The joy of dance

TV SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –

The mind-body dualism of Rene Descartes doesn’t make any sense. At least, for passionate dancers. The fluid movements take the dancers nowhere, other than their own mind. Dance, thus, is all about that intimate connection — realised not in the stillness of meditation, but through charming and organic dynamics. Dance happens the moment one bursts into a soliloquy with the infinite.

That’s why dance is all pure joy; full of celebration. And this fine art of the body becomes a natural element of communities that are traditionally predisposed to celebrations and optimism. Oman’s rich dance legacy is ample proof of this.
And it needs to be protected, and nourished. So felt the Unesco, which included three traditional Omani dance forms of Alazi, Alayalah and Taghrodah on its Intangible Cultural Heritage list. The Unesco listing is sure to bring these and other traditional dance forms of Oman, which largely remain unknown outside the Sultanate, to the notice of dance lovers and researchers across the world.
Of late, there have been some efforts to promote Omani dance forms among an international audience. Oman’s participation at the World Congress of Dance held in Athens in July last year can be considered epochal for the Sultanate’s traditional dances. For the first time, people outside Oman got to know the depth and colourful exuberance of the diverse Omani dance forms and the refined talent of Omani dancers.
Oman is a land of dance and music. What is significant is that even as Omanis appreciate global cultural expressions, they are proud of their traditional dance forms and no social celebration is complete without a traditional dance performance, complete with traditional music and costumes.
Though most of the folk dances are performed and appreciated across the Sultanate, still there are a few of them that are found only in specific regions. Maybe, such dances are strongly linked to the place’s cultural and historical vibes. Passed down across generations, however, they amazingly retain their unique artistic identities. They take extreme care to maintain the dance forms’ unadulterated authenticity.
Beyond the dance forms listed on the Unesco heritage list, Oman is home to a slew of other dance forms as well. Al Bar’ah is a war-like Bedouin dance practised in the Dhofar mountains. Each tribe has its own distinct style of Al Bar’ah, with varying drum rhythms and dance movements. The dance form essentially reflects the Bedouin tribe’s characteristic hospitality and valour.
There is also the fishermen’s dance — that portrays their connection to the sea. The dance has sequences that show the building of the dhow in preparation for the long and arduous sea journey and the journey itself. The powerful sword dance of Al Razha is noted for their lavishly colourful costumes and unique rhythms.
Yet another dance is the youthful Al Sharh that belongs to the Dhofar Governorate. Moving on, Al Wailah is a gentle dance performed by women of Ibri, while Taymina is mostly performed in the Dakhiliyah Governorate.
In keeping with the times, Oman never shied away from welcoming contemporary dance forms. The Sultanate is a thriving dance-floor when it comes to zumba, salsa and the like. There are several dance academies that offer training in such dances. They have customised their programmes to suit diverse interests and needs of the young generation.
For instance, the trendy dance fitness studio for ladies, teens and children ‘Juthoor al Haya’ offers, among other programmes, the Zumba Kids programme, which is aimed at helping children develop a fitness-driven healthy lifestyle.
Interestingly, Juthoor al Haya’s co-founder Asya al Lamki has the distinction of being the first Omani woman to become an active certified Zumba trainer. She and Natalia Costa organised Oman’s first Zumbathon in 2015, as a fundraising programme in support of diabetics. The next year, they held the Zumbathon for Oman Cancer Association. Asya also teaches Salsation Fitness dance, an intense and fun-filled dance fitness programme.
Be it Bollywood, Belly Dance, Salsation, African Dance, Strong by Zumba, Afro Jazz, Latin Line Dance, Ballet, Contemporary or Hip Hop, are all gaining popularity in Oman. Because, women in Oman consider dance as a tool to empower themselves and lead a healthy and active lifestyle, while having some great fun and friendship.