Raqs Sharqi or Oriental Dance
Museum Pick: March 23 - April 6, 2009
No other dance form has been as mythologized as Middle Eastern dance. Popularized in the West as "belly dance" or "Oriental dance," it is known in the Arab world as raqs sharqi. While it is impossible to determine its precise origins we do know that dance of a similar nature has survived since antiquity. Variously associated with exotic Eastern entertainment, fertility rites and tawdry nightclubs, it has been difficult to gain acceptance for raqs sharqi as a respectful profession in Middle Eastern society. Nevertheless, the genre has stood the test of time and become a worldwide phenomenon.
For centuries, the role of Oriental dance in Middle Eastern society has been as a folk dance that people would perform at joyous occasions such as weddings, the birth of a child, community festivals and other events that bring people together in celebration. It is still passed down from mother to daughter and performed by women for their own entertainment.
In general, my photography revolves around social issues that are usually related to a personal experience; my current interest is on Arab women's stories. The idea for the Raqs Sharqi project evolved last year when I first met Tunisian-born dancer Leila Haddad in Paris.
Leila, one of the world's premier dancers, performs only full-length stage shows. Despite the opposition of her immediate family and family circle, she has fully devoted herself to Oriental dance, first out of rebellion and then as a challenge.
I extended the project and worked with Algerian dancer Saadia Souyah, Souraya Baghdadi from Lebanon and Rim Charabeh of Syria. Each artist has developed her own individual style within the framework of the particular techniques of Oriental dance, revealing aspects of her personality and spirit. Yet the four dancers share one goal, that of raising the level of the dance and transforming it into a sophisticated theatrical art form.