Dancer to Dancer

Reviews, Interviews, commentaries, Biographies, articles — the amount of print around Morocco, nee Carolina Varga Dinicu , (Performer, teacher, writer, researcher, Mensa member, videographer, world traveler and guide and indeed student of the Universe) the Dancer, is dazzling in it’s enormity. Grasping the essence of a legend is impossible, because of its indefinable and ever-changing borders.

The dictionary offers up this explanation of a legend — a story, or a group of stories, handed down. Sometimes it’s good to scrape away the glitter and the gloss, scratch through the debris and get to the hard bare facts hiding in the nude underneath. During the weekend of my first 5 hour, ‘Morocco” work-shop, (during which she danced approximately 40 of us “under the table”), listening intently as she attempted to educate us with more than just the steps we were learning, then watching, as she performed two lengthy pieces in a large show that very same night. As she generously and without the least pretension, awarded me hours of her time to try to capture a fragment of her style, energy and vibrancy, I began to understand that I was right there, during the creation of the legend that is Morocco. If I pass along to you the merest hint of her unflinchingly forthright, independent and endlessly curious spirit, I’ll try to be satisfied — in her own words

0. Since there is so much written about you Morocco, I am asking permission to repeat parts of the biographical information so that you won’t have to repeat it.

M. Certainly.

0. In your opinion, in Middle Eastern Dance, who is your definition of a Legend? (While her answer was as follows, Morocco spoke with deep respect regarding Tahiya Carioca, Samia Gamal, Nahed Sabry and Mahmoud Reda — which I felt was of interest to mention).

M. I decline to answer, because what is legendary to one may not be to others. People, who are actually doing the real, dedicated work in this dance form, may not be self promoters and will remain virtually unknown outside of a small circle of the cognoscenti and there are those, who are continual self promoters, who may develop cults around themselves, to the detriment of the dance.

The problem is that most people are more easily seduced by fantasy versions of the dance because they have finite borders and are much more easily learned. Realities leave much more responsibility up to you, they are far more, wide ranging and all-encompassing, taking far more presence, artistically, mentally and physically. You are responsible for the result.

Also, some fantasies are physically injurious and can carry a lot of misinformation. Many of the fantasies stem from racism or are a result of sexism. i.e. colonialist/ racist/ puritanical visions of any dark races being “childlike”, “sensual”, reclining, submissive “harem honeys”. BALONEY! As was also demonstrated with the totally erroneous, colonial connotation placed on the Hula by the body-fearing missionaries — nothing to do with reality.

When colonials “moved in” on a culture, their #1 target was the education system, the molding of young hearts and minds to their satisfaction. Generations they have “molded”, will “look down” on their own cultures, in the guise of “sophistication”/ “education”. In the book, ‘God of Small Things” by Arundathi Roy, one of the paragraphs explains it succinctly. In essence, it says:

“We spend all this time, ridding ourselves of Colonialism, only to find out, that we are left ‘looking down’ on the same things about our culture that they did and we come to hate those very things about ourselves that make us who we are…”.

So, charisma, creativity, determination and organization are all laudable, but with all that comes, responsibility, especially if you teach.

0. So when, in your opinion, or what, makes a person ready to teach this dance.

M. When I started teaching in this field, it was because I had two steps to rub together. No teaching was available really, nothing was written, and information was really still being passed down by grandmothers, aunties, relatives. We, in America, invented courses and put ridiculous names on them. So, I really can’t quantify a specific timeline. Some people are ready after a relatively short time in the dance, others shouldn’t teach after 40 years in the same dance. Our dance is a language. I try to teach the basic vocabulary, then the more advanced one…. I teach the movements that are the letters to make the words, phrases and sentences of the dance — and how to put them together, so that the expression ends up being ethnically correct, a musically correct interpretation and YOU & not a clone of me. One of me is enough to feed, thank you!

Some people go forward and write essays, some write poetry — but what kind of essays and poetry? Some write sagas, some write Haiku. Whether they can transmit their story to me, to the audience, is another question. All I can say is that it took me a hell of a lot longer to learn how to teach, than it took me to learn how to dance.

0. Are there things you believe a teacher should never do?

M. Sure. Never humiliate, or inflict your “ego trip” upon a student. It’s an honor if someone trusts you to teach them: it’s not unlike a parent – child relationship when it comes to the trust. It’s similar to child abuse or even rape, to abuse this trust, this honor.

0. Are there things a teacher should always do?

M. Encourage with positive re-enforcement. We work away at “this and that”, continue to improve and hone and now that you have something concrete, then we can “nitpick” and perfect it further.

Here’s a story of one of my teachers: my Flamenco teacher, Carmencita Lopez, knew that I didn’t have the money for more than one lesson a week. She traded me the second lesson, for tutoring her fiancée in the English language. I later found out her fiancée had a PhD in English from the University of Buenos Aires. He needed English lessons like a fish needs a bicycle. She just didn’t wanted me to feel obligated!!!

0. So, How did you learn the language of this dance?

M. Because I‘d studied Flamenco and other dance forms already, I knew what training was, and I’m terminally curious, I want to know everything about anything that captivates me. I’d see women and grannies dancing at the ethnic restaurant where I was performing – I’d see steps that I liked, I’d trap the women in the bathroom and ask if they’d teach me. They thought I was cute – they’d invite me to their homes and teach me the movements.

Around 1963, I learned there would be a Moroccan Pavilion at the World’s Fair. I researched and obtained a phone number, and called the people involved. “Hi! You don’t know me — I’m an Oriental dancer and my name is Morocco. Don’t you think it would be great publicity for you , to have a dancer named Morocco performing at the Moroccan Pavilion”. The male voice on the phone asked me to wait, and then, assuming I couldn’t speak French, said (in French) “Rashid, get over here — you gotta hear this!” I repeated my suggestion for Rashid. The phone was dropped and hysterical laughter ensued. However, when they were composed enough to continue our conversation, they did invite me to the preliminary rehearsals of the many real Moroccan performers that the King was sending over. It led to lifelong friendships, to my going “Over There” to see & learn the real stuff in the real places, starting with Goulmime in 1963. The wife of Hassan, the man who answered that phone call, later took me to witness the childbirth ceremony I wrote about in my article “Roots”.

0. Why did you choose the dance name Morocco?

M. I didn’t. It was given to me much against my will at the time.
(This part is taken from “Wind and Spirit Bio”. by Linda Solomon. It saves re-telling by, but is sanctioned by Morocco). I was a Flamenco Dancer with the Ballet Espanol Ximenez-Vargas and we were rehearsing at a Manhattan Studio. There was no pay for rehearsals and I was getting skinny. A Greek Orthodox Priest, who owned the rehearsal studio and was a friend, told me he had a job for me paying $125.00 a week. I went with my guitarist to the restaurant, “Arabian Nights”, (unfortunately no longer in existence).

(Shortening the story here — Carolina, wearing full flamenco flounced dress auditioned for the owner of the restaurant who then says… .Morocco adds the accent)…. “We don’t want Spanish dancers — we want “bally dancers”.

I said: “WHAT?” Had never seen it.. .Never heard of it… did not know from nothing! She sits me down on all my ruffles and frills and says “Watch”! Out came a Klutz with a capital “K”, she “danced” as if she had palsy. She wasn’t blessed in any other way either, with rolls of fat where no human has them and not only an appendix scar that looked like it was done with a can opener, but caesarean and gall bladder scars as well. None of which she attempted in any way to hide with make-up, sequins or anything else. I looked at the owner and said, “if I can’t do better than that, I would hand in my feet”! I had more guts than brains at that time.

(Morocco auditioned again, in another dancer’s HUMUNGOUS bra, and a, “teeny- weeny little belt and skirt, “which in my ignorance, I wore backwards. I got out there and slunk from one end of the dance floor to the other.. .1 thought I was ‘hot shit”! No-one threw rotten eggs, yes they even threw some money”).

(The owner admitted that, although she was not a Middle Eastern Dancer, Carolina was a Dancer. She hired her on a two week trial and it was she who named her). She said I looked Moroccan, so she would call me Morocco. I thought “YUK”

0. So did you have any memorable experiences from those, early years, that you’d care to share with us?

M. There was the time in 1961 that I was onstage, which jutted out to only 8” or so away from the first table of diners. I was moving along dancing, stopping for a moment then moving again.., suddenly I felt something squishy between my toes and some guy yells up at me, “Hey, mori (it’s Greek for “baby”!), you step in my mass potato!!!” I looked down to see that I had indeed traveled into his dinner, I apologized, wiped my feet off with his napkin and returned to the stage. Now, when I’m asked for highlights of my career, I can say that one of them was, “doing the mashed potato”.

0. Didn’t you ever experience, performance anxiety… get nervous?

M. If there is never any “stage fright”, it’s because you’re looped”, or you just don’t give a damn about the quality of your performance. Seriously, when you care about what you’re sending out to your audience, your natural adrenaline kicks in, and you’re “on” natural speed! Of course you’re gonna feel weird! You want it to be perfect, wonderful.

My advice is, take a moment, and focus on breathing slowly. The butterflies will begin to fly in a nice “V” formation. In other words, you will still be scared, but more in control of them.

0. What is the role of students in this dance who choose not to perform, or who do not fit the profile of commercial performer?

M. Any student seriously studying this dance fits into one niche or another. “Commercial” isn’t the only “category”/ standard. I am reminded of Rod Sterling’s, “Eye of the Beholder”, where people are observed as shadows through gauze, lamenting the “ugliness” of a patient that can not be made “beautiful/ normal”. As it turns out. the patient was beautiful by current Western standards, while the “lamenters” would be considered, “freaks”. I am saying, this is a folk dance and folks come in all ages, shapes and sizes. There is a place for everyone — not just professionals. There is a place for those who dance for fun or just want to take classes for exercise.

