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Jennifer Czepiel

Jenn is a writer and bellydance instructor in Phoenix, Arizona. Her passion and creativity have given her the unique opportunity to help women of all ages discover how fitness can be fun and words can be powerful.

Bellydance Basics: Steps to Confidence

Why bellydance builds confidence

Bellydance and Confidence

We often start a fitness regimen because we feel that this is the way to self confidence. While moving your body, and getting a fit and svelte body can help you build confidence about your appearance, there are deeper things to consider. One of the benefits of bellydance is that there is a deeper sense of confidence that comes from learning about your body.

Why is Bellydance More Body Friendly?
Bellydance is a form of fitness that allows everyone, of any size, age, or ability, to really see themselves. When we do other forms of fitness it is about working out until we fit into the mould of the gym diva. With bellydance it is about learning what your body is capable of, and how the moves look different on each person. Bellydance is natural. This is probably the most key point that I make in classes. Ask any of the thousands of bellydancers out there and you will hear the same sentiment. Ladies, we are made to move this way. There is no pressure to conform to some over extended position, or to overexert with weights. Just let your body move, and the positions will happen.

Size Does Not Matter!
One of the biggest draws to bellydance for most women is that this is a non judgemental space. Walk into any bellydance class, no, any performance, and you will see real women. Women come in all sizes, and all can be beautiful. Bellydance is about strength, and grace, which can come in any size. If you are healthy and fit, you can still be naturally curvy. There is not a height, or weight requirement for bellydance no matter what stage of the game you are at. Enjoy yourself, enjoy your body. Know your moves and your limitations. If you are not entirely happy with your body, getting started in a typical gym or fitness class can be more difficult than the workout itself. With bellydance, we are free to let our body become something beautiful to us, not just the impossible standard.

It is More Than a Class, It is Community
It may sound so very cliche, but bellydance is a community. Once you take your first steps into bellydance, you will understand. There is a support system of women, and yes, some men, that will grow and learn with you. Instead of walking into an aerobics class, sweating for an hour and going home, you learn to communicate with your body and with other dancers. We watch as each move, even when done the same way, is translated differently by the various body types in the room. We see that perfect execution of a move is not dependent on size, and it is beautiful.

When you take your first step into bellydance, spend some time really communicating with your body. What do you love? What needs work? How can you develop your own language of moves that work for you?

Bellydance Basics: Learn Your Bellydance Alphabet: Letter N, U

Bellydance Moves Based on Letter Shapes

Bellydance Basics: Learn Your Bellydance Alphabet: Letter N, U

If you thought that bellydance was all just a bunch of wiggling around, I sincerely hope that after reading a few of the bellydance basics articles, there is a better understanding of what bellydance is really all about. One of the other things that most people who first start out in bellydance do not understand is that there is a lot of counting, and musicality that is involved. On top of that, today I want to offer you the first introduction to the bellydance alphabet.

No the bellydance alphabet is not A is for Arabic step, B is for Basic Egyptian. There are a series of movements that are often best explained as being in the form of certain letters. Yes, this may take a little bit of imagination on your part, but trust me when I say, once you see it, it will stick.

The Basic Hip N
Hip Ns are a very basic move in bellydance and can be used to layer on top of other movements. Hip Ns also make great accent moves. The hip N is a combination movement that is still very basic, but it is built off of a vertical move and a horizontal movement. The vertical hip up and release make up a portion of this movement.

The Hip Up
The hip up is a move that originates at the hip. While the upper leg does follow along on this movement it is the muscles of the hips and lower core that will be doing most of the work on this move. By pulling the hip up and into the ribs the vertical part of the hip N is created. Releasing the hip down and slightly below neutral position, the shape of the hip N will expand.

The Hip Twist
The hip twist was covered in the article about Waist Whittling bellydance moves. With the single hip N though we will isolate the twist to be primarily on one side or the other. The twisting of the hips is a movement that originates in the hip and lower abdominal muscles. With the hip twist the horizontal motion of the hip N is created.

Combining Vertical and Horizontal
When combining the horizontal and the vertical hip movements the N shape of the hip N can be seen. The hip N is sort of a three point hip move. The hip first twists to the front, then the hip is raised up, while the hip is up twist to the back, then, release to neutral. Repeat these positions in this order for a time before smoothing the movements out.

The variations on this move is what creates the hip U and eventually other hip loop movements. By starting on the up in the front and lowering to neutral in the center, before lifting again to the back. The hip N or hip U both look fantastic when done with a flat foot, but if you are looking to add something a little more dynamic, try these moves with the heel raised. I raised heel should remain hovering however and not be used to move the hips.

