Detours eventually return to the original path

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times.  Life in Turkey is a roller coaster of events, emotions, and experiences.  In February, I’d decided to trade in this roller coaster of dance and life highs and lows for training and travel in the US.  I bought my ticket, planning to fly in the third week of April.

It was shortly after this decision that I was contacted to participate in a belly dance competition/reality television show in Cairo, Egypt, called Al Raqessa.  As my involvement in the show was slated to finish toward the end of March, resulting in a happy detour in my varied and unpredictable life, it would not conflict with my plans of departure from Turkey in April.

However, a week before my scheduled trip to Egypt came a phone call from a captain I’d worked with a few times.  I was wanted to perform on a Bosphorus boat tour. . .  nightly. . .  for a year.  Although I was on my way to Cairo for a couple weeks, then to the US for an extended period, I agreed to do it, knowing that Burası Türkiye–This is Turkey–and things could change at any moment.  I explained to them that I’d be away filming a television show for 10-20 days, found them a suitable replacement, and performed several times during the week leading up to my departure.  I was pleased with the venue, and I enjoyed performing there, so much in fact, that I began to reconsider leaving Turkey.  Perhaps I’d stay until the end of the year, then find someone to take my place . . .  Perhaps I’d stay until next spring.  Perhaps. . .  I felt quite content, appreciated, and well-compensated performing on the yacht, and when I left for Cairo, I was told to hurry back.

My time in Cairo was amazing and bizarre, frustrating and exciting.  It deserves a blog entry of its own.  I laughed, I cried, I learned, I may have thrown a temper tantrum. . .  I met wonderful new friends and was reunited with old ones.  I learned that all Egyptian food tastes better with tahini.  I was in Cairo for 18 days.

Obligatory jumping in the desert in front of a pyramid photo

Obligatory jumping in the desert in front of a pyramid photo

I returned to Istanbul and immediately resumed performing on the yacht.  Soon after, there was a misunderstanding with one of the less likeable members of the management team.  I still don’t understand exactly what transpired . . .  They were dissatisfied with one of my subs?  I was gone closer to 20 days than 10?  It’s still unclear, but what I know for sure is that I will not be working with them now or ever again.

So, luckily, I hadn’t yet altered my flight arrangements from Turkey.  I’m taking this as a sign from the Universe to continue the path I was on before Cairo–a combination of training–Rocket yoga, belly dance master classes, aerial dance lessons, aerial yoga teacher training, performing, FAMILY and FRIENDS, and of course a bit of exploring within the US.  Purple mountain majesties and all that.

New Chapter!

Much has happened, but I’ll keep it succinct.

On December 23, I flew to the States from Istanbul for five week holiday.  I enjoyed so much spending time with my family and friends, performing, attending classes, giving a workshop, and indulging in store-bought vegan baked goods.  I began to wonder if five weeks in the US would be enough.

During the time I was in DC, I signed up for an unlimited introductory week of Bikram yoga.  As you can imagine a carpeted room heated up to 105 degrees Fareinheit and used for intense physical activity would, it stank to high heaven in there.  Still, I began to hate it less and less with every class, it was a chance to bond with my sister, who I’d dragged along, and it really does do wonders for your flexibility.  The Karunamayi and Iyengar yoga classes I attended (with my mom!) were great, too.  I also took classes with the amazing Egyptian folkloric and oriental dance instructor, Faten Salama.  The studio gouges you a bit for drop-ins, but it’s better to pay up than to not study with Faten at all.  I also drove all the way out into the depths of Baltimore to take my very first aerial silks class.  Think Cirque du Soleil.  You climb up (gracefully) between two pieces of fabric suspended from the ceiling, secure yourself in the silks, and make beautiful shapes with your body while hanging several feet above ground.  I was convinced after my first experience with aerial dance that I would like to be an aerialist.  In fact, I had known I would love it even before my first class.

