“How do you find the time to do it?” – Guest Author Lisa Jean

As a bellydancing mom of three who dances and teaches, i get asked this all the time.  At first glance, I don’t know how to answer it.  I just do what needs to be done.  But when I look at the bigger picture, I can see how crazy it looks.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself!  Let me give you a little background.  My name is Lisa Jean.  I’m a dancer, dance teacher, and barre fitness instructor based in Wamego, KS (a.k.a. small town in the middle of nowhere).  I’ve been dancing since I was little, bellydancing for almost 20 years, and teaching for around 10.  I’m also a stay at home mom of three kiddos.  Rowan is 10, Kelvin is 6 and Leah just turned 3.  So yeah, I’m a little busy!

Honestly, balancing everything isn’t something I consciously planned at first.  I just sort of shuffled things around until I got it to work.  And of course, everything changed with the addition of each kid.  After being a dancing mom for 10 years, though, I can give you some tips for what’s worked for me.

  1. Lists.  This is probably the biggest one for me!  Between all the things I need to remember to do for my business, the kid related things (doctor appointments, school things, pokemon names, etc), and just life in general, there is absolutely no way I can keep it all straight in my head anymore.  I use  google calendar that’s shared with my husband, a physical planner, and a daily to-do list to keep it all mapped out.

      The daily to-do list is by far the most helpful.  Let me share how I do it!  Each night I make a list of all the things I want to do the next day, then divide that into three categories.  The first   category is the things that NEED to be done.  I try to put no more than 4 things in this list, cause let’s be honest, between drop-off, pick-up, potty-training and everything else, I don’t typically have time for much else!        

The second category is the things I’d LIKE to get done.  This is typically things that need to be done soon, but not necessarily tomorrow.  If they don’t get done, no sweat.


The third category is the things that probably AREN’T going to get done.  Just those things that you’d like to get done at some point, but don’t really have a due date. 


My goal for the day is to just get those few things done on the first part of the list.  If I can those done, I feel accomplished!  I had to train myself to be okay with not getting the rest done.  It took awhile, but now I can go to sleep guilt free if I only get those first 3-4 things done.  Life with kids has a lot of unpredictability to it, so I can’t really schedule large chunks of down time to do things.  I have to look for the windows.  Boys are at school and Leah’s playing contentedly?  Quick!  Work on something on the list that doesn’t need prolonged focus.  Nap time?  Knock out something that needs a little more focus.  I’ve also just gotten really well practiced at working in small bursts.


2)  Rely on your support network.  I’m still working on this one!  I tend to be of the mindset that I can do ALL THE THINGS and asking for help is a sign of weakness.  Actually, asking for help is a sign of strength.  My husband takes care of bedtime solo two nights a week and keeps the troupes busy for a chunk of time each weekend so I can get some focused work done.  My parents are always happy to keep the little one while the bigs are at school so I can get some serious work done once in awhile.  There’s no way I could get as much done as I do and still stay sane without help.


3)  Schedule in creative practice time.  This one I just recently started doing.  Businessy stuff and drilling and lesson planning I can do at home with the kids under foot.  But just noodling around and exploring movement is something I can’t really do while wearing the “mom hat”.  So here’s my current solution!  I teach my in person classes on Monday nights.  However…when my classes aren’t in session, I still go in to the studio and take that time to dance just for me.  I choreograph.  I play.  I explore.  It’s been lovely!  I’d love to have more regular time to do this, but I know that next year my youngest will go to half day preschool so that will open up some regular time that I can dedicate to my personal dancing.


4)  Keep the big picture in mind.  Your littles won’t stay little forever.  They won’t always need you.  Dance will always be there for you, even if it goes a bit on the back burner once in awhile.  Enjoy your mommy years as much as you can because they’re fleeting and irreplaceable.
I know this list doesn’t contain any magic secrets that will miraculously create loads of free time to get your poop in a group, but hopefully it give you a little insight to creating more balance in your dance/mom life!


If you’d like to follow along in my adventures, be sure to follow me on instagram at lisajeanbellydance or visit my website www.lisajeanbellydance.com


Want to contribute to the blog? Contact Ashley Rhianne here!

2022 Schedule is up! Click here to be taken to the schedule.

The Third Trimester – Pregnancy Update

33 weeks prenatal pilates session

The third trimester – my 34 week pregnancy update.

Its been a long while since I did a pregnancy update – mainly because life has been insanely busy but also because while I am grateful for a healthy pregnancy, I have found this process incredibly difficult.

