You haven’t bellydanced in years but for some reason it’s calling you back. You ring up the local school and tell the teacher you’d like to join their intermediate class and she tells you that no one, not even Shakira herself, gets to join her intermediate class without going through beginners first. You’re a bit affronted but quickly realise you haven’t got an isis wing to stand on. Her classes are in front of mirrors and everything is new and shiny. You listen to the mixed tape she’s made for you that has three versions of Aladdin’s theme song on it. It's strangely enchanting.
You meet another woman at a hafla who’s a bit of an oddball and says she also teaches not far from where you live. You are drawn to her. She’s one of those low-key characters that know everything about everything and you wonder sometimes whether she is even real. She starts teaching you steps from the Oulid Nail, Romani, Egyptian, Ghawazee. You’re always in a hall somewhere without mirrors. She has long black hair and might be a witch.
This reminds you of when you went to bellydance classes with your mum. Back then you danced in studios, halls, lounge rooms. You weren’t the only kid in the class. There was this tiny red head with a mean belly roll – your first experience of envy. Each class ended with a meditation lying on the ground that was all about goddesses and you counted how many cracks there were in the ceiling. Your mum danced like an octopus. It looked she had more arms and legs than she actually did. But she loved all the sisterhood stuff that came with bellydance. She’s pretty happy you’ve got back into it. ‘It’s in your blood’ she says. But you’re worried you’ve inherited the octopus gene.
One day your friend who’s the women’s officer at university, asks you to start performing on campus and next minute you’re teaching a little class of your own. Your teacher is happy for you. She dances at your hafla. Years later you’ll look back at the video and wonder why you didn’t make her the big star.
One day you visit her house. It’s full of sparkly material and feels like Merlin might live there.
At your last hafla you reveal you are having an identity crisis by doing one serious tribalesque piece and one jazz inspired burlesque piece with your boobs half hanging out. You’re glad that Facebook hasn’t been invented yet.
Fortunately at this point you head overseas. You find a teacher who tells you to not bother coming back the next week unless you have fixed your armlines and you spend the next week practising in the reflection of your bedroom window.
She lets you perform with her advanced students at a Gypsy event and you blank out. She does an improvisation to a trumpet solo where she moves in an unedited, wild fashion – sprawling, ticking all over the floor. You’re in love.
Several dance teachers later, your technique isn’t as octupussy and you’re living in a different city. An opportunity comes up to teach again and this time you make your own genre. Gradually you learn how to teach by experimenting on a steady trickle of women who come through the doors. Note to self, do not ask beginners to seduce each other. Do not be too silly. Do not be too serious. A small group hang around long enough to see your style blossom and perform with you. You start improvising with musicians every chance you get. You learn to use space, to spin. You teach yourself a bunch of stuff through repetition and performing endlessly when you’re not ready.
The school where you teach is a hub for contemporary dance, contact improvisation, and world fusions. You see a lot of people in track pants rolling around on the floor and walking in random directions. You see people picking up suitcases and putting them down again. For five minutes. You see people just lying there, looking like someone died. This has an effect on you. You remember the time your mum took you to the Opera house to watch a woman and man wearing body suits roll around each other for what seemed like 6 hours. Maybe it was just an hour. You were intrigued by how seamless it was. Where are their sequins?, you thought. You labelled it ‘sausage dance’ in your head and years later find a burning desire to sausage with other adults.
You join a contact improvisation class and constantly apologise because you’re not ex ballet, tap, jazz kid and you can’t do the splits. They don’t care. You secretly like dancing with men, rubbing backs, being lifted. You decide there is nothing better in the whole world than rolling on the floor. Apart from spinning that is. You decide to incorporate it into ‘your style’ of dance. You get used to awkward, stunned faces from audience members. Remarks like ‘you’re so creative.’ Or ‘I love how you express yourself’. You hope one day someone will think you can dance. Fortunately you’ve had years of experience of experimenting on audiences, so you keep going.
One day you find yourself speaking in a performance with an eastern European accent. You ask random men in the audience for massages and try to crowd surf. You ask men to come onto stage and pretend to be furniture for you to sit on. You have fiery arguments with strangers. People like this. They like it even more than your dancing. You keep going.
Be outrageous. Roll on someone. Spin. Turkish Drop.
Occasionally you break out a more solemn piece to Bjork. You lose half your students because it’s too dark. More wide eyes. You keep going.
Then you move again. You find a school that teaches a style very similar to yours. You buy a house next door to their studio. They invite you in. You learn and discover new things and continue to study contemporary dance. You start moving into a no-woman’s land – in between the east and the west. It’s too late to go back. To look back. Just keep going. One day, it will make sense.
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