Thursday, September 18, 2008

on teaching

For the girls and guys who have never been inside the male's locker room for some (apparent) reason(s), let me tell you something: it is not a pretty sight.

I started going to the gym since January 2007. I usually go there after work, which means I have to change my clothes... Where else could you possibly do it if not the locker room?

Surprisingly, the sight of the naked, mostly shirtless, male bodies doesn't turn me on. Even those with magnificent physiques I find attractive while pumping iron fail to push my buttons when they're only in their underwear or just wrap a towel around their waist, or even in their birthday suit. I just don't know why. I mean, I'm gay and so slutty, but I never feel comfortable inside the locker room.

The view of the lockers of Setiabudi One's FitbyBeat

Maybe I just feel intimidated. I don't know.

ANYWAY, I can safely say that what happens inside the male locker room is totally different than what happens inside the female locker rooms. And those stereotyped locker room talks and jokes really happen.

Guys usually talk about how to make themselves bigger (muscularly speaking), what supplement to take (and their side effects, like last night I was exposed IN DETAILS to how one detoxing agent can do something realy icky to your bowels - something that I regretted of overhearing although luckily I was about to go out of the locker room), and sometimes, they talk about work - stockmarket and all.

Geez. Can't they talk about Shu Uemura's simply magical eye-lash curlers, or why Can Can by Paris Hilton is surprisingly nice, and why it is much more ethical to use products by The Body Shop instead of Dior?

I totally covet this perfume!

But yesterday wasn't such a loss after all. I also subbed for my teacher who couldn't make it to class last night. I got paid (yay!) and got the chance to show off my awful teaching skills. What with the late notice (about 11 hours before the class started) and therefore my lack of preparation.

Thankfully, the experience also made me learn that I am not good in following songs. I teach based on the songs. So I carefully chose the music (mostly R&B, because the class is actually more of an American-style cardio belly dance) and showed each movement during each song (for example, Shakira and Alejandro Sanz's "La Tortura" goes with the chest works; Beyonce's "Naughty Girl" is perfect for vertical eight-figure; R. Kelly's "Snake" is for snake arms, etc.)

The problem is, when the song is done, I will be done too, whether or not the girls have mastered the movement is none of my concern. This is not good. I think next time, when / if I get another chance, I'll just use the music as the back sound to teach the movements and end it with the template song that everyone can dance to easily.

Whew. It IS hard to be a teacher. I admire those who can have patience and dedication, confidence and courage to be in front of the class.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

the universal language

I know I should've posted this earlier, but I didn't really have much time (you know, with the non-existence of free wireless internet connection, the jet-lag, and the work-on-monday thing), so I kind of postponed it. I hope the sparks are still there right now as they had been a few nights ago.

There has always been something fascinating about dancing, all kinds of it. I remember when I was in the primary school, dance was something that was obligatory to be learned. It was one of my favourite subject. The exhilarating feel of it was something that I kept looking forward to each week. My friends and I did a Papuan dance during the farewell party.

I also took piano lessons from an early age, but apparently, playing music is not my forte. The school where I took piano lessons also offered ballet classes and I begged Mom to let me join. But I was too preoccupied with the real school that even piano classes got my hands (and fingers) full.

There was almost no dance happening during junior and senior high. My best friend and I joined the theatre troupe (how gay was that?) but we never acted in anything. There was one time when we helped with the make-up and tragically, due to time limit, the troupe didn't perform. The poor souls were heartbroken.

After more than ten years without dancing (I only danced in clubs and during very few moments when I was in college), I practically had two left feet when I joined the aerobic / dance classes at the gym. One is salsa class and the other is body jam - where they combine movements from jazz, ballet, break, salsa, and hip hop dances. I had problems during the first classes, and although I am still having problems, they're less annoying.

When the gym renovated and added two more studios, they asked the members what classes they wanted, and, without hesitating, I wrote down "belly dance". Before me, there was another member who requested the class. When the studios were complete, they opened the class and, oh my, so many members come to each class. I am the only male there, unsurprisingly, with the exceptions of a few classes when my friend came. It was a nice change (since he dances well) and I wish he would come in more often.

A few nights ago when I was still in Athina, Greece, the tour included a dinner with Greek music and dance shows. We were brought to a district called Plaka, famous for its dining scenes, to a restaurant called Tavern New Riga. There, we were treated with traditional Greek music (the singers greeted us in many languages, although not in Indonesian) and dances, including Zorba and what was supposedly a belly dance.

Traditional Greek Dance performed in a restaurant called "Tavern New Rigas"
in Plaka District of Athina, Greece

I didn't stop smiling when I saw the dances and I realised that they indeed speak the same universal language. When listening to music with vocalised lyrics, you may understand the melodies but if you don't know the language, you won't be able to decipher it quickly. Mom and I don't know more than four phrases in Greek ("kalimera" or "good morning", "efcharisto" or "thank you" and "kucha-kucha" and "sigha-sigha" which mean slowly) but we had the time of our lives.

