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Bridging the Gap

15 Jun

“You should go for it!” Claudia said after we had shimmied our hearts out. I was sweaty and utterly exhausted, and had no patience for whatever she was babbling about. She gestured excitedly to the poster hanging on the studio wall. The large, colorful advertisement shouted at me: One day, six workshops! Sepiatonic presents Samba, Bollywhack, Expanding Movement, Afro-pop Fusion, Waacking & Vogue Fusion, and Isolation Drill Bits…We are Bridging the Gap! “There is still scholarship money available!” She told me gleefully. The application involved several essay questions and a video audition. “Oh,” Claudia mentioned quasi-casually, “and the application deadline is tonight.” How in the world did she think I was qualified for this kind of scholarship? I’d never even heard of half of these dance styles! And how would I stand out among so many talented dancers? I imagined them all recording their auditions on a stage in front of a live orchestra, finger cymbals winking in the spotlight and $900 costumes flashing to the sound of the audience’s ooohs and ahhhs, while my audition would most likely consist of me in my clammy workout gear in my living room.

Bridge the gap

But Claudia never doubted me, even when I had little faith in myself. She had been my belly dance teacher now for over eight years. Yemaya had been my first mentor, and the one who helped instill solid muscle memory and strength in me. Several years ago, when she moved out of the country and I expressed panic at losing her—just when I was beginning to perform—she reassured me that a new teacher would guide my dance education from then on. Claudia had been nothing short of amazing. In addition to the solo performances I had already taken on, duet, and troupe performances had been checked off under her watch. I built my style, and learned to better understand my strengths and weaknesses during her classes. I also admired her insistence on learning from a variety of teachers—she was all about building the self through a community. She knew my uncertainties and apprehensions almost better than I did… so I tried to trust her conviction in my ability.

I went home and thought about it, determined to make a decision that was based on fact, not fear. Normally I would have pushed all hopeful thoughts out of my mind and gone to bed, making excuses of why I couldn’t do this. I’m tired. It’s too late to submit. I’m not qualified. What was bridging the gap, anyway? I Googled the group’s website: Bridge the Gap is a way to stay connected, to collaborate, to innovate, to celebrate diversity, and to keep making art and growing community in these fearful times of oppression. The more that different artists, thinkers, feelers, and awake people of our communities unite, the stronger of a power we are against forces that strive to annihilate free-thinking, passionate creativity, and diverse and alternative lifestyles in our country. It sounded like something magical and daring… It sounded fantastic…it sounded like it could be perfect for me. My dance community was wonderful but small, and expanding mine could only build me up as a dancer and a human being. Suddenly, I knew I needed to do this.

I started with the essay questions. I’m excellent at tests, especially long form writing ones. I considered each question, and wrote each answer with loving intention in my heart, excited to share my passion for dance and the experiences it had provided me up to this point. Then, the video. I propped up my phone, pressed play, and performed my best 30-second belly dance/Latin fusion that I could muster after two solid hours of dance class and a full day of work. I watched it, then re-watched it at least three times, then re-recorded it at least three times, then took a deep lungful of air—don’t forget to breathe—and clicked send on the application.

A few days later I received a reply. I opened it nervously. I had submitted my application literally at the eleventh hour. Was it possible I actually got in? I had to read it twice for it to truly sink in. I had won a scholarship—for the full day of dance!

I walked in that Sunday feeling terribly nervous and only somewhat physically prepared. I had packed way too many snacks and not enough confidence, but it didn’t matter. I was here now, and the embarrassment of running out the door trumped embarrassing myself in the classroom. First up: samba. I had taken a few samba classes over the years, but I was absolutely overwhelmed by this style. My arms were on fire after the first few rounds of choreography and my feet were constantly playing catch-up, but I grinned through the sweat. Overall, I was keeping up! I could do this! The smile didn’t leave my face for the rest of the day.

