New Mexico’s Floralia Festival 2010
Photos by Surreyya Hada, Nyla Crystal and Bob Lindbloom
posted August , 2010
The Floralia Festival is held annually in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico by dancer Selena Kareena. Truth or Consequences, NM or “TorC” is a popular stop on the way to Elephant Butte Reservoir, a place of decadence on many a weekend during the summer, and a large body of water and also hot springs in an otherwise remote and land locked area who’s only tributary is the Rio Grande.
This trip to the southwest was a very emotionally charged and difficult trip to make for me. I spent much of my adolescence and teen years in the southwest US, and experienced some of the most difficult twists and turns in my lifetime while I was there. Many times a turn of events will bring us to another place to make a new beginning–a deep and sudden loss inspired my original journey to California, and two recent losses inspired my return back to the desert, opening wounds I nearly forgot existed. It was fortunate to have Floralia to attend; it served as a focus on something I enjoy with all my heart–dance.
Even more inspiring were my conversations with Selena Kareena prior to the event. Was it possible that a human being was genuinely this wonderfully welcoming and kind?
The southwest is rich with dramatic landscape, almost a moonscape really, interspersed with thorny cacti, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, scorpions, coyotes, and all sorts of creepy, crawly, dangerous things. Overlapping mesas, mountain vistas and colored stone put on a daring display of vibrance and contrast especially during sunrise and sunset, and often a rock concert of light and sound with desert thunderstorms.
The population is rich in diversity, yet equally dramatic in its politics–with the exception of some pockets of eccentricity and art–similar to a dainty blossom resting atop a spiny cactus, undercurrents of poetic, dangerous and melancholy merged all in one setting.
My partner in crime, Nyla Crystal, met me at the airport in Albuquerque at the rental car stop. We were greeted on a long desert highway by a windstorm so thick the sky was a deep haze of orange from the twisting sand. A blend of rock and metal songs from my high school years were blaring on the stereo and Nyla politely listened to a dozen or more stories from my teen years while I stewed in deja vu. California seemed imaginary, and I was back in my youth. I absolutely insisted we have at least one sit down meal of Mexican food – the kind the locals have. We stopped in Socorro for a mix of real Mexican favorites (not Cali-Mex food) accompanied by Tecate with lime and real sopapillas, which are Mexican doughnuts served hot and topped or stuffed with honey. You Texans and New Mexicans know the difference and still struggle to find this decadence outside the motherland, and I know it!
After a refuel, we headed for our homestead, the Haunted Old Cuchillo Hotel and Bar. Sounds of specters have been recorded here, and we even have our own bizarre stories to share. The caretaker, Josh Bond was an incredible host, and gave ample time to show us the many historical features and characteristics of this old Butterfield Stagecoach stop. From the worn-down doorway thresholds to hundred-year-old cans of unopened tortillas, this place was ripe with vibes of times past. Naturally, two Belly dancers needed as many pictures as possible, and several came with unexplained orbs and lights and shadows. The main hotel had been converted into a lovely 3 bedroom home that can sleep up to 8 people–enough space for two creative types to relax and let imagination carry them away.
Let’s just say it was eerie enough that the two of us were only out of each other’s sight when indisposed.
Shortly after we checked in to our hotel, we headed to downtown Truth or Consequences to meet the dancers who were gathering for the first night of the festival. The film “Belly” by Cecilia Rinn was screening, and it was a great opportunity to get to know our hostess and others who were participating. We were greeted at the front door by a hug you would never forget by none other than Leyla Najma of Albuquerque. Seldom have I ever felt so welcome!
I strongly recommend a viewing of “Belly”, if nothing other than to gain new perspective on this community we are all in together.
Having grown up in the southwest, I was uniquely curious about how this community thrives in an otherwise conservative setting. I remember opinions back in the ‘80s and ‘90s of Belly dance being akin to “stripping”, and I wanted to know what these ladies did to thwart that perspective.
