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Episode Info:


How to ACTUALLY improve your dancing this year

When I was in high school, I set myself a completely unrealistic New Year’s Resolution: exercise, shower and shave my legs, do a full Friends-style blowout, apply a full face of makeup, and put together the perfect outfit.

(I think maybe I saw Clueless a few too many times…)

When I added up the time it took to do all that, I realized I’d have to wake up three hours earlier. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

But it taught me a lot about why New Years Resolutions fail, and how we can reach our dance goals anyway…

Listen now:

ONE CORRECTION: I was mistaken about the Arabic for English speakers course on Duolingo. That project is in progress, not actually available yet. But the Turkish course is great!

Or Read the Transcript...

In 1996 when I was in high school, I set myself some New Year’s resolutions. I decided that I was going to exercise every morning. Maybe I would do Cindy Crawford’s workout, or Buns of Steel, or my mom’s Jane Fonda VHS tapes. Then I would shower, and shave, and wash my hair every day. Then I would style my hair, and I don’t mean just giving it a good brush out and dry. I mean that full 45 minute round brush technique that became popular with those layered Friends haircuts.

Then I would do full makeup, and I would put together the perfect outfit for school. And you know what? I didn’t even do that once. The new year feels like a fresh start, and so it’s a very natural time to decide that we’re going to do better. And yet, even though most people make new year’s resolutions, almost nobody actually keeps them. Maybe you stick with it for a few weeks, more likely just a few days, or maybe you’re like me in 1996, you don’t even do it once. So why do our resolutions tend to fail? Well, I think the biggest thing is that we tend to choose them out of fear, not of love.

So we end up resolving to take care of our shoulds, not our actual wants. In my case, I didn’t actually want to have perfectly done hair, an amazing outfit and fabulous makeup every day. I made that resolution because I felt like I didn’t look good enough. Another issue is that we tend to bite off more than we can chew. When I actually tallied up how much time it would take to do that entire routine, I would have to wake up three hours earlier in the morning, that was not even remotely practical. And yet, there is a lot of value in that fresh start resolution, especially for us as dancers, because we need to practice and we need to build our skills.

How can we set a resolution we can actually stick with? Well first, remember that the most important thing is that it’s a true want, and not a should. So when you’re considering a dance based resolution, do a gut check. Is this about fixing something that’s wrong and bad in your dance, or is it something that you’re excited about because you want to do better, and because you love it? This really matters. The thing is, is that fear and shame seem like they should be good motivators, but that motivation doesn’t actually last. You will see much more improvement in you’re dancing, if you focus on the things that you want to improve out of actual love.

Another thing to do is to keep it manageable by picking something that’s very small and very specific. Small makes sure that you can actually do it, and if you finish really early, you can always choose another resolution once you’ve used up this one. Specific makes it possible to choose specific activities that will help you get there. So with all that said, let’s get some examples of manageable resolutions for dancers. Let’s say that you think okay, well I really need to improve my technique. Well decide, are you trying to learn a new skill like a belly pop or swinging a cane or coordinating your shave and a haircut zills while you actually move?

Why are you looking to refine something that you already know, like having stronger arm carriage, or not bouncing during hip drops, or finally layering a shimmy out to those figure eights. Get specific. Or let’s say that you want to start improvising. A good place to start might be to make friends with your safety moves, or to play one simple zill pattern while you improvise if you’re already comfortable with basic improv. Let’s say that you feel like your repertoire is too small, so maybe you need to learn a new combination, or two or three. Or maybe pick up a new choreography.

Or another great repertoire option is to refresh your memory about a choreography you learned last year, so it will still be fresh and available to you next time you want to use it. If you feel like working on your musicality, maybe you might want to learn to identify a few common rhythms, or learn about different instruments, what they look like, how they make their sound, what they sound like, and how they make you want to move. Or what if you want to work on your presentation. Maybe you want to improve your stage presence. In that case, narrow it down. Is it that you want to work on your posture, open up your expression, do more work with eye contact or gaze?

Or maybe you want to make better use of a particular compositional element like using your floor patterns, or playing with different speeds in your dance, or incorporating more beautiful poses and body lines. Any one of those things is a nicely focused, manageable task. Another area that you might want to improve his culture. Having more cultural knowledge makes us better dancers as well as more respectful participants in the dance culture. A great option here is just to read. So maybe decide that you’ll read a certain number of articles, maybe five or 10. You can check out the [inaudible 00:05:07] magazine art archives, or The Gilded Serpent. has some great resources, especially under the start here link, or just check out a book from the library. There’s a lot more to these cultures than the music and the dance, and the broader a look you get, the more you’ll understand. Another great option is to learn a few words or phrases in one of the belly dance adjacent languages. This opens up the music, and it helps open you up to more contact with people actually from the cultures. Even just a couple of words here like hello, and thank you, and please can really go a long way to establishing the relationships that can help you learn more about the culture and really participate.

Arabic and Turkish are really obvious options and they’re both available on Duolingo (UPDATE: Arabic for English speakers is in progress, not actually available yet, but the Turkish course is great!), but depending on who makes up your audiences, you might want to study a different language like Greek or Armenian. And finally, if you’re just feeling down on your dancing in general, a great area to make resolutions in is focusing on the joy. So let’s take couple of options there too. One good choice is to put on a song you love, even if it’s not necessarily performance music and just dance. Just focus on the joy and the fun of it. If you do that for one song every day, you will start to feel very differently about your dancing very quickly.

You may also want to focus on filling your creative well. Explore a different art form just for the pure pleasure of it. Maybe you want to learn some line dances, or take a tap dance class or flamenco, or learn a non dancer music Middle Eastern art form, something that doesn’t feel like it has to apply to your dancing. And another great option is to resolve, to use only music that you really love. So maybe you choose to use only music you love for your next show, or your next five shows. And finally, a great thing to ask yourself is what can you let go of? Is there anything that you’ve had yourself on the hook for that is really unnecessary?

For example, my dancing got a lot better, and I got a lot happier when I decided that I did not need to master every style of belly dance. I could focus on the styles that were appropriate for the venues I was dancing in, and learn other things as, continuing education and background information, but I didn’t have to be all things to all people. So that’s a pretty long list, but I wanted to give you a lot of examples so that you can see how finely you can slice down your resolutions to keep them small and manageable. And if that list seems overwhelming remember, you shouldn’t try to do all of them, or even many of them, just pick one or maybe two to focus on for now.

And you might be getting to the end of this and saying well, I don’t think resolutions are for me, and if that’s the case, you are not alone. I’ve actually stopped doing resolutions because they are Kryptonite for my perfectionist tendencies. As you saw in my 1996 example, they’re just not a great choice, but I do use the clean slate of the new year to reflect on what happened in the past year, and to think about what I want in the new year. Then instead of setting resolutions, I choose themes. Themes are just areas that I’m interested in exploring or improving. I’m not committing to reaching any particular goal, or even limiting myself to those things. I’m just identifying what I want to focus on for now.

I also like to create menus. These are specific things I can do in my practice time that fit with those themes. All right, so it’s your turn. What is your New Year’s resolution, or your themes for 2019? You can share it in the show notes for this episode, or leave us a voicemail at, and maybe we’ll share it on a future show. And if you need some help for this, the only way to improve any skill is to practice, but the hardest part of that is making time for it and actually showing up. So that’s a challenge for you, join us for how to build a sustainable practice habit.

In this nine week online course, Heather and I will help you make practice consistent part of your daily routine. The course starts on January 14th, 2019, so check it out now at We do also have a DIY version that’s available year round at, but you don’t want to miss out on the group support and personal help from Heather and from me.


  Your Turn

Do you make New Years Resolutions? Why or why not?

What are your dance resolutions, goals, or themes for 2019?

Got a question or topic that you’d like us to talk about on the show?

We would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave us a short voice message. Maybe we’ll even play it on the air!


Want More?

The hardest part of practicing is just showing up. So join Heather and me for How to Build a Sustainable Practice Habit. In this 9-week group online course, you’ll make practice a consistent part of your daily routine. The course starts January 14th 2019, so check it out now:

Check It Out

The post Resolutions That Work appeared first on Belly Dance Geek.

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