Talking Shit

A Man Among Many Women: My First Belly-Dancing Experience at Tribal Solstice

Of all the New Times writers in the blogosphere, I, Alex Rendon, was the one chosen to bear the distinction of covering the fifth-annual Gaia-worshiping, belly-dancing workshopping, dance fusion fete known as the Tribal Solstice. The three-day event was presented by Pembroke Pines' Lotus Dance Studio and Kala Tribal Belly Dance Productions.  

I attributed this accolade to the robust nature of my beer belly. So, for reporting on this yearly conference, I took it upon myself to consume a bevy of malted beverages the evening prior. If I was going to wiggle my male tidbits on a Saturday afternoon, I thought it best to be rightfully hungover.

And it was with a hearty stench of craft beer wafting from my pores that I walked into the Hampton Inn in Fort Lauderdale to master the movements and poses of modern belly dancing. The instructor was a ridiculously fit Danish woman called Tjarda. The name of her class: "Don't Imitate, Innovate."

The ethos of Tjarda's class was allowing our minds to create movement. I was completely taken off-guard. This wasn't the kind of belly dancing you'd see at an Arabic restaurant, with flowing velvet skirts and exposed midsections decorated with a fitted hip belt and dangling coins. Oh, no, dear readers; Tjarda teaches a free form of belly dancing in which everything goes. In Tjarda's words, there are no right or wrong moves. One simply needs to feel the energy in one's fingertips and let that creative force filter its way down through your entire body.

Since I didn't have the appropriate dancing shoes, Tjarda instructed me to take her class barefoot. It was with much concern for my 25 classmates that I gently removed my tattered Sperry Topsiders (they're 1-year-old shoes that have never seen a pair of socks). The distinctive, musky aroma of tinea pedis permeated the air, engulfing every square inch of the room. I smiled, pretending not to notice the odor, and began to stretch my legs like I used to do before soccer practice in high school. The women in this class were much too nice and considerate to comment on my embarrassing condition.
I looked around at my fellow classmates and noticed the wide assortment of women (I was the lone male in the class). The lady in front of me was in her mid-20s, of the Williamsburg hipster sort, with a tribal tattoo on the back of her neck. Beside me was a women in her 40s named Heather Flynn who had flown all the way down from Winnipeg, Canada, to attend this seminar.

I came to the realization that Tjarda's "Don't Imitate, Innovate," class was not intended for the novice belly dancer. Although it was a free-form class, where you couldn't make a wrong move, I felt as if I could have used an introductory session first to get a handle on some of the basic belly-dancing postures and movements. My lack of experience lead me to imitate the movements of the classmates closest to me. 

Tribal house music played in the background as Tjarda went on to instruct us to create our own statues. We went from one pose to another, to another. Between these, I would often forget what my original statue was, so I ended up making an entirely new one. My most reliable position was a Karate Kid-like crane kick stance. You know the one I'm talking about, that crazy bird-imitating pose that an injured Danny LaRusso assumed under the tutelage of Mr. Miyagi. It was the only one I could ever remember.

So in between gyrating and swerving my hips in rhythm to the dance music, I always wound up in the reliable crane kick stance. Tjarda spoke to the class, "It's all about movement quality -- let your movements tell your story." I stomped on the floor, ever so slightly, and made sweeping arm movements.

For a fleeting moment, I thought I was a flamenco dancer, raising my hands high in the air, with my thumb and pointer finger clicking on imaginary castanets. I guess the story I wanted to tell was one of a Spanish dancer from Southern Spain? Tjarda walked by and commented on my excellent use of vertical space. I felt very proud of myself at this moment and gave myself an imaginary pat on the back. Perhaps I am a good improvisational belly dancer? I certainly have the belly for it.

After two hours of improvisational gyrating, twitching, floating, and tootsie rolling, the class ended. Leaving the room, Tjarda thanked me for coming and told me that I had done an excellent job. She said I was courageous for sticking around for the entire class. Hey, spending an afternoon with 20-some women, some with exposed midriffs and others in tights, wasn't all that difficult.

Leaving the class, I caught up with Heather Flynn, the woman who had flown from Winnipeg to attend the Tribal Solstice. I didn't ask her how much she paid, but she was the only one of the 80 ladies at the conference to enroll in all 16 classes offered. Ranging from $60 to $80 a class, Flynn dropped some serious coin at the Tribal Solstice. For her, it was no big deal, though, because she saw this as an invaluable experience to learn from the best instructors in modern belly dancing. Flynn has a deep spiritual connection with belly dancing. "It's the best way to connect with your body and to let go of the everyday business," Flynn explained to me. "Everyone here is very sisterly."

Indeed they were. I left this experience with 25 new sisters and several new sore parts in my body.

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Alex Rendon