Belly dancing to be exact. American Tribal Style (ATS) belly dance if you want to be more technical. Though I do occasionally dabble in Tribal Fusion, the true heart of which is still ATS, my really passion is the improvisational method.
It’s like learning the alphabet. Once you know the letters, you learn the sounds. And once you know the sounds you can build words and sentences. Except in ATS, you learn the moves. Than you learn the cues. Then you can form seamless dance performances with folks of all different walks of life who all ‘speak’ the same dance ‘vocabulary’ as you.
I’ve been dancing for five-ish years. This January marks the start of my sixth year dedicated to ATS belly dance. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to study with many wonderful people. And I’ve had the chance to put ATS into play on the fly often.
I have a hard time describing what it feels like to be able to meet up with other ATS performers and just jump into a dance with them. No practice, no choreography Just the beat of the music and following the leader’s cues. Or taking the lead myself!
Many of the other people I know who perform ATS were dancers in other forms before finding belly dance. Ballet dancers, flamenco dancers, jazz or modern dancers. But not me.
I took one ballet class when I was a little girl. I still didn’t know my right from my left yet and the teachers tied a length of yellow yarn around my right ankle so I could tell the difference. I wore a white leotard with mutli-colored dots on it and a tiny teal skirt that was attached with white tights.
I was so excited to dance. And the class was intimidating since it was the middle of the session and the girls were all performing Swan Lake together. To be fair, at four or five years old I hardly think they were succeeding at Swan Lake, but they all knew which side of the room to run to, etc.
Leaving the class, I was already anticipating next week’s class. But we didn’t go the next week. Or the next. I think the classes were too expensive for my single parent family to manage. But for weeks, I slept with that length of yellow yarn under my pillow, holding onto it in case we were to go back. But we never did.
Fast forward a lifetime later. I was in my early twenties doing an internship at an art museum in Memphis, Tennessee. I was at a street festival in the blazing summer heat when I saw them. A group of women dressed in, what I would call back then, gypsy attire- brightly colored tops and skirts with layers of jewelry on their necks, waists, wrists and hands. I believe they even wore turbans.
They danced together in the heat, all color and joy. I wanted to join them and be them. But I didn’t know where to even start. Then my boyfriend drug me toward some other amusement at the festival. But I never forgot them. I wish I knew what the name of their group was.
I guess it was about five or six years later when I explored dance on my own. I’d graduated from college, married my boyfriend, moved to Japan for two years and then came back to settle in Maryland. And I found I actually had some time on my hands. My now husband asked me, “Well, what do you want to do?”
Maryland presents way more opportunities for someone interested in exploring the arts than rural Tennessee ever did. And it was just a quick jaunt through the phone book (yes I actually used a phone book- probably one of the last times I ever did) to find a dance studio in town that offered belly dance classes. January 2007 I attended my first ever belly dance class, and it was a year later when I performed publicly for the first time.
The rest is history. I’ve danced with a few different troupes over the course of these five years. Experimented with different kinds of dancing. Performed solo a couple of times as well. And I still love it.
Which is why this year, I’m actually going to get my ATS General Skills certification. It’s a 20 hour workshop intensive that ends with me getting an actual certificate to hang on my wall. A piece of paper might not seem like it’s worth that much effort (or money!) but to me it is. I’ve spent five+ years preparing myself to be ready for such certification. And it’s not just some certification program with Josephine Schmo. It’s with the founder of American Tribal Style belly dance- Carolena Nericcio!
Learning from the source is important to me. And I don’t think she will continue to teach forever. So I want to grab my chance now while it’s available.
And this falls in line with my goals for 2013 that have nothing to do with baby making. Self-actualization FTW!
That woman in the picture at the top of this post…. that’s me. And that woman on the ‘About‘ page? That’s also me. There’s even a part of me that wants to be an author. There are many versions of me. And they are all undeniably me. I want a part of me to also be a mother- desperately. But in the mean time, I can continue to deepen the parts of me that I have managed to make come to fruition. And maybe, in time, the motherhood thing will bear fruit too.