Learning To Let Go And Enjoy Dancing

Me and Emily the evening of the performance at the Bennington Museum. Emily said she’d help me with my make-up the next time we have a performance which is great because I could sure use the help.

“We believe ATS is an evocative dance form that can be practiced and enjoyed by everybody—no matter their size, age, or ability.” Bennington Beledi Tribal Bellydancing Vision Statement

Something has shifted.  We all felt it.  It happened during our dance performance at the Bennington Museum.  But Julz said it started earlier when Emily told us all about the ballet she saw.

“They were all older women, some dressed as vegetables,”  Emily told us during one of our classes.  It was not what she expected when she went to see the Farm to Ballet Project. But as they danced, she picked up on their energy, on how much fun they were having dancing together.   “That’s what we need to do,” she told us, “we need to have fun and the audience will feel it and enjoy it too.”

Last night in our Bellydancing class six new students showed up. That’s three times as many new students as we’ve had since I started dancing five years ago.

I’m sure my mouth was hanging open as the first two people showed up then four more wandered in.  At first, we were all a bit stunned, but then we made sure to welcome the new students as they came into the class.  To try to make them feel comfortable being there from the very beginning.

The people who showed up were all around my age and of a variety of body types.

One of the wonderful things about having new students in the class is that it helps me to learn in ways I wouldn’t without them.

Seeing new students dance I can see how much I really do know.

Last night as we stood in a circle getting ready to practice zilling, Julz was letting the new students know that it takes time to learn to zill.  “I couldn’t even step to a beat when I first started dancing” I told the group, “and they didn’t kick me out.”

After that, a little miracle happened.  I learned that I had been doing floreros wrong.

Floreros are the simple but important hand movements that we use often.  All this time I’ve been using my fingers instead of my wrists to make the movement.  As Kathleen explained floreros to Amy, who has been dancing with us for about six months, she told me I could benefit from the lesson too.

All along I had been joyfully dancing with my fingers through the air, but what I really needed to be doing was keep my fingers relaxed and let them naturally follow the movement of my wrist.

Basically, I was doing more than I had to and making it harder on myself.

This idea came back again as class went on.  With all the moves I’m trying too hard, doing too much.     It probably comes from my fear of doing something wrong.  But once I understood that I needed to loosen up and trust my body, I could relate it.

I’ve experienced it before with my writing.

It’s the same advice Jon gave me years ago when I was having a hard time writing.  He told me to trust my writing the same way I trust that when I start making a quilt it will work out.

I need to relax into dancing, the same way I let go and allow my art to happen.

Our teachers, Julz and Kathleen always say we can listen to and watch a dance lesson a hundred times but we won’t “get” it until we’re ready.

I feel like last night I learned something I haven’t been able to hear before.  And I think having the new students in the class helped because I was able to experience what Kathleen was telling Amy and me as if I were learning it for the first time.

That shift that I feel happening around our Bellydancing Class has affected me personally too.

I feel different about dancing, and its place in my life.  Like I’m shedding my fears of inadequacy so I can let go and enjoy dancing as I haven’t been able to before.

A Day of Eye Doctors and Bellydancing

Julz, me, Callie, Trish, and Emily at the Bennington Musuem. Watch us here. 

I won’t get in my studio today.  Jon has an appointment with his Retina specialist and I’ll be driving him.  The doctor is in Albany so it’s a long drive and they do so many tests on his eyes and sometimes even laser surgery.

He can barely see when it’s all done.

For the first time since Covid began I’ll be able to go into the office with Jon.  The past couple of years I waited outside the building, taking walks, videos, drawing, and blogging.  I imagine I’ll get to do a drawing while in the waiting room.  If I have time I’ll post it from the office using my iPhone.

The appointments usually take a couple of hours, so we’ll be getting home and I’ll be running off to my Bellydancing Class with no time to blog again.

This is our first Bellydancing class since our performance and I’m looking forward to dancing again.

Julz sent me a text this morning saying we can wear leggings and practice clothes again because we all know we can dance in costuming. (We wore our long skirts and pantaloons to class a couple of months before the performance to get us used to dancing in our costumes)

The video of the first set from our performance is pretty popular, I’ve gotten almost 700 views of it already.  I can’t post it on my blog but if you’d like to see it just click here.

We begin the set with Gratitude, a dance/prayer where we express our thanks to the music, the space, and each other for being there.  It’s very grounding to do and creates positive and connecting energy between us and within the space where we are dancing.

I always find it very powerful and I know the women I dance with feel the same way.

Jon Never Become The Jerk I Thought He Would

Jon taking a group photo after the performance.          photo by Kat Farnham

When I first met Jon I got paid by his publisher to drive him around on his book tours.  I went to events within driving distance with him, drove him to TV interviews in NYC, and dropped him off and picked him up from the airport when he traveled.

We had only been friends for a while when I first got this job and I was certain he’d turn into an asshole as soon as we go on the road.

I had little faith in men back then and I was just waiting for him to turn on me.

But he never did.

Whether I was helping out with the animals on the farm or bringing him tea as he signed books for the people waiting in line at the bookstores, Jon never treated me differently.  And he didn’t change either. He was the same person when they made a  movie from his book A Dog Year, as when we stopped for a quick lunch on the Thruway.

He also put as much into his book talks whether there were three people in the audience or a hundred.

But for someone who was used to that kind of attention, and loved it, he’s also great behind the camera.

After our Bellydancing performance, I told Jon how I appreciated that he gave me space before and between sets.   He was taking pictures and videos of the performance, so he wasn’t with the rest of the audience.

But he also wasn’t intrusive.

That’s when he told me how he learned when he was the Executive Producer of CBS Morning News how to be around people who were about to go live on the air. How to be supportive but leave them alone, understanding they need to prepare even if it looks like they’re not doing anything to someone on the outside.

It was so helpful that Jon understood this.  I wouldn’t have had the words to explain that need, since I’ve had so little experience with it.

I did pay more attention to Jon than I probably would have because he was still recovering from covid and I was concerned that he’d get tired and I didn’t want him to overdo it. But Jon isn’t any easier to stop when he’s doing something he loves than I am.

He got some great pictures of us dancing (you can see them on his blog and on Julz’s blog too) and took portraits of each of us before the performance began as well as videos.  And it was great to have him there.

Jon has a healthy ego and loves to be the center of attention, he’s never more comfortable than when he’s on stage, the bigger the audience the better.

But he also appreciates that quality in other people.   It’s one of the reasons why he is so supportive of me in my work. Creativity is a like a religion to him and spreading and nurturing it in other people is a calling.

He can be annoying and pushy at times, but Jon never became the asshole I thought he might be.   He could be bitter no longer having the fame he once enjoyed, but the older he gets, the more thoughtful and generous he’s become.

The night after our Bellydancing performance I woke up at 4 am and couldn’t go back to sleep.  So Jon got his iPhone and we watched the videos he took of the performance.

When we had seen them all, I curled up next to him and we both fell soundly asleep in each other’s arms.

Julz, me, Callie, Trish, and Emily   Photo by Jon Katz

Bellydancing At The Bennington Museum, A Video

I meant to post this video after I wrote about Bellydancing this morning.  Apparently I forgot to hit publish. But it’s never too late for Bellydancing.  Enjoy!

That’s Trish up front, and me next to her.  Then from left to right it’s Julz, Callie and Emily.  But you’ll see we keep moving, one person after the other taking the lead.   We danced in duets and trios with two or three of us in the chorus beind the dancers, keeping the beat and yipping and zaghareeting, in support and encouragement.

A Great Bellydancing Gig At The Bennington Museum Last Night

Julz, Emily, Me, Callie, Trish

I’m still a bit high from Bellydancing last night. All I have to do is think about it and I smile.

It was the first time I danced in front of an audience who were paying attention and the first time we performed together in three years because of Covid.

And we had a blast.

We danced really well and laughed and supported each other through the problems.  I know the audience picked up on how together we were and how much we were enjoying ourselves.  Even I who, at times, was confused and a little lost could feel it.

We danced on a small patch of grass, except its very different dancing on grass than it is on a wooden floor.  You have to work harder to move around, your feet having more resistance from the soft uneven surface. But once Julz turned up the music, everything else disappeared and it was just the five of us dancing.  All of us doing our best.

We started the first set in a circle facing each other.  Julz led us in Gratitude, which is a combination of moves honoring the space we have to dance in, the music, and each other.

It was a wonderful way to begin, a way of connecting us to each other and giving us a chance to ease into the performance. I always get a little emotion dancing Gratitude even in class.  There’s some superstition around it too.  There are many stories about the mishaps in performances when Gratitude is forgotten.

Trish, Emily and Julz resting between sets. 

I was surprised to hear the audience’s applause at the end of the first song.  It was definitely encouraging.  The only other time I danced in public was at the farmer’s market and mostly people just walked by and stopped for a  minute or two.

