Saturday, August 21, 2021

Cane Dance

I'm teaching cane in my beginning 2 American Cabaret belly dance classes this session. Below are links on the history of the cane dance along with tips on performing with this fun prop. 

In Arabic the cane is called an Asaya or Tahtib, and comes from the Sa'id region of Egypt.

Tahtib and Egyptian Raqs al-Assaya -

Learn Bellydance styles: Saidi and Raqs Assaya -

Raqs al Assaya: Egyptian women's cane dance - 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Tips on How to do Turns

I use to have an articles page on my website and unfortunately I had to take it down due to broken links and up keep getting to be too much. I loved the articles written by Princess Farhana. When you have time please check out her blog for more great articles on belly dancing - Thank you Princess Farhana for taking the time to write so many great articles on all aspects of belly dance.

Below is one article of hers on how to improve your turns. I know some of my students have had issues with turning, I hope these tips help improve your turns and dance. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016


[source: Princess Farhana Blog,]

Turns and spins may look effortless on stage, but the components that go into them are many, and sooo much more than just moving through space.

When I first started dancing, turns seemed like an elusive, unreachable goal. I knew nothing about the mechanics involved... and all too often, I found myself in classes where it wasn’t properly broken down, either. It seems that outside of beginning ballet classes, it’s just assumed that dancers already have the foundation technique or innate ability to execute a turn-or series of turns- and that’s simply not true!

To begin with, clean well-executed turns of any kind all start with balance. 

Achieving and maintaining the center of gravity in the body is crucial to dance in general, and specifically for turning. This sense of stability activates three different parts of our physical bodies, and they must work together, constantly shifting and adjusting to make up the clean execution of turn technique.

The first is our vestibular system, located in the inner ear. Without getting too scientific, it’s the primary place that controls our ability to move our bodies. The vestibular system sends messages to our brains about kinetics, or the ability to fuse movement with balance.  This is why people affected with inner ear problems or an ear infection often experience vertigo or dizziness.

The second is our motor control skills, which govern the interaction between our brains and our muscles, bones and tendons. The motor system sends cognitive information from the central nervous system to our musculoskeletal system, enabling us to perform every day movements and tasks…and to dance.

The third component is the ocular or visual system, which not only allows us to see, but registers depth perception and physical orientation. Of course, the eyes send info to our brains when we dance. It’s important to know that during a turn, unless you’re a crackerjack at spotting, your eyes won’t be fixed on a certain point, putting your equilibrium a little out of whack.

All three of these  bodily systems work together as reflexes to aid our proprioception, or the sense of our physical body in space. A common example of the use of proprioception (or lack of it!)  is the field sobriety sobriety test where an offer commands a potential offender to close their eyes while standing on one foot and touching their nose? A sober person can usually do this easily, but someone who is impaired or intoxicated cannot.

Ok, so now that you’ve got a little background, let’s move on to some exercises that will get you turning like a champ.

Develop Your Proprioception

In my classes, to demonstrate what proprioceptive orientation is, I ask my students to close their eyes, extend their arms, and stand on one foot for as long as they can.   Some can do it for an extended time naturally, while others start to sway and waver… while sober!  Proprioception works almost without any visual cues, it’s our body’s sense of “righting” itself. The good news is that by doing exercise better proprioception skills can be developed.

Improve Your Balance

Check and see where your weight is by rising slowly up onto the balls of your feet and maintaining the position for as long as you can. Notice where the brunt of the weight is. If it’s on the outside of your foot, towards the small toe, that’s showing a weakness in your ankles. This position is not optimal for turning, and it could potentially injure you. A “classic” Dancer’s Sprain occurs when the foot rolls over onto the outside edge, during dancing or any type of day-to-day activity.

Try this exercise to get your weight placed properly:

With feet just under your hips, rise up slowly onto the balls of the foot, pressing your toes into the floor. Keep your weight over the middle of each foot, and a little towards the big toe. Hold this position for at least eight counts, and slowly lower down to the floor. If you need to, use a ballet barre, a chair or even a wall or doorframe to maintain stability.  Hold on as lightly as possible, trying to let your body do most of the work. Repeat at least four times, slow and steady.

