How Bellydance Supports Women Crafters and Business Owners

Did YOU know Bellydance supports its own microcosmic (and perhaps not so small these days anymore!) economy? It’s true! 

A variety of makers have stepped in to meet an increasing demand for costumes, both more classical styles as well as fun and funky, and excitingly the niche markert is filled with women. While it’s great to have the guys too of course, it’s amazing to see ladies taking bold steps to create their own businesses to support the dance. 
Look closely at this photo from last Sunday’s hafla and in one headshot you will see 6 lady crafters and businesswomen supported by…you guessed it…our wonderful Bellydance. I probably would not have bought super fancy hair spikes for work but thanks to dance I NEED an awesome crown for my inner dance queen! 

Haircostume includes:

  • hand embroidered hair clips by Amanda of Gypsy Caravan
  • flowers and medallion clips by Christine Haviland of
  • flowers by Becka of Beckabomb’s buds
  • makeup by Amanda of Surreal Makeup
  • hair spikes by Michaelena 
  • Bindi by Big Ass Bindis 

It’s super exciting to me as a teacher and performer to think that each of these ladies of course loves to dance but also has transformed that love and passion into another outlet too. I love to think of when they first started dancing and then fell in love with it, so much so that they are driven to make items that many others will use as adornment for the dance. What an amazing way to express the love for this beautiful dance well beyond moving!

I also love the ability to purchase from fellow dancers, further supporting them and in extension the community. These small businesses are not easy to manage and often struggle to succeed. So I find it exciting to discover them and love to do my part to see them flourishing. While I make a lot of my own costuming bits, whenever I need to buy I try to find unique pieces from other artists. 
The next time you’re in the market for a new piece for your costume, consider checking out Etsy or the Facebook pages of the Artists above and select a unique item to add to your ensemble. It will help out a fellow dancer and be an interesting item that will tell its own story for years to come. 

Transitions: The Space Between

*This article originally ran in Misha’s November 2016 newsletter*

In bellydance in general we spend a LOT of time on movement and technique. In Level 1 Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance for instance, just Level 1 alone, there are over 20 moves and variations that we learn, digest, carve into our heart, and commit to our dance. As we grow in our dance, we learn to add in cues and clarify our style, so that our sisters and brothers following us can dance alongside, creating harmony and unity in the Tribe. We also challenge ourselves by adding on finger cymbals and learning to listen to the music, so that our dance becomes the visual expression of the sounds that we hear. And the ultimate goal of all of this fun and deliberate learning is to be able to dance, stringing each of these word-like components together into full sentences and then larger paragraphs of songs.

And yet, something may still be missing…

A dancer can thoroughly learn all the elements above, and yet still not quite communicate fully with her fellow dancers. So what’s not quite there? It’s the recognition and acknowledgement of transitions.

Between the movements there is a delicious pause, a breath, a space that occurs. This is the weight shift from one move to the next, the rearrangement of arms or angling of body for the next move. It’s the logical connection, a coupling, from one movement to the next, but it’s an element that we may sometimes miss.

In all forms of dance, smooth transitions give a dancer that liquidy grace that makes the viewer gasp “OH! they make it look easy!” And this is true enough for Tribal. And yet, I’ve found that transitions are especially important in tribal because it is in this moment of choice that the easiest to follow tribal leaders are made. And for followers, being comfortable with standard transitional elements such as weight shifts and direction changes is critical to being able to follow closely.

To more fully connect with and practice your transitions, try this little exercise: think about which move would logically go from one to the next. What is easiest to get “into” and “out of”? If your arms are low, say for a bicycle shimmy, is it easier to transition up to Egyptian Basic, or to Ghawazee? You can even practice just for tansitions! Try to add in a bit of practice time where you focus not just on performing the move properly, or stringing it along in a flow, but also thinking about which move works coming after the next.  Pay close attention to the feet, especially where you are putting your weight. As you go into one move stop. Yes really! Stop for a moment and check – is your body in the proper place? Are your arms clear and defined for the cue? And did you get to “here” from a place that would be clear for your followers? Then continue with the move. By taking a bit of time to analyze your dance, where it is going and how you are communicating with your body, you will find that the transitions come easier for you as a dancer, and for those who are following you too!

And one final note! Keep in mind that this is only one type of practice exercise, specifically intended to help you improve transitions and cueing, and it’s pretty cerebral. So be sure to balance it with a song or three where you crank up the music and just dance!

