Another Angel Gets Her Wings

November 30th, 2013

In the last several years I’ve had a number of friends and relatives pass away, many before their time.  The latest loss was the death of my beautiful sister Peggy.  Although she had health problems, her passing at age 57 was unexpected, shocking, and much too soon.

Learning to deal with death is a part of life.  When we’re very young, we can usually avoid thinking much about it, but as we advance through life it’s inevitable that more and more of the people that we know and love will pass on.  And as we get older too, we have to eventually face our own mortality.

Some people chose to bury their head in the sand regarding death, no matter how old they get or how many loved ones that they lose.  They just don’t want to think about it.  Most people however, struggle to come to terms with death either through religion, spirituality, or even atheism.  Regardless of which philosophy or spiritual path one practices, most people believe that human beings have immortal souls and that there is an afterlife.

I’m of the belief that our consciousness is immortal and that our real home is an eternal and heavenly spiritual plane.  I believe that the spiritual dimension is where we come from when we are born, and that when our bodies die this is where we return with full awareness of who we are and who we have been.  My belief isn’t based on wishful thinking, but is based on a lifetime of study and personal experiences.  I don’t feel the need to preach my beliefs to others and I try to respect how others come to their own particular viewpoints.

In her younger years, Peggy bellydanced professionally under the stage name of ‘Lilah.’  Audiences responded warmly to the beauty of her dancing and her loving spirit.  Family and friends remember her kind heart and her fun loving (and funny!) personality.  We miss her so much!

Peggy has now earned her angel wings.  She loved to dance in life and I’m sure she is now dancing in heaven.  When I dance it feels like I too have wings.  The music and the movement seem to temporarily transport me to a higher realm.  It is here that I feel closer to my sister and to all my cherished ones who have already gone home to that better place.

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The Magical Performance

October 29th, 2013

You may have had the good fortune to see bellydance performances that take your breath away, that seem to make time stand still and engross you totally in the moment.  These performances are fairly rare and most dancers strive to be able to achieve them.

A magical performance is a magical experience for the dancer as well as for the audience, and even more so when live musicians provide the music (for info on dancing to live music, go here: http://www.bellydancingvideo.com/dancing-on-the-edge.htm).  It’s an experience of being transported by the music to feelings of great emotion (usually joy) and a heightened sense of reality.  How does a dancer achieve these peak moments?

While technical perfection in dance movement is an important goal for bellydancers, technical perfection alone won’t create the magic.  For that, the most important ingredient is the ability to fully express yourself in the moment – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  You can’t do that if you’re thinking about what you just did or what you’re going to do in the future; you have to be fully present in the ‘now’.

Being totally connected to the music, and being able to channel the power, beauty, and grace of the musical notes, can happen even to those who are new to the dance.  Again, it’s the ability to experience life fully in the moment that is the key ingredient.  When that is combined with a well-trained dancers’ technical abilities, it becomes a memorable experience for all involved.

Here is a link to such a magical performance by Delilah of Seattle and the Oasis band of Milwaukee (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4NqNky1Qxs&list=FLhSW0UZMD-WsXa4k–2KGww).  Delilah is a well-known world-class bellydancer with impeccable technique and this mesmerizing performance was totally improvised.  She and Oasis had never performed together before!  It is a wonderful example of how a dancer and musicians create magic as each one experiences their total immersion in the moment and expands that experience beyond themselves and into the audience.

Learning to be ‘present’ in the moment is a very important ability that should be applied to our everyday life as much as possible.  Being able to do so allows us to reduce stress, feel happy, and gets our energies to flow naturally, unimpeded by judgment and worry.  The practice of dance and music is one of the most enjoyable and powerful ways to learn how to connect with the present.  You don’t need to be an expert dancer to experience the magic – just enjoy your music and dance freely.  As you get more adept at being in the ‘now’, you’ll be able to extend that ability to more areas of your life.  In the meantime, if you’re fortunate enough to see some magical performances, it’ll give you inspiration and guidance to continue creating your own magical moments both on and off the dance floor.

 

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Bellydancing in 2013

September 29th, 2013

It’s been fun for me to study, and participate in the ongoing evolution and history of bellydance.  Since bellydancing became popular in the U.S. in the 1960’s, new styles of bellydancing have developed along with the preservation of classic Middle Eastern styles.

There now seems to be a bellydance style for every taste, which is a good thing (see: http://www.bellydancingvideo.com/styles.htm).  Nonetheless, bellydance teachers and performers in 2013 have seen a decrease in business and interest in the dance.  Why is that?  Although bellydancing is much more universal and appreciated than it was in the period between the ‘60’s – ‘90’s, most professionals are seeing a drop in income and students.

