Yesterday the schedule was packed. After we shopped for bricks and melamine planks for some necessary DIYing (in the end, we will move to the kitchen with Gizmo and leave the rest of the flat to books — it is only fitting for making us happy and enabling us to pay the bills), we went over to some rich but cool and educated (now, that’s a combination) friends for lunch and to spend some time around and in the pool.
We had a great time and I realised why it is a good idea to have a pool if the nearest beach is 50 km away: mainly because it is conveniently located in your backyard, it is free of melanoma-cultivating Brits stinking of ale, noisy Outposter families and beach bars and seaside tavernas. Moroever, this was an ozone-sterilised pool, free of the communal connotations (you know: you, the local pedophile, three health freaks, some concerned mothers and a bunch of tame but nosy pensioners) and noxious effects of chlorine in public pools. Having said that, keeping a pool in the Outpost, erm, yes. At least our friends’ is not 10 meters from the sea. We were later joined by a really pleasant guy who works overtime 6 days a week. He comes from a small European country that cannot be named, as he is probably the only national of this small European country that cannot be named in the Outpost — and I have to protect the innocent.
In the evening we were invited for dinner to a restaurant called Arabesque (no, seriously). The food was excellent (as usual), featuring the second best mhammara (yum) I have ever had. We were in a large company, mostly made up of not particularly punctual Lebanese ladies, who were friends of a friend’s friend. All these ladies came without their (Outposter) husbands.
Part of the attraction was belly dancing. Now, I really know the following about belly dancing:
a) what I see on film and TV as pieces of orientalist fantasy,
b) awkward renditions thereof (Shakira meets your neighbourhood hottie) in clubs I make a point of avoiding,
c) Jod’s point of view, who took only three lessons before she quit. She thinks that belly dancing is voyeuristic and competitive, taken up by Western women to come in terms with their own physicality and corporeality.
The above amount to me knowing almost nothing about belly dance, then. Luckily, what we saw yesterday was both the version of people who (learn or teach how to) belly-dance and the ‘show’ version thereof. The former was represented by the Lebanese ladies and by teachers and students of belly-dancing, who danced to all those jingly beats for their own enjoyment and for all the reasons people dance for. Well, I did notice some competition among them, but, hey…
The ‘this is a show’ version was represented by two professional bellydancers. The first was dressed up and moved exactly like an Orientalist stereotype. The works. Everything. You name it, she did it (or she had it dangling from her ears, nostrils, breasts, wrists, waist). She was very skillful but she apparently crammed all the moves and figures in the book in her dancing. She also tried to look enticing and provocative (you know the ‘eastern promise’ sort of thing — remember: stereotypes), a bit too hard, too.
The second one was even more of a showgirl. She made a grand entrance, veils and all:
She looked less technical than the previous one. However, she was more of a showgirl, in the sense of a quasi-non-nude stripper doing belly-dancing (unlike ‘exotic’, or whatever real strippers do). It was like being in a better-lit cabaret, surrounded by family and friends (instead of elderly male farmers, male middle-aged shop keepers and horny soldiers).
Consequently, no man’s bald head remained unrubbed on impressive breasts, no male shoulders went un-nudged by luscious hips, no perpendicular view upwards to her legs was spared, as she also danced on every single table. Jod particularly enjoyed her grabbing and pulling my chair (and me on it) towards her, so as she can get my nose almost up her cleavage, and her stepping her bare foot on my left shoulder (she was already on our table by then), probably demanding worship (I was busy giggling) — Jod immediately afterwards checked (my shoulder) for a stain, so that the surrounding ladies do not mistake her for a lousy housewife. A teenager was groped (he had seen it coming). An Indian guy was rubbed against the dancer’s back. Gay guys were taunted in gestures. Female friends, wives and girlfriends shot many pictures.
Then the first dancer joined her and there was a double act (no! no explicit lewdness involved. C’mon people, this is a restaurant, a family place). Observe the large tree in the middle of the restaurant. It is fake, naturally.
Then the ‘real’ dancers, men and women, took over the floor and mingled with the professionals. They were less bent on shimmying and swaying erogenous zones (primary and/or secondary) and more interested in having fun. Fun was had by dancers and spectators.
Now, if after all that you want to read something serious, incisive and extremely insightful on oriental dance, its performance and its politics, read this instead. Buy it, even. A great book.