ON THIS DAY 20 YEARS AGO - Nadhra Rising, a Blossoming Belly-Nerd in Home-Sewn Spangles
Updated: Apr 11
You know how this goes. It started out like any other day...
And it did.
Like the day before, I cracked my eyes open and dragged my journal off the nightstand, scribbling down my thoughts and dreams before I was fully awake. After fifteen minutes of that, I was fully conscious and ready to spring into action. I ate breakfast (food only--I wasn't a coffee drinker in those days), put myself together, and went to work.
Blessedly, I had just ascended to the highest end of the pay scale for administrative office work, which allowed me to only have to work a day job from 10:00 to 2:00. After being my ball-juggling, CEO-herding, paperwork-whipping self, I came home and--you guessed it--chowed down again. Gotta feed the 'Beast, man. A lot.
Next, I came into my living room where the last piles of moving boxes were still up to my nose. I hunted down the boxes of costuming and began digging through them for the night's outfit. That night was our monthly student recital that I co-hosted.
Being December, it was a holiday show. I would have preferred to wear one of my professional-grade outfits, but since I'd only just begun to afford such luxuries as imported, pre-made costumes the year before, my limited assortment couldn't accommodate the holiday theme:
All the rest of my outfits were homemade:
Yarp. There I am in all my baby belly-nerd glory!
After much digging and rejecting, I went with the red-and-black number that I had sewn in 1993 after seeing Madame Lucy's jaw-dropping lime-green costume with the jagged-edged slim skirt. (And yes, this is the video clip from which I taught myself how to do the move I would later learn was called a "Maya." The coveting of that move and her ripple-hands were responsible for transforming that VHS tape into glitchy, static-striped garbage.) (4)
Lucy's costume was encrusted with gorgeous jewels and fitted her like a glove. Alas, there was no Hobby Lobby or Michael's in Northern Minnesota back then. There wasn't even a Walmart craft section--there wasn't a Walmart. There was Joanne's Fabric. Period. They had no fabulous, chunky jewels for obsessed, aspiring belly dancers, so sequins it had to be. I spent ungodly hours over the summer of my twentieth year sewing the biggest red sequins I could find onto a black bra, stretchy belt, and the jagged edges of the skirt I'd sewn from red liquid lamee. Since liquid lamee and sweat don't really like each other, the top and belt lasted way longer than that skirt I wore to black-streaked bits.
To top off my winter theme, I chose the icicle-dripped silver belt I had fashioned from a beaded-and-sequined shawl found at one of those high-end boutiques in Old Colorado City. I also pulled out the glitter-dot panel skirts of my two oldest baby-belly dancer costumes sewn by my first teacher--a silver and a black one.
There. I had red and silver for a holiday costume. But darn it, this was Christmas-land Colorado, so I wanted some green as well.
I only possessed two green items:
--The permanently pleated, forest green A-line skirt (shown above) that I had hacked out of a stretch-jersey, retro dress I found at a thrift store in 1994. After chopping off the elasticized tube-top, I added gold-and-black ribbon to the hem, so that wouldn't work with all the silver I had chosen.
--I had to go with the green satin split-circle skirt I had sewn to match my newest import.
So no shit, there I was! Surrounded by exploded moving boxes and a sea of sparkle. I grabbed the blank cassette tape that housed all my student night performances--yes. We had to use either tape or CD in those days. I hadn’t acquired such a luxury as rewritable CDs, and I didn’t want to use up an entire disk for such a short show, so I tacked the evening’s music onto the tape behind the previous month's music.
I had just choreographed a gushy stage dance to Govinda's Sweetly We Touched for the swanky nightmare-of-a-show I had been hired to perform at in November. That event was a big ticket benefit at the Broadmoor Hotel, so none of my friends or students had gotten to see it.
Since I had chosen Dynamic Drum Solo as the topic of my February workshop, I decided to close my performance with flying fringe as an appetite whetter. I was still trying to fully memorize my favorites from the latest Hossam Ramzy album, but I figured that a student recital was the perfect place to work out the performance bugs.
Naturally, I had to use the one that had been inspired by Lucy, the Magnificent.
Once my tape was recorded, I ran through the pieces one last time, then packed the topmost layers of my costume into a bag. The backstage changing area was guaranteed to be jammed with nervous students, so I determined to contribute the least amount of clutter possible. I also wanted to make sure I could get my outfit on quickly, leaving more time to help my students and make sure Melinda had everything she needed as MC of the event.
Over the past year, she and I had started combining our student shows into a monthly event at Tajine Alami Moroccan Restaurant.
Right when I first moved to Colorado in 1997 and changed my dance name to Nadhra, I had started dancing there every weekend, but the next summer my car broke down in Albuquerque after an SCA event. My roommate didn't give my message to the owner. Instead, she told him that I had flaked and that she had no idea where I was. "But I know she's supposed to perform tonight," she told him, "so I wanted to let you know that it doesn't look like she'll be there. I could come in and cover for her if you need someone."
He did, and so she did.
He never put me on the schedule again--until that first student night Melinda and I did together.
During my performance, I saw the look on the owner's face: Oh, crap. I had forgotten how much everybody loves watching her dance. So before the end of the night, I made sure that he understood I hadn't blown my gig off, that my roommate had been opportunistic that night and threw me under the bus. He hired me back on the spot.
Between performing there and Mataam Fez, the other local Moroccan restaurant, I danced every Friday and Saturday night (except for big stage shows), as well as private parties. It wasn't unheard of for me to perform three to four nights a week for most of a month.
