Lynette Harper finds belly dance plays a role in two powerful films. Reprinted with permission from the Middle Eastern Dance Association newsletter, Sahda, June 2016.
This term, I’m teaching an anthropology course about Arab women in the Middle East and the diaspora. Two of the most influential films that we watch are “Four Women of Egypt,” a 1997 NFB documentary by Tahani Rached, and “Sabah,” a 2007 romantic comedy by Ruba Nadda. Both writer-directors are Arab-Canadian women who have earned awards for their film-making. And both of these films include a belly dance segment or two, which contributes significantly to the message of the film.
“Four Women of Egypt” revolves around four remarkable and articulate women, social activists and friends, who were born during the colonial occupation of Egypt (which ended in the early 1950’s). An array of historical news clips and photographs provide context for the reminiscences, casual conversations and intense discussions between the four. They connect the politics and ideologies of past and present through their own experience. While they share many values, they also hold opposing religious, social, and political views. Well worth watching, you can see the 86 minute documentary on Youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=k995gi011iU Late in the film, while the four share tea and discussion with their daughters, you’ll notice that the topic of belly dance arises briefly – and during the closing credits, one of the daughters breaks into an informal dance.
Belly dance contributes more significantly to the narrative in “Sabah,” an appealing movie that manages to be charming and meaningful. The film explores romance and family dynamics in the diaspora; the obligations, opportunities, and conflicts that arise for one Arab woman living in Canada. Canadian film star Arsinée Khanjian is featured, along with the talented Roula Said – a singer, actress, and belly dancer who has inspired many of us with her dance workshops and performances. This film can be bought or rented, and you can see part of the film (including one of the belly dance segments) on Youtube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxGWWvjCS6Y
Do you have a favourite belly dance segment in a movie NOT made in a Middle Eastern or North African country? Let me know the name of the movie and why it’s your favourite, and I’ll compile a list to share. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org