Gilded Serpent presents...

A Sense of Humor: It Can Help!

A Quest for Beauty, Part 3

Zorba by Sharif

by Zorba
most photos by Sharif & Richard G Lowe Jr
posted March , 2010
part 1, part 2

I opened the show at a recent performance at Moss Landing’s "Haute Enchilada Restaurant", where I am a house dancer as well as the scheduler. As I danced out with my zills pinging away, a male voice from a nearby table said, "This isn’t what I signed up for!"  I immediately replied in my best stage voice, "The women need something to look at too!"  Laughter ensued throughout the room, saving us all from a possibly sticky situation by a healthy sense of humor. By the way, the man in question later told me that he really enjoyed the show (even me) and thanked us for our performance.

What follows here are several humorous anecdotes. Some of them are about being a male in a female dominated field while some are merely about being a Bellydancer in the first place. My first rule concerning being weird ("weird" as evidenced by some reactions to my previous articles) is to have a good sense of humor!

Zorba in a skirtSkirt Man

A number of years ago, I was in a workshop with the fabulous Alexandra King–a "Gypsy style" workshop featuring a ton of skirt work. Although it was one of the first times, if not the very first time, I’d tried skirt work, apparently Alexandra liked what I was doing because she invited me up to the front of the class to assist her in a demonstration of a combination involving two dancers using skirts. She said. "Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you!"  In reply, I reached down, lifted and spread my skirt widely and replied, "Do I look like I can be embarrassed?"  Hilarity ensued.

Goose & Gander

When I take a class or workshop with a new teacher, I always try to tell her my philosophy of "teach me just like any other student" so she won’t worry about what to do with me. In a workshop with Nourhan Sharif, I hadn’t had the opportunity before class to speak with her, so at the midway class break, she approached me and apologized for her female-centric language and said that she did not want me to feel left out, etc. Bless her! I put her at ease by telling her that "In this context, I just consider myself an honorary woman; it just makes it easier for everyone. If women often have to deal with male-centric language in many places, I figure I can deal with the inverse. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!

The Choreographic Pariah 

Choreography can be a challenge to me. There was one spot in a certain cane choreography that I was always ending up on the wrong foot. The more I thought about it, the more panicked I felt and the worse the situation became.
During one rehearsal, I was thinking to myself, "here it comes!"  Sure enough, I ended up on the wrong foot. The instructor immediately cut the music. "Uh-oh" I thought to myself.
She stalked up to me, looked up at me with her hands on her hips, and became four foot nine of red headed wrath: "Zorba," she started, "we’ve been doing this dance for two years, and you always, always, always, do this movement backwards every single time! It’s–the–right–hip!"

I’d like to be able to say that I never screwed it up again, but I did get significantly better after that–whatever it took to get through to my clumsy male brain!

Zorba by SharifAsleep at the Switch

Once upon a time I was ready to dance a veil number at Monterey’s historic Kalisa’s La Ida Cafe. I was folded up on the stage, veil covering me, waiting for my music to start. Waiting… Waiting… Waiting… No music.  I wondered, "What’s going on? (or not going on?)"  A low murmur started in the audience. Time for some comic relief. I let out a loud, fake snore. Utter silence–but still there was no music. I produced another fake snore, even louder than the first. A titter ran through the audience. I was about to peel my veil back, stick my head out like a turtle’s, and inquire of the sound person something to the effect of "Sometime this week would be nice…" but, just then, the music began, and I danced my veil piece to an audience glowing with smiles!

There’s nothing worse than sound problems – and I’ve had my share of them, many much worse than the one I have just mentioned above. Music suddenly starts doing the herky-jerky? I’ll often herky-jerky along with it. That wins the audience over every time, because you certainly cannot hide the problem. One time, it was so bad that I pantomimed kicking the errant stereo and "shot" it with a thumb-and-finger pistol!

Mr & Mrs Zorba perform

Feral Women 

I’ve had any number of encounters with what I call "feral women" who are the inverse of the creepy guys with whom female Belly Dancers are all too familiar.  My wife isn’t always present to fend them off, so sometimes I find myself in some "interesting" situations. On one such occasion, a dance brother and I were walking out after the conclusion of a show in which we’d both danced. A woman was waiting for us outside, and immediately expressed her admiration for both our dance performances and, let’s just say she was pretty explicit about the effect same had upon her. Thinking fast, I said "Well, today’s just not your day; I’m married, and he’s gay!"

