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Gilded Serpent presents...
A Weekend with
Horacio & Beata Cifuentes
Part 1
by Dondi Simone Dahlin

I was recently informed that in November, 2006 Horacio and Beata Cifuentes of Germany will be hosted in North Carolina by Kaharaman.  I highly recommend this workshop to anyone who would like to study with two seasoned professional dancers.  I have studied with Horacio and Beata and consider their workshops to be some of the best.

What is it about certain workshops in which the profundity and joy of the workshop stays with you long after it is over? 

For me, it changes as I get older.  It is not as much within the curriculum anymore as it is within the hands of teacher who has the choice to nourish, share and educate.  Unfortunately, too many teachers choose the opposite… to teach standard, trendy choreographies with little exuberance for the dance or music.  They artfully disguise “just enough” information to allow the students to go away feeling like they learned.  But shouldn’t we ask for more than “just enough?”  I do, and that is why a workshop that I attended with Horacio and Beata almost one year ago is still with me, “long after it is over.”

On the weekend of November 12, 2004, I was invited, with my sister Titanya (Colorado), by Kaharaman (Linda Barnes) to perform at the “Celebration of Dance” weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina with Horacio and Beata Cifuentes.  Titanya and I jumped at the chance.  We had been watching videos and DVDs of Beta and Horacio Cifuentes for a decade and used their video tapes to convince our father that Belly dance was a classy dance form. 

When we started Belly Dancing as pre-teens our father wasn’t thrilled, to say the least.  He didn’t understand the dance and didn’t feel it was a legitimate art form,

even when we were earning money from it.  I believe he secretly felt it was a “hoochi-coochie” hobby done by women to seduce men.  It wasn’t until 10 years later when we showed our Dad a video of Horacio that his opinion changed.   As we watched Horacio in Dad's dark den on his big screen TV (usually featuring a college football game) his jaw dropped.  He watched in awe at the control, power and grace of a trained, graceful male Belly Dancer on a large stage in Europe… not a woman seducing audience members in a smoky club.  It was then that Dad gave us, his daughters his full respect and admiration.  He was then proud to call his daughters “Belly Dancers.”

Beata & Horacio dancing at a festival in the 90s

With these fond memories of our Dad and his recent passing, we traveled to The Clarion Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina amongst the splendor of fall.  The workshop was exactly what I look for in a “worthwhile” workshop.

I tend to shy away from workshops that are heavy in choreography.  Over the last decade of studying and performing in the Middle East

I became aware that for most Arabic people, the most important aspect of Middle Eastern Dance (and what separates it from many other dance forms) is feeling

I can only compare this to the Argentinean Tango.  Any master Tango dancer will say the same thing… you can never become a great Tango dancer with a set of memorized steps – you must study, practice and become comfortable with the improvisation and feeling of the music.  For me this is true with Belly Dance.  Choreography is an important tool and almost mandatory when dancing with a large group, but I became immersed in a culture where I was performing solo and the people wanted improvisation with feeling.  The people wanted (and still want) emotion from the heart and soul, for the music, culture and movement. 

I have found that, more often than not, when choreography is introduced, that feeling is lost. 

So, naturally, the ideal workshop for me is one with challenging combinations and drills but without all the focus on choreography. With combinations and drills we build endurance and learn new skills, in addition to the discipline of executing someone else’s movement (hopefully a master teacher). If choreography is a part of it, that is a bonus.  But, if I go to a workshop with only choreography then I feel like the teacher did not allow me to utilize my own creativity and imagination.  I am now a robot of the teacher.   Of course, we can go home and “make it our own” but it is not truly our own… it is someone else’s. 

Horacio and Beata fulfilled my idealism of a fabulous workshop because they combined all of the above. 

