Big Band and Bellydance

Rockin’ the Casbah is going to be an interesting show. I’m probably breaking all kinds of rules, but I think its okay if you know what they are and have respect for their purpose, if you are a master in your craft, with the proficiency to do a fusion well and if you accurately name what you’re doing…call it what it is.  Well, maybe “rules” isn’t the right word…but anyone who knows me knows how much love and resect I have for this beautiful art form with its roots deep in the sand and soil of Egypt and the Middle East. So maybe the rules are my own.  But besides being a dance teacher, troupe leader, choreographer, student & solo artist, I also like to think of myself as a bit of a preservationist. Past shows have always had an instructional element to them by including folkloric dance and different styles of Egyptian dance. It is important to keep dances alive and gift them to the public. Dances like the hagallah and the khaleegi.  But this show is different. This time the medium is the message.

I wanted to showcase The Big Band and their versatility – our lovely vocalist Rebekah, our talented players; from the beauty of the ballad to standard swing pieces.  I want to showcase my friend Fawn who has the most amazing rich voice I ever heard. I want to dance with her singing beside me – a duet of voice and movement. I want my dancers to perform to live music again – and right now the only live music I have access to is the big band.

 I wanted to showcase my dancers in both troupe and solo situations. I gave everyone an equal invitation to express interest in doing a solo and actually managed to find a place for everyone who responded.  I wanted to give them the  same opportunity I was giving myself  – the opportunity to stretch their wings and explore whatever element of the dance they are led to. Some are going outside their own boxes to look at fusions of their own. Others are intensifying their study of Sharqi because that is where their hearts lead them.  I wanted to stretch my own wings as a choreographer and venture into dance fusion.

How wonderful it would be if I could marry my two loves together – big band and bellydance! Saba will be dancing two fusion dance numbers to live big band music. I won’t tell you what they are – you’ll have to come to the show and see! In addition, there will be fusion involving other non-traditional music, interesting and unusual props, a theatre element, on and on. And oh, yes – there will be bellydance, too! Good old fashioned Raqs Sharqi will definitely be there along with a good dose of traditional music – no worries on that account!

Besides showcasing The Big Band and Saba Middle Eastern Dance Ensemble, I will admit to a vanity – I want to showcase myself as the creator and artistic director. I wanted to create something very special. I really wanted to stretch my wings and move outside my box – do something creative and unique that will bring all the threads of my creative life together. Every single troupe number as well as my own solo pieces are original works created by me. I chose the pieces the band will be playing. I really struggled over the shape the show would take. How in the world does one put two completely different art forms together on the same stage? God, I hope it works!


After chasing about 4 pounds around all summer, I finally realized that I have been successfully maintaining a healthy weight for 5 months. I’m not a failure – I’m pretty good – a success! So I decided that at the next weigh-in, I would accept whatever the scale said as my “goal” weight and stop chasing those last couple of pounds. I’ve felt out of control all summer because I was unable to reach that last final number.  Then, I realized that it is only a number and I am needlessly fixated on it. In reality, I am more fit and healthy than I have ever been in my life. So by making the decision to accept whatever the scale should say at the Wednesday weigh in, I was putting myself back in charge. Last night I got up on the scale and was very happy to see a number inside the healthy BMI weight range for my height and I happily accepted that number as the end of my weight loss journey.

60 pounds are gone, gone, gone. Gone for good!  I picked up a 60 pound weight in the gym the other day.  60 pounds is very heavy. No wonder my knees always hurt! No wonder I was always tired!

My friend Judy says she did not “lose” her weight – she “got rid of it”. I like that. I did not lose 60 pounds – I very deliberately got rid of it. If you should find the “lost” weight, please do not return it to me! I don’t want it back!

What is my advice to the rest of my weight-watcher friends that are still on the downward path?

♥Set realistic weight loss goals and re-evaluate them on a regular basis. Adjust your goals as need. Make every goal an obtainable one: 5 or 10 pounds, or one dress size, or lowered blood pressure by a few points. When you reach your goal, congratulate yourself and then set the next one.

