Friday, February 23, 2007

Looking With A (Gleam In My) Dancer's Eye

February blog carnival topic

Whenever my mom and I go clothes shopping together (which is not enough) we always make sure to point out any sequined, beaded, embellished clothing as "Nana Clothes". My grandmother loved such items; all of those decorated holiday sweaters, dress up sparkly tops and glittered shoes for going out (I wore a pair of her 1960s dancing slippers in high school).

My mom dresses more in earth tones, and it seemed for a while that perhaps this eye for the the shiny had skipped me too. I started dressing in (almost) all black starting in middle school. This followed a brief neo-hippie phase, until I figured out I hated the music, and though I loved the clothing I didn't like identifying myself as a part of that crowd. Basic black became the standard instead, more in the teen angst version than any attempt at being chic or sophisticated.

20 years later black still dominates in my wardrobe, though there has been brief forays into color. I'll wear blue jeans now. I own some red Danskos and boots. Purple, ironic shades of pink, and deep jewel tones will make an occasional appearance. But I think all the years of monochromatic dressing left me with some kind of inherent inability to color coordinate. Okay, there was the entirely chartreuse green outfit: dress, tights and matching underwear set, accented by my hair (dyed with one side a matching green, one side magenta) and a pair of thrift scored, Italian made, raspberry suede, low winkle picker boots. But other than that it's been mostly black, black, black . . . and striped socks.

Then came the dance classes, and my subsequent browsing on belly dance websites and discussion forums. Suddenly my world was a kaleidoscope! Sure, I may prefer to dance tribal, and my natural inclination is to the bright primary and deep earth tones found in many of the ATS costumes, but really I'm not picky. I love everything from the pastel of layered chiffon circle skirts to the deep tones of a velvet beledi dresses. Screaming pink Egyptian style lycra costume? Sure! Dusty browns of a minimalist tribal fusion outfit? Yep! The occasional foray into a dramatic white bedlah, the antithesis of my all-black days? Love it! Sure, I don't WEAR all of these, but I love cruising costume vendors and dancer's galleries, gobbling up the bright costume confections.

What really grabs my eyes though is the shine, the sparkle. Shisha mirrors on a tribal belt, glittering fringe dripping from a bra, sequins edging a veil; they all elicit a low, "Oooo, shiny, pretty" from me. When watching a dancer I tend to focus in and out, from costume to dancing, following a snaky arm up to a sequined bra to shoulder shimmies down an undulation to the belt and fringe accentuating a hip figure eight. I sit back and take in the entire package of dancer and outfit and music, then focus in on tricky technique, clearly expressed emotion or a particularly stunning piece of costuming. When I see a vendor's table of bedlah or rack of dresses I head over to check them out, drinking in the piles of coins, sequins and beads. Sure, I tend to tassels and pantaloons and coin bras for my performance gear, but I am a sucker for the glitter.

It took me about a year into my dance classes to realize that belly dance indulges my eye for "Nana Clothes". Perhaps there is some deep seated happy association that links fond memories of my grandmother and her sparkly clothes to the pleasure I get from watching (and being) a glittering, shining performer. Or perhaps the love-of-the-sparkly gene didn't pass me by, it was waiting for just the right catalyst to turn it on. Dancing is a hell of a lot of fun, but to quote Baltimore performance group Fluid Movement, glitter makes it better.


Terpsichore said...

Beautiful essay, and a very familiar feeling of change through dance for me. I've always felt very conservative and now I'm a big haired, red nailed Cabaret style dancer. Never thought I'd see the day.

Your site is terrific; I've added you to the blogroll on my blog and hope to read more soon!

Amy said...

Thanks so much! I need to start getting the blog ideas out of my head and into the computer.

PS: I love the leggings post. I gave in and bought a black pair that sports a tiny print of skulls. How 1980s glam metal of me!