Friday, December 23, 2016

Looking to 2017...

So this is a companion piece obviously to yesterday's year in review post. :)

As a bit of additional information from yesterday, in dancing in more shows than I originally had planned to and with the healing process regarding dance, I ended up recycling a bunch of pieces that I had done before. And, yes, since these pieces had never been performed here, they were essentially new for the area. They were okay but didn't feel as satisfying as I would have expected them to be. Or, in some cases, it was hard to reproduce the piece as it had originally been intended, which wasn't a big deal since I'm an improvisational dancer but was a disconnect from the enjoyment that I had had on some of those pieces before. And this is important b/c it leads to a bunch of goals for next year. :)

Goal: Work on more pieces
Since I had so few new pieces this year, one of the goals for 2017 is to work on new pieces to have them ready at the drop of a hat should I need to fill in at the last minute for a show. I used to have a paradigm where I knew when the big events were and I'd get ready for those and map that out way ahead of time. I don't have such a blueprint to go by now and while I do have some performances planned already for 2017, it's not within the context of (insert ominous voice) big event so something to adjust to.

Goal: Redefine what practice is/Rekindle practicing
For a number of reasons that I won't get into, I'm taking some distance from the style and term of "tribal fusion", which is also having a rippling effect on my goals for next year. One of the very immediate thought that popped to mind and that I've been wrestling with this past year is how to practice because, as part of that distancing, I don't want to drill as much as I used to.

When I was trying to practice in the last year, it felt so off! Like I had no point of reference anymore and like what I was doing was wrong. It wasn't. The context was different and I ignored that. It dawned on me recently that my whole context around dancing has changed so drastically in the last few years but I've been semi ignoring that and trying to do the same version of practice... which is nonsensical. I don't have a studio anymore, I don't have a troupe or students to lead through drills, I'm not even in the same city, etc. And I'm not going to drill as much.

So time to thoroughly revamp and redefine what practice is, how to construct a practice session, etc. I'm also thinking of not being so all or nothing with practice in that it doesn't have to be long sessions. I just need to do it more and find out what works for me now.

Goal: Redefine who I am as a dancer
One thing that I realized in the last couple of weeks is that the main reason why those previous pieces didn't feel "right" was because I am no longer that dancer nor even that person anymore. They were a snapshot in time and represented a period in my life, sometimes even whispering messages to me (i.e., my subconscious speaking to me) but these aren't as relevant anymore. So who am I now as a dancer? What feels right? Where do I want to take this? I don't have answers right now... and that's okay. I can surely figure that out over time. I'm not going to let that introspection get in the way of actually doing things, though. But I'm hoping that, through the experimentation that I'll do in my practice and performances, I'll explore these questions and hopefully come up with some answers (which will of course change over time).

I have a few other goals that are evolving and I may work on for 2017 as well but this is a good list to start with, especially since some are bigger goals in the grand scheme of things. :)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Belly dance year in review

I used to do this on a regular basis and then stopped when I closed the studio and really wasn't dancing as much anymore. But I somehow feel compelled to do it again this year.

I was in denial over it but, actually, I did a lot more dancing than I expected to. I danced about once a month nearly every month. Say what? How did that happen? Well, I had signed up for some shows ahead of time and then I volunteered at the last minute for a few things.

In the last couple of years, I had taken some distance from belly dance while still dabbling in it as it was something that I was still interested in but, with the closure of the studio, the dance troupe being on hiatus, and not needing dance as a source of escape and validation in my life, it felt off. I wasn't sure whether I would keep dancing but knew that, to do so, I'd need to do some healing and change my perspective on dance, redefine it and all that.

I knew that, moving here and living close to my beloved friend and mentor Tempest, it'd have an effect and I'd keep dancing but, on top of that, this year also brought that shift in focus and healing that I needed to keep moving forward. Although it feels like that hasn't fully hit until the last few weeks, it's actually been some gradual shift this year that culminated in dance feeling better. Like for the first time in many years, I'm actually excited about dancing again and am actually formulating goals for 2017.

Another interesting thing this year in dance is that I FINALLY got to take regular classes again! I often forget about it (and I'm sure most people do too) but I was essentially self taught. I did take 5 years of classes back in Quebec and then a bout 8 months of classes in Indy before being put in the role of co-director for our troupe and needing to figure out how to do this improvisational tribal style (ITS) through videos. I developed my own personal style through my background and workshops and some experimentation. And a whole lot of teaching. So it's nice to be a student again. And, omg, it's pretty awesome to essentially take a workshop with Tempest each week. :) I feel that my dance has grown more in the last year and in the previous few years and I haven't even put much time in practicing... but I'm planning on changing that in 2017. Anyway, I always have at least one revelation or aha moment a week. It's pretty awesome!

I've also been lucky to be part of the Tempest's students troupe and dancing with awesome women. It was a change to learn choreographies again. lol I was also privileged to essentially get my cake and eat it too and be able to lead Tempest's students troupe for one performance while Tempest was out of town. It felt good to be back in that role temporarily.

I got to teach at Waking Persephone yet again and thoroughly enjoyed the workshop material that I shared. I do love teaching workshops and hope that I get to do it still in the future.

As I've mentioned above, I have some goals that I'm developing for 2017 and it feels wonderful to have that inclination.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The audience doesn't care...

... about your thoughts, frame of mind, insecurities, etc.

(Yes, this is somewhat of a click bait... have been reading too many of these, I suppose. lol)

This post really stems from recent comments I've heard or that have been relayed to me on my confidence on stage, which has been increasing lately.

Ever since I heard Tempest say that, come performance time, you do the best you can given the circumstances you've got, I've pretty much always embraced that philosophy. "Circumstances" can encompass a variety of things but, for me, it might be my level of readiness for the performance, amount of sleep, stress in my life in general, etc. And, of course, very much involves whatever weight I'm at. The thing is that, even if I wished really really really hard that I still had my slimmer body, it just won't happen overnight. *This* is what I've got to work with today. There's no amount of wishing that can change that.

