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Monday, October 22, 2012

Beginner's Class in Belly Dance Review Notes: Classes 1-4, Music Review

Alay'nya Studio Beginner's Belly Dance Class: Review Notes for First Four Classes, Autumn Quarter, 2012, Part 1: Music Review

Although I've posted extensively about the esoteric belly dance component and the energy-building practices (ch'i cultivation), our Beginner's classes in Oriental dance (belly dance) have recently focused on:

  • Music rhythms for Oriental dance,
  • Music structure analysis, including in-class work and take-home exercises to identify and analyze, and
  • Matching dance movements to the music.


Mideast Music Rhythms Used in First Four Classes

Music rhythms for Oriental dance include:

  • Beledi, an Upper-Egypt (southern Egyptian) rhythm, used in up to 80% of common "belly dance music,"
  • Sai'idi, a "reverse beledi,"and
  • Chifti telli, a Turkish rhythm.


Music Structure Analysis

Music structure analysis, including in-class work and take-home exercises to identify and analyze:

  • Musical measures: the basic "counting unit" (typically an 8-count),
  • Musical motifs: an identifiable musical phrase or set of phrases - a "building block" for that piece of music,
  • Pace and timing: overall fast, slow, or moderate?, and time (in seconds) for each motif,
  • Taxims: literally, an improvisational solo, typically with the Mideast instruments of a ney (flute-like instrument), kanoon (string instrument), or dumbek (drum), and
  • Transitions: most important in choreographing a good dance.


Matching Dance Moves to the Music

Matching dance moves to the music includes strategies and micro-choreography units for structured (motif), unstructured (taxim), and transition units:

  • Structured musical motifs: typically repeat two to four times, and the choreography for each "set" of motif repetitions should have some logical consistency; a common approach is to do a set of movements to one side, and then transition and do the same set to the other side (mirror image),
  • Unstructured phrase-based musical interludes, in taxims: at first, developing a dance interpretation to taxims seems unusual to Western ears, but as we learn to match our breathing to the musical phrases, a set of expressive movements can naturally emerge,
  • Transitions: these can take us from one motif to another, from structured (motif-based) music to unstructured and vice versa, and overall are essential to skilled dance; we're developing numerous strategies.


By now, students should have their first CDs of music for at-home practice, various worksheets to play with for their own "music interpretation" studies, and other worksheets detailing music structure and/or choreography notes.










Saturday, October 20, 2012

Autumn Lesson 4: Breaking Through Emotional Resistance

Autumn Lesson 4 in The Season of Cups: Moving Out of Stuck Situations

The primary focus of this ten-week series (from the Ace through the Ten of Cups) is on cultivating our internal energy and bringing it up our spines. The final stage of this series is actually the Ace of Cups, when we (supposedly) learn to "fountain" our energy around ourselves.


This is an important goal, both because being able to "fountain" our energy (actually, to do anything at all with our internal energy) is good, but also because this ability is a crucial predecessor to the really important energy exercises:


We will be doing the first two of these practices (Micro-Cosmic Orbit and Middle Pillar) over the winter, and the final one (Circulating the Body of Light) in the summer.


What we are doing now, though, is a structured energy practice that will lead us steadily to some of these more advanced exercises.


In the previous three weeks, we introduced the Season of Cups and basic exercises for this autumn quarter:

This week, we encounter emotional blocks that keep us from fully doing our energy work.


The Four of Cups; follow the link for a good interpretation.


The Four of Cups is a moment of stasis; we are so locked up in our present thoughts and conditions that we can't open up to new "good energy" that is being offered to us.


When we studied the Two of Cups, we realized that we were being directed to examine the Ida/Pingala energy streams at the root of our spine. At the Three of Cups, we included the Sushumna primary energy column in our attention, and did the first "interweaving" or "crossing over" of the Ida/Pingala streams. We did this at an energy nexus point on our spines that connects directly to the second chakra in front.


(Recall our energy anatomy: there are six "nexus points" on the spine, each of which connects via nerve bundles to one of each of six nerve ganglia on our fronts. Each of these physical nerve ganglia bundles corresponds to a chakra area.)


Now, at the Four of Cups, we're at the second crossing of the Ida/Pingala streams, which corresponds to the third nerve bundle on the spine and the third nerve ganglia grouping and chakra center on our fronts.


This third chakra occurs at our solar plexus. This is right where our upper diaphragm (the one separating our heart and our lungs from our abdominal organs) occurs.


When we are energetically and emotionally blocked or "stuck," then our diaphragm is tight, and we have a rigid hold on the muscles in our upper abdominal area as well as our sternums. The result is that we have a tight and rigid dance.



In Unveiling: The Inner Journey, I describe how one of my master teachers, Anahid Sofian, corrected me and another leading dancer on precisely this matter.


Across the crowded floor, a series of young women swayed like seaweed in the ocean. Their eyes on the diminutive teacher, they followed Anahid Sofian in her graceful yet precise movements...


“Leah,” she called out to a dancer, “you need to release – right here.” She gestured to her own sternum. We were practicing upper body undulations, one of the most beautiful and sensual moves in Oriental dance. “And Alay’nya,” she turned, scrutinizing me, “you need to do the same.”


Both Leah and I were well beyond the beginner’s level. ... Here we were, getting the same correction on one of the most basic moves. “What,” I wondered, “is going on with us?”


Suddenly it hit me; one of those “Aha!” moments. Leah and I both epitomized the “young-woman-on-her-own-in-the-world.” Having to make it on our own in essentially a man’s world, we had taken on the masculine attributes of body armor by using our muscles and ligaments! By stiffening our muscles, and holding them tightly, we created an impenetrable shield; we were “armored” against the world. What we were doing in our bodies reflected more the influence of Athena, Goddess of Intellect (as well as war; she is the ultimate Amazon), than Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. We were fully in our Amazon mode!


Releasing the muscles in our sternum took conscious attention from each of us. It did then, and it still does. The old tension patterns die hard. [from Unveiling: The Inner Journey, Chapter 14, "Locking Our Minds Out of Our Bodies," pp. 189-190]


For many of us, as we go into the autumnal Season of Cups, our attention is not just on practicing technique. Rather, it becomes a quest to release those tensions and blockage patterns that keep the movement from flowing freely.


Here's to your own "inner un-blocking"! Namaste - Alay'nya


P.S. Getting Your Own Copy of Unveiling: The Inner Journey

Do you want to continue reading Chapter 14, from which the beginning was excerpted above? You can have your print copy of Unveiling overnight from Amazon, or a Kindle version within minutes.









P.P.S. More Unveiling

A very important related section is in Chapter 9, "The Essence of Stillness." I have a nice long extract posted on the Unveiling website. Go to the Resources page, and look for the extract about Esther. Also, you'll have a chance to sign up for the Unveiling e-newsletter, and be given early information on:

  • Workshops: Whether my own, or those that I highly recommend (and will likely attend), be the among the first to know your options for putting your Unveiling studies into practice - topics will range from archetypal to dance to the "Fountain of Youth,"
  • Best-of-the-Best links and "insider info," which I custom-select, carefully edit, and share just with the Unveiling Community (free, but you must Opt-In using the Opt-In form on the website's first page) and
  • Weekly updates - so that you won't miss a thing!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Autumn Lesson 3: Unifying Our Energies

Autumn Lesson 3 in The Season of Cups: Unifying Three Essential Types of Vital Energy

In autumn, we focus on cultivating our intrinsic vital energy, or ch'i. The suite of Cups (from the Minor Arcana) is associated with autumn, and with the metaphysical element of water. Thus, when we put our attention on Cups (water) energy, we are really seeking to develop our internal cup, or energy basin.


Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, identifies the second habit as: Begin with the end in mind.










We previously saw a visual depiction of our goal: Being able to bring our energy up and have it "fountain" or "flow" down around us. We saw this in the classic Rider-Waite interpretation of this card.


Our desire to "fountain" our energy is a normal and natural one, especially once we gain some proficiency with energy work. I learned about this energetic practice from Medea, my first teacher in Oriental dance.


"Medea had studied yoga. Her lover was also her guru. He had, she explained, taught her to bring up her energy during love-making - and to give it to him! Then they broke up. What, she wondered, was she going to do with her energy, if she wasn't going to give it over to a man? She finally figured it out. As she told us, 'Instead of giving it to him, I've learned to bring it up, and then to "fountain" it back down and take it in again!'" [Unveiling: The Inner Journey, pp. 402-403]


In last week's class, we got more specific. We began our energy-study in earnest, with an etude (study piece) cultivate the two vital energy streams that come up on either side of our primary energy pathway in our spine. That is, we focused on the Ida/Pingala energy channels. We saw these two energy channels symbolized by the picture for the Two of Cups.


In this Two of Cups picture set, we see a consistent theme - a man and a woman come together to share their energy.


In the central picture, we see that the man and the woman each are holding a cup, and are each extending their cup towards each other. We connect this to the first step of the Ida/Pingala energy raising. We note that the two persons seem just a bit tentative; this is their first experience of bringing their unique energies to "cross over" and join with the other. This is where Ida (left) and Pingala (right) cross over at the base of the spine, at the root chakra.


Now, "begin[ning] with the end in mind," we take a look at the final card for the Suite of Cups. The Ten of Cups similarly shows a man and a woman, and again each holds a cup.


The big differences? Their wrists wrap around each other, and their cups are upraised. There is energy flowing into and out of their cups (the rainbow). The signs of "cups" are all about them; the union of these two energies has resulted in a happy, positive overflowing abundance - complete success!


This is our end-goal for our Ida/Pingala energy-raising exercise, and in fact, for the entire Autumn Quarter, when we focus on Cups.


Keep in mind that when we look at imagery such as this - strictly in terms of how these images represent steps and challenges (and overcoming challenges) in our personal growth and mastery - that each person or being represents an aspect of ourselves. In the pictures showing a man and a woman, they represent our masculine and feminine psychological poles, and/or our different energies - in this case, specifically the Ida/Pingala energy channels, or nadis.


In this context - of knowing our overall goal for the quarter - we look at the Three of Cups.


Images for the Three of Cups traditionally show three woman, often dancing together. The middle image here shows them bringing their cups (energies) towards each other, and intertwining their arms.


This brings to mind what we learned last week; the Ida and Pingala are on either side of the primary energy channel, the Sushumna. This week, we remind ourselves that our deeper goal is not just to bring energy up the Pingala and Ida channels, but also bring up our primary energy (up the Sushumna channel); this becomes a kundalini awakening - a very advanced step. In our classes, we focus on prerequisites - on the "beginner steps" towards this very advanced goal.


One of the most basic, and important, practices for energy cultivation is pranayama. We introduced a "baby pranayama" exercise together with energy raising in the etude that we have set to Rasa's Gayatri Mantra. (Hereafter, for simplicity, we'll refer to this as the Gayatri Mantra energy-raising etude, or simply the Gayatri Mantra etude.)


In this Gayatri Mantra etude, we do three things:

  • Bring energy up our spines, where we anchor (drop our body weight) and allow our hands to come up each time we "bring up our energy,"
  • Coordinate the energy-raising with specific mudras (hand gestures) and with vibrating the words that go with each mudra, and
  • Coordinate all of this with a simple (baby-level) pranayama breathing pattern.


This is only complicated until it's not.


By the end of this quarter, we should be proficient with:

  • Bringing energy up to each of seven different chakra-levels (actually, six nadis on the spine and then our crown chakra),
  • Coordinating this with seven different mudras and their respective "intonations," along with the ability to do some baby-level pranayama, and
  • Some awareness of our Ida/Pingala energy channels, which interweave about our spinal column.


Also, by the end of the quarter, we should be much better at:

  • "Containing" our energy in our pelvic "energy cauldron," as opposed to spilling it out,
  • Minimizing "holes" in our "energy cauldron" (making it a "cauldron" and not a "sieve" or a "colander"), and
  • Protecting our energy boundaries (yes, "setting boundaries,") so that we don't unintentionally give away all this lovely energy that we're cultivating.


The end result is that we should approach winter solstice with a strong, vibrant energy - ready to share at our discretion as we spend time connecting with friends, family, and colleagues. We should be energetically "insulated" against winter, and be strong for the next aspect of our inner journey.


Most of all, we should be feeling "juicy." As in, downright fabulously "delish"! Here's to a great autumn season for all of us!


Namaste! - Alay'nya

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Filling Our "Energy Well" Using Oriental Dance

Filling Our "Energy Well" Using Circular, Rolling, and Snake Movements with the Chifti Telli Rhythm in Esoteric Belly Dance

Julia Cameron, in her book The Vein of Gold, talks about "filling the well." She writes, "As artists, we must learn to be self-nourishing." (p. 21)









Water: The Energy of the Season of Cups

As we move into Autumn, the Season of Cups, we shift both our dance and our life-focus. Summer was the Season of Rods, and dealt with fire energy. If we had progressed in our energy cultivation path well over the previous year, we had plenty of "energy to burn" by summer time - and that's exactly what we did!

Now, though, with the heat of the summer waning, we are ready for something different. Our bodies - and our psyches - seek replenishment.

Energetic Anatomy

Because we are doing esoteric belly dance, or Oriental dance (belly dance) with an energy component, the idea of replenishment has very specific and practical meaning for us. We focus on drawing energy into our "energy reserve centers," and to building and strengthening this energy.

As a first step, we look at one aspect of our energy anatomy - the various energy channels that come up our spine.

In many of our energy exercises, we draw energy up our spine. Very often, we bring energy straight up our spinal column.

However, in this lesson, we pay attention to the fact that the energy currents up our spine are more complex.

There are really three channels, or nadis (a Sanskrit term), as recognized in the yogic tradition. These are:

  • Pingala: The nadi carrying the "active" aspect or prana (this is our vital life-force, or ch'i)
  • Ida: The nadi carrying the "passive" aspect or apana
  • Sushumna: The nadi carrying the Kundalini energy

These energy channels have been recognized in our own Western medical tradition - in a very subliminal manner - for thousands of years. Specifically, the cadeceus - our emblem for the healing arts - is a stylized depiction of these energy channels.

The tantric tradition of kundalini yoga has been to awaken the energy flow through these nadis, culminating in a fully awakened and energy-vitalized state.

Relating Energetic Anatomy to Western Esoteric Tradition

In our studies, we use this time of year to "fill our well" energetically. In fact, we opened this quarter by giving attention to energy dancing with a water feeling.

Now that we've introduced our theme, we move from the overall feeling of water energy (the Ace of Cups) to the lesson in the Two of Cups. Margaret Wells, who has developed interpretations for the various Tarot cards, describes the Two of Cups as bringing forth "a moment of shared feeling."

Look closely at the imagery in this card, designed especially by Melvis, in a project organized by Margaret. See how the two cups are blending together? And they're both receiving droplets of water.