I am now 34 weeks pregnant & staring down the end of my pregnancy journey. It has gone by both fast & slow at the same time. It feels like I have been pregnant forever but the weeks roll by so quickly. In theory, I have been pregnant really since February as I was pregnant for a short time prior to this current pregnancy.

I am still experiencing nausea pretty much everytime I eat – some days are worse than others but overall there is an overarching sensation of feeling sick & getting a terrible taste in my mouth everytime I eat or drink something. Some days, even water makes me ill. As someone who thrived on salads, clean foods & a ton of water and health drinks, this has been such a challenge. Food aversions started right at the 6 week mark & haven’t really left although some of my aversions have softened. I have managed to eat 2 (yes 2!) salads in the past week that did not make me overly ill but I am still not inclined to eat them.

Bread, butter & cheese have been my mainstay foods throughout this pregnancy paired with full fat yogurt, eggs & baked goods. Its been such a process to accept that this is what it is for me & I can hope that my desire to eat healthy will return once I pop out this little boy.

My self esteem & confidence have taken a huge beating throughout this pregnancy – I have honestly never felt so disconnected & unattractive in my life! Skin tags, dark moles, a huge influx of cellulite & weight gain have made me feel pretty gross. My self esteem has been really at an all-time low despite constant reassurance from my amazing & hugely supportive husband. Googling “self esteem during pregnancy” has brought me to many blogs written by women who share the same worries, laments, feelings & thoughts & I have found this hugely helpful. There is a real stigma about having anything but positive feelings & thoughts around being pregnant and I have been glad to find some reassurance that what I am feeling is normal.

I have taken a large step away from being on social media in the past few weeks as I found that now that Covid life is returning to normal, I am getting more triggered seeing people get super fit, traveling, taking dance classes & generally celebrating life. Removing this social media trigger has put a few things in perspective for me & has also made me realize that I was spending A TON of time & energy on it trying to gain approval, likes & follows. Real life is happening in front of me but yet I was living for the virtual validation of the things I was doing & portraying. While I make an effort to be authentic, you cannot help but curate your feed with the more postive and inspiring parts of your life, which was in some cases a tiny detail or inclusion. Finding balance is tricky, especially as I am someone who is all-or-nothing. So this gentle removal of sharing myself & my life has been necessary but yet still a bit hard.

My anxiety has reared its ugly head several time thorughout this journey, with the worst of it being a few weeks ago. Third trimester insomnia coupled with the stress of having a lot on my plate meant that I was waking up at 3am unable to go back to bed. And so I would lay there drowning in my fear about the big transition I have chosen to undertake & how it will affect the life I have currently. I have been in touch with a reproductive psychiatrist who recommended CBT as an immediate therapy & I will be speaking with a counsellor this week as well. I have a lot of fear about the postpartum fourth trimester & so want to get prepared & equipped as much as possible prior to that journey.

What I am grateful for is that overall I have been able to maintain as much as my “normal” life as possible (well up until recently). I still aim to workout 3-5 times a week with resistance- based exercises, pilates & teaching my dance classes. Its only been the last few weeks that I have backed off a bit as I have been too fatigued to either wake up & go or just go in general. I am still able to walk somewhat comfortably ( just put me in proximity of a loo though!) and I haven’t really experienced too much back or hip pain. I am getting leg cramps at night & do sleep with a pregnancy pillow now (THE BEST!) but overall my health has been pretty good. My initial goal was to only gain 25 pounds for whole pregnancy but I am at that now with still 7 weeks-ish to go. I was pretty disappointed in myself but since I am living off baked goods & butter I guess this isn’t too bad overall! As I continue to progress into these final weeks, I am aiming to still get in as many steps as I can at least & to try my best to hit the gym. While I am not hitting any PBs, at least doing something physical helps me feel connected to my old self. I wish I was one of those pregnancy influencer types that only gains weight in their belly but I am just not that person!

My abs have separated to accommodate this growing boy but I am not sure at this time to what degree. I am hopeful that between my pilates awareness & hopeful strong core prior to pregnancy that I will be able to heal this easily & smoothly but I guess time will tell. I am still taking time to connect with my core thorughout the day & am working with a pelvic floor physio to help me both prepare for labour but to also prepare me for the postpartum journey. I have been able to connect with amazing resources along this journey & thankful that I have benefits that will definitely come in handy!

