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Chicago Trib

Spirit Guide to Holiday Toasts

November 29, 2017
Chicago Trib

"I'm a farmer at heart," she said over coffee at an Italian cafe in Elmwood Park. "Perhaps that's why I so appreciate small grower champagne because I do fully understand the science of soil, climate, minerals, global trends and the picking and sorting process that goes into making very fine champagne. About one third of all champagne growers are still family-owned. They take great pride in their product."

At that point, she led me next door to Binny's Elmwood Park's champagne tasting where we sipped Dom Perignon, one of the pricier champagnes; Luc Belaire Brut Gold, an entry-level offering owned by Miami rapper Rick Ross; Ca'del Bosco Cuvee Prestige, a smooth Franciacorta (from a region give D.O.C.G or Denomination or Origin Controlled and Guaranteed status) comprised of 75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Nero and 10% Pinot Blanco grapes from 134 vineyards; Andre Clouet Silver Label Brut Nature, which goes back to 1781; Laurent Perrier Brut Vintage that Taj has represented; Launois Pere et Fil Brut Reserve; and Launois Pere & Fils Blancs de Blancs.

It was here at Table Number 4 where we had a lesson with Taj and server Steve Ames who said this Launois pair was a grower champagne that is both affordable and accessible while also being exquisite. "I really enjoy representing these last two brands you tasted because they're grower champagnes that are arguably better than some of the bigger brands," Ames said.

"For instance, this small farmer does not use tractors. They use horse-drawn buggies and their hands to carefully cultivate and properly manage the production. It's old-school cool!"

Other Binny's champagne tastings I'll be at include: Downers Grove and Naperville Friday, Dec. 1; Portage Park and Hyde Park, Saturday, Dec. 2. Later in the month, I'll visit Famous Liquors-Forest Park on Saturday, Dec. 9; and Famous Liquors- Lombard-Saturday, Dec. 16 "featuring 40 deeply discounted sparklers from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m." said manager Jeff Sukowski.

Between those two lovely Famous tastings, I'll be shooting a documentary at an African refugee camp in Milan in the day, but drinking elegant Prosecco and Franciacorta at night.

-stan west


In preparation for my post-Thanksgiving champagne-tasting tour of duty where I visit several local large liquor chains, I first sat down with a brilliant sommelier (wine steward) who goes simply by one name - Taj. She works for her own company, "misstaj.com" where she serves fine wine, writes books and teaches dance and yoga. http://misstaj.com/Sommelier.html

"To me, being a sommelier means to be of service. It's my calling. I see my role is be a guide to consumers helping them learn how to improvise, leave room for spontaneity, flexibility,growth and fun as they learn more about the small champagne growers as well as the larger ones most know. I tell consumers for some restaurants, call ahead and ask if you can bring your own bottle and of course offer to pay the corking fee."

With curly light-brown hair and caramel skin, this South Side Chicago-born former Northwestern University business student, now with advance degrees in wine tasting, shared secrets from her southern-born grandmother who raised her in the Housing Projects. The grandmother was born into  sharecropper lineage and conveyed "a sense of the soil in the spirit of cooking, eating and drinking" that Taj cultivated through advanced study and experience in France and Italy.





Chicago Trib

Meet Miss Taj
November 7, 2017
Miss Taj

I have written books about this subject. There is always someone to attempt to tell you, who you can and cannot be. But the reality is that you must remember who you are. Your happiness is not dependent on someone else’s opinion or measure.

I believe that each of us has a purpose in life. It is up to us to take the time to discover, nurture and set goals for our gifts.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about MissTaj.com – what should we know?

As a Sommelier I offer master service in the world of wine. As an entrepreneur, it was also important to me to learn the multifaceted internal functioning tiers of the wine business as a whole. In doing so I discovered unique ways to integrate my skills in a range of services offered to the international market of import/export, distribution, sales, on/off premise providers and private collectors. I offer service training, pour service and expert analysis to a diverse client base.

Because my life purpose is human communication, my job is to hold safe space, guarantee results and have the ability to listen and customize service. Whether it’s a large scale corporate function or an intimate group or panel discussion, the intention is the same; to be organized, approachable and fun!

I possess a unique way of combining my skill set. My approach to the art and science of wine is fresh and original. Being an author, dancer and sommelier has helped me truly understand my mission in life. And is exactly word, wine and movement.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?

Integrity has been the pillar of my business brand philosophy. If I commit to anything, trust that it will inevitably be finished. Thus an example of the true power behind words.


Inspiring Stories Series

Today we’d like to introduce you to Miss Taj.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Miss. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.

