking something that was a hobby and making it work.  In that light, each performance is now a job to be done.  A job that you have (hopefully) prepared yourself well for with many hours of diligent practice.  As a performer, your job is to entertain the people that came to see the show you are performing in.  As an artist, your job is to inspire the audience and to stir something in them.

When a performer's ego is at work, their inner mantra becomes, "Are you looking at me?  Aren't I fabulous?  Didn't I do well?"  The focus is solely on the self, rather than the audience.  They need to be seen, need to be the "star" and need to be praised for a job well done.  When a performer is practicing humility, their inner mantra is, "Relax.  Enjoy.  Let me entertain you."  The focus is solely on the audience.  The only focus on the self is in executing the dance with good technique, musicality and heart.     

Letting go of your ego as a performer will take your performances to a whole new level.  The audience will see the art, not the artist.  They will see your joy flowing from you.  They will see your love for the dance, the audience, and yourself. 

The bottom line:  Humility is something we as students, dancers and performers need to work to cultivate (some need to work harder than others LOL).  Don't be ashamed of your ego.  But begin to recognize when it is rearing it's ugly head.  Because our ego is really a defense mechanism for feeling vulnerable.  It puts up a wall between you and your teacher, you and your classmates, or you and your audience.  When we are able to take down our ego and into settle into humility, we move through the world with an attitude of service and a more open heart.  And that's Sacred Movement. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Blast From The Past!

This is a long one, but it is totally worth every second.  An interview with Carolena Nericcio, the creator of American Tribal Style® Belly Dance, from 1997.  What speaks to me the most in this video is that even though much has changed since then, the core of this dance style has stayed the same.  I think that is the main reason for the longevity of it.  The core concepts are as solid now as they were back then.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Roots Of Tribal Fusion Belly Dance

Rachel Brice put a playlist together on YouTube that is a history of Tribal Fusion Belly Dance. While it says "fusion", obviously the roots are tribal dance in general. This is a brilliant idea and I wish I would have thought of it. When you have some time, give it a watch by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Tribal Code: Respect

During the past few months there has been a lot of discussion about respect in the belly dance community. There have been FB discussions and blog posts written about every aspect I can think of from showing respect for fellow dancers (especially during performances), giving and receiving respect from troupe directors and members and even the touchy subject of "cultural appropriation". I am not going to go into all of that here except to say that, as a result, I have been giving the concept of "respect" a lot of thought.

I think that most of us understand the basic concept of respect and strive to be respectful. But do we really have a clear understanding of the meaning? I feel that respect can be divided into two levels. One sits at the surface and is what we call "common courtesy". But I would like to talk about taking our respect a bit deeper than common courtesy. I would like to think there is more to respect than that. What I am talking about is a deep respect for who we are and what we do that can (and sometimes does) border on reverence.

In ATS we tend to live by the "Tribal Code". As far as I know, it was originated by the ladies of FatChanceBellyDance (maybe even more specifically Sandi Ball?) A beautiful copy of it can be found here. In The Code, we find respect defined as, "Treating your fellow dancers (and human beings) with compassionate respect and be mindful of others’ talents and limitations. Respect the dance form for what it is rather than how you would change it."

In response to all the hullabaloo that has been going on lately, I have thought about this statement many times. As I have reflected on this statement, I have identified four main pillars of respect within our community. Lets take a look at just a few aspects of respect as it relates to ATS.

Respect for lineage
Wow, this is a big one. An entire post could be devoted to this alone. But for our purposes here I will keep it simple. When it comes to belly dance there is a lot of myth and mystery that surrounds it. It can be difficult to get a clear answer to such simple questions as where it came from and who were the people that originated it. And in regards to ATS there are even more layers to explore than some other traditional forms. But all belly dancers should have a basic knowledge of its lineage.

Taking the time to deepen your knowledge of something you are passionate about is one of the best ways to show your respect at a deeper level. Ask the questions that your audience may want the answers to. For example: Where have each of the movements and steps originated from? What is the culture in those parts of the world? Where are the costume elements from? What culture is the music you are dancing to from?

Are you familiar with the FatChanceBellyDance legacy?

Respect for the teacher/director

This is a thoughtful subject for me because even though I am a teacher, I am a student first and always.

At the surface level, the obvious way we show our teachers we respect them is by not talking (or ziling) when she/he is talking. At face value, this may seem like an easy task, but it is actually more difficult than it seems. We have all done it at one time or another. For example: another student talks to you, you feel you should answer so as not to be rude. Next thing you know, you are having a full on conversation and find the teacher either waiting on you to stop talking or calling you out for it.

But how can we take our respect for our teachers to a deeper level? When I frame this question with my reference as a teacher, some of the things that come to mind are:
1) Ask questions respectfully. I have been told recently that Carolena once said, "You can ask me a question, but don't question me". I love that.
2) Let the teacher do the teaching. We have all at one time answered a question from another student even though the teacher was right there and able to answer it.
3) Don't be demanding of the teacher's time and/or resources. Teachers may have LOTS of students and you may not be the only one needing our attention. They are also "real people" that have lives. We never mind students asking questions after class or giving us a call/email/text in between if you need something. Just be reasonable about how much you are asking for.
4) Ask if you can help. Teachers are busy people. Offer to help if you see a need.
5) If you commit to something then follow through.
6) Be. On. Time..... Really.

Respect for your dance sisters
This is a tricky one. The surface respect we show to each other is just by being kind to each other. But in order to respect each other at a deeper level, we need only to turn to the Tribal Code. The part of the code that jumps out at me the most in regards to this aspect of respect is to "be mindful of others' talents and limitations".

Because of the nature of ATS, we have a "tribe" mentality. This means that when someone is struggling, we want to jump in and "help" them. This CAN be a positive experience and build community, but, I encourage you to look at it another way. By trying to help (especially if help is unsolicited), you are, in essence, correcting a fellow dancer. You have stepped out of the role of "peer" and into the role of "instructor". You may have good intentions, but everyone takes correction in their own way. And sometimes it isn't positive, despite our intentions. If you get in to the habit of correcting, it can be hard to break. And if the correcting becomes chronic, your dance sisters could come to resent you. At it's most destructive, every time someone dances with you, they may be afraid they will "mess up" and "let you down". In addition, as the code says, everyone learns at their own pace. In our efforts to help, we may stifling their growth process. When in class, or when we are practicing outside of the classroom, we need to be mindful of putting our own expectations on to others. We need to let our sisters develop at their own pace, not the one we wish them to.

The next time you feel the urge to correct a fellow dancer, ask yourself "How do I feel about being corrected by a fellow dancer?"

Respect for yourself
Respect for yourself means many things in respect to dance and performing. This one may be the most difficult to accomplish, but I think it is the most important of all

At the surface, it means no negative self talk. I think that this is SO important. We have all had that moment when we couldn't get something in class and it seemed that everyone else did. We have all "messed up" in a performance. When these things happen, take care not to beat yourself up over it. This is especially important during class when you are learning and trying new things, but it is equally important in your home practice time and performance as well. Everyone has good and bad days. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Celebrate your successes and strengths, use your "mistakes" as lessons to improve and your work on your weaknesses.

To take your self respect to the deepest level, you must work hard to create and maintain a positive self image. Use positive self talk. Every body is beautiful in it's own way. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you are beautiful, smart, kind, special, or anything else you need to hear. When you love your body, your body will love you. And when you respect yourself at your core, others will respect you as well.