Así soy

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Tightrope

So today the morning sun watched me shoving that upside down metal table across the parking lot, Paul thoughtfully having added an additional tens pounds. Run, run, run! And then when I stopped, acck! There's that weird vampire sensation of my life draining away. Paul says this a result of lactic acid doing something involving technical terms, but I prefer to believe there is a alchemy lab somewhere in the back of the building collecting all the life-energy that table saps away (distinct possibility this idea is influenced by the fact that I am re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.)

more like 4 ounces
more like 4 ounces
The fact that a mere 4 (four) (cuatro) back & forth runs left me without generalized heart/lung coordination makes me cranky. I can get through a 30-40 minute dance set with a damp glow and a smile (well, ok, and perhaps a swath of perspiration at my lower back if the restaurant is stuffy.) Of course, I am not playing 20 pound zills.

The shoulder trouble is (besides painful) irritating in that it is an obstacle in my transformation from pipe-cleaner to, well, robust pipe-cleaner. There really isn't an exercise that doesn't in some way require movement in the shoulder area. Most of the time it doesn't bother me, but when it tweaks it's like accidentally touching a hot burner on a stove: there's a knee-jerk auuughhh. I would prefer that my auugghhs were churned out by doing something a tad more labor-intensive than writhing.

Paul seems cheery about what I see as my snail's pace progress (my perspective is admittedly influenced by the fact I am surrounded by cool looking women doing pull-ups and lifts using impressive large wheels of weight and shouting auuggggh.) I keep thinking if my shoulder were ok, I might could do more; but now, after having my cells squeeze out half their mitochondria during the table push exercise, I think I need to be a more patient snail.

So afterward I drove over to see Lynn who fitted my costumes and came up with ideas for over-hauling some of my favorites. All the stuff I thought would be complicated construction she thinks of as a fantastic creative challenge. She had finished putting slits in my double-layer glitter skirts and fitted my Starfish costume bra.

Hanging out with a creative lady who adores my sparkly stuff can't help but be cheering.

Pensamiento para hoy: it's all about balance

Monday, June 28, 2010

3 weeks in : Fat on a stick

my submarines are confused
my submarines are confused
Although I know that working out is a slow process, and that life is full of humbling moments that remind me of my worm-like peon place in the grand scheme of the universe, it was still discouraging to find my butt and legs were not able to straighten in a coordinated effort. In fact, if they were submarine crews coordinating a defense, the enemy would have swept in and taken out the entire east coast while my subs were busy trying to not to collide with each other.

Standing Up is proving to be my biggest challenge (oh, other than a single bloody push-up. Girl push-up I might add!)

Paul, with his charming faith in my (potential) abilities, started with a plain bar for my first go with "lifting stuff". First he had to replace the real bar with what is probably known as the Barbie bar.

After a few deep squats with my awkward and slow efforts to Stand Up, that hilarious Paul added two gigantor metal wheels (that were each wider than my entire butt) to the ends of the bar.  I watched, listening to the background clanking noises as healthy attractive people heaved weights and did fierce squats and abdominal crunches.

I positioned my hands on the bar per Paul's instructions. As I took a deep breath, I felt all of my internal organs panic and scramble for the edge of the pool, trying to pull themselves out. My knees grew wobbly. For the first time I felt hesitant, well, it was more like a WTF am I doing?!? feeling. And then a I am sure enough going to look silly crumpled up in a heap under this bar  feeling.

Paul gave instructions on how to hold it, and I ran one mental body check after another. On the gym soundtrack, Billy Idol ranted, Hey little sister, What have you done?

this is so photoshopped
I straightened my knees and took the weight onto my upper chest, holding my elbows high (ok, well, high for me). I stepped back, one step, two steps. I took a deep breath and did a sort of squat. And sort of straightened. I had rocked forward onto my toes, and when I squatted I had started with my knees. Paul struggled for the next 15 minutes to get me to have good (or even, any) form. Obviously coordination is a big factor in a successful lift, but the butt-back/knees-out/chest-lifted/elbows-high/abs-butt-etc.-tight and explode upward! seemed to evade me.
Paul uses many words like hop, jump and explode. So far I have been interpreting them as metaphors for general directional movement. Now I am not so sure. At any rate, he tried to be encouraging but this clearly was not my most successful day.

I finished up with the circus rings & some ab crunchy things (one in a push-up stance.)

Two months! Two months! I keep reminding myself.  I have a two month learning curve
Fat on a stick
before I get that confidence that I can start to learn something physical (like nursery school & kindergarten before first grade starts.) I'm only half way there, I remind myself. And I'm figuring out that shoulder. 

