September 24, 2011

Glitter Gives Back Update

With just a few weeks away from belly dance camp, I'm excited to see that donations for our community service project are rolling in.  For those of you who are curious what we still need, I've included a couple of tables outlining what we have and what we need.  As you can see there are still some spots that we need help with!  Whether or not you are coming to camp with us, please consider helping us meet our goal to deliver care packages for women and children at Hill Country Cares, a a shelter for victims of domestic violence.  Consider this our way of bringing a little sparkle into their lives!

You can use the PayPal link on the right to make a tax-deductible donation to Aria Dance Foundation.  Or, if you live in the Austin area...I'll be happy to pick up any supplies you may be willing to donate!  Cash donations will be used to fill in the gaps in our wish list.  And, I promise a multitude of glittery karma coming to those of you who can help out!

In addition to the basic supplies we are seeking for our bags, we have some generous donations of extra goodies to add to the bags:

Thanks to everyone who is making this a successful project!

July 9, 2011

Glitter Gives Back

Although we are in the heat of the Texas summer, I know that I’m already dreaming of cooler weather and cabaret dance camp this fall.  For those of you who don’t attend regularly, this is (in my opinion) a must-attend event for belly dancers.  Not only do you have the opportunity to study with amazing and talented instructors, but you also have the chance to bond and share time with other dancers in a beautiful, serene environment.  The Texas hill country has always been the perfect setting for our women’s-only retreat and this year I’m pleased to announce that Bahaia and I are teaming up to organize our first community service project for camp, called “Glitter Gives Back”

We will be making and delivering care packages for women and kids who are victims of domestic abuse and battery and are living in a shelter.  We have the luxury each year at camp to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and wonderful companionship and love of all the women who attend, and I want to take this same love and support and share it with women who are in need.  So, I chose Hill Country Cares, a non-profit association that has been around since 1986 and serves five counties in Central Texas to be the recipients of our service project. 

They provide prevention, intervention, and recovery services for women in need, not only for women who live close to our camp, but often for women who travel much further and are sent there to escape their abuser.  Our goal is to create 50 care packages containing basic hygiene products for women and 15 care packages for children.  These packages will not necessarily be used for women who are currently living at the shelter, but will be handed out to incoming women and kids over the next few months. Originally my plan was for 50 packages (one for each camper), but after talking with the volunteer coordinator about their needs I’m upping the ante a bit and adding some bags for kids. 

Blank bags, all ready to decorate.  And for you with the wild imaginations, it's a green toothbrush holder ladies!

Our care packages will be delivered in canvas tote bags that can be used to store their supplies.  The fun part is that we will decorate all these bags the first night of camp, along with our ritual t-shirt decorating.  I already warned the shelter that there may be a plethora of glitter and sparkles in our bags and they were tickled by the idea of having something fun to share with these women and kids.

We will also have cards to sign (and add personal comments if you wish), and we’ll be taking photos share.  My hope is that we can bring a smile to someone’s face and let them know that despite their immediate crisis, we are sending them strength and love.  I struggle to imagine how someone would feel to flee their home because of violence, and end up at a shelter without their own toothbrush.  So, the goal is to make sure women will have some basic products including shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, razors, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and body lotion to call their own.

Basic supplies for the womens' bag

For the kids, the shelter asked for kid-friendly products like toothpaste in fun flavors, bubble bath, and kids’ shampoo.  A basic bag for women will cost around $25, and for kids $15, but with some smart shopping, and creativity I hope we can do more than just a basic bag for everyone, I’m hoping we can add some extra treats!  To see a list of the basic items we’ll be providing, as well as suggestions on additional items to include check out this file. 

Basic supplies for kiddos...any ideas on other things we can add?

