Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp
photo by Annette Baker
class was taught outside one of the Yurt's
organized by Joshkun Tamer
August 17-24, 2003
report and review by Yasmela
by GS Staff except where indicated
several years now I have been sending students to the Middle
Eastern Music and Dance Camp in Mendocino, California.
Since I focus heavily on the ethnic origins of the dance, this
seemed like the best way for my students to be exposed to a variety
of options. They could study dance, music and singing for an uninterrupted
week with some of the finest musicians and dancers in the world.
is nothing like immersing yourself in study and in the strange
and unique culture of the Middle Eastern music and dance “scene”.
With the decline of clubs where you can hear live music on
a daily or weekly basis, it is nearly impossible to become
as familiar with the music and the way dance fits into it
as one should be if one is going to dance.
And this doesn’t
even address the roots and soul of the music. There is so
much more than meets the eye or the ear.
The first year
I sent them down, my small group of students came home with rich
tales of music and dance and parties. Dance Camp profoundly changed
their attitudes about dance, music and the cultures of the Middle
East. The second year, the expanded group of camp attendees included
the musicians who were working with the troupe that had formed
from my classes. That year Banat Sahar performed
a Persian piece in one of the evening cabarets. Where my
limited knowledge of Persian dance left off, Robin Friend’s
prodigious knowledge and instruction took over, and with her tutelage,
Banat Sahar delighted the audience as well as the Persian contingency
at camp. The superb Persian singer Momak Khadem
even joined them to play and sing.
Back from their
third year, my students declared that I MUST go next time.
It was sort of amazing that I had sent them year after year
and never went myself, so this year I packed up my trusty air
mattress, several bags of trail mix, my pocket camp stove and
special coffee, a can or two of sweetened condensed milk and off
I went. Before heading down the twisty rutted road to the
Mendocino Woodlands Campsite, we stopped for supplies and a bottle
of my favorite B&B (Benedictine aand Brandy). I then
put myself in the hands of my much more experienced students,
pitched a musty old tent with my traveling partner and dance friend
and spent a week in the Mendocino National Forest.
From the outset
it was a magical journey. We were blessed with great weather
- not always the case on the California coast near Mendocino.
We pitched our camp in the meadow, across the landing space for
the emergency helicopter from the UCSB’s yurt contingent.
I immediately decided I needed a yurt. They even had electricity!
And how elegant they were lounging around in front of the yurt in
real chairs, even hosting the afternoon Turkish singing class with
Fatma Goze. Unfortunately, from the meadow every
single place I needed to go was uphill. The bathroom (with
one working hot shower) that serviced the meadow was, of course,
in the opposite direction from all the classes, concerts and
The FInger Cymbal
Class taught by Karim
room only looking in the window at the concert hall
on Turkish night
in the woods with their sticks!
Michel Harris (Lynette's son), Avi Sinai (Dror's son) ,
& Britt Beach (Michael
my schedule, I realized it would be impossible to take every class,
so I settled for the two classes I considered essential and I
stuck to them, almost every
day. My first class was Georgian dance with Helene Eriksen
at the ungodly hour of 9:30 am. Despite the early hour,
it was wonderful to slip on my rusty character shoes, grab a spot
on the floor and feel like a total klutz, JUST LIKE A STUDENT!
It was both heady and invigorating after years of being the teacher.
It was also brutal and demeaning, but I did it and I even felt
like I understood it, a little, after the third day.
I tried a finger
cymbals class, zagat, with Karim, who is a master
percussionist, cute as hell and simply fascinating to watch. I did
one humiliating day with him and decided that I knew enough about
finger cymbals already since I had been playing them, AND in a band,
no less, for over 30 years! Still, he certainly taught me a thing
or two or three or four….
Tafsout’s class made me feel so good that
I decided I couldn’t do without her charming smile, her
great energy and that wonderful dance. I added her class to my
daily “must do” list. Amel is a magick woman
and a great spirit. Her classes were packed every day. After
wolfing down a high carb lunch, hardly noticing what it was because
I was so hungry and had stood in line for so long, I did the Khaleeji
class with Helene. I loved this class! Khaleeji is
accessible, a woman’s dance, and it’s just plain fun.
It was an added treat to actually dance to the wonderful live
Gulf music with Naser Musa and Souhail
Kaspar later in the week. Helene is a tall, unbelievably
graceful and impressive teacher and dancer, a taskmistress, yet
ultimately approachable, as is everyone at camp.
