Sunday, March 18, 2012


I  flew in to Oakland Airport one March from some place or other. A female cabdriver picked up a few of us who were going to Oakland and points north. It took me only a a few seconds after I climbed into the front seat to notice that everyone in the cab, driver included, were covered in tattoos and piercings. I felt quite bare and naked. The hardware decorated women in the backseat were going to a belly dance festival in Richmond. I worked in Richmond which I knew had many things, but belly dancing was not one of them! So I thought.

A few years later I began classes in what was advertised as "Middle Eastern Dancing for Women" a euphemism for belly dancing. In March the teacher told us about the festival in Richmond. On the Saturday of the festival I decided to go and see for myself what this was all about. I drove down Barrett Avenue and found parking near the Civic Center. To my amazement I saw hordes of people walking toward the Center clad in harem pants, swinging skirts, flimsy veils, sequined belts, mirrored bras, ankle bracelets, arms adorned with bangles and fingers with rings. I felt an odd sense of dislocation, the middle east here in Richmond. Myself, I wore black pants and a plain unadorned T-shirt. I felt plain, dull, and boring as I gazed open-mouthed at the explosion of femininity around me. A veritable estrogen feast. Women of every age, color, size, bellies, arms, breasts exposed. The jingle of ankle bracelets, the sound of drums, ouds, and zills, wafts of incense.  The fabulous souks of the middle east recreated in Richmond, of all places. Crowded hastily erected stalls displayed loads of silver jewelry, sequins, feathers, sheer gauzy clothing, colorful veils, embroidered coats from Kashmir, pottery from Morocco. Yards of glittery fabrics, rows of zills (finger cymbals), even the men wore the same clothes. I watched tribal dancing, soloists, dancers with boa constrictors around their arms. Dancers came from all over the world and all over America. There was Maha from Tokyo, a male dancer from Sweden, tribal dancers from Chico, dancers with canes, wings, balancing swords on their heads, music from the stalls, snippets of conversation (My intention was to....... - I was a vegan, now I eat meat again ........ there is this fabulous chiropractor ....... my tongue piercing got infected .....)

After  several years hiatus I went yesterday, and was delighted to find the same bedlam and jollity, despite the many revolutions and uprisings which have taken place over the last year. The same unity and joy. A delight to share this music and beauty in the midst of all that is wrong.

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