The Greek Episode: Channel the Muse – ALLAF 006

Belly Dance Podcast the greek episode channel the muse

Do the Greek belly dance move “Boubouka’s Backside” from an old movie to the classic Greek belly dance song “Scandalous Tsiftetelli”. Drizzle on some tahini, strike a postcard pose and open to the muse.




Opening to the muse.

There is energy in the air all around us at all times. Electricity, light, wind, friction, other living things. Even more things that aren’t alive have energy, like fire, water, soil and stones. Dance is all about focusing energy on specific movements. We train ourselves to move a certain way, and then we channel energy into moving with music and it becomes dance.


Chi Gong, an ancient Chinese branch of Tai Chi, can be considered a dance as well. It is all about dancing with the flow of energy in the universe. Matching our energy with the energy outside of us. This seeps into everyday life with breathing to match our movements, and many other aspects. A very simple example is exhaling when we bend over to get something, and inhaling when we stand back up.


This Danceable Ritual can help us quiet down the buzz and dialog that exists only in our minds, and open up to energy, creativity and movement from other sources. As dancers, this inspiration can come to us in wordless, physical form. In movement. But it’s harder to experience this when we’re so focused on the next move, or how well we’re moving right now, or the move we just did.


“Gathering the Chi” is a simple Chi Gong move we can do before we dance. It grounds us, quiets our mind, and heightens our awareness of the energy available outside of us. Gathering the Chi can open us to the muse. So for our purposes, let’s call it “Opening to the Muse”.


The ancient Greeks called the muse for dance Terpsichore. While they most likely had solid reasons for giving her this name, it might not speak to us. Let’s call the muse for dance something we connect to. Like Ancient Ghost, or Dance Angel or Apsara. Choose a name you like for the dance muse. For this show, I’ll just call her the Muse. We’ll dive into the concept of the Muse more after we try this ritual of Opening to the Muse.


We’ll Open to the Muse 3 times. The first and second time let’s focus on the movement. The third time we’ll match the movements with our intention to Open to the Muse.


If you are driving or in another situation where you can’t stand up, just breathe with us and listen. If you are able to dance now, stand with your legs hip distance apart with good belly dance posture. Knees are soft, pelvis is tucked, shoulders back, eyes and face forward with a soft smile. Normally, your arms and hands would be framing your hips. For this, let your arms and hands hang loosely at your sides.


With the bottoms of your feet anchored to the ground, lead with your hip and shift your weight slightly to the right. Your right hip will be just an inch or two farther to the right than your right foot. Your upper body slides with it, not bending at the waist. Keep your head at the same height. Now shift to the left. As you shift back to the right, breathe in. Shift back to the left and breathe out. Close your eyes and shift your weight one more time to the right inhale, left exhale. Back to center. Feel your feet in full contact with the ground. This is a grounding exercise that helps us empty ourselves all the way to the bottoms of our feet, so that we can fill ourselves with energy from outside.


Now we are ready to Gather the Chi and Open to the Muse.


With arms hanging loosely at your sides, turn your palms out. Start to raise your arms slowly at your sides like wings and your palms will face up. You’ll reach shoulder level and keep going, completing this vertical halo spanning from your hips to above your head. Once your palms are facing each other above your head, turn your palms down toward the ground and start gently pushing the air above your head and in front of face and your eyes. Pointer fingers brush past your cheeks. The finger tips of your right and left hands are an inch or two apart. Brush past your collar bones and chest. Keep your palms flat and parallel to the ground as they slide in front of your belly, and place the palm of your right hand on your belly just below your belly button. Stack the palm of the left hand on top of the back of your right hand. Breathe and close your eyes. This place right below your belly button is where a lot of belly dance comes from. In Chi Gong it’s called the Don Tien. Our center of gravity. A power center we can move from. Chi Gong practitioners train people to move from the Don Tien, and claim doing this can make more movements effortless.


Unstack your hands, sweep them down by your hips and start where you started last time. With palms out, raise your arms slowly at your sides. Evenly flow up to shoulder level and keep going, completing this big circle. Once your palms are facing each other above your head, turn your palms down toward the ground with the finger tips of each hand slightly apart. Gently push the air down above your head and in front of face and your eyes. Fingers brush past your cheeks and collar bones. Keep your palms flat and parallel to the ground as they slide in front of your chest and belly, and place the palm of your right hand just below your belly button. Stack the palm of the left hand on top. Breathe and close your eyes.