The Internet and the economy have a lot to do with the decline in bellydance classes and performance venues.  People have less money to spend and they have to work more hours, leaving them less leisure time.  It’s so much easier to watch the abundance of bellydancing on YouTube and to find free instruction online (despite the fact that much online bellydancing is not necessarily authentic or qualified).  For many who are interested in bellydance right now, it’s any port in the economic storm!

The on-going and seemingly endless wars in the Middle East aren’t helping either.  People want peace so badly, and when there seems to be no end of the conflict in sight, many feel frustrated and helpless and don’t want to be reminded of it in any way.

It’s also possible that despite the variety of belly dance styles currently available, changing times will necessitate continued evolution – even newer approaches to bellydance that are better able to satisfy the needs and demands of future dancers.  I know that many bellydancers, and musicians who provide belly dance music, are up for the challenge.

Although the business of bellydance may be at a low ebb in 2013, I’m sure new phases of growth will develop, especially once the economy improves and peace comes to the Mid East.  Everything goes in cycles and the evolution of bellydancing will continue to unfold in interesting, vital, and meaningful ways.

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Spiritual Bellydance

August 30th, 2013

We have to recognize that we are spiritual beings with souls existing in a spiritual world as well as material beings with bodies and brains existing in a material world. – Nobel Laureate Sir John Eccles

‘Spiritual Bellydance’, as practiced in the U.S., has developed and become popular since the 1960’s. It’s among the many different styles that exist in bellydancing and there are probably as many definitions of spiritual bellydance as there are practitioners.  However, the common theme is the use of bellydancing to connect with, and experience, the spiritual part of our being and the spiritual world

Most people accept the concept that we are all beings of mind, body, and spirit.  On the mundane level in bellydancing, we can simply use our minds to move our physical bodies to music.  Dancing this way can be purely mechanical and that is where you’ll see the mind and the body engaged in a dance that is logically and mathematically driven.  Taken to an extreme, this kind of dancing can look and feel robot-like, which is fine for those who enjoy that experience.

However, many bellydancers believe that to experience more, a real magic in our dance, we need to go beyond the mundane and get our inspiration from a higher source – our spirit.  Those who are interested in spiritual bellydance wish to transcend using only the physical and mental realm to dictate how we perform our belly dance moves to music.  Spiritual bellydancers work towards achieving a more balanced, holistic expression.

For those dancers who experience themselves as spiritual consciousness in a physical body, harmoniously connecting all parts of their being is necessary for wholeness in dance. Creating a conscious connection with the spirit is usually done by tuning into our emotions, intuitions, and feelings while at the same time, quieting the chatter of our mind.  When we have practiced our dance moves enough so that the moves are automatic, we don’t have to focus much on thinking about the mundane mechanical aspects.  We can then reach a point where we use memorized physical movement to respond to music with our emotions, intuitions, and feelings and when we do, we can experience a direct and conscious connection with spirit.  Connecting mind, body, and spirit to elevate our dance to a higher level takes commitment and diligence, but that’s when real magic can be experienced, both for the bellydancer and an audience alike.

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Bellydancing With Intention

July 30th, 2013

If you’re using bellydance to improve your health, you may want to consider incorporating focused intentions into your belly dance workouts.  Using intention to manifest what we desire has received a lot of attention in the last few years through books like ‘The Secret’ and movies like ‘What the Bleep Do We Know?’   The power of our mind and emotions to co-create our reality is now an accepted fact by many scientists and lay people alike.

When you’re working out with bellydance, you can strive to see in your minds’ eye the healthy, fit body you want to achieve.  For example, when you’re doing ‘snake arms’, you can visualize the toned, slender arms you wish to have.  With a hip shimmy you can imagine the energy you’re sending through your body, dissolving energy blockages and bringing good circulation to every part.  As you move each region of your body, you can try to be clearly aware of the many benefits each move creates and envision it mentally and/or express it verbally.  Make sure that all of your thoughts and words express positive results – this is no time to focus on your perceived shortcomings (my arms are too flabby, I have too much fat to shimmy)!

To make your intentions more powerful, attach healthy emotions to them as you dance.  Feel the joy of movement, the excitement of responding to beautiful music, the freedom of spontaneous motion.  A mind focused on the healthy results you wish to achieve, combined with positive emotions, is doubly powerful.

Bellydancing is an amazing multi-dimensional activity (see my blog: Multi-Dimensional, Multi-Faceted Bellydance).  Combining bellydance with focused intention and heart-felt emotion will intensify its’ already powerful benefits for your mind, body, and spirit.

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Bellydance and the Hollywood Image

June 28th, 2013

Bellydancing was born thousands of years before Hollywood and its’ entertainment industry were but a gleam in a movie moguls’ eye.  Nonetheless, the Hollywood entertainment industry has exerted profound influences on how bellydance is viewed around the world today.  The biggest of theses influences can be seen in the flashy, glamorous costuming (most prevalent in ‘cabaret’ style bellydance) and the focus of the dance as sexy entertainment (as opposed to holistic health, cultural explorations, socializing, ritual, and other pursuits).

