Remembrance & Requiem:
the Best "School" That Ever Was,
2, Research Begins
Carolina Varga Dinicu
I also realized
that politics and religion plays a far larger part over there than most
- Was any form of
dance banned? Why? When? How long?
- Has it been forgotten?
- What dances were
done then that aren't done now? Vice-versa? Why? Where?
- Did men do Raks
Sharki/ Oryantal Tansi? When? Where? Why? Under what circumstances? What
"tribal" dancing? Is there really such a thing "over there" or is it
totally a western invention?(I believe that it is ours. It has been
totally made up and is great theater! I'm not the Ethnic Police. If
a dance isn't culturally offensive, if it's presented as theater, a
personal interpretation, inspired by and is done with
taste and talent, I can accept and enjoy it as such. However, if it's
presented as real or authentic and is just malarkey.)
- What about the
Veil Work we all did in our U.S. nightclub dances in the '60s and '70s?
We thought that it was de rigeur. Was Veil Work "authentic"?
(Nope: Veil Work was another American invention, but I've seen Veil
Work so beautiful,
it made me tear up.) What does one wear for an ethnic dance? Can I
do it in a bedlah? In a thobe beladi? One must get the facts, since
misrepresenting dances, costuming, and cultures can create inadvertently
serious problems and insult the people to whom they belong. Claims
of innocence would be a poor defense in a country where so
much knowledge is available. Also, we can read and write. (Don't take
that for granted!) Trying to get it right, leads to friendships and
accesses further information and more help than I ever dreamed possible.
By 1962, I'd already
been featured in two totally forgettable (and forgotten) movies and
done a couple of live television interviews. I have made no videotape
as yet, thank God, since I have continued learning and making errors
in public view! I danced as part of that wonderful, extended music and
dance family in New York, Washington, DC & Montreal, Canada, until
July 3, 1963, when I was hired, on a two week contract with option,
at the Roundtable, a New York club that would reign for five
years as the best place for
Oriental Dance in the U.S. The music was great! Every Oriental dancer
of that day in America dreamed of dancing at The Roundtable! I headlined
there till March 2, 1968, except when I took temporary leave so I could
work in Off-Broadway and Broadway shows, travel for my subsequent research
trips or dance at overseas galas and occasional weekend club dates.
Some critics began
to recognize the art inherent in this dance and the first of many rave
revues to come was printed shortly after I opened at the Roundtable,
titled: "Morocco's Belly Dance is High Art" (Daily
Mirror, July 7, 1963, Jack Thompson).
it appeared, my mom called and said, "There is another woman using
the name Morocco, who has just gotten this great revue! So
shouldn't I change my stage name? Isn't it time I get married already,
stop this dancing foolishness, and find a real 9 to 5 job?
Her plans for my
life definitely did not include this lifelong obsessive career. The
good news is that she finally did come around. I won't tell you how
many years that evolution took!
I met and worked
with many wonderful Egyptian, American and Canadian dancers of that
era, including the Gamal Twins (known as Lyn and Lys in
Cairo), who, though they were adults and long married, were always accompanied
by both parents. The parents sat in the dressing room with the twins
between shows. I worked with some wonderful musicians and one truly
insane but musically inspired/inspiring band leader, who was an education
'60s were much more overtly sexist: the media thought it was extremely
unusual for a female to have a brain, let alone college degrees, be
a member of Mensa and not look like Godzilla, let alone be on stage
dancing like that!
In their book, it
was incomprehensible, which lead to a lot of publicity. If they hadn't
seen me dance, some of it was snide and condescending, assuming I was
some kind of hotsy-totsy harem cutie wanna-be, while others were very
kind and complimentary if they'd seen me or another quality dancer perform.
The end result was that it brought lots of the curious to see the weird
female "genius", who did what for a living? They came to scoff
and went away mostly praising. Some saw the hard work and the art, the
marriage of music and movement. The disgruntled were those who came
for sleazy "T and A" and didn't get it. Unfortunately, most didn't think
to question the Orientalist erotic fantasy that this was a dance women
did for men. Books and records titled "How to Make Your Husband a Sultan"
were the norm until relatively recently. Looking back at some
of the usual newspaper and magazine write-ups on Oriental dance then
and now, I can assure you that "we have come a long way,
baby!" (Doesn't mean that there isn't still a very long way to go .)
mid 1963, while dancing at the Roundtable, something occurred that would
have a tremendous effect on my life to date: I was told that there'd
be a Moroccan Pavillion at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. It required
dozens of research phone calls plus oodles of charm to get the necessary
information. I reached one of the men in charge. Having more nerve than
good sense, I jumped right in with both feet: "Hi. You don't know
me yet, but my name is Morocco. I'm a well known Oriental dancer in
New York. Wouldn't it be great publicity for you if you had a dancer
at the Moroccan Pavillion named Morocco?"
laughed so hard he dropped the phone. I could hear it clunk on the
floor while he related what I said, in French, to someone else, who
also reacted with raucous laughter.
