The Gilded Serpent presents...
Report of the
Eastern U.S. Middle Eastern
and Balkan Music and Dance Camp

organized by Tayyar Akdeniz and Artemis Mourat
October 2-5, 2003
report by Tahya
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

Participation at a camp devoted to Middle Eastern music and dance with some of the most accomplished musicians in the eastern United States gave attendees a chance to revel in joyous celebration. 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.

My personal experience of reuniting with old friends was greatly enhanced by the new friends I made. As I wandered throughout the camp, it was heartwarming for me to observe master musicians instructing several small circles of eager students.

All the dance classes - Egyptian Oriental with Cassandra, Turkish Oriental with Artemis, Turkish Romany with Tayyar, and Balkan folk dance with Steve Kotansky - were filled to capacity. And the evening parties offered everyone a chance to practice the new step(s) they learned, accompanied by one of the finest musician ensembles I have ever heard - Omar Faruk Tekbilek (Ney, Zurna and Baglama), Yuri Yunakov (Saxophone), Tamer Pinarbasi (Kanoun), Avram Pengas (Bouzouki), Haig Manoukian (Oud), Souren Baronian (Clarinet and Riqq (Tamborine), Hamit Golbasi (Ney, Zurna), and Seido Salifoski (Doumbek), among others. Eloise Miller stated, "These were incredible musicians incredibly fired up!"

While conversing with some of the camp attendees, I asked if they were enjoying the camp as much as I was. Shibar, one participant, cited Faruk Tekbilek's zurna and ney class as one of the camp highlights.

She explained how he correlated the 7 holes in the ney with the 7 chakras and the 7 openings in the head. From there, she said, the discussion deepened into "an astounding creative color visualization."

Carl Miller, another camp participant, expressed his gratitude by stating that in addition to beginner drumming classes, a class for intermediate drummers was also offered, and "I appreciated the class actually was advanced."

The caring, supportive, engaging personae of event planners Artemis and Tayyar attracted like-minded individuals, and despite a record-breaking cold snap during the first two days, a warm spirit permeated the camp. Rustic accommodations among the pines at Ramblewood in the Susquehanna Valley of Maryland gave the camp an 'earthy' ambiance, and our meals were abundant with hot food. Ramblewood served these producers well for their first attempt at offering an East Coast Middle Eastern Music and Dance Camp. However, they will likely try for earlier accommodations for the next event so that an unexpected cold snap doesn't take anyone by surprise.

My only regret was that the unseasonably cold weather dampened enthusiasm for the traditional nightly bonfire drum circles. So I will patiently wait until next year's camp for those events. Nevertheless, as my roommate Jessie Bassil said, "It was cold but we arose early every morning and danced late into the night every night. I would like to add that both of the evening programs were great! Cassandra was breathtaking and Artemis, as usual, was sparkling and beautiful." Another camp participant chimed in, "The band was hot hot hot!"

Jesse and Tahya
I asked Tayyar how he felt about the event and he replied, "I was dreaming to make a camp on the East Coast. I am so happy the plan came true. I shared a lot with the dancers and the musicians. Also, it makes me very happy it was a good camp, which makes it clear to me there is a future for this camp." Artemis commented, "We wanted to create an environment where dancers and musicians with diverse areas of interest could come together and learn and teach and jam - and we did! We had people with all levels of expertise in attendance and we welcomed them all. Folks enrolled from as far north as Massachusetts and upstate New York and down to Georgia and as far away as England."

Among our international dance and music staff  were representatives from the U.S. and several Middle Eastern countries, including several folks (staff and attendees) of Romany heritage.

Our wonderfully diverse backgrounds became a vehicle for the celebration of this extraordinary music and dance, and through our common passion, we came together hand-in-hand and reconnected with our gypsy spirit.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to Tayyar and Artemis for all their hard work and meticulous attention to detail in organizing a most successful event. How do I measure its success? The joie de'vivre I observed among the nearly one hundred participants. Thanks to ALL the teaching staff, musicians, assistants, and fellow campers for a memorable experience that brought great joy to my heart/mind/soul.

The dates for next year's (2004) camp are May 28-31, Memorial Day weekend,
at the South Mountain YMCA Camp in Pennsylvania.
Camp info-

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