Does work / life balance exist? Or is it as attainable as a mystical unicorn?

What is keeping you from your art? Last time we talked I confessed to you that the love of my art and my desire to spend my time working on it often gets in the way of the rest of my life. Your responses were touching… Many of you have experienced the same thing (over 50% of poll responders, in fact) and others wrote to me expressing their wish to have more time to dedicate to their neglected art and how life just seems to get in the way.

I believe that many of us have found ourselves in each of these circumstances. I currently find myself at a point where I am ready to tackle the impossible and try to find some sort of harmonious balance. You may remember I mentioned to you that I am reading “The Accidental Creative” – an incredible book full of great insights and practical suggestions for continuously producing excellent creative work. While I am not quite done with the book yet and I am nowhere near finding that elusive “balance” here is what I’ve learned…

Creating a multi-level structure for your time can help prevent you from simply spinning your wheels doing smaller, sometimes relatively insignificant, busywork.

This one gets me all the time! I wake up in the morning and sit at my desk ready to tackle my day. I have tons of energy and a glass of my favorite iced cafe de olla by my side (let me know if you would like the recipe for this one… It is delicious!) I am certain I’m going to have an incredibly productive day! By the time 2:30 rolls around and I need to leave my house to pick up my daughter I look at my to do list… And almost nothing has been truly accomplished!

Don’t get me wrong. I have not been distracted all day. I have not once turned on the TV, surfed the Internet or been lured away from my desk by the siren song of the book I am currently reading (“The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood). I have been working the entire time. But what have I really been doing? I have been focusing on those quick easy items that are fast to check off my list. Responding to email, posting to social media and uploading a video or two. Satisfying, yes, but not bringing me much closer to my long-term artistic goals.

So how do I fix this? I have begin the process of creating different levels of organization and have begun bullet journaling. I’m a huge fan of this by the way! Type the words “bullet journal” into Pinterest and prepared to be blown away! Seriously.

At the beginning of each season I do a large brain dump: a listing of all big projects that I hope to accomplish in the next few months. Some of these things are even longer projects that could take a year or more that I would like to be a focus of my work in the coming weeks.

Then I look at these and pick just one or two things that are the most important to work on this month – ideally one that has to be done and one that I really want to do. What one or two things, if I were to accomplish them soon, would make me feel like I was truly moving forward with my goals? Once those have been chosen I break them into smaller bite-size pieces and place them into my weekly calendar to actually get them done!

Obviously email still needs to be responded to and social media posts still have to be made (or do they?!?) but I begin my workday with those truly important items that are central to my work and will help me move forward step-by-step towards my goals.

So what does this all have to do with finding that elusive work life balance? Nothing, maybe. I’m beginning to feel like “balance” is the wrong term altogether. My “work” and my “life” will never be “balanced”. And honestly, my work in my life are so very intertwined it is hard to measure which is which sometimes. I feel like organizing my workdays in the way I’ve described above helps me do one simple thing. It helps me work well and effectively when I am working and not work when I am done for the day. That is the hardest thing for me – turning off the work when the family comes home and turning off the work when everyone is in bed. If I can feel like I have truly accomplished something during my working hours I can often (but not always!) find the peace to close the computer, play on the floor with my daughter and truly connect with my family in those precious moments that we are together.

Have you found a “balance” in your work and your life. What does it look like?

What does it mean to be a “creative”? And does the love of your art derail your life sometimes?

For the purpose of our discussion, I’m defining a “creative” as a creative thinker – someone who thinks about life from new angles. This term easily applies to most artists and often is used to describe someone who makes a living through their creativity. The Urban Dictionary defines “creative” as “a person with a never-ending, intense desire to produce based on originality of thought, expression, etc. that impacts nearly every aspect of their life, both in negative and positive ways.”

Whether or not your dance is your paid profession, chances are you are at least partly a creative.

So now that we’ve established that… can I ask you a personal question?

