Gilded Serpent presents...

Samrah’s Legacy

This is Aradia dancing to show off her designs in the fashion show
she did with my mother Samira at this event.

Revisiting MECDA’s First Fundraiser
in Los Angeles, May 1978

by Suzanne McNeil
posted February 7, 2014

Created in 1977, the Middle Eastern Culture and Dance Association (MECDA) is an organization dedicated to serving the community as a source of education, communication, promotion, and inspiration for the near and middle east music, dance, and arts community worldwide. Members include dancers, musicians, artists, and other persons interested in Near East and Middle Eastern culture, music, dance, and arts.

There had been some confusion between my mother, Samira, and myself as to when MECDA’s actual first event began. Thus, my mother wrote an earlier article about the outdoor festival she hosted for MECDA in the early summer of 1978. That article can still be read on the MECDA website among its archives.

Recently, my friend and past MECDA president, Ilia Wilken (then known as Ilia Bergman) sent me the flyer and pictures from the very first fundraiser for MECDA that occurred in May of 1978. I had totally forgotten about this event, even though my mother and I had participated.

The name of this event was simply “MECDA presents a Middle Eastern Festival” and it was held at the Pasadena YMCA. This event had the usual format we are accustomed to today; classes and entertainment during the day and an evening show.

However, THIS event was different due to the overwhelming support and participation from our dance community. The community I mention was primarily working nightclub dancers and musicians, and a few vendors. In fact, I had not seen so many musicians’ come together for a common cause before and certainly ever since.

Brand new MECDA had just started in October 1977, led by the outspoken and popular Samrah Masoud who became its president. It was mainly due to her driving force and the dancers who rallied around her that this event was so effective. MECDA was in need of funds and this event was the answer to that need.

Jenza, Author

Jenza (author) performing during the day at this event.

I performed during the day as one of many who did not get mentioned on the printed program. However, we have a copy of that program and many pictures for you to enjoy. The program was a “who’s who” of the dancer and musician world at the time. Check out the program pictured at the bottom of the page!

One of my favorite parts of the day was a comedy skit called “Toximia” with Stella, Ilia Bergman, Julie Mishkin, Marta Shill, Ben, Charlotte Bocage, and Natasha. We were rolling on the floor with laughter!

Recently, Ilia said the following about the Toximia skit:

“Toximia, I remember and smile when I think of it! My character was the club owner: Abu Lecherelian el Wretched; Julie was my wife (don’t know if she had a name); Marta was the drummer; Stella was Toximia. The whole idea was, of course, dancers’ rights. Stella was as tacky as possible. I was wearing my father’s tomato soup red golf pants and a flaming printed shirt and a pillow in my pants to fit it all in. I had everyone’s watches on one wrist, as one of my lines was an aside where I rolled up my sleeve: ("Wanna buy a watch?").”

Amal-MECDA Fundraiser
This is Amal who performed during the day at
this event. She was a well-known dancer and costume designer.

The character Toximia was a hit and was used in numerous skits over the years at MECDA functions to lampoon the tackiest habits a dancer could possibly ever have.

After Toximia, the great magician, Dean Shipcott mesmerized us, followed by the musician’s from Delila’s Restaurant: Manoucher Fadeqi on santour, Parvis Ramanian on tar, Mahdi Afshar on drums, and from Persia, Firuze.

One of the highlights that day was Samrah, Feiruz Aram, Mish-Mish, Ixchel, and Pearl who performed a five-part dance together to live music with Hassan Khalil on oud, George Mouysatti on organ, and Mark Bell on dumbec. (These dedicated musicians played twice that day).

There was so much more going on! Fascinating classes and events were organized during the day by local talent to include Rico Orell (drums), Rozyana (stage makeup), Stella (head-wraps), Samira and Aradia (costume workshop and fashion show), Linda Hithe (yoga), Aradia (Taksim), Marta Shill (Veil), Feiruz Aram (Arms, Hands, Sagats, and Torso), and Kevin Kidwell, who presented a self-defense demonstration

The Evening Entertainment had such greats as John Bilezikjian on oud and Louis Sayeh on dumbec, Laura Shaheen, Adel on violin, Abdullah Kdough on oud, Ali Darwish on dumbec and Fatih on dumbec. Nabil Labenenah and Samrah performed.

Aisha Ali’s Ghawazee Dancers were amazing (my personal favorite), the Troupe Koroyar performed an Armenian dance suite, and the Gypsy Folk Ensemble wowed us. A 3-part dance with Marie Silva, Marta Shill and Feiruz Aram topped off this stellar show. Hundreds of people attended! It was a magnificent first festival for our new organization!

In the following years, MECDA fused the original indoor fundraiser festival at the Pasadena YMCA and the outdoor Summer festival together in one event that became Cairo Carnavale.

This year, MECDA continues its legacy bringing the Cairo Caravan (previously Cairo Carnavale) back to the Glendale Civic Auditorium. The theme is “Welcome Back” and will include some wonderful instructors we have not seen for many years.

Ilia Bergman
Ilia Bergman dancing in this event, she became President of Mecda at the end of 1979.
Stella, Ilia, Julie
Stella, Ilia, Julie in the skit "Toximia".
Stella Ilia
Stella and Ilia in Toximia
Another scene from Toximia.
Linda Hithe
Linda Hithe performing during the day at this event.  She was our Cymbal Editor at the time.
Samrah Masoud performing at this event.  She is Mecda’s founder and 1st President.
MECDA Program
click for full program


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