15 years of dance

Can it truly be that as of today, I have been studying Arab dance for 15 years?

Not quite a third of my life, and yet, I have difficulty remembering my life without it.  Recalling days when some of my favorite artists didn’t include Oum Kalsoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, or Mohamed Abdel Wahab seems impossible.  Remembering life before meeting all of the absolutely amazing friends I’ve met through the bellydance world and community is strange to me.  Some of my very best friends are dancers.

I remember back to when I knew that I had to learn to dance:
I was at the Bristol Rennaissance Faire, and I saw this woman dancing.  She was just STUNNING.  I’d seen belly dancers before, but never had I seen someone embody music the way she did…and she was only accompanied by a drum!  I knew then that I had to learn from her.
I waited until the show was over, and approached her, asking if she taught.  She did, and said she would come back with a card.

This was the day that I met my first teacher, Nadia Sahar.

The first lesson that I took was, quite literally, life changing.  I searched for and bought any music that sounded remotely like what was used in class.  I fell in love with singers like Amr Diab and Hakim.  I practiced every single day.

From that first class on, I was unstoppable for a very long time. Searching for knowlege from multiple classes, multiple teachers, spending every waking moment either dancing or thinking about dance.  I took a handful of workshops in Milwaukee and Chicago, with amazing, big name dancers.

After moving to Las Vegas, my horizons expanded even more, as I was fortunate enough to join a troupe and perform with some amazing people.  I took more workshops than ever, and attended my very first dance festivals.  I even started teaching beginners classes, and was lucky enough to teach at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive before it ended in 2015.  I also competed for the first time that year, and made amazing friends and memories.

I’ve slowed down a bit over the last few years, due mostly to my health, but my passion is still there.  When given the choice, i would gladly listen to Arab music over anything that’s played on the radio today.

I’ve found performance opportunites within the belly dance community locally, and also with friends hosting charity fundraisers. I still take workshops whenever I can, and am travelling to a festival next July.  How exciting!

As I do every year, I find it so important to thank the many amazing teachers, mentors, and peers who inspire and challenge me to become the best dancer I can possibly be.  There is no way I could possibly thank every single one personally, but here are some general notes of gratitude:

To my mentors, the teachers I have studied with in countless classes and workshops over the years. From the instruction of movement, to, folkloric dance, to Arabic words, songs, and music structure, to origins of the dance and music, you’ve given me a firm foundation to build upon.  You’ve opened my eyes to the wonder that is Arab dance and music.  You all make me want to be the best dancer that I can be.   Your passion, your patience, your continued support, your feedback…I cannot thank you enough.  Thank you for challenging me to grow.   You inspire and amaze me.  I cherish everything you’ve done for me and for other dancers, and hope that I make you proud when I dance.

To the amazing teachers that I have only studied with for a short time/taken one or two workshops with over the years:  Thank you for everything that you’ve taught me: choreographies, variations of movements, warm ups, Arabic words,  drills, props, makeup techniques, facial expression, stage and spacial awareness, and so many other amazing things.   Thank you for everything that you’ve taught me.  Thank you for what you do, and for providing areas of growth and development, inspiration, and wonderful memories.

To my peers: Other dancers, professional or just for fun, dance partners, troupe members, students…friends.  Thank you so much for believing in me.  For challenging me.  For unbiased feedback about performances.  For providing performance opportunites, and workshop opportunities.  Thank you for listening and understanding when I post swoony things about dance and music.  Thank you for your friendship.  You also inspire me so much.  I’m inspired by the dedication to doing what you love.

This dance has changed my life in so many amazing ways.  Here’s to the last 15 years, and also to many, many more.

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Random Musings for mid January

The first two and a half weeks of the year have passed.
So far, I have to admit, its been pretty awesome!

We spent New Year’s Eve drinking margaritas, eating delicious food, and playing games with some of our best friends.  Its the first NYE that Morgan hasn’t had a karaoke or DJ gig in 4 years, so it was really nice to be able to just relax.

I participated in a “Decadent Desires Challenge”  through Life Transitions for Women on their Facebook page, and not only did I win some cool prizes that I can’t wait to receive, but I have an actual plan of action to start achieving some of my deepest desires this year! It seems so simple when you sit back and make an action plan.

So, the next big thing on my agenda is surgery tomorrow.
I have an 18mm kidney stone in my right kidney.

I know.

