Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Belly Dance Evolution Confusion

I want to continue the discussion of belly dance fusion confusion begun in my previous post. Inevitably, the reasoning in many an article and comment I have read is that belly dance is a living, evolving art form, so questions of authentic representation are moot. I agree that certainly over the thousands of years that belly dance has existed there have been gradual changes, modifications, and creative expressions that have evolved over time. We don't have youtube videos from ancient Egypt, only paintings on the walls of temples and tombs. So we can only guess, right? So whatever one wants to do with the dance is okay, yes? No.

Now, I am not a "purist". That is, I don't think you need to travel to Egypt and live with the Saidi people to learn to belly dance, using only Saidi music and wearing the traditional dress. Some Saidi styling can be incorporated while wearing a bra and bedlah and dancing to modern Egyptian music. But think how odd it would be, if you know anything about Saidi, to do that folkloric dance to industrial, gothic music while wearing a corset and ruffled skirt. Costuming is not really my biggest area of concern, but you get the picture. In case you don't...

There is nothing necessarily wrong with this look, but it would be an insult to the Saidi to do a traditional cane dance to moody, gothic music wearing something like this. As I said before, the music and the dance are married, and the costuming should reflect the general dance style. As Bahaia said at Island of Isis a few years ago, if you do not like Egyptian music (or Turkish, Lebanese, etc...), you need to ask yourself why, and that maybe this isn't the dance for you. She mentioned that there is a lot of fusion music available using Middle Eastern rhythms and instruments that would perhaps work if one does not prefer the traditional, classic styles. There is also Middle Eastern pop music. Bahaia added that she feels there is too much division between the two camps of "cabaret" and "tribal" belly dance, especially since both have their roots in the Golden Era of Egypt from the 1930s to the 1970s.

That brings me to my next topic, in regard to these two camps. Jamila Salimpour's troupe, Bal Anat, performed at Renaissance fairs in the 1960s, making popular a folkloric inspired look in opposition to the sparkly beads and sequins that were popular in the night clubs at that time. She developed a chorus line format in which individual dancers or small groups would take turns coming out from the group to showcase their individuality. Dancing with snakes was common. Some dancers prefer the covered up, earthy look of Tribal, which originated with Bal Anat. And some think cabaret dance is too flirtatious, and it's just not their style. I would argue that you can dress modestly doing any form of belly dance, and that you can embody the music in a way that reflects your personality, whether you are shy, bubbly, outgoing, funny, loving, ethereal, intense, or fierce. Besides, don't we women have many, many moods? That's what makes us so glorious!

Bal Anat

Jamila was married to a Persian man, and they owned a Middle Eastern night club, where she was self-taught by observing the dancers from various countries who came through. As I explained before, Americans approximated the movements as well as they could. Jamila is a well-respected innovator in the belly dance community. Carolena Nericcio, founder of ATS (American Tribal Style) and Fat Chance Belly Dance, learned from a former student of Jamila. Carolena's format is based upon Bal Anat's chorus line idea, but her technique is her own creation, and the element of improvisational leading and following was added. Carolena is regarded highly in the Tribal world.

Because ATS has the look and feel of a folkloric dance, it is thought by some to be a more authentic representation of what belly dance might have been like in ancient times. Tribal belly dance is often explained as a modern Gypsy styling, taking what one encounters along the way and "fusing" it together. This is not actually the case. It is an amalgamation of dance inspired by the folkloric forms of various tribes of the Near and Middle East, North Africa, India, and Spanish flamenco. If you have ever seen true Gypsy dance, such as Turkish Rom, which is always done to a 9/8 rhythm, you will recognize nothing similar to ATS, except for dancing in a circle. That being said, the Gypsy spirit certainly lives on in the Tribal belly dance world.

The authenticity issue is not one of tribal vs. cabaret. I have never even heard an Egyptian style dancer refer to what she does as "cabaret." This is a generic term used in America and other countries to refer to belly dance that is not folkloric or tribal. The Egyptian term for what is referred to as cabaret is actually Raqs Sharqi. Raqs Sharqi evolved from the Baladi (meaning "of the country"), the social dance of rural Egypt, which was brought to the urban areas during the Industrial Revolution. In the 1920s the Baladi was polished up for professional night club performances, and Raqs Sharqi was born. The Baladi is the mother of modern Egyptian belly dance. 

ATS/Tribal may be understood as a sub-genre of American belly dance, considering its roots in Bal Anat (which was dubbed in its heyday as "California Tribal"); or it can be considered its own thing, a separate style of belly dance created by Carolena Nericcio. There is nothing wrong with Tribal as long as it is presented as an American representation inspired by the ethnic dances of a wide range of peoples, incorporating various movements and aesthetic elements, rather than as a pure form of Middle Eastern dance.

