Curriculum Overview for the Coming Year

Curriculum Overview for the Alay’nya Studio – Studying by the Season (Part I)

Recently, I was counseling one of my young dancers. It was like talking to myself, when I was her age. Exactly the same issues.

Around the same time, I’ve been hearing from one of my other proteges, a brilliant young woman who is more than half-ways towards getting her doctorate in a particularly challenging field. Again, the same issues that I had when I was her age.

These two young woman – both intelligent, goal-oriented, and motivated – are struggling with a set of challenges that many of us face. Each of us may recognize ourselves in the feelings that they’ve shared. Many of us, all too often, feel fatigued and overwhelmed by our workloads.

What Do Women Need? And What Do Women Want?

Overwhelmed? It can happen to any of us.

We need more than a way to extricate ourselves from too many tasks and responsibilities.

What we really want is a way to release ourselves from our own expectations.

We often feel discouraged when we recognize that we’ve created our own “prison” of demands and expectations.

Alay’nya’s Story

I certainly felt this way, almost three decades ago, when I first discovered Oriental dance.

Prior to that time, I’d been – as many of us are – largely male-identified. That means, I’d defined my self-worth in terms of my ability to succeed in exactly the same areas, and with exactly the same set of criteria and expectations, that men used to vie for their power-and-success games.

Side Note: Do you want my full story? It’s in the Introduction to Unveiling: The Inner Journey, and you can read it using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature for Unveiling!

My Story Is Your Story Is the Story of All Women Today

In a sense, my dear sisters, we’ve set ourselves up for this.

This situation – one which confronts many women, worldwide – is a result of over two hundred years of work, by several generations of women, to gain “equal footing” with men.

We have, most fortunately, been successful.

This success, however, has come with a price.

Now that we can have equal opportunities with men – whether to get an education, hold jobs and advance in our careers, own property, run for office, or (most recently) fight along with men on the battlefield – we now expect that we should do this – and do this competitively with men, while at the same time maintaining all of our traditional “feminine” roles.

Exhaustion? Burnout? Fatigue? No wonder!

The challenge, dear sister, is not the opportunities or even the expectations.

The challenge lies within our dominant reference frame.

That means, the challenge is not so much with the work or the tasks themselves, but in how we evaluate ourselves, and how we create a mindset of what we should be doing, and how we should be focusing our minds, attention, and energy.

If we use a masculine-oriented reference frame, then we’re setting ourselves up for a no-win situation, simply because we’re not men. That means, no matter much we succeed at doing what men typically do, we’re not acknowledging that what we really need – for our personal growth and satisfaction – is something a bit different.

So what do we need? And what do we want?

The Simple Answer

For many of us, the answer is: is a body/mind/psyche/energy integration pathway. In fact, we need an integration pathway specifically designed for women.

At this point you, my dear reader, might nod and say, “Sounds good. But what exactly is a body/mind/psyche/energy integration pathway?”

Good question. And a particularly appropriate one if you’re seeking to reclaim what would once have been your heritage-by-rights.

Sometimes, we just need a lifeline. (Image from Learning To Share .)

In short, a body/mind/psyche/energy integration pathway is a lifeline. It’s something that touches (and yes, integrates) all aspects of your life.

What Makes a Pathway Work for Us?

Waterfall stairs images by Aubrey Hord

Whatever we select as a body/mind/psyche/energy integration pathway has to be something that – more than anything else – helps us connect. It has to help us connect our feelings (psyche) with our bodies. It has to help us connect our internal energy work (ch’i circulation) with our minds.

Most of all, this integration pathway has to give us a powerful reference frame for understanding our lives, for making decisions, and for evaluating our priorities. (And we keep in mind that our “priorities” can range from large to small: Should we pursue and advanced degree or not? Should we go out and play with our girlfriends or stay home, organize paperwork, and pay bills?)

An integration pathway gives us a reference frame for understanding and consciously directing our lives.

This integration pathway has to be practical. It has to give us “stuff to do” – on a nearly everyday basis – or we’ll forget and wander off. At the same time, it has to help us with the “big picture.”

That’s why, in the Alay’nya Studio, we have a “course of study” that involves all aspects of who we are. We have the physical practice, and we connect that to emotional release work. We have energy cultivation and circulation exercises, and we connect that with releasing thoughts that our mind has used to keep us “stuck” in various ways.

In order to give ourselves some structure, we have a “course of study.” Our program derives from the Kabbalah, or the Tree of Life – the oldest known guide for human spiritual growth and understanding.

What we do with our bodies connects with our emotions, our thoughts, and our energy patterns. And so on.

“See Spot Run” – A Simple Approach to Our Course of Study

An early "Dick and Jane" primer.
An early “Dick and Jane” primer. A classic sentence is “See Spot run.”

When we were children and first learning how to read, we didn’t start by picking up the Encyclopedia Britannica, or by embarking on Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Picture from an early Dick and Jane primer

Rather, our first books showed us a happy dog, with the phrase “See Spot run.”

Using a “primer book” when we were children didn’t mean that we were dummies. It just meant that we were learning something new, and we needed all the help that we could get. Pictures helped.

Right now, starting our body/mind/psyche/energy integration pathway, we’re again going to use pictures. Our “picture book” comes from the Tarot. There are two portions of the Tarot; the Major Arcana (22 cards) and the Minor Arcana (40 numbered cards and 16 face cards). We’re not concerning ourselves here with fortune-telling or divination. Rather, we’re looking at the Major and Minor Arcana as a picture-guide for our study. For us, the cards function much like a Powerpoint (TM) deck.

We use the Minor Arcana as a picture-guide for our study; somewhat like a Powerpoint (TM) syllabus overview.

The Minor Arcana: Forty “Study Topics” During the Year

For our day-to-day (and weekly class) studies, we use the Minor Arcana. These cards give us a step-by-step approach to practical spiritual and psychological mastery. They also indicate energy practices, which we include in our dance training.

Side Note: The Major Arcana deal with our “big life issues.” We study these also during the course of the year. In particular, we study the first six Major Arcana, which correspond to Psychological Types, as identified by Carl Jung. (There are two other Psychological Types not included in the Major Arcana, these are the “battery reserve” archetypes. For details, read Unveiling, Chapters 7 & 11, and consult ongoing topics in the Unveiling blog.)

Tree in Four Seasons
Tree in four seasons, from The Emmaus Road

We divide our study into “quarters,” much like a college does that works on a “quarter system.”

We work with the esoteric traditional of assigning each quarter (Winter, Spring, etc.) to one of the “four elements.”

Many of us know that the 22 Major Arcana cards relate not only to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, but also to the 22 defined “pathways” in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The cards in the Minor Arcana also relate to the Tree of Life. There are ten Sephiroth (centers) in the Tree of Life, and there are four “worlds.”

The four suites in the Minor Arcana relate to the four “worlds” in the Kabbalah.

Each “element” has a set of qualities associated with it, and a particular focus of attention. Our curriculum will include intellectual study, spiritual disciplines, emotional release work, energy cultivation exercises, and (of course) dance movements and techniques and choreographies:

  • Winter: Season of Earth (pentacles, the physical body, a “feminine” season),
  • Spring:Season of Air (swords, the mind, a “masculine” season),
  • Summer: Season of Fire (rods, the spirit, a “masculine” season), and
  • Autumn: Season of Water (cups, the emotional realm, a “feminine” season).

The Most Luscious, Nurturing, Feel-Good Thing You Can Do

The Most Luscious, Nurturing, Feel-Good Thing You Can Do in Bed, On Your Own

And I’m not even talking sex. (Well maybe. Just a little bit. Later.)

What is the one thing that you can do on your own, in bed, that sends a totally relaxing and soothing feeling up your spine?

It’s the same thing that I wrote about a few days ago, leaving you with a bit of a “cliff-hanger.”

Because, as I asserted in my last post, many of you already know this!

The real surprise is, many of you already know this – and you might even be new to Oriental dance!

Believe me, I am more than surprised. I am amazed. I am totally blown away.

When I learned this “little secret” – many years ago, as I was writing Unveiling: The Inner Journey – it was news to me.

Our belly dance "Figure 8" ("Figure Eight")  movement mirrors the infinity sign, and also traces a subtle internal movement at the base of our spine.
Our belly dance “Figure 8” (“Figure Eight”) movement mirrors the infinity sign. Infinity sign coded by Charles Petzold

The really important thing about what she shared?

It’s that the insight didn’t come from a member of the Oriental dance community. It came from someone who was skilled in the mind/body healing arts. (Diane now does something called HeartMath.) My students who already knew about this movement were practitioners of Reiki, yoga, deep tissue massage, and related areas.

So what is this one thing?

It’s the movement that we dancers call the “Figure 8,” done with our hips.

Our “Figure 8” (“Figure Eight”) movement in Oriental dance (belly dance) mirrors the infinity sign, and also traces a subtle internal movement at the base of our spine. The person who “clued me in” on this movement was Diane Richardson, whom I mentioned several times in Chapters 14 – 16.

I’ve looked at a number of YouTube vids purporting to teach the (vertical) Figure 8, and have only found one so far that is trustworthy – click here to see a Figure 8 tutorial. Just watching this dancer, you’ll see how the Figure 8 activates – actually massages – the sacral area. Beautiful!

(Be careful if you’re looking at various online clips; some focus on a horizontal Figure 8; that’s nice, but not what we’re discussing here. Others show a Figure 8 that starts “top to bottom”; this is sometimes called a Maya. And surprisingly, just changing the direction of how the movement is initiated makes a huge difference. For best energetic benefits, do the “classic Figure 8” – start going down-and-out, then up. And no matter what anyone tells you, try to keep your feet on the floor!)

Enough of the technical hints. The real question is: Why is this movement so important? Why is it more than just one of the many basic “belly dance techniques”?

The answer – as I shared in Unveiling: The Inner Journey – is:

She [Diane] pointed out that Oriental dance is built on a natural undulating and flowing movement that connects our entire spine, from our cranial vertebrae down to our sacrum. In addition, she helped me to sense a very subtle and naturally-embedded “figure eight” motion at the base of my spine. … All that we are doing, as we dance, is to tap into these innate, natural rhythms, and magnify them into a dance. (pp. 410-411)

So, the Figure 8 movement in Oriental dance:

  • Taps into a subtle, naturally-occuring rhythm in our sacral area,
  • Activates the physical and energetic components, and
  • Induces a sort of “energy wave” that travels up our spines towards our heads; essentially initiating a form of cranio-sacral massage.

To the best of my knowledge, doing a physically-correct Figure 8 movement is entirely safe, given that a person has no physical or neurological conditions that would make this movement difficult. (If the reader has any doubt or questions, he or she is advised to consult a medical professional first.) Also, to the best of my knowledge, while well-done Figure 8’s gently encourage both cranio-sacral release and (somehow) produce a “feel-good” effect, I don’t believe that this movement alone will cause release of kundalini energy. As a reference, in yogic teachings, the kundalini energy is stored as a “coiled serpent” at the base of our spine. When we do the Figure 8, we are gently activating life-force energy, but I don’t believe we’ll have any danger of arousing kundalini.

The Figure 8 does, at least in my experience, seem to relate to an overall group of intrinsic motions from the cranium down to the sacral area. Healing professionals are learning to sense and work with these rhythms in a healing modality called cranio-sacral therapy. I have personally experienced cranio-sacral therapy treatments, and found them safe, gentle, peaceful, and healing.

I like to do Figure 8’s in bed, because then gravity is not working on my sacral area. It is freer to move. And because this movement is gentle and relaxing, it will sometimes help me sleep easier and more restfully. And the relation to sex? Well, if we release our sacro-iliac area, and in fact mobilize our entire pelvic region (and Oriental dance movements help us with just that), then we are much more likely to have pleasure, right?

The Most Amazing Thing …

The Most Amazing Thing Is That – You Already Know This!

It happened during the second-to-last class of autumn. I was giving a “preview of coming attractions” – going over the “hot topics” for the winter quarter to come.

http://naturalplane.blogspot.coWhat is "esoteric belly dance"?
What is “esoteric”? And what is “esoteric belly dance”?

I took a deep breath, and launched into what I thought would be the most oddball, obscure, and yet most fundamental part of our next studies.

I felt pretty scared with this topic.

It’s one of those that makes “esoteric belly dance” – well – esoteric.

Mentally, I braced myself for resistance.

You (that is, the new group of students – and also those of you reading this) have borne up cheerfully – and even enthusiastically – as I’ve introduced a range of topics that you (students and readers collectively) often refer to as the “woo-woo stuff.”

That’s right. By many other standards, esoteric means the “woo-woo stuff.” And you’ve been cheerful and enthusiastic in not only trying this out, but in using that term.

This time, I thought, I’d lose you forever.

But as I launched into my description, my jaw dropped. I saw you nodding your heads in agreement. (This time, “you” being the students who were actually in the class that day – and perhaps even you as a reader.)

Over half of you were saying, essentially, “Oh yes, we know this already.”


One of the weirdest, most unusual, most “woo-woo” parts of the curriculum, and it’s already common knowledge?

I just couldn’t believe.

But it made sense.

In the class, we had a massage therapist whose interests and background included energy work. We had a Reiki practitioner. We had a few whose interests in yoga, meditation, and related areas were almost life-long.

Most of you already understood one of the most powerful principles for pathworking, or for bringing your energy work into your physical practice.

Jedi for Women

Over the years, as our curriculum shifted from classical, mainstream Oriental dance to … well, Oriental dance plus something … I’ve tried to express who and what we were in different ways. One that made the most sense was, simply, Jedi for women.

Imagine that you are Obi-Wan Kenobi, but a young Obi-wan. You’re not yet the Jedi Master. In fact, you’re not yet even a Jedi knight. You’re a young man who hopes to one day become a Jedi knight.

Hermione Granger, from the "Harry Potter" book and movie series.
Hermione Granger, from the “Harry Potter” book and movie series.

Or imagine that you’re Hermione, and more than anything, you want to go off to a school that teaches you to use the powers that you know that you have – but simply haven’t ever been able to bring together.

Or that you’re an young woman in pre-Arthurian times, stepping into the boat that will take you through the mists to Avalon, where you hope to learn the fabled priestess arts.

You’ve Already Been There, and You Already Know This

Now, let’s take this one step deeper.

Imagine that not only you are some fictional character, setting out to learn and master some arcane arts that will require years of complete devotion and dedication – but that at one point, in one of your many lifetimes, you were such a person.

Imagine that at one time, you not only knew these things, but had mastered them.

You were, at one point, a Jedi Master. You were a grown-up, fully powerful Hermione. You were a Priestess of Avalon.

And now, in this lifetime, you’re simply trying to bring it all together.

And thus, you gravitate towards energy practices, such as yoga. Or perhaps you’ve already studied energetic healing arts, such as Reiki. Or you’ve followed a tradition of ritual, and opened up your sensitivities in that area.

Somehow or other, in your various wanderings, you’ve already picked up enough so that when the new information is presented to you, it’s not new anymore.

It’s already part of your known and familiar.

Make sense?

Of course. And for a very good reason.

An “Integration Lifetime” – Or Why It Seems So Tough and Complicated

Many of us are experiencing an integration lifetime. We’re pulling together all that we’ve learned before, and we’re making the breakthroughs that we were reaching towards earlier, but possibly didn’t make in our previous lives.

That’s why this lifetime, for so many of us, is so complex, demanding, and challenging. We’re “wrapping up” a lot of things all at once, while reviewing all that we’ve learned before, and making major breakthroughs that we almost – but didn’t quite – complete in our earlier lives.

Sound exhausting?

It’s kind of like taking organic chemistry during the summer. (Difficult under the best of circumstances.) And then, while doing that, taking a “survey course” covering a few thousand years of humanities. And then doing an extra-credit project under the direction of a Nobel Laureate researcher.

Which would explain why our lives are so full, so complex, and so challenging.

We’re not just making headway in one area, we’re doing a lot of things, all at once.

And the Answer Is …

But what is this one thing – one of the three “cornerstones” of esoteric dance – that many of you know already?

Read the details in the next blog. (Yes, I promise to be forthcoming. And I’ll put the link here as soon as I publish the next blog.)

Or, if you simply can’t wait, pick up your copy of Unveiling: The Inner Journey, and read the paragraph at the bottom of page 410. (Yes, this is smack in the middle of Chapter 29, “Pragmatic Esoterics,” or – as we now call it, the “woo-woo stuff.”)

Here’s to your health and well-being – and to your overflowing personal energy and abundance in 2013 and beyond!

Much love – Alay’nya

P.S. Do you have a desire to be a “Jedi Master” in your own life? Do you desire bringing all of who you are – energetically as well as physically, and emotionally as well as intellectually – into one art? Do you desire your own pathworking?

Join me. Click here, scroll to the lower left on the page, and join the Unveiling community for quarterly (and sometimes more frequent) communications. This is reserved for people like you – people who want to infuse their practice with the energetic aspects, and use their dance art as a pathway for healing, wholeness, integration, and mastery.

Very best wishes to you make your dances more fluid and expressive as you add “water play” to your practice!

Yours in dance –

Author of Unveiling: The Inner Journey

You are the Jewel in the Heart of the Lotus. Become the Jewel!

From Dr. Nicole Cutts’ Amazon review of “Unveiling: The Inner Journey”: “I love, love, love this book! It is like the g*ddess mother, mentor I never had and always needed. Finally a book that just tells it like it is for women. It is well written, intelligent and enlightening. For any woman who wants to live a life of adventure,joy and love. It is rich with so much wisdom and grounded in thorough research, which I love! I can’t say enough about it. All I can say is read it if you are looking for something new to take you to the next level of womanhood.”





Nicole Cutts, Ph.D., with Alay'nya, at the first private signing of "Unveiling: The Inner Journey"
Nicole Cutts, Ph.D., with Alay’nya, at the first private signing of “Unveiling: The Inner Journey”

P.S. – Are you seeking to revamp and rev up your life? Do you have goals, desires, dreams that seem almost within your reach?

Nicole Cutts, Ph.D., Success Coach and Founder of Vision Quest Retreats, can help you map the strategic plan to achieve your dreams.

Copyright (c) 2013, Alay’nya. All rights reserved.

Related Posts: Water Dancing and Emotional Release Through Belly Dance