Although I knew of her, I didn't meet and get to talk to Yvette until I went to JWAAD summer school in July 2011, where she was giving a light-hearted evening talk about the ridiculous way in which belly dance and dancers have been portrayed in some films (cue some of the James Bond and Carry On films). Her commentary and selected clips had us all falling about laughing. After that, we became friends (that is, acquaintances, really!) on Facebook, bound by a love of all things belly dance, including a stack of mutual friends.
Rose hatched a plan for Yvette to bring her one-woman show 'Sequins on my Balcony' to Cardigan in February 2014. The Friday night show, with a selected cross-section of belly dance styles from guest dancers in the first half and Yvette in the second, was a hit. Yvette gave workshops on the Saturday, with a Saturday night party too, it was such a great weekend.
She wrote a small book about her experiences, including those which featured in her show. 'Belly Dancing and Beating the Odds' is entertaining and heart-warming, yet honest and sad in places. I treasure my signed copy so you can't borrow it, but it doesn't cost much so you can buy your own through Harper Collins.
She managed to get back to us to give some workshops on 'putting drama into your dance' at the end of May 2016. At the time, we were awaiting the airing of a TV series in which Yvette featured, The Big C and Me, where she was one of those with cancer whom the programme makers had been following around for a year. In her case, she had started on a clinical trial to try to keep her cancer in check. Since being diagnosed in 1996, she had gone through various surgeries and treatments, including two mastectomies, which were still not enough to stop secondary cancer developing in 2011. By the time the programme aired and she had also been on the Victoria Derbyshire programme, Yvette had been living with cancer (and latterly, with rheumatoid arthritis and metastatic cancer) for 20 years; not just existing with it, she lived life to the fullest, with dance and laughter as mandatory therapies.
The 'drama in your dance' weekend was special. Although I had already done many of the exercises in drama classes many years ago, it's always good to repeat and revise. I've found that, even if you know the subject, there is often a 'light-bulb' moment in a workshop, you just have to listen and be receptive. Yvette saw me drawing a large light-bulb with rays of light and underlining in the margin of my dance notebook and I explained my theory. Those moments, where your eyes are opened to something which you hadn't thought about or fully realised before, they're where the value lies. Just one light-bulb moment can justify the workshop; everything else you get - the practice, revision, company, laughs, handouts, notes in your dance journal, they're good too, but I love a light-bulb moment.
On the second day, we had to perform a piece for each other and give feedback. I dusted off 'Song to the Siren', without costume. I wanted feedback on whether it should be danced 'on my feet', including travel steps and choreography from the waist down, or whether it works sitting down on a pretend rock, and was strong enough without the costume. (The rock won, to my amazement and it was agreed that good as it was, the costume would really be the finishing touch to the performance, which could possibly include some dancers being waves to start with and provide distraction from the 'rock' being wheeled on!) I was amazed to find that something in the workshops had caused my characterisation to shift, bringing a darker, more exciting dimension to the piece. It needs to be performed again, and when I do it, I shall be remembering Yvette!
|Post-workshop playtime, with Yvette front and not-quite-centre!|
Earlier this year, I had an inkling that things were not looking good for her. Still I sent love and virtual hugs to her Facebook, blog and vlog posts. When she died, her family asked people not to post it immediately all over the social media, to try to ensure that her family and close friends heard it from her close family first. However, Yvette used to work in publishing, so I quickly found out through news posts from The Bookseller and Hay House, just before the sudden outpouring of grief at the news throughout the belly dance extended family.
Her bravery, drive and sense of humour were humbling and uplifting at the same time. She was a wonderful teacher, an inspiration to seek happiness, enjoy life, and dance at any and every opportunity.
She had discussed the possibility of providing free belly dance classes in hospices and cancer units with Charlotte Desorgher of Hipsinc. and Company of Dreams. Although Yvette didn't live to see this dream become a reality, Charlotte set up the Yvette Cowles Memorial Fund to support this work, and you can make a donation through that page on the Company of Dreams website.
Oh Yvette, your passing left a sparkly hole in our lives and we will all miss you so much.