Photo Shoot Yesterday – What Fun! (And Lessons Learned)

I’m not saying it was impromptu – it was definately planned – but this was my first invitation to a photo shoot that I didn’t set up and arrange. Karen W., marketing guru and genius, arranged with her dear friend Janice, of AutumnCat Studios, to do a shoot at our place.

Janice and her husband Jerry show up, full equipment; lights, reflectors, heavy-duty camera. We ID a great place in the house, they hang huge backdrop, we get fabulous natural light. Shoot commences. Karen and I alternate; mostly “professional” for her, and a different form of “professional” (dance costume) for me.

Three lessons learned:
1) Per Janice, lighting is everything. Most of her needing a photographer’s assistant (aka husband Jerry as “Set Monkey”) is that she needed someone to adjust background lighting precisely, and to hold the reflector precisely. Test shots are more about lighting than pose. I’m getting it. Photography is not so much about the camera, it’s about the lighting. First lesson of the day: Understanding and working with photographers’ lighting is why it’s important to work with someone who’s good. Thank you, Janice! Can’t wait to see the proofs!

2) Costumes. Omigod, costumes. After two years of writing, all my costume stuff is in disarray. I barely pulled together two costumes for the shoot; much to do with cries of anguish as safety-pins exploded. Second lesson for the day: Get costumes altered & adjusted for fit, tested, organized, and “preopositioned.” That means, everything that needs to come together for a specific costume “look” has to be stored together; not in separate places all over the house. One costume needs one dedicated set of jewelry & accessories, not to be shared with other costumes, unless I’m taking them out to play with creating different “looks.” (This is not to be done fifteen minutes before the shoot, but rather on a calm at-home Saturday.)

3) False eyelashes are an enormous hassle and take huge amounts of time. But for shoots, they’re worth it! Third lesson: Allow extra time for false eyelashes (or “falsies” of any sort), and more time thereafter to remove them, clean them, and store them. And more time to recover from the trauma of adrenaline from any kind of mini-performance (photo shoots count), making costume fixes, and putting on and putting-up-with weird things glued to the eyelash line. So the real third lesson is: Allow extra time for everything.

Spring Quarter – Season of Air – Spins, Turns, Movement Across the Floor

Dear Ones –

I need your help.

Can you recommend good YouTube links and even DVDs for dancers who make good use of space in their dances?

If you would, please send me your suggestions, to alaynya (at) alaynya (dot) com. Also, I’ll post your name (if you’ll allow me to) as the person who recommended a link; and if you have a website, I’ll post that also. So please give me the name that you’d like used when I post the link and reference you, and give me your website, and whatever title you have (“Professional Dancer,” “Artistic Director of Troupe Whatever,” “Dance Teacher,” etc.)

Thank you, and I’m looking forward to getting your inputs!

The starter-webpage for the Spring Quarter is up, please visit at Spring Quarter Studies. Not done yet, but a “working draft.”

I’ve got a starter set of “recommended resources” in terms of music and DVDs, and even books (for the academic part of the study). But I don’t have a good set of YouTube links on the various themes for Spring.

The first theme I’d like to get going is that of “using space” intelligently in our choreographies. Do you have any favorite YouTubes of dancers whose choreographies make good use of the space in which they dance?

By this, I mean: Do they have a good opening sequence in which they define and claim the space? Do they have a variety of movements-in-space, such as big circles, diagonals, etc? Do they intelligently use the depth of the space, so that when they come forward, it has an emotional meaning, and when they withdraw, it also means something?

I’m interested in a variety, ranging from good artistry and technique, to good conceptualization, to good emotional understanding of how their movement in the space of the stage communicates to the audience.

I’m also interested in posting links to YouTubes that show different sizes of stage environments; from small and intimate to large, and even the open-air types of spaces.

Alay’nya with veil – photo courtesy E.J. O’Reilly

Spring, in our Judeo-Christian heritage, is the Season of Air. (Think, “the March winds.”) It corresponds to the Suite of Swords, where swords represent our intellect and ego. And of course, being the Season of Air, it’s time for us to move forward.

During winter, we practiced grounding. Over these next three weeks, as we transition to spring, we’ll introduce movement patterns that help us “transition” between stationary dance techniques and those that take us across the floor. We’ll also work with our veils; learning veil drapes, framing ourselves, and how to “unveil” ourselves as we move into a light and airy veil dance.

yours in dance – Alay’nya

"Princess Training"

“Princess Training” – It’s Not All Tinsel and Tiaras

Who among us hasn’t fantasized about being a Princess? Why else would our favorite fairy tales, from Snow White to Cinderella, hold our interest? Why else would some of our favorite movies be the Princess Diaries, not to mention our classic favorite; Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Over the past few decades, Princess Diana held our imagination, as she became our social and fashion idol. Her sad personal history invoked both our sympathy and our fascination.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck appeared in the 1953 movie, Roman Holiday.

This spring, we’ll all become fascinated with the royal nuptials of Kate Middleton and Prince William. We’ll have our royal wedding fantasies all over again – for the first time in decades! And won’t we all wonder – and perhaps wish for – what it would be like to really be a Princess?

Well, the truth is – we might – each of us, individually – start becoming Princesses.

Think about it. What does being a Princess really mean?

It means inherent nobility, doesn’t it? It means that a woman is sufficiently evolved so that others accord her the respect and the honor that acknowledges her as being of a different “quality” than most (“common”) folk.

We can take this two different ways. Some of our Princess ideas involve someone who is so refined, so delicate, so sensitive, that her sleep is disturbed if there is so much as a pea hidden under layers of mattresses. That’s one fairy tale.

But a more true-to-life fairy tale (yes, still a fairy tale, but one with a richer meaning) is the story of The Little Princess; about a girl who called on her inner Princess in order to get through times of hardship; of privation, of loss, and of both abuse and ridicule. She called upon and trained her inner Princess – and she was rewarded by having others ultimately honor and acknowledge her.

In A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgeson Burnett, Sara must cultivate her inner Princess in order to survive the harsh treatment when she is orphaned and left in a girls’ school. Her fortunes finally change, but only after she has had to call upon every ounce of strength, courage, and compassion that she can muster. A wonderful read, especially when we’re feeling lonely and sorry for ourselves!

Being a Princess is something that we develop from the inside, not something that we inherit.

Think about it. Being a Princess is not easy. Princesses are called “Your Serene Highness.” There has to be a reason for this. As we cultivate our inner Princess, one of our first steps must be to develop our serenity.

In my forthcoming book, Unveiling, I write a lot about archetypes, and about cultivating a body/mind/psyche/energy integration pathway. Surprisingly, we do have a template for this integration pathway. The modern Tarot deck is drawn from the ancient Qabalah; the Judaic studies of how we can transition between states of consciousness, depicted as the “Tree of Life.”

The Tarot devolved; the Minor Arcana became the playing cards that we use today in card games. Originally, though, these cards meant something. In fact, the various suites meant something.

The Suite of Spades used to be the Suite of Swords, and referred to the Element of Air. This is the suite that we associate with spring. So, starting in just three weeks, we begin our study of the Element of Air. In dance, this translates to spins, turns, movement across the floor, creating patterns in space with our veils, etc.

The different face cards meant something as well. The idea of “Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings” refers to levels of study and mastery. The “Pages” face cards can also be interpreted as the Princesses. Think of the face cards – for our purposes – as being “Princesses, Warrior Princesses, Queens, and Kings.” Each is a level of mastery.

So we start our year with the transition from winter to spring; almost every old culture has its New Year beginning sometime between Imholc (Feb. 2nd) and the Vernal Equinox. (The Druids started their New Year at Imholc, the Chinese start sometime in February, between Imholc and the Vernal Equinox. The Persian New Year, Nowruz, starts on the first day of spring.)

Often, new students enter our Studio around this time of year. They’re ready to shake off the winter doldrums and start moving their bodies!

What we will include in our curriculum this year, for the first time (in approximately 2,000 years) will be “Princess training.”

Each of you enters as a Princess-in-Training. Your first year – whether you are physically part of our Studio, or studying with us from a distance – involves learning how to “be a Princess.”

A lot more interesting, and a bit more complex, than one might think.

For more details, I’ll shortly post a starting page on the Alay’nya website. Feel free to follow along with us, and you can post your comments and reflections, as you apply the “training” to your life, here on this blog!

Getting back to daily practice with "Master Teachers"

Dear Ones –

We started our new round of classes this last Sunday (and will blog about that soon), following an absolutely delightful little Open House the previous Sunday (and will blog about that soon, also!).

I made a little “covenant” or pact with new intermediate student S., who has a great background in dance; strong set of basic techniques. And like many of us, she’s ready to find her “true self” in dance. She’s ready to open up her realm of technique, of choreography, of self-expression … but I get ahead of myself.

One of her dance “idols” is Suhaila Salimpour. I agree, Suhaila is one of the “great ones.” In fact, I took my VERY FIRST belly dance workshop with her, many years ago. She was eighteen at the time, and she taught the workshop in Philadelphia. It was such an adventure to go to my very first workshop! (She did a great job, by the way.)

So both S. and I would benefit by having practice sessions throughout the week, and I suggested that we each get one of Suhaila’s DVDs and work out with it. (Suhaila has lots of DVDs out, and there are at least a few with the Fairfax Public Library.)

Yesterday, to make good on my promise – before I got so distracted with other things that it slipped off my list – I pulled Suhaila’s Yoga Fusion DVD from my shelves, and fired it up in the very early morning hours. (What better way to get an official government “holiday” started than with a good workout?)

This really is a good workout; about 40 minutes. And it really is NOT for Beginners! The people who will benefit the most from this DVD will already have some dance training, and are in reasonably good shape, and who want to improve not only their flexibilty, but the smoothness, the “liquidity,” of their undulations – and get better control over their core muscles.

What I particularly like about working with this DVD is how Suhaila takes us into undulations (both “normal” and “reverse”) starting with the yoga cat/cow alternation. A great way to improve our sense of how the undulations come about naturally and organically in our bodies!

Opening Our Hearts – Sunday February 12th Open House

Opening Our Hearts – With Movements from Oriental Dance

Dear One –

It’s been a long winter. We’ve shoveled snow, we’ve huddled against the cold. We’ve spent our days and evenings at the computer desk, hunching over the keyboard.

Now, warmer weather beacons. (We’re going to have a warm day this Sunday!) We’re getting ready to get out and play.

Before we even think about things like “getting in shape,” we have something to do first: Restore our body’s natural alignment.

Loosen up a little.


Literally, this Valentine’s Day (right on the heels of Imholc, the Druidic New Year, and also the Chinese New Year), it’s time to open our hearts. Release all the tense and tight muscles in our diaphagms and our spines.

Earlier, I was going to use this first big Open House as a time for loosening up our pelvis. A lot of Shakira-shaking. (Think “Hips Don’t Lie.”) A lot of shimmy.

Well, that will have to wait for another month.

Right now, it’s all about heart. And ribcage, and spine (especially right in our midback, where we carry some tension). And our diaphragms – which have gotten very tight and compressed over this winter.

So this Sunday, we’ll do a whole lot of stretching and limbering up – and a lot of opening our heart – with movements taken directly from Oriental dance.

See you Sunday – 11AM! (Email me at alaynya (at) alaynya (dot) com if you need directions.)

yours in dance – Alay’nya

P.S. – One of my dear friends, Kathy Carroll, sent me a book – “I Come As a Brother,” by Bartholomew. He talks about “opening our heart” as “radiant pink” energy field. What a lovely read!

Imholc – A Time of New Beginnings

“Imholc – A Time of New Beginnings”

February 2nd, 2011

My Dearest Darling God(dess) Daughter –

I’m writing to you in the pre-dawn hour of Imholc, the day which the ancient Druids identified as “beginning the year.” Doesn’t this make sense to you?

Really, Winter Solstice – or the end of the “Twelve days of Solstice” – is not our time of “new beginnings.” It may be the end of the previous year – but we have a rest time, a fallow time, between the end of one cycle and the beginning of the new.

Our society pushes us to hyper-activity. Just as we are most desiring to withdraw, to go inward, and to be very quiet, our social calendars and family responsibilities often dictate a time of increased shopping, travel, and social activities. We expect ourselves to write cards and notes to people (often – right around Winter Solstice – more than we do in the entire preceding year). We expect ourselves to shop for gifts, wrap them, mail them, all when the weather is getting very difficult!

Yes, of course at this time, we want to connect. We want emotional warmth. But the expectations that we have on ourselves sends us into over-drive, into hyper-achievement, just when our inner selves desire to calm down, to get centered, and to be very quiet.

A little silly, isn’t it?

And as for this “seasonal affective disorder” business? Bah! Of course our psyches are drawn inward at this time of year. This should be our time of going into our cave, of snuggling up by the fire, and maybe sleeping a little more than uusual. And if we put on a few extra pounds, well, don’t bears do the same?

Well now, that’s all settled. And we’re not in the deep, dark, heart of winter anymore. As of today, the cycle of seasons is at a very important turning point.

We’re at – very literally – the beginning of our new year. (The Chinese, an ancient, wise, and noble culture, don’t start their new year until this month, also. They simply tie their new year to a lunar starting time, rather than solar.)

As of today, no matter what the weather is outside, we have more energy. We have more sunlight. Our days are noticably longer, and we can see more daylight every day. And despite the fits and spurts of winter storms, we notice that it’s also a bit warmer.

We’ve survived winter thus far, and we have some confidence that we’ll get through the rest.

So now – that we are on this New-Year-threshold – what to do?

Get out of the house! (or the office, as the case may be) – Go for a walk; at lunchtime, whenever. Move about!
Clean and organize – Organize last year’s financials. Do your spreadsheets. Gather up the contact info from your last set of Christmas cards, and all the emails you’ve received, and get a headstart on cleaning up your people-contacts.
Go to (or hold) a party – Make it a “get moving” party – a belly dance party, or any sort of shake-off- the-winter-doldrums kind of gathering.

And if you can – join us – we’re having an Open House in just ten days; Sunday, February 13th! Noon – 2PM. Contact me for details – alaynya (at) alayna (dot) com. See you soon, darling!

Live joyously, my darlings! – Alay’nya