Cues and Tattoos

This post about my first trip to Cues and Tattoos is quite late… but better late than never! So here we go.
This was my first performance at a big belly dance festival. Yeeeeip! It was a fantastic trip, fun with a sprinkle of drama. I met new friends, got my dance on, and did some sight-seeing (and hurt my toe, luckily after we performed, but never mind that).

Cues and Tattoos takes place in Seattle every year, and draws an international array of belly dancers and brilliant/famous instructors. Workshops vary greatly in price, making it a really affordable place to get amazing belly dance instruction. Or, you can spring for expensive  intensives with world renowned teachers. (So worth it for those who have the cash to spend. I wish I did!) There are also tons of performances, by both the famous teachers and the students. It’s a great place to get exposure and experience performing. There is also AMAZING shopping. Jewelry, clothing, performance wear, make-up, and even a booth doing tattoos. As I walked through the vendor sections, drooling on myself, I wished the tree in my backyard would start sprouting dollar bills.

I performed with Ruby McConnell’s troupe, Red Moon Rising.
Here is a video of our performance. (CREEPY DOLL BELLYDANCE FTW!)
The music is by Victor St. Petersberg. Enjoy!


COMING SOON: Tribal Fest, video style. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but I will pick out the best videos and reviews for your enjoyment!

Tomorrow I fly out to organize a conference in England. I’ll be back in June with tales from my British adventures.




Bite Size Memoir #3 – “Magic and Fairy Tales”

This week’s installment in the “Bite Size Memoir” writing challenge. My childhood obsession with fairy tale princesses.
(Obviously I didn’t become a cynical feminist till later.)

Find out more about the challenge in Lisa Rieter’s blog.


Oh, to be young again, with no notion of reality’s constraints upon one’s future self. 

My first aspiration, at age 4 or 5, was to be a princess. It did not matter that I was a little American girl living with a single mom in an apartment whose carpets were so threadbare they rolled up in the vacuum cleaner.  I didn’t even have my own bedroom or my own bed, but I was convinced my destiny was to be royalty. 

I put myself through “Princess Training”, which mostly involved walking around with a heavy book balanced on my head, and daintily serving my stuffed animals tea. 

Though I never became royalty, and the thought of me being a princess is laughable, I did get some use out of that training. My posture has been an asset in acting and dance. And I have a fine appreciation of tea. 

San Diego on Fire

San Diego, and the surrounding areas, are having a rash of wildfires again, due to lack of rain and obscene temperatures. I grew-up in San Diego and moved away twice, once for 5 years, and then again a few years ago.

One of the big reasons I moved away was that I didn’t think the city was a sustainable human settlement. All of Southern California is an over-populated desert that has it’s water piped in from up north, and it’s people are obsessed with an oostentatious over-consumption of resources. With climate change on top of that. I think it’s safety is precarious. Case in point, these fires, again.

They happened in an even bigger magnitude in 2003, when I was living there. Luckily, I lived just east of downtown, so we weren’t evacuated, but it was still terrifying when the smoke filled our lives for a few days.

Here’s a little snippit of memory from back then,


Ring of Fire

I was sitting in front of a computer screen, talking into the mic with a pink handkerchief covering my nose and mouth.  We’d recently moved the DJ booth into the covered patio, so I was surrounded by windows. Some of the 1930s glass panes were broken, and the smoke was trickling in the room.

The sky was a thick, ominous reddish orange. The sun was a fuzzy dark disc behind the smoke. Was this the beginning of our apocalypse? Were we close to donning Mad Max style accouterments and resorting to pillaging and mayhem?

Our city was surrounded by flames. The cheesy graphics on the nightly news illustrated the wildfires in all directions. We were “safe”, for now, but situated in the center of a crescent moon of 13 fires, one of which was the largest in California history. We only had the ocean to escape to on one side. Our huge sports arena was filled with evacuees.

