Interview with Belly dancer Moroccoby Salome
Morocco came upon Oriental dance almost accidentally, but once found, a love affair ensued that has lasted 44 years. She began her career in 1960 in the Mideastern nightclubs of New York. Learning in culture from real Mideasterners she developed in "the best "School" that ever was".
Her unending desire to know has led her to more than 19 countries where she has collected invaluable knowledge of music, Oriental and folk dances of the Near and Middle East. Morocco has been awarded numerous grants, and was notably the first Mideastern dancer to be given a grant for teaching in 1972.
Her accolades are to numerous to mention but among them she was honored by the AAMED Mideastern Dance Hall of Fame as "World Class" for "International proliferation of her art, her myriad of talent and for her untiring pioneering in this, her chosen field of ethnic dance". She was named Best Instructor, Best Dancer and Best Troupe, (for her company "Casbah Dance Experience") many times over by IAMED, Zaghareet magazine, Mideastern Dancer magazine and others.
She was honored for her life's work at the 2nd International Conference on Mideastern Dance in 2001. Also, her philosophy and life experiences were commissioned by the Dance Division of the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts in NYC and filed in the Oral History Archives. The last accolade I'll mention is her nomination for the Dance Heritage Coalition's list of "America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures" because it says it all.
Salome: You have achieved a multitude of admirable accomplishments but which stands out to you as the beacon of your life's work?
Morocco: The lecture, performances (Guedra & Oriental) and Guedra, Schikhatt & Raks Sharki classes I gave at the fabulous new convention center in Cairo, Egypt in July 1999, for a UNESCO organization: the International Council on Heath, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport & Dance ... The reaction of the Egyptians, who came out of curiosity, expecting to laugh, but went away cheering ..... *&* When I was honored for my then 41 years of work (now almost 44 years!) & dedication to this field, at the 2nd International Conference on Mideastern Dance at Orange County Community College in May, 2001 ....
Salome: A consistent priority you have demonstrated over the years is reeducating mainstream's stereotype of Oriental dance. What are your current aspirations and how do you hope to achieve them?
Morocco: My aspirations continue to be the same: to get the world to recognize the inherent beauty of & skill required for Raks Sharki & the other marvelous folk dances from these regions of the world... How to achieve them?? Keep doing what I have been doing & hope for many others to join me in showing the real dances, rather than the Orientalist/sexist fantasies ....
Salome: What are your thoughts on creating a universal dance vocabulary, and certification system? And what body of people do you think should guide that process?
Morocco: I think having a uniform verbal vocabulary that would make the movements easily identifiable & therefore, much easier to share cross-culture & cross language (as French did for ballet: we won't go into the real history of that formerly Spanish Basque men's folk dance form here!) would be a good thing, BUT the real & very big problem right now is that far too much has already been overly influenced by fantasists & "creators" of the "unreal".
1) Orientalist/ racist & Hollywood/ harem-scarem sexy-schmexy writhings - leading too many to dismiss this fabulous Folk Art form or consider it unacceptable for general viewing. Hula & Flamenco went through similar misinterpretations ....
2) The never seen anywhere real by any real "tribes" Tribal (which can be great theater, but is NOT Oriental dance/ Raks Sharki by any stretch of the imagination - most certainly NOT the "costuming"!!) or
3) "Fusion" as a category, BUT when its used as a catch-all for those who do not know any of the forms they are supposedly "fusing" well enough, leading to CONFUSION!!! Real Fusion in this field is fabulous & I have seen much of it, but there is also too much that is merely a cover for inadequacy in any area of dance!
4) Supposedly "authentic" companies & dances from "over there" that are far more "Moscow on the Nile"/ Moiseyev "folk-based" & balleticized/Hollywoodized than *real* Mideastern ethnic, either because so many of the mindsets/ educational systems have been way too influenced by the colonialists & their racism OR by a desire to be creative/ modern / more "mainstream".
There is much fabulous dance that comes under this heading & it is GREAT theater dance, BUT the problem is that it is NOT in most ways "authentic" & far too many innocent dance students believe that *just* because it comes from a certain area it must, ipso facto, BE authentic.
Nothing wrong with learning/ doing it as dance, as theater, but to believe/teach ones own students that it is "real" folk?!?!? NO WAY!! Like saying Moiseyev's "Polovyetskie Tantsih" is authentic folk or his wonderful "Partizanih" .... He uses folk *elements*, BUT it is mostly ballet & his very fertile imagination. THAT is what I mean by: "You have to know what you are looking at to know what you are seeing." Whether it is REAL/ AUTHENTIC or the product of a fabulous creative mind that was ***inspired by*** something "folk" or "traditional" .... and is simply THEATER.
As for "Certification" - the problem is that, to begin with, WHO would decide what?? WHAT is necessary to be "certified" & HOW would it be determined?? I'm not at all sure I'd care to see this happen with the current situation as it exists in Oriental dance at this point.
The sad fact is that among the very many real & sincere teachers, there are too many self-proclaimed "gurus" with their cliques & cults, already *purporting* to have "certification", when it is, in fact, a way of raking in more money. There are many teaching, who do not have the vaguest idea of what is ethnically & kinesiologically correct & no way to stop them except to hope that they, themselves, continue to learn & improve & pass that on to their students.
We can only hope that, as time goes by, standards improve in general, as they have for ballet, Flamenco, modern. I think it is a process of evolution - that each succeeding "generation" learns from the mistakes of predecessors & tries to outdo the previous generation.
Just look at the difference in what ice skating was when Sonja Henie won the Olympics: she wouldn't even qualify for the team today. Or gymnastics in the '40s & early '50s & what it is now..... SUCH improvement. However, the problem is that it doesn't always work that way. Look at what has been done to ballroom dancing as a result of "competitions", "certifications", "uniform vocabulary".
A real dance crime has occurred: especially the poor Tango & the caricature it has become in international competitions, that bears NO resemblance to the very sensual, fabulous, complex communication it is when REAL Tango dancers do it!!!
Salome: What advice can you give those on a journey for knowledge?
Morocco: Keep looking - the quest for more knowledge never ends & the most important word in a researcher's vocabulary is WHY. The 2nd most important is NOT. Why? Why not?