Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The German Wild West

After getting lost and driving around the tiny city of Bielefeld, Germany for two hours, Wilson Gil and I finally made it to Forum- the club at which we would be performing.
A couple years ago, Wilson Gil co-produced a song for the soundtrack of an Indie-Western short film. The film, “Sam Hall”, is a German creation. Now, I don’t exactly think of the “Wild West” when I think of Germany, but the film did do the Wild West justice. You would have thought it was produced by cowboys instead of German rockers.
The show at Forum was to celebrate the release of “Sam Hall”. So, Wild West meets German rock scene? It was eclectic, and fun. Rowdy, raucous, and an all around good time.
The show opened with these teenage guys who were in a surf band called “Braindead Dogs”. Yes, another anomaly- Germans and surf music. And dog costumes. What? The Braindead Dogs were a great act. I think it helped that they were all wearing black and green outfits and plastic dog masks. And yes, it looked as strange as it sounds.
The other bands were “Playbot” and “Razorheads”. Those Germans sure know how to rock. And they don’t rock out like the pussy, ballad type music you hear on mainstream radio. German rockers are gritty, sweaty, vulgar, and loud. They’re in your face and raw. Something about the German accent makes the lyrics sound so much harsher, but in a good, savage rock and roll way.
And then there was Wilson Gil and I. Wilson has this American cowboy shtick with his cowboy hat and his red, white, and blue Buck Owens guitar. I don’t really know how to classify him. Cow-punk? Nirvana meets Johnny Cash? Country rock? Whatever you want it call it, Wilson Gil puts on one hell of a show. During his second song he poured beer all over his head- which made the stage nice and slippery for me to dance on. Wilson even got down on his knees at one point and proceeded to “fuck” his guitar. A little embarrassing if you’re his girlfriend, but hilarious if you’re just one of the crowd.
I swear, I can belly dance to anything. I danced to three of Wilson’s songs. Belly dancing to a mix of rock, country, and punk? It somehow works. The crowd at Forum loved it. German rockers, the Wild West, surf music played by “dogs”, and belly dancing. How could you not love a show that delivered all of that?

More on the club and bands:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Road Trippin' in Germany

Going on a road trip in a foreign country can be quite the learning experience, especially when you don’t know the language. And you lose your map, and your phone dies, and road work sends you on a crazy detour. That was the first day of our road trip last weekend.
Things started out well. We rented a car from Enterprise and they gave us a great deal: 50% off for the weekend. Enterprise rocks. They picked us up from the train station, were super friendly, upgraded our car for free, and gave us tons of price breaks.
But that was really the only luck we had. We made it to Bielefeld okay, but a detour sent us on a two hour goose chase for the club- a drive that should have only taken 10 minutes.
Despite being exhausted, we played a great show. (But more on that in the next blog!)
Originally, we had planned on returning to Berlin the next day, but the 50% deal convinced us to rent the car for the weekend. We hadn’t packed extra clothes. Of course, the club was full of cigarette smoke and our clothes were saturated with it. That was our first mistake. Always pack extra clothes, even if you are just planning on a short trip! Wilson’s jeans got totally destroyed (read: ripped, soaked in beer, stained, covered in grime) from his crazy antics onstage and I stank to high heaven. Rock ‘n roll, baby.
Day two of our road trip involved a castle, mountains, and a thousand year old city (don’t you want to read my upcoming blogs?). Not having planned accommodations for our second night (mistake number two), we spent a good chunk of time on the internet and cell phone, but to no avail. We decided to go to the ancient city of Goslar, on the chance that the hostel there would have an available room. We got a little bit lost on the way, but it only cost us about 30 min. Beautiful drive through the hills and forests, but we arrived at the hostel to find it full. There were two beds left, in separate quarters, for about 50 euro. It didn’t seem like such a great deal.
Dinner in Goslar was grand, and then we were off to Dirk’s house. Dirk is the bassist in Wilson’s new band. Now, the day had turned to night, and while driving fast on the autobahn is fun, it isn’t so great when you’re whipping by the road signs before you have a chance to read them.
Needless to say, we got lost. Very lost. And then we thought we found the right route. We called Dirk (who had already been waiting an hour), told him the good news, and thought we were all set. Forty minutes went by, we thought we were almost there, and then suddenly we started seeing signs for “Goslar” again. We had somehow gone full circle! So, driving through unfamiliar territory at night without a map? Big mistake, let me tell you.
We found a hotel, and decided to fork the 85 euro for a room. We should have just slept in the car, and would have if we had packed blankets and pillows. Oh, the mistakes we made.
The hotel wasn’t so great. The manager wouldn’t give us an extra blanket, even though the room was freezing and despite that there were several empty rooms with blankets to spare. He claimed not to know any English, but he understood Wilson perfectly well when Wilson called him an asshole, among other things.
The rest of the trip was fine, and we had an easy drive home (I think we had learned how to read the road signs by that point). But the hotel room and the gas we wasted while being lost cost us an extra 150 euro.
So, for our next road trip? Maps, cell phone charger, food (because highway food sucks), clothes, blankets, pillows, and some freaking common sense.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Throwing Flames

