Friday, June 19, 2015

15 ARABIC WORDS EVERY BELLY DACER NEEDS TO KNOW

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 Through mere osmosis, belly dancers absorb a lot of Arabic and Turkish words. Just by listening to our favorite songs, we know that “habibi” means sweetheart, and “ana bahebek” means “I love you”.
 But do you know the difference between a taxim and a chiftetelli? What the heck is a mergence?  Here is  list is a  short compendium of some  basic, often-heard  Arabic terms relating to music and dance.  Some of these words are commonly used  by belly dancers, others, not as often.  Though I’ve included names of some popular rhythms (definitely not all of them!)  I’ve left out the names of instruments, because there are so many, it could be a blog post on its own.

 BALADI (variously spelled BELEDY, BALADY) In Egyptian Arabic, this word   means “of the country”. For example, “bint al baladi” roughly translates to “country girl”, and in Egypt,  “baladi bread” is what they call home made pita.  But baladi also refers to the name of a rhythm, as well as dance and musical traditions that developed when Egyptians from the countryside migrated to urban areas like Cairo and Alexandria in the first half of the 20th Century.  Raks Al Baladi refers to the social dance of every day people, while Raks Sharqi  (“Dance of The East”) is the refined - and often staged- version of women’s solo dancing.

 BALADI PROGRESSION This is an improvisational interlude stemming from folkloric Egyptian musical traditions. The structure of a typical baladi progression usually begins with an improvised solo-or series of solos by several instruments. Usually, the baladi progression begins without percussion, and as it progresses along the rest of the band, including the drum  (tabla or doumbek) is added in, gradually building to a climax that often culminates in a full-blown drum solo. There are patterns in the music such as a call and response between the tabla and whatever instrument(s) is soloing, so that each and every version can be identified as a baladi progression.

CHIFTETELLI   A Greco-Turkish rhythm, often used in context with a taxim.
Doum tek tek-a-tek-doum-doum-tek

HAFLA The original meaning of this word describes informal dance party where guests get up to cut a rug. Nowadays, within the belly dance world, this word basically means the same thing, but with dancers performing in costume, to live or recorded music. Also, it can refer to an event where admission might be charged.

MAKSOUM An Arabic time signature similar to baladi,  even though  many dancers refer to  maksoum as “baladi”.
 Doum Doum Tek A Tek Doum Tek A Tek

MAQAM  (plural- MAQAMAT) There are many different maqamat or Arabic musical scales, which are or melodic modes arranged in quarter tones as opposed to the Western version which uses half-tones.  The word “maqam” in Arabic means “place”, or position or location.

MAWAL (or MAWWAL) A traditional vocal prequel to a song, wherein the singer will demonstrate and highlight his or her prowess and talent through a series of non-metrical improvised calisthenics using the voice alone.  This is usually performed in colloquial (as opposed to classical) Arabic language (kind of like American Blues music) and has roots in the historical traditions and Arabic poetry.
MERGENCE (variously spelled MAGENCEY, MAGENCIE) A complex, dynamic multi-rhythmic Oriental opening piece, meant to display a belly dancer’s skills. A mergence is often written specifically for a dancer, such as “Set Al Hossen”, which was composed for Nagwa Fouad by composer Mohamed Sultan. Some other examples of   the mergence:  “ Ma’shaal”, “Alf Layla Wa Layla”, “Sahra Saeeda”(written for Sahra by Ashraf Zakariah)  “Amar El Laily”, written especially for Russian star dancer Katia, who lives in Cairo.  Though many classical Arabic compositions are multi-layered and have many parts, such as “Enta Omri” by Om Kalthoum, they are not necessarily a mergence, because they are usually too slow or moody to be used as an opening piece.

RAKASSAH (variously spelled RAQQASA, RAKASA, RAQESSA, etc.) A female professional dancer.  The male version of the word leaves the “a” at the end off, spelled “rakass”…or any of the other ways.

SAIDI is a term relating to Upper Egypt. Saidi is an Arabic rhythm as well as a folkloric style of music. Saidi dancing often-but doesn’t always- include raks assaya, or dancing with a cane?

SAGAT is the Arabic word for finger cymbals, known in Turkish as ZILLS

SHAA’BI Modern street music, often an urbanized version of older or more traditional songs. Often, the lyrics are way more overtly political or sexual than standard Arabic pop songs.

 TAKHT A small orchestra or ensemble of musicians. The word itself means “bench” or bed, and in the old days, musicians often sat on benches as they played together.

TARAB The transporting sense of pleasure, elation or ecstasy that manifests in listeners while hearing soulful Arabic music…the term tarab can also be applied to dance, singing, or other forms of art.

