Gilded Serpent presents...
Leila Haddad's Dance Mission
by Gilded Serpent Staff

"This 20th century... is the century of dance."
-Maurice Bejart
"...the future of dance will come from Africa."
-Isadora Duncan

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.

Zulu 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 is France."

Leila vowed 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.

Not 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.

In addition 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."

Leila attributes 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."

On Coming to America:
"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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