Archive | Beauty RSS feed for this section

Tangled, But Not Tied Up

25 Feb

Last week a special Trail Blazer alumnus passed away. I didn’t follow Jerome Kersey in his heyday, however, his presence in the Portland community was very well known by fans and non-fans alike. He became a Trail Blazer ambassador after retiring from the NBA in 2001, and went above and beyond his duties. He made a positive impression on many, and was a true community leader. I even had a few interactions with him at a favorite restaurant that we both frequented a couple of years ago. He was always smiling and friendly to everyone at the bar. Many people have expressed warm remembrances of him from years past, including this beautiful essay by a friend of mine. It’s safe to say that Portland is feeling a great loss this week.

20150223_220441

Jerome’s death made me incredibly sad—it hit unexpectedly close to home—but also very pensive and a little tangled inside. I had just come off of a first date when I read about his death on Facebook. I was flying high—my date was nice, a gentleman, adventurous, and he was willing to go zydeco dancing with me, which was a first for both of us, and very cool of him. I was patting myself on the back for taking a chance on someone I may have passed by in another life. We met speed dating, which, let’s be honest, is always a guessing game as to whether you just wasted $29 or met some really cool people that you may or may not ever see again.

So when I read about Jerome’s death, I instantly started reviewing how I spend my time and who I bring into my life. Since I moved to Portland almost 12 years ago, my life has taken many twists, turns, and curved paths that I could never have foreseen. It made me want to reach out to you in the best way I know how—through writing.

I want this blog post to function in two ways: 1) As my Christmas letter for 2014 to tell you what I did last year, and 2) As a way to dispense what I’ve learned in the past year (Okay, 14 months). During December, I kept finding excuses to put off the writing of my annual Christmas letter, and I wasn’t sure why. Now I realize I had so much more to process about my past year before sharing it. Normally I send these out to close friends and family only, but we are all one, we are all family. I love you, and I want you to learn my life lessons along with me. I’ll share my thoughts with you and use examples from my past year to make sure you get the best of both worlds.

Spoil yourself.  Spend the money. Take time off. Go somewhere new. You’re worth it! In 2014 I took my third annual solo beach vacation. For three days I ate decadent food, walked on the beach, drank wine, got my nails done, and did whatever my heart desired. I truly pampered myself. I also took a five day camping trip (between several shorter camping trips) to the Olympic Peninsula. It was so awe-inspiring and beautiful! In the fall, I went to New York. If you’ve read this blog in the past, you may know the story that goes with this. If you missed that one, read about it! What an amazing trip. I enjoyed staycations and fancy dates with handsome suitors and nights out on the town with good friends. I’m so blessed to work at a company where they reward loyalty with quite a bit of vacation time, and boy did I take advantage of it!

Challenge yourself. Some of my biggest challenges in life have been the result of belly dance. When I left Ohio, I could shake my booty with a little rhythm, and that was the extent of it. I had no formal training at that point, and I never thought that dance would be something I would later take on as an amateur performer. But then I met Yemaya, a professional belly dancer who also happens to be my long lost third cousin. She somehow convinced me that I was going to be a belly dancer one day. My style had never been particularly feminine, and when she said that, all I could picture was a horror show of obnoxiously bright sequins and awkward dance moves to snake charmer music. However, I allowed her to tease me into a few lessons, and from then on, I was in love. Soon I was practicing multiple times a week, taking every available workshop, and started performing in 2007, debuting at the Oregon Country Fair’s Gypsy Caravan Stage.  In the past few years, I have fallen into a “comfortable sweatshirt” type of relationship with belly dance. I still practice and even learn some new skills sometimes, but rarely do I try anything that really scares me. For the last two months, however, I have embraced the sword! Sword dancing scares me—big time. I took a four week course more out of dedication to my teacher than actual interest, but I should have known that it wouldn’t stop there. Now I’m signed up to perform my sword dance in front of a crowd, with the assumption that I won’t allow it to fall off my head and pierce someone’s foot. Terrifying? Yes! Essential to grow as a dancer and as a person? Absolutely!