Our little patch of grass, lined with a low slate wall was like an outdoor stage.  Most of the people were there to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of the Out Door Sculpture Show.  People who care about art and were also interested in watching us dance.  But there were some children there too.

At one point there were four or five girls around 10 years old watching us.  Later I saw them dancing together, their arms high in the air, their bodies swaying.

Performing is different from not performing.  I feel like class will take on more meaning for me, knowing that will be doing something like this again soon.  It makes me want to learn even more, to try new moves that I don’t usually do in class.  To practice so I can do more and better next time.

And for all my fears and worries, I can’t wait to perform again.

I can’t upload the videos that Jon took onto my blog, but you can see us dance here. 

All Ready For Tonight’s BellyDancing Performance

Asher and Suzy through the spider’s web

If you live nearby, please come see me and the rest of the Bennington Beledi Bellydancers perform today, August 25th at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont. We’re part of the 25-year celebration of the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show (NBOSS) from 5pm-7pm.  We’ll be dancing two 15-minute performances at 5:30 and 6:30.   Click here for more info.

I skipped the first half hour of Bellydancing class last night.  That’s when we do our Tribal Workout, a mix of dance and exercise that changes every week when Julz picks a new playlist and improvises through it all.

I wasn’t up for that, I wasn’t even sure I was up for our regular hour and a half dance class.

I started to panic about an hour before leaving. I was feeling vulnerable and insecure.  I started getting down on myself, about everything, not just dancing. I’m still not sure why it happened. Maybe just being sick was enough to make me doubt myself. It was almost as if I was afraid to leave the house after not going anywhere for two weeks.

I didn’t realize I was in a panic until I talked to Jon.  We know each other well by now.  We know when the other person is having a panic attack and when what they are feeling is based in reality.

It’s when I’m feeling the kind of fear that comes from panic, that I pull into myself.  I have a hard time trusting other people, even Jon.  So when he said he’d like to drive me to class, just the idea made me feel as if there really was something wrong with me.

I knew it would only make me doubt myself even more.

The kind of fear that comes to me from panic is old and irrational. It brings me back to another time and place where I was afraid all the time.  I learned not to show my vulnerabilities because it felt dangerous. It was met with either ridicule or pity, neither helpful.

As my panic started to subside, I understood why Jon wanted to drive me.  I would have wanted to do the same for him.  But I was already on the road, the playlist for our performance playing on repeat on my iPhone.

I was nervous when I first got to class.

I watched the others dance for a while then Kathleen helped me secure my headscarf so it wouldn’t slip off.  After that, we got right to it,  dancing and going over how we would enter and leave the stage.  I was so caught up in it all I didn’t have a chance to think about anything but what we were doing.

I didn’t feel any of the fatigue that had been coming on so suddenly for the past two weeks.  I was able to dance as if I hadn’t missed the past two classes.

When I left class I was relieved and invigorated.  Now I knew I’d be able to dance in the performance.  It’s like I had come back to life. I was back in the world and there was nothing to be afraid of.

This afternoon I’ll practice putting on make-up (a work in progress). I have my outfit ready to go but will give myself enough time before we have to leave to make adjustments if I need any. Jon and I will go together.  He’ll be taking pictures and a video of the performances one at 5:30 and the other around 6:30.

We’ll be dancing outside the Bennington Museum, next to the statue of Abraham Lincoln. I’m going to try to remember to smile and if I make a mistake and do something like turn in the wrong direction I’ll act as if I meant to.

I feel like last night when I was dancing, I broke the spell that had been hanging over me. Now I’m more excited than nervous when I think about dancing tonight.

I know I’ll be tired when we get home, but I’ll post pictures and hopefully a video tomorrow.

 

Wearing My Bellydancing Headscarf

I asked Jon to take a picture of me with the headscarf that I made.  He was happy to do it. I already added another small piece to it after I saw the picture.  Also plan on trying to put some Zinnia’s on it too.  But that will have to wait till Thursday, the evening of the performance.

I’ll also tie a ribbon around my little ponytail.

We will perform this Thursday, August 25th at the Bennington Museum. We’re part of the 25-year celebration of the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show (NBOSS).  We’ll be dancing two 15-minute performances at 5:30 and 6:30.   Click here for more info or email me at fullmoonfiberart.com.

Our Bellydancing Performance Is Thursday, I’m Planning On Being There

Working on my head scarf.

