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#NaBloPoMo, Day 3: Dance

Tonight, I’m grateful for dance.

For the way it brings people together, in circles, squares, pairs, clumps, and huge crowds.

For the catharsis of a solo soul-dance party with nobody watching.

For the way it makes great music greater.

For the rush of a great performance – for both dancers and spectators.

For the beauty and grace, and for the sweat and burning.

For the instant mood-lifter, especially when there are kids involved.

For the satisfaction of a primal, global human instinct to express rhythm and melody with one’s whole self.

And tonight I’m especially grateful for my own community of dancers, the gorgeous, fascinating, warm, hilarious ladies in our dance troupe. Even when we’re tired, for three hours every Tuesday night we come together and muster our energy for each other’s sake. There’s compassion and empathy when you need them, and there’s always lots of laughter, and we are always better off afterward.

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Invoketress Drum Solo performed at Mosaic 2014. Photo by Dennis Novosad.

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100 Happy Days – Day 28: THE SHOW

Invoketress Dance - Mosaic 10th Anniversary Bellydance Fusion Show

 

What a night.

It was the kind of dance performance experience you hope for:

  • Everything went smoothly – no obvious costume mishaps, lighting and music cues were all on, people did their jobs well.
  • We had an almost-full theatre.
  • Our guest performers were all amazing.
  • We got great feedback from our audience (even some of the tough customers who happen to be related to troupe members).
  • Any of those random choreographic mistakes made (usually ones you’ve never made ever before) during performances were not noticeable to said audience members.
  • Our troupe has never been more cohesive and full of sisterhood. It is an amazing team to be part of.

We’re all still taking it in. Grateful and glowing.

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100 Happy Days – Day 27: Gettin’ Stuff Organized

The day before the show!!!

I have been in this many dance pieces (5) – or even more – in other shows, but never with quite so much in the way of complex costumes. It feels great to have everything ready to go.

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The sassy exuberant one with the tambourines.
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The Bollywood-style dance face-off with long head veils (dupattas).
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The post-apocalyptic tribal drum dance.
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The cheeky duet about falling in love (and I say “cheeky” partly because we dance to “Cheek to Cheek” by the Good Lovelies).
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The enigmatic, meditative finale in honour of the Never Not Broken Goddess.

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Why I Love Belly Dancing

Dancing has always been part of me. Long before I took my first ballet class at age six, I liked to fling myself around the living room to music, preferably with filmy garments draped over me.

bellydance superstar petite jamila with veils
This is not me (it’s Petite Jamila) but I wish it were.

Since then, I’ve tried almost every kind of dance you can think of, except for tap. (Not that I have anything against tap – the opportunity has just never come up.) I’ve done ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip-hop, jive, several kinds of swing, Irish, Latin, African, interpretive, square, circle, line, bits of flamenco, fox trot, waltz… You get the idea. For me, moving to music and rhythm is instinctual, almost involuntary.

My relationship with Raqs Sharqi, or belly dancing, began in 2002. I took my very first class at the University of Toronto on a whim, because the hip-hop class was full. I have a distinct memory of my teacher – a woman who had to be at least in her fifties but was as lithe and slim as a young girl – putting on a piece of low, slow, fluttery flute music and doing a movement she called a “maya“… and me being completely entranced. I really wanted to know how to make my body do that.

Dilovely bellydance 2008
This IS me – before kids, obviously – doing a maya.

When I moved cities, I realized I was in dance withdrawal and quickly signed up for a class. I took up belly dance because I’d enjoyed the classes in Toronto, and that was when I found the teacher who truly hooked me on Middle Eastern Dance. She was young, short, voluptuous, with a plus-size body type, and even more gorgeously hypnotic than my first teacher. She did drills to music that was only drums, making the rhythms visible through the movements of her body. I couldn’t wait to learn those moves.

Under this teacher, I became part of a belly dance troupe for the first time.

By then, there was no going back. Learning the skills of Raqs Sharqi, I knew I’d found my dancer-home.

Here are some reasons Why I Love Belly Dancing.

