First Class Belly Dancer… or How to Make a Fire

August 23, 2008 at 3:40 pm (Belly Dancing, Transformation) (, , , , )

“First Class Belly Dancer”… or would that be… “Welcome to your First Class, Bellydancer…”.

I was poking around and came across Lex’s story of her first class, it made me think of mine.

Do you remember your first class? I do.. that was how many years ago? More than thirty anyway. I remember I wasn’t going without a friend, and it took a number of tries to convince someone to go with me. I remember I was excited, agitated, hugely intimidated, a bit short of flat out terrified. I remember being as small as possible waiting for the class to start, and watching the other students hang about. I remember looking for the other newbies like me, hoping I’d be less visible among them. I remember being sure I was going to embarrass myself, what with being so completely an uncoordinated geek. I remember finding a spot in the back where no one would be behind me, no one could see me as I tried to follow along.

I remember the teacher walked like watered silk in summer breeze.

I remember the music, the sound, the feel of it, George Abdo’s voice on my skin and in my bones… I remember is set me on fire.

I remember nothing moved, nothing worked, and I couldn’t even begin to communicate with half the parts the teacher wanted us to move. The idea of having those disconnected parts even answer to me, much less dance seemed remote beyond hoping for. I remember I had to fight for every inch of every move. Not that it mattered, really… once I was on fire, there was simply nothing else to do about it. Work and learn or become a pile of ash.

Thirty three years later George Abdo still lives in my bones. I can still feel the touch of his voice on my skin.

It’s part of why I teach, and why I still teach beginners. Because every once in a while you get to be there when someone catches fire.

Sometimes they go up WHOOSH all at once and sometimes they smoke and smolder for a while before they burst out in flames. Sometimes you know when they step off the cliff into obsession, and sometimes you see it come on gradually an inch and an inch and another inch until they’re all in.

Sometimes you get to see it transform who they are.

Slowly, a day a class a performance at a time you see who-they-were turn into who-they-want-to-be. Sometimes you see them transmute into someone they never even imagined. For some it is a brand new self, a brand new world. For some it is coming home.

I had a conversation with a student recently… we were talking about the difficulty of getting perspective on yourself. She’s come a long journey in a rather short time. I asked if she remembered who she was when she started that journey, if she knew that person, if she was anything like her now. She said she no longer knew that not-so-long-gone girl, and a little shudder told me what she thought of her. Not a happy thought, not a peaceful one.

Be gentle with that girl, I said, be grateful to her… she’s the one that got you here. She’s the one that took that first step on the road that brought you here. She took the second step, and the third. She may no longer exist, but she is worthy of your love and gratitude, she gave you *you*.

I think about my past and the lives I’ve lived and it seems there have been many… so many women I once was and no longer am… they seem quite distant from my life now, women I barely know. A daisy chain of evolution leading to me. Hardly seems so many lives could fit in so short a span of time.

Maybe it’s a bit of alchemy, the magic of transforming one thing into another, from something coarse and raw to something more refined. The baser metal in the crucible, heated until it changes forms, from stone and ore to silver pool to molten red like a liquid sun. The impurities burning off as flame and smoke, the purer thing remains. And then there’s the alchemist’s real magic, transmuting it into a higher form. Out of lead, comes gold.

The fire that heats that crucible is one we build and tend ourselves. We carry the fuel, tend the embers, stoke the flames, man the bellows. We can choose the fuel and the rate of burn, but once in a while it comes as a surprise. Sometimes we simply catch fire. My fire is built of love and loss and stubbornness and choosing the steeper, shorter, rougher path. I’ve stoked it with worldly work, and by diving into deep spiritual waters from time to time. But the part of the flame that never seems to burn down is this dance. Sometimes raging, sometimes embers banked down to a softer glow, but always burning, George Abdo’s voice burning in my bones.

Perhaps one day that alchemist’s fire will transform us into gold.

A little note to Lex… Your teacher is right, love who you are now.  Love this girl who has put her foot – your foot – on the path to who you will be.



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