I got a chance to travel a bit, too.  I spent MLK weekend in Cleveland.  I saw all the key mid-western players–my best friends and their babies, my dad and step mother, some very old and dear friends–it worked out that I had a performance scheduled in Cleveland, so practically everyone I knew in the city came to see me dance.  After Cleveland, I headed to Oakland.  I have about 30 cousins out there, and I got to spend time with a bunch of them.  My hip young cousin took me to Sunny Spot Cafe, a legal marijuana dispensary.  (For medicinal purposes only, of course.)  Another one of my cousins x-rayed my wrist.  He’s an orthopedic surgeon, and compulsive handstand attempts had caused me to sprain it about 3 and a half months earlier.  It had nearly healed by the time I’d reached California, but I was relieved to get the final word that I hadn’t caused any permanent damage.

My return from California to DC left me in a panic.  I had only four more days to spend before returning to Istanbul, and there was so much more to do.  A yoga friend came to visit me from Rhode Island, so of course we went to Carson Clay Calhoun’s Rocket yoga classes.  Lots of jumping, balancing on our hands and sore muscles.

While I love Turkey and enjoy many things about my life here, it was during this trip that I began to have thoughts about returning to the States sooner than later. After a little over a week of deliberating, I have decided to move back to the US, at least for awhile.  I’ve got a whole plan worked out, and I’m very excited.

My Colorful Neighborhood

Every morning, a man comes down my street selling veggies and fruit.  He yells, “Portakal bir lira!  Portakal bir lira!” (“Oranges one lira!  Oranges one lira!”  A kilo of oranges for one lira.  That’s about 25 cents a pound.  What a bargain!)  The man alternates.  Sometimes it’s a man selling tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and potatoes.  He yells, “Domates!”  One yells, “YEŞİLİİİİİİİİİİİİİK!”  (“Green veggies!”)  I like the one who sells lentils and chickpeas.  Another man sells breakfast rolls.  He yells “PoğaÇAAA!”  His cry sounds so desperate, I hope every day that someone on my street is buying a dozen rolls at least.  He must be selling them though, because he comes every single morning, and sometimes again in the afternoon.  Then the ladies yell out of their windows to ask how much and run their baskets down along the side of the apartment buildings on a rope to buy a kilo of this, five kilos of that.

Meanwhile, the first call to prayer is at about five or six am.  There are a couple of mosques nearby, so it sounds like they’re singing in a round.  In addition, you have the children calling to their grandmothers from the street, and the ladies chatting with their neighbors from window to window or street to window.  All of your chores, your entire social life and religious devotions could take place without you ever leaving the house.

Ala Turka! Modern Turkish Oryantal and Flexibility Workshop

I will be in the States from late December to late January.  Can’t wait!  During this time I will be giving the following workshop in the DC/Maryland area.  (See below.)  If anyone else would like to sponsor me to teach a similar workshop in your area, please contact me.  Cheers!

Lara Adrienne (Oryantal Lara) has been dancing in Turkey since 2011 in a variety of cities and venues. She has performed at five star hotels in Bodrum, on national Turkish and Israeli television programs, and in upscale nightclubs in Istanbul and Adana. She has performed in concerts with psychedelic Turkish band Baba Zula in Istanbul as well as in Lefkoşa, Cyprus, with clarinet virtuoso Hüsnü Şenlendirici in Washington, DC, with pop singer Atilla Taş in Van, and with the late great Müslüm Gürses in Istanbul and Bodrum. Additionally, during the past three years living in Turkey, Lara has been called on to perform in Alanya, Dalaman, and in Montenegro and Greece. Lara currently is a resident dancer at Al-Araby in Istanbul. Lara also has a life-long and ever-growing love for stretching, flexibility and body conditioning, fueled by her training in several dance forms and gymnastics, and a dedicated yoga practice.

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Modern Turkish style is full of flash–fast turns, crisp hip work, clean upper and lower body isolations, kicks, rolls, and spins, short but showy taxims and floorwork, powerful shimmies, and daring backbends–all done in heels. Modern Turkish oryantal has been highly influenced by two famous dancers–the ground-breaking Asena and the poised and precise Didem Kınalı.

