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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!!


Weekly Challenge for 9-17-12

I’m back!  Vegas was wonderful, as always, though it didn’t go quite the way I wanted.  Oh, well.  That kind of stuff happens, and that’s what this week’s challenge is all about.

Excuses, excuses

What do I mean by excuses?  Well, we all have them, right?  We want to do something, and we can’t, because we either don’t have enough money, or enough time, or any number of other things.  Sometimes these are just excuses, but sometimes they are genuine obstacles that we can’t (at the moment) do much about.

How do we tell the difference?  That’s not easy, and that’s where the challenge comes in.  For inspiration, check out this article.  In it, the author describes a troupe that gets together enough funds to rent a van to make it to the Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive…from Montana.  How inspiring is that?  The old cliche, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” comes to mind.  If you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen, no matter what stands in your way.

If you want something bad enough, everything keeping you from it is just an excuse.

So what’s the challenge? First, you need to sit down and figure out what it is you want, and what it is that’s preventing you from doing it.  Want to become a professional dancer?  What’s stopping you?  Write out a list, and brainstorm anything and everything you think is preventing you from being a professional dancer, even if it’s silly, petty, or stupid (to your mind).  Be honest with yourself, and don’t judge (too harshly).  Want to master layering?  What’s stopping you?  Do you not practice every day, or is it that you just can’t wrap your head around how one part of the body can move at a different pace than another?

Then go down your list and take a good, long, hard look at it.  Again, be honest.  There will be some things that are genuine obstacles, things you cannot change no matter what.  Having small children soaking up much of your time is probably an obstacle, not an excuse.  Circle those.  Then take a look at what’s left, and those will likely be your excuses.  What are they?  What can you do to remedy them?  I cannot repeat often enough how important it is to honest with yourself.  Lying to ourselves about what we can or cannot change in our lives is one of the worst things we can do as human beings.

Don’t have enough money?  Try a bake sale, or a Kickstarter campaign, or even ask your parents.  Don’t have enough time?  How much TV (or YouTube or Hulu…) do you watch a week?  Carve out just one hour a day away from the tube and see what you can do with that time.  Can’t seem to master a move?  Practice it every day, no matter what.

Every day this week, try to eliminate one of those excuses.  If it’s one that’s particularly difficult or insidious (addicted to Facebook?) then give yourself the entire week to work on it.  But see if you can’t get rid of one a day.  Once you get rid of your excuses, all you’ll have left are your obstacles.  We’ll work on those later.  Right now we’re just eliminating the ideas that hold us back, prevent us from doing what we want.  Excuses hold us back, limit ourselves, and make us feel like we’ll never achieve our goals.  But they are just that…excuses.

No more excuses!

Hold on to that list and use it often this week.  Refer to it and see if you’ve been eliminating those excuses.  And who knows, maybe one or two obstacles will pop over into the excuse category and you can get rid of that, too!

Want even more inspiration?  Grab some tissues and check this out.  What’s holding YOU back?

A Challenge of Challenges

This week is a special week for me, and this will be a special challenge.  It’s going to be the last one until I get back from Vegas.

I challenge you to challenge yourself.

Want to know why I go to Las Vegas every year to the Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive?  Simple: I want to be a better dancer.  I want to stretch my horizons, learn from new teachers, and be challenged.  I don’t want a pat on the head, a cookie, and someone to tell me what a good little dancer I am.  That gets me nowhere.  The workshops I remember the most fondly are the ones I walked out of frustrated and close to tears.  Why?  Because it gave me something to work on all year.  At my first Intensive, I took Aubre’s layering workshop and nearly quit right then and there.  I thought I’d never get it right.  But then I realized that I had to get it, that I had been challenged, and that I would do it even if it killed me (not literally, but you know what I mean).  By the second Intensive, I could layer, and when I took my next layering workshop, I didn’t feel like such a uncoordinated loser.  I had grown.  And every year, I grow more.  There are things I can do now that are easy–because I worked on them–that two years ago I never even dreamed I could possibly do.

Over the past five months or so, I have given you a lot of tools and challenges.  Maybe you have done them, maybe you have not.  This week, I challenge you to challenge yourself.  If you haven’t yet actually tried one of my challenges, do it.  If you don’t do it NOW, you never will.  If you’ve been consistently doing the challenges, fantastic!  But don’t stop there.  Take a workshop with someone you’ve never heard of before, or take a class from a teacher that scares you a little, or practice that move that you just absolutely CANNOT do.

Dance is one of those wonderful things, like many things in life, in which you never stop growing.  There is always more to learn, more to practice, more to perfect.  No one EVER “arrives” in dance.  There isn’t a point where you go, “Here I am, this is the best you’ll ever see, this is the best I will ever get.”  Hogwash.  Even the dancers we look up to the most practice every day, drill every day, get frustrated every day, and grow every day.

Will you take up this challenge?

Don’t forget to find me on Facebook or on my Facebook page, Twitter, or Tumblr.  You won’t want to miss a minute of my Vegas trip!

Happy dancing!

Reaching for the Stars

I’ve been posting lately a lot about challenging yourself (see those weekly challenges!) and about failure.  It’s important to understand that, as artists, we don’t always succeed.  But that does not mean we should just give up.

Why do I take the time to think up and write up all those weekly challenges?  Why do I bother?  Because I do them, too.  Because I try to improve myself all the time.  If we do not challenge ourselves, we stagnate, get bored, and then quit.  Or we wonder why we haven’t magically become better dancers.  You CANNOT grow unless you challenge yourself.  Sorry, law of the universe here, can’t be helped.  Enlightenment doesn’t just come from sitting under trees.  We must go through trials first, then we can be pleased at our growth.

If you find that you are not growing, that you are not as a good a dancer as s0-and-so (and I dislike making those types of comparisons), or that you aren’t where you want to be with your dance, maybe you should challenge yourself more.  Don’t be afraid of trying something new, different, or hard.  As I said in my previous post on this subject, humans are afraid of failure.  Unfortunately, we also want to be masters of everything we do, right NOW.  NOW I say…how about YESTERDAY?  Now?  How about now?  No one has any patience anymore, and growth takes patience (ask anyone who has tried to grow a garden…you don’t get pumpkins in three days now do you?)  Yeah it sucks to think about how long it might take you to get where you want to be, but the journey is important.  Think about how much fun it will be to challenge yourself every day to be a better dancer.  Think of the relief and elation that comes when you finally master that move that’s been your nemesis for the past three weeks.  Shouldn’t that be delicious?

Again, I’ve had people tell me they don’t want to take belly dance classes because they think it might be too hard.  After much reflection, I have to say this, and it won’t be very nice: that’s a really poor attitude to take.  You don’t even want to try something because you don’t want to even take the chance you might not be a genius at it the very first time you try it?  I apologize for being mean there, but I think a lot of us need a kick in the pants, not sweet words, to shake us up a bit.  You cannot master any form of dance–belly dance included–in six weeks.  Sorry, it just doesn’t happen.  If your current teacher isn’t challenging you, maybe you should ask for more.  Or find another teacher.  If all you ever practice are the moves you already excel in, why bother? (of course, as a side note, all dancers should practice even basic moves often, but not to the exclusion of all else).

I like this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.  Even though he was talking about something quite different, it still applies: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  Here’s another, from Robert Louis Stevenson, “We must accept life for what it actually is–a challenge to our quality without which we should never know of what stuff we are made, or grow to our full stature.”

Rise to the challenge, reach for the stars.  Grow, change, evolve.  Don’t stagnate, don’t be afraid of failure or of challenges.  How can we know what we are made of, if we don’t reach out, fall, get up, and keep going?  If it’s worth it to you to be a better dancer, then you have to be willing to pay the price…challenge and growth.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Failure?  Looking silly?  Too fat?  Too skinny? Not pretty enough?  Not skilled enough?  Performing?

What am I talking about?

These are all reasons people have NOT taken my or other teachers’ belly dancing classes.  I’ve heard it all.  I’ve been told that people are scared to take my classes because they know they will never be able to do what I can do.  Seriously?

How can you know until you try?

Let me tell you a story:

There once was a lady who was a bit overweight.  She had asthma (or an equivalent that caused similar problems), she hated exercise, and had no self-esteem.  One day, a friend suggested getting some exercise videos instead of moaning over yet another missed day at the gym.  This lady found three belly dance videos on sale and, on a silly whim, decided to buy them and try them out.   She had heard of belly dance, but had never actually seen a performance before, so didn’t know what to expect.  Would it be hard?  Would it be silly?  But try them she did, and she found that belly dance was actually a lot of fun.  It was hard, sure, but there was a deliciousness in the challenge of trying to make her hip move this way instead of that way.  Ever so slowly, the lady’s body began to change.  Awhile later, bored with the videos and not sure where to go for more, the lady decided to see if there was a teacher in the area.  Surely, in a town this size, there would be a teacher, right?  Lo and behold, there was.  Scared, unsure what to expect, and feeling extremely self-conscious, the lady went to her first class.  She stood in the back, away from the other dancers who seemed skinny and flexible to her.  But surprisingly, the teacher was no yoga-hard-body, and the class was fun.  However, the lady still felt self-conscious, and would not bare her belly for the class.  But she resisted the natural urge to wear T-shirts as large as tents and picked up a few work-out tops that were more form-fitting.  She went to class after class, and soon, rolled up her shirt and bared that belly to the world for the very first time.  It was scary.  But she did it anyway.  To her surprise, the teacher asked her to move into the intermediate class, and before she knew it, she was in the performance class.  A new world of costumes, makeup, and performance lay ahead of the lady.  It still was scary, but she enjoyed it.  Sure, being part of a troupe was hard, but it was fun.  The other ladies in the troupe became her friends, and they had fun together.  Soon, it was time to strike out on her own.  Now the quiet, overweight, scared lady became a professional belly dancer.

And now I’ve said it…that lady was me.

I NEVER in a million years thought I would want to perform in front of other people.  I NEVER thought I would get good enough in belly dancing to perform it in front of others.  But you know what: I did.

I told you my story not for self-aggrandizement, but to help others realize that it’s OKAY to not be skilled in belly dance.  It’s OKAY to be overweight in belly dance.  It’s OKAY to not want to perform.  These things should NEVER stop you from starting a class, or trying a new teacher, or rolling up that shirt.  I started out as a newbie just like everybody else.  Here’s a secret: Rachel Brice was a newbie sometime in her life, too.  So was Jillina.  So was every single person that pops up on YouTube when you search “belly dance.”  You gotta start somewhere!

And if you DO want to perform, how can you expect to get better if you are too scared to even go to class?

Humans, on the whole, are afraid of failure.  Mix in our society’s pathological fear of failure with the ease in which failures and mistakes can make it out to the entire world through the Internet, and you get people who are terrified of trying anything new.  It doesn’t matter that you might never want to perform.  If you want to learn belly dance, don’t let ANYTHING stop you.  Go to class and have some fun.  Think of the difficulties you have in learning it as fun challenges instead.  If you want to perform, don’t let ANYTHING stop you.  Go to class, and improve yourself.

Don’t EVER be afraid of failure.   Failure is a part of life.  Yeah, it sucks, but you pick yourself up and move on.  How can you grow if you never make the move towards change in the first place?  Not good at hip circles?  Don’t just moan about how bad you are at them; put yourself in front of a mirror and work on it.  Or take a class with a teacher you respect.  Never done belly dance?  Try a class (many teachers have drop-in deals or free trial classes) and see how much fun it can be to challenge yourself.  And don’t be afraid of failing.  Don’t be afraid of not being perfect.  I sucked at belly dance when I first started, just like everyone else.  Getting good at something takes a brave heart, a strong mind, and a will to improve yourself…and we can all have those if we just put away the fears we have inside.  NEVER let fear stop you from doing what you want.

Now go out there and take a class!