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 Photo courtesy

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. 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

I’m Off To See The Wizard… Again

Wizard-of-OzAs a baby boomer born in the late ’50s, the Wizard of Oz had debuted nineteen years earlier. With the development of television, CBS broadcast the movie annually as of 1959. I’m not sure at what age my mother felt it was an age appropriate movie for her daughters. In spite of the beauty of the ruby red slippers, there were witches and flying evil monkeys. Society was not inundated with games or shows desensitizing children regarding the taking of life. The only act of violence I remember was when JFK was shot; I was in kindergarten.

In spite of owning one black and white television, I remember being allowed to stay up late to discover and soon celebrate Oz’s example of good triumphing over evil. When we bought our first color television, it became a new and still exciting annual broadcast in our home.

After the birth of my daughter, I looked forward to sharing the adventures of Dorothy and her new friends. Almost every home owned a VCR and my mother was quick to make the movie available to show her granddaughters on sleep-overs. For my daughter’s first grade book project, she requested to be Dorothy with her stuffed Benji dog peeking from a picnic basket. I covered her tennis shoes in red sequin elastic ribbon.

ruby-red-slippersWhy am I sharing this piece of personal trivia? I wonder how much of those early messages of good vs. evil transcended my own resistance to accepting current trends of bullying and histrionics. Reality shows tend to emphasize negative interactions among circles of ‘friends.’ And I know Oz is the source of my love for ruby red stilettos and meeting new friends through life’s adventures.

In my own story of Ameera Unveiled, the main character finds herself in a quest to find her way home to a natural calling to dance. She seeks the help of her Wizard of Dance, Sybil Yocum.  Leaving the love and safety of her own home, there is a bond created between strangers discovered on a glittery journey to Jamaica.

I feel blessed that so many readers have given me their own appreciation of Ameera and her desire to face her demons and obstacles. Last week, when my sister called and asked me to go to the 3-D version of The Wizard of Oz, I sat among a predominantly baby boomer crowd. Untiringly, we lip synced the words of the songs and simultaneously clapped as Dorothy whispered those famous words: “There’s no place like home.”

It struck a personal victory in my own heart that there is a universal story that people still want to believe in. As we each take our journey down the yellow brick road, with or without our ruby red slippers, most of us want to find a bond. Bonds that remain in spite of physical separation and time. Experiences that urge us to move forward and to never stop discovering our own personal enlightenment.

Dear Pen Pal

The Iconic Mailbox

I grew up in the days of pen pals. Looking back, the closest I got to social media were ads in the back of my comic books or Mad magazine. There were little postage stamp size ads with addresses to find a pen pal in another part of the country. I’d use loose leaf paper and start with “Dear Pen Pal… How are you? I am fine.” I probably asked what was their favorite television show, cartoon or share what book I was reading. I’d give them to my mother and she would show me how to address the envelope. I’d lick my stamp before depositing in the classic blue tin mailboxes. I can still hear the clunk of the door when I released it from tip toes. Ahhhh… the days of snail mail have been left behind by the internet energizer bunny! Continue reading

First Booksigning Jitters!

Performance at Green AppleWhen I hear the word performance, it stimulates my imagination and relevance in my life. In hindsight, I guess I’ve performed in some way shape or form since birth. Taking my first steps, learning to talk and playing well with others. I remember suppressing tears of fear as I was walking to my first day of kindergarten. As the oldest daughter, I was the first to perform in many new venues.

As a newly published author, I knew I would face another performance—a public appearance at a bookstore. I knew I’d have to do it one day. The weekend before I was to vacation in San Francisco, I isolated myself, looking up Google advice on ‘how to perform at a book signing.’ My publisher had hinted they were trying to get me into a book store while I was on the west coast. As I jumped from website to website, my stomach nervously cringed. My inexperience raised questions faster than I could find the answers.

red glitter shoesTen days later, I was planning my reading/appearance at Green Apple Bookstore at 6th and Clement Street. My husband and I took a cab to preview the location and get direction from our contact, Nick. The reading room was amazing and intimate. It brought my performance terror down a notch. While my lunch gurgled in my stomach, I made a trip to Kinkos to print documents, including a blog I wanted to open with. I exhaled in an effort to get my nerves off the ledge as I dressed. I’d decided that I would always perform in my favorite red glitter stilettos. It helped me get in character—author.

