I haven't posted anything here since before moving back from Istanbul.
It has been an intense experience for sure... culture shock from home is a weird feeling. But we have been very lucky to have wonderful friends and family to help us with our transition. And that isn't only with places to stay.
When we returned, our good friend Danielle contacted us about performing as guests at the Northern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire and I was so excited! I love that setting and I was going to get to improvise several times per day which is super fun and easy.
For various reasons I ended up learning quite a few of the group choreographies and started performing during every set by the final two weekends. It has been a long time since I felt that wonderful sensation of troupe-hood, too long. Learning from fellow dancers and then performing together, laughing together, sharing our joy of dance together.
For the final weekend I learned a very meaningful choreography, The Moon Dance.
This was like coming full circle for me because when I was 10 years old and first saw Aywah! Ethnic Dance Co. perform, it was Rosa Rojas' Moon Dance that really struck me in my core. The elegance and concentration, the power of balance. I performed it every set it was in that final weekend, relishing in the fulfillment of completing a personal dance goal, a dance cycle if you will.
In addition to this, I made some amazing new friends who I can't wait to spend more time with, on and off the stage.
Being included in Faire this year was another type of welcoming back home, back to where I feel comfortable being a professional Bellydancer and where I feel like I can grow so much as an artist through learning and collaboration.
On that note, here are some pictures from various photographers at Faire:
With just one week left in this epic city, I'm starting to feel the way I used to at the end of one my long trips to Asia. I keep thinking about things I want to do back in California.
The first things that come to mind are...
SUPER TACOS from Cancun in The Mission, hanging out with one of my best friends and mother comrades Lauren and our daughters playing together, listening to my man and our good friend Lars jam for hours and I can't wait to eat many things from Trader Joe's (chocolate oranges, BACON, Semifreddi's cinnamon swirl bread to name a few).
There are things that I have longed for specifically because things are so different here in Istanbul...
I am excited to take a walk in the summer heat wearing a dress and not feel completely stared at and surveyed because of my attire. I am excited to go out and not be overwhelmed by the amount of cigarette smoke masked by dreadful amounts of bad cologne. I look forward to, at least usually, being given the same respect as my husband. I think my daughter will enjoy going out without getting her hair tousled, cheeks pinched and being spoken to by complete strangers as she is, usually, very resistant to that behavior.
There will be things that I miss...
Our beautiful and spacious apartment. My dance space with an enormous mirror. Our lovely market down the street that has amazing produce and very friendly workers. The sweets and cookies that have become my favorites (i.e. Karam Gurme!). Watching, from the back balcony, as all the women and wives on my block hang up their laundry. Part of me will miss walking around and not understanding anything I hear since it sort of alleviates any responsibility and feels like floating (but another part of me misses feeling competent in society!). I will miss the beautiful ezan (call to prayer) that we hear from several mosques around our apartment. I have made a few friends here and they have provided great relief by way of listening and giving their perspectives on Turkey and Istanbul, especially when I've been frustrated or confused.
There are things I have realized I took for granted while still in California that I will try to be more proactive about...
The incredible magnitude of affordable dance classes! I am intent on starting to take from a few dancers who I have admired up close and from afar (Zoe Jakes, Kami Liddle, Andrea Sendek) and also taking with Miriam Peretz again when she is in the area.
My wonderful girlfriends from my hometown! They have been such great, helpful and supportive friends, but it has been years since I have spent time with them in a consistent way.
Performance opportunities! After this trip which included only ONE performance, I am set on becoming an active performance artist and I have much more appreciation for the venues, bands and other dancers that I know in The Bay and other parts of California.
My plan for this final week here isn't very exciting since I don't like going out too much now, especially since the attack on the American Consulate. I mean, I'm not going around wearing an American Flag, but people can tell that we aren't Turkish. Our friends are having a barbecue this weekend and I might go to see my man play his last show with the band he's been working with here, Duma Duma Orkestra. I'm going to try and utilize my lovely dance space to make a few more improvisational videos because that has been so much fun for reflection and to share with friends. We have a few more logistical things to get done (I have a list of course, almost everything is checked off). I have a few bags of things to donate to a school for Syrian refugees.
I've been a little bored staying inside most days but it's still been too hot for me out there! I make and eat a ridiculous amount of crepes and, watch nostalgic shows like F.R.I.E.N.D.S., try to line things up for our return and play with my daughter a lot. I've been so into taking photos (mostly of my daughter) and I hope that one day I can get a good digital camera. Here's a few of my recent favorites and a dance video.