TAXIM (variously spelled TAXEEM, TAKASIM TAQSIM) Many dancers think a taxim is a song- but it is not- it is an improvised presentation of the Arabic maqam or scale, performed by a solo musician. Though many taxims are recorded (giving the impression that they are, in fact a song) when played live, the taxim is an improvisation, and in the context of a live performance, the dancer and musician improvise together, presenting a seamless representation of the music. Though it may seem so, the improvisation being played isn’t really free form; it follows the rules of Arabic musical theory, with an emphasis on the player’s emotion and expression. A taxim can be played by a solo instrument (an oud, nai, accordion, kanoun, organ, violin, etc.) and is usually never played on any percussion instrument, such as a tabla or riqq.  Sometimes the solo instrument is backed by a drone, or even with soft percussion, usually set to the maksoum beat, making it a “balady taqsim”. A taxim is also popularly set to a chiftetelli beat; but many dancers use the terms “taxim” and chiftetelli interchangeably, even though they are not.  A taxim can be a chiftetelli, but a chiftetelli cannot be a taxim- chiftetelli is the name of a certain rhythm.

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 Get a signed copy of The Belly Dance Handbook here: http://www.princessfarhana.com/shop.htm





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Photo and Graphics by Maharet Hughes

Monday, June 8, 2015

SIDELINED! PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL RECOVERY FROM DANCE INJURIES


For most dancers, an injury can almost seem like a death sentence. Though many of us have come to the point where we can identify the difference between major injuries and those that we deem we can work through, we still stress out about the very thought that we are injured. For us, being sidelined is a black hole of frustration. The sheer helplessness and physical inability that comes along with a serious or accute injury (and the accompanying pain) goes against every bit of the dance training we’ve ever had!

 There is of course, the valid fear of losing income by being unable to perform or teach- and because most of us are self-employed independent contractors, there’s no way of getting Workman’s Comp.  Also- shudder the thought- there is the very real possibility that once you have recovered, your body will never be the same as it was before you were injured, which on its own is a horrible idea but made even more so by the fact that it can potentially reduce our earning power.

Pain provokes a veritable grocery list of emotions in everyone who experiences it. With pain from a recent injury, but especially chronic pain, the individual suffering is likely to experience stress, frustration, irritability (which often manifests as anger directed towards those around you) anxiety and depression. Anyone in pain is not a happy camper...especially if they're a dancer.

  Something many doctors neglect discuss with their patients is that pain can potentially create a vicious circle that involves the emotions and psyche.  When you are in pain, your discomfort level is often so high that it often prevents sleep, or at least quality sleep.  Without sufficient restorative REM sleep, our bodies simply cannot repair themselves, which in turn creates more pain…and more anxiety, which leads to even less sleep, exacerbating the initial problem! This can lead to chronic pain, which is usually diagnosed as any pain that lingers after the point of projected recovery, or any pain that lasts longer then three to six months. This includes the low-grade, constant pain of an RSI or Repetitive Stress Injury- something that many dancers suffer from, caused by our repeated actions in rehearsals, classes and shows.  Way too many of us are over-achievers who try to work through RSIs without giving our bodies a sufficient recovery period.  But even if you try to soldier through your agony and act like everything’s normal (which it totally isn’t) your pain is always in the forefront of your mind, affecting everything you do- or can’t do.

All of this is magnified for dancers, because in addition to experiencing the pain itself and the accompanying psychological response to it, there are extremely legitimate reasons to feel stress and anxiety. For non-dancers, or anyone who doesn’t lead an athletic lifestyle, although the paint in fact hurts, it’s typically a temporary inconvenience.  For dancers, it seems like The End. Period.

   I myself didn’t realize any of this until 2009, when I sustained a serious car accident that resulted in a sideways whiplash and seven herniated discs- and intense chronic pain that lasted almost four years.  After the initial period of rest, I went through three separate courses of physical therapy, and still didn’t feel any better.  A few “concerned parties” suggested that maybe it was time I gave up dancing… I wouldn’t hear of it! Since I wasn’t healing up in the projected time frame for my injuries, I cautiously (and with my doctor’s permission) went back to work teaching and performing, gritting my teeth when I hurt- who was pretty much all the time.   One day, while writing in my journal, I looked at a sentence that I’d just completed and it really shocked me cause it was just so…wrong.

“I’m really sad that I’m so stressed out all the time!”

 A light bulb went off in my head, and I googled “pain and depression”, and fell down a rabbit hole of reading about the emotional and mental ramifications of pain.  Once I realized that what I was experiencing was a legitimate chemical reaction to my own pain and I wasn’t going crazy, I stopped seeing my clueless “mainstream” physician, who not only never made the connection between pain, sleeplessness and anxiety, but who literally threw opiates at me while wondering out loud how I could be so physically flexible while claiming I was so sore.

