Amanda Hart on Belly Dance Competitions & Continuous Growth
Award winning belly dancer Amanda Hart talks about how “A little progress each day adds up to big results”, her own growth from being part of Jillina’s Belly Dance Experience, and her love for the Lebanese singer Fairuz. (Progress quote from Satya Nani)
Amanda Hart is an award winning smiling shimmy queen from Kansas. For all of you listening from outside of the US, that is right in the center of the USA, a bit of a trip from the belly dance epicenters of New York and California. Amanda has done all kinds of fun dance adventures that she is going to tell us about, like being part of Sahra Saeeda’s Journey through Egypt and Jillina’s Belly Dance Experience. So let’s hear from Amanda Hart from the heartland of the US.
Danceable Ritual: Dance while you watch TV
I don’t know if it would be considered a ritual, but often will shimmy when I’m watching TV at home, you know, I’m not talking about like five-hour binge-watching nights, but that’d be kind of a fun challenge. You know, watching a 30 minute show. When I started taking the Oriental style belly dance classes, I struggled with the straight leg shimmy.
So every night for a couple of weeks, I would shimmy while watching a 30 minute episode of friends. And that helped me develop a stronger straight leg shimmy. And now it’s my favorite shimmy. Also called the Egyptian shimmy.
So you have most of your weight in your heels, pelvis tucked in knees, kind of bent, but you’re kind of bending and straightening those knees. To be successful for someone they need to already be comfortable with the correct belly dance posture, especially that pelvis tucked to keep everything in alignment.
Because the last thing you want to do is drill into your body and proper posture for 30 minutes, unsupervised watching TV. Get the right posture first and then go. I love doing that. I’ll alternate between all the different shimmies. Now, if one person’s talking, I may focus on shimmying on my left leg and then another person talking shimmy on my other leg, or maybe throw in the hip shimmy and just kind of change it up.
Danceable Song: Nassam Alayna El Hawa sung by Fairuz
Normally I like the fun, cheerful, upbeat, fast songs. But this song pulls at my heartstrings and gave me goosebumps even before I looked up the translation.
And there’s a live version on the album Legend – The Best of Fairuz. And I love that version just because as soon as the music starts you hear the crowd get really excited. You just kind of feel like you’re there, like maybe listening to it live.
I fight tears. Her voice is so good. Every time it comes on, I can’t stay still. I have to sway with it. I got to dance and I just sing with it.
This year I’ve really started to dig into the classics and dig into her music. I think she’s my favorite.
What is the song “Nassam Alayna El Hawa” about?
She’s longing for something and you can just feel it. And I think that’s the beauty of it. Yeah. I’m scared my heart. Yes. To grow up in this a strange my home when it recognized me.
When she sings the part, take me, her voice.
Take me, take me home. Like calling to the audience and then spinning and just internalizing it because you can just feel it. The sun is still crying on the door and doesn’t talk. And the love of home is talking.
Take me home. Take me home. Take me home. Oh, love. That is flying in the breeze. There’s a flower with energy. Take me to them breeze.
There’s definitely some love action in here. The love of home is talking. It looks like the love part is about home. For Love’s sake.
Check out the Belly Dance Body and Soul Spotify playlist for many more danceable songs!
Tell us about Sahra Saeeda’s Journey Through Egypt program
Well, so far, I have only completed levels one and two of Journey Through Egypt, but I cannot wait to experience levels three and four because they’re actually in Egypt, but the levels one and two.
Have given me a better understanding of Egypt. The different regions, remembering where all the main cities are, the different folklore styles and where they originated from. And, certain moves and costumes associated with the regions, the real life costumes and the stage costumes too.
Sahra walks through the six different tables. She calls them tables. They’re kind of like categories and shows you how the dance evolves going through all those tables from the start at homestyle, going through local professional to the Reda Troupe, and then to the Oriental stage.
How did being part of that program impact the way you dance?
When you understand the history of the region and the moves, it’s naturally going to impact the way you dance.
And instead of just blindly following moves, that dancers are typically including in their folklore piece. When you study folklore, you understand why those moves are in there. Maybe you realize you don’t want to use particular moves because it’s not authentic to the homestyle, or maybe you want to do more of a Reda style.
And so when you know the difference, then you can choose wisely on how you want to portray it. And, honestly, I had heard of the name Mahmoud Reda before JTE, but I didn’t understand what he did for the dance. And to have Sahra explain all that I have so much appreciation.
And it’s so sad that this year, Mahmoud Reda passed away. I wish I would have been able to listen to him at a workshop. But luckily there’s several people who have studied with him that can pass down his knowledge. What an amazing man.
