EPL and Sacramento

Here’s a blog I wrote a few days ago when I was still in Cali and never posted:

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations.

I went into this trip trying not to have any. But the longer I’m here, the more I realize I did have some preconceived ideas about this trip.

After the first month of EPL, I remember having this feeling that the goal I had at the beginning of the month and the result I had at the end were so different from one another. I remember thinking, “Well, in Month 2, there’s no way I’ll be doing anything but training hard. I’m going to California and New York to dance, and I’ll only have 8 days in January when I’m even in Columbia.”

But this trip, while I have danced a LOT and I still have a few days at Shoebox and a day at the mothership with Suhaila, the most important things I have learned so far have been outside of the dance studio. I’ve learned so much about hard work from these women and men. I’ve learned what a healthy, functional dance community looks and operates like. Amy sets the bar REALLY high for these dancers choreographically and interpersonally, and it shows.

Some of the best experiences I have had here have been outside of Hot Pot, even! On Sunday, we went to a Japanese bath house in downtown San Francisco called Kabuki. The first thing you see when you walk in are these beautiful shower stations. Everyone sits down and bathes, and then you enter the main room.  There was a hot pool, a cool dip pool, a wet sauna, and a dry sauna. You’re not allowed to talk loudly and you just slowly drift between the different pools and saunas for as long as you want. When I got out, I felt so cleansed and restored. It was absolutely beautiful. After we got sushi, some sort of crepe-ice cream sundae and walked Haight-Asbury in San Francisco.

Sacramento: The First Few Days

Sacramento is amazing. I’ve been having such a rad time the past few days living here at Hot Pot Studio and getting to meet the community and family here.

The trip started a little rocky. Mark and I drag ourselves out of bed at 5 AM so I could catch my 6:40 AM flight. I get to the airport – and the check-in line, just by eyeballing it, is at least an hour wait. There is a line outside that looks shorter… but damn, it’s St. Louis at 5:30 in the morning, so it’s COLD. I opt to wait outside, barely get checked in the mandatory 30 minutes early. I go toward the security line… and it’s even longer.

I manage to find a shorter security line and get through it in 25 minutes. I grab my bag, computer, and jacket off the X-Ray machine and SPRINT toward my gate. I arrive ONE MINUTE late. I see my plane, still connected to the building. “Am I too late?” I ask despairingly. The security guy nods curtly.

Shit.

I go up to the ticket counter. “You might have to go on a flight tomorrow, everything is booked,” the ticket lady says. “The best I can do is put you on standby.” I get put on standby on a flight 20 minutes later. I miraculously manage to get the only seat available. When I arrive in Las Vegas for my connection, I am put on a flight leaving 10 minutes later. I end up arriving in Sacramento an hour before I was supposed to arrive!

So that worked out well.

My first few days here have just been… amazing. Exactly what I needed. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of really amazing people that dance at Hot Pot, I’ve eaten some of the best food I’ve ever had… yesterday morning I took an amazing yoga class here at the studio, and it just felt so good to stretch after flying and working so hard the few days on getting my website up (which I’ve been having issues with, but it WILL be up soon!).

I’ve taken a lot of classes already. There are several weekly choreography classes, and I also got my first taste of group improv, which is really fascinating. Yesterday I took a long walk around Sacramento after breakfast, and I’m in love with this town. It’s absolutely beautiful.

I am going to stay here for the rest of the week and then spend some time at Shoebox Studio closer to the Bay next week.

Packin’ My Bags…

… I’ve just finished (over)packing for my trip to Sacramento.

This trip really snuck up on me. I have been holed up in Nichelle Lawrence’s studio the past few days, getting new pictures and images together. Today I realized I that I am driving down TONIGHT to St. Louis so I can get up early enough to catch my flight at an ungodly 6:40 AM.

Looking back, though, I’m kind of glad I’ve been distracted with other projects and I haven’t been thinking about this trip in the past few days as I usually do. I’ve identified that I have a bad habit of building up really high expectations. I constantly end up building my expectations so high that I am caught completely unaware for what life is actually throwing my way.

So my only expectations for this trip are:

1) I’m going to work my ass off.

2) I’m going to keep an open mind and live in the present moment.

I’m planning on blogging while in California, so check back. I’ve also got some big announcements and a new website about to be released, so stay tuned!

New Year’s Resolutions v. Old Year’s Reflections

I hate New Year’s resolutions. Every year I set three or four completely unreasonable expectations for myself (“I will never eat chocolate again”; “I’m going to go to the gym every day”; “…I suppose I could limit my Taco Bell visits to once every two days?”), and each year I last three days or so before I mess up and then say, “To hell with it!” (Cut to Megan, sitting depressed on her futon, chasing a Crunchwrap Supreme with an entire box of Fannie Mae).

