Episode 1! Who is Alicia Free? Find Out :) – 001
Wake up saying “I love my life”, learn a fancy new veil move, detox with a parsley lemon drink, go thrift store shopping for your next costume piece, and find out why I want you to be happy and healthy and dance your whole life.
This is the very first episode of A Little Lighter. I’m so excited to get to know you, and I hope you keep dancing with me on this podcast adventure as I become better and better at hosting. I always say don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, so let’s begin!
If you’re not driving, close your eyes now. Eyes open or closed, picture yourself when your alarm goes off. How does your face look in the morning when you first wake up? Not your hair, but the actual expression on your face. Would you describe it as light or heavy or neutral?
However your face looks normally when you wake up, picture it light. Take a breath in now, and as you do, relax all of the muscles on your face. Exhale. Inhale again and smile ever so slightly, exhale letting whatever enlightened being you admire shine through. When our faces light up, we’re ready to dance.
Let’s go back to observing the ritual of how we normally wake up.
When your foot first touches the floor, how does your body look? Are you full of grace? Do you float to the next step, or are you struggling? Whatever you do, it’s not good or bad. Just notice it. What words come into your mind? Maybe it’s “shit” or “not again” or “yay! Another day.”
We are what we repeatedly do. Are you struggling when you could be dancing? Are you starting your day with struggle, when it’s really your choice?
Imagine if the very first ritual of our day was to celebrate and dance. Our feet touch the floor and we say “I love my life. I love my body and soul.” And we do a little dance.
It wouldn’t take any more time than what we already do, but it could change our lives. It just takes repetition, and it could saturate our whole morning with light.
The idea to wake up saying “I love my life” came from an outstanding teacher named Adam Markel. I added “I love my body and soul.” Every day, the first thing I say out loud is “I love my life. I love my body and soul” and I do a little dance. We can train ourselves to default to lightness, even in our first waking moments. That’s what these danceable rituals are all about. Making us feel a Little Lighter. And integrating dance into our lives so we have more time to dance without sacrificing the time we need to do other things.
Let’s shift from loving our lives right to a danceable love song.
The featured dance song for this show is an excellent example of an infectious melody that people want in their lives. It’s sung in many languages, starting with Turkish, as well as Arabic, Armenian, Romanian and even Bengali. It’s called Uskadar or Katibim in Turkish. Like many songs, a film greatly increased the popularity of the song. The film was actually based on this folk song about a clerk and his lady boss falling in love. When the song traveled west, it morphed into the klezmer song “Turk in America” and even became a very different song in Jamaica.
The first version I have on the Spotify playlist I hope you check out starts with kanoun, a finger-plucked relative of the hammered dulcimer. It is a gorgeous instrument, part triangle and part square just like Turkey is part Europe and part Asia. Kanoun players joke that the life of a kanoun player is mostly tuning the damn thing. The levers have to be flipped and tuned to achieve different keys or “maqamat”. That’s good for us to know as dancers, because if we’re dancing to a band with a kanoun that will impact the order that songs can be played in because of the need to retune for a key change.
Something that many Westerners don’t realize is that Middle Eastern music contains notes we never hear in Western music. That’s part of why it sounds so exotic and sometimes like it’s a little off. There are half flats. There are half half flats. Like adding two more piano keys between each of our piano keys. The kanoun can play these in-between notes, and so can all string instruments.
Back to the song. The Turkish version takes place in a little town, and the woman and her clerk take a trip to Uskadar. Apparently back in the day wealthier women in Turkey had male clerks. Aka secretaries. And this particular clerk looks good in his suit. The woman and her clerk take off in the rain and fall in love and she feeds him Turkish Delight. Yumm. That stuff is usually vegan.
So this song is completely appropriate to dance to if it strikes you. You could even have a man in a suit on stage and feed him candy. Adorable.
There’s something about these old recordings, especially from Greece and Turkey, that are so charming to me. The crackly background of the record they played on. The delicate voice captured so carefully, and the band circled around. The thought that a person might only have a small collection of records, and this was one of them.
I can see a veil being very cute as a prop for this song, especially because part of the song she’s gazing at her clerk from behind her veil. And it could be cropped to shorter than 3 minutes if the song feels too slow and long and combined with a faster piece. The klezmer version would be a fun piece to perform at a party.
The song is in the makam Nihavent. I’ll talk about makam sometimes, because it’s fun to think about the mood of a piece and other details about the life of a song. Each song is born to a creator, grows and changes, might even have offspring, and eventually they die. Who knows, some may live forever somehow. Regardless, each song has a life of its own. When we dance to a song, we develop a relationship with it. It’s one of the best parts about being a dancer.
DAMN SEXY DANCE MOVE
Since Uskadara, our danceable song of this show mentions a veil, let’s do a fun and easy veil move I call “Arm Turns to Wing.”
I learned this one from Ruby Beh, who has truly mastered dancing with a veil. It’s almost as if the veil is dancing with her. The veil is her dance partner. An extension of her. She has redefined veil for me, actually.
Ruby has these tucking and wrapping techniques that are simple enough that we can all do them, and they look fabulous.
If you don’t have a dance veil, you can use a long rectangular scarf or shawl to practice this. Life is full of props and costumes when we let our creativity flow.
Loosely fold the veil in half so the fold is the short side and it’s almost square. Insert your arm into the fold so you are draping the veil on your arm from your shoulder to your hand. If you are right handed, you’ll probably want to do this on your left arm so your right hand stays free.
Gently gather the veil from the hand up to the shoulder and tuck it under your bra strap right on top of your shoulder with a tiny bit of the fabric in a place that you can pull loose without looking. Gather it using an accordion fold so that you can easily pull that veil down to cover your arm while turning. Tuck the ends of the veil at the front of the opposite hip and the back of that same hip. It’s a diagonal drape like a beauty queen sash that you can magically turn into a wing at any time. Pretty cool right? Give it a shot.