Dance Workout 

I was never the athletic type; as a child, I was a bit of an ugly duckling–clumsy, klutzy, and shy. I was always the one chosen last for "the team", and I detested P.E. classes. So now, as a member of Janelle’s Santa Cruz class, I’m working harder than I ever have in my entire life! "101 Creative Ways to Torture the Bellydance Student" is the title of a book I’m sure she will be announcing that she has had published any day now. "Paramedics standing by at every class!" Several of us enjoy teasing the long-suffering (and humorous) Janelle about her strenuous workout format.

The Bet 

I had just finished dancing with Jamaica Sinclair’s "Troupe Diva"  at a street fair, and I was collecting my veil et al when a member of the local country western band (who were performing following us on the same stage) walked up to me and asked "Did you lose a bet?" "Oh Goddess!" I thought to myself, "I hope my dancing was better than that!" but replied aloud, "No, but I think you just did!"  (I’d noticed him in the audience during the performance, and it was fairly obvious that I was the subject of a discussion.)Zorba in green in Mesmera's class

Some Rejoinders 

How do I handle the rare female detractor who wants to keep me in a narrow "male box"? I handle it with humor of course–but I also drive the point home by adding a rejoinder such as:

  • "If that’s the case, why are you wearing pants?"
  • "Yes, I see that you don’t conform to outdated gender roles yourself."
  • "No, my wife doesn’t confine me to the kitchen."

Overcoming Prejudice 

I have enjoyed overall good acceptance from the members of the general public whom I have encountered. Most of the gals love me, many men accept me as a dancer; but there are the occasional people, mostly men, who are obviously uncomfortable in my presence when I Bellydance. I guess they think if they look at me too much, or I get too close, that they’ll turn gay or something. Whatever! However, I usually find that a humorous rejoinder is the best way to defuse potentially tense situations–and it often helps an insecure male if I "let slip" that I’m married. It is interesting psychology, and I’ve won over quite a few folks with some fast thinking and humor–even some older Middle Eastern men!

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  1. SeanNo Gravatar

    Mar 6, 2010 - 04:03:19

    Nice article, I need to work on my sense of humor but my critics are not the general public but the dancers themselves.

  2. EdnaNo Gravatar

    Mar 9, 2010 - 08:03:34

    Great article!  Humor transcends all human boundaries!

  3. Pauline CostianesNo Gravatar

    Mar 9, 2010 - 12:03:08

    It’s a free country, and anybody can do ’bout what they want.
    But if you’re going to dance orientale as  a man, then you need to
    dress like one. Wearing feminine crop tops, skirts, beads, veils,
    baring a too-large belly doesn’t come across well. It looks like
    drag and burlesque and buffoonery. 
      We still have such a problem with acceptance as a legitamite
    dance form, and when people don’t dress appropriately, it just
    becomes fodder for others to continue to demean our art form.
        What is wrong with wearing a vest, shalwar with a waist wrap,
    like most other male dancers I’ve seen? Bobby Farrah, Bert Balladine, Tarik Aziz all danced in this kind of costuming and looked very masculine.
    As Valerie Camille, a film and theater choreographer who used to work with Bobby Farrah said – “I don’t care who you take to bed, if you’re a man, then you dance and dress like a man”.  
      Now, I’m sure I’m going to have a lot of people pounce on me in the name of self-expression,  and how dare I say these things.  It’s one thing if you do this in your own home, and quite another when you’re taking it out there for all to see.
       And proper presentation and costuming for one’s body habitus
    isn’t just limited to men. There are plenty of women who don’t do
    much better.  Many pictures on this site demonstrate that.
    Like Bobby used to say, “you can’t teach taste to some folks”.

  4. Barbara GrantNo Gravatar

    Mar 16, 2010 - 03:03:10

    Hi, Pauline, I’m not intending in any way to pounce on you for your remarks, yet I continue to have problems with some criticisms of Zorba. The skirt workshop he attended was open to all members of the community; and if he wishes to include what he learned in the seminar in his performance, why not? If the owners of the restaurant, or the leader of the troupe with which he performed, don’t like the “skirtman’s” appearance (or dancing) I’m sure he will be the first to receive immediate negative feedback. From what I read in the article, that hasn’t happened.
    I am no expert on drag shows, having never seen one (except on TV and movies) but from what I understand, the male dancers in such shows do their utmost to appear as women. It is therefore difficult for me to believe that bearded Zorba is trying to do a drag show.
    I appreciate your comments on taste and I believe that this is a subject that should be discussed further on GS. There are no standards on “taste” in this dance that have been objectively articulated, that I can see. Let’s have that discussion on taste and standards; in the mean time, I would not wish to minimize a male dancer for his costuming choices.
    Very kind regards and with all respect,


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