Before journey through Egypt, I didn’t know what a Zapha (Egyptian Wedding March) was. I didn’t know the different regions or even about the dancing horses. The celebration of a baby turning seven days old. So I encourage everyone to at least take journey through Egypt one and two, because Sahra is a wealth of knowledge. The way she talks about her experiences and breaks down so much information in an easily understandable format.
In one of my favorite moments she showed us one of the pompom headscarves that are worn, and then she pulls out something that gets sold to tourists. You see a clear difference. The one that they actually wear has a lot more of those pom-poms. You could just tell the one to tourist is so cheaply made.
The first table Sahra talks about is called “Homestyle”
And I believe she calls that “we dancing with us”. It’s just that normal, everyday dance and homes and parties and weddings, and each region has their own style. Like the Saidi section is going to have their home style differently then the Delta area or like Port Said.
So it’s the normal, everyday dance that they’re doing in homes and parties and weddings. The homestyle is so much simpler than what we make it on stage because we got to jazz it up and shine it up a little bit on stage, just because it is that bigger area.
It’s really just basic moves being repeated, maybe even trying to out shine each other in the home in a fun, loving manner. Just to celebrate the music that they know and love.
Damn Sexy Dance Move: Fast Umi Traveling to the Ground with Slap and Hair Flick Forward and Back
I love a fast umi traveling to the ground, and then when you’re at ground level you lean forward, slap in the ground and then spring back up with your hair flicking back.
4 Count Section:
- On counts “1+2+3+” do fast umis (six total) traveling to the ground
- On count “4” lean forward and slap the ground while flicking your hair forward
- On the last count “+” spring back up flicking your hair back out of your face
I like that a fast umi is kind of is its own shimmy. I know you had Mahin on the podcast, and I took a shimmy class with her and she talks about how the umi is a shimmy when you do it fast enough, you know? So I love all kinds of shimmies. How fast your music is will determine how quickly you complete that umi.
Featured Vegan Whole Food: Alfalfa Sprouts
So this year I discovered alfalfa sprouts. I did this Viome test work will tell you some of your super foods and some foods to avoid.
And I had never heard of alfalfa sprouts, but it was on my superfoods. So I researched them and I will eat them plain. Put them in salads, they’re them in a bowl of soup and the really easy to sprout in your own kitchen.
I’ll take just a teaspoon of alfalfa seeds, put them in a Mason jar. And I actually bought these little lids from Amazon that fit a wide mouth Mason jar. They’re specifically for sprouting so that you can easily rinse the seeds and then dump the water out.
I’ll put some water in to let those seeds soak overnight. Then you drain and rinse the seeds morning and evening for three days, when keeping them out of the sunlight. Day four you put them in indirect light and then like five or six, you’ve got these green things that are ready to be rinsed and eaten.
And they have a very refreshing light taste to them. My son even likes them. It’s so fascinating. Really easy to sprout in your own kitchen. You know, I kill my fair share of plants. So if I can do it just about anybody can do it. I love sprouting seeds. And of course, experimenting them with them is really fun to see which ones you like and which ones are harder.
Alicia: Like broccoli sprouts. Have you ever tried those?
Amanda: No, I’ve tried radish sprouts. They’re okay. But you can definitely taste that radish taste, even in this browser. One thing I really want to try is the mung bean sprouts. The big ones. I want to try those. Cause I really liked those. I can just eat those.
Alicia: And sunflower seeds. They get really nice and big just like mung beans. It’s really fun to watch them get long. And I like to put a little bit of radish in my alfalfa seed sometimes because it gives it a little bit of a kick. But another awesome thing about sprouts is that there are so many local businesses that sprout them too. So if you’re getting tired of what you’re sprouting in your kitchen, especially in places that have winter, like New York, you could often support a local business. Growing local greens in the middle of winter by buying sprouts from your co-op. I love that about sprouts.
Amanda: I didn’t even think about that. That’s a great idea.
Alicia: People will get like a van and start a sprouting business in a van or a trailer. I mean, it’s such a cool thing. I have a friend she’s the local sprout lady and there’s just a room in her house. That is full of trays and lights and just so cool.
Amanda: I’m so glad I discovered it this year. I love it. It’s fun to do. I will sprout them at home and I feel good about it because I know the water that’s touched it and I know no chemicals have been on it and where the seeds came from. So it just makes you feel a little bit better knowing that I helped sprout that.