  I went proactive immediately, booking standing twice a week appointments with my chiropractor -who did discuss the emotional and mental side effects of pain- I got regular massages and acupuncture, bought a new bed (and my own TENs machine) did Pilates and completely changed my diet.   And though I never used anti-depressants, I took comfort in knowing that if I needed them, they would be available to help me get through this.  It was a long road to recovery, but by   sheer will- and everything I mentioned above- I made it. Though once in a while I’ll experience pain where my injuries occurred and it’s doubtful I’ll ever be able to do a backbend again, my life has pretty much returned to normal.

The tips for the physical, mental and emotional recovery I’m about to give you definitely helped me get through that very rough period in my life, and I hope they can help you.

 Consult Your Doctor
  Duh…this is obvious; if you’re seriously hurt, of course you are seeing your doctor pretty regularly! However, if you are experiencing disrupted sleep because of your pain, or are starting to feel depressed, it’s definitely time to talk to your doctor again.

 Like I said, I didn’t take anti-depressants, but I knew I could if I needed to. What really helped me immensely was prescription sleep medication. I’m not advocating sleeping pills for everyone, and there is quite a real danger of them becoming habit forming. I took Ambien four nights in a row- and finally after months of dreamless, restless slumber, getting a few nights of actual restorative sleep- I felt like a new person. Once that initial sleeping  “re-set” happened, I found I only needed to take the pills maybe once a week, if that.  Seriously, it was like a miracle.   It not only made my body feel better, it helped my mood and calmed my pain-related anxiety.

 If you are wary of taking prescription meds, try an over the counter medication for a couple of nights. If f you are anti-drug, try some herbal supplements, such as valerian or melatonin.   Chamomile is also great; chamomile tea tastes nice and it has a soothing effect. You can also try a number of   proven  “sleep hacks” that don’t involve drugs at all, such as not watching television or staying on any device (cellular phones, tablets or computers) for at least an hour before bedtime. Using a white-noise machine   or listening to a recording of something like ocean waves might help too, as does removing any sources of light from your bedroom. Taking a long bath is always good to induce drowsiness, or even having some warm mikl might do the trick, too. As I said before, massage and acupuncture  can help with your pain, which in turn will aid you in sleeping better, too.

 Strengthen Your Body
 Once you’ve been passed the acute phase of your injury, with your doctor’s ok, you need to start strengthening and rehabilitating your injury.  If you’ve been prescribed a course of physical therapy, attend the sessions, and follow your homework exercise regimen to the letter.  You can also try yoga or Pilates, which was actually designed as a strengthening program to help dancers rehabilitate from injury. Yoga  will help you stay limber and toned, Pilates will strengthen  the areas around your injuries as well as make you stronger in general.

  In either discipline, look for an instructor in either of these practices who is certified, and make sure they know that  you are injured.   Start out simple, and basic; if you have pain from any movements, don’t do them yet… and no matter what, don’t push yourself too hard, at least at first, because you certainly don't want to aggravate your injury. Walking is a terrific and low- impact aerobic way of keeping fit, and often a brisk walk (or as brisk as you can take it while recovering) will lower your physical feelings of discomfort.

 Stay Connected With Dancing In Non-Physical Ways
 There are many things you can do to keep learning and to help you feel as though you are progressing, even if you can’t actually dance yet.  Ask your instructor(s) if you can audit their dance classes- often you can gain insight and learn technique just by watching and taking notes.  Same goes for viewing dance videos; analyze the styles or technique you are seeing, and observe more subtle   things like stage presence, emotional connection to the music, and the costuming the performing is wearing.

Of course, you can also use your down time for dance-related things, like   costume repair, learning and analyzing music you’d like to use in the future, writing choreographies and planning up-coming dance projects.   Once when I was sidelined for n injury, which occurred years before the one I mentioned before, I wrote the entire script for my Belly Dance And Balance: The Art Of Sword And Shamadan DVD.  The silver lining to that injury was that if I’d been performing and teaching during that particular period, I probably wouldn’t have had the time to devote to planning   that DVD at all, let alone getting the material all written out.

  Get Back In The Game Slowly
 Once you’ve been green-lighted to return to dancing, start off gradually.  Even just being out for a few days can make a difference in your stamina level or muscular condition and control. Take it easy, and do not push yourself.  Work up your strength gradually, warm up thoroughly and baby yourself a little.   Remember, you’ve been sitting around for a while dying to get back   to classes and shows, and while your enthusiasm is terrific, you don't want to re-inure yourself by “making up for lost time”. Your body is different now.   Your injury has changed your physical being… even if it’s just temporary. As you test the waters, take things gradually and see what you are capable of. Your strength and command will probably take a bit of time to build up again.