Being a DJ, I felt it was my duty to be in the booth, reporting back on the latest news and entertaining anyone stuck in their house who might be listening. Being an independent DJ, I also felt it was my duty to be a tad ridiculous while doing so.
Instead of playing the usual music, I went with the fire theme. This included “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash, “Burning down the House” by Talking Heads, “It’s the End of the World as we Know it (and I Feel Fine)” by REM, and “Beds are Burning” by Midnight Oil.

San Diego survived that time around. So here’s to all my friends in family down there, I hope you stay safe.

Connection: The Heart of Tribal Belly Dance

I love group dancing, more than any other style. This is why American Tribal Style captured my heart.

When doing Improvisational Style Belly Dance (ATS, ITS, etc.) the class participants bond and interact more than any solo-oriented dance I’ve ever studied. You have to, because the dance form is, like the name implies, improvisational. Each dancer learns the language of movement, then small to medium groups of them perform it, with one person in the front as a lead. The group rotates regularly to share the lead spot.

It is so beautiful and exhilarating to experience the “mind meld” moments we have while dancing. Sometimes you’re in the back of the group, fixed so keenly on the lead dancer’s every gesture, that you just KNOW what she’s about to do even before she does it, and you both glide so seamlessly as a flock.

I grew-up attending modern and ballet classes, and these are so singular feeling. The students shuffle in, stand separately, stare at the teacher, then they shuffle out. In ATS/ITS you stand close together in a pod of dancers, you tune into each others movements, and you make intimate eye contact, and you SMILE at one another. It’s magical.

One of the other reasons I think I was so enamored with ATS right off the bat was that it reminded me of something I saw in a dream (or past life memory?) many years ago. As a teenager, one night I had a vivid dream of dancing with other women. It looked to be somewhere in Western Europe around the middle ages. Myself and the other women were dressed in plain, country style dresses, with little flowers woven in our long hair. We were dancing in a circle in the grass, cloudy sky overhead, and my soul was bursting with joy and contentment. The feeling was so connected and grounding, being one with myself and my sisters.

Fast forward to a few years ago, the first time I was exposed to ITS movement. I was taking Sabrina Fox’s Tribal Fusion class in San Diego (Tribal Fusion is different- it’s a mostly solo dance form). Sabrina  mixed it up a bit that evening and had us do a little ITS style movement. Since I had only taken Cabaret and Tribal Fusion style classes up until this point, the movement was totally new to me. The class was instructed to form the classic “horseshoe” shape particular to Improvisational Tribal Style, then we danced in groups in the center. I felt so lost! But it was fun.

Then we all shifted out of the horseshoe shape and started circling the room doing grapevine shimmies, and I had a flash of that dream where I danced with other women in the grass. I was suddenly filled with that same exact joy I’d felt in the dream, and I almost came to tears right there in class.

So perhaps one of the reasons why I love ATS so much is that is reminds me of dances I’ve done in another life. Regardless of the past life connection, I think it resonates with many people simply because circle dances, and communal dances have been a part of so many cultural histories. We can’t discount our genetic memory. Many of the modern Western dances that focus on mostly the isolation of the individual don’t give us that same human connection that we really need. In our compartmentalized, nuclear family structured, transient capitalist lives, dance like this is nourishment for our starving souls.

And, of course, I couldn’t close this post without a little video of Fat Chance Bellydance, the mamas of ATS…


Bite Size Memoir #1: “School at Seven”

I have been meaning, for some time, to start writing my memoirs. I see it as a series of vignettes, with a certain theme that I will not share yet. (No spoilers!)

I came across this fun memoir writing project on another blog through my friend Ruby’s blog. I thought it would be a good warm-up exercise.

This week’s assignment is to write 150 words of prose about school at the age of seven.

Find out more about the project here: Lisa Rieter – Sharing the Story

The age of seven was a heavy one for me. After my last rather serious post, this will add to the pile! My next post will be about kittens and rainbows, I promise.


Second grade was dancing and singing, pretending to be a cat and wearing pink tights. I was gregarious and scored high on tests. Then for third grade I moved schools. Webster. Before my first day I had a nightmare, that strangely involved shellfish.

I sat on the swings, surrounded by the other girls hateful stares. They called me “Medusa” because of my long blonde hair. I withstood their abuse and ate lunch by myself every single day.

