Tag Archives: Dance

Caffe Mona

by Kate

There are benefits to setting out on foot to pound the pavement hanging posters all over town. I have been flyering for rock shows and Shakespearean productions and dance performances and bellydance classes for years now, and have come to love the work. It’s a great way to learn a neighborhood, and to discover where to find everything from an amazing bookshop to a great cup of coffee.

Yesterday I was hanging flyers for the  grand Gala Bellydance Show featuring Sherena happening Saturday here in Pittsburgh. It is going to be a great show, and if you are in the area you should come. Live band, great dancing, Turkish food available for purchase, beautiful space, family friendly, kids under 12 get in free. In the course of my ceaseless promotions, I stopped to hang a flyer at the Caffe Mona.

The Caffe Mona is located just across the street from the gargantuan and internationally renowned Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. As coffeeshops often do, it has recently undergone a change of ownership. By all accounts, the former owner was a bit… aggressively friendly, particularly with female customers. Perhaps as a result, the new owner is distinctively courteous and respectful.

He is also Turkish, which means I heavily encouraged him to attend the upcoming bellydance show, and also that the menu at Caffe Mona is extremely enticing. The Caffe does catering as well as a full line of breakfast including sweet and savory seasonal crepes of all sorts and salads and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. My flyering companion had a pumpkin stuffed crepe, and I was torn between the Caprese Bagel or a Steak Omelet. I had the Omelet, but I’ll definitely head back for the bagel. The coffee is very good.

And the general atmosphere is warm, welcoming, and calm. I imagine that it would be a welcome respite for the staff and visitors at the UPMC Children’s Hospital across the street.

It was also a great place to have breakfast with a friend and a wiggling, ululating toddler. Meaning that perhaps during our stay there it wasn’t as great a spot as usual to get some work done in a contemplative manner.

If you’re near the Children’s Hospital or looking for a new coffeshop or lunch experience in Bloomfield or Lawrenceville any time soon, check out the Caffe Mona.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off. I have some flyers to hang.

Dancing in Dallas

by Colleen

Last Saturday night, the first semi-formal dance of the year was held here at UD.  It was in celebration of the end of a thing called Charity Week here, a week filled with Princess Bride (the theme of the week) references  because of course, everyone here is awesome and knows the script verbatim.  Seriously.  My history professor has quoted it more than once in class.  If you haven’t seen it, do it now.

Anyway, I wasn’t quite sure if I even was going until the night of the dance.  My family (ie, Cale and Mary) had come to visit for the weekend, and I was not going to miss hanging out with them if I could help it.  Luckily, they didn’t have any plans for the night, so I threw on a black dress (compliments of my sister-in-law, Aurora), let down my hair, and headed out to the dance with my trusty sidekicks, Emma and Killian.

This picture brings up the issue of height that I’ve been having here in college.  Simply put, there is a startling lack of tall people here-specifically guys.  A couple of weeks ago, I asked Clare what I should write a a blog post about.  Her answer was: guys.  The fact is, there really aren’t enough guys here that live up to my standard of being at least (come on, please!) an inch taller than me.  College was quite the culture shock in this aspect.

But, I’m done with that tangent for now.  The dance was a success at least.  Guys or no guys.  They played “Cotton-eyed Joe”, the ultimate Slattery dance song, and I danced until my feet hurt, looking like the Irish, country bumpkin that I am.  I returned back to my dorm that night happy to have gone, feet aching pleasantly, and eyes heavy with sleep.  But then again, this IS college.  When am I not tired?

Until later, everyone.  I have a paper to write!

A Tiny Tall Tale

by Kate

Last night we went out to the very glamorous and very hip Kelly-Strayhorn Theater to see the Bellydance Superstars and to bid adieu to Pittsburgh’s amazing Zafira Dance Company, performing as a troupe for the last time. The Theater is a gorgeous old movie palace, and as is fitting for a theater named after Gene Kelly (who grew here in Pittsburgh) they book lots of very dynamic dance performances. I was excited to see the dancing, but to be completely honest I was even more excited to four inch stiletto heels in public.

