Drop it Like it’s Hot!

Becky Drops Another Hot Article on MilwaukieRules.com!
I love the tagline that Mandy Zelinka (my editor extraordinaire) attached to my article:
Get Your Groove on at Any Age!

Click and enjoy!

One last note, local readers!! If you are in the Portland area, please consider coming to my belly dance show this Friday, March 30th. “Bella Notte” is being held at Vino Vixens on SE Powell. Doors open at 6:30 and the show begins at 7:30! My troupe “Benet Jenna” will perform a full set to delight and astound you! There are about 8 sets featured, and the headliner of the evening is my beautiful and talented teacher Claudia, of Belly Dance Soulfire and Oregon Country Fair fame! I hope to see you there.

Benet Jenna
Benet Jenna

Yeah I’m free…free-lancing!

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

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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

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.


Quick post on belly dance

I’m still working on my current blog post, but I wanted to give you something to read in the meantime. Hipmix.net is a great website for all things belly dance. It’s got shopping, articles, advice, videos, and lots of links for belly dance resources. I spotted this great article today and wanted to share.

Feeling the inspiration to go pro with your belly dancing? Take a look at this helpful article. It’s got great tips for what to do before you start building your business. Yes, ladies, if you are being paid for your art, you are a business-woman, and should think from that perspective before you perform your first gig. Read on for more information. Get to know the practical side of belly dance.  


Belly Dance Soul Fire

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!

Belly Dancer Seeks Soul-Arnica

Belly Dancer in a Box

I have been bellydancing for almost eight years. I have been blessed with many instructors, each of whom has a different forte and dance style. I feel extremely lucky to have had all of this vast knowledge at my fingertips for so many years, and I know I have grown from knowing every belly dancer who has been in my life, teachers and classmates alike. But…I can also have a big ego, and I’m not afraid of waving around my street cred. Sometimes I get in my Belly-Dancer-in-a-Box mode, where I am the be-all end-all of amateur belly dancers and everything I say should be gold. Sounds familiar, right? Needing (or faking) being the perfect [insert your noun here, in this case it’s “belly dancer”] in every way? Can we PUHLEASE just excommunicate the word perfect already??

When I began Claudia’s class last year, everyone else in it was a beginner. Why would I join a beginner’s class when I’ve been dancing for eight years? Let me explain. A while ago I had a mini burn-out. Belly dance was still a part of my daily life, but I was no longer interested in studying intensively. I flitted around from teacher to teacher, occasionally signing up for a workshop here and there, but not dancing at haflas (belly dance parties) or looking for the next stage performance opportunity. It was almost a year ago when my good friend Claudia started her beginner’s class. She invited me to attend, and I jumped at it. I had taken classes with her in the past and loved her teaching style. In this class, I thought, I could brush up on my basics and get a great workout while not worrying about the pressure of a performance prep class.

Oh, the irony. The class had been together for about six months when Claudia announced we were going to perform the choreography we had been working on at one of the restaurants where she danced. At first I was nervous…but there was no pressure, as it was a student show, the choreography was super simple, and we didn’t have to put much effort into our costumes – basically just black clothes with red hip scarves. I was lucky; I had just purchased a slinky top that was black with red seams and had mesh arms. It was perfect for the performance. The costume was taken care of, the choreography was seamless…everything was set! The night went fantastically and we were very well-received. It was really fun!

A short time later we started a new choreography, and Claudia asked us if we were interested in performing it at Saqra’s Showcase in November. This is a great venue for all levels of dancers to show off their skills. We excitedly agreed. I had danced in the showcase before, and knew the ropes. I began giving the other girls advice and hosted extra practices at my house. If they had questions I answered them, sometimes inwardly rolling my eyes and thinking DUH, they should know this stuff already! In class I was the first one to memorize all the choreography, which made me feel great…and slightly superior. After all, I was the seasoned pro, wasn’t I? In class, while I was dancing with the troupe, I wasn’t particularly thinking about anyone other than me. I have always performed as a solo dancer in the past, so thinking about my fellow dancers was a pretty big adjustment…and one that my ego did not particularly find comforting. I think Claudia could tell, because the one big critique she kept giving me was that I needed to be conscious of where I was dancing in relation to the other women. “You have to mark me, Becca!!” She would say. I honestly had no idea what she was talking about for the longest time. The practices felt tense to me; I could feel my internal pressure rising every week. I knew the choreography perfectly, but I was feeling like a total loser because I couldn’t find my place among the other women.