Every day that passes I am both more anxious about the transition to motherhood & relieved that I will soon be finished with this pregnancy journey. It has been a very reflective, intense, humbling, uncomfortable, amazing & sad process that has given me greater understand of the sacrifices mothers make in order to bring a child into this world. It forces you to become selfless where you were selfish before & take everything into consideration. Suddenly your life is no longer your own, even in these in utero days & this conciousness is the beginnng of the transition to the greater good. I have more compassion for women who pivot into this motherhood role & place their own needs second. I have compassion for fathers who stand by feeling & looking helpless despite their best efforts because they are on the outside of this new world.

I am grateful for the partner I have chosen to do this with & even more grateful that we will just do this once.

What was your pregnancy journey like? How did it affect the way you felt about yourself? Did you love the process or did you find it difficult?

[An Open Letter to the Unconventional Woman] – Susan Crawford

Guest Author Susan Crawford

[An Open Letter to the Unconventional Woman]

I see you.

The one who goes against the grain.

The one who doesn’t fit in the box.

The one who likes to do things just a little bit different.

The one who never takes the easy road.

I see you.

You are strong, confident and grounded.

You are a go-getter, a do-er, a visionary.

You are a pioneer, a trailblazer, a leader.

I see you.

But here’s what people don’t see.

You don’t feel like you fit.

You try to make other people comfortable in your presence because you can be “too much”.

You try to conform to social pressures because that’s what “successful” women do.

You try to play small, go with the flow and maintain the status quo, because that’s what’s expected of you.

You put a smile on your face and do your thing, knowing deep down you are not being completely honest with yourself.

You just want to live YOUR life, YOUR way.

I see you.

I am you.

Can you relate?

Only other Unconventional Women will understand.

Others think you’re impulsive, too passionate, or maybe even a bit restless.

They think that because you like LOTS of things, that you can’t focus on ONE thing.

They think that if you just dress more conservatively, tie your big curly hair up, and talk the talk, that you will go far.

But that’s not for you.

You are done pretending that you WANT to fit in.

You are done playing someone else’s game.

You are done acting like you’re ok with trying to be something/someone you are not.

Congratulations, you Unconventional Woman.

You are in good company.

P!nk. Tracee Ellis Ross. Oprah. Lady Gaga. Moana.

The list goes on.

Who in your life is an Unconventional Woman?

How does she inspire you to break free from the norm?

What do you need to do to unleash your superpower?

It’s time.

YOUR time.

I see you.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself.

Don’t hold back to make other people comfortable.

If you don’t like the path, blaze your own trail.

Create the life you want.

This is an open letter to the Unconventional Woman.

Be unf*ckwithable.

If you’re an unconventional woman who is ready to break out of “the Box” of pressures and expectations that society, your family, peers and sometimes even YOU have lived in – join Susan Crawford for the Unlock Your Life Masterclass. A 6 week program to help you disrupt, reimagine and create a life of freedom.

OUR PURPOSE

Meraki Inspired… the space for people who have the courage to Be and Do differently.

OUR VISION

We envision a world where everyone finds fulfillment, happiness, and success on their terms.

OUR MISSION

To show people what’s possible when they dare to choose the unconventional path.

I am here to help you live an Unapologetic, Unconventional and Unf*ckwithable life.

The Art of Improvisation

Guest Author – Alisa Greer (USA)

Today many belly dancers in the US learn our beautiful art exclusively through choreography. Choreography and drilling can be great tools for performing, learning, refining and polishing movements and establishing muscle memory. But choreography can also lead to a focus on perfectionism that doesn’t always serve us well, especially when we become professional dancers. And if you only learn through choreography, you are missing a really important aspect of belly dance: the ability to improvise.

Why Is Improvisation Important?

Most experienced dancers know that belly dance is traditionally a solo, improvisational art form. But in today’s landscape of competitions, belly dance festivals and recorded/online performances, how useful a skill is improvisation? Why bother learning to improvise if you aren’t going to be dancing with a live band?

My personal feeling is that it’s important to learn because it’s the traditional way our dance was performed and taught. It is integral to the dance. Even today, it matters. Improvisation is essential to belly dance and we lose the breathtaking ability to express our emotions from the music in the moment which is the heart of belly dance when we don’t know how to improvise.

But if that doesn’t move you, there are a number of super practical reasons for any pre-professional or professional dancer to learn to improvise.

