The First Time I Ever Saw a Belly Dancer
It’s no secret that I love clothes and everything about designing them. The fabrics, technique, and the awesome people I’ve worked with along the way…it’s all very exciting. Despite the hard work and inevitable bumps that are a part of being self-employed, it’s the passion for a great garment and a happy wearer that keeps this party going. Whoo hoo!
So, what started this whole love affair with clothing and design? I hope you will enjoy this multi-part blog about how it all began.
I want to tell you about the first time I ever saw a belly dancer.
Years ago, I was an introverted preteen girl living in a small town on the Northern California coast. It was magical and fun living there. It was a beautiful place to grow up.
Unfortunately, my home life was not altogether pleasant. My home was dominated by a verbally abusive, controlling, and angry father. I did not have a clue, but looking back it is likely he has an illness: Narcissistic Personality Disorder* and depression. It’s hard to say for sure, because the lightbulb has to want to change. 😉
When you live in a (probably) NPD household with a parent who unpredictably flips between narcissistic rage, gaslighting, and being in an unusually good mood, it’s exhausting and scary. You never know what to expect. You dread the next tantrum, and admittedly look forward to the moments when everything seems better-than-fine, because for a moment you can relax and the negativity spotlight is not pointed at you. You also learn to seek solace in any way you can.
The time spent outside of my home was rejuvenating, and I sought it like a cat and catnip. It was an intuitive, self-chosen plane of existence (read: escape) that really saved my life.
I can’t recall the exact circumstances why I was downtown that day, but most likely I had gone for a walk to clear my head. In a small town, that means you will find yourself in the town square in twenty minutes. So I found myself there, enjoying the sunny day, and wandering around the streets lined with Victorian-era houses, a co-op grocery, thrift stores and funky eateries.
Randomly, I turned a corner and found myself in the midst of a street fair. It was a surprise. We didn’t have a tv in our home. We didn’t get the newspaper, and this was a few years before the Internet. Consider me delighted to have stumbled upon a street fair!
Then I saw her: a woman in a curious outfit, moving gracefully down the street while being followed by a gaggle of giggling boys.
I had no idea what she was…doing? Who she was? I had never seen a belly dancer before, so I didn’t even know what to call her. As I had never seen so much cleavage in my small-town life, the revealing nature of her outfit was both uncomfortable to look at with my young eyes, yet strangely and wonderfully captivating.
She was beautiful. She appeared ageless. She had long brown hair, Cleopatra-style eye makeup, and wore a bra covered in silver coins, with voluminous rose-pink and silver skirts that swirled around her ankles. She was playing a foreign rhythm using metal discs attached to her fingers.
I didn’t know where to put my eyes, but I couldn’t look away. Suddenly, she was dancing right in front of me and asked if I was enjoying the festival. Me? This gorgeous woman wanted to talk to me? Well, I don’t remember much of that conversation, but she pressed a business card into my hand and said she hoped she’d see me again. She continued swaying slowly down the street.
I had never seen an outfit like hers up close, and I pondered its colors and construction secrets for weeks afterward. A seed was planted.
There was no topping a unique experience like that later in the day, so I decided to leave the fair. While my teenage mind was busy being internally blown, I wandered back home and took my sweet time getting there. I never told my family about meeting the belly dancer. I hid the business card. I dreamed for weeks afterward about the beautiful dancing lady.
It would be a few years before I found myself, again by chance, in a belly dance class (Part II, coming soon!) I can tell you with a happy and full heart that this lovely dancer, whose name I don’t even remember (Vera? Vashti?), planted an image in my mind that continues to inspire me in designing clothing and costumes to this day.
*Here is a great book about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Please read it if you’re curious, want to learn more about NPD, and/or know someone who is struggling with an abusive parent or partner.