Belly Dance to the Music of Americanistan!
A Transforming Day of Music and Dance in Roseburg, by Dunyah
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This article originally appeared in Jareeda Magazine April/May 2005. Used by permission.

A Transforming Day of Music & Dance in Roseburg
by Dunyah


I would like to share with readers of Jareeda a recent experience I had teaching a workshop and doing the music for a show in Roseburg, Oregon. I know it's not correct for someone to review their own events, and that's not what I want to write about. I want to share with you the amazing power of our dance and music to transform lives.

My life has been stressful these past few months as my sister Jeanine and I struggle to provide care for my 89-year-old father, whose health is failing. It was been a very difficult task at times although it has also provided an opportunity for both of us to heal from childhood wounds and has given us one last opportunity to connect emotionally with our Dad. He's a WWII-era veteran and came from a generation of men who maintained emotional distance from their families.

I made a vow years ago that I would be present when my father passed from this earth, though I didn't know how that would happen as he was living a thousand miles away and had no interest in moving to Oregon. Well, things have a way of unfolding, and now he is here and my sister and I are his caregivers as he copes with some very serious diseases, any one of which could be terminal. Our relationship was never close and was very painful at times. Yet the father/child bond is extremely strong and I love my Dad even when I don't like him very much.

As the date of the workshop and show grew near (the event was planned long before Dad came to live with us), I considered canceling. I was overstressed and Dad had surgery the day before. I realized I was becoming obsessed with my Dad's situation, though, and I needed a break and a chance to get away and spend time with my husband and my dance sisters in Southern Oregon.

I'm so glad I did. The day was such fun. The students in the workshop quickly picked up the material and ran with it. It was rewarding to share one of my dance specialties with them and to know that I was passing on this tradition of goblet dancing which was given to me 23 years earlier. The workshop was held at Alter Egos, an eclectic costume/import shop owned by the delightful Susan. The atmosphere in the shop was charged with the creativity of the 3,000 costumes she has sewn (she rents them out), including belly dance costumes, jewelry, and accessories. The owner, a dancer of course, has hilarious and profound stories to tell about life and about the local theatre community. It was a great place to hang out before and after the workshop, and the space worked well for the class.

My wonderful husband, Wayne "Omar", provided enchanting music during the workshop. His music was not obtrusive but made a great backdrop to whatever we were doing, from stretching and warming up, to actually dancing, or just talking about the goblets and how to use them in a performance.

The time flew by, and soon it was time to head over to Alexander's Greek Restaurant to have dinner and prepare for the show. Susan Reed, who sponsored the event, escorted us and saw that we were well fed. Susan is a lifelong belly dancer (her mother JaDon is a dancer and teacher) and organizes monthly shows at the restaurant. Her infant son was present too and he was amazing! That boy will grow up having heard the rhythms of drums and zills, and the sound of the ney and the zurna in his dreams. How did he sleep through all that?

During the show something really magical took place. I felt such a complete sense of freedom doing the music, it was as if my spirit were soaring. It reminded me of  lines in a poem by Rumi:

Dance when you're broken open.
Dance when you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.

Only in my case it was “play music.”

Wayne and I had arranged for the talented Tara Anya to drum with us that night. We usually do shows with our entire band, but this night it was just Wayne, me, Tara Anya and ALL THE DANCERS!

Every one of the dancers contributed in some way to the music that night, through zilling, drumming and vocals. I taught JaDon how to play a drone on the harmonium while Wayne was singing, so that I could add my drum to the rhythm. At one point during Susan's taxim, I got the dancers to sing a droney riff underneath Wayne & Tara's drumming, along with my harmonium and Wayne's chanting. One or two voices began, then soon a whole chorus of female voices were repeating the riff. It was completely spontaneous, and it sounded very mystical. I can't fully describe it in words, but it was transporting. It carried all of us away to another realm, a place where the beauty of music and dancing reigns supreme. I know it touched many of the audience members' hearts, because they came up to us after the show to express their appreciation for the music. One rather astonished young man had just moved to town from the Southwest and raved about the thriving belly dance scene in Roseburg. He was very impressed.

The dancers were really ON that night. I was so proud of all of them. Gwendolyn, Jasel, JaDon, Mezdulene, Tara Anya, Susan Reed, Aloria, and Jamara--they each rocked in their own unique style. Aloria even did her taxim on the goblets. Talk about a fast learner. I can't wait to see what else these dancers come up with--there are going to be some very interesting goblet dances in the near future as they each put their own spin on it!

A lot of credit goes to Mezdulene and JaDon as the "first generation" of teachers in the area. They have created a group of strong dancers with good technique and good performance skills. They have sponsored many workshops and events which introduce their students to a wide range of teachers and dance styles. Most impressive of all, they have fostered a group of dancers who dance with such enthusiasm and personality that the audience can't help but be charmed and enchanted by them. There is also a powerful "second generation" of teachers and dancers flourishing in their community.

The deep affection and respect that these dancers have for us as musicians, and that we feel for them in return, was a big piece of the powerful uplifting experience we had that evening as we shared our love of the music and dance with each other and with the audience. There were so many highlights: the singing; the parade of musicians following Mezdulene as she balanced her sword and danced through the crowd--Wayne on sipsi, me on tar drum, Tara Anya on dumbek, and several dancers on vocals and zills. What fun!

Another great moment was Wayne's ney solo for Jamara's taxim. He entered the dance space and directed the ney flute at her body, as she responded with such graceful and beautiful moves to the haunting sound. It was breathtaking.

The whole day and evening meant more to me than I can say. As I am going through this time of sickness, pain, and the end of life with my Dad, I am learning so many lessons: how I must take time to nourish my spirit; the importance of connections with friends; the balm that heartfelt music pours over my soul; the power of a story or a smile to brighten my day. I  have great appreciation for the people who are "bright spots" in my life these days--their warmth and kindness radiate through my heart and uplift my spirit.

There are many dancers in the Roseburg community whose bright spirits shine through in their dance. And I am truly grateful to know and to work with all of them.

--Dunyah has been dancing since 1976. She directs Americanistan, a band of musicians who specialize in music for belly dancers. You can email her at


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