Monday, November 30, 2009

A Cauliflower by any other Name....

Ever wonder how troupes come up with their names? Well, let me tell you, it is quite the process. My first troupe changed its name three times before it disbanded. What can I say? We were just students at the time; none of us had been in a professional belly dance troupe. There were so many names we admired, like “The Indigo”, “Ultra Gypsy”, “Zafira”, and “Red Lotus”. The names all had a certain ring to them.
We needed a name like that; one that would just roll off the tongue. After much debate (my suggestion was “Terciopelo", but it was vetoed) we came up with “Obsidian”. And all was great, until we realized that there was a group called “Obsidian Butterfly”. Too close for comfort. Plus, their name sounded better than ours.
I was riding the bus one day with my boyfriend, and with fellow troupe member, Tuana, and we were on quite the roll with ideas for a new troupe name. We liked “Kali”, because she’s a kick ass goddess, but thought the name would need something more. Kali Dancers? Kali’s Goddesses? Kali Serpents? That’s when I blurted out, “What about the Kali Flowers?”
I meant it as a joke, I swear, but Wilson and Tuana liked it. And so did the other troupe members. Kali Flowers. It’s funny, all right, but only if you read it. No one quite understood when someone announced the group. Cauliflowers? What does belly dance have to do with a vegetable?
So, “Kali Flowers” got ditched. The next name was voted in while I was on vacation, so I can’t take any credit. One of the members lived on Fell St., so the troupe became “Rue de Fell”. It sounds nice, unless you translate it to English. Which just proves that French is a nicer sounding language.
Obsidian/Kali Flowers/Rue de Fell eventually disbanded, and the troupe members have sinced moved on to bigger and better troupes (such as Jill Parker’s Foxglove Sweethearts, Miel, and Zadiraks).
It’s nice being under a troupe director. That way, if someone doesn’t like the name of the troupe, I don’t have to claim responsibility. Because when everyone asked us why we had named ourselves after a vegetable, all fingers had pointed at me.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Drinking from a Saucer

Tattoos. Once you get one, you're hooked for life. Lucky for me, I haven't had the money to get one in a while. I already have four, so I can only imagine what my body would look like if I was richer.
And speaking of richer, I've decided what I want my next tattoo to be. It's part of a poem. Written by an old man. Who was blind. And had leprosy. This is one of those travel memories that makes me cry, but in a good way- in a "grateful for my life" kind of way.
For over a decade, a man named Fintan Kilbride organized a trip to Jamaica with a group of volunteers. I had the fortune of going on two of these trips. People usually picture the resort version of Jamaica: white beaches, aqua waters, palm trees, commercial reggae. But outside the resort walls, there are layers upon layers of poverty. Abandonment seems to be a big issue in Jamaica. Pets, kids, the elderly- their only hope are facilities run by volunteers and non-profits.
There was a home for the abandoned elderly that Fintan's groups visited every summer. It was the highlight of the residents' year. We would read to the residents, play dominoes, hear their stories, and listen to them play music. And we would celebrate one man's birthday. The first time I met George McFee (he liked to go by his pen name), he was 80 years old and started a music jam for us with a few of the other residents. The second time I met him, he was 81, and told us that he was dying. But that we were not to worry, because he had lived a full life and felt blessed by god. This coming from a man who had been blind for 60 years, who had had leprosy since he was 40, and who had been abandoned by his family. No ears, no nose. Stubs for toes and fingers, but he sure could jam on a harmonica.
He also thanked us for celebrating his birthday with him every year. He told us that it gave him something to look forward to, that it made him feel loved, and that it proved that he had never truly been abandoned.
He then recited a poem for us. I wish I could remember whether he wrote it or whether he was simply reciting a favorite poem. Either way, it was the most beautiful thing I've heard, coming from a man in his condition.
So, this is the part of the poem that I am going to have tattooed on the top of my foot, right next to the flower that's already there:

"I'm drinking from a saucer, because my cup has overflowed. In this life I feel, I have reaped more than I have sowed".

That way, whenever I am feeling ungrateful, all I have to do is look down and remind myself that if an old blind man with leprosy could feel like his life was overflowing with blessings, than I certainly can, too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Why the elephant?

