“You Asked Aunt Rocky: Answers and Advice About Raqs Sharqi and Raqs Shaabi”
By Morocco C. Varga Dinicu.
First Edition 2011 by RDI Publications Virginia Beach, VA USA.
414 pages, $45 ISBN 978-0-9830690-4-1
review by: Stasha Vlasuk
Here’s one word that could describe this vast collection of information about the dances of North Africa and the Arabic East: Important. Morocco (Aunt Rocky as she is affectionately known) needs no introduction to aficionados and students of these dance arts. To others, her coveted, prestigious and voluminous accolades introduce a tireless researcher, dispeller of misinformation, extensive performer and innovative instructor. Bringing insight culled from a career that spans over fifty years and twenty countries, Morocco has distilled decades of experience into this illuminating volume.
The tone of the writing is intimate, relaxing and conversational while still specific and detailed. For example in “Shaabi Folklore and Fakelore”, topics such as the intricacies of costuming and the clearly defined choreography of numerous folkloric dances effortlessly enter the reader’s understanding through Morocco’s warm and easy-going writing style; it’s like you are enjoying a chat with your dear aunt – your dear Aunt Rocky. Sharing information gleaned using her “three Rs” approach (“R, R, & R: research, remember & record”) – from jugs to spoons, swords to canes, from Schikhatt to Zeffa, Guedra to Zambra Mora – over one hundred topics of folkloric dance are fascinatingly detailed in this section, with a numbered index for easy reference. In “Sharqi / Oryantal : Truth and Fantasies”, Morocco again covers over one hundred indexed topics concerning the performance form of Raqs Sharqi and the myriad stylistic differences from each region. From it’s earliest history to it’s most recent fusion forms, she chronicles, often with a great sense of humor, how this dance has endured, grown and changed. I appreciate the many footnoted references (as well as a huge bibliography) to other sources that lead to further research on one’s own. The book’s common theme and the author’s intent, is, as she states: “… to impart a better and truer understanding of the diverse cultures from which these dances and music came”. Morocco could have concluded the tome with this scholarly achievement, yet instead devotes the remaining sections to informing and preparing the professional (or aspiring) performer. She explains how the dance appears in Middle Eastern society, the “nuts and bolts” of teaching, technique and working, plus instructive cautionary tales. Morocco is shrewdly aware of, and generously shares, the practicalities of successfully performing in both Western countries and “Over There”. Enlightening personal encounters with pivotal Middle Eastern dance personages provide insightful “learning experience” anecdotes.
Her advice is –
Poetic: “Raqs Sharqi is basically a dance of improvised response to the music… It is an expression of the dancer’s soul, within certain style of movement vocabulary or dance language.”
Clarifying: “Raqs Sharqi is Oryantal Tansi is Raqs-e-Arabi. Just like English is English but there are different dialects (American, Canadian, British, Australian, Irish, etc.) and different regional accents within those dialects. Same thing with dance.”
Assertive: “Too many Western dancers present all sorts of things as ‘authentic’ Middle Eastern that have as much connection to real Raqs Sharqi as a cat has to a camel.”
Hilarious: ” ‘Pop’ and ‘Lock’ are two more incorrect and dangerous bits of American terminology. In Oriental dance nothing is ever ‘locked’ – except the dressing room door.”
This book is a fun read. The quality of the research makes it an immensely useful as well as an insightful and detailed reference. New students of this dance form will draw encouragement. Seasoned professionals will find confidence upon discovering they handled dance challenges the same way Aunt Rocky did, and also find new solutions in her suggestions. More clarity and expansion of their dance life is sure to follow. Teachers will have their knowledge confirmed and expanded by the succinct way Aunt Rocky shares her insightful vision of Raqs Sharqi and Raqs Shaabi.