First of all, HAPPY FEAST OF ST. THERESE! This is one of my favorite feasts of the whole year. I just love St. Therese, and she's the namesake of my baby girl. :)
Anyway, I can't tell you how much I enjoy this blog, and how much it means to me that people actually read what I write. I enjoy writing, and this blog really serves as a journal for me, it's a real blessing. And I will grant that I post on an odd variety of topics. Catholic stuff, parenting (those aren't so odd) but then you toss in knitting, head covering and belly dance and you have what I like to call an eclectic mix. Anyway, I just felt like mentioning that I appreciate you, my friendly readers.
Because today's post is about belly dance, and I'm sure that some of you really don't care about belly dancing. But you care about me, and that means the world to me. It's important to me, so you listen to me blather on about it. Thank you. :) And let the blathering begin...
Ok. Settle in, this is going to be a long one. This is all so exciting, have I mentioned that yet? And I've been bursting at the seams to talk about it, but held back because nothing was official until very recently. And would you JUST get on with it Tiffany?! Yes, sorry.
So, about a month ago my wonderful dance instructor Claire got in touch with me and another of my classmates. She had very recently been hired for what promised to be a regular monthly gig dancing at a new (and very nice) Mediterranean restaurant in town. The restaurant wanted 2 dancers, each dancing 2 sets (30 minutes total) over a 2 hour time period. She has another professional dancer that she split the first 2 gigs with. She asked my classmate Amy and I if we would be interested in becoming part of the rotation to split the sets with her, she thought we were ready. So, each month she would dance 2 sets and one of us would dance the other 2. We would get paid the going professional rate for our time, and she proposed that the first time we did this, Amy and I split the gig so that we could ease into things. So, she would dance 2 sets, Amy would dance 1 set, and I would dance 1 set. Were we interested?
In a word, YES. And the funny thing is, when I started belly dancing, I didn't even think I would ever perform in a GROUP at a HAFLA. I just think it's ironic that I spent my 20's slaving away in law school and agonizing over why no boys liked me and here I am in my mid-30's (humor me here), married with 2 kids, and belly dancing in restaurants. *snort* Let me tell you, the 30's situation is much preferable over the 20's, I don't care how how many more lines I have in my skin. Anyway, I digress.
I'm certainly not in this to make money. If you're dancing a professional gig you certainly should be paid (you are working your glittery buns off to earn that money, plus you don't want to undercut the other dancers in the area), and it's nice to have a little something to offset the cost of costumes and lessons. And it's not all about the fun, because believe me, the level of anxiety I feel about this is undermining the fun part right about now. The restaurant is hiring you to entertain their customers, and it's all very business-like. It's not about you, it's about what the restaurant wants. But what this is to me is just...meaningful on some deep level. I love to dance, always have. Dance is an art form, and it's one way that I can express myself creatively. As an introvert, having this outlet is just priceless. Dancing is doing something that I love, sharing it with other people, and feeling good about myself when I do it. It's not easy for a really shy and often insecure person to feel good about themselves. Dancing bridges that divide for me.
So anyway, back to my story. Amy and I were both interested, so Claire suggested we put together a 15 minute playlist for a set (must include both kicky and slow music) and come in to the studio for a weekend practice session. She didn't have a date yet for the next month, but was cautiously optimistic that a booking for October would come in shortly, and she wanted us to be ready. I was so excited I could hardly stand it.
That week I poured over my iTunes music library. I downloaded some new music (because the, I don't know, *thousand* or so Middle Eastern songs that I already had just weren't enough) and generally obsessed over things. I finally settled on a playlist. It included:
(1) Arabic pop
(2) Slow and swirly veil song
(3) Upbeat sword song
(4) Drum solo
(5) Exit music
I felt proud of myself and patted myself on the back for my efforts. I had researched common order for playlists, where to put the drum piece, etc., and felt happy with my selections.
The Sunday practice session rolled around. I happily arrived at the dance studio with my veil and sword in tow. I don't know what I thought we were going to do. Chat about things, practice some improvisation (because it goes without saying that restaurant dancing is all improvisation; you simply can't plan for a consistent, unimpeded environment enough to have any semblence of a choreography) go over our playlists, glean lots of wisdom from Claire, all of that.
