Monday, December 31, 2012

Thirty and Thriving

I'm going to take a bit of a break from belly dance this week and focus on goal-setting. If that's not your thing and you want to stop reading now, no sweat, just join me again in February, as I have a BIG interview currently in the works.

For those of you still reading, let's dig in!

I'm a big believer in goal-setting and I think the end of the year is the perfect season to buy out some time to reflect on how the last year went. It's a multi-day process for me that first starts out with reviewing and releasing the year that's just transpired.

Thirty and thriving. That was my theme for 2012. Each year I always pick a word or short phrase as my defining mantra for the year. For 2012, it was about starting out this new decade of my life with vibrance. Looking back, 2011 had been a year filled with external, measurable accomplishments.  In contrast, 2012 was about the internal. Sitting back and enjoying the culminating fruits of a number of years of hard work.

Reading through my goals I set in January 2012 compared to the actuality of the year, here are some highlights of how it all played out:

Professional & Personal Development - Twenty-twelve ended up being the year of certifications. I attended a week-long, Tamalyn Dallal belly dance retreat. A picture of me and the amazing group of ladies who attended the retreat is included above. At the end of the retreat, in addition to a wealth of new knowledge, I walked away with a new belly dance certification. I also got certified to scuba dive, which was a check off the bucket list. And finally, in pursuit of one of my life-long passion of holisitic health and wellness, I obtained my nutritionist certification.

Health - Speaking of nutrition, focusing on health was a big part of my year. I experimented with various eating regimes, including temporarily giving up alcohol and going gluten-free in the quest to improve my overall well-being and energy levels. In fact, my new year's resolution was to start a habit of actually taking a lunch break at work, which I now do more often than not. I also really focused on pushing myself in my workouts, which included making sure I competed in some type of athletic-based competition. In September, I ran the Athleta Iron Girl 5K and ended up finishing 44th of our 1,675 participants. Not too shabby for a non-runner! And probably most importantly, after having somewhat of a potential cancer scare from early diagnostics, I have been declared to be, at least currently, cancer-free.

Relationships - Being engaged, I had hoped to get married this year, but given a number of different factors, this has been postponed until next year. On the plus side, after waiting literally a year for the two bedroom apartment we wanted, it became available in December and we just moved in last weekend. I have to be honest and say I had some reservations about sharing my space after living alone for 7.5 years, but so far I'm just blissed out about it. Twenty-twelve was also a year for making some great new friendships, as well as reconnecting with old friends. Which I am so grateful for, as these really helped to fill some of the void left behind by severed family relationships stemming from religious differences. Most definitely a sad and low point for 2012 that required its own grieving process. But then sometimes true family isn't the family we are born into.

Finances - I knew that for 2012 I would have quite a bit of disposable income. And I also knew that in the near future I will have quite a few expenses (hello wedding and house down payment!), so I wanted to make sure that I was utilizing this reprieve from bills to stockpile for the future. In that light, I was able to save approximately 25% of my pay from my day job. I was also able to really grow my belly dancing business. My final numbers aren't quite in yet, but I'm projecting that I had a 190% increase in my belly dance revenue.

Vacation - The past three years have been big for vacations. Big as in Italy, Greece, and Egypt big. International travel wasn't in the cards this year, but instead I set the goal of going on a retreat. I ended up doing this in October when I attended a Kimberly Wilson yoga retreat in West Virginia, followed by a few days in NYC. For pictorial highlights, check out the blog post.

Overall, in going though this download, I'm feeling pretty content with 2012. The one goal that I had originally set out to accomplish that didn't occur, was write a book. In part because it was later replaced by the pursuit of my three new certifcations already discussed. So I'm at peace with that. But you better believe it's being recycled to 2013!

But enough about me. The point of sharing all of this publicly is hopefully to encourage readers to do their own goal review and planning. So your turn! How was 2012? What worked and what didn't? What are you ready to celebrate and what are you ready to shake off?

And stay tuned for the next post as I map out my 2013 goals. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tools to Increase Your Performance Confidence

One of the most important things a dancer can do while performing is be confident. By exuding confidence, a dancer projects to the audience that they can relax, be comfortable, and enjoy the show. However, being confident can be easier said than done. Even now, nerves will still get to me at times. Especially if I'm performing at a new venue or there are other unexpected curve balls, my confidence can start to dissipate. But the good news is, there are a few performance tools you can think about employing to fake your confidence even if you're not feeling it. And probably the biggest benefit, the more you use these tools, the more you will start to feel genuinely confident and comfortable in your dance. Before you know it, you won't even be faking it anymore.

1. Breathe - when we get nervous or excited we breathe much more shallowly. From my early days of performing I remember walking off the stage and being so out of breath because I had barely inhaled or exhaled throughout my entire performance. If you're not breathing normally during your performance, your audience might not be able to put their finger on what's wrong, but they will subconsciously feel that tension. So you have to breathe for your audience! By breathing deeply, you signal to yourself that you can relax and let the present moment envelop you. In turn, it will also signal to those watching that they can do the same.

2. Make Eye Contact - it's surprising how scary making eye contact can be during a performance. As a performer, you are already putting yourself in a position of vulnerability, and making eye contact is inviting in even more vulnerability. Who knows what type of judgment or opinion of our performance we might see reflected back at us? Regardless, making eye contact is one of the key ways to display our confidence. So if it doesn't feel natural, force yourself to do it. I have a bad habit of looking down when I start to get nervous, so I have to remind myself to look my audience in the eyes. It doesn't (and shouldn't) mean that you are staring someone in the face your entire performance, but play with your gaze. Make eye contact for a few seconds and then look away. Repeat on a different audience member. The more you practice, the more natural it will start to feel.