Rocking photo of Misha and Rebeq taken in Asilah, Morocco, by Eric at Ditto Photos

Five FREE Yoga and Stretch Videos to Strengthen Your Dance

My Dance Mama Paulette (Mama P) likes to talk about how Tribal is not just a dance – it’s a whole lifestyle!

You’ll hear me say this a lot too and I completely believe it.

Why? Because once you get hooked on this fantastic fun dance you realize that we need to strengthen our body and really care for it so that we can keep dancing for many years to come!

Since getting back into Tribal bellydance I’ve been working on adding in other elements to keep my body strong and healthy. I’m loving Yoga these days, and want to share with you some great FREE Youtube videos channels that are simply perfect for helping to strengthen and open your body to the dance. While we practice different movements and drills to get the individual elements into our bodies, building strength and flexibility can make it much easier to execute each move, not to mention build the stamina we need to dance longer.

  1. Here’s a nice one to start with – Kino’s free hip opener which includes pilates exercises that will help strengthen your hips too. You can find it free on youtube on her channel. So many of our tribal movements are based in our hips, and this is a great way to ease into having open and flexible hips that can not only perform the movements better but also hold up to doing them repetitively.
  2. This video is one of my go to’s for stretching the shoulders. Those of us who work in offices can get super tight here, and nice open shoulder/chest area is important for all of our ribcage and torso movements. Start here – gently! – and you’ll discover that stretching these areas can really help improve chest mobility in your moves.
  3. Restorative yoga is a gentle and relaxing practice that offers the benefits of deep stretching while relaxing. I like to think of it as twice the benefit in the same amount of time – you get to stretch and improve your flexibility while working on destressing too. In this video, you can learn how to use pillows (you don’t need bolsters – I usually get creative and use couch pillows) and other props to build support to open up your chest.
  4. Mahin is absolutely one of my favorite creators of super helpful drill and stretch videos. She really knows her stuff, and has an excellent understanding of anatomy to back up her instruction. In this video she gives tips on a few gentle stretches that can improve your bellydance posture.
  5. 8 essential stretches every bellydancer can use pretty much says it all! This is a great collection of stretches that can help improve your flexibility in dance

As with ALL movement practices, take it easy if you’ve never done stretches or Yoga, or if you haven’t done them in a while. Listen to your body and move within your own bounds in order to prevent strains and injuries.

The Secrets of the Video Selfie

First appeared in Misha’s Musings Newsletter, June 2016
These days, we are very blessed with the power of pocket cameras and videos. I carry mine just about everywhere, less because I want to stay connected and more because I’m always looking for inspiration and will snap lots of pictures to save the idea for later. This can translate to dance too and I think often we forget how lucky we are to have the ability to make videos so easily. I love to use my phone to film a variety of experiences, from flowers swaying in the wind to a rushing river, that I refer back to later to inspire my dance and costuming too. How fun to be able to use this resource!

Today I’m also going to share with you one of my secrets for seeing improvement in your bellydance technique fast: the video selfie. Here’s another way we can make use of that great technology! In a world where it’s super easy to film ourselves, it often surprises me that more dancers aren’t taking advantage of this excellent educational tool. Watching ourselves in a mirror while we dance is great, but we won’t always have the looking glass to refer to when we move especially at times like a performance or even if you are just jamming out at a hafla or drum circle.

Now, ok. I will admit it took me a while to be comfy with filming myself. It took a while to be ok with not looking amazing – this isn’t about having great hair, a fancy costume, or gorgeous makeup. Filming yourself while practicing is instead a chance to focus on your personal practice. After a while, you forget the camera is even there. It’s just you, dancing and drilling like normal. The great thing about filming yourself while dancing is that you can refer back to it again and again, learning from it and seeing what to improve as well as celebrating what elements of your dance are great. I often film myself just using my phone and then review it to see if anything is looking a bit sticky.

By taking the time to look at yourself after the practice you truly can gain knowledge – there’s even scientific studies that back up our ability to improve by scrutinizing our practice. Often you can catch little habits you may not see in the mirror, like accenting a movement oddly with your hand, or the placement of the foot that isn’t quite accurate. You can learn how well you are interpreting the music, too, and even discover whether your zil playing is on point.

Keep in mind when you video to approach each viewing with kindness and openness. I like to jot down a few notes about what was great as well as what I would like to improve. Over time, you can refer back to videos from a month, year, or even years ago and really see progress and that’s always great whenever you want a boost for your confidence!