Moments of Glory

I felt the glorious tonight, and I realized something. There are few times that I feel more sensual, more alluring, more glorious than when I am being slow and slinky in belly dance. When I am being deliberate and controlled, powerful and serpentine, particularly with snake arms. There’s a power in the movement, as well as a power in the one performing it. There is a strength, endurance, and control that the movement requires to be flowing and mesmerizing. There is also a feeling that goes with it, a confidence, a fierceness. I saw it in the raising of my chin, the tilt of my head, the deep, warm light in my eyes (I even had a thought that they could rival Anne Boleyn’s famed “dark hooks for the soul”), and the curve of my lips. It started without, curled and coiled within, and then flowed outward again, suffusing my body, mind, and soul.

It’s been a long while since I danced. Almost a year. Being back in boot camp class–conditioning, drilling, practicing, perfecting–reminds me of the beauty, strength, and the power that I found in the dance. And in myself as I did it. As my calves are so poignantly reminding me after Egyptian “choo-choo” shimmy drills, this dance, like any other, takes power. It takes strong muscles for control and precision in the movements, as well as developed endurance and stamina to make it through open dances and choreography without dropping to the floor. And even though performing really isn’t my thing anymore, I still love the dance. I love the drills, I love the conditioning, I love learning to move my body in new, prepossessing ways. In ways that make me feel beautiful, charming, captivating, mesmerizing (our goal-word when I first started dancing).

I felt the glorious tonight, and I’m holding on to that sublimity.


Muncie Gras 2010. Photography by Rachel Penticuff.



Longing for Grace

Have you ever longed for grace?  I do. I long for it all the time. There’s that fluid physical adroitness that you see in pictures, film, or on stage. To watch it makes my chest heat and swell, pressure building until it feels like I am drowning. Maybe it’s just my heart growing three sizes too big from the beauty of it. It will literally bring me to tears.

When I belly danced, I felt graceful for almost the first time in my life. It is a similar feeling now to when I wear my favorite dress and heels. I have at least a small sense of the work and dedication that goes into harnessing such grace within yourself and I admire those who do all the more deeply. But there are those for whom grace seems a natural state of being and they are also people whom I admire.

I don’t feel graceful all the time; more than half the time, I rather feel like I am plunking along through life. Racing here and stumbling there, banging to this or that, and doing my best to do life as well as I can. But grace goes so far beyond the lines that my body makes when it moves or stretches or dances. So while I long and strive for grace of movement, what is even more important to me, I have found, is grace of heart, grace of soul. I want to show grace throughout my life. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be a pushover or a doormat. No. But that is not what grace means. Grace is showing compassion and love, giving a soft answer rather than giving someone the piece of our mind that we may feel they so richly deserve. It is listening to hear rather than just waiting for our turn to speak. It is continuing to give and remember, even in those times when we might feel forgotten ourselves. That is the grace that I want, the grace that deeply desire to cultivate and root deeply in my life and to show my daughter as she grows. That is the grace I long for.

Beautiful Bellies

This past Sunday, I performed with my belly dance class at the end-of-semester recital for the arts center where our class and others were held. As I watched the other belly dance classes perform their pieces, an idea struck me. I love the bellies that I see in this community of dance. Almost every woman and girl there Sunday bared her belly, proud in her beauty and grace, as she danced, and I found myself observing them as well as enjoying their performances. And I found that I love those bellies.

There are bellies that have borne children, still bearing the marks of that great effort, and have perhaps gone with less or even without so a child’s belly would not.

There are bellies that have seen decades of life, work, changes, and love.

There are bellies still soft with baby fat, barely in their first act of life.

There are bellies slender with vivacity and activity. Bellies strong and muscular with hard work and determination. Bellies voluptuous and curvy. Bellies dimpled and scarred with evidence and proof of life.

There are bellies of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and each and every single one is beautiful, graceful, lovely, and powerful.

It is the magnificence of each woman that makes up the beauty of the dance.


Growing Up is Hard

Muncie Gras 2008 062

Muncie Gras 2008

Late last night, I performed at an annual event called Muncie Gras. Yep, it’s Muncie’s version of Mardi Gras. For those of you who don’t know or are new to this particular blog, I have an alias: Vaskha. I began belly dancing in 2007 and I took the performance name when I joined Carenza Bint Asya’s student troupe, Mashallah, later that year.

The first time I belly danced at Muncie Gras was 2008. It was 30 degrees or lower outside, the snow from earlier in the week had melted off but there was still mud and muck about. Our stage was an open, rug-covered, raised platform in the middle of Walnut Street, which was transformed into Bourbon Street for this one night. It was cold, but it was fun, out there with all of my girls. I was there all night and it was a great time.

For several years, belly dance was my primary hobby. I was in classes/practices five hours a week, daily practices and conditioning at home (I had a chart with stickers/stamps and everything), and performances or workshops several weekends a month. As the years have gone by, my life has changed and I am no longer as deep into belly dance as I was. I’ve had a daughter and gotten involved in other hobbies, which, as a result, has seen my presence and involvement in the belly dance community wane. I don’t perform with a troupe any more. I still take classes when my schedule permits and perform with those classes when I can, but that amounts to maybe one or two performances a year. And now I am taking classes from my former class- and troupe-mates. Yallah to them, by the way, for achieving their dance goals!

