Friday, May 05, 2006

Banging My Zills

I have discovered that some of my traveling companions love to dance and so I am sharing this story with them......

Banging My Zills: An Adventure in Belly Dance

"So what's so funny about learning to belly dance?" I told a friend who laughed out loud when I told her about my plans. Several years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn to belly-dance. I have always loved to watch people dance, but I was always too self-conscious to get out on the floor and dance myself, especially now that I am middle-aged and have packed on some extra “baggage in the rear.” Reactions from friends and family to the announcement of this endeavor varied from person to person, but most fell into the category of "you've got to be kidding!" In spite of the nay-sayers, the desire to explore the creative act of dance was too much for me to ignore, and after some research, I located an inexpensive belly dance class at a local adult night school.

On the first night of the class, I arrived before anyone else. I had struggled over what to wear. What does one wear to a belly dance class? I had already made up my mind that I was NOT under any circumstances showing my navel! I finally decided on wearing a dance leotard and sweat pants for the first class.

As I waited in the dance studio, other students began arriving. The first to enter was a petite blonde in a tight T-shirt. She strutted into the studio with considerable jiggle. A mild pang of apprehension caught me in the stomach. A few minutes later, a second student arrived, a young brunette in shorts so taut you could ricochet a coin off her butt. Great, I thought, I'm going to be surrounded by a bunch of skinny teenagers. Next, a well-groomed woman and an adolescent who I assumed was her daughter entered the room in matching designer exercise suits. At this point, I think I groaned aloud. I felt so out of place in my grungy sweat pants, and I wondered how bulgy I looked in my leotard. What was I thinking!

As panic began to work its way through my mind, I looked for a discrete way to make a speedy departure. Before I could act, a laughing, boisterous group of women entered the room. The group was comprised of several middle-aged women, a few of them women of ample endowment. I relaxed a little.

In a few minutes, the studio had filled with seventeen women of various ethnicities, sizes, ages, and attire. A woman about my age sat on the floor next to me. She had on a flowing dance skirt and several brass and silver bangles on each wrist. As we waited, I tried to imagine what the instructor would be like. I envisioned a sultry, middle-eastern woman, gracefully gliding into the room. That image evaporated when a small, muscular woman with a blond ponytail enthusiastically bounced into the studio and introduced herself as Leela, our instructor. She looked more like a Nebraskan cheerleader than a belly dancer. At first, I was a little disappointed with her bicycle shorts and tank top, but after she took care of some registration details with the class, she reached into a plastic grocery bag and pulled out a silk scarf with a leopard-skin pattern covered with hundreds of small gold beads and coins. The coins loudly jingled as she tied the scarf around her hips. Immediately, the cheerleader was gone and woman of elegance and gracefulness stood before us.

She quickly called the class to order, punched a button on her cassette player, and began a series of slow belly dance moves designed to warm us up. We did some head slides and snake arms (ala I Dream of Jeannie), rib circles and belly rolls (neither of these having anything to do with barbecues or bakeries), and some hip bumps and shimmies, all to the slow, rhythmic beat of a middle-eastern drum.

As a result of my having studied and practiced tai chi chuan for many years, I was very adept at imitating the instructor's movements. In spite of this, I felt uncomfortable watching my moving image in the mirror. I found myself comparing my movements to those of my classmates.

Then I noticed something. Most of the younger, more athletic women had pained grimaces on their faces as they struggled to follow the instructor's movements. One of them stopped the movements altogether and muttered "I can't do this!" Then I looked over at the older, more ample women. A few obviously had experience with the movements but the rest struggled as the others did, trying to complete the movements with ease and precision. Yet all of them had smiles on their faces, laughing and joking with each other when they fell out of time with the music or when their bodies completed a movement in some outlandish manner. They didn't seem bothered by the fact that they were not doing the movements "perfectly." They seemed in tune with their bodies. They were having fun.

After the warm-ups Leela went over the plan for the class and announced that next week we could purchase our zills and have them fitted. "You don't want to go losing a zill when you bang them in front of an audience, " she quipped. Zills? Whatever they are, I'm sure not going to bang MINE in front of anybody! The woman with the bangles seated next to me, noting my quizzical look, leaned over and whispered: "Zills-- finger cymbals. It's great when we all practice then together. What a racket we make!"

The instructor continued. "I'll be taking orders next week for hip scarves for anyone who wants to buy one. In the meantime I have a few here that you can borrow for today." I hesitated for a moment, but then walked over to the plastic bag with a few of my classmates. There were a variety of scarves: purple silks with gold coins, green with iridescent bugle beads, turquoise triangles with sequins. I selected a simple black silk scarf with hundreds of silver beads and coins. I watched how the others tied theirs on and followed suit. Then I looked in the mirror and smiled. I did a brief hip shimmy. The silver coins made a pleasant jingle. The brunette in the tight shorts said, "That looks great on you." She turned to the instructor. "I'd like to place an order for one like hers." I did another shimmy and couple of hip bumps. The bangled woman chirped: "Honey, you oughta have those hips registered as lethal weapons!"

Leela reconvened the group to teach us some basic moves for a routine that we would be learning during the rest of the course. After teaching us a basic walk, she demonstrated a simple spin and urged us to follow along: "Keep your hands open! Drop your shoulders! Keep your eyes fixed on a point in the room so you don't get dizzy." I slowly began turning in place. I reached out my arms and unclenched by fists. As I picked up speed, I felt like I was flying through the air. My whole body relaxed and I melted into the music.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my chest and I almost lost balance.

"I am SO sorry!" exclaimed the woman next to me. She had hit me in the chest with one of her outstretched, bangle-encrusted arms. "Are you alright?"

"Yes," I replied, rubbing the spot where she had clobbered me.

"You're going to have a bruise, though. This sort of thing happens sometimes. You have to develop a sense of humor about it. Your spin was really great, though. I'm sorry I messed it up."

"Thanks, it's okay."

The instructor walked us through a few cool down exercises and then dismissed class. As I gathered my things, the bangled woman said: "Oh, by the way, my name is Rosie. Will you be in class next week?"

"Hi, Rosie. My name is Lori," and to my surprise I responded enthusiastically, "Yes, I'll be in class next week."

"Great, Lori, see you then," she called as she walked out the door.

Before I untied my borrowed hip scarf, I looked once more in the mirror , shimmied, and smiled.

Text and Image: L Gloyd © May 5, 2006
Postscript: After studying belly-dance for a couple of years, I injured my back (moving furniture) and had to stop. Perhaps someday, I’ll pick it up again.


At 2:32 PM, Blogger Lorijayne said...

PS: The image is my contribution to Pandora's Costume Box.......


At 3:31 AM, Blogger Imogen Crest said...

This is a great story! I felt like I was there. Loved the colour and the true feelings coming up, and then the knowledge that everyone was feeling just as "new" as each other. This is really great, no doubt you will pick it up again when you are ready again! Loved the costume!

At 3:32 AM, Blogger Imogen Crest said...

And welcome to the Hermitage!

At 6:14 AM, Blogger Lorijayne said...

Thank you. Maybe I will some day.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger Rhonda said...

Wonderful story!!
I also love bellydance... have done it off and on for many years but lately it's been off again as there are few classes here at the moment. I especially love tribal style dance.
Dance when you can...
and I love that idea to "Dance as if no one is watching!"

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Lorijayne said...

Rhonda: I agree, Tribal style is the best. The movements are more spontaneous and natural than the more highly choreographed Raks Sharki style. Yes, I have been known to dance by myself-- I even got caught a couple of times dancing in my church's parish hall! (I'm glad my pastor is cool and has a sense of humor.)


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