Every family has their myths, the stories they tell in lieu of the real stories, the stories they tell to make themselves appear interesting or sane or law-abiding, or not. Our family had the story of my mother’s belly dancing past.
We presume the story started with my father, but he is dead now so we can’t check that fact, and even when he was alive, his memory of the sixty-plus years that constituted his life with my mother was the part of his memory that was largely eviscerated by the stroke. What remained intact, oddly, was his capacity to fully engage in the myth-making.
The myth was not complicated. The myth was that she was a belly dancer in her youth. My mother (known to my readers as SBM, or Sainted Belgian Mother) grew up in mostly in Cairo, Egypt. She was not Egyptian. She was the lithe and elegant daughter of a Belgian oil executive and his beautiful Belgian wife. Whatever African blood my mother had was last seen when her earliest ancestors departed East Africa and the mitochondrial Eve, headed north, crossed the Red Sea during the African Ice Age, and ended up in the Anatolian/Caucasian region. Eventually they traveled west in Europe, coinciding with the spread of the Aurignacian culture. As you can imagine, from there it was a mere matter of a few thousand years to waffles, frites, moules, 800 varieties of beer, TinTin, and Manneken Pis.
My mother did not have a belly dancer’s build, which as children we were led to believe involved serious avoirdupois, particularly in the mammary glands and the ventral region, that undulating belly of a thousand and one nights. But according to the myth, despite her slenderness and flat chest, the young Belgian schoolgirl one of Cairo’s most sought-after and scintillating belly dancers. Her specialty was the Dance of the Seven Veils, which she performed with seventeen veils. It was on an early business trip to purchase cotton waste from purveyors of the famously soft Egyptian cotton, that my father was taken for a night on the town, and encountered La Monica of Belgica, Belly-dancing sensation. He was smitten, and the rest is history.
My father loved to tell us this story. When he and Mom returned from vacations or dinner parties, he often vividly described how my mother, only slightly inebriated, would willingly belly dance atop a table and impress the assembled friends, and business acquaintances with her skill and dexterity. As children, we too were impressed and frequently told our friends that our mother was a belly dancer. As far as we could tell, they all believed us.
Then this morning, I read in the New York Times, that the popular Al-Tet ‘belly dancing channel’ is being forced off the air for ‘operating without a license’. You can thank the Muslim Brotherhood for another cultural icon thrown to the infidels.
Is it possible that SBM must now single-handedly carry the banner of belly dancing into the New World?