Bellydance Basics: Twist it Off

Bellydance Moves that Whittle Your Waist

What Bellydance Moves can Whittle Your Waist?

When we think of bellydance there is a serious focus on of course the belly. Bellydancers do come in all shapes and sizes though so bellydance really does not have the same fitness appearance as say, gymnastics, or even yoga. The long lean muscles that can be spun from the stretching and drills of gymnastics and serious stretching, and even with ballet, are not quite as common place in the world of bellydance. There are several moves though that will allow you to tone that mid section and really work the abs in some unique ways though.

Maytags, Horizontal Shimmies, The Twist!
Most commonly referred to as Maytags because, well, they sort of make your hips move like a washing machine on the agitation cycle, this hip twist move will definitely work the waist. Posture is of course important as with any dance move. Feet should be placed about fist width apart, this means that you should be able to fit your fist comfortably between your heels if you were to bend down. Knees should be soft but stable. The knees will not be doing the work in this move. The tail bone should be directed at the floor, and the lowest section of abs should be engaged. The upper body, especially above the belly button will be remaining still during this move, so keep the chest level and the arms steady.

To start this movement you will want to pivot your right hip forward, but not vertical in any direction. It helps to look at the seam of your pants if you can see it. Twisting the hip forward and keeping the upper body parallel to the mirror or wall, will create the first twist of this move. Now, release the right hip back and twist the left hip to the front in the same way. As you do this it will create a sweeping motion. If you could draw lines with your body in the air you would see a horizontal arc created on either hip.

Moving the hips in this way in fast, but controlled movements will allow you to work the abs as well as the hips. Please keep in mind that the tail bone needs to be directed down at all times during this move or you will risk injury.

Another thing to keep in mind is that at first your arcs may be very small. It is okay! We all have to start somewhere. In order to lengthen the arc of your hip twist, alternate pushing each hip as far to the front as it will extend and hold for the count of eight. Doing this is a great way to stretch and warm up before a performance or drill as well.

When trying the hip twist, or the Maytag, focus on keeping the upper body still while sweeping the hips forward and back. This move always reminds me of the old exercise machines with the belt attached. Leaning into the belt would cause the hips to twist in very much the same fashion.

For a little extra challenge, try walking while twisting the hips. Go slowly at first. It can be a little confusing.

Shimmy on!

Sex or Violence: BDSM in Fiction

50 Shades of Grey Discussion

Sex or Violence: BDSM in Fiction

If you are not talking about the film that is bringing sex and the BDSM community into the spotlight on the holiday that centers on romance and love, then where have you been? The book, 50 Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, hit the shelves in 2011 and the controversy exploded. Now, with the film about to light up the big screen just in time for Valentine’s day, there is even more of a buzz around the kinky, twisted, and dark fantasy created by E.L. James.

Mr. Grey
Before going into the real meat of the 50 Shades of Grey story, I want to take a good hard look at the now notorious Mr. Christian Grey. The leading man in most romance novels has a certain type. This is something that should be noted about the formula of the romance genre. The leading man is more often than not (yes, there are the exceptions to the rule) all Alpha. The alpha man is charismatic. He is intelligent. He is driven to succeed in anything he does. This of course includes his leading lady. The alpha male in the world of romance is also typically stubborn, proud, and desperately in need of a woman to tame his almost caveman like mannerisms.

Mr. Grey. He is all of these things. Grey fits the mould of the romantic hero. And, then, he doesn’t. In the typical romance novel the leading man will at some point in the story realize he needs to bend and he really is, on the inside, a total sweetheart. Grey is a control freak to the bitter end. There is never a point in the story, and this may be even more clear in the film, where Grey relinquishes his control to the subordinate Anastasia.

Subs and Doms
It is true that the dominant persona of Mr. Grey is part of the fantasy of the BDSM lifestyle. But, the trouble is that Mr. Grey is not a Dom, he is just domineering. In the BDSM world there is an equal part of care that goes into the behaviors of the Dom. There may not be a romance in the traditional sense, but there is always respect. And the Sub has some control! To be clear, the Sub is not a toy for the Dom to play with. The pair discuss the scene, and the rules of the game they are about to play. The Sub is giving the power to the Dom. The Dom is not taking that power. There is a difference.

