March 27, 2011

I Dance for My Daughter

I'm pleased to offer up another guest blog post, from one of my long-time students, Tiffany.  And I have to admit I cried at her daughter's first birthday to the side of course, because of how beautiful it is to see her as a Mom. And reading what she wrote left me equally choked up.  Ironically, I had asked if she would write a guest post for me because she is a very talented writer.  I don't know if she realized that I had shared her story of looking into the mirror with Krysta during a very similar exercise, and I still remember that night and how much I wanted Tiffany to really see how beautiful she is.  Besides being smart, talented and funny, Tiffany really is one of the main reasons that I teach, because in the end it is not about how fabulous your hip drop is, but how fabulous you are!  So, enjoy.

Dancing with her daughter ;-)
There are a million and one reasons any woman may choose to study dance.  And for most dancers, that reason is probably not static.  It changes day to day, year to year.  You may plunge into a belly dance class hoping to get ripped abs and obliques, but stay for the fun, friends, and sparkles of it all.  Honestly, I don't remember why I started dancing.  I think it had something to do with the dancers who met in a building I frequented in college - they always looked so happy, I wanted to join but was too timid to approach them.  That's all in the past.  Today I dance for one reason:  my daughter.  
I was always the easy target in school.  The fat kid, the kid who didn't play any sports, the kid who wore the enormous glasses that I picked out from the old man section of the store and was so excited about that my mother didn't have the heart to tell me they were incredibly unflattering.  I was awkward and nerdy and it took nothing to rattle my cage.  In eighth grade a boy told me my legs were so disgusting that I should never wear shorts again.  And I didn't - I'll be 30 next month and I don't own a pair of pants or skirt that shows anything above my shin.  I carried every snicker, every stare, every mean comment in my heart over all those years until I found myself, one cold January evening, in Najla's class.  Just by happenstance, nobody else made it that day.  It was a class of just me and Najla, and she wanted to a very simple exercise.  Walk and look at yourself in the mirror.  That's it.  Walk.  Look yourself in the eyes.  And I couldn't do it.  I had allowed myself to carry all those heartaches so long that my sense of self, my own confidence was so beaten down that I couldn't bear to look at myself in the mirror.  Tears were shed as I realized it wasn't just in this class that I couldn't look at myself.  I hadn't really looked at myself for years.  I wasn't happy with the woman in the mirror, so I just avoided her.  I looked around her, I looked at pieces of her, but I never looked at her. 

This may have been her daughter's first performance!
Coincidentally, it was around this time that my husband and I had decided we were ready to start a family.  Doing this simple exercise, or failing to do it, in my case, set off some sort of enormous foghorn in my head.  I know I open my mouth and hear my mother's voice come out at least once a day.  My daughter, if I had one, would be doing the exact same thing.  What kind of model was I going to be giving her?  Then the horror set in.  Would I hear my sweet little 6 year old playing with her dolls and saying "my arms are flabby"?  Would she protest going to school in shorts because she didn't want to show her fat thighs?  I realized that no matter what kinds of things I told this beautiful, non-existent child, she would mirror what I did, not what I said.  And if I wasn't able to look at myself in a mirror, how could I ever be able to raise a daughter who had the self-confidence and assurance needed to take on this world? 
That day was a turning point.  I realized I have to start loving and accepting myself if I want to teach love and self-acceptance to someone else.  So I started dancing for my unconceived child.  It's a long journey, one that I'm not nearly close to completing, but I'm making progress.  I realize I'm not a natural dancer.  I close my eyes and picture my arms gracefully outstretched, beautifully positioned dancer's hands caressing the air.  I open my eyes and see my arms akimbo like a windswept scarecrow, with what can only be described as "jazz hands" tense and flailing at the end of my wrists.  But that's of little consequence - the point is that I open my eyes and look at myself.  Jazz hands and all.  I'm learning to shake the self-doubt I carried all these years and realize that I'm fabulous. 

