List Me, Baby!

(C4ward March Blogathon Day 4)

Five Goals to Achieve Sometime Before I Die

  1. Create jewelry items that tribal dancers buy, love, and wear while performing.
  2. Perform a solo at a major bellydance event like TribalCon.
  3. Travel to New Zealand, and maybe Australia too. DH & I don’t really care that much for travel, but we could make an exception for this.
  4. Become an ATS® Sister Studio and/or Gypsy Caravan Collective Soul Certified dancer
  5. See the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Just because.

Five Goals to Accomplish in the Next Five Years to Move Towards Achieving The Above Goals

  1. Keep learning new jewelry skills and honing the ones I already have.
  2. Have professional photographs made of my work for advertising and festival entry purposes.
  3. Research New Zealand  & Australia to determine where to go and what to do while there.
  4. Attend and perform at as many bellydance events as possible, either solo or with a troupe.
  5. Take at least two of the Collective Soul certification levels and/or retake ATS® General Skills and Teacher Training I.

Five Goals to Accomplish in the Next 12 MONTHS… as if it were the last year of my life!

  1. Take as many ATS® classes as possible.
  2. Get the Gypsy Caravan DVDs and start working with them.
  3. Perform at least one solo at Oasis, Open Mic Night, or Northside Tribe’s own show.
  4. Draw up a will!!!! (gotta be practical somewhere)
  5. Make sure my husband and son (at least) know how much I love them.

What I Noticed when Making the Above Three Lists

  1. None of the items had anything to do with my profession as a college professor. Basically, I’ve achieved every feasible goal there and I’m just maintaining status quo.
  2. Setting goals for my little nanobusiness of making jewelry is HARD because I don’t want to turn it into a career per se. I don’t want to get so serious about it that it takes the fun out of creating stuff.
  3. Tangible goals for my bellydancing hobby is easy enough because I’m such a newbie at it; the problem is that my age is working against me there.
  4. Some practical things really should not be put off.
  5. There’s a lot of DO-ing on the list, but in truth, I wouldn’t have to do any of these things except #5 (and #4 for practical reasons) on the 12-month list, and I’d be happy.

Overcoming fears

From NaBloPoMo, today’s prompt courtesy of Ricki Lake:

I was terrified to go on DWTS, but facing my fear and overcoming it has been an incredible experience. Have you faced fears and overcome them?

I’ve been terrified every time I’ve had to get up in front of strangers and do ANYTHING. I have never enjoyed being the center of attention. In high school & college, I rarely raised my hand to be called on, and if I was called on anyway I generally froze. In ninth grade, I had a tiny solo in our chorus musical; during the performance for the rest of the school I completely blew it with a fit of the giggles as soon as I opened my mouth. Mortification!

I don’t know how I walked into my classroom the first semester I taught and faced a group of total strangers who not only expected me to know something about the subject, but also expected me to be able to communicate it to them. Somehow, though, I stuttered & stumbled my way through the semester. The next one was easier. Yet, even after over twenty years of doing this term after term, there’s always that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I walk in and see those strange faces the first day. By now, though, I’ve made so many mistakes in front of a class that I can just laugh, shrug, and move on. Why? Because nothing really bad ever happened as a result. Maybe I looked like an idiot for a few minutes, but it passed very quickly and soon no one remembered.

I’ve given talks and presented papers in front of good-sized audiences. That is still scary. For those situations, I just go in as prepared as I possibly can be, and tell myself over & over that *I* am the expert, and all these people are here because (presumably) they are interested in what I have to say. And if not and things go totally awry, I have the wry sense of humor and the chutzpah to either make people laugh or set people straight, as appropriate.

I still have a lot of performance fear. Had I not taken up bellydancing, I could probably ignore this one for the rest of my life. In fact, if I opted never to perform I could ignore this one. But there’s something intoxicating about getting up there with one or more other women and just dancing together. The practice and rehearsal beforehand builds an amazing camaraderie if you let it. Bellydance is my current way of really stretching myself by learning something way outside my comfort zone, and the scariness of performing, with a bared midriff no less, in front of a bunch of people is just another way of stretching my boundaries further. I don’t want to become like so many people I’ve known as they aged, and the way to avoid that seems to involve continuing to learning and grow and stretch your mind and body further than you think they will stretch.

The benefits of being physically active

Today I’m killing two birds with one stone, so to speak: satisfying today’s Daily Challenge, “Share or write down the biggest benefit you get from being physically active,” by writing this blog entry.

Most of my physical activity is either all the everyday walking around that I do, or my bellydance classes. Walking is good just because it gets me moving and helps me to feel not so stiff and creaky. What’s actually better, though, is the dance. When I’m dancing, I’m stretching muscles and ligaments and tendons, in a good way. Since I started taking the bellydance classes two and a half years ago, I’ve gotten a lot more flexible. I could barely touch my toes when I started; now I can easily place my palms on the floor. Admittedly, my feet are a little wider than hip width apart and my knees are unlocked (as they should be!), but that’s still an impressive improvement. Dance has also improved my posture considerably. I have a pronounced tendency to slouch, given all my hours at the computer. But whenever I think about dance posture, my spine straightens, my butt tucks under, my shoulders come down and back, and my chest lifts out of my stomach. That makes me look two inches taller and at least ten pounds lighter! Woot!!

Dancing also has a good effect on my mind and my soul. I’m learning new skills that are way out of my comfort zone, which keeps the brain ticking right along. I also get the camaraderie of being with a group of women with a common interest with a long tradition, which is manna for the spirit.

It’s worth it.

Why I haven’t been blogging

There are multiple reasons, of course. It’s not like I’ve been totally incommunicado. I do post a lot on Facebook and I Tweet fairly often. That isn’t blogging of course; much of it is just curating & sharing other people’s links & photos & articles.

I have been busy doing things, just not blogging. Andrea & I have been trying to grow Copper Dancer Designs, with a reasonable amount of success. We are In Good with one of the Atlanta-area art festival promoters, which sets us up for a nice show schedule. That means that, given the lousy economy, we are doing well locally. The next step is to beef up that online presence…in my spare (YAH! RIGHT!) time. We are both realists and know that this will never actually support us, but it should be good for a nice little supplemental income in the long run.

I’m still dancing. Bellydancing. Who would have thought it? In fact, bellydancing spun off its own semi-collaborative blog last spring, Thursday Nights at Windy Hill. I say semi-collaborative because I asked all the Thursday Night Ladies if they wanted access to write. So far Mary has put up one post but that’s it. Since it needs some love, I may do some of this month’s actual NaBloPoMo posts over there, with just a pointer from here. I have several topics for there that I just haven’t gotten to. I should really write out some of my current dancing quandary,  because that just might give me (and maybe others) some clarity.

I could write about work, I suppose, but why? It would just be kvetching, and no one wants to read my kvetching. Hell, *I* don’t want to read my kvetching — it’s just so much of the same sh*t, different semester. BLEAH!!

So what else? I battled depression all winter & spring, and Dad finally lost his battle with pulmonary fibrosis last month. Neither of those makes for good blogging huh.

It’s not all bad, though. I fell in love with Tybee Island over Memorial Day. I’m cleaning up my diet little by little. I’m teaching myself to knit. Mary & I did very well dancing at the Red Light Cafe show, bringing honor to the Older, Heavier Dancers (neener, neener).  The home life is quietly wonderful.

Maybe there is stuff to write about. Maybe writing about it will be another tool in the battle against the bad stuff.

On not dorking it up

Tuesday night in dance class, we reached a point in the Pharonic choreography where our teacher She'nez had the class members form groups of four. We all milled around for a moment, and I realized I was in a foursome with a former troupe member and two current troupe members! Eeep! My first reaction was "oh shit, I'm in over my head here; I've seen these three gals dance ::gulp::." So okay, time to step up my game, so to speak. I'm not going to be the one dorking things up, even though no one's grading us, no one's paying any attention to us (well, except for She'nez) because they're all trying to get their own act together. 