If you’re a camper, would-be-camper, or just love the idea, here’s what we need you to do!  We’ll be putting up a link to a PayPal account very shortly where you can donate, or ask friends, family and co-workers to assist.  You can:
  • Sponsor the cost of an entire package for either a woman or child.
  • Collect financial donations to help off-set costs.  (maybe get creative and do some fundraising)
  • Collect product donations (for example, ask your dentist for extra toothbrushes), although this may only work for those of us living close by.  We wouldn't want you flying in with a case of deodorant…that could cause all sorts of problems during the pat down!
  • Consider throwing an extra tube of toothpaste, bottle of shampoo, or deodorant into your shopping cart over the new few months.
  • Check your house for unopened, products that could be added in addition to the basic needs.  (Keep in mind we’ll have limited space in our bags).  For these little additions, sample sizes will work, we just want to make sure the basic needs are not trial or travel sized.
  • Consider bringing a small keepsake or memento that you can add to a bag.  Think about what would make you smile if you found it among your bag of goodies.
  •  Brainstorm on ideas for kid’s bags, take up donations from other families in the area, or if you have kids involve them in the process of collecting supplies.  (I’m not a Mom so my ideas are limited.)
We’ll be posting more information as we go, and sending out updates on what we have and what we still need.  I have to say that this project really excites me.  I have been blessed in my life because I have never suffered abuse, violence or rape.  However, I do know many women who have had to deal with these circumstances, and it breaks my heart to know that this happens to women on a frequent basis.  I think that as belly dancers, we understand the strength of our community and our dance and I look forward to sharing that with other women who need that love and support.  I have faith that we can all make this project a success and that our Glitter Gives Back program becomes a well-loved tradition at camp and beyond!

May 10, 2011

30 Days to a Better Belly Dancer?

...okay, technically May has 31 days and I know that I cannot guarantee how much someone can accomplish in one month but I do know that I posed a challenge to my students to drill and practice each and every day for 5 minutes.  I even set up a handy-dandy spreadsheet to help track their progress and mine.  Now I know that even if someone completes the minimum of 5 minutes a day, it only adds up to 155 minutes, or 2.58 hours.  And yes, I acknowledge that to become a better belly dancer you need to work more than 2-3 hours a week.  But my goal was to simply create a regular belly dance practice. Consistent...daily...focused...practice.

I'm certainly guilty of waiting until the last minute to work on performance pieces or to work on technique.  I dream of having a schedule and a life that would allow me 1-2 hours a day to dance, to sweat, to learn and continually grow.  Although I have the best intention in the world, my schedule and my life seems to supersede  those aspirations and goals.  I've also learned something about myself over the years.  I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of gal.  I can either spend all afternoon working on something...or I can't seem to find a few minutes.  This is less about my schedule and more about my timing, my personality and my daily habits.

I trick myself into doing housework by breaking up tasks into 15-20 minute segments.  I set a timer, and then head off to the kitchen to wade through dishes.  When the timer goes off, I can either continue my work or go do something else.  Even if I head off to another task or distraction I still feel good about having 15 minutes less housework looming over my head.  So I thought, I should apply this to my dance practice and see what happens.

And here we are...5 minutes a day of drills or focused practice.  My goal was not to see who could outlast the challenge and hit every single day, but rather to see who could start carving out time in their schedule to work on a move or a combination or a technique that has been on their mind and not in their body.  I chose 5 minutes because it was: (1) the smallest amount of time that seemed reasonable, (2) an attainable goal, and (3)  the equivalent of a short performance piece.

One week in, my students seem to report mixed results.  Some nearly made it through the entire week, some only managed a couple of days.  The only common theme was the dejected look on their faces when they said they didn't hit the goal every day.  I myself have danced every day, but certainly not with the focus on drilling or refining technique...I've danced but with a little less than the intended focus.  I realize that after one week of the challenge that I too, feel a bit dejected, as if I have failed in the process.  Maybe I wasn't really leading by example..  Especially today when I have to admit that I did not dance, did not practice and put off crawling into bed tonight simply because I'm not caught up on my to-do list.

