Kat Varn on a Halloween Dive
Kat Varn, Author Photo
Kat Varn, Teaching Belly Dancing in Jamaica
Kat Varn, Kelly, and A Friend Performing
What do you call a book like this? Kat Varn calls it a novel. Kat Varn admits it is her story–the story of an accidental belly dancer, the story of the wild adventure of a forty-eight-year-old mother of grown children who registers for a six-week belly dancing class for beginners at the local high school and finds herself on the road with her new troupe of friends.
It is possible to be changed–in the blink of an eye–by dance, by community, by an empty nest, by the sheer pleasure of movement and the liberation of your body that comes with mindfulness and more than a little courage. It is possible to be changed by joy.
Kat Varn seems to have them all.
In Ameera Unveiled, Ms. Varn gives us–herself: unvarnished, honest, nervous, brave, in a word-unveiled. Look again at the book’s cover. It is a study in fluid movement, in a breathless and unselfconscious surrender to pure sensation.
It is beautiful.
In the Introduction, she tells us:
“Although this is a work of fiction, I admit it was driven by my own desire to dance—but was told I couldn’t, shouldn’t, or was forbidden. . . Ameera’s pioneer spirit blazes a trail through the unknown land of Dance.”
Ameera Unveiled begins as our narrator introduces herself:
“The year 2006 was my year of change. According to the Chinese calendar, it was the Year of the Dog, the same sign under which I was born in 1958. Specifically, it was the Year of the Red Fire Dog—I thought of it as the Year of the Hotdog.
In 1982, I was a Pentecostal wife and a young mother and everything I knew about the Chinese zodiac came from discreet glances at paper placemats at all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets.”
And so, we meet her and prepare to hear her story, already drawn by her voice. We know that she is a woman with a wry sense of humor, no doubt forged in that life that didn’t include the Chinese zodiac or perhaps in a childhood where dancing was forbidden. But Kathleen, the writer, has presented us with a jewel of a main character who, whatever her scars, can invite us to laugh with her as we remember those paper placemats in all the Chinese buffets of our own lives, as we remember, too, all those forbidden things that have somehow become essential to life.
Unsure of herself, awkward, certainly not a natural, by the end of six weeks, here is our narrator:
“Tonight, as I headed home from class, I felt as though I belonged in the dance world in spite of life’s interruptions. Next week can’t be my last!”
By now we are turning pages just to find out what happens next to this narrator in Kat Varn’s novel who–we now discover–is called “Kat.” Their instructor asks them at the end of the last class what the class has meant to them:
Sybil smiled and turned to me. ‘Kat?’
I was shaking my head in confusion at this point. Who is Ameera? It’s now obvious she isn’t the narrator; that’s “Kat.” This is a novel, isn’t it, Ms. Varn? It says “A Novel” right on the cover, and again on the title page.
And, incidentally, a novel about dancing that’s a page-turner?
We read on, as Sybil, the dance instructor, follows with:
“’I’ve got a proposition for the rest of you,’ Sybil said. ‘How’d you like to take semiprivate lessons with me at my house? You three seem to have bonded, and if you’d like to keep going, I’d be happy to teach you.’
In the quiet room, we searched each other’s faces. ‘I’m in,’ Polly said first. ‘Me too,’ Cheryl answered. ‘What night?’
All eyes turned to me. ‘I’m in’ I said, hiding my stunned thoughts. I’d resigned myself to the idea of this being our final curtain call.”
And so, not far into Varn’s novel, the adventure begins. And we don’t have long to wait before we are let in on the secret of the book’s title. Ameera is
“. . . my new belly-dancing alter ego. . . I’d chosen the name because Ameera means queen in Arabic. My previous non-dancing life had been all about duty and responsibility. The idea of being a queen amused me. I’d decided that, when I stepped into Ameera’s costume, I wanted to abandon my call to watch in exchange for a pass to dance.”
We also don’t have long to wait before we understand how important Ameera is to Kat Varn’s journey into herself:
“I wanted to be Ameera, with beautiful, glittery wings, so I wouldn’t be bothered with all the fear factors.”
As Kat’s dance life unfolds, she relies more and more on Ameera, but this new “relationship” is not without its struggles:
“‘Ameera. It’s only a thirty-minute show,’ I said, trying to summon my inner diva.
Ameera didn’t respond.”
We watch Kat as she lets go of the old armor and dons Ameera’s silks, but it is really only in the last third of the novel that the deep transformation occurs, and we read:
“I stared at the mirror and saw an exotic face staring back. She didn’t look a bit scared like the one melting down on the bed moments before. Her sparkly eyelids blinked over big, green eyes. Ameera had arrived. ‘How’s that?’ Sybil asked.
‘Wow, Sybil!’ I exclaimed. ‘I can’t believe that’s me . . . or Ameera.'”
With great delight we find that it is, indeed, both Kat and Ameera, that Kathleen Varn has created this new woman who somehow holds onto Kat’s warm, earthy stability and weaves into it the wry, delicious wildness of Ameera. Kat Varn has become a queen and, after all, “Ameera means queen in Arabic.”
Kat explained to me in a recent email why she couldn’t send some of the photographs I asked for:
“I don’t have a lot of photos of me up close dancing because a lot of times husbands are taking pictures of their wives. Mine is usually on stage being our prop janitor.”
In several places, Kat refers to her husband as her “soul mate,” and in her book’s Introduction, she writes,
“He made me his queen and supported my search for the little ballerina that got left behind in my childhood. It takes a special man to stand with his belly dancing wife.
They can’t be afraid of a little glitter!”
Kat Varn has, in words borrowed from Scripture, run the race, and she has won the prize. She kept her heart grounded in love–of home, of children, of husband, of the life around her, while her eyes looked straight ahead toward a future and a self she had, it seems, always imagined. And here, between the pages of Ameera Unveiled, she shares that vision with anyone who doubts her own dreams.
In “Four Quartets,” T. S. Eliot wrote:
“Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
Back from her tour and just off the plane, Kat tells us:
“I grinned and headed toward my supporting actor, dropped my bags, and let Steve scoop me up.
‘Welcome home, Ameera,’ my husband whispered. ‘Happy anniversary!’ ‘You have no idea,’ I said, basking in our embrace.
Ameera and I were home.”
The Still Point and The Dance.
Connect with Kathleen Varn and read more about her dance troupe.
Treat yourself to a copy of Ameera Unveiled at: