Friday, May 22, 2015


Photo by Maharet Hughes
It’s Memorial Day Weekend- officially known as the first weekend of summer!

For some people, this weekend marks the beginning of beaches, barbeques and Day Drinking. But for us dancers, it also marks Open Season on Daytime Dancing…are you ready for all the outdoor gigs that are coming your way?

 Here are some ideas to keep you looking and feeling cool as you perform in the heat.

First of all, it’s imperative to stay hydrated. Bring along extra water, even if you think you might not need it.  Dancing outdoors in directly sunlight can really sap your H2O reserves, and water is way better  for you and your energy than guzzling sugary sports drinks.  Coconut water tastes yummy and is extremely hydrating, too.

 Remember to apply sun block…. and to reapply it as needed. You’re definitely going to need it, and should be using it every day, anyway. There are many non-greasy formulas on the market today made for babies and small children- those are great, but theres also a plethora of products made expressly for use on the face, so invest in one of them.  And a word to the wise: make sure to cover – at the very least- your arms, neck, chest, torso and legs with sunblock, too, cause sunburn blisters and tan-lines in the pattern of your costume are not attractive!

 If you use perfume, go with natural essential oils rather than a regular scent, because once in a while, regular perfumes can have a chemical reaction under the strong  sun rays and actually stain your skin.

Bring some dance shoes even if you prefer going barefoot. If you normally dance in heels or ballroom shoes, make sure to have some flat slippers with you as well... there could be a possibility you might be dancing on grass at a private party or outdoor festival, and if you wear heels, they will sink into the turf!  Plus, at many outside events such as Ren Faires and neighborhood festivals, the pavement, stages, sand, the grass and especially Astro Turf get very hot when direct sun has been shining on them for hours, and you could literally get burned.  Shoes are mandatory!

Also, make sure to bring something light and airy to wear after your gig- you definitely do not want to be standing around for hours in your costume!

 For performing during the day, you’ll need less make up than you would use for a large stage or a dark nightclub, but you still need to apply more – and different- makeup than you’d wear on the street. This could, of course, mean using more liner or applying powder shadow a little darker and a vivid shade of shade of lipstick… but there’s also more to consider. Go over the perimeters of your face- forehead, cheekbones, and jawline- with a matte bronzing powder, both to contour and to make your face look healthy and glowing. Iridescent, sparkly or glittery bronzers are best saved for evening.

For daytime gigs, because of the sweat factor" I stick with powders and gel eye liners only.  I never use cream blush or eye shadow, and I skip any sort of pencil, because all of these formulas tend to melt, smear and crease in summer sunlight.  I don’t even use eyebrow pencils- too waxy. I fill in my brows with powder, using a small slanted brush.  As for lips, matte formula lipsticks are much better for day work than shiny ones like slick glosses or softer, more easy-to-melt products. Select a lip color in a bright “natural” shade, like a blue red (makes the teeth appear whiter) a youthful rose pink or a nice peachy-coral tone. Even if you’re dark skinned, stay away from anything too dark, like burgundy, brown or taupe. Apply the lipstick, blot your lips on a tissue, powder over your lips with a translucent powder, re-apply the color and blot again for maximum staying power. If you want to give the illusion of lustrous lip gloss, dip the pad of your finger into the same pearly white eye shadow you used as a brow highlighter, and apply a dot of it to the center of your lower lip, which will mimic the pretty sheen of lip gloss, but will stay in place, and won’t be greasy.

 Far be it from me to not want to be as risqué with my costuming as possible- but I always tone things down a few notches for my daytime gigs. Remember that there will probably be kinder present and that many of them will want to be photographed with you, so err a little bit on the conservative side costume-wise…. even I do that!  Also, since you’ll be outside, fun accessories like big   blingy earrings, glittery bindis and rhinestones around the eyes really catch the sunlight, so pile them on! But it's not like I have to tell any of you readers to wear more bling, right?

