Dancing while pregnant…

The last 28 weeks have been interesting I must say. While I can not wait to meet the little one I am toting around, I have found my pregnancy challenging in so many ways.

I work full time, teach weekly dance classes as well as take them, run the Pittsburgh Bellydance Festival, and had been performing until a couple of weeks ago. Slowing down has never been in my vocabulary. And now? Yes, now I realize, I can not keep up like I used too, and it is incredibly hard, mentally, to accept.

11751815_10152885745137105_3916594269955716433_n
Dancing at the Silk Screen Gala at 14 weeks

Some of the immediate challenges that I have encountered include compromised balance, unexpected aches, pains and nausea, less trust in my body awareness, and a harder time breathing through my dance. I have had to adapt my teaching style to make sure I am not injuring myself while still making sure my students are getting the most out of classes.

More challenges? Costumes stopped fitting after only a few months even when barely showing. I am no longer able to use an intense workout as a way to relieve built up stress. I find this one actually the most difficult challenge to deal with and have yet to find a remedy that suits me.

Even more challenges?!?! Feeling extremely depressed and alone to have to sit it out on the sidelines even if I feel up to dancing. And perhaps, I think people are a little aghast and afraid to see a pregnant woman dance at times. Who knows…the maybe may pop out on our next hip bump? lol

12091208_10153046608427105_6999136302176692639_o
22 weeks pregnant, costumes stretching

Now after all of this complaining, one might ask, so what have you learned? Is there anything at all you can reflect positively on during this time? Yes, yes, there is. I decided to study baladi progressions again and am beginning to deeply root and ground myself into the dance. I have been exploring a variety of transitions and arm positions and instilling stillness in my dance, and stillness is a lesson I definitely need to learn.

I hope to be able to continue learning this lesson of patience as well. Truthfully, what is the hurry in life? I will be back in my costumes after a while. I will be able to dance full speed again soon. I will be able to resume my intense workouts to clear my head. I will be able to add back in my arabesques, samba jumps and leaps in no time, however how often do you have the chance to dance for two? How often can you force yourself to truly tackle the type of dance that you typically avoid? When do you take the time to sit in a pose or to work a move slowly, slowly, slowly? Not often! So here I am trying to embrace the remaining weeks and enjoy my latest phase of dance. I hope all of you can do the same!

Beginning ATS with Jenn Senn

We are excited to announce a new addition to the Pittsburgh Bellydance Academy’s instructors and curriculum! Starting this Thursday we will be  featuring

10365997_10152447832694513_5745783830414689290_nBeginning ATS® with Jenn Senn – Thursdays, 6:00-7:00 pm

American Tribal Style or ATS® Belly dance is an improvisational form of bellydance that focuses on a community or a tribe of dancers of all shapes, sizes or age versus the soloist. The dance is created “in the moment” by a group of dancers. Level One ATS® will focus on beginner basic move vocabulary, the concept of lead and follow in a group, drills and an introduction to zills (finger cymbals). Class format follows the Fat Chance format. Wear comfortable clothing or your fancy 10 yard plus skirt. Zills if you have them!

Classes are $15 drop in or a class card at 10 for $100

73192_10152000500763725_601857199_n

Dancing, judging and performing

I just returned from an amazing weekend in Delaware at Jewels of the Orient, Jewels of the Orient 2014one of our sister festivals with Pittsburgh Bellydance Festival and Competition. I was honored to be asked to judge the competition categories and to be part of the Sugar and Ice Gala Show.

All of the competitors did an amazing job, especially the ones who entered multiple categories. Jewel of the Orient 2014 winnersThe winner of the professional oriental category will actually be on of our featured teachers this November in the Pittsburgh Festival. Katrina, our winner, is from Washington DC and is even now off to Egypt to study and we hope, fingers crossed, to bring back some juicy new moves for us!

I was extremely fortunate to take a 3 hour intensive with Asmahan, one of my new bellydance heroes. We not only learned an entire demanding chroreography, which yes, to my students, we will be learning, but also had time to go through segment by segment to clean it up.

Later in the weekend, I had the honor to take a class with Yasmina Ramzy of Toronto. I thoroughly enjoyed her eloquence in her instruction. Looking around the room, i realized most dancers were teachers and she really catered to our thirst for knowledge in the minutiae.

I was even happy with my performance! I performed double veil to a George Abdo cifti followed by a small part of our HipCurve inspired drum solo. If you are in the Burgh, you should stop by my classes as we are working our way through the entire drum solo right now, and wow, it is demanding!

