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True or false: Bag piper or belly dancer? by S.B. Borgersen

Susan Borgersen, from Mill Village, Nova Scotia, takes Lawrence Hill's first writing challenge and tells us one tall tale and one true story. 

Which one do you believe? Is she a fully fledged member of the Strathport Pipes and Drums, or a former belly dancer? Let us know in the comments below!

UPDATE: The true story is that Susan Borgersen was once a belly dancer!

It began at the Edinburgh Tattoo. As the pipes and drums began the lament "The Flowers of the Forest," the hairs on the back of my neck stood as if to attention. Since leaving the country I hadn’t heard the bagpipes first hand for a long time. Watching the swirl of kilts and the twirls of the drummers’ sticks  took me back to my roots in the Highlands.

The lingering strains of the bagpipes in the cool night air filled me with a longing. A longing to be reconnected with my homeland. To do something from afar. The skirl of the pipes was obviously still in my blood.

When bagpipes for beginners was advertised in the local press, I jumped at the chance and signed up.  It took a long time to learn the basics. I had little previous musical knowledge, just school recorder, but Rory, the teacher, was patience personified. No sign of a kilt either, he was dressed in ripped jeans and a black AC/DC tee shirt for the first lesson.

Rory began with a demonstration; he played "The Sky Boat Song," a simple tune. I held my breath. Then he set me up with a chanter; it looked a like a small oboe. The lesson involved continuous wiping of saliva. I left with a copy of The Green Book, a beginner’s tutorial, with highlighted scales for me to learn. 

I hung in, but it took time and determination. I learned the scales, I progressed to a full set of pipes, I practiced like my life depended on it. And drove the neighbours wild. Some evenings I took my pipes down to the beach, and practiced while wading at the waters’ edge, just so that folks wouldn’t complain.

It was so worth it; I’m now a fully fledged member of the Strathport Pipes and Drums. I stride along in my Anderson tartan, playing the bagpipes alongside young muscled drummers sporting tattoos stating that they ‘heart’ their mothers.  

And I’m thinking that I should get a tattoo too, maybe I “heart” Scotland. What do you think?


Belly Dancer 
It began in Istanbul. In the Galata Tower Night Club. It was mid summer. A time to soak up the night and drink in the atmosphere. The lemon vodka had gone down remarkably well. The cabaret went on forever; into the early morning hours. All mesmerising movement of muscles and sweat. The musicians played curious wind instruments in a minor key, discordant to my ear. The dancers danced the middle eastern beledi as if uncoiled from the music itself.

From that moment I loved the mystery of the dance form. Wondering what lay beneath the diaphanous shimmering veils. I heard the tinkles of the coin belts wrapped around the hips of the dancers, jangling with every move. They sounded like chickadees in the maple tree back home, as the troupe’s shimmies first rattled, then dissolved in my ears, my head and before my eyes. The belly dancers used their entire beings, from their toes and feet pointing and arching, to their abdomen gyrating and dancing, as if unconnected from the rest of the body. The jewels in their navels shining like the moon on the Bosporus. To their eyes darkly outlined in kohl, flashing left and right then closing as if in meditation. 

Years later, when belly-dancing for beginners was advertised in the local press, I jumped at the chance and signed up. Over time I learned to dervish like a pro. To shimmy with a twist. To raise lotus hands. To express the story of the dance using my eyebrows and my heavily kohled eyes. To use belly muscles I didn’t know existed. To point my beringed toes and flash my eyes just like those cabaret dancers back in Istanbul. I considered having my navel pieced to save gluing in jewels for performances.

When injury affected my mobility I struggled to keep up the dancing, but it was not to be. The outfits hung in the closets for years; sparkling red sequins getting dusty with age. Purple beaded head dresses with rotting threads dropping through the floor boards.

But once being a belly dancer, was better than never having been one at all.


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