The bar scene in Berlin never ceases to surprise me. There is a strange juxtaposition going on: the streets are quiet, peaceful even, and then you enter a bar and stumble upon a whole other world. Take Café Zapata, for instance. From outside, it looks like a rundown building, a bit of an eyesore amongst the upscale restaurants that surround it. A few interesting metal sculptures entice you to go into the bar, and suddenly you find yourself in a cavernous room with a band playing full force onstage. Exiting through the back leads you to a large, sandy area with several food trailers, tables, and another stage with another band. Spooky metal sculptures of demons, devils, and various creatures lurk in corners and atop the trailers.
What struck me as more odd than the sculptures was a claw-foot bathtub filled with what I presumed was water. My partner, Wilson, and I paused at the tub for a moment before shrugging our shoulders and walking over to where the outdoor band was playing. We had come to Café Zapata specifically to see our friends, the Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band. Halfway through their set they pulled me up on stage and had me dance. My high heels, the level of alcohol in my blood, the crowded stage, and the fact that I was wearing blue jeans resulted in a terrible performance on my part. Or maybe I’m just my own worst critic, because everyone else enjoyed it and even asked for an encore. I was feeling a little too tipsy, though, so I declined.
Then I went inside to use the bathroom (which was far more frightening than the sculptures) and when I walked back outside, there was a man in fire gear waving around a flame thrower. The bathtub hadn’t been filled with water, but with gasoline. And this flame thrower guy, he was raving like a lunatic, throwing flames all over the place and shouting things in broken English.
After his performance, he went through the crowd, asking for tips. Lots of people put money in, because you should never argue with a guy who has a flame thrower.
After all the chaos, Wilson and I called it a night. As we returned to the streets of Berlin, the quiet and calm of the night almost made me think that Café Zapata had been a dream, or at the very least, a drunken hallucination.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Turkish Delight!

An interesting thing about Berlin is that there is a large Turkish population, primarily in the Kreuzberg and Neukölln neighbourhoods. Walk down Karl Marx Str. and you’ll see women wearing head scarves, men smoking hookahs, and the latest in Turkish fashion spilling out of store fronts. The best part about the Turkish areas? The Turkish markets.
Today was a lazy Tuesday. Wilson and I slept in until noon, grabbed some snacks from the bakery, and headed out to Treptower Park. Aside from a lone swan, there wasn’t too much happening, though. Visiting our friend Djamila sounded like much more fun.
Until today, I had never met Djamila. She’s a friend of Wilson. He always told me she was part Turkish and part German, but I didn’t think she looked Turkish when I met her. Wilson made a couple of Turkish references to her, including a joke about why she wasn’t wearing a head scarf. Finally, she turned to him and said, “Wilson! I’m not Turkish. I’m Algerian!” Oops.
Djamila did, however, take us to the largest Turkish market in Berlin. I love the Turkish people for many things, and their food is at the top of the list. Tables of licorice, Turkish Delight, pastries, pita bread, cheeses, tea, dates, olives, nuts, and various pickled vegetables, among other delicacies, lined the market from one end to the other. Yum. The only thing I didn't really want to eat was the octopus, but can you blame me?
There were also stalls that featured fabrics, jewelery, and clothes. I was hunting for a veil, which I needed for upcoming choreography in the dance company, but was out of luck. Veils were the one thing the market didn’t have. I did find a hot pink belly dance costume, but then decided that looking like a pink flamingo is not my style.
This particular Turkish market, which is open on Tuesday and Friday, is situated alongside the canal at Maybachufer Str. After meandering through the stalls, gorging on fresh corn on the cob, and listening to a jazz ensemble that was busking on the sidewalk, we took a stroll along the banks of the canal. I spotted a swan and pointed it out to Wilson and Djamila. And then we spotted another swan and another and another until we stumbled upon a whole swan gang. And I say gang because they were hustling like you wouldn’t believe. You think seagulls are aggressive when they want food? Wait until you see a three foot tall swan hissing at you while charging with its wings spread. You best be giving that swan some food or you’re in trouble! But I can’t really fault them. It’s not like they can go into the Turkish market and buy all that delicious food themselves.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Berlin's Underground Tours

