Q&A: 'My Boyfriend Insisted I Quit Dancing, My Answer was No'

  • Suad Hamada interviews TUFAHA, the first Bahraini belly dancer (manama)
  • Inter Press Service

Belly dancing or Raqs Sharqi as it is called in the Middle East and Gulf is a passion with her. A much sought after performer at weddings, Tufaha (apple in Arabic) makes more money in an hour than what many people earn in a month.

'I want to have my own dancing centre,' she says with steely determination. She wants to make it 'possible for other girls to pursue their dreams'.

Tufaha spoke with IPS correspondent, Suad Hamada, about her past, present and future.

IPS: How did you start? What was your family's reaction?

TUFAHA: I can say that I’m a belly dancer by nature. I started dancing from childhood. It became a career when I was 15 - when I started dancing at weddings.

At the beginning it wasn’t an issue as my family thought I danced only at relatives weddings. But conflicts started when they discovered that I charge money and attend weddings of strangers to entertain them.

My family objected to their daughter being a belly dancer and they couldn’t accept the idea, so I had to leave home and live alone. With regards to society, I don’t care much as I’m not doing anything wrong. People need some time to accept dancers as artists and not (think they are) evil or bad characters.

IPS: If you aren’t embarrassed, why don't you reveal your real name?

T: Tufaha has been my nickname since childhood, a name I chose for myself, while the other name belongs to my family. To respect their feelings and avoid associating them with any hardship I might encounter by challenging wrong beliefs, I stopped using my real name.

IPS: What did you have to give up in the pursuit of dancing?

T: The warmth of living with my family. I had to leave my aged mother, to spare her trouble when I come home late at night after performing in a wedding. I had to give up normal family ties (with her siblings).

Leaving my boyfriend who I had been with for years is also another sacrifice. I took him to almost all (the) weddings, to make him understand that I only dance to entertain and nothing more. He insisted that I quit dancing as a condition for us to marry and my answer was 'no'.

IPS: Did you get peace of mind living alone in a flat?

T: At the beginning no, when I was living in Manama (the capital of Bahrain). I used to have sleepless nights because of men trying to win my attention. Many of them would follow me from wedding halls to my home and pass comments. I had to leave the area when some tried to break into my flat.

I moved to a conservative city, in which such intruders would think twice before harassing me as they know such action wouldn’t be tolerated by the residents.

In my new flat I have to keep a low profile and wear an abaya (veil) and head scarf, only to avoid attracting attention. I don't want to leave the area. I feel safe. I don’t think the residents know that I’m Tufaha, the belly dancer, and I want things to remain like that for a long time.

IPS: Do you thing that financially belly dancing is worth all this?

T: It isn’t about money only, though I get 250 Bahraini dinar (660 dollars) for dancing per hour, which many others get as a salary for working a whole month. But it is my passion for dancing that motivates me to defeat odds and pave the way for other girls to pursue their dreams.

IPS: How do your audiences, especially women, react to your dancing?

T: Audiences, and women are no exception, love my dancing and that is why I’m fully booked for weddings in Bahrain and the rest of the Gulf countries.

I have never encountered any harassment at weddings as all attend weddings to enjoy and have fun and no one wants to miss a wedding (that features) a belly dancer. The Bahraini dances are totally different so weddings where I perform are special occasions.

IPS: What is your next goal?

T: I want to have my own dancing training centre to promote dancing as the best way to remain fit and healthy. I want also to be an actress and dancer on TV. I won’t quit dancing even when I reach 40 or 50.

IPS: How do you feel about being the first Bahraini belly dancer?

T: I’m proud and hope to be remembered as the one who changed social misconceptions about dancing and the right of women to live their lives according to their needs and passions.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service