Alicia: Especially for kids. They love to see it grow, take ownership over rinsing it. And sometimes when I’ve had too many sprouts in my house, you ever make fresh rolls with rice paper wraps? you get the circles are the big pieces, like the, what’s the shape of the Vietnamese, because I think they’re triangles. You shove a bunch of sprouts in there and some tofu and some peanut sauce and they’re just magic one basil leaf and the top to make it really pretty or some shredded cabbage or shredded carrot to make it color.
Amanda: That sounds yummy. Oh, it’s so good. And like, you can just have these rice paper wrappers in your house at any time. You don’t have to deep fry them. You just put them in water and then wrap things up. And it’s all of a sudden, a fancy dinner and rolls, fresh rolls. Awesome ingredient to highlight.
What was it like to be Part of Jillina’s Belly Dance Experience?
You really see that Jillina and her co-directors Luna and Jill are there with love for dancers.
They are there to help you grow and experience this awesome theatrical show.
Each rehearsal day started with a circle time where we all sat down on the floor in a circle and Jillina would give us a question and we’d all go around and give our answer. And it was a really nice way for us to relax, get centered before rehearsals, open up and get to know each other and show gratitude.
Jillina and the co-directors always incorporated a team oriented view. And there was always the feeling that we were a team and we were building each other up.
You really feel connected to the other dancers in a way that normally takes years to form.
You build these friendships.
It really comes from Jillina and her team leading us with genuine love from the very beginning.
I really loved how even during the solos for a lead character, there are always other dancers on stage with you incorporated into that solo. So. It really highlights that team feeling.
And there were even moments where the lion, the tin man, Dorothy and scarecrow met the wicked witch for the first time. And we all run scared and huddled on the back part of the stage. And it’s bonding for the character, but also for you in real life too. Because when you’re on that stage, you really just dive into it. You’re that character. And then you’re running from the wicked witch with these other people who are running too, playing that character takes over your real life and you bond with the other dancers.
So there was a moment when we were rehearsing the scarecrow solo in front of Jillina, and I had really practiced with one asaya (cane). Jillina asked if I could dance with two asayas. Well, I was not going to tell Jillina no. So I said, “I have not. But I will.” So she showed me some ways to incorporate the double asaya into the choreography.
So I went back to the Airbnb, watching YouTube videos and practicing the different ways to incorporate it into the choreography. And I’m so glad because some of my favorite parts from that choreography are with the double asaya. I love that push that she gave me.
Jillina is really an incredibly hardworking and talented dancer and creative director. She inspires dancers to think outside the box.
I love that several of her shows have had a prop used differently than the norm, but also could be incorporated into the storyline or a costume in a fascinating way. Really outside the box thinking. I can’t wait to be able to audition for it again and work with Jillina and Jill and Luna.
Some examples of creativity with props (wearing isis wings attached to the waist instead of neck, using painted umbrellas, dancer wearing a giant skirt with other dancers moving the skirt from below),
It’s a lot of hard work. But the way that Jillina and our team leads is so fun. So informative. You always learn something. It’s an experience that I am forever grateful for.
Alicia: Kaeshi Chai mentioned being part of Jillina’s Belly Dance Evolution in the interview that I did with her. And it really piqued my interest because Kaeshi is also very theatrical choreographer and producer. She puts on shows all over the world too.
Kaeshi had a birthday party on zoom and our musician, friends played live music while we sketched each other. You would pin each other on the video and you didn’t know someone was painting you and. Sketch each other to live music. It was so cool. That was what she did for her birthday.
That’s part of our belly dance community. Right? All these amazing creative people.
So double asaya. Asaya is a stick dance, right?
Amanda: Yeah. Stick or cane. I’ve just gotten into the habit of using the word asaya. Stick or cane. Yeah. So double stick.
Alicia: Did you have one in each hand?
Amanda: Yeah, for part of it. Most of my choreography was done with one, and then there’s a moment where Dorothy hands me the other one, and then I’m dancing with two and then I hand it back to her and then we finish our ta-da. Now we’re friends.
Alicia: Which character were you in the show?
Amanda: I was the Scarecrow. They tell you that you got in and you know, you do your own celebration and then it’s biting your nails. Like, Ooh, what part did I get? And I think I screamed when I saw that I was a scarecrow. I mean, my office heard me. So they knew the scream was good. That was a fun moment. I couldn’t believe it. I’m just so grateful for it.
What are a few ways that competing has improved your belly dance?
It has helped me keep a consistent practice better than if I was just going to perform at a hafla because you’re paying that competition fee. So anytime you got money involved, you’re a little bit more committed to working at practicing as hard as you can, but really overall it helped me. That consistent practice.
And that’s big because consistency is key.
