I was certain I was born with two left feet and no concept of rhythm. I never even danced in the privacy of my own home. I simply did not have any rhythm and felt terribly awkward and uncomfortable in my body when I tried to dance. And in addition to that, I was incredibly self conscious and though social by nature, I NEVER felt comfortable being the center of attention for ANY reason. Not for birthdays, job changes, and certainly not for performing. So when I discovered Tribal Belly Dance and began studying it in my early 30’s, I was definitely surprised at my own budding willingness to stretch beyond my deeply entrenched fears and inhibitions because I so desperately wanted what this dance had to offer.
I have always been highly social by nature. I truly love talking to people, hearing their life stories and experiences, and learning about cultures and subcultures…their ways of living, thinking, viewing, and experiencing their world and why they think and believe the way they do. This human experience can be highly fascinating and exciting! There is so much diversity out there in the world from landscapes to cultures to creatures…it would take many, many lifetimes to experience and learn about it all.
But being very social I am also paradoxically somewhat shy and tend to be more introverted than extroverted. If I can engage an individual that I think would be interesting to talk to, then I try. And if I am successful, before long they are telling me all about their fascinating life experiences and I’m enthralled and often thinking about their experiences in context to stories I would want to write, using something similar to their experiences for garnish throughout the life of my character or the story itself. These stories rarely get written in real life…but the thought and entertainment of them in my mind is absolute brain candy. However, it is difficult for me to speak to more than one or two people I do not know at a time. And since I listen well, I actually do very little talking myself. But when I do, in those moments where I am sharing about myself, I recognize that I often feel just as self conscious and awkward as when I am trying to move my body in any rhythmic way. I prefer to be the observer rather than the observed.
However, despite this social “need” within my nature, I have spent the majority of my life feeling rather lonely. Most of my friendships and relationships are not as deep and meaningful as I would prefer, and oftentimes many of my friends are too busy to meet up and have a deeply engaging conversation or experience very often.
I had dabbled with Belly Dance since I was in my early 20’s after seeing a group of women perform Tribal Belly Dance together at a Pagan Festival in California. Watching their interaction, their joy, their passion, and their beautiful colorful layers of heavily dyed cotton costuming pieces adorned with very old and ethnic looking medallions and coins, they LOOKED like they came straight from a page in National Geographic from some far away Middle Eastern region…the only part of their bodies that showed any skin was their forearms, midriff, and neckline. There was nothing revealing or sexual about their appearance or their dancing…all I saw was Community, Unity, Joy, and Sisterhood. And I wanted that more than anything. So I began my pursuit of studying this dance, determined to conquer my fears and inhibitions and attain those aspects with other women through this dance that looked as culturally ancient as their costuming. But it wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s that I actually learned that there were several different styles of Belly Dance and that the name of this dance style was called Tribal Belly Dance.
ATS (R) which stands for American Tribal Belly Dance, was originally re-envisioned and refined and birthed by Carolena Nericcio in San Francisco in the late 80’s. She had been taught by an instructor years before and then in the 80’s Carolena began teaching classes of her own based on what she remembered of the moves. As time went on with her troupe, Fat Chance Belly Dance, she refined cues and formations that allowed for every performance to be entirely improvisational with the women speaking a secret language amongst themselves made up of gestures and cues so that they all knew exactly what move they were to be performing. This style of dance requires trusting in oneself, trusting in the women you dance with, open and honest communication, and commitment to one another and the dance in order to refine it and dance together in an improvisational way while maintaining a seamless appearance that often occurs with well practiced choreography.
Unfortunately, by the time I learned about the name of this style of dance, I was already living in a tiny little town in Northeastern Washington. The town I had moved to consisted of roughly 1600 people with many of them being here for generations. A mere ten miles away was the second largest town on this side of Washington boasting a population of around 5,000 people. And an hour and half away was Spokane.
Driving to Spokane for weekly instruction was incredibly unfeasible for me. Yet I did it for about 6 months studying with two different instructors during that time. The gas and time commitment to driving the three hour round trip was difficult, but I was committed to studying this dance. Before I had began studying with live instructors in Spokane, I had acquired countless DVDs on Tribal Belly Dance and Fusion Belly Dance. I studied them religiously with every free moment I had. I was determined to master the basics and mechanics of the basic moves that were covered on the DVDs so that I could hopefully make the most of my time with an instructor in Spokane.
I have now been studying this dance passionately since 2009. And, despite living so far from live instructors, on occasion I get an opportunity to attend Belly Dance festivals like Cues and Tattoos in Seattle, and attend workshops and other trainings. Since that time, I opened a small dance studio in my own community and began teaching Tribal Belly Dance, and then myself and 4 other committed members created a troupe to perform locally at events and festivals, gaining another member over time. Then in 2014 I attended a mentoring training in New Mexico called SEEDs that was designed to teach women like me how to lead a mentoring group to teach young women and girls about self-esteem, self-empowerment, and education through Dance (SEEDs) through self reflection, guided education, lectures, projects, writing, talking circles, and guest speakers. And then in January 2017 I was sponsored by a dear dance sister that lives and teaches in Idaho, and she made it possible for me to attend the ATS (R) Belly Dance Homecoming event in San Francisco where I was able to attain my General Skills and Teacher Training certifications.
And throughout all of this journey, as amazing at is has been and as fortunate and blessed as I have been in finding wonderful and beautiful women to dance with that are every bit as committed, honest, open, trustworthy, caring, and ego-less as they can be…I have worked very hard on improving my dance skills and working to get comfortable with performing. To be honest, I know I could improve a lot more in my confidence and skills in dance by taking more weekly training in Spokane, and intend to at some point. And though I feel a deep sense of trust and love for the women I dance with, and our communal unity causes me to feel safe and as secure as I can be when we perform, I still do struggle with stage presence and confidence when I perform. I still hear that gibberish going on in my mind as I dance: “am I dancing on rhythm…am I zilling on the beat…is my posture correct…am I smiling…am I cueing correctly…am I doing this move correctly…does the audience like what they are watching…?” and I know those thoughts hold me back in many ways. So I am working on it. But…to go from REFUSING to perform for ANYONE in 2008 to being “somewhat comfortable” with performing in front of local crowds…that’s huge steps for a shy, self conscious introvert like myself. I NEVER in a million years dreamed I would be here doing this in my life…and it has been the one of the greatest blessing in my life and I am thankful…