Passage of Time
by Amel Tafsout
I was a child I was fascinated by dancers, mostly by performers
with a “respectful age” - a usage in French meaning elderly
people. I remember the first time I saw the Flamenco dancer
called “La Chana” from Cumbre Flamenca.
performance brought tears to my eyes; not only was
she technically outstanding, but she had a whole persona,
stage presence and her aura… no younger dancer could
be compared to her. Many times I went to see the show
to watch her again and again!
I went to Cuba, I was blessed to study with a master dancer: Gregorio.
We didn’t share the same language (only a little bit of French)
but we managed to communicate through the dance and the music.
He was much older than I, but his experience and knowledge
of his art was amazing. He was also a singer and both his
dance and his voice brought me a very special learning experience.
I came to love watching elderly couples dancing the Cuban
rumba together, everything flowing, not needing to be so
and gliding together as if they were walking above water.
It is a joy to see their mature grace and joy, unencumbered
by the frantic turns and jumps that young performers are
doing in competitive ballroom dancing.
remember the day I went to see a special concert of the Cuban
Diva Celia Cruz (may she rest in peace)...
Her voice and her energy were incredible. Though she must
have been in her mid-sixties at that time, when she started
dancing she became 16 years old again. She enjoyed every
movement and everyone could see that she was a master dancer.
Despite her respectful age she was very sensual and very
playful. While she danced, her joy of life became so
contagious that even very reserved British people, men
and women, young and seniors, joined in dancing and clapping.
performer of advancing age, close to my heart, is the
legendary Algerian “Empress of Rai music”, Cheikha
Rimitti (May her soul rest in peace). As a child
I already knew of her, but Algerian people spoke her name
with a very quiet voice - her music was not accepted
by the establishment and her songs were listened to in secret
by the male population.
struggled against the odds, growing up as a homeless orphan
in the west of Algeria, a French colony at the time. During
World War II, the presence of the French military encouraged
the rise of café bars. This changed the culture and the lives
Rimitti led a wild life, dancing until early morning
with a band of traditional musicians with whom she sang
and played percussion. Her early musical influences were
traditional female performers, the Shikhat and the Meddahat.
Meddahat are singers and musicians who play violin and percussion,
performimg only for women. The Shikhat are women performers
in Western Algeria and Morocco who perform often for men
and women, singing and dancing at various festivities, including
weddings, births and religious ceremonies.
Shikhat are marginalized in so-called respectable society
because they overstep cultural boundaries by singing about
their intimate private lives. Today, a typical troupe includes
up to ten women. However, once these women become famous
and begin recording, they start a solo career. They sing in
the language of the street about love, immigration, and the
struggle to survive poverty. In many cases their lyrics are
intentionally ambiguous, enabling them to escape censorship.
is a particular technique of “women’s language” which allows
for poetic audacities and daring gestures. It is very
common for these women to become increasingly popular as
they grow older, as “the passage of time” does not affect
their performance and enhances the respect they command.
Rimiti’s first improvised verses were inspired by the terrible
epidemics, such as the plague in the region mentioned in
Albert Camus’ 1947 novel “The Plague”. She established
her career singing about the hardship of women’s lives and
the repugnant attitude of men towards their young brides.
her live performances, Cheikha Rimitti had the power to transport
Algerians living abroad back to their roots. With facial
expressions, her typical shoulder movements as her famous
dance steps, even at the age of 78 she gave free reign
to her talents, which included a superb comedic sense. Well-known
for her hennaed hands beautifully decorated with Berber
tattoos, she used them to introduce the song and play the
bendir frame drum. In authentic Wahrani dress and jewelry,
she appeared like a mythical priestess. When I met her
in her later years, she would really come alive only on stage;
during the day she would look very tired.
on stage! She became a very young girl, dancing, singing
and playing like
a teenager. Her manager would try to give her a cue to
stop but she would ignore him and carried on, enjoying herself
with her audience. That is the moment where she was alive,
living every second of her art.
didn’t perform in large venues until 1982. Late in life,
she appeared all over the world to adoring audiences. She
died in 2006, just after her big performance in the Zenith
Theater in Paris, at the “respectable age” of 83. Cheikha
Rimitti was a great inspiration to me. When she met me the
first time she told me that I reminded her of herself. I
was very honored by her statement as she represented so much
for me – the connection to my own roots.
Rimitti, I realized how much I missed the women of my family,
especially my grandmother (May she rest in peace). My grand-mother
was like a Queen: She walked like a Queen… Spoke like a Queen…
Danced like a Queen. She had an aura that everybody liked
to be around.
kept her beauty, her elegance and her authority as she
aged. I remember how she put her head-dress on, how much
time she took to wrap her melhafa (similiar to a Tunisian
around her body, how she wore her jewelry. Every gesture
a dance movement, a ritual honoring life.
taught me to honor myself and others as she did. She
taught me to know when to listen and be quiet and when to
speak. She taught me to pray… I had to practice many
times while she was watching me from her chair and listening
to me reciting my prayers to make sure that I was performing
them correctly. She was very strict about it and I was trying
my best because I wanted her to be proud of me. I had to
try not to look at her, to avoid bursting out laughing from
embarrassment. Sometimes I had to prepare my little prayer
rug parallel to hers and we would perform the prayer together.
