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Belly dancing at benefit show

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Johanna Mokrani, who has been teaching Middle Eastern dance at the Ethnica School of Dance, says she cannot remember a time when the community has come together as much as during the past couple of weeks.

"At least, I don't remember it happening as long as I can remember," Mokrani said, referring to the rush of aid for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "And I wanted to help."

The Ethnica School of Dance and Dancing Cranes Imports will present "A Night at the Casbah" on Saturday, Oct. 6, at Dancing Cranes Imports, 673 E. 2240 South. The dancing will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $10. All profits will benefit the Red Cross.

The idea for this month's "Night at the Casbah" to become a benefit came about while Mokrani was trying to figure out how she could help the national healing. "We usually present an evening of dance every two months," she explained.

Mokrani, who has been teaching Middle Eastern and belly dance for a little more than five years, said, "This time we wanted to do something special and help the global community in our way.

"It was nice to see everyone in the community trying to figure out how to become of service to the rebuilding and comforting that has been going on since the attacks. This seemed like a good idea."

Mokrani said some people have raised concerns about her continuing the concerts. "My answer is that we are not at war with Arabs, Muslims or their culture. To sweep everything Arab under the rug is to contribute to the idea that they are collectively to blame for this atrocity. Arabic culture is diverse, complex and beautiful. To say these men represent Islam is like saying the (Ku Klux) Klan represents Christianity. (Arabic culture) has so much to offer anyone who takes the time to experience it. And isn't the mix of diversity and freedom what makes this country so wonderful?"

The dance instructor said she began dancing when she was 17 and fell in love with it because it didn't cater to a specific body form. "Belly dancing is good for all types of women. It doesn't matter what you look like. We've got women between the ages of 14 and 45 in our classes, and it's wonderful to see them enjoying dancing without having to be self-conscious about what they look like."

Mokrani said the original purpose of the dance programs was to enlighten people about belly dancing and Middle Eastern culture. "We designed these performances to help get rid of the misconceptions of this dance style and the Arabic culture. Dance is so much a part of the Middle Eastern culture. There is no celebration without it.

"But while it's OK to dance in private at homes, it is taboo for a wholesome, respectable woman to dance in a restaurant or nightclub. And there are many people in the United States who have their own ideas about what belly dancing really is. It's a beautiful cultural experience."

E-mail: scott@desnews.com