Getting Schooled

Tribal Fest 9-Tsungani and I danced the Lonely Sheppard that year.

Tribal Fest 9-Tsungani and I danced the Lonely Sheppard that year.

As I’ve said, I was no great dancer-especially compared to my contemporaries and the visionaries of the time: Rachel Brice, Mardi Love, Heather Stants, Mira Betz, Frederique David, Elizabeth Strong, Jill Parker, Carolena Nericcio, Princess Farhana (who had just “come out” as a burlesque dancer as well), Kami Liddle and so many more. I </em>was<em> a good teacher, and I loved the way I could see the women. I could see deep into them. It reminded me of basic training actually. I remember being able to see those who would rise to the challenge to become something more than they were, and also those who would break.

Tribal Sooz and I on tour in the Pacific Northwest 2007

Tribal Sooz and I on tour in the Pacific Northwest 2007

After the first class, I could spot those who had found their soul and would rejoice in the beauty they had found there. They were far and few between. These ladies would rocket past their peers in a class and soon be on their way to bigger things. They always had a star quality about them. They cared more about how they looked than their classmates, always coming to class with the perfect mix of street clothes and belly gear that made them look otherworldly. They worked on their technique constantly; were voracious in their quest for more and needled me with questions I couldn’t answer. They pushed way past what I considered good enough at the time. They soon were beyond what I could do for them in a class. And I would be faced with that emotional demon of them surpassing me in some ways. And somehow, I would be able to fight my own demon and open the door, hug and kiss them, and send them on their way with love and encouragement. I recognize now that what I was feeling was a jealousy because I didn’t make myself—my own training, technique, look–the most important thing the way the other big dancers of the time did. I made the class and the troupe and the organizing of everything more important because I was afraid. I was afraid to show all of myself. I was afraid to be as big as I felt inside. Part of it was that I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, part of it was that I would be judged by my husband and my family. So I played it safe and did what was “adequate”. So instead I excelled at organization and bookkeeping and rallying others to do what I secretly wanted for myself. This made an acceptable excuse for why I was not the best I could be.

Politti Ashcraft and I with our students performing Disco ATS at Tribal Cafe

Politti Ashcraft and I with our students performing Disco ATS at Tribal Cafe

Other ladies came to support their femininity. They loved class, were devoted students, and very clearly couldn’t or didn’t want to get beyond the place they were in their dance. They wanted the feeling of the class to always be the way it was. They wanted to feel the excitement of being a beautiful sensual goddess, then return to their lives a little lighter, with their cup full of joy. These ladies are the ones who make having a career in belly dance possible. They support their teachers, and anyone else their teacher deems worthy. They pay for workshops and belly dance weekends, and buy the clothes and the jewelry and the DVD’s. They download the music, and come to the shows and have loyalty and devotion for their teachers. And once in a great while, you do touch one of these women in a more profound way. Maybe you had them in a workshop in a town you barely remember for 2 hours. They suddenly wake up in a new way. And you said one thing, you gave them permission to do, or be, or try something they didn’t think they could. And they are changed forever and think you had something to do with it. These moments were/are still so inspirational. They kept me going beyond the time when I should have been done.

Shawna Rai, Politti Ashcraft, and me in the Flame and the Shadow.

Shawna Rai, Politti Ashcraft, and me in the Flame and the Shadow.

Then there were the tormented women. Those trying so hard to connect with themselves, to find a bit of strength and courage to be themselves. I could see very quickly that they never would, at least not in this form. They would do their best, but you could see that were struggling. No matter how well they did in class, they would insist they were terrible. You could see so much on their faces; judgment, and shame, fear and loathing, sadness and anger, with even the most basic concepts. Then one day, some breaking point would occur. A classmate would make and off-handed comment, or I would make a technique correction, and there would be tears or a panic attack and they would run. Sometimes literally. I would never see them again in class. If I did see them again in the world, they would say that belly dance was a huge mistake. I could see that they had touched something and had woken up a part of themselves that they didn’t have the courage to deal with. Maybe they had an emotionally abusive partner, maybe they had been abused as children, maybe they had been sexually assaulted; whatever the reason, they just couldn’t wrestle with their own self-loathing centered around being a woman. In these women I could see a terrible fear, as if they had woken a dragon and weren’t sure they would survive. These broken women I pitied and was also glad they stopped coming. I thought I had been low, and its true—I had been LOW—but I had never been there, or so I told myself. I had never wanted to stay in my cage to be safe. And because I thought I had mustered the courage to leave my deepest darkest cage, I had no patience for those who could not. I know now, I was in a cage of my own self-doubt and dislike, the cage of my marriage, and the cage of others expectations. Mine was a gilded cage that maybe I should have been grateful for. But I did not want to see it and I didn’t know how to get out. I was too tired to even try.

