Beauty And The Feast, Part 3

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Natural Skin Care For Dancers

Beauty And The Feast, Part 3

For all you greenies out there, here’s another use for your used coffee grounds besides throwing them in the compost to nourish your garden. Try an invigorating coffee facial scrub. Coffee is another fantastic natural exfoliant. It’s one of my favorite scrubs! It contains caffeic acid, which has anti-inflammatory effects and can boost collagen production. If you have ever used other types of scrubs like, sugar scrubs, apricot scrubs, sea salt scrubs, or oatmeal scrubs, you probably have a good idea what an exfoliating scrub can do for your skin.

Here’s an easy coffee scrub. You can store it in the refrigerator if you prefer, but it will stay fresh for several weeks at room temperature.

Easy Coffee Scrub
4 Tbsp. olive oil
6 Tbsp. used coffee grounds
Container to store it in

Coffee grounds should be fine, but not too powdery fine and not too course. I go for a medium-fine ground. But don’t over think it, it isn’t rocket science.

Mix the coffee grounds and olive oil together. If you use the Oil Cleansing Method, or OCM (see Part 2) you can use your oil mixture. If you’d like to make more or less, the ratio is 3 tablespoons of coffee for every 2 tablespoons of olive oil. The scrub should look like a coarse mud when finished.

To use, take a small dollop of the coffee and olive oil mixture and gently scrub it onto your skin. I like to use a warm wash cloth to start working the mixture off, then rinse with warm water, then cold water.

If I got you hooked on Honey from Part 1 of my blog, here’s a variation: Mix coffee grounds, honey, and olive oil together for an extra nourishing scrub. Optional: add a little brown sugar and few drops of vanilla to the mix for a yummy, fragrant scrub.

For a great cellulite treatment: Use warm coffee grounds. Make sure that the coffee grounds were not in water for too long or burned. If those conditions exist there will be very little of the beneficial caffeine left in the coffee. You need ¼ to ½ of a cup of the grounds and a little olive oil, a loofah mitt (optional) and some plastic wrap. Mix the coffee grounds into the olive oil until the grounds are saturated. Using your hands or the loofah mitt (if you choose a loofah buy an extra one because it will get gritty), massage the coffee grounds and olive oil mixture directly to the cellulite-affected area, massage in a circular motion. Use the plastic wrap and wrap it around the area of application, firmly but not too tight. After ten to fifteen minutes remove the wrap and start wiping the coffee grounds off with a warm towel, then rinse the treated areas with warm water to remove olive oil residue.

Going green in your beauty routine, isn’t just about helping the environment, but also protecting your natural beauty. Your skin is your body’s biggest organ, with over one billion pores. More than 60% of what you put on your skin is absorbed into your body, and the beauty industry is not regulated. I’m not kidding. There’s a ton of products on the market containing ingredients like parabens, which have been found in elevated amounts in breast tumors; and propylene glycol, a preservative commonly used in antifreeze and brake fluid, which may be linked to birth defects and infertility.

Drink lots of water, and watch what you put inside your body as well what you put on the outside. Take care of yourself! I’m stepping off my soapbox…for now.

Beauty And The Feast, Part 2

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Natural Skin Care For Dancers

Finding the right skin cleanser for my skin has been a long trial and error process. I hit the jackpot of skin cleansers when I discovered I had it all along in my kitchen…OLIVE OIL! As much as I love cooking with it, I would have never believed in a million years I would ever enjoy slathering it on my face.

The very first time I tried the Oil Cleansing Method (OCM), I instantly noticed a big improvement in my skin. My face wasn’t greasy or oily, as a matter of fact, it felt amazingly soft, dewy and seemed brighter. I’m a huge fan now and wouldn’t think of using a commercial cleanser on my face ever again.

The OCM is actually a combination of Castor Oil and Olive Oil. Cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil is best, to get the most nutrients into the skin. Olive oil has the same pH as human skin, so it’s the perfect cleansing balancer. Many people have had a lot of success with other oils such as Avocado, Jojoba, Sweet Almond, Grape Seed, Sunflower Seed and others, so feel free to try out your favorite oil. You may want to stay away from coconut oil for oil cleansing, as it is a known comedogenic and may possibly clog your pores and exacerbate blackheads.

