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Gilded Serpent presents...
Amina's synopsis of
El Arte de la Danza Oriental
(The Art of Oriental Dance)
The most sensual dance of the world, explained step by step by Devorah Korek
Synopsis, Notes, and Comments by Amina Goodyear
For Gregory Burke's review of this book see here

This book is in Spanish and is divided into 9 chapters.  Each chapter has subheadings with italicized one-sentence statements. The content after the subheadings goes on to define and support these statements.

Introduction to the book is by Egyptian Farida Fahmy, principal dancer of The Reda Troupe:
Farida states that in this book you will find the reason why there is interest in this dance in the last decade. Farida met Devorah at the Ahlan wa Sahlan Festival in Cairo in 1999.  She writes that Devorah, the author, explores possible answers to why there is such an Oriental Dance “boom” or “craze” in this last decade.
Devorah started studying in Egypt after having already danced almost 30 years. She wanted to know more about the culture. She had already learned the idiom and took a serious responsibility of representing this Eastern dance in the West. In a word, she had respect for the dance and its traditions. She knew that in order to learn this dance properly, you must start with the feeling. Farida saw Devorah dance and noted that Devorah had assimilated and danced as an authentic Egyptian. In other words, she danced with feeling.

Farida enjoys teaching women all that she can so that they can dance naturally and with feeling and she noted that this is also how Devorah teaches. She calls upon the imagination and uses examples…such as your pelvis is drawing a circle…now imagine that your pelvis is broken in half and you only want to move the left half…now imagine that your pelvis is going up and then back…but now we must add some cultural aspects.  She then tells you to imagine that you are invited to dinner in an Egyptian household and you must notice how the woman of the house behaves and notice the physical differences between how she moves and how the man moves. Then, once again imagine your pelvis is drawing a circle, but also remember how an Egyptian woman moves…

Although there have been many changes in dance in the last few decades we must remember that the Dance and the Music are interconnected.

Farida notes that the public’s tastes change. We live in a capitalistic world and the dance goes with the fads and the market commercialism. Before, the music was more melodic and the dance fit the music. It was subtle and delicate. Now the music is pop – club music – and very percussive and the dance is bigger – brutish, brusque. Not subtle at all! This is not to say that this is good or bad. It just is! And, Farida asks – where will it be in 20 years? Although you can’t learn from a book alone, it can be used as a good point of reference. To learn you should have a person, a good professional dance teacher so you can actually learn technique.

Preface by Devorah:
“Oriental Dance has been my passion for more than a quarter of a century.” She wants to share this passion.

Part 1- History pages -pages 12-53
It starts with large and small photos – color and otherwise - of photos of Orientalist nature, archeological clay statues, and photos of European masters. This chapter is broken up into 18 subchapters of 2 pages each with a heading, an italicized statement, lots of photos (mostly in color) and written content to back up the statement.

The Start of the Dance
Many ancient religions are full of mother goddesses capable of giving and ending life.
The story begins at the MOMA in New York with Devorah. She writes of the film of Fatima from 1896 made by Thomas Edison which is the first recorded moving record of our dance –and it is called coochee coochee dance. This was recorded 100+ years ago, but what about before that. There are descriptions of the dance back to 500 years ago. But, what about before that, and before that, and before that? This question of when did dance begin can go back to more than 6000 years ago to the Middle East and the heart of civilization and dance. These movements were always there. They are inherent in the human body. This is the oldest religion…the rites of fertility.
The development of women in religion made these societies matriarchies. (reference to The Living Goddess U.C. Press by Marya Gimbutas)

Devorah’s Theories

  • The Triads
    •  Religion – The Holy Trinity
    • day, afternoon, evening
    • premenstrual, fertile, menopause
    • birth, life, death
    • white, red, black
    • virgin, mother, old

Fusion of Elements
The Oriental Dance comes to us like a legacy of the evolution of the most ancient dances in the world.
Women alone can reproduce – The Mother Goddess – The magic in the blood. The Magic became the Religion, so, why not the Dance, to reflect these realities. The movements are circular, just as in Oriental Dance, like nature, like the solar system, like creation, like the cave paintings, like the Venus of Willendorf.