I know that I have to go through the re-strengthening process, and I have to have faith in myself again (yadda yadda.) It's going to be a mix of good days (I can do it!) and bad days (I am fat on a stick!)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Risky Business (digression 3)

my dancer parking sign
So one night I had a private party (holiday celebration) in a super swanky gated community.  When I drove through security and arrived at the estate, a guard stopped me at the entrance to the driveway (and by driveway I mean the enormous semi-circle of pavement lined with trees & lamp posts, arcing across the front of the house.) When I identified myself as the belly dancer (as evidenced by sparkling make-up and elaborate cover-up,) he indicated that I should drive over to the left wing of the house to find my parking space.
parking space! How cool was that? The space had a sign, "Dancer." At this point my night was already made regardless of how the performance went.

When I got out of the car, the bodyguard (packing heat!) carried my stuff to the door, where he introduced me to a woman who would be my "assistant".  She would help me with whatever I needed to get ready. She guided me to "my room" which was a large bedroom with a bathroom and a private pool outside of the sliding glass door. I'm sure they didn't intend for me to use the pool, but it was there none the less. This evening was just kept getting better!

I set about changing and organizing my props. I sent my "assistant" off with my music. While I fixed my hair, I heard giggles outside of the door. The door opened a crack and I saw girls peeking in trying to get a glimpse of me. When I waved, they giggled more and shut the door. I was starting to feel like a celebrity.

A few minutes later "my assistant" (I did ask her name, but let's call her Isabel) came to tell me that they were ready for me. I followed her into the foyer. She explained I had to go through the first kitchen, then a pass-thru hall into the second catering kitchen (seriously) and then into the bar/ballroom. I was wearing suede dance sandals since I wasn't sure of the flooring in the dance area. While we were talking about the entrance route, one of the workers came back carrying the CDs along with the dread news (which I frequently encounter at wealthy homes with built in sound systems): They won't play. For some reason, some of these systems won't play home burned CDs of any format. Since there is no Belly Dancers R Us with a huge variety of routines, we all like to select our own music and mix it into performance CDs (I burn in MP3 and Wave formats, but there you have it.)

I sighed and went back to my room and brought out my back-up boom box with jacks. But again, the message came back that the jacks were not compatible. I wasn't totally convinced of this, but as it wasn't my house and it would spoil the surprise if I walked into the party to work on the sound system, a neighbor was sent off to get his stereo.
Isabel and I hung out chatting away about her family, her home country, her boyfriend (new), her ex, costumes, music, food. Finally we were told that the music was a go!

I waited through the music intro and then swept dancing through the two kitchens and into the bar area. As I smiled and danced, I observed that the bar and ballroom were multi-level (3 tiers.) There was band equipment set up (after show) in the first level that I had to avoid.
I wove in and out of the groups of guests, zilling away until I reached the center of the second level. I did a quick spin. This floor section was marble. The suede shoes became ice skates: I went into a dramatic Tom-Cruise-worthy slide across the floor. Other than (sort of gracefully) throwing out my arms for balance, I didn't react; but I was thinking furiously. When I finally skidded to a stop at the other side of the floor, I repeated the spin and slid back again (do it once, it's a mistake; repeat it, it's a move.) I recovered my bearings, continuing through veil and fast routines in the first and second room tiers.

I confidently stepped down into the third level to do my sword routine. The third level had a heavily fringed carpet. As I danced I felt the long stringy fringe tangling around my feet. I sank to the floor to do floor work and managed to pull at the fringe behind my back. When I finally stood up and put my sword down, I could feel long strands still caught in my feet. I did a few slow spins trying to pull them out from my toes - and I realized they were the laces of my sandals: I had accidentally untied my own sandals. I turned my back on the guests, doing some slow arm and undulation movements while using first one foot and then the other to pull off the sandals. I was looking directly at the body guards who were trying not to smile. I was giggling a little and I indicated the sandals with my eyes, mentally begging them to pick them up for me.

I dance with the body guards
At last it was time to get the guests to dance.
The host, his wife and a few of the younger guests enthusiastically danced through first song. But during the second song, I was unable to tempt anyone else out to dance. Alas, the rest of the guests proved to be members of the sit and stare crowd. The host grabbed my arm and hustled me over to one set of people after another, demanding that I make them dance. Despite his faith that I could some how coerce his friends to the dance floor, the guests' hard stares and firm "no"s made this unlikely short of a request made at gunpoint. Gunpoint! I made my way back across the room and collected the body guards who, as employees, probably had little choice. They proved to be enthusiastic dancers and we enjoyed an additional 25 minutes of rowdy, fun dancing.
At the end of the finale, I swept out, trailed by my protesting host who wanted me to dance for just another half hour. Without thinking, I said, Dude! That was already 15 minutes beyond our contract, but I am very glad you enjoyed the show.

