Gilded Serpent presents...
Walt & Magana pose with Ed Sullivan
About my teacher
As I was finishing a yoga session taught by the renown
spiritual master Walt Baptiste, I could hear the clicking
of finger zills and joyful sound of zaghareets coming from another room. My curiosity lead me
to the third level of the Baptiste
Center for yoga and dance at 405 Arguello Boulevard in San Francisco. I saw a group of oriental dancers dressed in
colorful twirling skirts with swinging hips and smiling faces. The dance class was conducted by Magana Baptiste, director and founder
of the San Francisco Royal Bellydance Academy.
wasn't long before I found myself drawn to these dance classes,
but it would be a performance by Magana at a studio party a few
weeks later that gave me a profound understanding for what real
dancing was all about. Much of my life had been spent isolated in ballet
studios and the backstages of theaters.
My dance environment was surrounded by classically
trained dancers with perfect bodies and, I am sad to say, although
of amazing technical ability, more often than not, little or no
heart in their motivation for movement. When
I saw Magana dance a Raks el Assaya, or
Cane dance, at that studio party,
there was so much sunshine coming out of her eyes and so much energy coming
from her heart chakra that I was instantly inspired to become
an oriental dancer myself. It is to her that I owe my motivation
for being what I am today.
would become my first and principal oriental dance teacher
and together with her husband, Walt, my yoga teacher.
We are still best of friends and regardless of the
many influences I have had from oriental dance masters in
the United States as well as Egypt it has been Magana's philosophy of dancing from your heart
center that has guided me from the start. Magana Baptiste has been a leading force in
bellydance in America for more than 50 years and although, as I recently discussed
with her, she agrees with me that the classical term is really
"oriental dance", we concluded that we just cannot
get away from the term Bellydance.
disciple of the legendary Devi ja,
Magana's training also includes Martha
Graham technique as well as flamenco. In fact, she confessed to me that as a young
woman she found herself choosing oriental dance before flamenco. In 1955 Magana and Walt Baptiste founded the first yoga center in downtown
San Francisco at the heart of Union Square.
Considering that these were the days when apprehensive newcomers
to yoga would ask of Magana and Walt "Please don't let
my husband or wife know that I am doing this" and times
when the Baptistes were charging
only $5.00 dollars per month,
it is amazing to think that today there are numerous yoga schools
throughout the SF Bay Area and yoga is being taught in just
about every fitness center.
her earlier days Magana sponsored yoga luminaries such as the
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Swami Vishnu-Devananda,
yoga master and founder of the Sivananda Centers
and Retreats worldwide. It
was he who awarded Magana with the title of "Yogi".
The Great Saint and Spiritual Master, Sant Kirpal Singh Ji Maharaj came
to the Baptiste Center the year of its inauguration and blessed it with his discourses
and initiations. Magana Baptiste received initiation into his
teachings of Surat Shabda Yoga and
together with her husband and daughters Sherri and Devi was commissioned to carry
on with his teachings. Her
son, Baron Baptiste, grew up to become a master
yogi with tremendous popularity among many film stars in Hollywood,
author of three books on yoga and conducts numerous yoga retreats
throughout the United States and abroad.
Magana's Royal Belly Dance Troupe performed in the same programs
Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and Timothy Leary.
tells of these days when she was thought of as a fanatic because
her ideas were so far away from mainstream. It
was considered inappropriate for women to work with weights,
although Magana does not advocate the muscular giants that
some women are training to be these
possesses great knowledge of health and nutrition and she co-directed
a health retreat right on the beach in La Libertad,
El Salvador where she inspired hundreds of people to become
healthier and stronger through regular exercise, dance, yoga
and meditation discipline, as well as a well rounded style of
living guided by a high standard of moral values.
Dance Hall of Fame
Morocco, Yousry, Anahid Sofian,
Magana, Phaedra, Sabah Nissan,?, Dahlena
The Cifuentes wed at the Conservatory
of Flowers in Golded Gate Park
in San Francisco. Walt officiates.
Her lists of credits go on and on. She toured internationally with the controversial
singer Yma Sumac. She has performed in the Pearl Fishers Opera, Carmen, and on the Ed Sullivan Show. She has been inducted
into the Dance Hall of
Fame in New York. She
is a free lance writer, author of "Breath is Life"
and the "Holistic Art of Belly Dancing".
loves to combine the rhythmic movements with meditation, pranayama or yogic breath and spiritual
dance because, as she says, "It transports one to higher
dimensions of being and joy, and enhance a healing flow to
the body, mind and emotions". Magana
credits the discipline of yoga for a total transformation of
"I went from a very chubby, weak young woman, to a strong
and centered person. My whole figure and personality changed."
the time when her husband placed second in the Mr.
America body building contest, and mind you, these
were the days when body builders took no steroids and were
true examples of healthy humans, Magana placed first runner
up in the Miss USA beauty
competition held in Los Angeles in 1951. She has been a choreographer and consultant to the San Francisco Ballet and has led sacred
dance and music tours in the Middle East, India and Central America.
Mr. Willie Brown Jr., mayor of the city and county of San Francisco,
proclaimed August 3rd, 2002 as Magana Baptiste
Day in San Francisco in recognition of her incredible achievements!
have always been amazed by her ability to beautify a room
by her mere presence and she is living proof that true beauty
comes from within. That
beauty is so much more than just a pretty face. That beauty is the divinity
of the soul manifesting through movement, persona, lightness
and peacefulness of being, consideration of others, compassion,
good humor, prudence, friendliness and joy.
says that she is inspired to do daily what she was born to
do - be a teacher of healthful practices for the body, mind
and spirit through the discipline of yoga, dance and resistance
exercises. I follow
my inner intuition and the guidance of my Higher Self." Her
inspired way of living has served as an example for thousands
of people as it has to me to combine the discipline of dance
and yoga. When asked
about her ideals for a great future in this world, she would
wish "To be a greater instrument for the spiritual upliftment
of humanity. My dream
realized would be to help establish love and peace to all."
She credits Madame Indra Devi as one of the great role models in her life because she
spent her life expounding Yoga philosophy worldwide.
with her in Hollywood and she used to come to our center in San
Francisco. I am also very inspired
by the ancient priestesses who were drummers, yoginis and
spiritual leaders for their communities. For
thousands of years the old liturgies and religious rituals
were chanted to the rhythms of the frame drums played by the
priestesses in the ancient temples of Sumer, Mesopotaniam Egypt, Greece and Rome. The oldest named
drummer in history is the priestess Lipushau who
was the financial, administrative and spiritual leader of the
temple of the moon god in Sumer in 2300 BCE."
When Magana speaks of her ultimate dream for the future
she says "That we would see that we are all descended from
the first great mother of all the people on this planet, that
the same blood pulses through all out veins and that we all
want the same things - enough food, a good home, health, love,
peace and wellbeing for our families. That we would recognize that we are all emanations
of the one field of all consciousness and truly understand
that there is only one of us here."
Magana Baptiste has been much more than a teacher to me. She
has been a friend, a mother and example to live by.
all the years that I have known her and with all the virtues
that form her personality, there is something in particular
that strikes me as extraordinary. I have never, ever, heard
Magana Baptiste say a bad word about anyone! I consider myself to be a fortunate man and thank
life that circumstances brought me in contact with this great
lady, a woman who through the discipline of dance, yoga and
health has brought out the best in herself,
has found her own divinity and has shown me that we can all
do the same.
a comment? Send us a
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