The Not so Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald

I have a confession to make:

I don’t think “The Great Gatsby” is the Great American Novel. Despite the best efforts of brilliant readers like Nancy Pearl, I return to the reaction I had when I first read the story as a high school sophomore: There are some beautiful sentences in this book, but I don’t give a damn about the story.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great piece of writing.

I can clock the moment my husband became interesting by the time he compared the description of Gatsby’s beautiful shirts to the rhythms of jazz. I believe that F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s final Gatsby sentences are some of the most brilliant in literature. And I know that the concerns of money, class and privilege remain dramatically relevant today.

But the mistress’s death feels contrived. Which leaves the rest of the book feeling contrived, but it meant that I got to spend a whole lot of time with a cool teacher while she explained it to me. This was my first introduction to literary criticism (Thank you, Mrs. Kercher).

In the last decade, Fitzgerald’s become something of a cult with whole books being written about Gatsby and his brilliance.

Let’s face it, Fitzgerald didn’t come up with his characters, witty dialogue and descriptions all on his own; he patterned some of the women after Zelda (his wife) and lifted sentences from her letters and diaries to prop up his own work.

I know. Artists steal. But at what cost?

Certainly, Fitzgerald found himself plotting fresh breakdowns for Zelda and cribbed passages from letters written from the insane asylum.

Whether or not Zelda would have been a great author on her own is something we can’t prove.

But here’s what I suspect:

I think the fact that Fitzgerald couldn’t do it on his own ate at his core. I believe it made him less of an artist, leaving him even more disempowered in the face of his own efforts. And I have to wonder what would have happened if he and his famous editor had opted for another course:

What if they had invited Zelda in? What if Zelda and F. Scott shared a byline, granting Zelda access to the fame she helped make possible? At the very least, isn’t that something readers could remember to do today?

Sorry Linda Hamilton, you didn’t prepare me for ‘Fury Road’

Sometimes there’s a movie that changes something in you that you didn’t know needed changing.
I like things that go BOOM!
Always have.
Never mind that I used to have friends who tried to make me feel guilty for my proclivities. They’re gone and now I have a kid who thinks “Mad Max: Fury Road” is perfect for a delayed Mother’s Day celebration since there’s no such thing as a bomb range where mama could blow off a little steam.
Given the reviews, I was prepared for a great ride.
I wasn’t prepared for my reaction.
I’ve heard men go to action flicks because they can identify with the main character and I thought I understood it because, hey, I’ve seen “The Terminator” and even worked out to make my arms strong like Linda Hamilton’s.
But it wasn’t the same.
This film was brutal.
And the women filled the screen and spilled out into the top of my head and threatened to make my skin explode.
Even now, I can feel it — that sense that there was no separation between them and me. No little thing in the back of my head saying “No, I wouldn’t be that into him.”
Growing up in the U.S., girls learn to watch themselves with men’s eyes: How will he see this dress? My hair? My body?
You learn to know how someone sees you. You separate.
And you do this before a movie screen.
This is how my date/my boyfriend/my husband sees the actresss.
This is how he sees me.
But Fury Road doesn’t leave you enough breath to separate.
The movie isn’t about how Max sees Furiosa or the wives.
There’s no separation.
This is a movie about US.
The top of my head is humming.

Tease read: NIGHT SHIFT excerpt

NIGHT SHIFT, Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, Seattle, J.C. O'BrienChapter 1

As Seattle’s alpha werewolf, Ted Baron could control the transformation. He rolled his shirt up past his elbow and winced as the hair sprouted on his forearm.

The bones in his wrist thickened and the tips of his fingers split as his claws unsheathed.

He drew Manny close with his human hand. Ted smiled once, and before the warlock could utter word one of a spell, he slit the man from his neck to his pubic bone.

Manny’s entrails spilled onto the floor as he screamed. Ted turned around so that Manny wouldn’t see his nostrils twitch. Meat was still meat after all. Hard to leave a fresh meal to go to waste.

He turned back to see Manny writhing at the end of his human hand. Each scream forced his diaphragm in and out, pumping more blood onto the floor.

Ted stared into Manny’s eyes until Manny grew quiet. When the only sound was the gurgle of Manny’s exposed intestines, Ted brought the wolf hand before Manny’s eyes.

He forced his face into a grin so that Manny wouldn’t see the pain as Ted’s claws slid back into the flesh of his hand. His skin returned to a tanned white, while the dark hairs retracted, shortening slowly like a time elapsed film.

Ted stretched the now-human hand and all of his knuckles cracked. He reached into his pocket for his Blackberry, thumbing a few keys before bringing the device to his ear.

“I need you in the office,” he said. “Don’t tell me it’s late.” Both he and Manny glanced from the copy room through the glass wall of Benson’s office to see the moon rising above Mount Rainier. “I need you to take care of a mess.” He dropped Manny to the floor.

Manny’s legs tumbled awkwardly beneath him. His hands shook as he tried to gather up his entrails and push them back into his body.

“Trust me,” Ted said. “No one has ever figured out how to get them back in once I’ve let them out.” He leaned down and ran a finger over a glistening intestine. Again he held Manny’s gaze as he brought it to his mouth and licked his finger clean.

“Shame that I never learned to read this particular kind of oracle, but that was always your thing. Give it a good look, but remember, Manny,” he said, “whatever my pack consumes is mine. There’s no escape. Not even in death. Especially,” he said, “when I have this.”

Nearly covering Manny’s hand with his own, he pressed it to the floor. Only Manny’s right index finger remained clear. Manny muttered a few magical words that stopped in his throat when Ted yanked the finger off at the root.

He pulled a monogrammed handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped the index finger like a package, then returned it to his pocket. He also pocketed the vial of Manny’s blood he’d forcibly collected when the warlock had arrived.

Ted checked his Rolex. “You have about five more minutes to make an attempt at peace before the cleanup crew arrives. Best of luck, Manny.” He ruffled the man’s hair and turned to walk out. One hand jangled the change in his pocket, the other he held at Manny’s eye level while he allowed just the tips of his claws to peek out.

“I just can’t leave without one more taste,” he said as he scraped the claws across Manny’s right cheek, leaving four deep lines of blood.

Manny could hear Ted sucking his nails clean as he walked down the hall.

He waited until he heard the office door click shut and imagined the elevator had arrived to take Ted down into the parking garage to his awaiting vintage Porsche.

Manny shoved his hand under his intestines, looking for the cell phone in his pocket. The pain had overridden his mind to where he could no longer tell the difference between his insides and his outsides. He had to push and dig until he finally managed to retrieve the phone.

When he looked down, he saw it was covered with blood and feces. His sister Margaret would only argue the last breath out of him. He turned his head and pressed four with his thumb to speed dial his niece Cassie while vomiting.

“If this is your idea of a prank call, Uncle Manny,” she said, “You ought to block your number.”

“Ted,” Manny said.

“Who’s dead? I’m at the Alibi and we’ve got a crappy connection. You know how it is at the Market.”

“T,” Manny said.

