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US Choreographer Blends Egyptian and Western Dance


In a time of war in the Middle East, when scholars study what some call "the clash of cultures," there is an American dancer whose career has run counter to that notion. American dancer and choreographer Diana Calenti, now a celebrity in Egypt, has spent two decades blending Western dance with traditional Egyptian dance. Mohammed Elshinnawi explains.

Twenty three years ago, Diana Calenti went to Egypt to teach dance at the American University of Cairo. She says she was attracted to Egyptian folkloric dance, which tells a story through movement and music. And she combined the traditional approach with Western ballet and modern dance.

The Egyptian Ministry of Culture asked her to develop and modernize the performance of a famous folkloric dancing troupe. She explains, "I was a trained dancer when I went there, so my body was trained and skilled, so I just simply applied what my body was and absorbed the movements from Egypt."

Over several years of mixing various types of American and Egyptian dancing, Diana Calenti became a celebrity in Egypt. She was granted Egyptian citizenship and was appointed as director and choreographer of the Modern Folkloric Egyptian Dance Company.

Her love for the land of the Pharaohs, she says, began with Egyptian music when she was a child. "My first exposure really came in New York when I was growing up. I grew up in a very ethnic neighborhood, as a lot of New Yorkers have, so I heard a lot of kinds of music and I was fascinated with the sounds of the music from there."

With the help of her Egyptian-Canadian husband, Calenti co-produced a fictional movie called "Search for Diana." The movie tells a story of a young American woman who feels somehow she is drawn to Egypt by an archeologist who was uncovering Pharaohs tombs.

Now, Diana Calenti is in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland, where she has formed a troupe to teach young American dancers how to perform Egyptian folkloric dancing. "You talk to them about the music and the culture it comes from, because the music comes out from the society and the culture and they are very smart girls. Once they begin to understand, it is easy for them to get into the idea of the movement."

Alexia Whaley, a 16-year-old member of the newly-formed Calenti Dancing Troupe says her experience with the Egyptian dancing introduced her to a unique expression of human feelings. "I came to find out that the Egyptian dancing is more spiritual, it comes from your soul, you really have to put your mind into everything that you do."

The Egyptian Embassy in Washington hosted the first performance of the troupe, and American spectators say they liked the cultural connection. After watching the show, one American professional dancer, who called herself Stephanie, says she is more convinced now that dancing is a real cultural bridge. "Art, music and dance is a way of helping different cultures communicate themselves and to foster tolerance and understanding worldwide."

Diana Calenti agrees and says she deeply believes in her mission of connecting cultures through common expression of human feelings.