2020 has sucked.

And not in a good way.

2020 has been the year of changes…and hardships. Troupe Zephyr has rocked with smaller, in-person events at Vino Bellisimo in Lima, Ohio; and we have reeled with the assorted shutdowns and the changes in our regular “real job” employment situations.

BUT YA KNOW WHAT? We have not faded away into oblivion. No! We have not gone silently into that dark night! HELL NO! That’s just not our style! Instead, we sat back a hot sec. We observed. We found we have what it takes to go the long haul. Enjoy our first venture into online “shows” with the following compilation. No…Troupe Zephyr is NOT GOING ANY DAMN WHERE! We are here…large and in charge…in the corn belt of the i75 corridor…and we are bringing the performing arts to YOU!

VIRTUAL VISUAL GALA YOUTUBE VIDEO

2017 has been…

Exhausting?

Exhilarating?

Emotional?

Busy?

Whatever 2017 has been for you, we here at Troupe Zephyr have been through it, too. Mandy and I have been on an emotional roller coaster. While most of it has been high, we have had our share of lows. Through all of it, belly dance has helped us maintain our composure.

In times of celebration, we danced.

In times of stress, we danced.

In times of mourning, we danced.

Now…as 2018 is quickly approaching…we want to be sure we extend our sanity tool to all interested. Won’t you join us to dance at the Troupe Zephyr studio? Our beginner, intermediate and private classes are now forming. Contact us ASAP to book your spot.

Happy New Year to you all!

Sweating profusely. Sticky palms. Dry mouth. The sudden urge to pee. Performing in public can be a terrifying experience. The genre doesn’t matter. A person can have an adrenaline response to all manners of public exposure, whether she is a seasoned veteran or a complete newbie. For me, dancing in public was not rally a big deal. I am a bit of a natural born ham. (Shhh…none of my long term friends are allowed to weigh in on this.) The terrifying part was performing ALONE.

Yup. Being on that stage is no big deal to me when I have others there to share the experience. It is as if being a part of a group deflects the gaze of too many people at one time. When I am a part of the group, I am only representing one faction of a population. There are equal representations with the entire group being there. It is the dreaded solo that strikes fear in my being. I know I am not alone!

DANCING IN PINK THING

I find many western raqs soloists like to use props. I love props. However, I have been forcing myself to perform solos sans all props. If I have a longer set – let’s say a fifteen minute bar/restaurant set – I think utilizing a veil entrance, followed by zilling and ending with a hard core drum solo would be bad ass! However, in most stage productions here in the US, each dancer or troupe is allowed about five to seven minutes. I started to feel as if I had a death grip on my veil…or cane…or hat…or fan veil..or what have you. WHY??? Why was I clinging to these things? Props can be shields to keep the audience focused on something else besides my dancing. For me, I felt as if I was a magician, keeping the audience focused on my prop to mask my lack of ability to convey musical emotions. So…I have ditched them. I still love my props. Trust me! Nothing says cool and awesome quite like a huge scimitar on a dancer’s head whilst she/he moves about. However, sometimes I feel it is time to dance with feeling, and leave the props behind. I have a very long way to go in this area, but I’m working on it. How about you? How’s your solo performance?

photo: Lori and Mandy Naseelah  with Zoey Jakes (center). October 2015
THEY ARE IN PINK AND POINTING AT A GIRL IN THE MIDDLE HOLDING A CERTIFICATE

With Schoolhouse Raqs fast approaching, I have been thinking back on all of the workshops I have ever taken. There have been a lot! I have been rather privileged to belong to a great lineage of dancers through my primary teacher, which traces back to Fifi Abdou (love that woman). Add to that the long list of dancers whom I have taken workshops. Local and regional favorites, as well as some very well known dancers, are on that roll. Taletha Al Badr, Avassa, Zoey Jakes, Chandara Gamal, Laylia White, Yasmina Ramsey, Amy Sigil…the list goes on and on.