“Now I’m getting alphabet lectures,” she said.

He gave up on identifying his killer and settled for action. “Protect yourself,” Manny said.

“Quit trying to scare me into making up with Mother. You know she only uses mild spells against family.”

“There’s magic in your blood.” Manny shuddered with effort while he inhaled.

“So she says.”

This was taking too long. The wolf’s cleanup crew was coming. He had to warn her. “If you don’t use your magic,” he said, “someone else will.”

“Are you drunk, Uncle Manny? Tell me what’s really going on. . .”

But all she heard on the other end of the line was Manny’s scream and a wolflike snarl. Then the line went dead.



When dialing Manny delivered nothing but voicemail, Cassie did what every fresh cop would do. She dialed the precinct and argued her way up the food chain until she got Sergeant Mortenson on the phone.

“We’ll file a missing persons report when he’s reported missing, Hunt.”

“But the scream. The line going dead. We know something bad has happened.”

“You think you know something, officer, but I know Manny Shay. I’m not banking taxpayer money against a rookie hunch — you’re your uncle’s niece as much as you’re your father’s daughter.”

One of her mother’s spells bubbled into Cassie’s mind. She stamped out the thought. “I earned my way onto the force.”

“Believe what you want. As far as I’m concerned, the thing you have to earn is your right to remain.”

“It’s not like you’ve got candidates lined up outside your door.”

“No, but a bad cop is a luxury I can’t afford. Don’t prove pricey, Hunt.”

The phone went dead.

Cassie dug a crumpled twenty out of her jeans pocket. She dropped it on the bar beside her full shot of bourbon.

“That leaves us more than even.”

Kat, the bartender and owner, didn’t even turn around.

“Let Nick know that he’s too late — again,” she said.

Kat punched a key on the cash register. The drawer opened. Her left hand swept up the twenty, smoothed it and settled it sweetly in the drawer.

“I charge extra for messages.”

“And that large bill just delivered it.”

Cassie tried to grab her jacket and purse with one hand while dialing Nick with the other. She refused to enter him in speed dial. Besides, his number burned in her memory.

She bumped the door open with her hip. The door swung just wide enough to catch Nick Myers chin. His head jerked back to keep her from getting his precious nose. Being a big, bad werewolf kept him from going down, but it was Cassie who did the growling.

“You were supposed to be here an hour ago.”


“What’s her name? I can run her in.” Cassie jabbed her purse at Nick’s chest. He grabbed it reflexively, knowing enough not to try to help her on with her coat.

“Manny’s got trouble and Mortenson refuses to help fix it.”

“And that’s news?” He smoothed the straps on her bag before returning them to her waiting hand.

Cassie snapped up the purse and stalked ahead of him six paces before spinning around.

“One of your low-life connections knows how to do a trace, right?”

“You mean an illegal trace of someone’s cell phone?” Nick shook his head and opened his arms wide. “I don’t know a thing about illegal activities.” He crossed his arms across his chest and winked, “But I do have a new friend who’s handy with computers. I’ll introduce you.”

Need to read more? Look here or here.

PROFILE: Tamalyn Dallal

Lovely in whiteNearly every dancer remembers their first encounter with a professional in full costume. For non-dancers, imagine you’re five-years-old again and Glinda the Good has stepped right out of “The Wizard of Oz” to grant you a wish. It’s like that.

I was in the elevator heading to a workshop show halfway across the country when Tamalyn Dallal stepped in wearing her full bedlah. Always gracious, she smiled and said hello and then we rode in silence while I stared at her. She went off to dance and I took my seat without realizing who’d joined me in the elevator. (I’d been dancing all of six months, so I was relatively clueless.)

Probably because I was so new to belly dance, I didn’t know what I was watching. I grew bored, especially with the folkloric stuff.

So did the radio DJ announcing the show. I was about to cut out to catch some jazz across town when the dancer from the elevator took the stage and absolutely killed it. The DJ grabbed the mic and yelled, “Now that’s belly dancing.”

That was 1998, I still get the same feeling every time I see Tamalyn dance.

Tamalyn began studying in the late ‘70s, but didn’t begin dancing professionally until six years later in 1982. For 39 years, she’s travelled the globe, performing and teaching in 41 countries.

We focused our talk specifically on how the dance has changed since the ‘70s, its explosive growth in China and Argentina and explored how the problems of colonialism are reframing how Tamalyn approaches the dance.

Musically inspired

Unlike many dancers drawn to the costumes or inspired by the performance of a dancer on TV or in the movies, Tamalyn was originally drawn to belly dance because of the music, taking the bus from her home in Kirkland, Wash. to the U-District near the University of Washington to buy LPs. Her collection included Eddie Kochak, George Abdo and Mohammed el-Bakkar’s “Port Said,” as well as several from Naif Agby.

That fascination with the music lead her to jump at a belly dance class even though she was only four weeks away from starting college in Arizona.

After she learned just enough for her college boyfriend to call her “his belly dancer,” she decided she’d better take more classes to properly earn the moniker.

Back then, her teacher taught from a syllabus of moves, working through them like working through a vocabulary list. It wasn’t long before the dancer cut Tamalyn loose suggesting that she find a new instructor since the teacher herself only had two years of experience.

In 1979, Tamlayn had her first troupe experience dancing with Shaharazade  Troupe in Seattle while Inzar and Laurel Grey were co-directors. Here's Tamalyn, left, with Laurely Grey and Laura.
In 1979, Tamlayn had her first troupe experience dancing with Shaharazade Troupe in Seattle while Inzar and Laurel Gray were co-directors. Here’s Tamalyn, left, with Laurel Gray and a dancer known as Laura.

Waiting to turn pro

Tamalyn’s first real performance, organized by her comparative religion teacher, happened after she’d been dancing for 10 months. She practiced mornings and evenings every day for three weeks, believing she needed to perform the full five-part routine no matter how many minutes she danced. She also worked in floorwork and backbends.

But it was six years before she went truly professional.

Today, Tamalyn says, students often are in a rush to go pro, but she enjoyed every bit of her journey. “It was a big thrill every little step of the way. Little by little, you get asked to be in student performances. Then to be in the workshop show,” she says. “It was fun being a student. That’s a great phase. I wouldn’t want to skip that.”

The tone of classes was much different in the ‘70s, she says. “some teachers were expected to be tough. Back then there was more sternness in the teaching and you could be scared of your teacher.” But Tamalyn stuck around. “I wasn’t expecting to be catered to. I was there to learn.” Now teachers can be friendlier with students, which is nice, she says, but there is more of a “consumerist expectation.”

After transferring to a college in New Orleans, Tamalyn found Habiba, who she says bore a strong resemblance to Jaclyn Smith from “Charlie’s Angels.” Habiba charged $10 a class in 1976. Adjusted for inflation as of April, 2015, that’s $38.73 a class, which was out of Tamalyn’s price range.

Recognizing her protégé’s talent, Habiba let Tamalyn teach warm-ups in exchange for lessons. “She’d take a lot more time trying to teach me how to teach than if she’d just taught the class,” Tamalyn says.

