21 September 2001 Nanaimo Daily News BY LYNN WELBURN
To mark the opening of the Scotiabank Dance Centre in downtown Vancouver, some Nanaimo area dancers will be on hand this week-end to celebrate.
Well-known local belly dancer Lynette Harper, and several of the members of her dance troupe. Earthfire. will be among those to cut some fancy steps as part of the opening celebrations for the $9 million state-of-the-art facility. The building, designed by Architectura in collaboration with Arthur Erickson, was officially opened Monday and throughout the week a variety of dance events have been held to mark the occasion.
“The opening of the dance centre is the realization of a really long-time dream,” says Harper, a former member of The Dance Center. the organization which helped make the physical centre a reality. “We were talking about the need for a place 10 years ago when I was on the Dance Centre board and even before that. It’s really amazing that it has come true and it’s going to mean a lot dancers all over the province. “This is a big deal for the dance community of B.C.”
Harper and her Vancouver cousin, Gail (Rahma) Haddad. were born of Lebanese parents and have both been professional dancers in B.C. for more than two decades, choreographers for almost as long, and are considered long-time leaders in the Middle Eastern dance community. Saturday they will be joined by fellow dancers from Earthfire, other dancers from the lower Mainland and Arab drummers who will demonstrate the powerful and elaborate rhythms that shape the music and dance of the Middle East in a presentation called Zaghareet – Magic Carpet to Dance.
Zaghareet, explains Harper, is the ululating cry found all across the Middle East and parts of Africa, a cry used both in celebration and mourning. It’s always heard as dancers perform, sometimes to cheer on a particularly good performance or to encourage dancers to greater efforts.
While many of the events at the new Dance Centre are performances, Harper and her colleagues will be offering more of a participatory activity. Everyone can participate in Middle Eastern dance, Harper says, because it crosses age, gender, ability levels and body types.
Zaghareet begins with a lively celebratory procession from a public area of the Centre. As visitors arrive at the Centre, they will encounter a boisterous and welcoming group of dancers, brightly dressed in traditional village costumes of Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and North Africa. The milling and dancing crowd, accompanied by live drumming, the dancers’ finger cymbals. and rhythmic clapping, will form into a procession moves to one of the Centre’s large studios.
Once the crowd is inside the studio. Harper and Haddad will guide adults and children on an imaginary magic carpet ride to villages in Egypt, Turkey, and Lebanon. At each ‘stop’, participants will learn basic rhythm patterns, dance along with some local celebration, visit with women gossiping and dancing at the village well, or warm themselves by an (imaginary) outdoor hearth as they learn to zaghareet.
“It’s fun but it’s also education. They’ll learn about the dance forms and gain some understanding of the land and cultures and societies of the Middle East,” says Harper, adding this understanding seems even more vital now in the wake of last week’s tragic events in New York and Washington.
After getting a feel for some basic Middle Eastern rhythms and movement styles dancers, visitors, musicians — will create another procession, and emerge from the studio, parading through the spaces of the Centre, dancing, clapping, and celebrating with a zaghareet.
Joyfully eclectic, the high-energy Earthfire dancers perform in a wide range of styles says Harper, including Turkish, Gypsy (Roma), Egyptian and Lebanese.