3. Change Your Facial Expression - dance is a conversation, and just like in a normal conversation, your facial expression should change as you express yourself. Imagine how you would feel talking with someone who either failed to make an expression or just had a stiff smile for the length of your conversation with them. It would be awkward and uncomfortable. If you do this to your audience while performing, they will feel the same way. So make sure your expression changes to match the nature of the music. When appropriate, smile naturally, which includes smiling with the eyes as well. And keep in mind that you don't have your mouth closed for the entire length of your performance. When we talk, we have to open our mouths. Same goes for a performance. If your lips are sealed the entire time, you're closing off the figurative dialogue between you and your audience.

4. Slow Down - we've all done it; when that nervous energy takes over we start to move faster and faster. We feel we have to remain in constant motion or we're going to loose our audience's attention. But a performance needs nuance and dimension. It needs both fast and slow, smooth and sharp. But if you're dancing like the energizer bunny, your audience will get tired with you. So take a deep breath in and slow down. Stopping completely can even add in great dramatic effect. Especially when you make your entrance, it's very important to remember to keep the speed down. When you first walk out onto the stage, your audience really just wants to look at you. They are trying to determine who you are. They want to see your costume, jewelry, hair, and makeup. So let them! And remember, you don't have to do every move you've ever learned each time you take the stage. Sometimes less is more!

5. Remember, Your Audience Wants You to Succeed - no one goes to a belly dance performance hoping to see the dancer fail. No one wants you to trip and fall, have a costume malfunction, drop your sword, or forget your choreography. They came to be entertained and have a good time. They came to be happy. Some of my favorite performances to watch were not because the dancer "wowed" me with her technique, but were when the dancer conveyed her joy to me. So stop worrying, relax, enjoy yourself, and your audience will too.

Photo Credit: Picture of Saida from

Monday, December 3, 2012

Best Belly Dance DVDs

A while back I wrote a post on making time to practice your dance. One easy way to do that is to pop in a DVD and follow along. However, there's a lot of belly dance DVDs on the market and it can be hard to sort through which ones are worth your money and time. Here's my top recommendations.

Best for the Brand New Belly Dancer: Belly Dance for Beginners by Leila
Perfect for the baby belly dancer, Leila does a good job of breaking down movements into manageable pieces and explaining the technique that provides the foundation of belly dance. Even for experienced dancers, it can be good to review these basics. Also, if you're looking to become a belly dance teacher, this DVD does a good job of illustrating how to explain basic moves simply and correctly.

Best for Intermediate Skill Development: Aziza's Ultimate Bellydance Practice Companion by Aziza
Once you have the basics down, be sure to practice with Aziza in this 80 minute DVD. Through drills and exercises that improve isolation, extension, and muscle coordination, you will take your dancing to the next level. This DVD also includes a section on arms and hands. And my favorite section is Aziza's famous 21-minute shimmy practice that will help you sustain a killer shimmy in no time at all. Bonus is that the DVD includes a couple live performances by Aziza, one of which is my all-time favorite drum solo.

Best for Learning Finger Cymbals: How to Become a Killer Ziller by Michelle Joyce
Real belly dancers play finger cymbals. But that's not to say that it's easy. Learning to coordinate playing a musical instrument while also performing complex dance moves is a challenge, but Michelle's DVD will help you find your groove. The DVD starts with breaking down basic rhythms and then drilling those rhythms. The DVD then goes onto add dance combinations in with the zill patterns.

Best for Perfecting Your Shimmy: Shake It Out by Sherena
The hip shimmy. Probably the most popular belly dance move of all time, and also one of the hardest to master. Perfect your shimmy with Sherena as she breaks down the basic technique and then moves onto challenging layering. There's a bonus 45 minute yoga practice also included.

Best for Honing Your Performance: Meaning in Movement by Alimah
You might not be able to put your finger on it, but you know it when you see it. When a dancer makes you forgot you're sitting in your seat. And it happens because the dancer is one with her music. She's not just checking movements off a list, but she is interpreting the meaning of the song. Becoming the physical manifestation of the music itself. That's what this DVD is all about. Adding meaning, feeling, depth, and nuance to your dance. Perfect for the advanced dancer who's mastered the technique and looking to really wow audiences. I would also say definitely a must for anyone looking to compete in a competition.

I would love to hear your DVD recommendations! What DVDs are in regular rotation at your house?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Secrets to Shiny, Healthy Hair

No matter if you're up on the stage or you're simply sitting on your couch, we all want our hair to look shiny and healthy. I get quite a few comments and questions on my hair. Everything from how do I get those big volume waves, to complete strangers asking me where I got my extensions done. (For the record, all the hair on my head is my own.) I've even had the person behind me in line at Starbucks decide to pet my hair. Based on this interest, plus some specific requests that I feature a post about my hair care, I've decide to divulge all my hair secrets.  Honestly, my hair really isn't that different from anyone else's. I have medium-thick wavy, brown hair. But over the years I've learned to care for it and found the right products for my hair type. Since we all have different hair types, what works for me obviously won't work for everyone, but hopefully you can find an idea or two to add to your own hair care routine.