Another exercise is to stand with the feet hip width apart. Pick up one foot- not too far off the ground- while making sure the foot you’re standing on has equal weight distribution between the ball and the heel. Hold in place for at least thirty seconds, before switching to the other foot. Repeat.

Strengthen And Stabilize Problem Areas

Even though we dance constantly, all of us are stronger in certain areas…and those areas over-compensate for where we are weaker. One of the most notoriously weak areas for many dancers (of all genres) is in the hip. My chiropractor taught me these strengthening and stabilizing the hips.

The first is to strengthen the calves. Stand on a staircase and lightly hold the railing, stand on one step with the toes and ball of both feet on the stair itself. Raise both feet to releve’ position, hold for sixteen counts, then as slowly as possible, lower the feet so that the heels are pointing downwards, towards the next lower step.  Repeat at least four times. This will strengthen your calves and give a nice stretch to your hamstrings, too.

For he second exercise on the stairs, turn sideways to face the railing, holding it lightly, keeping the knees soft. Keep one foot on the step itself, and slowly lower the other foot towards the next step. If this is difficult, your hip is weak; you also might notice that one side is stronger than the other. Repeat the exercise on both sides at least four times initially, building slowly towards eight, then twelve repetitions.

Find Your Weight Placement For Turning

Practice each turn in its most basic form; even if you think you’ve mastered it already.  This will help you with the “intention” of the turn, and burn it into your muscle memory. Do the turn in slow motion on flat feet, planting each foot firmly down onto the floor before taking the next step. Next, do the same thing, but with your eyes closed. After you’ve repeated these movements a few times, do the turn full speed and you should notice a marked improvement.

Engage Your Core While Turning

While we perform or rehearse, we are in dance posture:  spine elongated, abs engaged, ribcage lifted, shoulders back and down. But sometimes in class or during solitary practice, we forget our posture because we are so focused on mastering technique. In order to execute a great turn, keeping dance posture is essential…and that includes keeping your core tightly engaged. This will provide you with far better bodylines, and provide an essential center of gravity.

Learn To Spot

Spotting keeps the dancer’s eyes and heads oriented in a certain place to alleviate dizziness and to enhance control during turning.   The way it works is that a fixed focus for the eyes will help you to keep control and retain your balance. While the actual turn is happening, the dancer’s body will rotate at a certain speed… but the goal of spotting is to have the head actually get through the rotation a little more quickly, in order to control the direction of the turn or series of turns.

Spotting is simply the act of focusing on a certain spot while turning.  To practice spotting, pick a location on a wall or the studio mirror, and practice turning very slowly, beginning and ending each turn with your eyes on the place you’ve picked as your spotting point.

If you practice these techniques, your turns should show a marked advancement in a fairly short time.

Happy dancing!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Belly Flap: an article about my TV Show, The Joy of Belly Dancing by Peter Gilstrap

I found this old article written about myself and my TV show, The Joy of Belly Dancing from the Phoenix New Times. My TV show ran from 1990 - 2003. It was so much fun and I met so many wonderful people from all over the US.

Belly Flap


[Phoenix New Times]

If I said, "Excuse me, but if I were to serve you a fragrantly seasoned lamb kebab with a side of kibbe-nayeh, would you be interested in watching a little belly dancing?" you'd probably say, "Yes. Please bring on the lamb kebab, the side of kibbe-nayeh, and, by all means, I would really be interested in watching a little belly dancing."

Now if I were to say, "Excuse me. I cannot offer you food of any kind, but would you like to read a column about belly dancing?" you'd probably say, "No. Without Middle Eastern food, what could possibly be interesting about belly dancing?"

At this point, a knowing smile would play across my lips as I said, "Ah, but there is much to learn about belly dancing, right here in our very own Valley." You might still scoff, but determined as I am, I would simply ignore your scoff and continue, staring you down.

"In fact, this whole belly-dancing thing is big, and it's getting bigger all the time. And it's all happening out there in the suburbs, barely concealing itself; it's spreading like crazy, and there's nothing you or I or anyone can do about it." Now you would look at me like I was nuts, but I wouldn't care. I would have your attention, kibbe-nayeh be damned.

And I wouldn't be exaggerating.

