Blog: Owning It

How I dig myself out of creative ruts during tough times

This chaotic time of COVID quarantine has left me feeling a bit depleted, and I know I’m not alone. However, I’m bouncing back little by little by using specific coping mechanisms that have worked for me time and again when I’m in a slump. Since I know many of us are in the same boat, I decided to share my strategies for bouncing back when I feel low and creatively blocked.

I have used these same strategies again and again to climb out of a variety of slumps- health issues, breakups, financial stress, you name it. I know not everything I list here will work for you. Heck, maybe none of it will. My hope is that these tips along with some specific resources can inspire you and support you to explore, create, and sit more in your own power during this tough time. If I can help at least one person who reads this feel like they can get back on track, I will be happy. You can do it!


Before we begin, I want to remind you to honor where you’re at. If you don’t have the mental energy for this right now, then don’t do it! If you need need to rest, then rest. No questions, no judgement, no competition, no pressure. Now, let’s move on to my strategies for coping with hard times and getting back on track when I’m in a rut.


1.) I write and reframe, daily.

Morning Pages, brain dumps, whatever you want to call them. Each day, at whatever time you please, handwrite (or type if that is not accessible for you) about 3 pages of whatever is on your mind, without judgment, without trying to be literary, worrying about grammar, and so on.

The idea is that we have many thoughts and feeling swirling around our brains, clogging up our mind (such as anxiety, fear, self-doubt, hopes, dreams, random thoughts). By regularly giving ourselves an outlet to process everything on your mind, we can slowly sift through whatever it is we’re going through, eventually even working towards reframing negative thoughts and exploring positive thoughts, ideas, and dreams.

An example of reframing a negative thought looks like this:

There’s just no point (negative thought) becomes I am worthy of my dreams and have many friends and family members who support me and goals (positive reframe).

Write down your reframed thought and stick it somewhere accessible because chances are you’ll need to read it again. Do this for each negative thought you have, keep the positive reframes close at hand.

I can attest, with consistent practice, this slowly becomes the catalyst for identifying your needs, shifting your mindset, and finding the path out of your slump.

I don’t use or do anything fancy when I write, I just pull out my recycled composition notebook like this one and grab a pen. I use sticky notes or tape notecards or bits of paper to my walls with positive reframes. Do whatever works for you. The point is just doing it.


2.) I practice mindfulness

While I do have a more formal meditation practice, I don’t necessarily mean engaging in a formal sit here. There are various forms of mindfulness that range from a formal meditative practice to engaging in various other techniques to bring your focus to the present moment. For an overview of mindfulness, check out this article here.

If you’re new to mindfulness and want a little more guidance, I suggest this free app created by the Australian non-profit, Smiling Mind.


3.) I use a planner

I get it. Buying or pulling out your planner while feeling down probably sounds like the worst idea. Ever. However, I find that once I start gently scheduling and checking off “to-do” items (even if that task is “rest”) I find rhythm, structure, and routine which helps me feel more accomplished, empowered, and in control of my time. The key here is not to over-schedule and to mindfully leave time for the space and self care you need right now.

I find it helpful to schedule self care like it’s an appointment. For some that may not work. Point is, gentle structure helps most folks, but don’t be an overachiever (I see you my fellow type A’s) and rush back to full throttle if you’re not ready. If you are pressuring or bullying yourself for taking time out, go back to #1 on this list and write out and/or reframe whatever is coming up for you.

I don’t care for boring planners, but gravitate towards ones that have creative elements, such as artwork, pictures, quotes, and inspiring messages. For the longest time I used this planner by We’moon. I love the moon phase chart, the poetry, the artwork and the fact that it’s printed in soy ink.

However, over time the We’moon planner ended up being a bit too small for me, so for the past year and a half I’ve used Passion Planner. While there’s no lovely art, there are inspiring quotes, places for doodles, maps, and dreams, which helps me fulfill that creative play I enjoy in my planning process.

If you’re not a fan of pen and paper planners, try Asana. I use Asana as a project tracker in addition to my paper planner and love it.


