The Sheik of Generosity
Who Is This Man and What Has He Got in His Pouches for You??
I'd seen him at the festivals for years, this imposing broad figure, in sheik's headdress and a black caftan deeply v'd at the neck to reveal a homemade medallion of paste jewels. His hands -thick fingers encrusted with shiny rings- were always active: idling with one of the pouches slung from his waist, holding a camera at a jaunty angle near the stage, reaching out to touch one of the dancers he engaged in conversation.
He looked so self-assured and BUSY. I figured him for an officially recognized, if not sanctioned, photographer with an interesting idea of work clothes, but no one I spoke to could tell me his name. Intimidated though I was by those dangling pouches, I decided I just had to know this man's story.
Sheik Yusef (Jeff Halpin in streetclothes and his daily life as a software tester and security officer for a large concert presenter) could not have been more gracious in agreeing to be interviewed. With a last lingering glance at the main Rakkasah stage, and a nearly whispered adieu of "ah,
alluring" cast at the troupe of silver-belted dancers, he led the way to a quiet table and readily opened both his heart and his mouth. In a very business-oriented tone, he quickly covered some background: no, he's not officially part of the Rakkasah staff, or the staff of any bellydancing festival, for that matter. He's attended every one in the area, though, for at least the past 3 years. He's a student of life and photography, and a journalist "who quotes the rock news all the time." He has aspirations of filmmaking, and I sincerely regret not finding out more about his future film career. But alas, our time was limited and indeed, we had pouches to explore.
Sheik Joseph ("or Yusef, if you like") took pains to see I was comfortable, referring to me by name in every answer and often reaching out to punctuate a point with an affectionate pat. Perhaps sensing my apprehension at interviewing such a well-recognized figure, he looked deep into my eyes and assured me my questions and my person were both "alluring and abundant,"
surely high compliments for such a novice journalist.
The sheik's affair with photography began in the Navy, and he's still using his first camera, something that keeps him connected to his passion. He has a love of the dancer, and an eye for line and movement. He also has a giving heart; many a dancer has received prints of his impromptu shots of live performances (he shoots nearly 30 rolls of film at every Rakkasah).
His giving heart is made most manifest through his pouches. Velvet and plush, they hang in the folds of his caftan and are filled with paste jewels (backed with adhesive) and long chains of colorful beads, all handmade by the sheik himself. He tells me that when a dancer is wearing one of his
creations, she becomes "more appealing, more suggestive." A dancer wrapped in one of his belly chains -which, he hastens to explain, she could put on herself- suddenly becomes "more expressive," and "shows her passion." "They're the remnants of my technicolor dreamcoat," Sheik Joseph says of his jewels, and his fondest desire is to place one on, in, or around every alluring dancer he finds. An unprepared dancer may be surprised at his swift hands as he deftly places a jewel in her navel, or a chain around her waist. When undertaking such a mission, the sheik is the essence of concentration, stealth, and agility.
Our time nearing an end, the sheik pours out his pouches for me: what colors would I like, what would I find "most alluring"? I demur and ask the sheik, so obviously an accomplished student of woman's nature, to pick for me. His giving nature is again made clear: I leave laden with chains and jewels, my hands overflowing. I sadly declined his offer to adorn me: I knew deep in my dancer's heart that although we had spent the better part of an hour together, I wasn't prepared for his Midas touch.
Table of Contents