Sunday evening, my wife and I encountered a corner of the Cincinnati’s cultural life that was new to us: the Belly Up to the Bar Belly Dance Extravaganza, at Leapin Lizard Lounge in Covington. We were invited by my son’s partner, who was planning to dance.
What a delightful event!
The women who danced were of all sizes and shapes. Some were young; some were grandmothers. Some were fat; some were thin. One was very pregnant. In an age where so many women are concerned about how their body compares to the impossible Barbie Doll norm, it was refreshing to see these women joyfully celebrating bodies of all shapes, sizes, and color.
Soon after we got there, a woman who I thought quite overweight danced a solo. As she briefly danced on one leg, doing moves not too dissimilar from some Yoga asanas that I struggle to get to, much less move through with grace, I thought maybe I should acknowledge that I need to get over some stereotypes.
Some of the dancers perhaps see belly dancing is a living part of their ethnic heritage. However, most were of Northern European or African descent. Regardless of ethnicity, all were enjoying an art imported to America, taking either a strictly traditional or loose approach, as suited their abilities and personal inclinations.
Some danced with ease, confidence, and in a few cases, with professional mastery; others danced with the studied concentration of adult novices trying to get it right. The choreography varied wildly: there were traditional dances, serious pieces close to modern dance, and comedy. One dance was inspired by 1920s flappers, with only a small nod to belly dancing techniques. There were several groups, often made up of less accomplished dancers led by one who was more comfortable and confident with the choreography. Several groups were of mixed race. The spirit was supportive, non-competitive. Everybody was cheered and encouraged.
People danced to recorded music, except during the intermission when the hand drummers took the stage. Some of the drummers were quite skilled. Several people, including one enthusiastic child, accepted the open invitation to dance to the drums.
The most remarkable dance was a solo performed by a pregnant woman, an obviously accomplished dancer who modified the choreography to accommodate what her changing body was able to do. Her dance was an extraordinary celebration of the beauty of the female form great with child.
Belly dancing is visceral, and many of the women clearly enjoyed expressing their sexuality. However, unlike so much of our commercial pop culture, it was never sleazy. Little kids were there, probably watching their moms, or perhaps even grandmas, and I was at no time uncomfortable with their presence in the room.
There was a buffet: the food was good. As you would expect from the title, people were drinking alcohol, but nobody was drunk. It was the kind of healthy social event that builds strong communities. Here was the American melting pot in action: honoring the core of a imported tradition, but freely combining it with other influences to make something new. As one concerned with building the peace, I was pleased to see something cross the cultural and ethnic divides so common elsewhere in our society. However, building peace sounds too much like work: people were having fun.
I hope to modify this post in the future, adding pictures as I get access to them and permission to use them. I post the text now to allow people to see what it was that they might be associating their image with.