Castor oil gives you the most cleansing, dissolving bang for your buck. It’s also highly antibacterial in nature. It can also be drying. So depending on your skin type, you’ll either use more or less castor oil in proportion to the other oils. Castor oil is easily found in the laxative section in most pharmacies. I usually find it on the bottom shelf with other old fashioned remedies rather than among the latest commercially advertised name brand medicines.

It might sound a little crazy to clean your face with an oil, especially if you have oily skin. But contrary to popular belief, oil does not cause oily skin or acne. The culprit is usually a combination of hormones, trapped bacteria, and dirt.

Put simply, when skin’s natural oils are removed, the body’s reaction is to compensate by producing more oil. Or if your skin is dry, it’s because all the oil has been stripped away, and your body doesn’t compensate by replenishing it.

HOW TO DO IT: You may want to use a small bottle to try out your mixture at first, as you’ll probably want to adjust the oil ratio until you find the right balance for your skin. I washed out a small travel size hand sanitizer bottle to use for my first oil mixture.

IT’S BEST TO THINK IN RATIOS OF THIRDS 

Oily Skin: Use 2/3 castor oil to 1/3 carrier oil. 

Normal Skin: Use equal parts castor oil and carrier oil. 

Dry Skin: Use 1/3 castor oil and 2/3 carrier oil. 

Optional: add a few drops of lavender or rose (or your favorite) essential oil, or a few drops vitamin E oil to your oil mix. If you happen to have vitamin E capsules you can break one of the capsules into your mixture.

These ratios are NOT set in stone, but they’re a good starting point. You can adjust according to how your skin feels. If you feel a little tight and dry, use less castor oil and more olive oil, or visa versa.

I have a designated wash cloth and face towel that I use. I pour about a quarter size amount in the palm of my hand and wash my face as I would with any cleanser, applying gently, massaging upwards. The oil mixture is great for removing makeup, too. If you’re wearing a lot of stage makeup, you can use the oil mixture as a makeup remover, then proceed to wash your face with it. For a small amount of everyday makeup, it isn’t necessary to remove the makeup before washing.

Rinse your wash cloth in hot water (not too hot!) and wring it out. This is to steam the oil into your pours. Place the hot wash cloth over your face, patting gently, so the oil absorbs into the skin. Let it cool (takes about 30 seconds or so), take the cloth off your face and gently start removing the oil with the cloth, in a circular motion. Lightly pat your face with a towel. Apply moisturizer if you like.

I usually don’t feel the need for moisturizer since I’ve been using the OCM. If I want a little extra moisture, I don’t pat my face dry after washing. I put a few drops of the oil mixture on my fingers and gently pat and massage the oil into my damp skin until it is absorbed and there is no oil residue.

I take another 30 seconds to wash out the wash cloth with a little soap, rinse, wring it out, hang and let it dry for the next wash. SIMPLE! This is like a daily, mini home spa for me. It feels very soothing and relaxing, and the whole process takes about 3 minutes! 

Note: I do not recommend alternating the use of commercial facial cleansers and the Oil Cleansing Method, as you will not reap the full benefit of the OCM. Commercial products are harsh on the skin (no matter what they claim). Commercial cleansers have chemicals in the ingredients that rob the skin of oil.

Next post will be about natural facial scrubs.

Beauty and The Feast, Part 1

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Natural Skin Care For Dancers

Strolling through the farmers market one Sunday, I discovered a delightful treasure sitting at a table under one of the tent awnings. She called herself “Aunt Willie”. She is an elderly lady vendor and bee keeper, who sells her own raw organic honey, as well as other natural bee products. Aunt Willie has a wealth of knowledge and it is delightful to listen to her talk endlessly about her products and their health and healing benefits. I recently found out this awesome lady is also a microbiologist.

Over the years, I’ve gone though many skin care products and skin care regimes. Performing, teaching, workshop travel, lack of sleep, stage makeup and sweat can wreak havoc on one’s skin. After endless trial and error with commercial products, I have found natural skin care with food items that I usually have in my own kitchen, that work best for me. Aunt Willie inspired me to revisit the use of honey in my skin care routine, inside and out.

Of course, good skin care and overall good health starts with what we put inside our bodies. There are no commercial skin care products or natural beauty treatments that can compete with proper nutrition and getting enough sleep.