Dude! I just called a client Dude! I am so fired.

Fortunately Isabel began to giggle, then so did a few other people, and then so did the host. He paid me (tipping most handsomely!!) and I left, accompanied and helped by one of the body guards.

I so wished I had asked to keep the Dancer parking sign.

The Twilight Zone (digression 2)

Sometimes people ask me if people are ever rude to me when I'm working as a belly dancer. I'd have to say that pretty much most people are really fun, want to be entertained and want to enjoy dancing. Since I belly dance at restaurants, shows, private parties & events for a mix of men, women & children, the atmosphere is nearly always positive and enjoyable and sometimes funky.

One private party I danced at in someone's home was for a 70th birthday party. When I began my set, dancing into the living room (crammed full of family members), the homeowner (husband) cranked up the music and turned on a large disco ball in the center of the 9 foot ceiling. I had to dodge this spinning, glittering ball as I danced.

After my initial entry song, I began my veil routine. The husband crossed the room to the fireplace and flipped a switch. Instantly, fog poured out of a machine that was built into the fireplace, flooding the room. I kept calm in the face of the spitting fire (unhappy with the wet fog) but as I got into my veil routine, the heavy fog began to saturate my veil. My veil got wetter and clumpier and I had to switch from spinning veil to framing veil. Finally I simply placed the sodden fabric around the neck of the grandfather and danced without it. My costume became damp, my hair got limper and frizzier.

He blinded me with science...
he blinded me with science
I began the third song (a fast zill song,) and the husband upped the ante: laser lights that shot through the fog! Somewhat dazed, a little disoriented, very damp, and seriously planning to put this in a Blog, I began my sword routine. As I sank to the floor to do floor work I watched the family's faces disappear. I could not see anyone in the room through the fog. A child at the party later told me that she thought my routine was so cool because they could only see a sword floating around on the fog.

At the end of the sword routine, pushing wet hair off my face, I slid my zills onto my slippery fingers and started an energetic drum solo. Suddenly, there was a blinding, pulsing light! The husband had pulled out all the stops: he ignited a strobe light in this tiny room! My first thought was, OMG what if I have a seizure?
I was dancing pretty blindly, when the family all hopped up and began dancing happily and noisily. They were awesomely friendly and fun, but it took several days for my costume to dry out.

My veil still smells smokey from the fogplace.

Breaking up is hard to do (digression 1)

It's good to have a supportive girl friend. Especially one who is willing to risk annoying you to help you face some of your own funky behavior.

Jen finally pointed out that my costume collection was getting a little too numerous. I was indignant at first. Each of those costumes is a passionate love affair. They are rapturously selected (usually in a Love-At-First-Sight moment) or made for me, worn with joy, carefully maintained and stored. In fact, I always consider the dance venue when determining which costume to wear: will there be tipping which involves people touching the costume? is there carpet, stone or wood flooring? indoor? outdoor? kids? stage? restaurant? home? band? etc.

After being danced in, the costumes pieces go into separate cotton laundry bags in my dance bag. At home they are laid out on the floor overnight; then the next morning, they are brushed down and the bras turned inside out and laid in the sun to air out. Eventually they are repacked into the canvas storage boxes.

Each costume is a story, an event, a relationship.

But many costumes were doing hard time on the shelves, lonely in their labeled, vented, canvas boxes (with carry-case handles for quick transport!) They sat for a variety of reasons mostly having to do with the bra size (I had a strange habit of buying #3s with a vision of "doing something" to make them fit better,) or because a new costume had become the harem favorite.

I loved you so much
I loved you so much
It took Jen a year of gentle encouragement to get me to photograph and measure a single costume and post it on the Bhuz costume swap. Even then I felt like I was returning a puppy to the Animal Shelter. Costumes are different than ordinary belongings, like clothes, CDs or books. They are like wedding gowns, perhaps. Somehow it feels weird to sell something so personal.

Now, after posting and selling and mailing off a couple of costumes, I've gotten used to it. And it helps that the new owners have written to say how much they love the costumes.

And so I was prevented from descending into costume-hoarding. That's what friends are for. Plus she is buying one from me...

Friday, June 25, 2010

The "That's what I'm talking about!" addiction

Ok, I have an exclamatory vocabulary (everything has exclamation marks!) because for me the world is full of amazing experiences and texture. As a participant (or observer,) I react exclamatorily-ly (whatever the adverb is for that.)

