Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Just over a week ago I returned back to the U.S. after a two and half week trip to the beautiful country of Costa Rica. It was an amazing vacation filled with dazzling landscapes, outdoor adventures, exotic animals, warm temperatures, and friendly people. Here are pictures of some of the highlights of our trip. Pura Vida!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Resources to Reclaim Your Time

To say the last two months have been hectic would be an understatement. My world has been a whirlwind of projects, events, audits, deadlines, and never-ending to do lists. Needless to say, my personal time has been nill and my belly dance practice has fallen by the wayside. In short, I've been busy.

Busy. That ever present word in our modern day society. Ask someone how they are, and they'll likely tell you "busy". Some of us wear it like a badge of honor, with busy bestowing a mark of importance and purpose to the cycle of our lives. 

But if you're feeling like me and are ready to jump off the hamster wheel and reclaim your time for the activities that resonate most deeply with your spirit, consider utilizing some of the following resources and ideas to reclaim your time and ultimately your life.
  1. Discover how you spend your time. It might surprise you. Most of us actually have more time than we think, but we fritter it way with social media, Internet browsing, and TV watching. Consider tracking your time for a week or two to discover how you really spend your days. If you sign up for time guru Laura Vanderkam's newsletter, she'll send you a free template for time tracking. Or you can create your own template. If you want to take it a step further, read Laura's book, 168 Hours.
  2. Get organized. You can't use your time wisely if you can't keep track of what needs to be done and where you're supposed to be. If you don't already have some type of planner system for tracking appointments and to dos, get one. I personally like my iPhone calendar coupled with Toodledo. It's free to open an account on the Toodledo website, while the Toodledo iPhone app is $3.99. I use both and they automatically sync with each other. The website/app allows you to create categories, set recurring tasks, prioritize by importance, and set reminders. I love it. However, if you are more of a paper planner gal, try the cute planners over at Erin Condren. They also have lesson planners that belly dance teachers could utilize for planning their dance classes.
  3. Manage your passwords. Ever wasted time searching for an account password? Ever practically pulled out your hair in frustration because you can't get logged-in into an account, or your account is frozen from one too many incorrect tries? Then try a password manager. iTunes offers a number of choices, including a free and well-reviewed one by Norton
  4. Let it go. Is there something on your to do list that you don't really need to do? Be honest now. Are there things listed that you feel you should do, but aren't really necessary? Analyze your list and see if there are things you can let go of or perhaps delegate to someone else. Hello kids and husband! 
  5. Schedule time with yourself. Want to have time to practice your dance, attend a class, exercise, or cook a healthy meal? Then schedule it. Most people's schedules only include time they have scheduled with others, while any time they need for themselves gets whatever is leftover, which usually isn't much. Want to fit in a belly dance practice session? Look at your upcoming week and block out the time for yourself right now. 
  6. Explore further to reclaim even more time. Like where this is going? Then consider reclaiming even more of your time by pursuing time management best selling books or utilizing more tools to stay organized. 
Photo Credit: Unknown

Monday, November 2, 2015

3rd Annual Beauty Awards

It's the 3rd annual belly dance beauty awards! Every year I like to post about the top beauty products I've discovered in the past year. Here's my new favorite discoveries since last year's post!

1. Dior Diorshow Maximizer Active Plumping Lash Primer - I previously had eyelash extensions for almost two years. While I absolutely loved the look, I did not love the time or price of upkeep, which eventually lead to me having them removed. But man, did I miss that big lash look. Enter Dior's lash primer. I discovered this product while checking out at Nordstrom Rack. I noticed how amazing the lashes of the girl ringing up me were, and she told me she used this product. I immediately ran out and purchased this primer, and it couldn't have been a better choice. The result was dramatic and noticeable, even to others. When I went to get a facial, my estitician asked me if I had lash extensions on. Nope. And my husband even noticed that my lashes looked longer. And seriously, what guy actually notices your lashes!? Damn, that's a good product.

2. Physicians Formula Eye Booster 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner + Serum - Who doesn't love a 2-in-1 product? This is a eyeliner and lash growth serum in one. It's also the easiest to use liquid liner I have ever used. If you are an eye makeup virgin, this is your product. If you have been around the block and back, this is also your product, because why wouldn't you want a product that's easy to apply and stays in place, even through back to back classes?

