Sensual Joy: Sensuality with Valerick Molinary

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The very beginnings of my interest in belly dance are somewhat fuzzy these days. It’s been a fair few years since I dipped my toes into this glittery sea, but I distinctly remember my initial interest was sparked by “sensual belly dance.” A video of Blanca’s performance from her Sensual Bellydance DVD was the clincher for me, and was the first dance DVD I ever purchased.

I can’t say that it is a style I’ve performed much. I tend to pick more upbeat pieces for shows. You only get the one slot, after all. I think I also have shied away from more sensual performances because I’m not exactly well proportioned for the bedlah, and I’ve yet to find an Oriental style dress that fits both my body and my budget.

Even so, I relish the sensuality of belly dance. It makes me feel sexy even though I don’t particularly think I am. So, of course, I was extremely excited for Valerick Molinary’s Natural Sensuality workshop at StarFest in Oklahoma City this year.

I’ve never been uncomfortable with sensual movement. I can’t say I’m terribly pleased with what it looks like on film, but that’s more to do with my own insecurities about my body and weight than anything. But the workshop reminded me of how I’ve always been a proponent of getting lost in the music. Another dancer in the workshop commented on how, rather than projecting outward, I draw people inward.

In one of the novels I’ve been pecking at for several years now, I incorporate art, and dance specifically, as elements of worship, as how better to honor our creation, but with the gift of creation we have been given? Within the story, the definition of a good dancer is one who can be consumed by the music and almost forget there is an audience at all. It is the ability to make the audience lose themselves right along with you.

This is fiction, of course, but I think it jives well with how I feel as a dancer. I joke about how I step on that stage and blackout for those few minutes I’m up there, as I get lost in the moment and can’t remember what I even did when I step off the stage. I don’t count. I don’t choreograph. I dive into the music and let it move me. And then I cringe at the footage when I do something not terribly appealing, but we’re all our own worst critics.

The fact that I can even dance in front of people at all is pretty amazing, since I have crippling social anxiety and a long history of stage fright. I have never been one to draw attention to myself in any big way. So…naturally, I nearly had a heart attack when Valerick had me get on the stage twice during the workshop.

The first time wasn’t so bad, as everyone was also dancing and she was up on the stage as well. However, the second time I panicked. I’m not a pro. I don’t claim to be. I never intend to be. I don’t have the social ability or the business savvy for it, and I don’t necessarily think I’m good enough to be a pro anyway. I have a long way to go in my studies, and I know that. So being asked to get up in front of about 50 other women, half of which are pros of some kind, as well as two rather famous professional dancers to perform the choreography by myself was intimidating to say the least.

I screwed up the first time. I couldn’t remember the steps, probably because I was terrified, but I didn’t run out of the room screaming when I was asked to do it, so I did good. I managed to make it through it, even though I’m awful at chaine turns. And I’m sure it probably looked…um…sketchy. There is a video of it somewhere on someone’s phone, but I don’t know if I want to see it.

I did it though. People clapped and cheered. I have to say, I love how supportive the dance community is around here. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. And being called the “sensation of the weekend” by Valerick Molinary was pretty freaking insane. Maybe I’m better than I think. At the very least, I do sensuality well, I guess.

I’m still reeling from this experience, honestly. That workshop was probably one of my favorites, and not because I was complimented by the teacher, but because sensual belly dance is what got me into this. Finding this dance and this wonderful community is one of the best things that’s happened to me and has become one of my greatest passions in life.

I’m a writer by trade, but dance, dance is my joy.

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Fall Belly Dance Classes with Lileith!

 

Are you looking to add a little sparkle to your life? Are you looking for a fun new way to exercise, or do you just want to get up and dance? Well, I’ve got great news!

Starting October 23rd, 2018, Lileith of Dance with Lilieth will be offering another four class session of belly dance classes in Fayetteville, AR! Classes will be in the cabaret and Oriental styles and are for all levels.

Classes will be located at Fayetteville Pilates & Barre at 3379 N College Ave, Ste 5, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72703, across the parking lot from Whole Foods.

The four class session is $60, or $18 for individual classes if you cannot attend all four. Pre-registration is highly recommended.