Bollywhack was next. Kumari Suraj is a force, a stunning, feminine presence that I was immediately attracted to. As a curvy woman, I was ecstatic at the sight of someone larger than a size two teaching the class. It turns out that this combination of Bollywood (The dance form used in Indian films) and Waacking (Waack/Punk is a form of dance created in the LGBT clubs of Los Angeles during the 1970s) was exactly what I needed to experience. I instantly fell in love with the crisp, energetic movements introduced by two seemingly opposite styles of dance, but it worked, and Kumari stole a piece of my heart. Following were Afro-pop Fusion, Expanding Movement, Waack and Vogue Fusion, and the last, which unfortunately I had to miss due to a previous commitment, Isolation Drill Bits. The workshops made me feel weightless. Nothing mattered but the movements, and my physical body was almost secondary to the energy and spirit I exuded.

This community of dancers was a diverse one—not only belly dancers, but those who samba, waack, vogue, play, flounce, whirl. People who aren’t one type of beautiful. Men with giant braided ponytails of hair, flinging them madly, within dangerous distances of other dancers. A big and beautiful dancer like me, who astounded the crowd and made me want to rip out my eyeballs and send them away with her, to continually watch her dazzling generosity of movement and flair. These people were all so human, so robust, boisterous, and raw. I could read it in their eyes; they proudly polluted the definition of societal allure.

My definition of what a dancer is has forever been altered. There is nothing like the rush of power I feel when I move to the ancient Middle Eastern music. Belly dance makes me forget to feel self-conscious and be proud of who I am; I forget to crave the comforting stability of the status quo. Dance obliterates my worries and wraps me in a bubble of protection that I yearn to hold on to in my everyday life.

A dancer of stunning feminine essence was born in a basement studio. My name is Maysam Janan, meaning beautiful heart and soul, and dance has set my heart on fire. Shaky or strong, my breath keeps the fire going, and the community I continue to build will hold me up when I can’t fuel it alone.

Over and Over Again

10 Jul

Renowned martial artist Bruce Lee described the opponent he was most wary of: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” In my astrological opinion, you should regard that as one of your keystone principles during the next 12 months. Your power and glory will come from honing one specific skill, not experimenting restlessly with many different skills. And the coming weeks will be an excellent time to set your intention. – Rob Brezsny

It’s a theme that is so common in every thread of life: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

I hear it every week in belly dance class. My instructor and dear friend, Claudia, is unyielding in her insistence that you can take a set of simple moves and make them incredible with a metric ton of practice and a heavy helping of personality.

I can drill with the best of them. I love it. I could shimmy for hours; hone my taksim and maya for days. Add in that personality or emotional factor, however, and I crumble. Showing my vulnerability is one of my biggest fears. To show your vulnerability is terrifying, but essential to being a whole dancer. It’s what gives the dance tarab. Tarab is the climax of a feeling derived from hearing music expressing an intense emotion. I struggle with this, because I love belly dance with a passion; I want to be a complete dancer—tarab and all. I feel these emotions with the music and the movement, but somehow I can’t set them free into the universe, because that would open me up to something incredibly scary. The audience would see the raw, naked parts of me. It’s the gift of imperfection. It’s what makes us relate to other humans. But I always seem to see it as a gag gift. To her credit, Claudia never gives up on me. She just makes me do it again and again. If we dance for an hour and she sees one glimpse of my wall breaking down, she knows it can happen another time, and she encourages me to get back up and expose myself again. I am a dancer. Music and movement are my passion, and no amount of failure will make me stay down, because I yearn to cultivate this gift of mine.

Dating…I cannot count the number of times I’ve been stood up, “ghosted,” or rejected. If you’ve ever tried online dating, you know the frustration that can build so easily. Greater quantity does not necessarily mean better quality. I’ve met some true gems, but the timing wasn’t right or our schedules didn’t match up. Do I sit at home and cry about it? Yes. But then I get back up and try again. I set up yet another date to meet someone new, holding out hope that my person is out there. I am strong, smart, beautiful, and deserve to be loved. I am love.

