After a truly transformational workshop with Marianne Williamson, I boarded the Eurostar to Paris for a weekend of performances, workshops and la vie parisienne. (Yes, I realise that this is getting to be a habit.)
When I arrived around 10.30pm, I took the Metro to the Theatre de l' A.S.I.E.M, in a very exclusive area, a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower. I was fully expecting everyone to be piling out at the end of the show. But, of course, they were working to Arabic time, so I hadn't missed that much.
I arrived in time to see a number of soloists performing (not to mention special guests from Cairo, Aida Noor and Tito Saif, but more of that in my next post). They were gorgeous looking in exquisite cabaret costumes, and danced with great elegance and precision - but they were all dancing oriental or 'raqs sharqi'.
There was not one baladi or saidi piece. In fact the only dancer to do something different was Raphaelle Masson (see pic), who did her very original top hat dance. She was wonderful, as always, and her dance seemed to be well-received, but Raphaelle did say that there were the purists there who felt that it shouldn't have been part of the show.
It appears that in Paris soloists really only perform raqs sharqi. It's seen as 'proper' dancing, in a way that other styles are not. And of course the costuming shows off a good figure to perfection. But it is only one aspect of a very rich and diverse dance form.
On the way back to her flat, Raphaelle and I discussed the difference between the French and British dance scenes. Raphaelle feels that we Brits are much more open-minded when it comes to this dance. We like authentic Egyptian dance, but we also enjoy experimenting with different styles and appreciate variety. Viz the huge interest in burlesque, belly burlesque, arabic fusion etc etc.
In France, perhaps because there is a much larger Arab community, authenticity is very important. Raphaelle is an exception because while she understands Middle Eastern dance music and the different dance styles better than most, she likes to be innovative and try new things. (The photo above is Raphaelle performing her sublime 'Emma Peel' number.) That would be applauded in the UK. But in France, apparently everyone wants to look like an Egyptian. And yet, how can a Westerner doing this dance be truly authentic?