All too often we set our sights on wonderful goals and we feel optimistic and energetic going in, but quickly lose steam.  Especially if we feel that we failed early on.  I've seen several people advertise various belly dance challenges, and although I didn't join in...I watched from the side, curious to see how far they would go, and quietly cheering from the sidelines.  For me, this simple challenge is not about making leaps and bounds in my dance practice, but creating a process...a ritual...a habit, not a rushed frenzy at the last minute.  It helps me to think less in terms of what I missed out on, and focus on what was accomplished...the knowledge that every day I focus on my dance is one day more than I did a week ago...a month ago, or a  year ago.  So, although I'll hit the pillow tonight with fewer shimmies under my belt, I do hit the pillow with renewed faith that tomorrow I can regroup, refocus and keep dancing.

March 27, 2011

I Dance for My Daughter

I'm pleased to offer up another guest blog post, from one of my long-time students, Tiffany.  And I have to admit I cried at her daughter's first birthday to the side of course, because of how beautiful it is to see her as a Mom. And reading what she wrote left me equally choked up.  Ironically, I had asked if she would write a guest post for me because she is a very talented writer.  I don't know if she realized that I had shared her story of looking into the mirror with Krysta during a very similar exercise, and I still remember that night and how much I wanted Tiffany to really see how beautiful she is.  Besides being smart, talented and funny, Tiffany really is one of the main reasons that I teach, because in the end it is not about how fabulous your hip drop is, but how fabulous you are!  So, enjoy.

Dancing with her daughter ;-)
There are a million and one reasons any woman may choose to study dance.  And for most dancers, that reason is probably not static.  It changes day to day, year to year.  You may plunge into a belly dance class hoping to get ripped abs and obliques, but stay for the fun, friends, and sparkles of it all.  Honestly, I don't remember why I started dancing.  I think it had something to do with the dancers who met in a building I frequented in college - they always looked so happy, I wanted to join but was too timid to approach them.  That's all in the past.  Today I dance for one reason:  my daughter.  
I was always the easy target in school.  The fat kid, the kid who didn't play any sports, the kid who wore the enormous glasses that I picked out from the old man section of the store and was so excited about that my mother didn't have the heart to tell me they were incredibly unflattering.  I was awkward and nerdy and it took nothing to rattle my cage.  In eighth grade a boy told me my legs were so disgusting that I should never wear shorts again.  And I didn't - I'll be 30 next month and I don't own a pair of pants or skirt that shows anything above my shin.  I carried every snicker, every stare, every mean comment in my heart over all those years until I found myself, one cold January evening, in Najla's class.  Just by happenstance, nobody else made it that day.  It was a class of just me and Najla, and she wanted to a very simple exercise.  Walk and look at yourself in the mirror.  That's it.  Walk.  Look yourself in the eyes.  And I couldn't do it.  I had allowed myself to carry all those heartaches so long that my sense of self, my own confidence was so beaten down that I couldn't bear to look at myself in the mirror.  Tears were shed as I realized it wasn't just in this class that I couldn't look at myself.  I hadn't really looked at myself for years.  I wasn't happy with the woman in the mirror, so I just avoided her.  I looked around her, I looked at pieces of her, but I never looked at her. 

This may have been her daughter's first performance!
Coincidentally, it was around this time that my husband and I had decided we were ready to start a family.  Doing this simple exercise, or failing to do it, in my case, set off some sort of enormous foghorn in my head.  I know I open my mouth and hear my mother's voice come out at least once a day.  My daughter, if I had one, would be doing the exact same thing.  What kind of model was I going to be giving her?  Then the horror set in.  Would I hear my sweet little 6 year old playing with her dolls and saying "my arms are flabby"?  Would she protest going to school in shorts because she didn't want to show her fat thighs?  I realized that no matter what kinds of things I told this beautiful, non-existent child, she would mirror what I did, not what I said.  And if I wasn't able to look at myself in a mirror, how could I ever be able to raise a daughter who had the self-confidence and assurance needed to take on this world? 
That day was a turning point.  I realized I have to start loving and accepting myself if I want to teach love and self-acceptance to someone else.  So I started dancing for my unconceived child.  It's a long journey, one that I'm not nearly close to completing, but I'm making progress.  I realize I'm not a natural dancer.  I close my eyes and picture my arms gracefully outstretched, beautifully positioned dancer's hands caressing the air.  I open my eyes and see my arms akimbo like a windswept scarecrow, with what can only be described as "jazz hands" tense and flailing at the end of my wrists.  But that's of little consequence - the point is that I open my eyes and look at myself.  Jazz hands and all.  I'm learning to shake the self-doubt I carried all these years and realize that I'm fabulous. 

