Belly Dancer Seeks Soul-Arnica

Belly Dancer in a Box

I have been bellydancing for almost eight years. I have been blessed with many instructors, each of whom has a different forte and dance style. I feel extremely lucky to have had all of this vast knowledge at my fingertips for so many years, and I know I have grown from knowing every belly dancer who has been in my life, teachers and classmates alike. But…I can also have a big ego, and I’m not afraid of waving around my street cred. Sometimes I get in my Belly-Dancer-in-a-Box mode, where I am the be-all end-all of amateur belly dancers and everything I say should be gold. Sounds familiar, right? Needing (or faking) being the perfect [insert your noun here, in this case it’s “belly dancer”] in every way? Can we PUHLEASE just excommunicate the word perfect already??
When I began Claudia’s class last year, everyone else in it was a beginner. Why would I join a beginner’s class when I’ve been dancing for eight years? Let me explain. A while ago I had a mini burn-out. Belly dance was still a part of my daily life, but I was no longer interested in studying intensively. I flitted around from teacher to teacher, occasionally signing up for a workshop here and there, but not dancing at haflas (belly dance parties) or looking for the next stage performance opportunity. It was almost a year ago when my good friend Claudia started her beginner’s class. She invited me to attend, and I jumped at it. I had taken classes with her in the past and loved her teaching style. In this class, I thought, I could brush up on my basics and get a great workout while not worrying about the pressure of a performance prep class.
Oh, the irony. The class had been together for about six months when Claudia announced we were going to perform the choreography we had been working on at one of the restaurants where she danced. At first I was nervous…but there was no pressure, as it was a student show, the choreography was super simple, and we didn’t have to put much effort into our costumes – basically just black clothes with red hip scarves. I was lucky; I had just purchased a slinky top that was black with red seams and had mesh arms. It was perfect for the performance. The costume was taken care of, the choreography was seamless…everything was set! The night went fantastically and we were very well-received. It was really fun!
A short time later we started a new choreography, and Claudia asked us if we were interested in performing it at Saqra’s Showcase in November. This is a great venue for all levels of dancers to show off their skills. We excitedly agreed. I had danced in the showcase before, and knew the ropes. I began giving the other girls advice and hosted extra practices at my house. If they had questions I answered them, sometimes inwardly rolling my eyes and thinking DUH, they should know this stuff already! In class I was the first one to memorize all the choreography, which made me feel great…and slightly superior. After all, I was the seasoned pro, wasn’t I? In class, while I was dancing with the troupe, I wasn’t particularly thinking about anyone other than me. I have always performed as a solo dancer in the past, so thinking about my fellow dancers was a pretty big adjustment…and one that my ego did not particularly find comforting. I think Claudia could tell, because the one big critique she kept giving me was that I needed to be conscious of where I was dancing in relation to the other women. “You have to mark me, Becca!!” She would say. I honestly had no idea what she was talking about for the longest time. The practices felt tense to me; I could feel my internal pressure rising every week. I knew the choreography perfectly, but I was feeling like a total loser because I couldn’t find my place among the other women.
The showcase came horrifically fast for me. We ordered our tops and skirts just a week and a half before the performance. Then we began the process of sewing our belts. This is a laborious process, and it takes a lot of attention to detail (which I have) and some basic sewing skills (which I have…but they aren’t great). I started feeling way less superior when it took me twice as long to sew the fabric and coins onto my belt. I started feeling panicky when I realized exactly how much work was involved. In addition to the belt and all of its bells and whistles, I needed to reinforce the hook and eye on the skirt, hem the skirt, create some sort of accessory with the fabric (Head band? Arm band? Choker?), redo the hook and eye on the belt because it was too big the first time, find my flare pants to go under the skirt, buy a shrug to go over the coin top, paint my toenails…you get the picture. Plus, I live alone with no one to help me. On the Saturday before the performance I attempted to enlist help from every person I could think of. I just needed an extra set of hands. Many of my friends were out of town for some reason or had plans for the day. A large set of others were preparing their own costumes for the Swashbucklers Ball that evening. I posted on Twitter and Facebook trying to find someone to help me. Not one bite. I felt my big superior ego shrinking by the minute. I was quickly learning that even though I had learned the technical skills of belly dancing long ago, there was still a ton to learn. It made me realize I should drop all the superior crap and just live the experience, piece by piece, because clearly my whole Belly-Dancer-in-a-Box routine was just not working.
I finally suckered my new friend Rich into coming over for a few hours. Poor guy…he barely knows me, and I didn’t even tell him that he would be at risk of losing his Man Card by helping me with a sewing project. But he didn’t ask, so when I told him, I was relieved to hear that he was pretty sure his Man Card would remain intact. He kept me focused on my project and lent me a kind ear while I babbled about all the stress I was feeling over this crazy sewing project.
The showcase was last night. Our group did a great job. We all looked lovely and the audience clapped and cheered for us. It was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. No one cared that it was not perfect. Afterward what I felt most was relief that it was over. I’m a little sad that I could not let myself enjoy it as much as I could have. I was still feeling so much pressure and stress that I really wasn’t in the moment. Now that I’ve had time to let the experience marinate, I have a couple of realizations.
*I’m not ready to start performing solo again, nor do I particularly want to perform in the troupe more than a few times a year.
*I am not the be-all, end-all Belly-Dancer-in-a-Box. I am one unique person in a huge community of dancers with all kinds of the skills it takes to create a great show.
*Memorizing choreography isn’t the only measure of a good performance.
*My ego needs to chill. I need to give myself time to breathe, no matter how rushed I am. Stress for me brings on denial, which brings on a fake superiority so that I don’t have to think about what my flaws are.
*Most importantly, and one that I have to hear daily: No one is perfect.

My troupe, Benet Jenna, all unique and beautiful women


Circle of Friends

Warning, this post is going to be extremely raw and honest and might be about YOU. I will not be adding names to this post, though many of the people cited have been highlighted in this blog before. If I have mentioned you, please know I am telling this particular story because it has helped me work out some of my own issues. It is not to hurt or expose anyone.
I’ve noticed that many of my friendship statuses have been fluctuating this year. What I mean is that throughout the year I have noticed that my previously ever-steady close circle of friends has expanded and shrunk, and gone through a metamorphosis. It’s a very good thing…and of course it all happens for a reason.
My mother always said it’s better to have 75 good friends than only a few best friends. I have always disagreed with her. I feel if I have those 75 “outer circle” friends and I can’t count on one of them to check in with me every day, make sure I get my morning coffee, or know to ask for the full name and phone number of my blind date, then I may wind up with many acquaintances, but no one to make sure I came back from that blind date in one piece. I have a small circle of friends that I talk to every day or near enough, and they always take priority. I have a larger set of friends who I acknowledge at least once a week, even if it’s just on Facebook. The outer ring of the circle are the friends who I can go weeks or months without talking to, and I know that once the link is reconnected, it will be like no time has passed.
I like these definitions. The three rings of friendship give me security. And like a good (and single) Virgo, they give me comfort that someone will notice if I dip below the radar in less than 24 hours. Please see Sex and the City Season 2 where Miranda chokes on her food and has to save herself by heaving her upper body over a chair. Right afterwards she calls Carrie in a panic that no one will know she is dead for days, except her cats, who have, in the meantime, eaten her eyeballs. Have I had these fears? Oh yes. I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that Miranda is a Virgo.
There are several accounts that I will share that back up this theory of friend fluctuation. This year through life’s trials and tribulations, one of my closest friends and I became almost completely estranged. She moved a half-hour away and was in a bad situation with an extremely controlling partner. This was someone who I used to speak with every day, who I could count on to be there for me whenever I needed her. Then the friendship I had known for seven years just stopped cold turkey. When she dropped off the radar, I felt feelings of panic well up. This was my go-to for all the crazy ideas I had that no one else would take part in. I knew I’d always have a date with her any time I had the urge for salsa dancing. In addition, and most importantly, she had two children who I considered family. I was having withdrawal symptoms for them most of all.
Another situation was with my former roommate. We lived together for three years, and then separated, citing a potential friend break-up and the desire to live on opposite sides of town as solid reasons to get out while the going was good. Almost immediately after moving, she met her soon-to-be fiancée…and dropped off the face of the earth. When I did see her it was almost always as a duo. I felt like our interests and commonalities were drifting at a rather alarming rate. After what seemed like no time at all, she and her boyfriend became engaged. My mind was absolutely boggled when she asked me to be a bridesmaid. I was at this point feeling pretty distant from her, and in addition I had just spent a lot of money on another friend’s wedding and was starting to feel resentful and frustrated about all my friends with their stupid weddings. I began having feelings of incredible unhappiness about this long-time friend and former roommate, when I should have been nothing but elated for her. I knew I would eventually have to tell her I couldn’t be in the wedding for financial reasons, but I was terrified she would hate me. So I did what any normal person would do:  I avoided her and the situation completely.
My last story is about my trusty hiking friend. We had been hiking together for two years and were always close, no matter if one of us had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Then, he met Her. Suddenly he was always too busy to hike with me. They had plans to go away for the weekend, or they had a function with Her parents. He fell off the map! The three of us hiked a few times but it was pretty clear that she was now the priority and I would have to work around their schedule. I admit it, I was jealous. Not only did he have a great partner, he found someone who liked to hike. I wanted someone who liked to hike!! The worst part of all? I actually enjoyed this girl. The night I met Her, he brought Her to my birthday party. He was clear he wanted me to meet Her and he wanted to know exactly what I thought. I really wanted to not like Her, because that meant he would be free to hang with me any time. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. As I have grown to know Her more, I hate to say it, but she is awesome. Grrrr…