There is the Arizona Middle Eastern Dance Association bimonthly newsletter. There is the weekly Cox Cable show The Joy of Belly Dancing. There are festivals, classes, workshops, videos and studios that cater to BD fanatics from beginners to advanced. There are traveling BD superstars who come to town to offer seminars. There are women of all ages, shapes, sizes and coordination levels spending hundreds of dollars on revealing, glitter-laden outfits, women who can do astonishing things with finger cymbals, women with bellies great and small who live to apply them to dancing.

The moon is high above the desert as the dancers begin to arrive to film the special Christmas episode of The Joy of Belly Dancing. What used to be a Bank One building in Tempe is now the Cox Cable television studio; the space is small and dark with a couple of cameras on the floor.

Yasmina has been hosting her show here for the past six years. You've probably seen her as you flip through channels, a red-haired woman in a two-piece costume leading her gang of dancers through the steps in a small black room.

Outside of belly circles, Yasmina is known as Pam Parker, technical librarian at Intel Corporation. But in the staid halls of Intel, chances are you won't be seeing her bare midriff, which means you'll also be missing the large, flowing rose tattooed to the right of her navel, not to mention the impressive, four-color dragon on the lower half of her right leg.

But Pam is nowhere to be seen tonight as Yasmina sweeps into the tiny studio in a magnificent outfit laden with multicolored beads that wink in the light, an outfit that can best be described as something only a belly dancer could wear.

And there are others.

Morgiana, Adayna, Noorjahan and Nila, all with similar get-ups, all with bellies open for viewing. In the normal world, they are Helen, an inspector at a machine shop; Dayna, a surgical nurse; Renee, a part-time Farsi teacher; and Pat, a retired catering-truck driver.

Filming for The Joy of Belly Dancing, which takes place twice a month and airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m., is a family affair. Yasmina's father and sister run the cameras; Dennis, boyfriend of Morgiana, is usually in the booth with Yasmina's husband John doing the audio and the credits. And Yasmina's mom is the gofer. The show goes out all over the state, where Yasmina tells me there are serious pockets of die-hard belly-dance fans from Jerome to Kingman to Yuma.

As everybody knows, you can't have a Christmas belly-dancing show without Christmas belly-dancing decorations. Which is why Yasmina is hanging up red, white and green veils on the wall in what is more or less the shape of a Christmas tree. Then Adayna arrives with strings of beads and big plastic snowflakes. Those go up, too. Then the stuffed camels come out, and the pillows and a brass drum.

Darned if it doesn't all add up to a really warm, homey Christmas feeling. It's like being in some Bedouin holiday tent in the desert, if Bedouins believed in Christianity.

But what of the music? On the platter is traditional Christmas music, customized for belly dancing. The ladies will shake it to "The Little Drummer Boy," "Jingle Bells," all your Yuletide favorites, but they're performed in a kind of skewed key and drum-heavy rhythm. Strange. But then, this is a slice of the exotic, mystical world of the Middle East.

Morgiana is up first; she does a "czar dance" which involves her kneeling on the floor and whipping her head around--and I do mean whipping--for something like five minutes. This is supposed to drive out the evil spirits. The belly plays virtually no role in this one, but it's still very impressive.

Then Morgiana has to cut out early to go see her son play football on his high school team. Such are the ways of belly dancers in the exotic, mystical world of Tempe. These women clearly get a huge kick out of doing this and are great friends. Before leaving, Morgiana kisses "the girls" on the cheek. During later filming, each dancer will find that her cheek has huge red lipstick prints on it, and tapes have to be rewound while they wipe off.

As the evening progresses, bellies are shaken, lots of flesh quivers about, and it's really quite a sight. Everyone does a solo turn, then dancers join each other in different combinations. Swords appear, and are balanced on heads. Red candles in snifters are produced, and they too become part of the dance. Yasmina does what looks like a limbo. When she gets bent completely backward, she puts the sword on her belly and makes the thing vibrate. Sequined hips are wiggling. Bangled arms undulate. Cleavage heaves. It's hot in the studio.

The Joy of Belly Dancing, indeed.

A couple nights later, I am visiting Yasmina and John, her husband of 20 years, a part-time cable-TV audio tech and full-time auto-parts salesman. This is a dedicated couple; they've raced cars together, gotten tattoos together and for the last few years, they've taken on the world of belly dancing. Together.

