Dancing Into My Own Skin

Callie, me and Kathleen, dancing  at the Bennington Farmers Market.

I’m sitting on the front porch, Flo is laying next to me on the wicker bench, there’s a breeze blowing the bamboo shades which are blocking the sun,  back and forth and the sound of cars going by on Route 22.

I’m thinking about how I feel about Bellydancing yesterday at the Farmers Market.  I want to write about it in a way that conveys the what I’m feeling, because I know it’s important,  but I’m still not sure exactly how I do feel about it.

So I sit here asking myself… How do you feel about Bellydancing Maria?

Then I remember how last night I felt like it was  “another me” who danced on stage.

It had to be “another me” because the person I’ve been my whole life would  never have done what I did yesterday.  That person could never even clap to the beat of song, could never move her feet or body the way I did yesterday.  She never let anyone see her belly, actually spent her whole life being ashamed of her stomach, which she was told,  was never flat enough.

And  for as long as I can remember, until I met Jon, I  was  made to feel, first by my parents then by my ex-husband, ashamed of my own femininity and the power of it.

But right now, I’m not feeling like there’s two versions of me, I feel like the genie has been let out of the bottle.  And she’s not going back in.

The words that come to mind are self possessed.

So I looked them up.   My dictionary says…calm, confident, and in control of one’s feelings; composed.  That’s sounds right. 

Bellydancing with Kathleen, Kat, Callie, and Trish yesterday  was like walking through a portal. Like stepping into the mirror and realizing that I had been living on the wrong side.

I think, yesterday, I danced myself into my own skin.

I was doing so many things for the first time, dancing in front of an audience, dancing with a group of women I admire,  showing my naked belly and wearing makeup.  But, not for a moment, was I uncomfortable with who I was and what I was doing.

This doesn’t mean I did everything right.  I didn’t.  I did plenty of things wrong.  But it’s not about right and wrong.  It’s about doing and learning.  Constantly.

Now I’m thinking of my mistakes with genuine curiosity, not judgment.  And that is another completely new experience for me.

I don’t know what it is about Bellydancing that has made this possible.

Maybe it has something to do with the movement releasing certain chemical in the body.  Maybe it’s the ancient ritual of the dance. I’m curious to understand it better, but I don’t need to know “why”.  I’m already a believer.

So I guess I do know how I feel after all.



BellyDancing At the Farmer Market, A Video

I’ll write more about Bellydancing at the Farmers Markets yesterday later.  But for now here’s a video that Jon took.  Some of you may have seen it already on Jon’s blog.

I was thrilled to dance with Kathleen McBrien, Kat Farnham, Callie Raspuzzi and Trish Gardner.  I was a wonderful experience for me and I’m needed some time to fully absorb it all before writing about it.

We were lucky to have a beautiful sunny day, in the low seventies, then,   just as we were finishing up the last dance it began to rain.

“Remember,” Kathleen, our teacher said before we began the performance, “Have fun, don’t get hurt and have fun.”

Getting Ready To Bellydance At The Farmers Market

Me in my bellydancing costume.

There were a few things I wanted to change about my costume after our dress rehearsal last night in Bellydancing class.    So this afternoon I dressed up adding some things and changing others.

Now I feel confident with my outfit and will be ready to get into it tomorrow morning.

I still have to try out the makeup.  I got some more makeup this morning after talking to some of the women in my class last night.  They gave me tips about things like  how to keep the makeup from running when I get sweaty.

I’m thinking of dancing tomorrow as a kind of exorcism, as a way of dancing my old body image away.  Somehow, that idea helps keep me from getting too nervous.

But I’m also thinking about the women I’m dancing with. This has less to do with me and more to do with us dancing together.  That’s the miracle of bellydancing for me, the way we need and depend on each other to dance.  We can’t do it alone.  And I’m looking forward to being a part of that.

I’m going to go and work on my make up now.  I’ll keep doing it till I’m comfortable with it.  Till I feel confident that tomorrow morning I’ll be able to wake up, get dressed, put on my makeup and feel good about it all as I drive into Bennington Vermont.