A more recent development is a partial return to cabaret styling by tribal dancers who want the "best of both worlds" and incorporate elements, in costuming and movement, of the two styles. The effect is similar to the blending of various Middle Eastern styles into American belly dance in the 1970s, with a Tribal flair. Therefore, Tribaret is considered by some to be the "new classic" in American belly dance. The best example of Tribaret I know is Carrie Konyha, who also incorporates Gypsy styling into some of her dances.

Zoe Jakes

The problem of the degeneration of belly dance occurs with the proliferation of "fusion" which is not true fusion, whether it is classified as tribal, cabaret, or other. There is in many cases no blending together of two or more different styles that a dancer has mastered through years of study and incorporated into a cohesive whole. Tribal Fusion has become a catch-all umbrella for anything that contains some element of belly dance, no matter how small, but is not easily classified. And this validation of anything goes is defended in the name of evolution. Let's take a look at the animal world for an analogy here. The elephant of today evolved from the prehistoric wooly mammoth. We can see that while the mammoth's tusks are larger and he has more hair, he is still clearly recognizable as the ancestor of our elephant. The same cannot be said for the difference in the dances of Naima Akef and Zoe Jakes, for example. Birds may be descended from dinosaurs, but a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a robin have very little in common!

wooly mammoth

In conclusion, as Bahaia said, know what you are doing so that you can do what you want. And I would add that if you are going to call your performance or your class belly dance, make sure you have a solid background in a traditional form and that in your creative expression you do not cross the line into a region that is no longer an authentic representation of the cultural dance. I always explain the origins of ATS when I teach in the improvisational Tribal style, which I consider a reasonably authentic form of American belly dance. If you love Tribal, learn it well! Within the realm of Egyptian dance alone, there are already several forms that can be learned and take years to master. There is ample room for your uniqueness to shine. In any case, know where your dance comes from, whether it is tribal, folkloric, gypsy, or cabaret! Make sure your dance has not evolved from a beautiful an ugly duckling.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Belly Dance Fusion Confusion

 Bozenka of Belly Dance Superstars

I am disturbed by the deterioration of the art of belly dance that I have been seeing for some time in this country. Yesterday I attended the Belly Flea Agora in Toledo, hosted by Aegela. My troupe performed our new number, and there were lots of great things at the bazaar to see and buy. It is always a fun event, and I love spending time with the larger belly dance community. Perhaps I was especially alert to the type of dancing going on this year due to having a new troupe member participating in her first performance with us. I was terribly afraid that what she saw would give her a really wrong impression of this dance form.

The problem wasn't bad belly dancing. I applaud any woman who has the guts to get up in front of an audience and do her best to represent the dance. My issue is with what I will call fusion confusion. It must first be understood that belly dance is the American name for the cultural dances of the peoples of the Middle East, Near East, and North Africa. Specifically, there are three main branches--Egyptian, Lebanese/Syrian, and Turkish. Other variations come from one of these three basic styles. And of course there are styles particular to the various tribes and regions within each, such as the Saidi and Ghawazee of Egypt.

Raqs Sharqi is the modern form of Egyptian belly dance that is often called "Cabaret". It developed in the 1920s in the nightclubs of Cairo, basically taking the folkloric, social dance of the people and polishing it up for the stage, incorporating some elements of ballet and jazz. Costuming was borrowed from American fantasy, a bra and bedlah (belt) of heavy beading and sequins, with a filmy chiffon skirt, and sometimes adding high heeled shoes. This was the first fusion of belly dance, but it did not stray in its use of classical Egyptian music and movement. It was merely glamorized for professional dancers and movies.

 Egyptian film dancer Taheya Carioka

When belly dance became popular in America, there weren't many teachers of authentic technique available. The "Oriental" dancers (belly dance is danse orientale in French), as they were called, showcased the various styles of their country and region of origin, and Americans could not differentiate between, say, Egyptian and Lebanese style. So American dancers approximated the movements as well as they could, learning from the variety of dancers coming through the clubs and mixing the styles together. This became the next genre, American Cabaret, also called Vintage Oriental or American Restaurant style belly dance. Eventually some American dancers figured out that they needed better training and traveled to Egypt and other countries where belly dance originates and learned specific styles of this art form. Today, especially with video technology and many classes and workshops being offered all over the country, there is little reason why anyone would not be able to find a good teacher and learn an authentic form of this cultural dance.

