I Need a Belly Dancer Outfit, No More Hijab Moves

Sunday 20 December 202012:50 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

آخر ما رقصت به كان ثوب صلاة… أريد بدلة رقصٍ

A friend once asked me if I would like something in particular that he could get for me when he returns from Egypt. I replied "a belly dance outfit".

My friend next to me heard me and was quick to say "Don’t joke about such things, it will earn you a bad reputation" so I assured her I was not kidding.

If I had mastered dancing, I might have taken an altogether different path in my life. Yes, I love dancing. If only hip flexibility would return one day.

My love for dance was a shy little secret that I did not reveal until a harsh lesson taught me not to fear anything. I was twenty-eight at the time. 

That day I decided to announce "I love to dance." I posted a picture of me standing atop a green hill, my arms raised just like dancers’ arms. I took a deep breath as if a big weight had been lifted off my chest, I only felt gratitude towards dancing.

I resort to it during my happy and sad times alike, even when I am sick, my appetite for dancing increases.

 In restaurants, the hijab binds me, and ‘God binds no one but beasts’, but its power does not extend to my tapping feet, which flee the judging gaze of those around me

I've never been addicted to anything in my life; no smoking or chewing ‘qat’ (or ‘khat’), no shopping or watching TV. Everything in my life I can control, except dance, it alone controls me.. Not only during my waking hours, since my head may move as I sleep in response to tunes coming from a nearby passing car.

While the rest of creation wakes up in praise and reverence, I wake up shaking to the tunes of my alarm clock.

I cannot approve of a new dress until after I try dancing in it, and since my dancing is involuntary and unexpected, the last piece of clothing I danced in was a prayer gown that my friend had given me; the poor woman had only meant to do a good deed.

When I go on a trip, dance usually precedes the exploration of the place, not necessarily using any professional moves. It is enough for me to imitate the sound of a drum: ‘tik tik dum’, and then I make several jumps.

My day at the office sours if dance music is on. It is mere torture to me, but I con the situation by closing my eyes, as if thinking of something important, and just dance in my mind.

In restaurants, my headscarf binds me, and ‘God binds no one but beasts’, but its power does not extend to my tapping feet, which flee those them to reside under the table.

Hiding my love for dance comes from the strict environment I grew up in. There, everything is forbidden; music, singing, let alone dancing, and belly-dancing in particular. Whoever sings is considered belonging to a fourth social class, based on some strange social division!

I don't remember what caused such a transformation in the mind of a faithful girl. In my imagination, I would travel and wander amongst all artforms. I would sample Umm Kulthum's voice, evaluate Nagwa Fouad's agility, and see myself on stage as Sherihan

I grew up consuming the ideas of my environment; the neighborhood, the school, the mosque. We girls had summer activities; courses in memorizing the Qur’an and studying intonation and doctrine on the hands of sheikhs. I was so diligent and ambitious that I dreamed of being a sheikh myself, but my tendency towards criticism and skepticism made it difficult for my thinking to remain ‘inside the box’. At the time, I would imitate the role of the preacher, distributing religious "cassettes" and leaflets. I would also pray and ask for guidance for my friends who listen to music all the time, but "everything must return to its origin" and the "wicked" genes won out in the end.

I do not remember what caused such a major transformation within the mind of a believing girl convinced of her ideas. At any rate I was not in constant agreement with the sheikhs. It all started gradually; in my imagination, I would travel and wander amongst all forms of art. I would sample Umm Kulthum's voice, evaluate Nagwa Fouad's agility, would be fascinated by the impishness of Soad Hosny, would daydream in front of Rushdy Abaza, and see myself on stage in place of Sherihan herself. Then with a sigh, I would "pray for forgiveness" and end my fantasizing and the waste of my time in mortal and worldly pleasures by consoling myself with, "In heaven, God willing."

When I longed to hear a song, I would launch secret negotiations within myself, ending with the agreement to listen to whatever I desired today, provided that I would atone for this sin by later fasting for three days. I granted myself the license to watch movies and plays, listen to songs, and dance during my "menstrual period", during which God has forbidden prayer - a pillar of religion - so won't He allow me to listen to music?

One year, the dance program "Hezzi Ya Nawa3em" became a popular and well-known tv show. I had not seen it, but like other students, I heard in our religious studies class how it is the embodiment of the "Masonic intellectual conquest intended to corrupt common sense and turn a faithful woman into an immoral one." The struggle continued between the religious half of me that sees dancing - especially oriental dancing - as sinful, and the other half of me that is infatuated by it.

It seems that my love for dancing is inherent. At the age of five, my mother would take me with her to our neighbors' house. It was there that I lived my glory days; delighted mothers would put brightly colored ribbons and a ‘Qarqoush’* on my head, the grandmother would begin singing what sounded like old country songs, they would then place me on a short circular table to dance, and they would clap.

A malicious neighbor warned my mother – perhaps under good intentions – of what I was doing, portraying it as some type of social vice. “Your daughter will never get married in the future,” the neighbor said. So, my mother stopped visiting those other good neighbors and forbade me of dancing in front of anyone.

“I granted myself the license to watch movies and plays, listen to songs, and dance during my "menstrual period", during which God has forbidden prayer - a pillar of religion - so won't He allow me to listen to music?”

There are still many taboos in our society, women being the first and foremost victims of their continued presence. Although this earns us some degree of indulgence on the one hand, it robs us of our lives in return; our decisions, our tendencies towards some things and sincerely expressing them. It robs us of our humanity. One mistake may lead us to the grave, and I do not know how and where the belief that God created women infallible and flawless came from!

Days pass by quickly... Yesterday talking about dancing was taboo, today a girl possessing a dance suit is considered morally dubious, and just as religious fatwas regarding music have changed, we will witness in the near future fatwas that recognize dancing as a fine and beautiful art... Until then I will continue to wait for my dance suit.

* The ‘Qarqoush’ is a head covering that mothers place on the heads of their children to protect them from the cold. Its origins date back to the Jews of Yemen.

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