Why I love dance

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Dancing has always been a huge part of my life. When I was around the age of 4, my Mum started learning how to belly dance and, after discovering her innate talent for it, began teaching small classes to the women in our neighbourhood. She enrolled me in ballet and I did a competition at the local Shedley theatre where I twirled about as a Christmas fairy and over-acted as I shook a present to see what was inside. In my mind it was the most glamorous thing imaginable. I didn’t realise I had lost the competition because a) I was only 4 or 5 years old and b) they gave me a Caramello Koala as a consolation prize, still my favourite treat to this day. I can still remember my first bellydance costume: a gold and cream baladi dress (kind of like a kaftan) with a coin belt that my Mum had lovingly crafted. I danced in it in front of her students and family in a small hall in Elizabeth. As I grew I continued to take classes and learn from my Mum, as well as begin teaching classes to the younger kids. It became a 20 year passion, leaving ballet in the dust with it’s tight buns, disapproving looks from other mothers and classical music that I found boring (I love watching ballet now – it was just never a good fit for me). The bellydance studio was a family affair with my sister, my Mum and myself dancing, performing and teaching classes and my Dad playing the Tabla (arabic drum). This is the first reason I love dancing: it is intrinsically linked to my family. I would go on to marry a dancer and build an extended family of dancers too.

In high school it seemed only natural that I would take dance as a subject. The dance style taught was loosely “contemporary”, often driven by the students’ tastes and interests. My particular class was a big fan of creating routines to Prodigy. While I loved the different movement opportunities these classes gave I was not particularly good at them. I could barely touch my toes and had rather a limited range of movement which meant I looked nothing like some of my classmates who could contort themselves this way and that. Still, I loved the classes and it was my favourite subject. My dance dreams came to a halt when I began to develop chronic back pain which was so debilitating I missed months of school and almost didn’t finish year 12. The pain became like an unwanted acquaintance constantly hanging around, and, oh yeah, stabbing me in the back with a handful of knives. It was not until many years later that I made the connection between the flare-up of this condition and the many daily hours spent cavorting on a hard, unforgiving floor without a proper warm up or cool down, and a lack of any kind of strengthening exercises. I don’t blame my teacher for this. I’m sure she tried, but I went to a public school with over 1000 students and a limited budget. Just getting students to attend class was a triumph. I still have chronic back pain today, although it is no longer debilitating and only flares up badly on occasion. I have learned how to be careful and take care of my body. This is the second reason I love dance: it has shown me both the strength and fragility of my body. When I treat it well I can do things I never imagined like flip upside down in the air, dance ridiculously fast and flail with abandon. I can shimmy like nobody’s business.

As I entered academic life at university I stopped dancing as much and did what most people my age were doing: drank beers at the Uni bar, dreamt and floundered with no real idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. The bellydance studio was winding down with my Mum on the edge of retirement and my sister and I moving on to other things. It was at this time that I discovered swing dancing through a bellydance friend and I went along to my first lesson. It was somewhat of a revelation: dancing with another person! I was immediately hooked and, I’m embarrassed to admit, was that annoying person who asked to stay for the next level class on my first night. It’s not because I thought I was good enough, it’s because I just wanted more. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself these days. Swing dancing has brought me joy and friendship and family. There is something completely magical about sharing 3 minutes with someone, dancing to some of the most amazing music in the world, and creating something that has never happened before. Every dance with every person to every song is unique. And this is the third reason why I love dance: it is magic made flesh, joy given form and stupid amounts of fun.

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Adjustments and new things

Hello everyone,

I just saw that it has been two months since my last post. Woah! It’s kind of crazy how quickly time runs away. There’s been a fair amount going on in that time, but also – not a hell of a lot. It’s been one crazy adjustment from the busyness that was working at Peaches ‘n’ Gin. I’ve been spending a lot more time with my family, which has been wonderful. And I actually get to go to things I am invited to by friends! Excuse my excitement – it’s been about 4 years since I’ve really had time to do that a lot. I’m thrilled that they still want to invite me stuff and haven’t left me for dead. I won’t lie – there have been times where I’ve been feeling…not bored per se, maybe just antsy. So I’ve tried to fill that time with trying new things and revisiting old hobbies that fell along the wayside.