Tamalyn’s first video clip: 1982 (promo for doing bellygrams)

From beads to evening dresses

By the early ‘80s when Tamalyn started dancing professionally, costumes were already starting to shift. At the end of the ‘70s people were wearing lots of coin bras and belts, circle skirts and harem pants, she says. In the ‘80s that shifted to beaded fringe and straight skirts, but people were still making their own costumes. Tamalyn did a great deal of hand beading throughout the ‘80s. In the late ‘80s, foot-long fringe came into fashion. Her first costume imported from Egypt was “covered in beads.” That was 1993 and it cost $1,000, which would be worth $1,624.37 in 2015 dollars. In the mid ‘90s dancers started having access to lots of costumes from Egypt and Turkey. In the 2000s, the Dina bra and short skirt became popular along with cutouts.

Tamalyn, however, is pushing the other way. She’s dancing in evening gowns she modifies or makes herself, using color, contrast and well-placed crystals to draw attention on stage. This choice is influenced by her age, she says, but not because of body shame. She celebrates the comfort and freedom of dancing in long jersey dresses, wishing to be an example of how a dancer can be beautiful and sensual regardless of how much skin she shows. After years of performing a dance that is often not taken seriously by the general public, Tamalyn says she is personally striving for dignity and respect.

Changing dance styles

On the West Coast, Tamalyn says dancers decked out in coins, assyuit or striped fabrics found themselves influenced by Jamila Salimpour’s style. “Even when you didn’t do tribal, you were influenced by tribal.” When she moved to Florida in 1979 there was nothing tribal, but there she found a Lebanese-Canadian teacher who would invite students to her home for home-cooked Arabic food and dance video viewing. In the early ‘80s Tamalyn and her classmates gained exposure to Egyptian dancing through video, but travelling to Egypt was rare, except for the lucky ones that travelled with Morocco of New York. Now, she says, there are many belly dance festivals organized so dancers can go on their own. With political instability, poverty and increasing religious conservatism, work for dancers in Cairo’s hotels and clubs has dwindled, but the international passion for the dance keeps Egyptian dancers and teachers working at festivals, teaching foreigners.

After dancing all over the world, I asked Tamalyn to list what she thought had improved since the ‘70s. Technique, makeup and knowledge of the rhythms have all improved, she says, but “you can’t get as deep of emotion now because we’re doing little short shows. You can go deeper into your emotions when you have a half hour to 40 minute show. In the ‘70s you did go deeper.” Tamalyn was still to young to enter a night club, but while bussing tables downstairs at the Cedars of Lebanon Restaurant on Aurora Ave. in 1978, she “snuck upstairs to see Badawia, Dahlena and others as they transformed the atmosphere of any room they danced in. Whereas before, people didn’t talk about feeling; they just felt it.”

While many professionals miss the U.S. nightclub scene, Tamalyn’s travels afford her a different perspective. Dance is “exploding” in China, she says, taking off in the last twelve years, as well as in Russia, and now there are “thousands of dancers” in Argentina and Brazil (with the largest belly dance festival in the world, “Mercado Persa,” uniting 6,000 dancers a year in Sao Paulo). She also sees growth in many cities across the U.S. including New York and Miami.

Where she does see it struggling is possibly Europe, where it’s influenced by the economy and in the Middle East where it faces religious challenges. People say it is struggling in Seattle, despite its strong economy and large dance scene. But according to a recent survey, dancers get paid less in Seattle than in nearly every other city in the U.S. Tamalyn feels that if, collectively, people believe in themselves and believe in the dance and its potential, the dance can grow again. No longer is there just Egyptian, Lebanese, Turkish, old-style AmCab styles, but now there’s all kinds of tribal, Bellydance Superstars style, and also distinct Russian and Argentinian styles.

[soliloquy id=”377″]


Addressing cultural appropriation

All of this change brings a growing awareness of cultural sensitivity, but Tamalyn is cautious with the use of the word “appropriation,” preferring to leave the question of authenticity to the audience. “If you’re dancing at an Arabic wedding and they like what you do, you’re doing what they like. They’re getting their money’s worth. If it wasn’t authentic, it was what they want to see. If you try too hard to be authentic, it could be good, or you could be an imitation or character of their people and actually make people feel uncomfortable.” For Tamalyn, “being authentic is to be your most authentic self within the art form.”

From examining her own naïve interest in Orientalist art in the ‘90s, to reconsidering what she wears when she dances, Tamalyn says the hard part is realizing that even the aspects inspired by colonialism are “still art.” Rather than wholesale right and wrong, she advocates a personal increase in awareness and sensitivity as a way for each artist to find his or her own path.

For Tamalyn, that sensitivity is finding its expression, in part, in her costuming choices. “When I wear evening dresses, I feel like I can be as traditional or nontraditional as I want because I’m dancing the way that I dance, but I’m wearing something of my own style that is accepted by even the most conservative Middle Eastern audiences.”

Mainly, she says, “It’s what you do with the movements and how you use them that’s important and that takes a lifetime of study and experience and travel. And that’s the beauty of this dance. It’s a reflection of life experience.”


Choosing knowledge over innocence: Learning about colonialism

Deepening our knowledge of colonial history, may be the best thing for everyone, Tamalyn says. Especially when you realize that “maybe five countries in the world have never been colonies.”

“If we look at what colonialism is and how it continues to have this undercurrent around the world, then I think we can make educated choices about what we do with our dance. Not to feel guilty or ashamed about anything we have done in our dance, but we also can’t be so innocent either.”

40 Days and 1001 Nights

Tamalyn reads her book "40 Days and 1001 Nights", 2010.
Tamalyn reads her book “40 Days and 1001 Nights.”

In 2004, Islamist militants abducted American Nicholas Berg in Iraq and beheaded him as part of their protest of the treatment of detainees at Abu Grahib. Tamalyn was scheduled to travel to Egypt for the “Ahlan Wasahlan” (Arabic for “Welcome) Festival, but in the U.S., everyone kept asking her if she still planned to make the trip. For Americans, it seemed, Islamic countries tended to blur together. Tamalyn happened to be traveling with her brother, Richard Harris, renowned travel writer and editor, in Wash. State at the time. While talking the situation through with him she came up with an idea that would completely alter her perspective on life and bellydance.

She’d make the trip to Egypt. If it proved to be safe, she’d go on to spend 40 days in five different Muslim countries, taking the time to “get below the surface.”

The festival proved safe and Tamalyn let go of her apartment in Miami Beach, moved to Seattle to spend more time with her elderly parents and planned to teach workshops between visiting each country to help finance the project. As she started traveling, she “felt strongly that people needed to see what I was doing.” She started filming with a small, hand-held camera she carried in her purse.

Before the 40 Days trip, Tamalyn was very strict about making sure that everyone in her troupe moved with synchronized precision. Now, Tamalyn says, “I’m opposite all that. Everybody matching perfectly is so the antithesis of Middle Eastern culture.”

