Complex rhythms and Middle Eastern melodies flowed from the entrance of the International Student Center like water from a fountain as dozens ate, danced and celebrated an ancient and influential group of cultures.
In the midst of turmoil and uprisings throughout the greater Middle Eastern world and a constant barrage of news reports devoid of context and history, the International Student Council sponsored Middle Eastern Night on April 7.
It was a chance for students and families to experience the flavors, sounds and sights they don’t often get to see on television.
“[The Middle East] has more culture and taste to it than … what the news shows. We have different cultures in the Middle East that [you] can enjoy in different ways,” said Lydia Hailemariam, vice-president for the Middle Eastern Region of the ISC.
Giving an accurate impression of the culture was not the only point, however. Having a blast was also a central part of the evening’s agenda.
Hailemariam served up fragrant rice, kabob and huge trays baklava to guests, all foods common to the many countries represented there.
“[It was] a fun opportunity to meet people, enjoy the food, the culture and have fun,” said Chris Chacon, who works with the ISC.
Flags from all over the region hung and lent a feeling of unity to the event. Students from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and elsewhere mingled with curious Utahans experiencing just a touch and a taste of something different.
What held everyone’s attention through the evening, though, was a lot of skilled and sultry belly dancing. Skirts jangled and finger cymbals rang brightly as three women performed difficult routines and moves for guests.
Belly dancing is common in the region and originated out of cabarets and shows for men. According to dancer Kate Woolfe, this dance was a way for men to appreciate the female form and sexuality without breaking traditional mores.
This didn’t seem to put anyone off, however, as almost everyone watched and clapped, with some snapping pictures and taking videos. The night ended with more music and an impromptu dance party. Children and adults alike took to the floor with the belly dancers and danced to the melodious lines permeating the air.
Judging by the smiles on the hundred or so people that came, the evening was a total success. Here’s to hoping it happens again soon.