Have you ever found yourself so immersed and engaged by your creative work that it has overrun your schedule, narrowed your life focus and perhaps even begun to degrade your relationships with others outside your creative world?

Let me just get this out there.

I love my work.

I guess it’s hard to imagine someone who wouldn’t love a life full of dance and music, right? But it’s not all pancakes and bunnies all of the time. I spend a huge amount of my day at my laptop working on the “backend” of the business. And I totally dig it! I like it so much so that it’s the first thing I do most mornings, what I do all day, do from my phone at stoplights and often do late into the night. It makes me a very productive person, sure…but I have recently found myself, um… lacking, in other areas of my life.

I have a fabulous new choreography to share but there’s nothing to eat for dinner.

I launched an awesome new online course but my husband and I haven’t had a date night in weeks.

I traveled and performed all summer long but haven’t connected with my friends back home in months!

Can you relate?

Maybe it’s the illusive “work / life balance” that so many people talk about. But I think it’s something more. As creatives we are drawn to our art in ways that are hard to explain and even harder to resist.

How do we maintain and nurture that creativity while continuing to care for our family and our home, connect with our friends and maintain our health?

I’ve got news for you.

I don’t know! (Oh wait… did you think I would have an answer?!)

My amazing friend Tiffany (of Belly Dance Bundle fame) suggested I read a book called “The Accidental Creative” by Todd Henry. This book is to blame for my musings…but I am ever so grateful because it has made me aware of the pitfalls of the creative life. The author claims the book will also help me navigate said pitfalls. I’ve just gotta finish it first. 😉

I will report back to you when I do!

Do you cross-train in other dance styles?

I have to be honest… it all started with “So You Think You Can Dance” about nine years ago. This fascinating show with its young talented dancers who could do things with their bodies that I did not know was possible…it is responsible for my obsession with modern and contemporary dance.

I had to learn more. So found a studio near me that offered beginner modern dance classes for adults and I signed up!

It was a mind-blowing, eye-opening and completely humbling experience for this professional dancer who at that point had more than a decade of belly dance under her belt. Everything from the posture to the footwork to the floor patterns felt foreign to me and I was once again that new girl tripping over herself in the back of the room.

I kept at it for two and half years and while I never got very good at it the concepts and techniques I learned in those weekly classes changed my body and my belly dance for the better. The body carriage and balance were immediately useful in my practice and the controlled abandon in the ebb and flow that happens in a modern class were very exciting to add into my choreographies and teaching.

It’s been six years since I last attended a modern dance class. I took a break at the end of my pregnancy with my daughter and never made it back. But I did for the first time in a long time watch an episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” just last week. Who knows where it will take me this time…

Do you cross train in other dance styles? Which is your favorite?

What do you need to make you totally happy in your dance right now?

My husband, daughter and I have been spending some time visiting family in the mountains of Arizona. How I love it here!  We spend every day surrounded by nature and the ones we love (and it’s also about 20 degrees cooler than it is in Houston at the moment)! A total win-win if you ask me.

Yesterday we accompanied my family to church and something the pastor said really got me thinking.  While it’s an idea I’ve been introduced to before, yesterday it was presented in a way that made it instantly understandable and applicable to my life and my dance.

While searching for happiness throughout my life I’ve often traveled through these thoughts.


For example:

If I stop eating dessert so often I will lose the weight I want and then I will finally be more comfortable in my own skin.

Or maybe

If I buy this new costume I will have more confidence on stage and then I will be a better dancer.

Or more recently for me

If I post everyday on social media, then I will have more followers so I can be the popular belly dancer I want to be.

The sermon proposed that we think about it all in the reverse.


So in contrast:

I am comfortable with who I am and know that I have what I need to be healthier. Because I come from a place of contentment with myself I will naturally act in a way that cares for my body.

I am a dancer and have all the resources I need to continue to improve, so I will keep learning and growing and studying because I am happy in that process.

I am a confident and accomplished dancer and I have so much I want to share, so I will share my knowledge from a place of love with those around me.