These days, she emphasizes the concepts of Earth and Sky, her six points in the body, relaxation and enjoying yourself. There is a groundedness to Tamalyn’s performance and teaching that can draw the eye in a room full of dancers. Her movements suggest a lifetime of a study and expression and after a workshop with her, you can see how she manages to transmit this to her students.

Tamalyn says coming to this new style has been process of shedding, “When you’re from one country and you live in different cultures, you really have to shed layers and layers of preconceived notions and we have a lot of layers drilled into us from the media. Coming from 21 years in Miami Beach, I was very focused on body and body shape and vanity and exposing your body. Being in different Muslim countries, it was nice to be beautiful, but it wasn’t attractive to show off your body. It wasn’t accepted. Living a good part of 2006 covering my body changed my perspective from ‘my body is my value.’ I had to find value in myself as a person rather than the superficial outer aspects of what I look like. As a woman, that’s a huge change in perspective.”

The “40 Days and 1001 Nights” book and film faced a “double-stigma” by addressing Muslim issues and belly dance, Tamalyn says. Eleven years earlier, her first book, “They Told Me I Couldn’t,” based on her dance adventures in Columbia had faced similar challenges.

With “They Told Me I Couldn’t,” bookstore owners would either refuse to take the book or hide it because there was a picture of belly dancer on the cover.

Although more than a decade had passed, Tamalyn faced similar challenges during her book tour through the back roads of the United States.

While she received strong support from various belly dance communities, Tamalyn cited several examples: A librarian in Raleigh, North Carolina was the only non-dancer at the showing. She hid in the back and finally admitted she was hesitant about watching it; a restaurant owner in another state agreed to show the film, but wasn’t comfortable confronting restaurant goers who were loud and rude during the showing and in Santa Fe, a bookshop owner claimed people weren’t going to be interested in seeing the film, although he allowed it to be shown. He stuck around, however, and liked it after all. The book remains timely, addressing much of the xenophobia current in the United States.

“Our perspective,” Tamalyn says,” is still very colonialist. We’re all people. We’re all just in this big world together.”

Lessons from Ethiopia

The most interesting lessons came from several visits to Ethiopia. After her brother became ill and passed away, Tamalyn went looking for some of the joy he was able to find in unexpected places – choosing Ethiopia, in part, because people “expect poverty” there.

But there’s nothing impoverished about Ethiopian attitude.

Although Ethiopia was occupied by Italy from 1936-1941, the country was never truly colonized. “They don’t look up to anybody,” Tamalyn says, nor do they feel the need “to look outside their culture. When you go someplace where no one is going to look up to you or anybody else, you think, ‘Hey, this is the way it should be.’

Global influence

While people in Argentina credit Tamalyn with introducing the sword dance, Turkish 9/8 and the “Zar” during the ‘80s and teaching finger cymbals in the early ‘80s, being an original member of Bellydance Superstars in 2003, afforded Tamalyn a truly global distribution of her art. “Bellydance Superstars did a huge service to all of our careers,” Tamalyn says. “You found those CDs in every single market all over the world. In many countries, that was the first introduction to belly dancing. In China it was, from the Bellydance Superstars DVDs.”

Countries beyond Tamalyn’s already impressive travel list started calling in 2007. Today, Tamalyn teaches regularly in Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Argentina, the United States and holds a yearly month-long seminar in China that has included first-run performances in their brand-new theaters.

For dancers seeking a similar lifestyle, Tamalyn has the following advice: “Follow your passion and visualize what you want to do and it will probably come to you in different ways than you ever expected it,” she says. “If you love the dance, you follow what you need to do, not what other people are doing. If you teach dance to ten women in a tight-knit community where you change somebody’s life, that’s way more important than being famous.”



How often do you practice? I’m guilty. I used to practice a lot and I love to practice and I recommend practicing an hour or two a day, five days a week. And I should practice more.

In the ‘80s, I practiced improvising to two sides of an LP or tape daily, most days of the week. In the ‘90s, I taught and did so many shows and conducted so many rehearsals that it was a treat for me to practice for my own shows. Around 2000, I started going to the gym two hours a day, five days a week for four years. Now I practice what I’m working on but what I recommend and what I find effective is to practice one to two hours a day, five days a week. Starting with a warm-up and slow moves, then covering shimmies, zils, free style, veil, practicing for shows and, finally, “iPod-shuffle” in which one dances to any kind of music that comes out of the iPod when it is shuffling. (The video below shows Tamalyn dancing to a song she’s never heard before.)

What’s the best piece of dance advice you ever received and who gave it to you? There was a tour guide in the Siwa Oasis in 2004 and they were playing some Bedouin music in the tape deck in the Jeep and the tour guide and the driver started dancing in a way that was very slow and sensual — the way that men dance in Siwa. It was much slower than the music and we started dancing how we know to dance. We were following the beat. ‘Slow down,’ he said. ‘What are you doing?’ And he’s going a quarter of the time and I thought he was crazy. He didn’t know what he was talking about, but I got that reiterated again in 2007.

Farafra Oasis in Egypt and there was a man dancing with strange wobbly legs and he was moving his hips in a crescent motion very slowly and most of the dancers went to bed because they thought the men were drunk. But I was fascinated.

The same year I saw private women belly dancing for each other in Kenya. On the tiny island of Lamu, they do Swahili, Indian and Arabic dance, and when they belly danced, they were moving much slower than the music and it was really in their body and it was really interesting. There’s really something to this. That was a really great piece of advice to slow down.

If you could whisper one piece of advice in every dancer’s ear, what would it be?




Tamalyn offers regular workshops and performances worldwide. You can find out more about her upcoming events here, but a couple of especially fun ones are coming up this summer and fall. If you have the opportunity to study with Tamalyn take it. I’ve studied with her on and off for the last 17 years and have never walked away without learning something new and wonderful that immediately improved my dance.

Week-long intensive at Zamani World Dance near Seattle: July 15-22, 2015

Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive: September 10-13, 2015

Month-long Intensive in China: September 29-October 26, 2015 (video from last year’s event follows)

Last year’s China theme — Water:

Dancers explored the nature of water crystals, inspired by the work of Masaru Emoto, who wrote the book “The True Power of Water.”

For this performance at a newly built city lakeside park, she’d intended to simulate iceskating to show “ice,” but the day was so lovely, that she adjusted to the location and “just danced.”

Here’s an example of a structured improv where each dancer represents one of the instruments in the song for the same workshop inaugurating a new government theater in Shanghai. The “Water” show was performed both indoors and outdoors.



They Told Me I Couldn’t : A Young Woman’s Multicultural Adventures in Columbia

40 Days and 1001 Nights, One Woman’s Dance Through Life in the Islamic World

Belly Dancing for Fitness: The Ultimate Dance Workout That Unleashes Your Creative Spirit



While working on her book “40 Days and 1001 Nights,” Tamalyn Dallal started shooting footage to take her readers along with her. She’s continued to develop her skills as a documentary filmmaker through a range of projects.

