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?