July 23, 2014

They’re easy to spot. They’re rolling their eyes, not listening, doing their own thing, or even talking while everyone else is trying to listen. This isn’t second grade. It’s belly dance.

I was in a beginner class some time ago when an advanced student strutted in. She was actually from out of town, taking an advanced workshop at the studio. The instructor nodded and smiled at her and said to the rest of us, “Oh yes, so-and-so is here from the advanced workshop. She’s already been dancing all day but she felt like coming to join us.”

The dancer smirked. “Yes, so don’t compare yourself to me.”

I could have given her a pass that maybe she meant that more…encouragingly, perhaps. But as the class began, I saw it. The eye-rolling, more smirking, and even once (that I noticed) tugging on another dancer and correcting her while she was working on her hip lifts.

Any student, no matter how advanced, should never sneer at taking a beginner class. Whether it’s with your own instructor or one you’ve never taken from before, beginner classes are, well, the fundamentals of our dance. And even if you’ve been dancing for years, your fundamentals aren’t perfect. They might be very, very good, but not perfect. There’s always a new way of doing them. You could learn to do them bigger. Or smaller. Or cleaner.

And for god’s sake, if you are not the instructor, don’t go correcting other students. It’s not your job, and more importantly, not your business. If they solicit your opinion, great, offer it, but if they didn’t, you are not the instructor.

You are there to learn, even if it’s relearning the basics. Better to be humble and work hard then arrogant and setting a poor example for newer dancers, as well as making an ass of yourself.

Sunday: A Day of Reinvention

Every week I screw up a little.

But that’s alright, because every Sunday I shed my skin. I strip away an old layer, on myself, in my house, and left a new one shine through.

I’ve become interested in ritual, particularly since seeing a psychiatrist a month ago. Truly, I’ve always had some interest in ritual, dating back to when I was a child and deliberately limited my own TV watching to only a specific two hours a day. This took on a different when I was older and become interested in Wicca. I was limited in how much I could practice, but I enjoyed what of the associated practices I could incorporate into my days.

I became firmly atheist in my early 20s and remain so, but there was an aspect of spiritual life that I missed, and that was ritual, focusing on my intentions for the next week, the next year, the next hour. I know one can do that without the confines of religion, but religious structures more easily provide a blueprint for ritual and mental and psychological exercises like meditation and directing intention (something that various individual atheists and atheist organizations have worked on, so far all I know there’s been a huge breakthrough there, but I don’t follow the atheist community as closely as I used to).

So Sundays have become a day of reinvention for me. Beauty, my home, my food. I prepare food ahead for a week. Bake, make sauces, make grains for breakfast. I clean. And I turn myself into myself.

I spent ever day of my life from birth until well into my twenties hating the way I looked. Every single thing. I would look in the mirror in the morning and find nothing. Despite that, I always loved clothes and make-up, even though I eschewed make-up and feminine clothes for years due to absorbing the prevailing social message that feminine is to be weak. Feminine is dumb. Feminine is bad.

I can’t tell you what changed exactly, but let me tell you, from despising looking in the mirror, I have grown up into the vainest motherfucker you will ever meet.

And I’m happy about it.

So Sunday’s are about refreshing myself. I’m not trying to beat aging*. As far as I’m concerned, I already look older than I am, and fuck it, we’re all going to get there. But there are things I do to feel myself, to feel complete. And as I do them, I focus on how I want this next week to be better than the last one.

I wash my hair. This week, I want to stick to my diet, and not eat sugar EVERY day like I did last week.

I start my hair colour boiling on the stove. I don’t think I’ve hit my best formula yet, but this week was four bags hibiscus tea, three tablespoons of cinnamon, and one-and-a-half of cloves. This week, I will judge my work days by words or pages produced rather than time. I’m more productive that way.

Nail polish base coat goes on. By now, my hair formula is done, so I strain it into a cup, and put it in the fridge to cool. This week, I will not skip dance practice.

Nail polish colours are selected. This week is Die Another Day by OPI, and Inside My Mind by The Lady Varnishes. Three coats. Wait a few minutes. Then top coat. This week, I will fold my clothes and sort them properly each evening, not get lazy and dump them on my chair. I don’t like it when my husband does it; I shouldn’t do it.

Nails are dry. Hair formula is cool. I pour it into my little spray bottle and start spritzing, combing, and eventually dumping, until it’s gone. Now my hair smells like slightly burnt spice cookies. This week, I will go to have my quiet hour before bed every night, and write in my journal.

Sunlight helps the formula develop once it’s on. I take my dog for a walk. This week I will take him out for a full play session every day which will involve working on training.

I’m back at home now. I’ll rinse my hair again after dinner. Right after I start the rice for the week.

Because this week I will do better.

Last week, as I was leaving my building, a cheerful young couple told me I reminded them of Helena Bonham Carter. What a compliment indeed. And it brought to mind this quote that’s frequently attributed to her:

“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.”

On Sundays I make art.

*I reserve the right to entirely reneg on that statement the second I find a grey hair or one wrinkle too many

Going Forward by Looking Back

I’ve been belly dancing consistently for more than six years now. About one year of that was with a classical Egyptian school and five in non-traditional belly dance, sometimes called tribal fusion as a kind of incorrect catch-all term. I’ve enjoyed my time doing non-traditional belly dance and don’t intend to give it up, but lately I’ve been going back to what got me interested in belly dance in the first place, which was Middle Eastern music and traditional belly dance.

I’m deciding on my dance project for the summer, a choreography for an audition video. Originally I was going to do a theatrical mad scientist-themed piece, but as I kept listening to the song and thinking about the dance, I realized I was temporarily tired of creating big characters, big costumes, and big storylines. I just want to disappear in the music and be more abstract. The new idea percolating in my head is sort of a marriage of both the gothic theatrics and the idea of a drum solo. More technically showy than I’m used to, so this could (and probably will) look like a mess, but that’s never stopped me before. I keep coming up with ideas far above my skill level, and practicing until I’m still nowhere close, but I do them anyway.

That’s seriously the best strategy I’ve ever come up with.

From One Extreme to the Next

A few days ago, I was told I have bipolar disorder.

This was not that surprising. I’ve suspected as much since I was a teenager, but now, at almost thirty, someone finally listened enough to confirm it.

I am ecstatic.

I woke up yesterday and thought, “I am not just chronically weak or incapable. I am not just adorably, or not so adorably, eccentric. My brain fights me everyday and tells me terrible things, and sometimes shows them to me as well.”

My next thought was, “And I’m still here, so fuck my brain. I rule.”

Despite my long-held suspicions, it’s getting this diagnosis that has really made me get serious about taking steps toward getting healthier both mentally and physically. Changing my diet for better blood sugar both for the effects it can have on cognition, and because in case I do opt for medication (which I’m currently on the fence about), common side effects include weight gain and blood sugar raging out of control.

I also need to get (and stay) on a routine. Luckily, being incredibly boring comes very naturally to me, and now I have a diagnosis I have a doctor’s note to flash whenever someone wants me to be spontaneous and/or socialize on short notice. So I’ve created a lifeline of timers, to-do lists, and alarms. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, I’m getting it all scheduled now.

I have more tests and evaluations, both mental and physical, to go through in the next few months, and truth told, I’m excited about it. There’s a chance I’ll be dealing with bipolar the rest of my life. There’s a chance that I might have an underlying medical condition that’s causing it, or at least exacerbating it. Either way, there’s a good chance I’ll be on medication the rest of my life. But I’m fine with that.

Because nothing feels better right now than to finally be able to say, “It’s not just me.”

  • Camp Nanowrimo (starts July 1)