And I did. I did not embarrass myself. I focused, I concentrated, and I really worked on "getting it." Maybe my step-step-step camels with helicopter arms weren't as polished as Sabeen's & Mazneen's ::shrug::, but they've both been dancing a hell of a lot longer than I.  I couldn't really see Hadara because she was mostly behind me, but I think she's of Middle Eastern descent anyway (she looks maybe Iranian) and I know she's been bellydancing for years. Me, I've been taking bellydance classes twice a week for a mere year and a half, and essentially no dance background for the five decades before that. I don't count those college P.E. classes; they were just the least painful way to get through that requirement!

I did refuse to be the front of our line even though I was the shortest one, though. The front person had to drop down to a deep knee bend during part of the choreography, and I just flat said my knees won't take it, which is true. Those poor knees are twice as old, or at least close, than theirs, and they've a bit of wear & tear on them needless to say. I stayed back where I could stay upright and did my part in the ripples almost always at the right time, and if I wasn't perfect I was good enough.

It was a good dance night.

 

 

Hafla!!!

If you don't know, "hafla" is the Arabic word for "party," and last night Nazeem Allayl Studio held a hafla to celebrate their eleventh anniversary. When they have a hafla, it's for students and their guests; any student who wants to perform can sign up for a slot or two and do a dance for everyone. 

As soon as I found out about the hafla, I asked my "dance sister" Mary if she wanted to do Haya Gat Alaya with me. Haya is special for both of us — it was the first choreography class we both took, and it's still probably our favorite. We were just finishing up the class for the second time so it was good and solid and fresh in our minds. Then, after the Studio Show last month, Sabeeya and Schadia, our teacher & the studio director respectively, said our show group should do Vele Ya Vele again for the hafla. Well, it turned out that Deb was going out of town, but the rest of the group was game. Unfortunately, Amanda, Deb's "mirror" in the Saturday night group, couldn't make the hafla either, and Lisa came down sick on the day of the party. That left Mary, Trinna, and me, but we all said "what the hell, we're doing it for fun and we can improvise as needed."

So the three of us simplified our show costumes by swapping the coin bras for black camisoles (seeing that coin bras are uncomfortable as hell and a bugger to get into/out of), got minimally fake-tanned and moderately made-up, tossed our caftans on, picked up our pillows and snacks, I grabbed Gary & Mary grabbed her girls, and headed over. We found places on the floor by the side of the stage, got comfortable, and pow-wowed to make sure we were on the same page. 

Since we only found out that Lisa was sick while we were in line to get in the door, we could have panicked. But we didn't, and I am proud of us for not doing so. We knew we would just have to improvise the formations for Vele, but we figured we could carry it off. Besides, if we screwed up, who would know except us, plus Schadia and Sabeeya, and they would understand. 

The three of us were fifth up to do Vele Ya Vele, and after a couple of nervous moments when the CD Mary had burned wouldn't play, we heard the first notes and bounced out onto the floor. About halfway through the joy of dancing just kind of hit me, and even though I was still fiercely concentrating and hoping my shoes wouldn't slip out from under me, I carried on through the dance with a big grin on my face. Yeah, we all had to do a couple of quick shifts here and there to adjust the formations, but I thought we carried it off pretty damn well.

Of course everybody clapped through the dance, and applauded loudly afterward as we slipped off stage and to the back room to retrieve our caftans and congratulate ourselves. On our way back out, we cornered Sabeeya to ask if it had looked okay even with the missing people — she was astonished that we hadn't practiced since the show and had improvised to compensate for missing Lisa and Deb.

Sooner than I expected, Nazeem called Mary and me to get ready for our second dance. In the back room, we ran through it ONE time without music to confirm what we needed to be doing, since we had never had the chance to practice it together. This time I almost forgot to take my glasses off — luckily I remembered at the last minute, yanked them off, and tucked them beside Moira's elbow! This time the music carried both of us away almost immediately. I knew I was a bit sloppy, but I didn't care — I was DANCING!!! We were the second of three groups dancing Haya Gat Alaya, and we were the ones that did the straight choreography, no changes or adaptations since we had had NO time the past few weeks between Mary's new job and my crazy overscheduling. But we were rocking it, and all too soon we strolled off as the music faded.