This blog's whole premise and purpose will be coming to an end soon! Because of the shift of the political and social climate here in Turkey, we have decided to move back to California. We discussed it and feel that even without the current issues, it really isn't the optimal place to raise our daughter. There is barely any nature, a lot of deep racism and gender struggles here and also it is strange to have her lacking the connection with her family. Now that ISIL is Turkey's enemy and the government is using the entire situation to attack and persecute Kurdish people, I feel that it is going to get very volatile here. And I know enough from studying history that American's aren't the most welcome or celebrated in those circumstances.
So we are going home.
As I began to organize my things, starting to pack away what I don't use here I got into my costume collection laid them all out... I felt such a mix of emotions.
First I felt a fool, for bringing all of this with me and using just one costume and only once. I felt embarrassed looking at this pile of stuff that partly represents me, at least how I define myself: a dancer. A professional dancer even! With all these beautiful costumes that I've either been given or, for the most part, spent hours and hours designing and sewing. All to create these visions of my art.
Then I went through the reasons it hasn't been easy for me here, which are both cultural and personal. My experiences with so many interactions with Turkish men, the general attitude towards Oryantal dance the reaction I've gotten when I tell a Turk that I do that style of dance... all of these things have made me question doing it here at all.
Then there are just my realities:
I am a mother! I don't go out late very often because I have a two year old and she is my main focus in life! I still nurse her, I cuddle her to sleep and am there throughout the night to comfort her.
I don't have extra money! My priority is food, rent and bills and everything comes after that. And here there are always things that come up and take any extra money we have.
With those two realities, the thought of going out to see performances here, many of which cost quite a bit and are at night in a different part of town. Taking private lessons is incredibly expensive.
My final emotion was inspiration and a deeper understanding of who I am now, how it affects my dancer self and dance life. To accept the new aspects (mostly being a mother) and just turn it into a strength. Though it can feel like a hurdle, I hope to transform it into a step up; an elevation.
If it's any consolation, I was almost equally in awe of my packing job... here is ALL OF THAT, in my lovely costume bag. And I can tell you for certain, I'm going to do some major worrying over them making sure this luggage doesn't get lost.
For those who are interested, here are some articles about what's happening in Turkey.
My last post was written the day that my husband left and I was feeling proud of my confidence in being the only caregiver for my daughter for the 2 weeks that he would be gone. Now it's the final day... he returns tomorrow and I can't wait to see him and feel our complete household. It has been difficult and there have been moments when I thought I just wanted to go lay down in the dark and cool bedroom and have silence. There were also moments when I finally did have time to myself but I was so exhausted (and it was so humid) that I wouldn't dance like I had planned to. Instead I would watch Project Runway or some sort of competitive reality show like that. Sometimes I would work on my most recent costume, an assuit ensemble, bra and belt that I'm struggling a little bit with but still proud of. I think part of my frustration is that I am used to sewing something with a show in mind, or even the faintest feeling that it will grace a stage soon... but this one is bitter-sweet. It's definitely in the Tribal-Fusion genre and that isn't even a step towards what I would need to perform in Istanbul. From what I can tell, it's a very cabaret, push-up, sparkle glam fest. I'm not saying I wouldn't like a costume like that, technically I need one anyhow, but they are not what I create. So, as I sew, I can't but look at this costume and wonder, when will I actually use this?
Though I didn't practice as much as I hoped to, when I did my daughter was much better about it and we ended up making a little tradition of having a total crazy dance party together. She is making up such cool new moves, very balletic and powerful. She tries to move her hips and roll her belly and I feel a rush of happiness and smile so big. We really have created a sweet and talented little individual.
On the family side of my life, it's been a painful time. My husband's dear uncle was suffering from lung cancer and he passed away a few days ago. He was an incredible man with an absolutely brilliant wit and I look back and can only find fun memories with him, full of laughter and storytelling. So much of me wishes we weren't so far away so that we could have seen him and also to be there with the family, especially for his beautiful daughters. I just want to hug them and be there for them to talk to. It also makes me feel lonely, all the way over here. Moments like this make you want that close family connection.
It also inspires me to try and be closer with my own father, possibly even live closer to him... I think I wouldn't mind living a little more west from here. I haven't lived close to him since I was eight years old and I think it could be very healing for us. I haven't been having the best time here and now with the government and military involvement in fighting ISIL, I am actually nervous and slightly frightened. They have already threatened to attack Istanbul and while I hope that they are stopped as soon as possible, they have been so strong and spreading rapidly. I can't help but feel like we should either move or at least have an emergency back up plan for if things get dangerous here, especially for Americans.
