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Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Latest Excuse for Not Writing, and a Good One, Too

Here’s my latest excuse for not writing.  My spouse had knee replacement surgery.  Boy, was that an ordeal.  And it was no picnic for him, either.  That was almost a month ago, and he’s just now able to hobble around without assistance, and, thank goodness, to drive.  For a couple of weeks there, my life consisted of driving back and forth to visit him at the hospital, then at the rehab place.  I use the term “visiting” loosely.  Most of the time, James was out of it.  He couldn’t carry on a coherent conversation, and he couldn’t remember anything, even if it just happened.  It was like a premature peek at senility.  Yikes.  Not ready for that quite yet.  Much to the relief of both of us, his mind went back to normal once they cranked down the pain meds.  Then when he finally came home, I was busy doing things like cooking him special meals, running to the store for this or that, carting him to physical therapy appointments and doctor visits, and shopping for medical equipment.  Plus, I had to do the things he normally does around the house.  Like take the trash out, mow the lawn, clean the pond filter, and manage the sprinkler system.  (I didn’t even know where the controls were.)  Needless to say, I didn’t have time or energy to do a lot of my usual activities, including writing.  I know I’m whining.  I know James had it a lot worse than I did.  Now he’s much better and both our lives can get back to “normal.” 

So now I can get back to writing.  When I don’t write I feel restless and dissatisfied.  There’s a vague awareness that I’m not doing something I should be doing.  Maybe this is what they mean by wasting your gifts.  Not that I’m any Jane Austen, but if I have any talents at all worth developing, it’s probably writing.  So when I avoid it I feel untethered, drifting nowhere when I should be headed toward a destination.  It nags at me. 

When I do write, I feel good.  The day is lighter and so is my mood.  I feel I’m fulfilling my destiny, or at least slogging along the road toward it.  Sort of like the pioneers heading west.  There are distractions and obstacles along the way, Indians to fight off, food to hunt, sick children to tend, wagon wheels to repair.  Still, the pioneer forges ahead, even if the vision ahead is as vague and misty as a distant mountain range.  Even if they don’t make it to the land of their dreams and have to settle down somewhere along the way.  Maybe just attempting the journey is the most important thing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why I Haven't Written in Awhile

I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog since September 15.  I also can’t believe I started a blog with “I can’t believe.”  Your writing really starts to stink when you don’t put in the practice, like anything else that requires a regular training routine.

A number of things have been taking time I would otherwise have spent writing.  Not counting plain laziness, we’ve been traveling a lot in the last month.  This not only stole time from writing, but messed up my whole writing schedule.  Normally, I want to write something about our trips.  Fascinating little incidents occur on even the most mundane excursions.  But I try to refrain.  Most people don’t really want to hear about your vacation.  Like so many things, you have to be there.  So I didn’t write about our weekend in Corpus Christi or the week we spent in Playa del Carmen.  People were naturally concerned about the dangers of traveling in Mexico, so they might have perked up if we’d gotten kidnapped and tortured by drug lords or something.  But that didn’t happen.  The scariest people we saw were time share salesmen at the Cancun airport.  Come to think of it, that’s also the nearest we got to being kidnapped. 
My 1992 book.

Another reason I have neglected by blog is I’ve gotten sidetracked by a couple of other writing-related projects.  For one thing, I’ve been working on converting a print book into an ebook.  But allow me to backtrack. 

In 1992, I wrote a book and was lucky enough to have it picked up by a major New York publishing company.  As far as public achievements go, that was probably the high point of my life.  Now, I’m converting my out-of-print book into an e-book.  I purchased some software to accomplish that and have been wrestling with that little project for longer than I care to think about.  Computers are not my forte.  Out of sheer frustration, sometimes I set my e-book project aside for weeks.  It’s still not quite finished.

Another writing project that’s captured my attention involves Texas history, specifically, the Texas border patrol in the decades spanning more or less the late 50’s through the 70’s or 80’s.  James has an elderly uncle who was a border patrol agent during that time.  He worked out of Del Rio and patrolled the Rio Grande on horseback.  Now he’s retired.  He lives peacefully in the Hill Country, where he keeps a pecan orchard and has a few RV hook ups.  One of his regular RV visitors, a couple from Colorado, spent many evenings sitting around with Boyd and hearing about his adventures as a border patrol agent.  They were convinced the stories should be captured and published.  So before returning to Colorado, they left him a tape recorder.  The problem was, Uncle Boyd wasn’t comfortable talking into a machine.  So the project was abandoned. 
That is, until I got wind of it.  I thought, why not visit him in person and capture his stories on a digital voice recorder?  Such recordings are called oral histories.  Places like the Institute of Texan Cultures are keen on collecting them, and his chronicle would be captured for future generations.  Even if it languishes for years in a dusty corner, someday a PH.D. candidate may stumble upon it in his search for obscure dissertation material.  And who knows? I might be able to craft a book or at least an article out of Uncle Boyd's tales. 

So far, the oral history project has entailed mostly research.  As usually happens once you start learning about something, you find out there’s a lot more to it than you thought.  First, I looked into the whole topic of oral histories:  what they are, how to conduct them, what questions to ask, how to preserve the oral history, and so on. 

