Thursday night, I took a little drive up to Oakland for the launch party of Your Body Raks. It was important to me to support them because they are not only following a dream, but they are using that dream to create a better world. That is something that I would also love to do. I am very excited for them and I have to tell you, dear reader, about it.
Raks Africa is comprised of two ladies, Tammy Johnson and Etang Inyang. They are an award winning belly dance duo that are based out of Oakland, CA.
When I first became aware of them, I was blown away. I was just like everyone else who thought that belly dancers were wispy women who wore sheer genie pants and bras and veils all the while shaking themselves around the room attempting to entice the eyes of men. While every bit as beautiful as the stereotypical belly dancer, these stunning women have hearts and souls that match. In July of 2010, I was sitting in the audience of an event called Big Moves – Go Big or Go Home. The whole night was about shattering the stereotypes that dancers were all thin and the variety of styles in the show was fantastic to see. I think what drew me in to Raks Africa’s performance, which was my favorite, was their very visible joy and love of dance.
I became a fan instantly.
Being in the performing arts, I am well aware of the pressures put on everyone, but women especially, that one must be super thin or super beautiful in order to become something in this industry. We are led to believe the airbrushed pictures of models are what we are supposed to strive to be like. That if we are even the slightest bit fat, then we are automatically hideous or unlovable or unmarketable.
But before me, these two fabulous women were shaking and shimmying and having a ball, comfortable in their own skin and proud of their bodies. While I may not be trained in belly dance, I can tell when people have dance training and these ladies have it!
The goal of Your Body Raks is combat the constant body image bullying that is on display everywhere you look. The use of belly dance to build confidence in women and girls of every size, color, or background mixed with a safe environment to learn self acceptance and love will have an incredible positive impact on the individual.
I HIGHLY encourage you all to check out YourBodyRaks.com and look at the videos and learn about Tammy and Etang. And if you are lucky enough to be in the Oakland area, take a class!
These women are such an inspiration for what they are doing, and I take my hat off to them and wish them the absolute best I possibly can wish for anyone. I can’t even say aloud without choking up, how important I think their work is.
The last three weeks have been a wonderful change of pace with some great theatre and meet-ups with friends and getting out and just chatting people up. I think one of the most wonderful things was the return of the South First Fridays that happens in downtown San Jose. I started out the night outside of Caffe´ Frascati because it was just too crowded inside to watch a young opera singer serenade the patrons inside. I always have every intention of being inside for one of these events, but I am always too late. And I don’t want to be the creepy guy that’s hanging about for too long, you know?
Next, just outside of Anno Domini, I came across this lovely performer from Cirque du Soleil. She was a hoot! So charming and funny, and made sure that I had her shoes in the shot. She had to be standing at 8 feet tall or so thanks to small stilts that she was balancing on. What was very interesting was that when I asked if I could take her picture, she held her pose so well, and after she said she was always in a constant state of motion because the stilts weren’t wide enough to relax on. The jewel colors of the dress are lovely and in her right hand is a small cluster of feathers (peacock maybe?) but from the picture it looks to me like she was holding the sting to the balloon that was painted onto the wall.
After saying goodbye and wishing her some foot relief, I made it inside Anno Domini and I perused the Art books that are in the main lobby area. After taking a peek at those, I headed for the N’TENCE exhibit to see what I could be inspired by. I have to admit that when I first entered the gallery all I saw were the 18 – 20 orange tents and was a wee bit disappointed. It was so crowded in the little space that I couldn’t find the placard to see what this installation was called. Maybe it would give me a clue as to what the Artist had in mind when putting this together. After a brief sweep, I decided that I just wasn’t supposed to know about it. One of the things that did catch my eye was a small hot pink log cabin house with little flowers on the outside and a red lightbulb inside. I think the overly feminizing of something so necessary, like home, was a jab at some people’s old fashion sensibilities that the home is a woman’s domain. But something about this piece was so flamboyant that I wonder if it was a “reclaiming” of the home in a sense. Because there was a sign asking for pictures not to be taken, I don’t have anything to show from this venue. After passing the cute house, I came up to some crudely drawn cartoon panels. Most of them were a man and woman and various interactions. One was of the woman drowning and saying “Save me!” to which the man standing next to her says “No.” It’s a tough group of pictures to sift through because most of them are negative in tone, so it’s a bit of a downer. There is an occasionally funny drawing mixed in, but not many. Once I was almost through the gallery, I saw that the live band, The Comfort Slacks were getting ready to start. I waited for about 10 minutes, but I think they were having technical difficulties, so I moved on. I did go to their page on Facebook out of curiosity and found that I like their music. It reminds me of Atari 2600 games music.
