Bellydancing Muscle-Woman


The thread drawing I made of Julz for the potholder.

I forgot to turn on my heat so it was cold in my studio when I got there this morning.  On top of the cold my body was humming with an uncomfortable buzz.

I thought of the Tribal Workout video that my Bellydancing teacher Julz made for the class last Thursday.  I didn’t get to it then, but today it would be just the thing to warm me up and dull the buzz.

In the first video Julz made for us, she was uncomfortable talking to the camera.  But in the few weeks she’s been making the dance videos she’s become a natural.  She talks to us as if we’re all in the same room together and I find myself talking back (or when things get too difficult yelling back).

She’s made us videos giving lessons on specific dance moves and practicing Zilling (those small cymbals we play on our fingers while dancing) along with dancing and workouts.

This afternoon I was transported back to puberty as I followed Julz dancing to “Freak Out” and “Stayin Alive“.  There’s always a new playlist with Julz and when she goes back to the “oldies” it always makes me laugh.

As one song wound down, and before the next one began, Julz lifted her arms in a muscle-woman pose and gave us that  “Look at me!  I am wonderful ” stare. It’s that attitude that made me want to learn to Bellydance the first time I saw it.

There have been so many days in these past weeks when it feels like Bellydancing has helped keep me sane.  It’s like when I don’t do yoga for a few days and my body aches to move and stretch in certain ways.  Now it’s the same with Bellydancing. It moves my body in ways it now craves.

I don’t know what happens, but when I Bellydance it not only makes my body feel good but it helps me emotionally. I feel settled and grounded after dancing.  I don’t know, but I’m convinced it has something to do with the way the dance moves my body.

For the past few days I’ve been trying to think of the perfect potholder I could make for Julz as a thank you gift for all the videos.  Then she did that muscle-woman pose at the end of the dance and I knew what I wanted to do.

I froze the frame of the video and took a photo of it with my iPhone.  Then I drew it and stitched it.

Tomorrow I’ll make it into a potholder and get it in the mail to Julz.


“Nothing Is Going To Stop Me From Dancing Tonight”

The coin sash that Eve brought me back from Sinai, Egypt.

I tied the coin sash around my hips and did a little shimmy to try it out.   It made a soft swishy sound, unlike any of the other’s I have.

Last Sunday our friend Eve Marko came to visit and she brought me the coin sash which she got in Sinai, Egypt on a recent trip there.  I was surprised not only that she brought me a gift, but also that it was the perfect gift.

This evening, I tied the coin sash around my hips again, took off my socks and put on my Zills.  I clicked on the video in the facebook message on my computer screen then hit the “play” arrow.

There was Julz, my Bellydancing teacher, in a choli, skirt, and coin sash,  ” Nothing,” she said, “is going to stop me from dancing tonight.”

The music began and Julz started dancing, and I was in my studio dancing with her.

A few days ago Julz sent out a video to everyone in our Bellydancing class of her doing a tribal workout.  That’s the 30 minute dance workout that she leads before every class.  Every week Julz comes up with a new playlist and improvises a workout that combines bellydancing and strengthening exercises.

Before our classes were canceled I’d been practicing dancing and Zilling in my studio.  This was the second week without class and I realized that practicing is fine, but without someone else to dance with I was beginning to get bored.

I found myself doing the same moves over and over again, which is fine for practice, but not very creative or stimulating when dancing.   I also keep doing the moves that I would usually do to get out of the lead, but there’s no one else to take over.  No one for me to follow.

I’ve always been more comfortable dancing alone in my studio than I have been in class, but I don’t think I’m interested in comfort anymore. I’m craving the interaction that goes on between me and the other women in my class when learning and dancing.

That’s why the videos that Julz made for us means so much to me.  Seeing her dedication and determination is heartening.  And I know that the other women in my class are dancing in their own homes to the same video.

And then when I tied on the coin sash that Eve gave me, it’s like she’s a part of the dance too.

So even though I’m the only one in my studio, I’m not dancing alone anymore.



Dancing In My Coin Belt

Julz, was good enough to take this video of me dancing in class last night so I could see what my coin belt looked like in action.

I know it was good and loud, I could hear it which is helpful when I’m dancing so I know if I’m really shimmying or not.  (sometimes I forget to shimmy when I’m focusing on another part of a move that has a shimmy in it too).

That’s Emily and Callie I’m dancing with.  We’re practicing to Rashid Taha’s song Kelma. 

It’s good to see myself in the video because I can see I move my head around too much instead of looking up and keeping my head straight. I could also be more lifted in my chest.

