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  • Writer's pictureKaren Custer Thurston

A Special Performance

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

A Middle Eastern Dancer's private thoughts as she prepares for a special performance in a room filled only with immigrant men from far corners of the world.

I stand in a small college classroom, inside an academic building. No full length mirror is in sight but I seldom have an available full length mirror when dressing for a dance performance. 

The gentleman who hired me for this occasion is a friend.  He is also a Dean within this state university.  

In my last minutes before greeting my audience, I double-check that all parts of my dance costume are correctly adjusted and fastened.  I’ve been a professional Turkish/Egyptian dancer for several years, learning from every experience.  It is important that all parts and pieces of clothing and jewelry stay in place while I share my presentation with my all male audience.  

My gold lame’ headdress will stay snug because of the material texture.   My intricate and musical gold coin belt is fastened and pinned to the 6 feet of black cotton, which tightly wraps my hips.  The black and gold richly patterned caftan will stay in place, which is why I chose it.  Separately pieced costuming would shift too much.

My dance sandals are securely tied so that my feet are protected from splinters on the wooden stage flooring. I’ve double checked all my necklaces and bracelets to avoid snagging on material.

My boom box with the selected music is cued for my helper to start when I give the signal.

I take a moment to slow my breathing and quiet myself.  I know who I am and why I perform but I don’t know this audience.

The music starts.  I ecstatically step onto the dance area, seeing and sensing my audience for the first time. As I see my male audience, their energy and heartfelt enthusiasm is palpable.  All the men are instantly on their feet in the auditorium, clapping, shouting “Yallah!”, trilling, faces split with huge smiles.  I feel overwhelmed by their joy.  Their energy and loud enthusiasm is contagious. I have trouble hearing my music and think “oh, no!”   A second later, I know it doesn’t matter because these men and I are one.

Dimly aware of what my arms, legs, feet are doing within my dance, I am electrified by their wild energy.  This fabulous energy is pushing my body so high, so high.  My feet barely touch the floor.

This is the first time in many months that this college group of young, Middle Eastern, engineering students has heard their music presented to them in America.  Each of these young men is immediately connected by this music to his homeland, his culture and family.  They are from Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Egypt, Iran and Iraq.

My selected dance piece is about 10 minutes but it feels like 15 seconds.

After I finish, the young men charge like a mob out onto the dance floor.   They can barely contain their joy, their fervor, surrounding me so closely I can easily smell their delightful after-shave fragrances.   The men excitedly talk and shout to each other and to me in English and their respective languages.   They are so overcome with emotion that my friend, the Dean, finally shepherds them away.

How proud I am that I’ve been a part in their pure happiness, here in a country so very far from their homes.

For a short time, even though I am an American and they are from many Middle Eastern Countries, we were all connected by love and appreciation of music and dance.

*Copyright 2020 Karen Custer Thurston

*Copyright Photos by Rachel Sarah Thurston

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