Archive | January 2014

Weekly Challenge for 1-27-14

This January has been especially brutal. Bitter cold, lots of snow, and now back to bitter cold here in Chicago. This type of weather can be challenging for dancers, especially if we have to be out in it before we get to class or a gig!

Staying Warm

It is super important that dancers take care of their bodies, especially in cold weather. We are more susceptible to injury due to cold muscles and improper warm-ups (especially at gigs, where we often don’t have the time!), and also illness if we don’t take care of ourselves.

So this week’s challenge is all about staying warm (which believe me, with these wind chills, will be difficult!). But not just staying warm. Your challenge this week is to take care of your body and warm up PROPERLY in order to prevent injury.  Try it for a week, and see how it feels!

If you are a student, work with your teacher to find a movement-based warm-up that focuses on gentle and expansive movements that get the blood flowing to all parts of the body.  If you are a teacher and/or performer, you owe it to yourself and your students to warm-up properly before class and before gigs. Even a five minute movement warm-up is better than nothing, though 15 minutes is considered ideal (especially if it’s cold!)


  • Stretching is NEVER a warm-up, but it is especially dangerous in the cold. You can do harm to your muscles if you immediately start an intense yoga session or stretching “warm-up” straight out of the cold weather. Keep yoga at the end of your practice, especially if you are not used to doing yoga all the time. Many yogin forget that not all of us are super-bendy straight out of bed (or out of the cold…or at all…) and lead us through challenging moves and positions which can be dangerous for muscles. Talk to your teacher (in private) if you are concerned that their stretching warm-ups might be harmful. Always be your own advocate; it’s YOUR body, YOU must take steps to take care of it!
  • Warm up even before a gig. I’ve seen a lot of dancers get ready, get dressed, and then hop on stage without even so much as a thought to warming up. Wouldn’t it be especially embarrassing to hurt yourself during a performance? Don’t tempt fate; warm up before you perform.
  • Use movement exercises that are gentle and build up in intensity instead of stretches (e.g. start with small shoulder rotations, then as your muscles warm, move up to larger shoulder rotations, then full arm rotations).
  • While waiting for class to begin, start your own warm-up, so that you start warm even before your teacher warms you up.
  • Wear layers! I usually start with socks and a close-fitting long-sleeved shirt over my normal dance wear. They can be removed once I’m a little warm. If the room you are in is cold, though, don’t take the layers off until you feel warm enough to do so.
  • Find a studio that’s heated! It’s not worth the injury risk to dance in an unheated studio! Bring space heaters if it’s really bad or just cancel class.  It’s not right to put your students (or put yourself, as a student) through a freezing cold session!
  • Listen to your body. If you start to hurt while dancing, you might need to back off, or warm up some more before going into your dance. Muscle cramping can be common in the cold, because we all sort of shrivel up and knot instinctively to keep our core warm. Leg, back, and shoulder muscles tend to suffer in the winter, so pay special attention to them in your warm-up.

Have any other ideas for warming up in the cold? Share ’em! Let’s all keep warm, and keep our bodies safe this winter!

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Photo credit: Chung Ho Leung via photopin cc

Weekly Challenge for 1-20-14

I hope you are having a wonderful and meaningful Martin Luther King day. I previously did a challenge, for last year on this important day, and would like to put that one out there again as a way to do something good for your community.

As an alternate choice, we have a drill challenge this week!

Drills, drills, drills

One of the hardest things about belly dance for many beginners is that we don’t “get it” right away. Belly dance takes intense muscle control, which takes muscle strength and muscle memory. To get that, you have to, have to, have to drill. And drill. And drill some more.

It’s boring, and it’s hard, and it’s not so fun. I agree…I got into belly dance to have fun and get fit without having to slog to the gym or do boring and “stupid” exercises. Drilling isn’t my favorite either. But I make it a game sometimes, or I try some other way to make it more fun. So, this week, we’re going to try to make drilling fun!

Every day this week, try something new for your drilling. Pick a move you need to work on, something that needs improvement, not something you already do well (although, every dancer should know to drill the basics in order to keep up the skills), and drill, drill, drill!!

Then try some of these ideas to make them fun: (just make sure to remember that the drill is still what’s important here, not the game!)

    • Get a drill partner and drill together
    • Put on your favorite song–no matter what it is–and drill something to it
    • If you have a drill partner, have a contest. See who can shimmy longest, or can do the most of your chosen move in a minute (just make sure you don’t sacrifice technique for speed; keep each other honest about whether technique is getting sloppy)
    • Start layering, even if it’s just arms, over whatever movement you are drilling
    • If you are up for it, try a marathon drill session. Drill 100 of each of the movements you are working on (just be careful with yourself and your body, and don’t overwork it and risk injury…start with 25 or 50 if 100 is too hard)
    • Smile while you drill (yes! This will make it more fun!)
    • Film yourself drilling and see what your improvement is like over the week (or longer!)

This is just the start. Come up with other ideas and see what you can do to make drilling a little bit more fun! It doesn’t have to be a slog of boring moves. Inattention is just as bad as not drilling at all, so anything to keep you drilling, keep yourself interested, is going to help in the long haul. And remember…belly dance is tough, but the rewards are well worth it!

