Faculty and students line up to serve themselves pastitsio and Greek salad after conversation over Arabic tea. German, French, and Spanish can be heard over a cheerful din of laughter and exotic music. Members of Hillsdale College’s international club rush to greet guests and set up for a kind of exotic performance that Hillsdale students rarely get the chance to observe. A stage is made out of a string of small yellow lights.
On Thursday, Feb. 7th, Hillsdale College’s international club hosted an authentic Mediterranean dinner, featuring cuisine from the nations of the Mediterranean and a performance and lesson by a professional belly-dancer.
Club President Nico de Enrique said that the food was “more from the eastern side” of the Mediterranean, consisting mostly of “Libyan and Greek food”. It is “very usual for mediterranean countries to have music and dancing while you’re eating,” De Enrique added.
Students and faculty mingled and ate while members of the club waited to introduce their guest, a professional belly-dancer from South America, who goes by Rommyna.
“First she’s going to dance and show what she does, then she’s going to teach, to show us what she does,” de Enrique said.
Former club president Nour Ben Hmieida, originally from Libya said the goal of the dinner was to bring part of the Mediterranean culture to campus.
“We’re very isolated here at Hillsdale. We wanted to bring a piece of home. It’s good and fun to expand your exposure to cultures. It’s good to reach out of our comfort zone,” Ben Hmieida said.
After dinner, guests observed and were able to take part in some traditional Mediterranean belly-dancing.
“She’ll be giving a 15-minute lesson toward the end for people who are interested in learning,” Ben Hmieida said.
The cuisine was familiar to several of Hillsdale’s international students, some of whom helped prepare the menu. De Enrique said that he helped cook the “pastitsio” which he described as “like lasagna.”
“I cooked a little bit of that, so I’m kind of proud of that,” de Enrique added.
Hillsdale senior Elizabeth Palmer described the cuisine: “They had a pasta dish that Nour explained is from Greece and Italy and is a recipe that her mom uses. We also had some feta and spinach squares, which were really good, Arabic tea, and some Greek salad.”
Palmer dined with friends and colleagues and said that events like these make her want to travel more.
“Taking part in the belly-dancing lesson is something I might try tonight,” Palmer added cheerfully.
Rommyna, who is Brazilian-Peruvian, said the variety of music in South America sparked her interest in belly-dancing.
“We have access to all sorts of music from the Middle East, and Morocco, and Tunisia. It was very trendy. I felt like I wanted to learn to dance and learn about their culture. Then I moved to the United States and started taking lessons,” she said. “It’s an art: there is a beauty, there is a lot of work in that, to manage the moves. It required a lot of practice.”
When asked what distinguishes belly-dancing from other styles of dance, Rommyna said it comes down to isolation.
“When we move the hips we normally don’t move the upper body. When we move the upper body we don’t move the lower body. Isolation is very important, but sometimes we move the whole body like a serpentine,” she said.
Palmer said she thinks it’s important to have events like this at Hillsdale to help broaden students’ perspectives.
“Hillsdale can kind of be a very homogenous school in a lot of ways,” Palmer said. “It’s a good learning opportunity for everybody.”
By the end of the night, many students had gathered alongside Rommyna on the makeshift stage, to belly-dance as a group. The lesson went longer than the anticipated 15 minutes, as students requested more music be played for multiple rounds of dancing.