My Bennington Beledi Bellydance Shawl

The shawl that Julz presented to me last night.

I drove home from Bellydancing class certain that I shouldn’t be dancing in the upcoming performance.  Even though Julz was positive about it, saying it was the first time I had danced to these songs and we had two months to practice,  I felt like all I’d be doing by dancing is make us all look bad.

In the past, I’ve prepared for our Hafla’s by choosing two songs and practicing to them.  But the audience at the Hafla is the other people in our class.  There are eight songs to get to know and practice dancing to for our performance at the Bennington Museum.  That’s two sets of dancing for fifteen minutes straight.

Because the type of Bellydancing we do is improvised and the lead dancer, who the rest of us follow, is constantly changing, we never know when we will be leading and to what part of a song we will be leading the dance.

This is one of the things I love about ATS Bellydancing.  It’s very creative and like my quilts and potholders, no two dances are ever alike.

But it’s always what makes me very nervous.   There have been many times when I’ve stepped into the lead and completely forgotten all the moves I’ve learned.

All the way home, I thought of texting Julz and telling her I could dance the slow songs,  but I didn’t think I should be dancing to the fast songs at all.  And when I got home the first thing I told Jon was how bad I danced.

Then I went upstairs to put my clothes away and when I pulled my skirt out of my bag out came the shawl that I had been given in class.

In my anxiety,  I had completely forgotten about the shawls that Julz and Kathleen, presented to me and Trish before class.

Last night we had our yearly meeting.  During the meeting, we went over how the money we pay for classes is spent (to cover rent for the space, any extra is donated to a charity we all agree on.  The teachers don’t get paid) and talk about the structure of the class and ask questions if there are any.

Then Julz said how when people are ready to dance in performances they officially become part of the Bennington Beledi Bellydancers.  She pulled two shawls out of a bag and handed one to me and one to Trish.

Everyone who is a Bennington Beledi Bellydancer has one of these shawls.  They’re all different colors and designs, and Julz chose the shawls that would go best with our skirts.

Then Callie ceremonially tied Trish’s shawl around her waist and Emily tied my shawl around my waist.

I don’t think I really registered the impact and meaning of the shawl until I pulled it out of my bag, brought it downstairs, and showed it to Jon.

That’s when I thought of how when I knew I danced poorly last night I didn’t think that  I could practice and get better.   I immediately wanted to give up.  I was sure it proved that I’d never really be able to dance well.

I’ve felt this many times after class, but five years into it, I’m still trying. I’m not sure what keeps me going back after I lose confidence in myself.  I think part of it is the women I dance with, that we are kind and encourage each other.

The other thing is, when I get it right, it makes me feel really good about myself.  The way it boosts my confidence is cumulative, while the times I lose it don’t last long.

It may turn out that during the performance  I don’t dance all the fast songs, or maybe I just don’t lead during any of them.  But that’s something that will become clear as we practice in class.

I still believe that I’m not a natural dancer.  But I also know that I’ve learned a lot in the past five years, more than I thought was possible.

And, that I can and will keep learning.

Making Mistakes With Confidence

Sewing the elastic on my Zill to make it tighter.

Last week in Bellydancing Class as we were dancing, one of my Zills, fell off my thumb.

Zills are the little cymbals we wear on our fingers and play to the beat of the song while dancing.  One goes on the thumb the other on the middle finger.  The elastic on Zills are always stretching and they constantly need to be adjusted.

When my Zill fell off I just kept dancing, moving my bare thumb against the cymbal on my finger no longer making any sound, but also not missing a beat literally or figuratively.

Kathleen, one of my teachers, complimented me on not stopping when the Zill fell off, saying that’s just what to do when something like that happens during a performance.

And things like that, happen all the time.  Kathleen and Julz have lots of good stories to tell about the mishaps that have happened and how the dancers dealt with them.

If a Zill or a piece of jewelry falls off one of the dancers and is in the dance space someone will kick it out of the way when they’re close enough to with making it too obvious.

I’m nervous enough about performing without having to think about everything that can go wrong. But it’s an important part of performing and there are some things that I’ve learned from experience.

