The Blog

What’s New in 2016 for “Mahin’s Bellydance Quickies” & Other Sparkly Plans

Hello to all my BDQ subscribers and blog readers! I hope you are all having a lovely holiday season! This time of year is so full with both celebrations and work, with trying to be “in the moment” for this short and special season and at the same time looking forward into next year to decide how to focus our time and energy.  This season of reassessment is very important to me – the momentum that keeps me working comes from not only the personal satisfaction and enjoyment of what I do, but even more so, knowing that it is meaningful and useful to others that share my enthusiasm and love for Middle Eastern dance.

Here's to a Sparkly 2016

Looking back, 2015 has been a tremendous year! I have done more travelling and workshop teaching than in any year to date – a trend that I am excited to see growing! With the help and support of many wonderful people, I am 2 days away from shooting my very first full-length instructional bellydance DVD, “Full On with 3/4 Shimmies!”  And a little project I started in 2010  is about to enter it’s sixth year.

Looking forward into 2016, I gaze through that lens of personal satisfaction and true usefulness to others to decide how I want to spend my time and energy – because just like money, you only get to spend it once. This coming year, I will be refining the scope of my work for more personal artistic fulfillment for me and more usefulness for you, my BDQ subscribers, blog readers and students.

More and more, we are living in a world of well… MORE!  More options, more decisions, more expectations, more emails…. everything draws onr attention. This overwhelm is definitely a stress I feel, and I suspect you can relate to it too. For me, the only “more” I want in my life is more of what really deeply matters to me and to my work.  When something really and truly hits my personal target of fulfilling for me and useful for others, no amount of work feels like “too much”.

So what DO I want MORE of in 2016?

  • I want to engage more personally with students by teaching more workshops and doing more one-on-one coaching.
  • I want more space in my life to devote to my own continued studies in dance – because we are always and forever students of this art!
  • I want to do more event production, which I have almost entirely gotten away from over the past few years.
  • I want to dive more deeply into the bellydance content I teach.

That’s my personal bellydance wish list. How will that play out in the work I plan to do for and with all of you in 2016?

I am opening more time in my schedule for private students – both in person and online.

I plan to host 4 seasonal bellydance events here in Phoenix which will include some curated performances by dancers across all levels and bellydance styles to recorded music, some semi-pro and professional performances with live music and an open floor party with a band for all to enjoy.  If all goes well, I may even revive my annual “Fully Fusion” show series… I left off at “Fully Fusion 5” a few years ago.

Realigning the “Bellydance Quickies”.  This is a bigee! The BDQ is so very near and dear to my heart – and from the feedback I get, near and dear to many of you too.  I also know that keeping up with and truly making use of the BDQ on a daily basis is difficult for most dancers’  schedules. Going into it’s sixth year, the BDQ will transition to a 3-days a week schedule as follows:

  1. The Wednesday Watcher: (Wednesdays) This will include both the fun, unique and surprising finds and the wonderfully inspiring videos I have featured on Sundays.
  2. The Grab-Bag: (Fridays) Music, history, costuming, culture, stage makeup… you will find these here to keep you a well-rounded and informed bellydancer.
  3. Sunday in the Studio: (Sundays)  This is where and when you will find the short tutorial videos. Topics will be a mix of combos, drills and prop material (definitely guided by your input, requests and feedback!) I hope that the timing will give you a better opportunity to use and keep up with what I put the time and energy into creating for you. I have heard from so many of you that you “hoard” your BDQs on your computers – which is very flattering, but I really want you to use them!  Do you see a theme here?

If you are not on the “Bellydance Quickies” list yet and would like to be, you can sign up here – it’s free.

 

Special Topic Programs & Intensives.  As I mentioned, I’d like to present some deeper, longer content in special topic areas. This year I will experiment with 4-week segments, some in collaboration with other bellydancers, focusing on things like health, costuming, dance skill intensives, business building and more. I will announce these in advance in the BDQ, the BellyGram and on my social media in general so you can get on board for whatever interests you and supports your development as a dancer.

Speaking of The BellyGram… I have been so busy this year, I have not put out many of these! I plan to return to a monthly newsletter that includes both event info and special content exclusive to the BellyGram. This is where you will find upcoming editions of the “Raks Me A Question” series! If you want to receive the The BellyGram you can sign up here.

Whew!! That’s a lot of plans for 2016 but I’m excited!  I’m looking forward to all of it and hope that you’ll dance along on this journey with me. As I write this, it is December 26th and I’m deep into the final preparations for the “Full On with 3/4 Shimmies!” DVD shoot on the 29th. The “Bellydance Quickies” will be taking a short holiday break, returning in it’s new 3-day format on Friday, January 1st.

