To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. ~Agnes De Mille
Since 2003, bellydance has been a household word for me. If you had asked me prior to then if bellydance would ever be a part of my life, I would have laughed in your face. Now I call myself a bellydancer without turning bright red or giggling when I say it.
You want the story? Sure you do; it’s a good one. When I moved to Portland, OR eight years ago, I knew only one person. I soon found out that I had some cousins in the area. I had never met them before, but that didn’t stop me from calling them up and telling them there was “a new kin in town.” (har har) We met up the first time at a street fair in the NE quadrant. There was a guy and a girl in their thirties, and a little baby named Kaileah. Josh was a larger-than-life charismatic man who immediately whipped me into a hug, and that was that. I was officially part of the family. Yemaya was a beautiful and exotic-looking woman whose warmth I immediately felt. We walked around the street fair, chatted, ate, and talked about how exactly we were related. (Were we third cousins once removed? Second cousins twice removed?) Soon I was being invited for dinners and movie nights at their home in Vancouver, WA. I got to play with baby Kaileah and got to know the family better. After a short time, Yemaya told me that she was a professional bellydancer. I had no idea that bellydancing existed in this era, nor in this country. I had never seen bellydancing before, and my knowledge of it was scarce. I believed her, though, because she seemed very graceful and was always prancing around the living room to music I didn’t recognize.
She took me downstairs one night and revealed her in-home studio to me. Mirrors covered one wall, and beautiful scarves and art covered the rest. There was incense burning, and candles were everywhere. It was magical. It was a haven of feminine mystique and beauty all in one. Yemaya looked at me, and with complete seriousness, said, “You’re going to be a bellydancer.” I don’t recall exactly what my reaction was, but I’m pretty sure I guffawed, scoffed, and/or fell on the floor laughing. I was still nearing the 200 lb. mark at the time, and had never done any structured dancing. I was not a prime candidate for a bellydancer. At least that’s what I thought.
Over the next few months I learned the basics of bellydance. Yemaya was strict on teaching theory first and style later. She implemented a full warm up and toning exercises before I was allowed to shimmy or shake anything. I followed her movements persistently, at first uncertain whether or not my body would ever move the way hers did. Eventually my dance started to resemble the gorgeous fluidity of Yemaya’s. About six months in, she moved me to her group classes. I loved it; I got to meet other dancers of all different levels, and made some lasting friendships that I cherish to this day. I felt a kinship with Yemaya that I have not often felt. Bellydance was like our club, and not everyone knew the secret handshake. It made me feel extremely powerful in my core, and gave me a femininity that I had never had. During this time, through bellydance and eating right, I lost almost 60 pounds, and gained a lot of confidence.
In 2007 I made a decision to start performing. It was a formidable undertaking. My goal was to dance at the Oregon Country Fair (OCF). Yemaya had gotten me a tiny spot, really just a blip in the bigger picture, but it was more than enough for me. The Gypsy Stage at the Oregon Country Fair is a place that is coveted by bellydancers far and wide. It has been a staple of the OCF for over 20 years. I was blessed to be dancing to be on it. Also, my uncle was taking a road trip from Alabama, and was going to come to see me dance…and there would be a dozen or more professional dancers witnessing my debut. No pressure!
There are not enough words to accurately describe the Oregon Country Fair, but if I had to name a few, they would be: breathtaking, creative, smelly, artistic, riotous yet peaceful, musical, curious, astounding, and explosive. It is a place where you can get both a hemp milkshake and good old fashioned nachos; a venue where you can see fine art and body painting in the same space. OCF has its own theology. They want to be an incubator for creativity and community. They have done a wonderful job of doing just that. No matter what you are there for—to perform, to watch, or just to Be—you will take home an unforgettable experience.
I knew I was in for a big adventure. My costume came together perfectly, thanks to Yemaya and an amazing seamstress/designer named Kim Sakkara. My moves were like butter and beyond that there wasn’t much I could do for the stage fright except confront it when I was actually on stage. If there was ever a time that I would feel self conscious about my body, this was it. But when I got on that stage, I was scared for all of five seconds. After that, I transformed into the ultimate dancing queen! Performing in front of a group of people who are all there for the same reason—to appreciate an ancient and wondrous art—is completely exhilarating. The tornado of love that whirled around me from the audience and my fellow bellydancers is something I will always have with me. I was immersed in the dance over the next few days, and soon realized I didn’t want to ever shake my obsession of everything bellydance.
After my first performance I wanted more! I danced at several more venues, including restaurants and festivals. Bellydance was (and still is) a large part of my being, though I am not performing on a stage as much as I used to. There is nothing like the rush of feminine power I feel when I move to the ancient Middle Eastern music that vibrates in my soul. Dance is something that is very personal, but can bond an ocean of people. I am so thankful for my cousin Yemaya for bringing it into my life, and thankful that I have met some truly amazing people throughout this journey.
Next weekend is the 2011 Oregon Country Fair in Veneta, Oregon. I urge you to go if you never have. I won’t be performing this year, but I will be on that stage in spirit.
Here are some links of people I referenced in this post. Go explore!