Haiti Giveaway Winner

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The winner of the giveaway for Haiti is Tondo of Windsor, Ontario.

Tondo made her donation to the Red Cross of Canada, and her prize is a personal video critique worth $125.

Congrats Tondo!

Authentic Facial Expression: It's About Doing, Not Being

Friday, January 15, 2010

Authentic Facial Expression: It's About Doing, Not Being!

I was a child actor. Not the kind of child actor who robs a 7-11 in their 20s. Just the kind that does a lot of plays and makes a little money, but never gets even locally famous.

One of my most valuable lessons came not from my professional work, but from my high school acting teacher. While we were rehearsing for Steel Magnolias, she told the cast to try to "be sleepy". We stretched, we yawned, and, frankly, we overdid it.

But when she told us to try to stay awake, it was a very different story. As I watched my cast-mates shifting in their seats and fighting to keep keep their eyelids from drooping, I didn't doubt their sleepiness for a second, even though it was mid-morning on a Saturday.

So where did that authenticity come from?

Expressive Is As Expressive Does

What we are is, very simply, the result of what we do. A friendly person is someone who does friendly things: says hi, asks if your cold is getting better, etc.

Similarly, when we discuss stage presence, we tend to talk about states of being, rather than actions. We say that we want to "be expressive" or "look intense", and so we focus on the concept of an emotion, like happiness, sadness, etc., rather than on the actions a happy or sad person might take.

But just like we can't authentically make ourselves "be sleepy", we can't make ourselves "be heartbroken" or "be entranced by the clarinet". When we try, it comes out looking awkward and cartoonish. (You've seen quite a few "Dina faces" and "sultry faces", haven't you?)

It's obvious to the audience that we are intentionally putting on a facial expression, rather than letting our faces reflect our authentic feelings. And that is a violation of their trust.

Why Is the Face So Important?

When you dance, your facial expression is what the audience relates to first. Most don't have any belly dance experience, so the movements themselves don't give you any common ground.

Facial expressions, on the other hand, are nearly universal in the human family. So your face is what draws the audience in and convinces them to follow you on the emotional roller coaster of your performance.

But that connection is based on trust. Before they put themselves in your hands, they have to believe that what's on your face is really in your heart.

How Do I Make My Expressions Authentic?

There is a remarkably easy and straight-forward way to maintain an authentic expression: silently "talk" to the audience in your head.

This sounds silly and almost trivial. But carrying on a silent conversation with your audience is a powerful tool for creating believable expression.

When you motivate your dance with that internal conversation, your face follows along automatically. It will authentically reflect what's going on in your body and in your heart, rather than what you think you should display to the audience. And the audience will believe you.

But I Don't Know What to Say!

Almost any statement will create an authentic expression, as long as you direct it to a member of your audience. However, you'll get the most authentic results from statements that are related to your performance, and that you make in your own words.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

You can talk about the audience:
- Hey, it's you! (this works even if you've never met them before)
- I'm so glad you came!
- You two make a lovely couple!

You can talk about yourself:
- I am the best dancer you've ever seen
- I am an elegant princess
- I am a nice girl from the village

You can about what you're doing:
- Look at that shimmy go!
- My hands are just fascinating
- Wasn't that last move cool?

You can talk about the music:
- The rhythm is so yummy
- I love the sound of the clarinet!
- This song is about lost love


In order to be authentically expressive, we need to focus on "doing", rather than "being". Focusing on states of being encourages us to paste on a false expression, which alienates our audience.

"Speaking" to the audience silently is the most effective way to create an authentic expression that will foster a genuine connection. So take some time to compose your own list of statements in your own voice. Then put on some music, and give it a try!

With a little practice, you'll master it so thoroughly that even my acting coach would believe that you're a nice girl from the village.

Need more hand-holding?

A guided version of this exercise is featured on the bonus DVD "Nerves and Expression", which comes with the premium version of my DVD Improvisation Toolkit Volume 1: Movement Recall. Click here to order.

Already have Volume 1? You can also get "Nerves and Expression" with a premium pre-order of Improvisation Toolkit Vol. 2: Structure, which will be released on February 24th. Click here to pre-order.

Donate to Relief Efforts in Haiti, and Be Entered to Win a Free Video Critique

Make a donation to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, or Heifer International by Tuesday, and be entered in a drawing for a free video critique worth $125.

Here's how to enter:

1) Make a donation of at least $20 to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), or Heifer International by next Tuesday, January 20th.

2) Email me confirmation by 5pm EST next Wednesday, January 21st.

After you have made your donation, you should see a confirmation page with the details of your donation. You can print that to PDF or send me a screen shot of that page. (Here are some instructions.)

Alternatively, you can forward me your confirmation email. (My confirmation from the Red Cross took a few hours to arrive, so don't worry if you don't get it right away.)

