Posts Tagged ‘Belly dance’

Flamenco and What Fresh Hell is This?

November 14, 2013


Not me….but a real dancer.



red flamenco


PS: (Public Service Announcement! LOL!  If you have shoes that are too tight or small, just take a hair dryer and heat where it’s tight for about 4 minutes or so on high. Then (or before you heat your shoes one at a time, put on the thickest socks you have (or your husband’s) (there will be a lot of shoving….) and walk around until they cool …about 5 minutes.  Works great! Almost too good as they now feel a bit loose and I will have to wear thin socks. Maybe.

Lady Nyo

This is a man dancing the Sevillanos.  It is one of the most beautiful and captivating perfomances I have seen of this dance.  I am so taken with it, though it’s a man dancing, I am trying to learn from his movements here for my own.   I am watching other youtubes for instruction, but the simplicity and clarity of his dancing is truly breathtaking.  You see the passion and nobility of his dance, but you don’t see the effort.  That is true dancing. 

Five years ago in Montreal when I was attending a 4 hour master class in belly dance, the instructor made a good and provocative use of the remaining hour to introduce a crowded and exhausted class to flamenco.  That last hour stuck with me, simmering somewhere in the brain pan for these last years. 

What is it about flamenco?  I don’t have any knowledgeable or formal answers….and probably never will, BUT.  There is something so different in flamenco  than any other dance medium. Recently, I set out to find out what the emotional attraction was.  I started beginning flamenco classes.

There is nothing more shattering to the female ego than working before floor to ceiling mirrors and learning flamenco.  After almost 10 years of belly dance, and the last two having students, I was really up a creek.  It didn’t help that I have suffered a broken bone in left arm, ripped shoulder, cracked ribs and a severely sprained right ankle within 6 months of each injury. That was last year, and the ankle almost two years ago this new year.  Sitting on my butt gave me lots of excuses to gain weight, get inactive and just find so damn many excuses to do nothing.  Yes, publishing some books was a good excuse, but there was no reason for this amount of inactivity.  Hell, I have three dogs that are in better shape than I am right now.

About the last year in belly dance, I remember a memorable night.  The club where we danced (troupe and individually) had a number of Moroccan and Spanish guitarists and male singers…all very, very attractive.  Perhaps it was the mystic of the flamenco music they were playing….but none of us dancers left after hours could keep our feet still , nor our hands from clapping in rhythm.  Some of us danced until 2am in the morning.  I remember one of the Spanish guitarists asking me why belly dancers are attracted to flamenco?  I hadn’t any real answer for him except it swept through the body and took possession of the soul.  That seemed right at the time.  I think it still is.

In this most recent venture I have found  there is just about NOTHING transferable from belly dance to flamenco.  The body is held differently, the arms are different, the posture has some similarities, but overall, it’s like the difference between painting in oils and then in watercolor.  And of course, the feet are totally in command of just about everything. Except the arms are, too.  Well, that has some similarities with belly dance.   But flamenco is never passive: it’s aggressive and when done well, totally captivating.

I feel like I have two left feet in this class.  I do. I can’t seem to remember the damn footwork, and it keeps me up until the early hours (where I can bitch and complain to friends via email) looking on the internet for the footwork of the class that I can’t remember.  Can’t find it, either.

However, flamenco is danced so passionately, such an expression of anger, joy, angst, etc…all those expressive emotions you don’t really get in ballet, etc…maybe in jazz….that it leaves great room for self-expression.  Flamenco is fierce.  It looks like the dancer has a dagger ready to plunge in the heart of anyone who opposes her on any subject.  Flamenco is liberation. It is a medium that is all commanding.  Someone said that the only emotion that is not expressed in flamenco is timidity.  I agree.  It’s just damn combative.  Cathartic.

Did I mention the shoes?  Well, I have tried to substitute something in heels for these early classes, and my feet are aching.  It’s not that the stomping of heels is a problem…it’s that I haven’t worn heels in two years.  Flats, Uggs, more flats and only recently some Merrill bicycle shoes.  I threw away most of my heels.  Never thought my ankle would support their wearing.

Well, I fell in love with the instructor’s shoes.  They are a beautiful teal suede, with two bows, a court heel.  She  buys them in Spain.  These shoes are made to each customer, and I am looking forward to this.  Of course, they are very expensive, and it will be a few months, because she is going off to Spain and Europe over the holidays and won’t be back until sometime in January. 

However, as much as the rest of me  can wait, my feet can’t.  I am going tomorrow to buy some flamenco shoes from a dance outfit that will make a half day’s trip.  Perhaps these shoes (I am told they also are made in Spain…) will improve my dancing…or maybe my memory for  the foot work?  I don’t know, but right now I am looking for anything that makes me feel more ….’flamenco’.  I’m treating myself to a dance skirt, too…so the flounces can jump if I ever get the foot work right.


This poem might not be the best poem to post here, but so it goes lately.  My feet hurt and that trumps everything. 





Sharp azure skies

Rusty brown earth,

Black women’s shawls,

Goat dung flung by boys

At passing soldiers,

The Inquisition churns onward

Like the great mandala

Crushing bodies under wheels

Burning witches in great pyres

Ignited by ignorance

Of blessed padres.


Time of terror,

overtime superstition.

Of hidden manuscripts

under floor boards,

and investigations

Seeded by the envy of neighbors.

Goya colors flung on

the black of night,

Red of Blood

Death of White

Green of decay

Duller grays of corruption

Shiny blues of greed

Exchanging favors,

Cardinal to Cardinal–

Madrid to Rome,

And back again.

These are the colors

Of the Inquisition.

Holy-Terror-of- God in

Man’s hands

where nothing is safe,

Humanity defiled.


Soldiers force Rabbis

to spit on the Torah,

A diversion, for the net holds much room,

All ‘thought’ is open to this furor,

For terror reigns.

