April 03, 2005

Drum beat

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.


Scrivener said...

What, no men in the class? How do you keep them out? Do you beat them off with sticks before class starts? Seems like, if so, that should have been included in the post, no?

jo(e) said...

Beat them with sticks? I would never do that. We use poisoned arrows.

PPB said...

You have an uncanny ability to make EVERYTHING sound so very cool. I'm reading this post and thinking, "wow. I want to take belly dancing." Then I realize: so not me! But the next time I go to the Turkish restaurant, I'll think of you when I see the dancers.

Nels said...

You make me think I really should investigate those Yoga classes, make myself get off my butt and do something.

reverendmother said...


Good writers write about the interesting things they do with their time, and they also have the gift of writing about the ordinary in interesting ways. For me, belly dancing is totally beyond me, so I'd put this in the latter category. Either way, you painted a great picture.

Yankee T said...

Jo(e), you write beautifully. Yours is always one of my favorite reads. I agree with PPB and reverend mother. I admire your style.

Ianqui said...

I used to take belly-dancing lessons. I took it with a group of girlfriends, and our teacher was also a friend. It was really fun to hang out with the girls, but I could never take it as seriously or be as passionate about it as our teacher was. I really admired her, though, because she wasn't anything like a stereotypical belly-dancer, but she became pretty accomplished.

Ultimately, I went back to cardio kickboxing. More my thing. I miss it desperately in New York (where it would cost me an arm and a leg to pay for classes, since the XU gym doesn't offer them).

Friday Mom said...

I'm with PPB and the others. I would never be caught belly dancing, but for a moment, a very brief one, after reading this, I thought, "Now wouldn't that be fun."