TIFF 2018: Our Review of ‘When Arabs Danced’

TIFF 2018: Our Review of ‘When Arabs Danced’

Jawad Rhalib’s documentary is a decent exercise as it explores the lives of Muslims who have called upon themselves to practice one of the seven arts. There’s an erotic sadness in watching contemporary dancers in Egypt rehearse while other scenes find balance in dinner table conversations about the issues they face as dancers and artists.

The documentary tells us things some people already know in the long history of belly dancing in Egypt. It’s a genre that Islam subsumed as a part of its history. Most of the movie though takes place within the art heavy Islamic diaspora in Western Europe.

That said, the film has its delights, like Hiam Abbas workshopping a play, embarking on a sex worker character. Her presence helps the doc deconstruct stereotypes. She is one of many female artists that Rhalib features. And they speak out about how clerics have targeted the expression of their femininity.

It also doesn’t just focus on these artists, their work, and their lives. There’s a lot of street scenes here. Audiences can see the ones in Morocco, where decorate their hijabs with paper crowns or flowers. We can also see European streets with the occasional armed guards and hugging couples.

Rhalib shows all of life here, and despite the doc’s flaws he brings forth questions about what freedom really means within the context of spaces where they can practice their art. It’s nice to see these artists grab their freedom, doing so with one dynamic performance at a time.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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