Belly Dance Soul Fire

The ladies of BDSF

Recently, I wrote an article that was published in Jareeda Magazine for their “troupe extravaganza” issue. I thought I would share it here with you. For more great articles, check out Jareeda for yourself! If you’re in the Portland area, be sure to catch these beautiful dancers at a show near you. They can often be seen collaborating with other dancers in town in shows such as Salon L’Orient at the Fez Ballroom. Later in 2012 they hope to take their Dance N.O.W. show on a Pacific NW tour. Check their website for more details. 
Belly Dance Soulfire is an undeniable example of a troupe success story. I’ve followed them through every incarnation, through member changes and name changes. I’ve watched them grow from a group of individual dancers to a collective of passionate belly dance power. Their goal is to show the world that it is okay, and in fact a wonderful thing, to explore what it means to break the mold of traditional belly dancing while still honoring its roots, and that no one needs permission to create a new definition of dance fusion. Belly Dance Soulfire believes that performance art is always shifting, constantly making room for new ideas. Their juicy and—dare I say—tantalizing choreography stems from years of diverse experiences of four unique women. I know first-hand how palpable their synchronicity is, and not just technically. It is easy to see the loving energy flow through each performance.
My own fixation with belly dance started eight years ago. My first dance mentor and an original member of Belly Dance Soulfire, Yemaya, who has since relocated, taught me a lot about dance theory, basics, and the culture of belly dance. I saw performing as a unique and beautiful expression of an individual’s passion for an ancient dance form. When she joined a troupe which today is called Belly Dance Soulfire, I didn’t completely understand the reasons. I had come to think of cabaret belly dance as a solo dance, and saw tribal as a group one. So why did Yemaya need to join this troupe when she was a wonderful solo dancer? Watching the group mature and hearing Yemaya talk about the experience, I learned that a troupe is far more than women getting together to dance in unison. A troupe is made up of sisters in dance, who grow together, support each other, and who develop a loving unity that is meant to be shared with an audience.
The group has become an illustration of diversity in every sense of the word. Not only do they each come from very a different background, it has also been noted more than once that there are a variety of body types in the troupe. The four women of Belly Dance Soulfire use this advantage to fuel a movement of body love and acceptance. They encourage all women who feel a connection with the dance to grasp that feeling and cultivate it to their full potential, regardless of society’s “standards.”
The four dancers of Belly Dance Soulfire are each dynamic solo dancers in their own right. Sedona, the founder, creative director, and co-choreographer, had been dancing her whole life before she discovered belly dance. This dance opened a world to her that she instantly felt she was meant to be in. Relatively early in her belly dance career, she decided she wanted to form a troupe of experienced dancers that would become a celebration of all types of women coming together in dance.
Claudia, also an original member and co-choreographer, has been known in Portland as a dynamic and fiery dancer for years. She was already an established dancer and instructor performing regularly at area restaurants and shows when she and Sedona connected. Her 13 years of dance experience has made her a major contributor to the troupe’s bold choreographies. Soulfire gave her a chance to express herself beyond the constraints of the cabaret style that was so in demand in traditional Middle Eastern venues.
Before joining Belly Dance Soulfire, Shara was known for her energetic samba-belly dance fusion in North Carolina, called Sambali. She moved to Portland for a marketing job. Soon after, she was laid off, and in the aftermath realized she was meant to follow her true love of dance full time. I met her in her first session of classes in Portland and instantly liked her. I knew the ladies of Belly Dance Soulfire would be drawn to her too, so I invited her to a show they were putting on…and the rest is history!
Karolina was brought into Belly Dance Soulfire temporarily from California to bring some extra spice to the audition for summer TV show “America’s Got Talent.” The strategy was a success! They made it to Vegas and were complimented on their style, flair, and diversity. She fit in so well that she moved to Portland to stay with the group. Karolina brings a distinctive flair to the troupe with her signature trumpet belly dance and Vaudevillian sass.
Belly Dance Soulfire has quickly become a staple of the Portland belly dance community, joining forces with several other dancers to put on amazing performances and to show everyone that there should not be separation in belly dance because of difference in style; unity is the key to success. Making a bold statement in 2011 with their Dance N.O.W. (Not One Way) production, they emboldened women to reach further into their hearts and break boundaries, asking other groups to join them in an act of faith that their followers would connect with the other troupes as well.
Belly Dance Soulfire is truly a fantastic model of charismatic and ambitious dancers working incredibly hard to ensure the continuation and permanence of this ancient art form. With their goals to spread the power and knowledge of belly dance to all, I know Portland and beyond will see a lot more from Belly Dance Soulfire in the coming years, because these women really do have Soul Fire!

