Saturday, April 17, 2010

Starting at the Beginning

My interest in dance started at a very young age. When I was a young girl, I had observed my girlfriends going to ballet class. Naturally, I wanted to join them. Imagine my little girl shock to learn that I was 'far too large of a girl' to be a dancer.

Fast forward to age 41or so. A lifetime later. I'd been participating in aerobic dance classes. The endless repetition of the same old moves was wearing not only on my knees and ankles, but also on my nerves. The loud jarring music, the constant urging by the far too thin instructor to keep moving and the utter exhaustion that pretty much canceled out the rest of the day finally broke my spirit and I quit. Sometimes I think I'd like to go back, but then a creak in the knee or a ping in the ankle changes my mind.

Shortly after this quiet divorce between me and my only outlet for physical activity that did not involve a large gardening tool, I saw some cabaret style bellydancers at an outdoor ethnic festival. I could see the women were all close to my age and as they fluttered and spun on the stage, I felt a lift in my spirits. I waited for the performance to be over, and I approached the women, secured a business card and a time and place for a lesson.

My first bellydance lesson was something of a fiasco. I was one of 2 new students in the class and the teachers were at once helpful and off-putting. I borrowed the red coin scarf and tied it around my hips over my grey sweat pants and struggled to follow along as they haltingly taught me a choreography. We finally ended the class with a short demonstration by the teachers of what we could eventually expect the be able to do.

I was less than impressed. I was largely disappointed. Clearly, this bellydance thing was not for me. I resigned myself to the fact that my long ago run-in with the dance teacher was actually true and I was far too large of a girl to be dancing.

About a year later, I was at that same ethnic festival enjoying the dancing on the stage. The next act was announced and this group of women in the most outlandish costumes I had ever seen took the stage by storm. They danced together. The audience clapped and the music was uplifting and exciting. They looked happy. The looked AT each other and smiled. They weren't dancing for us, the audience. They were dancing for themselves. It wouldn't have mattered if the audience were there at all. I could see that they would be doing this in their living rooms or the park or the sidewalk downtown and be just as happy.

A moment of crystal clarity hit me and I made note of the name of the group. I was unable to catch the attention of the dancers in the crowd as they made their way to their next performance on the other side of the festival. A few days later, I plucked up my courage, looked them up in the phone book and called.

My first lesson was early on a Saturday morning. The teacher was fun and engaging. She smiled. She told me stories about her life. She asked me about myself and my life. She taught me the basics in that first hour and by the time I had walked out the door, I knew I was hooked.

The teacher, Barb, taught me a particular style of dance that day. She called it American Tribal Style Bellydance. ATS for short. Today, more than 5 years later, I am still hip deep in my love affair with this style of dance. It is as much a part of me as my love for gardening or for dogs. I can't seem to stop and Lord knows I've tried. It's in my blood. This sisterhood makes me stronger because it is bigger than the sum of its parts. It is bigger, it seems, than even I could be.

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