Yesterday, the Pollito and I were out seeing the show. Today, I go into The City by myself and learn two different styles of dancing. To express movement in words requires outrageous metaphor and onomatopoeia, so hold on tight.
This morning, I was up to see an orange sun glowing off the second bedroom walls, which meant I could have a shower and breakfast and gather my things before I had to catch the train back into the city. It’s only in early-or-mid-August that you see a perfectly clear, deep orange sun rising and setting into a haze of blue-gray cloud. Usually, it means heavy hot weather coming.
This morning, however, provided a cool breeze to invigorate my trip into Chelsea. The Pollito offered to drop me at the train station in the morning and promised to pick me up when I got there in the afternoon. Independent woman though I am, and ballsy chick ever ready to hitch up her knockers and bust a few moves, I can allow myself to relax into a sense of grateful acceptance when my husband flexes his machismo. Po’cito Pollito almost lost me once. Disallowing his worry would be selfish.
A pair of spandex bike shorts (black) and a spandex camisole top (white) with my coin-scarf (black and gold) tied over my hips would do for a dance class. Once I had a spandex unitard for class. I was thinner then, and I probably discarded the thing during some move or another. I went through a period of tank tops and long skirts for class, but abandoned that when I realized how stumpy-dumpy that looked. The bike shorts and cami were just about all I had. Pollito handed me a large Tommy Hilfiger tee of his to wear for the walk from 31st and Seventh down to 20th and Sixth.
Metuchen Train Station, I should mention, has everything you’d want in a delightful little suburban train station. From the anachronistic-newly-built station house to the brick walls and shrubs screening the parking lot to the clean benches to the ads for musicals, everything conspires to make a pleasant scene you’ll inevitably ignore as you pace pace pace look left pace pace look left train’s two minutes late have I bought the right ticket? pace pace pace pace.
I used the family account that I think of as my husband’s to buy a weekly pass. It would hold me till Friday and that’s all I needed. The train did finally pull into the station, as it would have even if I hadn’t been looking for it, at eight eleven and mirabile visu! it was an express. I’d have plenty of time to walk to the studio.
Riding into that part of New Jersey, even on a lovely Sunday morning, is a rehearsal for descending through the lesser circles of Hell. The landscape loses a sense of purpose, as though everyone gave up hope of keeping it pretty. A shame, too, since the wetlands might have been pretty without the bits of rotting pier. A lone duck occupied a pond.
Arriving at New York Penn Station gave me hope of a week of easy commutes. A small number of people strolled along, following curved paths that eventually lead to trains or exits. I marched to the exit and found my direction easily enough: I had to turn right and walk eleven blocks and then one-and-a-half. A cool breeze kicked up and spurred me on.
People on the street began to show signs of being dancers. They carry bags that jingle faintly and wear oddly shaped but obviously movement-friendly clothing. I intercepted two on my way in and we were buzzed in together.
The studio had been cleared of chairs and curtains. The mirror mercilessly stretched the entire length of the studio and shocked me into an honest assessment of me. Though a full eighteen pounds down from my ending chemo weight and a full twenty-five pounds down from my highest weight, I still saw a thick roll of fat above the waist of the shorts and blobs of flab under my arms and between my legs. Worse, the spot that used to be my colostomy made a dent and a bulge under the cami. I glanced around the room and saw only the lithe and young dancers stretching their legs. Others there were, too, I made myself see: some who had clearly given birth many times, some who were large and unabashed about it, some who were older and did nothing to hide the grays and wrinkles. I sat and extended my legs to stretch.
The Happy Squirrel Lady, whose name is Karen, incidentally, stepped up to the stage and called for attention. “We’ll begin warm up, ladies. And remember that this warm up has the full vocabulary of movement for this dance, and also works by moving the large muscle groups first and progressing to the smaller muscles and finer movements. Rocky has spent a lot of time and thought designing this warm up. Ok, feet a little less than shoulder width apart, ladies, heels right under the hips, shoulders down and back, chest up, head up, and…”
The slow flute music played a pulsing beat and we slid our hips. The movements took us through our waists, shoulders, necks, arms, legs… slowly we moved all the parts of our bodies through their natural ranges of motion. But I must move on to the dances!