Once Mary and I got back to the room, we high-fived and then exuberantly hugged and even got a little teary-eyed (bad when you aren't wearing waterproof makeup, mind you). I think Mary felt, and I know that I felt, that this had been one of the best brief moments of our lives, dancing together in our favorite choreography. 

Now we could relax and enjoy the remaining dances. I had never gotten to see Sabeeya perform live, only on tape, so I was in awe as I watched. Her dance to the TransSiberian Orchestra's rendition of Carol of the Bells just made my jaw drop, and her fire dance, well, what can I say besides WOW. Mahtaab doing a crazy energetic performance to Hakim & James Brown together was also amazing. Of course, the two of them are professionals, but still!

Finally Nazeem opened up the floor for everyone to freestyle, and we were the first students out there on the floor. The little girl, maybe four years old, who had been sitting next to us all night with her mother, in her little harem pants & hip scarf, came out onto the dance floor also but didn't seem to know quite what to do. So I took her in hand and danced with her, showed her a couple of moves, and then got Mary and Moira into a little circle dance with her. I think we made her night :-). When it was time to clear the floor & pack up, I told her I hoped to see her out there on the floor with us in ten or twelve years.

So we got a few quick photos of us, cleared up our stuff, thanked Schadia, and headed home. 

 

Images copyright © Nazeem Allayl Studio, 2010. All Rights Reserved.

 

Gotta dance

I find it amusing, at the least, that after 52 years I finally found some form of exercise that I can be passionate about. Given that I was always the clumsiest and least athletic kid around, it's probably obvious why I loathed P.E. classes. I honestly tried to learn to play softball and basketball, but I could never seem to hit the ball, or the goal. Stamina, well, I had a plodding kind of long-term stamina in that I could keep going and going and going rather like an Energizer Slug, if there were such a thing. But any kind of intense exertion wore me down in short order.

The only tolerable parts of junior high P.E. were when we did square dancing. There, even though I was still not totally coordinated, I could at least acquit myself competently. When it came time to suffer through six quarters of P.E. in college, I remembered that and took folk dance, ballet, jazz, and tap to get myself through. I might have continued with one or another, but none of them really sang to me plus opportunity never cooperated. 

In graduate school, I took up racquetball but there again, clumsiness and lack of burst stamina kept me from becoming any good. I never could crawl out of the bottom half of the bottom league there in Cleveland, and once we moved to Atlanta motherhood took over. Over the years I tried running (in junior high under Dad's orders), aerobics classes, and even the local YMCA and women's gym, but those were always a chore. I might consistently go for three months, five months, but sooner or later I found some sort of excuse to slack off and then quit.

Then I started hearing about bellydance classes, but they were all down in Midtown or further, and I wasn't about to go to that length. Besides, I was intimidated, by that time being neither young nor skinny. My sister started sporadically taking classes and enjoyed them, but I was still intimidated. Then Andrea found a studio, women only, and twisted my arm to go with her to a walk-in workout. Much to my surprise, I was neither the oldest nor the heaviest woman there. After a few weeks I decided to try a six-week class. I still felt clumsy and uncoordinated and inept, but something inside just clicked, perhaps because I did see that over the six weeks I was starting to "get it."

That was sixteen months ago. Since then I have established that Tuesday and Thursday nights are "dance class night." I've performed in the last two studio shows. I'm planning on dancing in the studio's anniversary Hafla on Saturday…twice! I buy cute dance clothes, which have spilled over a bit into my regular wardrobe. I practice shimmys standing in the stacks at Borders. I do chest circles at stop lights. And even though I consider myself still very much a beginner, and have no intention or aspiration to perform more than casually, I call myself a dancer, a bellydancer.

