Before the age of mass media, American tourists who traveled to the Middle East would return only with tales of the sensual "belly dances" they had seen. Their stories and imitations created a version of Middle Eastern dance known as "American Nightclub" -- one of four styles performed by Shaker Heights-based Troupe Dayim Lahib.
Gina Schatz, the troupe's founder and director, says her interest in Middle Eastern dance was piqued in college, when one of her teachers took a belly-dance class. Schatz tagged along and liked what she saw. "It was the most feminine thing I had ever seen," she recalls. "It was very sensual -- not like watching a stripper, but sensual in other ways. It was like nothing I had ever seen before."
Dayim Lahib -- which means "everlasting flame" -- is an all-American company that performs in the American Nightclub, Classical Egyptian, Gypsy, and Tribal Fusion styles. Each style has the unique characteristics of its region and history.
Schatz describes American Nightclub as a melding of traditions or "what Americans did to the dance. There's a lot of skin showing, lots of glitz. There's no forbidden territory." But it was the Egyptians who used to dance nude, though now the dancers wear costumes decorated with beads that highlight the dancers' nipples.
Gypsies also danced topless -- Dayim Lahib does not -- and wore big skirts, which were incorporated flirtatiously into the dance. "The skirt was the gypsy dancer's pride and joy," Schatz explains. "It would have been all she owned."
In Tribal Fusion, another American melding of several traditions, the dancers show very little skin. "A little stomach, some neck," Schatz says. "But nothing like American Nightclub."
Schatz says the dances are nonverbal dialogues about being a woman and about the relationships between men and women. A dance might be playful or serious, poking fun at men or celebrating the birth of a child or a woman's body. Schatz says some dances simply ask the question, "Are you strong enough to keep watching?"