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!

Growth and Change in Dance

Everything in nature has the potential for growth. 

Even YOU!

As dancers we are often thinking in the short term- learn that new move or combo, drill to improve technique. But what if we saw our entire dance journey from a larger scope? What if we considered it as a mechanism for growth and change in each of us?

Dance has helped me connect with my feminine grace and taught me it was ok to be beautiful. Growing up as a tomboy I always felt so disconnected from “girly” things. And even as an adult never really felt I truly was beautiful or ever captured the distilled essence of Woman. 

Slowly but surely as I danced, though, that changed.  As my body remembered circles and figure eights, shakes and quakes, I found myself accepting everything it could do. I found music that made me smile and laugh as I moved, and other sounds that made me smolder and feel like a sensual beast. Researching to learn more, hungry to truly Know this dance, helped me discover the ancient connectivity and community the dance built and nourished, both with groups of women – so rare these days – and entire villages. And oh! The ritual of dressing for the dance truly taught me, often through trial and error, how to enhance and celebrate my gifts of beauty and how to transform myself into a firebird mermaid or eleven queen, all different beauties held in my heart. So fun to use makeup and costuming to get creative and let them out to play!

Now, as I grow older, the dance helps me celebrate how wonderful I feel in this body and all the amazing things it can do too!

As you study and learn, remember that the Dance can have such an incredible impact on your life beyond simply being able to move. Open your arms to embrace all the incredible positive changes it can bring and you will find yourself with a full and constantly evolving Self and life!

Cultivating Kindness: Patience for your Own Dance Journey

Dance, like many other pursuits, is an ongoing journey. And like most things, the more we study it the more we have a tendency to want to excel. To succeed. To do things “right”. And more particularly to do things “right now.”

But what’s the rush?

Our dance is so much more than learning a bunch of movements and stringing them together. It’s more than remembering them in a certain order, or recalling them from memory when required. Dance becomes the audible set visual, a powerful expression of mood and story. We practice, we drill, we study, we observe all with the end goal of being able to have the body flow with a delicious torrent of movement. Whether planned –  intentionally conveying a theme – or simply moving as we are carried away with the music, the dancer’s desire is to express with the body. 

And, if we are honest with ourselves, that may well take years to achieve. 

I often have students who come to class and fall in love with the dance. It’s a quick affair to be sure and a torrid romance. First the exotic music, the honeyed sweet feeling of connecting and moving the body, the rich explosion for the senses. And oh, when the costuming and makeup happens and one finally learns to annoit and claim their beauty, well it can be tough to not want to dance every day and all day! It’s understandable when someone immediately wants to embrace the entire experience. But some things come with time, like costuming up and performing, and will be achieved with hard work and practice. 

The trick is holding space for that goal, seeing it ahead of us, while we enjoy each step of the journey. Progress is progress no matter how small the step may seem. And when we study dance there are many steps to take before those final few onto the stage. Do not let the end goal eclipse your daily successes in dance; be sure to celebrate each moment you “get” a move, every time you feel the music in your belly and bones. Keep dreaming of the future, while you stay grounded in the present and enjoy your current experience. 

Be kind to yourself on your journey and support yourself as you learn. Remember others who may seem “farther” were once at your stage too. Your place with the dance is completely different than theirs, with an entirely different set of circumstances, and comparing your journey to another’s does not serve to nourish and move you forward.  Give yourself the time to really soak everything up, the time to focus and enjoy rather than simply rushing to the end. 

Five Tips for Dance Students of All Levels

First appeared in Misha’s Musings Newsletter March 2016

Throughout my dance career, I’ve been a student many times. Each experience has been extremely rewarding and even though I now teach I really love the feeling of having a fresh, open mind. Today I still consider myself a perpetual student and, each time I step into the classroom, I always remember the five tips below. These were passed on to me by several of my dance mentors, and I’d like to share them with you to help you along your dance journey.

