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Dancing at Sparrow Hospital

Sparrow Hospital (which is near Foster Community Center in the East Side Neighborhood of Lansing) had diversity days this week. Three of us from the Habibi Dancers performed at lunch hour on Wednesday. It was a particularly enjoyable show.

LynnH as EudoraApril, who lives across the street and who is also a Habibi Dancer, works at Sparrow. Mike, who lives a few doors down from Foster Center and supervises the computer lab there on Wednesday nights (and sometimes Monday nights) supervises the Medical Library at Sparrow. Both of them were in the audience, as were a good number of other folks on their lunch hours.

We did what we could to perform dances that had some sort of influence from several countries. Yasmina, our director, did a Saudi dance and a Turkish dance and an Egyptian-style cabaret piece. Sara did a Turkish piece and a fusion piece with some Spanish influence, plus a dance with a veil (which is an American embellishment that has now made its way back in small doses to the clubs in Egypt).

I did a cane dance (canes are seen all over the middle east and north Africa) and a basket dance (I danced balancing the cane or the basket on my head among other things). I also danced to music from western Sudan, though my dance was not Sudanese.

For our first number, all three of us did a piece that was choreographed by our own Zubaida, with finger cymbals. Our last number was a piece I think is Lebanese influenced. We had fun, and so did the audience.

The show required that I be there earlier than I usually have toLynnH as Eudora at New Aladdin's Restaurant function, and thus I forgot my camera at home. Yasmina told me several times that I looked good (as my dance persona/alter-ego, Eudora) in the particular costume I chose that day. When I got home I set my camera on timer, up on the porch… ran down the stairs to the yard and posed.

I almost didn’t have enough time in the 10 seconds it gave me, and it turned out that the lighting behind me (the street) was overexposed behind my face and underexposed near my feet. I like the pose/costume, though… so I’m sharing it with you here.

I’m telling you… any woman out there who is considering middle-eastern dance and has an opportunity to study it, I highly support that idea. I’ve never been in such good shape in my life as I am now, and I’m nearly 48 years old.

Not only that, but moving in a way that really celebrates being female, has really helped me to love my physical self in a way I never experienced before. You have to make friends with your hips before you can learn to shimmy, you know? In a society where elementary-aged girls are dieting in large numbers (often without medical reasons), it’s a very good thing for us to learn to love our bodies, no matter what shape they might be. After all, women were meant to have curves. This is normal, even beautiful. Most of us were not born shaped like Twiggy (who, by the way, looks like a woman rather than a boy these days).
LynnH as EudoraI have done other types of dance, but I was never all that good at them. Tap dance is almost a brain sort of experience, and ballet is perhaps too meditative for someone like me. I loved modern and jazz dance, but never mastered them.

However, this dance that was developed by women, for women, is the most empowering thing I’ve done in years. (In many cultures they did these dances in groups of only women, and it was a technique for developing their muscles so they would have less trouble during childbirth when drugs weren’t available. In some places your friends might come and dance for you while you were in labor, to help distract you and help you through the experience.)

This type of dance strengthens a body, it does not tear it down like other types of dance. My mother injured her toe in tap dance class after she retired (she still ballroom dances), and many ballet dancers need to stop dancing in their 30’s. Yet in Habibi Dancers we have a beautiful dancer, she’s skilled and lovely on stage and off, who is retired and probably around 70 years old. (And she wears the same size costumes as I do.) How wonderful is that?Yasmina and Eudora of Habibi Dancers

Yes, Hollywood called it “Belly” dance. Well, often our bellies are covered. There is a rhythm called “beledi” which I expect was the inspiration for that promoter at the Chicago Columbian Exhibition (if I remember the history correctly) who started really getting the American/Hollywood version of the danceform out into the public eye, calling it “Belly” dance. The dance uses hips (and arms and shoulders) much more than bellies. It was named that for pure sales potential, I’m afraid.

Certainly it can look like we dancers of this sort are objects, perhaps. But we are in charge of how we dance, for whom and when, and for the most part how we dress (the costume changes depending on the intended audience)… we dance to celebrate our female-ness, if that is a word. If the celebration is attractive, perhaps that is a good thing. After all, I grew up not particularly thrilled with being female. Maybe if I had seen dancers in shiny/colorful clothing celebrating their womanhood, I would not have been so disappointed.

For now, I’m making up for lost time.

Photos: Me as Eudora, in Wednesday’s costume, at New Aladdin’s restaurant with my mom’s friend Fai as photographer, a group shot at the Renaissance Festival (I am second from left), and Yasmina and I in spring of 2005, dancing for a 100th birthday party.

3 Responses to “Dancing at Sparrow Hospital”

  1. DavidR Says:

    Maybe you can work this into the Heftone act with the Sheik of Arabic (sp) played on the uke! See ya at the Midwest Uke fest 2007!

  2. Jen Says:

    What a wonderful post! I’ve just started to take ME dance classes here in Ypsi and I love it. Yay Dancing!

  3. Danielle Says:

    How do I get in contact with the habibi dancers?

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