 Now I’m finishing the second phase of my research:  the background of the border patrol and its place in Texas history.  I’ve thumbed through books about the history of cattle in Texas, cattle rustling (Uncle Boyd’s field), law enforcement in general, and so on.  I even skimmed the official history of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.  I’ve read about the legendary Texas Rangers, whose duties and responsibilities often overlap with those of other law enforcement agencies, including the border patrol.  In that vein, I’ve read Joaquin Jackson’s fascinating memoirs, One Ranger and One Ranger Returns. 

The third part of my research I’m not looking forward to.  It’s learning how to use that digital voice recorder.  I’ve been putting that off until the last.  But it’s a pretty nifty little tool.  You can transfer the recording into a computer by just plugging it in.  Even fancier software exists that will convert the recording into print.  Wow!  I don’t know yet whether I’ll avail myself of that – these little toys are not cheap. 

They say that every time someone over 70 dies, it’s like losing a library.  And Uncle Boyd is undeniably a dying breed.  He’s a gentleman cowboy, polite and tough at the same time, a man of few words who means what he says.  Put it this way - I’d hate to be the cattle rustler who had to tangle with Uncle Boyd back when he patrolled the Big River on horseback. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Chance to Dance with the Bellydance Superstars, sort of

I’m getting my sea legs back, so to speak, after the two week hiatus in classes following the recital.  It was slow getting back into it, but now I’m all enthusiasm again.  One reason for that is:  THE BELLY DANCE SUPERSTARS ARE COMING TO TOWN! 

I marked the date on my calendar.  The BD Superstars tour all over the world and are featured on TV shows and in Vegas.  So they are la crème de la crème of belly dancers.  Some of the original Superstars have branched off and started their own schools and dance groups (like Kaeshi, whom I wrote about in a recent blog), but the current batch is still top-notch.  And in their sweep through Texas, they are actually making a stop here in San Antonio! 

This is unprecedented.  San Antonio is not high on the list of cities with a big audience for cultural events.  Sure, it’s a big city, but what it has in size it makes up for in lack of sophistication.  The average education and income level is way below that of Austin, our smaller neighbor up the highway.  San Antonio is sometimes referred to the biggest small town in Texas. 
Even more exciting, our studio has been asked to open for the Superstars in San Antonio.   The dance chosen for our opening is “Amani Rap,” a saucy number in which the dancers wear jeans with a coin belt and regular costume top.   Miss K has put out the call for anyone who wants to participate to sign up for a 6-week crash course in "Amani Rap."  They can then perform it at the Superstars show. 

At first, I didn’t even consider it.  "Amani  Rap" is way above my skill level.  Plus it's about 5 minutes long with no repetition, so there's a lot of memorization on top of technical expertise.  It would be impossible for me to learn in six weeks.

However, Miss K kept encouraging everyone (well, almost everyone) to sign up.  It's a big stage at the Josephine Street Theater, she said.  Plus she wants everyone to have this once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform on the same stage as the Superstars.  So I reconsidered.  But I had lingering doubts.  So last night before class I tried to pin her down on specifics. 

“So, what if somebody signed up for this crash course, like me, f'rinstance, and on the eve of performance, I still looked really bad.  Of course, I know when I look bad; everybody knows that--" 

“Not necessarily!”  Miss K interjected. 

 “OK, let’s say someone looks really bad and doesn’t realize it, would you tell them?  Would you still let that person be in the performance?” 

Karen stared at me for a long moment, no doubt searching for tactful words.  I realized she would never be that blunt to anyone.  She’s far too kind, and, besides, she's running a business, not a professional dance company.

‘I’m sorry,” I said.  “I’ve put you on the spot.”  

She answered with a question. “Bad in whose opinion?  The public’s?  Mine?”

“The public’s.” 

She waved that away.  “The public doesn't know the difference.” 

“But," I persisted,  "I thought you wanted this performance to be really sharp.” 

 She laughed.  “If you want sharp and precise, you go to New York City.  This is San Antonio.”  She went on to explain that it's part of the choreographer’s job to camouflage and blend in the weaker dancers.  She's going to restage the dance for that, as well as to highlight individual dancers’ strengths. 

In the end I signed up, of course.  For the next six weeks I'm going to be working my buns off.   

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Recital Photos

I know we are always most critical of ourselves in photos, but these are just OK.  I didn't even know a photographer was there.  He took a slew of photos of the whole three nights of the recital.  You have to buy them from him online, and they aren't cheap, so naturally I bought only the ones that single me out.  These are all from the "Elsekka" dance.  It's not the photographer's fault that the stage was so dark.  That explains the fact the photos are overexposed  and therefore too bright.  I'm kinda disappointed he didn't catch me in better parts of the dance.  I look rather wooden in these.  You can tell in the first photo below that I'm actually moving my hips because of the flying beads.  And I really don't know what I was doing in the second photo.  It must have been some kind of transition.  And, yes, I look like a deer in headlights.  I was nervous.

These might be good photos for a caption contest.  
The flying beads prove
 I was in motion.