Make Adjustments As Necessary
If your injury has changed your body permanently, but you still have the ability to dance, you will need to make necessary adjustments to your dancing.  In my own case, after that major car accident, my back was so damaged that it will never, ever be the same. I actually had to sign a legal document   at the time of my settlement, which stated exactly that; my spine was changed irrevocably.  My neck alone was so messed up that I doubted I’d ever be able to do sword balancing again, and it had been a specialty of mine for years.  I also haven’t done a backbend since the accident… used to be able to   get my hands down to the floor from a standing position. Am I bummed about the lack of backbends? At first I was- but then I started looking upon them as a nice part of my past, kind of like an old boyfriend. I loved doing them at the time, bit I was leading a different life then… they just didn’t fit in anymore.  As for the sword balancing, I was determined. It took over three years – and a lot of work- to get up to speed again, but by golly, I worked up to it, and can now do everything I was able to do with a sword that I used to.

 I’ve also helped many other dancers re-think they’re dancing to disguise their injuries and limitations. One woman I worked with had been burned badly in a fire- the fingers on her left hand were completely fused together. Together, we devised hand and arm movements that would make her hands look uniform with each other as well as not distracting to the audience.  When she dances onstage nobody notices that her left hand isn’t flexible.  Another dancer I worked with had a metal plate in her spine, and couldn’t raise her arms above shoulder level. We worked on a series of movements and gestures   that would make her arms appear to be changing levels  “normally”.   We used arm pathways, lines and angles and even facial gestures and head movements to create the illusion of varied arm positions.  To She worked her butt off practicing, and again, not a single person in the audience notices her limited range of motion.

Think Positively
 Sounds trite and clichéd, but   your emotions really can have an affect on your healing. Remaining optimistic and having the will to recover will really help with your physical recovery!  Stay away from naysayers and negative people.  During the recovery from my car accident, I can’t tell you how many trolls had the nerve to blithely say   the dreaded words  ‘Maybe It’s time for you to retire…’ Color me crazy or chalk it up to my punk rock past, but my reaction to this  “helpful advice” was mostly composed of four letter words! Some idiots actually delight in the misery of others, and someone who is injured is a prime target for that sort of negativity.  Haters always want to hate…so turn a deaf ear to their malicious glee, or just outright cut them from your life- at least temporarily. You have enough on your plate right now physically; you don’t need any more mental or emotional feelings than you’re already dealing with.  Don’t let anyone bring you down! 

  Dancing is a gift, one that many of us almost take for granted because we do it so often…until we are injured.   Being injured is horrible, but as far as life lessons go, it makes us realize just how precious dancing truly is.  Be grateful for your dancing, be respectful of your  gift, have faith in  your recovery process, and use your time on the sidelines to find out just how strong you truly are.

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Photo and graphics by Maharet Hughes
 Get a signed copy of “The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer  here:  http://www.princessfarhana.com/shop.htm

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Friday, May 22, 2015

DANCING UNDER THE SUN: TIPS FOR PERFORMING IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS


 
Photo by Maharet Hughes
It’s Memorial Day Weekend- officially known as the first weekend of summer!

For some people, this weekend marks the beginning of beaches, barbeques and Day Drinking. But for us dancers, it also marks Open Season on Daytime Dancing…are you ready for all the outdoor gigs that are coming your way?

 Here are some ideas to keep you looking and feeling cool as you perform in the heat.

First of all, it’s imperative to stay hydrated. Bring along extra water, even if you think you might not need it.  Dancing outdoors in directly sunlight can really sap your H2O reserves, and water is way better  for you and your energy than guzzling sugary sports drinks.  Coconut water tastes yummy and is extremely hydrating, too.

 Remember to apply sun block…. and to reapply it as needed. You’re definitely going to need it, and should be using it every day, anyway. There are many non-greasy formulas on the market today made for babies and small children- those are great, but theres also a plethora of products made expressly for use on the face, so invest in one of them.  And a word to the wise: make sure to cover – at the very least- your arms, neck, chest, torso and legs with sunblock, too, cause sunburn blisters and tan-lines in the pattern of your costume are not attractive!

 If you use perfume, go with natural essential oils rather than a regular scent, because once in a while, regular perfumes can have a chemical reaction under the strong  sun rays and actually stain your skin.

Bring some dance shoes even if you prefer going barefoot. If you normally dance in heels or ballroom shoes, make sure to have some flat slippers with you as well... there could be a possibility you might be dancing on grass at a private party or outdoor festival, and if you wear heels, they will sink into the turf!  Plus, at many outside events such as Ren Faires and neighborhood festivals, the pavement, stages, sand, the grass and especially Astro Turf get very hot when direct sun has been shining on them for hours, and you could literally get burned.  Shoes are mandatory!

Also, make sure to bring something light and airy to wear after your gig- you definitely do not want to be standing around for hours in your costume!

