Don’t worry! I’m not leaving belly dance!
Hearing the Call
Maybe it was COVID. With more time at home, and with fewer outside obligations, my mind began to quiet. I started feeling more like myself. I began reconnecting with things that brought me joy when I was younger but abandoned because I had to go be an “adult.”
Part of that autoarchaeology was allowing myself to follow some of my favorite Olympic level skaters on social media.
I’m partial to the misfits and lefties (those who land on their left leg and spin clockwise) like Ashley Wagner and Johnny Weir. Ashley Wagner started a class in her hometown rink called Skate and Sculpt, focusing on drills and exercises to keep fit without the jumps and spins required of high-level competition. Seeing those posts on Instagram made me think, “I could probably do that again.”
Then, Mimi Fontana—who I met through belly dance—returned to the ice this spring. She and I met at Artemis and Tayyar’s dance camp in Pennsylvania back in 2003, and we bonded over being “former” ice dancers. I suspect she came to belly dance for similar reasons that I did: looking for some kind of expressive movement while being drawn to Arabic and other Middle Eastern movement.
And then another friend of mine posted that she’d be teaching Learn to Skate classes at her local rink.
With every post and update, every little video clip of an edge exercise—a 3-turn here and a twizzle there—I felt the pull back to the ice getting stronger and stronger.
Resistance is a Liar
But I kept saying, “No… I can’t go back. That time is over. I’m not a skater anymore. It costs to much. I don’t have the time.” You know… all the excuses.
It’s true that my equipment needs an upgrade. My blades rusted. My boots are old. The rink is 30 minutes away. I’ve spent a good portion of the past decade scrimping and saving every penny because income was lean.
I used all that as an excuse. I fell into the trap of Resistance. I heard the call and I refused it. But it kept calling. And calling. And calling.
And if I’ve learned anything in my four decades on this planet it’s that when you feel that pinch of envy or that pull towards something and it doesn’t let you go, then you absolutely must give in. There’s something there that you need, and the little voice in your head won’t shut up until you do whatever it is to make that thing happen.
So. In the span of one week:
- I visited a boot maker, got fitted and measured, and ordered new boots. I also had my current ones inspected, to make sure that they’re good to use until the new ones are made.
- I got my blades sharpened by a professional blade tech. No more rust.
- I looked up ice times at the closest rink. I registered for a session. I figured out the best way to get there.
- I gathered up my gloves, ankle padding, and other supplies.
- And I got back on the ice.
One of the adult skaters there told me, “Welcome home!” She was right. The ice feels like home.
When you’ve committed so much of your life to something, something that brought you so much joy and heartache, successes and challenges, you can’t escape it.
My body developed around this sport. In my teens, I spent 10-15 hours on the ice every week. And I skated so much not because I was being pressured by my parents or coaches to compete, but because I loved it. I loved it with every fiber of my being. Skating and I grew up together. It’s part of me. I dream of skating in ways that I never dream of belly dance.
And the more I think about why I want to return, the answers become clear.
I have unfinished business. And when I start things, I finish them.
For one, I started, but didn’t complete, my Moves in the Field, which are set patterns of steps and drills that get progressively more difficult in each level (sound familiar?). I tested through Novice, which means that I have two more.
And perhaps, if I’m feeling daring, I’ll finish my ice dance tests as well. I failed my last ice dance test (I think it was the Quickstep, a Gold-level dance), which was partially because of my being underprepared, but also because the Zamboni (ice resurfacer) broke that day, and the ice was all torn up by the hockey players who had been on it just before. I couldn’t get the deep, confident edges that the judges were looking for because my blades kept catching in the ruts and grooves. It would be like dancing on a stage on which someone’s beads spilled all over the floor and no one was around to do an Epic Broom Dance to clean them up, and all those beads got stuck in your feet. And I’m still bitter about it. I’ve been itching for a do-over since 1997. (What’s hilarious is that in 2016 I did test for Jamila Level 4 with glass beads in my feet. But that time I passed.)
I’m also so much stronger and knowledgeable about my own body now. I understand the necessity of an engaged core, of active glutes, and of strong hamstrings. I’m so much better at reading the warning signs that my body gives me when something isn’t right. I understand trigger points and referred pain, and I have an incredible physical therapist. My balance is better now than it was when I was skating, if you can believe that. My dance studies have given me a powerful perspective that I didn’t have when I was a teenager. And while my body might not recover as quickly as it did when I was a teen, I am far more mentally and emotionally resilient now.
What’s a Hobby?
Mostly, I need something for me.
I give so much of myself teaching. I love my students, but teaching is an extraverted activity. And I care so much about everyone who comes to my classes—whether they be belly dance or my college courses—and everyone I evaluate in the Suhaila Salimpour Institute of Online Education. I want you to succeed SO MUCH.
But I need to be a student, too, and of something that I’m not going to monetize or try to make a living doing. Something that is just for me. You know: a hobby. (A what?!)
Skating has always been a form of self care for me, even with all the falls, frustrations, and injuries. I could escape into myself, let my creative juices flow, go to a place where the school bullies couldn’t touch me, where I was really good at something.
In addition, I’m not getting any younger. I’m officially in my 40s. My body is still strong and capable, even after some major setbacks. For example, this summer, stress made my left shoulder lock up so much that I couldn’t even lift my arm into 5th without extreme pain, nor could I put my left hand on my lower back. It was the worst loss of mobility I’ve ever had. But after 6 months of PT and paying extra care to my habits (both during waking and sleeping), it’s finally getting back to normal, and the experience was yet another reminder that “we’re only immortal for a limited time,” as Neil Peart once wrote. I don’t want to be turning 60 or 70 years old and think, “I wish I had finished up those skating tests.”
On a different note, I suspect that going back to being a regular student in something other than belly dance, but also dance-adjacent, will help me become an even better teacher. Most belly dance students are hobbyists; they don’t intend on being full-time or even part-time professional performers in belly dance. They do it because they love it, they love learning about their bodies and the culture of belly dance, and Salimpour School students love having those set goals of learning and refining a choreography or really nailing technique drills for testing. In a way, I will be putting myself in my students’ place, but from a different perspective. Even though I am not entirely starting skating from scratch, I am feeling very much like a beginner again. And that’s a really good thing for not just me, but for anyone who I teach.
Who knows… maybe I’ll figure out how to integrate belly dance movements into skating. I’m already brainstorming some program ideas that involve Arabic music.
Follow my return to the ice on IG: @kiaroskuro.on.ice