If you live nearby, please come see me and the rest of the Bennington Beledi Bellydancers perform this Thursday, August 25th at the Bennington Museum.  We’re part of the 25-year celebration of the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show (NBOSS).  We’ll be dancing two 15-minute performances at 5:30 and 6:30.   Click here for more info or email me at fullmoonfiberart.com

I wake up feeling like my old self before I got covid.  I’ve been thinking about tying more knots in the yarn hanging off the back of my head scarf all morning.  It’s the first thing I do after letting the dogs out.  I start knotting the beautifully straggly pieces of yarn to hold them together and make them stand up higher on the back of my head.

While I was at my sickest, I put thinking about our Bellydancing performance aside.  It was always there in the back of my mind, but there was little I could do about it.  Sometimes I would listen to the music, even dance to it in my head.

But a part of me was just discouraged.

Our performance is on Thursday, just two days from now.  Tomorrow I’ll go back to class for the first time in two weeks.  I feel great in the mornings, but by the time the afternoon rolls around, I’m tired.  So tired I have to lay down.  I don’t usually sleep, but I still need to rest.   It’s not only fatigue but my back, my knee, my wrist, all the places that always mildly ache, now demand I stop for a while.

I have no idea how much or how little I’ll be able to do in class tomorrow.  It will be two weeks since I felt the first symptoms of covid and since then I’ve taken only two walks and danced to two slow songs.

I tell myself not to worry about it, I’ll either be able to do it or I won’t.

Last week my teacher Julz called me.  She told me how they’ve figured out what order we’ll be in during the first song of the set so that I won’t have to start any of the songs.  “If you get tired,” she tells me,” just hand the lead to someone else or stay in the chorus so you don’t have to dance at all.”

Even though our dance is improvisational, there is still a structure for where we stand and how we take the lead.  Everyone else follows whoever is leading then they hand the lead off to someone else.  We also take turns dancing in duets and trios, the rest of the people who aren’t dancing stand in a line behind the dancers keeping the beat going by zilling and doing one continuous move at a time.

Not only was it a relief to hear that I had these ways of opting out of dancing if I got tired, but I loved that the class was thinking of me and figuring out how to make it easier since I haven’t been able to practice with them.   They could have said that I shouldn’t dance in the performance, but they chose to figure out how to include me instead.

When I mentioned this to Julz, she said, “Just like the families we didn’t have growing up. I’m grateful for my dance family”

I cried a little when I heard that.

Yesterday, as I was beginning to lag again at the thought of dancing, Julz texted me a picture of the headscarf she would be wearing at the performance.   It had metal pieces on the top and was loaded with purple and white flowers and feathers.

She put it together with thread and hotglue.

I couldn’t help thinking of the book I just read How You Get Famous by Nicole Pasulka about the drag scene in Brooklyn.  How the performers had taken drag to a new level, reaching beyond the traditional boundaries of big hair, high heels and lip sinking.  They blurred the lines between drag, performance, and art.

We are not in that category of performance.  But Bellydancing is probably as close to drag as I’ll ever get.

So when Julz suggested I make my own headscarf, “You’re an artist,” she said, “make it your own.” my heart swelled and the creative part of my brain sparkled and crackled.

In my mind, I immediately begin going through the special fabrics in my studio, thinking about my Bellydancing jewelry and my little spice drawer filled with broken pieces of metal and jewelry.

The idea of dressing up and dancing which seemed a bit daunting was now something I was excited to do.  Julz had sparked my creative self.  And now, even if I found that I couldn’t dance, I’d make my head scarf for when I could.

I’m still working on the head scarf, but I have a good idea of what I’ll be doing with it and what it will look like when I’m done. My plan is to add some fresh Zinnia’s to it on the evening of the performance.

Now I’ve got to do some work.  The hens are gathered outside my window and I have a couple of people who would like a potholder with them on it.  But later this afternoon, after a nap, I’ll get back to the headscarf.

When it’s all done, I’ll ask Jon to take a picture of me wearing it and put it up on my blog. Hopefully, I’ll be wearing it Thursday night too.

If you haven’t already, check out Julz’s blog Julzie Style.  It’s as creative, fun, outrageous and loving as she is.

Pantaloons For BellyDancing

 

Me trying on the pantaloons in my studio

I’m working on my costuming for our Bellydancing Performace on August 25th at The Bennington Museum.  

Kat (aka Kitty) gave me a pair of her yellow pantaloons.  We wear these under our skirts, they look great when we spin and you get a peek of another color as the skirt lifts.

