I went to my first belly dancing class today and man, oh man, it didn't disappoint. Thanks to a humorless instructor and creepy leering men, I've never felt more like an object. Hooray for progress.
With my little sister at my side I mustered enough courage to show up to the 1:30pm class. We were prepared to throw all pride out and embrace our inner goddesses. I had a feeling mine was hiding somewhere underneath my grimy fingernails and just needed a little shimmy action to lure her out. At least, that was the plan.
At 1:35, the instructor stalked to the front of the room and faced the glass with a strange look of determination in her eyes. The rest of us (there were only about six women) arranged ourselves behind her while making awkward hip movements we only imagined would help warm us up for the unknown to come. Suddenly, without one word of instruction, she began flicking, swirling and shaking her hips ruthlessly while glaring at herself in the mirror. It took me a good 15 minutes of class to stop choking on my laughter as I watched our motley crew try and keep up with this jiggley little woman. We all appeared to be beginners and our movements were anything but sensual. It was more like someone had let a swarm of bees loose into the room and we were trying frantically to shake them out of our underwear.
Our instructor ran through a gambit of shimmies, swirls, arm patterns and hip thrusts at an unforgiving pace. After a series of exhausting drills, she launched into teaching us the choreography to an actual dance. Our drill sargent still hadn't cracked a smile. At one point in the dance she lectured us about how we needed to be in sync with each other so that the dance looked polished. She seemed truly distraught that the overweight senior citizen next to me was unable to pull off a convincing belly dance. Her tone throughout the class was so militant that I began feeling like I was in some sick harem training camp where a jaded instructor ruthlessly lectured us in the art of seduction for our demanding masters. Her no nonsense attitude indicated that if we couldn't belly dance with appropriate grace, we'd be quickly sold on the auction block at the local slave labor market.
At one point a struggling classmate asked if she was doing a move correctly. The instructor sharply told her no and made the woman do the move over and over again each time scolding her on how poor her form was. The floodgates had been opened. After this first taste of blood she no longer stared at herself in the mirror, but scanned our small class for any signs of weakness. For the rest of the hour, she yelled to point out any of us who didn't meet her approval. After a particularly difficult dance sequence she stopped the music and slowly stalked over towards me. I was terrified. I stood rigid in my ending posture with arms extended and right toe placed carefully in front of me in a pivot trying to avoid her eyes. She stopped directly in front of me and frowned a slow, thoughtful frown. My mind raced over possible errors. Had my hip thrusts been too meager, my finger movements not fluid enough? After what seemed an eternity of silence I squeaked "...first... day..." but she was unmoved. She remained silent a few seconds more, staring with distaste at my pose then suddenly broke out into rapid dance and went through the choreography landing in my pose. She then seized upon what had been troubling her. "The weight on your feet is all wrong." she decreed, indicating my offending front foot. I quickly shifted my weight but before I could set up an acceptable pose for her approval, she had stalked off triumphantly.
After 45 minutes I was able to tear my concentration off my clumsy moves in the mirror long enough to notice the crowd that had gathered outside. The entire wall next to me was glass and provided easy viewing from the reception area of the YMCA. As I peered outside I was horrified to see a large group of male spectators lined up in a row outside the classroom unabashedly leering at us. I froze, unsure of how to react. Do you let them win and give in to insecurity or ignore them and continue flinging your body every which way for their viewing pleasure? These upstanding gentlemen probably make sure to be at the YMCA every Saturday to enjoy the free dance shows, how could I let them down? Hard as it was, I tried to overcome my disgust for their leering and continued desecrating the perplexing art of belly dance but my concentration was shaken and the rest of the class was pretty unproductive.
Class finally ended and our male spectators filtered happily out of the lobby. I approached our grim instructor to thank her for the class, hoping her dour mood was due to outside circumstances and hoping to cheer her up. I walked up as she was lecturing an older Asian woman about a lack luster "body roll." "Thanks for the fun class!" I threw in casually. She made no indication of hearing me. Waiting for an appropriate pause in her lecture I said again "That was a really great class, thanks!" Instead of responding, she turned away and walked over to her stereo to gather her equipment. Had my "half moon" move really been that abysmal that she was too ashamed to claim me as a student? Probably. I didn't push it and walked out of the dance room resolved to improve.
The lesson I took from class today is that there is nothing funny about belly dancing. You do it right or you don't do it at all. I went into class looking for a fun way to spend the hour but left with the sick realization that I am far from being sensual or coordinated. I feel bad for that group of creepy, leering men who came all that way just to watch me flop around like a hooked fish. How dare I waste their valuable weekend hours. The strange thing is I really do want to go back and try it again next week. But not until I put in a few good hours of practice. I would hate to disappoint this demanding instructor again! Shake, hips, shake for your lives!