Ethnic music, playing at full blast. Hummus, tabouli and beer. Colorful scarves and jingling skirts.
It's a summer evening in Cambridge. The day's heat has dissolved into a light, refreshing rain. I'm sitting in the Middle East Cafe with a group of people, cheering on our friend Nicole as she steps and spins for the crowd.
Before moving to Lexington at the age of 12, Rodriguez lived in West Roxbury, Mass., and Puerto Rico. Graduating from Harvard, Rodriguez – who has an enthusiasm for exploring other cultures and has traveled to India, Kenya and Peru – then spent three years living in New York City's International House, a cross-cultural boarding house offering space to 700 residents from over 100 countries.
During her stay in International House, Rodriguez befriended a woman from Jordan, who introduced her to belly dance. When Rodriguez moved to New York's Upper West Side, she began taking more lessons.
Getting serious, Rodriguez danced with New York's Public Urban Ritual Experiment (PURE) for six years.
"I met some of the best belly dancers in New York through PURE," says Rodriguez. "I became sort of a belly-dance snob, because those dancers taught me what was good and what wasn't."
Since then, Rodriguez has performed at the Middle East and at Basha Cafe in Cambridge, as well as the Athenian Corner in Lowell. She's also attended belly-dance conventions in Nashua, N.H.
Rodriguez, who had dabbled in "nearly every other form of dance," says she appreciates belly dance's feminist roots. Rodriguez explains that belly dance was first performed by women for women – no guys allowed – in the harems of North Africa and the Middle East. She suggests that the initial purpose of belly dance was to instruct women on how to have sexual intercourse and give birth.
Then, Rodriguez says, belly dance became "less dignified;" the belly dancer began performing at weddings, demonstrating the bride's duties for mixed crowds.
Later on, at the Chicago's World Fair in 1893, belly dance found its way into the American spotlight, where it became more about lust and money than about life lessons. Today, Rodriguez says, spectators often treat belly dancers like strippers, stuffing cash into performers' belts or bras.
"It's gross!" she exclaims.
Rodriguez herself refuses to collect tips at her venues; she says she's only there to honor the dance.
Rodriguez also has a passion for writing. At a young age, she "wanted to write plays, but never had the attention span." After working in publishing in New York City, Rodriguez now lends her pen to non-fiction and women's fiction.
She has composed a book of about 6,500 dog names and is currently working on a collection of short stories about "10 years of dating in New York."
The short stories, laughs Rodriguez, are "about one-sixth true."
Recently, Rodriguez found an innovative way to fuse her interests in multiculturalism and the English language. In July, she received her ESL teaching certification, and tutors immigrants and refugees in downtown Boston. Rodriguez says she thrills in meeting people from Bhutan, Tibet, Senegal and Cuba, and teaching them pronunciation, reading and writing.
Rodriguez believes creativity is the key to keeping things fresh. "Without it," she says firmly, "Life would be really boring."
Keep life interesting with live music at Lexington Center's Nourish restaurant on Sundays, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and Thursdays, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m; and Concerts in the Park by the Hastings Park Bandstand on Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m. The Bedford Street Starbucks will host an "Acoustic Showcase" on Sept. 25 at 6 p.m.
Try out for the Master Singers of Lexington at the First Parish Church Aug. 30 to Sept. 29. For more information, contact the Master Singers by e-mail at email@example.com or call 781-863-8245.
The Lexington Arts and Crafts Society is showing its 75th anniversary celebration exhibit Aug. 31 through Sept. 18 at 130 Waltham St. Through Aug. 31, Cary Memorial Library is showing "A Calling from Afar," an exhibit of paintings by Kang Shen; "Impressions of New England," a collection of photographs by David Emerson and Pamela Marshall; and "Little Red Riding Hood," a display of recently published children's book art by Christopher Bing.
Nourish restaurant is showing an exhibit of work by area artists through Aug. 31. Running until Oct. 17, the National Heritage Museum offers "Treasured Lands: the 58 U.S. National Parks in Focus," an exhibit of photographs by Quang-Tuan Luong.