My partner in crime was the ever lovely Amartia of Maryland! She performed her very own version of a traditional greek dance with a bit of bellydance surprise added in. She is  also a dear friend and a featured lecturer at this year’ festival!

Anyways, next year, I highly recommend this event! I enjoyed every moment! Thanks to Nefertiti and Lorelei for offering such a quality festival!

Moving on…

It’s been awhile since I posted as just myself. I am in the midst of clearing out my desk at my job of 13 years and am preparing to move on to a new stage of my life, working with friends of mine who happen to be exceptional designers. I am excited to begin, feeling nostalgic of my time here, and full of joy for what lies ahead.

1377003_10151637707782105_1950850622_nI am trying to create a new mindset for this new beginning and ran across these 10 rules of advice from painter Richard Diebenkorn. I love everyone of them and think they are appropriate to everyone, not just designers or dancers!

Notes to myself on beginning a painting

  1. attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
  2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued — except as a stimulus for further moves.
  3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.
  4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
  5. Dont “discover” a subject — of any kind.
  6. Somehow don’t be bored — but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
  7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
  8. Keep thinking about Polyanna.
  9. Tolerate chaos.
  10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

STRENGTH-en your dance!

I recently had a birthday and in the weeks leading up to the event, I began my routine moping, grumbling, and introspection of turning a year older and wondering what I have done with myself. In truth, it has been a miraculous year: my husband survived a major car accident, I illustrated my brother’s book, I have begun our Pittsburgh Bellydance Academy with a great group of instructors at a gorgeous studio, and begun my own L. Architecture website. (I also adopted another cat 🙂

My cats...watching me workout
My cats…watching me workout

Life is great, and I want to make it better! I have started a strengthening routine for myself to increase my dance performance and aptitude. Everything is easier when you are stronger.  I have started taking samba classes again and the warm up alone kicks my behind! And now the ballet classes have been added back to our studio…I highly recommend them!

I also have been trying out Ballet Beautiful streaming workouts online. They are geared to people like me who literally have 15 minutes here or there to spare. They are inexpensive and you can use them everywhere. I even took them to the beach with me! I have noticed a difference in my problem areas especially. I warn you, the first 30 seconds will HURT…BAD BAD BAD! But just stop, take a sip of water, and pick back up when you are ready.

Ballet Beautiful mat workout
Ballet Beautiful mat workout

I have even begun to bring some of the simple BB ab workout exercises to my Saturday Class! We laugh through it because it is hard but the benefits are immense!

My last STRENGTH-ening task was related to diet. What a nasty word…I know, but I needed to just evaluate what I was putting into my system. I started using the MyFitnessPal app to track what I was eating and how much. (I also track my exercise.) As it turns out, I eat pretty healthy. HOWEVER, my portion size had doubled in the last few years!  I think this will always be a problem with American portion sizes until we have a food revolution, so it is important to know what is a realistically sized meal.

Janim dances with veils!So now armed with an awareness of my intake, a new level of strength, and a  positive reflection on the last year, I feel ready to boldly go forward into this year!

 

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 now..is 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

ARMS! ARMS! ARMS!

image006  LaLuna_newest_image Whirlwind_7_text

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? 😉

Change your dance. Change your life!

Everyone needs a mentor. We all need someone to guide us and help us realize what our fullest potential is with the added comfort of knowing that our mentor is sincerely interested in our personal development and success.

For almost a year now, I have been mentoring with Lisa Zahiya, bellydancer extraordinaire from Asheville, NC, and am so glad that I have! Last year, right around this time, I had my own classes, was hosting a myriad of events around town, and was an OK dancer. I was fluent in most props by now but perhaps clung to them a wee bit too desperately. On the outside, I knew that I was respected in my community, but I knew that I was not where I wanted to be in my dance career.

Enter Lisa! I hosted Lisa Zahiya last year for a series of workshops and a gala show. Her teaching style captured my attention and I knew that I wanted to try to create a class atmosphere like hers. Not to bore you with the details, but Lisa created homework for me that made me incredibly accountable to her and myself.

Lisa Zahiya teaches
Lisa Zahiya teaches

What kind of homework do you ask? Well, with my personal dance practice, at first, I had to drill my layers: hip rocks, with a hip movement overlayed with an arm path of my choice. Now take the same drill and use your obliques to initiate the hip rocks. Now add a chest movement in there. And so on, and so on. And I had homework for each of the areas of weakness I had identified. Hard stuff…but amazing. Even as I am typing this, I am looking over some of those first assignments and realizing I need to do them a bit more!

