Daughter Of the Dancer
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What special challenges emerge if your mother is a belly dancer?
On the cover:
Gustav Klimt, born July 14, 1862, Baumgarten, Vienna, Austria and died February 6, 1918, Vienna, Austria, was an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. Klimt is noted for his paintings, murals, sketches, and other objets d'art.
Reminiscing with Lisa
Daughter of the Dancer
by Lisa M. Ries
Our dining room had no table. It had mirrors and a wood floor. There was a flat wrought iron heating grate by the doorway to the kitchen; this square of warmth was my seat during rehearsals.
Silas, dark-skinned and kinetic, smiling and nodding, played doumbek -- all the rhythms: chifiatelli, beledi, the drum solo. Following rehearsals, he’d stay to teach my little brother to drum. Patrick, large, gap-toothed and Indian, sat cross-legged with the sitar on his lap. Around the kitchen table later, he told stories of his birth, his entrance to this world through the trunk of his mother, the elephant. Jill, an older formidable woman with her hair colored a light blond, completed the band. She stood behind the organ in her long dresses of peacock blue or pastel green or black edged with gold. Her presence made a statement, but she never said much. Sometimes, instead of Silas, Ayed drummed. Middle Eastern like the dance itself, and in the Midwest, like we all were, Ayed had a sense of style in keeping with the times. He drove a black Trans Am with a red eagle on the hood.
Late nights on the weekends, they performed at venues like the Sahara, but on weekend afternoons, I was their audience. My mother always threw her veil to me. The veil caught the air and floated, gauzy, landing with a light touch on my face.
For dancing, she called herself Kismet, meaning destiny or fate, sounding like charisma, which dances in the helixes central in her cells.
On Sunday mornings, I was audience to the grittier magic of the dance. I watched my mom tweezing shards of glass from the soles of her feet, counting wet bills onto the bedspread, and comparing a broken toe to its counterpart.
As in Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the red shoes, the dance propels the dancer. Like Scheherazade, the dance leaves the story unfinished for a thousand and one nights. Both audience and dancer are entranced.
In devotion to the dance, with a deep love of every nuance, my mother never sought to possess the ephemeral. She has a gift, and so she offers this gift. To be the recipient of this beauty is among the sweetest memories of my childhood.
The earliest memory is amorphous though. At age three, the age my daughter is now, I kneeled, looking out the window while my mom practiced to a duet in a mournful language. There was such longing in the drawn-out vowels of the voices. I imagined the stories behind what they seemed like they were saying. At the same time, in the way that young children do, I connected my senses to my mother’s, and I knew how she felt while she was dancing behind me. Free, even in the learning phases.
As years went on, I became myself and she became a professional dancer. She chose her name. She acquired costumes: red with clear beads, green with gold coins, a closet full of intricate bras and belts, diaphanous skirts and veils. She put on make-up. Glue-lined false eyelashes. Liquid eyeliner shaping the eyes Egyptian.
Only the eyes are glimpsed at the entrance. The veils hide the face and the body, at first. She plays the zills while she dances, the clink of finger cymbals adding accents shiny as Gustav Klimt’s gold on canvas.
As she dances, the unveiling begins. The drum solo follows -- a conversation between the shimmy and the percussion, the beaded hips and the hands on the drum. It culminates in her signature move, the Turkish drop: a jump and a collapse, a landing with knees bent back beneath the skirt and the shoulders on the ground. She lands, concurrent with the last tap of the drum. Then, a silence lasting a few breaths, is visible in the movement of her ribs. The moment feels like a finale but it is a segue.
In retrospect, I see how seductive belly dancing is, and why, when I said, My mom is a belly dancer, everyone always asked, A ballet dancer? When the dancer moves along the ground, the intimacy is disarming. Divorce was chasing her marriage. She must have been proving or needing or imploring.
After the floorwork, in the sort of fascinating effect of reverse films, she rises out of a backbend, resurrecting herself, smiling to the musicians, and the audience. She loves the dance, and knows finesse. She knows how the hands direct the eye of the audience, that back in history, women danced for each other.
In origin, this dance sang a tribute to the feminine. Women taught one another the art of childbearing. As my mother says to her dance students as the roomful of them sway their hips side to side, You are rocking the cradle of civilization. These words elicit laughter, as they’re designed to, but at the same time, they are absolutely sincere.
So, from this cradle, I was born. But I was not born to be a dancer. For all the opportunity to carry the art into the next generation, it has never spoken to me as destiny. Other callings are written, it seems. And, if I am a dancer at all, it is through a form that speaks more to those inclined to introversion: yoga practice, vinyasa. But it may be, that like color-blindness or twin children, the possibility skips a generation. My daughter, when my mother dances, doesn’t drop into her imagination, or sit and watch, riveted. She dances with her grandmother. In those moments, I am content to watch them both.
Lisa M. Ries has previously published poetry and creative non-fiction in literary journals, and other venues. She has recently completed a novel. She teaches English literature and creative writing. She also teaches yoga. While she is not a belly dancer, the legacy of the dance informs her yoga practice.
Meredith Zelman narissi, Contributor: Meredith Zelman Narissi is a mystagogue: a person who initiates others into the knowledge of sacred mysteries. She does this in her Mind body Polarity therapy practice, when teaching meditation, yoga and belly dance classes. She holds a double Masters degree in Art and Education. Having been an Art teacher, an interior designer, and a presenter, she loves dabbling in the arts. Meredith believes in the inherent healing nature of self-expression. With an extensive background in Professional... (more...)