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By Ray Stern
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By Stephen Lemons
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Then Morgiana has to cut out early to go see her son play football on his high school team. Such are the ways of belly dancers in the exotic, mystical world of Tempe. These women clearly get a huge kick out of doing this and are great friends. Before leaving, Morgiana kisses "the girls" on the cheek. During later filming, each dancer will find that her cheek has huge red lipstick prints on it, and tapes have to be rewound while they wipe off.
As the evening progresses, bellies are shaken, lots of flesh quivers about, and it's really quite a sight. Everyone does a solo turn, then dancers join each other in different combinations. Swords appear, and are balanced on heads. Red candles in snifters are produced, and they too become part of the dance. Yasmina does what looks like a limbo. When she gets bent completely backward, she puts the sword on her belly and makes the thing vibrate. Sequined hips are wiggling. Bangled arms undulate. Cleavage heaves. It's hot in the studio.
The Joy of Belly Dancing, indeed.
A couple nights later, I am visiting Yasmina and John, her husband of 20 years, a part-time cable-TV audio tech and full-time auto-parts salesman. This is a dedicated couple; they've raced cars together, gotten tattoos together and for the last few years, they've taken on the world of belly dancing. Together.
Would you be able to tell that this cute little Mesa house is home to a belly dancer? Well, it's got three pythons in the living room (Fethe, Kaa and Atika, all of whom make it on stage now and again). Next to the 51-inch TV there's an enormous painting of what appears to be a Bedouin desert scene. And, scattered all over, there are stuffed camels. Seventy-five or so. Yasmina just likes them.
I ask her why so many women would want to put on expensive, revealing outfits and rapidly move their flesh.
"Maybe it's the camaraderie," she says. "And the music; it's hard to explain how it makes you feel. It's your interpretation of that piece of music, and you get lost in it . . . When I started 10 years ago, it was as a way to get in shape, and it became something more. I never dreamed that I would perform and teach and have a TV show--I just wanted to have fun."
Fun may or may not have been behind ancient belly dancing, apparently.
"It's a woman's dance, but they really don't know how it got started," she offers. "Some say it started in the harems because they were bored, so they danced for each other. Then, of course, the sultans got in on the act. Some say it could have been a religious dance or a birthing dance performed when someone is giving birth to show them the muscles to use."
Well, that would do it. But the dances performed now are not necessarily what they were doing a few thousand years ago.
"Belly dancing changes like everything else--ballet, jazz, modern dance. In the Middle East they didn't really teach dancing, you learned from watching, and that's how it's taught today," she explains.
And, perhaps most important, you don't have to possess a body that would get you tips at Bourbon Street Circus. Yes, it helps to have a belly.
"You've got to roll it. I've had several Middle Easterners call me and say, 'I don't want the skinny, scrawny, I want a woman who has some meat on her.'"
So the art of belly dancing will continue to grow here beyond the kebab-and-kibbe-nayeh circuit--as long as we can remain at least remotely friendly with our brothers in the Mideast, that is.
The oil embargo and belly dancing did not mix, Yasmina admits.
"Yeah," she says, "when everyone was waiting in line to get gas, they didn't want to be reminded of the Middle East."
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