One last thought- undoubtedly  you will be  wearing sunglass to and from, as well as before and after your shows- so make sure that any pigment or congealed foundation that has collected under your sunnies before you go onstage!  If it has, try to spot-check it with a make up wipe (keep some in your dance bag) and just powder over the area tapping on the powder lightly to camouflage the area. Wiping the pigment off may result in streaky lines under your eyes, and you dont want to hit the stage looking like a Picasso painting!

Have fun, and Happy Summer everyone!

 Get an autographed copy of The Belly Dance Handbook here:

Photo and Graphics: Maharet Hughes

Wednesday, May 13, 2015




   A few days ago, a friend of mine posted  on my Facebook profile page, and it  caused quite a response from a lot of people, many of whom I don’t know. Maharet’s post said I was the healthiest person she knew, that I looked twenty years younger than my actual age (thanks doll… did I mention I love you madly?) that I was always full of energy, and she thought it was because of my diet. The post mentioned that I am sugar-free, which is true, and that I  basically live on green smoothies and Greek yogurt”, which isn’t entirely true… but I do consume insane amount of both those things. She said that the smoothies I made were better than any she’d ever had, and ended the post by asking, “I wonder what would happen if I ate exactly like you for ten days?” 

All this resulted in a happy uproar; there was a barrage of comments clamoring for information on my diet and the recipes for my smoothies.  So, I’m gonna give some outlines on my food habits, in case they might work for you, and of course I’ll and share my smoothie recipes with you. 

 My first major dietary change occurred at the beginning of my career. When I started dancing professionally twenty-five years ago, my food consumption habits changed almost by themself. Without even realizing I was doing it, I moved from eating three meals a day to eating five or six small meals, just because I found it uncomfortable to dance on a full stomach.  Three months later, much to my astonishment,  none of my costumes fit cause I’d dropped over twenty pounds.  I didn’t even realize that this was Eating To Fuel, Not To Fill.  Apparently, eating like this keeps your metabolism going, but when I began having multiple smaller meals, I didn't even know it was a concept! It just worked for me dance-wise, and the weight loss was a bonus. It may or may not work for you, but it’s worth a try.

  At that same point in my life as a new professional, I started waking up every morning ravenously hungry. That was weird to me- I’d always been one of those people who began the day with a ka-razy strong cuppa joe, and wouldn't even think of eating until three or four hours later.  But my dancing suddenly demanded that I needed breakfast, so I obeyed.  It was then that I discovered Eating Breakfast Is Really Important.  I still need my really strong coffee, but there’s no way in hell I can imagine skipping breakfast!

  The second big “food breakthrough” I had was in 2009, after a severe car accident. I was in a lot pain and all the physical therapy and drugs I was taking didn't seem to be helping all that much, so I started researching nutrition. There are tons of foods and spices that have anti-inflammatory properties, and I began eating them in ridiculous amounts, mostly out of desperation!  I ate tons of citrus fruits and tomatoes because of the healing properties of Vitamin C. I overdosed on berries and flax seed because they fight inflammation…as does cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, thyme, rosemary, cloves and ginger. I began using these spices as much as possible, preferably fresh, but dried will do. I ate as much raw food as possible, and went "krazy for kale".

  A confirmed sugar addict, before the accident I’d  actually  “shoot” a package of Sweet Tarts the way a kid tosses down tequila on Spring Break…until I found out that refined sugar is really bad for you in many ways, especially for your joints and for inflammation. So, it was  Bye-Bye Sugar !  Some people find it extremely difficult to quit sugar, but I was-pardon my French- feeling so shitty from my pain I was willing to try anything. I just started looking upon sugar as something that was poisoning me, and seriously, it wasn’t hard for me to quit. If you know something will have terrible consequences, you know it’s better not to ingest it, right?  So I didn’t, and it really wasn’t a problem.   That led to me becoming virtually Gluten Free.  The no sugar scenario really was making me feel better, so I tried deleting gluten, that wasn’t hard either, and soon I noticed my energy was off the charts.

An important caveat to all of this is- I made these changes willingly, and they worked for me. I also didn’t consider it a “diet”, or that I was depriving myself.  I simply found that I was making Healthier Choices…and I got to say, I’m not totally anal about them. Once in a great while, I’ll have a piece of someone’s birthday cake (especially my own!) and sometimes at a fancy restaurant, I’ll have a piece of bread…slathered in butter.