This is what we're doing. We're bringing "droplets of energy" to both our prana (Pingala) and apana (Ida) origination and storage points at the base of our spine. This is the starting point for our exercise.

Practicum: Second Week of Autumn

Pingala/Ida Nadi Tracing

We will return in this week's class to the Cabbalistic Cross exercise that we began last week, using the music Anahat (by Kairo by Night).

We are going to use the opening phrases of this music (about a minute or so, before the "melodic line" kicks in) to trace the Pingala and Ida circulation lines up our spines. This acts as a reminder to ourselves that these two nadis play a role. Even though many of our other energy exercises will bring the energy straight up our spines, we acknowledge the different "currents" or nadis as we begin our practice.

Please note: The Cabbalistic Cross is not an "energy-building" or "energy circulation" exercise. Rather, it is the first step in aligning ourselves with certain "realms of consciousness" (Sephiroth in the Kabbalistic tradition), and is a preliminary to an "energy boundary" exercise, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. We are inserting the Pingala/Ida here - because it works - and we'll insert it into other exercises/etudes as well. Keep in mind the distinction; energy-building or cultivation vs. energy circulation vs. protection/boundary-creation.

Other exercises for the Second Week of Autumn

  • Diaphragm stretches: We'll begin paying more attention to each of our three diaphragms, allowing them to release, so we can bring in more air. This is an important precursor to learning undulations, both upper and lower body.
  • Circular Movements: Hip circles and rib cage circles help us to "feel out" the fullness of the energy basin that rests in our pelvic girdle.
  • Snake Arms: We'll introduce some exercises that will help you move your arms and hands gracefully. These are necessary precursors to candle dancing, which is an optional study for Winter Solstice.

As always, we'll do veil work - both in place, and moving across the floor.


We will listen to and move with various chifti telli pieces, which are the focal rhythms for this quarter.


  • Lotus Flower: This is a Static Principle, and is the second one that we learn in our sequence. It is the natural corollary to the Anchoring Principle that we studied last week.
  • Expansion/Contraction: This is a Dynamic Principle that we'll study in greater depth over time. We use the Expansion/Contraction method, combined with breathing (even a little pranayama) to fill our energy cauldron (the "basin" in our hip girdle, where we build and store intrinsic energy, or ch'i). This is a natural accompaniment to - and adds to the energetic value of - movements such as hip circles.

Using Unveiling: The Inner Journey as a Study Guide for Autumn Dance Classes

Textbook References

The following chapters in Unveiling are relevant to this week's study:

  • Chapter 25, "Sex Secrets of Belly Dancers": All you need to know (and more) about our various diaphragms. Also a write-up on why we do those horrible abdominal exercises during our warm-ups. (Strengthens our internal and external obliques.)
  • Chapter 22, "Looking Like a Dancer (Even If You're Not)": Includes a very brief description of the Anchoring Principle, which I learned from martial arts master Peter Ralston, along with a brief mention of the Lotus Flower Principle (which I simply call "reaching up" in the text).

Related Personal Pathworking Steps:

At the beginning of this post, I referenced author Julia Cameron, who talks about using images to feed our artistic souls. I build on her ideas in my recent book, Unveiling: The Inner Journey. (Look at the Personal Pathworking at the end of Chapter 3, "Bedtime Stories for Grown-Up Girls.")









Studying with Alay'nya

It is still possible to join us in the Alay'nya Studio in McLean, VA. Beginners meet on Sundays from 11:30 to 1PM. Learn about the Beginner's Dance Package, and email me for an invitation to join us for a complimentary introductory class: alaynya (at) alaynya (dot) com.

Related Posts for Using Water Energy in Dance

Monday, October 01, 2012

Stretching Our Arms Upwards - How This Impacts Our Dance and Our Bodies

Stretching Our Arms Upwards - Surprising Health Benefits (Along with a Beautiful Dancer's Pose!)

For the longest time, I've had this "gut feeling" that Oriental dance (belly dance) was for women the corollary to what the martial arts have traditionally been for men - a pathway for body/mind/psyche/energy integration. And just as T'ai Ch'i Chuan ("Grand Ultimate Fist") is the premiere "internal" martial art, there is an analogue within Oriental dance.

One of the most important things about an "internal" art is that instead of superimposing the movements on ourselves, we generate them from inside. That means (despite the practice and study involved) that essentially the movements sort of "do themselves." Minimal effort.

Of course, it takes years of practice so that we can do any moves with "minimal effort." That, in fact, is one of the characteristics of a real master. But that's also a subject for a different day.

Today's subject is one that I've never heard addressed - in either martial arts or dance circles. (Doesn't mean that someone hasn't discussed this, just that I haven't come across the discussion yet.)

The particular topic is: What happens when we raise our arms over our heads? What's the psychological significance, or emotional meaning of this gesture? And how does it fit in with a "minimal effort" approach?

By way of comparison, when we do the opening moves in T'ai Ch'i, we drop our weight and let our arms rise up. This is natural and gentle. But our arms only raise up to about waist-level. So what goes on when we raise our arms over our heads? This is more than "minimal effort"!

Let's look at the emotional language first. In the classic "belly dance pose," the dancer has her arms raised over her head, wrists crossed, and palms flat against each other. This is, without question, one of most sensual poses in the dance. And it makes the dancer look gorgeous!

At an emotional-meaning level, though, what does this pose say? Is it just suggesting a little B&D? (For those who've been reading Fifty Shades, that might in itself prove exciting.) But really, when do we ever - in our normal lives - raise our arms over our heads?

Often, this is a moment of exultation. Think of the pose with the arms open and hands outstretched to the skies. It's a "calling down the forces of nature" type of pose; a classic "strength" pose. It's also a "hallelujah" pose - a moment of ecstasy.

This is a pose that is very exposed and vulnerable. Opening up our armpits and the tender flesh on the inside of our upper arms is not something we'd do if we were feeling threatened or insecure. Much as a cat or dog only rolls on its back and splays its paws (note the paw-splaying, this is more than just rolling on the back as a submissive gesture), this is only something done when the animal feels relaxed and safe, and actually rather joyful and happy.

When we dance, we connect with the Divine. This is a significant "connect with the Divine" gesture, and thus, we use it carefully and sparingly in our choreographies. This is the kind of move that we'd work towards in our dance, as a climax for a certain section of music.

How does this impact our bodies, though? This is really an important question, because when we are very "connected" during our dance - and our energy is really moving - then our audiences desire to experience what we're experiencing; they want to map themselves onto us. So what we do in our bodies affects not only us, but our audience as well.

Many of us already know that certain leg stretches help stretch out the meridians in our legs, and are restful - this is why these "leg stretch" poses are good yoga moves to relax us before bed.

The "arms overhead" similarly stretches the meridians that go from the tips of our fingers to the core of our bodies, particularly those that go through our underarms.

From a description on the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach to understanding energy (ch'i) meridians:

The Small Intestine Meridian begins on the pinky, moves to the underside of the arm, up to the top of the shoulder blade, the neck, and ends on the front of the ear.

The Triple Heater Meridian begins on the ring finger, moves up the back of the arm to the side of the neck, goes around the ear and ends of the eyebrow.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Beginner's Lesson 1: Warm-Ups, Energy Work, Techniques, & Choreography

Beginner's Lesson 1: Introduction to Esoteric Belly Dance with the Alay'nya Studio

Warm-Ups, Energy Work (the Cabbalistic Cross), Energy Circulation (Introduction), Principles (Anchoring), Basic Techniques, Introduction to Music and Rhythm, Introduction to Choreography

This is a study guide and reference serving three groups:

  • active members of the Alay'nya Studio,
  • those who are visiting from out-of-town, or coming in for an "introductory visit,"
  • those who wish to study with us "at a distance" - you can be living in any portion of the world, from Athens, Greece to Athens, TN.

Look throughout this blogpost for homework assignments; follow the links and be prepared to use what you've studied with the online materials when you come to class!


We typically use the same warm-up music each time; Cuts 1 - 7 (all or in part) of Beyond the Sky, by Omar Farouk Tekbilek and Brian Keane. We'll have the same warm-up pattern each time. You'll get detailed handouts in class ("Warming Up with Alay'nya") until you've built up a notes collection for the entire warm-up sequence.

Energy Boundaries: The Cabbalistic Cross

Our first step with energy work is to define our space. We do this by setting a boundary - circumscribing the area in which we will work. To do this, one of our mainstay "practices" is the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. (Please note: All words within this ritual are to focus our attention on aspects or emanations of G*d, or to invoke the protective presence of the archangels.

In the first class, we will learn and practice a dance version of the Cabbalistic Cross, which is the first part of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram (LBRP). The words that you will learn and vibrate are:

(Those of you who are steeped in the Christian tradition of reciting the Lord's Prayer, or in the similar Jewish tradition, will note that these phrases are drawn from those prayers.)

Our music for this etude will ultimately be Anahat on Zaman by Kairo by Night.

Energy Circulation and Breath Control: Drawing Energy (Ch'i) Up Your Spine

In the Beginner's Series, we develop a number of energy-circulation movement patterns (or etudes). Our first one helps us to bring energy up our spines. We bring it to each of seven different "energetic way-stations." (Later on, we'll learn how to connect these to chakras.)

Our music for this etude is the beautiful Gayatri Mantra on Saffron Blue by Rasa.

As you listen to this music (do so online), you'll note that the word-sequence or change is repeated seven times. We'll ultimately use all seven; each for a different energy center.

In preparation for the first class, listen to the music, and read along using the translation.

While doing this, we'll use a series of mudras, which are hand gestures that help open our energy centers, circulate energy, and encourage certain mental/emotional states. Specifically, we're going to use two mudras that open our two lower chakra areas. Note that the two sounds that we'll use are LAM and VAM, with the two respective mudras.

As we do this etude, we will also incorporate a breathing pattern - a very simple aspect of pranayama. We use only a very simple three-part breathing pranayama for this etude. We will have a pause (or retention of breath) after each inhalation and exhalation. We'll use the four phrases of the Gayatri Mantra to cue our inhalation, retention, exhalation, and pause.

First Principle: Anchoring

We take a Principles-based approach to learning the dance movements. Each Principle gives us a kinesthetic and internal-image "cue" or "trigger" that helps us to align or move our body in a certain way. There are seven basic, or Static (non-moving) Principles that we'll seek to learn during the Beginner's Introductory Classes. The first Principle that we'll learn is Anchoring. This is discussed in Unveiling: The Inner Journey, in Chapter 22: "Looking Like a Dancer (Even If You're Not)."

Techniques: Hip Drops and Hip Thrusts

When we use the first Principle of Anchoring to align our pelvis, then all our pelvic and hip techniques come about automatically. We simply "discover" that they are there, waiting to be used! Over the first several weeks of the Beginner's Introductory Classes, we'll learn an etude that lets us practice lots of different hip movement techniques, particularly hip thrusts and hip drops, together with transitions, step patterns, pelvic circles, and other moves. Our music for this will be The Magic in Your Eyes (Cut #1) on Hossam Ramzy's Source of Fire.

Music Analysis

We will start our musical analysis with the opening portions of Hossam Ramzy's Source of Fire. There will be a take-home worksheet for this.


Dream Dancer

Time permitting, we will start two or three mini-choreographies. Specifically, we'll focus on creating "choreographic units" - small sections that we can match onto a section of different pieces of music.

Cool-Down & Meditation

We'll close the class with a cool-down section. We often use Beautiful Friend on Dream Dancer by Light Rain as a gentle and beautiful cool-down. This is something that we can develop later for arm and hand work, along with undulations and some turns and rhumba movements.

See you in class. Namaste - Alay'nya

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Return to the Goddess" by Suzanna del Vecchio - The "Challenge Dance" for Autumn 2012

Return to the Goddess (a Chifti Telli) by Suzanna del Vecchio - The "Challenge Dance" for Alay'nya Studio Members; Autumn, 2012

Challenge Dance for Alay'nya Studio Members: Autumn, 2012

Every quarter we select a different challenge dance: one that is sure to push us to our limits, both technically and artistically. Each challenge dance is one done by a world-class dancer, and available for all to watch via a YouTube clip or other (free) web-based source.

For the Autumn, 2012 quarter, we're selecting Suzanna del Vecchio's beautifully-rendered
Return to the Goddess from her DVD, Dances From the Heart. This is set to a beautiful chifti telli by Alan Bachman (Desert Wind).

The music for this dance is the Isis Chiftitelli, on Alan Bachman's Kali Ma, and is one of the most-loved songs in the Oriental dance community.

Members of the Alay'nya Studio should begin by studying the portion of Suzanna's dance that they can watch online, and practicing the first minute with her. (This would be up to the point where she starts circling the floor while doing a rib circle.

Be very careful about easing into your backbend. In our class, we'll modify that aspect of choreography and defer it (for each student) until she can safely and confidently and comfortably do a backbend facing away from the audience (so that when she moves into the backbend itself, she's looking "back" to see the audience and they can see her face.)

Alay'nya doing a backbend during Red Phoenix. Photo by Crystal Barnes. Used with permission.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Energy Dancing with a "Water Feeling": Flowing and Swirling Motions

Playing with Water Energy in Dance: Flowing and Swirling and "Fluid" Motions

The Autumn Equinox marks the transition from the fire energy of summer to the water energy of fall. The notion of having different "elements" (air, earth, water, and fire) comes from our classic Western European esoteric tradition, which teaches that each quarter is governed by a "suite" (swords, pentacles, cups, and rods), and that each of these "suites" is respectively associated with an "element."

This is important for us not just because of our Western European cultural heritage, but because these various "suites" also connect us to growth stages identified in the Kabbalah, which is the earliest known "roadmap" for personal growth (leading, potentially, to God-realization). In a much more immediate and practical vein, these various "elements" connect us to a feeling of what is going on in our environments, and to how our bodies react to the changing seasons.

The "Ace of Cups" - the ultimate symbol for water energy.

It makes sense for us to invoke water energy into our lives after the fire energy of summer. This often correlates with what is going on in our weather, as well. After a late summer drought, we get rains once again. September is, in fact, a prime time for hurricanes!

And whether or not we've quenched the fire energy of our summer by going to the beach (getting a water energy infusion), by the end of summer, we're often "burned out." We desire not only the coolness, but the "swirliness" of water.

Practically speaking, how do we take this into our dance?

There are certain kinds of movements that almost shout water energy to us:

  • "Rounded" movements such as hip circles, rib cage circles, and figure-eights,
  • "Snakey" movements such as snake arms,
  • "Flowing" movements such as many veil patterns - whether done around our bodies while we are in one place, or as we move across the floor.

There are also certain rhythms - or musical sections - that speak a "watery" language to us:

  • Chifti tellis,
  • Taxims, and
  • "Lyrical" beledis.