4.) I Play

Sometimes I plan and gently structure my play, but I also sometimes just follow impulse and throw all plans (if I have any) out the window. Whatever the case may be, I am sure to allow myself time to do things other than dance work, such as knitting, gardening, painting, things I am less perfectionist about, things that open up my mind in a way that creates wonder.

During COVID quarantine I’ve been following along with Instagram expert Sarah Tasker’s photo tutorials in order to play and learn more about photography concepts, taking pleasure in small, simple details, and gently creating just to create. (Get her tutorials here). I’m gardening, knitting, mending things, crafting something a little different each day. I find joy in those small things, and I encourage you to find those little things, too.


5.) I exercise but also Rest

I move my body but also rest. Normally, I’m doing some sort of movement for at least 30 minutes a day, whether that be a workout, yoga, biking, dancing, or just going for a walk. Like most people, though during my slumps my motivation to move basically goes to zero.

For the hard days I know I’ll inevitably have, I have a sticky note next to my closet that says “Run. You know you’ll feel better afterward.” For me that’s true. I always feel better after exercising, no matter what. Of course that run doesn’t fix whatever is wrong, but I do feel measurably better and marginally more empowered.

Since running may not be an option during quarantine, I want to share some of my favorite home workouts with you. Check out my Home Workout playlist on youtube which includes Pilates, barre, HIIT, and yoga videos.


6.) I Connect

As a self-sufficient introvert, I sometimes underestimate the value healthy connections with others can help me when I’m down or feeling stuck. The type of connection that serves me shifts depending on what I need at that particular time. The way I identify the specific support I need to seek is something I end up identifying through my daily written reflection (#1 on this list).

In the past, this has looked like me joining a class, video chatting with a friend or family member, getting therapy, adopting my cat, ending unhealthy relationships to make room for healthier ones, getting out to connect with nature, volunteering, and so on. Often more than one of these at the same time.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to others, try new classes, join a book club, virtual movie night, or engage in really anything that calls to you. I find even the smallest moment of feeling connected to others to be uplifting.

Don’t forget you’re not alone. You can do this.

Kate Soleil holds a BA in Anthropology and English from the University of Virginia, is an Oriental Style Belly Dance Performer & Instructor, Social Worker, and Personal Trainer in training.

She’s dedicated her life to the study of her art, the creative process, and coaching others in personal and professional settings. She lives with her fiancée in Portland, Oregon, is a proud cat mama, an avid book worm and knitter.

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My 2 Most Influential Dance Teachers in 2019

Gratitude in Prose


As we move into the new year, I, like many others, have been reflecting on how much has happened in 2019. My life now looks very different than from a year ago: I took bold steps to live closer to my truth, felt old identifies melt away into new ones, traveled, met wonderful new people, became closer to families and artists I love and value, deepened my understanding of the cultures whose dance I am learning and representing, as well pushed beyond my comfort zone in creating and presenting my art.

There were many factors that went into making all of this happen. However, I want to express immense gratitude to 2 instructors who had a pivotal effect on my growth this past year: Khadijah and Kamala Almanzar. I had the opportunity to take workshops from Khadijah and Kamala in 2019, but did not study beyond that with either of them (yet). Still, each in their unique way opened the door to my deeper creative exploration and cultural understanding. 

I would like to emphasize that these are not reviews, but essentially my gratitude list in prose. The reason I’m doing this publicly is because I want to share what I’ve learned in the hopes that you, too, will take the opportunity to learn from these amazing artists should you ever get the chance. 

Khadijah

Group photo from Khadijah’s workshop weekend, March 2019

Khadijah is a Denver, CO based dance artist who came to Portland in 2019 to teach a weekend on khaleeji dance technique, cultural mannerisms, and musicality. Her khaleeji workshops were beyond phenomenal as she wove detail after detail regarding Gulf geography, overview of Islam, cultural etiquette, dance movements, her top 10 khaleeji rhythms to know (yes there’s more than just one), and more into the most culturally comprehensive course on khaleeji dance as I have ever seen or heard of.