But I can also see myself Zilling, which is kind of exciting.  Even though don’t feel exactly comfortable doing it, in this short video, I don’t think that comes across.

It was Carolyn Smith who gave me the piece of fabric that inspired me to make this coin belt.

She said she got it in Myanmar.  Carolyn wrote about her trip to Burma (now Myanmar) in the 1980’s on her blog Cats In Cambridge.  Click here to read it, she has some wonderful photos as well.

Making A Bellydancing Coin Belt

My Bellydancing coin belt turned out different than I first expected.

The Bellydancing jewelry that Melinda gave me was too heavy to attach to the thin scarf that I was using,  so I put it aside for the next coin belt that I make.  I had some jewelry that came off of my coin bra, so I used that instead.  Along with felted balls, buttons, beads, shells and earrings.

I may still add more to it.  I’ll try it out tonight in Bellydancing class and hope it holds up.

My coin belt

Bellydancing and Me

The fabric Carolyn gave me, the scarf I got at a thrift store and the Bellydancing Jewelry that Melinda gave me.

Everyone else was staying another half-hour, but I go home after the level two class is over. For the first time, I Zilled while dancing with other people in class.  And I wasn’t just following,  I even took the lead.

(Zills are the small cymbals that we wear on our finger and play while dancing).

I pulled the Zills off my fingers, took a drink of water and thanked the women I had been dancing with for the past hour and forty-five minutes.  That’s when I saw Julz, one of my teachers, make a beeline for me.

She does this sometimes.  With the focus and eye contact of a dancer demanding her audience to pay attention to her, Julz stopped abruptly, inches in front of me.  She was smiling, then reached out and hugged me.

“You did it,” she said to me. “Kathleen and I sat watching you Zill and dance at the same time”.  “Remember when you said you’d never be able to do that?”

I was too stunned to remember the rest of the conversation but I did tell Julz that I never say that about anything, anymore.

I knew I had danced and Zilled for the first time, but I also had to stop several times so I could get the beat again.  For me, it’s like jumping rope when two other people are turning the rope. Waiting to catch the rhythm of the turning rope before jumping in.

But that didn’t seem to bother Julz and Kathleen (my other teacher).  And I realized it’s been only two months since I started practicing Zilling and dancing in my studio to a video Julz made for me to follow.

I left class feeling great and wanting to practice even more.

As I finished Carole’s quilt this evening, I was listening to Rachid Taha’s album Diwan 2.  It’s his song Kelma,  that I’ve been practicing Zilling and dancing to.  A song came on that I never heard before and I just started Bellydancing to it.

As I danced I noticed, out of the corner of my eye,  the two beautiful strips of fabric that Carolyn gave me a few weeks ago.  I’d been planning to use them in a Bellydancing belt.

When the music stopped, I went into the house and opened the wooden chest that I keep my Bellydancing clothes in.  I pulled out one of my coin belts, a couple of scarves and the piece of coin Bellydancing jewelry that Melinda sent to me last year.

I’m not sure what inspired me to finally start making the coin belt, I think it was the music and dancing.  I laid one of the scarves, one strip of fabric and the coin jewelry on the floor.

Then I started sewing.

I’m not close to being done.  I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing.  I’m just making it up as I go along.   I’d love to have it finished so I can wear it to class on Thursday night.  But I don’t want to rush it.

And the thing is, I already had an idea for another coin belt, which tells me this is something I’ll be doing more of.

The more I dance and the better I get, the more I see that between the dancing, music, and clothes, Bellydancing is a part of who I really am.

Bellydancing At The Hafla Last Night

Julz, my Bellydancing teacher,  posted a bunch of our dances from our Hafla (a party where we eat and dance) last night on Facebook. (She had to mute the music because of Copywrite issues) I danced with Emily and Callie to a fast and slow song.  This is the slow song.  I’m better at the slow songs than at the fast.

You can see more videos from out Hafla here. 

Zilling While I Dance

Julz and Kathleen up front and me and Emily in the back.  You can see the Zills (small finger cymbals) on Kathleen’s fingers. Even though I wear Zills while dancing, I’ve never used them before.

I lean my iPhone against the iron on my worktable in my studio.  I cue up the video of Julz dancing and Zilling with her back to the camera, my Zills already on my thumbs and middle fingers, I touch the “play” arrow on the screen.

I Zill while dancing, following Julz as she does the Shimmy, Bump and Egyptian.   Julz moves to the beat of the song which is slow compared to others we dance to. So her moves are slow too. And deliberate enough for me to easily follow while Zilling.

Julz made the video for me, so I can practice Zilling and dancing at the same time.

Tonight will be our last class of 2019.  Next week we’ll have our Hafla, where we get to socialize a little, eat the food that each of us brings, and dance.