I want to take this opportunity to THANK YOU for all your support of the BDQ, my workshops and for your friendship – online and in person! I wish you and yours the merriest of days, filled with love, good times, good food, and some time to recharge for a fabulous shimmy-filled 2016!  – Mahin

Your thoughts, comments, requests and feedback are welcome …. please share in the comments below!

 

December 26, 2015 2 Comments

Skill, Challenge & Creative Flow in Belly Dance

Let’s begin at the end this time. Have you ever set to working on a bellydance choreography and found that you competely lost track of time? Ideas are coming, you’re jumping forward and backward in the music as you find the movement that is the perfect fit of musicality and style. Ahhh… flow is a wondrous thing. The “flow” state, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his TED talk,  is that lost-in-the-work feeling you get when it’s all coming together easily, or at least steadily. You face the sticker moments head on without inadequacy and drill right through them. Those are amazing and energizing moments, but for most of us, they don’t come nearly often as we’d like.

Creativity requires your full attention.

Researchers say that flow can only happen when we work alone and without distractions because to pay attention to another person uses over 50% of our brain capacity. To get into creative flow, we have to source our ideas from within the contents of our brain, or what we can synthesize using our existing skills and knowledge. We can’t stop to look things up or gather ideas from outside sources or other people – that breaks our flow. Therefore having s solid bank of skill is key to getting and staying in this golden creative state. We need to have it at the ready and fully integrated into our skill set, not as a passing bit of information we once heard, saw or tried, but an adaptable understanding of how that information can apply to the work at hand.

So… what does this have to do with bellydance?

Does it sounds like I’m talking far away from the topic of bellydance? Not really. Let’s look at the example of going to a workshop. During the workshop you may learn several new moves and combination that you really enjoy  and would like to incorporate in your improvisational dancing or choreography projects. However, if those moves and combos only live in your notebook and a dusty corner of your dance memory, they are very unlikely to come out in your work. To get this information embedded into your dance brain and muscle patterns, you need to drill it consciously so it can come out spontaneously when you are deeply embroiled in writing new dances.

Taking a huge load of workshops at a bellydance convention is fun and mentally stimulating, but ask yourself how much of the information that you paid for and took in do you really, truly actually apply in your dancing? If we’re honest with ourselves, the percentage is probably fairly low.  I observed this about my own workshop experiences going to conferences and I changed my objective. I still may take a lot of workshops for the variety, opportunity and experience of new material and teachers, but my goal is to pluck a few nuggets that I will really, truly use and get them into easy reach of my working movement vocabulary by engaging with the material consistently in my personal practice during the weeks following.

Filling your bellydance “well”

As creative artists, bellydancers should be looking to “fill their well” every day with a variety of images, music, dances and inspiring thoughts. Sometimes we seek it out, sometimes we just have to be open to what is around us..  These all converge and align in the moment when we need them…. if we’ve provided ourselves a steady diet of thoughtful material of all types.  This is a practice recommended in both  The Accidental Creative and The Artist’s Way – two books and authors I have personally  found invaluable and highly recommend.

Recently, I shared an article in the “Daily Bellydance Quickies” regarding creativity as a skill  that can be acquired rather than a “gift” one is born with – or not. One of the “skill builders” for creativity the article described is being an “explainer” to yourself.  Talk out loud to yourself, or write down an explanation of new information you want to truly learn. Share it with someone else; the questions and comments in these interactions can be quite illuminating and will enrich your own understanding and synthesis of the information. The goal here is to get those skills on board so they can go with you down the river of creative flow.

The goal here is to get those skills on board so they can go with you down the river of creative flow.

True flow also needs something for us to leverage our skills against. Mr. Csikszentmihalyi  and Julie Bernstein each explained aspects of this idea in their TED talks.  The challenge presented needs to be high and met by a high skill set. If our challenge is high but our skills are low, we are anxious and unsure. If both are low we are bored. If our skills are only slighty below what is needed to meet the challenge, then we are in an “arousal” state where curiosity and interest are piqued and the atmosphere for learning is optimal. If you’ve been in a bellydance workshop with just the right amount of challenge – a reach but not a frustrating overreach for you technical skills – then you know the kind of exhilarating learning experience this can be!

So what does it all mean for us as bellydance artists?

