Annette and Sons perform in their living roomGilded Serpent presents...

Fire In Your Belly

My Dance Story

by Annette Nel
posted 2-5-09

I’ve always wanted to be a dancer. I vividly remember when I was four years old and had just started ballet, the driveway became my stage and the African sun my spotlight as I did plies, twirled, and pitter-pattered on tiptoe to a growing audience of passers-by. I remember curtsying to a young schoolboy who stopped to stare. Today, I realise it wasn’t my extraordinary dancing that stopped them in their tracks.

It was more likely the oddity of a four year old holding a see-through umbrella, doing strange moves to music that only existed in her head. But, hey! I wouldn’t let that stop me in the pursuit of my passion.

At every school dance, birthday bash, wedding, or engagement . . . in fact, any occasion with music a semi decibel louder than elevator music, I became queen of the dance floor. I would shake and turn, hop, skip, and jump. I did whatever I thought the music indicated, much to the entertainment of those around me. However, when I saw my friend’s wedding video, I realized that I probably needed to take it down a notch (or ten). The description “frog in a blender” comes to mind.

Alil balletrinafter this unfortunate eye-opening revelation, I realised I needed to either stop performing or get some dance training. So I enrolled my husband and myself in some Latin American dance classes and loved them. It was a nice “couple’s thing” to do, I thought. One year later, I realized my husband wasn’t quite as enthralled by the experience as I was, and I started thinking that, unless ones husband were one of the few men in the world that had rhythm, dancing with him would be a bit like dancing with a 100-year-old pine tree (a pine that steps on your feet)! So, to save my toes as well as our marriage, we stopped the Latin dance lessons.

The years went by, the parties became less, and our first baby was born. He was gorgeous, but 6 months after his arrival, it dawned on me that women were not all “created equal” when it came to getting back into their Levi’s. In fact, I boasted enough of what looked like bread dough around my waist, to fill at least two farm-style bread tins. I needed something to help me get back into shape! One night, I saw a Belly dancer discussing her art form on a television talk show, and it occurred to me, “My future is bright! It’s glittering… It’s shimmering… It’s Belly dancing!” 

I envisioned myself having a drop-dead gorgeous body in a dazzling outfit, with mesmerising music, fire in my hands, and a mysterious look from behind a face veil, and thus, I started my research into the art of Belly dance.

Belly dancing… is Belly dancing… is Belly dancing; right? Wrong! I never before knew how many styles existed: Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese, Tribal—and then we haven’t even begun talking about the fusion variations. Consider Hip-hop Belly Fusion! I’m still struggling to picture the combination of Hip-hop and Belly, but hey! It’s whatever rattles the coins on your hip scarf!

Among promises that varied from “master the power of seduction” to studio names I would rather not even try to pronounce, one name kept popping up: Jewels of the Nile by Charlotte. She was the only Johannesburg-based teacher in South Africa who had been trained by the real masters of the art form in its actual country of origin.

Plus, on her website, she explores a theory that Belly dancing originated as a dance form by women, performed among women, to strengthen ones abdominal muscles for childbirth. As a new mother, this theory sounded to me much more enticing than “master the power of seduction”. After all, if the point were to seduce someone, I would have bought a pole.

So, I enrolled, and I loved it. I wouldn’t say it was plain sailing. My vision of dancing on the stage evaporated when the reality of my left foot not knowing what my right foot is doing set in. Additionally, Charlotte is tough and a damned-good dancer. One of the girls, who left our school to join another studio, said she’d rather do something that was easier and looked more like you’re doing the “real move” than focusing so much on “perfecting the technique”.

What’s the point of doing something if you’re not going to do it properly? Charlotte’s choreographies are unsurpassed—a fact that even her fiercest competitors would have to admit, albeit through gritted teeth! Above all, trying to follow her in class frees my spirit and makes me feel as beautiful as she looks when she dances. During that one hour of “me-time” per week, I can forget about the high crime rate, tight deadlines, the increasing fuel price, dirty nappies, and the raging food crisis. I can spread my wings and fly like a supreme goddess with my veil. I can become one with the earth when we do folkloric. Immensely, I can feel in touch with each muscle as we control every tribal Belly dancing move. I can dance!

Since I started three years ago, I’ve given birth to another son, and substituted the two loaves around the waist for 4 foot-long hotdog rolls. I dream no longer of fame and fortune, but when I switch on my music and the Arabic word “habibi” (sweetheart) starts blaring through our house, my lounge becomes my stage, our chandelier becomes my spotlight, and my two little boys think I am the most beautiful dancer they have ever seen. For now, that’s enough for me!

Author's class in South Africa
Taken in Charlotte's class when one of the girls had her last class before having her babies

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