Music Soul Food

lil wayne

This man likes booty!

Quick—give me one song that has the ability to raise you to your highest high, your most miserable low, or the ultimate romantic mood. Music is so influential. I really admire artists who have the ability to impact me so strongly that a song can stay with me for years after I initially hear it. I have created a list of the songs that speak to me most powerfully, and I want to share them with you today. Hopefully at least one of them will spark something in your heart.
{High Energy, Dance Your Heart Out Music} Back That Ass Up—Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Mannie Fresh: This song has a couple things going for it. First of all, growing up I had what anyone would consider a big butt, and unfortunately, it was before JLo made it cool. Do you remember that song by Sir Mix-A-Lot? You know the one. If I had a nickel for how many times I had to hear, “Oh. My. God. Look at Becky’s butt! It is SO BIG!” I’d have at least a dollar fifty. My precious backside was openly condemned by immature middle and high school kids until I went to college, where there were lots of people with open minds and an appreciation for big booties. My freshman year, “Back That Ass Up” came out. It completely blew my mind. That song made me feel like having a curvaceous body was a good thing for the first time in my life. Say what you will about the seemingly trivial nature of the song, but it made me feel like great. Whenever I heard the first notes, a barrage of people would crush onto the dance floor for a chance to show off their own oversized booties, and mine was in the running for the number one big booty. For a girl-not-quite-a-woman who had had conflicting feelings about her body all of her life, this was a breath of fresh air.
It also had a lot of influence concerning my lifelong crush on Lil Wayne, but I really don’t think we should delve into that too deeply.
{Über Romantic} Anytime—Brian McKnight: This song isn’t tied to any one person or memory, but the goosebumps it gives me every time I hear it are tangible. The effect is potent, and very swoon-able. And let’s face it, Brian McKnight is yummy.
{Can’t Understand the Words but Still Moves Me} Seni Sevdi Geönlüm Yine SevecekJohn Bilezikjian: I’ve had the pleasure hearing this artist in person, which makes it so much more powerful. I can’t understand what he is singing about, but it doesn’t matter; I feel it. That is the kind of effect every artist wants to be able to have on their audience.
{Laugh Out Loud} Knock Em Out—Lily Allen: This is one of those songs that tell a story of regular people in situations most people can relate to. This one highlights the awkward position of being hit on by a total loser. But that’s never happened to you, right?
{Girl Power} S&M—Rihanna: That’s right—we ladies can be just as naughty as you boys. I signed up for a Groupon at Vega Dance Lab last year, and as luck would have it, this was the first song I danced to there. Wow. Talk about girl power. Since I started bellydancing, I have realized the power of my feminine wiles, but Rihanna puts a whole new spin on it. In bellydancing I am coy. With S&M it’s all out there, whether you like it or not.
{Escapism} Amame o Dejame—Kevin Ceballo: It was a steamy night in Puerto Rico, where I was on vacation with my parents, who didn’t want me mingling with the natives. Wait, wait! That’s not right. It was 2004 in Portland, Oregon. The air was balmy with the sweat of dancers. The lights were flashing across the crowded wooden dance floor. The music was tropical and the beats were constant and foreign. A handsome man approached me with a smile and his hand extended. I froze. We had just met moments ago. His name was Ricardo. To call him a tall drink of water would be an understatement. He was 6’4” and towered over me. He was inviting me to salsa dance with him. I was terrified of the intimacy of it, and a little confused at how exactly we were supposed to dance together—the physics didn’t seem right (I’m 5’1”)—but he didn’t look at all concerned. Soon I was twirling all over the dance floor. It seemed he was carrying me more than I was actually dancing, but I was doing it! I was salsa dancing! I love everything about this dance:  the music, the movement, the romance. All of it takes me away from any worries or cares.
Isn’t it amazing how music can manipulate your feelings…make you forget…create a dream-world…administer pangs of emotion you didn’t know you were having? It’s the magic of it. I want to thank all of the artists out there who dare to put their gift out into the universe. It is much appreciated. Love, a fellow artist.

