For the next week, the pair got into a rhythm of practicing the basics, Camille putting herself on display, and then Teri working to find her own style in her dancing. It didn't always happen in that order, but her own original dancing was what Teri feared the most. She'd always thought she was screwing something up, and was exposing her insecurities about failure to the world like that. It was near the end of the week before she tried and tried and tried, but tripped, fell, and ended in a screaming heap onto the floor, where she screamed louder, tears starting to form in frustration.
It was more like torture than dancing in Teri's mind, and she felt ready to quit. She would've quit the unorthodox teaching from day 1 if it wasn't for Camille herself, and her understanding nature, showing confidence in a way that had yet to yield results. It felt nice to have a teacher challenge and even dare to understand her more than understand only certain parts of her. Mrs. Cantor cared, but it was limited, surface-level kind of caring, and Teri had to admit that part of that was her fault, though she wished for a nurturing force to cut through her obstinateness. Her nurturing nature brought Camille to the floor where Teri lied, first checking to see if she'd hurt herself, then staying down at her side. Anytime something like this happened, someone would ask if she was hurt or to keep her composure. Camille held her hand, and placed the other on her shoulder wordlessly, showing her that she was ready to embrace Teri until the bad feelings went away. She held back tears at Camille's sincere, big-sisterly expression. They both rose to their feet, and Camille pointed out
"That wasn't failure, Teri. That was dancing."
Camille didn't let Teri rebuke what sounded like a ridiculous assertion.
"Dancing was never meant to be only a set of practiced motions or a means of competition. It's expression, for better or for worse. Sometimes, we all need to fall, if nothing else to know how tall we are."
Teri couldn't help but giggle at her afterschool special rhetoric, no matter how sincere Camille was.
"You know, my Aunt originally taught me belly-dancing in her studio in Tripoli. I was about six, but I'd seen so much dancing, I was more than ready to show off what I knew. And I was bratty enough to think I knew it all. But you know what my first lesson ended up being?"
"No...?" Teri asked, confused.
"Stay right here, please." Camille asked as she moved to one of the back rooms of the studio. She came back with several pillows under each arm. She placed them in a hexagon shape around Teri's feet. She took one of Teri's hands in her own from outside the pillows and said gave her her next instruction.
"Spin," she told her student, raising their hands up. Though confused, Teri did as she was told, and picked up the pace of spinning like a ballerina.
"No, slowly spin Teri. Even slower. And close your eyes as you do so."
Teri made the adjustments, holding her free hand to her stomach. Camille praised her once her pupil reached the speed she desired.
"That's right. Spin for me. Whether you believe it or not, this is dancing right now. This is movement, this is beauty, this is a path to mastery of your movement. Don't worry if you get lost, if you feel lost. I was lost too when I spun, just as you could be lost as you spin. Sometimes, when things spin out of control, it's not always a bad thing. You gain perspective in the spin, you start to realize what becomes important to amongst the dozens of things pervading, or invading your life. It's like going to sleep, where you also lose control, where you lie down and realize that no matter how busy your life may be, you still need rest, where you can lie and focus on your breathing and realize that you've been doing this life-enduring act all day, and you take it less for granted as you might take a big, deep breath before sleep overcomes you. And when that sleep overcomes you, you begin to lose yourself. You sleep, you lose control for a time, your mind spins into itself, changing what you know for a time, giving you sometimes the most wonderful dreams."
Camille guided Teri carefully through the motions, watching her pupils feet maintain Newton's first law, while her head began to tip back, her lips parting ever so slightly, her breathing slowed dramatically to almost a sleeper's rhythm. Camille's feet moved counter-clockwise to Teri's, crooning softly, her voice guiding her from what seemed like everywhere, and soon within her.
"You spin deep, deep into wonderful dreams of yourself, where your mind can dance as you do, or where you can dance as your mind does. Your dreams are not structured, they can't be scheduled or controlled so easily by oneself, to lose yourself in a dream is to be surprised by that dream, excited by that dream, clinging to the pleasure that dream has for you until you are convinced you want to remain in the dream state forever. Your body should start to recognize the benefits of the loss of control, where falling is not failing, where improvisation is your ally, where an accident can be part of the plan and just another step in your dance, where your dance is filled to the brim with your personality, with your expression, with your personality and soul. Dream of this dance, of your dance, breaking structures that hold you back, breaking any limitation you think you might have. Memorialize every dance to the passion surging within, celebrate it, make it monumental. Lose yourself to free yourself, Teri. Free yourself. Free yourself. Free yourself."