I do think that seeing these amazingly sexy bountiful performers in the Strip Strip Hooray show this past April also helped me gain confidence in my own bountifulness... along with my partner's regular compliments and encouragements. So I've been slowly making peace with my current body shape and that it, too, can move beautifully... not just my thinner self. And I've mentioned before that I realized a few months ago that, while I was feeling self conscious about my size prior to a performance, once the music started, I was lost in the moment and my size was instantly forgotten.

I think that the combination of all of the above is what made me realize recently that, actually, the audience doesn't care at all about how I feel about my body size. What they do care about is being entertained and having a different experience than their everyday life. And that is true for any other negative thing you might be feeling. The audience doesn't care that you have all these issues going on in your life and running through your mind. It doesn't care that you have all these insecurities. It doesn't care about any of this. It WILL notice if you go out there and show any of that b/c it will affect your performance quality. You need to go out there and just do your thing because that's what they want to see.

I know firsthand that it's easier said than done but you have to shut down these negative thoughts about yourself and appear confident in yourself and in your art. I promise that, the more you perform, the easier this gets to do. But you may also need to remind yourself that all these thoughts will likely go away as soon as the music hits. And just remember that all that the audience cares about is you doing your best: the rest is in your head.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

When Will You Be Enough?

I had other thoughts for what to start blogging about after my previous series, but I feel like I need to put this one out there first. Part of the reason for that is that someone posted a reply to one of my blog links on Facebook that she's a 73-year-old woman and still struggles with body image issues. And when I was visiting with my mom last week, she had a bunch of books out about learning to love herself and she's over 80 (don't tell her I said that publicly ;)).

And that breaks my heart.

I also know from personal experience that, even when I was thinner, I still had a lot of self deprecating thoughts and low self esteem. Yes, part of it was due to me rebuilding myself following the end of my marriage. But a lot of it was "other stuff".

I happened to read something interesting at the time that made me burst into tears: it was an article that essentially was asking when will you feel like you're enough? I'm quite paraphrasing here but it asked things like: You have a good career, you have a good life, you have all this goodness in your life, yet you still feel like sh!t? WTF? That obviously resonated with me at the time... and then I forgot about it.

It's so easy to forget. But I do think that I forgot about that because there now was a piece missing: my slender body. But to the point of my last entry, the size and shape of my body is such a small part of my life, why am I letting it overshadow everything else?

I think that it is extremely difficult oftentimes to admit that you are as awesome as you actually are. It feels first off like it shouldn't be said at all. And if you muster the will to say it, you feel like you're a fraud and/or that you're arrogant for doing so. You're neither. It's okay to say it and think it. And the more you say it, the more you'll believe it. Because you are. Lots of people think so. How come people believe in yourself more than you do?

Another concept of "when" is time. If you think that you'll reach some age when you'll have self confidence and will feel uber good about yourself, based on the above 2 examples (granted, it's a small sample size), there is no magical age when that happens. And, because of that, you might as well start working on loving yourself like right now.

And do ponder on what would it take for you to feel like you're good enough? What more do you need to achieve or be or whatnot? And is that really something that is needed or regrets? And are you using these as an excuse not to acknowledge how pretty darn awesome you already are?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Learn to make peace with your body - Epiphanies

Of course, the rebellion that I referred to in the last entry, while a good thing, did not instantly wipe my body image issues. I had gained some weight and continued to gain a little bit more as the (eating) pendulum was now swinging the other way.

Feeling the clothes get tighter around my body wasn't a good feeling. And it's easier to hide things with clothes but, while you can still use some smoke and mirrors to help, putting on a belly dance costume makes it harder to hide things, especially around the mid-section. And, well, when I'm in belly dance class, practice wear isn't as apt to play smoke and mirrors so it was fairly in my face.

Not only were body image issues coming back but so did negative thoughts around weight gain and feeling like I was a failure, I let myself down, and insert whatever you can think of that your negative backtalk throws at you.

One thing that I was not expecting at all, though, was a deep sense of familiarity: I had spent a number of years in some version of this more voluptuous body... for much longer than my slender version, actually... so I knew how to dress this body, how to wear things that were flattering. And when it comes to belly dance, I found that it was easier to work this tool than the slender version, especially as I was working back on my dance skills.

A difference, though, is that, since I didn't want to outright buy a new wardrobe, I'm wearing clothes that are more tight fitting than I'm used to... and I find that I'm generally okay with it. My partner still finds me beautiful and sexy and actually encourages me not to hide my body under bigger clothes but celebrate my shapes and curves.

But, still, it was hard to see certain bulges that I had hoped to God I'd never see again.

Fatefully, we went to see Strip Strip Hooray in April. I had blogged about that on the makeup blog so I won't rehash here (you can read the post here) but I will say that I re-introduced makeup to my routine. One thing that is not on the other blog entry is that my partner cautioned me that I shouldn't use makeup as a shield as I had before: I shouldn't hide myself but should only do it if it was making me happy and if it was fun.

Thanks to reading the book where Dita talks about how she has created the sort of glamorous life and environment that she wants to live in, I started using the word "glamorous" to describe dolling myself up... but also to describe my life in general, especially when indulging in things. The more I've been using the word "glamorous", the more I've been in love with the term as it doesn't conjure up a specific size, age, gender, sexual identity, etc. And it's been doing wonders for my self-esteem! Let's face it: who doesn't want to feel glamorous?

But, yanno, again, there are good days and bad days, right?

The biggest epiphany happened while we were at an industrial show in town. It was quite hot (for Seattle) so I decided to wear something more comfortable and, by default, more casual too. Before leaving home, I was bemoaning that I had some awesome goth clothes that don't quite fit anymore. And then we get there and a bunch of girls are all decked out. I was flooded with memories of when ex-husband and I would go to a goth club for NYE and I'd be looking at the girls who looked splendid in their outfits and vow to myself that the next year would be the year when I'd lose the weight and I'd looking like that too.