Furthermore, resolutions have an inherently negative nature — “What’s wrong with you THIS year? What do you want to fix?” No, thanks. I have resolved to be done with negativity (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Goals are great, I’m not knocking that — I just feel like our culture takes an inherently positive thing — self-improvement — and interprets it all wrong. Besides resolutions seeming to always have a negative flavor to them, it always seems like there’s a lot of talk, and little action. And it makes sense why SO many resolutions fail and why so many people don’t act on their resolutions. Many resolutions go against months — and sometimes years — of habitual behavior to the contrary. Getting into a daily exercise routine, for example, after two years of limited activity is a DRASTIC departure from your old habits, and therefore can be very difficult.

Please don’t walk away with the idea that I am saying, “Don’t make resolutions, because you’re going to fail.” I’m saying that maybe the problem is in HOW we set New Year’s resolutions.

So I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions this year.

Instead, I’m going to do some Old Year’s reflections. Instead of resolutions, I am going to analyze 2009 in its entirety, see what I’ve learned, and see what I want to bring into 2010 and what should just stay with 2009.

Want to try? Here’s what I’m doing:

1) CREATE A YEAR IN REVIEW

I found it enormously helpful last year to write down, month by month, what happened in my year. Old calendars, datebooks, etc. are helpful in remembering. Besides being kind of fun — I tend to forget some things I’ve done — sometimes you can spot patterns when looking at your year as a whole. Here’s my 2009:

January: Working at the Columbia Tribune, one of my favorite jobs ever. Was a flamenco dancer in the MLK breakfast in town! Found out I got the job as the Bellydance Superstars merchandiser.

February/March: Touring the US with BDSS. Completely changed my life. Drove a Penske truck across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Delware, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Utah, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan. THEN I had to drive the truck from Detroit to L.A.

April: Flew to California to get Level II certified in the Suhaila format — also life-changing. It was physically and emotionally one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Worked and auditioned for BDSS at Raqs LA.

May: Went to Japan and Canada with BDSS!

June: Worked Raqs America in Washington, D.C. for BDSS… decided I needed to be focusing on training, and decided to leave the merchandise post. It was a hard decision — the BDSS gang is an awesome bunch. Asharah workshop!

July: A lotta sitting around.

August: Got second place in the Pro Tribal Soloist category at the MAQAM bellydance competiton in Chicago. Started Odissi lessons!

September: Eco Art Fest in Columbia, started teaching classes in Jefferson City.

October: Burlesque show in Kirksville with Lola van Ella, St. Louis Burlesque fest, AMY SIGIL WORKSHOP! GREAT month.

November: Artica fundraiser show — Love and Loss in One Act. Went to Florida to visit my grandpa. Planned trip for January to study with AMY SIGIL!

December: Training, training, training, creating, training… preparing for Amy Sigil and 2010.

2) ANALYZE

I still remember it — in December 2008, I became convinced that “2009 was going to be my year” — that something amazing would happen. And looking back… I had a heck of a year. A lot of positive growth, a lot of travel, a lot of new opportunities and new acquaintances.

I learned some hard lessons. I’ve learned living life on the road and touring is an experience that you can try to explain to someone, but it’s hard to understand how simultaneously awesome and difficult it is unless you’ve done it yourself. I learned that people sometimes represent someone they’re not. I’ve learned how it feels to be physically and emotionally drained — and how powerful you feel when you overcome it. I’ve learned that the more I connect with the universe and the more good energy I put out, the more good the universe sends my way. I’ve learned that experiences aren’t “good” or “bad”, necessarily — they are an opportunity to grow and learn. I’ve learned that the best judge of my self-worth is myself.

3) TAKE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED… AND APPLY IT.

  • I’ve learned that I really love traveling. I would definitely tour again, if given the opportunity. I hope in 2010 I get more opportunities to do so — and I should pursue those opportunities.
  • Through all of my adventures in 2009, I have had some really important people in my life to help me through it. I’ve learned I am very empathetic, and I absorb people’s energies. Therefore, in 2010, I want to invest time in my relationships that manifest good energy — people that care about me and people that I would do anything for. I’m done with toxic people. I’m so fortunate to have so many caring, wonderful people in my life, and I want to give my time and energy to them.
  • The highlights of my 2009 are mostly centered around (surprise, surprise) dancing. I feel happiest when I am dancing. I want to earn more opportunities to pursue what I love in 2010 by training hard, nourishing my body to feel good and healthy, and by constantly focusing on creating positive energy.

