HomeIntertainmentMeet Leila Haddad, the queen of oriental dance

Meet Leila Haddad, the queen of oriental dance

What strikes you most once you meet the enigmatic Leila Haddad are these intricate braids cascading down her shoulders, and ornamented with shiny threads and metallic rings. A single cowrie shell hangs from one of many braids on the centre of her brow. Clad in a pink and yellow shirt and a fuschia skirt, with a sheer pink scarf wrapped round her waist, Leila seems as vibrant and free-spirited because the Ghawazee (nomadic musicians and dancers from Egypt).

She takes umbrage at being referred to as a ‘stomach dancer’. Leila corrects me and says that she is an exponent of ‘raqs al-sharqi’, an Arabic dance kind, which when translated in English means ‘oriental dance’. And he or she is known as the ‘excessive priestess of oriental dance’. This petite Tunisian-Eqyptian dancer, who on the age of 73, can nonetheless shimmy up a storm and who now calls Paris her residence, was not too long ago in Madurai to discover the dances of South India. Leila spoke about her inventive journey that has helped her deliver into the limelight a dance kind that was relegated to the cabarets.

Leila Haddad in a vibrant costume strikes a pose
| Picture Credit score: ASHOK R

What spurred you to revive and refine the artwork kind?

n “I received’t say that I learnt this artwork kind. It’s there in our tradition. In nearly all Arab-Berber villages, the ladies dance once they come collectively. It acts as remedy for us. Earlier than Christianity and Islam got here into the area, we have been nomadic in nature travelling alongside the River Nile. And on the best way, we integrated numerous dance kinds particularly from North Africa, and with goddess Ishtar being the primary feminine deity, the excessive priestess within the temples would carry out this dance. This dance for me is greater than an artwork, it’s a sacred ceremony. However with Christianity and puritanism making inroads, this was seen as a pagan artwork kind and slowly relegated to the sidelines. Within the late 18th century, this artwork slowly discovered its approach into bordellos and with it even the title modified. From ‘raqs el sharqi’ it grew to become stomach dance. When rock and roll, and jazz nonetheless retain their names, why change the title of this artwork kind. The colonisers didn’t present any respect to even the terminology. They negated its religious id and centered solely on its sexual side. For the westerners, we’re all unique they usually distorted our tradition and that is what I needed to vary.

You by no means began out as a dancer, when and the way did this transformation happen?

n Throughout my scholar days, once I was in England, I used to be influenced by the African Nationwide Congress motion. The anti-apartheid unrest touched me and the one approach I might present my protest was by becoming a member of the Zulu theatre. If I used to be silent, I knew it meant that I used to be colluding with these perpetrating the injustice. So I needed to discuss. Being a girl within the West and an Arab-Berber, I needed to be seen to be heard. And theatre was the one place the place I might specific my anger in a really democratic method. I’m a solo dancer however I needed to utilise the house given to me on the stage, so I turned choreographer and in accordance with the piece, I select the variety of dancers. House to me is esoteric and I’m eager to invoke its power and religious that means. After I utilise the sacred geometry of the house, it offers extra energy to my efficiency and ideas. Even the prop of a lightweight for me is a part of the theatre and a solution to interpret my message. So I opened up the theatre for the dance of the orient.

So is political activism an integral a part of your performances?

n Sure, as an Arab in an European world, I do know what it means to face discrimination. Therefore, I empathise with the struggles of Afro-People. Maya Angelou has influenced me rather a lot, and I’ve choreographed a dance the place she recites a poem in her personal voice. The Civil Rights motion, proper from Martin Luthur, to Rosa Parks to Obama all have been part of my dance repertoire. As a author, I’ve written items and carried out on it. And sure, I’m female and a feminist. I rejoice womanhood by way of my dance. Of late, I can see a wave in direction of the far proper in lots of international locations. That is scary and we’ve got to be vigilant. We might lose in a single occasion what folks like Simone de Beauvoir had received for us. As a girl I’ve many layers, I’m a mom, a daughter, a lover, and a spouse. The dancer in me helps me reveal these numerous layers . I’ve to talk about my rights and the injustice being completed. The day I received’t speak about that is when I’m useless.

What you hope to take again from this journey to India?

n India isn’t new to me. I’ve been a frequent customer and the folks dancers of Rajasthan, particularly the Kalbeliyas have impressed me. Possibly the actual fact that also they are nomads helped me perceive their artwork kind. I discover many similarities between the 2 dance kinds. I’ve been bringing my college students and making them perceive that there are such a lot of diversified dance kinds and we needs to be open to assimilating them. That is my first journey to South India and I wish to see Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, and different dance kinds which can be distinctive right here. I additionally wish to perceive the tradition and custom behind these artwork kinds. I don’t know Tamil or Malayalam however I can talk by way of my dance. Dance being a standard language, I do know folks will perceive what I attempt for. If I write a play, then I’m restricted by the language, however by way of dance I can attain out to all human beings.

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