Expect The Unexpected

You might have your set for a gig perfectly planned out, but fate can sometimes intervene! If you perform regularly, you are going to encounter hiccups.  It’s just going to happen. Even at a restaurant where you work regularly and know the procedure by heart, events can transpire that put your preferred setlists out of reach. The ownership might get a new sound system without letting you know ahead of time, or a cord might go missing and all the sudden your iPod with your treasured, lovingly crafted setlists is no longer available to you. Gulp. 

Or maybe a customer requests a song and your wonderfully hospitable boss says sure! You haven’t heard it before. Or you get to a party and the person who hired you asks if you can dance to their playlist or their favorite songs. Or the band you are dancing with accidentally switches your song and the one they are playing doesn’t even sound familiar to you. At all. And there you are onstage.

It sounds unreal to students who don’t have experience improvising, but you can handle all of these scenarios and many, many more of the wacky situations of performing life with confidence and still put on a great show. You truly, absolutely can. And there is a good chance it’s going to be even better than something you could have choreographed, because the energy will be so vibrant and alive.

Connection

That brings us right to the next reason for learning to improvise. It allows you to truly connect with your audience right as you are performing, because you are in the moment and not in your head trying to remember steps and what comes next. Dancing at festivals and competitions is one thing, but here’s a truth: for many belly dance jobs- paying gigs, or what I call dancing for “civilians” (rather than other dancers)-  we really don’t need to overwhelm our audience with a jam-packed technique explosion. Of course it’s great to have a fiery entrance and some exciting, show-stopping moves. But it’s also great to have space and breathing room, to make eye contact and share a laugh. People want to relax and have fun and feel happy and enjoy the music. They’re enjoying a leisurely meal of wonderful food. They want to celebrate a happy event in their lives or a guest of honor. It really isn’t about us at all, if you think about it. We are a vehicle for joy. And you can be really in tune with how to make magical moments for your clients when you are improvising.

Improvising also changes your connection to the music, and this can in turn inform your choreography. Dancers who improvise, or who can improvise even if they aren’t in every performance, always look more connected to the music simply because they are more connected to the music. You have to know how to connect to it in order to improvise, and that knowledge never leaves you.

Confidence

The last reason I will use to try to persuade you to take up improvisation is confidence. There is a real, unshakable security in knowing that you can truly handle absolutely anything that happens when you are performing. That confidence radiates through your performance and it is magnetic. We can all think of those dancers who are just such awesome badasses you can’t take your eyes off of them for a second. You know nothing can shake them, and that you are going to have fun and be thrilled and feel a range of emotions watching them no matter what song they are dancing to or what happens around them. You almost want something unexpected to happen to see how they handle it. I stress to my students that everything going on in the room can become part of the show when you are improvising. You as the dancer maintain the control, but you can embrace the whole room and every playful child, bustling waiter and spilled water glass with your encompassing energy because you are right there with them in the moment.

Have I convinced you? If so, how about a few tips to get you started with improvisation. These techniques do not originate with me so you have probably heard some of them before. They are passed down like the steps themselves. But I’ll share why I like them and a few of the ways I use them.

Mindset

Improvising requires a completely different mindset than choreography. We have to let go of perfectionism and be open to anything happening. We aren’t going to hit every beat. We aren’t always going to know what’s coming. We just aren’t. We can’t. We’re going to have to wait and listen and see. Yikes, right? I’m dancing in front of people, I want to be perfect! But the beauty of it is that you don’t have to be perfect. No one is requiring that of you.

Over the pandemic anxiety drove me to study mindfulness and learn to meditate, something I never ever thought I would do because I don’t like to sit still (I’m sure other dancers can relate!). And I found that so much of mindfulness training echoes what I knew from improvisation, because we want to get out of anticipating, thinking, counting, and just quiet the critiquing part of us as much as we can so we can simply be. Of course we are performing and we aren’t being paid to zone out, but it’s this mindset of not trying to control things and not worrying that’s important. This allows us to put the other techniques into practice.

Listen

Okay, this one might sound obvious but it has to be said. To improvise, you need to be listening to your music. We have to let the music tell us what to do, and this requires truly listening in the moment to what is happening in the song, and how it is making you feel. How it sounds to you right now while you’re dancing, not what you heard in it last week or yesterday.

Don’t Do So Much

I think when we’re choreographing we try to put in  as much in as possible and to hit every accent. We have to throw this kind of thinking out the window to improvise. Allow yourself to slow down and dance to what you hear in your own time. You aren’t going to hit everything, you are going to listen and pick and choose, and in doing that, you are going to tell your own story to the music. This is always beautiful!