Ultimately though, maybe the release and the buzz of the 50 Shades of Grey series has done all of us a bit of good. Before this book, and now film, became a household name, how many out there really knew what the BDSM lifestyle was all about. This, while a negative portrayal, has offered a platform for the public at large to really learn something new. What the public does with this knowledge remains to be seen of course. But, the word is out, and there are many more people opening their eyes to a whole new world of sex, romance, and sub culture. When we learn something new, we learn something new about ourselves as well.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Do what you will, but do so with love.

Bhangra! Get Hopping!

Where Did Bhangra Come From?

Bhangra! Get Hopping!

When we talk about bellydance, most of the time we are focusing on the things we have seen in the movies and hookah lounges. We think of bedazzled bras, and shimmering coin belts on shimmying hips. This image is not wrong if we focus solely on the Middle Eastern and Westernized styles of bellydance. But, bellydance is also based on folk dances that cover a much larger area in the East.

India and Tradition
India is a country that is so steeped in culture and unique traditions. Though at one time a colony of the British Isles, and still using English as one of the primary languages, there are many things that have carried from the ancient culture of the Indian people.

Bright colors and energetic music have stuck it out in the culture of India. Watch any Bollywood film and the glitter and the rainbow of shimmering fabrics will catch the eye and draw you in. The peppy musical beats are another part of the culture that will get any foot tapping, or in the case of Bhangra – hopping.

India and Dance
Wow! The first time watching a Bhangra dance piece wore me out! Just sitting there, watching the high leaps and seemingly constant bouncing, was making me tired. How on earth did they keep it up? Bhangra is a folk style dance, which is important to state because one of the other differences that is immediately clear when seeing Bhangra for the first time, is that men are welcome.

Men and women of India are invited to the dance floor when it comes to the Bhangra style. While many of the moves are the same for both sexes there are some things that only women, or only men, will do. Hand positions, for example can mean the difference between a more masculine move or a feminine pose. As a basic rule of thumb, the masculine hand poses will be closed, or very strong in appearance. Feminine poses are open, or soft and relaxed.

Movements of the legs and arms can differ as well between the men and the women of the Indian dance style. Men will typically offer larger and more warrior like movements. Women, more flirtatious or gentle.

All of these little details can be easy to understand when the dancer, or the audience enjoying Bhangra realize there is a folk story told in these moves. The story of most farmers and villagers are based on the things they did everyday. The men, typically, went off to fight or do heavy work in the fields. Women, however, would tend to lighter work or the care of the household. Both men and women did their fair share of jumping around though, and this is clear in the dance that was born of their daily lives.

Bellydance Basics: Slow Moves

Slow Moves Build Technique and Muscle

Bellydance Basics: Slow Moves

For many people the first introduction to the art of bellydance is through the movies. Whether we are talking about the films of Hollywood or the movies from Bollywood, the movies have a way of moulding the image of many things for the masses. We often see the bellydancers in film shaking things up and wiggling about all over the place. In truth, bellydancers move at a variety of speeds and moves can take on a completely different look if done at differing tempos. Moving at slower speeds can also work muscles surprisingly harder than the faster moves.

Why Slow Moves Build Technique
Slow moves in bellydance allow the body to really feel the full scope of a move. If a new bellydancer is just throwing her body through the movements, the muscles used will not fully experience the movement. Even fast moves can be slowed down to allow the dancer to feel every aspect of the movement. Each movement in the art of bellydance has a fair number of muscles working to create something both beautiful and powerful. Slowing down and feeling which muscles are in use, will make for greater grasp of technique when the move is sped up. If you are taking a bellydance class and the instructor does not take the time to slow a move down to really see what it is all about, ask. It will change the entire look of a fast move when it is mastered slow.

Why Slow Moves Build Muscle
Moving slowly may seem contrary from the fitness aspect of bellydance. Slow moves are not going to make your body sweat off the pounds. Slow moves will not make you really feel the burn. at least not right away. And that is the point really. As far as the fitness aspect of bellydance is concerned moving slowly will not only give the dancer the chance to really stretch the body and elongate muscle while building moves that will be bigger and have more range. Slow moves are also fantastic to really work every muscle to the fullest. Consider isometrics. Isometrics and Yoga both require the body to hold a position for a period of time to strengthen down to the core. So too is the case with bellydance slow moves.

Next time you are learning a new move in bellydance, consider slowing down. Way down. Painfully slow will take on a whole new meaning in a few weeks of drilling at one fourth or even one eighth the speed you are most accustomed to. Give it a try with some of the moves in past articles. The simplicity of just wiggling through a move will become more controlled as well over time.