Get your shimmy on and work that belly before the holiday rush takes hold! Come jingle with us! We look forward to seeing you!

Full class details and payment options can be found on the Facebook Event Notice.

I Hate Writing Show Intros

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This is Siggles, and she is done. Just done.

I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.

I’m a writer by trade…or education, at least. I have two degrees in this whole fiction business, and I can peck out a piece of fiction at the drop of a hat. I’m not terribly proficient at being concise. I’ve never been really adept at short stories. I need my excessive lore and world-building.

But writing a snappy little intro to go before a performance at a show? Hell. Pure unadulterated hell.

I write about myself here, but it’s more as a background to a larger point. A little paragraph of info about me that doesn’t sound like a dry biography from the 1800s? Yeah…I’m not so great at that. Having social anxiety and OCD really doesn’t help either.

Writing an intro is more nerve wracking than actually performing. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I would assume it’s a product of my neurotic tendency for perfectionism, but I don’t think I’m alone in being frustrated with the process.

It’s a really stupid thing to get worked up over…but, alas, here I am, sitting at my desk at 03:30, trying to peck out 3 awkward sentences for Star Fest.

For those of you out there who aren’t excessively self-conscious? What’s it like? It must be the most wonderful feeling in the world.

I guess I’ll go back to wrangling my brain squirrels. Here’s a lovely guide to writing show intros by Ananke: http://anankedance.com/5-creative-approaches-to-writing-a-stage-introduction/

Dancing with Myself: Part 2: The Cons of Self-Study

 

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David of Scandinavia Workshop 2017

While I have primarily done self-study throughout my dance “career” and have found it beneficial, there are a number of drawbacks to only engaging in independent learning. I only get snippets through the occasional workshops I do throughout the year and the couple of class sessions I’ve taken in the last couple of years, but I notice them.

No Feedback

One the downsides of independent study is you don’t get any teacher feedback. If your form is off, or if you’re doing something weird, you have to figure it out on your own, because there’s no one there to correct you. A way to mitigate this is to film yourself dancing a lot and comb over the footage and correct yourself accordingly, but it’s still not the same as immediate feedback from a more experienced dancer.

Lack of Guidance

When you study on your own, you’re…well…on your own. You have to decide how to develop your own program, which can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for. You don’t have the guidance of a teacher to steer you in the right direction. When I started, it was a bit of a struggle to find what fit, because I didn’t know the vocabulary. I didn’t know what words to look for. I gravitated towards Baladi and Shaabi early on, but it took a few years for me to learn the words to be able to seek those things out. For a long time, I confused the two because I found the word Shaabi first, and the dancer was wearing a baladi-style costume.

No Accountability

When you study on your own, you are the only one who can make you practice. There are no classes to ensure you practice on a regular basis. This is why when I do find classes to take, I pay for the entire session in advance. This obligates me to attend. No excuses for not going. I find myself often going through long periods where I don’t practice at all. If I had people to dance with, I feel I would dance more often.

Slower Progress

I feel like I have done well for learning on my own, but I also understand that my progress as a dancer has been slowed because of it. Having been acquainted with the Aalim Bellydance Academy for the last few years, I notice their students progress a lot faster due to the regularity of their practice, access to teachers, and regular performance opportunities. With lack of guidance, accountability, and feedback, you will move slower.

No Community

Ultimately, all of these issues come back to the ultimate drawback to self-study, the lack of involvement with the dance community. That support network isn’t there. All of the aforementioned issues come from this single most important point. Being a baby dancer all alone is really difficult. When you finally do stumble your way into the community, you feel like an uneducated dolt because you don’t know all the words. You don’t know the big name dancers, your dance ancestors, the famous composers. It can be intimidating.

I am grateful that managed to find the community via the workshop circuit. It has improved my dancing a lot even with just the few events I go to each year. I have met countless new friends through these experiences and even found a few classes as a result. While I am pleased with the results of my independent study, if I had had the opportunity to learn with others in the beginning, I would have. If you don’t have the opportunity to learn from a live teacher, or take a class, then independent learning is a great way to get started with exploring this beautiful dance. If you do have the opportunity to take a class, do it. Seriously, you won’t regret it.