“A little progress each day adds up to big results” – Satya Nani
I saw what I was working towards and it helped me keep going. A lot of people will do competitions to get feedback. And I love the feedback too. Some of the judges will give you more than others.
But really, I did it for me. To be better than the dancer than I was yesterday.
The day after a competition, I’ll ask myself, did I prepare and dedicate enough time to practicing that I’m proud of my performance? Ideally, I want my answer to be yes, but there have been times I said, no. And so then I know I have to work harder.
Another thing that I love about competing is meeting the other dancers in the dressing room. But of course that’s any show. You’ll have dancers that you can talk to in the dressing room, but really backstage of a competition we’re all shimmying while we’re talking to each other and getting to know each other. We’re all kind of nervous, but we’re complimenting each other’s costumes.
And if somebody needs some lash glue, you got three other people say “Here, I’ve got some.” I love that feeling. Now I could just be lucky that I’ve never experienced unfriendly dressing room, but so far, one of my favorite things is just to be able to have that time to get to know the other dancers.
And then it’s fun to see them at another competition. Cause then you see a friendly face that you haven’t seen in a while. I love that, but that’s kind of the belly dance community in general anyway, oh yeah. Yeah. A lot of fun people.
Alicia: There’s this story. There’s a hermit. Living outside of a village and he sees a traveler coming and the traveler says, what is the village like up ahead? And the permit says, where are you coming from? And the traveler says, Oh, the village back there. The people were very mean and closed off. And the hermit says, ah, okay, in the next village you will find more of the same.
And then the next traveler comes and they go, Oh, what’s the village. Like up ahead in the hermit says, Oh, where are you coming from? The traveler says, Oh, this village back here. People let me in their homes. They fed me, they took care of me. It was amazing. And the hermit goes, yes, the next village, you will find more of the same.
I can see your energy, Amanda and I can. Feel your smile in your voice. You’re going to create what you want to create, where you’re going and the whole competition space. I think if people are being more scarcity, more like all about me, more ego, they’re going to find more of that. But it sounds like you went to these competitions.
Like I want to meet friends and I’m going to shimmy all the time and I’m going to have a good time. And you just created that.
Amanda: Ah, I love the example that you gave. But yeah, really, we’re all there to have a good time.
We’re all nervous. Why make it worse than it has to be? You might as well enjoy everybody’s company.
Consistent practice was a big benefit of competing. Yes. Especially if you’re doing a competition, you want to have your choreography down to muscle memory so you can really focus on the feeling of the music while you’re dancing on stage.
Because nerves will get you, at least for me. Anyway, I’ll dance for a hundred years and I’m still going to be nervous on stage. But it’s a fun nervous. I can’t get enough of it.
Melissa Gamal says, “Choreography should have ease and flow that looks like improv, and improv should be polished enough to look like choreography.”
I love that because you don’t want to look like you’re just focused on what’s the next set of moves. You really want to look like you’re portraying the music, even though you’ve heard it 150 times. You just need to be the music on stage.
Alicia: Some people like Jill Parker, for example, her choreography is just so good. You know, it’s the flow. The only thing I can do in this next move is use my foot right here.
The choreography just feeds itself.
Costume Tip: Use Carpet Tape to Keep Accessories in Place
There’s the one I learned from Belly Dance Evolution and Experience: Use two hooks and a snap on your skirts, bras and belts.
I’d like to also include carpet tape. You get that at the hardware store. Super sticky. A few of my past teachers have used it to keep the bra in place. So I always feel secure with all those in combination. Because the last thing I want is a wardrobe malfunction. Yeah.
So carpet tape you put on your skin. It’s double-sided. So I pull one side off, I put it into my bra and then I pull the other side off and I stick it to the skin.
Tips for using Double Stick Tape on a dance bra:
- Put your dance bra on
- Cut 3″ carpet tape into a 1″ inch strip that will fit in the top inside of your bra cup
- Pull the paper off on one side of the tape and stick it inside of the bra cup close to the edge
- Pull the paper off the other side and gently push the cup down on your chest
- Repeat on the other side.
If you have accessories like a bracelet or necklace that don’t stay in place, put carpet tape underneath it.
Just anything. I’ve been using it for years, and I always have it with me. It can be painful, but I’m willing to go through that page, making sure that the costume stays in place.
Alicia: Awesome. Sarah buyer and the interview I did with her, she was talking about double-sided tape. Carpet tape sounds like it’s a little more even heavy duty.
Amanda: Oh, I tried to think of a costume tip that I haven’t heard. I have not heard that episode yet. Well, I’m a little bit behind on the podcast. And so I was trying to listen so I could to make sure I didn’t repeat anything. I have a costume storage tip.