Being a child with an active imagination and a thirst for knowledge, my life journey started out with a lot of daydreaming. I became an avid reader and developed a great respect for the power of words. Born with an ear for music, I became obsessed with exploring all genres and the history they entailed. I then realized a natural gift of movement and set out to study and develop this talent which led to a very fulfilling career in dance.

I believe that I was born with an entrepreneurial spirit. I can only ever remember allowing myself to dream and pursuing them with the hard work and necessary dedication. I have spent my life encouraging others to do the same.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

Anytime a human being sets out on the humble pursuit of achievement, there are always obstacles or challenges along the way, such is life.



Chicago Trib

Holiday sip season
November 7, 2017

We hugged and toasted to family with a fruit-forward Santa Margherita Procecco from the famous hilly Valdobbiandene area of the mostly flat Venezia region. Also at the same table #34 was a non-vintage Torressella Extra Dry Prosecco served by Kate Hoover.

I ran into a young French vender who last year spoke French to my other twin son - a recent University of Strasbourg graduate. It's this kind of friendliness that I so adore about this cozy event where I ran into a couple of sommeliers and wine and food expert friends who were there like me just to enjoy the delicious snacks and savory wine selections. 

This year I focused primarily on the sparklers. My first was Collet Champagne that was crisp, clean and light at Table 3. This lovely champagne is from the northeastern French town of Ay. This might have been the best on this lovely day of wonderful sips.

Edwin Oliveri told a fascinating story about how he gave the Obamas a case of Non Vintage Graham Beck Brut to celebrate their first inaugural party. Today, he served the delectable Graham Beck Rose, which Nelson Mandela toasted at his inauguration. I mentioned to OIiveri that I enjoyed this South African reasonably-priced sparkler so much I bought a case for my mom one Christmas.

Other nice bubblies included: Maschio, Sparkling Rose Brut, a pedestrian sip; NV Domaine Carneros by Tattinger Brut Rose for distinguished palettes; and NV Vega Media Cava Brut, Requena, Spain; NV 90+ Cellars Lot, 50 Prosecco; NV Syltbar Prosecco Brut II Concerto & NV Syltbar Prosecco Brut Rose; as well as NV Pol Clement Brut Rose from France for working-class budgets. I'm missing a few others but you can see the why diverse selection of global varietals along with the great comraderie makes this my favorite wine event.

-Stan West

I cover wine events a lot. This week alone I'm visiting Binny's South Loop on Thursday for their "Champagne Grand Tasting"; Binny's Portage Park's "Thanksgiving Food and Wine Pairings" Friday; and Saturday's Famous Liquors Forest Park "Holiday Grand Tasting." All are fine events. 

Still, my favorite one of the year occurred Sunday - Mainstreet's Wine & Food Fall Gala" -- at Via Bella Restaurant in Countryside. This year, it carefully chose 250 wines and several VIP selections to folks who came earlier and paid a little more. Mainstreet's wine education manager Nancy Sabatini said, "We decided this year to move expand it into another restaurant section, offering 48 wine venders. It's bigger, nicer." She even introduced me to her son, Tyler Hough, 24, who like my twin 24-year-old sons, is a recent college graduate traveling to European cities for a year.

"We're going to miss him Christmas," she said. I replied that we're going to miss our youngest twin son who is graduating from Italy's largest private graduate school in International Relations next month.




Mindfull Metropolis Taj Cover 2010 Mindfull Metropolis Taj Feature Story 2010
Taj ABC News 1
Taj ABC News 2
Taj ABC News 3
Taj CPS Letter

Princess of Fun: An Interview with Taj, Ambassador, Dancer and Author + Contest

Known as the “princess of fun,” Taj is a dancer, educator, world traveler and Vega ambassador with a passion for beauty and human movement. Her performances and workshops take her around the world, introducing her to new cultures and experiences that inspire action. Through her travels, Taj felt a calling to write a book on what inspires her most: dance. But overtime, her vision evolved. The result is her first published work, Final Feliz, a photographic documentary on human movement.

Book Cover

Today, I interview Taj as she launches her book and starts her nationwide tour through Oak Park, Honolulu, Santa Monica, New York, and Seattle. For details about Taj’s appearances, visit her website.


What was your inspiration for Final Feliz?
When I first began this journey, all I knew was that I wanted to create a work about “dance.” Little did I know that my definition of the word would forever expand. I started to collect an encyclopedia of images beyond dance stylings and became fascinated with the art of human gesture and the unlimited ways in which we express ourselves in everyday life. My global travels provided valuable research and as the project continued to take shape I grew to understand the deeper meaning of the word “commitment.”

