Freedom to Dance!

Kat-Varn-Gypsy-DanceDuring the afterglow of my belly dance troupe’s performance during the North Charleston Performing Arts Festival on April 29, 2016, my husband flashed a mobile picture of me. Normally, photos of me dancing make me a little nervous, but this time, the internal reaction for me? It was a money shot.

For those that know me or have read Ameera Unveiled, the journey to free myself to embrace the spotlight has come with many battles: The Battle of the muffin tops. The Battle of It’s-All-About-Me. The Battle of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood gap. Sound a little like a Civil War? It was and is! In any uprising to find freedom from oppression, sexism, racism or any other ism…. did freedom ever manifest without a rebellion? There is no such thing as free.

Not to digress, as I stared at my money shot on hubby’s phone, I couldn’t help but revisit my dance journey. The journey to find the Freedom to Dance. Part of my seasoning was mastering choreography, accepting my rank within Palmetto Oasis and stepping onto the battle field (the dreaded dance stage). In 2008, Private Ameera was drafted and participated in Operation Jamaica. She was assigned to gypsy duty under the leadership of Lt. Nasreen and Lt. Parvaneh. Eventually, the Jamaican performance looked tightly put together and sassy. But, I knew my part was rote and my joy was still stifled under the pressure to get it right.

Freedom-to-DanceHere I was, eight years later performing the same dance as a duo. Nasreen and Ameera were good friends and had served in the trenches. On April 29 as we dueled as sassy gypsy girls, I finally was able to surrender and abandon perfect choreography for the joy of dancing with my friend. After two and half minutes, we did our final pose and pranced off stage. To my surprise, my dance partner hugged me and planted a big kiss on my cheek in front of the audience.

Still staring at the shot, I realized that standing up to a life’s footprint that denied the Freedom to Dance, I’d finally won a battle. My performance was not relative to the term perfection. I surrendered perfection and embraced being an achiever of excellence—baby step by baby step. I could look at my hubby’s photo and realize that for the moment, I’d won the freedom to dance. His picture painted a thousand words to support my 400 word blog…

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Lights, Cameras, Corset

Only a few more days before Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe performs in the North Charleston Performing Arts Festival. Some of the women have marinated and subsequently created dances beginning after the 2015 show. We spend hours on the internet Hoop, Kelly and Suhaila 012researching costumes and YouTubes. After my son moved out, I converted his bedroom into a small dance room. My husband thinks nothing of several parked cars and entering the house hearing jingling and exotic music. My dog, Chaz, was eager to greet dancers and hang out until he got underfoot. My cat, Hollywood, loves to get under skirts or plop into the center of the room expecting everyone to dance around him. Continue reading

Belly Dance: That’ll Teach Me

Belly-Dance-HumorMy sincere thanks to author Diane Henders for this guest post. This article ran on Diane’s own site on February 12, 2014 and I laughed out loud when I read it – This is sooo Ameera’s journey. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Get to know Diane better at blog.henders.com. Photo courtesy freedigitalphotos.net.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m taking a beginner belly-dance class.  It has been a tremendous learning experience, despite the fact that I have absolutely no natural aptitude for it.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

The word ‘choreography’ has ‘chorea’ as its root.
Dictionary.com defines ‘chorea’ as ‘any of several diseases of the nervous system characterized by jerky, involuntary movements, chiefly of the face and extremities.’  That explains a lot.  I’m a word geek.  I’m just doin’ it right.

Also pertaining to choreography:

In choreography notes, ‘CCW’ means ‘counter-clockwise’.
It is not a typo for CCR.  Which is a relief, because as much as I love Creedence, I just can’t see belly-dancing to ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’.  ‘Bad Moon Rising’, however, would be frighteningly apropos.

Never trust your friends.
The friend who exhorted me not to laugh at her… has belly-danced before.  The friend who swore she had two left feet… used to be a cheerleader.  Their hip shimmies are perfect, even though the only time they practice is during the one-hour class.  I practice every morning, and I still look as though I’m frantically trying to dislodge a barbed-wire wedgie.