But therein lies the problem. It seems that many enthusiastic, well meaning teachers and dancers are not aware that what they have learned is not authentic. They don't seem to understand, or perhaps care about, the roots of this beautiful dance. In the name of creative license and self-expression, they have distorted the dance into a circus act of anything goes.

Some of the trouble seems to have started following the development of American Tribal Style (ATS) in the San Francisco Bay area. A highly creative dancer named Carolena Nericcio, whose teacher had been Masha Archer (a student of Jamila Salimpour, celebrated founder of the troupe Bal Anat), developed an improvisational, lead-and-follow format using a system of cues and transitions. ATS is based upon a combination of elements, with certain aesthetic modifications, of dances from the Middle East, North Africa, India, and Spain (primarily Flamenco), claiming to be heavy with Gypsy roots. I have previously discussed in "Belly Dance Conversion Story" why ATS is not considered by some seasoned dancers to be a true fusion.  The reason is basically that there must be a mastery of the individual components before combining them into a fusion, whereas with ATS the dance is learned with the various styles already combined.

Still, troupes such as Fat Chance Belly Dance and Gypsy Caravan (whose founder, Paulette Rees-Denis, designates as simply "Tribal" rather than ATS) use music with Middle Eastern rhythms, although in a simplified form so as to allow for the lead-and-follow (like a flock of geese) aspect. With ATS and related forms of Tribal, the roots and spirit of the cultural dances are recognizably preserved as a sub-genre of American belly dance. As with any form of dance, done well, it can be lovely, especially in its simple elegance. At any rate, the founder of ATS never claimed a purity of authenticity. Carolena created her own brand of belly dance.

 Carolena of Fat Chance Belly Dance

Of course, poor education is not limited to the Tribal camp of dancers, and I don't mean to imply that it is Carolena's fault that belly dance ended up spinning left of center. The unfortunate trail is that from ATS "Tribal Fusion" developed, and the variations have been endless, the result often being an almost complete breaking away from the roots, not only of belly dance, but even of the Tribal form! In these concoctions there is very little evidence of belly dance, Tribal or otherwise, except in the costuming, but even here the style of dress may contain nothing of a traditional nature. Tribal belly dance costuming typically attempts a folkloric/gypsy look, incorporating various pieces from different tribes of people. But the current trend in some circles of Tribal Fusion is that the totality of costuming, music, and articulation of movement used can no longer be considered belly dance at  all.

My admonition is simply this: Be as creative, theatrical, and interpretive in your expression as you would like. Just don't call it belly dance if it isn't belly dance!  For example, if you want to wear gothic costuming with metal spikes while dancing to Nine Inch Nails and moving like a vampire closing in for the kill, do not call this belly dance. It is misleading to anyone watching you, regardless of the fact that you do some hip circles and chest slides here and there. Same goes for hip hop and breakdancing influences, or Burlesque inspiration in which the dancer seems to be asking for a spanking! This is all insulting and disrespectful to the peoples to whom belly dancing traditionally belongs. Perhaps a safer label for much of what is presented in such ways is "interpretive dance."

 Gothic Dancer Tempest

Yesterday at the Flea Agora there was blue grass type music, Johnny Cash's "Walk the Line", and that "Hey kids, rock and roll..." song. The music and the dance are married, ladies! Think of it another way: you don't disco dance to Polka music, do you? Before one can fuse anything, one must have mastery of the forms being fused. True freedom comes not by bastardizing this dance, but by innovation within the traditional form (and I do feel that classic ATS or Tribal, as developed by the likes of Carolena and Paulette, can in its own way be included as an authentic variation). There is a circle within which to express oneself artistically. Learn an authentic form, and learn it well. Then you will have earned the right to change it up in your own, signature style. As a side note, American Vintage Oriental style seems to be making a come back, after it had been feared to be a dying art. A blend of traditional forms, it is an important part of belly dance history well worth preserving.

Thank heavens Aegela herself performed toward the end of the show. I could barely contain my happiness at seeing this master of Egyptian dance do her thing. "That's how it is done!" I said to my new student performer. "That is real belly dance."  My student loved the Tribal costuming, and the articulation of movement particular to Tribal, and that is fine. I just want, for her and for all aspiring belly dancers, to really get to the heart and soul of this treasure of the Near and Middle East and North Africa, and to keep in mind that the Gypsies, more appropriately called Romany, had thousands of years to create their fusion. They are true masters. In an era of instant gratification, one must practice humility and restraint. Belly dance takes years to learn. Take the time if you want to be a dancer rather than a poor imitation. Let's stop sending in the clowns.