Choosing the right hips scarf is always tricky
It took a year and a half, but we finally did conceive that child who was in my thoughts with Najla that evening.  And it was a girl.  And she is the most beautiful, perfect, amazing little person I've ever had the pleasure to know.  As she's entering toddlerhood, I've discovered that she has this incredible inborn sense of confidence.  There's not a timid bone in her body.  She grabs my fingers and just starts running, fully expecting me to tag along on whatever adventure she's dreamed up.  She's never doubted for a moment that she's the most beautiful girl in the room.  It's her world and we're all just living in it.  So I realize I've been given this clay.  This putty that is so perfectly confident and assured from the start.  My job is to model that confidence as an adult.  As she molds herself into a child and then into a woman, the best thing I can do is to constantly tell her she's beautiful.  She already knows that.  My best course of action as a mother is to model what it means to be beautiful as a woman moving through this world.  To show her that life will lash out at you, but you just have to shake it off, hold your head up, and know you're only accountable to those stunning dark eyes you find looking back at you from the mirror.  Every week I get a little refresher course on that subject from Najla.  And so I dance.
It's the same look everyone has while learning zils!

March 20, 2011

Stare deeply into my eyes...

For many of my students, the leap to a first (or maybe second solo...) is always a tough one.  It is rare to find a dancer who runs head first into the challenges without any hesitation. One of my students, Krysta, is getting ready to make that jump on April 9, coincidentally on my birthday at the next Cafe Shimmy.  She's popped up in this blog more than once as a guest writer (see here and here), and this week she had sent me the following post, although I just sat down to read it tonight...after class had ended. Call it serendipity, but the fates seemed to align to not only have a chance to work solo with her tonight, but to talk about the very essence of her post...before I even knew it was her post! 

I have all sorts of improvisation drills that I run my students through from time to time, and this evening I had Krysta  perform her solo just for me, and look into my eyes the entire time.  Normally this drill sends dancers into a bit of a tailspin, but in Krysta's case her movements were more fluid, her dancing became less erratic and more focused, determined and soulful than when she just danced without making that same eye contact.  When I asked how the exercise was, I was surprised when she told me it made the dancing easier.  We both had a light bulb moment as she explained that while dancing with my undivided attention, she no longer worried about being boring, and was able to trust that she was interesting, captivating and deserved the attention the audience.  It was a really wonderful moment to share with her.  

I then came home and opened up her email, with her suggestion for a blog entry.  Warm fuzzy feelings for me, beautiful words for all of you...and serendipity strikes once again, so sit back and enjoy!

Boring.  That is the last thing I want to be as a dancer – or as a performer in any regard.  I know I’m not alone in the fear of being uninteresting.  I doubt that anyone at any point consciously wishes to be bored or boring, especially when engaging in something for which they care deeply. 
A common roadblock when tasked with choreographing or improvising is the crippling fear that what you create will be painfully uninteresting.  On a personal front, this is the rationale behind my gross procrastination.  My college years of movement and physical acting often involved frantically throwing something together around midnight before the next class day.  A friend who was doing some reading on the psychology of procrastination years later told me that procrastinators are often perfectionists.  [Guilty as charged…and counterproductive, if I might add.]  So procrastination is the handy dandy tool we use to excuse poor work.  “It was not as good as it could’ve been because I did not have very much time to work on it.” 
Four weeks from the day I’ve written this entry, I must perform my first solo as a belly dancer.  My shimmies are still a bit tense, my undulations still contain pauses in those hard-to-capture areas of my belly, and hip drops and sways are clearly lopsided.  My zil skills are nil.  [Yes, I had an amazing time writing that sentence.]  And my veil is still on a mission to attack my face at any opportunity.  So it’ll just me – and a super shiny costume – and a super shiny song for 3 minutes. 
Recently in Najla’s technique class, we were asked to improvise using fluid movement while the rest of the class followed.  There was hesitation among us all in the first round – yours truly included.  Najla then instructed us to allow breath to inform our movement and not worry about the complexity of the movement, rather than try to generate movement on our own.  After this instruction, the movement became compelling; lines were not cut off, inhibition had taken a backseat, and we were interesting to watch, even with the slow, slinky movement.  And we were easier to watch…because we were breathing…not fighting for control.  It was simply ours.