The banality of evil,

Which words belie the results

Fashions such existence.


Dark shawls drawn

Over frightened faces,

only the

Whites of eyes

gleam outward like hooded lanterns,

faces cast downward

when the Cardinals pass.

No one wants to be noticed,

There is Death in the

Very air,

A pox of hopelessness.

Gossip is gone

From the full rose lips

Of  women.

They huddle


Though no safety

In numbers.


Wearing an early shroud

To cover their


A slight sway of

Curvaceous hips

Could draw the Holy Terror

Upon their innocence

Condemned by black lipped priests-

Whores worthy of fire.


Cruelty and censure is the mantra of the day.


Breathe in the

Moisture of the drowned

Catch the blood

Flayed from bodies

Hear the sharp screams from

Those tortured,

And the

Sharper silence to follow.


Hope is gone

From the heart

Of Spain.


Now fear is the mantra of the day.


The disdainful eye

Of the Church


Circling the

Spanish masses,

Like herding goats

From a horse,

Whip held easy

In the hand,

Ready to strike,

And strikes when not.


How many died

Who could give


To Enlightment?

Fear replacing

The Intellectualism of Spain.

How many aborted

By this

Scourge of Mankind?


Compassion forgotten

Humility distorted.


Lies the particular coin of the day.


The Inquisition

Rolls onward,

Tearing up

Soil watered by

Clotted blood.

Black tentacles

Of Power


The heart

Of Spain



Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2010-13

“Devil’s Revenge”, Chapter 14

June 27, 2013
Rachel Brice doing her thang...

Rachel Brice doing her thang…

This is a short chapter, mostly about belly dancing. There are a couple of words that come from this culture, and I have forgotten some of them myself, but so it goes.


Oh! I am writing at a furious pace! I am trying to finish this book. Actually, I am trying to kill off a character, Obadiah, but today, I could kill them all, especially Garrett Cortelyou. Now I’m told what has just happened has nothing to do with me. But! Had I not delayed, procrastinated, and plain farted around, perhaps things would be different.

It is a pretty morning and I am sitting at the little table before a bright fire. It is winter, an endless winter, and I have been told to stay in this house. I am a prisoner of this room. Fearful enough, I stay indoors. I can see the distant fields from my window and I see a hawk fly high up in the sky. I have watched this bird for a while now. It’s questionable that this hawk is only a bird of prey. Garrett, the resident Demon, thinks it might be another, the Demon Arachula, an evil spirit of the air. It watches the lay of the land, and hunts its prey in the woods by the house.

I am writing with frequent pauses to read what I scribble. I hear a very faint sound of bells, a tinkling of brass somewhere in the distance. It could be outside, like the clinking together of milk cans, or the sound of sleigh bells, but there is no snow on the ground. It grows closer, and suddenly, the Demon appears in the room. He is grinning like a Cheshire cat, and has something behind his back.

“Goedemorgen to you”, he says grinning broadly. He speaks excellent Dutch. He sits down in his usual chair and I hear the sound of something clinking together. He pulls up his hand, and there are my zils.

“How did you get my zils? My Turkish zils?” He’s wearing my finger cymbals on four fingers of one hand. Suddenly I know where he’s been!

“You Bastard! Still up to your old tricks! What else have you stolen from my bedside?” I can’t believe the nerve of this demon!

“You know demons are thieves. It’s a failing among us. We are like magpies and crows. Can’t resist the shine.” He sounds my zils with a clap of his hand, and holds them out of reach.

He tells me he visits in the night and apparently last night he was there. He claims he is bored and appears at my bedside, where he watches me snore. I think he is lonely. I have already told him my husband keeps a shotgun in the corner, but he doesn’t care.

“I have found something else”, he says, pulling out my coin scarf from his sleeve.

“Insufferable monster!” I can’t believe this, but then, what should I expect? .

“I like your underclothes, too, but only the silk ones. I will bring some for you here, though I think you will freeze. I like the sweet smell of woman in them.” He grins, his tongue lolling out of his mouth, detestable devil.

So he goes through my drawers and clothes…

“Oh, I do much more, sweetheart. Helps me know who I’m consorting with.”

“Devil! Is their any decency left in your nature?”

He laughs, his voice sounding like a bass fiddle tuned low. “Ah, darling! The short answer is — “no”. And before you go at me for my nature, how come this is the first time I find you dance in a harem. Makes a devil wonder what he has bought.”

I sit there and think. Since he reads my mind when he wants, I have learned to parse my thoughts when near him. At times it works but he has a way of getting what he wants for he’s tricky…

“Oh you ignorant devil! What would you know about such things? They are two worlds apart. Nothing alike.”

“Well, dance for me, and let me judge.”

Hah! That is one thing that I would not do. I’m not married to him, it’s part of a code, but I won’t tell him ‘the rules’.

“Tell me what? Think of me as a Pasha, and let me tie this scarf around your pretty hips.”

I sit there wondering how I am going to avoid dancing for him. He gets what he pleases, but I am learning ways around his whims. Perhaps I can interest him the in the history of this dance and he—

“No, you can come here now and dance. I know more than you think.”

He usually achieves what he wants. Through persuasion or magic, he gets what he’s after.

In a twinkling of an eye, I was parked between his legs, the coin scarf around my hips. He pulled my skirt low and patiently placed my zils on my fingers like I was a child.

“How can I dance? I need music for that.” He snapped his fingers, and faintly I heard the sound of a slow piece of music. I recognized the song, a Turkish one. Hypnotic with its Karsilama scales, I hear it and my body couldn’t stay still. I sigh. He has played me again.