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Folklore Cocktail Workshop with Vanessa of Cairo 2016

Dancing With Myself: Part 1: The Pros of Self-Study

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As I have mentioned before, I am a self-taught dancer. I didn’t exactly choose to learn that way. Lack of access to in person classes when I developed an interest in the dance drove me in that direction. However, I think it’s fair to discuss the pros and cons of self-teaching, as there are positives and negatives, and it’s a style of learning that works well for me. In making my list, I came up with a number of points for both sides, so I’m going to address them in separate posts. For this go round, I’m going to discuss the positives of self-teaching.

It’s Often Less Expensive

Unless you are like me, who buys nearly every DVD I can get my hands on, self-study is going to be less expensive than regular lessons. DVDs and online programs range in price, but generally fall within the $10-$30 (USD) range. You can get hours of study out of a good DVD for that one price, whereas regular classes can range $5-$20 a class depending on the teacher, the size of the class, the venue, and the city. There are also free online options for self-study if one wants to try learning without the investment.

You Move At Your Own Pace

With classes, you are locked into a certain pace, either dictated by the teacher, or often by the less experienced learners in the class. A lot of classes in smaller areas tend to be exclusively beginner level, which can be frustrating for more experienced dancers, or dancers who learn more quickly, as the pace of a class can be slowed by students who take longer to grasp some concepts. Self-study allows a dancer to move at whatever pace suits them. I like to be able to work on a concept as long as I want without feeling like I’m holding up a class, or move on from something I’ve figured out more quickly.

You Make Your Own Schedule

When you’re learning on your own, your learning schedule is whatever you make it. You aren’t bound to specific class times and locations. I have found this aspect especially useful for me, as I work overnights and have a bizarre sleep schedule. I can be studying at 06:00, 15:00, or 02:00 depending on the day and whenever I get a whim to dance.

You Aren’t Confined to One Style

With classes, you are limited to the style that the teacher dances. If there aren’t many PicsArt_08-17-01.48.43teachers in your area, then there may be only one, or possibly two styles to choose from. With self-study you can try out a number of different styles to find what suits you. I went through a number of styles before I settled on Egyptian. I just looked through lists of DVDs and bought the ones that looked appealing and eventually the one that felt most natural for my body finally emerged. I also enjoy the freedom of being able to pick up new styles whenever I want, such as Saidi, or Shaabi, because there are so many programs out there by wonderful dancers.

You Get to Choose the Style of Learning that Works Best for You

Everyone learns differently, and self-study allows you to choose the way that works best for you. I’m a visual learner. I’m more suited to the “monkey see, monkey do” style of learning, so I like to see a movement at full speed rather than a slow breakdown. My brain processes the complete movement more easily than the individual components. I also prefer technique programs over learning through choreography (mostly because I’m terrible at remembering choreography) and prerecorded programs allow me to work that way. Sometimes, I just need to watch a movement or a combination over and over again and then let it percolate in my brain before I try it.

Improvisational Skills

Perhaps I’m biased simply because this is how I dance, but I think self-study can lead to developing improvisational skills earlier in the learning process. Most classes I’m familiar with tend to teach through choreography. Improvisation tends to come later, particularly with studios that do troupe numbers most of the time. Since I was never taught through choreography, I have always improvised. This is a double-edged sword, however, but we’ll get to that in the next post.

These are some of the benefits of self-study that I have noticed over the years for myself. Granted, my experiences with learning via classes and workshops are minimal and only based in the U.S. I’m sure other countries teach differently, particularly in countries of origin. This is not a slam on classroom learning. These are simply positives of the type of learning I have chosen for myself. Next time, we’ll get into the cons of self-study, and subsequently the pros of group learning as a result.

Ma’as salaamah!

 

Raq’n Workouts

Belly dance workout DVDs have often been some of my favorite programs to work with throughout the years I’ve been studying dance. They are an introduction to the art for many people, as it’s very easy to stumble across one in the yoga section of a sporting goods store, or the exercise section of any big box store. bd2

My first belly dance workout DVD was the Love Potion program from World Dance New York. It’s a bit much for a total novice, but it’s one I still enjoy from time to time. Luscious, the other program in the series is the better choice for beginner level dancers, in my opinion. Luscious moves at a somewhat slower pace and has simpler combinations separated by move type, i.e. circles, figure eights, undulations, etc.

