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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.