So, last night, I returned to Muncie Gras for the…fourth time, I think. Carenza is one of the kindest souls and asked if I would perform at her stage this year. I have to admit that I was flattered, extremely so. To say that I think of myself as rusty after two years of less-than-regular practice and learning would be putting it politely. Right after Christmas, I started working out again and I have come to enjoy skipping out to Planet Fitness to run on the elliptical, either with my friend or on my own. But I digress.

While I still enjoy performing…something has changed. I can always feel it and it’s there like a weight in my chest. I am not part of the community anymore. Because of life and money responsibilities, I don’t get to attend the workshops, conventions, or galas with any frequency any longer. Therefore, I do not spend any substantial time with the ladies with whom I practiced this beautiful art. So when I do attend or perform now, I often feel like an outsider. Total honesty here. I am far more comfortable performing on my own at a larp game or when just dancing with my friends than I am at a hafla or show. I feel freer then. It’s a little difficult to explain. I know that the women that I dance with are kind, beautiful, loving souls, but the truth is that I haven’t heartily enjoyed any performances over the past few years because I do feel so displaced. The belly dance community is one of the most beautiful and accepting ones that I have ever been a part of and I am truly glad that I was able to be a part of it for a few years and that I can still take classes to practice this art of beauty and grace and power.

As a friend put it when we discussed this, it is hard growing up sometimes and growing into new things and new places. I still enjoy dancing, it still makes me feel beautiful and graceful, and the classes still challenge and condition me. But I know that some aspects of it just aren’t as fun for me anymore, and that’s OK. We all grow, we all move on, we find new hobbies and new joys, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy what was once a huge part of our lives.

Muncie Gras 2010

Muncie Gras 2010

So thank you, Carenza, Zhenna, Ja’Niesa, Liz von Moxie, and Ariellah, for being my inspirations as well as my teachers. Thank you to all of my belly dance sisters. Thank you for all that you have taught me and continue to teach me about accepting myself and others, challenging my body and my mind, and revelling in my own beauty. Thank you for always reminding me that I am beautiful and that, if nothing else works, I can just shimmy it out.

PS. To clarify, this doesn’t mean I’m giving up belly dancing. Far from it. I am just being honest about how I have changed and feel eight years down the road. I still enjoy belly dance, love to take classes, and have a great time dancing with my friends. That has not changed and I don’t think it ever will.

Changing Places and the Weirdness of It

Our first Middle Eastern Mayhem back in 2007

Our first Middle Eastern Mayhem back in the day

Do you remember that game “Go to the Head of the Class”? Yeah. Never played it, but I am familiar with the concept, one desperately frowned upon by education researchers nowadays. But that’s a rant for another day. Have you ever gone from peer to student? I have, and it’s really weird at times.

I am currently taking a belly dance class from a woman with whom I started belly dancing back in 2007. Back then, we were both students, totally new to this form of art and exercise. We had our first class performance together, we both performed in public for the first time together. We were invited to and performed in student troupe together. But there was always a difference between us. She had a goal: to someday teach belly dance. I had no such goal. I just liked learning and performing because dancing made me feel beautiful. So, life went on, life got busy, and I stepped away from dance twice for a year, One year, it was because of the sheer busyness of life and other hobbies, and then the second when I became pregnant with my daughter. In all of that time, she continued to dance, to go to workshops, learn from the greats, step out onto bigger and bigger stages, and start taking on more responsibility within the troupe. Now she is a member of a professional belly dance troupe, Intoxique, along with two of the gorgeous ladies who were our teachers, as well as directing the student troupe, and heading up one of her own, Rebellyon, a dub step fusion group, a style she has pioneered and continues to forge into something great.

So sometimes, it’s really weird to stand as student to a woman with whom I was a peer not too many years ago. Please, don’t take this for jealousy. OK, well, maybe a little bit of jealousy. But, the fact of the matter is, she had a goal to work towards and kept on working towards it. I didn’t have a goal; I taught for a living, I didn’t really want to do it for a hobby, too. Belly dancing is a hobby. I did it to get into shape and feel lovely and that’s what I’m working towards again. But here’s the other thing:

I’m not at the head of the class anymore.

She and I were two of the best in our day, I think, and I’m not saying that to brag. Just to put things in perspective. I never imagined to ever be a peer to our belly dance mamas but she was a fellow student. I guess I kind of expected that we would always be peers somehow. Now she has students who are far more skilled than I am and who can do things that I can’t. I’m not at the head of the class anymore and, to a chronic overachiever, that’s a blow to the ego. But I’m working on my vanity – well, trying to anyway. I don’t need to be the best. I just want to be better; I want to be stronger, more graceful, I want to be in shape again. So, when I go to class, I try to shove that ego into a box and lock it there while I am in studio. It’s like when I took horseback riding lessons. My mother told me, “Now, don’t tell the instructor what to do. You’ve only read about it; he’s done it.” And I try to remember that. She’s done the work: the learning, the study and research, the practice, the performance. She knows way more than I do and can teach me new things, as well as how to better execute the moves I THINK I already know.

I’m not a peer anymore. I’m a student, and I need act like one and do my best to learn. And it doesn’t matter that she’s my teacher now; she’s still my friend.

Thank you, Jenny. 🙂