Such as, if I floreo with the wrong hand, I shouldn’t try to correct it, most of the time the audience won’t notice it’s wrong unless I stop mid-floreo and switch hands.

But since I can’t be prepared for every situation, I know the best thing to do if I make a mistake is to make the mistake with confidence, to pretend it’s exactly what I meant to do.

That way the audience might just believe it.

However, I’d rather have as little go wrong as possible.  That is why I was sewing the elastic on my Zills, before class tonight, tightening them up so they don’t fall off my fingers while I’m dancing.  I’ve been told that you know your Zills are tight enough when your fingers turn blue from wearing them.

I still need to shorten those bright yellow pantaloons that Kat gave me, but that will have to wait till next week.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

A Bellydancing Gig At The The Bennington Museum

Kat and some of the clothes I’ll be wearing for our Bellydancing performance in August.

My friend Kitty, who introduced me to Bellydancing, is known as Kat in our class.  Her name changes as our clothes, and probably a bit of our personalities do too when we dance.

I see this more and more as I get to know the people I dance with every week.

I was shocked the first time I saw my teacher Julz outside of class.  She was covered head to foot,  hidden really, in her clothes.  Navy baseball cap, sunglasses, black t-shirt, black jeans, and sneakers.

I know I must have looked her up and down, unbelieving that this was the same woman who taught us dressed in a chole, Capri leggings, and a coin sash.

I’m only beginning to understand that both the dance and the clothes are transformative.

When I first started bellydancing five years ago I was terrified to show my stomach.  I didn’t think I deserved to own one of those beautiful full skirts.  Now I love the way I look in my cholie and skirt. It makes me feel special, like I’m saying “Look at me,  I’m worth seeing.”

Bellydancing has taught me to move my body in ways I didn’t know were possible. I learned how to walk, stand and hold my body with confidence and an attitude that I can feel down to my very center.

Jon says that when I Bellydance it’s who I really am.  I still struggle with that idea, but I think he’s right. I can feel something happening when I dance, and as I learn.  As if a part of my self is being excavated, dug up, dusted off and brought into the light.

It’s a slow process and I started late in life, but I’m planning on taking it as far as I can go.

Yesterday on our way to see a play at the Old Castle Theater in Bennington Vermont Jon and I stopped at our friend Kitty and Charlie’s house for tea.  (We saw the play “Souvenir” about Florence Forster Jenkins, and it was terrific.  We both cried at the end).

I brought my bellydancing skirt and cholie with me because Kat had some pantaloons and scarves that she thought I might be able to use.

Two weeks ago we found out that our Bellydancing toupe was asked to perform at the Bennington Museum on August 25th.  They are celebrating 25 years of their North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show and we’re going to be a part of it.

Last week Julz, put together a playlist of the eight songs we’ll be dancing to.  We’ll do two 15-minute sets. So now I’m listening to those songs over and over again to get to know them.  I’m also practicing dancing and Zilling to them.

It will be the first time we’ve performed in years and the first time I’ll be performing in front of an audience that is there specifically to see us.  I’m both excited and nervous.

Kat is one of the founding members of The Bennington Beledi Bellydancers.  She no longer dances but comes to the workout part of our weekly class.  And she has a wonderful collection of Bellydance outfits.

Yesterday she gave me a pair of yellow pantaloons that just need to be hemmed to fit me, and loaned me a few headscarves.   Kat said being able to help me with my outfit made her feel like she was able to participate in some small way.

But really, even though Kat doesn’t dance with us anymore, she will always be a big part of BBTB.  She’s always there for us, ready to help out in any way she can.

And that’s the other part of the Bennington Beleldi Bellydancers, as Kathleen, my other teacher says,  we dance for each other.

Having a gig is great.  It gives us something to work towards, something to practice and get better for. And a lot of the women I dance with are far bigger “hams” than I am, they love an audience.  And ATS Bellydance is a wonderful thing to put out into the world.

But I do believe that even if we never got to perform again, we’d still put on our choles, long skirts and coin belts and dance together.

