Dancing for the Minister's Birthday

Amazing in many ways . . . much preparation for this event, much talking and practicing and getting advice from good friends.

I really know how important preparation is and how amazing it is when things come together at the last minute. Like the quote I found in my Sacred Dance book, which tells about Jesus gathering his friends to dance together before they took him away. And it says, "If you learn to suffer – you will learn not to suffer. " I gave this to the minister in a beautiful envelope after I dressed him as the sultan and before I danced for him – and it was a good thing because it gave me some clout as a person of intelligence and education, or at least as someone with a thinking / probing mind . . . not just a belly dancer. How funny to think of such a thing.

I drove to the very pretty, very large, white Victorian Newport House as nervous as could be. I was dressed in my beautiful belly dance costume (thanks to the design and gorgeous colors created by Liz and Spiritwear and hours of sewing a bra and adding appliques and beading, etc.) which was covered by a Turkish huge, bright pink and gold tent-like Beledi dress, knotted and covered by my jean jacket and big black scarf (to arrive incognito for the surprise). I thought maybe I should sneak in the back way, but someone saw me and found the hostess who snuck me in the door, and up a
wonderful wide staircase to the landing on the second floor and to a wonderful bathroom with great mirrors – perfect. I felt like such a kid about to do something bad and wonderful.

The hostess, very innocent and conservatively dressed, Joanne said, " What should we do now?" And I said " I'm not sure, I've never done this before." I dug out my music and told her I wanted to set the stage before dancing. So, I thought I would follow her down with my "Sultan kit" and get everyone's attention. And I did.

I walked into the room and said I was Barbara and I had come to dance for a birthday boy named Gregg. “Was Gregg in the room?” I asked. Gregg pointed to someone else and everyone laughed. So, I asked if Gregg was being shy and didn't he want to be a sultan for the night? Then Gregg's wife pushed him forward – with everyone laughing of course – all were very loud, already having a few drinks in them.

I explained to Gregg that before I danced for him I needed to create the right atmosphere and I had to turn him into a sultan. So, I got him to stand up and I put a toga fabric over him which I tied with a purple sash, laughing and teasing him the whole time. Then I tied an orange turban around his head. I gave him a decorated rattle to shake if he liked what he saw, and a sword to hold so he could stop me if he didn't like what he saw. He had incense burning next to him and rose water to pour on anyone he wanted to. He said, " What would my congregation think of me now? And I said they would think you had evolved and were now a free spirit, which made him very happy. I then passed around hip scarves for all the ladies so they could shake their hips with me

I began my performance by explaining that I had come from many, many miles away – from off their island. Which, of course, made everyone laugh, as Newporters never leave their island. From many miles away, over a great body of water, from Tiverton, I said with an accent. A big laugh again! (Bobby would have loved me being funny and I thought of him.) I told the guests that everything we know comes from stories and I wanted to tell my story – of how I began dancing and how I came to dance for them. I told my whole story of dancing – talking and dancing the whole story – living on the water, sailing on my Dad's boats, loving the motion of the waves and moving and music and wanting to dance – studying only ballet and many hours at the barre, and suddenly hitting puberty and blossoming into a voluptuous girl which wasn't good for a ballerina at the time. But, still dancing the Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty until college, when I found modern dance and a way to tell stories of my family, my joys, my sorrow, my life . . . And on and on I danced – in companies, in NY, in Colorado, and then came home to Rhode Island to become a wife, a mother with 3 babies, which I then showed my belly in the tent getting big 3 times (this idea was inspired by Delilah). And one guy yelled out, “A baby machine.,” to which I replied, “Yes, a beautiful baby
machine.”

I was so grateful to have a sense of humor myself right then . . . continuing on . . . I had a company, and a studio and I danced with my kids, and for my husband who helped with all the tech support at performances. Then tragedy struck– my youngest brother died, and I fell to the floor. Suddenly I was so sad that I couldn't teach children anymore, but I continued to dance and to perform and to teach. Until tragedy struck again and my father died, which made me feel I wouldn't never dance again. And I crumpled to the ground . . . but then I took a belly dance class and I found a new beautiful way to dance – filled with new ideas and costumes and history as ancient as any history of the world. Up I rose swaying and playing with my tent dress telling the story.

I began to study and read and I went to Hawaii to study with the world famous Delilah and my spirit was rekindled and unleashed. And I began to teach, and to perform . . . and then one of my students asked me to perform for a minister's birthday, and that is how I came to be here. When my story was done, I told them that I now had to leave them to transform myself and on my return I would become the "danser oriental."

I ran upstairs, added and subtracted a few things, not believing that I was really going to now dance in my new costume. I ran back down to find a waiter in the hall, to find someone to push the right music button – which they did. I entered and danced the veil dance, then to the floor for the slow undulations, up for the hips and modern/ballet/ flamenco and many turns, then more isolations and accents, and finally for the fast dancing hips and a drum solo and the long long long shimmy . . . and I did it!!! I got through it – with a big bow and much clapping and laughing and then I got Gregg and his wife up to dance . . . and, slowly, all the others. We did the Baladi, which I learned in Hawaii and it was great fun to get everyone dancing – singly and in pairs, the men and women. Then a loud bell rang – it was time for their meal, the show was over. Everyone stopped for a minute while someone said grace and a prayer and offered thanks for the food and the minister.

Before I left, a man came up and introduced himself as Whitey, a sailor who had sailed many miles with my Dad, which warmed my heart of course. And then Adam and Jaeke's fifth grade teacher from Pennfield came up to say hello. I hadn't noticed her sitting in the crowd at all – what a small world.

What an amazing night. This party took place, after watching the last and most incredible game of lacrosse the boys played together, which they won, against a team who always beats them, in overtime in the last 18 seconds. Both Adam and Jaeke scored. The whole school was there screaming and booing and yelling. Joya was there with camera in hand and brownies, and she said I was yelling so loud they could hear me in France. And Tom came with Emily which was a huge, big thrill. After the game I drove and cried all the way home thinking of Adam leaving for college and the boys never playing on a team together again. But I had to get it together to get ready for this dancing party. Life is so much about endings and beginnings . . . endings and beginnings and stories. This is one of mine.

Who knows if I will do this again, but like the minister said, "You can add this to your resume now," which is true! Dance is transforming my life once again.

Blessings and Love from The Dancing Spirit
Barbara Donahue