And this is NOT my best belly dance costume.  It is only my second string outfit.  I'm going to have someone take a photo of me in my best costume and I'll post that.  But then, to make the look complete, I'll need to put on full war paint, fix my hair, and all that.  So much trouble.  But I've been gushing about that costume for so long that it's time I coughed up a photo of me actually wearing it.  I wore it for the TV spot, but did not get any photos at the time.

Not sure where this pose came from. 
"Cuff me, Officer!"
Meanwhile, classes have started up again.  I'm taking three choreography classes, and it's a little confusing right now.  But it will all sort out with time.  In one of them we get to dance with veils for a few minutes, which is a whole new challenge.  Those veils are beautiful and floaty, but it's easy to get tangled up in them.  And another dance includes the use of zils, the finger cymbals, which is really fun but also adds a level of difficulty (one more thing to think about). 

Almost smiling!
In fact, I'm getting ready to go to class now.  Just needed to get a blog out, at least ONE this week.  So this is written in haste.  I apologize for the lack of editing and polish. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Belly Dance Workshop by Kaeshi

A couple of weeks ago I drove to Austin to take a couple of belly dance workshops taught by Kaeshi.   She’s part of the well known belly dance school Bellyqueen and the dance troupe of the same name.  I didn’t know much about her going in.  The draw for me was the gypsy fusion workshop on Friday night.  I was hoping this would be a Spanish-Arabe style, with beautiful flamenco arms and lots of fiery turns and skirt flinging.  And that’s exactly what it was, so I was happy.   We were advised to wear a gypsy skirt, because this dance style involves a lot of “skirt work.”  This means holding the sides of the skirt up and swooping it back and forth and around the body.  Very dramatic. 

Kaesha turned out to be a tiny Asian-American woman, and a beautiful dancer, full of grace and precision.   She looked exotic, not only because of her Asian features, but her hair.  It was partly dyed red, and she had it pulled up in back with feathers sticking out here and there.   Plus she had two long braids framing her face, much like the photo I’ve attached.  She also wore some really cool dancewear, stuff I’ve never seen around here. 

Like most good dancers, Kaeshi has had ballet training.  She also does beautiful “floreos,” the twisting, floaty arm and hand movements that are a characteristic of flamenco dance.  Turns out she used to be a member of the Belly Dance Superstars, so no wonder she's a great dancer.  She was also a good teacher, smiling and encouraging all the way, yet keeping the class  moving at a fast clip.  After all, she had to teach us a 3 or 4 minute choreography in two hours.  Normally, it would take 3 or 4 months of weekly classes to learn a dance. 

The workshop was held in a huge dance studio at Café Dance in Austin.  There must have been 50 or 60 women there, most of them from Austin, and most of them, I quickly realized, with a lot more experience and competence than I have.  Some of them are professionals with studios of their own.  They picked up the choreography quickly, while I struggled earnestly if sloppily through the whole two hours. 

I discovered the YouTube video of her dancing the very same gypsy fusion choreography she taught us in Austin.  It started out as an improvisation, amazingly enough, and she changed it a bit for the choreography she taught at the workshop.  I’ll attach the video for your viewing pleasure. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, skip about halfway through to see some beautiful flamenco turns and skirt work. 

The second workshop took place on Saturday morning at the Eternal Way Center, which I think is usually a yoga place.  Very Austin.  The studio didn’t have a mirror, but we managed.  This time Kaesha taught a regular belly dance choreography.  But it had a certain funky feel to it and a lot of cool moves, which I can’t remember now, of course. 

The workshops were inspiring and discouraging at the same time.  I think I’ll wait until I’m more proficient before I spend the money on any more of them. 
Here is a video of her dancing a fusion of belly dance and pop & lock, which I think is a type of hip hop.  Quite interesting and different.  Check it out.  It's also done freestyle, that is, on the spur of the moment to the music, not previously choreographed. 

Note about the Austin scene: 

Before the evening workshop I met my brother John and my daughter Jane for lunch at a funky (is there any other kind?) restaurant in East Austin.  This area of town used to be a ghetto avoided by honkies like me, but now parts of it have been “yuppified,” as my brother put it.  This particular street was lined with Airstream RV cafes, which Austin is known for, shops, and a renovated art deco apartment building.  The café where we ate, the Blue Dahlia, was a tiny crowded house with a front and back patio.  Despite the 100 degree heat we ate on the patio.  We had a lively and amusing conversation, as usual. 
I returned the bagful of Lee Childs books John had lent me and took back with me a Robert Parker book.  (Parker created the Spenser character in the old series “Spenser for Hire” as well as the Jesse Stone character in the TV movies starring Tom Selleck.)  I'm looking forward to starting a new series, but I'm going to miss Jack Reacher!  He's the main character in the Lee Childs books.  We all think it's a travesty that they chose Tom Cruise to play Reacher in the movie that's in the making.  He's so NOT Jack Reacher.  Sigh.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why I Won’t Make It to My High School Reunion This Year

The world can be divided into those who love high school reunions and those who don’t.   Sure, I genuinely like many of the people I knew in high school.  But I've seen only a handful of them since I left Odessa many years ago. 