This time our open palms will welcome the energy outside of us, gather it, and drive it through the crown of our head until it settles inside us, all the way to the bottoms of our feet. Old energy out, new energy in. You can think of it as ego out, ancient wisdom and creativity of the universe in.


Take a breath. You are going to love this.


Open your eyes. Hands fall open. Inhale slowly as palms turn up and sweep your arms out and up, gathering the energy all around. Past shoulder level, up up so that for a passing moment this energy is a moon resting on your shoulders. Exhale Palms down, pushing that new energy and inspiration through the crown of your head, flowing down through your entire body. Hands stacked below your belly button. Breathe. Look up, smile and say out loud “I’m ready.” Anchor this feeling of Opening to the Muse with a loose shimmy.


Feel free to return to what you were doing. Notice if you feel different. Physically Opening to the Muse before your next performance might just change everything.


Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, gave a TED talk back in 2009 about the Muse. She called it “Your Elusive Creative Genius”. It’s brilliant, and listening to it changed the way I dance.


The Muse is elusive. But it comes to some more than others. There’s something to that. I believe we can condition ourselves to attract and receive the Muse.


In Elizabeth’s talk, she says ancient Romans believed that creativity came from outside humans, from far away. They called it “genius”. Others called them genies, or djinns. Romans believe these beings lived in the walls of an artist’s studio.


You have seen performers infused with the muse. They light up. We can’t stop watching them.


Elizabeth also talks about dance ceremonies where the audience saw the dancer channel the divine, and the audience put their hands together and is so moved that they repeat the name of God. In the case she recounts, the name of God is Allah. And this is the origin of the use of the word “Ole” in flamenco performances. God, genies, muse.


When we shed our expectations and fear and ego and open ourselves up, we can be filled with music and if we are lucky, the Muse. We are no longer just tiny temporary individual dancers. We are the dance. We are ancient. We are no longer human.


I have been visited by the Muse a few times, and I gladly left my body and let her dance for the audience. I melted and an angel of art danced in my place. Once I was dancing outside at a festival and a breeze came, and I blossomed into a flower I had never been or seen or imagined.


The Muse may have come to me other times when I was not open to her, and I missed out. So did the audience. And I am confident she will come back, and when she does I’ll be ready. Practicing the ritual of “Opening to the Muse” before I perform will help me be more present for the audience, and more aware when the Muse wants a turn.


2009 TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert




Skandaliariko Tsiftetelli or “Scandalous Dance” by Stelios Gerasimou


Of course there are and have been many wonderful belly dancers in Greece and from Greece. But some may say that belly dance is not really Greek. However, Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire, and paintings and written accounts show that belly dancing was part of the Ottoman Empire. Regardless, many moves we do in belly dance are also done street clothes in the social, flirtatious dancing that happens in clubs and other venues today in Greece as well as in belly dance venues. And even much of the music that is unmistakably Greek has been influenced by the same scales or maqamat and rhythms ikat found in straight up belly dance songs.


According to, tsiftetelli means “2 strings”. D t _ t D _ T_.  D t _ t D _ T_.  This rhythm is often played on the strings of the bouzouki or mandolin. And it’s played for dancing.


When the musicians say “Play a tsiftetelli”, it’s time to dance and flirt and have fun.


Wait. Isn’t that maqsum? Yes. D t _ t D _ T_ is indeed maqsum. In Greece, many call this tsiftetelli. In Turkey and some Arabic countries, the word chiftetelli means the slow 8/4 rhythm D kt kt DD t. According to, chiftitelli can also mean that one instrument improvises over the rhythm, aka taksim.


If all of these words are new to you, I apologize. Just remember that musical terms mean different things to different people in different places and you’re all set. No one is right or wrong.


Unfortunately, I can find no information on the musicians who recorded this song. Stelios Gerasimou us the bouzouki player. Maybe he composed it. I don’t know when. If you know anything about this song, please share it with us!


It is worth mentioning Rembetiko, the Greek blues where mostly male dancers spiral inward toward the abyss. There are many fantastic rembetiko songs for us to dance to, even if that’s not the context they come from. On my website, you can learn more about this genre in 3 interviews posted with my friend Gail Holst-Warhaft, author of “Road To Rembetika”. Maybe I’ll do a whole show on Rembetika in the future.




