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Shake Up The Old Town 

Middle Eastern culture - in Pineville

Some things in this world are just innately good. Puppy dogs: good. Sunsets: good. Belly dancing: really good. Perhaps it's the exotic music, perchance it's the colorful and ornate costumes, or maybe it's the gyrating female flesh -- yep, that's it, the gyrating female flesh -- but belly dancing is, um, fun. Which is why I was more than happy to attend a belly dancing show Thursday night mere blocks from my home in the newest hotspot for such revelry -- Pineville. Not Carolina Place, traffic-from-hell Pineville, but at the town's meeting facility, The Hut, located in the little ol' downtown area next to the quaint mill houses and antique shops. The event was a recital of sorts to showcase the students of Yasmine, co-founder and instructor at Charlotte's Nojum Al-Sharq Middle Eastern Dance Company. As a packed house looked on, about 30 brave souls of various ages, shapes and sizes (including one guy) undulated their groove things and performed a number of the ancient dances known as "raqs shargi," which is Arabic for "dance of the Orient." While sexy as all get out, serious belly dancers will tell you that the artform has nothing to do with stripping or seductive concubines, but rather is a centuries-old folk dance performed during joyous occasions like weddings or the birth of a child (well, maybe not actually performed during the birth of a child - although it'd be easier - it's more like in celebration of the birth of a child).

Those in attendance Thursday night were treated to a number of different belly dancing styles, including American Nightclub (that's really the name) and Tribal Fusion. While making their various body parts pop, shake and shimmy independently of each other, some of the dancers simultaneously balanced candles or swords on their heads. Others kept time to the music and their moves with little finger cymbals known as "zils."

To show their appreciation, the crowd responded with high-pitch "aye aye aye" cheers called "Zaghareet," better known to most Westerners as that odd sound cloaked Middle Eastern women make on the news. For the show's grand finale, Yasmine herself busted a move in a series of whirling, spellbinding dances; as she shook and shimmied around the room, making her way through the audience, you could practically hear the one collective thought going through the mind of all the gents seated next to their girlfriends and wives: Must. Maintain. Eye. Contact. Despite the valiant effort, most failed miserably.

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