Solace Tour 2007 Trier, Germany with Ruben van Rompaey

Solace Tour 2007 Trier, Germany with Ruben van Rompaey

Maybe there could have been a time where I should have gone in retreat, and refueled and inspired myself and found new breath in this dance. In fact, I tried to learn from my most inspired friends. But what I noticed is that they appeared to be self-absorbed. A quality at the time that I felt to be deplorable. But they were the most beautiful, they were the most original in their music and their dance. Their costumes were the most gorgeous and intricate. They spent hours getting ready for a performance, creating space, a ritual for themselves to become their best. They spent hours per day perfecting their craft. I didn’t do that for myself. In fact, couldn’t in a strange way. Now I realize that I MUST do this for myself—no matter what I choose to do. I must allow time, space, and effort to surround my endeavors. I am no longer willing to do the cheap version, or the fast version, or the good-enough version. I want to find my full expression, and let that take as many hours or days or months or years as is required. I want to find the best of myself, and keep making it better. I want to continue to evolve, and NOT be satisfied with the status quo. I thank you belly dance for inspiring me. After all my long 20-some years, I have finally received your message.

My first belly dance family at Zamora's Belly Dance in Fresno, CA

My first belly dance family at Zamora’s Belly Dance in Fresno, CA

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Goodbye Dancer.

Solace Tour 2007

Trier Germany 2007 with Solace

Truthfully, I was never a great dancer. I was decent, and I had charisma, a talent for breaking things down, and an eye for production. But was not a technician of any sort. My arms were often droopy, and my posture deplorable (still is), but I had a fire inside of me and it did come out on stage. I had visions of choreography, I had costume ideas, I was inspired to move at the slightest beat. I was so full of it all, and couldn’t NOT do it.

Rachel Lazarus-Blue Damsel

Trier Germany 2007 Solace Live European Tour

There were only a handful of times where I felt that my dance pulled me from where I was to a new place. Where I was stretched beyond my capabilities and no longer felt complacent and bored with my movement/self/life. When I felt fear and excitement and that I had let every ounce of myself ooze out of my body and shake out to the audience. I had some great times with this dance: incredible moments of performances, holding a dance festival, dancing in Margaret Cho’s Sensuous Woman show on and off, having a semi annual burlesque show. It was these moments that I longed for all of the time.

Rachel and Shawna Rai Flame and Shadow

Rachel and Shawna Rai – Flame and Shadow

Solace Tour Percussion

Rachel and Jeremiah Soto

After years chasing this feeling and for a couple of them not finding it, I realized that I was through. I had abandoned my daughter (and she was doing WELL without me), I had a failing marriage that was little more than a business partnership–and not really a partnership at that, and I felt that my heart and soul had closed up shop and departed for greener pastures. It was at this moment that I new I had to leave. But the leaving was hard.

The Lady Blue

Blue Damsel that was.

I moved to be near my parents, reunited with my daughter, and struggled a little longer on the marriage, before giving that up too. I was also homesick. Homesick for the feeling of doing that which was my happiness. The only thing that I new to make me feel this way was belly dance. So I took a class. I did a few scattered performances with Sage Hoban, one of the earliest of the Habbi Ru. When Sage injured her hand I took over her classes for a while, teaching our little community its first taste of actual ATS. Then I met Jessica Pittaway.