Teri lost herself to the floor again after spinning for countless minutes, dizzy, disorientated, lost in a dark void, liberated yet attached to Camille's soft, reassuring voice. So different from the frustrated novice she was on the floor before, she slept on the pillows, only thoughts of Camille's words and the dance Camille wanted of her floating through her head. She dreamt of this dance, seeing shades of Camille and herself there, wanting it, treating each dance as a tribute to her exotic teachings and deepened inner zeal, loving it as much as the first time she watched Camille dance.
That dizzying dance became her guiding light in the week to come. When Camille was sure they had privacy, each lesson would start with spinning, and vocal instruction from Camille to envision her future dance. Day after day, and night after night, the image became clearer, until a burning need within her couldn't wait to be allowed to spin and undulate and dance the dance of her dreams. Once the music was cued, and Camille gave the simple command of "free yourself," the dancer within emerged. The burgeoning bellydancer looked almost possessed, eyes closed through much of her movements, feeling her way across the music, looking much less measured and more reactionary. Her mind was often over-eager at first, enough for her body to have trouble keeping up; she fell and tumbled over several times, at least once per day, but unlike her near crying fit, she found herself dancing on the floor, against it, encouraged from a voice within to use her muscles carefully to rise back to her feet. The more she fell, the more she was prepared to recover gracefully, or prevent falling at all. Whenever class would start with spinning, it was as if she never fell at all, yet the state of her dance soon equaled the dance in her head. Pleasure flowed through her veins, as Teri's heart pumped strong, with the passion she felt she'd been lacking.
At night, she sometimes looked at herself in the mirror, seeing the dancer who won so many competitions in-spite of herself, toppling so many who had passion when she did not, admitting to herself how envious she was of them. She would close her eyes and it was the passionate Teri dancing in her place in her memories, rightfully winning every competition not just because she was good and wanted it the shiny trophy, but she wanted to dance.
Before every lesson, she would stare at the case of trophies, most of which were hers, wondering who that girl was who'd won them in the back of her mind. She'd walk away from the case and couldn't wait to get started with Camille, to spin, to dance and be led.
Teri didn't know when it started, but soon her dreams changed, from dancing for herself, to having an audience waiting to be captivated. Unlike the usual judges panel, she was taken to the chamber of a sultan, the kind who was always entertained with dancing girls whose power was to entice and charm. Teri came to herself, dressed like a harem girl, laying across silken pillows, expectant eyes on her. A power greater than her waited for her performance, but she could feel the need to dance for herself, and impress herself more than the older, powerful man. Teri didn't fear the sultan though. She walked with confidence around the chamber, brandishing her power in every step, knowing for that time, she was the ruler. Captivated eyes hung on every inch of her body, mesmerized by every shake and rocking motion her hips made. She would lean against the walls of the chamber, making herself rise and fall against it, her face suggesting it gave her the pleasure of love to be there; she never needed to look at her audience to know how hot it made him, how he wished he could make her feel the same. Confusion came by how arms and hands washed over the sultan's face without touching. She would back up, urging him on with ghostly touched against the beard on his chin, making him rise from his throne, luring him into the pillowed space where she woke, keeping his eyes fixed on her hips. Trying to grasp her exotic blonde hair, he stumbled as she knowningly whipped it out of his reach, so he would trip over the pillows, watching her ass swing and continue her dance, looming over him. The old sultan seemed a drooling mess, made to worship at Teri's feet while the harem girl took his place on what became her throne.
The dance went on until she heard a fingersnap next to her ears from out of nowhere, and the scene faded into the black void where there was just Teri and Camille's disembodied voice.
"Very good Teri. You are progressing so well; I am very proud of you. However, I still imagine you can go deeper, find more passion within. I imagine you will show me very soon."
The wait between dreams seemed a blur to Teri's mind as it wasn't long before she returned to the same chamber. Waking to all familiar circumstances, except this time the Sultan had been replaced by a much younger, more handsome, clean-shaven man, a form of Prince charming in her eyes, a perfect gentleman. The Prince was eager yet patiently waiting for Teri to start. He couldn't have been that much older than Teri's age of 19. She took note of the difference in audience, and yet moved the same form of seduction, drawing his eyes from afar, becoming his world as she closed in on him. There were slight differences, as she focused more on her her hips and control of the muscles in her stomach that made watching the rolling waves turn his eyes glassy. In the end though, lured him to the same spot where the older Sultan landed. The only thing that seemed to change is that instead of taking the throne, she knelt at the pool of male submission she created, petting his head like a cute puppy.
The voice in the back of her head, a familiar voice of reason, spoke to her, before her reality was shaken back to the void. Teri's mind was comfortably lethargic, yet she could tell there was curiosity in Camille's voice, wondering why her dreams only went so far. It didn't matter how much this exercise was outside the purview of Teri's lessons, Camille was simply interested in where Teri's passions lied, and she felt she was getting closer to whatever it might be.
"You continue to impress and please Camille, Teri. Soon you'll be ready for a much bigger audience. But it seems like there is yet more passion in your dance to explore, to unearth and shine upon those lucky enough to see you in all your glory. Tell me what would bring more passion to your dance."
To Camille's surprise, there seemed to be reluctance in receiving an answer from Teri, as if she was hiding, or shielding herself. Fascinated, Camille pressed slightly further.
"There's no need to resist, Teri. You are safe in this space, under the care and counsel of Camille. This space is only for your pleasure, our pleasure in discovering your passion. This is the place where you are truly allowed to free yourself," Camille uttered her trigger. "Free yourself, Teri. For your teacher, for you passion, free yourself for me, to me, and reveal to me, what would make you even more passionate."
What Teri's subconscious eventually revealed to her teacher quickly took shape in her mind. A lavishly-decorated bed chamber, with a caramel-haired queen standing in-front of a bed. Teri the harem girl awoke once again, to see the queen standing above her. A quickened pulse and an open-mouth gasp showed a desire from the deepest parts of Teri's sense of self. Adoring eyes looked upon the standing, surprised woman as worthy, worthy of the passion the voice with was looking for. She felt truer to her harem appearance and gracefully moved her body up and around the queen, taking her time to back in the beauty of her owner. Camille stood still as Teri's young body circled her like a predatory python, happy to have its prey in her midst.
When both were standing tall, Camille saw the happiest, brightest eyes filled with need she'd seen in a long while, and she was used to being surrounded by happy, sometimes needy people. Teri's hips moved against Camille's, and the older dancer found her hands being grasped by younger ones, urging her to dance with her. The pair moved together as if in an alternate form of Tango, moving to music that only Teri heard in her head, setting a pace that Camille kept up with most of the time. The times Camille didn't, she felt like she couldn't while Teri worked her whole body in sensual waves up and down Camille's front. Not since her dancing boy-toy Keith did Camille feel so seduced by the movements of another. She felt oh so tempted to take control of her pupil and give her the experience she wanted; it became more and more obvious that Teri was placing her willing body in Camille's hands, merely waiting to be taken.
It reached the point where the passion behind the unleashed Teri grew impatient, and pushed her queen onto the bed in the room, and fell onto her queen, kissing her deeply, dueling tongues creating heat and friction that Camille almost felt totally entranced by. A shaking hand nearly reached behind Teri to grip her head and control what could be, but she instead snapped her fingers and prematurely ended the most passionate dream Teri ever had in her young life. Camille panted on top of the bed in her motel, slipping from under a mindless youth who still managed to whine in sexual frustration. Camille congratulated herself on making sure passionate dreams like this were kept in the privacy of her room instead of the studio, after the standard lessons, but she realized her curiosity may have taken things too far.
The genie was finally uncorked from its lamp, and the vivacious bellydancer Camille knew Teri could be was freed. The teacher never expected to get burned from the fires of her pupil's passion, but heat and ecstasy still lingered on her lips as she touched them, and watched Teri gradually sink back into normal trance. Once she reached that point, and Camille had control of her libido, she asked Teri a few more questions, and received answered that made so much sense after the fact. It couldn't have been easy, growing up homosexual in a conservative town, repressing it and any urges surrounding it while dedicating herself to school and dance as was relegated by all the adults in her life. Camille's mental push unveiled more passion than she ever expected, but she couldn't say she was sorry for what came about. Teri was still a beautiful, talented young woman with a bright future ahead of her, no matter what others in her life would think if they knew the truth.