Khadijah doesn’t rely solely on her Gulf upbringing as her source of knowledge, but has put countless hours into researching khaleeji dance and music in the Gulf. She also brought in much needed discourse regarding the history of racism in Arabic music.

During the movement workshops, I really valued how much joy Khadijah feels in her movements. She’s earthy, relaxed, and created an atmosphere where we could be, too. Dancing with Khadijah makes you feel like she’s your neighbor or bff who invited you to over to jam out and dance. 

More info about Khadijah can be found here: https://www.khadijahdancer.net/bio

Kamala Almanzar

Kamala with Raqs Ayana (Henna, Kate Soleil, Emilie Lauren, and Shaunti Fera), June 2019

Based in Southern California, Kamala has been called a “living legend”, “icon”, and “an inspiration” in the Middle Eastern dance community. What I loved most about learning Kamala in 2019 was, for a short time, immersing myself in her incredibly unique movement style which is at once fresh and inventive yet strongly anchored in classic American Cabaret style.

The opportunity to learn from Kamala was very synchronistic as for a long time I’ve been struggling to find breath and air in my movement vocabulary; upper body expression has never been a strength of mine. I routinely feel upward moving energy becoming blocked in my chest, unable to flow beyond some invisible barrier to finish my movements outward through my arms and upper body. However, moving through one of Kamala’s choreographies helped something click; her movements feel like the most blissful, meditative combination of earth and air which really opened my body and creative expression to greater possibilities. 

Find out more about Kamala on her website: https://kamaladance.com/


Kate Soleil

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Ovation: Gala featuring Kamala Almanzar

Ovation Gala

I am very excited that the Raqs Ayana Dance Collective is hosting Kamala Almanzar in Portland, OR for a day of workshops and an evening gala, Ovation! We’ve all been dreaming of producing a theater show for some time and are excited to see that dream come to reality. Besides of lovely featured instructor, we will have many Pacific Northwest artists performing flamenco, fusion, Saudi gulf dance, American Tribal style, and more. Click here to get your tickets!

Workshops

Oriental Dance Kamala Style!
11:15 – 1:15 p.m.
Kamala has been admired for her smooth moves & intricate choreographies. Her style has developed over 40 years, from a Ballet & Jazz foundation, dancing in Arabic Nightclubs with Egyptian Orchestras, to working with Farida Fahmy of the Reda Troupe & studies with Middle Eastern dance luminaries. Kamala’s main objective as a teacher is to give away everything she knows, blending old style with modern, and a few special signature moves. Click here for more information or to sign up!

Graceful Combinations
2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Add some Egyptian Elegance to your repertoire with Kamala Almanzar, combining original Reda Troupe combinations with Reda inspired modern movement. Stylish traveling steps, fluid turns and graceful arms. Beautiful for Oriental solos, stage and troupe performances. Click here for more information or to sign up!

Kamala Almanzar

Kamala has been called a “living legend”, “icon”, and “an inspiration” in the Middle Eastern dance community. Throughout her 40 year career, Kamala keeps up to date with the latest dance trends, while keeping a solid foundation in the classic styles. Kamala is known for her unique choreographies, and for coaching competition champions. She continues her education by visiting Egypt, and attending and sponsoring workshops with masters from around the world.

Kamala has worked with the tops in the field, including “Arabesque Dance Company”, directed by “Reda Troupe” principal dancer Farida Fahmy, alongside Sahra Saeeda. She was Assistant Artistic Director of “The Flowers of the Desert”, innovators of experimental styles, with a prestigious dance roster. She has performed for dignitaries and celebrities, including the Saudi royal family, First Lady Hillary Clinton, Liz Taylor, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, to name a few.