I didn’t actually graduate from Permian High School – we moved to Austin in the summer before my senior year.  I was pretty upset about that.  I had grown up in Odessa and attended elementary, junior high, and high school with the same kids all my life.  Worse, I was going to miss out on being a Pepette as a senior at Permian.  Pepettes are the pep squad for the football team.  They are not cheerleaders.  They do not dance.  They don't play a musical instrument.  They don't parade onto the field at halftime and do anything.  No, they just stood in their own special cheering section in the stands, a magnificent vision in black and white.  They wore matching black and white sweaters and black pleated skirts and white knee socks and black and white saddle oxfords and matching hair ribbons.  Oh, and each one was armed with two pom poms.  Their mission was to cheer on the team, as if there weren’t throngs of others in the stands doing the same. 

Even more exciting, each Pepette was assigned a football player to lavish her attention on.  She made him a hand-painted poster each week to hang in the hallways.  She did supportive things like bake cookies for him during the week.  She was his own personal cheerleader. 

The Pepettes were an elite group.  Of course, they were not as exalted as the cheerleaders.  We had only five cheerleaders, unlike today when schools have whole platoons of them.  Back then, the cheerleaders were elected by the student body.  So, yes, it was a popularity contest, although they all did a bang up job of cheerleading, too. 

So here’s the most amazing part about the fact I was going to be a Pepette:  the Pepettes were also elected by the student body. 

Do you get the implications here?  For the first time in my life, I was elected to something that was more or less a popularity contest.  I still have no idea how it happened.   I was not a member of the in-crowd, not even of its lower rungs.  Sure, I knew most of the popular kids—after all, we lived in the same town all our lives--but that doesn’t mean they invited me to their parties or called me just to chat.  Heck, most of them didn’t even acknowledge me in the halls.  Sure, I had other friends, mostly nerds like me.  I may not have looked like the stereotypical nerd, but inside that’s basically what I was.  So it was heady stuff indeed to think I was going to be a Pepette.  My senior year was going to be glorious.

But it was not to be.  The summer before my senior year, Daddy left his storefront law practice in Odessa for a job with the State in Austin.  We left Odessa, and I spent my senior year in obscurity at a high school in Austin.  To make matters worse, Permian ended up playing the Austin school in the state finals and lost in the final seconds of the game.  It was a bummer of a year all around. 

All this to explain that I didn’t spend that watershed senior year with my old classmates.  So I was somewhat out of the loop when my 30th high school reunion rolled around.  What surprised me the most was how much the social levels had changed.  Upheavals had taken place during that senior year I missed.  Those who had been near the bottom of the social order had risen, and some of those near the top had fallen.  (Sounds biblical:  Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.)  Classmates I’d never seen interact before were now buddies.  Those who were outcasts before were now crowd favorites.  And the in-crowd kids were actually friendly, although they still pretty much hung out with one another.  I had a pretty good time.   

Except for a couple of people, I haven’t seen any of my classmates since that reunion.  But I feel like I’ve somewhat kept in touch--they seem to populate Facebook to an amazing degree.  I don’t even try to keep up with all the chatter.  But I realize there are some really funny, interesting, and creative people among my old classmates.  They share a wide range of fascinating occupations, everything from a botanist studying rare plants to jazz pianists to journalists-turned-ministers.  Who would have thought they would emerge from the isolated backwater town of Odessa? 

Still, in a reunion situation, I fear that conversation with most of my former classmates would bog down after a few short minutes.  So it might be better to be friends from afar and skip the time and expense of traveling to West Texas.  Even attending the Friday night football game isn’t the draw it used to be.  And that’s saying a lot.  Odessa has always been absolutely fanatical about Permian’s football team.  It was Permian’s team that was featured in the book Friday Night Lights.  But since those heady days of state championships won by a wiry, hardscrabble team that was usually up against boys that outweighed them by 30-40 pounds, things have changed.  The football team isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure.  And some of it is due to that book.  Odessans felt deceived by Pulitzer-prize winning author H.G. Bissinger.  After all, he lived among them and befriended them for a whole year, then turned around and wrote what to them was a scathing betrayal.  I guess they didn’t understand the concept of immersion journalism.  They were surprised, as so many understandably are, when someone masquerades as a friend just to get a good story.      

Anyway, because of Friday Night Lights the town leaders decided to devote more funds and emphasis on academics and cut back on football.  Permian hasn’t won a state championship since 1991. 

Still, I was tempted to go to the reunion, except that we are already booked for a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  And, yes, I checked into the safety situation there.  My research revealed that the most dangerous situation we may encounter in Playa is a cyclist on the sidewalk.  So it’s more likely we’ll get mowed down by a bicycle than a drug lord’s machine gun.  Besides, rates are great.  That may have something to do with the fact that September is in the middle of hurricane season.  But what are the odds?  I'm not worried.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Now What?

The recital is over.  There’s nothing to practice or rehearse.  There will be no classes for a few weeks.  During the past year I was motivated, almost obsessed, with belly dance, my newfound hobby.  It was exciting to work toward a goal:  to dance in the year-end performance. 

I sweated and struggled and pushed myself.  And I achieved my goal.  I plan to keep dancing.  But now I find myself looking around wondering where to go next.  I’m experiencing that let-down feeling that often happens after a goal is accomplished.  Now what?

