Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963 -- Processing Tragedy

When I was a kid, I used to joke about where I was the first time the adults in my life launched into their "Where Were You" stories about JFK.

Then we had the blackout of 1977 -- and the moment of looking up to see all of the bulbs in the ceiling lamp fade to brown then go out etched itself in my mind.

A blown fuse? No... it wouldn't have dimmed out that way.

My sister and I wandered to the kitchen, shocked to see everything pitch dark -- and all the lights in the neighborhood too.

My father realized it was a blackout, lit up our kerosene lamp, and told us his memory of the blackout of  November 9, 1965 (also his 28th birthday) -- walking down Fourth Avenue where each street light blinked off in sequence, like falling dominoes. Then the confusion, some panic, and then calm upon realizing what had happened and what to do about it (i.e. walk home under the full moon; no biggie ... things were pretty chill in 1965, apparently).

And then came 9-11.

I'd awakened to the radio, jumped in the shower and emerged at 8:50am to find the NPR signal had dropped out.  I shrugged and continued on to work.

When I arrived a security guard told me a plane flew into the World Trade Center. "Poor plane," I said, figuring it was a small craft, like the B-25 that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945, killing some people but leaving the building intact.

Then came the hysteria in the office when it sunk in; people worried for their friends and family downtown, then seeing the hole in the North Tower from our window in midtown, rushing back and forth from the window to the computer for any update ... then the petrifying news -- a tower had fallen.

And then the second tower.

For weeks Manhattan stunk of the burn, debris were found throughout the five boroughs, and every single conversation one could hear -- walking down the street, in offices, restaurants, bars -- was about that event, as we gradually wrapped our collective mind around the incomprehensible.

Tragedy rips us from our known moorings, sending us floating until we can tether down again.

It is generally believed that strong emotion aids memory, etching those highly charged events most potently in our minds -- and there is further evidence that pain is recorded more vividly than pleasure.

I am wondering if this may be because, unlike pleasure, pain is a sudden tearing of the fabric of our reality, which we must then work to process, and so our own effort infuses the memory.

And this processing can take years, decades -- during which each telling of the story, each meshing the personal experience with the collective one, is yet another stitch to bind and ultimately heal the wound.

So let's keep talking, sharing our stories, hearing those of others -- and healing together. Until the next time.....

Monday, November 18, 2013

Framing Beauty: How I Fell in Love with Sharifwear

"My curves flourish in this dance. And in my fellow dancers and teachers, I can see the Promised Land:  They are different shapes and ages and sizes and every single one of them is beautiful!"  (from the "Body's Language" segment of Blood on the Veil.)

Even in my first bellydance classes with SharQui's Oreet, I realized there was something different about this dance. The movements were every bit as rigorous as the ballet and modern I'd studied as a child and young adult; even the basics required concentration and deep muscle control.

But unlike the conventional Western dance forms, Oriental dance lavished in womanly curves; it embraced the body, rather than attempting to transcend it.

Slowly, my image of myself changed.

Realizing that my capacious hips and rear did not need to be trimmed to be beautiful, I tossed out my tight-fitting gymwear and searched Capezio and Danskin for attire that would accentuate and flatter -- rather than squeeze and flatten.

I did not have much luck. Even their flowy modernwear was tight-hipped and high-waisted, pressing my beloved belly into an unhappy muffin-top.

And then I went to my first Rakassah -- the big bi-coastal bellydance festival -- filled with hip- and belly-loving apparel for onstage and off.

My favorite vendor was Sharifwear.

Their "skirt-pants" caught my eye -- with beautifully flaring bell bottoms, often slit to reveal the lower leg -- and an extra layer of fabric attached at the hip creating a built in hip-scarf (very handy for me, as I often left my tie-on hipscarves at home!).

Many of the half-tops were tied in the front or wrapped around, gently hugging the lower chest, while the arms flared out in gypsy or flamenco style, matching the shape of the pants.

I tried on an outfit and bought as many as I could carry home!

With this new wardrobe, I could not help but love my body, how it looked and felt in the soft, swaying fabric, and realized:  I never needed to hide my belly -- I only needed to frame it!

As my dance progressed, and I attended more advanced classes and workshops, I saw more and more of Ms. Sharif's styles on so many different dancers -- of all shapes and sizes, each as beautiful as the next -- and realized that she was the very same Nourhan Sharif of New York's legendary Egyptian Academy, where many of my teachers, and teachers' teachers had studied their craft.

Nourhan, I learned, was a second-generation bellydancer and master teacher who had created this remarkable line of clothing to fill the very gap that I had found when searching for dancewear that looked and felt beautiful on a curvy female body.

And not only were the quality of design and material important to her; the integrity of production was as well. As her site declares: "Sharifwear presents the highest quality belly dance costumes, coin belts, belly dancing skirts, hip scarves,belly dance tops, veils and belly dance accessories that are authentic and proudly made in the U.S.A."

So, after years of wearing her clothes and pretty much being intimidated by the high reputation of the Egyptian Academy, I finally darkened her doorway in 2009 and found her to be kind, welcoming, innovative, and butt-kicking in the best way possible. And I have studied with her ever since!

Today, I am proud to call her a friend, teacher, and mentor -- and proud beyond words that she will dance the Master Teacher set of Blood on the Veil this Sunday, November 24th, in the finale of the 2013 NYC run.