  • You wear pretty, sparkly costumes. (Yes, I’m a Quaker who not-so-secretly likes beads and sequins. I think Sean and I may be the first people ever to have had a Quaker wedding with belly dancers performing at the reception.) Once you’re a grown-up, there aren’t that many good excuses to wear glitter, but this is one. I know it’s a bit weird that I put this reason first – it’s NOT the main reason I love belly dancing, but in my childhood ballet classes, a lot of my motivation came from wanting to wear flowy chiffon skirts or sparkly tutus… so you could say my entrance into the world of dance was, in a large part, materialistic.
  • It’s compelling. As I said above, once I saw what the movements looked like on experienced dancers, I HAD to learn them.
  • It’s lovely to watch. In my first year of teaching, some of my co-workers came to the student recital to see me dance, and came out saying, “That was beautiful.” I think people expect it to be raunchy or somehow explicit, but done properly, it is neither. It’s a celebration of femininity. Sensual, yes. But in a classy way.
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Like this.
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NOT this.
  • Rich history. There is an amazing amount of lore surrounding belly dancing, theories about fertility rituals, harems, the dance of the seven veils, etc., and it seems no-one is sure which things are true. But they make for very cool back story, not to mention inspiration.
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Back in the day.
  • Variety. There are different styles of belly dance originating from Egypt, Turkey, and Lebanon; there are classic styles and then folkloric ones, each with their own reasons for being; more recently, tribal style was born in the United States, and now we fuse Raqs Sharqi with all different types of dance. The movements are so organic, they lend themselves to being incorporated into basically any other style.
  • Music that gets into your blood. It took me a while to warm up to Middle Eastern music, since I’d never really been exposed to it before – but now it’s really grown on me. Especially the drums – they are spellbinding. If you ever get to see live tabla and dumbek drumming by an expert, well… it’s hot.

  • That being said, you can belly dance to anything. I remember laughing with one of the other dancers, the first Christmas season I was performing, as we realized we both had found ourselves doing bellydance moves to Christmas carols.
  • It’s good exercise. Depending on the style, it can be quite aerobic, and it can seriously work your large muscle groups. And it’s always a great core strengthener.
  • At the same time, it’s kind to the body. Most other kinds of dance are hard to do really well without a significant likelihood of injury/strain. As long as you’re paying attention to proper posture, belly dance is gentle on joints, and even sometimes helps with pain. (After participating in a workshop I taught one summer, one middle-aged woman told me her lower back, which was normally problematic, hadn’t felt this good in decades.)
  • It’s challenging. Technique can always grow and improve, and learning to layer different movements on top of each other is some serious brain gym.
  • I get to be my own physical self. Anyone who’s done ballet for a while knows that body type plays a large role. I was very good at ballet until puberty, and then I was suddenly too tall, too long-waisted and too short-legged, not to mention having too wide a ribcage and arches that really weren’t high enough – and weirdly-shaped feet that hated pointe shoes. Belly dance is the first dance form I’ve encountered that truly suits my body type.
  • It’s accepting. Everyone can be her own physical self (or his – there are male belly dancers too, and some damn good ones). I have seen incredible belly dancers of all different sizes, shapes, and ages – and it seems to keep people magically youthful.
  • All of this makes for an amazing community. I was lucky, as a kid, to be in a ballet class full of nice girls who became my friends; but whenever I forayed into the competitive dance world, I found stereotypes of cattiness and snobbery coming alive at every turn. The belly dance community, by contrast, is uncompetitive – full of real people who just want to dance for the joy of it. That means that gatherings of belly dancers, including performances, at least in this corner of the world, are full of laughter and mutual appreciation and support.

The show last night was a perfect example, performed with my current teacher and troupe, a fantastic group of women who embody all the best things about the dance. We were joined by a whole bunch of awesome guest performers. So many different groups of dancers, so many fascinating costumes, so many influences and styles, so many different bodies, all revealed as beautiful in the dance.

{And, I brought my baby girl backstage and she was passed around and lavished with affection by all sorts of lovely women, and I knew she was in good hands. (Thank God for Auntie Em, though. She was the primary caretaker, and without her help, I could not have been in the show at all.)}

Here are two bellydance clips I love (even though they don’t demonstrate the body-type diversity I told you about – sorry). The first is a traditional-style drum solo by Jillina, the second is a tribal-fusion-style duet by Rachel Brice and Illan. I have been fortunate enough to see all these dancers perform live, and they are frickin’ amazing. Enjoy.


