Next session of classes: NEW TUESDAY CLASS!

by Thursday, December 30, 2010
Well, the end of the year always skips by so quickly, and before you know it, a new year is upon you. Here I am, staring 2011 square in the face already, and January will bring some fun new dance opportunities, it so happens.

All the class details are available at

A new Level 1 class will begin January 11th, at the beautiful m'illumino studio in the Roosevelt area of Seattle. 7:30-8:30pm weekly, come join us!

Level 1 and Level 2.5 will continue on Thursday evenings, at 8pm and 9pm respectively, beginning January 13th.  Level 1 Foundations will get you moving and grooving from the first class, while 2.5 is a challenging look into what lies beyond level 1, and is open to mixed level dancers. If you have a couple sessions of Level 1 under your belt, and want to try on some new moves and ideas, we invite you to come dance with us in Level 2.5.

Coming later this year, join us for the Monday Mixer! A 90-minute jam-session for tribal styles of all kinds. This is a chance to brush up on your skills, and learn some new ones, with an emphasis on group and partner work. The Mixer will begin with a mini-lesson (move/concept requests welcome!), followed by an exploration of group concepts, and finally putting on the music and dancing the night away. If we're lucky, we might even see some familiar faces from the tribal community come by to teach some unique moves and concepts from time to time. Stay tuned for more information in February!

Hope to see you in class!

Women-Only Classrooms: where to draw the line?

by Sunday, December 12, 2010
I had an inquiry, years ago now, which begged the question as to what "women only" meant in my classroom. I had a transgender student contact me about joining my classes. The inquiry was light and polite:
"I have had an interest in joining a belly dance calls (sic) and my friend  _*_*_*_*_  recommended you with high regards. My only concern is that
I'm a male to female transgendered individual and I want to be sure that you do not have any issues with that.

Thank you for your time!


I admit this one gave me a lot to think about. So much so that the original author pinged me again thinking I had simply forgotten to respond. In fact, I was giving it very serious thought, hence the delay, and I reached out to my mentor for additional advice. This is the mail I wrote to my mentor:
"I could really use some perspective here, and hoped you could offer some. Any thoughts you can share would be helpful.

I have almost always had a "no men" rule in my classroom--a couple bad experiences in my first years of teaching, and voila! I adopted the no-men rule. I appreciate a women-only space, and enjoy the safety and unique energy this creates. I have definitely seen the good and bad in allowing men in the classroom, and made this choice for myself and have never questioned it.
I have recently gotten an inquiry from a male-to-female transgender about coming to class. She is a friend of a current student, and now (the potential new student) has written me the second of two very friendly mails asking if she may join my class.

Knowing that you also have a women-only policy, I am curious where you draw the line in your classroom. To me, it is dismissive to consider this "just a man in drag". But for other students who have come to my classroom knowing it is a women's-only space, they may not see it that way and may be made uncomfortable. What is my responsibility as their teacher in drawing a distinction?

On the one hand, I have a strong instinct to want to support this person in their desire to walk their path as a female, despite their biology. I want to open my door to them with a genuine welcome from a source of compassion. On the other, if I do allow them into my classroom, am I confusing my "no men" policy by essentially saying that a man can be in my class as long as they act effeminate and wear a skirt?

It has bothered me that I could not articulate an honest answer for the this person who inquired,  particularly being that they are a friend of a current student.

I am grateful for any perspective you can offer from your own experience and your own heart.

Thanks in advance,

 I received a very considerate reply from my mentor:
"Shay, this is an interesting question...
Most men who "act effeminate and wear a skirt" are just looking for attention in class-the reason that I don't allow biological males.
However, if a non-surgical male comes to the studio and acts female, i.e., blends in and doesn't make the ladies uncomfortable, I can turn my eye and not know what is going on. However, this does not happen; males who are not going for the surgery and are really living as female sincerely will ask me politely and I will tell them no (if they still have a penis, they are technically still male in my eye.) And, males who aren't going for the surgery, and just assume that since they are "acting femme" they can get into the space, give themselves away because they ask me belligerently and then argue with me when I say no.
So, that leaves actual male-to-female post ops, to which I have no objections. They have made the choice to permanently live as a woman, and they are a woman as far as I'm concerned.
So, it's a multi-layered situation and one that is unique to each region.
I do caution though, that if you let a "living as but still has a penis" into the studio because you like him/her, you are opening up argument from any guy who wants to fight about it. And, they will.
Let me know what you decide. It's a provocative topic."

 I thanked her for her advice, and asked about workshop environments, to which she replied:
"I do allow men in workshops. No problem there. It's only for a day or two.
(Male Student we both know) just did one of my workshops. But he's an exceptional male. He's flamboyant, but knows how to get along with women. 

I just can't have them in the studio on a regular basis because their "maleness" makes the 99% of women customers uncomfortable.

It's unfortunate because there are some guys, like (Male Student) and a few others, that *could* be in the studio, but it opens the doors for the troublemakers. And, the reason that they could be such good male students is because the understand why they can't come and don't argue about it. "
In essence, our discussion surrounded the idea that when it comes to a defensible policy, it is simplest to define gender from a biological standpoint. Namely, if you have a penis, you are a man. This simplicity helps in both the immediate and the long-term--clear, concise, and brooks less debate or argument from the many sides of the gender spectrum. Of course, as my mentor put so succinctly, ironically, men who would seamlessly fit into the class culture also happen to be the ones who would fully understand why they can't come and wouldn't argue about it. This is why so many of the respectful replies from men in the past broke my heart--the ones who raised the least fuss about my no-men policy were probably the men best suited for our classroom! The ones who threw back barbs or tried to smear my name on the internet were the ones who were only making the decision to not admit them easier.

So based on trusted advice and a lot of soul-searching, I replied to the inquiring student with what I felt was straightforward, polite, and didn't invite some lengthy debate:
"Thanks so much for your interest in my classes, and for the polite reminder to respond. I just got back from a glorious vacation, and that means playing catch up on "real life'!  I also wanted to give some thought to your mail and make sure to send you a considered response.

My classes are a strictly "women only" environment. Your situation definitely gave me a lot to think about with regard to where you fit regarding this policy. The bottom line is that the simplest way to define the male/female distinction is biologically; and as such, regardless of how you choose to self-identify, you would still biologically be defined as a man.

I am afraid I don't know of any other ATS or tribal studios in the area with differing policies--all of them are women-only as far as I am aware.  If you are interested in other styles of bellydance, I do know of some instructors and studios who last I heard welcome all genders, which I am listing below:

Tayissa Blue:
Delilah and Visionary Dance Studio:

I wish you the best in your dance journey, and hope your holidays bring you much joy,
The reply I received, which I will not post here, was lengthy, mostly civil, and in many ways very thoughtful; but it bubbled with passive-aggressive language and made assumptions of bigotry and ignorance on my part. I opted to not engage in further discussion of my policy or invite debate or possible further insults to my character. I was left wondering what about this situation I may not have understood; but I won't know because I didn't inquire further. For instance, should I have asked her outright if she had a penis? I didn't think it was an appropriate question, and she didn't offer this information herself. 

I honestly felt bad that this person felt slighted by me with regard to my policy. She didn't understand how badly I wanted to find a way to be supportive of her in her life path and how I had taken that so seriously before responding to her inquiry (efforts she couldn't have known about of course). But I didn't want to turn this into an emotional or overly personal discussion. I felt polite and succinct best served the situation. So ultimately it was what it was--a considered opinion, I didn't have anything more constructive to say on the subject without dragging things on, and so I left the last word to her. However the taste it left in my mouth was not good.

Yet again addressing the women-only policy in my classes reminded me the kind of debates I don't want to have to have. I want a classroom that is drama-free, safe, comfortable. But my own "simple" policy is not always simple, is still something I am not fully comfortable with, and the boundaries of my policy are something I am constantly evaluating as new situations arise.