Repeat

One of my favorite tips or exercises for teaching improv is the classic “stick to one or two moves for a section” exercise. I find this one works really well because it stops students from thinking about what movement they are going to do next. That choice is off the table so it frees up a lot of mental space that you can use to practice actively listening and exploring the movement you are currently doing. I find we are always thinking “I’m boring, I need to change” when we’re dancing and then thinking ahead to what move we can do next, but this isn’t how it looks to the audience at all. The audience needs to see the moves repeated more than we think so they can grasp them and enjoy them. Think of how much our music uses repetition and slight variations and allow that to guide your explorations in this exercise.

Understand Rhythm and Instrumentation

Being able to recognize what’s playing can be a huge help when you get a song you’ve never heard before. Maybe you have no idea what your customer has just asked you to dance to, but if you can recognize that the underlying rhythm is say, maksoum, or that the instrument soloing sounds like the violin, it can really ground you in something familiar and give you something comfortable to go on. The more music you listen to, the more you get a feel for the structures. This is obviously a lifelong learning process but it’s not all or nothing- it starts benefiting you the minute you start learning about music and it builds and grows.

Find An Experienced Coach or Teacher to Help You

It can feel daunting, but it really is useful to get some help and feedback on the improvisation process when you are starting out. Look for someone who has experience performing in a wide variety of settings and, most importantly, who is committed to creating a safe and supportive learning environment because you have to feel comfortable dancing in front of them and listening to their feedback. Doing this can help enormously with building confidence and ease with improv. If you are just starting out with belly dance, you may be able to find a teacher who teaches mostly through improvisation, or you can find someone experienced who can help coach you with it.

Wrapping Up

Thank you so much for reading if you’ve made it this far! I hope I’ve convinced you to try improvising and given you a few tools to get started. In addition to everything above, learning to improvise prepares you to dance to live music when the opportunity presents itself. My most favorite times performing have all been to live music. There is something extra special about it that I’m very grateful I’ve been able to experience. There’s more to learn when it comes to live music and improvisation but I hope this is a good starting point and I am very happy to answer any questions you may have. Please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me.

Happy Dancing!

Connect with Alisa Greer!

IG: @alisabellydance
www.alisagreer.com

Guest Author – Alisa Greer (USA)

2021 BellyDance Bundle!!

The Bellydance Bundle 2021!
Ashley Rhianne – Pilates for Dancers

2021 Bellydance Bundle!

I am beyond thrilled to announce this – I have been accepted as a Bellydance Bundle Contributor for 2021!!

It has been one of my GOALS for the last few years to join this group of dancers & teachers & it finally happened!

What is the Bellydance Bundle??

It is an AMAZING Collection of dancer collaborations to keep you training & working at your own pace to grow as a dancer. There are dancers from all over the world & backgrounds that are included in the bundle so you have a variety of teachers & disciplines to keep growing.

This year I will be presenting 2 workshops on Pilates for Dancers that will be included in the bundle.

4.5 years ago I stepped into my pilates training to not only learn how to help others through movement but also how to help my body & dance. It has been an integral part of relearning oriental dance & movement patterns – not to mention core conditioning, strength and muscle integration. During the start of the pandemic I started to teach virtual mat pilates classes to dancers, personal trainers & other fitness professionals & I got such positive feedback! Today my virtual class is made up of mostly dancers who are looking to keep their bodies strong & develop muscular awareness.

“Pilates has helped my dance ability! My muscle & joints are stronger, which supports my body more. For bellydance, I can articulate moves better & I have a larger range of motion” – Sheri

2021 Bellydance Bundle Details

We kick off a strong month + of Bellydance starting today (September 15) with a fantastic new resource to see the progress you’re making in your practice in real time.

Track Your Dance, See Your Progress.

This new guide takes you through some different ways that you might be able to track your practice, has you set some goals, and then has a 30 day fillable tracker that you can use while you’re practicing!

Check it out here: The Bellydance Bundle Link

Can’t wait to see your progress in real time!

Who doesn’t need a new pair of zills, or five? The Bellydance Bundle is giving five lucky winners, five pairs of zills from Turquoise International & Saroyan to celebrate their fifth year! Check it out here!

Contest starts September 20 – October 2!! There will be loads of other giveaways (including from yours truly) so make sure to watch your email!