Horacio's last regular class at the Brady St Studio in San Francisco in February 1991. Pictures are: Back row- Lynette, Pam Duka, Juan in red tank, Caliope's mom- Carolyn, Alanna, Caliope in pink hair, Julia Fox in purple neck scarf, ballet artist Sally Miramon in black V-neck tank, Suzanne Dennis (now Tatseena). Front row-Erena, ? Horacio, Jawahare, ?
They taught traveling drills, combinations and choreography.  Beata suffered from a sore throat so she didn’t talk much but Horacio “covered” for her by explaining where the movements were coming from in our bodies.  He described the anatomy of our legs and hips and how that anatomy related to the movement of the dance.  When our large group (125 people) started to get tired after 45 minutes, he reminded us that “resting” would not be accepted in a master workshop in any other dance form, so we would not be “resting” either.  He told stories of his days with the San Francisco Ballet and how the dance students would drill for hours with very strict teachers.  Horacio said all of this in the most gentle way and the husband/wife team fulfilled my other criteria for whom I will study with… they must be caring, genuine people. 

I have been dancing too long to waste my $60 and 4 hours and teachers who are cold, unapproachable, or dipped in their own ego.  

If I were 20 I would allow someone to “put me in my place” and be tough on me.  I don’t even mind a “bit of the old whip” now.  But, as I age, I want to dance, teach and study with people who are generous with their knowledge.  I want to train with people who are down-to-earth and more interested in the welfare of the students than counting heads and calculating their 70%.  Horacio and Beata Cifuentes exuded care and consideration of the students while educating us on solid, legitimate Egyptian technique.  I had an inkling of this before I went to North Carolina.  In October, 2004, I was touring with “Belly Dance Superstars” in Germany and Horacio and Beata attended our show in Berlin.  At this time I had never met them and hardly any of the dancers in our show knew them personally.  Nonetheless, Horacio and Beata heavily recruited their students, friends and family to attend our show.  Students of theirs told me that they always supported good dance and displayed Belly Dance Superstars posters and fliers in their studio before we arrived in their city.  After the show in Berlin I met them and was immediately impressed by their graciousness and yearning to meet every single “Belly Dance Superstar” who performed.  Supporting a big stage production coming into their city of Berlin is an act of a true professional.

Horacio is a Latin Adonis with perfect posture. 

If you get nothing else out of studying with Horacio, you will walk out of the class with more awareness of your posture than you walked in with.  In North Carolina, Horacio stood before the full ball-room of eager students teaching us grace, flair, and power in our steps.   He wove his teaching with uplifting and humorous stories of his own performances, shows and years of training.  (Ask him about one of his first trips to Texas and encountering an entire “cow family” at the elevator of his hotel).  He talked to us about what ballet classes were like when he was younger and spoke highly of other Middle Eastern dancers in the field throughout America and abroad.  He is eloquent in his style of speaking, teaching and dancing. 

Beata is a sensuous angel with the face of a priceless doll. 

She spoke to us about Oriental dance and the feeling that it MUST be accompanied with.  She inspired our joy to learn because she emanated joy when she taught.  And, even with a “Texas flu” that she had caught the weekend before greatly compromising her energy and vocal cords, a genuine smile never left her face.

Horacio and Beata taught together all weekend taking turns throughout the day and there was a strong and powerful atmosphere in the room for the entire weekend.  It was obvious to me and others in the workshop that Horacio and Beata truly enjoyed our company and were excited to share their craft and talent.  There was a feeling of gratitude.  Horacio and Beata created an atmosphere of appreciation which made learning a wonderful experience.  

During the weekend we learned a full Egyptian stick dance from Horacio (one of the funnest and most dynamic I have ever learned) that was a combination of delicate cabaret and strong folkloric styles.   Beata taught a drum solo with clever hand, head, eye and torso coordination.  By the end of it her precise moves convinced us that “less is more.”  Horacio spent time in between the choreographies working on travelling steps, drills, hip work, leg work, posture, arms, torso, head and hands. 

What stayed with me after the weekend was over was the variety that they offered. 

It reminded me of when I studied with Farida Fahmy in one of her larger classes at “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” in Cairo.  We weren’t stuck dancing within a 5x5 square on the floor the whole time…we moved.  With Horacio and Beata we moved.  Travelling steps are an important part of the dance and were an important part of the weekend. We drilled large, sweeping lyrical steps across the floor of the ball room as well as “facing front to the teacher.”  There was never a moment of boredom.  It was a workshop well worth it.

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

Ready for more?
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