The Bellydancer in my life, Part 2

I wonder what would have happened if I had not met my friend Donna? I was in my early/mid 30s and working at the Teen Parent Centre as a childcare provider when Donna came in one day. (Not as a teen parent! Wouldn’t she get a chuckle out of that!) I don’t remember why she was there, but whoever she was with introduced us, and then said, “…and she’s a bellydancer!” (People do that to me too – it is very embarassing because it is usually said out of context – for example: here I am, the administrative assistant at a President’s Committee meeting,wearing a business suit with my hair in a bun, sitting very professionally with my lap top ready to take minutes when the Chair introduces me, “…and this is Nita who will be taking our minutes – and she’s a bellydancer!” aaaak (thinks me) as though I am a circus performer or something that the rest of the world would like to gawk at, lol! I wonder, would they add that little tag if we had a different hobby? “This is our administrative assistant Nita – she’s a stamp collector!) Anyway, Donna started to give the usual response when being introduced to a total stranger with that interesting bit of aside tacked on (blushing,  embarassed laugh, etc) when I  raised my hand above my head, circled my wrist & undulated my hand & arm down my torso, and said “I do that!” I do that! I was so excited! This was the first clue I had that there was bellydancing in Whitehorse. At that point, I had not done any formal dancing in a class since high school, although I was still tapping out zill patterns on the steering wheel of the car or the handle of the shopping cart (some habits just never die), and whenever we were out for a drink and I had the opportunity to get up on the dance floor, my movements were more Eastern than Western and I still bellydanced around the house to whatever was on the radio. And Donna, she just about fell over when I did my little hand & arm undulation. “oh my god!” she said, “you have to come to my bellydance class with me!”

Who was teaching bellydance in the mid 1990s, you might wonder…Lana Dowie! Lucky Lana had her own dance studio down the Carcross Road and I phoned her up and arranged to come to a class. She was reluctant at first to accept a new student into the only class she had running at the time, which was the advanced class. She wanted me to wait until the next year when she would be offering a beginner class again. But I pleaded on hands and knees (well, maybe not on hands and knees) and told her that I had danced before, and she relented and said I could come to ONE CLASS and she’d see how I did.  No promises that I could stay (which I understand completely now that I am a teacher myself.)  I agreed. I attended. I showed her what I could do and I got to stay in the advanced class.

When I was dancing with Lana’s class and her Jewels of the Yukon dance troupe, things were very different than they are today. We were pretty isolated from the rest of the bellydancing world. I remember getting our first PC around that time, but not browsing internet until a couple of years (years!!!) later because I was …scared of it. lol! Anyway, Lana’s class felt very comfortable because she was using the very same LPs that I had been stealing from my mom (George Abdo & Eddie the Sheik) all those years ago. So I fit right in and felt at home. I remember my excitment and enthusiasm and how I always wanted to know more. It was never enough. Lana saw that and spent extra time with me, lending me her videos etc. I was in awe of her – she was “The Teacher” and I had (have) a great respect for her as such. I will always be grateful to Lana for recognizing a special passion in me and  encouraging me on my path. And I will always be grateful to Donna for leading me to her.

You’ve come a long way, baby! Here I am, Spring 1996. Home made costume of course! They all were!

The bellydancer in my life, part 1

When I was a young girl in the 70s, my mom started taking bellydance classes at Tacoma Community College.  I remember being fascinated by my mom’s dancing, by the costumes and especially by the music.  She had wonderful albums with tantalizing pictures on the fronts of them…George Abdo’s “The Art of Bellydance” and “Strictly Belly Dancing” by Eddie (The Sheik) Kochak. Bejeweled dancers in satin & chiffon, with green eye shadow shown lounging around tuxedo-clad dumbek players. The 1970s was they hey-day of what we now call “American style” or “Cabaret style” bellydance. Routines were commonly 5- or 7-parts and any dancer worth her salt always included finger cymbals, veil and floorwork into her routine. Costumes were largely homemade, and I remember my mother patiently sewing hundreds of gold coins onto a bra and belt that she had constructed herself. She bought yards and yards of chiffon and sewed harem pants, a circle skirt & veil – one outfit in pink and another in seafoam green. She had a long curly wig, and when she wore her dancing outfit and played her finger cymbals and came twirling into the room, I could hardly recognize her. She wasn’t my mom anymore – she was the bellydancer!

Here is a picture of my beautiful mother, dancing in July 1975 when I was an impressionable 14 years old. If you (reader) are one of my students, you will recognize this black veil from the “loaner bag” of veils that I bring to class. Yes – this is the very same black burned velvet veil that many of you have also danced with. See how things are a circle? Turn, turn, turn…a time for every purpose under heaven.

I loved to imitate my mom as she practiced in the living room, and I remember taking those veils and record albums up into my room where I would dance and dance. Mom gave me my own set of finger cymbals, and my thumb & middle finger still sometimes catch me unawares as I unconsciously tap out the RRRLRRRLR pattern of the beledi rhythm that became an ingrained part of me. 

When I was turning 16 and my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I asked them to take me to George’s Restaurant in Seattle, where a bellydancer performed regularly. I will never forget that night. We were seated in a special part of the restaurant that had been roped off (because I was a minor and in those days minors were not allowed on licenced premesis) just for us. I don’t remember what I ate, but I do remember having a Shirley Temple to drink. I don’t remember what I wore, and I barely remember my parents being there at all. What I do remember vividly and in full colour was the dance floor. And the bellydancer. I don’t remember what moves she did, just that she danced and danced and danced and I was completely and uterly and magically transported. Away. Later in the evening, men from the tables got up and danced Greek line dances and that was fascinating, too. But it was the bellydancer that I was there to see, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I wanted to take bellydance lessons so badly! Lucky for me, my grandmother also wanted to take them and she enrolled the two of us together. I don’t remember how old I was. My teacher was Diane Edrington – Kedijah was her dance name.  Here are a couple of photo of her.

My grandmother and I went for a semester, and then Grammy didn’t want to go anymore, and I didn’t have anyone to drive me, so I didn’t go anymore either.  And then I grew up and graduated from high school and went off to university and got married and only danced around the house. Until I met my friend Donna  who introduced me to Lana – and that is a whole other story for another day.

Dance in joy!