Gilded Serpent presents...

Oasis Dance Camp South

Cassandra performing

A New Twist on an Established Retreat –

by Ramona
photos by LisaMarie & Lamis
posted April 24, 2009

Oasis Dance Camps have been annual events in locations across the U.S. for 25 years. Oasis South was held at Jekyll Island, a Georgia state park, in January 2009. Unlike the other Oasis Camps, this retreat was held in a beachfront hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. New class offerings and events made this camp even more fun!

Cassandra is the core dance instructor at every Oasis Camp, teaching Oriental belly dance. Habiba was this year’s guest instructor, back by popular demand to teach Tunisian folk dancing and costuming.

A change from previous camps was that Nicole LeCorgne, Oasis camp drummer, was unable to attend Camp South this year due to other commitments. Nicole has a Master’s Degree in Ethnomusicology and is a member of several New York-based ensembles. She has been the leader of evening drum and percussion classes at Oasis Camps for years. We missed her and hope to see her at future retreats.

Teacher’s Intensive class
This year there was an option to take a pre-day class. Campers arrived early to attend Cassandra’s “teacher’s intensive,” which focused on helping dance instructors communicate more effectively with their students. The class was part sit-down discussion and part active participation.

During the sit-down discussion, Cassandra gave us information about structuring and organizing lesson plans, techniques for effectively teaching and getting key points across to students, developing coaching skills, and modifying steps for students with physical limitations.

Specifically, there were useful tips for teaching, such as how to mirror zils when facing the students in class, so that students play the strokes while the teacher is watching them (instead of having her back to them). Cassandra placed emphasis on checking students for correct form and healthy alignment, giving us information about what to look for, such as positioning of feet and ankles.

She discussed the importance of verbalizing the cultural background of dances, so that students understand the origin of the steps. She covered the all-important topic of negotiating fees, with some interesting personal stories about different approaches to negotiating. After class, she gave us examples of syllabi from her weekly classes in Minneapolis.

The second half of the teacher’s intensive was an exercise where students took turns teaching part of a class. Each of us was assigned a specific task (such as teaching a warm-up or a dance step), which we taught the class participants. Cassandra took notes during this exercise, giving us individual feedback about the portion of the class we taught.

Habiba teaching
Cassandra teaching

Class variety
Camp South began on Wednesday evening with introductions and meeting other camp participants. Many participants come to camp year after year, so there were many familiar faces from previous camps. Many of the experienced dancers who attended are well-known performers in the Southeast. There were also a few beginners, so there was a mix of skill levels and perspectives. Everyone introduced themselves and we learned something interesting about each participant.

Classes began on Wednesday morning. This year there was a new beginner’s choreography class taught by Zuleika, which was offered as an alternative to Cassandra’s Spanish-Oriental choreography class. In addition, Zuleika taught the optional early-morning conditioning/stretching classes. The morning stretch is a traditional part of Oasis Camps, and is a great way to start the day. I found that the morning stretch class helped me with floorwork techniques.

Habiba preforming in Tunisian costumingOriental technique and Tunisian technique classes and warm-ups were held in the morning and choreography classes in the afternoon. Cassandra’s Spanish-Oriental fusion choreography was fun to learn. The majority of the campers were experienced belly dancers, and the variety of flamenco steps and styling added refreshing variety our repertoire. Cassandra’s choreography is always well-organized with helpful printed notes.

Every student received a personalized notebook and music CD, which included class notes and news articles about dance and culture.

Habiba’s Tunisian dance classes were also refreshing learning experiences and also included helpful printed notes and her informative published articles. Since many of the participants had no prior training in Tunisian dance, these classes added new techniques to our repertoire.

On the last day of camp, the choreographies were videotaped during class. Oasis Camp DVDs include the class practicing the choreography, plus the show performances and extras. The DVDs are offered at an extra charge.


Sit-down classes after lunch focused on a variety of topics. We watched classic videos of famous Oriental and Tunisian dancers, with commentary by Cassandra and Habiba explaining the cultural background of the dances and interesting facts about the performer’s careers.

On another afternoon, Habiba brought a Tunisian dance costume and showed us the parts of the costume, discussed the fabrics, the handmade lace detailing, and origins of the costume. She dressed a student in the costume so that we saw how the pieces fit together—even the proper undergarments for a Tunisian costume!

Cassandra taught a finger cymbal class one evening, emphasizing basic skills and rhythmic patterns. She played the drum for us as accompaniment.

A private, gentle critique with Cassandra is an optional feature of Oasis. For a nominal fee, you are able to schedule a private meeting with Cassandra, and you watch one of your DVD performances with her. She gives helpful suggestions and insight into achieving your goals and improving your dance performances. I’ve taken advantage of this offering and highly recommend it for serious dancers, since I’ve found her suggestions so helpful.

Shows are always a highlight of any retreat, and so the camper’s performances were something we all looked forward to. There were many different performances, including Oriental, tribal, folkloric, comedy and a role-playing pirate dance. Another show the following evening featured dances by Oasis staff and instructors. There was an informal after-party with henna painting and party games.

After the final Sunday morning class session, we had a brunch with closing ceremonies and awards. Campers submitted votes for their peers in a variety of serious and not-so-serious categories, and a number of awards and small prizes were presented.

Shopping is a favorite activity at Oasis, and Originales by Faye was there with a wide range of costumes and accessories to fit every size and budget. In addition, a camper’s flea market was held one evening, with bargain prices on gently used one-of-a-kind costumes and accessories.

After classes, there was time to relax and explore the area. Jekyll is a quiet little island with a historic district and beaches. There is a sea turtle exhibit and nature center. The hotel has a pool and hot tub. The hot tub was much appreciated after walking on the beach in the brisk January weather. This was my fourth time attending Camp South and I make time to visit a few tourist attractions each time I go. I have been on a horseback riding tour of the island, visited the historic district, sea turtle center, and sampled the local seafood restaurants during various visits.

Some dancers bring their spouses. Spouses may enjoy the miles of beaches, golfing, fishing, horseback riding and sightseeing tours on Jekyll Island during the day. There is a bike trail that goes around the entire island.

Many dancers register for camp in pairs and groups and notify the organizer of who they’ll be sharing a room with. If you are traveling alone and need a roommate, the event organizer will find a roommate for you. There is an upcharge for a private room.

Oasis South Camp includes meals prepared by the hotel’s restaurant. The restaurant’s ownership changed since the last camp I attended, and I was pleasantly surprised that camp had real Southern cooking. The restaurant also has a bar. The local area restaurants feature fresh seafood.

If you go to Oasis Camp Visit for registration details.

campers & staff
click for larger photo

Group photo of campers & staff in front of ocean
Please help match these participants NAMES to the FACES!
Nissa Sadeira, Belda, Na’imah, Faye, Akasha Bint al Waha, Selene, Joani Bint al-Waha, Lamis, Saroya, LisaMarie, Kahina, Alikahana, Pari, Adena bint Sherezzah bint al-Waha, Ramona, Tasma, Sherezzah Bint al-Waha, Souzan, Nasheeta, Yasmeen.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 , 15, 16, 17, 18, 19

click for larger photo
Group photo of camp staff. From Left:
Sa’ida (event sponsor), Cassandra, Habiba, Zulaika, Na’imah


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  1. Mahsati Janan

    Apr 26, 2009 - 07:04:22

    I wish I could have made it to this one. I absolutely love Oasis Dance Camp and have found the one on one time with Cassandra and guest instructors (especially Denise Enan) extremely valuable in my own dance journey.  Thanks to the organizers and instructors for all their hard work!

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