"Arabs Got Talent," the Arabic-language show on MBC-TV, recently featured a Moroccan break dance group that definitely has talent, combining kinetic choreography of scenes reminiscent of Marrakesh's famous Jamaa El Fnaa and moves that would make Michael Jackson proud. Morocco has its "break dance battles" too.
"Movement is a language," according to AIMS researcher Karima Abidine of Northwestern University, whose presentation yesterday at TALIM covered "Talk From the Body: Contemporary Dance and the Negotiation of Social Change in Urban Morocco." What the audience lacked in quantity we made up for in quality; we had several people involved in performance and dance, including Leila Chellabi, author, lecturer, and jazz and classical dancer, and Natasha Pradhan, researcher in Moroccan music and performance from Brown University.
Karima Abidine showed us several clips of televised performances, but for most young Moroccan contemporary dancers, space is at a premium. Modern dance, especially for young women, is caught up in a number of cultural taboos, making it more of a male domain. And even for the young men, much of Moroccan modern dance is an outgrowth of athletics, acrobatics, and of course break dancing.
In Tangier, groups like Darna and shows like Chouf Ouchouf and Taoub have built on this acrobatic tradition, performing pageants depicting Tangier's long history, and using site-specific performance to link with the city's past.
But as Karima Abidine points out, much of what is performed is for Western audiences, whether resident expats or while on tour outside Morocco. Moroccan publics might, as one audience member witnessed, smile on their daughters miming Rihanna during a recent appearance at the Mawazine Festival, but would never countenance them appearing on stage to dance in front of non-family members. Dance, for many, is "elite," and in any case, "non-Moroccan."
Dance, Karima Abidine believes, "pushes boundaries, in order to collapse them." Within the regional context of both the Arab Spring and the increasingly prevalent currents of religious conservatism, dancers are challenged on a number of fronts. All this in an atmosphere of few resources, other than aid from largely European sources, devoted to dance. The recent Morocco tour of Chicago's Hubbard Street Dance group gave a number of young dancers a taste of what they rarely have a chance to get – professional training.
Our thanks to Karima Abidine – and YouTube – for giving us a glimpse into the world of Moroccan dance.