As I was lost in nostalgia and sadness associated with the many years of having these thoughts only to eventually succeed but have a short-lived success (I had it... I lost it!), I started to notice that the girls around us at the show were being omg, so annoying: they didn't have any sense of the space that they took and would bump into my partner and this one girl kept talking/yelling to this guy (dude, it's a loud bar)... and then I took stock of the situation... and I got angry at myself... I had pined for years to be like one of those vaporous girls? Only good looks but no substance? And no manners to boot? That's sort of dumb, isn't it?

What if, instead, I was perfect just the way I am?... just like my partner and several dear close friends have told me repeatedly, actually. How much time have I spent hating my body? Don't I have a wonderful life otherwise?

And that was the crux, really: it dawned on me that my worrying over my body size and shape was completely and utterly disproportionate with how much it really affected my life. Not only that but I know full well from my own experience that, even when I was slender, I STILL had issues with my body. What the hell?

Shortly after this revelation, I had a gig where the costume I brought wasn't fitting super well anymore and I was feeling self conscious because I knew that I could have looked better in a different costume. But you know what? When the music started, all of that was forgotten and all that I could think of was moving my body in response to the music and emoting what the music was making me feel... not what I looked like in that costume.

So it's high time for a new outlook on things.

I have a very loving and supportive partner, I have a few wonderful close friends, I have a good job, I'm a good dancer, and I live in an awesome city. Are my body image issues really worth fretting over that much? Isn't it small potatoes compared to all the goodness in my life?

Really, if you take anything away from this series of blog entries, it's that I strongly believe that we all spend an overly inordinate amount of time worrying about our bodies and image when, really, we shouldn't.

So, yeah, time to stop the negative talk and have a change in attitude. Of course, it's easier said than done. ;) I'll have more thoughts on that in another entry.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Learn to make peace with your body - The rebellion

What I call the "rebellion" occurred over many stages but the start of it was after the bad Weight Watchers meeting that I mentioned in the previous post.

The bad meeting happened around the Holidays last year. I managed to get to a meeting just before Christmas and, because of the Holidays schedule, it wasn't my normal day so it was a different leader. The topic was about setting a goal for yourself for the Holidays that would be reasonable and make you proud... and that could even be a weight gain... that was fine. Essentially, just as long as you were aware of what you were doing and shooting for, it was fine. Sounds like a great idea, ya?

My goal was to indulge a little and enjoy the food without guilt and even if I gained a little, it was going to be fine; I'd recommit fully after the Holidays and work really hard at it. I will skip details but, as we're sharing our goals by show of hands, the leader ended up putting me on the spot, asking why I was planning on a weight gain when I was staying home and wasn't going to have as many temptations. I don't know if my face crumbled or if she just plain realized that she had misstepped but she tried to take it back... but the damage was done. I was already feeling shaky about my efforts with Weight Watchers and was pissed off both at the change in the plan and for having been made to feel like I wasn't working hard enough when I was trying to be compassionate with myself (which is actually part of the new plan). So that sort of sealed the deal and I never went back to a meeting.

(I feel the need to add a caveat that, except for this one incident, I've always found leaders to be very supportive. This was really an anomaly but perhaps something that I needed to hear in a way.)

As I was left with a sour taste in my mouth from the disappointment of Weight Watchers not really working again and having issues finding a gym that would work for us, I realized a few things.

I had just moved to a new city where the food is, omg, so amazing! And my partner was cooking awesome dishes. However, because of Weight Watchers, I routinely had to choose between tracking accurately and not partaking in the awesome food or having the awesome food but being iffy on the tracking. Whichever decision I made, I would end up feeling frustrated.

I also realized that I was thinking about food literally all... the.... time... and it was very unhealthy for me. I was obsessing in all the ways: did I eat too much? too little? is it time for a snack or meal yet? there's this thing I'd like to eat but I can't (so it's coming back around in my head periodically)... what should I have for dinner? what can I have for dinner? You get the idea.

The nail in that proverbial coffin was during one of those moments when I was reminiscing and missing my more slender body... and I remembered that, for all that it was awesome to be able to wear whatever I wanted and that putting on a belly dance costume was much easier, it actually wasn't as awesome as I thought it would be. :o It sounds shocking but it's true.

Here, I may need to explain that I had embarked on the losing weight journey with Weight Watchers because I was feeling extremely depressed about myself and my life and I thought that my weight was the biggest issue and that, if that was taken care of, I'd be super duper happy. But then the weight fell off and I still had a lot of lows... and it turns out that weight was not the biggest culprit after all.

Not only that but maintaining that weight was extremely hard. It's very likely that my target weight turned out to be too low to be sustainable long-term. Could I really picture myself eating that way for the rest of my life? Or did that seem too much? This is when the converse of the above happened in that, all aspects of my life were awesome except that I had this obsession with food that prevented me from enjoying eating without guilt.

So I gave up on dieting and tracking. Time is short, I'm 43, I want to enjoy life, including enjoying food. Mainly, I've tried to give up on guilt over enjoying food and about eating period.

More to come again...

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Learn to make peace with your body - Preamble

This blog has traditionally been about belly dance. I've had many thoughts lately for entries that may not quite fit exactly for belly dance but they do sort of in a way so, while I have contemplated creating a different blog for these, since it's actually titled "Celeste's Musings", it fits to put them here.

I've been battling a lot of body image issues for a while now and this will be the topic of a series of posts as well as other things that sprang to mind in the midst of contemplating all that.

A lot of people are aware that, back in 2011, I decided to embark on a weight loss journey, using the Weight Watchers plan. It worked really well for me. While there were some set backs and it did take well over a year, I lost 50 lbs and was happy to have a much slimmer body.

