The Gilded Serpent presents...
Dancing with Shelties
by Justine Merrill

Since Christina and I went to Egypt, 1997 Middle Eastern music and dance has overtaken us like the sand rolling across the desert and covering ruins.We saw our first Middle Eastern dancer in Hurgada, on the Red Sea. Sitting high on our balcony overlooking the Red Sea we spied on the evening dinner dancer. How beautiful, how incredible she was, dancing on the edge of the patio, the palms and deep blue sea at her back.

Christina became infatuated with dance, and started her dancing career. I resisted the siren lure; after all I have enough hobbies. In my spare time I run and train my shelties in agility. When Christina goes to dance seminars, I go to dog-training seminars and shows. Our hobbies were completely absorbing, and divergent.

As our household flourished with our hobbies, we never lacked for entertainment.

Music wars were not uncommon, Arabic pop upstairs, Celtic/ Irish downstairs. Bashing zills and barking shelties competed. As Christina became a better dancer, I became a better dog trainer. My private training classes flourished. Christina's performances improved.

I held a secret, (mostly) scorn for dancing. No thrill, no speed, no hours of training to compete against your friends. Dog agility is a race with the dog and handler working a complex course of jumps and obstacles against the clock. My shelties and I reveled in our success, blue ribbons and cups brought home from weekend shows to sit on the table on Sunday nights.

Then my hip went out, I started having a lot of pain, and going to the chiropractor, and just doing a lot of screaming. When I healed up I started doing more yoga, and adding Pilates between my private dog lessons. I started walking more.

The pain chewed on my leg like a little demon.

To deal with the pain I started dancing, just the simple moves, hip circles, up and down, back and forth. I did a little arm work to keep the balance. The collection of dance/ exercise tapes in the living room had several I could do without too much difficulty.

On my mornings off I walked or danced for 30 minutes then did Pilates. Christina pointed out that dancing was a lot more fun, she was right. Christina bought me a hip scarf and I started working a little harder at my form.

Going to dance haflas started to be fun, I could recognize technique and style easier. I started to realize that it was a lot of work to dance for eight minutes and not bore the audience. Playing with my new digital camera I had a blast getting the right picture for the website. (

Then one evening, the real corruption started, I started dancing while I cooked dinner.

My shelties stood in the kitchen staring as I traveled across the floor and back with the pasta spoon in my hand. Dance fever had struck. I was doing hip circles, shimmies, kicks and almost a camel.

To control my self, I changed music; but Nora Jones was incredible, even better. I could really roll my hips and stomp, throw my head back and howl. With a traveling kick step and a head snap, and shoulder to finger roll, I set the table, critical dogs forgotten.

That's when I realized dance was winning, bit by bit, inch by inch, I liked Arabic music, the glamour, the clothes, the cool stuff, I loved dancing, even if my hip didn't need it. I was reading books about dance, and thinking about dance.

So now I am a closet dancer, doing my Neena/Veena videos in my tights in the living room with my audience of adoring shelties. Next thing you know I'll be banging on some zills and the dogs will think it's a new agility trick.

Yesterday afternoon between dog training clients I discovered a secret stash of Christina's video treasures and popped one in to take a peek. What was she hiding? Much to my surprise a beautiful woman in an elegant black dress and short wavy hair danced beguillinging into view. The video was titled "Classics of Samia Gamal, Tahia, and More" . I sat back stunned as the black and white movie clips whizzed by with one amazing performance after another. So this is what it's supposed to be like! This was where all those hip circles, glut locks and rib cage slides were taking me.

"Yes", Christina replies later that night on returning from teaching a beginners class at a local Yoga studio.

"That was the beginning of Egyptian Cabaret Dance that we have inherited. When the stars of the Cairo Opera house met Hollywood and the Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema was born. It went out to movies threaters around the world and was a big hit as you know.

We Americans have created our own styles of dance from those influences but we need to stay grounded in the tradition to keep the original flavor of it." She paused to deposit her dance bag on the table and sink gratefully into a chair.

"I'm glad you enjoyed it. We'll go to Cairo next year and see the third and fouth generation of dancers in that tradition even though it's not what it was ten years ago because of the fundamentalist influences. The Turkish dancers we will see in May have their own Cabaret style -- that will be fun to see also." This weekend we go through our caravan of baggage for our trip to Turkey.

Weeding out duplicate dental floss and hairspray, studying our currency conversion charts and reviewing the etiquette of visiting a Turkish Bath . I have to remind Christina about weight limits in the luggage before she gets carried away with buying costumes loaded with beaded fringe. We have an inventory of sights to see, dance clubs to visit and user-friendly hotels with dining on the roof and elevators to humor our weak knees. It will be quite and adventure and I will be sending Lynette our first trip report when I get stay tuned.

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But sometimes, dancing near a gorgeous young dancer, I wonder how long I’ll feel comfortable performing.


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