Jon will be taking some pictures and video, so I’ll write all about it and post some pictures on Sunday.

I’ll be dancing with the Bennington Beledi  Tribal Bellydancers  tomorrow at the Bennington Farmers Market in Bennington Vermont from 10am-1pm.

Belly Dancing Week, Our Latest Podcast

Liming the pastures

After a glass of wine for me, and scotch for Jon, then ice cream, with make-up on my face, Jon and I decided to do a podcast.   It was 9:30 pm, not our usual time for this kind of work.

We talk about Bellydancing (which is top of mind with me) and the farm and animals.  We talk about Bud and our new found trust in him and what the next steps with Zelda, our aging sheep will be.  We also talk about caring for the pastures and the book Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn.

So come and listen to our night time podcast called Bellydancing Week.  You can listen to it here.

You can also listen to any of our podcasts, anytime,  by clicking on podcast buttons at the top and bottom of my blog.

And let me know what you think….

I’ve Never Worn Make-Up, Never … Until Now

Me in my Bellydancing Makeup

I don’t wear make-up.  I have never worn make-up.  Never, in my whole life.

I don’t know how to buy it, I don’t know how to put it on.  But on Saturday, when I dance with the Bennington Beledi Tribal Bellydancers,  I’ll be wearing make-up and it has to look good.

Kat (aka Kitty), my friend who introduced me to Bellydancing, gave me a little bag stuffed with make-up in December when my Bellydancing class had our holiday Hafla.   I wore the costume and the turban for that, but I skipped the make-up.

Someday, I thought to myself then, just not right now.

Six months later and now it’s “Someday“.  So last night I got out the little bag of make-up that Kat gave me and started drawing on my face.  Then I spit on a tissue and used it to rub all the make-up off.

I needed YouTube.

I chose a video where a woman, was applying eyeliner.  I paused the video before she began curling her eyelashes, but got a few pointers and most of all realized that the lines didn’t have to be perfect.

Then I took the bag of make-up into the brightly lit bathroom and tried again and again and again.

I looked at the pictures of the women I dance with every week, in full make-up, on the Bennington Beledi Tribal Bellydancing website, and copied what they did.

It was the eyeshadow that made me feel old.

It seemed to bring out my wrinkles in a way that made me feel like I was trying to cover them up.   I felt like an unsuccessful Cross-dresser.  Because Cross-dressing is supposed to make a person feel more comfortable in their skin, not less.

I sent a picture of myself to my friend Suzy, who just happened to text me.  “Well, just do what your comfortable with, she wrote back,  if it’s not fun or enjoyable then keep finding what works.”

Jon said I looked like a Madi Gras Hooker.   I took that as the compliment it was.  But I won’t dwell there.

I like Suzy’s advice.

So, before class this evening, I’ll go back to the bathroom with my make-up bag and try to find what works for me.   First I’m going to check out YouTube again and see if it’s best to put the eye shadow on first, or the eyeliner.  There’s also some cover make-up in the bag, maybe I’ll get brave and see how that works too.

Tonight we have our final full dress rehearsal before Saturday’s performance. (Which is from 10am-1pm at the Bennington Farmers Market in Bennington Vermont)   This morning I woke up with butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it….



My Coin Bra, Reclaiming My Body

My Coin Bra

I knew I had to have one.  I have enough of those little travel sewing kits around, it  was just a matter of finding it.

It was the first thing that came to my mind when I started thinking about things to sew on my coin bra.

There was one in the sewing box (a shoe box covered in contact paper) that my grandmother gave me when I was five years old.  At the time I couldn’t understand why it was easier to fit the thin loop of metal through the eye of a needle and use it to pull the thread thought the eye.  Just threading the needle seemed easier to me.

Now I get it.

I Imagine that the one my grandmother gave me was  made of a something heavier than the thin aluminum one I eventually found in the sewing kit stuck in the back of my  desk drawer.  But it still has the woman’s profile (I wonder who she is) embossed on the part you hold between two fingers.

It was easy to punch a hole in the thin metal of the needle threader with my scissor, then sew it onto my coin bra.

