Reflecting on Nadira Jamal’s How to Build a Sustainable Practice Habit

Atisheh's practice dance space/home studio

I paid 109 dollars for an online course.

I never finish online courses.

I did not finish this online course.

Was it worth it?

Hell yeah.


I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t sure about it at first. When Nadira Jamal, a.k.a. The Belly Dance Geek, advertised her online course for developing a practice habit, I knew it was the right thing for me, but worried about starting another online course I wouldn’t finish.

Then again, it was a bit of a catch-22. My biggest problem in dance is the discipline to practice. Would I have the discipline to stick with a course that would teach me discipline?

The other issue is that I knew, before I even signed up, that the coming months would be insanely difficult and busy. Lots of international travel, lots of deadlines. Lots of things more important than dance in my life.

But I decided to go through with it anyway. Part of the reason was that I knew Nadira (from email, from facebook, etc.) and I knew she’d done a lot of research on habit formation. And I’m interested in good habits for reasons beyond dance — I want to write every day, and I want to cook more often. So I thought of the course as a way of getting Nadira’s research instead of doing it myself.

Nadira talks about this concept of the “hilariously low minimum.” The idea is that you set a goal that is so laughably small, that it’s truly easy to achieve. It gets you to show up. If you still want to quit after that, you can, and the deal is you don’t get to feel guilty about not doing enough. But often, showing up is the hardest part, so you keep going.

Well, I decided when I began that I would stick to that idea like white on rice. My goal would not be to practice an hour a day, but 20 minutes max. And I would keep my hilariously low minimum. If I only danced 2 minutes a day, that would still be a quarter of an hour a week of dance I otherwise would not have had.

So what happened?

As I predicted, a strong takeoff, and sputtering in the middle. But that was okay. I saved all of Nadira’s audio lessons (which I did listen to), and all of her worksheets (most of which I didn’t wind up doing), and I know I can always go back to them. Nadira also had an option to join a Facebook support group, and that kept me going even when I faltered with the homework — and it is still running now.

But that didn’t matter. Because in the time that I did stick with the program, something happened. I changed. I changed from a person who couldn’t even imagine practicing (that’s for professional dancers!) to a person who just plain did.

I’m not any more disciplined now, really. But that was the magic of Nadira’s program — it wasn’t about building discipline, it was about making practice an easy decision. She advises trying morning practice, because we have the most willpower in the morning. I resisted this for a while, but when I kept being too tired to dance in the evenings, I switched to mornings. Mornings are much, much better. Mornings make everything possible, it turned out. It also — to my massive surprise — turns out that I don’t mind going to bed at 10 pm and getting up at 5:30 am so I can dance. Is your mind blown? Mine is.

One of the exercises Nadira had us do early on had to do with figuring out the importance of dance in our lives. I realised that dance is very, very important to me, but that it still comes way after family and my career. That made it clear to me that I had to make space for dance in my life, but also that it was okay if it made space for the other priorities. I would still like to be dancing more, especially in class, but I’m not as frustrated as I would be if I weren’t dancing at all (which was the case for so many years).

Changing the way I see myself — from a person who can’t practice to one who can — has also made it easier to get back on the wagon after sickness and travel. There is a kind of mental block that isn’t there anymore. I don’t have to tell myself I can do it. I just put on my dance clothes and practice.

I discovered that a personal practice brings joys that are different from class. Class is often more intense physically, because I don’t get as lazy. Personal practice is more creative. Even when I did drills or worked with videos, I almost always wound up breaking off from the “program” to improvise to some music. I found myself inventing all kinds of little moves and combos. I found myself dancing.

My only regular dance classes these days are ballet, and those began just before Nadira’s course. So part of the fun of my practice time is seeing how much even a few months of ballet has changed the way I move, my ability to stay on relevé, my ability to spin or do arabesques. My practice time is fun, and it’s skill-building, but it’s also a way to check in with myself, to see what moves and skills have become sloppy, and what has become strong.

I will go back to the course and redo it at some point. I will probably also “do” the course with other habits in mind — like writing. But for now, it was worth $109 to become a person who practices.


How about you? How do you build your practice habit?


  1. This is awesome! It’s like you’re inside my head. Thanks for sharing…we’re in the same kind of boat.

    1. iad says:

      Really, Heather? Tell me more! You’re at a totally different level than I am, so I’d love to hear what resonates for you.

      1. Oh my! It’s funny how the universe has brought me back to this post. I was just embarking on a move from TX to WA when you commented here in 2015. . I’m just now seeing it (3.5 years later).
        How were we in the same boat? In short, I’m (or I used to be, and still falter at times) a lazy dance practicer. Feast or famine. Deadline looming? Practice hard for a few days. No deadline? Eh….I can do it “tomorrow”. Sadly, this made me feel like I was never really totally ready for any performance. I couldn’t enjoy it the way I wanted to because I’d stressed myself out so much in the couple of days before with crazy practice.

        Not so any more. The morning thing really does work best. But I can also squeeze in (and plan) practice at other times too. The accountability factor was key at first. But now, I find myself being accountable to my own Habit. I like checking in with myself and seeing that….yep…I DID it! And I’m much better prepared for performances or class now because I’m more consistent with practice. I’m prepared and it feels great!

        Showing up really is the hardest part. Or it used to be.

        P.S. I had forgotten that you are a Sustainable Practice Habit alum. Watch your email for a special alum offer for the next group offering of the program. We start Jan. 14, 2019.

  2. Ann LaLoona says:

    In a way, I am struggling with the same things. Dance means a hell lot in my life, it actually shapes my life, but family and duties come first. They should – no problem with that, but it is very true that you NEED to MAKE SPACE for the things you want – for me, the dance.
    A while ago I read in your blog about practicing in the morning, although I’m anything but a morning person.
    But it’s true, the willpower IS there in the morning, and waiting until the afternoon or evening will almost always find me too tired to do practice or choreo work. And losing precious life time.

    So at least I started a morning workout to keep my health and fitness in a good shape. For now. I think I should extend it to a real dance training. Crunches are effective, but doesn’t fill a dancing soul.
    Thankyou for that review, it made me a real bit more confident! ♥

  3. Nadira Jamal says:

    I’m so, so happy you got so much out of SPH.

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