And then I became a statistics (aren't we all?)... the one about most people who lose weight gain some if not all of it back.

Four years later, I've indeed gained back quite a bit of weight. Well, actually, technically all the weight back, only I'm slimmer than when I started because I did put on some muscles over the years (thankfully). They do say at Weight Watchers that keeping the weight off is one of the hardest things to do and it sure proved to be true for me.

There really was a succession of events that lead to this result. I divorced my husband and, while I was the one who left, it did affect me a lot and I had a lot of grieving to do and it sort of sent my metabolism in high gear and I could nearly eat anything I wanted and was maintaining my weight. Unfortunately, that lead to developing some bad habits. And then I closed my dance studio, which meant that I was suddenly way more sedentary than I had been in many years. And I got into the nesting/happy period of a relationship so we really were very sedentary (Netflix and... ice cream and pizza). I rationally understood what happened and that I should be compassionate towards myself in general but I often couldn't reach for that compassion.

While all this was happening, I did go off the Weight Watchers program and then went back to it (on top of having rekindled lifting weights a while before), determined that if I could do it once, I could do it again. However, I didn't see much results and then had to put things a bit on hold as I was dealing with the stress and overwhelming nature of making the big life changes of quitting my long-time job and moving to a new city. The Weight Watchers program changed yet again (groan) last November and I had a bad meeting where the leader pissed me off and I went off the program again last December.

I am generally so much happier in my life, being in a healthy relationship, having moved to a city that I absolutely love, having a job in a company where I am more valued... but my weight but even more so my body image issues associated with my weight have tainted that happy picture. I can't help to feel like a failure, like I let myself down. I'm even ashamed. I'm not saying these things to get reassurances but to give an idea of where my emotions are.

So I knew that I had to do something about it. And the answer was more about my headspace, emotions, and self confidence than about dieting and exercising to get my body back.

More to come...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Purging Tips

I had promised to write a blog about this right around the time that I was doing my own purging. Well, here it finally is. I will tackle how to sell your items in a separate entry. Also note that these tips apply to any purging needed, not just for belly dance things, though there is a specific section on the fabric and costume stash that are likely more relevant for belly dancers... and other costume aficionados.

A bit of background for those who aren't aware: I moved from Indianapolis to Seattle at the end of October and went from a 3-bedroom house to a 1-bedroom apartment. So I had to downsize everything considerably.

First off, I want to acknowledge how daunting purging is. Even if you know that you should do it, you will drag your heels before and while doing it. I know that had been the case for me, hence why I had such a big task to do when it was time to move.


The first thing to do is to assess what all needs to be looked at. Is it the whole house? Is it only these specific things? What needs to be done? This assessment will give you an idea for the task at hand. Make a list to ensure that you don't forget anything. And you'll likely find that you'll add things to that list as you remember them. And if you're a Type A personality like I am, you will love crossing out what is done. ;) Chances are also that you may be thinking that it's a lot that needs to be done and it might be less... or more... When you're just thinking vaguely about what needs to be done, you don't have a clear view of the scope of the endeavor.

Set a Date(s)

Set a date for when you'll do it and actually do it. No excuse. You will come up with a ton of reasons as to why you should postpone doing it but it won't be easier any other day. So might as well just do it. Of course, I had the "advantage" that I needed to move by a certain date so that created a sense of urgency given that there was a strict deadline to meet. But, likewise, set a date by which you should have completed everything.

Also know that it will likely take more than one day to do everything. And that's fine. But don't set up the next purge date too far off into the future either because it will only make the process drag for longer. Also, chances are that you'll start getting into a groove and you would break that momentum by waiting too long to finish everything, making the process even more tedious.

Plan What to Tackle First

You don't actually need to have everything mapped out in succession but just knowing where you'll start will be good. Think ahead of time so that, when the purge day comes, you'll know where to start. You may actually agonize a bit over what to start with and, honestly, you'll need to do it all so starting *somewhere* is all that matters.

Start with the Easy Stuff

One thing that should help get you into the groove of purging is to start with easy and obvious stuff first. In my case, I had an accumulation of magazines that I had sworn I was going to read but hadn't. And there was quite a bit of mail that I had kept just 'cause I felt I needed to keep it for a bit but had never gotten around to throwing out. You may have a different pile of junk that needs to be addressed. Start there. It's easier to just throw those away, you will feel better because you are actually purging, and you will love the space that it creates. This should give you momentum to tackle harder areas that need purging.

Headspace is Key

You need to have a good headspace when you're purging things so do whatever needs to help with that: make a fresh pot of coffee or tea or put on some soothing music or light a scented candle or all of the above.  

I would caution against drinking alcohol while purging as it has a depressant effect so it may make you go down a bad downward spiral, especially as you hit hard areas. And your judgment might be impaired, which more likely mean that you'd hold onto things that you should discard than over-purging. You can drink AFTER you're done for the day.


I would pretty much always do a first sorting and then a second sorting.The first sorting was a gut reaction, yes, no, or maybe to items. If the answer was yes, the item went in the keep pile. If it was a maybe, then I'd assess whether it was more maybe yes or maybe no and proceed from there; most of the time, I'd put the item in the keep pile as it meant that I wasn't ready to decide on it yet. If the answer was no, the item went into one of 3 piles: throw/garbage; sell; or donate/Goodwill. It's important to have a distinction between the piles or else you may forget which is which. If it helps, put a sign for each.

Once I was done with the first sorting, I'd look at the keep pile again to re-assess if there were any items that had transformed into a no. Generally, that's when the items that had elicited a "maybe" got a final answer.

How much do you want to keep?

