Second Day in Japan

It was a good day all around – I finally got to talk to Mark on Skype, I explored a little bit of Tokyo on my own, I bought a disposable camera, and I’m starting to learn some Japanese that will never come in useful later in life (“That is 1000 yen/ 2000 yen/ 3000 yen” and I say “arregato” more than I probably should). There were two shows today, and we sold out of almost everything we brought. Miles packed 15-20 complete costumes (which range anywhere from $250 to $500) and we’ve sold all but five so far. I’m starting to worry we aren’t going to have anything to sell when we get to the next place in Japan.

I am so grateful for the two girls helping me sell – I am able to get around with hand gestures and knowing basic, basic Japanese, but it goes so much faster and easier with the girls here. They help me restock the table and help a lot with the money. They are adorable, too. We all took pictures together, and the Universal Records guys (who have a table next to us) were laughing at us.

At one point I thought I lost my wallet with all my yen and my ID, but luckily it was at the merch table. Now the only thing I can’t locate is my calendar, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t all that important, only mildly irritating that I can’t find it.

I’ve got to go, the show is about to end and we’re about to be flooded once more with people.

First show in Japan

The first show has come and gone, and it was a whirlwind. The girls had it rough – they ran through and filmed the entire old show, Babelesque, before  the actual show, which was also filmed. I had much more merchandise than I thought – Miles brought seven or eight suitcases, which I had to lug up two flights of stairs because there was no elevator.

I had two girls helping me for the show, thank God, but neither of them spoke any English. There was a translator who spoke very little English before the show, and through him the girls and I worked out a rudimentary communication system. Out of the 1000 people that came to the show and the merch table, I spoke to three people that spoke English. I really gained some empathy for anyone that goes to a foreign country and is thrown in not knowing the language. It is really frightening and pretty lonely… it’s so funny, but I really took something as fundamental as communication for granted.

The show was insane. We started with three tables in a straight line, and by the end, the crowds had pushed the tables into a curve. As I was restocking hip scarves, people were grabbing them out the box. Between trying to communicate with hand signs, converting prices and remembering them in yen, and making change with currency I had never seen before, I was exhausted by the time I got home.

The only Japanese I have learned so far is “arregato” which is “thank you” and “Oh genki des ka” which is  “Nice to meet you” (I’m not even pretending I spelled those right, by the way).

I’m working really hard to communicate with my family and Mark over Skype but the time difference is so great and I only have internet at the venue, so it’s difficult. I haven’t spoken to anyone since I got here, and I’m feeling a little homesick and lonely.

I better get going, we have two shows today and both are sold out. It’s going to be a long day.

Flying with the Harlem Globetrotters

I’m currently laying on a bed that is about a foot and a half off the floor in the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa in Japan. It’s symbolic of EVERYTHING in Japan – everything is LOW to the ground. The sinks at the airport hit me around my thighs. But hey, they have the fanciest toilets I’ve ever seen. I admittedly did enjoy that the toilet seat was heated, but I wasn’t brave enough to explore any other functions on the toilet, like the “bidet” button (There was a button with just a crude drawing of water misting a pair of buttocks with the single word “spray” – is that not basically what a bidet is?).

The flight here was actually not too bad for it being 12 hours. The plane was the largest plane I had ever been on – I was in row 63. The Harlem Globetrotters were on our flight, and I sat next to one of the members. We had a really interesting talk about how both of our respective businesses functioned, and he was pretty inspiring. After talking to him, I realized that there seems to be a mold that successful, artistic people fit (he choreographed a lot of the stunts and “pieces” for the show). It sounded like he (and others I have observed) are excellent at marketing themselves, constantly creating their own opportunities, and last of all, really good at continually putting themselves out there. For example, this guy worked his way up from Chucky Cheese and explored theater and doing his own stunt work before auditioning for the Globetrotters. I think the lesson learned here is don’t be afraid to take any opportunity even if it’s not EXACTLY what you want to do at the time.

We were served two meals, and to be frank I’m not certain what I ate. What I did know was it was free, everything is expensive in Japan, and I had no yen. So, I ate everything on my plate, including a few raw pieces of what I assume was fish and some pasta dish that incorporated shrimp, pasta, and some sort of brown sauce. The fact that liquor is free on international flights didn’t go unnoticed by me and helped when it came to not caring what I ate. I didn’t sleep at all and instead watched some great movies (The Reader), some fair movies (Grand Torino, part of Quantum of Solace) and some I’m ashamed to say I watched in their entirety (Mall Cop, Bride Wars, and part of a Lilo and Stitch movie).