While fitness and weight loss are current goals of mine, dance workout programs serve other purposes as well. As I mostly work with prerecorded teaching programs, workout DVDs become great for drilling purposes. Movement is constant. It is presented within a dance context, while still providing the repetition of drilling. If I can’t decide on what I want to practice on any given day, I’ll just pop in a workout and do some drilling.

I have  a number of different workout programs, some I’ve worked with a lot. Some I haven’t gotten to, but all have merit. Most of what I’ve got came from World Dance New York. They have a number of excellent workout programs in different styles.

bd1The program I’ve been working with this week is Jillina’s Shape Up n’ Hip Out. It has a warm up and a cool down sequence and three different routines of varying intensity, which you can do all of, or just one depending on one’s time and energy that day. The three sections are Slow & Smooth, Rhythm Hips, and Turbo Hips. I believe this one is a great option for beginners and for dancers looking to drill foundational dance vocabulary. The combos are simple, and Jillina breaks them down before kicking it up to full tempo. The footwork isn’t overly complex and it’s just a great overview of the basic building blocks of belly dance. I highly recommend it.

There are a number of belly dance workouts you can find for free on YouTube, as well. Tiazza of FreeBellyDanceClasses.com has a number of dance workouts on YouTube and most of them also have companion videos that breakdown the combos she uses. Leilah Isaac also has a number of dance workouts on YouTube, although I have not, as of yet, tried any of her routines.

There are a lot of options for dance workouts out there. It’s my favorite way to exercise and it’s a fantastic way to brush up on your dance moves, or discover belly dance if you’ve never done it before. Or if you’re just looking for a fun way to exercise that is easy on the joints, belly dance workouts are the way to go.

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Fact and Fantasy: Anthropology and Orientalism

The last couple times I’ve gone to visit Evryn, she has taken me to this beautiful Utopia known as Half Price Books. The last few years, I’ve been trying to mostly stick to e-books, as my physical library is fairly large and extremely daunting to move. But, I can’t resist a bookstore, especially one with discounted volumes.PicsArt_08-07-02.37.00

Last time, I walked out with three different volumes. This time, I walked out with four. I bee line it for the history and anthropology sections, hunting for volumes about different Middle Eastern cultures. My primary objective is Egpytian material, but this time I grabbed a few different things. An ethnography from Morocco, one from Iraq, a book on the Sahara, and Orientalism by Edward Said.

I am especially interested in Orientalism. It’s a complex topic, particularly in relation to the study of Middle Eastern dance. I mean, we call it Oriental Dance, and I believe a large part of Western interest in belly dance is fueled by remnants of Orientalist fantasy. I would wager that many come to the dance with images of slinky, sensual harem women twirling through their heads. It’s often a delightfully decadent fantasy, one that I’m not immune to myself.

Those images were perhaps what drew me toward belly dance. It wasn’t until I got here that I began to delve into the culture surrounding it. I was still studying anthropology in college when I started dancing, but it wasn’t until the last couple years that I became moderately obsessed with Egyptian culture. Discovering Journey Through Egypt was an absolute blessing, and reignited my passion for studying foreign cultures, as well as cemented my primary area of study.

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“Harem Dancer” by Gaston Guedy. My favorite Orientalist painting.

Orientalism as a movement, whatever its faults, is still interesting from a historical perspective, and I will not deny that I adore Orientalist art. I enjoy the fantasy, the romance, even if I know that it is largely false. But, at the same time, that fantasy makes me all the more interested in learning the truth about these things, and that fantasy is what led me down this path to begin with.

I can say with certainty, this will not be the last I speak of Orientalism. It’s a fascinating topic and close to the heart of this dance, whether we necessarily want it to be or not. I’ll definitely let you know what I find in the course of my studies.