Why did you decide to write a book?
I wrote because if I continued to ignore the inner voice, if I choose to allow fear to consume me, I would never have fulfilled part of my life’s purpose. What may sound an esoteric and grandiose notion is actually a humbling experience that I had throughout the process of watching the pieces slowly come together. I see myself as a messenger for the work itself. It is the work that is the true light. Final Feliz is about encouraging you to “remember who you are.”

What does the title mean?
Final Feliz, means “happy ending” and is a dialogue sharing of silent fear that coexists with our optimism for life to bring us the next “Happy Ending,” thus this is a cycle of life. This humanities study uses sensory emersion to challenge and inspire the reader to dig deeper into present moment awareness and to embrace the duality that dwells within us all. Proceeds from book purchases are donated to global cause.
Who do you believe will relate to the book most?
This work is blessed with contributions from celebrated international artists and powerful emerging talents. The multicultural perspective of the writing goes below the surface of race and creed and delves into the simpler aspects of nurturing human development that we all seek in our own way.

I designed this as a three part sensory journey that includes the currently available book, audio book, and the second book which will be released in September. These three components make up the Final Feliz trilogy experience. I am humbled at having the foreword to Final Feliz be written by Global Yoga Master and Dance Anthropologist Shiva Rea. This is a beautiful confirmation that the work speaks for itself.

Win it now! Taj has graciously offered a copy of Final Feliz just for community members. To enter, share your favorite dance from around the world - inspired by culture like Taj's book. (Entry deadline is Friday, July 31, 2009 at 11:59 PM PDT. A random winner will then be drawn.)

Thanks to Taj for sharing her new book with us!

Austin voice article TajTime out Chicago ERP PHoto of TajErp.text

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Shaking it up



Students dance at the Oak Park Public Library on Sunday afternoon during a book launch for Final Feliz put on by local dance instructor Miss Taj. The project brought together noted international and emerging artists for the purpose of examining the art of human communication.
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aa   crest for Taj





Miss Taj's Post-Workout Sensual Motivation


Meditate on these words after a workout:

You are, at this moment, fully alive.

Give yourself permission without judgment to enjoy the vitality that pulses through your body and mind.

Linger a few minutes longer and revel in the nourishing force field you have created. Take time to appreciate the vibrancy of knowing that all your senses are peaked.

Drink in the rich textures around you. See the world through a fresh lens, without judgment. Take this opportunity to enjoy the organic sensuality of everyday life.

Go ahead, I dare you.

Source: Miss Taj, creator of Exotic Yoga

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Where to Take Belly Dancing Lessons in Chicago

Lessons with Miss Taj

Gallery lessons with Miss Taj are street popular in Chicago; everyone knows about them. What makes Miss Taj's lessons so popular is that everytime you walk out of one of her lessons you will have picked up something new, something that hasn't been covered in any other class. New moves seem to come spontaneously, but in fact the instructor is always studying new inspirations that are then brought into the art of belly dancing.

Classes with Miss Taj fill up and fill up fast so be sure to get in as soon as a new class becomes available, you can watch for new classes on her website, www.misstaj.com

Taj with hoop A Chicago Area belly dance instructor did something for children last weekend: She led a Hula Hoop class.

No, Taj’s pupils at “Hooplove: Hoopdance Fitness for a Cause” were not kids; they were instead grown women – many of whom were enrolled in one of her belly dance classes. Yet by twirling an array of colored hoops in the Lou Conte Dance Studio in Chicago last Saturday evening, these eight women supported children a continent away, in Brazil.

Taj has traveled to Brazil before. “I’ve gone into the schools where they don’t have basic necessities” she said.

So she created an event to inspire awareness. Proceeds from her Hoopdance class went to the DreamsCanBe Foundation, an organization that reaches out to impoverished Brazilian children.

But the children were not the only ones to benefit from Taj’s class. Taj had an additional goal – to bring Hoopdance to the people of Chicago, starting with the women in attendance.

“It [hooping] is something that is classic exercise fun, but it has a lot of therapeutic aspects to it. Everyone has a connection to the circle,” Taj said.

Kim Dixon, who had taken some of Taj’s belly dancing classes, said that before the event, “I was curious as to how they’d incorporate the hoops. It’s a very nostalgic thing.”

But for some, it was not an easy thing. As they swiveled their hips, their hoops clattered to the hardwood floor below.

And what did Taj do when these women dropped their hoops? No, she did not reprimand them. Instead she erupted into applause. “That sound,” she said, “that’s the sound of learning.”