Turkey Day happiness...

by Thursday, November 25, 2010
Here in Seattle, we are having a white Thanksgiving. I don't remember one since I was a wee little girl, so it is magical. It will turn to rain soon, and get slushy and yuck, but hubby and I are enjoying the winter wonderland immensely for now.

I have begun cooking, and the house is already filling with delicious smells. Honestly, we really began yesterday morning when I cooked up the brining liquid, filled our cooler with salt/suger/stock/allspice berries and plopped our 20lb bird in to float around for 18 hours in said cooler set up on the snowy back deck.  About five years ago we started brining our bird in a simple water/salt/sugar blend, and two years ago we began to bypass stuffing our bird and instead using aromatics as recommended by our beloved Alton Brown--we will never ever make a turkey any differently ever again, and it even informed how we bake whole chickens throughout the year.  In a word: YUM! This year we're going whole hog and using Alton's full recipe from brine to finish, and I am completely confident it will be the best bird yet! I am searing the skin now, will tent it and cook until our family arrives this afternoon. Chris' sister and her husband, and Bapa will be joining us this year.

It's a bittersweet holiday this season, not having Pat here. I find myself trying not to cry now and again, so I cannot even imagine what is in Chris and Steph's hearts as they face the first holiday without their beautiful mother.  It makes me reflect on my family, on how little I get to see them, how much I miss my father and my grandmother... but it also makes me feel even closer to my new family I married into. Getting to spend time with them has become such a joy for me as I have gotten to know them better in recent years, and we are even closer now after what we have gone through this summer.

To sum it up, this Thanksgiving, they are my greatest blessing. I am so thankful for my family, and how warm they are in my heart this season in particular.  I am thankful for their kindness, their humor, their generosity, and their love.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May yours be as sweet and full of love as mine is today.

Q&A: How to smile in performance.

by Monday, November 22, 2010
Q. So, I was watching Kami Liddle's Tribal Fest 8 performance again of the (many) things I have always liked about this performance, and her performances in general, is her lovely smile! It looks so wonderful!

How do I get that (or any) smile? Yes, I do smile when I perform and practice, but it looks nothing like that. When I ask a friend after I am through with a performance, "did I smile?" Their response is typically a variation of "Yes, you had this cute little smirk smile." What? I was smiling! I felt my face moving and forming smile-type pose. And when I look at a performance on video, I see that, indeed, it is more of a "smirk". So, I then go "drill" a smile in front of the mirror. But I don't like the way I look....

Any of you have this issue? Any tips for working on a better smile?

A. Smiling in performance is just one facet of "emoting"--a difficult but valuable skill. And yes, you can learn it!

For one, don't expect your smile to look like anyone else's. That will bum you out in the long run. But more importantly...


Actors know this--to convey an emotion with the body/face for a performance takes work!  It seems like it should be so "natural", but more often than not it ain't. It feels really goofy to smile in a mirror, but it helps you learn how it looks. Then try the same thing away from a mirror and feel how that FEELS. Keep working back and forth between mirrors and feeling it. Then try performing for video with that same smile and see how it looks and feels.

Another consideration: don't just smile. Think of things that make you feel like smiling.
A fake smile looks fake. A genuine smile radiates beyond where you think you could possibly reach.
Genuine smiles come from genuine emotion, and not from "poses". So when you practice your faces, and practice dancing, bring joyful thoughts to your mind which induce genuine smiles, and the audience will not only see it, but *feel* it.

Daily Gratitude: A Day of Rest

by Sunday, November 21, 2010
Daily Gratitude: I am thankful for the choice to take a day of rest. Many people on our planet work nearly all day, every day, and barely make ends meet. A day you can choose to do almost nothing is a blessing indeed.

Wayback Machine delivers memories...

by Sunday, November 21, 2010
I was searching for an old web page of mine today, and took a little walk down memory lane in the process.

A December 2001 performance by Gypsy Caravan at the Pink Door. They are wearing costumes I created for them. I remember when they used to come up a few times a year, and how magical it was to see them, to dance with them...*sigh*

My first trip to Breitenbush for Ancient Echoes:

My old vending tent at Med Fest, vending with Zanbaka:

My first Med Fest performance, with Veils of the Nile. Bet you can't tell my beloved Fat Chance bra is on upside down!

My old class page, on one of my oldest web site designs back when I first started learning HTML:

I love seeing these old pages and pics!

Music Monday: Latin-y!

by Monday, November 15, 2010

Article: Tribal Fusion Bellydance on Gilded Serpent

by Thursday, November 11, 2010
Have a read, and let me know what you think:

"The “fusion” in Tribal Fusion Belly Dance makes this dance genre elusive and tricky to define. Two dancers could have nothing in common except a few core movements and a couple costuming pieces, and yet both could define themselves as Tribal Fusion dancers. While this can be confusing, both to outsiders and to Tribal Fusion belly dancers, the freedom that fusion grants is exactly what makes the genre so attractive.

The other side of the coin is that sometimes Tribal Fusion Belly Dance is interpreted to be completely open-ended. This can lead to dancers changing or ignoring technique, musicality, and proper training. 

Since Tribal Fusion Belly Dance is a relatively new dance form, it is especially important to treat the genre with a level of professionalism, or else one runs the risk of discrediting the work of dancers who have dedicated their lives to creating and elevating Tribal Fusion Belly Dance."

Sirloin Steak with Carmelized Onions and Butternut Squash Puree

by Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Made this delectable recipe on Monday night, and it was a hit!

Sirloin Steak with Carmelized Onions and Butternut Squash Puree

1 medium-large butternut squash, halved and seeded
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Olive oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 large onion, sliced into strips (sweet onion is best)
2 servings of sirloin steak (our serving sizes are 4-5oz in our house)
salt and pepper


Squash Puree
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the split halves of squash face up on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with some brown sugar, drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and break up bits of the butter over the squash halves. Bake at 400 degrees for about an hour, or until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Scrape the inside of the squash into the bowl of a food processor/blender, and pulse until the squash is a smooth consistency. You can add a little more brown sugar, or butter, or both to your desired taste. Sometimes a touch more salt helps to pop the flavors, but don't overdo it.

Note: I recommend getting a nice large butternut squash and making more than you need for this recipe. Then you can use the leftovers for other meals or soups. It makes a great filling for home-made ravioli, too!

You can make the puree ahead of time, if you like. It can refrigerate for a couple days, and you can scoop out what you need and warm in a saucepan over medium heat before serving.

Caramelized Onions
Add 2 tbsp of olive oil and the onions to a large saute pan. Toss the onions to coat with oil. Cook the onions over medium-low heat for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so to allow the onions to brown, but not burn. You can add butter to this as well, and/or add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the onions for a little sweetness and to help in caramelization.  For another layer of flavors, add a dash of basalmic vinegar to the onions in the last 5 minute of cooking. Remove onions from heat when they are dark brown and sweet.

Sirloin Steak (Alton Brown Method)
Prep the sirloin by setting on the counter at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. Coat all sides generously with kosher salt and let sit another 5 minutes. Rinse off salt with cold tap water.

Once you take the butternut squash out of the oven, while the onions are finishing carmelizing, continue to prepare the sirloin. Set oven on broiler setting. Make foil 'snake' out of aluminum foil to use to keep oven door slightly ajar so that broiler won't turn off if it gets too hot.

Brush steak with oil and salt and pepper, to taste. Place a piece of foil on the bottom rack as a drip pan. Place another rack in the position above this and put the steak directly on this rack. Cook steak in this position for 5 minutes.  Flip steak and cook for another 5 minutes. Move rack with steak to top position in oven, moving rack with foil and drippings just underneath, and cook for 3 minutes. Flip 1 last time and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer steak to wire rack and rest for 3 to 5 minutes. (These times are for medium doneness. Adjust cooking times up or down as desired.)

