Posts Tagged ‘Audra Simmons’

Springtime backing into Belly Dance…..

March 30, 2010

Here we go.  I wasn’t so sure about teaching again so soon after the holidays.  The publishing of “The Zar Tales” and then throwing myself into “White Cranes of Heaven” before the proofs were done on the first…well…I had plenty to do.

Then I met a local dancer who studied at my first studio …the one I started at 6 years ago.  Damn….you never can really get away from dance….except with two broken legs and then you can dance from a wheelchair.

But whatever  you are doing in life, even things that are good and building…the call of dancing usually out shouts them all.

Tonight I got an email from Audra Simmons in Toronto, who owns Dark Side Studio.  I took an intensive 4 hour class in Montreal last year and I consider the expense of the trip and the class well worth it.  I would do it again, but I remember Canadian winter and these bones took two months to warm up.

Audra agrees: there is nothing better than the enthusiasm and bright eyes of beginners….and the benefits fall to the teacher, too.  Those ‘aha moments!’ when things fall into place and the new dancer finds that she can actually DO something…and repeat it!

Although I walked around the early part of the Spring Festival Saturday in a kimono and obi….with cherry blossoms in my hair, people knew me locally as a belly dance teacher, though only doing so for a year.  Sala, one of my original students came up and said that she was going to call me this week because she was really thinking of coming back.  That is welcome news, because Sala was my original student when I came back from Montreal  and we bonded from the first.  She’s Hawaiian and has her own cultural technique that will bring good things to the class for all of us.  Another committed student is more advanced and when I say committed…the fire is there.  I love that because I remember how it smolders.  It can take you a long way in classes…because the classes never seem to end.

(I am also sick of the company of men: I want the tribal comfort of women around me right now.  I want the comfort of laughter, of gossip, of hugs and stories about their lives.  I want to sample their cooking and have them sample mine.  I am sick of setting table for men, who don’t know what a saucer is for, who don’t help clean up.  I want women at my table and drinking my tea.  I want their advice about life.)

I am going to do something different this time:  I threw too much at the former students I think.  When I look at the schedule of zones, movements, parts of choreography, I can wince now.  I was covering too much.  I think this can …with new students…lead to fatigue.  And fatigue leads to discomfort…and discomfort leads to ‘oh, what the hell.’

There are a few new older women (more my age) in the class…or a few who say they want to start.  I think that I have to be careful here:  We all get sore in the beginning…but not everyone wants to dive in and explore how MUCH they can learn about belly dance.  It’s intense, and I forget the early years.  Some will want to just use the classes as exercise classes.  That is fine I think now.  Some, at least the more advanced, will want to further their interests in belly dance proper.  Weddings, etc…performances that are fun to exhibit their new abilities.

I want to keep this fun.  And so what if new dancers do it wrong.  I have to loosen up myself.  I can be a Nazi at times…and this isn’t pleasant for anyone around me.

We are going to dance not only to belly dance music, too.  I put on Bonnie Raitt today….”Luck of the Draw” was one song…and you can dance to it.  There are others…Melissa Etheridge will be good for openers….Yeah…that will kill us all!

For starters, I have to get back into the groove of it, too.  Movement has been constricted for me for the past three months.  I haven’t done much, but today just worked through some painful routines.  This is necessary because they are the core movements that I use in class.

But this time…this time….we are going to also concentrate on arms.  Audra did a lovely “arm dance” to Sigur Ros’ “Ara batur” and it’s emotional and intense.  Dancing from only the upper zone of arms and head isn’t easy.  But once done, and done with a fullness of expression….it is something that you keep…and incorporate into the movement below.

So, Audra!  I might have looked like I was asleep at the wheel in Montreal…but you burned in my brain something that haunts and teases….and is very, very useful.

A fine gift that keeps on giving to others.

I have a full month before classes start, and I am going to be ready.  Because I love it as much as the bright eyed newbies.  I think we are all newbies in heart and inspiration.

Teela (who is Lady Nyo with a hip scarf)

Teela Gets Her Groove Back, Part II

September 29, 2009

Today I taught the second class of the fall schedule. It was with two women, one new, one returning. I laid down the law: no tee shirts and sweat pants. They were to come to my class in appropriate attire, meaning long skirts, and BRAS~!.

You can’t do breast lifts without a bra. That would be lifting 10 lbs of lard (or less) by sheer will. A bra makes it so much easier because it corrals those girls and squeezes, getting their attention. Or something like that.