There are many diverse ways to tour the city of Berlin. The options seem almost endless: helicopter tours, gourmet food tours, interactive mission tours, treasure hunts (for the pirate in you), bicycle tours, boat tours through the rivers and canals, a panorama S-BAHN tour (the train has glass walls), hot air balloon, Segway tours, and the list goes on . Seriously, though, touring Berlin on a Segway? The whole “dorky tourist” thing just went up to a whole new level. You can wear your Hawaiian shirt and your fanny pack and drive a segway? You may as well just stamp “tourist” on your forehead and get it over with. Maybe you’ll even get a free Segway ride if you have the “tourist” stamp. You never know.
I was taking the underground (U-BAHN) home the other night. I was tired and ready to get home, so I jumped up when I heard my train coming and was all ready to board, except that what emerged out of the tunnel was a tour group. Instead of a subway train, there was a flatbed, with about 100 or so people with yellow construction helmets sitting on it and waving at us as they passed. I didn’t get it. Who would want to tour the subway tunnels? Wouldn’t it get kind of boring after the first five minutes?
So, I looked it up. Turns out I was beyond ignorant about the underground tours. The tours aren’t about the subway tunnels (now I feel like the dork). There’s a whole labyrinth of shelters and bunkers and ghost stations and tunnels to museums and the like. The tours tend to focus on the history of WW II and the Cold War in relation to the underground tunnels. There are ten tours in total, varying in length, subject, and price.
Reading about the “tales of betrayal” that occurred in the escape tunnels between East and West Berlin is intriguing enough to make me want to pay the nine euros for Tour M. And hey, maybe I’ll even look cute in that yellow construction helmet instead of dorky. One can only hope.
More info:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The American Health Care Debate

