Near East on the West Coast

Mendocino, CA, is a picturesque little town, and probably a great place to vacation any time of year. But the week that I went (August 15-21) turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of my life. Connie Burke and I were the only two dancers from Washington state attending the first Near Eastern Music and Dance Workshop, which drew 150 other dancers and musicians from all over the country.

Morocco, Jalaleddin Takesh, Faruk Tekbilek and Ibrahim Turmen were just a few of the names listed on the flyer advertising the workshop, so I had great expectations of what I would learn from such talent. To prepare for camp I matched earrings to clothes, painted my nails, and packed plenty of glitter scarves. As it turned out, I was so busy all week I never gave a second though to earrings, polish, or any other costume amenities.

With four dance classes offered every day, instruction in about 10 different instruments, and lessons in Turkish singing, the only problem was deciding what to do first. What I actually experienced went far beyond my expectations of daily classes and, for a week, time and politics stood still as I felt immersed in a different culture.

Our location certainly contributed to the supportive atmosphere of the workshop. Nestled in a secluded area of the California Redwood Forest, the campsite is serenely beautiful. Everything was well organized, class schedules and trail maps were handed out on arrival, and the cuisine quality meals were delicious.

Our cozy four-person cabins were equipped with fireplace and balcony. It wasn’t uncommon for the rooms to be microcosms of culture. Walking by I would hear drifting strains of Arabic drumming, Armenian oud and Greek bouzouki reverberating among the trees.

The cabin Connie and I shared was a five minute walk from the Dance Hall and the Dining Room. A blessing in disguise, since I was in a hurry not to miss any classes or lectures, I ran everywhere which prevented me from gaining extra weight from all the generous meals and delectable treats that were provided.

Focusing specifically on the music and dance of Greece, Turkey, Armenia and North Africa, a formal concert wasgiven every evening in the Dance Hall. Afterwards the floor was open for dancing to a variety of live music, sometimes until 2a.m.!

For a change of pace, an improvised coffee house was set up by the campfire where the audience was conducive to impromptu solo concerts, conversation and expert storytelling. The music in both formal and informal settings was often of such astounding beauty that I could hardly keep from crying.

My main interest in attending the workshop was to be in the classes offered by Morocco. In five full days she taught an Egyptian Cane Dance, a Tunisian dance, the Guedra and Schikhatt, incorporating hip articulation and zill patterns in each lesson.

During her lecture, Morocco held our keen interest for over an hour by answering two questions: How and when she became involved in Oriental dance; and her opinion of the direction of Oriental dance in America.

She stated that there will always be give and take between cultures as the dance evolves, in the Middle East as well as in the United States. Contrary to what we may want to believe, not all changes are in good taste, whether it be Cecil B. DeMille’s stilted version in the past or the current “Busby Berkely” invasion of Cairo. As cultures change, it is important to preserve tradition without sacrificing one’s own personal growth or aesthetic development.

A walking lexicon, Morocco’s tips on costumes and customs were delivered with humor and inimitable flair. Her personal style created a relaxed feeling that made learning much easier, opening up communication between teacher and student.

The traditional folkdances of Armenia and Turkey taught by Susan Lind-Sinanian and Eyup Culha, respectively, were not only fun to learn and to dance as a group, but have added great dimension to my solo dancing.

Though the dance classes were my primary concern, I had my dumbek and hoped to gain a little more practise and skill. Percussion classes began at 9:30a.m. and continued through the afternoon. Ibrahim Turmen was very impressive as our dumbek instructor. The clarity of his finger drumming technique could be comprehended by the beginner and still offered a challenge to the more experienced students.

An unexpected feature was the opportunity to watch Ibrahim replace a drum head. Throughout his expert demonstration, he kept us entertained with his hilarious anecdotes of “The Sultans” on the road.

The highlight of the week for all dancers present was surely the riveting performance given by Morocco. The music was outstanding! Jalaleddin Takesh – kanun, Joe Zeytoonian – oud, Faruk Tekbilek – ney and mizmar, Souren Baronian – clarinet, Ibrahim Turmen – dumbek, Coskun Tamer – dumbek and def.

To the audience’s huge applause and wild zaghareets, Morocco entered wearing an orange and brown Egyptian-made costume, the beaded fringe of which was 18 inches long. Her fluid movements of precision and grace entranced the crowd. With strength and enthusiasm she executed perfect hip and body shimmies. Her extrensive repertoire of movement was danced with natural ease and non-stop energy in a routine that lasted over 40 minutes.

It is very difficult to convey the sense of completeness, the satisfaction of learning from multiple sources attained at this workshop. I can only describe a small portion of what took place during the week.

The East European Folklife Center is to be commended for sponsoring the first Near Eastern Workshop, coordinating all details and bringing together the best in Near Eastern music and dance. Every participant, student, teacher or staff member was cooperative and supportive. It was of mutual benefit to have both Folkdancers and Oriental dancers present, both groups having gained from each other’s expertise.

Though it is unlikely that this exact workshop will ever be repeated, it was the general consensus that the Near Eastern Music and Dance Workshop become an annual event. The amount of information available to students of all levels of competence puts this workshop in a class by itself. I would strongly recommend taking the opportunity to participate should a similar workshop take place in the future.