MOROCCO in Cheshire, England – September 1997

I’d heard so much about Morocco, seen her photo in MADN and read reviews about her. A two day workshop organized by Jean Young at Active Images in Cheshire incorporating sagat, modern Oriental routine and Guedra was, I found, worth every penny of the £48 fee.

Despite first impressions of Morocco being a little disappointing (she wore an old red track suit, no make up, glasses, socks and sandals, with her hair scraped into a plain, black snood), we discovered her to be warm, witty and totally devoid of ego. This personal accessibility, coupled with genuine friendliness, helped everyone relax within minutes of meeting her.

We did a wonderful combined stretch and warm up, to music by Light Rain, then straight into the routine which was hammered into us over two hours by sheer repetition. The routine seemed simple when demonstrated by Morocco, and such is her expertise that I began to forget that she wasn’t wearing flowing skirts or festoons of chiffon. We danced each sequence up to three or four times, then onto the next few steps, and then the next, until the whole sequence was finished and we know it by heart. Then, leaving us sweating, she toddled off to the ladies, trundling a suitcase on wheels after her, and told us to “take five”.

Her emergence from the loo was akin to a caterpillar’s from a cocoon. The red track suit shed, Morocco’s costume was Madame Abla, in emerald and gold, with matching gold beaded snood and slippers. She put on her zills, and announced that she was going to ‘show off’. Her mastery of sagat was impressive. She played then as a Flamenco dancer plays castanets. After four numbers, and tumultuous applause, we all had a go. For anyone who’s never played zills, they are incredibly difficult to handle. Mine sounded like four coconut halves, and my co-ordination was a disgrace. Clop, clop, cloppedy clop. Then, just as I thought I’d found a semblance of rhythm, Morocco insisted we try moving our arms and walking around, throwing in a few hip drops, perhaps? It was at this point that my brain went into overload, and everything just shut down.

The following day saw us thrashing through a different routine, the best of the two in my opinion, to a piece called “Amouna fi el Said’. Morocco explained the lyrics. “She is so sweet, so sweeeet, my Amouna from Upper Egypt. So yummy, scrummy sweet”. There was nothing sweet about that routine. It was hard work and made my calves ache. Morocco incorporates some fast turns into her work, and I had visions of trying this one out in a restaurant and spinning uncontrollably into a punter’s hummus.

After lunch, Morocco changed into her Guedra costume, and spent an hour explaining the life of the Tuareg and the trance ritual that was Guedra. Her demonstration of this sacred dance was fascinating, though I have to say that our attempts to mimic her afterwards brought the whole thing down to a rather mundance and meaningless level. This is no reflection on Morocco, who has earned her right to perform it. But such dances are, I feel, like rare, exquisite flowers, best left in their natural environment where they can’t be robbed of their beauty.

I would love to have spoken with Morocco in depth – about her life and experiences, her travels and the people she has met. She told us some tantalising gossip about Egypt’s top dancers, about Madame Abla’s costumes, and how she once had to change between performances in a chicken loft. I hope she comes back to the UK soon. In her own words, she said she would, God willing and the creek don’t rise.