For most practitioners of the art, bellydancing is done mostly for enjoyment, fitness, making new friends, and self-improvement.  Yet, in most TV shows, big budget movies, and the like, bellydancing is almost always portrayed as a sexy dance to attract a man or a sexy way to exercise (to attract a man).  There’s nothing wrong with appropriately sexy dancing to attract a mate or stay fit, but it sure would be nice to see Hollywood portray the other important expressions of this dance.

Sex is a very important aspect of life, but it’s not the most important aspect – love is.  At the end of their lives most people don’t say they wish they had been sexier, but that they wish they had loved more and better.  Love is what makes life worth living, whether it’s romantic love, the love of family and friends, or even the love of our most cherished activities.  Even with romantic love, being sexy doesn’t guarantee true love even though it might help attract it at first.

So when is Hollywood going to catch up to the reality of bellydancing as we love to practice it today in all its’ multi-purpose, multi-dimensional splendor?  As much as I enjoy seeing the playful, sexy expression of this dance, I’d like the public to see its’ other facets as well.

Women are complex, multi-dimensional beings, not just sexy man-hunters.  We love to bellydance to be healthier and feel better.  Many of us are bellydancing because we love camaraderie (especially in the tribal styles).  Some of us bellydance to experience other cultures.  Others love to incorporate bellydance in their spiritual practices.  Come on Hollywood, take off your sex-colored glasses and show us some of that love!

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What Egyptian Bellydancers Have Taught Me

May 30th, 2013

Bellydancing has been practiced in the United States for over a century and has developed its’ own unique American style (see: http://www.bellydancingvideo.com/styles.htm).  Egyptian bellydancing is one of the many Eastern roots of American style bellydance and is one of the most influential.  The two styles share the same movement vocabulary and techniques.  However, cultural differences have determined how the moves and techniques are expressed.

You will find more choreography, attention to technical detail, and theatrical applications in American bellydance. Traditionally, Eastern bellydance is improvised.  Egyptian bellydancers are masters at ‘being in the moment’, which is the key to good improvisation.  Typically, the best Egyptian bellydancers focus on feeling the music and they draw the audience into a shared experience of hearing and feeling `the melodies and rhythms.  Other Eastern bellydancers also share this ability to unite audience, musicians, and dancer in the rapture of music.

In Western dance, the focus is often on the mechanics of the movements and on the physical appearance of the dancer.  Over reliance on mechanical perfection and body image can become robot-like and keep a dancer from creating magical moments.

Of course, it’s a matter of personal preference as to what a dancer wants to project, but I much prefer feeling the magic of a shared experience of the music and movement rather than just seeing mechanical virtuosity.  It’s especially been Egyptian bellydancers who have taught me the value of that.

These days it appears that more and more bellydancers of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds have mastered the best of all worlds.  They are expert dancers with impeccable technique and can improvise or choreograph dances that draw their audiences into the enchantment of the music.  Egyptian bellydancers have inspired many with their ability to relax and enjoy the moment, creating real magic.  Other Eastern bellydancers have also inspired with unique expressions of their cultures.  I’m grateful for all their inspiration and hope I can return the favor as I continue growing and evolving as a modern American bellydancer.

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Rosie and the Real Bellydance Super Stars

April 29th, 2013

Roseann (Rosie) Pirrung Kubit died recently; too young at the age of 59.  She suddenly and unexpectedly contracted a serious illness and within 3 months she was gone.  She left behind a multitude of grieving family, friends, and fans.

Rosie, known professionally as Romnea, was a full-time career bellydancer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (my home town).  For over 30 years she taught, performed, and promoted the fine art of bellydance.  She was known for her beauty of face, body, and dance, but most importantly for her beauty of spirit and personality.  Rosie was fun, always smiling and always, always kind.  Everyone loved Rosie.

Romnea was one of the best ambassadors of bellydance.  Anyone that met her or saw her perform could not see a negative image of the dance; only the warmth, love, and happiness that the best people and best dancers convey.  Like her great friend JuliAna, another beautiful Milwaukee bellydancer who died too young, she did so much to enhance the image and understanding of bellydance.  Thousands of women were inspired to take up bellydancing because of Romnea and JuliAna.

Romnea was the embodiment of an important reason why bellydancing has survived and thrived throughout the millennia.  Special bellydancers like her project their love of life and love of people through the lens of this dance.  Their life-affirming message is a gift that people want and need.  Rare people like Rosie have a knack for giving it.

