There was sensuous Arabesque music playing in the background as I watched. Her tiny torso was supported by perfectly formed hips; the ideal combination for a belly dancer. My eyes followed the line in the middle of her back downward. Her sumptuous hips moved in slow rhythmic lifts while her arms slithered up and down like a snake. I watched her with bated anticipation that my body would move like hers some day. I instantly became envious because no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get my body to move the way that the teacher’s did. I look like a pumpkin.
I desperately needed my life to change directions. More than anything, I wanted and needed to meet new people. How does one move on after a divorce? I asked myself. My existence revolved around my husband and I didn’t know where to turn when he left. I felt like a non-person. I no longer had value because I didn’t have anyone to fuss over. My life needed validation.
Many nights I came home and laid on the sofa until it was time for bed. The energy to do anything physical or mental eluded me. I couldn’t concentrate on the words that I read, so, reading a book was out of the question. Often I would read a paragraph only to go back and read it again and again until I eventually gave up.
I took antidepressants for about six months. I didn’t like the way they made me feel. The pills made me sleepy, lethargic, and dizzy. The constant battle with suicidal thoughts and wanting to kill my soon-to-be-ex-husband was exhausting. But what can I do to get out of this rut?
One day I was looking through the Fun Times booklet that the Community Center sends through the mail. I noticed that belly dance classes were being offered. I always wanted to learn how to dance like those exotic women from the East. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself seductively contort my body in sensuously wanton movements. I was thrilled at the thought of it. Besides, the exercise will do me good and maybe help to raise my spirit out of the funk that I was in. So, I enrolled in the class.
We met on Wednesday evenings at 5:30. I had to rush straight from work to get there and sometimes I was late. As I walked through the door, I noticed that there were all kinds of shapes, sizes, and ages of women in the class, which was a relief to me. I never tried dancing before, well, not in a class setting. As a girl I would dance around my room while no one was watching and never ventured out lest someone would see me and make fun.
The teacher was a young woman in her early twenties. Her pale white porcelain face was framed with thick fawn colored hair. She wore a small bolero top to accentuate her breasts, and tight low cut black pants that drew attention to her generous hips. Her bare midriff exposed a tiny waist that Scarlett O’Hara would be envious of. She was sexy and I wanted to be.
The first night of class I arrived in my work clothes. I pulled off my shoes and socks. We began stretching every muscle of our bodies before we danced. Then we learned the most important thing for a belly dancer. We had to learn to dance with soft knees. Otherwise there would be trouble for the lower regions of our body. “With knees bent, arms out, chest up, lift your right hip,” the teacher said, “Next, raise the left hip. Now, walk forward and do a hip lift on each side while you are walking.” Our eyes were focused on the backside of the teacher for guidance. With arms extended and toes pointed, I strutted my stuff across the gym floor and felt like a beauty queen. The only thing that was missing was a long flowing veil.
I was slow at learning the moves. There were times that I would be off dancing by myself while the class moved to the other side of the gym. I really didn’t care. I was having fun and making new friends.
By the summer, a few of the ladies from class decided to put together a troupe for the new dancers and then perform at a Halloween show they have every autumn. We practiced at Barbara’s house for nearly two months until we had the routine down pat. Each week I forgot the routine and then had to re-learn it all over again. I was still having memory issues. But I pressed on until I was able to keep the dance steps in my head.
Then we had to work on our costumes. Barbara was the seamstress and she coordinated our wardrobe. We decided on gold lame genii pants with wide legs and elastic at the ankles, they reminded me of MC Hammer in the video, You can’t touch this. There were gold bras to match with a bolero top and a black sheer skirt placed on top of the pants. I looked like a pumpkin in my outfit. My belly is much too large to be seen in front of a group of people. When I noticed that the audience was mostly women, I quickly got over my fear of over exposure.
The night of the performance I was very nervous. It is one thing to dance in a small room at someone’s home. But to make a mistake in front of an audience is a whole different ballgame. I practiced nearly every night when I got home until I could do the routine without having to look at my cheat sheet. Our routine lasted only two minutes, which seemed like an hour to me. I made a small mistake at the very beginning and quickly got back in line with the other dancers. I sailed through like a ship on calm seas the rest of the performance. As soon as I was backstage I covered myself up, never to expose myself again. I often dreamt of going forward with my dancing career, but who really wants to see a middle aged pumpkin dance?