The women learned to Hula-Hoop clockwise and counterclockwise, above their waist and below their waist, while standing up and crouching down, and while standing still and moving. “It’s this play that we get away from when we become big kids,” Taj said.

And she did. Clark said the best part of the evening was “the fact that I accomplished something.”

The participants learned about their minds and bodies as well. Twice during the evening, they set their hoops aside and listened as health professionals spoke to them.

Claudia Cuellar, Midwest Account Manager for Sequel Naturals Inc., a company that urges people to “seek wellness” through its food supplements, encouraged participants to stick with plant-based nutrition. “If you can’t pronounce it,” she said, “maybe you shouldn’t eat it.” Cuellar distributed “goody bags” containing Sequel products and made healthy smoothies for the women to sample.

Dr. Jaena Stanley-Gonzaga, a Chiropractic Physician and Holistic Practicioner based in Elgin, Il., spoke about the mental aspects of wellness. She emphasized the mind-body connection and told the women, “You are beyond your body. You’re made up of energy.”

Stanley-Gonzaga encouraged participants to let go of aspects of their past that continued to haunt them in the present. “You’re like a computer,” she said, “You don’t want to run your life by old programs.”

She also introduced participants to a technique known as muscle testing. “Your subconscious mind knows what’s true and not true,” she said. By pushing down on a woman’s arm and testing her muscles’ resistance to the push, Stanley-Gonzaga could determine whether or not participants were telling the truth when asked simple questions. Some participants were awed by the test.

Taj said the evening was a success. “It was exactly the way it was supposed to be,” she said. She said even people who were unable to attend the event donated money to the DreamsCanBe Foundation.

Taj typically teaches belly dance workshops and regularly-meeting belly dance classes that range from the beginner level to the advanced level. She is preparing for an international tour.
Miss Taj in Voice 2013


We know what girls want. Let’s get to the point.

Every woman has a divine right to explore the multi-facets of femininity. From learning to nurture the body as your sacred temple to showcasing the hidden desires of your deepest intuitive impulses, we have the platform for you. ZaZalove has teamed with Sheque Chicago and designed a sensory experience that not only delights and entertains but educates and involves you in the process of how to fully embrace ownership of your “SEXY”.

You will be supported in your quest with a community of women open to being inspired, challenged and encouraged to grow. We will turn up the heat with lessons from the world of exotic movement, ponder notions of womanhood with expert lecture and blow the lid off every misconception you may have been taught about the definition of the word.

What’s it going to take for you to evolve into ultimate womanhood? Your courage is a very attractive asset. Trust us. This is an opportunity for you to bloom. Be elegant, graceful and brave. Be Sexy. Be You.

always remember that you are loved…

miss Taj

By Yeji Shim
The Daily Northwestern

Twenty-four women danced in a circle, pivoting their hips and moving their arms to the beat of exotic music Wednesday night at the Levy Senior Center in Evanston.

Taj, the instructor, moved around the circle and encouraged the women to keep dancing.

"Who's committed to having fun?"

In a demonstration of their enthusiasm, every woman raised her hand.

The center at 300 Dodge Ave. holds weekly women's belly dancing classes offered throughout the year for six- to eight-week sessions.

From undulating to shimmying, women of all ages learn to dance in a fun, low-stress environment, Taj said. Student Elloise Davis said the class is a fun alternative to traditional exercise.

"People think aerobics has to be fast to lose weight," she said. "But I heard this was fun, and I thought, let's do something new."

Taj, who has taught belly dancing for seven years, said its popularity is here to stay.

"It's been sweeping the globe for the past two years in a tailspin," Taj said.

Belly dancing provides both physical and psychological benefits to the students, Taj said.

"Belly dancing creates an emotional and psychological balance in the body," she said. "Even though your posture and the physical things improve, it also gives people more confidence."

She said these benefits contribute to the dance's growing popularity, adding that many students who begin dancing enjoy it and continue to pursue it.

Belly dancing classes at the Levy Senior Center often fill to capacity, Taj said. On Wednesday night, the class had to move to a bigger dance space to accommodate extra students.

Many women said they return to Taj's classes because they like her teaching style. Some said they enjoy the lessons so much that they bring friends and family members as guests.

Chicago resident Roslyn Cohen said her sister-in-law encouraged her to come to the classes. Cohen, whose father's side of the family is from Iraq, wanted to learn the dance to connect with her heritage, she said.

The classes have helped Cohen learn how to be comfortable with herself, she said.

