Taking A Bolly X Class With Katie

Katie, our teacher, in a classic Bollywood Dance pose

“I feel like dancing,” I said to Katie when I walked into the Co-op heard the Bollywood music.  This was a few years ago, when Katie had just started working there.

We started talking dance.  I told her about my Bellydancing and she told me how she taught Bollywood dance, with her sister, at Hubbard Hall, the theater in town.

Off and on for years after that Katie expressed an interest in our Bellydancing class. I never even pretended that I’d be able to take one of her classes.  Bellydancing was already almost more than I could handle.

Eventually Katie lost the venue for teaching her class and a few week ago Jon and I met her and her husband at the Cambridge Farmers Market.  Katie was saying that she missed dancing, Jon reminded her about my Bellydancing class and I gave her the information she needed.  The next week Katie and her sister showed up at Bellydancing Class.

So when Katie told me she was teaching a one-time Bolly X class at a winter program at Hubbard Hall’s Mud U, I signed up.

(Mud U is a series of all kinds of classes from dance to composting year round with red worms)

That’s where I was last night.

There were about fifteen women in the class.  Somehow I ended up, right behind Katie, front and center on the dance floor.  It made me wonder if I’m not more of a ham than I think I am.

Katie is a gentle teacher who always has a smile for her students and audience .  She told us this was most of all about having fun.  She spoke about how she dances a lot with her face.  Something I never thought of.  As we danced I watched  her facial expressions change as she moved.

Before each song Katie taught us the important dance steps we’d be doing, then we danced.

I tired to remember to have fun and keep smiling as I was stepping on my right foot while she stepped on her left.

My Bellydancing experience definitely helped.  I’d have been useless without it.  I realized I was so used to moving my body in ATS Bellydancing moves, making the switch to Bollywood was like starting over for me.

I was all angles and jerky movements, I didn’t come close to replicating Katie’s smooth moves. Once again I was reminded that I was watching someone who made it look easy because they were so good at what they were doing.

I’m certainly not a natural at Bollywood dancing (or any dancing really) but I wasn’t embarrassed or afraid to try it as I would have been in the past. And I didn’t feel bad that I messed up the most basic moves again and again.

But most important, I had a new  dancing experience and I had fun.

Below is Katie and her sister Tessa’s Bollywood Dancers at the Farmers Market last year.

Zilling Above The Beat

Zills are the little cymbals we wear on our fingers and play to the beat of the song we are dancing to.

It’s dark, but the clear sky is filled with stars and a sliver of moon, which makes it easier to see. I’m driving home from belly dancing class listening to Salio El Sol by Don Omar.  I’m clapping  my thumb  and middle finger together as if I’m wearing Zills, my hand is above my head my wrist flicking.

I’m counting the beat.

Last week our teacher Julz talked about Zilling above the beat. She’s talked about it before but last week was first time I began to really understand what she was saying.  Then yesterday in class,  I not only grasped the idea, but was able to do it

The idea of Zilling above the beat is hard for me to explain.  I have found for me it’s more a feeling.   It’s not that I’m Zilling faster but with more snap with more energy.

In the car my my hand and wrist are is getting tired. The music starts to drag, I feel myself being lulled into a trace.  I’ve fallen not even on the beat, but below the beat.

The thing is it doesn’t feel good, my brain gets loggy, as if I’m hearing in slow motion.

But now I know why.  And I know how to get back  to that snap and spark that I feel not only in my fingers and wrist but throughout my body.  As I once again clap my fingers and count above the beat I feel my brain sharpen and the music comes alive again.

I’ve always loved this song from the first time I danced to it  it over six years ago  but I’ve never been able to Zill to it.

Now I understand why.

The interesting thing is that it’s easier to Zill above the beat.  It’s more work and takes more energy but it makes Zilling easier.  It makes keeping the beat easier, which in turn will make my dancing better.

Although I’m not sure I can Zill above the beat while dancing.  Right now it seems enough for me to do it while standing still (or driving home).  But I bet it comes quicker now than it would have a few years ago.

Zilling above the beat is like dancing with attitude.

Which is what  drew me to bellydancing to begin with.  When I saw the Benninton Beledi Bellydancers for the first time it was the attitude of the dancers as much as the dance that I wanted to experience.

So now it’s not enough for me  to dance with attitude, I’m going to learn to Zill with attitude too.

My Sixth Bellydancing Hafla. An Evening Of Dancing With My BellyDancing Sisters

The Bennington Beledi Bellydancers last night at our Hafla

Last night was our Bellydancing Hafla.  Our Hafla’s (which are gatherings with dance and food) change every year.   The first one I went to six years ago was equally based around food and dance.

