As my family and I roamed the earth’s continents, I have always associated home with anywhere there was music and any place I could dance. When I am dancing, I lose myself in rhythm and movement, everything falls away, and my spirit soars forth unencumbered by physical density and discordant realities.
Some of my fondest recollections are those of my father bouncing me around in his arms as he performed our Lebanese folklore dance. Another was the joy of watching my beautiful mother and her friends perform the Baladi dance of our region. Swaying hips, undulating torsos, arms afloat, they glided like swans, alluring and assured, feminine and soft. To my child eyes, they seemed privy to an alternate reality, a reality so serene and peaceful that I desperately wanted to follow.
One dark day after weeks of bombing and destruction, I finally accepted that Lebanon would never be mine. In 1991, I despondently joined the ranks of some 16 million migrant Lebanese. I was luckier than most in that I chose to call Australia home and my journey boasted a soft landing on a welcoming shore.
As I explored my new country and expanded my social circle, serendipity saw me fall into the part time hobby of teaching Middle Eastern Dance. As belly dancing swept mainstream culture through stars like Shakira, (who is half-Lebanese), and Beyoncé, this pastime soon burgeoned into a full time career. In 2005, I established Ahlam Belly dance centre. More vocation than occupation Ahlam, which means ‘dreams’ in Arabic, was my dream come true.
As the product of both East and West, I hold within me two dichotomous cultures that are often hard to coalesce. Ahlam Authentic belly dance has been the ideal space to amalgamate my Eastern and Western worlds. Through sharing the customs and traditions behind authentic belly dance, I am able to unite people and demonstrate that Lebanon and the Middle East in general, have much more to offer than just terror and Tabouli.
The experience of Baladi dance and music is like a trip into the heart of the Middle East and a doorway into the beauty that pulses beneath the turmoil and politics. In offering people a genuine cultural experience, I am empowering others to transcend their localities and bridge the cultural divide that has long existed between East and West. The continuously altering geographical locations of my life have taught me that familiarising ourselves with other cultures and worldviews effectively immobilises fear and fosters acceptance and unity.
Written by Hanan Ahlam Abboud 2015 (c)