 For performing during the day, you’ll need less make up than you would use for a large stage or a dark nightclub, but you still need to apply more – and different- makeup than you’d wear on the street. This could, of course, mean using more liner or applying powder shadow a little darker and a vivid shade of shade of lipstick… but there’s also more to consider. Go over the perimeters of your face- forehead, cheekbones, and jawline- with a matte bronzing powder, both to contour and to make your face look healthy and glowing. Iridescent, sparkly or glittery bronzers are best saved for evening.

For daytime gigs, because of the sweat factor" I stick with powders and gel eye liners only.  I never use cream blush or eye shadow, and I skip any sort of pencil, because all of these formulas tend to melt, smear and crease in summer sunlight.  I don’t even use eyebrow pencils- too waxy. I fill in my brows with powder, using a small slanted brush.  As for lips, matte formula lipsticks are much better for day work than shiny ones like slick glosses or softer, more easy-to-melt products. Select a lip color in a bright “natural” shade, like a blue red (makes the teeth appear whiter) a youthful rose pink or a nice peachy-coral tone. Even if you’re dark skinned, stay away from anything too dark, like burgundy, brown or taupe. Apply the lipstick, blot your lips on a tissue, powder over your lips with a translucent powder, re-apply the color and blot again for maximum staying power. If you want to give the illusion of lustrous lip gloss, dip the pad of your finger into the same pearly white eye shadow you used as a brow highlighter, and apply a dot of it to the center of your lower lip, which will mimic the pretty sheen of lip gloss, but will stay in place, and won’t be greasy.

 Far be it from me to not want to be as risqué with my costuming as possible- but I always tone things down a few notches for my daytime gigs. Remember that there will probably be kinder present and that many of them will want to be photographed with you, so err a little bit on the conservative side costume-wise…. even I do that!  Also, since you’ll be outside, fun accessories like big   blingy earrings, glittery bindis and rhinestones around the eyes really catch the sunlight, so pile them on! But it's not like I have to tell any of you readers to wear more bling, right?

One last thought- undoubtedly  you will be  wearing sunglass to and from, as well as before and after your shows- so make sure that any pigment or congealed foundation that has collected under your sunnies before you go onstage!  If it has, try to spot-check it with a make up wipe (keep some in your dance bag) and just powder over the area tapping on the powder lightly to camouflage the area. Wiping the pigment off may result in streaky lines under your eyes, and you dont want to hit the stage looking like a Picasso painting!

Have fun, and Happy Summer everyone!
 
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 Get an autographed copy of The Belly Dance Handbook here: http://www.princessfarhana.com/shop.htm

Photo and Graphics: Maharet Hughes


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

THE DANCER'S BODY: EATING YOUR WAY TO SUPPLE MUSCLES, GLOWING SKIN AND SUPER STAMINA

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   A few days ago, a friend of mine posted  on my Facebook profile page, and it  caused quite a response from a lot of people, many of whom I don’t know. Maharet’s post said I was the healthiest person she knew, that I looked twenty years younger than my actual age (thanks doll… did I mention I love you madly?) that I was always full of energy, and she thought it was because of my diet. The post mentioned that I am sugar-free, which is true, and that I  basically live on green smoothies and Greek yogurt”, which isn’t entirely true… but I do consume insane amount of both those things. She said that the smoothies I made were better than any she’d ever had, and ended the post by asking, “I wonder what would happen if I ate exactly like you for ten days?” 

All this resulted in a happy uproar; there was a barrage of comments clamoring for information on my diet and the recipes for my smoothies.  So, I’m gonna give some outlines on my food habits, in case they might work for you, and of course I’ll and share my smoothie recipes with you. 

 My first major dietary change occurred at the beginning of my career. When I started dancing professionally twenty-five years ago, my food consumption habits changed almost by themself. Without even realizing I was doing it, I moved from eating three meals a day to eating five or six small meals, just because I found it uncomfortable to dance on a full stomach.  Three months later, much to my astonishment,  none of my costumes fit cause I’d dropped over twenty pounds.  I didn’t even realize that this was Eating To Fuel, Not To Fill.  Apparently, eating like this keeps your metabolism going, but when I began having multiple smaller meals, I didn't even know it was a concept! It just worked for me dance-wise, and the weight loss was a bonus. It may or may not work for you, but it’s worth a try.

  At that same point in my life as a new professional, I started waking up every morning ravenously hungry. That was weird to me- I’d always been one of those people who began the day with a ka-razy strong cuppa joe, and wouldn't even think of eating until three or four hours later.  But my dancing suddenly demanded that I needed breakfast, so I obeyed.  It was then that I discovered Eating Breakfast Is Really Important.  I still need my really strong coffee, but there’s no way in hell I can imagine skipping breakfast!

  The second big “food breakthrough” I had was in 2009, after a severe car accident. I was in a lot pain and all the physical therapy and drugs I was taking didn't seem to be helping all that much, so I started researching nutrition. There are tons of foods and spices that have anti-inflammatory properties, and I began eating them in ridiculous amounts, mostly out of desperation!  I ate tons of citrus fruits and tomatoes because of the healing properties of Vitamin C. I overdosed on berries and flax seed because they fight inflammation…as does cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, thyme, rosemary, cloves and ginger. I began using these spices as much as possible, preferably fresh, but dried will do. I ate as much raw food as possible, and went "krazy for kale".

  A confirmed sugar addict, before the accident I’d  actually  “shoot” a package of Sweet Tarts the way a kid tosses down tequila on Spring Break…until I found out that refined sugar is really bad for you in many ways, especially for your joints and for inflammation. So, it was  Bye-Bye Sugar !  Some people find it extremely difficult to quit sugar, but I was-pardon my French- feeling so shitty from my pain I was willing to try anything. I just started looking upon sugar as something that was poisoning me, and seriously, it wasn’t hard for me to quit. If you know something will have terrible consequences, you know it’s better not to ingest it, right?  So I didn’t, and it really wasn’t a problem.   That led to me becoming virtually Gluten Free.  The no sugar scenario really was making me feel better, so I tried deleting gluten, that wasn’t hard either, and soon I noticed my energy was off the charts.

An important caveat to all of this is- I made these changes willingly, and they worked for me. I also didn’t consider it a “diet”, or that I was depriving myself.  I simply found that I was making Healthier Choices…and I got to say, I’m not totally anal about them. Once in a great while, I’ll have a piece of someone’s birthday cake (especially my own!) and sometimes at a fancy restaurant, I’ll have a piece of bread…slathered in butter.

Also, if you are considering going sugar and/or gluten free, there are many things to consider. One of them is that artificial sweeteners are probably worse than sugar itself.  The other is that many gluten free foods are loaded with sugar!  Make your dietary changes slowly, see how you feel, and don’t beat yourself up if you backslide a little. Remember, for most of us, they are choices, not mandatory.

 And now on to my Smoothie Recipes:
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 For the recipes that call for yogurt, use only unsweetened, plain Greek Yogurt.  I prefer the brand Fage; I’m addicted to it!  I’m a FAGE HAGE!! It comes in 2 % fat, 0% fat or full fat- I’ve used any of these in my smoothies, and no matter what, they come out terrific. Obviously, the full fat version will make a more satisfying smoothie, but it’s your call.  Many brands pretend to be “real” Greek yogurt, but are full of  sugar or artificial sweeteners, and many also have some kind of gelatin in them to thicken it, so especially if you are a veggie, check the label carefully before you purchase!

 For all the following recipes, use only organic fruits and vegetables.  I buy fresh fruit, like bananas and pineapples, chop them up, pop them in baggies and freeze them, because it not only lasts longer, it makes the smoothie thicker, like a milkshake.  You can put any kind of berries in baggies and freeze them, and I often freeze greens like spinach, kale and chard specifically for adding to the smoothies.

Most of these smoothies have an odd color- usually bright green or brown, and that immediately puts some people off.  Also, if you are regularly eating sugar, these smoothies, though  not acidic, may not taste as sweet to you as they do to me. Feel free  to add more fruit  if they're  not sweet enough for you. But once you’ve tasted them, you’ll learn what you like, you can add or subrtract ingredients, and will also  not to trust the  scary color, because they’re all totally delish!

APPLE PIE SMOOTHIE
  
1 handful kale
2 Handfuls of spinach or chard, or one handful of each
1 Four-inch section of zucchini, chopped into “pennies”
 2 small broccoli florets
 1/ smallish apple or half of a large apple (any type of apple is fine, I like Honeycrisp or Fuji)
 4 Frozen pineapple segments
1 Frozen banana chunks
2 Generous dollops plain Greek yogurt – I prefer Fage, but use whatever you like as long as it’s unsweetened
A pinch of allspice
Cinnamon to taste (I like to use a lot- tastes good and it's an anti-inflammatory)

Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly.
If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with liquid to the “Fill” line. I use a mixture unsweetened coconut milk and water. If you are using a regular blender, use 2 cups of the coconut milk and water mixture. Blend until liquefied.

The smoothie will look bright green, but it tastes just like apple pie!



 THE GREEN LANTERN:  CUCUMBER AND MINT SMOOTHIE

1/2 Large hothouse cucumber (about five inches long, cut into chunks
1 Handful spinach or chard, or a mix of each
3 to 5 Leaves of mint, depending on how minty you ‘d like it to be
The juice from 1/2 a large lemon or 1 small one
The juice from a medium sized orange
5 or 6 medium to large strawberries, with the leaves cut off OR a few large chunks of fresh watermelon

 Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly. If you don’t have a juicer for the orange and lemon, cut each fruit in half and squeeze the juice into your blender through a strainer.

 If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with the juice of the lemon and the orange, and pour in water to the “Fill” line. If you’re using an ordinary blender, use about a cup and a half of water. If the mixture is too chunky, for your taste, just add a little more water.

This is a totally refreshing, invigorating and sweet smoothie; I make a huge batch of this and sip it all day.  In the summer, I’m all about the watermelon, and instead of using the orange juice; I just add more watermelon chunks.


“LIKE A VIRGIN” PINA COLADA SMOOTHIE

1 Large handful of frozen pineapple segments, or about 10-12 pieces
3 Frozen banana chunks
1 Handful kale, spinach or chard
1 three-inch section of zucchini, sliced into pieces
 The juice of 2 medium sized oranges
1 Tablespoon organic virgin coconut oil, put directly into the blender
Unsweetened coconut milk, or coconut water

Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly.
If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with liquid to the “Fill” line.
 I use a mixture unsweetened coconut milk and water, or you can use straight coconut water, either way is fine! If you are using a regular blender, use 2 cups of the coconut milk and water mixture. or the coconut water. Blend until liquefied.


 CARROT CAKE SMOOTHIE
 2 carrots cut into “pennies”
1 Handful spinach or chard
 Half of a medium sized apple cut into chunks
2-4 Chunks of frozen pineapple
2 Chunks frozen banana
2 Generous dollops plain Greek yogurt – I prefer Fage, but use whatever you like, as long as it’s unsweetened
1 Pinch Allspice
1 teaspoon  fresh ginger, finely grated
Cinnamon to taste
 Unsweetened almond milk or unsweetened soy milk

Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly.
If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with the almond milk to the “Fill” line. If you are using a regular blender, use 2 cups of the almond milk and water mixture. Blend until liquefied… regular blenders might yield a slightly chunkier version of this, cause the carrots don’t always puree up fine. If the smoothie is too chunky, add a little more almond milk, or some water.

The smoothie will look rusty brownish-orange, but it tastes yummy, just like carrot cake!


 BLUEBERRY MANGO SMOOTHIE
 1 Large handful or one cup of frozen blueberries
1 medium mango, pitted, skinned and sliced
2 handfuls spinach, kale or chard, or mixture of greens
2 broccoli florets
The Juice of one small lemon
The Juice of one small orange

Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly. If you don’t have a juicer for the orange and lemon, cut each fruit in half and squeeze the juice into your blender through a strainer.

 If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with the juice of the lemon and the orange, and pour in water to the “Fill” line. If you’re using an ordinary blender, use about a cup and a half of water. If the mixture is too chunky for your taste, just add a little more water.

Ok, this smoothie looks kind of disgusting, it’s a dark purple brown, but boy its it sweet and tangy!


CHERRY BERRY SMOOTHIE
1 large handful or 1 cup frozen raspberries

1 large handful or 1cup frozen unsweetened cherries
1-2 chunks frozen banana
2 generous dollops Greek Yogurt

2 teaspoon fresh ginger
, finely grated
1 Teaspoon ground flaxseed: buy it pre-ground or grind in blender before you make the smoothie
Juice of one large orange
Juice of one small lemon
 Unsweetened coconut, almond or soymilk


Fill the blender with the berries, cherries, spices and yogurt. If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with the almond, soy or coconut milk to the “Fill” line. If you are using a regular blender, use 2 cups of whatever “milk” you’re using. Blend until liquefied. If the smoothie is too chunky, add a little more soy, coconut almond milk, or some water.

  

  TRY MY SMOOTHIES, THEY’RE DELISH!  And remember, you are what you eat! 
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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

GETTING THE MOST OUT OF DANCE CLASSES: APPROACHING LEARNING WITH INTENTION

The chorus at the London Palladium, 1950's
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 Most of us attend dance classes and workshops regularly, and many of us also teach them.  It goes without saying that for dancers, being a perpetual student- no matter what your level- expanding your horizons and pushing your physical boundaries is what it’s all about!  We take classes for a variety of reasons: to improve our technique, to learn a certain choreography or a new style, to hone aspects of a dance genre that we already perform, because we get a chance to study with a local or visiting master, or just because we need to move.

 Because dance presents a challenge that is mental as well as physical, we can never truly stop learning.  And of course, if you want to push yourself, you should take as many classes as possible.  But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes, entering the studio for class with a specific intention in mind will help you grow even more as a dancer. Taking classes to consciously improve on your weaker areas will ultimately make you a stronger dancer.