Ye Olde New Year's Resolutions!

This year I have a very specific goal. Yes, it is to lose weight. Yeah, yeah, join the crowd! Entering my thirties has not helped my body get any slimmer, even though I’ve picked up running this past year. Throughout 2011, I’ve watched certain parts of my body tone up, and that has been amazing, but I am having so much trouble losing the fat! Part of this is lack of self-control, part of it is genetics, and part of it is trying to shake off the customs of my pesky upbringing.
I was raised with a “You will NOT leave the table until you finish everything on your plate!” mentality that was so typically shoved upon Generation X youth. These were the years of “There are children starving in Africa (or China)!!” “Don’t you want to join the Clean Plate Club with your sister??” It was the Cold War era. We were lucky to have food on our plates! Think late eighties, early nineties.
Tell me if you remember a scenario like this: My sister, my mother, and I sit down to dinner. It’s spaghetti night. Spaghetti with broccoli mixed in, if you can believe that. My mother didn’t try to hide it, either, by chopping it up really small. Nope, she threw thumb sized pieces of broccoli in the sauce without a second thought.
Then my mother does the unthinkable: adds a serving of green beans alongside the spaghetti. Excuuuse me? “Mom. I am not going to eat this. There is broccoli in this spaghetti. Can’t we have something else with this? Garlic bread? Like normal people??”
 “You will eat what I give you! And you will sit there until you do! (There are children starving…)” This was also a time to mention the Clean Plate Club, but in our house, there was no reward like dessert. Your reward was getting up from the table. That’s it. My mom was a hard ass. She would call the bluff of any child in her house, whether she birthed them or not. If a friend dared not finish their meal, they too would feel the wrath of Ginger.
Add to that both of my parents’ penchants for eating enormous (albeit healthy) quantities of food, plus the disadvantage of being raised in the Midwest, where food availability was high, but healthy food availability was not.
Did I mention I am a twin? Everything naughty that managed to pass through mom’s Health Food Filter into the house would be fought over to the death. By the time Sarah and I were old enough to go buy our own junk food, it was ON. We went nuts. Chocolate covered ones. Plus Pringles, Swedish Red Fish, Nutter Butters, Kit Kats, Cheese Balls…you get the picture. Mom would leave us for hours to our own devices while she volunteered at the library bookstore. We could walk to Pick ‘N Save and buy crap to our heart’s content. Then we’d walk to the underpass, climb all the way up to right under the highway, and eat. We ballooned in our adolescence, which followed both of us through high school and college.
To sum up: I am a food hoarder and sometimes I still eat like I weigh 200 pounds, when in reality I am much smaller and don’t need that much food. When I moved to Portland I started working at a weight loss center and lost 60 pounds in six months. I learned how to eat correctly, but as is the case for many, slowly over the next seven years, my weight crept up again.
It has been interesting (Really!) seeing the changes in my body and how it carries the weight. Since I started running regularly, I can tell which body parts are most affected positively: my rib cage has shrunk enough that I have had to go a bra size smaller. My legs are much stronger now, and the fat around my knees has visibly diminished. What hasn’t changed is the fat that my mama gave me: the belly. Now, I know that belly dancers need a belly, but it doesn’t need to be this big!! So my goal, specifically, is to get rid of the fat that has no beneficial purpose.
So, suggestions and advice needed. Food no-no’s or good recipes, what to eat before the big race, what kind of workouts I should be doing…I’ll take it all. I love positive reinforcement so any shout-outs are welcome!