Bellydance Bundle Sale

In October, there is a crazy sale happening for the bundle which starts October 20 – 27 (7 days only!!) where you can save a Bundle on the Bundle! Mark your calendars to grab this deal!

Thank you all so much for this support! It is crazy amazing!

When you wanna give up

I recently taught a private class & had a student get very frustrated with herself to the point she wanted to quit. She’s a lovely dancer with training but hadn’t danced much at all during the past year (just restarted my virtual class this past spring). I offered her a spot in my semi-private group and was so happy she took the spot! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

But she got really hard on herself to the point that she got in her own way of learning – and wanted to give up.⠀⠀⠀

Sound familiar?⠀This took me back to ALL the classes I went to where I couldn’t figure out whatthehellwasgoingon – I was turning left when everyone else was turning right. I remember my first festival festival in Cairo where I hid in the back feeling like I didn’t know how to dance & that I wanted to quit.⠀

But I pushed on. These feelings are actually good feelings to have when we experience them. If you can go to a dance class & know everything & do it well WELL why are you going to class? It’s time to move up & on. ⠀⠀

Through challenge we grow – think about the lessons life hands us- we develop & become resilient through adversity. Dance is no different/ we challenge our brains through building new neural pathways that makes us smarter (yes yes!) & we learn new motor patterns which adds to our toolbox. We become richer through learning & feel accomplished when we finally nail that move/that combo/that choreo. 

The biggest struggle is ourselves & our brain. We get in our own way & compare ourselves to others. We forget that we are in the initial stage of learning (WHICH IS HUGE). You didn’t learn to walk in a day. You didn’t learn to dance in a day. So be patient with the process ♥️⠀⠀⠀

Can you relate to this feeling? How do you talk yourself out of it? Message me and tell me!

Have you subscribed to my mailing list? Click here to sign up to stay tuned with news, updates & free content!

How the Arab-American community in Southern California greatly affected my dance and changed me for the better

Guest Author – Adrianne (USA)

When I started out taking my first belly dance class I had no idea how this dance would greatly affect my life. I was painfully shy and I had not found my voice or strength yet. I still felt so young and naive, I was 26 when I started my dance journey. But something about this dance pulled me in, maybe it was the glitter or the music. But once I started working with the local Arab-American community here in Southern California something in me changed for the better.


Years ago at one of our local bely dance haflas I meet some of the gigging dancers in town and they asked me if I wanted to work and make some money. The manager would book me at local Arab-American night clubs here in Southern California and take a cut of the money for booking me. I honestly still don’t know why I agreed to join her. I’m a morning person, I can’t stay up past 10pm, I hate being in situations I don’t know what’s going on and I never leave my comfort zone. But for some reason, I said “yes”.

I had “the look” and a basic understanding of the music and culture thanks to my class training from Sa’eeda and Tamra Henna here in Los Angeles.  So my gigging dance career went form zero to 100. It only took a couple of weeks for me to start dancing at multiple clubs each weekend. The next stage of my dance education was about to begin. Seeing how the dance exists among the people.  The doors opened wide for me into the Arab-American community. I was invited into their homes, personal celebrations and life’s biggest moments. I was finally able to see and practise all the knowledge that was given to me in my first dance classes.  What I didn’t expect was how they would change me, teach me to be a better, stronger person.


The Dancer Persona

I have always been a shy introvert. I barely spoke up in school and I was always known as the quite one.  When I showed up to my first solo gig the Egyptian owners assumed not only that I knew what I was doing but I would command their hookah lounge. They made it clear I needed to get every single person up to dance. While I had a very extensive education in Egyptian dance, nothing really prepares you for your first solo gig at an Arab-American establishment. I was absolutely terrified once I walked in, completely out of my element. I’m usually in bed by 9pm, I  hate crowds and loud music and now here I am at midnight waiting to dance as laser lights and smoke fill the room.


I had to pull from deep to find my confidence. It was sink or swim and I needed to really put on a great show. I don’t like not succeeding, so from there I created her: The Diva. They always say fake it until you make, it so I changed my persona and became someone else, confident, full of life and joy. The Egyptians in the room would sing loudly and gesture to the music and encourage me even more. The louder they clapped the more into my character I would dive. They gave my inner-diva permission and acceptance, she started to grow bigger and stronger. It was in these smoky rooms the I  was able to grow my dance persona. I was the boss.


