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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Hair & Home

by Thea


This page features a light-hearted look at a belly dancer's hair styles over the years.


We decided to sell our house last fall. The three-hour daily commute to work was too much of an assault on our spare time. Not enough moments to make music, dream, dance. Our picturesque little avocado-growing community, which someone likened to Brigadoon, had no dance activity anyway. It occurred to me that this might have qualified as an opportunity, but given the commute, I was in no shape to embrace it.

"No one would have supported belly dance in Fallbrook," offered my optimistic husband. I wasn't so sure about this, although indeed most restaurants closed early. Still, Rita Coolidge had recently chosen "the friendly village" as her personal hideaway, thereby putting us on the map. The Art and Cultural Center had opened a year ago. Heritage Hall might have served as an enticing retreat center for dance seminars. But no use fretting. Leave it to the next dancer. We were going to sell our home, which Bert was sure would take six months.

After about a month of no offers, I began to worry a little. Were we lacking in home presentation techniques? Or maybe it was my belly dance photos, artfully placed around the entry hall and living area. Were they just… too strange for the inhabitants or prospective inhabitants of our little town?

You wouldn't have thought they were that strange. They were the best I had managed to produce over my years of dance involvement. Proudly presenting this costume or the next. The thrill of capturing that perfect image to capture that illusive job. A sort of shrine to the dancer I had tried to be. The fun was in the trying. I had recently framed several of the enlargements, which had threatened to get frayed during my previous move to Fallbrook. Skin-toned mats, said the Aaron Brothers framing consultant, would look best, and I chose silver frames except for the green and turquoise picture.

But now they had to go, to be removed to a more demure location-the bedroom or the office-so that we could sell our house. And as I removed them, I noticed I was removing a chronology of my hairstyles.

My hair is stick-straight and what some might call dirty blond. Later, I chose to call it wheatberry. As a child in Holland, my mother had me wear it short, first with chopped bangs, the kind you get when first attempts are crooked and you have to keep cutting them, later held back in a little mound fastened with a pin. My youngest sister was another story. Her hair was light red, with lovely soft waves, so she was allowed to wear it princess-long even before she was two.

When I was nine we moved to Kansas, where I pressured my mother into giving me a Toni home permanent. I augmented my English lessons at the magazine stand at Dillon's grocery store, reading for hours about Hayley Mills and trying to imagine the good fortune of having glorious long sun-gold hair and being in the movies.

After I exhausted these magazines, I might purchase one glazed and one chocolate donut for a nickel each at the bakery and go to the front section of the store, overflowing with comic books, a little retreat center for kids while their mothers shopped. I would focus on the female heroines in these comics because of their mystifying ability to have fabulous full-bodied hair, ever-changing in length-enormous pony tails floating high atop underlying hair which didn't appear to be thinned by such partitioning. In my trusting child's brain, I thought these drawings indicated how hair ought to be. About fifteen years later, I would begin to reenact these comic book cuties-as a belly dancer.

My first metamorphosis as a dancer was to acquire a curly perm. It would make me look much more spirited, assured the Pasadena stylist, who was Armenian and played tambourine. In my chin-length frizzy halo, I made my stage debut. The curls lasted a couple of months, but the stylist had neglected to mention that the perm would fry my hair. Destroy it. So in one of my more unlikely hair maneuvers, I had it cut short, the kind of style that looks nice if you blow-dry it every day.

Dorothea with Perm


PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Kathleen Thomson, circa 1989.

Click on the above photo to see the image in more detail.

I didn't think this sleek short 'do would do me as a dancer, but luckily I had connected with a delightful new mentor, recently moved to Pasadena from Chicago. She was a master with wigs and makeup and false eyelashes and was able to make me look impressively unrecognizable. Professional, I would say. Only thing, it didn't work so well when I had to effect this transformation myself. An eyelash, to my horror, sweated off mid-performance, abruptly ending any future efforts to make my eyes look as soulful as hers.

I tried the wig with blended bangs and without. Without bangs, I was gripped by anxiety that the wig was somehow slipping backwards on my head. With bangs, I feared the difference in texture between the bouncy wig hair and my flat wet bangs would surely expose my deception.

The photo to the right of Thea wearing a wig for a performance in Balboa Park was taken in October 1993.