This autumn, we'll be studying and building choreographies with each of these different "watery" feelings.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Geek to Gorgeous" in 60 Seconds - Two Opportunities in September, 2012

Learn Alay'nya's Sixty-Second Geek-to-Gorgeous Body Transformation Secrets in September, 2012 - on Channel 10 Cable TV and in Alay'nya Studio Open House

Do you feel (let's be honest here) just the slightest bit frumpy? As in, stressed, harried, hunched down, worn out? Do you feel that - no matter what you put on in the morning - you're still wearing last year's clothes?

And do you sometimes feel that no matter what treatments that you get at the spa, and no matter how hard you "hit it" at the gym, and no matter how many supplements you take, or affirmations that you say, that there is a vital something missing in your life?

If so, you're probably right. You probably ARE missing something. And there really is a "secret something."

The reason that most of us don't know about it is that it can't be packaged as a pill, or provided as a "treatment." There's no advertising money to be made with this "secret." No doctors will get you to come back for repeated injections or laser "therapies." And the major cosmetics houses are not able to sell this to you.

There is, however, a "secret" that has been known for thousands of years. It's not something you can buy, and you can't pay someone else to "provide" this to you. However, you can learn this. And with sufficient determination, you can master this skill and transform your life.

But let me "come clean" - at least a little bit. There's really not just "one secret." Rather, there are layers. There is a whole art and science to this. While you can learn it, this is not an "all-at-once" process. It involves learning some new things, unlearning others, and practicing a whole lot.

And sometimes you - like I - have more time to practice than at others.

But you know what? I'm just like you. I've spent much of my lifetime studying these "secrets," and have achieved some fair proficiency. In fact, I've devoted a whole chapter of my recent book, Unveiling: The Inner Journey, to some "frank talk" on this subject.

But despite all my knowledge, and years of practical experience, I've had (probably just like you), the occasional down-dip in my personal energy. That's when I've really had to go "back to the basics." I've had to practice what I've preached.

For several years, writing Unveiling consumed my life. My body and energy practice was still there, but it was at "maintenance level." And I stopped teaching while putting attention onto finishing the book. It was a lot like having a new baby.

But now the "baby" is a year old. In fact, it's actually "weaned" a bit. It doesn't require my around-the-clock care in terms of getting the reviews, building the readership base, and all those other things that brand-new authors must do.

You've probably heard that old adage, "We teach that which we need to learn."

Well, I'm excited about teaching again. I'm excited about the Open House that we'll be having on the Sunday after Labor Day weekend; Sunday, September 9th, from 12 - 2PM. And I'm excited about sharing some of my favorite "secrets" with you.

In particular, we're devoting this Open House (the first in several years) to one of my favorite topics, the "Sixty-Second Geek-to-Gorgeous Body Transformation."

Imagine it. In one short session, you'll learn my seven-step "transformation checklist" that will let you totally revise how you "are" in your body - how you "organize" your body from the inside out.

The results?

Immediate transformation. Once you've mastered the "seven point checklist," you can apply it within 60 seconds (or less). And you will immediately:

  • Go from frumpy to fabulous,
  • Develop a compelling personal presence, and (perhaps most important)
  • Establish a "baseline" so that you can start learning - and applying - the "secrets" of increased vitality, energy, and the ability to command life to conform to your desires and wishes.

Are you ready for this?

Are you ready to become a Master of the Universe?

Join me at the Open House - the Sunday after Labor Day this September.

And if you can't be with me on that date - or even if you just want quick reviews - I'll be demonstrating the "Sixty-Second Geek-to-Gorgeous" body transformation on John Monsul's Communicating Today, which will air three times that week.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Anahid Sofian Labor Day Weekend Workshop - Beautiful "Patterns in Space"

Anahid Sofian, Master Teacher of Oriental Dance, Hosts Four-Day Intensive Starting Thursday, August 30, in New York City

If you've read Unveiling: The Inner Journey, you've read about Anahid Sofian. She's responsible for several of my most significant breakthroughs in Oriental dance - both in the technique and the "psychology" of the dance.

Here's just a sample:

"... What she had just shown me was not something new. I had not only known it: I had taught it to my students. And here I was, taking my new creation in to my master teacher, and realizing that I'd forgotten the basic lessons.

"What was it that Anahid had, and that I had totally forgotten?

"Simply, it was the power of holding something back." (Unveiling: The Inner Journey, Chapter 26: "Unveiling: Selective Revelation," p. 359)

This week, from Thursday, August 30 through Sunday, Sept. 2nd, Anahid will be holding an Intensive Workshop in her studio in NYC. This will be a magical time!

One of the things that Anahid teaches, and which I've learned from very few others, is the mystical, elusive art of creating beautiful, flowing patterns in space as you move with your veil. Most veil work that we see today is stationary. Anahid excels at the earlier version of veil art - the kind that is mesmerizing, captivating, and infinately memorable.

Alay'nya showing veil techniques that she learned from master dancer teacher Anahid Sofian

Anahid will be teaching her special veil movements this coming Sunday, Sept. 2nd. There's possibly still room for one or two more to join her class.

On Saturday, Eva Cernik, Anahid's protege and a master teacher in her own righ, will be teaching, and this is another stellar opportunity. I've adored every single thing I've learned from Eva, and have watched her videos time and again. (Showing an Eva video, and then trying to capture her "essence," is a staple part of my class curriculum.)

If you live in the Greater DC Metro Area, or in Baltimore or anyplace up the I-95 corridor, you can get to Anahid's studio easily using Amtrak. It's a bit of a long day, but very doable. And totally worth the doing!








Thursday, August 09, 2012

"Energy Dance" Deserves Its Own Respect

"Energy Dance" - Oriental Dance Combined with Energy Work - Requires Special Handling, Care, and Respect

This last Sunday (just five days ago), I resumed regular "dance class." It was "class with myself" - doing all the things that I usually do (and teach) when holding regular classes: warm-ups, technique drills, choreographies. At the end of two fairly intense practice sessions, I was tired. In fact, my muscles were stiff and sore for the next couple of days. This isn't unusual when getting back into Oriental dance (belly dance); we use large muscle groups, and the workout is not necessarily more intense, but it's often deeper.

Yesterday, after morning chores and during morning journaling, a piece of music kept coming to mind; "Dark Fire" by Light Rain, on a CD of the same title. I followed a strong intuition that I should start working with this music. Several hours later (of very intermittent efforts), I had a bit of choreographic overview, some intense practicums (lasting only a few minutes, but still intense), some small sections of more specific choreography, together with costume ideas. I'd even selected my veils - two 4-yard pieces of subtly patterned and deeply toned silk chiffon.

In addition to playing with the physical aspects of this dance, though, I did something else: I started working with the energy aspects. This was entirely different from Sunday's "classes." This was a deliberate, intentional effort to infuse energy (ch'i) collection and direction with the dance movements.

And then, being somewhat tuckered out, I went to bed. I didn't fall asleep right away, and so started listening to a book on CD. And that's where I made the mistake. In fact, my intuition (or "guidance") was telling me not to listen to that book, and I did an override - I wanted the story, and so I indulged.

I awoke a couple of hours later from a nightmare. For me, any form of nightmare is really unusual. My dreams are usually interesting "adventure stories." Maybe not always fun (and usually strong on the "adventure" aspects), but almost never unpleasant or scary. In this dream, though, characters similar to the book's villains showed up - people who were being hurtful, cruel, or simply very mixed-up.

