return to the World of DANCE!

I’m back!

Last month I began bellydancing again after my second hip replacement! Not “full steam ahead”, of course, but more and more each week.

Now after a month of dancing, I’m extremely happy to be both dancing, and able to KEEP UP with my students! The skills came back really fast, though my left leg muscles do get tired quickly. It’s getting better though.

Side-steps are the hardest – who knew what a good exercise the “grapevines” were!? My dancers have learned to make their steps a little smaller when I’m dancing with them so I don’t get overwhelmed during the TOBD Circle grapevines. Previously, they’d be absolutely FLYING around the circle – and I couldn’t keep up! I don’t think they realize how very energizing it is to dance in a circle!

In mid-October I performed a little bit of our tribal improv at a camping event in North Carolina, with several other dancers who were there. That was my first time dancing in public since my surgery, and it was such a blessing. It was an amazing experience. I posted about it here: Camping at War of the Wings.

This past weekend, I danced my little butt off at our Warm Hearts Hafla (a food drive for the local food bank). My students and I did a tribal set of several songs, in a low-key party mode. It was so much fun! Then we had open dancing to funky Arabic pop music, and I just danced myself silly and had a great time.

photo of dancers at a hafla

Anthea surrounded by dancers

Tribal Odyssey has been a godsend for me as I come back to bellydance. The moves and steps are challenging but I can manage if I’m careful, and I know it will only get better. It gives me a pathway to dance, and to dance with my friends, where I don’t have to worry about doing the same repetitive routine over and over. The variety we have really works for me because I’m able to do the steps that suit me best at the moment. I’m just loving this dance journey right now!

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whose side are we on, anyway?

who brought up religion?


I know people look for markers, patterns, SIGNS – something recognizable to help them make sense of things, and I’m aware of specifically religious end-time symbolism because my first husband was a religious scholar and we both enjoyed discussing theology, theories, and beliefs. I’m also well aware of how some devout Christians strive to distance themselves from any kind of devilry or worship of what they would consider “false gods”.

That being said, I want to set the record straight on my use of the “Eye of Horus” symbolism in our dance format; as well as clarify any references I personally might make concerning the “Goddess”.

The Eye of Horus

image of eye of horus

ancient Egyptian symbol and cool eye makeup

  1. First of all, the “Eye of Horus” is Egyptian, and this dance format is specifically inspired by Egyptian dancing. The shape of the Eye of Horus as used in our format specifically refers to the shape of our dance group in a certain situation when more than 4 of us dance together. This symbolism was first suggested by my co-creator Miramar as a way to help students remember this shape when dancing with a group. It refers to the shape of the group when the Lead Dancer is on the short side of the group. This Improv Tribal Style format is not choreographed but must be created on the spot by the dancers themselves, so any memory tricks are welcome.
  2. Secondly, use of this ancient Egyptian symbol does not signify that I promote, condone, or even permit any behaviour or rituals dedicated to Paganism, let alone Satanism, in my dance activities. In fact I actually became an ordained minister in 2002. Don’t get me wrong, I think paganism can be a positive force (at least it’s better than nothing); but it’s not what I’m about, nor is my dance art about that. When I personally lead a pre-performance circle before a show I quite clearly invoke, by name, the Creative Spirit, a Divine personality. How old-school, to be sure!
  3. Third: in the end what counts is MOTIVATION – that is, what is really in someone’s heart when they wear or use a symbol. People may be fooled by appearances, but the Spirit is not. For instance, if I don’t know any better than to worship a God who has human emotions like anger, that’s fine. But if I know better than that and I still pretend to believe in it – that’s not okay. My religion is of God, but don’t expect me to put my new wine in any of your old wineskins.

And now, enter the GODDESS.

I use imagery that speaks to me – and the attributes of nurturing care and planning that females bring to the table are best personified to me on a universal level by the concept of the Goddess, our Mother Spirit, a complement to the seed of our Universal Father, God. Just two aspects of the trinity deity we come from, move in, and can return to.

Since our finite minds are far from being able to understand, let alone explain these concepts of infinity, the familiar concept of the Goddess stands in as a sort of mental shorthand that gives us dancers an image of inspiring feminine spirituality.

Ant that is why, in my personal work, and for my student dance group that performs all styles of belly dance, I use this image:

Goddess dancer image

my dance logo, created by my daughter

It’s as far from a false god as you can get.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that often what other people see is a mirror of what they have in their minds, and is not really about me at all. But in any case, now this is as clear as I can make it.

If you don’t understand this or have any questions, please feel free to ask me.

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we take care of each other

Tribal wisdom is gained by experience

We help others create good memories when we dance together

Each performance is a chance to create good memories, and build trusted connections between each other.

In Improv Tribal Style each performance is different – anything can happen; often we have a brand new experience with a certain turn, or move, or transition between moves – you never know! That’s one of the reasons I love tribal improv so much. It’s fresh and different every time.

A group choreography works with any dancer, interchangeably – as long as she knows it and performs it correctly; whereas each particular dancer impacts the entire group in “follow the leader” dancing. Each dancer can express her personality freely. She can lead gently, wildly, do the same moves and transitions each time, or put odd combinations together; always include turns, or lead-changes, circles, etc.

So I love the feel of different energies in tribal bellydance, the various looks, faces, bodies, personalities that make up a tribe. We’re recognizable as a group yet each person has their own unique way of going.
In tribal society the older care for the younger, guiding them and showing them how to handle the world – or the performance; protecting them until the younger are strong enough to pull their weight as a leader.