Start From the Inside
Outer beauty starts on the inside. What you eat today literally becomes the components of your cells for tomorrow. Our food is the building blocks of our internal organs, bones, skin, and hair. So it's important to eat nutrient-dense, vibrant foods. I eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, especially salmon. And I limit wheat, dairy, and processed foods. I also take vitamins everyday. Stress, which so many of are under daily, can cause hair loss, as it leaches Vitamin B out of the body. Adding a supplement to your diet can be advantageous. The portion of my vitamin regime focused on hair is the Hair, Skin, and Nails multi-vitamin supplement made by Futurebiotics, which has a high concentration of B vitamins.

Hair Care
Even if you want to retain your long hair or are trying to grow yours out, regular trims are essential. If you don't get the dead ends cut off, you're compromising the health of your hair and ultimately slowing the growth of your hair. I get about three inches cut off every four months. I also always get layers cut in, especially around my face to add lift, texture, and body. I see Carly at Salon Divine, who is great with layers.

I try to limit washing to every other day, as too much shampooing can strip hair of its natural oils and shine. Not to mention it's just time-consuming! I alternate between using John Frieda Full Repair Shampoo and Conditioner and Therapy-G Antioxidant Shampoo and Conditioner. Overall, I like a very thick conditioner as my hair is prone to tangles and this also helps keep it hydrated. I do also color my hair with an all-over non-bleach color to add depth and dimension. I see Lori Hansen, who I highly recommend. And after my shower I always finish with Ojon Revitalizing Mist, which is a leave-in detangler. Before bed, I brush my dry hair from root to tip, which spreads oil from the scalp along the hair shaft and also stimulates growth in hair follicles.

Hair Styling
I highly recommend investing in an expensive hair dryer and brush. For a hair dryer, you want one that drys at a high heat, thus drying your hair faster, which limits the exposure time of your hair to damaging heat styling. I have a professional ionic tourmaline dryer made by Bespoke Labs. For my brush, I use 50-50 nylon and boar bristle brush by Mason Pearson. Yes, a Mason Pearson brush is a bit pricey, but it comes with a lifetime guarantee and it's an item you'll use every single day. In my opinion, it's worth every penny. Before blow drying, I spray the roots with Aveda Volumizing Tonic, which provides a noticeable volume lift. I also rub in a small amount of Aveda Smooth Infusion Style Prep Smoother, which protects against heat styling and helps smooth and soften hair. I turn my head upside down and I use my Pearson Mason brush as I blow dry to blow dry my hair out straight.

Once dry, I set my hair in hot rollers. I am a huge fan of hot rollers and they are my number one hair recommendation. They will give you big, bouncy curls, and can sit in your hair while you get ready.  And, as they aren't as hot as a curling iron, they aren't nearly as damaging to your hair. A Conair set from the drugstore works just fine. Look for ones that have a minimum of 3.5 inch rollers, while 4 inches is even better. I set my style with a liberal application of John Freida Frizz-Ease Hairspray.

A few final items I keep around are Ojon Shine & Protect Glossing Mist for days when my hair is looking a little dry. And on non-shampooing days if my roots are starting to look oily, I apply good old Johnson and Johnson baby powder. But be sure to rub it in well.

Hope you found these tips helpful!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Interview with Malia

The Introduction
Known for both her oriental and beledi styles, Malia is a dancer of many talents. She has gained recognition as an instructor, performer, and event producer and has been featured in several local, national, and international publications. As a producer, Malia's events have included the shows Saharan Soul and Hathor Unveiled. She is also a director of the troupe Bella Rosa. For more info about her performances, classes, shows, and troupes, visit her website.

The Interview
Taking advantage of Seattle Restaurant Week, Malia and I meet for our interview at the Stumbling Goat on Phinney Ridge. Settling in over buttery fish and crisp wine, our conversation takes off instantly. Our interview even concludes with what turns out to be a very accurate tarot reading done by Malia herself!

Alessandra: What belly dancers have been the most inspirational to you?
Malia: My favorite dancer is probably Mona Said. I can always remember her saying that dancers are not supposed to do anything that is not lady-like! I've also been greatly influenced by Mish Mish and Tamalyn Dallal, as well as Nadira who really took me under her wing as a mentor when I was making the transition from student to professional.

Alessandra: Your upcoming adventure is a trip to Egypt to study beledi. Given somewhat recent events in that country and throughout the Middle East, are you feeling any apprehension?
Malia: Yes! But I've been dancing for nine years now and have always loved folkloric, so I figure it's just time to go. It's time for me to spend time learning the culture, heart, and soul of this style that speaks to me.

AlessandraIn addition to being a dancer and producer, you're also the mother of two small children. How do manage to find the time for your dance? Any tips for the rest of us?
Malia: I'm still trying to figure that out. Time really goes in waves. There are periods where my dance is on the back burner, and then there are times where I'm just really into practicing, finding music, and costuming. My children will be little for such a short period of time, so that's who I need to focus on for now. I've told myself that belly dance will always be there, even if for now it's in the background. Originally, when my first child was born, I was worried about taking time off from dance, that I would lose where I was at and all I had worked for. But being a mother has been really essential in making me the dancer that I am. I'm also fortunate that I have an amazing husband who will take the kids when I need space to dance.
AlessandraHow has being a mother affected who you are as a dancer?
Malia: Before I was a mom, I was much more rigid in my ideas of what dance should be and had very stuck opinions. Seeing how completely different my two children are has helped me realize that we are all different people. Who you are and how you dance are very individualized and very personal. It has opened up a broader world for me. I can now watch a belly dance show and just love it for what it is. I can wonder at what they are going to do next and not care if it's "right" or "wrong". Overall, my perception of belly dance has shifted to being focused on the healing aspects of belly dance and realizing how much women need this dance in their lives.

Alessandra: Thinking back to your first solo performance, can you recall what it was and how you were feeling?
Malia: My first solo performance was at Delilah's studio as part of an aromatherapy class series. Being fond of pie, the aroma I selected was key lime pie, which I baked and brought with me. I danced to Shakira in a pink and green costume. And I was terrified! In fact, I was really nervous performing for about the first four years. Growing up, I was a very mousy, shy little girl. I actually think that belly dance attracts a lot of women who are introverts and they use belly dance as a means to express themselves.
Alessandra: This fellow introvert can most certainly attest to that!

Alessandra: So it's fairly common knowledge that belly dancers in Seattle get paid less than their counterparts in other metropolitan areas. Why do you think that is?
Malia: It's hard to say. But it's sad that dancers are making less now than they did in the 1970s (comparatively speaking). I think it's partially due to undercutting and partially due to dancers not knowing what they are worth. I think it's very worthwhile for dancers to ask for raises and to recognize that what they offer is something of value.

Alessandra: What advice would you give to beginning dancers?
Malia: Buy a really fancy hip scarf, as that will make you want to use it, and use it often. Study with as many instructors as possible. Go to belly dance shows, watch the professional dancers, and in particular, watch the interaction between the dancer and the musicians.
Alessandra: And what advice would you give to the "rising stars", dancers looking to take the leap into being a professional?
Malia: Find a mentor that's on your side and wants you to succeed. Someone who will not only teach you the dancing side, but the professional, business side as well. It's so important to learn how to behave in a professional manner. Perform as often as you can, even if that means for free at haflas and other community shows. Go to shows you aren't dancing in and stay for the whole thing. Meet people in the community and network. Learn to deal with new situations. Practice. Be original. Be yourself. Specialize in something, which is a great business technique. Offer something that people want or that is uniquely you. Dancers always want to "wow" their audience, but you don't have to be in constant motion to do this; less is more. Don't rush into turning professional. Taking the stage is sacred, wait for it and know that you earned it. When you do take the stage to perform, have the confidence that you are good enough. I think new professionals can be intimidated by the seasoned performers, but know that your fellow dancers have love in their hearts for you. And remember that when you are on stage, your number one job is to make every audience member comfortable. No one should feel scared for you. "Introduce" yourself as the dancer and be confident. When you are comfortable, the audience will be comfortable and will be able to enjoy the performance. Then you can just be you and share what is in your heart.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Autumn Artist's Date

I think many people are now familiar with the idea of an "Artist Date" as originally outlined in The Artist's Way by Julie Cameron. I'm a firm believer in this concept of taking regular time out to create space for inspiration and new ideas. Thus, I recently had an extended artist's date on the East Coast.  I first attended an art and yoga retreat hosted by Kimberly Wilson out in the woods of West Virginia. We did yoga outside in the crisp autumn air, collaged what we'd like to see manifest in our lives in the upcoming months, and generally relaxed away from the hustle and bustle of city life. After the retreat, I drove back into Baltimore and caught the train to New York City. My trip included a ballet class at the Broadway Dance Center, visiting MoMA, a ticket to Avenue Q, meandering through Central Park, treating myself to afternoon tea, studying belly dance with Kaeshi Chai of Bellyqueen, a Jake Gyllenhaal sighting while dining at Balthazar, pursuing the 18 miles of books at the Strand, and generally eating and drinking my way through the city. I'm returned to Seattle now and feeling relaxed and renewed for the holiday season ahead, and wanted to share a few pictorial highlights of my trip.

Even if your schedule or budget doesn't allow for an extended Artist's Date such as my own, I highly recommend taking at least an hour out of your schedule to nurture yourself. Head to an art gallery or a coffee shop, or just generate some white space in your own home to disconnect from the outside and reconnect with your inner guide.

 Van Gogh's The Starry Night at MoMA.

A romantic balcony nestled in the middle of the city.

Enjoying a walk through Central Park.

The Bow Bridge in Central Park.

Afternoon tea at Alice's Tea Cup.

Picasso's Girl Before a Mirror at MoMA.

The Central Park lake and surrounding foliage.

Doing yoga in the woods of West Virginia.

Brownstones on the upper west side.
Myself and Kimberly Wilson at the cabin that was our retreat headquarters.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Interview with Tamalyn Dallal

The Introduction
Tamalyn Dallal has been gracing stages and delighting audiences for over 30 years.  From Bogota to Buenos Aires, Miami to the Middle East, she has traveled around the world teaching and performing.  She has won numerous awards and has worked with the world-famous Bellydance Superstars.  In addition to being a talented dancer, Tamalyn is also a published author and a movie producer.  Tamalyn recently re-opened the Ottoman Bellydance studio under a new name Zamani Culture House.  When she's in town in March and April of 2013, she will teach classes and hold film showings at Zamini, as well as sponsor Roshan Nofret from Miami for a series of workshops

The Interview
I recently completed a week-long teacher training intensive with Tamalyn.  (Highly recommended!)  During one-day of the intensive, Tamalyn and I headed out to lunch to chat.  Settling in over chai tea and butter chicken, our interview begins.

Alessandra: What dancers have been the biggest inspiration to you? 
Tamalyn: Azza Sherif and Nebawiya Moustafa.  Azza Sherif combines a mix of oriental and beledi.  Her style is earthy, but elevated with classic hands.  Nebawiya was an Egyptian beledi dancer and movie star.  These two are probably my all-time favorites.

