Moving Carefully, Deliberately

One of my favorite disclaimer phrases at the beginning of our warm-ups is, “Remember, I am NOT a trained medical professional. Please do not make me drive you to a trained medical professional.”

I am sometimes nervous as a teacher. I work with people who have a variety of body types, body ailments, temporary injuries, lifelong chronic pain conditions, or just folks who may have done something strenuous lately and are currently in recovery. I worry because I want to have good stretches, good advice, and a healthy dose of what are my limitations.

Recently, someone joined in on our warm-up at Dance Practice in the Park. She was careful to only do the range of motion that worked with her body and her abilities. Then she asked me for a list of the stretches we did because she found them helpful. So I wanted to share my current list for those who might be interested.

HOWEVER! Please! Remember that I am NOT a trained medical professional! I do NOT have extensive training in your skeleton, your circulatory system, your musculature, your currently level of activity, your range of motion, your chronic pain syndromes, your ligaments and tendons — So PLEASE remember to Move Carefully and Move Deliberately.

Laybacks: An ADVANCED move, not for day one
Cat’s Current Warm-up Stretches
Do NOT do a move that causes you injury! Consult with a physician, a physical therapist, a specialist, or other training medical professional for how any of these stretches should be modified for your body and current condition(s).
  1. Torso, Arms: Overhead, To Each Side, Flat Back, then Toward Ground
  • Both hands overhead, stretch one arm toward the ceiling then the other. Lengthen along your side as you stretch the arm straight up.
  • Pick a side, stretch over the side: If you are bending to the right from your waist, the left arm is overhead.
  • Arms out to the sides, lean over at the waist, keeping your head up. This is for a “flat back” (as much as possible).
  • Hang over at the waist, arms stretching gently with gravity toward the floor.
  • Roll up slowly and in a controlled manner from the stretch toward the floor, bottom of the spine first, center, top, and finally the head.
  • Shake out gently after the overhead and toward floor stretches. Especially shake out your legs and arms.
  • More Torso, Arms: Dancer Stretch with Arms in Opposition
    • Select a foot, step it behind the other.
    • The foot that went behind is the arm that stretches up. (If right foot behind, then right arm up.) Stretch one arm up toward ceiling and the other arm down at side toward floor.
    • Keep the spine on the “merry-go-round pole” that you imagine running through your body. Do not tilt or tip over, but stretch the arms in opposition from one another.
    • Switch feet, switch arms. Repeat on the other side.
    • Shake out gently after the stretches.
  • Warming up from the Feet to the Head
  • Feet: Ankles and Toes and Balancing
    • Stand with good posture: Knees with a small bend (we call this “soft knees”) where your hips and could wiggle if you needed them to. Shoulders down and back. Ribcage slightly lifted.
    • Place your feet parallel with as little turn-out or turn-in as you can manage, as close to straight railroad tracks as you can.
    • Keep your knees in that slight bend. Keep your posture straight on the merry-go-round pole. Slowly rise up on your toes, slowly lower back to flat feet. Avoid tipping over or wobbling your ankles. Repeat a few times.
    • Repeat the rise on the toes, lower to flat feet, continue the bend slowly in the knees, return to flat feet. Repeat a few times.
    • Place your right foot forward of the left foot, keeping the feet still parallel. Repeat the toe rises slowly. Repeat the toe rises with a few knee bends.
    • Switch to your left foot forward of the right food. Repeat the toe rises slowly. Repeat the toe rises with a few knee bends.
  • Ankles and Knees
    • Shake out from the Feet stretches. Lift one foot, shake the ankle gently in the air. Switch to the other foot, shake out the ankle.
    • Loosely twist and shake as if you are Chubby Checker doing “The Twist”
    • Further knee work can be done with Plies, with Ballet technique. (Not covered here)
  • Hips: Slow Stretches, Increase to Shimmies
    • Stand with a small bend in your knees (soft knees). Keep your feet flat. Without raising either heels or toes, lift one hip higher than the other. The hip rises when the knees move like pistons: One knee is more deeply bent than the other knee (lowering the hip on the deep knee bend leg).
    • Slowly switch hips: First right (R) higher than the left (L), then L higher than R, repeat. The knees are doing the work to raise or lower the hips. Keep feet flat throughout.
    • Transition from slow stretches raising the hips to a timed repeat from R to L: Tick – tock – tick – tock. R – L – R – L. 
    • Slowly increase the speed of your tick-tock hips. 
    • Finally, without trying to count the speed, the knees and hips alternate up and down as fast as you can, in your full-time shimmy (standing still, feet flat).
    • Relax and shake it out. Rotate over your waist, looking/turning L and R as if looking behind you. Keep your knees slightly bent throughout.