The needle threader I sewed onto my coin bra.

This is how I spent a lot of my time last week.  Obsessing about what I could sew onto my coin bra.

I usually wear two different earrings, so I don’t really need two of each.  Now half my earrings decorate my coin bra.  I finally found a function for the tiny brass lock and key that was in the house when we moved in.  I took apart necklaces, went though my button box and have a few more places in the house, my studio and car to search for just the right medals.

My coin bra is beginning to feel like a fetish.

How can it not, with all the positive, personal energy I’m imbuing it with.

It’s been a long time since I’ve worn a bra.  I gave it up in high school as a symbol of feminist freedom (I was too young to be around for bra burning but was aware of it) and for comfort.  But now it takes on new meaning.

Like reclaiming the  word “Pussy” I’m reclaiming the bra.  Making it mine, in the tradition of American Tribal Style Bellydancing.  I’m wearing my own definition of  precious metals on my breasts like a coat of armor.

Last night during Bellydancing class I wore two long skirts, my pantaloons, my coin bra over a cholie and my water shoes (we won’t be able to dance barefoot on the plywood stage), much of what I’ll be dancing in next Saturday at the Bennington Farmers Market.  After a half hour work out, Callie walked up to me and told me my breast was hanging out of my cholie and coin bra.

“Well I said, tucking her back in, better here than at the Farmers Market.

Then Trish came over and helped me tie my cholie so tight I could barely breathe.  And Emily looked for some extra ribbons to cross tie the straps on the coin bra to keep it from rising up.

Perhaps my breasts were protesting being confined, after being free for so long.  Except that the coin bra doesn’t feel confining. It’s just the opposite really.  It’s like my Yes/No Dress covered in carpet tacks.

When I’m Bellydancing, I’m reclaiming my body, putting it out into the world in the way I choose.  No one can tell me how it should look or what I should or shouldn’t be doing with it.

I’m the only one who gets to do that.

Making Bellydancing Pantaloons For The Farmers Market

The pink gauze fabric drying in the moonlight

Standing on tip toes, I pulled the clothes line towards me then pinned the pink gauze on it.   Even though there was half a waxing moon, it was still unusually dark out.

I was hoping to make the pantaloons, but forgot I had to pre shrink the fabric.  Jon and I  had just  gotten back from a trip to Joann Fabric in Glens Falls where I got the pink gauze and the silk flowers (which I’ll wear in my hair).

In less than two weeks, I’ll be Bellydancing at the Bennington Farmers Market with the Bennington Beledi Bellydancers.  The same women that I practice with and learn from every week.

I’ve been listening to the music we’ll be dancing to, practicing my Zilling every day, and thinking about and preparing my costume.  Under my two skirts I’ll be wearing pantaloons. Big billowy pants that the audience really only sees when you spin around.  But they’re as important a part of the costume as everything else.

Usually I’m fine with buying  or borrowing what I need, but I had this impulse to make my own pantaloons.

I found a pattern online and they look easy enough to make.  So last night I bought three yards of pink gauze fabric (my friend and fellow bellydancer, Kat, said gauze would be the coolest since it will most like  be hot at the Farmers Market dancing with all those clothes on).

Even though I really wanted to make the pantaloons last night, I liked the idea of letting them dry overnight in the moon light.  Soaking in her light.

Back in my studio I worked on my coin bra.  Jon bought that for me,  but in our class and many other ATS classes, the coin bra is something unique to each person. (Kathleen, one of my teachers,  told me that one woman she knew used all her cats old rabies tags on her coin bra)  So I’m removing some of the brass coins the bra came with and replacing them with pieces metal that have meaning for me.

I’m not nervous about the idea of dancing at the Farmers Market, not yet anyway.

Maybe because I’m  too busy thinking about getting ready for it.  I’m sure I will be nervous on that Saturday morning, though I’m going to try to turn any fear I’m feeling into excitement.   I realized a while ago that  my body reacts the same to both, so if I can choose what I’m feeling, I’d rather it be excitement than fear.

I’m planning on making the pantaloons today, I’ll post a picture of them, no matter how they turn out, when I do.