3. Supergoop Defense Refresh Setting Mist SPF 50 - Another 2-in-1! If you've ever put on your full face of makeup, and then realized that you forgot to start with a layer of sun protection, never fear. This beauty toolkit essential is a makeup setting spray and SPF in one. Sprays on light and clear without leaving  you feeling like you've added a layer of gunk to your face. Great for SPF touchups throughout the day, especially if vacationing somewhere warm and tropical. Also great for setting makeup before gigs in hot rooms or under warm stage lights.

4. Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk - In last year's beauty awards, I'd listed a dry shampoo from Lush. But then I discovered this one and now I'll never go back. It's a ingenious spray. Here's what you do: you just spray at the roots, and voila! You spray in volume and spray out excess oil. There's no white residue leftover like with many traditional powder-based dry shampoos, and it really does add noticeable volume and enhanced style.

5. Neutrogena Body Clear Body Spray - A solution for body blemishes was another product I'd included in last year's awards, and another area where I've found an upgrade. Neutrogena's Body Clear Body Spray is now a permanent fixture in my beauty arsenal. It's a power house at preventing acne, and if you do have a blemish that pops up, will cut your healing time in half or, even less. It's designed for the back, and even sprays up side down. It does not stain or bleach the color out of clothes, so you can use it and put your costume on (if say for instance you want to use it between sets to prevent any perspiration that might be sitting on the skin from building up and creating acne). And I've even used it occasionally on my face when I'm had an unfortunate blemish pop up. And the icing on the cake? All this can be yours for less than $10.

6. Make Up For Ever Artist Plexi-Gloss - I've written about it before, but heavily pigmented lipsticks can suck the life and moisture right out of your lips, especially if you have sensitive skin like me. That's why I love heavily pigmented glosses, like this one by Make Up For Ever. In the darker shades, it adds enough color to wear alone for performances, but won't feel you with dry and cracked lips after. If you are looking for a color suggestion, I love 304, which is fun and bright pop of color in red-coral.

7. Kaplan MD Perfect Pout Lip Mask + Lip Balm - Want to take the lip care a step further? Then I recommend Kaplan's lip mask and balm. The mask gently dissolves dry, cracked skin and then the balm seals in the healing with a dose of intense moisture. Great for either before or after shows, during wintertime, or whenever your lips needed a little extra care.

8. Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel - Nothing beats a professional chemical peel for smoothing fine lines, plumping skin, and getting you to glow. But this at home peel is the next best thing for at home skin maintenance. Juice Beauty's Green Apple Peel uses fruit enzymes to exfoliate off dead skin and reveal glowing skin underneath. Whenever my skin is looking a bit tired, I slather on a treatment of this to see instantly revitalized skin. Also comes in sensitive and blemish control versions.

9. Peter Thomas Roth Laser Free Retexturizer Exfoliating Scrub - If you couldn't tell, I'm big into skin exfoliation. It's one of the key cornerstones of youthful, radiant skin. I love this exfoliating scrub. It's gentle enough to use daily and helps reduce the size of pores, prevents blemishes, and eradicates dull-looking skin.

10. Beauty Protector Protect and Detangle - Hair can take a beating from too much blow-drying and heat styling. Help your hair out with Beauty Protector's leave-in conditioner. Another multitasker, this spray detangles, protects against heat, fights frizz, safeguards color, adds shine, and tops it all off with a yummy, fruity scent. Another product that I don't leave home without.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Alessandra's Paramount Theatre Photo Shoot

Warning! Narcissistic post ahead! Last month I did a photo shoot at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. This historic theatre provided a fun setting and beautiful backdrop for a photo shoot! I've finally rounded up my favorite shots and am sharing them as this month's blog post. Pictures were taken by the talented Chris Yetter.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Aging and Belly Dance

Back when I first started this blog, I wrote a post about why I love belly dance. To this day, it's continued to be one of the most popular posts on this site.  However, I was reflecting on this topic recently, and realized there is another big reason why I love belly dance that wasn't included in that original post.

The reason is this: belly dance is open to women (and men) of all ages.

You can start at any age and you can stop at any age.

In many dance forms, ballet especially, if you don't start training as a small child, your body won't develop in accordance with the structure needed to execute the dance at a proficient level. Ballet dancers have to work to change the body's natural state so that the legs can work while turned out from the hip, the feet can carry the weight of the body while balanced on the toes, and body fat stays lean for ease of executing jumps, partner work, and aesthetics. Due to the grueling and taxing nature of the dance, many ballet dancers peak young, frequently in their 20s to 30s, leading them to the path of early retirement (at least as performers).

Belly dance is quite the opposite. Belly dance doesn't required any reshaping of the body. It works with the body's nature alignment and composition, and thus allows dancers to start at any age. In fact, most belly dancers do not start as children or even teenagers. Most start in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, like myself, who started when I was 26.