Paul (at the gym), on the other hand, has a descriptive vocabulary.

Our conversations are sort of like this:

Paul: More
Me : ok!
Paul: Deeper
Me : uh, ok!!
Paul : harder
Me : what!!!
Paul : faster
Me : arrgh!!!!
Paul : tighter
Me : (exclamatory grimace!!!!!)
Paul : higher
Me : (moves eyebrows in exclamatory manner!!!!!!!)
Paul : lower
Me : (exclamatory lip-quiver!!!!!!!!)
Paul : That's what I'm talking about!
Me : (savors momentary satori-nirvana ecstasy for reaching goal at a satisfactory level while struggling to recover feeling in legs.)

Milestone: the push-up

Do NOT laugh.

But today I did an entire push-up. Ok, it was a girl push-up and I sort of did a couple of sets of ten, but I know in my heart (the organ I have nearly vomited onto the floor 7 or 8 times) that I really only did one push-up with the correct form.

my arm really did look like this
my arm really did look like this
Considering that two and a half years ago my right arm was locked in the Meerkat position, I'm pretty thrilled.

As a reward for this momentous achievement, Paul chained me to a large metal wheel with the number 45 on it and made me drag it like an Egyptian slave (had they built the pyramids out of metal wheels) across the parking lot and back. At first, this seemed interesting:  I was imagining what kind of work I actually would have done in Egypt -probably a dust maid or bee-keeper or something; but then I realized I was getting an IM (Importunate Message) from my quads and shoulders.  My steps got shorter and slower. But I made it to the end with some energy to spare. I grabbed my water bottle, chugged some water and acted casual (avoiding eye contact with Paul in case he thought of something "next" to do.)

He cheerfully set up another metal frame, added some wheels (numbers unknown) and said "Push these across the parking lot and come back running as fast as you can!" He sounds as though this is the greatest idea since the last exercise so I can't help but think, ok!!!

This pushing exercise is like a bad friend: You think you are getting along great and then she stabs you in the back.  I run and run, bent over, shoving this heavy metal table, and I slide it around and run-run-run back --and then I stand up.  Wham! A wave of blood-sucking fatigue hits when I stop! What?!?
I chugged more water, thinking furiously. What kind of exercise is this?! The next time I ran/pushed I was afraid of stopping (What would Paul do if I turned it again and kept going until I was out of sight where I could lay in the grass and wrestle my panicking heart back into my chest cavity?)

After I got home, I showered, I logged into the belly dance store and I looked at lots of costumes to try to recover some balance.

But then I remembered, oh yeah, baby! I did that one push-up!

Next up: the circus rings!

Mental note: don't wear dance leg-warmers in gym

not standard gym wear
not standard gym wear
So after an initial evaluation of my strengths (back flexibility) and my weaknesses (everything else) that left my left shoulder on fire for 2 days, the trainer (let's call him "Paul") and I met for Day One at 8:30am (decaffeinated). I of course wore my dance Melodia capri pants, a tee shirt (Bad Barbie!)... and  pink ballet leg warmers which generated some commentary.

The workout was a blur of activity to a really good music mix (Janis Joplin) punctuated with Paul's comments on my progress (or lack thereof.) He misses nothing which led to a generalized sulk in the abs and glutes who tend to slack off the second I'm not watching (leaving my poor shoulders and back to handle everything alone, who knew?)

Some activities were staggering - like, "Standing Up".

Of course, first I had to shove my butt back as far as possible while spreading my knees as wide as possible and then squat as deeply as possible while keeping my back straight, my chest lifted (theoretically, I should have had this one), and my arms over head (clearly, breathing not a requirement since my diaphragm was now paralyzed,) and then I had to squeeze my glutes really, really hard and Stand Up.

"Standing" actually happened the first eight or nine times but got progressively slower and wobblier until suddenly there was a moment when I told my glutes and quads, ok "stand up" and they sort of quivered and sat there.
For a fleeting second it occurred to me that I might not be able to get up at all and would be stuck there until I fell over (which I assume is incorrect form.) Since Paul's feet were still next to me (I was able to slide my eyes sideways) I figured he was going to wait patiently until I pushed myself up (which he did.)

There were a lot of stretches, some involving positions I suspect are still illegal in some states (at least if you aren't married) and others that simply rearranged most of my internal organs.

