8 Sep ’14
It’s been about 2 months since I’ve been back from abroad, and I’m still trying to assign words to how I feel about it. Currently, I am still digesting and piecing together a narrative of the observations that I made while I was away. When they’d happen, I’d quickly pen them into my journal – and now I am drawing conclusions, parallels, and even more interesting observations with the superpower of hindsight.
Originally, I was going to conduct interviews and take down narratives to get an insider’s perspective on the dance traditions of the area. Upon arriving, however, it was very difficult to make the women I was speaking to feel safe enough to speak honestly to me. I decided then to be a little sneakier- and just observe and participate in as much dancing as I possibly could.
One particular instance, I think, presents a more interesting perspective than one I could’ve ever possibly gotten from interviews. Westerners commonly mistake solo, improvised dance as something that is danced for women, by women; meaning, that it is not danced publically. While that is not true, a very interesting thing happens when it is danced privately. I was dancing in a Berber woman’s home in Ain Leuh with a group of four other women – three from my cohort, the fourth was another local Berber woman. The woman whose home we were in cautiously closed the door to the room, and then the shutters on the windows. Then, she began dancing fiercely- like, Beyonce fiercely. She whipped off her hijab and began twirling her waist long hair. She danced on her knees, flipping her hair in circles as if she were rather flipping the bird to the patriarchy.
Dancing privately for women created this environment of societal dissent, which is not present in the dance when it is danced publically. In a small group of women, this woman said, “we understand each other. We understand patriarchal oppression, even if it may be in different ways.” It was a moment of solidarity and trust, a moment of sisterly love, and a moment of understanding. It was a moment of fleeting sadness that in order to dance (and express) freely, we had to close the window shutters. This was in stark contrast to the dancing I experienced when I (inadvertently) crashed a wedding celebration in Azrou.
I’d like to focus on this contrast in my research paper, using evidence of western fetishization and orientalism to support the use of dance to express dissent. I will also look for more materials that support this observation. It is common for westerners to believe that solo, improvised dance is an expression of oneself that is sexual or sensual in nature, but actually it is an expression of culture, of celebration, of solidarity, and of dissent.
I feel that I would be in a similar place if I had kept my original plan. Since this subject isn’t exactly new, I feel that I am in a good place and not starting again from square one.