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The Gilded Serpent presents...
Loving Remembrance and Requiem: the Best "School" That Ever Was,
Part 3
by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu

I'd taught privately in the '60s, training many dancers. Jobs were still plentiful and well-paying. In 1968, Rosetta Le Noire, with whom I'd worked in the Broadway musical, "I Had a Ball", made a proposal I couldn't refuse: "Teach a weekly class at my school or I'll never speak to you again!" OK. I did. For 7 years. I started teaching master classes for other schools in 1972. In the mid 1970s, I was invited to teach a 3-credit course in Mideastern Dance and Culture for the State University of New York, with a concert by myself and the students at the end of each year. 'Loved it, but it ended after 3 years, when the Dance Division had severe cutbacks and all the ethnic dance courses were cut. So I bit the bullet and opened my own school, in my small apartment, in 1976. Moved to a loft in '79, so I could have a bigger studio, and when harrassed out of there (some things haven't changed enough yet!), to West 15th Street and now on West 20th Street - and so it goes . . .

Credit goes to Dr. Paul Monty for coming up with a wonderful concept in the early '70s. One that I firmly believe set us on the path that brought this Art to its current status and international popularity: he was the first to envision and take the professional and financial risks involved in producing large-scale Mideastern dance seminars/ conventions with evening concerts all over the US, presenting and making master teachers of Ibrahim Farrah, Dahlena, Serena, Jamila, myself and several others. Many followed his lead in their local areas, producing seminars featuring the "stars" Dr Monty created and/or teaching themselves. This was to become became my favorite teaching arena and a great opportunity to share my hard won knowledge on a wider scale, first all over the U.S.and Canada and now most of the world: from Casablanca, Morocco and Cairo, Egypt to England, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Finland, Italy, Australia, Israel, Brazil  and all over Germany, meeting so many wonderful people, who share my love of this field.

King Hassan II

Mahmoud Reda

I worked long and hard to try and come up with a teaching method that would make the dances more easily learned and remembered. Serendipity again presented the solution: Lucy Smith/ Scheherezade and the Women of Selket invited me to teach in Richmond, Virginia. That seminar would be held in a very large Mason's hall, great for the large crowd that would be there, but the sound system was waaaaaay over there on the other side of the 80' long room: how to work it so that I wasn't running the 2 minute mile every 3 minutes or so? What to do about rewinding?

After wracking my brain, I came up with the idea of recording the music for the dance I would be teaching by musical phrases, for the requisite amount of repetitions, so I'd only need the tape turned on and off for each section, with no rewinding. Takes forever to do that sort of teaching tape, but it's well worth it and it worked.

If it weren't for the problem, I might never have found that method/ solution! While I wasn't the first to come up with the "weeklong" concept, the joy of teaching these seminars lead to my scheduling and teaching my own weeklong intensives, at which even more can be shared.

I was frustrated, in those early days, because most seminar attendees insisted on nurturing the mass of mythical malarkey abounding at the time and wouldn't believe me, when I'd tell the real story of the real dances. I started showing the research films I'd made on some of my trips and organizing dance-packed tours (again, the first to do so) to prove that the reality was, indeed, far better and more varied than the fantasy.
  • First to Morocco -- for genuine "tribal" dance, but certainly not by that name nor bearing any resemblance to the wonderful American invention -from 1976-90, when King Hassan II changed the Marrakesh Folk Festival from May/June to September and then dropped it altogether. (They say they're doing it again: we'll see!)
  • Then, from 1978 to '93, Egypt for the many real "Egyptian" styles of Oriental dance, the authentic folklore of the Firq'a Masr el Samer and the wonderfully creative folk-based theater dances of the Reda and Kawmiyya troupes.
  • We were honored to be the first tour groups to have classes with Ustaz Mahmoud Reda and real traditional performers like Khairiyya Maazin, Nazla el Adel and Oriental dance star Nadia Hamdi.
  • We had private haflas with the real Banat Maazin Ghawazi and their musicians: Mohamed Murad and his group and got up and danced with them (1978-93). This was an interesting contrast against settling for the often anemic fantasies inspired by Orientalist paintings. I insisted on the highest standards of quality and quantity in dance events on my trips and wouldn't settle for less, so these trips were very successful. I stopped because of the current almost total disappearance of the Cairo dance scene - due more to lack of regular big spenders from the Gulf and the Levant in the audience, than to any sort of "fundamentalism", though that, too, is a mitigating factor. I won't promote a trip as packed with top quality Egyptian dance, when there isn't enough there now to fill two weeks.