In my case, the answer to that question was generally in terms of space, again, as I was downsizing in storage space considerably. But I quickly realized that, actually, for all that we knew how much space I had in general for all of our stuff, having a specific idea of how much space I wanted items that I was looking at were going to take helped me in purging. So quantifying what to keep helped tremendously. Here are some examples:
  • I had a big collection of costume books but there really weren't that many that I was uber in love with. Before I looked at those, I had established that I was allowing myself to keep no more than 10 of those books. I think that I ended keeping like 6.
  • I had a lot of belly dance stuff (duh) and allowed myself to keep however much was fitting into 2 bins.
Sometimes I had an idea ahead of time of how much I wanted to keep but, more often than not, I figured it out as I was going along.

Do not look back... don't second guess

Once you have sorted through things, the only pile that you can allow yourself to go through again is the keep pile. Anything that was considered discarded should still be considered as such. It will be super easy for you to make a case as to why you should go back and keep something. Refrain from doing that. It's really hard at first but it gets better as you get used to it.

As you get into your groove, though, you actually will find that you will go back through your keep pile (even maybe one from a previous sort) and get more ruthless in your purging.

Keepsakes/Difficult decisions

Keepsakes are really really hard to tackle. You will want to hold on to them because, well, emotions are attached to them... and you have kept them thus far... you might want to see them again... they meant something to you. Well, chances are, those are in a box. And you know when you look at them again and remember the memory attached to them? Each time you sort through things but only at those times. So is it really worth these taking up space?

For these and other difficult decisions, I borrowed the principle from the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing where the author advises to thank items for the joy that they had brought in our lives but it's time to part ways now. It sounds super corny. But, believe me, it works. Note that I haven't read the book but got that idea from a review of the book that I had found at some point (I sadly can't find the link again). I know a few people who have read the book and thought that it was interesting.

The problem we are often faced when it comes to keepsakes and other items that we have difficulty parting with is that we want to keep them "just in case." They are a safety blanket of sorts and, to the author's point, reside in nostalgia... which is a negative emotion. You want things that make you happy. I know that I went through a bunch of cards and other mementos and I can't remember them all but I do remember the feelings that I went through while looking through them and that's likely a more powerful memory than what I'd get from looking at those again.

It's just Stuff

I think that one of the hardest things to realize when you're starting the process is that the items, even the mementos, are just stuff. They aren't the emotion or the memory but just an item. Telling myself sometimes "It's just stuff" really helped me with those harder decisions.

A Few Questions

There were 2 questions that helped me in my purging: 1) Would I pay money to move this item across the country? and 2) Can I buy it again?

Question #1 was very real in my case at the time that I did the majority of the purging. But  I actually started the process slightly before I knew that I was going to move. So you can ask yourself that question too. And, heck, even if you're not moving across the country but just across town, it costs money to move things... and time to pack and unpack and, if it stays in boxes, it takes up space that you could otherwise be using. So it's a consideration to keep in mind. If it's not something that you'd pay money to move, consider discarding.

Question #2 gets to those pesky things where you're thinking "maybe I should keep." Or, yanno, for the dreaded fabric stash or costume stash or clothing, etc. Can you buy it again? That can be a tricky answer, I know, especially if we're talking about the fabric or costume stash. Let me tackle that separately next.

The Fabric and Costume Stashes

The fabric and costume stashes are definitely tricky areas. We kept those things for a reason, right? We meant to do something with those. And the idea(s) is(are) likely still floating in our head. How can we get rid of things? Be ruthless. Here are specific considerations for each stash:

The Fabric Stash

I should say fabric and notions stash but, if you have one of those, you knew that already. Examine each item and determine whether you should keep the fabric or notion and ask yourself the following: 
  • What was it originally bought for? 
  • Is that project still something you're interested in making? 
  • Does it still fit your style?
  • If so, do you think you will work on it in the next year?
  • If not, is it such a unique item that it's hard to find, should you need to buy it back? (e.g., assuit, unique fabric, unique trim, etc.)
I had in my stash some basics that I had kept because, well, they were good basics. But I could buy them back when I actually needed them. So I gave those away. There were also indeed some items that I had purchased ways back that I meant to do a certain costume with but it was no longer my style. So I gave those away too. I really only kept the very unique items like assuit (duh) and some fabric that I knew I could never find again but that was still my style. And pretty much all my notions and trims as those don't take that much space (and I didn't have a ton). 

The Costume Stash

That one may be a little harder to reduce because the costume is something that could be worn. But here are things to ask yourself anyway:
  • Have you worn it in the last year or two?
  • Do you foresee yourself wearing it in the next year?
  • Does it still fit your style?
  • Does it still fit your body?
If you're not super enthusiastic about an item, don't keep it. If it doesn't make you feel glamorous, don't keep it. If it doesn't fit your body and can't be adjusted, don't keep it. If it doesn't fit your style anymore, don't keep it. If you don't think that you'll wear it any time soon, don't keep it.

The reason why a costume item is more heart wrenching even than the fabric stash is that you often paid quite a bit of money for it. So there's an amount of money that is associated with it in your mind and it's hard to part with it b/c it feels like you're wasting money. But it's actually using valuable storage space... and that's a resource too. (Wink at my economist partner.) And if you did spend some money on it, chances are you can resell the item for some of the value (though not all of it, of course). This is one such occasion where you can thank the item and let it go. And sell it. With that money, you can buy something brand new and fabulous that you WILL be excited about and WILL wear. And someone else will be excited about the item you sold. It's really a happy circle. And more on selling things in an upcoming entry.

Keep Working on Things

You will need to take breaks as you're working on things. But be careful not to dally too long as it will be really easy, once again, to make excuses for why you should stop. As such, try to have an idea of what you want to have done for the day and keep pushing until you are close to that goal.

Emotional Toll

All this purging will indeed be emotionally taxing. Some things will be harder than others. There might be tears. Be prepared for that. Be kind to yourself. It is all pretty normal. Items have a way of storing memories and bringing them back up. Even the good memories do take a toll let alone the bad ones. While you want to be mindful that you may use the emotional toll as a reason to stop working early when, really, you could have pushed, you should also be aware that you may reach an emotional capacity. You just may not be able to push more and that's okay.

