More on accepting criticsm

by Thursday, July 30, 2009

In my last post on criticism, I explored the role of constructive criticism in the life of a student: criticism which comes from a loving source and is intended to be helpful. In this post, we're looking at criticism that is not necessarily "kindly meant"--snarks, backhanded compliments, and other thoughtless and offhanded remarks which can really wound. How can we deal with this kind of negative feedback and come out smelling like roses?

Here is an article from ZenHabits, which looks at how to deal with this kind of criticism gracefully:

"One of the keys to my success in anything I do is my ability to find positive things in things that most people see as a negative. Sickness forces me to stop my exercise program? That’s a welcome rest. Tired of my job? That’s a time to rediscover what’s important and to look for a better job. Supertyphoon ruined all my possessions? This allowed me to realize that my stuff wasn’t important, and to be thankful that my loved ones were still alive and safe.

You can do the same thing with criticism: find the positive in it. Sure, it may be rude and mean, but in most criticism, you can find a nugget of gold: honest feedback and a suggestion for improvement."

How to Accept Criticism with Grace and Appreciation

Another valuable tool to have in your bag is a better understanding of why some people deliver thoughtless criticism.

"Some people who pride themselves on their brutal honesty, however, have a poorly developed social filter when it comes to tact and politeness. They aren't always aware that their critical comments could be personally hurtful or socially embarrassing. They may feel justified by publicly saying what others were thinking privately, but they simply lack the sense of propriety which should prevent such incidents."
Why are some people so brutally honest?

Just a little food for thought.

Carolena can read minds...

by Wednesday, July 29, 2009
...and other wonderful tidbits in Part 1 of 2 interviews with Carolena and Megha by a couple of gals in Florida, Mary and Tammy. I love especially the discussion of preparing students for performance starting at around 25 minutes.

Here is a transcribed snippet, from around :50, in brief, to whet your whistle:

Yip: "Through the do you keep ATS fresh? I mean, do you guys add in new moves, and how do you decide if you're gong to add something in or...the creative process behind that."

Carolena: "You know, I don't even think about keeping it fresh. I just do it. And I don't consciously say, you know, 'This is getting stale. We need a new move." We just do what we do.

And it's like an energy bounce. It just keeps rolling and rolling and rolling, and I just, I follow it. I don't direct it. D'you know what I mean? It's like I really feel like it never really intended for it to happen in the first place. It just sort of showed up and like, said, 'Chase me,' and I was like 'Okay, I'll chase you.'

And it's still like that. I really feel like there is a Dance Goddess who wanted me to present this to everybody, and I was like, 'Me? I'll try.' And she's been running ahead of me all these years..."

Around at 53ish, here is a final favorite snippet...
Carolena: "Being onstage, I feel, is really like a moving meditation. Because, you can't be anywhere but right there. You can't be ahead of yourself or behind yourself. You just...all you can be is right there. And you're either doing what you intended to do or not... just flows.

When you're really like, right in that spot, it's so satisfying, because nothing else is happening right's really like a single pointed meditation. It's fabulous."

Megha: "And I think also, with this style, what the audience sees, whether it's due to your successful attempt to do something or your mistake at doing something; the audience sees, whether they are conscious of it or not, the cooperation that's happening within the group. We talk a lot about how the audience sees the spark of creativity, because you're making the decisions as you go along about the sequence of things that you're gonna to, and they can see that exciting part of it. But they also can intuit the cooperation that's happening. Like, if there's a mistake and no-one gets frazzled about it, there is something that happens within that group that they can pick up on, and it just makes the whole thing even more mesmerizing and special. I love that about it."

Carolena: "Yeah, it's true that there really is a communication between the dancers and the audience. And that's what I really try to impress upon people when I'm teaching them, is being natural on stage. Be your natural self, because the audience is being its natural self, and they are looking for natural gestures. So don't be fake.

Definitely be showy. Y'know, be on the stage, and own the stage, and give us a show, for sure. But be yourself, because the audience can read a natural gesture. So if something is a success or a failure, they may or may not be able to figure that out, but your response to it is what they're going to trigger their response from. So if you look, y'know, you're just like "Oops!" and the other dancer is like "Hey, I'll help", the audience is like "Oh, that's cool".

Megha: You know, it all comes down to "Just be cool". Whatever, just be cool!

Creative Fun: Drawing!

by Wednesday, July 29, 2009
In the course of doing the Artist Way several times over the past 10 years, I have sought out various avenues of creative expression for my Artist Date. In the second chapter of the book, you are told to make a list of all the things you have wished to do, but never made the time or gave yourself permission to do. One of my big ones was drawing and illustration. Just never made the time.

Enter DrawSpace.

