The University of Richmond's Middle Eastern Club hosted its fifth annual Arabian Nights event March 29 featuring live music, traditional dancing, henna and authentic cuisine.

The Department of Modern Languages and Cultures sponsored this event as a part of the "Larger than Languages" series.

Senior Patrick Coughlin, along with several teachers from the MLC Department, put the event together.

"The main purpose of the event was to expose the Richmond community to some of the more remarkable aspects of Middle Eastern culture through a memorable night of authentic cuisine, live performances and exhibitions," he said.

Organizers of the event arrived earlier in the evening to decorate the International Center Commons and the courtyard. Brilliantly colored traditional clothes were hung from several arches in the courtyard. Many students were invited to try on the traditional attire.

Students and residents in the Richmond community enjoyed an array of Arabic cuisine, such as hummus, baba ghanoush, tabouleh, baklava and chicken kupsa.

Coughlin had expected a turnout of 100 to 150 people, judging by the numbers from previous years, he said.

"We hope that students and others left with a better appreciation for the aspects of a culture that is sometimes misrepresented or oversimplified in this country," he said.

One of the night's highlights was the live music, Coughlin said.

Guests had wandered over to the Commons once the sound of instruments began drifting through the open doors to the courtyard. Al-Bustan's resident ensemble comprising Kinan Abou-afach on cello and Kinan Idnawi on the oud, performed various Arabian musical pieces.

Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture is a non-profit organization based in Philadelphia. It is dedicated to teaching the Arabic language, arts and culture for youths and adults with diverse backgrounds.

The dancing began toward the end of the night. Sophomore Bethany Marcelle said the dance wasn't hard to learn and that it had been simpler than she had expected.

Several students started the dance, decked out in traditional clothing, but soon members of the audience were urged to join in.

"As I was dancing I was curious about how men and women interact in the dance in its country of origin," Marcelle said. "Here in the states it's totally acceptable because all you are doing is holding hands and stepping, but I wondered if it was gender segregated or only done in some countries because of the physical contact, minimal as it was."

Henna was a favorite among the guests, Sophomore Nicole Stroner said. Stroner had volunteered to work at the table even though it was her first time doing henna.

"My friend, Diana Alderbashi, was in charge of the event and she asked me to do henna," Stroner said. "It was very enjoyable because I got to meet a lot of people."

She even did henna on a police officer. Stroner said he seemed very interested in the whole event and intrigued by the practice of henna.

"I thought this event was important because students were also exposed to Indian culture because of the henna," she said. "Plus, it's Asian heritage month."

Unique pieces of jewelry were displayed in glass cases for guests to see.

Hager El Hadidi, professor of anthropology, displayed several traditional jewelry pieces including the Side Hip amulet from Upper Egypt 1960s and the Arab Spirit Heart pendant from Cairo 1940s.

"I've been collecting [the jewelry] since 1981," said Hadidi. "This is part of a practice in Egypt called the Zar. It's a part of a spirit possession cult in which people get possessed for different reasons."

"The night was great all together," Marcelle said. "The food was amazing, the henna was super fun and I loved seeing families there with their little kids. It was nice to have such an age diverse group having fun."

The event ended around 10 p.m.

Contact staff writer Sheetal Babu at sheetal.babu@richmond.edu