We came in from the winter cold, slowly shedding our outer layer of clothes, tossing down coats, purses, sweatshirts, and boots. The big room filled quickly with chatter and laughter as we found our spots and stretched our muscles. After a hiatus for the holidays, it felt good to return tonight to belly dancing class.
At the beginning of the class, we worked each muscle, moving through the drills one body part at a time, much like a good masseuse might slowly work her way from head to toe, releasing knots of tension, creating a melting sort of warmth that spreads gradually to your whole self. We stretched our necks, rolling our heads, then worked on shoulder pops, then chest slides, then body undulations. We practiced snake arms, leading with the elbows, rolling the shoulders, letting each finger make its own movement as our arms slithered through the air. Learning to belly dance means learning to isolate one muscle while holding the others still; it means an intimacy with your body, an awareness, an awakening.
A couple of women were new to the class, and I could tell they felt self-conscious as we moved our hips in a figure eight pattern, as we began to shimmy. But somehow the rhythmic music and sparkly energy from the other women soothed their nervousness. As we practiced the up-hip, rotating as we did so, all twenty women – different ages, different sizes – turned at the same time, all moving their hips to the same beat, as if we were one entity.
By the end of the hour, my muscles felt loosed and relaxed, my hips and shoulders following the drum beat without thought. The air seemed to get thicker as we danced, and we were all moving as if underwater, slowly pushing that thickness up and down, our knees always bent so that we could weave our hips, our pelvises, our bellies. Even my toes and fingers felt warm and tingly, my whole self awake, as class came to an end, and I began putting layers of clothing back on for the ride home.