Essay Contest Winner - Honorable Mention
My Most Memorable Belly Dance Moment
My bra pops off
People often come up to me, usually about 30 seconds before I am about to perform, and ask me whether I am afraid my bra might pop off during the performance. I shrug my shoulders, and add that thought to the those buzzing about my head behind my glorious smile. In fact it has happened. But always in the toilets (the glamorous green room of the belly dancer) before performance. The first time was a front fastening bra that popped as a result of a deep breath, just as the intro to Kiss Kiss had begun. I hid behind the swing door and safety-pinned myself to oblivion.
The second time was years later behind the door of a cedar-wooded cubicle in a plush couscous restaurant. This time an Egyptian dress maker had over filled my cups and the fastener didn't have a chance. Again safety pins saved the day, as did ripping out the excessive padding with gusto. Last night, though, was different. There tends to be a fair amount of waiting around at events, especially those arranged though entertainment agencies. I had helpfully been booked out to dance "1 maybe 2 sets" starting "between 8.30 and 9.30pm". We were putty in the client's hands.
We arrived at the venue 8pm, my friend and belly dance side-kick and I, and were escorted via a backroom lift and darkened corridor into a candle lit private room. It was a little cold so we sat down to chat while helpful Richard, the deferent Maitre D', placed a dusty electric heater in front of us. "I could get used to this" were my friend’s words as the heater exploded with a bang, sending ceramic shards in our direction. We screamed and jumped up, then reisned ourselves to putting our coats on and slumping down into the leather seats.
Ten minutes before performance times there was still no sign of the mild mannered maitre d'. Bored, I initiated the sport of boob twitching. There is one dancer who has been around for decades, who can flick her boobs. Now this is something I feel I can rise above with my superior technique, however, it is still somewhat of a mystery as to how it is done. When asked how she does it she always replies - I've been practicing for years - while extracting her mascara from her Louis Vuitton make up bag. Boob twitching, it would seem, is big business.
I gave it a few attempts, but ended up armpit clenching, tummy tightening and finally chest puffing. Pop. My bra had loosened itself to a much more comfortable diameter, and was hanging on tantalizingly by one string. Oops. I looked at my friend - "oh my gosh, how did you do that? did you expand your boobs?" she asked. "Erm no. Safety pin?" I squeaked. Hairclip, check, obscure Moroccan coins, check, random piece of wire, check, but no safety pin. "I'll go and ask RIchard." she said. After a number of minutes efficiently rooting around in the first aid box and no doubt filling glasses of wine on his way back, our maitre d' returned - "I have 2 sizes" he boasted modestly (this is a particular talent). I had been saved, darn it.
Now its not that I don't like performing, its just that it so hard to prove who you are when you are up against people’s misconceptions of belly dancers as being cheap and titillating. The idea of this would have put me off the whole thing originally had not my mother wisely counselled me that who you are comes through into what you do. This was enough to set me off swinging my hips, waving my arms and smiling at strange men, people's dads and reticent blond women. Yet I would say the 'comes through' thing applies to about 10% of the clients, these are the people that see your intelligence, pick out your dry humour or just the enjoy magic of basking in someone else’s self expression and joy. To most clients (women included), I feel I am just a butt and boobs in a belly dance costume.
However, tonight we were lucky. I began with a choreography and the clients pushed their seats back from the table watching intently, hands in laps, whilst smiling admiringly and even spontaneously applauding at the end.
I had been asked to pick on certain suited men to come and dance - it is always funny watching your boss debase himself by dancing enthusiastically with a belly dancer, I'm sure. But after these men had hand jived and twisted their way through a song we picked ladies, and it was one of these women who commented when shown how to do a move "I see, its more about not doing than doing, isn't it". I agreed instantly with her comment and her philosophy. Isolation is key. It was a Zen evening. We had effortlessly elicited respect, danced with the big guys and been requested to do an encore.
"I quite enjoyed that" said my friend, satisfied, as we drank water from brandy glasses. "Yes" I said surprised, "the beauty is every show is different".
Written by Mia Serra
Photo of Kaya by Brittany Oliphant