"I really enjoy these classes because you are encouraged to let yourself go," Cohen said. "A lot of it is getting in touch with your body - or trying to."

At the end of the class, the students created a dance using moves taught in their lesson. All the women participated enthusiastically, and a few women were even brave enough to perform their dance for the rest of the class. Davis even volunteered for her group to perform first.

"I'm learning to feel comfortable with my body," Davis said. "It is fun, fun, fun, and you can lose weight, too."

Move Ya Body Lika a Snake, Ma!
Bellydancer, Taj, Heals the World Through Rhythm and Grace
by Sandria M Washington

How does she do it? That's the awe-inspired question you'll ask while watching Taj perform the sensual and provocative movements of classical Egyptian bellydance. The ChiCity born professional choreographer, entertainer, educator and world-renowned bellydancer has perfected the hypnotizing undulations, circles, spirals and figure eights characteristic of the dance, making it appear effortless. Through years of study her body instinctively knows how to do it, so the better question is, Why does she do it?

“The reason why I do what I do and do it well is because I'm an instrument. I'm just a vessel,” says a very humble Taj.

Through her instruction of classical Egyptian bellydance throughout ChiCity and abroad, Taj has helped thousands of children, men and women reclaim their health, self-esteem and passion for life. For Taj, performing bellydance is about more than the physical movements. It's a way to make society better by helping people feel better about themselves.

Founded on the innovative philosophy and technique she calls ZaZaLove, Taj is on a mission to change lives around the globe—one shimmy at a time. “The word ZaZa is Arabic for flower,” Taj explains. Like flowers, each human being is uniquely beautiful…even when we can't see the beauty in ourselves. “[Dance] is a way to help people connect and discover the beautiful part of themselves they try to hide,” she says.

Taj's drive to affirm others may be partially fueled by memories of her childhood. “I was, like, the biggest nerd in the whole world!” she says laughing. “Let me tell you, I had the glasses, I had the braces, I had the pigtails, flat chest…”. Talk about your classic duckling to swan story. Seeing Taj today—her enviable figure, which she keeps toned through daily yoga practice and dance—it's difficult to imagine the awkward years, but she shares that it was only after she began to accept herself that she was able to blossom and take things she was interested in, like dance, to the next level.

Since the tender age of two, Taj's world has been enveloped by dance. Under the care and encouragement of her grandmother, Taj began studying everything from ballet to modern. Her passion for Egyptian bellydance surfaced much later as an adult simply on a whim. “I was curious about the mystery of the dance,” she says. Egyptian bellydance is the oldest recorded form of dance, deeply rooted in ancient customs that celebrate the sacred feminine. For centuries, this dance has been used to heal the mind, body and spirit. Today, Taj is a highly sought after 21st Century ambassador of the art form, whose signature style of bellydance has taken her as far away as Saudi Arabia. Yet, this visionary still feels she has a long way to go to fulfill her “global responsibility.”

Taj states, “We are one together so whatever I do locally is going to affect the rest of the world. It's a vibration.” Currently, her teaching and performance calendar is booked until the start of the new year, which means a generous amount of good vibrations will be traveling out of ChiCity to the rest of the world.

When she's not teaching classes or performing, Taj is sharing her gift through her first DVD, Bellydance With Me Volume I, an instructional video designed for beginners that teaches basic techniques and history of the dance. And just in time for Christmas 2006, Taj will be releasing a coffee table photo book, Swan: Elements of Communication, which explores the many facets of dance as a tool of communication. Taj gives so much of herself to her calling, but she wouldn't have it any other way.

“That's what I'm here for. I know what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to right now.”

So, what does a bellydancing humanitarian do once her life-changing mission is complete? Taj's secret desire just may surprise you. “When I'm done, I'm gonna go live on a farm. I'll have four dogs…and a husband that cooks!” Now, that's a fitting reward to someone who's dedicated her life to service, don't you think?

Body & Soul
Discover Belly Dance, Discover Yourself

Sandria M. Washington
Senior Editor/Columnist

Would you believe me if I told you that no matter what you’re battling with right now—depression, low self-esteem, stress, heartache, disease, body image issues—you can dance your way right out of your misery? It’s true! You can wave your arms, roll your stomach and shimmy your hips toward renewed happiness and health. This is the amazing power of belly dance.

Thanks to music videos like Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” and Truth Hurts’ “So Addictive,” the mystical art of belly dance has invaded pop culture. Now, everyone wants to learn how to do it…and everyone should! Belly dance is not only entertaining to watch, the practice of it promotes greater emotional, mental and physical health, particularly for women.