Bellydance Basics: Avoiding Injury

What to do to avoid pain in the dance.

Bellydance is a sport as much as any other dance style is and to some degree it can be harder on the body. This is especially true when first starting out in bellydancing. While there are many who take aerobics classes or become involved in yoga or pilates classes. There are some differences between these types of body movements and bellydancing. There are several similarities as well though. One of the things to keep in mind when starting a new dance style or workout is to listen to your body. There is nothing that will take the wind out of your sails faster than an injury. No matter how minor the injury it can make movement uncomfortable and it can make learning difficult. In this lesson I want to cover what to do to prevent some common injuries, as well as what to do if you do have pain.

Why Does This Hurt?

It is one of the most common questions I am asked in bellydance classes. This question of “why does this part of my body hurt?” usually comes up after the first week of classes. No matter how many times I repeat the laws of posture, or check a student, there is invariably the off chance that someone is still a little off. Being a little weak in posture in bellydance can cause pain. It is also equally possible that the student had amazing posture and perfect technical execution of the moves the week before, but the body is totally new to the idea of bellydance.

Bellydance does move the body, especially the muscles, in some very different ways as compared to other dance styles or exercises. Even if, oh let’s be honest – especially if, done right it is very likely that there will be soreness in new places. The most common complaints are centered on the obliques, outer quads, and upper arms. It is also possible that the shoulders and hips will be tender the first couple of weeks of classes. As long as the pain is on a muscle area there is little reason to worry. Take your time in the next bellydance class and allow your muscles to adapt to the movements.

That Feels Wrong

If you do feel like something is causing sharp pain, or you find that there is numbness in an area of the body after a class or the next day, then it may be time for some concern. I good bellydance instructor will take the time to explain proper posture and the execution of each move, but she is only one set of eyes in a room full of students. You know your body. Speak up and never be afraid to stop and ask.

If you do have an injury, whether it is from bellydance or from any other form of exercise, you should consult your primary care doctor. Until you can schedule a visit, rest. Sometimes muscles can get pulled. A pulled muscle will heal over time if taken care of appropriately. Sore joints are another issue and may mean bigger problems but an anti inflammatory will typically help to some degree. If you are able to elevate the injury do so. For a back related injury laying down, in whatever way is most comfortable, will decrease the risk of doing further damage.

No matter what you do, never force a movement. Bellydance has some pretty unique techniques and they are not as easy as they look. If you find you cannot do a move, take your time. Breathe. Relax. And, remember to always start small and slow. The body will grow into the move and you will feel more at ease.

Resurrecting the Mockingbird?

Harper Lee Releases the Story Written Before Mockingbird

Sometimes an author is a one hit wonder. And sometimes it just takes an author a really long time to make a serious comeback. While fans of the George R. R. Martin series, “Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire” are still anxiously awaiting the next installment in the lives of their favorite characters, and the “Wheel of Time” series followers are still mourning the lost of Robert Jordan before the tale was fully told; those who loved the words of Harper Lee are suddenly shaken into surprised elation.

Harper Lee made her imprint on the literary world with “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and that was all she wrote. Or so everyone thought. It is an interesting thing indeed when a writer who made such an enormous impact on contemporary literature, as well as bringing the world’s eyes open to the issues of a tumultuous era in American history, disappears from the pages herself. It is even more interesting though when that same author suddenly resurfaces after nearly half a century.

Want to make this news even more insane? It really is! Harper Lee’s “new” book was actually written before “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Further down the rabbit hole on this story; “Go Set a Watchman” is the story Harper Lee originally wrote, but that “To Kill a Mockingbird” was created from.

Editors and publishers, especially the bigger ones, do have a tendency to move a writer’s original words to “make them better”. In some cases these changes are small and really work to keep the author’s story true to its original meaning and voice. In other cases, this one as severe as it gets, the publisher wants a whole new novel fashioned from the scraps of this original work. Harper Lee was new to the writing world and being a “good little” writer, she took the publisher’s advice and wrote what she was told. The publisher was in this case, dead on for creating a bestseller that has also stood the test of time.

But what about when it is time for the real story to surface? What will readers think of Harper Lee’s honest, and really, still very much novice hand as a writer? I am personally looking forward to reading the what could have been of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. While editors and publishers may know that the public wants, in some ways they also steal away that part that makes writing art, and the writer and artist.

A Terrible, Horrible, Happy Birthday?

Celebrating Author Judith Viorst

A Terrific, Honorable, Very Good Birthday!

