Saturday, December 21, 2013

Belly Dance Fitness Classes in Pittsburgh, PA

Classes at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Ed Center will take on a new focus starting in January!

Join us and get fit belly dance style! Belly dance works more than your belly and hips- its a whole body dance! Youll strengthen muscles and get your heart rate up with a dance that celebrates life! Start with a yoga warm up to stretch and strengthen, then move on to isolations that increase body awareness and tone. Follow me through fun and energetic movements and combinations. Youll have such a great time dancing to the intoxicating music, youll forget its exercise!

Also starting in January, I'll be offering private and semi-private lessons in my home studio! Choose your topic of focus- stage performance, presence, emotional expression, combinations, solo improv, chakra balancing through belly dance, props, or any other area you'd like to work on. Or, leave it to me to find something fun and interesting. Prices follow:

1 person- $60/hour ($50/hour until January 30th!)
2 people- $70/hour ($60/hour until January 30th!)
3 people- $84/hour ($78/hour until January 30th!)
4 people- $100/hour ($88/hour until January 30th!)

Send me an email - narah (at) me (dot) com - to set up an appointment on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evenings; or Saturday or Sunday afternoons. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Frankincense Essential Oil

Not only is it a great ingredient in fragrances fit for a belly dancer, frankincense oil has many healing benefits!! See my lastest blog post over at: Healing, Reiki, and Tarot by Narah: Healing with Frankincense Essential Oil: After wandering around some healing herb, essential oil, and other healing modality blogs, I found this one, which I found extra int...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Yoga and Belly Dance Connection

The Belly Dance and Yoga Connection

This was originally an article I wrote that was published in The Guilded Serpent.

I started my Yoga practice not long after beginning to Belly Dance. I was drawn to it and stayed with it as I enjoyed the benefits of the complementary practices. The promises of relaxation, strength, flexibility and spirituality intrigued me and fit right into my Belly Dancing lifestyle. I am not alone! Many Belly Dancers also practice Yoga and those who do Yoga are often intrigued by Belly Dance.  We will explore what the draw is and why. 

Sterling Painton, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was already a yoga instructor with her own studio when she started Belly Dance classes with Kari Merlina. Painton’s business partner was interested in adding “something different” to the class schedule and Merlina’s Belly Dance class fit the bill. Since Sterling had loved dancing since she was a little girl, she was excited to be able to start formal classes. She did not think it possible to start dance training in her 30’s, so she happily embarked on this new journey!

On a purely physical level, Yoga conditions the body and allows Belly Dancers to execute movements with fluidity and strength and access muscles with body awareness. Painton reports that she now has an incredible lengthening through her torso in her Yoga postures due to the strengthening and opening that Belly Dance provides. Painton found when she was learning Belly Dance that the isolations were remotely understandable because she had years of practicing isolations on the body in Yoga (such as lifting the quadriceps off the knees or lifting the rib cage while grounding the feet). She also noticed she could also yoga to counter stretch an area she just worked in Belly Dance. Additionally, she notes that Yoga will help protect the body from injuries and if you do get injured the recovery time is faster if you are a practicing yogi.  I personally start my classes with a Yoga warm up for this reason. Painton points out that both Yoga and Belly Dance require a great deal of discipline.

Both Belly Dance and Yoga can release trauma, both physical and emotional.  At my Yoga for the Special Child ™ ( training, Sonia Sumar pointed out that after Yoga class, some students felt negative emotions without knowing why because no thoughts were attached to them.  This was the body releasing trapped emotions.  I am sure to point this out especially when working on ribcage pops and body waves because the heart space tends to hold so much emotion and it is worked so continuously in these movements.  Letting go of those feelings that no longer serve you allows you to move forward physically and emotionally.

Mentally, Yoga allows the Belly Dancer to let go of the mental clutter that prevents us from “getting it” [a movement, combination, emotional expression, timing, etc.].  Instead of constantly wondering how you are doing or judging or criticizing yourself, Yoga allows for “letting go and letting it flow”.  
“Most of us who practice Yoga have slipped into flow on the mat- probably many times.  We know those wonderful moments when postures feel effortless.  The body seems to move on its own without force or strain.  We “know” the posture in an entirely new way and come out of these experiences somehow changed.  At ease.  Knowing ourselves more fully. “ (Cope, Yoga Journal October 2007)

Belly Dancers may recognize flow when you feel at one with the music and everything else slips away; you may notice your audience, but they are quiet witnesses.  Or, the audience and your dance partner(s) are part of your flow experience- everyone feeling the music completely and communicating with total ease.

Stephen Cope, working with Kripalu (, conducted yoga studies with musicians and athletes.  Cope himself noticed that the more consistent he was in his yoga practice, the more skillful he was on the piano.  This integration of mind, body and spirit seems to be the biggest factor in creating not only fully satisfying experiences, but also improvement in performance.
The studies indicate that a yoga practice including three hatha yoga (the physical practice) classes a week (gentle to moderate classes with a strongly meditative flavor and an emphasis on breathwork), a simple 30 minute mindfulness meditation practice each day and participating in certain aspects of a yogic lifestyle, including conscious eating, can help a performer “flow” by creating relaxed concentration.  The changes in the musicians who did yoga were quite dramatic.  One group had significantly less performance anxiety than the control group.  The second group confirmed that finding and also uncovered in the yoga group’s capacity to enter into flow states- and especially autotelic experience.   

An autotelic experience is one in which the experience of performance is perceived as intrinsically rewarding and fulfilling, apart from any external rewards.  The performer lets go of all self-consciousness about the performance-and any grasping for outcome or extrinsic reward.  She feels compelled by the sheer joy of the activity itself.  Studies show that the more often performers have this kind of experience, the more motivated they become to push the boundaries of their mastery.  (Cope, Yoga Journal October 2007)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, tells us that “Training attention to come back over and over again to a complex task allows awareness to become increasingly absorbed in the task at hand.”  Yoga does this both in Asanas (physical poses), breath work and meditation (returning to attending to breath, thoughts, sensations, etc.).
Belly Dancers are experienced with bringing attention back to a task over and over when they drill.  For example after 50 hip ups you may wonder what you are having for lunch, but you have 50 more to go, so you bring your attention back to the task at hand.  Practicing a choreography also requires attending mentally.  Improv Choreography asks that you stay totally present and not only attend to what you are doing, but also what your partner is doing. It is a very Zen process in that respect.

Spiritually, Yoga centers the Belly Dancer.  By revisiting Yoga’s non-competitive principals, one can acknowledge the bigger picture instead of any perceived slights or longings of the heart induced by the ins and outs of the community.  Online communities such as “Too Much Drama to Dance” on show us examples of the struggles many Belly Dancers experience.  Through practicing yoga, Cope tells us that
“the performer, like the yogi, has a transient but profound experience of feeling more at ease with life, of trusting the ineffable ‘inner self’, and of living free from self-concept in a kind of river of energy and intelligence.  This is perhaps the spiritual experience par excellence.  Yoga transforms performance in powerful ways, reframing most conventional notions of the very meaning and purpose of performance itself.”
Belly Dancers report stress and negative energy burning away after class or a great performance.  It also often provides a supportive social atmosphere which may be difficult to find with today's busy schedules.

Both practices balance the Chakras, starting with posture that aligns the spine.  Chakras are energy centers in the body.  Heat, light, electricity and nerve impulses are all energy, and the Chakras correspond to nerve ganglia in the body.  By intentionally moving the body parts associated with each Chakra, you release blocks, and energize and balance the energy centers.  By working the chakras through two practices, one can experience greater balance and health.  Something to note is that while Belly Dance uses the whole body, there is a particular focus on the belly that one does not find in other movement systems.  We not only intentionally move the belly on its own, it is constantly engaged during posture and parts are accessed more during ribcage and hip movements, as well as body waves or undulations.  The solar plexus, or naval chakra, (manipura, the third chakra) is associated with personal power, confidence and the element fire.  With a stronger, more activated third chakra, one exudes more confidence than someone with a less energized naval chakra.  Perhaps this is the pull yogis feel, being already awakened to the energy and drawn to a dance that will further energize their inner fire. There is an innate need for humans to create and to express themselves creatively.  The second Chakra (or first, depending on the reference), located in the pelvis, is our creativity center.  With a strong emphasis on hip and pelvic movements, Belly Dance activates our creativity, a need often over-looked in Western society.  While also energized in Yoga, Yoginis may seek out Belly Dance as a way to further strengthen this Chakra.  On the other hand, if you are experiencing a creative block in Belly Dance, then Yogic meditation, especially creating and meditating on yantras (geometric designs conceived of as containers for spiritual energy [Tomlinson, Yoga Journal, August 2008]) can remove creative blocks.

Other movements and processes in the Belly Dance experience also balance and organize the Chakra system.  Floor work and foot work organize the first Chakra; ribcage and arm movements balance the fourth Chakra. Head slides, circles, swings and tosses, as well as zahgareeting and shouts of encouragement or excitement energize the fifth Chakra; visualizing [a new choreography or costume, a movement, etc.] and eye movements and moving meditations activate the sixth Chakra; and connecting with the Divine and/or your fellow dancers (including, but not limited to the Zen feeling created during Improvisational Choreography) and moving meditation invigorate the seventh Chakra.  To see my friends, family and me Belly Dancing through the Chakras, go to the video gallery at ( ) and click on “Pregnancy Honoring Performance”.

Another reason people may be attracted to both Belly Dance and Yoga is the release from typical Western thinking.  Both Belly Dance and Yoga originated in ancient times and on different continents/subcontinent.  These practices both offer a tolerance and acceptance of for the self not readily evident in our mainstream society.  Yoga teaches us to slow down, relax and process at a gentle, conscious pace.  Belly Dance shows us body acceptance outside of what bombards us in the mainstream media.     

Rodney Yee, a nationally known Yoga instructor and author of Moving Towards Balance: 8 Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee, says that Yoga puts everything into place.  It allows us to enjoy and experience Belly Dance more fully.  Belly Dance is artistically expressed wellness that offers strong confidence and Yoga offers a deep, balancing practice, especially for the times when we must look within.     

Monday, October 28, 2013

Mommy and Me Belly Dance

Photo by Ryan Arrington
The picture above is my daughter and me as "Snake Charmers" for Khafif's Circus themed Halloween Hafla this past weekend. Since this is such a fun-themed show, I thought I'd take advantage of the family-friendly vibe and include my 6 month old daughter in this performance. The snake skin printed fabric is actually formed into a baby sling. My husband gets much credit for helping to execute the sling and matching baby costume for this show! Since I can't do much sewing with the baby actually on me most of the time, I designed, cut out and finished everything, but he hand sewed the "snakes" and did most of the "middle part" of the baby costume sewing. Because it has been super busy around here (and it would be with just the baby), the costume making primarily happened the day of the show.  Hooray for experience and last minute pressure/determination/teamwork making it all happen!!

This was a fun experience for the chance to include my daughter, the circus theme challenging my creativity (what _would_ actually work with a 6 month old on my hip?), and another chance to see the lovely people in the Pittsburgh belly dance community. It's a true bunch of gems here and I'm so grateful to be a part of it. <3

Friday, October 25, 2013

Circus Performance tomorrow in Pittsburgh, PA

Tomorrow, I am performing at the circus themed Halloween hafla (party) put on by Khafif Music and Dance.  My partner is quite charming- you should definitely come out to see us. We've asked for an early spot, so don't miss it! :)

This promises to be a really fun evening, full of quality performances brimming with creativity. Belly Dance + Circus + Halloween = really really good time.  

