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!

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

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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.

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!

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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? 😉

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!

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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.

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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.