Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Morocco: We call her "Aunt Rocky"
As we prepare to welcome the legendary Morocco to Atlanta for the first time in twenty years, I began thinking about why it is important to bring her here. Why, out all of the talented and beautiful artists, would we partner with Morocco?
Aside from being a leading authority in her field, one of the most well-respected performers in Oriental style dance, a recipient of many prestigious awards, a successful teacher and choreographer, and an artist renowned for her research and assistance in preserving traditional dance forms, I personally find her to be so much more.
How is that possible???
There's another side of Morocco never featured in all the marketing and promotional materials. You really only know this if you've had the opportunity to meet her or learn from her. I had the privilege of attending some of her workshops in April of last year and it was an amazing experience. It wasn't just the idea that I was learning from a living legend, but the fact that she's extremely humble, able to relate to all of the students in the room, and imminently APPROACHABLE.
I wasn't sure what to expect and may have been a bit intimidated because I was told she was a purist and did not approve of any deviation from traditional dance forms. I have read about her myself and I know she's credited with helping maintain the integrity and traditions of these beautiful dances, so I wasn't sure what her view would be on the newer adaptations I respect and enjoy.
After meeting her, I found her to be completely accepting of all styles of dance, not just those adhering strictly to tradition. She simply encourages dancers to become fully educated in the styles they practice. Many of you have probably heard her remark that she has no problem with fusion, but the dancers need to know what they are fusing. Otherwise, it’s just "con-fusion". These are powerful words and I don't think many of us would disagree with that statement and that’s part of the reason I wanted to take a moment to dispel some of the myths surrounding Morocco. I'm by no means an expert on this remarkable woman, but I think it's important to shed some light on the person behind the legend.
What prompted me to write this was the fact I was receiving questions from performers who practice both the traditional styles of Oriental dance and the newer fusion styles – all of whom were planning to attend our upcoming event in September. Some of them were concerned about offending Morocco and had heard she doesn't like anything outside of the true traditional art forms. This isn't true. Morocco has always exhibited a deep appreciation for the roots of our dance and the cultures from which these dances developed, but that doesn't mean she's not accepting of the newer forms of expression.
She simply wants dancers to take the time to study and understand the art they are performing. To put it simply, “One must know the rules before one breaks the rules.”
I don't find this unreasonable. So often we get caught up in technique, which is important, but not if it prevents us from taking the time to study the cultural and historical aspect of these beautiful dances and where they really come from.
Morocco was part of a discussion panel held during the NYC Theatrical Belly Dance Conference in July. It was something special to hear her contributions to the discussion of fusion versus traditional styles. The panel was comprised of dancers from various backgrounds with some known specifically for their "fusion" styles, but they all shared common ground - they were all well-educated in their studies and knew what they were talking about inside and out. And it was obvious. You could see each participant respected the other artists on the panel.
The other reason for writing this: I remember being a new student and hearing “this person is someone you want to study with”, or “that person is someone you need to take a classes from”. So often, it’s more like reading a long resume of achievements. It's hard to know who the experts are because, quite frankly, no one writes a resume or biography that doesn’t outline the achievements and accomplishments that make him or her credible. That's the purpose of a resume, and as promoters of these events, we often use those achievements to help illustrate why one should train with a particular person. It's all valid and well deserved, but I know in Morocco’s case, she brings so much more to the party than just credentials.
Let’s put aside my earlier statements that Morocco was not only humble, able to relate to her students, and approachable. She also brings a sense of humor to her work that is uncommon to say the least. She was able to engage all of the workshop attendees. She had funny references and was willing to share her personal experiences. You can't help loving the fact that this is a woman who speaks her mind and does not suffer fools lightly. She also took the time to answer the students' questions and never came across as standoffish, which is all too common. I've worked with plenty of artists who believe they have “arrived” and act as such, so it was incredibly refreshing to see this living legend so willing to be there genuinely for those students who spent their hard-earned money for the opportunity to learn from her.
Last, but not least, her teaching style is fantastic. There were several dancers in attendance who were still in the early stages of their studies, but I could see they were enjoying themselves. I think newer students sometimes believe these workshops are for intermediate and advanced dancers, but that's not the case. The workshops are tailored to all proficiency levels - you just need to be willing to learn. Regardless of your experience, you will walk away with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the dance you have embraced.
Did I mention she creates some kick-ass choreographies and she's got crazy mad zill skills!?
As you can see, there are numerous reasons why we chose to partner with Morocco. She's not only a legend, but an inspirational and beautiful person who has so much to share from her many experiences. I am honored to have studied with her and look forward to working with Nara and Samora to bring her to Atlanta so we can continue to promote education and integrity throughout our community.
"Uniting the dance community one shimmy at a time!"