At Night, They Dance

Isabelle LavigneStéphane Thibault

Canada, 2011, 80 mins

This is one family’s story. The film takes us into the heart of a clan of women, in which the art of belly dancing has been passed down from mother to daughter since time immemorial. Filmed in Cairo, the film takes an unsentimental yet lyrical look at a hidden world full of surprise and fascination. The viewer is allowed in as a privileged witness.

Not to undermine the often sophisticated portrayal of a family of belly dancers in working-class Cairo, but there are moments in At Night, They Dance when catty female fury explodes across the living room of central character Reda’s home and it feels like a daytime talk show. A circle of quibbling women rant about their children, their husbands and their finances, calling each other ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’ while chain smoking. Female trouble is indeed  female trouble, even when they speak Arabic and sit on woven rugs with headscarves instead of hairspray. Though providing no historical or social context of modern Cairo outside the frame, Canadian Lavigne and Thibault have compiled an intensely personable portrait of generations of women struggling to survive in a world ruled by men and determined by God.

Reda Ibrahim Mohamed Ali, a retired dancer herself, is a 42year old widowed mother of seven with another baby on the way. As the proprietor of her family’s belly dancing tradition, Reda copes with physical and emotional pain while remaining headstrong about her daughters and their line of work. She spends most of the film sitting on her living room floor, excusing and attacking their behavior to her friends and mother, while ensuring that they earn their keep from the all-male nightclubs they shake for.At one point Reda defends her older daughter Amira after she abandoned an obligation to dance at a wedding. Reda assures the groom that her daughter is sick from the drugs she takes, alluding to the even darker and infectious underbelly of the dance culture.

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