Remembering the Journey

It has taken me a while to realize that just because I am taking a hiatus from dance at the moment, that doesn’t mean that I can’t still write here. For a while I thought that, because I am not focusing on dance right now, I was somehow unworthy to be writing on a dance blog. Then, I remembered the actual title of this page: Stories of the Unconventional Belly Dancer.  So for my story as it stands, I’m taking a break. That doesn’t make me a terrible person. Every time I’ve sat down to try and write this piece, it always morphed into a slew of excuses why I’m not dancing. The thing is, I don’t need to provide excuses for anyone. I have been so afraid that I would lose friendships over not dancing or not writing on this page, and it’s only now that I see how silly that is. Dance isn’t going anywhere and neither is my best friend.

Between finally moving into our own house and the financial chaos that comes with moving and repairs and whatnot, I’ve had to suspend going to classes for a while. Added to that is my anxiety surrounding performing. I’m not sure if I should be performing if I find it more nerve-wracking than fun. That being said, I’m taking some time to focus on my mental health and spirituality. Yeah, my body has paid the price for not exercising as vigorously as I was with a dance class every week, but taking time for introspection and meditation has been incredibly beneficial mentally and emotionally. I know that dance can be of the same benefit, when I’m ready to return to it. I’ll probably be doing more self-study for a while, and that’s okay.

The important thing is to remember –why- you dance. If you need a break to figure that out, take a break. If you’re burned out, stop for a while and don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s like that old saying, “The people who mind don’t matter and the people that matter don’t mind.”

Dance is a journey, so take it one step at a time.

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The mala I have made for my meditation practice, with a Nuumite heart and a book I’m currently reading.

Raq’n Recipes: Oven Roasted Chicken Shawarma

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My MENAHT inspired costume.

My first experience with chicken shawarma was at the Castle of Muskogee Renaissance Festival earlier this month. I was visiting the fair with my friend and her daughter, and due to allergies, we had to find food that was both egg and dairy free. Having been the last several years, we were familiar with a halal booth offering Middle Eastern cuisine. The vendor is no longer halal, as they serve pork kabobs, but the owner assured us everything was egg and dairy free.

We got the shawarma plate with pita, and hummus, and a bunch of veggies I didn’t eat, and Israeli pickles (that I also didn’t eat). I stuffed a pita with some shawarma and hummus and had a nice little wrap. Up until that moment, I had never had hummus, despite being involved in dance for several years. It was different, but it wasn’t bad.

I decided to pick up a tub of garlic hummus and looked up a ton of chickpea recipes on Pinterest. I’ve yet to try any of them, but I have a few cans of chickpeas in my cabinet. I’m not sure how I ended up on shawarma recipes, but that was my project this week.

I sort of used this recipe from Jo Cooks, although, I was only cooking for me, so 3 chicken breasts was way more than I needed for myself. So I had to reduce the recipe. I’m more of an eyeballer than a precise cook, so I reduced, but not by 2/3 exactly. I also ditched the onion, because onions make me ill, and the parsley because I didn’t have any.

These are the rough measurements I ended up using.

  • 1 chicken breast, boneless and skinless
  • 1 tsp smoked paprikaPicsArt_05-25-04.34.13
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 tbsp 100% lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp minced garlic

I marinated my chicken for 24 hours. I didn’t initially intend to do that, but I went out with family the day I planned to cook it, so it got shelved for a day. I mixed all my spices and liquids together and coated the chicken breast and put a lid on the bowl and popped it in the fridge. I flipped it over after several hours, before I went to work, so the other side got some love too.

When I was ready to cook, I put the chicken in a smallish Pyrex baking dish and baked it for 45 minutes at 425 F (218 C). I flipped the oven over to broil and left the chicken in there while I toasted a pita bread brushed with olive oil. I took the chicken out and let it sit for 5 minutes before slicing it up.

I spread a layer of garlic hummus on the pita and sprinkled some hemp seeds on it for some extra texture. I added the chicken and a sprinkle of reduced fat feta cheese and had a tasty chicken shawarma wrap.

I also tried to make turmeric rice, but that was a bit of a disaster, so we aren’t going to talk about that.

My first attempt at Middle Eastern (inspired?) food was a success. Next time I might even try making my own flat bread or even my own hummus. I’ll definitely use a less tangy hummus next time.

But until then, Ma’as-Salaamah!

