The Power Of A Yip!

( You can see and hear Kathleen, Trish and Jackie,  “Yip”  in this video as Callie and Jeanne dance.  This was at the Bennington VT Farmers Market last summer.  Emily wasn’t dancing because she was selling her pastries and art as she does every weekend at the Farmers Market)

I heard Emily Yip! and I smiled.  It’s not that I did anything spectacular, just that I did it right.

From what I’ve been told, beginners like me are usually nervous about taking the lead when bellydancing  and the experienced dancers want to lead so much, they have to be mindful to let the other dancers have their turn.

Because American Tribal Style (ATS) bellydancing is improvised not choreographed, whoever is  leading  has all kinds of signals to let the other dancers know what they’re  going to do next.  Sometimes it’s in the slight movement of a hip or shoulder,  sometimes it’s when you look at someone, or where you’re standing.

When dancing, one of the ways to change the lead is to walk in a circle with all the dancers looking at each other,  when you get to a certain point  if you want to lead, you break eye contact and step into the lead position.

At this point I would much rather follow than lead.

As soon as I step into the lead, I freeze up and forget every move I’ve learned over the past year and a half.  Also, the leader has to dance in time with the music (not something I’m great at)  or it throws the rest of the dancers off.

But there’s only one way to learn how to lead in ATS, and that’s by doing it.

So when Emily and I were dancing together in class on Thursday night, I looked away from her and took the lead.

My elbows, wrists then hands moved slowly, one up while the other went down, following the movement of my hips in Taxime, till I felt like I was dancing with the music.  Then I raised my arms, my hands circling in  floreos, I lowered one arm, turned and handed the lead back to Emily.

That’s when I heard the “Yip!”.

A “Yip” is a sound that ATS dancers make to encourage each other.  It’s like applauding after a ballerina dances a solo.  But it’s more spontaneous than that.  Whenever one bellydancer sees another dancer doing something that moves them, they give a “Yip“.

For me, at this point in bellydancing, the “Yip” is encouragement.  It tells me I did something right.  Emily knows I’m nervous to take the lead.  Beginners, like me, are told to keep it simple, do one dance move then give the lead to someone else.

And that’s just what I did.  So when I heard Emily “Yip” I smiled with relief and satisfaction,  I knew I did it right.

I haven’t found my “Yip” voice yet.   It  doesn’t come naturally to me.

But like everything  in Bellydancing it’s about practice. So I practice my “Yips” when I’m alone.

Because I know how much they mean to me.  I know how good it makes me feel when I’m dancing and I feel all alone and have no idea if what I’m doing is any good, then I hear a “Yip” and suddenly I’m surrounded by supportive and encouraging people, giving me a standing ovation.


Bellydancing, This Ineffable Feeling

Me and Kat (who introduced me to Bellydancing) at the Hafla in December.

I can’t explain it. Not one word comes to me when I try.

Jon says it’s just who I am.  It’s where I belong.  I get what he’s saying, but it’s just an intellectual, abstract  idea.  I can’t process its meaning and how it relates to me and how I feel.

But it is this ineffable feeling that makes me keep going back to Bellydancing class every week.

It’s this feeling that comes to me when I’m in class, when I’m learning something new, which is constant, and when I’m dancing.  I mean really dancing, in those rare moments when I’m in my body, feeling it move to the music, and not in my head, wondering  if I’m doing it right or wrong.

It’s this feeling that fills me up as I sit in my car alone driving home, listening to the music I was just dancing to with the other women in my class.

This feeling brings me to the edge of tears, but doesn’t make me cry.

And it makes me feel good about myself, not because I’m good at what I’m doing, but because my body loves to move in the ways I’m learning to dance.  Not that it’s natural or easy, but that on some level, it seems my body already knows.  As if it’s  been waiting to be reawakened.

Is this who I  really am, as Jon says?

It seems unimaginable to me.

So for now, I’ll just keep feeling what I feel and doing what I do.  And I’ll leave the words to explain it for another time.


ATS Bellydancing, A Language With Different Accents

We had a week off after the Hafla, but tonight my Bellydancing class begins again.

And I’ve graduated a bit.  From now on I’ll be staying for the first half of the Level two class.  It feels like I’m making a new commitment to the class, my fellow bellydancers and myself.  It only makes me  nervous when I think about it.

So I’ve decided to dance instead of think.

One of the beautiful things about American Tribal Style (ATS), the kind of Bellydancing I’m learning, is that it’s a kind of  language.

Julz invited some of the  women from an ATS group in Halfmoon NY, come to our Hafla.  She and Kathleen had only danced with them once before about a year ago.   ATS isn’t choreographed, there are certain moves and everyone follows the leader not knowing what she will do next.  The leader is constantly changing too.

This all happens by everyone knowing the moves and giving cues to each other, with their bodies and eyes.

ATS dancers meet all from all over the world and dance together.

Julz told me that the woman (I don’t remember her name, but I”ll find out) she and Kathleen were dancing with in the video above has slightly subtler cues than we do.  So in a way, it’s like the same language with a different regional accent.