Because dancing together, in what ever way we can, is what it’s about.

Zoom Bellydancing Class In My Studio, Fully Alive

Bellydancing Class in my Studio last night.    Photo by Jon Katz

I continue to marvel at how good I always feel after my Bellydancing class. Not only am I less achy but my spirits and confidence are lifted.  And as much as I’d rather dance in person with the other women in my class, dancing alone in my studio, with everyone else on my computer screen has the same effect.

I didn’t see much of my teacher Julz because she was teaching three new students, which made me feel hopeful.  Because of Covid, we haven’t had any new dancers in a long time.

My teacher Kathleen has mastered teaching virtually.  And Emily who set up her computer so we could have a Zoom class was so generous and thoughtful about keeping me in the loop.  She moved the computer set up around more than once so I wouldn’t miss out on anything.

And even though it’s not perfect, I’m still dancing and learning for those two hours.

When I’m Bellydancing, I feel like I waking up muscles that have been dormant my whole life.  And for the first time, my body is fully alive.

Discussing how to do an Arabic Shimmy with Kathleen during  Zoom class.     Photo by Jon Katz

Did I Have To “Deceive My Imagination” To Learn To Bellydance?

Me, Callie, Trish, Emily, and Kat Photo by Julz Irion

I love this photo that Julz took of us at the Hafla.   We were just standing around when she snapped it.  She made us laugh by saying “Smile’s Everyone” like Richardo Montalban in the TV show Fantasy Island.

That was Julz’s way of getting us to remember to smile while we were dancing.  Something most of us were doing only sometimes or not at all.

The photo also makes me think of a John Singer Sargent painting.  Not one in particular, but a combination of his paintings of women.  I’m not familiar with all of his paintings, but in the ones I have seen, the women are all strong and confident.

Seeing us all dressed up in our billowing skirts, coin bras, hip scarves, jewelry, turbans and makeup,  is a vast contrast to how we looked when we arrived.

I couldn’t help noticing the difference between the hallway where we hang our coats and leave our shoes outside the classroom.  All those dark winter colors and heavy boots.  It’s as if we shed an outer layer of skin and are transformed into butterflies for a few hours.

Bare feet and bellies, we jingle when we walk, as the coins on our hip scarves sway against each other with each step.  There’s something bewitching about it.

But this transformation doesn’t just happen once a year for the Hafla.  It happens every week when we come to class.  Even if our clothes and jewelry aren’t as elaborate, we step out of the everyday world when we gather for our class.

It reminds me of the quote by the French philosopher Nicholas Malebranche who said, “It is necessary to deceive our imagination in order to awaken our spirits”

Is Bellydancing with its costuming, movement, and music enough to take me so far outside of myself that it awakens my spirit?

I know that Bellydancing has changed me in tangible ways.  It’s made me more confident and made me like and understand my body and what it’s capable of.

Maybe I did deceive my imagination and continue to every time I dance.

Because I never even dared to imagine that I would be able to dance.  Not even when I showed up for the first class.  I wanted it, but I never really thought it was possible.  Yet something made me keep going back to class each week and kept me from quitting.

Maybe the process of deceiving my imagination began the first time I saw the Bennington Beledi Bellydancers perform. Maybe I was enchanted by the way they moved, their confidence and attitude, the costumes and music.   It sparked something inside of me, touched a sleeping part of myself that had been hiding until that moment.

My first painting teacher in Art School told me that I wasn’t a very good painter, but there was “something there”.  Similar to what Julz wrote about me on her blog... “It seemed a bit hopeless for the first few months, but she (referring to me) showed me little signs that she could dance.

Maybe what motivated me, (along with the support from the other people in the class) was that I felt there was “something there” too.

Jon always says that when I’m dancing it’s who I really am. I still don’t quite know what he means.  I guess because even though I’m doing it, I still don’t see myself that way.  As a dancer I mean.  Like my body knows, but my mind hasn’t caught up with it yet.

But I think I’m getting closer.  Like I wrote yesterday, I’m starting to have a new understanding of myself.

