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|Written by Agnes Cadieux|
|Tuesday, 08 September 2009 00:00|
The fiery beat of a tabla drum fill the air as foreign voices complement the reedy notes of a ney flute. You're held captivated by a woman dressed in vibrant colors adorned in glittering coins and silks. She moves to the rhythm like her bones have melted away. Just as you feel an awed reverence settle in, she complements the beats with such precise staccato you can't help but gasp. She is telling you a story with her body, and you can feel the emotion of her being as her hands paint the air with her veil. She is a belly dancer.
Many people are fascinated with the art of belly dancing, but they tend to only know it from its inaccurate portrayal of the snake charmer or beautiful slave girl of ancient Egypt. Like many other folkloric dances, the true origin of belly dancing is to this day a widely debated topic. Many believe its roots stem from a band of gypsies who traveled into ancient Egypt from Iran; others claim it stretches deep into ancient Greece and Babylonia. Still others believe it to be borne of early Pagan rituals. Be it one of these, or a combination of other natural beginnings, the Egyptians were the ones who brought it over to our western world.
"Raqs Sharqi" is the dance we're used to seeing today and can be attributed to the Egyptian family of Awalim. Unlike the Ghawazee, another influential family of dancers, they were non-gypsy and were allowed to perform at weddings and inside homes. While the Ghawazee dance remained simple, the Awalim were given opportunities to modernize and perfect their art. Eventually they began performing at resorts, in theatres, and, finally, in North America.
With almost twenty instructors in the Ottawa area, the belly dance community holds numbers in the hundreds -- and they are growing. It doesn't take much to join a class and anyone at any age can dance. All you need are some comfortable clothes and an open mind. The classes run for approximately an hour and can vary from the gothic beats of Tribal belly dancing to the simpler -- yet just as intriguing -- folkloric type. The style and emphasis of rhythm greatly depend on the instructor and many will allow for a free or reasonably priced drop in session, so you can see if their style is what you're looking for. But whatever the style you choose, the core value of the dance is always the same: it is spirit expressed as movement.
Although at the present time the majority of performances are being held for family and friends, these Ottawa-based dancers are making their way into cultural events, folkloric festivals, and even parades. The intrigue is growing and as more emphasis is placed on reconnecting the body and spirit, the influence of Middle Eastern dance will grow. It is said that the drum is the heartbeat of the earth, and we -- well, we merely echo its pulse.
For more information about instructors in the Ottawa area, please visit TAV Creations.