This year it was all dance with some fruit and chocolate.

For me our Bellydancing Hafla has become an important celebration of the season.  Like tonight’s Solstice fire, it has more meaning for me than Christmas Day.

Last night Julz, (our teacher) put on a playlist of fast and slow songs.  We danced with each other in duets or quads, in large groups with everyone in the class or alone.  Two people would be dancing and someone would jump in and join them, while other people took a water break and rested.

I barely stopped dancing.

At the past Hafla’s I was still shy about dancing alone. I would have been embarrassed to think that someone might have been watching. Afraid I was doing something wrong or that someone might think I was trying to “show off.”

But last night I didn’t care.  Maybe it speaks to the trust I have for my fellow dancers.  Maybe it’s that I’m more confident.  Perhaps a bit of both.

I do feel that in the past couple of months something has shifted with my dancing.  I feel unquestionably that I am a welcomed part of our dance troupe.  And for the first time, that I have something not only to learn but to contribute.

At the end of the night, Julz handed out “Sister” Bracelets to each of us.  Four silver hearts on a black cord.

Later I texted Julz to thank her for the bracelet.  She texted back that she believed that “dance was in my soul.” Julz had a vision of us all dancing together in another lifetime.  “I’m pretty sure that’s why I saw potential in you from the beginning.”  She wrote.   She wanted to help me that remember we danced together  before.

I’m grateful to Julz for her patience and taking the time to teach me to dance.  I literally couldn’t step to the beat when I first started.  I was always off beat or on the wrong foot.  One time I even asked her if she thought I was stupid because I had such a hard time learning.

She assured me I wasn’t stupid and just encouraged me even more.

From the beginning, Jon said that bellydancing brought out who I really am.  From the moment I first saw the Benninton Beledi Bellydancers, I knew the dance had meaning for me.  But it’s only now that I’m  beginning to believe what Jon and Julz have said is true.  That I really am a dancer.  That dance is in my soul.

On Monday I made a new coin belt from bellydancing jewelry that someone sent me a few years ago.  I sewed it onto a  fabric and added a few shells and buttons to it. I made it to have something special and new to wear to our Hafla.

At the end of the evening I asked Emily to take a video of me shimming in it.  The video is  short but you can see how the coin belt swings and sings.


Bellydancing At The Mansion

Me, Emily, Trish, Callie and Julz  The Bennington Beledi Bellydancers.  

Jon and I had to turn around and go back home.  I’d forgotten my earrings.

But a little while later,  as we walked up the stairs at The Mansion, Julz, my Bellydancing teacher,  opened the front door.

“I always show up early to case the joint before everyone else gets here, that’s DJ Julz’s job,” she told me later.

I wanted to get there early to make sure the space was set up for us to dance and to rally people in case the audience was spare.

But Janine, Sunday’s activity director, had pushed the couches and chairs to one side of the room and left a huge space for us to dance.  That polished wooden floor was the best stage I’d ever danced on.

And the couches were already filled up with an enthusiastic audience.

I was especially glad to see Jenn there.  After learning that she was in the Boston Ballet, I wanted her to see us.  She was supposed to go to church with her sister, but she told me she decided she wanted to see us dance instead.

More than once I looked at her smiling as we danced and it made me smile back.

I went up to each person and made sure they recognized me.  Many were from my art classes and weren’t used to seeing me wearing makeup or dressed as a Belly Dancer.

Emily, Trish, and Callie showed up soon after and we began the performance with “Gratitude”, the movements we begin each class and performance with.

We danced two songs (you can see us dancing here) after that, we took a break and Julz explained how our dance isn’t choreographed, but improvised with certain moves that we string together.  She explained how different people take the lead and we all follow.

We danced to two more songs after that.  Then Julz taught everyone in the audience how to do floreos with their hands and explained what a Zaghareet was (an expression of joy and support).  Later Peggy, who lives at The Mansion, asked how to do a Zarghareet and Julz demonstrated.

Jon was there taking videos.  You can see the video of us dancing, watch the audience doing floreos and hear Julz zaghareet here.

After the performance, Emily said she had never seen me so relaxed while dancing.  “It was like you were dancing in your own living room,”  she told me.

I wasn’t surprised at that, I feel so comfortable at The Mansion, and with the people there.  I could plop down on the couch in the great room or on one of the rockers on the porch and start a conversation with the person next to me as if I belonged there as much as they did.

It was only when I got home that I realized how much dancing at The Mansion with my sister Bellydancers meant to me.  I didn’t know how much I wanted these two important parts of my life to come together.

I wanted them to meet each other.  And I wanted the people who I have come to know so well who live at the Mansion to see this part of me.