Belly Beautiful

As you know if you have read my blog posts previously, I have always had body image issues—and for the record, I am writing this post while feeling incredibly frustrated about the vacation weight I gained. I work on these issues every single day, and though I have small victories on a regular basis, it is an ongoing struggle for me (and most American women) to see my body as strong, beautiful, and healthy. This past weekend I had some amazing experiences which connected me with my body in striking ways.
On Sunday I woke up on my own accord at 7:30 AM. I had told myself the night before that if I woke up in time to go to Meeting in the morning, I had no reason not to go. Since I woke up in time without the aid of an alarm, I knew I couldn’t cheat myself out of this experience. The Quaker Meeting I had chosen was new to me; it was a Meeting in SW Portland called West Hills Friends Church (WHF). I intensely dislike going places by myself, however, I had heard great things about WHF, and even though they hold programmed services, I had wanted to go for a while. Note:  It is called Friends Church because this sect has a minister who gives a sermon preceding a short silent worship, unlike unprogrammed services like the ones I was raised with, which have no clergy and have completely silent worship.
The chapel was about a third full when I arrived, so I had my choice of seating. I sat in a pew alone, about halfway back. Immediately I spotted one of the hymnals sitting in the pocket on the back of the pew I was facing: Worship in Song. My mother had been a member of the committee that created this hymnal; of that she was very proud. I picked it up and searched for her name—there it was. I passed my forefinger over her printed name, feeling like this place was already getting brownie points for having my mother’s hymnal in it.
Eventually an older couple sat to my right, and a couple about my age sat to my left. The service began. There was music, and then something called the First Word. A heavyset woman wearing a loose red dress stood up and walked over to the microphone. The minute she began speaking, I was riveted. She spoke about her addiction to food, and how she had used it throughout her life to deal with stress, which consequently brought on shame, which she dealt with by eating more food. She spoke frankly about it, but her voice was thick with feeling. I could feel her words running through me, creating a sensation of empathy, and bringing back my own ashamed feelings about food. At the end, her message brought forth the encouragement to be honest and compassionate with oneself through any addiction. That is something I always forget when I am trying to “fix” my flaws. I constantly have to remind myself not to be harsh when I make a mistake, or fall back into old habits. I have always reacted strongly to positivity, not stringent criticism. When the woman was finished I had the strong urge to run up and hug her. I felt it was fate that I went to church on that particular day, so I could hear her words.
*         *         *         *
I was particularly excited about my Sunday evening because I was heading to a Goddess gathering named the “Red Tent.” This is my friend Sedona’s modernized incarnation of the women’s hut, where in some cultures women are quarantined to a separate building during their period or other significant times in their menstrual cycle. Sedona’s version didn’t have anything to do with the menstrual cycle, but it brought a variety of women together to celebrate being a woman. I had not been to one of these yet and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.
I walked into the beautifully decorated Datura Studio and immediately saw several people I knew. That was encouraging. (As you already know, I get nervous going new places by myself.) I sat and chatted with my friends for a while, drank some champagne, and ate some yummy food. After a while, Sedona called us all into the main room and to make a circle. I saw another one of my friends, Joy, and stood beside her. Sedona began talking about the significance of the belly, or core of a woman. Her strength comes from it, incredible beauty comes from moving it (i.e., bellydancing or other forms of movement), and it is the source of all life. Pretty powerful stuff!
Then she asked us to do something that made my throat instantly go dry. She instructed us to put our right hand on the belly of the woman beside us, and then put the left one over the hand of the woman whose hand was on our bellies. OMG. There was a complete stranger to my left. Her hand would be touching my jiggly belly! I had a momentary panic, imagining her with a look of disgust when she felt it. I couldn’t just run out of the room, so I did as I was told and put my right hand on Joy’s belly. It felt smooth, and weirdly, it calmed me down a little. When our other hands were positioned, Sedona asked us to breathe and feel the pressure of the hand on our center, and to just be aware of the sensation of touching another woman’s belly. Am I pressing too hard on this stranger’s hand? I wonder if she is completely freaked out by touching my belly. Am I doing this right?? The thoughts raced through my head. Then I checked myself and remembered to breathe. I looked up, and saw for the first time the group in its entirety. It was comforting, seeing women of all shapes and sizes, their bellies rising and falling with breath, and I knew suddenly that I was not the only one feeling this way, but it didn’t matter. This was a safe place. No one cared how jiggly my tummy was. They were all enjoying the warmth of this group, just like I was.
I don’t have a witty end to this post. No matter how many momentary highs I get from events like the Red Tent, there is no denying I will always be self-conscious about my belly’s size, texture, and shape. Intellectually I know that many many women share these feelings, but in my heart it always feels so singular. Writing about these emotions can’t heal the pain of a 32-year struggle, but it does make me feel stronger every time I put the words out into the Universe. It’s cathartic. I think of the love that I sent to the woman in church, speaking about herself, and I know that every person who reads this will be sending me love as well. I am so grateful.


