In the Egyptian film “Ma tege Nor’os” (Let’s dance) starring Yosra. The main character, a married mid-aged wife, who was depressed of the boredom in her life, the daily routine, and the relationship with her husband which grew dull after many years being together following the norms of a society that dictates the same behavior of everyone and punishes anyone trying to revive his life in a different unexpected way. She suddenly discovered a dance club right in the apartment at the floor below to hers. With some cautious, she first approached the club to check it out, and with time, she found herself absorbed in dancing in a way that awakened her from her long sleep, colored her life, and changed her completely.
In a different way, the same thing happened to Athena. The main character in Paulo Coelho’s latest novel “The witch of portobello”. Athena, who had a hard time dealing with her life just after her divorce, and living alone as a single mother to her baby child, directed her anger on her landlord who used to have a daily night dance sessions with a group of people at his apartment just next to hers. Neither she nor her baby was able to sleep. When she faced him, he invited her to try it by herself, and when she did, her entire life changed as well.
As usual, Paulo Coelho addresses dancing in a spiritual matter. For him, moving our bodies to the music is a part of a sacred rituals that connect our souls to the divine. Athena’s new dance discovery where reflected on her work, her changed mood and new ambition for life changed her dramatically where she didn’t only became more creative and productive, but also managed to drag her co-workers into this and lifting the entire firm she used to work for into a new level.
LBC, the popular Lebanese TV channel, broadcasts a new dance show under the name of “Hezze ya nawa’em” (shake your belly you soft woman). The name is taken from a popular old Lebanese song that became like a folklore song which is played in most wedding parties till today. The show is basically a competition of belly dancing where female belly dancers from around the world compete with each other for the title of being the best belly dancer around the world.
Dancing has been a prominent part in the eastern Arabian culture. Belly dancing is what distinguishes Arabian dance from other western dances. While being fiercely attacked in the past decade by the Arab society because it has linked to prostitution for the amount of revealed body parts famous Belly dancers in Arabia used to show.
While belly dancing got more and more rejection of the Arabian societies, it gained more and mroe respect in the west because of the fascination of the western societies of this art. What is ironic is that the only cultural heritage that we, as Arabian societies, despise the most, is our only cultural heritage that is still respected and admired by the west!
What I find fascinating as well, is how a specific culture can build two different at odd sub cultures. In Najeeb Mahfooz’s trilogy, he highlights the differences of the lives of women in Egypt at the beginning of last century era. While most women were opressed not even having the right to go out of their homes, others, practicing belly dancing and prostitution were thriving and living a wild life.
In late 60’s and 70’s, there was a huge wave of Egyptian films focusing on the lives of belly dancers. Maybe it was due to the infleuence of famous belly dancers in Egypt at that time and their strong connections with authoritive people. Most of the storylines of those movies where drawn upon polishing the image of belly dancers and showing them in a better light. Poverty and men’s dirty schemes were the main reasons to drive a woman towards this profession. Some movies tried to draw a line between belly dancing and prostitution. The famouse movie “khalli balak men zozo” (Be careful of Zozo) starring the cinderella of the Arabic screen Suad Husni focused on the life of the daughter of an old belly dancer whom was ashamed of her moether profession, and tried to hide it of her noble boyfriend. Getting invited to a party at her boyfriend mansion, Zozo was shocked to see her old mother dancing for the crowd for money. Moments later, Zozo’s love for her mother won over, she found heself taking her mother’s place and dancing instead of her in a beautiful message that meant to highlight the human side of belly dancers.
In recent years, Arabian societies, dominated by the western cultural influence, mocked the western model of night clubs and dance. A lot of western night clubs opened in the Arab world. A lot of young people spend their weekend – Thursday night usually – dancing on western music and drinking alcohol.
While dancing is always a musing practice to the body and soul, belly dancing has a unique touch with a long heritage and stronger effect. An art that is waiting to be revived and get the respect it deserves.
Tomorrow is the New Year’s Eve. Wish you all the best dancing with your loved ones. Remember, it doesn’t matter what music you move your body to, it doesn’t matter who is your dance partner. What matters is your celebration of your body and soul and the joy you bring to yourself while shaking your belly.
Happy New Year