This experience brought me back to recognizing that energy work - even when just practicing or developing something (that is, not being done with full-out magical intention) is still very powerful. I'm likening it to being in a fast-flowing, full stream of water.

Most of the time, we have an "energy flow" inside ourselves, but it is relatively low-level. This is like walking through a stream that is just trickling around our ankles, and isn't moving very fast. When we deliberately start ramping up the "energy work" aspect of our practice, then it is like being in a stream of water that is much higher - imagine thigh or waist-deep - and is swirling and moving with some vigor. This kind of stream can easily pick up and move around stray, random things such as tree branches and any loose debris.

The difference between the energy flow (ch'i) that we create and move through our bodies during intentional practice and being in a stream of water is that when we do the energy work, the "stream" is really inside us - and when we ramp it up, it is also outside us a bit as well.

When a big rainstorm causes a stream of water to swell, it not only moves faster, but also rises in volume - picking up all sorts of stream-bank debris. This extra debris, along with dirt washed into the stream, make it full of extra "stuff." Similarly, when we expand our personal energy, we not only attract more thought-forms from our vicinity, we "swirl them up" with extra energy. We give them more "oomph" and power in our lives.

Usually, this extra "stuff" doesn't do any damage; the waters subside and the "stuff" gets left along the streambank once again. But if part of our intention and goal is to actively work with our internal energy, then it makes sense to keep our energy-stream as pure as possible, doesn't it? Simply put, why add unnecessary junk?

There's a notion called "magical chastity." While it technically refers to a time of sexual abstinence unless using sex for magical purposes, this is actually a more broad-reaching concept. The idea is that when we are focused on creating something, we keep our attention and energy pure and focused solely on that desired creation. I've done this a lot when getting insights for a new invention, or when seeking clarity on a writing project. Athletes will often do this as they approach a significant competition or game. It's all about focus.

The lesson here is that even relatively low-key energy work is still energy work, and deserves respect. It's like shifting from using a couple of batteries to a full-scale generator. The higher the voltage (or more accurately, stored energy content - thus creating "potential"), the more we should be careful with our thoughts. Our thoughts function much like "connection wires" - they guide where the energy goes. And if we allow our thoughts to be randomly corroded with material from books, TV, or movies - just as we're ramping up our energy store - then we'll sometimes get a bit of "energy leak-over" as the energy that we've built up combines with the thought-forms that have caught our attention.

Usually, there's no real damage. In my case, having an unpleasant dream is not a severely damaging experience. But the more proficient we become with energy work, the more important it is to be careful. Especially, we need to be careful with our thoughts. If we must read for entertainment, it's important to choose something uplifting. I'm right now in the midst of my first pass through A Course in Miracles, which emphasizes love and forgiveness. These are better thoughts to have in my head than the actions of some villain in a novel!

One final thought: when we're in a ramped-up energy state, it is much easier for us to influence "reality." This is a good time to bring to mind those people, events, and organizations that are on our prayer list. Is there a person or group of people for whom you have kind intentions, but cannot give the time or money or attention that this person or group would like? Give them your loving thoughts while in a heightened energy state, and let the cosmos "do its thing." Remember the foremost adage of basic New Age thinking, "That which is like unto itself is drawn." (See the works of Abraham-Hicks for expositions.) When we are in a heightened energy state, and create a thought-form of love, respect, good-will, and appreciation for someone or something, and then (with gentle intention) send that thought-form to that person, then - because this thought-form has been created both with clarity and an extra energy-oomph, it will attach to the object to which it was sent. That is, it will attach if it is in synchrony with the energy-essence of the person or group. So then, it will cause other similar thought-forms to attach - resulting in good things happening! (A simple form of creating reality through intention.)

Best wishes, much love, and see you in dance class!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

How to Prepare for Your First Class in Belly Dance

Advance Preparation Makes All the Difference in Learning Oriental Dance (Belly Dance)

Darlings - I have a confession to make.

If you're tracking this blog at all, you'll know that we're having our first Open House in over two years. For all practical purposes, I had closed the Alay'nya Studio while doing the final rewrites, edits, proofs, and publication of my most recent book, Unveiling: The Inner Journey. And then, a first year of guiding it through public introduction. Think of it has having a baby, where the last three months of "gestation time" that we need for a human child transferred into 2-3 years to bring Unveiling from raw draft to finished product.

Now, of course, it is not only available (in both trade paper and Kindle download form), Unveiling is actually the first required reading for people who want to study with me.

Obviously, though, this is a dance class. And I'm having to get my "dance groove" back on, just as you will when you join me. (Mark your calendar NOW for our Open House on Sunday, Sept. 9th, and contact me for directions and details.)

So I'm practicing. And in addition to the yoga, core, and conditioning basics, I'm back to practicing dance (and developing lesson plans, reworking choreographies and practice pieces, and all sorts of things necessary to launch a great season).

One of my favorite training DVDs is Kathryn Ferguson's Mid-Eastern Dance: An Introduction to the Art of Belly Dance.

Years ago, this was my most significant instructional tape; then available only in VHS form. During a summer when my dance teachers took a break, I had just refinished my living room. This empty room beckoned as a new "dance studio." The big challenge was: could I get myself to practice all on my own, without the structure and security of a dance class to guide me?

My next big question was: could I ever look like Kathryn?

I was entranced and inspired by her tape. What was most mesmerizing about her presentation was that after each (well-explained and well-demonstrated) technique section, she'd have a little vignette in which she used those techniques in an improvisational dance.

I wanted desperately to look like her, to dance like her. Even after finding my "master teachers" (Anahid Sofian and Elena Lentini; read about them in Unveiling), Kathryn remained an icon. And her VHS tape was always my reference standard for introductory teaching.

Now, I'm using her material again. This time, she's (so thankfully!) released it as a two-volume DVD. You'll have to contact her to get a copy; it's not available through Amazon, and not even as a "store item" from her website. But contact her directly. (I may place a bulk order for the class, once everyone has registered for the first quarter.) The extra effort is worth it. This still remains, by far, one of the most fascinating, beautiful, and useful introductory DVDs to this beautiful and gracious art.

But my confession? Right now, I'm looking nowhere near the way that Kathryn does in her teaching DVD. Full circle. I'm back to being a student before I can be a teacher again.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Alay'nya Studio Hosts Open House on Sunday After Labor Day Weekend

Alay'nya Studio Will Reopen Sunday, September 9th with Open House

You've heard me right, darlings! After a two-year hiatus - the last (and most demanding) stages of writing, editing, and proofing, as well as launching my most recent book - I'm reopening my dance studio. We'll have a grand, gala re-opening party on Sunday, Sept. 9th, from Noon - 2PM. All are welcome - bring family and friends!

The newly-opened Studio will have two classes on Sunday (11:30AM - 1PM, and 1:30PM - 3PM), and one on Tuesday evenings (7PM - 8:30PM; 8:30-9 for additional choreography intensive). The Sunday morning and Tuesday evening classes will focus on rejuvenation and technique-building, and the Sunday afternoon class will orient to choreography, interpretation, and emotional expression.

The new dance classes will have much in common with what I was teaching years ago. For example, we'll use a similar warm-up sequence. A lot of the "basics" will also be familiar; technique drills, "etudes" (dances that we learn in order to practice certain techniques), and even some of the choreographies.

As before, classes will be rich with handouts, and there will be lots of "recommended readings" and "recommended DVDs" for self-study. (These will be augmented now with "recommended YouTube" clips and other online offerings.)

However, there are some evolutions in these new classes, compared with the former.