“Next session,” Julz said to me “we’re going to focus on getting you to dance and Zill.”  It was the last five minutes of the Level Two Class.  The rest of the class danced together and Julz and I went to the back of the room and I followed her as she danced and Zilled to Rachid Taha’s Kelma. 

And to my surprise, I was able to do it.  For the first time, I danced and Zilled, to a whole song almost five minutes long.

I’ve been practicing Zilling and dancing in my studio, but it’s always hard for me to keep the beat, every time I change a dance move I lose it.  And I can do it in class for moments at a time, but never for a whole song.

The more Julz and I danced and Zilled the easier it became.  At first, I was watching her so closely, staring so hard, I felt like a machine trying to replicate what I was seeing and hearing.   But as the song continued I loosened up.

Towards the end, I was only seeing Julz out of the corner of my eye, noticing her movements rather than watching them.  And then it was as if I fell into a trance.  Before that moment my fingers and body always felt like two separate entities, but now I was in “the zone” and they had become one.

I was feeling the music rather than watching Julz feel it.

Earlier in the class, Kathleen, our other teacher, said that Bellydancing was about letting the music move through us.  I thought, at that moment, that was exactly what I was experiencing.

It’s hard for me to express how exciting it was for me to realize that I actually will be able to learn how to Zill and dance at the same time.  Because I’ve already done many things in my Bellydancing class that I never thought I could I did come to trust that eventually, I’d get the Zilling too.

But I couldn’t see how that would happen until I danced with Julz last week.

Now it’s a new goal for me to aim towards.  Something to practice at home every day.  And now, even though I still lose the beat and have to stop and catch up with the moves sometimes, I know eventually I’ll get it.

And I wonder what that kind of synchronicity between me the music, me and the other dancers and within myself, will feel like when I do.

Jon keeps telling me that the person I am when I’m Bellydancing is the real me.  I’m not quite there yet, although I do feel like every time I dance I’m unearthing along lost part of myself.

Bellydancing has rekindled my faith in the idea that change is always possible and that there’s always another layer of ourselves to explore.

Bellydancing To Bluegrass

I didn’t even realize I was doing it at first.  I was just eating my Beanburger sipping my ginger cider and listening to the music.  Jon and I were at Brown’s Brewery last night with my friend Mandy listening to her partner Dave’s  Blue Grass Band, Big Stone Gap.

Two women from the table next to ours got up and danced.  I wanted to dance with them.  That’s when I realized I had been dancing to the music all along in my head.  Not the two-step, like the women in front of us, I was Bellydancing.

When the music slowed down, so did my imaginary dancing.  And when it got too fast for me to keep count, I quit till the next song.

Jon leaned over and told he how when he lived in Dallas he learned to do the Texas Two-Step.  Then he surprised me by asking me to dance. “My legs can’t move the way they used to,” he said to me. And then we were dancing.

In the past, I’d have to be drunk to dance in public.  But last night as I twirled under Jon’s arm, I was so uninhibited I found myself letting go of his hand  and doing the Bellydancing steps that moments before I was only imagining.  I had to stop to get the beat, but then I was turning a bump and doing a Turkish Quarter Turn.

We danced through one song then started another when Jon said he’d had enough.  We were on our way back to our table when a woman ran up to me saying, “I want to dance with her”.

I only had a vague idea of the kind of dance she was doing from watching the other women who were dancing earlier.  But I found myself watching my new dance partner’s feet and following her lead.  I didn’t hesitate, and if I stumbled, I don’t remember and wouldn’t have cared. I was having fun, listening to and feeling the music the way I never have before.

I know I couldn’t have danced that way if I haven’t been taking Bellydancing lessons for two and a half years. Because of the way I was hearing the music and also because I didn’t doubt that I’d be able to do a dance I didn’t know with a person I didn’t know.  I just did it.

Jon and I came home feeling exhilarated.  We haven’t danced in public in a long time.  And somehow, it was just what we needed.

November is the worse month of the year for both of us. The days are cold, overcast, dreary and short.  But last night listening and dancing to the music of Big Stone Gap, even though we were only 20 minutes from home,  was like we entering a different reality.  The whole experience took us out of ourselves, out of the ordinary for a couple of hours.

And a bit of the warm glow from last night has lingered in me.

My mind hasn’t been so quiet, so in tune to the moment in a long time.  As if the music and dance flipped a switch in my brain, reminding me to allow myself to feel the unfettered joys of being human.


Keep Dancing When The Music Stops

Dancing in the ATS Flash Mob this fall.