Doors open at 6:30. Show starts at 7:00. 
"Doors open at 6:30.

Show starts at 7pm. 
Open dancing to the fabulous beats of Khafif. Please stick around and dance, eat, socialize and get your fortune read. 
We will have gemstone readings from the magnificant Michael Mykita and balloon animals for the kids by donation by the Marvelous Morgiana BellyDance. Please tip well :-) These will be available after the show. 

$5 at the door. Refreshments and snacks provided. BYOB if inclined. Kids 12 and under are free. 

Kid friendly. Costumes encouraged!

Wilkins School Community Center
7604 Charleston Ave
Swissvale, PA" 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Belly Dance Flash Mob in Pittsburgh, PA

photo by Erin Lasswell

Wow!!! If I had known earlier that this was happening and it would not have totally ruined the surprise, I would have mentioned this here beforehand. Oh, and since every single minute was completely full before then, it just was not going to happen.  But, you get to see the results here! 

So, I got a message at 1:00am proposing I get together 10 dancers for a belly dance flash mob for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Gallery Crawl a week later.  Now, I have been a solo artist for a long time- an improvising solo artist. And with a teething 5 month old, a 6 year old and a husband scheduled to go out of town 2 of those days before the performance, this idea all sounded a bit impossible. Get something choreographed, find enough dancers available on short notice and willing to practice the way one needs to to have something performance ready in a matter of days?  No... just, no. But, something kept telling me, "Just say 'Yes'." So, I said yes. And even though I was gone and busy most of Saturday, I got the song picked out and choreographed and had gathered enough pro dancers by Sunday night. And I chose so well! I mean, just look at them! See how beautifully they move? This choreography was ready! It was an amazing and inspiring experience and I am feeling really empowered about accepting challenges despite the odds. These ladies were so fun to work with!! Annie Cothran, Susan Unsuk Goelz, Kate Stapleton, Maqui Ortiz, Sarah Orris, Jenn Senn and Jennifer Jemeena M are the lovely and talented dancers who joined me. 

If you would like to join me for classes, they start October 10th.  Classes will run Thursdays 6:30-7:30 until November 21st. No class October 31st, of course. It's Halloween!!! :D The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Education Center (805-807 Liberty Ave. Downtown Pittsburgh) is the location of the classes. The studio is absolutely gorgeous and easy to get to. Parking is very accessible in the parking garage practically across the street at 9th street in the "Smithfield/Liberty" parking garage

Friday, August 16, 2013

New Baby, New Classes, New Me

Many brand new beginnings are happening in our lives.  My daughter was born in late April, bring the sweet softness only a much anticipated child can bring.  Since her birth, I have been absolutely enveloped with the full hearted love of family... again. Her big brother adores her and has been wonderfully affectionate and protective.  It was not an easy birth, but it was transformative. Now, I'm a mother of two. Now I am at peace with my previous birth and am healing well from both at once.  Two Cesarean births when we planned and hoped for completely natural ones have shaped me, but not defined me.

Belly Dance and birth have a long, intertwined history. When there was no separation of things sacred and daily life and the fertility of people and land (near you) was crucial to survival, what eventually was called belly dance played a key role in setting intentions and asking for help from the Divine.

Today, it remains a path of healing and connection to our spirits in a world that often separates us from it. It exercises the body, focuses and strengthens the mind and frees the Soul. A creative outlet in a supportive atmosphere, Belly Dance classes offer respite from our daily grind. After an hour of enticing movement and enchanting music, we are renewed, more energized and more familiar with our True and incredible selves.

Though I started belly dancing over 20 years ago, and started teaching belly dance about 15 years ago, I know this class starting in the Fall will be new because I am new. It will be new because I will always have new students and their perspectives and experience will be unique.

Please join me for this class in a beautiful down town Pittsburgh studio!! The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Education Center is the location and the sponsors are quite wonderful. They truly do "Trust Arts".
You can register and find more information at:

Until next time...

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