If you stand with your feet close together instead of planted sturdily shoulder-width apart, you look more like a belly-dancer and less like you’re about to punch somebody’s lights out.
Unless you’re me.  Then it helps, but it doesn’t completely solve the problem.  I’m really not planning to punch anybody; that scowl is just baffled concentration…

Belly-dancing is best suited to women who have hips.
When you’re built like a telephone pole, it doesn’t matter how much you shimmy, you still look like a telephone pole… in an earthquake.

If you use an X-rated phrase to memory-associate the names of the moves, you WILL begin to giggle at inappropriate times in the class.
But that’s okay, because giggling is pretty much the only appropriate response to watching me try to belly-dance.

Studio mirrors were created by Satan himself.
Just sayin’.

I am apparently incapable of shimmying my hips without simultaneously flapping my hands.
This might not be so bad if the objective of the class was actually to impersonate an epileptic penguin.  But on the up side, I’ve developed a genuine empathy for tubby flightless birds with neurological disorders.

Start every day with a smile!
It’s hard not to, when I’m confronted by the sight of myself gyrating gracelessly in the mirror every morning.

Which leads me to…

Do not practice belly-dancing while wearing nothing but your underwear and a jingly hip scarf, even behind closed doors in the privacy of your own home.
Or, if you do, don’t describe it to your friends.  In a restaurant.  Just as the waiter sneaks up behind you.  For the record, he had the best deadpan I’ve ever seen.

Humility is a virtue.
I’m so friggin’ virtuous right now, it’s making my eyes water.  By the time the lessons are finished, I fully expect to achieve sainthood.  Or possibly martyrdom.

How to belly-dance.
Well… no.  I haven’t actually learned that yet.  But we have six lessons left, so I’m still hoping…

* * *

The instructor keeps going on as if she actually expects us to dance this piece in front of an audience.  If anybody’s got an inspirational story about how you started off sucking at something and ended up acing it, now would be a really great to time to share.  Even better if you ended up acing it after six lessons…

dianeAbout Diane Henders: “By profession, I’m a technical writer, computer geek, and ex-interior designer.  I’m good at two out of three of these things.  I had the sense to quit the one I sucked at.

“To deal with my mid-life crisis, I also write adventure novels featuring a middle-aged female protagonist, Aydan Kelly.  And I kickbox.

“This seemed more productive than indulging in more typical mid-life crisis activities like getting a divorce, buying a Harley Crossbones, and cruising across the country picking up men in sleazy bars.  Especially since it’s winter most months of the year here.

“It’s much more comfortable to sit at my computer.  And hell, Harleys are expensive.  Come to think of it, so are beer and gasoline.

“Oh, and I still love my husband.  There’s that.  Guess I’ll stick with the writing.”

Spotlight…. please!

My family has always joked that of the four girls in the family, the spotlight was always on Kerry, Kerry, Kerry. (Yes, she is the topless one in the picture) However, while researching dated photos for my next writing project, I ran into this photo taken by my father as he finished his degree at Purdue University. My sister, Kerry, had even tried to trump me by being born exactly one month before from my FIRST year oldest daughter birthday!  Obviously, I hadn’t got the memo that my time in the spotlight was over!spotlight with Kerry

As I struggled to get a story within the cover of Ameera Unveiled based on my own childhood angst without the instruction of formal dance training, I assumed I had always been shy and fearful. Officially be advised… the posing diva is Mu-ah. Continue reading

Ameera’s in a Beauty Pageant!

Ameera Unveiled finally hit the door on Thursday, July 25, 2013. Last night, I found out my book cover is being competed in Southern Writers Magazine Best Cover Contest. Would you go look and vote? Listed alphabetically by author… Kat Varn — Ameera Unveiled. If you can get anyone else… that would be awesome. Voting is open until August 30, 2013.

http://www.southernwritersmagazine.com/index.html

She really is one of the prettiest….

Never Accommodating Life

Introducing my own Queen…. Ameera

Although this is a work of fiction, I admit it was driven by my own desire to dance—but was told I couldn’t, shouldn’t, or was forbidden. As I pull my main character into facing a long neglected dance zone, I’d ask the reader to be patient with her. hedo 054Her story focuses on the impact of chasing a glittery dance dream and lack of experience in a spotlight. In spite of many off the page life experiences, she’s suffered and victoriously overcome many obstacles—especially as a woman. But, Ameera’s pioneer spirit blazes a trail through the unknown land of Dance.

Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe is real. I was given permission to use many of the actual troupe members’ names. They’ve been patient and supportive as I labored to unveil Ameera. I’ve embraced their generosity to take creative license with the unbelievable glittery story. I hope to show the bonding power of resilience, humor, and passion among friends and strangers. The therapy of dance is real—not fiction.

I would not have accomplished this tale if I hadn’t been introduced to Shari Stauch. Her publishing experience and . . . let’s say it like is . . . puts your balls to the walls honesty required me to get mad and tell how unfair life can be. BQB Publishing enthusiastically polished the project with many talented artists. Terri Leidich, Heidi Grauel, and Julie Breedlove offered prompt answers and resources. My editor, Sharon Hecht, untangled my grammar and cut story interruptions without ripping off the band-aid. Even the book cover embodies many of the messages in the story. Kendra Haskins did an amazing job with my website—capturing the ‘pretty’ that makes women and little girls say “wow!” And, thanks to Leroy Mazyck (Pixel Studios) for always easing the stage fright in front of his camera. He did a fabulous job with my author’s headshot. When I doubted my ability to finish the project, it was my family, friends, and community that urged me on.

If you are reading this, I want to thank the readers! I hope you enjoy Ameera’s glittery release from her forbidden zone. From my own experience, once you’ve been bitten by the dance bug, it infects all the senses and perceptions. It reveals old tapes and fears and rewards you with unique memories and bonds.

But, most of all, I thank my soul mate, Steve. He made me his queen and supported my search for the little ballerina that got left behind in my childhood. It takes a special man to stand with his belly dancing wife. They can’t be afraid of a little glitter!

 

Ameera’s Due Date…

I’d never imagined that enrolling in my first dance class in 2007 would provide the concept for a story line. A tale of a woman’s coming of age… her journey to face forbidden zones. And I’d never dreamed it would be under the platform of belly dancing. Dancing_Cat

Something radical occurred when I was bitten by the Shimmy Bug. The glittery injection infected all my senses. My eyes were drawn to things that had jewels, tassels, fringe, glitter, chain mail and tattoos. My ears perked at anything that resonated of shaking coins, little cymbals, doums and teks on stretched hide drums. My nose followed the aroma of patchouli, incense and henna. My hands wanted to undulate and create new costumes. Would this affect my sense of taste? I found myself asking, Do I really want to spend money on eating out… or new costumes?

If there was a billboard that read “This is Your Brain on Bellydancing,” it might have warned me. Listening to the radio caused my brain to think, I bet that I can choreograph a dance to that Led Zepplin tune! If there was a book on “Belly Dancer Intervention 101” in the Self Help section in Barnes and Noble, I’m not sure I’d have wanted the intervention, but I couldn’t speak for my hubby and friends… Help! I see Sparkly People!

On July 25, 2013, please feel free to peek into my character Ameera’s world. The characters forge and sift through tough choices in relationships—past and present. But even through her angst and success the story is laced with a dose of humor.

 

Falling in Love With Your Inner Child

Like clockwork, after 2-3 years, my dad’s duty station was to be reassigned, I had gotten a peek, a taste and a temporary spot in my classroom, neighborhood kick ball team or Dark Shadows Soap Opera buddy.  The next best thing was to resign myself to accept the oldest daughter’s calling– Chief of the Ya Ya Sisterhood of the Hall girls.  At the next duty Kathleen Varn SW teaser - July 2013station, my sisters were always still on the journey, sharing a bedroom and fighting over the bathroom.  Inadvertently, my tribe taught me many life lessons that revealed themselves decades later.  Emotional management, selflessness and resilience were among the list.

I talked to God, a lot.  I talked out loud, with my heart, my tears and my eyes.  I danced in the pine clearings in the neighborhood woods. I thanked God for the beauty encircled by Creation and the way it was fearfully and wonderfully made, like me.  I loved the simplicity, the complexity, the color, smells and honesty.   As Einstein said, “God doesn’t toss dice.”   Mother Nature’s Order demonstrated it wonderfully.  From childhood to adult responsibilities, I believed my prayers had been best wafted to the heart of God on the wings of a sea breeze.  If the only prayer I cast over the Atlantic Ocean’s endless horizon was Thank You, I believe God heard the volume of my heart’s petition.