In the first few days after the recital I relaxed and celebrated, in my own way.  I ate a lot of bad stuff.  I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and ate most of them (one of those refrigerated, break-off-little-squares-and-bake-them deals – not the whole batch you make with semi-sweet chocolate morsels.)  I dined on Mexican food:  enchiladas, a chile relleno, greasy bean-and-cheese nachos.  I’ve had pizza, even steak.  I’ve gobbled down potato chips and banana pudding with vanilla wafers.  And I’ve eaten those treats late at night, which for me means after 9 p.m. 

I took a lot of naps. 

I did some good junk reading. 

Not that any of those things are bad, but I did very little that was practical or useful, like grocery shopping or making beds or doing laundry.  (We’re in a drought.  I was saving water.) 

But now it's time to go back to normalcy.  It’s time to think about my next goal.  What will that be?

Yesterday I found myself inside one of those gigantic Super HEBs.  Usually I avoid such places, but it was near the PetSmart where I had just returned something.  I went in to buy a half gallon of milk and on the way wandered into the school supplies aisle.  Spiral notebooks of all colors filled the shelves.  And get this--they were on sale for 20 cents each.  I love spiral notebooks.  Maybe it’s the allure of the blank page, the possibilities lying dormant there, the invitation to fill those pages up.  I bought ten of them.  I think it’s a sign my subconscious is sending me. 

I've been writing this blog for over six months. It’s established a discipline and a writing routine. It’s been great practice. But I want to do something more substantial, maybe even (dare I say it?) meaningful. The hard part is choosing a topic. It’s not that I can’t think of something to write about. The problem is there are too many things I’m interested in, and it's so hard to narrow it down to just one. The temptation is to have two or three writing projects going at once. But I have a feeling that won’t work well.  So, step one:  I'm going to jump into those spiral notebooks and brainstorm.

Last year was the year to dance. Maybe this will be the year to write.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Full Speed Ahead!

This week Miss K will be interviewed on two local news shows to talk about the recital.  On one of those shows, we “Jemilets,” as she calls us, will be performing Jemileh on live TV. Yikes! Miss K told us to wear our costumes and “glam it up.” Finally I can wear my gorgeous, Egyptian costume. It's been languishing in a drawer for more than a year, just waiting for this moment. I can’t wear it for the recital-- the skirt is too heavy for the Elsekka dance, and there’s no time to change costumes. So I had to bench it for the recital and call in my second string outfit, which is pretty, too, just not as pretty.  Wearing my best costume is the good part. The bad part is: more stage fright.

It gets worse.

Last week we went to a birthday party for one of our neighbors (Susan, the one who feeds tortillas to deer), and the topic of the recital came up. Several of my neighbors said they'd like to go. As I sat there munching on barbecued chicken, I was reminded by something my daughter said many years ago, when one evening she got up from the dinner table and calmly asked, “May I be excused to totally freak out?” I felt a sudden urge to push away from the table and make a similar request.
Susan pointed out that I had posted a recital flyer on the bulletin board at the neighborhood post boxes.  True, I did that because Miss K urged us to distribute some flyers, so with that I felt I had done my duty.  I didn't think anybody would actually pay attention to it.  I mean, who's going to drive 30 miles into South San Antonio to watch an obscure theatrical event?  (Although the fact there's a micro-brewery next door to the theater was a drawing card for the men at the party.)

Besides, I don't care if people I don't know come to watch. It’s much more stressful when you know the audience members. Then you worry about what they might think or, worse, discuss amongst themselves, behind your back, of course.
“Can you imagine wearing that at her age?”
“I wouldn’t be caught dead….”
I can hear it now. But those fears are probably ungrounded. Women are pretty open to the idea.  When they find out I take belly dance lessons, their usual response is, "How fun!" It's the men who are uncomfortable with the idea.
After all, belly dance has a certain image, mostly created by Hollywood. Yes, the costumes usually bare the midriff. You also might see a flash of leg, maybe some cleavage. Big deal. You expose a lot more flesh in your average swimsuit.

But what about those sexy moves, the swaying hips, the undulating torso? Again, big deal.  It's nothing worse than what you see on Dancing with the Stars. Yet, belly dancing still inspires raised eyebrows and pursed lips. Maybe because people think it's a dance of seduction, you know, the harem girls competing for the attentions of the sultan. Again, a complete Hollywood fabrication.

I won't get into the whole history of it now, but just know that belly dance was not a seduction maneuver.  It dates back hundreds of years, so nobody knows for sure how it started. The general consensus is that it originated in Northern Africa, perhaps as an entertainment among women, for women and by women, even as a preparation for childbirth. Or maybe it was a temple dance for religious ceremonies. Or perhaps it was a dance that everybody took part in at celebrations like weddings (yes, even men, although their moves are not quite the same as women's).  In fact, it is still danced spontaneously at gatherings.

Anyway, back to the stage fright problem. I remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, this recital and my small part in it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. What is the worst that could happen? I could make a mistake, forget the whole dance, trip and fall.  Whatever.  It just makes for a more interesting spectacle for the audience.

