Her Outdoors: Please, put that belly away while I'm eating

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The Independent Culture
Audience participation: are there two more fearsome words in the English language? You could say that life is one long process of learning to avoid audience participation. Unfortunately this is not so catchy as saying, "Life is not a spectator sport." (Really? Then why did we invent shooting sticks and the Harrods hamper?) Nor is it quite as rage-inducing as saying, "If you're not living life on the edge then you're taking up too much room." (Please. Go. Away.)

It's taken a long time, but finally I have trained myself to steer clear of performance art, Cirque du Soleil and improvised comedy. Or, if absolutely forced to go - oh, thank you mother-in-law! Just where I always wanted to be on the night of my birthday, at a live recording of Theatresports! - I've learnt to avoid sitting on the aisle seat. Specifically by marrying a tall man who can easily be persuaded he needs this seat for the extra legroom.

You would think restaurants are safe. Surely going out to dinner is a harmless pleasure that shouldn't be complicated by the possibility you might make a Total Fool of yourself. There are so many ways to do this without extra help: the elbow sharply sliding off the table edge in a moment of drunkenness; the stumble back from the loos, skirt hitched into knickers, in a moment of drunkenness; the tripping and mashing one's nose against the mirror and trailing blood all the way from the coat check to your table in a moment of... Perhaps it would be wiser to give up alcohol than to give up audience participation. But belly dancing is a phenomenon no one can prepare for.

Here we are, my helpfully tall husband and I, on a budget date. We are in a cheap Middle Eastern restaurant to save money because the bulk of the month's entertainment allowance is going to the babysitter. But no matter: the food is great, the wine flows and the waiter can do a nifty trick with the mint tea that almost qualifies as a performance. Which should be a warning. No sooner has a towering tray of baklava and yummy rosewater treats been set in front of us than - click click, jangle jangle - a belly dancer appears. And not just any belly dancer. This one has the most enormous... what's the word... embonpoint I have ever seen. My elbow, naturally, slips sharply off the table.

By coincidence I met a woman today of whom I knew only one fact: she had won the Lottery and the first thing she did with the money was to get her boobs done. Do you think I could look anywhere else when we were introduced? I was fixated! It was as though her breasts were enormous magnets and my eyes were made of iron filings. I nearly ended up face down in her cleavage.

And now this belly dancer, shimmying away as though we hadn't all just eaten. Her breasts move independently. By her own intent. Not like those of the rest of us who - OH SHUT UP ABOUT BREASTS EMILY.

The point is. Not only is she a glimmering wonder in her own right, she also drags men, ordinary kofte-eating men, up on to the floor to dance with her. And they love it! So much so that they get their friends to take photographs and the whole restaurant resounds to our rhythmic applause. And at last the revelation: we may not quite be participating, but this, surely, is living life on the edge.