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!

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!

Tidy Up Your Technique In 5 Simple Steps

We are super lucky to have a format in Gypsy Caravan Tribal Bellydance® that has so many beautiful moves and combos. Sometimes though it can be tough to remember them during practice and drilling, much less be able to really get them ingrained into our body. It’s important to practice outside of class, and in past issues we have talked about how to set up a practice schedule. Now let’s look at some effective techniques for really learning each move and making sure that you are understanding and executing it properly.

1. Learn & Say the Names – Words have power…and can help you better understand a movement! Many of the movements, such as Ghawazee, Arabic, and Hip Bump, have entire families of variations so it is important to have a solid understanding of the movement names in order to keep each one clear in your mind. Knowing the nomenclature can help give clues, too, in how a specific movement or combo is executed.

2. Break it Down – Some of our movements, such as Egyptian Basic, have multiple elements happening at once. In this move, for instance, hips, arms, and feet are all moving. This is a great example of a move that can be broken down to be able to better understand and execute it. Try just the feet. Or just the feet with the hips. Try just the arms. Or just arms with feet, no hips. Sometimes, I will even break the hips down (in this case I would practice both lifting as well as twisting). By separating out the movements into their basic elements you will clean up your technique and reinforce the muscle memory of your body too.

3. Start Slow – Time and again I find students moving through movements as fast as they can, just to get a bit of practice in. SLOW DOWN. Breathe. Give your body time to learn the movement. It’s totally ok to practice slowly as you will really be able to check and make sure you are doing the movement properly.

4. Watch Your Weight…shifts – Sometimes the answer to a “sticky” movement that you’re having trouble with is all in your feet! Pay attention to your weight and really hone in on how you are standing. Is your weight more in the ball of your foot, or toward your heels? This can often influence how a move looks and feels in the body.

5. Chunk It Up – A very successful practice/memory recall tool is “chunking.” In this type of practice, you can take a variety of information and chunk them together for practice. An example would be instead of just practicing one move over and over, string a few together and practice it as a chunk. You’ll still be practicing the movement, but will have the benefit of also practicing several more and even working them in a flow with transitions. Find out more about chunking here.