The other day I was watching the dance performance “The Upside-Down Man.” For a tantalizing title, and what a performance. Whether it was the title or description of it that led me to Dansen hus in Oslo, I am not sure, but I am glad I followed my impulse.
Although the Tunisian-born dancer, Mohamed Toukabri, danced his biography, he also moved through my history and what defines our identity as humans.
Mohamed ś dance was a narrative of how the future can take a new direction, in an instant, because of an event, or in a meeting with another human being, and how the political game can influence the energy of names in the world. And what moving from place to place can do to us as individuals?
Mohamed’s future changed direction one day when he was on his way back home from school. In front of the Tunis train station, he became a spectator of a Street dancer.
« The way he was moving his body made me feel inside my own body. If he could move the way he did so could I. Had it not been for that moment, I would not have been in here tonight,» said Mohamed while dancing the opening scene, on a white stage that revealed the human vulnerability and strength uniquely.
Photograph: Marianne Frøyen
Mohamed became a dancer. Not an engineer or doctor that his parents perhaps had imagined. Eventually, he left for Europe. A dancer with a background of a Muslim country.
«When I was a child, my name Mohamed was connected with colour, kindness, faith, peace, and generosity. Today, the name Mohamed is linked with intolerance, jihad, crises, fear, murder, terrorism, and death. It is strange how the name can have such a story and power over a person’s life. Having a background from a Muslim country did not stop me from becoming a dancer, but I keep getting the same question over and over again; how is it possible to be a dancer when you are a Muslim?
Who does ask him this question, we do not get to know, but can it be people from both sides of the line? On the one hand, the conservative Muslims with a black-and-white interpretation of Islam and how a Muslim should behave? And on the other side, the majority of the Western world, and how they regard Islam as a barbaric religion and Muslims as savages.
Photograph: Marianne Frøyen
And me, I was born as a female in a Muslim country. As a girl, I had to get used to some rules of behaviour, at least after I had passed a certain age, but religion was never a topic in our home. I, like Mohamed, grew up with ABBA, Boney M, Bee Gees.
I had a mother with big dreams. She wanted me, her only daughter, to become a ballet dancer. The ballet school, where we use to live at that time, was run by Russians. We had been visiting the school. I just had to buy a ballet dress so I could start dancing. I was then seven years old and had just started in the first class, but before we got there, the Iranian revolution had happened.
The Russians had to pack their suitcases and travel out of the country. Much was banned, including music, singing, and dancing. Suddenly music was marked as the devil’s work; listening to music, singing, or dancing became forbidden. We had to be careful of the volume, avoiding the sound of music going outside the four walls of the home. We never knew who would chatter and who wouldn’t. My mother’s dream remained only as a dream, and the political turmoil forced us to move out of Iran. As a 14 1/2-year-old, I became a new citizen in the Western world.
We all have a history, and our identity is usually the result of our life’s baggage.
In the later years, I have reflected a lot on what if the political situation in Iran had been different, and we had not moved outside? Where I, Parisa, would have been today, and how would my life had been?
If I had not to move from my roots, would identity have had such a central place in my life as it has today? Would humanity intrigue me as much it does today and the quest of where we place our identity? In our life story? Our gender and our appearance? On the size of our wallet? On our family’s roots, history, and relational mechanisms within the family? On the role, we play in society and the job we have? On our religion? On our nationality?What if we remove all these layers? Where do we end up?
I, like Mohamed, have ended up somewhere in between, but is there room to be somewhere in between? A question that Mohamed brings up in such an original way in his dance performance?
For me, similar to Mohamed, a place in between, is an open space with endless possibilities. A spacious room that opens up for mobility and different constellations, but the question is, does our human society allow us, humans, being somewhere in between?
Or are we as humans more occupied to store each other into boxes?
Me as Parisa, I have had to remove several layers over the years to reach my core. It consists of my curiosity, wonder, honesty, and not least, the belief in goodness. Some might call it attributes, but for me, my core is an essential part of my identity. When it is stormy around me, I seek shelter in that inner room, “the room of my core,” and there I find my centre. In that room, I also use my creativity to express my deeper feelings. No matter what happens around me, I always have my core, and it is unshakeable.
What about you? Who are you? What is the identity for you, and where do you plant your identity?
I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please share them with other readers and me.