Monday, August 1, 2016

Adventures with Aziza

Last month I had the opportunity to attend Aziza's Dreamcamp in Montreal, Canada. The camp was taught by, of course, Aziza, in conjunction with the lovely Mercedes Nieto. In the one week duration of the camp, I felt everything from amazement and joy, to irritation and overwhelm, and back again. In case you've ever wondered what attending Dream Camp is like and whether or not it's the right choice for your dance journey, here's a summary of my experience and takeaways.

The Accommodation
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: despite being called Dreamcamp, it's not camping. There's no tents or outdoor wilderness skills needed. There's no roughing it involved, unless you consider sharing a bedroom and/or a bathroom to be roughing it. The new location as of this year is at Le Couvent, which is about one hour from the Montreal airport. The rooms, dance studio, and dining area are all housed inside one building, meaning you don't even have to go outside unless you want to. All your bedding and linens are provided. The building is near a lake, which was perfect for peaceful morning walks, albeit high levels of mosquito activity. There was also a pool onsite as well, which made for great cool-down dips after classes.

Lake Raymond, the backdrop for Dreamcamp

The room sizes varied from single to quadruple occupancy, and thus the sleeping arrangements varied by the same degrees. I was originally assigned to a triple, but after the first night in which one of my roommate's cell phones pinged all night, capped off with a very early morning phone call (thus the irritation part of the camp), I inquired if I could be moved to a single room and was able to claim the last single room available. The bathrooms were shared, with a toilet, sink, and two showers at the end of each wing.

A shared dormitory room at Dreamcamp

The diet for the week was all vegetarian. At first I was a bit skeptical about this, as I usually eat predominately paleo, but the food was surprisingly good and the chef was able to accommodate my food allergy for the most part. I think my favorite meal of the week was a very tasty Indian-inspired dinner. Oh, and I better not forget to mention that there was wine each night with dinner.

Dreamcamp wine, served nightly

The Activities
A typical day at Dreamcamp went something like this: optional morning workout, breakfast, two and a half hours of dance instruction, lunch, three to four more hours of dance instruction, fun activity or break, dinner, and final fun activity or free time.

The first couple days of dance classes focused more on technique, exercises, and drills, and then quickly turned into learning choreography by mid-week. I enjoyed the technique classes the most, as this is where I find the most long-term benefit to my dance. In terms of takeaways for later use, it's these type of classes that always leave the biggest impression on me.

Aziza and Mercedes each taught a separate choreography of a little over four minutes each. Both choreographies were beautiful and unique. It was interesting to contrast the drastically different styles of the two teachers. Merecedes' choreography was very challenging (thus where the overwhelm came in), and I felt like I struggled to keep up. But at the same time, the exposure to movement sequencing that was outside of the normal belly dance box was refreshing. However, with choreography, I always feel that after it's done, it's something I won't ever revisit and thus not as helpful to me. So for me personally, I could have done with a bit less choreography.

Inside the dance studio at Dreamcamp

The fun activities really ran the gamut. One day we had belly dance Olympics, in which we were separated into teams and competed against each other for Dreamcamp glory in events like water bowl balancing and pantyhose potato racing. There was also a movie night and game night.

Waterbowl balancing, an event at the Dreamcamp Olympics

The week culminated in a hafla. It was really fun to see everyone get snazzy after a week of sweating it out in class, and it was very magical to see each performer shine in her own music choice and performance style.

Alessandra performing at the Dreamcamp halfa

And then the after party. What do dancers do after dancing for a week straight? They dance some more of course! The dancing encompassed quite a few more bottles of wine and wasn't even deterred by a power outage. I lasted until about 1:30am, but I hear a contingent made it until 3:00am and even went for a late night swim in the lake.

The Advisors

The Dreamcamp instructors, Mercedes Nieto and Aziza

From the moment I arrived and she embraced me in a big hug, Aziza made me feel comfortable and welcome. I think she has one of those personalities that just puts people at ease. She was friendly, down-to-earth, and didn't take herself to seriously. What does doesn't take herself too seriously mean? Well for example, one day for our morning workout, undeterred by funny looks from passing bikers, we did prancerise along the lake path.

But all fun and games aside, Aziza is unquestionably a talented and gifted dancer. Her strong technique and magnetic stage presence left me scrutinizing her movements and gobbling up her feedback. Her teaching manner was encouraging and made me feel as a student that it was okay to just put it out there, not be intimidated, and not worry about making "mistakes".

And I really only have one word for Mercedes: Wow. Just wow. I've never really seen or experienced anything like it before. Her level of musicality was off the charts and her style was completely and definitely all her own. I've not even sure how to describe. I think it's just something you will have to experience for yourself. If you ever have the chance to study with her, by all means, do it.

