Why I Bellydance – The Debra Edition

I asked my students a series of questions hoping to get some insight about why people come to bellydance class vs. why they stay in class. I have noticed that when people commit to pushing through the initial hurdle of understanding the basic moves, they become hungry for more. Others say it’s “too hard” and don’t go beyond a class or two. The truth is, it’s difficult. And it’s not the sort of difficult that immediately impresses an audience because it looks so easy. Therein lies the frustration for new students. Trained dancers merely become “in on the secret” that moving your body in serpentine waves or percussive isolations takes a great deal of coordination.

Debra joined my classes in 2016 and I could immediately tell that she had a solid foundation with the ability to perform complex movements with ease. She is a quick learner when it comes to choreography and, having just seen her perform a solo, she’s dynamic and captivating on stage. 15515811_10102226942581092_911954376_o

Q: How long have you taken bellydance classes?

A: It’ll be 4 years in Jan.

Q: Why were you first inclined to take a bellydance class?

A: I’d taken many dance classes over the years starting with ballet and jazz as a kid. Kelli Hornachek actually invited me to one of her classes at Serena’s back when we worked together. I really loved it, but couldn’t consistently go to that class. I’ve always loved the movement you see in bellydancers, the grace and the passion – and the sparkly costumes and amazing makeup were just a bonus!

Q: How long did it take for you to feel like you grasped the basic movements? What kept you coming even if you may have felt awkward trying to do serpentine movements or had limited range of motion in the hips.

A: The weirdest part for me was that I felt many of the movements were ones that my body was always meant to do – like maya or undulations. It was always the movements that others seemed to pick up easily that I had the most trouble with (like a shimmy that I still struggle with). What always keeps me coming back is knowing how much more there is to go. There is always another challenge, another level, another prop, a way to make your movements more crisp or more smooth. When your teachers still take classes to better themselves, you know there is so much more to do. I love that I know I’ll never stop learning.

Q: If you stopped attending classes at any point, what did you (or what would you) miss about it the most? What keeps you coming back now that you’re past the initial hurdles?

A: On the occasion that I have to miss a few classes (for whatever reason) my body actually misses it. And no matter how tired I am at night, or how little I slept, I always feel better after being in class. The minute I step on the dance floor, the troubles of my day are no longer an issue. The tiredness I felt has been replaced and I feel energized. The other thing i love about this community, is that you can walk into a brand new class without knowing anyone and you’re welcomed with open arms. When I went in search of classes after moving to CT, I knew there was nothing to worry about and Tava (and the studio) made me feel right at home.

 

Q: What particular benefits does this dance, or dance class(es) offer you that you cannot get from other exercise, community events or dance form?

A: I was in the ballroom dance community for quite a few years, and while I never competed, I never quite felt like I fit in or that I could compete. This dance community is so much more open and judgement free. I’ve seen women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes looking stunning while bellydancing. While so many people in the outside world think of it as just sexy (which it absolutely can be) it above all, celebrates femininity and the female body – well every body for that matter. It makes you feel good from the inside out for yourself and for those around you. When you see a dancer being taken over by her passion for the dance and the music it’s really something to behold – whether just in class or in a performance – that speaks to the audience and it’s something you don’t always get in other forms of dance. You can really let yourself be free.

 

Q: What would you say to someone who is curious to try bellydance but is hesitant?

 

A: I usually use my answer for #4 when trying to convince people to come with me actually:) I always tell them the movements will start out feeling strange, your body won’t be used to it, but even after just 2-3 weeks you’ll get to understand how your body moves in a totally different way.

Thank you Debra, for taking the time to answer these questions. Thank YOU for taking the time to read. I hope it’s shed some light on what attracts people to this dance vs what keeps them coming back year after year.

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For Tava’s class schedule, please visit:

http://bellydancebytava.com/tavas-current-class-schedule-for-fairfield-county-ct/

To read Why I Bellydance – The Mary Edition (aka Tava’s Mom), click here!

