Folk-dancing troupe expresses joyful side of Syria |
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Dalel Khalil hopes the presence of Syrian dancers at this year’s Pittsburgh Folk Festival gives people a view of the country’s great culture at a time of political turmoil in the Middle East nation.

“What’s going on over there is just tearing us apart,” said Khalil, daughter of the owner of Khalil’s Restaurant in Bloomfield. “We want to take away from the horrific news for just a minute.”

The Pittsburgh Syrian Dance Ensemble, which performed on Saturday, is new to the 55-year-old festival. The Khalil family sponsored a cultural and educational booth at last year’s festival and hopes to bring Syrian food to next year’s event.

Khalil said she and her siblings also wanted a way to honor their parents for being leaders in the local Syrian community.

Mikhail Khalil came to Pittsburgh in 1952 and slowly earned enough money to begin bringing his extended family to the city. In 1972 he opened his namesake restaurant. He is now 78.

“Anyone in the local Arab community that needed anything, they knew to come to my father’s house,” Dalel Khalil said. “You have a problem, you go to him, and he’ll help you out.”

At the folk festival, which started on Friday and runs through today at the Monroeville Convention Center, the Syrian Dance Ensemble performed traditional Bedouin dances. They were among groups representing about two dozen countries at the festival.

The 25 men, women and children in the troupe were accompanied by musicians playing traditional Arabian instruments.

The dances are indigenous to Syria and Lebanon, and many of the Syrian-American performers grew up performing them at social functions and in church both in Pittsburgh and in Syria, said Kweilin Nassar, who choreographed the performance.

“We grew up with it, and everyone just got up and danced,” Nassar said.

The dancers, in black and red costumes, accented with gold jewelry, displayed energy and excitement as they performed for several hundred people yesterday afternoon.

Violence is worsening in Syria, where an uprising against President Bashar Assad began 15 months ago.

Dalel Khalil, who was born in the United States, said she is concerned about the fate of Syria and its people, but isn’t interested in debating the politics. She loves her heritage and wants people to see its beauty because “all you see on the news is this unrest and this slaughter.”

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