you get to a certain age, you know that you know....
Photo courtesy of Carl Miller and Shibar
Each of us
embarks on a personal evolutionary process as we develop into
our womanhood. Our obligation as women is to help other women
in this process. We should recognize and act on this mission
I am now
in my 56th year in 2008. When I was a child, we
were told directly and indirectly what we were to become. Girls
were not supposed to be too smart otherwise the boys would
not feel superior. Women were to become mothers. If we wanted
to have a career, we were to become nurses not doctors, teachers
not principals, secretaries not bosses, waitresses not restaurant
owners and maids not employers of maids. We diminished ourselves
by the expectation that we could do one job in this collection
of professions but not the other.
remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I
stated emphatically that I wanted to be “Betty Boop.” My teacher
patted me on the head and told me it was impossible. I did
not believe her, but I said that my second choice was to be,
“a gunman’s moll and lay across a piano and smoke a cigarette
in a long holder and sing long, slow songs.” My teacher cleared
her throat and made a note to tell my parents that I was watching
too much television. I did not believe her when she said that
this too was impossible. I sighed patiently and told her that
my third choice was to be a “cancan dancer in a saloon Out
West.” She tried to convince me that these were not “real”
people and she asked; “Wouldn’t you be happier as a Mommy?”
I said a polite; “No, thank you.” and flatly announced that
these other people had more fun than Mommies.
The awkward stage, a funny looking
half Middle Eastern girl in a neighborhood where
everybody was of the same ethnic ilk and it was not
Beginning to blossom
I look back
at my deliberate decision to not have children and although
I greatly admire and respect the path of motherhood, it was
not for me. I became a “shampoo girl,” a receptionist, a waitress,
a clerk, a singer, a poet, a writer, a political activist,
a social worker, a therapist, a dancer and a teacher. Through
dance, I have taught thousands of women to come back into their
bodies. In class, I see how week after week, they stand taller
and laugh louder. They stop frowning at their own reflections
in the mirror and begin to smile at the reflections that return
their gaze as they discover the magic of dance. They walk with
more grace when they go home and I know that these happy effects
will last long after they discontinue taking lessons. Through all my
careers, I have sought to help people walk with more grace,
peace and power. I found a different path for motherhood for
myself. The women whose lives I influence, they are my dancing
In my 50th year,
I caught a glance at my reflection in a mirror while I was
brushing my hair after a sweet scented bath. I was struck by
what I saw. I marveled at how my arms are different than a
man’s arms, my skin is silky soft, my facial features delicately
defined, my bones strong but compact, my shape rounder, my
voice more melodic. I loved the wrinkles that smiled back at
me because they indelibly and permanently linked me to my father’s
eyes and my mother’s mouth. I liked what I saw. In that moment,
I fell in love with my womanhood.
a time when many of my friends had stopped feeling attractive,
I saw my femininity in a new light. This decade of my life
is my favorite...so far.
In my teens,
I acted as if I was an adult, quite unsuccessfully. I navigated
those pseudo-adult waters in my leaky little boat. Those were
my first swimming lessons. I talked too much and only halfway
listened. Everything was shiny and new and I basked in the
brilliance of recently discovered colors, flavors, sights and
smells. I tried on different identities with earnest determination.
I discarded the ones that did not fit, then I retrieved and
hugged them to my budding young body, the way children shift
their loyalties from doll to doll. I lied and pretended that
I was not afraid. I misunderstood the world because I saw it
in extremes. I sought logic and order: good things were supposed
to happen to good people, things should be black or white not
sliding through shades of gray and life was supposed to be
fair. I was wrong a lot. I described my interests in terms
of “loving” not “liking” and I enthusiastically “loved” almost
everything. I got angry for reasons that were not clear and
I acted angry when I thought I was supposed to. I burned a
bra without really understanding why, but then I bought a new
bra that fit better. I was clueless but chanted slogans vigorously.
I confused myself by thinking too hard and I behaved in response
to my insecurities. I thought people were looking at me. I
went through a homely stage which was painful but educational.
I blossomed out of it and was convinced that people were looking
at me then too. I was generous and selfish and I loved life
and snow and the smell of spring and my mother’s spaghetti.
I pushed away from home with my left hand, but clung fiercely
to it with my right. I straddled the two worlds of childhood
and womanhood awkwardly on uncertain high heeled feet. Awkwardness
is, after all, a necessary part of adolescence. It is a shame
that I was not able to learn that until many years later. In
my teens, I was on the brink of this journey into womanhood.
"A baby belly dancer in my first
costume which was homemade"
of Your Pictured
In my 20s,
I struggled to convince people that I was knowledgeable when
I was not. I was wide eyed and open and full of possibilities.