We reviewed videos of my performances and dance practices, we set goals both personal and with my business, and we checked in often to see how it was going. Lately, I have been assigned that very difficult task of dancing without props! Nooooooooo!!!!

Noooooo!!!! I need my props!
Noooooo!!!! I need my props!

But it is a good assignment, one that I need desperately and one that I am already working on and loving!

I can tell you this, the last piece of planning homework, my own personal Bellydance State of the Union, was an eye opener! Not only, I have I met my business goals already for 2013, but I can actually see a change in my dancing. More than myself seeing the change, others have told me the same, that my dancing has evolved. Needless to say, I am so very grateful and so very happy. It has been a lot of hard work, but it has been an enjoyable journey!

Janim dancing at a wedding 2012
Janim dancing at a wedding 2012

The even more amazing repercussion has been the change in myself when in my day job. I am a landscape architect by trade. I love what I do, but over the past year of mentoring, I have gained more confidence and joy in my work than I had before.

Questions to ponder

I love bellydancing. No, let me rephrase that…I really, really love bellydancing! I love teaching it, performing it, choreographing it, well, I think you get the idea! I was recently asked to elaborate just a bit on the above by answering a few questions about myself. So here we go!

IMG_4699
SHAZAM! Janim balancing a sword!

 

1. How long have you been dancing and why out of all dance forms did you choose bellydance? Excellent question! I have been bellydancing for over a decade. I have been performing and teaching for about 4 years now. I recently pursued my certification in the HipCurve Bellydance Program Level 1 (already registered for Level 2 in the summer!) to strengthen my instructional skills and feel ready to take on the next 10 years! I first chose bellydance because it looked exciting, and I was extremely curious! Needless to say, I fell in love with it instantly!

2. What are some of the benefits of bellydance? Empowerment, self confidence, a healthier body image to name a few. There are also physical benefits as this is a very accessible dance form that is typically low impact but gets you moving. I would love to mention though that it is simply F-U-N! How often do we get to do something  that is fun and totally for ourselves? Not often enough, I say, so for this one hour a week that you give to yourself in bellydance you can dance around and feel great about YOU!!!

3. What words of encouragement do you have for those who are curious about bellydance? Go for it!!! Try a class, try ten classes, and smile! If a move is hard, well, that is alright, smile, keep your body loose and relaxed and I guarantee within no time, you will find yourself in the move. Bring your friends to class. That is how I got started! My friend and I strolled on in and always had a giggle watching each other try to learn to shimmy or play our finger cymbals.

Janim dancing at a wedding 2012
Janim dancing at a wedding 2012

4.What IS bellydance? I think this may be a difficult question to answer as many people have nefarious images conjured when bellydance is mentioned. Bellydance is a dance form that originated in the womens’ tents. Women danced for each other to pass the time. (Even today, go out on a dance floor and watch the women dance around each other in a circle…LOL). I have a small suspicion that we woman in the west are not as comfortable with our bodies as we think, and  perhaps we feel awkward with enlarged hip movements, shimmies, and  the costuming that exposes are beautiful middles. But we should remember that bellydance makes everyone look beautiful since these are moves that flow with our form, that emanate from the inside to the out.

Bellydance State of the Union

Last night, I had my mentoring call with the lovely Lisa Zahiya of Asheville, and it was suggested that it is about time for me to undertake a little Bellydancer State of the Union.

Over the last six months, Lisa has been helping me to establish my bellydance business as well as to develop a personal practice for myself. Most of the business goals I had established have been met, the personal practice goals are a wee bit lagging, but there has been improvement. I do tend to struggle with them, but she helps me understand how to break them down into manageable tasks.

Dancing cat
Goal 745: Teach cats bellydance entrance piece with veil. Too ambitious perhaps?

Breaking down goals into realistic and manageable tasks is such a positive motivator. It makes you realize that there is truly a path towards your goal.

OK! Now time to evaluate the event planning, the class teaching, and the performances, and the business development of the past few months. I created this spreadsheet below (looks boring, I know) so that I can track profits/ expenses, time spent, and emotional reactions to each of my activities.

BD SOTU

What we want to see is where is the most emotional benefit derived from as well as the most profit. I have a feeling that this chart, once entered and analyzed will lead me to drop something or other or to consolidate. Because if it isn’t fun and rewarding, then what is the point?

3r15cw