“Then put your hands around me and you can feel the movements of my hips.” Most men would like that…

Dancing in such a constricted space was very much like the Eygptian style. Such dancers made very little rotations with hips and torso. In fact, the torso remains above the pelvis, barely moving. The arms are more pronounced, but the shimmies were generally the same. Just more restricted. The Turkish style, the one that I studied and loved the most, was danced with broader and more joyous movements. The torso leans back and tilts the pelvis forward. Turkish dancing is based on the Romany, or gypsy styles, and since I am half Hungarian, this style suits my blood. The music is developed from the Ottoman rakkas, similar to the raggis of India. The drumming feels like the beat of blood coursing through my veins.

The music swells with a beat that follows a rhythm of 9/8, and other pieces of the body come into motion. Where he is holding me, I can only move slightly, with hips in figure eights and a kick of the hip on the upbeat. I can do the ‘snake arms’ movement, which is lovely viewed from the back, as it is led by the elbows upward and a flip of the hand at the apex of the movement above the head.

Ah! The music swells, and I have to step out of his arms. I have just learned to use the zils, and it gives such structure to the arms. It was hard at first to isolate the different parts of the torso, all in movement at different parts of the beats, and then to gracefully, with beautiful, lyrical movements, try to move the arms as a frame for the body. The zils helped because they extended the flow of the beat.

I am dancing to myself, not a dance of seduction for he who watches me silently, carried as I am by the music. I am seducing myself, making love only to me. I make the birth movements of the downward hip fling, with the pelvis flung to the sky, and I make the ‘habibi’ movement, which is a rotation of the torso forward and around, with the pelvis straight. I am fully possessed, my eyes closed, my blood beats a counterbeat to the rakka. He has somehow picked the music used by the Turkish badladi, the form I love best. I can drop to my feet, not on my toes now, and can use my heels in another counter rhythm. Ah, primal, sensual movements that bring forth the evening wind in the desert, the sounds of hunting hawks above, hooded hawks on dark arms below, the trickle of precious water, and the smell of woodsmoke!

Somehow I make my way back to him, drawn by the pulse of the dance, the piercing, haunting sound of the desert flute. Finding myself between his legs I place my hands on his chest, palms gently on his warm skin like a blessing of love.

The music stops and I am glossy with sweat. My hair is in tangles over my breasts, my breath drawn in pants. He is silent, more silent than I have ever known him to be, and stone-still. Dazed, he pulls me to him, breaking the spell of the music. He breathes my scent deeply and picks me up in his arms. He moves to the window with me as his prize.

I am exhausted and limp in his arms and we look out over the landscape. He is smiling at something and there is an expression I have not seen before. He is looking at the hawk, the hawk who hovers over the field and his face is defiant!. Ah! He is challenging the shade of Obadiah out there in the trees. He is showing what he now possesses. Obadiah will have to kill him to take me.

Nothing can match the intensity of his expression. Here in its fierceness is the stare of the lion. He will fight for what is now his and he will kill with an appetite honed through the ages. All the gloss of the 21th century drops from my mind as I see his rapture in his challenge. Men or Demons, like wolves, have a heart beat that stretches back to the hunt. They glory in its primitive urges. They glory in the gore they will spill.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2006, 2008, 2013

Empowerment, Trance Dance and the “Belly” in Belly Dance.

April 7, 2011

something was making me laugh....

I came across this older blog entry last night and upon reading it, I realized there were some good things in this entry that bore saying again, but with an update for Spring, 2011.

Lady Nyo

Empowerment and Transformation?

This has been a part of an ongoing discussion I have had with other belly dancers and with women outside this particular dance form.

One woman replied to an blog posting recently:

I think of my own practice, and I know that dancing transforms my thinking, my moods and in some very fundamental way, grounds me. It also transforms me, my body over a period of time, but my head. too. I think my head even more fundamentally.

this is the heart of it for you. You are lucky you can feel this way about something.

Sometimes I have led myself astray. I have tested the waters of different things, disciplines I was not prepared for. I should have stayed on the porch. There are different ways to sum up these experiences.

It is always good to take stock of where you are and where you are going.

When in “trouble” sometimes it’s best to fall back on the very things you love best.

Those things have been writing, painting and belly dance. Gardening has potential, but I let the sun and rain do the major work. I just add compost.

Sometimes I am primarily one thing, and then….I am the other. The trick is not to discard one for the other, because all are now integrated into me. I pull from these things for life and creativity. This, I believe, is the usual path for creative women. Sometimes it’s a problem of the Quaker saying: “Hiding your Light under a bushel.” We are embarrassed with our hard earned riches. We shouldn’t be.

I posed some questions to friends who have taken up this “dance of life” , also called belly dance.

What are our aims in coming to this particular dance?

I know I have struggled with many issues over the past 7 years; it varies for every woman, but there are some commonalities. Is it ego identity as to who and what we are? Is it to ‘heal’ deep wounds brought about by a lifetime of abuse/ self-abuse? Do we just see it as a ‘creative’ outlet? (It probably is all the above.)

Is it from a place of self-loathing? Do we feel non-sensual or lacking in beauty? Do we give so much to others that we have nothing, or little for ourselves? Have we become disembodied where we live in our heads and our bodies are just….there? (This can be a problem for writers…we can develop lard asses and dull complexions from sitting so long and writing.)

We bring EVERYTHING into the dance. We work those issues out within the movement.

We can work these things out piece by piece by being ‘present and mindful’ in the movement. And the movement will transform us, slowly at first, and then, one day, we look back and we shake our heads in wonder. How much we’ve grown, how far we have traveled.