Tuck the middle of your veil under that bra strap and the ends in at your hips. Practice plucking your veil with either hand and covering that arm to make a wing. When you have your gather and pluck smooth, add a turn. Viola! Arm turns to wing.
Here’s a video of Ruby doing the move as well as a link to Belly Dance Veil Tricks and More from the Amazing Ruby Beh
Parsley. Such an amazing perennial herb to have in your garden. It’s originally from the Mediterranean, it’s a key ingredient in delicious dishes like tabouli, and it’s got Vitamin C for those of us who stay up late dancing and partying from time to time. Lots of vitamins actually. And fiber, which scrubs our insides and cleanses us. I sprinkle parsley on dishes because it’s beautiful and I love the tinge of bitterness.
On aliciafree.com there are several recipes including Black Sticky Rice Soup with Chickpeas and Tahini Sriracha Shells. And there’s a blended parsley lemon apple drink that will knock your socks off.
Parsley keeps coming back in my garden. It comes in the spring and keeps making me happy until the snow comes. For me, gardening is all about eating what I grow and spending as little time as possible weeding and planting. I like to harvest. Parsley is perfect for that. I’ve read that parsley is also an anti-inflammatory food and an antioxidant. Sounds good to me! It’s a whole food ingredient to celebrate and enjoy.
Parsley keeps for a week in the fridge in a glass with the stems in a little water and a plastic bag loosely over the leaves. Washing and then refrigerating herbs can make them limp, so I wash them as I use them.
Go thrift store shopping and get yourself a Big Bad Belly Dance Belt with Bling.
Mackelmore said it best: “I’m gonna pop some tags. Only go $20 in my pocket…”
Finding big cheap chunky belts for belly dancing is awesome.
That’s right. I bet a thrift store near you has a big bad belt with bling that you can put on your hips and dance with. Cabaret costumes are beautiful and special, but you don’t want to wear them every time you have the chance to dance right? That’s why having belly dance street clothes is key. When you go to a place that you might be able to dance like a live music show or a party or something where you might get pulled up on stage, these belts are perfect. I wear belly dance street clothes a lot because I’m in a band, and I drum and sing and set up and break down and all that. Wearing a full-on belly dance costume for that kind of performance just seems like too much.
Here’s a belt modification tip if you’re not into elastic belts. A friend gifted me a gorgeous leather belt that didn’t fit her…
Let’s interrupt this Make you Shine Costume tip with a Saint of Truth confession: I love animals and I eat mostly vegan, and I wear some leather. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I choose the middle way on a lot of things and that works for me.
Back to the costume tip. A friend gifted me a gorgeous leather belt with this ornate silver and gold clasp. It was for a very tiny waist. I opened up the seam in the back of it and punched holes in it with a hammer and nail and laced it with up round shoe laces. Now it rests on my hips and I can adjust it to fit perfectly over different costumes. Score! Only took me 2 years to figure that one out. Hopefully that will help you find your Big Bad Belly Dance Belt with Bling.
At the beginning of this show I talked about training ourselves to smile, celebrate and float before we do anything else. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up every day, and it feels really good.
This is a habit you can try on. Tomorrow, as soon as your foot touches the floor, say out loud, “I love my life” and do a little dance. Think of it before you fall asleep. Set a reminder in your phone, write it down on a piece of paper and put it next to your bed. If you sleep next to someone, ask them to help you remember to say it as you get out of bed. “I love my life.”
Every day, the first thing I say out loud is “I love my life. I love my body and soul” and I do a little dance.
SAINT OF TRUTH
Since this is the first episode of A Little Lighter, let’s answer a big question: Who the hell is this woman and why should I subscribe to her podcast and tell all my dancer friends to do the same?
I’ve been having fun belly dancing all over the planet with amazing teachers, dancers and musicians since the year 2000. That includes Turkish Roma, and Egyptian Oriental, Tribal Fusion, Flamenco, and Rajasthani Gypsy aka Khalbelia. Music and dance fuel my soul.
All this time I’ve been learning new dance moves from world-class instructors like Jill Parker that I can’t wait to share with you. And I’ve been playing in a Middle Eastern band since 2011, so I can help you enjoy the music you dance even more and understand it on a deeper level.
Guilt-free food fuels my body. I started learning about food while studying in India and then serving in Peace Corps Thailand. Before that, I had no idea food could be so colorful and healing and delicious. If you look at the recipes on my website aliciafree.com, you can see and taste what I’m talking about.
When I returned from Asia, I fell apart watching my sweet father die of cancer at 59. That deepened my desire to help people prevent this ongoing struggle with eating processed food and meat, dairy, and getting slammed with weight gain and dying way too young. I married into an exuberant macrobiotic mostly-vegan family that has taken my health and habits to another level. I went on to work for Dr. T. Colin Campbell, the author of the bestselling book “The China Study” as well as an amazing program called “Sustainable Diet”, and now I can say I know more about functional, big-picture nutrition than most medical doctors.
Think about that for a second. It’s crazy, right? What we focus on expands. I’ve focused on healthy food, and it shows. Most doctors focus on drugs that mask the symptoms of damaging habits. That also shows. And starvation, counting calories, and carb-free diets are shitty short term ways to lose weight. Adding in more vegan whole food is so much more fun, and it’s a real long term solution that has worked for decades for so many of us.
My husband Jonah and I keep meditating, learning from masters and building our real estate business so that we can help others with our unique gifts. And I’m a mom. We chose to adopt a toddler, and we are on the moon with snuggles and “muah” kisses and learn every day from our son.
So this podcast will focus on music and dance, and now you understand the whole food connection and why I am passionate about putting this show on for you each week.