Egyptian belly dance (also referred to as North African dance) is the oldest recorded form of dance, deeply rooted in ancient customs that celebrate the sacred feminine. For centuries, this dance has been used to heal the mind, body and spirit. In her book, Sacred Woman, Queen Afua writes, “Sacred
Movement and Dance lift your spirit, inspire you to dance with Divinity, heal your heart, nourish your body, enrich your life, and transform your woes.”

Dance is a natural healer, yet surprisingly, many sistahs have been taught not to do the very thing that can save their life. I remember as a little girl being told by my mother not to dance like those women on “Soul Train.” I’ve always loved music and dance, so naturally, “the hippest trip in America” was my favorite show. But rolling and gyrating to music was something “fast” girls did. And strippers. Little girls and nice young women didn’t move their bodies in that way. Looking at music videos today with all the twirking, popping and grinding I can understand where my mother was coming from, but many women have been unknowingly shamed into thinking their bodies and dancing are bad. However, the study of belly dance teaches us that there is big difference between being sexy and being skanky. Using your body as a vessel to celebrate your sexuality is far different from using it as a vessel to sell sex. Using this philosophy, I’ve been able to expose my 15-year-old niece to belly dance and she loves it. She’s learning that the changes in her body are nothing to be embarrassed about and she can move her body in ways that are divine instead of degrading.

Belly dance unlocks your feminine power. By working your hips (pelvis) and stomach—the core, womb—you unlock your feminine energy and open yourself up to greater healing and creativity. As you repeatedly practice the circles, figure eights, spirals and undulations characteristic of the dance, your body will remember the secrets of your womanhood that may have hid dormant within you for years. Not to sound cheesy, but belly dance will truly help you “bring sexy back.”

It’s one thing to be called sexy, but to feel sexy is absolutely revolutionary. Although I’ve been called sexy many times throughout my life, I’ve always felt awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin. So, it was truly amazing to me how confident and sexy I felt after taking my first lesson in belly dance.
The class was only an hour long and covered a small sampling of the basic moves, but I left feeling reborn. I could feel myself smiling from the inside out!

Sure, I was dressed like a reject from the show “Fame,” hot, sweaty and maybe even a little funky, but I felt like the sexiest woman on the planet. In just that short time, I experienced the power of belly dance and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Recently, one of my girlfriends and I completed a 4-week class with one of Chicago’s premiere belly-dance instructors, Taj, and the experience has been life changing. I’ve noticed that I’m walking straighter and I’m finally beginning to appreciate the beautiful body God has blessed me with. I can look in the mirror now and not cringe at what I see. In fact, I love dancing in the mirror now! I may not be Shakira, but I’m happy learning to move to my own rhythm.

If you’re inspired to give belly dance a try, or maybe just a little curious, it’s easy to get started. This list should point you in the right direction of discovering yourself through dance:

1. Take a class. Classes are a great way to learn the basics and foster sisterhood with other like-minded women. In Chicago, I highly recommend Taj. Visit her Web site www.misstaj.com to view her current class schedules. Also, many community centers, health clubs and dance studios offer classes, so search online for instructors in your area.

2. Purchase a DVD. Although I favor learning in class from a trained instructor, studying belly dance from a DVD can be more convenient. There are hundreds of titles, each one offering something different. You’re sure to find one that fits your learning style.

3. Just move! Put on a CD and shake what’cha mama gave ya! Move any chance you get, even if it’s only for two minutes. Because belly dance celebrates the woman YOU are, there is no wrong way to move. Your rhythms are unique to you.

Motion capture technology bears striking resemblance to its model!


NFL Blitz Pro Publisher: Midway
Rating: Everyone Genre: Sports Release
Reviewed By: Chuck Combs NFL Blitz Pro

This ain't your mama's Blitz. Is it yours?

First and ten. Eleven players on each team. Cheerleaders. Two out of three of these things have never existed in a Blitz game before. Two of these things haven't even gotten within spitting distance of a Blitz game. Blitz has always been about breaking rules, not conforming to them. But the desire to give gamers what they want, coupled with the desire to maintain a franchise that appeals to consumers year in and year out has moved Midway Sports to draw influence from both sides of the coin.


Susanna's Night Out - Chicago Sun-Times

Mere mortals were transformed at the Ultimate Goddess Night, a sumptuous evening of massages, meditation and mixed drinks. The celebration of all things female was held at Ame ("soul" in French), 1006 W. Armitage. A sanctuary for the senses, the 6-month-old space offers traditional spa amenities (facials, pedicures) along with not-so-typical treatments (belly dancing, Pilates). On the ground floor, a sweet boutique features clothing for adults and children crafted by co-owners Vanessa Palmer and Tamara Duckler.