I had taken the lead.  I stood in front of Emily and Trish, doing a taxeem trying, too hard, to think about what move I’d do next. I awkwardly transitioned my arms above my head to go into a corkscrew turn when the music suddenly stopped.

It was sudden to me anyway, I didn’t know the song so instead of ending the dance gracefully, I dropped my arms and cringed embarrassed by my mistake.

That’s when Kathleen, one of my teachers said, “Keep dancing even when the music stops”.

Kathleen said if the music stops and I’m in the middle of a move, I should just keep doing it as if it’s what I meant to happen.  And then she demonstrated and what I felt as I watched her dance that one move said so much more than any words she could have used.

Because she wasn’t just demonstrating a dance move, she was demonstrating an attitude.  An attitude of confidence that demanded attention from anyone watching her.

“Look at me,” Emily said from across the room. “That’s what you’re saying when you’re up there dancing.”   She too saw how I crumpled in on myself embarrassed when the music stopped.   “I just told my daughter this morning that she should be making mistakes, that mistakes are how we learn.”

It was the attitude that I saw in the dancers the first time I saw Bellydancing that made me want to learn how to do it.  And I knew Kathleen’s and Emily’s words were about life as much as dancing.

After getting my MFA in sculpture, I decided not to make art anymore.  I believed I couldn’t do what it took to be an artist.  The music had stopped and I went into hiding.

But years later,  when I accepted the barn that Jon offered me as a studio, made my quilts, got a blog and started my business, I was dancing after the music stopped.  When Jon decided he didn’t need to publish a book to be a writer, he was dancing after the music stopped.

I now believe in my art and my ability to be an artist and make a living at it.  Not in the traditional way, but in my way.  And I have more confidence in myself now than at any other time in my life.

But there are still times and places where I’m afraid to make a mistake and don’t really believe I’m worthy of “being seen”.

That’s part of the beauty of my Bellydancing class.  It’s one hundred percent about dancing, but like most art,  it often blurs the boundaries between art and life.

I am learning to Bellydance every week, and so much more.





Bedlam Farm Open House, Opening New Doors

One of Liz’s Sheep that she’s offering me. 

This is the frist Columbus Day Weekend, in many years that Jon and I didn’t have a Bedlam Farm Open House.

I believe that when we stop one thing, it opens a door for something new to come in.

All the years we had Open Houses at the farm I loved doing it.  It was a lot of work and it had its problems, but I always felt it was worth any trouble that came from it.

When we decided not to have an Open House this year, I felt relief.

Relief at the thought of not having to empty out my studio, relief at the idea of not having to put a hold on my work for the three weeks it took to prepare and doing the finishing work after the Open House was over.

There were, of course, many good things about the Open House too.  It was complex.  But I was ready to let it go.   And I believe that left a space for something else to come in.

This weekend two things happened that did just that.

The first was my dancing in the Worldwide ATS Flash Mob with my fellow dancers of the Bennington Beledi Bellydancers.  Dancing was in a way the opposite of the Open House for me.

One of the things about the Open House was that I was in complete charge of the part of it that was about the art and artists.   And there was safety in that for me.  I was choosing the artists, making the rules, controlling things as much as possible.

Dancing on Saturday evening, Bellydancing, in general, makes me vulnerable in a way I’ve never voluntarily allowed myself to be before.

Every class I make a ton of mistakes that are visible to me and the people around me.  I’m often singled out and in front of everyone try again and again to move my feet in a  way that they can’t seem to move.

But this doesn’t bother me.

In the past, I would have been afraid of making mistakes, or even well-meaning criticism.   Now I feel like I just want to learn.  And I’ll do what it takes to do that.

The other thing that happened this weekend is that our shearer Liz offered me two of her sheep.

They’re a Cormo/Romeny and Blueface Leicester mix.  A wonderful combination of wool sheep. I’ve been thinking and talking to Jon about whether to get them or not all weekend.

To me, these sheep feel like another possible way of filling the space the Open House has left.  Taking on two good wool sheep would be like making a renewed commitment to the flock and my business of selling wool.

If I add two new sheep to the flock I will have too much wool for the Fiber Mill I use now to process.  So this is an opportunity for me to get creative about how to sell the extra wool.  I’m just beginning to explore the different options and have the feeling that I can figure something out that I never would have thought of before since I didn’t have to.

Last year I was certain we’d have more Open Houses even if in another form.  But now I’m not so sure.

I like these new directions I’m taking.  Being more committed to and active on the farm (whether I get the sheep or not), and stretching my creativity in a new way through Bellydancing.


Emily, me, Kathleen and Julz dancing Saturday evening.
Full Moon Fiber Art