Once rested, cut steak against the grain in 1/4" slices.

Scoop a generous mound of butternut squash puree in a line down the center of the plate. Lay sliced steak on top of puree, and top all with a mound of caramelized onions. Tucking some celery leaf or basil leaf into the end of the golden butternut puree tops this plate off colorfully and beautifully.

Music Monday - Moody Monday

by Monday, November 08, 2010
I love iTunes for the way it can organize my playlists. I have ones for my classes, divided up by different levels of skill and paces of music. I have ones for performances, and for styles of music (Spanish, Bhangra, etc). And for personal music, I also have ones divided up by mood or feel. I have an Upbeat playlist, as I shared last week I have a Meditation playlist, a Chill playlist, and this week, I am sharing some selections from my Moody playlist.

As I come down from the high that was the Tribal Dreams Festival weekend, and I sit in my grey, quiet living room alone, I feel a little moody. Why is it that when we're in a sad mood, sometimes the only cure is sad tunes? Well, my  Moody List isn't necessarily sad songs, but just songs with lyrics or general feel of...well...a little bit blue.

Moody Monday
Save Me                                   -Aimee Mann            -Magnolia Soundtrack
Hide and Seek                          -Imogen Heap           -Speak for Youself
Watching You Without Me      -Kate Bush                -Hounds of Love
Feels Like Home                     -Newton Faulkner     -Hand Built By Robots
Call and Answer                      -Barenaked Ladies    -Stunt
I Know Why                            -Sheryl Crow            -Wildflower (mine is an acoustic version)
Sea Dreamer                            -Sting w/Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale    -Breathing Under Water

"Can you teach me to dance like _______...?"

by Friday, November 05, 2010
Most every teacher I know has run into this question in one form or another from new students--some of us hear it many times a year. "I saw 'The World Famous Debbie Dancer' on YouTube. Can you teach me to dance like her?"

The short answer? No.
The only slightly longer answer?
Neither can she!

No teacher can truly teach you to dance just like them. What they can provide you is tools for your own dance--tools perhaps they themselves used to arrive at their own personal style, which you can then take to create your own personal style.

I am here in Lincoln, Nebraska getting ready to teach my first of two workshops at the Tribal Dreams Festival, and over breakfast this morning was chatting with Jawahara of Chicago about teaching and workshops and the culture of the bellydance world today as we know it. And one phenomenon we were talking about was the propensity for some dancers to come to classes or workshops wanting to be or dance just like another dancer. Jawahara was talking about dancers who would look at old footage of Taheya Carioca and Samia Gamal, and wanting to emulate every little nuance of those dancer's performances. For others, it might be like the many people who watch Rachel Brice or Aziza of Montreal, and try to make every single detail look and feel exactly the same.

It's a good jumping-off point, but the question is, are you trying to be them, or do you want to be you inspired by them?

Jawahara and I agreed on many points, but one that I want to share with you here is that every single teacher, every single class, every single workshop has something to teach you. Much like when we talked about the steady diet of fusion (Fusion As Dessert), if all you ever feed yourself is one teacher's interpretation, or one stylization, where is there room for you in the equation? And dammit, that's the juiciest, awesomest part! YOU!

Even if your ultimate goal is to devote yourself to one particular style, it behooves you to be open to many dance experiences, and always always be looking at how your personal flavor is being injected into the final product. When you walk into a workshop, don't just try to pick out finished ideas, sprung wholly formed from the instructor's forehead. Instead, learn to look more critically at what is being offered--at the individual pieces of information that make up the body of work the teacher is sharing with you--and learn to parse out bits that really speak to you personally. Look at the information as a tool bag, not a shopping list.

Tomorrow at Tribal Dreams, I will be teaching "Cook Your Own Combos"--a workshop designed for just this kind of thought process. Learning to break down movement into individual components which we can then remix to reflect our own style.  If you learn to see the dance as a collection of delicious spices and ingredients, rather than complete unalterable recipes, then you can cook up a new combo every day of the week and always inject your own flavor!  I can't teach you to dance like me, but I am happy to give you some tools to help you be your most fabulous self.

Inspirational Video: Hips n' Bellies

by Thursday, November 04, 2010
Sandi and Wendy of FatChance Bellydance are pure magic together.  Their connection is unique and inspiring. One of my favorite examples of their power as performers is in the following clip. Sure, there are some lightning-fast performances that take my breath away--the kind of speed only you and someone you know really really well, personally and professionally, can maintain together. But no other duet so far swims through my brain as such a shining example of the power of ATS arrhythmic slow as this one. None showcase the strength and grace inherent in the movements quite like this one; the way one can simply flow, like a really delicious yoga stretch, from one move to the next, luxuriating in each moment, never rushing, never pushing, but with palpable dynamic tension and oozing sensuality.

Perhaps it's the slightly gritty nature of the video. The dim, red-toned lighting. The guitar solo. The way the audience barely breathes. It evokes the feeling we're in some basement cafe in Spain, and someone with a home video camera is watching as the native dancers entertain us all.

Brief history of sword dancing

by Wednesday, November 03, 2010
From Mish Mish via BellyTalk, a NW discussion group for bellydancers. It is confirmed by what Jamila told us at her weeklong, that she was essentially the one who conceived the sword as a bellydance prop:

"In Turkey and Arabic countries, dancing with a sword is done mainly by men
as a display of skill in combat or to prepare for battle. My troupe used to have
a Druse from Lebanon who did a spectacular sword dance his father had taught him
and I have seen videos of a Persian dance troupe where the men feign battle and
dance in unison.
Dancing while balancing a sword on your head has become popular in the United
States with soloists and troupes but there is no such tradition in Arabic
countries where balancing something on your head is a part of daily life, so
it's no big deal The idea for this dance can be traced back to Jamila Salimpour and her
seminal dance troupe, Bal Anat who became famous performing at the Renaissance
Fair in California in the 1970's. Jamila was inspired by an Oriental painting
from the late l9th Century by French artist Jean Leon Gerome of a group of
musicians and a dancer, probably a ghawazee, dancing with a sword balanced on
her head and another held in her hand. The swords belonged to the Turkish
soldiers in the background who had undoubtedly hired the dancers to entertain
them. A replica of this painting appears on Aisha Ali's recording of "Music of
the Ghawazee" As Jamila's influence spread throughout the USA, so to did the
practise of balancing a sword on your head."

Music Monday - Movin' and Groovin'

by Monday, November 01, 2010

 Here's music that makes me bop around happily.  Movits! has a couple songs I love to use in high-action drills to start off my more advanced classes, and herein is one of them. Augustito 2004 is good for medium drills, with a fun spirit behind it (look up the lyrics). Louis Prima, The Beatles, Cherry Poppin' Daddies...yeah, we got a little bit of everything here.

Jump, Jive, An' Wail                Louis Prima             Collector's Series   
Fel del Av Gården                    Movits!                   Äppelknyckarjazz   
Ob - La - Di, Ob - La - Da       The Beatles             1967-1970 Blue Album\Disc 2   
Agustito 2004                          Ketama                    20 Pa' Ketama
Jump in the Line                      Cherry Poppin' Daddies          
Smile                                        Lily Allen               Smile - EP     

BTW, the Movits! video for Fel del Av Garden makes my day, too. Check it out!

Conscious Carnivore

by Wednesday, October 27, 2010
My sister in law was vegetarian for many years, but in recent years she and her husband have been eating some meat.  Lucky for us in the Northwest, we have a lot of fantastic organic local resources for our food, it allows us all to be conscientious about our meat choices without too much effort (and a fairly reasonable increase in cost).