Jessica is a spitfire of a woman who had recently pulled into town from Philly. She is a beautiful dancer, with excellent technique, and a penchant for talking too much and too fast. (She often will say things three times in a row really fast so that you don’t have a chance to acknowledge that you heard the first time). This woman coming from her own troubles, was ready to start anew, and create something more than our current dance community had. I was swept up in her enthusiasm and wanted to support her efforts and even be a part of what she was doing. She opened the Belly Hive dance studio, dedicated to the sensuous art of belly dance. I moved my class to her studio and began to dance again. And slowly, I began to feel the drain on my source–not the filling up. It took months of not listening to myself to realize that this was not for me anymore. To understand that going back to dance was like going backward in my life.

Last night I as I was sitting in the Nevada City Theater, listening to the first strains of Helm playing live, I felt the familiar pang of envy. Over the past few years–well since my sabbatical from dance 7 years ago–I have deeply missed dancing and performing. All this time I thought it was the dance itself that I had missed. I realized last night, what I was missing was being in the creative flow, and pushing myself to be my best. To give all of the effort that I had within me.

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Madame Doktor Belladonna Lip Balm, Tattoo Salve, and Intention Candles

I have places for that in my life now. Madame Doktor Belladonna has come to me and has inspired my/her own line of lip balm (made with lard!), and candles, and many more goodies on the way. My upcoming shop (online first, then otherwise) Cult of Gemini, with partner and sister Gemini, Kathy Frey. These are the places that I can push myself and my creativity. I will always love dance, and will always want to perform in some fashion, and feel the excitement of producing an event. But just not as a belly dancer. Rest in peace, beautiful lady.

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Moved and Inspired–Where’s my passport?

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Tonight we saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. There is a saying in our house: The Universe doth provide. And how.

We’ve had a rough start to 2014 in our house. Some of us are letting go of things and dreams that we realize won’t happen without great cost. Some of us have awoken from our own daydreams and are saddened by the place we suddenly find ourselves in, despondent about the future and all that needs to be done. Some of us want to do things, but are terrified of the unknown outcome and become paralyzed. Some of us are feeling all of these things.

In fact this weekend looked to be another bummer of a weekend, with self-deprecation and moping. But not now. After watching not only a fun, funny, clever film, but a gorgeous piece of cinematography, I can only be inspired. Inspired to live–Right now–not in some distant time. Inspired to look around me and be in this moment. To really see the things and people around me. To notice those things that are calling to me and answer them. With my voice, with my thoughts, with my action. I’m bursting with DO right now.

If you know me, you will know that I DO quite a lot already. In fact, the PF has a terrible time getting me to do nothing, even for short periods of time. But often my doing is busy work–things that should get done–not want to get done. Even though my house is far from the glorious shrine of my mother’s pristine and tastefully decorated abode, I fret about its lack of cleanliness anyway. I therefore spend a lot of time complaining, arguing, and being frustrated about its state. What I’d actually like to spending my energy on is NOT the dishes or the house, or whatever I think people ought to be doing. Something else. Something that fills me up.

My beautiful friend and dance partner gave me a great tip today. She had me give a list of what I could do to fill myself up. Right on the spot during coffee. So I decided that I wanted to keep spending time with Falyn, we are having so much fun together right now; dance (already on the schedule); spend more time in nature, even if that means on a blanket in my yard (and by yard I mean oak forest); write more (check!); and make more creative stuff. Can do all of these!

While the list is a good place to start, seeing Walter Mitty do what he does, in the incredible places that he does it, gave me the juice to get up off the couch and do. And more poignantly, Sean O’Connor (played by the ever more handsome Sean Penn) who lives an incredible life everyday says, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like the moment, I just want to be in it.”

Which brings me back to our household turmoil. I realize just now that I am grateful for it. It has brought me a level of separation and clarity that I can’t have when we are enmeshed in each other–happy or no. Its left me open to what is. It has let me see that things shouldn’t be another way, because they aren’t. Things are just the way they are. And from here I can make choices. Wishing for a better/different future never got me anything but crazy, and I’ve spent many years on that treadmill. Being in the now is being free. Living in what is is the only freedom we have. From here, we can do anything.

