My Great Adventure in Alaska...How do you return from the wild?
What happens when you go so wild that you don’t know how to find your way back? After getting a taste of the extraordinary, can you return to an ordinary civilized life? I traveled to Alaska to share my own brand of wildness with the women of Juneau by teaching them the finer points of GoddessLife 101. During my trip something happened to me and one of my students and now we are both wandering in the wilderness, wondering how or if we can get back to ordinary civilization.
We all have a different version of going wild. For my student, it was performing with me on stage, and for me, it was going deep into the Alaskan wilderness. Alaska holds a mystique that no other nature locale does. Many people go to Alaska with a Jack London’s A Call of the Wild fantasy. It is the final wild frontier and many people go to Alaska with the vision of being immersed in nature, like Chris Mc Candless from Into the Wild. I did not arrive in the 49thState with any of these desires. But it cast a spell on me, just the same.
I should have known I was in for a wild ride when my flight landed in Alaska at 10:30pm and I was wearing sunglasses. It is so far north that the sun does not ever truly set during the summer and I arrived on the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice. Courtney Nelson, my gracious hostess for the GoddessLife 101 bellydance and burlesque workshop picked me up at the airport. She went to Alaska 4 years ago for her cousin’s wedding and now lives in Juneau and is married with 2 children. This should have given me a warning that Alaska has a powerful affect that is difficult to shake off.
She excitedly shared the updated details of my trip. In addition to the sold-out workshop and PR interviews, she booked me to perform at a club that once was a bordello. I gasped when she informed me that this was to be a 3-hour burlesque performance for the following night. Not only would it be exhausting to dance for 3 hours, it would be impossible to do alone. Most of my choreographies are approximately 5 minutes each and then there is the issue of costume changes. I needed other dancers. I asked her to contact all the burlesque performers in Juneau. It turns out I was the only one in town. I would have to teach and turn women into dancers for my show.
I truly believe that everyone has a dancer within and I can teach anyone to become a dancer. I routinely see this transformation at my dance studio, the Goddess Center. But could I do this in one day? Would there be anyone who would be daring enough to perform in front of her friends? After we called, it seemed, everyone in town, I had a few possible candidates.
I met with each woman one by one at their place of work (which for some was a fishing boat). I told them about the show and what I was looking for. Each one shared that they secretly have always wanted to be a dancer and avidly watched shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. Then I asked them questions about their fears. Most of the concerns were about confidence: having body confidence to show their body, confidence that they could dance, confidence to be in front of a group of people. I shared with them the liberating, exciting feeling of being onstage in the center of attention and the confidence that would be built by facing these fears and getting up onstage. I invited them all to rehearsal at a dance studio I rented for the day.
I must admit that I was concerned at this point, though I kept these thoughts to myself. There was so much to be done. I had to teach them how to dance, several choreographies and arrange costumes. Most of all, I had to give them a makeover and change their nervousness into confidence. I also needed one dancer to perform an important duet chair dance with me. I had my eye on one of the women there who I met when she wrote an article on me for the Juneau Empire Newspaper. She was smart and attractive, but hid behind her intellectual skills and was nervous and shy. Her transformation from Gretchen to Sugar was so completely dramatic, it sends chills up my spine.
With my students, I see this potential the minute they walk in the door. I know they have walls of protection from years of other people telling them they cannot dance, they are uncoordinated, need to lose weight, and the list goes on. This prevents them from seeing the budding promise that I see. But I see right through the insecurities and I know that once they are in an encouraging environment that these critical thoughts will be replaced with the joy they experience from dancing. I know how much they look forward to coming to class to feel this freedom. I believe in them until they believe in themselves. They become dancers and so much more. They learn confidence, to love their bodies and a joy of being a woman that changes the landscape of the rest of their lives. To be a part of this transformation is my greatest joy in life.
But this transformation takes time. It takes time to shed the layers of self-doubt that have built up over the years. This is why Gretchen’s transformation was so dramatic: it happened within a day. It was like she was a natural, but not until the end of the day. During this day, she went from being shy to being confident,she went from wanting to quit to learning to dance. She faced her fears thoroughly let go and enjoyed her moment in the spotlight. I will never forget her squeals in the dressing room after performing, “ I want to do it again!” I was proud of her and happy. She was glowing. She got up on the bar and kept dancing long after the show was over. She didn’t want to take off her costume or for the night to end. The morning after the show, she called me and she said she didn’t want to go to work – she wanted to move to LA and study with me. I considered it a compliment and went to teach my workshop.