A little more than halfway through my first marriage, again fighting multiple circumstances attempting to isolate me, I had been on an introspective journey to deal with erosions of female worth and lack of self esteem.  I was missing the power of self image.  Sitting in my dining room, working on a sewing project, I was talking to God about needing to love myself so that I could love my neighbor best.  The Christian Gospel had said to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  I didn’t love myself as well as I should and one of the demons from my baggage of the past, Isolation, kept putting out a stick to trip my Hopeful spirit when she tried to move forward.  I had been tripped by the Guilt stick, again, and deferred Hope cried from my heart “Why do I feel so unloved?  I know that I am supposed to love me first, so I can be whole to love the way I know You love—unconditionally and wisely.  Being a good steward is not a life sentence to being chained to unrelinquishing responsibility.”

There was a lump in my throat but as a sole tear made a trail down my bowing head, a peace washed over me.   Sacred oil being poured on my head, sweetly flowing to the soles of my feet.  I stopped what I was doing and closed my eyes, inhaled, exhaled and saw a vision in my mind.

There she was, a little blonde girl in a yellow polyester bathing suit, stooping at the edge of the beach surf, sea breeze blowing her long blonde hair in a way I could not see her face, intensely watching little precious clams dig themselves back to safety.  She was peaceful and quiet but I felt her joy inside with the simplicity of each time a new wave deposited a new cast of Diggers.  She was protecting the little vulnerable sand jewels.  Isn’t she cute, pure, loveable?   Adorable, I love her!  So, do I.  And as I saw her hand gently brush the windblown hair from her eyes… I heard a Still Small Voice say, “She’s you”.  My cheeks were flooded with salty tears.  Liquid prayers of thank You, thank You.

I wanted to protect her, hold her, laugh with her, and show her understanding when she needed correction.  There was a scar on my heart from years of isolation and this simple vision healed it–forever.  I knew what I had been seeking.  It was to have and be loved by The Perfect Parent, The Perfect Lover and The Perfect Friend.  The Perfect Lover who would not use shame, guilt, neglect or cruelty to get their way.  It applied to roles as father, mother, husband, wife, daughter, friend, boss or employee.

There was an understanding – crystal clear understanding of acceptance we owed each other even with the stutters, wobbly baby steps, sloppy first kisses or any other awkward graduation.  I wanted patience and tolerance to allow myself to learn through mistakes without guilt or shame.  I had wanted to be an Achiever of Excellence without the pressure of judgment, timelines or measuring sticks.   It was the day I knew concretely that if no one else would love me, I did and with it, came the responsibility to protect that adorable, simple and vulnerable little stooping girl from being harmed in unhealthy environments.  Even bigger, it was the day that I discovered how to use the word “I.”

Story of a Husband-of-a-Bellydancer

Achmed 2011Retired from career and parenting duties, I decided to conquer a neglected area in my life—dance. As a child, I flunked my first ballet classes and missed the muscle memory years. So, when I saw a six-week belly dance class being offered on the campus of my Alma Mata, I went online to register.

My husband was more than supportive as I fought my way out of the old tapes that said, “You can’t dance.” Within the year, I reluctantly auditioned and was accepted into Palmetto Middle Eastern Dance Troupe. Little did we know, it was instant adoption into a tribe. Again, my husband was supportive and tolerant of my love of shiny jewelry, bindis and of course, wayward glitter.

However, within the next year, I came home from a practice centered on dances for an upcoming performance at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. As we were eating dinner, out of the blue, he states, “Dear, you know I love and support everything you’re doing with the troupe?” (I continue chewing waiting for the… but?)

“And I’ll be in the audience as your biggest fan… but (ah here it is) please don’t expect me go on stage and drum or anything.”

I assured him that it had never crossed my mind. He exhaled and finished his dinner.

One year later, practicing for a repeat appearance at the same festival, the girls in the troupe decided to do an “I Dream of Genie” dance. The choreographer looked at me and said, “Kat, ask Steve if he’ll be Major Nelson, please?” I immediately recalled last year’s plea to leave him off stage and informed them there was no way. With many more pleas, I conceded that I would ask but predicted the decline.

As I walked in from practice, hubbie started the usual query of how practice was and who was there. I jumped into the Major Nelson question and to my surprise—without hesitation, he said, “Sure, ok! What do I need to do?”

Three months later, in a borrowed Air Force uniform, holding a green genie bottle, local businessman Steve Varn participated in our dance show. We even featured him in our press release and program.

A few months after that show, my husband was pitching a real estate project to a banker. After slightly formal meeting between strangers, the banker sat back and folded his arms. Without a blink, the banker hit Steve with a question out of the blue: “So, you’re a dancer?”

Taken off guard and baffled by the question, he immediately denied it. They returned to the business at hand.

That night at dinner, my husband told me of the odd moment during his meeting with the banker. Immediately, I recalled the press release with his name and it was obvious the banker had Googled my husband’s name.  We both laughed and went to the computer to see whether the internet would confirm my theory. It did.

Husbands of belly dancers are amazing partners. Tolerance and the endless presence of glitter on their faces and clothes becomes second nature. They do the heavy lifting and set up electronics. Since Steve’s debut, he has been recreated in two more shows as Achmed, the janitor. His red coveralls hang proudly beside his business coats in the closet. Since my induction to this marvelous tribe, I noticed that each girls’ partners embrace the passion of our love of dance. Recently, I even discovered a website called Husband of a Belly Dancer.

When I look back at my online registration to take a six week dance class, little did we realize how much it would infect our marriage. Husbands and boyfriends of belly dancers are so much fun (and look cute wearing a little glitter, too)!

Feel free to leave stories of any other victims of glitter…

 

 

I See Sparkly People

“Whenever a little girl ran to the dancers in the middle of the room and started dancing, the faces of the older women lit up, they laughed loudly, for life had taken on a new rhythm, a rhythm that was before us and would continue after we had gone. Of course, these performances were also used by the mothers-in-law to take a close look at their future daughters-in-law. And we girls knew about it. Yet when an old woman got up to dance, suddenly, something that was there could not be expressed in words—a gift, a woman’s prayer filled the room, borne by the subtle, nearly wise movements of one who stood far ahead of us in the long chain of women.  — From Grandmother’s Secret

I don’t profess to be an expert on belly dancing. I can’t even confess to understanding the journey to master the gift of dance since it was not significant in my childhood. I can testify learning belly dance awakened culture conditioning including forbidden zones and expectations from me as a woman in a Western society. It conjured old ghosts and required me to let go of a lifetime of disappointment. As I learned the new lingo and standards, my personality shaped and molded the dancer I was becoming. Sinuous movement, pageantry of costumes and bond of the dancers muted the concern of body image.

The Palmetto Oasis Middle Eastern Dance Troupe – I’m in the center!

The art of belly dancing is perceived as an art or in the eyes of some, a sexual dance. I’ve watched the sensuality of the dance mislabeled stripping. The intensity of the movements reach deep into a woman’s soul and retell her story. The body becomes an instrument of expression. There is a loss of rigidity and a new place of vulnerability. An attitude and joy that is drawn from deep within the exploration of one’s identity and journey comes from belly dancing summoning the heart. It opened my eyes to learn the story of other women, rituals and cultures. My instructor pushed me to find courage to look at the road behind and believe it is why I am where I am.

For the past five years, I attended dance conferences with members of my dance circle. I’ve met Ansuya, Tamalyn and Amani. I explored tribal and tribal fusion in Ft. Lauderdale at Spirit of the Tribes. On a weekday, we caravanned to Newberry to attend Bellydance Superstars and return on the same night. In California, I sat at the feet of Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour seeking jewels to add to my dance chest. Jamila shared a lifetime of dance which she passed onto her daughter at a very young age. I admired the pride of a Persian ancestry and felt embraced into the Salimpour circle even in my inexperienced state. So, like the little girl in the above quote, I sensed their smiles as I stepped onto the studio floor wanting to hone my new found love.

I thank all the women who saw something in me that needed to be reclaimed and fulfill the little girl in me. She loves her sparkly community and bonds…