I’m WAY behind on blog entries.
I’m writing now from Dubai, UAE.
Several friends have asked me how I got here….and wondered about what I’ve been up to for the last couple months.
Turkey? Lebanon? Dubai? Where’s Waldo? I have in mind to sum it up in 3 blog entires:
Retropect Blog (Installment 1 of 3)
Rewind to July. At last blogging, I had just arrived in Beirut, Lebanon. Here’s what happened….
Visiting Lebanon for 3 weeks to network with my agent and his staff while training and preparing for a major “audition,” seemed, plainly enough, a “business trip” by definition, for a performing belly dancer. But my time in Lebanon turned out to be a bit of a personal journey inward and I ended up unwrapping a few layers of a thin gauze to show me myself, …. little complicated versions of myself, as a dancer, as a person. I also got to explore a place as complicated as I felt at this juncture. Before going there, I never knew this country would impress me so much and in so many ways.
My best friend once told me: Whatever unsettled, simmering, or buried emotional matters you may have, will be magnified when travelling alone to a new place. I can only agree with her 100%.
On a personal level, my first impressions of Lebanon were clouded by uncertainty, restless anticipation, and a good dose of loneliness. I had waited so long for the opportunity to meet this agent and open the door to my dreams of dancing in the Middle East, but when the moment arrived, I felt I had dropped myself in a place where my experience of time lingered in some in-between space between promise and failure, potential and disappointment, fascination and fear, peace and chaos.
Neither one nor the other, sometimes both, sometimes all at once. I tried to put my emotions on hold, and get “down to business” before the fluctuations nauseated me.
Over the course of the 3 weeks, I quite literally, LIVED in the dance studio, surrounded by mirrors…both actual and metaphorical. I saw myself through some exhaustion, frustration, and apprehension as well as some brighter moments of appreciation, confidence, and optimism. During the day, I trained with my performance coach, whose mission was to intentionally push me thru movements and styles which were not ‘natural’ to me. His method was magical! Our classes were like riding a rollercoaster. Some moments I felt I was impressing him, while others, I felt ashamed and thought of myself as hopeless… on some level. Then, like a lightbulb over my hair-whirling head, mid-turn, it occurred to me.
My realization: He was helping me impress myself! I had never danced like that before, never thought I would, having imagined myself to feel unnatural, even odd, but never really doing it before… and here I was, and I liked it, and it looked good! I watched, felt and listened, and eventually located that useless and judgmental voice coming from inside of me. I know it wasn’t from him, sitting in the corner….but from me, glaring back at me in the mirror.
Overall, my time and energy with the Lebanese performance coach was worth every drop of sweat, tears and hair flips!
While other dancers trained in the studio, I mingled in the business office, (where all the magic happens for the dancers: contracts are signed, visas applications sent, schedules…scheduled). From my first days of loneliness, each day the office would seem more crowded as I would meet other dancers arriving, following their dream and playing their hand in Lebanon, like me, in hopes of being a “top” dancer and securing these dream-contracts. There we each got to absorb uncensored opinions, from the staff, commenting honestly on everything from our shape, size, hair and skin color, and the general marketability of our ‘look.’ I heard an imaginary voice in my head when I walked into the office: “This is showbiz, kid!”
The loneliness disappeared. And in the end, some of us made this Lebanon training and audition period a sisterhood of supporting and laughing with each other, and taking turns quelling our personal self-doubts.
The audition was a flurry of excitement, nervousness and impatience for all of the dancers, singers and also for the hungry (Ramadan-fasting) managers in the audience assessing our talents. The managers, invited from all over the Arab-World’s high-end hotel night spots, tried to enjoy long days of entertainment marathons of countless singers and dancers applying for employment. A showcase of non-stop talent, ready to be booked and contracts’ signed.
In such high-pressure situations, I never feel like I dance well. But I did it, I got it over with, and, admittedly, there were a few moments while on stage, when the weight of the moment occurred to me… how significant this particular performance is, in terms of my dream, my goals, my future…..
And then….a frightening moment. During a well-rehearsed segue where I should dramatically end on the floor, I hear a strange pop-snap of me knee!
Adrenaline has my body continuing in to the khaleegi section of my program, while the pragmatic thoughts of possibly limping off stage rush my mind into some sort of automatic prayer mode, all the while, my hair is flying with the rhythms of the drum and my heart.
My knee, which I nursed for the next few weeks, became later swollen and painful, but in the audition, it held up for me to complete my show. Looking back at the video, I see something in me I didn’t know was there. I’m sure it is unnoticeable to anyone else, even those who know me and my dance. A kind of “fighting” energy began to pour out on that stage. Not an aggressive opposition to anything….just a kind of power I hadn’t felt before. I was determined. Maybe my knee didn’t want to be, but I was…and my knee was just going to have to deal with it for the next few minutes, until my show was over, I took my bow, thanked my audience, and left the stage.
On a travelers note:
Lebanon, as a country, is captivating from every angle. For a relatively small country, perhaps 3 weeks would have been enough to venture out to see many many sights, experience the richness, and soak in the environment, history and culture. But I was there for work. And my few spurts of tourism were brief, and usually rushed.
In addition to my dance prioritizing and time constraints always rushing me back to the studio for training and rehearsal, the social and political climate this summer had me stay within a small radius of the quiet suburb of Beirut where I was housed. Two bombings occurred in Lebanon during my visit, although, not near my area. And my quiet, posh neighborhood of nargile cafes and shopping malls seemed like a happy, albeit expensive retreat. Residents, while seeming un-phased by such sudden frightening and explosive occurrences, are protective of tourists and visitors, and are committed to advising against exploring areas of questionable safety. While not venturing off too far, I did manage to see some key sights around Beirut.
I visited the the beach and the old port in Byblos, the nightlife of Jouneih, the beautiful mountain town of Broumana, and several monestaries and shrines peering over cliffs and mountaintops high above the clouds!
Downtown Beirut was relatively and surprisingly quiet, considering it is a central capital city. Granted, I visited during Ramadan, in the heat of July, during a politically sensitive time (which Lebanon seems to have been experiencing on-and-off since the civil war starting in the 70’s. The lack of swarms of tourists in such a historically important city, and the seemingly empty streets during the day is sadly understandable. Maybe it was the serene vacancy and temperance, and especially its decency which I experienced in Beirut, that charmed and inspired me more than I ever expected, given its complex and turbulent past (and present).
Strolling through the city, I was entranced by the mixture of past and future. It’s a city constantly renovating and rebuilding. Construction and scaffolding was at every turn, and tiny independent interior/exterior design places popped up on every corner. Wandering into modern alternative-looking cafes and reading the fresh graffiti on walls, I felt stirred by the energy of the new generation: the young Lebanese who will strive to shape this place from the roots of its rich history and the mounds of rubble.
The moment I felt enthralled by the bursts of innovation sprouting around the city, I was reduced to a reverent solemnness inside, encountering abandoned buildings and monuments standing wounded, by what I can imagine are bullets and various explosions…
Although my Beirut exploring was limited and brief, the city left a very strong impression on me. For me, Beirut strongly symbolizes a city with STRENGTH and DETERMINATION.
And, even in the studio, and on that stage, it helped me find mine.