ad 4 Fahtiem



Local dancer with pot!

Gilded Serpent presents...
Khamsa Holidays
A Dance and Culture Camp in Tunisia
by Denise Leclair
August 26, 2007

Journal Entry-
June 16th, 2007 Edmonton International Airport, Alberta Canada
“Tired, excited and hopeful I sit again in an airport lounge watching baggage handlers load the plane with the promise of yet another adventure.  I am older now and with that comes both the confidence of experience and the anxiety of experience.  I’m really unsure of what to expect but it doesn’t matter.   The call to North Africa is strong and fortunately I am able to answer with a full heart and beautiful painted toes.”

July 5th, 2007 somewhere over the North Pole (truly) coming home
“Sitting in our narrow seats on Air Canada’s flight to Edmonton, I marvel at the last 3 weeks.   I am delighted.   My artistic self sits smugly marveling at the dance experiences of the trip.  My analytical side struggles to make sense of it all.  What made Tunisia so different from Turkey, from Israel?

Tunis with its steamy heat evidenced in perpetually sticky clothes.  Tunis with its cacophony of enthusiastic people voicing opinions with gusto unfamiliar to us of more sedate behavior; I am convinced it must be the North African couscous liberally laced with pungent spice which boils the blood and impassions the heart.”

How do you judge a dance trip?  Would you go back next year? …in a heartbeat.  Damn the cost and mercury retrograde and the heat.  It was that good!

Khamsa Holidays is a Dance and Culture Camp sponsored by Khadejah and Mustapha from Germany and Joan Kafri from New Mexico, all world class dance instructors and performers.  This event took place in Gammarth, Tunisia from June 22nd until July 2nd 2007 offering 20 hours of dance instruction, sight seeing and of course shopping.  Those who wanted to perform had the chance to do so in the Saturday evening show at the hotel.  Big stage, plenty of lighting and a sound system that knocked our socks off!

We have all had the experience of taking workshops with renowned performers but it doesn’t always translate to great learning. As a participant you get what you can out of a workshop. I can appreciate how challenging it is to teach a class of 70 or more people of varying skill levels.  On the other hand, dance camps tend to be smaller and more focused giving you the personalized attention that ensure you can put what you learn in practice back home.

An exotic location may not be essential for a successful dance camp but I believe it helps connect you to the dance.  However if you don’t have the best instruction location, location, location just isn’t enough. I have been on other dance adventures sponsored by Joan Kafri, in both Turkey and Israel.

She knows the ingredients to a successful dance trip.  Paired up with Khadejah and Mustapha, this trip to Tunisia profoundly touched both my spirit and my dancing body. 

Khadejah and Mustapha are two celebrated dancers of Raqs Sharki and folkloric dances from the Gulf Region, the Orient and North Africa.  I knew of them, but very little about them. Although they travel to the US for workshops they are likely not so well known in North America because they just don’t live here. Living in Germany, they are much better known throughout Europe and Arabic countries where they teach and perform.

Mustapha is without question my absolute favorite Tunisian.  A master in folkloric dance for many years, he taught us Bounawara (meaning with the flower) style of Tunisian dance, which uses two small scarves, and Dabke.  Mustapha made every minute count in class.  He also has the biggest heart and the warmest smile I have ever known and will be dear to me the rest of my life. 


Joan is an exuberant dancer with a long history of teaching and performing Middle Eastern Dance, specially folkloric styles.  She began her career as the first American to tour with the Israeli National Folklore Ensemble in Israel, throughout Europe and the USA; and she continues to teach and perform regularly in Europe, Israel, Turkey and the USA.  Two of her specialties are Turkish folkloric and Arab-Andalous dance and, naturally, she provided us with exceptional instruction in both.  In addition to some challenging dance combinations, she also gave us a lot of important historical background and discussed music styles and differences.  Knowing Joan as I do, all my expectations of a great class were exceeded – again.

Not much point in going to Tunisia if you don’t learn Tunisian dance.  An accomplished performer, Khadejah is without question, one of the best instructors I have had the pleasure to study with. 

I have found it difficult to get instruction in Tunisian dance in North America.  Over the years, I managed some lessons in workshops when I lived in California and have a few reference videos but nothing really clicked until the workshop with Mustapha and then later on with Khadejah.  I have to say that she is a natural instructor. Not only was the Tunisian something I could learn but her approach to Raqs Sharki, in a later class, was challenging enough for all levels.  It was serious dance for serious students.  Excellent! 

It didn’t stop there.  Meet Madame Souad, one of the main dancers in the Fatima Bousaha groupFatima Bousaha is a very famous singer in Tunisia, who not only made it possible for us to study with Madame Souad, but also made sure to send us three of her musicians for this unforgettable workshop!  These musicians used one large drum, sometimes referred to as a Taban, which is very similar to the drum used by the Ghawazii in Egypt, a small dumbek and a mizwid, which is something like a mizmar. 