And that is
a huge part of what makes camp charming. The fact that everyone
is in the same place, everyone is cold and damp or hot and sweaty.
Everyone has to stand in line to eat and everyone needs his or
her coffee in the morning. There is plenty of ego, plenty
of posturing, plenty of “scene”, but there are also
Turkish grandmas in shapeless black dresses with sweet little
scarves draped over their shoulders herding small children, while
musician Papas and dancing Mamas teach and dance and talk and
smoke. It feels like a real family reunion for some of these
people, expatriates in a sometimes hostile country. Everyone is
approachable. There is fierce rivalry for seats in the concert
hall and cabaret. There is passionate music and dance everywhere,
spontaneous singing and clapping, impromptu lessons in that crazy
Persian finger snap that everyone does a different way, and there
is the absolute delight of watching someone dance
to live music,
really incredible live music, for the very first time. Watching
the face of a dancer who has never had this opportunity and seeing
her face light up with the realization that it isn’t about
choreography at all, it really is about
the music, is wonderful. To see the joy and love on the faces
of Faruk Tekbilek and his charming wife as she
dances and he plays for her makes you realize that the soul of the
dance comes from its simplicity and someone’s heartfelt response
to the music. It is magick.
I liked Camp.
I probably won’t go back again, but I liked it and I will
continue to recommend it to students and dancers who have not
been there. I liked hearing Arabic and Farsi and Turkish and Kurdish
and Armenian spoken all around me. But most of all I loved
the music. The evening concerts alone were worth the price of
admission. Though I loved the music in the cabaret, I found
a lot of the dancing tiresome.
is embarrassing to watch dancers ruin perfectly wonderful
Turkish music because they think Egyptian modern style dance
applies to any style of music. Obviously no one has bothered
to teach them the difference and it is a shame.
at camp are much like dancers everywhere. Some of them were especially
delightful and charming. Actually, most of them were, when
you separated them from their need to be recognized and acknowledged.
The ones who dragged their silly personae and insecure baggage
around with them were boring and annoying, but I have little tolerance
anymore for that sort of nonsense. I am constantly confounded
by the reasons some people decide to become dancers. If
we all realized how unattractive it is to dress up in our belly
dance suits and parade our neuroses in front of the world, there
would be fewer but better dancers abroad. But…there
it is. Camp is like life. In among the stones there are
many many gems.
And here is
what I loved…
Tafsout. I have known Amel for a couple of years,
but each time I see her I feel as if I have known her forever.
Her dancing is as subtle and wise as her sense of humor.
Taking a class
from Amel is so much more than learning steps and gestures.
It is the indescribable essence of pure spirit pouring into your
soul. If you want to experience REAL tribal dance, dance with
has an amazing way of taking the most mundane and ordinary
piece of fabric, jewel or flower and adorning herself like
a queen. She is a Queen.
Eriksen. I remember seeing the Moiseyev Dancers
as a child back in the 1950’s, and the Georgian dancers
who glided around the floor on ball bearings captured my imagination.
Helene actually made the grueling process of drills designed to
teach the difficult technique of looking like you are walking
on rollers enjoyable. Her Khaleeji class was like fresh
air, sweet and subtle, like breathing. Just her presence
Friend. Aside from the fact that she is a consummate
scholar, her dancing is always a surprise. She comes alive in
class and even more so on the dance floor. I enjoy watching
her because she conveys such profound emotional response to the
music. Robin is the only teacher who returns to Camp every
year. This year she taught Persian technique and Bandari.
Deceptively simple, Bandari has a rich and fascinating evolution
in the Persian Gulf and Robin’s stories about it, like
all of her stories, add contextual meaning to the dance for me.
is such an important element of dance education. Without
it we are all only doing a monkey’s imitation of what
we think these dances should be.
I sat in on
at least one of all the other dance classes. Ansuya
is a second-generation dancer, full of energy, model-beautiful,
and very young. She is a lovely dancer who has a fusion style,
reminiscent of belly dance from the 60’s and 70’s,
with plenty of hip hop and fusion mixed into the brew. I
look for a dancer to say something and I think Ansuya is just
too young to have very much to say right now; however, she will
no doubt mature into a delightful dancer.
I would love
to see Shareen Al Safy just teach and not feel
she has to legitimate every movement by telling us where it came
from, who did it, when it was done and under what circumstances.