Alessandra: You've traveled all over the word.  Has anything taken you by surprise during your travels?
Tamalyn: The response to belly dance in China has surprised me.  The very first time I ever performed in China, I was wearing a beledi dress and performing to a Bedouin song from the 1940s and the young people in the audience were just screaming.  I knew right away belly dance was going to be really big in China.
Alessandra: Any other surprises?
Tamalyn: Yes, actually the U.S. surprises me.  For being one country, there are so many sub-cultures and differences across the various regions of the U.S.  I really saw this when I was touring with my film, 40 Days and 1,001 Nights.  In some places, I was met with a lot of resistance, even in places that are typically thought of as liberal cities.
Alessandra: Why do you think that is?  Because the film is set in Muslim countries?
Tamalyn: Yes, there is a certain level of "Islamapohobia" in our nation.  I also think it's that people don't know what to expect, so they don’t want to be involved.  For instance, one bookstore owner in Santa Fe, while agreeing to let the film be shown in his store, didn’t want to be present for the screening.  However, as the film was starting, he ended up seeing the beginning and then ended up staying and being receptive to the film.  Overall, the dance community has really been instrumental in supporting me at times when the general public was not.

Alessandra: Continuing to delve into your travels, have you had any moments while overseas that were either transformational or really touched your heart?  
Tamalyn:  I've had many, but one that stands out was when I was working in Spain and had taken a trip to Tangiers for the day.  I was told that female belly dancers are no longer working publically in that part of Morocco, but Shikkat (male dancers impersonating female dancers) are and I was hoping to find a restaurant having a show.  I came across an old man in the street and inquired of where I should go and he took me to a restaurant.  However, upon arriving, he told me that this establishment was for tourists, and that it was expensive and I shouldn't spend my money here.  Instead, he took me to the Andalus Club where master musicians drink tea, smoke hashish, and play music.  They said this was the same music that was played in Spain before the inquisition.  People have been continually playing this style for hundreds, if not more than a thousand years.  While listening to the music and absorbing the culture, I realized that the practice of playing classical Arabic music merely for enjoyment, relaxation, and joy is a piece of history that's stood still through the years.  People have been seeking the juxtaposition of community and music across time and across cultures.  Whether it's a club in Spain or in Zanzibar, or where I was in Morocco, whether it's the present day or a thousand years ago, little has changed in this approach.  

Alessandra: You've had some amazing experiences, and been involved in so many different projects.  What's next on the horizon for you?
Tamalyn:  In addition to the studio, I began filming the second of the Dance on Film series entitled "Ethiopia Dances for Joy".  Ethiopia is a totally different world, with over 80 ethnic groups. They have dances that people cannot imagine, which I was able to film.  I went to Ethiopia last March, filmed the first segment, and will be returning in January to continue.  I hope to finish filming and editing in late 2013.

Alessandra: You have been involved with belly dance for many years now and seen how it's changed throughout your career.  What are your predictions for the future of the dance?   
Tamalyn: I foresee more dancers showing interest in getting back to the roots of the dance and the "Golden Age" dancers, such as Tahia Karioca and Samia Gamal.  I think there will still be those doing belly dancing for fun, but the dance is maturing.  People want more depth.  Those who are genuinely into it want to learn the history and the culture.  For example, for awhile, I was seeing a trend of sponsors in certain areas only booking belly dancers who'd been in the Bellydance Superstars, as this was the only type of workshop that would sell out.  But this is no longer the case.  Dancers who can share research are becoming more sought after.  I've also seen an increasing interest in, and respect for, the elders in the dance, with younger dancers wanting to hear the elders talk and share their insights, and I think this trend will continue as well.

Alessandra: For a student dancer looking to take her dance to the next level, what advice would you give her?
Tamalyn: I would advise getting a good solid base.  Dance is built on basics.  Take the time to learn the dance and don't rush to get ahead.  If you do rush through the fundamentals, you'll just have to go back and learn them later, and then it's much harder.  You really have to put in your six to seven years before you're ready to graduate from student.  Being a baby dancer is an amazing time – enjoy it! 
Alessandra:  And what advice would you give to experienced dancers either looking to make the leap to professional or who are newly professional?
Tamalyn:  Don't dance for cheap.  The only people that can bring up the respect and compensation for dance is dancers.  It's in our hands.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

10 Things To Do Right Now to Improve Your Dance

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
- Lao-tzu

We all want to get become better dancers and better performers. And we all have great intentions: classes we'll take, techniques we'll master, costumes we'll buy, routines we'll choreograph, and so on. But then life gets in the way. There are bills to pay, deadlines to meet, meals to fix, children to care for, and emails to answer. If this sounds anything like you, because I sure as heck know it sounds a lot like me, then the key is to start with micromovements. A micomovement is something small that you can do right now, no matter where you are, and will only take about 5 to 15 minutes. The following list is of items that you could do right now, from just about anyway. Even if you are at work, you could take a quick break and accomplish one of these tasks. So I challenge to pick at least one item off the list and do it right now.
  1. Call up your favorite local dancer and schedule a private lesson with her for sometime in the next month.
  2. Buy a new belly dance DVD to practice at home with. Some of my favorites are listed on my Recommendations page.
  3. Watch a belly dance clip on YouTube to get a dose of inspiration. My favorites are included on my Belly Dance Video Board on Pinterest.
  4. Pull out your weekly planner and pencil in 30 minutes of practice time sometime this week.
  5. Find a new belly dance song on Spotify. If you don't know what Spotify is, it's a Facebook-based app that let's you search by song, artist or genre; make playlists; and listen to your heart's content, all for free. Download Spotify here.
  6. Write down your three dance goals that you want to accomplish in the next year. For each goal write three action steps you need to do to achieve that goal.
  7. Sign up to perform at your city's next upcoming halfla or community event. If you're here in Seattle, some ideas are Alauda at Skylark, Saqra's Belly Dance Revenue at Jimmy T's, Skinny Dip at the High Dive, Kalia Greenwood, Kalia Lynnwood, or Hasani's Hafla in Tacoma.
  8. Brush up on your belly dance culture and history by reading an article from Habibi magazine. Certain back issues are free and available online at The Best of Habibi.
  9. Stretch. Flexibility is an integral part of dancing, so close that office door and spend 5 minutes limbering up.
  10. Pick a class or workshop to attend in the next month. Even if you can't commit to doing a full-class series, pick at least one day that you'll drop-in. Write it on your calendar.
There is great power in beginning. You have to start somewhere, so start where you. Do it now.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Interview with Dahlia