The showcase came horrifically fast for me. We ordered our tops and skirts just a week and a half before the performance. Then we began the process of sewing our belts. This is a laborious process, and it takes a lot of attention to detail (which I have) and some basic sewing skills (which I have…but they aren’t great). I started feeling way less superior when it took me twice as long to sew the fabric and coins onto my belt. I started feeling panicky when I realized exactly how much work was involved. In addition to the belt and all of its bells and whistles, I needed to reinforce the hook and eye on the skirt, hem the skirt, create some sort of accessory with the fabric (Head band? Arm band? Choker?), redo the hook and eye on the belt because it was too big the first time, find my flare pants to go under the skirt, buy a shrug to go over the coin top, paint my toenails…you get the picture. Plus, I live alone with no one to help me. On the Saturday before the performance I attempted to enlist help from every person I could think of. I just needed an extra set of hands. Many of my friends were out of town for some reason or had plans for the day. A large set of others were preparing their own costumes for the Swashbucklers Ball that evening. I posted on Twitter and Facebook trying to find someone to help me. Not one bite. I felt my big superior ego shrinking by the minute. I was quickly learning that even though I had learned the technical skills of belly dancing long ago, there was still a ton to learn. It made me realize I should drop all the superior crap and just live the experience, piece by piece, because clearly my whole Belly-Dancer-in-a-Box routine was just not working.

I finally suckered my new friend Rich into coming over for a few hours. Poor guy…he barely knows me, and I didn’t even tell him that he would be at risk of losing his Man Card by helping me with a sewing project. But he didn’t ask, so when I told him, I was relieved to hear that he was pretty sure his Man Card would remain intact. He kept me focused on my project and lent me a kind ear while I babbled about all the stress I was feeling over this crazy sewing project.

The showcase was last night. Our group did a great job. We all looked lovely and the audience clapped and cheered for us. It was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. No one cared that it was not perfect. Afterward what I felt most was relief that it was over. I’m a little sad that I could not let myself enjoy it as much as I could have. I was still feeling so much pressure and stress that I really wasn’t in the moment. Now that I’ve had time to let the experience marinate, I have a couple of realizations.

*I’m not ready to start performing solo again, nor do I particularly want to perform in the troupe more than a few times a year.

*I am not the be-all, end-all Belly-Dancer-in-a-Box. I am one unique person in a huge community of dancers with all kinds of the skills it takes to create a great show.

*Memorizing choreography isn’t the only measure of a good performance.

*My ego needs to chill. I need to give myself time to breathe, no matter how rushed I am. Stress for me brings on denial, which brings on a fake superiority so that I don’t have to think about what my flaws are.

*Most importantly, and one that I have to hear daily: No one is perfect.

My troupe, Benet Jenna, all unique and beautiful women

Belly Beautiful

As you know if you have read my blog posts previously, I have always had body image issues—and for the record, I am writing this post while feeling incredibly frustrated about the vacation weight I gained. I work on these issues every single day, and though I have small victories on a regular basis, it is an ongoing struggle for me (and most American women) to see my body as strong, beautiful, and healthy. This past weekend I had some amazing experiences which connected me with my body in striking ways.

On Sunday I woke up on my own accord at 7:30 AM. I had told myself the night before that if I woke up in time to go to Meeting in the morning, I had no reason not to go. Since I woke up in time without the aid of an alarm, I knew I couldn’t cheat myself out of this experience. The Quaker Meeting I had chosen was new to me; it was a Meeting in SW Portland called West Hills Friends Church (WHF). I intensely dislike going places by myself, however, I had heard great things about WHF, and even though they hold programmed services, I had wanted to go for a while. Note:  It is called Friends Church because this sect has a minister who gives a sermon preceding a short silent worship, unlike unprogrammed services like the ones I was raised with, which have no clergy and have completely silent worship.