It just takes getting used to.

Last year Jon and I went to the ballet to see Swan Lake.  During the performance, one of the dancers who was standing behind the prima ballerina as she was dancing, was talking to someone back stage.  Very unprofessional, but also, this isn’t something you can do with ATS.  Even when there are three dancers up front and a chorus of dancers behind them, the chorus has to pay attention, because it may be their turn to dance any moment.

For me,  it’s this kind of spontaneity that keeps ATS creative and fun.





I’m Dancing

Jon leaned over to me and said,  “This is who you are.”   I looked up and saw Callie leading a triplet with Jackie and Emily.  Reflected in them I saw myself. My eyes welled up with tears.

How can it be?

I know I can’t dance, I know I can even clap to a beat.  Even when I was actually dancing I didn’t really believe it.  When Kathleen told me I was ready to do a slow dance at the Open House in October, I didn’t even have to think about it, my “no” came quick.  When Julz told me I had learned so much in the past year, I only kind of believed her.

It felt good to dance at the Hafla.  I danced my slow and fast dance with Julz and Kathleen, I danced with Kitty and  then we all danced together.  I watched a lot of dancing too.  I liked being there, getting to talk to everyone and share  the food.

But I didn’t know that I could dance until I saw the video that Jon took of me and Julz and Kathleen dancing.  When I watched it, I could see so many of the things I did wrong, but I could also see that I was dancing.  I was better  than I imagined and I could see I know more than I thought I did.

I’m still a bit stunned by it all, but last night, I felt something shift inside of me.

I had a feeling of belonging and a shared commitment.  The women I dance with are serious about dancing.  Dedicated.  But it’s not their whole lives.  They all have families, small children or grandchildren, jobs, their own businesses,  but it’s an important part of their lives.  And we’re in it together because ATS is not about dancing alone.  It’s about dancing with each other.

When we start the new class in January, I’ll be staying a half hour longer, for part of the level 2 Class.  I’ll be learning new moves while I continue  to improve the ones I already know.  I’m ready for it.  I’m committed.  I’m no longer just learning, I’m dancing.



Branch Woman, Dancing Talisman

Branch Woman

Branch Woman called to me this morning.  Of course she wanted to be dressed in  symbols of the Ancient Goddess.   A tiny piece of turquoise for her heart some beads around her belly and a turban of strung beads with charms.

In a little while I’m going to be getting dressed myself for the Holiday Bellydancing  Hafla tonight.  Jon’s coming and bringing his camera.  I’ll also bring a bowl of fruit.   Food and dancing, getting to talk to each other, in a way there’s no time for during class.

I can see now that Branch Woman is a Dancing Talisman.  I listened to the Hafla Playlist while I dressed her.

She came to me just at the right time.

Here’s links to the two songs I’ll be dancing to  with Julz and Kathleen tonight, one fast the other slow. Habibi Min Zaman by Balken Beat Box and Querer by  Cirque Du Soleil.

Branch Woman’s Back


Kat and The Haflah

Me and Kat

Kat pulled one colorful scarf after another out of the plastic bin on my bedroom floor.  Then came the billowy silk pants and the velvet cholies.

She brought what she thought would match my purple Bellydancing skirt and the blue, purple and green sash belt Julz passed on to me. When Kat emailed me and asked if I wanted her help getting together a costume for the Haflah, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

A month ago, when we had Dancing in the Flow in my Bellydancing class,  Kat showed me how to tie my hair up in a turban.  But I didn’t feel comfortable going to class wearing it.

Now I’m ready.  Ready for the turban, the silk pants under my skirt, the jewelry, the bindi and even the make up.

Somehow Kat knew that.  And she took the time to gather clothes and jewelry and come to my house to help me do it.

Actually I can’t stop crying as I write this.

I’m trying to understand what I’m feeling, but it’s seems to be a step ahead of me.  Like my brain hasn’t caught up with what I’m feeling yet.

It’s not just Kat’s generosity.  She’s become a mentor to me.

Kat is one of the founders of Bennington Beledi Tribal Bellydancing.  She retired from dancing the year I started.  She introduced me to Bellydancing and came with me to my first class.  And ever since then, she’s been guiding me.  Sending me photos of her and the other women dancing over the years,  emailing me timely articles and videos of bellydancers she thinks I’d like.

And today she shows up at my house and explains to me how to put make-up on.   The  only make-up I’ve ever worn was flavored lip gloss when I was a kid.

There was something timeless about what Kat and I did today.

The experienced woman teaching the newcomer.  Girls dressing up for the dance. An initiation of sorts.

After I was all dressed up, we sat on the bedroom floor talking about our mothers.  The regrets and coming to acceptance.  We talked about how our second marriages were filled with emotion, compared to the first, and how we both wanted a ceremony and witnesses.

Kat is both friend and mentor and she gave me something today that I never experienced before, but always wanted.