Traveling introduces a person to the many health care systems that exist in the world. As a Canadian, I grew up with free health care and always took it for granted. The Canadian health care system is not perfect, but then again, neither is the American health care system. In fact, I’ll take the Canadian model over the American one any day.
After being admitted to a hospital in the United States, I feel qualified to judge the differences (mainly disadvantages) of the American health care system over the health care systems in other countries to which I have traveled.
Unless you’re living it, one does not realize the additional stress of having to pay a substantial medical bill. Sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars! My hospital bill from the United States was over $3,000. In Guatemala, I had similar symptoms and went to a hospital and the bill came to less than $100 (including the prescription). Last year I almost died (literally) from food poisoning when I was in Costa Rica. The doctor’s bill? $100. Last month I went to a hospital in Berlin and saw a nurse, a surgeon, and a gynecologist and received prescriptions for antibiotics and painkillers. The bill was 141 euros. One of these countries doesn’t belong. Can you figure out which one it is?
In addition to lower medical bills, I’ve found that the treatment in other countries is much better than the treatment I’ve received while traveling in the United States. Medical emergencies are handled more calmly and pragmatically; in the United States my experience has always been with doctors who are hyper-reactionary, panicky, and stressed out. The whole medical industry feels as sensationalized as a Hollywood celebrity scandal.
Reading about the current American health care debate while living in a country (Germany) with socialized health care is enough to drive me insane. Luckily, I’ll be able to afford the psychological therapy needed to recover.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Call it what you will (my favourite label is “rock-a-belly”), but rock ‘n roll and belly dance make a great combination. The first time I pushed the genre was in 2006 with Wilson Gil and the Willful Sinners. The band commissioned myself and three other dancers (Jazmin, Julz, and Alex) to belly dance with machetes at one of their shows. As a bonus, the band also hired a fire eater. You can’t get much sexier than that- belly dancers, machetes, fire, and rock ‘n roll!
Since then, some of my best shows and choreography have involved rock music. If you think about it, the genre really works. Both rock music and belly dance can be sexy, edgy, raw, and full of energy. Just swap the head banging, skinny rock guy for an undulating, sultry woman. Not a bad trade if you ask me! (Kidding. I love those skinny rock guys).
The first show I produced in San Francisco featured “a night of belly dance and rock ‘n roll” and was a huge success (we sold out). I didn’t have a fire eater for that show, but I did have eleven dancers and two killer bands (Castles in Spain and The Ferocious Few). I wish there were some funny stories to tell of that evening, but everything went off without a hitch. And I guess that’s a good thing, because there’s always a slight chance that something could go wrong when mixing drunk, rowdy bar goers with scantily clad women. Luckily, everyone knew how to rock out in an appropriate manner- you can look, but DO NOT TOUCH the belly dancers!
My current project came to me via the social networking wonders of Facebook. A Middle-Eastern rock band from Palestine called “Khalas” emailed me, a Canadian belly dancer living in Berlin, to ask if I would dance to one of their songs and film it for their website. I am truly in love with online social networking and how it’s creating this wonderful web of artists from all over the world. How many cultures can we combine here? Well, the guy who’s going to be filming the video is part Egyptian, part French, and part several-other-nationalities, so apparently as many as we damn well please. That’s the beauty of pushing boundaries and combining genres that at first don’t appear to go together- what you get in the end is something international, something that breaks down stereotypes and culminates in a new sense of “togetherness”.
To see videos: Avaishya/FerociousFew

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Don't Stick out your Butt!

One of the most important rules of belly dance is that you never, ever stick out your butt. There are two reasons for this. The first is the obvious, that it looks amateur, trashy and stripper-like. Don’t get me wrong, I myself love looking at cute asses, but there is a time and a place to be shaking your ass in someone’s face.
The second reason is that sticking out your butt is bad posture and it compresses your lower (lumbar) spine. Fortunately, my teachers have always emphasized the importance of good belly dance posture (knees bent, pelvis tucked, chest up, and shoulders back). Unfortunately, the class sizes were so large when I first started belly dancing that the teachers were unable to go around and check everyone’s posture.
I’m going to tell you one of my dirty secrets: I have terrible belly dance posture. For some reason, my butt keeps wanting to stick out. My poor posture is the one thing that every single teacher has commented on “Jasmine, tuck your pelvis! Pull in that butt!” Oh, the shame.
And while it all sounds rather funny, my poor posture resulted in a back injury that I’ve been dealing with for almost three years. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a hiking accident, but the chiropractor told me that if my spine hadn’t already been compressed and subluxated, I would have been fine.
The hiking accident is a peculiar one to describe. I injured my back falling down a giant tree stump. Let me explain. I was in the Sierras, with my boyfriend and some friends. The redwoods in the Sierras are massive. Four of us standing finger tip to finger tip didn’t even come close to getting our arms around one of those trees. A long time ago, many of the redwoods were logged. Tree stumps twenty feet high can be found throughout the Sierras. And I had the brilliant idea to climb one. I made it to the top and was feeling pretty cool, until I realized I wasn’t sure how to get down. Of course, my attempt to get down totally sucked and I ended up sliding down and twisting my back in the process.
The result was five compressed disks, three pinched nerves, a subluxated spine, and a tilted sacrum. Forget dancing for the next six months, I could barely walk!
Short of surgery, there isn’t any permanent treatment for my injury. Chiropractic, massage, and other therapies have to be repeated every month or so- and these treatments can be expensive. Basically, I just deal. But as a belly dancer, who has a habit of sticking out my butt, I keep putting pressure on my lumbar spine while I’m dancing.
Lately, the pain has gotten pretty bad because I have been performing and training so much. Worse, a compressed lumbar hinders my flexibility, making my dance moves not as suave as they should be. I’ve decided that enough is enough. Starting today, I am going to practice my belly dance posture as much as I can, whether I’m doing the dishes or waiting in line, I vow to keep my pelvis tucked and my butt in.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dirty Dancing