I have been inspired by my family and friends' consciousness about their food choices. And having gotten more into cooking, and thoroughly thrilled at the bounty we have around us in our area, I have been interested in cutting down on my meat intake and explore alternatives. This is partly due to wanting to cultivate a more compassionate approach to my world in general, but also, frankly, for the challenge and inspiration that comes from cooking meatless in a world of MEAT! MEAT! MEAT! You may have already seen this reflected in my meat-free cooking once a week I have been blogging about, and the vegetarian alternatives I have been slotting into my posted recipes as well.

I have been doing a little reading of wonderful "meat lite" recipes, and have come across a couple interesting resources I thought I would share:

"Becoming a Compassionate Carnivore"
written by a city-kid turned farmer, who raises animals for food, which addresses the following:

"Here’s a heads up, though: Becoming a more compassionate carnivore requires change, and change requires time, the one thing most of us lack. How can we possibly change how we eat when we barely have enough time to eat?"

And brings us the hopeful remark:

"This is an exciting time to be both a carnivore and a farmer, and I’m optimistic we’re approaching a tipping point when it comes to buying meat from animals raised humanely."

From the authors of Almost Meatless comes a weekly recipe installment on Serious Eats:

About their book:
"Despite its title, almost every recipe in this book uses meat, fish or eggs. A collaboration between Manning, a former vegan, and Desmond, an unabashed meat lover, the aim is to help Americans, who they believe eat far more meat than is healthy or good for agricultural sustainability, compose meals that are both tasty and filling without having a slab of meat as the overbearing star ingredient."

The Flexitarian Diet"

The 100 Mile Diet - looking at eating regionally to cut back on fossil fuels:

Frankly, I am personally not interested in becoming a vegetarian. Never have been. I eat animals and believe humans are part of a system in which this is our role in the food chain--I don't judge people who feel otherwise in the least, and hope they won't judge me in return. But I am always interested in little and big ways that I can live a healthier, more conscious life, and this is one way that my region, finances, and energies allow me to explore food consumption with more consideration than I might were I not who and where I am at this time in my life.

What are your thoughts on all this? Do you eat out of habit, or out of actual thoughtful choice? How important is the source of your food in this day and age compared to how you thought about it growing up? I welcome any feedback.

Music Monday - Meditation

by Monday, October 25, 2010
I have not been as regular in my meditation practice this year as in previous, but I hope to get myself back on the wagon this winter.  I meditate with gentle music in the background, as I find it helps center me, and my monkey mind is a little less wild. I also like to set up playlists so that they run the length of time I would like to meditate, so that I don't shortchange myself by getting grumpy and giving up after 5 minutes, nor do I lose track of my day and sit for an hour when I really only have a half hour to spare.  I like the tracks to be 5-7 minutes or more apiece so that I am not constantly "shifting gears" with new tunes every 3 minutes like most songs run these days.

Unfortunately, much of my music is still "trapped" on an iMac that pooped out on me, but I will share these three I still have on my laptop playlist for your enjoyment. Enjoy!

Song - Artist - Album
Om Jai Jagadeesa Hare       Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia        Om Jai Jagadeesa Hare
Moon of India                    World Meditation Ensemble    Sacred Fusion
Govinda Hare                     Krishna Das                             Pilgrim Heart    
Have questions about meditation? What is it? Why do it?  From me to you, there isn't anything fancy to it, nor does it have to be a particularly spiritual practice.

Find a spot that is quiet and comfortable, away from any distractions. Sit comfortably (I like a couple pillows under my bottom so my knees and legs don't get achey), and breathe normally and gently.   You don't have to have a particular pose, or put your hands or arms in any particular position, though you should sit with your back straight --not rigid or tense -- to protect your spine, with the head balanced comfortably on top.

Some people close their eyes (I do), while others let their lids hang but not close all the way. You don't have to chant anything or think on any particular phrase or topic. You don't have to have an altar, or light candles or incense (though if you like those things, create a little space for yourself and light up!). As I indicated, I liked to have some music, but some people find that to be a distraction. Find out what creates tranquility in your practice, experiment with different environments (inside or out, bedroom, living room, or dedicated space, sound, scents, etc), and settle in for a little nothingness. Because for me, that is what meditation can be. It is an attempt at pure nothingness, which makes space for...anything and everything!  Through guided practice, you can choose a focus or mantra which can be as simple and narrow as your breath, or as wide-reaching as world peace (cliche, but a wonderful exercise in compassion).

I started when I had my back injury, and I was spending a lot of sedentary time at home alone, unable to even walk to the kitchen without agonizing pain. I was spending a lot of time in front of the TV and computer. Well, honestly, all freaking day was some combination of computer, television, video game, etc. I was feeling really depressed and tired and sorry for myself. I decided I wanted to get myself away from all the constant media input, and focus on healing and centering myself, inside and out.  It was summer when I began, so I would put a thick towel on my back deck in the sunshine, along with a couple pillows to sit on. I would play some soft music, and just sit. And breathe. Sometimes I would think a little mantra in my mind: "I am strong. I am healing." But most days, the plan was to think of nothing. Concentrate on my breath. Feel the breeze on my skin. Allow the sounds of the world around me to diminish and turn my focus gently inward, without closing off from all that was surrounding me.  I gave myself a gift of at least a half hour of this gentleness and quiet each and every day. What a blessing that simple act can be!

If you are interested in reading more, The Google has tons of links and info of course. There are tons of people trying to sell you stuff these days--books and videos. But there are lots of free resources as well, so avail yourself of them and avoid hucksters. Here are a few to get you started:

4 Powerful Reasons to Meditate and How to Get Started:

"How to Meditate"

Simple Breathing Meditation:

Loving Kindness Meditation:

Hypersensitivity: a creative's bane

by Friday, October 22, 2010
Lateral Action hits it out of the park again and again. Thought I would share this snippet from their "Dark Side of Creativity - Burnout" article.  And if this section sounds familiar, you should read the parts about Control Freakery and expectations!

Why are creative people so sensitive to criticism of their work? Because our work is not just something we do, it’s an expression of who we are. As Gustave Flaubert put it:
A book is essentially organic, part of ourselves. We tear a length of gut from our bellies and serve it up.
So when the critics get their knives out, it feels like a direct personal attack. When nobody comes to the show it feels as if your innermost soul has been rejected. And again, this is as it should be – up to a point. If you didn’t care enough to put your heart and soul into your work, there would be no reason for anyone else to care about it. But if you really want to improve, you have to learn to let go of the work, to stand back and appraise it coldly, to see whether it measures up to the standards you aspire to. And you have to be able to listen to others’ feedback and see whether you can learn from it. Otherwise you set yourself up for a world of pain each time you present your work to an audience."

(image: The Green Muse by Albert Maignan, 1895)

Easy Hearty Sausage and White Bean Soup

by Thursday, October 21, 2010
1-2 large sausage(s) of your choice (we chose a local smoked sausage), sliced into thick half-rounds
3 thick slices of ham, cubed
2 cans Great Northern beans (or cannelini beans)
2 carrots, cut into thick rounds
1 red bell pepper, rough cut
2 stalks celery, rough cut
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 cans chicken broth (we use low sodium)
2 tsp thyme
1 tsp cumin
dash of cayenne pepper for pep
salt and pepper to taste

Throw all ingredients into your crock pot, mix up well. Turn on crock pot and let your house fill with delicious smells all day. 8-10 hours on low, 4-6 hours on high. Add any additional salt or pepper to taste just before serving. Serve with crusty bread.

