Posted by: alwanforthearts | August 29, 2010

Raqs Sharqi at Alwan for the Arts

The evening of September 1st kicks off a season of dance programming at Alwan for the Arts curated by Nicole Macotsis.  The event focuses on raqs sharqi, a workshop with well-known performer Leila.  A U.S. born, Cairo-based professional dancer, Leila will emphasize Egyptian-style technique and expressions while working to the classical music compositions of Abdel Halim, Oum Kalthoum, and others.  Following the dance portion, Leila and dance anthropologist Najwa Adra will host a discussion panel to speak about the diverging perspective and traditions of raqs in Egypt, Middle East, and the U.S. Having lived in both worlds, these two women bring a unique perspective to the table that facilitates dialogue between diverse audiences while elucidating the gaps in understanding the globalized practices of bellydance.

Leila performing in Cairo with her orchestra

To inform the broader public about the varied styles and influences of raqs sharqi (Arabic for Oriental dance, or simply bellydance in English), Nicole shares her thoughts about some of the social and cultural trademarks that continue to shape and reconcile two worlds in this exquisitely refined, yet modernizing dance form.

Rooted in baladi folk traditions and integrated with Western elements, terms like delicate, playful, improvisational, and social are qualities used to describe the dance.  Today it continues to hold culturally disparate meanings, becoming contextualized in different regions of society.  However, Nicole emphasizes that reinvention may take place in some cultures, but raqs sharqi continues to be performed in its indigenous context, stating “It’s reinvented here in the U.S. in a different way.  Here, it may be related to feminism, spirituality, development of self-image, Oriental stereotypes of the Middle East, it emerges in all these ways.”  Nicole admits it is controversial, and many people often look unfavorably upon it “In many Arab countries it is not seen as a respectable career or art, yet bellydance is very popular here in the States… It can ultimately serve as a step toward greater exposure to understanding Arab music, art, and regional culture.”  In addition, due to the global appeal of this unrooted form–derived from culturally specific Middle Eastern contexts—it is important to bring discussion into the picture.  Through personal narratives and research, Nicole believes that the public will gain a better sense of the dance’s differing manifestations here in New York, as well as Cairo and throughout the Arab world.

Leila graces the Egyptian stage in live performance with her orchestra, filmed programs and alongside Arab pop stars.

As the dance curator for Alwan, Nicole hopes to utilize the workshop format as a means to reach out to fellow dancers.  This year Alwan plans to host an array of Middle Eastern dance seminars, concerts, and folk dance classes.  When asked about her purpose and goals in Alwan’s public dance programming, Nicole expresses “I want people to go away knowing that dance presentation at Alwan is important because it can be integrated into other genres as it is in the indigenous form – around the world and within the Arab diasporas.  There’s a lot of space for creating contextualized dance, not just dance on its own.  It’s a great way to reach out to Arab American communities as well as non-Arabs who are interested and attracted to the glitter of belly dance.”

– Contributed by Denis Noev

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