A Winter Weeklong with Morocco

Hi, Everyone:

I just (finally) finished my writeup of Rocky’s amazing workshop for my local newsletter, and thought I would post it here as well, better late than never.  Apologies for the terseness of the wording – I had to cut half the “amazings” and “stunnings” and “fantastics” to make it fit the newsletter – but assume that they’re there, okay?

Thanks, Rocky, and Tarik!

love Katya


Workshop Review of Morocco’s Weeklong Winter Workshop of Middle Eastern Dance By Katya

It ended three whole weeks ago, and I’m still on a “dancing high”.  I attended Morocco’s Weeklong Winter Workshop in New York City from January 3 to 9, and got my first taste of living the true dancer’s life.  And I have almost recovered enough to tell you all about it.

My wonderful friend Aziza attended the workshop with me, and the two of us have stories that’ll knock your socks off!  Ask us, and we’ll tell you about the naked mannequin in our hotel room, or the migrating Tourist Information Building that collapsed the day before we arrived, or the strange man calling out “you shine like a diamond, girl!” as we passed on the street.  Oh yeah, or the experience of being trapped in NYC because of ice storms in Montreal.

But like any dancer, I’m sure you would rather hear about The Workshop.  How do I put it into words?  Six days of dancing, five or six hours a day – pure pain and complete exhaustion – plus wonderful new friends and two shows full of great dancing.  Until you’ve experienced it, nothing in your imagination can possibly prepare you.

On the eve of the workshop, The Casbah Dance Experience treated us to a colourful show of ethnic and caberet Middle Eastern dance performances, featuring the dances we would soon be learning, and wonderful Oriental Dance solos from Morocco and Tarik.  I’d never seen a male “belly-dancer” before, so I was extremely curious and intended to pay close attention to Tarik’s performance.  Surprisingly enough, I enjoyed his performance so thoroughly, as a dancer performing a Middle Eastern dance, that it was about half an hour after the show before I realised that I hadn’t noticed anything odd about it, or even remembered to be curious!

Every morning of the workshop began with Morocco’s slow, thorough warm-up, led by Tarik, who clearly took the dance form and his job teaching it very seriously.  He took the time to check each of us personally, correcting hand, arm, ribcage, and foot position with every exercise, and working with exacting patience on our ability to hear the beat and tempo of the music, and move with it.  I have no doubt my level of dance has doubled or tripled because of his attention.  I wish I could bottle his teaching skill and take it home.  Then again – a one hour warm-up for my one hour Thursday night class might be a bit tight, time-wise.

The remainder of each day was devoted to a new choreography or technique.  The first day, Morocco taught us a full choreography to a Shikatt dance – a dance performed by wise-women in Morocco at the women’s party prior to a wedding, to inform the bride what she can expect in marriage.  This dance was my favourite – I loved the music and the dance moves, and although it is not religious, I found it to be very spiritual.  I still remember every single move, although my poor old knees remember the floor-work a little too well!

Morocco is famous for her knowledge of  the dances of the Middle East, and she took time each day to explain the historical and costuming customs associated with each dance.  We learned a Saudi dance with the Thobe, which involved much hair flinging, which the entire class participated in with much enthusiasm.  We also explored the technique of the Guedra ritual trance dance, and the Gypsy Karsilama rhythm.  We touched on the basics of zill work, but I think I’ll need a whole week devoted to zills before I become even barely competent.

In addition to the ethnic dances, we learned two cabaret style dances, one taught by Morocco, and one by Tarik.  They were delightfully showy, and far more advanced than anything I, as a beginner, had attempted.  Both teachers broke their choreography down well, and I actually retained all of Rocky’s dance, and most of the other.  The participants were given a write-up of all the dances, so that we can re-learn what we forget back at home.  I felt this was a nice touch.

We were treated to a “guest appearance” by Gamilla el Masri who spent an afternoon teaching us the Milaya Leff , an Egyption “modesty wrap” dance that she had performed in the opening show.  Unfortunately I was on my last legs at that point (preparing for a three-week bout of the flu), and didn’t have the energy or focus to devote to Gamilla’s dance.  I can triumphantly say that I at least learned the name, pronunciation, and definition of the dance, so I can now drop the phrase casually in educated dance circles!

The Thursday night was devoted to a class dance party, where we all had a chance to showcase our personal flair.  I had worked really hard with my teacher, Joan Savage, to prepare a solo that was a little more polished and prepared than anything I’d attempted before at OMEDA parties.  And I’ll sheepishly admit that I worked even harder getting the beadwork done on my latest costume (a hundred kisses to Aziza for all her help, especially last minute basting)  I think that I danced fairly well – I could sense the improvement in my arms and posture – thanks, Tarik! – although of  course I’m still highly critical of how my fingers splayed and of the generous endowment of my tummy!  Grin!

The other dancers were amazing and inspiring.  I took six rolls of pictures!  The evening was crowned by a repeat performance of the solos by Morocco and Tarik, which we now recognized from class, and cheered enthusiastically.

The most remarkable thing that I carried back from this workshop (aside from the flu, and serious foot pain) was the warmth from the wonderful friendships I experienced.  My classmates were delightful, and we had so much fun together, exploring the New York dance scene (Shamira and the Mogador Band, beads and trim on Madison Ave)  Rocky and Tarik were absolute dears – they’ve inspired me to a whole new level of interest in this dance, encouraged me, and both of them impressed me with the depth of their characters and kindness.  This is a workshop I recommend to everyone, and I’ll be sure to be back again, as soon as my pocketbook allows!