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Omar Faruk Tekbilec
Gilded Serpent presents...
The Folk Tours
Dance & Music Camp

Review by Piper
(and baby pics too!)
other Photos by Carl Miller
May 2004

There were lots of reasons I wanted to attend the Folk Tours Dance and Music Camp in Pennsylvania Memorial weekend.  Organized by Tayyar Akdeniz and Elizabeth Artemis Mourat (both excellent dancers and teachers themselves), I would have a chance to study with Kajira and Nourhan Sharif, both of whom I knew by reputation only.  I was also looking forward to hearing some wonderful musicians play live.  Once upon a time, in far away lands, I performed five shows a night, seven nights a week to great live music.  I don't miss the wily club owners, late nights, or cigarette smoke, but I do miss the music.

Nourhan's Egyptian Oriental class on Saturday morning was very interesting, with great warm-ups and exercises, and a cute choreography that I enjoyed learning.  I really liked Yousry Sharif's system of numbered arm positions (based on Mahmoud Reda's technique) and plan to use it in the future when teaching Egyptian style classes (note: I haven't seen them yet, but I heard that Nourhan's teaching videos are excellent and that they include this numbered arm system).  I missed Nourhan's Sunday class, but several people told me that they liked it and found it quite challenging.  I was glad to hear this. 

Many advanced dancers seek continued training/inspiration from videos instead of taking classes with living, breathing master teachers who can give feedback, because seminar instructors often cater to the lowest common denominator.  Not Nourhan!

I always have a great time in Artemis's classes.  She knows so much, and she shares it all so generously; I feel lucky to live near her and have her as a local resource for my students.  Watching Artie dance recently inspired me to create a group choreography to "Rampi Rampi" for my troupe.  This choreography includes a short improvised solo for each dancer, and I saw several of my troupe members happily taking notes and encouraging each other in Artie's Karsilama class.

Now I know why Kajira has been nominated best instructor so many times by so many institutions!  She's sweet, she's straightforward, she's very positive, she explains things clearly, and you learn a lot in her classes.  The steps she taught were fun and creative.  If tribal isn't your thing, I felt that everything she taught could easily be transformed into other styles (Pharaonic, Egyptian and Turkish all came to mind at various points during the class) by altering the posture and arm positions.  I took her Sunday class and I especially appreciated her review at the end in which she went over everything she had taught on Saturday as well.

Naji Hilal, Steve Kotansky and Ali Kahya taught singing classes.  For musicians, there were ney classes with Hamit Golbasi, baglama with Soner Cacik, drum with Brad Sidwell and Karim Nagi Mohammed and Seido Salifoski, kanun with Tamer Pinarbasi, oud with Haig Manoukian, davul with Tayyar, and tambourine with Souren Baronian Ali Kahya taught ensemble.  I was disappointed that I had to miss the Monday show when the ensemble class performed what they had learned; their lessons sounded really good.  Several of my students had purchased dumbecs on-line with the express intention of learning to play at Camp.  They had fun in the outdoor drum lessons, and by the end of the weekend, they didn't sound too bad!

In the afternoons and early evenings Omar Faruk Tekbilec taught music and philosophy while jamming on the grass with student and professional musicians. 

Like a bodhisattva, people gathered around him to receive his music and his words.  I grew up surrounded by dancers and musicians, and I would like my son to experience music and dance not only as performance art, but also in a relaxed, personal atmosphere. 


We had a good time hanging out on the grass in Faruk's circle, until Connor decided to join in with his loud baby vocalizations (babies like music!) and we withdrew so as not to disturb the others.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to take any of Tayyar's Turkish folk dance classes (traveling and camping with a 10 month old doesn't exactly leave one with tons of energy to spare), but my students who attended had a great time.  They said that they learned a lot, plus they enjoyed seeing a straight guy shake his hips for a change (ahem)!  I did get to drop in for just a bit of one of Steve Kotansky's Balkan folk dance classes while my son was taking a quick nap.  Steve knows his stuff, and everyone in the class seemed to be both "getting it" and having fun.

