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Aszmara dances!
Souren Baronian on kuval visible to right of dancer,
Tamer Pinarbasi on kanun on her left

Gilded Serpent presents...
Folk Tours 6th Annual
Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp

held at Camp Greenlane in Pennsylvania, May 2008
Report and Photos by Nina Amaya

This is one of my favorite events. Yes, the classes are wonderful, the live music sublime, and the evening parties are famous, but it is the sitting around the table, breaking bread with legendary dance artists, and the wandering through camp as the live music from classes filter through the trees that is most special to me. Tayyar Akdeniz and Artemis Mourat are such warm people, and they set the tone of the camp by the teachers they invite and the welcome they give the campers.

The authenticity of the camp is amazing. I love Rakkasah and Tribal weekends as much as anyone else, but watching and listening to Arab musicians play Arab music and Turkish musicians play Turkish music, well, that adds a little something! After the nightly shows, the musicians keep playing to the wee hours and the camp dances in the big dining hall until we drop.

There is also a "Party Cabin" set up in the distance where campers practice their songs at night and, well, party. Carmine Guida and Melissa Murphey (of Djinn and Ishtar) can usually be found in there, and this year Scott Wilson of Effendi also showed up to jam.

You have all taken workshops before so I need not go into detail about how fabulous it is to participate in that part of camp. At the Folk Tours events, you cannot possibly take all of the classes so you have to pick and choose. I particularly loved Artemis' zill class and Fahtiem's dance classes. But what stood out for me this year were the music classes.

I took an Arabic singing class from Sami Abu Shumays; where else do you get to do that? Or a class in kanun, davul, oud, violin or maqam theory along with the usual drum and riq classes?

Because of these music classes, you are surrounded by live music all weekend.

There are also vigorous folk dance classes, Tribal, Turkish Oriental, Turkish Rromany (Gypsy), cane, yoga and unusual ethnic dances such as this year's Shikhatt class.

Friday night's performance is always "Camper Night." They don't call it "Student Night" because many of the campers are professional dancers and musicians outside of camp. Five lucky campers are invited to dance each year and there are two bands. The first band is made up of campers who met at Folk Tours years ago. Melissa Murphey of Ishtar, and Carmine Guida, of Djinn, lead what is now known as the "Turkish Band Camp All Stars." They find each other to play together throughout the year outside of camp.

Many of our teachers play in the second band. This year we had Sami on Violin, Souren Baronian on Clarinet, Karim Nagi on Riq, Seido Salifoski on Tabla and Tayyar on Davul: There were also some invited guests who are campers. This year, Scott Wilson on Oud and Umut Yasmut on Kanun joined the band. One of our teachers, Christina King performed beautifully on "camper" night. At one point, Scott "Effendi" Wilson was moved to get up and serenade the lovely Shems as she danced! Saturday is Arabic night; Karim Nagi, the versatile Souren Baronian, Sami Abu Shumays, and Rachid Halihal all played, along with Umut on kanun. Although it was Arabic night, they brought out the Turkish Dancing Bear, and Tayyar pulled out his davul.


When Shems dances, the musicians can't keep their seats!

I make giant dancing puppets and every year I bring one. This year it was a dancing bear. There is a sense of humor at Folk Tours and that is one of the reasons I love it. The Turkish dancing bear was welcome, Arabic night or not! We led the first open dance set.


Tayyar beats the davul for Nina Amaya as Yogi ( that's Turkish for 'bear')

Then our dance teachers performed to the band. Karim danced with double Tahtibs, smacking them loudly on the ground, having them fly up in the air and catching them. He taught tahtib (cane) in one of his classes - it was hugely popular. My favorite part of his performance was when he crossed them and grinned at the audience: "Merry Christmas!" His humor and enthusiasm are a staple of camp night, and he leads the parties in debkes every night. Morocco danced the choreography she taught - an unusual moment at camp because there was actually a CD playing instead of a band.

"I will dance with the live music too," she joked, "but first you get to see me dance to dead music!"

And I was so happy to see the lovely Fahtiem dance live and up close. I had asked on the last year's evaluation if they could try to get her to teach and perform, though I wasn't sure if she was the woodsy type.

She fit in just fine! We also saw our special guest artist Aegela perform. She has been granted a lifetime license to perform in Cairo.

After the show, she was happy to share tips for my upcoming trip to Egypt. Sunday is Turkish night. The show opens with a short special performance. Each year teacher Ali Kahya forms an orchestra comprised of the students in his ensemble class. In only three classes, Ali is able to create an orchestra complete with singers and solos. You see the joy in the performance after campers have been steeped in music and camaraderie for the weekend.

Tayyar and Ibrahim Tunc came out twice, in two different traditional costumes, to perform some of the regional folk dances of Turkey. They are so handsome in those clothes! Mesmerizing! You don't get to see that at "Danceorama Camp of the Moonlit Stars" (my apologies if there really is a camp by this name). This is so Folk Tours! They both taught classes during the day on these regional dances, complete with maps of Turkey and wooden spoons. Then at night we saw them bring the culture of their homeland to the show.


Tayyar Akdeniz presents a Turkish folk duet with Ibrahim Tunc

The Turkish band assembled featuring Seido Salifoski, Ali Kahya, Mike Uzatmaciyan, Souren Baronian and Tayyar. Tayyar brought world famous Tamer Pinarbasi who has taught at Folk Tours in the past, Salahadin Mamudoski and Olgun (who was recently in the Gypsy Caravan film) to join the band. Our special guest artist, the amazing Aszmara, danced for the 3rd year in a row, and by popular demand she will teach classes at Folk Tours next year! This was followed by the mother of our Folk Tours family, our friend Artemis, who danced with power and grace.




Artemis Mourat, our beloved leader, performs to a packed house.


Fathiem is in the crowd watching Artie.

At the end of every Folk Tours weekend, all of the staff and the campers are asked to fill out evaluations and they are carefully reviewed by the Folk tours staff. They actually bring the teachers we ask for! In the past they have had such luminaries as Sahra Saeeda, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Cassandra, Nourhan Sharif, Eva Cernik, Dalia Carella, Kajira Djoumahna, Paulette Rees-Denis, Steve Kotansky, Mohamed Shahin, Jajouka, Samara, Ara Dinkjian, Yuri Yunikov, Hamit Golbasi, Sonar Cicek, Haig Manoukian, and many other wonderful artists!


Karim Nagi flirting, I mean dancing

Ali Kahya leads a line dance.


Shems, Thalia, Brenda and Nina Amaya ham it up for the camera.

Tayyar also puts on the Alaturka dance festival in Turkey in July. The website for both camps is www.folktours.com. Put Memorial Day weekend, 2009, down in your calendar now and I'll see you at the party, I mean, in class.

Carl Miller's lovely slide show of this camp

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

Ready for more?
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Prices have gone up everywhere, and Egypt is no exception. The reality hit me as soon as I walked into the Mena House. Bottled water was $4.00, where out in the street the same bottle was $.50. A bottle of beer was $10.00. Internet connection was $30.00 / hour. At those prices, life's little pleasures didn't seem important anymore.

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