  • Throw in a can of diced tomatoes for another level of flavor. 
  • Sub ham base/stock for the chicken broth for a saltier, ham-ier flavor.
  • Use Healthy Choice  keilbasa, turkey sausage, or other low fat sausage for a diet-friendly option
  • For a thicker finished result, shortly before the end of your cooking time, scoop out a couple big scoops of the beans into a separate bowl. Mash with the back of a fork and return to the soup, stir in, cook for another 20 minutes and serve.
  • If you have the time, you can choose to sautee the sausage a little bit, then throw in the onions and garlic for a minute before adding to the soup, but since I wanted to make a "super quick" recipe, throwing all the ingredients in without additional prep works out just fine. Sauteeing also allows you to cook off some of the fat in the sausage, if that is something you would like to do.

Dance Injuries - Having a Plan C

by Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Dance Advantage listed an article recently on dancers and injuries. Specifically the idea that injuries can take away dance from your life. I am familiar with this, having been on and off battling a severe back issue, and more recently knee problems surfacing, and my foot issue which will require surgery I cannot afford at present, which leaves me in pain every day just walking around, let alone dancing.  I have had to give a lot of thought to the possibility that I may not be able to have dance as my career any more, and how betrayed by fate it has made me feel over the past few months.  This is something I am really really good at--the first thing that really resonated with me so deeply, and was validated in the opinions of my peers as well. To imagine it not being my profession any more was impossible to contemplate, and yet I had to give it some serious "face-time" in my meditations this summer.

So this article is somewhat encouraging in its tone and message. Summing up the message in one line:
"As a young dancer, I felt pigeonholed into thinking that I only had two options (dance or don’t dance), when plan C was as simple as being a barefoot dancer who wears shoes – and it took me six years to figure that out."

In trying to figure out where dance fits into my definition of self , this article presents the idea of creative experimentation with the ways dance slots into your life when factors seem to push against that possibility.

In other news, I started Music Monday a few weeks ago, and pre-loaded some posts to release on Mondays. Then didn't go back and check to see if they were posting. Oops! I had them in the queue, but hadn't released them for posting. So keep an eye out for Music Monday NEXT Monday, and hopefully I will have that all cleared up and ready to post for your auditory enjoyment.

A delightful fall weekend....

by Sunday, October 10, 2010
Started the weekend early with a matinee movie with my friend Arya, followed by tea and stimulating conversation. Friday night was a chill night in with hubby. Saturday morning was breakfast, then some food prep for the potluck mini-family reunion later. SIL and hubby came over a little early for a little chat, then we head to the reunion, which was filled with kind, funny, friendly relatives Chris n' sis hadn't seen in maybe two decades or more (as well as delicious ham!).  Went later than we planned, so we went home instead of the Tiff's birthday (sorry to miss it, Tiff! Hope your 30th rocked!) to chill out and watch a couple episodes of Dexter before going to bed early.

Early to bed, early to rise this morning, and went to breakfast at the Jewel Box Cafe, splitting a breakfast panini and a sweet berry crepe.  Came home and knit some on my new mitt design. Spending the afternoon cooking a wild mushroom soup while hubby performs delicate surgery on my iMac to try and fix it (replacing the video card *fingers crossed*). Chopping veggies, plucking some of the last of the fresh herbs from our garden (leaving my fingers smelling of thyme and rosemary all day long), sipping wine and smelling a rich, earthy soup simmering on the stove, all with a background soundtrack of Ella Fitzgerald on Pandora= one thing I can easily adore about the changing of the seasons.

I hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of October as I am.

Smartphones = Wallets

by Friday, October 08, 2010
It is alarming to me how often I hear about people leaving their smart phone or their iPod touch behind at restaurants, in their cars in plain view, or it slipping out in a parking lot or theater. Losing an iPod touch or a phone these days is more like losing your wallet, with ID and credit cards all in there. (And a lot like losing a laptop, too!)

Recently on Ravelry, a woman said that her iPod touch had slipped out of her bag on a university campus. The young man who found it opened it up, and she was logged into her mail and Facebook (among other social apps and such), which she uses all the time and keeps up and running. Luckily, this young man posted his phone number to her wall, so she could call and recover it (unfortunately with a broken screen from being dropped and run over by a car, apparently, but still running!).  But to think what he COULD have done with the data on that "entertainment device" is alarming.

These things hold a lot of data that can be used inappropriately, for sure.  So guard it like you would a wallet! You wouldn't just let a wallet slip out of your purse, would you? You keep it in a secure spot in your bag, don't you? Do the same with your iPod touch or phone. You don't leave the restaurant without your wallet, do you? I sure hope not. You keep it tucked in your pocket or purse when not in use, right?  Do the same with your devices.

Just a friendly reminder to keep your identity secure, and not let these "entertainment electronics" become a ID theft nightmare.

Why Spontaneity Comes from Following the Rules

by Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Over at Lateral Action, there is an interesting (& rather deep) post regarding a conversation between Brian Eno and the developer of Sim City, and the application of rules bringing about successful spontaneity. Read the full article here:

The simplest, and most profound, summation of this conversation came in the final segment, quoted here:
Play It Simple

A point that comes up repeatedly in the Eno/Wright talk is that complex results emerge from simple rules. No rules mean there is no system, so nothing is generated. But if you add too many rules and risk breaking the system. The trick is to find just enough rules to get the system under way without destroying it prematurely.

Listening to the talk, I was reminded of playing improvisation games at The Spontaneity Shop: when actors try to improvise a scene in which ‘anything goes’, the results are flat and lifeless.

But introduce a simple rule such as ‘one of you is higher status and the other’, and it starts to come alive. Tweak the rules slightly – ‘one of you is the servant but acts higher status than the master’ – and you have a recipe for spontaneous comedy.

Twitter is another good example of a generative system. When I first tried Twitter, I didn’t see the point. There was so little I could do. Type a 140 character message? Get messages from other people? Is that all?

But when I was persuaded to persist with Twitter, I discovered the incredible richness of the conversations and connections it facilitates. Now you can find me there most days. It’s one of the very few web applications I would genuinely miss if it disappeared overnight.

I’m not the first one to be puzzled by Twitter’s lack of ‘obvious’ features that can be found in similar – but less successful – networks such as FriendFeed or Plurk. But Eno and Wright would probably argue that Twitter is so successful because its rules are so simple.

But how can you know in advance which rules will bring you the best creative results? Which ideas should you pursue and implement, and which should you leave on the drawing-board?

You can’t.

Which means you have to try things, play around with them, test quickly and test often. Allow failure to tag along as a daily playmate.

Isn’t that the beauty of real creativity, that you wake up every morning not knowing what you’re going to discover?

How much do I love those final few sentences. Testing ideas, playing, and being open to failure. Knowing that we *don't know* the outcome, and letting it reveal itself through the process. This is what I mean when I talk about organic creativity! Rules are powerful! Rules are what gives structure to our attempts, what binds together disparate ideas and aesthetics into something solid, tangible, impactful. The results are something familiar to everyone on some level, yet truly unique to us. We use the rules as a tool to create something greater than we could have if we had not defined them and honored them to begin with. And of course, the other lesson in this article is to not impose too many rules. Find those which are truly important, truly valuable to the process and the outcome, and let the rest flow as it will. I aspire to be this confident and comfortable in my creative process, through the thoughtful, sparing, application of rules.

Certifications...what do you think?

by Sunday, October 03, 2010
Here's the truth of it: When it comes to training intensives, I sometimes wish there were no certificate tied to the coursework. 

Particularly in programs which are essentially "participation certificates" rather than tested on demonstrated knowledge and ability, I feel it gives a false sense of accomplishment to the participant, and sends a confusing message to the public that one need only take a few days of workshops and suddenly you can be "officially certified" in a given style or skill. It diminishes both the idea of a certificate and the art/style itself, in my opinion. This is one way in which I have a lot of admiration for the Suhaila certification program. While it has never been of interest to me to pursue, I can see the tremendous value in the way it is structured, and the tangible feedback it provides the dancers--as a friend once said, it can be a roadmap for personal goal setting, and that's fantastic.