Because of these estrangements, I had an awful lot of time on my hands. My brain understood that all of this extra time I now had was partially the cause and effect of people growing up, getting married, moving across town, etc. Though I may be single and childless, I can comprehend the need to focus on one’s family, but from my standpoint it can really stink when everyone else has different priorities and I am stuck alone, partnerless, and without family in the immediate area. While I love being an independent woman who chose to move away from her hometown eight years ago, sometimes I feel a little sad, knowing that most of my friends have a partner to run to or a kiddo to cuddle when they feel this way. This is exactly why I chose to have the close circle of friends. But when they aren’t making me a priority, who is left? I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t been faced with this situation before.
Instead of crying (much), I opened my up my contact list. I went through the list, noting people who I hadn’t talked to in ages but who I still very much wanted a connection with. One in particular stood out. We hadn’t seen each other in the flesh for over 4 years, but somehow we always stayed kindred spirits. We linked up on social media websites, talking about how we should get together, but we never actually did. So when I saw an opportunity one day, I took it. I knew she loved belly dance; she took classes from me when I was teaching a few years ago. There was a show coming up that I knew she would love, so I invited her, and she said yes! On a whim, I also invited my estranged salsa-dancing partner-in-crime as well, hoping she would bite, and I was so pleased when she decided to go! My evening was filled with catching up with the old and creating bonds with the new.
As for my former roommate, I finally got up the nerve to tell her I couldn’t be in the wedding. It was only fair; I couldn’t leave her in a lurch without a bridesmaid at the very last minute. I cornered her (figuratively speaking—it was over email) and got her to agree on a solo dinner. I hemmed and hawed during the entire dinner, only able to speak about my situation after we had paid and walked out the door. I don’t know what I was expecting: a slap in the face, tears? No, my friend was cooler than a cucumber and, as I should have known, hit the nail right on the head. She told me she wanted me to enjoy the wedding, not be pressured by it in any way. She said she didn’t want me to resent the financial burden that being a bridesmaid can bring upon someone. I was so relieved. I was also thrilled when she told me I would still be completely involved in any part of the wedding I wanted. The weight that lifted off of me was palpable. It also opened me up to wanting to spend time with her again. We have since completely renewed our friendship and are closer than ever. The grace of honesty in a relationship is something that can never be overemphasized. Even though we still live across town and have different marital statuses, we can be as close in spirit as we want.
Because I was left high and dry without a hiking partner, I was grumpy. I am used to getting dozens of hikes on the books each year, and I was at a loss. The Universe must have been working overtime because I gained two brand-new hiking buddies this year, completely by coincidence! One of them, as I have previously mentioned, took it upon himself to invite himself on one of my already-planned hikes. The other I had known for a while, and it just seemed natural that once we established our mutual love for hiking, we would do it together. What makes me really happy is that I have gotten all my hiking buddies, new and old, on the same hike. Thanks for listening, Universe!
Does this mean my mother was right? I don’t want to say she was 100% correct. I still want to be confident that my cats won’t be eating my eyeballs because no one checked in on me, but it’s nice to branch out and let some of the outer circle in a little closer.
When one door closes, another one opens. I swear I have read or heard this mantra hundreds of times in my life. No matter what, it always ends up being true. Life can really be painful, but I have found that once I get past the clouds, I can see the sun shining through. It really is a beautiful thing.

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