And if you’re in the Bennington, Vermont area,  on Saturday, June 22nd between 10am and 1pm, come see us dance at the Bennington Farmers Market. 

My Coin Bra, Bellydancing At The Farmers Market

My Coin Bra, as it looks today.

I cringed and apologized to Callie.   We were dancing facing each other and when she raised her right arm  and turned to the left doing a Stalk Walk, I got confused about which arm I was supposed to raise and which way to turn.

I can easily follow someone when I’m behind them, but when we’re facing each other, it’s like looking at a mirror image and it often throws me off.  I raised one arm, though better of it, then lifted the other.

Julz, one of my Bellydancing teachers, was watching. She told me to go with my first instinct, even it was wrong, it looks better to raise the wrong arm, than to keep switching them trying figure it out.

“Just smile and act like it’s what you meant to do”, she said.

For the past three weeks, in my Bellydancing Class,  we’ve been practicing for performing at the Bennington Farmers Market on Saturday, June 22nd from 10-1pm.    And for the past two weeks I’ve been wearing a another part of the costume I’ll be dancing in, getting used to dancing in different clothes.

Last week I pulled the skirt that Emily lent me over my purple skirt, adding weight and volume.  Eventually, I’ll also be wearing harem pants under the two skirts and some kind of belt over it all.

Yesterday I tried out the coin bra that Jon bought me after I danced at the hafla in December.

I didn’t ask him to get it for me, but when he saw all the other dancers were wearing them he couldn’t resist getting one for me.  I thanked him and  folded  it  up in the bottom of the trunk I keep my Bellydancing clothes in.  I knew that I would only be wearing it if I was performing and I wasn’t ready to think about doing that just then.

The layers of long skirts, coin bras, make-up and turbans or  flowers in our hair is all a part of the American Tribal Style (ATS) Bellydancing costume.  A few years ago, when I was learning to ride my pony, Chloe, I wrote about how I hadn’t worn a bra since high school, but found horseback riding much more comfortable with one, than without.

Now, I’m not only wearing a bra, but it’s on the outside my outfit and covered in metal coins.  The other women in the class explained how they’ve attached different charms and metals to their bras, or special trims,  making them unique and  personal.

My mind sparked at that idea, thinking of what I would add to my coin bra to make it my own.

Since ATS is an improvisational dance, I won’t be leading during our performance. For me, following is challenging enough.

As we practiced last night, I found that I was too busy dancing to be nervous.  The dance forces me to be in the moment, paying close attention to whoever is leading so I’ll know what to do from one moment to the next.  And there were plenty of moments when I wasn’t sure what to do, if I was lifting the right arm or stepping on the right foot.

The less I thought about it, the better I did.  The more I enjoyed myself the better I danced.

At the end of the class, Kathleen, our other teacher, told us the trick of pressing the tip of our tongues behind the back of our upper teeth, which relaxes the face muscles into a Mona Lisa-like smile.

And Julz reminded us that, no matter what happens,  if we make a mistake or are unsure if we’re doing something right, make it look like you wanted to do it that way.  The audience will never know the difference she said, as long as do it with confidence, they’ll believe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.


Learning To Zill


I don’t know why it took me so long to replace the elastic on my Zills, but, I finally did.  And it makes a difference.  Now the don’t slide around my fingers so much.

I think it’s because I’m  taking Bellydancing and Zilling more serious.  And I think that’s happening because I’m going to be dancing with the Bennington Beledi Bellydancers (all those wonderful women I take classes with every week) on June 22nd at the Bennington Farmers Market.

But even before I knew I was going to do that, I began practicing Zilling every morning in my studio.

Zills are, they’re the little symbols we wear on our fingers and play when we’re dancing.  I shouldn’t really saw “we”, not yet, because I still can’t dance and Zill at the same time.

But I’m getting closer.

I guess it took me all this time to really believe that if I practiced, eventually I’d create a new track in my brian,  the Dancing and Zilling track.

So every morning before starting work in my studio for four or five minutes, I Zill and walk.  Or I Zill and move my arms up and down.  Sometimes I Zill and try to do the Bump, or Shimmy, but I’m not there yet.