It would be a big change in my perception of myself.  But looking at that picture that Julz took of us helps.  Because there I am, in a group of women who look like they just stepped out of a John Singer Sargent painting.

That makes it harder for me to deny.

BellyDancing, I’m Not So Bad After All

Getting ready to dance

“It happens all the time, to all of us, ” Julz said. ” If you don’t dance spectacularly, you think you danced horribly.”  Both she and Kathleen had stories about the many performances they had where they thought they didn’t dance well only to watch a video of it the next day and see it wasn’t so bad.

That’s exactly what happened to me.

Yesterday in class we watched a video of the dancing we did at the Hafla. I was truly surprised at what I saw. I wasn’t awful at all. I could see my mistakes, but I could also see the things that worked and how I’d improved.

I loved hearing that what I was feeling was perfectly natural.  Something the other women in my class felt often.

After watching the videos, we all danced.  It was the most fun I’ve ever had dancing in class.  I was relaxed and ok with my mistakes, knowing it’s all part of learning.

There are no classes for the next two weeks.   I feel like something is changing inside of me.  A new understanding of what I’m really capable of.  I don’t quite understand it all yet, but I’m going to think about it over the next two weeks.  Maybe I’ll be bringing a new awareness to our first class of the new year.

Bellydancing And Spider, Growing My Attitude

Me and my baby attitude at the Hafla

We were gathered around the food table filling our plates when I looked down and saw a spider walking across my belly. I flicked it off and watched it walk away.

I didn’t think about the spider again till I got home.

I didn’t want to admit it, but after the Bellydancing Hafla, I was discouraged.  I felt I hadn’t danced well to the fast song I had chosen for the Hafla.  I went over the things I had done wrong feeling that I should be further along.  That, by now, I should be a better dancer than I am.

I began to wonder if Julz and Katleen, my teachers, were regretting asking me to join the Advanced class in January.

I was sitting by the fire with a cup of tea, all these negative thoughts spiraling through my head when out of the corner of my eye I saw a spider making its way up the lamp next to me.

There was spider again.  Surely she had a message for me. Hopefully, something to help pull me out of myself.

The first thing I read on the website Spirit Animal was that spider, like my bellydancing sisters, is a strong feminine and creative energy. Then it said…

Like the spider waiting for her prey patiently, the presence of this spirit animal in your life could point to the need to show patience regarding a project or some ideas that you are trying to realize.

On the website Spirit Animals Totems I found…..spider symbol makes it clear that what you see before you is the result of your thoughts.  If your current reality does not suit you, then it’s time to make changes. …The spider is a spirit animal whose purpose is to inspire you to gain perspective on an issue or project you contemplate taking on.”

Patience, perspective, and change.  I got it.

Kathleen has been dancing for 26 years, Julz for 19 years and they talk all the time about how they are always still learning. What I needed to do was see things clearly and honestly.  What I needed to change was my belief that I can’t dance. My belief that I’ll never be able to do what the other women in my class do.

Even after four and half years, I was still seeing myself as the “new” person. Someone who wasn’t expected to be able to dance as well as anyone else. Because I had never danced before or played an instrument, I felt I had an excuse for not doing well.  I was seeing myself through all the things I couldn’t do and not seeing all I had learned.

I was becoming a person who whines and feels sorry for herself.  Someone I don’t want to be.

The next day I talked to Emily who confirmed the difficulties of  Bellydancing.  How we’re moving our bodies in ways we never have before.  How the dance, because it’s improv, is constantly changing and we don’t really know what to expect from one moment to the next.   And that unlike working alone in our studios, all our mistakes are out in the open for everyone else in the class to see.

Then Julz wrote about the Hafla on her blog Julzie Style.

If you want to have an idea of what learning to Bellydance is really like, read Julz’s piece.

She wrote about all of us, with pictures too.

Julz wrote about how when I first started bellydancing I couldn’t “step to the beat or hear it. She wrote... ” Maria had never danced before and had zero body awareness meaning she was not aware of what the parts of her body were doing when she was moving or standing still. We had to teach Maria how to walk first, then dance.”

” It seemed a bit hopeless for the first few months, but she showed me little signs that she could dance. Maria didn’t believe me, but with patience, instructions, corrections, and building her confidence, she improved week after week.”

When I read this, I could finally see what Julz had been telling me all along.  That I was getting better. And I saw that she had more confidence in me than I had in myself.

“When Maria began taking classes,  Julz wrote, “she wanted to dance with an attitude and confidence like we did. After many attitude and confidence lessons, she “gets” it now and is more confident and has a baby attitude, not giant ones like Kathleen and I have when we dance. Lol”

So with the help of my sisters in dance and spider’s counsel,  I’m going to bring a new attitude to Bellydancing in the New Year.  Instead of believing that there are things I’ll never be able to do, I’m going to work on acquiring the attitude that first drew me to belly dancing.  That attitude that says, “look at me, I am so worthy of being seen”.

It might be just a baby attitude right now, but that’s a good place to start.

Photo’s From The Hafla

Trish, Callie, Emily, Kat, Kathleen, and Julz, and me upfront.

I have so many photos from the Hafla, I want to share some of them. Then, this morning Julz texted me more and those have me in them too. I’ll write more about the Hafla later, but for now, here are some photos of the dancing that we did.

Julz and Kathleen did a slow and fast dance working their skirts into the moves.  I’d never seen that before, it’s something new they’ve been working on.

Kathleen and Julz

Callie and Trish danced with swords. I didn’t get a good picture of their dance, but it was impressive. In the photo below Kathleen is helping Trish adjust her turban.  And you can see Callie standing next to them, balancing a sword on her head.

Callie, Emily and Trish danced a slow and fast dance together.

Callie, Trish and Emily dancing a fast dance

Emily did a beautiful  solo slow basket dance.

Emily doing her basket dance

I danced with Callie, Emily, and Trish.  Julz sent me a couple of photos of us all.  During the fast dance, I looked terrified. But I did have a ghost of a smile during the slow dance.

Trish, Callie,  Emily, and me slow dancing.   Photo by Julz Irion

Kat, a founding member of Bennington Beledi Bellydancers, no longer comes to class, but she’s there at the Tribal Workout and comes to the Hafla and dances a few dances with us every year.  She also helped me tie my coin bra so it kept my breasts from sagging, Bless her.

Kat and Julz

When we all first got there, Julz went around to each of us and took a selfie with her.

Me and Julz



Swirling Skirts

Callie and Julz

I’ll write about the Hafla tomorrow and post a few more photos.  But for now, I thought this one captured the swirling skirts and movement of the dance.  That’s a reflection of Callie in the mirror, watching Julz and Kathleen dance.

Sunny Sunday, BellyDancing Hafla

Wet, skunky, and bright sunlight with long shadows, made it smell and feel like an early spring morning, even though we’re in the darkest days of the year.

This afternoon I’ll be going to our yearly Bellydancing Hafla.  I’m bringing some fabric to help decorate the room where we dance.  We all bring food and this year we’ll sit on pillows on the floor instead of at tables and chairs.  We all dress up in pantaloons, long skirts, coin bras. We wear makeup and wrap your hair in turbans and flowers.

Everyone will be pairing up with different people to dance with.

I chose two songs a fast and slow ( Boire by Rachid Taha and It Don’t Bother Me by Allison Krauss and Robert Plant) and will be dancing in a quad with Emily, Callie, and Trish, my tribal sisters.   Julz and Kathleen, our teacher will dance together.  Emily will dance solo balancing a basket on her head and Callie and Trish will dance a sword balancing duet.

Then we’ll dance with whoever we feel like.  Kat (aka kitty)  will join in those dances.  One of the founding members of Bennington Beledi Bellydancers, and the person who introduced me to Bellydancing, Kat comes every week to class for the Tribal Workout, a warm-up at the beginning of class.

This is my fourth Hafla and I can honestly say I’ve come a long way from the beginning.  Next year I’ll be joining the rest of the dancers at the third level, the advanced class.

I still have so much to learn and I never imagined I’d get this far.

Full Moon Fiber Art