Today, July 21st, is my twentieth anniversary of moving from Brazil to Italy. Once in Rome I became a professional bellydancer. Before I used to be a teacher, a translator, a writer… things like that. It's been a big changing of focus, from the brain to the body work. However, I have so many good souvenirs, I’d say only wonderful memories of those hard times!
During eight years I used to perform every Friday at this Egyptian restaurant (forever grateful to the lovely owners Donatella Di Carlo and Diaa Ismail).
Looking at old photos it came to my mind to start telling some stories, my friends! Old is gold. Here goes the series of seven short stories that I recently posted on my social network profiles.
This photo is from 2002 and I love it for different reasons. Because that day I was dancing with my mates of the Saad Ismail group, a nice troupe of dancers that became very good teachers and soloist performers - all of them. Behind me you can see the shadow of Pamela Ranya, who also became a great artist, a visual artist though. But I love this picture specially because it was taken by my beloved partner at that time. I used to complain because his very experienced photographic eye never had time to pay attention to my performances. But this time he did. And I’m lucky enough to keep this printed photo since then. One of a kind! I will return to this problem of the gaze… at the next story.
This photo is probably from 1999. A famous arab club with bad food and the most disgusting dressing room ever. There I started to perform seriously with live music. At the right side you can see the shadow of the great drummer Issa Salem. So many other crazy musicians came and became friends, we toured a lot, we played and performed everywhere in Italy. For years. Well, I must say that I edited this image. The original one shows several men’s heads and the dancer - me - like a little thing in the middle. It was a men’s world for sure. But at the same time, maybe because I was just a young South American, so open-minded, so far from all the issues that were starting to contrast the local catholic society and the new arab community, that - I admit - I never had any trouble or suffered any kind of prejudice. Italians and Arabs were discovering each other, they were almost in love... It was such a different atmosphere from the racism that is dominating the country now. And I was there, observing all that, while they were observing my dance.
Let’s show the trash side of life. This photo was taken at an Albanian club in Rome, almost 20 years ago. At that time, all my colleagues and dance friends used to perform at fancy restaurants, VIP parties, tv shows and so on. A bellydancer was quite well payed and could choose the venue. I don’t know exactly why - maybe because I was used to the upper class ambient in Brazil before moving to Italy - but here I was more interested in the common people. The dark side. I used to accept some gigs that no one else would want: this club is the perfect example. I performed there for months, or maybe a year, every Thursday if I’m not wrong. While the Kosovo War became harder, I could notice the clients more and more sad. Families who first came to watch Albanian tv or play cards disappeared. Only men, workers, clandestine, war refugees, little boys and old guys kept coming. And drinking. I even learned some Albanian songs to try to make them happier while looking at the dancer. But not. Nostalgia dries inside. We also used to dance on a circle, all together - that was beautiful. Italians used to treat Albanians like they treat African immigrants nowadays, I mean, very bad. The club closed in 1999. I will return once more to this question of the gaze... wait for the next story.
When I moved to Italy and started my journey as a full time bellydancer, I was on my 30’s. But this photo is from many years before: I was on my 20’s here. I danced only for myself then. My teacher and good friend Yasmin Nammu knows well that I took six years of practicing alone before performing in public. At the beginning, I could perform only at the dance studio haflas for a very few and close friends. Once my aunt invited me to perform at her house, it was maybe Christmas, maybe her birthday. Memory fails. Lots of relatives were there. I danced to Mohammed Abdul Wahab’s classic piece Aziza - honoring my lovely aunt whose nickname is Ziza. What does a bellydancer offer at each move? Which ancient worlds, which futures, which subject, which persona is behind the veil? What does the veil do not cover? Where do the audience eyes don’t reach? Not a word I heard back that night. The children were kind and soft and had fun for sure. My auntie’s husband made an embarrassing comment on my bellybutton. My father looked down the whole time. It was one of the saddest moments of my life. A few years later, I left my country. Without saying a word.
This is a friendship story. The series is coming to the end. Or maybe, is it only the beginning? The gorgeous dancers on this shoot from almost 20 years ago, Marialuisa Sales and Valentina Colagrossi, took later different paths on their dance journey. But they are still important part of my Italian dance memories and stories. The creative circle started at that time, 20 years ago, exactly in Rome. While working as a bellydancer on restaurants and night clubs, I fulfilled my daytime with classes of different dance styles, ancient cultures, history of the dance, Islamic culture, music and, specially, with creative conversations and projects. Lara, my partner and co-founder of the school, is virtually on this photo too. And many, many others friends started to earn space on my heart and compose a constellation that now I see as a successful, I'd say, a really happy net. Geneva and all the tribal sisters came in more recent years. Some I lost in the way. But somehow the love to my dance mates and the creativity that they inspire are endless. There's a last story to come.
The people on this photo crossed the Ocean, they emigrated with me. They’re my friends, my family, my colleagues, my characters, my population. They’re my dolls.
I lost many things on this twenty years journey, though I earned others. I lost my mother tongue. Stories are made of contents and specially by shapes sculptured with words. My second idiom, Italian, is too pragmatic to tell stories. It's more a survival language. My broken English is more a thing that I invented, it’s not real. I’m grateful by the way to you all who read theses stories, I don’t know why they came out in English. I don’t believe these stories will continue on a kind of book as some of you my friends suggested. Dance is a universal language and it is something that I found on my way. Why words if we have a whole body? Adding different styles and video and music and theatre skills and with the collaboration of a great team of Artists, I’m getting ready to tell another story. My broken body is neither ideal for stage, this time at least, so I asked someone else to incorporate the little girl called Bambola (Doll) in her most funny adventures in the loneliness land. The one and only Violet Scrap is not just an outstanding dancer but also a visual artist. Her drawings and images will link our stories where no words, no bodies can arrive. Bambola will be on stage in Rome in October 5-6-7. Come to see us.
Thank you for listening, thank you for your patience, thank you for being friends.