A Middle-Eastern dance show aimed at combating stereotypes about Arabic art proved popular among Leeds residents last week.

The show Funoon, attracted around 100 dance fans who bore witness to a fusion of different dance styles from across Africa and the Arabic world.

The show was the brainchild of acclaimed dancer, Nawarra who formed a collaboration with top performers across the UK.

The line-up for the show included Nawarra herself, who is originally from Morocco, The Arabian Dance Theatre Company, as well as Shafeek Ibrahim-a Guinness world record winner in whirling dance.

Other performers include Caroline Affifi, a Merseyside-based dancer and Beverley Smith– a teacher, choreographer and leader of a dance group called Egyptia.

Nawarra, one of the main stars of the show said she was delighted by the turnout to the show and was keen to show where dance styles such as bellydancing came from.

She said: “The Western point of view about bellydancing is that it is all about glamour, dressing up and looking sexy but many do not understand the essence of it.

“Actually bellydancing came out of a folkloric tradition and is just one type of dance out of a long tradition of different dances across the Arab and Middle Eastern culture. It is the first time we’ve brought dancers from different parts of the UK to put on a show about the folkloric dances of the Arab world.”

Her thoughts were echoed by Shafeek Ibrahim, famed for his record breaking activities, who said that he wanted to tackle the negative stereotypes about the Middle-East by celebrating its cultural traditions.

He said: “We are very keen to raise positive awareness about Arabic art and dance forms. It is not about politics or religion because once people find out about it, they will find it interesting once they get to know what real Arabic dance is all about.

“I hope that people who saw our shows had a good night out and learned something different about the traditions of the Arabic world.”

The performance received a very enthusiastic response from the audience – many of which were dancers themselves – who were later invited to show off their own dance moves on the stage towards the end of the night.

The show included a mix of Reggada – a tribal dance from the mountains of Morocco, along with Haggala – a celebratory dance often featured at weddings in Libya, as well as Algerian dances and Eastern European Roma dances.

Over 20 difference dances were performed on the night, represented by more than 30 dancers from across the UK, with outfits exported directly from the Middle-East or custom-made exclusively for the show.

All in all there were four choreographers who led teams of dancers throughout the night, and these included Nawarra and Shafeek, as well as Beverley Smith and Caroline Affifi, who between them have over 40 years of experience in teaching and performing Arabic dancing.

Beverley, an experienced bellydancer told reporters at Leeds Television that she first took to the stage over 22 years ago without knowing anything about bellydancing and “has never looked back since,” while Caroline added that she too wanted to raise cultural awareness about the Arab world.

“There is a range of different dance cultures across the Middle East, it is such a rich tapestry of culture and I hope we are able to show that through shows like this,” Caroline added.

If the aim was to immerse the audience into the myriad of cultural styles and tribal traditions which originate from Africa and the Middle-East, then it almost certainly succeeded.

Judging by the reaction of the audience and the number of enthused spectators asking when the next performance will be, the organisers of the show will certainly have no shortage of fans for the next production.

With so much negativity about the Arab world bandied about in the media, last Friday’s performance came as a breath of fresh air from the usual Friday-night entertainment and stood as a welcome reminder about all of the rich, cultural varieties that these countries have to offer.

Funoon will be also be presented at Liverpool Arabic Arts Festival in July 2012.

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