Be kind. Be accountable. Be present.

Be kind.  Be accountable. Be present.

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These are my three hopes, dreams and aspirations for the New Year. 2018 was amazing…so much incredible design work that I took part in at my office, Studio for Spatial Practice, and so many memorable dance experiences…

  • New students in our Art in Motion family, teaching dynamic children and adults both at the studio and at Point Park.
  • Dance performances throughout the year including beautiful weddings, enriching cultural festivals, and both the Silk Screen and PSO galas.
  • Dancing with my studio partner and friend Luciana on more than one occasion!
  • Dancing with my talented Troupe Taraatha ❤️ and my great friend Jemeena!
  • Dancing with my daughter and seeing her unbridled love for dance!

With all of these wonderful experiences, I think I left myself a bit ungrounded and unable to be fully present in the moment..unfair to myself and others.

In 2019, I want to try my best to speak with compassion, to teach with patience and love, and to work fully grounded in the moment!

What are your hopes and dreams for the new year? Whatever they may be, I wish you peace, love and light in 2019!

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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.

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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

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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!

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!

 

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.

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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?

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Why Bellydance?

Why Bellydance?

That is a question I am asked all the time. It can mean “why of all dance forms, did you choose bellydance?” Sometimes, the question is asked as a means of convincing the questioner that it is worth his or her time to try out a few new lessons.

While I can point to scientific data or health related articles that tout the benefits of the dance, I would rather share with you my own story and happening upon this art form.

In 2002, I and a dear friend of mine decided to try bellydance at the Dance Alloy, partly out of curiosity, partly as a way to have some fun in the cold winter, and perhaps a small part of us wanted a new exercise to augment our running. Our first class with Roxelanna was all that we had hoped it would be: full of danceable music, drills and conditioning exercises, excellent movement breakdown, and just a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Being the self-conscious woman that I was (and perhaps still am), I scanned the room at the beginning of class, and was happy to note that all shapes, sizes, and ages were well represented there.

I must admit that at that time, I wore a full t-shirt, almost baggy with yoga pants when taking class. The fear of exposure, the lack of confidence in myself and my form, and my rather dismal body image did prevent me from fully concentrating and enjoying our class. I even think at that point seeing my bare feet was slightly shocking, but I stuck it out. I enjoyed the dance tremendously and it brought me such joy. It was always a chance to step outside of myself and to be expressive in a feminine way…something that I rarely could do in my day to day work.

The years passed and my confidence in myself and my body image grew. I finally realized, while not model perfect or reminiscent of what I saw in magazines, my shape was beautiful in its own way. I thought it became more and more beautiful as I trained my body in the dance. Evey time I conquered a new move or mastered a combination, I felt more feminine, more joyful, and stronger.

After 6 years or so, I began to teach and to perform professionally. I continued my own study with Mirjana (my second teacher and long term role model), and augmented with travel outside of town to find master teachers. To this day, I travel to workshops, intensives, retreats, and private lessons to continue honing my skills and simultaneously my confidence. I also use it to stay in shape.

But why did I want to perform bellydance?  I know now and perhaps always knew that I perform for one main reason: to bring joy to people’s lives. Bellydance is a joyful dance. Bellydance is a welcoming dance, accepting to all ages, sizes, and shapes. Bellydance is beautiful and  often brings out a beauty in the dancer that she did not know existed.

And now after a decade of bellydance, as I augment my studies with other dance forms, I still look at bellydance and see joy, strength, and beauty. I work now to bring those to you, the audience, the student, and the sister so that in dancing you too can discover your inner strength and confidence.