The chapel was about a third full when I arrived, so I had my choice of seating. I sat in a pew alone, about halfway back. Immediately I spotted one of the hymnals sitting in the pocket on the back of the pew I was facing: Worship in Song. My mother had been a member of the committee that created this hymnal; of that she was very proud. I picked it up and searched for her name—there it was. I passed my forefinger over her printed name, feeling like this place was already getting brownie points for having my mother’s hymnal in it.

Eventually an older couple sat to my right, and a couple about my age sat to my left. The service began. There was music, and then something called the First Word. A heavyset woman wearing a loose red dress stood up and walked over to the microphone. The minute she began speaking, I was riveted. She spoke about her addiction to food, and how she had used it throughout her life to deal with stress, which consequently brought on shame, which she dealt with by eating more food. She spoke frankly about it, but her voice was thick with feeling. I could feel her words running through me, creating a sensation of empathy, and bringing back my own ashamed feelings about food. At the end, her message brought forth the encouragement to be honest and compassionate with oneself through any addiction. That is something I always forget when I am trying to “fix” my flaws. I constantly have to remind myself not to be harsh when I make a mistake, or fall back into old habits. I have always reacted strongly to positivity, not stringent criticism. When the woman was finished I had the strong urge to run up and hug her. I felt it was fate that I went to church on that particular day, so I could hear her words.

*         *         *         *

I was particularly excited about my Sunday evening because I was heading to a Goddess gathering named the “Red Tent.” This is my friend Sedona’s modernized incarnation of the women’s hut, where in some cultures women are quarantined to a separate building during their period or other significant times in their menstrual cycle. Sedona’s version didn’t have anything to do with the menstrual cycle, but it brought a variety of women together to celebrate being a woman. I had not been to one of these yet and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.

I walked into the beautifully decorated Datura Studio and immediately saw several people I knew. That was encouraging. (As you already know, I get nervous going new places by myself.) I sat and chatted with my friends for a while, drank some champagne, and ate some yummy food. After a while, Sedona called us all into the main room and to make a circle. I saw another one of my friends, Joy, and stood beside her. Sedona began talking about the significance of the belly, or core of a woman. Her strength comes from it, incredible beauty comes from moving it (i.e., bellydancing or other forms of movement), and it is the source of all life. Pretty powerful stuff!

Then she asked us to do something that made my throat instantly go dry. She instructed us to put our right hand on the belly of the woman beside us, and then put the left one over the hand of the woman whose hand was on our bellies. OMG. There was a complete stranger to my left. Her hand would be touching my jiggly belly! I had a momentary panic, imagining her with a look of disgust when she felt it. I couldn’t just run out of the room, so I did as I was told and put my right hand on Joy’s belly. It felt smooth, and weirdly, it calmed me down a little. When our other hands were positioned, Sedona asked us to breathe and feel the pressure of the hand on our center, and to just be aware of the sensation of touching another woman’s belly. Am I pressing too hard on this stranger’s hand? I wonder if she is completely freaked out by touching my belly. Am I doing this right?? The thoughts raced through my head. Then I checked myself and remembered to breathe. I looked up, and saw for the first time the group in its entirety. It was comforting, seeing women of all shapes and sizes, their bellies rising and falling with breath, and I knew suddenly that I was not the only one feeling this way, but it didn’t matter. This was a safe place. No one cared how jiggly my tummy was. They were all enjoying the warmth of this group, just like I was.

I don’t have a witty end to this post. No matter how many momentary highs I get from events like the Red Tent, there is no denying I will always be self-conscious about my belly’s size, texture, and shape. Intellectually I know that many many women share these feelings, but in my heart it always feels so singular. Writing about these emotions can’t heal the pain of a 32-year struggle, but it does make me feel stronger every time I put the words out into the Universe. It’s cathartic. I think of the love that I sent to the woman in church, speaking about herself, and I know that every person who reads this will be sending me love as well. I am so grateful.