Just writing that paragraph above makes me feel so many things. Irresponsible, for one. A little stuck. Also like we've moved so many times that I seriously begin to wonder if we secretly enjoy it or something. Sometimes when we talk about it we say that we've had horrible luck, but that's only some of the scenarios. There's been a handful of times that we moved just because we wanted to or it was the logical thing to do. When we moved from Berkeley to Santa Cruz when I was pregnant that was to be closer to family and also so that my husband could work and we could have our own place... the bad luck was moving into an apartment where the upstairs neighbor was a prostitute (the landlord told us she was a massage therapist) who had clients coming by our place every day. That's just one of the examples of how we moved with good intentions but did have bad luck in the end.
Being human, I suffer from the insecurities that bloom from pride. I want my decisions to lead to successful outcomes, and when they don't, my pride gets bruised or embarrassed. That sense of being seen as someone who can't make life really work.
I know that it's not all about where one is... it's because mostly about determination and confidence. But here, in Istanbul, I feel my instincts kicking in. When it comes to dance I am unsure about my desire to perform, both because my style isn't very cabaret and the way that Turkish men tend to behave makes me speculate how that would affect me if I were performing. When it comes to work I feel passionless: teaching English is not my goal in life. When it comes to my family and most of all my daughter I feel like this isn't the safest places (or even on the list of safe places) and also may not have that many benefits for her. The education and healthcare seem fairly low when it comes to standards and there isn't much nature.
I do enjoy seeing the way she interacts with a different culture, learning the language, knowing about prayer and seeing the beautiful mosques ("big and grand!" she says). For me, walking around this city can be somewhat meditative. Not being able to understand almost anything that I hear, seeing wonderful little aspects of Turkish culture, the epic old men, the beautiful hijabi-fashionista women, the delicious food. As someone who can't quite handle the level of heat and humidity I have spent many days inside and while I feel like my brain is melting, it also wanders... and really travels into the depths of the situation.
I suppose, as I read the news more and more and keep up with other expats posts about current event, I just can't help but react in a way that is both protective and, apparently, habitual. I begin to look into new cities and countries. I can say that, whether or not we do stay here for a little longer or for a longer term, that this move has taught me so much. Now when I do look at other cities I have so many more specific questions instead of just the general. Now I look at it from all angles: how many parks are there, what are the schools like, how much does it cost to rent an apartment, what is the general wage, what is the attitude towards bellydance and music from different cultures... and the list goes on and on.
I am grateful for this journey, even when I don't like it here, because it has made me mature in ways that only experience can do.
I'm off for now! My wonderful man just returned home and I get to relax, go bake something delicious for him and watch him play with our happy daughter.
I have the tendancy to get anxious... even about things that I trust. Every day little things get to me, whether it be money, what my daughter is doing, little signs of problems with health or work. And sometimes it's bigger things like, "What am I doing with my life?" and questions of that sort.
So, when I found out that my husband would be away for two weeks, my immediate attitude was that of slight panic. We haven't been away from each other for that long since we first became an official couple almost 4 years ago!
The moment I realized how much we've been together while together, I couldn't help but think that, even though we will certainly miss each other, this isn't a bad thing. I think that allowing some breath into a relationship is necessary and healthy, especially in situations like this where the reason has nothing to do with the two people, it's a work trip and it doesnt make sense for us to join him.
I felt really proud of myself last night and this morning because in the past I would get intense anxiety when saying goodbye and I would begin going through everything that could possibly go wrong. But this time I didn't go there.
Yes, two weeks being the only parent with our daughter will take a toll on me energetically, but that's not really a problem. She will just have a more low-key time while he's gone since I'm a bit more of a homebody and bringing her around this city isn't the easiest thing, at all.
I also feel like this will be a good process for her and I, since she's learning so much... I really want her to get more used to being with me while I practice dance. She often tries to stop me and I would love it if she would watch or take part. Mostly, I really dont want to have to put a tv show or movie on for her whenever I want to dance.
I hope that the next two weeks will be a growing time for us that way. Not just a level of independence on her part, because I don't like the idea of forcing that... more a level of respect and appreciation for my art and what makes me happy (aside from parenting her!).
So tomorrow we will do some stretching together and then practice.