Would you be able to tell that this cute little Mesa house is home to a belly dancer? Well, it's got three pythons in the living room (Fethe, Kaa and Atika, all of whom make it on stage now and again). Next to the 51-inch TV there's an enormous painting of what appears to be a Bedouin desert scene. And, scattered all over, there are stuffed camels. Seventy-five or so. Yasmina just likes them.

I ask her why so many women would want to put on expensive, revealing outfits and rapidly move their flesh.

"Maybe it's the camaraderie," she says. "And the music; it's hard to explain how it makes you feel. It's your interpretation of that piece of music, and you get lost in it . . . When I started 10 years ago, it was as a way to get in shape, and it became something more. I never dreamed that I would perform and teach and have a TV show--I just wanted to have fun."

Fun may or may not have been behind ancient belly dancing, apparently.

"It's a woman's dance, but they really don't know how it got started," she offers. "Some say it started in the harems because they were bored, so they danced for each other. Then, of course, the sultans got in on the act. Some say it could have been a religious dance or a birthing dance performed when someone is giving birth to show them the muscles to use."

Well, that would do it. But the dances performed now are not necessarily what they were doing a few thousand years ago.

"Belly dancing changes like everything else--ballet, jazz, modern dance. In the Middle East they didn't really teach dancing, you learned from watching, and that's how it's taught today," she explains.

And, perhaps most important, you don't have to possess a body that would get you tips at Bourbon Street Circus. Yes, it helps to have a belly.

"You've got to roll it. I've had several Middle Easterners call me and say, 'I don't want the skinny, scrawny, I want a woman who has some meat on her.'"

So the art of belly dancing will continue to grow here beyond the kebab-and-kibbe-nayeh circuit--as long as we can remain at least remotely friendly with our brothers in the Mideast, that is.

The oil embargo and belly dancing did not mix, Yasmina admits.

"Yeah," she says, "when everyone was waiting in line to get gas, they didn't want to be reminded of the Middle East." 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

How to Clean Kuchi Jewelry

 It has been too long since my last blog. I'm going to try and post a new blog every week.

This weeks blog is an article I wrote about cleaning Kuchi jewelry. When I had my business, Shimmybliss, I imported Kuchi jewelry and through trial and error I learned how to clean it. Enjoy and I hope it helps when it comes to cleaning your own Kuchi jewelry.

How to Clean Kuchi Jewelry
by Yasmina

To understand how to clean Kuchi jewelry you must understand what this jewelry is made with. 

The Kuchi pieces I’m focusing on is the inexpensive pieces made with a brass base also known as “gillet” metal. The base is about 75% – 80% brass with either copper, silver, iron or all these metals mixed in. Then a thick silver plating is buffed on the surface and can last for years. Once this plating starts to wear off your pieces start looking brassy.

Some of your jewelry will also contain glass jewels and beads. These items are held in place with beeswax and can come out easily with wearing and cleaning. Don’t leave your jewelry out in the sun or in a hot vehicle or use hot water to clean your jewelry you will melt the wax. I normally replace these jewels using jewelry glue or a clear drying gloss medium like Glossy Accents that can be purchased at any craft store.

Since Kuchi jewelry is brass based you will see green oxidation in areas. It is difficult to get rid of this oxidation; using baking soda will help. Mix your baking soda with water into a paste and using a soft toothbrush to get into any crevices, this should remove the oxidation or most of it.

To clean your Kuchi jewelry use a mild dish soap and a soft toothbrush being careful around any glass jewels. Make sure you completely dry your pieces after cleaning.

For really dirty jewelry you might want to try other things like toothpaste, diluted lemon juice, ketchup or baking soda. Use a soft toothbrush or Q-tip to clean in those hard to reach areas.

There are cleaners on the market for cleaning silver and brass; I don’t recommend these cleaners. Remember you are dealing with gillet metal which is a mixture of different metals. What will work on one piece may not work on another. Use a Q-tip and test an area of your piece to see how it will react you don’t want to remove the silver buffing on your jewelry. 

When you have finished cleaning your jewelry use a jewelers cloth to buff your pieces. After wearing your jewelry use your cloth to keep your pieces nice and clean.