Also, if you are considering going sugar and/or gluten free, there are many things to consider. One of them is that artificial sweeteners are probably worse than sugar itself.  The other is that many gluten free foods are loaded with sugar!  Make your dietary changes slowly, see how you feel, and don’t beat yourself up if you backslide a little. Remember, for most of us, they are choices, not mandatory.

 And now on to my Smoothie Recipes:
 For the recipes that call for yogurt, use only unsweetened, plain Greek Yogurt.  I prefer the brand Fage; I’m addicted to it!  I’m a FAGE HAGE!! It comes in 2 % fat, 0% fat or full fat- I’ve used any of these in my smoothies, and no matter what, they come out terrific. Obviously, the full fat version will make a more satisfying smoothie, but it’s your call.  Many brands pretend to be “real” Greek yogurt, but are full of  sugar or artificial sweeteners, and many also have some kind of gelatin in them to thicken it, so especially if you are a veggie, check the label carefully before you purchase!

 For all the following recipes, use only organic fruits and vegetables.  I buy fresh fruit, like bananas and pineapples, chop them up, pop them in baggies and freeze them, because it not only lasts longer, it makes the smoothie thicker, like a milkshake.  You can put any kind of berries in baggies and freeze them, and I often freeze greens like spinach, kale and chard specifically for adding to the smoothies.

Most of these smoothies have an odd color- usually bright green or brown, and that immediately puts some people off.  Also, if you are regularly eating sugar, these smoothies, though  not acidic, may not taste as sweet to you as they do to me. Feel free  to add more fruit  if they're  not sweet enough for you. But once you’ve tasted them, you’ll learn what you like, you can add or subrtract ingredients, and will also  not to trust the  scary color, because they’re all totally delish!

1 handful kale
2 Handfuls of spinach or chard, or one handful of each
1 Four-inch section of zucchini, chopped into “pennies”
 2 small broccoli florets
 1/ smallish apple or half of a large apple (any type of apple is fine, I like Honeycrisp or Fuji)
 4 Frozen pineapple segments
1 Frozen banana chunks
2 Generous dollops plain Greek yogurt – I prefer Fage, but use whatever you like as long as it’s unsweetened
A pinch of allspice
Cinnamon to taste (I like to use a lot- tastes good and it's an anti-inflammatory)

Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly.
If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with liquid to the “Fill” line. I use a mixture unsweetened coconut milk and water. If you are using a regular blender, use 2 cups of the coconut milk and water mixture. Blend until liquefied.

The smoothie will look bright green, but it tastes just like apple pie!


1/2 Large hothouse cucumber (about five inches long, cut into chunks
1 Handful spinach or chard, or a mix of each
3 to 5 Leaves of mint, depending on how minty you ‘d like it to be
The juice from 1/2 a large lemon or 1 small one
The juice from a medium sized orange
5 or 6 medium to large strawberries, with the leaves cut off OR a few large chunks of fresh watermelon

 Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly. If you don’t have a juicer for the orange and lemon, cut each fruit in half and squeeze the juice into your blender through a strainer.

 If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with the juice of the lemon and the orange, and pour in water to the “Fill” line. If you’re using an ordinary blender, use about a cup and a half of water. If the mixture is too chunky, for your taste, just add a little more water.

This is a totally refreshing, invigorating and sweet smoothie; I make a huge batch of this and sip it all day.  In the summer, I’m all about the watermelon, and instead of using the orange juice; I just add more watermelon chunks.


1 Large handful of frozen pineapple segments, or about 10-12 pieces
3 Frozen banana chunks
1 Handful kale, spinach or chard
1 three-inch section of zucchini, sliced into pieces
 The juice of 2 medium sized oranges
1 Tablespoon organic virgin coconut oil, put directly into the blender
Unsweetened coconut milk, or coconut water

Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly.
If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with liquid to the “Fill” line.
 I use a mixture unsweetened coconut milk and water, or you can use straight coconut water, either way is fine! If you are using a regular blender, use 2 cups of the coconut milk and water mixture. or the coconut water. Blend until liquefied.