If our end goal is to experience flow in our dance creations often and turn out quality, inspired work, then we have to seek out and be receptive to new ideas and inspiration that “fills our well”. We have to let ourselves move toward and with the ideas that  draw our interest and engage with them deliberately. This sets them in our brain s Continue Reading →

May 21, 2015 4 Comments

Thoughts on “Bad Musicality” in Belly Dance

At a bellydance event, I recently overheard one dancer remark to another that she thought that the performer they were watching had “bad musicality”. Putting aside questionable politeness, was does that mean  anyway?

Cairo Caravan 2012 - Performance Portraiture and Stage Photography by Lee Corkett

We have discussed musicality in the Daily Bellydance Quickies many times and in many ways. Loosely defined, it is the ability to illustrate the music with movement. It can include larger elements such as instrument sound textures down to the tiny details of accents and momentary pauses.

Ignoring everything else and going just with the beat could be considered the absence of musicality in dance. But at the other extreme, hitting every tiny thing with an almost literal conversion of music to movement can be, as Ranya Renee once said,  “too clever”. I agree entirely. I find that as unappealing as ignoring the musical features. I prefer to see discretion and artful choices.

Choices – yes – there are many to be made. You make them in slow deliberate decisions when you write choreography and in the flash of a instant in improvisation. What are you reacting to in your music? The rhythm, the phrasing, the sharp accent, the lilting melody line or the tension of a violin note – they are all valid possibilities.  The choosing of one over the other in any given point in a performance is like a painter choosing red paint or blue for the flowers that are about to bloom on the canvas.

We all hear a piece differently, despite the fact that the same sounds come rushing at us from the band or through our earbuds. I even find I hear different things in the same familiar piece of music at different times. I call this my “coffee pot theory“. So what makes for “bad musicality”? Is it that a dancer completely ignored something you consider top priority and un-ignorable and opted for a different musical element to grab on to and dance? That just means two dancers have different artistic sensibilities – and thank goodness that is so. Otherwise, we would all dance the same and bellydance would be filled with “rights” and “wrongs” – another idea that could take a step back, in my opinion.

When I look at a performance and consider the musicality, what’s the bottom line for me?

Can you show me how you’re hearing the music?
Show me how to listen through your ears.

If I can, then I’m happy – even if it’s not the same choice I would have made. I like surprises and seeing different points of musical view.

What do you look for? Share in the comments below…

April 13, 2015 3 Comments

2 Tech Tricks for Your Belly Dance Business

I have many times said that I spend an awful lot of time at my computer considering my business is bellydancing! As things get increasingly digitized and globalized, the computer and internet have become more and more embedded in my day-to-day business. I can’t remember the last time I used a music CD for a show. Even teaching isn’t always in person anymore with the advent of online lessons. Private party clients sign and return contracts and deposits without ever leaving their keyboard.

Recently, I’ve found two tricks for Google Calendar that have helped me – I hope you find them useful too.

Managing Scheduling For Different Time-Zones

Since I’ve started doing online private lessons, I have had to figure out scheduling for different time zones. This is complicated by the fact that I like in Arizona, which does not observe daylight savings time. I used to use a converter site or a phone app (I never did find one I really liked) but now I don’t have to because Google Calendar can take care of it – you just have to do a little setup one time.

1. Go to the gear icon in the upper right corner of Google Calendar and select “Labs” from the drop down menu.

2. Scroll down to the “World Clock” and click “enable”.

3. Now when you want to schedule something, you enter the time and can select a different time zone if needed. For example, when my student in North Dakota wants a 4:30 pm lesson, I put 4:30 pm as the appointment time and select Central Time. Google enters the appointment on my calendar for 2:30 pm Arizona time. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this function!

Keeping Gig Contracts Handy

The second trick I learned was that you can attach documents to calendar events. I find this very useful with gig contracts since I create and store all mine on Google Drive.  I attach them to the event in my calendar so I can very handily review the details a day or two before as I’m making final preparations for the job.

1. Go to the gear icon in the upper right corner of Google Calendar and select “Labs” from the drop down menu.

2. Scroll down to the “Event Attachments” and click “enable”.

3. You will now have an “Add Attachment” link below the description box when you create a new event.

At the time of this post, you unfortunately cannot view the attachments on your phone. Get on that, Google! I don’t know if it works on tablets – if you try it tell us in the comments below.  I still find this feature insanely useful.

Do you have any tech tricks that have helped you do your bellydance business more efficiently? Share them in the comments below…

April 9, 2015 2 Comments

2015 DBQ Bellydance Challenge: Vote for the Finalists!

I am so excited to be moving to the next phase of the DBQ Bellydance Challenge!  Thank you to everyone who submitted their ideas – there’s a lot of wonderfully creative people out there!