At the root, I would rather we focus on the meat of a dancer's/teachers' skills--proven through time and experience and demonstrated skill--than pieces of paper.  
I found my certification training with Gypsy Caravan, FatChance, and now Jamila (still to test, but took the course) to have been incredibly valuable to not only my technique, knowledge, and teaching ability, but also gave me a tremendous sense of history and perspective. Like the proverbial elephant and the blind men, we're all touching different parts of the dance, and are limited by the part we have in our immediate reach. By being exposed to other teachers' and dancer's experience/part of the elephant, I feel I have a better idea of the bigger picture and where I fit into it. If slapping a certificate on it encourages more people to pony up the cash and time to commit to these programs and grow as a result, I suppose in the end it's a Good Thing. But I didn't care one tiny bit if I held a piece of paper at the end of them, because what I got out of these experiences couldn't be measured in that way.

What do you think of certifications in the bellydance world today? Any you particularly endorse or eschew? What are your experiences?

Web design...

by Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Had a few more contracts crop up for web design lately. I am trying to streamline my design process, but am finding it tough. I just like the visual design part so much better than the code part!

So today I "attended" my final online Web Design Bootcamp webinar, and it covered HTML5 and CSS3 in brief. In particular, "embedded" fonts in web page design. But it's so much more than that. Whew!  I feel overwhelmed with the possibilities and what new things I will need to learn to take advantage of it. With 98% of all browsers supporting the new font functionality, we can start using it RIGHT NOW. how exciting is that? Even IE is ahead of the game on this one. Looking forward to seeing what it allows us to create...

Bringing emotion to your dance

by Tuesday, September 28, 2010
From my background in theater and dance, to a life seeped in bellydance and dance in general full-time, I have learned that one of the most powerful methods of showing emotion in performance is having a story firmly in mind as you perform.  Just saying "I am going out there to have fun and smile," doesn't quite have the same impact as coming up with a more detailed motivation or imagined goal in mind when you take the stage. So You Think You Can Dance liberally uses themes, props, and elaborate stories to create their unique dances, which is inspiring. We, too, can be guided by a story through the entire creative process, which can inform not only our movement and emoting on stage, but also costume and musical choices as well to support the story further. Though I would caution that one must be careful at becoming too literal or trite.

The dance itself--the body, the face, the movement--not costume or music or props, should always communicate the story first and foremost.  

After all, a large cross-section of the recent vaudeville-inspired theatrical-circus-theme craze has been disappointingly unbalanced: Over-storied, over-costumed, over-propped, and under-danced. The dance is the central and most important part, and the story and any trappings built around it should support and supplement the emotional content and skilled execution of the dance itself. A really great dance can be performed with the dancer wearing a plain white tee shirt, or something similarly mundane, and can still clearly communicate emotion.

So how does one create a story? Soloists have an easier time at this because the stories need not have a universal and shared emotional meaning among a group, but instead can be something very personal to them alone. (For example, Sa'Elyssa's "For My Grandmother"--a dance to honor her grandmother who had passed away--reduced me to tears.) But with some thought and discussion groups can create a story and stage their piece with a collective image in mind to help channel their emotional energies. My last troupe did this on many occasions with great effect. Our "Home" piece was one that is lovingly remembered not only by the audiences that saw it, but we who danced it. The story we built into it was very very personal to our dance family and surrounded universal feelings of loss and fear, friendship, and of course as the song name and lyrics reveal, the feeling of being home. We didn't have any sort of intro at most performances of it, and we did not costume or set a backdrop or props of any kind, so there was not always an opportunity to lead the audience into our story with any kind of explanation. The only cues were our physical selves--the way we staged our movement among and with one another, the way we felt as we imagined our story when dancing it, and the way our faces and bodies communicated our thoughts and feelings as we performed came through for our audiences, who sometimes were brought to tears without knowing quite why it impacted them so profoundly.  Of course tears aren't the only way we would hope to have our audiences manifest their appreciation of what we do, but it sure is a powerful one!

Another method to add further depth to your audience interaction is to put characters of your story in the audience. Planting archetypes in your mind and then acting as if you are seeing them and playing to them when you dance can have great effect. Say you plan to find your new best friend to the left of the stage, your ex-boyfriend you are showing off for to the right of the stage, and your proud mother in the center. Find people in the audience and fix them with your eyes and intention and dance for those imagined characters and see if it doesn't change the way you move and emote!

What other ways do you build story and character into your performances?

ATS Old/New - Another take

by Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Nancy Young posted a really articulate and well-considered response to Carolena's message, and I wanted to share my favorite part of it:

"By giving this gift, you have, it seems to me, officially acknowledged ATS, your baby, as a mature art form with a life of its own and sent it off with your blessing. For me—and maybe this is just me—the gift also feels like your official acknowledgment of us, the ATS community, not just as acolytes practicing your dance but as artists inspired by your vision."

See the rest of her post on Monday, September 27th, HERE.

Music Monday - Feelin' The Love

by Monday, September 27, 2010
Alright, I have never been one for the "every day of the week has its own blog theme", but I have been wanting to give a little more space for music recommendations and discussions 'round these parts, so I am going to implement a "Music Monday" theme and see how it goes. Let me know what you think, eh?

Music Monday will have a little bit of whatever it is I am listening to right now. Some will be dance music, but some will just be my listenin' and enjoyin' music!  Most everything I listen to these days is available on iTunes and/or Amazon, so you can snag it for yourself. :)

I have been listening to a lot of love-themed upbeat music lately to keep me singin' along and feeling positive. So here are some of my favorite "Feelin' The Love" tunes right now, with links to iTunes:

Song - Artist - Album

Super Duper - Joss Stone - The Soul Sessions
Whenever I Say Your Name - Sting Feat. Mary J. Blige - Sacred Love
Home -  Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Up from Below
Throw Your Arms Around Me - Neil Finn - (live bootleg, sorry, but here is another version, and here)
Three Little Birds - Bob Marley - Legend
You Give Me Something - Jamiroquai - A Funk Odessey

I wanted to make an iMix to put all the songs in one place, but apparently some of my music wasn't "approved" for use in the iMix by iTunes (even though they sell these exact songs). I will look further into this in the future, to simplify browsing the music in one place, rather than with individual links. For now, enjoy the music!

Health and fitness made simple...

by Thursday, September 23, 2010
Another gem from Zen Habits, this time it's the very simple truth about increasing your fitness.

"Health and fitness are usually made to seem too complex.

If you read a lot of fitness magazines and blogs (as I often do), you’re told a confusing variety of complex advice. It makes your head spin.

You’re told that eggs, butter and meat are bad for you. Then another crowd will tell you those same things are actually good. Then you’ll hear running is good for you, and the bodybuilding and primal crowds will scoff at longer-distance running. You’ll hear that lifting weights is the best way to get into shape, and others will laugh at that. You’ll hear a million variations of the best workouts, of when to time your nutrition, of how to periodize your workouts, of how to measure fitness, of what supplements you need to take … ad naseum.

It’s enough to make you want to give up.

Fortunately, fitness doesn’t have to be that complex.

In fact, you can boil it down to two simple rules:

1. Get your body moving on a regular basis; and
2. Eat a moderate amount of real, whole foods (with occasional indulgences).

I believe if you stuck to those two rules, and stuck with them for awhile, you’d get fit. Doing one but not the other will result in an improvement in health for many people (not all), but it would be an incomplete health. Do both most days of the week and you’re on your way to health and fitness.