Love Yourself

A Love Note

Becky and the trees in their joy!

I’ve got several things I need to write about, but I’ve chosen my trip to the California Redwoods with my cousins Linda, Michael, and Tutu, since it is still fresh in my mind. Indulge me if this seems like “nature porn” to you. My sister, Sarah (the originator of the term nature porn), made me aware that some of my last posts about nature border on…intimate. The thing is, that is how I feel about nature. I can’t help it. Please accept my flowery prose as yes, a love note to nature. Just roll your eyes behind my back. Or nod your head and say to yourself, right on Becky!
I watched The Celestine Prophecy the night before I left for my Redwoods adventure. I have read the book no less than six times, but seeing one director’s interpretation of the story in action was unforgettable. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a book written about eight insights that the main character discovers throughout his journey to Peru. Much of the story takes place in the jungle, a most beautiful and magical setting, and coincidentally much like the place I was to see in my own upcoming adventures. The main character was a naïve history teacher, not knowing that when he got laid off, everything that had happened up until that moment was all a part of his greater plan. One of the insights he learned was that he needed to start paying attention to every little thing that was happening around him. Notice the coincidences around you; they all mean something. His journey also taught him to be in the moment, and manifest what you want.
I have been exploring these themes in my own life for several years now, as you know if you have read my blog before. It occurs to me that each time I experience The Celestine Prophecy I learn something new. The lesson that everything happens for a reason was highlighted when I realized there was absolutely a reason that I watched this movie right before heading to my own magical locale. Of course I’ve always understood that the history teacher made his way to a beautiful place. Every story needs a setting. It just never dawned on me that the jungle was actually a character in his story, as the Redwoods would become a character in my story.
They glowed under my attention, and I in theirs. The minute I was in them, I could feel their energy. In the movie, when the history teacher focuses his gaze on a philodendron, he sees its energy, or aura. It touches him. I felt the same in the midst of the giant trees and their unique ecosystem. As the sun pushed its way down, all the way down—dozens of feet of each tree—the beams would touch and highlight the brilliant green of the undergrowth. The effect was visually magical, and physically warming. The opulence of the trees, and the knowledge that they have seen more than any human can ever tell, was stunning. Did you know these trees have been around since the time of the dinosaurs? The fact that they are still on earth because of the stubbornness and love of a few special people was fantastical. These trees had been 90% harvested until the Save-the-Redwoods League was created to protect them. I felt that history with every move I made. I was being hugged by the spirit of these trees; I could actually feel a lovely thickness around me. Inside, I felt a peace and fullness. Most of all I experienced love. I know it may sound a little silly; trees don’t have the cognitive ability to love. But if I can love the forest, why can’t it love me back?
My family wandered the woods with me. We spoke excitedly some, but mostly we all just drank it in. Tutu, my 82-year old cousin, repeated softly to me, “We are so lucky, do you know how lucky we are to be here?” I appreciated her comment, but instead of feeling lucky I felt more blessed than anything. It wasn’t luck that brought me here; it was my will, and the will of the Universe. It wasn’t luck that led me to drive the five hours each way from Portland to Medford where my cousins Linda and Michael live, and then on another few hours to California. It was my desire to Be there.
I had been traveling for two weeks straight before this trip and I almost cancelled because I was so tired of living out of a suitcase. I just wanted to relax in my own home. But the Universe gave me a little nudge and told me that this was something I needed to experience NOW. Wouldn’t you know it, but the Universe was right again! To share this trip in words is something that is less than adequate, but it is all I have. I hope, if you visit, the trees give you the same love they gave to me.

Portland's Next Top Bellydance Fusion Model!