40 Days and 1001 Nights (2007): The visual tale of 40 days in 5 different Muslim countries through the eyes of dance.

Zanzibar Dance, Trance and Devotion(2011): A look at 26 traditional dances from Zanzibar


Ethiopia Dances for Joy (2011): Looking for the roots of dance in the cradle of man’s ancestry

Pockets of Treasure: Traditional dances of the Deep South (in development; trailer edited by Laura Rose)

Global Development of Belly Dance (Future project)



For more information, you can reach out to Tamalyn directly through her dance or film web site.

Know of a belly dancer who needs her (or his) story told? Once a month, I’m blogging about dancers from the 1970s (and earlier) with the goal of educating and expanding audience for this incredible dance form. The selection process is entirely subjective. Please send suggestions to

Previous dancers

Maria Morca

An Evening with Neil Gaiman — and 1,200 other people

Neil Gaiman, UW, HUB, Seattle, Trigger Warning, reading
My completely blown out shot of Neil Gaiman speaking at the University of Washington HUB Ballroom last night. You can tell it’s him by the black clothes and the hair.

Some authors are more gifted with sentences than voices and when they speak, their words sound wrong because they don’t sound the way they do when you’re reading their words in your own head.

Despite having heard Neil Gaiman on YouTube, I was a little worried before I went to his reading last night.

Sure, he comes with a British accent and a lovely voice, but what if his rhythm sounded all wrong when he was just talking?

What if he said or did something that wiped away the magic?

Ironically, Neil Gaiman talked about the very same thing last night, mentioning that he now avoids certain famous people because he wants to hold the image he has of them in his head.

And that’s the thing about Neil Gaiman, he has this uncanny ability to bring up the thing that you’re thinking about at the moment, like he’s been thinking about it, too. The only thing is that being a master storyteller, he’s quite a bit better with the words — he tells you the story you didn’t recognize in your own heart.

The substance of the reading was surprisingly simple. Neil asked attendants to distribute index cards through the crowd. It seemed like three out of four of the 1,200 people at the sold-out event wrote questions. During the reading, he shuffled through them in a bit, but he took them more or less as they came and fashioned the night into a story just for us.

Some questions were simple like “Where did you get the idea for ‘Fortunately, the Milk,’ and some more complicated, like the reader who mentioned that she’d been dealing with a lot of death lately and wondered what Neil had to say about death and mourning.

Neil spoke about the death of his good friend and fellow writer Terry Pratchett. They wrote “Good Omens” together a long while back. He talked about how even when you knew death was coming it could “take you by surprise.” And then he read an excerpt from “Good Omens” — a bit he remembers as being written mostly by Terry.

The scene where the demon tries to convince the angel to thwart Armageddon sounds very much like two old friends getting drunk together and the sense that Neil would have liked to drink with Terry one last time was palpable, especially when he referenced the scene and talked about death drawing a “bottom line” on thirty years of friendship.

Neil also worked in two stories from his new short story collection “Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances.” The one about the uninventor and “Click-Clack the Rattlebag.” The later is a classic horror tale written with the kind of clear story that leaves grown ups afraid to wander into the dark.

Towards the end of the evening, Neil addressed how he chooses what to write.

Apparently, back in 2001, when “American Gods” came out (which is currently being made into TV series), he had an editor claim she could make him a “proper successful writer” if he would agree to write only books like “American Gods,” “but a little different.”

Fortunately, Neil has no intention of doing that. “What I really like doing is whatever the fuck I want to,” he says.

And while we were still thinking about the courage it takes to do what you really want to do, he went on with an analogy about writing, getting quite particular about the difference between an old English sweet shop and a candy store. The jars make all the difference. As he says, “because in a sweet shop, everything comes in huge jars. All these jars, more strange or peculiar than anyone can eat. I will never, if I live to 100, get to know what’s in every jar.” But he imagines writing is a like being locked in that shop over night, “desperate to get my hands in as many jars as I can before they open it up and catch me and drag me out.”

Makes you want to run off with the shop owner’s keys, doesn’t it?

This isn’t even close to what it’s like to hear Neil in person. If he comes to town, go. If comes within a three-hour drive and you don’t have a car, rent one.

Fangs away: NIGHT SHIFT released

NIGHT SHIFT, Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, Seattle, J.C. O'BrienAfter a year of writing in cafés while baristas vacuumed under my feet and complimented me on my concentration skills, I wrapped my vampire novel’s climax scene in time to pop a bottle of champagne and ring in the New Year with Dick Clark.

I’m married to a jazz musician, which means New Year’s is a work night for him and usually for me. Although, I have to say despite the kid and the dog, it’s a little lonely without Dick Clark.

That was back in 2012. Editors had yet to develop “fang fatigue.” I had two requests for a full manuscript and figured my novel would be out within a year or so.

By the time I learned about fang fatigue, readers were experiencing it as well. I put NIGHT SHIFT in the metaphoric bottom drawer and worked my day gig, wrote part of a mermaid novel, part of a tarot novel and planned a supernatural noir series.

The vampire book still came up in conversation with random strangers — and nearly everybody’s eyes would light up with an unworldly gleam as they told me they wanted to read my book.

I toyed with the idea of going indie, but until I came up with the right cover, it wasn’t going to happen.

Gainsbourg, Seattle, absinthe, rum, JC O'Brien
The menu from Gainsbourg in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood that inspired me to start searching for pulp fiction cover inspiration.

Fast forward to my husband spending a few painful months modeling fangs using Poser and a particularly blunt cover critique from my NanoWrimo group and I found myself drinking a Sinthesizer at Gainsbourg in Greenwood with a pal. Maybe it was the absinthe and rum or the company, but the drawing on their menu inspired me.

I came home and started searching through pulp fiction covers. My painter husband (yes, he plays bass and paints — creativity is a turn-on) got excited and several computer drawings later, my cover was born.

Which is the long way of saying that my vampire novel is FINALLY available for purchase. You can find it on Amazon and Smashwords. Give it a read. Let me know what you think. I’d love it if you’d consider leaving a review.

And if you’re going to be in Seattle on May 3rd, I’ll be having a book release party at one of the book’s locations, the Alibi Room in downtown Seattle (you know, near the Gum Wall). Join us. Details below:

NIGHT SHIFT book release party
May 3
Alibi Room
Happy Hour: 3-6pm
IMPORTANT BIT: This is a buy-your-own-drink event. Believe me, I have bashes planned for the future, but only after I’m flush. If that makes you curious, help me get there, buy a book 🙂

Places where inspiration finds me

Seattle alley, Pioneer Square, J.C. O'Brien, Night Shift
While I’ve witnessed some racy things happening in Seattle alleys, I have, fortunately, not run into any of the scenes that happen in my novels.

I find my inspiration in Seattle’s dark alleys.

Seattle burned to the ground in 1889. 32 blocks of the city were rebuilt to new fire standards and so far (fingers crossed), they’ve done OK with quakes (with a few exceptions).