But what about specific macronutrient ratios (fancy way of saying the breakdown of protein, carbs and fats)? What about meal frequency and timing? What about workout frequency, splits, timing, reps, and more? You could add all these types of rules and many more, but the truth is, all the complexities are usually a way of masking some simple truths: if you want to lose fat or weight, you have to have a calorie deficit, and if you want to build muscle, you’ve got to use exercise to get stronger. The other stuff is mostly guesswork, and while these complicated programs probably work, they usually work because they promote one or more of the principles in this post, not because of their complexities.

The two rules above are all you need … however, most of us need a little more detail, so here’s a more complete set of simple fitness rules. As always, remember that 1) I’m not an expert — this is just stuff that’s worked for me; 2) this is for healthy adults — people with health problems should seek the advice of professionals.

1. Get moving. Try to do some kind of physical activity most days of the week (4 or more days if possible). If you have an aversion to exercise, don’t think of it as exercise. Just think of it as a way to get your body moving in some fun way. It can be dance, yardwork, hiking, a nature walk, a swim, basketball, rugby, cycling, even housework if you do it vigorously enough. And it doesn’t have to be the same thing each day. I recommend, just for the sake of simplicity, that you do find a regular time slot you could do your daily activity, most days of the week. I prefer mornings but others enjoy lunchtime or after work.

2. Enjoy yourself. Whatever activity you choose, it has to be fun. If you don’t like it, move on to something else. Focus on the fun part, not the hard part. Or learn, as I have, to enjoy the hard stuff! Again, make it fun, or you won’t keep it up for very long. To make sure it’s not too hard, start easy. Focus on just getting moving and enjoying the activity. Start small, and build up with baby steps.

3. Slowly add intensity. Once you’ve been doing an activity for a little while, and you’re in decent shape, it’s good to add some intensity. But slowly — if you add intensity too quickly you’ll risk injury or burnout. So let’s say you’ve been doing some walking for a couple months — you should be ready to add a little jogging or fast-paced walking, in small little intervals. If you’ve been running, try some faster-paced intervals (take it easy at first) or hill workouts. If you’ve been strength training, be sure to add weights (safely) or decrease rest time or add more reps or sets. If you’re playing a sport, really speed things up, or focus on explosive movements. Intensity is a great way to get yourself in shape and have an effective workout in only 20-30 minutes. Here’s a great way to do bodyweight exercises with intensity: do a circuit of bodyweight exercises (such as pushups, pullups, squats, burpees, Hindu pushups, lunges or others) and do as many circuits as you can in 10 or 15 minutes. Next workout, see if you can do more circuits. It’s great!

4. Minimal equipment. There are a million different exercise gadgets out there, from ab machines to elliptical trainers to a whole slew of weight machines at the gym. My rule is: keep it simple. You can do amazing things with bodyweight exercises — in fact, if you are a relative beginner, you should start with bodyweight exercises for at least 6 months before progressing to weights. You don’t need cardio machines — just go outside and walk, run, bike, do hills, climb stairs, sprint. Even if you do weights, a barbell or dumbbells are all you need — stay away from the machines that work your body at angles it’s not meant to use (although cable machines aren’t bad). Even better, get outside and do sprints, pushups, jump over things, pick up big rocks and throw them, do pullups from a tree, climb up rocks, swim, do a crabwalk or monkeywalk, take a sledgehammer or pick and slam it into the ground, flip tractor tires, and generally get a great workout with very little equipment.

5. Just a few exercises. Bodybuilding routines will have you doing 3-4 different exercises per body part. That’s too complicated for most people. Keep it simple in the weight room: squats, deadlifts, presses, chinups or pullups, rows. You can do a lot with just those lifts. Of course, you’ll want to mix it up eventually with some variations, but no need for 10 different ab exercises or things that focus on your rear deltoids or use swiss balls. If you’re doing bodyweight exercises, I love things like pushups, burpees, squats, lunges, pullups, dips, planks. Pick a few and do some circuits with little rest.

6. Eat real foods. One of the most important rules on this list, because if you don’t eat right (most of the time), it doesn’t matter how much exercise you do — you’ll get fat and unhealthy. Aim for real, whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. That means stay away from processed, refined, fatty, sugary foods. Veggies, fruits, lean meats, dairy, nuts, beans, whole grains, eggs, seeds. Prepare them yourself if possible — convenience foods often have added ingredients, as well as extra salt, fat, sugar and preservatives. If you follow this diet — with the plant foods making the bulk of the diet — it’s hard to go wrong.

7. Eat less. Most people eat too much, and eventually it shows up as fat. To lose that fat, we need to eat less — it’s really that simple. Of course, if you eat the real foods mentioned above, you’ll probably consume fewer calories, but even so, it’s smart to reduce how much you eat overall, at least until you reach a healthy level of body fat (and even then, you shouldn’t let it all go). One way to do that is by eating slowly and mindfully until you’re just satiated (not stuffed). Another way is to eat smaller meals and watch the portions. A third way, which I’ve been experimenting with lately, is intermittent fasting (see Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat ebook for a great explanation of the science behind fasting). However you do it, be sure to consume the real food in moderate amounts, and reduce your calorie intake if you’re looking to lose fat.

8. Give it time. This is what gets many people — they expect to see results immediately, within the first month or so, because the magazines they read make it seem so instantaneous. But real fitness rarely happens this way — it’s a process and a lifestyle change. I started out in really bad shape, really overweight, and all I did in the beginning was to quit smoking and start running. A year later, I ran a marathon and was a vegetarian — but I was still kinda fat. A year after that, I was still exercising regularly, and had made a lot of progress, but I still had a ways to go. Now, 3.5 years later, I’m in great shape — slimmer and more muscular and much healthier — but I still have a little stubborn belly fat I’m working on. I’ll get there, but I have accepted the fact that it takes time. You didn’t gain the fat overnight, and you won’t lose it that way either. Learn to enjoy the process, enjoy the activities, enjoy the healthy, real food, and you’ll get healthy and fit almost as an afterthought to this new, amazing lifestyle."

If you enjoyed this post, please visit the ORIGINAL WRITER'S PAGE and comment, or share on your Twitter, Facebook, etc. Support the writers at this wonderful site with your enthusiasm! And in case you are fearful with my direct copying of the content to my blog for your reading, ZenHabits has a strict Uncopyright Policy that is so refreshing in this day and age! Not only a great thinker and writer, but a very Buddhist spirit. So please make a point to send your good juju, real or imagined, over to those authors.

ATS Old/New - My Take

by Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I have been engaged in many discussions about the New/Old ATS announcement, on Tribe and on Facebook and in mails with friends, and even had a chat with Carolena today. I haven't said too much about my thoughts on this publicly, as I have wanted to let them percolate a little while. I didn't want anyone to feel shut down or otherwise distracted from feeling what they felt, or add to their mental burdens as they try and figure out quite *what* they feel.  And of course, I wanted to figure out what I felt, and try to speak from my heart and mind in tandem, rather than purely from one or the other alone. Sorry it's so long, but it's been a week of deep discussion with a lot of awesome women, and a lot of meditation on what this all means to me personally.  Let me start with a leetle story...

My last troupe, inFusion Tribal, performed in collaborations at several high-profile events with another ATS-based troupe from Bend, OR, Gypsy Fire directed by Quinn Fradet (hi Quinn!). Both of our groups were not strictly ATS troupes, though we were each well versed in ATS terminology (Quinn started many years ago in FC classes in SF, and she and I  have completed not only General Skills, but two levels of Teacher Training, and teach ATS-based repertoire in our classes and in our troupes), but we each had robust languages of our own, as well as some minor variations on the ATS vocabulary we had made to suit our tastes.  Since we lived so far apart, we directors would discuss music and staging through e-mail, but we only had one rehearsal all-together, 2-3 hours in length, the day before or the day of the performance itself, to prepare a half an hour set using both our troupes separately and together.