Research has shown time and again that people who have/do/accomplish all that they want are not guaranteed happiness. In fact, this process of “I will do this so I can have that” often becomes a never ending circle that brings very little fulfillment. 

In contrast, it is those who have consciously choosen every day to be happy with where they are, who they are and what they do that tend to achieve more because they are coming from a place of true contentment.

We all struggle with wanting to be/do/achieve more. I am learning that when we find that the happiness we seek was inside us all along that the magic truly happens.

Is there an area in your life or your dance where you are struggling – where you feel like if you could just do/buy/find that one thing you need you could finally be happy?

How can you reverse this logic to find happiness where you are right now? 

Choreography – More than just a series of steps

There’s a process to learning choreography. When I’m working on something new I almost always begin with the footwork.  Without the feet – knowing where my weight is and how I am stepping – almost nothing else can fall into place.

After I understand where my feet are taking me I can begin to add in isolations and movement – hips lifts, undulations, chest circles, etc – all the real nitty gritty of the dance. This step is also where I have traditionally spent the most time both inside the classroom and in my practice at home.

After the movements or sometimes in conjunction with them I typically nail down arm paths and framing.

It would seem that once we make it to this point it would be a process of “later, rinse and repeat” until we know the dance like the back of our hand, right?

I would argue that right here is where the most important work begins.

Not until I have those movements in my muscle memory can I begin to add LIFE to the choreography.  It is at this point that I can begin to think about emotion, breath, texture and theatricality – the elements of the dance that make it really juicy.

Unfortunately I find that right before this critical moment is where many classes and workshops end.

To be fair, most choreography workshops just can’t incorporate the hours of time we would need to get really comfortable with the movements in order to add in this more esoteric emotive work.  And I find that sometimes even in weekly classes we are often trying to work through our movement mistakes long into the process so adding the
finesse gets left to the side.

Think back to the last choreography you learned and tell me – how far did you take it? Is it a series of movements that you know very well and can do in the correct order?  Or is it something more? Have you infused it with an emotional journey that you can take each time you perform?


Tribal Revolution | Zills Zills Zills!

This weekend I had the honor of teaching a sold out zill class at the amazing Tribal Revolution Belly Dance Festival in Chicago, Illinois. For years I have felt that the art of finger cymbals playing was on the decline as festival show after festival show featured not one dancer playing these amazing instruments. But now I can confidently say that the scene is on the upswing, due much in part to the tribal community.  Not only ATS but many of the big names in the scene are bringing cymbals back into their dance and I am TOTALLY THRILLED!

Thank you, incredible dancers, for wanting to level up your zill playing and for choosing to do it with me!  I am honored and grateful to have had this moment with you to share my love of the zills, geek out a little bit and play!

So here it is, my lovely ZillStars – a list of resources for you to continue on your finger cymbals journey. 

I know we will dance together very soon!

The top three choreography mistakes and how to avoid them.

There are many pitfalls we as dancers may encounter when we are choreographing, and I’ve battled every single one of them. Here are my top three, how to avoid them and what to do instead!



Mistake 1. Choosing a piece of music that doesn’t suit your goals.

This can be a song that does not have enough dynamic variation, is all wrong for your intended audience, or is not in the style that is best suited for your movement strengths.

Instead, listen through prospective musical choices with the end goal in mind.  It isn’t enough that you just love to listen to the piece.  Will this song give you enough material to choreograph to, suit your intended audience and performance space and play to your strengths?  If the answer to any of these is no, I suggest you keep looking!

Mistake 2. Not letting the music be your guide.

This is, in my opinion, the biggest faux pas of the choreography world.  When you focus too much on forging ahead with a movement choice or choreographic idea and don’t allow the music to guide the timing and quality of how you perform it, you can find yourself floating untethered with nothing to connect you or your audience to the music supporting your dance.

Instead always let the music be your guide.  Whether you choose to dance to the rhythm, melody, counter-melody or something else you hear within your piece, use that as the starting place for your movements and your dance will always feel more authentic.

