In class we’re going to explore a disappearing style of Iraqi dance, one that has deep roots in the Roma/Gypsy village of Qawliya…a village that the Shiite Mahdi Army of Moqtada Sadr demolished in 2004. The Mahdi Army justified destroying the village of about 150 homes in Southern Iraq and dispersing its residents because of the occupations of ill-repute it accused of having a home there. Whatever was taking place in Qawliya, in the absence of the town, and without the small community of Iraqi Roma/Gypsy people to support it, the dance, also called the Qawliya, will be hard pressed to survive.

The Qawliya is a dance similar to most belly dances but with one distinct exception:
performers, always female, grow their hair long and flail it around wildly as part of the dance. This is blasphemous in Islamic circles that encourage or even require female head coverings.

On YouTube with only a small amount of searching (best not to direct-link this one in case you think belly dancing in blasphemous too) you’ll find famous Iraqi Qawliya dancer Malayeen waving her long hair to wow the crowd. The dance was popular among the elite at the time of Saddam, which may have been yet another reason the Mahdi Army wanted to do away with it.

Grow your hair as long as you can before the next class so we can all revive the Qawliya.

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