The Introduction
I don't know that Dahlia really needs an introduction, but if you're not familiar with her work, Dahlia is a local Seattle dancer known for her exquisite musical interpretation, combined with flawless technique.  She has won the titles of 2006 Double Crown Performing Artist, 2007 International Belly Dance Convention Folkloric Champion, and 2007 Belly Dancer of the Universe.  Dahlia is currently offering classes in Ballard and Bothell.  Check out her website for more info. 

The Interview
Meeting at Starbucks, the 38-year-old mother of two, arrives looking very much the 20-something cool kid, in a funky-print hoodie, flip-flops, and minimal makeup, other than the glittery purple eyeshadow that she tells me is leftover from a gig two nights ago. Settling in over coffee, our interview starts.
Alessandra: What is your current dance goal or aspiration?
Dahlia: Currently, my greatest challenge has been given to me by Amy Sigil of Unmata.  This year's Blood Moon Regale in Sacramento will mark Unmata's 10th anniversary, so the theme is A Decade of Unmata, where various troupes will perform every single choreography that Unmata has performed since 2003.  Amy has given me the task of doing a montage of all the choreographies in one single dance!  As far is in my own career, I'm currently focused on ITS, Unmata's signature Improvisational Tribal Style, and hope that will continue to flourish.  The nature of this dance format has me once again working and performing in a troupe, which has been adjustment from being a soloist for so long now.  I don't market myself enough, which is an aspect I need to focus on more.  I also have students asking about an instructional DVD, which I hope to create in the future, although at this exact point in time it doesn't feel like the right timing.
Alessandra: I've always typically thought of you as a modern Egyptian, as well as a folkloric dancer.  Is the recent focus on tribal style going to be a permanent focus for you?  Or do you intend it to be another aspect of your overall dance?
Dahlia: I'll never let go of being a soloist and an Egyptian style dancer.  Doing tribal style is an expansion of my overall dance career.  Music is everything to me.  It's the heartbeat of the dance.  And exploring various aspects of music is my focus as a solo dancer.

Alessandra: What dancers are currently inspiring you? 
Dahlia: I'm really into Daria Mitskovich, a Russian dancer, who has a very sensitive Egyptian flavor to her style that is delicious.  And always by the greats: Fifi Abdo, Aida Nour, and Tito Seif.  Amy Sigil.  Recently, I was able to share the stage with Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes and Sharon Kihara at the Oregon Country Fair and was reinspired by their unique interpretations of classical belly dance music as well. 

Alessandra: Thinking back to the first time you stepped on stage, what was your very first performance?
Dahlia: It was a troupe performance at Mediterranean Fantasy Festival in 1994.
Alessandra: So how did it go?  Did it feel natural to be on stage or were there butterflies?
Dahlia: I have always been a performer, so it felt very natural for me.  I was accustomed to being on stage as I did ballet, jazz, and tap growing up.  I was also a musician.  I played the flute, sang, and played drums.  I was also into sports.  I played basketball and was a competitive horseback rider.

Alessandra: We all know that things don't always go as planned or expected.  What has been your worst or most embarrassing performance experience?
Dahlia: (Laughs) Costume malfunctions, stage malfunctions, music malfunctions, audience boos and hisses, you name it, I've had it happen.  I had a recent performance at a book-signing at a community college, dancing in front of a couple hundred people, and the audience was just indifferent.  I'm used to being able to win over an entire audience and when it doesn't happen, I wonder why I am even there.  (Laughs)  I left feeling like a total spoiled diva.  When I perform, I completely get off on getting my audience off.  I know when I do well and I know when my audience is responsive and when they are just plain confused.  I know that there's a lesson for me in every gig, and every dancer will experience audiences that are indifferent or even offended.  These situations demand of us to dance for ourselves in the moment.  When I find myself in a gig like that, where I just want to walk out, I have to remember, and am reminded, that there are always a few lives I touch no matter what. 

