Leila Haddad's Dance Mission
Gilded Serpent Staff
20th century... is the century of dance."
"...the future of dance will come from Africa."
Born of a
Tunisian mother and a Syrian father, Leila Haddad,
Europe's "Queen of Danse Orientale", has taken these
quotes and woven them into her personal banner, as she expands
and has transformed her boundaries of Raks el Sharqi. Because
of her musical family, Leila doesn't remember a time when she
wasn't involved with the art of dancing because dance was an integral
part of family life.
It was long
after she left home, and had earned her Masters' degrees in both
English and Italian literature at the University of Paris (after
completing her undergraduate studies at the University of London)
that dance became the center of her life. Leila was working with
the Zulu Theatre which was a troupe of dancers, singers, and actors
from eleven different nationalities.
Theatre was based in London and later, Paris. One of its goals
was the denouncement of Apartheid through singing, dance, and
dialogue. Leila proposed a composition of Raks el Sharqi and
was struck by the response she received: that "Hootchy-Kootchy
Dance" had no place in formal theater! She'd had no
idea of the infamous reputation of this dance, sometimes known
as "Belly Dance".
At that moment, she resolved to change Europe's notion of Danse
Orientale. Working in France, where there has been little public
respect for African and Middle Eastern culture has been far from
easy. But Leila never has considered moving to a place where the
social climate might be more open. As she puts it, "my story
to teach in only the most respected dance schools. This exposed
her to bald ridicule from the other dance teachers, none of whom
viewed Oriental Dance as having any valid place in a classical
dance school. Within a year she was running France's first classes
in Danse Orientale at Centre de Dance du Marais in Paris, and
soon her classes were full to capacity.
only have her classes continued to be among the most popular courses
in the school, but Leila notes that the media have begun running
more pieces on Arabic culture. Attitudes are changing, and Leila's
progress is clear.
to imparting legitimacy to the dance by teaching only in the traditional
dance academy, Leila insists on claiming the power and cultural
prestige of the theater stage. She produces and performs only
completely choreographed, full-length stage shows. Leila has presented
her shows at: Theatre Des Bouffes du Nord, Theatre du Rond
Point Des Champs Elysees, Institut du Monde Arabe, Haus der Kulturen
die Welt in Berlin, and others. This, she explains, puts
the dance on par with the other classical and modern forms, those
forms which French audiences are accustomed to seeing performed
only on stage. Literally, Leila began by talking her way into
theater-based dance festivals and, as she puts it, "Little
by little I am building my house." Ms. Haddad now tours regularly,
performing in Europe's most famous festivals such as the Festivals
de Paris, Lisbonne, Roveretto, Napoli and Catania, as well as
the Festivals de Hamamet (Tunisia), and Beyrouth
(Lebenon). In the beginning, Leila sought out festival directors
and requested dance time. Now Leila Haddad is in high demand throughout
Europe and has been invited to perform in festivals in the Middle
East. Leila states proudly, "The dance comes full circle",
and Danse Orientale "always has a full house."
her success to staying focused on her goals, not settling for
less than the dance deserves, and working with humility. In 14
years, she has come far on her path, and Danse Orientale has taken
strong root in Europe. Soon, it will be flourishing, and in 50
years, Leila believes, "Not even the most committed "classical
culture snob" will bat an eye when a Raks Sharqi dancer takes
the stage. In Modern or Ballet, dance is often done as a story
or a theme. I took that idea and applied it to Raks Sharqi."
"I heard of Bert Balladine when I was in Paris. I took a
workshop with him in Stuttgart, Germany. 'Why don't you come to
America and teach?' Bert asked. He liked my style, he said, and
so he introduced me to people on the west coast of the United
States. The dancer, Morocco, had heard about me
somewhere, and she wrote asking me to come to New York. Then Morocco
introduced me to many dancers on the east coast."
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