Part I:Beauty is Discovered
posted April 9, 2009
I was teaching a small, beginner’s level Greek Folkdancing class when I was approached by one of my students, Santa Cruz’s own Imzadi, who wanted me to review and critique her very first Bellydance solo choreography. I didn’t know the first thing about Bellydance, and told her so. "It doesn’t matter; you’re a dancer," came her reply.
So, there I was, watching Imzadi pour her heart and soul into a graceful kind of dance that I’d never really paid attention to before. I noted the beauty of her movement and her costume (even though it was just a practice or class outfit), and most especially, the beauty of the connection between the dancer and her music. I was enthralled, and found myself wanting to try this dance myself, and claim some of this beauty for my own.
Two problems immediately presented themselves:
- The first was my inherent clumsiness that I knew I could overcome with hard work; after all, here I was, the number one klutz in the universe actually teaching a dance class!
- The second, I wasn’t so sure about, which is the fact that I’m a male—and the following is my story.
Having been raised as a free thinker has always been to my advantage. Still, I wanted to know if such things as male Bellydancers existed. Imzadi told me about a dancer named John Compton and that his troupe that was called something that sounded like "Habee Rue". It took quite a bit of on-line searching to find it was actually "Hahbi’Ru", and with that, the world of male Bellydancing opened itself to me.
I found two things quickly:
- There weren’t very many male dancers—but there’s weren’t zero male Bellydancers, either.
- Although the majority of females welcome male dancers into the "Bellydance Sisterhood", there were a lot of limits put on males in dance—mostly by the males themselves!
Early on, I decided that there would be "no limits". If I were to enter this exotic world, I wanted to experience everything it had to offer!
My wife of 17 years asked, "You’re going to do…. what?"when I told her of my desire to take Bellydance lessons.
I started looking around for an instructor in the Monterey area, wanting someone who would know what to do with a male student. After a somewhat lengthy search, I found my first teacher, Janette Brenner. "Come on down," her email read, "I’ve worked with both male students and male teachers!"
Unfortunately, I had to leave her after about 6 weeks due to scheduling conflicts. Janette referred me to another teacher in town, the fabulous Jamaica Sinclair who had never taught a male student before. She asked me a lot of carefully worded questions, trying to figure out if I was sincere or not! The poor gal was obviously nervous, and perhaps, flustered; however, she warmed to me—once I brought my wife to see her perform! I remember telling my wife "I want to dance like that!" Fortunately by this time, I had gotten over the need for someone who knew what to do with me as a dance student. By that time, I had figured out that all I needed was someone to teach me just like any other student—a philosophy that I hold dear ‘til this day.
Time went on. I blundered around in the back of the class, but gradually picked up the movements. My tight chest began to loosen up. With a huge amount of effort, I "broke loose" my hips and was able to do Maias (Vertical Downward Hip Figure-8s). A Maia remains one of my favorite movements, because they’re what I consider beautiful and quintessential "Bellydancery", and I had to work hard to be able to do them! Another challenge was a movement called Snake Arms. (My left arm would do some kind of weird flailing motion if I didn’t keep a close eye on it!)
After a year of classes, Jamaica talked me into performing a sound-byte routine (1:08) with the rest of the beginners at our local Bellydance venue, the historic and famous Kalisa’s La-Ida Cafe on Cannery Row. Although I had been a performer since childhood, first, in various bands and orchestras, then with the Greek Village Dancers of the Monterey Peninsula, I was terrified. However, I did it and got through it, experiencing the ecstasy so often seen among “baby” (inexperienced) Bellydancers!
One evening, we did veil work in class. I immediately decided that this was as much fun as you could possibly have with your clothes on! I purchased my first veil that I named "Greenie" (a bright green silk veil) and started practicing with it.
In time, I performed my solo debut Belly Dance using “Greenie” for part of it. Now I’m quite well known as a "veil addict"! (You never can have too many of them!) Then somewhere, somehow, I saw someone perform something called "A Double Veil Routine". After talking a workshop from the awesome Alyne Hazard, I proceeded to practice for nine frustrating, sometimes nauseating, months.
One evening, I told my wife to "Leave those $&^@*# veils right where they are!"
I’d had a particularly frustrating time with my practice and had banished my "misbehaving" veils of tissue lame’ out to the garage! My first performance with double veils saw me prang one of the hoop earrings I was wearing into the audience! Really smooth! Uh-huh… King Klutz was at it again! In time, though, double veil became one of my specialties, and eventually, I migrated to silk veils, as I love the floating qualities of silken materials.
Other props followed: Shemadan, Isis wings, cane, and even a skirt. Being that I’m a classically trained musician, playing Sagat (Zils) was a no-brainer for me—until I tried to actually dance while playing them! That took six weeks (of an hour daily practice) to begin to be able to conquer that feat; King Klutz of the Universe was fully present! Fortunately, Jamaica had a simple, Zils-optional-choreography for class that was perfect for learning how to play finger cymbals while dancing. It consisted of simple choreography accompanied by a simple Zil part, both of which were anything but simple when put together!
Eight years later, I’m studying with no less than 3 teachers: mighty Siwa of Santa Cruz, sublime Firefly of Monterey, and ever-energetic Janelle of Santa Cruz whose class beats me to a pulp. (However, I love and need dance drills!).
…and what about my wife? She started Bellydance classes a year and a half after I began, despite telling me she’d never be interested in something as "provocative" as Bellydancing!
Stay tuned for Part II: Damn the Torpedoes and Full Speed Ahead!
Ready for more?
- 12-16-08 Whose Dance is This, Anyway? Where Do Men Fit into the Belly Dance World?
As soon as he was born, dancers of all stripes immediately started in with quot;Oh, a new little drummer for the troupe!". Excuse me? Why is there an instant assumption from birth that all little boys will be drummers and all little girls will be dancers just like mommy.Added Feature! See our Gallery of Men in Middle Eastern Dance
- 6-17-08 Tito Seif: The Moment of Eternal Shimmy
Tito 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.
- 4-23-08 From Toronto, Ontario, Canada The International Bellydance Conference of Canada
including Masouma Rose, Shira, Lynette Harris and many others. Reports are presented in video format inbedded all on the same page. Wednesday Evening show- "Remix 2007", Daytime activities on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Main Stage Shows from Thursday and Friday Night. See Friday AM report for the "MAN Panel"
- 10-6-08 "Just feel the music when you’re on stage!”Interview with Ozgen, Male Turkish Belly Dancer,
Well, I think my heart still beats for big shows and productions, as much as I know how stressful and difficult that show-life can be. I seem to not be able to live without it.
- 4-1-09 Where is the Goddess in a Vertical Drop and a Shimmy? How Can the Practice of Bellydance Lead the Dancer to a State of Grace or Enlightenment?
The most important practice of almost all mystical paths is meditation. It is universal and does not need a frame of reference from any particular theology.
- 3-31-09 Mina’s 1001 Arabian Nights
1001 Arabian Nights started with asking several of the community troupe directors and teachers I’ve known over the year if they would like to create a show with me. They all seemed very excited about the prospect of doing something “different” in the dance community.
- 3-30-09The Bellydance Museum: An Accident of Fate?
Soon, I found out my collection of Arabic instruments, ancient jewelry, and our shared bank account were all gone along with my ex-wife. The only thing I could find was a small part of my picture collection, which I now had to sell in order to stay alive.