At these rehearsals, we would hammer out what vocab was universal, which was off-limits, and in many cases would share variations or new moves with each other and decide whether or not to add these "signature" concepts to the mix. For instance, I had a duet with Lexi, one of the members of the Gypsy Fire, and we had a planning discussion during our single rehearsal as a group. She showed me a couple of her favorite moves she often likes to pull out. This included some common vocab, but also some moves that were their own creation. At this time I had the opportunity to veto any I didn't think I could follow without more practice, but in all cases they were moves which were created thoughtfully in the ATS style and structure, and thus was easy to adapt to as a follower if you were aware it might come up. And I did the same for her in return. When we got up there, we improvised completely, not knowing who was going to take the lead when or how, and we even had a little "battle" in a few places where we were switching leads back and forth every few measures as we mischievously played leader tug-o-war, and it was awesome!  It looked seamless and playful, and we had a lot of fun. The audience could sense that tribal magic, that connection and communication, but had no idea we were from two different "dialects" of tribal.

This is essentially what I see this "Old School/New Style" ATS announcement fostering.  Allowing (and encouraging!) people like Quinn and I as directors and teachers, and our troupes as well, to follow our creative bliss, while still staying true to ATS aesthetics and philosophies.  This empowers everyone to create moves and ideas which are reflections of our troupe's individual creative visions, but still be part of a larger ATS "family" with whom we can collaborate and support. We don't want to be mini-Fat Chances, but that doesn't mean we don't love the format and use it as our foundation. When creating new moves and ideas, we use an ATS "filter", to ensure that the move follows basic guidelines in presentation and execution that allows it to "flow" within the format. And it sounds like Carolena is quite savvy to Quinn's and my demographic--as creative, thoughtful, respectful ATS-based-yet-not-ATS-strict who seek to stay true to the core in our work--by developing the "Anatomy of a Step" video, breaking down the elusive components of a successful ATS presentation when creating new concepts. It's brilliant, really, and I can't wait to add it to my library to strengthen my efforts to be inspired and guided by the art form she has honed over decades.

I see this announcement as really just an acknowledgment of, and frankly a welcome validation of, what has already been happening in the tribal world. We focus so much on those tribal branches of the tree who innovate so relentlessly that they barely even do bellydance anymore, that we forget about the dancers and troupes who have respectfully maintained standards of ATS while innovating thoughtfully and enthusiastically (the Middle Child of Tribal, if you will). And, to be honest, all the while feeling somewhat relegated to "outsider" status when it comes to that which they feel so passionate about and advocate for in their classrooms and beyond: an understanding of and preserving of ATS format, aesthetics, and philosophies. Whether you aspire to be a Sister Studio or plan to forge your own path, this goal is something we agree on. Just because these dancers didn't choose to stay strict-ATS in their artistic expression doesn't mean they weren't working just as hard to preserve and protect ATS as an ideal of bellydance 'standards and practices', if you will.

Those who choose to closely follow in FatChance's footsteps will still have that joy and freedom to do so. The body of work endorsed by FatChance, through their workshops and videos, will continue to be a yard stick for technique and presentation. Sister Studios will continue to be part of that standard by which ATS will be measured. Acknowledging and empowering this not-at-all-new branch of the ATS tree isn't taking anything away from anyone. I know that it feels like that to many, but I hope that they will see that you have been surrounded by these dancers all along--you have supported them, admired them, connected with them, shared with them, inspired them and been inspired in return. They're strong and respectful dancers who are valuable contributors to the ATS community already. Carolena is now putting her arm around those dancers and saying, "Welcome to the family, we're glad you're here." And I think that is a benefit to everyone, don't you? I hope so...

Thanks to everyone who has been actively participating in the process of evolution that Carolena has challenged us with. And thanks to Carolena for continuing to push her boundaries, and by proxy our boundaries, so that we never become stagnant or complacent in our art. I think it may feel uncertain on the face of it for some time as the community finds its balance with this shift in "definition"; and I completely understand that change is difficult no matter what form it takes.  But I feel it's a very exciting time to be part of the ATS community, and I look forward to seeing what we all create together.

And for evidence of one of our collaborations:

Improve your 'About' page

by Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I recently undertook the challenge of re-writing my About page (or bio page, or whatever you want to call it). It's so hard! You want to be able to talk yourself up, and you want to sound professional, but you don't want to sound cold, egotistical, or bland. You want your page to sound as vibrant and interesting as you are, without being overly flowery! You want to get lots of information across, but you don't want to get so long you lose your readers. A tall order!

I wish I had seen this link back when I was writing it:

Not only is the article itself helpful in giving you things to think about, it has many links to examples and further reading to inspire your copywriting.

Consider this a reminder to anyone reading that updating your bio page is important every year or so, to make sure that the content and language is fresh and representative of who you are and what you currently do/have done recently. Don't hesitate to take on something as simple as changing a few lines of your current copy, all the way up to scrapping it and writing it all from the ground up. The latter is what I did, and it felt good to revisit my experiences and qualifications, and really write it again in a language and tone that is very "me" today.

On the importance of communication

by Monday, September 20, 2010
The last six months has really given me a lot of time to reflect on the importance of communication, and it has been reiterated in the last month with various important discussions I have been a part of.  What we say, how we say it, when we say it, why we say it, and even who we say it to...there is a delicate combination of each of these considerations that makes for successful communication.

My preferred mode of communication is the written word. It has always been the case for me that I feel I can best consider each of these variables when trying to express my thoughts and feelings to others through writing. Even before the internet and e-mail, I preferred writing notes and letters to friends and family to express important thoughts, because it was easier and more natural for me.  I find that when I talk on the phone or in person, any number of these variables cannot be fully honored--the way things are said and the "when" of what is said is dependent on the timing of the opportunity to connect in real-time with someone.  Some days I just don't feel that eloquent. Most days I feel like, when it comes to really important communications, I can't think it all the way through, and say everything I want to say, and I leave the conversation with words roiling in my mind for hours or even days following, dredging all the things I wish I had thought to say at the time.  With writing, I can pick the time and I can carefully pick my words. I have time to consider why I am saying what I am trying to say, and how I want to express it.

The only lingering problem is the Other End--their interpretation of the message and tone (the "what"), and what headspace they are in when they read it (the "when" of receiving the message determining how open or able they are to hearing and processing what is being said).  The most carefully and thoughtfully crafted missive can jag off in the most unexpected and dismaying directions based on how and when it is read by the receiver.  We have no control over that. It's the gamble we take when we use mail or blogs or other forms of written online communication to try and express something significant to others.

I have had a lot of opportunity to think about words, spoken and written, in the last six months. And the thought I keep coming back to is: we are imperfect. As a human, I am imperfect.  I can't say everything right, and even if I did, it wouldn't always be heard the way it was meant. Those we speak to are human and imperfect, and they may not intentionally misconstrue or misunderstand what you say--they have their own experiences which filter what they hear.  And if in the end there still lingers hurt or fear or doubt surrounding what was said, and those involved aren't willing or interested in asking questions--talking it through no matter how hard it seems to do so--and getting to the root of what you really mean (not just what they think they heard), you may forever be misunderstood. And as hard as it is, you have to let that go, knowing you did your best

I can see both sides of this. I can see how hard it is to sincerely try and make yourself understood, and feeling like you have failed no matter how much you poured into it. And I can see those who hear the message through their own personal filters, and feel hurt or confused, but are fearful of digging any deeper and risk feeling more wounded.  I can feel both sides of that equation, and how heartbreaking it can be--you feel trapped by your own words (or inability to find the right ones).  I have been there, and still have lingering wounds...


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!
Powered by Blogger.