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I’m a Trans Masculine Queer Belly Dancer


I heaved my luggage – full of dance gear – into the train car. Luckily, the car wasn’t very full and I was able to find a seat. I collapsed into it, removing my gloves and shoving them into my pockets. I was cold, having stood on the train platform for longer than usual. I adjusted my scarf to protect my face – covered in stage makeup – from smudges.

“What’s up, fag?” whispered the man behind me, right in my ear.

I stiffened, not knowing what to do. But out of the corner of my eye, I could see his family – his mother and another woman I assumed was a sister – laughing hysterically into their hands, eyeing me disdainfully. I decided to ignore them.

I didn’t hear their later mutters and giggles, as I shoved earphones in and started listening to the music I was learning for an important show: The Artists Against Hate Inauguration Protest show.

There is a silver lining to this story. I’m trans masculine, which means I was assigned female at birth (AFAB), but I identify as being masculine, not a woman. In May 2016, I had top surgery to remove my breasts. I’ve been on testosterone since April 2015. Unfortunately for me, the testosterone has taken its sweet time and I’m only just now getting facial hair and the masculine musculature I’ve been waiting my whole life for.

But the fact that this guy mistook me for a gay man – a fag – was a first for me. It was a landmark night, one I will never forget, for good or ill. He was partially right. I don’t lay claim to the label of “man” yet (it’s loaded with a lot of baggage I haven’t completely worked through and might never), but I definitely am queer and masculine. He recognized that, and it frightened him enough to harass me for it. To him, I was a threat – a man in makeup.

My Inauguration Protest show piece was for people like him, that random bigot on the train.

Three weeks before the show (and about a week before the train incident), I was looking up songs to perform to. I needed new inspiration, not only for this show, but also for upcoming shows. I wanted something different, something no one had heard before. I dove into my Spotify “Might Be Cool to Dance to” playlist and found a song by an artist called Garek. I had initially thought I would use it for drag, but as I listened to more of his work I realized I could dance to it too.

I realized that here was an openly gay man singing about being gay, about being bullied and called names for being queer, and that was exactly what I was looking for. One song had a lyric that stood out to me: “Would I be a better son with a gun in my hand?”

I chose that one to be my protest song, because it hit on many issues that we are all struggling with right now: toxic masculinity, guns, and being bullied for being LGBTQ+. It spoke to me personally because I have been struggling with calling myself a man and what it means to be (queer and) masculine in a world filled with examples of how masculinity can be damaging to the world and to both men and women. Garek frankly sings about being gay and how disappointing that can be to parents wanting manly behavior out of their sons. And how damaging that is.

I made a vow then and there that I would put queer artists before all others this year. I will still dance to songs by other people, of course, but my priority will be to dance to those musicians who are openly queer.

And so when that random bigot whispered a slur in my ear, I put on the music I was learning for the Inauguration Protest show. And my thoughts just before going on stage for the protest show itself turned to that man and others like him: people who are afraid of queer men, who are threatened by a different kind of masculinity. I feel sorry for them, trapped in narrow definitions of manhood that hurt not only others (who are victims of their pain) but themselves as well.

But once I stepped out onto that stage, my thoughts were for others like me: queer men and masculine-of-center people (however they identify) who have been called names, been bullied, have sat with a gun or a knife in hand and wondered if death would be the release we had been waiting for, or questioned their value or position in life just because of who they love or what their bodies look like. You’re not alone. That dance was for us.

I didn’t worry about dancing like a man. I didn’t worry about whether I looked too feminine in all that makeup, or whether people would hate me or accept me. I danced to heal myself, and to protest and highlight the increase in bullying me and other LGBTQ+ people have received at the hands of bigots emboldened by the rhetoric of our new President. We must stand up for ourselves, we must fight back, we must show the world that it is not okay to bully, to call people slurs, to make them afraid.

I am not afraid. I will stand with you. I will make art and dance to show the world this queer male body and just how strong it is.

Where Do You See Belly Dance?

two wolves fighting

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the future of belly dance. The belly dance community was recently rocked by some controversial notes on Facebook (now deleted) questioning fusion’s role in the belly dance community and the erroneous linkage of fusion’s popularity to the decline of belly dance in general. Some other discussions have popped up around the decline of belly dance, the boredom of audiences with belly dance, and the lack of paid performance opportunities.

I had initially written a fairly inflammatory response to these issues, but have decided to, instead, feed the right wolf.

Where do YOU want to see belly dance headed? Do you want to see it go down in flames, with petty in-fighting driving away potential customers and supporters, or do you want to see it thrive and grow, with dancers working together to make belly dance appealing to all audiences?

Personally, I want belly dance – all dance, all dancers – to succeed. I want good paid opportunities, free of harassment. I want students to be supported in whatever style they choose, without teachers’ egos stifling their growth. I want belly dance to be taken seriously as both a cultural artform to be carefully preserved and a new, emerging vehicle for artistic expression. I want full classes and thriving festivals. I want traditional-style dancers to be respected and to eagerly share their wealth of knowledge. I want fusion dancers to want to learn the roots of the dance and to take the issues surrounding it seriously.

To throw another cliche out there, a rising tide raises all boats. If we support one another, if we put aside useless style wars, then we can focus our limited time and resources into making belly dance succeed. I refuse to spend my energy on tearing other dancers down, on arguing over who is or is not doing belly dance “right.” If I’m arguing online, I’m not doing belly dance at all!

So if you want to succeed in belly dance, if you want belly dance to grow and gain a wider acceptance, then put your work in towards that. Stop feeding the wrong wolf and giving the negativity and fighting all of your energy. We can only do this together.

 

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar Fighting wolves via photopin (license)

The Five Year Plan

It’s that time of year again and everyone is making their New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, not everyone sticks to them, me included. So here’s something a little different to try for this year.

I have a five year plan. Or, at least, I did five years ago. It’s time for me to make another one, but before I do, I wanted to share what my last five year plan was. I hope that this is helpful to all the aspiring professional dancers out there, and also to already-professional dancers who might be ready to take the next big step.

So what’s a five year plan? Basically, it was one of those silly questions you get in job interviews: Where do you see yourself in five years?

It seems so simple, and it can be, but many people get lost in the details, or get so overwhelmed by what they must get done in those five years, they don’t do any of it. But you have to start somewhere. The old cliche is a good one: The journey of the thousand miles starts with the first step. Or as my old chemistry professor asked, “How do you eat an elephant? Very slowly! One bite at a time!”

The first step is, what is the main thing, the big thing (the “elephant”), that you want at the end of those five years? It should be a big dream, but not too big (we’ll get to the unrealistically big dreams in a minute). It should be a realistic goal, and this is where it gets hard. Many of us don’t know what realistic goals are when we first start out. Pick ONE thing. Just one.

I’m here to tell you it’s okay if you aren’t sure what is realistic right now.

What’s great about the five year plan is that it can be edited and changed with no feelings of “I’m failing in my resolutions.” A five year plan knows that life happens, and plans change, and that’s okay. So remember to be flexible, be honest, and be realistic. You have five years to make it happen, so a setback is not such a problem as it is with one year resolutions.

My five year goal was to teach at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive. It was a big dream, requiring a ton of hard work, but it was realistic. The next step is figuring out what you need to do to get that goal. For me, I knew that I was going to have to up my game if I wanted to be a good enough dancer to be chosen to teach at LVBDI. So I was going to have to practice. A lot. I told myself that I needed to be the best dancer I could be, and, realistically, that meant practicing. Every day. Every. Day.

I was also going to need teaching experience. Luckily, for the LVBDI, you need five years of teaching experience. Perfect fit! So I needed to start teaching, which meant I had to know what I was going to be teaching. Lesson plans, research into how to teach, thinking about what my body was doing and how I convey that to others, all were part of what I had to figure out before I could teach.

Of course, I also needed students. Which meant I needed to find a place to teach and warm bodies to fill the studio. This was actually one of the easier goals, but it was still something I put down on the list as a step in the right direction. It also meant I had to learn at least a little bit about marketing.

Furthermore, I decided I was going to need more experience in teaching workshops before I could realistically be chosen to teach at a large event like the LVBDI. So I needed to find smaller, more local places where I could present workshops. And then work my way up, doing larger and larger festivals as I went. That meant I needed workshop ideas, and I needed to get good at not only writing descriptions but also not being shy about asking people to be a part of their event.

But before that, I needed to get my name out there. I needed to be seen, to have video of good performances, and a good reputation as a dancer and performer. That meant I had to find places to dance, get video, and let people know what it was I did and that I was a professional.

It sounds like a lot, but let’s break it down. In each step, there needs to be an action that goes towards making that step. This makes things seem easier to handle, like bite sized pieces instead of staring down an entire elephant.

Main goal: Teach at the LVBDI

  • Step: improve dancing skills
    • Action: practice and hone skills
  • Step: Gain teaching experience
    • Action: Create lesson plans
    • Action: Find a place to teach
    • Action: promote classes to get students
  • Step: Gain workshop teaching experience
    • Sub-step: Need to build reputation as dancer and teacher
      • Action: Perform more and record
      • Action: Teach local workshop(s) at home studio
    • Action: Apply to teach at larger festivals

Once that is laid out, you can fill it in even further. How much practice do you need to do in order to reach that goal? That will probably vary, but I started out with 20 minutes every single day. It increased from there, of course, but that was where I started. I built a consistent practice that was easy to maintain. I began offering classes and started getting students. I taught a local workshop, and then another one. Then I landed my first festival workshop gig. It wasn’t a big festival, but that’s not a big deal. It still got put on my resume. No step was too small!

In my fifth year of teaching, I did it. I put in my application to teach at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, and I got in! My five year goal was complete, and I could barely believe it. But looking back, it was a lot of work. It was a lot of steps.

But wait, there’s more! Remember that big, big dream I mentioned earlier? Well, there should always be that one dream, you know, the one that might never happen. It should be the pie-in-the-sky dream, the reaching for the stars dream. It might be completely unrealistic (either in five years or ever), but that’s okay. Why? Because we need to dream big. If we keep all of our dreams small, we might never achieve what we want. It’s good to take risks (within reason), to stretch ourselves, and to do things we normally wouldn’t do. Then, we need to keep our eyes open for opportunity for this big dream. I’m not saying do whatever you need to do to make it happen, but be open to getting in the back door, or going about something in a way that might be different from everyone else. Don’t let opportunity slip by because you think you might not be ready.

One of my friends once posted on Facebook that if they had waited until they felt they were ready for that big gig, they never would have done it. They were approached to do a bigger gig than they were ready for, but they took it anyway, and made it happen. And it opened doors they would never have thought were even there. The definition of a professional isn’t just being paid for your work. It’s also about putting in the work to do what you need to do.

My big dream? Dance and/or teach at Tribal Fest.

Guess what? I got that one, too. Never in a million years would I have thought I would get in to teach, but I did. I took a gamble, applied, and got in. The risk paid off. Was I ready to teach Tribal Fest? Maybe, maybe not. But I made it happen, because I wasn’t going to pass that opportunity up when it came within reach.

And what if you fail? In a five year plan, there is no failure. It’s possible that you might not make your big goal in those five years, but look at all the other steps you did to get there. None of that is wasted effort. If you didn’t make it in five years, it probably meant it was just too big of a goal. At the end of each year, it’s a good idea to sit back and reevaluate. Is the goal still realistic? Did you get it in two years, or are you staring down the fifth year and you’re not even half way there? It doesn’t really matter. If you aren’t there yet, make that five year plan a seven year plan instead. It doesn’t mean you failed, it just meant you underestimated the time it would take to get there.

For me, in my fourth year, the LVBDI announced that its tenth year was going to be its last. It meant that, through no fault of my own, I would never make my dream happen. It was a crushing blow, but it wasn’t a failure. So I decided to try something else. But before I really figured out what that was going to be, the next year of the LVBDI was announced. That was a big sigh of relief you just heard!

So what is your five year plan? Remember, keep it small and manageable, but don’t forget about that big dream. Make it happen.

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!

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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!

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photo credit: sleepyjeanie via photopin cc

Weekly Challenge for 12-9-13

Monday again!  Time for this week’s challenge!

Commitment

An evil word to some, but for some of us, a way of life.  I committed to dance every day (or at least 6 days a week, because every now and then, life happens).  It didn’t matter if it was performing, doing 5 minutes of drills, teaching or taking a class, or an entire hour or two of my full personal practice; I dance every day.  I try not to think of my dance as “exercise,” even though that’s what it started out as for me, but a commitment to improving my skills and my connection to my chosen form of artistic expression.

This week’s challenge is deceptively simple.  Commit.  Commit to improving your belly dancing, whether it be practicing every day or going to support other dancers at shows.  It can be reading blogs or articles about the dance, writing your own blogs about it, or drilling your hardest moves at least for one song a day.  It can be committing to working on your costume every day this week, or learning how to cover a bra with fabric (hint: here’s a good website for tips), or learning a new sewing skill.

Just commit to being a better belly dancer this week, whatever that means to you (here’s another hint: this isn’t about being a better belly dancer than someone else, but a better dancer than you were yesterday).  Supporting community, improving your own skills, or finding new ones…it doesn’t matter.

Today, make a plan for your commitment.  It should be something, anything, every day this week.  Write it down and put it someplace where you will see it.  Maybe a Post-It on your mirror, or a voice memo on your phone.  Then implement it.  Whether it’s five minutes or two hours, just do it, but just do it now, today.  Don’t wait.

If you can do this for a week, great.  But for extra “points” see if you can commit to this practice–or whatever–just until the end of the year (which isn’t all that long!).

Good luck, and happy dancing!

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

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Artists Supporting Artists in Social Media

Artists should support other artists

This is not something that is new, or revolutionary, or controversial. Most artists agree that we should support one another. Yet, I find that many artists will not do the simplest things to help one another out.

This is especially important in belly dance, where, at the moment, we have the unfortunate position of being a dance genre that (generally) only appeals to other belly dancers. Most of the general public has no idea belly dance exists, or if they know of it, they either don’t care, think it’s too weird/gross/Islamic, or haven’t seen good belly dance (and therefore don’t care for it). If we want belly dance to grow, we need to support those artists that are good enough to reach the small portion of the general public that might actually be interested in belly dance. In other words, we need to preach the belly dance gospel. To do that, we need to spread the word, and the best way to do that is through social media.

It takes one second to click “Like” or “Retweet”

One of the most confusing things to me is seeing people complain that too many of their artist friends are constantly asking for likes or retweets, and how annoying that is. Well, social media is about sharing, so if you aren’t sharing, you are doing it wrong. Is it really so hard to click “Like”?

Artists have a right to promote themselves, and shouldn’t feel ashamed of asking their friends to help (which can happen if your news feed is filled with, “Oh, PLEASE, not another thing to share from you…geez, don’t you have a life? Please don’t bother me with your attempts to promote yourself again, okay?”) Have you donated money to a Kickstarter campaign? The whole point of sites like Kickstarter (and, surprise, Facebook!) are to help people get where they need to go with the help of the masses, so that no one single person has to bear the whole burden. When you don’t like or share something from an artist friend asking for help, you are telling them that they will bear the full burden of promoting themselves. While many artists do this, and sure, it is up to them to promote themselves, it’s really rather pointless to do so if no one is paying attention because their “friends” are too annoyed by the posts. Word of mouth (which is what social media really is) has always been, and always will be, the best way to market, promote, and learn about just about anything.

To give you an idea of the impact ONE SINGLE LIKE has, I will share my pitiful Facebook stats with you. On a normal day, the reach one of my posts has ranges from about 28 people seeing my posts to about 35 people. Sad. If someone likes or comments, that may up the reach to about 60 to 80 people. However, I managed to get one more person to like my page and one of my posts, and suddenly that post reached nearly 400 people. One like = ~300 more people reached. Your mileage may vary, of course, depending on who does the liking, how many friends they have, etc., etc. But the fact is, if you want your artist friends to succeed, to really put your money where your mouth is, you need to help a girl out and click “like” a little more often.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours

One of the other interesting things I see on social media is when these same people, who complain about having to constantly scroll past “Please like me!” posts, then ask for the very same thing. Here’s a tip to using social media: if you like something of mine, I’ll like something of yours. Of course, it really helps if you actually like what I’m posting and want to engage with me about it. I don’t expect people to “Like” my stuff if they don’t actually like it.

I had to learn this the hard way. I’m a lurker. I’m a wall flower. Most people probably think I’m almost never on Facebook, but the truth is, I’m always on Facebook. I just hardly ever comment. But I’m changing that, because I, too, want to put my money where my mouth is. I want other dancers to succeed, because I want belly dance to succeed. So chances are, if I don’t comment or like your stuff, it’s because I don’t actually have anything to say or I don’t actually agree with/like what you posted.

If I see in my list that you like my page, I will like yours. If you invite me to like a page of yours, and you get a request to like mine, it probably means that I’d like you to help me out at the same time I’m helping you out. It is only common sense and good manners.

Supporting other artists strengthens the whole community

When an artist gets feedback about what she is doing, then she is more likely to keep doing it (or not, if the feedback is bad). If a good dancer struggles to get engagement from disinterested/apathetic Facebook friends, then the entire belly dance community may lose a good dancer. Do you really think she’d want to continue to post, to make videos, to promote events, to improve her dancing if the only feedback she gets is crickets? That’s exhausting and disheartening. Let’s not do this to other dancers, okay? Be engaged, support your friends and local dancers, and share, share, share, like, like, like!! Most dancers don’t bat an eye to support, comment, like, and share stuff from the A-list dancers…but how will we ever get more A-list dancers if everyone else is ignored because it’s just too dang hard to click “like”?

Relevant, and shameless: Here’s my Facebook page, and here’s my Twitter.

Weekly Challenge for 3-11-13

It’s time for another weekly challenge! Get over the Monday blahs and let’s get to it!

Doing the things you hate

Oh, we all have them. Those drills, those choreos, that warm-up… We’d much rather be sitting on the couch, eating cookies than doing that again, right?

I have a confession to make. I hate yoga!! Oh, are they going to take the belly dancer card away from me?! Okay, let me rephrase that. I love that yoga is awesome, and that my body loves the way yoga makes it feel. If I didn’t do yoga, I wouldn’t be able to walk without pain in my hip (old injury…nothing to do with belly dance btw). It’s good for you, and I feel great afterwards. I just hate doing it. Why? Because it’s not dancing. And it’s kinda boring…(I find it very difficult to sit still and be quiet unless I’m reading a book.) Silly, I know.

This is torture to me!!

But we all have those, don’t we? Things we must do in dance in order for us to grow, or to stretch, or learn a new skill, or be in a troupe. Things that make us go, “Why are we doing this again?” But these are the very things we must work on. If you hate snake arm drills, it’s likely because your snake arms need some work, right?! I’m about as flexible as a stick of wood, so yoga is more like torture for me, but I still do it! I do it because I know I need it.

So sit down and think about the things about dance that you hate doing the most.  And I mean the things that make you want to give up dance and go do something else fun, like pulling off your toenails.  Now let’s brainstorm some ideas on how to make it more interesting to you.  For me, I like to watch videos or listen to some new music while I do yoga, even if the music doesn’t fit the “yoga vibe.”  Can you think of something?  If it’s doing a certain choreography you hate, can you put it to another song? (Yeah, I know, choreos are done to a specific song, but some can fit into others in terms of beat and length, if not matching the music exactly).  This way, you’ll challenge yourself to remember the choreo without the crutch of the music, and you get to listen to a different song!  Hate drilling?  Find a way to make it more fun…watch Weird Al videos or tell a story to your kids while you drill (just don’t let your drills suffer!).  Just find something fun to do!

Your challenge is to do the thing you hate, for at least one song (or equivalent, so 3-5 minutes, or in the case of yoga, one session) a day for a week.  The challenge here is primarily to find a way to do it without wanting to run screaming into the hills.  This may be the hardest challenge we all face this year…but keep in mind that we hate these things because we need them.  We know we need them, we just don’t want to knuckle down and do it.  This is your chance!

Happy dancing (or be a happy yogini!)

(Thanks to Ideowl for the awesome yoga pose)

Weekly Challenge for MLK Day

As you may have noticed, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US.  Today is supposed to be not just a day off of work but a day of service.  I think that’s a great idea!  You can find more information here.  You can search by area to see what sort of activities there are for you to help out with.

But this is a belly dance blog, and so…we have this week’s challenge!

Making change happen

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision was one of equality for all.  However, as many of us know, that hasn’t happened yet.  And to get into a touchy subject…it really hasn’t happened for women in Arab countries at all.  “So what?” you are thinking (well, I hope not…), “How does this affect me and my dance?”  Well, considering that belly dance is a folk dance that originated in these countries, with these women, it affects ALL OF US.  Many dancers get dinged for not being culturally sensitive, or not knowing anything about the culture from which their dance comes from.  Tribal Fusion dancers get heat about this the most, because fusion is so, so different from its origins.  So it’s even more important for fusion dancers to know the origins of their “mother dance form.”

This week, let’s concentrate on changing that…and possibly changing the lot of women around the world.  Every day this week, learn a little bit about what life is like for women in Arabic countries.  It doesn’t have to turn into a huge research project to spend hours and hours on.  Just read a little bit about it, at least five minutes a day.  A news story one day, a Wikipedia entry the next.  Find out what these women are going through, and why that is.

How will this change something?  Well, it might not.  But educating ourselves about what other women are going through is the first step.  Most of us ignore the news because it’s unpleasant, or we just don’t want to take the time to follow a story.  We know, intellectually, that women are treated badly in other countries, but many of us either don’t care, don’t know why, or don’t want help or think we can’t.  We have our own lives to worry about: kids, work, practice, our own leisure… But taking 5 minutes, just 5 minutes, out of our schedules to learn about other people and other cultures just may make us more willing to reach out to people, to help those that we don’t know.  We can help others, in a way that is culturally sensitive, if we just take the time to learn about them!

Let’s all get to learning!

Challenge for Halloween!

It’s nearly Halloween, my absolute favorite holiday ever!  This week’s challenge was inspired by this holiday.

Pushing Boundaries and Changing Perceptions

I am a dancer.  I dance raks sharki (otherwise known as belly dance or oriental dance or whatever the current name du jour happens to be).  But I am also an artist.  I am a creative person that chooses to express myself through my dance.  I’ve blogged a lot about this before (many times).  That means that sometimes I do things that are…different.  Or weird.  Or things that people don’t like.  And you know, as artists, we have to come to terms with the fact that there will be people out there that do not like what we do.  That’s hard to accept.  Really hard, because our dance is an expression of our feelings and our souls.  For someone to reject that HURTS.

But there are ways that we can reach out to people and show them that what we do might be different but not necessarily bad.  What can we do?  The only thing we can do: change our own perception.

Have you ever gone to a show and hated half of the acts because they were Tribal?  Or maybe you got bored with the endless repetition of Egyptian classical music that all sounds the same?  Or maybe you hated the song one performer chose, even though her dance was beautiful?  Or were they just playing it too loud?  Have you ever whispered to your neighbor, “God I hope the next act is better!”?

If you have, you need to change your perceptions and push your own boundaries.  I’m guilty as charged, too.  I’ve seen a lot of belly dance, and there were times I wish I could crawl away without seeming rude.  I’ve sat through acts I was embarrassed to be viewing, and all I could think about was, “This is five minutes of my life I will never get back.”  But I’ve also seen belly dance that completely changed the way I thought about the entire art.  I’ve sat with my jaw hanging open, listening to music I never in my life would have considered dancing to, watching artists change everything about how I felt about my own dance.  The best and the worst…and I am sure you have too.

So what’s the challenge?

Do something in belly dance you never, ever, ever thought you would do.  Ever.  Like, really, ever.  If you hate Tribal, maybe you should drop in on a class or two and see just how difficult it can be.  Maybe instead of “suffering” through the next Tribal piece you watch, you can at least appreciate the technique and hard work those ladies put into it.  It may not end up being your cup of tea, but at least you can find something to appreciate.  If Egyptian classical music bores you, maybe you should take a class on Arabic music.  Then you might realize how complex it can be and how different it is compared to Western music.  Then the next time you watch a classical Egyptian dance you won’t feel like you’ve heard that song a few million times (though you couldn’t name the song or be sure you HAD heard it before) and can’t wait for it to be over.  Think about how you can stretch your boundaries as both a dancer and an audience member.  Uncomfortable with being sparkly?  Why?  Think Tribal fusion is a mess?  Why?  Want to do something really out there, but are afraid to do it?  Do it anyway.  You never know who you might touch or inspire, and that’s powerful.

Don’t feel like you are wasting your time watching other dancers in a style you do not prefer.  Think of it as expanding your horizons.  And having an open mind is probably the single-most important thing we can do as human beings to understand and appreciate one another.  You may decide afterwards that you still hate Egyptian music, but at least you gave it a try.  You may never dance Tribal fusion, but at least you can now sit through a piece of music you hate and watch just how awesome pops and locks can be.

So give it a try.  Try something weird, uncomfortable, or strange…or scary!  Challenge yourself and your perceptions, and remember that it’s okay to be wrong.  I’m wrong all the time (yes, I admit it freely, and that is so FREEING). Do something that you might not like…you never know what might happen!!