Click on the photo to the right to see the image in more detail.

Dorothea Wearing a Wig

I tried growing my hair long again when I moved to San Diego in the late seventies, adding tiny gold streaks and dangly ornaments, some with sequins and feathers. When it looked drenched and ragged after a show, my face beet red, I consoled myself thinking that Ann-Margaret had once lamented similar shortcomings. Although I hadn't seen evidence of such a condition in any of her action shots.

In the late eighties, I experienced a personal belly dance Renaissance, which occasion was marked by a new-era, chemically improved curly perm. At one point, I even had it painted red. Not permanently, mind you. I was much too cautious for that, so I chose a temporary color that would wash out after ten times. But red nonetheless. Some friends were shocked by this daring statement. I felt emboldened and emblazoned and imagined that this hair color would somehow aid me to achieve more articulate hip movements. Having two redheads as siblings convinced me that this was not a genetically outrageous color choice. Ultimately, though, the chemically improved new perm fried my hair again. Destroyed it.

The photo to the right was taken in September 1992.

Thea With Permed Red Hair

A marvelous new concept now presented itself. Never-heard-of-before hair extensions, sewn to a little braid of your own hair at the nape of your neck. Real hair from the orient, dyed to match your own color, and you could order one, two, or three layers. The soft-spoken proprietor of the wig store in downtown San Diego would even attach them for only about $100 (three times as much elsewhere, she assured me). Moreover, this lush mane would superbly detract from any added poundage that had mysteriously crept aboard since my frizzy perm days.

Sadly, I ruined this regal glory after about the second washing. I forgot that you couldn't shampoo it normally, swishing the suds around with abandon. My new triumph required that the suds be gingerly patted into it, something I couldn't quite manage, for the hair became impossibly matted at the critical braids. I tried this adventure twice, finding it fun while it lasted, which was on average about a month if you didn't look too closely.

This photo of Thea with hair extensions was taken around 1991.

Hair Extensions

Belatedly, I followed a suggestion given to me by a costume designer in the seventies: The genie ponytail would look great, given my long neck, crunched though it usually was. I finally purchased one and indeed found it to have magnificent posing potential. Except I had become a little livelier in my spins and danced in mortal fear that this fetching tail with its braided platform would spin off to reveal a hastily assembled, flattened bun.

Would that my follies might have taken some different direction, say toward flexibility training or weight lifting. Maybe I could now be reporting as a dance diva, a star in some exotic land. How do we predict the paths of our obsessions, much less muster the power to usher them elsewhere?

PHOTO CREDIT: The photo to the right was taken in 1994 by Judith Gil.

Thea with Ponytail

Increasing maturity invited me to accept the reality of my own hair, straight as can be. Well not, entirely. I would still frantically try to curl it before a show. I brought my curling iron to the Maui dance retreat, fewer years ago that I dare mention.

"Wear it straight," urged a young co-retreatant from Seattle, her faced framed by bouncy, natural brunette curls. She sounded scornful. Maybe she was just trying to impress on me the futility of it all.

This photo of Thea was taken at a ceremonial "pre-birth" shower. It portrays a beautiful sunset in Del Mar, 1995, with her real hair.

Dorothea with Straight Hair

  Click on the above photo of Thea to see the image in more detail.


Nothing much has happened to my hair lately, except that for the first time in about 20 years, I have let my bangs grow out, same as they were when I graduated from college. Not needing bang trims, I also chose to forego the quarter-inch-every-six-weeks trim you're admonished to have to grow your hair long and right. They lied about that-that quarter of an inch made it stay the same length. Now it's longer than ever, more split ends than ever.
For now it will have to do.

By, the way, our house sold two months later to a belly dancer. She did notice the dance photos while discovering our home and said they were a plus.



About the Author

Thea became enchanted with belly dance in the mid-seventies while living in Pasadena, California. She continued to study and perform after moving to San Diego in 1978, concurrently pursuing a career as a technical writer.

Although she still maintains a lively interest in belly dance and has written articles, poems, and commentaries for several dance publications, nowadays Thea's performance goals are more focused towards music. Trained in classical violin since her childhood in Holland, she holds a degree in music from Stanford University. After graduation, she expanded her musical interests to include recorder study and performance.





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