The Choreographies of Civilization
To Dance had one function - transcending what we are able to adapt and regain in our days.
The world is changing. The Dance wasn’t just for a show of happiness.
The Dance was for the gods – as shown in paintings in ancient Egypt and Greece.

One God, One Dance?
During all ancient times and the Middle Ages religion and dance coexisted.
The Dance changed with Christianity. Salome performed the dance of seduction. In New York, the opera of Salome was performed and was considered scandalous.

Religion and Dance coexist.

The Dance was condemned, but it has been around since prehistory and on into the Middle Ages.

Many dances were perceived with a negative connotation, like a song of the liberty of feminine sexuality.
In Medieval times the circle dances, as in the labyrinths of cathedrals symbolized the beginning of the resurrection, or the movement of the sun in the sky. The dance had negative connotations like the songs of feminine sexual freedom. This had much in common with Oriental Dance. Also during this time the dance was traveling from the east to the west via The Silk Road.  The nomads, the Rom, the gypsies came from India to Morocco and to Eastern Europe and parts of the southern Union of Soviet Socialist Republic and brought dance and music.

The Ghawazi brought to the eyes of the European travelers the ideal of the seductress dancer.
The Rom – Romani took the music and the dance to Andalusia. The Gypsies in Egypt, Nawari, (Egypt comes from the word Gypsy) are originally from India, and are called Ghawazi.

The Orientalists
Ironically, the expansion of Islam contributed to the mixture of the styles of dance.
The European travelers took the ideal of seductress dancers to the Orientalist painters and from there was developed the stereotypical style of Odalisques and the painters showed scenes such as the Turkish baths. None of this reflected the true nature of Islam. The Orientalists did not correctly depict what actually was but what they wanted to see on the walls.

Odalisques, Harems and other Lies
To dance was something normal and profoundly basic to belonging to the group.
From all this iconography that the painters and the authors of the Orientalists created was born a kind of stereotype of the role of the women of the Middle East as well as the dances that are still presented. In these popular fantasies there continued to be a mixture of the seductive slave and the erotic. In Hollywood the fantasy also became mixed up. It came from all over as in tales of One Thousand and One Nights and slavery. The dancers had a stigma that in many places then and still today imply social attitude. “Some poor women had to resort to prostitution.” This doesn’t mean that all dancers did. But it is true that some did. Therefore, it was and is easy to identify a dancer as a prostitute, especially if she’s of a lower class.  But, in actuality, most dancers danced privately for each other and for their families at home. Also, it was not necessarily only women who danced. Men also danced. This is because when it was necessary to perform in segregated situations, men performed disguised as women. The dance is not always for the lower classes. There were schools of dance throughout history.

French Napoleonic Troops in Egypt
The Awalim (dancing girls-a depreciatory connotation-but not to be confused with the Ghawazi) decided not to dance for the troops and went back Cairo.

Flaubert in 1850 Egypt
But if it was bad for the Awalim, it was even worse for the Ghawazi. They had trouble with the government of Islam and had to move to the South, to Upper Egypt.
Flaubert described having an adventure with a Ghawazi named Kuchuk Hanem. The influence of this so-called “affair” was described in later works like the short story Herodias where he describes the dance of Salome.  Actually he was more tourist than traveler. Therefore he really didn’t realize the real deal.

From East to West
The world expositions presented the Oriental Dance to the West.
At the end of the 19th Century there were Expositions (European) that showed Oriental Dance to the West. Spain and France got to see the National Folklore Troupes of Morocco and North Africa.

Men – Enter and Look!
The recreation of a street in Cairo seduced the visitors of the Chicago Fair in 1893.
The scandalous film by Thomas Edison from the World’s Fair gave the West the first look at this Dance. Sol Bloom of P.T. Barnum introduced the term Danza del Vientre (Belly Dance) as the dance from Egypt. This bad connotation was made clearly to emphasize the erotic for publicity purposes. And associated with this dance, Oriental Dance, was “Little Egypt.”

New Times
A new generation of dancers, choreographers and impresarios drove a renovation.
Russian Ballet and Diaghilev entered the Oriental Dance scene in 1909. In 1910 the ballet Sheherazade was performed. In Europe, Mata Hari, a vamp from the Netherlands was called slanderous. She performed sometimes nude, and danced performances called “Oriental Dance”.