Mom and I sat in the principal’s office. The principal wouldn’t let me switch classrooms, because my teacher was black and the other teacher was white. 

I befriended the only other white girl, even though we had nothing in common, aside from exile. We hung upside down on the jungle gym and she told me she wanted to start a girl gang that stole comic books.


About The Belly: Dance and Body Image

Hello everyone, It’s been a bit since my last post. I organize conferences for a living, and just got back into town from one of them… So now I’ve decompressed and am back in gear for writing.

Discussion about body image and the fucked-up beauty standards our culture holds women to is all over the internet these days. I wanna add my 2 cents, as a dancer and feminist and mature woman. I think the more voices we have talking about these issues, the better. Our collective storytelling holds immense personal and cultural value.

There is quite a bit written and said about belly dance being this amazing magical art form that makes women love their bodies and gives them the courage to parade on stage in a belly baring dance bra no matter what their size.  And it does, in many ways, give women confidence, I’m not going to knock that. But I think there’s a bit more complexity to it.

I think lately I’ve been wishing that belly dance WAS that magical, that it would make all my body insecurities go POOF.

I’ve had body image issues since childhood, like most girls, even though for most of my life I was skinny to average. I now find myself suddenly weighing more than I ever have in my life, even though I am technically still in the “healthy” BMI catagory. It’s been both good, bad, liberating, and disheartening all at once.

I remember when I first started to have anxiety about my looks, I was 11 years old, and my moon cycle had just started. All of the sudden my little girl body sprouted hips, so quickly that I still have stretch marks from it. I felt like my body was morphing out of my control, and I did not like it. I was so embarrassed of my new shape that I wore long t-shirts to school every day.  Classmates made fun of my hairy legs, so I started shaving. My face was pimply, and I felt like Quasimoto. One horrible boy on the playground walked up to me one day and said “God, why are you so UGLY?” and I was too crushed to tell him to fuck off.
I look back at photos of myself now and can’t believe I ever felt ugly. Not to toot my own horn, but I looked like a lovely girl, looking at the camera with a shy insecure smile. It breaks my heart that I ever disliked myself then.

The apex of this middle school body image crisis was one day when some other boy made fun of my “big” nose. After school I went to my best friend’s house and locked myself in the bathroom to cry. In the middle of my cry I realized that I LOVED my nose. It had a bump on the bridge like my grandpa’s nose, and it kind of looked like my mom’s from the front. And I love my grandpa and mom, so why did I feel ashamed?

Then I realized that if I didn’t believe the insults that people hurled at me, that those insults couldn’t hurt me. 

I decided to love my nose, and I haven’t hated it since.

In my late teens/early 20’s I gained some weight, as most women do, and like most of the fabulously pear-shaped women in my family, became a bit bottom-heavy, with a little pot belly. At that time in my life I was mostly surrounded by very body-positive women, so I didn’t stress too much about it. But then I moved away from those women, and went back to Southern California,  the land of anorexic movie stars and beach babes.

Here’s a picture of me then, for reference. (Punk rock selfies, yeah!)


I’m a radical feminist, I have a freaking Women’s Studies degree from a women’s college in the Bay Area, I should be totally immune to bullshit beauty standards, RIGHT!? Man, I wish. Brainwashing dies hard.

I seemingly had every woman’s dream come true happen in my mid-20’s. I rapidly lost weight, with little effort on my part, I was just exercising more. Then I went vegan, and even more weight melted off… I remember going to the Levis store to shop for jeans, since my clothes were too big, and I realized I was their size 0. Some people would have been excited, but I was a bit terrified. Any smaller and I could no longer fit in women’s jeans. I didn’t feel like I was in control of what was happening to my body. But everyone else thought I looked fabulous! Men would compliment me, other women would look at me with this strange mixture of disgust and jealousy. I took on this hipster persona and went clubbing constantly, DJ’ed, go-go danced in rock clubs, the whole gamut. I totally exploited my scrawny frame in tight ass designer clothes.

