Tinkling coins are the sign you’re doing it right. That’s the first thing I learn at my first bellydancing class. The coin belt tied around my hips is my guide to successful shimmying.
Welcome to belly-dancing 101. I’m at Amera’s Palace Bellydance Boutique in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville, dragged along to join my friend Julie at her regular bellydancing lesson. I’m intrigued but self-conscious, and try to wriggle out of it by declaring that I don’t have the costume.
Lesson #2 is that for this lesson I don’t need the full get-up that you might see at a bellydance performance. Leggings or tights and a t-shirt will be perfectly acceptable. There’s not a belly to be seen, not even that of our teacher, Jamil, who’s in black shorts and singlet. Slung around his hips is a black scarf adorned with dozens of small gold coins (and a few sequins). Yes, my bellydancing teacher is a man.
While we wait for the class to start, I press my nose against the glass door of the boutique (closed on Sundays) and check out the glittering costumes that are on display.
None of it is what I’ve expected. We gather in a mirrored dance studio, nine women in an assortment of exercise gear and with a range of skills. I’m not the only first-timer, but as the class progresses its clear to me that I am definitely the most unco-ordinated.
The class begins with some yoga-like exercises and for a while I think I might be able to do this. Then we go over some basic shimmy moves. Jamil has a couple of good analogies. “Imagine that you’re using your hip to close a car door,” he says. Yes, we’ve all done that! Then: “Imagine you’re standing between two expensive cars, both owned by your ex – he’s won the lotto since you were together – and try to scratch both cars with your coin belt”. A titter ripples around the room, then we bump and shimmy again.
Jamil is a noted dancer, who’s been learning since he was five years old. He’s one of the few male Arabian dancers around, and is full of energy, making the class lots of fun. Later, I have a look on YouTube for video of his performance style.
Once things speed up, and I’m required to keep up with the movements my brain can’t cope and I remember why my several attempts at aerobics classes in the dim distant past were doomed to failure.
I simply can’t keep up. I can’t mentally process the moves Jamil is making in mirror image and tell my body to make them in time with everyone else. The music moves on without me.
At the end of an hour, I’m frustrated my inability to keep up (unlike the other first-timers, who all look like they’ve been doing it for years).
But as I head down the stairs, I console myself with the thought that at least I have hips to shimmy…