Oh, it has been a long time since I’ve been in the spike heel giantess mood. When you are six feet tall standing in bare feet, the decision to wear four inch heels is quite a commitment. I am grateful on a daily basis that my husband is six foot five, and when I met him I was so excited about this fact that I wore high, high heels every chance I got and reveled in the startled looks of passerby. Lately, however, I’ve been wearing bright fuschia flats, cowboy boots, gladiator sandals, and barefeet. I just haven’t been feeling the high heel vibe.

I realized how much I missed it last night, slipping on a pair of black stiletto with skinny jeans. I threw on a blazer from Banana Republic that I found last time I was at Goodwill, and felt very chic. Olympia was in a stylish striped top and Casey was tall and handsome and the theater was beautiful and the dancing was amazing and all was well.

Until right after we took this picture. Olympia had kicked off her shoes and was dancing and running wildly through the lobby, until she slipped and came down hard while biting deep into her bottom lip. We mopped up the blood and put her in the sling, where she slept peacefully through the second half of the show. She also slept peacefully when, while attempting to perform the challenging feat of walking down three steps, I caught my (four inch) heel and went tumbling forward through space, managing to stab myself in the foot with one spiked heel before catching myself clumsily with my arms and knees. Except for the stabbed foot, I was fine, and the swing just swung like a hammock on a gentle sea and Olympia slept right through it, but the 50 people behind me let out a collective gasp of horror.

I turned red and beat a quick stagger of a retreat, thinking three things: 1) I love that sling, 2) Perhaps I should put some of the energy I spend practicing dance into learning to walk, and 3) This totally did not dampen my desire to wear high heels in public. But perhaps I need new ones?

Beginning Ballet

by Kate

Two weeks ago, on my 32nd birthday, I took my first ballet class. As I wrote in this post , I didn’t begin dancing until my mid 20’s. After my mother informed me that it was not too late to become a dancer at 23, I took the plunge and enrolled in an 8 week session… of salsarobics. It seemed like a non-threatening soft entry in the dance world, and it was. I convinced my friend Rebecca to join me. The first step was to tiptoe into an intimidating dance store full of tutus and buy leotards- entirely unnecessary, but deeply satisfying. Rebecca and I have always believed in the power of costuming. We put our hair in buns, applied eye liner, and strutted into salsarobics like we were seasoned professional dancers. We were not, but the power of our belief did convince our salsa instructor that we were former ballerinas.

The next class was a disastrous flirtation with tango. At six feet I towered over my partners and felt like a clumsy oaf. At one class, I insisted on wearing oversized scuffed cracked leather cowboy boots. The leather bottoms were worn smooth, and I slipped and fell, pulling my partner on top of me. I never returned.

A year or two later I stumbled into the world of bellydance, and never left. Bellydance is full of adult beginners- people who have never taken a dance class in their lives. The bellydance community tends to be warm, welcoming, and supportive. It is also a bit of a wild west situation, dancewise. American bellydance brings together a wide variety of dance forms from the Middle East, Africa, India, and Polynesia, as well as balletic influences via Russians who spent time in the Middle East. There are tribal dancers and cabaret dancers, spangles and sequins and feathers and leather, troupes and soloists and fusion artists incorporating hip hop, Asian, modern, vaudeville, and circus influences. There are incredible teachers steeped in history and knowledge, and there are people teaching who have taken less than six months of classes themselves. The bellydance world is vibrant, open, and rich, but it is very much in the process of becoming a codified dance form. In many ways, it is pretty much the opposite of ballet.

 Over the past several years, I have taken several bellydance classes a week whenever possible. I’ve dabbled in african dance, hip hop, afrocuban, and even lurched and rolled through a few unforgettable modern classes. After years of serious study, I teach bellydance classes and love doing it. I dance in a Turkish restaurant and recently performed a solo set on the main stage at a huge downtown benefit for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. What I hadn’t done was take a single ballet class.

In a strange sort of way, not having taken ballet made me feel like I wasn’t a “real” dancer. Often when I tell people I do bellydance, they think I am saying ballet dance. Their eyes light up and they nod, envisioning white tights and pointe shoes, and then I clarify and their eyebrows raise up and their head bobs and they sort of sputter a bit, at a loss for words. I have also meet a surprising number of people who have a hard time believing that you can be A Dancer if you didn’t start at the age of 4, in a tiny tutu. I think I even have a hard time believing it myself now and then.