Sometimes I’ve spoken with dance instructors who are hesitant to take workshops alongside their students, for fear of looking bad.  While that might be a somewhat valid consideration, the main point is that nobody should feel bad about learning!  It’s also a terrific way to set a model for your students, showing them that there is no limit to improving themselves. This is especially true if they’re at that “advanced intermediate” stage where they think they know it all; you know, that little peak that occurs before they find out that there will never be enough hours…or years…or decades to learn everything?  Learning humility and being open to challenges are as much a part of dancing as the movements themselves!

The way I see it, there are many and varied reasons for taking classes, but if you define your purpose for going to a particular class, you’ll get a lot more out of it.

Here’s the way I break down my own needs and what I want to accomplish by taking certain classes:

Technique Maintenance And Improvement
 There are no boundaries for improving your technique- there’s always something new to learn. Longtime professionals and famous dancers take classes often, if not daily, for this reason alone. Just look at any ballet company-everyday classes are mandatory. Did Mikhail Baryshnikov and Suzanne Farrell ever skip a day at the barre? Probably not. Did Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire slack off on rehearsing cause they had better things to do? Doubtful. Though great dance technique is not strictly Use It Or Lose It, the more you actually use it, the better it will be!

No matter what level dancer you are, the experience of being in a class solely to hone your technique will make you a better dancer. While practicing or rehearsing on our own, we strive and sweat and get things done. But knowing that  in class, you are  performing under the watchful eye of an instructor is different- it pushes us to  focus and work a little harder…and to accept corrections or make little tweaks in execution that we might not have noticed on our own.

Learning And Inspiration
 Nothing gets a dancer’s brain synapses firing like learning a new style. We want it all, and we want it now! Many studies have proven that dancing of any kind helps to increase cognitive abilities in people of all ages…and most of them have shown that dancing was the only physical activity that actually staves off Alzheimer’s!

 Aside from that, learning a new type of dance or being inspired by another dancer’s interpretation is thrilling.  The movement differentiation that comes with studying a new dance form is a welcome challenge and is usually lots of fun.  If you’re used to soloing, try a partner dance like tango, swing or square dancing.  If you’re trained in classical ballet, test-drive some street dancing.

 Even if you’re studying a genre you’re already familiar with, seeing how another dancer-the one you’re learning from- moves will motivate you to look at your own technique in a whole new way. Often, breaking out of our own personal boxes and becoming an eager newbie once again will stimulate our creativity and encourage us to excel both in class and in our own familiar genre of dance.

Improving Retention And Sharpening Motor Skills
Some of us prefer choreography to improvisation or vice-versa, but for right now, that’s a moot point. Taking a choreography class (or learning a choreography for a show) is a terrific way to think on your feet, improve your cognitive abilities and aid your retention skills. For many of us, memorizing  choreographed sequences or intricate combinations is a bit of a downfall, but the good news is that with time and practice, you get better at it. This occurs because your brain is actually learning this process through repetition.  Once you’ve mastered this type of study- even unconsciously- it makes it much easier for your brain to apply this skill in the future.

 Another plus is that every time you learn a choreography that someone else has written, you’re opened up to a whole new way of seeing and hearing things. Even in a dance genre you’re quite familiar with, musicality  (and personal style) is a highly individual thing, there’s not any right or wrong. It’s stimulating to see that everyone hears the music-and interprets the phrases-differently. While you might think of hitting accents at a certain point in a musical composition, another dancer might slide right through them and save the dynamic rhythmic references for elsewhere.  At first this might be maddening, because we've learned to rely on own instincts, but ultimately it’s refreshing. When you become used to these little  “surprises” by working with a number of new choreographies, it opens up a world of new possibilities, by breaking down any conscious or unconscious preconceived notions you have about dancing. Even if you never plan on performing the piece you’re learning, it helps you to grow as an artist.


 Advancing Performance Abilities
 As I said before, everyone hears music differently, but they also feel, respond to and interpret it in their own individual ways. This can be an incredible learning experience for you, too. By witnessing someone else emoting to a composition, whether it’s a set gesture done as part of choreography or just a fleeting, genuine moment of emotion, it can be quite illuminating.

If you’re learning or enhancing an ethnic dance genre, such as belly dance, flamenco or samba, watching your instructor respond to the music itself- or lyrics that are sung in a foreign language-is invaluable. The classes you take to improve your performance skills don’t even have to be movement-oriented. I always recommend acting classes or workshops to my students, because they get you in tune with accessing your emotions and will help you to build confidence for your non-verbal performances in dance. 

Last but not least, the more familiar and comfortable you become with  your own dancing, the easier it will be to let the music move you and let your unique feelings shine through…and that is  the key to what makes a good dancer a great dancer.


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Photo and graphics by Maharet Hughes
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