Everyone tells this story I think, the "How I came to bellydance" saga. Sometimes it is after a lifetime of other dance practice. Sometimes it is inherited, picked up during childhood through a mother or sister or family friend. Sometimes it doesn't come until later, a college class, a chance restaurant encounter, a Parks and Rec. class.
My friend A started dancing raqs sharqi *thinks* 6 years ago? I'd say, at least 6 years. She encouraged me to look into middle eastern/bellydance (ME/BD) classes, but since I was trying to finish up college/totally burnt out on classes and working full time, I just really didn't have it in me to pick up a regular class for fun. Though I loved dancing for fun, it all took place at clubs or parties. Note; yes, there is a part of me that keeps saying "If I had started when she first told me about it, I'd be x-number of years further along my dance education".
Then, in 2002, friends of mine convinced me to attend the Fairie Festival at Spoutwood Farm. I wasn't convinced until I got there that this would be a good thing, it sounded a little too twee for my taste. But not only was I enchanted by the festival, but I also got a chance to see Fleur and Geela dancing American Tribal Style belly dance (with live music) as the (then) current incarnation of Philadelphia Tribal Bellydance. There are no pictures of that performance on the site, but you can see them again in 2003. I was particularly enamored of Geela's dancing, and also of the communication that was occurring between the dancers. I didn't know what ATS was, that this was improv, what defined their dance style, any of it. All I knew was I liked what I saw, and I wanted a chance to dance like that.
Now, a side note. I have always been a terribly shy and private person, one who prefers to take the safe route than to embarrass myself in front of people (even ones I love and trust). The same year I was lured to the Fairie Festival I also met ding0 (my SO), who has no problem jumping into new activities, giving things a shot, trying something new, and being a spectacle. Thankfully, some of this has worn off on me. It really involves a large dose of, "Honestly, if people don't like it they can just f@!k off" combined with a bit of "I'm tired of living my life constantly worried about what other people think" and a whole lot of "I need to get the hell over myself." It's been liberating.
Anyway, in 2002 there were no ATS classes in Baltimore. Hell, I couldn't make heads or tails of what the teachers in the area were doing at the time. I remember looking at Piper's classes, and checking out Latifa's site, and wondering how I could ever take a class with a roomful of strangers, doing something that involved me moving and other people looking at my body. I felt stuck.
Then, in late 2003, my friend Sara Sathya (who I met through ding0, see it's all his fault!) told me she was going to start offering tribal bellydance classes in Baltimore. She'd had ATS/tribal instruction before, and, tired of waiting for a teacher to appear in Baltimore, decided to start a beginner level class. For Christmas that year, ding0 gave me pink hip scarf and my first session of classes that started in January.
I took that hipscarf (it was a little small, I soon replaced it with a red one with tassel trim I knit) to my first class, and I wore a black t-shirt and black elastic waisted pajama pants, and socks, because I hated to be barefoot. I remember learning my ATS posture and Hug A Big Tree/basic arm position, the taqsim and maya (out-and-up and over-and-out horizontal hip figure eights), and the Turkish/Turkish Shimmy. I could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror. Instead, I focused on the music, which I really liked (including selections from Arabian Travels I and II, which became my first dance music purchases), on how good it felt to move, on how though I knew I wasn't doing everything exactly right I felt as if this was something I would be able to understand one day, on the other students who were also working hard to understand the movements. It was one of the hardest hours of learning I have ever had, and also one of the easiest.
That night I went home and blathered to ding0 about class and showed him what I learned. And the next week, I went back and I practiced those moves and I learned some new ones, and I've been going back, to class or practice, ever since. This week it's been three years since my first belly dance class. Next week I'll go to practice on Monday, I'll listen to the music, I'll look at myself in the mirror, I'll watch the women I am dancing with, I'll practice something I know and I'll learn something new.
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