In a traditional Egyptian bellydance performance, the band may play for a minute or more before the audience even sees the dancer. When she finally appears, she makes you wait a bit longer, circling the stage with her veil, showing off her elaborately beaded costume and her brilliant smile that hints, “Look at me. I’m beautiful and am about to dazzle you right out of your seat.” After a few twirls, she discards the veil, and the magic begins. She proceeds to captivate you with her soulful taqsim, rouses you with a Saidi cane dance, does a whimsical call and response drum solo with the tabla player, and leaves you wanting more at her finale. This is why I love bellydance. The dance tells a story, one full of drama, elegance, angst and joy. It mirrors my own. For years I waited in the wings while the music played. For a while, I cheered on others, with a secret desire to join them. Afraid to step out on my own, solo opportunities were rare, but liberating. And having sampled a taste of what the dance could offer, I was then told to wait. Wait for the right time, the right body or somebody else’s right moment. Would anyone hire someone who looked like me, who doesn’t reflect the clichéd Hollywood ingénue in age, weight or manner?
Then it happened. In January 2011, a revolution was sparked in Egypt, the home of bellydance. The decades of tyranny and suppression of rights were being met by the voices and bodies of millions who drew a line in the sand. The country’s future was uncertain, but liberation from the status quo was not. It was a time of reckoning for me, as well. As I was planning a transition of my own, I watched the protest with a sense of awe and urgency. It was time for me, too, to break away from the rules of others and chart my own course. Today, the people of Egypt are still in the streets fighting to be totally free.
And so am I. Today, I can proudly lay claim to something that I was taught to doubt. I am a bellydancer. What’s more, I am a professional bellydancer. When the time is right, and not a moment sooner, I enter the stage with a brilliant smile. And as I discard my veil and prepare to wow you with my dance, I think to myself, “Yes. This is where I belong.” So join me on this journey full of drama, elegance, angst and joy. This Thursday’s Your Body Raks launch party is just the beginning of our own revolution. It’s going to be liberating. See you there!