On second thought, this issue of Hyperarousal Trance (Dance) isn’t ‘being present and mindful’ in the movement. It’s quite the opposite. It’s exactly what it is named: trance….in this case through dance. But 4 or 5 years ago, I discovered it in belly dance, and a few of those older dancers out there understand what I am talking about. I got the best reinforcement and explanations from some very handsome Flamenco male musicians one night: they deeply understood what the zar trance dance was, and were glad to talk about it. It made me investigate this phenomenon for two years and out of this research came “The Zar Tales”, published in 2010. )

And this issue of self-loathing? Over and over I hear from women who ‘hate their bellies’. I can totally relate! I went through a long stretch of hating my belly, too. Then I suddenly made ‘peace’ with it. I will never be flat bellied again, but then .…

Belly dance isn’t ‘long hair’ dance, or ‘arm dance’ or ‘hidden feet’ dance….it’s BELLY dance…and for a reason.

The belly is the seat of our femininity. It’s not the hidden vagina, it’s the outward expression of our bellies, as they grow with children, shrink back with stretch marks, and we seem to define ‘it’ and ourselves by trying to make it disappear. We hold our stomachs in tightly until we can’t move….

….or breathe!

Well, along comes Tribal Fusion and here is presented the BELLY in all it’s glory! Those stomach movements that Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, all of them, are very liberating…Snakes in the belly, indeed!

(Undulations that express the very essence of our femininity, our being women. As generators and cradles of life.)

I attended a master class in Montreal a few years ago and I was glad to see that the teacher, Audra Simmons from Toronto, had a belly on her. She has 4 children and this is the natural way of things. Our bodies expand and contract with life.

We are not flat assed/bellied/titted men…We are full blown women with dangerous curves and belly dance gives us a dangerous attitude, too.

Given enough time, it’s called Empowerment. A realization of our Femininity, a fulfillment of our innate Sexuality.

And we should have fun dancing….it’s not all sweat, sore muscles (but it is in the beginning…) and serious attitude.

This is a very funny video….I screamed with laughter, because that is good for life. We should have more laughter.

More later….

Lady Nyo …who has moved beyond the name….”Teela”.

Empowerment of Bellydance

July 16, 2010

I swore I wouldn’t write another belly dance entry until the fall.  Summer is a dead season, and most dancers don’t want to dance, either in the studio with classes, or in our usual venues.  Air conditioning goes just so far, and the energy put out in practice or performance eats up ac fast.  You can never air condition a restaurant or club enough because patrons either freeze or the dancers sweat.  So the owners try to strike a happy medium, and usually the dancers lose this fight.

So summer is a dreaded and avoided season for belly dancers.  However, I have a student that has been constant since early this last spring.  Every Friday Aya (I’ll give her that name) comes at 10 am….and we have a great class.

When Aya started working with me, I wasn’t sure what I had in front of me.  I wasn’t sure just how much a dancer she would develop into.  But she had a background of ballet when very young (she’s in her mid 40’s), kick boxing, pilates and hot yoga.  For a couple of months she didn’t move in improv. except to move side to side.  That won’t make a dancer.  We worked on some core exercises:  hip drops, lifts, pelvic undulations, shimmies, some body line, snake arms, different core exercises.  The objective, or my objective….was to develop that ol’ black magic of ‘muscle memory’.

Very recently, Aya put it all together.  I’m not sure how that happened for her, but layering movements is hard for most beginning belly dance students.  I tried to ‘distract’ her from this tongue-biting concentration where she was trying sooooo hard to ‘get’ the particular movement, to learn to just trust her body, and in particular …muscle memory.

Today….it really kicked in.  I was so excited and proud of her.  Today she really became a dancer.

She and her husband have remodeled their attic so it’s offices and a longgggg room, rather narrow room perfect for dancing.  When we were finished with some core excercises, I called for her to start to ‘just dance’….trust her body and herself….and move forward down this long room.  She shook her head, claiming she didn’t know what to dance.  But I’m not a teacher to give up easily, and with lots of music, she started to dance….and started to move forward.

In some ways, moving forward down the floor is symbolic of ‘moving forward’.  Breaking self imposed boundaries,  breaking out of the ordinary ‘safe’ methods of living….and dancing.

She did it.  And she did it for a long, long time.  I realized once I started dancing in answer to her movements….setting some tempo, and just demonstrating some simple (and not so simple) layering of zone movements, that we both were getting into a particular ‘zone’.  That’s a mental state where you really are flying: you trust yourself enough to ‘let go’….not be aware of observers, or to be self-conscious, or to be shy, but just to fall into the beauty of what you are doing:  dancing in the most natural way you can possibly do.

Aya was flying: she was trusting herself in ways I had never seen in class before.  She was transforming her movements and really creating  sexy, sensual, enticing dance.  Which is in part what belly dance is about.

I was using zils…those finger cymbals that help set and command rhythm.  I realized my zil usage was changing as we both danced. For some reason it enhanced my own movements….and I think this was because the energy Aya was producing was pushing me to higher levels.  I was actually beating counter-rhythms to the music that I usually don’t trust myself to do.  It wasn’t consistant, but the magic of our dual energy was clearly a leading part of the class.

Dripping with sweat, our hair wet with it, after two hours which is one hour more than we should be dancing for class….we talked a little bit about the empowerment of belly dance.  It is something I know exists…and something I would hang my hat upon.  But when it is discovered by a new dancer,….and I can call Aya a dancer now…not just a student….it is wonderful for both the new dancer and the teacher.  It’s a special bond…this recognization of this power….this so-natural but so distrusted beauty within all of us women.

The beauty for me is this is empowerment that comes from within and can be relied upon at any age.

During the July 4th weekend, I was down in Savannah, Ga. at my mother’s 90th birthday bash.  My mother started ballet at 5 years, with the then-obligatory Russian teachers.  She taught until she was in her mid 80’s.  I was amazed how well the old dame has held up.  But funny enough, she said “Oh, I can teach belly dance.  I have these decades of ballet.”

I laughed.  I started out in ballet with her, but flopped out of the class….numerous times.  Belly dance is a very different strain of dance and movement.  My mother is stiff, not with age, but with the rigidity of ballet in the torso.  A few passes with some demonstrated (belly dance)  movements, she started to realize this was a very different kettle of fish.  I just wish she wouldn’t equate belly dance with pole dancing…..