I took chances because I wanted to prove to others that I was
“a real woman,” brave, smart and desirable. I was extraordinarily
lucky with the risks I took and somehow I not only survived,
but I thrived. I wanted to be good at everything so I dabbled
vigorously in too many directions. I took pride in my chosen
identity as a nonconformist and went to great lengths to conform
to the other nonconformists in my circle. I read voraciously
and expanded my taste in food, films, literature, music, dance
and the other arts. I fell in love deeply, permanently and
frequently, because I was without the perspective that can
only come from life experience. So, I could not yet understand
the concept of permanence. I superficially explored spiritual
things. I spun my wheels on a regular basis but I was learning.
I was embarking on the journey into my womanhood via a zigzag
path that accommodated ten directions at once.
In my 30s,
I began discovering my true power but did not know the best
ways to use it. Many things seemed so “heavy” and I took things
hard. I was smart but I was not wise. I married for all the
wrong reasons and divorced for all the right reasons. Despite
these things, I became more joyful. I wanted to be worthy and
to somehow prove it. I embraced higher ideals. My energy was
boundless and life was rich with promise. I explored the world
and learned that everything is cultural. I fell in love with
history over and over again. I enjoyed my discoveries and the
act of discovering was a reward in and of itself. I lived in
many places. I improved upon my skills and abilities without
any foreknowledge of how often these skills would come in handy
later in life. I was a sponge and as I soaked up life’s experiences,
I did a lot of growing up. I was in training for the woman
I was to become.
Smooching in the backyard with my
wonderful husband (who I have been with for 22 years).
In my 40s,
I was on my way. I moved with proficiency and I no longer spun
my wheels. I got organized and took big sweeping steps toward
my goals. I fell on my face at times, but I took it in stride
because by then, I already had a lot of practice with getting
back up and dusting myself off. I knew that this was a necessary
part of learning and it tempered my steel. I began to enjoy
the fruits of my labors and I had more fun. I settled comfortably
into my skin. I married for all the right reasons. I sincerely
sought numerous spiritual paths and things started to make
more sense in this dance of life. I lightened up and laughed
more. I discovered that we each come into this world to become
a certain person. In my 40s, I could see her beckoning on the
horizon. Premonitions peaked through my consciousness of who
she was supposed to become, how she would think and what she
would do in life. I realized that all along I had been molding
my clay to conform to her shape.
decade, I reinvented myself - all in service to this wondrous
evolutionary process. In my 50s, I feel as if I have finally,
fully arrived into my womanhood and I am loving it. So much
has become clear and my priorities have shifted sharply. The
things that made me cry in my 20s, that upset me in my 30s
and bothered me in my 40s, well, in my 50s, I see that those
things are actually, utterly unimportant. They had been unimportant
all along. It is amazing how liberating this realization is
because it frees up enormous amounts of energy. I look back
at those troublesome things and sometimes I laugh, sometimes
I give myself a hug, but rarely, rarely do I feel pain. I have
learned that emotional pain should be reserved for the inescapable
true traumas of life. In my fifth decade, I am smarter than
I have ever been. I have lost some speed and physical dexterity,
but I am still better at everything I do. I am funnier, more
self assured and I love to laugh at myself. I am determined
when I need to get things done, flexible when I need to let
things go and assertive without guilt. I have finally discovered
patience. I forgive the weakness of others more easily. I have
learned to not agree to requests impulsively, passively or
without thought. I have tried to take the higher road, knowing
full well that it will often be the harder road.
grew up inside of me and it has become my frequent friend.
Faith is the heart of hope. It is the backbone of courage.
Faith is a prerequisite for optimism and it is essential
for my sense of well being and even for my survival. I
have seen and experienced how faith guides us when we are
in doubt. It spurs us on when we feel defeated. Faith drives
that inner voice that whispers in the darkest moments that
things are going to be alright. I trust in that inner voice
which I believe is from divine sources. And those divine
sources are behind the instincts that I have learned to
listen to and obey without question.
I have learned
many things during my journey…
I have learned
that words are powerful. I now prefer to say: "I am" rather
than "I am trying to", "I will" rather
than "I might", "I am working on" rather
than "I hope to someday" and "I want" rather
than "I wish." I avoid wasting time or energy ruminating
about the past. "Should haves," "could haves," and "would
haves," are mostly unproductive. Regrets and guilt have
a limited usefulness. They are only productive as learning
tools that can teach us if we did something wrong and show
us how we could have done it better. Once we have learned the
lesson, we should let it go, move on and do better next time.
have learned that people who evaluate their self-worth
with their youthful appearance are doomed to spend most
of their years with unhappiness.
young forever. Physical beauty is handy but at the young stages
of life, it is inflated in its importance and most of us buy
into that. The misconception that beauty is linked to worthiness
is a notion that gets burned deeply into our brains. Unfortunately,
many people do not grow beyond that untruth and they reserve
their admiration for only those who have attractive external
features. The beauty of youth is, by its very nature, a temporary
thing and it is a superficial and deceptive indicator of worth.
