Sensual Joy: Sensuality with Valerick Molinary

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The very beginnings of my interest in belly dance are somewhat fuzzy these days. It’s been a fair few years since I dipped my toes into this glittery sea, but I distinctly remember my initial interest was sparked by “sensual belly dance.” A video of Blanca’s performance from her Sensual Bellydance DVD was the clincher for me, and was the first dance DVD I ever purchased.

I can’t say that it is a style I’ve performed much. I tend to pick more upbeat pieces for shows. You only get the one slot, after all. I think I also have shied away from more sensual performances because I’m not exactly well proportioned for the bedlah, and I’ve yet to find an Oriental style dress that fits both my body and my budget.

Even so, I relish the sensuality of belly dance. It makes me feel sexy even though I don’t particularly think I am. So, of course, I was extremely excited for Valerick Molinary’s Natural Sensuality workshop at StarFest in Oklahoma City this year.

I’ve never been uncomfortable with sensual movement. I can’t say I’m terribly pleased with what it looks like on film, but that’s more to do with my own insecurities about my body and weight than anything. But the workshop reminded me of how I’ve always been a proponent of getting lost in the music. Another dancer in the workshop commented on how, rather than projecting outward, I draw people inward.

In one of the novels I’ve been pecking at for several years now, I incorporate art, and dance specifically, as elements of worship, as how better to honor our creation, but with the gift of creation we have been given? Within the story, the definition of a good dancer is one who can be consumed by the music and almost forget there is an audience at all. It is the ability to make the audience lose themselves right along with you.

This is fiction, of course, but I think it jives well with how I feel as a dancer. I joke about how I step on that stage and blackout for those few minutes I’m up there, as I get lost in the moment and can’t remember what I even did when I step off the stage. I don’t count. I don’t choreograph. I dive into the music and let it move me. And then I cringe at the footage when I do something not terribly appealing, but we’re all our own worst critics.

The fact that I can even dance in front of people at all is pretty amazing, since I have crippling social anxiety and a long history of stage fright. I have never been one to draw attention to myself in any big way. So…naturally, I nearly had a heart attack when Valerick had me get on the stage twice during the workshop.

The first time wasn’t so bad, as everyone was also dancing and she was up on the stage as well. However, the second time I panicked. I’m not a pro. I don’t claim to be. I never intend to be. I don’t have the social ability or the business savvy for it, and I don’t necessarily think I’m good enough to be a pro anyway. I have a long way to go in my studies, and I know that. So being asked to get up in front of about 50 other women, half of which are pros of some kind, as well as two rather famous professional dancers to perform the choreography by myself was intimidating to say the least.

I screwed up the first time. I couldn’t remember the steps, probably because I was terrified, but I didn’t run out of the room screaming when I was asked to do it, so I did good. I managed to make it through it, even though I’m awful at chaine turns. And I’m sure it probably looked…um…sketchy. There is a video of it somewhere on someone’s phone, but I don’t know if I want to see it.

I did it though. People clapped and cheered. I have to say, I love how supportive the dance community is around here. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. And being called the “sensation of the weekend” by Valerick Molinary was pretty freaking insane. Maybe I’m better than I think. At the very least, I do sensuality well, I guess.

I’m still reeling from this experience, honestly. That workshop was probably one of my favorites, and not because I was complimented by the teacher, but because sensual belly dance is what got me into this. Finding this dance and this wonderful community is one of the best things that’s happened to me and has become one of my greatest passions in life.

I’m a writer by trade, but dance, dance is my joy.

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Fall Belly Dance Classes with Lileith!

 

Are you looking to add a little sparkle to your life? Are you looking for a fun new way to exercise, or do you just want to get up and dance? Well, I’ve got great news!

Starting October 23rd, 2018, Lileith of Dance with Lilieth will be offering another four class session of belly dance classes in Fayetteville, AR! Classes will be in the cabaret and Oriental styles and are for all levels.

Classes will be located at Fayetteville Pilates & Barre at 3379 N College Ave, Ste 5, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72703, across the parking lot from Whole Foods.

The four class session is $60, or $18 for individual classes if you cannot attend all four. Pre-registration is highly recommended.

Get your shimmy on and work that belly before the holiday rush takes hold! Come jingle with us! We look forward to seeing you!

Full class details and payment options can be found on the Facebook Event Notice.

Dancing with Myself: Part 2: The Cons of Self-Study

 

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David of Scandinavia Workshop 2017

While I have primarily done self-study throughout my dance “career” and have found it beneficial, there are a number of drawbacks to only engaging in independent learning. I only get snippets through the occasional workshops I do throughout the year and the couple of class sessions I’ve taken in the last couple of years, but I notice them.

No Feedback

One the downsides of independent study is you don’t get any teacher feedback. If your form is off, or if you’re doing something weird, you have to figure it out on your own, because there’s no one there to correct you. A way to mitigate this is to film yourself dancing a lot and comb over the footage and correct yourself accordingly, but it’s still not the same as immediate feedback from a more experienced dancer.

Lack of Guidance

When you study on your own, you’re…well…on your own. You have to decide how to develop your own program, which can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for. You don’t have the guidance of a teacher to steer you in the right direction. When I started, it was a bit of a struggle to find what fit, because I didn’t know the vocabulary. I didn’t know what words to look for. I gravitated towards Baladi and Shaabi early on, but it took a few years for me to learn the words to be able to seek those things out. For a long time, I confused the two because I found the word Shaabi first, and the dancer was wearing a baladi-style costume.

