What strikes you most while you meet the enigmatic Leila Haddad are these intricate braids cascading down her shoulders, and ornamented with shiny threads and steel 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 appears to be like 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 type, which when translated in English means ‘oriental dance’. And he or she 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 creative journey that has helped her convey into the limelight a dance type 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 type?
n “I received’t say that I learnt this artwork type. 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 included numerous dance types 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 type and slowly relegated to the sidelines. Within the late 18th century, this artwork slowly discovered its means 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 type. The colonisers didn’t present any respect to even the terminology. They negated its religious identification and centered solely on its sexual facet. For the westerners, we’re all unique and so they distorted our tradition and that is what I wished to vary.
You by no means began out as a dancer, when and the way did this transformation happen?
n Throughout my scholar days, after I was in England, I used to be influenced by the African Nationwide Congress motion. The anti-apartheid unrest touched me and the one means 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 area given to me on the stage, so I turned choreographer and based on the piece, I select the variety of dancers. House to me is esoteric and I’m eager to invoke its power and religious which means. Once I utilise the sacred geometry of the area, 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 strategy 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 so much, 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 have a good time womanhood by means 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 have now to be vigilant. We might lose in a single occasion what folks like Simone de Beauvoir had bought 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 carried out. 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. Perhaps the actual fact that also they are nomads helped me perceive their artwork type. I discover many similarities between the 2 dance types. I’ve been bringing my college students and making them perceive that there are such a lot of diverse dance types and we must be open to assimilating them. That is my first journey to South India and I need to see Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, and different dance types which might be distinctive right here. I additionally need to perceive the tradition and custom behind these artwork types. I don’t know Tamil or Malayalam however I can talk by means of my dance. Dance being a standard language, I do know folks will perceive what I try for. If I write a play, then I’m restricted by the language, however by means of dance I can attain out to all human beings.