There are lots of online lessons in drawing, from simple shapes to shading, to more detailed lessons in learning how to use scale and proportion and beyond. I thought I would pass it on in case anyone else has a hankerin' to do something crafty, and all ya need is a pencil and a piece of paper. Some of these lessons I would print out and bring with me when I was waiting for class to begin or at a coffee house, or even just my back deck in the sunshine. Enjoy!

You don't love dance...

by Monday, July 27, 2009
Discovered that Aziza S'aid has a blog, and really enjoyed her post today on why we (don't) love the dance. Give it a read!

You do not love yoga, or dance.

You think you do, but you don’t. The “it” is not the object of your love… you do NOT love yoga or dance.

What you really love is Who You Are when you do it.

The dance, the yoga, it is a vehicle. It is the way, the path, the mechanism. It is Your way, it is what is working best for you right now, and may always be what works best for you, but it is still just a tool.

Just reach for it...

by Sunday, July 26, 2009
"I have learned a great lesson this last week/2 weeks. I must pay attention to my intentions. I got a little lost for a bit because I allowed my focus to stray from my ultimate goal. I guess I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to identify just what that goal was, I lost sight of it in my search for the hard way to find it.

I remember a number of stories my teacher told me in the 1980’s about always seeking out the tons of ways and heavy energy I would expend to find my way when it was right in front of me all the time and all I had to do was reach out and grab it. I miss Ruth. She’s probably laughing her head off at me right now, but I think she’d be proud to see that I’m finally just reaching out and grabbing what has been there all along."

I came across a new blog the other day, "Living the Created Life", and in reading through some past posts I found the above quote.

It made me muse to myself...what things in my life are really just there for me to reach out and take? How much do I make grand gestures in an attempt to achieve a more fulfilling life, attain greater happiness, forge stronger relationships, reach desired much am I generating "heavy energy" or "expanding" to try and reach it, instead of just reaching for it from where I am? Could it really be that easy? How will we know if we don't try?

I have been trying to get back into my meditation practice, which is a really good exercise in doing nothing for me. I am awful at having a quiet mind, and I make it worse by surrounding myself constantly with fillers--internet, music, television are always near at hand, ready to give my mind a task or feed it with passive input constantly. I am back on the Artist Way wagon, which always gives me a sort of motivation (permission?) to balance out my daily routine with some nothingness. In mediation, there is no "grasping" at the meditative state. You can't make it happen--pushing or forcing yourself somehow into a quietude doesn't work. Instead, you sit and allow it to come. You become restful, bring your energy gently inward so it is ready to open and expand of its own accord. There is no try, only do, right?

And this practice at meditation, coupled with the blog post above, it makes me wonder...what else can I gently set myself ready to receive so I can pluck it when it presents itself? What am I not seeing that is right in front of me, because I am casting about so frantically to find that which is simply waiting for me to see it? What opportunity, what intent, is unrealized because I am not focused in the right direction?

What about you?

Leaping to success

by Saturday, July 25, 2009
"We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success."
Henry David Thoreau

"Everything Your Mother Should Have Told You About Being An Artist"

by Friday, July 24, 2009


"No matter how original you think your work is, it has been done before.

Originality does not define quality, quality defines quality. Regardless of whether or not your work is original, what makes art exceptional is the context in which it was made from an art historical point of view. Study art history, know your influences, and understand that originality and/or technique is only one of many considerations in the determination of what makes art great."

YES! I really loved this quote from the article, as it says so much about what I feel about our dance world. So many dancers are struggling and pushing to be "uber-original"--everyone seems to want to lay claim to being "first" at whatever new trend might hit the scene. But this grasping does not create authentic, organic work, and it does not guarantee any quality of the end product.

I always say I would rather see three of the "same old" moves executed amazingly well than 15 "new things" done sloppily. Hey, I love to see new work--it can inspire! But more invigorating to me is seeing a performer with real chops doing something from a deep source of understanding and love of the material than someone who is trying to throw 15 tricks into 15 seconds.

While this article addresses painters/sculpters/etc, it is an interesting read for anyone who has the dream of being An Artist.