The passing of Patrick Swayze does not come as a shock, but it does come with great sadness. Patrick Swayze sparked my interest in dance when I was six years old. Yes, sorry to say, but it wasn’t a belly dancer that captivated my attention with the dance world. Hell, it wasn’t even Swayze’s co-star, Jennifer Grey. Nope, it was a man- a gorgeous, muscular, tight-jeans wearing man that made me swoon at the ripe age of six.
I watched “Dirty Dancing” so many times that my mother thought I was developing an unhealthy infatuation with Patrick Swayze, and she eventually hid the tape from me. Ok, I’ll admit, at first I just thought Swayze was hot (and I was six, this was all so new to me!), but after my second or third time watching “Dirty Dancing” I really did become obsessed with the dancing and not just with Swayze‘s hot buns.
Being quite the driven six year old, I studied the choreography for the grand finale of the movie (“Time of my Life”) until I had it memorized. And then I proceeded to teach it to myself. Unfortunately, no one video taped my rendition, so I’m not sure how it really turned out. But I’m sure you can imagine.
I took things a step further, and asked my first grade teacher if I could perform the choreography for our class. When she hesitated, I saw that I needed to step things up a notch, so I told her that my mom was a dance instructor and that we had been working very hard on this piece (turns out I was a great little actress, too).
My teacher agreed to let me put on a performance for our class. She was kind enough to push some of the desks together so I would have a “stage”. I remember that I didn’t feel nervous, just excited (so different from how my adult self feels before a performance). I even attempted a flip during the show, and promptly landed on my butt.
Despite the flawed flip, my classmates loved my performance. And I thought all was well, until my mom came home from parent-teacher interview night a few weeks later. I can just imagine the look of confusion on my mom’s face as my teacher told her about my performance and asked about my mom’s dance teaching career.
My mom is cool, though, and didn’t punish me in any way. And I even got my “Dirty Dancing” tape back. However, I do wonder why my mom didn’t enrol me in dance lessons until two years later. Wasn’t it obvious that I was destined to be a dancer? At six years old, I was already convinced!
So, my gratitude to Patrick Swayze and his hot dance moves (and his hot ass).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Phoneyisland Cabaret

Berlin is well known for its cabaret scene. But for those of you who don’t know, a cabaret (not cabernet- that’s wine) is a show consisting of singing, dancing, comedy, or other random acts. Of course, being in Berlin, I had to perform at a cabaret at least a few times. My first performance was at the Phoneyisland Cabaret at the So Wei So Bar. They had quite the crazy puppet show that night. We’re talking goblin in a tutu, or something to that affect. It got even better when the puppeteer made out with the goblin. I don’t even know what kind of fetish you’d classify that under.
There was also a guy doing spoken word- in German- so I didn’t understand any of it except for the one English sentence he belted out in the middle of his reading: “You can suck my dick and lick my ass!”. It made me want to learn German just so I could find out what the rest of the story was about!
Wilson Gil played a couple of tunes, along with the Phoneyisland Orchestra, and a cover band. I performed my “belly dance jazz” set, which is belly dancing to vintage jazz music (including a cane dance to "Now or Never" by Billy Holiday). Usually, that set gets some “oohs” and “aahs” and appreciative looks from the crowd, but at the Cabaret they thought it was comical. Oh yeah, it turns out that they thought I was the comical act for the night! Everyone appreciated the dancing in and of itself, of course, but it was still odd to be seen as comical when that was the furthest thing from my intent.
We had such a great time at the Phoneyisland Cabaret that we performed there again at a couple nights ago. Not so many acts this time, just Wilson’s band and a gypsy punk band from New Zealand called “The Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band”. Quite the mouthful! My shtick for the evening was to perform with both bands. However, I really thought that the lead singer Ben, from The Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band, could have held his own as a belly dancer. That guy can pop and shimmy and wriggle around like he’s been belly dancing all his life! I do have to say that the moves look a lot sexier on me, though, considering Ben is a tall, skinny, orange-haired guy with a beard and a mustache. I’m just saying.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Smoking Hookahs at Sandfuersten

