Quick staccato hip thrusts framed by a gathered veil and flying long, dark braids as she turns are two of the identifiable features of Morocco’s charismatic dancing. Physically, verbally, and emotionally going in all directions at once, as she dances, speaks, and works with others, reflects Morocco’s upbeat joyous attitude toward life.
Morocco (Carolina Varga Dinicu) can look at the brighter side of anything. A professional in the true sense of the word, she was able to come out and joke with a Columbia University audience about lack of air conditioning on the hottest day of the year, minutes before her dance troupe and she were about to perform. Perhaps she missed her calling as a stand up comic. The truth is, anything she tackles she does well.
Speaking the way she dances, at a mile a minute, our interview session was quite invigorating. We met at her new loft apartment — part of which is a beautifully mirrored dance studio. Her tone of voice emphasized the spicy parts of her stories and she imitated perfectly those she tells about. I asked how she became involved with Middle Eastern dance.
“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 priest, who was a friend, told me he had a job for me paying $125 a week, starting at nine thirty in the evening. This way I could still rehearse with the company from noon to eight.
“I went with my guitarist to the Arabian Nights (unfortunately no longer in existence.) The owner looked at me, looked at my guitarist and asked ’Who is this guy?’ It’s my guitarist. She says ‘Well, we have a guitarist.’ I’m thinking in terms of Flamenco so I ask Does he know all the rhythms? ’Yes.’ Can he sing? ‘Yes.’ When I change tempo will he change tempo? ’Yes.’ The woman says ‘Go change into your costume and we’ll give you an audition.’
“So I go and change into my costume, called Bata de Cola in Spanish. It’s the dress with the long train, that all these very intense ladies kick around. I come upstairs and the lady asks, ’Whats that?’ I’m thinking well, this is a restaurant. Maybe they don’t like the costume because it would raise dust. I tell her that I have a short dress or the riding habit.
“She says (Morocco puts on an accent) ’Honey we don’t want Spanish dancer. We want Oriental dancer!’ I said What? Never seen it…. Never heard of it. Did not know from nothing… She sits me down (on all the ruffles and frills and starch that you can’t sit on) and says, ’Watch.’
“Out comes this creature… I’ve been in the business 19 years and only twice (two and a half times) have I seen anybody as bad as that woman was as a dancer. Talk about klutz with a capital K. Poor woman. She looked like she was suffering badly from some terminal palsy. She wasnt blessed in any other way either. She had the strangest shape I’d ever seen, with rolls of fat where a human being doesn’t have any. Not only did she have an appendix scar that looked like they did it with a can opener but a Ceasarean scar and a gall bladder scar. None of which she strove to hide with make-up, glitter, sequins, or anything. She made me look like Elizabeth Taylor. I was trying to figure out what she did have. Well, she didn’t.
“Its just at that time, in a three block area from 27th Street to 30th Street on Eighth Avenue there where about twelve Greek clubs. Each had three dancers who worked six nights a week and one who worked three nights when the others had time off. So they needed 40-48 dancers. In all of New York there were maybe twenty people who could call themselves Oriental dancers. I looked at the woman and said, If I can’t do better than that, I would hand in my feet! At that time I had more guts than brains.
“The other dancer, who overheard me said, ’Oh yeah. Let’s get you into a costume and see how well you do, cookie.’ The woman who lent me her costume was quite well endowed (you saw the costume coming five minutes before she came around the corner.) So here I have this humungous bra hanging from my shoulders and a teeny weeny little belt and a skirt which (in my ignorance) I put on backwards. I go out and I slunk from one end of the dance floor to the other. I thought I was hot shit. I didn’t fall on my behind. (Just lost my skirt a couple of times.) There was enough room for me and four friends in the bra but nobody ran out. No one threw rotten eggs.
“They even threw money, which came as an extreme shock. I’d never seen that before either. They said ’All right. You are a dancer. Not a Mideastern dancer, but you are a dancer. You have the job.’ I just fell in love with the music. I went bananas.”
I wanted to know how Morocco became involved in dance at all.