Hope for Andrew edit

20150225_121422

Embrace Your Sexuality. Yep, we’re talking about it. In the past, I hadn’t been confident in my sensuality or sexuality. This was caused in part by my weight issues as a child, my perceived lack of femininity as a young adult, and being from just above the Bible Belt in the Midwest, where traditional values and conservative ideas still have a hold on the population. I envisioned that the right type of sexuality centered on a husband or at least a serious relationship. I thought that sex under other circumstances was not wrong per se, but not ideal, and not really necessary. I believed that expressing your sexuality freely maybe made you just a little slutty, if not an actual slut. In acknowledging my feelings of judgment, I also recognized that I had mistakenly thought that my lack of sexual expression was a character flaw; now I understood that judging others was a defense mechanism, and my personal level of sexual expression is not a flaw. It is wholly mine, and I must engage it in a way that is true to my own nature and not anyone else’s. Make sure to explore this side of you, even if you’re not in a romantic relationship, because it is so important to know that side of yourself before you share it with anyone else.

Life is short! Do what makes you smile and giggle, and spend time with people who inspire you. There have been so many times that I have stayed home to get a proper night’s sleep, only to find out the next day what unbelievably cool exploits I had missed the night before. If I had a nickel for all the times I’ve heard, “You can sleep when you’re dead!” I would be a millionaire…okay, maybe I’d have a few bucks. But you get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, I value my health and I truly feel my best when I’ve had a good night’s rest, but sometimes it is totally worth it to take a chance and stick it out for a little while longer. Nights that I stayed out with the Hash House Harriers for one more conversation, or salsa danced for one more song almost always ended up with new friends, new plans, or a memory I would never forget. I knew that I would feel tired in the morning, but I also knew that I was put on earth to experience those blissful moments…and I have had so many of these moments this past year.

1538630_10202672691352298_3690544826838070362_n

1557332_10203044196094864_1307089997_o

1502518_10204128794033955_9175887961204161240_n

10636172_10203666384594008_1964862718047768673_n

10703686_10203974793384035_2213213488194408674_n

mfinancial social-352

Make every movement with love and authenticity. This is a big one for me. I am a people pleaser. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing joy to your loved ones, making yourself happy and loving who you are will bring you the most joy in this world. Don’t worry about impressing others or fitting normative expectations of your culture. Live with authenticity in your heart and express gratitude for it daily. Be Love, every day.

2014 was a fantastic and enlightening year for me. When I think about the possibility that life can be cut off so abruptly, the way Jerome’s was, it makes me sad, but it also makes me grateful that I do the things I do, know the people I know, and experience miracles every day. Nothing is ever perfect, but my perfectly tangled existence is absolutely an abstract design of immaculate beauty.

10917205_10204679369117988_3303868587831424682_o

WHY: Part I

13 Nov

Today I went back and read a post that I wrote some time ago. It was a bittersweet commentary on the trials of my weight loss journey, but also a heartwarming reminder of how far I’ve come. The reason I went back to it today was because of the fitness group I joined on Facebook. We were asked to write about our “why.” Why are we choosing to lose weight right now? What is our motivation to achieve our goals? Originally I shared the following piece only with the fitness group, but I decided I needed to get this to a bigger audience. Following is my “why.”

I’ve struggled with my weight and abandonment issues from my parent’s divorce my whole life, and because of that I find it hard to follow through with the things I really want to accomplish. I either give up and desert the project, or, more often, sabotage myself. This includes goals involving my passion for writing, my fervent need to be beautiful (AKA, skinny), and finding (and marrying) the love of my life.

For the longest time, even though my self-esteem wasn’t the greatest, I didn’t stress a whole lot about being fat because I never expected I could change it. When I did finally lose weight, it started a whole domino effect of anxiety because I had all this new pressure. Where before it never mattered because I had zero expectations, suddenly the world was at my fingertips and I was completely unprepared. It was really easy to blame others for my shortcomings, and for a while I thought, things haven’t changed a bit. Why not just stay how I am? My life is fantastic, even if I’m not living the dream of marrying Dr. Handsome and writing that bestseller. I’ve got great friends, a steady job…I have good dates here and there. I can hack it a little longer, getting by how I am. But that’s not how I want to live my life. I want to set meaningful goals and attain them, NOW (starting with being focused on them better). I want to be able to tell myself every day that I am worthy of a beautiful and healthy relationship. I want to break the chains of inadequacy that I’ve carried from a very young age—and that I’ve continued to carry all on my own, using them as an excuse to be average.

Doing all that takes a concerted effort, and a community. I’m so used to doing things for myself, being single for such a long time, but letting people in, and, God-forbid, letting others see my vulnerabilities, is so important. It’s not something I do lightly. It takes faith in my community, and love for myself.

