Anumita takes a roller coaster desert safari in Dubai. Here’s an in-depth report on Arabian dance performances, Tanoura and Belly Dance.
Sitting under the open air on Persian rugs spread out under my feet, I felt the gaiety in the air. Pluming up with the smoke drifting from the ‘sheesha’ (hukka) set at the different tables was a distinct aroma of spices and flecks of fantasy. As the sun went down, the chill in the Dubai air was distinct.
Deserts have very contrasting temperature during day and night.
I pulled my parka a little closer, being careful I don’t smudge the fresh henna design on my hand. There were peoples from various countries. I bit into the piece of kebab and watched as the stage lights dimmed. Music streamed from the speakers. There was an open stage at the center of our dessert oasis.
The desert safari in Dubai was a roller coaster ride up and down the dunes. It ended with many of us gathering at the camp surrounded with stores and small food stands, in a Bedouin fashion. There was show of Arabian dance performances. Tanoura Dance was performed by a male artiste and the show stopper Belly dance was showcased by an enchanting female artiste. The beat and the mystical songs got me thinking about the origin of these beautiful art forms.
Tanoura is essentially an Egyptian folk dance. It is usually performed by Sufi men for ritualistic purposes. I was a bit disappointed by the lack of information on this particular dance form. Quite similar to the long skirt Sufi dancer twirling around, the Tanoura dancers wear colorful long skirt-like costume with geometrical patterns on them. With the constant turning of their body and the swirling of the skirt, the designs emerge. They pick the skirt up and shift between layers of the skirt, making a beautiful vision of rotating pattern. The finale of the dance includes a light show on the turban, shirt and the different layers of the skirt. The light dimmed and a spectacular moving light swirled around the stage on tunes of the mesmerising music. The clap of the audience cheered the performer to a frenzy of movements.
The anticipation grew as the lights dazzled and a beautiful woman clad in pink costume stepped on the stage. The crowded cheers and dancer shook her hips to the initial beats of the haunting melody. The show stopper was here. We were all transfixed to the sensual and intricate movements of the belly dancer.
The origin of Belly Dancing is shrouded in mystery. There are few theories about it. Some say it originates from fertility dances performed by priestesses in the temples. The belly movement essentially depicts fertility, similar to child birthing movements. It has been traditionally an all women dance, performed during child birth. Men were not allowed to see it. Many records of such dance have been found as early as 1000BCE in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Greece. The French called it ‘dance du ventre’ or the dance of the stomach, which took the literary translation of Belly Dance in America.
It is said to have originated in India more than 5000 years ago and then travelled with the gypsy tribes. This dance has gone by many names, as it changed countries. It was called Roma in Europe, Ghawazee in Egypt, and Nawar in India. The Flamenco is also a gypsy dance originating from the Belly Dance.
The original purpose of this dance has been religious. Eroticism is a much later interpolation. It is traditionally danced bare foot, as it keeps the dancer connected to the earth. Different props like snakes, swords and fire is native to this dance form. Most of the props are symbolic. The use of clappers or small cymbals clasped in the palm of the dancer, keeps the beat of the music with the body. In contrast with the western dances, this form of oriental dance is more muscle based. It does not have much foot or hand work. The original Belly Dance does not have any foot or knee raised movement above the hip level. It is essentially a dance designed for the female body, with rhythmic movement of the hips, abdomen and the chest.
Meanwhile, the music picked up pace. The dancer was moving around the stage and the audience was swaying to her moves. There were cheering and clapping. The finale was a five minutes non-stop hip movement alternating with stomach movement. The crowd went wild. As the music stopped the audience roared with applause. The dancer bowed and stepped down. All of a sudden the chill of the desert air seem to have acquired a certain degree of heat. With smiles and goodbyes we had bee-lined to our respective vehicles. Soon, we returned to the humdrum of our lives.
Text, Video and Pix by Author
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