♥Reward your successes! Tell someone about it and get a high five! Get a manicure or a new piece of clothing.  Buy a new pair of walking shoes or gym clothes. And by the way…food is not a reward.

♥Find the positive lesson learned with every weigh-in, no matter the result of that weigh-in. You didn’t loose any weight this week? Or you gained? Don’t beat yourself up. So what.  What is important is to ask yourself what did you learn about yourself and your habits? What changes can you make because of it? Let knowledge be your consequence. You lost this week? Again, what did you learn about yourself and your habits? Nothing is “bad”. Everything we do has a consequence. Some consequences are just nicer than others!

♥Never quit! Our WW leader once asked us the question: “if you stumble and fall down a couple of stairs,  do you then throw yourself down the rest of them! No way! You get up and start climbing again!” So don’t give up. You are so worth all the efforts you’re putting towards your good health! I’ll say it again – you are worth it! You deserve good health!

♥Address the reasons you were heavy in the first place. Those emotions you are eating aren’t going to go away when the weight is gone. Those reasons you got heavy will still be there. Deal with them. Resolve them. Don’t let them continue to have power over you.

♥Ask for help when you need it.  Ask your WW leader. Ask your friend. Ask your spouse & family. Whatever you need, ask for it. Need professional help?  Get it! No shame there. Health is more than pounds on a scale. Health is being in balance. If you need help sorting out how to find that balance, get it. You deserve it!

♥Go to your WW meetings. Every week. Faithfully. I have learned so much from these meetings! I often come home with a new idea, recipe, or way of looking at something.

♥Have a wing mate. A friend who supports you on your journey.  My wing mate is my friend Maureen. She went through the program at the same time as me and is now celebrating one-year at goal. Way to go, Maureen! I am so proud of you! You have helped me get here and I love you. I am also grateful for all the tremendous love and support I’ve received from my husband. Honey, you are my reason. I love you.

Here’s a costume I’d been working toward getting into. It was a bit tight when I bought it, and the bra was definately too small. Now, the bra fits fine and I need to sew in the darts of the skirt a bit because it’s a bit loose.  But hey, not too bad, eh? 

My journey isn’t over. It’s just changed shape. Now I am in “maintainance.” After 6 weeks, I become a WW lifetime member. I can’t wait!  I’ve got the tools and I’m going to be okay.

So, eat well, but not too much. Move your body with exercise you enjoy. Laugh. Enjoy  life. Be around people you like. Love & let yourself be loved.

Yummy Stir fry

My current favourite meal is stir fry! It’s nutritious, low in weight watchers points and yummy in my tummy. I was especially proud of this meal because I didn’t have to go to the grocery store first. I simply browsed through my fridge and cooked up what I found was already there. The new me! I don’t remember a time before I lost got rid of these 60 pounds that I would have had this much variety in fresh veggies available in my fridge at the same time.  ♥

Here’s the recipe:

First add a splash of olive oil and then throw in your “hard” vegetables – the ones that take a bit longer to cook. For this meal, I found sweet red onion, red bell pepper (capsicum to you Aussies) & broccoli in my crisper.

Next, throw in your chopped “soft” vegetables. I had a zucchini & some button mushrooms lurking around, so in they went.

Next I threw in a couple of big handfuls of fresh spinach. Let it cook down a bit and then add your favourite sauce.

A couple of spoonfuls of any sauce will do – plum sauce, black bean sauce, even tamarind paste. However, current favourite is Thai sweet chilli sauce.  Beware: this is where you’ll get your excess calories if you aren’t careful!

If you feel you deserve a little extra splurge, throw in a spoonful or two of peanut butter. If it’s been in the fridge, be sure to warm it in the microwave first to get it softened.  

Last, add the fragile foods that won’t stand up to too much stirring. I added bean sprouts and shrimp right at the end just to heat through.