I know that I have to let go of my past in order to be the future amazing Becky that’s always been inside. Grasping onto my communities’ outstretched hands is a great start. Spending time with people from all corners of my world is a very important part of that. I’ve got my running community, my writing peers, my dance family, my work buddies, fellow gamers and hikers and coffee-lovers, Blazer fans, my blood family. But it’s more than just spending time, and it’s more than just hoping a few of you will read my blog and empathize. Getting vulnerable with yourself and your “people” is not a one-stop deal. Clearly, you readers have seen that for the last two years that I’ve been writing this blog. Of course I hope to inspire others, but letting out my fears and emotions in this medium is a very important part of my process, and I thank you for being my audience and safety net. You, love, are a very big part of my success in this life, because we all need love to thrive.

All you need is love

All you need is love

This is the first piece in a miniseries called WHY. I look forward to sharing parts II and III very soon.

Still I Rise

3 Apr

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

 

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own back yard.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Maya Angelou

A Brave New Girl

27 Jun

The new wave of Match.com is in-person events, an idea that should have been introduced ages ago. I know, I know, it’s ONLINE dating, but the thing is, online dating can be incredibly awkward! Don’t get me wrong—I believe in the power of online dating. Case in point:  I found my last boyfriend on Match. I can name 4 couples off the top of my head that are now engaged or married to their Matches…but let’s be honest:  Men are very visual creatures. If you happen to post a picture at a bad angle or you’re having lousy hair the weekend you went to Vegas and snapped all those pictures that you put on your profile, you can’t talk your way out of his opinion of you with biting wit and funny jokes. It’s click, moving on to the next lady. Ouch.

Enter an event where you are sure to be surrounded by eligible bachelors, but you’re not forced to talk to every single one of them, like in speed dating. Last night I was bold enough to attend one of these first Match.com “Stir” events. I had no idea what to expect, and I was terrified of the unknown, so I did what any normal single woman would do:  I brought along my trusty wing women.

The three of us walked into the Radio Room in NE Portland and spotted the hostess standing behind a sign that read “Networking Event Check-in.” (Seriously!? Let’s just call it what it is, folks. We are all here because we are single and looking!) So, we checked in. Then she leaned over and told us that the event was open to the entire bar, however it was also open to the public!?!? WHAT??? Not only were we entering an event that marked us as lonely, pitiful singletons, but we were also facing certain social death-by-mortification by bravely approaching a handsome fellow to talk to him, only to find out he had a fiancée, or worse, was gay!!

So, following the single women’s code, we stayed tightly in our gaggle, and actually added more women to it, ending up with six beautiful (pitiful, lonely) ladies at one table, looking at each other and snickering. Very soon, my wing women locked eyes with me and we decided that we would never meet a man this way. We got up and headed to the bar…and ran into yet another girlfriend! This was not going the way we expected. There was no event host; there were no games, and no ice breakers. Basically this was a regular happy hour at a bar in Anytown, USA. How exactly were we supposed to find love in this setup? Weren’t we obviously on Match.com to help us find dates because we felt uncomfortable hitting on people at the bar? I found myself questioning my decision to click YES on that RSVP.

In addition to my nerves about the event in general, I had been sweating bullets for another reason. At the Radio Room that evening, there were short women, tall women, exotic ones, plain Janes, and there was me. I’m the cute, petite, curly-haired girl with the big personality and a hundred hobbies. I can ask a man to salsa, I can belly dance in front of a live audience, and I am a smart, talented writer. Do I feel that way when it comes to dating? No way. The moment I walked in, I was panicked. I have this bad habit of comparing myself to women all the time. It is intensely exhausting, but I find myself doing it every day. I can’t believe how much energy I could have been refunded, had there been that option, on time wasted thinking about other women that I don’t even know! As I looked around, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to stand out in the crowd. Hell, most of the crowd couldn’t see me, even with the 3-inch wedges I was standing in (I’m 5’1″). I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass. The men looked more terrified than the women, so I had to quickly confront my fears and be the guru of my own destiny.

In a moment of rare courage, I took the reins and grabbed one of my girlfriends. I said, “We are going to that table right there. We are going to sit down and ask those guys why they haven’t talked to any girls yet!” We crossed our fingers, hoping that they were part of the event and weren’t already on a date with each other! (Hey, this is Portland…my Gaydar has failed many times over the years here.)