I was listening to an interview with Jane Castor, the new Mayor of Tampa, Florida who used to be the police chief.  When she cut off the top of her trigger finger in an accident, she knew she could learn to shoot her gun using  her middle finger.

She said she just had to keep practicing till the muscle memory changed from one finger to the other.

She did it in a much shorter amount of time then it’s taking me to learn to Zill.   But her story was just the affirmation I needed to hear.

Last night in Bellydancing class, as we practiced our Zilling, I did better than I’ve ever done before.

I still lose my place sometimes but I’m always able to pick it up again.  It’s kind of like jumping rope when two other people are turning the rope. You just wait for the right moment to jump in.

But the really wild thing is that this goes on beyond Zilling for me.

I never believed I’d be able to Zill no matter how much everyone in my class said I’d eventually get.  I just didn’t think I had it in me to do.  So of course, this makes me believe that all those other things I never thought I could do in life, might just be possible.

I actually can’t think of what they might be right now, I’m pretty busy and can’t imagine adding something else to my life.  But now, I  do have this little twinkle of hope inside of me.  A spark of possibility, for something in the future,  I can’t even imagine yet.


BellyDancing At The Bennington Farmers Market


Photo that Kat (Kitty) Farnham took of me last year in my Belly dancing outfit.

“Ok”, Julz said,” let’s remember Maria can’t do that move.”   She was sitting in front of the class watching Kathleen, Callie, Emily and me dance.  It was our first practice session for the Farmers Market in June.

The week before last, as I was leaving class,  Kathleen asked me if I wanted to dance at the Bennington Farmers Market.  I’d be mostly in the chorus (the women who do simple moves and Zill standing behind the dancers who are out front) and dance in some of the slow dances.  I wouldn’t have to lead.

When I reminded Kathleen that I can’t Zill and dance yet, she said not to worry,  after dancing for three hours, I might just learn.

I agreed without having to even think about it.

It seemed a good limited way to practice dancing in public.  The audience at the Farmers Market  is mostly there to buy food and the audience is sporadic.  Also, I know that two or three of the women in my class won’t be able to dance that day, so I’ll be helping them out, just by being there.

And I feel like I’m ready for it.

Julz was  looking out for me when she said I couldn’t do the move.   She was saying to anyone who might be leading at the Farmers Market, that if they were dancing with me they should leave that move out.

This is part of the way the Sisterhood of Bennington Beledi Bellydancing works.  We don’t intentionally do anything to make anyone look bad.  We take care of each other.

I experienced this same feeling of sisterhood when Callie and Emily and I were dancing together in class  last night.

We were  in a circle facing each other.  I could see both Callie and Emily looking at me.  Their eyes big, dark, round and intense.  They were more than just looking at me, they were talking to me with their eyes.

But I couldn’t understand what they were saying.

We give all kinds of signals to each other when we’re dancing.  It’s improvisational, so paying attention to who ever is leading is how we  know what to do next.  And the leader giving good clues is essential.

Last night I was completely lost when Callie and Emily started  moving around the circle we were dancing in, doing a move called the bump.  Both of them were trying to let tell me what to do with their bodies and their eyes, but I was clueless.

By the time I figured it out, I was flushed and laughing, but we just danced though it and the next time Callie did the same move, I got it.

Last night, I woke up seeing Callie’s and Emily’s eyes trying to communicate with me and couldn’t help thinking of Red, our Border Collie, and how he uses his eyes to herd the sheep.  There’s something primal about it. There was no anger in Callie’s and Emily’s eyes, only an urgency.  It made me realize how much I’ve come to trust them and the other women in my class.

I had fun practicing for dancing at the Farmer’s Market last night.    We talked a  little about how we would coordinate the colors we wore and about the music we’d dance to.

And the dancing felt different to me.

Because for the first time, I felt like I was working towards something, not just learning.  And I felt like all of us, even the women who wouldn’t be dancing, were working towards something together.

Dancing at the Bennington Farmers Market last year.

Full Moon Fiber Art