I recently signed up for a belly dance class, and while I have unfortunately missed 2 from having the flu, I have been really enjoying it. I hadn’t realised how much I had forgotten and it’s been so nice to wake my body up and say “Hey! Remember this?” I did feel a little anxiety going in because when I left the scene it seemed to me to be incredibly hostile, and if you went to one school you weren’t welcome at another and there was all this in-fighting going on. But the class is lovely and everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. I’ve even seen some faces from the old days!

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My wonderful husband Jarryd outdid himself and bought me an adorable vintage style, incredibly hipster bike for my birthday and I love it so much! I’ve been riding it everywhere and it’s so invigorating and uplifting to be outside. I live near the Torrens bike path so it’s a really nice ride almost anywhere. It’s incredible what moving about and being in the sunshine can do for you. It really pulled me out of a blue spot when I was feeling a bit lost.

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The one thing I love having time for again is reading. I used to be an avid reader (especially when I caught public transport a lot more) but over the last few years I haven’t read many new books and it has taken me ages to get through them. I’ve been enjoying the time I have and reading a lot more, as well as listening to audiobooks. Some great ones I have read recently include The Rosie Project by Graeme Simpson (I highly recommend the audiobook – the narration is great!), The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (heartbreakingly beautiful), Yes Please by Amy Poehler (again – the audiobook is hilarious as Poehler narrates it herself with a ton of special guests), and I’m currently re-reading one of my all-time favourites, The Gnole by Alan Aldridge. What are you guys reading at the moment? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

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What kinds of hobbies do you guys fill your time with?

Going back to my roots….

Not everyone knows this about me, but I was a bellydancer from the age of 4. My Mum started when I was around that age and quickly found a life long passion that engulfed my family. She started teaching out of a hall in Elizabeth, and I remember performing my very first solo there in a little gold baladi dress which my Mum made. She then opened her own studio in Elizabeth Grove – Henna Nights.

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My Mum in her first studio, with my little sis in the background!

The classes boomed – bellydance was the latest thing, especially after Shakira released her debut single with tons of shimmying and shaking in it. At one point we had over 500 students in the school!

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My Mum, my sister and I in the Elizabeth Grove studio.

We moved to a larger studio space when I was in high school, in Smithfield, taking over a giant shed and turning it into a bellydance paradise with draped fabric and murals on the walls. We stood out between the auto repairs shops!

The Smithfield studio - all cleared out! :(

The Smithfield studio – all cleared out! 😦

It truly was a family business. My Mum taught the bulk of the classes, and my Dad started playing the tabla. I started teaching kids classes when I was around 12, and then adults as a teenager. My sister took over our kids classes, and then started teaching her favourite style – Tribal Fusion.

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My Mum and Dad performing

We had our little grumbles like all families do, but Henna Nights was such a wonderful experience for us. We did so many things creative things together, we often travelled in a clan to interstate events, we produced shows together and we danced together. I think I really took that kind of connection for granted when I was a kid, but looking back now I think it is one of the reasons I am so close to my family.

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My beautiful little sister

I loved bellydancing and I got to do so many wonderful things like teach and perform interstate, but I started to lose my passion for it in my early 20s and started to pursue other interests like swing dancing and burlesque. A lot of my life happened in the city once I moved out of home, and even though Smithfield isn’t that far away it did leave me disconnected (our family home was right around the corner from it). I didn’t feel like there were as many opportunities in bellydance as I was getting in swing and burlesque, and the scene was quite political in those days which really squashes creative feeling in me. I can’t stand drama. So, I moved on to other things. My sister moved to Townsville with her now husband, and in 2012 my Mum decided to retire after nearly 20 years as a belly dancer.

One of my favourite pictures of my Mum

One of my favourite pictures of my Mum

I haven’t really done any bellydancing since then. I do a bit around my house every so often, and lately I have started to really miss it. It was such a huge part of my life for a long time. Sapphire and I are expanding the Peaches ‘n’ Gin Academy this year to include different dance styles, and so I will be teaching some bellydancing again. I’m pretty rusty but I’ve started my training again recently and things are coming back to me faster than I expected. I think this year will be the right time for me to start getting back into it a bit again. I’m looking forward to checking out the first Adelaide Bellydance Festival later this year and will be taking some workshops. I’m looking forward to learning again!

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I have such fond memories of Henna Nights, and wish I hadn’t taken it so for granted. But it still lives in the bond between my parents, my sister, and I, and those who found inspiration in it’s walls. ❤