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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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!

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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? 😉

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?

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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.