Moving Up to Intermediate

Tonight started my first intermediate-level bellydance class, La Azon. The Windy Hill studio has been open long enough, and built up a base of repeat students, so now there are enough of us who are ready to move on that they were willing to try an intermediate class when we started requesting it. Most of my "bellydance sisters" have jumped on this opportunity — Mary, Cindy, Trinna, Deb, Gail, Katie, and probably others, so we have a great group ready to go.

We didn't waste any time tonight getting started — no need for orientation or history or studio rules, we already have heard them multiple times. Sabeeya started the music and we started moving! Since this dance is a longer song than the beginner dances, we started right into choreography the first night. There was still some serious drilling of moves, though. There are some tough moves, like reverse mayas, in La Azon, plus layering of moves (fast shoulder shakes while walking!) that are like patting your head and rubbing your tummy simultaneously. I think we were all feeling rather challenged by the end of the night. I saw a LOT of "HOLY CRAP" expressions on faces other than mine!

It's nice to feel like I'm ready for more of a challenge, even though there are still beginner choreographies I want to take.

Taking Technique I

After finishing three bellydance choreography classes, I knew it was time to really get down to technique. The choreography classes do go over the moves used in each dance, but it’s kind of a “here’s what it looks like, just follow as best you can” presentation. It’s been hard to really see what each move involves and to isolate and perfect it.

Technique I is the class I needed. Sure, it means I have to make a mad dash to get there once I finish teaching — I get out of teaching at 6:45 p.m. and Technique I starts at 7:30 p.m. fifteen miles away through Atlanta evening traffic. Luckily, unless there’s a disastrous accident blocking the Top-End Perimeter, I can just make it, do a quick clothing-change, and be ready to SWEAT.

You wouldn’t think that just pulling in and releasing specific abdominal muscles for 45 minutes would be much of a workout. Ha! First, you have to FIND the specific abdominal muscles you’re trying to isolate. Unfortunately, most of my excess weight is in my abdomen, and those muscles are trying to stay hidden behind it so they won’t have to work. At least Sabeeya has some tricks up her sleeve to help you find them.

Then you have to tighten specific ones, and only those ones. I can suck in the lowest ab muscles by themselves, but when I try to suck in the pair right underneath “the girls,” everything else in the region wants to suck in also. You’re supposed to do this, though, without clenching up EVERYTHING, especially without clenching up your butt like you have been constipated for a week.

The whole name of the game is isolation — move what you want to move and don’t move anything else (though it can come along for the ride). If you can’t do that you can’t layer moves atop moves, you can’t move your top half one way and your bottom half another way. After fifty years of slacking, those muscles of mine are having to learn a whole new way of working, and they aren’t that happy about it. But damnit, I’m going to dance at least sort of passably so they better GET happy about it.

You’re Taking WHAT Lessons???

Last time it was Dee’s fault — she arranged for the fusing/flameworking workshop that made me realize I could play with fire in a carefully arranged home studio. This time it’s Andrea’s fault. She found that Nazeem Allayl Studio offered a Saturday morning walk-in workout class at their Perimeter studio, halfway between her place and mine, and convinced me to go with her so neither of us would feel too old or too fat by ourselves.

We were both relieved that first morning to find that she was not the largest, nor was I the oldest, woman there. So we went back the next week. And the next. By then I had found that this was actually do-able, damn good exercise plus a whole lot of fun!

When the next six-week class session came around, I decided what the hell, let’s try a choreography class as well and learn an actual dance — an actual BELLYDANCE. Yep. BELLYDANCE. Traditional Raqs Sharki, Middle Eastern folkdance, is done by women of all ages, shapes, and sizes as part of their own culture, and Nazeem Allayl Studio encourages that in their program, so why not?

So I took one choreography class, then another, then another. Last week I started a fourth choreography combinations class on Turkish style; tomorrow my basic technique drill class starts so I can learn to do the moves precisely and properly.

I started doing bellydance for exercise, but as I told Schadia after class last week, “I want to dance, not just sweat.” For me, most forms of exercise are B-O-R-I-N-G and tedious and I won’t stick with them. Bellydance accommodates where I am now and gives me lots of room to grow as a fit and healthy person — exercise I can and hopefully will stay with as long as I can move.