For those of us who express our joy of life through bellydancing, we can thank the likes of Rosie who have kept this dance alive generation after generation.  While there are popular and influential bellydancers who are better known on a global scale, those super stars owe much of their commercial success to the bellydancers who do the grassroots work of nurturing the dance in their local communities.  Special souls like Rosie are the bedrock and real super stars, not just of bellydance, but also of life itself.

 

Evolve or ?

March 29th, 2013

Nothing in life ever remains exactly the same.  With each passing minute things change and the present moment becomes the past.  As human beings, it’s our challenge to navigate the ever-changing landscape of our lives, and fortunately we’re well equipped to do so.

The ability to change applies to everything, including art and dance.  Bellydance, as a spontaneous, improvised art form, can be very instructive in learning how to adapt to the unexpected and unknown.  This is especially true when dancing to live music or music we haven’t heard before.  The lessons we learn in moving harmoniously and gracefully in the moment can be applied to other areas of our lives.

While most bellydancers accept the challenge of mastering the improvisational aspect of bellydance, some are not comfortable with the on-going evolution and changing of dance styles or the music that’s danced to.  They point to the ‘golden age’ of bellydancing and believe it’s the only true expression of the art and must not change.  Of course, even among these dancers, there’re different opinions as to when this ‘golden age’ of bellydance occurred (for some, the 1930’s & 40’s in Cairo, for others the San Francisco club scene in the ‘60’s, etc., etc.).

It’s true that popular and historic styles of dance should be preserved.  Learning about the music, dance styles, and expressions of different eras and cultures is fascinating and enlightening.  It’s important to keep this knowledge alive for our own benefit and for the benefit of future generations.  But it’s also important to realize that not all music and dance styles will have relevance to the needs of the present time or the future.  To meet current needs, a dancer must take the best from the past and adapt it to the present.

The trick to evolving bellydance while keeping its’ authenticity, is to preserve the most important elements that define the dance.  The most important defining elements of bellydancing are the core movement vocabulary and the solo improvisational techniques of creating movement motifs with infinite variation.  Other distinguishing characteristics like costuming or music styles can be more easily changed without losing the authenticity of bellydance itself.

Bellydance movements have been, and continue to be, assimilated by other dance forms (like hip hop, jazz, Bollywood, modern dance, etc.).   If we can’t maintain authentic belly dance styles that are relevant to the times, bellydancing will continue to be absorbed by other dances.  Then bellydancing as we know it today may become obsolete and gradually disappear.

Evolving the art of bellydance takes imagination, inspiration, courage (to withstand the nay sayers), hard work, and a fine balance between the old and the new.  I truly hope that this beautiful art form, which expresses so much heart and soul, will survive our changing times and be around for more millennia to grace us with it’s many benefits.  What is the alternative?  Just ask the dinosaurs.

 

Toe Shoes, Bellydancing, & Fusion

February 27th, 2013

Throughout my years of involvement in bellydancing, I’ve observed and performed many different styles of bellydance, including belly dance fusion.  I’m fine with almost all kinds of belly dance fusion as long as the performer labels it as such (for example, don’t call your dance ‘traditional Middle Eastern bellydance’ if you’re combining belly dance moves with hip hop – that is ‘fusion bellydance’).

Everyone involved in bellydancing has his or her own reasons for participating in it.  What is most important for me is the fun, the holistic health benefits, and the self-empowerment that bellydancing generates. That’s why I have mixed feelings about seeing performers bellydance in toe shoes.

While I can admire the dancers’ skill and creativity ‘On Pointe’, I am wincing inside because of the potential damage the dancer is doing to her feet and the rest of her body.  Toe shoes not only concentrate the dancers’ full body weight on the very tips of her toes, they also put a great deal of stress on the ankles and throw the body out of healthy alignment.  The feet of professional ballet dancers usually become deformed and it’s difficult to prevent foot problems that can last for life.  It’s a painful art form to master!

In fact, there are a number of dance forms that while entertaining to watch are really harsh on the body. These days, there are a lot of people who seem to think that it’s cool to push themselves too hard (excluding bellydance, dance injuries are up 37% in children and teens since 1991).   In contrast, bellydance is a beautiful dance art that is healthy for the body.  So why would I want to see a dancer take the beauty and healthfulness of bellydancing and introduce other dance elements that can cause so much damage?

Bellydance, like most art forms, continues to evolve.  Fusion bellydance is a part of that process.  Some of the types of fusion bellydance that are being created today will become the new ‘traditional’ or ‘classic’ styles in the future.  Other types of belly dance fusion will not stand the test of time and will fade away.  Of those that vanish, I personally hope they’re the styles that are physically, mentally, or emotionally damaging to dancers.

As for the innovative dancers who are bellydancing in toe shoes, I hope they continue to express their courage to experiment with dance.  Leaving toe shoes aside, they may be the dancers who create new works of art that are not only entertaining and inspirational to watch, but also respectful of the dancers’ health and well-being.