 Gypsy from the 1900s

Monday, March 19, 2012

What to Wear on the Homestead

Several years ago I read a magazine article about the trend of women wearing aprons making a comeback. The author had a passion for wearing aprons as a utilitarian accessory on a daily basis. I loved the look and reminiscing on how women in the 1950s would never fail to don an apron. So naturally I collected vintage aprons whenever I could find them! I don't wear one every day, but I'm going to get my aprons out and display them in my kitchen so I can have them handy as I work this spring on my modern homestead. Aprons keep your clothes clean and add a feminine touch. Aprons look equally good with dresses, skirts, jeans, or capris.

I want to encourage you lovely homemakers to take the time to put on clothes you feel good in every day. Moms, try to avoid dressing like teenage boys. You know, a boxy t-shirt, ill fitting jeans (a.k.a. "mom jeans"), and running shoes. Running shoes should never, ever be worn unless running! Never. Ever. Leave flip flops to the kids unless you are going to the pool or beach. Wear a real shoe that gives you some support. You will have more energy, get more done, and your smile will be brighter while you run errands if you feel good about how you look, rather than hoping no one you know will see you. Do something with your hair and put on a little makeup. Scarves worn on the head can cover a bad hair day and give your look a hint of vintage style.

For gardening, ladies, you need the proper gear, and there is no reason not to look fabulous doing it! A wide- brimmed straw hat, a casual cotton dress, pretty garden gloves, and cute wellies or clogs fit the bill. Make sure you have gloves thick enough to protect your hands from prickly weeds and thorny rose bushes! (Picture a British beauty at work in an English garden, with a bit of eccentric style.)

To keep you organized, make sure you store your winter clothes away. Only clothes that are in season should be in your dressers and closets right now, although you will want to keep a few sweaters and long sleeved shirts and pants available for this transitional period when weather can be unpredictable. Having off-season clothes still in one's closet makes it difficult to get dressed in the morning. You can't even see what you have if your drawers are stuffed too full.

Being a stay-at-home homesteader does not mean you have to dress like your kids, or at the opposite end of the spectrum, look boring and matronly. You can be feminine, pretty, and practical all at the same time!!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

It's Garage Sale Time Again!

Today my family and I took a country drive to a flea market at a tiny, old school. I found a pair of pewter, pillar candle holders from Bombay, India for $2. This is the kind of thing you are looking for to create your wabi sabi home. Items such as this, which are made of natural materials and are not new and mass-produced, or are vintage or antique, that have the patina of a bygone era, take time to collect. The wabi sabi home evolves organically. One does not run out to the mall and buy a complete room's worth of things. You must be willing to leave spaces in your home bare until just the right item can be found. Creating space for something new is part of the process.

The danger to be avoided with garage sales is buying worthless stuff just because it is cheap. Stick with the principle of only purchasing those items which you believe to be beautiful and/or know to be useful. If it is new, it should be handmade. And for every item you buy, plan to give two things you own away! That way you are not accumulating clutter, which goes against the wabi sabi aesthetic. Think quality, intrinsic meaning, and things that tell a story. Imperfect beauty is a virtue. Frayed edges, chipped paint or wood, and rusted metal are not only allowed, but desired!

Wabi sabi is a Japanese tradition, and another way of that culture is to rotate your prized possessions seasonally. Think about how you bring out certain decorations for Christmas, and then you pack them back up for the year. You may also bring out special items for Easter, Halloween and other holidays. If you rotate what you have on display in your home, then you won't be tempted to set everything you own out at once, so you can more easily practice the art of restraint. Another advantage is that it's like having new things every few months! You bring them out and think, "Oh, I forgot about this wall hanging (or rug, pottery piece, or basket)," and you have the chance to fall in love with it all over again. Think also of asymetrical design, like you would find things in nature. A couple of budding branches in an old pottery vase placed alone on a fireplace mantle would be so wabi sabi.

When you head out to flea markets and garage sales, it is helpful to make a list of particular items you need, for instance, wicker chairs for you porch. I have found that when I make a wish list, I'm much more likely to find the treasure, and at just the right price! So put on your comfortable shoes and sunglasses, pack a snack and take a reusable bottle of water with you, and let your wabi sabi adventure begin!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring on the Modern Homestead

With temperatures in the 70s today, it is time to think about preparing for spring! Whether you live out in the country, in a town, suburb, or urban center, you can begin a return with me to the homesteading approach to living. I already have flowers budding and blooming in my yard! The robins, doves, and other birds have returned, and before you know it, the time will come to plant your garden. So for now, make a list of projects you want to accomplish this spring. Using either a notebook or individual note cards, write the name of each project at the top, and then a list of steps and materials needed to complete it. And ladies, it is fine to make lists for your husbands, too!