Happy drilling!

Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know!  Tweet it!


Weekly Challenge for 1-13-14

Shouldn’t Monday the 13th be scarier than Friday the 13th? But it *is* Monday, and that means it’s time for the Weekly Challenge!

Making Shapes

Dancing is many things, and one of those things is making pleasing shapes with the body. We’re going to make that our challenge for this week!

Beginner: What shapes can you make? Has your teacher started you on chest circles? Hip circles? What about boxes? What other shapes can you make with the movements you know now? Maybe suggest to your teacher this week that you work on making interesting shapes with body movements. Figure 8s, circles, boxes…hearts? Stars? Have fun and play around! Practice making different shapes every day this week, and see what you can come up with.

Intermediate: A shape doesn’t necessarily have to mean a closed object, like a box or a circle.  It can be a line, or a series of lines, too. This week, find a mirror and make shapes with your body, using every part of your body. Legs, arms, head, chest, hips…what shapes can you make with them? This is your silhouette, and something you should start paying attention to in your dance.  Dancing, especially belly dancing, is difficult to capture on camera well.  Having a good silhouette and pauses in your dance will make this easier.  Pay attention to the little things, like your wrists and feet. If you are making a long, beautiful line from your toes to your fingers, it doesn’t do to have your wrist flopping in the breeze! So “vogue” in the mirror every day this week and see what lovely lines and shapes you can make with your whole body!

Advanced: Making shapes on the stage is another way to make your performances more interesting.  Many of us make circles on stage–they are easy, and seem to be crowd-pleasers.  But what about other shapes? Vs, loops, figure 8s…all of these shapes may make your traveling steps more interesting.  It’s boring to watch a dancer stand in one place on the stage for too long.  Move around, but don’t just do a circle! This week, work on traveling steps that could get you around in different shapes.  Turns in a figure 8? Chonks in a V? If you do group improvisation, maybe try different types of formation changes or configurations rather than just clocking or fading lines and staggers. Does it work? Get creative and try out new shapes!

Happy dancing!

Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know!  Tweet it!


Weekly Challenge for 1-6-14

It’s a New Year! A whole new year for more Weekly Challenges! I hope you are up for it, because I know I am. First, let’s get to some business.  If you have liked any of my weekly challenges, I need you to help me out.  Please use the links at the bottom to tweet about it, or share this post on Facebook.  It gets harder and harder to keep this a FREE blog, because social media is making it harder and harder to reach people. If I can’t reach people, why do it? I love writing these challenges, but I need to reach more people! So this is a call to all the fans of the Weekly Challenge! Let’s get it out there!

Dancing through Adversity

Okay, so not all of us were sick or injured over this past holiday, but I know I sure was (very ill!) Dancing while sick is a difficult challenge, and one that I kind of failed at.  I was a couch potato for nearly a week, and I think even that short of a time impacted my practice.

We all have things that keep us from dancing, whether it be illness, injury, time, other commitments… There are a myriad reasons that prevent us from dancing.  But dancing is something that we should prioritize.  It should be on the list of “I must get this done today.” Why? The benefits of dancing are many.  Not only do we hone our craft, but dancing is good for the body, mind, and spirit.  We should make taking care of ourselves a priority.  If we have nothing to give, how can we expect to help others?

This week, think about what your biggest challenge is towards dancing every day (or at least most days of the week). Write it down. Don’t be judgmental about it, just write it down as a simple fact. “I work a full day and I’m too tired to dance when I get home” is what you want, not, “I work, and I’m tired, and then I feel bad about not dancing, so I eat a pint of ice cream and watch Once Upon a Time instead.” The first one is a fact, the second one shows judgment (and guilt).

Every day this week, see if that statements holds true.  Did you really not have time for dance, or are you just using it as an excuse? Were you really tired, or did you really just want to sit and watch a movie? Of course, many of us do have real, valid excuses for not getting up and dancing, and that’s okay.  Having priorities and commitments and illnesses doesn’t make us bad people when they prevent us from dancing. What we are doing here is sorting out what is truly an adverse situation and what is an excuse.

If you find you just have excuses, why? If you really love dancing, why avoid it?  Maybe it’s time to sit down and re-think a few things.

But if you find you really do have problems that prevent you from dancing, is there anything you can do to change them? Being ill is a tough one, but many times, if we get up and do a little bit – even just one little shimmy drill – it will actually make us feel better. This week, try to change those situations. Steal five minutes to warm up and move your hips a bit. Get off of the couch, stick a tissue in your nose, and work on arms. Child who can’t sleep? Try rocking them while doing figure 8 hips. Brainstorm and try out some of these ideas every day this week.

We can dance, even through adversity.  The benefits of dance are many, and we should reap those benefits, even when we are feeling bad, or are too busy, sick, or injured to want to do it.

One thing: always check with your doctor first, if you have serious medical conditions, before dancing or doing any other activity!

Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know!  Tweet it!


photo credit: sleepyjeanie via photopin cc