Especially since the first teacher, Robyn Friend, linguist, dancer, and musician, immediately told us to forget everything we thought of as Middle Eastern Dance. She called us to sit in a circle, like children before a librarian, and look at the map she held. Her point? We weren’t in the Middle East anymore, Toto; we had entered the sweeping vastness above the Himalayas called Asia. No one here drops a hip, twitches a butt or rolls a belly. This is Uzbekistan, baby. Wrap up warm and let your face and hands tell the story of the dance. And by the way, until the Soviets came along, according to her, there was no such place as Uzbekistan.
Yes, this was the tall thin heron of a woman who had last night tippy-toed through two dances while wearing swaths of red velvet. She had us stand up very straight, with our feet under our hip-joints and our guts held in tight, our necks long and our heads balanced. In addition to the normal set of warm ups one could expect, we had also to warm up our fingers and hands. Because the rest of us would not matter so much as long as we kept out posture, the expression of the dance lay in our hands, arms and faces.
The first thing to learn in any dance from that part of the world is how to shuffle along. For Uzbek dances, you make a little step-together-step-together shuffle, with a little bounce every other step. This is the foundation. The rest of the dance is built up in layers over this. So you go along t-skiff-t-shuff t-skiff-t-shuff and the next thing we learned was how to bobble our heads.
“Imagine a nail through your nose, AND that a nail through your nose wouldn’t hurt, and rotate your head around that nail,” she told us. Slowly at first, and then faster we went as we got the feel of the movement. It goes better if you don’t think too hard. Especially when you add that to the t-skiff-t-shuff. Then you have to shiver your hands. Imagine ringing a tiny bell. That’s how to shiver your hands. So now your head is bobbling and your hands are shivering around your face and around in circles and NOW you’ve got to work in some snake arms and shoulder shimmies…
She did not expect us to become experts in Uzbek dance, and believe me, we were most emphatically NOT. I did get praise for the correctness and consistency of my head bobbling. I bet I could use it to annoy people.
Lunch was an hour between one and two. Middle Eastern dancers eat what they please, as a rule. We made tentative conversation. I met a woman my age named Simone. She’s Swiss. I met a woman who is the near neighbor and friend of Bill Bryson, which man has written several amusing travel books. I was impressed.
Saqra burst upon us at two. Usually, at least in US culture, when a woman is somewhat heavy and somewhat on the short side and can count her hair and her eyes as her best features, she is not entitled to think too well of herself. I should know, I answer to that description too. Saqra, it seems, hasn’t gotten that memo. She – what is the word I’m groping for? – she shimmers. She has decided that she is lovely and the world will just have to accept that.
That energy shimmered through the room as we got out our veils. The first thing she did, which I would rather not have had done to me by a lovely woman, was tell us that we all had pretty much the wrong veils. “No silk,” she said, “it doesn’t open nicely to the air. And no rectangles. You’ll trip over the corners.” I eyed my two silk rectangles and reflected that they represented $120 of my hard-earned dollars. Well, if she can decide that she is lovely, I can decide that silk is my favorite material and does so open nicely to the air. I did resolve to trim the rectangles into semicircles. Then she told us that veils are as American as apple pie, and to a Middle Eastern audience, would look like we couldn’t decide to take off our coats once and for all. Except that in recent years, audiences in Egypt and Turkey are becoming used to veil work and dancers there are starting to do veil work. Hooray for American World Domination!
Saqra demonstrated several moves that used the veils held together to make a two-color veil. The moves had fun names like The Hershey’s Kiss (the veil is held over your head and at your hip and as you spin, makes a thing like a Hershey’s Kiss) and The Snuggly Matador ( mmmm…the thought of that).
Then we switched to moves that used two veils separately. Not moves for the timid or the victims of vertigo. They defy description, especially since I was too dizzy most of the time to see them done properly to describe them.
Day end. Off I trot to Penn station, thinking the whole time of the costume I still haven’t finished, but resolve nevertheless to spend the evening nestled in my husband’s arms, since he hasn’t been without me since my last stay in the hospital. Usually Sundays are just for us.
The Pollito is at the station waiting just where I can see him. He has the dog in the back of the pick up, and the dog is making monkey noises from the moment he spots me. Home to snuggling with my matador and no progress on the costume.
Tomorrow – drum solo