IAMED essay contest for the near-win!

Dear readers, I thought I’d share a little something with you. I just got word that my entry to IAMED’s 2013 essay contest won second place. Woo hoo! I’m especially delighted by the generous prize of four DVDs, which I have been having a lot of fun choosing.

The prompt asked us to describe our favourite part of the bellydance routine, and I wrote about the drum solo:

This is how I started to fall for the drum solo. It can be fierce and tight, full of pops and locks, but it can also be cool and relaxed, with travel moves and big shimmies. And it’s the perfect do-it-yourself version of bellydance. You don’t need to have a lot of space for traveling moves, or the right floor for spins, or ceilings high enough to practice the veil. I can listen to a drum solo while waiting for the bus, and play with the rhythms under my winter coat. And even more exciting, you don’t need a full orchestra to enjoy dancing to live music. Find one drummer who is really into it, even if he or she hasn’t mastered all of Arabic or Turkish percussion, and you can have music and dance to it.

You can read the entire essay online here.


My son, future dancer

One of my goals as a parent is not to impose my own desires on my child. I’ve seen it happen too often that parents try to live out their unfulfilled dreams through their children, usually to the frustration of those children. The trick is: what’s the line between trying to revive a lost cause through your kid and just sharing your passions and hobbies with them?

I’m starting to realise the extent to which this is true since, spending a lot of time with my baby, I keep imagining possible futures for him. And unlike those moms who imagine their kids becoming doctors or athletes or lawyers or other important muckymucks, I’ve become convinced that my son has the right build to be a dancer. He has these beautiful, slender legs that I’m convinced will be long, he’s strong and seems to want to stand on his own despite his six weeks (tomorrow), and when feeding, sleeping, or just hanging out, his hands will fall into the most graceful shapes. For an example, see picture.

It’s not that I want or expect him to become a professional dancer, but I like the idea that he will enjoy dancing. The truth is though, even this quite basic and understandable desire is about me. You see, music and his reaction to it gave me one of the most important moments of joy, of connection as a mother, in the last few weeks.

Back track a few months. Baby — just a fetus at the time — was starting to respond to sounds and music outside the womb. My husband and I were watching Fatih Akin’s documentary of Istanbul music, Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul. I was lying on the couch, and my husband had his hand on my belly, feeling the occasional shifts and movements. Late in the movie, there’s a scene on the outskirts of Istanbul, in a bar filled with Romani musicians. The musicians are well sauced, and the music is frenetic. One of the Roma interviewed talks about the spirit of the music, how in hearing it, you simply have to get up to dance. When classical Turkish music is played, he says, people just sit and watch.

All the time, the song is rising in a crescendo, the baby is moving like mad, and when the final beat strikes, he gives a good, solid kick in perfect time! My husband and I both feel it and look at each other in amazement. This only grows in the next scene, a short of classical Turkish music — true to form, the baby stopped moving immediately and stayed still for the rest of the movie.

We joked many times later that he liked gypsy music. In fact, as a fetus, he tended to react to fast dance music in general. Fast forward to five weeks after birth. I am tired from interrupted nights and what feels like constant feedings. I am gradually growing in love with this beautiful little creature, but I don’t quite know what to do with him yet. Newborns aren’t very interactive, after all. And then, one day when I’m feeling down, I remember the music he liked in the womb.

So I get the iPod that usually plays rain sounds all night, search for some “gypsy” music, and play it for him while he lies on the bed. We listened to Romanian and to Flamenco music, and his little arms and legs flew in every direction. Sometimes I guided his movements, sometimes I let him just react to it on his own. And can I add that random baby flails sometimes look like flamenco arms? Just sayin’.

Maybe he was reacting to the music, grooving in his own baby way. Maybe he had no clue what was going on. I never can tell with him. But it was a real moment of connection for me, reminding me that the little boy who now runs my life was once in my womb, dancing in time to the beats outside.

Habibi Journal — now online!

When I first got into bellydancing I heard a bit about Habibi, a journal about Middle Eastern dance published between 1993 and 2002. I was so curious. I used to check in on the Gilded Serpent regularly, but only a few of its articles are really substantive. (And its reviews quite superficial and congratulatory — which made them useless for me, a budding collector.)

Well, Shareen el Safy just announced that much of Habibi, which she published, is now available online:

The Best of Habibi

I was lucky enough to take a long workshop with Shareen a few years ago in New York. I still haven’t gotten around to working with the videos I bought, and I only remember a few of the moves she taught, but what really stayed in my memory were her reflections on the dance itself. She talked about how dance is not just a way of interpreting music for the audience, but that the dancer’s role is also to communicate the “deliciousness” of the movement to those watching her. What I loved was her focus on the internal, private, and sensuous aspects of a dance that tends to seem showy, entertaining, and “available” — at least when compared to modern dance or ballet.

I’ve only skimmed a bit through the Habibi archive, but a lot of the articles seem to reflect this thoughtful approach to a dance that is often misunderstood, and often approached with technique but not with soul. The one article I read, which I absolutely loved, was Suhaila Salimpour’s recollection of working as a dancer in Lebanon. I can’t wait to discover more of the writing on Habibi.