Christopher Street Day in Berlin is world-renowned as the city celebrates its ongoing history in the LGBTQI+ movement. IMAGO spoke to Berlin’s emerging queer performer, The Darvish, who has created their own niche blending traditional belly dancing with elements of drag.
Since its origin in mid 19th-century Egypt when the traveling dancers known as ghawazee were banished from Cairo, belly dancing has been as much a statement as it is a traditional form of dance, garnering reputations from historically rich, feminist and empowering to vulgar and controversial. Even today, the boundaries of belly dancing are being pushed to great lengths as Berlin’s queer community has welcomed ‘The Darvish.’
They have taken the esteemed form of dance by the reins and created a unique and intricate performance mixing elements of drag culture with their own Syrian roots. Since moving to Berlin, The Darvish has not only gained popularity, but has immersed into the countless pockets of the queer art scene that run through the veins of Berlin. In an interview with IMAGO, The Darvish shares their journey and relationship to Europe’s queer capital.
Take a look at our Pride series to discover more voices from Berlin’s LGBTQI+ community.
What drew you to start belly dancing as a performance artist?
Dancing came to me spontaneously, I didn’t plan to be a performance artist when I came to Germany but I guess you can say it was my calling because ever since I started, I’ve been so happy and I keep learning new aspects of either gender or life. Therefore I stuck to it, it simply gives me life.
What is your relationship to Berlin as a capital for queer artists in particular? How has it changed for you over the years?
Berlin is home, its queer community is my haven.
It allowed me to be who I am today. This city changed me and shaped me in various ways: be it gaining confidence from the voguing community, learning new techniques from the theater community, knowing my own power and representing a voice for the Arab community through highlighting the joy of our culture, or even be it, understanding the value of taking care of each other and community building which came to me through club-culture.
As a queer POC (Person of Color), is Berlin a safe space for you?
Arguably it might be a “safer” place than any other city, but even then, it’s unfortunately hard to determine. The community has witnessed a spike in attacks and hate crimes towards its members in the last couple of years, with no action from the government to stop it, and blaming it on the after-effects of lockdowns and people being frustrated. But that to me is a very lame excuse, homophobia is never justified.
I personally have been called many slurs and just recently got almost physically attacked in the train because I was dressed more femme. So no, I dont think it’s a safe space anymore – maybe it was. But I know we are working together to gain our safety and our spaces back, through the events and community functions I’m organizing. The fight is not done yet.
What could be improved in the queer capital of Europe?
Saying ‘equality’ or ‘respect’, although being very important requirements, also feels redundant to me. We’ve been shouting it for a long time and we keep experiencing the hate. I want to call for more representation, be it in the media or the official offices of our city. I always say: Do not have conversations about us, without us.
What would be your advice to the queer refugees in search of building a relationship with a new community and trying to find themselves in Berlin?
Being ready to unlearn, in order to start learning. Coming from a SWANA Region (SouthWest Asian/ North African) can mean that the person has been feeding on a certain ideology their whole life, and to start a new life with old mentalities is not a match in my opinion. So, finding a new community means having an open mind to receive input and build the life you think you deserve.