Face the Facts

Everything Your Mother Should Have Told You About Being An Artist

It's important to note that the title of this article specifically refers to facts related to being successful in business, rather than being successful as an artist. Success is a term that is defined differently by each us. Think about it...what are the things you think you need to accomplish before you consider yourself successful? Believe it or not, there are some artists that couldn't care less about selling their work. Their primary definition of success is to be able to push the limits of their own creativity, leaving their studio with the sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and the enthusiasm to return to another day of work. Others consider success the ability to gain recognition from their peers and eventually be seen as having made a positive contribution, from an art historical point of view. Still other artists, are less interested in this long term historical vision, and find their definition of success is equal to the amount of income they can generate from the sale of their work. Regardless of your definition of success for your work, these are the facts you must face if you want to be successful in the business world and understand how the art market works. As always, it is important to note that there are exceptions to every rule, and I genuinely hope that you will be that 1 in a million exception… but if you are not, you need to be prepared. So, artists brace yourself, here is my cold water splash in your face:

1. You will not get "discovered."

Marketing your art is hard work. There are thousands of artists making extraordinary efforts to promote their work each and every day. Waiting for an angel benefactor or hoping for a patron, is just a way of procrastinating. You need to stop making excuses and put a plan into action to deal with the reality of the hard work it takes to get recognized. A minimum of 3 hours of week set aside to do business is essential.

2. You will not find a gallery that "understands your work" and feels as passionately about it as you do.

Although many gallerists are passionate about the artists they represent, educated in art history and articulate, the majority are primarily interested in selling art. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if sales is one of your primary goals. But, artists have to stop dreaming about finding the one person out there who can be their "art soul mate" and realize that galleries are in business to sell art, and that is exactly what you are hiring them to do for you. They do not need to understand your work on every level, nor do they have to be emotionally moved by it...what they do have to do, is be convinced that they have the contacts and collectors that will like your work.

3. No matter how original you think your work is, it has been done before.

Originality does not define quality, quality defines quality. Regardless of whether or not your work is original, what makes art exceptional is the context in which it was made from an art historical point of view. Study art history, know your influences, and understand that originality and/or technique is only one of many considerations in the determination of what makes art great.

4. Just because your work looks just like Jackson Pollack, (or, fill in the blank) doesn't mean it's as good, or that you can price it the same.

The price of your art has very little to do with what it looks like, what it is made out of, or how big it has everything to do with what the market will bear, supply and demand, and your exhibition and sales history. In evaluating how to price your work, you should be looking at other artists in your same career range, and the prices people are willing to pay for YOUR work. That is how you establish a market value. For more on pricing your work, refer to Pricing Your Art.

5. You will not be able to make a living off the sale of your work.

Sales are great and every artist needs and wants the positive feedback that comes from collectors buying your work. But, assuming that you want to live above the poverty level in the United States, to make a decent living you would need to sell over $150,000 worth of your art to net $75,000 before taxes. That would make your net approximately $50,000 before you deducted any expenses for studio space, art supplies, framing, advertising or promotion. Of course, it is possible. But, if you keep waiting for it to happen without accepting the reality of the odds, you are doing yourself and your work a disservice. If you do the math, being an artist will most likely cost you money no matter how much art you are able to sell! But, do not despair...remember that being an artist is one of the greatest gifts a person can have. You have found something in your life that you are passionate about and something you love to do. You are leaving a legacy and giving of yourself each time you complete a piece of art. Sit back and relish in the joy that your art making gives you and accept the fact that succeeding in the business world has no part in defining your success as an artist.

Teaching/learning to take criticism...

by Monday, July 20, 2009

Criticism really is a double-edged sword. It can be so hard to hear, and so difficult to parse into something motivating. Yet as performers, it is part of our job to do just that. From an early age I studied theater and dance, and it was always parroted in my ear to "get a thick skin". The implication was that we eventually develop some kind of emotional armor where criticism just bounces off and we ignore it. But that is not a productive or wise way to approach criticism, because critique can be a tool to bettering ourselves. Shutting it out is counter-productive on every level. A better approach is to learn how to let the constructive information in, and leave the emotional reaction at the gates.

"Constructive criticism is criticism kindly meant that has a goal of improving some area of another person’s life or work. Often constructive criticism refers specifically to the critique of someone else’s written or artistic work, in perhaps a teacher/student setting, that would allow that person to further improve the work or to improve their approach to future endeavors." ( )

Ah if only all criticism were "kindly meant"! But for now, let's focus our energies on these kinds of criticisms: honestly constructive critiques from our mentors, close peers, family, and friends.

As a teacher in class, for instance, my job is not to just to pat everyone on the back and spread "pixie dust". My job is also to examine what each dancer is doing, and try to understand how I can help them reach a new level in their skills. That part isn't necessarily the hard part! The hard part is finding ways of conveying this information to each individual student in a way that is non-threatening, encouraging, clear, and as concise as possible--in most cases, I only see and talk to students within their one or two hours of class each week, and I have anywhere from 15 to 25 students in a given class to watch and work with.

In a sea of different personalities and emotional landscapes to navigate, I have had my share of missteps to be sure--some of which were a result of my ineffective language, some were a result of a delicate ego on the part of the student, and some were some space in between. But overall, I find the biggest reason why honest and "kindly meant" critique created sensitivity or hurt egoes had to do with working with adults who have not grown up in an environment of constructive criticism. Instead of being prepared for and open to hearing constructive feedback and converting it into motivational information and energy, they grew up (especially as girls) hearing the tired old addage "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." So when they hear anything that seems "negative" or any appraisal that is less than "kudos!", they are not conditioned to hear it in the light it is intended--a genuine desire to help them succeed.