The good thing about all this alarming effort and the occasional flashes of nausea (mental note: don't eat bacon and eggs 10 minutes before driving to gym) was that I was partially distracted from all the fierce-looking, strong-body people working all around me.

submarines by definition are cool
submarines by definition are cool
The gym reminded me of when I got to ride in one of the submarines in Charleston - all these confident guys doing their work, fierce and deliberate, while I was swinging though the passage-way hatches like a monkey (my arms were on fire the next morning.)  I wanted to be just like them: resilient, alive and working cool machinery!

Anyway, the day (I mean, hour) ended with a satisfying exhaustion - I've been in PT and been guarding against pain for the last couple years so I haven't done a full-on workout that slapped my muscles up one side and down the other.

Bond, James Bond
Bond, James Bond
But it's like a Sean Connery slap - you act all indignant, but secretly you enjoy it.

Day one: Belly Dancer meets Trainer

So I admit I stalled on setting up the appointment, second-guessing myself and remembering other training incidents.

To meet with this trainer, I had to enter the workout area through a back parking lot. Several people were busy with walking lunges down the length of the parking lot. I could see free weights (that individually weighed more than I do even after breakfast) and bars and dangling equipment that might look at home in Sadam's "debriefing facility." There was the chilling clang of metal stuff hitting other metal stuff.

no shimmies here
no shimmies here
Coming out of the estrogen-dominant belly dancing workshops & classes, I found the testosterone levels disorienting. The predominant subliminal message I caught immediately was "This is a No Wiggle Zone."  Every muscle in my body snapped to attention, interrupting their Hearts game or whatever it is they do when I'm not paying attention.

I warily went into the office (avoiding stepping on or colliding with strong-looking people doing muscular strong-looking activities.)

And I met the trainer.

Barbie goes to Ken's gym

I know it will be hard to picture, but I used to be a pretty hardy equestrian in that lanky, scrawny sort of way.

real photo of me and Alicia at UCSB getting daily venti coffee
real photo of me and Alicia at UCSB getting daily venti coffee
Grad school sucked away a fair amount of lean body tissue, replacing it with caffeine and other venti lattee derivatives. Recovery from two sets of Grad school included yoga where I discovered that over 20 years of horseback riding resulted in my hamstrings having the flexibility God gave enamel, and belly dancing.

Life, in some PMS mood, slid a car accident into my music mix. This was new: feeling helpless and weak. The bleeding ulcer triggered by the meds made me feel helpless, weak, bitterly hungry, and half-crazed as a result of the decaffeination process. Did you know that when doctors ask how many cups of coffee you drink in a day, they are talking about measuring cups?

The belly dancing helped with mobility and basic happiness.   Physical therapy improved and restored my limberness. Green tea (4 cups mild) replaced coffee. I still get teary over the smell of French Roast in the morning.  And most sugar is a happy memory.  BTW prior to car accident I did fulfill a childhood dream of buying $20 of varied loose candy from a candy store and eating it all in one sitting.

But I missed feeling strong: you know, that happy innocence of lifting a saddle onto your horse's back without thinking about your neck or your shoulders. And then my left shoulder just started down the painful path that the right shoulder had already traveled.
seriously found this on a persoanl trainer website.  Who am I to argue?
seriously found this on a personal trainer website.  Who am I to argue?

So I decided to try out a trainer at a relatively nearby gym.

Will a super manly Personal Trainer work for me?

Playing with designs

Your Firefox needs this
Your Firefox needs this
Ok, so maybe I'm not getting right to the new adventure yet.
I'm still playing with the layout and themes of the new blog. It's a lot like trying on costumes looking for The One.
I started with "Awesome" (hello, with a name like that how could I not try it out?) then I looked at Simple (then recalled the other definition of "simple") and am currently settled on "Travel" (I'm on a adventure, right?) (also it kinda reminds me of an Anthropologie catalogue.)

Too bad there is no Pimpzilla layout available.

But on to the beginning of the adventure (honestly) in the next blog post....

Converging on Voluptua

Ok, maybe the title doesn't really go with what I planned to say (introducing the new blog for the year) but the cool chicks at my Pilates/PT class suggested this as a book title and I liked it.

This 2010 blog is really about a new adventure I plan to go on.  So more on that in the next post.

But back to this post title,

Aziza told me in a class once that the soft slight belly curve women have around the belly button is our voluptua. I fell in love with the word. It encompasses everything I love about belly dancing. It implies something soft and powerful and intriguing. It's intrinsically feminine and sensuous. Even saying it is an experience: Pronouncing the Vo makes you bite your lip and breathe out, the lu makes your tongue caress the back of the teeth, the p and tua end the word with a kiss and a sigh.

BTW other words I am in love with include: hirsuit, gazebo, spatula, and mukluk.