On Thursday we’ll have the final rehearsal for the Haflah in my bellydancing class.  It will be a dress rehearsal for me.  I’ll tie on my turban and see what it feels like to dance in the silk pants that I’m borrowing from Kat.  In between now and the Haflah, I’ll buy some eyeliner and lipliner and experiment putting on make-up.

I’m thinking of  the Haflah as part of my holiday.  A celebration of dance and food in the dark days of winter.  And I’m looking forward to every part of it.  Getting dressed up, spending time with the women in my class and of course, dancing.



“…Like Dancing With A Ham Sandwich”

Julz and Kathleen turned one way and I turned the other.  When I realized I was turning in the wrong direction, I laughed at myself, but I danced as if I hadn’t made a mistake and seamlessly followed Kathleen, who was leading, into the next move.

Something broke open inside of my between last Bellydancing class when I had a panic attack and this weeks class. I think it has to do with the original  reason I wanted to learn to Bellydance.

It wasn’t so I could be scared and feel bad about myself, it was just the opposite.

The first time I watched Sisters of the Shawl dance, I saw women who were secure with themselves and their bodies.  Women who were dancing for the love of it, they took it seriously, but at the same time, didn’t care what other people thought about them.

They danced the way I make my art.

Except dancing is even more direct.  Because their bodies become their art, their form of communicating to the world.  And their bellies, which are both powerful and vulnerable, are the focus of the dance.

I watched them dance and thought  they could only be dancing that way if they felt really good about themselves.  If they loved themselves.

I’ve never believed that a person could just change their mind about a long-held belief.  That there must be a process to get from one point to another.  And I imagine I’ve been going though that process and that’s why when I walked into class last night, and decided I was going to dance with feeling, without worrying about my mistakes, I was able to do it.

Of course, the people who surrounded me helped.  I truly felt the meaning of the  Tribal Sisterhood that I wrote about a while back.  Everyone in class was supportive, in their own way,  without fussing.

At the end of the class I danced with Julz and Kathleen while the rest of the class watched.  Technique came second to feeling the music in my body.  I incorporated my mistakes the best I could, like a professional entertainer might.  I completely enjoyed it.

Then Julz and stood at the other end of the room together while everyone else dance.  “Now, she said, you get to be the audience”.

As we watched, Julz remarked on each dancer.  How Callie does this beautiful thing with her eyes when she’s dancing.  How Emily becoming a Sister of The Shawl last year breathed new life into them.  How much she loves to dance with Jackie.  And how great Kat was doing after not dancing for over a year.

These were not empty compliments.  This was Julz telling me how much she appreciates each of her Tribal Sisters for who they are.

Unlike last week, I left class feeling good about myself, and that  I too was appreciated for who I am.

As I walked out the door Julz said, “Just remember, dancing with Kathleen and me is like dancing with a ham sandwich.”  I’ll remember those words, and they’ll continue to make me laugh and put me at ease.


Bellydancing…What I Give The Audience

“What’s important is how we feel, our connection to the music, and what we give to the audience.” Alia Thabit

I learned last Thursday that practicing and learning Bellydancing is different than performing it.

This probably seems obvious, but I never thought about it before.  Not until  last week, when I practiced performing for the first time and had a panic attack.

My panic wasn’t about dancing, not really.  It was about something unresolved inside of myself.  And it’s my problem, not the audiences.  So if I’m going to perform, even if it’s just for the other women in my class, I have to leave my crap out of it and only bring what I want the audiecne to receive from me.

My friend Kat (aka Kitty), who introduced me to Bellydancing, emailed me an article called  What Is the Most Beautiful Move, by Bellydancer Alia Thabit about performing.   She writes:

“The movement doesn’t matter. What’s important is how we feel, our connection to the music, and what we give to the audience.”

Before I started taking Bellydancing classes, the only dancing I ever did was  moving my body according to the music and how it made me feel.   Bellydance has been such a completely new experience for me, I’ve been just trying to learn the most basic things.

I’ve been too busy thinking to feel.

“Get out of your head and into your body,” is something I’ve heard both  Julz and Kathleen (my teachers) say more than once.

There was a dancer at the last Bellydancing Concert I went to that I still remember.  She wasn’t the best dancer, but she gave a great performance.  She danced with the kind of joy that was infectious. She was as much fun to watch as it seemed she was having.

I may not be able to do all the moves well and I’m sure to make mistakes.  But I can bring my love of Bellydancing to my performance.  I can aspire to that attitude that I so admire in the Sisters of the Shawl and the Sahidi Sisters.

I know with my art, when I bring confidence to what I do, it makes all the difference.

A mark made  with confidence has a completely different feeling then one that is self conscious.   A confident line, whether straight or not,  is bold, unapologetic and honest about what it is and what it isn’t.

Alia Thabit says that the audience feels the mood that the performer creates.

In three weeks I’m going to be performing, in front of other Bellydancers, at our yearly Haflah  and I don’t want to pass on my panic to them.   I want them  to feel  the “Here I am, This is me” kind of honesty when I dance.  I want to dance as well as I can and not forget to feel the music and the joy of dancing, so they will too.




Full Moon Fiber Art