Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Daily Gazette sat down with Farnaz Perry, an Arabic language instructor and organizer of the Oriental Dance Coalition, a group that focuses on oriental dancing, known colloquially as belly dancing. Meetings are in Kohlberg 302 on Wednesdays 4:00–5:30, Fridays 7:00-8:30, and Saturdays 10:00-11:30.
Daily Gazette: How did you get your inspiration for these oriental dancing sessions that you’ve started?
Farnaz Perry: There were several reasons. In the Arabic department, we are encouraged to initiate and organize cultural activities for the students. We’re also encouraged to do activities we like and because I liked belly dancing, that was one of my projects. Separately, some of the students came to me and showed interest. Since the students were interested and I am interested, it seemed like a mutual thing.
DG: Where did you learn oriental dance?
FP: I learned oriental dancing in Beirut, Lebanon. I had never danced before in my life before 2003 … I was a patient of naturopath (a health practitioner who uses natural methods for healing), and he suggested oriental dancing for me. I was very surprised, because I did not associate oriental dancing with healing. When I was growing up in Lebanon, we were discouraged from oriental dancing because they thought of it as something a woman who was not very intelligent would do. Also, I was not encouraged at all to show my femininity for cultural reasons.
When I started belly dancing, I was very fortunate to have a teacher who wasn’t just a belly dancing teacher, but also involved in theatre drama and professional acting. She did it in a very artistic way and a holistic way where she understands all the emotional and energizing benefits of dance. I’ve had a total of 2 years of lessons, but spread out over a period of 4 years. Lessons were once or twice a week.
My life changed a little bit after I started [belly dancing]. I became aware of my issues with feminine energy and health, and I felt a lot of release.
DG: Tell me more about the art of belly dancing.
FP: There’s a difference between regular belly dancing and oriental dance. It’s better to call it oriental dance because it takes away the stigma of belly dancing. The purpose is to dance in a very subtle way, not the exaggerated movements that make belly dancing seem cheap. Belly dancing is an art form, whereas a lot of the other dances are just technique.
DG: How has this oriental dance group been progressing along?
FP: It started three weeks ago on October 30, and the same people do not show up at every session. 50 percent of the time, nobody shows up. I feel like there was a lot of interest shown before the sessions, but I was expecting more people to show up.
DG: What’s a typical oriental dancing session like?
FP: Students should feel free to come at any time, and skill level does not matter. We just dance together. I end up teaching a lot because some of the people have had no dance experience, but my goal is to informally dance together. We teach each other what we know.
DG: What are some challenges that you have faced or are currently facing?
FP: Some of the challenges include finding an ideal space, because the studio in the dance department is very popular and has priorities. Our current space isn’t very ideal and the sound system is not as good as the studio. Oftentimes, people don’t come.
DG: Will you still continue this if people continue to not come?
FP: I think I’ll continue this for at least a while because I want to see if it’s going to pick up or not. I get something out of it, even if it’s boring. I still get to enjoy myself dancing.
DG: If this does pick up, what are some upcoming ideas you have?
FP: We’re planning to bring a professional oriental dancer to do a workshop next semester. I also contacted my teacher and she suggested using videos and DVDs. I would also like to have live music. For instance, an Oriental drummer could come and accompany us.