As I would dance I would watch the women and men, I’d analyze their reactions and take notes. After each gig I’d sit and think about which moves and actions I did that had the most reception from the families I was dancing for. The more I fell into the “Feminine but in charge” category the more they loved me. Soon I could easily accept the challenge of convincing  every one in the room to dance or engage with me. Within 3 months of gigging I went from faking confidence to actually having it.
I started noticing this new found confidence creeping into my life off the stage too. I walked a little taller, more sure of my decisions. I knew if I could control a rowdy crowd of men on the dance floor, I can really handle anything. My whole life I had been searching for confidence and I found it on the dance floor in the smokiest, loudest of lounges.


Negotiations

I have always hated confrontation. Any time I had to stand up for my worth or ask for what I needed I would usually give in or give up.  I remember one night early on in my gig career  the manager handed me my payment and it was $20 short. My heart was racing, I was going to have to speak up and convince them to give me the the full promised payment. I stood my ground, showing them text messages and making it clear I wasn’t going to leave without my full payment. This was very new for me and terrifying. I had never really spoke up in my life before! And to my surprise, I got the full payment. I was honestly shocked. I didn’t know I had that in me, and at first I didn’t even know why I won that negotiation.
I soon learned that the art of negotiation was a very big part of the Arab-American community here and it came into all their business dealings. For them negotiation was expected and they enjoyed it too.  I started studying how my clients would approach me for work, the words they would use to try and justify a lower payment amount. I had to quickly learn some solid tactics and approaches to get my preferred payment amount. It was perhaps one of the most challenging learning journeys I’ve ever undertaken. But soon I found that these skills were helping me in my normal life too.


I was easily able to negotiate more transactions in my daytime life. I was able to get bills corrected at a higher success rate and refunds from bad services. I always thought I  would never be able to speak up for my worth, but I found it’s like a muscle that I you need to strengthen and it’s possible. Even at my corporate job I’m now easily able to negotiate with vendors for lower rates, and that has been noticed by my bosses. When my husband and I visited Morocco many shop keepers would say “You negotiate like a Moroccan not an American”. That’s because I learned from the best.


Hospitality & Relationships

I don’t think I ever left a gig without being offered food, ever. Numerous times my payment was followed with “Do you want some falafels to-go?” I’ve had the food at most major Middle-Eastern establishments in the Southern California area. Many times the restaurant managers seemed very adamant about giving me food or tea, they wanted me to stay and chat. My inner American was confused, why can’t I just get payment and leave, we don’t need to be friends this is business.


But I soon learned how important hospitality and relationships are in business for my clients. For years I did graphic design and marketing for an Egyptian family that would host major signers from Cairo here in the United States. All our business meetings had to be done over a meal. Even when we meet in one of their 5 businesses, a back room of an AC repair shop surrounded by scrap metal, equipment and file cabinets from 1987, I was always served tea and lentil soup over our meetings. For them it was rude to pay me and for me to leave. Building that relationship made our business dealings stronger. I was more in-tune with their marketing and event visions because of our meals together.


Soon I was able to easily sit and chat with them get to know why the singers were so amazing and create marketing materials that made everyone happy, including the stars of Cairo. It was sitting and listening that I was able to see just how valuable relationships are in a business. My clients wanted someone they can trust, someone they know gets them. And we’re not going to get there by only talking about the project and payment. It’s deeper than that. We need to make sure we are comfortable and welcome and what better what than sitting at the table with tea and food, breaking bread together.

I found that in my day job I started building relationships. I would bring people in other departments food and check in on them and their families. I soon found my bosses noticing I was one of the most resourceful people at the office since I had connections across so many departments. I was because I took the time to feed people, sit with them, talk to them and build those relationships.

The Music

My family never listened to music. Not while working around the house or on the car, we had family parties with the TV and radio off. I’ve never heard my mother or father sing a song. Music was not something my family brought into my life. Being a 1980’s latch-key kid with unlimited access to MTV  greatly impacted me, but that’s another story for another day. Once I started working in our local Arab-American night clubs it instantly struck me how much they loved to sing along to my set music. Especially the classics. My western-taste assumed they’d prefer my drum solos and modern remixes more than the classic songs, but I was so very wrong.  Early on in my gigging career I saw a dancer play Batwanees Beek by Warda and I was so moved by how into this song the audience was! They sang along , they waved their hands, they sang to each other with such joy in their faces. I immediately added the top classics to my shows.

