Wizards and Harlots

Wizards and Harlots

The Tainted Status of Musicians and Dancers Within the Islamic Context

by Laurel Victoria Gray

The Muslim world possesses a rich tradition of music and dance, a world treasure that has been cherished, admired, and emulated over the course of centuries. Yet musicians and dancers traditionally suffer from a low social status. The role of music and dance in traditional Islamic society still evokes controversy as fiery as the debates that once raged over a thousand years ago. The recent arrest in Tehran of Iranian-born, Los Angeles-based dancer, Mohammad Khordadian—“accused of corrupting the youth by giving dance lessons”—draws attention to this controversy. An examination of Islam’s early years reveals the complex religious, political, and social legacy that shaped fundamentalist attitudes.1

Lois Ibsen al Faruqi identified four categories of dance that “have consistent significance for the Muslim peoples. These are: 1) combat dances; 2) solo improvisational dances; 3) chain dances; and 4) religious dances of mystical brotherhoods.”2 Within each genre countless variations exist, a tribute to the creative genius of many epochs and ethnicities. Music, too, boasts a myriad of styles, varying from simple, regional folk tunes to intricate, sophisticated classical forms. Why, then, are music and dance, so integral to the culture of Muslim people, treated with ambivalence and even disdain?

The Pagan Heritage

As al Faruqi observes, “the Muslims were never able to quite resolve the uncertainty which they, as a people, felt over the legitimacy of dance.” One reason for this was “the fact that dancing was a religious practice for the followers of some pre-Islamic religious cults of the Mediterranean world.”3

The goddess al-Uzzah (“The Mighty”)

Before the advent of Islam, Mecca enjoyed prestige as a pilgrimage center for a myriad of cults. The Ka’ba itself was quite ancient; Diodorus Siculus (circa 90-21 B.C.E.) described it as a temple “which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians.”4 The Ka’ ba reputedly once enshrined the idols of 360 pagan deities. Most popular were three goddesses, al-Uzzah , al-Laat and Manat, known as “the daughters of Allah” by pagan Arabs.

“Long before the coming of the austere patriarchal system of Islam, the Arabic people worshipped this trinity of desert Goddesses who were the three facets of the one Goddess. Al-Uzza (‘the mighty’) represented the Virgin warrior facet; she was a desert Goddess of the morning star who had a sanctuary in a grove of acacia trees to the south of Mecca, where she was worshipped in the form of a sacred stone. Al-Lat, whose name means simply ‘Goddess,’ was the Mother facet connected with the Earth and its fruits and the ruler of fecundity. She was worshipped at At-Ta’if near Mecca in the form of a great uncut block of white granite. Manat, the crone facet of the Goddess, ruled fate and death. Her principal sanctuary was located on the road between Mecca and Medina, where she was worshipped in the form of a black uncut stone.”5

Dance may have been included in the rituals of these Arabian goddesses. Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi cites scholars who believe “that Oriental dance, also known as belly-dancing, was first developed by Semites in the lustful temples of Ishtar, the goddess of love…. To honor Ishtar and celebrate women’s sovereign right to self-determination, devotees performed both dance and sex in her temples.” But with the decline of the Goddess cults and the ascendancy of male deities, women linked with these traditions were dismissed as “sacred prostitutes.”6

Mernissi recalls the widespread worship of the Goddess throughout the Middle East and North Africa. “In countries such as Morocco, the cults of goddesses like Venus and the Phoenician Tanit (both incarnations of Ishtar) thrived for centuries before the advent of Islam, and even today, semi-magic trance-dances are still being performed in caves all along the Atlantic Coast.” She cites a religious festival celebrated outside of Casablanca where women openly participate in the rituals, “defying the religious orthodoxy and censors.”7

The new ascendancy of Islam threatened the pagan cults’ power base in Mecca and challenged traditional spiritual practices. Rivalry between the followers of the old pagan ways and adherents of the new monotheistic cult grew increasingly violent. The valiant slave, Bilal, was an early Muslim convert; his master tortured him in an attempt to force him to renounce this new faith. The deaths in 619 C.E. of both the Prophet’s wife Khadija and uncle Abu Talib deprived Mohammad of two important and dedicated supporters against the Meccan elite.

