By Jheri St. James
I hear the oud’s resonant strings, the dumbek’s rhythms and the mijwiz playing snake charmer tones over excited voices. In my glamorous deep blue, god’s eye nazar amulet (sure to ward off evil spirits), Egyptian Madame Abla costume with its beaded fringe rippling, sequins glistening, and gemstones blazing, I dance into the room. Heads turn.
The Santa Ana warehouse’s floor cold under my bare feet, I see the place is fully decorated for New Year’s Eve: streamers, foil balloons, dry ice drifting around enthusiastic partiers with drinks in hand throughout the large high-ceiling room. My friend Melissa, who drove me, is chatting with one of the rock bands who are on break.
Twirling, heart racing to the rhythms of my sagat (finger cymbal) rhythms, smiling, and making eye contact, I make my way through the crowd and up the stairs to a high stage. People watch and yell.
I give them a sultry veil dance, blue chiffon floating around me like transparent ocean waves, then an exotic shamadan dance, undulating on the floor with the nine-flame candelabra glowing on my head, just like belly dancers in Egypt for weddings, where the audience rubs the dancer’s belly for fertility and prosperity.
None of these OC party people know anything about that, of course. To them, I’m either a stripper or a hooker. Do I care?
Now I hear the relentless drum solo and I shimmy my hips and shoulders with plenty of reverb from the twinkling fireworks of the blue fringe. I leave the stage, join the audience and invite everyone to dance, wrapping my veil around men’s necks, bumping hips with girls, making lots of noise with cymbals and high-pitched zaghārīts of joy. I make people chase me to tuck dollar bills in my belt, take my final bow back on stage and scamper out of the room to thunderous applause and cries of, “Whoa!”
After changing, I pick up my cash and a nice tip from the client, my Laguna Beach landlord’s son, and Melissa and I leave. I am totally amped! Applause is a drug, you know, as is getting paid cash to belly dance.
* * *
My dress now is pink, also covered with beaded embroidery, sparkling and glittering, reflecting my inner de-light, as I continue to reverberate with excitement from the applause and cheering of my talent, beauty and profession. We’re driving back to Laguna Beach.
“Where should we go?” Melissa asks.
“How about the Sandpiper?” I suggest.
“It’s just after 11,” Melissa says. “If we hurry, we’ll just make midnight.”
Greeting the Dirty Bird’s owners Chuck “Roast” and Chip “Beef,” I get a drink and “take attendance,” a single mom’s term for noting friends in the room, male and female, waving to a few and saying hi.
Now I spot Rick across the room, a runner I’ve admired for years whenever he passes me lounging on the sand at St. Ann’s beach in my French cut bikini.
He ambles over, smiling. “Hi! I’ve seen you on the beach. I’m Rick.” He takes my hand.
“Jheri. Good to meet you, in clothes even!”
“Would you like to dance?”
Would I like to dance? It’s my life!
Now, I may be a professional solo dancer, but being in the arms of a tall handsome beefcake man who smiles into my eyes as we dance to Ray Charles singing “Georgia” is another story! After a few more songs, we hear the bells, sirens and horns ringing in the New Year. Rick leans down and gives me a lovely long, deep kiss, as we continue swaying together.
“Can I come home with you?” he asks.
* * *
Jheri is a belly dance teacher/performer/speaker (aka Jheri Secretary Notary-to-Go!) who has lived in Laguna Beach for 50 years.