 2 carrots cut into “pennies”
1 Handful spinach or chard
 Half of a medium sized apple cut into chunks
2-4 Chunks of frozen pineapple
2 Chunks frozen banana
2 Generous dollops plain Greek yogurt – I prefer Fage, but use whatever you like, as long as it’s unsweetened
1 Pinch Allspice
1 teaspoon  fresh ginger, finely grated
Cinnamon to taste
 Unsweetened almond milk or unsweetened soy milk

Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly.
If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with the almond milk to the “Fill” line. If you are using a regular blender, use 2 cups of the almond milk and water mixture. Blend until liquefied… regular blenders might yield a slightly chunkier version of this, cause the carrots don’t always puree up fine. If the smoothie is too chunky, add a little more almond milk, or some water.

The smoothie will look rusty brownish-orange, but it tastes yummy, just like carrot cake!

 1 Large handful or one cup of frozen blueberries
1 medium mango, pitted, skinned and sliced
2 handfuls spinach, kale or chard, or mixture of greens
2 broccoli florets
The Juice of one small lemon
The Juice of one small orange

Pack the fruits and veggies into the blender tightly. If you don’t have a juicer for the orange and lemon, cut each fruit in half and squeeze the juice into your blender through a strainer.

 If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with the juice of the lemon and the orange, and pour in water to the “Fill” line. If you’re using an ordinary blender, use about a cup and a half of water. If the mixture is too chunky for your taste, just add a little more water.

Ok, this smoothie looks kind of disgusting, it’s a dark purple brown, but boy its it sweet and tangy!

1 large handful or 1 cup frozen raspberries

1 large handful or 1cup frozen unsweetened cherries
1-2 chunks frozen banana
2 generous dollops Greek Yogurt

2 teaspoon fresh ginger
, finely grated
1 Teaspoon ground flaxseed: buy it pre-ground or grind in blender before you make the smoothie
Juice of one large orange
Juice of one small lemon
 Unsweetened coconut, almond or soymilk

Fill the blender with the berries, cherries, spices and yogurt. If you are using a Nutri Blend Magic Bullet, fill the blender cup with the almond, soy or coconut milk to the “Fill” line. If you are using a regular blender, use 2 cups of whatever “milk” you’re using. Blend until liquefied. If the smoothie is too chunky, add a little more soy, coconut almond milk, or some water.


  TRY MY SMOOTHIES, THEY’RE DELISH!  And remember, you are what you eat! 

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015


The chorus at the London Palladium, 1950's
 Most of us attend dance classes and workshops regularly, and many of us also teach them.  It goes without saying that for dancers, being a perpetual student- no matter what your level- expanding your horizons and pushing your physical boundaries is what it’s all about!  We take classes for a variety of reasons: to improve our technique, to learn a certain choreography or a new style, to hone aspects of a dance genre that we already perform, because we get a chance to study with a local or visiting master, or just because we need to move.

 Because dance presents a challenge that is mental as well as physical, we can never truly stop learning.  And of course, if you want to push yourself, you should take as many classes as possible.  But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes, entering the studio for class with a specific intention in mind will help you grow even more as a dancer. Taking classes to consciously improve on your weaker areas will ultimately make you a stronger dancer.

Sometimes I’ve spoken with dance instructors who are hesitant to take workshops alongside their students, for fear of looking bad.  While that might be a somewhat valid consideration, the main point is that nobody should feel bad about learning!  It’s also a terrific way to set a model for your students, showing them that there is no limit to improving themselves. This is especially true if they’re at that “advanced intermediate” stage where they think they know it all; you know, that little peak that occurs before they find out that there will never be enough hours…or years…or decades to learn everything?  Learning humility and being open to challenges are as much a part of dancing as the movements themselves!

The way I see it, there are many and varied reasons for taking classes, but if you define your purpose for going to a particular class, you’ll get a lot more out of it.