They did pretty well today. They came with at least a part of them looking like bellydancers. But what was good was an attitude shift in both of them. The returning student, we’ll call her Sala, picked up where we left off 5 months ago, but this time she really wanted to learn. Before she didn’t move much and I didn’t know how to reach her. You take belly dance lessons? You HAVE to move many parts of you. Otherwise, you are wasting your money and my time.

Who knows what happened, but she really will bloom now. Summer is over, she has a lovely tan, and her body is nice in anycase….with shapely arms. She is lovely to look at. And she wants to learn.

It’s nice when students have a natural beauty and they are discovering the ways to promote that beauty through movement.

Mala is a different case….she hasn’t had much dance, if any, and she doesn’t quite know what to do with her body. But what was interesting and touching to me….is how fast from the first lesson she learned something. I asked her if she had been practicing at home in the previous week, and she said no. But even though she hadn’t, there was progress in her present movements. She was much more confident and from that confidence, moved better. Plus, she had the most interesting tattoo of a lizard circling her belly button. I request my students get over their fear and loathing of their bellies and by pulling down their skirts,  expose that visual center of our particular dance. In doing just this simple thing, Mala started to look like a belly dancer.  I was amazed at the simple transformation. She was beautiful and will be a strong, commanding dancer.

Teaching these women is teaching me something about myself I didn’t expect. I am more patient, or at least more patient than I thought I would be. Perhaps having only two students in the room at a time allows me the possibilities of focusing on their movements in a more concentrated way.

And I didn’t realize how much I would care: care about how they did the movements, what they looked like, if they were pushing themselves to pain or discomfort. I also tried to gauge where they were mentally. You have to look behind the bold smiles to see if they ‘got it’….or were frustrated, or were in pain. Both have physical issues with shoulders and backs.  So you attend to these issues. Pain is the first thing that will drive a dancer away. Lack of encouragement is also up there. Every little step to invention and creativity should be applauded with sincerity. It’s damn hard to do these things, though I hold they are very natural for all women. It’s just that we don’t think they are.

I think we accept ‘messages’ about our bodies and our abilities that are restrictive and just plan wrong.

I’ve been thinking of my own journey as a dancer lately. I was thinking seriously of giving it up, but like a good friend in Ohio said: “You will never give it up, because it’s in your blood.”

It’s probably in my DNA. My mother was a ballet teacher for many, many years, and at 89 is still a teacher at times. It’s something that doesn’t leave you, because you have trained your body in ways of movement and presentation that just won’t quit. At almost 90, my mother strides into a room and every one notices her. She has a commanding presence and is usually wearing high black boots and a mini skirt. And she can pull it off, because she doesn’t move like an elderly woman. Her body is still awesome at her advanced age.

I was trained in ballet for a couple of years when I was very young, and with my mother, it was inevitable. But I developed boobs and that wasn’t good for a ballerina. Plus, I was more interested in horses, and one ballerina in the family was enough.

I did folk dancing and was a fencer for about 10 years, but that is a young man’s sport and I definitely wasn’t a young man.

A bit more than 5 years ago, something attracted me to belly dance. I plunged in with multiple classes weekly, and fell in love with flamenco. I was also very lucky to find a teacher, Aya Arsan, a Turkish woman who became my first and most influential teacher. I learned classical Turkish/Egyptian style from her, and because I was ½ Hungarian, she was starting to train me in Rom dance. (Behind every Hungarian stands a Turk!) Other local and regionally well known teachers followed: Shadia, Jenna, Samora, etc, and then last January up in cold Montreal, Audra Simmons.

I have written before about Audra. She was a gas. I learned more from her in one 4 hour intensive class than I had learned over the course of the previous year. I don’t know how to equate that, but Audra is one fantastic teacher and dancer. Inspirational.

Something clicked there for me, and I also learned more about arms than I had before. Something that was very missing from my training over the previous years. Watching Audra do an ‘arm dance’ to Sigur Ros (an Icelandic group)…the piece was “Ara batur” and was a transforming moment for me.

I came home with that piece of music in my head and the vision of Audra dancing to this in place. I started to use it in my classes with the few students I had over the winter/spring…..and today I tried to demonstrate it but the video wouldn’t come up. Damn. Next week, because I know what it will do for my students.

We all worked hard today, and I think we are all sore. I also now know that there may be only two students in the room with me, but there are three students to attend to. I have to be so damn careful what I demonstrate and I am pushed to do it properly because my students are bent on imitating  right now. Soon, they will come into their own, and I will just be positioning them, correcting and pushing the speed of what steps we are doing.  Adding layering.