There’s something about smoking a hookah that becomes increasingly addictive. All those anti-tobacco activists may get mad at me for promoting this, but hookah smoking is becoming one of my favourite pastimes. Especially when it involves hot belly dancers.
Last night, Wilson Gil and I went down to our favorite hookah bar- or shisha bar as they call it here- with our two new friends, Olga and Karim. Wilson has this brilliant idea for a travel show and Karim has offered to shoot the pilot.
What better place to showcase the unique glimpses that traveling gives you than in a hookah bar in a Turkish neighborhood in a German city? Sandfuersten is particularly interesting, too, as the entire floor is made up of sand. I’m not sure where they got the sand from, but I like to think that it was imported from some faraway desert. The belly dancer, however, was definitely not an import. Laura and I dance together in the same company, Zadiraks, and she is German born and raised. And is a Turkish cabaret belly dancer. Don’t you just love how the cultural boundaries cross?
Karim shot some great footage of Laura dancing in her red velvet and sequined costume, shimmying up a sand storm and eliciting smiles from all the happy, shisha-smoking customers. Wilson had talked me into dancing a set with her, too, but I felt that it was a little awkward. I’m a tribal belly dancer and this whole Oriental/Cabaret style is new to me. I kept getting distracted by the way Laura was moving her arms. I know that may sounds silly, but arms are an important part of belly dance (but I guess “arm dance” just didn’t have as nice a ring to it), and tribal style arms are much different than Turkish cabaret style arms. So, I ended up feeling a bit like a chicken, with my arms sticking out awkwardly as I tried to mimic Laura’s. My friends told me I looked great, but that’s just because they were focusing on the belly part of the dance.
We also got some cool footage of Wilson having a bad “shisha” trip. You can’t actually get high from smoking shisha, but it’s fun to make people think that you can. And we learned something last night. It’s poor etiquette to not use your own cap for your hookah. Of course, this brought up some rather phallic images. So, remember, practice safe hookah smoking and be sure to come prepared. It never hurts to keep an extra cap in your wallet- who knows, you might need the extra protection.

Friday, September 11, 2009

On My Dirty Mattress

My fiance, Wilson Gil, has this song called “Dirty Mattress”. He was inspired one day when he saw a dirty mattress on the street while walking through the Lower Haight in San Francisco. The lyrics go something like, “That stain is from you. This stain is from me. Who could t hat other stain be? On my dirty mattress!”
The first time I saw Wilson’s band, the Willful Sinners, perform the song was at the Lusty Ladies Peepshow Holiday Party. In addition to live bands, the party also featured burlesque, numerous women clad in fetish gear (some wearing only a thong), a room for lap dancing
, and lube wrestling. I had just moved from a little village in the Canadian countryside to the grand city of San Francisco, so it goes without saying that I was a bit out of my element.
Well, talk about breaking me out of my shell. For “Dirty Mattress”, Wilson had a real dirty mattress up on stage with him and he had solicited about fifteen of the Lusty Ladies to dance and have a pillow fight on the mattress while the Willful Sinners played the song. And I was right up there with them, in a Catholic school girl outfit, shaking my ass and whacking various Lusty Ladies with a pillow. The best part was when Wilson crashed down on the mattress at the end of the song and we all dog piled on top of him. There were boobs and asses all over the place!
Okay, now flash forward to present day Berlin. Wilson and I are walking in Prenzlauerberg, and what do we see? The nastiest of dirty mattresses lying on the sidewalk next to a wall covered in graffiti. Wilson just so happened to have his guitar with him, so he busted out with a rendition of “Dirty Mattress” all the while jumping up and down and dancing on the dirtiest mattress I have ever seen. I couldn’t even imagine where those stains must have come from!
Wilson finished the song by shouting, “Wilson Gil! Berlin!” and was greeted by a huge round of applause. A whole crowd had gathered to watch the antics. So, I guess it’s the same in cities everywhere, whether you’re in Germany or California. There’s always a dirty mattress lying on a sidewalk somewhere, just waiting for someone to pass by and wonder, “Eeew, who could that stain be?”

