Monday, 16 July 2007

In Iraq, This Art Takes Courage

By Michael Luo
Published: Tuesday, October 31, 2006

BAGHDAD: The members of the national dance troupe of Iraq are performers without an audience. They rehearse daily, but hardly ever put on a show.

Yet each turn of the hip and dip at the waist in their choreographed pieces has become weighted with a dangerous new reality, even as they wait for the chaos around them to subside so they can perform again. In today's Iraq, with conservative religious parties and radical militias exerting growing influence over every aspect of life, even dancing is an act of bravery.

"Society is overwhelmed by these religious ideologies," said Tariq Ibrahim, a male dancer in the Baghdad troupe, the Iraqi National Folklore Group. "Now a woman on the street without a head scarf attracts attention. What about a woman onstage dancing?"

Together they are a band of 10 women and 15 men from varied religious backgrounds. Once they toured the world together. Today they are simply trying to survive, hoping one day to thrive again as a troupe. But the religiosity sweeping Iraq does not bode well for their future.

Female participation in folk dancing is considered haram, or forbidden, in Islam. Ayatollah al-Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, has issued strict guidelines against dancing in various situations. The country's Shiite-led government, the dancers said, is naturally trying to marginalize them.

"Religion in its essence does not match with art," said Fouad Thanoon, the group's director and lead choreographer. "So when religion and government come together, that will affect art very much."

The group has more immediate worries about extremists. Recently one of its members, Bushra Yousif, 21, a petite woman with delicate features who has been with the group for six years, received a note at home warning her to leave within 48 hours. A bullet was included in the envelope.

She was probably singled out because of her profession, she said, but she will continue to attend rehearsals every day. She loves dancing too much, she said, describing it as the highest form of art to "deliver a message through your body."

"Dying for this group would be like being martyred," she said, adding that it is a risk she accepts.

The group, which began in 1971, is dedicated to preserving the folk dancing heritage of Iraq, performing traditional dances drawn from across that country's history and geography. The troupe's first two decades were golden years, when dancers trained with master instructors from overseas and frequently went on international tours.

In 1980 the dancers performed at the United Nations in New York and visited Paris. They have gone to Italy, Japan and China - 60 countries in all - and won numerous prizes along the way.

The economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations in the early 1990s brought most of that to a halt. But just a year before the American-led invasion in 2003, the group enjoyed a rebirth with a burst of freedom under Saddam Hussein's government, performing almost every week here.

"The audiences were huge," Thanoon, the group's director said. "The theaters were overbooked."

But the group has been in suspended animation since the invasion began. It has performed just four times in Iraq and made two brief trips to Jordan and Dubai since 2003. The violence that surrounds it makes holding performances impossible.

"It is absurd," Ibrahim said. "It is not logical to have a performance group that only practices."

The dance troupe had mainly supported itself with ticket sales before the fall of Saddam's government, but when performances ended that became impossible. The current government has not compensated for that loss, the dancers said. They receive tiny stipends, amounting to about $140 a month, but even that is not guaranteed. The money is usually barely enough to cover each dancer's rent. Because the dancers rehearse every day from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., it is almost impossible for them to get second jobs.

The present government, controlled by conservative religious parties, cares little for the arts, al-Damalouji said, so it is not inclined to support groups like the dance troupe.

"Iraq is without a doubt an Islamic society, but Islam is not our only culture," she said. "All the other cultures are being denied by this government. There is an attempt to change Iraqi culture in general."

In this climate the dancers said they must censor themselves. The group recently played a small role in a theatrical production in support of the country's national reconciliation plan, put on for some employees of the Ministry of Culture, but Thanoon advised his dancers, for their own sake, to minimize any shaking of their hips or shoulders. The result was a rigid routine that seemed more martial than elegant.

Most of the women in the group go to elaborate lengths to hide their occupation from their neighbors, even though some of their faces are well known in Iraq from their performances on television under the old government.

Subhi, who lives in a mostly Shiite neighborhood dominated by militiamen, said she told her neighbors that she had quit her dancing and was working as a receptionist.

On a recent trip to Jordan for a cultural festival, she had her husband load her luggage in the car in the middle of the night. Even her husband's family did not know that she was going to perform. She told them she was visiting her brother in Kirkuk.

Dumoaa Jamal was with the group for 10 years, but her uncle forced her to quit after the invasion because he deemed it too dangerous. But she returned three months ago, and tries to allay his fears by making sure she comes to rehearsals dressed in inconspicuous clothing and a head scarf hiding her long flowing hair.

"I wish it could be 24 hours a day," she said about the group's rehearsals. "When I enter the theater, it is as if everything from outside is gone. It is as if I have entered a different world."

Madeeh Qasim and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times in Baghdad contributed reporting.

Source: International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Achieving the Ideal Bellydance Posture

by Cinthia (??)
published: Sept 22, 2006 (??)

For all of you aspiring belly dancers out there: here’s how to improve your dance posture and get everyone’s attention.

Stand up with your back against a wall. Lift your chest, keeping your shoulders down and your neck stretched tall. Your feet should be hip-width apart with the back of your heels touching the wall. Bend your knees (and keep them bent no matter what!) Keep your upper back resting against the wall.

Now, the key part: take one of your hand and slide it behind you in the small of your lower back. It is very likely that you’ve got a gap between your hand and the wall, which means that you are arching and need to align your lower back against the wall. If your hand can’t fit in there because your entire back is touching the wall, congratulations, you’ve got the straight back fundamental for the ideal belly dancing posture

How to align your lower back against the wall:

Put your hand on your tailbone (coccyx) and push down on it until your pelvis tilts away from the wall and every vertebrae in your back has contact with the wall. Notice that keeping your knees nicely bent helps a lot! Remember to keep your upper back to the wall as you do this so that you are not bending your upper body forward.

Also, the chest should remain lifted and the weight of the shoulders pushed down until you feel some resistance in your back. The lift of the rib cage will bring strong opposition from your back muscles, which are pulling down. You know you are doing this right when you start to feel some tension on your lats (muscles right below the shoulder blades). If you feel your lats pulling down and lengthening, it’s working, girls (and boys)! After all this hard work, the persistent arch should have disappeared - or gradually be disappearing - by now. You may not get there for a while, but the more you push your body, the closer you’ll get to your goal. Keep pushing!

If you think you’ve got it, let yourself get used to the feeling of a straight back, bent knees and a lifted upper body. Hold the position and then slowly release. Pay attention to your body’s natural tendency to arch. Repeat over and over until you start to get a feel of what your muscles have to do each time in order to make the right posture happen. It may feel unnatural and stiff, but once you practice keeping this posture at all times, you will eventually get used to it and it will become second nature.

I assure you, getting this posture right will give you a totally different look as a dancer. When you are able to hold yourself like this, you will not only be able to command attention easily on the dance floor, but you will also have better control of most belly dancing movements and steps, including spins and turns (where a straight back is absolutely essential). And last but not least, once you get comfortable with your new posture, getting into it will immediately make you feel more confident about yourself and about your dancing.

Good luck!!

Source: Wannabe Nothing

P/S: She's not a pro or teacher, but I just wanna save this here to read later.