Once we landed, some interesting things happened. We had quarantine doctors come on our plane – dressed in surgical robes, masks, booties, hair coverings – to discern if we were ill with the swine flu. The flight attendants wore masks the entire flight. We had to fill out a questionnaire, and they came around and looked at everyone on the plane through a special camera. If I had to guess I would say it was a thermal imaging camera to see if any of us were feverish. After being detained for almost an hour, we were finally allowed to exit the plane. At one point there were six masked doctors in our section of the plane – people were taking pictures. It was like being in a horror movie about a killer virus.

I’m in the hotel now, and I’m going to try and get a decent nights’ sleep to offset jetlag. I do not have wireless in my room so it may be hard to reach me in Japan – best bet is to email, and hopefully there is wireless at the venue tomorrow. Tomorrow the work begins!

The Journey Begins…

Well, folks, I am riding on MO-X, a bus that runs from Columbia to the St. Louis airport, where I will be boarding a flight to LA and to my job. I can’t believe it is back already to life on the road. It seems like the minute I got re-accustomed to living in a house and not out of a suitcase, I am being thrown back into the fray.

For those of you who don’t know, I am the merchandise girl for the Bellydance Superstars. In January 2009, I took a huge risk – I quit my job and ran away to the circus. I mean, um, I joined BDSS for their Spring 2009 U.S. tour. It turned out to be… one of the most incredible, confusing, mind-blowing, and life-altering experiences of my life thus far. I grew so much as a person, and the growing experiences keep reverberating off of it even off the road. Two months is a lifetime when you’re packing up your life every night in a different state in the same tired, dilapidated green American Tourister.

I didn’t get a chance to journal while I was on the road last tour (I had a computer that would only function if I jerry-rigged the power cord with a bra strap, a jar, and a carefully wedged wad of paper), but for many reasons I really want to document this part of my life and my journey. It was largely inspired by my future grandkids, actually – keep reading, I’m not completely insane.

It’s January 2009, and life couldn’t get better. I was living in a little yellow rental house with a green front door in Columbia with my boyfriend of 2.5 years. I had two cute little kittens. I was ridiculously overpaid at a great job at a local newspaper for the chillest boss I have ever had. I had health insurance. I was dancing with a really innovative dance company.

I was empty.

I would think about it sometimes. Here was my life – the Columbia, Missouri version of every crappy sitcom you see on TV with allegedly twenty-somethings working at jobs they couldn’t possibly have and living in loft apartments they couldn’t possibly afford – and all I could see was myself in 40 years as a surly, crotchety grandma sitting on a rocking chair, telling my grandkids about my ordinary life in Missouri while their eyes glazed over and they telepathically sent messages to their mother to let them leave.

I got scared, and the quarter-life crisis struck.

I told myself that 2009 was going to bring something huge, and I told myself things were going to change forever. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know when. But I knew, I KNEW that something was on the horizon. I refuse to look back and feel regret.  Let’s face it: I can’t knit or crochet, and with a B.A. in English I’m destined to be too poor to leave anyone anything of value. Having amazing life stories is my only option for being a cool grandma.

Oh a whim, I emailed Miles Copeland, the owner of the Bellydance Superstars, after reading they were looking for a merch girl. Following great advice from Petite Jamilla, I became a squeaky wheel (I hear they get the oil) and marketed the heck out of myself – and I was beyond floored when I got a message back that simply read, “You sound like the person we need. Where do you live?” I got the job.

My cool newspaper job? Put in my two weeks. My relationship? Put on hold. My dance company back home? Put aside. My life? Paused. My sanity? In question. 3 months, several states and many miles later, here I am. I toured for two months, and I loved it. And I realized I have found it, that elusive “it,” that drive that we’re told as kids we’ll someday find: I found my passion. I want to belly dance. I want it to be my career. I want to make this work. I have felt passionate about precious few things in my life, and I know that there is nothing else I would sacrifice this much for.

And there has been a LOT of sacrifice for this job. Many important things and people in my life have suffered because of my pursuit of my dream. But I’m ready to live, and not just play a role in the Columbia version of “Friends.” I’m ready to make my own luck and make this dream a reality.

So the true function of this blog is this: I am a 22-year-old living in Columbia, Missouri, that’s trying to make it as a belly dancer in a world that undervalues art in general. I don’t know how, but I’m going to make this work. I’m going to work like hell to someday dance with the Bellydance Superstars, and I’m going to work to build a name near my home. I hope this blog can help others like me as I share stories, experiences, and what works and what doesn’t. I hope that anyone reading this can contribute the same.