How I Met My “Belly Grandma”
Who do you consider your “belly mama”? For many dancers, it’s their first teacher. For others, it’s their most influential teacher. That’s how it is for me. My first instruction came from a friend, then I took a group class, then I moved to another class – where I fell into the lap of the woman I consider my “belly mama”, Jazmine.
Jazmine would often talk about her own belly mama, Una. I never saw a video of her or even a photo of her. But one day something magical happened.
I was backstage at Cairo Caravan in 2013. I had just finished my set and half naked in the dressing room I heard the emcee announce the next dancer, Una. My first thought was of Jazmine – could this be the woman she spoke so highly of? I was in California which is where she lived most of her life before coming to Arizona. That was a good sign. As I listed to the emcee introduce her, she spoke of her long career in belly dance. The odds were getting better and I was scrambling to put on enough clothes to stand near the door to watch from offstage.
I had my confirmation within the first few bars of music – the exuberant zill playing, the footwork style – it was crystal clear. Even 20+ years after leaving her belly mama’s nest, she still carries the stamp of much of her training. Of course, she has plenty of her own flair too, but the lineage was evident as much as a child that has her mother’s smile.
I was the only one in the dressing room. I felt like I was going to burst – this was so amazing and unexpected, I HAD to tell someone! I was practically jumping out of my skin with excitement to tell her who MY teacher was and that I was her belly granddaughter. I know that Jazmine had lost contact with her long ago. The poor woman, I practically lunged at her while she was still breathlessly coming into the dressing room! I told her how highly Jazmine spoke of her and all the little gems of knowledge she passed on to us and credited to her. She was very gracious, and surprised – and I’m sure more than a little taken aback at my excitement. She probably tells people about the crazy dancer that accosted her backstage at Cairo Caravan!
So now it’s 2014, almost 18 years since I first started in bellydance and I guess I can consider myself a “belly mama” to a few dancers and that makes me very proud. In some, I can see some of my own style mixed in a wonderful way with who they are as dancers. This was something Jazmine always stressed. She never encouraged cookie-cutter dancing and said on more times that I can count “dance like YOU”, either literally or as the subtext of what actually was coming out of her mouth.
Sometimes I even see bit of what I absorbed from Jazmine in my students – things I tell them or they have just internalized through learning my choreography. Things that Jazmine learned from Una. It makes me wish I knew who Una’s belly mama was. It’s a beautiful thing.