Why Do I Bellydance? The Mary Edition (aka Tava’s Mom)

I asked my students a series of questions hoping to get some insight about why people come to bellydance class vs. why they stay in class. I have noticed that when people commit to pushing through the initial hurdle of understanding the basic moves, they become hungry for more. Others say it’s “too hard” and don’t go beyond a class or two. The truth is, it’s difficult. And it’s not the sort of difficult that immediately impresses an audience because it looks so easy. Therein lies the frustration for new students. Trained dancers merely become “in on the secret” that moving your body in serpentine waves or percussive isolations takes a great deal of coordination.
Mary, my mother, dances almost every day. She practices with her DVD’s, takes a weekly class at Work It Dance & Fitness and commits to such practice goals as “100 omis a day.”
Q: Why were you first inclined to take a bellydance class?
A: Because of you
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For context, when I first left New York City, I started teaching as a way to meet people and bring a bit of the culture I felt was missing from my new life in CT. Mom took my class purely to support my endeavors but, 10 years later, here she is — a loyal student of bellydance.
Q: How long did it take for you to feel like you grasped the basic movements?
A: At least a year. At most…I’m still having issues.  When I realized how difficult it was, I also realized how much my body needed this type of movement.
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Q: If you stopped attending classes at any point, what did you (or what would you) miss about it the most? What keeps you coming back now that you’re past the initial hurdles?
A: I would miss two things.  One, the specific kind of movement which comes from the core and moves outward to other areas of the body in waves. (and because I’m learning about science – all energy moves in waves so what better way for the body to move). Two, you are an excellent teacher so I feel like I’m in good hands taking risks with movement.  I won’t get hurt in class. (Aw, thanks Mom).
Q: What particular benefits does this dance, or dance class(es) offer you that you cannot get from other exercise, community events or dance forms?
A: To me this dance is organic.  It seems to come from a natural expression of the body.  It improves strength and fluidity.  I wish I were young enough to improve but just holding a level of ability is good for me.   I think the movements are especially good for older bodies which become stiff and more difficult to insert grace.
Q: What would you say to someone who is curious to try bellydance but is hesitant?
A: Since most of my friends are my age, I say what I just said in the last question.  I’m amazed that more of them won’t try.  It always strikes me as odd that people want to go places to explore but they don’t always think to explore within.
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Why do YOU bellydance?

Coming Full Circle and the Art of Non-Compromise

Back in 2006, I walked into my supervisor’s office at a major NYC University and I gave a generous 4 weeks’ notice. I had just been offered my 2nd promotion (and a raise), had a retirement plan, a decent salary, plenty of paid vacation and had earned the respect of my colleagues. I had a comfortable job. I worked hard. As a trained counselor with strong admin skills, disability services was a rewarding path for me. What happened? Two things:

  1. I was bitten by the professional dancer bug.
  2. They restructured our department and moved us out of our offices and into cubicles. Yeah….CUBICLES! My colleague and I referred to it as the “glass case of emotion” — (cool points if you get the reference).

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No way was I going to do a soul-crushing commute to sit in a cubicle and dream about being a full-time dancer. I was a diligent student who did whatever gigs came my way but I wanted more and I was ready to follow my passion without regret. Suddenly I had photoshoots, a web site, business cards and a cell phone that was always within reach. I had an agency pumping more gigs my way than I knew what to do with and I secured some regular restaurant jobs. I was busy and it was exciting.

As years went by, I found myself wanting to be more creative than the typical gig called for. I joined dance companies, choreographed some pieces for theatrical shows and scratched the itch as I went along. Now, my need for creativity and non-sparkly dance outlets has only grown stronger. I still enjoy the typical “gig” but only because I do about 1/4 to 1/2 of what I used to do.

