(This is an installment in a serial story. To read “Magic” from the beginning, click here.)
In her slumber, Sarah gradually became aware that the music had changed. It was louder and bouncier, with a rhythm that recalled an old-fashioned calliope. She slowly opened her eyes, still leaning on the overstuffed arm of the sofa, then sat upright at what she saw.
An audience filled the room, seated in rows of chairs and at at tables. Women leaned against the bookshelves and on each other. Indeed, Sarah noticed that the audience was mostly female, although, as she surveyed the room, she realized that what she first took to be men were probably butch women and trans and genderqueer folk too. Small candles burned on the tables, and the smoke from sandalwood incense hung in the air. Spotlights streamed through the haze, focused on the stage at the front of the room.
As the music slowed, and a deep drum beat began, the tapestry curtains behind the stage parted and a woman slipped through them. She began to dance, spinning slowly, her bare feet patting and brushing the stage as she swayed and shimmied. Her dance wasn’t like anything Sarah had ever seen. It wasn’t a bellydance and it wasn’t the stylized dance of a stripper, but there was definitely an erotic flavor to it. She wore a filmy dress that was almost Grecian in design. It joined at the shoulders, leaving her pale arms bare. And while the dress was long and narrow, it appeared to be made of layers of gossamer silk, in shades of silver and pink. The layers hung like handkerchiefs, and as she spun, they bloomed like the petals of a flower. She had long dark hair – a mass of tangled curls that shined under the lights – and as she danced faster, she gathered it up in her hands, lifting it off her shoulders and letting it fall down her back again. Indeed, it almost brushed the floor as she reached into a deep backbend, touching down with one hand. It was then Sarah realized, that as the fabric petals parted, the diaphanous base layer of the dress was almost completely transparent under the lights, and as the fabric pulled across the dancer’s arched body, the dark triangle of her pubis was clearly visible.
The audience gasped, fully engaged and leaning forward in their seats, and as she drew up out of her backbend, they began to clap. The dancer faced the audience, motioning with her hands, drawing some of the standing women closer.
A tall woman approached the stage. She wore a tuxedo with the shirt collar open and her untied tie hung around her neck. She had clearly done this before, and reached toward the dancer and plucked one of the petals off her dress, kissing it respectfully before tucking it into her breast pocket. She motioned for others to follow.
At once Sarah realized this was a kind of burlesque, and she sat forward on the edge of the couch, mesmerized as woman after woman approached the stage, tearing away the layers of the dancer’s dress, each claiming a gauzy square as a prize. The clapping grew louder, and encouraging hoots and whistles began to fill the air as the drumbeat became more urgent. The dancer spun even faster at the front edge of the stage, the swell of her hips now clearly visible. As the layers were ripped away, the dress became shorter, and it was now a transparent shift, barely skimming the top of her thighs. At her chest, the fabric lifted away from her body, raised by her pointed nipples, clearly visible through the pale pink silk.
There was almost nothing left of the dress. With the light falling on the iridescent fabric, the dancer was alternately nude and veiled as she moved. The drumbeat began to slow and her spinning stopped. The audience grew hushed as the music began to fade away. Her eyes were closed, and she swayed to the music, running her hands up and down her body. They traced the curve of her belly and her waist. The fabric slid and gathered provocatively under her hands, and as she leaned back, her lips parted into a rounded O, one hand caressing her breast, pinching and pulling at her nipple through the silk.
The music had stopped altogether. Sarah sat frozen with the rest of the audience. There was only the whispering sound of breath – both the watchers’ and the dancer’s. The light caught the fine sheen of sweat on her skin, and then her hand slipped to the hem of her dress, beginning to gather it up, the other sliding through her silky pubic hair. She moaned, a throaty sound that was also an exhalation. Her eyes were still closed, giving her audience the impression they were observing her in private. She fell to her knees, as though overcome in her own desire. Then reaching for her shoulder, she tore the remaining dress away, letting the fabric puddle around her, and again reached back into a deep arch, knees wide, breasts jutting upward. For just an instant, her body was fully open – a sculpture in shades of flesh and pink – and then the room went dark.
There was a pause in the audience, the collective breath ragged and the air thick and steamy. Then the lights came up to thunderous applause and flushed faces, as the dancer, in an antique silk kimono took the stage for a bow. Roses tossed from the audience landed at her feet and she bent gracefully to collect them. Sarah was surprised to see, as she left the stage, the audience already beginning to stand and move. Women began to carry chairs and tables to the edges of the room. Another group began to roll back the carpets in front of the stage, and music began to swell. Dancers took to the floor.
It was clear that the heated eroticism of the performance had removed all of the inhibitions that usually mark the beginning of a dance. At the onset, the dancing was already sexually charged.
“What did you think of Salome and her ‘Dance of the Seventy Veils’?” Lupa asked, sitting down on the sofa beside Sarah. She held a small iron teapot. “Here, have some more tea.”
“She was amazing” Sarah said, putting her hand over her teacup. “No more, thank you. Last time I dozed off, and I have no idea how long I slept.”
“Well, it’s after nine. You were asleep for quite a while, but it seemed like you needed it. I hope you don’t mind that I just let you nap while your soul caught up.”
“Wow. The whole afternoon is gone,” Sarah said, shaking her head as if to clear it. “There were things I was going do.”
“Were they better than Salome’s dance?” Lupa asked. “Or better than this?” She nodded toward the dance floor.
Sarah shook her head and smiled. “I don’t think so.”
Lupa rose to leave, but Sarah stopped her.
“So, tell me – I didn’t dream that performance?” she asked. “It wasn’t the tea, and you didn’t somehow make it…” Her question trailed off.
“No,” Lupa said, with a warm smile. “This is just another evening at the Women’s Room. Think of it as your welcoming party.”
She leaned in and kissed Sarah on the cheek and then walked away.
The place where Lupa had sat on the sofa was immediately filled by another woman. Her hair was shaved close to her head, and she wore small hoop earrings in both ears. The effect was more pirate than feminine, however. She touched Sarah gently on the arm. “Dance with me?” she asked.
Sarah followed her to the dance floor and allowed herself to be drawn into the woman’s strong arms as the music shifted to a Latin beat.
(To be continued…)