So, I’m back to the old Kirstie-Alley-on-DWTS mantra. My rules for coping with stage jitters are still:
Rule No. 1: Just Have Fun.

Rule No. 2: Think about style over substance, flair over finesse, panache over perfection.
Rule No. 3: I don’t remember this rule, but that’s OK. At this late stage it’s better to keep things simple.

So, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”*

* The actual quotation, by Admiral David Farragut in the Civil War, was “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” You can see why people employ the shorter version.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rehearsal on a Real Stage, Sort of

This will be short.  I am hungry and need to eat breakfast, but I want to get this done first. 

We had a major rehearsal last Friday at a bigger studio with a floor the size of the stage where the performance will take place.  It was interesting to see some of the other dances.  I haven't seen any except those that practice right before my classes.  Quite a variety.  Someone said that one of the dances is done to the music of "Dueling Banjos."  I checked and didn't see that one on the program.  Maybe she was pulling my leg. 

But there were equally intriguing routines and music.  One of my favorites is "No Music Zils," which is an entire dance done without music except finger cymbals.  The sound of 15 or 20 dancers clapping zils in unison is something to hear.  There's also a number called "Retro Routine," which illustrates the belly dance style of the 70's.  That was the decade when belly dance really caught on in the U.S. and when Miss K started dancing it.  I didn't realize that belly dance has changed that much, but I suppose everything evolves.  "Retro Routine" starts with a section of dancing with veils, including a move Miss K calls the "reverse toga." (I love the terminology.)  There's also a floor work section in which the dancers, yes, "get down" (sorry) and do gymnastic feats like back bends with belly rolls, all while kneeling, sitting, or lying on the floor. 

Then there were some solos, performed with varying degrees of grace and skill.  One was a wonderful ballet-belly dance fusion and another good one was a fusion of yoga and belly dance. 

Karen tries to mix it up to keep audience members from getting bored.  After all, most of them are there to see one friend or relative perform.  The show runs on Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday, and each night has a completely different program.  That's a lot of choreography.  Of course, Miss K doesn't create all new dances every year; most of them have been in many previous recitals.     

I'm getting excited about it.  Only 10 days to go, then on with the show!  But first, I gotta find something to eat before I faint. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fireworks at the Annual Homeowners' Association Meeting

My husband is the president of our homeowners’ association.  It is not a hotly sought after position.  In fact, at last year’s HOA meeting, they were begging for people to throw their names in the hat.  James was elected primarily because he was the only candidate who had actually been on the board.  But he is a conscientious man and has toiled at being a good president.  The best part about being president is probably the board meetings, which take place over beer at a genial barbecue place up the road called Buck & Ozzy’s.  (Alas, Buck & Ozzy's has fallen victim to a corporate takeover, but that's another story.)

But it's not all glamour and fun, let me tell you.  As the president it somehow fell on James to do things like empty trash barrels at the park.  I accompanied him on one of these jaunts and can vouch for how nasty it is to gaze into a trash can and see maggots squirming at the bottom.    

But possibly the worst part of his job is being The Enforcer.  He’s the one who has to tell homeowners when they have transgressed the deed restrictions, whether it’s building a fence out of unapproved materials or leaving an RV in the driveway.  Sometimes homeowners can get downright mean about what they consider to be infringements on their rights.  They don’t seem to grasp that the rules are there to keep the neighborhood looking decent.  If you want to live in a trailer park, go live in a trailer park. 

Recently there was an issue with a homeowner who set up a bar in his driveway.  The bar is a rustic wooden piece , quite charming really, and something I wouldn’t mind having on my back patio.  But in the driveway?  When confronted, he insisted the bar is actually a storage compartment for his trash barrels.  Oh, please.  He regularly holds parties in the driveway, complete with those lacy paper streamers popular at Mexican festivities.  The Board had problems dealing with this particular homeowner, because (1) he’s a lawyer and can argue his way out of anything, and (2) he’s a board member.  Finally the Architectural Control Committee okayed the “trash can screen” and the matter was dropped. 

The annual homeowners’ meeting is coming up soon.  It is held in the auditorium at the local telephone company.  The board sits up front and presents boring statistics about the budget and spending and so on.  After that the meeting will liven up when, people being people, they start to moan and complain and demand.  Civilized exchanges of opinion can quickly degenerate into heated confrontations. 

At the last HOA meeting, it was considered prudent to have a visible police presence in case certain homeowners (to remain unnamed) got too fractious.  As it turned out, not only did a couple of Bulverde’s finest show up, but also the entire local fire department.  The fire fighters were there to show off their brand new, shiny fire truck and to field questions about fire protection in the neighborhood. 

Some homeowners were worried about the lack of fire hydrants.  They demanded that hydrants be installed.  James is, or, more accurately, was, a building contractor, and knew that such a project would involve tearing up all the streets, installing bigger water pipes, and would cost somewhere around 10 million dollars.  That would mean that each of the approximately 200 households in the neighborhood would have to pay $50,000 apiece for such a project.  That shut everybody up in a hurry.  But a few people insisted on getting an official estimate from the water company.  (After several months of study, it came in:  the project would involve tearing up all the streets, installing larger water pipes, and would cost about $10 million.)   