Dance is a whole lot different. Whenever I see someone dancing, even in the clubs when he's dancing weirdly, I could still feel that he's having a good time. There are so many things that can be achieved through dancing. You can forget your problems, you can work out a sweat and produce endorphine, you can even make money out of it!

That's why I'm not so shy about bobbing my head or even moving my upper body or my feet a little when I hear a song I like wherever I am.

But of course, when you dance something traditional, you'd better be well prepared. Like Ms. Maria Aya (one of my belly dance teachers) told me once, "The music, the movements, and the costume must be in line with each other," in other words, you can't do a Tango to a Salsa song with a Flamenco dress.

That'll just be plain ridiculous.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

on passion (dreams are meant to be followed)

Ever since I was a child, I have always been very competitive. In primary school, although the youngest, I always came on top in class. I was very much into dinosaurs and paleonthology that when Dad came back from abroad, he would bring me these great dino books and I would just read them over and over and over again and memorise the whole names of the animals, where they had lived, who found the fossils, the period they lived, their diet, and all that jazz.

I was accepted in the best all-male catholic school (and I'm saying this with great pride) and things started to change. I found that I had difficulties in the likes of math, physics, economy, and excelled in languages. Art was also available but limited, so I tried my best in drawing and always won second prize during singing competition between classes. Still, I was struggling so hard with my grades that at the end of each year, I would be worried sick whether or not I would be able to pass.

The same thing also happened in senior high. My hopes and dreams of becoming a palenthologist were dashed because of my grades in math, chemistry, and physics were so low that they placed me in the social sciences class. In the beginning, I was sad. I mean, I had always been the glamorous one and being placed in the social science class made me feel like I was stupid (it was, and is the law. Students in the natural science classes are regarded as smarter, while those in the social science classes are problematic, lazy, or just plain stupid. Of course having high grades in school has nothing to do with striving in real life).

Archeopteryx, my favourite dinosaur.

But I managed to make it came up as the top ten in class.

University life was so much easier, although getting in was not that simple. At first, since I totally love listening to people's stories and giving them advice, I thought that I'd be a great psychologist. I applied to a university but was not accepted because I kind of made a blunder out of myself during the group discussion. Well, it was an all-day thing.
Beginning with the written test at at least 9 in the morning. Since I also applied for the English Department, I had to be interviewed. This happened during lunch time. I passed the interview test (and was accepted) easily. I can't say the same thing during the group discussion for the Psychology Department.

Thanks to my name, the group that I was in was called the last. It was at least 8 in the evening, I was so sweaty and so tired that I couldn't concentrate. We discussed about a couple, a man and a woman. They would wed the next day and they were thinking of having sex the night before their wedding. The question was, what should we advise?

I swatted the damn query by flatly saying, "I don't think I give a (expletive). I'm gay and I'm not into that sort of straight stuff."

The interviewee and the fellow participants just stared at me for 5 seconds and she continued, without blinking, asking the other guys what they thought.

I flunked the test and got into the English Department instead.

However, I also applied for the Communications Studies in University of Indonesia - at that time was the best university in Indonesia and the best place to study communications.

And you know what? I was accepted! That was one of the happiest moments of my life. Screw that private university that rejected me. I was accepted in the best public university in Indonesia! Which means: 1) my pride was boosted (Mom and Dad also graduated from that university), and 2) the tuition fee was much, much lower.

After my childhood dreams were dashed, I went on dreaming to become a journalist. But not just a journalist, a war journalist. Yes, I am a sissy, but I love it when adrenaline rushes in and war is so emotional, just like me. At that time, I had no idea who Anderson Cooper was, but that would be an even bigger added value. He's such a hottie.

Anderson Cooper, the CNN anchor...
Mmm... I suddenly feel the urge to grind my crotch against those arms...

But of course, although I love writing so much, I ended up studying advertising, which was a bit of everything (it had writing as well as design classes, and I found out that I had hidden talents in designing - some of the talents still remain obscured, though. HAH!).

Graduating was not hard. My GPA was enough. But somehow, for whatever reasons, I needed no less than eight months to land myself a job. And truth be told, I had never dreamed of having this job. Still, I manage to survive and I've been doing it for more than three years.

My point is, in many times in my life, things didn't go according to the schedule. I had to give up my dreams of ever becoming a paleonthologist. Of course being a paleonthologist means getting your hands (and nails) covered in mud, having skin problems from being exposed to the sun for too long during excavations, and a very small chance of meeting cute guys.

And then, being a psychologist means listening to people's rants without actually giving real advice, just being the garbage can of stories, and, if you finally end up doing the human resources job recruiting people... I just don't have the knack for that.

Of course I also dreamed of being a journalist, of being able to travel and see the world, meet new people and deliver neutral angles of the stories and being professional, but that dream was also dashed because not one media company hired me.

So again, I cast the dream aside and became a public relations executive.

