Tag Archives: belly dance

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.

Tangled, But Not Tied Up

25 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope for Andrew edit

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

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

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

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

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Yeah I’m free…free-lancing!

23 Feb
Footwork Dance Studio
Footwork Dance Studio ATS class

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.