So, we do chat. It was great. All very supportive. We glean lots of wisdom. Then Claire turns to us and says:
"So, who wants to go first?"
Amy and I turn to stare at each other, wide-eyed.
"Oh, you mean you want us to put our playlists on and dance for the entire 15 minutes? One *gulp* at a time?"
"Oh yes! I promise, I'm not doing this to torture you. You just really don't want your first time dancing a full 15 minute set to be *at the restaurant*. You want to work out all the kinks now."
Yes, yes I'm sure we do. But I was still unprepared for dancing my entire set in front of Claire and Amy, whose opinions I greatly cherish. This sounded just the weensiest bit intimidating.
Ok, so I was nervous. That would be the worst part. Claire was stressing how exhausting dancing for 15 minutes was, but I've done 3-4 minute solos before, and group numbers that were even longer, so I was confident that I could keep my energy level up for just that much longer. No sweat (pun intended), right?
Herein follows a chronicling of my upbeat entrance (with my dance persona of "Confident, Knows What She's Doing Tiffany" firmly strapped on by necessity. She doesn't actually exist, but no matter) to my swirly veil exit:
(1) Arabic pop - Dry mouthed and nervous, I strut out and begin to dance, happy that I chose an extremely peppy song to start out. I'm feeling quite self-conscious, but upbeat. I know my arms suck, but I really put my hips into it. Halfway though, I start to feel like the song may never end, but I press on.
(2) Slow and swirly veil song - Retrieve veil from tucked position into my skirt. I'm always a little intimidated about dancing with my veil and I rarely do it because I fear veil-induced disasters involving me becoming sprawled on the floor. But I know props are popular in restaurant work so I trot it out. Good Lord, it's HOT underneath my cutely created veil tent move. I realize that I'm sweating a bit and my veil starts to stick to my skin. I press on.
(3) Upbeat sword song - Veil song ends THANK GOD. I ditch it and grab my sword. I realize that I'm now sweating quite a bit. I balance away, and I'm much more confident with my sword. However, I realize that my energy level has waned significantly.
(4) Drum solo - HIT.A.WALL. Seriously, I'm half dead. I'm so tired I can hardly hit anything remotely resembling a drum accent and a sheen of sweat coats my entire face and upper body.
(5) Exit music - I pluck my veil off the floor and thank God that it's almost over. I swirl off the floor and wonder how I'll summon up the energy to put my coat on let along drive home.
Wow. I was completely unprepared for the mental and physical energy required to dance a solo 15 minute set. I often read about people complaining that hiring a belly dancer to dance 20-30 minutes costs $100-$150 on average. They feel that it's too expensive for such a short time period. Now you know why. And that doesn't even get into all the preparation that the dancer does before the show.
Anyway, I scrape myself off the floor and head back into the main part of the studio to talk to Claire and watch Amy dance. As ever, I loved watching Amy dance and learned so much from her. It was so valuable for us to dance in front of each other like that.
Exhausted, we finally went home with instructions for things to work on in preparation for another practice session the following Sunday. We did this for 3 more Sundays, including our most recent one yesterday. Each week, I could feel myself sweating just a little bit less (although granted, STILL A LOT OF SWEAT) and feeling LESS like I may die of anxiety. Yesterday was our best practice session to date.
So, it's finally official. I'm dancing this coming Saturday evening at the restaurant. My stomach hurts just thinking about it, and I'm biting my nails a lot, but there you have it. I'm excited, really excited. I'm just really, really nervous. My costume is ready. My new shoes look great. I have my playlist all set (dancing a full song with my sword and using my veil as part of the entrance) and I've been practicing my improvising as often as I can.
I hope I don't slip on my veil and sprawl in a very ungraceful fashion out on the tile floor. Because I do step on my veil. A LOT. My sword has yet to fall off my head and clatter to the floor, but yesterday in practice I could see the hilt out of the corner of my eye which is a bad sign, and it didn't feel right on my head for the entire song. *sighs* I'm as ready for this next step in my dancing career as I can be, but that's not exactly a resounding endorsement.
I hope this goes well. As you might expect, I will keep you posted on every detail.