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Part of Your World: Cultural Appropriation vs. the Need to Connect

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As a non-native belly dancer, particularly a white, non-native dancer, the question of appropriation comes up a lot. Those of us of the pasty persuasion walk a thin line between respectfully participating in another culture and taking cultural features for our own ends without respect to the originators of that culture. There are even some who claim that white people have no place in belly dance regardless of the dancer’s intent, education, or respect for the culture.

I disagree with this premise, of course, not only as a white woman, but as a lover of anthropology and culture and a desire to learn about cultures not my own. I can understand some of the resentment from cultures who have been victim to Western Imperialism and systemic oppression by Imperialist powers currently or in the past, but cultural sharing has been occurring for as long as humans have been interacting with one another.

We come together, we share with each other our customs and traditions, our arts, our music, our dance. Watching a dance find its way onto the world stage where all races and ethnicities want to participate is a beautiful thing. Ballet, Latin dance, hip hop, contemporary, Raqs Sharqi. It’s wonderful to see different people come together to enjoy the art of a specific culture.

Perhaps I’m naive, but I beg you to hear me out regardless of what shade of paper my skin is.

Based on recent discussions I’ve been a part of, cultural appropriation seems to be a largely American talking point currently. Dancers from Europe claim that it is not really an issue talked about much in their countries. I would say there is a reason for that.

America is a young nation in the grand scheme of things. It is large and the culture of each state can differ wildly from the next or even within itself. We are known as “the Melting Pot” due to the sheer number of cultures that have congregated here over the past four to six hundred years. We spend a lot of time not cultivating our own culture, but instead romanticizing and linking ourselves, however tenuously, to the cultures of our ancestral lands.

The popularity of DNA testing in the last few years demonstrates that. We have a deep desire to know where we come from, to be able to connect to an older culture, perhaps because we lack a deeply rooted cultural identity of our own. Walk up to any American whose family has existed here for a few generations and ask them what they are. They’ll rattle off “Oh, I’m Irish, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Ukrainian.” American is not typically a response you get even though they have never set foot in these countries they mention.

We celebrate holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, or Mardis Gras which originally had nothing to do with America because we are desperately seeking to be part of something that isn’t just BBQ, Cowboys, and Old Glory.

I can say for myself that I have never formed any sort of national identity. I have never formed a deep-seated patriotism or attachment to my geographical location. I’ve always been baffled by people who are so passionately supportive of sports teams simply because they live in a place.

I live in my home town. I live in my state, but it wouldn’t really affect me much if I left it. This is the place I was born and raised, but I did not choose this place. I have no real sense of loyalty to it. It’s just a fact that this is where I exist at this point in my life.

Perhaps there are others who feel the same way, who feel drawn to other countries and peoples, to feel a part of a rich culture that fascinates them.

I have always been drawn to other cultures. American history has often left me cold. I never enjoyed those classes. I was always wanting to read about far off places, ancient histories, or crafting my own cultures so foreign to what I knew.

Perhaps I simply wished to escape the puritanical hostility that is so deeply rooted in American history. I want color and vibrancy, passion and music. I want to embrace the beauty of a passionate people, to find some sort of connection beyond existing on a piece of a map by pure coincidence.

Egyptian dance has been my gateway out of the dark hermitage of my room, where I hide away from the world, from the prudish hypocrisy that one often finds here, from the narrowly defined beauty ideals forced upon us from infancy, from the jaded cynical nature that has permeated our modern society.

It has been a long time since I have experienced such passion for a subject. Any subject really. The inclusive nature of this dance and the dance community as a whole has been very helpful to me, both for my mental health and my self image. I find myself fascinated by not only the dance, but the music, the art, the culture, the language, the people that birthed this magnificent expression into the world.

I beg natives of MENAHT cultures to understand that most of us aren’t wanting to rob you of your culture. We want to immerse ourselves in it. We want to bathe in its light, to breathe in that spark of the ancient we cannot always find within ourselves.

I never want to offend a native of the culture I desire to share in. Share your wisdom with me. I want to know. I am starved for that knowledge. I want to hear about your customs, your traditions, your expressions, your joys, your sorrows. I only want to honor it as well as I can, because there is something there that speaks to me. I would share that spark with those around me, particularly in this time when those cultures I seek to honor are often demonized by western media and government.

If you find me uneducated, teach me. I am a blank book ready to be filled.