But I think for the first time in her life, she saw her daughter competent enough as a dancer to befuddle her.  It is a world apart, these two forms of dance, but there are some wonderful connections.

But Aya came to the realization that it was all about empowerment…a very different empowerment than kickboxing, yoga or pilates….but a beautiful and confidence building empowerment.

That ain’t bad for a morning’s discovery.

Lady Nyo

“I was beginning to HATE belly dance.”

June 10, 2010

I listened in shock.  I was at a luncheon Tuesday, and these words were  from  a young, 20 year old student.

She was given my email and phone number, but it was wrong and couldn’t contact me.  Here  she was in front of me, a beautiful young woman, who was expressing her sentiments about something I loved.

This I had to hear, and I wanted to know what would drive her to make such a statement.  The more she talked, the more I felt like crying.  It became pretty clear what was the problem and I thought back to my own beginning with belly dance.

I could really relate:  For the first year…it was one choreography class after another where we went through the motions of different set dances.  Not hard, looking back,  but intimidating then.

I hated belly dance, too.  I paid for many classes that I skipped.

Well, each of us as dancers are different, but there are common things drawing us together.

A lot of women are drawn to belly dance because it’s such a beautiful and sexual expression.  Yes, it is.  There is no way you can get around this because the usage of the body in belly dance is earthy, expressive, sensual.  It comes up from the ground, infuses the limbs, and ….when it’s done in the most expressive ways….shines forth in our faces.  It can create an aura.

What happened here? What happened to her?

I think…and this is a very broad statement and doesn’t apply to every teacher…but to some it does.  They rely on set choreography to impart a certain competence in students: to at least give them some bang for their bucks.  Six weeks of different set routines and some think they have made the jump to dancing.

Sometimes it works….but many times it doesn’t.  The drop out rate is high.

There are many things that kill our confidence, our enthusiasm, our excitement in trying something new.  I have seen much of this in life, and much of this applies to me.  There have been people…male and female….almost strangers and relatives who are so destructive in their own behaviors that they can’t allow someone else to fly….but must control and demean a person.  They are out to destroy any creativity or confidence.  This is usually a mental issue of theirs, but it’s hard not to trip up over the actions.

It can set you back, derail you.  For a while.

As she talked, I was fighting back tears.  This young woman saw something beautiful and hoped it was accessible in belly dance, but there was something fundamentally missing.  She tapped into this in the very beginning.  Students don’t  know what it was, it’s buried too damn deep….but the teachers should.

I wondered why some of my students just stood there: they didn’t move, and damn it! you have to move in belly dance.  It’s a natural expression linked to the body/music/visual stimuli.

Perhaps it’s this:  lack o’ confidence.  Not trusting that your body is going to be trained soon enough…but first, you have to free yourself from the mental images of limitations we all carry around  as women….not being ‘good’ enough, flexible enough, graceful enough, etc.

You have to believe you are capable of creating BEAUTY!

You have to trust your body and the  spark of LOVE for dance. You have to build upon this trembling idea, small and unreliable as it seems at first.

I now have 6  private students of various levels. I swore  I would never have more than two in a class because I am a hands-on teacher.  I can’t do my job with a cattle call…but I really care about what happens with my students.  I didn’t think I would be so invested in this, but just writing this down makes me weep.

Encouraging them to believe in their bodies, to develop their confidence and independence and individuality…that is what I go after.  I don’t give a fig if they can all do a movement in lock step: I care whether they are energized by what they are doing…or even what they THINK they are doing.

I want them MINDFUL. I want them to glory in their individual possibilities.  I’ve seen small miracles grow and astound both the dancer and the observer.

How do you develop the love of their bodies, this trust of themselves, the ability to call upon their muscle memory at will….to make these so  natural movements a part of their daily lives…to really transform how they see and feel about themselves?

That is what I am after.  I am looking for passion…and we all have it, in spades.  I am out to build confidence.

I encourage them to shimmy in the fish market.  I implore them to do infinity loops in the check out line.  Sure it looks like you have to go to the bathroom, or you are smuggling a tv set between your legs and don’t want to drop it, but anything can set off a dancer.  The clack of some rhythm…it doesn’t have to be musical ….it creates a music and motion inside and we bring it out into our bodies.

We bring it to the surface, expressed in the most individualistic ways.

At this luncheon, there was a dumbek  drummer who offered his drumming in my classes.  I never allow a man in a class, but this would be a special case:  he’s a competent drummer and I think it could be a freeing agent for these women who don’t yet feel this instinctual rhythm coursing in such natural ways through their bodies….impelling them to move, to shake, to find their bodies and creativity in dance.

This young woman is going to be a student of mine this summer.  She’s had some damage, but haven’t we all.  The role of a teacher is to heal as best we can.  We heal ourselves when we attend to our students.

I have to say, and it won’t come as a surprise to those who read this blog…but I LOVE belly dance.  But it wasn’t always like that.  I had to work through so much and claim what I now know is my  creativity….Over and over.

Blind dancing:  that’s what I call it.  It’s a technique to free the inhibitions of new dancers and even dancers that are ‘stuck’.  They are blindfolded and all other students sit on the floor, and the chosen dancer is asked to just move in the most uninhibited way she can imagine to music.  It doesn’t have to be belly dance music.  I use Melissa Etheridge…her angry angst!   It doesn’t have to be ‘belly dance’.  Only one thing is asked: that she reach way down into her core….and bring up something.  She make it ‘real’.

Show me the passion. Show me the dancer I know is inside.

I think confidence building is the key here…and I am going out on a limb.  I’m asking my students to do the same.

I think we can get pass the “I hate Belly Dance” to the glory.

