FAILING THE SHIMMY

Being at Karoun the other night and watching the amazing belly dancer brought back personal memories of my brief foray into belly dancing.

I am not much of a dancer. I didn’t usually humiliate myself too much as a kid, but no one was awestruck by my abilities. The Frug and the Pony? I could do them. I could even do a pretty good Lindy, though by the time I learned it, it was 20 years out of date. I badly wanted to dance. I took tap and ballet. There were worse kids in the class than me, but not many. I moved on to jazz where I wasn’t nearly as bad. But “not nearly as bad” is not anything like “good.”

I had dreamed of being a ballet dancer. Despite silly rumors that all you need to do to make it happen is “keep at it until you get it right,” I wasn’t going to be a ballet dancer. Or, as far as I could tell, even a moderately acceptable ballroom dancer.

As I hit my mid twenties, I found myself working for a couple of technical photography magazines … and one of my bosses taught belly dancing in her “off hours.”

Belly dancing. It wasn’t what I’d had it mind, but I was assured that I could do it. Not a lot of flying feet, air leaping and it was apparently okay if you were a little bit rounder than the average dancer. I figured … why not? I signed up.

It turned out I had a real knack for belly rolls and all the hip stuff. I could do a surprisingly good back bend and I just loved twiddling with the Zills, (zils), or finger cymbals, (from Turkish zil, “cymbals”). Those are the tiny metallic cymbals used by belly dancers and they make a delicious little miniature clanging sound.

I was having fun. Although I didn’t see myself morphing into a serious dancer, I was having a good time. I discovered there were more uses for belly dancing socially than I had ever imagined. Even for me who had only taken a few lessons. Men really like that hip movement.

Then, along came the shimmy. I knew from painful past experience I cannot shimmy. As a girl, all my friends could shimmy. I couldn’t and it wasn’t for lack of trying. My shoulders wouldn’t shake. My hips would shake. I could probably have done a full hula, but was hopeless at making my shoulders move. My instructor told me to try doing it sitting down. I made the chair shimmy, but not me.


I failed the shimmy.

Belly dancing had been my last hope for finding my place in the world of dance. Not long thereafter, I got more serious about learning to ride horseback. That went much better and although I never was ready for the Grand Prix, I became a reasonably good rider.

Watching the belly dancer the other night brought back all the memories. What startled me most was that this brilliant dancer — Melina really is brilliant — didn’t use a single shimmy in her long and extremely complex routine. It was all hips and belly rolls. So maybe I could have skipped the shimmying and moved ahead. I guess I’ll never know.

If you or anyone you know might be interested, Melina has a dance studio in which she teaches not only belly dancing, but acrobatics called the Daughters of the Rhea.

Additionally, she and her husband, Czech circus star Sacha Pavlata, direct the Moody Street Circus, a belly dance and circus studio for all ages in Waltham, MA. Moody Street Circus’s mission is to joyfully share the Pavlata family legacies of circus arts and belly dance to wonderful students of all ages, and to foster friendly community, strengthen bodies, hone skills, fuel joyous dreams and imagination, and promote positivity and fun. .

7 thoughts on “FAILING THE SHIMMY

  1. I definitely have the belly, but not the dance to go with it . I was more into twist and all the dance hall stuff that followed. We learned pair dancing at school, waltz etc. but it was a girl only school so as I was taller than most, I had to lead and never really learned the woman’s steps.

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