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Margo in Missouri,
original photo by The Photographer's Guild

Gilded Serpent presents...
Sparkle Mind,
Beginner Mind
by Karen Roberts

I dragged my weary bones out of bed at 5:30 yesterday morning, March 5, 2005, grabbed some coffee and headed east toward Sedalia, Missouri, for Judy Cunningham’s Belly Dance Workshop and Bazaar with Margo Abdo O’ Dell of Minneapolis. I found the hotel with no problem and trotted up the stairs. I entered the hall and my “sparkle-ometer” went wild. I had a flashback to my childhood, the one where I’m going through my grandmother’s jewelry chest, putting on all of her jewelry and admiring myself in the mirror. Tables and racks full of costumes and costume fixings were laid out.

It was a sumptuous banquet of sequins, beads, and coins. Just like at an all-you-can-eat-buffet, I bellied up to the trough.

I discarded everything that was too short or too small which was about three-fourths of the wares (they don’t call me the Amazon for nothing) and focused on the accessories. A beaded poncho top and burn-out velvet hip scarf later, I took my place on the dance floor and listened intently to Margo. She looked like a cross between a goddess and a rock star. I made a mental note of her shortie-bead-skirt-thingy (so Josephine Baker) and tried to decipher the combination she was teaching.

I glanced over to my right—oh, my goddess, it was Zaina Ali, famed dancer extraordinaire at Tasso’s Greek Restaurant in Kansas City.

As I untangled my two left feet, I felt panicky. Why do I always have to stand by the gorgeous fabulous dancers?  Couldn’t I stand next to someone who is recovering from a foot surgery or something?

Fortunately, before I hyperventilated or left in shame, I remembered that Zaina was exceptionally sweet and gracious and I was sure that if I actually fell or injured myself in some way, perhaps flailing my arms while I dislocated a hip doing a layered shimmy or something, she would come to my rescue. I imagined her kneeling beside me, murmuring reassurances and patting my arm, saying, “That hip articulation was really happening, it looked so good.”

“Just before I fell, you mean?” She would simply smile, reassuringly.

I didn’t fall and even managed to absorb a little of the instruction. Margo was a great teacher. She was so humorous, supportive, and down-to-earth. As one of only a few beginners (at least that’s how it seemed by the dancing I witnessed), I felt welcome and embraced by her methods. She had a dynamic choreography worked up for a drum solo and broke it down into manageable bits for us.

Her energetic instruction mixed with her matter-of-fact, “I’m just your average gal who happens to be an incredibly talented and beautiful dancer, what about you?” demeanor was enormously enjoyable.

She sat with us at lunch and talked kids, work, schedules, dance and life.     

After lunch, I did more shopping! This is my first year of dancing, so naturally my dance costume inventory is in direct inverse proportion to my dance expertise. This is what happens when you allow 40-year-old professional women with stable salaries into an art form that involves costumes. To my credit, though, I put back that deliciously swingy pewter hip belt, planning instead to purchase some more music this month. Not that this was easy. Judy has fabulous stuff and she will alter it for you. When you are over six feet tall, those are magic words. I walked into the bathroom/dressing room several times to find a dancer and Judy pinning and tucking breathtaking bedlah. However – and I had to repeat this to myself sternly several times, however – this is an investment I need to make only if I am performing in public. For now, I only have one audience. So, I must consider:

Will said bedlah impress my dog, Katy? Unless the bra is festooned with bacon and it has a cheese belt, I think not. Restraint was the watchword of the day, that day, anyway.

The afternoon session was a bit of a blur for me. My beginner brain had reached its saturation point, and stuff was starting to fall out the other side. Still, I picked up some new ideas and moves, which I will try to re-create for my class, if asked. Margo retained her energy and charm late into the day, and organized sort of a dance-off, not like the Sharks and the Jetts or anything (West Side Story, anyone?) but just the two side of the room doing the choreography so we could see what it looked like and offer positive feedback. It was very helpful and no one commented on my flailing. By the time we cooled down, I was tired but relaxed.

I was unable to stay for the evening performance, which was a shame. But the workshop was great fun, and also the first one I’ve ever attended by myself. In order to grow as a dancer, I want to take advantage of all the events around me.

When one asks, “Where’s a great place to learn about belly dancing?” few people immediately shout out “Kansas!”

but I picked up at least six flyers for workshops with well-known dancers, all taking place within five hours drive in the next few months, lucky for me. If I continue with this, I will not only have a closet full of sparkly stuff but I’ll be on my way to becoming a real dancer. A dancer who glances to her right and sees Zaina and just casually says “Oh, hi! Great to see you again.”

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