To see the video of the Lusty Ladies Peepshow performance of “Dirty Mattress”, go to

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Belly Dancers and Bears

What do belly dancers and hairy gay men have in common? The Salz Club in Berlin, it turns out. Zadiel Sasmaz, my company director, was throwing a big show called “Orientalhane” for our sister company, Velvet Snake. I had to be at the show early because our dance company, Zadiraks, was doing a photo shoot at the club before the show.
Now, anyone that knows me knows that I am notoriously early for everything. It’s a habit I can’t seem to break, even though I always end up waiting around for everyone else to show up. Of course, I arrived early at the Salz Club, too. It wouldn’t have been such a problem, except that the location was very isolated. And I couldn’t find the sign for “Orientalhane”. And the only building that looked like it could be the Salz Club was crawling with big, hairy men. Big, hairy men in leather chaps and bondage and thongs. Oh my.
Gathering my nerves, I entered the gates and was very relieved to see a dancer from Velvet Snake sitting on a bench. She explained that the Salz Club has two rooms. Orientalhane would be in one, and “Bearopolis” would be in the other. Yeah, you heard me, Bearopolis. My god.
Orientalhane was great. Awesome performances by Velvet Snake and some guest stars, including Rachid- a gay belly dancer from the Netherlands. I thought Zadiel and Rachid would be excited about Bearopolis but it turns out that big, hairy men aren’t really their type.
The two rooms at the Salz Club didn’t overlap, but the outdoor area was shared. All these beautiful belly dancers in their exotic costumes mingling with men clad in leather. Somehow it worked okay. At the very least, no one seemed to mind. And the whole scene was representative of how modern a city Berlin can be- a city that is multicultural, in which old churches stand beside flashy new buildings, where taking the subway is more convenient than taking a car, and a city that embraces both its belly dancers and its bears.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Whale v.s. The Veil

Part of traveling in foreign countries is getting used to the language barriers. Luckily for me, many Berliners speak at least a little English. Which is great, because mein Deutsch ist schlecht!
My dance company director, Zadiel Sasmaz, is kind enough to explain his classes in both English and Deutsch. And while his English is pretty good, he still makes the occasional mistake, some of which are quite funny. One day he was listing off things that I needed to buy for our upcoming choreographies. “You’ll need black pants, and you’ll need to buy a cane. You know what is a cane?” I nodded ‘yes’. “Good,” he said. “Oh, and you’ll need to buy a whale.”
“A what?!” I gasped.
“A whale,” Zadiel said, very matter of fact.
We looked at each other for a moment, realizing that there was some kind of language barrier happening. “Do you know what I mean by ‘whale’?” Zadiel asked me.
I laughed and said, “Zadiel, a whale is an animal that lives in the ocean! Do you mean ‘veil’?”
“Oh yes, I do mean ‘veil’.”
Two weeks later, and Zadiel is still having a hard time pronouncing “veil” correctly, and every time he says “whale” I picture a belly dancer holding a whale above her head.
Deutsch words can be funny all on their own, too. It may seem juvenile, but I can’t help but giggle whenever I see or hear the words einfahrt (drive in) and ausfahrt (drive out). “In fahrt!” I yell to my boyfriend when I see the word. “Out fahrt!” he replies. Yes, we are just like five year olds sometimes, but it’s healthy to embrace your inner child, right?
A lot of Deutsch words are similar to English words. For example milch is “milk”. So, you can imagine my confusion when I saw a carton in the supermarket that was labeled dick milch. Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?
Ok, one more story. I’m gonna take it back a couple years to Nicaragua. My mom is going to kill me for writing about this, but it’s so worth it. We were doing a Spanish language course in San Juan Del Sur. My mom had to go around and ask all the students, “Hola. Como estas? Yo soy Roberta. Yo tengo 47 años. Cuantos años tiene?” Except she kept saying anos instead of años. Do I need to tell you what anos means? “Hi, how are you? I am Roberta. I have 47 anuses. How many anuses do you have?”
In good fun, my teacher enthusiastically responded, “Solo uno!”. Just one.