This move comes from super hot belly dancer Boubouka, who was famous for dancing in old Greek movies. Let’s call it Boubouka’s Backside. Boubouka actually looks like she’s doing some Caribbean whining when she does this.


She’d doing an umi, or omi, however you say it. Meaning it’s an inner hip circle where you slightly release the circle when it sweeps around the back. Like you’re dancing with someone hot right on your tail behind you. A normal hip circle would not be nearly as exciting to dance behind as an umi.


Boubouka’s Backside is great for Greek tsiftetelli, aka maqsum. She does 4 umis in one measure of Dt-tD-t, but we can do it half time and just do 2 umis and it’s still damn cute. There’s a level change half way through.


With soft knees, do 2 umis a measure.


Umi _  tek-Umi_. Umi _  tek-Umi_



Now bend your knees every other umi.


Umi _  tek-bend knees_. Umi _  tek-bend knees_



Hands and eyes are very important in this move. With pretend you are holding a single flower between your thumb and pointer finger in each hand. The fingers below curve in like a very loose fist. Now cross your wrists in front of you. One wrist is either above and touching the other wrist or a couple inches above the other wrist. Start with your profile to the audience, and look over your shoulder down at the back of the hip closest to the audience. Turn a little so the audience can just see a little bit of the front of you, and they see mostly the back. Hot!


Experiment with which hip you highlight, which wrist you have on top, whether you turn in the same direction your hips are circling or you pivot in the opposite direction of your umi. Play with this until it feels good. And when you’ve mastered it, try to do 4 umis in a measure like Boubouka. In the video I’ll like to in the show notes, you’ll see Boubouka also does some pretty serious flirting with the musicians right before she does this move, and she does it near the end of the piece as a climactic move.




Tahini. Arabic word to grind. Feeding sesame wine to the gods.


Tahini and chick peas make hummus creamy. Fantastic hummus doesn’t need to have olive oil, by the way. Just tahini, chick peas, lemon and salt in the right ratios can be really delicious. And tahini can be ordered instead of tzatziki if you want a vegan falafel meal.


Mixing tahini and white miso 1:1 makes a tangy spread you can also use as a salad dressing by blending with a little water.


Drizzle tahini on sweet oatmeal or on vegan pasta as a substitute for dairy-based cream sauce. Check out the Tahini Sriracha Shell recipe and Macro Brown Rice Bowl recipe on my site.

Macro Brown Rice Morning Bowl with Creamy Tahini and Cooked Fruit

Tahini Sriracha Shells

If a can or jar of tahini get separated and the solid part settles on the bottom, use an immersion blender to recombine it. Just 30 seconds of recombining will last for weeks. Careful to keep the whole blade house submerged. You don’t want tahini flying around.

Rich Whipped Tahini Sauce 

Tahini is a seed butter. Seeds and nuts are calorie dense, so if you are worried about your weight, go easy on the tahini. There doesn’t need to be a lot of it on something for the flavor and richness to be enjoyed.


Show some leg! Whether it’s side slits in your harem pants, or side drape pantaloons, or a slit in just the right place in a mermaid skirt. The Boubouka Backside step looks really good with a leg peeking out. Showing leg also inspires other moves like zipping up you boot, cute folkloric hops, etc.


All of these slits involve practice. You don’t want the side slit of your skirt to unknowingly shift to the front or back of you right before you do floor work. Yikes! I guess the tip that should go with this one is always wear underwear when you perform, and make sure it’s underwear you would feel good about showing the audience on accident. Just sayin!



When you see art with Greek gods and goddesses or regular people captured in a beautiful pose, do the pose. Try it on. Take a photo or screen shot of it and save it in a folder of poses and keep practicing them. Look at yourself in the mirror when you do it. Print some out. If you keep collecting and practicing poses, you will feel better about how you look when you start and end a song. Your favorite and most practiced poses will become your default, and you will be divinely lovely when you dance without even thinking.



I have a whole Pinterest board of great postcard poses I have never used! Last night when I was performing with my band, my ending poses weren’t even poses. I moved right out of them and didn’t give closure to the songs, pause to the musicians, or an opportunity for the audience to absorb it all and clap for the dancing.


So I am printing the postcard poses now and I am going to put them next to full length mirrors in my house so I can try them on and include some in our next performance. Booyah!

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