Mistake 3. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

This one has tripped me up more times than I care to admit. I create a bit of choreography that I’m not crazy about and I end up beating my head against a wall repeatedly to try to make it better. I will often get caught up on one 16-count phrase, totally stalling out my choreographic process for days or even weeks on end.

Instead, just write down what you have, use it for now and move on!  Inspiration ebbs and flows and something that completely stumps us today may be easily danced to tomorrow. Keep moving forward, even with the imperfections, and you will find yourself happily inspired to continue creating.


Have you encountered any of these issues in your choreography process?  How did you overcome them?


How would you like to have an arsenal of incredible tools to help you create dynamic choreographies confidently and joyfully?  Join me for my new online choreography intensive “Secrets of the Confident Choreographer” and I will share with you the process I’ve used to create more than 80 choreographies in the past 15 years.

Effective choreography memorization…how do you learn best?

Once you start to firm up your brilliant choreographic ideas, how the heck do you remember them? You may think that remembering your own choreography should be pretty straightforward… after all, you created it, right?

My experience could not be further from that idea.  I can spend hours in the studio creating what I consider amazing choreography but if I don’t notate it the way that works best for me it may all be for nothing!

Everyone learns and commits things to memory a little differently.  There are four basic learning styles, and most of us fit into a combination of them:


2. Auditory

3. Written

4. Physical

It is important for you as a choreographer and a dancer to understand HOW you learn best so that you can maximize your learning potential in any situation.  I’ve found a great combination of techniques that helps me remember my choreographies quickly and effectively and using these ideas, you can too!



This is SEEING the movements and combinations. Before the days of the smartphone (yes, I started dancing before smartphones existed…), this was not an easy option.  But now that we all walk around with a video camera/small computer in our pockets, I have found my smartphone to be indispensable in the choreography creation process. I create a combination that I like, set up my little phone camera, hit record and voila! I have my ideas notated for the future.

While I use this all the time to record a recently-completed piece of choreography, I have found I cannot learn a choreography from simply watching a video over and over.  Written notes are crucial for me.  But more on that in a bit.


2. Auditory

This is LISTENING to your music and knowing it fully.  I often tell my students when I am teaching them a new choreography to put the music in their car on repeat.  Knowing the music like the back of your hand will allow you to learn and remember your choreography (or anyone else’s) much more easily.  Since the music cues our movement, knowing what auditory idea comes next tells your brain and your body what to do.

Another fun way to use this idea is to create a video or audio track of you speaking your movement combinations over the music.  I’m sure we’ve all had this experience: Your dance teacher drills a choreography over and over while speaking the movements rhythmically with the music.  And from that day forward you will hear his or her voice every single time you dance the piece. Right? Slightly annoying?  Maybe.  But also highly effective.


3. Written

This is NOTATING your choreography in a way that makes sense to you. This one is crucial for my ability to learn a dance. I have a three-column method that I’ve been using for years.  Column one is the time stamp and number of counts for that line of choreography.  Column two is the main foot and hip movements and column three is dedicated to arms or prop details if there is one. Without this step I personally cannot commit any choreography – mine or otherwise – to memory. Every single choreography I have ever created or learned in my entire dance career has a set of written notes and this is what I refer back to when I have questions.


4. Physical

This is actually DANCING your choreography.  For most dancers this is a huge component to their ability to learn and memorize a piece, though there are dancers that can practice effectively while visualizing themselves dancing in their head as well. (That would fall into category #1 – Visualization)  There are many ways to physically experience a choreography, from marking through just the footwork, to outright fully dancing the composition.  Try dancing your piece with music and without!  Dancing a choreography without the music is a great test of your knowledge!


Now that you know bit more about the different learning styles, what do you feel are your top two methods for remembering your choreographies? 

This knowledge is life changing.

Have you ever found yourself completely frozen on the dance floor when trying to put together a choreography?  Your mind goes totally blank as your hips grasp for a move that will be perfect for that section of music. We as dancers are forever hung up on the WHAT of our choreographies – more specifically exactly WHAT move should come next in our dance.