But, underneath the fashionable clothes I was wasting away for no apparent reason. My face looked gaunt, my hair was brittle and dry, my skin looked like shit, and I tried so hard to eat “healthy” (by the misguided nutritional information I was given.) I was always hungry, and I purposefully ate more to try to maintain my weight. I managed to put on a few pounds, and got up to a size 2, so I felt a bit better about it. I was societies ideal for women, I was the size you see on TV and in magazines, and it’s because my body was eating itself from the inside.

Here I am at my tiniest. The hilarious thing about this photo is that I actually felt bloated that day. There are no photos of my bad skin, I’ve photo shopped or deleted everything that showed it. My legs were covered in ugly spider veins that popped up randomly when I was 22. You also can’t see my very prominent collar bones and ribs. But, look, I’m a model!

Thin Drea

Years later, after an avalanche of health problems, I realized I had what seemed to be Celiac disease. Wasting away is common with this condition, because your immune system attacks your intestines, damaging them and impairing your ability to absorb your food. That’s why I could eat and eat and not gain weight. It just went right though me (literally.. I know, TMI)
Going on a strictly gluten free Paleo diet helped heal my gut, and my skin and hair were suddenly healthy. I started putting on weight too, partially from being able to absorb things, and partially due to the arthritis and spinal damage that was the consequence of my unintentional malnutrition. I couldn’t exercise or dance very much, even walks around the neighborhood were sometimes interrupted by excruciating muscle cramps in my legs.

Eventually I got healthy enough to exercise more, but the weight stuck on. After years of malnutrition, I felt like my body just wouldn’t have it if I dieted in the least. I practically wanted to inhale tons of nutritious food, my brain, nervous system and whole body were still recovering from the debilitating crap I’d been through. If I felt like I needed a second bowl of stew, I ate it. I listened to my instincts instead of Weight Watchers point system.

Because of this, and my fabulously pear-shaped body, I went up 4 pant sizes in 2 years. The booty blossomed, so to speak!

At this point, I should have been celebrating my new found health, and relishing in my new womanly body. Honestly, and this is hard for me to admit because I am trained to be the super-duper body positive feminist… Instead of celebrating, I was distressed and disgusted, and a part of me was wishing I was still a malnourished waif.

I tried my very best to overcome my programming and give myself positive affirmations, even when my favorite pants would no longer zip up, or my underwear got too tight around the thighs. My girlfriends exclaimed positively about my newly grown booty, but my partner at the time wasn’t so supportive. It came out in therapy that he was less attracted to me now that I’d gained weight, and I still remember the disgusted looks he gave me when I ate things he disapproved of.
Part of me felt like crawling deep, deep inside myself and never coming out again. The other part of me enjoyed snacking on wedges of cheese in front of him as a big “fuck you”.

I tried so hard to counter-balance this negativity with more affirming things. I started a Pintrest page with gorgeous pictures of curvy women:

And I listened to things like this, which soothed my soul:

“Love your body the way your mother loved your baby feet.”

And what’s totally ridiculous about all of this is that I am still, even at my heaviest, technically not overweight for my height. Yeah, I wear size large bottoms, but I am, actually, perfectly healthy.

Sometimes I think about dieting, but I don’t want to. I eat really healthy food, and I hate feeling like I’m starving. So I’ll just have a full serving of dinner and my glass of wine and be happy and chubby.

Rad things about my weight gain:
My skin looks WAY better, and I actually look younger than I did at 27, I think. I still get carded regularly at 34.
I finally gained enough for my boobs to get bigger! My boyfriend keeps laughing at me cuz I am constantly staring at and/or playing with them.

So, yeah, that’s my body image story. I’m still struggling, but trying hard to accept myself. Now that I am performing with Black Magdalene, it’s an even bigger curve ball, cuz now I see pictures of my belly on stage and I just want to cringe. But I’m trying not to. I’m trying to love it, dimples and all.

There is no one cure-all for the body image bullshit we have to deal with. Belly dance won’t make it magically go away, but, I think it does help. Supportive people help. Loving yourself helps. Being good to your body helps.

Love the belly, it loves you.



Black Magdelene