No Accountability

When you study on your own, you are the only one who can make you practice. There are no classes to ensure you practice on a regular basis. This is why when I do find classes to take, I pay for the entire session in advance. This obligates me to attend. No excuses for not going. I find myself often going through long periods where I don’t practice at all. If I had people to dance with, I feel I would dance more often.

Slower Progress

I feel like I have done well for learning on my own, but I also understand that my progress as a dancer has been slowed because of it. Having been acquainted with the Aalim Bellydance Academy for the last few years, I notice their students progress a lot faster due to the regularity of their practice, access to teachers, and regular performance opportunities. With lack of guidance, accountability, and feedback, you will move slower.

No Community

Ultimately, all of these issues come back to the ultimate drawback to self-study, the lack of involvement with the dance community. That support network isn’t there. All of the aforementioned issues come from this single most important point. Being a baby dancer all alone is really difficult. When you finally do stumble your way into the community, you feel like an uneducated dolt because you don’t know all the words. You don’t know the big name dancers, your dance ancestors, the famous composers. It can be intimidating.

I am grateful that managed to find the community via the workshop circuit. It has improved my dancing a lot even with just the few events I go to each year. I have met countless new friends through these experiences and even found a few classes as a result. While I am pleased with the results of my independent study, if I had had the opportunity to learn with others in the beginning, I would have. If you don’t have the opportunity to learn from a live teacher, or take a class, then independent learning is a great way to get started with exploring this beautiful dance. If you do have the opportunity to take a class, do it. Seriously, you won’t regret it.

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Folklore Cocktail Workshop with Vanessa of Cairo 2016

Dancing With Myself: Part 1: The Pros of Self-Study

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As I have mentioned before, I am a self-taught dancer. I didn’t exactly choose to learn that way. Lack of access to in person classes when I developed an interest in the dance drove me in that direction. However, I think it’s fair to discuss the pros and cons of self-teaching, as there are positives and negatives, and it’s a style of learning that works well for me. In making my list, I came up with a number of points for both sides, so I’m going to address them in separate posts. For this go round, I’m going to discuss the positives of self-teaching.

It’s Often Less Expensive

Unless you are like me, who buys nearly every DVD I can get my hands on, self-study is going to be less expensive than regular lessons. DVDs and online programs range in price, but generally fall within the $10-$30 (USD) range. You can get hours of study out of a good DVD for that one price, whereas regular classes can range $5-$20 a class depending on the teacher, the size of the class, the venue, and the city. There are also free online options for self-study if one wants to try learning without the investment.

You Move At Your Own Pace

With classes, you are locked into a certain pace, either dictated by the teacher, or often by the less experienced learners in the class. A lot of classes in smaller areas tend to be exclusively beginner level, which can be frustrating for more experienced dancers, or dancers who learn more quickly, as the pace of a class can be slowed by students who take longer to grasp some concepts. Self-study allows a dancer to move at whatever pace suits them. I like to be able to work on a concept as long as I want without feeling like I’m holding up a class, or move on from something I’ve figured out more quickly.

You Make Your Own Schedule

When you’re learning on your own, your learning schedule is whatever you make it. You aren’t bound to specific class times and locations. I have found this aspect especially useful for me, as I work overnights and have a bizarre sleep schedule. I can be studying at 06:00, 15:00, or 02:00 depending on the day and whenever I get a whim to dance.

You Aren’t Confined to One Style

With classes, you are limited to the style that the teacher dances. If there aren’t many PicsArt_08-17-01.48.43teachers in your area, then there may be only one, or possibly two styles to choose from. With self-study you can try out a number of different styles to find what suits you. I went through a number of styles before I settled on Egyptian. I just looked through lists of DVDs and bought the ones that looked appealing and eventually the one that felt most natural for my body finally emerged. I also enjoy the freedom of being able to pick up new styles whenever I want, such as Saidi, or Shaabi, because there are so many programs out there by wonderful dancers.

You Get to Choose the Style of Learning that Works Best for You

Everyone learns differently, and self-study allows you to choose the way that works best for you. I’m a visual learner. I’m more suited to the “monkey see, monkey do” style of learning, so I like to see a movement at full speed rather than a slow breakdown. My brain processes the complete movement more easily than the individual components. I also prefer technique programs over learning through choreography (mostly because I’m terrible at remembering choreography) and prerecorded programs allow me to work that way. Sometimes, I just need to watch a movement or a combination over and over again and then let it percolate in my brain before I try it.

Improvisational Skills

Perhaps I’m biased simply because this is how I dance, but I think self-study can lead to developing improvisational skills earlier in the learning process. Most classes I’m familiar with tend to teach through choreography. Improvisation tends to come later, particularly with studios that do troupe numbers most of the time. Since I was never taught through choreography, I have always improvised. This is a double-edged sword, however, but we’ll get to that in the next post.

These are some of the benefits of self-study that I have noticed over the years for myself. Granted, my experiences with learning via classes and workshops are minimal and only based in the U.S. I’m sure other countries teach differently, particularly in countries of origin. This is not a slam on classroom learning. These are simply positives of the type of learning I have chosen for myself. Next time, we’ll get into the cons of self-study, and subsequently the pros of group learning as a result.

Ma’as salaamah!