As I let go of the family I grew up in, I’m finding my new family in people and places I hadn’t expected.  As if they were there all along.  It may not have the stability of family as we traditionally know it, it’s more like a rotating family.  But it works at the moment, and I’m beginning to trust, one way or another,  it always will.

After the show, Julz told Paryese, who set the whole thing up, that we’d love to come back in the dark days of winter and dance again.

This was the first time Jon had been back to The Mansion since his stay in the hospital.   When Julz found out she said it was a great way for him to come back.

She was right.

There was a sweetness to the morning that filled my heart and made me feel a little softer.   I can still conjure that feeling up.  It’s like when I have a really good dream that I want to hold on to, but I know the feeling will eventually fade.

But unlike a dream,  I do have the videos to watch whenever I want to.

Jon took two videos of us dancing today. I can’t post them on my blog, but you can see them on Jon’s YouTube.  Just click here and here. 

Bellydancing At The McCullough Library

That’s us, the Bennington Beledi Bellydancers at the McCullough Library before our performance.

Below is a link to a video of us dancing.  I can’t post it on my blog because of rights concerning the music but you can click on the link and see it.  https://youtu.be/ZDLxXx8-r4g

It was too hot (in the 90’s) for Jon to come to watch and take pictures. We danced on the library lawn and there was no shade even for the audience.

But the Librarian had a cooler of cold water and we just sweat through it. As we danced we all, at least once, stumbled in a hole in the lawn. Even as we tried to avoid it.

But no one complained or thought about not dancing.  Afterwards my friend Kat (one of the original Bellydancers) said I was building a library of stories about different gigs. I’ll be saying “remember the hole in the lawn”.

I’ve performed four times in the six years I’ve been bellydancing and as Kat says I can remember something special about  each one.

After  dancing two 15minute sets Julz asked the audience to come dance with us.  Both women and men joined in as Julz led us through two slow songs.

Who knows,  maybe some of them will show up in our next class.

I was even more relaxed and confident yesterday than at our performance the week before. Driving to the Library I wasn’t even nervous. Which made me wonder if something was wrong. Or that I’d jinx myself for being too confident.

I definitely made mistakes. I started one move on the wrong beat and made a mess of it. But I smiled through the whole thing sorry mostly to have thrown off my dance partner.

I’m not sure when our next performance will be. But I feel like I learned so much from how to put on makeup to smiling to finding my confidence in the last few weeks.

Makes me think I’ll do better in class too. That my new found confidence will stay with me.

Walking to the Library to dance
Walking down Main Street to the Library

Come See The Bennington Beledi Bellydancers Dance Tonight At The Library In North Bennington Vermont

Kathleen, me and Emily

Tonight at 7:30 at the McCollough Library in North Bennington Vermont  (2 Main Street), my fellow Bellydancers and I will be performing.  We’re also going to demonstrate a Bellydancing Lesson which people can join into if they’d like.

I can’t believe how I have a bit of the jitters, but I’m nowhere near as nervous as I have been in the past.  I’m actually looking forward to it and think it going to be fun (now that I’ve learned how to smile).

Please come and join us if you live nearby.

The little town of North Bennington is where Shirley Jackson lived and wrote her wonderful short stories and novels. (I’m a big fan)  She frequented the Library we are dancing at, so there is a history of art and strong women in this place.  I like being a part of that.

Okay,  have to start getting ready soon.  You know putting on my makeup and all that.

But I edited the video from our last performance into a Short.  It’s just a few seconds, but has a lot of impact.  That’s Trish and Emily doing the dancing up front.

Have a look….


A Video Of The Bennington Beledi Bellydancers At The Pride BlockParty

It took me a while to figure out, but I was able to download and edit the video that Trish and Callie’s kids took of our performance at the Bennington Pride Parade last Sunday.

We’re dancing to Gogol Bordello’s “Start Wearing Purple” and you can hear the audience start to clap halfway through the song as Trish, in her orange and yellow skirt and turban,  emerges like a goddess.

We found a space in the corner of The Unitarian Church,  that was the right size for our “stage”. We danced among the tables and chairs, books, and bulletin board.

I loved being able to participate in the Pride Parade and lend my support in this way.

Carol left this message on my blog which says it so well…..”As a lesbian, being seen and showing up for our community touches my heart. We all contribute to the love of life quilt and the interconnectedness of all beings.”

Trish and Callie’s kids holding the Bellydance banner at the Pride Parade.  It was lots of fun having them there and they did a great job making the video for us.   That’s Callie, Trish and Emily behind them.

We will be dancing again this Wednesday, July 5th at 7:30 pm at the McCullough Library in North Bennington Vermont.

Is This Really Me?