Love Yourself

Circle of Friends

Warning, this post is going to be extremely raw and honest and might be about YOU. I will not be adding names to this post, though many of the people cited have been highlighted in this blog before. If I have mentioned you, please know I am telling this particular story because it has helped me work out some of my own issues. It is not to hurt or expose anyone.

I’ve noticed that many of my friendship statuses have been fluctuating this year. What I mean is that throughout the year I have noticed that my previously ever-steady close circle of friends has expanded and shrunk, and gone through a metamorphosis. It’s a very good thing…and of course it all happens for a reason.

My mother always said it’s better to have 75 good friends than only a few best friends. I have always disagreed with her. I feel if I have those 75 “outer circle” friends and I can’t count on one of them to check in with me every day, make sure I get my morning coffee, or know to ask for the full name and phone number of my blind date, then I may wind up with many acquaintances, but no one to make sure I came back from that blind date in one piece. I have a small circle of friends that I talk to every day or near enough, and they always take priority. I have a larger set of friends who I acknowledge at least once a week, even if it’s just on Facebook. The outer ring of the circle are the friends who I can go weeks or months without talking to, and I know that once the link is reconnected, it will be like no time has passed.

I like these definitions. The three rings of friendship give me security. And like a good (and single) Virgo, they give me comfort that someone will notice if I dip below the radar in less than 24 hours. Please see Sex and the City Season 2 where Miranda chokes on her food and has to save herself by heaving her upper body over a chair. Right afterwards she calls Carrie in a panic that no one will know she is dead for days, except her cats, who have, in the meantime, eaten her eyeballs. Have I had these fears? Oh yes. I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that Miranda is a Virgo.

There are several accounts that I will share that back up this theory of friend fluctuation. This year through life’s trials and tribulations, one of my closest friends and I became almost completely estranged. She moved a half-hour away and was in a bad situation with an extremely controlling partner. This was someone who I used to speak with every day, who I could count on to be there for me whenever I needed her. Then the friendship I had known for seven years just stopped cold turkey. When she dropped off the radar, I felt feelings of panic well up. This was my go-to for all the crazy ideas I had that no one else would take part in. I knew I’d always have a date with her any time I had the urge for salsa dancing. In addition, and most importantly, she had two children who I considered family. I was having withdrawal symptoms for them most of all.

Another situation was with my former roommate. We lived together for three years, and then separated, citing a potential friend break-up and the desire to live on opposite sides of town as solid reasons to get out while the going was good. Almost immediately after moving, she met her soon-to-be fiancée…and dropped off the face of the earth. When I did see her it was almost always as a duo. I felt like our interests and commonalities were drifting at a rather alarming rate. After what seemed like no time at all, she and her boyfriend became engaged. My mind was absolutely boggled when she asked me to be a bridesmaid. I was at this point feeling pretty distant from her, and in addition I had just spent a lot of money on another friend’s wedding and was starting to feel resentful and frustrated about all my friends with their stupid weddings. I began having feelings of incredible unhappiness about this long-time friend and former roommate, when I should have been nothing but elated for her. I knew I would eventually have to tell her I couldn’t be in the wedding for financial reasons, but I was terrified she would hate me. So I did what any normal person would do:  I avoided her and the situation completely.

My last story is about my trusty hiking friend. We had been hiking together for two years and were always close, no matter if one of us had a boyfriend or girlfriend. Then, he met Her. Suddenly he was always too busy to hike with me. They had plans to go away for the weekend, or they had a function with Her parents. He fell off the map! The three of us hiked a few times but it was pretty clear that she was now the priority and I would have to work around their schedule. I admit it, I was jealous. Not only did he have a great partner, he found someone who liked to hike. I wanted someone who liked to hike!! The worst part of all? I actually enjoyed this girl. The night I met Her, he brought Her to my birthday party. He was clear he wanted me to meet Her and he wanted to know exactly what I thought. I really wanted to not like Her, because that meant he would be free to hang with me any time. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. As I have grown to know Her more, I hate to say it, but she is awesome. Grrrr…

