I’ve been writing up a storm outside of this blog, and I want to share it with you! I figured the best way to get my free-lance writing to you is to put it here, all together. What can I say—I like to make things easy for my friends.
I walked into Footwork Dance Studio last week and was greeted by a rustle of gypsy skirts, elaborate belts with mirrors sewn onto them, large yarn tassels, conch shells, beads in every color of the rainbow, and a lot of smiles. Footwork Studio hosts many types of classes: ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom, and American Tribal belly dance. I had come to observe the belly dance class. The teacher, Sherrie Janz, has a dancer’s grace and beautiful wild curly hair, which I think perfectly complements her style. She started taking tap and jazz when she was very young, but learning (and falling in love with) belly dance didn’t come until much later. When the previous instructor at Footwork moved on, Sherrie began teaching youth and adult belly dance in her place. She describes her class as “Tribaret” style—a mix of Tribal and Cabaret belly dance—but her roots are firmly in Tribal dance. American Tribal Style belly dance (ATS) itself is a hybrid. It was created in the United States, and mixes traditional Middle Eastern belly dance, earthy folkloric dances from several countries, and even some moves from the more classic dances like ballet and jazz. The movements are snakelike and deliberate, and the costumes are rich in hue.
To begin class, Sherrie led her students through a deep stretching warm-up with invigorating ethnic music, filled with large hip circles, snake arms, and head slides. This was followed by a review of choreography the ladies had performed earlier in the year—and where the departure from traditional belly dance was really apparent. They danced to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. I was curious to see how this would go. It was definitely not what I think of when I picture belly dance, but it was beautiful and incredibly creative. She also covered a few movement drills, calling out the names of each movement while giving out costume advice at the same time. From the shy girl in the corner trying to slide out of my view, to the confident teenager who stood up front and showed me her best shimmy, every woman in class was smiling, whether it was demure or ear-to-ear. Self-conscious giggles could be heard around the room as I wrote my notes.
Sherrie asserted that she emphasizes fun in her classes, not strict dance training, however she does encourage community involvement. She and her students dance a few times a year for the Milwaukie community, including donating an “Evening of Belly Dance” to the annual auction for the St. Francis Dining Hall. Of course the bidders need to see what they’ll be getting in this package, so the dancers twirl and entertain during the auction itself as well. The winning bidder gets to bring six friends and spend the evening learning dance moves, dressing in costume, and enjoying snacks and drinks.
Footwork Dance Studio has been in Milwaukie for 35 years, and in its current location for eight. They have an excellent website with information on class descriptions, schedules, and any other questions you may have.
Footwork Dance Studio
16660 SE McLoughlin Blvd
Milwaukie, OR 97267
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My second piece is a book review from a fresh new author. We originally connected on Twitter, where she asked me to review her first book. I warned her that I hadn’t written a book review since college, but that I would do my best to honestly evaluate her story. It is a nonfiction piece about her upbringing in Detroit. I will leave the Amazon link here for you to check her book out in more detail. You can also follow her on Twitter @janachantel. Presenting my review of Into My Mind by Jana` Chantel…
With a fascinating true story that sears into the reader’s heart, Jana` Chantel presents the details of her tumultuous childhood in Detroit, which are humbly told with the raw language of a woman whose memory of a violent upbringing is still quite fresh in her mind. This book has a bit of everything one would expect from a young woman—truly an adolescent in real-time—living the hard life in a broken Detroit: absent father, gunshot wounds, drug dealing, bad romance, the whole gamut. Throughout the book, Jana` strives to find a bit of normalcy in her chaos. She begins by recalling the death of her mother, who was murdered in cold blood when Jana` was just a year old, and, through her young adult years, the drama continued. Her father, too, met a harsh ending. Jana` was shot by her own brother and had her heart broken by a lying thug. The reader can quickly see that her retelling is a painful reminder of her early struggles in life, but also a catharsis.
Into My Mind is a fast read; I finished it in a few short hours. Immediately I felt the need to go back and read it again so I could once more absorb the incredulous details. If you’re looking for a sophisticated, polished memoir, this may not be at the top of your list, but she gives you a heartfelt, in-your-face story, never hiding the blemishes in herself or the other characters. I’m not sure she ever found the normalcy she was searching for, but at the end, you will be left with a sense that Jana` has embraced her own version of normal. Like the city of Detroit itself, Jana` is driven to fight for a better reality.