Usually, I only check out the museums because I think it’s awkward going into the food places to just check out the Art while people are eating all around me. What drew me into Eulipia was the frenetic movement of the man playing the upright bass working his fingers up and down the frets so fast I thought he was trying to start a fire! He handed off the improv to the drummer who was alright. It seemed like his each of his riffs were done one too many times. But it could totally be just me because I have a thing about repetition and predicability. Last was the guitarist. He was grooving and I found it very bizarre that the drummer was more interesting during the guitar solo than during his own. I don’t know if maybe he was inspired by the guitarist, but in any case he definitely redeemed himself. I hung around for two songs, but the smell of delicious over priced food was beginning to make my mouth water.
Once I headed out of Eulipia, I walked to the MACLA building. Little did I know, but there was a performance piece inside. The performance time had just passed, but there was going to be another in 45 minutes, so I decided to hustle over to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. One of the first things I encountered while there was a large quilt hanging outside the bathrooms that to me looked like something other than a poppy. And I work in a nursery so I am used to seeing them. I mean abstractly, I supposed I can see it being a poppy, but not without a little help. When I look at it, I see the AIDS ribbon, but I guess we are all influenced by our lives and experiences.
Regardless, it’s a beautiful piece of work. In addition to this work hanging in their main lobby, their gift shop had some wonderful items as well. One of my favorite things was a set of DPN or Double Pointed Needles for my non-knitting peoples. I loved that they were called “Fearless Knitting” Needles. There was pyrographically etched images on them and the needles were silky smooth, even with the design. One would think that the yarns would snag on these but they were slick as can be. I took a picture of them, but my camera would not focus on the design. But on my other favorite piece in the gift shop, I had no trouble.
Inside the room that I believe hosts classes, I came across this cool kimono inspired jacket. I loved the pattern shown here. It not only gave it interest by color and pattern, but it also had a really cool texturizing feature as well. I just wanted to tear it off the wall and take a closer look at it.
In the corridor leading to this room there is a mini-grouping called Collecting California. While the works are very nice in their colors and patterns, there was one that made me want to learn the art of quilting right then and there. The piece is called “On The Edge II” by Linda Gass. Here is the image from the museum website, with my photo next to it, so you can see why I loved it so.
It looks like rivers and canyons and the topography of the piece just makes me want to trace all the green veins and follow them like a maze.
As you can see I spent A LOT of time in this space. And there was still one more collection to see!!
The “Invisible Lineage” was a mixed bag of knitting, crochet, weaving, and macrame. The pieces were lovely, but true to my pickiness, I found one that I thought could have been improved upon. It was a piece of knitting done on at least size 12 needles or larger. It was a rectangular piece about 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The yarn used was (I believe) a heather gray, and the cross in the center was a thicker yarn with an addition of a single metallic thread in the cross section only. My instinct said, “She should have went bolder and used a ton more of that metallic for the cross.” Unless you look REALLY closely, you don’t see the metallic in it.
When I rounded the corner, I was treated to some sublime and delicate lacework. It’s incredibly well done. I heard one lady say to her friend that she would have reinforced the edges to make it bolder, but I thought to myself “then that would ruin the delicate look of the piece.” But then I thought of the cross and told myself to “shut your face.”
So exit the Quilts and Textiles Museum, I did.
At the Metro offices, they had an exhibit called Live. Local. Loud. There were about 25-30 photos of local performances. I liked how vibrant the images were. The photographers almost seemed to capture the energy of the subject. And I had camera envy. A lot of it…