The classes are held in a three-sided room on the second floor of a corner building. The walls are painted a soft purple. Two sides of the room are mostly glass. The windows, hung with gauzy cloths, look out over a lake that is considered sacred by the native people in this region. The floor is hardwood, clean and shining. Always the air smells fragrant, the simmering of essential oils: lavender, sometimes, ylang ylang or tangerine.
Middle Eastern music plays quietly as women enter, one by one, or sometimes in pairs, each picking up a mat and finding her spot on the floor. The women chat quietly or exchange smiles, each settling into a cross-legged position on the her mat. BellyDancer, the instructor, takes her spot in the front of the room, smiling shyly at the students as she does so. She is a young woman, neither skinny nor fat, who wears some kind of bra and skin tight pants so that we can see all the muscles of her body. The room is warm and most of us are wearing minimal clothing; at the very least we have our bellies bare.
The class begins with the quiet stretching, each woman letting go of her busy life, her hectic schedule. Muscle memory, the repetition of those same movements, calms me. It always feels good to return to this room, this safe place, with other women who are doing the same. The women in the class are mostly younger than me, mainly women in their twenties, women who are beautiful in that unself-conscious way of women who don't know that they are beautiful.
The energy level begins to rise as the music changes. Middle Eastern music has a drum beat my body cannot resist. We practice dance moves, one set of muscles at a time. The very hardest to practice is snake arms. Always a belly dancer keeps her arms above her head, moving fluidly, like a snake. The move looks graceful but hurts like hell: ten minutes and my shoulders are burning.
By the end of the classes, we've put zills on, those shiny little finger cymbols, and we are dancing in a circle. BellyDancer teaches us the subtle cues, and we follow her, a group of women all turning in the same direction, hips moving in and out to the same rhythm. We start slowly and gradually pick up the pace, all dancing, shimmying, concentrating fiercely, until BellyDancer throws in a move that is just way too hard and we all collapse laughing. BellyDancer laughs, too, and then does a few show-off moves so that we can all see what it is we are working towards.
At the end of the hour, we return to our mats, muscles warm, bodies engaged. As I lie quietly for the last minute of meditation, I can feel each muscle, my whole body present to me. I am awake, alive, thankful for the moment.