Release your inner child!

Release your inner child, even if that child is the L’enfante terrible!

We are so terribly serious in our lives and in our dance. We are on time, in charge, ever-present and prepared. We multi-task even when we are multi-tasking… We feel we must never fail, we must always be “on”, and there is no time for unexpected silly fun. You see, we even plan out our fun time.

Remember when you used to see imaginary critters down the street?
Remember when you used to see imaginary critters down the street?

As dancers, we carry our adult seriousness and responsibility into our dance and our dance practice. There is of course nothing wrong with this…we need to be serious and responsible with our performances and practice, however, we also desperately need to PLAY! Our inner child is crying out for us to have some fun, to lighten up, to maybe even throw an occasional temper tantrum!

I have been thinking about my inner child a lot lately, and especially after my return from the Asheville Bellydance Festival. (The Festival was amazing BTW! I met so many talented dancers and instructors. I met so many good people. I even performed in the Saturday Night Show.) Almost the entire time though, I had on my planner hat. I took notes about how it was run. I also had my very serious performer hat on. (Don’t worry, it is a sparkly hat.) I was standing back stage, extremely nervous, going through my routine in my head, and simultaneously making myself sick to my stomach. Thank goodness my good friend shook me up a bit, told me to relax, and go and have some fun…just dance like you don’t care! So I did and since then I have been thinking that my inner child needs to break free more often than she does…

So…here is a list of some ideas (for dancers in particular) for you and your inner child to try:

1. Dance to something you would never dance to professionally, close your eyes, and then go for it! Shake everything…and don’t care! Just do it! Be in the NOW!

Obligatory picture of dancing cats...and  people dancing like they just don't care!
Obligatory picture of dancing cats…and people dancing like they just don’t care!

2. Clap your hands!!! Before or for your warm-up, start clapping your hands over your head, enjoy it, make a lot of noise! Enjoy the smallest of simple pleasures! I taught a drum solo in my class that involved a lot of clapping and we always felt incredible when practicing or performing it!

Even the ancient egyptians clapped ;)
Even the ancient Egyptians clapped when they danced 😉

3. Why walk when you can gallop? Pull a Holy Grail and start galloping down the street. I promise you, it is exhilarating and will bring a big smile to your face! And perhaps, a smile or look of horror from passers-by!

4. COLORBreak out the crayons or markers, buy yourself a crazy coloring book if you need a wee bit of structure, pour yourself a glass of wine, and go to town. Coloring is completely underrated! 

5. LAUGH! Laugh out loud till you have to hold your middle to keep it all in. Laugh during a meeting. (Come on, you know you want to…) Laughing triggers the release of those feel good chemicals in your body and it also reminds us of times past, when we laughed when we wanted to rather than trying to stifle it behind a cough.

What do you do to release that inner child? 

Janim dances with two of her little princesses!
Janim (me) releasing my inner child…with the children!

Road trip reflections

I am driving right now with my good friend to join in on the Asheville bellydance festival. Long drives are cut in half when with a friend. Roads and rolling landscapes offer a smooth canvas for reflection.

This is short today and more of a shout out to you all. Today I am reflecting on how happy I am to know so many amazing people in dance, design, and music fields. What is your reflection for the day?


Mindfulness and the Now

What time is it? Now, NOW, always NOW!

Fifteen years of my early childhood training is in Chinese Kenpo, a martial arts form that focuses on joining the mind and body with each other so that movements can be executed correctly. More than anything, Kenpo was the way I learned to be in the moment, the now, from a very young age. When practicing defensive movements with a partner, if you are not paying attention to where you are or where your opponent is, you will most certainly be entertaining a few bumps, bruises, or worse!

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Knowing where your opponent is...
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Knowing where your opponent is…

I loved the moving meditations that we learned (katas). I loved that the longer I practiced and studied, the more I could understand where my body was, what my exact reach was, what every part of my body was capable of doing. When I practiced my katas, there was nothing else. Only me, the movement, and the ground that I touched or pushed off of throughout. I now realized katas allowed me to turn off my brain and to control my wandering thoughts. There were no regrets about the past or pondering about the future. There was only the NOW.

