Samia PinkThe family finally meet my brother’s girlfriend after who- knows-how- long they had been dating.  I was going to like this girl or at least try to like her.  I sensed that he knew I disliked the girl he had dated before.  I was going to be cheerful with this one, supportive even if I didn’t want to because I wanted him to be content.  The good news is that I actually liked her.  She would be the one who introduced me to belly dancing.  She would be like a new sister – M.

“Reina, you have to take this class. You’ll like it.” M said.  (Reina means queen in Spanish.  It was a nickname given to me by my parents.) At the time I was finishing five years of coaching a cheerleading squad.  My coaching license was about to expire and I was ready to move on.  I refused to renew it.  The team I coached had made it to the United Cheerleading Association Championships twice.  I was tired, unappreciated, and the stunt choreography was getting more dangerous.  Most of the parents clearly hated me.  My car was vandalized, I was getting phone calls at home threatening to talk to administrators to have me fired.  “Please do.” I once said.  Do they realize that I basically do this job for free? That I am mostly a volunteer? The stress brought on my first case of shingles. Eight to ten hours of practice each week for a yearly $1,000 dollar stipend and the stress was no longer worth it.  I was done.

“Ok.” I said.

M was there when I had issues with the troupe.  “Just dance by yourself Reina; you choreographed for the cheerleaders, you can choreography your own dances.” I did as she told me and in the process I found a new teacher.

My new mentor was everything I could hope for.  She made her living as a dancer.  She looked like Cleopatra and boy, was she was tough.  I walked into the class for the first time and before we started the warm-up another student came up to me and asked, “Is this your first class?” “Yes.” I said trying not to be too friendly as I am a  bit of a loner. “You’re going to be in for a surprise.” she said.  She was right; in the mist of every hip-bump there was a new directional change. “Front, side, back, side, forward, corner, side, back, corner, corner.”  My mind could not keep up with my hips, but this was good for me. “Ranee, you have great omi’s.” my new teacher said, after she noticed. “Thanks, I don’t know how to do a maya though.” I replied “Well, everybody’s body works differently.” she said.  I did not respond, but inside that comment made me feel whole again.

I went to class regularly.  M would go with me.  “I love her style.” said M.  “What do you want to do with your dancing?” my teacher finally asked.  “Well, I want to perform as much as possible.” I replied and so the performing began.

My first stage performance was in Madrid.  A town about 40 miles away from my home in Albuquerque.  I was working at a summer school for trouble youth.  I was very close with the faculty.  I invited them all to come see me perform and, much to my surprise, most of them did.   To think that ten people actually drove to see me eased my nerves. I have never been in Madrid.  Much to my surprise it was not the stage or town I expected. I think we all eventually learn as performances is to expect the unexpected. The restaurant/bar was a dark place filled with personalities of all sorts. Along with the dancer’s were bikers, artist, hippies and my co-workers.  It smelled of liquor, smoke and weed.

There were dancer’s already performing and my name had to go on a list.  I thought to myself “I have been bamboozled!” For whatever reason that was in my young and selfish mind had made me think they were there to see me.  That they were expecting me. Me! Me! Me!  I thought, wasn’t my teacher the one in charge of the event?  I was on the list as number eighteen or nineteen.  It was gonna be a long time before I dance.  So we watched.  It was mostly Tribal/Tribal Fusion and Gypsy fusion with the exception of two other dances. It was also the year that many dancer’s felt the need to dance to Godsmack’s ” Voo Doo.”

I went to the bar, got a drink, and sat with M and my boyfriend.  Then it was time for another drink. “You’re lovely.” said someone behind me.  Surprised I turned around “You’re lovely.” the dyed redhead said “Thanks,” I replied. ” You’re lovely too.”  “Ne, that girl at the bar is staring at you.” M said “Yes, I know; she told me I was lovely.” There were giggles all around.  Enough of that, I decided.

Finally, my turn to dance.  I gave my CD to the DJ.  My songs — two mixed together — were less that five minutes long.  I started with my own choreography to Phaedra Pharaonic; the second dance was choreographed by Aziza.  This dance I had learned one month before at a workshop. The song was Sahra Saidi.

I feel great after performing, thanks to the ten fans I had clapping and hollering! I thought I was awesome. “Ne, you’re such a snob, you think you’re the best dancer here.” M said “See ,M, that is where you are wrong. I am the best performer here.” I said proudly “That’s why you don’t have any friends.” M  replied, laughing  “Well, at least you are my friend.” I said,laughing as well.  All kidding aside, I probably thought I was the best performer at the time.

“Let’s go home, I’m tired.”  I said my good-byes and went to my car.  My teacher came out, “Ranee, we have a little bit of a problem.” “Uh, what’s the problem?” I asked confused “Well, you danced to two songs and there has been a complaint.” she explained ” What?  My solo was less than five minutes.  You saw how everyone else was dancing forever to just one song.” “I know but I have the feeling they may not want us back.” I thought this was a joke.  “Well, sometimes, when you’re good at something this happens.”

Wait, I thought,”Did she just say I was good?”

The First Steps of a Dance Brat

Samia Pink“Ranee, that is not a maya, it is like this, now watch.”  It was with frustration that the co-director of the troupe I had just started said these words. In the weeks before I was excited, elated and proud.  I had only been dancing a few months and clearly did not have any knowledge (movement or history wise) of what I was doing, but I was a happy dancer!  I was asked to be part of this student troupe and I was going to learn.  I asked several questions. Are these the costumes they wear in the middle east? Can I dance to any music I want? Can I make up my own moves? As a student dancer this is what I thought: We wear harem pants or big skirts, we show our bellies and we dance to techno music.  Being the oddity I am, I began to research.  First I was going to take a workshop with another dance teacher.  Yes!

It was a Saturday.  I had signed up for two workshops.  The first was a Raks Sharki Choreography.  I feel in love with the music, the movement and the knowing that there was so much more to be learned.  I decided this choreography was going to be my first performance solo!  I purchased the music and practiced.  I bought my first costume which consisted of pink harem pants, a coin top and matching coin scarf.  My first solo was not at a restaurant, bookstore, stage, bar or assembly.  It was for my teacher and the co-director of the troupe.  I had asked them to watch me so they could see what I learned at this workshop.  I performed for them and didn’t skip a step.  The end result was clapping and praise. I was so happy that I had impressed my teachers. But things soon changed.

I continued going to dance class but the atmosphere was different.  My name would be called in troupe rehearsal several times to showcase what I was doing wrong.  “Bend you knees more Ranee.” “Your snake arms need to go like this.” “Ranee, that is not a maya, it is like this, now watch.”  I started feeling bad about my dancing.  No one else in class was getting corrected.  Was I really that bad? I would go home and cry that something I had loved so much was now making me miserable.  Mostly, I was sad because my teacher, who I thought the world of at the time, made me feel as though I should not dance. I thought to myself is she mad because I took a workshop from another teacher? I had to make a decision and move on. I quit the troupe and said goodbye but it was not the end of my dancing.  There was much more to come.

A Dancer’s Beginning