The Liberation of Movement
Duncan was one of those controlling characters who changed the path of the History (of dance).
Isadora Duncan changed dance history with her Grecolatin and Oriental dance movements introducing freedom in dance. Ruth St. Denis was right there also researching various forms of ethnic dance.

Between Wars Between Dances
In the decades from 1920 and 1930 the fever came loose for all related with the Orient.

  • Enter-The Charleston and the Flappers. There is a similarity with some of Egypt’s folkloric dances.
  • Enter-Oriental Dance Fever
  • Enter-Oriental Dance inspired costuming and clothing.
  • Enter-Hollywood Babylon
  • Dance pioneers Martha Graham and Denishawn (Ruth St. Denis and husband Ted Shawn) choreographed dances inspired by the Orient.

    [Amina comments- Much of the above history is a European point of view: In some cases I feel she took a premise first and later found an example to back it up. There are 53 pages of “History according to Devorah”. But it is all well researched with many names and dates.]

Life is a Cabaret
A constellation of artists of great talent take possession of Egypt and went much further…
In 1928, Badia Masabni, a Lebanese dancer opened a cabaret theater in Egypt. It was called Casino Opera (aka Casino Badia). This was the beginning of The Golden Age. It saw dancers such as Taheyya Carioca (described by Edward Said as influencing his thinking) and Samia Gamal. These were grand times with wonderful floorshows.

The Grand Stars
With Samia Gamal the classic cabaret style put its foot in Hollywood.
Samia Gamal was the sweetheart dancer of Egypt and was proclaimed so by King Faruk. Naima Akef, Egypt’s Isadora Duncan who danced at a rival club The KitKat Club would also dance at Badia Masabni’s club from time to time. She was singer, dancer and actress who died prematurely at age 27. Artist and Nationalist, Om Kalsoum was Egypt’s most influential singer and dancer Sohair Zaki was known as the Om Kalsoum of Dance.

A Period of Changes
Dalilah was the first Spanish dancer with an international reputation in Oriental Dance.
All these stars owed their success to the composers who worked for them – such as Farid el Atrache and Mohamed Abdel Wahab. These composers also were influenced by the West and its music and it was apparent in the music they composed. But it wasn’t always easy to achieve the fame on the road to success in Egypt. There was the religion to contend with. And so - From Hollywood to Islam.
 And then in the 1950’s when floor dancing in Egypt is banned, the cry was to “Bring on the covered Folkloric Dancers!” Thus, Mahmoud Reda started his Folkloric Reda Troupe in 1959 with a Russian ballet basis.

Starting from 1960
The belly takes back prestige as center of the person and continent of the spirituality,
The dance goes to the U.S. and Europe and the Craze begins. Finally with the popularity of the dance in the U.S. and in Europe the dance is starting to become accepted. In these countries at first, the major players are of Middle Eastern origins having learned from their families and at informal parties, but then the scene changes as the dancers and teachers are western and not eastern.

Devorah mentions San Francisco’s Bagdad, the Casbah and the Greek Taverna as the beginnings in the Western move. (and the Greek Taverna arrived on the scene much later.) She goes on to talk about how the dance expanded worldwide in the 1970’s until finally it comes full circle and ends at the Ahlan wa Sahlan Festivals in Cairo.

[Amina comments- The author of this book in referring to the start of the Oriental Dance craze as it began in the U.S., mentions that it began in San Francisco at the Bagdad and Casbah and Greek Taverna? Why Greek Taverna? The Greek Taverna did not feature Egyptian dancers and also did not even exist in the 60’s. I tend to disagree with the beginnings being in San Francisco as there was already a flourishing Middle Eastern Dance scene in the East Coast U.S.A.  They were at least a decade before the Bagdad. She doesn’t seem to mention them. Are they not included because her American teachers did not dance there? Or are they not included because they were “Greek, Armenian and Turkish” in origin. Also she seems to know some American dancers (studied in U.S with Cassandra and ?), but doesn’t seem to know as many European dancers.]