We sat down, I spewed out my ice-breaker (hopefully with a winning smile on my face)…and the next hour and 20 minutes flew by like wildfire! The man I talked to was tall, a ginger (strawberry blonde), strong enough to pick me up without hurting himself, and he was a fantastic conversationalist. I was so surprised when my other wing woman came over and told me it was 9:00! We thanked the men for their hospitality, and started gathering our purses and coats. My friend looked thrilled when Paul asked for her number. Unfortunately my guy was solely a wing man and said he wasn’t looking for anything serious at the moment because he was focused on school. I was disappointed, but thanked him for his honesty and wished him luck with his Master’s Degree.

It’s true, I was saddened that my bold move hadn’t gotten me any bounty, but in the car on the way home, I heard how excited my girlfriend was about meeting Paul, and the feeling wasn’t so sour anymore. Plus, I had a great conversation with a man who was easy on the eyes, had some laughs, and a yummy cocktail. My night wasn’t a loss at all!

Perhaps this is the Universe’s way of telling me to keep the faith. There are good men out there, and I just need to hold out for the right one. This way, I know that when I meet a good one, I’ll have a bevy of stories to keep him entertained for at least one coffee date!

Number 1

Girlfriend, you’re number ONE!

4 Jun

I found this post to be a beautiful representation of how I’ve started to feel about my body. It is so important to love the skin you’re in!

writeshianwrite

Something strange happened to me recently. I was on Facebook a few days ago and someone posed the question, “If you could change one thing about your body what would it be?” I was ready to make a reply but first I had to think. Hmmm, I had to think?! I took mental notes of all my imperfections; I have many. I tried to think of which one I wanted to change most. I couldn’t, because I love them all. My mind was blown, I couldn’t believe it. I skipped the post for several reasons, mostly because I wanted the moment to sink in; I have grown. Years- months ago, I would have typed one of my many flaws within seconds… Now I feel as if, my body represents fallen autumn leaves. The color and shape are not the same but together they make a beautiful heap. 🙂

 

View original post

Yeah I’m free…free-lancing!

23 Feb
Footwork Dance Studio
Footwork Dance Studio ATS class

I’ve been writing up a storm outside of this blog, and I want to share it with you! I figured the best way to get my free-lance writing to you is to put it here, all together. What can I say—I like to make things easy for my friends.

This first piece was written for the Milwaukie Rules website. It is an OregonLive-affiliated website dedicated to showing the world (or at the very least, the Portland metro area) what Milwaukie, Oregon has to offer. You can find restaurants, town hall meeting recaps, event listings, and places to have adventures! In addition, if you sign up for the weekly e-newsletter, you’ll be reminded of what great things are going on in the next few days that you don’t want to miss. I am posting the content here on my blog rather than making you click on the link, with the faith that you will at least check out the website. I think you might be surprised at what variety you’ll find. Plus, editor Mandy Zelinka makes everything more fun with her witty commentary and brightly-colored layout.

I walked into Footwork Dance Studio last week and was greeted by a rustle of gypsy skirts, elaborate belts with mirrors sewn onto them, large yarn tassels, conch shells, beads in every color of the rainbow, and a lot of smiles. Footwork Studio hosts many types of classes:  ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom, and American Tribal belly dance. I had come to observe the belly dance class. The teacher, Sherrie Janz, has a dancer’s grace and beautiful wild curly hair, which I think perfectly complements her style. She started taking tap and jazz when she was very young, but learning (and falling in love with) belly dance didn’t come until much later. When the previous instructor at Footwork moved on, Sherrie began teaching youth and adult belly dance in her place. She describes her class as “Tribaret” style—a mix of Tribal and Cabaret belly dance—but her roots are firmly in Tribal dance. American Tribal Style belly dance (ATS) itself is a hybrid. It was created in the United States, and mixes traditional Middle Eastern belly dance, earthy folkloric dances from several countries, and even some moves from the more classic dances like ballet and jazz. The movements are snakelike and deliberate, and the costumes are rich in hue.

To begin class, Sherrie led her students through a deep stretching warm-up with invigorating ethnic music, filled with large hip circles, snake arms, and head slides. This was followed by a review of choreography the ladies had performed earlier in the year—and where the departure from traditional belly dance was really apparent. They danced to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. I was curious to see how this would go. It was definitely not what I think of when I picture belly dance, but it was beautiful and incredibly creative. She also covered a few movement drills, calling out the names of each movement while giving out costume advice at the same time. From the shy girl in the corner trying to slide out of my view, to the confident teenager who stood up front and showed me her best shimmy, every woman in class was smiling, whether it was demure or ear-to-ear. Self-conscious giggles could be heard around the room as I wrote my notes.