February 26, 2011

Internet Etiquette 101 (or how NOT to upset belly dancers in your community)

I have been feeling a little burned by the Internet lately.  Content I have published has been copied without my permission, articles written about me were used as promotion for other dancers, and rumors of non-existing Facebook posts worked their way into my professional life  So, I am feeling a bit disappointed, betrayed, and just plain annoyed by it all.  I recognize that once you go public in any shape or form on the Internet, you open up a lot of issues about your public and private life, but I think I was in the honeymoon phase up until now.  You know the part of the relationship where you trust everything and everyone and life is all roses, chocolate and unicorns.  That is, until the first disagreement…the first tiff…or the first betrayal.  Well Internet, the roses have wilted, the chocolate has left extra pounds on my hips and the unicorn metaphorically pooped on the carpet.

So what’s a girl to do?  I could be catty and vengeful, or I can use this as an educational opportunity.  In life I always try to take the high road, and instead of just assuming people are malicious and greedy, I prefer to think they are misinformed or not aware of the issues they may cause.  My response is to provide some guidelines for those of you who choose to post/comment/publish on the Internet.  I started with a great article called The 5 Rules of Blog Etiquette and worked from there.  My first two points are directly taken from her post (see italics...with additional comments from me), but you should read the entire article because she has other wonderful notes on the subject.  And, here is another article that has some great tips on the same subject…so go read, and I’ll wait here for you.
If you quote someone, you should link back to the source. If you’re only quoting a small section from another blogger’s post, you don’t need their permission to do so. However, you should link back to their original post.

This is all about giving credit where credit is due, quoting the source correctly, and returning the favor of sending blog traffic to the person who wrote the post originally. If you post everything on their site, what is the incentive for anyone to go visit their website or blog? Be courteous, give credit, and send readers to the original author. I think this is good karma, besides basic etiquette. If the author has multiple pages or social media sources, check to find out what is the most appropriate link. For example, I had someone link a belly dance article I wrote to my personal Facebook page. The problem is, my Facebook page is not public and for the belly dancing side of my life, I have worked hard at setting up a website, Facebook pages, a blog and Twitter feeds. So by using my personal Facebook page, not only were people sent to a site they could not access, but all my hard work at setting up other sources was for naught.
  Do not repost information without permission. It is never okay to take someone else’s post and put it on your blog without first getting their permission. Even if you link back to them, it is still unacceptable.

Even though information posted on the Internet seems public, keep in mind that the author owns the content and has a copyright on that information. If you take all of their material off a post or site (even if you credit it) you are at a minimum stealing traffic from them…or stealing business. Beside bad karma, it just isn’t good business sense. That’s like paying money to go to a dance workshop, copying all the material and then teaching it again yourself. You may tell people where you got the material from, but you’ve taken away the incentive for people to go to the source.

On a side note, this applies to real life experiences too, like choreographies. I've had people approach me asking if they could use my choreography and my music selections to teach materials to their students…here in Austin. One individual was very put out when I said no and didn't understand my stance that if someone wants to learn my material, they should take directly from me. They just did not seem to respect the idea that I put the work and effort into it, and I should get the credit and rewards…online or off. 

So, remember that the belly dance community is a close-knit group, and if you have the reputation of stealing other people’s content to promote your own business…eventually you won’t have a business.  Now, here are a few additional comments of my own on the subject:
Respect a dancer’s name, title or persona 
There are multiple opinions on whether or not a dancer should take a “stage name”. I know many dancers who do (including me) and many dancers who do not. What is important is to recognize and respect the dancer’s preference. For example, you may know that their real name is Sheila, but if she never uses that name for business purposes…I would use solely their business name. On the other hand, some dancers are fine using both names depending upon the situation. In that case, the general rule is to use their dance name at dance events and venues and in other social circles (and with their permission), you can use their given name. When in doubt, ask their preference.
Just because someone said it on a Facebook post or online forum does not mean it becomes your property.  