I also appreciate the fact that belly dancers aren't forced into early retirement. I see belly dancers in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond still regularly teaching, performing, or participating. Usually the attitude I see toward "older" dancers is one of appreciation as wise and experienced voices in the community, as women to be looked up to and emulated for their nuanced and intricate skill at performing and emoting. These are the women who are sought after as teachers and mentors, rather than being issued an expiration date.

Living daily in a culture that revers and worships youth, this opposite attitude enveloped in the belly dance community is a breath of fresh air. It's a wake up call for women to embrace and appreciate themselves and their bodies, knowing that their worth doesn't decline with age.  Age and value aren't correlated like advertisers and popular culture want us to believe.

This is why I love belly dance. As I grow older, belly dance grows with me. It's an art form that is continuously broadening and awakening, allowing me to fall more fully into my authentic self. Leaving judgments behind and embracing and supporting the individuality I continue to excavate. Regardless of age, I know that belly dance will always be there for me when I reach for it,

Photo Credit: Painted by Corporate Art Task Force and available on FineArtAmerica

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Nutritional Supplements for Belly Dancers

In a perfect world, we'd get all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that we need from our diets. However, for the vast majority of us that doesn't happen. We live in the age of processed, convenience foods, coupled with little time, and lots of stress. And even for those who do find the time to cook home-cooked meals of fresh produce and lean proteins, we may still not be getting all of the nutrients we need from our meals due to a wide variety of factors, including but not limited to, food that's lost its nutrient value from traveling long distances to reach us, absorption issues within our own bodies, and other pollutants and toxins in our environments.

I've always had a keen interest in food, nutrition, and health. In fact, it's an interest that lead me to becoming a certified nutritionist a number of years ago. I'd like to take today's post to share a few possible supplement suggestions for optimizing health as a dancer.

Please note that these are intended as suggestions and may not be the right choice for everyone, as everyone's body is different and unique. Please consult with your own trusted health practitioner before implementing any changes, especially ensuring that any supplements you add to your diet won't adversely interact with any medications you are taking. Also, if you having severe or ongoing symptoms of any nature, you should seek medical advice and testing to ensure that your symptoms are not indicative of a more serious symptom or disease that cannot be treated with supplements alone.

And of course, all the supplements in the world won't do you any good if your diet is filled with garbage! Be sure to eat an optimal diet that's filled with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit and lean proteins, while avoiding too much sugar, starches, grains, alcohol, trans fat, and other processed foods.
  1. Collagen Hydrolysate - Collagen is a form of protein that breaks down into peptides that are responsible for repairing connective tissue in the body, including bone, skin, ligaments, hair, and nails. In addition to making the body stronger and better able to withstand injury (because 10 years from now, you hope to still be dancing, right?), recent studies have shown initial indicators that consuming supplemental collagen can improve skin elasticity, literally plumping the skin from the inside out. Additionally, for anyone with IBS, "leaky gut" or other irritable/inflammatory bowel conditions, collagen can aid in repairing intestinal wall linings and reducing permeability. Unfortunately, there is  not currently a product on the market (that I'm aware of) that is not animal protein based. But if you're not vegan or vegetarian and you're looking for a brand to try, I recommend Great Lakes Geltin
  2. Rodiola - Had too many late nights and your energy is lagging? Feeling like you just don't have the stamina and vitality to get through your upcoming evening gig? Rather than turning to a sugar-laden coffee or caffeinated soda, consider giving rodiola a try. Rodiola is an adaptogenic herb that can help prevent fatigue and less the effects of stress on the body. Studies have also shown that it can give the immune system a general boost. Be sure to take it in the morning or early afternoon and not right before bedtime.
  3. Probiotics - You've probably heard of this one before; probiotics are the helpful or "friendly" bacteria that inhabit your gut and help keep your digestive system in balance. But what you might not have known is that 70% to 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. Thus, if your digestive system is not functioning properly you could be setting yourself for further aggravated health issues down the road. I'm sure that down the road you'd rather be dancing than heading to the doctor, right? A daily probiotic supplement can help you take care of your tummy and in extension, your overall health. Look for brands containing Bacillus coagulans (BC-30) and Lactobacillus GG
  4. B Complex - B Vitamins do wonders for our bodies. The Vitamin B family helps with carbohydrate metabolism, maintaining a calm and healthy nervous system, adrenal function, and other vital metabolic functions.  Additionally, B vitamins are largely responsible for glowing skin and strong, health hair. If you feel like all the layers of stage makeup and hours of hot styling tools on your hair are doing you no favors, taking a B vitamin supplement could help you rediscover some of your inner glow.  
  5. Melatonin - Melatonin is a hormone made by the pineal gland that helps regulate your sleep cycles. As dancers, we are often traveling and working odd and late hours, which can disrupt our natural circadian cycles. If your zzz's are out of wack, taking a melatonin supplement at bedtime can be an all-natural way to treat jeg lag and insomnia. 
  6. Digestive Enzymes - Nobody likes to feel bloated and gassy at any time during the day, but especially not when you're about to don a two piece outfit and perform abdominal isolations. This is where a digestive enzyme can come to your rescue. Your digestive system is full of enzymes that break down your food so that you body can absorb and utilize what you consume. However, due to factors such as aging, genetics, current or past medications, and many other factors, you may not have enough enzymes for your digestive system to function at an optimum level, with the result being a varying range of digestive ails, which can include pain, bloating, gas, cramping, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea. Taking a supplemental digestive enzyme can help with these symptoms. My hands down favorite digestive enzyme is Dr. Brantley's Active Enzyme Plus.  
Here's to a happy, healthy, and vibrant you!