Meticulous cleaning is an obvious spring endeavor, but I want you to go deeper this year. It is hard to keep a cluttered house in reasonable order. So throw open the doors and windows, and start looking around. Do one room at a time. The bedroom should be a sanctuary, so always keep this room clean, dusted, vacuumed, and uncluttered. A peaceful room encourages peaceful sleep, and a messy room does just the opposite. Also set up at least one outdoor living area which is a sanctuary. This can be a screened (or not screened) porch, a patio, a bench in the yard next to a birdbath, the stoop at the top of your apartment steps, or a tree house. You need areas to which you can retreat while sorting out the rest of your spaces.

We will enlist the help of The Wabi Sabi House, by Robyn Griggs Lawrence, in order to visualize our pared down homesteads. Colors are earthy, the outdoors connects with the inner dwellings, natural materials are used, sound is reduced, life flows with the seasons, beauty is imperfect, and tranquility prevails. Oh, and there is a noticeable absence of stuff. Decorations are sparse but make a statement and are not mass produced. Nor is the interior stark. Handmade and vintage objects, unique treasures associated with cherished memories, and well-worn, well-loved artifacts abound. The home is homey and is a respite from the clamor of the outside world. Nothing is allowed that doesn't have meaning, usefulness, and/or beauty (and preferably contains all three!).

Some say that we can't return to a past era and way of life, as the protagonist played by Owen Wilson in the movie, Midnight in Paris wished fervently to do. I can relate to him. I have always felt that I belong to another time. A more romantic, more glamourous,  more magical, or more innocent time. Yes, we live in the here and now. You could replace your car with a horse and buggy, but you probably won't. Still, you could check your email less often, say, only once a day. Limit television viewing to 5 hours a week, or turn it off for a whole month (gasp!). For the love of God, at least unplug your children. Cell phones should not go to school and should be handed over at bedtime. A TV should never be in a child's bedroom (or yours either), and neither should a computer or video games.

I'm going to give you food for thought and track my own progress this spring. Let's see if we can, after all, turn back the clock just a smidgen to the days when humans were vitally connected to the earth, when kids played in the backyard using their imaginations, clothes were hung on the line, and women baked their own bread. Let's just experiment. Change our habits. Reinvent ourselves, our families, our lives! Let's wake up from our malaise and breathe the new air. A little at a time, one day at a time, here on the modern homestead.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Charity Begins at Home

The Rosary begins with making the sign of the cross, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."  Holding the cross, the Apostles Creed is recited. Then comes the first bead, upon which the Our Father prayer is said. The next three beads are Hail Marys, and one meditates upon the three greatest virtues according to 1 Corinthians 13--faith, hope, and charity. Older bibles use that word, charity, while more recent translations replace charity with love.

Every time I said the Rosary, this Charity thing nagged at me. What does this mean? Is it the same as Love? Well, yes, but it has specific connotations, which I defined in my last post, The Blessing of Children. When I typically thought of charity, I understood it as giving to the poor and needy. Donating to charity. Charitable organizations. The biblical Charity certainly refers to this but expands the meaning to a lovingkindness, or compassion, extended to all of humanity. It emphasizes a leniency of judgment and a reflection of God's mercy. It encompasses a generosity of spirit and an openness of heart. Sacrifice is surely inherent to the concept. Love, or Charity, in 1 Corinthians 13 is never described as a feeling, but rather as a state of being, denoted by the verb "is". Love is patient, love is kind... And what it is not, ie., haughty, selfish, or rude. It does not keep an account of wrongs suffered. Charity is action oriented. It is about being generous with one's time, attitude, and attention, not just with one's money.

This passage is so popular at weddings, for the very reason that it is not about passing emotions, or romantic feelings. It "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things." Faith and hope are high on the list, but "the greatest of these is Charity."  Love never fails. That is, God is Love, and He never fails, and likewise we are not to withhold our Charity. Christian charity is to be extended to others NO MATTER WHAT. Tall order.

Today that old saying, "Charity begins at home" came to mind. When researching homeschooling and the concerns of others regarding socialization (I can hardly stand the word anymore!), a mother wisely wrote that proper socialization must begin at home. People in a family need to learn to get along with one another first and foremost. Husbands and wives must honor each other. Children must respect their parents. Siblings must be taught conflict resolution. Good habits must be established. Pets must be taken care of. Responsibilities must be shared. Parents must not antagonize their children. And so on. An attitude of Charity must be learned and practiced beginning in the home. You don't feed the birds but let your children starve. You don't volunteer for the benefit of others in the community to the neglect of your own children.