If you want a starch with it, Japaneese udon noodles are delicious.  I didn’t add any starch for this particular meal because I really wanted the extra bit of peanut butter and needed to think about my WW points.

Bon Apetite!

Nita, Juanita & May

Does your name have a story? Mine does! The story of my name is that my father loved a song called “Juanita” and wanted to name me Juanita because of it. My mother was unhappy with the choice, but allowed it providing I be called “Nita” for short. So Nita I was, and remain to this day. Because I was never actually called Juanita (except when I was in trouble, of course), I have had a hard time associating it with myself. If someone comes into the room and calls me Juanita, it takes me a moment to respond. I have a brief moment of disorientation.   I’d like to get over that. I’d like to embrace this name because, really, it is a lovely name. It’s a lovely, soft and feminine name, don’t you think? And it is the only connection I have now to my father, who I am estranged from.  If nothing else, he gave me a beautiful name to be proud of.  Nita, Juanita.

I have two memories associated with my name: the first is the memory of being told how my father wanted to name me after the song but my mother didn’t, and the second is of being in the back seat of my Grandpa Steve’s station wagon, and he would be singing over his shoulder in a lovingly teasing way, “Nita, my Juanita”. I remember feeling embarrassed and happy at the same time. Grandpa Steve loved us children to death and showed us with big squeezy hugs (I remember his scratchy face) and with great big  bowls of vanilla ice cream.

My middle name is May. My beloved Nana’s (my Great Grandmother’s) name was Lucy May. Isn’t that pretty? Lucy May, Lucy May – it just rolls off the tounge. She named her daughter June Muriel May. Who named her daughter Joan Mildred May. Who named her daughter Juanita May. I think all the “J” names are a co-incidence. But anyway, since I didn’t have a daughter to pass the tradition on to, I hope that someday my son will have a daughter and include May in her name. That would be nice.

This morning I told the story of my name to a friend and then realized that never – not once in 49 years – have I actually heard the song I was named for! So she googled it. You can listen to it here: My Juanita sung by Jim Reeves. Thanks for doing that for me, Maureen. My eyes got a little damp when I heard it. It really is a very beautiful song and I am pleased and honoured to be named for it.

Nita Juanita,
Ask thy soul if we should part
Nita Juanita,
Lean thou on my heart.

Soft o’er the fountain
Ring falls the southern moon
Far o’er the mountain
Breaks the day too soon.

In thy dark eyes’ splendor
Where the warm light loves to dwell
Weary looks, yet tender
Speak thy fond farewell.

(Nita Juanita,)
(Let me linger by your side)
Nita Juanita,
Be my own fair bride.

(Nita Juanita,)
(Ask thy soul if we should part)
Nita Juanita,
Lean Thou on my heart…

teaching thoughts: improvisation

As a student dancer, I learned to dance (like the majority of students do) through the vehicle of choreography. Later, as a “mature” dancer, I had to struggle hard to become comfortable with improvisation. Now, when I perform, I am probably 75% choreographed and 25% improvised within any given piece. I almost always do have choreography (or at least a skeleton of one) that I follow, and I deviate from it as I please according to the needs of the performance. For example, on a theatre stage I am less likely to deviate from the choreography whereas in a party setting, I am less likely to stick to it at all after the first few bars. I’m also fairly comfortable just jumping in and improvising extemporaneously. This skill was hard won. I don’t want my students to be disadvantaged by a fear of improvisation in the same way I was – and yet I see it happening. Looking back at my teaching career, I see that over time I have put more and more emphasis on choreography and less & less on simply dancing. Developing improvisational skills is included as a unit in the occasional lesson plan rather than as an integral part of my teaching curriculum. So, after a lot of thought, I have decided to push my own boundaries and experiment with my teaching methods by not teaching choreographed dances to my classes this semester. Instead, I want to focus on technique, short combos, and “putting it all together” (developing a tool kit for improvisation skills).

To quote David Geer in Taken by Surprise: a dance improvisation reader.