When they started to play, I knew this was the defining moment of the whole trip.  The sound was bigger than the vaulted ceilings and spilled out onto the resort, where all the local Tunisians made an immediate reason to flock to the hall.  What was this magic?  Madame Souad smiled and began to dance, inviting our class to join her. Okay, pinch me I thought as my eyes started welling up.  I am in Tunisia hearing sounds that do not exist outside of villages, dancing with one of the top dancers in this country.

What about the country?  Tunisia, nestled alongside the Mediterranean, offers the best of beaches, and even desert adventure in the Sahara if the spirit moves you.  Roman ruins, the Souk in Tunis, the Bardo Museum with its mosaics, and the marriage of the modern and the ancient is all there for the traveler.  Algeria and Libya are Tunisia’s closest neighbors and at the mere mention of those countries, my family and friends had immediate concerns about my security. 

I can assure you that Tunisia has zero tolerance for any hint of terrorism and takes very good care of its tourists.  It’s an important industry, and just like Turkey, at no time did I ever feel unsure of my personal safety.

Mustapha, Mariah, Joan, Khadejah
(they were shopping for gelebeyahs)

Antoine de Saint Exupery, the famous French author of The Little Prince, fell in love with North Africa and now I am beginning to understand why.  It isn’t the Africa of jungles and lions and while not the Middle East, it is predominantly an Arabic country.  Arabic and French are the main languages with most guides speaking a smattering of English, German and other languages as needed.  Local Tunisians are polite, conversational and were absolutely delighted that North Americans were visiting their country.  Women drove cars, filled the cafes, shopped, and worked.  As expected the vendors were enthusiastic and friendly, but not aggressive and accepted no for an answer without argument.  Shopping was a delight in the Souk.  I did not expect the variety and depth of the Grande Bazaar of Istanbul.  Yipee!  I was so wrong.  Shoes, leather goods, clothing, music, artwork and the famous Tunisian ceramics were just a few of the temptations. 

Order a café direct, often.  You will be rewarded with some of the best coffee you have ever tasted or perhaps sweet tea with pine nuts in the ancient café in Sidi Bou Said overlooking the Mediterranean.

The only thing I can add is our resort. The Club Dar Naouar was perfect.  It is modest but all inclusive so we had everything we could want (including yummy couscous). 

What made it so special was the staff who could not do enough for us.  They put flowers on our table and our beds.  They were constantly checking to ensure the air conditioning was working.  I was saluted with a kiss on my hand in the morning, every morning.  I was truly treated like a queen every single day.  They made me feel wonderful.

My fellow dancers, this was my experience in Tunisia.  I will be there again in 2008 and perhaps that is the most telling comment on this trip.  

pool at the resort- Club Dar Naouar

Shelley on a Camel Ride

Sami dancing with local Tunisian band

eco food transport

Shelley smokes a huge pipe load


click photo for enlargement
Ellen, Lucy, Nancy, Hoda, Michele, Mariah, Joan, Khadejah, Shelley, Denise. This was actually at a very cool amphitheatre where Khadijah opened for Hakim in 2001 at the Carthage Festival.

Street in Sidi Bou Said


Souq in Tunis about a 40 minute taxi drive from the hotel

Mustapha shares a joke with a camel



Khadejah and Mustapha

Same local dancer doing a folkloric dance

Denise and Shelley dance Bedouin

Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

Ready for more?
11-17-05 Traveling with the Touareg by Linda Grondahl
This was my 5th trip to Algeria since 2000 and I have been amazed at the rapid economic development. The government is working very hard to make Algeria a very popular tourist destination once again.

5-29-06 Traveling to Tizi Ouzou by Linda Grondahl
When I was in high school, I was fascinated by some of the names I read about when studying world geography.

5-5-06 2005 Folktours Middle Eastern Music & Dance Camp Pennsylvania, by Zarqaa, Photos by Sarah Skinner and Carl Miller.
Look around and delight in the glory of the dancers and musicians. Dance.

10-17-07 A Report on the First International Bellydance Conference of Canada Part 2 - Saturday Gala Performance Photos by Denise Marino & Sussi Dorrell. Held at the Ryerson Theatre in Toronto Canada on April 21, 2007. Featuring international stars including Amir Thaleb and Randa Kamal

10-17-07 Alexandria's Archives, Part 1- A Sampling of Costume Creations, Authentic Ethnic, Fantasy and Everything in Between
Pepper Alexandria says of herself: "I want people to know that I am not trying to bring down Belly dance, I helped create every aspect of it and everything that you've heard about me is true!"

10-15-07 The Devil's Details, Show Ethics for Professionals, Part 3- Separating the Girls from the Women by Yasmin
If a performer conducts herself as a professional she is much more likely to obtain repeat engagements and referrals. No one wants to be seen knowingly hiring an amateur. It is bad for business and a customer’s image


ad 4

ad 4 Artemis




 Gilded Serpent
 Cover page, Contents, Calendar Comics Bazaar About Us Letters to the Editor Ad Guidelines Submission Guidelines