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Margaret Cho’s Sensuous Woman Show Review Circa 2006

I was looking for some belly dance photos of myself, and found this review by Lella from 2006. Back when I lived in So. Cal, I had the great fortune to become friends with show biz’ baddest ass of them all, Pleasant Gehman, aka Princess Farhana. She was a belly dancer extraordinaire, and had just come out about her secret forays into Burlesque. If I thought belly dance was perfect for me, I became obsessed with burlesque even that much more. I was also fairly taken with Japanese dance and Geishas, and was living in a fantasy of all three.

Around that same time Plez brought Margaret Cho to our 2nd Annual Tribal Cafe, and I was so thrilled to meet her. She was so fun and of course hilarious, AND if I remember correctly, she had made some baklava and brought that along to share as snacks. What?! Amazing woman is all I have to say. Anyhoo, enjoy the review. It was a blast! 

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Ordinary Days–Pinky Promise

My good friend and moon sister Brenda and I were chatting on our way home from our New Moon gathering. We both have blogs (hers is http://www.tinyorb.com/) and we both find ourselves creating our own obstacles to doing what we set out with them. Tonight after talking about what it is that holds us back, we made a pinky promise to support each other in continuing with our blogs more frequently. No minimums, no deadlines, but a promise to ask each other often how things are going and supporting each other through obstacles. Here we go. Here’s to more thoughts, even more feelings, and less drama about them.

I’m feeling very hopeful and excited. Expect to hear more from me. 

:)

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Casting Off of Armor — or Casting out Poisons

Its been a crazy coupla weeks, and I haven’t slowed down to catch my breath. Partially because I knew that today I could. In fact, the next five days belong to me. I’ve been planning an Ayurvedic cleanse with my practitioner (Ryan Strong @ the California College of Ayurveda, Nevada City) for about a month now. Originally, I was to go through the process about two weeks ago, but ended up sick–AGAIN. While I was bummed at the time, because I’d set aside time to take care of myself, I couldn’t be more pleased that things worked out this way. I’m now at day Zero of the cleanse. Let me explain.

Brief description of my Pitta Ayurvedic cleanse – each cleanse different for each person and even different for the same person depending on what’s going on.

  • Eat mono-diet of Kitchari (rice and mung beans cooked together till tender with vegetables and digestive spices), in addition to taking some digestive capsules, and other herbs also in capsule form, as well as in ghee (clarified butter common in Indian cooking) – this time for 7 days. Included also is a ritual of self massage (abyanga) and meditation (yoga nidra). The diet is easily digested and works with the other herbs to clear your body of ama: physical, emotional, and spiritual gunk built up in your system.
  • The evening before (to stimulate full evacuation of any remaining junk from the body), a purgative is prescribed. I took a dose of castor oil (blech  *shudder*). While some folks will feel the effects early the next morn, I have the blessing of getting right down to business within about 1 hour. Yeee-haa!
  • Day of Rest (Day 0): You guessed it. Rest. Drink lots of fluids, maybe eat some strongly spiced rice gruel, rest, read/listen to something inspirational, fluids, rest, fluids, pee, fluids, nap, journal etc.
  • Digestion rebuild: For the next seven or more days you build your digestion back up, beginning with soupy kitchari and working your way back to solids. 

The next time I do a cleanse, I would like to commit to a daily entry on the blog, because all kinds of emotional junk comes up during a cleanse. Sometime’s its yours, sometimes your partners, but somebody’s junk gets triggered because you are shifting your focus from the group to the self. More on that one day.

As I said earlier, my cleanse was delayed two weeks, but with the infinite organizing power of the universe, the timing was perfect; both astrologically, and personally. Personally, on Thursday was my last day at CCA. I loved the work I did at that job, but I also felt a consistent drain on my life force while being there. I love to work, and I work hard, but this was more than that. There was a constant tension and a strain that I still cannot name. I needed to be able to remove that from my system.