One technique I employ as a teacher is the ever-successful "feedback sandwich"! That is the idea that you give a student two pieces of positive feedback on what was more successful in their attempts, and sandwiched in the middle is your thoughts on anything less successful. For instance, I may walk up to a new student who is struggling with an up figure 8. I might say, "Wow, you have really good extension there--great flexibility! Be careful that is doesn't twist--you might want to try making it a little smaller to prevent that. Even done smaller, your beautiful smoothness and control is really going to shine through. Keep rockin' it!" See what I did there? :) In just a few short phrases--the span of less than a minute--I was able to compliment a student on her strengths, and deliver some advice on how to improve in the mix, managing to leave her with something to work toward and improve...with a smile. The positive feedback makes the critical feedback more palatable. This is a great tool to use for beginner students, but when we start to get into upper levels, where more experienced and serious students are moving more swiftly and at a deeper level, less hand-holding is called for. But even the most advanced students can have a "thin skin", and while my task as mentor does not change, the tools I employ must shift.

The extended task at hand for me as a teacher is to create an atmosphere of safety and openness, where the culture is one of both support and constructive discussion. Just teaching technique is not enough if when I come around to give correction and suggestions the student is unable to hear me and use the information to their benefit. Of course, trying to find time within the space of 60 minutes to teach students how to absorb the information when I, as is said in the theater, "give notes" is difficult at best.

In my upper level classes I am just now starting to get a handle on how to incorporate peer-driven critique into our weekly classes. The intention here is to help them be on both sides of the equation--not just hearing feedback, but learning how to give it. And in doing so, be able to relate better to those who give them critique; to understand that it can be delivered with the sincerest intention to support and help fellow dancers reach their potential. As an example, we may run through a mock-performance situation, and at the end instead of delivering my observations immediately, I will ask them, "So! Feedback. What was more successful? What was less successful?" I am inviting them to comment from their perspective what might need improvement and what felt really good. This process helps the students examine their dance on a more granular level--not just a broad "did it look okay?", but to dig into more detailed individual elements, and determine how successful or not these elements were in achieving the overall intended result.

In being able to communicate their own strengths and weaknesses, spoken aloud and discussed together with their peers, rather than just self-talk (which we also put a lot of unnecessary filters on, but that is another article) or sitting back and being told by someone else; they begin to not only open their eyes to new possibilities and broaden their understanding of how to make better choices in future endeavors, but they gather their collective energy as a student body and together create a safe space for future discussion and critique. Frankly, I find that a good 99% of the time, by allowing them to speak first, they immediately identify the problem areas I would have mentioned. And by allowing them to acknowledge and speak this information in their own words empowers them to make changes on their own, rather than relying on me to push them in one direction or another. After all, isn't my goal to create independently thoughtful and creative artists, and not just automatons who blithely bend to my will? In my estimation, what works for now in my classes is that through learning to deliver good feedback, engage in discussion and debate of ideas, and see the positive results of hearing a different perspective; dancers are more open to receiving it and using it to our advantage.

As someone who has oft been accused of being "opinionated" (as if it were a dirty word *sigh*) for daring to speak critically in a world of "don't say anything at all", I appreciated this article posted in The Gilded Serpent in early in 2009, which discusses how to accept criticism and the role of criticism in a dancer's growth. Check it out:

"As I glance back in time, it seems that the finest teaching I have received in both the arts and sciences came directly from those rare individuals who cared enough about their subject to be opinionated about it."


"Without feedback, a performer can go along her merry way for years, confidently repeating a “stock performance” that is acceptable but not outstanding, substandard but without reprisals, un-inspired but not without applause! Without constant criticism, it is possible to believe that one has accomplished a satisfying and worthwhile career in dance and yet, blithely missing the pinnacles."

Thorn of the Rose:
Making Friends with Criticism
by Najia Marlyz

The author additionally shared an exchange with a student dancer, who was seeking advice on how to deal with poorly worded feedback from her teacher, and her resulting feelings of vulnerability and hurt ego as a result. Some of the analogies are a little harsher than I think are necessary to drive the point home, but I think the overall article has some really good points:

"As a dancer and especially a dance student, you have to put yourself "out there" and not be afraid of judgment, scorn, admiration, derision, laughter, mimicry, etc. Didn’t your Mama tell you that all life's really good stuff comes with a price?

What is wrong with our form of dance today is a direct result of the current trend for treating dance students as if they were in therapy or grade school (or both)."