Returning to a day job on a part-time basis has given me the freedom to cherry pick the dance jobs that I accept. Since dance is no longer my sole source of income, I can spend more time feeling like an artist or diving into my love of folklore. It’s afforded me the ability to be non-compromising. If a client doesn’t appear to respect what I do, or if the job seems like more hassle than it’s worth, I don’t take it. So now the jobs I do are, for the most part, really fulfilling.

I realize my future will see even more “day job” work and fewer gigs, but I suspect this will be a very rich time in my dance life. The irony isn’t lost on me. I left a full-time job to earn my living as a dancer. After a while, the full-time dance life left very little time to actually enjoy dance. And now, what sustains me is the fact that I am able to choose dance. We’re best friends, but no longer co-dependent. I’m more in love with every movement as a result. I show up to my gigs excited to be there. My relationship with dance is on my terms now and I had to come full circle to reach this place.

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Shimmyathon, 2016, Peter Paradise Photography

If you’re considering a drastic life change to allow more space for dance, just go into it with eyes wide open. It’s a great thing to experience and teaches you a lot of about running a small business, managing client expectations, pushing through physical limits, dealing with the ebb and flow of fluctuating finances and a heck of a lot more. If you want more time to dance for YOU, out of pure love for the culture and the music, you just might want to remain a hobbyist.

The dance hobbyist has the best of both worlds. You can have all the sparkly and adventure…with a 401K on the side.

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Tava is a highly regarded professional bellydancer, instructor, choreographer and author of the best-selling book, “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals.” She performs regularly throughout the NYC Metro Area and the tri-state area. Equally at home performing at galas, family occasions, cultural events, theaters or in music videos, she prides herself on having a career with as much variety as possible.

In addition to the “sparkly bits” of her life, Tava has a Masters in Counseling from Fordham University and uses the dance as a tool for building self-esteem and healthy body image for women.

An Artist’s Legacy

With the recent passing of two musical icons who really nailed it in the legacy department, social media is flooded with their previously unknown exhales of art that will be around for at least another generation or more. Whether it be vaults of unreleased music, inspiring stories of artistic integrity or heartfelt letters from people across the globe confessing how Prince or Bowie’s music got them through the roughest of times, it’s all got me thinking. Those of us who will never reach such levels of fame or notoriety, are we hoping to leave a lasting mark on our art? Am I?

The truth is, I don’t think so. The longer I dance the less I care about receiving recognition for it. My dance goals are in the here and now. I seek ways to grow and challenge myself and, while I am tremendously grateful that I get to inspire my students and maybe some audiences, my dance is not so innovative. I am one part of a long lineage that connects an ancient dance to the present. Sure, I use movement to transcend problems, to express what words can’t, to tap into something far more special than taxes or weekly trips to Stop & Shop, but I don’t feel disappointed to think my story ends with me. prince

I’m deeply moved by the body of work these two musicians created. They are examples of people who became famous in spite of themselves, on their own terms, who maintained control of their artistry throughout their careers. I’ve been moved to tears listening to Prince’s latest album and re-discovering Bowie’s  Lady Grinning Soul; dancing to both with a newfound appreciation. I can imagine how satisfying it is to know that your art lives on without you and I would be honored to learn this were possible for me but… it isn’t. And that’s ok. bowie-1152551

Prince and Bowie’s passing has renewed and strengthened my desire to have integrity in my work. Heck, did you see the letter Prince wrote to Suzanne Vega? It’s beautiful both in its words and penmanship/design. Thriving creativity doesn’t take a nap when it’s time to write letters. Artists who don’t phone it in, can inspire in so many ways beyond the talents they’re celebrated for. (Note to self: Write more sincere letters that people feel compelled to keep for years to come).

Both Prince and Bowie harnessed their creativity and paired it with a diligent work ethic. Learning about how they lived and made music has been like a little slap on my wrist reminding me that life is short and it’s time to dance all the dance I can. I heard a story on NPR about a jazz musician (sorry I forgot his name) who got a visit from a friend’s little girl near the end of his life. The little girl asked if he was dying and he said, “Yeah, but it’s been a great gig.” That’s what I want to feel at the end of the line…more than anything.