Areas in the House

As you're going through the process,  you may want to establish different areas in the house for your sell and donate piles. It really helps in sorting things and then you don't have to go through which one is which. For example, we had 3 rooms upstairs that had different designations: room 1 had items we were selling, room 2, had items we were donating, and room 3 had items had garbage bags.

My Process

So here is really how I did things. I would either work on a specific room at a time or a specific category at a time. It really depended on what was easier but, for the most part, I went by category. The category sort helps in figuring out how much of one category you have and are keeping. We had to divide the books in different subcategories, though, because we had so many. Oh and sorting by category also helps if you are moving as you can box things that way.
  1. First sort: gut reaction as to whether to keep or throw, donate, sell.
  2. Second sort: go through the keep pile and see whether other items should moved in the throw, donate, or sell piles. Carefully look at the "maybe" items and decide yes or no.
  3. Put the throw pile in garbage bags. If possible, put them out in the trash. Once the trash is full, put in the trash area in the house.
  4. Move the donation pile to the donation area in the house.
  5. Take pictures of items for sale and move to the sale area of the house.
  6. Put the keep items either where they will ultimately belong or in a keep pile.
  7. Repeat process with next category.

But It's MORE Messy Now!

Chances are, your house will get messier than it was. It happens. You have to view it as an in-between stage and trust that it will be better eventually. At least you have sorted through things and know what is what. Once you've gone through all the things, discarded all the items, and put everything back in its place (or in boxes if you're moving), it will be tidier. It takes time. And, hopefully, the messy state of the house will help keep you motivated to do all the sorting that needs to be done in a timely fashion.

Get Things Out Quickly

To prevent the temptation of looking back into the discard piles and to help with the house not looking too messy, That's why I would bag things to throw right away after I was done with a category: there is something about things being in a garbage bag that make you not want to look at them again. ;) Here are a few specific tips:

Throw Pile

It's very likely that your weekly garbage retrieval won't cover all of the garbage that will be created in a purge. You may end up having to put it out over a number of weeks. Here are other options:
  • Take garbage to a dump site. There will be a fee associated with how much you are bringing to the dump site and that will be by volume of the vehicle you are bringing items in. It is probably the cheapest option if you don't have too much stuff but it might be time consuming as you need to load your vehicle, unload it.
  • Get get a company to come and pick your items for you and dispose of them for you. There is of course a fee associated with this. Around spring time, you generally may be able to get a groupon or other deal from one of those. They charge by the load and generally expect things to be in like a garage or somewhere easy to retrieve like that. It's a little pricier than doing it yourself but then you don't have to do it yourself.
  • Get a dumpster rental. This is probably the most economic option if you have a lot to throw away but you also have to load things in the dumpster yourself (unless you were to hire workers for that). I rented one last July to throw away a lot of stuff and was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were cheaper than I expected. One note is that we ended up having people go through our things early in the morning so we made sure to load it up as fast as we could and get it out of our yard as fast as we could. Our worry was mainly around injuries that might happen on our property.

Donate Pile

Most likely you will donate things to a place like Goodwill or Salvation Army. You can bring things to them, of course. That may require a number of trips. Depending on what you have and how much and which location you're using, they may actually come and pick things up for you.

Sale Pile

While I will cover the sale of items separately, I will say here that you also want to get those out of the door quickly so, if it doesn't sell, at one point, you may want to consider donating the item or selling it for cheaper.

Happy Purging!

Once you're done with all the purging and more space is created, you'll love it! It's a hard task but it feels so good once it's done!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

When you've lost your way...

Tempest's post ( has resonated with a lot of us in the dance community. Sadly, there's a lot of toxicity that happens that saps the joy out of dancing. And the longer you've done it and the higher level you're at, the worse it gets. But sometimes it's just that (to borrow the metaphor), the beach and the ocean doesn't call to you as much anymore.

Dance used to be so very important and prominent in my life... and it just isn't at the same level anymore. I almost quit a number of times but yet I could never quite stop either. While I could explain all the reasons for it all, that's not the point of this post. The point of this post is about what to do when you're in that funk.

And the funk I'm talking here is not just the one that happens every so often when you are somewhat dissatisfied with your dance and wish for more. I'm talking about the "should I stay or should I go" kind where you're not even sure if you want to keep dancing anymore.

Take a break or slow down

You may have been going full throttle for too long and may need a break or at least to slow down and simply not jump on every event that shows up and perhaps lighten your class schedule (whether you're a teacher or a student). Maybe you need to spend time doing something else for a little bit. And that's fine.

One great piece of advice that I got from Belladonna was something that Artemis had once told her, which is that "dance is a patient mistress... and will always be there for you when you are ready." I can vouch firsthand that she is a relentless one. I danced for 5 years while I was in Quebec and took a 4-year break then started again 11.5 years ago and, as I've said above, I haven't been able to quite stop entirely this time... nor do I think it will happen.

Be choosy of where you spend your energy

It's sort of goes with the break and slow down but be more careful and choosy about where you do spend your energy during this period... and I dare say in the future as well. When you're going full throttle, you're likely not noticing where you are expending energy needlessly/pointlessly. Yet you'll find yourself sometimes completely wiped and won't know why. Strive to pick events that feel good for you, those that you have enjoyed in the past. If something had felt toxic in the past, consider not doing it at all.

Whatever you decide, try not to engage in the wonky energy that can sometimes arise from events. Note that, if you're burned out on things, you actually may be more sensitive and/or have less capacity to handle the electric energy of an event. If needed, physically remove yourself from the event and be a little bit of a hermit. People will understand. I've had to do that and have explained to some close friends why I may have seemed distant and, of course, they all understood. 