  • Torso and Obliques: The elements of the Arabic, the Bodywave, and the Bellyroll
    • Breaking down the torso movements into three sections: (1) Ribcage lift, (2) Upper obliques, and (3) Lower obliques
    • (1) Lift the ribcage slightly. This move is as if you are “pointing your chest toward the sky” however it is NOT attached to raising your shoulder or gasping for a large breath. It can be a small movement at first, subtle. Practice lift, stand neutral, lift, release, lift, release.
    • (3) Switch to the lowest part of your belly. Imagine pulling your lowest stomach muscles in towards your spine, as if posing for a photo or trying to pull on tight jeans. Release and relax. Pull in, release, in, relax, in, relax.
    • (2) Switch to the upper obliques, in the center of your torso. These are the muscles you would use if you were lying down doing crunches. Pull in the upper obliques, relax, in, release, in, release. 
    • Now complete these in succession. Lift (1) the ribcase. Contract (2) the upper obliques. Contract (3) [while releasing 2]. Keep (3) while you lift (1). Release (3) when you contract (2). Continue pulling in (3) and releasing (2).
    • As you smooth out the motions (1), (2), (3), (1), (2), (3) – you can think “Up, Down, In.”
    • The entire movement rolls the contracted portion from top to bottom on the torso. 
    • For a different exercise, you can reverse it (3), (2), (1) – rolling the contracted portion from bottom to top. 
    • Most people will have a natural contraction that is either top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top.  Do not be discouraged if your natural order is different from someone else.
  • Ribcage: Isolations Side to Side and Around in Circle(s)
    • Keeping hips and shoulders as still as possible, knees in a slight bend, slide the ribcage R as if pulled on a string. Return to center. Slide L. Return to center. 
    • In the same posture, slide ribcage R, lifted (up) center, slide L. Repeat sliding L, up, R.
    • In the same posture, slide ribcage R, horizontally (out) front center, slide L. Repeat sliding L, out/front, L.
  • Shoulders: Circles, Swooping Arms
    • Good posture, centered weight, knees slightly bent. Slowly move shoulders forward, up toward the ears, back, and down. Repeat with both shoulders moving together. 
    • Repeat again one shoulder at a time, in opposition (R shoulder up while L is down; R shoulder back while L is forward; R shoulder down while L is up; R shoulder front while L is back).
    • In good posture, without tipping over or tilting, swoop one arm in front of the body (if R arm, wrist pulls across the waist R to L), then up and over (R wrist now rises from the L waist past the face and over the head), then reaching behind the body (R wrist now swoops back behind the R side). Turn your gaze to follow the wrist swoop. You’ll twist at the waist a little to follow the wrist up and behind, but do not tip or tilt too much off the center axis of good posture.
    • Repeat swooping the other arm: low and front, across the body, up and overhead, swooping out and behind the body. Follow with your gaze without tipping over.
  • Wrists: Flex and Circle
    • Arms at your side, good posture. Flex the wrists fingers in, fingers out; palm up, palm down. 
    • Pick a direction, circle the hands and wrists one direction together such as scooping the fingers in toward the boday. Reverse and circle the hands and wrists the other way.
  • Arms: Arm Undulations Together, Alternating, Full Size, and Shoulder height to Overhead
    • In good posture, arms at your sides, start to lift your arms slowly as if you were a scarecrow: elbows rising up with wrists draping loosely. Keep shoulders down as you raise your scarecrow arms. Imagine painting a wall with the back of your fingers and hand. When your elbows are at their limit, the wrists continue to rise (as if painting slowly) until at the last moment your fingertips point at the ceiling.
    • Now imagine painting down the walls with your palms. Contract your shoulder blad to pull the elbows down slowly (palms remain turned out) until the arm is down as low as it is going. Repeat from the beginning, elbows lead first (like a scarecrow). Keep your shoulders down.
    • Practice first with both arms going up and down together. 
    • Practice again where one arm goes up and as it starts down, the other arm goes up. When R is going up, the L is going down. When L is up, R is down.
    • Practice again only by imagining you have a table at shoulder height. This is as low as the undulation can go, rather than going to your waist. Do not drop the elbows below shoulder height. Paint up the wall on the R, paint down on the L. Switch down on the R, up on the L. Your fingertips brush the surface of the table that is at your shoulder height.
  • Neck: Gentle Look L and R
    • Carefully drop your chin forward toward your chest.
    • Rotate your head slowly to your chin over your L shoulder, head up, looking at the L wall. Drop back to the center again.
    • Rotate your head slowly to your chin over your R shoulder, head up, looking at the R wall. Drop to center again and repeat.
    • Do not tilt your head, just stretch forward alternating with side-to-side.

