Monday, April 29, 2013

Favorite Part of Belly Dance? I Love it all!

Our first place essay winner is Maria Toddes
Picking just one part of the belly dance itself is a daunting task, but when I get in that ‘zone’, I feel perfectly balanced between heaven and earth.  I used to say I felt perfectly ‘bungeed’ between Mother Earth and Father Sky.

I’m a late bloomer as I didn’t discover the beauty and freedom of belly dance until my late 30’s.  Years before I had seen a health program that featured a woman who had lost a significant amount of weight by belly dancing and was now and instructor. That resonated with me and I tucked that in the back of my mind, making a note to myself that I would only join a gym that offered belly dance classes.  Then as luck would have it, I found a health club that offered belly dance for fitness.  Well, let’s just say, that first hour was when ‘the bug’ bit me.  I was hooked.  My husband and daughter have been dancing with me ever since.  We found a show on one of our health channels and watched religiously and practiced on our own. 

Then I started looking for teachers in our area.  I found one who; to this day is probably the most beautiful dancer and human I’ve ever had the privilege to meet.  I jumped in feet first into the deep end.  She taught us beginners the basics, zills and choreography in one block of classes.  I loved it.  I couldn’t get enough.  As I continued to devour every book, dvd and cd of all things even remotely related to my new love – our instructors came and left.  Clearly guided by the Divine; I found instructors that pushed my body and brain passed what I thought I was capable of.  Having suffered from asthma, I had to sit out more than I wanted to.  I pushed through all manner of health issues and in doing so, I’ve made mental and written notes of what kind of teaching style brings out the best in me and what confuses and frustrates me.

We are lucky enough to have a growing sisterhood of the dance in our area.  Most of us know each other at least by face if not by name.  My husband has ribbed me for years telling me I’m ‘no learning, I’m remembering’ – his opinion and I understand why, but I don’t let that come out of my mouth. 

Currently my daughter and I are exploring some fusion.  We’ll never forsake our first love of a more cabaret style, but being well rounded usually serves all who dare to do that. Currently we have on instructor who is into fusion; she’s gorgeous and her spirit lights up any room.  She’s pregnant now and we’re all anxious to see if her delivery is an easy one.  She could still do a belly roll at five months so we’ll see.

My family (hubby too) attend and participate in every Hafla, workshop and now long weekends and intensives we can afford.  Writing this, we are fresh from a well planned and executed Hafla one of our teachers organized.  While I’ve found that each instructor has her/his own style and ways of communication, I wouldn’t trade any one of them or anything.

In my quest to the best dancer I can be, I’ve made dear friends, learned more about sewing than I ever thought possible, but most importantly, have discovered more about myself than I thought was inside me.  I love all parts and aspects of the dance, but I especially love how a dancer who is truly enjoying herself can transform from average to being the most beautiful woman in the room.  That inner light, the shine of her spirit on her face, or in my case, my face is the part of the dance I love the most.  Working and playing with the audience so the dancer transfers some of their enjoyment to the audience – the audience by clapping and the vocalizations, the zaghareet is my favorite noise – gives back to the dancer.  What a lovely exchange.

Just today, I was watching a small troupe, with husband in tow start to get slow and drag, but as soon as they hear the appreciative vocalizations, the smile and twinkle in their eyes returned to their own delight!!

So while I do love a good drum solo, my favorite part of the routine is playing (nicely) with the crowd and as an audience member, I love to smile and try to make the dancer(s) feel as comfortable as I can. 

If I’m not dancing, I’m thinking about it – what can I afford next, where will I leave more and come away with so much information I must write down, lest I forget the precious gems I just learned. 

In conclusion, I love it all; the rich history, the different styles of costuming, the music which commands your body to move.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shimmied in the car, pharmacy, waiting in line.  I like to practice a flat footed maya waiting in line- it’s like my little secret.  I don’t care who thinks I’m crazy.  But most of all I love the change of the dancer’s countenance while she’s basically ‘in conference’ with the Divine.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