Teela (who is Lady Nyo dancing)

Gardening and Belly Dance!

April 11, 2010

Oh Hell.  I’ll combine both themes today.  There is ‘fruit’ in both I see.

This week I started teaching again. This is the second year for me to teach belly dance.  It is an iffy proposition at times, but seems to be bearing a bit of fruit finally.

I have a few students, but Friday I scheduled a first class with a new student.  I think this is a good thing when you don’t have a lot of students….even when you do and can expend the time.  This student was more advanced and it was a PLEASURE to work with her.

Oh God.  She could move.  She had classes before….she understood the language.  And best???  Her heart and mind is completely IN it.  There was no trying to convince her about the benefits to belly dance.

She is Italian, and has a wonderful, fiery temperment.  She will do well.  She is dedicated to belly dance and can take what I throw at her without whining.

The main thing is this:  She DOESN’T JUST STAND THERE AND WATCH ME.  She can move herself.  Of course, since I am a ‘hands on’ teacher….I literally position her arms, hands, hips, feet….and she picks it up fast.  But that is just in the beginning.   This is such a relief!   She had many years of ballet when young so there is a bit of discipline in her.  She will do fine.  She will practice…and she will eat everything I throw at her. Or most of it.

When you are teaching someone who is more advanced, you have a lot more freedom.  I want women I teach to develop to the extent that their bodies can…pick up rhythm, etc…where THEY come into their own in terms of choreography.  They go home and develop their own.  They bring it back to class, even if it’s only a few moves…but it is THEIR ideas of belly dance.  It’s not all out of the package of the teacher.

And this is what I am thinking about American Belly Dance classes.  How much do we leave room…EXPECT our students to BE dancers..independent of what we are teaching them?? They shouldn’t mirror what we are doing…and frankly, they can’t.  They aren’t us. They are them…and either they have it inside or they don’t.  I think most do have it inside…after all…what is belly dance?  It’s natural movements (and yes…birth movements in the tummy) that all women are capable of doing.

I always demonstrate my own dance techniques when I have students….not so they are supposed to do like I do…but so they see the layers of movements that are necessary to DANCE.  It’s not just hips, or arms …or legs….it’s the combination of all these things.

I do have to slow down though.  I was dancing a riotous beladi and that is very, very individual.  My students look at my feet and they say:  How many beats are you hitting with the left and why the kick out, and how many with the right?

LOL~ Hell if I know.  It’s just a natural pattern that all dancers develop over the course of a few years of dancing that sets some patterns to the muscles…and involves a rhythm the body relys upon.  So you can’t teach the EXACT moves…and shouldn’t. THAT should be what each new dancer develops for herself.

This new student moved left and right….but she MOVED…and that is what is so good.  She didn’t stand there like a drying lump of clay and look confused ….or blank.  She tried….as much as the music…which she loved!….answered to own rhythm internally.

We broke class to watch on YOUTUBE….Fifi Ado…an  older Egyptian dancer…and a video sent by Phil from Egypt this week.  Both were absolutely natural dancers…which is why they are popular….Fifi Ado is such a natural dancer: there is no positioning herself and it’s not that you are watching her struggle with patterns in her head:  “Oh, let me do this now…and I’ll switch to that….on a four sided direction, and let me concentrate on a shimmy here and and now bring in more pelvic circles…”

No….Fifi Ado just dances.  She just uses her body in the most natural ways possible.  And she has some of the WORSE costumes possible…but that is funny!  Look beyond the skin tight mini dress and see the naturalist movement of a real dancer confident in her craft.

And that is it:  it’s a craft.  Developed over many, many years.  One man asked me how long it takes to become a belly dancer:  I said 15 years, but it’s not that at all.  I think women can be dancers from the cradle.  I think women can belly dance from the first year…month…but it’s perfected and made more natural over a life time.  And that is the rub.  Or non-rub.  Belly dance is a life time delight.  I have seen Lebanonese women in their 80’s creep up to the dance floor and when they start to dance?? They are transformed.  They are amazing!  The spine straightens, the arms are lovely, and they have lost NOTHING by age.  The music takes them, seduces them….and they seduce us!

We make too much of our patterning in class. We sweat and worry over too many missed beats, too many forms where we are trying to imitate the woman in front of us…or the teacher.  We expect to do this…but there comes a time when we feel the music in our bodies, our muscle memory wakes up! and we are dancing as we are capable.  And with more of this??? We get ‘better’.

I am so happy to be teaching this wonderful woman!  And this weekend I was asked to teach a class weekly at the local library.  This is the third time these women of the library have asked me in the last few months…and I have been avoiding it like the plague.  I don’t know that I can give the individual attention to each new student in that setting…and right now….I am so hands on that I can’t see how else to do it.  But perhaps I will….this summer, because they have air conditioning….and I don’t.  LOL!


Gardening!  This weekend I got potatoes/tomatos/cukes/strawberries/carrots/chives/lettuce/radishes/parsley plants/other stuff I can’t remember in….actually my French Breakfast Radishes are about a week old already..mulched and about 2″ high.

To me…..either cold pizza in the morning for breakfast or fresh French Breakfast radishes with a dish of salt to dip into are the perfect breakfast.  Go figure.

But I am glad I have done it.  And I am sunburned, too.  The Winter-White look is gone and at least the Vitamin D is circulating in my blood, now.

I am proposing a Garden Exchange with other friends and neighbors in the three closest neighborhoods ….and I am the one with the EGGS!  I also have the chicken shit, and will give that out in buckets to urban gardeners for manure tea.

Spring has sprung and I am happy for it.  Though I can’t breathe because of the pollen count.  But that will pass and the garden will grow…and so will my students.

Lady Nyo



I took a walk this morning.

The season has changed here

Though where you are they don’t.

The dried, brittle grass beneath my feet

Made a consistent crackle,

Echoed by the gossip of sparrows above.

