Thursday, August 07, 2008

One of my favorite belly dance students turns 89 next week .. and he's a great GUY!

My newest, oldest private belly dance student, Nels, will be 89 on Aug 12!!! A Swedish immigrant, he decided he wanted to learn how to belly dance after seeing it on TV several times. (I wonder if he’s seeing Guild of Oriental Dance videos on cable access?)

Keeping the first meeting safe (and secret)

He suggested a coffee shop for our first meeting. I assume he wanted to be sure I was who I said I was—but I also realized he wanted to keep this temporarily a secret from his daughter, with whom he shares a duplex.

After our meeting at a Panera bread, he decided to break the news to his daughter, and we’d do our lessons at 10am (his best time of day for him) on either Saturdays or Sundays, depending on both our schedules, at his home.

I was a bit nervous at first about his health, and always keep a very close on him. While he a 45-minute lesson is about as long as he can take, otherwise, I started him off quite similarly to how I teach all beginners. Some loosening exercises, and into isolations. He actually struggles no more than most of my beginning students! We don’t have benefit of mirrors, so just as I do with other beginners I’ve taught without mirrors, sometimes I demonstrate for him both the right way, and the way he’s doing the movement differently.

While his balance isn’t perfect, we do Egyptian Basic slowly, and he does it just fine!

He has a great shimmy!

I guess he shimmied sometimes when he was ice dancing when he was much younger. He does it very well. He even used to coach ice dancing! I don’t try to get him to shimmy JUST his shoulders or JUST his hips as I would with a more typically-aged student (I guess I pick my battles as it were. ) It seems good just to get him to move! Last Saturday, I did get him to do his all-over shimmy while shifting his weight from foot to foot, but never picking up the feet entirely.

He’s a fun guy: The first 2 lessons he wore shorts and a golf shirt, and the coin hipwrap I sold him. The 3rd week he opened the door wearing the shorts and a sleeveless undershirt; he said he’d discovered he could see the movement better that way. (He has a small mirror.) The 4th week, he wore a pair of black, hiphugger, stretch, bellbottom pants with the undershirt. I said, “I see you’ve got yourself some dance pants” at which he burst out laughing and told me he’d gone to 10 stores to find them. And he has also turned out to be a real rabble-rouser! He wants to surprise some of his friends with a belly dance performance one day.

The recital approaches ... 

I suggested we have as a goal dancing in the Guild of Oriental Dance Recital (in April, I believe.) He loves the idea, saying, He’d like to do something else before he goes. (He ice-danced, and played the trumpet in a band in years past.) I told him he’d live to 130 because he’s always doing fun things that are good for his body, mind, and heart. He continually asks about costuming for the show, so the other day I suggested he get someone to sew him a sparkly shirt and a small turban; with the pants and coin wrap,  voila! He said the woman at the store where he found the pants sews a lot, and he thought he’d engage her to sew such a shirt.

He asked me to bring him some music, and I had Mr. L copy the practice CD I was using for his lessons. But he told me doesn’t like that one. The other day he revealed to me (every week he reveals something new!) that he has a recording of himself playing the Sheik of Araby with a drum machine backing him up. He loves this recording, and I said I thought people would be extremely charmed if he danced to his own recording in the Guild Show. So that seems to be the direction we are currently headed!

It's not the chest, it's the ribs ...

Every time we are doing isolations, and we do rib cage movement, he says “I don’t have much of a ‘shest.’” I always say we are not concerned with the chest, but the ribs!

He came to see the Friday night show during Cassandra’s Weeklong. Cassandra had Monique solo this time, she was FANTASTIC!!!!!!! And Nels loved her so the other day I told him she is dancing at Mairin’s Table in August. He’ll call the restaurant to find out when. He has also engaged me to dance at a party at his home in late August. (I strongly suspect he wishes to freak out the widows who will come to this gathering!)

Finally met his wonderful daughter

I met his daughter the 3rd time I went. We bonded pretty well, because she is the assistant mgr at East Side Co-op and I had recently read about their artists call for murals there. She seemed to be at first concerned about her dad’s latest crazy pursuit, but relaxed when I seemed like her kind of people. (Co-op shopper!)

All in all, one of my favorite students!


  1. Really adorable story! Shimmy on!

  2. if I lived closer...I'd buy a pack of lessons.

  3. Wow, what an inspiring man! I hope I'm still so full of life when I reach such an age.

    I'm starting my first bellydance course in September, I'm so excited about it! I've always wanted to try, but never quite had the guts to do it, until now :)

  4. I began playing darbuka at a belly dance school in Brazil having recorded on an album using the instrument in a more of a pop environment, now I intend to use actors and dancers to perform a live show of spontaneity.
    Thanks for the inspiration

  5. First bellydance course? That's wonderful, Loes! You've been inspiring us through the Secret Wish Jar blog, I'm so glad you found inspiration for yourself too!

  6. Reading your blogs, sounds like it's all coming together for you, Danny. That's wonderful! Thanks for visiting.

  7. I hope I'm still that active when I'm that age.

  8. YEAH! Sometimes you just gotta dance. *grin*