When I look back at my childhood I remember how much fun
I had with my grandmother, how much I respect her, and I
am filled with gratitude for all her teaching. She taught
me so much and I cherish these memories very much.
used to dance with her holding her hand. As a child,
I had to lift my head to look at her, which gave me the impression
that she was so tall that I couldn’t reach her. I remember
the feel of the fabric of her dress caressing my face. Her
dress was dancing with me, helping me to move as well as
comforting me in telling me “Everything is alright just look
at how I am doing it!” It was such a beautiful feeling to
go with the flow and play with my grandmother’s dress!
Algeria, as in so many other cultures, we learn dancing at
home with our grandmothers, mothers and aunties. The
first lesson would be during a celebration. As a child, we
would try to dance the dance of older women, and
imitate them because we wanted to be grown up so badly. It
is very common that during a wedding ceremony the grandmother
is the first person to open the dance.
grandmother’s dance performance is considered as a great
blessing to her grandchild. It is also a way for
the grandmother’s to make the situation more relaxed
and prepare her grandchild for her future life.
women’s tradition of offering a dance as a wedding present
to the bride is very common in the Arab World. What
is beautiful about it is how we honor these grandmothers
for their wisdom and their knowledge. It saddens me
to observe in the west how every one is manipulated by the
media to believe that women to be beautiful must be young
and slim. I see the elderly segregated into special communities
and excluded from the mainstream society.
so many other cultures less affected by the worship of youth,
seniors are included in multi-generational families and everyone
feels concerned about them.
Fortunately, other artists are at work engaging directly with
issues that relate to performance and aging. Recently I was honored
to be invited by my dear friend, Indian dance performer Bisakha
Saker, to be part of the first “Marks of Time” conference, held
in Liverpool, England, which explored performance practice in
advancing years. I was very excited to be part of a conference
that touches on performance and aging, a subject not often addressed
although it does concern all dance styles. The conference was
run in partnership with Hope University. 80 participants and
performers attended, and this groundbreaking event was a real
inspiration for all concerned. The highlight was Bisakha Saker’s
performance with a poem called “ The
Another inspiration is Germaine
Acogny, an African dance master
who I met when I lived in Germany in the 1980s. A legend in her
native Senegal and beyond, she is a major figure in African dance,
blending contemporary dance with traditional African styles.
Germaine continues to perform, and talking about the differences
between different generations, she said: “I cannot do what they
can do, yet they cannot do what I can do!” In addition to performing
her own works and choreographing for her dance company Jant-Bi,
she generously shares her wisdom and experience with young dancers
and encourages them to develop their own individual styles of
expression. To see her perform is to see into the core of the
dance, which never ages, and to recognize the power that can
only come from decades of experience.
the world of MTV, professional female performers are respected
well into their senior years. Wherever music and dance has
a function in their society to communicate traditions, the
singers, musicians and dancers are respected.
living in the United States, I find it a great loss
to see the extent to which social dance as such
has disappeared, replaced by dance as stage performance.
dance choreographers require dancers at the extremes
of athletic competence and the promoters expect extremes
of standards for appearance - tall, thin, young… do senior
professional dancers have no chance? Should we all give
up as we age past these specific requirements?
Eastern dance became very popular in the West and specifically
in the U.S., largely through the social need for empowerment
among women yearning to feel acceptance in their own, un-MTV
bodies. Today we see the evidence that this dance style
too has become demanding and competitive, as we witness the
phenomena of the “ Belly Dance Super Stars”. This representation
to US and European audiences that it is the top of the genre
has systematically excluded more experienced mature
dancers known for their knowledge and their motivation to
bring to western audiences an understanding of the respect
this dance form demands.
wonder if the producers of these shows are so confused
about competence and age! It is likely that they are
underestimating the willingness of their audience to
appreciate beauty in aging forms.
general, Western society needs to extend to senior dance
performers the respect they seem fully able to grant older
singers or musicians. As long as I am healthy and enjoy the
dance, I will dance, and feel connected with
my roots and the spirit of my ancestors.
Acogny my African dance teacher and friend
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other possible viewpoints!
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some point, one collapses into a dream, but this dream world is
the most real of realities.
Rimitti, Queen of the Rai by
Unlike most of the music that we are familiar with from the
Middle East that are usually unrequited love songs or patriotic love
of country songs, the rai songs are about drinking, suicide, suffering,
colonialism, poverty, exile, homesickness, corruption and the passion
and pain of actual love making.
with the Touareg by Linda Grondahl
was my 5th trip to Algeria since 2000 and I have been amazed
at the rapid economic development. The government is working
very hard to make Algeria a very popular tourist destination
Egyptian Dance - Has it crossed the line? by
festivals, held in Giza were isolated and insulated from the people
and the Cairo that I know and love.
to Avoid the Executioner: A Journey into Creative
Listening by Najia Marlyz
can ruin an art form as it would the fashion industry—or
any other endeavor based upon creative thinking.
Report on the First International Bellydance
Conference of Canada Part 2 - Page 2 - Friday
Main Stage Photos
by Denise Marino
20, 2007 Toronto California. Hungarian Canadian Cultural Center.
Photos of Les Tri'belles, Leyla Zaharr, Amani Jabril, Ariana Vega,
12 yo Sofia...