Forget about the guilt

Easier said than done... I know that firsthand. But, as you're spending less time on dance, you might feel guilty. You have invested a lot of time and energy and money on this dance and now you're not using your time and energy in the same manner. Was it for naught? Is it really a good idea? What if you lose your skill level? You had worked so hard to get to this point, what if you lose it all?

Well, really, you won't lose it all. Trust me, your brain and body will remember and it will come back quickly. And it's actually sometimes good to take a step back and then charge forward again with a different slate and especially a different state of mind. And, who knows, you might be able to pick up things that you could have improved on or done differently that would have been difficult to change before.

And even if, at the end of the day, you do decide to stop dancing, it still hasn't been for naught: you had fun while you did it, you got a good experience, and, yes, perhaps it is time to move on. You may find yourself dancing again some day or not. Moves can be re-learned and costuming can be re-bought.

Spend time on yourself

Spend time just for yourself, doing what you want, without obligation. Rediscover who you are and what you enjoy. Dance may have been there for a reason, perhaps as a healing mechanism. If you're all healed now, then what? In my case, dance was a way in which I could feel things because I was an emotional zombie. Well now that I'm feeling on a daily basis, now what? You don't have to have the answers to that (see below).

Things to ponder

As I alluded in the previous section, as you're spending time rediscovering yourself, some questions will pop to mind. One question that usually plagues us is "what do I want to do in/with my dance?" And that is a very loaded question and can be anxiety provoking as you're contemplating what to do next. Since you likely won't know the answer to that, it may feel like all the more reason to stop. Because if you don't know, then what's the point, right? Well, maybe you don't need to know exactly.

Earlier this year, I was asking myself that very question and agonizing over the fact that I absolutely had no idea what the answer was when I remembered some questions that Ariellah asked in one (or more?) of her artistic workshops. I forget what the source of those questions was and I forget what the exact questions were but they were easier to answer and not so loaded.

Inspired by that memory, I started asking myself what would a successful performance look and feel like? What do I want to put out there in my dance? What do I enjoy putting out there? What feels good to me? Interestingly enough, the answer to those questions were actually the same as before... perhaps with less pressure, though. It most certainly was refreshing to just focus on that instead of the anguish-provoking existential questions.

Another thought is to think back upon a time when dance was fun for you. Think of a performance that especially felt good and that you were proud of. What happened then? What was it about? Any way to get back to that?

Go where inspiration takes you

One thing that's hard while you're taking a step back is being inspired. It feels like everything is meh. So that will make it hard to create something for even just a low key hafla. It sounds simple but it's actually sometimes hard to do b/c that negative voice inside you will chime in that it's not deep enough but here goes: Go wherever inspiration takes you. Don't question it too much. Just do it. (And I dare say that you should keep doing pretty much all the time.)

Inspiration may hit you in different ways than before. It might be for an event. For a partnership. Or maybe a song is calling to you. Or, heck, my last one has been being inspired and rejuvenated at the prospect of making a new costume. Whatever makes you even remotely excited, just follow that thread and see if you can find other exciting things along the way.

Answering questions

Well meaning people may ask you benignly what is going on with you since they haven't seen you as much (or at all). Know that you don't owe anyone an explanation. You can simply answer that you needed to take a step back from dancing for a bit or however you want to phrase it. But you can keep it at a very high level.

When you get back into things...

(well, should you get back into things)... you may notice that you won't necessarily have the same level of intensity in pursuing things or rather it just may be different. So that will feel odd and perhaps like you're not back "fully". Well, again, it just might be different. It's okay.

I'll put it out there but there's also a bit of a malaise in the belly dance community at the moment. Based on my own observations, the community itself feels different than  2.5 years ago, when I started being more reclusive. So it feels different also partly because things are different in general, not just because I'm different. And, of course, in my case, I've now moved across the country so, hello, more difference.

But the point that I want to make here is that different doesn't mean bad or not as interesting anymore. It just means needing to adjust to what is the reality now. And having perhaps a different outlook on things.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Giving up the perfect picture

When you're working on your piece for a performance, you will have some idea of what the perfect picture is... and you should. You also should use that to do visualization and get your mind in the game. It's really a useful tool.

That being said, at one point, you have to let go of that perfect image. Because, honestly, it is extremely rare when a performance will go exactly according to plan and to that perfect image. Therefore, it's best not to be too attached to that mental picture.

I received two pieces of advice from Tempest several years ago that essentially get at this concept.

One of the pieces of advice was that the piece isn't final until it's performed.  Meaning that it's a draft until then. And, from my experience, each time I perform, the piece is slightly different or, sometimes, drastically different. (As a disclaimer, I'm doing a whole lot of improv when I dance so that contributes to that.) But even when the piece is rather fully fleshed out, it will vary from performance to performance. You could view it as when you tell a story: the exact way that you tell a story will vary from time to time.

The other very good advice is to do the best that you can with the circumstances of the day. In the perfect picture, you'd be perfectly composed, in charge, feeling awesome, etc. In reality, you may have come out of a workshop and rushing to get ready for the performance or you didn't sleep enough the night before or you didn't hydrate well enough or eaten enough or you are sick that day or all of the above together or any other circumstance. Meaning that a lot of things can affect your performance capacity on any given day. Do the best that you can with it all and that's all that matters.

When you're too attached to the perfect picture that you have in your head, it will actually hinder you. How? You'll fight whatever is happening. So you were supposed to turn right and you turned left... oh well... keep on going... You were supposed to do a shimmy at this spot and it didn't happen? No one will know. But if you stop your spin midway to go the other way or force a shimmy somewhere else just 'cause, it will show and the piece will look like it's hiccuping. Moreover, you'll have this look on your face that says "oh no! I've messed up!" and people will read it. (If you have a good poker face, it may not show.)

The other thing is that, when these things happen, you'll end up being in your head too much instead of being in the moment. You really do need to be in the moment to be able to emote the emotions and fully flow with the piece.

