This weekend I celebrated Imbolc (Some say this word has derived from Old Irish, meaning “in the belly”) referring to gestating pregnancies of ewes, but I like to think of it as a special holiday for belly dancers. Having just begun to teach an American Tribal Style Belly Dance class in York, this “In the Belly” felt most auspicious.
Imbolc corresponds with the Christian candlemas– I left a candle lit all day during this festival of light which has always brought aspects of my creative life together.
For those of us who may be following a Heathen path, this is also the “Charming of the Plough” where the tools of our livlihoods are put on our altar to be blessed so that we may be creative and fruitful in the new year. All my tools were laid out– the mandrels, cutters, pliers and bail makers, the files and hammers.
Brigid has been my patron goddess for many years– I went from earning my (extremely small) crust as a poet to working in metals. Brigid is the goddess of the poet and the blacksmith– the two workings are alike in many ways. Poetry is made from words formed in the heat of the will, and the cold forged designs I make have their own rhythms, rhymes and meters.
This Charming of the Plough is a Dísablót, a celebrating of the dísir, or female ancestors. I cooked a meal for my female ancestors and poured them some good beer, and the day was done.
The next day, M and I drove to Lincolnshire to visit Julian’s Bower, a turf labyrinth that is most likely medieval, though the first written record of it dating from the 17th century claims it’s Roman. Someone had left three fresh pink roses in the centre– three pale norns– covered there by the muddy edges of the turf so that they were only visible once you had walked the full circuit. On a clear day you can see the York Minster from this place. These Northern turf mazes share much in common in naming and structure to Scandinavian turf mazes, and one would like to think these may date from the Viking Age, or perhaps they are a remnant of ancestral memory from that time.
In my other life, I am a tribal belly dancer. Originally it was something I did as a dare to myself and then it was something I did so I could socialise in a new place where I knew few people and now it has taken over most aspects of my life that are not already occupied by making pretty things.
There’s a wonderful tribal belly dance festival in York this weekend called the Tribal Gathering. I’ll be selling my wares in the souk.
I make most of my costuming. Though my designs I sell are not necessarily performance ware– they are intended everyday or special occasion pieces, but the designs are all influenced by dance, and tribal belly dance in particular.
Currently the tumble polisher is tumbling, I’ve been hammering away and working away with the callouses and cuts to show for it! I reek of sulphur. Making pretty things is not unlike dance. I think of all the sweat and tears to bring something beautiful out of nothing– it is the same struggle, and a joyful one. I hope to see some of you at the tribal gathering.
If you’re not sure what tribal belly dance is, this short documentary is a nice introduction:
Perhaps my best kept secret is that I am a dancer. The fact that I am a dancer is proof that sheer force of will can make almost anything happen. I do not have what this culture considers a dancer’s body. Since childhood I have been known as “the klutz”, and in high school theatre my inability to dance was used to comic effect, if it was used at all.
In hindsight we see our missed chances, places where we blew it. I don’t have many, but the one that is most glaring is my refusal to dance, seriously, earlier in my life. In the late 80s I lived in San Francisco, just when Carolena Nericcio was inventing American Tribal Style dance and founding Fat Chance Belly Dance. I was hanging out at Cafe Istanbul in the Mission and there were women dancing. Not the sequinned, chiffon veil bellydance I’d seen before (which I thought cheezy) but something else totally mesmerizing and earthy, and something I really, really wanted to do. At the end, one of the dancers tried to pull me up to join them and…I refused! I refused to dance because I was too ashamed of my body, and certain I would make a fool of myself.
One blessing about getting older is you no longer listen to those voices. Belly dance is a haven for women who have stopped listening to those voices and just want to move, and move well.
For a few years I have been dancing seriously– in my own living room. I have had world class teachers. Kimberly MacKoy gave me the gift of muscle memory training– “welcome to the labyrinth of your body” she would say. Jesse and Philippa of Morai Tribal were the ones who taught me American Tribal Style, though I am still a beginner and would sometimes come home from that class in tears, it was so hard for me. Jesse was the first teacher to help me understand that it wasn’t hopeless and it was dancing with her that I first realized that mastering even the most basic of ATS could feel like flying.
I now study with Samantha MacLaren in Selby and perform with Renegade Tribal, and my first performance in front of other people was this weekend– something I thought I would never do. Life surprises you sometimes. With Samantha I have continued to hone my muscle memory and choreography skills. Samantha not only believes everyone can dance, she makes it happen. She is a powerful dancer and I’m lucky to have her as a teacher.
Along with Tribal Fusion comes exciting possibilities in costuming– the photo below is of Samantha wearing her belt and headdress I made for her Lady of the Lake solo piece.