The leaves are gone now from the birches and maples.

They fell like rain on a fallow ground one day

And I didn’t see them go.

I think of your rounded arms when I see the Shedding birches, the smooth bark like White skin with a faint pulse of the river beneath.

Do you remember that river, where it scared you to stand close to the bank?

You thought the earth would slip inward,

Take you on a wild ride downstream where

I couldn’t retrieve you,

And I saw for an instant your raised arms to me, imploring me silently to save you,

though it never happened and you never slipped down the bank and I never could save you.

But imagination plays with your mind when it is all you have left.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010

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)

Breasts….USE ’em!

October 22, 2009

Ok,……small rant here.  How much do breasts weigh?? About three pounds each??? I guess depending on size.

Sigh.  We all have them, but are they just stuck up there, like the prow of a ship???

Well, in belly dance, they are not just nice knockers, tucked into sequined bras, pumped up to look ‘cute’ or lascivious…


They are a zone in belly dance.  They are expressive (when used) elements that add to the dance.

Sigh….my students are all ‘older’ women…women who are advanced in life in many ways and are not blushing roses….but try to get them to do breast work in class?? And all the blushes and uncomfortable giggles come out.

Breast work is important.  You can develop a whole drum solo around breasts….well, not really, but breasts are a zone that you can use to add relief to the hips and other areas.

And they can be developed easily.  Well, easily if you MOVE them.

The underlying muscle must not be much used in our society, because most women don’t know that they can be ‘lifted’ from the muscle work alone (no hands!!) , and also they  work well in their own ‘infinity’ movements…those figure-eight  movements  we do with the hips/pelvis.

These breast movements can be ‘boxes’ to the count of four, or infinities, or circles…but it takes practice.  It’s just not a thing of shaking them.  You need control of these body parts.  You need to use them elegantly.

The best way to develop breast work is sitting down.  Perhaps brace your knees under the desk…and sit up straight.  Practice raising (by muscle alone, please!) both breasts and then do the circular movements together.  Try to envision only one breast moving…and then the other.

One of the things that happens in the beginning is your shoulders are moving and so is your torso.  Stop that.  Just concentrate on the puppies in front of you.  In a couple of weeks you will be amazed at how much control you have over this zone.  And you will be able to incorporate it  into your choreography.

OH! the best example I can come up with is this:  Sadie, Belly dancer doing the Drum Solo….I have it at home and have been circling it warily.

Amazing use of the breasts and Can Be Learned!!!  One trick  she does….watch how she holds her arms when she is doing breast work.

I wish my students would read this….I am going to take a flyswatter to them when they start laughing in class.

Teela/Lady Nyo

Weight Loss and Belly Dance

October 15, 2009
Fat Chance Belly Dancers.....LOVE that name!

Fat Chance Belly Dancers.....LOVE that name! Thanks to for the photo.

After a summer of sludge, of not moving much for various reasons, except to head out to a pool for a few laps, or hosing off in the garden, there wasn’t and hasn’t been much activity here.  Not enough to fight the summer flab we claim because of heat, humidity and sloth.

Summer is a hard trudge in the South, and we can make a lot of excuses for not moving.  Even belly dancers close it down in the summer because there is not enough air conditioning to cool 20-40 bodies moving in a studio. And ‘enough’ for a dancer dancing in a restaurant would be ‘too cold’ for the eaters.

So we continue on this fall with poundage around our hips and middles.  I had to laugh at one of my students…who was a terrible size 0 this spring, and now has love handles and a lovely rounded belly.  She looks fine to me but she is in a size 6 jeans and she is bitchin’.

Poor baby.

So the question arises:  can you lose weight belly dancing?

Yes…..and no.  It’s got to be a real mixture of a particular diet and a lot of combinations of movement.

As to diet…well, that will obviously vary with the dancer:  some can eat tons of carbs  and lose with a particular exercise, but then again….it probably varies from woman to woman.

I can’t recommend any diet, I know what I need to do for myself (finally)….but I can say what I think a good combination for weight loss through belly dancing is.

And it’s not fast.  It is a routine that has to build, and the first word is “Routine”.

It has to be done every day, if at all possible. I wear a pedometer and it’s hard to get to 10,000 steps a day just dancing.  But you can, and when you have, you know you have put in some movements.

In a class we are generally not going for cardio workout because for the longest time it seems we are going over and over the same combinations, and they have to be done SLOWLY.  I tend to go through them too fast, because they are more comfortable and ‘natural’ at this stage…but I have been practicing the same damn things for 5 years.  They are totally new movements for my students.

There are so many issues to look for:  The general posture of the dancer, the preciseness of the movements, the flow from one into the other, as in a combination from the hips/pelvis to the torso, to the breasts…and this stuff has to be learned very slowly.  Bad habits can become as ingrained as good ones.  So you are always checking what you and your students are doing.  Mirrors help.  And we all hate mirrors.

In teaching, I am learning so much of these steps are breaking them into small parts.  That slows you down for a while. We pattern the body and brain this way until it comes fluidly.

Today, I was teaching a moderate backbend:  Not a Turkish drop, or anything radical.  And I couldn’t do it if I wanted to, and I don’t.  But this backbend meant a couple of important things. You had to secure your balance and posture so you didn’t fall backwards and also so you didn’t hurt your lower back.  So you clench your glutes on one side….bend your knee on the other leg, brace your upper back and recline your head  on your shoulder for the arch.  There is a lot of tension necessary for this, and it really makes you aware of the muscles in your butt.

We all had fun hitting each other’s  glutes, because I wanted them to see the strength needed to support this arch movement.

Of course, this isn’t a straight line to fluid movement.  That will come in time…hopefully.

But until you break them down, you don’t realize how many issues are around in one simple (or not so…) movement.