Sherrie asserted that she emphasizes fun in her classes, not strict dance training, however she does encourage community involvement. She and her students dance a few times a year for the Milwaukie community, including donating an “Evening of Belly Dance” to the annual auction for the St. Francis Dining Hall. Of course the bidders need to see what they’ll be getting in this package, so the dancers twirl and entertain during the auction itself as well. The winning bidder gets to bring six friends and spend the evening learning dance moves, dressing in costume, and enjoying snacks and drinks.

Footwork Dance Studio has been in Milwaukie for 35 years, and in its current location for eight. They have an excellent website with information on class descriptions, schedules, and any other questions you may have.

Footwork Dance Studio
16660 SE McLoughlin Blvd
Milwaukie, OR 97267
www.footworkdance.com
503-652-1242

*     *     *     *     *     *

My second piece is a book review from a fresh new author. We originally connected on Twitter, where she asked me to review her first book. I warned her that I hadn’t written a book review since college, but that I would do my best to honestly evaluate her story. It is a nonfiction piece about her upbringing in Detroit. I will leave the Amazon link here for you to check her book out in more detail. You can also follow her on Twitter @janachantel. Presenting my review of Into My Mind by Jana` Chantel…

With a fascinating true story that sears into the reader’s heart, Jana` Chantel presents the details of her tumultuous childhood in Detroit, which are humbly told with the raw language of a woman whose memory of a violent upbringing is still quite fresh in her mind. This book has a bit of everything one would expect from a young woman—truly an adolescent in real-time—living the hard life in a broken Detroit:  absent father, gunshot wounds, drug dealing, bad romance, the whole gamut. Throughout the book, Jana` strives to find a bit of normalcy in her chaos. She begins by recalling the death of her mother, who was murdered in cold blood when Jana` was just a year old, and, through her young adult years, the drama continued. Her father, too, met a harsh ending. Jana` was shot by her own brother and had her heart broken by a lying thug. The reader can quickly see that her retelling is a painful reminder of her early struggles in life, but also a catharsis.

Into My Mind is a fast read; I finished it in a few short hours. Immediately I felt the need to go back and read it again so I could once more absorb the incredulous details. If you’re looking for a sophisticated, polished memoir, this may not be at the top of your list, but she gives you a heartfelt, in-your-face story, never hiding the blemishes in herself or the other characters. I’m not sure she ever found the normalcy she was searching for, but at the end, you will be left with a sense that Jana` has embraced her own version of normal. Like the city of Detroit itself, Jana` is driven to fight for a better reality.

In Performance as in Life

17 Feb

Last night my bellydance teacher, Claudia, gave the class her rendition of Performance Prep 101, a lot of material to cover in an hour and a half. To aid with this complex presentation, she gave us handouts with 12 Tips for Belly Dance Performance. As I started reading them, I could hear many voices ringing in my head (the good kind), telling me to stand up straight, fake it ‘til you make it, always look people in the eye, etc. The 12 Tips for Belly Dance Performance spoke to me not just of belly dance, but of LIFE—helpful gems that I can (and should) use every day. Following is her list (spelling/grammar edited for my sanity). I encourage you to read it with an open mind, not focused on belly dance or any performance-related subject. Read it and think about your own life. How many of these do you do every day? How many of these should you do every day? I give many thanks to my teacher and friend, Claudia, for engaging my heart and mind with this list.

1.  Know what you want to give. What is your gift? Remember this is fun. You love to dance.

2.  Warm up a bit and stretch.

3.  Check your costume. Check it again. Check your whole look.

4.  Get ready to stop the world with your beautiful divine self and extraordinary dance…no negative thoughts. Take a minute or two alone before going on stage.

5.  Use relaxing breaths, meditate. Let the nerves you get flow into joy and excitement for your performance…ready…set…go!

6.  Take your stage; own it. No matter if your music is slow or fast, your entrance should excite the audience. Your energy and intent can fill a room.

7.  Notice your posture. Remember to keep your rib cage lifted, shoulders back, chin lifted. You are larger than life…you are an entertainer.

8.  Think about or even plan your entrance and exit. Even as you leave the stage you are still performing…allow the vision to stay alive for your audience.