Women must cultivate more enduring personal qualities or they
risk becoming shallow and uninteresting people later in life
once they are inevitably deserted by youth. I learned a lot
from my unattractive and awkward teenage phase. I developed
compassion for others from the pain I felt. Later in life,
I knew a number of exquisitely beautiful dancers and singers
who were hateful human beings. So, over time, my definition
of beauty shifted and it now requires only internal qualities
such as depth, warmth and wit.
This picture was taken right after
I divorced my first husband who was jealous of my
dancing. This was my liberation photo shoot.
I have learned
that the bad things in life help us to become who we are as
much as the good things. This realization puts a different
spin on life lessons, doesn’t it? I am grateful for the many
positive people and events in my life. I am also thankful for
my challenges and tribulations...and even for my mistakes.
It is the difficult things that teach us about our strengths.
Many of my life’s challenges have turned out to be gifts because
my appreciation for what I have has been enhanced and I have
learned how to improve my life with new ways of doing things.
It may seem ironic but it is the hard things and also our mistakes
that offer the best opportunities for growth. I liken this
process to pruning a tree (nature gives us the best metaphors,
don’t you think?). When we prune a tree, we clear away the
old material that is no longer useful and we steer the growth
into a better direction. We do this all the time when we learn
from our mistakes. Through that process, the mistakes are the
catalysts for change so they are instrumental in helping us
to shed old ways of thinking and behaving. Since we will inevitably
make mistakes on this journey, forgiveness of self is necessary,
fair and right. I will continue the process of pruning my tree
I have learned
that the body and the mind are inextricably linked and if we
do not take care of our bodies, we will have no place to live.
We must continue to be physically and mentally stimulated and
open to new ways of doing things. I have recognized that stress
is as real as a hammer that we often hold in our own hands.
Learning how to put the hammer down is a skill well-worth developing
because stress can cause very real physical and emotional illnesses.
And stress can knock you down as sure as any hammer.
have learned that there is something to learn from everyone
but it is important to be selective about who we spend
our precious personal time with.
always be drawn to the light that they see in others. I prefer
the company of people who “do” rather than people who only
talk about doing. I prefer the company of people who give rather
than take. I recognize that there is a mutual attraction between
“doers” and “talkers.” There is also an overwhelming reciprocal
magnetism between “givers” and “takers.” Beware of those who
only talk and those who only take. The “talkers” and the “takers”
can deplete our energy, absorb our strength and devour our
time if we permit it. They can steer us away from our paths
and they can even make us become more like them if we allow
it. They can steal our joy and destroy our dreams if we let
them. They will inevitably be in our lives because they are
plentiful but we must learn to maintain healthy boundaries.
This is not easy since we are socialized from childhood to
take care of others. But this is necessary if we are to continue
growing while on our journey.
I have learned
to seek the counsel and companionship of wise women. They inspire
me by example, encourage me when I have doubts and strengthen
me when I feel weak. Wise women are mostly brave. They readily
admit if they do not know something and if they make mistakes,
they say so. They know when to speak and when to refrain from
speaking. Wise women avoid sulkers, temperamental people and
those who enjoy anger. Wise women do not give their power away
and they do not allow anything or anyone to diminish them...not
the jealous boyfriend, the overly critical parent or the one
who tells us that we can't succeed when we can, not religious
beliefs that fill our hearts with fear, not the competitor
who we thought was a friend, not guilt, not fear, not emotional
pain, not anger and not lack of love. Wise women learn to let
go of the things that they cannot fix or control or improve.
Wise women love to laugh and they have an inner peace.
I have learned
to embrace the wisdom of elders and I cherish their every word.
I believe in telling my loved ones that I love them. I tell
them often and I describe in many details why I appreciate
them and how they have enriched my life. Each day is a gift.
People cross over and we must love them mightily while they
I am still
a “work in progress” and I will be until and through and beyond
my last breath. I’ve got several decades left and I can’t wait
to see what develops. I would not trade places with a 20 year
old for anything in the world.
| These are my grandparents who are Greeks from Turkey. Family was everything to them.I thought everybody had a set of grandparents who did not speak English.
But how much
easier this journey could have been if I knew a fraction of
what I know now...that, you see, is where our mission comes
in – yours and mine. We are here to generously share our wisdom
with younger women and also with those who are within and beyond
our own stages of life. As others journey from decade to decade,
we can enhance and facilitate their individual evolutionary
process. We can spare them some heartache, shore them up, inspire
hope and help them prepare for the things that will inevitably
come. If we take that extra moment to be kind and encouraging
on a daily basis, there will be a ripple effect that touches
many lives in deep, meaningful and permanent ways. Courage
and confidence are contagious. We can each in our own way,
through our own gifts share our wisdom.
is powerful but wisdom does not hit us like a thunderbolt.
