Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Belly Dance... my Religion and the Ultimate Drag Act

Let me just say from the start that I love belly dance. It is a deep part of who I am. Growing up Greek in New Jersey I saw a lot of belly dancers at our big events such as regional tri-state gatherings, christenings and weddings. There would be a Greek band leader announcing to the crowd, "The Belly Dancer is coming... The Belly Dancer is coming!" and out would appear this gorgeous, bombshell Goddess of a woman all bedecked and bejeweled. We, the kids, would be sitting on the floor in front of the front row and we were mesmerized and in love with her. She would swirl, twirl, shake and shimmy and above all, she was a glorious mystery. In a patriarchal world where the most powerful and revered woman was The Virgin Mary-- all sad and totally unsexy-- The Belly Dancer was a beautiful, refreshing and far more satisfying Goddess to believe in. Little did I know that I, the smart girl in school who was supposed to be a lawyer, doctor or psychologist, would turn out to be, amongst other things, a college belly dance teacher. I give grades for belly dance!

My career in the dance began way back in 1975 when I was in college. I was a drama major studying at the University of North Wales for my junior year and I was asked to play a dancing Bedouin princess in Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt. With no real belly dancers around to teach me, I bluffed my way through the performance by using my early memories of dancers. It was very exciting and everyone said I was a natural. The whole experience piqued my curiosity and so after returning to America for my senior year in Lancaster, PA., I started taking classes from a Lebanese woman who lived in town. After college-- armed with my drama degree and lots of waitressing experience-- I moved to Los Angeles and studied some more. It was then that I realized that belly dance wasn't just a passing fancy. I was hooked. Long story short, belly dance has become a way of life for me and an important part of my spirituality.

Goddess energy is something I actively call into myself when I dance. "The Temple of the Beautiful Dancer and Holy Drummer" is what I like to say at our monthly coffee house gigs. I even pass the tar (hand drum) around for people to donate. I tell them if they give $5 they're exonerated from a little sin. If they give a $20 they get off on a few more and $100 means forgiveness for a whole week! Only in this religion, instead of being preached at and being told that you are a sinner, we offer hope and absolution through a pulsing, driving beat and redemption through sexy female compassion and love. Sometimes I even burst into a spontaneous prose or rhyming "little sermon" meant to inspire the crowd. I dance while speaking and cover subjects like "perseverance" or "the changing moon." The crowd walks away with something deep to think about and a renewed sense of hope for their lives. And we get some nice tip money! Along with the belly dance teacher, I guess you can say that I am also a career belly dancing priestess.

When I dance I am bigger than my everyday self and here in lies my Drag Act. First off the name, I am not "Sophia" but rather "Agape" (love) when I dance. Sophia doesn't style her hair or wear a full face of stage make-up, Agape does. Sophia has small, perky nubile breasts, Agape's breasts range from A's to D's depending on the costume. Sophia's work-clothes are cotton pants and exercise tops, Agape goes for very expensive silks, brocades and rhinestones. When I am Agape, I am big, big, bigger! I am an exaggerated female and given my complex sexuality with my fantasy penis and all, I really feel like I'm in drag. After seeing RuPaul's Drag Race show on the LOGOS channel, I have to say that I feel a simpatico with these hermaphroditic transvestites competing to be #1. On this show you also get to see these female impersonators talking as their regular, normal selves without make-up, etc and it's fascinating (they're all femmy, but definitely guys). Like myself, the double persona is always there for them. When I'm in all my belly dance gear with sparkles, boobs, painted lips, glamorous eyes and hair, I feel just like one of them and totally understand where they are coming from.

Belly dance for me is a wonderful expression of many facets of life, sexuality, spirituality, passion and connection. So the next time you hear, "The Belly Dancer is coming! The Belly Dancer is coming!" stand up and salute the living Goddess in the Flesh-- and if you look under her skirt, you may just find a lovely penis.