“I was 18 and about to get a B.A. at Brooklyn College in Modern Languages and Education. My only physical activity was reading anything that had print on it. One day I started having fits, where I would shake uncontrollably. It was certainly a frightening experience. It looked like grand mal epilepsy. My mother dragged me off to the doctor, who did all kinds of tests. The conclusion was that I did not in fact have epilepsy in any way shape or form. They studied me like a guinea pig.
“This being 1958, I being a good girl living with my parents, the doctor said, as nicely as he could, ’This is an excess of physical energy. I recommend you take up some kind of strenuous sport or dancing, at least twice a week, to use up the energy.’ If it had been 1968 and I hadn’t been with mummy he would have told me to get a boyfriend.
“I had no interest in athletics and the dance department at Brooklyn college was zilch at that time. As a Spanish major, in a club meeting, I saw a little nine year old Puerto Rican girl do an exhibition Paso Doble with castanets and a long dress and I said, That’s for me.
So Morocco found a dance instructor who encouraged her. Can you imagine her not instantaneously picking it up?
“You want to see a klutz? You want to see four left feet tripping each other up simultaneously? That was me. I wanted to dance so desperately. I worked at it so hard. My parents were having conniption fits. My father was a cop and was so suspicious of everything and everyone. He assumed I would become a whore, a drunk, and a dope addict all at once because I associated with dancers. I have yet to become any of the above.”
Coming into Middle Eastern dance from such an unlikely start, I asked how she learned to be the dancer she is now.
“I wanted to know what went properly with that music. It was a long process. There weren’t any schools then. There was no such thing as a Madame LaZonga can teach you to conga in ten easy lessons. You learned by watching the other dancers, talking to the old musicians, listening to the music, watching people come in and get up to dance.
“There were two styles of dance at that time. Walkers, who just walked around in the outfit, very artistically. They spun a few times. Their dancing technique was zilch but they knew how to put on a show. A lot of individual styles were being developed within a valid ethnic style. There was none of this contrived school, where someone takes what a good teacher teaches them, but follows it so slavishly that all you see is a series of steps. You don’t see a dance.
“The other style was what I call the ‘whorehouse style’ dancers who catered to the lowest common denominator.”
Morocco’s life had a rough start and now it is almost as if she is frantically trying to cram as much into it as possible.
“I’m Gypsy. Full blooded Gypsy which entitles me to 1000 years of retroactive persecution. I was born in Transylvania in Romania in 1940, in a 1937 model car on our way from one town to another.”
On her father’s side, her granduncle was a court musician. Grigorash Dinicu, who wrote “Hora Staccato” was a violinist in the court of King Carol in Romania. In the Gypsy caste system fine musicians and performers are in the top rung.
She is certainly following a fine tradition. She not only dances but works to spread information about the beauty Middle Eastern dance contains.
“There’s an opportunity to learn more about the dance now. Any researching you did then, you had to do by yourself. It took a great deal of time and effort. I was doing research because of the adverse reaction of Americans to the dance. The ignorance was so overwhelming.
“If I said I was a dancer in this field, people were making an erroneous moral judgement on my character. Theres a problem with a lot of the material that’s written and available to researchers. There were three types of Europeans traveling to the Middle East and writing about it. Your filthy minded moralizing evangelists: people who were going to ‘convert the filthy natives from their evil ways’, who thought that any dancing was a sin and a degradation. You have your racists, who considered anything done by darker skinned people vulgar. And then, you had your whorehouse anthropologists, the young men who went to the Middle East because it was an adventure. Of course, Flaubert enjoyed his experience immensely. He also got a nice case of the clap from a courtesan in Syria.
“If you go to a whorehouse you’re going to see whorehouse dancing. Youll see dancing done in the raunchiest possible manner. If you go to a wedding or a circumcision, a family function, or see women dancing for other women, you will find fine beautiful dancing. Nothing gross. You’ll find kidding around, you’ll find parody, comedy, but it’s not vulgar.”