Cairo, 1999 - UNESCO ICHPER-SD: I was a keynote speaker, gave my paper on Dance as Community Identity and performed Guedra

at the Museum of Natural History, 1987
(with my Casbah Dance Experience)

I began writing articles to help dispel the myths about Raks Sharki and other Mideastern dances for international medical and feminist magazines way back in 1964. There were no publications specifically for Mideastern dancers/ afficionados until the early mid '70s - I wrote for several. Many of my articles have been translated and printed in other countries, in other languages. A few are posted under "Articles" on my website. I'm still threatening to get started on the Opus Magnus everybody's been urging me to write ("How to Evade an Expectorating Camel"©. . .)  Waiting for the Statute of Limitations to expire on a few "adventures" and a few governments to change before I can do that...

Anahid Sofian
I was the first Oriental dancer ever invited to perform at the Brooklyn Museum in the early '60s, but that was a dance at a gala (complete with camels and a baby elephant for atmosphere!) and not a lecture or an officially "museum" situation. It wasn't until 1970, when, thanks to those research "credentials", I was invited to lecture and perform regularly at the Museum of Natural History in New York, where I continued to give 5 and 6 week video lectures bi-yearly for their Education Center. In 1964, I was the major subject of a segment of the documentary "Only One New York", and, over the years, did innumerable TV shows, among them Ed Sullivan (His censors made me wear a robe under my Oriental costume!), David Frost (You wouldn't believe what I went through before I got on that show or how it came about!), Johnny Carson (twice), Dr. Joyce Brothers, etc., etc. educating all the way.

While I understand that with living folklore, the one sure thing is that it will change - almost daily, I'm most interested in finding, preserving and presenting the "real stuff"

learning and teaching as much of it as I can, before it's all gone. So much has already been lost just in the few years since I started going "over there," and it is in imminent danger. Realizing early on that the real ethnic

dances were mainly group dances, and no matter how fast I could move, I couldn't be a whole group all by my lonesome, if I was going to show the beauty and variety of these disappearing treasures to the Western public, I needed a dance company. It took a while. The Casbah Dance Experience was born in 1978 and debuted officially in Lincoln Center's Damrosh Theater later that year. It would be the first time Guedra, Schikhatt and  Gnaoua were presented in concert to an American public. 

My entire reputation was in the balance and I was so scared, the butterflies in my stomach needed beta -blockers. Casbah opened with my group Guedra choreography, the wonderful trance ritual that inspired my first overseas research trip, combined with the Tissint Betrothal Dance.

As it ended, there was dead silence. I thought my career was over. A couple of seconds later, the crowd was applauding furiously and cheering: I didn't have to go off and hide in a cave! The rest of the concert went very well, indeed. We also got non-profit, tax-exempt status as an educational institution that same year. Again, the first in our field to do so.

  • In 1972, I was awarded the first grant ever given to a Mideastern dancer -- to teach it to children and,
  • in 1982, a second for choreography (only two-time individual winner!) from the New York State Council on the Arts,
  • 2 Arts Exposure grants to present 16 Mideastern and North African dance shows in NYC public schools,
  • 3 Community Service grants,
  • 3 Summer Program grants,
  • a continuing Materials for the Arts grant,
  • I gave frequent lecture/performances at universities and museums around the US, and,
  • in 1973, had a one hour TV special in Germany (Koln, WDR#1).
  • There were several performances at Lincoln Center: first in 1964, and again in 1970, both solo.
  • In 1977, the Program Director of the Outdoor Summer Festival hiring me - again, for 2 solo shows with a live band - had to put his job on the line to do so because so much misinformation still prevailed. Thanks to rave revues, the director kept his job and, as a result, my dance company, the Casbah Dance Experience, debuted there in 1978 and was invited back in 1982.
Among too many concerts to mention:
Casbah and I were invited to perform at the Statue of Liberty Centennial and for many different cultural events and organizations. There were countless shows for the N.Y.C. Department of Cultural Affairs: solo lecture/ performances, duets, concerts with the entire Casbah Dance Experience, the Delacourt Dance Festival - solo (Anahid Sofian opened that venue to Oriental dance and the quality and class of her performance made it possible for others to follow!), Riverside Dance Festival (only dance company invited to appear there 5 times!). Casbah was the first dance company officially hired by the United Nations to perform in its Dag Hammerskjold Auditorium. They knew my work because I'd soloed a few times for the General Assembly, which lead to invitations to perform in the USSR. I wrote the script for and appeared in "Belly Dancing: Midriff Myth" -- a half hour video produced by the University of Wisconsin/Madison that won several awards for them, gave 4 annual bi-lingual lecture/ performances (French/ English) for Dar America in Marrakesh, Morocco, was one of the first inducted into the AAMED Mideastern Dance Hall of Fame (American Academy of..) as "World Class" for "International proliferation of her art, her myriad of talent and for her untiring pioneering in this, her chosen field of ethnic dance", was named 1997 Instructor of the Year by IAMED (International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance) , was voted Best Dancer and Best Instructor and Casbah Dance Experience was named Best Troupe of the Year 2 years in a row by Mideastern Dancer Magazine, Ethnic Dancer of the Year in 1997, Instructor of the Year in 1998 and Award for Lifetime Achievment in 2001 by Zaghareet Magazine.

