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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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!!

 

Another day to be Grateful

And so another Thanksgiving has come and gone.
As always, I attempt to participate in the 30 days of gratitude on social media, and I tend to do well at the beginning of the month, but always seem to forget towards the end.  That’s fine though, because when I forget…its because I’m out enjoying life…finding more moments to be grateful for.

Adopting an attitude of gratitude these days can be quite trying, to be honest.  Everyone is offended by everything these days.  Its all “PC” and “Trigger Warnings”  and “I’m offended by that” and “That’s cultural appropriation.”

People are judged by the color of their skin.  Their religious beliefs.  What they wear.  What they listen to.  What they eat, for crying out loud.

The world is a crazy place right now.
Yet, in the midst of all of this, even with seasonal depression rearing its ugly head, I have hope, and I am grateful.

I’m grateful for an amazing, loving family, crazy as they are.  I’ve had such an incredible amount of support from my entire family this last year, it blows my mind.

I have a solid group of friends:  TRUE friends…people who don’t judge.  They offer encouragement.  Support.  An ear.   Love.  Food.  Hugs.  Advice.  We have game nights, and poker, and wine and cheese nights, and D&D nights, and Hogswatch, and dance days, and sushi dates, and baby hugs, and Godtoddlers, and book clubs, and Sunday Dinner.  We trade stories, and clothing, and books.  We’re affectionate and loving.
We’re family.

I actually have a pretty great group of online friends too…mostly new friends, but ones who listen, give solid advice, and who are just really freaking cool women.

I had another surgery on my kidney, which seems to have really helped, if not completely solved my pain problem.  It may be too soon to tell for long term, but I have been mostly pain free since July.  I have a handful of days where I experience pain, but its not nearly as bad as it used to be.  My surgeon took plenty of precautions to make sure that I healed well, and I’m grateful.

I’ve started dancing again. Through the support of one of my best friends, I entered my very first belly dance competition this past September.  I performed for the first time in 4 years on the Flamingo Library Stage.  I made it into the top 12 dancers!  Not too shabby for 2 months post surgery.  I fulfilled a 12 year dream: I improvised a drum solo to live accompaniment by Issam Houshan!  Since the competition, I’ve performed with 3 other amazing ladies, and we have another performance coming up in January.  I have ideas for a new solo for myself, and have a couple of duet ideas in the works too.  Through the competition, I met and reconnected with several dancers who are awesome people.

On November 6, I married the love of my life.  Yes, that’s right dear readers.  I don’t think I ever actually updated about the proposal…but Morgan and I married just 3 weeks ago.  It was a beautiful day: The ceremony was hilarious, and we were surrounded by loved ones…Morgan’s dad and oldest friend from Alaska even came, which meant the world to us.

And so, of course, I’m grateful for my husband.  My best friend.  My lover.  My partner in crime…my partner in life.  The man who puts up with my crazy.  My lazy.  My scared. My silly.  My rock…the one with the cool head and logic…with the huge heart, incredible mind, and such passion.  Morgan knows EVERYTHING about me, and chooses every day to love me…even though I hate putting laundry away, and I’m obsessed with Doctor Who, and I’m overly sensitive sometimes.  Being married has been incredible so far.  Nothing has changed, and yet, everything has.

I’m grateful for the life I live.  Sure there are snags.  There are areas I don’t like, and want to change.  There are issues, and sadness.  There’s uncertainty.  Through all of it, and the craziness of the world, though, I choose to feel grateful for what I have.  For the amazing people I am so blessed to know, and love.

I can’t possibly tag or mention everyone, but you know who you are.  Yes, you.  I treasure you.  I value you.

And I am grateful.