Hey, bellydancers out there – if you have a favourite clip, please feel free to leave a link in the comments! I love adding to my collection… 🙂

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A few pertinent numbers

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  • 1 Day until Mosaic, the belly dance fusion show in which I’ll be performing with my belly dance troupe!
  • 3 group numbers I’ll be dancing in with the gorgeous ladies of Invoketress;
  • 9 guest performers/groups gracing us with their presence tomorrow;
  • 3:24 minutes of solo I’ve choreographed to a well-known pop song (hint: I’ll be wearing a skirt that’s short and a jacket that’s long);
  • 4 costumes I assembled today (with more accessories than I bothered to count);
  • 10 pretend candles I will be sticking to my shamadan (candelabra) to wear on my head (fire code prohibits actual candles in the theatre);
  • 14 months we’ve been preparing for the show (if you count back to the beginning of the first piece we learned);
  • 2 family members who will be backstage with me (1 daughter to feed between numbers, 1 Auntie Em to be her caretaker the rest of the time);
  • 7 (at least!) different dance styles fused with bellydance to be performed, including tribal, modern, ballet, jazz, Irish, Tunisian, and burlesque;
  • 65 (approximately) tickets left!

It’s gonna be FUN, people!

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Hypes and Gripes – June 2011

  • Gripe: My blog DISAPPEARING for a week. Now that I’ve looked at my stats, I can see that it was a blank, unviewable page for seven whole days (even though I didn’t realize it for the first few). Scary.
  • Hype: It’s back! My daddy fixed it!! Yay! Dear blog, I apologize for updating your plugins so infrequently and for not upgrading to the new version of WordPress many months ago as I should have. Won’t happen again.
  • H: Yearbook DONE, at long last! Now let’s hope we didn’t leave out or misspell something important.
  • H: Report cards DONE, at long last! Now let’s hope I didn’t leave out or misspell something important.
  • G: Yearbook and report cards wiped me out, coinciding like that. I was very tired and grouchy for at least a week there. (Actually, I’m still working on catching up. Not too resilient right now.) You can maybe tell that the errands mentioned below were done during that time, hence the inner kvetching.
  • G: The cover story on Star Weekly (“number one source for celebrity news”, they’ll have you know) about eating disorders and starvation diets, featuring shocking photos of ultra-skinny celebs, mostly in swimsuits. I saw it in the checkout line at the grocery and it frankly pissed me off. This is the same dishrag that regularly highlights “Best and Worst Beach Bodies”, designed to make all normal women feel awful about themselves, because it is heinous to show up on a beach with muffin top or cellulite. What the eff-bomb do they think celebrities are going to do??
  • G: Bra shopping. Why don’t they seem to make my favourite bra in my size anymore? There is just no way I’m ever going to be quite as boobelicious as a DD. And bra shopping is a pain in the you-know-whats now that I’m old and have been through the lactation experience. When you’re a thirteen-year-old late bloomer just hoping you might actually, finally fill an A-cup, the adventure of trying on different bras is quite titillating (sorry, couldn’t resist). But now, I just look at the overwhelming panoply and grumble inwardly about how I don’t have time for this – plus, the super-power-push-up-supreme-cleavage-deluxe bra is just NOT practical, thanks! I need the girls to stay in there.
  • H: My new two-year-old enjoying his birthday presents. He has been particularly stoked about the travel easel, art supplies, bouncy ball, bubble maker, sidewalk chalk, and toy school bus. In fact, he was so sad to let go of his school bus at bedtime the first night that he apparently sobbed bitterly and had to give it a kiss and a hug to make himself feel better.
  • G: His irrepressible passion for his markers. Good thing Crayola knows how to make ’em washable. (Note: he DOES know better, he absolutely knows that we only draw on paper, but he was so pleased with himself that he romped around the crib with a big grin during his time-out, watching Daddy clean up. Also, he markered all over his own legs, but because he was without pants at the time, the photos are not bloggable.)

