Note: Halfa is a Middle Eastern word that refers to a celebration.
I ate a little too much Baklava at intermission and most everyone’s eyes in the photos I took glowed red from the low lighting. Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed Floyd’s first Hafla, a showcase of women’s artistic expression, performed in the Black Box Theater of the June Bug Center this past Friday night in Floyd.
The theme of the well attended evening was belly-dancing, but there were also music and spoken word performances. The lobby was filled with vibrant visual art made by local women. Beverages provided were from the folks the Blackwater Loft and Middle Eastern delicacies prepared by Aaron Staengel were for sale. The black stage was transformed with flowing scarves and tapestries and bedecked with strings of light. A step stool draped in a bright red cloth led to the microphone where poets read and women took turns introducing each other.
Katherine Chantal, a well known local herbalist who performs many of our county’s wedding services, opened the evening. Appearing on stage in a long purple velvet dress, she greeted the audience and offered a blessing. For some reason, my name was first on the brochure of scheduled performers. I always get nervous before reading, but at least I didn’t have to bare my midriff like the belly dancers did, I thought to myself as Katherine graciously introduced me.
Although the evening was planned by and for women, there were men in the audience and even a small number of children. I began to feel shy about reading the poems I had chosen. … Some women know when they ovulate … I know when poetry is aroused … The pull of paper … The flush of pen …The push of creation … And the swollen weight of poems that are late … But the Halfa, with its focus on women and their issues was the right venue for such a poetry. I dedicated the last of my three poems, one entitled “Book Signing,” to all my women writer friends, most of whom were fellow Floyd Writers’ Circle members sitting in the front row, Jayn Avery, Mara Robbins, and Katherine.
In between songs and poems, the belly dancers commanded center stage. An exotic cape dance was performed by two young women (both mothers now) who I have watched grow up. I was particularly captivated by the sword dance done by Ilima Ursomarso and Deb Wildman. Not only did Ilima and Deb balance large silver swords on their heads, but they shimmied and shook while they did so. Ilima, the show’s producer who came to Floyd via Hawaii, is an accomplished dancer who directs the Rhythm Fire Dance Company in Floyd.
There were solo and group dances, many of which were performed by Ilima’s students. One talented troupe of performers came from Blacksburg. A woman named Samra, who Ilima introduced by describing her Cabaret style of dancing and by plugging her “101 Shimmies” DVD, shined in an all red costume that glittered as she moved. The grace and control of movement that the dancers embodied was a wonder to watch. To the jingle of bells, the jangle of silver bangles, and a rousing taped soundtrack, the crowd tapped along. Every now and then someone from the audience let loose a YIP YIP or a HOWL to let the performers know they approved.
By the time it was my turn to introduce my friend of over 20 years, Katherine, I was more relaxed. I said to the audience, “I’m going to tell you something about Katherine that I bet no one here knows, not even her son (who was sitting in the front row). In the 1970’s Katherine and I worked in rival day care centers in the same Massachusetts town. We both had articles published in Mothering Magazine in the early 80s, all before we ever knew each other,” I revealed.
Katherine read a poem about the changing roles of a mother. Mara read a piece called “Alliterate This,” about juggling motherhood and her creative writing studies at Hollins College. Shamama, who was introduced as having “bang stuff” performed in hip-hop-like character. Although her performance had a comedic flair, the subject she spoke of, affordable housing for single mothers, was serious. Her bio in the program read: Shamama is available for babysitting.
Sally Walker, local singer and owner of the Café Del Sol, delivered an entertaining three song set of smooth jazz songs and was accompanied by musicians Billy Miller and Chris Luster. Singing and strumming, Floydian Kari Kovick called for some back-up singers from the audience to join her onstage. It was Kari who skillfully wound down the evening's high energy with a mother’s lullaby that she wrote for her youngest daughter.
“Feel free to cuddle,” she playfully told the audience before proceeding to serenade us. The purity of her resonant voice gave me chills as I listened and provided a gentle ending to a fun filled celebration.
Photos: 1. Blacksburg group. 2. Katherine greets the crowd. 3. Ilima with sword balanced on her head. 4. Kari.
The above was originally posted on Looseleafnotes.com on December 16, 2006 and was also published in The Floyd Press in December.