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This two-part workshop with Lara Adrienne will cover the above aspects of modern Turkish dance, beginning with part one–a flexibility and muscle awareness segment to prepare and condition the body to safely and skillfully execute these flashy moves, followed by part two–drills and combinations “ala Turka”.

Turkish people are also known for enjoying a chat and a “çay,” so please feel free to ask Lara any questions about her experience as a foreign dancer in Turkey and Europe over tea after the workshop at a nearby cafe in Takoma Park.

**When**
Workshop: January 11th, 3:30pm – 5:30pm
Tea Q&A (optional): after for an hour or so

**Where**
Roda Movements
7014 Westmoreland Ave.
Takoma Park, MD 20912
www.rodamovements.com/

Tea Q&A (optional): location at a near-by cafe TBA

**Cost**
$30 in advance, $40 at the door
Send payment via Paypal: indrazaira@gmail.com
*Note “Ala Turka Workshop with Lara Adrienne” in comments

Or e-mail indrazaira@gmail.com for other arrangements or questions.

Turkish people aren’t racist, but

. . . they do make some bizarre comments.
Here’s my short list:
I’ve often been asked if my skin color is a tan. If I had a dollar for every time an esthetician asked me if I’d gone to the solarium, I’d have enough to get a lunch special at a vegan cafe.
Last week, when she saw my legs, my new esthetician asked if I’d recently been to the beach. My sister told me she would have said, “No, I’ve been to DNA.”
A lot of Turkish people are into brown skin. Sometimes strangers in a public bathroom or on the street will smile at me and tell me they think my skin color is beautiful. I like that very much.
Then there are the people who have weird brown-skinned fantasies. A dance manager told me once that she wanted to marry a black man so she could have brown children with curly hair, like me. This same dance manager repeatedly tried to book me for samba and hip-hop gigs. “You’d be perfect!” And when I was reluctant to accept–“but we need someone like you!” Really? You “need” an amateur samba dancer whose experience is limited to the 5 or so times she’s gone out drinking and dancing at Brazilian night?
Once, while filming a music video for Israel’s version of The Bachelor with 29 other dancers, 27 of whom I was meeting for the first time, a girl approached me and asked me earnestly if I could introduce her to a black man. With a good job. Who was looking for a wife. Why? She wanted mixed kids. Again, this was the first time the two of us had ever spoken. “Well,” I replied, “I live in Turkey, so most of my friends here are, you know, Turkish. I see lots of African immigrants working as street vendors, though. Maybe you could approach one of them.” She rejected this idea. She wanted someone who could take care of her. “I can’t carry anyone. He’s got to be able to carry me.” Where are your priorities? How badly do you want mixed kids?
There are many other examples, but this recent one stands out: “You can ask any of my friends,” he said. “Hayalim [my dream] is to marry a black woman. In fact, he compared me to a woman he’d “been in love with” for “a few weeks.” I happened to know the person he was talking about. She’s Morrocan. A beautiful, tall, chiseled-cheeked chocolate drop. We don’t even look like we could be cousins, but according to him, the two of us “look just alike.”
Then, of course, I have met one Turkish person who is a bit racist. An acquaintance of mine, upon my return from Bodrum three summers ago, noticed my tan and offered the following observation and advice. “Wow, you got really dark in Bodrum. Too dark. You should go to a hamam [Turkish bath] and have that scrubbed off.” This was coming from the same woman who’d said, (prefaced with “Don’t get me wrong, but”) “There are so many blacks in Istanbul lately, especially around Şişli.” When I raised my eyebrows, waiting for her to elaborate, she said, “They cause trouble. They steal and sell drugs.” Of the five black people I’ve met here, two have been teachers, one a teacher’s wife, another a singer (my Moroccan “twin”), and the last one is an engineer.
“I don’t know,” I told my friend. “Seems like the majority of the ones I see in Şişli sell watches.” I didn’t bother adding that the only drug dealers I’ve met so far in Istanbul have all been Turkish. Not that I know very many.

