Monday was my first introduction to bellydancing. If you know me, you know that this is a bizarre thing for me to do in some ways, the first of which is that I don't dance. I mean, I have danced, and it is not altogether a terrible experience, but usually dancing is something I do when the alternative is either too sad or too boring to bear.

I should clarify something before I go on. I actually do dance, but when I do I do it alone at home. It is a very private affair. I see dancing as belonging in two categories - public and private - and bellydancing classes are definitely a public affair. They are the kind of public event in which I am in a room with fifteen other people, and all of us are staring at each other in this huge floor-to-ceiling mirror.

My history with public dancing could be written about inside of a few pages. Oh, no, wait, this is me we're talking about. My history with public dancing could be written inside of a novella., but I will cut out most of it and try to keep it reasonable.

Both sides of my family are Mennonite as far back as any of us can find, which is hundreds of years, which means that there have been hundreds of years of my ancestors not dancing. Mennonites have a funny thing with this idea that dancing leads to sex. That's why we disowned Elvis. Before he hit the music scene, he could be seen about town in a black suit, suspenders and a flat-brimmed hat. He had quite the beard.

The Mennonite thing really got in the way of my enjoyment of my first ever dance. It was grade six, and I had just put on my pale yellow rubgy pants and a hot pink/turquiose/yellow-striped top (quit that, it was 1983), which I had laid out on my bed before I went to school that day. They were all tidy looking and pressed, which impressed upon me how big a deal this was, because usually I was satisfied if I didn't have peanut butter worked in somewhere. I went into the kitchen to say good-bye to my mother, and she started crying. She explained that the reason for her tears was old guilt from childhood but that really there shouldn't be anything wrong with me going to a school dance and that I should go, she would be fine. Uh huh. I was actually looking for any excuse not to go, because I didn't like boys and had never even been around dancing to know what it looked like. She mistook my reticence about leaving as concern for her feelings and ushered me out the door, assuring me that she would be fine. So, I went, and it turned out that my not being able to imagine dancing was okay, because I spent my evening standing around in school gymnasium with a bunch of other eleven- and twelve-year-olds who were standing around. When they weren't standing around against the walls, they would pair up and stand around in the middle but with more vigorous side-to-side shuffling of their feet. Looking back, this was not my first incident of public dancing but more my first incident of public puberty, and then private puberty, when I hid in the locker room and considered fleeing across the ball diamond. I don't know what possesses teachers to push children into such public displays of pubescent awkwardness.

In grade nine, my first year of high school, I was coerced into going to the first dance of the year. My previous school dance experiences made me less than enthusiastic, but a real live band was going to be playing, so my interest was piqued. Again, due to the Mennonite bit, the only live music I had been privy to was of the Sunday morning variety. The idea of real, live rock music gave me titillatingly conflicting emotions: it was loud and aggressive and fun and offered up the teaser of true sin. My friends and I agreed to meet up at the school. I dressed up in my best paisley jeans and had my father drop me off. None of them were waiting around in the front entrance, so I headed into the gym to look for my friends. I searched the girls' locker room for my friends. I waited patiently at the glass front doors for my friends. I started to feel like the biggest loser ever alive to be a loser standing around as I was, alone and bored and feeling embarrassed at my public friendlessness. I didn't want to call my parents for a ride home when it had only been forty-five minutes since I arrived, because they were ever worried about me socially, so I decided to wait out some time in the girls' locker room. The band was doing all that screechy, thudding, loud band stuff, but I knew that I would only feel more pathetic standing around alone in a dark gym watching the pretty girls dance. At least in the locker room I could sit in a stall alone for a while. After about half an hour of that, I called up my father and went home. There was no dancing, no joy of sin, and a lot of watching an idiotic girl clique pretending to be messed up on acetominophin and cola. I spent the last part of the evening swaying to 54-40 in my bedroom and cursing my stupid friends.

After that incident, dances and dancing did get a little better. There were a couple of later high school dances at which I did shake it just a conservative little bit. There was one night in a club in Cosmopolis where I found myself quite drunk and grinding with Starcat pornographically to goth industrial music. The Fiery One and I cut a rug once while out with Friday and Ladybug. Those incidents, though, are separated by years, and I prefer to think that this is the way things should be. I am of the mind that most public dancing is not fun. Not in the least. Mostly the music is deafeningly loud and/or bad, there are too many people jammed together on the floor, and everyone is aware that everyone else is watching everyone else. I simply cannot get my groove on under such circumstances. You may as well just ask me to give the Fiery One oral in a Denny's.

For some reason, bellydancing struck me as something I wanted to do, so a co-worker and I signed up for two months of classes. I missed the first one when I was up in Cosmopolis, so the second class was my first introduction to the eastern art. I ended up being positioned at the far right end of the group, which I originally thought was a good place to be if I wanted to be less conspicuous. As per usual, though, when it comes to dancing and me, things had to slide in a decidedly southerly direction.

Everyone else had, of course, been there for the first class, so when I was jerking my hips with sudden stops and starts, the other women were rolling them in figure eights. When I was leaning left and leaning right, the other women were sliding their torsos side to side over still hips. And then, to top it off, my plan to be inconspicuous by positioning myself at the far middle right of the room totally backfired on me. To my left was my co-worker and to my right was a set of cupboards. The cupboards were stoically refusing to participate during the travelling steps segment of the class, so travelling left was far easier than travelling right into a set of wooden cupboard doors. I really shouldn't lay so much of the blame on the cupboards, though, because the travelling steps themselves were quite problematic. Stepping to the right by crossing one foot in front and then one behind was not so bad, but then we would switch direction, and more often than not I ended up kicking myself, stabbing myself in the bottom of my foot with a toenail, outright tripping, or just skipping sideways with no regard for the crossover step whatsoever. My co-worker was very nice about it and only giggled a little bit.

Yet again, dancing in public has resulted in a certain amount of embarrassment, shame, and disappointment at my own lack of grace (I blame my father for that), but at least this go-round has its upside. I am much more mature than the elementary and high school dances of my younger years, so the embarrassment of poor footwork and accidentally overbalancing into walls is far less deeply shaming, and I am a married woman in a class of women in a liesure centre, none of whom I am trying to woo with long looks across the room, so my lack of grace doesn't serve to punish my ego as severely as it once did. Although I am still mildly stunned by the level of physical ineptness I was able to prove, the experience of my bellydancing class does not beg to be likened to oral sex in a Denny's.

Dancing for me, definitely has its place. Bellydancing is for bellydancing class, unless anyone wants me tripping over myself and their furniture. Regular dancing is reserved for my living room when I throw on Daft Punk or the Darkness* and hop up and down and back and forth flailing wildly and knowing exactly how fabulous I feel doing it without the complication of travelling steps or the sexual heat of dance bars.

* I can't even recall what these bands sound like at the moment. My brain suddenly went on holiday, so the Fiery One threw out a couple of band names for me. If they are bad, don't hold it against me. Hold it against the Fiery One. I was just trying to avoid admitting that I sometimes bust a move to Carol King.