First, this really is an "esoteric dance school," as described in Unveiling (Chapter 29, "Pragmatic Esoterics," p. 401). Our primary and long-term goal, focus, and emphasis is on using dance as a women's pathway for body/ mind/ psyche/ energy cultivation and integration. Emphasis - ultimately - on the energy integration.

So yes, we're going to have pretty intensive workouts, and do a lot of technique-building. We're going to read and study and practice outside of class. We'll do things in class that will let students (on their own, later) do the really deep-level emotional release work that is needed for healing.

Our real goal, however, remains focused on the energy work. We're going to be juicing up our internal energy, or ch'i, and doing some pretty amazing and awesome things with it. This will range from our simple rejuvenation exercises (we'll introduce a different one in each class), to some pretty advanced work.

For anyone who plans to study with me starting this autumn, let me suggest the following - for right now:

  • Physical conditioning: You'll need strong abs and a stretched-out, supple lower back to even begin doing the kinds of dance movements that we'll use. I expect every student to have a regular, near-daily practice that includes yoga, core conditioning, and technique "basics."
  • Read Unveiling before coming to class: You wouldn't show up for a chemistry lab without having read the accompanying textbook, right? Similarly, read Unveiling before showing up for the first day of class. Have your copy handy; marked-up and dog-eared. Show that you've done some of the "Personal Pathworking" exercises. Especially, show that you're familiar with all the sections that have to do with movement and dance. Why else would you be studying with me?
  • Start your own "energy work" studies: Our other most-referenced textbook is Donald Michael Kraig's Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts. Autumn is the season of water; we'll be doing a lot of "watery" and "flowing" dance movements. We'll also be working with the energy-aspect of water. Read Lessons One (Introduction), Two (Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and Kabbalah basics), and Five (Element of Water). We won't be creating or using any "magical implements" either in or out of class. (This is a dance class, not a magick practicum.) However, we will be using the various elemental energies, and D.M. Kraig's book is the best reference and guide for such matters.

In addition, for each class, students should bring:

  • Silk veil: Typically three yards, lightweight silk,
  • Zills (metal finger cymbals): A later blogpost will give some recommended sources if you don't have a set already, and
  • Yoga mat or Pilates mat: You'll want this for warm-ups and floorwork.

I'll post recommended DVDs and music shortly - both here and on the Alay'nya Studio Website.

Here are Amazon links to the two essential "texts" for our classes, plus a good conditioning DVD:

Unveiling: The Inner Journey is available from Amazon as a Kindle download (see Amazon link below) and also in trade paper form:

Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts, by Donald Michael Kraig:

Core Training for Belly Dancers, produced by Gerson Kuhr:

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Rejuvenation Secret #1: Improved Mood, Increased Energy, and Better Stress Resistance

Disaster Recovery - Using the Ancient Chinese Silk-Weaving Exercises

This last week, like so many of us in the Mid-Atlantic area, I was without power for several days. As with many of you, I carried through the actual power-outage itself well enough. Adrenaline kicks in, and our survival instincts take over. We solve problems, come up with creative fixes, and simply deal.

It's the aftermath that is toughest.

The adrenaline surge fades away, and we're left with clean-up. Messy, nasty fridges and freezers. Things strewn all over the house. More dirt and grime, wear and tear. This is when - all too often - it seems overwhelming.

Like many of you, I've had a post-power-outage personal energy and power drop. This morning, I was barely able to do a yogic downward dog. What makes this even more challenging? When we're stressed, we tighten up. That takes a further toll, and it's even harder to do those "stretch and release" things that we know will help us feel better.

Rebooting our personal power and energy is like rebooting any system. We do the simplest and smallest things first.

My personal "power-up" sequence uses a special movement/energy/breathing sequence: the silk-weaving exercises. These are essentially a "pre-kung-fu" movement series - not as full-fledged as T'ai Chi, but movement-and-breathing-oriented. Sort of like a martial arts version of yoga warm-ups. Very powerful and effective.

A good video preview showing extracts of these silk-weaving exercises. Another good web resource gives detailed instructions for the Eight Pieces of Brocade, which is another term for the silk-weaving exercises. Here is one more YouTube demonstration video for the Eight Pieces of Brocade.

My results:

  • Better energy (I was indeed able to get into some yoga and other stretches),
  • Improved mood, and
  • Reduced stress along with a better attitude about dealing with the post-power-outage clean-ups.

Overall, a really big impact from just 40-60 minutes of silk-weaving exercises, followed by yoga and a Western esoteric energy-practice called circulating the body of light. (See Donald Micheal Kraig's book, Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts, referenced in my previous blogpost, Creating Personal Energy.

Michael Minick's The Kung-Fu Exercise Book: Health Secrets of Ancient China is the book that I used many years ago to teach myself the basic silk-weaving exercise patterns. Since then, having studied T'ai Chi and Oriental dance for many years, I've been able to decipher the secrets that were NOT put into the book. That has made my technique more powerful and effective. Minick's book is now (sadly) out of print; used copies are available through

For information on circulating the body of light, read Donald Michael Kraig's excellent book: Modern Magick: Twelve Lessons in the High Magickal Arts


Best wishes, and more power to you!

Related blogposts:

Monday, June 25, 2012

The "Latest Greatest" from Julie ("America's Mindset Mechanic") - Worth the Read!

Julie Rahm, "America's Mindset Mechanic," on "Dead Languages"

A couple of weeks ago my dear friend Julie posted an insightful dead languages on her blogsite. These "dead languages" were not "dead" in the sense of Latin or Sumerian, but "dead" in terms of the energy-impact that it had on both the speaker and the hearer.

Now you've heard me mention Julie before. She's in Unveiling: The Inner Journey (see the tail end of Chapter 21, "Dressing the Part." You may have followed my link to her post two years ago, when she described her "mindset tools," particularly the "plumb bob." (Great analogies, by the way; you might even want to re-read.)

Her blogs are always good. This recent one, though, on how (at least in some parts of our country) we use "dead language" really got my attention. Words like "no problem" (and what they convey emotionally) are an example of "dead language." They lack vitality, life-force, and connection.

If you haven't been tracking her blog, add it to your feed. In particular, read this post.

And think about how "dead language" terms have crept into our vocabulary.

Or even worse - how some people may say things like "Shut up!" or "Get outta here!" when what they REALLY mean is "How fantastic! I am so thrilled and happy for you!"

When we're happy for someone, let's say it.

And by all means, when someone has good news to share, let us NOT tell them to "Shut up" or to "Get out"! Especially when what we really want to say to them is, "Fabulous, tell me more!"

Let's do the "golden rule" and speak to others the way we'd like to be spoken to.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Karen McLane's "Crowning of the Woodland Queen" - Beautifully Danced, with Grace and Power

Karen McLane's The Crowning of the Woodland Queen - A Suitable Repertoire Work for Any Dance Company

The Crowning of the Woodland Queen, choreographed and produced by Karen McLane, Founder of the Ancient Rhythms Dance Troupe, introduces a powerful, versatile, and beautifully effective full-length work that can be used, adapted, and performed by a wide range of dance schools and troupes throughout the world. A lovely Youtube Teaser effectively captures the spirit of this performance.

In structure, style, and format, this work is similar in many ways to the much-loved Tchaikovsky Nutcracker:

  • Seasonally-themed, centered on spring instead of winter. (This alone makes it a useful construct for many dance companies who present a dance recital or major work each spring, highlighting their dancer's talents.)