Currently Kamala’s focus is choreography for professional dance companies, and producing theater. Kamala’s productions of “Choreographers’ Collective”, “Choreographers’ Eclectic” and “Shaabi Chic”, featured luminaries Sahra Kent, Zahra Zuhair, Jillina Carlano, Mandala Dance Worlds, Tamra-henna, and Hungary’s Katalin Schaefer. Kamala produces and choreographs for the evening gala at LA’s largest festival – “Cairo ShimmyQuake”, featuring world class performers including Tito, Aziza of Cairo, Sadie, and Kami Liddle.

Kamala is on staff at Dance GardenLA, California’s most prestigious studio, and travels as a workshop teachers. She was the first teacher to be named “Teacher of the Year” in 2017 by BDUC (Bellydancer of the Universe”), and is a master instructor at “Legends of LA Bellydance”.

Find out more about Kamala on her website: https://kamaladance.com/

Check out more about the workshops and show on facebook.

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OWNING IT #4: REBUILD, REBIRTH, REEMERGENCE

I’ve been reflecting a lot lately. This past year was one of tremendous growth, challenge, and unexpected surprises. When I look back at this year, I see just how a great and terrible beauty this has been for me. I grew exponentially, joyously, painfully. I became more authentic as I hacked away at gangrenous parts of me that no longer served.

A year and a half ago I took on my own restaurant gig. I then experienced a lot of death in the form of family members and relationships. Then I changed day jobs, going back to a job that offered less pay but also less emotional strain so I could have the energy after work to focus on my art and see if “going pro”, i.e. embracing the gig life, was the life for me. I met the man of my dreams who has grown to be the love of my life.

Then I burned out, utterly exhausted from overwork, overstretching, and doggedly trying to add soul and breath into the shallow, entertainment side of the belly dance industry.

It’s been one of those years that has changed me forever and significantly altered my course. I more or less quit gigging in September yet am still processing all I learned and experienced in this momentous year. I could probably write a book on everything I discovered about myself and my relationship with belly dance, but here are 3 big ones:

Know when to stop. I think there are things we can only discover by being on the brink of exhaustion, but it becomes very easy to lose sight of your path when you push yourself to work relentlessly. 

Become familiar with your own natural seasons of work. On her podcast, Make it Happen, Jen Carrington often mentions “season of hustle”. There are seasons where you are going to push a little harder, work a little more, but you also need to embrace seasons of rest, regularly, and without judgment. I’m a chronic overachiever, so this is incredibly hard for me.

Practice patience, practice abundance. My dream was, and is, to build my dance business to the point where I can support myself part time and go down to a part time day job. I said yes to every gig and every collaborative opportunity, because I was afraid if I said no the opportunities would never come again, and I would lose my chance to grow, earn a steady income, and make my dream of supporting myself through my art less attainable. I operated from a scarcity mindset instead of one of abundance. I was impatient. I was hard on myself. There are things that only come with time, and for me this dream is one of them. It’s been hard to slow down, but I’m all the better for it.

As uncomfortable as it has been the past few months I’m enjoying letting go of what doesn’t serve me, I take an odd comfort in plowing through old ways of thinking and behaving, preparing to rebuild, preparing for a rebirth a reemergence of a more refined and authentic artistic vision.

What can you do to pause and check in with your Self, your inner artist, your voice to make sure you’re on your authentic path?

What ways can you start to build moments of reflection and rest into your day? Your dance practice?

Comment below because I’d love to know…

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Elements of Cultural Competency: Unique interactive classes coming your way!

I am passionate about many things, but one thing that has been close to my heart for as long as I can remember is my passion for exploring and learning about different cultures. This passion is so strong that it led to a degree in Cultural Anthropology and what is turning out to be lifelong love for Oriental Dance.

As I’m preparing for a new class series I am integrating many things I value as a student of other peoples and cultures. Without a doubt, one critical element for anyone learning Oriental/belly dance is increasing cultural competency. You cannot sever the relationship between art and the society from which a particular art form is born. One constantly informs the other so to learn truly learn about this dance you need to learn about cultures of origin. Not only will my beginner classes naturally include elements of cultural competency alongside technique, but starting with my first class on November 13th I will also be offering an additional a fun, unique, and interactive element to one class each month. Our main focus in these special classes will still be on learning technique, but there will also be an extra interactive element. Examples of this will be live music demos, exploring textiles, foods, etc.