Istanbul Again, Part 3: An Unlikely Judge

This will be the third and final entry of my “Istanbul, Again” series.  Enough, already–I’ve been back nearly three weeks.

Before I wrap it up, though, another mention of my  six-month stint in Alanya.  This summer, I went from an on-again, off-again yoga practitioner to a full-out dedicated daily yogini.  In Alanya, I practiced #yogaeverywhere.  At home, at the park, on the beach, by the pool, in the garden, at work, at historical ruins, on this fountain:

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While of course, a few people gave me odd looks, most people smiled at me or gave me “thumbs up”, many were curious about yoga, and several people, on different occasions, joined in.

Life in Alanya is sunny and carefree–the levels of stress, crowding, traffic, pollution, judgement of others, and agitation are far higher in Istanbul.  I often find myself feeling defensive, even aggressive, when walking the streets of Istanbul en route to work, home, or market.  Yesterday was different.  I was feeling incredibly cheerful and relaxed.  My housekeeper (an angel slid down from heaven on a rainbow) had met me at home to prepare my apartment for an impending visit from a fellow dancer from Cairo, the weather was crisp and bright, I was on time, but not early on my commute to my appointment, and I was listening to two beautiful songs on repeat. It was all I could do to keep from dancing on the metro.  In fact, I’m sure I swayed a bit.

When I exited the metro, I headed to the minibus stop.  It looked like I would have to wait a bit, so I glanced around and spotted a place along a wall, near the bottom of a ramp, away from both street and most pedestrian traffic.  I treated myself to a brief round of yogic sun salutations:  Reach up, touch the ground, single plank and push up, gentle backbend, push all the up and back, repeat.

People walking by glanced at me as they went on their way.  An middle aged woman and her companion stopped so she could give me a big smile.  A teenage boy walking by with his friends said to me encouraging, “Kolay gelsin, abla.”  Abla” meaning sister, and “Kolay gelsin”–literally “May it come easily”–an empathetic nicety used upon coming into contact with a person who is working on something.

Just as I was coming out of dancer pose and had stopped to adjust my headphones, a girl of about 18 approached me.

Napiyorsun?” she asked me.  What are you doing?

“I’m waiting for the minibus.”  Wasn’t it obvious?

“No, I mean what are you doing?” she asked again.

Yoga yapiyorum,” I responded.  I’m doing yoga.  I gave her a smile.

“But everyone is looking at you,” she said.

“It’s okay.  They can look.”

“No, we don’t do that here.”  Oh?  You mean here in Turkey?  Where I’ve lived for five years?

I raised my eyebrows and said nothing.

“People can misunderstand you,” she explained.

“It’s you who misunderstands,” I said to her.

She sputtered some other words, but I’d decided to stop listening.  I adjusted the headphones and took a few breaths.  A lady and her daughter waved at me from a departing minibus, but I couldn’t smile back or enjoy my music or yoga anymore.  I looked down at my phone instead.

Of all the busy-body older ladies and all the perverted men and all the religious freaks that could have passed by me, it was an 18-year-old female student who shamed me out of my wonderful mood and movement with her “well-meaning” commentary.

As a person whose look is fairly uncommon here in Turkey, and as a woman of child-bearing age, some people are going to stare at me, or possibly make remarks to me regardless of what I do, whether I demurely sit and wait for the bus, meekly keeping my eyes on the ground, or gracefully and unobtrusively do a few calisthenics.  I was neither vulgar nor inappropriate.  The seemingly most unlikely individual to criticize me was the one person who I offended, and it surprised me how deeply and thoroughly she negatively affected my mood.

