the summer of 2000, two friends, recent college graduates,
were trying to think of a way to add some fun to their new,
less-than-thrilling adult lives. Nearby, two sisters and a
friend were trying to think of a way to add some excitement
to their established routines. That September, these five
women, and twenty others, found themselves enrolled in a beginner's
belly dance course at Holyoke Community College, taught by
Rose Champagne. We didn't master the moves instantly (as we
might have hoped), but we fell in love with the music and
our glittering hip scarves. We also loved to think that, someday,
in the distant future, we would be able to dance half as well
as our teacher, Rose. It was enough to convince us to sign
up for the next class session.
Due to a scheduling fluke, we were the only five students
able to register for the course. And for the next several
months, it remained the five of us. We learned a veil dance
and a beledi. When we weren't dancing, we were laughing. Over
margaritas at our new hangout, On the Border, it was discovered
that four or us had graduated from the same high school and
that all of us had either been in band or chorus growing up,
giving us, if nothing else, a certain sense of rhythm.
As our bond strengthened, so did our commitment to belly
dancing. We met on our own for extra practices, bought more
CDs, chose dance names (Zivah, Elisheva, Shiraza, Mahira and
Asha, respectively). And we bought costumes for our first
Jewel of the Valley show in May 2001. There was some nervousness,
perhaps a touch of panic, that spring evening. Our coin belts
jangled as we paced, convinced we all had simultaneously forgotten
our two choreographies. Regardless, we made our way to the
stage when the time came, fluttering our veils and moving
our hips for our friends and families. We came off-stage both
exhilarated and terrified.
formation of Troupe Anjum came in December 2001, a few months
after we had officially become a private class. We had just
mastered our third choreography when Rose received a call
from the organizers of the First Night festivities in Northampton,
MA. They needed someone to fill a fifteen-minute time slot
between a group of adolescent flutists and some yoga dancers;
did she have any interested students? When offered the opportunity,
we accepted, with enthusiasm, and ambitiously decided we were
now allowed to call ourselves a troupe. We chose a name (Anjum,
meaning "stars") and caused quite a stir at the
Sears Portrait Studio, where we headed for last-minute publicity
photos. Shiraza, who knows everybody, even arranged for us
to perform at an Agawam Rotary Club luncheon by way of a dress
rehearsal. First Night contained all of the exhilaration and
none of the terror of our previous performances. Troupe Anjum
was here to stay.
In spring 2002, the troupe started learning what we still
consider our favorite dance: raqs al assaya, the cane dance.
The humor and high energy that power the dance perfectly complement
Anjum's personality.It also allows Zivah to use her natural
balancing abilities as something more than a cool party trick.
You will rarely see us perform without our canes. Try to imagine
a Frank Sinatra concert that didn't include "My Way"
and you'll understand.
And so it goes. Troupe Anjum goes wherever we are welcome,
be it high school reunions, holiday parties, benefits at the
St. Catherine of Siena Parish Center or opening for musical
acts at the Agawam Summer Concert Series. Like most amateur
troupes, we are quite popular on the nursing home circuit,
where we've been surprised by how much we enjoy dancing for,
and winking shamelessly at, our elderly audience. We continue
to develop our repertoire, cycling out beginning dances and
mastering new skills, be it playing the zills or managing
the ten-yard skirts essential for the karsilima.