The Final Analysis
All in all, I really enjoyed my time at Dreamcamp. I felt challenged by the classes. I felt blown away by the instructors. And I felt inspired by my fellow campers

Thus I would say, if you have been considering going, I would say do it! As Aziza would say, seize your opportunity to be "undeniable"!

P.S. If you are considering attending, keep in mind that spots fill up fast. I signed up about a year and a half in advance. However, looking at the website today, I see that there are still spots available for summer of 2017. And next years guest instructors include the world-famous Sadie and Shahrzad!

The Dreamcamp instructors, staff, and students

Photo Credits: Eric Perreault

Friday, July 8, 2016

Harness Your Activation Energy

Last month I wrote a post on The Power of Positivity, as based on the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. I think this book is so hands-down amazing that I also want to use this month's post to share another powerful tidbit from it.

This month's post is centered around the concept of chapter six, "The 20-Second Rule", which is all about how to harness the power of activation energy to change your habits.

When trying to change a habit, whether it's creating a new good habit or ceasing a bad one, most of us default to trying to use our willpower. We say we'll eat more vegetables, exercise twice as much, drill our zills at every practice, or stick to a budget. And how will we do that? Um, well, by just willing ourselves to do it. Right. And how's that working for you? If it's anything like me, not very well. And while that approach may work for a short time, it will hardly ever work for the long-term. That's because the more you use your willpower, the more worn-out it gets. It's not a limitless supply, so your stores get depleted and before you know it, you run out. That's why so many New Year's resolutions are broken by February.

The effective way to change a habit, is to forget about willpower and instead use the power of activation energy. Cue super hero music. Activation energy is about the path of least resistance. Activation energy is about making it easy. Hallelujuah. It's inherent human nature that the easier something is, the more likely it is that we are going to do it. Conversely, the more energy it takes to do something, the less likely we are to muster the energy to make it happen.  I think the easiest way to quickly grasp the concept is with an illustration.

Say my goal is to practice my zills every evening. However, I keep my zills stored in a basket in the back of my closet, so each evening I have to go scrounge around in the basket to find them. Then once I have them, I realize my practice area is not big enough, so I have to move my coffee table out of the way so I have room to move around. When the space is finally big enough, I realize that I'm not sure what exactly to practice, so I decide I have to dig out a zills video and pop it into the DVD player. So by the time I actually start to play, I've already expended some 10+ minutes worth of energy getting setup without having even started on the goal itself. How likely am I to go through this lengthy process each evening? Not very. However, if my zills are sitting out, my practice area is clear, and my DVD is already in the player and I can just hit play and begin, I'm much more likely to actually practice my zills.

Make sense?

The power of activation energy can also be used to help stop negative habits as well. Say for example, I want to spend less time on social media. If I do the one simple step of uninstalling my social media apps from my phone, I've made it one step harder for me to get onto social media, and thus less likely more me to lose hours on Instagram or Pinterest, because now it takes more activation energy for me to do so.

So simple, but so genius! I highly recommend you read the whole book to get the detailed information on activation energy, as well as the other positive psychology topics covered in the book.

As always, I like to bring it back to the dance focus, so I'll throw out a couple ideas of how the power of activation energy could potentially be used to further your dance practice:
  • Leave your zills or other props out so that they can easily be picked up and used. Out somewhere that's in front of a mirror is even better. Putting them where you usually put your TV remote or computer mouse, while the remote or mouse goes to the top of a tall shelf is the best.
  • Keep your practice area clear of furniture, clutter, and other impediments to movement.
  • Keep your practice DVD in the DVD player.
  • Sign up and pre-pay for a class series. It takes energy to decide to go to class each week. If you make the decision once, then you don't have to use energy to re-make the decision each week. 
  • If working on a costume, leave the costume and all your sewing supplies out on a table.
  • Buy a tripod for your phone or video camera, figure out a good recording angle and height at the edge of your practice area, and leave it there so you can pop your device on it and press record at any point in time so you can get instant video feedback.
  • If you aren't practicing because you're watching TV or spending time on the Internet, figure out what will make it harder for you to do those activities. Take the batteries out of the TV remote and put them in another room. Or get the Self Control app which will lock you out of social media after the time period you tell it. 
  • Have all your belly dance related music in one folder, playlist, or organized system so you can easily locate it and hit the play button.
  • Bookmark or utilize your other preferred online tagging method to store your favorite websites, videos, or other online resources for easy access, rather than trying to Google them again later.
  • If trying to read a dance related book or magazine, leave the book out on your coffee table or next to your bed.
Those are just a few ideas. You know you best, so brainstorm what works best for you. Think easy. Think path of least resistance and watch yourself start to develop new habits. Power activated!