Reflection of me and Jon in the church window where I danced  on Sunday

Jon always said that when I’m Bellydancing, that’s who I really am.  I could never really agree with him, because for most of my life it would be the last thing in the world I would have done.

But I’m beginning to see it the way he does.  I’m starting to question who I really am as opposed to how I’ve thought of myself.

Can I really be so different than I thought?

If I look at my actions over the past fifteen years and not my idea of who I am, they are very different.

Bellydancing and specifically this last performance has revealed something about myself I didn’t know.   As nervous as it makes me, I actually like to perform.  (Although even as I write this I have my doubts about how true that is).

Is this a change in me, or something that was always there, something hidden?

I’ll have to think about it some more.  Or maybe I  just need to watch what I do and trust it.

Bellydancing Portraits, From Our Performance At The Pride Parade

Julz               All Photos By Jon Katz

When we got back from the Bellydancing performance at the Pride Parade, Jon and I sat down and looked through all the pictures he took of us dancing.  There must have been 150 of them. We went through them three times and edited them down to 35 photos.

I found when I downloaded them on my computer that there was at least one really nice portrait of each of us.

So here they are, thanks to Jon.










Bellydancing At The Pride Parade

Kathleen leading with Callie, and me. Trish and Julz in the chorus

I didn’t get pictures of the Pride Parade.  I was too busy walking in it and zilling along with the other women.  Callie and Trish’s kids held the Bennington Beledi Bellydancing Banner and the rest of us followed.

Julz, all attitude, while we waited in the shade for the parade to begin

We zilled to the beat of the music the band was making in the truck ahead of us. Behind us, there were people on rollerskates.  But I didn’t get to see the rest of the people in the parade.

Those watching waved rainbow flags and danced along with the music.  All kinds of people were there, and I felt good being able to show our support for the LGBTQ community by marching and dancing.

It didn’t rain as predicted, the sun shone on us all.

But they had already rescheduled the performances to be inside the Unitarian Universalist Church.  The stage area was too small for us to perform on so we chose a larger area to dance off to the side.

Emily leading with Callie, and Trish.  Julz, Kathleen and I are in the chorus behind them.

There weren’t a lot of people in the audience and Julz gave the talk about how it doesn’t matter how many people are watching.  Kathleen reminded us that we dance for ourselves.

A good audience is a bonus.

We started off in a circle doing Gratitude, a dance movement that is our way of giving thanks for being able to dance.  Then we danced for 17 minutes to five songs.  Callie and Trish danced while balancing swords on their heads to one song.  And we all danced to two slow songs and two fast ones.

Jon took a ton of pictures, all the ones on this post except for the one of Julz before the parade.  He missed the parade but had enough to do to find a place to park and get to the performance space.

Trish and Callie balancing swords

For me, it was the best time I ever had performing.

I practiced smiling in the car as I drove to the parade and smiled as I zilled all through that too.  “Remember,” Julz said to me before we began walking, say to yourself, “This is me.”

And I puffed up, my spine clicking into place, my shoulders sliding down my back, my chin square with my neck, my lips curling up at the ends.

Kathleen, me,Emily and Julz in the back.

I had fun.  I loved walking down the street in the hot sun and enjoyed taking the lead on the slow songs and ditching it on the fast songs.

(We change the lead constantly throughout each song. And again, the dance isn’t choreographed, we all just follow the leader and never know who will lead next.  We also danced in a chorus.  This means that three or four of us stand in a line, zilling doing a slow dance move in sync with each other while   two or three dancers dance in front of us.)

At one point I was following Callie and moving my hips in the wrong direction.  But I just kept at it till I could make an effortless correction.  I doubt anyone in the audience noticed.

Mostly, I played it safe leading with the easy moves I am most comfortable and familiar with.  But as I took the lead during the last slow song I got the timing just right on a move that worked perfectly with the music and heard the supportive yips from my fellow dancers behind me.

That always feels good.

Julz, Emily, me and Kathleen

It turned out that the audience was a great one.

They were right there with us the whole way.  And when they started clapping to the beat (Even Jon put down his camera to clap along) in the last song, we dancers in the chorus clapped our zills together with them.  It was completely spontaneous a direct connection between us all.

Jon said it was the best performance he ever saw us give.  He was so moved he felt like crying.

I’m not sure why it felt especially good today.  I think it was partly the atmosphere of the Pride Parade and the people who were there.  But we were all in sync too.  It’s the first time I have had the chance to perform with all the women in my class.  In the past, there were always one or two people who couldn’t make it because of work or other obligations.

Maybe that had something to do with it.  After all those years of learning and  practicing together, sticking it out through the pandemic it felt like a kind of rebirth.

Or a coming together, a celebration of years of dancing together.

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