  • A few main powerful characters, supported by a dance troupe with diverse performance abilities. The all-female cast relieves many dance directors of the need to scout for male dance talent. (If such were available, a "role" could easily be created and inserted into the work without greatly altering its structure or theme.) Three strong dancers are needed to carry the named roles.

  • Adaptable vignettes showcase individual, duo, and small group performances, fitting well into the storyline of the woodland spirits, nymphs, and sylphs dancing before the Woodland Queen. Essentially, within a dance theater group, all dancers worthy of performing can be cast into at least one role, satisfying the Dance Director's need to provide performance venue for all of her troupe members and senior students.

In short, this work is a Dance Director's dream; a cohesive and magnetic storyline, adaptable enough to be worked within almost any substantial troupe's size, stage, and budget. The opening dance vignettes can be altered nearly at will to accommodate available talent and to showcase their strengths. (Or to hide their weaknesses, as necessary.) To a reasonable extent (and as evidenced in Ms. McLane's choreography and production), a diverse range of dance styles can also be incorporated. (We again can thank Tchaikovsky for inspiration along these lines.)

To be effective, this work does require at least three very strong female leads. In this performance, these lead roles were capably and beautifully carried out by dancers strong enough to give their characters power, meaning, and depth.

  • The Shadow Queen, danced by Charise Hoge,

  • The Moon, danced by Troupe Director and Producer Karen McLane, and

  • The Woodland Queen, danced by Giulia Prati.

The most challenging and exciting role is actually not that of the Woodland Queen, bur rather that of the Queen of Shadows. It is always more difficult (and interesting) to portray a villain! Charise Hoge's interpretation drew on her core strengths; she infused her role with powerful elements reminiscent of warrior-movements from kung fu and T'ai Chi forms. Deep plies, low-to-the-ground weight shifts, and a strong whole-body connection all gave Ms. Hoge's character the requisite feeling of "dark power." Her background in yoga, modern dance, and jazz was readily apparent - all these were necessary to carry out a role that would have been diffused if the dancer had only classical Oriental dance training on which to call. Ms. Hoge's compelling portrayal brought the Queen of Shadows to a real and menacing life.

Giulia Prati, formerly with Columbia University, graciously and gracefully danced the role of the Woodland Queen. Ms. Prati's background includes Jazz Dance, Modern Dance, and African Dance. While the majority of her moves were lyrical, in the last-to-final Transformation dance with the Queen of Shadows (Charise Hoge), she proved an able match for the Shadow Queen, in both the deep work and the more flowing movements that ensued as the Shadow Queen was brought into alliance and integration.

Finally, Karen McLane's performance lent a delicate surreal nature as she portrayed the Moon. She was lyrical and graceful, shimmering in flowing gold sequins as the Moon come down to earth to bless the now-integrated (and thus more powerful and knowing) Woodland Queen, who had just healed the Queen of Shadows and brought her into her "Woodland" retinue.

Numerous other dancers, from both the Ancient Rhythms Dance Company and troupes both local and farther afield, enriched the Crowning with lively and beautiful performances.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why We Suck at Dancing, and What We Can Do About It

A Very Rare Vent from Alay'nya - "Why We Suck" - and (Most Importantly) "What We Can Do About It"

OK, darlings. Let me come clean. I've been dancing for almost thirty years. Teaching for over twenty. And during that time, I've seen a whole lot of belly dance. And very most likely, you have as well.

And now that I'm moving out from the "writing Sabbatical" (the three years that it took to move from a raw draft to a published book, and the first year "soft launch" of marketing), I'm back to dancing again. And to watching you dance. And watching our friends, our teachers, and whomever else we can find.

And I'm back with one of my original opinions of the quality of our performances. Overall, we kind of suck.

The best that we can say - the kindest word - is that most of us are "enthusiastic hobbyists."

Claudette Dessorgher says this much better than I could - or would - until inspired by reading her article in Gilded Serpent, Beyond the Restaurant: How Can We Bring Bellydance to a Wider Audience?:

However if we stand back and watch most hafla and showcase performances objectively, we have to be honest and say that, in comparison to other dance genres, the standard is very low.

Of course this is largely down to the fact that most bellydancers come to the dance fairly late in life, unlike other dance forms where children start training in their early years. By far the majority are hobbyists with full time jobs, so are unable to take the daily class that mainstream dancers expect, and even if they could, there are precious few advanced classes available in most towns and cities.

Ms. Desorgher goes on to make a number of useful points, and she offers suggestions on what we can - and should - do as a community. (This really is a good article. Go read it.

But to elaborate on her point: Most of the time, our shows are simply boring.

There's a reason for that.

Dance is not just a "visual" performing art. When we go watch a dance performance, unless it is really very technically good - and visually engaging - we're not going to be greatly enthralled. If we want a simple "visual" performance, we should watch the American Ballet Company performing one of George Balanchine's classic works.

But you know what? Balanchine is cold. His work is abstractly beautiful, but it doesn't engage me emotionally - even when the music is lively, and when the dancers are smiling and sparkly. And even watching interesting patterns as they move and fancy choreographies - that doesn't do much for me either.

That's because there is a real difference between Oriental dance (belly dance) and classic ballet. Oriental dance is meant to be an emotional expression - an emotional communication between dancer and audience (or dancer and musician and audience). And it is also a kinesthetic - a visceral - experience.

Ms. Desorgher suggests that one reason that our overall "community-level" performances are not as exciting as they could be is that many of us start late in life. Also, many of us don't have access to advanced classes.

All true.

But that still misses the point.

We don't look as good as we might because, by and large, we're not present in our bodies as we dance. We're way too often in our heads. (I've seen dancers count their way through choreographies; haven't you?) Dance is meant to be in our bodies, not our heads.

All too often - actually, most of the time - we're not "connected" in our bodies, either. That means, we are separately moving around our body parts. We may move an arm at the same time as we do a hip drop or a turn, but for most of us, the two movements are not "connected" inside our bodies. And it shows. It really shows. We look a whole lot more as though we're following the leader in an aerobics class than we are doing a dance.

Finally, we are - as a community - seriously deficient in three major areas. First, we don't have a "principles-based" approach. If we take a look at our sister art (actually, our "brother art"), T'ai Chi Ch'uan, we'll see that it comes out of Principles. At least, if you're studying with a really great teacher, it does. (For an example, check out Peter Ralston.)

Second, we're deficient in understanding and consciously using our "emotional vocabulary." Instead, we have a set of stylized gestures. By and large, we don't know or understand how various movements - whether a gesture or a movement in space - communicate very specific emotional messages.

Third, we're by and large still locked up in our bodies. Most of us have not yet done the emotional release work that allows us to effectively convey dance to our audience, and to experience a dance movement throughout our entire being. So if we're locked up, if we're not released, then our audience gains nothing by watching us.

Ideally, though, we take our audiences into a different state of being. We take them on an internal, magical story-ride, and they find a certain sense of release - an emotional experience - in watching us dance.

How to get there?

Well, I've just committed to Lynette Harris, Founder and Editor of the Gilded Serpent, to do a series of articles on just this topic. And because dance is visual/kinesthetic, I'm going to have to follow up with video. So this is a commitment, from me to you.

But one tiny little first step that each of us can take?

Do yoga. Get those hips, pelvis, and lower back released. Then do your hip shimmies and figure eights.

Also, the next time you're going to perform - warm up before you go on stage. You'll look a whole lot better if you do. Really. Seriously. Take my word for it. It will help you look better, feel better, present better, and minimize the likelihood of injuries.