Tuesday, May 4, 2010

DANCING THROUGH THE HEARTLAND



I constantly get asked what it is like being a traveling dancer. My standard answer is: it’s a lot of fun, but also a lot of work! You get to meet a lot of marvelous people- both students and sponsors. You get to see foreign countries or parts of the United States… places you might not ever be able to see unless this was your work brought you there.
It’s a very rewarding way to make a living, but it’s also physically- and sometimes emotionally-taxing. Usually, even if I fly in for a workshop weekend the day before the event starts, I’ve spent the entire day traveling to get to the event. And almost always, like all other traveling dancers, no matter where or when I get in, I hit the ground running.

There are also endless hours spent in airports and hotel rooms, as well as on planes… and sometimes that may mean spending hours on a runway, waiting for a weather or mechanical problem to be solved. There’s a lot of riding in taxis, airport shuttles, trains, and automobiles, in cramped seats. The hours are absolutely crazy, especially when jet lag figures into the mix!


You need to un-pack and re-configure your costumes and teaching supplies. Then you have tech-checks and run-throughs at the venue, and no matter what, you must be to be able to be “on” for a show, whether you are jet-lagged, sick or just plain worn out from hours of teaching. You need to make time for your workshop participants, to answer questions and take photos after class, and also to speak with and take pictures with audience members and sponsors before and after a show. Sometimes, there is not much privacy; other times you are alone in a hotel room with too much privacy! Due to the time differences and hectic schedules, it is often impossible to check in with loved ones at home. Inevitably, something crazy will occur at your home base when you are on the road… this seems to be Murphy’s Law. I’ve dealt with countless stressful problems from the road, including missed flights, hotel bookings that disappeared, and crazy stuff that you just couldn’t make up! One traumatic incident occurred while I was in Egypt and back home; a kitten of mine was rushed to the vet. She had been stung by a bee-and extremely allergic to it! Thankfully, she was OK!

Still, I love this lifestyle, and wouldn’t trade it for anything!

I just got back from ten days on the road, teaching and performing in West Virginia and Missouri…and I also just finished packing for Miami, where I will head in less than 36 hours. This recent trip, like all the others, was hectic and full of long hours… but it was wonderful. My sponsors were all darling: Sandy Stewart in West Virginia, Chris Bryant and Judy Cunningham in Missouri. I didn’t stay at hotels, but at their private homes, so I felt welcomed, pampered and happy in beautiful houses with loving pets- a joy because I miss my kitties so much when I’m on the road! I had home-cooked meals, wonderful conversations, and a lot of adventures!

On the way back from the Charleston, West Virginia airport, when I was really stupid with jet-lag, we got pulled over on a winding mountain road by a female police officer, who said a car matching our description was known to be transporting drugs from Ohio! She pulled us out of the car, searched the vehicle, and called for back up. While another car and officer arrived, she cuffed us because she had found drugs in our car, under the passenger seat. She pointedly asked if they were mine, and I innocently replied that I had drugs, but they were in my suitcase and were from a pharmacy! All I could think of was that I hoped we didn’t all go to jail, and that my costumes would have to sit out all night and get stolen from the car! It turned out to be an epic practical joke: the officer was a belly dancer who would be attending my workshops the next day!

West Virginia is coal country and I got a tour of a real coal mine, as well as being brought to some lovely parks to take in breathtaking panoramic views of The Appalachian Mountains. Our show was at the beautiful Tamarack complex, an Appalachian Cultural Arts center. The theater was gorgeous, and the stage was huge. Our workshops were in large rooms with a hoe-made Turkish lunch made by Rezan, a Turkish caterer and belly dancer.

I then drove from West Virginia to Missouri with Judy Cunningham, and though it was a very long drive, the scenery was gorgeous. We saw barges and old-fashioned steamboats on the Ohio River in Louisville, saw the St. Louis Arch at sunset, stopped at yard sales and thrift stores, and we talked and laughed a lot.

In Missouri, I stayed at my sponsor Chris’ lovely home that is a mini-horse ranch way out in the country. Chris is a professional photographer, and we had some time to “play” in her studio and took a lot of beautiful shots. I taught belly dance and burlesque classes at both events. In Missouri, we had a Ladies Only private burlesque evening where everyone who had any desire to performed. The show began with a striptease by a wild card: 61-year-old woman who had actually seen Gypsy Rose Lee dance when she was younger. She had always wanted to perform burlesque, it had been a life-long dream of hers…. so she did an impromptu striptease to kick off the show, and “popped her cherry” to the screams and whistles from all the other participants.

The belly dance show in Missouri was open to the public and benefited “Relay For Life”, an organization who raises money for cancer treatment and awareness, and was at the local community center, which had a nice raised stage. The whole day following the workshops was devoted to private lessons, including a class where a student and I both bonded so heavily over shared personal issues that we both broke down in tears.

But on this trip, as in past trips- things couldn't be "normal", they were just nuts, both on the road and at back at my place in LA! In addition to great shows and fabulous classes, I was on two separate flights that were delayed due to extreme weather, my allergies went so insane that my eyes were as swollen as though I had been punched in the face, and my voice got hoarse from all the post-nasal drip. I broke a phone charger; woke up and thought I saw a ghost - but it turned out just to be a glow-in-the-dark bottle and aside from waking from a dead sleep I didn’t have my glasses on. I also got a really bad burn on right calf from a motorcycle...a souvenir I won't soon forget! Then, right when I was worrying that the wound was infected, I got a call from friend Sashi, the well-known LA-based Tribal Fusion dancer, who had just been hospitalized for five days with a staph infection on her leg! Thankfully, she is recovering, and out of the hospital now.

Back home, all hell was breaking loose as well. My boyfriend called while I was in Missouri, to say that The ATF had woken him up, apparently busting into a neighbor’s house with many armed agents… apparently, the entire street had been blocked off. I thought he was joking at first but it had actually really happened!

Anyway, I’m about to pack for another workshop weekend Miami, and also for Tribal Fest next week… but I’m also about get a massage- and I really think I’ve earned it!

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