Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Why do you want to become a belly dancer? Is it the music? Captured by a desire to explore a different culture or dance form. Was it after you saw a dancer in a restaurant, nightclub, street faire or dance festival? How 'bout the glitz, glamor and sensuality of it? Where you convinced this dance was indifferent to size, shape and color? Was it to flatten your abs? For me all of the above. But, there was also a more sublime connection to things Egyptian.

It happened on my first trip with Ma to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She loved that museum. Taking me meant I was a big girl now. I remember her saying, "Don't touch anything!" The same way she said it when we went to Filene's or Jordans. "Look but don't touch", she'd say.

We walked through room after room after room. Huge oil paintings. Artifacts locked in softly lit display cases. Statues representing this and that old culture. Old European furniture. Remember, I was a kid. Truthfully most of it was boring. I'd had enough and got that face kids get about how they're hungry or their feet hurt. Just about the time I started pouting we descended to the bottom floor.

It was cold. Dark and kinda creepy. I got goose bumps on my arms. The tall stones and straight ahead staring faces on the smooth carved statues scared me. What was this? I moved closer to Ma. What looked like stone coffins were lined up around the rooms with funny looking writings on them. In every case elaborate jewelry, cups, plates and small hand carved statues. No soft lighting here. I couldn't resist. And, despite my mother's warnings I ran my hand on as many cool, smooth dark and light stones I could.

I often returned to the museum when I needed a place to sit and think. Later still I'd roll my baby through and wander around looking at old oil paintings and works of one featured artist or another. But I always ended up in the chilly Egyptian rooms.

Ma loved museums. And living in Boston all her life didn't stop her from making herself at home in any place displaying art and culture, especially that place. Not many black folks went there. She didn't care. with a sister, friend or colleague they'd look at the new stuff and end in the fancy tea room, no doubt set up for the hoity toity Boston elite ladies, drink tea and, I kid you not, eat little sandwiches with pink cream cheese and cucumbers as someone played the violin or harp.

On one of those visits Ma bought me this beautiful elaborately beaded belt. It wasn't big enough to go around my hips but, her way of acknowledging and supporting my endeavors to become a belly dancer. I later incorporated it into one of my most beautiful dance belts.

Before Ma died, a visit to the museum was our last outing together. It had been years since I visited that place. In fact, years since I traveled back to Boston. I rented a car and talked her into going even though I knew she didn't feel good. Ma was dying from cancer. It wasn't easy to get her in and out of the car but, that wasn't the point, I wanted one more chance to do one of her favorite things with her. We drove through the streets of Boston and pulled up to the side entrance.

I ran in got a wheelchair and rolled my mom through the exhibits. She was tired but still wanted to see as much as she could. Taking the elevator we moved together through the old Egyptian exhibit. It looked smaller than before especially after seeing the scandalous stolen booty in the Louvre in Paris. There I felt like I'd walked into Egypt itself. My mouth fell open and it made me mad to see how much was taken. But, that was another time and as the light faded so did my Ma's.

That's what I meant by the sublime. I became connected to the part of Africa called Egypt, as a girl. And, each time I dance, I honor my mother; the first person to introduce me to Egyptian history, art and culture. isn't it interesting that for me, when I dance everyone can look but not touch.