But something was changing drastically in my dancing, and it had nothing to do with my swankier, encrusted costumes.
July 29, 2000
27 years old
Suzanna del Vecchio's Retreat at Grand Lake, CO
Now blissfully exhausted from the morning's classes, I need solitude to let it all sink in, so I skip out on the afternoon yoga session and head outside. A little dirt and a skinned knee and wrist later, and I arrive where I yearned to be from the moment I spied it--out on the biggest rock in the middle of the river with my tiny pocket-journal.
Once settled, my pen flies:
I love that sound... Shhhhhh, blub-blub, trickle-shhhhh... Water. I finally love water again. As much as Fire now, sometimes more, depending on my mood. Silky and clean, calming and smooth, refreshing. Purifying...Home.
I wonder how I shall die sometimes. By water, fire, crash, in pain, peacefully in my sleep, in sickness, by accident, from old age? I wonder how I shall live, but not as much. I know how I would like to live. Vibrantly, passionately, gracefully, peacefully, turbulently, honestly, openly, lovingly, emotionally, GOODLY. All the time alive now.
I lie down to snooze in the sunlight, heedless if I should get a weird tan or not. I just need to be alone. I don't really sleep, but I dream nevertheless. The images overtake me--all the bigger and deeper things I want from my dancing. From my life.
I have so much more that I long to say beyond, "Look how I can pop and whiz-bang every tiny nuance of this drum solo! Yes, I truly do have a miniature leprechaun pushing buttons on a motherboard attached to my every body part. Look how many acrobatics I can perform and still keep that sword on my head!"
I don't want to just be a pretty face in spangles, shaking my sparkly tits and ass for applause and dollar bills.
All that is fine. It's fun.
But it's not enough.
I want to truly SPEAK to people. I want to make people FEEL something from my dancing, and I'm beginning to think that my restaurant gigs are not the place to do it.
Two days later...
On our way back from the retreat, my best friend and I have an amazing talk about not caring so much what the audience thinks. That low-key show last night was such a stressful thing for me. I couldn't keep my sword on my head and kept tripping over my skirts. I felt so stupid, especially knowing that some of the big-name dancers from Denver were there to see me botch it.
With the sunlight flickering through the aspens, Dakini asks me what it would be like to simply dance the way I feel. To think that, sure, if there are people in the crowd who really resonate to that, then cool. They can come along for the ride. But for those who don’t?
Then it just means they're not my fans.
That sinks in hard. Because it doesn't mean I don't have any fans. It doesn't mean I automatically suck just because some of my audience doesn't like what I do. Heck, even if none of my audience likes it.
It just means I need to keep dancing and dancing and dancing, and that the more I do it, the better I will become at finding what *I* like. What I love. Then, once I'm truly dancing the way I was born to dance, the way that works with my body and personality, eventually the people who love that kind of expression will find me.
And if they don't, I just have to keep dancing because I love it. I mean, I can't not dance. I couldn't stop dancing if my life depended on it.
So as we wend home through the mountain roads, that's what I decide to do. Whenever I'm up there, yes, I will absolutely leave it all on the carpet or the stage floor. I will give my audience everything, but if they don't give me anything in return...eh. I can be closed circuit and self-perpetuating, only opening in the presence of mutual appreciation.
Then it would be a passionate conversation between us.
Otherwise, I can dance for me.
Halfway home, we stop for some tea and munchies at a cute little coffeeshop. Attached is a store that sells skiing paraphernalia and clothing. Upon spying the two huge ski bags with rollers, Dakini says, "We have to get these. Someday we're going to travel around the world together, dancing and performing, so we're going to need them. We should get them now."
And so we do.
There is something magical, something powerful about having those bags in the back seat. I can feel it. Something big is happening. Something is coming.
November 22, 2000 November Student Recital
We just officially announced it! Dakini sent out our most recent video footage to her contacts overseas. We've been invited to travel to England and Australia to perform and teach, just like she said would happen when we bought those bags.
My life is about to change! I can taste it on the air. I can smell it in the water. During our stage show last month, I did my usual performing monkey tricks with a sword on my head, which I loved and so did the crowd. But before that, I created a flowy veil choreography to Zaza's Book of Kings. In the program notes, I shared the deeper meaning of that piece: my yearning and quest to understand the Meaning of Life.
I can feel it to the marrow of my bones. That understanding is coming.
Yeah. It sure was coming. It would arrive with a big, red bow on December 21, 2000 at 12:13 a.m. while I was still dressed in a bunch of that patchwork holiday costume.
If only I had fully comprehended what I was asking for during that ZaZa dance, I might have chosen to start with something flirty and fluffy after all.
Then again...I probably wouldn’t have.
I have never been one to take the well-traveled road when there is a good tromp through the toolie bushes to be had.
'TIS THE SEASON
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: DEC. 21, 2000: My 20th RebirthDay
--OR: The piece I wrote about tromping through the toolie bushes and coming face to face with The Unknown.
--OR: The post I wrote about my earliest belly dance influences like Madame Lucy, including this last show I did several hours before my car wreck, and one of my last stage shows I did as Nadhra.
— OR: If you want the whole gammut of my baby dance-nerd adventures, you can find those HERE.
SOME MORE LINKS
1) That big swanky nightmare-of-a-show where I first met my boyfriend after dancing to Sweetly We Touched.
4) Madame Lucy's yummy inspirational costume.