The spokesman for the fire department proposed a solution for the lack of fire hydrants.  He suggested that homeowners with swimming pools offer the use of their pool water in case of a fire emergency.  Contraptions exist—I pictured a huge shop vac--that can suck the water right out of a swimming pool.  I envisioned a firefighter in full regalia waiting patiently for someone to come to the door and say, “Sure, help yourself to my pool!” as a fire blazes merrily down the street.  

There was some crabbing about property rights, trespassing, and what about backyard pets escaping?  The fire department said they could get signed permissions from pool owners ahead of time.  They were equally concerned about dogs in the back yard.  Would they be attacked as they hook up the suction hose?  The issue was fraught with problems, and by the time the meeting was over, no one was very reassured about it. 

Then the ban on burning brush in your backyard came up.  During dry spells, which is usually all summer long, burning brush is strictly forbidden.  A homeowner mentioned that he had recently seen a back yard fire from blocks away.  The fire was so big that flames could be seen above the roof of the two-story house.  It turned out to be the home of the developer of the subdivision.  This is the same guy who didn’t install water pipes big enough to accommodate the number of homes in neighborhood.  Or install fire hydrants.  Or, apparently, observe the county’s ban on burning anything in your yard outside a barbecue grill.

 There were also a few complaints about feral cats, people letting their dogs run loose, etc.  It was all pretty tame.  I had been ready for fireworks and was frankly a little disappointed when they didn’t happen.  Maybe this year. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stage Make-Up in 10 Easy Steps

A few days ago, I promised to post a blog about stage make-up.  First, let me quote the woman who does my costume alterations.  When I asked her what she knew about stage makeup, this soft-spoken, polite lady from India said, “You put on make-up like a whore.”  There was a moment of shocked silence on my part.  It's like hearing a nun curse.  This wasn’t the first time she has caught me off guard like that.  On my first visit, she was explaining the necessity of sewing a hook and eye at the top of the zipper on my costume.  Quite matter-of-factly, she said in her accented voice, “Otherwise, the skirt might fall down and then you are screwed.” 

 Anyway, I found an article online about stage makeup for belly dancers, specifically, how to achieve the “Arabic eye.”  I’ve attached the link to it below.  It includes a youtube video with step-by-step instructions.  The girl in the video (that really is her eye in the photo) goes through the steps with brisk efficiency, and it still takes her ten minutes to do just one eye.  I figure it would take a novice like me about three times that long.   

the "Arabic eye"
The process involves a slew of shadows and liners and primers, not to mention application tools.  There are brushes for applying shadow to the lid, brushes for applying shadow to the crease of the eyelid, brushes for lining the eyes, and a brush for blending all that together.  This doesn't count the brushes for applying things like foundation and undereye concealer.  I always just used those spongy things that come with the eye shadow.  But I went to the drugstore and bought a few brushes.  I played with those for awhile and have to say they really do work better. 

Then there are false eyelashes, my particular nemesis.  I never could get the hang of those.  The few times I’ve had occasion to wear false eyelashes, they end up coming unglued and hanging there like a spider clinging to my eyelid. 

So there’s some practice ahead for me, if I want to achieve the Arabic eye.  We'll see if I want to go to all that trouble.

Friday, July 8, 2011

On Becoming a Diva and the Abuse of Word "Literally"

On Wednesday, I danced again at Demo's Greek Restaurant.  This was my third time, and I was not nearly as nervous as the first or second time.  And--get this--I danced El Sekka with only one other belly dancer!  Five of us are scheduled to perform it at the recital, but only two of us were at Demo's on Wednesday.  It was just me and Victoria, a red-haired beauty, who also happens to be a much better dancer than I am.  But that's okay.  I stuck with my strategy of making up with enthusiasm what I lack in technical expertise.  I may be in danger of becoming a ham.  Or maybe a better word is "diva."  It's very much a diva type dance, which is the complete opposite of my usual personality.  All the more fun!

We did Jemileh, too, at least eight of us, which is a floorful.  It seems everybody has danced Jemileh at one time or another, it being the easiest number in the repertoire.  So people jump in and dance along.  As you can tell, these Wednesday nights at Demo's are pretty informal.
Give Belly Dance a Chance performance flyer with Miss K

The finale number is always an upbeat song called Lulu.  It isn't difficult, but, dang, it's fast.  Most dancers already know it.  Miss K is offering four Lulu classes for us novices.  We practice at two different speeds. First, the music is slowed down, then we do it at tempo.  Yikes.  My brain doesn't coordinate with my body at that speed.  Each night of the recital, Lulu will be the last dance, and everybody is in it.  The stage will be crammed with dancers, and the veterans will literally be dancing in the aisles.

And when I say "literally," I mean just that. “Literally” has become over-used and abused in recent years.  At least one blog is devoted to the mistreatment of that one word.  There’s even a blog called something like “The British Society for the Preservation of the Apostrophe.”  Don't you just love that title?  And that's just the tip of the iceberg.  I mean, just look around.  The English language is being routinely and horribly mangled.  Don't get me started.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Encounter with a "Cobra"

Texas purple sage is blooming all over the place.  The weatherman said it's because of the 1-1/2 inches of rain we got two weeks ago.  At least something is thriving. We really need some rain around here.
Purple sage is blooming in our yard.

