Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why I Love Belly Dance

Whether you love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Our national day of love filled with flowers, chocolates, sentimental cards. and candle-light dinners. But as we all know, love is certainly broader than just the romantic type. Which made me think about what else I love in my life; my family and friends, Menchie's frozen yogurt, sleeping in, picnics, international travel, sequin high heels, creativity, living in Queen Anne, popsicles, sitting by the water, and of course, belly dance. Let me share with you the reasons why I love belly dance so much.

Belly dance rescued me. When I signed up for my first belly dancing class, I was going through a very hard time personally. I had been hurt very deeply by someone close to me: my heart was broken and I felt like everything I'd believed about that person had been a lie. I was so physically and emotionally drained in fact that I couldn't even get myself off the couch to go to the first class. However, the instructor called me the next day, said there were still spots open and encouraged me to come the following week. Despite having worried myself literally sick before class, I managed to pull it together and go. And I will never regret that decision. Being in class gave me the time and space to turn my thoughts off and just focus on my movements. I came to look forward to class each week as my time to tune everything out and just be present. It was my time to heal. To this day, I can't imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't made it to that second week of class.

Belly dance comes with costumes! I as the type of little girl who ran around in tutus and princess costumes, my love of dress-up has certainly not faded with age. I don't know what other job or hobby allows a grown woman to dress up in sequins, crystals, and chiffon on days that aren't Halloween without been seen as completely loony. My wallet may feel differently, but I will forever remain a complete sucker for a beautiful outfit.

Belly dance is a good workout. I cringe at the thought of getting on the treadmill. I watch each second slowly tick by and hope to just fast forward to the end. But dancing is different. I can lose myself for hours in a belly dance workout, as I hone my technique and create my art. I get my workout in without even knowing it.

Belly dance has boosted my confidence. It takes guts to stand in front of a group of people, in what is at times nothing more than a glorified swimsuit, and perform. Especially for an introvert like myself. But challenging myself to do so, to push myself even my palms are sweating and my stomach is in my throat has empowered me. That empowerment and confidence has seeped over into other areas of my life and has helped me be brave in countless other settings.

Belly dance has given me purpose. A few years out of college I hit my quarterlife crisis: I graduated from college magna cum laude, scored a professional job, passed the CPA exam (yup, that's my day job), bought a car, got a boyfriend, and was living my grown-up life. But all I could think is what now? I'm here, following the traditional steps of the American dream, but all my passion for life has died. As I was learning belly dance, my passion reignited. I had technique to perfect, cultures to learn, choreography to memorize, costumes to buy, performances to watch, workshops to attend, and a new community to meet. It brought joy to my life. And now as a teacher, I get the wonderful privilege of being able to share that joy with others. I get to see women's faces lite up with smiles as they challenge themselves in new ways. I get to hear students laugh and say that was the funnest thing they've done in a long time. And I'm deeply honored to be sharing this experience with them.

What do you love? What makes you smile and laugh out loud? What gives you the happy wiggles and makes you want to shout from the rooftops? February is the month to embrace it. Share your love below.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pick a Theme For the New Year

Beginning a few years back, I started picking a theme for my new year and letting my resolutions and goals for the new year stem organically from that theme. Let me just say, I love starting my new year this way - with an overarching idea of how I want my new year to look and feel. But before I share my theme for 2011, let me take a moment to reflect on 2010.
My theme for 2010 was "Fortune Favors the Bold", with the emphasis really being on boldness - on knowing what you want and going for it with gusto. Ignoring the naysayers and shaping my life to my own terms. With boldness in mind, here's what I managed to accomplish during 2010:
  1. I spent a month in Greece, split between Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, and Lesvos.
  2. I attended a belly dance retreat and received my teaching certification.
  3. I participated in two belly dance competitions.
  4. I interviewed with LA Fitness and was hired on the spot.
  5. I asked for a raise, with positive response.
  6. I auditioned for Fresh Fitness and Dance in Wallingford, and starting in January I will be one of the studio's instructors.
  7. I officially organized my belly dancing activities into a viable business, including obtaining my business license.
  8. I designed and launched my website.
Whew! And this was all while I worked my normal 40+ hours per week day job, dealt with multiple car accidents, assisted with caring for a sick family member, and all the other nuances of daily life. It was a busy year!
Which is what is inspiring my theme for the 2011. As 2010 was so much about doing and accomplishing, 2011 is going to be about relaxing and enjoying life. Less doing, more being. I hereby officially announce my theme for 2011 to be "Celebrate and Sparkle"! Here's what a year dedicated to "Celebrate and Sparkle" looks like for me:

