Middle Eastern Dance
Meets Hip Hop Culture

Issues Confronting a “Vintage Dancer”
when her Audience is Half Her Age

by Latifa

I was recently asked to perform at an event on a yacht in Marina Del Rey. I was to be flown from the Bay Area to Los Angeles International Airport where I would be picked up, driven to the yacht and hidden so that I would be a surprise for the guest of honor who would be celebrating his 50th birthday. Apparently this was a real surprise party since he didn’t even realize that a party had been planned for him.The pay would be great. the transportation and lodging were completely organized.

I would be housed in Sherman Oaks at a large private home with a pool and spa, to which I would have access, and driven to the Orange County Airport the following day for my return flight. My thought was that all gigs should be like this! My ride from the Los Angeles Airport was a little late due to freeway traffic, which caused me to be a little nervous. But when I was picked up, I got caught up in the enthusiasm and confidence of the driver. This was actually going to be fun!

When we got to the yacht in Marina Del Rey, the captain and crew were already on board. Everyone was being briefed as to their responsibilities for the cruise. Since none of the guests were there, I had ample time to walk around and check out the area where I would be performing. It was an excellent floor surface of smooth perfectly polished wood and a good size. The D.J. and his crew were the next to arrive. I felt a little strange when I saw them.

They were huge guys in hiphop attire with tons of equipment including several turn tables, and some huge speakers! My first thought was “How did this happen?” Followed by “Am I in the right place?”

I never thought of a group of people who were into HipHop would be particularly interested in watching the performance of a Belly Dancer twenty years their senior.

I bravely introduced myself to the D.J.’s, gave them my CD and told them the tracks that I wanted them to play. They were extremely polite and obviously interested in the fact that I was going to dance. The D.J. asked me to please remind him of what I wanted him to play again before I danced. Their manner was very professional and I suddenly felt quite confident. (They didn’t seem to notice that I wasn’t a 20 year old!)

I went upstairs to do some yoga stretches and change clothes accompanied by HipHop which was getting pretty loud. I ended up being dressed early with quite a while to listen from my hiding place as the guests began to arrive. As I waited, I had a chance to wonder again exactly what I was doing at this event. I was suddenly told that the guest of honor had arrived and asked if I was ready to dance. By now I was nervous again due to my unusual situation, but was anxious to just do it! I went down the stairs and caught the D.J.’s eye. He smiled and repeated back to me what I had told him to play earlier. The guest of honor was seated in the front and the rest of the crowd- young and in HipHop attire (baggy clothes for men with lots of heavy gold chains and hip hugging bell bottoms with bare midriffs for the young ladies) were behind him and seated at various tables around the room.

As the music started, I noticed how responsive the D.J. was to every gesture, no matter how subtle,

that I sent him regarding the volume of the music at different points (i.e. not as loud as the hiphop-- N-o-o, not quite that soft). The audience seemed a little puzzled at first, but were soon really with me.

I danced to the different tables and different members of the audience as well as the guest of honor. People were positive, meeting me with smiles, keeping time to the music, and seemed to be really enjoying themselves. I couldn’t remember ever having more fun during a performance. When I joined the party after dancing, I was impressed by the food-since by then I was starving! There was cracked crab, shrimp, lobster, salads, vegetables, gourmet European pastries, four bottles of champagne in ice buckets on every table, plus a full bar. The birthday cake was a work of art, with a portrait of the guest of honor as a child and as he is now, painted on the cake in the frosting. People were very appreciative of my performance. They kept telling me how much they had enjoyed it, and some of the young ladies who, I later found out, dance professioinally on music videos, asked me questions about the dance and asked for my card.

The incorporation of Middle Eastern Dance moves in HipHop, although I had been aware of this from videos I’ve seen, became more evident as I danced and watched some of the other people dance during the evening. As the evening progressed, I discovered that the guest of honor was not merely involved in the HipHop world. He works for rap artists such as Puff Daddy and Snoop Doggy Dog-arranging performances in Europe and Latin America.

The event was positive and upbeat with, according to people who know about HipHop, many celebrity guests who had flown in from New York, Detroit, Chicago, and other locations. I was struck by how easily I became involved in conversations with people and how much in common we have, not only as human beings, but as artists. I remember feeling similar connections with musicians and dancers in Egypt, Latin Musicians and dancers here, and in Cuba, and artists from various other traditions whom I have had the pleasure to meet.

This evening provided a reawakening of the realization that our connections with each other transcend generational and cultural issues.

On a negative note, when the yacht docked in Marina Del Rey, there were four or five cars from the L.A.P.D. as well as a paddy wagon, awaiting our arrival. The police watched us intently as we disembarked. I noticed that several police had billy clubs in hand. I realized once again that the racist and cultural steroetypes that dictated their behavior permeate our entire lives.\

I was forced to examine my initial response when I knew who the guests would be for whom I was to perform. While part of it definitely was a reflection of my own insecurities, the other part had to do with cultural stereotypes I carried about people who were part of the HipHop Culture. That’s where the universality of this situation became clear to me. As cliched as it may be, a major solution to separation from others resulting from differences in culture or belief systems is simply providing opportunities for people to be together in a positive environment that facilitates communication and forming connections with each other.

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