Because of these estrangements, I had an awful lot of time on my hands. My brain understood that all of this extra time I now had was partially the cause and effect of people growing up, getting married, moving across town, etc. Though I may be single and childless, I can comprehend the need to focus on one’s family, but from my standpoint it can really stink when everyone else has different priorities and I am stuck alone, partnerless, and without family in the immediate area. While I love being an independent woman who chose to move away from her hometown eight years ago, sometimes I feel a little sad, knowing that most of my friends have a partner to run to or a kiddo to cuddle when they feel this way. This is exactly why I chose to have the close circle of friends. But when they aren’t making me a priority, who is left? I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t been faced with this situation before.

Instead of crying (much), I opened my up my contact list. I went through the list, noting people who I hadn’t talked to in ages but who I still very much wanted a connection with. One in particular stood out. We hadn’t seen each other in the flesh for over 4 years, but somehow we always stayed kindred spirits. We linked up on social media websites, talking about how we should get together, but we never actually did. So when I saw an opportunity one day, I took it. I knew she loved belly dance; she took classes from me when I was teaching a few years ago. There was a show coming up that I knew she would love, so I invited her, and she said yes! On a whim, I also invited my estranged salsa-dancing partner-in-crime as well, hoping she would bite, and I was so pleased when she decided to go! My evening was filled with catching up with the old and creating bonds with the new.

As for my former roommate, I finally got up the nerve to tell her I couldn’t be in the wedding. It was only fair; I couldn’t leave her in a lurch without a bridesmaid at the very last minute. I cornered her (figuratively speaking—it was over email) and got her to agree on a solo dinner. I hemmed and hawed during the entire dinner, only able to speak about my situation after we had paid and walked out the door. I don’t know what I was expecting: a slap in the face, tears? No, my friend was cooler than a cucumber and, as I should have known, hit the nail right on the head. She told me she wanted me to enjoy the wedding, not be pressured by it in any way. She said she didn’t want me to resent the financial burden that being a bridesmaid can bring upon someone. I was so relieved. I was also thrilled when she told me I would still be completely involved in any part of the wedding I wanted. The weight that lifted off of me was palpable. It also opened me up to wanting to spend time with her again. We have since completely renewed our friendship and are closer than ever. The grace of honesty in a relationship is something that can never be overemphasized. Even though we still live across town and have different marital statuses, we can be as close in spirit as we want.

Because I was left high and dry without a hiking partner, I was grumpy. I am used to getting dozens of hikes on the books each year, and I was at a loss. The Universe must have been working overtime because I gained two brand-new hiking buddies this year, completely by coincidence! One of them, as I have previously mentioned, took it upon himself to invite himself on one of my already-planned hikes. The other I had known for a while, and it just seemed natural that once we established our mutual love for hiking, we would do it together. What makes me really happy is that I have gotten all my hiking buddies, new and old, on the same hike. Thanks for listening, Universe!

Does this mean my mother was right? I don’t want to say she was 100% correct. I still want to be confident that my cats won’t be eating my eyeballs because no one checked in on me, but it’s nice to branch out and let some of the outer circle in a little closer.

When one door closes, another one opens. I swear I have read or heard this mantra hundreds of times in my life. No matter what, it always ends up being true. Life can really be painful, but I have found that once I get past the clouds, I can see the sun shining through. It really is a beautiful thing.



Portland’s Next Top Bellydance Fusion Model!

Ok, so I am NOT Portland’s next top bellydance fusion model, but I got a great story out of this crazy experience!

I’m writing today to cover last night’s modeling experience. I just had to share! I was involved in a bellydance clothing fashion show that kicked off the exciting Jamballah NW festival this weekend, a showcase of bellydance fusion by way of vending, shows, and workshops. See the website for more details and how you can experience Jamballah yourself:  http://www.jamballahnw.com.