    This is what I do to warm up. You may have to adjust, add, or subtract from the list. But in all things, PLEASE TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY.

    No Pressure, No Shame

    There are many philosophies or motivations that various teachers or students of bellydance bring to their classes or performances. I was reminded recently that one of my primary philosophies is a very simple phrase, “No Pressure, No Shame.

    There is already so much competition in the world and not everyone resonates with competitiveness. Some people find competition to be wonderful. Others find competition to be horrifying and even a trigger for previous bad experiences. Some people have been bullied by competition, shamed by it, and unwilling participants in competitions they could not escape.

    Too busy doing drills and practice to notice anything else

    What matters most to me is that people find *Their Passion.* I cannot decide your passion for you. That is as personal as your favorite flavors or favorite colors or favorite music. I can share my passion with people through stories of my experience, through performance, and through photos. But my passion is *my* passion.

    If someone comes to me and happens to share my passion for dance, then we can share the experience. But again, each of us decides to what level we want to pursue our passions. You might only want to take up a small hobby, a place to relax and be safe through movement and music. Or you might want to dance slightly better than you did the day before, the week before, or the month before. You might simply want to stand up and *try* a movement to see if you are capable of doing something different from five minutes ago.

    Perhaps you want to be part of a community of other people who have various passions for dance. Perhaps you want to add to the community, to share in the experience.

    No matter what your motivation is, all I can do is “hang out my shingle” to advertise what I hope you find if you join with me. In the spaces where I am the care-taker, I want to extend an invitation of No Pressure, No Shame. The invitation comes with no further strings attached, only this: Only you can decide what pressure to exert on your own behalf. Only you can decide what participation level you are interested in. I can only offer a path on which you can travel if you’d like to join me. And I only ask that we share in the value of No Shame. Participation is voluntary and it is my sincerest hope that it is both encouraging and welcoming.

    Thankfulness in my Dance

    Carolena Nericcio (from FatChanceBellyDance) leads dancers in a moving mediation or Puja before rehearsal or performance. Instructors of ATS® usually lead their students as well, although occasionally the description of the puja varies a little bit.

    One variation I continue to hear uses the phrase “thankful for” interchangably with “acknowledging.” Rather than just, “with this gesture I acknowledge the space I have to dance in,” these instructors have said, “with this gesture I am thankful for the space I have to dance in.” I can no longer remember which instructors tended toward which phrase, but I love the notion of doing more than acknowledging the parts of our dance but being consciously thankful for it.

    I had an extra 30 minutes in the park before class was going to start.
    I took the time to do drills as the sun went down.
    My Sweetie took the time to take photos of me in the sun.