Ok, so I am NOT Portland’s next top bellydance fusion model, but I got a great story out of this crazy experience!
I’m writing today to cover last night’s modeling experience. I just had to share! I was involved in a bellydance clothing fashion show that kicked off the exciting Jamballah NW festival this weekend, a showcase of bellydance fusion by way of vending, shows, and workshops. See the website for more details and how you can experience Jamballah yourself:
Let me set the stage for you: On the main floor was a stage, tables and chairs for the audience, and a bar. Upstairs, a breathtaking array of vendor’s booths filled with the most beautiful things a bellydancer/performance artist has ever seen. Downstairs, a basement hallway filled with clothes, accoutrements and models.  
In short, the night was very very short! My designer’s booth was bustling when I arrived. I was one of the women representing Sakkara Clothing and Costume, and things were selling even before the show started! Kim (Sakkara) showed me the dressing area, an unadorned but well-lit basement where ladies and men were dressing, stretching, putting on makeup (lots of makeup) and gabbing. Since I hadn’t had time to check out the stage, one of my “colleagues” filled me in on the stage conditions: uneven wood with depressions and a few cracks, and a few outlets sticking up from the floor just waiting to stub your toe. Yikes! We all checked eachother out conspicuously; compliments were passed around about the pretty skirt, funky wrist cuff, awesome harem pants, or furry vest someone was wearing. There was an amazing variety in the costumes. Actually, there were no traditional bellydance costumes from what I saw. It was daunting to observe all that fabulousness in one small hallway. I felt a little plain and small compared to the ladies with the giant Edward Scissorhands wigs and ruffled booty skirts, topped off with tons of glittery makeup and a lacey parasol, of course.
Tension rose when the emcee came down the stairs in her giant (and I mean GIANT) red pleather platform knee-high boots and told us it was almost “go time.” If I hadn’t been intimidated before, I was now. Our emcee was an Amazonian woman with a neon dreaded wig, the aforementioned boots, and crazy makeup. She was also very boisterous on stage. When it was our turn to dance, I slithered up the stage steps with my snake arms undulating, excited to show off my moves. Then realized I could barely hear the music. It was a slight muffled thump-thump with an occasional industrial noise. The emcee, though, she was LOUD! I didn’t really know what to do, so I just danced and hoped my moves somehow matched the music. When the other two dancers came on stage I was awed at their ability to ignore the missing music and put on their fake-it-til-you-make-it faces. It seemed that as soon as it started, it was over. After the last dancer, we gracefully (?) pranced off the stage, and it was NEXT DANCER!
The nice thing about a fashion show is that there is constant movement, and though the memory of a costume can linger, the time on the stage is limited, and the next flashy thing will be strutting up the stairs before you know it. And no one can deny it is quite a thrill to wear designer duds on a stage, even if it’s just for a few minutes and you can’t hear the music!
Check out my designer’s great stuff!
And check ME out in my custom top, velvet dance pants, and jellyfish skirt by Sakkara Clothing! This picture was taken in the basement hallway before the show.

