Belly Dancing…Dangerous?

Coco Ihle’s debut mystery, She Had To Know, published last April, was inspired by the author’s life-long search for her birth family. The true story below is a recounting of one of Coco’s experiences back in the eighties.

As a dancer, she was privileged to perform in many countries in Europe, and the U.S. and for appearances with the Today Show’s Willard Scott and actors, Cliff Robertson and Whoopie Goldberg.

She lives in Florida with kitty, Annie. For more info please visit: www.cocoihle.com.

My twenty year career as a Middle Eastern belly dancer was fun and exciting, but who would have thought it could be dangerous? In the Bible Belt, no less?

Part of my job as a belly dancer was to help people celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, farewells, get wells, office parties, etc., in what was called a belly gram. You know, instead of sending balloons or flowers, people hired me to dance a ten-minute routine as a surprise for their guest of honor on his or her special occasion.

One day, my friend, Tom, a sergeant at the near-by Air National Guard, called and asked me to dance for Captain Sanders, head of security. The plan was Tom would smuggle me on base in his van, hide me in the clinic, and then he’d call and report a break-in. When Captain Sanders arrived to check it out, we’d surprise him. I was told the base commander was in on it, so I agreed.

At the clinic, Tom led me into a room where folding screens were set up to hide me and my boom box, the beverages, and the cake, and gurneys were moved to provide an open space for me to dance. Co-workers helped and then took their places hiding in an adjacent office.

While Tom walkie-talkied Captain Sanders, I warmed up my fingers and did body stretches. Within a few minutes, I could hear a commotion down the hall. Voices and footfalls were coming closer. Jamming my fingers into the elastic bands of my finger cymbals, I awaited my cue to come merrily out of my hiding place, hips in action.

Captain Sanders, accompanied by an indeterminate few who were all talking at once, was apparently conducting a systematic search in case the “perpetrator” was still present. As I strained to hear the conversation, I saw a disembodied hand slide through the edge of the fabric screen and punch the start button on my stereo. I hadn’t expected the hand just then and as I was muffling a yelp, my music started. Swallowing my heart, I took a big breath, put on my most alluring smile, wrenched aside the screen, and propelled myself forward with cymbals madly clattering to the lively Arabic tune.

The next thing I knew, I was skidding to a dead stop. My field of vision consisted solely of the big black muzzle of a rifle aimed at a spot directly between my eyes. I figured my expression was probably much like the one displayed by my opponent holding the rifle. We both stood transfixed, like ice sculptures, mouths gaping open. He had on green battle fatigues that, oddly enough, matched the color of his face, and probably mine, too.

I don’t remember who broke the spell first, but I discovered the saying, “your life flashes before your eyes when you think you’re going to die,” wasn’t a myth. I became aware my fingers had restarted clicking the cymbals. It was probably nervous reaction, but we’ll say it was my, um, professionalism kicking in. Anyway, the sound of music and cymbals brought everyone out of their hiding places and Captain Sanders was whisked away to his sultan’s chair to star in his role as victim…er…guest of honor.

Surprisingly, my routine went better than usual. There’s something to be said for adrenaline, and Captain Sanders actually got up and danced with me to the accompaniment of tambourines I’d given some of the audience members. We ended in a “ta-da” pose to explosive applause. Well, that may not be the best choice of words.

I had cake in my mouth when Captain Sanders apologized profusely for pointing his weapon at me. Can you believe, when the cake slithered down my throat, I told him it was okay? I said I was just glad he or his gun hadn’t had a hair trigger.

Word spread and my apparent bravery “in the line of duty” earned me an abundance of military jobs after that. Who’d ‘a thunk it?