I highly recommend Artemis's "So You Wanna Be A Star?" workshop series for anyone who wants to become a professional solo artist or just improve their performance skills. 

She gave lots of practical tips on how to present oneself as a professional both on stage and off, as well as ways to deal with loads of potential problems.  What would you do if the boss doesn't pay you, if a customer tries to grab you, if another dancer does something spiteful to undercut you, if the musicians won't play what you want?  Take this series to find out! 


On the last day, the bravest participants performed a short solo, which was filmed and then gently but thoroughly critiqued by Artemis.  It is very hard for many students to have their efforts criticized (especially in front of others), but it is better to find out in class than to go on stage and be embarrassed later.  Personally, I am on a life-long mission to overcome a tendency towards bluntness and Artemis is a master of sweet tactfulness, so I was glad to sit in on this session in the hopes that some of this lovely quality will rub off onto me!

As for the food at camp, what do you expect from YMCA cafeteria food?  Surprise!  I am a picky eater, but there were at least one or two dishes at every meal that I wanted seconds of (I was worried about this because Connor is still nursing, so I need to EAT).  A few people complained about the lack of screens in the "wigwam" where the evening performances were held, but there is a reason this is called CAMP.  Neither Connor nor I got a single bug bite and mosquitoes love me so I would have gotten bit if they were around.  If you can't stand a few harmless small critters, you need to take workshops that are held in fancy hotels.

The evening shows were highly enjoyable, with a good mix of camp participants and instructors.  I love all forms of Middle Eastern dance, but watching three hours of back-to-back baby dancers is not my idea of entertainment.  Here however, the number of performers was limited, even the first-timers did a good job, and the instructors were sensational.  The music was GREAT of course, though I could have lived without the amplification (I know, I know, separating Middle Eastern musicians from their amplifiers is like telling my husband that he has to give up computers and power tools, but one can hope).  The folk dancing was fun to watch.  Artemis and Tayyar did a cute vignette.  In terms of personality and style, Kajira reminds me a lot of my mom, Rhea.  It's that kicky, let's-have-fun-we're-in-this-together attitude over a foundation of Jamila Salimpour technique.  From her dynamic spinning entrance to her dramatic 9/8 finale, Artemis's solo was fabulous as usual.  Not only did Nourhan do perhaps my favorite Egyptian nightclub style performance ever, she was definitely Connor's favorite dancer of the evening. 

He stopped squirming and started craning his whole body around so he wouldn't loose sight of her from behind the heads of people in front of us.  Connor is in a cling-to-mommy stage at the moment, but he let me put him on someone else's lap sitting up front and he didn't complain as long as Nourhan was dancing!

The days were warm, the nights were cool and the moon was bright, the classes were fun and packed with useful stuff and above all, the music and the dancing were inspirational.  I'll definitely be going back next year.  If you can make it too, come over and say hi; I'll be the one with the toddler.

Information on this year's event

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Ready for more?
10-4-04 Folktour's 2nd Annual Music and Dance Camp Photos by Carl Miller, Report by Mark Balahadia
Pennsylvania, May 2004, Dancers and musicians all over the East Coast (and abroad) came to participate in the four-day oriental dance and music camp.

12-7-03 Report of the Eastern U.S. Middle Eastern and Balkan Music and Dance Camp October 2-5, 2003 report by Tahya
The camaraderie of a camp - bunking with strangers who soon become friends, "breaking bread" together, learning new dance steps, songs, and drum rhythms - has all the ingredients for a treasured experience, and this camp lived up to that potential.

2-26-05 A Report of the 2004 Ya Halla Y’all Saturday Evening Show, by Leigh Allen and Tamara Campbell, photos by Craig Campbell. Isis’ annual August shows are always great and professionally presented but the show on Saturday truly lived up to its billing as ‘A Gathering of Stars’. We can’t wait for next year!

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If you are reading this publication, then you too have fallen in love with belly dancing.

2-14-05 Taking Good Care of our Stars by Miles Copeland
Most of all, as we now need them consistently; we have to free them from financial worries by giving them job security including such things as health insurance.

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