9.  If you are performing for a band, thank them in your closing bows…they worked hard to make you look good…be generous and thank your audience as well.

10.  Make a checklist so you have everything you need with you. Your costume bag is your home away from home. Bring all that you might need…everything but the kitchen sink should do.

11.  Always have a backup CD just in case. I even carry a random show CD in case I am asked to do an extra show or get called to save a party…super BD to the rescue!

12.  Be professional! Treat people and fellow dancers as you would like to be treated. If there are others in the dressing room, remember how your energy affects others.

One last thing to read before you take these words and leave me for the day…a segment of the beautiful poem “A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson. Claudia put the entire poem at the bottom of her sheet, but I think the first three lines pretty much cover it.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

 

Real Women

6 Feb

Part I—The Definition

I’ve seen a lot of commentary about what makes a woman a real woman. We view the Dove commercials and the female empowerment websites and we are lifted up by our sisters; the blogosphere is saturated with posts about strong, independent women which tell us how we can cultivate ourselves to the highest level of womanhood. But let’s break it down. When it comes down to the simplest meaning, do breasts and a vagina make someone a real woman? Do real women have curves? How about the ability to bear children? What about transsexuals?

Is the way a woman behaves listed in your definition? Should we be a lady on the street and a freak in the sheets? Follow The Rules or throw the rules out the window? Is a woman who can financially support herself more of a woman than one who depends on a man’s salary to survive? I ask all these questions because they come up time after time, and the answers are ever-changing in a fascinating way.

My own view has changed over the years. I was raised mostly by my mother, who was the frugality queen of the universe. I bitched and moaned about the lack of cool clothes and having giant plastic-framed glasses instead of contacts (“They cost less, and they look fine!”). Until I grew up and realized that my mom raised twins on a poverty-level salary with very little help from my father, I was bitter and annoyed. I thought Why can’t she step it up and be like everyone else’s moms? Those women have jobs and buy their daughters Guess Jeans. Why can’t I have Guess Jeans? I thought she would be happier if she would get a “normal” job so that we could have the things that we wanted and she wouldn’t have to worry day-to-day if she was going to work or not. (Note: My mother was a substitute teacher for most of my childhood. At times she had full-time work, but most of the schools wouldn’t hire her because they had to pay her much more than fresh-out-of-college teachers. She chose to stay in teaching because that was what she loved, and so she could take us traveling in the summers to see our extended family and F(f)riends {A.K.A. Quakers}, which was a very important part of my upbringing, and an education in itself.) She chose to stay true to her values, even when the going got really tough.

What do I think the definition of a real woman is now? Sisters, look in the mirror. It’s you. It’s the business owner. It’s the single mother. It’s even the heroin junkie who stole my mail last week. She might not be in my top 10 right now, but she is still a woman who deserves love like everyone else. I can’t comprehend how anyone on this earth is less of a woman than someone else. I may not be a size 6 or have my dream job (yet). I make mistakes every single day. What comes to my mind, though, if I think of someone who isn’t a real woman, is Barbie. Yes, the doll. If you are a living, breathing female, whether or not you have exactly the right parts or not, if you think and feel as a woman, then you are one. I would hope that you would be a woman with the highest amount of pride imaginable, but we all have those days when we’re not feeling so great. Take them as life lessons and manifest your next amazing experience.

Part II, a love note—“Love, Dove, Glove”—Mr. Big, SATC

With Valentine’s Day coming up, it occurs to me that something many women occasionally do, whether they realize it or not, is consider themselves as missing something if they don’t have a partner in their lives. I read so much girl-power literature about how we as women shouldn’t think about our lives without a partner as a negative thing. We are fabulous just as we are! I wholeheartedly agree. I myself am fucking fabulous,* as everyone should know by now. But…it is in our DNA, specifically as women, to feel the urge to procreate and to have a life partner. So why should we feel ashamed for wanting it? I agree that it shouldn’t take over our lives and emotions 100% of the time, but what is so wrong with desiring something that we were literally made to have? It’s not a weakness to assess this aspect of our lives, it’s just human nature. It is a part of my essence as a woman.

*I just needed a little extra oomph!

Women, however you express yourself and live your life, do it with the knowledge that you are a unique and beautiful feminine spirit. Take ownership of all your womanly emotions and instincts, and don’t feel degraded by them. Be the best person you can be.

With my own personal unique and beautiful feminine energy, I leave you with my absolute favorite poem about being a woman.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou

Belly Dance Soul Fire

19 Jan

The ladies of BDSF

Recently, I wrote an article that was published in Jareeda Magazine for their “troupe extravaganza” issue. I thought I would share it here with you. For more great articles, check out Jareeda for yourself! If you’re in the Portland area, be sure to catch these beautiful dancers at a show near you. They can often be seen collaborating with other dancers in town in shows such as Salon L’Orient at the Fez Ballroom. Later in 2012 they hope to take their Dance N.O.W. show on a Pacific NW tour. Check their website for more details. 

Belly Dance Soulfire is an undeniable example of a troupe success story. I’ve followed them through every incarnation, through member changes and name changes. I’ve watched them grow from a group of individual dancers to a collective of passionate belly dance power. Their goal is to show the world that it is okay, and in fact a wonderful thing, to explore what it means to break the mold of traditional belly dancing while still honoring its roots, and that no one needs permission to create a new definition of dance fusion. Belly Dance Soulfire believes that performance art is always shifting, constantly making room for new ideas. Their juicy and—dare I say—tantalizing choreography stems from years of diverse experiences of four unique women. I know first-hand how palpable their synchronicity is, and not just technically. It is easy to see the loving energy flow through each performance.

My own fixation with belly dance started eight years ago. My first dance mentor and an original member of Belly Dance Soulfire, Yemaya, who has since relocated, taught me a lot about dance theory, basics, and the culture of belly dance. I saw performing as a unique and beautiful expression of an individual’s passion for an ancient dance form. When she joined a troupe which today is called Belly Dance Soulfire, I didn’t completely understand the reasons. I had come to think of cabaret belly dance as a solo dance, and saw tribal as a group one. So why did Yemaya need to join this troupe when she was a wonderful solo dancer? Watching the group mature and hearing Yemaya talk about the experience, I learned that a troupe is far more than women getting together to dance in unison. A troupe is made up of sisters in dance, who grow together, support each other, and who develop a loving unity that is meant to be shared with an audience.

The group has become an illustration of diversity in every sense of the word. Not only do they each come from very a different background, it has also been noted more than once that there are a variety of body types in the troupe. The four women of Belly Dance Soulfire use this advantage to fuel a movement of body love and acceptance. They encourage all women who feel a connection with the dance to grasp that feeling and cultivate it to their full potential, regardless of society’s “standards.”

The four dancers of Belly Dance Soulfire are each dynamic solo dancers in their own right. Sedona, the founder, creative director, and co-choreographer, had been dancing her whole life before she discovered belly dance. This dance opened a world to her that she instantly felt she was meant to be in. Relatively early in her belly dance career, she decided she wanted to form a troupe of experienced dancers that would become a celebration of all types of women coming together in dance.

Claudia, also an original member and co-choreographer, has been known in Portland as a dynamic and fiery dancer for years. She was already an established dancer and instructor performing regularly at area restaurants and shows when she and Sedona connected. Her 13 years of dance experience has made her a major contributor to the troupe’s bold choreographies. Soulfire gave her a chance to express herself beyond the constraints of the cabaret style that was so in demand in traditional Middle Eastern venues.

Before joining Belly Dance Soulfire, Shara was known for her energetic samba-belly dance fusion in North Carolina, called Sambali. She moved to Portland for a marketing job. Soon after, she was laid off, and in the aftermath realized she was meant to follow her true love of dance full time. I met her in her first session of classes in Portland and instantly liked her. I knew the ladies of Belly Dance Soulfire would be drawn to her too, so I invited her to a show they were putting on…and the rest is history!

Karolina was brought into Belly Dance Soulfire temporarily from California to bring some extra spice to the audition for summer TV show “America’s Got Talent.” The strategy was a success! They made it to Vegas and were complimented on their style, flair, and diversity. She fit in so well that she moved to Portland to stay with the group. Karolina brings a distinctive flair to the troupe with her signature trumpet belly dance and Vaudevillian sass.

Belly Dance Soulfire has quickly become a staple of the Portland belly dance community, joining forces with several other dancers to put on amazing performances and to show everyone that there should not be separation in belly dance because of difference in style; unity is the key to success. Making a bold statement in 2011 with their Dance N.O.W. (Not One Way) production, they emboldened women to reach further into their hearts and break boundaries, asking other groups to join them in an act of faith that their followers would connect with the other troupes as well.

