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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.