In honor of author Judith Viorst’s birthday we hope no one has a terrible, no good, very bad day. In case you do though, there is always tomorrow, and without the bad days we cannot truly appreciate the good ones. This is one of the many lessons that judith Viorst offered us in her children’s stories and through her amazing writing.

The amazing Judith Viorst is celebrating her eighty fourth year in Washington D.C., where she lives with her husband, who is also a writer. Her husband focuses on the political rather than the whimsical however. Over the years Judith has gone from being a journalist to a novelist to a psychoanalyst. While that last one may seem like quite the stretch, really, there is a fair amount of psychology to writing, and Judith wove the studies together very well. With the ability to tell stories that taught children, as well as adults, how to cope with the everyday, Judith Viorst counseled the young of a generation with words and stories of their fictional peers.

Judith Viorst is likely best known for her children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. This book, written in the early 1970s, peeks into the life of a young boy, named Alexander, who always seems to be having no luck at all. We enter into his life understanding that it seems that every one of Alexander’s days is the same. Alexander is clumsy, a walking disaster, and very possibly a jinx. But, what about everyone else in Alexander’s family? They all seem quite blessed, well, until one not so fine day.

As Alexander sees his family going through all of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that typically only happen to him, he learns something very important, and so do they. Sometimes there needs to be some bad days to truly appreciate the good ones. As Alexander and his family realise this they all experience something wonderful, growth and knowledge of self.

If that is not a serious touch of psychology and how to perceive your world in a different way in order to make things seem, not so terrible and horrible, I dare ask what is.  Judith Viorst’s deeply meaningful tale of Alexander and his family recently hit the big screen through the help of Disney in October of 2014. While it is a family comedy, I am certain that Judith hoped families also went home feeling connected by the deeper understanding of how to get through the tough times. If you have never read this book, it is never too late. Check out the film as well, comparing the two mediums of storytelling is always interesting.

In her years as a writer, Judith Viorst has also written several titles for adults as well, and these too can help us cope with the terrible, horrible, no good, and sometimes very bad things that happen as well grow up.

Happy birthday Judith! We hope it is one of the good ones!

Wondering About Wonderland

Some of the Subtext in Lewis Carroll’s Stories of Alice

In honor of the great Charles Dodgson’s – better known as Lewis Carroll – birthday that occurred this month, I thought it fitting to write a little bit about how sometimes nonsense can make more sense and how fiction can tell so much about reality and how we perceive the world we live in. In Lewis Carroll’s most famed novels we are taken on a journey with a young girl named Alice who finds herself in the upside down world of Wonderland. The characters, and things that she encounters there make no sense at all to our young heroine, but is there another layer to the whimsy of how Alice functions in Wonderland?

The Mad Hatter and Company

One of the most well recognized characters in Wonderland, and the one that seems to have quite a following today, may not be what most of the fans think him to be. The Mad Hatter is every contradiction of the proper Victorian gentleman, or is he? There are many references to how the Mad Hatter and his company behave rudely to Alice, even suggesting she “cut her hair”. This may seem as a simple rude remark to make, but there may be something deeper. In tea society it was common for women to host the tea party, could it be that this was, to a more patriarchal coffee drinking British gent, a slap in the face? So, when the Hatter tells Alice to cut her hair, is he then making a gender statement rather than one of fashion?

The Caucus Race

One of the more confusing parts in Alice in Wonderland is the caucus race and all of the wet animals. The scene begins with a very dry lecture by the mouse, but it is simply not enough to dry the animals off. Again, there is much of Lewis Carroll’s academic side that peeks through on this scene. Lewis Carroll was a man of logic, a mathematician, and was very often in the academic circles. It is certain that the constant reiteration of the circular logic in politics, culture, and academia were forefront in his mind. It must have not only seemed strange to a child like Alice, but also childish to a man so immersed in a world where nothing is really real. People talk to hear themselves talk. They discuss nothing at all of import, and nothing is really created only we all are back where we started from.

It’s All a Game

One of the most often overlooked subtext in the Through the Looking Glass novel is that it is really all just a game. every character in Wonderland this time has a role to play on the chessboard. Clearly Lewis Carroll is teaching young Alice how to play the game of chess so that she can remember who the pieces are. The underlying conversation between the characters though is once again very telling when it comes to how children are treated and trained to behave in Victorian society. Alice does become queen in two very different ways. On  the one hand, she, as a simple pawn, crosses the chessboard to become a queen. But, on the other hand, she has learned much from her adventures and thus is equipped to make decisions as an adult and a leader should.