Apparently, at this crucial historical moment, Mohammad received a new revelation, the so-called “Satanic Verses,” which would have included a place for the three most popular goddesses, as the daughters of Allah, in the new religion: “Have you thought upon Al-Lat and Al-Uzza, and Manat, the third idol besides? These are the exalted females (or, sublime swans), and truly their intercession may be expected.”8

While some traditionalists deny this episode ever occurred, early Arab historians al-Waqidi and at-Tabari both recorded it. Some scholars view this as a canny attempt to placate the Prophet’s kinsmen, the Quraysh, a powerful tribe who served as traditional caretakers of the Ka’ba and its idols. For a time this compromise contented them. But later Mohammad recanted, explaining that the verses had not been revealed to him by the angel Gabriel, but instead were given by Satan himself. Those who wished for the Divine Feminine were warned: “Lo! It is those who disbelieve in the Hereafter who name the angels with the names of females.”9

The Muslim attacks on song were also based in part on the uncomfortable link between song and Arabia’s polytheistic past. Ghin’a sometimes featured pagan elements, making it a prime target for those wishing to establish the ascendancy of Islam. Arabia enjoyed a long and illustrious tradition of oral poetry. Much admired, poets held an important position in the community. “By the ancient Arabs, the poet (sha’ir, plural shu’ara), as his name implies, was held to be a person endowed with supernatural knowledge, a wizard in league with spirits (jinn) or satans (shayatin) and dependent on them for the magical powers which he displayed.”10

Mohammad’s first recitations were not immediately understood or accepted by all as divinely inspired, who thought he was another poet, or perhaps a soothsayer or sermonizer. At least one female musician composed satirical verses about him. Another poet, Labid b. Rabi’a, renounced poetry when he embraced Islam, claiming, “God has given me the Koran in exchange for it.” For the fledging Muslim community, the poet, and those who performed his verses, posed a serious threat:

In battle his tongue was as effective as his people’s bravery. In peace he might prove a menace to public order by his fiery harangues. His poems might arouse a tribe to action in a modern political campaign…He was both molder and agent of public opinion.11

It became crucial to draw a distinction between Mohammad’s sacred revelations and secular poetry. Poets became direct competitors with the Prophet himself; “they both desired the ear of the public, the one with ‘song and story’ and the other with ‘Revelations.’”12

The Harlots of Hadramaut

A disturbing incident following the death of Mohammad forever linked woman and song with blasphemous behavior. Not all tribes willingly clung to the new religion; some turned apostate. Perhaps thinking Mohammad’s demise signaled a return to their former spiritual traditions, six women in the city of Hadramaut celebrated news of the Prophet’s death. They marked the occasion by staining their hands with henna — a practice associated with festivities — and playing on the “tambourine.” Two converts to Islam reported the women to Mohammad’s successor, Caliph Abu Bakr, who gave orders for a gruesome punishment:

The two righteous servants [of God] who remained steadfast in their religion when the greater part of their tribes apostasized…have written to me that before them there are certain women of the people of Yemen who have desired the death of the Prophet of God, and that these have been joined by singing-girls of Kinda and prostitutes of Hadramaut, and they have dyed their hands and shown joy and played on the tambourine in defiance of God and in contempt of his rights and those of His Prophet. When my letter reaches you, go to them with your horses and men, and strike off their hands. [Italics mine]13

Mernissi examines this significant clash between women and Islam. Who were these women, dismissed as harlots and prostitutes? Muslim historian Ibn Al Bagdadi identified the twelve of them in his work Kitab al-Muhabbar: “Two were grandmothers, one a mother, and seven were young girls. Three of the twelve belonged to the ashraf (“the noble class”) and four to the tribe of Kindah, a royal tribe which provided Yemen with its kings.”14 Mernissi asks a riveting question:

What kind of harlotry is practiced by elderly grandmothers, by young girls and by the most noble of women, the members of princely houses? And why, anyway, was the clapping of tambourines by twenty-six women in the faraway villages of South Arabia so threatening to the powerful military Muslim order?15

One historian, A.F. L. Beetson, believes the incident reveals a conflict between the old pagan religion and the new monotheism. “He speculates that these women dissidents were deprived by the new religion of their position as pagan priestesses of the old temple where religious prostitution was practiced.”16

Mernissi interprets the conflict differently, believing that – whatever the previous social position of the women had been – the new Islamic order threatened it. Furthermore, she sees that the clash between the women and Islam clearly was in the sexual field. The fact that the Caliph labeled his opponents as harlots implies that Islam condemned their sexual practices, whatever they were, as harlotry.” Mernissi believes this infamous “Harlots of Hadramaut incident is an example of Islam’s opposition to the sexual practices existing in pre-Islamic Arabia.”17

