Tanja Waadi, Italy
I was driving home early Monday morning.
I had been out since dinner and then to the nightclub. I had had an arrangement to meet my man, my beloved whom, for a number of reasons, I cannot see often. So we were together for dinner, and the evening anticipated for a Middle Eastern dance show at the Full Moon Nightclub.
As we enter the country-style restaurant, the owner, an old man, greets me, "Buon giorno Signora Maria!" I was quite puzzled, my name being not Maria. Two more people chimed in with another, "Buon giorno Signora Maria!" I laughed and asked the owner, "Why is everybody here calling me Maria?" He answered, "Well, lady, you look like one whose name could be Maria!" "O.K.," I answered, "So I will not tell you my name. I'll be Maria for you tonight.."
Later, at the end of dinner, he asks the musicians to play a waltz and invites me to dance a few steps with him. Strange but fun..
The Full Moon Nightclub, also called "Villa Turca", is in the countryside by Mazara, a Sicilian city still bearing an Arabic name and which still has a strong Arabic component in its population. The nightclub has an open space under the stars defined by walls and tall trees on all sides. The only lights are burning torches, and more distant soft lights.
There are only a few people present at eleven p.m. so we choose a first row table and have a gin-and-tonic. Sabah Benziadi, the dancer, arrives around midnight, with her husband carrying a sleeping child in his arms. (The child wanted to see her Mommy dance but in the one-hour drive to reach the place, she became the sleeping angel she is now.) Sabah comes to our table, and she sits down with us. It is the first time I have met the beautiful Algerian dancer in person.
Ten torches are burning and the music is loud, strongly oriental, dramatic. The drumming is fascinating, hypnotic.. It feels to me like a Bedouin night on the desert sands. Sabah goes to change for her show which starts around one a.m. By that time the nightclub is full of people, about sixty percent men and forty percent women.
Sabah dances wonderfully, in three different styles in three different sets, changing costumes at each interval. First is a Tuareg Dance, something very connected to earth and motherhood: mostly done kneeling on the floor, with only some standing, and a lot of hand movement. Her dress is in a covered style and her face is veiled. Second is a Veil dance, sliding around the small fountain in the center. This is still a covered style gown and she does lots of undulation and veil-framed poses. Third, the music turns to well-known Egyptian Raqs Sharqi style. I have these recordings myself and am happy to hear them played now in this place. The dancer is lightly clad, a long water-green veil like skirt with both sides fully open and a bra. No glitters anywhere! This dance was familiar in all its steps and moves, being the style I have learned myself. I have heard it referred to as "American Nightclub Style". Sabah weaves all around the fountain and close to the tables in the audience, gesturing elegantly in graceful movements of greeting. Her hips move fantastically. She is so sensual, and I admire her with all of my feelings!
After the end of the show, Sabah returns to our table. She takes both my hands in hers
and she says, "Tanja, I want you to dance with me." I am not expecting this. I am quite shy and my heart
beats heavily. My man says, "Go, Darling!" Sabah says, "C'mon! This ain't a performance. It is just
to call the people on the dance floor. Look, my two friends will join in also." (Meaning the two Algerian
women-friends with her) I want very much to go out and dance but am shy at the same time. I do not feel appropriately
dressed: a long pareo-skirt open on a side and a short top leaving the bare midriff. I am not wearing a bra since
my breasts are the minimal woman size (a first for me) so I rarely wear one. My nails are polished gold and I am
wearing black kohl. I just take of my high-heeled sandals and I stand up and go to the dance floor just a few steps
from the tables. I do the best I can, feeling the music (so beautiful) mostly dancing on the balls of my feet with
the steps we call "Arabic" and "Camel". I include a few parallel flat-footed "Figure Eights".
The stone floor is smooth and comfortable for my bare feet. After three musical selections, some people from the
audience finally join us and a few minutes later I return to my table beside my beloved. He is a high ranking MP
Officer and we love each other tenderly. Such a night is a present from God to me. So many nights I spend alone,
nights without love, nights without heart.
...So I was driving home, early Monday morning, across the lost land in western Sicily, and my heart was warm. However, today is a gray day. My mother has harsh words for me. "You are not a man nor a woman! What are you? You put black in your eyes and varnish on your nails. You wear rings and earrings. You are nothing; you are a transvestite!" said she, in a rage.
It isn't always easy for me, no. I belong to such a small minority and often pay this price. However, Sabah said yesterday, "You are O.K.! Keep your eyes up; never look down." Also, my youngest sister asked me, "Would you show me your dance?" Someday I will dance for her.
My beloved called me and he said, "Sweetheart, you danced beautifully yesterday night. Sweetheart, I miss you." We did not make love. We hardly have a place to make love. But all is fine in this way too: hand-in-hand, his eyes in mine, we feel the southern wind, and a whisper, "I love you."
..So I was driving home in the first light of the dawn, early Monday morning.