Love to you Nourhan, and so many thanks for all you do!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ten Things/In a Compressed State

When I directed my first full-length play in my mid-20s it consumed me. I was working a temp job, which I was able to manage -- but I found I couldn't bring my mind to focus on anything other than earning a living and doing the play.

In some cases, I'd let myself get dragged along to other people's activities (perhaps because I lacked resistance), but other than that it was all about directing the play. 

If I tried to focus on something else -- even simple stuff like journal writing, bookkeeping, organizing or processing anything at all -- I couldn't do it. It is as though my energy was so uniformly directed that I lost the capacity to reflect and process. Or perhaps I worried that any attempt to process would detract from my singular creative mission. 

Over the years I've gotten a little better at shifting gears, at finding a little more space inside myself during these compressed-state periods of intense outer-directed activity.

But only a little. 

The past several months have been consumed with drama, onstage and off. 

Insane and bizarre things happened on the job that perhaps one day I will blog about; I've been through some incredibly twisted comings-together and partings on a personal level (all pretty much resolved now ... lessons learned -- albeit expensive ones -- though those are the most important kind, I guess).

Blood on the Veil is going great -- beyond my wildest dreams, and still getting better. And when I'm not rehearsing, polishing, promoting, etc. that show, I'm putting together stuff for other shows, like the recent Confessions of a Bellydancer and Mother Wove the Morning

And of course I write lots of stuff for my job, and answer professional and personal emails at all times of the day and night, and do more than my share of chatting and posting stuff on Facebook (also at crazy hours) ... but I could not organize my mind to blog about ... well, pretty much anything at all. 

Jellybeans ... I managed to squeeze out a few thoughts about that -- but only because a post on Facebook prompted me. So even that was reactive creativity.

And now I'm thinking -- maybe that's not a bad thing. Reactive expression is better than no expression; and I have been promising more blog entries....

So with that in mind, what follows is what I posted on Facebook in response to the "Things People Don't Know About Me" meme. 

The lovely Raksanna prompted me for ten items. And here they are!


TEN things you might not know about me (Disclaimer: some of this stuff is in my show, blog or mentioned in this interview: ... but I'll try to add bits that aren't generally known.... )

(1) My first bellydancing class was in 2001 with Stella Gray. The "intermediate layered" move she did that frightened the willies out of me was an earthquake shimmy with an undulation. And, as I say in BOTV, I really did think, "Good lord! You have to be a freak of nature to be able to do that!!"

(2) My first role ever was in a Girl Scout Christmas pageant about being kind to the environment. I was five years old and played a girl who poured lemonade on a tree. My line was something like, "How about over by that tree!" And the tree responded, "Ooohh... that's cold!!"

(3) I was such an enthusiastic Girl Scout that I memorized the Brownie Origin Story ... by accident. We were discussing the story, and the leaders asked us to summarize the action, going from girl to girl. When they got to me, I just started reciting the text -- dialogue and all ("and those acorns too!"). I remember the leaders (including my mother) saying, "Is she reading? Where is the book?" This began a lifetime of memorizing crap for no particular reason.

(4) I entered a Shakespeare recitation contest when I was 16 and memorized a Juliet speech, as well as Sonnets 29 and 116. I won the contest, (but I lost the inter-school finals. Boo.), and went on to fall in love with the Bard and currently know about 20 Sonnets and maybe a dozen speeches, scenes, soliloquies off the top of my head. But these days I have to work a lot harder to memorize.

(5) I have no formal training for my current line of day-job work: third-level tech support at a law firm. In my late teens I started doing secretarial work at a law firm because I was doing stand-up and didn't want to commit to an office career. But I am a TERRIBLE secretary. Fortunately, I had learned some BASIC in Junior High and was able to parlay my rudimentary programming skills into Word Perfect script, getting the computer to do much of my work for me. And then started doing this for others... and now it's what I do!

(6) I am allergic to dust and dust mites and spend the first two hours of every day blowing my nose (this is absolute MAGIC in relationships ...)

(7) I have refinanced my co-op four times over the last ten years. Each time I've done it has cost me about $4000 -- and yet the deal I have now is so good (THANK YOU, FED!) that it just may have been worth it.

(8) Throughout pretty much all of grade school I was relentlessly unfunny. When I got into college, however, I started dating a comedian and began to figure out how jokes were constructed. I figured: If he can do it so can I. So I took the mike and dumped the boyfriend.

(9) My first time onstage as a stand-up was in February 1989 -- and it went GREAT. The next 30 or 40 times were not so good, however..... But I was hooked.

(10) I commuted for my first year at NYU and had a 4.0 grade point average ... but was miserable. Then I had the opportunity to move into campus housing with the Science Fiction club (finally -- to be with my own kind!), albeit renamed the SubGenius Alliance because of a prank the SciFi club played at Loeb Student Center (Glenn Hauman could tell you more about that).

My happiness level rose dramatically ... and my GPA dropped. I earned my first F ever... IN PIANO! Ah well...

(Coda in a follow-up comment about playing the piano: "I can barely play at all anymore. The first semester I got an A; but then when I moved on campus, I had to reserve rehearsal time with the piano, and I kept getting shut out by the music majors who got first dibs. So I was never able to practice. The only piano I could get had a broken E key .. and I was learning to play Chopin's Prelude in E Minor!! Grrrr. )