Here’s the way I break down my own needs and what I want to accomplish by taking certain classes:

Technique Maintenance And Improvement
 There are no boundaries for improving your technique- there’s always something new to learn. Longtime professionals and famous dancers take classes often, if not daily, for this reason alone. Just look at any ballet company-everyday classes are mandatory. Did Mikhail Baryshnikov and Suzanne Farrell ever skip a day at the barre? Probably not. Did Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire slack off on rehearsing cause they had better things to do? Doubtful. Though great dance technique is not strictly Use It Or Lose It, the more you actually use it, the better it will be!

No matter what level dancer you are, the experience of being in a class solely to hone your technique will make you a better dancer. While practicing or rehearsing on our own, we strive and sweat and get things done. But knowing that  in class, you are  performing under the watchful eye of an instructor is different- it pushes us to  focus and work a little harder…and to accept corrections or make little tweaks in execution that we might not have noticed on our own.

Learning And Inspiration
 Nothing gets a dancer’s brain synapses firing like learning a new style. We want it all, and we want it now! Many studies have proven that dancing of any kind helps to increase cognitive abilities in people of all ages…and most of them have shown that dancing was the only physical activity that actually staves off Alzheimer’s!

 Aside from that, learning a new type of dance or being inspired by another dancer’s interpretation is thrilling.  The movement differentiation that comes with studying a new dance form is a welcome challenge and is usually lots of fun.  If you’re used to soloing, try a partner dance like tango, swing or square dancing.  If you’re trained in classical ballet, test-drive some street dancing.

 Even if you’re studying a genre you’re already familiar with, seeing how another dancer-the one you’re learning from- moves will motivate you to look at your own technique in a whole new way. Often, breaking out of our own personal boxes and becoming an eager newbie once again will stimulate our creativity and encourage us to excel both in class and in our own familiar genre of dance.

Improving Retention And Sharpening Motor Skills
Some of us prefer choreography to improvisation or vice-versa, but for right now, that’s a moot point. Taking a choreography class (or learning a choreography for a show) is a terrific way to think on your feet, improve your cognitive abilities and aid your retention skills. For many of us, memorizing  choreographed sequences or intricate combinations is a bit of a downfall, but the good news is that with time and practice, you get better at it. This occurs because your brain is actually learning this process through repetition.  Once you’ve mastered this type of study- even unconsciously- it makes it much easier for your brain to apply this skill in the future.

 Another plus is that every time you learn a choreography that someone else has written, you’re opened up to a whole new way of seeing and hearing things. Even in a dance genre you’re quite familiar with, musicality  (and personal style) is a highly individual thing, there’s not any right or wrong. It’s stimulating to see that everyone hears the music-and interprets the phrases-differently. While you might think of hitting accents at a certain point in a musical composition, another dancer might slide right through them and save the dynamic rhythmic references for elsewhere.  At first this might be maddening, because we've learned to rely on own instincts, but ultimately it’s refreshing. When you become used to these little  “surprises” by working with a number of new choreographies, it opens up a world of new possibilities, by breaking down any conscious or unconscious preconceived notions you have about dancing. Even if you never plan on performing the piece you’re learning, it helps you to grow as an artist.

 Advancing Performance Abilities
 As I said before, everyone hears music differently, but they also feel, respond to and interpret it in their own individual ways. This can be an incredible learning experience for you, too. By witnessing someone else emoting to a composition, whether it’s a set gesture done as part of choreography or just a fleeting, genuine moment of emotion, it can be quite illuminating.

If you’re learning or enhancing an ethnic dance genre, such as belly dance, flamenco or samba, watching your instructor respond to the music itself- or lyrics that are sung in a foreign language-is invaluable. The classes you take to improve your performance skills don’t even have to be movement-oriented. I always recommend acting classes or workshops to my students, because they get you in tune with accessing your emotions and will help you to build confidence for your non-verbal performances in dance. 

Last but not least, the more familiar and comfortable you become with  your own dancing, the easier it will be to let the music move you and let your unique feelings shine through…and that is  the key to what makes a good dancer a great dancer.


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

Photo and graphics by Maharet Hughes
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