This Dancer’s Diary will read a little bit “GTKY”. A dancer, in fact any artist, will recognize that one artist’s experiences are a learning resource. I offer my experiences of the week of August 6 through August 12 as a learning resource for anyone interested in Middle Eastern dance or culture, or anyone interested in any kind of dance, or cancer survivorship, or images of New York City, women’s studies, or art.

Day One

Properly labeled “Evening One”. Tonight the dancers who signed up for Morocco’s Summer Weeklong Dance Workshop were treated to a dance show.

Working backwards from the 8 pm start-of-show time, I figured I’d have to be on a Metuchen to NYC train no later than 6:30, which meant that I’d have to have myself and The Pollito (aka My Husband) showered and prettified by 6, which meant that I had most of Saturday to assemble the costume I’d ostensibly been making for the past two months.

The costume was failing to come together, the showers were not completing in a timely fashion and the 6:30 train was a devout hope soon to be relinquished as the Pollito walked through the door. We performed our ablutions and I slid on my little red dress and he put on his good pants and shirt, and we just barely made the 6:54 express. It wouldn’t have been possible but for the convenience store willing to make change and so we could buy four hours on the parking meter for the Vitara.

Madison Square Garden was a throng that sultry Saturday, but we caught a cab and made the door of Morocco’s studio just before showtime. Morocco found a spacious loft in Chelsea a few years back, and turned it into her home and a huge dance studio. That Saturday, curtains hid the mirrors across the front of the room, a foot-high stage squatted before a crescent of folding chairs, and dancers in caftans walked here and there with a purpose. Among them strode Morocco, looking just like “a chicken with her own pio-pios”, as the Pollito asserted, “who are always like the big boss.” Ha, we call her Mother Duck when she’s getting things done.

Morocco is a full-blooded Transylvanian Gypsy who has been dancing for forty-three years. She learned Middle Eastern Dance first by getting a job in a Greek restaurant and doing what the other dancers did. She made her mistakes, learned her lessons, visited the Middle East, North Africa, learned a few more lessons, talked to the Grandmas, danced in the clubs, shopped the markets, learned more and more and more and now she can share her love, her talent, and her beauty with all of us other dancers who flock to her.

I state my name to the woman at the door, who hands me my little purple goody bag and makes a check mark by the number 2 near my name and flashes a huge smile at my husband. “Enjoy the show,” she sparkled at him. I turn and see a huge pair of eyes in an angular face regarding us through a slightly open door. It’s one of the male dancers who’ll be performing tonight. His look is open, loving. He is, I know, the dervish dancer. I can feel my vertigo swooshing at the memory of his whirling in past shows.

Past shows have also taught me to choose my seat carefully. Two huge pillars in the middle of the studio can block views of the stage, as can taller audience members. It’s important to position your chair so that you’re looking between people in front. I came late, however, and can’t be so choosy as I’d like. Pollito and I find chairs in the back and to the left, and crane to get a look at the stage where Morocco has just ascended to introduce the show.

The Casbah Dance Experience, Morocco’s troupe of hand-picked dancers, is on first. They do a Tunisian Women’s Dance, characterized by a lot of twisting and shoulder-shimmies. Then The Dervish Dancer whirls away, and Pollito looks at his lap and I clutch my chair. There is an Oriental fusion dancer, a large blonde who calls herself Tahya. For a difference, a small dark woman and a large fair man execute two different tangos. A tiny woman who my husband calls The Happy Squirrel dances to a shaabi tune called Esma Yalli, which I can tell from my tape we’ll be learning later in the week. A solid looking red-head named Saqra dances a veil dance, and I know I’ll be learning how to catch air with a rag like she does sooner than later. A tall, birdlike woman in more red velvet than people ought to wear in August executes a delicate, mincing Uzbek dance, which I’ll learn before I learn the veil. The troupe does another energetic dance and we’re up to intermission.

To describe the dances in more detail would take pages, and anyway there are more days and more chances to see what all this is really like. I sip my free cup of soda and the Pollito gazes up at the high ceiling and around at the women in the audience, trying to guess who the dancers are. The lights flicker, and it’s time for the second act.

The troupe does another dance. It must be said that the troupe is a collection of young and old, thin and heavy, tall and small. The arrangement declares that any woman, anyone really, can do this dance. This is not better-stronger-higher-faster; this dance is human, by humans, to humans. The tall bird-lady tiptoes through another Uzbek dance that tells the story of a girl preparing for her wedding. Then Tarik Sultan, the slender light-skinned black man who taught me nine years ago how to undulate, performs to an audience wide-eyed and gape-mawed with awe. Then Morocco performs. We absorb her joy as she twitches her butt perfectly in time to the drums and the voices. Tarik and Morocco finish the evening with their much-loved duet.

Pollito pulls hard on my hand and makes for the door as the last hands stop clapping. We stride down Sixth Ave back toward Penn Station, not a terrible walk from 20th and Fifth Ave, as Pollito unburdens himself of his opinions on the dances. He likes the Happy Squirrel Lady. Nothing else pleases him.

I’m only anxious to get home to bed for some quality sleep. Tomorrow, I’ve got to show up back at the same spot at 9:30 am to learn some Uzbek moves and some double veil work. According to my calculations, between the end of the show at 10 pm and my bed lay at least two hours of train and car travel, and I wanted every minute of the sleep I’d be able to get.

Tomorrow… Uzbek dance and double veil moves.

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