Honey is the queen of skin care ingredients and has been used for thousands of years. Legend has it, one of the most beautiful women in the world, Cleopatra, applied a honey mask to her face every morning and took milk and honey baths to keep her skin smooth, healthy, and youthful. In Ming dynasty China, women in the emperor’s court used honey and ground orange seeds to keep their skin and hair fresh and beautiful. Ayurvedic as well as Yunani medicine have been using honey as a vital medicine for centuries. Scientists of today also accept honey as a very effective medicine for all kinds of diseases.

If you’ve ever tried honey in your skin care regimen, you know exactly what you’re in for. Honey is a humectant, which means it will attract and keep moisture inside your skin where it belongs. This hydration makes your skin supple, elastic and silky soft.

It also has anti-oxidant properties which play an important role in protecting your skin against damage from UV (ultra violet) sunlight. In addition, scientists have been able to isolate antibiotic and antiseptic properties of honey, alongside amino acids and enzymes which heal and protect the skin. Try it on minor burns, cuts and scrapes. Honey’s combined abilities as a natural antibiotic and pore cleanser, makes it a brilliant ally in the fight against acne. Just so you know, the darker the honey, the stronger the anti-oxidant effect. I prefer raw, organic honey to get the full benefit from all the nutrients, but any honey will do in a pinch.

There are many, many different types of honey: Acacia, Basswood, Blueberry, Linden, Wildflower, Orange Blossom to name just a few, all of them with their own specific taste and qualities.

My favorite zit zapper is honey and cinnamon. Together, they have a high powered healing effect. Make a paste of honey and cinnamon and put it on pimples at night, wash off in the morning and repeat daily. Repeated use for 2 weeks will remove pimples from the root. Remember to always cleanse your skin before going to bed. The worst thing you can do is go to bed with makeup on! Don’t do it!

While traveling, I’ve made up a small travel container of the honey and cinnamon paste to take with me. I never bother taking lots of commercial products when I can fill small containers with whatever I want.

Another travel tip when staying in hotels, is to pick up a few of the small packets of honey in the little one serving containers at the breakfast bar, like the ones jams and jellies come in. That’s all you need for a lovely facial mask to take back to your room!

Honey masks are as easy as ABC! What you need: Honey. That’s it. It’s great for all skin types.

How to do it: If you like, you could warm up the honey until it becomes liquid (not too hot!) by putting it in a small glass or metal bowl which is immersed in hot water. This way you have more control and it doesn’t burn (warming it up is optional, you can just slather it on if you prefer).

When it is nice and warm, smooth the honey gently and equally. You can use a facial mask brush or spatula. I’m not so fancy, I use my fingers; keep the eye area clear.

Leave it on 15-20 minutes, then wash it off with warm water, end with a splash of cold; pat your skin dry with a clean towel. Finally, apply a moisturizer, this way you “seal” your skin to keep the water inside.

I like adding a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender or rose oil, to the honey mask to enhance the benefits. These are two of my favorite essential oils I have on hand all the time. You can get really creative with your honey mask. The list of beneficial natural ingredients you may have in your kitchen is endless. Try adding a little yogurt for an extra nourishing effect, or a smashed avocado for dry skin. Add a little cinnamon and lemon juice to your honey mask for oily skin and acne.

Honey has become my favorite staple. When on the road, I make honey and cinnamon tea to relieve fatigue. It’s better than coffee and healthier as well. I also love Bee Pollen. I sprinkle a little on oatmeal or on yogurt. Bee pollen will energize you for several hours.

Warning: don’t take it at night, it can keep you from sleeping. Also, when starting out, try 1/8 of teaspoon, and work up to a teaspoon. Use less if you’re pollen sensitive.

Bee Pollen Contains 22 Amino Acids, 28 Minerals and Trace Elements, up to 18 Enzymes or Co-Enzymes, 11 Carbohydrates, Rutin and other Glucosides (for heart health), 14 Fatty Acids, 16 Vitamins (all known A-K, especially high in A, B Complex (including B-12) C,D,E. It is rich in Lecithin, Phytochemicals, Beta Carotene and other Antioxidants.

Thanks, Aunt Willie! In my next blog I will talk about natural skin cleansers and scrubs.