I think, though, that the most detrimental end result of holding onto to that perfect image is that you will not be satisfied with your piece... and that's really terrible. It's also quite infuriating because you would be attempting to achieve something that is really unattainable. So if you consistently feel like you never perform well enough, assess whether you have that image that is sticking too much in your head. Again, use it as a tool to help you visualize what you want to achieve but then let it go. Try to be Zen about it. You will find yourself much more satisfied with your performances.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The infamous show intro

Probably one of the things that creates the most anxiety to any new performer is the request for the infamous intro for a show. And it remains an anxiety provoking request for a long time, believe me. So here is some of the advice that I normally give.


Here are some of my thoughts on different things that I've seen as part of  intros:

  • Style: Citing which style you're about to perform might be a good idea to put your performance in context.
  • Experience: I personally don't say how long I've been dancing as I find that it's no necessarily relevant but if you've been dancing for a short amount of time, you may want to say it to set up expectations. Like if you've been dancing for a few months, I will expect something different than if you've been dancing for years. I'd say that, up until 2 years of experience, it might be worth mentioning. After that, it becomes a point that feels less relevant but that's just my opinion.
  • Mini bio: Emphasis here being on "mini". This is what I prefer to use instead of the experience.
  • Thanks: Some like to thank the organizers for inviting them or their teacher or whatnot.
  • Event promo: If you have an event that is coming up that you'd like to promoted, you can add it... again, keeping it short and making sure that it's appropriate to "pimp" your event. When in doubt, you can ask the current event organizers.
  • Performance set up: If you need to provide a little background on the performance, the mood, go ahead and add that.
  • Music: Sometimes you may want to cite the artist and song title for your piece.
The key with show intros, as I've already stated, is to get people interested in your piece, setting it and you up as needed for the audience to be in the right frame of mind to experience your performance.


Here is how my intro used to read:
Celeste is a dark and sassy performer and instructor based in Indianapolis Indiana. Tonight, she invites you to experience the darkness within.

This intro worked well for a while... but I realized last year, as I had not been performing as much for a while, that fewer people knew who I was so I probably needed to expand and explain a bit more who I am. So my intro now reads:
Celeste is a dark and sassy belly dance performer and instructor who recently moved to Seattle WA. Celeste explores dance using her foundation in oriental and ITS and overlaying sinister and gloomy emotions, dark wanderings, to create a tableau of somber themes while keeping a sense of sassy whimsy. Celeste will be returning for her fifth year in a row to Waking Persephone - a dark belly dance festival - as a featured instructor.

Following that intro, I either leave it at that or will add, for example, "Tonight, she's dancing to Crossed by Ego Likeness." (citing the music) or "Tonight, she invites you to take a walk with the devil." (setting up the piece).

Essentially, you want to view the show intro as a calling card. When people see your name on the program and don't know who this person is, you want to answer that for them through your bio but leaving room for them to experience your dance for themselves.

More Tips

Keep it short! I find that overly long intros are getting in the way of the flow of the show. And you'll see that the audience will start getting fidgety. So keep it short and snappy so the audience is excited to see you.

Expectations: Be mindful of what your intro may create in terms of expectations. Just know that, if you say that you've been performing for over 20 years or that you won the best shimmier in 2015, the audience's expectations for your performance will be higher than if you had not mentioned those. But, yanno, you have put in the time and/or you have won the title so it IS a badge of honor. It just depends on whether you want to flash that badge or not.

Don't reveal the punch line! While you can set up the mood and a bit about what the piece is about, you don't need to give the whole piece away. It is preferable to let the audience experience your piece through their own lens than providing the lens for them as they may find a disconnect for whatever reason. Said in another way, an intro that explains too much about the piece is like a movie trailer that makes you feel like you've seen the whole movie already and, once you see the movie, yup, the good parts were in the trailer so there isn't much left to enjoy.

Do provide an intro... aka don't make the organizers/emcee ad lib. I've been guilty of that once or twice but the emcee was a dear friend so I knew that she could wing something but it still wasn't ideal (sorry!). But if you don't know the emcee, well, you may just get "and here's so and so", which is not too terrible or they may create something goofy. It's just not a good idea and puts unnecessary pressure on the emcee who already has the pressure of talking to the audience all night.

Don't wait until the last minute to craft your intro. We all have done that at some point or other and figured that, unless they ask for a bio, we won't think of one (so head in the sand syndrome) only to then be asked at the last minute to provide one. Or, alternately, you've been asked for your music and intro for a while but you wait until the due date to write your intro. That's bound to increase your level of anxiety substantially when, really, you could have handled earlier. (And see next point.)

Give it 24 hours (at least) to mature. Write your intro and then sleep on it. Look at your intro again the next day and see what tweaks you want to make.

Ask for someone to review it. You don't have to do it alone: ask a friend or your instructor to review your intro. They may have ideas that you hadn't thought of. A lot of my revamped intro came from a friend and mentor who provided me feedback on how she views my dance.

Write it as if it was someone else. Most of us are terrible at writing about ourselves... hence the dread of the intro. It helps if you try to pretend that you're writing about another friend instead of yourself. Heck, write one for your friend and then one for yourself, applying the same principles. 

Make your life easier: send yourself your intro. Or keep it in a file somewhere on your cloud drive or in your e-mail or whatnot. I don't know how often over the years I've had to look at sent e-mails to retrieve an intro that I liked. If you are going to repeat a piece, you may want to keep the intro for that piece somewhere for easy retrieval. 

Another way to make your life easier: create a basic intro. The examples that are in italics above were my basic intros. It makes my life so much easier to just be able to pull those, tweak as needed and add as needed, instead of coming up with something each time or try to remember how I normally say it. And it's also very useful should the show organizer suddenly remember the night of the show that intros were needed and is suddenly asking you to write something.