Thursday, November 28, 2013

Practice Gratitude

To me, belly dance is part of a bigger picture. It's part of a lifestyle that I've purposely chosen and designed. A lifestyle that honors my passions and nurtures my soul. And that lifestyle includes a lot of other components, or as I like to think of them practices, as well - holistic eating, giving back to my community, caring for my loved ones, expanding my world through travel, making time for regular exercise, and many more. Some of these I do well, some not so well.  But all these practices weave together to create a life that is balanced. And one of the practices that has been on my mind lately is the practice of gratitude.

Of course, with the Thanksgiving holiday, when not overshadowed by turkey and gravy, the idea of gratitude is probably discussed more at this time of year than any other.  And it's such a remarkably simple practice. At it's most basic, all it involves is taking a moment of reflection on all the blessings that we have in life.  And why is taking this step back into gratitude so important? Numerous studies and scientists have researched the effect of gratitude on the human psyche and they consistently report a host of benefits:
  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated
Despite it's simplicity and benefits, being grateful can be so easy to forget as well. When the pressures of daily life come crashing down, it's easy to focus on the ugly, the negative, and what we want to change. Our focus becomes targeted on the crack in the pottery, rather than appreciating the beauty of our lives as a whole. At least I know mine does if I don't remind myself to step back, see the bigger picture, and be present with what is.

But practicing gratitude goes beyond just being grateful for the shiny, sparkly portions of life. What about being grateful for the challenges? I think this is where the meat and potatoes of a gratitude practice lies. When challenges and trials come our way, it can be hard to not let them drag us down.  We become mired in the muck and stuck in a mode of suffering. But it's the hard, gritty parts of life that refine who we are. Our challenges shape us and define us. It's the Universe's way of honing and forging our authentic selves. Looking back at the most painful experiences I've had in my own life, they've turned out to be the most transformative. It was these experiences that pushed me to my breaking points, and that when I came out the other side, I was more than I was before. This is where our real opportunity lies to practice gratitude.

If you're feeling like me and want to step up your gratitude practice, here's a few ideas on ways to embrace gratitude in your own life:

1. Start a gratitude calendar. I simply love this idea, and starting January 1st I'm going to be setting one of these up. Just think, with less than a minute each day you can reset into the mindfulness of gratitude and after a few years, what a lovely record you'll have to reflect back on.

2. Watch Louie Schwartzberg's Ted Talk on gratitude.

3. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has helped you in your past, maybe a teacher, spouse, mentor, or coach. Let them know what their help has meant to you.

4. Take a vow of gratitude for 1 day, 7 days, or a month. A vow of gratitude is like a vow of silence, only instead of saying nothing at all, you say only positive things. Don't complain, criticize, or gossip. And if you start thinking these things, gently remind yourself to return to a place of gratitude. See how this makes you feel. How much time and energy were you using on negativity?

5. Start a family practice of gratitude. It's fairly common on Thanksgiving to go around the table and have everyone say what they are thankful for. It's a beautiful moment. So why not do this everyday as your family sits down for dinner? Or even try it with your coworkers over lunch?

Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo Credit (top):

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Pictures From My Honeymoon in France

Another detour from belly dancing this month to share some pictures from my honeymoon in France. I've done my fair share of traveling, and have loved everywhere I've gone. But France really captured my heart and I think I might have to say that it's my new favorite destination. After you take a look at the pictures, I don't think I'll  have to explain why.
Chateau Chenonceau in the Loire Valley
The French Alps as seen from the top of the Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix
Rodin's Thinker at the Rodin Museum in Paris
The flying buttresses of Chartres Cathedral

Marie Antoinette's French Hamlet within the grounds of the Petite Trianon in Versailles

The rooftop of Chateau Chambord in the Loire Valley

Dining at the famous Le Train Bleu in Paris

View of Paris and the Eiffel Tower as seen from the Pompidou Center

Beynac as seen from our canoe in the Dordogne region

Chateau de Castlenaud in the Dordogne region

The Mediterranean and the Promenade des Anglais in Nice as seen from Castle Hill

The Abbaye de Fontenay in Burgundy
Reims Cathedral in the Champagne region
The Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct, in Provence
The view from Chateau de Beynac in the Dordogne

The French Hamlet inside the grounds of the Petite Trianon in Versailles

Fountains in the gardens of Versailles
Mont Saint-Michel

Chateau Azay-le-Rideau in the Loire Valley

The famous windmill of the Moulin Rouge cabaret in Paris
A gargoyle on the rooftop of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris

Sacre-Coeur cathedral in Montmartre in Paris

The beautiful stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The 10 Types of People You Meet in an Audience

Audiences are the best, because without an audience, there isn’t a performer. But I just couldn’t resist stereotyping some of the typical personalities a dancer runs into in an audience with a little tongue-in-cheek humor.  In particular, I’m focusing on a restaurant performance, not a hafla or night club, because restaurants are where you run into the opposite ends of the spectrum and everything in between.  Certainly not meant to be all inclusive, but these were the first 10 types that came to mind. Enjoy!