There is a certain amount of trust that you give to people who are friends on Facebook. Part of that trust is to not repeat something you may have said in jest, or assume the worst regarding a post. For example, during the last two months I've been tired and stressed because of work, and I posted that I was tired and stressed. It was simply a statement of fact, and not a criticism of anyone or anything. We all have those days. The problem is someone heard through someone else that I posted something work related…and then the grapevine took over to the point that I had to defend and explain myself to upper management. 

As a result, it was a horrendous week for me, especially since I would never in a million years do what I was accused of. It was also a big lesson because although I am direct and to the point, not everyone is. And those people may read more into a comment than necessary. Unfortunately it’s not the first time someone took a Facebook post out of context. In another situation, something I said in jest was used as a “quote from Najla” in their newsletter...which led to another mortifying moment for me. 

The lesson for everyone is to consider those posts as conversations, not as public fodder or material for your own business purposes. If you want to use the material, ask first…and if there is any potential misunderstanding, ask for clarification. We’ll all rest a little easier if you do this. 
Give credit where credit is due 

I've never been a pushy salesman, even back in the day when I worked in retail and was paid to sell. So, over the years, my approach to promoting my belly dance business has been less hard-sell, and more dependent on word-of-mouth and positive reviews from students. What has been unsettling is finding out that positive publicity or comments on me have been used for other dancers to promote themselves. And here’s where it gets sticky…because in giving examples, I’m actually giving away the people who did this. For the record, I understand this...and I also think that this is the beauty of karma. 

The first example was a really sweet blog post on the experience of attending a Mother-Daughter workshop that I taught. The blogger is actually very well known in the Internet community, and is a bit of an Austin celebrity. She has actually been quite successful in a making a brand name out of her blog and business. She wrote about the class she attended without ever mentioning my name, not an oversight, but when you look at other posts on her site you’ll see that is a business choice she has made regarding most of her posts. But I knew that she had written the post, she sent me a sweet note telling me she would do it (and asking permission…), and although I didn't shout it from the rooftops, I did include a link…to her post (see point 1 from above!) on Facebook. 

Well, guess what? Someone else in town who also periodically teaches classes with kids and moms included the link in their newsletter. And although they did not explicitly say that the article was about me, the way it was worded…and the fact that it was in their newsletter implicitly implied that the article was about them. I also know that they did not ask the author for permission to use her post.  It would have been one thing for the other dancer to say, here’s a nice article on Najla’s workshop…and then say that they also teach similar classes…but no…no credit whatsoever. 

My second example is much more recent. I was contacted by a reporter at the Daily Texan who wanted to do an article about belly dancing, and specifically UT students/staff who were involved. We emailed back and forth several times, I sent her a list of students who were affiliated with UT, and she and I had a phone interview that lasted well over an hour. She was a new reporter, and I was a bit worried about how the story would come out, but I thought she did a lovely job. There were a couple of things that didn't follow what I had said, and the photo is less than flattering (imho)...but all things considered, it was very nice.

Much to my surprise the focus of the article was me…not UT students…not Mirage…and not Informal Classes (although they were mentioned). However, someone took offense at the article and actually posted online publicity for their classes on the page with my article. Again, the article didn't include a link to me or publicize my specific classes, but the absence of promoting me seemed to leave room for someone else to promote themselves. I wasn't asking for great acclaims or publicity, but just credit where credit was due. 

So, when other dancers get noticed or attention, don’t take this an opportunity to garner attention for yourself. When someone writes an article, or posts useful information, don’t steal it for yourself. Give appropriate credit, respect an author or dancer’s work, and ask permission. Consider it good publicity for the dance or the community, which in turn can help your business and your karma! 

*climbing off my soap box and heading off for dinner now*