1. Wear more sequins - because they are fun and sparkle (duh). As a belly dancer, I think it's a prerequisite that you have a fascination with sequins. For me, this is really about dressing authentically and using style to express my individuality on a daily basis. In honor of this, I just bought this dress from Asos!

2. Buy more lingerie - because it's frivolous, feminine, and flirty. This is a natural extension for a year that is about indulgence.

3. Dance with abandon - this year I want to take my performances to the next level. I want to allow myself to be vulnerable and to exhibit my heartfelt joy during each performance. My goal is to really connect with my audience and make them forget they are sitting in their seats.

4. Get a monthly facial and massage - because self-care is important and it's vital to take the time out from busy schedules to nurture, relax, and rejuvenate.

5. Travel to England - my heart aches when I'm not exploring new countries. England is the selected country for this year so that I can visit one of my best friends, explore the English countryside, traipse through medieval castles, marvel at the art and architecture, and linger over afternoon tea.
6. Get feather extensions - it's the latest trend in hair fashion and Seattle's local Swink salon is offering this service.

7. Indulge in fresh flowers - because it's important to stop and smell the roses, especially since we all spend so much time indoors and away from nature. Thus on a weekly basis, I'll be bringing nature in to meet me.

Ready to set your own theme for 2011? Here's a couple resources to get you going:
I wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year! May 2011 bring you abundance, blessings, and joy.

Curl Up With a Good Book

While dancing is my main outlet for expressing my creativity, I would have to say that reading is the main way in which I charge my creative batteries. Nothing inspires or uplifts like a well-written and carefully constructed dosage of the English language. For almost a decade now I have been keeping a journal of books I've read. Looking back through the pages of my journals reminds me of the many journeys, adventures, and eye opening moments I've been on through my arm chair explorations. So if you need a good book to curl up with during these cold winter nights, here are a few of my recommendations pulled from my 2003 to 2010 journal:
  1. Eat Mangoes Naked by SARK: "You must live deeply all of your precious moments". This statement gives me chills. It resonates in very being. So simple, but so true. How many precious moments have I lost to stress and rushing and worries. The entire book is a reminder to slow-down and enjoy the little things.
  2. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: This is literature at its finest. Deep vivid characters flowing through a seamless plot wrapped in  language smooth as silk. Divine.
  3. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling: I don't think this one needs any explanation.
  4. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle: Leave behind your analytical mind and connect with your Being. Breathe. Be still. Let go.
  5. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett: An epic of the middle-ages. The strength of the main female character will pull you in and keep you hungering for more.
  6. The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coehlo: My favorite quote from the book - "I've accepted the blows that life has dealt me, and sometimes I feel as cold and indifferent as the water that inflicts such pain on the steel. But my one prayer is this: "Please God, my Mother, don't give up until I've taken on the shape that you wish for me. Do this by whatever means you think best, for as long as you like, but never throw me on the scrap heap of souls."" I read this and the beauty of it sticks thick in my throat.
  7. Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: The author's command of words and descriptions, bending them to her every whim and expression, is amazing. This book is depth and brightness, fluidity and motion.
  8. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: This story is an example of the amazing quality of the human spirit to rise up, to hope, and to love, even under immense suffering and unspeakable hardship. You will be grateful for what you have in your life. You will cry.
  9. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: Been thinking about doing something extraordinary? Something adventurous? Let this book be the fuel for your fire.
  10. The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory: I think just about everyone has either read or seen Gregory's story The Other Boleyn Girl by now. But this lesser known one is, in my opinion, the better of the two.
  11. The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer: Okay, I admit it, the writing is not that great on this one and there's a certain cheese factor, but for a juicy, easy-to-read pager-turner, look no further.
  12. Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan: Hands down one of the best writers of our time. This book is a study of human nature delivered only in a manner achievable by Tan.
All of these books are available on my Recommendations page. Happy reading!

Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude

With my stress levels careening out of control from too many obligations and not enough rest (sound familiar?), I'm feeling the need to pause and reflect. One's daily life is an ongoing spiritual journey and controlling one's state of mind is an ongoing spiritual practice. It's easy to always focus on what's wrong, what could be better, what's not living up to expectations, and what we wish was different. But countless studies have espoused the power of mind over matter and have found that people who are positive and cultivate an attitude of gratitude are much happier than those who do not.
In a conscientious effort to be one of those happy people, I've taken the time to create a list of what I'm grateful for right now and share it with you here:
  1. Belly dance - even when my mind is running a million miles a minute with my endless to do list, when I take the time out for a dance workout or workshop, I focus on the music and my movements and I become refreshingly present in the moment.
  2. My boyfriend - seeing me reaching my max stress level, my boyfriend showed up at my apartment today with Thai food, helped me clean my apartment, and drew a bath for me, all done on his own initiative!
  3. Cupcakes - with the recent explosion of cupcake bakeries (Cupcake Royale, Wink, Trophy, New York, to name a few), a personal-sized piece of creamy deliciousness is never far away. The mint chocolate chip one I had today was the perfect prescription for over-taxed nerves.
  4. My health and my home - sometimes in the busy bustle of the everyday, it's easy to take certain fundamentals for granted. But having a roof over my head and being of good physical health are priceless.
  5. True Blood - I recently watched all 12 hours of the second season in four days, and while not great literary writing or Emmy worthy, it was sinfully enjoyable down to the last drop.
What's on your gratitude list? I challenge you, however great or small, to formulate one item of gratitude per day. Include it in a prayer, post it below, say it aloud to yourself, share it with a loved one, shout it from your car window, update it on your Facebook page, or write it in a journal. May your month of November be a bounty of blessings!

Head Back to School

The air has turned crisp, the days are getting shorter, and pumpkin spice lattes are back on the menu at Starbucks. As the last few days of summer slip away, it becomes time to embrace autumn, which is synonymous with back to school. As a child, despite loving summer vacation with a passion, I also loved back to school to time, with its promise of new beginnings and shiny new school supplies. Alas, while my days of academia have passed, here are my tips for bringing the back to school spirit alive as an adult:
1. Break open a new box of crayons: There are few things as glorious as a brand-spankin' new box of crayons. A beckoning rainbow of unleashed creative potential. So why not relive the amazing-ness of that childhood memory with the adult version - a fresh new beauty look. Check out Sephora's Fall 2010 makeup trends, including deep plums and soft neutrals. And while you're at it, don't forget to clean your makeup brushes and toss out old items (anything over 18 months old) to make sure you're not swiping on bacteria and germs in the morning.
2. Organize your desk: Lately I cringe as I arrive at work in the morning, as my desk is strewn with papers, folders and random junk. I'll be using this changing of the season to throw out old paperwork (that includes the electronic junk on my computer as well), organize a better filing system, and add some personal touches to my office space to make it more reflective of my individual style. What does your desk need? Perhaps some greenery? An inspiring calendar? Framed mementos of your loved ones? J'adore Papaya's office supplies, which are currently on sale!