“Life is available only in the present moment.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Lately, I have been considering these old lessons in relationship to my dance practice. As a dancer, how can we truly be present in the moment? How can  “the now”  enhance our dance? Here are a few of my own thoughts on attaining mindfulness in my own dance and in my classes with my students.

Janim says: it is incredibly important to know where your feet are wehn spinning with a veil or two!
Janim says: it is incredibly important to know where your feet are when spinning with a veil or two!

1. When we practice our traveling steps, where our feet go, we go. It seems like an obvious statement, but it is too easily overlooked. Additionally, if we pay attention to where our weight is distributed, we know which foot is free to move forward or back. When you are feeling a disconnect and not sure where to go or what to do, return to your feet! Check how your feet are touching the ground right it a full connection? Are you off-balance? A small adjustment in your grounding may be all you need to bring the wowza back to your performance.

Sandra, mid hip circle
Sandra, mid hip circle

 2. Breathe in and breathe out. Focus only on the in and out of your breath. Now connect an inhalation and an exhalation to a movement. I teach this in class with extra-large horizontal hip circles. Breathe in deeply while raising arms up over your head and starting your hip circle to the front. Your hips are moving at the same rate that you are breathing in. Exhale and complete the second half of your circle. Did you puff out the air quickly and swing your hips around quickly? Did you slowly exhale and drag out the movement to match? Try varying your inhale and exhale speeds to see what dynamic textures that you can create!

3. Turn off the inner voices. When I used to take tai chi, our first exercise was to sink the mind down into the mind-body, which resided somewhere in your gut. This is useful when practicing dance because there is nothing worse than trying to learn a new combination while thinking of the 20,000 things you need to do this afternoon! Or performing at an event, and suddenly wondering, do you think the audience is bored? The mind-body is not thinking of the past or the future. The mind-body is fully engaged in the present and itself. It senses where you are and what each part of you is doing.

To put this into dance practice, when your mind starts to wander or you hear the critical voices, sink that mind down into your gut through a downward movement…perhaps a long series of slow and purposeful hip drops, down, down, down. Turn inward with your focus. Internal, stationary movements and isolations linked with our breathing can help to bring the focus back into the moment. Close your eyes. Let your movements build from one another, growing and traveling to other parts of your body. Flow like water from one movement to the next.

And with those helpful hints, I will leave you with the words of the late Bruce Lee.

Empty your mind, be formless. shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.–Bruce Lee

And if you enjoyed this post or have any questions, please feel free to contact me!


ARM-ed and Dangerous!

Arm-ed and Dangerous!

Arms. Yes, this post is about ARMS! And not just anyone’s arms, but dancer’s arms; and not just any dancer’s arms, but a dancer with elegant arms and carriage.

Bellydance, at its core (there is a pun there, do you see it?) tends to focus on the abdominal and hips. The upper body plays an important part as well, but mainly in the torso region with its accents. Arms are usually the leftovers…the forgotten, last-minute addition to the dinner table…let’s just squeeze them in at the corner of the table between Batty Aunt Mathilda and Crazy Cousin James.

When I find myself captivated by a dancer, I often try to analyze what it is exactly that has me mesmerised by him or her. Sometimes it is the wowee zowee killer moves, but more often than not, it is the arm patterns, extensions, and positions. The arms move naturally and gracefully accent the body line and position. The arms seem to enhance and draw your eye right at the exact moment to right where you should be looking!imagesCA2E6G4W


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And yes, I am often amazed to meet some of my idols in person to find that they are shorter than me but seem to be 10′ tall on stage! Why? Because these dancers extend through their arms all the way out their fingertips thus giving them the illusion of height!

Needless to say, arms are something I have been practicing of late. I videotape my practices these days. I also rewatch videos of past performances. I can always tell when I was most nervous or tired or unenthusiastic by the position of my arms. They slowly creep in towards my body into the dreaded chicken wing formation. I am now more aware of my tendency and with training and patience and attention to detail, arm mastery is my next task! I work on this in my classes right now. Want to join me this Saturday from 10-11am? We can all be ARM-ed and dangerous!

Here are a few of my favorite dancers who possess that al-ARM-ingly elegant dancing:

I always love watching Sandra’s elegant dancing. Her carriage is lovely and her arms are fantastic!

The stunning Bozenka and her graceful, yet powerful flamenco inspired arms!

So whose ARMS are you hanging on? 😉

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