"By holding one’s tongue, when, in fact, a teacher should speak up with constructive criticism, she/he does nobody any favors and perpetuates the student’s errors. "

Enduring Open Criticism:
A Student’s Question about Feeling Humiliated

"The stage is your temple"

by Saturday, July 18, 2009
From an interview with Queen Harish about "stage fright". As we come upon our big local festival this weekend, and all the beauties who are entering their temple for the first or fiftieth time, I share this lovely sentiment with my fellow dancers:

"In Backstage before a show, I hear promoters and assistants worrying how I feel, when actually I am feeling completely relieved from the tensions of administrating the flying tickets, the embassy interviews for the visa and all the traveling to make the show happen... and now comes the best time to dance. When you meet the stage, it is like a life journey on the way to God.

I am also posting this thought as I also noticed many of my students worrying before entering on stage, starting to lack confidence in their dance and all the hours they have been practicing. As they enter the stage, I can see that even they smile, their fear is not going.

The most important time of the show is the entrance, this is the moment you spread the tone of your energy, hitting the bell in the audience.

When I enter a stage, I feel like walking into a temple. Before putting my feet on a stage I incline and greet the stage and only after enter the temple. For all dancers, stage is a temple for us! As in all temples, only good energies are inside. It is not possible to have bad energies inside a temple, in the street is possible but not in the temple!!

So, when you are entering in your temple, why do you have fear? I advise best confidence to all the dancers."

Dance as Healing - There Are No Words

by Thursday, July 16, 2009
Below is an article I wrote for the now-defunct Caravan Trails quarterly newsletter which used to be produced by Paulette Rees-Denis of Gypsy Caravan. I was author of a regular column called "Of the Tribe", for which I wrote short articles focused on the topic Paulette had chosen. This was for the Fall 2002 edition, with a theme of Dance as Healing, and I thought I would share it with you all.

Dance as Healing - There Are No Words

I have made repeated attempts to write this installment of "Of The Tribe" for this issue, and keep getting stuck. It is because there truly are no words to share how I feel. Recently, a dear member of our Seattle dance community, Indira (Melissa), lost her 14 month old girl. Maya Ione Lily had been born into a body that was riddled with complex heart problems. She was a beautiful, strong little girl, but following a long surgery that was attempting to correct her issues once and for all, she did not recover as they had hoped. She passed from this life only a week ago as of this writing.

If you can believe it, the column I am attempting to write is one of great hope and joy. For only three days following Maya's passing, there was a gathering to celebrate her life and to support Maya's family in her absence. As you might imagine, there were dancers at the wake, but never in our wildest dream did we imagine how many were touched by Maya in her short time here, and by their friendship with Melissa through the dance. The room was filled with beautiful dancers, come to show their love and share their sorrow. A community gathered that night in a way I have not had the opportunity to be a part of before. How did we come to be so blessed?

The highlight of the evening was three lovely tribal dancers from the local troupe Raqs Halim, of whom Melissa has been a member, dancing to live music in honor of Maya and her family. I know these women and knew how hard it was for them to prepare to dance for this occasion. Our dance is most often practiced in joy, so to have it be a memorial to a devastating event was a new experience. I can't imagine what it must feel like, to dance when sick at heart, though I might compare it to a Guedra, or trance dance of the Tuareg. Morocco describes the Guedra in her article "Dance As Community Identity in Selected Berber Nations of Morocco" (

"The Guedra's aim is NOT to exorcise a person or place of evil spirits, but envelop all present with "good energy", peace and spiritual love...Guedra is a nighttime ritual, around a fire under the light of the moon or inside one of the larger tents. When done for real, as versus for an audience, it's most often in a circle... (The Tuareg) consider Guedra their direct contact with the elements, spirits and universe, the deepest expression of their souls and protection against a hostile environment and evil spirits."

While the dance that was performed was not specifically a Guedra, but in fact tribal bellydance, the same energies flowed from the dancers and the witnesses. The feeling that their dance was meant to surround us all with a warm light of love and connectedness, and to express the emotions of our deepest soul. We stood in a circle around the dancers as they performed their ritual movement. They danced in unison, and then in turn they came forward and danced alone for Melissa. They looked her square in the eye, tears brimming, and danced their love for her. We were all witness to a selfless giving of their deepest hearts to a beloved friend. And though the mood was one of sorrow and loss, there was also a feeling of joy at being so very blessed just to BE THERE and be a part of that night; a sense of family, even among relative strangers. To be able to add our thoughts, prayers, and/or positive energies to the giant swirling pot that is our community. To be honored to witness the exchange of friendship at its deepest level, and to see it unfold within the context of our beautiful dance. It was breathtaking, and we all wept openly.

Following this dance, the band struck up a new tune--an upbeat song many of us know and love to dance to. The performers came forth into the audience, pulling us from our chairs, and pulling us from our sadness. As we took to the floor in a spinning mass of energetic dance, some of us wiped away our tears of sadness only to have them replaced with tears of great joy. Though we all knew why we had come, somehow the dance carried us away in brief snatches of forgetfulness where for a moment we were simply celebrating with our friends. Smiles and laughter spread like wildfire. Whereas moments before we experienced dance as a twisting of sorrow and compassion, through the same dance we were now finding healing within ourselves. I want a wake like this one, I kept thinking to myself.

I left that night so full of love and an indescribable feeling of connectedness with the world around me. A sense of closure and at the same time a new openness. Never have I experienced anything like it, and words still escape me. All I can say is that it is quite perfect that I should be writing this at the Thanksgiving holiday. I find myself incredibly thankful for this dance, for this community, and the beauty it has brought my life. May it bring the same to you and your community.

Thank you, Maya, for the unique connection you created among us by your presence and light. Thank you for the gift of reminding us of the loving dance family we are so very lucky to be a part of. How blessed are we.

With Love for Maya Ione Lily
August 31, 2001 - November 19, 2002

Clay pots...

by Sunday, July 12, 2009
We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
~The Tao Te Ching

In essence, we must become a shape ready to hold what we want. Build the structure of your daily existence that prepares you for the life you want most.

What do you want most?

Make it impossible to say "no"...

by Friday, July 10, 2009
I tried to link this directly, but for some reason the link was completely jacked and wouldn't show me the essay on its own. I didn't want to link you just to the blog and then make you scroll to look for the article in question, so I have posted it here in its entirety. But please stop by the original poster's blog at and express your appreciation if you like the essay.

In the article below, really like the idea of framing new ideas in such a way that it is not a black and white "fail/succeed". As a teacher, my instincts are often to give my students all these up-front provisos and caveats and warnings when they are trying something new, to try and help them understand that it may be difficult and to encourage them to not to be frustrated by the attempt should they not "get it" right away. But really, aren't I just setting up an expectation for frustration or failure by planting that seed at the outset? Would it be better to practice the "Daughers of Rhea Way", and simply say "try it"? Read on and let me know what you think...

Melina's Tray of Candles

From birth I was thrown into all aspects of belly dance – both the art and the business of it. I naturally accumulated skills because I had no choice: my mother knew the secret of making it impossible to say no. I was thrown into it like a newborn is thrown into a tub of water and finds it can swim to the surface.

Mom never prefaced anything by saying: “This is a hard thing to learn. If you practice every day, maybe you’ll master it enough to do it on stage.” Instead she said “Hey Melina, come in here and see if you can balance this tray of candles on your head.”

I’d trot over and presto – I found I could move around the kitchen with a large bronze tray on my head. “OK now see if you can do a backbend.” And I’d find I could. “Why don’t you try it on stage tonight, just for a second, and we’ll put a few lit candles on the top, and then just take it off and give it to me when you feel it slipping or you don’t want it anymore.” How can you say no to this?

That was mom’s secret:

“Just try it this once, and then I’ll never make you do it again.”

“Why not just try it and see how you like it?”

Three decades later, that tray has never fallen off my head.

Just when I thought I was beyond my mother’s wild idea clutches, it happened again. Just last summer while we were dancing together at Karoun’s.

I had the tray on my head, and mom suddenly left the stage, shimmied into the kitchen and came back out with three water glasses. There was no time to protest, I knew what was coming. She set the glasses up in the center of the stage and took my hand and led me to them.

“Stand up and balance on these glasses, dancing all the while with the tray on your head,” she was silently telling me in her "let's try this thing" Rhea language. Gripping her hand as I gingerly felt for the glasses with my bare feet, unable to look down lest the tray should fall and trusting only in my feet, my mother’s idea and will to succeed, and the intangible higher power of my belly dance goddess guide, I stepped up onto the glasses and danced: flames flickering up from the top of my head.

Melina’s Tips from the Hip:

Just try stuff and don’t be afraid.
Just try something for a second and then stop.
Don’t be afraid of what others think.
Practice “What if,” as in: “What if we did that, and we did it while singing/balancing on water glasses/drinking ouzo from a glass without hands, only teeth to hold the glass/….”

That is the Daughters of Rhea way.

Hold on...

by Thursday, July 09, 2009
Hold on to what is good,
Even if it's a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it's a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it's a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
Even if it's easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
Even if someday I'll be gone away from you.

--A Pueblo Indian Prayer

Powerful Percussion - Special Skills n' Drills session!

by Monday, July 06, 2009
Powerful Percussion
with guest instructors Helene Eriksen and Erik Brown
Thursdays 8:30-9:30pm

Helene Eriksen - Finger Cymbals: July 23 & 30, August 6
Erik Brown - Middle Eastern Drums: August 13, 20, 27

Helene Eriksen and Erik Brown will be sharing their talents with us as guest instructors in the next session of Skills n' Drills. This special session will be open to all levels and all styles--there is no minimum experience requirement on this session. You need not be a current student of mine to enjoy these incredibly fun classes!

The first three weeks will be an exploration of finger cymbals theory and practice, followed by three weeks of Middle Eastern drum rhythms and drills. Students will come away with new skills in integration of your left and right brain and body, some history of percussion around the world, recognizing common Middle Eastern rhythms in music, and of course lots of time to play play play!

A key to becoming a better dancer is to familiarize yourself with the intricacies of the rhythms we are driven by. So these classes will teach you not only some great new skills in zills and drumming, but will also enrich your dance!

Again, classes are open to all levels, all styles!

Registration is at The class is listed as "Thursdays Level 2b - Powerful Percussion" in the drop-down if registering through Paypal.

Wow! Jamila brief bio video!

by Saturday, July 04, 2009

Make up tip: keep the cheeks clean!

by Friday, July 03, 2009
Have you ever gotten your foundation all set and lovely, only to ruin it by having loose shadow or kohl powder fall as you're applying it, which you have to clean away and then reapply your foundation there?

Apply a fairly heavy dusting of finishing/translucent powder below your eyes and leave it there while you do your eye make-up. Then lightly brush it away when you are done, taking away any errant product with it. Voila!

Tribal Style: Getting our Terms Straight

by Wednesday, July 01, 2009
More blasts from the past today! After I found that old class outline, I also found a repository of some of my old articles from various publications.

Below is an article I wrote for the now-defunct Caravan Trails quarterly newsletter which used to be produced by Paulette Rees-Denis of Gypsy Caravan. I was author of a regular column called "Of the Tribe" for a short time, for which I wrote short articles focused on the topic Paulette had chosen. This was for my first article, sometime in 2001, or maybe early 2002. Enjoy a little retro reading...

Tribal Style: Getting our Terms Straight

You know, when I was coming up with the subject of my very first installment of "Of The Tribe", I was going to define my terms. With all the hub-bub about tribal belly dance these days, and all the new and varying catch phrases used to describe what we do, it is becoming hard to know what people mean when they say they do tribal belly dance. When I visited Tribal Fest II in Sebastopol, I felt really strongly that there was a need to understand what the basis of our dance form is, because from what I could see, the interpretations are getting further from the core, and we are losing our least, so it seemed to me.

So I jotted notes. I wrote draft after draft, and finally I had to put it away. Nothing was coming out right. How could I write on this topic without claiming to know better than others what defined tribal? After all, part of the beauty of this dance is that it holds so many opportunities for personal interpretation, and there are so many directions we can grow in. Yet every time I wrote, it seemed like I was making a list of things I have seen that didn't "fit the tribal mold". Tribal isn't this, and tribal isn't that.

I was still in this rut when I went to the Gypsy Caravan show at The Pink Door here in Seattle in August. It was a fantastic show. Many of my students came and grinned from ear to ear as some of them saw their first live show of tribal belly dance. It was utterly inspiring, and it reminded me of all the things I love about tribal. And that's when it hit me. The best way to talk about tribal is to really concentrate on what it IS, not what it ISN'T. It may seem obvious to you, but it wasn't to me. I was so caught up in my frustrations with what I am not seeing in dances being called tribal, I wasn't focusing on what I see that is.

It goes without saying that I can only really speak from where I stand, so that is what I am about to do. This is my column, so it's my take on it. Just hear me out.

What drew me to tribal in the first place was certainly not that it was improvised--I didn't know that fact when I saw my first tribal belly dance show! So then how did I recognize tribal from other styles? I had seen belly dance before, but nothing made me feel like I did when I saw tribal. I am sure the costumes were one major give-away--those tier skirts and turbans, layers of textiles and jewelry made my heart leap. I wanted to look like that! But it wasn't just about what they were wearing that made me want to jump up and dance. There was this...sensation. This...indescribable feeling that I am going to try to describe: There was something about the dancers that made me feel like I was witness to something and a part of it, both at the same time. I watched the dancers as they performed a basket dance in a circle, and saw that they were really communing with one another up there. They were really enjoying that moment and it showed. They looked at one another in the eye, they traded winks and smiles with one another, and somehow I felt like I was being let in on a secret between them. And yet, this was not exclusionary. As often as they smiled at one another, they had ten-times that much positive energy to share with the audience. They didn't just look over our heads in an effort to see us (the audience) all at once in some practiced stage presence. They looked AT ME somehow. They looked at the people in the audience around me. They truly SAW us. I almost felt like in that moment I was drawn in, as a part of their group; as a part of their secret. I know now what to call that feeling. It's called being part of a tribe.

Being a performer all my life yet never having experienced something like this, I really wanted to know, "How did they create this feeling?", "Where did this energy come from?", "If someone like me wanted to create this same dynamic, how could I do it?" And that's when I learned the name of this group I was seeing. They were, of course, Gypsy Caravan. And how could I do what they do? By learning what they do: improvisation. Because, as I was once told by Paulette, it is by this improvisational skill, being fully present in the moment, that we learn to really "see" one another as we dance. We can't be in our heads and get this effect. We have to connect. We have to communicate. We have to give and take. What an intriguing new concept this was to me then! What a wonderfully familiar and magical concept it is to me now.

I will never say that you cannot captivate an audience with choreography. I have done choreographies all my life, and have seen dances that have literally made me cry with emotion. I love the challenge of learning a choreography, and still do them from time-to-time with my troupe. But I don't call it tribal. The sensation I felt that day at the Gypsy Caravan show--that feeling of being part of a tribe--it came from a tribal belly dance troupe. From a group doing improv. And that is the core of what our branch of the belly dance family tree was founded on. What made it unique and different, what made people sit up and pay attention, was that very challenging skill which seems to be more and more scarce today. I would hate to see it further whittled away. I would hate to see tribal simply become a costume...a look that anyone can slip on and off, and throw in the washing machine at the end of the day. I would hate to see it become simply a musical choice--a CD that becomes scratched and outdated over time. I would hate to see it become anything but what makes it beautiful and unique--a dance based in improvisational skill, a dance where we really see each other.

Wow...way old class outline...

by Wednesday, July 01, 2009
This is a class outline I wrote back in August of 2001 when I was teaching at Goddess Squad. Some things are so completely different...and some things are eerily the same after 8 years!
When I first started teaching, I would write detailed plans from warm ups to cool downs, and then would keep a journal each evening writing about how class went and if I got to everything, how they seemed to respond to different ways of describing things or drilling them, etc. It was really valuable then, and really interesting to look back at all these notes!

*Shoulder rolls, progress until snake arms
*Neck rolls
*Arms up over head, chest lifted, shoulders down, reach right arm up and drop right hip "climbing ladder" reverse, back and forth
*Widen stance, flat back, rotate torso to face corner of room without moving hips, don't lock knees or hunch shoulders reach for right corner of room. Shoulders back! Keep hips as forward as possible, feeling stretch along side. Pull up through stomach to maximize stretch and take strain off of back.
*Round back and bend toward right leg, feeling stretch in the opposite hip and thigh. Keep hips forward still.
*Walk hands to middle, feeling hamstring stretch, demi-plie and roll up center
*Repeat on left
*Return to right, but when bending down to foot, turn body to the right so you are bending over your right knee.
*Down to lunge, either knee off the floor or down onto floor
*Drop leg down to half-z sit stretching hips and legs
*Bring back leg up over front leg, torso twisting stretch
*Bring legs under you and surrender
*Tuck toes under you, standing up, walking hands back to your feet
*Hang in this position, stretching back. Lift up through stomach, as if you are hanging down from your hips. Roll up.
*Repeat on left

Arm improvisation follow along!

Review posture!! arms either active at hips, active out to side, or on back of hips.
lift arms from shoulder blades to relieve shoulders and release tension
Review triples RLR, RLR, RLR, RLR (dum-ka-dum, dum-ka-dum, dum-ka-dum)
Review beledi R-R-RLR, R-RLR pause, R-R-RLR, R-RLR pause (Dum dum Tek ka tek, Dum Tek ka Tek)
Layer movements with triples:
Standing in place, shifting weight, or step-touch in place
Walking in circle, arms either active and low or out to each side
Step-touch in circle, active low, on back of hips, or out to each side
Step-touch with arms in switching L

Review posture!!! QUEENS AND GODDESSES!
Three point turns: step R-L-R-shift weight, repeat POSTURE, ARMS
Review taqsim, maya, and figure eight
Teach chest circles
Teach Carolyn's walk
Teach combo with two ends of room moving toward one another. May choose any of the three moves:
berber walk twice, maya/taqsim/figure eight for three counts, transitioning back to berber walk on four, repeat
If time left over: hips bumps and hip bump traveling (in circle and across floor)

Closing moving meditation!


On this blog I share my personal posts about cooking and knitting, travel and other musings; while I will blog about dance-specific topics over on the Deep Roots Dance blog:

I hope you will enjoy both my sites. Thanks for visiting!
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