Next Generation

Dancers of the Next Generation

By Horacio Cifuentes

In recent years we have seen many changes in the art of Oriental dance. The most recent Egyptian superstars of Oriental dance present themselves in a totally new image in their costuming and style. No doubt all forms of art change with the times. What we think of as tradition is an ever-changing, ever-evolving process.

Certainly if Oriental dance has a future, it rests in the children. At the Studio for Oriental Dance in Berlin there is a children’s program with some talented students of great promise. The children come once or twice a week for a one-hour session which consists of warm up, flexibility exercises, ballet, finger cymbals, Oriental technique, combination and “baby choreographies.” They are so cute when they try to shimmy their tiny hips.

Berlin's "Oriental Fantasy"

The youngest girl is about five and very determined. Little Ramona hardly says a word, pays very good attention and has amazing ability. In the courses are about 25 children, age five through twelve, with three levels: beginner, intermediate-beginner, and advance-beginner. Some of the kids have fantastic “Do or Die” determination to become professional dancers as adults. With Beata Zadou as their role model, they show progress at an admirable pace.

Last spring during the annual “Oriental Fantasy” show, three young ladies age nine charmed the audience at Berlin’s Tempodrom. They performed a routine with finger cymbals, followed by a slow veil dance and ended with a beledi. The girls were a hit. At one point during the taksim, the three young beauties simply dragged their veils behind them as they walked high on their “releves” (demi points), with fluid hip movements from side to side and a poised upper body. The audience gasped and gave them a round of applause. When was the last time you saw a dancer turn the audience on just by walking?

The essence of Oriental dance is the ultimate artistic expression of womanhood, and can be achieved by a mature woman who has lived and therefore exudes female sensuality at its fullest. Although the three young ladies do not even know the meaning of female sensuality, they had a charming quality in their dance. A child can be trained from the beginning to overcome certain obstacles which are limitations for many dancers who start as adults. When trained from early age, dancers develop much more ease in their movement and technical ability.

Often daughters of Oriental dancers become inspired to also study and perform Oriental dance. We notice that many mothers of our children dance themselves and are very supportive of their children pursuing the art form. In other cases, the children are brought by their parents without them even knowing much about the dance or having any inclination of their own. This can be a disaster, and what ends up happening is that the child is there with no spark, they do not pay attention, and they tend to behave poorly.

Recently, strict rules had to be set: no bare feet, no little costumes, no “playing Orient” in dance classes. The children are expected to come to the classes with the intention of really learning how to dance. The idea of a “kinder playground” has been clearly stripped from their minds. Discipline is enforced not just in the sense of their behavior, but in their movement and approach to dance. They are being taught to think as dancers already.

They get professional experience through performing: they learn about make up; costuming; how to dance in a group; how to take a bow and thank the audience; how to stay together in lines and watch for one another; and above all, to have dignity about being dancers. It is exciting to see a group of young dancers eager to learn. They do not know it yet, but they will be the next generation to carry on the dance into the start of the next millennium. They are the future of the dance.

Horacio Cifuentes’ early dance training included the Folkloric Troupe of Columbia, the American Ballet Theater in New York and the school of the San Francisco Ballet. By the age of 21 he was dancing major solos with the San Francisco Ballet. He later studied Oriental dance with Magaña Baptiste, Suhaila Salimpour, Bert Balladine, Ibrahim Farrah, and Shareen el Safy, among others. He has taught and performed extensively in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and is co-owner of Tanzstudio Halensee with his wife, Beata, in Berlin, Germany, where they produce “Oriental Fantasy” each Spring.

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