After a year and a half of not having any kidney pain or problems, almost 2 months ago, after going running one day, I came home, and when I went to the bathroom, there was blood in my urine.
Now…I know this isn’t normal, and I probably should have had it checked a bit sooner, but, I don’t have a primary care doctor, and the urologist I had been seeing for my surgery no longer takes my insurance, so I didn’t have a urologist either.
Morgan suggested that it was my cycle.  And while I know my cycle, and knew that it wasn’t that, I convinced myself that it was.  It went away after a day.
A week later, my cycle came, the way it always does.  And then a week after that, after running again, there was more blood in my urine.

I ended up waiting longer than I should have, but after the 4th time seeing blood after a run, I decided that something wasn’t right, and that I needed to go to the ER.

After my CT, they told me I have an 18mm kidney stone.
That’s the size of a dime, in case you were wondering.   Most kidney stones are the size of a period or smaller.

So, I have to have another Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (or ESWL) procedure done tomorrow.  Its non invasive.  My recovery time should be short, and then I can get back on my C25K training, and weight lifting.
This happens tomorrow, and I’m hoping that by January 31st, that I’m feeling up to exercise.  Its been a couple of weeks since I’ve actually worked out, and I’m dying over here.

Besides my health, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and research about dance.
As a student of Arab dance for the last almost 15 years, it blows my mind how much I still don’t know.  I don’t say that out of arrogance.  There is ALWAYS something new to learn.  I’m a big fan of remaining a student for the rest of my life.  The moment I think I know everything is the moment I need to quit.

However.

Sometimes I feel like I’m LOSING information I used to have because I’ve been out of classes for so long.  I have days when I listen to a song, and I simply cannot pick out the rhythm, and I should know what it is.  I find myself pondering what maqam a song is in, and even though I’ve only studied a handful of the maqam in 3 workshops….I still beat myself up when I can’t pick it out.

I think sometimes after watching my videos on Facebook that I’m a mediocre dancer.  All I can do is pick out the trouble spots.  My arms suck.  My turns suck.  My musicality has suffered by not dancing.  I feel that I’ll never be as good as I want to be.  That I’ll never travel and teach.  That I’m not as good as some of my peers.

But then I think about some of the compliments that I’ve received on my dancing, recently for one of them…how I’ve been told by 2 of the teachers that I HIGHLY respect and admire, who are in a class all their own…who are actually Arab…one has told me that I’m a classy dancer, and the other commented that I dance “very Arab” which is the highest compliment I believe I could ever receive.  These people aren’t the kind of people who will simply compliment you just for the heck of it, or to stroke your ego.

Not saying that my friends or husband would say that I’m a great dancer when I’m actually  not…but its different coming from people who are of the culture you are representing.  I want my friends to know that I love and appreciate their support and compliments too.  I always have and always will.  This is by no means a slight.

I’ve also been told by 2 strangers at different points in my dance life, just while social dancing (the “get up and dance” portion of a set at restaurants where my friends are dancing) that I must be Arab.  So I must be doing something right…

Its hard to not be in my own head sometimes though, to be honest.  Dancing is all I’ve ever wanted to do, since I was 22 years old, falling in love with the dance.  I’ve wanted to travel to Egypt to study.  I’ve wanted to travel all over the US, studying, performing and also teaching.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have taught 2 workshops at the beloved Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive before it died.  I taught a handful of extremely dedicated beginner students before I started having all of these horrible kidney troubles.
I want to get back there again, and surpass it.  I want to be able to dance full time, and actually make a living at it.

I know it can be done.  I have friends who are doing it now.
But here comes that insecurity again…they’re so much better than I am…even though I might have more years of Arab Dance under my belt, they’re able to put in the time and money to continue taking classes where I can’t right now, and haven’t been able to for several years (because of my health, mostly.)

But guess what.
I can still do it.

I just have to make getting into classes a priority this year, and I’m going to. Whether its a 5 or 6 week session, or 1 hour long private class a month, I WILL get back into class.  I WILL work my technique and improve.  I WILL perform more often, and more varied styles (Khalji anyone?  Coming up soon!).  I will make it.

Because I have the drive, and the DESIRE to do it.  To share my passion with people.

I just have to prioritize and commit…and I’m doing that right now. Insha’Allah, this year will be the year that some of these dreams come true.

Yalla!

 

Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive 2015

Me dancing at the LVBDI in 2015. This photo SO captures how dancing makes me feel. Photo by Lee Corkett

 

 

I am Thankful! Even if its 2 weeks late.

Ah, life.
The fun never stops, let me tell you.

We’ve had a crazy couple of weeks.
Work has picked up and been busy.  Lots of busyness over the last 2 weeks, so my yearly “Thanksgiving” blog is late.