I’ve been a big fan of Rupa and the April Fishes for years, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago- right before Halloween- that I finally got to seem them perform live. For the release of their new CD, Este Mundo, the band played a short set at Amoeba Records in San Francisco’s famed Haight Ashbury neighborhood.
Rupa and the April Fishes were everything I thought they would be and then some. Rupa was beautiful, soulful, and performed with such passion that she seemed larger than life. Quite the feat for a woman who’s barely bigger than her guitar- and I mean that in a positive way!
Rupa has a great band to back her up, too. Instruments ranged from accordion to trumpet, and the musicians had the audience captivated and dancing between the aisles. A mix of gypsy, jazz, cumbia, and other musical elements, the songs were inspired by music from several countries. Rupa herself sings in French, English, and Spanish- and I may be forgetting a language or two.
During her set, Rupa told the audience that if we could explain why the new CD had an elephant on the cover, we would get a free copy. I didn’t know about the elephant. I tried to guess. Was it because Rupa spent part of her childhood in India? Nope. Luckily, my friend Mei was with me and treated me to a copy of the CD as an early birthday present. Now that’s what friend’s are for!
At least I know the story behind the April fishes. When a French king changed the pagan calendar to the Roman calendar, some people still wanted to celebrate the new year in April, and they would give out fishes to celebrate. Or so the story goes. The story is metaphorical. It’s about not wanting to accept a reality that’s handed to you, about not giving into the higher order. Rupa and the April Fishes definitely convey that message in their music, which is nothing short of worldly and not even close to being mainstream.
I love performing to songs by Rupa and the April Fishes for that very reason. When I dance to their music, my body feels pulled in several directions at once, and it yet retains a fluidity that ties everything together.
I talked to Rupa before her set and asked her if she would be interested in doing a belly dance/Rupa and the April Fishes show. Wouldn’t that be grand? Belly dancers performing live to Rupa and the April Fishes. Rupa said she was interested. I have yet to hear back from her, but seeing as how the band is currently on an international tour, I don’t mind waiting for an email. Besides, while I’m waiting, maybe I can finally figure out the story behind that elephant.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

El Dia de los Muertos- San Francisco Style

The Day of the Dead. A time of reverence, a time to remember loved ones who have passed. The festival is widely celebrated throughout Latin America, but the festivities in San Francisco rival most others. Not only does San Francisco have a large Hispanic population, but the city is also home to many worldly people and out-of-the-box thinkers. The result? A massive procession for El Dia de los Muertos of costumed, chanting, singing, sage waving, and music playing people that winds its way to a giant public altar. The altar is in fact several small altars, intertwined throughout a public park.
Rushing to the festivities after belly dance class with my dance partner, Alodiah Lunar, I didn’t have time to paint my face in the ghoulish white and black make-up that is common to wear during the festival. My friends, Mei and Coby, however, more than compensated for us, with their painted like skulls. Lots of people donned elaborate costumes, as well- ranging from black capes, to feathers, to head-dresses, to masks. One woman wore a metal frame with a larger than life skeleton attached to it. The woman was able to maneuver the skeletons limbs, and the result was a giant, moving skeleton, towering above the crowd.
Decorative floats, dance groups, and marching bands gave the procession a parade-like quality. One float was particularly interesting, as it was an antique, mobile puppet theater, complete with a shadow puppet show.
The altars themselves were beautiful, haunting, and mesmerizing, as if they emulated the souls of those we’ve loved and mourned. There was entire shrine dedicated to Michael Jackson, with a boom box playing his greatest hits. Another altar was a tangle of blood-red wires, holding up a white sculptured heart. Every tree in the park had pictures and notes stuck into its crevices. Flowers, feathers, candles, and mementos adorned the ground.
I had only gone to watch the festivities, but once I arrived at the altar, I found myself wishing I had made one myself. Luckily for me, someone had wrapped a sheet of paper around a building and markers had been left out so that everyone could write the names of their deceased on the wall.
The altars were a feast for my eyes, but the music was a feast for my ears. People were playing everything from Klezmer to Samba, and throngs of people were dancing and swaying to the music. The effect was thousands of people coming together to make-up a giant, pulsing crowd. Very much like the blood cells and energy that create a beating heart.