An Effeminate Pursuit

With the establishment of the Caliphate as the political base of the Islamic empire, music continued to be associated with loose moral behavior. One caliph warned against its debasing influence:

Beware of music…it lessens modesty and increases lust; it saps virility. It is indeed like wine and does what strong drink does. If you must have it, at least keep your women from it, song being such a spur to lechery.18

Turkish Harem Engraving

The dubious aura surrounding music grew when it became increasingly the realm of entertainers of questionable morality or low social standing. Prior to Mohammad’s time, freeborn women dominated the musical scene and, at major events of family rejoicing, “the women of the tribe would join together in bands, playing upon lutes, as they were wont to do at bridals….”19 This practice stirred no objection from the Prophet, who permitted women to their clap hands in rhythm or play the duff (frame drum) at festive events – behavior forbidden to men. So strongly was musicianship associated with women that a male who ventured to sing with the duff was dubbed “mukhannath,” or effeminate.20

The practice of the seclusion of women encouraged by Islam created a social void. Sexual segregation appears to have dovetailed with the emergence of a new breed of musicians, men who purposely mimicked feminine ways. They dyed their hands with henna and wore women’s clothing, earning the title mukhannath, as well as a questionable reputation. The best known of the mukhannath, Tawais (“the little peacock”) won credit as “the father of song in Islam,” but was driven from the holy city of Medina because of his vocation.21

When women were no longer allowed to appear unveiled in public, they also could not be permitted to draw attention to themselves by performances of music and dance. Those who did perform publicly were either non-Muslims or were linked to prostitution, such as the Ouled Nail.22

From Freeborn to Slave

As freeborn women musicians left the public arena, another class of women gained notoriety as entertainers — slave girls, many of whom were highly educated. Fictional accounts of these women appear in the stories of Alf Layla wa Layla (A Thousand and One Nights), the collection of tales better known to the West as The Arabian Nights. These fabled odalisques deserve mention since “they furnish a fair picture of the varied accomplishment of the artistes and what was expected of them. Indeed, it enables one to appreciate how the epithet ‘alima (pl. awalim) i.e. ‘learned female’, came to be given to the singing-girls (and dancers) in modern Egypt.”23

One such slave girl depicted in the Arabian Nights purportedly graced the court of the legendary Caliph, Harun al-Rashid. Known by the provocative name Tawaddud (“Showing Affection”) she passed an examination by al-Rashid’s leading scholars verifying her knowledge of such topics as “geometry, philosophy, alchemy, logic and rhetoric.” She could also play the oud and was “proficient in singing and dancing.”24

Controversy over music and dance took on political overtones during the eighth century when the Umayyad dynasty came under fire for their profligate ways. Piety-minded factions demanded a “rigorous standard of public decency free of luxurious ways or other concession to aristocratic culture that might be regarded … as degenerate social corruption.”25 The sumptuous, if not decadent, atmosphere which prevailed at the Umayyad court antagonized the pious elements in Islamic society who felt “nowhere should be tolerated anything that could rival the Qur’an in evoking the deeper responses of the spirit. The whole imaginative life was suspect: science and fiction, music and painting…all art was potentially a rival to the Qur’an, a subtle form of idolatry.”26

Indeed, “the first indispensable duty of every Muslim was first the observance of shariat laws that regulated social, family and personal relations of people.”27 A caliph, known as “Commander of the Faithful,” together with his courtiers, was expected to serve as a model for orthodox behavior.

Courtly Traditions

The blossoming of musical entertainment under the Umayyads “provided their enemies, the ‘Abassid faction with an effective argument in their propaganda to undermine the house of the ‘ungodly usurper.’”28 Ironically, the ‘Abassids, once established, proved as impious as their vanquished foes, cultivating suspect arts such as music to a high degree. Orthodox Islam made austere demands of the faithful: “all human activity was placed under the compulsory rules which determined the range of duties, violation of which was sternly condemned.”29 Thus, for those with human failing, a tension between public behavior and private conduct emerged.