0. So what thrills you about a performance moves you to tears or joy?

M. Someone who can “become” the movement because they feel and love the music. They can share it with me because they’ve learned the language of the dance and have developed their communication skills.

0. In this dance, what in your opinion is the relationship between Musician and Dancer?

M. “Over There”, musicians work for the dancers. They are abundantly available, and they play exactly what the dancer asks for, or they are replaced. Not everyone here, who thinks he can play Middle Eastern music is a great musician, or in fact, even competent. I’m at an advantage, because I can tell the incompetent or power-tripping ones in their own language, “Don’t screw with me!” They could then play “Come to Jesus” in cha-cha rhythm, and I could dance to it.

There are some wonderful musicians here, with whom it is a privilege to work & I’d walk through fire to dance to their music. They know who they are & how I feel about them.

0. So, do you have favorite choices in Music?

M. No, because I refuse to be limited. I enjoy a good solid beat, or, something dreamy and romantic… maybe even plaintive, or a great “kick-ass” drum.

0. You teach and dance extensively on both American coasts – do you see differences in style of dance even here?

M. Oh sure. The East Coast has a much faster paced energy I think it’s due to the pace of life there – more time working, less to spend on dance – so faster pace and more into wanting the “real thing”. Real technique, real facts, but for most, classes are more of a leisure time activity on the way home from work. The West Coast is more “car mobile”, so more communication, and with Hollywood closer…more fantasy, more varieties of fantasy. More time spent on “group” activities, getting together to dance with each other. The much better weather there is also a factor…

0. What are the differences between American dance and “Over There”?

M. Oh – for one thing, there is no such label as, “Belly Dance”. In the Middle East, it’s Raqs Sharqi, or in Lebanon it is sometimes called Raqs Farrah, “Happiness Dance”. In Turkey, it’s called Oryantal Tansi or Raks I Shahane … There is NOTHING called “belly” anything EXCEPT for a comic Turkish wedding “gobek” dance where two men chase each other all over with faces painted on their abdomens, one male, one female… until at the end of the dance the bellies meet and “kiss”.

There aren’t the labels or the ridiculous categories we invent and apply here. For example, “cabaret”. No! It’s a total fraud, that was deliberately created to delineate between one group of fantasists and the “real” dancers then, who chose to wear professional costumes with beads and sequins. There is no such discussion Over There. In fact, in the
Middle East and the rest of the world, a “cabaret” is a low class dump, a dive — like the whorehouse dive in the movie “Cabaret”. We want labels for everything — it’s not real and often opens us up to ridicule as a result.

There’s a whole lot of great theatre going on here too. I enjoy the heck out of good theatre, but you should know the difference between authentic and imagined, folklore and fakelore ….

0. My friend Joumana asks you, “Has Hollywood influenced the dance in the Middle East, has the ‘pingpong’ effect between the two countries blurred the lines between ‘real’ and fantasy?”

M. The Opera Casino was started in the 1940’s in Cairo by Badia Masabni. It was based on British Music Halls, to attract the colonial upper class and their Ottoman collaborators.

Another example is veilwork. I’ve seen performances with the veil that made me cry, but veil is not and never was used this way in Oriental dance. Waving fabric around artistically began with Loie Fuller in the USA.

0. Are future generations carrying the dance, forward? Is there any “pure” folkloric dance left?

M. Unfortunately, because folkloric traditions are now considered backwards (thanks to that aforementioned colonialist brainwashing passing as “education”), not many upcoming generations choose to become involved. About the only “real” group left is Abderrahman Es Shaffei’s group, Firqua Masr el Samer. and it is far smaller than it used to be due to the lack of funding.

Also, with the advance of religious fundamentalism, people like, the Sinti “Gypsies” the Gahwazee have seen their way of life outlawed.

The dances of the Ouled Nail of Algeria were totally suppressed after the socialist revolution overthrew the French colonials in the mid 1960s.

0. Are there things about the way the dance has developed, here in America, you would change if you could?

M. Mmmm… The average level of skill now is far, far higher than it was when I started (there were some great dancers, but they were few & far between). What used to be considered a good professional wouldn’t even get a job as a beginner nowadays. This is great!!!

But there are still an awful lot of people who think Oriental dance is showing off calisthenics or strutting around and posing instead of dancing, or being “belly bunnies” — catering to the fantasist cliché instead of doing the real dance. Every Art comes with license, but you have to know when to apply it, when not to and to admit it when you do.

0. And so Morocco, is there a particular question that I’ve failed to ask you — that you wish was in this interview.

M. How should I know as it’s probably about something I haven’t done YET!