If at First Night you don’t succeed…

This year, many people were worried about going out for New Year’s Eve for fear of terrorists. But my fiancée, Lila, and I felt we needed to do something because last year she was stuck in our office creating a CD-ROM for her Master’s thesis and I alternated offering her what help I could and watching Dick Clark in Times Square.

We decided to go out to First Night in our town this year. Being a volunteer operation, there is the risk that the acts might run from very professional to rank amateur, like any open-mic night in a small town, but our town is arts oriented, so we were hopeful that we would find some decent quality acts.

The first one we chose was a belly-dancing act performed at the local senior center. Yes, the joke that just crossed through your mind did cross through ours and the minds of anyone we mentioned it to. But Lila’s family came from Lebanon, so we’ve seen belly dancers at street fairs near her home in Brooklyn and at the wedding of one of her friends and we were keenly interested to see what a belly dancer out here in the suburbs would be like.

We arrived to find an audience of roughly thirty people, cutting a decent age range, seated in a circle.

When the lead belly dancer came forward to introduce herself and talk about the history and cultural significance of belly dancing and to set up the dances we would be seeing, she was . . . Hm, well, she wasn’t quite a senior citizen, but if the belly dance is supposed to be a fertility dance . . . Well, who knows, maybe with today’s fertility medicine . . .

Don’t get me wrong. Her body was surprisingly good, but she’s just a bit more mature than most belly dancers I’ve seen. Add to that a costume that was more I Dream of Genie in style and looked to be made from simple nylon, rather than the lusher silks, satins, and other fabrics of the Middle East. And, of course, the setting was, after all, the lounge of a senior center. So, the expectation level lowered slightly, but at least it wasn’t like having an exotic dancer from the local strip club struttin’ her stuff with a bared mid-riff as “belly” dancing.

Cue the boom box, which regardless of CD quality, is never the same as live music. But, okay, it’s a small town First Night and skilled Middle Eastern musicians are not easy to find.

The woman was good, but not spectacular. I knew that, and a glance at Lila confirmed it. Ah well. Forty minutes and we could move on.

Then the woman traded-off with a young student of hers. Now the student was much closer to what I had originally expected and she was very talented, but still not spectacular.

When they swapped places again, the woman came out dancing to much more up-tempo music. In fact, after the Arabic singer finished the first stanza, the music shifted right into classic 1970s disco — tempo, instruments, you name it; this was the purest disco music ever composed. When the singer resumed, it shifted back to Arabic style. The effect was so jarring, especially watching this woman try to belly dance to it, that I had an image flash into my mind of her going from shaking her belly to pointing her index finger at her hip and then at the ceiling, a la Saturday Night Fever and I stifled a mild giggle.

When I am in a public place and I get the giggles and I can’t let them out, the effect is that the giggles simply build-up in me and I have to struggle to control them. This has caused many problems in church since I was a kid.

Lila whispered to me “It’s the Arabic disco, isn’t it?” And all I could do was nod and make a small shoo-ing gesture to indicate “let me be” — no need to exacerbate my giggles by whispering to me.

I did some math in my head until the song ended and the woman and the young girl swapped places again. This time, however, my mind was still a little primed. When the young girl did a dance move that looked like she was circling around an invisible pole, my mind leapt to envisioning her at the local strip club for a moment and I had to stifle another small giggle. But she wasn’t that tawdry, so it passed.

When the young girl stopped dancing, I got anxious, worried about how I would hold up when the woman returned. The woman came out in a new costume. A highway warning cone orange and lime green costume that looked comical. I stifled a split-second giggle, started to do math in my head, and thought I had caught myself in time. Lila, however, leaned close and whispered, “She’s the Howard Johnson’s representative from Beirut.” That one wry comment blew away all my self-control. I snorted. I turned red. I started trembling from stifled giggles. My face flushed and my eyes began to water. I could not even remember the formula for pi, let alone calculate it.

What made it all worse was that I knew that Lila knew that I had the giggles and that she had delivered that line, pushing me over the edge. Now, in true Brooklyn aplomb, she was sitting back, watching the show, and maintaining her composure just fine. Meanwhile, I am catching other audience members shooting me shocked looks as I devolve into a quivering mass of snorts and chuckles. Moreover, every time the woman dances closer to me, I lose even more control, to the point that I think she is catching-on to the fact that there is something decidedly wrong with me — and I am praying she isn’t thinking that I am laughing at her performance, even though, well, I am.

When the dancing finally ended, Lila and I promptly stood and exited as quickly as possible. Out in the cold night air my pent up laughter burst forth in relieved freedom.

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