These special elements in and of themselves may not seem like any big deal in the broader context of a culture, but anyone who has learned another language or lived in another culture knows that it’s sometimes the smallest details that make all the difference in crafting the big picture.

Interested in the November 13th surprise? Stay tuned by signing up for my newsletter or following me on facebook and instagram. I’ll be revealing it soon!      February Flower Power!

Owning it #3: My 3 Fave Business Podcasts for Creatives

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This past year has been full of changes in my personal and professional life. One of the biggest changes was that I decided to start building a creative dance business. I’ve been dancing for over 10 years, but it was only this past year that I decided to explore turning my art into a creative business.

It has been a year of insane highs and lows as I navigate what works and what doesn’t work for me. I left a higher paying, but stressful, day job for another day job that is less stressful in order to have more energy to devote to expanding and growing my art and business during evenings and weekends. I’ve taken business building workshops and started working with an amazing business mentor. I also started listening to podcasts, and I have to tell you guys, I’m seriously addicted; I honestly wonder what took me so long to get on the whole podcast bandwagon!

There are a lot of business podcasts out there that don’t resonate with me, but today I’m going to share 3 that do. All three of these podcasts discuss different aspects of building and operating creative businesses, particularly as women. I love all three of these because they not only offer great insight and advice, but delve into the heart and soul of being a creative running a business that is authentic fulfilling. As someone who relies heavily on my authentic voice, my soul, to direct my creative and business path, this definitely speaks to me. All three of these podcasts are available via iTunes subscription.


Explore Your Enthusiasm with Tara Swiger

Why I love it: I absolutely love that Tara is so honest, open, and authentic. She is a business advisor, but instead of giving you a checklist of things to do to grow your business, she offers tools for you to reflect on, to challenge your preconceived notions of what a business is, or should, be, understanding your blocks and your style. I also deeply appreciate her anecdotes and the insight she shares from her own challenges, successes, and failures as a creative business owner. To me, listening to her podcasts often feels like I’m getting a mini coaching session and pep talk with a healthy dose of inspiration.

https://taraswiger.com/


Make It Happen with Jen Carrington

Why I love it: Jen is a creative business coach whose insight into building a sustainable, fulfilling creative business is wonderful- she offers honest, heartfelt, holistic, nurturing insight and inspiration to creatives. I haven’t listened to her newest season yet, but I listened to the season before that and loved it. The newest season (season 7) is an audiobook version of her recently published book broken into mini episodes. The season before (season 6) focused on interviewing other creatives about their journey of building their business. What I liked specifically was that each interviewee shared openly and honestly the struggle and the ups and downs of their business, including their mistakes, their doubts- something that I found very helpful in navigating this first year of building my business. I also recently saw that Jen has teamed up with Sara Tasker (see below) for a new podcast called Letters from a Hopeful Creative. I haven’t listened to it yet, but plan on subscribing.

http://www.jencarrington.com/


Hashtag Authentic with Sara Tasker

Why I love it: Sara’s podcast is geared towards helping online business creatives find their creative online voice, particularly on Instagram, but still has a lot to offer to those who are not operating online or online only businesses. Honestly I was very skeptical about this podcast because I’m one of those people who is/was very, very judgey about Instagram. I never really checked it out and assumed it was just going to be nothing but soulless hipster selfies and picture of food- and there is definitely some of that. However, after listening to this podcast I not only realized Instagram would be a beneficial social media tool for my business, but that I didn’t have to approach it in a soulless way. Sara’s podcast isn’t superficial, but really delves into the creative heart of small business.

https://meandorla.co.uk/


These podcasts are not only informative, but give me a dose of inspiration when I need it and help remind me that I’m not alone in this crazy journey. For those of you who are thinking about or are already operating a creative business, I hope these provide inspiration and education for you as much as they have for me.


