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March 13, 1992 - Image 71

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-03-13

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.



Special to The Jewish News


leven years ago,
Naomi Handleman
took her first belly
dancing lesson. She
remembers it well.
That night in 1981, the
American hostages were
finally released from their
nightmare in Iran.
"I stood in class thinking of
the hostages coming home
while I was learning Arabic
dance. It was odd," said Mrs.
Handleman, who lives in
Southfield. "But the first
song the instructor played
was Israeli. I remembered the
tune and it moved me."
And Mrs. Handleman has
continued to move.
The one-time student now
teaches belly dancing
through the City of South-
field Department of Parks

"This is a
sensuous dance —
exposing midriff
and exploring what
one can do with
one's body."

Naomi Handleman

Naomi Handleman teaches and performs belly dancing.

Sway /

to the



Naomi Handleman believes

an ancient dance has

received a modern bad rap.

and Recreation and heads up
the belly dancing troupe, the
Daughters of Peace.
Mrs. Handleman's original
goal in learning the Middle
Eastern style of dance was to
get back in shape after child-
birth. She had enrolled in
African, modern, ballet and
jazz classes previously.
However, belly dancing was
the style she found most satis-
fying, claiming the music as
the greatest motivating force.
"This is an art form," Mrs.
Handleman said. "And there-
fore I try not to offend it. I
don't want to be sleazy. Belly
dancing has gotten a bad
name and there are plenty of
sleazy dancers who promote
it. I sometimes feel like I'm
swimming upstream against
"This is a way of validating
my femininity, of making a
personal connection with art
and dance and music," Mrs.
Handleman said. "It's very
personal and it's very
Mrs. Handleman discovered
many other dancers who felt
the same way about their
craft, but were unable to find
an acceptable forum to work
in. And so Daughters of Peace

was born — Binot Shel
Shalom in Hebrew, Benat Al
Salaam in Arabic.
The goal of the troupe is to
present this ancient form of
dance to the public as art and
to promote understanding of
the beauty and complexity of
the dance.
Daughters of Peace, made
up of seven full-time dancers
and two apprentices, presents
programs at schools, festivals
and seminars. In addition to
dancing, the women explain
the history of the dance and
its cultural implications,
beginning with the Israeli
and Arabic similarities in the
group's name and music the
group uses to perform.
"We (Jews and Arabs) are so
similar in culture. And there
is so much to find positive
about the region we are from.
Yet so much negativity sur-
rounds the Middle East," Mrs.
Handleman said. "If you
teach in a negative way, it
leaves a bad taste in people's
For that reason, Mrs.
Handleman especially enjoys
performing for elementary
"Kids are my favorite au-
dience. They're so open to all
of it," Mrs. Handleman said.
She refuses to dance for
bachelor parties and men-
only parties, and avoids danc-
ing in nightclubs.
"I didn't go to them (bars)
when I wasn't a dancer. So
why would I go now?" Mrs.
Handleman said.
"The clientele there is look-
ing for strippers. I'm not a
stripper," she said. "This is a
sensuous dance — affirming
femininity, exposing midriff
and exploring what one can
do with one's body. There are
some sexual connotations.
But sexuality isn't bad. I don't
do anything I wouldn't do in
front of my children."
To verify she is getting her
intent across, Mrs. Handle-
man looks into the faces of
women in the crowd rather
than men. Most women tell
her the dance and the costum-
ing, ranging from the use of
veils, scarves and sequins to
the ornamental thobe worn
for a dance done only by
women and only for women, is
graceful and charming.
Mrs. Handleman, who at-
tended Mumford and Wayne
State, creates all her own
"When I took home
economics classes in school I
didn't want just to sew the
same dress in 10 different col-
ors. I was a maverick then,"
Mrs. Handleman said. "And I
am now, too." ❑



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