“Elder” is not just a term of age, but signifies someone who “knows much” in a tradition; someone who can answer questions because of their earned knowledge.

This performance trio of widely differing experience levels tickles me because I see Galiyah calmly carrying on and gently leading the other two, who are still “young” in terms of performing. In fact, neither of them are playing cymbals during this performance, yet they’re dancing to ONLY finger cymbals. Only Galiyah and I are playing – this is something new for the others and they seem quite comfortable because they trust the leader.

When I watch these dancers, one very experienced and comfortable in Tribal Odyssey, having danced it for over a decade, with the two others with much less experience, I see an elder taking care of the tribe.

It’s natural, comfortable, and ageless.

I also love the family feel of hearing the kids (and dad) during filming!
Is this like your tribal experience?
by Anthea Kawakib
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new playlist for the next show…

Finding the right mix of music

At our upcoming show “Sequins and Shimmies” we only have time for a short group improv set. 

We’re using a mix of traditional, American, and Egyptian pop music. With our mixed group all onstage together, we’ve planned to use each song a certain way:

  1. Chorus and Center Dancers, to “Lilith’s Groove Garden” (Dolphina’s Goddess Workout Music). This is a song we haven’t used before, but it has a good tempo and since John Bilezikjian is playing, it’s automatically awesome.
  2. Slow Combos and Sword, to “Isis” (Desert Wind). This is a short song so the plan is not to repeat anything. Good luck, gals!
  3. Chorus and CD, to Habibi Ya Albi (Ehab Tawfiq). But this time when the advanced dancers go out to dance together as Center Dancers, all of them will go as a group. I told them to take the lead playing finger cymbals since only two dancers will be left in the Chorus Line to “bookend” the Center Dancers. We like LOUD cymbals!

Do you think it’s weird to use such a song for Tribal? We love the feeling and it makes a good finale: Habibi Ya Albi

When you only have a short time segment for Tribal, what criteria do you use when putting a music playlist together?

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drills for zills

On your own?

you can still drill your way to zill skills

My regular students get to pull out their finger cymbals every week, and that’s one of the reasons they all learn to play. Playing cymbals isn’t something you can do just now and then and expect to get any better. You need regular practice to really get it!

To make it even easier for them, since we only get a few minutes in class, I filmed the dance combinations that include finger cymbals, for both slow and fast combos.

Several years ago my original partner Miramar created a choreography called “Zill Drill to Fulfill” using our tribal combinations to engage her own students and develop their skill at playing cymbals. More recently, the fantastic Nina Amaya’s troupe Aubergine also created a drill using these combinations to increase their own “zill skills” as well.

It’s true that these TOBD combinations featuring cymbals are the easiest way to help students learn to play. If you want to learn to dance with cymbals try the Slow Combos drill:

if you’re familiar with playing cymbals and just want to hone your strokes or increase your speed, follow the Fast Combo drill:

Try it yourself and see – follow-me drills are the easiest way to get better at playing finger cymbals!

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investing time in dance drills

Small drills pay off big later

but how do you find the time?

In a recent show my advanced dancers and I were in the middle of a Tribal Odyssey set when somebody cued the Flare-Kick combo while we were in a circle. My be-here-now focus must’ve been off by a beat or two because I missed the cue and never did catch up. Naturally this particular combination is an extra-long 16 counts, and involves turns and eye-catching arm moves – plenty of time for the audience to notice any irregularities! Oh well.

Wouldn’t you think that several years after creating the combination and plenty of time spent teaching and dancing it, I’d be bullet-proof in terms of boo-boos? Not so much.

So I featured this long but simple combo in drills of the smallest bite-size chunks in class this week, and will continue to do so. My dancers actually love drills, and they’re quick to point out we have so many combos now that getting them all into drills on a consistent basis is hard with such limited class and rehearsal time.

How do you handle drills for a large repertoire of “group choreography” combinations? Do you have any pointers? Is is just that we need another hour or two a week? That solution seems unlikely.

I previously wrote about our Skirt Moves here: we got skirts and we know how to use them a title that seems ironic now! I think we’ll know how to use them better if we continue our Skill Drills!

two dancers

that’s me behind Galiyah, trying to keep up!

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Birds of a feather… are dancing together

separated by design

By their costume you shall know them

At our Tribal Hafla (Food Drive) in Fredericksburg VA this past weekend, all the dancers danced together in one large group.

Now sometimes, we’ll separate the levels by songs, and have one level dance at a time. At this event though, I just wanted to flow to go on and on, and not worry about which song was on.

The upper level dancers did “take over” a few songs for our specialty prop numbers though: the dancers using Veil, Sword, or Candles did use the entire song, leaving the others to stay in the Chorus Line, but overall, most of the set list was Mixed. Just the way I like it!

It just so happened that the upper level dancers all recently acquired a particular costume style, and we used that to help everyone remember “who to dance with”. Since the event was a “Hafla” – meaning Party – the basics level students were allowed to wear whatever costume they wished, because wearing what they want is part of their fun. So we all were able to tell right away, when anyone went out front to dance, whether to go out with them or not. This way the levels stayed separated, and no newbies were nonplussed.

I don’t know if we’ll have another chance to use this “separated by costume” criteria, but it worked just fine this time, so we’ll keep it in mind.

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