America has felt over and over the hate that comes from fear. We see people killed for reasons beyond our comprehension. Hate crimes, terrorism, crimes of passion. It is a scary time in our existence. We easily fall down rabbit holes of depression and distress, struggling to get back up.  Should we give up, let ourselves sink back down to the darkness forever? No. We repeat our mantras of love and acceptance. We recognize that there is a purpose for the light and the dark, and search for a balance. We get to know our neighbors. Sometimes I falter at knowing what I can do for my brothers and sisters of the world. But I can start with something small—holding each of us in the light. That is what my Quaker faith taught me to do—understand that there is that of God in every person, no matter what they have done or who they are. I can start there. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If my one, time-tested impeccable “kick” turns out to be sharing my love with you, then I am honored to try, try again, with every blog I post and every action I take, whether that be writing a few words, sharing my passion for dance, or practicing loving kindness, expecting nothing in return.

love

We’re not all going to Eat, Pray, Love our way through life, but we can try

9 Jan

When I was a child, my mother often read out loud to me. She would never start at chapter one—instead, she patiently read every single page, including the author’s name, the illustrator, dedication, and forward. The only exception was the library of congress page, although she did always note the copyright date.

For my birthday in 2015, she sent a book entitled Stressed is Dessert Spelled Backwards, written by Brian Luke Seaward with a forward by Joan Lunden; no illustrator this time. I brought this book on a flight to San Diego. I was already well into it, enjoying it thoroughly, but needed to put it down to do something…I can’t remember what. Maybe stretch. Maybe have a drink of water. While it was lying on my tray table, the pages curling upwards, I noticed writing on one of the pages—the title page—one I had skipped because I had read the title on the cover and didn’t think it was necessary. (Sorry, mom.)

She had inscribed it, “Dear Becky, hope this is a help when you become upset. Love, Mom. August 31, 2015.” My birthday. Tears instantly came to my eyes when I read this. I was four chapters in by this time, and it was blowing my mind. I could see why she was drawn to it personally. There is a lot of reflection on the power of prayer, something my mother believes in very strongly. Both of my parents raised me to have a close relationship with God, and, though it has changed, waxed, and waned over the years, that relationship remains inside of me. Call it prayer, call it manifestation, it’s all based on a spirituality that is incredibly personal, and it gives me a connection with the universe, love, and every person on this planet.

Right now in my faith, I have decided that God is a name for life-force. Existence. Love. So when I pray, it is not necessarily to an almighty power. I am praying to myself, to a drop of water, to a strand of hair, everything that holds a vibration—energy. When I think it, when I feel it, I manifest it. We all do. The power of energy is strong.

And now I’m back home, inspired. My muse is sitting on my shoulder. He is wearing a kilt, and has a glencairn of pinot barrel-aged gin in his left hand and a whip in the other. He’s tapping his foot impatiently. So, armed the wisdom of my new-agey knowledge, I decide now is the perfect time to do something I’ve been waiting all of 2015 for. Open my happiness jar.

 

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I’m not going to lie, I saw it on Pinterest. It was January 2015. I was feeling optimistic after a fantastic New Year’s Eve and thought, what a great idea! I find a jar (in my case it was a tall cylindrical vase), decorate it, and drop in memories and trinkets that remind me how blessed I am. I told myself I would read it on New Year’s Eve 2015, but of course I ended up going to a party; you know how those things go. So tonight, a few days into the new year, I am cracking it open to see what gems I experienced over the last year. Here are a few.

