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  • My yoga student invited me to attend a Hafla. She said that taking my yoga class had made her a better dancer. A Hafla is a gathering of belly dancers. Pulling into the New Holland Fire Company, I smiled at the juxtaposition. In a place where buttons are considered proud, I wondered if this town of manicured lawns, mesh bonnets, and white picket fences knew that belly dancers had taken over the fire company where they regularly congregated for their pancake breakfasts.

    Pushing past several volunteer firemen gawking at the door, I entered another world. There were vendors selling their wares, costumes, veils, zills, and instructional videos. One of the women in the crowd began to ululate, trilling her appreciation for the performance on the stage. The firemen were not the only ones captivated by what they saw.

    A darbouka, desert drum, beat out the rhythm, as a single dancer began to dance. Her hips, girded in silver coins, matched the drum, measure for measure. Her arms, undulating like snakes or lovers, entwined above her. In her hands, the cymbals punctuated her hips and feet. Like Ishtar, her veils fell away, leaving her exposed to us, yet transported far away.

    The “danse du ventre” was popularized for all audiences during the Victorian era. A fertility dance like the hula, belly dancing was never intended for male eyes. The dance originated in harems and was performed by older women to educate the young girls on the mysteries of femininity. In the movement, echoes of female sexuality and childbirth were accentuated. Watching her perform, I could feel a slight flush in my cheeks. I have never belly danced, but I had done this dance before.

    I watched the dance of a whirling dervish, a dance often attributed to Rumi, the Sufi mystic. The dancer was male and his spinning became faster and faster, his skirt billowing in a wide circle, and the palms of his hands open to the heavens. The dancer spins to attain a trance like state. He loses himself and becomes one with the divine. He is riding the backs of the gods.

    My yoga student performed with her troupe. Afterwards, I congratulated my student and thanked her for inviting me. I felt proud of all the women who had danced, proud of their grace and their reclamation of a truly female art form. I wondered if I could belly dance. With a wry smile, I dismissed the thought.
    Browsing the table of wares, I picked up a book of poetry about the dance.
    Letting the pages fall open, this is what I read:

    “Life is like a gazia, she dances but once for each…”

    Before leaving, I signed up for a free class.

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