Wild extremes this weekend (which sort of began Thursday night, going to see JJ & Tebone & their band play at this swanky downtown lounge) took me from a totally hellish day on Friday, through a culture clash of bellydance instruction and performance followed by down home music at a seedy smoke-filled small-town Moose Lodge on Saturday, and a languid, easy Sunday.
Friday’s super-busy work events do not bear repeating but I sure felt sorry for li'l ol' me come evening, and all those emotions stirred up by stress sort of bubbled over. S dealt gracefully with it and made a nice dinner.
Woke up early Saturday to accompany R to her beginning belly dance class that she instructs, which I get to cover for her next weekend when she goes off to a dance camp. I wanted to see what she teaches, and how in the world she fills two hours with beginning moves. We got to the studio an hour before the class, and played around with the big space and mirrors. We each performed the songs we’d planned to do later in the day at the dance festival, and it was a treat to watch her do her double veil dance with a red and a black veil. She does this amazing thing while spinning; she holds each veil veil in each hand high above her head, looks like the most beautiful pinwheel in the world.
Students arrived late for class, and we spent a full hour stretching, which is a huge part of dancing. Even if I don’t have time to dance, I always take a few minutes to focus on posture and to stretch. It surprises me how many people don’t know how to stretch their bodies. Aside from the regular leg, arm, neck and back stretches we also stretch side-to-side, on a horizontal plane. Looking at myself sideways in the mirror I try to make sure my rib cage or my hips stay level and straight, no twisting, no front to back motion, so that it looks like I’m sliding between two panes of glass.
There is a hinge of the torso located approximately at the solar plexus, and that is the most important thing I can think of to tell beginning belly dancers. That, and use the lower abdomen muscles to keep the pelvis tilted forward, which prevents injuries from scrunched-up vertebrae in the lower back. Good posture is essential.
After class (which was fun, and a good reminder of how far I’ve come since I started doing this), R & I drove to the activity center to prepare for our performances. There were many vendors; all kinds of belly-dance garb, music, photos, old magazines… Our instructor was there with her vending table, with new music and a brand new purple jewel-encrusted costume hand-made for her in Cairo but she said the top doesn’t fit her very well. I think probably I would have the same problem, given the miniscule size of the bra cups; not because I have big breasts, but because if I’m going to shake my shoulders on stage I want something akin to armor, not a little bikini top with spangly sparkles on it, between me and the audience. If I step on the hem of my skirt or get my hand tangled in the swinging parts of my belt that’s one thing; if I expose myself to a sea of strangers and a handful of friends, well… yeah. You get the idea. Anyway I was mostly glad I had forgotten my checkbook.
S met us there with his camera and smile, and he & I sat up in the front row, all the better to see, my dear. The first half of the bellydancing extravaganza was to live music; five dancers including my R strutted their stuff & in my humble opinion R was the most accurate in her timing. She does this sassy thing with a sideways belly roll, makes her whole body look like a corkscrew. Her hip articulation is sweet and swingy and I loves me some R dancing.
Since I was scheduled in the next batch of performers, I missed a few dancers while getting ready. I wore a big full plum-colored skirt, coin belt, and a black vest with bead fringe and chain. Standard, simple, work-a-day garb, nothing to worry about, secured by safety pins. I put on some eyeliner and lipstick, borrowed scissors to cut the frayed edge from the bottom of my skirt, and with the tatters removed I felt happily pulled-together, albeit a little nervous. I climbed into the side stage stairs, and there waiting to go on stage before me was Dina.
Once, two years ago, Dina had substituted a class I was taking, and let me say this; not a one of us in class was able to keep up with her. She has been dancing for as long as I have been alive, and looks like any short, pudgy, wide-eyed wild-black-haired bespectacled woman you might see in a grocery store. But this woman can move her body with unbelievable control, and very few dancers have more stage presence. She was supposed to dance with the more experienced dancers later in the day, but had requested an earlier slot because she was scheduled to perform in Portland that night, and needed time to drive up to the city.
I made small talk with her in the stairwell, and she mentioned being nervous about performing after having knee replacement surgery just five months ago. She said she has had to relearn very important things, especially balance. Well. Dina is nervous? And she is a hard act to follow. Fine, no more worries for me, I just waited until she was done, heard my name, and charged onto the stage. To my delight, R was seated directly in front, which was a great relief, and S was halfway back, camera poised. Near him were JJ and Tebone, who made me so happy when they arrived earlier in the day. I undulated, shimmied, swirled twirled whirled, flirted and winked, and remembering R’s one piece of advice, I smiled, damnit. As S had directed, I stayed to the front of the stage, and I loved the crowd’s undivided attention. Once done, I was so hungry I could have eaten a horse. R caught up with me first, swooped me into her veil and hugged me, and said, “You rocked, girlfriend!” She told me I had danced better than she had ever seen me dance, and at this time I noticed the back of my head being kissed repeatedly, so I moved from R’s embrace to S’s big warm arms. I was also happy to receive compliments from my dance instructor. You'd think I had just walked a tightrope without a net for all the sweet things people said to me.
There is an undeniable high from performing. It’s the best drug I’ve encountered.
Later that evening we met up with Tebone & JJ for a trip to a small town south of Eugene, and went to a restaurant S & I used to frequent when we lived in Cottage Grove. We ate as much as we could and I still had leftovers; probably because I helped JJ eat fried mushrooms, a yummy thing I had never encountered except in Japanese restaurants. Delicious. After dinner we drove to the Elk’s Lodge, only to recognize our error, asked directions (provided bass-ackwards by the guy at Chevron and luckily we knew the town), and found the low-slung slab of concrete with the “Moose” label, situated right across the street from the Dairy Queen.
The Moose Lodge was about what I expected, last updated in the 1970s, low-ceiling, low lights, black vinyl seats, pool tables, old dark wood bar and stale cigarette smoke combined with fresh cigarette smoke emanating from the wrinkly jewel-encrusted women sipping their long island iced-teas at the bar. We enjoyed listening to the band, which did mostly covers, we enjoyed drinking scotch on the rocks since the prices haven’t changed since the 1970s either, and we enjoyed watching the dancers do their sidling tempo steps. Traditional country-western dancing is wonderfully folkloric, and very similar to the Middle Eastern dance steps I have encountered. It appears the grapevine step is universal; stepping sideways, out, cross to the front, out, cross to the rear, out, cross to the front… It was entertaining to see something so similar in two entirely different cultural settings within one day.
Sunday found me lazy in bed until ten. I had a cat curl up next to my shoulder and one of my favorite ways to awaken is to a rumbly purring cat. Went with S to our favorite breakfast place with the remaining cash we hadn’t spent the night before, read the paper, strolled the streets, then returned home to do laundry, dishes, mow the lawn, etc. all the basic household kind of chores. It was a nice day. It was a nice weekend.