One may think I would stop taking workshops at some point. Or perhaps I may start to feel as if I must only follow my own style. However, I want more workshops. I would love to soak up all of the energy, knowledge and wisdom from every dancer possible. I have a “style,” I think. But to me, each and every workshop is an opportunity to learn a new move, a new way of doing the same move, a look at my self as a dancer and to admire those great dancers around me. I may know a lot at this point in the game, but I definitely have a long way to go, and I don’t ever presume any one dancer ever knows it ALL (except maybe Fifi…lol). Workshops are where I get to tap into all that makes the art what is.

I once read that great runners never try to beat someone else’s time. The great runners run to beat his/her own previous time. This is how I feel workshops should be. I am not looking to exactly duplicate the style of that dancer, but to improve my own style. Maybe I will learn a new a favorite move. Maybe I will just tuck that move into my mental “file” to be pulled out at a later date while hammering out a choreography. Maybe I’ll use it in during an improv because it suddenly feels like the time and place to throw it in. However, if I had never taken the workshop, I would not even have that particular tool in my box to pull out.

There is always something to take away from workshops – always.

And so, with this sentiment in place, I want to formally invite you all to our spring “thaw out” event: Schoolhouse Raqs. Please see the info at http://www.troupezephyr.com/schoolhouse-raqs. Also be sure to check out our autumn event, Gypsy Mystique, as more details become available. 

I recently read a post on Facebook from a dancer whom I have watched dance for years. She described how, after her group was finished dancing, a spectator walked up and expressed her admiration of the dancer’s “guts.” You see, the dancer is heavy. And while she does have AMAZING GUTS, because she just does in every sense of the word, I think I understand why she found the admiration frustrating.

When you are not the socially acceptable “normal” body type, people of ALL types generally expect you to cower. It’s as if there is some unwritten rule you must be covered head to toe in an effort to hide the fact that humanity is not perfect. Only those who appear to be skinny enough, tan enough (or conversely white enough), have the proper sized chest, or a cute teeny bum are “allowed” to share themselves with the general public. Anyone less than these standards are A) not meant to be seen; and B) surely not allowed to publicly enjoy their apparent station or lot in life. So, when someone carrying more weight than the doctors’ offices chart say is allowable is seen not only enjoying life and expressing joy through dance, but is damn good at it, too, others think of them as “ballzy,” possessing “moxy,” having “chutzpah,” being especially “mutig,” etc.

I know I hear it. I have women tell me they are so happy to see someone of “my size” dance in public. While I am happy they find it inspiring, it’s not quite what I am going for by my efforts performing. I feel that dancing is a way to enjoy life. I feel music is a way to express emotions. I dance to express the emotions felt while listening to a song. I enjoy expressing those emotions. I was blessed to be able to walk…to have legs on which to stand. I was not blessed as equally with a voice with which to sing (my mother, sisters, cousins, nieces….they received that). I could stand to lose weight. I could also stand to make more money, drive a better vehicle, and clean my house a bit better. However, those things should not make me not be able to celebrate and enjoy where I am at right now!

So if it is “ballzy” to enjoy myself, so be it. If it is showing my “nerve” to dye my hair blue (I DO see people noticing the blue hair, by the way. Tomorrow it may be pink, so be sure to keep watching). I am going to enjoy myself. I am going to love myself. I am going to love where I am at right now.

Too many say things like, “when I lose 50 pounds I am going to dance in public,” or “when I get those washboard abs I am going to wear a bikini,” or what have you. You know what? I’m not waiting to enjoy my life! I can work toward those goals and still enjoy myself NOW! I am going to love myself, so I am better able to love others.

So, I don’t care if you are a size 2 or a size 22, please, for crying out loud, enjoy your life! Enjoy your body! It is the only one you will get! Take care of it! Move it! Express yourself with it! There are plenty of places in this world where other people believe they have the authority to suppress the actions of others. I have been extremely lucky to not have be born in one of those places. At least we do not outwardly do that. Let’s not passively do that, either, ok?

It took a long time for me to be able to be comfortable with myself, and some days still I am not. But I sure will not be old, gray and immobile someday wishing I would have danced when I had the opportunity. October marked Troupe Zephyr’s 7th birthday. When Mandy and I pooled our efforts to get this going, our intention was to enjoy what we were doing.I will not regret not celebrating the joy of life. Because I intend to and you should, too.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

At times, our group has been asked to attend a meeting or event and put on a bit of an “educational” program about “belly dance.” I thoroughly enjoy these types of gigs. They truly let my inner geeky nerd come out to shine! However, I have noticed the general “non-raks” public is not satisfied with my ambiguous answers on the origins of the dance.