I have news for you.

The WHAT is not the really important part.  The HOW is.

Almost whatever movement you choose to do can be darn near perfect in the moment, if you do it while truly listening to the music.

Let me say that one more time, just to be sure you heard me.

Nearly any movement you choose to use while dancing can look like it was perfectly selected and destined to be there if you let the music be your guide.

So please let go of your quest to find the “perfect” or “best” movement when working on a choreography and open yourself and your heart to expressing what wants to come out of YOUR body.

Next, practice doing that movement in a way that expresses the music that is inspiring your dance. Whether your movement is a chest circle or a hip drop, I promise you can find a way to make it sit inside the music and create dance magic. So stop panicking and start enjoying the process!

Have your doubts?  Good! Try this exercise and see for yourself.



My top 6 choreography methods

So for years I created pretty much every choreography with a method I like to call “The Shotgun Approach”. 

Basically I would go into my practice space, put on my chosen music and dance to it.  Over and over and over. After a few dozen attempts, some ideas would stick.  I would write them down. Then I would lather, rinse and repeat until I finished.

This honestly worked pretty well for me for several years.

And then it didn’t anymore.

I found my combination ideas repeating themselves time and again, new concepts and movements I’d learned weren’t being utilized and worst of all… I was totally bored.

So I took action.

Over the past 6 years I’ve totally redesigned the way I create choreographies, and while there are many elements involved in the complete process, here are the six ideas that have made the most impact.

1. Create a framework through music mapping (this one is HUGE)

I took an amazing workshop at 3rd Coast Tribal several years ago with the director of Anahata Belly Dance (an incredible Texas-based tribal dance troupe).  She talked about the process that she uses to create her troupe’s choreographies and it REVOLUTIONIZED the way I approached my own. Through mapping my music starting first with the counts, I can divide up the piece into phrases and sections, better recognize repetition and variation and create a framework with which to create my choreography.

2. Invent a “storyline” to drive the movement

While belly dance doesn’t often use a formal “storyline” like some other dance forms, inventing one helps me to approach choreography creation from this standpoint. If I create a loose storyline – anything from perhaps a simple idea such as “unrequited love” to maybe a more specific “I’m unsure of where I stand, I seek and find hope in the world and emerge victorious” I can approach movement from a totally different angle, resulting in more creative choreographic choices.


3. It’s not about WHAT it’s about HOW

This idea is hugely powerful for me and for my students.  Stop worrying about exactly WHAT movement you should do for a specific phrase and start looking and HOW you do it.  I have news for you… there is no RIGHT or WRONG move. Stop for a second and think about it.  Almost any movement you are drawn to can work provided that you use the music to inspire it.

4. Emotionally driven content

Along the lines of our storyline idea but slightly different.  Try approaching your choreography through a series of 2-3 emotions.  For example – sorrowful, comforted, hopeful – and see where this takes your movement.  Allow yourself to use ANY KIND of movement in this exercise and don’t limit yourself to traditional belly dance moves. You may be surprised where this takes you.

5. Traveling vs. stationary moments

The first time I got on stage a soloist ever, it was with a live band at a Greek restaurant.  I was subbing last-minute for my teacher, and had probably performed a total of three times in my entire life (doing a class choreography with an entire troupe).  I thought I would be sick. She gave me just one piece of advice before I got out on stage. “Sometimes the music will encourage you to move around the stage and sometimes it will make you want to be still.  Alternate between those two ideas.” Simple, but it worked and I use this ideas in my choreographies to this very day.

6. The shotgun approach (yes…it’s still there!)

I haven’t done away with my shotgun approach.  In fact, after I map my choreography it’s often still the first method I use when starting to choreograph.  By combining this with the ideas above and a few more choreographic techniques, I’ve been able to create pieces that keep me, my dancers and the audience engaged and excited.


So – do you choreograph?  How do you go about creating your dances?  I would love to hear what inspires your creativity!