1. Maintain a Student’s mind – Whatever your level, whether brand new beginner or advanced pro, maintaining a Student’s mind is imperative for success in bellydance. As a Student, you are open to trying new things and also working to progress. You understand that things may not come instantly and may require practice and work to achieve and, to be honest, that’s part of the fun!
2. Curb the competition – Your bellydance journey is exactly that – YOURS! Enjoy the amazing way each move feels in your body and don’t worry about another’s story. Rejoice in your own pathway and discoveries and do not compare yourself to others in class. Celebrating your own unique abilities will help you continue to find joy in the dance for years to come.
3. Ask questions – Be brave in class and speak up! If you need clarification or want to know how exactly to do a move be sure to ask. Your question will most likely clarify something for someone else, and you’ll get the benefit of getting the answer too.
4. Skip the full costume – Bellydance gives us the opportunity to dress up, costume, and become incredibly beautiful inside and out. It’s super fun to come up with creative costuming, but this is not always appropriate for class. While we do host costume nights for special holidays and once each session for fun, keep in mind that heavy costuming can impede your progress in class. Make sure that whatever you wear enables the teacher to see your body and movements so that she or he can help instruct and guide you.
5. Respect your Tribal Sisters – Whether the Sister is your Teacher or another Student, our Tribe is founded on respect. While in class, be considerate of one another’s time and learning process. Keep those zils quiet while the teacher is talking so everyone can hear. Don’t interrupt other Students or the Teacher. If you have to come late hey, life happens, but come in quietly and respectfully. Your actions will help maintain the atmosphere of the class, making it a fun and wonderful experience for all who come to share in this beautiful dance.

That “Sticky” Spot

First published in Misha’s Musings Newsletter, July 2016

I’ve been teaching dance for a while now (cough cough over 10 years) and I’ve noticed a few things. One, all of us have our “thing.” For some it’s the ability to flow with grace and beauty while executing slow oeey gooey moves. For others they shake it up and can make percussive movements look amazingly sharp and punctuated. Whatever your “thing” is trust me, you DO have something that is a bellydance gift that is all your own. And that is something exciting to celebrate!

But what about the things that don’t come easily and naturally to us? What about those moves that are tough, the ones we resist, the ones we sigh whenever a fellow dancer pulls them out to use in the circle? I’ve had those same exact feelings and moments too during my journey and it can be difficult to embrace those “sticky spots.” But it’s important to learn to love each movement and discover just how great each one feels in your body, even if you can’t find that element right away.

One of my toughest moves was the Circle Walk, a Level 2 movement. It actually caused me a lot of anxiety and even fear because it just felt weird in my body and I was so worried I’d do it wrong. How to overcome those feelings? Sometimes you just have to dive right in to that sticky spot! If our favorite moves are the “sweet spot” then the ones that give us trouble are the sticky ones. Look for the places in the movement that challenge you and practice just that part. For the Circle Walk, I had trouble with the foot placement and the weight shift. I also kept wanting to reverse the hip motion. So first I practiced just the feet. Mindfully slowly and carefully, I repeated just the feet which is the very first part of the movement. Then, when that seemed manageable, I added on the hips. Sometimes I’d get it wrong and when I did I simply started over. But it was amazing how quickly the neural pathways formed and how soon the movement got unstuck. Once these two elements felt good in my body, I worked on the complete movement. Today it’s one of my favorite unusual slow to medium moves! These days I love to feel my hips swing around, the pull of my leg in to start my Takseem, and the flow of my Snake Arms with it. I feel feminine and grounded and so juicy with it. Gone are my anxieties and fear!

Working through the sticky spots takes courage and patience. Carefully breaking down a movement to find out which particular element is sticky requires time, but once you find that spot it can be practiced like any other dance component. Diving in to your sticky spots can lead to discovery too as you find different elements of each movement that you love, integrating them into your wider dance practice. It’s a challenge but that in itself is part of the fun. So go out there and conquer your sticky spots and tell me about it! I’d love to hear about your successes!

Class vs. Costume: What to Wear When

Dress up night in class! This is a stage costume, vs. class wear

One of my great passions in bellydance is costuming. Creating new looks, designing and sewing beautiful pieces, hunting out unique jewelry and elements to add to a costume is something I find extremely fun and exciting. I’m always on the look out for bits and baubles to transform into something new and gorgeous; it’s one of my favorite parts of the dance!

So once you have this stunning wearable art it’s time to head off to class, right?