Alessandra: What have you found to the most rewarding part of belly dance? 
Dahlia:  Finding tarab.  Tarab is loosely translated as a state of ecstasy or trance brought on by music. I've been lucky enough to experience tarab many, many times throughout my career.  I even had it tattooed on my back in the last year.
Alessandra: What factors need to align for you to reach that state?
Dahlia: It's more common for me when working with live music.  Other key factors for me are vulnerability, being present in the moment, being in communion with the musicians, and being in communion with my breath.
Alessandra: (Wow!)  Yes, those are all great ingredients in a dance.  So what has been the most challenging part of belly dance?
Dahlia: Dealing with the ebb and flow of politics and personal relationship with other professional belly dancers and gig coordinators.  I think we all face these types of challenges related to interpersonal relationships in any job.  And in belly dance you have a community of mostly women who are very artistic and very intense.  It's frequently a solo artist's world and it's not always a one-for-all mentality.  In my career I've worked towards creating a really supportive and beneficial market for dancers and our art form, and I strive whole-heartedly for excellent standards for everyone.  However, trying to create structure in an art form that is so focused on creativity and self-expression sometimes leads to artists getting upset that they are being contained.  I believe the more people share their ideas with each other and share their business practices with each other, the better off everyone will be.  I think teachers really need to educate students about what it means to be a professional.  We should all be on even ground, rather than having the mentality that individual dancers should climb the ladder by themselves.  Ultimately, the bottom line is that the best dancer wins, or should win.  Whoever is young, beautiful, and talented is often the dancer who gets hired, and that can be a hard fact to face!

Alessandra: For a student dancer looking to take her dance to the next level, what advice would you give her?
Dahlia: Not to focus in any one particular genre too exclusively.  As Amy Sigil says, "dance is dance is dance."  The more hours you log dancing in any form, the greater you will become.  Pick a small handful of dancers that inspire you and study them, and then move onto another handful.
Alessandra:  And what advice would you give to experienced dancers either looking to make the leap to professional or who are newly professional?
Dahlia:  Your music is your lover.  You absolutely must be unabashedly dedicated to the music you choose and that will be your tool to excel.  Remember to be authentic in your work.  Always be true to your inner muse, whoever he or she may be, and be careful not to follow someone else's dream or in someone else's footsteps.  Belly dance is so free in the U.S. and we have so many opportunities to share and perform different genres and personal interpretations that you don't have to be any one thing.  That's been really inspiring for me, and I hope to inspire other women through my own mix of modern Egyptian, folkloric, and tribal.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Power to the She

If you were anything like me, you were glued to the TV during the recent London Olympics. Staying up late into the night to watch just one more match, one more race, one more fight to the finish. But what you may or may not have noticed while watching, was that these games were marked by breakthroughs from women athletes, proving that women are a force to be reckoned with.  Here are some highlights:
  • Out of the 104 total medals won by the United States, 58 were taken home by women. That's right, more than half were won by women.
  • Illustrating that you are never too old or too young, of the 539 athletes on the U.S. team, the oldest team member was 54-year-old equestrian Karen O'Connor, while the youngest was 15-year-old swimmer Katie Ledecky.  Katie won gold in the 800 meter freestyle, becoming the youngest women to ever do so.
  • Saudi Arabia sent 800-meter runner Sarah Attar and judoist Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani to compete in the London games, thus marking the 2012 Olympics as the first time in history that every single country represented had at least one female athlete competing.
  • Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to become the individual all-around champion.  She also became the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics.
  • Tunisia's Habiba Ghribi became her country's first woman to win a medal in the games.
  • Women boxers made history by being included in the games for the first time.
  • Seventeen-year-old Sadaf Rahimi became the first female boxer to fight for Afghanistan in the summer games.  This is quite a feat, considering the prevalent violence against women in Afghanistan and given the fact that that under Taliban rule, women were not allowed to work or leave the house without a male escort from 1996 to 2001.  Rahimi’s accomplishment registers as a hopeful cultural milestone.
  • And this list doesn't even begin to include all of the world records broken during the 2012 Olympics, which you can read all about here.
And because men aren't so bad either, I just have to mention the incredibly moving and inspiring performance by Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, nicknamed Bladerunner, who became the first double below the knee amputee to compete in the Olympics. Proof that you can overcome any obstacle.

Since the Olympics have ended, I have been continuing to tap into the strength, flexibility, speed, and determination exhibited by of all these amazing athletes, and have been using their example to fuel my own athletic and dance goals. I've been using the inspiration of gymnasts, like Chrystalleni Trikomit of Cyprus pictured above, to work on my flexibility. And I have signed up for the Athleta 5K race here in Seattle on September 9th.

So whether you are competing on an international stage or dancing around the stage of your living room, remember this: you are powerful.

I would be honored to hear how the London Olympics impacted you, and what dance or fitness goals you are currently working on.

Photo Credit:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Favorite Music CD's for Belly Dancers

Music. The driving force behind any dance form. It's a necessity that as a dancer you are connecting with and inspired by your music choice. And especially for belly dancers, as we are striving to be the visible manifestation and interpretation of the music. I think we've all seen it when a dancer is not connected with her music. I've seen it happen with some really great dancers, and it's certainly happened to me more than once. Even audience members who may not be able to put their finger on what exactly is wrong will sense that something is not quite right. That the performance lacks that magical zing.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some CDs that have been my favorites.  These have been an inspiration to me and have infused fresh creatively and enthusiasm into my dance over the years. Hopefully some of them either have already worked or will work for you as well! (P.S. Read the whole post to catch the insider tip on free music.)
  1. Bellydance Superstars Vol. V: The first track, Yearning, is the real shining piece of this album. If you haven't performed to it yourself, you're almost guaranteed to have seen someone else do it. The rest of the CD is good as well, with a number of upbeat tracks that are good for gym classes or when you just want to crank up the energy.
  2. Made in Zanzibar: Produced by Tamalyn Dallal, this CD is Western classical meets Middle East masterpieces meets African folkloric. Classical orchestral pieces like Canon in D, Scheherazade, and Bolero are mixed with famous Middle Eastern pieces, like Lamma Badda, and smoothed over with a unique east African feeling. It's like a yummy, gooey dessert all blended together with perfect harmony.
  3. Bellydance Superstars Vol. III: With tracks like Habibi Ya Eini, Ana Wel Leil and Fi El Awel, this CD is regular in my rotation for restaurant shows and parties. The CD has good variety and I've been able to use every track on this album at some point or another.
  4. House of Tarab (Self-Titled): This album is must for learning the classic belly dance pieces. It's tracks include Aziza, originally composed by Mohamed Abd el-Wahad, and Hibbina, originally composed by Farid al-Atrash, two of the great composers of the Egyptian Golden Age.  There is also a beautiful violin solo and a short piece perfect for exit music.
  5. Turkish Hits Vol. 1: The tunes on this compilation are infectious. And currently, on Amazon, they are also free (just follow the link). My favorites that have recently been in regular rotation for both classes and performances are Dilli Duduk by Tarkan and Askim Baksana Bana by Nazan Oncel. I think the nuances of Turkish music can at times be easier for Western ears to grasp than classical Egyptian, which, at least for me, has made them good starting off points for introducing Middle Eastern music in gym and beginning belly dances classes.  Additionally, just about anything by Tarkan is good, which you can also listen to and download from Amazon.
So what are your favorite albums or songs? I'd love to hear what makes you have to get up and shimmy. Share in the comments section below!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Interview with Nadira

I'm excited to introduce a new series in the blog: interviews with other professional dancers!  And starting off this new series is my interview with the beautiful and talented Nadira of Seattle!

The Introduction
Whether it's being featured on Persian television, touring Turkey, or dancing next to your table right here in Seattle, Nadira is a dancer you can't take your eyes off of.  She has claimed no less than six national titles, including Belly Dancer USA and Belly Dancer of the Year.  She has also been featured in numerous belly dance performance DVDs and even has her own instructional DVD, 5-Layers From the Ground Up.  In addition to performing as a soloist, she can also been seen performing with the renowned troupe, Fleurs d'Egypte. For more information about Nadira, to sign up for a class, or purchase her DVD, check out her website.

The Interview
Alessandra: What other dancers are currently inspiring you?
Nadira: In the belly dance realm, Hadia. But right now I’m very much into all kinds of dance. I’ve trained in other dance forms my entire life, so get lots of influence from everything out there. Currently I’ve started to get back into my jazz roots.

Alessandra: You have an impressive list of competition titles that you’ve won.  What have you found to be the benefits of participating in competitions?  Any negatives?
Nadira: Thank you!  My reasons for each competition I’ve entered have been different. I originally entered for feedback to grow as a dancer, but also to push myself out of my comfort zone. It’s scary to put yourself out there to be judged in that type of setting. Pushing through the fear has always been important to my growth as an artist. The benefit I experienced was that getting ready for a competition forced me to set goals and kept me very focused. You can’t enter a competition with the goal of winning, that’s too much pressure and you have no control over the outcome. Setting goals more geared toward growth are an excellent way to grow in this dance. A negative is that competitions aren’t for everyone. When I have a student who wants to compete, we figure out their reason and focus on that.

Alessandra: Speaking of competitions, there’s currently a belly dancer on So You Think You Can Dance, and there’s been a wide range of thoughts on her, her dancing, and her participation in this prominent, national venue, as voiced by our own belly dance community. What’s your take?
Nadira: She’s on the SYTYCD because she has other dance backgrounds. You can see it in her movement; she’s had years of other dance. That show is rooted in strong dance training and there’s no way someone with solely one dance style could make it that far. I’m torn. I like that a belly dancer has made it to the show, but I see her style is not that of an experienced belly dancer. I hope her presence on SYTYCD brings positivity to belly dance.

Alessandra: For you, what has been the most rewarding part of being a belly dancer?
Nadira: Originally this dance was solely for physical therapy (I have a herniated disc in my lower back and migraines from an accident). What it has blossomed into is, I’ve gotten to know myself as a woman, an entertainer, and instructor.  It’s very empowering.  On the performer side, there is a unique opportunity for expression and give and take. You give the audience your energy, and they take it and give back. On the instructor side, I enjoy seeing my students grow and find their voice in this dance. I have several students who are embarking on their new dance career and I am excited to help them along their journey.
Alessandra: And what has been the most challenging?
Nadira: That’s a broad question and has many facets, but right now it’s about finding a balance between the dance and the home self. I’m getting married shortly and finding the balance between my new life with family and home, and my growth, training, instructing in dance. A good challenge to have though!

Alessandra: For a new student of belly dance looking to continue growing and progressing in her technique and knowledge, what advice would you give her?
Nadira: To figure out and set goals. Also to enjoy the journey. It’s about putting in the time to train and hone your technique, but also to have fun. Make mistakes, try new things, go see shows, and see how the pros perform. The only way to find your voice in this dance is to DANCE. It took me a few years to get my true voice in this dance, and it was one of the best journeys I’ve ever experienced!

Alessandra: And for either a student looking to turn pro, or a new professional, what advice would you give her?
Nadira: Find a mentor who can work with you and guide you to your goals.  Rome was not built in a day, and neither are professional performers. At most established venues where professional dancers perform, you get one shot. That can be an intimidating thought, but there are ways to prepare. When you are first beginning to perform, it is best to work your way up to the established venues. This will allow you to get your performance/entertainment chops fine-tuned by dancing in smaller dancer friendly venues. Also, professionalism is not simply pretty costumes and technique. This is a business just like any other business and there’s etiquette and a professional standard to uphold.