is in their blood
previously posted in The Republic of East Vancouver,
reluctant visitor to a multicultural arts show comes away with
a new appreciation for how art entwines with ordinary life for
I'm not very multicultural-tolerant. I enjoy learning the customs
and values of people not like me, but usually only so long as
dinner lasts. It's a nasty little secret and I don't like it.
usually keep these sentiments to myself and instead attempt
to outwardly project an open-minded and tolerant attitude, partly
because I know it's the right thing to do. Nonetheless, I remain
naturally disinclined to seek out on my own artful performances,
for example, that showcase so-called "other" cultures.
None of this
is due to a lack of exposure to the outside world. On the contrary,
in a different decade, I traveled extensively around the world
for extended periods of time. But I did not eat at better restaurants,
stay in good hotels, or take in high art presentations. I typically
wandered around working class districts of big ugly cities in
poorer nations during their seasons of inclement weather. (I'd
blame the travel agent, but I never used one, it probably goes
without saying.) I learned when workers woke up and tagged along
to where they went before work, and as much as possible, even
jumped on the bus after morning coffee to follow right along to
the factory gates.
I am under no illusions that people from other countries are automatically
exotic, deep, or cuddly in any way. They and their cultures are
as likely to be just as boring, plain, and stupid as my own can
be. Having said that, however, there is something in the humdrum
routine of everyday life in different cold and gray places around
the world that fascinates me.
isn't the wild costumes, crazy dances, or bizarre myths that
capture my interest in other cultures, but that's what usually
comprises the content of staged multicultural events, which
is why I shun them.
would normally have given wide berth to the Scotiabank Dance Centre's
"Noon Dance Series" offering last March 26, featuring
Raks Araby - Arab Women, Arab Dance. This hour-long show
promised "insightful narratives with masterful performances
of Middle Eastern and North African dances by Salma Ferchichi,
Rahma Haddad, Lynette Harper, and Rabab Ward."
I only went because my sister-in-law, Lynette Harper, was one
of the performers, and she has been bellydancing and teaching
bellydancing for a great many years now, and I had yet to have
an opportunity to see what it was she liked so much about it.
That was the
snotty little attitude I went in with. I came out fairly bowled
over, much edified, and measurably a changed person. I learned
something in that too-short hour that I had never previously considered,
and I had the utter pleasure of having that instruction reinforced
right in front of me in a most beautiful and dramatic way. It
dancing served as a way for women to share emotional experiences
with each other. It is a part of everyday life for ordinary
folks, and so worthy of attention by me, even, the pretend-to-be
working class snob.
If I had simply
been told this in a lecture (or an article, like this one!), I
would have tuned it out. But just after Rabab Ward
told the audience of over 100 this snippet, she proceeded into
a belly dance, and blow me down if I didn't then and there receive
a direct transmission of her expression of emotional experience.
When not bellydancing, Ward, originally from Syria, is a professor
of electrical engineering at the University of British Columbia,
by the way.
Prior to her
dance, Salma Ferchichi, originally from Tunisia,
recalled how as a child she would go once a day with other girls
to "the source," the only time they were away from strict
authoritarian rule in every aspect of their lives. "The source"
was where daily water in that dry place was fetched by the girls
of the families.
Like all gaggles
of girls the world over, they talked, looked at boys, gossiped,
and laughed, but then they would also start dancing for each other,
apparently. The explanation for this behaviour was simply that
dancing is deeply embedded in the blood of Arab women.
danced, and the utter joy bursting out of her body and exuding
from her face not only put me immediately at the well in some
small Tunisian village, but made me know something of what it
is like not only to feel that one has dance in one's blood, but
to know that everyone around you feels it too.
like what I felt must have raced through the minds of the teenaged
boys from farms located outside Edmonton, Alberta, when Rahma
Haddad danced for them when she was a child. Like me,
"they didn't know what was going on in front of their eyes."
Haddad learned Arab dancing, and specifically bellydancing, from
the other women in her family in Alberta, where again dancing
was more than what I know it to be.
mean I don't understand dance at all--as a form of art done by
artists, or as an activity people do at clubs. Haddad presented
a different thing I had previously been unaware of, and it bridged
the two forms-art and popular pastime--to form a third distinct
thing: popular art, or folk art, in dance form. This was no contrived
presentation of foreign exoticism to satisfy some state-granting
agency looking to spice up multicultural awareness week. This
was a moving and utterly personal expression given in so highly
evolved a form, it appeared to be fully grounded in the Earth.
It was Lynette
Harper's talk and performance that, though it came first,
served to wrap up the whole of the noon hour's entertainment--which
was fitting since she organized this show. Harper spoke in general
terms of how belly dancers share their dances with each other,
and how they get caught up in each other's pleasure of dancing.
"At any gathering," she emphasized, "there was
always dance; it was loved and honoured."
She then proceeded
through a series of alternating sorrowful and joyful movements
focused at first low to the floor before rising up through her
body and then arms to an upheld apple, ultimately culminating
in her taking a satisfyingly heavy crunch of a bite from it. There
was the unmistakable air of sheer defiance in that bite, and if
the audience didn't get it the first time, she repeated the bold
gesture, staring us down with an audacious grin. Life has been
mostly miserable throughout much of the Arab world lately. This
dance, adapted from a Tajik song, put the grab on life as though
we owned it or something.
thanks for a genuinely altering experience go to Lynette Harper
for organizing the show, to the performers who delivered it, to
the Scotiabank Dance Centre who hosted it, and the Westender
newspaper and CBC TV who sponsored it.
from Lynette Harper- Although Kevin Potvin wrote this article
to describe a 2004 event, Rahma Haddad and myself have organized
a second, similar "Arab Women, Arab Dance"
event at Vancouver's Dance Centre more recently, and plan to continue
presenting and exploring this theme.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
A Report on the First International Bellydance
Conference of Canada Part One- Lectures, Workshops, Panel Discussions
by Diane Adams Photos by Lynette
18-22, 2007 Toronto, Ontario. Hosted by Yasmina Ramzy of Arabesque
Academy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, this International Bellydance
Conference of Canada, the first ever on the Canadian dance scene,
proved to be one of the top dance experiences in this reviewer’s
Interview with Kay Taylor by Leila
Kay seemed a bit older and wiser to the ways of Cairo, many people
assumed she was my manager. They would address their questions
about my fee or my experience to Kay.
The Bou-Saada Bus by Yasmela
single one of us could play an instrument, sing, dance, run a
sound board, set a stage with backdrop, lights, monitors and microphones,
plug them in, and put them away. We made our own costumes and
our own drums and used duct tape in a thousand creative ways.
While we never made a living from it, it was our way of life.
Our experiences will bond us forever.
How to Charge What You
Are Worth by MIchelle Joyce
first step to becoming an effective negotiator is to emotionally
detach yourself from the outcome. If you can’t walk away
from the deal, you have already lost.
The Devil's Details, Show
Ethics for Professionals, Part 1- Booking a Party by Yasmin
When a dancer
looks good, she, or another, will get called back to perform again.
When she looks bad, customers might be turned off to our lovely
art form forever. Therefore, a bad dancer not only ruins things
for herself, but for all of us