“…virtually all improvisation takes place on a firm foundation of training and practice – think of JS Bach’s public improvisations on the organ – through which a vocabulary of conventions and possible variations is committed to movement memory and deeply explored. Call it magic, or spirit, or skill as you wish, but the spark that sets improvisation in motion comes on top of committed labor. Without the fuel of training, the spark would have nothing to burn.”

Just think for a minute about what he is saying here. When we think of improvisation, we generally equate it to the equivalent of “aimless noodling” We think airy-fairy movement, weak & slushy movement. We think “la-dee-da” movement. We think that those who can’t dance, improvise instead. Oh, so wrong! Good improvisation –  improvising WELL –  requires that you be on the edge of your seat as a performer. Having all your tools at hand and ready to call upon at a moments notice. Being poised and ready to be surprised, to accept the surprise, internalize it and express it within the vocabulary of your dance form. In this case,  beledi (or sharqi as you please).

“…a vocabulary of conventions and possible variations is committed to movement memory and deeply explored.” …What does this mean to the bellydance student? Well, this is exactly what we do in class each and every week. We build our tool kits. We drill and commit movement to muscle memory. We learn conventions: holding our pelvis in a certain way, holding our wrist in a certain way. We explore variations. For example: how many ways can you trace a circle in your body? When was the last time you did that in class? Last week, maybe? J  How big does your tool kit have to be? Well, that depends on your performance venue. If you want to dance at student dance parties & haflas, you will drill and practice those movements and variations that you have learned up to now in class – and if you are a beginner or intermediate level dancer, you may be counting them on two hands. However, nothing prevents you from practicing and drilling and putting those handful of movements into your muscle memory, and then calling on that muscle memory in improvisation. Advanced students will do the same thing, only they will be counting their tool kit in the dozens instead of on their two hands. If you are a professional performer, you will naturally have many years of training under your belt, and a very large kit to call upon. Your audience will have a much higher expectation of you than they will have of the student. An audience will be very generous with the student performer, but will naturally expect to see the results of years of hard training in the professional.

“…the spark that sets improvisation in motion comes on top of committed labour.” What does this mean to the bellydance student? Practice practice practice. And then practice some more. Practice your movement vocabulary. Practice it to different rhythms, different tempos, different elevations, in different postures, in different moods, at different volumes.

What does this mean in my classroom? Well, we’ll have to wait and see – it will be a bit of out-of-the-box teaching for me, along with a good solid on-going dose of consideration & thought. Hopefully my students will come away feeling more comfortable with improvisation and I will come away with sharper honed teaching skills. A challenge for all of us!

Mr. Greer says it best: “Without the fuel of training, the spark would have nothing to burn.”

What I did on my summer vacation

Oh, I have had a marvelous summer! Not even counting my trip to Australia (which I promise to write about – maybe a good topic for a dreary winter day) – I have just had the best summer ever! Here are some highlights:

Gardening! I love my gardens. This year we took apart the raised vegetable beds from she shady side of the yard and moved them to the sunny south side, re-built them into new (leaner, meaner) shapes and then moved the dirt. They’ll get planted next year. The rest of the gardens supported flowers (of course!), green beans, peas, broccoli, cabbage & potatoes. I also have rhubarb (who doesn’t, eh?) and raspberries. I keep strawberries in planters on the deck.






 …a little obvious, don’t you think?


This year we went to Haines for the very first time with our friends George & Dee. We’ve lived in the Yukon for over 20 years and this was our first trip to Haines.  We had a great time – Thanks, George! Thanks, Dee!


Camping at Desdeash Lake


Crossing the US border to Haines, Alaska.



I caught my first fish! Two nice sockeye salmon. <3

We weren’t the only ones catching fish! This gorgeous mama bear was there with her two cubs.


We spent every single weekend out at Fox:





visiting with friends…


♥  ♥  ♥

Here’s the newest member of the family…grand fur-baby Zeus.

Emilie bought her first home, and we helped her and Michael move in.

We went camping in Juneau…

my cutie-patootie


best friends…is anything in life more important?


Happy summer!