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.

Youtube Video of the Week: Yasmina Ramzy

My troupemate Stephanie posted this video on facebook, and immediately I knew I had to post this for y’all’s viewing pleasure. The past two videos I reviewed were solo performances. But hey, I think all of us at one point have danced in a group or troupe. Therefore, it makes sense to study videos where the group dynamic is powerful and effective in order to glean insights on how to be a better choreographer or troupe member. Without further ado, Yasmina Ramzy and Arabesque Dance Company:

— Costuming. In the “real world,” I work at a college theater department, sewing costumes. One of the golden rules I have heard in theater: Don’t put black costumes on dancers if you are performing in front of a black backdrop. However, as my boyfriend pointed out while watching the video, every time the dancers move, the light reflects off the sheen of the material. The result is a clean line that doesn’t blend in to the background. I feel the simplicity of the costuming helped accentuate the crisp choreography. Way to break the black on black rule and have an effective result!

— Staging. The staging of this piece almost reminded me of modern dance or some of Urban Tribal’s pieces. I think Yasmina Ramzy, the choreographer, used the space well and also used some really innovative formations and staging — level changes, dueling groups, circle formations, a weaving pattern. I also thought having one or two dancers represent different facets of the music was really visually interesting (I’m referencing the first minute or so). Yes, dancing perfectly in unison is impressive and powerful, but I also think highlighting each dancers’ strengths and personal stylization added a lot to this piece. The ONLY critique I had is that a few times, I was unclear what the formation was supposed to me — very few times it seemed like one dancer was standing in front of another, or someone wasn’t QUITE in the right window.

–Strong, graceful technique. The dancers poise and grace complimented their tight technique really well. It was like watching a troupe of Sonias from the Bellydance Superstars dancing. The arms were particularly lovely.

So what can we learn?

1) Be conscious costuming your dancers. Imagine not only what costumes would look like on dancers, but also in the venue you will be performing. After touring with the Bellydance Superstars, another tip I would give is that sheen, glitter, sparkle, etc. works exceptionally well onstage. You’d be amazed how much shimmery/glittery/sparkly elements go into their costuming — even the tribal dancers get glittery! I remember looking at one of Moria’s tribal outfits up close and being astounded by the amount of rhinestones and glittery bits on it. I remember having a revelation — tribal dancers can and do wear rhinestones!

2) Staging. Change up your formations! I get into the two-line formation rut ALL the time. If you watch these dancers, they’re not ALWAYS doing super-complicated belly dance technique. However, it stays visually interesting because they’re changing levels or formation frequently. Our eyes like to watch discernible patterns and big, visible movement — let your audience take a break occasionally from trying to analyze super-internal, complicated hip and torso work.

3) What pushed this piece into the “awesome” category was not the costumes or the staging. What I truly appreciate is that this troupe and choreographer did NOT sacrifice their technique and grace to take risks. We’re belly dancers, ladies and gentlemen. I feel like the most important part of our art is making sure we never sacrifice grace, good form, or solid technique (unless that’s the point of your piece — I once choreographed a dance for my senior project in college that was designed to be un-aesthetically pleasing).

Click here to learn more about Yasmina Ramzy and Arabesque Dance Company.

Updates

I wish that I was a bit like my friend Sierra, who HAS to write every single day. She doesn’t go anywhere without a notebook and a pen. Alas, I am a dancer first and a writer second, so I have to kick myself in the ass a bit to get myself to write regularly.

Here’s what’s new in my neck of the woods:

1) ASHARAH WORKSHOP!

Hands down one of my favorite workshops that I’ve ever attended. Consider this: Asharah was never in the Bellydance Superstars or some famous troupe (certainly not because lack of talent!) to project her career — she is now a full-time dancer because she absolutely worked her butt off to get there, and it shows. Her workshops managed to combine the Suhaila format with new and innovative twists that really broadened my view about how the format can be applied. I loved her “Dancing your Demons” workshop and it really opened up some new challenges for myself in expressing a message through dance. The show was great, Ve did a wonderful job running everything without completely losing it (which I definitely would have, between running three workshops, organizing the vendors, corraling us workshop folk and sorting out who owed what, running a full show and managing private lessons schedule with Asharah. I strongly believe that Ve should work in a Wonder Woman cape into her next costume). I was fortunate enough to take a private lesson with Asharah, and she had a lot of great ideas for me. Moreover she actually listened and you can tell she is one of those rare dancers who genuinely selfless. I was very impressed — 5 stars! The show was great as well, it was great to see Amy and Exotic Rhythms Belly Dance and Frank Farinaro. Definitely check Asharah out at bdpaladin.com or at asharah.com.

2) I GOT A JOB!

I am a paid fundraiser for primarily Democratic committees and groups. What does that mean? … well, I guess that means I’m a telemarketer. ONLY TEMPORARILY, mind you… but yeah, calling people and nagging them for money is calling people and nagging them for money, no matter what cute euphemism you give it. I’m hoping to get a part-time position sewing costumes for the Stephen’s theater department in August.

3) I’M BACK WITH THE DRAGONFLIES!

Not that I ever really “quit” or “left,” but after a long talk with Kandi and a rather creepy medicine card reading in which I pulled the “Dragonfly” card out of a deck of 70 or some cards, I’m excited to say that I will be dancing with them again now that I’m here in Columbia.

4) REFOCUSING MY PRACTICE

I am trying to restructure how I train since I feel like I’m a huge artistic and skill rut when it comes to bellydance. I started reading “The Artist’s Way” and focus on the mental and emotional aspects of dance. I also took a modern dance class this summer and loved it, so I’m hoping to cross-train a bit more. I’ve also been in contact with a wonderful Odissi Indian dance teacher about taking lessons in the fall.

5) SOME EXCITING PROJECTS

— I’ve been working and dancing with a wonderful latin/blues/rock band called Los Desterrados, and we’re hoping to organize a larger bellydance show together.

— I’m hoping to start a Improvisation/Following class at Moon Belly in the spring. My goal is to start a new ITS format and also teach dancers to be stronger at improvising on their own and following their fellow dancers.

— I’m hoping to start teaching some workshops in the St. Louis area soon.

— I’ve been in talks with the Artisan and Kayotea about more shows in the CoMo area.

6) TIME FOR A CHANGE

On a more personal note, I have been quite negative and depressed about things recently, and I am making a vow to be more positive, work out more, and keep myself positive about the turn of events recently. Life’s too short to be sad or mad all the time.

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.