Once I reached my destination, after replaying the event over and over in my mind on the way, I recounted the story to my client, a writer, translator, and the father of an eight year old girl.  I even shed a single (and slightly embarrassing) tear of frustration over the fact that I’d let her spoil my mood and also out of relief of having expressed myself and being understood.  As I wiped it away, my client’s daughter Defne appeared, carrying a tray with a cup of tea for each of us.

Pleasant mood restored.

yogaheart

Istanbul Again, Part 2: New Gig, New Coworkers

I didn’t know what to expect dance-wise when I came back to Istanbul after being away for six months, but as it happened, I received a call last Wednesday from the owner of a venue in oh-so-chic Etiler. I started performing on Saturday and will be there for the next five weeks, which is when I go to the US for five glorious weeks, a trip of which the management is not yet aware. :/

I’ve performed at this venue before, including filming a video advertisement for them in the fall of 2012. They’ve since moved to a new location, with a bigger stage and a nicer dressing room. They’ve had a complete overhaul of entertainers, and one of the new ones is a zenne, or male belly dancer. (Name withheld.)

I’ll admit, he didn’t make the best first impression on me. When he started to light a cigarette backstage, I suggested sweetly that we not smoke in our small, shared dressing room, and although he protested, he put out the the cigarette. When I thanked him, he replied with a snooty, “Evet” (“Yes”) instead of saying “You’re welcome” or similarly appropriate remark.

I’ve found that with stuck up dancers, the best method is to be kind and complimentary, but not disingenuous. This worked well and fairly quickly with him. As he was the veteran dancer (I’d actually performed there before him, but he’d performed most recently and regularly), I made no protest as he planned the dancer order (dancers have artistic freedom there), and he seemed to relax and warm up to me after that. He quickly went from obnoxious to adorable. He even gave me a nickname “kara kız”–dark girl, which used to to describe a girl with dark skin, dark hair, or dark eyes, all of which I have, and no, I didn’t find it offensive, at least not coming from him.

He was having a lover’s spat with his boyfriend, a married man with two kids, who had apparently lied to him about going out drinking the previous night. He told me all about it. It seemed this incident was the last straw in their relationship. I put on my makeup and prepared to perform as he regaled me with stories about his lover.

My performance went well, but due to a DJ who was uninitiated in the art of spinning for a dancer, and an awkward ascent to the stage (there was no clear path through the audience, so my entrance was less than grand), it wasn’t perfect. Still, everyone seemed to rather like it, including my new gbff, the zenne. He performed after me.

I rarely say this about a Turkish dancer or a male belly dancer, but he was phenomenal. From his perfectly toned little body and to his precise technique and beautifully executed choreography, he gave my favorite zenne, a dancer called Diva, a run for his money. He danced as though he had been trained by Didem Kınalı, Turkish belly dancer extraordinaire. Usually, I wouldn’t approve of such a blatant resemblance to another dancer’s style, but his technique and stage presence were so superb, I couldn’t help but to enjoy his performance immensely. Not only was he an incredible dancer, he was also an accomplished seamstress–he’d made his own costume. Creative and thrifty, too–the costume was made from an evening gown of his sister’s.

So, he dances beautifully, he choreographs, he sews, he’s funny, he’s gorgeous, he’s fit, and he’s charming. When he came back to the dressing room and asked me what I’d thought of his performance, I could honestly tell him that I loved it.

At one point, he picked up his phone, and spoke into it using a speak-to-text feature to compose the final message he would to send to the lover who’d betrayed him. He then turned the phone to me and another dancer and had us check the text before he sent it off. As it turns out, he’s illiterate. He’s 24, and as smart and talented as he is, he’s never learned to read and doesn’t care to at this point. I was shocked! Reading and writing give me so much pleasure and convenience, I couldn’t imagine my life without literacy.

Right before we parted for the night, his phone rang. He told the person calling that because of the noise and the rush to get to his next gig, he was unable to talk and would return the call soon. Then he looked at me and winked. “Benim yeni kocam,” he said. My new husband.

I absolutely love the guy! I hope he’ll be happy with his new man.

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