As mentioned in a recent post, its been a rough year.
People have left our lives.  We had to move.  Money has been tight.  We owe people money. People owe us money.  The election.  Standing Rock (but hooray for the victory that happened this weekend!).  So many bright stars have passed on this year…2016 has been rough for a lot of people.

Even as I write this, I feel myself succumbing to my seasonal depression.  I’m exhausted.  I’m sad.  I feel like an afterthought sometimes. I know that its just my depression, and that these things aren’t true.  They’re far from it.  Still, sometimes its difficult to remember, and it can be hard to see a silver lining.

There is, happily, much to be thankful for in my life, however.  It doesn’t matter how bad I feel, or how hard it is for me to see the good sometimes.  Its there.  Part of why I love doing this blog every year, is because it forces me to think of the good things in my life at a time when I generally feel very low.

  1. I’m thankful for our new little home.  Yes its small.  But its all ours.  We don’t have to cater to anyone but ourselves.  We can be naked all the time if we want.  We can listen to music.  We can cook at all hours of the night.  We don’t have to worry about anything but ourselves.
  2. I’m thankful for the amazing friends that I have in my life.  Near and far.  Some I’ve never met.  Some I’ve known for years.  Some I just met on Friday night after being online friends for years! (Leslie!) In a time when people seem to be flaking and dropping us, I’m truly grateful for the friends that remain.  Who stand by us.  Who still care.  Who understand that even though we may have disagreements, or even fight, that we still love and care about them.
    I’m grateful for a couple very  specific groups of ladies who I know online.
    My sounding board.  My soul sisters, across this country and others.  My encouragers, in life, in love, in dance, in fitness.  Ladies who make me laugh.  Ladies who have a love for food, and a tremendous respect for each other.  Ladies who give tough love, who tell it like it is, even if its not what you want to hear.
    I’m grateful for my core friends here in Vegas.  The friends we have dinners with.  The friends we have game nights and poker nights with.  The friends we karaoke with.  Attend children’s birthday parties with. The friends who have helped is in our time of need, be it financially, physically helping us to move, or just by offering moral support and an ear.  Friends who laugh with me.  Cry with me.  Eat delicious, stinky cheeses with me.  Share music and videos with me.  Play D&D with me.  Dance with me.  Sing with me. Share amazing concerts and other awesome experiences with me.  Just hang out with me.
    I’m grateful for my friends who don’t live near me anymore, but who keep in touch.  Who ask how I’m doing.  Who send love, and post things to make me smile.
    There really is nothing in the world like a good friend, and I count myself VERY lucky to be blessed with some amazing friends.
  3. I’m so thankful for my family.  We’ve really grown much closer over the last few months. We visit almost every week, and I’m grateful to have grown so close with my family that lives here again.  I miss my family in Illinois too.  So much.  But thanks to Snapchat and Facebook, I’m able to chat with my nieces and nephew, and my SEESTER and cousin.  I love you guys.
  4. I’m grateful for dance.  Always.  I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made through dance.  For the fun experiences I’ve had.  I’m grateful for my partners in the Gin Fizz Jezebels, even though we haven’t danced together in a long time, I have amazing memories of Steam-a-thon with you ladies, and hope we can get together again soon.
    I’m grateful for my teachers.  For the ones I’ve studied with for years, or years ago. For the ones I’ve taken workshops with, whether it was one or many over the years.  I’m grateful for having venues to dance in, whether they are community haflas or the awesome Benefit Shows put on by my friends.
    I’m grateful for the way dancing makes me feel.  For the amazing music that I love so much.  For the maqam, and the lyrics, and the instrumentation.  I’m grateful for all of the knowledge I’ve received, not only about the Dance but about Arab culture:  the culture I’ve fallen so in love with.  The culture I hope to someday be able to teach others about, and spread the love.
  5. I’m grateful for discovering my spirituality.  Learning more this year than I have in years past about the spiritual path that I want to take.  I’m grateful to have very recently (Sunday) gone to the Goddess temple with two friends who are helping to guide me on my path.
  6. Finally, I am grateful for my husband and dogs.  For OUR little tiny family.  For our little branch on the tree.
    I’m grateful to have a husband who is patient with me when I’m cranky, or sad, or crazy, or confused.  I’m grateful that he takes time to understand how I feel, and where I’m coming from.  I’m grateful that he shows appreciation for what I do every day, and for all the things that he does as well.  I’m grateful that he cares for and is training our two fur babies.  I’m grateful that he’s helped Jack come so far from where he was.  That he’s helping Phedra to learn to walk off leash, to come when called, and so many other things.
    I’m grateful that my pups are such a source of joy for us.  That we’re able to just lay in bed with them, and snuggle, or throw a ball, or take them to the park and play, and we just laugh with them so much.  I love that they both are such crazy characters.
    Weekends with my little family are my favorite times.  Playing games with Morgan, taking the dogs to the park, or just laying in bed snuggling, and watching Downton Abby…it really is my favorite time.
    Morgan, my love, I am truly grateful for you.  I love you so much.