  • I have two friends that, when we get together, jokingly call our group the Venus Flytraps. We occasionally have goddess gatherings at my place (or hen party, ladies night, etc.). At one of these gatherings, I decided to print out each of our horoscopes from Free Will Astrology that week on beautiful gold paper and present them to each lady. After the gathering I decided to stick it in my jar to see how it would manifest. My Virgo horoscope read as follows: It is always important to know when something has reached its end,” writes Paulo Coelho in his book The Zahir. Use this advice heroically in 2015, Virgo. Wield it to clear away anything that no longer serves you, that weighs you down or holds you back. Prepare the way for the new story that will begin for you around your next birthday. “Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters,” Coelho says, “it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” Thud, thud, thud, goes my heart. Letting go in the last year has served me incredibly well. I let go of tired expectations about relationships, old understandings about my sensual and sexual expression. Some of you know that my boyfriend and I parted ways (although I didn’t get rid of him entirely—he is still very much a part of my life as a dear friend). I let free my assumptions about who I am as a dancer, as a runner, even as a writer. I simply am those things. I look forward to seeing what fills the space of the things I let go in the coming year.
  • A Louise Hay Power of Thought card: I allow others to be themselves. This card was handed to me after a particularly snarly interaction with a friend of mine while camping. Now, I love my friend Joe, I do. He is like the brother I never had. But as all brothers do, he gets on my nerves from time to time. And on that day, he had gotten on my last one. I blew up at him in front of 6 others in my campsite. I don’t think any of those people have ever seen me do anything but smile; I’m a pretty positive person 98% of the time. After my little tantrum, I stomped around camp for a while, drank my coffee, and avoided eye contact with my fellow campers. Then, my friend Sarah came up to me and handed me this card. She said, if you love Joe, you have to love him for who he is…flaws and all. I was embarrassed at first, but I soon realized she gave it to me in friendship, not to put me in my place. I read the back of the card: I do not try to heal my friends. I do my own mental work and heal myself. This is the best thing I can do for others. I was so humbled and grateful for Sarah in that moment. It has never left me. Ever since then, every time someone grates on me for doing something that is, in my eyes, wrong, I remember Sarah’s kind offering.
  • In the first part of the year, I cultivated a strong connection with a man who became a very close friend. He has inspired me multiple times this year, and I’ve even used his inspiration in a few of my blogs. After reading one of them, he wrote me this note. “So I re-read your blog as requested. I originally felt touched by the part about the friend who talks about his son living in every moment as I saw a connection to me. Now, knowing you wrote that about/for me I am touched even more. Thank you Becky for your kindness and your authenticity. Your (sic) truly a special person and someone someday is going to be very blessed to have you as a partner. Happy New Year and on-on.” I close my eyes now, and remember the warmth I felt when I read that note the first time, and every time thereafter. It reminds me what special and amazing souls I have in my life.
  • I attended two writing workshops this year, both of which brought me great joy. In one of the workshops, led by Kate Gray, we were tasked to write a short fiction piece. I ended up writing something about belly dance, and loved it so much that I kept it around. It contains many parts that are true to my own life as well as musings of a greater sort. Here is a short excerpt: “Here, she danced for pleasure. For art. To see her hair fly in the air as she spun in a barrel turn. To see the man drop his pita into the hummus because her muscle isolations made it seem as though her hips were no longer connected to the rest of her body. To feel beautiful in stage makeup, and feel the pure delight of washing it off at the end of the night, watching the makeup and sweat and soap bubbles slink circuitously into the drain and flow somewhere else…She grew up with rhythms from all over the world. She couldn’t imagine a life without romantic harmonies, haunting vibratos, and razor sharp words. Music moved her.” HAPPINESS!
  • If you have not read The Four Agreements, I highly recommend it. I wrote each one down and put them in my jar, and they have served me incredibly well this year. You really must read the book, but here are the agreements, in short.
Be impeccable with your word.
Don’t take anything personally.
Don’t make assumptions.
Always do your best.
  • This is an action that has never come easily to me. A friend of mine gave me a deck of cards with meditation words on them a few years ago. Surrender kept coming up for me whenever I pulled this deck out. I decided that Surrender would be my word of the year. And so I have quite happily, and continue to surrender to whatever the universe brings me.