This is interesting stuff, but I got the feeling she felt uncomfortable
just saying, “do it this way because that’s how I
do it.” I applaud the courtesy of giving credit to
dancers for originating a movement, but is it really necessary
to know that every move you do is not original? I mean,
isn’t that a given to some extent?
took over Shareen’s class on Wednesday and did a magnificent
job. I loved her
little shoes, her big hair, and her ease. Sahra demystified
Egyptian for me. Too much technical information can suck the life
right out of a dance, you know. Some of it is like religion…you
have to take it on faith, and Sahra put a very human face on the
Egyptian style movements that really made them click for me.
I tried to make all of her classes.
I made every
one of the evening concerts, but missed some of the real highlights
in the later evening cabarets. One of these was the Shikhatt
with Helene and Amel, and Helene’s amazing tray dance, but
I have some good photos that my girls took, and they told me all
about it. One of the problems I had with Camp is how late
you really do need to stay up in order to see everything, and
even then you don’t get to see it all - and you are just
bushed the next morning. Breakfast and coffee and a 9:30
class in character shoes comes really early, especially if you
have to do a couple of uphill climbs first. Ah, the advantages
of youth! I did get to see Suzie Tekbilek
(who taught Turkish style dance) both in the cabaret and in concert.
She was indescribably delightful! Her dance was full of
the coy flirtatiousness that American dancers seem to have such
difficulty capturing. Her style is pure Turkish, a little
rougher and more raw than the highly stylized Egyptian, but I
like that. Suzie is so at ease in her dancing, and her infectious
smile drove the audience wild.
even touched on the wonderful instrumental and singing classes
offered. Camp is a regular buffet of opportunities for dancers
to branch out, for musicians to study with top rate instructors,
and just a great place to wander around listening to wonderful
music all day and night, soaking up the heady atmosphere of a
Middle Eastern Shangri-La. The concerts were astounding.
From the first beat of Georges Lammam’s
Ensemble the first night in the Cabaret to the student concerts
the last night in the main hall, Camp is a rich feast. Turkish
night, Armenian night, Arabic night, the Sufi music with the Sufi
spinner, the fashion shows, Khaleeji night in the cabaret, Persian
dance of all kinds, Momak giving voice lessons
at a table near the dance hall,
Turkish voice class wafting across the meadow, the zurnas
playing "Smoke on the Water" or "Tequila"
to call Faruk for afternoon class, always at my nap time.
Every morning I
woke to a family of fat partridges touring the campground single
file looking for breakfast. Sassy scrub jays bounced and slid
across the top of my tent looking for holes in the bags of cookies
and chips we stored around the edges of the tent we used as our
salon. At any time of the day or night the sounds of the oud,
violin, dumbek and daff echoed off the sides of the deep ravine,
and orphan phrases of songs drifted down the gully in the afternoon
breeze. So for me, along with the discomfort and the annoyances,
there were these great pearls of pleasure, usually in unexpected
places. Mendocino is a long way to go from where I live and
I can see how some people make it a yearly pilgrimage, but I prefer
to leave it as a fine memory and a fond dream… however, as
I say to my students, you should go, you should go….And maybe
I will publish the Non-Camper’s Guide to Middle Eastern Dance
and Music Camp next year.
photos of camp coming!
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Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Revisited by Yasmela/ Shelley Muzzy
to the improvisational passages in Middle Eastern music illustrate
the depth of our understanding of the rich texture and nuance
of the culture
Classic Cabaret Floor
Work with Anaheed Video reviewed by Yasmela/ Shelley Muzzy
Good lighting, good sound, clear instructions and good
camera work seem to be the hallmarks of IAMED videos.
Reviewed by Shelley Muzzy/Yasmela
And I suppose to some dancers, it is a way of life. There is repeated
emphasis placed on the concepts of bonding, healing, empowering,
and connecting throughout the book. From the sound of it, American
women are desperate to connect, to be part of a tribe, to belong.
The “Tuck It Under” Phenomenon
by Vilia (Valerie Cherry)
under” is for ballet, and it has less to do with posture
than it does with enabling the execution of the kinds of movements
and positions that ballet demands.
Orient House Istanbul by Justine
fears about our security from friends, everywhere we went in Turkey,
we met with nothing but perfect friendliness and assistance.
Belly Dance and Healing from
Sexual Trauma by Lucy Lipschitz
main reason I teach this is because of my own issues and a major
traumatic event that changed my life.
Belly Dance in Reno … You Bet!
hotels canceled our events after the September 11 tragedy or even
considered it — in fact, I have found that they actively
court our events.