A few times a year, I attempt to challenge myself artistically and pull together a solo routine. Since it was a special occasion, I decided to try something new at our April Raks Benefit for the Girls Raks Bellydance and Body Image program. My sister Stephanie, who has never seen me dance live, would be in town. And I had a lovely new costume and a few Shiny Sparkly Things to show off. So why not?
Actually, there are a lot of reasons why I could choose not to solo. It’s just me out there on that stage. It’s just me, the music and all of those eyeballs in the audience watching my every move. It’s a lot like life. Stepping out in the world alone facing all sorts of uninformed judgments about me, and what I am doing is scary. I could be unfairly compared to other dancers or to my performances as Raks Africa. And the ‘what ifs’ can be stifling. What if I freeze up? What if people don’t like me? What if I’m just so-so? What if, all alone, up on that stage, in front of everybody, I fail? Oh the horror of not being fabulous! But this is what I do. It’s what I changed my life for. It’s what I ached for in my bones, and what satisfies my spirit. So damn the ‘what ifs,’ press on and dance!
Unlike choreographing a Raks Africa duet where we attempt to match energies and movements, the planning of a solo is a whole other animal. My solos tend to be only partially choreographed. Choosing music that I love helps me glide from one move to another a tad more effortlessly. I continue to depend on the seasoned eye of my teacher, Nanna Candelaria, for polishing the rough edges. And at some point I try to stop fussing with the particulars, relax, be in the music, in my body and enjoy myself. And then it’s show time.
When I dance I care about using proper technique. I care about presenting the dance, the history and the culture of the people who call it theirs, in a dignified way. But what I mostly care about is transmitting the joy and freedom that bellydance has given me. So when I go solo, when it’s just this full-figured black woman’s body shimmying on stage, I remember that I’m not really alone. My big hip circles encompass all of the women, of every size, who need to see me up on that stage, those who nudge me to take my space there and the future baby dancers who will take center stage themselves one day. And damn, I’m a fabulous bellydancer!
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