Seattle’s rain is no myth. Like New Orleans, downtown’s streets end up with puddles of “mystery” liquid that sometimes develops an oily sheen. Mix in some moss and subtract some sunlight and it doesn’t take much to imagine something dark and lovely hunting through Pioneer Square’s streets.

I also like to include real locations in my stories. Bars like the Alibi Room or restaurants like the Crumpet Shop show up in my work because I want readers to be able to taste what it’s like to live in Seattle.

But while I might go out in the streets at night hunting inspiration, when it comes time to express it in a story, I turn to locations I visit almost on a daily basis.

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My favorite place is probably Green Lake. Designed by the Olmsted brothers, who’d been hired by Seattle in 1903 to oversee park planning, this manmade lake includes a nearly three-mile track that I walk five to six days a week with my husband and dog.

But my history with Green Lake goes back to when I moved here from Detroit in 1987. I’ve walked that same track for nearly thirty years, oddly enough, almost always in the same direction. I’ve watched the seasons change, rabbits, eagles, hawks and red-winged blackbirds appear and disappear and had the opportunity to watch my own child and others grow into teenagers.

In other words, the lake provides a familiar place where I can go and observe change — a sort of laboratory of human expression, storytelling and condition combined with my absolute favorite source of inspiration — movement.

There is something to be said for knowing a large swathe of land with great intimacy and knowing that you share that space with people having a similar experience.

The Olmsteds created their parks with this kind of sensation in mind. If you’re lucky enough to live near one of the spaces that they created across the U.S. or in Canada, it’s worth exploring. But the same feeling can be had anywhere that you call home, because it’s going back to that same space day in and day out and looking really closely sometimes and not so closely the next that layers experiences in your brain. I believe an activity like walking or running allows you to coax those experiences onto the keyboard and combine your knowledge of daily existence with any dark, magical thing that strikes your fancy.

This piece was written as part of a blog carnival with six other others. Find out where they find their inspiration.

How to train your mind and body to let creativity find you


For me, the secret to staying inspired is movement.

Whether it means that I move my fingers across the keyboard from the moment I sit in my writing chair until I leave, or that I get up for regular dance or tea breaks, it’s shifting my body that shakes ideas loose.

I think ideas are sticky. They’re the product of all kinds of processes and I think they get stuck in our heads and it can be hard to pry them out.

This is why movement works.

Instead of concentrating on the outcome or the absence of an idea, you shift your focus and move.

Much of day we shorten our gaze to the width of a screen. Whether it’s on a phone, a computer or a television, that flat screen defines the span of what we encounter. Despite the knowledge literally at our fingertips, creativity can flatten and shrink during the hunt for small pieces of information if we don’t expand our gaze.

There are moments when you need to narrow your focus. Instances when the ability to zero on your quarry is what allows you to push through a deadline with the requisite number of words.

But to create those moments when the work feeds itself, I need to allow it to come to me. Instead of hunting creativity, I need to let it find its way into my story.

I do some of that by removing doubt.

After I walk the dog, unless there’s blood or fire, I’m going to eat breakfast and write for two hours. Whether or not I feel like it or am inspired is irrelevant. It’s what I do at that time of the day.

Once I’m in my writing room, I follow a set pattern of turning on the electric fireplace, the weird dolphin light I got at Good Will and lighting my candles. My dog gets off his bed and stretches out on the cool basement floor and I make my fingers move. I don’t stop to think if what I’m writing is good or if I like the scene I’m working on because I might not like the answer. And more importantly, when I get to the editing process, I might find out that “writing me” was wrong.

Thanks to NanoWrimo training, I write through to the end of the story and when it’s done, I start the next one, because it’s easier to keep going than it is to get started.

Momentum works.

And movement, done with intention, can keep the momentum going.

Instead of zeroing in on your screen or book or task at hand, softening your gaze allows you to notice things out of the corner of your eye. Lulling your brain with rhythmic movements allows it to relax and make connections between a random comment on Facebook, the music playing through your speakers and the trouble with the pacing your last chapter.

Movement done in a relaxed, steady manner, whether it’s walking, dancing or loading the dishwasher replaces chasing after the story with an invitation for it to come to you.

This is easier if you pay attention to your breath. Allowing your in breath to descend into your diaphragm to spread your ribs like wings and following the breath through a complete exhale can help you relax enough to let your story find you.

If all of this sounds like yoga or meditation, you’re close.

For me, creativity comes when I achieve a state of trance. I can get there through rhythmic movement or immersing in a task, but it’s the product of relaxed action.

This doesn’t come easily.

It’s not like you can go sit wherever you write, snatch a couple of breaths and tell yourself to relax and it will work. Especially when faced with multiple demands on your time, the state can be hard if you haven’t laid the groundwork. This takes practice. You have to train both your mind and your body.

Figure out when you do your best work by trying to write at different times of the day. See if that time meshes with your schedule, which may take some rearranging. (My best time doesn’t work for mine or I’d have written this at three in the morning when the only sound is the world breathing.) If you have too much to do, get your writing done first. Even that shift in priority can provide the perspective to receive other ideas throughout the day.

Because you’re in a story mind, co-workers may offer bits of dialogue or plot points. You might encounter colors or situations that suit your plot.

Putting your story first sets you up to receive inspiration instead of chase it.

Because inspiration is a little like love — it finds you best when you’re doing something else.

Need more inspiration? This post was written as part of a Blog Carnival of Inspiration with several of my fellow writers.

PROFILE: Maria Morca

"Maria Morca's Belly Dance Work Kit" published in 1975.
“Maria Morca’s Belly Dance Work Kit” published in 1975.

During the ’70s, belly dance books flourished. From how-tos to histories, paperbacks and hardcovers with lots of pictures made it into print and, by the ’90s, onto used bookstores’ shelves.

I stalked these books, lucking into volumes by Serena Wilson and Özel Türkbaş, Sula and others. After practicing or class, I’d look at the photos and wonder when I’d be able to stare into the camera with such confidence.

But it wasn’t until I discovered “Maria Morca’s Belly Dance Work Kit” on a shelf at the Capitol Hill Half-Price Books that I came across these words:

“Did you, when you picked up this kit, realize that you were also picking up a way towards personal identity?”

Not then, but I do now.

Maria Morca, flamenco, seattleHave you ever wished a character in a book would just come alive and talk with you or teach you what she knows? Yes, it’s that freaking exciting. More than a decade later, I have the privilege of being coached by Maria Morca. Let me tell you about her.

Although she’s from a musical family, a trip to the movies when she was five secured her future. After seeing the dancer moving on the screen, all she wanted to do was dance. 75 years later, Maria is still dancing, teaching flamenco classes for children and adults in Bothell at Zamani World Dance  and LaVida Dance and Yoga in Bellevue. She also offers vintage belly dance workshops and coaches belly dancers like me and Belly Dance of the Universe champion Roxy Stimpson.

At eighty, keeping up with Maria Morca can still make me sweat.

Maria Morca. flamenco, Seattle
Publicity shot for the Chateau in Hollywood with Manolo Vasques and Maestro Manuel Garcia-Matos, taken in 1967.