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Photo by Ale Vega (Oriental Dance Pictures)

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Tava is a professional bellydancer, instructor, choreographer and author based in NYC and CT. She is available to perform at family occasions, cultural events, theatrical performances, galas or media appearances. Tava’s weekly bellydance classes are in Fairfield County, CT with a range of workshop topics offered in various locations in the U.S. To learn more, visit: BellydancebyTava.com

Bellydancers and the Chair: The Four-Legged Elephant in the Room

If you’re a bellydancer who has done even a handful of professional performances, chances are you’ve encountered, “the chair.” This four-legged elephant in the room can be the embodiment of an antiquated stereotype. When a male guest of honor is seated directly in front of a female dancer while she performs, it can feel a little “harem girl/seduce the sultan/oriental fantasy-ish,” with shades of lap dance. Personally, I don’t have a problem with empowered women making their living from erotic dance, but I do think we need be to be careful not to blur those lines. A dance rooted in culture that’s a physical expression of celebration has a very different intention. Early in my career, when I danced in front of “the chair,” I saw lots of confused faces when I didn’t dance lasciviously for the  seated male. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better about changing the expectation by having more thorough pre-gig conversations (where I specifically request no chair in the middle of the room) and a bit of on the spot strategy for those times when an audience member decides it needs to be there.

downloadThe vast majority of the time, people are well meaning and have no intention of offending a performer.  In fact, sometimes it’s the women who get the chair out for the guy. But, I find it interesting that the chair never comes out when the guest of honor is a woman (at least, not in my experience). Perhaps there is some inherent understanding that women celebrating birthdays don’t need to be in the “personal space” of the dancer. The dancer’s role is to bring joy to a party and create a memorable experience; not to titillate. The dancer is there to get people up to dance after a certain amount of time showcasing her skill; not to embarrass anyone.

Sometimes the chair comes out and I don’t feel it’s the right thing to stop my show and educate people on why I don’t like it, so I make the best of it. I introduce humor. I’ll put the sheath of my sword on the guest of honor’s head or engage in something that will give the audience a chuckle. I can count on one hand how many times I have been blatantly objectified (it rarely happens), but when it does, there is a chair involved.

EmptyChairThis is what I say to clients when they decide to go forward with hiring me for a show; namely for a birthday party when the guest of honor is male:

“Now that we’ve discussed all of the performance details I just want to mention one other thing. Sometimes a well-meaning audience member gets a chair for the ‘birthday boy’ to sit on and places it in front of me. This actually makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’ve worked hard to represent this dance in the most professional way and that’s just something people associate with lap dances.”

In 100% of cases where I’ve brought this up, the person hiring me thanks me for bringing it up and appreciates the request. That being said, sometimes, we’ve got to roll with the punches and listen to our own “spidey sense.” If the people are down to earth and I feel respected, I may let it slide. If there is any doubt in my mind or I’m being looked at in a way that doesn’t jive with my intentions, I’ll ignore that chair and look for a child to dance with. . . or a spunky grandparent.

My advice is to follow your instincts. Don’t perform in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you enjoy dancing for the chair, hey, great. I’m not here to impose my opinion on anyone. But we should all understand that in the age of event photos going on Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, FB and any other social media du jour, consider what messages a performance sends to people who don’t have the context of seeing your entire show.

We shouldn’t vilify women who dance for the purpose of arousal, but if that’s not what we are doing, we have to make sure the public knows that.

Tava’s Book: “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals”

Tava’s new book “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals” is available on Amazon.com.

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals

Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals is an essential read for dancers who may be considering a transformation from hobbyist to professional. Tava Naiyin, author and highly-accomplished bellydancer in NYC and CT, writes candidly about her experiences as an artist who has relied exclusively on dance-generated income for 10+ years. After receiving countless questions from budding dance professionals across the U.S., she compiled her answers and wrote this book to address what she perceived as possible gaps in training. This book cannot take the place of a mentor, however, it aims to promote industry standards and help bellydance artists determine if they have the right skills and circumstances to turn their passion into a career.

Readers can expect information about costume purchasing and care, performance etiquette, general do’s and don’ts, how to get the most out of practice, staying inspired, juggling art vs. commerce and more. Ms. Naiyin’s bellydance colleagues and mentors weigh in to share their thoughts and resources on topics ranging from: how to find your own dance voice, keeping the dance flame lit and effective marketing strategies. Readers can expect inspiring and practical tidbits from top bellydancers Andrea (NY), Angelica Jordan (Quebec), Maria (CA), Riskallah Riyad (CT), Sira (NY) and Zaina (Globetrotter). Anyone who is considering a career in dance or the performing arts will come away with useful information to help them make informed choices and avoid costly mistakes. To learn more about Tava, visit BellydancebyTava.com

What people are saying about Tava’s book:

Whether you have a burgeoning curiosity about belly dance as an art form, or are already a seasoned student ready to take the next step, this book is a must! Tava’s advice and insights come only from years of studying, training, performing and evolving as a dancer and as an artist in general.

Tava does not preach from a pen and ink pulpit; She is with you through this book, sharing her own experiences, “aha! moments”, mistakes, stumbles and triumphs as a dancer, artist, teacher and mentor. Her writing style is inviting and smooth, and this book is hard to put down once you start reading! She includes anecdotes and input from her mentors, peers, and students. Her love for this dance and her unyielding devotion to keeping this dance elevated and held to high standards is readily evident. Once you finish reading, you will understand what a gift this is to the world of belly dance!- Christine R.

An insightful book from the artist’s perspective. This book is not just about dance. It’s about passion, perception and practicality. Valuable advice in this age of “do what you love.” Anyone considering doing so would gain important insight into balancing one’s art and inspiration with the realities of life.

The interviews convey the deep respect these women share for the culture and dance they represent and the accompanying photos are beautiful. Bellydance is lucky to have such passionate and articulate advocates. – Mary

The Thing About Feeback. . .

Lately, my mind keeps returning to a shortage of honest feedback in dance. I’ve thought a lot about when it is, or isn’t, appropriate to offer. I’ve thought about some of the things I’ve been told throughout my career that were, initially, tough to hear but made a huge impact on both my dancing and professionalism. I’m actually quite grateful to these people because I know, with total certainty, that these women had my best interest in mind. That is the key to delivering feedback. In order for it to be heard, one has to deliver it in a way that emphasizes the good intention behind it.

I often hesitate to offer feedback because I don’t want to offend anyone or imply that I’ve somehow mastered everything — believe me, I haven’t. No matter how gently it’s presented, not everyone is so open to hearing how often their underwear is showing or that their wrists are over-circling. There is something to be said for minding our own business and staying out of conversations where we don’t belong.

I asked Rosa Noreen for feedback after this show at Art of the Belly. The power went out briefly and I was worried that the

I asked Rosa Noreen for feedback after this show at Art of the Belly. The power went out briefly and I was worried that the “hiccup” may have overshadowed my performance.

Whenever I watch a dancer that I care about, (a friend or mentor), I watch with love. I am in the mode of watching to give support to someone without bringing my critical eye. Of course they may do something that particularly stands out or impresses me and I’ll share that in a post-show compliment. There are people in my life that can do no wrong in my eyes because I’ve had years of watching them and I love where their dance takes me. Even then, if one of them should say, “Tava, please be honest. I’m trying something new tonight and I could really use your feedback.” I will oblige. It is helpful to be asked before the performance so I can get in the right mindset and take off my “beaming support for friends” glasses.

A costume I wore back in 2008 that didn't fit me properly (pointed out to me by a pro dancer I respected). It has a new home now :)

A costume I wore back in 2008 that didn’t fit me properly (pointed out to me by a pro dancer I respected). It has a new home now 🙂

In my “day life” I am paid to give feedback and I have learned to be as tactful as possible with full honesty because I want my clients to succeed or break dysfunctional patterns. Why would it be so easy and natural to do in this context? For starters, they are coming to me because they are trying to reach a goal that has been challenging for them and they are paying me for my time and expertise. So, I think the same should apply in the dance world.
It’s my opinion that dancers should ask for it – regularly. We should identify the dancers who inspire us and see if they are open to critiquing or offering feedback.  If we rely on post-show compliments as our only cue about our ability, we aren’t getting the real picture. Furthermore, feedback from one person is not always the right way to go. Someone who is so familiar with our style might develop dance blind spots or focus on a particular aspect while unknowingly ignoring others. Below is my approach to seeking and accepting feedback that works for me and, who knows, maybe it could work for you 🙂

Video feedback: I have sent practice videos to my mentors over the years and paid them to review it and give me feedback.

A screen shot of some of the feedback I requested from my mentor after showing her a practice video.

A screen shot of some of the feedback I requested from my mentor after showing her a practice video.

Private lessons: I’ve paid for private lessons with dancers I admire so they could watch me closely and critique as I go. This just cannot happen in a group class situation.

The 24-48 hour rule: I get what I can only describe as “post-show rawness.” Devoting countless hours of practice for a major show and hearing an honest critique immediately after the fact is not a good thing. I am too raw and vulnerable after nearly every performance to want to hear something critical. It’s better for me to ask a day or two later when I’ve got my “tough skin” back on. Someone once said to me in the car as we were leaving a venue, “Well, not bad, but not your best.” It surprised me because I hadn’t asked and I had a different feeling in my head of what happened on the stage that night. I won’t ask for anyone’s opinion right away; especially if I’m riding a post-show high.

Supply prompts: Every so often I have a list of things I’m working on: dynamics, expressive hands, incorporating emotion or numerous other concepts. I might ask a friend, “Can you pay attention to my hands tonight? Specifically, how do they hold up when I’m doing fast hip work?” This gives people an idea of what to focus on and can lead to better results than, “So, how was I?”

Learn to separate opinion from feedback: This is huge. There are lots of areas of disagreement in our dance world and sometimes people can disguise their opinions as feedback.Personally, I don’t like the look of visible dance shorts in costumes but that’s pure opinion and I would never say “Your shorts are showing under your costume so you might want to visit a seamstress to fix that.”  Um, no. Totally inappropriate.

Sometimes I do have to bite my tongue as the amount of visible crotch with certain floorwork transitions gets to me after a day of videos rolls through my newsfeed. Or I see someone making the same early mistakes that I made and I want to offer an opinion. It’s a case by case basis and, sometimes, the risk is worth it. It’s always great to seek it. Ask for it and be willing to accept whatever it is, so long as you trust the source.

Happy Dancing!

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Tava is a professional bellydancer in NYC and CT.  She performs regularly for all family friendly events, galas, weddings and corporate events.  Tava also performs in creative/theatrical endeavors and enjoys her balance of commercial and artistic fulfillment.  To learn more about classes in Fairfield County, CT or to inquire about hosting Tava for a workshop, please visit: BellydancebyTava.com

Self-Inflicted Pressure Makes Creativity Run for the HIlls

I feel comfortable saying that I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve certainly devoted countless hours to practicing, learning, teaching, researching, critiquing, writing, choreographing, improvising, etc. One would think I’d have learned the fundamental truth that self-inflicted pressure to come up with a “perfect” performance does not work. What in the world have I been doing to myself lately? Logical Tava is slapping her own wrist saying “You know you’d rather watch an honest performance than a so-called ‘perfect’ performance. Snap out of it!” Artistic and sensitive Tava is saying, “I have an opportunity to share my passion with a new audience in a show featuring some amazing talent. I HAVE to be my absolute best. Do NOT ‘wing it’ this time!”

Last night while lying on the studio floor in a pool of exhaustion and, I’ll be honest, some tears, I was feeling some self-doubt. I put unbelievable amounts pressure on myself to create new veil shapes, incredible transitions and gravity defying lines. I wanted a piece full of material that was inspired — but I could literally feel my inspiration running for the hills. I wound up tangled in my favorite prop and muttering obscenities while my joints began to throb. I took a look at my reflection and thought, “What happened? This isn’t me at all.”

I woke up this morning and decided to forgive myself. I heard advise from friends and took it to heart. The Tava who dances from the heart does not beat herself up with impossible expectations. She “allows” the movements to happen and doesn’t force them. As a dancer, I respond to self nourishment better than self-inflicted pressure. That’s not to say I won’t ask for honest feedback or a critique from someone I trust, but forcing the best show ever is a great way to wind up exhausted and depleted. I always work hard and try to improve but, let’s face it, I don’t need to invent some sort of new veil language to deliver a worthy show. What I need is to revise my process so I can avoid these nasty fits of self-doubt. Ironically, I have done this for other dancers but sometimes our own advice is the hardest to take.

So, I give up. I surrender.

I’m going to “wing it” after all. But I’m armed with 15 years of dedication and a sincere love of music which has gotten me this far.  All I can do is be me. _DSC0391-3127889052-W

Drawing Inspiration from Other Artists – My Brunch with AnnaLisa Ewald

Nine years ago, I made a huge life change and left my home in NYC. It was a huge risk and I wondered if “the burbs” could satisfy my need for an artistic life.  I wasn’t sure if I would stick out like a sore thumb or settle into a community. My husband and I bit the bullet and moved into a building that had enough character to make the transition easier. The brick walls and loft space reminded us of Brooklyn and we occasionally heard a neighbor playing guitar, drumming, or blasting decent music (ahh such comforts)!

AnnaLisa Ewald

AnnaLisa Ewald

One such neighbor was classical guitar guru AnnaLisa Ewald. We would wave and exchange knowing nods at each other in the parking lot heading to gigs – she carrying a guitar case and looking very elegant – me with heavier makeup and lots of glitter.  Over time, our conversations became deeper, we attended each others performances, and a mutual respect was born. Today’s brunch, much like our last brunch, included a lot of heavy nodding and phrases like “Yes, I deal with that too!” Two artists who deal with issues of art vs. commerce, who have to figure out the extent to which we’re willing to compromise, and have an inherent need to stay inspired…at all costs. It is always validating and the exchange of ideas lights up my brain. It is very satisfying to pick my head up out of the bellydance world where I live 99.9% of the time and look at things from a broader perspective. I cannot do this on my own because I rely on this immersion into my dance world.

AnnaLisa is the real deal. She is one of those genuine artists who has the ideal balance of knowledge, integrity, and skill. Listening to her talk about ancient music and the maple neck of her new guitar; it is clear she is not going to be content playing pop songs. Like me, she drives far and wide to perform at weddings and prestigious shows – but she will drive even farther to collaborate and learn from the artists she admires.

Tava performing a baladi at Drom (NYC)

Tava performing a baladi at Drom (NYC)

Sometimes it is hard to introduce an art form that has deep cultural roots and loads of history to a population that isn’t familiar with it. Cultivating opportunities to share an artistic passion in this area is a way of planting seeds and growing a student base, nurturing a love of art and enriching the community – but it takes persistent hard work. And sometimes, the hard work seems extra hard. Seeking the company of other artists is always worth it and I think it’s just as important as physical cross training. These brunches feed me in more ways than one and I’m grateful for them. To learn more about AnnaLisa, visit her website: http://annalisaewald.com/ *******************************************************

