The Gilded Serpent

The Gilded Serpent presents...
Loving Remembrance & Requiem:
the Best "School" That Ever Was,

Part 2, Research Begins
by Morocco/ Carolina Varga Dinicu

I also realized that politics and religion plays a far larger part over there than most here realize:

  • 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 is "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).

When 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 in himself.

The '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 .)

In 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?"

He 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.

Emboldened 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 years.

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.

One 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-
5-20-03 Loving 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.

Part 3
4-13-04 Loving 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. Won't.

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The music had suddenly changed pitch from regular speed to very fast speed.

8-25-03 Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation, My Journey in the Process by Lilly
He 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.

8-14-03 Our 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!

8-14-03 "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.








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