The Holy Family

It follows that if Charity begins at home, then the extended family comes next in widening the circle. For example, the feelings and needs of a grandchild take precedence over the opinion of an adult friend or neighbor. This does not mean that you allow inappropriate behavior, but you extend an attitude of grace to the little one. You model to the child respect for oneself, for others, and for the environment. If you don't make the welfare of your own immediate and extended family a priority, how will the children know how to best operate in the world?  Why does it seem so difficult for some Christians to focus on Charity toward those closest to them? If you would not talk to a friend from church or colleague at the office in a certain way, why do you talk to your husband, daughter, wife, son, sister, or grandchild that way? And no family member should be treated as lesser than another. Think about whether you extend unconditional love and acceptance to your own family members.

Unfortunately, the model of many Christians is not one of Charity. Some Christians don't have their priorities straight, and they worry about what outsiders think of them and their family more than they care about the consideration of their own family members. These people go to church but live quite a different life the rest of the week. This kind of hypocrisy turns so many people off ever wanting to be Christian, or makes it hard to admit for some that they are Christians themselves. They don't want to be associated with the "holier than thou" crowd who see the speck in the eye of someone else but not the log in their own.

Sometimes I get caught up in what other people think of my parenting. I feel like an open sore being stared and poked at. What if I don't want to belong to a homeschooling co-op this year? How many times a week does my child play with other children? Can she read as well as others her age? Should I put her in some kind of lessons? If her behavior doesn't live up to the expectations of others, will they think it is because she is homeschooled, or because I'm not a good enough mother? Wow, what a pile of buffalo chips to have to step around! (That's buffalo poop, in case you didn't know.) Whose business is any of this, anyway? Should I live my life trying to anticipate what will make other people happy? I will tell you right now, unequivocally, that it won't work. So stop slinking around corners holding a mirror and watching out for the basilisk living in Hogwart's castle. You will become paralyzed and not be able to function.

None of this stuff matters if my child does not receive unconditional love and acceptance from her family, whether immediate or extended. And that goes for the grace of Charity when it comes to how others treat my husband and I, too. So what should you do if someone is less than charitable toward you? You are still required to love him or her. But sometimes you just have to walk away, blessing others to go in peace, protecting your home front from harm. Although a door may close for now, perhaps a window will someday open. So keep your eyes on the ball of Love, my friends. Give the best example of your faith and hope that you can through the power of Charity, and let it begin at home (but also don't let it end there!).

1 Timothy 5:8 - But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Classic Style and Beauty for Spring

Classic fashion has been showcased in the media lately, beginning with the 1920s and spanning over many decades. It can be overwhelming sorting through constantly revolving trends, especially for us women of a certain age who have long since left our teens and twenties behind. We want to look youthful and beautiful, but we also need practical styles that work for everyday life. We don't want to appear to be trying too hard to hold on to our younger days; we want to look great for our age. The plus side is that we can wear chic, sophisticated fashions that would look silly on a girlish model. But where to start? I'm going to focus on clothes for day that would be appropriate for both stay-at-home mothers or working women who can get away with casual office attire.

Woody Allen's latest feature film, Midnight in Paris, showcases both the 1920s and modern style. French actress Marion Cotillard is lovely in dropped waist dresses, low heels, and a wavy bob hairstyle. A shorter dress like this without too much fringe or beading allows for free movement and a feminine shape that will work for most figures. Vintage dresses from this period are usually in fragile condition and very expensive, but luckily the style Marion is wearing is current for spring! Just check your local department store or boutique.

Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris

Rachel McAdams is the other leading lady in Midnight in Paris, and her character favors 1980s inspired skinny jeans and tunic tops, with a belt slung on the hips. This is another easy, casual look, and leggings can be worn in lieu of jeans. Cropped, structured jackets and blazers are also in vogue. Rachel's hair is softly layered, wavy, and shoulder length.

 Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris

The 1940s also supplies inspiration for casual looks that work for today. Knee length dresses are flattering on everyone and also allow for free movement that is feminine and pretty. Wedge shoes with open or peek-a-boo toes or shoes with low, chunky heels work well with this classic style. Here is a typical 40s day dress:

Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller in The Edge of Love, set in the 1940s, provide gorgeous inspiration, in boots fit for rainy days or the beach:

And here is the quintessential 40s screen siren Rita Hayworth, with the most gorgeous hair:

Make-up:  Red lips like Rita's are classic, but be careful of makeup that is too matte, which can look dated and is not the most kind to fine lines. Choose neutral shades for the eyelids, and line only on top, staying as close to the eyelashes as possible. Rosy cheeks, especially in a cream blush, keep one looking fresh and glowing. Lip liner tends to be aging, so apply lipstick first with your finger tip, and apply a little liner only if needed, making sure you cannot discern the line. A soft shimmer on the eyes and creamy or slightly glossy lips are flattering. If red lipstick is too much for day, try a juicy pink, peach, or berry for a shot of color. The idea is a polished but natural look, and don't forget the mascara! 

The television show, "Mad Men" has brought back the 1950s. While these dresses are not as wearable on a daily basis, they are the epitomy of ladylike style and would be perfect for a dinner date, fancy picnic, garden party, night out at the theater, wedding, cocktail party, or "art hop" in the city.

Marilyn Monroe is, of course, the paragon of 50s glamour. Liquid black eyeliner was worn on the upper lid only, winged beyond the corner of the eye:

Michelle Williams recently played the mysterious beauty on the big screen, and here she is in a classic trench coat and scarf, a must for spring:

Hollywood lost its last great legend last year, the incomparable Elizabeth Taylor. Her bra top is right in style!

Hair: Notice that all of these beauties are wearing soft, touchable, wavy hairstyles. This can be achieved by drying naturally wavy or curly hair with a diffuser, but without scrunching; instead gently rake fingers through hair to loosen curls. Hot rollers will do the trick for straight hair, or strategic use of a curling iron. To reduce heat damage, blow dry hair until just damp, then roll with velcro rollers and air dry for 15 minutes while applying make-up. Hair can be pinned into a half-updo like Elizabeth's, or held back on the sides with combs or barettes. A deep side part with hair worn down or pinned up on one side only is classic.

But on the practical side, early spring can be very windy and rainy, especially where I live, in a tornado prone area. So you must have examples of the "undone" updo handy. The overly coiffed 1960s look is too matronly and helmet like. Here is how it's best done today:

Keira Knightley

Rachel McAdams

No study of classic style and beauty would be complete without Audrey Hepburn. Think capris pants, fitted blouses and cardigan sweaters, full skirts, and ballet flats or kitten heels. And it almost goes without saying, the little black dress...

Accessories: Don't forget to protect your eyes with 100% UVA/UVB sunglasses. Cat's eye style or oversized like Jacki O are perfect complements to the classic wardrobe. Vintage jewelry is fun to hunt for, or you can contact your Premier Jewelry lady for designer, vintage like styles at affordable prices. Happy spring, all you lovely doves out there!! Time to come out in the sunshine, pretty as rose...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Blessing of Children

Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." And he laid his hands on them and departed from there (Matthew 19:13-15).

There are so many Bible verses on the blessing of children that I could not contain them here, so I will give you a sampling as I go. Continuing on the topic of motherhood as vocation, it is important to understand how emphatically Jesus and the Bible express children as blessings. There are some parents who really don't like their children much, or see them as a burden, or even a curse. This situation is among the saddest in the world. Exactly how important are children to Jesus? Here is what He says: 

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, "Assuredly I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me" (Matthew 18:1-5).

To fail to see Jesus in the face of a child is to fail to see Jesus. How else should anyone receive a child but as if he were receiving the Lord himself? Most of us are guilty of falling short of Jesus' admonitions. It is heartbreaking when those who should love a child unconditionally--mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles--are harsh with that child, condemning and unforgiving. These things, along with placing unrealistically high expectations upon the child, ignoring her or failing to be loving, patient, kind, and understanding are symptoms of a fall from grace. There is a kind of Christian love called charity. Charity involves benevolent goodwill toward humanity and lenient judgment toward others. Charity points to God's mercy. 

A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world (the words of Jesus, John 16:21).

Charity should be extended to all of God's children, big or small. Don't forget to extend the same charity to parents as you do to children. Parents need help and support from their families and friends in raising their children in the faith. Folks, let's give others the benefit of the doubt. We are all doing the best we can, and being mothers and fathers is the most difficult, and most important, vocation in the world. In neither word nor deed cause a mother to doubt herself. Lift her up, tell her what a great job she is doing and how amazing her kids truly are. Love and accept parents and children unconditionally. Do not withhold your charity, causing another to stumble. Otherwise, Jesus says you will not see the kingdom of heaven.

Grandchildren are the crown of old men (Proverbs 17:6).