As this year starts winding down, I choose to remain grateful for all the abundance in my life.  I am truly blessed to have the life that I have.  To all those who continue to choose to be a part of our lives, I love you.  Thank you.

Journey, Paths, and Happiness

Its only been a month or so since my last blog post here, yet I feel like its been AGES since I’ve had anything of substance to post.

I’ve started and deleted posts a few times.  Mostly because they were overwhelmingly negative.  I was going through a rough time, and while things aren’t 100% better, I have a better outlook on things.

In my last post, I spoke a bit about body confidence, and self image.  I wrote that I felt beautiful and proud of my body the last time I performed.  I’m glad that I was able to experience that feeling, because right now, I’m going through an internal battle about my body.

Its not that I don’t think I’m beautiful.  I do…kind of.  But what I’m having a lot of trouble with is the fact that because I’m so overweight right now, my body hurts.  Its a struggle for me to bend down, to go up stairs, even dancing can be pretty rough on me.

Over the last week, I’ve started watching my portion sizes again.  I really don’t eat badly.  Morgan is a great cook, and is conscious about what he makes for me.  He knows I want to eat cleaner and healthier.  I just have a bad habit of stuffing myself to the point of discomfort.
This week, I’ve started to eat more frequently, and smaller portions.  I feel more awake during the day, and I am starting to have more energy.

I also have started going to the gym with a good friend.  Just Monday, I did 2 miles on the elliptical, in 30 minutes.  That’s HUGE for me.  I burned 311 calories.   In 30 minutes!  That’s amazing.

I’m so sore today, but I’m anxiously awaiting 6:50pm when I meet my friend at the gym again.  More elliptical.  More abs.  MORE!!!

The ultimate goal that I’ve set for myself is that I want to lose 37 pounds by September.  In September, I’m going to start P90X again.  I feel, knowing my own body and limitations, that I need to wait until I’m under 200 pounds.  My joints and knees will NOT like me doing Plyometrics with all of this extra weight.

Once September hits, I will start my first 3 months of P90X.  I can do this!
Now, I will not be following the P90X diet guide.  The last 2 times I did this, when I increased my protein, my kidney started having problems.  That’s way too much of a coincidence for my taste these days.  So I will be having a high protein diet, but not overwhelming myself with it.

I’m excited to be in a place where I can take back my health. Being almost a whole year pain free is incredible.  I honestly don’t know why I waited so long to start exercising again, and to eat better.

The important thing is, that the time is NOW.  I’m going to be healthy.  I’m 36 years old.  If I want to be in this body for another 70+ years, I need to make sure that she’s running in top form!

I’m dancing more too, which will help with my stamina and my fitness level.  A dear friend of mine and I are polishing a duet that we’ve been working on for 2 years off and on.  I have 2 solo performances coming up in July.  Things are picking up and looking up for me, here, and I’m very happy about it.

Performance, self confidence, and acceptance…

This past  weekend, I was fortunate enough to perform at a charity event that a dear friend hosted.  We were raising money for the Sin Sity Sisters of Las Vegas, who promote HIV and AIDS awareness/assistance, and safe sex education.

Since I’ve only started dancing again recently, I’m dealing with some issues as far as body confidence, especially when it comes to my belly.

I’m usually the first to jump in and promote the amazing benefits of belly dance, one of them being increased body confidence.  Its amazing thing, to suddenly find something that makes you feel comfortable in your own skin.

The last time I had performed without a body stocking was about 6 years ago.  I had just finished 6 months of P90X.  I was ripped.  I was thin.  I didn’t have back fat.  I had also been performing monthly, or bi monthly for about 8 years.  I was comfortable as a dancer, performer, and student.

As I started having issues with  my kidneys, I started dancing less.  Having constant chronic pain tends to take away a person’s desire to do anything other than lay in bed on the heating pad.  I also started putting on weight, which made me feel uncomfortable again.

For this performance, I had a friend loan me a really beautiful bedlah (bra and belt set).  I tried it on without a body stocking, and found myself looking at my reflection thinking “I’m almost there.  If I can drop 15 pounds, and wait until my scars lighten up a little, I can dance without a body stocking. ”  As if she was reading my mind, my friend said to me that I should dance without one.

