Single-mom, Nikki Devers, writes about the night she went on stage to hip-bump and dance to help raise funds for a women’s center in Africa.
With hair, make up and costume complete, I head to North Ogden with directions to the Weber State University campus scribbled hastily on a bright orange piece of paper. We students of Utah’s tribal style belly dance troupe Beaute Obscure, taught by Meg Hinds and Andrea Hansen, have an opportunity to showcase our talents at a benefit concert put together by several WSU groups. The geology, dance and women’s studies departments in collaboration with the “No Poor Among Us” project are raising funds to build a women’s center in Mozambique.
I’ve never driven this far north before and I hope I don’t get lost. After an hour’s drive, my directions lead me straight to the college. I soon realize I never took note of what building the event was being held in. I drive around, noticing the information booth was closed but find a campus map alongside the main parking lot. Once I get a good idea of the layout, I drive toward the performing arts building. There are a lot of cars parked near this building which boosted my confidence this was the place.
Upon entering the building, I realize there is an event for the Paralympics also taking place. I weave through the attending crowd and find my way to an information desk. I ask where the “Mozwoq” benefit is being held and they direct me up the stairs to a row of doors leading to various ballrooms. Confused once again, I wander around until bustling sounds catch my ear. I enter the ballroom and gazed over the open floor now being filled with rows of chairs. I recognize Kylie Peterson from the dance community. She is a student here and has pulled this fundraiser together by gathering talent to perform and items for a silent auction. I inform her who I am and what group I am with. She shows me where the backstage area is designated, basically a large closet behind the stage, and where the restrooms are for anyone needing to change outfits or fix their hair and makeup.
We walk around the expansive room as she explains what the Mozambique project is for and the different items available for the auction; paintings by a local tattoo artist, spa gift certificates, handmade scarves and jewelry. Dr. Julie Rich of the geology department states the mission statement for the project is “if we lift a woman, we can raise a nation.”
Since I was the first of any of the performers to show up, I anxiously wait on the stairs overlooking the entrance to direct others up to the venue.
Our whole group has arrived and they check in. Then we all congregate to the women’s bathroom to make final touches, trade jewelry, tie hip scarves and verify everything was in their place. We all match with black skirts and bra-tops with purple and sequin hip scarves. Dark eye make-up and red lips with our long tendrils of freshly curled hair trickling down our backs.
Right at 5:30 p.m., we gather in a large inconspicuous hallway to run through the dance a few more times to check that our entrance, staging marks and spot turn timing is perfect. We pass around a media release for everyone to sign; this event is being filmed for a documentary.
We’re told it will be another two hours until our queue to perform so we decide to go in and watch the other performances. Several belly dance groups and soloists perform and a singer-songwriter serenades us with his original works. Then a hip-hop group popped and locked for a good six minutes with precision. There is also a female Michael Jackson impersonator dancing to a medley of his most famous songs, complete with the rhinestone glove and a hat lit up like a Disney parade float.
As the number before ours commences, we line up behind the audience in a formation designed to put us at our staging marks when we stop in front of the audience. Butterflies in the stomach, clammy palms, increased heart rate.
I remind myself to focus and control my breathing. We’ve had eight weeks of intense practice. Certain movements have been drilled to near perfection and specific combinations have been practiced over and over. The complete choreography has been worked through and we knew the routine without thinking.
We make our way to the front of the room; our group is too big for the tiny stage they have set up, so we’re going to dance on the floor in front of the stage.
Our routine begins with our backs facing the audience, which gives us a few seconds to compose ourselves before the music starts. The first “doom” of the song is heard and the next three minutes feel like ten.
In my head I have the dance broken up into three sections punctuated by spot turns, undulations and hip bumps, which mark the ending. I nail the first three spot turns and my shimmies aren’t at the level of some of the other girls, but, improved and more pronounced. The second set of spot turns comes and I try, but fail to make the fourth one around, not a big deal as long as I don’t trip on my skirt and fall on my face, I’m happy. The drum solo accompanied by an intricate set of chest and shoulder isolations with undulations is all muscle memory and the audience whistles and hollers at our mesmerizing moves. As the section with the hip bumps starts I’m excited for it to be almost over, without any casualties.
The song fades and we exit the floor just as meticulously as we entered and the audience is applauding and whistling again. I feel relief and a sense of accomplishment, reassured it wasn’t as nerve wracking as I had expected.
Some of the girls change from their costumes and we regroup to watch the last two performances, another singer-songwriter and a gymnastic pole routine. The whole evening is a success. We regroup and decide to meet up in Salt Lake to eat. While we’re there we review the video one of the girl’s boyfriends had taken. I’m so proud of us, after two years of dancing together, our group is really getting good! We finish our meal and drinks and everyone disperses to go home. It’s been a great day and I can’t wait to perform again, in August, at Craftlake City.