I explain that I am no where near an expert in the field. Not by a long shot! I generally defer to those who have extensive research in the area and have been in the community much linger than myself. Sahra Kent and Shira are just two examples of wonderful ladies using their talents for the betterment of the oriental dance community. I dearly treasure their efforts! You can check out much more about them by looking into Sahra’s Journey Through Egypt programs and Shira’s website, shira.net.

But these people want answers and I am there. So I tell them what I know. It goes something like this:

What a lot of people consider to be belly dance in the western world, is not even close to what it even is. In fact, it may be easier to start with what it is not. It is NOT stripping! It is not pole dancing. It is not “just shaking your ass.” It doesn’t even use that much of the belly, per se, and probably should be called something else. Dance Orientale…there’s a much better term.

Dance orientale is a an amalgamation of various folk dances and movements from the area of the world many scholars refer to as “the cradle of civilization” and into what was ancient Phoenicia and Egypt. Since the times before memory, dance has been a part of life. As people move across the globe, their music and dances go with them…just as their daily habits, religious beliefs, etc. Each particular area or group of people have added their own touches and flavor throughout the eons.

BAREFOOT BLOND GIRL WITH SMILE AND BELLBOTTOMS

(This is the part where I tell the story of Ishtar going through the gates of Hell to retrieve her lover, consequently losing a veil at each gate, hence giving some shred of connection to ancient fertility rites. However, I was informed by a gentleman that that particular tid-bit was unnecessary and “unsettling.” So, for now, I have left it out from the usual spiel.)

Our group usually follows it up with examples of variations and costuming differences from different areas. We do our best to explain the folk dancing end of things.

So, while no one really knows the exact beginning of this dance, let us appreciate the ever-evolving dance with all it’s roots!

Judges 11:34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh to his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.

Psalms 30:11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing: you have put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness;

Psalms 149:3 Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises to him with the tambourine and harp.

Psalms 150:4 Praise him with the tambourine and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

Jeremiah 31:13 Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.

About ten years ago, I was dancing with another group and had traveled to a workshop taught by the fabulous Caroleena Nericcio. I was humbled by this experience beyond measure! Here I was, at the ripe ole age of 32, thinking I had this “belly dancin’ thang” down. This event took me outside my comfort zone and showed me exactly this: I.KNEW.NOTHING.

While that event woke me up to the plethora of knowledge I most certainly did NOT have, it also lit a fire under my bum and made me want to learn everything I could about Raqs. Every style, every region of origin, the languages, customs…everything I could get my hands on.

It also made me realize I would need more instructors – a wide variety of them to bring me the knowledge I was lacking. My “dance mom” and “dance fairy godmother” were awesome and forever hold special spots in my heart, but I was ravenous for more! With two boys at home, dropping my life and traveling to Egypt, Turkey or Lebanon, et al. was not an option, unfortunately (those locations are most certainly still on my bucket list). My gears were left turning, and I asked my other fellow dance troupe members, “what’s stopping us from having a workshop and show like we just took part in?”

IT WAS ON!

Hence, Beledi Extravaganza was born! We busted our butts on that event. And it paid off in experience and learning techniques.

As time goes on and people go their ways, I found myself in a new group. I wanted to show my ladies everything I knew and expose them to everything I didn’t know, too. Voila! Gypsy Mystique came from the toils and triumphs of the Troupe Zephyr birthing process.

There have been tears. There have been babies born through the tasks. There have cancellations…blow ups…drama…love…and of course, dance. Lots and lots of dance. Sometimes we wonder the hell we were thinking. We have learned to be inventive, pioneering, socially active self-promoters, financiers, johnny on the spot maintenance people who can roll with the punches and take the good with the bad in order to share our love of RAQS!

