The Gilded Serpent presents...

Child's Journey into Bellydance

by Jawahare

My six year old daughter came home from school one day with an announcement regarding an upcoming school fundraising event: the annual talent show.  We had attended the show the previous year when she was in kindergarten and this year she wanted to be a part of the action.  When she told me she wanted to belly dance, I was not prepared for the mix of emotions I would experience over the subsequent weeks.  Her first journey to the stage evoked many memories of my own experience as a dancer, and I felt it was a significant passage for us both.

"It's OK if I don't make it in," Alexa said in a carefree tone. I caught Alexa's eye in the mirror as my hands moved quickly to gather stray strands of her hair into a pony tail on top of her head. I opened my mouth to respond with some profound statement that would not come off like a trite cliché. She silenced me with a slight squirm, expressing her desire to move on. With my tongue still tripping over fading words of wisdom, I was left to gather her scattered school things as she waltzed out of the girl's bathroom into the multi-purpose room. Emerging from the bathroom, I noted the purposeful stride of the talent show coordinator as she approached us. Her eyes zeroed in on Alexa's bare, round child belly. She joined us in a huddle, her speech increasing in tempo as she explained in broken sentences something about school dress codes, appropriate costuming, and would it be possible to wear a leotard?

I could feel Alexa wilting by my side.  If there were a meter to measure self esteem, hers had just gone from a 10 to a 3. 

“No problem” I said slowly, as much to Alexa as to the talent teetotaler, “We have a black leotard with gold glitter designs that will match her costume beautifully.”

Relieved, we broke loose, she stalking her next crisis, Alexa and I quietly exiting to join the excited group of kids waiting to audition.  Alexas’ eyes, fixed downward, didn’t notice the effect her changed appearance had on the group.  She wrapped her veil around her and, appearing  slightly withdrawn, shunned initial approaches from her friends.  Finally, one girl asked Alexa to spin, enamored with the flowing quality of Alexa’s sequin flowered circle skirt.  I could see a smile sneak up on Alexa’s face as she started to move.  Her eyes brightened and she allowed her veil to catch the afternoon breeze.  She danced about, fluttering and dipping like a butterfly, talking lightly to her friends as one by one different acts were chosen to audition.

No sooner had she gained her confidence and composure when a group of older girls arrived wearing belly dance-type attire.  They also had veils, and with their animated movements, they commanded lots of space in the small school courtyard.  They had a certain troupe dynamic that seemed familiar and that as an outsider, I found vaguely intimidating. I pushed away my old belly dance baggage, calling forth curiosity, seeing that Alexa was intrigued as well.  Maybe this could be an opportunity for some juvenile belly-bonding.

One of the girls broke off from the group, sidling up to Alexa. My intuition said her mission wasn’t to share and care.

“So what are you doing?” she asked Alexa. Alexa, holding herself quite still now simply responded the obvious, “Belly dancing." 

The girl then asked Alexa to “show some of her moves." In the same brief manner, tinged with a bit of irritation, Alexa refused. This catty little interchange recalled the one belly dance joke I know: How many belly dancers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Two, one to do it, the other to say, “I can do that”.

The tense dialogue was interrupted by the announcement of Alexa’s turn to audition. “Great, “I thought, “Out of the pan into the fire.”  The “judges” came across as well-meaning parents who were trying to take the task seriously.  They seemed impressed that Alexa, a mere first grader, was auditioning as a solo act.  Without prompting, Alexa positioned herself on the stage and I quickly inserted her music in the boom box that they provided.  It was a two-minute excerpt from the song “Ojos Assi” by Shakira.  The music has a Latin and Mid-Eastern flavor with an appealing cross cultural beat. 

When developing a plan for her show, Alexa and I had discussed some ideas in loose choreographic terms.  Very loose. There had been some time spent on entrance options, final poses and some veil techniques, but each time Alexa practiced, the dance would change.  Sometimes she would do more hipwork, while other times she would focus more on arms and hands.  After a week of playing around with the music she settled on a beginning and final pose. Everything sandwiched in between those choreographic qualifiers would be a newly minted expression of the music through Alexa’s unique blend of movement  experiences and sensations During the audition it occurred to me that all the other acts were choreographed and momentarily I felt like an impostor.  Then it was over and I could see the judges looking at Alexa with pride and admiration,  emotions that I could just now allow myself to feel. 

The day after the audition we checked the acceptance posting outside the school office and saw that she was # 7 ( her lucky number) on the show line-up.   There was a one week interim between the audition and the actual show.  During that time there was a dress rehearsal and the kids had an opportunity to fine-tune their acts.  Alexa and I had more time to polish and refine “Ojos”. 

I felt I was in a continuous mode of finding a balance between directing her creative process and standing back to allow her to discover the pace of her own process. 

One way I allowed for this was to listen for her invitation to assist her in aspects of her dance. She asked me at one point how to do certain veil techniques that she had observed. I leapt at the chance to demonstrate and explain and had to be ready when she indicated a desire to do some shimmies or start a tickle fight. The experience for me was both exhilarating and humbling.

The night of the show, Alexa talked with excitement about the group of her "fans" coming to see her. We had invited family member and friends and as Alexa took the stage, I wondered if they felt as giddy as I did. My whole body was tense with anticipation. Poised and awaiting her music, enveloped in a white puff of veil, she looked so small, but she emanated presence. The sound of violin snaked through the audience as she extended her arms slowly. Like the steady pull of an archers bow, I could feel the quality of length and stretch going through her as she waited for the beat of percussion to begin. With the sound of rhythmic drumming she swept the veil over head, stepping forward with authority. Watching Alexa dance, I could feel myself responding viscerally. Moving with her in the smallest way, I had to control my urge to direct her gestures or body language with significant looks or thoughts. She used the entire stage to weave her veil magic before dropping her veil and gracing us with a big grin. As the music came to a close, she assumed her final pose with serpentine hand movements twinning above her head and a sweet, "namaste" bow.

The post show atmosphere was festive. The teachers, students and parents enjoyed some social time over ice cream sundaes. As Alexa dove into her concoction of mint chip, whipped cream and gummi bears, people approached us asking about her dance and performance experience. When asked about her training, she responded, "My Mama teaches me."

I feel though that this is not entirely true. I may be teaching her, but not in the traditional didactic sense. She has learned from watching me and from dancing with me, but there is another important element present in her movement. She learns from being comfortable in her body as she listens to the music and is willing to receive inspiration for her dance in the moment. I like to think of this quality as dancing from the inside out, rather than the outside in. If this attribute is one that I have passed to her in any part, then I believe that I have given her a gift that equals or surpasses any particular technique or choreography.

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