Camille had found that she'd grown more attached to her charge than she ever expected to be, and was prepared to see her succeed in her potential trials ahead.
Come Independence Day, Teri met with everyone before her big performance, reassuring everyone from her parents, to Mr. Rogers and Dannon who seemed awfully concerned about how well she did since this dance was to be televised, to Mrs. Cantor's incessant tips as she was allowed to supervise and "improve" upon the last steps of what would be Teri's official dance. None of those voices mattered to Teri that day though; she heard everything, but it was all white noise compared to Carlie's cheering in her corner, and most of all Camille's on-looking and confidence in the dancer Teri had finally become. Since the moment Teri opened her eyes that morning, she felt bolstered just by knowing that she could rely on Camille that day, that she placed everything that she was, including her mind, in her hands, and it felt right to do so. Camille's control was the only structure she needed that day.
Thoughts of Camille kept her the most composed as she stepped on to the stage at the fairgrounds, hundreds of people making up the biggest crowd she's ever performed for, not to mention her first televised performance. The Teri Collins from the past Memorial Day had never envisioned one so calm and ready, and only really concerned with the approval of one. She walked out, covered in what looked to be a white flowing robe, concealing her body down to her feet. The last bit of encouragement she gave herself on-stage was "free yourself;" the fact that she heard Camille's voice saying that eliminated doubt from her mind. When the song she'd chosen, Lenny Kravitz's American Woman, cued up, from the first lyric she spread her arms out to reveal blue jeans and a tank top of half white, half red. The crowd cheered not only for her attire, but for the American flag revealed on the other side of the white robe, flowing freely. Teri danced and twirled to the beat and to the clapping of the crowd as she took strong steps across the stage, one hand holding onto the huge flag, the other dancing before her shaking, rolling hips.
Less than a minute into the song, those who had seen Teri dance before or were dance fans of some kind noticed how she was using more than just one style on stage. All the dances she'd learned in the past were included in this one fusion of movement. From ballet spins on the tips of her flats, to pretend dancing with the mass of the flag as if it were a ballroom dance partner, to spinning again in that way that Camille had taught her, as her hips moved in circles independent of her feet, rising and falling to the defiant guitar sounds. Camille had to give credit to the overly-conservative Mrs. Cantor's observation that just belly-dancing by itself, and all the movements involved, might seem too racy or unappealing to that crowd. Midway through the training, Camille had changed the regimen so it would become a fusion of everything she'd learned already, and it was paying dividends on-stage. There was something in Teri's dance for everyone, and not enough raciness for anyone to seriously complain.
The wind blew strong that day, aiding Teri's dance as it waved proudly behind and around her, but it was also strong enough for a gust of it to blow it out of her hand and almost off the stage. It looked like the kind of accident her competitors prayed would happen to her, until she slid across the stage on her knees to recover it, whirling again with the flag in both hands, tying it around her neck so it couldn't get away from her. No judge on the panel could tell if that was or wasn't planned, it happened so smoothly. Camille didn't hide her surprise and pride in Teri's quick recovery, almost laughing at the look of horror Mrs. Cantor and the benefactors shared at first. Camille thought the lyrics would be the most horrifying part of Teri's performance, "get away from me" and "leave me be" clashing with the audience's hopeful desire to have her closer somehow, but that proved to be a whimsical juxtaposition as everyone seemed so enamored by Teri's dance that nothing else mattered, a true sign that Camille had succeeded as much as Teri did. The final pose at the end was spectacular due to the wind blowing behind her. She looked like a conquering superhero, and the crowd couldn't get enough of her as she bowed, and exited the stage. Camille walked up to shake her hand, but received a strong embrace that she gave back.
"Thank you so much Camille."
"It was my pleasure Teri; you've done me and yourself proud today."
More than the post-competition fireworks, more than praise from anyone else in her camp, Camille's approval made her feel whole. The 1st place trophy for that competition wasn't just another notch on her belt, but would always be a reminder of how Camille changed her, got into her head, made her a better version of herself.