E's marker work on rocking chair

  • H: Skype date between E and the son of Auntie Em’s best friend. She was visiting their family in North Carolina – this little guy is 16 months older than mine, but they’re both cute and blond and articulate, and totally able to take in stride the miraculous futurism of video-chat. It was cute. They compared balls.
  • G: My boy swearing like a sailor. He’s gone from filling in for “What the…?!” to simply saying, for the joy of it, “Heck. Heckheckheckheckheck. Heck!” And watching us defiantly the whole time.
  • H: Hearing it was hilarious. (But it’s really hard not to laugh at these moments when you know you mustn’t because it’ll send the completely wrong message.)
  • (Side note: This morning I actually said “What the heck?!” in E’s presence, so of course he jubilantly chimed in. I tried to fix it by saying things like “What in the world?!” and even “What in the Sam Hill?!” with lots of expression, but they didn’t take at all. Guess there’s nothing so satisfying as good ol’ heck.)
  • H: A couple other recent habits my son has picked up: talking about what he likes or loves (e.g. when the window is open in the car, he’ll say, “I like the wind!” many times in a row, or when we reminded him on the way to a visit that Grandma has a pond, he said, “I love the pond!” ad nauseam); and loving Mommy’s arms. He will take hold of one of my arms and hug it and kiss it, and blow raspberries on it. (I taught him the word “embouchure” to refer to his raspberry technique.)
  • H: Grapefruit Splash hand soap in my bathroom. It’s so juicy and zesty that I can hardly wait to wash my hands. Not to mention deliciously fragrant samples of certain skin care items from Nature Balance Wellness, where my sister now works. Including some soothing products for baby bums. 🙂
  • G: Speaking of babies, Baby #2 has been poking me in my right side for a month straight. It’s getting rather sore.
  • G: Today at the midwives’ I found out it’s not a knee or an elbow, but his head. Which means A) said head is not remotely where it’s supposed to be yet, and B) he’s in there diagonally, reclining like he’s in a La-Z-Boy. If my uterus wasn’t already some weird shape, it is now!
  • H: Other than that, Baby #2 seems great so far. Only two months (or so) left – I can hardly believe it! (Wow, we really have to get on that name thing…)
  • H: Performing this Friday! Two of the five of us performing the Invoketress group numbers are 7+ months pregnant, so it’s kinda special. Plus, really good choreographies that are actually performance-ready!
  • G: One of my costumes took some serious adjusting this afternoon, and now I’m all needle-pricked and I even burned myself on the glue gun like a doofus. Sigh. Why do I procrastinate on these things? (The answer is, I do not have an affinity for sewing.)
  • G: I’m missing the end-of-year staff party in order to perform. This year, due to major rearrangement in our Board, we are losing many beloved teachers all at once, so I really wish I could be there for the official farewell. There’s going to be lots of crying (in which I would no doubt participate), and heartfelt speeches I really don’t want to miss. [Sad face.]
  • H: Only a week left of school!! In my case, I’m most psyched about A) not climbing four flights of stairs several times a day while pregnant, B) not spending time on the third floor of an un-air-conditioned 90-year-old school while pregnant, C) not rushing to get E to the babysitter in time to get to school for yard duty, and D) not having to quell the antsiness of large groups of children who just want to get to summer already. Go nuts, kids!

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Bellydance Bizarre

I thought y’all might enjoy this video of (some of) our dance troupe, Invoketress, dancing our interpretation of the story of Lillith to Apocalyptica’s cover of Metallica’s “One”. We performed last weekend at the Bellydance Bizarre, hosted by DownHips of Cambridge. What a fantastic show: all the dancers bring their most funny/weird/creepy numbers to the Halloween show every year, and it’s GREAT.

It’s a bit rough: the images were inserted to mitigate the annoyance of people’s heads getting in the way of the footage, and also it must be admitted that this choreography was created for the show we’re doing a month from now… so we don’t perform as solidly in this video as we plan to in November. And we’re going to have a real guitarist who will play rather more seriously. But STILL! I hope you enjoy.

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