Dear Middle Eastern Dance Teachers
As a Middle Easterner I am grateful for each and every effort to preserve this dance and therefore the traditions attached to it. Also as a teacher of Middle Eastern dance, I understand passion and thirst for knowledge. Being born into the dance and its culture, does not detract in the least from the constant act of aligning my intellectual knowledge with my soul and heart knowledge (if that makes sense).
So often am I frustrated with the stereotypes of Middle Easterners in general and belly dance in particular. As someone who grew up with this dance, passed on from grandmother to mother, from mother to daughter and then to granddaughter, I am deeply insulted by the strip tease reputation this traditional art form has garnered. Ignorant dancers and garish costuming from Easterners and non-Easterners alike have served to tarnish a tradition as old as the East itself. To every cultured dancer, there are a dozen over painted, under dressed and spray tanned women writhing around like tortured cobras. Still those I can tolerate if they dance from their soul. It is all the frustrated ballerinas turned bellyrinas who try to “tidy up” the dance that bemuse me the most, for it is they that have totally missed the whole essence of this art form.
What exactly is tidy about the Middle East and its culture, that the dance may follow suit, and what is dance if not a reflection of its people? We are zesty, spicy, loud, boisterous, and live in the moment for the moment. A race that has absolutely no interest whatsoever in planning for tomorrow lest Allah be offended by our presumptuousness. Inshallah (as god wills it) is our motto in life. We are tribes who still today search for an elusive unity and peace. The dessert is our home, the sands our resting place. What in our Eastern culture present or past bespeaks of tidiness? We do not dance to be tidy but to express joy, to express pain to express unity with each other and the world around us. We undulate with the dunes and sway with the palms. We dance to celebrate but mostly we dance to set our souls free.
So often I feel I am fighting an uphill battle but at least I know I have managed to convey the soul of this dance in my modest way to thousands of women over the years of my teaching. Most importantly, I have passed it on to my daughter who will pass it on to hers (Inshallah). My daughter shares this passion with the women and men of our family and we all dance together trying to convey the joy and love that bind us. Our dance is a celebration of life, of being alive; of being on earth; it follows the harvests and moons, births, deaths and unions. Our dance is The Dance of Life in all its facets, and who said life is tidy? I write this to all who understand and I write to thank you as a Middle Easterner, as a dancer, and as a teacher. Thank you for your hard work and passion for a people, for an art, for a culture.
“By inspiring others to dance we create a never ending ripple of joy
that touches thousands”- Hanan