4) GIVE THANKS FOR WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN.

I am so fortunate to get to do what I love so frequently. I’m grateful that I have had so many people help me through tough times — thank you. I’m grateful I got to travel and see a larger scope of the world. I’m grateful that I have been released from commitments that could have prevented me from pursuing my future. I’m grateful for a wonderful, supportive family. I’m grateful for Amy Sigil, Asharah, and everyone in BDSS, since they have changed the way I am pursuing belly dance. I’m grateful that people are reading my blog 🙂

Happy almost New Year, everyone. 2010 is going to be one hell of a year.

The “Eat, Pray, Love” Experiment

I’m not sure if anyone else feels this way, but every time change comes in to my life, I try to read a really life-changing book (I know, I know… I take nerd-dom to a new level). I have had a few people recommend the book “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert to me, so I picked it up the other day from the library. In this autiobiographical account, Elizabeth details her year-long quest for true spiritual enlightment. — 4 months in Italy, eating good food, learning the language, and seeking pleasure in life; 4 months in India, studying yoga and spirituality at a yoga Ashram with a guru; and 4 months learning life lessons from a Balinese medicine man in Indonesia.

Well, I definitely picked a life-changing book to read.  It’s honest, really well-written, and dripping with wisdom.

It got me thinking… I think people do not take nearly enough time in our culture to work on their own happiness and spirit. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if I went on my own journey pursuing three things I wanted to develop or experience to make me a better, more enlightened person? And what if I could work on my passion, dancing, like Elizabeth pursued a relationship with God? I think it’s safe to say that I am a preacher of the dance gospel — maybe that makes it my religion (“Please open your Bibles to the gospel of Martha Graham, please…” ).

So I’m doing it! Starting in December, I am going to spend one month focusing on eating, nutrition, and keeping my body at optimum health. I am going to try to make meals for myself more, try new food, and learning as much as I can about taking care of my body. I will be traveling to Chicago during this time for Christmas — resisting my mom’s fudge will be an interesting challenge. I’m hoping to explore the city with this new mindset.

Come January, my focus turns to training. I’m hoping for bootcamp-style, constant dancing and studying as many dance styles with as many dance teachers as possible (even as a kid I always loved the montage where the dancer is training feverishly). I will be in Sacramento to study with Amy Sigil and other belly dance teachers in the area for the first half of January, and I’m planning to continue studying Indian dance, modern, ballet, and explore some new dance styles.

February is going to be the month where I am going to focus on creating. I am surrounding myself with as much inspiration as possible, collaborating with other artists to achieve my goals, and work on some pieces. I am hopefully going to be traveling to Atlanta for Tribal Con during this period, which I am really looking forward to for a lot of inspiration.

And I think you should do it to!

I’m calling it the “Eat, Pray, Love” experiment. Who would be interested in focusing on three passions, three things-you-always-wanted-to-do, three do-your-soul-some-good things; spending some time pursuing each one (it could be a day, a week, several months — however long you want your experiment to last); and sharing our experiences as a community? When going through huge changes, sometimes it can really be great to have a community of people supporting you doing something good for yourself. It’s also great to hear about one another, and it will keep us all motivated to keep with the experiment. If you’re interested, post a response to this blog.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes.

I was with some friends a few weeks back, and we all decided to read our tarot cards. Believe what you want about tarot — you can believe that the cards truly feed off your energy, or you can believe someone just wrote some universally applicable statements on some cardboard. No matter how you feel, some level of self-reflection is almost unavoidable when reading tarot cards, which I feel is never a bad thing. All I know is I enjoy taking a few minutes to appraise and analyze where I’m at in life.

When it came to my turn, I drew the Death card.

The Death card has a bit of an undeserved bad rap. It seems pretty scary and ominous, but read this description from a tarot site I like:

“In the Tarot, as in reality, Death is nothing more than a transition to the next level of life… Nothing is destroyed, because nothing can be destroyed – there can be only transformation…When the Death card appears, big changes are heading your way. Usually this change refers to something in your lifestyle; an old attitude or perspective is no longer useful and you have to let go of it. Death is not simply destruction; it is destruction followed by renewal. Even though one door may have closed, another is opening. Will you have the courage to step through?”

And wouldn’t you know it… here I am, a few weeks later, and I am appreciating how accurate this card was.

