Bellydance after Retirement: the beginnings of a plan!

I have been pondering my upcoming retirement and what I want it to look like. Who do I want to be? What do I want to do?

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Ironically, it was my illness that gave me the opportunity to examine these questions. It was a devastating time for me.

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For a while, I couldn’t even go to work, and I had to give up every single thing in my life in order to concentrate on simply getting up in the morning and getting through the day.

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Dance felt like a raggedly amputated limb, and it hurt so much to lose it that I actually packed up my gear and put it away where I didn’t have to see the dust raining down on it like tears.

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Gradually, though, creativity began to clamor for an outlet and I began to quilt and knit and write and explore avenues of creative expression that I hadn’t had time for when I was dancing.

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Fortunately, part of my wellness journey has been re-learning to pay attention and listen to my body and to my heart. And, happily, what my heart is telling me is that the dance is still there, just not in the same way as before.

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I’ve discovered that I love quilting. I love knitting. I love baking and hiking and gardening, and I no longer want to pursue dance to the exclusion of all else. In future, dance will be only one of many ways to express myself instead of the only way.

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On another happy note, I have been thinking lately that I would like to teach when we get to Salmon Arm. Did you see that coming? I didn’t.

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Ideally, I’d like to focus on teaching women my own age. Middle-aged women who have “been there and done that” and have women’s bodies; luscious or lean with bellies full of life experience and stories to share simply because they have lived half their lives or more already.

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Maybe I can eventually direct a little troupe of 4 or 5 women, dancing with the assaya, baskets or zills… dancing joyful, dancing our stories in the old way.  A small student dance troupe like the Allspice dancers of Arabesque Academy: “dancers who celebrate the female spirit at its most glorious time in life… a group of Bellydancers who have lived a bit and revel in their wisdom, uninhibited sensuality and zest for life.”

Group01I could also hire out to work with other troupes… teach a choreography or perhaps come into the studio and rehearse them in preparation for performance. I could do that on a charge-by-the-hour, workshop style basis.

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I am very good at troupe direction, if you don’t mind my saying so.  My dance troupe Saba and all the accolades we received over the years is proof of that. I’m tough but fair (and a helluva lot of fun). Just ask these gals, lol!Saba 1 by M.Collins

As far as teaching goes, my preference is to work with intermediate and advanced students. Because I don’t want to tie up my time year-round, I envision teaching occasional themed master-classes and workshops instead of on-going classes.  I’d like to revive the Special Topics classes that I had started to develop before I was interrupted by illness.

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It can be a tricky thing to carve out a niche in a new dance community, but I’m not a political person, and I’m generally easy-going. I’d really like to be a positive-minded contributing member of Salmon Arm’s dance community, if they want me.

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I’ve also come to understand that while I will always be a student, I have also stepped out onto that first rung as a master instructor. Yes, I dare to say that out loud. My peers and my community have designated me as such, and it is time for me to acknowledge it. I am still an affiliate instructor with Arabesque International, and that means something.

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As for my personal performance practice, I have come to understand that my dancing heart lies right in the roots – the very guts – of Egyptian dance. In the baladi.  My mentor, Yasmina Ramzy, saw it in me when she called me “little mama baladi” and urged me to pursue that direction several years ago.

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I look forward to finding myself back in the bubble of joy that always overtakes me when I am truly dancing without care.

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This is Baladi. This is the rich flavor that sets my artistic taste buds on fire.

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This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

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bellydance floorwork & Purvottanasana: upward plank pose

This is a re-posting from August 11, 2011.

Bellydancers can benefit from including yoga into their personal fitness routine, and one way this is evident is in floor work. Floor work is an aspect of the dance that seems to be making a bit of a comeback very recently. At least, after seeing virtually zero floor work for about a decade or more, I have suddenly seen a few routines making an appearance in various shows over the last couple of years, and “how to” floor work DVDs are starting to appear on the market. Bellydancers in North America used to do floor work regularly in the 1970s & 80s. It was part of what used to be called the “standard 5- or 7-part restaurant routine. More on that in another posting.

Anyway, back to yoga. My yoga practice ebbs and flows, and sometimes I just don’t feel like working with my DVDs. Instead,  I’ll spend some time on my mat just working through poses that I enjoy, trying out poses that I see in magazines or online journals, or working on poses that focus on areas I need to build strength or flexibility in (personal challenge poses). I have weak wrists, and there are some poses I simply can’t do because my wrists do not support me. I also don’t do the sword work that I’d like to do because the weight of the sword causes pain in my wrists, making practice difficult. In a fitness assessment last June, I scored low in the upper body strength category. That wasn’t a surprise, but it did cause me to refine my fitness plan. As a result, I’ve started to incorporate some movements to stretch & strengthen my wrists, arms & shoulders into my yoga routine. I’ve also added working with light weights, but I’m not as dedicated to that practice yet.

One of the personal challenge poses that I’m working on right now is the upward plank (purvottanasana).  This pose strengthens the wrists, arms & hamstrings and is also a heart-opener (stretching the shoulders & chest). By the way, Purvottanasana translates as “intense Eastern stretch” in Sanskrit (the front of the body being the “eastern side” and the back of the body the “western side”). For some reason, that just tickles my little raqs sharqi (eastern dance) heart! I love word associations!

The upward plank pose is challenging for me to do with good form. Start by sitting with your legs together in front of you, toes pointed. Hands are behind you with your fingers pointed towards your bum.  Press down through your hands and engage your legs to lift your hips into the air. Your wrists should be directly under your shoulders. Your arms and legs should be straight. Relax your bum without letting the hips drop, and let your hamstrings & arms do the work. Ground all 10 toes and gently tilt the head back. If you can’t do it without “cheating” & using your glutes, then sit back up and bend your knees before pressing up into reverse table top position. When you’ve built some strength in your hamstrings, you can begin work on the full upward plank again. You’ll see right away why this is a good strength builder for wrists, arms & legs!

As a bellydance floor work movement, you can layer belly rolls & flutters onto the upward plank pose, being mindful to not allow your hips to drop. To recover, lower the hips back to the floor. Cross one ankle over the other and roll towards your audience onto your side, supporting your torso with the downstage arm. From here you can lift into full or partial side plank for more isolations if you choose (another powerful arm strengthener) or keep your side-hip on the floor as you focus on performing mesmerizing hand & arm movements with your free arm. To sit up, bend the knees & swing the legs around to kneeling. (Be mindful to not offer your audience any crotch shots. Always dance side-on or at a diagonal when on the floor.)

If you are balancing something on your head such as a sword, cane or water pot, you want to be very mindful of your balance & center. So, as you roll over, be sure to start the roll from the foot. Think of it like gently “wringing out” your body. The turn starts from the ankle and then proceeds through the lower leg to the inner thigh; then the hip turns, followed by the waist, the breast, the shoulder, turning the head last.

Here is a lovely photo ofAndrameda in purvottanasana, balancing a very heavy sword on her chin. She did some stomach isolations, followed by lovely snaky cross-over steps with her feet from this position. I hope everybody was suitably impressed with the strength required to do this movement and especially with the ease and grace with which she executed it! Brava, Andra, you make it look so effortless!

Baba Mama

I first heard this song at a show in Saint John New Brunswick in late 2000.

I was sitting in the audience, having finished both of my performances, all settled in and enjoying the show when this fabulously energetic music boomed out of the speakers, and in bounced this little dance troupe from Maine.  They were 4 or 5 young women wearing yoga pants with matching fringe skirts and choli tops, and I was completely mesmerized.  So mesmerized, in fact, that I actually still remember it, 13 years later! 🙂 They were beginner dancers, their choreography was simple and teetered on being over their heads, and yet they outshone many of the performances that I saw that night in sheer joy and enthusiasm. What they lacked in crispness and accuracy was more than made up for in the energy and excitement that they shared both amongst each other and with us in the audience. I no longer remember their choreography, with the exception of two movements: a cute little chest drop while pulling the hands down the front of the body, followed by pelvic drops with the same hand movement, which I changed around a bit and incorporated into my own repertoire.

Fast forward to 2010. I bought a CD at a workshop I was attending in Calgary, and just about fell off my chair when I heard that song start to play!  According to the CD, the song was called Baba Mama. I was so excited that started to choreograph it right in that very moment.

Here it is, performed by Saba Middle Eastern Dance Ensemble. Choreography by yours truly. Watch for that little chest and pelvic drop with the pinch pull-down: I incorporated it into the choreography as little tribute to those lovely young dancers from Maine.