Tava is a professional bellydancer in NYC and CT.  She performs regularly for all family friendly events, galas, weddings and corporate events.  Tava also performs in creative/theatrical endeavors and enjoys her balance of commercial and artistic fulfillment.  To learn more about classes in Fairfield County, CT or to inquire about hosting Tava for a workshop, please visit: BellydancebyTava.com

More Dancing and Less Tearing Each Other Down

This post is a reaction to conversations I hear almost every day, to comments I’ve read on YouTube links and posts on Facebook.  Somewhere a woman is tearing apart another woman for reasons related to appearance. Oftentimes the women are strangers with nothing but visual presentation to go on– so they pick each other apart for their weight, their hair, their “enhancements,” or their supposed need for enhancements. Several years ago, I had to remove a photo I had posted of a guest dancer from one of my events because a total stranger called her a “skinny bitch.”   All this woman saw was a reminder of her own insecurity about her weight because – let’s face it – nobody who feels healthy and balanced criticizes a stranger for looking incredible in two-piece bedlah. This is the sort of thing that reminds me how lucky I am to have a community of students that value a supportive environment. It reminds me of the intrinsic value of dancing with a non-competitive group.

195bmfvu242scjpgRecently, a student approached me to say, “Thank you for giving all of us a place to feel safe and to celebrate each other’s accomplishments.”  It was incredibly sweet but it also got me thinking about how hard we are on our fellow women and how fundamentally unnecessary that is.  Just this morning I listened to Senator Barbara Boxer’s speech on DHS funding and I was shocked to see the amount of comments about her hair.  This woman just delivered a kick-ass speech with conviction and resolve, but, many people saw value in discussing her appearance. *facepalm*

To be honest, I am pretty fed up with this. I understand that groups of women find comfort and a certain degree of bonding while engaging in a bit of gossip but when it reaches levels of hostility, we have to really think about what good this does.  I realize it is impractical and impossible to be friends with everybody. I am not keen on that enormous purple dinosaur who suggested that we’re all a great big family, but, I do think we could all ease up on the cutting words we have for people we don’t even know.  Perhaps there will always be jealousy, insecurity, fear and far too much value placed on impossible standards of beauty. What’s a gal to do? Well, the only answer I have is this: dance!

Dancing won’t solve the world’s problems but it will put you in touch with a group of women and suddenly you’ll find yourself cheering for someone when they’ve mastered a movement.  You will be surrounded with hugs if you return to class after missing a few weeks.  You will probably leave a studio feeling better about yourself than you did when you arrived.  It takes time and it takes a willingness to get out of your comfort zone and commit to something larger than yourself.  No, dance cannot prevent hatred but if it lifts a group of women to feel camaraderie, in spite of their differences, that is a giant step in the right direction.  10613030_295965897256468_4089405148976983521_nBefore anyone jumps in to say I’m being overly harsh or decides to educate me on where the blame truly lies, just remember this is a blog post of my thoughts. I’m not conducting a research study ( I have spent many years devoted to research studies in the past so I know how labor-intensive they are ).  Of course, I cannot speak for every dance form or every dance class. I’m really just asking if we can stop being so hard on each other?

PS: Don’t just take my word for it:

Arts & Health, Vol. 2, No. 2, September 2010, 149–163.

Shall we dance? An exploration of the perceived benefits of dancing on well-being

Am J Public Health. 2010 February; 100(2): 254–263.

The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of the Current Literature

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Tava is a professional bellydancer in NYC and CT.  She performs regularly for all family friendly events, galas, weddings and corporate events.  Tava also performs in creative/theatrical endeavors and enjoys her balance of commercial and artistic fulfillment.  To learn more about classes in Fairfield County, CT or to inquire about hosting Tava for a workshop, please visit: BellydancebyTava.com

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Photo of Tava by Adrian Buckmaster    (Do not copy without permission)