No Shame in Rooms Like That

No Shame in Rooms Like That by David Ebenbach

“I think so. I don’t have to be. They don’t make you do it. But everyone else is going to do it. I want to support the girls.”

“Didn’t you just start learning how to do this?” I said. I was feeling a little confused somehow.

“The whole school is doing it,” she said. “The whole dance school. All the different levels, plus the teachers. I’m not going to be much to look at, but those teachers are good. They’re going to blow your mind.”

“So you do want me to come?”

She turned toward me in her seat and some streetlight washed over her face. “Of course I do,” she said. “Why would you ask me that?”

The whole thing confused me. That night after she was sleeping and I wasn’t, I stared at the ceiling and tried to figure out what this belly dance stuff was. It was supposed to be exercise, but exercise classes don’t put on shows. It was supposed to be this sexy dance, but she wouldn’t let me see it at home. It was supposed to be for the ladies, but they were going to get on a stage at American University and do it for anyone who wanted to come. Maybe it really was dance, I decided. Art. Professional dancers did things this way, rehearsing in private and then presenting their work to the world once it was ready. I pulled myself up on an elbow and looked over at my wife, at her relaxed, sleeping face. A dancer.

We went on from there. Work, health food, and, for Tawnya, dancing. I did slack off a little in terms of the walking, now that I had decided that this whole thing was about art—my wife’s art—instead of exercise, but I still did it some. Weeks went by like that. I bought a ticket to the show—thirty-five dollars plus a credit card fee, and no discount for spouses. I supposed that only added to the authenticity of the thing.

As the night got closer, Tawnya got more and more worked up. She told me that she was jumpy at work, was running her admin ragged and giving out detentions like Tic-Tacs. At home she couldn’t stay on a topic without it somehow coming around to belly dancing and the ladies. Amy, for example, was really just about to ask for that promotion, or quit. “There’s only so much a woman can take,” Tawnya told me.

Rehearsals started to pick up, too, with some extra evenings thrown in. On those nights I ate alone in the living room, not always on the diet, and tried not to feel like a stepchild. TV on and all.

The night came around soon enough, and sooner than Tawnya wanted it to. Her group was scheduled for after the intermission, but of course I came for the whole thing. She got there a long time before—a little final rehearsal, makeup, the whole nine. I showed up with maybe fifteen minutes to spare, hit the will-call, and took my seat. Around me was an audience that looked like more family members than the art crowd set: kids, husbands juggling cameras, and in front of me a grandmother on oxygen. Everything from t-shirts to overdressed people; I was in the latter category, buttoned tight into my Sunday suit. One person I didn’t see anywhere was Darren. I took my eyes off the audience and read the program a few times. In the Desert Sands was the name of the show. Basically it was a lot of women doing a lot of belly dances. There were maybe twenty different dances listed on the program. When they turned the lights down, I was ready for them to turn the lights down.

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David Ebenbach is the author of several books, including two short story collections—Into the Wilderness (Washington Writers’ Publishing House) and Between Camelots (University of Pittsburgh Press)—and a guide to creativity called The Artist’s Torah (Cascade Books); he teaches Creative Writing at Georgetown University. Find out more at