Dancing has always been my passion and I wanted to be... *drumroll, please* a ballerina!

But then, I was drawn to belly dance, had some lessons in the local centre, had some praises, and thought of myself as a good male belly dancer. After having lessons with Ms. Aya, I realised that there are just so many things out there to be learned and I had to practically learn everything from zero and I don't think I can manage.

Just after completing tonight's lesson, she asked me where was I going to take this dance in my life. I told her that before going to Greece to study with her, I had thoughts of opening my own dance academy. I don't want to keep working for someone. I want to work for myself! That's where the real money is. But then, after meeting her, I should reconsider because, again, there are so many things to learn. I couldn't just open a belly dance school without knowing what a belly dance is! That'd be misleading! And she remained silent.

In the car when she drove me to the nearest taxi stop, she told me something that I hope I will never forget. She said, "Follow your dreams. In life, we never stop learning. Never feel bad because you can never really master something. In the end, if you dream about something, that means you're passionate about it. Then you should so something about it and it will take you places."

And just at that very moment, a dear friend of mine, thousands of miles away from where I was, also wrote the same thing in her Facebook Notes.

So I don't know. Right now, I'm just building the whole foundation of the belly dance. Later, we'll just see.

Wish me luck?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

the male belly dancing scene

A few days ago I finally met Ms. Maria Aya, the belly dance teacher for the dance school "Oriental Expression" in Athina, Greece. In the first session, she watched me danced (I was so nervous and a little bit jet-lagged and so I was so stiff and forgot many of the moves). And after that, she introduced me to the world of belly dance, gave me so much information (I took note and I am writing something of an introduction about it. I'll publish it later in this blog) and later taught me some of the moves.

We watched some videos, including those of her dance partner, Prince Kayammer, an Egyptian dance choreographer and performer from Greece. He, who turns out to be quite a hottie, dances Egyptian dances, including the belly dance. What he showed were not only fabulous moves with difficult techniques, but also his sense of confidence, stage act, audience interaction, and fun improvisations.

Prince Kayammer of the Sultan of Raqs

Apparently, Prince Kayammer, like the Egyptian male belly dancer Tito, is famous and well accepted in the belly dance world. Prince Kayammer is also a member of Sultan of Raqs, an international male oriental dance troupe. Prince Kayammer and Tito both dance the male version of the belly dance (I'll tell you the history of male belly dance later), which have different movements (stronger and more masculine, of course) from the female dancers. In some of their videos, they either wear pants with cropped vests (to show their bellies), or a bedlah, a traditional dance wear that originated from the shepherd's dress, offering full coverage with a belt to accentuate the hip movements.

You know what I think? The honest to God's truth?


They dance very well. I even gasped at their mastery of the techniques. But then again, they do it the men's way, with the stiffer wrist movements, the not-so-drastic hip circles, and the costume.

If it is the reason why their dance is more accepted, then maybe, like it or not, admit it or not, there is still some sort of gender discrimination, even in dancing. Women should act like women and men should act like men.

The problem is, I'm a man (so to speak, I'm 25 years old anyway) who is gay and feminine. And through belly dancing, I express my love and my passion in dancing and in swaying my hips. And not only that, I also express myself as a feminine gay man.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, sissies are common, although not really in demand for the relationship market. Female belly dancers are everywhere, but I know only two other male belly dancers (I've met them) and one of them exploits his femininity to dance the belly just for laughs. I know he can do the belly dance (he is one of the students in the previous dance school I went to), but he combines it with slapstick acts and really thick make-up. Et voila, there you have it, a drag queen who can belly dance.

The other one is only 17 years old, attended a one-week belly dance workshop in Dubai, does one hell of a backbend, but lacks what one calls a proper fashion sense. Okay, so I just said that out of respect of the dancer. But still, I don't think he's as feminine as I am.

And then, there was one time when our troupe was hired for the launch of a magazine. The magazine didn't want me to perform. After that, gigs poured in. One of them was for a health workshop for a sister brand of the first magazine. At the last minute, I was finally included to perform. I worked my ass off for it and thoroughly enjoyed every minute there (the workshop was for 35+ ladies and after the performance, each one of us - there were seven of us - went down from the stage to assist the participans - about 75 women - doing the routines).

You know what happened? When the magazine was out, there was this two full page, full colour article with our pictures, and apparently, since I was the one dancing in front, it was easier to crop me out of the photographs of us dancing up on the stage. The photo was taken from the side when we lined up to backbend. They cropped me out.

Words could never express how much I was devastated.

There was also this one dance centre in Jakarta that says that it is the first and only authentic dance centre of Egyptian belly dance. It rejected male belly dancers, although clearly mentioning in their website that there are great male belly dance teachers and the owner / head instructor of the dance teacher also had a male belly dance teacher once.


Well, I assume this fight will never stop. And that's why I created this blog, to chronicle the journey of a feminine, gay male belly dancer living thousands of miles away from Egypt, Turkey, and Greece.
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