I am someone who has a very hard time dealing with changes and transitioning. I think one of the most important lessons I need to take from this card is that I need to have courage, strength and energy to step through new doors. I have been finding myself asking the universe a lot, “What should I be doing now? What should I be focusing on?” I keep putting off decisions because I’m terrified I’m going to move in the wrong direction. But I am trying to turn that fear into excitement. I am at a point where there are a multitude of paths lying in front of me — I just need to have faith in my instincts that whatever path I choose is the one I’m meant to be on. I need to roll with whatever happens. I’m starting to come to the realization that I waste a lot of time wondering what I should be doing, as opposed to just DOING something. I read in a book once the line, “Understanding is a delaying tactic.” I feel like in my life sometimes I spend too much time and energy analyzing what has happened and trying to understand it, when I could be putting that energy toward dance. Nike got it right — Just do it, Megan.

So I’m just doing it. I finally committed to pursuing a really amazing opportunity that was presented to me. Yesterday, I bought my plane tickets to travel to Sacramento for two weeks in January to study with Amy Sigil of Unmata. I recently posted a review of Amy’s workshop, and to recap, this woman’s approach to choreography and teaching has truly inspired me on a deep level. My mindset going into this trip is that I will be going on an artistic pilgramage (I’m a fusion dancer, so of course California is my mecca!). I want to study with as many teachers in the area as possible while there (Suhaila, Mira Betz, Ariellah, Fat Chance). I feel that right now I’m in a huge transitional phase, and two weeks to focus on what I love, to journal/blog, to contemplate, to plan, to receive inspiration and good energy, and to start to look ahead is exactly what I need.

Back at home, I’m pursuing as many forms of training as possible. I still am taking 6 hours of free ballet and modern dance classes every week through my job at Stephens College, which has been a huge gift from the universe. I have also been studying Odissi (a Indian dance style), which if I had to describe it, I would call it “danced sign language.” Studying the different mudras (hand gestures), what they represent, and how they can be connected together to tell a story has been absolutely fascinating. I just took my first hula hooping workshop this weekend, and I am definitely going to try and attend more regular classes for that, as well. I am always looking for more training and new dance groups to work with.

There are some other really exciting opportunities on the horizon. I performed my latest piece, “Love and Loss in One Act,” at a fundraiser last weekend for Artica, and art festival in St. Louis (visit Artica’s website for more information on the event!). The night was absolutely wonderful — I love meeting new people, and it’s so inspiring to talk with people who are creating really powerful art. I will be performing this 17-minute dance piece again alongside Nichelle Lawrence’s photography show, “Unrequited Love,” at Artica, which will take place on December 19 on the St. Louis riverfront. My piece includes music by Etta James, The Flaming Lips, Cat Power, Keren Ann, Damien Rice, and Janis Joplin (covered by Melissa Etheridge). This piece is one of my tentative forays into what I have been labeling “contemporary belly dance fusion” — a combination of belly dance, modernized interpretations of classic belly dance props like finger cymbals and veils, modern dance, theater, and other contemporary dance styles.

While there has been a lot of excitement, some recent events have unfortunately left me contemplating the more literal interpretation of this card, as well. My grandfather was diagnosed recently with a very rare form of hip cancer — so rare, in fact, that he doesn’t even qualify for any experimental trials. He has undergone chemotherapy, I will be flying with my family to visit him this weekend. I can’t even really say how I feel about it… it’s an odd feeling. I am usually pretty good at understanding and expressing what I’m feeling, but on this issue… I just feel jumbled. I’m trying to focus on the fact that I am very fortunate to have three days to spend with my grandfather, who I do not get to see often since he lives far away.

I am gearing up for more changes in my life, and I am getting ready to put my energy into working toward new goals and exploring new opportunities. On that end, I am no longer dancing with the Dragonflies Dance Company. I, however, will cherish my Moon Belly memories dearly, for through this amazing community I have learned a lot about myself and the strength and power of women — I sincerely thank each and every woman I had the opportunity to train with. If you are in the area, do make a point to see their upcoming show on December 12, 8PM at the Blue Note: “100,000 Feet Deep: Mary Magdalene,” a theatrical/modern/belly dance interpretation of the life of Mary Magdalene. These women have been working exceptionally hard, and it’s amazing to see what this community is creating together. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at http://www.thebluenote.com.

I’d like to end with another excerpt from the tarot website:

“Take a look at the Rider-Waite version of the Death card, and note the bishop on the right side of the image. He is actually welcoming Death, because he knows of the great spiritual transformation it brings. Almost all versions of the Death card show a symbol of resurrection or re-birth.”

Bring it, Death. I’m ready for change.