And so, at the age of 32, I put on my leotard (yes, the one from the salsarobics class! It finally came in handy!) and headed to an Intro to Ballet class at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. The PBT school is ten minutes from my house, located  in one of  the warehouses along the Strip District, near the yoga studio I wrote about in this post. According to their website, the PBT school is recognized as “one of the nation’s finest” for dance education and training. I don’t know whether to be grateful, amused, or embarrassed about that fact when I walk into the cavernous studios with acres of barre, walls of mirrors, and a harried piano player staggering in with 40 lbs of sheet music in her bag.

Intro to Ballet is a bit of a misleading title for the class that I took. I suppose that “Re-Introduction to Ballet for former ballet dancers who spent their entire childhood in tights and then went to college and got married and had children and now have enough time and money to take ballet classes again, as well as various student dancers who weren’t able to make it to the Advanced Class” wouldn’t have been as catchy. The class immediately assumed position at the barre and began piques, or something to that effect, and many other french terms for delineated movements as familiar as breathing to the former and current ballerinas behind me. I loved watching dancers of all ages, from young teens to women in their 60’s, gracefully and joyfully moving, borne aloft by the spirited accompanist- who actually seemed a bit furious about something, which added to the vim and vigor of her playing.

 In the corner of  the room, a dancer was lost in a world of her own. The quality of her movement was entirely different than anything I have ever seen. She looked exactly like a swan in the midst of a flock of chickens, gliding nobly through the water with her head held high as we squabbled in the dust. I found out later that she is a soloist for the Pittsburgh Ballet- the soloist I have seen for years on huge billboards advertising the ballet. It was obvious that this woman was completely at home in the studio, and completely immersed in the practice of constantly refining and perfecting her dancing. Although her carriage was the proudest I have ever seen, there was a humility in her approach to dancing- a willingness to completely commit herself to a basic combination, at a beginner class, over and over again.

This week I will attend the real beginner’s class, where they define movements and terms for those of us who missed that class when we were four. I hope that my years of dancing have taught me grace and humility. I know that they have taught me to let go and laugh while attempting to leap across the floor, to bend my body in a manner that is more supple and to let go of my pride so I can bend some more.  I have also learned that it is can be beneficial to begin at the beginning, over and over again.

Dancing with my baby.


I thought that I would have to stop dancing after I had children. I didn’t begin dancing seriously till my mid twenties, after my mother told me to stop bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have dance lessons as a child and just take some classes. She grew up on a farm too, she told me, and she didn’t start dancing till college. I remember watching her point her toes and stretch on the living room floor in the midst of children, and I used to play dress up with her old ballet slippers and Spanish gypsy costumes as a little girl. I was fascinated by her stories of dancing Wade in the Water in a long white dress with a parasol in a modern dance production directed by a seminarian inspired by the Alvin Ailey company.

Realizing that my mom didn’t begin dancing till college helped inspire me to begin dancing at the advanced age of 26. On the other hand, it was clear to me as the oldest of nine kids on a ridgetop far from town that dance class was not going to be a part of my mom’s life again any time soon. She was completely at peace with that fact, and I know that the dance and theatre and basketball and teaching she did before getting married helped make her so joyful and at peace with her vocation as a mother. I assumed that my life would follow the same pattern in a way- I would have my adventures, then begin the adventure of married life and children, without dance class.

I took as many dance classes as I could in the years before I married, trying to learn as much as possible before I had to stop. After moving to Pittsburgh as a newlywed newly pregnant and newly exhausted bride, my husband pushed me to get up off the couch where I was lying in a crumpled heap of self pity and just take a dance class. I returned from class with a renewed level of energy, hope, and joyfulness. Going to class every week helped me settle into this city, into my body, into my marriage.

Just as I was surprised to find myself living in a city, I was surprised to find myself dancing more after becoming a wife and mother. I began teaching in my second trimester, and taught till two weeks before Olympia was born. There is a Turkish restaurant and performance space down the hill and around the corner five minutes from my house, where I have been able to work with incredible women teaching, studying, and performing bellydance. I am so grateful to be involved in a dance community that welcomes and supports women as mothers.

I have begun to realize that we all have different paths, and that right now it is possible for me to be a mother and a wife and a dancer. We’ll see what happens if I have nine kids, but I’m not moving to the farm any time soon. In the meantime I’ll be at dance class, half the time crossing the floor with a baby in my arms.