Allison scooped up some baba ghanoush onto a piece of pita, then looked her friend Daniel in the eye. “Are you sure this is a good idea – introducing me to this belly dancer?”
“Don’t say it in that tone, sweetie. She’s not a stripper. She’s a dancer, just as much as any of us.”
Danny’s boyfriend Raoul, his mouth full of stuffed grape leaf, nodded in agreement.
Allison flushed at being included in the us. She tried to cover her consternation by continuing the argument. “It’s not that. I know Silvia’s a good friend of yours and I’m sure you wouldn’t introduce me to anyone trashy. It’s just that belly dancing sounds so . . .”
“Fluffy?” Danny grinned. “You won’t hang out with ballet dancers any more, except for my choreographer self, but you still think like one. You don’t have any luck dating non-dancers. I figured this was worth a try. At worst, you’ll see something new and I think you’ll enjoy it. I know I was astonished.”
“Besides,” Raoul added, “even I think Silvia’s a babe.”
As the lights dimmed, she fingered the charm on her necklace, the charm in the shape of the satin toe shoes she could no longer wear. Even to Danny she couldn’t admit her anxiety: that alien as non-dancers were, she was terrified that any professional dancer would be put off by her weight gain and the awkward stiffness she still suffered in damp weather. And every time she watched someone else dance, it filled her with conflicting emotion – joy in the artistry itself, bitterness that she was barred forever from it.
The band in the corner started: a heavy, unfamiliar rhythm on the drums, an odd, nasal-sounding flute, a violin, and an electronic keyboard reproducing the sound of several instruments Allison couldn’t identify. The effect was exotic and sensual, yet lively. Then the dancer emerged. She probably entered from some place as mundane as a back room, but she did it with a panache that suggested she had materialized out of Aladdin’s lamp.
For a few measures she stood poised, veil held like wings, the light catching the beading on her green and gold costume on fire. Allison was struck by Silvia’s regal carriage and the energy invested into that stillness. It was the mark of a gifted performer, she knew, to say so much with so little motion – and it was much harder than a non-dancer could imagine. At the same time, she was slightly bewildered by Silvia’s appearance. She had expected a Middle Eastern sylph, someone with an Arabic look and a long, lean body. Instead, Silvia was below average height and fair, with a mass of strawberry blond curls. She was also very curvy, not fat, but definitely heavier than what Allison, who had been studying ballet since she was four, thought of as a dancer’s body. Her instinct was to be put off, but almost immediately old-fashioned accolades like “voluptuous” and “a real hour-glass figure” came to her mind, and she found herself wondering what all that lush flesh would feel like. Those breasts . . . Most of her lovers, like herself, hadn’t had much in that department, and the soft weight of Silvia’s cleavage, enhanced by the beaded bra top, looked like it would be marvelously fun to play with. But she couldn’t help wondering how fit could Silvia really be if she had enough body fat for such attributes.
Then Silvia started to move and as she watched, Allison’s world view shifted. This tiny, curvy lady projected a queenly strength that equaled anything she’d seen in a ballerina – partly spiritual, partly erotic. Even though the dance style was utterly different, she was reminded of the Alvin Ailey troupe, how they could touch your emotions and make you drool at the same time, without doing anything that would offend your grandmother. Silvia made eye contact with everyone, male and female, old and young, and to each she seemed to offer some secret. Her hips snapped in precise time to a beat so foreign that even Allison’s trained ear found it hard to break down. The moves looked deceptively simple, but Allison could appreciate how much work lay behind making everything look so clean and precise. As for being fit, there was definitely muscle underneath those curves. Her back was exquisitely defined, and as for her abs . . . she might have a little pooch, but anyone who could make her belly undulate up and down and sideways had to have good abs.
“You know,” Danny whispered, “this is all improve. And the musicians are improvising too. Middle Eastern music’s like jazz. Even if you know what tune they’re starting from, there’s no guarantee it’s going to sound the same way it did last time.”
Allison’s growing respect turned into awe. This was all spontaneous? That spoke of skill – but also of a great soul. Even if you had all the skill in the world, it took something special to improvise and make it look wonderful instead of merely acceptable.
She watched with growing fascination through several changes in music. What really captured her was the slow, languorous section. Saying that Silvia undulated, or that the effect was sensual, was true, but inadequate. That quivering thing she did with her abs looked like a woman in the middle of a series of mind-blowing orgasms, yet her smile remained serene and innocent and her hands caressed the air with graceful, birdlike gestures, making the effect sexy but not vulgar. She moved, Allison thought, sometimes like fire and sometimes like water, and without doing anything lewd, she led Allison through fire and water as well, or at least left her hot and somewhat damp.
When the music ended, it was much too soon.
Eventually, Silvia joined them at the table and Danny introduced them. In a simple dress, with her curly hair pulled back and her stage make-up washed off, she looked less exotic, but no less pretty. Allison tried not to gush at her about how impressed she’d been, realized she was gushing anyway and decided to roll with it. To her surprise, Silvia blushed. “Thanks. I was a little nervous knowing you were out here. Danny told me you’d danced with the Boston Ballet.”
“But Danny . . .”
“Has been my friend since high school. If I were a professional golfer or an economics professor, he’d still find a way to say he loved my work. You’re an objective audience.”
“Not anymore,” she blurted out. Then it was her turn to blush.
Needless to say, Silvia ended up giving her a card, saying, “Call me if you’re interested in lessons.”
Needless to say, Allison called, and not about lessons.
On their first date, they talked until two in the morning. On their second date, they made out like teenagers in the park at the end of Long Wharf, and discovered that they both had a fascination with light bondage.
On the third date, they bypassed the date part of the evening altogether, picked up a take-out and went to Allison’s apartment. The take-out was still on the living room coffee table, where Allison’s cat was probably enjoying it while nesting in Silvia’s blouse. It occurred vaguely to Allison, as they fumbled towards the bedroom, that they probably would be hungry later after a dinner of about three crab Rangoon’s and a lot of kisses. Oh well, the pizza place up the street was open all night.
They stumbled toward the bed in a classic late-night-cable blind clinch. In the movies, though, the couple never actually steers into the bedpost, which they managed to do. Silvia broke the embrace to see what had whacked her on the head. “These toe shoes look practically new,” she said, touching the virginal pink satin. “I thought you’d retired.”
“Had to retire,” she corrected. “They were the last pair I bought before . . .” she took a deep breath. “Before the accident.”