On our first work day, Nyla and I participated in each other’s workshops and had a wonderful day getting to know our students and stir up excitement about the festival. We were invited to perform a duet in 9/8 to live music alongside heavy hitters like Helena Vlahos, Farasha, Leyla Najma and Tasha Banat in a lovely restaurant in T or C. Unfortunately, on the way to the restaurant, two fellas were driving and talking side by side in pick-up trucks doing about 20 mph in a 45 zone. When they stopped talking, the driver in the left lane sped up, and I followed suit to pass the old feller who was still going 25mph. We were immediately greeted by the fine men of the T or C Police Department and were cited for “following too closely” after the officer decided I was weaving in and out of traffic – traffic being the other two cars on the road. We made a great impression by being fashionably late since the cop took 45 minutes to run the plates on our rental car and decide I was not a felon. Not to mention the fact that we were wearing 2 pounds of makeup, giant hoop earrings and cover-ups one block from an event the whole town knew about.
“Never mind the four swords you see in the back seat sir. They are just props. …Really.”
The Floralia Festival was an amazing production and ran quite smoothly–given all the dancers it supported. There were so many entertaining acts it could truly be three shows in one. Regardless of the typical challenges associated with these things, and we dancers have seen many a technical difficulty in our times, Selena was smooth as silk. She made each dancer feel as if they were the most important person in the room. The event ran well beyond overtime, because Selena wanted to make sure each dancer had her moment. There were many creative and emotional dancers, and sparks of true brilliance, imagination, and innovation. I was beyond impressed to learn one dancer even danced to another dancer’s CD seamlessly; we would have never known had we not seen her hysterical (Hello! Why?) shortly after her performance and being comforted by Selena. It was surreal to be okay with her caring so much about her performance to be that upset afterward as well.
It’s awesomely awakening to remember how important certain events can be to people–once you can peek outside your own bubble. There were acts of selflessness. Tasha Banat shared her spotlight to get the crowd up to dance instead of taking it for herself. There was an unspoken understanding of the hard work it takes to put something like this together, and the camaraderie and kinship of sharing the love of a common thing.
Countless were the conversations we had with total strangers about how we all really needed this weekend away to connect with the feminism that was a stranger in our everyday lives. There was a sisterhood–something that has been all too often evasive here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and surprisingly so obvious at this event.
Truly, there were women here from all walks of life, celebrating, sharing, relating, healing, and discussing it all in real time. Some were recently divorced, some newly in love, some newly out of love, some too young to know what that all means, some to old to care, but somehow arrived all at a common place, sharing the human condition.
After a deliciously late night, we headed to the new 24-hour Wal-Mart to replace the occasional necessary beer we had coveted from the fridge at our hotel. There is still a “Blue Law” in the southwest. You can’t buy alcohol after early hours on certain nights. Thwarted, we hastily returned to our lovely haunted oasis to find the lights on, and door unlocked. After learning of a burglary a few miles down the road the day before, we did what any two with-it belly dancers would do; we got our 5 foot scimitars out of the trunk of our rental car and cased the joint. Rather than waking the owner or calling the cops, we searched each room, scimitars in hand, and even made a second round sweeping under the beds with swords. After a few trips to the car, we realized how easy it was to accidentally not close the front door all the way.
I close with my opening here: this trip to the southwest was a very emotionally charged and difficult trip to make. Circumstances are unimportant. Those of you who have been around the block a bit can certainly insert your own stories. This was a trip I could not have made had it not been for the wonderful community, camaraderie, and spirit shared by Selena Kareena and her magical gathering of women at Floralia. Also, I had the blessing of a partnership in dance with Nyla who listened attentively to my history and horror with the southwest and helped me turn it into an adventure as opposed to a memorial. I can’t think of anyone else I would have rather pulled a “Thelma and Louise” for this was surely it! A gentle wind blows, a flower blooms atop a thorny cactus, a tarantula stumbles across the sand, and I am, somehow, strangely peaceful inside.
Top photo:Old Cuchillo Bar and Hotel Caretaker Josh Bond with Nyla Crystal and Surreyya Hada in haunted Old C Bar.
Photos from the Floralia Festival coming soon!
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