Because of the drought, the population of frogs in our pond is way down from last year.   I hear them singing at night but don't see them during the day anymore.  Maybe they're wisely hanging out in the shade or just staying underwater.  We have toads, too.  One of them likes to sneak into the dog's water bowl at night and sit there soaking.  It becomes his own private little jacuzzi.  When I flip on the patio light, he hunkers down in the water, as if that makes him invisible.  My old dog Muffin can't see very well, so she goes right up to the bowl and starts trying to lap up water.  The toad scrambles up the side of the bowl and hangs there while Muffin stares at it, surprised.  Then he hops away to safety under a nearby cabinet, but he takes his time getting there.   

Toads don't have a very good defense system.  Even in broad daylight, they seem to rely on hoping you won't notice them if they stay very, very still.  Plenty of time for a critter to walk up and have a snack.  Except they don't taste good.  If something grabs them, their skin oozes a foul tasting substance.  Dogs seem to remember that and leave them alone.  

Another possible reason for the decline in the frog and toad population is that we have snakes in the yard.  I encountered one the other day.  Cooper was barking and lunging at something under a bush, and I peeked under to see what it was.  I saw a large bodied snake, coiled up and hissing, and looking for all the world like a cobra, with the flattened out neck and all.  My first thought was, "Oh, my God, somebody's pet cobra got loose!" 
Cooper, age 13, is still a relentless predator.   She will
 attack anything with four legs, or even no legs, like a snake.

Yes, a cobra would make a strange pet, but people do things like that.  I hustled the dogs into the house.  Then I ran to get the camera so I could get a picture of it and look it up on the internet.  Before heading back outside, I pulled on a pair of cowboy boots, just in case the snake decided to strike.  It made a fetching combination with my knee-length nightie. 

But by the time I got back outside the snake had high-tailed it.  I couldn't find him.  I did some research on the internet anyway and decided it must have been a king snake.  Turns out a lot of harmless snakes do the cobra impression. 

The next day my neighbor Susan mentioned that she and her husband had found three hog-nosed snakes in their yard in recent days.  "They coil up and hiss and look like cobras," she said.  She also mentioned that her husband had "relocated" them, that is, he ushered them off their property with a broom.  Maybe one of those evicted snakes made his way over here.  Animals have a way of finding water. 

I don't wish the snake any harm.  Even poisonous snakes have a place in the ecosystem.  I just hope he isn't dining on my frogs and toads. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

New Belly Dance Costume - On Sale!

This has been another one of those weeks, maybe couple of weeks, when life has interrupted the usual course of events and I haven’t had the time or “ganas” (Spanish word meaning the desire to do something) to write my blog. Things go along smoothly and then, wham! Out of nowhere, something happens, and your peace of mind and schedule go to hell in a hand basket.

But I’m not going to do any navel gazing. We all go through switchbacks along the rocky road of life, which is the price we pay for being here. Like everybody else, I just stumble through the best I can.

Anyway, I’m going back to the topic of belly dance. We’re gearing up for another feverish round of rehearsal classes after a month’s hiatus.

In the meantime, I’ve been obsessed with costumes. I have spent hours looking at costumes on internet sites, especially Dahlal. Buying clothing online is always iffy. At Dahlah the costumes are usually unique and made to order. But they also have a selection of costumes that are already made and therefore on sale. Each of these sale costumes has specific measurements for ribs, upper hip, lower hips, skirt length, etc., so unless they exactly match your own, which is unlikely, some alterations are inevitable.

My idea was to buy a costume that was fancier than my gold one, but lighter than the fuchsia one. I chose one that was silver and pewter and black, a rather elegant color scheme, I thought. Finally it arrived. I could tell as soon as I picked up the box that it was indeed lighter. I could dance Elsekka in this without a problem. It fit well, too, except for a couple of minor things that I probably could have done myself. However, the last time I attempted a simple alteration, with my fuchsia costume, the first thread I snipped caused a shower of tiny beads to fall to the floor. It took a long time to pick them out of the carpet. Suzie the seamstress had to put it all back together. So no more self-alteration attempts for me.

When I tried on my new costume, Suzie immediately saw that the skirt was too short. That much was clear in the full length mirror in her sewing room. How did that happen? Well, apparently, you can’t get an accurate reading from dropping a tape measure from your own waist to the floor. I don’t know why, but it’s true. The skirts on my two other costumes are a good four inches longer. So now we were faced with the problem of making the skirt longer, a skirt that is embroidered and finished at the hem. Suzie decided the only way to do it was to make an underskirt that will fall below the original hem. She said if she just tacked something onto the hem to make it longer, that’s exactly what it would look like. And that would be, well, tacky.

In addition to lengthening the skirt, Suzie is going to make some accessories. She suggested making gauntlets out of black stretch velvet, a matching headband, plus add some of the black velvet to trim the bra top. It will tie it all together and make for a sophisticated look, much different from the fuchsia costume. I can’t wait to see the finished product!
Next: the mysterious art of stage make-up