2015 was a year of growth for me. It was not without growing pains, to be sure. Most of these times I understood that there was a bigger message, a lesson I needed to learn. I have to hand it to the universe, it can throw some seriously cockeyed lessons my way, but I do feel strongly that I needed each and every one of them, no matter how painful at the time.

I encourage you to reflect on your 2015 and come up with some of the lessons you experienced, maybe set up a happiness jar for 2016. We’re not all going to get to the other side boasting the ideal job, the perfect mate, and a flawless life, but we can absolutely appreciate the path we’ve taken to get to where we are now—exactly where we’re supposed to be at this time and place.

WHY: Part II—Precious Fragments

26 Dec

This “Why” series is a way to bring me closer to you—by revealing my inner-most thoughts and being 100% vulnerable with you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking my words and embracing them with love and kindness.

The first time I was completely vulnerable with a man, it changed my being. Bringing it back now, I feel exactly the same as I did in that moment. My breath is ragged and my chest is warm. I have a sense of exhilaration that it happened, but also sadness that my moment with him has passed. The most important part of it, though, was that I felt liberated.

Whenever I go back and read the poems I wrote for my college thesis, I am so impressed at how much raw emotion I allowed to spill onto the pages. I wasn’t scared of making someone uncomfortable with my words or that they would judge me. I didn’t fear my teacher would read the lines and immediately fail me because I wasn’t Sylvia Plath at 22. I just wrote anything and everything that was inside of me, and it was good stuff!

I hear a song, 25 years later, and it reminds me of the times I danced in the summer darkness among the lightning bugs, and how I felt in the very heart of it. I remember the feeling of being absolutely free, absolutely me, without a care in the world. Granted, I was 10 years old at the time and wasn’t concerned with having a 401k or what I would be when I grew up, but so often, even as children, we burden ourselves with too many thoughts. You know that blonde chick that everyone makes fun of because she’s empty-headed? Sometimes, I envy her. Sometimes it is essential to let go of our thoughts and just feel.

One thing my belly dance teacher always reminds me to do is to let my emotion out while I’m dancing. Claudia says that a dancer can have the most technically precise moves and the most beautiful costume, but without tarab, there can be no complete dance. Tarab has no exact English definition, but the closest I can come up with is “a shared experience of musical ecstasy.” Or “When reaching the epic moment of a feeling derived from hearing music, whether it instrumental or voice or both together expressing either joy, pain sorrow or any other intense emotion.” (Written by Mohamed Shahin and Hanna St. John) This, to me, is exactly what it means to show one’s inner truth.

I have a friend who comments that his son lives fully in the moment, every minute of every day. His face lights up when he talks about how happy it makes him to see his child in this way. Wouldn’t it be great if we all lived in the moment like that?

These days it’s much rarer for me to let go. Is it because I’m older, set in my ways? It still happens occasionally if I’m dancing, if I am feeling particularly brave, or if I’m in a foreign place and just don’t care what anyone thinks. The most interesting times are when I’m wearing a costume or a wig; I’ve noticed it gives me a mental get-out-of-jail-free card. I wish I could let down this wall I have built with more regularity—I have the potential to free myself at any time. Why don’t I? Why don’t any of us?

I read a piece by Wayne Dyer before Christmas about making peace with relatives during the holidays. It struck me that, regardless of the focus on relatives, it turned out to be entirely fitting for this post.

The conflict seems too often to be a choice between being authentic, which means no peace with certain relatives, or having peace at the price of being inauthentic. Being peaceful and authentic can define your relationship with your relatives. First, though, you may have to assess your relationship with the closest relative of all—you.

Can I be extra real with you guys for a minute? Extra-extra real? It seems like, in the past, when I’ve taken those chances and displayed my authentically weird-silly-petrified-confident-lost-found-Quakerific-dancing fool-giggly-imperfect self, I haven’t gotten the results that I’ve wanted. And it crushed me. So I sit, and I reflect on Dr. Dyer’s words, and I wonder, can I be brave again? Is it worth it? I think we all know that the answer is, unequivocally, YES. In our minds we know it, in our hearts we hold it. The answer will always be yes.