We now have 5 semi-finalists with very diverse projects. It’s time to cast your votes to select the 3 projects we will be following throughout 2015. Through the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”, we’ll be checking in with the creators and getting a little peek behind the scenes of their projects as they come to fruition.

Read through their proposals and then cast your vote!

Meet our contestants….

Choreography Project 

Louise McClung, Katy TX

The goal however, is to create a completely new choreography to a different song every two weeks. I’ve always enjoyed improvising while performing. As I picked up more responsibility (kids, pets, caring for parents, dance companies) I found myself dedicating less time to preparing for each performance. I was starting to feel like it was just more work. I needed a way to explore the music in a new way. I needed to challenge different parts of the creative process. I enjoy the challenge of being systematic. Not just living the music, but creating something other people could reproduce. For this challenge I’m mapping, writing, and filming (in order to make something reproducible) before I call it done. It’s strange, the biggest hang ups are not the “big” things. So far it’s that I get caught up in songs that I love and have trouble focusing on writing things down.

 

“Becoming a Bellydancer” Book

Sara Shrapnell, Pleasanton, CA

 

 The book by Sara Shrapnell, Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya Becoming a Belly Dancer will aim to provide valuable information, learned-in-the-trenches tips, and guidance for dancers who are ready to take the step from student to performer. Sara Shrapnell, author of “Teaching Belly Dance” and Dawn Devine, author of “Cloth of Egypt” and 13 other belly dance and costuming books, including the bestselling “Embellished Bras” and the now classic “Costuming from the Hip”, are teaming up to bring out a new book in 2015. Between them, they have more than 50 years of combined experience as performers, teachers, dancers and costume designers. Alisha Westerfeld is exploring the established and upcoming talent of the Bay Area to bring her beautiful photography to the project. International belly dance celebrity and costume designer Poppy Maya brings her own special brand of “Additional Awesomeness” to the book, and the input of a young dancer, currently making her living through belly dance. The authors hope to bring the warmth, support, and humor of a teacher in absence, a true friend and a trusted advisor who has only one main goal: you. We want to focus on helping you be the best prepared physically and mentally for the challenges of performing for friends, family, the dance community, and the greater society, both in person at public venues, and via media available on the internet. The book will cover improving your dance skills, good practice habits, preparing physically and emotionally, critiquing, picking your music and venues and dancer etiquette. In addition the book will include extensive sections on costume design and selection, sewing and no sewing costumes, accessorizing, hair and makeup and presenting to the world the very best belly dancer that you can be. It is our hope that the reader will find this book a useful and inspiring tool that will help them be ready for the big day, so they can dazzle, impress and wow with talent and style. Currently just four weeks old, our baby book is already growing and we are aiming for a Fall launch. We have pictures available of all four authors and can provide images of our process.

 

“Killer Isolations DVD”

Kamrah,  Chicago, IL

 

“Killer Isolations” is my first instructional DVD! It will focus on strong movement, with strength training and drills to sharpen up those isolations! And a performance will be included! Currently, all of the filming has been finished, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The editing is nearly complete, but there is still voice-over work and polishing left to go!

Dance Recess

Jahanara, Meridian, ID

Bellydance is too good for us, in so many ways, for only a few people to do it! The concept of Dance Recess was born because of something I learned in a summit for creating healthy communities: Sitting is the new smoking. Dance Recess takes the work out of the workout, and conducts fun. Educational North African Dance Fitness Classes at places of work, or wherever people gather together. Dance Recess addresses western health problems with eastern dance! Unlike current popular dance and dance fitness styles, bellydance is a better core workout, and less damaging to joints, which means it is accessible to everyone at any fitness level. Dance Recess instructors are also cultural ambassadors, showing students what is good and beautiful about Arabic cultures, and increasing appreciation for Arabic music. Unlike traditional exercise classes, Dance Recess includes a social portion, which studies have found to be as important for health and longevity as the exercise. Dance Recess appeals to populations which have been ignored by traditional exercise, and gives non-traditional exercisers a motivation to move!

 

Glitter Love Couture Bespoke & Beautiful Dance Design

 Karen Carrie, Laguna Niguel, CA

I have been known for a number of things but two that stand out….leaving a trail of glitter wherever I go and spending countless hours pouring over fabric, drawing and designing costumes. After 10 years of putting my dream of dance/burlesque/theatrical costume design on the back burner I feel it is time to get out there and make my dreams come true! I saw this contest and thought it would be an amazing motivator!

CAST YOUR VOTE HERE

Voting closes on Saturday, February 28th. The 3 finalists will be announced in the March 1st edition of the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”.

February 16, 2015 20 Comments
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