Let me set the stage for you: On the main floor was a stage, tables and chairs for the audience, and a bar. Upstairs, a breathtaking array of vendor’s booths filled with the most beautiful things a bellydancer/performance artist has ever seen. Downstairs, a basement hallway filled with clothes, accoutrements and models.  

In short, the night was very very short! My designer’s booth was bustling when I arrived. I was one of the women representing Sakkara Clothing and Costume, and things were selling even before the show started! Kim (Sakkara) showed me the dressing area, an unadorned but well-lit basement where ladies and men were dressing, stretching, putting on makeup (lots of makeup) and gabbing. Since I hadn’t had time to check out the stage, one of my “colleagues” filled me in on the stage conditions: uneven wood with depressions and a few cracks, and a few outlets sticking up from the floor just waiting to stub your toe. Yikes! We all checked eachother out conspicuously; compliments were passed around about the pretty skirt, funky wrist cuff, awesome harem pants, or furry vest someone was wearing. There was an amazing variety in the costumes. Actually, there were no traditional bellydance costumes from what I saw. It was daunting to observe all that fabulousness in one small hallway. I felt a little plain and small compared to the ladies with the giant Edward Scissorhands wigs and ruffled booty skirts, topped off with tons of glittery makeup and a lacey parasol, of course.

Tension rose when the emcee came down the stairs in her giant (and I mean GIANT) red pleather platform knee-high boots and told us it was almost “go time.” If I hadn’t been intimidated before, I was now. Our emcee was an Amazonian woman with a neon dreaded wig, the aforementioned boots, and crazy makeup. She was also very boisterous on stage. When it was our turn to dance, I slithered up the stage steps with my snake arms undulating, excited to show off my moves. Then realized I could barely hear the music. It was a slight muffled thump-thump with an occasional industrial noise. The emcee, though, she was LOUD! I didn’t really know what to do, so I just danced and hoped my moves somehow matched the music. When the other two dancers came on stage I was awed at their ability to ignore the missing music and put on their fake-it-til-you-make-it faces. It seemed that as soon as it started, it was over. After the last dancer, we gracefully (?) pranced off the stage, and it was NEXT DANCER!

The nice thing about a fashion show is that there is constant movement, and though the memory of a costume can linger, the time on the stage is limited, and the next flashy thing will be strutting up the stairs before you know it. And no one can deny it is quite a thrill to wear designer duds on a stage, even if it’s just for a few minutes and you can’t hear the music!

Check out my designer’s great stuff! http://www.sakkaraclothing.com

And check ME out in my custom top, velvet dance pants, and jellyfish skirt by Sakkara Clothing! This picture was taken in the basement hallway before the show.

Maysam Janan at Jamballah NW



Games of Life

It’s 8 AM on Sunday. Normally, if I had naturally woken up at this hour, I would be attempting to go to Meeting for Worship at one of the Quaker meetings in town. Instead, I am taking advantage of this early hour and am going to finish this blog that should have been done on Friday. I apologize; I am a creature of habit, and very much wanted to post my blog on Friday, as I always do. However, I was in a frenzy of sleep deprivation and the need for one last night of practice before my bellydance performance at a Saturday market the next day. It turned out beautifully, in case you’re wondering. I haven’t performed solo in about three years, so this was a lovely welcome back into the performance world. When people who aren’t my friends or family approach me and tell me they loved my dance, I consider that a huge success. Not that I don’t appreciate the cheers of my loved ones; it’s just a nice addition when I get accolades from a stranger. Dancing for a crowd feels good! I love the call and answer of the dance. It’s like a fun game when I shimmy and get the crowd’s response in return. That kind of energy is really great!

I could write about it for hours, but I must get to the point of today’s post…

Every week an NPR podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour (PCHH) is downloaded to my iTunes. It’s an uproarious mish-mash of pop culture and hysterical personalities. To be honest, I can’t relate to half the stuff they talk about. I’m not a Harry Potter fan, I don’t know anything about video games, and I didn’t follow the royal wedding. Nevertheless, one of my favorite things about Monday morning is knowing a new PCHH podcast will be in my queue when I turn on my computer. Any topic can be entertaining when the hosts make it so, and that is why I listen, even when I don’t know why they are giggling so hard.

