Monday, February 02, 2004

yummy gummy, gumdrop

I'd emailed her, I'd talked to her on the phone, but I wasn't prepared for my first look at the woman I'm studying bellydance with here. From the fake-fur trimmed snowboots to the obvious fall cascading from a headband of sequins and fake purple flowers, the woman who stepped out of her minivan at a local university, dragging a clear plastic backpack, was not what I expected. Detroit's premier bellydance teacher, a grand old dame from the old Tribal days in San Francisco, is a Hungarian woman with an Arabic name, lively blue eyes, sizable hips wrapped in the gaudiest coin scarf I've ever seen. And the laugh! The laugh! Tinklier than the coin scarf, and as barely contained as the hips.

There'd been a communication error at some point, and the entire ground floor of the performing arts building was filled with tiny teen ballerinas attending a workshop. Including the theater where the bellydance class usually meets. So there we were, half a dozen adult women with loose hair, weaving through the throngs of bun-headed children, trying to find a room we could use. Which is how my first bellydance class in Michigan transpired in a classroom with a carpeted floor, blackboards chalked with bits of story analysis, and no mirrors.

There is a basic but important move generally known as Egyptian. It entails pushing up the hip by straightening the knee and pushing off the ball of the foot. She calls the posture "gotta potty." What I know as Tunisian, she calls "drying your tush with a towel." Her classes start almost an hour late, as she needs the time to check in on her students' wellbeing. She has a truly innovative method for teaching zillyat (finger cymbal) rhythms that leaves students laughing, instead of cursing. She reminds us to keep our arms up by yelling, you're getting ready to hug me! She wears shoes when she teaches. Not ballet slippers, or the special dance sandals that support the arches, but penny loafers.

Penny loafers. Black ones. With pennies.

Before the drumming class began (seven of us sitting around a table, beating the edges with our hands), she made a little speech about paying for classes. If you're having money troubles, that doesn't mean you don't come. We are family, and when things are hard, you need to be with your family. We'll work something out. Then she put one of a huge collection of homemade tapes into her player, set the speed to less than half-time (how drunk can we get the musicians?) and began slapping the table for all she was worth.

God knows what Jill and my troupe will think when I come back muttering nonsense under my breath to keep time, but I'll know the rhythms a lot better. And I'll be better at zillyat, which Jill doesn't teach.

This is going to be okay.