My core bellydance teacher was Katarina Burda who used to dance with Jamila Salimpour's "Bal Anat" and then later created her own troupe called "Aywah!"
Here are a few of my favorite videos of both groups. Enjoy! <3
Basic Cake Batter (to add whatever you want to!)
preheat oven to 350°-375° and I have been using a pie pan or as cupcakes
1.5 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
.5 tsp salt
1 stick butter (softened)
.5 cup sugar
.5 cup yogurt
combine wet and dry mixes
add what you want!
flavors I've tried
1. lemon zest and juice of one lemon and after pouring the batter in, lay sliced starberries on top
2. mash in two large bananas and add crushed walnuts and/or chocolate chips
3. line the baking dish with crushed walnuts and sugar, pour batter on top and add thinly sliced summer fruit (I used nectarine)
bake until browned and knife comes out clean!
Just a little post for my new demo reel. I used an AWESOME song by Slavic Soul Party that I feel totally matches how much fun I have when performing.
A big thank you to anyone who took video footage over the past few years whether they be a professional, my mother, my friends or strangers in the audience.
The past few days I have been very unhappy, frustrated and irritable. Part of it is that my mouth hurts and I think it's from clenching my teeth at night and also the pressure of my wisdom teeth (no, I haven't gotten them pulled yet). The other part is that when I go out, even in my rather calm neighborhood of Mecidiyeköy, the amount and type of attention I get from men is close to intolerable at times. I must go from looking foreign to looking pissed off and foreign within a matter of minutes. Sometimes I will endure someone's stare for an entire block. Sometimes one man will see me and nudge his friend and then they both just watch me. Sometimes they mutter things under their breath as I pass. One time a man walked by me and, while there was plenty of space on the sidewalk, he ran half his body into me and I couldn't help but feel slightly groped... so much so that I actually stopped a few steps later to check of he had stolen anything from me.
All of this just feels more like a lack of respect than a compliment. I say this because when I mentioned to my female Turkish friend how often men stared and yelled out to me asking, with hope in their voice, if I am Russian, she said it is like a compliment because they think Russians are beautiful. *I researched it a little and some people think that it's a little more psychological than that... that Turkish men like to sleep with Russian women because it feels like they are "conquering Russia" in that act.
All in all, I know from traveling since I was young that people treat a tourist woman differently and also that they are attracted to them because they are new in their eyes, but the lack of subtlelty here is what infuriates me. As I walk past a local mosque on the second day of Ramadan and almost every man on the block is staring at me with dark, hungry eyes... I feel the literal pull between the two strangely coexisting aspects of Istanbul, though I have a hard time identifying them perfectly.
On one hand we have this old, old city. It is jam-packed full of history, significant cultural and religious places. There are mosques everywhere and many women wear the hijab and many men stroll around with their rosaries.
On the other hand we have intense consumerism, so many shopping malls, short skirts, high heels and heavy makeup, nightclubs, alcohol and the idea that this is Europe.
The clash of these two things can be strikingly beautiful or unpleasant...
At times I love it. Like when I saw a girl in a hijab with a long full covering dress and then her bright pink converse all-stars peaking out. That makes me smile.
Other times I can't stand it, like when I saw a man smacking his wife as they walked down a main street and then grab her forecfully by the arm and pull her along.
It's confusing. I know that I am a modern independent woman who has just as many rights as any man. But as a yabancı (a foreigner) living in a new city, it can feel that I am what I am seen as, and I am not sure I like it.
I know, I know: don't let others define you, and I don't. I am just irritated when it feels like how other see me does not line up with how I see myself.
I don't feel very comfortable defining myself as a bellydancer here, I say the words but the reaction I get seems like I just said I am a stripper or a prostitute. It is lowly and sexual.
In the U.S. it felt like I had said something synonymous with "artist" because the thought of it being an ethnic dance form is easy to understand. Here I feel like I have to explain what that means and it still isn't easily swallowed.
Honestly, there are times when my dancer spirit feels totally pushed down, away from who I am and I think, perhaps I shouldn't try to do that [dance] here? Judging on how little I like the attention I get just walking down the street, how would I like the attention I would get from performing? I worry that it would bring on more unwanted looks, words and experiences.
And then I wonder, then what the hell am I doing here? And hope that something shifts in my life so that I can feel artistically fulfilled.
I want to teach regularly. I want to perform to quality live music from this region of the world and I want to do this all for fair compensation. Do you hear that, universe?
Because this is who I am.