Maria’s professional career began when she went on the road with Lola Montes and Her Spanish Dancers, touring the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Maria celebrated her 21st birthday with the group: “When you’re traveling, you can’t gain weight, so desserts were not a problem. I think I had a strawberry shortcake,” she says.

Maria Morca, ballet, Seattle
Maria studied ballet with Bronislava Nijinska (Nijinsky’s sister) and Karoun Tootikian.

But before hitting the stage, Maria studied ballet and interpretive dance with Karoun Tootikian, a Denishawn dancer and Director of the Ruth St. Denis Foundation. Maria’s studies were interrupted when Tootikian went to work on the Hollywood production of “The King and I” as a consultant to the choreographer.

While she was away, Tootikian asked Maria’s parents to continue her studies in classical ballet with Vaslav Nijinksy‘s sister, Bronislava Nijinska.

When Tootikian returned to teaching, she only wanted to teach at the Foundation, which was very far from Maria’s home. As working musicians, her parents could only afford one class — and Maria had to take three buses and walk one-quarter of a mile on an unpaved street to get there (the street is now Ventura Blvd.).

Through Tootikian, Maria became a protégée of the Ruth St. Denis Foundation. Her parents paid for one class and the Foundation gifted her others, allowing Maria to expand her studies.

One of the founders of modern dance, St. Denis built her reputation traveling the world performing dances inspired by Egypt, India, China and other locations. When asked what it was like to study at the Foundation, Maria tells me:

“Miss Ruth did not teach. You absorbed from her demonstration, from her conversation. Teaching wasn’t one of her fortés, but certainly she is a great influence for anyone who was at the Foundation.”

Decades later, Maria continues to draw on that experience:

Maria Morca, Ruth St. Denis, Seattle, flamenco
Eighteen-year-old Maria Morca performing in one of the Ruth St. Denis Foundation costumes.

“Miss Ruth would from time to time tell us stories or [demonstrate] ‘how it should be done’ or she would give us little gifts from her travels. One time she opened a big steam trunk and gave something to each one of us. And there was a picture from National Geographic of a Balinese dancer and I wanted that so much. She gave me an old Christmas card of the Madonna and Child. She could see on my face that that wasn’t what I wanted. ‘When you learn to dance and the audience can believe you are actually holding the Christ child in your arms, then you’re an artist.'”

I asked Maria to tell me if she’s pulled it off. Despite a lifetime of achievements, here’s what she had to say:

“Not yet, my career, as everybody else’s, is evolving, which is wonderful because you never feel like you’ve done it all. There’s always something exciting to look forward to.”

Studying at the Foundation was “very magical” Maria says.

“We would never know when Miss Ruth would appear. She lived upstairs. There was always a lot of activity and one of the reasons it was very exciting was because visiting artists from around the world would stay at the Foundation. What do you do when you’re in-between jobs? You teach.”

During that time, Maria learned from dancers from Japan’s Kabuki theater, Tahitian from several large groups including Hilo Hattie, Javanese and Indonesian dance as well as studying with dancers from India.

Transfer of energy

I asked Maria to share one thing she learned from St. Denis that she still uses on stage today. She said it was “very hard” to pick one thing:

“Miss Ruth also was very much into esoterics and flow of energy and one of the things when she would demonstrate was how to flow one move into the other. It flowed something like you might find in aikido for when you do a movement and your movement goes through your partner and flips them.”

In addition, Maria mentioned St. Denis’s skills as a dramatist and ability to project, “But it took many, many years for these early impressions to surface in my work. The older my work and I get, the more I rely on these things.”

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Maria Morca, flamenco, Hollywood
One of Maria’s favorite photos.

Getting to know her first love: Flamenco

When she was 13, Maria was out front of her school doing “noon duty” with another student of dance. Except her friend was studying flamenco. When the friend’s father learned that Maria was studying with the Ruth St. Denis Foundation, he told his daughter to teach Maria what she was learning and wanted Maria to share what she knew. After that, Maria says, “I was hooked.”

“There is a certain type of nostalgia that flamenco music has within it and it’s kind of like you’re drawn to return to something so nostalgic that it’s probably so far back in your past or maybe even before that, who knows, but it’s a longing to get to back to your soul.”

Maria Morca, vintage belly dance, Seattle

Becoming a belly dancer

Six years later, Maria made her living dancing flamenco and continued to do so until the ’60s when belly dance superseded flamenco in popularity.

By this time, Maria had also made inroads into Hollywood’s studios, accepting calls whenever they needed an ethnic dancer. She met Zanouba of Cairo after watching her bead a costume while on the set. Taught to bead by her grandmother, Maria recognized the complexity of the woman’s work. After asking if she was a “belly dancer,” Maria learned that the woman called herself an “oriental dancer,” but she also invited her to one of her shows.

But it wasn’t until one hot day that belly dance became a possibility. As the Santa Ana winds blew heat into Los Angeles, rendering Maria’s small apartment unbearable, her friend, Zanouba, invited her to swim at her apartment’s pool. The high-end address caught Maria’s attention. As a consequence of the swim, she moved into a nearby apartment at a reduced rate.

That New Year’s Zanouba called her with a paying gig that required two other dancers. She wanted Maria and Aisha Ali to perform. But Maria was worried that she didn’t know how to belly dance.

“Don’t worry you’re a professional dancer, I teach you five steps. You just do it over and over.”

Maria made a costume and danced. As the night wore on, the party got rowdier and one of the guests wrapped an ice cube in a dollar bill and put it down her bra.

After giving him a karate chop, Maria thought she’d never belly dance again, but she’d been working in movies and TV and had let casting know that she had a belly dance costume. A short while later, they called her for “I Dream of Jeannie.” Maria’s dancing in purple in the remixed clip below, followed by Zanouba of Cairo.

At that time, she averaged two or three shows a week, racking up credits like:

Maria Morca, right, In "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

 The Brother’s Grimm

Ship of Fools

I Dream of Jeannie


Mission Impossible TV show

I Spy

The Greatest Story Ever Told
(at left, Maria is on the right)

The Story of Ruth

The Lucy Show

Can Can

Hello Dolly

Funny Girl

The Nutty Professor

Two Weeks in Another Town

Unsinkable Molly Brown

Run For Your Life

Journey to the Center
of the Earth

Plus various television commercials

Toronto connection

In the ’70s belly dance as a fun way to get and stay fit was heading north, Maria relocated to Toronto, Canada. At the time, Maria was teaching, but only had a few students in flamenco and an equal number in belly dance until a local paper asked her to “mentor” an article on belly dance. She was supposed to help the model look authentic during the photo shoot.

She arrived at the shoot with four costumes. The model never showed because at the dance store she could only find a white leotard in her size. Concerned that it would be too see-through, she cancelled.

Maria Morca, vintage belly dance, SeattleThe newspaper turned to Maria. She ended up with a three-page write-up that included her phone number. Soon she was teaching four nights a week, three times a night with 12 students in each class.