A major thrill for me came in July, 1999, when, along with Dr. Barbara Sellers and Shareen al Safy, I was invited to Cairo, as one of the keynote speakers, where I presented the paper I had first given in 1993 at Lincoln Center in New York City for combined conferences of the Congress on Research in Dance and Society of Dance History Scholars on "Dance as Community Identity in Selected Berber Nations of Morocco" and also gave 2 dance workshops, one in Raks Sharki (Oriental Dance) and the other in

Moroccan Guedra and Schikhatt and performed, at the international conference of the UNESCO organization ICHPER-SD (International Council on Health, Physical Ed., Recreation - Sport and Dance). While battery-operated cassette players, VCRs, MTV, mass export of mindless US TV series and fun phobic phony "fundamentalist" governments/ mindsets have done more to change/ kill what's left of traditional dances and music in the last 20 years than in the previous 2000, and, on top of that, young people don't realize that they don't have to throw out the old to have the new, those same portable videocams, tapes and CDs have opened many new roads for learning and sharing and many dancers/ teachers/ researchers/ musicians have produced videos and music for us. We can watch dance   excerpts from Egyptian films of the 1940s and '50s and see the toned-down and "Hollywoodized" bits from the great dancers of Egypt. I was privileged to see Samia Gamal, Tahia Karioca and others dance live many times before they retired. Pity nobody filmed any of their full-length live shows, so different from anything you see them do in the films, in which their dance had to take a very back seat to the story and the censors' mental scissors, but it is far better than nothing, since now all of them are gone. We can see full-length color videos of most of the Egyptian names of the 1970s and '80s and a few of the current Lebanese stars: wonderful!  So far, I've made and released 7 full length videos: 5 in 1984, from my on-site super-8 films of my 1977-82 research, one of my dance company's 1986 award - winning concert at the Riverside Dance Festival and one in 1997 of the concert at the Haft Auditorium, featuring Nadia Hamdi from Cairo and several East Coast dance stars.

Yes, I do have plans to make some teaching tapes - hopefully soon.

Non-Mideastern-born Oriental dance fans' need for dance-related shiny, beaded items created whole new industries in Egypt and Turkey that didn't exist there before. Our ideas for useful class and costuming items have had an effect on costuming over there (those coin and beaded hip wraps, just to name two!) and we now have several venders, who regularly import from there and vend at our seminars and by mail. There are several excellent American designers and venders of the theater fantasy "Tribal" and "Gypsy" outfits, body stockings, skirts and jumpsuits for giving and taking class.

Though many are first drawn to this dance for widely varying reasons - some of them having to do with the Orientalist and Hollywood malarkey - most want truth, even those who first came for the fluff and found it was far better and more complex than they ever imagined.

Truth gives us the wings that brought us where we are today. Most of my jobs now are in places that wouldn't have thought twice about slamming the door in my face in the 1960s. I know because I tried and they did, but I kept coming back with more and more proof. Haven't stopped. Won't. There are still too many fine dancers having shows cut or not getting hired because of ignorance and misinformation, but we have learned to rally and write letters of support for each other.

Little by little, the barriers crumble, because we know that it takes perseverance, valid facts and classy presentations, so we keep coming up with more and more of them. The level of ability and seriousness of the "average" student and performer are far, far higher than they were when I started. I'm thrilled with the progress Raks Sharki and Shabiyya have made in the West over the last 42 years.

Me? I would've done what I did anyway, because I am totally insane about this subject, but you have no idea what a joy it is to be able to share it with so many others. How long do I intend to continue? It's stated very clearly on my condensed bio: "Till six weeks after I'm dead!"

Part 1
5-20-03 Loving Remembrance and Requiem: the Best “School” That Ever Was, Part 1 by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu. I looked at her and said, “If I can’t do better than that, I’ll hand in my feet!” A case of having more guts than brains.
Part 2
9-5--03 Loving Remembrance & Requiem: the Best “School” That Ever Was, Part 2 by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu. So much great stuff; so little time to see and learn it all. So much of it disappears down the oasis daily.

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

4-12-04 The Bellybus by Dervishspin
For a dancer to be what she is, to dance, she must be free. For a woman to be a full and equal member of our society she must be free to make her own choices about what is best for her.

4-11-04 "Magda, Hurry!" by Majida Anwar
My aunt was coming! I knew there was going to be dancing, and I could feel the butterflies just flying into in my stomach!

4-5-04 Rakkasah West Festival Photo Teaser March 2004, Richmond, California
photos by GS Volunteers including: Biram, Clare, Cynthia, Krista, Lynette, Michelle, Monica, Sandra, Valentino, Yasmine and probably more! Let us know if you recognize faces!


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