3. Register for fall sports: With the end of summer typically comes the return to a normal routine. What better time than to get back to a regular exercise program! While of course I recommend belly dance as a great way to burn calories and tone muscles, discover the type of exercise that excites you. Vinyasa yoga? Hoop dance? Pilates? Cardio striptease? Pure barre? Boot camp? No matter what it is, regular physical activity will sculpt your body, boost your energy levels, and reduce your stress.
4. Back to school shopping: Of course, the first image back to school shopping evokes is heading out to the mall and loading up bags full of this season's newest trends. However, if you're like me, you already have closets and draws full of clothing, half of which you don't wear. I challenge you to join in shopping your own closet. First step is to inventory what you have - get rid of anything you haven't worn in over two years, that is permanently stained, doesn't fit, or doesn't make you feel fabulous when you put it on. Second step is to start creating new styles and looks. Find a celebrity muse. Who oozes the style you crave? Gwen Stefani? Audrey Hepburn? Rihanna? Pair items you've never worn together before. Find inspiration in the glossies - Lucky, Vogue, and Glamour. Now strut your stuff!
5. Crack open a book: What says back to school more than books? Ahh, how I loved sustained silent reading and getting lost into a world of adventure and fantasy. Try scheduling at least an hour a week to spend quietly pouring over some enticing reading material. Can't think of anything? Here's a few suggestions:
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Tranquilista: Mastering the Art of Enlightened Work and Mindful Play by Kimberly Wilson
  • Life Is A Verb: 37 Days To Wakup, Be Mindful and Live Intentionally by Patti Digh
  • The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coehlo
All of these titles are available on the Recommendations page of my website.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Never Too Old

I recently had the honor of studying with Mahmoud Reda. If you don't know who Mahmoud Reda is, and probably about 99.9% of Americans do not, he is the Godfather of dance in Egypt. Comparable to Gene Kelley, Fred Astaire, or Ballachine, he has been a pioneer of dance in Egypt and across the globe.

In 1959, Mahmoud Reda founded the world renowned Reda Troupe, and by the mid 60s, the troupe had over 150 members, including dancers, musicians and technicians. He has choreographed over 300 dances, and has starred in a number of musicals and movies. Together with his troupe, he has traveled to more than 60 countries, performing in prestigous theaters such as the Royal Albert Hall in London, The Olympia in Paris, and Carnegie Hall in New York. CNN has a short editorial and some great pictures of Mr. Reda, including my favorite one of him leaping across the Karnak Temple in a 1965 Egyptian movie.

Given that 2009, marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of his troupe, one dancer asked Mr. Reda during the workshop how he can remember all of the choreographies he's created. To answer, this icon of dance reached into his pocket and pulled out his iPhone, loaded with videoclips of his routines. So yes, there's an app for that!

Soft-spoken and moving with a slight shuffle, Mahmoud Reda is now 80 years old. And while his physical ability has declined, the effect of being in his presence has not. There is something awe-inspiring about being near him, a sentiment echoed by all the participants in the weekend workshop. While Mr. Reda is hardly able to do a hip lift, a day spent under his tutelage is priceless. After drilling traveling steps, we learned his Khan Il Khalili choreography, a dance depicting the hustle and bustle of Cairo's oldest market. And despite my completely botching his choreography, I was transported back across time and space, to a golden era of dance, filled with the smells of exotic spices, the cries of Arabic merchants, the twinkling of fluttering silks, punctuated by the low-braying of camels, and highlighted with the silhouette of the pyramids in the background. And I am forever changed as a dancer.

Which made me think, if at 80 years old, Mr. Reda can still travel the world and inspire dancers across continents, you are really never too old - never too old to have that adventure, pursue your passion, or follow your calling. If you were to let go of that excuse that you are too old, too poor, too married, too mortaged, too tired, too fat, too untalented, too insert-your-adjective here, what could you accomplish? I challenge you, find one thing you can do this week, this day, this very minute to start living your dream. You are never too old.