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Owning It #1: Clear Vision and the effect of inauthenticity

kaboompics_Tree bloom in early Spring

I’m going to start by saying that I did not intend my first post to be on such a personal note or related to such a delicate topic in the dance community. However, I recently had an experience that provoked a deep reflection on how I want to navigate my authentic personal space especially as it regards body tipping (for my non dancers, I’m referring to the common practice of accepting tips in costumes for belly dancers in the U.S.).

More simply, below is an example of the effect living inauthentically recently had on my creative life and career.

Please note, this is not an opinion piece on body tipping v.s. not body tipping. I practiced accepting body tips for years because it is the norm for belly dancers in the US. I do not care if anyone accepts tips this way or not- just do you!

While performing for a wedding reception a man came up to tip me on behalf of the group. I saw him going straight for my cleavage so immediately crossed my arms over my chest and shifted my body away while saying “don’t tip me there, please”. I then held out my hand telling him to either hand the tip to me or give it to a staff member to give me later. The man ignored me and tried once again to stick the bill between my firmly crossed arms to get to my cleavage. Louder, I yet again repeated, “not there!” and stuck my hand out to take the money. He still single mindedly attempted to get at my cleavage. More forcefully, for a THIRD time I stated very directly, “don’t tip me in my cleavage” while also turning away to shield my chest and go continue dancing with the bride. As I’m turning away, he tried to step around me to still get at my breasts. So I yanked the bill from his hands and threw it away, leaving to continue dancing my set with the bride.

While I know this was a very extreme situation that doesn’t often occur (at least not to me), this experience left me feeling vulnerable, defensive, depressed, feeling violated, and wondering if performing professionally was really for me. Maybe I should just stay a hobbyist? Maybe I’m not cut out to be a “professional” belly dancer since I’m not okay with strangers touching me, even in “appropriate tipping places”, like all the other dancers? If I choose to not take tips on my body anymore do I have the energy to defend myself against the resistance and opinion from other dancers, clients, etc?   

Then I felt ashamed that I was being so negatively affected by this experience. I should toughen up, get over it, not let one bad experience out of hundreds of good ones affect me so much, right?

Needless to say this experience pointed to a deep tension I had been carrying yet ignoring inside of me. I realized that I had not been living authentically in certain details of my dance life, and by not living authentically I had actually caused an internal instability that then was HURTING my dancing, my creativity, my career.

For years I forced myself to be okay with not only strangers but friends and other dancers coming into my personal space to tip me in my costume. I smoothed over the discomfort again and again, but it only took one bad experience to bring this tension tearing to the surface again. However, I’ve gained greater insight into how I want to live into my dance life and below I share some things I’ve learned from all of this:  

-True respect comes from authenticity. You can’t control whether or not others respect you, but I can guarantee you won’t respect yourself unless you’re being true to you.

-Being inauthentic makes you inconsistent. For years I’d alternate between accepting body tips and not. My message was inconsistent and sometimes confusing for others. Being consistent with your authentic voice helps solidify who you are and the image you project to others.

-Living inauthentically even in the little details can hurt you creatively. In my body tipping example I was aware of my discomfort around tipping but ignored this detail for years. Neglecting to be authentic to myself in how I accept tips eventually brought me to a point where I questioned whether I wanted to dance anymore.

-We won’t always be fully conscious to the fact that we’re ignoring the details that are causing us to live inauthentically…and that’s okay.

Creative living is a lifelong journey and a lifelong choice. When we’re ready tackle the places where we’re living inauthentically they’ll inexplicably rise up. Yeah, I could tell you to cultivate mindfulness, greater self awareness, etc, etc, and that really would be sound advice…but honestly sometimes sh*t is just going to come up. Just never forget in those moments you always have the power to decide whether or not you want to do the work.

Never forget you always have the permission and the right to be true to who you are, because living authentically not only will make you a stronger dancer, a stronger creative, but it’ll lead you to a better life.

Love,

Kate