Oh, layering!  They already have picked up that word and use it against me.  And they are right.  The issue of layering is too soon, but I am anxious to see them using more zones of their bodies. That will come in time.  I forget how I learned 5 years ago.

I outfitted them with veils and coin scarves because they are bellydancers now, and they are mine. Once they pass that portal of the first lesson, either they catch on fire, or they run away. These two are sticking it out so far, and it ain’t easy in the beginning. There are so many things to face: our bodies, our fear of failure, our energy levels, etc. But if we stick it out….we will start flying.

Belly dancing is one of the most transforming and energizing things a woman can do for herself. And many times the energy you gain here is not understood by others who aren’t dancers. You are opening channels in the mind and body that you never thought were there. They are, just waiting at any age, for you to plunge in and start to explore what can be done.

For now, all our missteps are just seeds for the future.


Belly Dance and Teela Gets Her Groove Back

September 25, 2009

Yesterday I gave an hour dance class. It was the first time I have taught in probably 4 months. Spring and summer hit and the heat came faster than expected. The few students and I agreed “Summer in the South” was not a time for dancing and sweating. There were other seasonal tasks to attend.

If I told the truth it would be this: I haven’t danced since those spring months. I played around with giving it up. It’s been over 5 years now, and that’s not a long time to learn all the ins and outs of belly dance, but I wondered if I really had it in me to continue.

I’ve been so involved in writing and rewriting and getting manuscripts together to publish this late fall and beyond, I didn’t think I had much energy to expend on other things. The garden had to be rebuilt after the sewer debacle of this summer and there were other events that pulled on my energies.

Well, some ‘things’ don’t die so easily.

I gave a class to a new student, a woman about my age, a little younger, who had no dance experience. She had some yoga, but there were problems with that discipline and she had a bad back.

We were introduced about a month ago and hit it off from the start. She doesn’t know me as a dance teacher, and I didn’t know how she would turn out as a student. But something was definitely clicking in that hour.

I have been using the “Luscious Workout Belly Dance” dvd from World Dance New York for about a year now. It’s one of the best dance programs I know. I’ve had a few videos and dvds over the years, but mostly classes in a studio. There were times, months sometimes, I would drop out, bored with the routines, the choreography or perhaps just not extending myself to dance in troupe-like behavior. I overall loved belly dance, but I was restless. There were also long standing injuries to one knee.

I had four years of Turkish/Egyptian technique, and sometimes dancers get into a rut.

I think part of my problem was this: I wasn’t seeing anything new to do. You can get awfully bored with the same combinations.   It  can become so automatic you aren’t being very creative.

“Going through the motions” I think applies here.

I knew I had to shock myself out of this malaise. To that end I went in January to Montreal to attend a 4 hour intensive class under Audra Simmons. I picked Audra because she was about as ‘out there’ as you can get…At least for me. Her teaching and class opened my eyes to a lot of Tribal techniques but there was also a good dose of flamenco influence. What evolved was a regeneration in my own stalled technique. Now I had some new examples ….had started the basis of developing the necessary muscle memory of these new techniques, and new movements.

I came back in the dead of winter to some students for the first real classes.

Stepping into the unknown of these other styles allowed the most important thing to happen: I grabbed from all of it, but I made it my own. In other words, I incorporated it into my natural dance movements and layered some different techniques.

So yesterday was a test run: to see what she could do, and also for me to see what I would do.

One thing I have learned with this new avenue of teaching: Every student is different and a teacher must attend to those differences. Many things need to be corrected and positioned, but there also is a question of the basic style of the dancer. This is an amazing thing to see unfolding. One lesson doesn’t tell you much about a new dancer except her attitude and little about the range of her body.

This new student was a quick learner. And I had such a ‘transforming time’ it knocked out any thoughts of giving up.

We started with infinity loops (vertical and horizontal) and pelvic circles…staccato and fluid. Some layering with arms and a little kick out but that is actually a lot for a new student to grasp. The muscle memory has to be developed and the muscles have to be warmed up to receive all these ‘messages’. So we went slow, and then flipped on the dvd so she could see what it looked like in costume and by better dancers. It was quite overwhelming for her as it always is when you see three dancers going through their paces. A new student just doesn’t know where to look! So, I demonstrated for her some of the movements…breaking them down piece by piece. The point is this: you can’t really learn from a video….you have to know how to place your body, your butt, your shoulders, how to stand, how your neck and head lifts and elongates, what the bottom half of you looks like: the knees never locked but gently bent…’soft’.