Astrologically, we had an eclipse last night. I didn’t know it till I watched the Power of Eclipses brought to you by HAALo (http://haalo.org/eclipse), but we have minor solar AND lunar eclipses regularly. The particular eclipse that happened last night was a lunar eclipse in the sign of Scorpio. Because it was a lunar eclipse it relates to emotions, think yin energy, and the moon was in a particular position in Scorpio near the “heart” of the constellation, which correlates the eclipse to poison, particularly poisons that you carry within you, be they physical, or emotional/mental). I learned also that Eclipses intensify what is going on–in this case my cleanse.

Part of the cleanse is to also recognize what I want to let go of. What fears, doubts, and judgments are sitting inside of me, holding me back, and holding me in patterns that sabotage all that I want and can be. These are so hard for me to name and call out. They are shadows that hide from my consciousness. They are wafts of smoke that intoxicate me when I’m not looking. They are branches tripping me as I speak. Last night during the eclipse itself and into the night my mind was FULL of chatter. Full of it. I could not get a quiet moment to happen. When thinking of what I wanted to let go, I could not identify anything specific, only the word FEAR. While it’s true, its also so elementary and generic. I knew I needed to get to something more personal and real, but I could not do it. I went to bed and let my mind rest. 

This morning I was much more clear. I woke up, went to the bathroom, came back to bed, and was able to meditate. I noticed after a while a straightening of my spine, like my head was reaching for the sky, and as I did so, a flood of tears came from me. When I would collapse, they would subside, but when I was straight and tall they would flow. It was like un-kinking a hose. I felt that I was connecting with the divine when I was straight, allowing the grace of The One to flow through me. Soon after, the PF came in to check on me. He could see that I’d been crying and came to the side of our bed. I faced him, wrapped my arms around him and was moved to many more tears. I allowed myself to be comforted by him, to feel his love, to receive.

As I go back and read my past blog posts, I realize that I’ve been leading up to this point for a long time. That today is actually the turning point for the life that I have always imagined. The turning point isn’t some event that is happening outside of me. Its me turning around and seeing that I’m already in the life that I wanted. That all that really needs to happen is a shift inside me. A laying aside of my armor, a balancing of the feminine and the masculine inside of me. A stepping into the person that I am meant to be, that I long to be–that I am already but don’t recognize.

I already have the partner that I knew would be there to support and love me, dote on me, and care for me like no other person ever has. I already have all of the tools that I need to build the things I dream of, and the universe keeps bringing me the situations that I need to learn everything necessary to move forward. I already have the courage to move into the world in uncertainty and onto my true path in service. I am blessed. And now, I’m even a little hungry.

 

 

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Motherhood

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This Mother’s Day morning I woke from a beautiful dream. A dream that I’d had a baby boy. It was a little disconcerting, since I didn’t know I was pregnant. But the baby was there (strangely in my underwear, like a hammock). I was surprised and delighted. He was beautiful and I suckled him, then realized that I still had a cord and the placenta to deal with. I finally got the placenta out–I won’t share that part–and into the fridge for later.

I tried to go to work after (they were not expecting me to have a baby and I hadn’t  arranged for time off), but the wonderful PF vetoed my thoughts on that. Good man, as always. The baby was so quiet I had to keep checking to make sure he was ok. We didn’t have a name for him yet, but I kept thinking of him as “Chris”. (I would not choose this as a name in my conscious mind).

I’m not surprised, as my recent days have been filled with such thoughts. Yes, pregnancy for myself, but also as a new career path. Maybe as a doula, maybe as a midwife, definitely as a lactation consultant. Definitely offering home-birth services, likely having a birth center with my growing closer everyday friend, Ashlee. Definitely empowering women to make their own choices for their birth experience, supporting them to trust their bodies wisdom, their own intuition, and help them overcome the fear that is imposed on them by the current state of alarmist health care in our country.

The next phase of my life will be revisiting my earliest passions as an adult: herbalism and motherhood. I want to be helping others achieve their dreams of it, and supporting families in their choices regarding it. It all starts with Aviva Romm’s course, “Herbal Medicine for Women”.

In the words of Arwyn, “Your path is already laid before you.”

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