The workshop was wonderful. I taught bellydance in the morning. There were many levels and I was impressed at the talent in Juneau. I taught a choreography that accommodated the many levels of dancers in class from some that had never danced before to professional bellydancers that perform in a troupe. Then I taught burlesque. I encouraged everyone to come up with special burlesque names for themselves – names that are more glamorous than the woman who entered class with insecurities and daily responsibilities. I love burlesques names – it is a great joy of mine and I must admit that I have spent many hours creating names and was very impressed with the creativity of the names they invented, including: Chardon, Pussy Cladwell, and Hallibut (You can read all about my workshop in Shaidia’s/Hallibut’s blog). She is a very articulate and hilarious blogger in addition to being a great dancer.
My hostess planned non-stop activities for me and that evening, I performed bellydance that evening at a delicious Turkish restaurant in which many of my students came to see me perform and got up to dance with me while the owner broke plates. Next, I performed at a wedding and while still in costume, ran in a 1K Race named appropriately, “Only fools run at midnight”.
The generosity of the Alaskans was staggering (just ever so slightly different than Los Angeles) and I had so many invitations to go out one very one’s boat, sled and helicopter. It was difficult to choose, but impossible to refuse any offers! I got up first thing to see the glaciers. We flew in a helicopter and over white soft fluffy blankets of freezing tundra’s. I drank pure glacier water and took photos in my bellydance costume, nearly losing the tip of my nose due to frostbite! As soon as the helicopter landed that afternoon, I soon found myself at the local brewery, drinking the local homemade Rasberry Wheat. Then out on a boat. Life is so abundant in Alaska and I saw orcas, bears, dolphins and whales.
Then I got an invitation that was soon to change my life: I was invited to go see the baby seal pups on a marine research boat. The beauty I saw was as if I was touching the divine and the transformation I made was staggering. On a superficial level, I traded my sequins for a tweed overalls and extra tuff boots. The boat was tiny and I could only bring the necessities: camera, cel-phone, ruffely panties, you know.We began to leave civilization and it was exciting! Goodbye billboards, ETelevision, traffic, and hello stars the real ones in the sky), and sounds ofice clinking against the boat as if we were a delicious cocktail. I saw thousands of icebergs and they were so gorgeous! Some even looked like giant aquamarine gemstones the size of a bowling alley lane.
I slept lightly, but pleasantly. I awoke to see and hundreds of seals.
This experience of going into the wild changed me and I am not the same person I was before I left.Going into the deep wilderness of Alaska and witnessing the pure, unspoiled and abundant life was like going into the depths of my soul. It was liberating, freeing, but it is also was touching something deep within that altered the landscape of all things to come. It is through going to this place that I found the ability to expand and to create more room within. It created new possibilities, much like discovering new land and being an explorer in my own world. I found resources within myself that I didn’t know I had.
Don’t believe for a second that I was not still a glamorous goddess while on the research boat. I took pinup poses with the seal pups, wore sequins under my tweeds, and gave all the scientists cute new names like Randy Research, Theory of Scantitivity, Undicover. However, after 5 outrageous days in the most pristine nature of Alaska, I wondered how I could return to civilization. I felt different. I felt disoriented. It wasn’t simply a great trip that made it challenging to return to the dulldrums of work (btw, I love my work!) When I retuned to LA, everything looked different: classes, dancing, beach, and even boyfriends. I couldn’t recognize my life or find anything to grab hold of.
Everyone has their own version of going wild. For some it is drinking a margarita, for others its taking a bellydance class and for others it is telling their boss exactly what they think of them. Going into the wild is like taking a road trip without a map (and depending on how wild you go: lacking a flashlight, gas or any other necessary essentials). It can feel exciting to go into the unknown without any recognizable signposts, but it can also be terrifying. You might not feel like you will ever find your way back.
The truth is: sometimes you find your way back and have a great story to tell and other times, going into the wild leads you to discover new places within yourself. These new places are so expansive, delicious, exciting, risky that you never want to return to the old way of living. The old way is unbearable, boring, safe, narrow and you might just not be able to find your way back to to there! You are changed forever!
P.s. Gretchen is still dancing in Alaska
P.s.s. I am not going to move to Alaska (yet)
P.s.s.s Please share with me your wild adventures!
Posted on Tue, July 8, 2008
by Ms. Dolphina