Tunisian Dancer Rochdi Belgasmi

A dancer and choreographer from Tunis has been striving to push Tunisian popular dance, a sometimes controversial style, into the contemporary art scene for the past seven years. Rochdi Belgasmi, 31, defines himself as a post-revolutionary artist on account of an uprising that led to the ousting of Tunisian President Ben Ali in January 2011. That movement was dubbed the Jasmine Revolution. Belgasmi, who has spent years coming up with his own material and teaching dance, explains that Tunisian popular dance is not viewed well in the Muslim world due to its roots; it was originally based on seduction and sexuality, and had connotations to prostitution and homosexuality. At the start of his career, many considered his performances to be bizarre. He even had to go to court for a form of indecent assault. And during a festival in Carthage, members of the Ennahdha Movement party covered their eyes so as not to see him perform topless and wearing a ribbon around the hips.
For the choreographer, it is important to differentiate Tunisian popular dance from traditional oriental or belly dancing. Regardless of whether a dancer is a man or a woman, for Belgasmi, body language is key. Dancing is a form of expression in the same way as talking, and it can can be used to depict all sort of subjects, like politics, religion and society. It seems there are no taboos. Belgasmi’s topics of interest are often controversial, and can include eroticism and sexuality in Islam, as well as prostitution, provoking reactions from conservative and religious groups. While he says he has faced several attempts to censor his work, he seems to enjoy the noise that his dance moves have created in the media and on social networks. Nowadays, Belgasmi gets invited to perform on contemporary stages all over the world. In 2016, he won the Olfa Rambourg Foundation prize, and in 2017, he claimed the Public Prize at the Tunis Capital of Dance Festival for his show “Ouled Jaleba.” At the workshops he organizes for men and women all over Tunisia, he aims to spread his values of tolerance and freedom.

Mohamed Messara