She Bellydanced Her Way Into Brazil’s Northeast

Brazilian ballerina Christiane Oliveira, from the northeastern state of Bahia, has no direct Arab ancestry, but ever since she learned the belly dance, she became so fascinated by the culture, that she opened the Casa Àrabe Império de Nefis (Arab House Empire of Nefis) in Aracaju, capital of the northeastern state of Sergipe.

The house, which was opened in March, has three decorated settings and has an Arab dance school, typical shows, dinners and Arab culinary events.


“My passion for the Arab culture started doing the belly dance, I was then interested in the culinary and fell in love with that too,” said Christiane, who learned the belly dance about 7 years ago, after having ballet, tap dancing and bolero classes.


Christiane is a belly dance teacher at the Casa írabe and has lived for 4 months in the United Arab Emirates, where she danced in hotels and restaurants.


After many belly dance classes and workshops in the cities of São Paulo, Porto Alegre and Salvador, the ballerina would still buy Lebanese and Egyptian videotapes with shows of the Arab dance.


“I would watch the tapes and then imitate the dancers,” recounts Christiane.


She opened the first belly dance school in Aracaju, Império de Néfis, in October 2001. Later on the space was increased and became a center for Arab events.


Once a month, Christiane would decorate one of the rooms in the school with colored cushions on the floor and set up the “Egyptian Night”, a night when her pupils would make a belly dance presentation for guests.


“I had always dreamed of having a place where I could have dance presentations, but there wasn’t much space in the school,” said the teacher.


With the inauguration of the house, the pupils and the teacher got a space for the dance shows. “The Egyptian Night still takes place in the house,” she added.


In the new space there is a room entirely decorated with Egyptian items such as cushions, curtains and low tables. On the walls there are paintings of the desert and of camels.


According to Christiane, it is difficult to find Arab descendants in the state of Sergipe. Generally it is Brazilian women who look for the school, and who are not Arab descendants.


“The Brazilian people are very miscegenational, that is why the public likes it so much and can identify with the belly dance, which is very joyous,” stated the teacher. According to her, the Brazilians find it very easy to learn the dance.


Another part of the Arab culture that pleases the people in the northeast of Brazil is the food. The house offers a restaurant with typical dishes, such as hummus, baba ghanoush, dry curd and chanclich cheese.


“The Arab dishes resemble the dishes in the state of Bahia (also in the Northeast region of Brazil), because of the spicy taste,” said Christiane.


To open the restaurant, she had to hire a chef that knew something about Arab culinary. In the end she trained the cooks herself. “The dishes are well appreciated here in the house,” she added.


In the Arab Countries


In May last year, Christiane was invited by Belly Dance, a Brazilian company which works as an agent for Brazilian ballerinas presenting shows in the Arab countries, to stay as a guest in a hotel in Dubai and work with other dancers.


“I was the second person from the Northeast to sign a contract with Belly Dance and work as a professional dancer in the Emirates. It was wonderful,” recalls Christiane.


According to her, the Brazilian ballerinas are very well accepted in the Arab countries, especially in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar. The Arab dancers, according to Christiane, are more concentrated in Egypt and Lebanon.


When the Brazilian dancers working in the Arab countries come to Brazil for the Ramadan period, Christiane prepares workshops and presentations at the Casa írabe Império de Nefis.


“I always invite Brazilian ballerinas who work there, since it brings more quality to our shows and is an opportunity for the pupils,” added the teacher.


ANBA ”“ Brazil-Arab News Agency

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