Horacio Cifuentes:Confessions of a Male Belly Dancer
Book Review by Amina Goodyear
posted August 17, 2010
Horacio Cifuentes is an internationally-known dancer who began his Belly dance career in San Francisco.
World-renowned San Francisco is a small city. Its population is less than 1 million, less than 900,000, even less than 800,000; currently, it’s about 775,000. However, it is a big city in ways other than numbers. It is big in liberalism, leadership, and innovation and it guides the communities around it called the San Francisco Bay Area. When traveling, we often say that we are from San Francisco. We don’t usually say we’re from the Bay Area, and we rarely even mention California. We’re a proud city and proud of our worldwide fame, infamy, and notoriety.
We are trendsetters and our list of “firsts” is astonishing:
Beatniks, Hippies, Love-ins, Computers and Silicon Valley, Alice Waters‘
creation of California Cuisine are among some of our firsts. In the United States, we San Francisco Bay Area Belly dancers were first with:
● Isis–a non-denominational, bipartisan Belly Dance Convention,
● Bellydancer Magazine–an early (1970s) Belly dance publication,
● Rakassah–an international annual Belly dance festival,
● Belly Dancer of the Year–a Belly dance competition/pageant,
● The birthplace of Tribal Dance, and
● The Blue Naked Belly Dancer!
Sometime during the early 1980s, I was in a local Arabic music store, Samiramis, and I met a very tall man–a dancer of whom I had only previously heard. His name was Horacio Cifuentes and his reputation had preceded him. In the dance community we had all heard of the male dancer who had appeared in a Belly dance show given by Magaña Baptiste. In this show, wearing no clothing, painted entirely in blue (Okay, he wore a painted blue loin cloth.), he performed a Belly dance snake dance.
He was the snake and his blue snake dance made him the talk of the town!
Well, at Samiramis, he was clothed–rather GQ-like–and although he wasn’t wearing blue paint, nevertheless, he commanded a very powerful and memorable presence. I am rather short in stature, and I felt even shorter because of his towering presence. nevertheless We managed to have a conversation about dance and dance teachers and discovered together that his teacher, Magana Baptiste, had been my teacher when I was a teenager. Through this common bond, we parted ways with an appointment for him to begin studying with me. As I left, I wondered how he would fit in my tiny dance studio. After all, he was imposingly tall!
Horacio was (and is) an exceptionally talented dancer and his years of studying and working as a dancer gave him an incredible mnemonic memory. I soon realized that although I could help him learn to analyze, understand, and dance to the music, I was doing him a disservice in class because he was picking up too many female dance details. This feminine baggage certainly did not suit his large personality or his dance. We decided that he needed to go to a local Arabic restaurant, The Pasha, to study and imitate how Arabic men dance. As a result, he began his Belly dance career at the Pasha; the rest is history and in his book.
Before reading this book, Horacio Cifuentes – Confessions of a Male Belly Dancer, I thought I knew Horacio since he had studied with me for a short time. During that time, I had listened to him planning his King Tut costume with real gold and gemstones, and I saw the San Francisco Ballet "Beatles" number that he had choreographed. I listened to him tell me that he needed money and was working as a male model, and I knew that often-times he went without–in order to support his dance obsessions. I had had mixed emotions when he told me he had to sell his car so that he could finance his first musical endeavor, producing Reda’s Flower, featuring Reda Darwish. *
We San Francisco dancers got to know Horacio and enjoy his performances at the Pasha and the ballet. We danced alongside him at joint productions, dance shows and at workshops. We also partied with him at Magana’s and ultimately listened to him tell us about the new love in his life, Beata Zadou, a dancer who lived in Berlin.
Yes, I thought I knew Horacio Cifuentes, a San Francisco dancer who moved to Berlin to be with and wed Beata Zadou. After reading his book, I realized I really did not know him.
The book, “Confessions of a Male Belly Dancer”, is exactly that. It is a self-produced autobiography written in a very sincere, almost shockingly honest way. It is personal and personable.
It is coffee-table-book sized and is very generous with the photos that range from blown up snapshots to professional publicity shots, both action and stills–in color and black and white. There is a forward by Magana Baptiste, an introduction by Horacio, and there are twenty-two chapters. This slick-paged book is action packed. Horacio takes the reader from his early childhood in Cartagena, Colombia, to Spain and Poland in Europe–back to Colombia, to the U.S. (New York and San Francisco) and finally, to Berlin. In the 222 pages of the book, we get to know the real Horacio and understand how and why he is who he is today.
Sometimes tall people can be intimidating, especially if they carry themselves in a very self-assured confident manner. This may be how many perceive Horacio, but this is not the Horacio we get to know in his book. Here, Horacio is a geek, a nerd, insecure, and vulnerable but always a dancer. All of us keep secrets and skeletons in the closet, and we usually leave them there. Horacio, on the other hand, openly shares his secrets with us.
He takes us on his life’s journey as he suffers from a dysfunctional family life while trying to make his dreams of dance a reality. Since the age of 4, he seems to have been very focused and obsessed about dance and fashion and consequently, suffered many obstacles and hardships for his dance. His sheer persistence and talent took him many places–not all of them pretty. However, he persevered, and all his adventures and misfortunes made him the Horacio he is today. His closing paragraph says it all:
"I treasure each moment, on and off stage, as a precious opportunity to express my artistry, and continually rediscover life for all it has to offer. I hope that this book, in revealing what life has meant for me, will inspire others to awaken the divine dancer within."
Each chapter in the book shows how sweet little moments (as well as unpleasant, painful or disastrous encounters) helped to mold Horacio into the dancer we know. He introduces us to the many people who helped to form his life, personality and art. We come to love and want to meet some of them and others we don’t like, but they all were a part of the whole and ultimately helped to bring him to the free and self-accepting Horacio of today.
I enjoyed reading his book and finally getting to know Horacio, about whom previously, I had thought I knew. He has already lived a full, rich life, and undoubtedly, he has many more years ahead as an artist, dancer, choreographer, teacher, friend, and husband.
Rather than tell you what’s inside the pages of this sweet, truly delightful book, I’d rather have Horacio tell you. He’s a better storyteller. Buy his book and read it. You’ll love it!
*”Reda’s Flower”, composed and/or arranged by Reda Darwish is a must-have album. I wonder if it is still in distribution? If it isn’t, it should be!
Book and Reda’s Flower Purchase information- http://www.oriental-fantasy.com/
[ed note- rumor has it that Beata & Horacios will be teaching this fall to the US!]
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