I went to Bangor, Maine during the Labour Day Weekend in 2001 for a workshop with Morocco and Tarik. It would prove to be a most unforgettable weekend. Two of my belly dancing friends and I decided that we would embark on a road trip to study with Morocco. The dancing bug had us in its thrall and we felt it was our duty to go on a pilgrimage to learn as much as we could from our collective heroine of the dance. We traveled from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Bangor, Maine in about nine hours on Friday. After checking in to our lodgings we found our way to The Old Brick Church where our adventure would truly begin.
Like three young schoolgirls we excitedly filed into the building for the Meet and Greet evening and immediately spotted Morocco from across the room. Deep in conversation, she did not see us immediately but what an impact she has made on us. Her presence is very hypnotic and powerful, truly a woman to be respected and adored.
The dancers who were hosting the event made us feel at home instantly. Kitty (Tambling) welcomed us as old friends although we had only met through email and telephone. The room was alive with fellow dancers mingling together and perusing the myriad of vending kiosks set up around the large room. The atmosphere was very exciting.
Eventually we parted ways to explore and mingle and make new friends. I spotted who I believed to be Tarik though I was unsure because he was in street clothes and not the costumes of his photos. I introduced myself and found him to be a warm and welcoming being.
One can only imagine the bustle of three belly dancers sharing one hotel room and one bathroom. It was a smattering of sequins, sparkles and vivid fabrics all about the room. On Saturday morning my friends and I packed our dance bags and whirled out of our room to our first session with Morocco. I’m sure we were not the only ones quivering with the excitement of beginning class that morning.
Dancers and vendors were milling about registering and browsing and making sales in full force when we arrived; the room was literally buzzing with excitement. I must confess that I was a little intimidated at first but it did not last long. Once Morocco stepped on the platform to begin the warm-up I was at ease. As luck would have it, I was front and center for the beginning part of the morning. At first it was a surreal event to me. I could not believe that I was finally standing in front of Morocco and dancing. I had planned on this trip for eight months and there she was – right in front of me! It was incredible and I was more than a little awestruck.
Morocco has a way of making everyone feel at ease with her teaching manner. She is able to break down and explain the movements in minute detail so that seasoned and beginning dancers alike can understand and execute them properly. Her teaching method, in my opinion, is infallible. She incorporates the movements that will be used in the choreography into the warm-up and she stresses the importance of proper posture to avoid injuries. Before we actually started working on the dance Morocco had us sit and watch her perform it twice so that we would know what we were going to do.
The great thing about Morocco’s teaching method is the repetition. She has each new movement repeated four times and then as each new move is implemented it gets repeated four times again, until the end of the choreography. It is a great way to train the body for the movements if the brain sometimes forgets.
Morocco also has a way of educating through storytelling; something that speaks to me, as I grew up in an area where oral storytelling is a large part of the culture. To sit and listen to a story was more than simple entertainment, it was a method to learning our history and culture from our elders. It is obvious from spending five minutes in the company of Morocco that she has the same respect and love for storytelling that I have been exposed to all my life. In my opinion it is the best way to learn and I believe that Morocco feels the same way.
Her stories weave themselves into your psyche and stay with you. Even after all of this time, I can still hear her voice telling us about her adventures and, like all of us, her misadventures. Some educators will use the “do as I say” method of teaching and sometimes that works, but Morocco explains “why” it must be done a certain way. This is to avoid both presenting a negative view of the dance and to prevent accidents and injuries.
Gradually, we students began to drop like flies, yet Morocco was still going. The morning was over all too soon and after a brief lunch we were treated to an afternoon with Tarik. He, like Morocco, is a gifted teacher and also used the repetition method of teaching, as for stories he had his own to tell. He also danced the choreography we were about to learn for us. Until the moment he stepped on stage I had never seen a male belly dancer. I did not know what to expect or even what I was expecting but I must say that I was speechless at the end of it.
I cannot truly explain all of the thoughts that were running through my mind while I watched him dance. I had always heard the stereotype about belly dancing being only for women and I was looking forward to broadening my horizons by meeting and studying from Tarik. Nothing could have prepared me for seeing him dance the first time. I was mesmerized. I believe every other dancer was too. The movements were crisp and clean but so beautiful. And to see the joy in his eyes while he performed was magical. He truly loves dancing and it shows with his every breath and shimmy on stage.