I have a few pairs of pantaloons that I got at thrift stores and one pair I made myself.  But I’ve never had a pair that was as big as the ones that Kat gave me.

When pantaloons are made from five yards of fabric, they billow out and help puff out the skirt.  This pair is also made from fabric that the skirt won’t get hung up on when it’s moving.

The pantaloons Kat gave me were way too long.

Last week I shortened the elastic waist and cut some fabric off the bottoms of each leg.   Then I sewed the fabric I took off the waist, and cut it in half lengthwise.  I gathered the fabric on each leg using a basting stitch and pulling on the thread.  Then I sewed the fabric from the top of the pants onto each leg.

There’s enough fabric to tie around my ankles.

But when I got it all done, I saw that the pantaloons were too short.  So today I undid the work I did last week and sewed the fabric I had cut off of each leg back on. Then I gathered the bottoms of each leg and sewed the fabric to tie around my ankles back on.

With all the cutting I did the pantaloons were now the right length.

Last week in class Emily told us all about a dance performance she saw by The Farm To Ballet Project.  This is a ballet about farming that takes place on different farms throughout Vermont. So there are dancing vegetables and animals as well as seasons being represented by the dancers.

The message that Emily had for us was how much fun the dancers were having, how much they were enjoying themselves.  Their smiles and their joy were infectious and felt by the audience.

After hearing that, I decided that from now on in class and when I perform,  I was going to have fun dancing.  That doesn’t mean I won’t take it seriously or won’t continue learning, it just means I’m going to enjoy it, even when I get it wrong which is often.

After all, I’m a 58 year old woman who is learning to dance for the first time in my life.  I’m not doing it to be a professional dancer.   I’m doing it because it brings me joy,  because  I really like learning something so new at this point in my life and because I have come to love the women I dance with.

So that’s what I want people to see when they watch me dance on August 25th.

And maybe someone in the audience will see themselves in what I’m doing and try to do something that they always wanted to do but never thought they could.

Our Performance on August 25th at the Bennington Museum is a part of the celebration of 25 years of the Outdoor Sculpture Show. It is free  from 5-7pm and open to the public. So if you’re nearby please come see us!

Bellydancing, Getting My Confidence Back

The picture Julz took of me in class last night

“You look beautiful,” Julz said to me.  I didn’t know what to say. We were practicing zilling in Bellydancing class and Julz was across from me in the circle.  “No really,” she said, “I’m going to take a picture then you can see what I see.”

And she did.

After class Julz texted it to me, with the message that my smile was real too.

We’ve been working on smiling while we dance along with many other things in class to get ready for our performance on August 25th at the Bennington Museum.

I wrote about that a while ago, saying how I didn’t think I was good enough to perform with everyone else.  What I haven’t written about is what happened after that.

First Kat (aka Kitty who introduced me to Bellydancing) read my blog post and called me up to reassure me that I’d be fine.

Then Julz texted me.  Her message began like this…

“You did fine, it was the first fucking time we all danced to that set!”  Then she assured me that by the time of the performance I’d know the songs and be able to dance to them and that I get better every week.

Julz said that it’s rare for her to finish a performance and feel like she did well.  That it’s only after she’s watched a video of it that she can see that it wasn’t as bad as she thought.  “There have only been a small handful of times we knew we kicked ass” she texted me She said we all really dance the best when we love the music and when we’re having fun.

Basically, Julz was letting me know that what I was feeling was perfectly normal and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

She also came up with some ideas about practice and performing that made me feel better about the whole thing.

Julz also wanted me to write about it.  She felt that it was only right that I let my readers know the truth.  Because even if I still question myself as a dancer, Julz doesn’t.

After that, I got my confidence back.

Since then I’ve been going to class with the attitude that I’m going to be able to perform.  Honestly, I don’t think about the performance much.  I just work at learning as much as I can and trusting it.

When I think of myself as a Bellydancer, I still don’t believe it.  It makes me want to tell anyone who ever believed they couldn’t do something that if I can Bellydance, anything is possible.

Dancing is something I didn’t think I was capable of doing. Yet, I’ve been doing it for five years and I still don’t understand why it means so much to me.  Jon says it’s who I really am.  But when I take that idea and roll it around my brain, it doesn’t quite land.

And yet a tiny part of me thinks…maybe...

But really, it doesn’t matter much what I think, because I’m doing it.  I’m dancing.

Full Moon Fiber Art