Anitra’s story

Here’s the next of our posts on new year’s resolutions and our students: why they dance, what they dance, and what they love about ATS. Enjoy!

Anitra has always loved to dance. As a child, however, she was unable to attend any of the Lebanese debke dance classes that were part of her matrilineal heritage. There was one year of ballet when she was eight years old, but that was all until she went to college in the mid-70s, where she performed her own choreography of ballet-influenced modern dance set to popular songs. College was also where she discovered and joined the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). She fell in love with medieval and Renaissance music there, happily learning any period dances she could find. At that time most belly dancers in the SCA were Cabaret style, but there was one woman who defied the usual, dressing in garb similar to what ATS dancers wear — though she called her style “Gypsy.” Anitra was intrigued by that; she’d never seen anything like it before.

Toward the end of the 70s English Regency Dance slipped out of the pages of Georgette Heyer’s novels and onto the floors at science fiction conventions in the greater LA area. Anitra participated in classes, routs, and balls, dressed in clothing from the time of Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Regent of England. Anitra loved many things about Regency dance: the lyrical music, the “easy camaraderie,” the attire, the dances themselves, and the books that inspired them. Unfortunately her husband had little interest in dance, and SF cons weren’t held every month. Further, she still wished to find a style of dance that she could perform to the Middle Eastern music of her youth.

It was Rowan who introduced Anitra to Petra, suggesting she join their San Jose classes in American Tribal Style belly dance. As Anitra notes of that time, “I was pretty well dance-starved. It’s always been part of my identity, and I needed to reclaim it.” However, it had been three decades since she’d last done any belly dancing. Her body had changed, and her confidence in her ability to perform was pretty low. Petra’s encouragement helped her begin performing with the class, and eventually — as she learned this new dialect of dance — it wasn’t so scary anymore.

That was ten years ago, and Anitra is still dancing! As she now says, “I still struggle with music that doesn’t inspire me or speak to me, and moves that are foreign to my preferences. Tribal style is like a different language I have yet to learn to think in. Pushing my envelope or limits, I think it’s called. What keeps me in ATS in spite of that struggle are: being part of a troupe and a community, meeting amazing dancers and teachers, seeing choreography that feels right but which I’d never have considered, hearing entrancing music, and using my brain in new ways. I’m finally able to start seeing the open spaces within the structure of the style, much like crafting a sonnet. I really enjoy being with my troupe sisters and classmates — this is not a place for the humorless! I love the way the skirts move, the bold colors we wear, and the patterns we can weave in our dancing.”

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