Walt & Magana pose with Ed Sullivan
Gilded Serpent presents...
About my teacher
Magana Baptiste

by Horacio Cifuentes

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.

It 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.

Magana 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.

A 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.

In 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 with Santana, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead and Timothy Leary.

Magana 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 days.

She 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".
She 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 her life.
"I went from a very chubby, weak young woman, to a strong and centered person. My whole figure and personality changed."

At 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!

I 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.

Magana 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.
" studied 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 Maganaspeaks 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.

In 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.

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