Many teachers shun dancing for their students in a studio. I always wondered why. It’s so instructive for students to see their teacher ‘make real’ the movements they are learning. It’s good when we fall out of just endless, disconnected (or barely connected) movements and really show how they so naturally combine and the myriad possibilities for it all. And they are really endless.

We are DANCERS, after all!

I flipped on some music and did a short beledi for her, a barefooted dance that can be very vigorous. And then I felt it. This Hyperarousal Trance, this state of brain activity and endorphin change, and she said that there was an immediate shift in mood, appearance and energy.

Ah God! I have missed this endorphin /whatever rush! I got so used to it dancing before. I didn’t really appreciate how it looked from the outside. I used to be very self-conscious about my dancing and how I was doing ‘the steps’….but later, I chucked all that concern because I had developed enough confidence and style so I could free-float in the dancing.

I was coming into my own as a dancer.

She said my whole face changed and I radiated a bundle of obvious energy. Hah! I don’t know what it looks like from the outside, but inside I was flying. I have to be careful about this because you can spiral outward for a long time, and about time? It seems to have a different meaning under Hyperarousal Trance.

Movement, repeated movements, an internalized ayoub rhythm is the portal into Hyperarousal Trance. She saw it happen and she saw the transformation. There is no drug that can match it. And she wants to ‘be’ in that same space….that ‘zone’. She will get there in time. It’s very much worth the effort.

The upshot was this: it was a good class. Both teacher and student had fun and our collective energy level rose and lasted for hours. I really believe a major part of dancing is having fun and discovering the movement-potential of our bodies.

Yesterday it was only one student, but it was the particular one- on -one that can be so good and instructive. I am anxious to see how the two other students work together and feed each other.

That will come, and soon enough, but yesterday? I found my groove again, and this time I’ll be careful not to lose it.

Teela…who is Lady Nyo….who is Jane

To the Belly Dancers in the South:

February 10, 2009

Audra Simmons, teacher/performer of the Workshop in Montreal I attended in late January, is interested in coming to the Atlanta area to hold another workshop this year.

I have been corresponding with Audra for the past few days, and this news is wonderful!

I can say that Audra is just about the finest teacher I have ever come across, (along with my first and now again teacher/troupe leader, Aya Arsan here in Atlanta) and the chance again to study intensively with her is most welcome.

Audra isn’t only a teacher in Tribal Fusion, but pulls into her teaching and performing many techniques and styles.  I found a lot of flamenco in her arm/head and in her ‘travelling’ but she incorporates so much it’s almost impossible where one technique starts and then merges into another.  At least to my eyes.

She is one of the most relaxed and inviting of teachers.  We all have had the impatient showboats along the way, and that attitude can really queer a beginning dancer.

I can assure any belly dancer/interested woman in dance…..that Audra is nothing like that.

I would be delighted to host Audra when she gets here to Atlanta, and hopefully we can organize this sometime later this year, depending upon her schedule.

Anyone interested in studying with Audra in an intense workshop here in Atlanta, can write me for future details at:

Audra Simmons website:

This was an incredible experience with Audra.  We are writing back and forth and exchanging notes.  I hope that others in the surrounding Atlanta area pick up on Audra’s website and write to her with your questions and own invitation for this lovely woman and dancer to come join us in the sunny south.

Teela….and start your day with an “Arm Dance” by Sigur Ros

and more Gratitude….

February 9, 2009

Audra Simmons sent me a link to the last dance our class in Montreal did Jan. 24th .  That 4 hour Marathon Class.

The arm dance song was Ara
Batur from the band Sigur Ros.

She calls it “arm dance” because it starts with arms, the whole class (of 40 women at least) in unison, but that broke down and the individuality of each dancer was celebrated by the internal mechanisms, flow and vision and incredible beauty of that individual vision.

Needless to say, we all were crying by the end of it.

Thank you, Audra….for this transcendent ending to your marvelous and unforgettable class in cold Montreal.

It’s an Icelandic band, and  this piece is so beautiful.

I’m back….With ATTITUDE.

January 28, 2009

And speaking of cold, Montreal was.  And windy.  However, it was a very interesting city, with some very interesting people.