Belly Dance Soulfire is truly a fantastic model of charismatic and ambitious dancers working incredibly hard to ensure the continuation and permanence of this ancient art form. With their goals to spread the power and knowledge of belly dance to all, I know Portland and beyond will see a lot more from Belly Dance Soulfire in the coming years, because these women really do have Soul Fire!

Music Soul Food

17 Jan
lil wayne

This man likes booty!

Quick—give me one song that has the ability to raise you to your highest high, your most miserable low, or the ultimate romantic mood. Music is so influential. I really admire artists who have the ability to impact me so strongly that a song can stay with me for years after I initially hear it. I have created a list of the songs that speak to me most powerfully, and I want to share them with you today. Hopefully at least one of them will spark something in your heart.

{High Energy, Dance Your Heart Out Music} Back That Ass Up—Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Mannie Fresh: This song has a couple things going for it. First of all, growing up I had what anyone would consider a big butt, and unfortunately, it was before JLo made it cool. Do you remember that song by Sir Mix-A-Lot? You know the one. If I had a nickel for how many times I had to hear, “Oh. My. God. Look at Becky’s butt! It is SO BIG!” I’d have at least a dollar fifty. My precious backside was openly condemned by immature middle and high school kids until I went to college, where there were lots of people with open minds and an appreciation for big booties. My freshman year, “Back That Ass Up” came out. It completely blew my mind. That song made me feel like having a curvaceous body was a good thing for the first time in my life. Say what you will about the seemingly trivial nature of the song, but it made me feel like great. Whenever I heard the first notes, a barrage of people would crush onto the dance floor for a chance to show off their own oversized booties, and mine was in the running for the number one big booty. For a girl-not-quite-a-woman who had had conflicting feelings about her body all of her life, this was a breath of fresh air.

It also had a lot of influence concerning my lifelong crush on Lil Wayne, but I really don’t think we should delve into that too deeply.

{Über Romantic} Anytime—Brian McKnight: This song isn’t tied to any one person or memory, but the goosebumps it gives me every time I hear it are tangible. The effect is potent, and very swoon-able. And let’s face it, Brian McKnight is yummy.

{Can’t Understand the Words but Still Moves Me} Seni Sevdi Geönlüm Yine SevecekJohn Bilezikjian: I’ve had the pleasure hearing this artist in person, which makes it so much more powerful. I can’t understand what he is singing about, but it doesn’t matter; I feel it. That is the kind of effect every artist wants to be able to have on their audience.

{Laugh Out Loud} Knock Em Out—Lily Allen: This is one of those songs that tell a story of regular people in situations most people can relate to. This one highlights the awkward position of being hit on by a total loser. But that’s never happened to you, right?

{Girl Power} S&M—Rihanna: That’s right—we ladies can be just as naughty as you boys. I signed up for a Groupon at Vega Dance Lab last year, and as luck would have it, this was the first song I danced to there. Wow. Talk about girl power. Since I started bellydancing, I have realized the power of my feminine wiles, but Rihanna puts a whole new spin on it. In bellydancing I am coy. With S&M it’s all out there, whether you like it or not.

{Escapism} Amame o Dejame—Kevin Ceballo: It was a steamy night in Puerto Rico, where I was on vacation with my parents, who didn’t want me mingling with the natives. Wait, wait! That’s not right. It was 2004 in Portland, Oregon. The air was balmy with the sweat of dancers. The lights were flashing across the crowded wooden dance floor. The music was tropical and the beats were constant and foreign. A handsome man approached me with a smile and his hand extended. I froze. We had just met moments ago. His name was Ricardo. To call him a tall drink of water would be an understatement. He was 6’4” and towered over me. He was inviting me to salsa dance with him. I was terrified of the intimacy of it, and a little confused at how exactly we were supposed to dance together—the physics didn’t seem right (I’m 5’1”)—but he didn’t look at all concerned. Soon I was twirling all over the dance floor. It seemed he was carrying me more than I was actually dancing, but I was doing it! I was salsa dancing! I love everything about this dance:  the music, the movement, the romance. All of it takes me away from any worries or cares.

Isn’t it amazing how music can manipulate your feelings…make you forget…create a dream-world…administer pangs of emotion you didn’t know you were having? It’s the magic of it. I want to thank all of the artists out there who dare to put their gift out into the universe. It is much appreciated. Love, a fellow artist.