Morocco travelled through Morocco, Egypt, and the Soviet Union, taking tours there, learning, taking everything in. On one of her trips to the Soviet Union she met Victor who is now her husband. (update: divorced in late ’80)
“He’s a fine photographer. His prints of scenes have emotional impact, but he doesn’t have the energy to sell himself.”
I asked her how she sells herself, going from local jobs to becoming internationally famous.
“I did it on my own. I had a nice manager for a while but he didn’t have connections in the dance field. You can be the best at what you are but if people dont know it, theyre not going to pay for it. I operate on a very efficient level. I was in a Broadway show called ’I had a Ball’ with Buddy Hackett and Richard Kiley. That’s when I really learned the value of publicity.” (They literally grabbed her off the stage of the Roundtable to sign her up for the show.)
“I had a two and a half minute solo dance sequence in the show’s ‘signature’ number and got great reviews. Having a bachelors degree and a masters degree helped. Then I joined MENSA, when they found out about my I.Q., I was considered interesting copy. My name began getting known and people would contact me.
“I found out about commercials, acting lessons, and voice lessons. I found out that there’s a whole world out there. To do it you needed photos and resumes. I had an uphill battle, because of the misinterpretation and stereotyping in my field.
“I had to become vocal. I had to start lecturing. I was the first Middle Eastern dancer ever to perform in a museum in this country. I was one of the first to perform in a University. What impresses people first & gets my foot in the door (so to speak), is my educational background.”
Morocco really did have to go through a lot. On the Ed Sullivan show she had to wear a robe under her costume to cover her stomach. On David Frost, she had to go once as a representative from MENSA before being invited to come back as a performer. Recently she gave a critically acclaimed performance at the Delacorte Dance Festival.
She began teaching when invited by Rosetta LeNoire, who opened up the AMAS Reperatory Theater, an interracial, ethnic theater school. She’s been doing it ever since. Now she has her own studio for classes and her own dance troupe, The Casbah Dance Experience, that rehearses there.
“There were so many more dances that I wanted to show. It just happened that I had two dance students at Purchase College, State University of New York that impressed me and two in my regular New York City classes. I wanted to show them off. So I started the company.”
As our readers know, Morocco writes regularly for Wind and Spirit magazine. She also contributes to Habibi, a West coast publication. She gives freely of her time and energy to work with others in the field. Her main concern is that people become more informed about the dance.
As a warm, sensitive person, she tries to help whenever she can. Many do not see this vulnerable side of her because she is so outspoken on issues of importance to the field.
In all ways, Morocco’s style is unique. I asked her about her dance style and how she developed it.
“When I started developing my style, I knew it was different than the basically Turkish style being done in New York at the time. I thought it was my own response to the music. When I went to Morocco, Egypt and Algeria for the first time, I was told that my style was the way grandmas used to dance.
“I’ve learned from every dancer I’ve seen, from every musician I’ve listened to, from the books, the newspaper articles, the old lithographs. From anything I could get my eyes on or my ears to listen to.
“I don’t just shimmy for twenty minutes as some people think. I’m doing complicated hip movements. I’m accentuating the rhythm. I’m very rhythmically oriented. I’m a counter-tempo freak. You can play Masmoudi and I can give you double counter tempo within the Masmoudi. I never studied music. I just respond. I can do counter-tempo to my own heartbeat. It comes from my Flamenco background, where rhythmic heel work and complicated rhythms on the castanets are doing counter tempo to the music being played.
“For me to coordinate my body well is a major triumph in my estimation. Any of the things I do intellectually come easy. The brain is there. It’s like I have a built in computer. My greatest accomplishment is being able to dance. I know I have electricity. I have magic, because even when I couldn’t dance audiences liked me. I think it’s because I have such a good time dancing, that it’s contagious. When I respond to the music, I am the music. Sometimes, if I’m feeling nervous or insecure, that doesn’t come across. When the music is right and the vibes from the audience are good, it’s a whole other world.”
Morocco — performer, writer, teacher, researcher, and director of a troupe. I asked, “What now?”
And Morocco, right to the point as always, said, “Onward and upward from here.”