Examples of this dichotomy can be found quite early in Islam, even during the reign of the Rashidun or “righteous” caliphs from 632-66 C.E. During their rule, music was banned and ‘Uthman, extolling his own virtuous conduct declared, “I have not sung and I have not lied.”30 Yet a double standard did exist. ‘Uthman himself patronized the renowned musician Ibn Sarayj. Another caliph, ‘Umar, once asked a man to sing, adding “may Allah forgive you for it.”31

Under the Umayyad Caliph Yazid I (r. 680-83) singing and musical instruments became part of court life in Damascus. “He initiated the practice of holding grand festivities in the palace which featured wine and song, hereafter inseparable in royal festivals.”32 The first ‘Abassid caliph, perhaps aware of the need for discretion, patronized musicians but listened to them only in private when among his closest companions.33

The reign of another ‘Abassid caliph, Al-Mahdi (r. 775-85), exemplifies this ambivalent attitude toward musicians. Al-Mahdi exhibited interest in the arts. He himself possessed “great talent as a singer, and an able hand on musical instruments…” He appreciated skilled female singers and, in one instance, paid 17,000 gold dinars for a songstress. One musician whom Al-Mahdi patronized was Ibn Jani’. Well-educated, able to recite the Qur’an by heart, Ibn Jami’ turned his back on the elevated social status assured by his education and noble birth when he adopted music as his profession. Both Ibn Jami’ and the celebrated entertainer Ibrahim al-Mausili were patronized by the caliph’s sons, Al-Hadi and Harun, which led to serious consequences. The Caliph, fearing lest this liking for music by his heirs might offend the people, forbade these two young musicians from the princes’ apartments. The instruction went ignored and Ibn Jami’ and Ibrahim al-Masauli were arrested. The latter was sentenced to 300 strokes of the lash, whilst Ibn Jami’, protesting his noble birth, was banished. ‘You,’ cried the khalif, ‘One of the Quraish and following the profession of music! What a disgrace. Out of my sight. Leave Baghdad instantly.’34

Happily, when the caliph’s son Al-Hadi ascended to the throne in 785 C.E., Ibn Jami’ was reinstated as court musician and handsomely rewarded with a sizeable gift of gold coins. Al-Mahdi’s other son, Harun al-Rashid, wisely indulged his questionable passions in private, drinking “wine in the women’s chambers with the slave girls and singers.”35

Examples of the continuing tension between public and private behavior surfaced in literature, providing material for social satire. One Persian account from the eleventh century offered witty advice on how best to enjoy music, and that twin vice, drink. The tract, unabashedly entitled “The Arrangements of One’s Drinking and the Instructions Therefore,” reminded readers that it was best to keep one’s sins private:

Do not begin to drink wine until afternoon prayers are done so that when drunkenness reaches you, it will be dark and people will not see your drunkenness. Do not move hastily in drunkenness, as it is undignified. Do not go into the garden to drink…come in the house, as that which can be done under the roof cannot be done under the open skies. Indeed, the shadow of one’s own roof is better and more concealed than the shadow of a tree. 36

Dance and Sexuality

Dance, like music and drinking, seemed inextricably linked to immoral conduct. This may be traced in part to the recognized sensuality of solo improvisational dances, such as raqs al-sharqi, which have been declared “an expression of Middle Eastern acceptance of sexuality free of Western voyeurism.”37 The nearly ubiquitous presence of such dances at wedding celebrations reinforces this attitude. These performances “are likely to include obviously sensual, but not grossly copulatory, motifs, performed either by amateurs or by hired professionals such as belly dancers…Though frank, the sexual theme is controlled and symbolic.”38

In modern Saudi Arabia, traditional Islamic attitudes toward dance exhibit themselves in contemporary society. The conflict between public demeanor and private conduct among women can be seen in what cultural anthropologist Sherri Deaver has identified as “concealment” – public wearing of the veil – and “display” – private performances of sensuous dances. “In the male sphere the woman is characterized by seclusion, and in the female sphere she is characterized by display.”39

In the Saudi context, raqs al-sharqi is confined to the women’s quarters of a household. “The social constraints … require that all participants are female or socially neuter, pre-pubescent. Participants may be married or unmarried, but dancers are almost always married.” 40 Deaver observed only one case of an unmarried female performing and noted that “she was not regarded by the audience as a serious participant. Rather she was regarded as a child playing at an adult exercise.”41

Most intriguing is the “message” of the dance. In Western society, Oriental dance is interpreted as sexual and suggestive, and is portrayed as a seductive performance designed solely for the entertainment of men. In the sexually segregated society of traditionally Islamic societies, the sensuality of the dance is not denied, but its significance differs:

The belly dance is an explicitly sexual dance from the Saudi perspective as well as from the Western perspective. It specifically displays the sensuality of the female, an inherent, uncontrollable trait according to the Saudi point of view. It is quite literally a dance of women performed by women for women. By emphasizing her hips in the pelvic rotations, breasts in the shimmy, and by giving the audience come-hither looks with her eyes…she is saying, “I am young, I am beautiful, I am sexually appealing. Therefore, I can keep my husband. I am secure.”42