1.      The Guy On a Date – “Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact.” That would be the motto of the man on a date. We know are you trying hard to impress that pretty lady sitting across the table from you, and you certainly wouldn’t want her to get any ideas that you are checking out the belly dancer. So your eyes stay riveted on her, on your food, on the floor, anything but the belly dancer.  I can almost see the beads of perspiration starting to form as you wish for me to move along to another table.

2.      The Birthday Party Table – Laughing, talking, clapping, you came out tonight to have a good time, and celebrate you shall. Balloons and a bottle of champagne on ice decorate your table. And your friend that you are celebrating tonight? You have no qualms about offering him or her up for sacrifice.  Pushing, pulling, another shot; whatever it takes to get your buddy up dancing in front of everyone. Because we all know true friendship is built on the foundation of embarrassment.

3.      The Diamond Anniversary Couple – You’ll soon be hitting your 30th, 40th or 50th year of being married.  How did you manage it? I think because you don’t take life too seriously and it's demonstrated by the manner in which you watch the show. The husband doesn’t try to hide to fact that he’s making eyes at me and enjoying watching a woman in a midriff baring outfit, while the wife laughs good-naturedly at his silliness.  She could care less if he makes a fool out of himself.  She shrugs her shoulders, used to it after all these years.  Yes, he might be ogling a bit, but it’s only when he looks at her, the woman who’s been at his side for all these decades, that his eyes really light up.

4.      The Teenagers – Yeah, we all know it, you are too cool to be sitting at a table with your family, and you are certainly too cool to display any form of enthusiasm in public. God only knows how you got roped into this family shindig when you should be out with your friends. But even you can’t help but sneak some sideways glances when you think my back is turned.

5.      The Uninterested Table – You remind me the Anglo-American parents in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Polite, but unemotional.  Well-mannered, but reserved.  You aren’t showing much interest in the show, and frankly, you aren’t showing much interest in each other either.  Zills, veils, swords; whatever I try I just can't seem to put a crack in that icy demeanor.  When your flaming cheese also fails to elicit any type of emotion, I realize a lost cause when I see it, and move on.

6.      The Fellow Artist – Maybe it was a belly dance class, maybe another form of dance. Or possibly just an artistic disposition and interest in the performing arts, but you watch with appreciation, acknowledging with your eyes the complexity and difficulty of the moves. Asking me questions about where I learned and how long I’ve been performing. Realizing that there is much more going on than just a sparkly costume and made-up face.

7.      The Dad With Three Kids Under Five – Between the late night feedings and never ending diaper changings, it’s amazing that you’ve made it out to a restaurant at all. You’re tired eyes watch, remembering a not so distance past where you recall your wife being more fun and energetic. A time when the two of you, without a caravan of little people, used to still party and stay out late.  Maybe someday you will again. Tuning out your family and the chaotic mess that’s become mealtimes, you allow yourself a brief respite from the daily grind, happy to have a women smile at you without making any demands. Now if only you all can get home without any episodes of crying or baby vomit.

8.      The Table of American Guys – You are, perhaps surprisingly, quite well-behaved.  Maybe being raised in the country of women’s lib, you’ve learned that leering is inappropriate.  You’ve been taught that women deserve respect, not objectification.  Not waiting to be labeled as a sexist by fellow restaurant patrons, you watch shyly out of the corner of your eyes.  Your upbringing comes out in full force when it comes time to tip. “Do I put my money into her costume?  No, I must just hand it to her, right? No, maybe the first way was right.  Um, no, second way?” Indecisive, your outstretched hand with proffered money is hanging awkwardly a few inches off the table, unsure of what to do next. You look relieved when I solve your dilemma by politely taking your tip from you.

9.      The Table of Foreign Guys – You my friends are a different story. You leer, flirt, and stick money in my costume without hesitation.  You’re watching the show and don’t care who knows it.  The only time you aren’t watching is when you are outside smoking.

10.   The Under 10 Set – Oh yes, you are my favorite group. Your eyes light up at the sequins and sparkles when I walk into the room. Your gaze follows me around the floor, intently watching my movements. Surely, I must be some type of magical princess!  You tug on your parents’ sleeve, awestruck, telling them they need to look as well.  You haven’t yet learned to be “mature” and hold back on unbridled enthusiasm, and you aren’t embarrassed to get up in front of a restaurant full of people and dance along with me. And my, aren’t you cute when you come over with dollar bills from mom and dad?
Alright my fellow dancers, who did I leave out? Who would you add to this list?
Picture Credit: Yours truly, dancing at Enat in Seattle, back when I used to be a blonde!