Wisdom requires readiness but it must be earned through the
following things: a never ending and enthusiastic interest
in life, a gentle but determined diligence, a hefty dose of
hard work, an ever curious mind, an ability to reflect with
honesty and time for all of this to marinate.
mission, as women, is to encourage others to joyfully anticipate all the
decades of their lives. Those who have gone before us have
always and will always help us on our paths.
But we must
be even more demonstrative and generous in our attempts to
illuminate the paths for others. This is an honorable and necessary
moral obligation. There are many people within the spheres
that we influence. So we can make positive and far reaching
changes on an individual level as well as on a collective level.
We can find our dancing daughters everywhere and we can be
vehicles for change. We do this by our words and actions and
career choices, but also by our compassion and mostly by
how we live our daily lives. So, when our dancing daughters
come to us while on their journey, if they say they want to
be like Betty Boop, we can smile and say; “Wow! How cool! How
can I help?”
birthday present to myself when I turned 50.
I am posing with my beloved "Nickta."
Photo courtesy of Mike McGowan
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other possible viewpoints!
Bilezikjian Where Old World Charm Meets Musical Genius by
Elizabeth Artemis Mourat,
in the series- DANCING WITH LEGENDS…honoring the
musicians who shaped our dance world
For One, Two very different DVDs on Turkish Dance reviewed,
DVD review by Surreyya
Love Turkish Dance by Sarah Skinner & Turkish Style Belly
Dance by Elizabeth Artemis Mourat
with the Legends - honoring the musicians who shaped
our dance world... Eddie Kochak, the Sheik, the
Man by Elizabeth Artemis Mourat, & Christy
found that the melodies from Aleppo still spoke to him as an
adult. He continues, “I thought I could take some of these
melodies, put my feelings to them, and create what we now call
the Amer-Aba sound. We created simple routines for the teacher
to teach and the student to learn.
Two Doors Close Two Doors Open, New Venues in New York
City, by Sarah Skinner
was thrilled with the new place and said it reminds him of the
late night clubs in Istanbul, Turkey. At the end of the night
I walked out into the hot summer air feeling invigorated and
Dancing in Estonia by Ines Karu
in the rest of the world, the Egyptian style of belly dance is
the most popular one in Estonia. Most of the instructors and
dancers are specialized in that style. The American Tribal Style
Belly Dance is also becoming more known each day. The general
impression of belly dance in Estonia is glamorous, feminine,
luxurious, modern and elegant. It’s a time where Estonian dancers
can truly say that they can be proud to be a Middle Eastern dance
artist in Estonia.
Fest 2008, Saturday May,17 2008, Sebastopol, CA photos
and video by Lynette
Produced by BlackSheep BellyDance and held in the Sebastolpol
Community Center, photos and performance clips of Hahbi’Ru,
Unmata, Sexy Scallywags, Romka, Tempest, Clandestine, Titanya,
RockRose, Natium, Sabrina
Complete Performance Bag by Anna
performance bag is that ONE practical and necessary accessory
that aids in the creation of that ideal performance environment.
Belly Dancing 1966: B.C. (Before Choreography) Schehera
of Ohio Interviewed by John Clow
censors didn’t want me to show my stomach because you couldn’t
reveal the navel on television back then. Keeping the veil on
was kind of hard to do, dancing with a snake.
Seif: The Moment of Eternal Shimmy by Stavros Stavrou
Karayanni photos by Samira and Masouma, videos by Lynette
is now an international phenomenon. And how wonderful that a
man from Egypt has taken to the West’s belly dance stages
establishing himself as one of the greatest belly dancers and
showmen today. Such development flies in the face of those American
belly dance instructors, students, and performers who have long
considered this art defunct in Egypt and dependent upon their
kind support and cultivation.
Grows in West Virginia by Narah
has allowed us to build upon the ties we already have and extend
them to other dancers, making a community of sharing and support.
Moment with Amy Sigil, Interview and Videos by
life doesn’t get any better than this, then, it’s okay with me!
I feel so fortunate. I know so many dancers that are more talented
than I; yet, here I am! When my time is over, I will bow out
gracefully. I am thankful from the bottom of my heart.
Defamation in the Media: Do Unwary Dancers Add Harm to
the Mix? by Najia Marlyz
frustration rose when the television news commentators expressed
their puzzlement over the significance of the “shoe slapping
antics”as they attempted to interpret them for western viewers.
If they had had any inkling of the enormity of the hatred the insult
indicated, they would not have made the silly comments that they
made that day!