The afternoon whizzed past and soon it was time for the evening show. All of the dancers who performed were lovely – from the baby dancers, who were performing for the first time, to the seasoned veterans of the dance.
What impressed my friends and me the most was the friendly and giving atmosphere of the local dance scene. Several different troupes and dance instructors performed and all were friendly and cordial. They truly are a dance community with respect for each other. It has not been my experience to be involved with such a close knit dancing community and I found it to be a refreshing and pleasant experience.
At the beginning of the show, Morocco performed the Guedra ritual that comes from the women of the Tuareg Berber Tribe. The atmosphere of the room changed dramatically when the recording began and Morocco entered the room. I did not know the history of the Guedra before seeing it performed the first time. When I think about it now, I get goose bumps on my arms. I could feel the goodness in the room, emanating from Morocco to everyone. It is difficult to put into words the feelings and emotions that passed through me during it. The voices are almost eerily familiar and yet a bit hypnotic and exotic at the same time. I would recommend that people see the dance/ritual to get a better understanding of it.
After the intermission we were treated to solo performances by Morocco and Tarik. Until that moment, I had never seen a professional belly dancer performing live. I was enthralled from the moment each of them stepped on stage. Their costumes were gorgeous and their dancing impeccable. Tarik performed his legendary interpretation of the Moroccan Tea Tray Dance and I must say that it was impressive. I had only read about the dance on various web sites dedicated to the dance and I now agree with the many others who have commented on this particular dance. Tarik does it wonderfully. His stage presence is powerful. He draws each audience member into his psyche and the energy that is shared between the two is visible.
Morocco came on stage and my breath stopped for a second. What a beautiful dancer! I was in awe when I first met her and seeing her on stage was a powerful experience. She was in a blue and gold glittery costume that sparkled at every turn. In a word, I would say she was stunning. Her movements were clean and rhythmic and she connected with the audience on a personal level. She manoeuvred herself around the stage gracefully so that all could admire her style and shimmies. When she was dancing above my table I felt as if she was dancing just for us – a private performance if you will. She makes eye contact with as many people as she can and really draws the audience into the performance.
Seeing both Morocco and Tarik dance together was truly beautiful. They have such a love and respect for each other that exudes from them as they dance. Seeing them dance together made me think of the joy of family and true friends. I was brought to tears by their performance. It was an experience that I will never forget. The show as a whole was a wonderful event that will not be lost from memory.
All too soon the evening was over and it was time to get some sleep and prepare for the Sunday workshop. The next morning we were all a little tired but still happy and excited to be warming up with Morocco. She was in fine form and actually more alert than the rest of us! Her method of repeating moves during the warm-up stayed with us from the day before. The body remembered before the mind could process the command. It was a great gift that she gave us. She taught us ways to warm up without straining or hurting ourselves. Sunday went by much quicker than Saturday but everyone was more comfortable.
Although Sunday afternoon was the official end to the workshop weekend, Morocco was offering an additional session on Monday morning about the Guedra. It was a completely different atmosphere from the previous two days. The dance she was about to teach us was not, in fact, a dance at all but a blessing ritual to spread joy and goodness to the world.
Morocco led us through some warm up exercises and had handouts prepared on the background of the Guedra for us to take home. It was a copy of an article she had written about her studies and experiences with the Tuareg people and their rituals. She also had photographs for us to pass around and look at. It was a very good introduction to a lesser known people and culture. (I would suggest further reading on the Guedra on Morocco’s site in the section on articles and writings.)
Morocco played a recording of an actual ritual as she explained the physical movements and their meanings. The recording was hauntingly beautiful. The sounds of hands clapping and chanting and zagareeting sent chills down my spine and tingled my soul. It was an unforgettable experience.
While many people may consider this a dance of entertainment, I feel that it is a dance of the spirit. The goodness that entered the room and each of us was palpable. And it was a wonderful way to end a lovely weekend adventure. We came, we danced, we felt blessed to be there, and we went safely home.