The Solo Surprise

This is an essay from one of our contest winners Atisheh who won second place.            
The Solo Surprise
           When I read the topic for the essay contest, I thought it would be easy to answer. My passion for bellydance is in no small part due to its delicious, languorous movements. I love the meditative quality of the dance: holding a pose while tracing soft curlicues in the air with my fingers, stretching out a large hip circle to its utmost extension and letting my upper body sway down and then up again, unfurling my snake arms deliberately as though the air were made of maple syrup.   
            Given my love for the gooey, sensuous aspects of bellydance, answering what my favorite part of the bellydance routine is should be easy. It must be the chiftetelli, of course, or at least the veil section. What better chance to delight in slowness, moving and breathing with the music, letting an entrancing veil waft through the air, or doing sinuous undulations in floor work? And yet, I couldn’t commit. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a different part of the routine has been winning my heart lately. And it is the utter opposite of everything I have always loved about this dance. But first, a little background.
             I am not a professional dancer. I am, in fact, the eternal amateur. I go to classes, I take workshops, I buy a ton of DVDs, I read blogs and write one, I peek into conversations on online forums. Very, very rarely, I buy some little bit of a costume. I adore this dance, and it takes up a very high percentage of my physical and mental life, but no one is going to be knocking at my door tomorrow to ask me to perform a routine. 
            So the question for me is a bit theoretical. And yet, it’s also not. I’m not a high-energy person, a fast mover, so the slower aspects of bellydance always appealed to me. Given a choice between following a melody or following a rhythm, I almost always incline to the melody. I also liked the fact that slow movements, as in the chiftetelli, really made me feel my body from the inside, gave me a sense of deep connection to my own movement. I came to bellydance partly because I wanted to learn a dance I could do alone, for which I wouldn’t need a partner. It has always been something I did for myself, and only for myself.
             But a few things changed for me recently. For one thing, I was pregnant – for the usual amount of time – and I had a baby. I danced a lot while pregnant, I worked with videos and I improvised on my own to many hours of Middle Eastern music. But something else also happened. I had taken a class on world drumming, and though I only picked up some basic skills, I did wind up with a very nice doumbek. My husband, who is much more talented musically, started picking up the doumbek now and then and improvising some rhythms. Some were Arabic ones that he had heard me practicing, and others were his own invention. And I started to dance to them.
             Among my favorite memories of being pregnant, before the tornado of dirty diapers and nighttime feedings and inexplicable crankiness hit us, was my husband playing the drum, me grabbing a hip scarf if one was near by, tying it on, and happily improvising to his beats. It was a time in our lives when we both lived with constant awareness of my growing body, and somehow it made sense to play with an art form in which my body was also the focus. As his playing got faster and faster, I would forget my weightiness or my painful back and get carried away with the intensity of the music. There was no audience outside the two of us (and, well, a little creature who was along for the ride), but we had the conversation between drummer and dancer I had heard the pros talk about. While I had been attracted to the way bellydance allowed me to be alone and introspective, the drum solo allowed me to explore it as a partner dance.
             This is how I started to fall for the drum solo. It can be fierce and tight, full of pops and locks, but it can also be cool and relaxed, with travel moves and big shimmies. And it’s the perfect do-it-yourself version of bellydance. You don’t need to have a lot of space for traveling moves, or the right floor for spins, or ceilings high enough to practice the veil. I can listen to a drum solo while waiting for the bus, and play with the rhythms under my winter coat. And even more exciting, you don’t need a full orchestra to enjoy dancing to live music. Find one drummer who is really into it, even if he or she hasn’t mastered all of Arabic or Turkish percussion, and you can have music and dance to it.
             As I’ve recovered from childbirth and from the first, hectic year with a new baby, I’ve found the athleticism of the drum solo – the very thing I used to be wary of – to be a new attraction. I am spending more time dancing than I ever have before in my life. In fact, dance has become my lifeline. And doing a drum solo workshop or DVD, with all the sweat and speed and rehearsing of tiny, precise moves, has become a way to measure how far I’ve come in my dance training. The drum solo doesn’t let me stay where I’m comfortable. Whether it’s learning a completely new shimmy or drilling a series of bumps and pops until it comes naturally, working on a drum solo forces me to learn new skills in a focused way. 
            Sure, a drum solo is not as meditative or as soft as a chiftetelli or a taqsim. Those will always have their place in my heart. But I’m now a fan of the euphoria that comes from practicing and dancing with the drum, the excitement of give-and-take with a live drummer, the thrill of following crisp patterns with my own movements. Composed of rhythm and energy, the drum solo represents everything that I’ve always thought I didn’t have. Falling in love with it has been my solo surprise.