by Dolores of London
I've been working on this article for the best part of a year
now..it was inspired by Baraka's
amazing piece. Like her, I've really been "through the mill",
coping with serious illness, injury and financial problems. Oriental
music and dance has kept me sane! (Just!)
I have performed, I'm acknowledged as a mesmerising, passionate,
and sensual dancer who uses great technique. I've been described
as dedicated, determined, versatile, and a professional performer.
Those descriptions came not just from audiences but from other
professional dancers, musicians and the Arabic community too.
have done all this under enormous difficulties, illness, injury,
and lack of paid work. Dolores is my real name, and I come from
an unusual background - my dad was Indian and my mum German.
parents met up in London towards the end of the 50's then married
in 1960. My dad came to work in London as a shipping clerk and
then as a waiter/manager in several Indian restaurants. My mum
was a factory worker in Germany
but she became a housewife and had 3 children. I am the eldest
and was named after a 1940s film star Dolores Del Rio.
had a very disadvantaged upbringing because my family suffered
racism and poverty during the '60s and '70s. I was regularly
bullied at school, my father suffered abuse in his restaurant
and my parents often faced hostile reaction - when they were together
in public, people would shout racist abuses at them. I have survived
sexual abuse and violence and, at age 14, I ran away from home
after being told I was to be "married off" in India.
marriage was being arranged by my father as head of the family
and is a traditional family "agreement" which continues in many
Indian families to this day. In fact, girls suffer terrible consequences
if they don't agree to this, some have been attacked and even
murdered by their relatives.
age 16, after my dad died, my family was split up and I was put
into a girls-only children's home. I lived on the streets for
a short time and 2 years in hostels. As a young, homeless teenage
girl I had to grow up quickly and learn the rules of survival.
I had many temporary jobs such as sales assistant in shops and
a domestic cleaner to earn money, whilst sleeping in hostels or
on a friend's floor (once on someone's kitchen floor)!
hostels were awful places, dirty and noisy with no privacy and
curfews every night. After 2 years of this hell I finally found
permanent work and my first home - a small bedsit near Primrose
have also worked as a waitress, receptionist, a personal assistant
and a secretary. In the late '70s, I performed with a couple of
punk rock bands singing lead and backing vocals and pogoing, was
a voluntary worker for three years at a women's center and was
involved in feminist and anti-racism groups.
a very young girl, I desperately wanted to be a ballet dancer
and taught myself the basic ballet steps from library books. My
family couldn't afford dance classes but I was always picked out
for praise by the teachers at school any time I performed in the
school show. During my teens I would always be the first onto
the dance floor when I was at a disco or a pop festival. The music
was in me and I can never hear music without wanting to dance.
imagined a poor kid like me would one day get a chance to learn
dance and then become a respected dancer.
the ripe old age of 30 I took my first class in Oriental dance
after having watched a documentary on Arabic dance. I studied
for about six years with Jo Wise and I was a
member of her dance troupe Masriat for approximately
three years. I also studied with Anne Ashcroft
of Suraya Hilal's dance school and I've done
workshops with Suraya Hilal and Hossam
Ramzy in the early 90's, and Raqia Hassan
dance is popular in the United Kingdom
and the Arabic dance scene is run mainly by white, middle-class
women. In this environment I have contended with occasional criticisms
about my figure and/or age which have only made me more determined
and dedicated to develop my technique and dancing skills.
have also found it hard to fit in with the rather cliquey dance
scene in England.
If you are not part of this set of mainly prosperous white middle
class women it's hard to get a foothold on the starry ladder to
success - becoming one of England's
Oriental Dance Crème de la Crème.
are always gossiping about each other here but I suspect this
is true of any other dance community anywhere else in the world.
The issue of class and money is never raised and a great deal
of emphasis seems to be on costumes/appearance, not on what makes
a good dancer. In this context then, I stand out as an ethnic
and working-class performer who has truly done it on her own
-- without any family support or liaison with an Arab husband
years ago my life was turned upside down! After an accident in
which I broke my ankle, I was told I also had hypertension (high
blood pressure). I also lost my full time job and had problems
trying to get my local council to pay my "sickness benefit." I
ended up in arrears and found myself facing eviction and the bailiff.
On top of all this, I contracted pneumonia.
was just about to be admitted to hospital but opted to stay at
home - I was terrified that the Housing Association would confiscate
my flat from me.
wasn't responding to all the antibiotics and asthma treatment
so the doctors gave me steroids. The trauma of eviction threats
exacerbated my already ill-health. Despite having a solicitor,
it wasn't until 2 years later that I finally got what I was entitled
to. It was a challenge finding the money I needed to pay the rent
and bills whilst coping with numerous medical tests and the side
effects of drugs. With an extensive course of treatment and much
TLC from my partner, I am now on the road to recovery and hope
to be dancing regularly again soon.
spite of lacking a family and formal education, I am very proud
of some of my achievements which include my having published a
slim volume of my own poems and having written for City Limits
(a London listings magazine). I am most proud of having taken
up dance later in life and having become an acclaimed professional-level
Hopefully, this story will inspire others who have also "been
through the mill". I
aim to keep on dancing, just like Fifi, well into "old" age!
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Walking the Line: Reflections
from a Christian Dancer by Barbara Grant
personally never thought of my dance as erotic or enticing. I’ve
considered it an attempt to distill the results of study about
particular ethnic and cabaret styles, amalgamate them into American
form, and present the outcome to an audience as entertainment.
Photos from Sumaya’s Chicago
South Side Hafla by Shira
new to the Midwest, I thought it would be fun to attend one of
Sumaya’s haflas and meet other members of the greater Midwestern
Intruder, BEWARE! comic
dare they pollute our pond!"
Photos from The Luna Gitana Festival,
Santa Cruz, California photos by Monica Berini
produced by Vashti on November 13, 2004