This week’s PCHH was about games. The hosts spoke of the unbearable heat in D.C., which is where they are broadcasting. Games and movies are just about the only activity they can muster at this point. Growing up in the Midwest, I could relate with the heat, and games were definitely the summer evening activity in my family. One of my favorite memories involves playing Spoons around my Uncle Glenn’s dinner table in Pennsylvania. My family would pack the car and drive to Pennsylvania from Ohio every summer of my childhood. Most of my dad’s family lived in a concentrated area, so I got to see a lot of my paternal cousins while I was there. The most amazing part is that, even after my parents divorced, my paternal uncle still welcomed my mother, sister, and I into his home every summer. Obviously we would always be his nieces, but I thought it was really special that he didn’t think twice about continuing the tradition with my mother after the marital ties with my mother and father had been broken.

I started thinking about how games we play represent the stages of life and our development into adulthood. First we play Chutes and Ladders. My sister and I played this game for hours when we were little. It’s a simple game of chance where you move a few steps and are either thrust down a chute, or are able to climb to higher ground on a ladder. For me this game highlights what little control we have over anything at that stage in our lives. When you’re eight years old you can pretty much only go with the flow. You may not like going down the chute; you may love it. Eventually you’ll move on to a place in life where you are entitled to make your own decisions and be responsible for your actions, but right now it’s not up to you. So hold on for the ride! Or rather, slide!

The next two games I thought of were Spin the Bottle and Twister. Our fragile knowledge of sexuality and carnal relationships were just starting to bloom at the dawn of adolescence. These two games in particular helped develop my sexual curiosity. Spin the Bottle was the more obvious ploy to learn about boys. There were so many times my sister and I had “movie nights” in our basement while our mother was upstairs, unknowing. Now that I am older, I think she probably knew exactly what was going on, but trusted us enough to know it wouldn’t get too crazy. I can still remember my first Spin the Bottle kiss, and after, my first real kiss.

Twister was a great way to learn about bodies. When you play, you are not necessarily seeing the whole of a person. You glimpse an ankle, an elbow, sometimes a breast peeking out of a shirt. Twister made me feel like a variety of body parts, not like one whole person. At that age this was perfectly acceptable; I didn’t really like my body. I was overweight, self-conscious, and generally terrified of boys. But playing Twister was different. Maybe they would catch a glance of my left foot (My left was totally skinnier than my right.), or see that my neck was long and slender when stretched out over Blake’s kneecap. Maybe Gary would like me more if he saw me that way. Maybe we would get in a compromising position over a game of Twister and he would see the real me: smart, quietly beautiful, and willing to write romantic poetry about his glorious left upper thigh. You can see how games were not just games at this stage.

As I got older, I learned more intellectually-stimulating games like Poker and Canasta. The draw of these games was not only to stir my competitive side, but also to point my cognitive skills in a different direction once in a while. As we approach adulthood, we need constant reassurance that we are not acting like children. We want to be older, cooler. We want to make sure that everyone knows we are independent and self-sufficient. Cruising Maple Avenue and finding someone to buy me alcohol may have been fun, but it didn’t give me any aspirations, and it certainly didn’t help me build a life strategy. Kicking my dad’s butt in Poker, however, made me feel smart, powerful, and at the same time bonded me to him in a different way than before. It was the start of a new type of relationship with my father.

Growing older and forming strong relationships with family and friends has been one of the best parts of becoming an adult. Playing games with them gives me a type of knowledge that I am in the stage of life where my choices are my own. I am choosing to spend quality time with these people. I don’t have to be there; I could be anywhere, but my plan at this point in my life is to spend time with people whom I love, and value this time with them. I’d say that’s a great strategy.

Look for the parallels next time you play a game. Games are all about the similarities between real life and fantasy. Strike up a conversation about it with your opponents. Maybe it will distract them long enough so you can slip the ace out of your sleeve.