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"You are a Very Nice Flower but without the Smell"

Tarab and the Role of Western Dancers in Oriental Dance part 2
By Safran

On the 26th-28th October 2012 the 8th International Oriental Dance Festival took place in Tallinn, Estonia. For the first time in the Festival's history a panel discussion with experts was held, which explored how oriental dance is perceived in the Middle East and what the role of Western dancers are in the development of the dance.

This is the second of two articles. It concentrates on tarab and what the role of western dancers are in the development Oriental dance. The author of this article, Safran was the moderator of the discussion.

Our panel of experts consisted of:

Mohamed Abou Shebika, who has worked as a folklore dancer, musician and band leader. Currently Mr. Abou Shebika is organizing oriental dance events across the world, including 4 festivals in Egypt every year.

Zeina Abou Shebika, who led a successful career as a dancer in Cairo and Alexandria in the 90's, and is now an internationally acknowledged dancer and instructor. She also assists her husband Mohamed with the organizing of dance events.

Outi of Cairo, a dancer originally from Finland, who has been working in Cairo since 2005.

Iris Frolov, an Estonian dancer who has worked in different Middle Eastern countries (Jordan, U.A.E, Egypt) since 2007 and is currently working in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.


Tarab is an emotional state that is created by the music, dancer's emotion's, and if there is an audience, by the audience's emotional reaction. Tarab is often described as a certain type of ecstasy, an elevated emotional condition. According to Zeina, there is a clear difference between dancing for oneself or for the audience. Tarab is more likely to happen when you dance for yourself, but can be reached on stage.

When asked, what makes a dancer's performance special, Mohamed answered that good dancers are just like actors - they have to make their audiences believe them. Outi added that acting can not just come from the face, but from the inside of the dancer. Mohamed sees a lot of Western dancers in his work, who put a lot of effort into their technique and have beautiful choreographies. But a dancer's job is not complete if they come to the stage with only a choreography. Mohammed said that this kind of dancer is like a very nice flower that has no smell.

Mohamed insisted that a dancer must understand the music and make a connection to the actual emotions of the song. That, among other things means, that also the lyrics of the song must be translated and understood. Outi agreed that a professional dancer should get the feeling out of the music. She suggested that when dancers choose music, they should pick a piece that they really can feel for. To help express the feeling, a dancer can relate to emotions and situations in their own life. Mohamed brought an example of choosing a sad song about love - if it is danced to with a specific person in mind, the emotions will be also evident to the audience.

The dance today and tomorrow

When asked about her role in oriental dance, Outi said that she acknowledges that the dance has been there for a 100 years and will continue on, and that she only plays a little part. However, her work in Egypt has helped her understand the differences between how Egyptians and Western dancers see and feel the dance. Outi aims to be a translator by analyzing what the Egyptian dancers feel and communicating it to Western dancers in an understandable way.

Cooperation and exchange in dance also take place in the bigger picture. Zeina said that there is more and more interaction between Egyptians and foreigners, between technique and feeling. She and Mohammed believe that oriental dance has a bright future ahead. For example, when Mohamed had just moved to Sweden in 1995, there were very few oriental dancers there, and Egypt only hosted one festival. But now the dance scene has livened up and oriental dance has made great developmentd. And it keeps on progressing - the technique is perfecting, new styles are appearing and the artform is spreading across the world.

Safran is an oriental dancer, instructor and choreographer based in Estonia. She is also a member of the team organizing the annual International Oriental Dance Festival taking place in Tallinn, Estonia.