I was surrounded by my travel buddies and some of their old friends. The cherry on top was the appearance of two audience members that attended voluntarily. Any script that I may have thought I’d prepared went out the window. It was relaxed, spontaneous and I loved the questions. What did I learn from my first book promotion?

  • Have fun engaging with the readers! Accept the spotlight but share the stage with potential followers. I wanted my room to feel like they were sitting with me in my living room.
  • Prepare but be flexible. To read or not to read? I felt the pulse of the room and used the reading materials I’d marked in my book, and had a website blog ready if I needed it.
  • If this had not been so last minute, I would have used my social media more. One of my readers was an old acquaintance I met on a dive trip in 2005. She saw it on Facebook only a couple hours before the event. The other visitor was associated with my publisher and book coach. Subsequently, she followed me with a message on Twitter.
  • Thank the organizer. I brought San Francisco’s Ghirardelli chocolate for the staff. I followed up with a thank you and tagged their bookstore in photos.

Having experienced my first book promotion performance, I now look forward to another. And, I will be wearing my glittery red heels!


“It was never just about the cards… Patricia Sands”

Recently, I was honored to be on Southern Writers Magazine’s must reads list. Gary Fearon graciously alerted me and I hit his link. Penning and marketing a book is still an unexplored territory for me. Seeing my cover beside a blog by Patricia Sands regarding her message in The Bridge Club, put a lump in my throat.

It was never just about the cards... Patricia Sands

It was never just about the cards… Patricia Sands

Three years ago, when I approached my writing coach/editor, Shari Stauch, with my story idea— without hesitation she pushed me to my laptop to learn my character’s voice. Continue reading

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.”

You’re in the Army Now

Christian platoonOne week after rifling through The Lords of Discipline (author Pat Conroy), I was driving to Ft. Jackson in Columbia, SC. My nephew was graduating Army boot camp. His brother had joined five years earlier. I was no stranger to the military way of life in that both of my fathers were career Navy men. Charleston was the ultimate destination for my stepfather’s final assignments. Many of my high school classmates chose to attend Charleston’s military college, The Citadel. So, I’m a sucker for a uniform. And, I was a little more enlightened regarding the military drill process when I finished Pat Conroy’s book.

Between the Army band’s performance and the final presentation march, Lt. Col. J. C. Glick addressed the platoons. His speech is still playing in my head in that it applies to anyone—not just the new soldiers. We’ve all had a boot camp moment in life. He offered three pieces of advice. I compared the advice to my own personal triumphs in spite of the hardship that accompanied the victory.

Be Proud. He reminded the troops that on their first day that he would not thank them for promising to serve in the US military—he’d thank them as they’d stand before him on graduation. They’d paid their dues and were entitled to feel deep pride.

Never become Complacent. Just because they had completed their first training phase, they shouldn’t become complacent. They were to stay in a state of awareness and education. They were not allowed to make an excuse to skip running the last mile or skip push-ups. Be warzone ready.

Be Humble. It balances pride. It took each other’s support and unity to reach the point of graduation. Friendships were forged and bonds created that would last a lifetime. They were advised to not allow a sense of superiority to shadow being a soldier. A soldier that is part of a larger Army unit, a contributor to a community—a nation.

In the wake of the graduation, I looked back into my own boot camp towards adulthood… childhood. And then, I sifted through the battle grounds in my life involving relationships, marriage, parenting, career and personal growth. As I emerged from each excursion, I felt proud, intuitively knew to never become complacent but also strive to remain humble because I never got through it solo.

Good words, Lt. Col. Glick.