A One Act Play for Solo Performer

Oh, Baby, Baby!

By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2002 Geralyn Horton

The BELLY DANCE INSTRUCTOR who is teaching the class is bright and attractive, but in a well scrubbed athletic fashion rather than conforming to the nightclub image of the “seductive exotic”. The class she is teaching is a workshop for dancers of varying backgrounds who have some familiarity with Middle Eastern Dance, to introduce them to a particular-- authentic and traditional-- genre. The DANCE INSTRUCTOR controls-- or appears to control-- the accompanying music from a boom box. We are to imagine that the class members are in the part of the dance studio that extends into the audience, and are following along with the movement as the instructor demonstrates the technique. I expect that the students’ vocal reactions to their exertions, and the questions the students ask the instructor about her personal life and their reactions to her answers, will be imaginary. However, the director may wish to incorporate live students or a sound design that represents them.

Although the DANCE INSTRUCTOR wears the belly dance costume belt, whose rows of jingling gold coins act as a kind of percussion instrument, she is basically in a rehearsal outfit: calf length tights and sturdy halter. As the lights and music come up, the INSTRUCTOR is demonstrating a basic step.

So it’s hip and 2 and hip and 4 and hip and 2 and hip and... other side!
Symmetry is important in The Culture.
If we turn to the left (does step turn with veil) -- and 2 and 3
then we turn to the right and 2 and-
hip and travel, starting right!
With this lyric you want more of a float.
Soften that aggressive jerk, there,
listen to the singer, play into his fantasy... stop and shimmy
(A student asks what the lyrics are saying)
What? The lyrics?
“Oh baby, baby. Oh baby, baby.” Arms Fourth!
Check how you’re holding the fingers.
Basically, they’re all “O baby baby”, over and over.
What else is there to say?
shoulder shimmy!
“I’m dying for you baby, dying for a glimpse of you,”
“come out on the balcony, please please please...”
Turn and--! (does a particularly flirtatious bit with the veil,
choreography rather than merely an exercise )
“Oh baby baby come to your window,
You’ve got everything...” (pauses to illustrate)
this is a good time to do the full circle,
all the way around with the hips.
Very good, Sarah.
Redhead, watch Sarah, scoop deeper--
e-ver-y-thing, e-ver-y-thing,
But none of it’s for you-- shake shake!
Eat your heart out, fella! (flourish)
It’s all tease and flirting,
but very coy, like circling the veil,
because flirting is taboo. (repeat earlier sequence)
So it’s essence of flirting, all sublimated...
God forbid you should really flirt, or get personal-- (a focused grind, clearly invitational)
You’d start a riot! Especially if you’re blonde!
But the point is, God has forbidden it. (resume classic sequence)
(Objections and murmurings from the class)
You can’t fight it, ladies-- the dance is part of The Culture,
and--That’s The Culture!
(protests and questions, which the INSTRUCTOR cuts off)
Ok, I’ll explain about The Culture.
Rest, while I give you the Cram Course.
First, there are really two Cultures: his and hers.
Belly dancing is tricky, because it crosses the line.
The pioneers who brought this dance to the west weren’t thinking about The Culture.
Whether they were burley-Q kootch dancers or art dancers like St. Dennis, they picked up on what they were used to,
Like “Arabesque”, like “La Badairre’, exotic to draw in the crowds.
Fuck authenticity! (illustrates with veil moves)
Westerners accept whatever looks good!
We like Arabian Nights in the Disney version.
Now ladies, you’ve all seen this move, right? (pelvis grind)
How many have learned it?
Come on, show me. (motions them to rise and dance)
It’s relatively easy, but spectacular-- shows you off.
Seen on museum tapes, even.
And this one (illustrates) is sometimes referred to as sacred.
Homage to the Female Divine.
It could get you arrested!
The first move is ok in Turkish dance, but it’d be indecent
-- or at least scandalously vulgar-- in the rest of the Muslim world.
And the Divine one is outright blasphemy!
So while you enjoy the sensuous and the magical,

(illustrates with “Disney” dance)
And you can enjoy them,
we have freedom of speech and artistic expression here, thank God!
Enjoy! (thrusts, enjoying the sensuality)

(The following section can be lightly choreographed, according to the performerand director’s judgment, but should build in intensity
as it becomes less instruction and more of a personal testament)

But remember, Arabian Nights is in an ancient language,
and for us, it’s always in translation.
One little mistake announces that you are an infidel, or a witch.
You may be technically terrific,
you may be celebrating child birth
and channeling the Great Fertility Goddess
But for Believers, your Goddess is a whore.
With one little movement, all innocent.
you hear your audience turn against you,
murmuring disapproval, roaring with rage.

