Susan's Blog

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What Makes the Muskrat Guard His Musk?

Courage! What makes the Hottentots so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot? What have they got that I ain’t got?
(You can say that again.)

— if you don’t know I am not telling you.

I have been thinking alot about what feelings feel like. A lot of people call me “brave,” for example, or say that I have “courage.” They are usually referring to the fact that I speak honestly about what’s going on in my life/head. One friend says I’m “so out there.” It’s funny to me because I don’t go around feeling brave. In fact, it is often the opposite. I frequently feel nervous or a little scared even, and yet I continue to do whatever I have to do or want to do, whichever I am called upon at the moment. I guess this is bravery? To feel fear but to continue with the right thing anyway. It’s just that it doesn’t feel the way I imagined it would, but what does?

When I really think about it, joy doesn’t feel the way it sounded when I first learned the word. It was kind of a silver word, it looked and felt clear, shiny, pure. But the first time I was conscious of actual joy was when I looked at newborn Nat. He was so perfect and yet so utterly fragile and dependent. I was engulfed by my new and tremendous responsibility and I was almost afraid to let myself love him. Almost. The overwhelming feeling was of being breathless and sleepy at the same time. I felt something expanding in my chest and my throat, that squeezed tears from my eyes, and it came to me that this was joy.

Last night I experienced both a sickening fear, courage, and joy, all at once. I was called upon to perform for my belly dance classmates. The teacher took a 20-minute song and divided it into 6 parts (there were 6 of us) and had us each choose a part: intro, veil, zills, drum solo, long-middle-part-whose-name-I-forgot, chiftatelli, finale. I foolishly chose the drum solo, and yet, any part would have been difficult for me because I have never performed improvisationally before, and certainly not in front of other dancers who really know what’s what (in other words, before whom you can’t fake anything).

I watched the dancers go before me, each brilliant and lovely. They have all been dancing at least twice as long as I have. They had a level of comfort that I would have envied had I not been so entranced by their movements. Each one tried a bunch of different moves, some slow, some faster, incorporated spinning, moving around the room, or then being still. It was as if they had all done this thousands of times before.

But as the drum solo part neared, I felt my heart pounding as strongly as the doumbek. What would I do? Would I have enough ideas? Shimmy alot. Undulate. Hip drops. Pivots. The music started and my body was moving, but it was not belly dance. I don’t know what it was. A little regular old club dancing. A little bit of lame shimmying. My stomach dropped to my knees, my face was red with embarrassment. I could not look at anyone. I turned my back on the girls. I looked at the teacher who was watching with an enigmatic, unreadable expression. Eventually she stood up and moved in different ways to give me ideas. I remembered the hair tosses. I shimmied and lifted my arms. She smiled. Ah, that was right! But the song ended and I slithered back to my chair, wishing I could disappear.

And yet. I had done it, and I already felt like I could learn from it. I watched the last person go, the song ended, the world continued to turn. I felt clarity as my embarrassment receded into memory. I thought, I won’t drop out because of this. I will merely adjust my goals. This class is a bit over my head. But I still love it. Just not this part of it. I just won’t do this part next time. I am getting better at dancing, but I am not ready for improvisational performing. One (traveling) step at a time.

After, I went out to dinner with a new friend from the class. That was a great thing for me, because she validated many of my thoughts and feelings about dancing, the class, dancers in the area, and performing. She is my first belly dance friend and it is a precious gift that I hold gently, like those bubbles that Nat likes to blow. Making new friends, no matter how wonderful they are, is also an act of courage, and a joy.

When I woke up I was hearing zills in my head. I knew that I would have to practice and the whole evening would surround me again. I popped in my teacher’s CD and as soon as that crazy, sexy clarinet started up with the heavy, hard drum, I felt my blood rise and my excitement with it. I fastened on the zills (middle finger and thumb) and started clinking them like crazy. Whose hands were these, fingers moving expertly back and forth to the music? I worked on all the different moves with zills, sometimes losing the rhythm, then getting it back. I was out of breath, but every now and then I caught a glimpse of myself, either in the shadowed silhouette on the wall or in the hall mirror. Light pressure in my chest, sleepy-high feeling behind my eyes: Joy. As strange as it sounds, that is joy. And continuing to dance, even with the vomit-like taste of failure in my mouth: that is courage. I should know, because I learned both from Nat.


Wow, that was really well-written – well-described. I know the feelings you were having, and you reminded me of what they felt like.

— added by Shannon Brooke Davis on Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 8:52 pm

I know it might be hard to believe, but most of us are so scared about dancing in front of each other…especially other belly dancers! But you did a great job! Drum solo scares the bejeezus outta me!! We’re all still learning about how to work that part, and I give you props for taking on that part! It gets easier the more we do the improvisational part…I promise!

— added by Cecilia on Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 8:59 pm

What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! One of my all-time favorites.

To this day, and I’m 43, I can feel my heart pounding so hard that I swear it is going to explode out of my chest. I get so nervous my voice shakes, when I have to speak in front of a large crowd. Probably from my childhood experiences. Every time I tell myself to stay calm, but it doesn’t work. The things I regret about the whole experience is that my voice shakes, so everyone knows I’m nervous, which makes it worse, and, when I get nervous, I lose my concentration and am unable to remember what I am supposed to be doing, which makes it worse too. I also feel like I’m in a dream state watching myself, which feels even more weird. Thanks, again, for putting it into words we can all relate to.

I think I felt truly joyful moments in my childhood, but now they seem few and fleeting. Probably all the constant feelings of responsibility and stress of being an adult and parent. Life is hard everyday, but somehow we keep going, looking for those precious, precious moments. When I do feel them, they are like this feeling of complete freedom, and then the feeling is gone in seconds. Oh well, God put me here for a reason, so life goes on. Some day maybe I’ll “get it”.

You got guts (ok, courage), lady! You are doing great!

— added by MarkZ on Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 11:20 am

Dancing is a great joy for you Susan, don’t stop. You were gutsy (good gutsy, not flabalanche gutsy)to take on the drum solo. Besides it will be hard to make use of all the beautiful costumes you’ve made. Hard to wear those gardening, shopping, going to your kids’ IEP.

Mark – People wouldn’t ask you to speak unless you know something. People coming to hear you speak generally want to learn from you, not knock you. Just remember that you are enriching the groups’ life by adding to their body of knowledge. I like to guage my audience’s understanding of the topic when I’m nervous. Knowing whether they are clueless or astute can really help. If you still think you performed poorly, well, let it go. Everyone, everywhere makes mistakes, and as my brother says “It’s not how far you fall, it’s how high you bounce”.

Now everyone bounce and shimmy tonight!

— added by Lisa on Thursday, March 29, 2007 at 5:35 pm

oh susan! how great! it IS joyful to dance! it is RISKY and exciting to try something new, to be out there! we learn and grow so much from it.

i had my belly dancing class last night. only my third but i was in heaven! the steps and movements are joyful, sensual, fluid. as i do them, i feel silly, awkward, and at times, delightfuly in sync.

i love hearing about your belly dancing and all it connects to. i applaud you!

— added by kyra on Friday, March 30, 2007 at 9:00 am

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