Common wisdom tells us that the most ferocious creatures in the world are mothers defending their children. Be your child's advocate. Protect your children all that you can from harm, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Mothers, honor your vocation as Jesus honors it. Honor and love yourself as God honors and loves you. Mother your children through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You will make mistakes, but be gentle with yourself and your children, and let no one treat your family unmercifully. When your children are grown, give them no less honor. This is your calling.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is His reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate (Psalm 127:3-5).

Friday, March 2, 2012

Homeschooling as Vocation

As some of you are already aware, homeschooling is not always a popular choice. I would go so far as to say that it is rare that one would not encounter any negativity or opposition. While I felt called to homeschool my child, only recently have I come to really understand it as a vocation. Every day I have the opportunity to choose to see teaching my child as God's calling, as my work for him and for his glory, acting in cooperation with his will.

In modern society, the emphasis is on "What do I want to do with my life?" I graduated from college in a poor job market, with hopes of working in the field of public relations, doing something with my speaking and writing skills. I went to a career counselor at Ohio State, who suggested looking into working for a non-profit agency, and I read a book called Profitable Careers in Non-Profits, or something like that. Feeling like I was having trouble pinpointing the right career for myself, I read another book called What Color Is Your Parachute? I had so many interests that it was difficult to choose just one thing. There is a reason that self-help books are such a popular category.

Even when one focuses on what she wants and spends a lot of time trying to figure out who she is and what her great work in life will be (always imagining something fabulous involving fame and wealth), making God's choice secondary in the matter, if conferring with him at all, God still has a way of leading one to his plan. When Beezy was a baby and the idea of homeschooling came up, I told my husband that I would not do that, because when she was five, I wanted my life back! My mom had told me on a number of occasions, "This is your life now," and of course she was right, but I just didn't get it yet. I did not comprehend that I was never to have my old life back again. And thank goodness! For it is far richer now than it could ever have been had I not become a mother. That is the truth for me. 

I recently started reading to Beezy from the Loyola Kids Book of Saints by Amy Welbourn. This is a great resource for teaching history and religion. The notion of who saints are is perfectly explained at an elementary age level, without dumbing anything down, and the stories are told in an interesting way, helping to relate each saint's life to the life of the child. Today we read about Catherine of Siena, who made an unusual, unpopular choice of vocation, especially for a woman of her times. She knew even as a child that she wanted more than anything else to be close to Jesus, and she decided that the best way to put him first was to never get married. Living from 1347-1380, about the only other acceptable choice for a woman in those times was to become a nun, but she was certain that God did not want that for her either!

Prayer was the most important thing in Catherine's life, and some of her choices baffled and even frightened people. She ate nothing but a spoonful of herbs a day, and she only slept about thirty minutes a night--on hard boards. People thought she was so strange! But Catherine was concentrating her whole self, body and soul, on God. She wasn't trying to worry her parents or upset people. She knew God was preparing her for a big job, and in order to carry out his will, she had to be free, strong, and close to God. Through the example of her life and teaching others about God, people all over Europe knew about her. And they listened to her. Even the pope himself, as it turns out.

The pope was living in splendor in France instead of in Rome where he was supposed to be, because the king of France controlled him and the Church. Christians everywhere were confused, not knowing if the pope was speaking for God anymore. Catherine stood before him unafraid and gave him a message from God. He was to return to Rome and freely lead the Church, as Jesus wanted him to do. Late one night, the pope secretly left France and returned to Italy.

At the end of the story the author says, "St. Catherine of Siena didn't care about other people's opinions or expectations. The only opinion that mattered to her was God's. Can you think of times when you've had to follow your conscience and do the right thing even though other people discouraged you?"

Homeschooling can be a lonely vocation. Others, even those closest to you, may not support you, and may openly and harshly disagree with your choice. They may watch you and your children like a hawk, waiting for evidence that you are not doing a good job, that your child is not learning what he should. The first thing to remember is that God is always with you. The second thing is that you only have one day at a time. Just do what needs to be done that day. Don't compare your children to others, as long as they are making progress and are happy little people. Each child learns in his own way, at his own pace, in his own time. It may be many months or many years before the positive results of your efforts will be manifest to others. Be aware that some may never validate your choice, or admit that you did the right thing. Even when 5 kids in Chardon, Ohio are shot by a fellow student and 3 of them die, people will insist that school is where your kids should be.

Ultimately, you are not likely going to be called to stand before the pope and tell him what to do. But you will be required to stand before Jesus and answer for your choices. His mother, Mary, told the servants at the wedding in Cana, "Do whatever he tells you." Did you listen when Jesus called you to your vocation? That should be your only consideration.