    My favorite method of describing the moves of the puja is as follows.

    With this gesture, I am thankful for the space I have to dance in
    With this gesture, I am like the Lotus flower, blooming in the daylight and returning to sleep in the mud and dark
    With this gesture, I am thankful for the music I have to dance to
    With this gesture, I am thankful for the surface I have to dance on
    With this gesture, I am thankful for all the teachers that have brought me to this place
    With this gesture, I am thankful for all the ancestors that have brought me to this place
    With this gesture, I am thankful for those I have to dance with and those that I dance for*
    And with all this, I bring my thankfulness to my dance

    I’ve been having one of those days where I can hardly enumerate all the ways in which I am thankful. Recently, I’ve been feeling extremely thankful for the space I have to dance in. Shifting from a ready-made schedule of classes, conducted by someone else, in a space that was arranged by someone else, to determining all my own dance opportunities has occasionally been daunting. For the first eight-week session, I missed all the classrooms and studios I had been in before. I missed all the fellow students, my instructor, and all the hours and hours of rehearsal.

    But as students have been coming to me, new opportunities have been coming to me. Now I’m starting my second round of eight-week sessions with one set of friends, a second round with one private student, and launching a brand new eight-week session with a completely new set of friends who are interested. And suddenly I have new spaces to dance in, spaces in which I am responsible for being the caretaker, the facilitator, and the gentle leader to make everyone feel welcome. It is my job to invite these new dancers to find their own dance, their own music, their own passion in coming together with like-minded dancers.

    Combine all this with an excellent day job, excellent day job co-workers and employers, excellent relationships, excellent family, excellent health, and excellent opportunities to craft and create — I bring all this thankfulness to my dance.

    * Note: The inclusion of both “those that I dance with and those that I dance for” I heard for the first time in April at General Skills, directly from Carolena. I’ve kept that phrase in my heart ever since, and I always use it when I lead the Puja.

    My First Class of Students

    What a joyful night! These students have been amazing friends and supporters.

    SCA friends at the Barony of Altavia have been bellydancing for years at fighter practice. They allowed me to be a “guest lecturer” and present an 8-week ATS Level 1 Fundamentals class. On the last day of class, we dressed pretty for pictures.
    From the first round of photos

    From our second round of photos

    From our third round of photos

    Then they surprised me with gifts and a thank you card.

    Pile of gifts, so overwhelming

    A Henna kit, some bellydance bling,
    and a Thank You card from all of them

    My lovely teenage student decorated this pot
    to be a “bellydance plant” for me <3

    The “bellydancer orchid” on display at work

     My heart is overflowing with thankfulness.

    Lyrics to Zill By

    I was taking a class from my friend Melanie and she mentioned that for zill drills (finger cymbals) she likes to say the phrases, “I can walk, I can play, I can walk, I can dance” (or something similar). The words line up to the “And-A-One, And-A-Two, And-A-Three, And-A-Four” that the zills strike on, and the feet move on 1 (right), 2 (left), 3 (right), and 4 (left).

    I shared the lyrics with my student D’vorah, and as I was driving home from our lesson, I started to expand the phrases.

      I can breathe
      I can move
      I can dance
      I can zill

    Verse One
      Have a drink?
      Yes, I shall!
      Thank you, much!
      Say no more!

    To which D’vorah added Verse Two
      Double, please!
      Here you go!
      Oh thank G*D!
      That’s my girl.

    Feel free to make up any lyrics you like. One nice trick about four-line verses or choruses, you can practice moving your arms “on the 4” to cue the next move when you get to the fourth line of lyrics.

    For example:
      I can breathe [step R]
      I can move [step L]
      I can dance [step R]
      I can CUE! [arms move to new cue as you step L]

    I hope you like this trick. As we move beyond the arms and feet and posture and smile layers of our Fundamentals in Level 1, we add the Zills as our next layer. In each progression in ATS, we’re bringing new layers to our combinations, like a delicious Baklava, lovingly prepared with layers of thin dough and delicious honey and butter. NOMZ. Delicious! <3