Lights lower, vibrant music, four tall men in white robes and turbans descend the stairs with a palanquin shouldered between them. On the small platform a curved figure is sheeted in white. Behind the palanquin sway two women in shimmering floor-length dresses; on their heads are balanced silver trays, glistening with lighted candles. As they shimmy and sway down the stairs the candle flames perform their own iridescent sparkling dance.
A burst of music, and a flurry of red and white butterflies in slit-sided silk pantaloons clasped at the ankle twirl and swirl diaphanous shawls; broad sparklingly embroidered waistbands paired with lustrously beaded and shimmering bikini tops; the belly dancers, the luscious ladies of the raqs sharqi, enter the room with a fanfare and sensual exuberance. They weave between the tables, their hips gyrating and flicking in a staccato rhythm. It is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold.
Kohl outlined eyes, seductive finger, wrist and pelvic gyrations, with tiny toe-to-heel steps they sashay around the room. Most of the attention is focussed on the young beauties, but I’m captivated by the two older ladies balancing the trays of candles on their heads. Broader of beam and stouter of girth, their movements, nonetheless, have refrains of a more mature sensuality. Were they the belly dancers of twenty years ago?
I watch their dominance of the restricted floor space. When a svelte young ingénue parades her come-hitherance as she passes too closely to a candle dancer, the latter extends her arm in what appears to be part of her dance routine, and carefully but surely moves the belly dance aside. She is, after all, carrying a potential fire hazard on her head, whereas the young girl is merely exhibiting a strategically sexy control over her hips.
As a table of seven men, one of whom has tucked a fair few dirhams into the lingerie of various young ladies, we eventually share the spotlight of which the dancer is the sparkling star. Glasses and plates on our table are moved aside and a gorgeous young thing with flaxen hair, abundant cleavage and a mock-leopard-skin outfit is assisted onto the table by one of the waitresses. After some eye raising shimmering she bends over backwards and executes a perfect arch, her well-filled top directly in front of the gentleman with the an equally well-padded bill-fold. Under the gaze of everyone who can get close enough to the table, he ostentatiously folds a 200 dirham note under each strap of her leopard-skin top.
I’m sitting directly opposite the centre of attention, and my view is of a pair of beautifully formed feet with toenails painted in a devilish shade of crimson. I may not have had the best view in the house, but it consoles me to think that there will be an awful lot of photos of a beautiful upside-down Moroccan darling with bank notes sticking out of her costume, with face of a tired old man in the background, wondering if it’s time to go home yet.