So how does a goddess unwind? With the help of a toga-clad male model. He hand-fed the group grapes and was only allowed to put down his platter and palm-leaf fan when he offered sensual shoulder massages.

"He reminds me I need to go to the gym," said one partygoer.

"He reminds me I'm very single," added guest Mia Tatic. "I'm going to make out with him in about 30 seconds." A gourmet feast fit for a goddess -- sushi and mini-cakes -- was served while luxury sugar hand scrubs and energy readings were performed in adjoining rooms. Later, a group belly-dancing session was led by "Miss Taj," who showed guests how to flutter, slide and strike the showgirl posture."Honor the universe, honor the earth and honor yourself," she urged. Because every goddess should get her due.

Meet Our Ambassador Taj

It’s hard work being the princess of fun. Whether it’s a concert dance performance on an auditorium stage or teaching a movement workshop at an international conference, my body, mind and spirit are programmed for a certain level of excellence. I also require big energy to create an environment for others to discover their own excruciating beauty. It is my responsibility to educate, inspire, challenge and encourage growth. I demand results from my every muscle, including my heart and brain. I need pure and instant nourishment.

Discovering Vega has catapulted my endurance. A rare and precious find, my body craved Vega after the first experience. Sometimes creativity is overwhelming and artists forget to eat when enraptured by the imagination. My body decided that Vega was my missing link to a completely healthy plant based balance in my diet. The after performance recovery effects are an added bonus after a day of playing hard. I’m in constant motion like the ebb and flow of the ocean. Vega provides the quality fuel I need for bold athleticism and poetic musicality. As my career surges forward, each project produced must supersede the last. I consider this an honored pressure, but know that my endurance will be put to the ultimate test. I plan to have Vega be my lifetime companion.

Not just food, Vega is my lifestyle.


Brendan Brazier, founder of VEGA launches USA lecture tour and book signing.



An ancient dance once associated with fertility rites and religion is making its way onto workout videos and into health clubs and dance studios as a get-fit alternative to treadmills and other aerobic staples.  

Unlike other dance forms, belly dance welcomes all body types--not just the skinny-as-a-rail ballet type--though it's mostly women who enjoy the traditionally female dance ritual.  

"Belly dance is a non-impact, total-body workout," explained Taj, a Chicago-based belly dance performer and teacher who legally dropped her last name several years ago after leaving the corporate rat race to devote her life to what she loves.

Taj, whose flexibility, grace and muscles are a testament to just how fit a belly dancer can be, said that "the results are slower in terms of calories burned than if you did a rigorous cardiovascular workout, but the results are more outstanding because you're building muscle underneath.  

"And it's the perfect adjunct to your current cardio program," she said. "The belly dance specifically isolates the hips, thighs, abdomen, chest and arms, and it stretches them. And it gives muscle tone and definition throughout the back, arms, torso and triceps."

Though belly dance is fairly popular in Los Angeles and New York--both Crunch and Bally fitness clubs offer classes ( Bally also has the class in Miami)--Chicago club members haven't voiced a demand for classes--yet. Crunch plans to offer a class this fall at its Chicago club. "In general, it's great for flexibility because you're using your arms and legs in many twirling positions," said Donna Cyrus, national group fitness director for Crunch. "It's aerobic, it's sculpting and it's flexibility training all in one."

Taj teaches at Belle Plaine Studio in Chicago, where both "fusion" style and the more traditional "Egyptian" style of dance are available. Classes are also offered at Chicago's Flamenco Arts Center and occasionally through the Chicago Park District.

Belly dance comes in a wide variety of styles using dance elements from around the world, particularly the Middle East and India: Egyptian Cabaret is controlled, elegant and typically what you'll see on television, in movies or at a banquet/restaurant. Turkish Cabaret is more flamboyant, with leaps and more pronounced pelvic movements.  Persian emphasizes the arms and shoulders, while fusion, sometimes called tribal, is a modern mix of dance ingredients from the Middle East and India with some Spanish flamenco flavors thrown in.

"We do a lot of big, round full movements in fusion," Taj said, "using the whole body and also focusing on isolating muscles."

Karol Henderson Harding, a Ft. Collins, Colo.-based belly dancer who writes for belly-dance publications, states in one of her articles that belly dancing is uniquely designed for the female body because the movements place "emphasis on abdominal muscles, hip moves and chest moves."

Perhaps for these reasons, few men show up at classes.