Dance – A Lifelong Commitment

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I was recently thinking about an experience I had in a ballet class when I was young, that had a huge impact on me. An “older woman” (or so I thought at the time, she was probably in her 30’s) was consulting with the teacher before the class began as to whether or not the class was right for her, explaining she used to be a dancer. The teacher stopped her abruptly and said, What do you mean you used to be a dancer? Once you’re a dancer, you’re always a dancer!!

Over the past 4 decades (yes, 4 decades!) I seemed to have managed the ever changing business of Bellydance pretty well, I think. I’ve even been fortunate enough to remain in great health and with no major injuries (knock on wood). I remember thinking as a young dancer, I’ll never stop dancing! I’ll dance till I fall over into my grave!  But with age, comes wisdom and many times over the years I’ve looked back and thought that that was naive and unrealistic to think I could dance forever. Then I hear the voice in my head…Once you’re a dancer, you’re always a dancer.

Of course over the years, I’ve changed the course of my career from nightclub dancer, to touring workshop instructor/performer and producer and studio owner. It’s a natural progression that comes with time and experience.

Dance, especially oriental dance, has been my life’s blood, my soul, my savior. Witty conversation, the art of writing and clever use of words has never been my strong suit. I’m basically a shy person. Well not really shy…quiet. I have a friend that calls it Zahra’s quiet gravitas. Haha! That really makes me laugh, but I guess that’s why I chose dance to express myself. I’m not one for a lot of words.

So many dancers these days are amazing at marketing and self promotion. I marvel at them all. Aside from style and specific focus, how can you come up with so many different ways to say you’re teaching a bellydance class? Apparently there are thousands! I’ve been trying to be better with words, but then I figured, why? Maybe there are still people out there that aren’t fooled by a lot of words. Maybe they love dance as much as I do.

I have to say, now that I’m in my fifties, it’s true, I’m never going to stop dancing. The passion I have for dance goes way beyond the physical beauty and agility of youth. Dance is in my heart and soul. I’ll stick with my quiet gravitas and keep dancing.

Letting The Genie Out Of The Bottle

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Finding Your Creative Genius

As artists, we all suffer creative blocks and burn out from time to time, this can be very frustrating. There are times we may feel we’re on fire with inspiration and ideas, then all of a sudden…zilch, nothing. Many artists won’t admit to this, but it happens to everyone.

Through the years a lot of dancers have consulted with me on this subject and I have always given the best advice I can based on my own experiences. The truth of the matter is, being creative is hard work. Like any job, some days are really good, some days are not so good.

I find that a lot of inspiration comes from knowledge. The more you study your art form and keep growing, the more inspired you become to create new material, no matter how many years you’ve been at it. We live in an age where there is so much information at our fingertips, it’s a wonder anyone could every get bored, feel stagnant or uninspired…but it happens.

Maybe we can be over stimulated and bombarded with too many DVD’s, youtube performances of the latest competition winners or the newest Egyptian star, etc, etc. It just becomes all too confusing and overwhelming. Too many people become addicted to watching the latest “hot dancers”, trying to emulate every move, wondering, If only I could be that fabulous!

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very important to study with as many teachers as possible and watch a lot of performances, believe me, I’ve been doing it for 40 years, but it’s more important to be inspired by other dancers and not imitate other dancer. I feel in this age of video bombardment, people are starting to look alike. Who are YOU when you dance? What makes YOU fabulous? Where is YOUR creativity? Of course, new students start out by emulating their teachers, that’s different, it’s part of the learning process, but there’s a time to move past that and a time for teachers to encourage students to move past that.

A pet peeve of mine are the dancers that study the latest Egyptian (or whoever) stars, working hard to imitate everything down to their facial expressions and gestures, thinking they’ve finally captured the true essence of Egyptian dance! Uhhh…that’s called impersonating someone. I think some people have trouble differentiating between imitating the personality quirks and postural idiosyncrasies of an Egyptian star, rather than studying the dance movements, musicality, culture and essence of that regional style of dance…AND still remain oneself when dancing!

All that being said, how do we break free from feeling we have to fit a certain mold? How do we as teachers and performers keep fresh and continue to create new material? How do we uncork the bottle and let the genie fly out in a glittery rage, raining down creative genius on us? Good question. What is a genius, anyway? In ancient Roman religion, the genius was a separate divine being of nature that was present in every individual person, place, or thing. For instance, an artist wasn’t a genius himself, but rather he/she possessed a genius that played a big role in creating their work. Even inanimate objects had this magical genii attached to them. If something went wrong or wasn’t working, that object or that person’s genii was really “out to lunch” that day. It wasn’t until the renaissance period that the ego of the artist took over and the artist began to be thought of as a genius, rather than possessing a genius.

Maybe that’s where we go wrong sometimes. We put too much pressure on ourselves to be the sole vessel of our creativity. Believing that creative inspiration comes from the inside out is really too much pressure. It would be easier to just imitate someone else’s work, or just not do it at all and let the feelings of inadequacy and burn-out overwhelm us. Maybe if we imagine nature’s creative forces assigning us our own genius that whispers inspiration to us, allowing creativity to flow through us from the outside in, rather than the inside out, it would be a lot less pressure and add a new dimension and creative flair to our usual work.

Kids are naturally creative. It isn’t unusual for a small child to have an imaginary friend that they create exciting new adventures with. It really is genius if you think about it. The freedom to be so imaginative and create any magical, beautiful thing in our mind is brilliant. Of course, as adults if we went around talking to imaginary friends, they’d send us to the looney bin. Maybe we don’t have to go that far, just letting go of the ego and looking outward in a wide eyed view of nature and the creative world around us, can open up the mind and stimulate the spirit.

I love to hike in the hills near my house, sometimes alone, mostly with my husband, Michael and my dog, Indigo (Go-Go). It’s very serene and quiet. When I’m with Michael, we almost never talk on these hikes, we both pretty much have a mutual ‘zone out” time, enjoying our funny dog and nature. It’s an important creative process for both of us. Getting out of my own head is great therapy, I can let everything go and allow my mind to open up to wonderful new ideas that are floating around out there.

There’s lots of ways to “let go”. Exercise you mind, do something new! Step out of your comfort zone from time to time. Go to an art exhibit, drag a friend with you to a dance class in a dance form you’ve never studied before, take a rock climbing class, or an art class, learn to knit, write poetry, laugh at yourself and be silly, get out of your own head and stop believing your own publicity. Be bold and let the genii out of the bottle! Your genius will start talking to you, you just have to listen.

Ghosts of Dancers Past

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I had a dream recently about my first bellydance teacher, Scheherazade. It’s been 35 years since she passed away and it’s been nearly that long since I remember having any dreams about her.

As I woke, I desperately tried to remember what the dream was about, but most of the images faded faster than I could grab the pad and pencil on the night stand by the bed.

I spent the morning going through boxes of memorabilia –looking for a photo of her. Finally locating the perfect one, I felt a little ashamed the beautiful photo was buried with old flyers, pressed, crumbling roses from past shows and yellowed newspaper clippings. Finding the vintage photo of her draped in coins and pearls was like uncovering buried treasure.

I stared at the photo for along time trying to remember the dream. The contrasts, shadows and depth of the black and white image made her look so alive, maybe I thought she would speak to me.

I realized the right thing to do was to immediately scan the precious photo, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it till now. I even shared the gem on Facebook for all my friends to see, maybe a little bit out of guilt for burying it for so long. I was proud of my cyber accomplishment, but then the photo started haunting me again. What was she trying to say?

The last 35 years has taken me on an amazing journey. I’ve traveled, studied and worked with legendary dance artists from all over the world. I’ve worked very hard, forging ahead, nose to the grindstone, constantly striving to take my art to new heights, always learning and sharing with my students.

Scheherazade would never believe the global phenomenon oriental dance has become today, all the amazing resources at our fingertips would blow her mind. The internet didn’t even exist when she was alive, but there she is, or her image rather, floating in cyber space for the world to see.

After contemplating on the photo for quite awhile, I realized the dream of Scheherazade represents the root of my lifetime of work, coming back to the basic foundation of my art. I was in awe of my first teacher, she was a Goddess! She represents the wonder, joy and passion of a young girl entering the magical, mystical world of oriental dance, the unknown adventures ahead.

My friends who are more metaphysically inclined than myself, say the dream was a “visit”. I’d sure like to think the spirit of Scheherazade came to see me. One can only keep the heart and mind open, hoping to catch a glimpse into the divine mysteries of the universe.

Ghostly or not, the message became clear. My life’s work has come full circle, bringing me back to the pure and simple thing I’m grateful for, what I love.

I DANCE!

Scheherazade