Photo Credit: Unknown

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Stars of Dance Spotlight: Naima Akef

Naima Akef was born in 1929 in Tanta on the Nile Delta to parents who were acrobats in the Akef Circus. This unique childhood resulted in Naima's first performance to transpire at the tender young age of four. She quickly became a popular circus performer, ultimately leading her to stardom as a belly dancer and actress in the Golden Age of Egyptian cinema.

When Naima was 14, the Akef circus disbanded, but she continued on performing both an acrobatic and a clown act. Eventually she found her way to Badia Masbadni's nightclub, the Opera Casino. It was here that she received training in belly dance. However, her time the Opera Casino was short-lived. Due to Masbadni's supposed favoritism of Naima, the other dancers tried to gang up on her and assault her. Naima managed to come out of the episode physically harmed, but the incident resulted in her being fired from the Opera Casino.

But when one door closes, another opens. Shortly thereafter, Naima was hired at another famous nightclub, the Kit Kat Club. It was here that she was introduced to the siblings and film directors, Abbas Kemal and Hussein Fawzy, resulting in her first movie appearance in the 1949 film, Bread and Salt.  From there Naima's career grew rapidly, staring in 17 films between 1949 and 1964.

One of Naima's most famous movies was 1955's Aziza, in which Naima can be seen dancing to the famous song by the same title, composed by Mohammed Adel Wahab.

Another of her more famous roles was in 1957's Tamr Henna, in which she can be seen dancing below.

And I've included one final clip of Naima just because I like how this one highlights her ability to execute turns. Unfortunately, I'm not sure which film this is from. If you know, please leave it in the comments below!

In my opinion, Naima's style is the epitome of "classical". Her style is relaxed and graceful, with clean, simple movements that aren't muddied by too much layering or hyper-activity. The sharp, staccato isolations popular today are replaced with juicy, rounded ones. Nonetheless, her grace is underlied with strength, balance, and dexterity, likely developed in her youth as an acrobat. She has some of the best turns I've ever seen in a belly dancer; sharp, precise, and exact. Her demeanor and carriage exude confidence and femininity, as she practically floats across the floor like many of the dancers of the Golden Age do. 

Naima quit acting in 1964 to take care of her son and only child. Sadly, Naima succumbed to cancer and died just two years later at the young age of 36. Despite her short time with us, her contribution to the world of belly dance will always be remembered.

Photo Credits: All photos Naima Akef

Monday, August 17, 2015

Costume Couture

I have to confess, I'm pretty obsessed with costumes. Not just belly dance costumes, but costumes of all kinds. Ever since I was a little girl I've loved to play dress us. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. And if you invite me to a masquerade ball, Victorian tea party, or renaisance faire, my answer is yes, I'd love to come. In costume, of course. No wonder I was drawn to belly dance: I didn't stand a chance against all those sparkling, sequined costumes!

As I'm currently planning and purchasing my steampunk costume for Seattle's Steamposium, costumes are on my mind. Thus, this month's post is a pictoral ode to all things costume, with emphasis on the couture side of the spectrum. There are so many designers, makeup artists, models, photographers, and more who are doing truly breathtaking work. They infuse our world with beauty, magic, and creativity. If you enjoy the post, follow along with me on Pinterest for more breathtaking and inspiring eye candy.