Choosing the right hips scarf is always tricky
It took a year and a half, but we finally did conceive that child who was in my thoughts with Najla that evening.  And it was a girl.  And she is the most beautiful, perfect, amazing little person I've ever had the pleasure to know.  As she's entering toddlerhood, I've discovered that she has this incredible inborn sense of confidence.  There's not a timid bone in her body.  She grabs my fingers and just starts running, fully expecting me to tag along on whatever adventure she's dreamed up.  She's never doubted for a moment that she's the most beautiful girl in the room.  It's her world and we're all just living in it.  So I realize I've been given this clay.  This putty that is so perfectly confident and assured from the start.  My job is to model that confidence as an adult.  As she molds herself into a child and then into a woman, the best thing I can do is to constantly tell her she's beautiful.  She already knows that.  My best course of action as a mother is to model what it means to be beautiful as a woman moving through this world.  To show her that life will lash out at you, but you just have to shake it off, hold your head up, and know you're only accountable to those stunning dark eyes you find looking back at you from the mirror.  Every week I get a little refresher course on that subject from Najla.  And so I dance.
It's the same look everyone has while learning zils!

March 20, 2011

Stare deeply into my eyes...

For many of my students, the leap to a first (or maybe second solo...) is always a tough one.  It is rare to find a dancer who runs head first into the challenges without any hesitation. One of my students, Krysta, is getting ready to make that jump on April 9, coincidentally on my birthday at the next Cafe Shimmy.  She's popped up in this blog more than once as a guest writer (see here and here), and this week she had sent me the following post, although I just sat down to read it tonight...after class had ended. Call it serendipity, but the fates seemed to align to not only have a chance to work solo with her tonight, but to talk about the very essence of her post...before I even knew it was her post! 

I have all sorts of improvisation drills that I run my students through from time to time, and this evening I had Krysta  perform her solo just for me, and look into my eyes the entire time.  Normally this drill sends dancers into a bit of a tailspin, but in Krysta's case her movements were more fluid, her dancing became less erratic and more focused, determined and soulful than when she just danced without making that same eye contact.  When I asked how the exercise was, I was surprised when she told me it made the dancing easier.  We both had a light bulb moment as she explained that while dancing with my undivided attention, she no longer worried about being boring, and was able to trust that she was interesting, captivating and deserved the attention the audience.  It was a really wonderful moment to share with her.  

I then came home and opened up her email, with her suggestion for a blog entry.  Warm fuzzy feelings for me, beautiful words for all of you...and serendipity strikes once again, so sit back and enjoy!

Boring.  That is the last thing I want to be as a dancer – or as a performer in any regard.  I know I’m not alone in the fear of being uninteresting.  I doubt that anyone at any point consciously wishes to be bored or boring, especially when engaging in something for which they care deeply. 
A common roadblock when tasked with choreographing or improvising is the crippling fear that what you create will be painfully uninteresting.  On a personal front, this is the rationale behind my gross procrastination.  My college years of movement and physical acting often involved frantically throwing something together around midnight before the next class day.  A friend who was doing some reading on the psychology of procrastination years later told me that procrastinators are often perfectionists.  [Guilty as charged…and counterproductive, if I might add.]  So procrastination is the handy dandy tool we use to excuse poor work.  “It was not as good as it could’ve been because I did not have very much time to work on it.” 
Four weeks from the day I’ve written this entry, I must perform my first solo as a belly dancer.  My shimmies are still a bit tense, my undulations still contain pauses in those hard-to-capture areas of my belly, and hip drops and sways are clearly lopsided.  My zil skills are nil.  [Yes, I had an amazing time writing that sentence.]  And my veil is still on a mission to attack my face at any opportunity.  So it’ll just me – and a super shiny costume – and a super shiny song for 3 minutes. 
Recently in Najla’s technique class, we were asked to improvise using fluid movement while the rest of the class followed.  There was hesitation among us all in the first round – yours truly included.  Najla then instructed us to allow breath to inform our movement and not worry about the complexity of the movement, rather than try to generate movement on our own.  After this instruction, the movement became compelling; lines were not cut off, inhibition had taken a backseat, and we were interesting to watch, even with the slow, slinky movement.  And we were easier to watch…because we were breathing…not fighting for control.  It was simply ours.