GYPSY MYSTIQUE POSTER WITH DATES BLACK AND WHITE

Now, we are coming up on it’s SEVENTH YEAR! SEVEN YEARS!!! That is a long time in show biz…especially small potatoes, mid-western, rust belt location show biz. Each and every year we have different instructors and learn new techniques. At the age i am now (do the math…I’m not telling), I find myself constantly evolving. Isn’t that what it is all about? Learning and growing as a person and a dancer?

Please, join us this year. We’re going to have a good time and we would love to share with all of you!

Recently, I was scrolling through Facebook (no way! lol), and I saw a video a wonderful dancer and friend had posted from her past. It was graceful and poised, just as she always conveys herself. However, you could tell she was more of a beginner in the dance. This is not a big deal. She had commented how much she had improved. I then spent the rest of my “internet black hole time” scrolling through our videos on YouTube.

After seven years of Troupe Zephyr and six years of hosting events, we have a metric ton of videos on social media! Therefore, the trip down memory lane took a bit of time. While I am not going to share the very first Troupe Zephyr performance (those in the troupe ave seen it), I will share one of our earlier ones.

PURPLE YOUTUBE VIDEO

It brought back very found memories of dancing in my driveway; trekking through the backwoods country to find a lady selling a bunch of random boxes of fabric; and sewing costumes at my dining room table. (You know, I still have those pants and wear them regularly. I think I need more….hmmmm…)

Then I went back through the videos to one of our most recent. I was happy to see we were getting better at choreographing, incorporating more advanced steps and combinations, and just becoming better dancers, in general.

SCHOOL HOUSE RAQEUS VIDEO

I also picked up on some habits which I, myself, need to work on that have carried though all of these years. Video is a great tool! It helps not only preserve the memories, but it can emphasize the good points; illuminate areas needing improvement; and boost the ego when necessary. I’ll never be ashamed of where Mandy and I started. All those days in the basement have blossomed into this and we have many more to anticipate! While I have heard some dancers insist their older, perhaps not as polished performances be removed from the internet, I feel they should stay. They should stay as a testament as to how a dancer can grow, mature, and develop. We have come so far, and we have so much more to go. Thanks for hanging out with us on the journey, so far. But y’all better hang on to your seats, ’cause we are not done!

WEIRD MAKE UP and TONGUES STICKING OUT

I have never been one to be particularly “afraid” of trying new things. My mother was a 4-H adviser for 30 years, so it was almost expected all of her children (6 of us) join and take part in the activities. At the age of ten, I decided I was going to do the county Speak Up contest. At that time, the contest consisted of about 50 to 100 kids all speaking about safety topics. My mom tried to talk me out of it, but I was convinced I could do it. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared. I was so nervous – butterflies going crazy in my gut. But I did the speech, without looking at my notes, and won an honorable mention (a fourth place). Getting up in front of people has never been something I have shied away from, in MOST contexts.

I think this is something that has carried over and influenced me in dance. I know there are certain styles I am better at, but I feel like I must try everything at least once. This has been easier said than done. I try to motivate others, too. I tell my troupe mates all the time, “if I am getting up there and trying this, so can YOU!” It isn’t because I am not scared, but because I feel like it is imperative to face my fears and overcome them! A life lived in fear is not living, it is dying.

Recently, I talked the gals into dancing with a live drummer at a fundraising festival. This was no easy task! We were dancing some tribal style (kinda) and most had never danced to a live drummer before. It is a scary, scary thing the first time! It’s like you are inviting an unstable element to the bubble you have built in order to perform. It could go well….it could go very, very badly. I figured, what better place to break everyone in (including myself, as I hadn’t done this in about six years or so) than a low pressure, fun fundraiser. Even better, one of our fav teachers and fellow dancers (not lying…she makes me go fan-girl gooey), Laylia was lining up the show.

After a few painful practices and some simplifications ( i was getting way too far ahead of myself), we were ready….ish. We DID IT! We did some tribal….we did some improv…WE SURVIVED THE LIVE DRUMMER! I feel we also discovered we have a bit more chutzpah, each of us solo and collectively, than we thought we had before!

So kudos to my troupe mates! Well done, ladies! We stepped outside that box….and lived to talk about it 😉