In the light of the coming New Year, let’s carry on the tradition of challenging ourselves to be better, to improve something about our lives and to make peace with our authentic selves—whoever that turns out to be. You could make a list, like I did last year, or just hold the intention in your heart. Either way, I dare you to love and express the true YOU in 2015! If you’d like, please share one thing you intend on doing in the New Year that will create a more genuine you.

Vulnerability

Looking Out For the Littlest Happy Things

3 Aug

For the month of July, I made a concerted effort to live in the present and enjoy each moment. I stopped putting pressure on myself to have it all because I realized that it WILL come. When we cling only to what we know and let overwhelming fear in, it’s because we are trying to hold on too tight to control. I realized I had to stop chasing this controlled ending or I will lose precious time. No one knows what path their journey will take. Some of us want to try to guide it, but only the universe truly knows where it will go.

I did several things to help myself along: I withdrew my profile from the dating site I was on. I practiced gratitude often. I made an effort to unplug more consistently. I ate whole foods. I expressed myself honestly and confidently instead of holding back because I wanted to sugar-coat a statement. I spent productive time alone. I took myself out on dates.

Happy face on a hike

Happy face on a hike

I also decided to be more assertive in the pursuit of my passions. I want to see opportunities more easily when they are offered to me. We tend to have tunnel vision and close ourselves off to creativity when we are in a rut. These are a few ways I can lead myself away from that tendency.

  • I will write more consistently (and publish more often). Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember, and I tend to run away from it when I feel anxiety about the future. I should be doing the opposite! Some of us have natural talent, but practicing our craft is what make us great.
  • I will open my eyes to the creativity that the world gives freely, and use it. We don’t always take advantage of the gifts that are bestowed upon us every single day. We shouldn’t be wasting them.

The first thing I did to kick off the month was take myself out to a movie. ALONE. It was great!

In the first week of July, I gave myself a gift. I bought my plane ticket to New York. I had been hemming and hawing, not wanting to pull the trigger because I hadn’t yet planned everything out perfectly. No longer! The trip will fall into place in the next few months, and I am comfortable with that.

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Over the next few weeks, I did many things for myself. I chose new podcasts to listen to. I attended an overnight event with 100+ people I have never met (and a few that I know very well). I cherished quality friend and family time. I tried new activities, including an amazing class that combined belly dance, yoga, and aromatherapy. It turned out to be quite transformative. I attended a meetup without a wing man to provide comfort, forcing me to talk to strangers on my own merits. As much as I am a people person most of the time, there are moments when I am shy. Walking into a place knowing absolutely no one is one of those. Everyone was friendly of course, and I even left with some future salsa partners. I went camping for five days in Olympic National Park with two friends. Talk about adventure! There were challenging hikes, beautiful sights, and giggles galore over games of Canasta and Yahtzee. I tried new beers at Brewfest on the Portland waterfront. I treated myself to a massage and acupuncture, and it was totally worth it. I allowed myself to emotionally heal over some issues I’d been hiding from. It felt fantastic.

The best things, though, were the small things. I walked around the farmers market and enjoyed fresh fruits right out of the pint. I let the tinkle of a child’s laughter float over me and fill me with joy. I found heart shapes in nature and took pictures. I read books, listened to bands playing in the park, and took a day off work midweek just because I wanted to. What a fabulous month. In August, I intend to take the spirit of the last 31 days and keep the energy going. I have some great ideas but welcome more! Book or podcast suggestions, activity invitations and restaurant recommendations especially appreciated. I hope you are enjoying the summer as much as I am! Drop me a note here and tell me what special treats you are giving yourself during the sunny months.

