Belly Jelly

The heck with lap dancing. Tara Eivers, owner of Sinbad's restaurant in Tempe, has the jump on the next hot trend in entertainment. Several nights a week, Sinbad's features a bevy of belly dancers who shake their coin-heavy hips and bejeweled fannies at the dinner trade. For the price of a baklava and a cup of boiled coffee, Eivers offers a hip trip to the Middle East, and folks are lining up to catch a glimpse. While a trio of hot numbers writhed and wiggled on Sinbad's stage, I cornered Eivers about the pleasures of fanny-shaking and why guys are bringing their wives to witness it.

New Times: Why do people belly dance?

Tara Eivers: It's the whole fascination with the mysterious Middle East. In the old country, what makes people happy is dance and baklava and coffee. It's a form of expression, and it's good exercise.

NT: Better than the Ab-Roller?

Eivers: Yes. You know, I used to always be tempted to order one of those off of TV, because I have this stomach. I try to remind myself that wishing for a flat stomach is an American thing. So far I've failed.

NT: You could belly dance.

Eivers: I used to dance all the time, but never in a costume. Men find it more attractive when you're not in a costume.

NT: I've heard that. I thought it was better for a belly dancer to be flabby, rather than ab-y.

Eivers: Yes, because that's the more traditional body type. In true Middle Eastern belly dance, all the women are very voluptuous, and that's their appeal. Large breasts, and big, rounded hips moving, moving, moving. In the U.S., women are so self-conscious that showing their belly is frowned upon.

NT: (Pointing to belly dancers on stage.) Maybe if women ran around doing that all the time, attitudes about stomachs would change. You know, belly dancing was sort of big with housewives in the '60s for a while. Why's it coming back now?

Eivers: Because it's fun. You can do it while you're doing housework or talking on the phone. And, you know, it's all about women being together. Women have a fear of going to the gym and all the guys are looking at us. Whereas, with belly dance . . .

NT: You're wearing a bikini and a veil and all the guys are looking at you.

Eivers: You're funny. You know, a girl couldn't wear that costume to the gym. Her breasts would be covered in coins, and those costumes weigh a ton. They're very expensive; they're like $2,500 apiece. The girls usually travel to Egypt to get them.

NT: Couldn't you just buy a bikini at Target and sew some quarters on it?

Eivers: You probably could do that. Hmm. I never thought of that. A lot of the girls use props, though: Swords on their heads, and blazing candelabras.

NT: Your insurance here must be pretty high. (Pointing to stage.) Hey, how come none of those girls are wearing big paste jewels in their navels?

Eivers: Oh, that isn't something that's done. You know, that's just from television or something. But we have some dancers who are tattooed around their navels.

NT: Is that traditional?

Eivers: No. Middle Eastern tradition says the woman is not to be marked. Tattooing is not part of our culture, but most of the women belly dancers in Arizona seem to be tattooed.

NT: Go-go dancers, too. Is belly dance sometimes mistaken for erotic dance?

Eivers: (Rolling eyes.) Yes! Oh, it's awful. People call and say, "Can I bring my kids?" It's an art form, belly dance. It's cabaret, not risqué. Some people don't get that. And let me tell you, the men are shy about coming here with their wives, but the wives are always really into it. They're the first ones to shove dollar bills into the girls' costumes.

NT: So some guys show up expecting a lap dance from a girl in a sarong, and they get The Dance of the Seven Veils. That must be disappointing.

Eivers: Not at all. People are mesmerized. Not every woman can move her hips that way. It takes a lot of practice. You really have to work to get your stomach to move around that way.

NT: My stomach moves around that way when I just walk across a room. I notice that all the girls have goofy Arabic stage names. What's that about?

Eivers: Because no one would come out to see a belly dancer named Kelly. Or Suzanne. People believe that a true belly dancer will have an Egyptian name. These women are all professionals during the day, so when they perform on weekend nights, they have a stage name that provides a certain mystique. Amy's dance name is Amen-rot, which means, uh, I don't remember what. But you get the picture.