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    24-Aug-2014

Latin, oriental dance gain popularity in Amman

 

Imana Gunawan, The Jordan Times

 

AMMAN — Ziad Emad Hajir stood in the middle of a mirrored room in the basement of a building near the 5th Circle. The men around him stood waiting while the women strapped on colourful high-heeled shoes.

“All right everybody,” Hajir said, “let’s partner up and dance.”

Hajir teaches tango to adults at Tempo Dance Academy, one of the studios in Amman that offers partner dance classes.

Since the 1990s, Latin dance forms — including tango, salsa and bachata —  have gained popularity in Amman, according to several dance teachers.

But it didn’t used to be that way.

Rio Asir, franchisee for Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Amman, home to the first Arthur Murray branch in the Arab world, said establishing the studio back in 1997 was a challenge. He owned an independent studio before starting Arthur Murray Amman.

“I had lots of difficulties promoting classic partner dancing of Europe and Latin America; dancing in Jordan is new, and some people wrote against this sport in one newspaper,” Asir told The Jordan Times.

However, his determination did not wane.

He advertised the benefits of dancing to the rhythm where a person can express movement.

People now realise the benefits, said Sameera Asir, Rio’s daughter and administrator of Arthur Murray Amman.

“We treated it like it was a sport, and when you treat it that way, people are more OK with it,” Sameera said.

Since Arthur Murray opened, many studios have emerged around the city. Some partner dance studios have been established by former Arthur Murray students or teachers, Sameera said.

The Ministry of Culture does not keep an official tally on the number of dance schools in Amman. However, web sources show there are over 10 studios that teach dance in the city, in addition to several gyms that have also started offering dance classes. Some specialise in specific dance genres while others provide an array of options.

“[Partner dance] became a craze. People were excited by it; it was something different, and it was a way to release tension,” Sameera said.

Yet despite its popularity in the capital, she said residents of other governorates mostly do not accept dancing, especially partner dance, either due to spiritual and cultural reasons or because they “have never been exposed to it”.

For Staz Dawson, supervisor at Arthur Murray Amman, the interest in partner dancing in the Middle East was unexpected. He transferred to the Amman franchise from the school’s branch in Connecticut in the US.

He thought that “if there’s a studio here and it’s doing well, then there must be an opening somehow”.

“It’s a rewarding thing to allow people to see the different side of the culture that they might not know and otherwise won’t get to experience,” Dawson said.

 

A dance for one

 

But for those who prefer to dance alone, there are other options.

Another popular dance form is the oriental belly dance, suitable for all ages, but especially popular among middle-aged or older women, according to Roberto Massis, managing director of Roberto Dance Academy near the 7th Circle.

“It’s popular for women who like single dances and don’t want to dance in couples,” he said.

The classes, which are exclusive to women, are also popular because they require a lot of active movements, so women can shape their body and lose weight while learning graceful movements and expressing themselves, Massis noted.

But unlike partner dancing, belly dancing has been around since the 1940s in Egypt, and first spread to Lebanon, Syria and Turkey before expanding to the rest of the Middle East, he explained.

 

An underground community

 

Many who have danced both partner and oriental dance have said that they enjoyed the community feeling.

“It’s a great community, it’s a great exercise, we’re always in good shape,” said Karma Malhas, one of the advanced students at Arthur Murray.

Malhas, a mother of three and grandmother of three, has been dancing with the school for eight years. She said her family is supportive of her interests, and has not run into any social problems because the studio “is like a gym” and dance is “a sport”.

Yet there are also others who experience dance differently, according to Dawson.

“Sometimes we get people in who are overcoming social barriers where they can’t tell anybody that they’re dancing because of spiritual reasons,” he explained. “Or we get people — wedding couples — in where the woman is covered, so we would have to adjust the way that we teach.”

Dareen Khoury, co-owner of Tango Studio in Jabal Luweibdeh, noted that the community tries to keep a low profile.

“Because of the culture, we try to keep a low profile, so we rely a lot on word of mouth,” she said.

Hajir said the community is small in Amman because partner dancing is new to Jordan, but he and many others are trying to make the scene bigger.

Even so, many, like Hajir, just “live” the dance.

“Even if it’s just for three minutes, tango is a meditation but for two people,” Hajir said.

‘’Tango is the ultimate freedom, a moment of enlightenment of the human soul.”

 

 

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