I’m glad to be back in Atlanta for many, many reasons.  5 days gone doing anything, pleasurable or not, is too long to leave home.  And what a pile of laundry (the airlines have lost our two checked bags…) and cleaning I face.

Over the week  remaining, I am going to break up reporting events, only because I know that there are people that read this blog who are interested in what happened in those 5 days.  Mostly belly dancers and the usual perverts (friends).

The 4 hour workshop with Audra Simmons was incredible.  I learned more in those 4 hours than I have learned in a month of heavy classes.

I thought that it would be straight Tribal Fusion, but I was mistaken.  It had a LOT of flamenco techniques, attitude and of course, the hated routines.  However, I was surprised ol’  Teela could keep up with the youngsters, with only one 15 minute workshop break.

I did, but only because Audra made the class so damn  interesting. I just flew through it, and even my stumbling on the choreography smoothed out eventually.  It was the toughest class I have EVER taken, but it was the absolute best one, too.

Audra is a trip.  Older, with a background in ballet, Turkish/Egyptian and other techniques….she really worked the bejesus out of us girls. Sweat and pain was flying around the room for 4 hours.

One of the major points she pushed is this one of  “attitude”.  So many times we are dancing without it…we are just going through the motions, worrying about the steps, what comes next in a routine, and our faces show it.  Our bodies show it.  This is NOT what being a good belly dance is all about.

Attitude is the expression of our joy and our claiming the dance.  Our individuality and pushing that into focus.  We dance before others, but we should be dancing for our lives!  Our joy and expertise should be present and all important to us.  Don’t worry about getting every part of the choreography right, it doesn’t matter (when you are performing individually….’showboating it’) that every step and movement is remembered as practiced…

It’s the claiming, the lyrical/breathing/excitement you present.

I saw all body shapes there: sagging bellies, etc. and it really didn’t matter.  When you UNDERSTAND dance, you understand the transformation of the physical body, what it ‘looks’ like…into the marvelous and complex illusion of WHAT IT IS.

This was what was so impressive.  It was ATTITUDE.

Mentally I was flying, I was claiming my own Attitude, my own interpretation of the dance, my own contribution to this marvelous, healing, transforming thing we do called Belly Dance.

And it is healing.  And in the next few days, I would need that.  I would need to keep my joy at what I could do and strengthen my resolve not to lose sight of myself.  To know I would come through.

Sometimes ‘attitude’ ain’t pretty.  But it keeps your head above water, it can be the only life preserver around, and you throw it to yourself while in deep, confusing, troubling and alien waters.

Bless you, Audra, Woman with Attitude.  You take no prisoners.

Teela with a fresh Attitude, and holding on to it firmly today.


November 30, 2008

I am preparing a new manuscript for possible publication this spring. It’s a collection of all the Japanese inspired flashers, poetry, tanka, haiku and some other sundry writings in this vein. It’s piling up, too much was written this year in this ‘style’ and I do have people interested in seeing it all together. That’s the good news.

The bad news is I have had to push back the publication of “A Seasoning of Lust” just because of a more careful rewrite of that manuscript. But Bill Penrose is the editor of all things good and is still the best of news. Bill inspires confidence and takes a great burden off my shoulders and on to his formidable ones.

Looks like “Seasoning” will be due (??? is this birth??) February 14, 2009 and that seems very appropriate.

I have set myself a writing schedule that forgot the big appointment in Montreal in late January. A 5 hour workshop with Audra Simmons at Dance Conmigo and a gala performance that night. I won’t be performing, but it was close. I had to decline because it meant a piece of choreography developed and that does take months. At least for me.

This workshop is an introduction, as I have written here before, to a whole new strange world for me. Trained in Turkish/Egyptian, Tribal Fusion is a riot…and definitely a discipline that is alien right now.

So, I’m posting a little poem, non tanka, just to coast by.

Some new tanka tomorrow….this is still Saturday on this side of the pond.

Lady Nyo


You stir my loins
Like a long kitchen spoon,
Worn smooth
With years of
Bowl of it
With sexual waves
Long forgotten.

You stir my loins
Make me shiver
Make me weak
Make me cream
Make me wet

Make me lean
Over the counter
Your hands
Slipping up my thighs,
Under my apron
That piece of cloth
No barrier for modesty
Legs spread wide,
You move
To crush me against
Marble and
The marble of my skin
Soft, smooth, cold
Heating to your lust
Telling me to
Keep stirring
Act like nothing
Is disturbing
The making
Of this cake.

You rise-
I don’t know about the batter.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2008

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