(murmurs of response from the class)
No, no. Don’t worry.
Not unless you’re planning to perform in the Middle East.
Like me. (question: why would you do that?)
How else can I test myself?
I have to perform before the ones who judge it as a living art,
Not as good exercise, or a sideshow.

(question: wrong to use it as exercise?)

No, it is good exercise, and so is yoga.
Women in America practice yoga for exercise, too.
Nothing wrong with that. That’s what I usually teach.
But you’re more aware---
(confusion, questions, Explain yourself.)
All right. If you want talk instead of dance.Ok.

(still for once, just speaking)

Start with understanding that boys and girls don’t get to know each other.
The only people of the opposite sex they know
are members of their own family,
and God Forbid they should ever think about
a mother or aunt or sister in connection with sex!
Incest! Abomination!
So your Egyptian or Saudi wannabe lover
isn’t going to court you for your taste in music
or your sense of humor-- he hasn’t a clue.
Marriages are arranged, by the families.
I know this sounds weird to us, but it’s worked for centuries.
Marriage is strong, family is stronger.
-- In America, all the people I know are divorced!
So, in The Culture,
All a man knows about women is what poetry tells him,
or what he reads into images--
and the Koran forbids images!

(dancing again, to her own subtle choreography)
A glimpse of something feminine on a balcony, or from an upper window,
The rhythm of desire: O baby, baby.
It’s magical, the dance is ritual magic.
As well as art.
So if you are a real dancer, like I am,
you have to go where the art is practiced.
You have to learn what it is in context.
But you can’t do that as a woman alone.
(stops, just talking)
I don’t mean it’s physically dangerous.
Not any more than New York.
But in The Culture, women are never alone.
People won’t know how to react to you.
(a fragment of dance)
With no brother or husband who’ll see that you are treated properly?
But “properly” means
(cease movement:“modest” oppressed pose)
Not dancing half naked in front of strange men.
Dancers-- even famous ones everybody loves, who are rolling in money--
dancers aren’t respectable. Their families are dishonored.
So what’s an artist to do?
(begins moving again, lightly, easily)
For one thing, you marry a secular guy.
But you marry all his relatives too,
--and even if they aren’t religious they don’t want to offend any of the family that is,
or give their enemies an excuse to insult them.
So: you must have a man who knows The Culture but isn’t part of it;
a sophisticated man, maybe from a mixed marriage,
or better yet, from a distant Muslim country.
In Islam, all Muslims are brothers.
Except for the next door neighbor.
(stops. speaks directly)
It’s not polite to question strangers too closely,
or assume that their half naked women are whores.
A husband will be your advance man, your manager.
My husband-- I met him in L.A., he’s an artist, too-- he’s very secular.
His family likes Americans.
(dancing again)
They’re flattered that an Amercan has learned their dance--
But only for her husband and the female relatives--
well maybe the great-grandfathers,
(just a little flirtatious)
old enough not even to think bad thoughts--
They love me, they welcome me, they adore our baby.
But the in-laws believe that I have stopped dancing.
(stops) Professionally.
Oh, they know I make money teaching American women.
But night clubs?
(something spectacular!)
In front of strange men? God forbid!
My next tour will be two countries away from my in-laws,
and we’re going to be very very careful with the publicity.
OK, ladies? So, Back in line!
(murmers of caution from the students)
“Precarious”? Like a knife edge...? I prefer to think of a ballerina
turning endless fouettes en pointe.
Still, if you should fall in love with this,
and you can’t live unless you dance it,
then this is how it’s done. “Con brio.”
Whatever balancing act it takes.
“O, baby, baby!”
(repeats the flirtatious bit with the veil)
Eat your heart out, ladies!



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