The importance of being attractive takes on great significance in a society where a woman’s status is dependent on her husband’s standing. “By displaying her status within her own peer group, a female displays her wealth and continued ability to attract a man – the source of wealth. Thus, belly dancing is a status display in addition to being a form of entertainment and a display of sexual prowess.”43

In the Muslim context, the sexuality of the dance is an accepted and essential ingredient. It may be for this reason that socially proper performances of the dance are restricted to female audiences. It is not the dance itself which saddles a woman with an unsavory reputation, only the public performance of it. So clear are these boundaries that even photography is prohibited at Saudi women’s dance sessions: “the dance was explicitly meant only for those present and the women feared some man might see the pictures.”44

Fatima Mernissi explains that the dance is “transmitted from generation to generation as a celebration of the body and a ritual of self-enhancement.” She finds it fascinating that, “in an Arab world suffering from aggressive globalization, everything seems to be changing at vertiginous speed, except for women’s stubborn need, regardless of age and social class, for a self-empowering dose of the trance-like Oriental dance.” Mernissi questions why “this self-enhancing spiritual dimension of the Oriental dance” is strangely absent in Western representations of the East. 45

Because Islam makes no separation of sacred and secular realms, even the aesthetic pursuits and recreational activities of the Muslims must somehow be brought into relationship with Islamic teaching and principles. The fact that this is not possible for all kinds of dance has perhaps made the whole art suspect.”46

The tension between public and private, between secular and sacred, continues to be examined by contemporary Arab artists. In the 1997 film, Destiny, Egyptian director Youssef Chahine used the life of the brilliant 12th century philosopher, Ibn Rushd — known to the West as Averroes— to frame his own condemnation of fundamentalism. In the film version of Ibn Rushd’s struggles, the teacher preaches tolerance when Islamic clergy attempt to burn books and ban music and dance. One of Ibn Rushd’s students, the caliph’s own son, falls under the influence of a fanatical secret brotherhood; his friends attempt to win him back to reason by singing and dancing. The life story of Ibn Rushd, and the philosopher’s attempts to reconcile philosophy and religion, seem remarkably fresh and relevant in today’s world.

Puzzled Westerners, perhaps forgetful of Christendom’s past attempts to ban music and dance, sometimes find confusing the ambivalent Muslim attitudes toward their magnificent heritage of music and dance. But, in the Islamic world, guilt by association with pagan cults still remains:

Therefore, millennia after the Goddess’s defeat, it is not at all surprising that the sight of a woman dancing alone, as is usually the case in Oriental dance, stirs strange feelings and triggers incomprehensible anxieties.47

The transition of musicianship from the realm of freeborn women to that of slaves and effeminate men further lowered social status and tainted these arts. In spite of the stigma attached to their vocation, dancers and musicians of the Muslim world continued to weave a sumptuous and varied tapestry of artistic merit for over a millennium. Their treasured legacy continues, to the delight of audiences in the Occident as well as the Orient.


1. As reported by Reuters in a May 28, 2002, article, “Dancer Jailed for Corruption.”

2. Lois Ibsen al Faruqi, “Dances of the Muslim Peoples,” Dancescope 11 (1), p. 43.

3. Lois Ibsen al Faruqi, “Dance as an Expression of Islamic Culture,” Dance Research Journal, 10 (2), p. 6.

4. Diodorus Siculus cited in Diodorus of Sicily, translated by C. H. Oldfather, Volume II, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1935, p. 217.

5. Adam McLean, The Triple Goddess: An Exploration of the Archetypal Feminine, Grand Rapids, 1989, p. 80.

6. Fatima Mernissi, Scheherazade Goes West, p. 70. (While the term “sacred prostitute” may seem like an oxymoron, it is actually an awkward translation of the Biblical term “kadeshah” which in turn probably derives from the Hebrew word for “holy.”)

7. Loc. cit.

8. This curious passage has been translated in a number of ways. In Arabic, it reads tilk al-gharaniq al-’ula wa inna shafa’ata-hunna la-turtaja.

9. Sura 53:27 (“The Star”) cited in The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, translation by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, New York, 1961, p. 377.

10. Reynold A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs, Cambridge, 1956, p. 72.The noted historian of Arab music, Henry George Farmer, believes that this distinction was “a fiction created by the legists who, in their opposition to music, looked on it as improper (makruh) and so distinguished between ‘cantillation’ (taghbir or the raising of the voice) and singing (ghina’). See Farmer, “The Music of Islam,” New Oxford History of Music, London, 1957, p. 439.