He picked up the
receiver, bless his heart, and invited me to come to see the real Moroccan
dancers rehearse before their opening: Schikhatt, Ahouache, Gnaoua,
Danse du Plateau/ Raks al Seniyya, Houara. They probably wanted
to see what somebody with so much nerve looked like! All of those dances
were wonderful, most totally unlike Raks Sharki, but it was the special
magic and mystery of the Guedra that was overwhelming from the first
glimpse. I had to see more! I had to know more!The 2 men in charge were
the then Vice Minister of Culture of Morocco and a favored cousin of
His Majesty, the late King Hassan II (No, I have never
met the King.), who opened research doors for me that no official credentials
or amount of money could have opened.
I resolved to take
that fated next step: I'd go to Morocco myself, to the Sahara, do on-site
research and see for myself. Borrowing plane-fare from mom (That was
an amazing feat in itself.) with lots of advice, addresses and letters
of introduction from my new Moroccan friends, telling nobody (in case
of failure), I flew to Morocco during one of my vacations from the Roundtable
in late1963. Guess what: to Moroccans, I really do look Moroccan! I
bought a djellaba, walked behind a few women to copy how they walk,
so I could fit in and get around unnoticed.
by the amazing stroke of luck that lead me straight to B'Shara,
queen of the Guedra, having survived and enjoyed the first of my wonderful
experiences with her and Guedra in Goulmime, which I won't detail now,
I took off again in 1964. This time I went to Egypt, earning the money
for that trip from several gala shows for wealthy Moroccans in New York,
Morocco and Paris, arranged by the same aforementioned Pavillion directors.
Terminal curiosity and a real thirst for knowledge would bring me back
to both countries repeatedly and to Tunisia, Algeria, Syria, Lebanon,
Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Greece as well as several republics in
Central Asia and the Caucasus to research and perform in the ensuing
Access to those
latter two areas, which were in the former USSR (1976-79) was possible,
thanks to one of the more interesting mistakes of my life: I
was marriage to a Russian, whose brother-in-law was the Chief Government
Prosecutor of the Kazan Republic. He opened lots of usually closed doors.
While in those places, I was thrilled to find Oryantal Tansi in some
homes, but saddened that it was done almost exclusively by grandmothers,
who'd learned it from their mothers, who'd learned it as children. It
was actively discouraged by the Soviet government's racism and Victorian
attitudes towards the body (in general) and hip/torso movement, in particular.
of the most important things I learned was that all of those different
stories the grannies and the musicians told me about "how it was"
with the dance in their particular countries were true. There
was no one answer. There was no one truth. There was
no one dance. There were many, many answers, truths, dances!
Each region had
its own thing; let alone each country and different groups within a
region had their own special things. I was given an unbelievably wonderful
opportunity in 1967, again thanks to those marvelous Moroccans, to be
present at a birthing ceremony in a small village in Morocco (It required
my pretending to be deaf and dumb for an entire week, so as not to give
away the fact that I wasn't really Moroccan!), where the women really
danced the baby into the world. Incredibly beautiful! You can access
those articles on my website: "Roots" and "Giving to Light".
So much great stuff;
so little time to see and learn it all. So much of it disappears down
the oasis daily. What could I do? I filmed as much as I could, but only
where and when I could unobtrusively get in with my movie camera. More
often than not, the very appearance of a camera would bring on either
paranoia or it would totally change the formerly relaxed and natural
dynamic as the participants played to the camera. So what I couldn't
film, I committed to memory and brought back within myself, to transmit
to others. It wouldn't be lost or remain unseen by the outside world.
I could show my films. I could show and teach the steps. I could write.
Maybe I could lecture in places like museums, libraries and schools.
Part 1 here-
Remembrance & Requiem: the Best “School” That Ever Was,
Part 1 by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu. I looked at her & said, “If
I can’t do better than that, I’ll hand in my feet!”
A case of having more guts than brains.
Remembrance and Requiem: the Best “School” That Ever
Was, Part 3 by
Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu
Truth gives us the wings that brought us where we are today.
Most of my jobs now are in places that wouldn't have thought twice about
slamming the door in my face in the 1960s. I know because I tried and
they did, but I kept coming back with more and more proof. Haven't stopped.
a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Journey to Nepal, Part 2 by Daleela
music had suddenly changed pitch from regular speed to very fast speed.
Female Genital Mutilation, My Journey in the Process by Lilly
made it very clear that he did not want to discuss with me, but that
he had the feeling that I should be reading that book.
adventure brings us to a rare treasure! Yair Dalal in Concert in Marin
County, California Report by Lynette. It
described a last minute concert in West Marin that was going to be
outside at night, and you had to take a shuttle to get there!
"What is Belly Dance?" The
First Presentation in the New Symposium Series, by World Arts West A
report and review by Sadira There
has been much controversy surrounding the particular groups and soloists
who have been chosen to represent the Middle Eastern Dance category in
the Ethnic Dance series throughout its entire 25 years of production.