 

Beautiful Lake Crescent

Beautiful Lake Crescent

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Heart-shaped rock

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Hearts in nature

Seattle Trip + BIG NEWS!

21 Oct

Recently I went to Seattle to meet up with my friend Mandy. She lives in Washington DC but is a jet setter around the world for her journalism career. (This girl is totally inspiring!) She happened to be teaching a conference from Wednesday–Friday, and asked me if I wanted to meet up with her for a weekend of fun. Obviously I said yes! I hopped on an Amtrak train at noon on Friday, and when I arrived at King Street Station I was swiftly carried away to my downtown hotel, transported by a cheerful cab driver, where I was soon presented with beautiful downtown Seattle.

--GORGEOUS!--

–GORGEOUS!–

It was a great time to travel, as the autumn rains hadn’t completely set in yet. In fact, it was a flawless sunny weekend, a rare treat in October for the Pacific Northwest. We took full advantage.

We checked out some local gems that first night, starting with the complementary happy hour in our hotel. Free wine every night at 5:00? Yes, please! A fabulous dinner at Ivar’s Acres of Clams and a flight of beers at Pike Brewing found us befriending a grizzled chocolatier named Vladimir (Could he be the man of my dreams? *insert fantasies of living in Willy Wonka’s world here*) who then invited us to visit him at his chocolate factory the next day.

Both being runners, we wanted to test out our legs in a new city, so we ran along the beautiful waterfront Saturday morning and up into the hills for a very challenging run. We richly rewarded ourselves later with a delicious brunch at Planet Java and, of course, a visit to Vladimir’s chocolate factory. Filled with sweet delights, Mandy and I took to the water and took a ferry to Bainbridge Island.

Planet Java's retro counter and stools

Planet Java’s retro counter and stools


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In the evening, we took a cue from our younger years and decided to hit the energetic nightlife in Capitol Hill to go dancing. Seattle, you did not disappoint. There seemed to be a huge variety of places, from your typical club scene to niche bars, to hipster joints to punk rock palaces. We stayed up way past our bedtime and had a blast doing it.

The next day, Mandy had to leave early to catch a flight, so after breakfast I was on my own to explore. I chose to visit the EMP (Experience Music Project) and Science Fiction Museum. I had heard about the excellent exhibits and was curious to check them out, especially the Nirvana exhibit. I grew up in the grunge era and have fond memories of the grunge era, Nirvana and Alice in Chains especially. I also very much enjoyed The Lure of the Horror Film. My dad, should he ever step foot in Seattle, would go completely gaga over this exhibit. He raised me with the classics, and they were all represented at the EMP. There were original costumes and props from movies, mini documentaries about the many horror sub-genres, a screaming booth, a monster timeline, and more. It was seriously cool.

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Seattle is incredible! I definitely created lots of memories to take away with me, and I can’t wait to make more. Give me more than two days and see what happens then!

After I left, all I could think was that I wanted to go back sooner than later. Well, I got my wish! I’m excited to announce that I am collaborating with RAM Racing Series as an ambassador for the Seattle Hot Chocolate 5k/15k 2014! (It’s perfect for me, don’t you think?) This is great news for me and even better news for you. I get to be a part of a fantastic event that is raising money for a worthy charity (Ronald McDonald House) and YOU can join me for a weekend of fun, running, and of course, chocolate! Even better, if you sign up with my promo code, CURIOUSMUG, you not only get the amazing goodie bag (see below for details), you also get a bonus gift because you are awesome and read my blog. This is my chance to give back to you for being such loyal readers and all-around amazing people!

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You can sign up today, OR you can wait for my next post, because guess what? I’M GIVING AWAY A FREE REGISTRATION TO ONE LUCKY READER! That’s right! Stay tuned for my registration give-away, and in the meantime, mark your calendars for March 2, 2014.

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.

 

Quick post on belly dance

3 Feb

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.  

http://www.hipmix.net/hip-to-know-article.php?pid=45#.Tywe8loosDc.facebook

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.