"I've had a couple of men (both with dance backgrounds) take classes, and it went well," Taj said. "But it's hard for men to feel comfortable in a group of women. Most of my students are professional women, 30 and older, with very busy careers who haven't had much or any dance experience at all. Belly dancing is a creative outlet, and they need to feel comfortable."

Katrina Bruback has taken belly-dance classes at Belle Plaine once or twice each week for the last 1 1/2 years, even leading the class just before she gave birth in March. "I'm not one to work out, so it's good I found something I like," she said.

Bruback credits belly dancing for the fast and easy labor and delivery of her first child. "I stood in a shower for four hours at the birthing center at Illinois Masonic Hospital, then pushed him out in four contractions. No drugs, and it was quick," she said, smiling.

Aline Silberg, a Chicago paralegal and mother of two, has been belly dancing since last summer. "I think it's beautiful," she said. "It's very sensual and I like the songs. I discovered it was good for fitness too. I hate to go to the gym because it's like torture. Here, I free my mind and it re-energizes me. I'm on another planet for two hours after class."  

Though it's hard to say exactly how many calories a belly dancer expends, a 110-pound woman who ballet dances for 45 minutes burns about 240 calories, while that same-sized woman performing slower dances, such as waltz, expends about 120 calories. It's safe to say belly dance, depending on your level of expertise, falls somewhere in between.

"All dance is a great workout, assuming you do it with workout intensity," said CC Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise. "And because you usually do it in a group, the likelihood you'll stick with it is much higher than if you work out alone."


Spring 2005

Educator, author and radio host, this gifted artist exemplifies pioneering efforts of 21st Century American Dancers. Integrating a seasoned career in health care, Taj has studied various forms of holistic art and science throughout the globe. She brings her concepts of healing movement into classes filled with children and adults throughout Chicagoland and locally at the River Forest Community Center, 8020 Madison Street, in a 6-week session in Classical Egyptian

Bellydance from 7:15-8:15 pm and 8:15-9:15 pm beginning April 18th. For more information about the Classical Egyptian Bellydance session, call 708.771.6159 Dancing since the age of two, Taj has a classically trained dance background, but found her passion in bellydance as an adult. “I was curious about the mystery of the dance,” she said. “I signed up for a class on a whim and immediately fell in love.” Dedicated to the educational development of dance, she has created her own unique approach to the process of learning that evolved out of her risk taking background as a pilot, rescue diver,parachutist and lifestyle coach.Having taught thousands of people, Taj is an authority on traditional and modern styles. Under the masterful tutelage of some of the world’s legendary dancers, she continues to study, knowing that learning is a lifelong process. She successfully launched the world premiere of a new style of dance at the convention for the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) in Las Vegas in January 2002. “The essence of the dance is discovered through leading physically through the spine and emotionally through the heart,” she states.

A radio host on WCFJ 1470 AM, Taj has a Sunday morning program that expands on human issues related to International Arts, Science Knowledge, Historical Perspective and Industry Expert Interviews. As an active mentor, she stands firm in the importance of appropriate role models for children and adolescents. Taj is also versed in working with the special needs population. Motivated by cause, Taj continues to create unique opportunities for diverse groups to experience the joy and therapy of dance as a community. Her book, Beyond Dance: Elements of Human Communication will debut in the spring of 2005. Be sure to join Taj on tour at http://www.misstaj.com/.


Dearest Taj-

On behalf of Perspectives Charter School, I want to thank you for presenting at our annual high school career panel talk. You were awesome! Your presentation was excellent and was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. We appreciate you sharing your time, talent, and expertise with us.

The career panel was an outstanding success in every way due primarily to your contribution. The encouragement, commitment, and care you showed our students were deeply appreciated. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to give back to the community. Time is one of the most valuable gifts one can give.

With much admiration and appreciation,

Amber :)

Amber Donell
Dean of Academic Affairs
Perspectives Charter School
Chicago, IL

Taj became an Anime enthusiast after the experience of being a motion capture model for the popular "Blitz Pro" NFL Football game. Fascinated since childhood with science, she continues to blend these concepts with the healing power of movement. Choreographer, Educator and Entertainer, she is dedicated to the development of world dance. As an active mentor, she believes in the significance of appropriate role models for children. Taj continues to create unique opportunities for diverse groups to experience the joy and therapy of dance as global community. A frequent presenter on television and radio, she has shared the gift of self expression with thousands of people. Now we extend that invitation to you.

Miss Taj will be presenting a workshop on belly and world dance to children and their parents on Friday at 4:00 p.m. Suggested ages 9-12.