Sunday, 1 June 2014

Belly-dancing in China

My daughter and I are at our very first belly-dancing class. "Are you sure you want to do this?" I ask her as we enter the gym.

But she can't hear me. Not only is Arabesque music pounding out of the loudspeakers at full volume, but in China people are used to loud noise and everybody just talks over it, creating a cacophony that has to be heard to be believed. In a country where you can expect firecrackers going off at seven in the morning, making every dog in town howl its lungs out, where some drivers lean on their horns just to let off steam and street vendors holler out their pitches to passersby all day long, a roomful of people screaming to make themselves heard raises no eyebrows.

My daughter and I are intimidated by the number of women wearing proper belly-dancing outfits: those little belts with tinkling metal bits that jingle when you shake your hips, sexy tops in bright, sparkly colors, and wispy-thin Princess Jasmine-style trousers. On top of this, although this is a belly-dancing class, we seem to be the only ones in the room who have anything close to real bellies: all the women in the room are svelte, willowy, and rail-thin. I try to remind myself that the Turkish belly-dancers I knew were of all sizes, that we should fit right in. But in fact we stand out like guppies among goldfish. Also, we're not Chinese, and everybody else in the room is, including the teacher.

"We'll just watch the teacher," my daughter argued when I pointed out our language problem. "We don't need the language just for a dance class. And besides, it'll be a learning experience." And I allowed myself to be convinced. But the truth is, although we've both been studying Chinese furiously, we still have a long way to go even just to follow the Chinese a belly-dancing class.

The class begins. The pounding Arabesque is cranked up a notch and we all concentrate on following the teacher, who starts with stretches--easy enough. Then she moves on to simple movements: we all stand tall, feet together, arms held out, and move our feet rapidly, jiggling the entire body. Then we move on to more simple moves which branch into more moves, complicated ones too --arms held up, arms held out, arms reaching in different directions, turn steps, moving forward, moving backwards, turning one way, turning the other way, all the time the instructions barked out in Chinese that we cannot follow. Given the pounding music, the sound of 40 feet pounding the floor, and the shimmering tinkle of belly-dancing belts in our ears on top of our linguistic ineptitude, it's tough to follow her.

And then right in the middle of it, when we are both dripping with sweat, panting for breath, screwing up 65% of the moves, and cringing at the sight of our flushed, uncoordinated selves in the mirror, I hear it: zuo jiao. "Left foot!" I almost cry out, in the joy of understanding. "Left foot!" I mouth to my daughter, who is too exhausted to see it. Not five minutes later, I catch another one:  Youshou--right hand. I could whoop for joy. Who cares if I'll never belly dance properly? If I can get even a few words of Chinese in this racket, I'm making progress. And I know that I really am getting better: just yesterday I understood somebody who said Is it okay if I sit here?; last week, I was able to understand the cashier when she said 320 yuan; will that be by cash or credit card?--and a while back, not only was I able to tell the lady who got on the elevator after me that I wasn't responsible for the pee on the floor, I could understand her chuckled response: Yeah, a kid did that.  Clearly I'm on a roll here.

Later in the evening, when we have showered and nursed our aching arms and legs, my daughter and I practice our Chinese. Tonight we have a song all picked out which should help us, too: heads, shoulders knees and toes (hair, shoulders, knees and feet here in China). It's a simple enough song, and I know from painful experience that my daughter will learn it a lot faster than I will. But never mind: I already know foot.


Kim Ayres said...

Wonderful :)

Anonymous said...

Video, Mary. Where's the VIDEO????

A.T. Post said...

I'm jealous. Chinese is a challenge I never had the courage to master (let alone belly dancing). I guess you have to move there to master it, and that's something I don't have the stomach for either.

Kit said...

That's brave! I loved belly dancing when I did it for a few years, but could never have coped in a noisy gym being barked at in Chinese! In fact the whole noise thing would freak me out without trying to learn anything new as well. And all of us except our teacher had bellies of some description. We only stopped because the teacher moved away or I'd still be jingling and jangling now and probably be much fitter!

Charles Gramlich said...

It's very good exercise from what I hear.

Mirka Breen said...

Now I think I've heard it all. In China?...
When my shy sister took to belly-dancing, I understood there was a movement afoot. But she does live in the middle east.
BTW- it was good for her. Enjoy with daughter!

Mary Witzl said...

Thank you, everybody. I'm woefully behind on this blog, and on all of my writing, and to top it off, I forgot my blog password and had a tough time resetting it.

Still belly dancing. And still awful at it. But I know more anatomical parts now.