The Future is in our Hands
For its survival, one must adapt with the times, but without forgetting the essence that makes it unique.
Nowadays more people than ever dance Oriental Dance. They show up in schools; professors teach; there are shows, musicians, fusion forms unexpected with other arts…The sum of the successes is commercialization and also with respect to the dance. It is our responsibility to know her and the depth that it is possible to choose consciously. In the future we can’t be dancing a version that is less authentic. It depends on our level as dancer. The Oriental Dance is an art and can be mixed with other modes of expression, but always respectfully preserving the roots of each element. For its survival we need to adapt with the times, but we should not forget the Essence that makes it unique. It is our duty to recognize the testimony of millions of women who have danced since time before us and with integrity of that which will come.

PART 2 -Benefits pages 56-78

  • The goddess within you
  • The goddess of the earth (physical benefits)
  • The goddess of the air (mental benefits)
  • The goddess of the water (emotional benefits)
  • The goddess of the fire (sensual benefits)
  • Complementary systems
  • Born to dance (prenatal)
  • The pleasures of age (the older dancer)
  • The goddess for him (male dancers)
  • Dance for the whole family (children)

PART 3 Travel to the Center of your Body- pages 82-86
The Sarabi Method
The Sarabi method is Devorah’s registered/trademarked method of teaching. In this chapter 3 she describes how she came about putting together this method. She discusses that when we want to start something new that we would normally throw ourselves wholehearted into it, hoping for immediate results. Quickly we would learn that it takes time to absorb and so frustration may set in. What we need is discipline. We must remember that we need to exercise discipline and we will be rewarded.

Her method came about naturally as a result of 30 years of body movement. At age 6 she studied ballet, and at age 9 she put aside her toe shoes claiming that they were not natural and therefore that dance was not a natural dance.  She went on to study many other forms of dance and at age 17 she discovered Oriental Dance. When she was 14 she did yoga for a problem with scoliosis.

She also studied and recieved degrees in Communications and International Relations, specializing in non-verbal communication. Looking back, she realized that all her teachers – technical, yoga and all types of dance, contributed to her final approach to how she teaches dance. Understand the body, how it moves… the kinetic energy.

With so much knowledge out there in the world, she knows that she didn’t invent anything new, as she has heard a lot of similar ideas voiced by other teachers. But she claims that the most important principal in the Sarabi method is to enjoy.

Meeting through the dance

The 12 pillars of the method (Principals of the method)

  1. Move in the three dimensions
  2. Isolate the articulation of the body
  3. Visualize the 4 essential forms (The first 3 occur in nature and the 4th connects the 2 points)
    The circle
    The spiral
    The infinite
    The straight line
  4. Dance of the trunk
  5. The Clock The image of the clock permits you to visualize what part of the sphere you are working.
  6. Develop lateral coordination – practice both sides equally
  7. Move on the periphery of the sphere
  8. All in harmony
  9. The sacred geometry and its connections with Oriental Dance. (She uses the image of the outstretched man, the “X”, depicted by Leonardo da Vinci
  10. The music is based in the polyrhythms
  11. To understand and join the compass – the music-the metronome
  12. Visualize the interpretation of the music – The question and the answer

PART 4  Move with the Universe pages 102-123
The Warmth of the Sarabi method

(Basic posture and stretches) There are many photos and explanations.

Get in touch with your body.

PART 5 Movements and Steps pages 126-211

[Amina comments-Aside from describing the principals of her Sarabi method, to really get the essence of what she is dealing with, one must actually visit her studio for a personal introduction to this method. But, a book is a book is a book and this is as good an introduction to the method as can be done in the written form. And there are pictures and illustrations to accompany the words.]

PART 6 Folkloric Styles pages 214-224

  • From Egyptian,  12 pages
  • Lebanese,Turkish, Khaligi, Debke, Tunisian, Moroccan, Algerian, Persian, Silk Road, Romani, Ritual and Trance,
  • Fantasy- 9 pages includes tribal

PART 7 Wardrobe pages 252-270

PART 8 The Music and the Musical Intruments pages 276-284

I don’t think the Folkloric, Wardrobe and Music and Instrument sections (Parts 6-8)  are complete enough, even in their brief descriptions there should be a little more. These subjects are mostly just “touched on”. These three chapters really should be separate books.

PART 9  Oriental Dance Today pages 288-297
The search for auto affirmation
Your exotic character: influence of your success
Artistic tendencies
Emphasis on the creativity and the theatrical
Proliferation of schools and academies

Glossary 4 pages

Bibliography 2 pages

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