Initially, my big issue was that my scars would be visible.  I’ve had 3 laproscopic procedures done:  2 robotic pyloplasties on my right kidney, and one tubal ligation/salpingectomy.  I have a total of 13 scars on my stomach.  Some of them have already faded quite a bit, but some of them are red and angry, due to post surgical weight gain.  They are truly very ugly scars.  And now, I am about to do something I never thought that I would do.  I’m going to share pictures of my scars on the internet.

Its really difficult for me to look at these scars, especially the big, misshapen ones, and think of them as anything but ugly.  They’re all over.  They’re big.  They’re even visible THROUGH my body stockings!  For the longest time, I’ve been super ashamed of them.

After this friend and I spoke, and after my husband continued to reassure me that I looked beautiful, and thin (even though I know I’m not, he complimented me on how much the costume and bare belly accentuated that I do have a small waist), I started thinking more and more about my scars.

Who would really see them?  The performance was going to be in a dark nightclub/bar setting.

Shouldn’t I be proud to show them off?  After all, 10 of them are from fixing my kidney.  Its because of the biggest and angriest scars that I’m able to dance at all right now.  If I hadn’t had the last pyloplasty, I’d probably still be having bouts of horrific pain every couple of weeks.  I’d be in the hospital, or taking pain killers just to function instead of taking classes and workshops.

As much as I wanted to accept myself, scars and all, as a plus sized dancer, its intimidating to dance without a belly cover, even without scars.  There are so many critics out there.  People who will look only at the physical appearance, and ignore the technique, passion, or musicality.  There was a video floating around a couple of months ago of a really beautiful and talented dancer performing a drum solo in her living room.  She had a beautiful shape:  not super skinny, but smaller than I am.  She was curvy and toned.  She had great technique, and really wonderful musicality.  People commented on the video about how fat she was, and that she wasn’t “a real belly dancer” because she was “fat.”  “Real belly dancers are thin” they said.

Imagine my worries about people saying similar things about me, with my much bigger waist line, and 13 ugly scars.  Similar or worse.

Of course, I know all of that is a load of bollocks.  Belly Dance is for all shapes and sizes.  I’ve seen amazing performances from dancers who are thin and muscular to thick and curvy, and everywhere in between.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it.  I wanted to free my belly again.  I wanted to proudly show off my battle scars from the victory I won over hydronephrosis, and papillary necrosis.  I wanted to show that good technique and musicality doesn’t depend on what size your costume is.   I wanted to challenge myself to feel good about who I am RIGHT NOW, not who I will be in a few months.

I’ll readily admit:  I packed the body stocking, just in case I chickened out.  I also happened to be on my cycle at the time, and my emotions were a little out of whack…I wanted that security to be there and available in case I arrived at the venue and decided that a bare belly wasn’t going to happen.

It didn’t come out of my suitcase.

I’m extremely proud to say that I performed for the first time in 6 years with a bare belly.  No one commented about my scars.  No one commented about my weight.  I had people throwing money at the tip chest, and at me as I danced, which has never happened before.  (all of the tips went to the charity, by the way.)  People enjoyed my dancing.

More importantly, I enjoyed myself.  While I was up there, I had no second thoughts.  I had no thoughts of  “Can they see my scars?”  “Do I look bad?”   No, the only thing on my mind was how much fun I was having…and trying to remember Ashtelea’s choreography.
(Forgive the blurry images, sometimes dancing and snapping photos don’t mix.)

I feel liberated.  I feel free.  Who would have thought that leaving behind one extremely uncomfortable accessory would be this big of a deal…but if you look at the photos, the scars aren’t visible from the stage.  I don’t look that big.  I actually feel like I look fairly beautiful.  (A big deal for me to say that…those of you who read regularly know that I struggle with self image and confidence)

This dance style is one that should be empowering for all who perform it.  I’m proud to say that I’ve finally taken a step toward empowering myself as a woman who has been through a lot, and as a dancer.

I’m grateful for the support of my friend, and of my husband.  Without the two of them, I’d have donned that body stocking, and continued to feel bad about myself.

That’s not to say that I won’t struggle.  I’m also not saying I’ll never wear a body stocking again.  Sometimes, they are appropriate.  But at least now, I feel as though I have the freedom and confidence to choose.

**Side note:  The benefit raised $600 for the charity that night, with all of the different performers and raffles.  I’m proud to have been a part of it!!