Well, maybe not always. Bellydance classes of any type are a wonderful opportunity to dress up and feel feminine and lovely. I often have students who take this time to feel beautiful in their  bodies by wearing special makeup, hair ornaments, and even clothing.

But it’s important to know what’s appropriate for class, and what is better left on stage.

Part of the reason for the differentiation is functionality. I love wearing comfy class clothing like capri pants and babydoll t-shirts for dance as they allow me to move and easily see my movements when I drill. As an instructor, I also like to keep my feet and legs visible to help students see what drives each movement. If you’re a student, wearing long flowy skirts can be fun but might make it a bit tough for your teacher to see your movements to guide you. Plus, many of our costumes are great to wear on stage, but not necessarily comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Costume pieces like heavy coin bras and tassel belts might not be advisable if you want to stay comfortable while learning.

Another consideration is the level of wear and tear that regular use may put upon an item. Certain fabrics, like delicate Egyptian assuit and thin Indian lurex, are gorgeous to wear. But they often won’t hold up if they are worn regularly in class. The fabric may tear or rip, and is often not easy to repair. Other costume pieces may have elaborate accessories and decorations such as heavy pendants, stones, and coins. Regular use of these items can result in bits falling off, or damage to the pieces. Expensive pieces of jewelry, such as silver and stone, that are one-of-a-kind are also often best left in the safety of home. All of these are great examples of items that are better shown on stage than regularly in class. They can be great to enjoy on a special day, but are often best left to be showcased during performances.

I love dressing up for class, and I encourage my students to do so too. The key is finding the happy medium between comfort and beautiful adornment. I’ve found having several pieces of dedicated class clothing, including affordable jewelry and simple scarves I’ve picked up along the way, is a great substitution to using my fancier stage items. This way I’m able to dress up and sate my bellydancer’s desire to be ornamented while still protecting my one of a kind costume pieces.

What makes GREAT Tribal music?

Finding great new music is a passion of mine. I love making playlists for my students and classes, and even craft a new one inspired by each of my monthly workshop topics. I spend what some might consider a surprising amount of hours carefully selecting each song and, even beyond that, hunting down great new tunes to bring into each rotation each year. Why? Well for Tribal style bellydance not all songs are created equal. And, depending upon what you’re intending to accomplish in your dance, some music is far more suited to your dance than others.

Then Misha, you might ask, what makes a great Tribal bellydance song?

I personally like to look for a few things right from the beginning. When I listen to the whole piece, is the main quality of the song fast or slow or medium? In Tribal, and really in bellydance in general, we have different moves that are suitable for each. So I tend to select songs first based on their tempo. This helps me know intuitively which moves I will most likely be able to select from our GC vocabulary.

From there, I look at the overall quality of the piece. When I dance Raqs Sharqi, Turkish style bellydance, or American cabaret, I love to have music that has a dynamic orchestra and “lots going on.” I’m a big fan of rhythm changes, and I adore a good chunky lyrical phrasing on top of a sassy drum beat.

But for Tribal? My music predilections change quite a bit. When I dance Tribal I generally begin first to look for a more steady beat. A rhythm that doesn’t change or, if it does waver, one that is steady and easy to follow through those changes. One that’s clear and that both leaders and followers will be able to track as it moves them through the piece. While I love to hear lyrical changes, these aren’t as important to me as a dancer as they would be for a more Oriental style piece. Instead, I’m searching for music that I know will provide a firm foundation for Tribal improv.

I love to use songs that have an earthy feel – lots of drums and in particular I adore hearing reedy instruments like mismars and neys added to the mix. While I will use modern or contemporary pop from time to time, especially songs that are a lot of fun and peppy, I generally stick with more folkloric sounded music in order to honor the “Tribal” look and feel of our costuming and movements.

I tend to avoid music that has lyrics, especially those in foreign languages, unless I’m certain I know what the singer is saying. It’s incredibly important to be aware of the lyrics because what you might think is a beautiful love song could actually be a religious piece and something that is not appropriate to use in a dance performance or practice.

Whatever you choose, be sure to enjoy it! Half the battle of finding “great” Tribal music is simply finding music you enjoy dancing to, so be sure to listen and make certain that you love it!

Want to get an idea of some of *my* favorite tunes? Check out the playlist here or click the 8 tracks playlist photo below: