Sunday, December 28, 2014


 With 2015 looming on the horizon, most of us are in a flurry of wrapping up our un-finished business of the past year, while at the same time making New Years Resolutions. Setting goals, and putting them down on paper- or on your computer screen- is definitely a way of making them real.

Take a few minutes to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with yourself, deciding upon exactly what you want to accomplish in the next year- and how to go about getting it!  What you want is clarity in your desires, permission to achieve them, and allowing the time to make them real.

 Here’s a few ideas I’ve used when making dance-oriented…or any kind… of New Year’s Resolutions.

 Take A Personal Inventory
Have a stroll down Memory Lane, and   see what you accomplished. Seeing what has worked for you in past year. Did you accomplish everything that you wanted to?

 If not, why not?

 Looking at what you did in 2014 will help you to define and refine what you want to do in the coming year. Avoid making the same mistakes!

Write It Down, Say It Out Loud
Once you decide on what goals you’d like to work on, say it out loud-to yourself and others, and write them down!

  These former thoughts are now no longer just free-floating ideas in your head…and that’s a good thing!

 But remember, now that they’re tangible, there needs to be follow-through, and that’s where most of us hit stumbling blocks: the goals aren’t going to manifest themselves- you have to help them along their path to becoming reality!

  Take Baby Steps
 Break up all of your long-term goals into specific, shorter, bite-sized tasks, so they won’t be as daunting.

Were your goals and resolutions from last year a little too gung-ho, or maybe a tad lofty?

 Dreaming big has always been a personal mantra of mine… but then I have to step back and remind myself that if I’m reaching for the stars, I’m the one who needs to build the spaceship!

There are many ways of building your personal rocket to the stars- it starts with an idea, the idea gets fleshed out, and then put into action.   Know that any stage of this process might have to go back to the drawing board. Taking baby steps is the key here, and so is giving yourself some wiggle room- allow yourself the kindness of putting your dreams into action without abandoning your plans if they don’t go exactly the way you wanted them to. You can always re-evaluate your goals and go to Plan B- or Plan S, if need be!

On a personal note, writing The Belly Dance Handbook was actually a New Year’s Resolution that I made in 2007, for the New Year of 2008… and, of course it didn’t come out that year!  The idea had been floating around in my head already for years, but that’s all it was until I put it into action, and took the appropriate baby steps  to get it done.  2008 was the year I started this blog, and it was all about testing the waters and laying the frame work  for actually writing- and finishing- my book.  The book took a good six and a half years  to finish,  but I kept adding it onto my resolutions for the next step, the next phase, the next year. As of  January 11,  2015, it’s been out for a year!

 Get Specific
 Were your resolutions too vague? “Practice more” is a great goal, but it’s kinda broad. Setting a more specific goal– and allowing yourself to re-consider and re-set it as needed might be easier to make that goal a reality.

 For instance, instead of “Practice More”, you might want to decide to drill on your own for at least fifteen minutes a day…only for the month of January. Put this into your calendar, and just do it. It’s only thirty-one days, after all.  If this idea is working well   for you at the end of January, then by all means continue it through February…and if it works well in February, continue it through March.

  Some things work better on paper than they do in real life. If your goal is not working for you, don’t beat yourself up, just re-define it. Don’t abandon it, amend it! Pick something do-able, something that will work with your schedule.  You’re not going to get penalized for being unable to commit to your original goal, you simply want to make it something you can do!

  Maybe your goal needs to become “Practice Fifteen Minutes A Day, Three Times A Week” or “Home Drilling Sunday Mornings, 10am-11am”.  Perhaps   an every day practice won’t work with your life- it was a good idea, but many of us are not full time dancers; we’re college students, moms, or career women in addition to being dancers.  In order to fulfill your goals on practice, make those sessions something special, not   drudgery, cause you’ll only wind up putting it off. Make your practice like a hot date…with yourself! Soon, you’ll find out that your “relationship” with dance is blooming, because it was allowed to grow naturally, over a period of time.

 Reward Yourself
 I’m a damn champion at holding personal contests (with prizes, of course) or dangling a carrot in front of myself so I can get a reward for something I wasn’t all that crazy about doing.  Maybe I’m easily duped, but it seems to work every time!  That’s how I finished   The Belly Dance Handbook.   I’d give myself a small reward every time I completed a chapter…or an entire book edit.

 I make “deals” with myself constantly on a smaller level to help stick to my every day goals as well.  Sometimes they’re pretty crazy, but that’s how I move forward.  My life is constantly all about small challenges and rewards.  I’m always   holding self-imposed   mini-challenges like “If I sew all the elastic onto these ten sets of finger cymbals for my class, then I can get that new MAC lipstick!”  Or  “ If I walk twenty minutes a day, every day, after three months, I’m allowed to not walk for a week!” But the thing is, by the time I had walked every day for three months, it was a habit, not a burden… and if I didn’t walk for a day, I actually missed it!

Believe In Yourself
 New Years Resolutions and goals in general are about figuring out- with your mind, body and soul- what is best for you as a dancer.  They’re optimistic and they often seem far-fetched.  But, as they say, if you’re gonna dream, dream big!

Perhaps for 2015, your first Resolution should believe in yourself as a dancer. If you give yourself permission to do that, then everything else you decide to achieve will fall into place easily.  

 I believe in you…you can do it!


 Get a signed copy of The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer here:

Photo & Graphics: Maharet Hughes

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Photo by Maharet Hughes

The question I  probably get asked most frequently is how I get my abdominal flutters so strong, even, sustained and large enough to see from the back of the room- no matter what size the venue is. First of all, my flutters do not come from an ability to move my abdominal muscles in and out quickly.  I could definitely do that… but if I was engaging my abs by pulling them in and out super-fast, then I wouldn’t be able to layer belly rolls with my flutters, a movement that I call the  “flundulation”.
I’m going to share a few tips to my super-human flutters with you.  With a little ok, a lot- of practice, you’ll be able to achieve mind-bending flutters yourself.
The main secret for  "alien belly",wild-looking flutters is to keep your  abdominal muscles soft and relaxed, while your skeleton remains in standard dance posture- pelvis neutral with the tailbone tucked slightly towards the floor, ribcage lifted, and shoulders back and down. This sounds a lot easier than it actually is!
 Think about it: our abdominal muscles are constantly engaged, whether we’re conscious of it or not.  When enter in performance, our abs are always engaged- we’ve been trained to do that!  When we walk into a party or social gathering, we automatically pull up into a regal posture, without even thinking about it. Trying on a costume or an item in a store’s dressing room, we immediately suck in our stomachs. 
Letting our bellies remain relaxed is completely conditioned out of us by society, so it might take you a while to get the hang of keeping your skeleton engaged and your abdominal muscles soft. When I was training to do this- and I taught myself, no one showed me- I’d place my hands on my sides, actually hooking my fingers just under my top ribs, so I could really feel my ribcage staying lifted as I let my belly go soft.  It looks kinda dorky, but try it- it works!
After you’ve gotten comfortable with that, it’s time to discover your diaphragm, which is the place of initiation for all my flutters.  The diaphragm, the large, major muscle that controls our breathing, is strong and kinda dome-shaped, sitting in the lower middle of your torso. Though we’re usually not aware of it, the diaphragm contracts rhythmically as we breathe as we breathe in and out. But if you concentrate, you can control the diaphragm- like when you breathe in deeply, holding your breath before diving into water. Think of your diaphragm as an inflatable ball. It fills up as you inhale and deflates when you exhale.   So you can feel it in motion, place your hand on your diaphragm and breath slowly and deeply.
 Once you’ve located your diaphragm and felt it moving naturally, try it a few times with conscious control, breathing in and out slowly and deeply as you keep your skeleton lifted and your abdominal muscles soft and un-engaged.  Now, try exhaling sharply, cutting the diaphragm’s muscle movement off. You’ve done this correctly if you feel a little clutch or catch.  Repeat this a few times, allowing yourself a couple of moments of regular breathing in between so you don’t get all light-headed and dizzy.
 A word to the wise: while many people advocate catching your breath and “cutting it off” at the throat, I don’t advocate this practice. Not only are the little “catches” you make while doing that visible to the audience, the movements also can cause the tendons in the neck to pop out and look sort of stringy and ugly…even on younger dancers! 
Instead, try to visualize that little clutch or catch staying  just at the top of your ribs, directly under your cleavage…or, if you're a guy, directly under and between your man-candy pectoral muscles.
 Remember, the diaphragm is one of the strongest muscles in our body; it’s in constant use as we breathe. If you repeat these practice movements even just a few times a day, the strength in your diaphragm will build up at lightening speed…and soon, you will have a flutter that the audience can see from the back of the room!

 If you liked finding out a bit about abdominal technique here, then you’ll LOVE my instructional DVD, “ABS-olutely Fabulous”- it’s packed with info on flutters, belly rolls, and undulations!  Get it here:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Photo by Maharet Hughes

 Some people say dancing is just “a lifestyle”…I say it’s more than's life itself!  It's in the DNA! We  dancers are a distinctly different breed.  We are dancers foremost, and human beings  second. Sure, Whether you’re a performing professional , instructor or student,  dancers are not like everyone else!

In order to more fully research the “dance genome”, I’ve created a quiz. Get a pen and paper, and mark down the letter of the answer that best describes you:

1. You have a tough time differentiating between stage make up and every day make up. You use an inordinate amount of cosmetics no matter what, and frequently have to “tone it down” for daily  wear.…but you’re uncertain what that means or how to go about it!
a)  Every day make up?
b) This has never been a problem

2.You refuse to listen to music during a massage, because you start counting the beats and phrases
a) Huge problem…and I only listen to talk radio for the same reason!
b) What do you mean?

3. You seem to have pulled a network of muscles in your leg, shoulder or back… do you:
a) Ice the injury down for a few minutes, pop an anti-inflammatory and carry on with your day
b) Schedule a doctor visit immediately

4. You just met a new Special Someone… but  finding the  actual time to date is becoming frustrating.
a) What is this thing you call “dating”?
b) Are you crazy?

5. By some  sublime miracle of fate, you  have a gap in your weekend schedule; do you think to yourself:
 a)  Ahhh… so this is how the other half lives…uh, what should I do?
b) We all need some downtime!

6. Holidays mean nothing to you, because you’re always working or in class.
a) What, exactly, is a holiday?
b) Holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends

7. You own costumes and  ratty sweats… nothing in between!
a)  Sometimes I dream about going shopping for a cute little dress, but then I get my act together and go to class.
b) I practically live at the mall!

8.You can never find a bobby pin or safety pin, no matter how many packages you buy.
a) I know, right?
b) WTF is up with that?

9. You always wondered  what that phrase “dance like no one is watching” was supposed to  mean…
a) What does that mean?
b) I wish!

10. Your feet are constantly dirty and calloused:
a)  In another life, my feet will be pampered and perfect
b) Eeeew, gross!

11. Your  purse is always filled with essentials like band-aids, ibuprophen, Top-Stik, and false eyelashes
a) Oh, and  hair spray,  an Ace bandage, sewing kit, extra jewelry, and five lipsticks!
b) What the hell is Top-Stik?

12. You can always be located: just follow the trail of glitter!
a)  So true!
b) Isn’t glitter just…like… a “thing” for an eight-year-old girl’s  birthday party?

 Ok, time to total up the score:
 If you got mostly A answers- and I’m sure you did-  it’s clear you are one of us with the Super Powers!

If you got mostly B answers:
 Not sure how it’s possible you read this far…but thanks! See you at my next gig, I’ll come on out after the show and say hi!

 Purchase a  signed copy of my books “The Belly Dance Handbook: A  Companion For The Serious Dancer”  or my memoir “Showgirl Confidential: My Life Onstage, Backstage And On The Road” here:

 Both books are available wholesale for teachers or studios- to make an inquiry, visit this link and click on  “email” in the top right hand corner:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


 Assiut Queen Dawn Devine aka Davina: Photo by Alisha Westerfield

Quite a few dancers can brag about having a career  that spans a quarter of a century, but not that many of them can also claim concurrent and wildly  successful careers  as costumers,  art historians and  authors! The multi-talented  Davina, aka Dawn Devine  can…only thing is, she doesn’t gloat about it, she’s  much too  nice – and busy- for that sort of thing. Easy-going, sweet and funny, Davina is so understated about her vast accomplishments, that even if you know her, they might surprise you!

Dawn has so many college degrees, they practically form their own alphabet, and in addition to performing and teaching belly dancing and costuming classes throughout the USA, she also has numerous museums show credits.  She is an expert on antique textiles  (especially Assiut, but more on that in a minute!)  Victorian clothing, and vintage couture, with many lecturing engagements under her tasseled hip belt.  She also   a slew of informative, instructional   costuming books to her credit, including Embellished Bras, Costuming from the Hip, From Turban to Toe Ring, Bedlah, Baubles and Beads and Style File.

Rayah wears a vintage assiut shawl from the collection of Judeen Esau.  This gorgeous piece has a rich blue groundcloth and a golden hue to the metal.  Photo by Alisha Westerfeld
 As anyone who knows her can attest, Dawn is a walking encyclopedia on anything concerning belly dance costuming, but her favorite subject, and most enduring obsession is Assiut, the gorgeous traditional net and metal fabric named for the    Egyptian city of the same name.  All belly dancers, no matter what their preferred style, are in love with Assiut.  Spotting a vintage piece of Assiut on eBay causes dancers to bid like maniacs, eager to  part with their rent money. Merely mentioning it  on social media causes comments like “I’m drooling all over my keyboard!”  And in real life, a shawl of vintage Assuit at a flea market has been known to induce catfights.

 Davina’s  own Assiut mania began this way:

My love story began in a crowded antique store, filled with dusty cases holding tumults of vintage items. I turned and looked across a crowded room and my life changed.  In an instant the rest of the world disappeared and I only had eyes for one thing. My love story began in a crowded antique store, filled with dusty cases holding tumults of vintage items.  There were jewelry pieces and objects d’art. There were trinkets and baubles, the day-to-day objects that populated the lives of our ancestors, 60, 80, 100 years ago.  But there, draped gently over the edge of a photo frame, and laid delicately across a shelf was my beauty.  She was creamy and soft, with pewter-toned metal stitches.  It was Assiut, and it was going to be mine!”
                        1920's French silent screen actress Stacia Napierkowska in Assiut

 Since that fateful moment, she’s been hooked on Assiut, also known as tulle bi telli.  It became a hobby, moved into a personal mania phase, and then, it took over her life! Now, she’s spreading the love- and her vast knowledge.

Davina’s latest book, done with  photographer and belly dancer Alisha Westerfield,  The Cloth of Egypt: All About Assiut was just published.  The book is gigantic, highly informative, impeccably researched, and loaded with incredible  vintage photos of Assuit, as well as step-by-step instructions  for fabricating costumes.

Even before the book was a glimmer in her eye, Davina   spent years researching Assuit, not to mention fabricating high-end, custom-made costumes for herself and many other dancers.

She says,

“I committed myself to a massive interdisciplinary research project with one simple mission, find out everything there is to know about the cloth we call Assiut or tulle bi telli.  The result of years of research, months of writing, crafting hundreds of costumes, dozens of photo shoots, is my new book “The Cloth of Egypt: All About Assiut.” 

 In honor of the book’s publication, Davina has  complied a list of facts on Assiut exclusively for this blog, here it is:

1 - Assiut is made from cotton.  Frequently, antique Assiut is labeled as silk, linen, or a blend, but the truth is that vintage Assiut cloth is made from finely spun, high-twist Egyptian cotton.  

2 - Assiut can be spelled in a myriad of ways.  Arabic cannot be easily translated, so rather, it’s transliterated by ear from spoken Arabic to written English, with British and Americans sounding out the words and writing them down phonetically.  This leads to more than 50 spelling variations.

3 - Most people know that the phrase tulle bi telli means “mesh with metal”... but few know that this is a marriage of three languages.  Tulle is from the name of the lace-making capital of France.  Telli is from Turkish word Tel, which means metal.  Bi is “with” in Arabic. 

4 - Assiut is a single-stitch embroidery technique.  The stitch is made with flattened metal wire called plate, and the stitch is made using a blunt tipped double-eyed needle. 

5 – Antique Assiut cloth was made by the thousands of yards and was considered the essential souvenir for travelers down the Nile during the British occupation of Egypt.  British, American, Russian, French, And Italian women all collected and coveted Assiut cloth for it’s supple drape and metallic gleam. 

6 - Vintage Assiut pieces come in three sizes.  Scarves, narrow enough to wrap around the neck, head or hat to keep flies, gnats and mosquitos off of the face.  Shawl sizes, which were designed to be worn as wraps about the shoulder, were wide enough to envelop the body, but short enough to be easily handled by the wearer.  Opera wrap or piano shawl size, which was the longest and widest, designed to fit over a grand piano, or to wrap around the body, and still have enough left to elegantly drag along the ground, a shimmering train of exotic abundance.

7 - Modern Assiut should be pounded or rolled to press down the individual stitches.   Machine wash on gentle and tumble dry low in a mesh lingerie bag to keep the stitches from catching, and pulling.  Vintage Assiut should always be hand washed and dried as flat as possible.

8 - Assiut is associated with weddings in Upper Egypt. Some of the most popular motifs are directly related to wedding symbology. Camel figures with plants, stars, or even stylized men, represent the groom.  The female figures, often holding hands, or with arms raised, represent the bride and her bridal party.  Other common images that appear in Assiut wedding shawls include combs, for preparing the brides hair, perfume bottles for anointing her body, and diamonds, protective shapes with talismanic properties to protect the bride on her special day.


Purchase a copy of “The Cloth Of Egypt: All About Assiut” here:

The book's cover: I'm wearing an Assiut bra made by Davina & a pre-1919 white Assiut shawl
Photo by Alisha Westerfield