Essay Contest Winner – 2nd Place
My Most Memorable Belly Dance Moment
~ by Robin “Shalimar” Kelsey
Memorable moments in my belly dance “lifetime”, have been abundant and not always been about myself, they also include my experiences with my dance troupe. For 35 years I’ve been learning, choreographing, performing, and teaching this wonderful art and there are always some very memorable moments to share. Probably my most memorable moment was when I first began to perform at the age of 25.
The first time I performed as a solo dancer in a restaurant with a live band will always be a treasured memory for me. My teacher, Cheri Miller, a renowned Connecticut dancer from years ago, felt I was good enough (a student for 5 years) to be a part of her “new talent night” at the Horseless Carriage Restaurant.
I can remember how excited I was …. Heart pounding, nerves tingling, feeling faint. The week before was a meticulous preparation of costume. I ironed my skirt, my veil, making it flawless against wrinkles that I knew could be seen in the night club’s low lighting. Extra hooks and snaps were added to my bra and belt to assure no accidental embarrassing scenes of bare flesh would be exposed. Zill elastics were reissued and sewn snuggly around my fingers warding off any unwanted flying saucer zills whirling out into my audience and grotesquely landing in someone’s forehead. I had observed other dancers during their performances and had hopefully learned what to do and what not to do. I WAS READY!
Then, it was time for me to perform. I stood off stage, just around the corner out of sight from the audience trying desperately not to hyper-ventilate. I heard the drummer tap his hands on the dumbeg lightly as the oud player softly strummed along with him. “And now Ladies and Gentlemen,” I heard the Oud player say as my mouth became part of the Sahara Desert, “As part of our New Talent Night, please welcome our first performer, the beautiful – “Shalimar”. As much as I wanted to throw up at that moment, a flash quick vivid image of me someday sitting with grandchildren on knee and reminiscing how I danced as a belly dancer in a night club briefly came to mind. A smile came across my face, “this is exciting and what life is all about,” I agreed with myself, “lasting memories to share.” “I can do this!” I took a deep breath as the music came to form, and I sashayed out onto stage.
Trying to look calm when inside I wanted to ask Scotty to “beam-me-up”, I began my parade around the dance floor imitating the dancers I had admired here many times before. Then a small voice came to my head…”am I hearing zills?” I looked around and realized that the zills I was hearing were my own. I felt detached from my body as I listened to them play. I tried to smile fighting the dryness of my two front teeth that seemed to grasp onto and claim the center of my lips as a cover-up. Needless to say, my smile now looked more like a grimace. I felt myself repeating the same step over and over. “I’m boring”, echoed in my head. I turned to the band and nodded my head, a queue I had watched dancers use to have the band change-up and go to the next song. Ah, a slow veil song. I took off my zills and put them down near the band. I began to swirl the veil, around and around and around and around, I must have been trying for the Guinness’s world record of veil swirling. The only deviation was when it got tangled in my hair. Okay, enough of this, I turned to the band and nodded again, and again they changed up into a drum solo. Hip right, hip left, hip right, hip left, I knew I looked like a knucklehead, I kept telling myself that over and over. A panicked voice screamed in my head, “What else can I do”. I looked at the band an again nodded. The change up, it was the finale, “whew, I was home free!” I shimmied around the stage gathering up my veil bidding farewell to my audience….and disappeared into the darkness of the hallway to the changing room.
“I did it!” I danced at a night club! I leaned against the door with a sigh and was proud of myself, I thought I did okay!
It wasn’t till later that evening that I found out that the 15 minute performance I was supposed to do, turned out to be 6 minutes in length. Gosh, it seemed like I was out there for an eternity.
I did continue to perform at the Horseless Carriage and grew to become one of their house dancers. Our performances were anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes in length.
It’s been 30 years since that performance, and yes, I have sat my granddaughter on my knee and told her how “Nana” used to belly dance in the night clubs. And the funny part is, “Nana” still performs, still teaches, still choreographs, and still loves this beautiful art form. I give many dancers and students the chance to dance their first time as soloists and will always promote and encourage them to continue. I LOVE THIS DANCE!
Written by – Robin “Shalimar” Kelsey
Photo of Kaya by Brittany Oliphant