Send your confirmation to me at nadira@nadirajamal.com

3) I'll use a random number generator to choose the winner on Wednesday, and contact that person by email.


  • Sooner is better, folks! The more aid we can get to Haiti now, the less suffering there will be later on. I'd make the deadline much sooner, but I know some of you won't see this in time.

  • If you're outside the US, you can donate an equivalent amount in your own currency.

  • If you've already given to one of these causes, that's great too. I'll count any donation dated between January 15th and January 20th.

  • If you donate $50 or more, you get TWO entries. If you donate $100 or more, you get THREE entries.

  • (If you donate $1000 or more, well, you rock! I'll just give you a free critique outside of the giveaway.)

  • The winner will be notified by email, and must redeem their critique by January 21st, 2011. The prize is transferrable to another dancer.

  • Yes, this does exclude those of you who give by phone or give to another organization. I'm sorry about that, but I have no way to get confirmation without an email receipt, and I know what the receipts for the Red Cross, MSF, and Heifer Intl look like.

  • If I receive any fraudulent donation confirmations, the senders will be ineligible for the giveaway, and should feel very ashamed of themselves.

  • I'm running this giveaway in good faith, but things happen. If there are any misunderstandings or loopholes, their resolution will be at my sole discretion.


I've heard that there are quite a few scams that are trying to profit from this disaster. When you make your donation, be sure to go directly to the web site of the organization to make your donation.

This idea was inspired by one of my students, Ellen. She's a nurse, and emailed me within a few hours of earthquake to let me know that she'd be missing class so she could go serve in Haiti. I'm so proud!

What Can I Do to Help You in 2010?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My friend Dave Charest posed this question today, and it's a good one. So now I'm asking you:

What are your goals for 2010?

What can I do to help you get there?

Leave a comment below!

How NOT Winning the Lottery Helps You Get What You Want


How NOT Winning the Lottery Helps You Get What You Want

One of my family's Christmas traditions is that everyone receives a lottery ticket in their Christmas stocking. When I was little it was fun: you'd play the game, scratch off the ticket, and maybe win two dollars to blow on candy. But as I got older, I realized that there was a much more subtle present there: the permission to dream about what I really want.

Small Dreams

When we dream, we tend to dream small. We limit ourselves to what we think is realistic and achievable.

Must of us don't acknowledge the full scope of our hopes & dreams at all.

And when we do, we immediately dismiss them as impossible. And set our sights lower.

So Why Do We Do That?

I think it's a matter of fear. Fear of success is a cliche, but I think there's some truth to it. If we set our expectations low, we think we'll be less likely to disappoint ourselves.

But that hobbles us.

So How Do You Break Out Of That Pattern?

Give yourself permission to dream big. You don't have to buy a lottery ticket, but it doesn't hurt.

But just imagine that you won the lottery. Imagine that you had all the money you could want, and 24 hours of free time per day.

And ask yourself:
- how would you spend your time?
- if you didn't have to earn a living, what would you make your life's work?

Now, most people say that they would quit their job, buy a nice house, and a fancy car. And go ahead and indulge those fantasies.

But as you keep imagining, you'll find that your lottery fantasies change. They get more detailed, and more personal. These are the ones that matter.

But What Good Are a Bunch of Daydreams?

Your lottery fantasies may be over the top, but if you look to their roots, they'll reveal what's really important to you.

Not what you think you SHOULD do like get a good job, settle down, etc. They'll tell you what you really value.

And once you know that, you can start acting on them now, with whatever time and means you have today.

My Own Lottery Fantasies

In my lottery fantasy, I would:

- Support my mom, who's disabled

- Found a scholarship at my high school

- Travel, especially to countries whose languages I've studied

- Dance full-time

Once I realized what values underlie those fantasies, I started working towards them in small ways:

- I send my mom a grocery card every month

- I give to my school's scholarship fund

- I joined a language conversation exchange

- I got serious about making dance a business

Tiny Steps Add Up

I haven't made the sweeping changes I would if I actually won the lottery, but these tiny steps are adding up, especially in my dance career.

For a long time, I assumed that you just can't make a good living as a dancer, that the best I could aspire to was be a professional-level hobbyist with a day job.

And while that was my assumption, that was my reality.

But since I got serious about my business, and started treating it like a job, the changes in the way I treat it have made a big difference. I get more successful every year.

I haven't quit my day job, but I'll be in a position to go to part time in the next year or two.


We tend to limit our dreams to what we think is possible, but when we do that, we limit what we can achieve.

Give yourself permission to dream big. Think about what you'd do if you won the lottery.

Look closely at your answers, and see what values and goals lie at the heart of your lottery fantasies.

Then find some small steps that you can take today to move them forward.

Take one of those steps today. Do the same thing tomorrow. Over time, you'll be amazed at what you can achieve.

When I was a little girl, the New York State Lottery motto was "All you need is a dollar and a dream."

But really, all you need is the dream.

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