Somewhere in between with the Upside Down Man

The other day I watched the dance performance “The Upside-Down Man.” For a compelling title and capturing performance.
Whether it was the title or description of the dance that led me to “Dansen hus” in Oslo, I am not sure, but I am glad I followed my impulse.
While the Tunisian-born dancer, Mohamed Toukabri, danced his biography, he also moved through my history and what defines our identity as humans. Mohamed’s dance was a narrative of human life.
Of how the future can take a new direction in an instant. Because of an event or meeting with another human being.

One day on the way back from school, Mohamed became a spectator of a Street dancer in front of the Tunis train station.
«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.»
This incident formed my future, Mohamed announced while dancing the opening scene on a white stage that uniquely revealed human vulnerability and strength.

Mohamed did not become an engineer or a doctor as his parents might have imagined. Eventually, he went to Europe, and he became a dancer. A dancer with a Muslim background. A dancer who uses his body to raise important issues. Topics such as how moving from one country to another affect us as individuals or how the political game affects our lives?

Photo: Marianne Frøyen

«When I was a child, my name Mohamed was connected with color, kindness, faith, peace, and generosity. As a name, Mohamed is today linked with intolerance, jihad, crises, fear, murder, terrorism, and death. It is strange how a 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 repeatedly; how is it possible to be a dancer when you are a Muslim?»

We do not know who is asking him this question, but can it be the opposites in the society, each with their black and white picture of the world?
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 hand, those with a black and white image of Islam in the Western world. Those who regard Islam as a barbaric religion and Muslims as savages.

Photo: Marianne Frøyen

And me, like Mohamed, was born in a Muslim country. As a girl, after passing a certain age, I had to adapt to a particular set of rules of behavior, but religion was never a topic in our home. I, like Mohamed, grew up with ABBA, Boney M, Bee Gees.
I also had a mother with big dreams for her children.
She wanted her only daughter (me) to become a ballet dancer. Russians ran the ballet school where we were living, and before I got the chance to start the ballet school, the Iranian revolution happened, and Russians fled the country.
I was then seven years old and had just started in the first class.

After the revolution, a lot of things became banned by the Mullahs.
Listening to music, singing, or dancing was marked as the devil’s work. If we were listening to music, we had to keep in mind that no one else outside the house heard it. We never knew who would chatter and who wouldn’t. My mother’s dream remained just a dream, and the political turmoil forced us to move out of Iran and at the age of 14, I became a new citizen of Norway.
Later, as a grown-up, I often wondered how my life would have been if the political situation in Iran had not forced us to move? I learned how my history and life’s baggage shaped my identity, which made me wonder what shaped other people’s identity?
Is it the gender and the way they appear?
Was it their family’s roots, history, and relational mechanisms within their family?
Is it the size of their wallet and their role in society, and the job they have? Is it their religion and their nationality?
And what if we removed all these layers?
I, like Mohamed, have ended up somewhere in between, but do societies allow us as individuals to be somewhere in between?
A question that Mohamed brings up in such an original way in his dance performance.
For me, 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, will our human society ever allow us, humans, to be 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 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 I find my center there. 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? How do you regard your identity? Is identity a topic that concerns you at all, or do you think it is a topic that only emerges when we as humans experience a crisis?