Tangled, But Not Tied Up

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!

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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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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!