As the Arab-American community soon started hiring me to dance in their homes for their private celebrations. It was common for me to arrive finding Un Kulthumm playing in the background. I was moved by how much music meant to these families and community. How much it was the background to their lives. It was more than just a song they liked. Personal memories were tied to this music. No wonder I’ve had a few clients scold me for cutting their favorite versus out of 10 minute song. Music is life.
Seeing how the music is so much more than a song gave me a much deeper appreciation in my dance and helped me better connect to the music. It’s more than a melody and rhythm, it’s life’s sound track.  Now when I dance I still imagine the faces of families I danced for,  their gestures and emotions as they sang along. It helps me find in myself those same life experiences to bring to the dance floor. This has really affected my dance and how I approach each song.

These days I rarely gig as I’ve gotten older and I’m done with the hustle. Over the nights of coming home at 4am with smeared eye shadow and dirty sore feet. My stable corporate job allows me the freedom to dance when and how I want. I can live my artistic life on my own terms now. But I’m a much different person because of the work I’ve done over a 10 year period in the Arab-American community here. They challenged me and made me grow. Families encouraged me, fed me and taught me. I’ve seen all sides of their complex lives full of joy and pain. I am forever grateful for the opportunities given to me and the challenges I accepted. I’m a better person today because of the families I danced for.I hope to never stop learning from this community. 

Connect with Adrianne!

IG: @adrianneraqs

www.adriannebellydance.com

Guest Author: Adrianne (USA)

Things you should be discussing with your students

Are you discussing these ethics with your students? 

While it can be an awkward  discussion, as teachers it is important for us to share this information so that we set our students up with information & common practices that they may not be aware of. Here are a few things you should be discussing with your students:

  1. Giving credit for choreography, music, & photography 
  2. How to navigate performance & gig situations 
  3. Asking permission to perform a choreo 
  4. Embracing everyone in the class regardless of skill, ethnicity, orientation or  gender identity 
  5. Being supportive of your classmates & others while attending events 
  6. Reproducing video or music without permission 
  7. Seeking out dancers of origin or MENAHT
  8. Being mindful of cultural appropriation and respecting the origins of the dance

As teachers, our responsibilities don’t end at the class door. Making sure we practice what we preach is so important as our students will look to us for guidance & direction. 

What other ethical topics do you include when talking with your students. Shoot me a message & tell me!

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Being a Beginner Takes Courage

Being a Beginner Takes Courage
Do you remember your first dance class?
What brought you to this class? What internal drive caused you look up the class time table, to pack your bag, to step foot into the studio?

How did you feel to suddenly realize you know nothing about what you were about to do, to suddenly be a beginner?

Being a beginner is scary. Being a beginner takes COURAGE.

As a confession, I haven’t handled this experience well as a more advanced dancer. It is humbling to step back and put yourself back in the vulnerable position of knowing nothing.
It is something that I am working on by working on Instagram challenges, taking  online classes and pulling out material to train.  But this practice will be ongoing for my whole dance life.

As a soon-to-be-mother, recognizing that I am going into a Brand New Role of totally unknown territory is incredibly scary. I will be starting at the base – every child is so different and I have no reference of what to do compared to others.  It is a very scary position to be in.  Being a beginner takes courage.

BUT.  Every class you take, every book you read, every day that passes we become less & less of a beginner.  We start to grow through the adversity, through the struggle, through the sleepless nights.  We gain experience. We learn coping mechanisms.  We cry, we fall, we stand up again.  We show up time and time again to evolve from day 1.

Accepting we know nothing will allow us to grow into something.

For those of you (like me!) that hold ourselves back from doing that thing we want to do but we are too scared – JUST DO IT. Just try it.  Every single person that inspires us was once a novice.

Here is a listen for you if you are in this boat!

Being a Beginner
Artists for JoyListen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/being-a-beginner/id1509742324?i=1000486676552Message me and let me know if you have felt this feeling & how you dealt with it. I would love to hear & learn from your experience!

I have also released my first prenatal pilates video on YT!  Please click here to see it & share to someone who you know that is pregnant!  If you haven’t subscribed to my channel, please subscribe & help me get to 1k subscribers so that I can monetize my channel <3

New Baladi Video is up!

I had the honour of being asked to dance in the Nova Scotia-based online show Belly Dance Brew in July 2021 (thanks Vanessa!!) and here is the performance!

The baby bump is making an appearance also at 17 weeks!

Click here to be directed!

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