11. Labid b. Rabi’a cited by Nicholson in A Literary History of the Arabs, p. 119.

12.Henry George Farmer, A History of Arabian Music, London, 1929, p. 13.

13.Translation by A.F. L. Beetson in his article, “The So-Called Harlots of Hadramout” Oriens, V, 1952, p. 16 cited by Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in a Modern Muslim Society, New York; London, 1975, p. 33.

14. Beetson, op.cit., p. 20, cited in Beyond the Veil, p 33.

15. Ibid., p. 33.

16. Loc. cit.

17. Op. cit., p. 34.

18. Yazid II (r. 744 C.E.) cited in Muhammad’s People, edited and translated by Eric Schroeder, Portland, Maine, 1955, p. 255.

19. Nicholson, p. 71.

20. Sirajul Haq, “’Sama’ and the Raqs of the Darwishes,” Islamic Culture, Volume XVIII (1944), p. 115.

21. Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, New York, 1953, p. 274.

22. Dictionary of the Dance, edited by W.G. Raffe, New York, A.S. Barnes and Company, 1964, p. 355.

23. Henry George Farmer, The Minstrelsy of “The Arabian Nights”: A Study of Music and Musicians in the Arabic “Alf Laila Wa Laila.” Hertford, 1945, p. 20.

24. Sir Richard Burton’s translation of Alf Layla wa Layla, cited by Farmer, op. cit.

25. Marshall G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Chicago, 1974, p. 365.

26. Hodgson, p. 368.

27. A. M. Ismailova, Shark Miniaturasi, Tashkent, 1980, p. 14.

28. Hitti, p. 278.

29. Ismailova, p. 14.

30. Cited in Henry George Farmer, A History of Arabian Music, p. 25.

31. Op. cit. 42.

32. Hitti, p. 278.

33. Hassan I. Hassan, Islam, Beirut, 1967, p. 362.

34. Farmer, A History of Arabian Music, p. 115.

35. From the Bal’mi History in Ganjeenah nazh Parsi, edited by Hasan Sadrenaj Sayyed Javadi, Tehran, 1921, p. 13. Passage translated by Colleen Jones.

36. From “The Arrangements of One’s Drinking and the Instruction Therefore,” an excerpt from Qabusnameh in Ganjeenah nazh Parsi, p. 81. Passage translated by Colleen Jones.

37. John Gulick, The Middle East: An Anthropological Perspective, Pacific Palisades, 1976, p. 205.

38. Ibid, p. 184.

39. Sherri Deaver, “Concealment vs. Display: The Modern Saudi,” Dance Research Journal, 10 (2), p. 14.

40. Op. cit., p. 15.

41. Op. cit., p. 15.

42. Op. cit., p. 16.

43. Op. cit., p. 16.

44. Op. cit., p. 16.

45. Mernissi, Scheherazade Goes West, p. 71.

46. Lois Ibsen al Faruqi, “Dance as an Expression of Islamic Culture,” p. 6.

47. Mernissi, Scheherazade Goes West, p. 70.


Dancer, scholar, choreographer, lecturer, and instructor, Laurel Victoria Gray has traveled to five continents to study, teach, and perform the ethnic dances of the Middle East and Central Asia. She has been to Uzbekistan ten times, training there for two years at the invitation of the State Academic Bolshoi Theater named for Alisher Navoi. She has also studied with the dervishes of Cairo, Egypt. Gray is the recipient of the 1999 International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance Award for Ethnic Dancer.

Ms. Gray’s articles have appeared in many publications including the Oxford University Press International Encyclopedia of Dance, the World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theater, the Encyclopedia of Asia, and numerous dance magazines in the US and abroad. She has lectured for the Middle East Institute, Humanities West, UCLA, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations, and other institutions, as well as presenting papers at both the First and Second International Conferences on Middle Eastern Dance.

Ms. Gray also serves as Artistic Director of the Silk Road Dance Company. On November 10, 2001, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts presented the ensemble in “Remembering the Legends,” with the concept, choreography, and costume design by Laurel Victoria Gray.

In addition to numerous workshops in the US, Europe, and Australia, Ms. Gray has taught for New York’s City Center Theater, George Mason University, and the Iranian Community School of Virginia. She currently teaches eight weekly classes at the Joy of Motion Dance Center in Washington, DC. www.silkroaddance.com

Copyright © Habibi Publications 1992-2002, Shareen El Safy, Publisher.

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