Playing the coquette with a flick of her zills

21st July 2006 at 01:00
Marie Josepa Pujol-Twinam is from Jersey, Channel Islands

Day job: supply teacher

Other life: belly dancer

"Although these days I come across as an extrovert, I was once an extremely timid girl. When I'm belly dancing, I can be the coquette, the femme fatale; I can wear beautiful costumes and false eyelashes, and perform sensual moves. You can't really get away with that kind of thing at breaktime in the staffroom.

It all started when I moved to Jersey from my home in Spain in 1997. I'd come to be with my husband, but I missed my female friends back home; Jersey can be a cold and lonely place in the winter. So I scanned the Jersey Evening Post for an activity that would get me out of the house.

That's when I found the island's premier belly dancing club, the Jersey Jewels. I thought, "goodness, people actually do that in Jersey!" A telephone number was supplied.

The wonderful lady who runs the club was keen to explain to me that there is certainly nothing suggestive about what goes on at Jersey Jewels meetings. I was able to assure her that I understood this; as I told her, I danced Catalan dances, such as jotas and flamenco, as a young girl, and appreciate the artistic nature of these things. It only took me a few sessions to accustom myself to the Arabic style and rhythms of belly dancing, and I was away.

There are about 18 regular members of the Jersey Jewels. I must point out that we are all highly qualified professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and so on. We take turns to lead classes, and four times a year famous instructors from England, or even Cairo, will come to teach us technique.

I've just learned a new routine called the shisha dance, in which I carry a shisha tobacco pipe around with me, and even smoke it during the performance. It's quite a sexy one, and playful.

But no one should be under the impression that belly dancing is about baring one's flesh. It originated in Egypt, where the culture is for discretion. The traditional Egyptian costumes are not the scanty clothes most people associate with belly dancing. Those garments are an innovation of modern cabaret shows. In fact, even the dancer's belly doesn't have to be on show, and, because I'm a little on the large side, often mine isn't.

I tend to wear a circular skirt with a top and a bolero, and I hold finger cymbals called zills.

Of course, belly dancing is a hobby for all shapes and sizes. It's about expressing what is inside you, and every shape can adapt to the movements that music inspires. True enough, in France belly dancers are extremely thin. But I've seen some huge English belly dancers who move with wonderful grace. Recently I've become a bit more daring, and I'm showing a little more tummy. But only a little.

Jersey is a small place, and word could quickly get out about the Jersey Jewels. But we are selective; we perform at the occasional fete, and give any money we collect to charity. Every year at Christmas we hold a hafla; we'll hire a hotel for the evening, invite family and friends, and perform individual and group dances. It's a chance to show off your best routine.

Apart from that, I'm careful about who I mention my belly dancing to. For a while, I used to meet a gentleman from Spain for Spanish conversation. The subject of hobbies came up, and when I mentioned the dancing he went bright red and fell silent. I suppose that for single gentlemen of a certain age, belly dancing has connotations.

Still, recently I, and other members of the Jersey Jewels, performed at the wedding of a fellow teacher's daughter. Our performance came after dinner, and people seemed awestruck when we took the floor. I swept around the room, engaging the audience with my provocative eyes and playing my zills for the ears of delighted children. People said we looked beautiful. My colleague was amazed. I don't think he'd ever seen that side of me at work.

I just love having an audience watching me. And that's the heart of it, really: performance. It's not so different from teaching; both are little performances, and, in both, you can sometimes feel vulnerable when you're up there, on stage. But when I'm about to step into a new classroom, all I have to do is think of my belly dancing and I have all the confidence I need."

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