Belly Dance Costume Storage Tip: Use Ikea Kallax Cubes
Oh, it’s not too fancy, but I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to store my costumes. I tried those plastic bins. I tried hanging them up.
I even tried to put my dance costumes in the large Ziploc bags. Don’t do that. Costumes can get a smell from it. It’s not breathable.
But what I did was I bought one of those Ikea Kallax shelves, you know, where they have those wide squares. And then you can just put one of those fabric boxes that slide very easily in and out. But I use that.
In each of those fabric squares I can fit two to four costumes. I gently roll the skirt and then I just put the bra on top.
My cat can’t get into it. Big thing, you know.
I don’t feel like anything is getting stretched if I’m hanging it. I personally like the stretchy elastic skirts that have all the embellishments already on them. I’m not too much of a belt and skirt kind of thing, but I do have a few of those.
I just like using this storage method because I can pull each cube out quickly, see which costume I want to use and then take it out.
Nice. Yeah. Those collapsible box things are amazing. Yeah. And I can’t have so many pretty colors. They even have this little unit that sits in those squares where it’s like a three drawer compartment. So I keep all my dance jewelry in one of those too. I was never a big Ikea person, but I have to admit that’s my dance closet right there.
Alicia: You love podcasts. What would you like to see more of in this podcast so that I can help more dancers become the greatest versions of themselves?
Learn More From Podcasts: Write Down 1 New Thing You Learn While You Listen
Make it a goal to learn 1 new thing from each podcast. And go back to your notes from time to time!
How Has Belly Dance Changed Since Covid Began?
I think a good thing to come out of this situation is that we have access to instructors around the world. When Covid started I felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of all the classes that I wanted to take with all these wonderful teachers that they were putting onto the internet.
I’ve got so many teachers that I have on my list that I want to take from, because they’re not in my area. And so, in a sense, this was a blessing that you could do that. There were a few teachers that you could learn with online before COVID.
Covid forced a lot of dance teachers to go online.
And when COVID first hit we saw a lot of teachers were doing community classes. Pay what you can, discounted workshops. And I think that was a really lovely thing because I’m sure they were struggling financially, too.
I loved how dance teachers were trying to keep everybody uplifted during that time.
And you saw a lot of cool challenges on Instagram popping up. That was really fun.
I think another thing that the community really understood is the importance of self care. This is a time where we’re all kind of anxious. Even if we do have an essential job, everything is still kind of anxious because it’s all these changes.
I saw a lot of people understanding the need to have self care and to take time for that, whatever it may be for some people.
I know for me, it’s been hiking with my son in the trails in our areas. I just needed to go out. To see and feel nature.
People had to adjust with everything and maybe they weren’t dancing as much as they wanted to.
They just had to forgive themselves and just be a little bit more lenient with themselves because this is a tough time. Even if maybe it doesn’t look like it on the outside, we’re all struggling with different emotions. In our mind, and you’ve got so many changes of school and work and internet going out, all kinds of things.
And so really, I think it showed that everybody just needs to be a little bit easy on themselves.
Alicia: I am wondering, what do you think the future of belly dance festivals will be now that we know that things can work online.
Amanda: So I’m a little scared of that because I like traveling to the festivals. I like seeing people in person. I like giving them hugs and meeting new people and hanging out with them. What do you think the future of them are going to be?
Alicia: I’ve got best case scenario, most likely case scenario, worst case scenario.
Worst case scenario, they’re all online and there’s going to be just a couple a year.
Most likely case scenario, there will be a combination of online and in person.
Best case scenario, there’s going to be more of both.
Amanda: And maybe that helps festival organizers maybe even make money as opposed to losing money or breaking even, right. Because they can offer in-person classes or if you can’t join, then you have the online version. So hopefully it works out for them. Because I know they are always struggling.
Feel Good Habit: Own the Stage
If you don’t feel confident, you won’t look confident.
I think everybody kind of already knows that,
There are a lot of confidence stealers that can happen on stage. If you’re not wearing a costume that’s fitting correctly, or if you forget a part of your choreography and you’re still not used to your body taking over at that spot. Or you think you saw a negative look in the audience.
There are many different things that can steal your confidence, and you don’t want to give into those.
Oh one quote that I heard this year and I just love it.
A negative look from someone else may mean nothing more than they’re constipated.
Yeah. So now I’m just going to go around. If I see somebody mean mugging me, well, maybe they’re just constipated.
Before you go out on stage, just take that breath. Just own it. Own that stage.
Something exciting that is coming up: The Heart of America Belly Dance Festival! October 2021
The Heart of America Belly Dance Festival will be online in 2021.