Maysam Janan at Jamballah NW


Idiosyncratic Oath

I’ve realized that every once in a while I have to fall back in love with myself. There are times when I’m completely convinced that I’m the best I can be (I’m fabulous!), but there are darker moments when I struggle to accept myself fully. Doubt creeps in and it’s hard to push it back out!
Luckily I have some seriously amazing friends and family to help me out of my funk when I need assistance. I also know that it’s something very personal that, in the end, I have to work out all on my own. Some of the things I have been doing include rewarding myself for my daily achievements, remembering that “perfect” is a state of mind and not an actual tangible thing, performing fun feel-good rituals, and most of all, reminding myself that all my idiosyncrasies are not negative things; they make me unique. I live in a city where one of the most popular mottos is “Keep Portland Weird.” I don’t think it is a coincidence that I ended up here. I’ve always been somewhat eccentric, a little kooky, and I definitely have habits that others consider strange. Generally I don’t even notice them until someone points them out. Most of the time it is my coworkers, who admittedly see me every day for at least eight hours, and know my diehard habits like clockwork. They actually have a whole skit where they “do” Becky, each of them taking one thing that I do and mocking it. It’s hilarious. It should go on Broadway, I’m not kidding. You know you’ve gotten WAY too comfortable at a job when your coworkers can present all your habits and reactions in a performance art format.
Do you remember in middle school that all you wanted to be was exactly like everyone else? When I chosen for Talented and Gifted (and therefore had to go to special classes at the middle school when I was only a fifth grader), I just wanted to sink into the carpet and never show my face at elementary school again. If I was praised for reading the most pages for the month, I just wanted my teacher to shut her trap about it. I wanted to be like everyone else; I wanted to wear what everyone was wearing; I certainly didn’t want anyone to know that I got free lunch because I was raised by a single parent and my mother couldn’t afford to pay full price for both of us girls. Oh the irony that being less than middle class is now The American Way! It is a sad state of affairs, but I think in some ways it bonds people, and helps them build character in these tough economic times. Do-It-Yourself has certainly risen to another level in the United States.
Things changed after middle school. In college we had a bunch of extracurricular groups. There were the sororities and fraternities, the sports teams, the smart kid groups, drama clubs, even secret societies. The greatest part about it was that there was something for everyone. Yes, they were labeling themselves by joining, but there wasn’t one group that was more important or more popular than the others. People could even overlap groups! I found the groups that were perfect for me, and am so grateful for it.
Since the horrifying days of middle school, I have truly embraced my weirdness, and I love that no one can ever put just one label on me. Have you ever heard of another Bellydancing Quaker Granola-Head Writer-Hiker-Runner-Twin? I don’t think so. By the way, that label doesn’t even cover half of who I am.
So today I am taking the Idiosyncratic Oath (created July 8, 2011):
“I affirm (that’s Quaker-speak for ‘I swear’) by my teddy bear Chocolate Chip, and I take to witness all the Gods, all the Goddesses, the Spirit, and the Soul, to keep, according to my ability and my judgment, the following Oath and agreement:  In pure holiness I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts. I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my friends/family/therapist when the skills of another are needed for my sanity. If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my unique self and may I long experience the joy of accepting others’ eccentricities.”
Feel free to declare this oath to yourself, if you feel so led. Celebrate your weirdness! But please don’t swear on my teddy bear. He is only for my own personal use.

Regarding the eternal duel between inner and outer beauty

Disclaimer: This will be the first in probably A LOT of posts about beauty and/or my mother. I love her very much, and like every woman with a mother-figure in their lives during adolescence, she impacted my ideas about beauty, sexuality, and men. And like most women, those ideas have transformed into my own theology since I have become an adult myself.
My mind keeps wandering to the connection between yearning for external beauty and my mother. Everyone’s mother has their own personal definition of beauty, which they inevitably pass on to their daughters, if they are so blessed.
My own mother never gave a—how do I say this—high value to physical beauty. There was never encouragement to wear in-style clothes, get my nails done, wax my errant hairs, or make sure every strand of hair was in place. She was (and still is) very practical, down to earth, and she raised me to believe that a man will love me for my mind, not my body, blah blah, etc. Except that’s not really what she believes. At the age of 64, my mother finally let it slip that she thinks that beauty and a great body are, well, 99% of snagging a man. This sent my tail spinning, let me tell you.
I was overweight my entire childhood and throughout college, and therefore I forgive my mother (mostly) for telling me that physical beauty wasn’t important when I was younger. Much better on the psyche. When I moved to Portland, Oregon eight years ago, I promptly lost 50 pounds by working at a weight loss clinic and, in general, changing my lifestyle. My whole thought process about my body was greatly altered over the course of several years (my body is my temple, my body is my temple…); of course it is still shifting day to day.
Of course dating was a whole new ballgame after I lost weight. Men definitely noticed my looks in a good way for the first time in my life, but the ratio of jerks to men who were genuinely interested in the whole package changed drastically. So the question is, was my mother right the first time? How do we break out of the web and form our own ideas without being completely overwhelmed by the ying/yang attitude of our society and our parents’ values breathing down our neck? What is the perfect balance of outer beauty and inner beauty?
Let’s face it:  when it comes to heterosexual relationships, which are the type I’m most familiar with, the man responds to what he sees first—chest, butt, lips, etc. In general, we have to be physically attracted to someone to desire a romantic relationship. But sometimes, a romance blossoms out of a friendship where physical attraction wasn’t initially a factor. I feel like someone is asking me what the meaning of life is. Everyone has their own answer, and none of them are wrong. So in a sense, both of my mother’s ideas were right!
Just please don’t tell her. She will never let it go.
To be continued…