Maria connected with George Sawa, who was a student at the University of Toronto and a “brilliant” qanun player. He and his ensemble would play jobs for Maria and her students and she invited him to collaborate on the LPs that went into her work kit. Sawa is now an ethnomusicologist who continues to play and teach in Canada.

For a long while, Maria was the only belly dance instructor in Toronto. Given belly dancing’s challenging reputation and Maria’s understanding of dance history, she began formulating her ideas and wrote several articles for dance magazines.

Around the same time, Penguin Books reached out to her and suggested she write a book on belly dance.

“My whole mission was that belly dancing can be a performing art and the history of why it has such a tarnished reputation, but Penguin Books wanted a book with lots of how to and photos of dancers in skimpy costumes. Exactly the opposite of what I wanted to say.”

When Maria explained her position, Penguin withdrew it’s offer. She says she would have been happy to write a pamphlet for her students, but her husband at the time encouraged her to go ahead with the book. Although the book is currently out of print, she has a limited number of copies available.

Some years later, Maria returned to her “first love” to form “Maria Morca’s Dances of Spain,” creating many choreographies which continue to be performed around the Pacific Northwest. She also created “Maria Morca and the Middle Eastern Ensemble,” appearing at events around the Seattle-area.

Maria passed her dance companies to her gifted students Jacquelina Villegas-MacLin and Deborah Katz, thinking she would enjoy the weather, she went back California several years ago. Finding it too hot, she’s back teaching and performing in the Seattle area.

Villegas-MacLin still produces and teaches flamenco in the Seattle area while Katz passed on Maria’s Middle Eastern Ensemble to Bellevue’s Zulaika after only a few months.

Dance continues to be a form a self-expression for Maria. She also credits dance with maintaining her mental and physical vitality: “The more flexible you are physically, the more flexible you are in life.”

Accepting students

Maria Morca is currently accepting students in both flamenco and belly dance. Reach her at

 Upcoming performance

Springtide at Third Place Books

May 2nd, 1-4pm

(other dancers will also be performing)


Practical advice

Visualization: Maria tells me she’s never liked to practice, but while riding all those buses to get to the Ruth St. Denis Foundation, she developed the ability to mentally practice to the music she could hear in her head. “Most of my planning out of a program or setting a choreography or even teaching a class is done to this day in a nonphysical mode and then is tried with physical movement,” she says.

Maria Morca, flamenco, belly dance, Seattle, Bothell, Bellevue
Maria Morca maintains her stunning posture whether on stage or sharing a pot of tea.

Posture: A session with Maria makes me sit and stand taller for a number of days. One of the most noticeable things about her is her posture, which would be extraordinary on a twenty-year-old and is impressive for someone who’s turned eighty this past January. I asked her what advice she might have for chronic slouchers: “Remember that flamenco dictates a certain upright posture. Notice I said upright, not uptight.” Maria credits many of her postural habits with being born into a family of professional musicians and dancers, but says “one of the benefits of dance is that it improves your posture, “making it easier to breathe as you take weight off your abdominals, which is especially important for women. With proper carriage, you are more flexible and you can move more freely.” Standing and sitting correctly, Maria says, alleviates a great deal of pain “and it’s better than taking aspirin.”

Know of a belly dancer who needs her (or his) story told? Once a month, I’m blogging about dancers from the 1970s (and earlier) with the goal of educating and expanding audience for this incredible dance form. The selection process is entirely subjective. Please send suggestions to


False Eyelashes (or taking cues from the ’70s)

false eyelashes, Seattle, belly dance, J.C. O'Brien
These are the false eyelashes I use for dancing. Wearing them feels like I’ve attached a five-pound weight to each eyelid.

Yes, this week I’m writing about false eyelashes since they’re now the fashion amongst belly dancers. Back when I started, heavy mascara sufficed.

In the ’70s, my mother would painstakingly glue tiny clumps of false lashes to her own. I’d sit on the commode and watch her twease a clump, dip the end in stinky glue and move that mess toward her eyes. I couldn’t look away, but there was no way I was putting that crap on my own lashes.

Flash forward to my first belly dancing gig in over a decade and I’m in the bathroom with tweezers and glue that doesn’t stink and strip lashes I picked up at Walgreen’s and I’m realizing that I’m really glad my husband was a teen in the ’70s because I needed a consult to get the lashes on straight.

As I mentioned before, the things are heavy , like wearing hand weights on your eyelids. A number of gigs later, I can tell you that men get stupid when you where false eyelashes. Whether it’s my husband, his pals, the waiter pouring my drinks or the checkout guy at Rite Aid (pantyhose, not eyelashes — they’re suprisingly reusable) they all suck in their breath when I lift my eyelids high enough to see them. To a man, they act like little boys who’ve found an unexpected present under the tree. Unlike the influence of modern adornments, men keep a polite, but amazed, distance. For someone who’s dealt with sexual harrassment in the workplace and criticism from fellow feminists for wearing makeup and earrings it’s a tantalizing breath of power.

While I hesitate to break the false eyelash spell, I wonder what else the ’70s might have to teach me.

When I started belly dancing in the ’90s, much of the dancing was heavily Modern Egyptian, which wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t the image that made me want to belly dance. Except I didn’t think I had an image in my head.

Turns out that if you watched television in the 1970s, you watched a lot of belly dancing. Nearly every one of my family’s favorite shows included a belly dancer at some point.

Since that time, I’ve learned that there was a shift in America when dancers travelled to Egypt and came back to tell some gorgeously talented dancers that they were doing it “wrong” instead of understanding that what they were doing was different.

Many of the dancers in clubs across the United States tested their talents with musicians from a variety of countries, working to express Egytpian style for one audience, Turkish for another, Greek for a third or performing their own mix of styles that, by all rights drew on heavy Turkish influences.

This is where I want to dance, but sadly, these clubs no longer exist. But the music does and there are a number of dancers that graced those stages and dance floors, racking up hour after hour of experience that has transformed them into true masters of this art that I adore.

While many of these dancers are still teaching and performing, the audience that once loved them has shrunk to practioners of their dance form.

That’s not good enough.

The rest of you are missing out.

There are a whole bunch of people who don’t even know these dancers exist. Well, I’m going to change that. Starting with next week’s blog post.

Once a month, I’ll be interviewing a dancer from the ’70s or earlier and sharing video clips of performances as well as insight and anecdotes and how you can get in touch with them to take classes or watch them perform.

NEXT WEEK: Maria Morca

Maria Morca, flamenco, belly dance, Bellevue, Bothell, Seattle
Maria Morca teaches flamenco and vintage belly dance in Bellevue, Bothell and Seattle.

Next week I’ll be featuring my dance coach, Maria Morca. Maria’s racked up 61 years on the stage and can still make me sweat during our sessions. For dance historians out there, she studied with one of the mothers of modern dance, Ruth St. Denis.

UPDATE: Maria tells me that, despite labeling, Miss Ruth is only in the first clip presented in the video below.