Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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)

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.


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

Belly Dance and Life Lessons….

February 23, 2009

I gave a class tonight, in my house, to girl friends, neighbors….and I didn’t expect it to be so…transforming!

These are all new students….women in early middle age, and one actually a little older than I, but there were so many things happening at the same time…I was frazzled in the end..

But a Good Frazzle.

These women were looking for more than exercise patterns.  All talked before class openly about Spirit, our Divine connections with the Universe.  I was just trying to form a lesson plan…

LOL!  But you can’t get a bunch of women together without them talking more about the ‘higher’ issues and belly dance certainly is a projection of this….A definite path to this part of existence.

I wanted to see their reaction to a number of stimuli.  So I was pretty sneaky about it.  First I tied coin scarves around their hips (luckily, I had enough….3 students, 3 scarves.)  I didn’t wear anything but a black dance top and low hip jeans.  I have lost weight…recently, especially since Montreal, and I just wanted them to see me in as ‘plain’ a way as possible.  I knew what would happen, when I danced for them….and I wanted them to see it was NOT about costume, or any external issues…but about the ‘inner dancer’ projected outward in dancing.   I wanted them to feel ‘special’ and in the beginning, these little tricks, like coin scarves …makes the connections within.  It also gives them some physical way to ‘hear’ the movements of their bodies..makes them aware that motion is actually happening even when the motion is subdued, timid and not all that (yet) expressive.

Most women are self-depreciating when they start something new like belly dance….”Oh, I am clumsy!~  “I am a slow learner”  “I can’t do that!”…

But they can…and they can do it fast.  Everyone is an individual  and learns at their own pace…and turn out to have great abilities..whether it’s one with arms, another with hips or another with something else…

In Montreal…exactly a month ago this Saturday, Audra Simmons turned us all onto (all 40 of us…at least!) to a wonderful piece of music…by this Icelandic group..Sigur Ros.

The piece of music was “Ara  batur”….and she did an arm dance…which is a constrained (in the beginning) dance only of arms and hands, that widens, broadens outwards but not too much.

I decided to demonstrate this as a ‘warm up’ for the very important arms.  What I didn’t expect was the emotional outpourings of the woman watching.

Ok, I am a dancer, not too experienced…only 5 years this April, but I do know enough to present myself, and to fall into the moment. And this piece of music effects me profoundly.  I go into a zone…a trance almost..I have to watch it because I WILL…left alone…but a trance takes time to return from….and I had responsibilities here.

But the music is transformational.  Pure and simple…and I can’t get away with just going through the motions…not with this piece.  It effects a dancer so deeply that there is no half-assing oneself.

My whole demeanor changes…I am no longer the teacher, but a woman in full flush of the beauty of the music.  My body, though I was aware that I didn’t have much room…I was ‘conscious’ of this…and really I didn’t need room…well, I fell fast into some zone here.  I did most of the 9 minute dance, and when I stopped…the women were crying.  It’s not because I was ‘so beautiful’ dancing…but I had this “Incredible Glow” as I was told….

As I said…the music was transformational.  And each student wanted to have a part of that transformation in her life.  Demonstrating this was more than just this part of the lesson.  They saw the possibility of merging with “Spirit” as they all were talking about before.

Any one can do this…with work, attitude and opening to the possibilities.

We went on with the class, and I think I learned more than they did tonight.

I learned that dancing and teaching is a very powerful, POWERFUL, thing.  It is not to feed the personal ego, but to uplift and spread confidence and beauty around.

It is to strengthen that potential in each of us.

Each of us were capable of the needed muscle memory that is the ‘track’ to dance…to transcend the steps, the counting, the groundedness of belly dance and to ‘make it ours’ in a very personal and individual style. To soar and fly within and to make that expression outward.

I am so proud of my girls.  And I am proud of myself for being open and able to teach.

I didn’t know how it would go..there were so many distractions! Each woman needed hands on….literally! and sometimes you have to ‘force’ the movement, or quell the movement and try to transfer the energy to another part of the body.  It’s really physical, this teaching.

We cooled down on the floor, laughing and talking about our private lives, men and all sorts of ‘stuff’.

I am tired, sore and exhilarated.  I also know that I was ready to teach…finally.  It might come down to ‘who was teaching whom?’ but it really didn’t matter.

They were already dancers, from the first time they put on the coin scarves.

Seeing this, this reinforcement of the potential of each woman?

That was transformational to me.  So many wonderful lessons tonight.

Teela and Lady Nyo

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