But back to weight loss.  I think when we get to more combinations…like a hip circle travelling up the torso to breast circles, and back down again, this will give us all a ‘route’ in the body to strengthen and actualize the muscles.

And when we are working in unison and there is much less chatter!

Then there are myriad other movements in belly dance that with combinations layered on top of each other, certainly with shape and form the torso and all other parts of the body.

As for a cardio workout…yes, it can be.  A five minute beledi dance or any quick improvisation will provide that. And who actually stops at 5 minutes when you are finding an internal joy to express outwardly?

The weight loss will come for all of us, but that is when we are working seriously.


Stealing Souls, Healing Souls…..The Magic of Belly Dance

October 12, 2009
from Delilah's "Visionary Dance" site.  Delilah is a good dancer and a friend in Seattle

from Delilah's "Visionary Dance" site. Delilah is a good dancer and a friend in Seattle

If anyone reads this blog, they will come to know I am now a belly dance teacher.  A new one, but it is beginning to be quite a journey.

I have been thinking how teaching changes you.  In some ways, it has the potential, and should….to radically change you.  You are collecting your information and experience and passing it around.  You change your whole attitude, from one who ‘leads’ to one who serves.  And you do. But you grow through serving.

Of course you still lead, because you lead by example:  movement, positions, attitude, etc…These are the things you transfer to students.  But it is much more:  The radical changes in you can be instant.  You are more concerned with THEM, how they are picking up the lessons, the movements,  the potential for the dance.  You are concerned with what they are finding out about themselves, and this is the point.

You are concerned about their growth and joy.  You feed from it.

Belly Dance has the ability to radically reconstruct lives.  It’s not only in the transformation of bodies, the found flexibility, the delight in knowing  you are working to a sort of personal perfection, but it’s more. It’s a mental process: it’s in the attitude about a whole lot of things.

I have seen women (myself years ago) who were shy to move, self-conscious about their bodies, thinking that what they were as women was way beyond what they were seeing on stage:  That these graceful  and POWERFUL dancers were really mortals. That what they were doing was attainable.

It’s so much more than the physical presence of looking like a belly dancer.  The mental process is kick- ass and a dynamic that will pull you through death to life again.

A week ago I went with a student to a book signing and talk-to-the-author at our local library.  The author had survived breast cancer and was a physical therapist.  This was no young, personal trainer sort of therapist, she was grey haired and serious looking.  She looked like a nun.  She had written a book recently, with a lot of photos of exercises to do after a mastectomy.

We all went through the steps, and they were basically Tai Chi.  Good enough…..but they were so slight in her hands, that they were almost non-existent.   I wondered  is  this from the physical and mental devastation of cancer, or something different?   Since the surgery is done in the chest, there must be muscle restrictions for a while.  But what I missed was the ‘range’ of movement I am now so used to doing and seeing in others.

This physical therapist speaks from her own personal experience.  Others speak from their own.

But I found no joy in the demonstration.  Belly dance has come to mean something different to me.

Belly dance, when done for a longer time, is a transforming power. It goes quickly from the physical to the mental.  Perhaps the mental is driving the body.  There are so many avenues to explore with belly dance.  Self-expression, (improvisation) choreography, a physical strengthening, a graceful , endurance dancing, etc.

But perhaps the greatest is the Healing of Belly Dance.  I almost wrote ‘potential’ of Belly Dance, but that is untrue…at least to my experience.  It is concrete, bedrock, fundamental  when  learned, even in the beginning…and it  colors just about every sphere of my life now.

Last year at this time I fell seriously ill.  Well, it cost a lot, even with insurance.  I was hospitalized 3 times in October, and still there was nothing they could definitely pin the horrible pains in the stomach.  Lots of stupid tests and repeats.

I was sick enough that I couldn’t perform in Montreal in January, but I was able to make the master class of 4 hours duration.  It was worth the trip alone to work with Audra Simmons.

When I came home, I was elated by the class and watching this wonderful performance by various dancers and various core disciplines.  But I was still sick.   I wrote a lot of stuff this spring, thinking the mental exercises of a particular exorcism would cure me and still the pain was there.  I was avoiding the very thing that would pull me through, mentally, emotionally and physically.  I started teaching but only limited myself because I was tired and without energy.

Only when I started practicing for myself….and started to make a little get- your –ass- back- in- motion routine did I start to perk up and mentally cleaned house.  When I made a fuller commitment to myself the healing could begin.

This fall I started to teach more students….and it’s twice a week now.  I have been asked to teach a belly dance class at the library, and have been offered the usage of a good, large room at another neighborhood center.  I want that to be after the first of the year, ….perhaps and good.  I’ll see what life has in store for me, then.

I do know that I am very fortunate in the students I have.  They are interested in the spiritual, healing nature of what we are exploring, and they are making great strides even this early.  When they ‘catch fire’ and start to practice at home, on a regular basis, they will fly.

I am thinking of exploring this issue of trance, Hyperarousal Trance, with them.  They have already seen me dance a couple of times where I went into trance state very easily.  They are curious. And because it comes about from the physical repetition of movement, added by the natural  ‘muscle memory’ that is the core, it is theoretically attainable to any dancer.  They want to learn this, but I was shying away from it.  Mainly because I didn’t know ‘how’ to teach it.  I still believe that it is an individual progression to trance, and they will find their own ways.

But I can’t help but think how easily it will be for them if their paths are anything like mine:  the repetition of movement that trains us and makes those movements fluid and flexible, in part ‘removes our head’ from the process and allows us to float to other ‘places’.

We sit on the floor for breaks (one time the class lasted 2 full hours) and talk about how our bodies are feeling, how  especially how their minds are reacting to new and untried things, concepts.  They want to ‘try’ trance, you can see it in their eyes!  And when they get there?  They will be on fire with the magic of Belly Dance.

And they will be healing, too.


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